Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Kan wins, but Ozawa continues to lurk in the shadows

Posted 15 Sep 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Japan, Japanese Politics, News

As expected, Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan defeated rival Ichiro Ozawa in yesterday’s DPJ leadership contest. Here are the results in full:

MPs Local Assembly Members Party Members and Supporters Total
Kan 412 60 249 721
Ozawa 400 40 51 491

The results show a significant difference between the way lawmakers (MPs and local assembly members) and rank-and-file party members voted. A large proportion of the former remained loyal to Ozawa, while the latter voted against him by a margin of almost five to one.

Rather than bow out quietly, however, it seems likely that Ozawa will continue to wield at least some degree of power. In post-election interviews Kan hinted that, despite strong anti-Ozawa sentiment among party members, the baggy-eyelidded one might still be appointed to a position of some importance.

Kan may have won the leadership battle, but that doesn’t mean he is particularly popular with the public. His cleaner-than-most, average-boy-turned-good image works in his favour, but many Japanese still at least respect, if not admire, Ozawa’s deal-making skills. Despite only being in office for three months Kan already has a reputation for poor leadership and indecisiveness (although for Japanese prime ministers both of these “qualities” could be part of the job description) – the “will-he-won’t-he raise the consumption tax” debacle being a case in point. He is running a minority government, and many of the smaller parties, including former LDP heavyweight Yoshimi Watanabe’s “Your Party” (“Minna no To”, in Japanese), have already said that they will not cooperate with him.

Over the coming months Kan needs to make a lot of difficult economic decisions; win the support of MPs from both the DPJ and the smaller parties; and build confidence in his government among business leaders and the public. Rather him than me.

Paul Krugman on Japanese demography

Posted 09 Sep 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Japan, Japanese Politics, News

Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist, has just published an astute article on the reasons behind Japan’s long-term economic slump. In short, it’s largely down to demographics:

When you look at Japan’s declining share of world GDP, and even its relative decline in per capita GDP, the biggest single cause is the declining number of working-age Japanese.

The Japanese government is gradually increasing the retirement age from sixty to sixty five. Germany, whose demographics are similar to Japan’s (a low birth rate and a greying population), has gone one step further: it recently raised the retirement age from sixty five to sixty seven.

Ozawa v Kan – who will be the daddy?

Posted 07 Sep 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Japan, Japanese Politics, News, Tokyo

Earlier this month it seemed likely that Ichiro Ozawa, backroom wheeler-dealer and master of the political dark arts, would be successful in his bid to become leader of the DPJ, a result that would also make him Japan’s fourth prime minister in four years. However, it now appears that victory is far from certain: DJP MP Banri Kaeda, one of Ozawa’s most prominent backers, now thinks that “the situation is very severe”. In other words, he doesn’t think Ozawa will beat incumbent Naoto Kan.

Although a recent opinion poll showed that less than 20% of the Japanese public think Ozawa should be prime minister, he continues to enjoy the majority of support among the DPJ’s MPs. While this may look like – and indeed probably would be – electoral suicide on the MPs’ part, a large number of them owe Ozawa their political careers. To vote against him would be to make a very powerful enemy – Ozawa isn’t called ‘the destroyer’ for nothing.

It isn’t just MPs who get to vote, though: local assembly members and regional officials are also having their say, albeit with reduced influence (MPs’ votes are worth twice as much as the other two combined). If Kan can sway enough members of these two groups to back him, as well as a large number of the 60 MPs who have yet to decide, he may be able to hold on. Kaeda seems to think that this may very well happen.

Defeat for Ozawa may be good for the DPJ’s electoral chances – and for Japanese politics in general – but it could spell disaster for Ozawa himself: he is currently under investigation for funding irregularities. Holders of high offices in government are immune from prosecution, but as Ozawa’s chances of becoming PM slip away he may very well be indicted, just like three of his aides were this February.

Former North Korean spy visits Japan; Japanese media says “How much?!”

Posted 24 Jul 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Japanese Politics, News, Only in Japan

Last week former North Korean spy Kim Hyon Hi was flown into Japan for talks with government officials and the relatives of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang. It was believed that she might have information about the abductees, who were kidnapped some thirty years ago.

Though Mrs Kim was able to provide some details, mostly relating to the abductees’ private lives and hobbies, it’s unlikely that her visit will help Japan-North Korea relations, nor will it help Japanese officials gain a better understanding of the world’s most insular country. Her information will have been decades out of date: her links with North Korea were severed in 1987, when she was arrested in Bahrain for the bombing of Korean Air Flight 858. She has since spent her life living in confinement in South Korea.

Meanwhile, the Japanese media went bezerk over the amount of money that was being spent looking after Mrs Kim. Roads in Tokyo were closed and legions of police mobilized in order to ensure safe passage to her hotel. According to TBS, a Tokyo-based broadcaster, she was even taken on a 35-minute helicopter ride over the capital; a ride that could have cost as much as ¥1.4 million (about £10,400). Sakadazu Tanigaki, the leader of the opposition LDP, condemned the government’s lavish treatment of Mrs Kim as ‘nothing but performance’.

Mr Tanigaki is right to bring up the issue of cost – a lot of taxpayers’ money was spent on security. However, coming from a politician whose party while in government was renowned for pork-barrel dealings and a staggering lack of inertia, the phrase ‘pot calling the kettle black’ springs to mind.

Japanese super-monkeys catapult to freedom

Posted 11 Jul 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Japan, News, Only in Japan

Last weekend saw me in Inuyama, Aichi prefecture, for my sister-in-law’s wedding. It also mysteriously coincided with the daring escape of a number of monkeys from Nagoya University’s research institute, which is just a few minutes’ drive from my parents-in-law’s house.

Although I can’t say that I was directly responsible for the simian breakout, I like to think that my presence spurred them into devising a plan that MacGyver would have been proud of, namely the use of tree branches to catapult themselves over an electrified fence. Unfortunately, none of the monkeys had given much thought as to what to do after that: they moped about immediate area like bored kids at a christening until researchers lured them back with peanuts.

It is believed that the recaptured monkeys are watching The Great Escape every day for tips. They also wish to make contact with some underworld types who can provide them with false identities, Swiss passports and tickets to Rio.

Read more:

If anyone can, Kan can!

Posted 08 Jun 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Japan, Japanese Politics, News, Only in Japan, Tokyo

My, doesn’t time fly in the world of Japanese politics? It seems like only yesterday that Yukio Hatoyama and the DPJ finally managed to chuck the pork-barrellers of the LDP out of power, and yet here we are, just months later, with yet another unelected Japanese leader on our hands.

Putting questions of legitimacy to one side for the time being, it’s good to see that Naoto Kan, the new prime minister, isn’t from one of the grotesque political dynasties that dominate the Diet. The grandfathers of the last four prime ministers – Hatoyama, Aso, Fukuda and Abe – were also prime ministers themselves. Tellingly, none of these political darlings lasted longer than a year in office. It comes as no surprise that their ‘superior’ breeding and first-rate education failed to prepare them for the real world, and for the demands that come with governing the world’s second largest economy.

While Hatoyama doggedly dug his own grave over the US military base on Okinawa, Naoto Kan kept mum. By neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the idea of moving the base off the island he may very well be able to dodge the issue entirely, or at least kick it into the long grass for the time being. Hatoyama’s dithering seriously damaged the US administration’s trust in Japan. Kan needs to repair that trust, and also begin to enact the policies that the LDP fought last year’s election on, most notably reform of the institutionally corrupt bureaucracy.

The political elite have been in a malaise for so long that, like the chained prisoners in Plato’s allegory of the cave, they have little or no understanding of how the real world functions. Hopefully, Kan will be able to drag some of them towards the blinding reality of the outside world. Unfortunately, content with their world of shadows, most of them will probably try to get rid of him as swiftly as possible.

Japan-related Links of the Week: 29 May 2010

Posted 29 May 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Food, Japan, Japanese Politics, Links of the Week, News, Only in Japan, Style, Tokyo

A roundup of some of the best Japan-related links from this week.

Asahi Shimbun Co. said Monday that it incurred its first ever group operating loss last year due to falls in advertising revenue.

Asahi Shimbun suffers operating loss
The Japan Times (Kyodo News)


The [Japanese] government released a study on fish consumption on May 21 in which salmon emerged as the most popular to eat at home, followed by squid and tuna, all of which are straightforward to turn into a meal.

Salmon takes over as top table treat in Japan
The Independent (Relaxnews)


[Tokyo] is an unexpected city, not a homogenised J G Ballard city of the future but a series of small and distinct neighbourhoods. It can be startlingly beautiful.

Tokyo, Japan: My kind of town (an interview with author Edmund de Waal)
The Daily Telegraph


After being mauled in the media for sartorial crimes … Hatoyama will be buoyed by the news that a Shanghai-based shirt-maker is selling copies of his most infamous garment as a tribute to his “individuality”.

Shirt-maker cashes in on Japanese PM’s unique dress sense
The Guardian (Justin McCurry)


Twenty years ago, there was one retiree for every six working-age Japanese. By 2025, the government projects that the ratio will decrease to one retiree for every two people employed.

Does Japan’s decline foretell our future?
CTV News (Alexandra Seno)

Japan-related Links of the Week: 22 May 2010

Posted 22 May 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Japan, Links of the Week, News, Only in Japan, Tokyo

A roundup of some of the best Japan-related links from this week.

The [Yokohama branch of the Japan Teachers’ Union] said the textbooks made by right-wing groups contain many inaccuracies, including the Japanese government’s attempt to legitimize the country’s past aggression in Asia.

Japanese Teachers’ Union Boycotts Right-wing Textbook
The Dong-a Ilbo


A Japanese man has been detained by police after scattering tens of thousands of pounds’ worth of banknotes across a busy highway in Japan.

Japanese man arrested for throwing £20,000 onto highway
The Daily Telegraph (Danielle Demetriou)


Hiromu Nonaka, a former chief cabinet secretary, revealed last month that from 1998-99 he spent up to ¥70m ($600,000 at the exchange rate of the time) a month from his secret little piggy bank.

A slush fund is revealed in Japan: See no evil
The Economist (Banyan’s column)


“The amount of money a Chinese person is spending [in Japanese department stores] is incomparable to that of a Japanese customer.”

Chinese invasion offers a ray of hope to tourist trade
The Asahi Shimbun


The Japanese economy grew at a healthy clip of 1.2 percent in the first quarter, the government said on Thursday, hinting that Japan’s recovery from a crippling recession was finally gathering momentum.

Figures Suggest Japan’s Recovery Is Gaining Strength
The New York Times (Hiroko Tabuchi)

Japan + robots = a BBC news report!

Posted 18 May 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Japanese Politics, News, Only in Japan, TV, Technology, Tokyo

For those of you who regularly watch BBC World News (come on, it can’t be just me!), you’ve probably noticed an eerily similarity between its Japan-related reports. It seems that no matter what the story, be it whaling, dolphin slaughtering or population decline, robots manage to get in there somehow. Take this story on immigration, for example.

Is there really any possibility that robots will replace human nurses? I’d say the chances are slim, to say the least. Considering that even the most advanced robots still have trouble mastering the simple act of walking down a flight of stairs, I can’t envisage them pottering around nursing homes changing soiled bedsheets and helping old chaps put on their pyjamas. And of course robots don’t pay taxes or buy goods, and they most definitely don’t have babies.

Nevertheless, a lot of BBC news reports seem to gloss over important issues in favour of portraying Japan as a nation of robot-mad, insular lunatics. I don’t know anyone who thinks the use of robots in frontline service/healthcare industry jobs is even remotely feasible, nor do I know anyone who seeks to preserve Japan’s “racial purity”. There may be a small, but vocal, minority of right-wing politicians and nutters who hold such views, but they should not be seen to represent the opinions of the majority of Japanese.

From a business standpoint there is little debate about whether or not Japan needs immigrants: the domestic car industry already relies on immigrant workers (especially Japanese-Brazilians), and the country’s most powerful business group, the Nippon Keidanren, is strongly in favour of granting more foreigners permanent resident status. When the Japanese government finally faces up to the Big Decision – increased immigration or a crippled economy – it will, I’m sure, choose the former.

Japan-related Links of the Week: 15 May 2010

Posted 14 May 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Entertainment, Japan, Japanese Politics, Links of the Week, News, Only in Japan, Tokyo

A roundup of some of the best Japan-related stories from this week:

Gross public debt has edged up to 200 per cent of GDP. Net debt, at 100 per cent of GDP, is still in acutely dangerous territory.

Japan in risky territory: Things could turn ugly fast
The Times (Leo Lewis)


Japanese driving schools are offering more than instruction behind the wheel, with Hawaiian massage and lessons in BMWs among the services available to compete for a dwindling number of potential students.

Japan driving schools rev up with BMWs, manicures
Reuters (Chris Gallagher)


Japanese companies have long had a reputation of being unfriendly to women, especially mothers. That image was reinforced recently by the World Economic Forum, which downgraded Japan in its Gender Gap Report from 98th of 130 countries in 2008 to 101st out of 134 countries in 2009.

Japan sinks (even) lower on gender discrimination report
The Christian Science Monitor (Gavin Blair)


“[Yukio Hatoyama’s] shirt comes from the ’80s or ’90s. His ideas and philosophy are old. Japan is facing a crisis and we can’t overcome it with a prime minister like this.”

Japan’s prime minister under fire for fashion choices
CNN (Kyung Lah)


“If you’re eating dolphin meat, you’re eating poison, and if you’re eating a lot of dolphin meat, you’re eating a lot of poison.”

Tests show residents in dolphin-hunting village in ‘The Cove’ have elevated mercury levels
The Los Angeles Times (Jay Alabaster)

Japan-related Links of the Week: 24 April 2010

Posted 24 Apr 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Japan, Japanese Politics, Links of the Week, News, Only in Japan, Tokyo

A run-down of some of the best Japan-related stories from this week:

After years of economic stagnation and widening income disparities, this once proudly egalitarian nation is belatedly waking up to the fact that it has a large and growing number of poor people.

Japan Tries to Face Up to Growing Poverty Problem
The New York Times (Martin Fackler)


I was making the same amount of money as assembly line workers at auto factories.

Charm offensive: the hostess bites back
The Independent (David McNeill and Chie Matsumoto)


Now stripped of the interest groups that supported it for so long, the LDP has failed to reinvent itself for the age of floating voters and is rapidly becoming a loose alliance of koenkai. As more politicians leave the party, it becomes harder to imagine that the LDP will ever adapt.

A New Dawn?
Observing Japan (Tobias Harris)

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