Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

A storm brewing

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I watched Japan’s election returns from the rocky Pacific, with the satellite TV reception suprisingly crisp on a ferry heading south.

 

A typhoon is headed towards mainland Japan and travel and other ways of life have been caught up in its headwinds, while the impact of the apparently changing political climate has only just begun.

Northern Hokkaido, once a stronghold of the Liberal Democratic Party with never-ending highway, tunnel and bridge projects as testament, deserted the long-ruling party with all but three seats going to the Democratic Party, including prime minister-elect Yukio Hatoyama.

LDP losers in Hokkaido included former foreign minister Nobutaka Machimura, head of the party’s largest faction, Tsutomu Takebe, a Koizumi Cabinet loyalist, and former finance Shoichi Nakagawa, whose family had represented the middle of the vast prefecture for almost half a century and whose struggles were chronicled last week in this blog.

Elections, obstructions and duct tape

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When you pack scores of journalists into a room and they’re all trying to listen to, photograph, and film one person – like the head of a political party – it’s easy to get blocked by the people and things in front of you.

For a photographer, this is the kiss of death. It means not getting a picture. Next, your phone rings with an angry editor on the other end - a brief conversation is followed by a lengthy period of woe and despair. For this and other reasons, photographers go to great lengths to get a good photo position.

Japan voters debate change

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Japanese voters debated change as they participated in an election on Sunday that looks set to give the opposition Democratic Party of Japan a historic victory over the Liberal Democratic Party that has ruled for most of the past 50 years.

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Reuters reporters fanned out across Tokyo to talk to voters, and here’s what some of those at polling stations had to say:

Japan two-party system — long in arriving

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Observers of Japanese politics who have long thought the country was ripe for a real two-party system are watching Sunday’s election with a dual sense of incredulity — surprise that it has taken so long to oust the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and surprise that it finally looks like happening.

Media surveys show the decade-old opposition Democratic Party is set to win the poll for parliament’s powerful lower house – and probably by a landslide, ushering in party leader Yukio Hatoyama at the head of a government pledged to spend more on consumers and workers than the companies that benefited most from LDP policies.

No Obama moment in Japan

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Opinion polls show the opposition Democratic Party of Japan is set for a runaway victory in Sunday’s general election, but voters are showing none of the enthusiasm that swept Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency last year.

When I talked to more than a dozen voters in a small town near Hiroshima, western Japan,  they were interested in the election and had a lot to say about it. And most were looking for change — but not with a great deal of fervour.

Make mine a milk

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Japan’s far north, once home to pet projects of scions of the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, looks set to become an even hotter bed of opposition Democratic Party success in this weekend’s Japanese election capped, if polls and analysts are correct, by a local son becoming the nation’s next prime minister.

But while the country decides whether opposition leader Yukio Hatoyama will become premier, voters in Hokkaido will also decide the fate of a certain disgraced former finance, trade and farms minister who is battling for his political life.

Aso flags LDP conservativism

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To some people a national flag is little more than a piece of cloth, while to others it is a sacred symbol that embodies a country’s ideals. It was the latter that Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso apparently tried to score some easy points with this week in the run-up to the Aug. 30 election that voter surveys show his Liberal Democratic Party party is likely to lose.

In a televised debate, Aso accused the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan of defacing the national flag, commonly known locally as the Hinomaru or “sun circle”,  at a gathering for one of its candidates in southern Japan this month.

Japan’s Democrats get ready to govern

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Close your eyes and it could almost be a cabinet minister speaking.

Japan’s main opposition Democratic Party is gearing up for government after the Aug. 30 election, if a talk by the party’s No.2 leader Katsuya Okada is anything to go by.

Speaking at a Thomson Reuters Newsmaker event in Tokyo, Okada sought to display the politician’s gravitas as he answered questions on everything from foreign policy to the environment and the economy.

Youth appeal a bonus for Japan Democrats?

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In the rural prefecture of Fukushima, north of Tokyo, you can’t help but notice it: The opposition Democrats are quite simply younger than their ruling Liberal Democratic Party counterparts.

The youngest member of the Fukushima prefectural assembly, Tomo Honda, is a 34-year-old Democrat. On a visit to the local LDP headquarters, though, I failed to spot anyone whose hair was not grey.

Ruling party takes off gloves, irking opposition

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Japan’s conservative ruling party,  torn  by internal feuds and facing a possible loss in an Aug. 30 poll, is making attacks on the opposition Democratic Party of a sort rare in a country where many have had an allergy to Western-style negative campaigns.

The strategy — portraying the novice Democrats as weak on security and profligate on spending –  prompted a harsh reply from the opposition,  who polls show have their best-ever chance of defeating unpopular Prime Minister Taro Aso’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the election,  ending its more than half a century of nearly unbroken rule.

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