Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
“Turbulent” wouldn’t properly describe the recent flight path of national flag carrier Japan Airlines, in a spiralling game of chicken with its retirees and unions over a $3.7 billion pension shortfall.
President Haruka Nishimatsu, who needs a pension deal to get bridge loans and bailout money from the state, is asking for an average 40 percent cut from retirees and current employees.
“If we can’t, risks to our survival will increase, including the possibility of a court-led reorganisation,” he said on Monday to a gathering of unions and retirees.
The merits for the 17,000 current staff and some 9,000 retirees, who can block any pension cut if more than one-third object, are not compelling to everyone.
Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada got a rapturous round of applause and a gift of a T-shirt when he made a speech at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo a few days ago. The reason had nothing to do with his diplomatic skills.
The contrast with his predecessor was clear from the TV coverage. All but one of the major channels in Tokyo carried him live. Leading up to his election drubbing last month, former Prime Minister Taro Aso could not always get his pressers carried live even on national broadcaster NHK.
Some elections count more than others, and never more than when a longstanding dominant party is sent packing. I’ve been lucky enough to witness turning points in four countries on two continents.
France, India, Italy, now Japan — all have rejected one-party dominance for the rough and tumble of alternating majorities. In each case, I was fortunate to behold history.
“Be nice to kids too,” shouts a kid with his hand raised.
“OK, OK. Here, I’ll give you 26,000 yen worth of toppings,” responds the ramen chef who looks suspiciously like Japan’s opposition Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama, as he sprinkles more toppings on a bowl of noodles.
With Japan’s long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party at risk of losing power for only the second time in more than a half-century in an election on Sunday, the party is stepping up its campaign against the opposition with a new series of Internet attack ads – a rarity in a country that has leaned towards the polite and boring in election tactics.
The new flu strain that emerged in Mexico last month has brought Japanese TV shows, newspapers and government ads out in a rash of demonstrations of the art of proper hand-washing to avoid the spread of germs.
“First, you clean the palms, then rub the dirt off the back of the hands. Make sure you wash between fingers and finger tips. And yes, don’t forget your thumbs and wrists!!”
A furore over anonymous comments by a senior Japanese bureaucrat that landed him in the middle of a political funding scandal has highlighted an unusual practice in Japan of “no memo” briefings, where journalists can listen but are forbidden to take notes.
“Off-record” briefings are common in Western journalism. These conversations between reporters and contacts will never see the light of day but can be used by sources to get their points across and some would say spin the story.
Japanese stocks are sinking towards levels unseen since 1982, sending alarmed government officials scurrying to come up with some way of propping them up.