Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
from Global News Journal:
Five years ago, Japanese voters seeking change from stale politics and a stagnant economy backed maverick leader Junichiro Koizumi's calls for reform, handing his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) a huge win in an election for parliament's powerful lower house.
Two years, several scandals and one incompetent prime minister later, they dealt the same LDP a stinging setback in a 2007 upper house election, creating a "Twisted Parliament" where the upper chamber could stall bills and delay policies.
The gridlock toppled the LDP's Shinzo Abe and his successor, each after about a year in office, and finally last summer the same electorate -- still longing for something new and better -- swept the novice Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to power, ending more than half a century of almost non-stop LDP rule and ejecting Taro Aso from the PM's seat. The DPJ, voters hoped, would make good on promises to change how Japan was governed, ending bureaucratic control of policies, and somehow ensuring that Japan emerged from two decades of the doldrums.
Now, after less than a year of chaotic policymaking, indecisive leadership and more scandals under DPJ premier Yukio Hatoyama, followed by sudden talk of a sales tax hike from former grassroots activist Naoto Kan, who took over when Hatoyama suddenly quit, frustrated voters did it again.
Japan’s prime minister may also be the country’s richest politician, but parliament is no longer the preserve of the wealthy, according to an analysis published by broadcaster NHK.
Lawmakers from the country’s lower house of parliament declared an average of 31.5 million yen (around $350,000) in assets, down more than 18 million yen on a previous declaration four years earlier.
“I want to give dreams and hopes to the Japanese people,” Hatoyama told reporters on Christmas Eve when asked what “Hatoyama Santa Claus” wants to give the public this year, Japanese media said.
Hours later, Hatoyama apologised for the indictment of his former aides, who were charged over falsifying political funding records to make cash funneled from Hatoyama’s own family fortune look like donations from individuals.
Often said to prefer to rule from the shadows, ruling party Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa dominated the front pages of most of Japan’s major newspapers on Thursday, after giving Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama what reports said was a dressing down over government spending the previous day.
Ozawa and other party officials had presented Hatoyama and several cabinet ministers with a list of suggestions that included scaling back a key election promise to provide universal child allowances and abandoning a pledge to abolish an unpopular levy on gasoline.
Just one month after U.S. President Barack Obama set off a furore in the blogosphere with his deep bow to Japanese Emperor Akihito, the elderly royal is back in the headlines due to a hastily arranged audience granted to China’s heir apparent.
Visiting foreign dignitaries are often granted audiences with the emperor — nothing unusual there.
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.
“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.
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.
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
his Democratic Party to power.
U.S. President Barack Obama will have his work cut out during his 24-hour stay in Japan from Friday as he and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama try to soothe concerns that the decades-old alliance is fraying as the two countries adapt to China’s rise.
Other U.S. presidents have also had rough agendas in Tokyo, given a relationship historically plagued by trade spats and security angst.