No.3 - Discuss Japan

Archives : No.3

Oct–Nov 2010

Politics, No.3  Nov. 30, 2010


On September 17 Prime Minister Kan Naoto, having fended off a challenge to his leadership of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, announced a new cabinet lineup. Two months later, we look back to analyze the DPJ election and its outcome and assess some of the policy issues confronting the prime minister and his newly reshuffled cabinet, particularly on the domestic front. Of course, the government also faces major challenges in the international arena. Relations with China have been tense ever since Japan’s detention of a Chinese fishing crew whose trawler had entered territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands. Similarly, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s November 1 visit to the island of Kunashiri in the disputed Northern Territories has complicated relations with Moscow. The conflict over relocation of US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station also awaits a timely resolution. But any detailed discussion of... [Read more]

Economy, No.3
Nov. 29, 2010


“The global economy is a tiger. All we can do is keep riding on its back. If we get thrown off, we’ll be eaten up.” This was the grim determination expressed by a senior South Korean official charged with directing his country’s structural reform program following the 1997-98 currency crisis. In hindsight, that East Asian currency crisis was a harbinger of the global financial crisis that struck in 2008. South Korea, facing the shock of the backwash from the global economy that hit in the wake of the earlier crisis, decided to go with the flow. Its trade dependency ratio rose from 58% in 2001 to 92% in 2008. The collapse of Lehman Brothers in September that year marked the start of a financial crisis that spread through the global economy, but despite this, South Korea’s trade dependency figure declined relatively little; the ratio ... ... [Read more]

Culture, No.3
Nov. 28, 2010


TAKEUCHI KAORU Appropriations for science and technology have recently been cut sharply as a result of the government’s program-review process. I believe it’s a serious problem if the work on basic science is weakened. How do you feel about that? MASKAWA TOSHIHIDE If you look at examples from the past, it takes about a hundred years for the fruits of basic science to be returned to society in practical form. For example, the use of radar in World War II was the beginning of people’s ability to make free use of radio waves. Then after the war television was developed. All this was based on the Maxwell equations summing up the laws of electromagnetic fields, which were drawn up in 1864 by James Maxwell. It was about eighty years from then to the 1940s. It’s the same story in other fields. TAKEUCHI I was ... ... [Read more]

Politics, No.3
Nov. 27, 2010


One of the most striking features of Japanese politics in recent years has been the succession of short-lived governments. Prime Minister Abe Shinzō took office in September 2006 and fell from power just a year later. This was followed by two more short-lived governments, led by Fukuda Yasuo and Asō Tarō. Both collapsed after barely a year in office. The trend has continued since the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party fell from power and the Democratic Party of Japan took the reins in September 2009–the government of Hatoyama Yukio, the first DPJ prime minister, lasted just eight months, and the current administration under Kan Naoto already finds itself in a difficult position just three months after coming to office. Not too long ago, however, Japan had a government that remained in office for five years and five months, under Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichirō (April 2001-September ... ... [Read more]

Economy, No.3
Nov. 26, 2010


TAHARA SŌICHIRŌ Let me begin right away by asking if you could elaborate on a comment you once made that companies sticking to the status quo are on the path to bankruptcy. What did you mean by that? YANAI TADASHI The business environment is constantly changing. Every day rival companies are coming up with innovative ideas and new technologies are being created. And consumer preferences also undergo change. So, obviously, if you just keep doing the same things, they’re going to stop working. Plans must be revised and business methods changed in light of the changing situation. And this is where the role of management is essential. Without proper management, a company will end up in self-preservation mode, where it repeats the same actions over and over. What some call “stable” management could instead be called “thoughtless” management, because it means... [Read more]

Politics, No.3
Oct. 5, 2010


“I believe that this change of power was brought about by the voices of the public urging something should be done to fix Japanese politics of today. . . . In that sense, the victors in that summertime election were each Japanese citizen.” So declared Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio in a policy speech to the National Diet last autumn. But in less than a year after “that summertime election,” large numbers of citizens lost the sense of being victors. The Democratic Party of Japan, which took power after scoring a major victory in last summer’s House of Representatives election, did dismally in this summer’s House of Councillors election. By comparison with the previous upper house election in 2007, the DPJ got 1.25 million fewer votes in the prefectural district races and 4.80 million fewer in the proportional-representation balloting, winning only 28 district seats and... [Read more]

Discussions, No.3
Oct. 4, 2010


KŌNO MICHIKAZU People have taken to describing this year as the beginning of a new era of digital publishing. Amazon released its Kindle DX digital reader last fall, and when the Apple iPad went on sale in Japan at the end of May this year, I was one of many who rushed out to buy one. The launch of so many high-profile devices one after another like this makes it feel as though the digital age really is upon us at last. Recent developments have sent shock waves through the publishing world, and people are worried that publishing companies and bookstores may have outlived their usefulness. Some have even compared the upheaval caused by the arrival of these latest products from the United States to the coming of Commodore Perry’s “black ships” to open up Japan in the 1850s. There has been talk about ... ... [Read more]

Culture, No.3
Oct. 3, 2010


“One Hundred Ten-Year-Old Woman Listed as Residing in Arakawa Ward Is Missing”–This headline sounds like any one of the many others that filled the pages of Japanese newspapers starting in late July, but in fact it dates from the Nikkei evening edition printed on September 14, 2005. Tokyo’s Arakawa Ward, where the supposedly 110-year-old woman was listed as residing, had been listing the woman as still alive in the annual report sent to the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare for at least three years prior to that date, without confirming that this was in fact true. Arakawa Ward was obliged to issue that report on the most elderly of its residents, after confirming their whereabouts, for the ministry’s National Longevity List, published annually prior to Respect for the Aged Day in September. The Longevity List includes a roster of the 100 oldest people ... ... [Read more]

Economy, No.3
Oct. 2, 2010


At a monetary policy meeting on October 5, the Bank of Japan approved a policy of “comprehensive monetary easing.” To hear the media tell it, this is a policy of essentially zero interest rates, and it amounts to inflation targeting and marks a return to the quantitative-easing line. When reading bureaucratese, however, it is generally a good idea to examine the footnotes even more closely than the text, as the notes and the appended material often tell the real story of what is going on. In this case, one discovers that the new policy is not one of essentially zero interest rates, or of rates “from 0% to 0.1%” as advertised, but of essentially 0.1% interest rates. As one of the footnotes indicates, it simply is not possible to move rates below 0.1% as a result of other lending systems. The claim that the... [Read more]

Politics, No.3
Oct. 1, 2010


The economic development that China has achieved over the past 30 years is a historic phenomenon. The key event that set it off was the reform and open-door policy that Deng Xiaoping, an extraordinary leader, launched in 1979. With this revolutionary move Deng stripped the Communist Party of China of its erstwhile moral mission. He conceived the brilliant strategy of opening the gates to the material desires of the masses while preserving the hold of the state over the political system. Over the subsequent three decades this approach achieved great results. We can cite a number of factors that helped make this possible. First, Deng’s capable successors continued his policy line. Second, the economy started from a low level, and so it was possible for it to grow at a rapid pace over an extended period–and to do so without running into constraints on ... ... [Read more]