Confidence in Japan lost without tax reforms

Japan must devise a concrete plan for tax reform to avoid deepening the nation’s massive debt and the loss of confidence in the economy, the new fiscal policy minister said on Wednesday.

The comments from Kaoru Yosano come as Prime Minster Naoto Kan faces what analysts say is a make or break battle over the issue, which has proved divisive with voters.

‘If we keep going with no fiscal discipline, allowing the stock of public debt to grow larger or continuing to borrow more than we receive in tax revenue, international confidence in Japan could be gradually eroded,’ Yosano told reporters.

‘Both the fiscal authorities and the Bank of Japan must pay adequate attention to that point in managing economic and fiscal policy,’ he said.

Yosano was speaking as Kan’s new-look government on Wednesday took its first steps toward formulating a tax-hike proposal and seeking talks with the private sector.

On Friday the premier appointed the 72-year-old conservative former finance minister and fiscal hawk Yosano as his new fiscal policy minister, also putting him in charge of tax and social welfare.

Read the rest of the story: Confidence in Japan lost without reforms.

The myth of Japan’s ‘lost decade’

The first decade of this century started with the so-called dot-com bubble. When it burst, central banks moved aggressively to ease monetary policy in order to prevent a prolonged period of Japanese-style slow growth. But the prolonged period of low interest rates that followed the 2001 recession instead contributed to the emergence of another bubble, this time in real estate and credit.

With the collapse of the second bubble in a decade, central banks again acted quickly, lowering rates to zero (or close to it) almost everywhere. Recently, the United States Federal Reserve has even engaged in an unprecedented round of “quantitative easing” in an effort to accelerate the recovery. Again, the key argument was the need to avoid a repeat of Japan’s “lost decade.”

Policy making is often dominated by simple “lessons learned” from economic history. But the lesson learned from Japan is largely a myth. The basis for the scare story about Japan is that its GDP has grown over the last decade at an average annual rate of only 0.6 percent compared to 1.7 percent for the U.S. The difference is actually much smaller than often assumed, but at first sight a growth rate of 0.6 percent qualifies as a lost decade.

According to that standard, one could argue that a good part of Europe also “lost” the last decade, since Germany achieved about the same growth rates as Japan (0.6 percent) and Italy did even worse (0.2 percent); only France and Spain performed somewhat better.

Read the rest of the story: The myth of Japan’s ‘lost decade’.

Closing Japan’s gender gap – Japan was ranked 94th of 134 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index

Japan is likely to sink deeper into stagnation unless society can change in a way that makes it easier for women to play a greater role by capitalizing on their abilities. This problem is highlighted every year by Japan’s abysmal positions in the international rankings of gender equality.

This year, Japan was ranked 94th of 134 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI), compiled by the World Economic Forum, a Geneva-based nonprofit foundation best known for its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, that brings together business and political leaders from around the world. The index is based on such criteria as the ratios of men and women among members of parliament and corporate executives, and in wages.

Similarly last year, Japan ranked 57th among 109 countries in the United Nations’ Gender Empowerment Measure, which measures women’s standing in political and economic areas in a country.

However, Japan did take the 12th position among 138 nations in the rankings of the Gender Inequality Index, a measure of inequality in achievements between men and women introduced this year by the United Nations. The higher the ranking, the lower the inequality.

But Japan’s relatively good performance was due to higher weight given to such criteria as maternal mortality.

This may make some Japanese breathe a sigh of relief. But the fact that the achievements of Japanese women in society are rated low despite their high marks for health and longevity underscores serious problems with Japanese society.

In the West, the hollowing-out of the manufacturing sector, which was supported mainly by male workers, took place in the 1980s as manufacturers shifted production to low-wage nations amid globalization.

This trend made it a crucial policy challenge in these countries to tap the abilities of women to nurture service industries.

In particular, improving the environment for women to work outside the home was regarded as the most pressing need. Consequently, efforts were made to increase the numbers of women in places like the corporate sections responsible for decision-making and in Congress.

Read the rest of the story: Japan’s gender gap.

The Surprisingly Prosperous Japan

What is the difference between a developed society that has remained in an economic slump for 20 years and one with steady prosperity for the same period of time? The answer is not clear. But that question dogged my mind in a recent two week visit to Japan after a gap of 20 years.

The Japan of today is amazingly prosperous. The first thing you notice is that it is spic and span clean: not a cigarette butt on a station platform; metro car floors you could eat off of; all new autos including many Mercedes and BMWs; endless flows of prosperous Japanese students and other tourists; ultra modern buildings everywhere; restaurants full of diners; Kobe beef at $250 or more a pound. In back streets of Tokyo and Kyoto, there is not a sign of poverty, dirt, or disease.

This picture of Japan is radically at odds with global expectations after decades of slow or non-existent economic growth and deflation. What is going on, and what can we learn from it?

Economists’ definition of success is all about dynamic growth. So how has Japan created steady prosperity in recent years?

Japan has a per capita income comparable with the United States, but its 20-year growth rate has been anemic. Its birth rate is well below the average for developed nations, but its savings rate remains among the highest in the world. Consumption as a percentage of GDP is well below the United States. Its stock market remains stagnant and well below its historical highs. Its interest rate levels are as low as a negative rate in some cases.

But, after its property bubble burst about 1990, it largely avoided the excesses in housing markets and derivatives that caused the serious credit problems in the US in 2008. Its unemployment rate remains very low because its employment polices insure a job for almost all citizens. And, of course it is very different from all other developed nations in that it is still an island state home to 130 million people, 90 percent of whom are pure ethnic Japanese with few religious issues and minimal immigration.

Read the rest of the story:The Surprising Wealth and Success of Japan.

Tomare–Astor Place

One of the things I love about Japan is that the ground is painted like a giant asphalt canvas, with street signs in bright colors like the “TOMARE” which means “STOP” for cars.

One of the things I love about New York, is that anything goes, and new meanings can be found for just about anything.

What would happen if we painted “TOMARE” on the streets, and underneath it wrote the word “LOVE”.

Living in Japan , in a way, helps me to find the freedom to be who I am by living in an environment where meaning takes on new meaning in a kind of abstract sort of way.

This summer on a visit to New York, I brought my “TOMARE” Yoga mat with me and reached for the sky.


The cove of modern life

You are traveling Japan. Loving old temples and castles. You are also a big fan of Japanese food. You smell the yummy food from every corner of every street. At a restaurant, you happen to have chicken sukiyaki with your Japanese friends. It smells good and you can’t wait to try it. And you notice something different. Something is wrong with the chicken. Bite sized chicken floating in the amazing sukiyaki broth seem to have gross parts. You poke them with chopsticks and wonder. Is this a mistake? Did they not remove those skin part and fatty part in the kitchen? You look around. Your Japanese friends seem to be eating happily, They are looking at you expecting you to have a bite. Pressure. You are not sure what to do with this unfamiliar “unneeded” parts attached to the chicken meat!

Restaurants in the States, even ones run by Asian people tend to shed all the “unneeded” parts. It is for American customers. Unfortunately, with only the white meat parts, the dish is never full flavored. Actually thanks to those “unneeded” parts, great broth comes out to deepen the taste. They give just the right amount of grease into the sauce without any artificial adding to fake it. Most importantly, you can appreciate the full potentials of the chicken that died for you. Yes, chicken cubes used to be a living chicken.

A movie, “The Cove” had the hardest time to be shown at all in Japan. It appeared in public one night at Tokyo International Film Festival. However, after that, theaters postponed indefinitely because of numbers of protests. “The Cove” became the most controversial movie in recent years while it was more than just accepted in America. Many people in Hollywood felt anger and sorrow for poor dolphins. This documentary film moved enough people, it won Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Against such a heated movement in Hollywood, many Japanese people seem to be upset. Hollywood usually appreciates Japan. Sushi, Toyota Prius, Ninja, Samurai or Otaku culture these days entertain so many people here. But no, America didn’t like the idea of killing and eating dolphins.

Whales and dolphins used to be a bigger food source for Japanese people. Whales fed many people for cheap because of their size. Meat and internal organs are for cooking. Fatty parts are for oil, soap, margarine or candles. Bones are for cooking, art, umbrellas, and needless to say, a bow for a violin. All parts were appreciated and used. Interestingly, Japan has a strong association with whale hunting, but it used to be common among Native Americans of various locations, some parts in Europe and even in Hawaii. An accepted entertainment among general Westerners? Whale/dolphin watching. Though watching doesn’t kill them directly, yet constant human eyes surely stress them, some believe.

Not only Japan, but also some places outside of Hollywood criticize “The Cove”. Some say it’s a propaganda film, others say America is overreacting to the realization of variety of food cultures in the world. In American culture, where no common traditions root among so-called Americans, the origin of food culture may be ignored more than other places on Earth.

Old tradition in a culture versus new world standard. Is the life of an animal heavier when it’s smarter than the other? “The Cove” remains with ultimate questions. Meat certainly comes from a living creature, that is the truth. What we take for granted in modern life is to have appreciation to the lives that gave up for you.

Nonetheless, it is essential to realize there are cultures, history, traditions and reasons in food all over the world. Without them American people face the need the food culture is established by human convenience in America today.

About Jasmine Natsumi(pen name):

Born in 1982 in Japan. Came to America in 2003. Ever since, graduated, worked, and married. Currently live in Oregon.