No.1 - Discuss Japan

Archives : No.1

Jun–Jul 2010

Discussions, No.1  Jul. 31, 2010


In a January 2002 speech given in Singapore, Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichirō proposed an economic partnership between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as the first step toward the creation of an East Asian community. Ever since then, this concept has remained at the core of Japan’s Asia policy. It was reconfirmed again in Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s policy speech delivered on June 11 this year, in which he stated that “Japan is a maritime nation bordering the Pacific Ocean and is at the same time an Asian nation.” Based on this duality, he went on, he intended to maintain Japan’s alliance with the United States as “the cornerstone of our diplomacy” even as he moved to “reinforce our partnerships with Asian countries.”... [Read more]

Economy, No.1
Jul. 30, 2010


Two decades have passed since Japan’s bubble began to burst in 1990, and throughout this period the economy has been in poor health. It has encountered successive financial crises, experienced price deflation for the first time since World War II, and seen the public debt mushroom, all the while limping along at a very slow growth rate. This has been a bewildering change for a nation that until then was registering spectacular growth. After all, over a period of more than 40 years after the war’s end, Japan’s economy had grown into an entity so weighty that it was even said to have become a threat to the economy of the United States. Why did a speculative bubble with so much destructive power inflate in the second half of the 1980s, and why has the impact of its deflation lasted so long? These are ... ... [Read more]

Politics, No.1
Jul. 29, 2010


It would be impossible to overstate the momentous nature of the September 2009 change of government as a milestone in Japan’s political history. The advent of an administration led by the Democratic Party of Japan made possible the disclosure of previously hidden information and a number of changes in existing policies. Some of the new developments would have been inconceivable under the Liberal Democratic Party, including the expansion of social welfare and the budget-screening review of existing programs, which cut into bureaucrats’ established interests. I would reiterate that these policy changes are of tremendous significance. Needless to say, there is also disappointment in the lost opportunities resulting from the weakness in leadership of the administration of Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, including frailty among the politicians making it up and the lack of strategy in its actions. What is required now,... [Read more]

Culture, No.1
Jul. 28, 2010


“One of the first things that struck me when I began studying in Japan is how little the university students here study,” said Zhang Cheng,[1. The names of the Chinese students interviewed for this article have been changed.] answering my first question in fluent Japanese. Zhang (age 21) comes from a family of scholars; both parents are professors at an elite university. He lived the first four months of his life in Japan, where his parents were conducting research, and during high school he spent short periods in Japan, the United States, and Canada as an exchange student. In a country where travel abroad is still inaccessible to many, Zhang’s opportunities were exceptional. He was on the elite academic track, with almost all of his high school classmates going on to study at Peking University or Tsinghua University. He himself enrolled at PKU, and ... ... [Read more]

Culture, No.1
Jul. 27, 2010


Japanese culture has a much more prominent position in the world today than most people in Japan realize. The “Cool Japan” phenomenon has really started to take off around the globe. Personally, I think of the current interest in Japan as the third “Japan boom.” The first boom, which started back in the nineteenth century, focused on things like geisha, “Fujiyama,” and ukiyoe woodblock prints. In those days, people had a taste for the exotic, and the interest was driven chiefly by curiosity about the Other. The second boom came during the 1980s, when animated cartoon versions of Japanese manga like Candy Candy and Captain Tsubasa were shown around the world and Japan started to attract attention for the high quality and entertainment value of its popular culture. Even so, the image of Japan as somehow “exotic” remained strong through the late 1990s. The ... ... [Read more]

Politics, No.1
Jun. 6, 2010


On July 11, the Japanese people went to the polls to elect their representatives to the House of Councillors. The result was a severe setback for Japan’s new ruling party, the Democratic Party of Japan. After breaking the Liberal Democratic Party’s decades-long lock on power in a historic House of Representatives election less than a year earlier, the DPJ won only 44 of the 121 seats up for grabs in the House of Councillors, while the LDP secured 51, more than any other party. As a result, although the DPJ continues to control the powerful House of Representatives and therefore the cabinet, it now lacks an upper house majority even with the help of its coalition partner, the People’s New Party. The people have voiced their dissatisfaction with the government by opting for a “hung” Diet. The upper house election was a critical test ... ... [Read more]

Politics, No.1
Jun. 5, 2010


On June 8, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Kan Naoto assumed the office of prime minister and appointed a cabinet, becoming Japan’s sixth prime minister in five years. In the following, we will explore some of the reasons for this extraordinary rate of turnover, review Kan’s career and qualifications, and discuss the policy and political challenges that confront the new prime minister. The Roots of Failure A look back over the brief tenures of Japan’s four previous prime ministers–Abe Shinzō, Fukuda Yasuo, Asō Tarō, and Hatoyama Yukio–reveals a fairly consistent pattern. In each case the cabinet started out with high approval ratings but very soon fell from public favor, and in each case this loss of public support made it difficult or impossible for the prime minister to stay in office. Abe made the decision to resign, partly for health reasons, when ... ... [Read more]

Culture, No.1
Jun. 4, 2010


TAKAGI TŌRU The “economic superpower” banner that Japan has proudly carried for so long has started to fade. One thing I can say from my own experience is that it is definitely getting harder to research stories overseas than it used to be. When I first started traveling overseas as a journalist back in 1996 or so, all I had to do was describe NHK as the “Japanese BBC,” and people were generally more than happy to make time for an interview. They obviously felt that it was to their advantage to appear on Japanese TV. Nowadays, it’s a struggle to get people to even see me. And I don’t just mean in Europe and the United States–the same is true of countries like India and Turkey that are supposed to be friendly to Japan. People just aren’t interested in Japan anymore. IKEUCHI SATOSHI ... ... [Read more]

Economy, No.1
Jun. 3, 2010


In September 2008 the world economy, hit by the financial crisis symbolized by the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, went into a tailspin, but in the second half of 2009 it pulled out of the dive and began to regain altitude. Then in March and April 2010, just when optimistic views were becoming widespread, yields on Greek government bonds suddenly rose, and a crisis of sovereign risk came into view. Confidence in the euro was badly shaken, and worries about European economies and the global economy spread. Once again the future of the world became shrouded in uncertainty. Stock markets tumbled, and many countries in Europe and other parts of the world experienced a mushrooming of fiscal deficits, since tax revenues had declined following the Lehman shock, while government spending had been stepped up to apply stimulus. With Greek government bonds sustaining a crippling blow, ... ... [Read more]

Politics, No.1
Jun. 2, 2010


At a meeting of the House of Representatives Committee on Financial Affairs on the morning of April 6, 2010, Liberal Democratic Party legislator Koizumi Shinjirō addressed Kamei Shizuka, minister of state for postal reform and head of the tiny People’s New Party, and he did not mince words. According to an opinion poll recently published by the daily Sankei Shimbun, public support for the PNP stood at 0.0%. It fared only marginally better–0.7%–in a Kyodo News survey. In effect, Koizumi said, a party with virtually no voter support was ramming through an overhaul of one of the nation’s key institutions. And the main ruling party, the Democratic Party of Japan, was allowing itself to be pushed around by this political nonentity. It was the DPJ, not the PNP, that the people had voted into power with a resounding 300-seat lower house majority. The young ... ... [Read more]

Economy, No.1
Jun. 1, 2010


Late last year the news that a Korean-led consortium had won a major order for a nuclear power project in Abu Dhabi brought further gloom to an already downbeat Japan. The Japanese media noted that South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak had visited Abu Dhabi repeatedly in support of the Korean bid and suggested that the Japanese government did not have an adequate setup to back Japan’s bid. A senior official at the Ministry for Economy, Trade, and Industry offered this postmortem: “This is a defeat for the Japanese business model. Japan was trying to sell Abu Dhabi nuclear power plants. But Korea was offering to provide a steady supply of electricity for sixty years. The Koreans were selling electricity.” The South Korean government and the company leading the bid shared the same objective and conducted repeated top-level sales in order to achieve it. They ... ... [Read more]