Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Homeless on rise in post-Lehman Japan

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JAPAN

A year has passed since U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers was forced into bankruptcy, sending out shockwaves that brought the global financial market to its knees.

And just who did those waves batter the most?

Well, in Japan, poverty activists and NPOs have told me the real victims of the Lehman Shock are the laid-off factory workers who were forced out of company housing and onto the streets, creating a new breed of homeless.

In the year since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, companies have laid off more than 230,000 contract workers, helping to push Japan’s jobless rate to a post-war record 5.7 percent (macro economist Edward Hugh notes this figure is closer to 12 percent if we include Japan’s “hidden jobless”). With a growing jobless rate, it’s easy to assume homeless numbers are up too, but it’s even harder to prove.

That’s because official government numbers actually show a decrease in the number of homeless. But on the streets I have heard a very different story.

Where did all the cool cars go?

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It was like a dream come true. I’d always wanted a Ford Mustang and there I was, cruising around Tokyo in the latest version of the iconic sports car with the 4.0 litre, V6 engine producing a powerful roar every time I accelerated.

I was able to adjust pretty quickly to the left-side steering wheel — Japanese steering wheels are always on the right — though I had a few embarrassing mix-ups between the directionals and the windshield wipers.

Farewell to photogenic Aso

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JAPAN-ECONOMY/ASO

Japan’s voters may have overwhelmingly rejected Prime Minister Taro Aso at the polls last week, but he and my camera got along just fine.

The 68-year-old makes vigorous gestures with his hands and strong facial expressions. His crooked smirk and his eyes that sometimes seem to be  popping out of his head always gave me a lot of interesting photo choices.

The Hit Parade

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BASEBALL/

Ichiro Suzuki has reached 2,000 career hits in 1,402 MLB games — the second-fastest pace ever — while over his nine seasons in MLB the Seattle Mariners star has ended on base once in about every three trips to the plate, based on his career batting average.

Add in his 1,278 Japanese hits, in shorter seasons, and Ichiro at 36 is pointing his bat at very rare professional air, including 3,000 career MLB hits and — on a cumulative basis — Pete Rose’s record 4,256 hits. He already set the MLB season hit record with an amazing 262 in 2004 and will likely be the first player, in a matter of days, to ever record 200 hits in nine consecutive seasons.

Shaking hands with the prime minister, sort of

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On the last day of Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso’s campaign for last week’s lower house election, I went to cover Aso’s speech in Kamakura to get pictures out as early as possible.

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A large crowd of people waited for him to speak, but only a handful of cameraman were at the scene, perhaps reflecting the view that the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was on its way to defeat.

Political paparazzi

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It’s been a scramble for journalists to follow Yukio Hatoyama’s every move after his Democratic Party won the election by a landslide, making him the next prime minister

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From his opulent home to gatherings with political and government figures, reporters chase him all around Tokyo, with pit-stops at the Democrats’ headquarters in Nagatacho, the heart of the capital’s political district.

Japan’s first lady: High-flying UFO rider

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Call her what you want, but boring she is not.

Japan’s next first lady is making international headlines as more details emerge of her eccentric past.

Miyuki Hatoyama, now in the spotlight following her husband’s crushing lower-house election victory on Sunday, wrote about her extraterrestrial voyage in a book published last year entitled “Very Strange Things I’ve Encountered.”

The 2016 Gold

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OLYMPICS/OPENING

Less than a month until the International Olympic Committee’s selection of the winning city in the 2016 Olympic bid campaign, and the IOC in a report Wednesday has the candidates in a dead heat.

All bid cities — Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo — will make a push before the Oct. 2 decision in Copenhagen, with billions of dollars in investment and national prestige at stake. 

Convenience stores high on drugs?

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Takeshi Niinami was a frequent visitor to the drugstore Walgreens in the United States when he was studying at Harvard business school about 20 years ago, buying food and household items in addition to medicine there.

“I wished we had stores like that. It would have been so convenient,” said Niinami, now CEO of Lawson, Japan’s second-largest convenience store chain.

Historic win in Japan. Now what?

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Historic is usually a word that makes my skin crawl when I see it in the news. Journalists are prone to overuse it, so when I saw it in our election stories I had to stop myself deleting it — because this election truly is historic.JAPAN-ELECTION

The Liberal Democratic Party had never lost an election since its founding in 1955. Even when it lost power for a few months in 1993/94, it was because of LDP lawmakers defecting rather than an election loss.

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