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2012年1月31日 (火)


(Mainichi Japan) January 30, 2012
Anxiety and inattention over Tokyo's next Big One

Last week, the possibility of a new political party being formed under the leadership of Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara emerged, but Tokyoites were more shocked by news indicating there was a 70 percent chance of a magnitude 7-level earthquake hitting the capital within four years.

The news caused a stir because it was based on projections by the authoritative Earthquake Research Institute (ERI) at the University of Tokyo.

I visited professor Naoshi Hirata, 57, director of the institute's Earthquake Prediction Research Center, thinking the institute's announcement daring.
But I soon learned that this figure was not an "announcement."

The episode is very interesting.

An initial report on the likelihood of a major quake appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun's Jan. 23 morning editions.  初報は読売新聞23日朝刊だった。

In a front-page exclusive, the daily reported the news with the banner headline: "70% chance of magnitude-7 level Tokyo earthquake within 4 yrs.''

The Nikkei, The Tokyo Shimbun and the Mainichi Shimbun followed suit in their evening editions and The Asahi Shimbun and The Sankei Shimbun caught up with them in their Jan. 24 editions.

All trailing dailies had almost identical headlines.

TV stations quickly reported the news through their news departments as well as in other programs.  テレビは報道部門だけでなく、各局ごとにいくつもある情報番組が一斉に反応した。

Overwhelmed by a barrage of reports by news organizations, the ERI published a special explanation online to account for the reasons behind the Yomiuri report.

Adding a twist to the saga was the fact that the ERI's study team had reported its predictions at an open forum last fall, and they were covered by the mass media.

Looking back, the Mainichi Shimbun reported in its Sept. 17, 2011 editions that there was a 98 percent chance of a magnitude 7-level earthquake striking the metropolitan region within 30 years.

According to Hirata, a 98 percent chance within 30 years and a 70 percent chance within four years mean the same thing.

But human beings, as they are, take the 30-year span lightly and are surprised by the four-year timeline.

The Yomiuri keenly restructured the publicized data and emphasized the period "within four years," causing a big public reaction and forcing other news outlets to follow suit.

As I was looking into the circumstances surrounding the quake prediction story, the nonfiction book "The Great Kanto Earthquake," by Akira Yoshimura (1927-2006), occurred to me.

From the end of the Meiji era to the early Taisho period, Akitsune Imamura, an assistant professor of seismology at Tokyo Imperial University (now the University of Tokyo), predicted a Tokyo earthquake in newspaper and magazine articles.

But Fusakichi Omori, Japan's foremost authority on seismology and chairman of seismology at the national university, was worried about a commotion in society and tried to defuse public anxiety, resulting in a standoff with Imamura.

On Sept. 1, 1923, the magnitude-7.9 Great Kanto Earthquake devastated Tokyo and its vicinity. Omori lost face and died in frustration, while Imamura was catapulted into fame.

But Imamura had sparked confusion when freely talking about earthquakes before eventually toning his warnings down.

The balance between earthquake predictions and reporting is delicate.

When I asked Hirata if the latest episode reminded him of the row between Omori and Imamura, he said with a wry smile, "It's not such a big deal."

"A magnitude-7 quake's energy is one thousandth of the (magnitude-9) Great East Japan Earthquake.

We did not predict an inland earthquake in the capital," Hirata says. "

The reports tended to cause misunderstanding but were meaningful in that they sounded an alarm against inattention in the Kanto region.

The chances of a big earthquake are greater than before and it is necessary to prepare."

At the outset of a news conference on Jan. 27, Tokyo Gov. Ishihara mentioned disaster-prevention steps, believing there would be questions about the University of Tokyo's predictions. However, none of the questions related to the earthquake predictions.

His 30-minute news conference solely covered questions about the new political party under consideration.

The shocking reports about a 70 percent chance of an earthquake hitting the metropolitan area within four years didn't appear to make a dent at all at the news conference.

News reports are cues for people to become aware of inattention.

The bottom line is how to react in an emergency situation.

Yoshimura's parents went through the Great Kanto Earthquake.

During U.S. air raids on Tokyo in the closing days of World War II, Yoshimura got yelled at by his father when he tried to flee with a pack on his back.

Tales by survivors of the March 11 disasters and Yoshimura's books are filled with survival tips that cannot be found by looking to disaster-prevention goods.

(By Takao Yamada, Expert Senior Writer)
毎日新聞 2012年1月30日 東京朝刊

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2012年1月30日 (月)







January 28, 2012
INTERVIEW/ Xia Bin: China’s senior economic advisor talks about strategy to promote renminbi

By KEIKO YOSHIOKA / Correspondent
The global currency market is in a state of flux, as the euro is in serious trouble and international confidence in the dollar is also eroding. The outlook for the yen, which has appreciated sharply against the two leading currencies, is also murky because of Japan's mounting economic woes.

Amid this currency turmoil, China's renminbi is attracting increasing international attention as the unit of a country expected to eventually become an economic superpower rivaling or even surpassing the United States. Is Beijing maneuvering to make the renminbi a world currency that challenges the greenback for world hegemony?

In a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Xia Bin, a councilor of the State Council who served as top official at the country's central bank and securities regulatory body and is now advising Premier Wen Jiabao, discussed Beijing's strategy to raise the currency's international stature. Excerpts of the interview follow.

Q: Since the global financial crisis started in 2008, the Chinese government has been calling for reform of the international currency regime. What are your complaints?

Xia Bin: The problem is the instability of the dollar. Since the dollar is the key reserve currency, the United States can borrow as much money as it wants from the rest of the world. Unlike other debt-ridden countries, the U.S. doesn't go bankrupt because it can pay back its debt by printing dollars. Since the U.S has such an exclusive privilege it has the obligation to ensure the stability of the dollar. But the country has kept running a current-account deficit (which works to depress the value of the dollar), thereby undermining the stability of the entire world economy.

As the national power of the U.S. has declined, the world is becoming increasingly multipolar, not only economically but also politically. If China's economy becomes larger in size, expanding its cross-border linkages, the renminbi will gradually gain greater influence in the international market as a natural consequence.

Q: The U.S. current-account deficit is certainly huge, but its principal cause is excessive spending. Profligate spending by American consumers has been supporting China's export-driven economic growth. On the other hand, China has also been supporting the U.S. and global economies by using the money it has earned to buy U.S. government bonds.

A: China's dollar assets, which are the fruits of hard work by Chinese people, are now in danger of falling in value. Currently, excessive production capacity in China is supporting excessive consumption in the U.S. It can be argued that China has been dragged into this situation by a wrong-headed U.S. policy. Since the 1980s, China has been under pressure to build up its foreign reserves by expanding its exports in order to alleviate a shortage of capital (needed by its industries) at home. China has also been gripped by excitement about its growing national power. Now, however, we need to rethink our policy.

Q: What kind of options are available for fixing the situation?

A: Many countries, including China, have dollar assets. We don't want to see the dollar weaken rapidly. The U.S., which is bent on protecting its privilege, is resisting necessary reforms. The dollar is drawing strength from its widespread use. For the time being, several rival currencies will compete with each other (for supremacy), and a balance of power will emerge among them as they limit each other's power. Over the next two or three decades, the dollar will remain to be the leading currency, with many others battling with each other for greater influence in the world.

Q: And do you believe the renminbi will be one of these competing currencies?

A: Yes. Experts around the world see the Chinese currency as one of the players that will create a new balance of power (in the currency market). China is trying to expand its influence within international organizations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank so that the views and positions of emerging and developing countries will be more reflected in the process of developing international financial rules.

Q: But the Chinese government is keeping the renminbi artificially undervalued to promote the country's exports, isn't it?

A: We cannot liberalize at once flows of money that cross our borders, nor can we shift to a complete floating exchange rate system immediately. The primary lesson from the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s is the danger of making a developing country's economy fully open to international flows of capital. Huge amounts of foreign capital suddenly flew into these Asian countries and then suddenly poured out of them, causing serious confusion.

Beijing should expand the renminbi's trading band gradually. This way, it can buy time for necessary reforms at home including reform of its financial markets while ensuring the stability of the currency's exchange rates by taking advantage of the relatively high international confidence in the dollar. In addition, more people will want to hold the renminbi if the currency is generally expected to rise in the future.

Q: There are many restrictions on trading in the renminbi, including controls on cross-border transactions and regulations on Chinese financial markets. It is said that China's foreign exchange rate system is as strictly controlled as Japan's was in the 1970s. Would the Chinese currency gain international popularity even if such restrictions remain?

A: The amount of the renminbi circulating in the world is growing through Chinese companies' investments overseas using the domestic currency and the Chinese government's financial aid to developing countries. We are receiving many proposals to create a market for trading in the renminbi from various foreign financial centers including London and Singapore.

China's approach to reform can be compared to Chinese herb medicine. Progress is made gradually through a holistic process with emphasis on the harmony of the whole. We are going to ease our currency regulations in line with the progress we make in reforming the domestic economy and financial markets. With as many as 1.3 billion people to feed, we put the top policy priority on creating jobs and maintaining social stability in our country. China is still a minor financial player. We cannot introduce systems in mature, industrial nations at a stroke.

Q: China's mainland financial markets are not yet sufficiently open to foreign investors. Opening these markets would facilitate renminbi-denominated investments, wouldn't it?

A: As long as we keep financial markets in the mainland closed, we will use Hong Kong, which is an international financial center. That way, we can undertake new initiatives in financial markets in the mainland while keeping them insulated from certain risks. In Hong Kong, not only a market for renminbi-denominated deposits but also markets for renminbi-based trading in bonds and stocks are growing. When China still restricted international trade in goods, Hong Kong served as the connection point between the mainland and the rest of the world. Hong Kong will play that role again in the area of financial transactions.

The United States is pressing China to ease its financial regulations in pursuit of new business opportunities for its financial institutions. We cannot simply play ball with Washington. The internationalization of the renminbi has barely begun. It would be amazing if the share of the renminbi in the foreign reserves of countries rise to several percent, on a par with the current shares of the yen and the British pound, in 10 years. We will take steps to internationalize the renminbi in stages, starting with efforts to reform domestic markets during a period of preparation that will probably last until around 2020. We will first try to make the renminbi a leading currency in Asia, where we have strong economic ties with other countries.

Q: Then will it be a key global currency?

A: It will depend on what kind of economic growth China will maintain in coming years. In addition, this is not a purely economic challenge. Even if a period of competing currencies will continue for the time being, it is possible for China to make the renminbi a major currency in the world through mutual cooperation with other countries without getting embroiled in international conflict.

A country's currency is an indicator of its power. The Chinese economy is expected to become the world's largest in the mid-21st century. But the difficulty of understanding China's policy positions and goals is creating anxiety among other countries. China needs to clearly explain its financial and currency policies to the world and make it clear it is trying to achieve economic growth together with other countries.

Q: In China, we often hear policymakers talk about lessons from the 1985 Plaza Accord, an agreement among the five leading economic powers at that time to devalue the dollar. They argue that the accord is the cause of Japan's economic problems. By succumbing to U.S. pressure and accepting the yen's appreciation, they say, Japan allowed its businesses to lose international competitiveness, its economy to lose steam and financial market bubbles to form and then burst.

A: I don't think Chinese bureaucrats involved in policymaking believe such a simplified theory. Back then, the era of Japan's rapid, emerging country-type economic growth was already over as the number of young workers was decreasing. After many years of double-digit economic growth, China will also see its economy slow gradually in coming years. A nation cannot maintain its economic growth without carrying out necessary economic and social reforms in response to its development. The yen's appreciation was not the only challenge facing Japan. This is the biggest lesson we should learn from Japan's experiences during that period.

Q: Japan and China have reached an agreement on financial cooperation featuring measures to promote trade settlements using the yen and the renminbi, to develop a Chinese bond market for Japanese investors and cross-holdings of government bonds. It was first proposed by Japan, wasn't it?

A: From China's strategic viewpoint, dealing with Japan, which was the first country to become a major economic power in Asia and has an international currency, is a delicate matter. It is uncomfortable for China to seek Japan's cooperation for efforts to internationalize the renminbi. It would be embarrassing for China to make such a proposal only to be rejected by Japan. If Japan makes such a proposal that is in line with China's policy direction, however, there is no reason for China to decline it.

The internationalization of the renminbi will only accelerate irrespective of Japan's will. The Japanese government probably realized that the yen could be marginalized or Japanese companies could miss out on important business opportunities unless it expanded such financial cooperation with China.

Q: So this is a mutually beneficial deal?

A: Both countries can reduce foreign exchange risks and costs by using their own currencies for trade instead of using the dollar. The development of a market for trading in bonds denominated in Asian currencies would make it easier to invest money earned through trade within the region. It would also make it unnecessary for both countries to hold a huge amount of dollars as part of their foreign reserves. This is definitely beneficial for both sides.

If this cooperation between Japan and China works out well, it would lay a foundation for regional financial cooperation. If China wins the trust of its neighbors by providing solid support to the efforts, it could also gain regional confidence in the renminbi and improve the environment for its currency's rise to the status as a major regional currency.

Q: The world is paying a lot of attention to whether China will help solve the sovereign debt crisis in Europe.

A: Since it is benefiting from the world economy, China is really hoping that Europe will regain financial stability quickly. Having said that, I would also say that whether or not China will help Europe with this problem is not an issue. Many European countries are in better fiscal health than Japan or the U.S. They are rich countries with per-capita gross domestic product far larger than China's. Europe has clearly the wherewithal to sort out the situation. In particular, the principal question is what Germany, which has been benefiting greatly from the euro's weakness, will do.

In case the Chinese government considers using part of its foreign reserves to make an investment in Europe, it will assess carefully whether the investment will yield a satisfactory return.

Q: What is your assessment of the probability of a common Asian currency?

A: It may be an ideal, but I don't see any possibility of such a currency becoming reality in the near future. In contrast with Europe, there are some historical problems among Asian countries, and the political systems and the levels of economic development greatly differ from country to country. But Asia is now at the center of global economic growth. There are many challenges Asian countries should tackle together in order to ensure stability in exchange rates and promote the development of financial markets in the region.


Xia Bin: Born in 1951, Xia Bin is currently counselor of China's State Council and honorary director of the Financial Research Institute of the State Council's Development Research Center. He is also a member of the People's Bank of China's Monetary Policy Committee. He graduated from the Graduate School of the People's Bank of China.

By KEIKO YOSHIOKA / Correspondent

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2012年1月29日 (日)

米ゼロ金利継続 景気低迷に警戒強めたFRB

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 29, 2012)
Fed's super-low rate policy aimed at boosting economy
米ゼロ金利継続 景気低迷に警戒強めたFRB(1月28日付・読売社説)

The U.S. Federal Reserve Board has decided to keep its de facto zero benchmark interest rate well into the future.

The Fed's new timetable indicates it is increasingly concerned about the future of the U.S. economy.

In deciding to maintain its close-to-zero interest rate policy, the Fed said in a statement released Wednesday that current U.S. economic conditions "are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate at least through late 2014."

This new policy is highly significant as the Fed is prolonging its super-low interest rate a year and a half beyond its earlier stance that an extremely low interest rate should be maintained until the end of the first half of 2013.

The unemployment rate in the United States has remained high at more than 8 percent, while its post-inflation economic growth this year is projected to be below 2 percent.

U.S. business activities have yet to regain their strength.

The European sovereign crisis, which was triggered by Greece and has not yet been resolved, threatens to destabilize the global economy.

Should the European crisis deteriorate because of a delay in implementing countermeasures, the consequences could deal an even heavier blow to the U.S. economy.


Fed action praiseworthy

The Fed boldly decided to prolong its super-low federal funds rate policy to encourage declines in interest rates on long-term loans in the hope of shoring up business activities and stimulating fixed investments and other business areas.

It seems that in its latest policy meeting, the Fed could not brush aside growing uncertainties shrouding the global economy as seen in the eurozone's rapidly deteriorating business conditions and the world's alarmingly unstable financial markets.

The United States has no room for a further reduction of the federal funds rate, and the scope of measures to handle financial policies is limited.

The Fed's resolve to take all possible measures to bring about a strong economic recovery in spite of these circumstances is a welcome development.

The U.S. central bank has made public its outlook for a benchmark interest rate for the first time, indicating that many of its 17 members do not anticipate the need to tighten its monetary policy in the near future.

The Fed also set an acceptable rate of price increases at "2 percent from a year before," another noteworthy change that enhances the transparency of its policy handling.

The 2 percent "inflation goal" is different from a formal "inflation target" that would make it mandatory for the Fed to take measures immediately after price increases exceed 2 percent on an annual basis.

The announcement of the inflation goal, or what the Fed believes is an acceptable inflation rate, however, is sufficiently effective to convey a clear-cut message that it places great importance on an inflation figure of 2 percent.


Yen's appreciation to linger

A protracted ultraeasy monetary policy may bring the risk of higher prices.

Bearing such anxieties in mind, the Fed has firmly stated it will continue to place top priority on price stabilization, an action that will reassure businesses and households.

The focus from now on will be whether the Fed, in the event of further financial market destabilization, will opt for Phase 3 of large-scale quantitative monetary easing, the so-called QE3.

Phase 2--QE2--ended last summer, but it came under criticism for causing inflation in emerging economies to worsen.

Therefore, a number of hurdles need to be surmounted before QE3 can be adopted.

The Fed will have a difficult time carrying out policies, while keeping an eye on how the European crisis evolves.

Japan, for its part, must consider the great possibility that the appreciation of the historically strong yen against the dollar will continue, as the Fed's ultraeasy monetary policy is bound to increase selling pressure on the greenback.

The government and the Bank of Japan must do everything they can in working out measures to stem the yen's appreciation and take measures to prevent the strong yen from worsening business activities in this country.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 28, 2012)
(2012年1月28日01時14分  読売新聞)

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2012年1月27日 (金)







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ついに出ました 「記事作成サービス」サイト




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(Mainichi Japan) January 26, 2012
Dust to dust: A different approach to funerals

"A spacious X square meters," "Faces south, gets plenty of sunlight!" -- these phrases on a cemetery ad at the station made me stop and

Even after they die and are turned into bones, many people are concerned about comfort.

In such cases scattering the person's ashes in the sea or on a mountain may seem like a good idea, but not everyone wants this.

Last autumn, I heard about a new freeze-drying approach in which liquid nitrogen is used to reduce the body to a powder, and then the remains are returned to the ground.

Yuji Nakamura, a lawyer who went to Sweden to interview the company that holds a patent on this process, provided details on it at a meeting of Japan's council for promotion of a basic funeral law in Japan.

After being submerged in liquid nitrogen with a temperature of minus 196 degrees Celsius for one hour, the person's body, which is broken up into dust and small pieces, is put into a vacuum container where the remains are slowly dried.

Metals are then removed and the remains are placed into a container which is buried about 50 centimeters underground.

Between six months and a year later, the remains have completely been broken down into the earth.

The attraction of this process is the part where the body is "slowly dried" -- showing that care is being taken over the remains.

South Korea is already apparently preparing to introduce this process.

A long time ago, there was a song in Japan containing the lyrics "hone made aishite" (love me down to my bones).  昔、流行歌に「骨まで愛して」というのがあった。

Here lies sentiment in which the person is crying out for love of their very existence.

To Japanese people, bones are very important, and it is hard to stir up strength when thinking that they will become dust in the end.
But there is something refreshing about the new approach to funerals, a graciousness that comes from leaving all partings and lingering affection -- like the person is saying, "See you, bye-bye," and drifting away.

The developer of the freeze-drying funeral method apparently says that a person's genes are a gift to their children and grandchildren.

The thought of becoming part of nature matches Japanese people's view of nature.

In fact, Japan, which has few religious constraints, may be just the place for this process to receive public acceptance.

Also in environmental terms, overdevelopment of large grave sites is a problem.

"There are various debates on the issue, but I think there should be a choice for funerals that are not limited to cremation," Nakamura says.

(By Takahiro Takino, Tokyo City News Department)
毎日新聞 2012年1月25日 1時35分

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一般教書演説 再選へ意欲を見せたオバマ氏

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 27, 2012)
Obama shows determination to win reelection
一般教書演説 再選へ意欲を見せたオバマ氏(1月26日付・読売社説)

U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday delivered the annual State of the Union policy address, which made clear his confrontational stance against Republicans in the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

In his address, he cited sustainable economic growth and help for the middle class as top-priority issues.

Apparently determined to win reelection later this year, he said he would aim to rejuvenate the economy by revitalizing the manufacturing sector at home, developing natural gas and other domestic sources of energy, improving the skill of American workers and creating more jobs.

Although the U.S. economy has been picking up, there is a strong sense of uncertainty about its future prospects.  米国経済は持ち直してきたとはいえ、景気の先行き不透明感は強い。

Housing prices remain low, while the jobless rate hovers around 8.5 percent.

Obama's approval ratings remain in the lower half of the 40 percent range, primarily due to widening income inequality.

With the president having been unable to give the people their fair share of the fruits of economic recovery, despite his promise to bring about "change," prospects for his reelection are becoming murky, with the light turning to the yellow of caution.


Frustration with Republicans

No matter how much he wants to implement employment measures and other economic stimuli, they cannot be realized without congressional support.

In Congress, the rivalry between the Republicans and the Democrats has been intensifying, making it ever more difficult for bills vital for implementing policies to be passed.

In his speech, Obama said he would fight "with action" those who obstruct the realization of his policies, which can be taken to indicate his strong frustration at the Republicans who dominate the House of Representatives as the majority party.

One important agenda item for his administration in the days ahead is tax system reform.

In his speech, Obama called for higher taxes on wealthy people who pay a lower tax rate than middle-income earners, while also making efforts to trim social security spending.

Obama was apparently conscious of the fact that wealthy Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and one of the leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, has been criticized for paying a tax rate of only 14 percent on the millions of dollars he made in 2010.

Romney paid a lower tax rate than many Americans do because of the preferential taxation of investment income compared to earned income. But Obama also intends to target Republicans who have consistently opposed tax hikes for the wealthy.


Japan's stake in outcome

While the race for the Republican presidential nomination advances, the presidential election will also go into full swing from now on.

The future course of the U.S. economy will have a strong impact on the Japanese economy.

We would like to pay close attention to the verbal battle regarding the economic rejuvenation during the presidential election campaign.

In the area of diplomacy and national security, Obama expressed once again his national defense strategy, which emphasizes Asia.

As part of the fiscal deficit reduction, the United States will cut defense spending by about 500 billion dollars (about 38 trillion yen) over the next 10 years.

Yet if Congress fails to reach an accord on concrete measures to cut the deficit by more than 1 trillion dollars within this year, more drastic budget cut will be made.

Such a development will have a serious impact on the national security of Japan.

We should also pay attention to the battle of words regarding deficit reduction.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 26, 2012)
(2012年1月26日01時13分  読売新聞)

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2012年1月26日 (木)

施政方針演説 「決断する政治」への戦略持て

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 26, 2012)
Noda must have strategy to pursue 'decisive politics'
施政方針演説 「決断する政治」への戦略持て(1月25日付・読売社説)

In his policy speech to the Diet on Tuesday, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda boldly said, "I will aim...to break away from 'the politics that can't decide,'" and, "This is the time for us to fix our eyes upon the 'big picture' rather than 'political situation.'"
We admire Noda's will and vision. However, the problem lies in whether his administration has a well-planned strategy that will be able to translate his words into reality.

An ordinary Diet session was convened Tuesday.

In his speech, Noda quoted from policy speeches given by two former prime ministers from the Liberal Democratic Party, which was in power before Noda's Democratic Party of Japan took the reins of government.

He quoted former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who said, "It is precisely the responsibility of those in politics vis-a-vis the people to ensure that the ruling and opposition parties conduct thorough discussions...to conduct the affairs of state."

And he referred to a promise former Prime Minister Taro Aso made in his speech: "We will take necessary legal measures by fiscal 2011...to undertake...fundamental reform of the tax system, including that of the consumption tax."


LDP, Komeito must start talks

Noda likely used these quotes to point out that the current attitude of the LDP contradicts these statements. Indeed, the opposition party has not responded to calls to start discussions on integrated reform of the social security and tax systems.

Because the DPJ itself had repeatedly resisted moves by the LDP and New Komeito when they were the ruling coalition, members of the now opposition parties reacted fiercely to Noda's speech.

However, both the LDP and Komeito need to agree to start talks to rehabilitate the current critical state of the nation's finances and establish a sustainable social security system.

The government and the DPJ, too, must change their attitude.

First, they have to sincerely explain to the public why the consumption tax rate needs to be increased.

Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada last week abruptly announced, "Revenue from the five-percentage-point increase will be used entirely to fund social security programs, and will thus be returned to citizens."
This marked a major shift from the previous stance of using 10 percent of the extra revenue to cover government procurement costs that are expected to increase due to the tax hike.

The Noda administration probably changed its stance in a desperate attempt to make the public more accepting of the consumption tax hike.

However, the administration will likely be challenged over the inconsistency with its previous explanations.


Give unclear manifesto the boot

Komeito has been demanding the government clarify its future vision for the social security system.

In its manifesto for the 2009 House of Representatives election, the DPJ promised to integrate the nation's pension programs and create a minimum guaranteed pension of 70,000 yen a month by 2013.

Komeito says it cannot see any connection between these campaign promises and the comprehensive reform.

In response to Komeito's demand, DPJ Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi apparently hopes to bring the two main opposition parties to the discussion table by revealing the full picture of social security reform.

Indeed, it will be necessary for the DPJ to show a rough outline of its plan if it wants to ask for the opposition's understanding on the integrated reform.

However, discussions with opposition parties will not get off the ground if the DPJ insists on trying to implement its manifesto, which does not even clearly indicate how its promises will be funded.

Noda should not forget the manifesto has become a major obstacle to the "politics that makes decisions" he is seeking.

If Noda wants to carry out the reform, he should not hesitate to retract the manifesto.

In his policy speech, Noda quoted an old saying, "Undertaking the actions we call on others to take."

He then pointed out it is important for individuals responsible for political and administrative affairs to put themselves on the line and serve as models.
He is absolutely right.

We hope Noda will exercise strong leadership to cut the number of lower house members and the salaries of national government employees.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 25, 2012)
(2012年1月25日01時13分  読売新聞)

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2012年1月25日 (水)

独法・特会改革 肝心なのは政府支出の削減だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 25, 2012)
Cuts in govt spending key to administrative reform
独法・特会改革 肝心なのは政府支出の削減だ(1月24日付・読売社説)

A review of organizational structures is only the first step in administrative reform.

To expand the people's acceptance of a tax hike, it is indispensable to link it with a substantial cut in government spending.

The Government Revitalization Unit has decided on reform proposals for independent administrative entities and special accounts.

The government will submit related bills to an ordinary session of the Diet to realize the reform.

The proposed reform calls for abolishing seven of 102 independent agencies, including the Public Foundation for Peace and Consolation, and privatizing seven entities, including the National Hospital Organization.

Thirty-five agencies, including the Riken research institute, will be consolidated into 12 entities.

As a result, the number of such agencies will be trimmed by nearly 40 percent.

In its draft proposal, the government called for abolishing or privatizing a total of five agencies.

To show the government's determination to carry out administrative reforms, the number of such entities being downsized or abolished has increased remarkably in line with the ruling parties' philosophy that politicians, not bureaucrats, should take the initiative in formulating policies.
The reductions lay the foundation for integrated reform of social security and tax systems.

The reform plan this time, it can be said, is more drastic than the one proposed by the coalition government of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito in terms of the number of agencies to be cut.


Old wine in new bottles

But the entities to be abolished include those to be transferred to state jurisdiction. Many of those to be privatized represent a mere change of names. It is undeniable that priority was given to manipulating numbers.

Even if the number of executives is trimmed by absorbing other independent administrative entities in charge of completely different affairs, it is feared the changes could lead to the creation of bloated organizations if the staff of each agency remains intact.

The biggest concern is that the government has not revealed how much it will curtail government spending on independent administrative agencies, which totals 3 trillion yen a year.

In line with organizational reforms, it will be necessary to downsize staff and reduce or abolish nonessential and nonurgent operations.

It is important to transfer operations that can be entrusted to local governments and the private sector as much as possible, thereby eliminating dual administration and other administrative waste.

Big agencies hold the key to spending cuts.

Concerning the Urban Renaissance Agency and the Japan Housing Finance Agency, panels of external experts will be formed to draw conclusions on spending cuts this summer.

We hope for reasonable results.

Agencies that continue to exist will be classified by type of function into such categories as financing, human resources development and research and development, and the most appropriate supervisory system will be introduced at each agency.


Continuous reform needed

This is because it is unreasonable to manage independent agencies with different purposes and operations under one system.

Continuous reforms are called for.

The number of special accounts will be reduced from 17 to 11 through abolition or integration of such accounts as the one on social capital investment.

But mere cuts in the number of special accounts will not lead to reduced spending and enhanced efficiency.

The former Road Improvement Special Account was used regardless of profitability to construct highways whose necessity was considered low.
Allocating budgets to higher-priority areas while eliminating such a sanctuary would produce results.

According to the Board of Audit, 1.8 trillion yen in surplus funds for fiscal 2009 was not used in the following fiscal year and was carried over to fiscal 2011.

If possible, surplus funds should be transferred to the general account and used effectively.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 24, 2011)
(2012年1月24日00時59分  読売新聞)

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2012年1月24日 (火)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 22
EDITORIAL: Tokyo voters should sign up for nuclear referendum

A signature-collecting campaign is under way to hold a referendum in Tokyo to allow citizens to express their views on nuclear power generation.

But the campaign, organized by a citizens group set up to achieve referendums, is struggling to attract the attention of voters.

The group is trying to collect the required number of signatures to make a direct claim under the local autonomy law to the Tokyo metropolitan government and the Osaka municipal government for the adoption of an ordinance to hold such a referendum.

The Tokyo metropolitan government is a leading shareholder in Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, while the government of Osaka has a stake in Kansai Electric Power Co., which also operates nuclear plants.

In Osaka, the group collected more than 60,000 signatures, exceeding the 2 percent of eligible voters required to make the claim, during the one-month campaign period. The local election administration commission is now examining the signature list to determine its validity.

In Tokyo, the group needs over 210,000 signatures. But with two-thirds of the two-month campaign period already passed, the group has collected less than half the required number.

Why is the campaign receiving such a lukewarm response in Tokyo?

This is neither an “anti-nuke” nor a “pro-nuke” campaign.

The group is only seeking a referendum that will allow citizens to decide on their own whether this nation should continue to use nuclear power as part of energy sources to generate electricity.

In other words, the number of signatures collected is an indicator of how much interest people have in the issue.

Before the Fukushima nuclear disaster, nearly 30 percent of the electricity supplied to the Tokyo metropolitan area was generated at the Fukushima No. 1 plant and TEPCO’s other nuclear plants outside Tokyo.

If voters in Tokyo show so little interest in the question as to make it difficult to collect signatures from 2 percent of them, how would people in Fukushima Prefecture and other areas that host these facilities feel?

Many people in Tokyo seem interested in such a referendum but are clueless as to where they can sign for the campaign.

Tokyo has more than 10 million eligible voters.

There are permanent sites where they can sign petitions, including one in front of Shinjuku Station, but there are not enough to offer easy access to residents in all areas.

In addition, the people leading a signature campaign are allowed to collect signatures only from voters in the cities, wards, towns and villages where they live.

Clearly, this provision in the local autonomy law constitutes a major obstacle to the campaign.

Another major factor behind the different reactions from voters in the Tokyo metropolitan government and Osaka city is the different attitudes toward the issue by the local government chiefs.

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto promised to reduce the city’s dependence on nuclear power during his election campaign in November although he is skeptical about the idea of holding a referendum on this issue.

Hashimoto’s remarks have probably spurred interest in the issue among the public.

In contrast, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara has given the cold shoulder to moves toward a referendum, criticizing it as a “sentimental and hysteric” reaction.
Ishihara has pointed out that there is “not even a blueprint to secure an energy supply” at this stage.

But a referendum on the issue would prompt citizens to see the development of such a blueprint as their own concern and start thinking about it.

More signatures are needed for a referendum on the future of nuclear power generation in this country–which should be determined through broad public debate.

Now that the nuclear disaster has raised some fundamental questions about the energy policy, it is important for people in Tokyo, as consumers of electricity, to express their views and opinions about nuclear power generation.

Let us achieve a referendum in Tokyo to have an opportunity to do so.

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2012年1月23日 (月)














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香山リカのココロの万華鏡:人にどう見られるか /東京


(Mainichi Japan) January 22, 2012
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: How we're seen by others
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:人にどう見られるか /東京

The trial has begun for a woman accused of killing three men she was dating after pretending the deaths were suicides by carbon monoxide poisoning.

The woman kept a blog where she wrote about beauty and gourmet foods, and that personality seems to have stayed with her for the over two years since her arrest.

Someone I know who sat in on the trial said, "She appeared in different clothing before and after noon, and her hairstyle and make-up seemed to have been carefully set.

How can she do such things at her own trial?"

It may be that to the woman, how she is seen by those around her is everything.

Even if it was a far cry from the reality of her life, on her blog she acted like she was a rich princess.

Now, even facing trial, she puts her attention on her clothing and hairstyle, as if it is a show with her as the star.

To her, perhaps her real self is the one that others see.

Even if it is not so extreme, we cannot deny that we share some of the same tendencies.

Thinking only about how others see us, we can forget our true selves.

I am sure there are plenty of us who have forced ourselves to go to high-end restaurants where we took pictures, after which we wrote about it all on our blogs as if we go to those places all the time.

I don't worry much at all about how others see me, but when I notice a new gray hair or wrinkle in the mirror, I do worry, "At today's meeting, I wonder if I looked the oldest."

Of course, we can no longer live completely naturally, not worrying at all about how others think of us.

Pulling ourselves together enough to not make those around us feel unpleasant is a matter of social manners.

But if we overly focus on some ideal image of ourselves, even fooling ourselves in order to draw closer to it, we are clearly going too far.

Even if we succeed in showing ourselves off like our ideal and are complemented for our beauty or luxurious lifestyle, afterwards we are left with nothing.

To the woman in the trial, more important than the truth or how the trial progresses may have been being told, "You look younger than your age," or "You're fashionable as ever."

It somehow makes me feel empty inside.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
毎日新聞 2012年1月17日 地方版

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エネルギー政策 電力危機の回避を最優先せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 23, 2012)
Priority must be given to avoiding energy crisis
エネルギー政策 電力危機の回避を最優先せよ(1月22日付・読売社説)

How can we secure the energy that is essential for our daily lives?

This year will be an important one to solve this thorny issue.

The aftereffects of the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant continue to be felt.

Power companies whose nuclear reactors are suspended for regular checkups cannot resume their operations even when the checks are completed.

If this situation continues, all of the nation's 54 reactors will be stopped by late April, sending Japan into the emergency situation of losing 30 percent of its electricity supply.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has repeatedly said the government will allow reactors that are confirmed to be safe to resume operation.

In reality, however, there is no prospect of realizing this.

Noda should have a strong sense of crisis and wield his leadership to get these reactors operating again soon.


A survey by the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) showed that if the electricity shortage continues for two to three years, 60 percent of the nation's leading manufacturers will cut back or halt domestic production.

The power shortage will exacerbate the hollowing-out of industry and the decline in jobs.

There is also a limit to how much thermal power generation can make up for the loss of nuclear power, due to the huge economic loss that would result from the additional fuel costs involved, estimated to total more than 3 trillion yen a year across the nation.

To pay its increased fuel costs, TEPCO plans to raise its electricity rates by an average of 17 percent for large-lot users such as factory operators and business offices, starting in April.

The utility is also studying the possibility of raising the charges for general households.

Higher electricity rates will result in higher production costs, which will weaken companies' management vitality and competitiveness.

They will also increase the burden on private households, putting a damper on individual consumption and other domestic demand.

Resuming operation of nuclear reactors that are confirmed to be safe is essential to prevent an economic slowdown triggered by power shortages.

The central government has a responsibility to ensure the safety of reactors and win the understanding of local governments for their resumption.


Concrete measures lacking

A drastic review of the nation's energy policy will be a major task.

Noda has indicated his policy of lowering, over the middle and long term, the nation's dependency on nuclear power.

But when it comes to concrete measures, he remains vague.

The government will compile a new energy strategy this summer.

Yet with too many councils and conferences deliberating the issue in a disorderly way, the discussions are scattered.

We hope Noda displays leadership and presents a clear policy regarding where the nation's electricity should come from in the future.

Expectations are high for such renewable energies as solar power and wind power.

From the viewpoint of domestic self-sufficiency in energy and protecting the environment, more widespread use of such energy is desirable.

Yet excluding hydropower, these sources account for merely 1 percent of total power generation, and currently cost more to produce than other types.

Also the amount of power generated depends on weather conditions.

It will take a long time for such sources to become major power providers.

The creation of goals regarding the optimum composition of the nation's future electric power sources must be done in a realistic manner, taking into account a comprehensive range of requirements, such as stable supply, economic efficiency and safety.

The government has decided abruptly on a policy of having nuclear reactors decommissioned, in principle, after 40 years in operation.

Although the policy includes an exception that would allow reactors to operate for up to 60 years if necessary, the decision on a 40-year lifespan without any prospects for alternative electricity sources must be called irresponsible.

The government should include the option of replacing superannuated reactors with new, safer models.


Nuclear experts may leave

Once the government adopts a policy goal of "reducing to zero" the number of nuclear plants, there will certainly be an exodus overseas of the country's specialists in nuclear energy.

In addition, it will become extremely difficult to develop the next generation of nuclear experts.

As a result, the nation's nuclear technologies would decline, and it would become difficult to ensure the safety of existing plants or decommission them.

Newly industrializing countries such as China have been going ahead with projects to boost the number of their nuclear facilities.

This country should support their aims by keeping Japan's nuclear technology advanced, and exporting safe nuclear plants and providing other countries with reliable know-how about plant operations.

The government has also embarked on reform of the electricity supply system.

A key task in the reform is the separation of electricity generation and transmission--utility companies currently handle the entire process from power generation to transmission.

Discussions are being held about the advisability of the current formula for determining power charges, in which rates are based on utilities' estimates of the cost of power generation plus a certain percentage of profit.

It is reasonable to reduce costs through the introduction of market principles.

Is there no danger, however, of hasty reform efforts destabilizing power supplies?

We should bear in mind such incidents as the large-scale stoppages of electricity that took place frequently in California about a decade ago. The blackouts were said to be due partly to the adverse impact of electricity service reform in California, such as a delay in renewing transmission facilities after the separation of power generation and transmission.

We should draw lessons from these experiences.

Meanwhile, reform of TEPCO's management is urgently needed.

Thanks to the establishment of the Nuclear Damage Compensation Facilitation Corporation partly funded by the government, payments of compensation for victims of the Fukushima nuclear crisis have been secured at least for now.

Costs for such tasks as decommissioning the Fukushima plant, however, are excluded from financial assistance from the compensation corporation.

Although TEPCO plans to secure 2.6 trillion yen over the next 10 years by restructuring its business to cut costs, it is impossible for the utility to pay the colossal expenses of decommissioning and other efforts solely through management reform.


Govt must share burden

The government plans to place TEPCO practically under state control by pouring funds into the utility through the damage compensation body.

The de facto nationalization of TEPCO is considered necessary to prevent its bankruptcy, so it can fulfill the three all-important tasks of settling the nuclear crisis, compensating victims and ensuring stable power supplies.

However, there is the risk that under state control TEPCO could plunge into a vicious circle of expanding losses and the need for ever more financial aid from national coffers.

The planned nationalization of TEPCO must be coupled with studies about the wisdom of creating a new system in which the government would always share the financial burden for such undertakings as plant decommissioning and nuclear decontamination.

Full-dress discussions must be encouraged concerning the validity of the Nuclear Damages Compensation Law, under which power utilities are fully liable for all compensation for a nuclear accident, as well as the pros and cons of running the nuclear power generation business under government protection as part of national policy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 22, 2012)
(2012年1月22日01時16分  読売新聞)

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2012年1月22日 (日)

郵政改革 4社案テコに与野党合意急げ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 22, 2012)
Ruling, opposition parties must push on with postal reform
郵政改革 4社案テコに与野党合意急げ(1月21日付・読売社説)

It can now be said that a step toward realizing postal reform has finally been taken.

The ruling and opposition parties should hold deliberations in the upcoming ordinary Diet session and ensure the nation's postal business is reformed in a way that benefits the public.

A working-level consultative meeting was held Friday between the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito regarding how to proceed with postal reform. The participants agreed to sum up what they have discussed so far.

An accord has been reached under which the government and the DPJ will drop, at least temporarily, a bill that would reorganize the five-company configuration of Japan Post Group into three companies. Instead, the three parties will discuss realigning Japan Post into a four-company structure.

The four-company plan is a Komeito proposal, and the DPJ is poised to accept the plan.

The LDP has no compelling reason to oppose the streamlining of the Japan Post Group organization and changes that would make postal services more convenient for customers.


Diet's neglectfulness

The realistic option would be for the ruling and opposition camps to get behind the proposed four-company system.

Much of the blame for the postal reform bill being stuck in limbo for nearly two years lies with the Diet.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda also should be brought to task for the delay in postal reform deliberations in the legislature.
In a meeting with the president of the national federation of postmasters of privately owned post offices (Zentoku), Noda committed himself to "responsibly expediting" Diet business for postal reform.

What to do with government-held shares in Japan Post is the biggest obstacle to an agreement between the ruling and opposition blocs.

The government favors retaining "more than one-third" of Japan Post shares.

If this remains unchanged, the government will hold a stake in two firms under the Japan Post umbrella--Japan Post Bank Co. and Japan Post Insurance Co.

The LDP has laid siege to the government's position. The party claims that if the two financial service arms of Japan Post, which the LDP notes are "protected by tacit government guarantees," enter new markets such as cancer insurance, private-sector businesses will be put at a distinct disadvantage.

Financial and insurance businesses have demanded Japan Post Bank and Japan Post Insurance be completely privatized.

In connection with this, insurance businesses in the United States have expressed concern over Japan Post financial services adversely impacting on private-sector business activities.

Due attention should be paid to ensure Japan Post reform discussions do not hurt this country's bid to join Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement negotiations.


Gain from share sales unclear

Is it impossible to prevent Japan Post companies from gaining an unfair upper hand over private companies, such as by imposing some restrictions on their entry into new businesses?

We urge the ruling and opposition parties to find effective solutions to this problem.

If postal reform goes ahead, the current freeze on selling Japan Post shares will be lifted, and the government will be able to use the profit from sales of these shares to fund reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake.

However, the deterioration in postal service businesses shows no sign of ending, and it is unclear whether the government will bring in the about 6 trillion yen it expects to gain from selling off its Japan Post shares.

The volume of mail handled by post offices has been declining by 3 percent a year, leaving Japan Post Service swimming in red ink.

Postal savings and the number of postal insurance policies have fallen sharply since their peak.

Should Japan Post be left as is, it will be unable to take such steps as expanding into new businesses, and could get stuck in a rut.

There are fears Japan Post's corporate value could plunge.

Japan Post is a precious asset that belongs to the public. Its value must not be allowed to diminish because of the Diet's neglectfulness.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 21, 2012)
(2012年1月21日01時40分  読売新聞)

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2012年1月21日 (土)

社説:原発テスト 「結論ありき」と疑う

(Mainichi Japan) January 20, 2012
Editorial: Gov't nuclear power plant tests mired in doubt
社説:原発テスト 「結論ありき」と疑う

How will the lessons learned from the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant be put into practice in the future?

The government's present response is questionable.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which operates under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, has deemed Kansai Electric Power Co.'s stress tests of the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at its Oi nuclear power plant as "appropriate."

This marks the first step in evaluating reactors that are being inspected with a view to restarting them.

The reactors are to undergo further inspection by the Nuclear Safety Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

After that, the prime minister and three Cabinet ministers will make a political decision on whether or not to restart them.

However, debate has arisen over whether Cabinet officials should be making decisions on the technical safety of reactors.

Furthermore, when looking at the results of the stress tests, it seems the technical safety appraisal was a foregone conclusion.

Kansai Electric's stress tests conclude that the reactor cores would not be damaged even if there were an earthquake that shook 1.8 times stronger than what was envisaged when the reactors were built, or if the reactors were hit by an 11.4-meter tsunami -- four times higher than what was initially predicted.

The power company says that even if there were a station blackout and no place for heat to escape, the reactor cores would not be damaged for 16 days and the spent nuclear fuel would remain intact for 10 days.

However, the scenarios forming the basis for power plant's conclusions preceded the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

The March 2011 disasters have shaken conceptions about the maximum shaking and the biggest possible tsunami in the event of another major quake.

There is no guarantee that the plant's previous predictions are on target.

The more relaxed the scenarios are, the more leeway the power plant seems to have.

When considering this, the phrases "1.8 times stronger" and "four times higher" have no meaning.

The probe into the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant has not even been completed. そもそも、事故そのものの検証もまだ終わっていない。

Officials should at least provide a set of risk evaluation guidelines based on the cause of the Fukushima disaster that the public can understand.

In terms of determining the risks of nuclear power plants, doubts also remain over legislation on the life of power plants.

On Jan. 6, Goshi Hosono, state minister in charge of the nuclear disaster, stated that nuclear reactors would in principle be decommissioned after they had been running for over 40 years.

But less than two weeks later the government stated that exceptions would allow reactors to operate for 60 years.

Just where is the government placing its priorities?

Does it really intend to reduce the number of high-risk nuclear power plants?

The way the government is handling the situation invites mistrust over its nuclear power plant policy.

In terms of winning the public's trust, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency's decision to shut the public out of a hearing on the Oi nuclear power plant's stress tests is also problematic.

In principle, debate should be open, and then if there are any major obstacles to proceedings, separate measures can be taken to settle them.

Furthermore, citizens groups have raised questions about a possible conflict of interests among committee members and these must be addressed as a top priority.

Local bodies will have the final decision on whether or not to restart nuclear power plants, but if officials can't gain the public's trust, then it is inconceivable to restart the reactors.

毎日新聞 2012年1月20日 2時31分

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今朝は、韓国旅行 の記事を書きます。

で、韓国旅行の情報サイト を物色してみました。

韓国旅行の格安ツアー情報 を入手したら、とりあえずソウルか釜山に飛び立ちましょう。

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新型インフル 緊急事態法制に位置付けよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 21, 2012)
Parties should unite to pass flu epidemic legislation
新型インフル 緊急事態法制に位置付けよ(1月20日付・読売社説)

The outbreak of a new strain of influenza can take place anytime, anywhere in the world.

In the event of a new, virulent strain of flu becoming an epidemic, it is estimated that in the worst-case scenario as many as 640,000 people would die in this country alone.

To prevent such a situation from occurring, it is imperative for the government to take all possible measures in preparation for a flu epidemic.

The government plans to submit a bill for special measures legislation to the upcoming ordinary Diet session to deal with the possible future emergence of a new, highly virulent and infectious flu

Both the ruling and opposition parties must cooperate to ensure smooth passage of the bill.

The planned law will define the onslaught of a highly virulent new strain of flu as a "national crisis."

To prevent the spread of infection and public disorder, the law will empower the government to take strong, binding steps such as restrictions on or postponement of assemblies and securing the supply and distribution of goods.

Currently, the central government and prefectural governments have already worked out "action plans" to cope with the outbreak of a new strain of influenza.


Govt to declare 'emergency'

These measures, however, have no binding power. The central government and local entities can take no stronger steps than "requesting" people to stay home and cancel meetings on a voluntary basis.

When a new strain of flu broke out in 2009, there was no serious damage, since the virulence of the strain was weak.

If that strain had been deadly, the government might have been unable to take any effective steps, resulting in serious harm to the public.

Under the proposed legislation, if a virulent strain of flu becomes epidemic, the government's epidemic countermeasures headquarters will declare an "emergency situation" for affected prefectures.

While restrictions on going out and cancellations of gatherings under the planned law will be sought in the form of government "requests," as currently practiced, the law will make it possible for the government to issue stronger "instructions" if such requests are refused without sufficient justification.

The law will also make it possible for the government to requisition land and buildings needed to secure medical facilities when a flu epidemic occurs.

To prevent the spread of a deadly flu strain, the government may legitimately need to consider meting out punishments against violators of the law.

The invocation of the law, however, must be carried out as scrupulously as possible.

The Civil Protection Law, enacted to prepare this country for an armed attack, states that the curtailment of private rights should be kept to a minimum out of respect for the freedom and rights of the people.


Prepare for goods shortages

Immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake, shortages of goods occurred across the country.

The shortages were attributed to panic buying as well as the disruption of distribution networks.

If a containment campaign is enforced in areas affected by a new strain of virulent flu virus, hoarding may occur in reaction to government requests for people to stay home, while local distribution networks may be snarled.

To deal with such a situation, the government, by means of the planned legislation, should enhance the power of administrative authorities to ensure sufficient supplies of goods at stable prices, in part by preventing merchants or suppliers from refusing to sell at the time of a deadly flu epidemic.

The lessons learned from the bitter experience of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami must be used to minimize the damage caused by a deadly flu strain.

The circumstances the planned law aims to deal with have much in common with various other emergencies.

The legislation should lead to the strengthening of preparatory measures for emergencies, such as coordination of communication between the central and local entities, securing local medical services and stockpiling daily necessities.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 20, 2012)
(2012年1月20日01時15分  読売新聞)

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2012年1月20日 (金)


Preliminary Japanese lessons for Thai students.


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2012年1月19日 (木)

「大阪都」構想 自治再生への将来像を示せ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 19, 2012)
Present a vision for renewal of local administration
「大阪都」構想 自治再生への将来像を示せ(1月18日付・読売社説)

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto is preparing concrete steps to realize his plan to transform Osaka into a metropolitan administrative unit like Tokyo. If his proposal is realized, how will the people's daily lives and the local administration of Osaka change?

His proposal calls for institutional reform to reorganize the Osaka prefectural government and the Osaka and Sakai municipal governments into a metropolitan administrative unit that would provide administrative services across the entire area and 10 to 12 "special administrative wards" that would provide services close to the daily lives of the local people, such as welfare services.

We can understand Hashimoto's intention of eliminating the prefectural and municipal governments' overlapping administrative services and integrating strategies on urban systems, by reviewing the antagonistic relations that have often existed between the prefectural government and the Osaka municipal government over the years.

Hashimoto has established a headquarters to integrate the prefectural and municipal governments, as a control tower of the scheme, and has come up with one reform policy after another.

Carrying out, first of all, those reforms that can be realized under the present system will offer a favorable wind for the envisaged scheme. Included in such presently doable reforms are integrated management of water services, public hospitals and universities, and elections for more administratively powerful ward mayors with candidates invited from the public from all over the country.

Will these institutional changes lead to, as Hashimoto asserts, the rejuvenation of Osaka, whose local economy is seen faltering?


Costs not entirely clear

Having ward mayors and ward assembly members elected by popular vote may end up raising overall costs. There is also some concern that the review of overlapping administrative services by the prefectural and municipal governments may lead to some services being monopolized by certain entities, eliminating competition and thus making overall public administration inefficient.

Hashimoto should scrupulously answer these questions and draw up a clear future vision of a new local administration.

To realize this metropolis scheme, it is essential to revise related laws, including the Local Government Law.  都構想の実現のためには、地方自治法など関連法の改正も欠かせない。

Both the ruling and opposition parties have begun concerted action based on Hashimoto's scheme.

As the head of local party Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka restoration group), Hashimoto won a strategic victory in the double elections for both Osaka governor (his preelection post, now held by another member of his party) and Osaka mayor.

Looking toward the next House of Representatives election, Hashimoto said his party will field its own candidates to run against those political parties that do not support his vision.

These strategies can be said to have prodded major national parties into action on his issue.


Govt council to examine issue

Meanwhile, the Local Government System Research Council, a governmental advisory panel, on Tuesday began discussions on what form the administrative systems of mega cities should take.

The central government had seldom squarely tackled the issue of large cities before.

The Osaka metropolis scheme will be a central theme of the council's discussions.

Hashimoto intends to compile a concrete plan by this autumn, with an eye toward shifting to an Osaka metropolis in the spring of 2015.

His moves and the council's discussions will certainly affect each other.

Also to be discussed is the idea of letting ordinance-designated cities become completely independent from prefectural governments as special self-governing units.

There are also other ideas to be taken up for discussion, such as one to integrate Aichi Prefecture and the city of Nagoya to establish a "Chukyo-to" administrative unit, and one to realign Niigata Prefecture and Niigata City into Niigata-shu (Niigata State).

The times require discussions about systems of large-city governance.

The council will also discuss issues related to local municipalities, be they cities, towns or villages, that are dealing with marked population decline and a rapidly aging citizenry.

It is no easy task to consider the problems of large cities and those of smaller municipalities in the context of the ongoing trend of transferring administrative powers to local governments.

Toward the aim of rejuvenating local administrations, a broad-based discussion is called for.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 18, 2012)
(2012年1月18日01時18分  読売新聞)

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2012年1月18日 (水)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 16
EDITORIAL: Taiwan’s voters show reserved support for expansion of China ties

"In Taiwan’s presidential election on Jan. 14, voters gave qualified support, not unconditional approval, to expanded ties with China. That probably best sums up the election outcome.

Incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou of the ruling Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) won re-election, defeating Tsai Ing-wen, head of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party.

China-Taiwan relations soured markedly during the previous government of the DPP.

Ma was first elected president four years ago by promising to mend ties with China.

Ma implemented a series of steps to deliver on his pledge.
He launched regular direct flights between Taiwan and China, lifted a ban on visits by mainland Chinese and struck an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement for free cross-strait trade.

Ma, declaring his election victory while being pelted by a pouring rain, stressed that the expansion of Taiwan’s economic ties and trade with China during his first term had strong voter support.
He pledged to continue his China policy for the next four years.

Indeed, relations between China and Taiwan have been on a roll recently.

Mainland tourists visiting Taiwan now outnumber Japanese visitors.
Chinese students are beginning to come to the island to study.

The current state of the cross-strait relationship is a far cry from what it was 16 years ago when Beijing tried to intimidate Taiwan by test-firing missiles during a presidential election.

Even so, China still keeps ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan and is expanding its naval power around the island.  しかし、台湾に照準を合わせた弾道ミサイルを中国は配備したままだし、台湾周辺での海軍力も増強している。

The current stability in Sino-Taiwanese relations is as fragile as a glass sculpture and far from what constitutes true peace.

That’s why there is still strong, deep-rooted wariness about unification among Taiwanese, as indicated by the fact that Ma’s poll ratings dropped immediately after he talked about a peace treaty with China during the election campaign.

The Communist Party of China and the government in Beijing issued an unusual statement following Ma’s re-election, expressing hope for “opening of a new phase of peaceful development of the relationship” and “striving together for a great resurgence of the Chinese race.”
The move clearly reflected China’s enthusiasm about starting political dialogue with Taiwan as a step toward eventual unification.

But the Taiwanese people are not interested in such political dialogue.

Ma needs to tread carefully on this issue.

Beijing, if it really wants political dialogue with the island, should demonstrate its sincerity by taking steps to build a peaceful and favorable environment for cross-strait talks, such as removing the missiles aimed at Taiwan.
We sincerely hope the new Chinese leadership that will be elected in the party convention this autumn will make serious efforts to improve the diplomatic climate for political talks with Taiwan.

For her part, Tsai fared better than the DPP’s candidate for the previous presidential election in terms of the percentage of votes garnered against the total poll. But her failure to offer concrete proposals to tackle key policy issues, like the relationship with China, growing economic inequity among Taiwanese people and employment, was her undoing.

Nevertheless, we applaud Tsai for not inflaming tension during the election campaign, which often happened in the past. This gave the impression that democracy in Taiwan has matured.

In mainland China, the people are still denied the right to vote in democratic elections. Yet, they showed tremendous interest in Taiwan’s election through Internet postings and other forms of online expression.

We hope they will learn more about democracy through Taiwan's experience.

Although Taiwan has no formal diplomatic relationship with Japan, Taiwanese sentiment toward Japan is very friendly. This can be seen by the size of Taiwan’s donation to help victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake. Its 17 billion yen (about $213 million) topped all other foreign donations.

Japan must respond to the goodwill shown by the Taiwanese people by enhancing its ties with the island through steps like concluding a free trade agreement.

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--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 15
EDITORIAL: Japan in desperate need of a true leader

If we get a new prime minister this year, it will be the seventh in seven years.

The possibility of such a change is not small at all, as the momentum for a Diet dissolution and Lower House election is growing as politicians battle over the government's plan to raise the consumption tax rate.

After a succession of six prime ministers resigning in the same number of years, Japanese politics has completely lost its focus.

Last year within the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, voices loudly demanded the resignation of then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan. Even those within his own party supported the no-confidence motion against him.

His successor, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, won the party leadership by pushing for higher taxes, but some DPJ lawmakers repeated their objections again late last year, and some even left the party.

The Liberal Democratic Party no longer has any semblance of a ruling party.

LDP politicians are acting as if the party had nothing to do with this country's enormous fiscal deficit, and they insist on yammering about the DPJ's breach of its manifesto. The LDP's actions border on the ridiculous.

With politics in such a state, it is little wonder that the recent support rate for the DPJ and the LDP combined, two major parties that make up nearly 90 percent of the seats in the Lower House, didn't even add up to 40 percent.

With an overwhelming majority of the electorate saying they support no party, can this really be called a "two-party system?"

Recognition of the times

In September this year, the terms in office will expire for the leaders of both parties, DPJ President and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki.

It will be a good opportunity to contemplate the essence of political leadership so that politics in this country can be rebooted.

An LDP veteran lawmaker once said: "The only thing postwar politicians had to decide was the general direction of this country: anti-communism, emphasis on the economy, and the Japan-U.S. security alliance. That was all. For the rest, bureaucrats drew up the blueprint."

In an age when politics was on "autopilot," the role of politicians was the "redistribution of expanding wealth."

However, our country is now seeing the progression of an extremely aging society, the extent of which is unprecedented around the world.

Fewer people are working.

Despite the rocky waters of globalization, we cannot find the key to new economic growth.

The divide between the rich and poor, as well as the divide between the young and old, is widening.

Politics is faced with the tough task of "redistributing the burden."

Yet, lawmakers continue to rely on bureaucrats as if we were still in the "autopilot' age. The lawmakers also continue to borrow more money and do their best to muddle through.

This means we are bypassing our own problems and simply dumping them onto future generations.

Political party leaders must first get a good grip on the times we live in.

Then they must brace themselves so that they can fundamentally change our political system into something appropriate for governing this country in this age.

To recreate our society, some drastic changes are essential. For example, a true shift away from bureaucratic leadership to real political leadership is needed, as is a move toward decentralization.

The electorate has already changed along with the times.

The proof lies in the fact that industry organizations are losing their vote-drawing powers not just in the cities but also in rural areas.

As the needs of the voters became more diverse, the electorate became fragmented like grains of sand, and the positions shift like sand dunes.

Respond to change

Politicians are unable to cope with these ephemeral changes.

The single-district system of the Lower House contributes to the parties' tendency to choose leaders they hope can gain wide support, but that is merely a window-dressing tactic aimed at winning over a fickle electorate.

It is impossible to support anyone or any party if they don't have the means with which to recognize and realize what voters want.

It is only natural that voters should write off political parties and politicians that are out of touch with the times.

It is understandable that politicians like Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto are growing in stature when national politics is in such a dire state.

Hashimoto's criticism of the huge Osaka Town Hall organization is extremely easy to understand.

His push to eradicate the wasteful double administration that exists in Osaka--Osaka Prefecture and Osaka city--seems to be in accordance with these times of the shrinking economy

He is always looking for new enemies and using the heat of that friction as the energy source to move forward. Such an approach is dangerous because it risks preventing rational thought and contemplation.

However, his style definitely gives the voters the impression that something is happening in politics.

Existing parties, whatever their party platform or policies, are ingratiating themselves to Hashimoto. This is a pathetic sight.

Prime Minister Noda is asking the public to accept an increased burden as part of the tax and social security reform. That is a step forward in facing up to the changing times.

The country must adamantly achieve government reform and move forward.

The prime minister should take the argument he used to override the anti-tax raise voices within his own party late last year, and repeat the discussion in the public domain in plain sight.

The voters will take notice only when the prime minister steps into the hot seat.

Power to move organizations

How will LDP leader Tanigaki respond?

If he says, "I have always championed tax reform up front and center," then he should clamp down on those within his party who demand an early dissolution of the Diet, and achieve tax reform by leading the way ahead of the DPJ.

If he can achieve that, then he will secure a place in history.

A leader is someone who recognizes how the times are changing, puts forth clear goals, builds a strategy to achieve those goals, and moves organizations and the unsung people who work hard outside the limelight to realize those goals.

That is leadership, and leadership requires experience.

A political culture that casually throws away its leaders in short succession is hardly conducive to producing good, worthy people.

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2012年1月16日 (月)

独法改革 見せかけの取り組みでは困る

カラオケ、過労死、あまくだり・・・ そのまま米国で通用します^^。

Going through the motions not enough for reform
The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 16, 2012)
独法改革 見せかけの取り組みでは困る(1月15日付・読売社説)

It is vital when reforming independent administrative institutions to achieve tangible results, such as spending cuts.

The government must not allow reform to simply change such organizations' names.

In this regard, newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada, who will concurrently serve as state minister in charge of administrative reform, bears a heavy responsibility.

The Government Revitalization Unit will compile a plan to reorganize independent administrative institutions as early as by the end of this month.

Of the 102 such bodies, there are plans to abolish three, including the Commemorative Organization for the Japan World Exposition '70, and to privatize the organization for environment improvement around international airports and one other body.

Other independent administrative institutions will be transformed into public corporations focused on achieving revenue and performance goals, or public corporations aimed at enhancing cooperation with central government projects.

Moreover, the government reportedly will consider integrating some of the first type of corporation after classifying them into eight subcategories, such as those working with universities and those engaging in financial operations.

But it will be unsatisfactory if only five independent administrative institutions are abolished or privatized.

Even if many are transformed into new types of public corporations, it will effectively constitute just a change of name if they continue to exist as organizations.

Reorganizational efforts will be meaningful only if the government drastically reduces the number of such public agencies and slashes overall government spending.


Structural review insufficient

Reviewing their organizational structures will not be enough to reform independent administrative institutions.

In addition to downsizing individual agencies' businesses and making them more efficient prior to transferring such organizations to the control of local governments and the private sector, it also will be necessary to sever the cozy ties between these agencies and the government bodies that have jurisdiction over them.
Such ties have developed through the provision of subsidies and the practice of amakudari, under which bureaucrats take lucrative jobs in related organizations after their retirement.

If the government embarks on the reform of large-scale independent administrative institutions, such as the Urban Renaissance Agency and the Japan Housing Finance Agency, it will help the government substantially cut its spending.

On the other hand, it is dangerous to make decisions that put too much weight on short-term cost performance in fields linked with national strategy, such as research and development in science and technology, and cultural promotion.

The government must consider how to carry out reforms from mid- and long-term perspectives, without insisting too much on "visible results."

In its manifesto pledges for the 2009 House of Representatives election, the Democratic Party of Japan called for a comprehensive review of independent administrative institutions, including their total abolishment.

The party clearly stated in the manifesto that it would be possible to slash 6.1 trillion yen in annual government spending by reviewing independent administrative institutions, public-interest corporations and subsidies.


Minimal effort so far

However, an April 2010 session of the government panel tasked with reviewing wasteful government spending has been almost the only occasion when the DPJ-led government tackled the reform of independent administrative institutions.

We regret to say there is a wide gap between the promise made in the manifesto and the latest draft reform plan.

At the end of last year, the DPJ set up a research committee on administrative reform, spurred by the need to broaden public understanding of the proposed consumption tax hike.

But the move was a hastily devised countermeasure.

What is needed now is not a token effort, but a determined and continuous undertaking.

It is a matter of course for the government and the DPJ to thoroughly carry out administrative reform, including that of independent administrative institutions, as a prerequisite to the integrated reform of social security and tax systems.

Given the country's critical fiscal condition, insufficient administrative reform cannot be used as an excuse to postpone the tax hike.

Efforts to realize the tax hike and administrative reform must be made simultaneously.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 15, 2012)
(2012年1月15日01時16分  読売新聞)

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2012年1月15日 (日)

香山リカのココロの万華鏡:声を出して笑う /東京

(Mainichi Japan) January 15, 2012
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Beginning the year with a laugh
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:声を出して笑う /東京

I spent the turning of the New Year at my parents' home in Otaru, Hokkaido.

It may be this way all across the country, but it seems that in Hokkaido, the economy is not doing very well.
On the television came news that, "The economic growth for the year ahead in Hokkaido is forecast at zero or negative levels."

Furthermore, this season there is heavy snow, with all the burdens that brings.

As I thought to myself, "There is hardly ever any good news for my homeland," images caught my eye on television of people watching the year's first sunrise.

There were people by the ocean, on mountains, on boats all waiting expectantly, until finally the brilliant red sun appeared from the horizon.

At every location, the reaction of the people gathered was by and large the same.

After raising their voices in awe, they would start to laugh, with a few amongst them even guffawing.

Looking at the television screen, I wondered, "What's so funny about the sun rising?" But soon, I found myself smiling as well.

Who knows why, but the rising sun is a happy and funny occasion, and we just let out a big laugh, and that seemed to feel like the right thing to do at the time.

In his work "Yukishi yo no Omokage," author Kyoji Watanabe introduces writings and diaries from foreigners who visited Japan from the last years of the Edo period to the beginning of the Meiji period.
They wrote that the Japanese were cheerful and bright.

Although those Japanese people's lifestyles were far from luxurious, laughter filled the houses and streets, surprising Americans and Europeans who were visiting what was supposed to be a despotic and backward nation.

We Japanese may be gifted with an ability to find amusement in the smallest of things.

Even if we don't have big success or watch a first-class show performance, we can smile or laugh out loud about little things in our daily lives or comments made in our day-to-day conversations.

I think this is a wonderful strong point and ability.

I hope that those people who laughed at the rising sun lead a full year where they can laugh about all kinds of things.
 「わーっ、初日の出だ! アハハ」と笑えた人は、今年一年、いろいろなことで大いに笑って、心豊かにすごしてほしいと思う。

I, too, plan to also put aside restraint and laugh whenever I find something amusing, and I suggest that we make this a year where we can laugh about our day-to-day lives.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
毎日新聞 2012年1月10日 地方版

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2012年1月14日 (土)

イラン制裁 原油の安定調達へ万全尽くせ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 14, 2012)
Every effort must be made to ensure stable oil supply
イラン制裁 原油の安定調達へ万全尽くせ(1月13日付・読売社説)

The United States and European nations are cooperating to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons by imposing economic sanctions in the form of direct and indirect embargoes on crude oil imports from that country.

It is inevitable for Japan to join this effort to exert more pressure on Iran.

However, we must keep to a minimum the possible chaotic effects that would arise from a shortage of crude oil and price hikes.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda met Thursday with visiting U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and told him Japan shares the United States' serious concerns on the nuclear issue.

In a separate meeting, Finance Minister Jun Azumi told Geithner that Japan would start gradually reducing oil imports from Iran at an early date.

The sanctions are designed to limit dollar-based transactions in the United States of foreign financial institutions that engage in transactions with the Central Bank of Iran to import Iranian oil.

The sanctions are expected to be imposed in the middle of the year at the earliest.


Cutting funds for N-program

By cracking down on deals between foreign banks and Iran's central bank, the U.S. government hopes to significantly reduce the amount of funds Iran can use for its nuclear development by cutting the country's income from crude oil exports.

The European Union has agreed to impose an embargo on Iranian crude oil.

However, Iran supplies about 10 percent of the oil Japan needs.

The government is in a quandary about how to reduce imports from that country.

Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, who recently visited several Middle East countries, asked Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to maintain stable crude oil supplies to Japan and received favorable responses.  中東を歴訪した玄葉外相は、サウジアラビアやアラブ首長国連邦に日本への原油の安定供給を要請し、前向きな回答を得た。

Both public and private sectors should closely cooperate in efforts to ensure sufficient supplies of crude oil from other countries to compensate for the loss of Iranian oil.

What concerns us most is a possible surge in crude oil prices.

With tensions rising over the Iranian situation, crude oil prices have already soared above 100 dollars per barrel in New York and other markets.

If prices increase further, electricity rates and other costs will rise, impacting severely on the Japanese economy.

There also is a possibility that Iran's revenue from crude oil exports will increase if the sanctions do not work as planned.


Invoking criteria ambiguous

A major problem is China, the largest importer of Iranian crude, which opposes sanctions.

We urge China to impose self-restraint and not import oil from Iran by devious means, as Iran is expected to have a crude oil surplus because of the sanctions.

Fundamentally, the criteria for imposing U.S. sanctions are ambiguous.

Noda told Geithner the sanctions "could have a serious impact on the Japanese and world economies" depending on how they are managed, and he asked that the method of imposing the sanctions be improved. We think his demand is reasonable.

The government needs to continuously press the U.S. government to exempt Japanese banks from the financial transaction restrictions.

Iran has reacted fiercely to the current situation and threatened, for instance, to close the Strait of Hormuz, a major crude oil shipping lane, if sanctions are imposed.

Japan, the United States and EU must carefully continue efforts to avoid unfavorable developments by using a combination of sanctions and dialogue with Iran.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 13, 2012)
(2012年1月13日01時29分  読売新聞)

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2012年1月13日 (金)

小沢氏公判 「秘書任せ」で理解得られるか

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 13, 2012)
Ozawa's explanation unlikely to satisfy anyone
小沢氏公判 「秘書任せ」で理解得られるか(1月12日付・読売社説)

More than two years have passed since allegations against Ichiro Ozawa's political funds management organization surfaced over falsification of the political funds reports.

The political heavyweight has never offered an explanation about the accusations in the Diet. So what did he say in the court?

Ozawa, a former Democratic Party of Japan president indicted on suspicion of violating the Political Funds Control Law over the purchase of land by Rikuzan-kai, his political funds management organization, was questioned for two days recently in the Tokyo District Court. The testimony drew wide attention as it was believed to be the climax of Ozawa's trial.

In court, Ozawa said he "entirely entrusted [the political funds reports] to my secretaries" because he had "no time to pay attention directly" to them.

The main focus of the trial is whether the court will determine there was a conspiracy between Ozawa and his three former secretaries, including House of Representatives member Tomohiro Ishikawa, all of whom have been found guilty by the district court for falsifying the reports.

Ozawa's remarks constitute a denial of his involvement in falsely reporting political funds.


Didn't kingpin take a peek?

However, we question Ozawa's contention that he "had never taken a look" at the political funds reports even after his trial started, in addition to leaving compilation of the reports solely to his secretaries.

To ensure fair political activities under public scrutiny, a system was established under the Political Funds Control Law to ensure disclosure of political organizations' earnings and spending by political funds.

Political funds reports are an important source of information for people to decide whether political activities are being conducted fairly.

If Ozawa's statement is true, he should be criticized for belittling the spirit of the Political Funds Control Law.

In fact, Ozawa has continually insisted all transactions made by his political funds organization are transparent.  小沢氏は常々、「政治資金はすべてオープンにしている」と強調してきた。

Many people are probably wondering how Ozawa can make such a claim without looking at the political funds reports himself.

Moreover, politicians have supervisory responsibility over their secretaries. What does Ozawa think about that?


Land purchase still obscure

Rikuzan-kai paid 400 million yen to purchase the land, and Ozawa himself prepared the money. In court, Ozawa said the money came from "cash and profits on sales of real estate inherited from my parents, royalties on books and the salary I earned as a lawmaker."

However, Ozawa has changed his explanation about the money during questioning by prosecutors.
The district court ruling on Ishikawa and the other two secretaries pointed out that Ozawa had failed to offer a clear explanation on the matter.

To refute this criticism, Ozawa said in court he "did not know the exact details [of the money] at that time." However, this explanation fails to clear up the confusion.

The two days of questioning effectively ended the examination of Ozawa in court. It is now up to the district court to decide whether Ozawa is criminally responsible for the falsification of the political funds reports.

Ozawa repeatedly has said he would reveal the truth in court. However, it is doubtful whether the public was convinced by his explanation when he thrust all the blame on his secretaries.

Unless Ozawa sincerely offers to provide every detail of his political funds, it will be difficult for him to win public understanding.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 12, 2012)
(2012年1月12日01時21分  読売新聞)

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2012年1月12日 (木)

日本経済再生 危機を直視し改革を断行せよ

イモーショナルに過ぎました。(汗) データ不足です。 m0m

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 12, 2012)
Govt must act resolutely on reforms to rebuild economy
日本経済再生 危機を直視し改革を断行せよ(1月11日付・読売社説)

The nation's economy, which had been coming back from the shock of the Great East Japan Earthquake, slowed down and came to a standstill last autumn.

"Structural fatigue" has now pushed the nation's fiscal and social security systems close to their limits, making it apparent they cannot be sustained without drastic reforms.

The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda must strive to accomplish an economic turnaround with the aim of rejuvenating the national economy.

It is important that the administration does not back away from pursuing reforms that will be painful to the people, such as fiscal reconstruction, and carries them out resolutely.


Major causes for concern

Major causes for concern about the economy are the unprecedented strength of the yen and the deterioration of economies abroad, particularly in Europe.

The yen is hovering in the range between 75 yen and 80 yen to the dollar, and it also has gained strength against the euro, briefly rising to the range between 97 yen and 97.5 yen.

The nation's exports, which the economy relies heavily on, have declined, and industrial production has become sluggish.

Business sentiment has withered, and investment in plants and equipment remains dangerously low.

It is necessary to keep on guard against a further relapse in the economy.

The government and the Bank of Japan embarked on a yen-selling, dollar-buying market intervention single-handedly last October, but with limited effect.

The slowdown in overseas economies is probably intensifying the pressure for the yen's further appreciation.

The government and the central bank must expedite their efforts to correct the excessive rise of the yen, through flexible market intervention and additional monetary relaxation.

It is important that they doggedly work on their counterparts in Europe and the United States to realize a concerted market intervention.

Attention should also be paid to the possibility that the yen's excessive rise could bring about the hollowing-out of the nation's industries.

A survey taken by the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry showed that if the present level of the yen's appreciation continues for another six months, about half of major manufacturers would shift plants and other facilities abroad.

It is projected that 600,000 jobs will be lost at home if the hollowing-out of the Japanese auto industry progresses.

Meanwhile, manufacturers' smaller suppliers, who cannot afford to shift their production bases abroad, face the prospect of going out of business, if domestic production contracts.

The very foundation of manufacturing in Japan, which has been supported by a large number of small and midsize companies, must not be allowed to fall into ruin.

The electricity shortage is also exacerbating the industrial hollowing-out.

As a result of the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, other nuclear plants whose operations were suspended for regular checkups cannot resume operations.
Nearly 90 percent of the nation's 54 nuclear reactors are now idle.

There is a possibility that all the nuclear plants might be stopped by May. This would result in a loss of 30 percent of the nation's total power supply.

The government must get these nuclear plants running again by assuming full responsibility for confirming their safety and by winning the understanding of the relevant local governments.

Securing a stable supply of electricity is key to the rejuvenation of the national economy.


Use TPP to tap foreign demand

Demand for goods and services created by the restoration efforts in areas devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami is expected to support the economy.

The Diet has already passed restoration-related budgets totaling 15 trillion yen.

Restoration projects should proceed steadily, reconstructing living and production bases and improving the economy simultaneously in the disaster areas.

However, dependence on restoration demand alone, which is only temporary, will not open a new vista for the economy.

The nation's working population, who are active consumers, numbers 80 million at present. However, that figure is expected to decrease to 70 million in 15 years and to 60 million in 25 years.

The nation's rapid population decline is certain to shrink domestic demand.

To supplement it, Japan will need a strategy to tap into external demand in emerging economies in Asia and other regions where the economic growth is continuing.

The first step in that direction is Japan's official participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade treaty. Prime Minister Noda announced last year that the nation would begin a consultation process with the United States and other countries to participate in negotiations on drafting the TPP pact.

The TPP is a framework to liberalize trade and investment among Asia-Pacific countries by abolishing tariffs. At present, nine countries including the United States, Australia and Singapore are negotiating to draft the TPP treaty.

Japan will hurt its own national interests unless it immediately joins the negotiation process because otherwise it will lose the opportunity to have its opinions reflected in the TPP rules on trade liberalization and investment being discussed there.

However, arguments against it are smoldering domestically.

In particular, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry and lawmakers with close ties to the farm sector claim Japan's participation in TPP would ruin its agricultural sector.

However, we think the major causes of a crisis in Japan's agriculture are its low productivity and a shortage of people engaged in farming.

The nation's agricultural industry could deal with liberalization of the farm products market if it makes itself competitive by consolidating farmland to boost productivity.

The TPP should be considered a catalyst for the revival of Japanese agriculture.

Meanwhile, the combined long-term debts of the central and local governments are set to reach 937 trillion yen at the end of fiscal 2012, a figure that is double the gross domestic product.

This is the worst fiscal condition in the world.

Nonetheless, the government keeps piling up huge deficits. Tax revenues are increasing at a sluggish pace due to the economic downturn while expenditures, particularly social security spending on medical care and pension programs, are ballooning.


Take the tax bull by the horns

Members of the Japanese workforce are showing a stronger tendency to spend less and save more for fear that the nation's fiscal and social security system might collapse eventually.

The government must halt the vicious cycle in which anxiety about the future dampens consumer spending, resulting in low economic growth and reduced tax revenues.

However, lawmakers do not seem to be keenly aware of this pinch.

Policy measures are still a mixture of the standstill and the rambling due to the divided Diet and populist pandering.

The only way to rehabilitate the nation's finances and social security system is to secure stable financial sources with a consumption tax rate increase.

Regardless of whatever party is in power, this is a task that any government must accomplish.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 11, 2012)
(2012年1月11日01時11分  読売新聞)

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2012年1月11日 (水)

野田外交の責務 日本の存在高める戦略を持て

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 11, 2012)
Noda must pursue diplomacy that will enhance nation's presence
野田外交の責務 日本の存在高める戦略を持て(1月10日付・読売社説)

It has been pointed out for years that Japan's diplomatic standing is deteriorating, a condition likened to "ground subsidence."

With the prime minister being changed annually for six years in a row, international awareness of this country's existence has further declined.

Last year, we received heartwarming help from all over the world after the country suffered the disastrous Great East Japan Earthquake.

This international bond made us recognize afresh the importance of diplomacy.

This year, Japan must drop its inward-looking stance and advance an active diplomacy to improve the nation's presence in the world.

To this end, the top priority should be the deepening of the Japan-U.S. alliance, which Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has described as the "cornerstone of Japanese diplomacy."


Both the Japanese and U.S. governments are now planning an official visit by Noda to the United States this year.

Originally, the governments planned a U.S. visit in 2010 by the then prime minister and an announcement of a joint document aimed at deepening the bilateral alliance to mark the 50th anniversary of the revision of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.
However, the plan has been continuously postponed due to political upheaval in Japan and other reasons.

The plan should be realized this year.


Speed up Futenma relocation

To realize the plan, it is important for the government to advance the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture.

In late December, the government submitted to the Okinawa prefectural government an environmental impact assessment for an alternative facility to be constructed in the Henoko district of Nago in the same prefecture.

The most difficult hurdle for realizing the relocation plan is to obtain permission to reclaim land in offshore waters from Okinawa Gov.
Hirokazu Nakaima, who stressed "relocation of the air station functions outside the prefecture" as one of his election campaign pledges.

Noda must seek a comprehensive agreement with the Okinawa prefectural government on the Futenma issue, the relocation of marine corps personnel stationed in the prefecture to Guam and the prefecture's economic development programs, among other issues.

It will also be important for him to repeatedly have strategic dialogues with the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, which has made clear its diplomatic position of focusing on Asia.
These joint discussions are necessary to cope with China, which has been expanding its military and economic presence.

To guide China toward the observation of international rules for settling economic problems and maritime territorial issues, Japan and the United States should closely cooperate in the use of frameworks for multilateral discussions, including the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Regional Forum, as well as Japan-U.S.-South Korea, Japan-U.S.-India and Japan-U.S.-Australia trilateral frameworks.


The situation on the Korean Peninsula has become increasingly opaque due to the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

To prepare for unforeseen contingencies, it is indispensable for our nation not only to cooperate with the United States, but also to closely share information and coordinate policies with both China and South Korea.


Expand trilateral ties

We also need to expand trilateral defense cooperation with the United States and South Korea by formulating operational plans to deal with contingencies and participating in joint exercises and other activities.

In December, South Korea brought up the issue of the so-called comfort women, but Japan should not budge on its stance that all compensation issues have been settled.

At the same time, our nation should develop future-oriented relations with Seoul.

As for North Korea, the leadership change there should be exploited to break the stalemate on the issue of Japanese nationals abducted to that country.

Late last month, the government decided to reinforce the abduction issue countermeasures headquarters.

In close cooperation with the United States, China, South Korea and Russia, the government must devise a strategy to try to resolve the North Korean nuclear and abduction issues at the same time.

In Russia, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will almost certainly return to the Kremlin after winning a presidential election in March.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev takes the stand of not recognizing the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration that pledged to return two islands off Hokkaido to Japan after conclusion of a peace treaty.

He visited Kunashiri Island in November 2010 despite Japan's opposition, thereby cooling bilateral relations. Russia's expected presidential change must be used to improve the relations.

Russia will host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum's summit meeting in Vladivostok in September.

The country seeks our nation's cooperation in energy development.

Japan needs strategic diplomacy that will respond flexibly depending on Moscow's behavior.

Many international conferences will be held in Japan this year.

They include the 6th Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting set for May in Okinawa Prefecture, a ministerial conference on large-scale disasters in summer, a general meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in October and a ministerial conference on nuclear safety in December.

Based on the lessons learned from the March 11 disaster and subsequent reconstruction efforts, Japan must focus on the new roles it can play in disaster countermeasures, the world economy and nuclear power generation.  大震災からの日本の復興と、震災の教訓を踏まえた防災、世界経済、原子力の各分野における日本の新たな役割をアピールすべきだ。

This would serve to repay the assistance offered by foreign countries in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake.


ODA skid must be halted

For Japan to secure a voice on the world stage, the continual cuts in budgetary outlays for official development assistance must be halted.

ODA spending has fallen year on year for 13 consecutive years and now stands at about half its peak level.  ODAは13年連続で減少し、今はピーク時の約半分にすぎない。

Japan's ranking has dropped to fifth on the world's list of ODA donors.

Through the effective use of ODA, the government must build strategic relationships with countries in Southeastern, Southwestern and Central Asia as a check against China's rising presence in these areas.

We also hope that ODA to resource-rich African countries will be expanded.

It is also important for Japan to take part more in international cooperation activities such as U.N. peacekeeping operations.

The government will soon send an advance team of the Ground Self-Defense Force that will take part in U.N. peacekeeping operations in the Republic of South Sudan, which became independent from Sudan last year.

About 240 GSDF personnel in charge of construction of facilities will be sent by late March.

They plan to engage in construction and maintenance of roads and bridges in the suburbs of the capital city of Juba.

It is very significant for Japan to contribute to the nation-building of the newly independent African nation.

Local security is stable at present.

But the possibility remains that the situation will change.

To ensure the safety of GSDF personnel, it is necessary to expand the rules of engagement for the use of arms to international standards, allowing GSDF personnel to use arms for the purpose of carrying out their missions.

The issue has been left pending for a long time, but now is the time to resolve it politically.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 10, 2012)
(2012年1月10日01時15分  読売新聞)

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2012年1月10日 (火)

不安な世界経済 欧州危機の早期収束がカギだ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 10, 2012)
Resolving European crisis key to buoying global economy
不安な世界経済 欧州危機の早期収束がカギだ(1月9日付・読売社説)

A somber new year has begun for the global economy, with no victory in sight in the battle to solve the financial crisis that started in Europe.

Can we prevent the crisis from spreading further and stave off a rapid slowdown in the global economy?

Many hurdles lie ahead, and rough going is expected for the global economy.

Last autumn, the International Monetary Fund forecast the global economy as a whole would grow 4 percent in real terms in 2012.
But it is highly likely the IMF will revise this projection downward to the mid-3 percent range as early as this month.

The eurozone economy could log negative growth due to its financial crisis and fiscal austerity policy.

The flagging economies in eurozone countries are expected to weigh down not only the United States and Japan but also emerging economies, including China, that have been enjoying robust growth.
An economic slowdown in those countries is considered unavoidable.


Prevent economy from stalling

However, we must avoid a stall that could cause the global economy to nosedive.

To do so, it is critical to resolve the European crisis soon.

Last year, credit uncertainty triggered by Greece's lax fiscal management spread to countries such as Italy and Spain, which are saddled with massive fiscal deficits.
The market was unsettled and stock prices remained low.

The euro became mired in its most serious crisis since its introduction in 1999.

The depreciation of the euro accelerated and it fell below 100 yen around the change of the year.

In December, a summit meeting of the European Union, including countries that use the euro such as Germany and France, finally agreed on countermeasures whose main pillars include strengthening fiscal discipline in the respective countries.

It is praiseworthy that Europe, which has always been reactive in dealing with the crisis, began taking action.

However, bondholders continue to unload Italian and other European bonds, and their yields continue to rise.  しかし、その後も、イタリアなどの国債が売られ、国債流通利回りは上昇傾向にある。

The Italian and Spanish governments will redeem a large amount of bonds.

The market appears to be increasingly wary over whether the two countries can get through the redemption.

Major credit-rating agencies may downgrade the bonds of France and further cut their assessments of bonds of other European countries.

There seems to be no end to the turmoil.

The EU's crisis countermeasures are still not powerful enough to dispel the financial concerns.

It is essential that European countries strengthen their solidarity and seriously work on crisis countermeasures.

First and foremost, eurozone countries should steadily implement measures to support Greece, for which it would be unrealistic to drop the euro.
Countries such as Germany and France must fully support the country.

As a safety net, it is also urgent to expand the financial foundations of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), which was agreed on at the summit meeting.

There is no time to waste in increasing the capital of banks that hold bonds of Italy and other European countries.

The role of the European Central Bank, known as the "guardian of the euro," is certain to grow.

We hope to see the ECB study the advisability of taking drastic steps such as expanded purchases of Italian government bonds.

The most fundamental problem with Europe is that individual European countries have been handling their fiscal policies separately, while employing a common currency.

European leaders have properly agreed on the need to beef up their countries' fiscal discipline, and on their mutual monitoring of fiscal conditions.

Now the question is whether Germany and France will be able to take concerted action to deepen European integration.


U.S. also on tightrope

Although the U.S. economy has begun to pick up slowly, it is still not on track toward a full recovery.

The high jobless rate in the United States is still hovering at about 9 percent, and it is unclear whether personal spending will continue growing in the new year.

If the United States is affected by a deterioration of the European economies, it could raise fears that U.S. business conditions will worsen.

Furthermore, there are signs of a looming stalemate in the handling of U.S. fiscal and financial policy.

As the confrontation continues unabated between the ruling and opposition parties over ways to reduce fiscal deficits, a focus of attention in the U.S. political arena, additional business stimulus by President Barack Obama's administration seems hardly possible.

While it is urgently necessary for the United States to reduce its colossal fiscal deficits, excessive belt-tightening measures could dampen business activity.

As political maneuvering intensifies with the presidential election drawing near, Obama should give full play to his leadership in pursuit of a compromise plan with Congress over the fiscal woes.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Board has decided on the extraordinary policy of keeping its interest rate near zero until the end of the first half of 2013, but its effect on shoring up business activity is considered limited.

The Fed should watch carefully how things evolve in the European debt crisis and the world's financial markets, as well as changes in the currently unstable U.S. economy, and should not hesitate to flexibly invoke new financial policies, such as further quantitative monetary easing.


Great hopes pinned on China

There are growing calls for solidarity among the Group of 20 economies, comprised of industrially advanced countries including Japan, the United States and European nations, and such emerging economies as China, India and Brazil.

In the wake of the 2008 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the G-20 successfully mobilized its members to coordinate fiscal and financial policy and ride out the global financial crisis that followed the U.S. investment bank's failure.

In particular, China should be given credit for playing a great role in overcoming the crisis by implementing a huge business stimulus program.

The international community is now focused on how China, which has become the world's No. 2 economy, will contribute to coping with the current European debt crisis.

One idea would be for it to buy a significant amount of bonds issued by the EFSF.

The world is also placing hopes on China's steps to buoy its domestic economy, which has begun to show signs of a slowdown due to such factors as drops in exports to Europe.

Compared with Japan, the United States and European countries, China has considerably more room to hammer out fiscal stimulus measures and additional monetary easing.

By maintaining stable economic growth with a flexible range of policies, China could help prop up the global economy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 9, 2012)
(2012年1月9日01時24分  読売新聞)

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2012年1月 9日 (月)

香山リカのココロの万華鏡:まず目の前を大切に /東京

(Mainichi Japan) January 8, 2012
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Doing things in your own way a good enough goal for 2012
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:まず目の前を大切に /東京

At the end of last year, I was interviewed by a magazine and was asked for my goals and words to live by in the year 2012.

"Well, I don't have any particular goals, and I guess I'd live by the words 'for the time being' and 'in my own way,'" I answered.

The magazine editor there looked at me with an expression that said, "What? Are you joking?" but I was just being honest.
 それを聞いた編集者は、「はあ? 冗談でしょう?」と言いたげな顔をしたのだが、私としては、正直な気持ちを話しただけだ。

At the end of last year, many of my patients mentioned things being a certain way "for the time being" and that they'd done something or another "in their own way."

They all had plenty to deal with, since they faced illness in addition to the earthquake disasters and the long-continuing recession that affected the entire country.

As the end of such an eventful year approached, it was only natural for my discussions with patients to turn to how far they'd made it -- in their own way, and how they hoped to make similar progress -- for the time being.

And that's no easy feat. Under such unfavorable conditions, making it to the end of one year and welcoming the next even if it is "in one's own way" is actually a grueling task.

"Doing things in your own way, at least for the time being, to get by is an incredible achievement," I might say to a patient. "It's because you've been working so hard at your day-to-day life and treatment that you've come this far."

In normal conversation, the possible subtext of the phrases "in my own way" and "for the time being" is that whatever has been accomplished is sufficient only according to a subjective yardstick, and that any achievement is temporary.

They have the negative implication that things have been left unfinished and people have been left unsatisfied.

But in these times, it's especially hard to attain high ideals or perfect success.

On the contrary, we are sometimes treated to unpredictable incidents and unexpected sources of stress.

Amidst all that, we have to do what we can to take on a day at a time while not giving up, at least for the time being.

Keeping that up is no simple task.

I expect there are many others who, like me, have yet to set up a particular goal for this year.

To those people I recommend that for the time being, you just try doing things in your own way.

I, too, hope to move forward this year not by chasing after goals too high or too far, but by first of all treasuring those things and people directly in front of me, and taking each step slowly.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
毎日新聞 2012年1月4日 地方版

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2012年1月 8日 (日)

米新国防戦略 「アジア重視」に日本も呼応を

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 8, 2012)
Japan should play role in new U.S. defense policy
米新国防戦略 「アジア重視」に日本も呼応を(1月7日付・読売社説)

U.S. President Barack Obama has unveiled a new defense strategy in line with the country's planned cuts in defense spending.

While reducing the overall size of ground forces, the strategy aims to expand the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, an area to which the country attaches increasing importance.

We will have to wait and see whether these programs will be fully implemented.

Obama expressed his intention to accelerate efforts to make U.S. forces more efficient and rely more on state-of-the-art technology.
"Our military will be leaner but the world must know--the United States is going to maintain our military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats," he said.

Given the United States' dire fiscal situation, the strategy is appropriate.

The United States must reduce defense spending by nearly 500 billion dollars (38 trillion yen) in the coming decade, as part of deficit-cutting measures the U.S. Congress legislated last summer along with a debt-ceiling deal.


Review of 2-front strategy

It is essential to determine the order of priority to deal with various threats under a limited budget, and then choose the necessary military equipment and determine what troop reductions can be made.

In essence, the new strategy reviewed the United States' two-front strategy, which has served as the country's fundamental defense policy since the end of the Cold War. The review made it clear that the U.S. military would focus on one large conflict, rather than maintain sufficient troops to fight two major regional conflicts at the same time.

The new strategy also focused on new threats, such as terrorist activities, unconventional conflicts and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

What was particularly noteworthy in the review was that the United States expressed a profound wariness over China and Iran by naming them. It predicted that the two nations would probably increase their "anti-access/area denial capabilities" to block the forward deployment of U.S. forces using ballistic and cruise missiles and through cyberwarfare.


Joint air-sea battle concept

To counter such moves, the United States is expected to step up efforts to develop a "joint air-sea battle" concept, under which long-range attacks can be carried out through joint air and maritime operations.

The United States' new defense strategy also called on its allies to boost their military roles in the years ahead.

Japan needs to consider the strategic review in a positive light and reflect it in its future defense policy, such as by strengthening its "dynamic defense force," a concept focusing on the operational flexibility of the Self-Defense Forces.

Japan's defense budget will decline for the 10th straight year in fiscal 2012, seriously affecting the training of SDF personnel and the repair of equipment.

Given the tough security environment surrounding the country in recent years, the government must stop slashing defense spending and reverse the trend.

Enhancing defense cooperation between the SDF and U.S. forces also is extremely important.

When U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited Japan in October, the two countries agreed to bolster joint warning and surveillance activity, carry out more joint exercises and have the SDF and U.S. troops share bases.

The two countries should steadily implement this agreement to maintain and enhance the deterrence of the Japan-U.S. alliance.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 7, 2012)
(2012年1月7日01時32分  読売新聞)

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2012年1月 7日 (土)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 4
EDITORIAL: World leaders need philosophy of coexistence

The year 2012 may see some comings and goings among familiar world leaders.

U.S. President Barack Obama is seeking re-election.

In China, Xi Jinping, currently a high-ranking member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China, is expected to become party secretary-general.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is aiming for a presidential comeback, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to seek another term.

And in South Korea, where presidents may serve only one term, voters will be electing President Lee Myung-bak's successor.

Each country has its own set of complex issues.

Pitfalls of turning inward

Polarization between conservatism and liberalism is accelerating in the United States.

Economic disparities are growing in China.

The Russian public is becoming increasingly critical of authoritarian government of the last 12 years.

In France, the deteriorating economy is giving rise to xenophobic tendencies, while citizens' groups are gaining political prominence in South Korea, poised to sideline the nation's established political parties that are fast losing popular support.

The waves of reform are lapping in each of these countries.

Serial economic crises have destroyed traditional social ties, and the Internet has opened up a whole new forum of discourse.

With the existing order now standing on shaky ground, no incumbent can be certain of re-election, while a change of government may spell further political chaos.

In an election year or when a leadership change is imminent, politicians focus on domestic issues, and the whole nation tends to turn inward.

We are concerned that this tendency may become even more pronounced this year because of the generally unstable state of the world.

Twenty years have passed since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Seen from the economic and information-related perspectives, the world has become one.

As is obvious from global warming and the European debt crisis triggered by Greece, our world is saddled with problems that cannot be resolved by any single country.

Even economic recession and unemployment, which used to be domestic issues just for the nations concerned, now require collective action.

Traditional policy packages are no longer viable today.

An era is definitely ending, but we cannot see a new era at all.

We are caught in a deep historic crisis.

We must first understand that there are no simple solutions to the problems confronting us now.

And this is just the sort of time in history when political forces coalesce to create and attack an easy-to-identify "enemy."

New philosophy of coexistence

In the United States, the federal government is the target of attack of the conservative and populist Tea Party movement that is gaining support in certain sectors.

In China, there are young people who go wild with excitement when the government or the military play hardball on territorial and naval issues.

Hate-filled words fly.

"Nationalism" is used as an excuse for taking people's attention away from domestic problems.

Hatred and fear are contagious.

We must guard against this sort of negative chain reaction.

The world does not need to hear irresponsible words that only appeal to the emotional masses.

What the world does need to hear is a philosophy of coexistence that is appropriate to this transitional period in history.

How has humanity overcome crises in the past?

The world's great imperial powers clashed in World War I. Toward the end of this "war to end all wars," U.S. President Woodrow Wilson delivered the "Fourteen Points" address, in which he presented a postwar blueprint for ethnic self-determination, the establishment of an international peace organ, and so on.

During World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt co-drafted the Atlantic Charter, which called for no territorial aggrandizement, reduction of trade restrictions and other ideals and became the basis of the postwar global order.

History proves that a new order cannot be brought into being by armed force alone.

A philosophical blueprint of the world is indispensable.

Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc. who died last year, was called a "visionary" for his extraordinary foresight and ability to create a future.

He captured the hearts of people by giving form to his innovative ideas.

Ability to realize ideals

World leaders should be visionaries, too.

All over the world, there are certain things people seek, wherever they may be living.

They include the minimum standards of life to maintain human dignity, freedom of speech, freedom from racial and religious discrimination, and not being killed in war or acts of violence.

People in all countries know that these goals cannot be attained by their efforts alone, and that they share their fate with the entire world.

Their collective yearning must not go unanswered, and a blueprint for a new international community must be drawn up.

Specific steps have already been shown.

One is to bolster a framework for multilateral coordination to better deal with today's new realities, and there are signs that the G-20 is addressing this.

Another is to set up a crisis control system that will prevent the eruption of international animosity over nuclear proliferation and territorial disputes.

Many countries concur that such steps must be taken.

But what is lacking is the ability of world leaders to communicate the need to seek these goals in easy-to-understand words and in a well-reasoned manner, and convince people in their countries.

A political visionary is someone who can do this.

We would like the incumbents and challengers alike in this year's elections or planned transfers of power to compete with one another on their visionary ideas.

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2012年1月 6日 (金)

混迷の日本政治 「消費税」を政争の具にするな






The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 6, 2012)
Don't let consumption tax become political football
混迷の日本政治 「消費税」を政争の具にするな(1月5日付・読売社説)

Japan finds itself facing various difficult problems that must be resolved immediately. There is not a second to lose.

These issues include reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake, dealing with the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, increasing the consumption tax rate and reforming the social security system, participation in talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and rebuilding the country's diplomatic and security systems.

However, this country's politicians, who are supposed to play vital roles in resolving such issues, remain unable to implement necessary policies in the current divided Diet, under which the opposition bloc controls the House of Councillors.

Under these circumstances, the public increasingly feels the situation is stalemated.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's tenure as president of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and Sadakazu Tanigaki's term as president of the Liberal Democratic Party will expire in September.

Internal power struggles within the two major parties are certain to intensify as the leadership elections draw near, leaving domestic politics more vulnerable to the influence of short-term interests.

Even so, the DPJ and the LDP must act with a broad viewpoint and strategy in mind.


Break with failed pledges

At his first press conference of the year Wednesday, Noda said integrated reform of the social security and tax systems cannot be put off any longer and stressed his intention to submit related bills to the Diet at the end of March.

It is apparent that the current social security system, which asks the working generation to share an ever-increasing burden, will become unable to support the elderly sooner or later.

Unless the system is funded by revenue from the consumption tax, which imposes an equal burden on all generations, the possibility that Japan will sink into a fiscal crisis--like the current one in Europe--will become very real.

Nonetheless, former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa, former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and some other DPJ members are openly opposed to the proposed consumption tax hike.

Their actions reveal from time to time their logic of self-preservation, which centers on the fear they will not be able to win elections unless they propose populist policies.

But it will be a betrayal of the public if they insist on adhering to the failed manifesto the DPJ put forward for the 2009 House of Representatives election.

In the discussion over the consumption tax hike within the DPJ at the end of last year, opponents strongly sought "reforms in which the government as well as Diet members share the pain," such as reducing the number of Diet seats and cutting the salaries of central government officials.

The prime minister showed his willingness in this regard, saying he wants to realize such reforms as quickly as possible during the ordinary Diet session that will be convened later this month.

Political and administrative reforms are of course necessary.

But the agreement on these reforms must not be made a prerequisite to the submission of bills related to the consumption tax.

In that case, opponents may try to use them as an excuse to put off the consumption tax hike.

The prime minister must do everything in his power to convince not only DPJ members but also the public about his policies.

He still lacks the ability to make his ideas well understood and coordinate opinion with other parties so his "unwavering resolve" can be put into practice.

Noda expressed his intention to call on the opposition parties next week to hold talks on the integrated reform of the social security and tax systems.

But to do so, the prime minister must improve relationships with opposition parties.


Boycott must be avoided

During the extraordinary Diet session last month the upper house passed censure motions against Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa and consumer affairs minister Kenji Yamaoka.
The LDP, New Komeito and some other opposition parties are set to boycott Diet deliberations attended by the two ministers.

This is essentially a strategy that should not be taken.

However, the opposition bloc's cooperation will be vital if the government and the DPJ are to pass budget-related bills--including a bill to enable the government to issue deficit-covering government bonds totaling 38 trillion yen--during the ordinary Diet session.

Noda must do more to break the impasse by taking necessary steps, such as replacing the two ministers in question in a Cabinet reshuffle.

Commenting on Noda's call for talks on the consumption tax between the ruling and opposition parties, Tanigaki said at a press conference Wednesday that the DPJ's manifesto does not presuppose a consumption tax rate hike and therefore "the DPJ-led administration is not qualified to propose this issue."

Tanigaki then called again for the dissolution of the lower house for a general election at an early date.

The LDP and Komeito should not turn the consumption tax issue into a political football.

If a lower house election is held before tax-related bills are submitted to the Diet, the consumption tax hike would become a contested election issue and tax reform could get shunted on to the back burner.

Tanigaki also referred to his party's pledge during the 2010 upper house election to raise the consumption tax rate to 10 percent and said he will advance this policy.

The government and the DPJ--as the LDP insisted--changed their policy and leaned toward raising the consumption tax rate. However, the LDP is putting the cart before the horse if it hinders the government and the DPJ from realizing this tax increase.


Opposition also to blame

The LDP and Komeito, which held power for many years, also have a grave responsibility for Japan's lapsing into a critical fiscal situation.

Reconstructing the nation's tattered public finances is an unavoidable task for whichever administration is in power.

Even if the LDP wins the next lower house election, the LDP and Komeito together do not hold a majority in the upper house.
They would have no choice but to ask the DPJ for cooperation.

The LDP and Komeito should join negotiations with the DPJ on integrated reform of the social security and tax systems.

We urge the LDP and Komeito to help pass the consumption tax-related bills at an early date and effectively agree with the DPJ through dialogue to dissolve the lower house.

Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori said the ruling and opposition parties should first make progress on such issues as the consumption tax rate hike and electoral reform and then seek the people's mandate in the next lower house election, asking which party worked hard.

Do the LDP and Komeito intend to just sit by and watch when it comes to the TPP comprehensive trade and economic framework and the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture?  自公両党は、TPPや米軍普天間飛行場移設の問題では傍観するのか。

Rather than simply taking potshots at Noda's administration, the two parties should encourage political debate by clearly spelling out their own policies, and deepen discussions on those issues.

We strongly believe this process would help build a powerful and stable political framework, including a rearrangement of the coalition.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 5, 2012)
(2012年1月5日01時51分  読売新聞)

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@BEIJING: Tragedy in China's 'AIDS villages' continues


January 05, 2012
KOICHI FURUYA/ Chinese General Bureau Correspondent: Tragedy in China's 'AIDS villages' continues


I wonder how many people have heard of China's "AIDS villages"?

I don't think there are many who have.

They date to the 1990s when many people became infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) due to the selling of blood and blood transfusions in poor villages in Henan and other provinces.

The number of HIV-infected people increased further, partly because the government and local authorities tried to hide the facts. This led to some communities seeing half their population contract HIV, turning the issue into a serious social problem.

I remember that U.S. and European correspondents were actively covering the outbreak, infuriated with the patients' unreasonable treatment by the government around 2000, when I was a correspondent in Beijing.

One such journalist, a New York Times correspondent at the time, had a medical license. She was enthusiastically covering the outbreak, using her expertise. She once said that studying medicine was worthwhile, for she was able to produce articles related to the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

I was sent back to Japan without having an opportunity to cover the issue in depth.

Many excellent reports and documentary films have been produced on the subject since then, drawing the world's attention. It was reported that the Chinese government finally started working hard to tackle the problem.

When I was reassigned to the Beijing bureau in 2009, I wanted to learn about the situation of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Finding out that authorities related to the problem and supporters were to hold a conference in Beijing, I headed for the venue.

Due to the still sensitive nature of the issue, my request to cover the conference was turned down, with an organizing member saying, "Reporters are not allowed in."

I had no choice but to find a hotel where conference participants with HIV/AIDS were staying.

About 30 people with HIV, from Henan and Hubei provinces, were staying at a hotel I tracked down.

"I am a Japanese reporter. I want to hear your stories," I said, introducing myself.

More than 10 people accepted my request and gathered in a small room and sat on twin beds.

They were quiet in the beginning, looking at each other hesitantly, but started talking altogether all at once as if yelling.

"It is fine with me, but what will happen to my children in the future?" asked a 46-year-old woman who was infected through her husband, who had been infected with HIV due to a blood transfusion. "I get stressed when I think about this."

The woman and her husband are farmers and have two daughters and a son, she said.

The family was ostracized by other villagers who had strong prejudice against those with AIDS.

Their son, 7, has been ignored not only by his classmates but also by his teacher.

No classmate approaches him.

"My son does not tell me anything," she said. "All I can say to him is, 'Your father got infected (with HIV) due to a bad transfusion.' "

The government not only failed to take any effective measures to prevent infection but has not admitted its responsibility for spreading damage by hiding the truth.

Certain measures have been taken, yet it is far from sufficient.

A man in his 40s from Henan province was angry.

"The court refuses to accept our lawsuit against the government. Isn't it strange?" he asked. "China is a law-governed state, isn't it?"

His wife and son were infected with AIDS, the man said.

With their medical insurance having an annual ceiling, the family is forced to borrow several times more than what they earn each year.

They have strongly demanded government compensation, without success.

"We do not have time since we do not know when we will develop the disease," the man said.

In 2005, Premier Wen Jiabao visited Henan province and met with people infected with HIV and AIDS, in an effort to show that the government cared about the problem.

However, two women in the hotel room angrily recalled the event.

"I went to see the premier, learning that he would come all the way, hoping he would listen to us," one woman said. "But the police suddenly grabbed my hair and beat me to the ground."

All 11 HIV-positive patients who had been waiting for Wen along the road were taken away before he arrived, the women said. One woman patient ended up being detained for about a month.

Some foreign media reported that Wen's visit was stage-managed by local government officials who met the premier, disguising themselves as HIV patients.

Even though there was a time when HIV-infected people had been united in seeking a class action lawsuit, they were completely repressed by the authorities who feared that people would organize and become insurgents.

One of my acquaintances, a lawyer who was pursuing the problem, was deprived of his status by the authorities.

The government's pressure on people with HIV and AIDS is considerable.

Only a few of the people I met on that day agreed to have their names and faces appear in my article; many others agreed to be interviewed on condition of anonymity.

Many people have fought to bring the issue out in the open, including foreigners and the Chinese.

More than a few international human rights groups supported the effort.

Still, many people infected with HIV and AIDS remain without assistance or support.

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2012年1月 5日 (木)






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社説:2012激動の年 財政再建で成長支えよ


(Mainichi Japan) January 4, 2012
Editorial: Financial world faces a year of tests in 2012
社説:2012激動の年 財政再建で成長支えよ

On Jan. 1, 2002, Europe was in a festive mood.

The year marked the first time for 300 million people in countries which had in the past fought terrible wars against each other to have the same currency -- the euro.

Who would have thought that the new currency people welcomed as a symbol of unity, stability and prosperity would 10 years later become a source of opposition, insecurity and turmoil?

The euro now stands in a precarious position.

Will trust in the currency be revived, or will the euro fail and fall?

This year is an extremely important one for financial markets, with the fate of the euro likely to be the biggest influencing factor in the financial world in 2012.


Several tests lie ahead.

Italy, which holds the key to the euro's fate, will have to borrow about 440 billion euros (about 45 trillion yen) from financial markets this year through government bond issues.

But with interest rates remaining high, just how much will the Italian government be able to raise by itself?

As things stand, a series of balancing acts await the country.

Italy's economy is the third biggest in the Eurozone after the economies of Germany and France, but if Italy seeks financial assistance like Greece and Portugal have done, European countries won't be able to handle the bailout plans they have already agreed upon.

Before reaching such a stage, members of the Eurozone must hammer out drastic measures and restore trust in the euro; otherwise the previously unimaginable prospect of the euro's demise could edge closer to reality.




In Japan, meanwhile, the basic prescription for reforming the nation's finances and social security system in an integrated manner has already been prepared. The differences between the ruling party and the largest opposition party are not that great. What remains to be done is to make decisions, steadily implement those decisions, and send a message to financial markets that Japan has finally put its back into resolving difficult economic issues.

It is often said that growth strategies should take precedence over revitalizing finances through tax increases.

But the idea that categorizing certain industries as growth industries and allocating more funds to them will boost Japan's growth potential is mere wishful thinking.

Looking to the government for insight into identifying what constitutes a growth industry, and furnishing such industries with large helpings of financial assistance are now outdated concepts.

What we need the government to do now is to remove as many obstacles to financial growth as possible while individuals and companies display their potential.

Ultimately, financial collapse must be avoided.

But if government bond prices plunge, resulting in a surge in interest rates and steep inflation, then there will be no prospects for economic growth.


To boost growth, companies and individuals need to adapt their way of thinking.

More effort needs to be put into marketing products that have not been sold outside Japan and services that have targeted only specific customers, so that new markets can be opened.

Japan has been outranked by China in terms of gross domestic product, and now stands as the world's third largest economy. People may lament the nation's decline, but third place is still an important position.

We must not undervalue the high-quality goods and services that have received a seal of approval in Japan's massive market.

When we think of Japanese exports, vehicles and electronics are usually the first things that come to mind, but there are many other things that Japanese take for granted which remain unknown in other countries.

Take food products, for example. Obesity is a serious problem in the United States and other developed countries.

Surely there is room to introduce or expand the range of processed Japanese food products and bento boxes -- which are not only well presented but also low in calories -- in those countries.

In addition to food, Japan can offer music, video games, movies and other forms of entertainment, as well as delivery services, and items such as fashion and beauty products.
The industries with growth potential in Asia are not necessarily limited to manufacturing.

However, our preconceived ideas are putting a ceiling on growth.

Last year, Japanese companies' purchases of foreign firms reached an all-time high.

This is the flipside of the strong yen that carries a predominantly negative image in Japan.

Recently small- and medium-sized companies are also said to be boosting overseas purchases.

For those companies, this helps offset declining proceeds from the domestic market, but the benefits do not stop at boosted profits.

By participating in other markets, companies can gain knowledge of new products and management methods, and get new ideas.

This, in turn, stimulates the domestic market.

For the possibilities to materialize, there must be a stable economic and social foundation free of chaos.

Providing such conditions is the greatest role of the political world, and this will be a year in which the political world will face its greatest tests.

毎日新聞 2012年1月4日 0時01分

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女性のための育毛シャンプー vefla(ヴェフラ)モイストクレンジングシャンプー




これに関連して、サイトで女性のための育毛シャンプー vefla(ヴェフラ)モイストクレンジングシャンプーを発見しました。

1) 毛髪や頭皮に優しいアミノ酸系(弱酸性)シャンプーなので安心なのです。
2) 真珠たんぱく質エキスをはじめとした9種類の毛髪・頭皮ケア成分が配合されているリッチなシャンプーです。
3) ノンシリコンシャンプーですから頭皮地肌への呼吸を妨げません。

育毛シャンプー vefla(ヴェフラ)モイストクレンジングシャンプー


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2012年1月 4日 (水)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 3
EDITORIAL: Dialogue on burden sharing needed between young, old

Last year, young people played the leading role in various movements that changed the world.

The young generation was in the vanguard of both the "Arab Spring," a wave of pro-democracy demonstrations that toppled long-standing dictatorships in the Arab world, and the "Occupy" protests against income and wealth inequality that started on Wall Street and spread to many parts of the world.

Indeed, these are times of tribulation for young people across the globe.

The number of the world's jobless workers belonging to the 15-24 age group hit an all-time high in 2009, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The unemployment ratio for young people has remained far higher than those for other age groups.

The ILO thinks high unemployment among the young is the main factor behind the worldwide protests.

In Japan, the latest job data puts the unemployment rate for the 15-24-year-old demographic at around 9 percent, nearly double the average for all other groups.

Since the figure is still lower than in many Western countries like Spain, where more than 40 percent of young workers are without jobs, Japanese youth may be less disgruntled than their counterparts in other industrial countries.

But young Japanese are probably no less worried about the future.

Young people are also becoming more vocal and assertive in expressing their feelings in Japan.

In last year's mayoral election in Osaka, for instance, more young voters went to the polls than in the previous election, according to an exit poll by The Asahi Shimbun.

As many as 70 percent of voters in their 20s and 30s cast their votes for Toru Hashimoto, the leader of Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka restoration group), a local reformist party, who was elected as the new mayor of the city.

Young Japanese and the nation's plight

Hiroshi Ichihashi, the 23-year-old leader of Gakusei Osaka Ishin no Kai, the student group supporting Hashimoto's party, has voiced anxiety about the future of the nation in his blog. "I'm terribly scared when I imagine what Japan will look like 10 years, 20 years from now."

The principal source of their anxiety is the deteriorating job picture.

Fierce global competition is putting relentless pressure on Japanese companies to cut costs for survival as well as in other industrial nations. Furthermore, there are some unique factors that are complicating the situation in Japan.

The tradition of lifetime employment is not yet dead in Japan, although it has become less prevalent. Many Japanese companies still hire mainly new graduates and keep them on their payrolls until retirement.

Under this system, companies tend to reduce new full-time hires during economic hard times to protect the livelihoods of their current employees.

Unless young people can find full-time jobs when they graduate when jobs are scarce, they are likely to have difficulty developing their skills and building careers.

One study found that young Japanese who enter the job market during a recession are more likely to remain low-income earners for a longer period than their counterparts in countries like the United States.

Compounding Japan's problems is the rapid aging of its population and its low birthrate.

There were once many Japanese workers to support each elderly dependent.

Now, there are about three or so workers for every pensioner. In the future, there will be only one.

That's why Japan needs a consumption tax hike, argues Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

He is right. But his argument is based on a basic premise that must not be forgotten.

If young workers cannot pay taxes and premiums for social security programs, the entire system will collapse.

Low-income earners cannot contribute to the support of retirees.

Politicians need to persuade the public

As the nation is shifting from a growth-oriented society to a mature society, the most important thing is to energize young generations.

It is vital to make it easier to receive education, create more jobs and improve the environment for child rearing. These should be top policy priorities.

It is also necessary to narrow the gap in pay between full-time and part-time workers and figure out ways to share jobs and wages between young people and older workers who have finished raising their children.

But how about the reality in Japan?

The ratio of Japan's expenditures for children and young people to its overall public spending was the second lowest among 39 countries, mostly members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to data for 2007.

The government has promised to reform the social security system to expand benefits for children and younger generations.

But there has been little progress toward that goal because the government has been unable to persuade the public to accept cuts in other expenditures to finance the reform.

The government has long postponed reducing pension benefits in response to falling prices as required by the program for fear of antagonizing elderly voters.

It is the duty of politicians to convince the public that the proposed social security reform will be good for future generations and benefit all generations over the long term.

Dialogue between citizens of different generations needed

Politicians, however, not wanting to face angry voters in elections, are avoiding their duty.

That's why Japanese politics has been unable to deal effectively with many pressing challenges confronting the nation.

Democracy, by its nature, is not quite good at fresh burden sharing.

Our challenge is how to overcome this weakness and move politics forward.

Things are not so simple as to allow us to solve the problem by simply entrusting the mission to a capable leader.

Politicians should first mend their ways and improve their performance. But voters also need to change themselves.

One good starting point is serious policy dialogue among citizens with conflicting interests.

Are both elderly and young people content with the current state of the social security system, which is designed mainly for old people?

During the Osaka mayoral election, Ichihashi, the student activist, made speeches in the streets urging young people generally indifferent to politics to get involved in his movement as "participants, not as supporters."

A wrong choice now could cause the social security system to break down by the time today's young people have grown old.

A real fiscal collapse would deliver immeasurable damage to the people's lives and the nation's economy.

Young people won't be able to run away from the consequences of their choices.

How can we create a society where different generations are willing to support each other?

What is necessary to leave such a society to future generations?

These are questions that all Japanese voters, including young people, should ponder.

Then, there would be a powerful force to move politics.

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2012年1月 3日 (火)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 1
EDITORIAL: Painful choices needed for sake of future generations

The new year has arrived, but Japan continues to grapple with a wide range of formidable challenges.

Besides dealing with all the intractable problems created by last year’s Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the government also needs to tackle the political challenge of raising the consumption tax in line with a draft plan finally announced by the ruling Democratic Party of Japan at the end of last year.

The sovereign debt crisis in Europe, which has been threatening to knock the world economy off the growth track, is also demanding close attention and monitoring.

It is certainly a coincidence that all these challenges have emerged to confront the nation at the same time. But there seems to be a common thread.

All these challenges appear to indicate that the age of continuous economic growth in industrial nations that began soon after the end of World War II is now coming to an end.

Huge deficits from financial bubbles

The accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and its dire consequences have forced us to reflect seriously on the reality that an energy source that has been supporting our affluent society is in fact standing on very shaky ground.

The towering budget deficits in Japan, the United States and Europe are the prices of their reckless efforts to stoke economic growth.

World history is littered with grim episodes about aggressive monetary expansion to revitalize a sputtering economy ending up creating bubbles with serious consequences.

Japan also produced speculative bubbles after the end of its fast economic growth and piled on debt to deal with the consequences of the bursting of these bubbles.

The Japanese government sank deeper into the budget morass as it kept issuing huge amounts of bonds to finance measures to stimulate economic growth.

The United States and Europe, where housing bubbles popped in a global recession triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, are now following the same path as Japan, struggling with huge budget deficits.

Industrial nations, which have built more or less affluent societies, are now having a hard time finding a new powerful engine of economic and job growth.

Economic growth is indeed a magic wand to solve many problems.

But many industrial nations have gotten themselves in an awful bind as they have failed to discover new seeds of growth and turned to fiscal and monetary stimulants to re-energize their economies.

It has become clear that the traditional policy approach to stimulating economic growth no longer works.

The world is obviously at a major turning point in history.

"Herbivores" a byproduct of society's adjustment

Various signs of profound changes are already visible.

Last autumn, Japanese people eagerly welcomed Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema when they visited Japan.

Japanese were not just charmed by the royal couple’s amiable and unassuming characters. They also saw one possible future for their country in the Himalayan kingdom’s unique policy focus on spiritual fulfillment rather than on material wealth.
This is symbolized by the “Gross National Happiness,” an indicator invented and espoused by the Buddhist country to measure the quality of life among people.

Tokyo’s Arakawa Ward has been working to develop its own indicator of happiness for seven years by learning from Bhutan’s experience. Similar efforts are also under way in other parts of Japan.

The emergence of Japan’s “herbivores”--mild-tempered young men who are passive in building relationships with the opposite sex and don’t have strong worldly desires or ambitions--is a sign that Japanese have started adapting to social and economic changes due to their nation’s shift to a post-growth era, according to a theory proposed by Mizuho Research Institute.

Herbivore men don’t have strong expectations or complaints about the world around them but seek mild bonds with other people.

Many young people who rushed to help victims of the March 11 disaster appear to fit the mold.

Given the growing concerns about the destruction of the environment and depletion of resources on our planet, it is good for people to adapt to low growth.

The question, however, is whether Japan will be able to deal with the problem of gargantuan public debt and overcome the effects of the rapidly aging population amid low birthrates without achieving economic growth.

This question brings us to another colossal challenge.

In this age of global competition, when emerging countries are fiercely increasing their economic might to catch up with industrial nations, Japan, with its shrinking population, cannot afford to take it easy.

It will be difficult for Japan even to maintain the status quo unless it makes strenuous efforts.

Reality dictates that Japan needs to open itself more to the world and make more aggressive moves to capitalize on the growth potential of emerging countries while developing young people who can compete globally.

If we fail to do so, our future will be in jeopardy.

From growth to maturity

How can we deal with two conflicting challenges: adapting to zero growth and striving to stoke growth?

This is undoubtedly the hardest economic trial this nation has experienced in its history.

We propose that sustainability has to be the cardinal guiding principle for our efforts to achieve these goals.

That’s because we should put top priority on the well-being of future generations.

We should stop trying to inflate economic growth with fiscal and monetary expansion.

The debt we run up today will have to be paid back by future generations decades down the road. But they have yet to be born.

That means these future generations will be forced to bear the onerous consequences of decisions they have not made themselves.

This is a serious defect in democracy.

We must stop repeating this folly now.

What we need to do is to lay a solid foundation for a matured society by pushing through integrated tax and social security reform.

Rebuilding social services like health and nursing care and education would help create a new society not driven by economic expansion.

Tax increases and spending cuts inevitably cause pain.

Such austerity measures tend to slow the nation’s economic growth. But the painful effects of these efforts must be accepted for the sake of future generations.

It is also necessary to phase out as soon as possible nuclear power generation, which produces radioactive waste that will remain a serious health hazard for thousands of years.

It is also important to promote the use of renewable energy sources and make the economy more environment friendly.

“Silver” markets for products aimed at the elderly and “green” industries that produce and sell eco-friendly products could be new sources of sustainable economic growth.

The government’s policy efforts should be focused on these areas.

Such a policy shift would also mean reorienting society from growth to maturity.

We have been reveling in the age of steady economic growth for far too long.

We must now take a hard, long-term look at the changes that are taking place and the direction history is following, and then start carrying out steadily what we need to do now.

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2012年1月 2日 (月)

「危機」乗り越える統治能力を ポピュリズムと決別せよ(1月1日付・読売社説)

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 1, 2012)
Japan faces many challenges in 2012
「危機」乗り越える統治能力を ポピュリズムと決別せよ(1月1日付・読売社説)

The world is in a nearly continuous state of crisis.

In Europe, a sovereign debt crisis has ballooned into a financial crisis that is shaking the world economy.

The United States is beset by huge budget deficits.

These problems have slowed down the economies of China and India.

Despite warnings from economists that the value of government bonds could nosedive unless state finances are put on a surer footing, politicians have been unable to persuade their constituents to shoulder additional burdens.

Flagging markets and leaders at the mercy of the popular will are stuck in a dangerous embrace that is only serving to amplify the crisis.

The debt problems of a few European countries are at the bottom of the crisis, and urgently need to be solved.  危機の根源にある欧州債務問題を鎮めることが、喫緊の課題だ。

The governments of these states must act by any means possible to reduce their fiscal deficits and prevent their bonds from losing value.


Revitalize economy

Today marks the first New Year's Day since the Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11, 2011.

The unprecedented natural disaster left deep scars on the national psyche and on society.

Cleaning up the debris left behind by the earthquake and tsunami has not proceeded smoothly, and the reconstruction of disaster-hit communities is just beginning.

The catastrophe at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has not been settled completely, and people who fled their homes to escape the nuclear crisis are scattered around the country.

Our nation's economy is suffering from the dual blows of a super-strong yen and low stock prices caused by the financial confusion in the United States and Europe. Furthermore, the transfer of manufacturing facilities overseas is accelerating--exacerbating the hollowing-out of the nation's industrial base.

We hope the economy can return to a growth track through full-fledged reconstruction of the areas devastated by the earthquake and tsunami.

To realize this, the nation's political world must recover from its state of dysfunction.

The people are questioning the capability of the Democratic Party of Japan-led government to govern the country.

We call on Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to set a course toward raising the consumption tax rate so social security programs can be adequately funded.
Noda also must promote free trade, a key to economic growth, and establish a realistic energy policy.

The only way political progress can be made in the divided Diet, with the opposition controlling the House of Councillors, is through agreements among the DPJ, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.

To ensure the government runs smoothly, the DPJ must talk with the other parties and build consensus on issues.


Fiscal collapse looms

There is no magic wand that will move politics forward.

The next House of Representatives election could be held this year, but this should not stop the DPJ, LDP and Komeito from transcending party interests to find common ground.

In today's political world, a leader needs unflagging resolve, the ability to build consensus and enough persuasiveness to convince the public to bear the necessary pain.

The European financial crisis, triggered by Greece's sovereign debt crisis, is not "a fire on the other side of the river."

Our own nation is in the worst fiscal shape among developed countries, with nearly 900 trillion yen in combined national and local government debt--twice the gross domestic product.

Japanese government bonds have so far been seen as less risky than those of European countries, which depend heavily on foreign investment.
On the contrary, the Japanese people have personal financial assets worth nearly 1.5 yen quadrillion, and more than 90 percent of government bonds are owned by domestic institutional and individual investors.

However, in real terms the value of the nation's personal financial assets is only 1.1 yen quadrillion after subtracting personal debts such as housing loans.

This is only 200 trillion yen more than the amount of public debt.

If the issuance of government bonds continues to increase at the current pace, and the aging population begins withdrawing their savings to live on, the financial assets of the Japanese public will no longer be able to cover government bonds.

Despite the fiscal problems and the damage to the economy by the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Japanese yen still enjoys strong international confidence.

Many believe Japan has room to raise its consumption tax rate into the 15 percent to 25 percent range, similar to the rates in many countries in Europe.

However, if investors begin fleeing Japanese bonds, their interest rates will rise and the increased debt-servicing costs would further bloat the government's debt.

If Japan were to fall into a vicious cycle of economic doldrums and reduced tax revenue, such as a drop in corporate capital spending caused by consumers tightening their purse strings, the nightmare scenario--fiscal collapse of the government--could become reality.

This is why the government must quickly return to fiscal health by increasing the consumption tax rate.

Noda has pledged the consumption tax rate would be "raised to 8 percent in April 2014 and to 10 percent in October 2015."

He plans to submit bills related to this purpose to the Diet at the end of March.

We expect the prime minister to seek the understanding of the public by explaining to them carefully that a consumption tax hike is the only way to achieve a sustainable social security system, which includes public pensions, as well as medical and nursing care programs.


Regional tensions

Integrated reform of the social security and tax systems is a significant policy issue that can only be carried out with cooperation between the ruling and opposition parties, no matter what party is running the government.

The LDP and Komeito should cooperate to pass the reforms through the Diet, locking their sights on taking back control of the government afterward.

To overcome the crisis, lawmakers must make a clean break from populism, no longer bowing to the public's wishes for reduced burdens and increased benefits.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the seas are only getting rougher.

China has been continuing its military expansion and has deployed ballistic missiles able to strike Japan and other countries, and is hurrying to develop a next-generation fighter jet.

In the South China Sea and the East China Sea, China has repeatedly tangled with Japan, the United States and Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states.

Added to this, North Korea is in the middle of a transfer of power, raising the possibility of political turbulence.

Japan must choose the path of deepening its alliance with the United States, which has shifted its foreign policy focus to Asia, and improve defense capabilities in the Nansei Islands, which include the Okinawa Islands.

Thus, it is vital for the government to solve problems related to Okinawa Prefecture.

Japan and the United States have agreed to transfer the functions of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station to the Henoko district of Nago in the prefecture. To realize the agreement, the government must regain the trust of the prefecture by lessening its burden in hosting U.S. military bases through noise reduction and other measures, as well as adopting regional development programs.

Cabinet ministers concerned, and of course Noda himself, must fly to the prefecture to persuade Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima and others to agree to the transfer.


Revive farm sector

Promoting economic partnership relations will also greatly contribute to reinforcing the Japan-U.S. alliance.

Noda has already announced his intention to enter into discussions with other countries concerned toward participation in negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership multinational trade agreement.

This framework would harness the economic vitality of Asia, and is indispensable for Japan's growth strategy.

If it is approved to participate in the negotiations, Japan will be able to commit itself to the formulation of new trade rules.

The government will need to take a strategic approach to the negotiations so the new rules will strengthen Japan's national interests.

Farmers and other people related to the agricultural industry have opposed Japan's participation in the TPP talks.

The basic principle of the framework is the abolition of tariffs without exceptions, and opponents say such a situation would leave the nation's agriculture sector unprotected.

However, the nation's farm industry will deteriorate for certain if the situation is left untouched.

Participation in the TPP talks raises the possibility of agricultural reforms such as farmland integration and providing aid to people who wish to take part in the industry.

If Japan strengthens its international agricultural competitiveness, not only will the rice market expand, but growth will occur in the markets for other high-quality farm products.

We must see the TPP not as a "pinch," but rather a "chance" for revival.

The nation's energy policy, including power generation, will play a central role in Japan's reconstruction and economic growth.

Amid the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, other nuclear reactors around the country have been unable to restart even after finishing regularly scheduled inspections.

This has caused serious power shortages, and it is now feared that all of the nation's 54 nuclear reactors will be idled by May.

Such a situation--the loss of 30 percent of the nation's electricity generation capacity--should be avoided at all costs.


Ensure nuclear safety

Power companies have been managing to cope with the situation through expanding thermal power generation, but rising prices of fuel, such as natural gas, have influenced power generation costs.

The generation of electricity through renewable energy sources such as solar and wind only account for 1 percent of total supply, and it will take years until these industries become mature enough to replace nuclear power.

It is necessary for nuclear reactors to be restarted quickly after they have been confirmed safe.

To achieve this, the government must make efforts to win the cooperation of local governments that host nuclear plants.

Delaying the resumption of reactor operations will prompt businesses to move production bases overseas to avoid risks such as blackouts and power shortages, thereby spurring the hollowing-out of the industrial sector.

In contrast to former Prime Minister Naoto Kan's irresponsible attempt to break with nuclear power, Noda has encouraged practical energy policies such as promoting exports of nuclear power plants and technology. This is an appropriate course of action.

China and other emerging economies have not abandoned plans to build new nuclear power plants.

If Japanese firms can develop new and safer reactors and export them in packages bundled with technology and expertise in the form of specialized training programs, some of the confidence Japan lost in the aftermath of the nuclear crisis can be regained.

However, if Japan pursues a policy of eliminating its domestic nuclear plants, its ability to export nuclear technology will be harmed, which could lead to a brain drain in engineers.

The crisis at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant was declared under control in December, but it will take 30 to 40 years to fully decommission the reactors.

Along with this challenging work, personnel need to be fostered who can preserve and build on Japan's nuclear technology and expertise.

Even if sun and wind power play larger roles, the option of replacing obsolete nuclear plants with safer and higher-performing models should not be ruled out.

The optimal combination of power sources should be decided based on an overall judgment concerning supply stability, costs, environmental impact and other factors.

Such efforts will help avoid future power crises.

Japan must not allow any of the above issues--the consumption tax, Okinawa, TPP and nuclear power--to remain undealt with.

The world is watching to see whether Japan will move forward toward peace and prosperity after overcoming the scars left by the March 11 disaster.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 1, 2012)
(2012年1月1日00時56分  読売新聞)

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2012年1月 1日 (日)

香山リカのココロの万華鏡:あなただけじゃない /東京

(Mainichi Japan) December 31, 2011
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: The importance of welcoming the New Year together
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:あなただけじゃない /東京

The New Year's holiday is rather short this time.

Even if we spend only two to three days away from our workplaces, however, it is a tradition in Japan on the last day of work to tell our colleagues, "You were kind to me during this past year, have a good New Year," as well as to ask for their kindness during the new year when we see them for the first time in January.

We have formed a habit to think that everything is reset with the beginning of a new year.

However, there are things, such as sadness, illness and anguish, which unfortunately, do not disappear easily, even with the end of a year and the beginning of a new one.

This year in particular, with the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and the ongoing nuclear disaster, I believe there are many people who will welcome 2012 with still lingering anxieties.

We should not forget about these people.

In 2008, many "temporary workers" who had lost their jobs were invited to spend New Year's Eve and the first days of 2009 in the so-called tent camp, "Toshikoshi Hakenmura," or "New Year's Village for Temporary Workers," in the Hibiya area in Tokyo.

The next year, the so-called "Kosetsu Hakenmura" (Public Village for Temporary Workers) was organized, inviting unemployed people, or those living alone, to spend the holiday with others. They were given food, some money to use for transportation while looking for jobs, and a place to spend these traditionally important days.

However, since then, there hasn't been a single large-scale "New Year's Village."

I'm sure that there are many reasons, but it is a fact that there were many people who criticized such events, believing that they were used by some who "don't try hard to reconstruct their lives." Some thought of the events as a waste of taxpayer's money.

That some continued to struggle under difficult conditions while others reaped the benefits of the "villages" may have appeared unreasonable. It may have made the people at those "villages" seem coddled.

But is this really the case?

In my opinion, the "New Year's Villages" may have helped more than those who were the ostensible recipients of care.

A patient of mine, who is unemployed and single, told me the following at the time:

"I have my own apartment, so I welcomed the New Year there.

But it was reassuring just knowing that if I became really lonely, I could go to Hibiya, where there would have been people and warm food."

We all want to spend the end of a year and the beginning of a new year with someone.

I assume that this feeling is even stronger among people who usually feel lonely or depressed.

For those who have lost their homes, jobs, and families, all the more so.

I wish that on a year like 2011, there were such places across Japan, where everyone would gather, shoulder to shoulder, and welcome the New Year together.

You are not the only one who feels lonely.

We all feel that way.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
毎日新聞 2011年12月27日 地方版

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