Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Hey look, we shrank the budget

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Japan’s ruling Democratic Party has long vowed to wrest power from the country’s bureaucrats. Now it’s taking its battles with them over spending onto live internet TV.

Three government backed budget-cutting panels operating from temporary premises in a Tokyo gym, have called in a series of bureaucrats to answer for projects deemed unnecessary or too expensive. The live internet broadcast of the resulting stand-offs can make for compelling viewing.

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It’s also pleased voters concerned about Japan’s national debt, which is set to approach 200 percent of GDP next year. The website almost crashed on the first day of the hearings, when thousands of people tried to watch the broadcast at once, the Yomiuri newspaper said. 

For those who don’t follow it live, edited highlights appear nightly on news programmes, often focusing on Democratic lawmaker Renho, a stylish former TV presenter, as she grills squirming bureaucrats.

Calling time on Japan’s alcoholics

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When Japanese civil servant Yoshiyuki Takeuchi started to lag his colleagues at work, he joined a growing number of his countrymen looking for solace from their problems in the bottom of a glass. 

“People who started after me would go further in their careers just because they finished college. I tried to stop that sense of ‘why always me?’ by drinking,” said the 50-year-old, who quit university as his family couldn’t afford it.

Oops, that was a secret?

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JAPAN-POLITICS/It seems to have been an honest mistake for a new minister and Japan’s new government.

“I didn’t know about that (the release time). I’m sorry. Don’t make much of a fuss” Japanese Trade Minister Masayuki Naoshima told a TV reporter on Monday, right after he accidentally revealed the GDP figures ahead of their official release.

Investing as charity

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While Japan took few direct hits in the global credit crisis, the aftershocks have been immense, and long-lasting. The United States and Europe may now be showing some signs of recovery, but the world’s second-largest economy is still straggling behind and gasping for air.

Predictably, equity markets reflect Japan’s wheezy struggle. The Nikkei 225 is the worst performer among the benchmark indexes of the G7 nations, up just 10 percent so far this year. (The best performer, by the way, is Toronto at nearly 27 percent. The Dow has posted a respectable 17 percent return.)MARKETS-JAPAN-STOCKS

Car Wars: Hyundai climbs with Toyota’s model

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As a child in the early ’80s, I remember spending a summer in Seoul and taking a trip with relatives to the countryside in a Hyundai Pony, South Korea’s first homegrown car. I spoke no Korean, but learned one word quickly enough: “lemon”.

Hyundai Motor has certainly come a long way since then.

Thirty-four years after introducing the Pony hatchback at the Turin Motor Show, Hyundai is the world’s fourth-largest carmaker, surpassing Ford Motor in the first half of this year. With the rest of the industry reeling from slumping sales, Hyundai’s charge has been especially conspicuous this year as it grabbed market share across the world and even made record profits in the latest quarter.

from Route to Recovery:

Toyota plant workers sheltered from the downturn

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HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – When the call came in on July 4, 2008 that Toyota was going halt production for three months, Wes Woods was getting ready to watch a fireworks display with his children.

“I was told that not only were we going to stop production, but that we had to come up with a three-month training plan for all our team members within two days,” said Woods, assistant general manager at the Toyota engine plant here.

Obama bowing to convention

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The depth or angle of U.S. President Barack Obama’s bow — and handshake — with Japan’s Emperor Akihito has become a heated on-line topic, with sides arching into political camps on whether the greeting went too far — literally – or was appropriate based on customs and culture.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on bowing in Japan, but a few basic rules of thumb, or backbone, are: the more important a person you are greeting, the deeper and longer you bow, with hands generally at one’s sides; and multiple purposes can be served by this act including greeting as well as displays of respect, recognition, apology or gratitude.

Friends with issues

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They may be on first-name terms, but Barack’s discussions with Yukio during his 24-hour stay in Tokyo have left unresolved a feud over a U.S. military base and deeper questions about the future.

They agreed to review the five decade-old U.S.-Japan alliance as both countries adapt to China’s rising regional and global clout, and they agreed to resolve as soon as possible a dispute over the U.S. Marines Futenma airbase on Japan’s southern island of Okinawa.

Japan’s bulging debt

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How much is too much?

When it comes to Japan’s bulging public debt, no one quite knows, but at about $75,640 for each of the country’s 127 million people, the burden is starting to worry both voters and investors. You can even see it climb in front of your eyes on an unofficial Website.

That’s why some pundits say it’s time for new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to make some tough decisions about delaying costly spending programmes promised in the August election that vaulted
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Emperor enjoys hip-hop hurrah

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Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko celebrated 20 years on the throne this week with a typical formal ceremony, including a speech from the prime minister and classical music performances.

But the elderly imperial couple then escaped the palace for an outdoor celebration that included hip-hop dancers.

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