Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Abe pledges Japan constitution rewrite after election win


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday vowed he would try to persuade a sceptical public of the need to revise Japan's pacifist constitution, the day after scoring a thumping election victory.

The premier, who was re-elected by a landslide in Sunday's polls, pledged to pursue his nationalist agenda while promising to follow through on much-needed economic reforms.
"Revising the constitution... has always been an objective since the Liberal Democratic Party was launched," Abe told reporters.

"I will work hard to deepen people's understanding and receive wider support from the public."

Abe's desire to water down Japan's constitution, imposed by the US after the end of World War II, has proved divisive at home and strained already tense relations with China.

His attempt earlier this year was abandoned, with the bar of a two-thirds parliamentary majority and victory in a referendum thought too high.

The conservative leader has also said he wants reforms to education that would instil patriotism in schoolchildren and urges a more sympathetic retelling of Japan's wartime misdeeds.

His ruling LDP and its junior partner Komeito swept the ballot on Sunday with a two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament.

The coalition won a combined 326 of the 475 seats, crushing the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan. Their slightly-improved tally of 73 did not include leader Banri Kaieda, who fell on his sword on Monday.

Abe is expected to reappoint a broadly similar cabinet after he is formally named prime minister again by the lower house on December 24.

- Abenomics go-ahead -

He insisted the election had been a necessary plebiscite on his big-spending, easy-money policies, known as Abenonmics, although critics said the record low turnout of around 52 percent tarnished his mandate.

"We must go ahead with Abenomics swiftly, this is exactly what has been shown in the vote. We have to respond to that," Abe said, pledging to "compile an economic stimulus package immediately, within this year".

The 60-year-old stormed to power in 2012, pledging to revive the animal spirits of Japan's flagging economy with a blend of monetary easing, government spending and structural reforms to cut red tape.

The printing presses at the Bank of Japan have run hot ever since, pushing down the value of the yen -- to the delight of exporters -- and giving the stock market a huge boost, as stimulus programmes have provided an economic shot in the arm.

But the premier has shied away from tough reforms that economists say are vital if Japan is to get back on a firm footing, including employment deregulation and tackling the entrenched interests of the agriculture lobby.

A sales tax rise in April snuffed out consumer spending, sending Japan into the two negative quarters of growth that make a recession.

"From now on, he has to show results in line with his promises," said Hideo Kumano, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research institute.

"If he fails to improve the economy, his political capital will be reduced easily. A crucial phase is still ahead."

On the diplomatic front, his election victory may temper frayed relations with China, which has painted him as a dangerous revisionist, said Gerald Curtis, a veteran Japan watcher and professor at Columbia University.

Relations began to thaw last month after more than two years of chill, which Beijing blamed on Abe's provocative nationalism, including a visit to a war shrine and equivocations on Japan's wartime record of enslaving women for sex.

Beijing said it had "noted" the outcome of the election, and offered a familiar call for Japan to "learn its lessons from history (and) play a constructive role in regional peace and stability".

"In the short-term, at least, Sino-Japanese relations are on a better track... signals coming from Beijing and from Abe (are aimed at trying) to improve the relationship," Curtis said.

Masaru Kohno, a politics professor at Waseda University in Tokyo, said despite his professed desire to retell the history of Japan's aggressive warring -- an instinct largely unshared by the Japanese public -- Abe will be pragmatic.

"Many of the issues Japan is facing such as depopulation and women's advancement should be resolved with liberal policies," he said.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hit by recession and higher taxes, Japan's working poor speak out


Analysis: Prime Minister Abe promises economic recovery, but working people shoulder the heaviest burden of his policies

Higher sales taxes have hit Japan's working poor and shaken faith in the economy. The prime minister has called snap elections for Dec. 14.
Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP / Getty Images

TOKYO — Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces a vote on Dec. 14, seeking a mandate to continue economic policies that have imposed a harsh cost on working people. Eighteen months ago, Abe vowed to “bring back a strong Japan,” but the economy is reeling and a growing section of the electorate is losing faith.

Many analysts were shocked last week by the release of GDP figures showing that the world’s third-largest economy is in recession. Those numbers are widely seen as a key factor in Abe’s decision to call a snap legislative election.

Abe hopes the poll will restore some of the momentum he lost after hiking the sales tax from from 5 percent to 8 percent in April, which triggered a plunge in demand and a second consecutive quarterly downturn in the economy. The latest GDP bombshell forced him to postpone next year’s planned hike that would have brought Japan's sales tax to double the pre-April 2014 rate.

The prime minister argues that raising the sales tax will help pull Japan out of years of deflation by generating revenues to help offset the country’s mounting debt. But critics say that sales taxes are regressive—forcing the less affluent to shoulder a greater share of the tax burden—and they argue that Abe's policies are pushing more workers into unstable jobs while only temporarily boosting corporate profits.   

Stock prices have risen, and the yen has weakened since Abe came to power, which has helped export-dependent companies. But critics argue there is no evidence of a trickle-down effect from “Abenomics,” the prime minister’s market-oriented economic creed, and that its policies have hurt the working poor.

“I couldn’t quite see how Abenomics would ever work,” said Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Tokyo’s Sophia University. 

The third arrow

Abe had promised to fire three “arrows” into Japan’s stagnating economy. In 2013, he implemented the first two: fiscal stimulus in the form of more than 10 trillion yen ($117 billion), and monetary easing, which boosted stock prices and weakened the yen.

But his third arrow — creating a national growth strategy based on long-lasting structural reforms — has proved most painful to many ordinary Japanese.

Midori Ito, a care worker, said her life has become “extremely difficult” following Abe’s sales-tax hike.

She is among the growing ranks of Japan’s working poor who earn less than 2 million yen (about $17,000) a year. Their numbers have increased by about 290,000 since Abe came to power in 2012, according to the National Tax Agency.

Ito has been trying to cut spending by socializing less and trimming non-essentials. Working two days a week caring for old people and juggling other small jobs, she lives on 100,000 yen a month ($851).

Living in Tokyo, where even cheap accommodation can cost as much as her monthly income, Ito says she has become more creative with money — one of her recipes involves cooking a 25 yen (21 cent) bag of bean sprouts to feed herself and her roommate. “We have learned to lower our living standards,” Ito says.

The company she works for has begun assigning workers to short shifts of less than an hour, which means less income for Ito and her colleagues. Even if their pay complies with the legal minimum wage of 888 yen ($6.80), care-workers struggle to earn enough income to cover the cost of living.

Abe has sought to make it easier for companies to hire and fire irregular workers but has not raised the minimum wage. The prime minister believes that Japan’s job market is still too protected and that job mobility will boost productivity.

But the erratic schedules and poor pay drive many casual staff away, Ito says, and full-timers end up working late into the night, on weekends and holidays. Even then, they pocket no more than 200,000 yen ($1,685) a month. “We are made to think that’s still better than nothing.”

Ito is not alone. Real wages fell for the 15th consecutive month in September, and the working class is spending less than last year, according to the labor ministry. Evenmajor corporations, which have so far this year enjoyed rising profits, have expressed concerns over consumer spending trends, according to a survey by the Asahi newspaper.

“Consumers have become sensitive to prices,” an executive with Nippon Ham, a major Japanese food processor, told Asahi. “We can’t yet claim that consumers are experiencing economic growth.”

To boost corporate spending, Abe asked major companies in April to raise wages for salaried workers but left out casual workers. Critics say this only encouraged corporations to replace permanent stable jobs with temporary work.

Japan had 1.23 million more irregular workers in the July-September quarter this year than in the same period a year earlier. They now make up over 30 percent of Japan’s workforce.

The change has been especially tough on women. They now make up half of Japan’s entire workforce but are disproportionately represented among part-time workers—despite Abe’s promise that his policies would provide more opportunities for women to “shine.”

Calls for help

Akai Jinbu, a Tokyo Youth Union organizer, said temporary workers are regarded as even more expendable today than in 2008, when tens of thousands were dismissed at the start of the global recession.

Many temp workers in their 30s, 40s and even 50s end up living with their parents or sharing rooms because they cannot afford the rent in Tokyo, where a single bedroom can fetch $1,100 a month.

“I’m just stunned thinking about how they are going to be able to survive after the layoff,” Jinbu said.

The union says that calls for help from workers have doubled over the past year. Jinbu says his organization fields more than 200 phone calls a month—most from callers who have been left without any backup plans or social security after being laid off.

Abe sees things differently. He says that without the second sales tax hike, Japan’s economy will worsen and investors will lose confidence. The nation must stabilize social security systems and rebuild its finances, Abe said this month. Japan carries the largest debt in the industrialized world.

Political scientist Nakano calls Abe’s economic policies a time bomb, warning that the snap election will simply postpone the explosion. “As long as it doesn’t blow up while he’s holding it, he doesn’t seem to mind,” Nakano says.

Analysts believe that a strong showing in the election would give Abe a mandate to pass unpopular policies, including plans to steer Japan away from its postwar pacifism; beef up defense; increase government secrecy; and switch on the nation's nuclear reactors.

But public interest in the election is low, Japan’s opposition is in disarray, and Abe may be reelected simply because voters see no alternative. The big question then is not whether Abe and his Liberal Democrats will win, but whether his conservative coalition government will return with a clear majority.

“Many people are finding it hard to believe that there is something better to follow,” Nakano said. “We had the lowest voting rate the last time in December 2012 in postwar history, and it’s most likely to be lower this time.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Japan's economy

18 more months of just 8%~

Below are some conflicting views.  In the second video, the man with the mustache/beard says, around 4 min 35 sec into it, that the only way to increase capital investment is to make it costly to sit on cash. . .to create inflation. . .Then people will go out and take financial risks and invest for a higher return.

Of course, there are risk-takers in this country and in every country, but most of the people I know here are pretty reluctant to make the leap.  I'm more inclined to agree with the economist without the mustache and beard (nothing against mustaches or beards, though).  De-regulating the country, liberalizing the workforce, and cutting corporate tax rates, he thinks, could do the trick.

I took macro- and micro- economics in high school, and I just barely passed, so I think I'm pretty terrible in understanding any economy.  In terms of language, though, the one thing I see in common with the second video and with other videos that I saw last week (when I watched, in a bit of a drunken state, the news that Japan had put out another stimulus) is that America and Japan, while facing some similar problems, differ in this:  America can solve its workforce problems by changing its immigration laws, while Japan will not do this.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Halloween has exploded here

The past couple Halloweens I wasn't much in the mood for doing anything on the eve, so I've been a little out of touch with how big it's gotten in Tokyo.  I started to get an inkling last week Saturday (Oct 25) when I strolled through Ikebukuro Sunshine Street(池袋サンシャイン通り)and found red carpets lined in the middle of the road.  At first I thought it was for a promotional event of some sort--for a movie, an anime, or something--but it seemed that cosplay people were generally welcome to pose while observers and passersby took pictures.

 It was almost a week before Halloween, and here we were already, Ikebukuro packed  with costume delight.  I started to wonder if this area would replace Shibuya as the location of choice for Halloweeners.  Boy, was I wrong.  Below are pictures from last night's festivities in Shibuya Sentā-gai 渋谷センター街.  It was insane.  Like a hanabi festival (花火、 or はなびたいかい), like Meiji-jingu on New Year's Eve, you could hardly move in some areas.  It was pretty great though.  People were coming out of their shells for this night of disguising and pretending.  I only walked around for an hour or two, but it seemed like a playful, sensible friendliness; strangers were talking to one another, but I didn't see anything get out of hand.  Hopefully, this festive thing can keep on going peacefully and safely; this city can benefit from such great communal events.

This is one minute out of a very nice walk~


And these are videos posted by other people:

Friday, July 11, 2014

tomato vegetable curry (夏野菜トマトカレー)

This tomato curry dish just recently came out at Matsuya.  I think it's good.  Probably not worth a lot more than what  it costs, but I like it.