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Japan needs stability and a new vision but are some things a mirage?

Japan needs stability and a new vision but  are some things a mirage?

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Strong yen despite 20 years of economic negativity

The 1990s and continuing until today have not been kind to Japan in the economic arena and the political situation appears to be going from bad to worse.  The Nikkei stock market continues to be in the doldrums and this applies to the last twenty years.  At the same time, the national debt continues to spiral and the recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis is adding to the woes of Japan.

Politicians in Japan are not helping because it is all about factionalism and petty infighting, therefore, the political merry-go-round continues.  This applies to prime ministers resigning or being forced out of office and political shenanigans within each major party.

Even now, despite around 28,000 people dying because of the March 11 earthquake the political system remains “overtly childish” and based on “self-interests” to the extreme.  The tsunami which was unleashed by the earthquake killed the vast majority of people and the nuclear crisis in Fukushima is ongoing.

Despite this, and with more than 10,000 bodies still not being recovered, you have no mutual political system whereby the politicians come together during a time of national crisis. 

More alarming, Prime Minister Naoto Kan does not only face a political challenge from the opposition but even faces an internal power struggle based on the chaotic nature of Ichiro Ozawa.  The internal factionalism is destroying the political system and all political parties appear to just want to mock the respective opposition and to force the prime minister to resign.

Therefore, you have a nation which is “leaderless” and while the bureaucracy remains intact and major companies keep Japan afloat. It is strange to have such a political system in a nation which is mainly based on consensus but the “political rat race” shows no sign of ending and the national debt continues to gather in pace.

Other major areas of concern applies to the strange economic system which allows virtual zero interest rates and seems to be happy about the yen being based on carry trade.  Added to this, is the demographic time bomb and the huge costs which are needed in order to bring up a child in Japan.

In truth, you have so many areas and this applies to the pension system, stagnant wage structure, too much centralization, a collapsing health service and many other important areas.

Added to this are important social issues and this applies to the huge suicide problem, hikikomori, mental issues, lack of adequate care for an increasing elderly population and other important factors.

The nation of China is looming on the horizon and this applies to continuing economic growth and a strong sense of ambition.  Yet for Japan, it often appears that the political system is based on being “a mere shadow of America.”

This does not bode well because it is difficult to find what makes “Japan tick.” After all, you have no major political ideology, religion is weak, the bullish nature of business in the 1980s appears to be a distant memory, the armed forces play second fiddle to America, and you have no clear sense of the future direction of this nation because of the ongoing political meltdown.

However, Japan is an enigma and some economists claim that nothing is what it seems.  Therefore, a minority of economists and political scientists are claiming that Japan is undercutting its true economic power. 

By doing this, Japan can play the exporters dream and maintain positive trade balances in this field with major economic partners.  This in turn means that Japan’s reserves continue to be vibrant and Japan clearly owns a huge amount of America’ s debt and recently this also applies to European Union debt.

It must be remembered that the yen is very strong at the moment but how can the yen be gaining in strength against the dollar and other major currencies?  After all, twenty years of small growth and times of economic stagnation should have meant that the opposite would happen.

Also, if you look at Japan’s main exporting sectors then clearly high technology and state of the art products is evidence that Japan remains vibrant in many important fields.  This applies to consumer electronics, optical fibers, optical media, semiconductors, automobiles, facsimile, copy machines, and other important areas.

Therefore, the dollar rate and the increasing nature of foreign nations owning America’s debt may be telling a different story?  After all, since President Obama came to office the national debt continues to mushroom and now the figure is $14 trillion dollars and growing.

I have resided in Japan for a long time but in Tokyo it is difficult to believe that you have had twenty years of economic misery.  This applies to the employment rate being very low, low crime rate, feeling of vibrancy, continuing building projects, and an ever increasing population in and around Tokyo.

Also, you have major hubs of information technology in Kyoto and the Kansai region is still an economic powerhouse despite recent problems.  More important, it does appear that local government leaders in Osaka are starting to think about the bigger picture and this applies to embarking on a greater metropolitan area, focusing on the international community and restructuring weaknesses within the system.

It is apparent that Japan faces many serious problems, however, not all is lost and many Japanese companies still play a powerful role in the global economy.  More important, does anyone understand the enigma of Japan?

This applies to a huge national debt followed by major economic reserves; a powerful currency despite twenty years of little economic growth; and while Japan’s internal debt grows the same nation continues to hold vast sums of America’s debt and is now helping the European Union by buying Europe’s debt.

Yes, Japan is a real enigma!

http://moderntokyotimes.com (please visit)

 
 
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Posted by on April 30, 2011 in Japan

 

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Shintaro Ishihara forecast to win the Tokyo election and escape “tenbatsu”

Shintaro Ishihara forecast to win the Tokyo election and escape “tenbatsu”

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Shintaro Ishihara and Tokyo 2011 election

 Shintaro Ishihara and Tokyo 2011 election

According to political pundits then Shintaro Ishihara is forecast to win because he will escape the wrath of his tenbatsu (divine punishment) comment and any possible storm clouds over his tenbatsu theory appear to have fallen by the wayside 

Therefore, the gubernatorial election which takes place this weekend will once more re-elect Ishihara because he is deemed to be the most appropriate leader for the majority of Tokyo voters.  If predictions come true, then Ishihara will be elected for the fourth time and this 78 year old individual is clearly liked by the majority of Tokyo voters because he would be defying his age and longevity in elected office.

Irrespective of your political persuasion or if you like Ishihara or not; the simple truth is that he defies his enemies and not many leading politicians would be re-elected four times in any democratic vote – especially when you take into account his age and the nature of politics in Japan.

It is ironic that national politics is tainted by prime ministers or cabinet ministers either voluntarily stepping down or being forced out of office.  However, for the people of Tokyo it appears to be “play it again Sam.”  

Therefore, Tokyo will continue to be governed by Ishihara who is a controversial leader because he does upset people by stating “off the cuff” comments.  Yet when the chips are down the majority of Tokyoites turn to him because of many factors and during the recent crisis in Japan he seems to be a stabilizing factor.   

Ishihara is also liked because China continues to spend vast sums on its military expenditure and too many Japanese political leaders have bent over backwards in order to appease America’s geopolitical objectives in Northeast Asia and the Pacific Rim.

It is clear that foreign policy objectives are not part of his remit because he is the Governor of Tokyo but his stance on “Japan can say no” and his support for nuclear weapons; is viewed to be welcomed in many circles because too many prime ministers have appeared to be weak and bowed down to external political pressure.

Therefore, many Japanese voters in Tokyo who support Ishihara may oppose his thinking about nuclear weapons, racist comments from time to time, or his views that “Japan can say no.”

Yet overall they like his “perceived strength” and he is very individualistic within the body politic of Japan and irrespective of your political ideology at least you know he exists. The same can’t be said for some of the non-entity political leaders in Japan who have come and gone without any political impact despite being elected to the highest political office.

Of course, many Japanese voters will also support his notion of “Japan can say no” and with the growing rise of China and America’s assertiveness under President Obama; then Ishihara can be viewed to be a patriot and he is proud of his Japanese identity.

It also must be stated that bread and butter politics is the real agenda for the majority of Tokyo voters and the finances of Tokyo are buoyant under Ishihara’s leadership. 

Also, he did focus on pollution and maintaining a world famous city which can compete with any major city in the world.  Yes, you have other global mega-cities which are powerful like Beijing, London, Moscow, New York, Paris, and others; however, Tokyo is dynamic by itself and an economic powerhouse and the city of Tokyo is not in the shadow of any other major city in the world.

It is impossible to state which is the most dynamic city in the world because you have too many different complex factors.  Despite this, the rise of Tokyo and its capital base is still enormous and under the guidance of Ishihara then Tokyo is still growing and is vibrant.

Yasunori Sone, a professor at Tokyo’s Keio University, states that “He has the advantage of already being in office” and “…he projects an image of stability in handling this crisis more than the other candidates.”

Therefore, the tenbatsu (divine punishment) comment by Ishihara where he pointed at the earthquake and tsunami happening because of the shallowness of the spirit within modern Japan and with the ego being too powerful; did not come back to haunt him because according to senior political pundits he will be re-elected.

Ishihara had stated after the earthquake and tsunami that tenbatsu had happened because “America’s identity is freedom. France’s identity is freedom, equality and fraternity.  Japan has no sense of that.  Only greed. Materiality greed (and) monetary greed.” 

“This greed bounds with populism.  These things need to be washed away with the Tsunami.  For many years the heart of Japanese always bounded with (the) devil.”

This almost socialist sounding comment by Ishihara was not aimed at the enormous loss of life in northeastern Japan after the earthquake and tsunami devastated many regions.  After all, Ishihara announced a major economic plan for this region.

Ishihara was commenting about the lack of identity, aloofness of aspects of modern culture, being dominated by outside nations and not having the spirit of vibrancy which made Japan great.

People can disagree vehemently with his comment about tenbatsu but unlike other leading politicians in Japan he refuses to bow down to the party line. 

Therefore, if, like predicted, that he is re-elected then this will be a remarkable achievement because Ishihara is now 78 years old and given the lack of longevity in Japanese politics; then he must be doing something right according to the majority of voters in Tokyo.

Of course, nothing is written and in politics you do sometimes get major shocks when you least expect them but it would appear that Ishihara will be re-elected.

http://moderntokyotimes.com (please visit)

 

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