MONEY mobile payments

Why the U.S. Lags the World in Mobile Payments

Octopus card
Hong Kong's Octopus card Horizons WWP—Alamy

Many American consumers are beyond excited by the prospect of Apple Pay, but overseas the iPhone's latest feature is old news.

When Apple announced its new payment service, Apple Pay, earlier this month, many in the tech world were blown away. The system allows iPhone users to pay at the checkout counter simply by holding their phone to a receiver for a few seconds. Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge, called Apple Pay “this week’s most revolutionary product,” and eloquently summarized how most Americans already feel about the status quo: “mobile payments have sucked so far, and it’s high time somebody fixed it.”

Bohn is right, but what he likely meant to say was “mobile payments have sucked so far in the United States.” Across the globe in Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, viewers of Apple’s announcement could be forgiven for falling asleep. Using your phone to buy stuff? We’ve been doing that for years.

In Hong Kong, residents regularly pay for goods, services, and public transit, all without swiping or signing. Instead, shoppers can simply wave their Octopus card, which uses a technology similar to Apple Pay, at checkout and go on their merry way. Octopus Holdings claims 95% of people in Hong Kong between ages 16 to 65 use its product, and Octopus is accepted at 14,000 retail outlets. Even more impressive, the card’s swipeless technology has been incorporated into phones, and yes, watches too. When did this magical future tech launch? Hong Kong has had Octopus since 1997.

Apple Pay-like services are also old news in Japan, a country where mobile payments are already ubiquitous. Afterall, it was Sony that invented the region’s major method of short-range data transfer. That technology eventually came to power Hong Kong’s Octopus card, as well as a slew of Japanese mobile wallets. Today, nearly every cell phone sold in Japan (other than the iPhone) comes with mobile payment technology built in by default.

Takeshi Natsuno, a former executive at one of Japan’s largest wireless carriers, once bragged, “When I leave my house in the morning all I take with me is my phone, which lets me do everything—pay, take public transport—simply by swiping a special reader in shops, stations or airports.” Sounds just like the promise of Apple Pay, except Natsuno said that in 2004.

But the world leader in mobile payments isn’t a glittering Eastern city. According to the Economist, that title belongs to Kenya and its revolutionary cell phone-based payment system, M-PESA. Launched in 2007, the service allows users to essentially text money back and forth while using telecom giant Safaricom, M-PESA’s creator, as a bank. Deposits and withdrawals are made through Safaricom’s network of 40,000 agents. Once money is in the system, it can be sent to any other M-PESA customer—even merchants—via a phone menu. Thanks to M-PESA, the Economist notes, “paying for a taxi in Nairobi is easier than it is in New York.”

Why is the U.S. so far behind other countries? There isn’t a single answer. At least in Asia-Pacific, major players may just be more willing to adopt the latest tech. “The thing hindering mobile payment development and contactless cards is that there’s an infrastructure set up in place and banks [and merchants] feel compatible with the current infrastructure,” said Theresa Jameson, senior analyst at Datamonitor Financial. “Certain markets are more willing to adopt new payment technologies.”

New contactless payments for public transport have also helped put Apple Pay-like technology in the hands of every consumer. Hong Kong’s Octopus card, as well as Japan and Taiwan’s mobile payment systems, each originated as a better way to pay subway fares. Over time, merchants gradually began to get on board with the new technology until swipeless payment became a norm. Ben Thompson, founder of the website Stratechery, describes how this exact process played out in Taiwan when a new Octopus-style transit card was introduced:

When I first arrived in 2003 almost everything was cash only. Just a year earlier, however, in 2002, the EasyCard Corporation née Smart Card Corporation had rolled out an RFID stored value card for use on Taipei’s new MRT (subway) system… Within a few years you could use the card everywhere: buses, trains, taxis, parking, government fees, and now, 10 years on, almost every retailer, and the RFID chip is no longer limited to cards, but is embedded in some phones, key fobs, and more.

As Thompson points out, another reason behind America’s stagnation in the mobile payment space is simply the inertia of the credit card system. Magnetic stripe cards are accepted by as many as 9 million U.S. businesses, and it will take an enormous investment to make Apple Pay even half as prolific. However, in countries like Taiwan and Kenya, where credit card penetration is low, or Japan, where there is a cultural aversion to debt, new alternatives were given an opportunity to flourish because credit cards had not already dominated the market.

But as America slowly prepares to move from magnetic strips to Near Field Communication (NFC) systems like Apple Pay, Asia may be held back by its own form of inertia. “Japan and Hong Kong are faced with a dilemma,” says Datamonitor’s Jameson. “If they wish to begin using Apple Pay or other NFC-based mobile payment services, they will need to start from the ground up in building their contactless/mobile payments ecosystem like the rest of the world – which would require considerable investment.” Their other option? “Stick with their existing system while the rest of the world moves in a different direction.”

TIME India

Why the World’s Most Powerful Leaders Really Love India

Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping walk for a meeting in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Manish Swarup—AP

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India highlights the geopolitical contest reshaping Asia

Some of the world’s most important people are wooing India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi like teenage boys drooling over the homecoming queen. Less than a month ago, Modi was feted in Japan on his five-day official visit, during which he even received an unexpected hug from usually stiff Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This week, Modi is hosting China’s President Xi Jinping, who upon his arrival in the country on Wednesday, proclaimed that Beijing wishes “to forge a closer development partnership and jointly realize our great dreams of building strong and prosperous nations.”

Why has Modi become so popular? The reason can be found in how Asia is changing, politically and economically. Ever since China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping launched his country’s remarkable economic miracle in the early 1980s, the old Cold War divisions in the region melted away amid increasing economic integration. According to the Asian Development Bank, trade between Asian countries accounted for 50% of their total trade in 2013, up from 30% in 1985. But with China flexing the political and military muscles it has acquired from growing wealth, Asia is becoming split into two camps once again – one centered on China, the other on the U.S. and its allies, including Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. Each side is looking to bolster its support in the region in order to gain leverage on the other. Tokyo, embroiled in a tense stand-off with Beijing over disputed islands in the East China Sea, is looking to build a network of allies to “contain” a rising China. Meanwhile, Beijing is aiming to create a power bloc of its own in the region to counteract U.S. influence.

India has become a key wild card in this new geopolitical power game. As a rising power in its own right, and a huge potential source of new business in everything from espressos to expressways, whichever side manages to lure New Delhi into its orbit will tilt the scales in its favor.

Both camps are making their best pitch. Japan’s Abe took the unusual step of traveling from Tokyo to the historic city of Kyoto to personally welcome Modi to the country. Xi ventured all the way to Modi’s home state of Gujarat on this visit, even donning an Indian-style vest. Abe sent off Modi with a promise of $33 billion of new investment. Xi is reportedly planning to top that during his India visit, dangling an even bigger package of $100 billion.

On purely economic grounds, you’d think Xi has an advantage in his quest for Modi’s favor. Trade between the two has exploded, to nearly $66 billion in 2013 from a mere $1.2 billion in 1996. Their economic links will likely continue to strengthen as Chinese companies become more and more important global investors and Chinese consumers more and more important customers. The world’s two most-populous nations would appear to have many economic interests in common as well. Their companies, accustomed to operating in an emerging economy and selling to emerging consumers, are attracted to the potential of each other’s markets. China’s Xiaomi, for instance, has successfully lured Indian customers to its cut-rate smartphones as it has in China. Wouldn’t Modi be wise to hitch his country to the world’s rising power, rather than Japan, a declining one? That would bring to life the economic power of what’s been termed “Chindia.”

But China-India relations are more complicated than that. After India’s independence in 1947, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru thought his new nation would find a friend in newly communist China. The spirit of the times was captured in the phrase Hindi Chini bhai-bhai, or “Indians and Chinese are brothers.” That hope was dashed, however. India has incensed China by allowing Tibet’s Dalai Lama, who Beijing considers a dangerous separatist, to reside in exile in India. Modi, in fact, invited Tibet’s prime minister-in-exile to his inauguration in May. Relations are also continually roiled by border disputes. In 1962, the two fought a nasty border war, and the causes of that conflict linger to this day. The two countries contest land along their border in India’s far north in Ladakh, while China claims India’s eastern province of Arunachal Pradesh. China perennially irritates India over these unresolved issues. Just last week, only days before Xi’s much-heralded visit, India charged that Chinese troops are building a road in the contested territory in Ladakh. In talks with Xi on Thursday, Modi urged the Chinese President to finally resolve their border disagreements.

Such tensions are clearly weighing on Modi’s mind. He has apparently embarked on a mission to upgrade India’s military capabilities and relationships. Abe and Modi during their recent summit agreed to strengthen military ties, and in August, New Delhi and Washington pledged to do the same during U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s visit to India. One of the first economic reforms Modi announced after becoming Prime Minister was easing restrictions on foreign investment into India’s defense sector, a move aimed at bolstering its technology and production capacities. It is an open secret who is the target of all these military moves. While in Japan, Modi took a swipe at an assertive China when he told business leaders in Tokyo that “everywhere around us, we see an 18th century expansionist mind-set: encroaching on another country, intruding in others’ waters, invading other countries and capturing territory.”

Modi, then, is attempting to have his halwa and eat it, too — playing off both sides to win as many goodies as he can. In his quest to restart India’s economic miracle by building much-needed infrastructure and boosting manufacturing, Modi will need all the money he can get — from China, the U.S., Japan and anyone else who is offering. India has always been wary of trying itself too tightly into any one political camp — during the Cold War Nehru was the leading figure behind what was known as the “nonaligned movement.” The question is how long Modi can play one side off the other. We may find out soon enough. Later this month, Modi will travel to Washington to meet with President Barack Obama. Let’s see what goodies he picks up there.

TIME food and drink

KFC Has Made a Fried Chicken Keyboard

KFC Japan
KFC Japan

Sadly, it's not edible

It’s time to move to Japan.

Not only do they get the goth-meets-gross black chicken sandwich at Burger King, snake-flavored ice cream and a tear sommelier, but now they are getting a KFC-branded fried chicken keyboard, too. It’s the perfect thing to write your resignation letter on as you pack your bags and head east.

A contest run by the Japanese branch of KFC is offering a chance to win KFC swag like a fried chicken keyboard, a fried chicken drumstick mouse that will make you drool all over the keyboard, and a fried chicken thumb drive that will have you backing up data in style.

KFC Japan
KFC Japan

Unfortunately, the contest is only open to KFC fans who are residents of Japan. Guess we’ll have to type on our boring old keyboards and console ourselves with waffle tacos and taco socks and terrifying Happy Meals. Or move.

TIME World War Two

The American POWs Still Waiting for an Apology From Japan 70 Years Later

American and Filipino prisoners of war during the Bataan Death march when the Japanese force-marched them across the Philippines, May 1942.
American and Filipino prisoners of war during the Bataan Death march when the Japanese force-marched them across the Philippines, May 1942. MPI/Getty Images

More than 60 Japanese companies used American POW labor in World War II. Only one has apologized

Kathy Holcomb put her hand on the wall of a crumbling factory building in the central Japanese city of Yokkaichi and envisioned her father touching the same spot during his years as a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II.

Like thousands of American POWs, her father was made to labor under slave-like conditions in Japan’s war industry. Four of every 10 American prisoners died of starvation, illness or abuse.

Now, the survivors, their families and supporters are demanding an apology from the companies that operated those camps and profited from POW labor. Those include some of Japan’s best-known corporate giants.

“My father never really forgave the Japanese. He never understood the cruelty or the constant physical abuse,” said Holcomb. Her father, Harold Vick, was a tank crewman who was captured in the Philippines in the early days of World War II. He died several years ago.

“If he could have come here himself—if he could have heard them apologize and acknowledge what was done to him—it might have helped give him a sense of closure,” she said.

The campaign for an apology comes as Japan’s political leadership is pushing a revisionist view of wartime history. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier this year sent a message of support to a memorial service that honored convicted war criminals—including some who were executed by the Allies for abuse of POWs.

Kathy Holcomb touching the wall of one of the original buildings at the Ishihara Sangyo plant where her father labored as a POW in World War II Kirk Spitzer

The treatment of American and allied prisoners by the Japanese is one of the abiding horrors of World War II. Prisoners were routinely beaten, starved and abused and forced to work in mines and war-related factories in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions. Of the 27,000 Americans taken prisoner by the Japanese, a shocking 40 percent died in captivity, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service. That compares with just one percent of American prisoners who died in German POW camps.

The Japanese government issued a formal apology to American POWs in 2009 and started a “POW Friendship and Remembrance” program a year later. That program brings a small group of American POWs and family members to Japan each year to meet with officials and private citizens and, in some cases, visit the sites where POWs were held.

More than 60 companies used POW labor during the war, usually paying Japan’s Imperial Army a fee for the privilege, and using company employees as supplemental guards and jailers, according to the US-Japan Dialogue on POWs, a non-profit support organization based in California.

Surviving POWs and advocates have been pressing for apologies from more than a dozen companies, including some of Japan’s largest. But so far, only one—a chemical manufacturer based in Yokkaichi, near Nagoya—has done so.

Akira Kobayashi, managing executive officer of Ishihara Sangyo, said using POW labor was “one of the dark episodes” in the company’s past. Issuing an apology in 2010 was “the right thing to do,” he said.

“What we are doing here today is not only to honor your father, but it’s also for future generations, to try to bring our two countries closer together,” Kobayashi told Holcomb during an emotional meeting at the company headquarters this week.

The 1952 Treaty of Peace with Japan provided for modest compensation payments to former POWs. That money came from Japanese assets seized in the United States and elsewhere outside Japan. But U.S. and Japanese courts have ruled that the treaty explicitly prevents American POWs from seeking additional damages from either the Japanese government or private citizens. A handful of lawsuits filed in California against Mitsubishi Corp., Nippon Steel and other companies that used POW labor during the war were dismissed by federal courts in 2004.

The U.S. government is at least partly at fault for failing to ensure that POWs abused by the Japanese were treated the same as those by the Germans, said Linda Goetz Holmes. She is a former member of the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Records Interagency Working Group, and author of Unjust Enrichment: American POWs Under the Rising Sun.

“German companies long ago apologized to those who worked as slave laborers, and additional compensation was paid either by the companies or the German government, “ she said. “But when it came to Japan, our State Department said ‘Oh no, this will interfere with our foreign relations.’”

But financial compensation is not the point, said 94-year-old Lester Tenney, a former POW and head of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, a POW support group.

“Our legal fight has never been about money. It has been about honor, dignity and responsibility,” Tenney said in an email interview from his home near San Diego.

“The companies that enslaved thousands of Americans, and failed to provide them with the very basic necessities of life should, once and for all, come forward and apologize for the cruelties that were handed out,” said Tenney. He was taken prisoner in the Philippines and spent more than two years laboring in a coalmine in southern Japan.

Advocates have asked more than a dozen Japanese companies that used POW labor during the war to apologize. But so far, only Ishihara Sangyo has responded, said Kinue Tokudome, founder and executive director of the US-Japan Dialogue. Given the political climate in Japan, that may not be surprising.

Abe is a staunch conservative who in the past has questioned Japan’s war responsibility. In April, he provided a message that was read aloud during a memorial service honoring about 1,180 convicted war criminals. Those include more than 130 Japanese who were tried and executed for crimes related to the abuse of American POWs, according to Tokudome.

In the message, Abe referred to the war criminals as “martyrs who staked their souls to become the foundation of their nation.”

Tenney said Abe’s message is “disgraceful” and ignores the truth.

The treatment of POWs is not widely discussed in Japan. But that could change later this year, when the film Unbroken is scheduled for release in the United States.

That film, directed A-lister Angelina Jolie, traces the brutal treatment of Louis Zamperini in Japanese prison camps and his fight for survival. A star of the 1936 U.S. Olympic team, Zamperini was captured after his Army Air Force bomber crashed in the Pacific Ocean in May 1943.

The movie is based on the best-selling book of the same name. That book, released in 2010, was denounced on right-wing websites here as anti-Japanese propaganda. A release date for the film in Japan has not been fixed.

The issue of POW treatment by the Japanese is unlikely to go away, says Holcomb. She said her father was haunted by his prison experience and suffered daily from injuries he received while working at what was then a copper refinery—injuries that were never properly treated.

Holcomb said she decided to visit the Ishihara Sangyo plant after moving to South Korea earlier this year. The facility still has some of the same roads, buildings and dock facilities as when her father was held here; officials allowed her to tour the plant and to visit a small shrine dedicated to the POWs and others who died during the war. She said the visit helped bring closure for her, but that others are still suffering.

“This isn’t going to end even when all of the former POWs pass away. Their children and grandchildren have heard the stories, and have lived with the stories, and they haven’t forgotten. This isn’t about money. It’s about acknowledging what was done to these men.”

TIME China

China May Be Heading for a Japanese-Style Economic Crisis

CHINA-ECONOMY-PROPERTY
A man walks past a construction site in Beijing on May 30, 2014. After years of boom that have seen prices rocket, the prospect of a bust is looming over China's vast property sector. WANG ZHAO—AFP/Getty Images

Beijing is pursuing policies similar to those Tokyo did before Japan tumbled into financial meltdown

The economic system East Asian policymakers have put in place over the past 60 years has had both spectacular successes and equally spectacular failures. On the positive side, the “Asian development model,” as it is often called, generated what is probably the greatest surge of wealth in human history, wiped out poverty on an unprecedented scale and built industries at a spellbinding pace. On the downside, however, the model — by effectively subsidizing investment — also produces dizzying levels of debt, burdensome excess capacity and enfeebled financial sectors. That has resulted in severe financial crises, like the one suffered by 1990s Japan (the inventor of the Asian development model), from which it has still not fully recovered.

China, too, has followed this same model. In fact, Beijing has put it on steroids, by adding in a degree of state control that the Japanese would never have dreamed up. So that begs the obvious question: Will China face the same fate as Japan?

Strategists Naoki Kamiyama and David Cui at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch say the answer could be yes. “China’s development unfortunately has largely followed the script written by Japan some 30 years ago,” they wrote in a new report. As a result, “China today is facing many similar problems Japan did in the late 1980s and early 1990s — imbalanced growth, government stimulus, overcapacity, an overwrought housing market, and a severely under-capitalized financial system.”

Beijing today, the report contends, is creating these similar conditions by making similar policy mistakes Tokyo did more than 20 years ago. The Asian development model made both economies highly dependent on investment and exports for growth. In the 1980s, when Japanese exports struggled due to a stronger yen and slower global growth, Tokyo tried to keep the system going by flooding the economy with cheap credit. That led, ultimately, to an asset-price bubble.

Beijing has walked the same path. In response to the downturn following the 2008 financial crisis, China pumped up credit at home to offset the collapse of external demand. That held up growth rates, but also led to a scary spike in debt levels, excess capacity, and a surge in the property market. Kamiyama and Cui also contend that Chinese policymakers are repeating the errors their Japanese counterparts made to solve these problems. In Japan, the central bank hiked interest rates to control asset prices, producing a bust in the property market and blowing a hole in the balance sheets of Japanese banks. Then the government was too slow in acknowledging the extent of the problem. China is doing the same. The central bank has been tightening monetary policy to rein in property prices. The Merrill strategists fear that that decision is bursting China’s property bubble. “It appears that the property market seems to be tipping over,” they wrote.

Going further, Kamiyama and Cui make the case that the situation in China is more dangerous than it had been in Japan. “It appears to us that the problem facing China today may be more serious than Japan’s in the late 1980s and early 1990s,” they write. “China’s growth was more imbalanced, its reliance on external demand was heavier, the government’s monetary policy in response to the external demand shock was looser, debt growth was faster, over-capacity was worse, and asset price appreciation had been just as rapid.”

That means, they believe, that the consequences for the financial system in China could be more severe as well. “We suspect that China’s (nonperforming loan) ratio could be higher than Japan’s,” they forecast. “Japan’s reached over 8% some 10 years after the property bubble burst. In fact, judging from past experience in China, we could argue that the ultimate NPL ratio could be significantly into double-digit.”

The Merrill strategists also worry that China’s leaders aren’t taking the action to necessary to confront these problems. They believe the banks need to be given a boost of fresh capital to strengthen and prepare them for an onrush of bad loans, but they aren’t optimistic that Beijing will take such a step anytime soon.

On that point, they appear spot on. China’s leaders seem to be quite content with the current pace of reform in the country. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Tianjin on Wednesday that “the reform measures we have taken are good for now and make a hard landing less possible.” But there is a growing chorus of voices that argue the pace of reform in China is simply too slow. Jörg Wuttke, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, complained on Tuesday that even though China’s new leaders “have recaptured some of the necessary reform zeal … it’s now time that China’s leadership walks the talk.”

The fact is that China’s new leaders, for all of their bold statements, have done little to change the basic nature of the Chinese economy. It has been nearly two years since President Xi Jinping and his team began to take the country’s helm, and almost a year since an important party plenum unveiled a much-heralded policy document that promised sweeping change. But beyond some intriguing experiments — a few new private banks have got the greenlight, and there have been some preliminary steps to reform state-owned enterprises—there has been almost no progress towards making the Chinese economy more market-driven and more capable of fairly allocating resources and financing.

A much-touted free-trade zone in Shanghai, launched a year ago as an experiment in freer capital flows, has barely gotten off the ground. In some areas, policymakers seem to have moved backwards—most notably in market opening. The business environment appears to have become more nationalistic. Government agencies, for example, are widely perceived as wielding an anti-monopoly law against foreign companies to an unfair degree. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently complained that China’s anti-monopoly actions “often appear designed to advance industrial policy and boost national champions.”

There should be, at this stage, real concern about the ability or will of President Xi, Premier Li and their policymakers to undertake the fundamental reconstruction of the Chinese growth model necessary to avoid a Japan-style economic crisis. The Merrill study just provides more evidence that China is repeating the same mistakes and suffers from the same flaws of other economies that experienced financial crises. There will always be businessmen and economists who dismiss or downplay such concerns. These “panda huggers” argue that China is “different” and isn’t vulnerable to the same problems as other economies — that somehow the laws of economics don’t apply. But remember, that’s what experts used to say about Japan too.

TIME China

Majority of Chinese Expect War With Japan by 2020, Poll Finds

Anti-Japan Protests Erupt In China
Anti-Japan protesters are confronted by police as they demonstrate over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands on Sept. 16, 2012, in Shenzhen Lam Yik Fei—Getty Images

About 53% of Chinese respondents expect war to break out between the two countries before the end of the decade, a new survey found

More than half of China’s citizens expect their country to be at war with Japan in as little as six years, according to a new public opinion poll that finds a widening sense of mistrust and hostility between the two countries.

About 53% of Chinese respondents and 29% of Japanese respondents expected a war to break out by the year 2020, according to a joint survey conducted by newspaper China Daily and Genron, a Japanese NGO.

Each country’s favorability rating of the other remained at historic lows: 93% of Japanese respondents reported having a negative impression of China, the worst rating in the survey’s decadelong history, while 87% of Chinese responded negatively to Japan, a slight decrease from last year’s record high.

Tensions between Japan and China flared in 2013 over disputed islands in the East China Sea, and diplomats from both countries accused one another of behaving like “Voldemort,” the evil wizard from the Harry Potter fame. The rhetoric has cooled slightly since then, but public resentment evidently is still running deep.

TIME Video Games

Some Pretty Tough News About the Xbox One’s Japan Launch Sales

No one's surprised that Microsoft's latest game console isn't doing so hot in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Tell me you weren’t expecting something like this: Xbox One sales in Japan, where the console just launched on September 4, are bad. Make that really bad.

According to Japanese game mag Famitsu, Microsoft’s games console sold just 23,562 units during its first four days on the market, September 4-7. Contrast with the Japanese Xbox 360 launch back in December 2005, which sold 62,135 units in half as many days, or the original Xbox in February 2002, selling 123,929 during its launch weekend.

Sony and Nintendo game systems have historically sold better in Japan, so it’s no surprise that figures for their respective launch windows are much higher: Sony’s PlayStation 4 sold 322,083 units during its first two days on the market (in November 2013) and the Wii U moved 308,570 units during its initial two days of availability (in November 2012). In Japan, that makes the Xbox One one of the most poorly launched mainstream game consoles on the books (the best remains the PlayStation 2, which hit 630,552 units sold during its preliminary weekend).

Microsoft’s original Xbox sold fewer than half a million units in Japan over the course of its life, and the Xbox 360’s only fared slightly better: presently somewhere north of 1.6 million units sold in the country. Nintendo’s Wii U–no trailblazer itself sales-wise–just crept past Microsoft’s nine-year-old system in units-sold last February.

Titanfall topped the charts with 22,416 units (nearly as many sold as systems moved, in other words), followed by Kinect Sports Rivals (14,191 units) and Dead Rising 3 (7,330 units).

By contrast, the Xbox One, while presumably behind Sony’s PlayStation 4 in worldwide sales given Microsoft’s reluctance to publicly lock horns with Sony sales-figure-wise, has sold in record numbers (relative to prior Xbox systems) in the U.S. At last check, back in April, the Xbox One had sold 5 million units across the globe, and it’s launching in 29 new markets this month. None of them immediate game changers, but it’s a significant shoring up of the availability gap between the Xbox One and the more broadly available PlayStation 4.

On September 4, Microsoft’s Aaron Greenberg weighed in on the company’s reluctance to publish worldwide sales figures:

He’s talking in part about Halo: The Master Chief Collection (strictly rehash, but all four Halo core games fully remastered and immaculately packaged) and racer Forza Horizon 2. Microsoft’s been hyping Sunset Overdrive, an irreverent third-person shooter by former Sony-exclusive studio Insomniac Games (the Ratchet & Clank and Resistance games), so there’s that, and maybe Ori and the Blind Forest, a platformer that’s arguably the most interesting of the bunch, but it’s not yet a lock for 2014.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 3

1. Russia’s power play could be the best way to reinvigorate NATO.

By John Cassidy in the New Yorker

2. Why India and Japan need each other – badly.

By Michael Schuman in Time

3. One way Congress can speed things up for the Foreign Service – appoint career ambassadors en masse.

By David Ignatius in Washington Post

4. Labor unions in decline are no longer assimilating immigrants, counteracting racial inequality or equalizing incomes.

By Justin Fox in the Harvard Business Review

5. Congress must debate and vote on our growing military involvement in Iraq.

By Mickey Edwards and David Skaggs in the Los Angeles Times

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME India

Why India’s Modi and Japan’s Abe Need Each Other — Badly

India's PM Modi shakes hands with Japan's PM Abe during a signing ceremony at the state guest house in Tokyo
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, shakes hands with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a signing ceremony in Tokyo on Sept. 1, 2014 Shizuo Kambayashi—Reuters

The two Asian leaders are looking to strengthen ties during their meetings in Japan to counter a rising China

Cuddly is not an adjective that comes to mind when describing the Prime Ministers of either Japan or India. Shinzo Abe, like most Japanese politicians, often appears overly formal, while Narendra Modi has a reputation for being demanding and stern. But apparently the two feel warm and fuzzy about each other. Abe made the unusual gesture of welcoming Modi on his five-day official visit to Japan with an uncharacteristic hug. After that, the duo chatted over an informal dinner and strolled through a temple in the historic cultural center of Kyoto.

The leaders of Asia’s two most prominent democracies have good reasons to cozy up. Greater cooperation between India and Japan could prove critical in helping Abe and Modi achieve their economic goals at home and their strategic aims in the region — which means countering an aggressive China. That’s why the two have gushed about the importance of the India-Japan relationship. Modi said in a statement that his visit would “write a new chapter” in relations, while Abe in a Monday press conference said that their bilateral ties have the “most potential in the world.”

They have a lot of catching up to do. For economies of such size — Japan and India are the second and third largest in Asia, respectively — their exchange is still relatively small. Trade between the two reached only $15.8 billion in 2013 — a mere quarter of India’s trade with China. Japanese direct investment into India totaled $21 billion between 2007 and 2013, making Japan an extremely important investor for the country. But recently, the inflows have tapered off amid India’s economic slowdown. Over the past three years, Japanese firms have invested more in Vietnam and Indonesia than India.

That may be about to change. The fact is that the economic interests of the two nations dovetail nicely. Modi is looking to restart India’s slumbering economic growth by upgrading its woeful infrastructure, strengthening its manufacturing base and constructing a network of new “smart” cities across the nation — all of which Japanese money, technology and investment can help make a reality. Abe on Monday pledged $33 billion of financing and investment for India from public and private sources over the next five years. “Japanese trade and investment ties with India are set to strengthen significantly over the next decade and beyond,” Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist for consulting firm IHS, predicted in a recent report.

Meanwhile, Abe is trying to jump-start a Japanese economy that has been stalled for two decades, and badly needs new sources of exports and revenue for ailing Japan Inc. India, with its 1.2 billion increasingly wealthy consumers and bottomless investment opportunities, can provide just what Japan requires. That is especially the case due to Tokyo’s souring relations with that other Asian giant, China. As tensions have risen over disputed islands in the East China Sea, investment and trade between China and Japan has deteriorated.

China is pressing Tokyo and New Delhi closer together for other reasons as well. Abe is trying to forge ties with countries across the region to contain a rising and increasingly assertive China. Meanwhile, Modi, who has his own territorial disputes with Beijing on India’s borders in the far east and north, is aiming to enhance the country’s military capabilities. Much of a joint declaration signed by the Prime Ministers dealt with strategic cooperation. The two pledged to “upgrade and strengthen” their partnership in defense by regularizing joint maritime exercises and collaborating on military technology.

China wasn’t specifically mentioned in the declaration, but which country Abe and Modi have in mind is no secret. Modi, in fact, took a clear swipe at Beijing in a speech to businessmen on Monday. “Everywhere around us, we see an 18th century expansionist mind-set: encroaching on another country, intruding in others’ waters, invading other countries and capturing territory,” Modi said.

None of this has gone unnoticed in the Middle Kingdom. An editorial in the state-run Global Times written in response to Modi’s comments attempted to downplay the friendly Abe-Modi summit. “The increasing intimacy between Tokyo and New Delhi will bring at most psychological comfort to the two countries,” the newspaper contended. “If Japan attempts to form a united front centered on India, it will be a crazy fantasy generated by Tokyo’s anxiety of facing a rising Beijing.”

Whether closer India-Japan ties are a fantasy will become apparent quickly. China’s President Xi Jinping is due to visit Modi in India later in September. Let’s see if he gets a hug.

TIME Japan

The Most Dangerous Room in the World

Dominic Nahr for TIME

Three-and-a-half years after a catastrophic meltdown, Fukushima is far from fixed

Our gas masks are on, as are three pairs of gloves secured with tape, two pairs of socks, rubber boots, a hard hat and a hazmat suit that encases our bodies in polyethylene. Ice packs cool our torsos, but photographer Dominic Nahr, reporter Chie Kobayashi and I start sweating. Maybe it’s nerves, or maybe it’s just the sticky humidity of summertime Japan.

Soon we approach the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant—ground zero of the worst atomic meltdown since Chernobyl. Dosimeters around our necks record the rising levels of radiation. After the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011, the aging plant on Japan’s northeastern coast suffered a total power failure, causing the cooling system to shut down…

Read the full story here.

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