Osaka Mayor Hashimoto’s “Restoration” Movement And The Need for Change in Japanese Politics

Japanese political parties are assemblies of special interest-representing hacks, combined in factions headed by big money commanding scions of political dynasties who accept power as a birthright (or, rather the “family business”) and have no new ideas for resolving Japan’s problems.  The parties are without clear or (especially) consistent policy platforms, defining themselves almost exclusively (issue-by-issue) in opposition to whatever the ruling or other opposition parties are proposing.

Thus, the Japanese national political scene is shifting, unpredictable, largely unproductive, and hugely (for citizens) frustrating circus-like affair, a kind of diversionary entertainment, but only for people of the mind that likes riddles, puzzles, and the occasional histrionic protest.

Read the rest of the story: Osaka Mayor Hashimoto’s “Restoration” Movement Auguring Change in Japan’s National Politics.

Japan Opinions: BTW, Get Ready for a 34 Meter Tsunami

Sometimes it is better to leave the TV off.   This is how I have felt since Saturday, the day that Japan’s Cabinet Office chose to announce new predictions for earthquakes and tsunamis for which Japanese citizens “should make preparations.”  From the shocking scale of death and devastation which the predictions intimate, however, the only “preparations” that would be practical, or even possible, would be life insurance and tombstones.

At a televised news conference, the long-haired academics on the government’s Central Disaster Management Council duly presented data and graphics (above, from the Yomiuri Shimbun) predicting a tsunami of 10 meters or higher could strike 11 prefectures, including Tokyo, and an earthquake with an intensity of 7—the highest level on the Japanese seismic scale—in the event of a “simultaneous triple quake” along the Nankai Trough.  The “triple quake” refers to quakes in three sections of the trough, Tokai, Tonankai, and Nankai.  The entire trough stretches from Suruga Bay along areas off Shikoku and Kyushu.

Read the rest of the story: BTW, Get Ready for a 34 Meter Tsunami.

Inside Deutsche Bank Debate on U.S. Sliding Into Japan Malaise

Deutsche Bank AG’s Ajay Kapur says the U.S. is sliding into an economic malaise similar to Japan’s so-called lost-decade of the 1990s. The Hong Kong-based strategist draws the parallel using similarities in demographics and financial-market performance.

Binky Chadha, head of the bank’s U.S. equity strategy team in New York, and Michael Biggs, one of its London-based economists, disagree, citing variations in the nations’ growth rates and credit demands.

The researchers aired their differences in a 28-page report Deutsche Bank released October 17 and distributed to clients. The debate underscores the uncertainties facing the world’s largest economy. Fifty-six percent of respondents in a quarterly Bloomberg Global Poll of 1,031 investors, analysts and traders said a Japan-like scenario is “very” or “fairly” likely.

Read the rest of the story: Inside Deutsche Bank Debate on U.S. Sliding Into Japan Malaise.

Why you shouldn’t worry about receiving a pension in Japan

Worried about all those years you have, or haven’t, contributed to the Japanese pension system? Worry no more! The good news is that you won’t need a pension from the Japanese government anyway. In honor of Respect for the Aged Day, I’ll explain why.

With the bubble economy days relegated to history books and new austerity measures in place, I predict Japan will return to Japanese traditional values, mainly those of a fish-based diet, walking around in yukata and geta sandals, and living on the tatmami mat floors. What’s the draw? It’s cheap!

Remember, when it comes to survival, all you really need is food, clothing and shelter.

via Why you shouldn’t worry about receiving a pension.

On Multi-Culturalism, Japan Got There First

German Prime Minister Angela Merkel said it last fall. British Prime Minister David Cameron rendered the same verdict last month. But in can be said that on multi-culturalism, Japan got there first.  By “there” we mean: “not for us—it cannot work in Japan.”

Ask almost any bien pensant foreign (especially American) economist, businessman, bureaucrat or journalist how Japan should deal with its demographic challenge and the answer is always immigration. First among the major advanced countries (but with others in Europe to follow), Japan’s total population has begun a slow decline. It is currently about 127 million. While declining, with births failing below replacement level to deaths, the average age is increasing. Today the mid-point age of the total population from just-born infants to the oldest persons, is 44.7 years. According to U.N. estimates, by 2030 it will be 52.2 years, with over 30 percent of the population aged 65 years or older. (My next posting will go into detail on these U.N. figures.) This is a fairly horrific prospect.

Read the rest of the story: On Multi-Culturalism, Japan Got There First.

‘Galapagos-thinking’ – The Island Mentality of Japan

There are expressions that buzz like busy little bees and ones that don’t buzz anymore. One of the dead-bee buzzwords in Japan is shimaguni konjo, meaning "island mentality." As for a buzzword for 2011, you’d be hard put to find one more busily doing the rounds than garapagosu, which references the Galapagos Islands that lie nearly 1,000 km out in the Pacific off the coast of Ecuador.

In their Japanese context, shimaguni konjo and garapagosu have more in common than merely their connection with islands.

I heard "shimaguni konjo" bandied about a lot after arriving in Japan in 1967. Why are the Japanese often so standoffish when it comes to strangers? "The island mentality." Why aren’t Japanese good at foreign languages? "Island mentality." I wondered then if this was being trotted out as an explanation for the way Japanese people were — or as an excuse for the way they weren’t.

The same question has occurred to me recently upon hearing, with greater and greater frequency, the "explanation" of Japanese culture being garapagosuka ("galapagosized"). Is this new phrase just another excuse for Japanese people to close their eyes to their own shortcomings by maintaining instead a very old nostalgia about being isolated and "special"?

The Galapagos Islands comprise a biosphere reserve for a unique array of animal life. Visited by Charles Darwin in 1835, they played a major role in the formulation of his theory of evolution. Similarly, as used in Japanese today, this buzzword indicates that many Japanese products come out of a culture of isolation.

Yoshikazu Shimizu, chairman of the Japan Galapagos Society, calls the Galapagos Islands "a laboratory of evolution" where evolution took place in "a closed system." Does Japan really represent such a closed system in our day and age?

Let’s refine this notion of galloping isolation before making a judgment on it.

Read the rest of the story: Is ‘Galapagos-thinking’ Japan back at its evolutionary dead end? | The Japan Times Online.

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.

No Sex Generation – Japan’s male teens and even married couples aren’t interested

One-third of Japanese men aged 16 to 19 were uninterested in or even averse to sex as of last year, doubling from 2008, a government survey showed Wednesday.The survey, conducted in September, also showed more married couples were also found sexless than before, with more than 40 percent saying they had no sex in the past month.The last survey was conducted by a research group of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry to study peoples views on lifestyle. It is based on replies provided by 671 men and 869 women aged 16 to 49 in interviews."The survey result confirmed that young men have become herbivorous," said Kunio Kitamura, head of the Clinic of the Japan Family Planning Association who took part in the survey, using the term used increasingly in Japan to describe young males who are shy and passive in relationships with women.According to the ministry, 35.1 percent of men aged 16 to 19 said they are uninterested in or averse to sex, surging from 17.5 percent in the previous poll in 2008.

Read the rest of the story: Survey shows rising indifference to sex among male teens, couples.

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.