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2009年10月14日 (水)

羽田空港 ハブ化推進は当然の選択だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Oct. 14, 2009)
Haneda natural choice as hub airport
羽田空港 ハブ化推進は当然の選択だ(10月14日付・読売社説)

Will Japan's air gateway return from Narita to Haneda Airport?

Construction and Transport Minister Seiji Maehara said his top priority is turning Haneda Airport into a hub for international flights that can operate on a 24-hour basis.

Haneda Airport is scheduled to open its fourth runway in October 2010. Maehara said the practice of routing most international flights bound for Tokyo to Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture and most domestic flights to Haneda Airport would be eliminated with the opening of the fourth runway at Haneda and that there would be a sharp increase in the number of international flights to and from Haneda Airport.

It is difficult to increase the departure and arrival slots at Narita Airport by a significant number due to the many operational restrictions at the facility. Turning Haneda Airport, which is in the Tokyo metropolitan area, into a hub for international flights is quite a natural choice from the perspective of convenience. The government should proceed with discussions for the realization of the proposal.

The advantage of a hub airport is that international and domestic flights converge there and connecting flights for passengers and air freight are available in a single location.


International competition

South Korea, China and other Asian countries have developed as a national project an airport with multiple runways that can operate on a 24-hour basis to attract visitors and goods from abroad.

Although construction work to extend the second runway at Narita Airport will soon be completed, there will be little increase in the departure and arrival slots. The airport's weaknesses are that it is far from the Tokyo metropolitan area and cannot operate early in the morning and late at night due to noise prevention measures.

If Japan sticks to the principle of separating domestic and international services between the airports, the nation could be removed from the Asian aviation network. If most of increase in the departure and arrival slots at Haneda Airport is assigned to international flights, the airport would be able to function well as a hub airport.

However, Narita Airport opened despite fierce opposition to its construction. Many flights to and from Haneda Airport, which will be increased, will fly over Chiba Prefecture. It is necessary to give due consideration to noise prevention and gain the consent of the Chiba prefectural and Narita municipal governments.


Narita still necessary

Maehara said Narita Airport will continue to be used as an international airport. Just opening Haneda Airport to international traffic will not be sufficient to meet the increasing demand for international flights.

There are many overseas airlines that seek an extension of services into Narita and Haneda airports. The improvement of Narita Airport should also be steadily promoted.

The influence of turning Haneda Airport into a hub for international flights will not be limited to airports in the Tokyo area. The impact on Kansai Airport, where the number of passengers has been decreasing, will be severe.

The management of Kansai Airport is struggling under the weight of more than 1 trillion yen in interest-bearing debts. Furthermore, Japan Airlines is considering sharply decreasing its number of flights to and from the airport. The central and related local governments must take drastic reconstruction measures, such as assuming responsibility for repaying debts from the airport company.

But if there is no change in the situation in which Itami Airport and Kobe Airport are competing for passengers, the revitalization of Kansai Airport will be difficult even with a decreased debt load.

A review of aviation administration in the Kansai region, with an eye to the possible shutting down or a drastic downsizing of Itami Airport, is a basic premise for the support measures.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 14, 2009)
(2009年10月14日00時14分  読売新聞)

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2009年10月10日 (土)

外国人参政権 地方に限っても禍根を残す

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Oct. 10, 2009)
Suffrage for foreigners could court trouble
外国人参政権 地方に限っても禍根を残す(10月10日付・読売社説)

Giving foreign nationals the right to vote, even in local elections only, is problematic from the standpoints of what is stipulated in the Constitution and the fundamental roles of the state.

Regarding the granting of local suffrage to permanent foreign residents in Japan, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said Friday, "I personally want to come to a conclusion in a forward-looking manner."

Hatoyama's remark was made in response to a question put forward by a reporter from the South Korean media at a joint press conference held with South Korean President Lee Myung Bak after their meeting in Seoul.
"People's feelings and thoughts aren't necessarily unified," Hatoyama later added, apparently out of awareness that views on this issue are sharply divided in Japan.

The Democratic Party of Japan included the granting of local suffrage to permanent foreign residents in its basic policies when the party was formed in 1998. Besides Hatoyama, DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa and Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada are among party members who support the policy.


1995 ruling was clear-cut

The 1995 Supreme Court ruling on a lawsuit in which a group of South Korean residents in Japan sought local suffrage has stoked the arguments made by advocates of local suffrage for permanent foreign residents. The ruling's obiter dictum remarks said granting foreign residents local suffrage is not prohibited under the Constitution and that the matter concerns the nation's legislative policies.

However, the main part of the ruling said the people's right to select and dismiss public officials under Article 15 of the Constitution rests with "Japanese people," that is, Japanese nationals. The ruling also said that "residents"--people who elect heads of local governments and members of local assemblies as stipulated under Article 93 of the Constitution--refer to people who have Japanese nationality.

Citing only the obiter dictum, which is a nonlegally binding supportive argument, as legal grounds for foreign suffrage is absurd.

It is also a stretch to argue that opinions of foreign residents should be reflected in local public services by giving them the right to vote in local elections. This is because local governments are closely entwined in issues that pertain to the nation's basic policies.

The law regarding the nation's response to attacks by foreign forces and the law to protect people's lives and assets in such attacks and other emergencies both stipulate that the central and local governments should cooperate in such contingencies. It is not unfathomable that permanent foreign residents who are nationals of countries hostile to Japan could disrupt or undermine local governments' cooperation with the central government by wielding influence through voting in local elections.


ROK decision was for ROK

South Korea granted local suffrage to permanent foreign residents in 2005. So far only a handful of Japanese residents in South Korea have been given the right to vote there.

There are about 420,000 permanent foreign residents in Japan. Arguing that Japan should grant foreign residents local suffrage just because South Korea allows its foreign residents to vote is beside the point.

South Korea in February granted South Korean nationals living abroad the right to vote in national elections.

If Japan lets foreign residents vote in local elections, South Korean residents in Japan could vote for a president and parliamentary members of South Korea as well as for governors, mayors and local assembly members in Japan. Whether such dual voting rights should be permitted opens up another can of worms altogether.

If non-Japanese want to be granted suffrage, they should obtain Japanese nationality. That is the bottom line.

Taking rash steps on this issue must not be allowed as they could open the door to perilous problems in the future.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 10, 2009)
(2009年10月10日01時19分  読売新聞)

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2009年10月 8日 (木)

補正予算見直し 景気への配慮が欠かせない

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Oct. 8, 2009)
Don't imperil economy during budget review
補正予算見直し 景気への配慮が欠かせない(10月8日付・読売社説)

A review of a supplementary budget for this fiscal year by the administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is entering the final stage.

The government has so far squeezed 2.5 trillion yen from the 14.7 trillion yen extra budget compiled by the previous administration.

But the prime minister wants more money wrung from the budget and has told his ministers to find additional fat to trim. However, many government bodies have been less than willing to comply with Hatoyama's request. Some observers suspect the government might not be able to achieve its target of cutting 3 trillion yen from the budget by the time it finalizes the review by the end of next week.

We fully agree with the drive to cut wasteful budget spending. However, we think the government could consider redirecting the money it has scraped together not only to the main budget for the next fiscal year, but also for effective stimulus measures that can be quickly put in place.

The Oct. 15 deadline for ministries and agencies to resubmit their budgetary requests for the fiscal 2010 budget is approaching. This task appears to be more important than the extra budget review to the Hatoyama Cabinet for carrying out its pet policy of budgetary reform.


Big test lies ahead

To implement pledges the Democratic Party of Japan made in the House of Representatives election, such as the introduction of a new child allowance system and basically making public high school education free, the government intends to review budgetary requests made under the previous administration led by Prime Minister Taro Aso.

Unlike the supplementary budget, which was hastily cobbled together, the government can expect to have a much tougher slog as it dissects the 2010 budget, which contains funding for many essential projects that directly affect people's daily lives. Cabinet members, at the urging of Hatoyama to change from "budget-padding" ministers to "budget-assessing" ministers, are facing a crucial moment.

The Hatoyama Cabinet is about to be put to the test over whether it can compile a budget big enough to implement new policies, while facing the prospect of a massive tax revenue shortfall expected to total 4 trillion yen to 5 trillion yen due to the economic downturn.

In revising the 2009 supplementary budget, the Construction and Transport Ministry set aside the highest amount of 890 billion yen, followed by 480 billion yen at the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and 440 billion yen at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

Measures to be scrapped include a 330 billion yen project by the transport ministry to widen two-lane highways to four lanes, and a farm ministry fund used to help consolidate farmland, which had a 300 billion yen price tag.


Utmost care needed

There could be no doubting that the project for large-scale farmland, for example, does not need to be anywhere near the top of the government's to-do list.

But the problem is that cutting these projects could have repercussions for the economy. The unemployment rate remains above 5 percent. Small and midsize companies are facing severe financial difficulties.

Under these circumstances, road-related and other public works projects could stimulate the economy to a certain extent. Calls for providing greater employment security also remain strong.

What impact would a 3 trillion yen cut in the extra budget generate? One estimate suggested the nation's gross domestic product for this fiscal year would fall 0.4 percentage point.

The Hatoyama Cabinet should exercise utmost care on economic matters. If signs emerge the economy is worsening, the administration must act quickly through such measures as a new stimulus package.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 8, 2009)
(2009年10月8日01時05分  読売新聞)

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2009年10月 7日 (水)

温家宝訪朝 北朝鮮は6か国協議に戻れ

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Oct. 7, 2009)
N. Korea must return to six-party talks
温家宝訪朝 北朝鮮は6か国協議に戻れ(10月7日付・読売社説)

In a meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il referred to the possibility that his country could return to the six-party talks aimed at scrapping the country's nuclear development program.

Six months ago, North Korea declared it would never return to the six-party talks after the U.N. Security Council condemned the country for its test launch of a long-range ballistic missile.

In the meeting Monday with the Chinese leader, however, Kim indicated North Korea was prepared to attend multilateral talks, including the six-party talks, depending on progress in its negotiations with the United States. This represents a change of Pyongyang's position. The North Korean leader is also believed to have made the statement to receive economic aid in return.

However, it remains uncertain whether North Korea really intends to return to the six-party talks, because it has not changed its stance of focusing on its negotiations with the United States.

The United States has made it clear that it is ready to hold talks with North Korea if the dialogue is intended to persuade the North to return to the six-party talks. It is essential at this time for the United States to sufficiently coordinate with Japan, China, South Korea and Russia--the other parties involved in the six-party talks.


Pyongyang defiant

The problem is that North Korea intends to turn its possession of nuclear weapons into a fait accompli. It has conducted nuclear testing twice, refusing to scrap its nuclear development program.

The U.N. Security Council is right to have imposed sanctions on North Korea with resolutions. The sanctions must not be relaxed in any way until North Korea reaffirms its pledge to scrap its nuclear development program, as stipulated in the joint statement agreed upon in the six-party talks in September 2005, and takes concrete steps to abandon the program.

Wen visited North Korea with an important responsibility as the representative of China, which chairs the six-party talks.

Visiting North Korea in the "friendship year" that marks the 60th anniversary of the two countries' diplomatic ties, Wen was outwardly welcomed with great enthusiasm.

In truth, however, China-North Korea relations have cooled down considerably. Wen's visit marked the first by a Chinese premier to North Korea in 18 years. Chinese President Hu Jintao paid his last visit to North Korea back in 2005. The two countries' relations have become chilly mainly because of North Korea's nuclear development program.


Reluctant to punish ally

China has been cautious about implementing sanctions against North Korea. This policy is believed to be one of the factors that resulted in the situation today.

China apparently took such a stance out of the belief that imposing sanctions against North Korea would shake the country's regime, which would adversely affect stability--and stability is China's top priority.

In reality, as a result of North Korea continuing its nuclear development program, stability in East Asia, including China, has been damaged further.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874 must be strictly implemented so as not to repeat the same mistake. It will be necessary to cut off the flow of proscribed luxury goods as well as goods and money related to weapons of mass destruction into the country. In this regard, China bears heavy responsibility given that more than half of North Korea's trade is conducted with China. Economic levers must be used fully to resolve problems.

Leaders of Japan, China and South Korea are scheduled to meet in Beijing on Saturday. We urge Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Wen and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak to come up with effective strategies to resolve problems involving North Korea.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 7, 2009)
(2009年10月7日01時09分  読売新聞)

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2009年10月 4日 (日)

五輪東京落選 「南米で初」には勝てなかった

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Oct. 4, 2009)
Olympic torch dream extinguished
五輪東京落選 「南米で初」には勝てなかった(10月4日付・読売社説)

Our wish--to see the Olympic torch in Tokyo once again--did not come true.

On Friday, the International Olympic Committee selected Rio de Janeiro as host of the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Tokyo had sought to host its second Games--the first was held in 1964--but ultimately fell short.

The result was disappointing, all the more so because many people had high hopes, wanting to feel excitement sweep across the country once again and see the Olympics revitalize the economy.

Rio, Madrid, Tokyo and Chicago were locked in a closely fought race to host the 2016 Games.

The tightness of the contest was evidenced by the fact that Chicago, for which U.S. President Barack Obama gave a speech, was eliminated in the first round of voting.

Tokyo was eliminated in the second round.

Apparently, a direct cause of the defeat was that IOC members who backed Chicago in the first round of voting did not switch their votes to Tokyo in the second round.


Rio more persuasive

Tokyo's biggest selling point was its concept of a "compact Olympics," which would have seen all of the Games' athletic fields and stadiums concentrated within an 8-kilometer radius.

The city also stressed its good public security, well-developed infrastructure and stable financial foundation.

However, it is undeniable that Tokyo appeared to lack persuasiveness compared with Rio, which was campaigning to host the first Olympics in South America.

A low public support rate for Tokyo's bid to host the Olympics also negatively impacted its showing in the race. According to a survey conducted by the IOC, only 55.5 percent of Tokyoites backed the city's Olympic bid. The figure was the lowest among the four cities, well below Madrid's 84.9 percent and 84.5 percent in Rio.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama gave a speech during Tokyo's final presentation in Copenhagen on Friday, underlining that the whole of Japan was working together toward hosting the 2016 Olympics.
The effort was not, however, enough to cover the bid's weak points.


Green plans must proceed

Tokyo also stressed it would use natural energy sources such as solar power to supply energy for the Games' stadiums and other facilities, and implement a large-scale greening project. These environmental measures must be included in future city planning.

Under the current severe global economic situation, sport in this nation is finding the going tough. There were high expectations that a 2016 Tokyo Olympics would greatly assist the nation's athletes by, for example, securing new sponsors.

The big goal--the Tokyo Olympics--is now lost, but it is important that the nation's sporting bodies ensure their athletes continue to perform at a high level.

Regarding a Tokyo bid for the 2020 Olympics, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara said, "I would actively consider it only after carefully listening to the opinions of Tokyo residents and the public across the nation."

If Tokyo is to try for the Olympics again, it will need to win greater public backing than it did for the 2016 bid and draw up a plan that can secure support from nations around the world.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 4, 2009)
(2009年10月4日01時03分  読売新聞)

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2009年10月 3日 (土)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 2(IHT/Asahi: October 3,2009)
EDITORIAL: China's 60th anniversary

China celebrated the 60th anniversary of its communist revolution on Thursday.

"Today, a socialist China geared to modernization, the world and the future has stood rock-firm in the East of the world," Chinese President Hu Jintao proclaimed in his speech delivered from the Tiananmen Rostrum, which was used by Mao Tse-tung to declare a new era for China.
Addressing an estimated 200,000 people in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, Hu also said, "Only socialism can save China and only reform and opening up can ensure the development of China."
Hu reviewed his troops in the nation's first military parade in 10 years. He wore the kind of black high-collared jacket favored by Sun Yat-sen, an indication of his pride as China's fourth-generation leader following Mao, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin.

The parade was a triumphant display of China's military power, showcasing the nation's state-of-the-art weapons, including the Dongfeng 31A intercontinental ballistic missile, whose range is believed to cover the entire United States, and the Jian-11, a fighter jet based on Russia's Sukhoi Su-27.

China has experienced periods of great upheaval during the past 60 years, such as the disastrous Great Leap Forward that caused a huge number of deaths--tens of millions according to an estimate--because of reckless plans for raising production. Another bleak period was the Cultural Revolution. China then embarked on a path of reform and opening-up. This major policy shift occurred about three decades ago.

Now, China is about to overtake Japan to become the world's second-largest economy. It is recovering from the global recession, ahead of all other major economies, thanks to a series of bold economic measures taken by Beijing. China appears to be focusing on a single-minded quest to create a prosperous country with a strong army.

The world is moving from the unipolar dominance by the United States to a multipolar order. The U.S., Japanese and European economies are all closely linked to the Chinese market, which is rapidly expanding its presence.

On the other hand, the world is increasingly worried about China's rapid military buildup. This is a reality with serious security implications for Japan, too. Beijing's aggressive strategy for securing energy and other resources is causing conflict in many parts of the world.

But China is also showing a willingness to fulfill its responsibility as a major power.

At a recent series of United Nations conferences and the Group of 20 summit, Hu emphasized China's commitment to international cooperation. Hu promised to incorporate policy responses to climate change into the government's development plan and take powerful measures. He also pledged that China will not join the nuclear arms race and said it will work to promote the international nuclear arms reduction process.

But there is a stunning gap between the nation's confident way of behaving in the international arena and the unsettled conditions at home.

There seems to be no end to abuse of authority and corruption among party members going after the spoils of economic growth. While disputes over back pay and land expropriation are rife, the country's dysfunctional judicial and administrative systems are unable to deal with them effectively.

The situation has led to violent clashes.

Ethnic disturbances in the Xinjang Uighur Autonomous Region and the Tibet Autonomous Region are showing no signs of subsiding. The response by Chinese authorities was only to crack down harder on ethnic protests in these regions under the pretext of defense against terrorism.

China's National Day celebrations took place in an unsettled context. The government shut out the general public from the celebration ceremony and strictly limited public access to buildings and hotels near the ceremony site. The strict security reflects deepening contradictions in Chinese society.

What China should make clear to audiences both at home and abroad is that it is governed by the rule of law and seeks to create a harmonious society where people are valued. China will become a country that can share with its neighbors a convincing vision for an East Asian Community if it makes progress in that direction.

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16年夏季五輪:東京落選 南米初、リオ選出

(Mainichi Japan) October 3, 2009
Tokyo's failure to explain reason for hosting Olympic Games cost city its bid
16年夏季五輪:東京落選 南米初、リオ選出

Tokyo's failure to show the International Olympic Committee (IOC) the philosophy behind its bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics apparently cost the city the right to host the games.

In the IOC's final voting session at Copenhagen on Friday local time, Rio de Janeiro was named the host city of the 2016 games.

Chicago was knocked out in the first round of voting even though it had been viewed as a hopeful candidate. The city's relations with the IOC had been somewhat frosty after it declared that it would set up a TV station specializing in the Olympics without the consent of the committee.

There has been concern about the reliability of infrastructure of Rio de Janeiro, which beat Madrid in a run-off vote. Madrid, meanwhile, has been hit hard by the economic crisis. Under such circumstances, Tokyo, which had set aside 400 billion yen to host the Olympics, had won solid support from some IOC members because of its reliability.

During his election campaign to serve a third term, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara pledged that the capital would bid to host the Olympics, and the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) supported Tokyo's bid in hope that it would be a springboard to improve Japanese athletes' competitiveness in the international arena. However, Tokyo was the only city that has hosted a Summer Olympics before -- in 1964.

Moreover, Tokyo's emphasis on an environment-friendly Olympics did not appeal to the IOC. IOC members reacted coolly to bid committee officials' explanation that Tokyo would set up solar panels and use other cutting-edge technology at Olympic sites in an effort to protect the environment. "We're not the United Nations," one of the IOC members said.

Even though the bid committee spent 15 billion yen on its campaign, the support rating for Tokyo's bid among local residents was 55.5 percent, lowest of all the four candidate cities, according to an IOC survey. Furthermore, because Tokyo failed to explain why it aimed to host the games, it failed to win support from IOC members. (By Hideaki Takahashi, Sports News Department)



















毎日新聞 2009年10月3日 東京朝刊

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Zermatt's clear mountain surroundings a peak of natural Swiss beauty

The morning sun lights up the Matterhorn, seen from the mountain town of Zermatt. (Mainichi)

As the first rays of dawn strike the Matterhorn, the snow-dusted peak glows a pinkish orange. Slowly the sunlight creeps down the face of the mountain, lighting up its jagged edges against a clear blue sky. A chill lingers in the September morning air but the people on the streets of Zermatt who have come to see Switzerland's most famous landmark don't appear concerned.

The 4,478-meter-tall Matterhorn, which stands on the border between Switzerland and Italy, is a major attraction for visitors to the Swiss Alps, and the village of Zermatt, in the canton of Valais, draws many visitors for its view of the peak.

(extracted from Mainichi Daily News)

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「鞆の浦」判決 景観保護と地域振興の両立を

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Oct. 3, 2009)
Save Tomonoura beauty, boost local economy
「鞆の浦」判決 景観保護と地域振興の両立を(10月3日付・読売社説)

The Hiroshima District Court on Thursday handed down a ruling that acknowledged local residents' right to benefit from the beauty of a precious landscape.

The court ordered Hiroshima Gov. Yuzan Fujita not to issue a license for a prefectural and municipal project to reclaim a scenic shore in the Tomonoura area of Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture.

The magnificent landscape of Tomonoura inspired ancient poems featured in the Manyoshu, an anthology of classical poetry. It also was a key junction in the Seto Inland Sea that prospered as a port for ships waiting for the right tide to sail. Several buildings from the Edo period (1603-1867) have been preserved in the area.

The picturesque bay also is known as the place where renowned director Hayao Miyazaki stayed for two months to develop ideas for his 2008 animated film "Gake no Ue no Ponyo" (Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea).

The court acknowledged that the Tomonoura area is an asset belonging to the Japanese people and has historical and cultural value. The court also pointed out that the daily benefits local residents receive from the scenery might be seriously damaged if the area is reclaimed.


Local community split

We think it was appropriate that the court carefully weighed the importance of preserving the landscape against the need to reclaim land and build a bridge in the area before deciding in favor of the former. This is the first time that a court has ordered the suspension of a public works project before it had begun on the grounds that a landscape should be preserved.

The ruling likely will influence the development of tourist spots in the future.

In 2006, the Supreme Court rejected a demand by residents living near a condominium in Kunitachi, Tokyo, that a real estate developer remove the upper floors of the building because they spoiled the local scenery. However, it also stated that local residents have the right to benefit from an attractive neighborhood and that this right should be protected. The top court's view apparently influenced the latest ruling.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that many streets in the Tomonoura area are too narrow for cars to pass and are often jammed with tourist vehicles. The community's population is decreasing and graying.

The reclamation project aimed to revitalize the local community by building a bypass bridge spanning Tomoko port to resolve the traffic problem and by reclaiming the local shore to build a ferry pier and a parking lot for tourists' vehicles.

A group of residents filed this suit, but many other residents supported the project, which they felt would make their daily lives more convenient. A rift has reportedly emerged in the community between proponents and opponents of the project.


Time for Plan B

The Hiroshima governor applied to the central government in June last year for approval to issue a reclamation license. But then Construction and Transport Minster Kazuyoshi Kaneko demurred on the matter, saying the prefectural government should first secure the public's consent. The license had yet to be approved when there was a change in government in late August.

New Transport and Construction Minister Seiji Maehara said he will decide what action to take after seeing how higher courts rule on the case.

There reportedly is an alternative plan to build a tunnel through the mountains in the area instead of building a bridge across the bay. Preserving a beautiful landscape while revitalizing a community at the same time is no easy task, but the prefectural and municipal governments may need to reconsider their development plan to achieve this goal.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 3, 2009)
(2009年10月3日01時27分  読売新聞)

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2009年10月 2日 (金)

選択のあとに:09政権交代 料亭街、宴の後 銀座・赤坂、灯消え

(Mainichi Japan) September 27, 2009
High-class restaurants' 'oil lubricating' business drying up due to lack of politicians
選択のあとに:09政権交代 料亭街、宴の後 銀座・赤坂、灯消え


Traditional Japanese restaurants, once the usual haunt of Tokyo's movers and shakers, first took a hit with the bursting of the bubble economy, suffering another blow following the Lehman collapse. Now, with their Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) regulars trounced in the latest election by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), restaurant owners are worried.

"First the bureaucrats go away, then the business leaders, and now the politicians. I hear the DPJ members hardly ever go out drinking to places other than izakaya bars. What's going to happen to ryotei (high-class restaurants) from now on?" one restaurant source says plaintively.

The recession has been tough for the ryotei. Famous names like Yonemura and Kanetanaka were once among the tens of restaurants dotting the Shinbashi "Flower Quarter" around Tokyo's Ginza. By this spring, however, just 10 were left, with another two famous spots closing only recently.

The remainder are diversifying frantically in an attempt to stay afloat, opening for lunchtime businesses, selling lunchboxes, taking online orders, and in some cases, being used for weddings.

"At one time, during an election or Cabinet formation there would be faction meetings almost every night, with dark cars lined up down the street, but now there are none," says one famous restaurant owner.

"Since the post-war economic growth period, we made all the arrangements and laid the groundwork, and we came to think of ourselves as the oil lubricating business, government and bureaucracy. We felt proud," says another veteran maitre d'.

"I admit that ryotei were the haunts of the factions and movers and shakers, but rejecting and criticizing them for that is very strange."

Another restaurant owner in Akasaka, near Nagatacho where the Diet is situated, says: "I hope at least the DPJ will get to grips with the economic problems."

In the '60s, there were around 1,500 ryotei across Tokyo. Now, there are just 50 or so scattered across the Ginza, Akasaka, Ningyocho, Kagurazaka, Mukojima and Asakusa districts. And the number of geisha in the city has plummeted from at least 10,000 to around 300.

All Japan Social Association head and owner of Yonemura, Masahiko Fujino, says: "Ryotei are places where you can come in direct contact with and understand traditional Japanese culture. I'd like DPJ members to dine at ryotei and be active in the international arena."

毎日新聞 2009年9月19日 東京夕刊

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参院1票の格差 選挙制度の抜本的見直しを

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Oct. 2, 2009)
Electoral reform needed to end vote disparity
参院1票の格差 選挙制度の抜本的見直しを(10月2日付・読売社説)

The Supreme Court has sent a strong message to the Diet that vote value disparity cannot be fixed only through cosmetic measures.

The court's Grand Bench on Wednesday said the disparity in the weight of votes or the number of eligible voters per House of Councillors seat could not be significantly narrowed only by changing the number of seats for certain constituencies.

The court then went one step further and called for drastic steps to be taken to correct this gap, saying, "The current electoral system itself needs to be reformed."

The top court has previously urged the Diet to fix the disparity in the value of votes cast in upper house elections. But the court appears to have run out of patience as little progress has been made in remedying this disparity, and moved to put strong pressure on the Diet to act.

We hope lawmakers will take the court's advice to heart and hold further discussions on this matter.


Weight problems

The latest court case was fought over the constitutionality of the allocation of seats in the 2007 upper house election. The largest disparity in the election was between the Kanagawa and Tottori prefectural constituencies, with the former having 4.86 times more voters than the latter.

The top court ruled this imbalance was not serious enough to violate the Constitution, which guarantees equality among the people. Indeed, four upper house seats were taken from less-populous constituencies and given to constituencies with more voters in 2006 in a bid to alleviate the imbalance. However, the court said "significant inequality" still existed between the weight of votes cast in some constituencies.

The upper house election process currently consists of a prefecturewide constituency segment and a nationwide proportional representation segment. Half of the upper house seats are contested every three years. At least two seats are allocated to each constituency, with the prefecturewide segment electing representatives of each prefecture.

This system, in fact, has been a barrier to reducing the vote value disparity. But if this framework were changed, new problems would emerge instead.


System hampers progress

For example, when the "plus-four, minus-four formula" was being discussed, the Democratic Party of Japan argued for integrating the Tottori prefectural constituency, which had the fewest number of voters, and the neighboring Shimane prefectural constituency into a single constituency. This would have reduced the largest vote disparity to less than 4:1.

If this measure had actually been implemented, however, voters in these two prefectures would be quite justified in feeling aggrieved since each prefecture would be stripped of its own elected representative.

As the ruling showed, as long as the current framework is maintained, there are limits to how much the vote value disparity can be rectified.

The DPJ has pledged to overhaul the electoral system of the upper house by around 2013.

The electoral systems of the House of Representatives and the upper house both are comprised of constituency and proportional representation segments. The similarity in their setups has been the target of strong criticism. Some observers argue that upper house elections should be held only under the proportional representation system.

We want to see thorough discussions for drastic reform of the electoral system--including on the bicameral system itself.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 2, 2009)
(2009年10月2日00時56分  読売新聞)

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2009年10月 1日 (木)

暫定税率廃止 財政にも環境にもよくない

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Sep. 28, 2009)
Abolition of provisional tax rates doesn't add up
暫定税率廃止 財政にも環境にもよくない(9月28日付・読売社説)

A fall in gasoline prices is good news for drivers. But how will the government fill the huge pothole created in its finances due to cuts in road-related taxes?

Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii recently announced that the government will abolish provisionally higher rates for gasoline, light oil delivery and other road-related taxes in April next year.

This means retail gasoline prices would drop by 25 yen per liter. On the other hand, the central and local governments would lose a total of 2.5 trillion yen in revenues from these taxes, which is equivalent to 20 percent of the revenues accruing from the consumption tax.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has set a midterm goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 25 percent from the 1990 levels by 2020. The abolition of the provisionally higher tax rates would run counter to the administration's initiative to tackle global warming. The government should retract its policy of repealing the provisionally higher tax rates.


Fiscal condition parlous

In March last year, the Democratic Party of Japan opposed a planned extension of the provisionally higher tax rates, saying the party would protect people's livelihoods by reducing gasoline prices. As a result, the provisionally higher tax rates were temporarily removed after the law governing their establishment expired in April last year. The rates were restored after a bill to reinstate them passed the Diet with the then ruling parties of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito resorting to a second vote at the House of Representatives about a month later.

Since then, the DPJ has put the policy of abolishing the provisionally higher tax rates on its front burner. The party's decision to scrap them from next fiscal year while keeping on a short leash some of its members who take a cautious approach on the matter apparently comes from its calculation that it can appeal to the public by presenting the abolition as an achievement of the new administration ahead of the House of Councillors election next summer.

But the nation's fiscal condition means the state cannot stand such a big loss in resources. Due to a series of economic stimulus measures, new government bond issuance in the current fiscal year reached 44 trillion yen, and it seems certain that tax revenues will fall further below the initial projection.

The DPJ has said the government can make up for a fall in tax revenues by cutting wasteful spending, adding that local governments will not suffer from this policy. But concrete measures in this regard remain unclear.


Review road budget

Starting from this fiscal year, road-related tax revenues are allocated for general purposes, with the result that revenues from the gasoline tax and other taxes can now be used for public welfare, health care and education. In the current fiscal budget, however, 90 percent of tax revenues were earmarked for the road budget, just as before. The promised allocation of road-related tax revenues for general purposes now looks like an empty slogan.

First and foremost, the new administration should closely reexamine the road budget and throw its energies into realizing a plan to allocate road-related tax revenues for general purposes in both word and deed.

The DPJ considers it problematic that the surcharges that were temporarily added to the basic rates to fund road construction remained in place for as long as 35 years. If that is the case, it should discuss recasting the provisionally higher tax rates as basic rates.

Some DPJ members envisage a plan to abolish the current provisionally higher tax rates and create a new tax aimed at slowing global warming that would in effect make up some of the revenue shortfall left by the scrapping of these surcharges. To reduce greenhouse gases emitted from factories, the DPJ is believed to be planning to moot a new, environment-related tax to be applied to the industrial sector.

But new taxes could dampen the vitality of the country's business community. The hasty introduction of such new taxes should be avoided.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 28, 2009)
(2009年9月28日00時52分  読売新聞)

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--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 30(IHT/Asahi: October 1,2009)
EDITORIAL: Recompiling the budget

The administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has officially decided to rework from scratch the fiscal 2010 budget plan, which the previous ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito had started working on.

The Hatoyama administration's stated aim is to stop the nation from getting deeper into debt and boldly slash wasteful spending to secure fiscal resources for the betterment of the lives of citizens.

We hope the government will stick to this basic policy. But since the public is not without concerns about some of the administration's specific initiatives, Hatoyama should make every effort to explain them, including the procedures by which policy decisions are made.

Setting its basic policy for budget compilation, the Hatoyama Cabinet decided Tuesday to scrap budget ceilings, marking the administration's first big step toward budgetary reforms.

The ceilings were exactly what perpetuated the nation's traditional, bureaucracy-led budget planning pattern of coordinating the interests of the parties concerned--a pattern that became firmly entrenched because the ceilings allowed budget planners to only micro-adjust the preceding year's budget.

Small wonder that the previous administrations lacked the mobility needed to compile realistic budgets in keeping with changes in society and policy.

The administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi introduced measures to curb public investment and discretionary spending, but stopped short of reorganizing the budget compilation procedure itself. Only a regime change could do that, which is what is happening now.

The Hatoyama administration plans to conduct a strict review of budgetary priorities by putting them back on the drawing board. It would be a real coup if the administration could pull this off. But obviously, compiling a budget completely from scratch without following precedents will be a tremendously tough challenge.

The DPJ used the slogan "the people's daily lives first" to sum up its core policy. This raised the public's hopes for a regime change. The crucial test now is whether the party will be able to follow this through in budget planning.

The party needs to be especially careful and resourceful when allocating funding for the programs promised on its campaign platform.

Regarding programs meant to benefit the younger generation, such as child allowances and tuition-free public senior high schools, we hope the party will heed the voices of the people and proceed as planned.

But given the funding restraints, it is also vital that the programs are sound enough to win the acceptance of taxpayers.

Allocating generous funding to every promised program is an extremely tall order. The DPJ must figure out what to prioritize, scrap or downsize.

In that sense, we believe the DPJ should reconsider its promises to make all highways toll-free (annual fiscal resources of 1.3 trillion yen are needed) and abolish temporary tax surcharges on gasoline (2.5 trillion yen).

We question the wisdom of spending trillions of yen every year on these initiatives that conflict with what we should be doing to curb climate change. Surely, there are other pressing needs on which to spend that amount of money.

The Hatoyama administration is now being tested on its decisiveness and accountability on many fronts, including overhauling the current supplementary budget implemented by the previous LDP-led administration to deal with the economic crisis.

The administration is also considering a budget-management system spanning several years to eliminate wasteful spending caused by the practice of using up any leftover budget before the fiscal year ends.

The administration has set a timetable that requires budget requests to be filed by Oct. 15 and the budget plan to be completed before the end of this year. This is an extremely tight schedule, but the economic crisis allows no delay in budget compilation. Speed is indispensable.

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(Mainichi Japan) October 1, 2009
Local residents need gov't support following cancellation of controversial dam project

 ◇生活再建と河川計画示せ 住民対話の道閉ざすな
Newly appointed Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Seiji Maehara has announced that the construction of the controversial Yanba Dam in Gunma Prefecture will be cancelled, just as the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) pledged in its manifesto for the Aug. 30 general election.

Local residents, who are asking for the dam construction to proceed, protested the move by boycotting a meeting to exchange opinions with the minister. Residents and the minister remain at odds over the issue. Maehara should keep in mind that residents are opposing the cancellation of the plan because they cannot find a way to rebuild their livelihoods without relying on the dam.

Maehara made a questionable remark at a news conference when asked how to help local residents improve their livelihoods.

"We'll consider new options while consulting with local residents. We shouldn't force anything on them without their consensus," he said. However, he appears unlikely to win agreement from the residents.

Maehara's remarks indicate that he does not understand the project's five decades of history and how it has already affected local residents' lives.

Why do local residents want the construction of the dam to proceed? Why are they dissatisfied with the DPJ's plan to relocate affected residents and go ahead with the construction of roads and a railway line in affected areas? A key to answering these questions can be found in the history of the dam project that rocked the local community.

The plan first emerged in 1952, the year when the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which put an end to the war, came into force.

As the demand for water was growing at the time, authorities planned to promptly build the dam as a water source for the Tokyo metropolitan area to be used for both flood control and water supply. However, local residents voiced stiff opposition to the plan at the time.

Although many local residents subsequently changed their minds and supported the project after the government offered large amounts of compensation to them during individual negotiations, splitting the local community into people who were in favor of the project and those who opposed it.

The campaign against the dam's construction ended when a representative of the local community signed an agreement on compensation in 2001. Many exhausted residents left their hometowns, where heavy machine tools engaging in construction work were moving back and forth. With numbers shrinking, the amount of households who wished to be relocated to substitute areas has fallen by more than two-thirds from 470 in 2001. It has become difficult to maintain the local community due to a sharp decline in the population in the area.

The Kawarayu hot spa area situated in the affected region has also become deserted. The number of hot spa inns there, which stood at 22 in the 1980s, has declined to seven. Many houses are now vacant, and others are aging because their owners refrain from refurbishing them in anticipation of moving out of the area.

Under the circumstances, local residents came up with the idea of revitalizing the hot spa area by promoting the dam as a tourist attraction.

Although it is difficult to determine whether dam construction can revitalize a regional community.

"No town has been successful in revitalizing their area with dam construction," said Teruyuki Shimazu, 65, leader of a liaison council of local residents opposing the Yanba Dam project.

However, Takuji Toyoda, who runs the Yamata Inn in the Kawarayu hot spa district, says, "We know it's just like a dream that is unlikely to come true, but we have no choice but to promote the region by using the dam if we want to stay here."

The feelings of local residents, who had no choice but to stake the rest of their life on a glimpse of hope that the dam will revitalize their area, are heartbreaking.

Maehara has declared that he will cancel questionable dam construction projects across the country and promote river development as a means to control floods. It is true that questions have been raised about the necessity of many dams, but it's outrageous that he declared the cancellation of the dam project without offering any specific river development plan. Unless a substitute plan is unveiled, it is difficult to convince the prefectures concerned. Maehara should propose a plan to support local residents' livelihoods and a river development plan.

It goes without saying that local residents are the biggest victims of the cancellation of the project. Still, local residents should reconsider their stance to refuse to hold negotiations with Maehara. They should sit at the negotiation table and express dissatisfaction at the decision as the minister has promised not to initiate a procedure for canceling the project without their consensus.

The ball thrown by the DPJ-led government is in the local residents' court. If the dispute remains deadlocked, local residents will only grow old without a solution to the issue. There is no time to waste. ("As I see it" by Takuya Izawa, City News Department)

毎日新聞 2009年9月29日 東京朝刊

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混合診療 適用拡大の流れを変えるな

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Oct. 1, 2009)
Give more thought to mixed treatment issue
混合診療 適用拡大の流れを変えるな(10月1日付・読売社説)

The nation's courts have adopted different stances on the government's ban on mixing medical treatments that are covered by health insurance with treatments that are not.
In 2006, a male cancer patient filed a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court, claiming the government was in the wrong to deny him the right to receive two types of treatment--one covered by his health insurance and the other paid for out of his own pocket.
Though the district court ruled in favor of the patient, the Tokyo High Court on Tuesday reversed the lower court's decision, saying the ban on mixed treatment was valid.

Under the current health insurance system, patients are only supposed to pay 30 percent of medical fees when their treatment is covered by health insurance. However, in the case of mixed treatments, people are expected to stump up the full amount for all the medicines and therapies they receive.


Ability to pay

The man who filed the lawsuit wants to receive interferon treatment, which is covered by health insurance, and another form of treatment, which is not. However, if he decides to go ahead with both courses of treatment, he must pay 100 percent of all costs, including the full fees associated with the interferon treatment. The man's lawsuit was based on the premise that the government line is unfair, as it reduces his medical options.

Many people likely sympathize with the man's predicament.

However, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has certain reasons for prohibiting mixed treatments.

If such a practice was allowed, medication and therapies that have not been proven safe or effective might become widespread. Furthermore, it is possible that patients could be saddled with heavier financial burdens if unscrupulous doctors were to casually conduct expensive medical tests or administer costly medicines that are not covered by the health insurance scheme.

If self-funded treatments become mainstream and treatment covered by health insurance becomes marginalized, the quality of medical care that patients can receive might hinge on the amount of money they are able to pay.

Many people oppose the full deregulation of mixed treatments.

However, we believe that exceptions should be made in cases involving certain serious diseases, such as cancer. More than a few patients pin their hopes on new drugs or therapies after treatments covered by health insurance have proved ineffective.


More exceptions

Responding to calls for deregulation, the health ministry has been working on a system to allow for more exceptions.

For example, under the current system, a patient could combine health insurance treatments and new therapies if the patient's medical institution successfully applies to the health ministry to use the new therapy as an advanced treatment.

The ministry has already developed a system that speeds up decisions on whether to approve the use of unapproved drugs in certain cases of mixed treatment.

However, we are still not fully satisfied with all facets of the system, including the speed of the approval process. The system should be further improved to allow new drugs to be approved for mixed treatments more quickly in necessary cases, and pave the way for adoption under the insurance scheme.

The lawsuit will now go to the Supreme Court. Regardless of the top court's ruling, however, the ministry should improve the system so it can better meet the needs of patients.

In the face of demand for full deregulation, the ministry has been approving mixed treatment in an increasing number of cases. The high court ruling should not be used as an excuse to stop this trend.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 1, 2009)
(2009年10月1日01時04分  読売新聞)

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