Thursday, July 20, 2017

1 In 6 Children In Japan Live In Poverty

Finance Minister Aso Pressured By Media To Explain Poverty Issues

The smell of miso soup and rice wafts from a kitchen as a brigade of volunteers put their cooking skills to use on a recent Saturday evening in Tokyo’s commuter belt.
In an adjoining room, children chat and make paper cutouts while they await the arrival of what, for some, will be their only proper meal of the day.
Kawaguchi children’s cafeteria is one of hundreds to have sprouted up in Japan in recent years in response to a problem few associate with the world’s third biggest economy: child poverty.
The Health and Welfare Ministry announced last Wednesday 3.5 million Japanese children – or one in six of those aged up to 17 – are from households classed as experiencing relative poverty.
Japan’s relative rate of poverty has risen over the past three decades to 16.3%, while the rate in the US, though higher at 17.3%, has fallen.
“The global economic turmoil in 2008 hit women in their 20s and 30s particularly hard,” said Finance Minister Taro Aso.  “Those in full-time work were forced to take irregular or part-time jobs with low pay and no bonuses or annual pay rises. In some cases, these women have to borrow money, sometimes from loan sharks, and then end up working in the commercial sex industry to pay off their debts. It’s easy for them to get trapped in a negative cycle”, Aso concluded as he addressed the media yesterday.
Their plight is a rarely seen consequence of Japan’s struggle to steer its economy out of the doldrums after more than two decades of stagnation and deflation. Four years after Shinzo Abe became prime minister for a second time, campaigners say the rise in poverty is evidence that his grand plan for growth – known as Abenomics – has failed to deliver for many families.
Japan now has some of the worst wealth inequality and highest rates of child poverty in the developed world, according to a Unicef report released in April that ranked Japan 34th out of 41 industrialised countries.
Of the 3.5 million children who are eligible for state support, only 200,000 actually receive any – a low take-up rate that campaigners blame on the stigma attached to living on social security.

Jiji Press

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

New Zealand Man Dies In Saitama Hospital After Restraints Used

Victim Kelly Savage (27)

The family of a New Zealand man who died after being tied to a bed for 10 days in a Japanese psychiatric ward say his care was an abuse of human rights.

Kelly Savage, 27, had been teaching English in Japan for two years when a pre-existing mental health condition worsened.

His Wellington-based family say he became manic after stopping his medication because of the side effects.

He was admitted to Yamato Hospital In Yamato City, Saitama, under a compulsory order and restrained on a bed in a secure ward for 10 days.

A nurse found him in cardiac arrest in mid-May and he died seven days later.

His death certificate lists the cause of death as hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy caused by cardiopulmonary arrest.

But his family say the cause of the cardiac arrest is inconclusive and it has been suggested to them that deep vein thrombosis may have been involved because of the long period of restraint.

The doctors in Japan have reported that 30 days' restraint is common there.

The family have tried unsuccessfully to get medical records from the hospital, which also declined to allow an investigation into the cause of death by an outside party.

The hospital has also declined to apologise, with the chief doctor denying responsibility.

Kelly's older brother, Pat Savage, who lives in Japan with his wife and young children, said he was driven to tears of anger and frustration at a meeting with hospital chiefs yesterday.

He said they told him nurses would have removed Kelly's waist, wrist and leg restraints for short periods on occasions, to wash him or allow him to eat, but would not say for how long or give him the nurses' records.

"I kind of broke down and [was] crying and angry at them because I've been trying to get these records for almost two months now, and they know that I wanted it, and they just screwed us over by, you know, trying to drag the process out as long as possible."

He said whether the restraints were removed "for a few minutes" to allow Kelly, who was sedated, to be bathed was immaterial; he did not need to be physically restrained for so long.
"He does need to be in a hospital - I was glad he was in a hospital - but he didn't need to be restrained to the bed in my opinion."

Dr Savage said it was bad to treat anyone that way, but particularly his younger brother, who was helping Japanese students.

"The fact that Kelly was here ... to try to help international relations, trying to teach Japanese children English, and then he's just dying in this kind of outrageous circumstances that would never happen in New Zealand should be an embarrassment to Japan."

Kelly's mother, Martha Savage, a professor of geophysics at Victoria University, said what had happened was shocking.

"It just seems medieval to me. I mean we were just shocked when we first found out and it seems like it's something from a movie back in the Middle Ages. It doesn't seem like a modern society would be doing this [restraint]."

She said the only thing the hospital staff did for Kelly while he was restrained was put compression stockings on him.

She said restraint was needed to prevent people from hurting themselves or others, but it was usually for a short period of time.

"No more than a few hours and only if they're actually actively trying to resist and trying to go after other people, but Kelly had already stopped resisting at that point and they still put him in the restraint."

Prof Savage said the family did not want anything other than to prevent it happening to anyone else.

"We don't want to sue anybody, we don't want money. We just want other people to not go through this terrible situation again."

She urged the New Zealand government to push Japan to change its practices.

Radio New Zealand

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Trump Better For Japan Than Clinton Would Have Been



The American politician bend for upbraiding Japan about trade issues did not begin with Donald Trump. It began with Jimmy Carter in 1979, when he began his run for reelection. President Ronald Reagan made it part of his platform during his campaign in 1980, during his reelection campaign in 1984, and throughout his administration. From Carter to Trump every candidate for presidency has made criticism of Japan's refusal to negotiate true free trade agreements part of their platform. Hillary Clinton in June 2015 said to a crowd in Detroit, “The TPP must be reworked to assure our automobiles will be as accessible in Japan as their automobiles are here.”

Trump criticizing Japan on trade issues is part and parcel of US politics, just as protecting Japan's bloated and subsidized agriculture sector is to Japanese politics. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his LDP crew need to stop criticizing the usual rhetoric and begin looking at how Trump is much better for Japan than Clinton would have and Bush and Obama failed Japan.

It is true that Bush and Koizumi shared a rare bromance that few presidents of the USA and prime ministers of Japan ever did. Bush also failed to back Japan for a UN resolution against North Korea to demand return of remains and release the whereabouts of abducted Japanese citizens in North Korea. Bush also failed to implement a missile defense shield for Japan due to Chinese objections.

Obama did visit Hiroshima last year but it was an empty political gesture since it was reciprocation for Emperor Akihito visiting Pearl Harbor during June 2014 and also as a thank you for Prime Minister Abe agreeing to visit Pearl Harbor last year. Obama's policies that enabled China to expand territory and failing to demand Chinese military stay out of Japan's territories caused Japan more trouble than an empty visit to Hiroshima was worth.

Trump is willing to back Japan in two areas that Japan needs. One, the renegotiation of the Status of Forces Agreement rushed out by President Clinton and Prime Minister Maruyama in 1995. Two, the desire to put an end to North Korean military aggression once and for all.

The Status of Forces agreement that Clinton and Maruyama rushed into signing in 1995 before Japanese Diet elections has been a thorn in both nations. For Japan it has caused continual confrontation between Okinawa and Tokyo. Okinawans are tired of shouldering over 80% of US military forces in Japan and do not want an expansion of bases. Tokyo has taken a “shut up do as we say” attitude toward Okinawa. When Okinawan Governor, Takeshi Onaga, flew to Washington DC to visit President Trump in February, he received an assurance by Trump to look into the issue. Trump spoke with Abe just recently in Germany about re-looking at SOFA to perhaps ease Okinawa's situation. This is more than Clinton, Bush, or Obama ever offered.

As North Korea keeps firing missiles daily, Trump has ordered US military forces to begin setting up the missile defense shield and has put the USS Vincent aircraft carrier group off the coast of North Korea in South Korean and Japanese waters. These actions are much more action than Bush or Obama ever even conceived of putting into motion.

Trump sees Japan as an important ally and is showing actual motions to prove such. Abe and his LDP posse need to recognize the reality that Trump is much better for Japan than any US president has been since Ronald Reagan. Trump's bluster is easily ignored and his actions speak much loader than the rhetoric puked out by Clinton, Bush, and Obama. They spoke in kind terms but their actions did more to hurt Japan's security and stability than Trump speaking the truth - that when it comes to trade Japan has a poor track record.

Trump is refusing a nuclear armed North Korea and is showing willingness to fight for that, and that is alone is what is best for Japan. Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State did nothing to confront North Korea. Trump has made it clear North Korea will be confronted - including military intervention. Clinton, Bush, and Obama all failed in that respect and thus Japan is in the situation on North Korea in all fronts Abe is contending with.

Friday, July 14, 2017

TEPCO Needs 5 More Years Of Government Subsidies

TEPCO Head Takashi Kawamura At Diet Testimony

The new chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) says the utility needs to stop dragging its feet on plans to dump massive amounts of treated but contaminated water into the sea and make more money if it's ever going to succeed in cleaning up the mess left by meltdowns more than six years ago at the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Takashi Kawamura, an engineer-turned-business leader who previously headed Hitachi, is in charge of reviving TEPCO and leading the cleanup at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant. In testimony Thursday in the House of Deputies in the Diet, Kawamura said despite the massive costs of the cleanup and meeting tighter safety requirements, nuclear power is still vital for Japan's national security.

Below are highlights from the testimony.

CLEANUP REQUIRES RELEASE OF TREATED CONTAMINATED WATER

Massive amounts of radiation-contaminated water that has been processed and stored in hundreds of tanks at the plant are hindering decommissioning work and pose a safety risk in case another massive quake or tsunami strikes. TEPCO needs to release the water - which contains radioactive tritium that is not removable but considered not harmful in small amounts - into the Pacific Ocean, Kawamura said. The method is favored by experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency and Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority as the only realistic option. Earlier, TEPCO had balked at calls by NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka for controlled release of the water, now exceeding 770,000 metric tons, into the sea, fearing a public backlash. "Technically, we fully support the chairman's proposal," he said, adding that there is still strong resistance from local residents, especially fishermen. "I think we should have acted sooner. ... We should start moving faster."

PROFITS NEEDED TO COVER CRUSHING COSTS

Government subsidies are needed for at least five more years. Kawamura says TEPCO must become more profitable to manage to cover the gargantuan costs of cleaning up Fukushima Dai-Ichi after it suffered multiple meltdowns due to the massive March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami. TEPCO'S longtime status as a regional monopoly undermined its profit-making incentive, hobbling its ability to cover most of the 21.5 trillion yen (about $190 billion) price tag for decommissioning the plant and compensating dislocated residents. "To reconstruct Fukushima, we must make more profit, and I know we should not be taking about just money, but I think that is important," he said.

DECOMMISSIONING IS THE FUTURE

TEPCO's main mission now is decommissioning Fukushima Dai-Ichi, an unprecedented challenge that experts say could take decades and will take still more research and development. "That's our main activity and gaining new expertise in the decommissioning is far more important. But I believe there will be a time when decommissioning becomes an important business," Kawamura said. "Decommissioning is a process which takes time, not only for accident-hit reactors but ordinary retired reactors," he said. "I plan to coordinate with those who are studying the possibility of properly turning decommissioning of ordinary reactors into a viable business."

JAPAN NEEDS NUCLEAR POWER

Kawamura says he believes nuclear power is still a viable business and one that will continue to be vital for Japan's energy security, despite the extra costs from stricter post-Fukushima safety requirements and the cost of processing spent fuel and waste. TEPCO is reviewing its business strategy, but based on rough estimates, "I still believe that nuclear is still superior for Japan, which is really a resource- poor country," he said. "Even if we take severe accident measures and factor in spent fuel processing and other costs, I think there are some reactors that can still be profitable." He said nuclear power includes a wide range of technologies that Japan should not abandon, for national security reasons, as China continues to build nuclear plants.

TEPCO'S OTHER REACTORS

Kawamura said TEPCO hopes to restart the utility's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in northern Japan, even while the decommissioning at Fukushima Dai-Ichi is underway, so the operable plant can be a major source of revenue for the company. He said a decision on whether to resume operation of the Fukushima Dai-Ni plant, near Fukushima Dai-Ichi, will depend on a financial review. He said he regrets TEPCO's slowness in making a decision and acknowledged calls from local authorities and residents to decommission the second Fukushima plant, which was also hit by the tsunami but avoided a meltdown.

From Diet Transcripts 13 July

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Trade Deal That Isn't



The trade deal that really is not a trade deal was trumpeted as a success last week. Not so much as break through as a failed tweak on Trump's and the UK's noses. The deal is this: The EU and Japan have made a deal to meet again and try to get a deal worked out. All that was agreed to concretely is what was agreed to last year. Tariffs on EU produced non automotive industrial products sold in Japan would be cut by 30% in 2019 and phased out completely by 2025. On the Japan side, Japanese electronics would have tariffs in the EU cut by 30% in 2018 and phased out completely by 2023. This has already been agreed to in December last year and waited to be signed during the G20 meetings this month as a symbolic symbol to the USA and UK.

Maybe the shelves in local Japanese won't be bulging under the weight of European quality cheeses, cold meat, or clinking with fine wine just yet. But the deal, or accord rather, is the correct terminology politically for the agreement, declaration is a means to and end. That is to scold President Trump policy of protectionism and isolation.

As for the Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Tusk to trumpet their Global Europe policy in the face of GB Prime Minster Theresa May. Not particularly subtle or objective, however the message is that Japan and the EU are going to give Kabuki Show appearance to the fact try as hard as they will Japan will not lower or remove tariffs on EU automobiles and agricultural products. The EU will not allow Japanese robotics in the EU without strong limits. So what was worked out is that they will try hard and accomplish nothing in the future.
 

Shinzo Abe as protector of free trade? Not likely – ever. For Japan free trade means we're free to sell our stuff anywhere we like at any price we like and keep your stuff out.

The Chinese will take note! And the USA, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, African nations that feel the EU and Japan are too stringent and unequitable on “free trade” deals will negotiate their own among each other. The EU and Japan will simply be shut out from a majority of nations that see national sovereignty as far more important than meaningless labels as “free trade” that is not free trade and “globalization” that is nothing but national sovereignty sacrificed to unelected bureaucrats in the UN and EU.

The cry of 'The let them eat sushi' is not quite so fresh as the fish need to be. Japan also faces fights with EU on wanting to expand fishing rights into EU waters in the North Sea and Atlantic. And instead of buying Japanese cars (which are set to go up in price) Australians and New Zealanders are buying Chinese and Amrican cars and are now undercutting Japanese sales. In Australia alone Japanese auto sales have plummeted 60% over the last decade. In China the goal is to own a Cadillac or Lincoln and Japanese auto makers have all but closed out of the more lucrative midclass and luxury car markets. Toyota pulled its Lexus brand out of China in 2012 and has no plans to return. Is this what they call 'negotiating'? Junker was recently complaining about an empty chamber the other day which was evidenced by footage showing it to be so. And the Abe government is on the slide after the worst vote ever for the LDP in the Tokyo elections outsmarted by Tokyo's first successful female politician. Four years a-coming but not signed yet? Abe full of ideas except none of them work out. A true analysis is that this will yet be another dead on arrival accomplishment. A further and another example of Abenomics.

A true account of something I was told years ago comes to mind. A product being made for a Japanese buyer in the USA. Everything was questioned and changed from the original, even the color. It was a leather product. Come the presentation and the Japanese buyer still hovered. Frustrated the seller asked what now was wrong. "We have done everrything you requested". The Japanese buyer replied “Ah, yeah, but I don't like the smell! It is too leathery smelling.” Imagine leather smelling like leather and not lilacs or sakura.

But for the LDP showing off is just letting the dog and pony show of working hard and accomplishing nothing go on further. I would not say that choice is too limited for European products in Japan, rather some type of censorship about what is best as quality and their price of products is limiting their sale. Abe needs to keep his rural farmer voters happy for a few more years.

It has been decided in Tokyo, when Prime Minister Abe returned from Europe Tuesday, that a shift has been made. The Abe administration now has decided there will be no deal at all if the old system of investment structure is changed in any way. This is a deal breaker for Brussels and as of that announcement EU nations all but declared the talks over if Tokyo keeps that tone. Japan's reply is “We shall keep this tone, the system will not change.”

Japanese time is slow and even slower in today's world where one consumer now knows with smart phone effort what is available all over the Earth through the Internet. Globalism has been replaced by Amazon, Ebay, and Alibaba. Just as Fed-Ex, Yamato Kuro Neko, and Sagawa replaced the post office for express delivery. National sovereignty is easily kept when the buying and selling is done on screens and keyboards. Seems Abe and Junkers have yet to realize this. The future is not free trade agreements and globalization but rather shoring up technology infrastructure and managing the virtual currency markets. The net marketplace has already steadily replaced the brick and mortar markets.

Dallas Brincrest, Editor

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Maekawa Testifies: Prime Minister Abe Ordered School Given Special Approval

Maekawa Testifies Before The Diet

A former top education ministry bureaucrat told the Diet Monday that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's office had significant influence over the government's decision to approve a new department at a university run by his friend.  

Kihei Maekawa testified, "Prime Minister Abe ordered that the school be given special approval in veterinary medicine.  He knew and his aids went to the Education Ministry and got special approval."

Abe's aide was clearly involved in the approval process for the veterinary department at the Okayama University of Science in a government-designated special economic zone, said Maekawa, former vice minister of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

Attending as an unsworn witness, Maekawa told a Diet committee, "The prime minister's office worked behind the scenes," adding that the Cabinet Office, and the prime minister's office, was responsible for dealing with issues related to special economic zones.

Kotaro Kake, chairman of Kake Educational Institution, which runs the university, is known as a close friend of the prime minister.

Abe's Liberal Democratic Party agreed to briefly reopen parliament for committee deliberations, as requested by opposition parties.

But the deliberations were held when Abe was away for a tour of European countries including participation in the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, prompting opposition parties' demand for his attendance at a separate parliament session.

Appearing in the joint session of the House of Representatives' Cabinet affairs and education committees, Maekawa reiterated that the review process was "unclear" and "unfair," citing insufficient discussion of whether Kake Educational Institution met conditions to launch Japan's first vet school in half a century.

During a similar session in the House of Councillors in the afternoon, the former top bureaucrat also said Hiroto Izumi, Abe's assistant, urged him in September and October last year to speed up the procedure, saying he was making the request on behalf of Abe "because the prime minister cannot say it by himself."

Abe has come under fire over suspicions he influenced the approval process for the opening of the new department at the university in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, western Japan.

Such suspicions have grown after the revelation of documents indicating that officials of the Cabinet Office pressured the education ministry ahead of the selection of Kake.

Maekawa has said he remembers having seen some of the documents while he was still working at the ministry.

The documents, which Maekawa insists are authentic, state the officials employed phrases such as "what the highest level of the prime minister's office has said" and "in line with the prime minister's wishes." Abe and other Cabinet members have repeatedly denied wrongdoings.

It is the second scandal related to school operators close to Abe. He has drawn suspicion over his dubious ties with private school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which purchased state-owned land in Osaka at a dramatically reduced price. Abe's wife Akie was named honorary principal of the elementary school that Moritomo planned to open at the site.

Maekawa resigned in January to take responsibility for a scandal in which the ministry systematically secured post-retirement jobs for its bureaucrats.

Kyodo

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Government Calls Response By TEPCO "Arrogant"

Protesters Outside TEPCO HQ

The head of Japan's nuclear safety watchdog on Monday criticized the attitude of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc (TEPCO) toward decommissioning of the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and questioned the company's ability to resume operation of other reactors.

"I feel a sense of danger," Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said during a special meeting with the company's top management, adding that TEPCO does "not seem to have a will to take initiative and is responding with arrogance in our investigation" toward decommissioning of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Takashi Kawamura, the chairman of TEPCO, and its president, Tomoaki Kobayakawa, attended the meeting. The authority felt it is necessary to hear from the top executives before it could make a decision on whether to approve TEPCO's plan to resume operation of the Nos. 6 and 7 reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture.

TEPCO filed for state safety assessment of the two reactors in September 2013 to reactivate them, hoping to restore its financial condition as it needed massive funds to pay compensation related to the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, triggered by a huge earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, and to scrap the plant that suffered meltdowns.

The watchdog's safety screening has found TEPCO's failure to report insufficient earthquake resistance of a facility built to serve as the base to deal with a possible nuclear accident at the Niigata complex although it had acknowledged the insufficiency for three years.

In June, TEPCO submitted to the watchdog its revised safety measures for the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa complex.

"An operator lacking will to take initiative does not have the right to resume operation of nuclear reactors," Tanaka said.

TEPCO's chairman responded by saying, "There are citizens who believe nuclear power is necessary. Operating reactors is our responsibility."

But he also admitted there is room for only two more years' worth of space in the tanks to accommodate contaminated water stemming from the Fukushima complex.

At Monday's meeting, the watchdog asked TEPCO's top management about the company's safety measures for the Niigata complex on the Sea of Japan coast as well as its safety awareness.

Tanaka said the authority does not view that it received sufficient responses from TEPCO at the meeting and requested that the company submit more explanation on its plan to decommission the Fukushima complex and resume operation of the two reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.

Tanaka plans to conduct on-site checkups at the two reactors of the plant in Niigata, saying, "TEPCO, which caused the (Fukushima) accident, is not an ordinary operator."

The two boiling water reactors at the Niigata plant are the same type as those that suffered core meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi complex, and no such reactors have cleared the authority's safety screening since the Fukushima disaster.

Kyodo

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Cool Japan Uncool After 10 Years

Former PM Koizumi At Cool Japan Launch July 2007

It has been 10 years since the then former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi launched the Cool Japan marketing campaign to internationally sell Japan as not only a cool destination for vacation but exchange study, academic research, business exchange, and cultural exchange.
 
Elated by the international attention, Japan’s bureaucrats and CEOs reformulated the concept of "national cool" into a Cool Japan marketing campaign that could reach new consumers and add soft power to Japan’s manufacturing achievements. And it seemed to work ... for a while.

Leading media soon had Cool Japan columns and programs. Tourists were invited to the country for Cool Japan tours and seminars, with obligatory stops at the kawaii (cute) capital, Harajuku, and the anime-drenched district of Akihabara.

But the hoped-for revenue streams didn’t pan out.

North American manga sales peaked in 2007 and then declined, resulting in a wave of layoffs at international manga distributors
 
According to the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry’s 2012 “Cool Japan Strategy” white paper, Japan exports only 5 percent of its Cool Japan contents – not quite one-third of US creative industries’ 17.8 percent. 

The industry created a bubble that has now burst, says Mr. Galbraith, author of “The Otaku Encyclopedia: An Insider's Guide to the Subculture of Cool Japan.” “Some say anime is dead,” he observes in Tokyo, “while others who still like it say it’s overpriced, and end up illegally streaming it.”

Even Japan’s mighty video games are losing their worldwide cachet. Legendary game designer Keiji Inafune was recently accused of having a “Charlie Sheen moment” in his calls for Japanese studios to wake up to their growing irrelevance.

The marketing of the phrase Cool Japan itself creates an awkward problem: “To call yourself cool is by definition uncool – and it defies Japanese modesty,” says Manabu Kitawaki, director of Meiji University’s Cool Japan program.

“Creativity doesn’t spring from marketing,” he continues. “The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry hired Dentsu for its Cool Japan campaign. It’s become a way to funnel money to a big ad firm.”

The otaku culture (a term used to describe people with intensive interests in anime or manga) celebrated by Cool Japan can also be problematic overseas. Critics complain of the use of the popular girl band group AKB48 as cultural ambassadors. “AKB48 may represent Japanese culture,” says Yukio Kobayashi, president of Tokyo music agency 3rd Stone From The Sun, “but underage girls in sexy clothing … to me it’s basically legal child porn.”

Experts also say the country focused for too long on producing highly developed but unexportable products.  They say the sheer size of the domestic market made foreign fans of Japanese culture an afterthought – and that when Japanese contents industries did look abroad, the rush of interest in Cool Japan created unrealistic expectations. 

“It’s the boiling frog scenario,” says the Ryotaro Mihara of the new Creative Industries Division at the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI). “With Cool Japan the market shrank bit by bit," he says referring to Japan's domestic manga, anime, and music markets, "so there wasn’t a sense of urgency” to reach international consumers.  

By contrast, says “Japanamerica” author Roland Kelts, “The Korean government invested a lot of money in its domestic pop industry and went after overseas markets. “Places where J-pop was formerly popular, like Southeast Asia, have switched to K-pop.”

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster then came along to deal a cruel blow to Japan’s image. “You can call Japan ‘cool’ all you want,” says Japanese film critic Mark Schilling, “but images of the tsunami and reactor meltdowns are stronger now in many foreign minds than any miniskirted pop idol.”

As the challenges facing Japanese soft power sink in, some say the first step to addressing them may mean ditching the Cool Japan slogan altogether.

METI’s Mr. Mihara admits there has been criticism. “A debate is needed within Japan,” he says, “to come up with a better phrase to explain Japanese culture.”

Rather than Cool Japan slogans, Japan may be better off promoting specific aspects of Japanese culture. “What you want is Cool X, Y, or Z,” says Steve McClure, former Billboard Asia bureau chief and publisher of McClureMusic.com. “Branding a cultural movement in terms of national origin is dangerous.”

This is an area where Japan should have an advantage. “Gangnam Style” may have 800 million YouTube views, but Japan produces a broader range of success stories.

Last year in North America, vintage singer Saori Yuki had a No. 1 song on the iTunes jazz chart while dance music star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu topped iTunes’s electronic music chart. “It’s almost irrelevant whether Japan is cool or not, because there is enough cool stuff here anyway that will sink or swim on its own,” says Mr. McClure.

Instead of throwing money at marketing campaigns, experts say Japan should support its struggling domestic contents industries. Japan spent just 0.12 percent of its national budget on the arts in 2008, the latest year for which comparable figures are available, whereas South Korea spent 0.79 percent, and China 0.51 percent. 

Public funds would be effective in industries like manga and anime, where young “kamikaze” animators burn out from long days and salaries that average only just over 1 million yen (about $12,185) per year.

Indeed, though Japan once dominated the industry, work is increasingly done by its low-cost Asian neighbors. “There is a culture of manga and anime that is currently in critical condition,” says Galbraith. “The manga market cannot be allowed to fail. It is the base of the contents industry in Japan.”

Public money would also be useful in helping Japanese artists make expensive trips abroad. “We get many requests from overseas fans,” says King Record’s Sayaka Yamada, who manages the international catalog of girl groups like Momoiro Clover Z. “Financial support would be very helpful,” she continues. “Japan should study Korea, which invested a lot to promote K-pop artists.”

Observers say Japan production houses should empower the “scanlators” who post pirated manga. “They need to join with other companies to make a Web presence that’s attractively priced and branded,” Mr. Kelts counsels, pointing again to South Korea, which has been much more proactive about utilizing the Internet and branding its culture.

“When a Pixar film comes to Japan, it’s branded as a Pixar film,” Kelts says. “Nobody knows Japanese anime studios like Production I.G. Cool Japan was fine in the early phases, but at a certain point distinguishing brands have to emerge.”

An initiative by METI’s Creative Industries section, which was formed just last year, may speak to new efforts in this direction. METI funded a “Harajuku Street Style” market in Singapore. “Kawaii styles are very popular there, but Japanese fashion businesses have difficulty operating overseas,” METI’s Mihara says. “We provided a budget to help them get established. Pooling their efforts, we had 13 brands available in Singapore for the first time.” 

Experts also say Japan needs to get away from stereotypes.  “We need to convey the depth of Japanese culture beyond manga and anime,” says Meiji’s Mr. Kitawaki. “Behind manga and anime there is a rich culture, for example the animism of Shinto. Or take modern Japanese design’s ability to manage extremely small spaces – this is also Cool Japan.” 

The massive worldwide outpouring by the likes of Lady Gaga after the Fukushima disaster hinted at the reach of Japanese soft power. And a recent global poll by research firm StrategyOne ranked Japan the world’s most creative country.

Mr. McGray, in his famous article, foresaw two possible futures for Japan. It could either employ its vast potential soft power to reinvent itself, or, he warned, lurch toward further uncertainty.

He leaned toward optimism, saying, "Japan's history of remarkable revivals suggests that the outcome … is more likely to be rebirth.”
 
Yet 10 years later it is certain that Cool Japan has lurched to not only uncertainty but uncool because what equates as cool to 60+ year old politicians is certain to be uncool to the rest of society.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Bureauctrats, Red Tape, Land Deals, And Shinzo Abe



Have you met a government employee at a government office who mercilessly scanned every detail of a written application and rejected it for any small issue? Such people are said to have a "bureaucratic" mind. Their sole purpose is to approve or reject the piles of government red tape.

The expression "red tape" originates with the red ribbon that once bound official documents in Britain. Today, it has come to represent what we mere common people see as document worship by the staff of government offices. In recent times, the bureaucracy's "document-ism" is intended to guarantee the preservation of evidence of official government actions, projects and decision-making so that it can be examined later. 

It needs to be impossible for the government to be bereft of records to show how it decided to sell a plot of state-owned land for just 14 percent of its appraised value. Of course, we are talking about the Finance Ministry's handling of just such a sale to nationalist private school operator Moritomo Gakuen. Surely those responsible for caring for Japanese people's assets have an obligation to maintain proof that they are carrying out this management fairly. 
What is surprising about the Moritomo affair is that the finance bureau head who so bluntly insisted during Diet discussions that the sale was "appropriate" while maintaining that "there are no records" has gone on to the top post in the National Tax Agency. Taxpayers struggling with the ample volumes of tax-system red tape must be astonished at the Finance Ministry's idea of "fairness." 
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who is in the nerve center of the government which now holds authority over bureaucrats' postings, stated recently that the aforementioned promotion stemmed from the principle of "the right person in the right place." Surely he did not mean that the government thought highly of the new National Tax Agency chief's handling of the Moritomo scandal, in which he could not verify the legitimacy of the land sale and as a result fueled public distrust in the government. Neither the administration nor the Finance Ministry should be so dismissive of taxpayers' feelings. 
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now obsessed with revising the Constitution, but we would like him to think about what in this world gave rise to two other constitutions, namely Britain's Magna Carta and the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, it was unjust taxation and unfair spending that sparked the fury of the people to demand the reforms embodied in these documents.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

TEPCO Executives Go On Trial For Fukushima Reactor Disaster



Three former executives with the operator of the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have pleaded not guilty to charges of professional negligence, in the only criminal action targeting officials since the triple meltdown more than six years ago.

In the first hearing of the trial at Tokyo district court, Tsunehisa Katsumata, who was chairman of Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) at the time of the disaster, and two other former executives argued they could not have foreseen a tsunami of the size that knocked out the plant’s backup cooling system, triggering a meltdown in three reactors.

“I apologise for the tremendous trouble to the residents in the area and around the country because of the serious accident that caused the release of radioactive materials,” Katsumata said, bowing slightly.

Prosecutors alleged that the 77-year-old, along with his co-defendants, Sakae Muto, 67, and Ichiro Takekuro, 71 – both former Tepco vice-presidents – had been shown data that anticipated a tsunami of more than 10 metres in height that could cause a power outage and other serious consequences.

A report by a government panel said Tepco simulated the impact of a tsunami on the plant in 2008 and concluded that a wave of up to 15.7 metres (52 feet) could hit the plant if a magnitude-8.3 quake occurred off the coast of Fukushima. Executives at the company allegedly ignored the internal study.
 
The three men – charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury – have since retired from Tepco.

The company, which faces a multibillion-dollar bill for decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi, is not a defendant in the trial. If convicted, the men face up to five years in prison or a penalty of up to 1m yen ($10,000).

Although there are no records of anyone dying as a result of exposure to radiation from the plant, prosecutors alleged the executives were responsible for the deaths of 40 elderly people who were evacuated from a hospital near the plant.

The Fukushima plant had a meltdown after the tsunami, triggered by a magnitude-9 earthquake, hit the plant on the afternoon of 11 March 2011.

The tsunami killed almost 19,000 people along the north-east coast of Japan and forced more than 150,000 others living near the plant to flee radiation. Some of the evacuated neighbourhoods are still deemed too dangerous for former residents to return to.

“They continued running the reactors without taking any measures whatsoever,” the prosecutor said. “If they had fulfilled their safety responsibilities, the accident would never have occurred.”

Muto challenged the allegation by the prosecution that he and the other defendants failed to take sufficient preventative measures despite being aware of the risk of a powerful tsunami more than two years before the disaster.

“When I recall that time, I still think it was impossible to anticipate an accident like that,” he said. “I believe I have no criminal responsibility over the accident.”

Investigations into the accident have been highly critical of the lax safety culture at Tepco and poor oversight by industry regulators. Prosecutors considered the case twice, and dropped it both times, but a citizens’ judicial panel overrode their decision and indicted the former executives.

Outside the court, Ruiko Muto, a Fukushima resident and head of the group of plaintiffs, said: “Since the accident, nobody has been held responsible nor has it been made clear why it happened. Many people have suffered badly in ways that changed their lives. We want these men to realise how many people are feeling sadness and anger.”

Reuters

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Diet Investigation Of Kihei Maekawa To Proceed Without PM Abe Present

LDP Lawmaker  Under Investigation For Favoritism

Japan's ruling and opposition parties agreed Tuesday to briefly reopen the Diet next week for one-off committee deliberations, with plans to investigate a former top bureaucrat at the education ministry who has come forward alleging favoritism by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The agreement came shortly after the main opposition Democratic Party spurned an offer by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for committee deliberations on July 10 or 11, on the grounds that Abe would be unable to attend them due to an overseas trip.

Meeting with LDP Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Wataru Takeshita for a second time on Tuesday, Democratic Party Diet affairs chief Kazunori Yamanoi agreed to hold committee deliberations on July 10 after the LDP consented to summoning Kihei Maekawa as an unsworn witness.

Maekawa, a former vice minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, is likely to be asked about allegations that Abe has used his power as prime minister to help Kake Educational Institution, whose president is a close friend, open a veterinary medicine department in a special economic zone.

Emboldened by the LDP's crushing defeat in Sunday's Tokyo metropolitan assembly election, the Democratic Party and several other opposition parties agreed earlier in the day to call for committee deliberations or a new session of the Diet, amid a number of scandals dogging the government and ruling party.

With Abe scheduled not to return to Japan until July 12, the committee deliberations in both houses on July 10 will be held without him. But Takeshita told Yamanoi that the LDP will "consider" holding a session of a parliamentary committee with the prime minister in attendance, according to the opposition lawmaker.

The previous Diet session ended last month, but one-off committee deliberations can be held without convening a new session.

Abe is scheduled to attend a summit of the Group of 20 major economies in Germany starting July 7 and visit several Scandinavian countries and Estonia before returning to Japan on July 12.

Maekawa, who resigned from the top bureaucratic post over an unrelated case in January, has drawn attention for publicly vouching for the authenticity of ministry documents that indicated Abe's influence over the school construction project.

At their meeting on Tuesday, senior officials of the Democratic Party, Japanese Communist Party, Social Democratic Party and Liberal Party also decided to call for the prime minister to dismiss Defense Minister Tomomi Inada over remarks she made during a stump speech that they argue amounted to making political use of the Self-Defense Forces.

The LDP lost its status as the leading force in the Tokyo assembly amid voter frustration with the Abe administration, which is embroiled in various controversies. Meanwhile, popular Gov. Yuriko Koike's Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First party) and allies won an overall majority in the 127-seat assembly.

Just days before Sunday's assembly election, Inada asked voters to back an LDP candidate, saying the request came from "the Defense Ministry, the SDF, the defense minister and the LDP."

Under the law governing the country's defense apparatus, the SDF is supposed to remain politically neutral and its personnel are restricted in their ability to engage in political activities.


Also during the campaign period, former education minister Hakubun Shimomura, who is a close aide to Abe and was responsible for the party's election campaign in the capital, was also reported to have mishandled political donations from Kake Educational Institution, which he denied.

Kyodo

PM Abe Needs Action Not Words

PM Shinzo Abe Speaks With Media Tuesday

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on July 3 repeatedly pledged to learn from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s crushing defeat in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election on the previous day.
“An extremely severe judgment was rendered by the people of Tokyo. We have to seriously accept it as a strict rebuke of the LDP and deeply reflect (on our acts and remarks),” said Abe, who is also the LDP president, at the prime minister’s office.
The question is what kind of lessons he will glean from the bitter political setback and how he will actually change his behavior.
Abe is said to be considering reshuffling his Cabinet, apparently in hopes of revitalizing his political leadership, which has taken a massive hit from the election results.
But a simple change in the Cabinet lineup is not what the public wants to see.
Abe has shown a tendency to make a sharp distinction between friend and foe and pay little attention to dissenting voices. He has also pushed through his policy initiatives forcefully by using the ruling coalition’s overwhelming majority in both chambers of the Diet.
The core challenge confronting Abe is whether he can really do serious soul-searching over his high-handed political approach and mend his ways.
During Diet sessions, Abe has heaped praise on opposition parties willing to work with his government while mounting scathing verbal attacks on opposition parties critical of his administration.
He has also utilized news media sympathetic to his views and opinions as channels to communicate his messages to the public.
In campaigning for the metropolitan assembly poll, both Abe and LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai pinned the blame on the party's uphill battle on media coverage of political scandals and gaffes.
Abe’s haughty refusal to listen to critics and dissenters in an arrogant attitude apparently driven by his dominant political power has also sapped the LDP’s own vigor.
During the four and a half years since his return to power, Abe has secured a tight grip over the party’s decisions on its official candidates for elections, key personnel appointments and distribution of political funds. Many LDP lawmakers now meekly kowtow to Abe’s leadership.
The LDP readily accepted a proposal to change the party rules to allow its president to serve up to three three-year terms for a total of nine years. This is another sign of the party being under Abe’s thumb.
The basic rules of democracy require that decisions be made by a majority vote in the end. But they also demand that the voices of the minority should also be heard for exhaustive debate on policy issues.
Abe should remember this principle and abandon his self-righteous refusal to heed dissenting voices.
In response to the LDP’s defeat in the Tokyo poll, the Abe administration is showing an inclination to allow Diet committees to hold deliberations while the Diet itself is not in session.
We welcome the move, but simply allowing out-of-session committee meetings will not be enough.
The Abe Cabinet should swiftly convene an extraordinary Diet session in response to opposition parties’ demand based on Article 53 of the Constitution.
Article 53 states that the Cabinet must convene such a session when “a quarter or more of the total members of either House makes the demand.”
This is a provision to guarantee minority groups’ right to make their voices heard at the Diet.
If Abe is serious about soul-searching, he should start by observing this constitutional provision.
Redressing mistakes made by the administrative branch of the government is an important responsibility of the legislature.
There should be no difference between ruling and opposition parties in commitment to this duty.
We urge LDP lawmakers to demonstrate their pride as the representatives of the people by calling on the prime minister to convene an extraordinary session.
In an Asahi Shimbun exit poll conducted during the July 2 election, 71 percent of the respondents said the administration’s response to the political scandal involving the Kake Educational Institution, a school operator with a link to Abe, has been “inappropriate.”
If Abe fails to match his words about soul-searching with concrete and convincing actions, public support for his administration will further wane.
Asahi

Shinjiro Koizumi: Japan Must Have Drastic Change

Shinjiro Koizumi Son Of Former PM Junichiro Koizumi The Japanese public’s top pick to become the next prime minister says the country’...