Where Japans Rebuild Cash Really Went

About a quarter of the US$148 billion budget for reconstruction after Japan’s March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster has been spent on unrelated projects, including subsidies for a contact lens factory and research whaling.

The findings of a government audit buttress complaints over shortcomings and delays in the reconstruction effort. More than half the budget is yet to be disbursed, stalled by indecision and bureaucracy, while nearly all of the 340,000 people evacuated from the disaster zone remain uncertain whether, when and how they will ever resettle.

Many of the non-reconstruction-related projects loaded into the 11.7 trillion yen budget were included on the pretext they might contribute to Japan’s economic revival, a strategy that the government now acknowledges was a mistake.

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Osaka’s Mayor Calls for Change

Toru Hashimoto is the product of a fed-up country. He is also its chief rabble-rouser.

The telegenic Osaka mayor wants wholesale changes to Japan’s sleepy status quo. He would like to transfer power from Tokyo to a collection of new regional fiefdoms, bigger than the existing prefectures, that would collect taxes and make streamlined decisions. He holds a tea-partyish small-government philosophy, but he speaks about it in such forceful terms that critics here have given it a different name: Hashism.

“It will be a creative destruction,” Hashimoto said, describing his vision for reform in a television appearance this year. “Dismantle everything and start from scratch.”

Read the rest of the story: Behind Hashimoto, Osaka’s telegenic mayor, a sign of Japan’s discontent.



Japan Downgraded by Fitch on Debt Concerns

Japans credit rating has been downgraded by two levels by rating agency Fitch on concerns about the countrys high levels of debt.

Fitch cut Japans rating to A+ from AA and warned that further downgrades were possible.

Japan has by far the highest debt to GDP ratio of any major economy, although much of this debt is held by domestic investors.

The government has spent huge amounts of money on trying to stimulate growth.

“The downgrades and negative outlooks reflect growing risks for Japan’s sovereign credit profile as a result of high and rising public debt ratios,” Fitch said.

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Japan’s GDP nearly double that of US in first quarter

Japan’s gross domestic product grew at nearly double the U.S. rate for the first quarter, an unexpectedly strong sign of recovery in the wake of last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The Japanese government said that its GDP grew 1% in the first quarter, or an annualized rate of 4.1% for 2012. The GDP was driven by strong domestic demand, particularly by government expenditures.

“The economy accelerated despite the slowdown in the U.S. and China, indicating domestic demand likely accounted for a large share of the expansion,” wrote Marc Chandler, market strategist for Brown Brothers Harriman, in a research note.

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Lady Gaga Tea Cup Charity Auction is Bringing in Big Bids in Japan

If Lady Gaga is your cup of tea, how much would you pay to own hers? Her tea cup, that is…

Would you like cream or sugar with that?The outlandish pop aristocrat is looking to raise funds for March 11 recovery efforts by having fans offer outlandish sums to buy a tea cup she was seen sipping from on Japanese television.

The fame monster’s cup–complete with genuine lipstick mark and signature–was put up for auction at noon on April 30 for a meager starting price of Y1. Bids of up to Y1.17 million around $14,600 had already been seen as of the time of writing. The auction will run until May 6, and the fluctuating bidding price can be viewed on the auction site.

Read the rest of the story: Lady Gaga Tea Cup Charity Auction Bids in Japan Hit $14,500.

Japan’s Green Renaissance

Bulldozers clearing mountains of wreckage and rubble have been a common sight in Japans Tohoku region. But one restoration project in Miyagi prefecture is taking a more sensitive approach to the tsunami-devastated landscapes, going as far as clearing debris by hand, planting organic rice and choosing native flowers to beautify the area.

“We even pulled a car out of a paddy field just by human power,” says Tsubasa Iwabuchi, of Tohoku University, who is leading the Tohoku “Green Renaissance Project” on Sadasawa Jima, part of the Urato Islands in Shiogama Bay.

Read the rest of the story: Japans green renaissance gets business boost.

Japan: Rethinking – Not Just Rebuilding

With a fierce yell and a resounding thwack, 13-year-old Japanese student Nanami Usui brings her bamboo sword down on her opponent.

By practicing Kendo, or Japanese swordsmanship, Usui is one of several students in the town of Minamisanriku who are rebuilding their confidence after last year’s tsunami washed away their homes and shattered their hometown in the country’s northeast.

Usui says she dreams of being a police officer, but she doesn’t know yet where she wants to live and work.

“Most high school students here have dreams about their future careers,” she says, as she prepares to don her helmet and breastplate. “I suppose if you want to become a fisherman you can stay here, but if you want to do anything else, you have to leave this town.”

Read the rest of the story: Rethinking, Not Just Rebuilding, Japan’s Northeast.

A Year Later, Japan Still Has Grief, But Also Hope

KAMAISHI, Japan — Amid the grief of finding her mother’s body at a makeshift morgue in this tsunami-ravaged city last March, Fumie Arai took comfort in a small but surprising discovery. Unlike the rest of the muddied body, her mother’s face had been carefully wiped clean.

Mrs. Arai did not know at the time, but the act was the work of a retired undertaker well-versed in the ancient Buddhist rituals of preparing the dead for cremation and burial. The undertaker, Atsushi Chiba, a father of five who cared for almost 1,000 bodies in Kamaishi, has now become an unlikely hero in a community trying to heal its wounds a year after the massive earthquake and tsunami that ravaged much of Japan’s northeastern coast a year ago Sunday.

“I dreaded finding my mother’s body, lying alone on the cold ground among strangers,” Mrs. Arai, 36, said. “When I saw her peaceful, clean face, I knew someone had taken care of her until I arrived. That saved me.”

Read the rest of the story: A Year Later, Undertaker’s Story Offers Japan Hope.

Prayers and tears as Japan marks 1 year since disaster

Japan gathered Sunday amid tears, prayers and a moment of silence to mark one year since an earthquake and tsunami killed thousands, and triggered the world’s worst nuclear crisis in a quarter century.

Throngs nationwide observed a moment of silence at 2:46 p.m. local time (12:46 a.m. ET), the exact time the earth shook on March 11, 2011.

At the main event at a Tokyo theater, hundreds bowed their heads in silence during the service.

“A lot of lives were lost … I feel the grieving families’ pain and I cannot express my sorrow enough,” Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said at the ceremony.

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Emperor to attend memorial service for tsunami victims on Sunday

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will attend a memorial service on Sunday for victims of last year’s March 11 disaster, the Imperial Household Agency said Friday.The emperor, 78, was discharged from hospital last Sunday after undergoing heart bypass surgery on Feb 18. He had treatment to remove fluid from his chest on Wednesday after becoming short of breath while walking and not showing much appetite. He has since been walking and doing deep breathing exercises as part of his rehabilitation.

Read the rest of the story: Emperor, empress to attend memorial service for tsunami victims on Sunday.