Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

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.

The minister looked sincerely surprised when informed of the official release time, but the light tone of his comments suggested that he did not fully understand the gravity of the error. 

He later offered a more formal apology, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano reprimanded Naoshima for his leak of the market-sensitive data, which showed Japan’s economy grew much more than expected in the third quarter.

Police, media get their suspect

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Japan’s police can finally tear down the wanted posters for Tetsuya Ichihashi, after two-and-a-half years spent chasing down the 30-year-old suspected in the death of Briton Lindsay Hawker, whose body was found buried in a bath filled with sand.

 

Ichihashi is in custody, but Japan’s media are far from finished with the case, which has dominated news reports and daytime chat shows since police discovered recently he had changed his appearance with plastic surgery.

Cracks at Japan’s press clubs

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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.

JAPAN-ELECTION/Reporters were simply grateful for his decision to open up his twice-weekly news conferences to journalists, including foreigners, who are not part of Japan’s rigid system of kisha, or press, clubs.

It’s only been a week

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G20/

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama stepped onto the world stage last week, just days after formally being voted into his post. After his party’s decade in the obscurity of opposition, the sometimes dour academic seemed exhilarated by the whirlwind of top-level meetings at the United Nations in New York and the Group of 20 in Pittsburgh.
 
Some other party officials along on the trip appeared a little lost. “We’ve only been doing this a week,” followed by an embarrassed chuckle, was the answer to some of the more probing questions put by the Japanese press corps flying with the prime minister.
 
Hatoyama’s Democratic Party has made much of its determination to do things differently from the long-ruling Liberal Democrats, including how they treat the media.
 
Signs of change appeared almost immediately his official plane took off from Haneda airport bound for New York, when Hatoyama made an appearance among the journalists at the rear of the plane. That’s a rarity in itself in status-conscious Japan, but he caused even more of a stir by bringing along his wife, former musical star Miyuki, who handed out boxes of cakes for reporters to share.
 
Buns aside, the biggest sign of change was the regular briefings during the trip, which were given by a politician, rather than a bureaucrat. Some sessions turned into a bizarre game of Chinese whispers, with the briefer passing on information passed on by a bureaucrat present at the meeting.
 
But Hatoyama himself seemed eager to talk to reporters in person. After a detailed run-down of his first meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama left one interviewer speechless, he caught himself in mid-flow with: “Oh, did I go on too long?”He also chatted freely with reporters off the record.
 
Less of a joker than popular former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, who initially attracted popstar-like adulation, Hatoyama could yet win fans in the press with sheer enthusiasm.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

3D images you can touch

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In Sci-Fi films, there’s one thing you never see people use: a mouse and keyboard. In our 21st century world, technology is supposed to have advanced to where all you need to do is talk to a computer for it to respond.

Well, reality may now be catching up with fantasy as a Tokyo University research team takes the first step towards redefining how we interact with electronic machines.

Dodging reporters?

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When a prime minister is in trouble, especially before an important general election, it is never wise to upset reporters.

But that seems to be exactly what unpopular Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso did when he departed for a G8 summit in the central Italian city of L’Aquila this week.

Japan’s Tiger in the tank?

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What goes up must at some point come down.

The world of sports is full of examples of bright lights who shone briefly before crashing back down to earth.

Tennis burnout used to grind teenage sensations into the dust with alarming regularity, with even all-time greats such as Bjorn Borg stressed into premature retirement, albeit the Swede was 26 when he made his shock decision to quit.

The memory test for Japanese media

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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.

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