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2013年3月31日 (日)

「0増5減」案 民主の一転反対は解せない

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 31, 2013)
DPJ's reversal of stance on electoral reform unreasonable
「0増5減」案 民主の一転反対は解せない(3月30日付・読売社説)

The largest opposition Democratic Party of Japan seems far too indifferent to a series of court rulings rebuking existing vote-value disparities.

Secretaries general of the major three political parties--the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, its junior coalition partner New Komeito and the DPJ--held a meeting Friday to discuss electoral reform. During the meeting, the ruling parties called for prompt passage of a bill to rezone electoral districts in the House of Representatives by slashing five seats without increasing any others in other single-seat constituencies. However, as the DPJ opposed the coalition's proposal, the three parties failed to agree.

In 14 of 16 lawsuits filed against the government over the issue of lower house vote-value disparities, high courts have ruled the disparities unconstitutional.

Some of the rulings went too far in deeming the results of the Dec. 16 lower house election invalid. Still, both the ruling and opposition parties must take the courts' decisions declaring the disparities "unconstitutional" seriously. They should first pass the rezoning bill based on a proposal from the Council on the House of Representatives Electoral Districts before undertaking other electoral reform measures.


DPJ's proposal unrealistic

Arguing that the proposed elimination of five single-seat constituencies is not good enough, the DPJ has compiled its own drastic reform plan that calls for reducing the number of single-seat constituencies by 30 to 270 and lowering proportional representation seats by 50 to 130. The DPJ apparently wants to show the public that lawmakers will put themselves on the line for electoral reform by reducing the number of seats in the lower house. However, we think this stance misses the point.

Furthermore, the leading parties have been widely split over drastic measures for electoral reform, so they are unlikely to reach an agreement in the near future.

It is true the LDP-Komeito plan is complicated and has been criticized for possibly violating the Constitution, drawing objections from opposition parties. The ruling camp's plan seeks a decrease in proportional representation seats by 30 to 150, of which 60 seats will be preferentially allocated to smaller parties.

But still, the DPJ's plan calling for a drastic reduction in the number of single-seat constituencies is unrealistic as it would require major rezoning of electoral districts.

The DPJ is chiefly to blame for having failed to correct the vote-value disparities before last year's lower house election when it held the reins of government. The party's failure can be attributed to its adherence to the idea of fixing the disparities and conducting drastic electoral reform simultaneously, with the apparent aim of postponing dissolution of the lower house for its own interests.

Last autumn, the DPJ finally agreed to a measure proposing the elimination of five single-seat constituencies before the enactment of drastic electoral reform, but it now opposes the plan. It is unreasonable that the party has returned to its previous stance of insisting both issues be handled at the same time. Such a stance could stall a solution to the pressing matter of correcting the vote disparities, potentially leaving it unaddressed even as the next lower house election comes around.


Long-term measures essential

The DPJ seems to have carved out a strategy of pursuing unrealistic ideals, which has failed to produce any achievements. This sophomoric style was evinced in its lofty election pledges for the 2009 lower house election. The DPJ has apparently learned nothing from its time in power.

Of course, eliminating five single-seat constituencies is merely a stopgap reform measure. If it is implemented, the vote-value disparity ratio will be reduced to 1.998-to-1 or less. But the ratio is likely to exceed 2-1, an acceptable maximum according to the Supreme Court, at some stage.

Various problems have been highlighted with the current lower house electoral system, which combines single-seat constituencies with the proportional representation formula. For one, the system enables candidates who lose in single-seat constituencies to still be elected through proportional representation. Drastic electoral reform is essential, including a measure to clarify the roles of both chambers of the Diet.

If major parties are not able to make significant progress in their electoral reform discussions, they should give serious thought to consulting expert panels on the issue.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 30, 2013)
(2013年3月30日01時44分  読売新聞)

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再生エネ発電 太陽光の購入価格はまだ高い

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 31, 2013)
Solar power purchase price remains too high
再生エネ発電 太陽光の購入価格はまだ高い(3月30日付・読売社説)

The government will lower prices for power companies to purchase electricity generated by solar power by about 10 percent under the feed-in tariff system starting in April. Currently, power companies are obliged under the system to buy electricity generated by renewable energy sources.

The system, however, is designed to have utilities add costs of purchasing renewable energy to electricity charges paid by users. We think it is reasonable to lower the purchasing prices, considering recent price declines of solar panels.

But the latest price reduction is still not enough. The purchasing price of electricity generated by solar power will be lowered from the initial 42 yen to 38 yen per kilowatt-hour. But it is still too expensive compared with purchasing prices for electricity generated by wind and geothermal power, which are respectively 23 yen and 27 yen per kWh.

Purchasing prices are revised once a year in principle but can be revised every six months if considered necessary. The government should revise purchasing prices flexibly based on price trends of power generation equipment for renewable energy.


Burden on electricity users

The feed-in tariff system aims to encourage the use of renewable energy. To this end, the government is understandably trying to make it possible for renewable energy businesses to stably generate profits with electricity generated by solar and wind power and other renewable energy purchased at fixed prices for 10 to 20 years.

However, it should never be forgotten that electricity users shoulder those purchasing costs. Setting purchasing prices high without careful consideration would excessively promote the entry of new companies and cause purchasing costs to skyrocket.

In fact, a rush of new companies into the business, which has been dubbed a solar power boom, has caused electricity charges to soar in Germany, which introduced the feed-in tariff system ahead of Japan, creating a social problem.

Nearly 2,000 yen was added to monthly electricity charges for an ordinary household in Germany under its renewable energy program. Though the German government lowered purchasing prices by 60 percent in four years, the entry of new companies continues unabated because the break-even point for solar power generation has declined thanks to bargain prices for Chinese made solar panels and other factors.

Purchasing prices in Japan are two to three times those in Germany. Since the amount of electricity purchased under the system is still very small, the extra charge to each household is only 100 yen per month. But the government must stay on alert.


Don't follow German path

Applications for construction of mega solar power plants are being made in quick succession as companies seek government approval before purchasing prices are reduced.

This country could follow the same path as Germany unless the government lowers purchasing prices to an appropriate level before solar power plants under the feed-in tariff system increase sharply.

The current system, which determines purchasing prices by only studying documents, is also questionable. It is a matter of concern that some companies might obtain government approval when purchasing prices are still high and build power plants only after solar panel prices go down. The government should consider applying purchasing prices to those plants when they actually start operations.

Some Chinese solar panel makers have gone bankrupt because price competition is too fierce, but companies in Japan are slow to reduce costs of solar power generation.

We think solar power companies would be ill-advised to try to exploit high purchasing prices under the system and neglect making efforts to reduce costs such as procurement of equipment at economical prices.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 30, 2013)
(2013年3月30日01時44分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月30日 (土)

プロ野球開幕 今季も劇的な戦いを見たい

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 30, 2013)
Looking forward to dramatic games as pro baseball season opens
プロ野球開幕 今季も劇的な戦いを見たい(3月29日付・読売社説)

The professional baseball leagues officially start their respective pennant races Friday. Which of the nation's 12 teams will come out on top this season? Our interest will remain high until the end of the Japan Series in autumn.

In the Central League the Yomiuri Giants will seek to achieve the difficult task of repeating their Japan Series victory last year. The team has not won the Japan Series in successive years since it achieved the great feat of being Series champions for the ninth year in a row in 1973, dubbed V9. The focal point of the CL pennant race is how other teams will try to improve their strength, such as the Hanshin Tigers, who reinforced their team lineup with a new catcher and other players.

In the Pacific League, the Nippon Ham Fighters will try to clinch the pennant again this year. Which team may be able to prevent them from doing so? One point of interest will be how new skippers--Tsutomu Ito of the Chiba Lotte Marines and Hiroshi Moriwaki of the Orix Buffaloes--direct their teams.


Promising rookies

Members of Samurai Japan, the Japan national team that participated in the World Baseball Classic, will be core members of the 12 teams and engage in fierce competition. We hope they act as the driving force of the baseball world, fully utilizing their experience in competing on the global stage.

Many hopeful newcomers have joined each team this season.

Among them, Shohei Otani of the Nippon Ham Fighters is especially drawing the interest of baseball fans. He aims to contribute as both a pitcher and an outfielder, a feat rarely achieved. In exhibition games Otani has proved his extraordinary talent at both pitching and hitting.

We have to keep a watchful eye on two rookie pitchers to be immediate threats--Tomoyuki Sugano of the Giants and Shintaro Fujinami of the Hanshin Tigers.

However, the professional baseball world is still in difficult circumstances.

Last season, the Central League drew an average attendance of 27,293 fans per game, a marginal decrease of 0.02 percent from a year before. Pacific League games saw an average of 22,175 fans per game, down 2 percent. Among the 12 teams, seven saw attendance drop.

We hope each team will liven up the pennant races by making their games very exciting so many fans will want to watch a game at a stadium.


Special rule lifted

Both leagues abolished the so-called 3-1/2 hours rule, which stipulates that games will not go further innings if the time played has exceeded 3-1/2 hours. The special rule was introduced as a power-saving measure in 2011 due to the electricity shortage resulting from the Great East Japan Earthquake.

This rule led the number of tied games to soar from 16 in 2010 to 56 in 2011 and 74 in 2012.

Pitchers often repeatedly make pick-off throws in an apparent attempt to consume time and thereby have a game end in a tie. Such games disappointed fans. Abolishing the special rule was an appropriate decision.

Although the 12 extended inning system without a time limit has been revived for this season, it is still necessary to consider power saving. Sluggishly prolonging games will bore spectators. We hope each team will continue to make efforts to shorten the length of games by, for instance, reducing the time for changing pitchers.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 29, 2013)
(2013年3月29日01時38分  読売新聞)

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65歳まで雇用 若者の仕事を奪わぬように

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 30, 2013)
Older Japanese must work longer without crowding out the young
65歳まで雇用 若者の仕事を奪わぬように(3月29日付・読売社説)

The revised Law for the Stabilization of Employment of Elderly People, which requires companies to allow all employees to stay on the payroll until they are 65 if they wish to do so, takes effect on April 1.

The revised law comes in conjunction with a gradual increase in the eligibility age for benefits under the government-run kosei nenkin corporate pension insurance scheme to 65 from the current 60, beginning from April. The revision was enacted in August last year.

The purpose of the legislation is understandable: the need to help people deal with a period in which they might receive no pension. It can be said the times we live in require companies to continue employing all of their elderly workers as long as they desire to stay on at their jobs.

The current law calls for companies to make efforts to enable employees to work until the age of 65 after the retirement age of 60, either by abolishing the mandatory age limit, raising the age limit or implementing reemployment measures for retired workers.

When companies choose one of these reemployment systems, the current law is designed to enable the firm to set certain criteria in selecting employees eligible to continue working, such as health conditions and motivation for working.


Elderly can boost economy

The latest revision to the system is mainly aimed at doing away with the stipulation of criteria, to ban companies from retaining only certain selected workers.
Under the revised law, the government will issue a warning to companies that fail to comply with the new system. If they then refuse to comply, the companies' names will be made public.

To be sure, the nation's average life expectancy has risen markedly and the health of people in their 60s has improved a great deal.

It is significant that people aged 60 to 64, who have so far been supported by the pension system, will instead be able to support the social security system by working and paying premiums for the pension program.

It is hoped that people in this age bracket will receive higher income and also engage in higher spending, thus boosting the country's economic growth.

However, a wide divergence tends to appear among people in their 60s in terms of their willingness and ability to work.

It is reasonable that the business world at one time opposed mandatory continuation of employment up to the age of 65 on the grounds that the system would increase personnel costs, weighing on corporate management.

It is of the highest importance to ensure companies under the new system never deprive young people of employment opportunities for the sake of continued employment of the elderly. They also must never use the system as an excuse to increase the number of nonregular workers.

However, about 40 percent of employers responding to a poll said they will "curb employment of young recruits" following the implementation of the revised law.


'Age of lifelong work'

To prevent the dynamism of society as a whole from dwindling, all companies are urged to use ingenuity to provide jobs for both young and old.

Many firms will have to make important judgments regarding allocation of personnel expenses, such as curbing pay raises for employees in their 40s and 50s.

Meanwhile, the United States, Britain and Germany have already decided to raise their pension eligibility age to 67 or 68.

Given that Japan has been graying more rapidly than these countries, it will be hard for this nation to avoid further raising the pension eligibility age beyond 65.

Since the graying of society coupled with low birthrates will certainly be accelerated, people's working lives will most likely become longer. Under the circumstances, companies and workers alike must think hard about what should be done to prepare for the advent of an "age of lifelong work."

We urge the government to work out and implement policies conducive to expanding employment by giving more teeth to measures for encouraging the development of industries with high growth potential.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 29, 2013)
(2013年3月29日01時38分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月29日 (金)

法曹養成提言 行き詰まりの打開策を示せ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 29, 2013)
Govt needs concrete measures to nurture legal professionals
法曹養成提言 行き詰まりの打開策を示せ(3月28日付・読売社説)

Many law school graduates cannot pass the national bar examination, or even if they do, they struggle to find jobs. To address the situation, the government must review the current system for nurturing would-be legal professionals.

A government panel charged with such a review has released draft interim proposals on the matter.

In them, the panel asks the government to withdraw its target of about 3,000 people passing the bar exam each year, arguing this level is not practical.

The proposals are premised on the belief that the current system for nurturing people who would like to work in the legal field has hit a wall.

The number of applicants who pass the bar exam each year has hovered around 2,000 to 2,100 in recent years.

To maintain a consistent quality of skills possessed by legal workers, it is unreasonable to increase the number of successful candidates simply by lowering the standards for passing the exam.


Excess of schools

The main reason the number of successful applicants has not increased is the fact that many graduate schools of law are not fulfilling their role of developing future legal professionals.

Initially, the government projected the pass rate among law school graduates in the national bar exam would be 70 to 80 percent, but the rate has been much lower. Last year it was only about 25 percent. This can be explained by the superfluous number of law schools in the nation at present: 74.

The number of applicants for law schools has also been decreasing. If this situation is left unattended, capable human resources will stop enrolling in law schools.

The proposals call for cuts in subsidies to law schools with low passing rates for their students and graduates in the national bar exam.
They also stipulate the withdrawal of judges and public prosecutors who have been dispatched from the government to law schools as instructors.

Such measures are intended to encourage law schools to consolidate and reorganize.

The scarcity of jobs for those who pass the bar exam is also problematic.

The judicial system reform that began in 2001 is based on the philosophy of shifting the entire society from the current "advance administrative control and regulation" system to one of "post review and remedy" through the judicial system. A major pillar of the reform is a drastic increase in the number of lawyers needed.


Society unaware of legal needs

However, changes in society have not been progressing as initially planned. The number of cases filed at courts nationwide has not been radically increasing. Positions for lawyers at corporations and local governments are numbered. The stagnant economy has also aggravated the problem.

A leading explanation for the situation must be that society is not aware of the potential for utilizing lawyers to address issues that surface in corporate activities and daily life.

Many cases dealing with labor problems and bullying in schools require legal advice. There are also cases in which companies expanding abroad face legal issues in other countries.

Except for urban areas, there is a serious shortage of lawyers in many regions.

The draft proposals say it is important to illuminate potential causes for hiring lawyers to expand the sphere of lawyers' activities.

However, the proposals are still insufficient as they lack concrete measures to achieve this goal.

The government panel will compile a final report by this summer. We strongly hope the panel will come up with more detailed, improved proposals.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 28, 2013)
(2013年3月28日01時13分  読売新聞)

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経済連携交渉 日本主導で自由貿易圏加速を

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 29, 2013)
Japan should take upper hand in FTA negotiations
経済連携交渉 日本主導で自由貿易圏加速を(3月28日付・読売社説)

Prompted by Japan's recent announcement it would join the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, various large-scale, free trade agreement initiatives have begun materializing one after another.

On Tuesday, the inaugural round of negotiations on a trilateral FTA between Japan, China and South Korea kicked off in Seoul.

Tokyo has also agreed with the European Union to begin talks in April on an economic partnership agreement. In May, negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership will begin, with countries including Japan, China, South Korea and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations expected to join the talks.

We can say the trend of nations and regions vying to create FTA frameworks beneficial to themselves has accelerated.

As Japan is scheduled to participate in multiple FTA negotiations, there is an opportunity for the nation to proactively engage in establishing regional trade rules. The government must devote itself to realizing these FTAs at the earliest opportunity, paving the way for boosting Japan's economic growth.

Regarding FTA talks, it is clear that Japan is lagging behind South Korea, which has already concluded FTAs with the United States and the EU. It has been a considerable time since Japan presented FTA proposals to its Asian neighbors and the EU, but talks on these have been slow to materialize.


Japan rallying from behind

However, the EU, China and South Korea have recently begun making favorable comments regarding negotiations with Japan, following Tokyo's move to join TPP talks.

It appears the EU intends to counter the influence of the TPP with an EU-Japan FTA. The EU has also agreed with the United States to begin FTA negotiations, with talks expected to start soon. It is obvious that the EU is concerned about the possibility of being left behind in the global trend.

We assume Beijing has a similar goal. The problem of the Senkaku Islands persists between Japan and China, but it seems China is trying to counter the United States' deepening influence in Asia by engaging in talks with Japan and South Korea.

Japan's challenge is clear--whether it can take the initiative in setting up trade rules.

Points of contention in Japan-EU talks will be eliminating the EU's high tariffs on automobiles and other products, as well as Japan's market deregulation in fields such as cars and medical equipment. Reaching an agreement quickly presents Japan and the EU with many hurdles to overcome.

The outlook of negotiations between Japan, China and South Korea is also unclear, as issues such as intellectual property rights and competition policies are expected to be discussed at the talks.


Need to be a tough negotiator

Regarding TPP talks, countries are expected to employ various tactics on whether to exempt agricultural products, such as rice, from tariff elimination.

A major premise for Japan in joining the TPP talks is to seek to create a new free trade framework that will enhance the level of the market openness of the region.

Meanwhile, by simultaneously undertaking other FTA negotiations, Japan will be able to put pressure on the United States, the EU and China. The government must use its bargaining power to pursue the interests of the nation in the negotiations. It is also important to keep in mind the necessity of inducing China to comply with international trade rules.

As Japan--one of the world's major exporters--has recorded trade deficits in recent years, it is urgent to get the nation back on its feet. Japan's announcement to join the TPP talks had a far-reaching impact on the world. To exploit this opportunity, Japan must prepare a sharp strategy for the negotiations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 28, 2013)
(2013年3月28日01時13分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月28日 (木)

衆院選違憲判決 国会は司法の警告に即応せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 28, 2013)
Diet should respond quickly to warnings from judiciary
衆院選違憲判決 国会は司法の警告に即応せよ(3月27日付・読売社説)


Never before has the legislature been so harshly criticized for its negligence by the judiciary.

Rulings have been handed down in 15 of 16 lawsuits heard at high courts and high court branches across Japan over vote-value disparities in the December House of Representatives election.

In 13 of the cases, the courts found results in related single-seat constituencies in the Dec. 16 lower house election to be unconstitutional. In the two remaining cases, the election results were found to be in an "unconstitutional state."
There was not a single case in which the election results were ruled constitutional.

The rulings were handed down as a result of examinations by about 50 high court judges. The Diet must seriously take the rulings to heart and quickly take concrete measures to correct vote-value disparities.


Rectification taking too long

Do vote-value disparities in last year's lower house election--with votes in one constituency worth up to 2.43 times as much as those in another--violate the Constitution, which guarantees people's equality under the law?

If so, is the time period in which the Diet left the disparities unaddressed permissible? These were points of contention in the lawsuits.

The rulings that found the election results to be unconstitutional judged that vote-value disparities violate the Constitution and that a reasonable time period to correct the disparities had elapsed.

The rulings that found the election results to be in an unconstitutional state consider the vote-value disparities to violate the Constitution but view the time period in which the disparities were left unaddressed as permissible.

In March 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that the 2009 lower house election, in which the maximum vote-value disparity was 2.30-to-1, was in an unconstitutional state. The disparity widened further in the lower house election last year.

Therefore, it was only to be expected that a series of tough judgments would be handed down by the high courts.

But how large can a vote-value disparity grow and still be considered constitutional? The rulings handed down so far are not necessarily clear on this point.

Another problem is that the Hiroshima High Court and the high court's Okayama branch declared results in certain single-seat constituencies in the December lower house election were invalid.

Other courts have applied the legal principle of "circumstantial ruling" and found election results themselves to be valid in consideration of the confusion that might be created if they were ruled invalid.

But the Hiroshima High Court did not apply this circumstantial ruling principle, saying, "The Supreme Court's right to determine the constitutionality of laws has been disregarded."

The high court also expressed a view that September of last year, 1-1/2 years after the top court's ruling, should have been the deadline for rectifying vote-value disparities.

However, no concrete basis for this standard was given.


Undue judicial interference

The Hiroshima High Court also ruled that the election results in the Hiroshima constituencies will be rendered invalid after Nov. 26 this year.

The decision took into account the fact that the Council on House of Representatives Electoral Districts has been working on revamping these districts since Nov. 26 last year.

It is not clear if a one-year grace period is necessary before the ruling takes effect.

Staying the effect of the ruling can be taken as an intrusion by the judiciary into territory where discretionary power is granted to the legislature.

The Okayama branch of the Hiroshima High Court immediately invalidated the result for an Okayama Prefecture constituency as the principle of equality in the value of each vote, it said, took precedence over concerns for political confusion. We find such a ruling unacceptably reckless.

The existing Public Offices Election Law has no detailed stipulations about revoting, should an election be deemed invalid.

For example, no clear legal procedures for revoting are mentioned, including whether new elections should be held only in constituencies where lawmakers lost their seats, or if instead the lower house should be dissolved for a general election.

Should the rulings nullifying the election results stick, Japan's politics would be thrown into utter confusion.

All rulings related to vote disparities are expected to be taken to the Supreme Court. It is hoped that the top court will make a realistic decision.


Parties must cooperate on solution

Meanwhile, the government and ruling parties should ensure that a draft bill be enacted swiftly to reduce five seats in less populated constituencies in an effort to narrow vote disparities among the least and most represented constituencies to within a 1-to-2 ratio. Then, they must take on the task of revamping the electoral districts.

Reducing five seats without increasing any seats in densely populated districts, as stipulated in the draft bill, is based on the current zoning method, which the top court deemed a major cause for producing vote disparities and urged to be abolished.
The current zoning method first allocates one seat each to Tokyo and 46 prefectures out of the 300 district seats and then distributes the rest of the seats to each prefecture based on population.

As the ruling by the Okayama branch indicated, the reduction of a mere five seats does not amount to an appropriate legislative step to rectify the gap in the value of each vote.

There is, however, no prospect in sight for a sweeping electoral rezoning, hampered by conflicting interests of parties in both the ruling and opposition camps.

The Liberal Democratic Party's reform plan calls for reducing seats under the proportional representation section from 180 to 150. Sixty of the seats would be preferentially allotted to the political parties ranked second or lower.
Such a preferential seat allotment, many say, would violate the Constitution's guarantee of equality in the value of each vote.

The electoral zoning deemed unconstitutional by the judiciary should not be replaced, as part of electoral reforms, by a different system feared to also be unconstitutional.

Upper house electoral zoning, like that of the lower house, has been ruled to be in an unconstitutional state.
Last November, the Diet revised the Public Offices Election Law to add four seats in populated prefectures and eliminate four seats from less populated prefectures.
The law revision, however, was only a stop-gap measure.

The electoral system not only expresses the will of the public but also serves as the foundation of a smooth political process. The Diet must carry out drastic electoral reforms after studying on how parliamentary duties should be divided between the upper and lower chambers.

If conflicting interests of political parties stand in the way of electoral reform, the only way left is to set up an expert council to get electoral reform under way.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 27, 2013)
(2013年3月27日01時12分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月27日 (水)

円滑化法終了へ 中小企業支援に万全を期せ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 27, 2013)
Financial institutions must continue to aid smaller firms
円滑化法終了へ 中小企業支援に万全を期せ(3月26日付・読売社説)

A law allowing a grace period for financially ailing small and midsize companies to repay their debts will expire at the end of March.

The government must make an all-out effort to implement measures to avoid a sharp rise in the number of companies going bankrupt after the law expires.

The law was enforced in 2009 as a temporary step to cope with the economic downturn following the so-called Lehman shock.

It was extended twice, and is believed to have helped 300,000 to 400,000 small and midsize companies through such measures as rescheduling debt repayments. Under the severe economic circumstances, the legislation was somewhat effective in preventing smaller companies from going bankrupt.

On the other hand, however, it has had the negative effect of keeping alive companies with no prospect for reconstruction.

With the expiration of the law, it is believed 50,000 to 60,000 companies will be forced to drastically overhaul their businesses, discontinue operations or switch to other businesses. The nation must be ready for a certain amount of pain in regenerating industries to lay the groundwork for a strong Japanese economy.


Don't withdraw credit

But smaller companies that have shown a willingness and ability to reconstruct themselves should not be driven to the wall because of a strong reluctance to lend or an abrupt withdrawal of credit by financial institutions.

The Financial Services Agency has asked financial institutions to comply as much as possible with requests for a debt repayment moratorium, eased interest rate payments, and other steps. These suggestions are reasonable. The Cabinet Office and ministries concerned should strengthen their surveillance systems to avoid a credit crunch and other problematic situations.

It also deserves attention that the system to support the business revitalization of smaller companies has been expanded just before the law expires.

The Enterprise Turnaround Initiative Corporation of Japan, which helped reconstruct Japan Airlines and other companies, was transformed by the government into the Regional Economy Vitalization Corporation of Japan, which focuses on assistance to smaller companies. Public funds for the organization have been increased from 300 billion yen to 1 trillion yen.


Self-help vital

In addition, the government hammered out a variety of steps, such as increasing lawyers and tax accountants at local turnaround support organizations to help microenterprises speed up their rehabilitation plans. It is reassuring that such a comprehensive system has been set up by the central government and local entities.

A major point is the role of financial institutions, which have detailed information on the financial conditions of their clients and are familiar with their management abilities. Financial institutions should closely cooperate with public organs and extend effective assistance.

However, everything depends on the self-help efforts by small and midsize companies. Given the shrinking domestic market because of the declining population and the rise of newly emerging economies, the business environment has become increasingly uncertain.

To extricate themselves from a deteriorating situation, some companies probably will have to advance into foreign countries to cultivate markets there or drastically change the way they do business. We hope companies find a way out of the difficult situation by effectively using supportive measures.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 26, 2013)
(2013年3月26日01時35分  読売新聞)

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国連人権調査委 北朝鮮に拉致解決迫るテコだ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 27, 2013)
Pile intl pressure on North Korea over human rights violations
国連人権調査委 北朝鮮に拉致解決迫るテコだ(3月26日付・読売社説)

The U.N. Human Rights Council recently unanimously adopted a resolution on establishing a panel to investigate human rights abuse in North Korea.

It is important for the international community to seize this momentum and step up pressure on the reclusive country to improve its human rights conditions, which would pave the way for the swift resolution of North Korea's abduction of Japanese.

The resolution was jointly submitted by Japan and the European Union, and denounced North Korea's "systematic, widespread and grave violation of human rights." It stipulated the establishment of an inquiry panel of three experts to investigate human rights abuse including the use of torture and labor camps, as well as "enforced disappearances, including in the form of abductions of nationals of other states."

The United Nations has appointed a special rapporteur tasked with investigating North Korea's human rights conditions every year, but establishing the panel will enable a more exhaustive investigation.

The Japanese government should unreservedly support the panel. It must unveil the full picture of the abductions--a crime committed by a state--and bring all the Japanese victims home.


High expectations for panel

The United Nations has adopted resolutions condemning North Korea's human rights situation annually in recent years. Votes cast against the resolutions in support of North Korea have decreased over the years, while votes in favor have increased. Since last year, these resolutions have been adopted unanimously.

The U.N. Security Council adopted a unanimous resolution on tougher sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear and missile development programs. Pyongyang has continuously thumbed its nose at international condemnation of the programs. Even China has become more willing to implement sanctions on North Korea.

The North Korean regime of Kim Jong Un must take this mounting international pressure to heart.

North Korea likely will keep refusing to cooperate with U.N. investigations, and will not open its doors to inquiry panel members.

However, the panel can collect detailed evidence from victims, defectors, their relatives, governments and agencies outside North Korea. The panel is expected to compile a report on the state of Pyongyang's human rights violations and specific countermeasures. The report will be issued as an official U.N. document a year from now.

The panel report could firmly pursue the North Korean leadership's responsibility for crimes against humanity. The international community must keep squeezing North Korea until it improves its human rights record.


Little time left for families

The Human Rights Council resolution reflects the Japanese government's strenuous efforts on the abduction issue. We praise the government for its work.

In his policy speech earlier this year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his mission will not end until all abducted Japanese stand again on their native soil. Family members of the abductees have grown old, so there is no time to waste. We ask the prime minister to produce tangible results.

The government should develop a strategic and aggressive diplomatic policy toward North Korea, including the option of resuming intergovernmental talks.

Without a comprehensive solution to the abduction, nuclear and missile problems, it will be impossible to normalize relations with North Korea. It is essential for the government to maintain this stance when dealing with Pyongyang.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 26, 2013)
(2013年3月26日01時35分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月26日 (火)

公示地価 不動産デフレ脱却へもう一息

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 26, 2013)
Revitalization of business crucial to escaping real estate deflation
公示地価 不動産デフレ脱却へもう一息(3月25日付・読売社説)

Land prices have been showing stronger signs of bottoming out. To make it possible to restore real estate prices to normal levels and lead the nation out of deflation, the government must accelerate economic revitalization.

Posted land prices as of Jan. 1 this year, which were announced last week by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, dropped 1.6 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively, in residential and commercial areas from a year before. This marked year-on-year negative growth for the fifth straight year since the Lehman shock in the autumn of 2008.

However, the bright side is that the margin of decline shrank for three consecutive years. Above all, it may be said that the bottom is in sight in three major metropolitan areas where the margin of decline remained below 1 percent.

The year-on-year fall in the average land price contracted in almost all prefectures. This indicates that the situation is improving in both urban and regional areas.

Funds have been flowing into the real estate market on hopes for the economic revitalization policies put forth by Shinzo Abe before he became prime minister. If this trend continues, it will spur a rebound in land prices.


Signs of recovery

Improvement is conspicuous in residential zones as a result of such policies as low interest rates and tax deductions for people who take out housing loans.

In Tokyo, some areas showed positive growth compared to no change the year before, thanks to brisk sales of condominiums.

It is noteworthy that land prices are coming out of a slump in commercial areas, particularly in metropolitan areas, which tended to lag residential areas in the pace of their recovery.

The number of spots with higher land prices increased in redevelopment areas centering on large-scale commercial facilities such as Tokyo Skytree and areas where there is strong demand for moving to newly built houses and condominiums with advanced earthquake resistance.

Vacancy rates are falling, and the drop in rents is coming to an end.

Investments, mainly from after parts of Asia, seem to be expanding. This is possible because real estate in Japan is considered relatively inexpensive, as the yen has weakened due to monetary easing policies.


A matter of concern

Improvement is slow in regional commercial areas facing structural problems such as shrinking populations and battered economies.

In the areas devastated by the tsunami triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake, the polarization has weakened between land prices in tsunami-affected coastal areas and in higher areas that escaped being inundated.

But it is worrying that a growing number of areas are showing a sharp rise in land prices as the demand to move expands due to the progress of reconstruction projects.

The residential area in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, marked the biggest rate of increase in land prices for two years in a row. Land prices turned upward across the board in municipalities in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures along the Pacific coast.
Miyagi topped the national list of prefectures in terms of the growth rate in land prices.

The central and local governments concerned should beef up their surveillance to prevent sharp jumps in land prices that will have an adverse effect on housing reconstruction.

Authorities must be cautious regarding the effect on land prices of increased demand ahead of a hike in the consumption tax planned for April.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 25, 2013)
(2013年3月25日01時12分  読売新聞)

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都市の鉄道網 相互乗り入れで沿線活気づく

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 26, 2013)
Train links could vitalize areas along connected lines
都市の鉄道網 相互乗り入れで沿線活気づく(3月25日付・読売社説)

A new train network has been created in the Tokyo metropolitan area. If it can create new passenger flows, it may lead to economic revitalization, such as tourism promotion and expanded commercial opportunities.

Tokyu Toyoko Line and Tokyo Metro's Fukutoshin Line were recently connected.

The connection means that lines operated by five railway companies--Tobu, Seibu, Tokyo Metro, Tokyu and Yokohama Minatomirai--were linked, enabling passengers to travel a maximum distance of 88.6 kilometers from western Saitama Prefecture to Yokohama without changing trains, an extraordinary development.

In Saitama Prefecture and Yokohama, local authorities and businesses are stepping up campaigns to lure visitors from remote locations through such efforts as extending business hours of shopping areas and collaborating with sightseeing facilities.

Department stores and other commercial facilities in Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro, which are located along the connected lines, are competing with each other to attract customers. The intensified competition apparently resulted from the latest linking of the railway lines.


Annual ridership in billions

In major cities in the country, railway networks cover wide areas, transporting a huge number of commuters to their workplaces and schools. Thirteen billion people a year use trains in the Tokyo metropolitan area, 4.5 billion in the Osaka area and 1 billion in the Nagoya area.

More than 70 percent of commuters in Tokyo use railways, a figure far above the 40 percent to 50 percent in New York and London.

The connections of urban subways and railway lines stretching to suburban areas have been driving the development of these urban railway networks.

The total length of connected railway lines in the Tokyo metropolitan area was 155 kilometers in 1970. The figure now tops 900 kilometers, including the length of the latest connected lines, accounting for 40 percent of the total length of lines in the area.

Railway companies are reluctant to invest in new lines as they cannot expect an increase in ridership due to the declining birthrate and the aging population. These factors apparently prompted railway companies to link their lines with other operators to cope with the changing demographics.

Connecting lines by making use of existing lines allows railway companies to shorten traveling time by eliminating the inconvenience of changing trains. Railway operators may also be able to attract new passengers.

They can expect even more advantages, such as relieving overcrowding at terminal stations, making transportation services more efficient and improving property values of areas along their service lines.


Advantages can be exemplars

These advantages will serve as good examples for railway operators in other regions beyond the Tokyo Metropolitan area, including the Osaka metropolitan area.

But some concerns remain.

In recent railway line connections, multiple railway companies with different car specifications are involved, and their trains run quite long distances. If an accident or trouble involving a train car occurs on one line, it may trigger a chain of delays in other connected lines.

About 40 percent of train delays of up to 30 minutes in the Tokyo metropolitan area are caused by trouble that originally occurred on connected lines, according to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry.

Railway operators must make more efforts to minimize delays in train services in case of accidents and other problems.

They also are urged to expand sections on which they can offer shuttle train services in case of accidents or other problems. It will also be necessary to promptly provide information to passengers.

Setting up platform barriers to prevent passengers from falling onto the tracks is another issue that has to be addressed. Railway companies must expedite efforts to develop technologies to enable them to set up barriers that can cope with cars with different numbers of doors or those with a different width.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 25, 2013)
(2013年3月25日01時12分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月25日 (月)

全柔連改革 人心一新しか再生の道はない

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 25, 2013)
Scandal-tainted judo federation must revamp leadership
全柔連改革 人心一新しか再生の道はない(3月24日付・読売社説)

A rash of scandals, including cases of physical violence and verbal abuse of female judoka, has left the reputation of the All Japan Judo Federation in tatters.

To rebuild the disgraced judo body, the AJJF has no option other than pushing through drastic organizational reform by overhauling its leadership.

But last week, the AJJF decided to allow all of its executives, including Chairman Haruki Uemura, to retain their positions and made no change to the lineup.

Doesn't the federation have a culture of taking responsibility for these scandals? We feel disgusted by the AJJF decision that flies in the face of commonly accepted norms.

Before the federation's decision, an independent panel tasked with looking into the abuse submitted on March 12 a set of reform proposals to the AJJF. The proposals pointed sternly to problems with the federation as an organization. The panel noted the federation has a dearth of human resources that "can stand for socially accepted common sense, not the common sense that works only in the judo world."


Unable to manage crisis

One committee member, psychiatrist Rika Kayama, quite rightly had a brickbat for the AJJF decision, saying her panel had worked out its recommendations after concluding the federation "wasn't functioning as an organization."
Kayama added, "Disciplinary measures should be taken against AJJF executives, including Chairman Uemura."

The federation, which was aware of the physical and verbal abuse dished out by the coach of the national women's judo team, who eventually resigned, decided at one time to keep him in his position. Driven by a sense of distrust, 15 female national team judoka filed a complaint with the Japanese Olympic Committee against the AJJF.

The federation remains oblivious to the gravity of its problems, and has been unable to take proper steps to deal with the situation. It is obvious the federation badly lacks crisis management capability.

Noriko Mizoguchi, a silver medalist in the women's 52-kilogram judo division at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, said the federation "has a strong tendency to concentrate power in a handful of executives, making it hard for others to oppose [their decisions]."

As long as the "handful of executives" remains unchanged, there is virtually no hope for an organizational transformation of the AJJF.

Uemura said the federation "will address the challenges by working as one." However, a revamp of its leadership must be the first step toward reforming the federation.


Irregular use of subsidies

The independent panel also called for the AJJF to appoint executives from outside and introduce a system to adopt female executives and coaches. The federation should ensure these proposals are translated into action to get rid of its closed nature and be transformed into an organization in which everyone can candidly exchange their views.

Another scandal also surfaced in the AJJF: A portion of subsidies the government-backed Japan Sports Council paid to members of a federation committee for supporting promising athletes was allegedly funneled to federation executives for winning and dining for themselves and others.

The disbursements were not recorded, and no receipts were kept. About 20 million yen was reportedly pooled for such usage.

Furthermore, an AJJF executive in charge of the committee for supporting promising judoka has acknowledged that he wrongly received subsidies from the council despite having no involvement in training the athletes, with part of the cash diverted to the AJJF leadership.

The judo federation is an incorporated foundation for the public interest that receives preferential tax treatment. Such opaque financial management at the federation is unforgivable.

It is also crucial that the AJJF get to the bottom of these problems so it can regain the public's trust.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 24, 2013)
(2013年3月24日01時20分  読売新聞)

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福島原発停電 管理体制を強化して再発防げ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 25, 2013)
Better management crucial at Fukushima nuclear power plant
福島原発停電 管理体制を強化して再発防げ(3月24日付・読売社説)

It took Tokyo Electric Power Co. about 30 hours to fully recover from a large-scale power outage at its crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The utility left a lot to be desired in the way it responded to the largest power cut since the onset of the nuclear crisis at the plant following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

TEPCO required more than a day to determine what had happened after the outage occurred last Monday, which was why the utility failed to restore power faster. This is an issue the company must check into.

Initially, the utility examined affected switchboards one by one, but was unable to identify the cause of the power cut. The utility then switched to emergency power sources.

The cooling systems for the plant's nuclear reactors were unaffected thanks to the installation of backup power sources, because even a brief outage would seriously affect the reactors.

Such backup measures, however, have not been fully implemented for other systems.

A subsequent examination revealed that a small animal, possibly a rat, might have triggered the power cut by causing a short circuit after entering a power panel terminal, which had been set up outside sometime after the onset of the crisis two years ago.


Spotlight on fuel rods

TEPCO, aware of the disadvantages of setting up a temporary power panel terminal outside, had planned to replace it with an indoor power distribution system. The latest problem shows the company has a long way to go in overcoming the weak points of its management system.

The power outage has once again turned the spotlight on the importance of cooling spent nuclear fuel rods.

More than 10,000 spent fuel rods remain in the storage pools of the Fukushima plant. The power cut suspended cooling functions for nearly 9,000 rods.

If the water inside the pools had not been circulating, the spent nuclear fuel rods would have been damaged as the water evaporated, as they still are generating heat. This was a major concern at the start of the nuclear crisis.


Spike in water temperatures

The water temperatures of the plant's pools rose to 32 C at the highest during the latest power cut, far below the alert level of 65 C set by TEPCO.

"[The power cut] was not that dangerous," Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said.

However, many people have voiced concern over the prolonged power outage. Detailed explanations should be provided to tell us what happened.

The power cut was made public about three hours after the incident occurred. It was natural for the NRA's secretariat to say the commission will improve the way information is conveyed to the public.

The Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was seriously damaged in the disaster. About 3,000 people are working at the site every day to stabilize the nuclear reactors with the ultuimate aim of decommissioning them. It must be extremely difficult for people to work under such severe conditions, as radiation levels remain high at the plant.

Decommissioning the Fukushima plant may take 40 years. TEPCO should not repeat such blunders as the mishandling of the power outage to avoid undermining public confidence in work at the site.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 24, 2013)
(2013年3月24日01時20分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月24日 (日)

香山リカのココロの万華鏡:明るい話題の陰で /東京

March 17, 2013(Mainichi Japan)
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Hiding sorrow beneath bright news
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:明るい話題の陰で /東京

Whenever the media reports some good news such as "Stock prices exceed pre-Lehman Shock level," I can't help but wonder, "How many people actually are happy about that news?"

If a person is facing serious difficulties in their life, such as an illness or family problems, that person can't be happy about good news the world has to offer. I see many people like that coming to my clinic.

Someone undergoing a cancer examination is unlikely to become all joyful when they hear a report that Tokyo has become the front-runner among candidate cities for the Olympics. For that person, just watching TV is difficult.

Such being the case, I wonder how those who have been devastated by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami are feeling about such news. Having lost their families, homes and jobs, these people have to carry on their lives with a great sense of loss. Many must feel as if time had been at a standstill since the disasters.

Despite this, good news, such as the "economy is recovering" and "a new shopping place is opening in Tokyo," is circulated also in disaster-stricken areas. Some people in disaster areas might feel isolated from the rest of Japan when they hear such news, thinking the world is moving forward while leaving them behind.

Of course, people in those areas are not saying that they want all of Japan to feel sorrow and remain depressed forever. In fact, many of them get a boost from hearing other people's success stories and news that companies are doing well.

However, we should never forget that even when somebody is happy about something or having fun with their friends, there are also people who feel deep sorrow or are suffering. I'm not saying that a person shouldn't have fun, but that a person must be always prepared to comfort others who are troubled. Needless to say, nobody should tell anyone to "smile and move on because everyone else has."

Whether a person can be thoughtful about others when they are happy shows the true value of that person. The same thing can be said to today's Japan.

While the economy is showing some positive signs, it is time for the country as a whole to have compassion for people who are still suffering from the disaster.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
毎日新聞 2013年03月12日 地方版

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「普天間」申請 移設実現へ最大の努力尽くせ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 24, 2013)
Govt must make utmost effort to realize Futenma relocation
「普天間」申請 移設実現へ最大の努力尽くせ(3月23日付・読売社説)

The government should make its utmost effort to persuade Okinawa Prefecture to agree to the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in the prefecture to settle the longstanding issue between Japan and the United States.

The Defense Ministry on Friday applied to the Okinawa prefectural government for permission to undertake land reclamation work needed for the planned relocation of the U.S. military base from Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago in the prefecture.

The Okinawa prefectural government will carefully judge whether to give permission for the landfill work. As Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima has been insisting the Futenma base be transferred outside the prefecture, it appears unlikely for now that permission will be given.

However, the Nago fishery cooperative decided on March 11 to agree to the relocation of the Futenma base to the Henoko district. Local residents around the planned relocation site also show some understanding of the transfer.

There is no doubt that the relocation of the Futenma base to the Henoko district is the best way to achieve the dual goals of mitigating Okinawa Prefecture's burden of hosting U.S. military bases and maintaining the U.S. military's deterrent capability.


Much riding on relocation

The government timed its request in the hope of obtaining permission for the landfill work from the Okinawa governor by the end of this year. This is because the government wants to prevent the outcome of the January 2014 Nago mayoral election, the main issue of which will likely be the relocation of the base, from influencing this important issue related to Japan's security. The government's judgment is appropriate.

During summit talks with U.S. President Barack Obama last month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he will promote the Henoko relocation plan. Realizing the relocation will be a critical touchstone to further solidifying the Japan-U.S. alliance.

The government and the ruling parties must make all-out efforts to create an environment that will make it easier for Nakaima to decide to give permission for the reclamation work.

Most people in Okinawa Prefecture oppose the Henoko relocation plan because of misgovernment by the Democratic Party of Japan under former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who carelessly advocated the unrealistic idea of transferring the Futenma base outside the prefecture or even outside the country. Nakaima, however, originally approved the idea.

If the reclamation work is not approved, the current dangerous situation of the Futenma base will almost surely become fixed for the long term. Is that really a desirable option for Okinawa Prefecture?


Win over local leaders

The government's efforts in the future must provide Nakaima sufficient room to finally give permission.

First and foremost, the government needs to widely seek understanding of the Henoko relocation plan among local organizations of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, and the two parties' Diet members elected in the prefecture.

It is also indispensable to persuade officials of the city government of Nago to accept the relocation plan. The current Nago mayor opposes the plan, but the number of city assembly members who are against the plan is only slightly larger than the number who support it. The governor's judgment will be greatly affected if these forces in the city assembly are reversed.

The government should have a series of full-scale discussions with the Okinawa prefectural government on the prefecture's future, including how to use sites after the Futenma base is transferred and land occupied by U.S. military installations is returned, as well as regional development programs.

The government also must work more seriously than ever before on measures to lessen the prefecture's burden of hosting U.S. military bases, such as noise reduction.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 23, 2013)
(2013年3月23日01時45分  読売新聞)

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キプロス混迷 欧州危機の再燃回避が急務だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 24, 2013)
Prevent disarray in Cyprus from reigniting European crisis
キプロス混迷 欧州危機の再燃回避が急務だ(3月23日付・読売社説)

The financial crisis in Cyprus, a small island nation in the Mediterranean Sea, has begun to rattle the global economy.

The European Union should play a leading role in resolving the disarray and preventing it from affecting the economies of the rest of Europe and Japan.

The Cypriot government decided on a plan to restructure the nation's second-largest bank, which has fallen into financial difficulty. This is apparently a last-ditch measure to prevent the chaotic breakdown of the country's banking sector for the time being and secure financial assistance from the European Union.

The financial crisis in Cyprus, a member of the EU and the eurozone, was triggered by Greece's financial collapse.

Nonperforming loans have damaged the financial condition of Cypriot banks that owned a huge amount of Greek government bonds, but the Cypriot government lacks the fiscal strength to extend public support to them. This has led to stagnation in the Cypriot model of prosperity, in which the banking sector attracted enormous funds from Russia and other investors around the world.


Tax-on-deposits plan rejected

At Cyprus' request, the EU decided with the International Monetary Bank to extend 10 billion euros (1.2 trillion yen) in assistance. As a condition for the bailout, they demanded Nicosia levy a tax on bank deposits, but that led directly to the current disarray.

Outraged with the envisioned taxation Cypriots rushed to banks to withdraw money, further fueling the chaos. A government bill aimed at gaining public support by excluding smaller accounts from the taxation was rejected by parliament, which was thinking of public opinion.

If this situation continues, Cyprus will not be able to meet the conditions demanded by the EU and the bailout will not be implemented. Some observers have expressed concern that Cyprus may default on its debts.

The Cypriot government presented its plan to restructure the second-largest bank because it was forced to present an alternative to the tax on bank deposits. Nicosia must have realized the merits of restructuring the troubled bank, since it would cost less pubic money than keeping the bank open and bailing it out.


German position key

However, it is still too early to tell whether assistance will be extended quickly. One key to determining that lies with Germany, which demands that Cyprus achieve strict fiscal discipline. Nicosia must work out more details of its measures to stabilize its banking sector, in order to convince Germany and other EU members.

The role of Russia, which has close ties with Cyprus, is also important. We hope Moscow will work with the EU.

The biggest fear is that the Cypriot crisis will spill over to other countries such as Spain and Italy, reigniting the European crisis that is currently calming down.

In the foreign exchange market, the euro continues to be weak while the yen tends to be bought. Wild fluctuations in stock prices have also been seen in markets around the world.

There should be careful monitoring of whether the disarray in Cyprus indirectly hinders Abenomics, the economic policy of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to revitalize Japan's economy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 23, 2013)
(2013年3月23日01時45分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月23日 (土)

イスラエル政権 イラン核問題で米と連携を

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 23, 2013)
Israel must closely cooperate with U.S. over Iranian N-issue
イスラエル政権 イラン核問題で米と連携を(3月22日付・読売社説)

At their latest summit meeting, top U.S. and Israeli leaders stressed cooperation--demonstrating a recovery in bilateral relations, which have recently been stressed by differences over issues such as Iran's nuclear development and the Palestinian peace process.

It is important that the two countries utilize their renewed relations to stabilize the Middle East.

After Israel's general election in January, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally launched a coalition administration. U.S. President Barack Obama was the first foreign leader to be welcomed by the administration.

Regarding the Iranian nuclear issue, a major focus of the summit talks, Netanyahu acknowledged during a joint press conference with Obama that it would take one year for Iran to produce a nuclear weapon, even if it decided to go nuclear. Meanwhile, Obama emphasized, "We prefer to resolve this diplomatically, and there's still time to do so."


Diplomatic solution first

We can conclude that both countries have agreed to fully engage diplomatically to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons.

Last September, Netanyahu warned global leaders that it was within the realm of possibility that Iran had enough highly enriched uranium to produce its first nuclear weapon by as early as this spring. He has also indicated that Israel may unilaterally attack Iran if the international community cannot stop the nation from possessing a nuclear weapon.

But as Netanyahu has reached a compromise with Obama at the latest summit talks, a situation in which Israel takes military action against Iran is unlikely for the time being.

Should Israel attack Iran, the effects of the war would undoubtedly spill over into other areas. For instance, crude oil prices would skyrocket, adversely affecting the global economy. It is for this and other reasons that Israel must refrain from using force.

Obama pledged that the United States would support Israel in matters of security. In a show of his country's intent to keep its promise, Obama inspected Israel's "Iron Dome," a mobile all-weather air defense system that the United States helped to develop.

The security situation around Israel has been increasing in severity. Its neighbor Syria has descended into civil war, and in Egypt, where Islamists have taken the reins of government, the economy and politics have been thrown into chaos. The circumstances surrounding the region are increasingly unclear. In such an environment, Israel needed to restore a cooperative relationship with the United States.

During the joint press conference, Netanyahu also confirmed Israel remains fully committed to the "two states for two peoples" solution to the Palestinian issue, an initiative promoting the coexistence of two states.


Weak administrative foundation

However, the growing number of Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and a split in the Palestinian leadership have made reopening peace negotiations difficult. As a result, the process for establishing a Palestinian state is still nowhere in sight.

Netanyahu's administrative foundation is now weaker than it was before the election. His attempts to garner support with a hard-line stance against Iran have ended in failure.

After the election, the prime minister tried to establish a broad coalition administration. However, a religious party that once had been a former coalition partner decided to become part of the opposition, and Netanyahu's Likud party only succeeded in winning over middle-of-the-road and rightist parties. The stability of the new administration remains questionable.

Close cooperation with the United States is indispensable to maintain the Netanyahu government, and preserving its cooperation with the United States over the Iranian nuclear issue is an important pillar of that policy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 22, 2013)
(2013年3月22日01時11分  読売新聞)

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臨時企業税違法 「公平な徴収」重視した最高裁

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 23, 2013)
Top court ruling reasonable on illegal taxation
臨時企業税違法 「公平な徴収」重視した最高裁(3月22日付・読売社説)

Should a special corporate tax introduced by the Kanagawa prefectural government have been deemed legal?

The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled the special corporate tax was "illegal and invalid." The top court decision finalized the decision against the prefecture in the tax lawsuit, a reversal of a high court ruling.

The top court's judgment should be considered reasonable since it emphasized the principle of impartiality in the collection of taxes.

Isuzu Motors Ltd., which has factories in Kanagawa Prefecture, filed the litigation, seeking the return of about 1.9 billion yen in taxes it paid to the prefectural government.

The Local Tax Law allows a company to be exempt from the local enterprise tax, either entirely or partially, by carrying forward past losses and deducting them from taxable income even if the firm is in the black for a single business year.

In contrast to this, the special corporate tax imposed by the Kanagawa prefectural government did not take such losses into account, and was meant to tax single-year corporate profits.

In court, Isuzu Motors argued the way the prefecture levied the tax was contrary to the carryover rule.


Well-matched to reality

In handing down its decision, the Supreme Court said the Local Tax Law provisions concerned are for the purpose of "ensuring impartiality in levying taxes by making equitable, as much as possible, the tax burdens of corporations, irrespective of fluctuations in corporate profits for different business years."

This is definitely a sound judgment well-matched to the realities of businesses, the performance of which can vary each year.

Based on this reasoning, the top court said the taxation method employed by the Kanagawa prefectural government ran counter to the spirit of the Local Tax Law.

The ruling can be said to clearly show the Supreme Court's view that taxation in disregard of conventionally recognized tax rules must not be allowed.

At the time of the imposition of the tax, Isuzu Motors was consistently in the red, having just narrowly managed to log a profit for a single business year thanks to support from banks and foreign companies. The top court seems to have also taken this into consideration.

What led Kanagawa Prefecture to adopt the new tax was the Omnibus Decentralization Law that was put into force in 2000. The legislation was designed to enable local governments to levy local discretionary taxes on their own, if approved by the internal affairs and communications minister. Expectations subsequently surged among local governments for expansion of local tax autonomy.


Review discretionary levies

Kanagawa Prefecture, which was struggling at that time with a fiscal crunch, introduced the ordinance for the new tax in 2001. The tax targeted about 1,700 companies, including Isuzu, and was in place until it expired in 2009.

It is understandable that local governments try to secure revenue by asking companies to bear tax burdens in exchange for administrative services provided by the local governments.

Commenting on the top court's ruling, Kanagawa Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa criticized the decision for "going against what our prefectural government has been striving for amid a major trend of the decentralization of power" from the central government to local governments.

The prefecture says it plans to return to the companies a total of about 63.5 billion yen in cash that was levied under the taxation scheme.

The central government's Committee for the Promotion of Decentralization came out with a proposal in 2009, calling for local governments to "make efforts to effectively make use of local tax autonomy."

In line with the latest decision by the Supreme Court, both the central government and local entities must study anew what is desirable about taxation at the discretion of local governments.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 22, 2013)
(2013年3月22日01時11分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月22日 (金)

WBC閉幕 世界一決定戦として育てたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 22, 2013)
WBC should become tourney to decide world's No. 1 team
WBC閉幕 世界一決定戦として育てたい(3月21日付・読売社説)

The World Baseball Classic has just ended, with the Dominican Republic winning the title.

The victorious team--along with Puerto Rico, which was beaten in the championship game--impressed us with the strong physical abilities of Caribbean players.

Japan aimed to pull off a three-peat, but disappointingly left the tournament in the semifinals. The team failed to make a double steal during a great opportunity, but we cannot fault its aggressive attempt. We applaud the players' strenuous efforts to advance to the championship round.

The Samurai Japan team for the latest WBC comprised only players from the domestic leagues, as Japanese major leaguers declined to appear. However, the team was able to show Japan's strong aspects to some extent, stringing hits together with pitchers holding on for wins.

Japan's breathtaking seesaw game against Taiwan in the second round was filled with the best aspects of baseball. The Chunichi Dragons' Hirokazu Ibata miraculously proved himself as a clutch hitter, tying the score with a ninth-inning RBI single on a two-out pitch.


Strong ratings

The game attracted an average viewer rating of 30.3 percent in the Kanto region. The following match between Japan and the Netherlands reached a pinnacle of 34.4 percent.

The public's support must have been a great encouragement for the players.

Some of the younger members of Japan's latest squad will surely play central roles in the 2017 WBC--such as pitchers Kenta Maeda of the Hiroshima Carp and Masahiro Tanaka of the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles, and fielders Sho Nakata of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and Hayato Sakamoto of the Yomiuri Giants.

We hope these players will further improve their performances.

The gaps in ability among participating countries are much smaller than before, causing even leading nations to fail to perform as expected.

The United States, for example, failed to advance to the championship round, while South Korea, the runner-up in the previous WBC, was ousted in the first round. In contrast, European teams performed outstandingly, the Netherlands making it to the semifinals.

Most of the Netherlands' players came from Curacao, an autonomous state in the kingdom of the Netherlands that it occupied in the 17th century, but the team's performance has probably helped the Dutch become more interested in baseball.


Participation benefits Japan

Run by a company set up by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, the WBC is now a valuable international event to show the exciting aspects of baseball, as the sport has been dropped from the Olympics.

The Nippon Professional Baseball Players Association initially expressed its intention to sit out the WBC, mainly because it found fault with the way the tournament is organized.

However, it can be said it was good for Japan to participate in the event, considering how excited fans were to support the national team.

The Samurai Japan players will also certainly benefit from the experience of competing with their national flag on their uniforms.

It is necessary to further develop the WBC as a tournament to decide the world's top team and improve Japanese baseball to recapture the title.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 21, 2013)
(2013年3月21日01時28分  読売新聞)

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クール・ジャパン 官民が連携して魅力の発信を

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 22, 2013)
Abe aims to boost the power of 'Cool Japan' cultural exports
クール・ジャパン 官民が連携して魅力の発信を(3月21日付・読売社説)

Japanese music, anime, fashion and food are in the global spotlight, a trend called the "Cool Japan" boom.

We believe this trend should be boosted to stimulate the nation's economic growth.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ordered Tomomi Inada, state minister for administrative reforms, to also serve as the nation's first Cool Japan strategy minister. Abe has also launched an expert panel aimed at promoting the government's Cool Japan campaign. These moves reflect the prime minister's intention to make the Cool Japan initiative part of the government's growth strategy.

We believe the government's policy of promoting businesses related to Cool Japan culture to a level Japan can be proud of is worth pursuing.

The cornerstone of the Cool Japan initiative is the content industry, which produces movies, anime and video games. The size of the industry's domestic market is about 12 trillion yen.


Future depends on global market

However, as the nation's population has begun to shrink, the future of Japan's content industry will taper off if it depends only on the domestic market. If the industry seeks further growth, it needs to aggressively advance overseas, and find new business opportunities there.

The size of the content industry's global market is about 130 trillion yen. It is expected to grow at an annual average rate of 6 percent.

One idea is to increase exports of domestic movies. Last year's export sales of domestic movies came to about 5 billion yen, less than 5 percent of domestic box-office revenues that year.

Export sales of domestic TV programs were 6.3 billion yen in 2010, lagging far behind the figure for South Korea, where the government strongly backs TV program exports.

Japan's manga and anime are highly appreciated in the world. The government needs to draw up a strategy to exploit their full potential.

A noteworthy effort that began in India last year is a TV remake of the popular Japanese anime "Kyojin no Hoshi" (Star of the Giants).

The anime TV series was jointly produced by Japanese and Indian firms. Instead of playing baseball, the hero of the TV series devotes himself to cricket, India's national sport.

Japanese companies sponsoring the series have enjoyed product placement for goods such as cars and stationery in the show. We believe the remade anime will also help viewers deepen their understanding of Japan's high-growth period.


Successful examples important

Yasushi Akimoto, general producer of girl group AKB48, has made thought-provoking remarks on the subject. "To prevent the Cool Japan campaign from ending up as a hollow image, it is important to produce successful examples," he said.
Akimoto serves as a member of the government's expert panel on promoting the Cool Japan Initiative.

The government should utilize various ideas generated by the private sector and proactively disseminate parts of Japanese culture that could win the hearts of the world.

The government has earmarked 50 billion yen in the fiscal 2013 budget to establish a fund aimed at promoting the Cool Japan campaign. We urge the government to do its utmost to provide effective financial support and publicity.

It is important for the government and the private sector to join hands to devise a strategy on promoting the Cool Japan campaign. We hope such a strategy will be smoothly put on track.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 21, 2013)
(2013年3月21日01時28分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月21日 (木)

体罰の基準 指導との混同をなくす一助に

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 21, 2013)
Eliminate corporal punishment in line with ministry guidelines
体罰の基準 指導との混同をなくす一助に(3月20日付・読売社説)

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has issued a notice to boards of education across the country, providing guidelines on corporal punishment. The notice lists examples of physical punishment banned under the School Education Law and also specifies permissible disciplinary actions for students.

Where should the line be drawn between corporal punishment and rigorous guidance? Lack of understanding among teachers breeds chaos. Keeping every teacher informed about the difference between the two could help eliminate physical punishment at school.

The notice cites the following acts as examples of corporal punishment: slapping rebellious students in the face, throwing ballpoint pens at those who act up and refusing requests for permission to go to the restroom while students are being kept in the classroom after regular school hours.

On the other hand, forcing students to remain standing in the classroom, giving extra homework and obliging them to help with cleaning have been confirmed as permissible reprimands under the guidelines. The guidelines also say that when one student is physically attacking another, it is acceptable for a teacher to grab the attacker by the shoulders to pull the attacker away.


A reasonable approach

This reflects the idea that the use of force by teachers can be permitted only for the purpose of preventing one student from inflicting violence on another. This is a commonsense way to draw the line.

The fact remains, however, that teachers encounter a wide variety of situations as they face students in everyday school life. It would be counterproductive if the notice were taken as a rigid manual that restricts teachers from taking flexible responses. There may be cases in which teachers must act firmly.

Many young teachers say they "don't know how to scold pupils." It is essential for them to cultivate their capacity for judgment so that they can provide adequate advice wherever necessary.

The notice also refers to proper instruction for sports club activities. Club activities are part of school education, but there are no unified guidelines on them. As a result, discipline is left entirely to the discretion of teachers who serve as advisers of such clubs.


Lessons from Osaka incident

The notice takes into account lessons learned from an incident at Osaka municipal Sakuranomiya High School in which a male student in the basketball club killed himself after being physically punished by the club's advisory teacher serving as coach.

Criticizing the winning-at-all-costs attitude, the guidelines state that actions that impose persistent physical and mental strain on specific students are "not acts of coaching."

In the case of school sports clubs, other teachers find it difficult to take issue with those seen as successful coaches and are liable to give tacit approval to physical punishments. It is natural that the education ministry notice asks principals and other administrators to supervise club advisory teachers closely.

Even if teachers apply physical punishment under the pretext of "a whip wielded with love" for students, it will only arouse a spirit of rebellion and fear among them. It will mold students who are obedient to teachers without fostering their ability to think and act for themselves.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 20, 2013)
(2013年3月20日01時03分  読売新聞)

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原子力防災計画 政府の積極支援で整備を急げ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 21, 2013)
Local govts need support in compiling antidisaster plans
原子力防災計画 政府の積極支援で整備を急げ(3月20日付・読売社説)

Local governments near nuclear power plants are facing difficulties in drawing up antidisaster plans that stipulate how and where residents should evacuate after the outbreak of a nuclear crisis.

We are seriously concerned about this problem.

Without such plans, it would be difficult for local governments to properly evacuate residents during a nuclear emergency, putting residents at risk of radiation exposure.

While 21 prefectural governments and 136 municipal governments have been asked to draw up antidisaster plans, only 70, or less than half, have completed them, according to the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

Under the NRA guidelines on nuclear disaster countermeasures, local governments were required to prepare nuclear emergency response plans within six months after the law to establish the NRA went into effect. This period ended Monday.


New guidelines

Although preparation of the antidisaster plans are not legal preconditions for restarting idle reactors, having feasible plans is necessary to obtain the understanding of local residents in bringing nuclear plants back online.

NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has urged local governments to proactively compile antidisaster plans before the restart of halted nuclear plants.

He also said plans already formulated by local governments will need to be reviewed. "We'll need to assess whether the plans really ensure safety," he said, indicating that the NRA will not leave the plans to the discretion of local governments.

Considering the importance of antidisaster plans in nuclear emergencies, we believe the NRA's stance is appropriate.

The NRA needs to avidly support the local governments' efforts in drawing up the plans, including securing the cooperation of government ministries and agencies related to disaster prevention if necessary.

Local governments near nuclear plants are drawing up the plans based on NRA guidelines that incorporated lessons learned from the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The old guidelines, which were formulated before the disaster, did not anticipate a serious disaster at nuclear power facilities, and in retrospect did not reflect reality.

As a result, confusion arose during the evacuation of residents around the Fukushima plant, with some remaining in areas with high radiation levels.

The new guidelines, revised last month, expanded the areas required to take precautions against nuclear disasters, from an 8-kilometer to 10-kilometer radius around nuclear plants to a 30-kilometer radius.

The guidelines also state when evacuations should start, as well as requiring the distribution to residents of iodine tablets, which can help prevent radioactive substances from accumulating in the thyroid.


Preparation not easy

However, as the NRA guidelines were revised less than a month ago, local governments only had a limited amount of time to draw up their antidisaster plans before the Monday deadline.

As the guidelines have been significantly revised, it has not been easy for some local governments to comply with them. Many are struggling to decide on evacuation sites that residents can move to quickly after the outbreak of a nuclear crisis.

As the radius around nuclear plants in which precautions need to be taken was expanded to 30 kilometers, an increasing number of areas subject to the guidelines now stretch beyond prefectural borders. In one area, there are nearly 1 million residents.

Municipal governments have asked the central government to establish a framework that would enable them to negotiate among themselves in compiling their respective antidisaster plans.

Some parties concerned also have called for the central government to take responsibility for measuring radiation levels during a nuclear crisis instead of local governments.

There was a lack of coordination between the central and local governments in dealing with the Fukushima nuclear crisis after the Great East Japan Earthquake. The distribution of roles during nuclear emergencies is an important matter that needs to be dealt with.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 20, 2013)
(2013年3月20日01時03分 読売新聞)

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2013年3月20日 (水)

南海トラフ地震 最大級の危機にどう備えるか

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 20, 2013)
Preparing for disasters of the largest scale
南海トラフ地震 最大級の危機にどう備えるか(3月19日付・読売社説)

A working group of the government's Central Disaster Management Council has compiled a report on the expected damage that would be caused by a magnitude-9 Nankai Trough triple earthquake, in which the so-called Tokai, Tonankai and Nankai quakes happen simultaneously.

The huge quake is forecast to cause about 220 trillion yen in economic damage, in the worst-case scenario.

The quake and subsequent tsunami is forecast to cause about 170 trillion yen of damage to homes and office buildings, about 10 times the damage caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

The public and private sectors will need to cooperate and boost the nation's preparedness for such a massive disaster.

The prediction was made on the assumption that densely populated areas and key industrial bases from the Tokyo metropolitan area along to the Chubu, Kansai, Shikoku and Kyushu regions would be rocked violently by the quake, followed by tsunami higher than 30 meters in some areas.


Once in 1,000 years

Last summer, the working group released a prediction that up to about 320,000 people would die in Tokyo, Osaka and 28 other prefectures following the Nankai Trough triple earthquake. The latest report focused on likely economic damage.

The group forecast the total value of corporate production of goods and services--the core of Japan's economic activity--would decline by as much as about 45 trillion yen, nearly 10 percent of gross domestic product, in the year following the disaster, due to suspended production at destroyed factories and other factors.

The group said such a quake occurs "at a frequency of less than once every 1,000 years," emphasizing that such a disaster would be extremely rare.

Although there is no need to worry excessively about such a megaquake, the devastating quake that struck off the Tohoku coast on March 11, 2011, also was an event expected to occur once every 1,000 years. Complacency is not an option.

The important thing is to put in place as many "disaster mitigation" preparations as possible. The central government and local municipalities likely to be affected by the disaster should review their disaster-management processes based on the latest estimate.

According to the group's calculation, making buildings more quake-resistant could halve the economic damage wrought by the disaster. The group also said quick evacuations could reduce tsunami deaths by 90 percent.

The central and local governments have already been making such efforts.


Take basic steps first

The important thing is to, first of all, take basic steps such as accelerating the repair of buildings that lack quake-resistance and securing evacuation facilities and tsunami escape routes.

It is also essential to reinforce networks of trunk roads, harbors and airports to enable immediate rescue and relief operations and reduce damage to the economy.

When the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito were in the opposition camp last year, they submitted to the Diet a bill concerning special measures to deal with the potential Nankai Trough triple quake. The bill would provide more government subsidies for making disaster management facilities more quake-resistant. However, the bill was abandoned with the dissolution of the House of Representatives.

The bill would reinforce the present special measures law that promotes steps to deal with the Tonankai and Nankai quakes. The LDP and Komeito are considering resubmitting the bill. We hope the bill will be thoroughly discussed in the Diet.

Aside from the Nankai Trough quake, the government has predicted a separate Tokai quake has an 88 percent chance of occurring in the next 30 years, while a Tonankai quake has a 70 percent chance and the Nankai quake a 60 percent chance.

There is no time to waste in getting prepared to handle these disasters.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 19, 2013)
(2013年3月19日01時19分  読売新聞)

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イラク戦争10年 「北」の脅威対処に教訓生かせ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 20, 2013)
Iraq War anniversary a chance to reflect on North Korea's threat
イラク戦争10年 「北」の脅威対処に教訓生かせ(3月19日付・読売社説)

Wednesday marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the controversial Iraq War. There are problems still left unsolved, and Japan today has a particular reason to calmly reassess the lessons of the war.

The Iraq War began under the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush, and it ended in December 2011 with the full withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The war taught the United States a bitter lesson. U.S. rule of the occupied land was blundering, the lives of nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers were lost, and huge expenditures on the war ballooned the nation's fiscal deficit. The United States launched the war based on a claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, but such weapons were never found, undermining the U.S. authority.

There is ceaseless criticism that the costs of the war were out of all proportion to its gains.

In addition, the international community was unable to reach an agreement on the issue, as countries such as France, Germany and Russia opposed the use of force by the United States and Britain. The final verdict on the Iraq War will not be rendered anytime soon.


A question remains unanswered

However, we must keep in mind that one fundamental problem that drove the United States to launch the war remains unsolved.

The problem is this: What actions should the international community take, if a country that develops weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear weapons, ignores U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that it scrap such weapons?

A case in point now is North Korea, a nation hell-bent on building a nuclear arsenal. The nation has conducted three nuclear tests, ignoring the Security Council's resolutions.

In addition to the direct threat posed by North Korea, Japan also has to cope with the unabated military and economic expansion of China.

Japan was divided over the U.S. decision to launch the Iraq War. Then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi supported the use of force from the standpoint of prioritizing the Japan-U.S. alliance, but the Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition parties opposed the war, saying it had no justification.

However, the necessity for Japan to firmly maintain its alliance with the United States remains unchanged over the past 10 years, or has even become stronger.


What Japan needs to do

The United States and Britain overestimated the danger of Iraq's programs on weapons of mass destruction. But it will be dangerous if the aftereffects of that overestimate led the international community to underestimate the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea. If the United States becomes overly reluctant to use force against North Korea, there will be fewer options for responding to Pyongyang's threat.

Our nation must not be complacent regarding its current relationship with the United States. Japan must take concrete measures to reinforce the Japan-U.S. alliance, such as enabling itself to exercise the right to collective self-defense.

Iraq's democratization is making progress, as can be seen from events such as its conducting elections. Oil production is recovering, bringing prosperity to the nation's oil-producing northern and southern areas. Such results would have been difficult to achieve under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

However, Iraq's political situation remains unstable. Sectarian strife and terrorist attacks show no signs of abating in Baghdad and other key cities. Despite myriad problems, the administration of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is slowly heading toward reconstruction of the country. We hope Iraq will succeed in restoring security, which will help it set a steady course toward reconstruction.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 19, 2013)
(2013年3月19日01時19分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月19日 (火)

自民党大会 慢心せず「決められる」政治を

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 19, 2013)
LDP must humbly proceed with decisive politics
自民党大会 慢心せず「決められる」政治を(3月18日付・読売社説)

The Liberal Democratic Party's regular party convention Sunday was suffused with good feeling over the LDP's return to power and strong public support. But the party's real strength will be put to the test in the House of Councillors election this summer.

At the convention, which was held in a Tokyo hotel, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed firm determination to win the election. "We'll fight it out successfully to regain a Japan we can be proud of," Abe said.

We unreservedly applaud the Abe administration for the steady achievements it has made since its inauguration in December. The excessively high yen has been corrected and stock prices have been rising.

Other accomplishments include the Diet's passage of a supplementary budget totaling 20 trillion yen to finance public works and other projects, and Diet approval of the government's nominations for the governor and two vice governors of the Bank of Japan.

Abe decided Japan would participate in the negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade framework. He sought public understanding of his decision, saying: "We'll protect Japan's agriculture and food without fail. Please trust me."

Fierce debate was conducted within the LDP between those in favor of joining the negotiations and those opposed. The latter group ultimately made the sensible choice of compromising. The LDP thereby demonstrated that its decision-making process is different from that of the Democratic Party of Japan, which acted inconsistently on policy matters due to a continued feud within the party while it was in power and ended up losing public support.

The LDP must remember as a ruling party to give top priority to national interests, instead of the interests of the industrial sector.


Off to a favorable start

So far, the Abe government has had smooth sailing. According to The Yomiuri Shimbun's latest public opinion survey, the approval rating for the Abe Cabinet was 72 percent, marking the third straight increase since its inauguration. The support rate for the LDP stood at 45 percent, far exceeding the 5 percent recorded by the second-place DPJ.

But as Abe put it, the LDP "should never be allowed to be conceited."

This is because the party's overwhelming victory in the House of Representatives election in December stemmed from voters' desire to punish the DPJ-led administration.

To regain public confidence, the LDP has no alternative but to make steady achievements by carrying out the Abenomics economic policy and making efforts to build a consensus with opposition parties.


Relationship with New Komeito

If the LDP and its coalition partner New Komeito win the upper house election to capture a majority in the chamber, it will end the divided Diet, in which the upper house is controlled by the opposition camp. This will help stabilize the management of the Abe administration for up to three years until the next national election.

At the same time, the government must pay attention to its relationship with Komeito.

The LDP, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and Your Party are showing keen interest in constitutional revision, but Komeito remains cautious about it.

"It shouldn't be done hastily. The proper way to win the public's trust is to try to humbly build a broad consensus," warned Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi, who attended the LDP convention as a guest.

This indicates there is strong resistance within Komeito to Abe's tendency toward the right.

How will the LDP deal with Komeito and the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai, its major support base, which it has increasingly relied on in elections? The LDP will face a severe test in this regard.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 18, 2013)
(2013年3月18日01時29分  読売新聞)

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国家公務員給与 55歳超の昇給抑制が必要だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 19, 2013)
Pay hikes for govt employees 55 or older must be curbed
国家公務員給与 55歳超の昇給抑制が必要だ(3月18日付・読売社説)

Another step forward has been made in resolving issues put off by the previous Democratic Party of Japan-led administration.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet has submitted a bill to the Diet to revise a law to drastically curb the pay hikes of central government employees aged 55 or older.

If the revised law is enacted, the new salary system will be put into force next January. About 33,000 people will be affected and the government's personnel expenses trimmed by an estimated 600 million yen a year.

The bill takes into account recommendations made by the National Personnel Authority in August.

Under the current system, salaries of central government employees rise every year until they reach the mandatory retirement age of 60.

The recommendation calls for annual pay hikes to be discontinued for those aged 55 or older and whose job performances are deemed average, while pay hikes would be permitted for those in the same age group with excellent job performances, although the margin of increase would be held down.

The salaries of many workers in the private sector decline when they reach the mid-50s.

This is because companies transfer workers in that age group to affiliated companies or have a mandatory age for managers to step down from their posts. It is therefore appropriate to have the salaries of government employees fall more in line with those at private companies.


Rehiring workers

Continued employment of workers who reach the manadatory retirement age of 60 should also be considered as they will not receive benefits from the state-run pension plan until they reach the age of 65.

The government plans to make it obligatory to rehire employees who reach the mandatory retirement age and are willing to continue working. However, the fiscal situation remains dismal.

To reduce personnel expenses as much as possible, it is essential to hold down the salaries for those in their 50s.

Both the ruling and opposition parties must pass the revised bill as quickly as possible.

The DPJ is to blame for wasting so much time before the bill could be submitted.

The Cabinet under then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda failed to act on the authority's recommendation for three months, deciding only to postpone the recommended restrictions on the annual pay hike on Nov. 16, the day he dissolved the House of Representatives.

In announcing the decision, Noda said the government had already taken "a harsh pay-cutting measure" by lowering government employees' salaries by 7.8 percent on average, so it could use the saved funds for post-disaster reconstruction.

However, the real reason is that the government submitted to the Diet a bill related to reforming the national public employees system, which we think stopped the administration from dealing with the recommended curbs.


Working with unions

The main feature of the new bill gives central government employees the right to conclude an agreement with the government, a basic legal labor right.

The bill includes the idea that issues such as pay levels can be decided through labor-management talks, and the National Personnel Authority can be abolished. Because of this, the Noda administration probably decided to ignore the authority's recommendations.

How will the DPJ deal with the bill to revise the salaries of central government employees in the days ahead?

The bill is in line with the DPJ's manifesto when it comes to cutting the central government's personnel expenses. As it will also affect the wages of local government employees, however, it will be difficult for DPJ legislators supported by the All Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers' Union and other labor groups to support the bill.

The Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), a key support organization for the DPJ, has opposed the Abe Cabinet's request for the salaries of local government employees to be lowered, in line with those of central government employees, in fiscal 2013.

The DPJ's dependency on labor unions will be tested once again over how the party responds to the bill to revise the salaries of central government employees.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 18, 2013)
(2013年3月18日01時29分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月18日 (月)

黒田日銀発足へ 野党分断が奏功した同意人事

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 18, 2013)
Abe's clever approach pays off with BOJ appointments
黒田日銀発足へ 野党分断が奏功した同意人事(3月17日付・読売社説)

The new leadership of the Bank of Japan bears the heavy responsibility of crafting bold monetary easing measures that help the nation drag itself out of deflation.

Both Diet chambers have approved Haruhiko Kuroda, former vice finance minister for international affairs and currently president of the Asian Development Bank, as the replacement of outgoing Bank of Japan Gov. Masaaki Shirakawa. Gakushuin University Prof. Kikuo Iwata and Hiroshi Nakaso, executive director of the central bank, were given the thumbs-up to be deputy governors. The three will assume their posts Wednesday.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has cleared its biggest challenge so far during the current ordinary Diet session. It is significant that the administration has gained Diet approval for its appointments as it planned, considering the fact that the Diet remains divided.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which holds the most seats in the House of Councillors, opposed Iwata's appointment. However, he was eventually approved because other opposition parties voted for him.

Diet approval of the appointments was the result of Abe's strategic personnel selections that took into account not only the DPJ's opinion, but also those of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), Your Party and other opposition parties. Abe will surely apply this strategy--effectively splitting the opposition block--to other issues as he manages his government.


Flexibility needed

The lineup for promoting the "Abenomics" economic policy has now been completed. The government and the central bank should work together even more closely to galvanize efforts to revive the economy.

Kuroda is known as a proponent of a bold monetary easing policy. During hearings in both Diet chambers, Kuroda expressed his determination, saying, "I'll take whatever steps are possible to pull the nation out of deflation."

Kuroda also discussed details of his own views. He said the central bank should purchase large amounts of long-term government bonds and implement an open-ended monetary easing plan earlier than 2014 as scheduled, under which the bank buys a huge amount of financial assets without setting a specific termination date.

Kuroda said he will present new monetary easing measures as soon as he assumes the governor's post. We hope he responds flexibly to the challenges ahead.

The most important thing is that the central bank promptly implements its policies.

The Bank of Japan's monetary policy is decided by a majority vote by its governor, deputy governors and six other members of the Policy Board. Even a new policy proposed by the governor cannot be implemented if a majority of board members votes against it.


Not always on same page

Kuroda said the bank should aim to meet its annual inflation target of 2 percent within two years, but Nakaso said it is "difficult to guarantee the target will be achieved in two years." Kuroda and Iwata have different opinions when it comes to revising the Bank of Japan Law, with the former taking a cautious stance and the latter advocating it.

It would cause problems if the central bank becomes indecisive because the Policy Board lacks unity. It is crucial that Kuroda exercise strong leadership as the bank's governor.

Equally important is ensuring the bank's independence. The central bank will find confidence in its monetary policy evaporates if it is perceived as merely following government instructions to underwrite its bonds and clear up its fiscal deficits.

The Bank of Japan should not get overly cozy with the government, and should demand that fiscal discipline be maintained.

Some foreign countries have criticized Japan for intentionally weakening the yen by implementing a monetary easing policy, which is designed to usher the nation out of deflation. We hope Kuroda tries hard to gain understanding from other nations by taking advantage of his extensive personal connections overseas.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 17, 2013)
(2013年3月17日01時25分  読売新聞)

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後見と選挙権 違憲判決が制度の甘さ突いた

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 18, 2013)
Guardian system must not interfere with right to vote
後見と選挙権 違憲判決が制度の甘さ突いた(3月17日付・読売社説)

The Tokyo District Court has ruled unconstitutional a provision in the Public Offices Election Law that denies the right to vote to adults who live under the statutory adult guardianship system.

The court ruling highly evaluates the rights of people with mental disorders or intellectual disabilities.

The plaintiff in the suit was an intellectually challenged woman.

Immediately after a family court chose the father of the adult woman as her guardian in 2007, she was deprived of the right to vote.

The adult guardianship system is designed to allow those who are considered incapable of making judgments to have someone act on their behalf to manage property, make contracts and carry out other procedures.

The Public Offices Election Law does not allow people to whom this system applies the right to vote in national and local elections.


Unjustifiable denial

The court decision on Thursday acknowledged that the woman had the right to vote on the grounds that depriving her of this right as guaranteed by the Constitution "must be limited to extremely exceptional circumstances."

The ruling also noted: "What the family court decided concerned her ability to administer her property by herself, and not her competency in exercising her right to vote.

"A large number of people probably are capable of exercising their right to vote even if they are unable to manage their assets."

It is not surprising that the court ruled the law's provision null and void, as it uniformly restricts voting rights by using two systems intended to serve different purposes.

Denying disabled people the right to vote merely because they have been placed under the adult guardianship system should also be deemed problematic from the viewpoint of ensuring public equity.

Before being deprived of her right to vote, the plaintiff voted in almost all elections. In addition, she is able to read and write simple kanji characters. The district court probably gave a great deal of thought to these facts in handing down the ruling.

The court ruling, however, should not be taken as a blanket denial of restrictions on voting rights in all circumstances.

The ruling said the restrictions on voting rights for people who lack the competence to exercise the right to vote is not unreasonable.

While this country uniformly deprives the vote to right to people under the adult guardianship system, the United States and Europe are heading in the opposite direction.

Japan's adult guardianship system, which was introduced in 2000, is aimed at protecting the rights of the disabled and the elderly with insufficient capacities to make judgments.

The system of incompetency that was abolished in 2000 under the civil law also covered those with reckless spending habits, who were excluded from the list of people covered by the adult guardianship system.

In light of this, the Public Offices Election Law's provision to remove the right to vote from people with guardians does not fit in with the spirit of the system.

There are more than 130,000 adult wards with court-designated guardians across the country.


Applications rising

Because of the rapid graying of society, applications to use the guardianship system number more than 20,000 annually. The court ruling is expected to have various repercussions on how the guardianship system is conducted from now on.

When the system was introduced, the then Home Affairs Ministry asserted that depriving people with guardians of their right to vote was intended to prevent voting irregularities.

Didn't the ministry overestimate the possibility of voting irregularities concerning the exercise, under the guardianship system, of the right to vote, which is the essence of parliamentary democracy?

The court's ruling should be thought of as a warning from the judiciary regarding the slipshod design of the adult guardianship system.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 17, 2013)
(2013年3月17日01時25分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月17日 (日)

TPP参加表明 自由貿易推進で成長に弾みを

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 17, 2013)
Govt should push for free trade to boost economy
TPP参加表明 自由貿易推進で成長に弾みを(3月16日付・読売社説)


It is essential for Japan's growth to tap into Asia's economic vigor by expanding the nation's free trade and investment. To that end, Japan's move to join talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact would be a major step forward.

On Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe formally announced Japan's intention to participate in negotiations on the U.S.-led multilateral free trade framework.

Reaching a national consensus on the matter has been difficult over the past three years, ever since the administration of former Prime Minister Naoto Kan began considering participation. We applaud Abe's political decision on the TPP issue.

"Joining the TPP talks is a farsighted national policy," the prime minister said at a press conference Friday. "If we miss this chance, we will be left behind in global rule-making efforts."


TPP could boost Japan-U.S. ties

Currently, 11 countries, including the United States, Australia and Canada, are conducting TPP negotiations, and 29 areas, including tariffs, services and intellectual property, are under discussion.

Abe stressed: "We'll make full use of our negotiating power to protect what needs protecting and push for what we want. We'll seek the best way to serve national interests."

We approve this stance. Japan, if approved, will be a latecomer to the TPP negotiations and will be in a disadvantageous position, but we hope the government will exert its negotiating power.

Meanwhile, the government has released its estimate on the economic impact of the TPP if the country joins the trade pact. According to the estimate, annual production in the nation's agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors could fall by 3 trillion yen. However, with consumption and exports growing, Japan's real gross domestic product is expected to increase by 3.2 trillion yen overall.

The Abe administration faces a test over whether it can devise a mid- and long-term growth strategy in its "Abenomics" economic policy. It is reasonable to use the TPP to boost the strategy.

Abe also said TPP participation would contribute to ensuring security and stability in the Asia Pacific region. Expectations are high that the creation of a free trade zone centering on Japan and the United States could also strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance.

Japan-U.S. security ties were shaken by poor diplomacy by the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan. Taking advantage of the situation, China, which is pursuing a policy of increasing wealth and military power, has opposed Japan's nationalization of the Senkaku Islands and has repeatedly sent Chinese patrol ships into Japanese waters. Such provocations by Beijing have increased instability in East Asia.

To call for a growing China to abide by international rules, it is vital for Japan and the United States to work closely together.

Abe was able to announce Japan's intention to join TPP talks mainly because he obtained confirmation from U.S. President Barack Obama at their February summit meeting that eliminating all tariffs would not be a precondition for joining the talks.

In principle, the TPP is premised on tariff elimination, but the summit meeting has made it clear that exceptions could be made for certain items under negotiation.


What must be protected?

Abe took an ingenious strategy in coordinating views within the Liberal Democratic Party to make the decision to participate in the TPP talks consistent with the party's campaign pledge in the House of Representatives election last year. The LDP had pledged to oppose joining the TPP talks as long as abolishing tariffs without exception was a precondition.

While there were arguments for and against the matter, the LDP adopted a resolution accepting Japan's participation in the TPP negotiations, which created an environment for Abe to make a final decision.

Among other conditions, the LDP resolution calls on the government to place priority on ensuring five agricultural items--rice, wheat, beef and pork, dairy products and plants for making sweeteners--will be exempt from tariff elimination. The resolution also seeks to maintain Japan's universal health insurance system.

Abe is apparently thinking about joining the TPP talks after confirming the party's solidarity on the matter at the LDP's convention scheduled to be held on Sunday.

Obama has announced a goal of completing the TPP negotiations by the end of this year. That leaves very little time as Japan is expected to join the talks around July.

Abe appointed Akira Amari, minister in charge of economic revitalization, as minister in charge of TPP issues. Serving as the government's point man, Amari must do his utmost to work on formulating trade and investment rules that reflect Japan's national interests.

A hard-fought battle is expected over the process of narrowing down items to be exempt from tariff elimination.

In past trade negotiations, Japan has refused to abolish tariffs for about 940 items, which account for about 10 percent of the total, mainly agricultural products such as rice and wheat.

It remains unclear how many items Japan will be able to keep as exceptions. Each country has items they want treated as exempt, with Canada seeking exceptions for dairy products and Mexico for textiles and shoes.

Japan has compromised in prior consultations with the United States and largely agreed, for the time being, to allow the United States to delay eliminating import tariffs it imposes on passenger vehicles and trucks. In return, Japan should win concessions from the United States on agricultural products.


Strengthening agriculture

It is an urgent task for Japan to strengthen agriculture's competitiveness in preparation for further market liberalization. Apart from participation in the TPP talks, the current situation of Japan's agriculture, where farmers are aging, is already severe.

As Abe pointed out that the TPP is a "big opportunity, not an adversity," the government should put efforts into such policies as fostering farmers, and promote "aggressive agriculture."

Japan will soon agree to begin negotiations for an economic partnership agreement with the European Union and also is scheduled to begin talks for a trilateral free trade agreement with China and South Korea.

Japan should switch to the offensive on the TPP and regain lost ground in its trade policies by accelerating negotiations for other trade pacts.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 16, 2013)
(2013年3月16日01時34分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月16日 (土)

衆院選改革案 中小政党の優遇枠は疑問だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 16, 2013)
Lower house allocation plan for smaller parties questionable
衆院選改革案 中小政党の優遇枠は疑問だ(3月15日付・読売社説)

The basic posture of the Liberal Democratic Party to give consideration to small and midsize political parties, with a view to reaching an early agreement on electoral reform of the House of Representatives, deserves appreciation.

Since the issue bears upon the fundamental makeup of the nation's democracy, however, care must be taken to avoid a slap-dash resolution.

The LDP has come out with a draft plan for crafting a new lower house election system.

It calls for reducing by 30 the number of seats to be elected through proportional representation to 150.

Ninety seats would be dispensed through the conventional seat allocation method called the d'Hondt formula, while the remaining 60 would be given to parties other than the top vote-getter.

In addition, the existing 11 proportional representation blocs across the country would be consolidated into eight blocs. These are the major pillars of the LDP-proposed electoral changes.

The LDP initially considered making 30 seats subject to the preferential allocation for smaller parties in the proportional segments of the lower house election. In response to requests from its junior ruling coalition partner, New Komeito, the LDP eventually agreed to double the number to 60.


Vote value equality essential

The proposed reduction of proportional representation blocs is also intended primarily to help smaller parties increase their lower house seats by curtailing the number of so-called wasted votes that go to losing parties in the proportional representation contests.

It seems the LDP may have thought it inevitable to give consideration to smaller parties to ensure an accord between the LDP, Komeito and the Democratic Party of Japan last November to reach an agreement on lower house electoral reform, including curtailment of seats in the House of Representatives, during the current ordinary Diet session.

The idea of preferential allotment of seats to smaller parties, however, has been criticized by some as possibly a violation of the constitutional principle of equality in vote values.

This is because adoption of the system would mean the value of the votes cast for the party getting the most ballots would be diluted according to the extent of the preferential seat allotment given to smaller parties.

Another problem that cannot be overlooked is that the proposed system would be more complex than the current combination of single-seat constituencies and proportional representation, and would likely be unintelligible to voters. Too much consideration of the benefits to smaller parties would call the very reasonableness of the system into question.

The LDP has said it will make efforts to prevent a situation under which the planned preferential seat allotments could result in the top vote-getting party taking fewer seats than the party with the second-most ballots. Doing so, however, would make the system all the more complicated.


Seek feasible alternative

Noteworthy in this connection is the fact that the LDP opposed last year a DPJ proposal for partially introducing a new multiseat constituency system blending elements of single-seat and proportional representation processes in a way advantageous to smaller parties. At that time, the LDP criticized the plan for possibly being "unconstitutional and unintelligible to the public."

Komeito supports the LDP's latest draft, but Speaker Bunmei Ibuki of the lower chamber, who hails from the LDP, has pointed out "constitutional problems" that could arise due to the preferential seat allocation for smaller parties.

The DPJ has opposed the planned system on the grounds it would be constitutionally questionable and also because not enough seats would be cut under the plan.

Such opposition parties as Your Party and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) are also wary of the LDP draft, saying they refuse to accept any electoral system that may be unintelligible to the public.

Given that reform of the electoral system directly affects the different parties' chances of getting their seats in the legislature, it is naturally difficult to work out a plan both ruling and opposition parties can agree on.

However, regarding the planned preferential allocation of seats for parties getting the second-largest shares of votes or less in proportional representation contests, all parties must discuss the matter in a more scrupulous way.

If an accord is reached to give strong consideration to smaller parties, serious studies should be conducted on the wisdom of adopting a system other than the LDP-envisioned preferential seat allocation.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 15, 2013)
(2013年3月15日01時38分  読売新聞)

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習・李体制へ 威圧外交で高まる中国異質論

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 16, 2013)
China's overbearing diplomacy only boosts its 'alien' image
習・李体制へ 威圧外交で高まる中国異質論(3月15日付・読売社説)

Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping has been named president at the National People's Congress, succeeding the retiring Hu Jintao. Xi now holds the country's top three titles, including the top party and military posts.

On Friday, Li Keqiang is set to succeed Wen Jiabao in the premiership. Then the transition of power that began in autumn last year will be complete and the Xi-Li regime can begin to move.

China, now the world's second-largest economy, is being urged to play a much larger role in the international community than it did when the Hu-Wen regime began 10 years ago. We hope China will respond to the demands of the global community and fulfill its responsibility in stabilizing the world situation.


Aiming to be a maritime giant

President Xi, who has said achieving the "great revival of the Chinese nation" is the goal of his administration, is expected to pursue wealth- and military-building policies over his two five-year terms, aiming to transform China into a superpower on par with the United States.

Backed by a strong military, China has been striving to become a "great maritime power." It is quite clear that the country will continue its hard-line stance against Japan, Vietnam, and other neighbors in the East and South China seas.

China's lawmaking body, the National People's Congress, passed government organizational reforms to achieve this aim.

The reforms consolidate maritime patrols under the State Oceanic Administration (SOA)--activities that had been previously administered independently by law enforcement bodies such as the SOA, Agriculture Ministry and Public Security Ministry. This therefore represents a massive increase of the SOA's authority. Above the SOA, a state oceanic commission will be created to direct the country's maritime strategy.

The Xi administration is expected to step up cooperation between the navy and the SOA to maintain and strengthen its demonstrative activities around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. The administration has reportedly been studying the possibility of sending a survey team to the islands to set survey markers and create an accurate map of the islands.

This situation is very worrying for Japan. We cannot accept such a violation of Japan's sovereignty.

Japan needs to increase alertness over China in cooperation with the United States, and prepare for China's ever-escalating provocative actions.

As part of the organizational reform, China has decided to dissolve the Railway Ministry. Dubbed an "independent kingdom" with its own police force and court system, the ministry has been criticized as a hotbed of corruption in the wake of seemingly endless bribery cases. The Xi administration's leadership will be tested over its ability to direct a new railway organization to put customers first and place top priority on safety.


No visible achievements

During the last decade, the Hu-Wen administration sought sustainable economic growth that took the environment into consideration and worked to correct income disparities. However, it failed to produce visible results. Furthermore, the new administration must appropriately deal with the suppression of the human rights of minority groups, such as those in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Xi will need to squarely face difficult problems that could shake the foundation of the country. If the government continues to inflame nationalist sentiments with its forcible, overbearing diplomacy only to distract people from their hardships, it will only give more credence to ideas in the international community such as that China is an alien nation or is a major threat to other countries.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 15, 2013)
(2013年3月15日01時38分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月15日 (金)

小沢氏元秘書 再度有罪が問う政治家の責任

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 15, 2013)
Guilty ruling for ex-aides highlights Ozawa's responsibility
小沢氏元秘書 再度有罪が問う政治家の責任(3月14日付・読売社説)

Wednesday's judicial decision, which again deemed a politician's former secretaries to be guilty, is quite grave.

The Tokyo High Court upheld a lower court conviction of three former secretaries of Ichiro Ozawa, head of the People's Life Party, for falsifying political fund reports.

The three former aides were tried on suspicion of violating the Political Funds Control Law over a Tokyo land purchase by Rikuzan-kai, Ozawa's political funds management body.

The high court ruling said the secretaries repeatedly made false record entries and omitted information in an attempt to conceal 400 million yen that Ozawa lent to Rikuzan-kai to finance the purchase.

Pointing out that the false entries and omissions were made for over three years, involving a total amount of 1.8 billion yen, the court also said the actions were "particularly heinous." The ruling criticized the secretaries' actions not as mere entry mistakes but as intentional criminal acts.


Source to check political activities

Political fund reports, which detail the income and expenditures of such funds, are disclosed to the public every year. They are an important way for the general public to check whether political activities of lawmakers are aboveboard. False entries or omissions are serious crimes. It was natural for the high court to hand down such a ruling.

House of Representatives member Tomohiro Ishikawa, one of the three defendants, ran in the lower house election in December on a New Party Daichi ticket.
He failed in the constituency vote, but was elected from a proportional representation bloc. Ishikawa has appealed the high court ruling to the Supreme Court. If his guilt is finalized at the top court, he will lose his lower house seat.

Regarding the concealment of 400 million yen, which was the focus of the trial, the high court made a similar judgment to the lower court ruling. It said two of the three secretaries received secret donations from a midsize general contractor regarding a dam construction project in Ozawa's election base of Iwate Prefecture. One motive for the concealment was to prevent the secret donations from coming to light, the court concluded.

In his own trial, Ozawa was found not guilty. Ozawa has consistently denied that his secretaries received the secret funds. Ozawa issued a statement calling the high court ruling "quite regrettable." How does he explain his corrupt relation with the general contractor, which the two courts recognized?

What the trial has revealed afresh is a defect in the Political Funds Control Law.


Law lets Ozawa dodge blame

Under the current law, the person in charge of accounting at a political organization is responsible for false entries in a political funds report.

As a result, Ozawa could get away with claims such as "I entrusted everything to my secretaries" or "I've never seen funds reports."

Ozawa created Nippon Mirai no To (Tomorrow Party of Japan) before the December election, but it did very poorly. Currently he leads People's Life Party, but he does not have much of a presence in the political world now. At the same time, people's interest in the Rikuzan-kai case has been diminishing.

Even so, the case should not be left behind as a thing of the past.

The ruling and opposition parties should not neglect to improve the political funds disclosure system, including toughening regulations on the supervisory responsibilities of politicians over people in charge of accounting at political organizations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 14, 2013)
(2013年3月14日01時34分  読売新聞)

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春闘回答 賃上げを景気回復の糸口に

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 15, 2013)
Wage hikes must be linked to economic recovery
春闘回答 賃上げを景気回復の糸口に(3月14日付・読売社説)

It seems the public's expectations for Abenomics--the Abe Cabinet's economic policy aimed at escaping from deflation--have had a positive impact on this year's shunto spring wage negotiations.

Workers' wages had been sliding in Japan for years, helping to prolong deflation. It is essential that these wage increases be linked to growth in consumption and economic recovery.

On Wednesday, major automakers and electronics makers responded to labor unions' demands regarding yearly bonuses and regular pay raises based on seniority. Their decisions influence trends in the annual spring labor offensives.

Most major automakers, such as Toyota Motor Corp., said they will accept their unions' bonus demands in full. The average yearly bonus at such automakers has recovered to the level recorded in 2008, before the so-called Lehman shock. The automakers also acceded to the unions' demands on regular pay raises.

Compared to automakers, business performance has varied recently among major electronics makers. As a result, there were differences in the electronics makers' responses to their unions' demands, but they all accepted the demands on regular pay raises.

The outlook of labor-management negotiations has totally changed from last year, when some companies decided to forgo the regular pay raise and cut their employees' wages.


Management's policy shift

Initially, management took a hard-line stance before this year's shunto negotiations, stressing that certain companies may choose to postpone or forgo regular pay raises. Their policy shift is remarkable.

The underlying reason why the companies chose to accept the unions' demands is the rapid business recovery of export-oriented companies, such as automakers and electronics makers, boosted by the depreciation of the yen that took place after the launch of the Abe administration.

Requests by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and some Cabinet ministers during negotiations that companies increase workers' wages were also effective.

Some company executives have acknowledged they took the government's requests into account. It is understandable for the labor unions to boast that they had a certain level of success in the negotiations.

Ahead the manufacturing industry, a number of convenience store chains, such as Lawson Inc., also raised their employees' wages. We want to praise the convenience store industry's decision to take the initiative in working to boost consumer spending.

However, although the public's hopes for Abenomics are running high, Japan has yet to witness substantial recovery in the real economy.

Few companies have promised to raise base pay, called "base-up" in Japanese, a uniform pay-scale increase that comes in addition to the regular pay raise. It is also unclear whether moves to raise wages will spread to small and midsize companies.


Recovery is yet to come

Depreciation of the yen will drive up the prices of fuel and imported raw materials. We have to be aware that certain industries, such as food services, will be buffeted by the headwind caused by such cost increases.

Will the government be able to connect companies' moves to increase their employees' wages, which the nation has been longing for, to steady economic recovery and make it the beginning of a virtuous economic cycle? What matters is the government's effort to reinforce cooperation with the Bank of Japan to achieve this goal.

The government plans to draw up by June its growth strategy, with policies such as practical implementation of regenerative medicine as its pillars. We hope the strategy will produce tangible results, such as strengthening the competitiveness of domestic companies and nurturing growing industries.

Such moves should be taken in tandem with bold monetary easing and flexible fiscal policy to accelerate the rejuvenation of the Japanese economy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 14, 2013)
(2013年3月14日01時34分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月14日 (木)

エネルギー計画 現実的な原発政策に練り直せ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 14, 2013)
Government should draw up realistic nuclear power policy
エネルギー計画 現実的な原発政策に練り直せ(3月13日付・読売社説)

The basic energy plan, which is a guideline for the government's electric power policy, must be changed to make it more realistic. We hope the government will restart discussions from scratch, as the previous administration led by the Democratic Party of Japan strayed off course on this matter.

New members of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry's Advisory Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will start discussions on the government's basic energy plan this week. The committee plans to compile revisions to the plan by the end of this year.

The number of committee members was reduced from 25 to 15 by removing people advocating the abandonment of nuclear power, and others. This apparently is aimed at creating an environment to consolidate opinions in a constructive manner. The new members include Issei Nishikawa, governor of Fukui Prefecture, where nuclear power plants are located. It is appropriate to have a voice of the people from an area hosting nuclear power plants reflected in discussions.

How will nuclear power plants be utilized provided that their safety is ensured? It is vital to have practical discussions.

The existing basic energy plan was drawn up in 2010. It called for increasing the number of nuclear reactors by as many as 14 with the aim of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.


Impractical plans

Following the outbreak of the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011, the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan began reviewing the plan. The committee held as many as 33 meetings over a yearlong period, but discussions wound up with opinions widely divided over the nation's ratio of nuclear power generation to total electricity output in the future.

A plan to abolish all nuclear power plants in the 2030s, which was suddenly compiled by the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, was not reflected in the previous review of the basic energy plan, thanks to the change of government last year.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to reactivate idled nuclear reactors once their safety has been confirmed. The Abe administration needs to clarify how it defines the roles of nuclear power plants in the mid- and long term.

Safety technology for nuclear power plants has made considerable headway. Replacing existing nuclear reactors with the latest models must be conducive to improvement in safety. It is indispensable to discuss revisions to the basic energy plan without eliminating options to renew current reactors or build new reactors.


National wealth being drained

We also call on the government to resolve such problems as a nuclear fuel cycle policy and final disposal of nuclear waste.

Most nuclear reactors are currently idle, so the country has to rely on thermal power plants using coal and liquefied natural gas for the time being.

The national wealth is being drained as the cost to import such fuels as LNG has increased by as much as 3 trillion yen a year, adding to the massive trade deficit.

Power companies should make an effort to procure cheaper fuel, but some resource-rich countries have taken advantage of them in price negotiations because of Japan's unclear nuclear power policy. It is extremely important for the government to clearly declare that it will operate nuclear power plants over the long term.

The expansion of the use of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power will probably be a major issue in revising the basic energy plan.

However, renewable energy sources have shortcomings such as sharp fluctuations in electric power output because of weather changes. This is a high hurdle to clear.

We should avoid overestimating the spread of renewable energy sources, unless it is supported by evidence on the technology and cost involved.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 13, 2013)
(2013年3月13日01時24分  読売新聞)

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震災遺構の保存 記憶の伝承に生かせるのなら

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 14, 2013)
Keeping memories of the March 11 disaster alive
震災遺構の保存 記憶の伝承に生かせるのなら(3月13日付・読売社説)

Scars of the massive tsunami triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake remain all-too-vivid in some affected areas. A large fishing vessel remains stranded ashore, and buildings reduced to their bare frames dot the landscape.

Local governments in these areas face an extremely difficult quandary: Should structures that remain grim reminders of the devastation wrought by the disaster be left where they are, or should they be dismantled and removed?

In Minami-Sanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, a consensus over whether to preserve the town government's office building for antidisaster measures remains elusive. Many officials in the building died when it was engulfed by the tsunami. In Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, opinion is split over whether to conserve the former town government building where the mayor and other officials were swept away by the dark tsunami waters.

Some bereaved families who lost relatives at such sites have demanded the structures be removed, saying, "It's painful just to see them because they remind us of the disaster." Their deep sadness must be taken seriously.

Some observers suggest leaving these wrecked structures as they are will impede the progress of reconstruction.

On the other hand, there are strong views that the structures must be preserved so memories of the disaster will not fade. Some bereaved families initially wanted these structures demolished, but as time passed, they changed their view and now favor preservation. "They must be kept to prevent a recurrence of this tragedy," is the reasoning for this change of heart.


Full community debate vital

Whether to preserve the ruins should be discussed on a community basis from various perspectives, including the pros and cons of keeping the memories alive, promoting antidisaster measures, memorial purposes and future town building. Consideration also must be given fully to the fact that maintenance and administration of the structures will be costly for the local governments concerned.

The Miyagi prefectural government has formulated a basic vision on how to deal with disaster remains, and submitted it to municipal governments concerned. The vision calls for studying preservation steps commensurate with their fiscal wherewithal.

The prefectural government also set guidelines for preservation, including such requirements as giving approval for using the structures as centers for antidisaster education, conducting repairs to make them safe to use, and making sure they do not impede reconstruction. We think these requirements are reasonable.

Transferring part of the structures to museums or other facilities could be one way to preserve them. Other possible options include taking pictures and preserving other data before they are dismantled.


A symbol of reconstruction

In Rikuzen-Takata, Iwate Prefecture, restoration of the "miracle pine tree" that died after initially surviving the tsunami will be completed shortly. The tree has been reassembled as a symbol of reconstruction after its trunk was hollowed out and filled with a carbon spine.

The area surrounding the tree will be developed as a reconstruction memorial park to be used for future development of the city. If the number of visitors to the park increases, it will help revitalize the city.

We hope various ideas for keeping records of tsunami damage will be used. It is also essential to work out how lessons learned by academic research on the disaster can be passed to future generations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 13, 2013)
(2013年3月13日01時24分  読売新聞)

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3・11追悼式 被災の教訓を次世代につなげ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 13, 2013)
Relay lessons from disaster to next generation
3・11追悼式 被災の教訓を次世代につなげ(3月12日付・読売社説)

Along with expediting reconstruction in the Tohoku region, it is vitally important to pass the lessons learned from the March 11, 2011, disaster on to the next generation.

The nation has marked the second anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. In Tokyo, a government-sponsored memorial ceremony was held, with the Emperor and Empress attending. About 1,000 people also took part in the ceremony, including the heads of the nation's legislative, administrative and judicial branches of government and representatives of bereaved family members. They prayed for the repose of the souls of the deceased.

In a speech at the ceremony, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his resolve to "move forward to create a nation with a high degree of resilience to disasters throughout the country, in keeping with the lessons learned through this disaster."

House of Representatives Speaker Bunmei Ibuki said: "It is worrisome that [people's recollections of the disaster] are fading as seen in the reduced number of volunteers. Taking the lessons learned to heart, we're obliged to pass them on to the next generation."

The government and the Diet must use the lessons drawn from the disaster to improve disaster management measures for the entire nation.

The ceremony also was attended by about 150 people from diplomatic circles, including ambassadors from a number of countries.


Action by younger generation

Rin Yamane, a high school student representing Iwate Prefecture, pledged: "The younger generation will aim to better serve as human resources in aiding countries affected by natural disasters using the experience from our own disaster. We'll treat the massive earthquake not as a painful memory but a memory that will lead to the future."

The nation also must expedite reconstruction efforts in a show of respect for the assistance offered by other nations.

Responding to a nationwide opinion survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun in late February, 69 percent of respondents said reconstruction of disaster-hit areas did not seem to have made much progress. The figure was almost unchanged from the 72 percent who responded this way in a survey a year ago.

While it was in opposition, the Liberal Democratic Party harshly criticized the Democratic Party of Japan-led government for its slow and inefficient reconstruction efforts.

Now that he is back in power, Abe should make an all-out effort to produce tangible results in response to public discontent, which remains strong.


Delays in Fukushima Prefecture

Delays in reconstruction are particularly obvious in Fukushima Prefecture, where a number of steps have yet to be taken in the wake of the crisis at a nuclear power plant, when compared to Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, which also were hit hard by the earthquake and tsunami.

The Abe administration has set up a general bureau for reconstruction and revitalization in the city of Fukushima to establish a hands-on approach in tackling such issues as decontamination of radioactive materials and rebuilding communities.

Regarding the return of evacuees to areas near the nuclear plant, Abe said at a press conference, "With a target of around summer, I'll come up with a concrete road map on the restoration of roads, water systems, medical and welfare services, as well as for the return of residents."

We approve of Abe's stance when he said, "Action is everything."

As for the three hardest hit prefectures, the government has for the first time presented a timetable for the construction of public housing units for disaster victims to expedite housing reconstruction. This is the right move.

People affected by the disaster are anxious about their uncertain futures. It is crucial for measures to be taken as soon as possible to give them hope.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 12, 2013)
(2013年3月12日01時26分  読売新聞)

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新「津波警報」 犠牲を減らす一歩にしたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 13, 2013)
Improved tsunami warning system only a 1st step
新「津波警報」 犠牲を減らす一歩にしたい(3月12日付・読売社説)

The Japan Meteorological Agency has launched a new tsunami warning system, which reflects lessons learned from the Great East Japan Earthquake.

We hope this system will be a step toward reducing the number of victims in any future tsunami.

The new system will classify tsunami after a huge earthquake in two categories when issuing alerts: high and gigantic. Three minutes after an earthquake stronger than magnitude 8 occurs, the agency will issue an initial warning that a "gigantic" tsunami will arrive.

If the agency issues such a warning, the expected height of the wave could reach at least 10 meters. What is most important is that people evacuate immediately after the warning is issued. The agency must exhaustively publicize the new warning system so it will ensure prompt evacuation after a major earthquake.

Previously, the agency's initial warnings included specific numerical estimates of tsunami size, calculated from earthquake observation data.


Harm of numerical figures

After the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred, the agency announced three-meter tsunami were expected in coastal areas of Iwate and Fukushima prefectures. However, the tsunami that devastated many areas were actually more than 10 meters high.

Some experts have pointed out that the underestimated figure was part of the reason why many people were slow to evacuate.

In time-sensitive situations, the top priority should be conveying information accurately in an easy-to-understand manner. There is no need to issue specific numerical figures immediately after an earthquake, when observation data is limited.

Estimates of tsunami heights will be issued in later reports based on observation data. We urge the agency to be careful when it issues this information because after the first tsunami, coastal areas could be hit by second and third waves. On March 11, 2011, tsunami that surged ashore after the initial tsunami also caused extensive damage in some areas.

NHK has started using new warnings to urge viewers to evacuate after a tsunami alert has been issued. When a strong earthquake struck off the Sanriku coast in December, an announcer used direct language and repeated the phrase, "Please remember the Great East Japan Earthquake."

The public broadcaster later received complaints from victims of the March 11 disaster, who said the message brought back painful memories of the quake and tsunami. NHK should carefully choose the wording it uses when urging viewers to evacuate.


Don't overly rely on alerts

In coastal areas, it is also important that people decide for themselves whether to evacuate, regardless of whether a tsunami alert is in place. It is possible some people would be unable to receive information on tsunami due to blackouts or malfunctioning disaster radios.

We are concerned that many municipal governments have yet to establish or upgrade evacuation systems. Hasn't the Great East Japan Earthquake raised their awareness of the need to prepare for tsunami? According to a survey by the Fire and Disaster Management Agency last autumn, only about 10 percent of coastal cities, towns and villages had revised their tsunami evacuation plans after the March 2011 disaster.

During that disaster, many shelter facilities were engulfed by tsunami. Roads were jammed with cars, hindering evacuation.

Even if the meteorological agency makes wholehearted efforts to improve its tsunami warning system, this alone will not be enough to save lives during tsunami. The central and local governments must speed up their efforts to improve evacuation systems.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 12, 2013)
(2013年3月12日01時26分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月12日 (火)

香山リカのココロの万華鏡:広がる「嗜癖」の範囲 /東京

February 10, 2013(Mainichi Japan)
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: New forms of 'addiction'
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:広がる「嗜癖」の範囲 /東京

People often say to me, "You can't diagnose depression through blood tests or X-rays, can you? That means a person can be diagnosed differently depending on the doctor or even the country, right?"
 よく一般の人から、「うつ病って言っても、血液検査やレントゲンで診断がつくわけじゃないんでしょう? 医者や国によって診断にバラつきが出ることもあるよね」と言われる。

If no standard existed, that might be the case. However, it would be wrong to have different diagnoses depending on the doctor or the country. Psychiatrists around the world try to use the same standard for diagnosing patients. That is the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)" created by the American Psychiatric Association.

This "DSM" has been revised for the first time in 20 years and "DSM-5" will come into effect around May this year.

People may think that it's just revisions to a psychiatrists' manual, but the revisions reflect "psychological problems" people face in today's society. At the same time, the revisions can gradually influence society.

For example, in the revised version, the word "dependence," such as in "dependence on drugs or alcohol," is classified under "substance use disorders." Furthermore, the term "addiction," a broader concept once deleted from the diagnosis standard, has made a comeback in the revised version.

According to psychiatrist Toshihiko Matsumoto, the word "addiction" has come back "not as an insulting expression that fosters prejudice but rather as a word that has an incorporated new meaning." Matsumoto adds that whatever the issue may be, alcohol or drugs, the main cause lies in the "loss of control." It's not so much about physical dependence but rather the loss of control, in which the human is being controlled by the substance. Matsumoto believes that it "can be referred to as 'psychological dependence' in today's terms."

This doesn't mean that a person can jump to a conclusion that alcohol dependence is not a physical problem but a mental health issue. Behind the revival of such a broad concept as "addiction" is a sharp increase in the number of people who have lost control and "crossed the line," ultimately resulting in failures in relationships with people around them and in their own lives. Furthermore, addiction is not limited to classical substances such as alcohol and drugs but has extended to gambling, shopping, and even smart phones and social networking services -- things that can't be easily noticed.

Under the latest revisions to the DSM, the categories of "addiction" are still limited, but if more people start to lose control, the subjects may be revised again. I really hope that I won't see a society where numerous people are being medically treated because they all have an addiction.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
毎日新聞 2013年02月05日 地方版

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香山リカのココロの万華鏡:子どもの心に向き合って /東京

February 24, 2013(Mainichi Japan)
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Caring about children's feelings
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:子どもの心に向き合って /東京

A very sad event occurred when a fifth-grade elementary school student in Osaka Prefecture killed himself.

The student's school was to be merged with two others from this April, and the student is reported to have been protesting this for some time, writing in a composition, "Don't destroy our school."

Children up until around that boy's age are able to "merge" themselves with buildings, clouds, the sky, plants, animals and other things, sharing their hearts with these things. Of course, that is in the imagination of a child, but there are probably many people who have had experiences such as when they see a tree being cut down they feel, "That tree is in pain and crying!" and, sensing that pain, they cry themselves.

Of course, I do not know if the boy who committed suicide was opposed to the closing of the school because he felt the sadness and pain of the school building and the classrooms. It's said that he surveyed other students about the school closure, so it is highly likely he was more mentally mature than other children his age. It may be that, while opposing the school closure in an adult-like manner, he also "merged and felt the pain" of the school in that unique child way. If so, the ending of the school must have been particularly hard on him.

I have experienced the closing of my elementary and junior-high schools. In both cases I was already an adult, but when I heard about the closing ceremonies and how people had bid the schools farewell, it was as if I felt a sharp pain in my heart. I felt like my own precious memories or even my childhood had disappeared.

For a child currently attending a school, even if they heard an objective reason for it, they probably could not immediately accept the closure of their school. The sensitive boy in Osaka Prefecture loved his school so much that he felt a merging with it. Why did his kindness have to lead to this tragedy? Are the adults at his school successfully dealing with students' feelings?

Lately bullying and physical punishment at schools are under the public spotlight, but in addition to that, perhaps it is time that we seriously think again about what really is a "child," who is neither an adult nor a baby.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
毎日新聞 2013年02月19日 地方版

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香山リカのココロの万華鏡:トラウマに効く言葉 /東京

March 03, 2013(Mainichi Japan)
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Effective words for trauma victims
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:トラウマに効く言葉 /東京

When looking at a site on psychological treatment, I saw some shocking words: "No clues on how to combat children's trauma." According to research by an American academic society, there have been almost no clearly effective ways for treating children who have been traumatized by life-threatening disasters or accidents. Even a method thought to be effective -- counseling-style treatment -- has hardly had any after-studies done on it.
"Effective long-term treatment for traumatized children is not known," the site said.

It is, however, known from the latest research that when people have shocking, life-threatening experiences, some of them have clearly visible brain changes that lead to flashbacks and other symptoms. Trauma is more an emotional than neurological problem, but research shows that it leads to an actual "brain malfunction."

Frightening or surprising experiences, or hearing strong threatening words can change the brain in ways for the worse. Therefore, it seems like there should also be experiences or words that could improve the brain's functionality, or stop the bad changes caused by trauma. It is generally thought that positive thinking is good for the brain, although this has not been confirmed through brain imagery or other hard evidence.

Lately, physical discipline in schools and sports has become a big problem. The children or athletes who are subject to such discipline are not only physically hurt, but they also suffer great emotional damage, sometimes even losing the will to live. In this way it is as bad as a trauma. Even if the teachers or coaches who inflicted the discipline are removed or punished, the emotional damage of those who were hit does not disappear.

A shower of reassuring words, like "You were not in the wrong," or "You have many good qualities" may be necessary to restore these victims' confidence. I think this support is needed not just from a particular person, but from family, teachers, friends, counselors and others. It is also necessary for researchers to continue to study to find an effective treatment for trauma as soon as possible. I myself want to know what it is that has saved people who have managed to recover from childhood trauma.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
毎日新聞 2013年02月26日 地方版

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香山リカのココロの万華鏡:ピュアすぎる引きこもり /東京

March 10, 2013(Mainichi Japan)
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: The innocence of shut-ins
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:ピュアすぎる引きこもり /東京

In 2011, an Osaka man in his 40s who had been a shut-in for 30 years killed his sister, who had been helping him out with his daily life, but whom he had grown to resent. Citing a lack of support in Japanese society for the man, who has Asperger's syndrome, the Osaka District Court initially handed down a 20-year prison sentence, exceeding the 16 years sought by prosecutors.

The high court recently overruled the decision, however, sentencing the man to 14 years imprisonment. In a complete turnaround, the court explained that public institutions were prepared to support the man after his release and that the lower court's sentence had been too heavy.

Let's put aside for now the issue of whether a sentence should be reduced or increased depending on whether an offender has a developmental disability or not. One woman who came to me for a consultation about her teenage son, a shut-in, looked forlorn. "A shut-in for 30 years...is that going to happen to us, too?" she asked.

Parents with children who have been shut-ins for 35 or 40 years come to me for advice. In some cases, these "children" are in their 50s and the parents are in their 80s. Quite a few among them are parents who, growing older, have finally come for their first consult after years of hoping that their children would be reintegrated into society on their own.

I also have the opportunity to meet and exchange e-mails with the "veteran" shut-ins themselves. What I find in those interactions is that they aren't as socially inept as their parents might think. Many have gained a range of information from books, television, radio and the Internet. Some write novels, while others have an exquisite sense of humor. It makes me realize their 30 years in withdrawal haven't been for naught.

The thing is, though, that their skills and knowledge do not necessarily lead directly to a profession or an income. Many jobs require the physical strength to go to the same place every day at the same time, and the savvy to get along with colleagues with whom one may have nothing in common. For those who have for years been doing only what they want in their own worlds, rush-hour train commutes and forced smiles in the workplace are meaningless and appear corrupt. In other words, these people are too pure and innocent for society.

These are people who have maintained the pure hearts of teenagers through to their 40s and 50s. Should society create opportunities for them to utilize their skills and abilities, or should we be teaching them to become more worldly? It's a question that stumps me.

Hoping that my words do not sound like hollow consolation, to the aging parents who come to me, I say, "Your son, too, has his strengths. But he's come this far without being able to make the most of them."

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
毎日新聞 2013年03月05日 地方版

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震災2年・再建を誓う日 政府主導で復興を加速させよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 12, 2013)
Govt must lead efforts to speed up reconstruction
震災2年・再建を誓う日 政府主導で復興を加速させよ(3月11日付・読売社説)


Today marks the second anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that killed 15,881 people and left 2,668 others missing.

No fewer than 315,000 people have been forced to live as evacuees, and about 160,000 of them are from Fukushima Prefecture, where the nuclear crisis broke out at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Let us together pray anew for the repose of the victims' souls. Reconstruction from the disaster has been delayed, and the government must take the initiative in accelerating rebuilding efforts.


110,000 in temporary homes

Behind the slow progress of rebuilding municipalities is the difficulty of forming a consensus among the residents concerned. Whether to locate a commercial and industrial zone on higher ground or in a coastal area is one example. Another problem is whether to build high seawalls that could effectively separate the land and the sea.

Residents of Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, which was heavily damaged by the tsunami, wanted to rebuild where they lived rather than collectively relocate to an inland area. The municipal government plans to boost its reconstruction efforts by building a seawall and promoting changes in land use. But some residents oppose the plan.

The only way to push the plan ahead is to launch it without obtaining the full approval of some residents.

A redevelopment plan in coastal zones was decided at an early stage of reconstruction by such fishery cities as Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, and Kesennuma and Ishinomaki, both in Miyagi Prefecture.

As a senior Ishinomaki municipal government official put it, "As long as we cannot expect reconstruction without fishery business, we cannot desert the coastal areas."

Disaster victims commute from temporary housing to fishery processing factories and other workplaces, many of them no doubt worried about the reoccurrence of tsunami.

Residents in Ishinomaki often say, "How can we strike a balance between earning income and being assured of our safety and security?" These words are compelling.

The mayor of one city resigned in the face of opposition to reconstruction programs from residents and the municipal assembly. The past two years saw each local government and its residents explore ways to realize revival while facing their own predicaments.

About 110,000 people still live in prefabricated temporary housing units. A matter of concern is the increase in the number of residents who complain about stress and unease caused by their inconvenient daily life. Local governments must expedite construction of housing so that the affected residents can lead a stable life as early as possible.


Agency bears heavy burden

The low spending rate for a tremendous amount of rehabilitation expenditures cannot be ignored. About 1.4 trillion yen earmarked for the current fiscal year by Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures and 34 municipalities cannot be implemented before March 31 and will be carried over to the new fiscal year starting in April.

This delay was partly caused by difficulty in purchasing plots of land needed for such projects as building houses for disaster victims. Another problem was that bidding for related public works has failed to attract businesses because they see little profitability in such projects.

In coastal areas of Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, removal of debris has progressed. But in many areas, work to elevate plots of land sunken by the tsunami or to construct seawalls has not even started.

Wasting more time will only further delay reconstruction of the disaster-stricken areas.

The Reconstruction Agency, which is tasked with functioning as a control tower for reconstruction projects, has a heavy responsibility. It must reinforce its cooperation with local governments and take the leadership in implementing measures for the affected areas.

The agency has recently expanded the scope of how the reconstruction grants should be spent, making it possible to use them for such works as elevating the site where a fishery community once stood. Such a step is reasonable.

The agency must clear away the bottleneck in work and speed up the pace of spending reconstruction budgets.

As there are many sparsely populated communities in the affected areas, it is not easy to revitalize these communities anytime soon.

On Okushiri Island in Hokkaido, which was hit in July 1993 by a major earthquake and tsunami, a large sum of reconstruction funds was spent on relocating communities to higher ground. But the population of the communities has been steadily declining.

The disaster-hit areas in the Tohoku region may need to learn lessons from this experience.

Some local municipal governments, including Aomori and Toyama, have been carrying out projects designed to concentrate residential houses in certain districts, which are provided with such infrastructure as hospitals, schools and post offices, thus improving convenience. These projects are being implemented under a "compact city" concept.

Applying such a concept to measures dealing with the depopulation of the disaster-affected areas could be worth discussing.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said: "Reconstruction [from the earthquake disaster] is the top priority, together with the revitalization of the Japanese economy. I want to win the people's trust in my administration by bringing about [tangible] results as soon as possible."

As Abe has put it, without reconstruction, a "robust economy" cannot be realized.


Solid results essential

On Wednesday, the government made major changes in the membership of a panel of experts tasked with scrutinizing the reconstruction measures and recommending remedial steps to Abe. The panel is expected to compile an interim report by June.

In the central government's present reconstruction programs, which were worked out under the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration, many things may require review when the reality of disaster-stricken areas is taken into consideration.

Why have the reconstruction projects been delayed? What kinds of new measures are needed? We hope the panel comes up with proposals that will lead to the rejuvenation of the affected area in Tohoku.

Now that two years have passed since the disaster, concrete actions with tangible results in the coming year are essential.

Just as Abe has expressed his determination to realize reconstruction, it is the government's mission to accelerate the pace of reconstruction.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 11, 2013)
(2013年3月11日01時18分  読売新聞)

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自衛隊震災派遣 平時から自治体と連携深めよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 11, 2013)
SDF must boost cooperation with others to fight disasters
自衛隊震災派遣 平時から自治体と連携深めよ(3月10日付・読売社説)

It is obviously important for the Self-Defense Forces to prepare for emergencies by learning from the lessons of two years ago and reflecting them in future antidiaster plans. And these plans must be repeatedly practiced in the form of exercises in cooperation with local municipalities and other entities.

The Great East Japan Earthquake posed five unprecedented challenges for the SDF:

-- Conducting rescue and support activities for disaster victims by mobilizing 100,000 of its members, the largest mobilization in its history.

-- Implementing a full-scale operational integration of the ground, maritime and air forces.

-- Participating in Operation Tomodachi, a joint rescue operation conducted by Japanese and U.S. forces.

-- Calling up SDF reserve personnel.

-- Dealing with the disaster on two fronts--the earthquake and tsunami on the one hand and the nuclear crisis on the other.

Before the March 11, 2011, disaster, the Defense Ministry had plans to deal with three kinds of devastating earthquakes, including an epicentral temblor with its focus just beneath the Tokyo metropolitan area. The ministry's plans for how to fight disasters caused by powerful earthquakes generated in the Japan Trench and the Kuril Trench were still in the making.


Cooperation in ordinary times

Through application of the plans for dealing with an earthquake directly beneath the capital to the March 11 catastrophe, however, the SDF was relatively swift in deploying troops from across the country and coordinating its activities with various organizations concerned.

The contingency plan for an epicentral earthquake just below Tokyo that was revised toward the end of last year was based on such premises as establishing integrated troop units and joint Japanese-U.S. operations on the basis of the experiences of the Great East Japan Earthquake. The ministry is to work on plans in the near future for a potentially gigantic Nankai Trough earthquake.

It is especially important to ensure close cooperation between the SDF and such organizations as local governments in ordinary times, to beef up antiquake arrangements by stockpiling food and other things needed for disaster relief operations.

The Ground Self-Defense Force's North Eastern Army Headquarters in Sendai, which served as the forward command in the earthquake and tsunami disaster, held a meeting in September 2011 to study the disaster's lessons with affected local governments, police, fire departments and regional offices of the Japan Coast Guard. In January this year, they implemented a map exercise with the aim of sharing information and collaborating to provide disaster victims with medical services.

Another map exercise on a larger scale is scheduled in fiscal 2013, while field exercises involving 20,000 to 30,000 personnel from the Self-Defense Forces and other organizations will take place in fiscal 2014.

To maximize the number of lives saved in the initial phase of rescue activities, the period called "golden 72 hours" is crucial.

What should be done to secure emergency communications to ensure the efficient mobilization of SDF troops and a solid grasp of what is going on in disaster-hit areas if wire and wireless communications go down because of power outages?


Training feedback desirable

First of all, training must be carried out after antidisaster plans are drawn up. To solve problems, if any, that come to light through the training, the plans must be reviewed and thoroughly revamped if necessary.

This cycle of training and improvement must be constantly iterated so it will lead to steps that can save a larger number of disaster victims.

One high-ranking GSDF officer said: "We can only put into practice what we learn through training. Based on this fact, we've been studying the specifics of our day-to-day training."

Such a high sense of awareness is certainly conducive to enhancing the quality of SDF training.

In the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the SDF has significantly increased the number of agreements it has concluded with various organs to obtain their cooperation in emergencies.

One of them, an accord with expressway operators, will allow SDF vehicles to preferentially pass through expressways and use rest stops for emergency purposes.

Private major supermarket chains, for their part, have promised to provide the SDF with emergency goods, including food, in times of crisis.

It is definitely important to steadily expand the network for such cooperation.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 10, 2013)
(2013年3月10日01時12分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月11日 (月)

被災地の教育 復興の担い手を育成したい

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 11, 2013)
Tohoku children also need 'restoration' after disaster
被災地の教育 復興の担い手を育成したい(3月10日付・読売社説)

Children are the future of the Tohoku region, which was devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake. We hope their educational needs will be restored as quickly as possible in disaster-hit areas.

After the March 11, 2011, disaster, the government has dispatched a relatively generous number of teachers to support children at schools in the three disaster-hit prefectures in the Tohoku region.

In the classrooms, special programs have been launched to have children learn traditional crafts of the areas and think about the future of their hometowns. Educating them on the places they hail from is expected to deepen the children's love for their communities and have a long-term effect in helping restore devastated areas.

The government should continue offering support through the dispatch of teachers and other school staff. It also should improve educational content and further develop the education system.


Decrease in students

However, many schools have seen a decrease in students. This is most serious in municipalities around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

For instance, the town of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, has moved its administrative functions to the city of Nihonmatsu in another part of the prefecture. Namie Primary School has continued classes in a building of a defunct school in Nihonmatsu.

However, many of the school's children have transferred to other schools. Namie Primary School had more than 500 students before the earthquake and tsunami, but the number has dropped to only 30. No new students will enroll in the school in April.

Even if residents who evacuated to other areas returned to their hometowns, the situation would remain difficult. Hirono Primary School, run by the town of Hirono, Fukushima Prefecture, resumed classes at its old school building in August. But only 20 percent of its previous student body has returned to the school.

Municipal governments apparently want to maintain the foundation of their communities and retain bonds with their residents by keeping local schools operating.

However, parents tend to be anxious about having their children return with them to their own homes in areas where radiation is still too high for them to do so in the foreseeable future or where the foundations for their livelihood have not yet been fully restored.

Municipal governments have to present them with a picture of restoration in the near future along with detailed explanations. We also hope the central government and other organizations concerned will help create jobs in the disaster-hit areas, leading to the stabilization of the livelihood of children's guardians.


Negative effects

It is also concerned that a prolonged life as an evacuee might have a negative effect on children.

Children of evacuees are said to spend insufficient time on study at home because they have no space to concentrate on their studies in tiny temporary housing units.

The project of a nonprofit organization to have former schoolteachers and former cram school instructors help such children study after school is very significant.

Meanwhile, according to a school health survey by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, the percentage of overweight children has increased sharply in Fukushima Prefecture, probably because they play less outdoors due to radiation fears.

The central and local governments should develop indoor sports facilities in addition to those at the schools so children can be more physically active.

Equally important is their psychological care. In case of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, the number of children who suffered from mental stress and needed psychological care peaked three years after the disaster.

We hope the education ministry continues to send counselors to schools in the disaster-hit areas and develops consultation services further.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 10, 2013)
(2013年3月10日01時12分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月10日 (日)

北朝鮮制裁決議 中国が履行せねば効果はない

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 10, 2013)
China's implementation is key for N. Korea sanctions
北朝鮮制裁決議 中国が履行せねば効果はない(3月9日付・読売社説)

New U.N. sanctions against North Korea are intended to increase international pressure on Pyongyang to shut down its nuclear weapons programs.

In a unanimous vote, the U.N. Security Council on Thursday passed a resolution to impose additional, tougher economic sanctions on North Korea in response to its nuclear test last month, the third it has conducted.

The resolution called for substantially stricter restrictions and surveillance on movements of money, goods and people related to North Korea's nuclear and missile development programs. While past resolutions merely asked member states to implement major sanction measures, the latest resolution obliges them to do so.

The past three resolutions against North Korea adopted by the U.N. Security Council have proved ineffective and failed to stop the country's nuclear and missile buildup. Apparently drawing a lesson from its failure, the United Nations has sent a more powerful message from the international community to North Korea this time. We approve.


New steps expand ban

To stop flows of money, U.N. member states are required to freeze financial transactions and services with North Korea as well as transfers of bulk cash to the country.

The latest resolution also calls on member states to inspect North Korea-related cargo suspected of containing banned items and deny entry to vessels that refuse to be inspected.

The countries are also obliged to deport North Korean nationals with suspected links to their country's nuclear and missile development.

To make the sanctions effective, it is essential that China--North Korea's biggest trade partner and main benefactor--implement the resolution fully.

China was initially reluctant to agree to sanctions such as one requiring inspections of North Korean cargo. However, Beijing gave a green light to such measures after finding it difficult to continue to stand up for a defiant Pyongyang. We hope the new measures will prove effective by being implemented thoroughly.

Meanwhile, North Korea reacted sharply against the new sanctions, vowing to take "powerful second and third countermeasures."

The U.N. resolution warns of even harsher action against North Korea if the country continues with nuclear tests and missile launches. In such an event, China may need to consider suspending its provision of energy to North Korea while South Korea might be well advised to consider closing down the Kaesong industrial complex, which it operates in cooperation with the North.


Pyongyang remains defiant

Meanwhile, North Korea has caused further concern by escalating its bellicose rhetoric.

The supreme command of the Korean People's Army threatened the United States, saying Pyongyang is ready to counter with advanced nuclear arms so that Washington will be "engulfed in a sea of fire." The North Korean Foreign Ministry also said Pyongyang will exercise its right to "a preemptive nuclear attack" on the United States.

North Korea reportedly plans to hold a military parade in July to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the armistice in the Korean War. The parade is apparently aimed at enhancing the authority of Kim Jong Un, the first secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, amid increased tensions with the United States.

Concerns over the regime of Kim Jong Un cannot be dismissed, as it has put priority on military-first politics and nuclear weapons, instead of rebuilding the country's economy, and deepened its isolation from the international community. Other countries must not lower their guard against Pyongyang's military and other provocative acts.

Japan needs to keep its eye on North Korea's moves and increase cooperation with the United States and South Korea to prepare for every possible contingency.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 9, 2013)
(2013年3月9日01時55分  読売新聞)

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福島の除染 「1ミリ・シーベルト」が阻む住民の帰還

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 10, 2013)
1-millisievert problem prevents return of Fukushima residents
福島の除染 「1ミリ・シーベルト」が阻む住民の帰還(3月9日付・読売社説)

Efficient decontamination work is the most important element in promoting the recovery of Fukushima Prefecture, struck by the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Central and local governments must cooperate to speedily advance the work so 160,000 local residents who have evacuated to other areas can return to their hometowns as soon as possible.

It is notable that decontamination work has fallen behind schedule in 11 municipalities around the crippled nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. They have been designated as special areas and included in the decontamination project directly led by the Environment Ministry.

Full-fledged decontamination work has begun in only four of those municipalities. The project is lagging because the ministry has had such problems as difficulty securing land for temporary facilities to store removed surface soil and obtaining the agreement of the owners of land subject to decontamination.


Speed up decontamination

It is important to hold negotiations with residents who have evacuated to other areas from municipalities where decontamination work has not yet started. However, we think priority should be given to speeding up the full-fledged work already started in the four municipalities.

In September, full-fledged decontamination work started in Naraha of the prefecture. The town is designated as a "zone being prepared for residents' return" where the annual dose of radiation exposure is 20 millisieverts or less. Decontamination workers have been wiping the roof tiles, gutters and windows of houses as well as removing surface soil from gardens.

The ministry plans to finish decontamination work by the end of next fiscal year in zones being prepared for residents' return and in "zones with restricted residency" where the annual radiation dose is higher than 20 millisieverts.

To realize this target, however, the so-called "one-millisievert" problem is posing the biggest impediment.

Based on the standards of the International Commission on Radiological Protection, the Democratic Party of Japan-led government, which created the framework for decontamination work, initially thought people could live in areas where the annual dose of radiation exposure is less than 20 millisieverts. It considered one millisievert only as a long-term target.

In response to residents demanding complete decontamination, however, one millisievert has become an immediate numerical target.


Review radiation safety limit

A ministry official admitted that the one-millisievert problem is a major impediment and is delaying decontamination work. Even Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato has asked the government to set an achievable radiation exposure target.

More and more people can calmly consider the risks of radiation today compared to two years ago when the nuclear crisis broke out.

Hospital patients can receive a dose of seven millisieverts from one examination involving radiation. The cancer risk from obesity is equivalent to that from a radiation dose of 200 to 500 millisieverts, according to some estimates.

The government should review the current target for decontamination work and change the public mindset that one millisievert is a boundary separating danger and safety.

The government is also responsible for providing accurate information and detailed explanations on radiation so residents who live in other areas can return to their original homes with their minds at ease.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 9, 2013)
(2013年3月9日01時55分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月 9日 (土)

被災地の鉄道 街づくりと一体で復旧したい

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 9, 2013)
Disaster areas' railway repairs must be integrated with city planning
被災地の鉄道 街づくりと一体で復旧したい(3月8日付・読売社説)

What measures should be taken to rebuild railways in regions struck by the Great East Japan Earthquake, including lines that represent a mainstay of livelihood and tourism in the areas?

This remains a weighty challenge even now as the second anniversary of the March 11, 2011, disaster draws near.

Rail lines on the Pacific coast in the Tohoku region were devastated by the earthquake and tsunami.

A total of about 300 kilometers of tracks on eight lines of East Japan Railway Co. and Sanriku Railway Co., a joint venture of private firms and local municipalities in Iwate Prefecture, remain out of service to this day.

Operations on some sections of JR East's Ishinomaki Line and Joban Line will return to normal by the end of the month at long last, while the Sanriku Railway is scheduled to resume full operations in April next year.

There are no indications, however, that the other lines rendered inoperable will fully resume service in the foreseeable future.

The greatest problem has been the difficulty securing funding for repairing the crippled rail lines.

According to estimates by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, the total cost of fixing JR East's railways with damage over long sections--the Yamada Line in Iwate Prefecture, the Ofunato Line in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures and the Kesennuma Line in Miyagi Prefecture--will surpass 150 billion yen.


Bus system has its advantages

The huge repair expense is due to the necessity of specialized recovery work such as elevating ground levels and relocating routes to inland areas, according to the ministry.

As a temporary fix for the stalled train services, in August 2012 JR East incorporated a BRT (bus rapid transit) system into the Kesennuma Line. The buses run on the firm's exclusive lanes in areas where tracks have been removed on the line. BRT services were also launched this month to take the place of the Ofunato Line.

BRT systems are less costly in terms of both construction and maintenance compared to railways.

Buses on the Kesennuma Line are also three times as frequent as predisaster trains. Users of the route include high school students commuting to school and elderly people going to hospitals.

However, the number of passengers on BRT buses is less than 300 a day, about one-third of the amount seen when the railway was in operation. This is because many disaster-hit residents have evacuated from areas along the lines and very few sightseers use the BRT.

The roadway sections dedicated to use by BRT systems are few, with most services run on ordinary highways, and the buses are often entangled in bumper-to-bumper traffic. This means more time is required to use the bus than the train and bus passengers often have to transfer before reaching their final destination. These inconveniences may have contributed to the waning number of BRT users.

Municipalities along the Yamada Line have refused to accept plans to replace the line with a BRT system. Those municipal governments that have already introduced BRT systems agreed to do so on the condition that railway services are fully resumed in the future. They argue that resumption of railway services is a "prerequisite for revitalization" of the disaster-hit areas.


Weigh options before acting

Even before the calamity, some railway services in the region were unprofitable because of a declining number of users due to the shrinking population.

Given that commuting by car or expressway bus has become the norm in the region, many observers are skeptical about whether restoring railway services would lead to a higher number of users than before the disaster.

JR East and the municipal governments concerned should study ways to potentially restore railways in tandem with the requirements of city planning, by weighing the merits of railway recovery and the introduction of BRTs against their respective problems.

We hope officials will make the best possible choice in pursuit of an optimum means of public transportation through implementing reconstruction projects in the areas.

Under the government's current railway-related subsidy system, the cost of repairing lines of the Sanriku Railway, which has been in the red, will be almost fully covered by state funding. However, JR East, which has been earning a profit, is not entitled to any public assistance.

Considering the extraordinary circumstances in the wake of the disaster, we believe the government should provide JR East with public assistance for rebuilding its rail lines. This should include a provision, for instance, for the government to subsidize part of JR East's repair expenses under the recovery budget earmarked for the disaster.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 8, 2013)
(2013年3月8日01時30分  読売新聞)

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シャープ再建 サムスンの出資に頼る苦渋策

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 9, 2013)
Sharp must accelerate rehab efforts with capital tie-up with Samsung
シャープ再建 サムスンの出資に頼る苦渋策(3月8日付・読売社説)

Sharp Corp., which has been in corporate rehabilitation, now aims to ensure its survival through a capital tie-up with longtime rival Samsung Electronics Co. of South Korea.

Sharp took a step toward strengthening its financial base with the tie-up, but uncertainty still looms over the company's future. Sharp is urged to swiftly advance its management reform with the tie-up as leverage.

According to the terms of their agreement, Samsung will invest 10.3 billion yen in capital and is expected to own a 3 percent stake in Sharp.

Sharp plans to provide Samsung with liquid crystal display (LCD) panels for smartphones and television sets, regaining sales in an effort to improve earnings. Samsung, for its part, focused on the advantage of stable procurement of LCD panels.


Deadlock in renegotiations

Hit by such factors as failed major investments and a sales slump in LCD panels, Sharp is expected to post a deficit for fiscal 2012, for the second business year in a row.

A year ago, Sharp agreed to accept capital investment from major Taiwan manufacturer Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. However, renegotiations with Hon Hai, which demanded a review of the terms of the agreement, hit a deadlock, raising concern over Sharp's ability to raise operational funds.

With no bright prospects in its negotiations with Hon Hai, Sharp must have made the painful choice to ask Samsung for capital investment.

Japanese and South Korean electronics manufacturers have battled fiercely since the 1990s in such fields as semiconductors, flat-screen TVs, LCD panels and lithium-ion batteries.

At first, technologically superior Japanese firms were dominant, but in recent years Samsung and other South Korean firms have grown rapidly. Currently, the positions are reversed.

The rare situation of a Japanese company accepting a major investment of capital from a South Korean one symbolizes the difference in vigor between companies in the two countries.

The focus from now on is whether Sharp can fully utilize the benefits of the tie-up with Samsung in accelerating its corporate rehabilitation efforts.

First, the company will be required to increase operation rates of factories by expanding sales routes of LCD panels and get its business into the black.

Sharp has been making small and medium-size LCD panels for smartphones and tablet computers of Apple Inc. of the United States, which entrusts Hon Hai with the production of its products.

Sharp will provide small and medium-size LCDs to Samsung, which has been at loggerheads with Apple. The success or failure of this strategy, a departure from its dependence on Apple, will bear watching.


Prevent tech outflow

Sharp, which is obliged to redeem a huge amount of corporate bonds this autumn, still has a weak capital base. Further improvement of its financial capacity is an urgent task.

Another concern is the possibility of an overseas outflow of Sharp's state-of-art technologies. Because of the capital tie-up, we wonder if Samsung may ask Sharp to provide its technologies to the South Korean firm. Countermeasures are needed to protect the technical base of Japan's creative manufacturing.

Management rehabilitation is still under way at Japanese home appliance companies, including Panasonic Corp. We hope each of those companies will redouble its efforts to rise again, in line with the policy of the government, which attaches importance to strengthening industrial competitiveness.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 8, 2013)
(2013年3月8日01時30分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月 8日 (金)

新公取委員長 「市場の番人」が担う重い責任

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 8, 2013)
New FTC chairman bears heavy responsibility as market guardian
新公取委員長 「市場の番人」が担う重い責任(3月7日付・読売社説)

The chairmanship of the Fair Trade Commission--which ensures fair competition as a guardian of the market--was empty for about six months. We welcome the recent resolution of this irregular situation.

Kazuyuki Sugimoto, a former administrative vice finance minister, assumed the post earlier this week after being approved by both chambers of the Diet.

The seat had been empty since September, following the retirement of Sugimoto's predecessor, Kazuhiko Takeshima, because the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda did not even submit an appointment proposal to the Diet.

It was irresponsible for Noda's administration to leave the FTC unable to function without a leader. It was appropriate that the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors approved the proposal by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to appoint Sugimoto as the commission's new chairman.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan caused confusion when it rejected a government offer to discuss Sugimoto's appointment on the grounds that it was leaked by the media before officially being made public. The ruling and opposition camps should use this case as a chance to normalize Diet procedures for approving personnel nominations proposed by the government.


Vows to promote competition

The FTC will play an important role in Abenomics, the economic policy of Abe's administration through which it aims to help companies become more competitive.

"We will ensure fair, free competition," Sugimoto said during a press conference upon assuming the post. "We will strictly deal with violations of the Antimonopoly Law."

We hope Sugimoto will exercise his leadership as the commanding officer for the competition policy.

The FTC strengthened its functions during Takeshima's 10-year tenure.

In addition to raising financial penalties for companies violating the law, the commission adopted a system to reduce or waive surcharges on companies that voluntarily report their violations. This has helped the FTC uncover a number of serious cases.

The FTC also speeded up screenings of corporate mergers, with an eye on the fact that companies have been facing fiercer competition with foreign rivals.

How can the FTC help companies become more competitive and ultimately revive the nation's economy? The Sugimoto-led commission bears a heavy responsibility.

The commission's immediate task is to enable small and midsize companies to increase their prices by the amount of the consumption tax when its rate is increased in 2014 and 2015. It should prevent major companies from abusing their dominant positions to force weaker contractors to shoulder the tax increases.


Protect smaller firms

The government will submit a bill during the current ordinary Diet session to allow the FTC to warn companies if they prevent contractors from reflecting the tax increases in their prices, or to make the names of such firms public. The FTC should fulfill its supervisory functions.

When Sugimoto attended a hearing at the Diet before receiving its approval, he was asked about the resale price maintenance system, under which newspapers and book publishers, along with makers of other items, are authorized to set retail prices on their products. Sugimoto said he does not think the system should be revised.

Sugimoto also said it is unnecessary to abolish the designation of newspapers as an exception to the Antimonopoly Law, which enables anyone to buy the same newspaper at the same price anywhere in the nation.

The resale price maintenance system and the exception play important roles in maintaining the newspaper industry's home delivery system and promoting print culture. We applaud Sugimoto's remarks.

There are some issues on which decisions should not be made just on the principle of competition. The FTC is encouraged to show a sense of balance by taking into account real situations when examining issues.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 7, 2013)
(2013年3月7日01時21分  読売新聞)

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1票の格差違憲 立法府は司法の警告に応えよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 8, 2013)
Diet must correct disparities in value of votes
1票の格差違憲 立法府は司法の警告に応えよ(3月7日付・読売社説)

Once again, a severe judgment has been handed down against the Diet, which keeps on failing to correct disparities in the value of votes.

The Tokyo High Court on Wednesday said the December House of Representatives election, in which votes in some constituencies carried up to 2.43 times the weight of votes in other constituencies, was unconstitutional, as it violated the Constitution's stipulation of people's equality under the law.

The Diet has had ample time to correct the disparities, but it took no effective measures before carrying out the election. The high court criticized the Diet's inaction, calling it a lapse that cannot be overlooked.

Lawmakers must take the court ruling seriously and correct the disparities without further delay.

The latest ruling was handed down in light of a decision made by the Grand Bench of the Supreme Court in March 2011.

In that ruling, the top court said that the 2009 lower house election, when the maximum disparity was 2.30, was held under a considerably unequal situation. However, it stopped short of declaring it unconstitutional, instead judging it to be in a "state of unconstitutionality." The court explained this by saying, "A reasonable time period to correct the disparities has not yet elapsed."


No measures taken

During the extraordinary Diet session, the ruling and opposition parties made a legal revision to cut five lower house seats by scrapping five single-seat constituencies. However, a review of electoral districts based on the law was not made in time for the December election, which was thus held in the unconstitutional state.

Despite the warning from the Supreme Court, correction of the disparities in vote values did not progress. The Tokyo High Court did not declare the election invalid, but its decision surely goes farther than the 2011 Supreme Court ruling.

Similar cases are currently being tried at 14 high courts and branches throughout the country. All of the rulings are scheduled to be handed down within this month.

The Public Offices Election Law requires a court to try to hand down a ruling within 100 days after a suit is filed. Although there have been past cases in which it took more than half a year for courts to hand down decisions, courts are now following the rule, thus urging the Diet to take swift corrective action.


Division of ultimate power

The group of lawyers who filed the latest suit argued, based in part on the Constitution's preamble that "sovereign power resides with the people," that the vote of one person holding such power should be strictly equal to the votes of others.

The Tokyo High Court rejected this claim, but it will be a focal point in subsequent rulings to come.

Members of the ruling and opposition parties said, "We will take the ruling seriously," or "The ruling includes condemnation of the legislative branch of the government." These are natural responses. Lawmakers must take concrete action to improve the situation.

The Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the Democratic Party of Japan have agreed to carry out a drastic review of the lower house election system, including reduction of lower house seats, during the current Diet session. However, work to realize the agreement has been slow. Since the election system affects the rise and fall of political parties, it must face twists and turns for the parties to reach an agreement on concrete measures.

However, they have little time. Further negligence is simply unacceptable, as it erodes the very authority of the Diet as the legislative branch.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 7, 2013)
(2013年3月7日01時21分  読売新聞)

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for my daughter, kaichan

questions and answers
mathematics and science
for elementary school grade 3



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2013年3月 7日 (木)

共通番号法案 今国会こそ確実に成立させよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 7, 2013)
Adopt numbering system to manage welfare, tax systems
共通番号法案 今国会こそ確実に成立させよ(3月6日付・読売社説)

The government has resubmitted to the Diet a bill calling for the adoption of identification numbers for individuals to be used for the administration of social security programs and tax payments.

The ruling and some opposition parties recognize the need to introduce the numbering system. Deliberations on the bill should begin as soon as possible so it can be approved by the current Diet session.

Under the system, cards carrying numbers, individuals' photos and IC chips would be issued to all citizens to allow administrative offices to better manage the social security system and tax payments. The government aims to introduce the system in 2016.

The administration of former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda submitted a similar bill to the Diet last year together with bills on integrated reform of social security and tax systems. However, the bill was killed when the House of Representatives was dissolved for a general election in December.

The bill has been revised by the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the Democratic Party of Japan before it was submitted by the government to the current Diet session.

Introduction of the numbering system would be tremendously beneficial for the public because it would drastically simplify the complex application procedures for receiving social security benefits.


Time, money can be saved

Application for pension payments, for example, currently requires submission of such documents as certificates of residence and income. Time and money could be saved under the new system.

People would be able to check their personal information regarding social security benefits and tax payments at home by visiting a specific website. It also would be possible to check online whether there is any omission in their pension records.

Administrative costs would be reduced in applying for and receiving approval for social security benefits and other services.

The envisaged numbering system could lay the foundation for the central and municipal governments to more easily obtain information on individuals' incomes and tax payments, making tax collection fairer. This could prevent income underreporting and illegal tax refunds.

The government should take extra precautions in providing social security benefits for low-income earners and other underprivileged people when they utilize the planned numbering system.

The system will be indispensable when a tax deduction system together with cash handouts is introduced to ease regressive tax burdens, an issue to be tackled when the consumption tax is increased.


Independent body eyed

Diet deliberations will focus on how personal information can be protected. It is crucial to establish a credible system.

It is reasonable for the bill to contain a provision calling for the establishment of a strictly independent commission to watch out for information leaks.

The commission would be given strong investigative powers and be empowered to issue recommendations and orders when irregularities are found. Violators would face criminal punishment. The numbering system must be strictly controlled to prevent it from being abused.

Expansion of the application range of numbering system is a task to be dealt with in the future. As the bill does not include a provision to apply a numbering system to medical care information, this matter should be taken up at some stage.

The numbering system would prove beneficial if it eliminated waste in the medical care field by deterring patients from duplicating examinations and obtaining medication at two or more medical institutions.

The ruling and opposition parties must hold thorough deliberations on the bill to win public support for the system.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 6, 2013)
(2013年3月6日02時05分  読売新聞)

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中国国防費膨張 「海洋強国化」は危険な軍拡だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 7, 2013)
China's dangerous maritime expansion
中国国防費膨張 「海洋強国化」は危険な軍拡だ(3月6日付・読売社説)

China, which has trumpeted its desire to become a maritime power, has been rapidly expanding its military might.

If Xi Jinping's administration wants to dispel the "China threat theory" being increasingly espoused by neighboring countries, it should commit itself to making its military power more transparent and actively engage in confidence-building steps.

At the National People's Congress, or parliament, that convened Tuesday, China unveiled a 10.7 percent year-on-year increase in defense spending in the 2013 national budget to about 740.6 billion yuan (about 11.11 trillion yen). This is about 2.4 times the size of Japan's defense budget.

China's defense budget has logged double-digit increases for more than 20 consecutive years, excluding 2010, when the global recession buffeted that country. Its actual military expenditure remains unclear because the disclosed figure does not include money earmarked for weapon research and development, for example.

China should fully disclose the breakdown of its defense budget and plans to introduce military equipment.

China's military expansion policy, which is behind the substantial rise in defense spending, also is a destabilizing factor that could trigger military expansion in neighboring nations, including India.


Senkakus need vigilance

The Xi administration probably will appropriate this budget predominantly to projects reinforcing China's navy and air force so it can encircle the East China Sea and the South China Sea as "China's Sea," to counter the U.S. strategy that places greater emphasis on Asia.

China's military has been accelerating development of its own stealth fighter jet and construction of domestic aircraft carriers and new frigates. It reportedly has conducted about 40 exercises this year.

This year's government work report delivered at the National People's Congress stressed that China will protect its maritime interests. The Chinese Navy and State Oceanic Administration have confirmed they will strengthen their cooperation.

There is the possibility that Chinese surveillance ships, with assistance from the navy, could take a more hard-line stance around the Senkaku Islands. Chinese vessels might seize Japanese fishing boats or apprehend their crew members. Japanese authorities must step up their vigilance.


More provocations possible

Automatic spending cuts that have started in the United States could restrict U.S. military operations in the western Pacific. Given the circumstances, there are concerns the Chinese Navy may instigate a provocation similar to the incident this year in which a Chinese frigate locked its fire-control radar on a Maritime Self-Defense Force vessel.

China should try to build trust with Japan by resuming talks on establishing a bilateral system for emergency communications at sea. Tokyo must enhance the deterrence of the Japan-U.S. alliance and do everything in its power to defend the Senkaku Islands.

Dealing with environmental problems is an urgent task for the Xi administration. Serious air pollution in China has exposed the limits of Beijing's policy of focusing on economic growth above all else. We think China should also appropriate more of its budget to expanding the social security system in preparation for the costs that will come with its rapidly graying population.

Meanwhile, China's domestic security budget exceeds the defense budget. This indicates that the Chinese government believes it has no choice but to flex strong state power to deal with disturbances that frequently erupt across that country.

Stimulating a sense of national greatness among Chinese people by military expansion, thereby diverting domestic frustrations to external elements, is a dangerous game.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 6, 2013)
(2013年3月6日02時05分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月 6日 (水)

6年ぶりにHPを改定 2013-03-06

使用制限の極めて厳格なyahoo HPより、fc2 HP と ninja HP に引越しです。


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代表質問 安倍政権を攻めあぐねる野党

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 6, 2013)
Opposition parties toothless when grilling Abe administration
代表質問 安倍政権を攻めあぐねる野党(3月5日付・読売社説)

The approval rating for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe remains high, and opposition parties have yet to clarify their stances on key policy issues. Under the circumstances, the opposition bloc has struggled to launch an effective offensive against the Abe government.

Interpellations by party representatives on the prime minister's recent policy speech have begun in the Diet.

Democratic Party of Japan Acting President Akihiro Ohata questioned the consistency between the government's position on the nation's possible participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks and the Liberal Democratic Party's pledges for the last House of Representatives election. The LDP pledged it would oppose TPP participation as long as it was premised on the elimination of all tariffs without exception.

Ohata upbraided these "Abe tricks" as a deception of the public because the condition set in the LDP pledges has yet to be met, as whether some trade items are exempt from tariff elimination will be decided in the negotiations.


Clearer explanations needed

It is true that Japan has not been assured there will be exceptions. But it is unproductive to debate whether entering the TPP talks goes against the policy pledge at this stage. The DPJ question missed the point, and was raised apparently because the party has not clarified its stance on the issue.

The prime minister responded rather tersely. He briefly explained about his recent meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, and merely said, "I've come to believe that the TPP won't be premised on the elimination of all tariffs without exception."

Abe needs to explain to the public in a simpler-to-understand way that, for Japan as a trading nation, participation in the TPP would be a pillar in its growth strategy. After doing so, he should aim to soon join the process of crafting rules on free trade and make sure rice and certain other items are excluded from tariff elimination.

Referring to the government's appointment of the next Bank of Japan governor, Takao Fujii, chairman of the general council of Diet members of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), said it is desirable to have someone who supports revising the Bank of Japan Law to strengthen government involvement in monetary policy.

Abe said he also has revision of the law in mind, but expressed high hopes for now that Asian Development Bank President Haruhiko Kuroda, the government's pick to be the central bank chief, will take bold monetary easing measures.


Get electoral reform moving

Internal rifts have surfaced within Ishin no Kai. Party coleader Toru Hashimoto is negative toward Kuroda's appointment, but some party lawmakers are leaning toward accepting his nomination. Ishin no Kai officials have said they will decide after hearing opinions given by Kuroda in the Diet. But Fujii's questioning lacked force mainly because his party has yet to settle on a position on the issue.

During a hearing at the House of Representatives Rules and Administration Committee on Monday, Kuroda expressed determination to do whatever he could for the nation to overcome deflation. We consider this a reasonable stance toward revitalization of the Japanese economy.

The prime minister said he had told his party to "actively work on compiling plans" for lower house election system reform, including a change in the number of seats in the chamber. The LDP, New Komeito and the DPJ have already agreed to proceed with this change.

Former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Abe's predecessor, made realization of electoral system reform a precondition for dissolving the lower house last year. Abe agreed that a conclusion should be reached during the current Diet session. Talks between ruling and opposition parties on this issue must be accelerated.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 5, 2013)
(2013年3月5日01時29分  読売新聞)

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米国歳出削減 大統領と議会は混乱収拾急げ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 6, 2013)
Obama, Congress must unsnarl chaos over budget
米国歳出削減 大統領と議会は混乱収拾急げ(3月5日付・読売社説)

The automatic spending cuts aimed at slashing U.S. federal spending have been implemented. President Barack Obama and Republican and Democratic lawmakers must find points of compromise and unsnarl the confusion soon.

The spending cuts amount to 1.2 trillion dollars (about 110 trillion yen) over a 10-year period, with 85 billion dollars, or about 10 percent of government spending for fiscal 2013 (which started on Oct. 1 and ends on Sept. 30), to be cut.

The automatic budget cuts were mandated in legislation passed in the summer of 2011 when Democrats and Republicans failed to agree on a fiscal reconstruction plan. Without an agreement on a middle- or long-term fiscal deficit-cutting deal, the budget cuts were to be invoked in January.

To avert the so-called fiscal cliff of automatic spending cuts and middle-class tax increases, at least as a temporary fix, the deadline for implementing the budget cuts was put off by two months.
But negotiations between Obama and both parties collapsed, leading to the automatic budget cuts. This is an extremely serious situation.

While Obama and the Democrats have been calling for cutting the federal deficit by additional tax increases on the rich and spending cuts, Republicans adamantly oppose the tax increases.


Deep-rooted confrontation

This resulted in a deep-rooted confrontation that started even before last year's presidential election.

The automatic spending cuts will not immediately damage the U.S. economy or affect the people's lives, but if they are kept in place for a protracted period of time, ill effects will be felt both at home and abroad. The situation must be watched.

For instance, with the cuts in spending on national defense, about 800,000 civilian personnel of the U.S. Defense Department face furloughs, which could hinder U.S. security operations in the western Pacific and Japan.

With the cuts in air traffic controllers, some airport control towers might be closed. A large number of teachers may also be fired. With the budget cuts, these scenarios will come closer to reality.

In the long term, the cuts are likely to slow down the U.S. economy, which has at last shown signs of recovery, and also damage the world economy.

While the main budget for the current fiscal year has yet to be passed into law, the provisional six-month budget will expire on March 27.

Unless the main budget or a new provisional budget is decided on, further disarray will follow and may even cause a government shutdown.

The focal issue at least for the time being is whether the confrontation between Obama and congressional Republicans will end before such adverse effects spread.


Radical solution required

The responsibilities of the president and the Congress are grave. It is important for them to compromise soon and produce a radical solution to realize both fiscal reconstruction and economic growth, instead of continuing an unproductive exchange of denunciations.

There are many pending problems over fiscal management. Unless the limit on federal borrowing is raised by the middle of May, the U.S. government may even default on its obligations.

The president and Democratic and Republican lawmakers have repeatedly put off solving problems every time their negotiations have deadlocked. But makeshift measures will not lead to a fundamental solution.

The big question is whether the United States can rid itself of "politics characterized by indecision."

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 5, 2013)
(2013年3月5日01時29分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月 5日 (火)

PM2.5対策 監視強めて正確な情報提供を

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 5, 2013)
More precise data needed in fight against PM2.5 pollution
PM2.5対策 監視強めて正確な情報提供を(3月4日付・読売社説)

In the coming season, when the prevailing westerly winds will gain strength, there is a danger the volume of PM2.5 fine pollutants being blown over to Japan from China will sharply increase.

We hope the Environment Ministry and other offices concerned make meticulous arrangements to monitor the levels of these airborne contaminants and prevent them from harming the health of people here.

PM2.5 is a general term for substances 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter. One micrometer is one-thousandth of a millimeter. These microparticles are about one-tenth the size of cedar pollen, and are tiny enough to pass through an ordinary face mask.

Some experts have pointed out that inhaled PM2.5 particles tend to go deep into the lungs, and can cause asthma, bronchitis or lung cancer. The particulate matter is believed to come from sooty smoke produced by incinerators, vehicle emissions and other sources.

The amount of these particles generated in Japan has been declining, thanks to emission controls and other measures. But air pollution from China that transcends national boundaries has become a problem this year, causing concern about possible health risks to residents mainly in Kyushu and other parts of western Japan.


New guidelines

The Environment Ministry plans to increase the number of monitoring spots to 1,300 from the current 550. This is an essential step for providing detailed information to residents.

It is also necessary to precisely analyze just how much of these substances is actually being blown over from China.

The ministry last week set provisional guidelines under which warnings will be issued to the public if the daily average amount of PM2.5 particles exceeds 70 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

If particulate levels in the air are likely to exceed that figure, Tokyo and other prefectural governments will urge residents to stay indoors and refrain from ventilating their rooms.

The guidelines have been established based on barometers adopted in the United States and the results of epidemiological studies. An expert panel at the Environment Ministry said that even if the concentration of these pollutants reaches this level, it will not necessarily harm every person's health.

The Tokyo metropolitan government and prefectural governments should urge residents to respond calmly to PM2.5 warnings, rather than whipping up unease.

That being said, people with respiratory or heart diseases, children susceptible to the effects of the particles and elderly people need to pay extra attention to changes in their physical condition.

Many aspects of the health hazards of PM2.5 particles remain unknown. We hope researchers make further efforts to provide clear answers to this question.


Japan can help

The most important way to counter the PM2.5 problem is to quell the generation of these substances in China. In Beijing, the level of PM2.5 particles briefly topped 500 micrograms per cubic meter of air on Feb. 28, reaching the most serious level on that country's six-step scale of air pollution.

The daily lives of Japanese living in China also have been affected by the pollution, with Japanese schools restricting children's outdoor activities.

In February, Japan and China agreed Tokyo would extend technical cooperation to help Beijing fight air pollution. The Chinese government must proactively tackle pollution control by drawing on the experiences Japan went through as it overcame its own air pollution problems.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 4, 2013)
(2013年3月4日01時50分  読売新聞)

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憲法96条 改正要件緩和が政治を変える

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 5, 2013)
Relax requirements for constitutional revision
憲法96条 改正要件緩和が政治を変える(3月4日付・読売社説)

Revision of Article 96 of the Constitution, which stipulates procedures to amend the national charter, has emerged as a major item on the political agenda.

This is apparent after the Liberal Democratic Party, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and Your Party, which all called for revision of the article in their campaign platforms for the House of Representatives election in December, together have acquired more than two-thirds of the chamber's 480 seats.

Depending on the outcome of the House of Councillors election in July, legislative arrangements for revising the Constitution will get under way for the first time.

Therefore, constitutional revision is now on the political agenda and has a chance of being realized.

Article 96 calls for revision to be initiated by the Diet through an affirmative vote of two-thirds or more of all members of each house, followed by a national referendum in which support from a majority of the public must be secured.


Hard to clear dual hurdle

It will not be easy to clear the high dual hurdle of winning affirmative votes of two-thirds or more in each chamber and securing majority support from the public in a referendum.

If the threshold of two-thirds is revised to a majority as proposed by the LDP, it will be easier to initiate amendments.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government will seek revision of Article 96, which is supported by many parties, ahead of other articles over which parties are divided. This is a realistic and appropriate approach.

His view is shared by some conservative members of the Democratic Party of Japan who reportedly plan to form a new parliamentary league with lawmakers of Ishin no Kai and Your Party to revise Article 96.

The controversy over constitutional revision, which puts politicians' views of the nature of the state to the test, is significant in that it could lead to a political realignment.

The DPJ has not yet decided on its position on the issue due to differences of opinion within the party.

Even its party platform makes little reference to the issue, saying only that the party "envisages a future-oriented constitution to establish constitutionalism in the true sense of the word." This statement does not give the people much idea about how the party will tackle constitutional revision.

The DPJ must hold in-depth discussions on the matter ahead of the upper house election as the issue has the potential of becoming a bone of contention.


Unrealistic situation

A constitution does not have to remain unchanged forever. In the past 13 years alone, Switzerland amended its Constitution 23 times, while Germany revised its top law 11 times and France 10 times.

However, since it was enforced in 1947, the Constitution of Japan has never been revised, an extremely rare case.

With the changing times, the gap between the Constitution and reality has become diverse and distinct. Many lawmakers believe the Constitution should be revised in relation to protection of environmental rights and privacy, let alone national security, but nothing has been done.

It is natural for Ishin no Kai coleader Toru Hashimoto to assert that "it's important to discuss the content [of the Constitution], but is it satisfactory to leave intact a situation in which we cannot even seek the people's judgment on revision proposals?"

Now is the time to relax Article 96's requirements that has made it so difficult to revise the Constitution.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 4, 2013)
(2013年3月4日01時50分  読売新聞)

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1) 貸金業に登録されている会社かどうか確認する(大手の場合には不要です)
2) 貸付金利が法定金利の内側にあるかどうか確認する (年利15%以内だと安心です)
3) 返済期間と返済計画の確認 (出来るだけ早急に返済するのがコツです)


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2013年3月 4日 (月)

被曝健康評価 不安を和らげる対策が重要だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 4, 2013)
More must be done to ease Fukushima radiation concerns
被曝健康評価 不安を和らげる対策が重要だ(3月3日付・読売社説)

The risk of adverse impacts on human health caused by radiation that leaked during the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is probably infinitesimal.

On Thursday, the World Health Organization released a report saying health hazards resulting from the nuclear crisis are low. The report also says the risk of people in radiation-affected areas getting cancer will not be higher than during their normal lifetime.

The WHO investigation findings can be said to be consistent with evaluations done previously at home and abroad. We hope they alleviate the unease felt by many victims of the disaster.

The WHO presented estimates of the radiation doses received by residents of Fukushima Prefecture and elsewhere based on measurement data for radiation and other substances, and used these figures to calculate health risks from the disaster.

Especially noteworthy is the fact that the WHO took special care "not to underestimate" the radiation doses.

For instance, it worked out the projections under the assumption that people in evacuation areas remained in highly contaminated districts and ate radiation-tainted food for up to four months after the nuclear crisis without evacuating--a situation highly unlikely to happen. The WHO evaluations are therefore based on an overestimated radiation dose.


Risk higher, but still very low

The bulk of affected residents are estimated to have received 10 millisieverts or less of radiation in the first year after the disaster, according to surveys by the government and other organizations. This is about the same as a person would receive during a single precision radiological examination of the chest. Potential readings employed by the WHO are about five times this amount.

Given this, health risks in some areas covered by the WHO investigation are higher than in normal times.

In the town of Namie in the Fukushima Prefecture evacuation zone, the probability of a 1-year-old girl developing thyroid cancer before she turns 16 is set at 0.0365 percent in the WHO report, about nine times higher than the 0.004 percent in normal times.

Using the WHO calculation, less than one girl in 100 currently aged 1 will develop the cancer after the nuclear crisis.

It is generally said one in two Japanese develops cancer in their lifetime. The biggest causes are smoking and improper eating habits, according to experts. Radiation-induced health risks reported by the WHO are so minuscule as to be hardly detectable.

The government must do more to provide sufficient information to the public to prevent the belief that health risks have increased in disaster-hit areas from taking on a life of its own. In addition, the WHO, which placed great emphasis on the anxieties of residents, stressed that due consideration should be paid to the "psychological and social effects" of the disaster. The government must respond appropriately to this.


Facilitate health checkups

In particular, long-term health monitoring of people exposed to radiation must be considered a matter of high importance.

Health checkups being carried out by the Fukushima prefectural government and others, however, have not progressed as hoped. Only 20 percent of people who authorities think should have had their radiation dosage checked have actually done so.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority plans to press the government shortly to beef up support to accelerate the pace of the health checkups. There is no time to waste in putting these arrangements in place.

To ease the concern of people in disaster-stricken areas, it is essential to review the goal of reducing annual radiation contamination levels in these places to one millisievert or less per year. The goal has widely been taken to mean that one millisievert is the threshold between danger and safety in areas affected by the nuclear crisis.

The Fukushima prefectural government considers the strict decontamination goal as an impediment to encouraging residents to return to their homes, and has asked the central government to set a new target. The government should quickly start considering this request.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 3, 2013)
(2013年3月3日01時48分  読売新聞)

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F35部品輸出 一層の3原則緩和も検討せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 4, 2013)
Export of F-35 parts a chance to relax arms export ban
F35部品輸出 一層の3原則緩和も検討せよ(3月3日付・読売社説)

We praise the government's decision regarding the U.S. F-35 stealth fighter jet, as it will not only reinforce the Japan-U.S. alliance but also maintain and grow Japan's foundation for the production and technology of defense equipment.

The government decided Friday to exclude Japanese-made parts for the F-35, which will be the next mainstay fighter for the Air Self-Defense Force, from its ban on arms exports. Several countries, including Japan, are working with the United States on production of the F-35.

The F-35 is a state-of-the-art fighter jet with stealth capability that makes the plane less detectable by radar.

The Defense Ministry will introduce a total of 42 F-35s, starting this fiscal year. Three domestic companies will manufacture their bodies, engines and other parts.

The introduction of F-35s is extremely important in terms of air defense because the international environment around Japan is deteriorating due to such factors as China's arms buildup and the nuclear threat from North Korea. We expect the government to proceed with their introduction as scheduled.


Boon for defense industry

The participation of Japanese firms in the production of the F-35 will allow them to acquire advanced technology and experience concerning a fighter jet. It will also enable the Japanese firms to maintain and repair the F-35s in Japan to improve their operating rate.

Furthermore, it will raise the level of the Japanese aircraft industry and enhance defense technology cooperation between Japan and the United States.

This has significant meaning for the Japanese defense industry.

Next fiscal year's defense budget will see the first increase in 11 years. However, many defense-related companies have already gone bankrupt or withdrawn from the industry due to the decline in defense spending that continued for 10 consecutive years.

The weakening of the domestic foundation for production and technology of defense equipment may shake the nation's security.

A new logistic system, in which countries concerned mutually supply parts to reduce costs, was adopted for the joint production of the new fighter jet. Under the system, however, Japan-made parts could be transferred to Israel. This has caused concerns regarding compliance with Japan's three principles on arms exports, aimed at "avoiding any possible aggravation of international conflicts.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a statement released by the government that the export of Japanese parts is approved on condition that exports are limited to countries that comply with the mission and principles of the U.N. Charter and that the United States administer strict export controls within the logistic system.

For instance, the export of Japanese parts will not be approved to countries under sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council. We think this is a reasonable judgment.


Japan caught in own trap

The statement avoids using expressions related to an "international conflict," which has various meanings. In addition to an invasive military action, it could also mean a fight against terrorism or self-defense.

With just a few exceptions, Japan has banned arms exports, being caught in its own trap by the ambiguous concept that the nation aims to avoid "any possible aggravation of international conflicts."

This has caused a vicious cycle in which domestically made weapons have become expensive and weighed on the defense budget, thereby delaying the introduction of advanced equipment to the Self-Defense Forces and debilitating the domestic defense industry.

Some members of the government have used the government's approval for the export of F-35 parts to call for a review of the three principles on arms exports.

We hope the government will give priority to the question of what is really significant for the safety of Japan, and study further relaxation of the three principles on arms exports, with certain brakes still applied.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 3, 2013)
(2013年3月3日01時48分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月 3日 (日)

在留邦人保護 アルジェリアの教訓を生かせ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 3, 2013)
Heed lessons from Algeria crisis to improve security system
在留邦人保護 アルジェリアの教訓を生かせ(3月2日付・読売社説)

The government should act urgently to take comprehensive measures to better protect Japanese expatriates, as an increasing number of domestic companies are expanding their businesses abroad.

A government study panel has disclosed its report on the hostage crisis in Algeria, in which many foreigners including 10 Japanese were killed.

According to the report, there were no staff fluent in Arabic or Self-Defense Force attaches at the Japanese Embassy in the country at the time of the terrorist attack. After the crisis broke out, the Japanese government suffered from a serious lack of information on the situation, partly because the Algerian government put a tight lid on information distribution.

"Japan did not maintain sufficient cooperative relations with Algerian organizations," the report says. "Such relationships must be strengthened."
The Foreign Ministry should seriously consider the report's findings.


Better intelligence gathering

The intelligence gathering system used by diplomatic missions abroad must be enhanced to detect early signs of terrorist attacks and help facilitate appropriate action should such events occur.

Regarding the government's reaction to a crisis, the report says all information should be consolidated and shared at the Prime Minister's Office. It also stresses that the commanding role of the office must be reinforced and the government needs to work as a cohesive unit in crisis situations. We expect the government to discuss these recommendations immediately.

The report also says a revision of the Self-Defense Forces Law should be considered to allow SDF members to transport Japanese involved in a crisis abroad by land. Under the current law, the SDF can only transport citizens on its ships and planes in foreign countries.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner New Komeito will request that the government consider a bill to amend the law. It is important to make legal revisions in times of peace, to prepare for an array of emergency situations.


Public, private sector ties key

Strengthened cooperation between the government and the private sector is also essential to secure the safety of Japanese expatriates.

The effects of the Arab Spring and other incidents are fomenting political unrest and social disruption in North and West African countries. This gives Japanese companies operating in those countries a major cause for concern. It is a matter of course that many firms ask the Foreign Ministry to provide information on the countries in which they operate, such as details on the political environment and security provisions.

The ministry says it already distributes information on potential risks to Japanese expatriates through various means such as e-mails sent to registered addresses. However, the Foreign Ministry should more seriously reflect on what information would be most beneficial to citizens abroad.

Based on the report, the government has formed a panel of experts including company officials. The body is charged with discussing how the government and the private sector can best cooperate and how to minimize the number of Japanese nationals falling victim to terrorist acts abroad in the future.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet, which has acknowledged security management as a priority issue, should not neglect the lessons learned from the hostage crisis in Algeria. The Prime Minister's Office should take the lead in improving the nation's security management system.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 2, 2013)
(2013年3月2日01時04分  読売新聞)

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中国とインド洋 影響力増大は地域の軍拡招く

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 3, 2013)
China's maritime strategy causing regional arms race
中国とインド洋 影響力増大は地域の軍拡招く(3月2日付・読売社説)

A recent move by China clearly signals that the incoming administration of Xi Jinping seeks to increase its influence in the Indian Ocean as part of its aim to become a maritime giant with massive naval strength.

A state-run Chinese company has taken over the management of Gwadar Port in western Pakistan from a Singaporean firm. The port was built with Chinese government aid.

Situated on the Arabian Sea in the northwestern Indian Ocean, the port is a strategic point near the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil shipping lane from the Middle East to Asia.

In addition to seeking more control of the East and South China seas to develop marine resources, China is stepping up efforts to secure maritime interests such as Northern Sea Routes and sea lanes to the Middle East and Africa.

The Chinese government has claimed that acquiring the management rights to Gwadar Port is part of its policy of economic cooperation. However, the company involved in the acquisition is a state-backed corporation--one that plays a role in implementing the country's national strategies.

Concerns that China may eventually use the port for military purposes cannot be dispelled.


Worries over 'String of Pearls'

In addition to Gwadar, China has helped develop ports in other countries on the Indian Ocean, such as in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. A map of ports with Chinese involvement now looks like a necklace encircling India.

Calling the ports a "String of Pearls," the United States is keeping its eye on this and other attempts by China to increase its geopolitical influence.

We believe India has reason to be concerned over Beijing's control of Gwadar Port.

One alarming thing about China's desire to become a maritime power is that it has intensified the arms race in the region.

Recently, India increased efforts to counter China's military buildup, such as by developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads and purchasing foreign-made fighter jets. However, these moves could also prompt action from Pakistan, which has an ongoing border dispute with India.

In the East China Sea, a Chinese naval vessel locked its fire-control radar on a Maritime Self-Defense Force ship earlier this year. The Chinese Navy's attitude has become increasingly provocative.


Cooperation with India is key

To deal with the regional instability caused by China's actions, Japan and the United States need to work together with India.

In late January, Japan and India held their first-ever talks on maritime affairs. During the talks, the two countries agreed on the importance of ensuring freedom of the seas based on international law, as the seas are significantly important for the good of international society. We urge the two nations to deepen cooperation in many areas, including shipbuilding and port development.

A safe Indian Ocean is also essential to Japan's economic growth.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 2, 2013)
(2013年3月2日01時04分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月 2日 (土)

施政方針演説 政権交代の果実を具体化せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 2, 2013)
Use transfer of power to achieve specific results
施政方針演説 政権交代の果実を具体化せよ(3月1日付・読売社説)

"The close alliance between Japan and the United States has now been perfectly revived," and "Let's begin in-depth discussions toward revising the Constitution."

These remarks from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policy speech to the Diet on Thursday were especially conspicuous, as they marked changes in Japan's key policies following the transfer of power late last year.

We appreciate the prime minister's fundamental stance to seek a "strong Japan" centering around the keyword of the nation's "self-reliance."

With such countries as China apparently in mind, Abe spoke about the integrity of Japan's land, territorial waters and airspace, as well as the challenges being made to its sovereignty, during the key policy speech.
Abe mentioned his plan to increase Japan's defense spending for the first time in 11 years, while launching full-fledged discussions on creating an organ similar to the U.S. National Security Council. It is of truly high importance for the government to steadily put these ideas into practice.

China has defined 2013 as the first year of its becoming a naval power, and is augmenting its maritime capabilities.

The Japanese government must appeal strongly to the international community for the need to solve international problems not through the use of force but on the basis of law.


Many urgent tasks await

The prime minister referred in the speech to his recent summit meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, vowing that Japan will play additional roles to help beef up bilateral security arrangements.

The nation must urgently solve such pending issues as asserting its entitlement to exercise the right to collective self-defense and relocating the functions of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture.

Regarding the politically sensitive issue of whether Japan should participate in the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, Abe explained in the speech that the multilateral negotiations will not be held "on the premise of abolishing tariffs without exception."
He indicated the government's willingness to take part in the TPP talks, saying a final judgment on whether to participate "will be made on the government's responsibility."

Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers backed by farming organizations and other groups that oppose Japan's participation in the TPP negotiations have begun to shed their wariness at joining the talks on the condition that Japan secure a guarantee through international negotiations that certain trade items will be excluded from the planned abolition of tariffs.

Therefore it can safely be said that the environment is right for the prime minister to officially announce Japan's intention to participate in the TPP talks.

Japan does not have sufficient time to be involved in crafting the guidelines governing free trade rules in the TPP talks. The government should proceed swiftly with procedures for taking part in the talks to protect Japan's national interests.

In the policy speech, Abe also stressed that the government will do its utmost to make Japan the world's best country for business.


Moves for partial coalition

He stated his government will formulate a responsible energy policy, and expressed his resolve to restart nuclear reactors if their safety is ensured. But simply making such a statement is hardly enough.

Screenings for the reactivation of reactors will not come before July, when the Nuclear Regulation Authority is scheduled to decide on a set of new safety standards. Given this, there will not be satisfactory progress in restarting reactors unless the NRA conducts the screenings in a highly efficient manner. The stable supply of energy and reductions in its cost could be jeopardized.

The prime minister must fully exercise his leadership to achieve the earliest possible restart of reactors.

At the end of his speech, Abe called for the opposition to engage in constructive discussion to produce good results, instead of engaging in partisan bickering with the ruling coalition.

His call for expediting interparty talks to review the electoral system and discussions by the panels of both Diet houses on the study of constitutional revisions can also be considered appropriate.

Despite the divided Diet, in which the opposition controls the House of Councillors while the ruling camp has a majority in the House of Representatives, a partial coalition is gaining momentum as exemplified by the passage of a supplementary budget through the upper house.

We strongly hope to see the ruling and opposition blocs work together to form a consensus on key issues.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 1, 2013)
(2013年3月1日01時32分  読売新聞)

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教育再生提言 いじめの抑止につなげたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 2, 2013)
Proposals by Abe's education panel must be 1st step to deter bullying
教育再生提言 いじめの抑止につなげたい(3月1日付・読売社説)

The Education Rebuilding Implementation Council, working directly under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has compiled its first set of proposals. It calls for legislation of antibullying measures and strict enforcement of the prohibition on corporal punishment.

 We hope the government, based on the proposals, will work hard to realize effective measures, cooperating closely with local governments and schools to make necessary arrangements there.

What we would like to especially focus on is the panel's proposal to establish a third-party organization to uncover and investigate bullying cases.

In the case of a middle school student in Otsu who committed suicide in the autumn of 2011, the school noticed signs of bullying, but did not give appropriate instruction to the students involved. Even after the suicide, the city's board of education merely went through the motions of investigating its cause.


3rd-party organ may be effective

Because schools and boards of education have failed to deal appropriately with bullying cases, it would surely be effective to establish a third-party organization at each local government, comprising lawyers and state-certified clinical psychotherapists, to accept complaints from children and their parents. We expect such panels would seek solutions from the viewpoints of outsiders.

We also think the government panel was right to call for measures to detect sudden changes in children's attitudes and behaviors by, for instance, appointing counselors at schools.

The proposals emphasize active utilization of a system to suspend students who bully others, and stressed the necessity of cooperating with police.

In handling bullying cases, the first necessary step is persistent instruction by teachers to students who have bullied others. However, if the bullying continues after all possible efforts, schools and teachers must take resolute measures to protect the bullied students.

Especially when schools become aware of criminal acts committed by students--such as assault or extortion--they should not hesitate to report them to police. It is important for schools and police to build relationships of mutual trust on a routine basis.

Another of the proposals is to upgrade moral education to an independent subject. Making moral lessons a school subject was proposed in 2007 by the Education Rebuilding Council that was established by Abe during his first Cabinet. The proposal was not realized for reasons including the idea that morality is not a subject amenable to being rated with ordinary school grades.


Importance of moral education

As moral education is not a regular school subject, it has no authorized textbooks. Many teachers actually teaching moral education say they have not been able to find effective ways to instruct students in class.

By making it into a regular school subject, the government must improve moral education through the development of teaching materials and the accumulation of studies on teaching methods. Nurturing students' natural human inclination to be considerate of other people's feelings through moral education will help prevent bullying.

Meanwhile, the proposals demand that the central government compile instruction guidelines for club activities at schools as part of measures to eradicate physical punishments.

Quite a few teachers and sports coaches have misunderstood violence against children as part of strict instruction. Stating concrete definitions of corporal punishment and giving examples of such actions should be part of the government's necessary efforts to establish at places of education an awareness that violent acts should not be allowed for any reason.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 1, 2013)
(2013年3月1日01時32分  読売新聞)

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教育再生提言 いじめの抑止につなげたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 2, 2013)
Proposals by Abe's education panel must be 1st step to deter bullying
教育再生提言 いじめの抑止につなげたい(3月1日付・読売社説)

The Education Rebuilding Implementation Council, working directly under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has compiled its first set of proposals. It calls for legislation of antibullying measures and strict enforcement of the prohibition on corporal punishment.

 We hope the government, based on the proposals, will work hard to realize effective measures, cooperating closely with local governments and schools to make necessary arrangements there.

What we would like to especially focus on is the panel's proposal to establish a third-party organization to uncover and investigate bullying cases.

In the case of a middle school student in Otsu who committed suicide in the autumn of 2011, the school noticed signs of bullying, but did not give appropriate instruction to the students involved. Even after the suicide, the city's board of education merely went through the motions of investigating its cause.


3rd-party organ may be effective

Because schools and boards of education have failed to deal appropriately with bullying cases, it would surely be effective to establish a third-party organization at each local government, comprising lawyers and state-certified clinical psychotherapists, to accept complaints from children and their parents. We expect such panels would seek solutions from the viewpoints of outsiders.

We also think the government panel was right to call for measures to detect sudden changes in children's attitudes and behaviors by, for instance, appointing counselors at schools.

The proposals emphasize active utilization of a system to suspend students who bully others, and stressed the necessity of cooperating with police.

In handling bullying cases, the first necessary step is persistent instruction by teachers to students who have bullied others. However, if the bullying continues after all possible efforts, schools and teachers must take resolute measures to protect the bullied students.

Especially when schools become aware of criminal acts committed by students--such as assault or extortion--they should not hesitate to report them to police. It is important for schools and police to build relationships of mutual trust on a routine basis.

Another of the proposals is to upgrade moral education to an independent subject. Making moral lessons a school subject was proposed in 2007 by the Education Rebuilding Council that was established by Abe during his first Cabinet. The proposal was not realized for reasons including the idea that morality is not a subject amenable to being rated with ordinary school grades.


Importance of moral education

As moral education is not a regular school subject, it has no authorized textbooks. Many teachers actually teaching moral education say they have not been able to find effective ways to instruct students in class.

By making it into a regular school subject, the government must improve moral education through the development of teaching materials and the accumulation of studies on teaching methods. Nurturing students' natural human inclination to be considerate of other people's feelings through moral education will help prevent bullying.

Meanwhile, the proposals demand that the central government compile instruction guidelines for club activities at schools as part of measures to eradicate physical punishments.

Quite a few teachers and sports coaches have misunderstood violence against children as part of strict instruction. Stating concrete definitions of corporal punishment and giving examples of such actions should be part of the government's necessary efforts to establish at places of education an awareness that violent acts should not be allowed for any reason.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 1, 2013)
(2013年3月1日01時32分  読売新聞)

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2013年3月 1日 (金)

原発政策提言 規制委の独善に注文がついた

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 1, 2013)
Nuclear Regulation Authority should heed its critics
原発政策提言 規制委の独善に注文がついた(2月28日付・読売社説)

A panel on energy and nuclear policies, mainly comprising experts from the private sector, recently submitted an emergency proposal to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

In the proposal, the panel urged the government to restart idled nuclear power plants once their safety is confirmed and draw up a new, responsible nuclear policy. The panel, chaired by former education minister Akito Arima, pressed the government to "avoid turning its back on nuclear power and tackle the issue squarely."
We believe the panel's proposal is reasonable.

Due to the prolonged suspension of nuclear power plants, the nation has become more dependent on thermal power generation, which has led to a surge in imports of liquefied natural gas used as fuel for thermal power generators. In light of the resultant rise in costs, electric companies have accelerated moves to raise their rates, which will likely have a huge impact on industries and people's daily lives.

Abe has pledged to fundamentally review the zero nuclear policy touted by previous administrations led by the Democratic Party of Japan. We ask the prime minister to take the proposals into account and speed up discussions on working out a new energy policy.


Fukushima basis of N-policy

The emergency proposal made three suggestions to the government: Rebuild damaged areas of Fukushima Prefecture, implement safety regulations for nuclear power based on global standards, and establish a proper energy policy.

About 160,000 people have been forced to evacuate from their homes due to the nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. It was sensible for the panel to put its top priority on rebuilding the affected areas, stressing that this should be the foundation of the government's energy and nuclear policies.

The panel also asked the government to build an international institute in Fukushima Prefecture tasked with developing technology and fostering international cooperation on decommissioning nuclear reactors. We believe the government should promptly take action to make this idea a reality.

It is noteworthy that the panel decided to criticize the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), which is tasked with implementing nuclear safety measures, in its emergency proposal. "There are various concerns" about the authority, the panel said.

"[The NRA] is pursuing a goal of reducing the risks [of operating nuclear power plants] to zero, which is impossible to achieve," the report said.
It also said the agency has not yet achieved its goal of becoming a forum for an examination of nuclear safety that takes full advantage of the wisdom of the nation's top experts and uses the maximum amount of information.


NRA becoming self-righteous

We agree that there are many problems with the management of the authority.

The authority is now working on drawing up new safety standards on nuclear power plants and studying whether nuclear power plants have active faults beneath them. However, it has excluded experts who were involved in nuclear regulation before the Fukushima crisis from its activities.

When the authority conducted a study on faults running under Japan Atomic Power Co.'s Tsuruga power plant in Fukui Prefecture, it concluded that a crush zone underneath the power plant's reactor is an active fault at a meeting of experts chosen in a biased manner. The authority did not even give Japan Atomic Power a chance to refute the NRA's findings. It is reasonable for the panel to urge the authority to "exchange opinions with [nuclear power plant] operators in an open manner."

Kunihiko Shimazaki, acting NRA chairman, said he plans to ask experts recommended by related academic societies to examine the authority's assessments of the faults under nuclear power plants. However, we believe its examinations will remain problematic unless the authority stops excluding experts who have opinions differing from those of the authority.

The emergency proposal also asked the authority to clarify the rules and timetable on restarting idled nuclear power plants.

NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said when deciding on the restart of nuclear power plants, the authority will not take the costs to power companies into account. However, we believe it is impossible to conduct nuclear regulation without considering the efficiency and economic performance of nuclear power plants.

The regulation authority's political independence is guaranteed, but that does not mean it should become self-righteous.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 28, 2013)
(2013年2月28日02時04分  読売新聞)

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ハーグ条約 子供の利益守る制度を築け

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 1, 2013)
Establish systems to protect children under Hague treaty
ハーグ条約 子供の利益守る制度を築け(2月28日付・読売社説)

The government must establish proper legal and support systems to protect the interests of children involved in custody battles as a result of failed international marriages.

When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with U.S. President Barack Obama during his recent visit to the United States, Abe promised that Japan would soon join the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which establishes rules regarding international child custody disputes.

The convention is now regarded as international law with 89 signatories, including the United States and many European countries. Japan, the only Group of Eight nation that has not joined the convention, should step up its efforts to sign onto it.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, New Komeito, have agreed to submit a bill seeking Diet approval for Japan to join the treaty and a related bill. The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan advocated joining the convention while it was in power. We hope the ruling and opposition camps will work hard to achieve Diet approval and pass the related bill by the end of the current ordinary Diet session.

The convention stipulates, in principle, that if one parent takes a child under 16 years old out of the child's country of habitual residence without the other parent's permission, the child should be returned to the country upon the latter parent's request.


Bill addresses threat of violence

The related bill covers matters from domestic judiciary proceedings for issuing orders to return children in custody disputes to the country of their habitual residence, to the role of the Foreign Ministry, which will be in charge of the convention.

A main point in Diet deliberations will be the conditions under which a parent can refuse to return a child.

The bill proposes that a child should not be returned if the petitioner might commit violence against his or her former spouse, the child or people close to them. This condition has been included in consideration for those who are cautious regarding participation in the Hague Convention out of concern that a Japanese parent and their child could be exposed to domestic violence by the other parent when they return to the country of the child's habitual residence.

However, it is not easy for Japanese parents to prove they have been abused by their spouses or former spouses while living in the country of original residence. We hope Diet members will hold extensive discussions on whether this is an adequate precaution.

In the United States and European countries, a parent can be prosecuted as a kidnapper for taking a child out of the country of the child's habitual residence without the other parent's permission. The parent could be arrested when he or she returns to the country with the child. How lawmakers will take these facts into consideration also will be a key matter for Diet deliberations.


Authorities have limited experience

The bill puts the Tokyo and Osaka family courts in charge of petitions for the return of children in international custody disputes--a measure apparently aimed to make it easier for judicial authorities to accumulate expertise by limiting the number of courts handling such cases because only dozens are expected to be filed a year.

Even if parents live outside Tokyo or Osaka, the bill allows them to attend hearings via telephone calls or videoconference from courts near where they live. It is noteworthy that the bill tries to reduce the burden on those living far from the urban areas.

When Japan joins the Hague Convention, some Japanese parents and their children will be involved in trials over custody in the children's country of habitual residence. Diplomatic missions abroad should help these Japanese nationals, for example, by introducing them to local lawyers or support groups.

The treaty will also be applied to children taken away by non-Japanese spouses. The Foreign Ministry should establish a system to support Japanese who seek the return of their children from other countries.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 28, 2013)
(2013年2月28日01時45分  読売新聞)

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