子ども手当 混乱回避へ与野党協議始めよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 28, 2011)
Child allowance system unsustainable
子ども手当 混乱回避へ与野党協議始めよ(2月27日付・読売社説)

Deliberations on a bill to expand child-rearing allowances paid to families in fiscal 2011 have started in the House of Representatives.

Not only the Liberal Democratic Party but also New Komeito have made clear their stances against the bill. In the current divided Diet, even if the bill passed the lower house, it would almost surely be voted down in the House of Councillors, where opposition parties hold the majority. Therefore, there is only a marginal possibility that the bill will become law within the current fiscal year.

The current child-rearing benefit system, for families with children of middle school age or younger, is based on a temporary statute valid for one year. If the bill on a new law does not pass the Diet, the current system will revert to the former system of dependent child allowances from April.

City, town and village governments actually in charge of handing out the child-rearing allowances changed their computer programs to fit the current system.
Therefore, it would be difficult for them to switch back to the old system so soon, as the old dependent child allowance system is quite different from the current system.


Major confusion expected

However, the local governments cannot prepare for the next fiscal year on the premise that the bill will not become law. If the situation goes on as it is, clerical work on issuing the benefits at municipal government offices will fall into major confusion. The ruling and opposition parties should immediately begin discussions to avoid such an outcome.

To do so, the government and the Democratic Party of Japan have to drop the child-rearing allowance system, at least for now. The government should declare a stance of returning to the old dependent child allowance system, created when the LDP and New Komeito were in power, and ask both parties for cooperation.

The new bill for the second year of the child-rearing allowance system is designed to raise the current monthly handout of 13,000 yen per child to 20,000 yen for children younger than 3.

The LDP and New Komeito have been arguing that improvements to child-related services, such as solving the problem of children waiting to be enrolled at certified nursery schools, should be given priority rather than maintaining a system to dole out cash.

The child-rearing allowance system has been impossible from the beginning. It would require a hefty 5.5 trillion yen annually to fund the full monthly amount of 26,000 yen per child that the DPJ has pledged to eventually provide, but there was no prospect for securing stable revenue sources.


Kan: Surprised at 26,000 yen

Prime Minister Naoto Kan himself has admitted as much.

During recent deliberations on the bill at the Diet, he said, "I was little bit surprised to hear the monthly amount of 26,000 yen when Mr. [Ichiro] Ozawa was party president," recalling the time when the DPJ was deciding the amount.

As Kaoru Yosano, state minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy, described it, this remark is "quite honest."

If Kan still thinks so, his administration should not adhere to the child-rearing allowance bill any more and, instead, both the ruling and opposition parties should cooperate to design a new system as soon as possible, with improvement of the old dependent child benefit system as the basic starting point.

If they follow the right steps, it may be possible to return to the framework of the former system of dependent child benefits backed by revenue sources, while avoiding confusion at the same time.

To finance the current child-rearing allowance system, the tax exemption system for families with children up to 15 years old was abolished, for instance. If that system is not revived, families will face significant tax increases. The government and the DPJ should analyze the situation carefully once again.

There will be resistance within the DPJ to withdrawing such a high-profile plank of the party's 2009 general election manifesto, which helped propel the party to power.

However, the government and the DPJ should not just wait for major confusion to arise without taking measures to avoid it.

We hope Kan will show his leadership in remedying the situation.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 27, 2011)
(2011年2月27日01時23分 読売新聞)


Social security reform

消費税増分はVAT(付加価値税value added tax)としたほうが良いかも。

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 25
EDITORIAL: Social security reform

A government council is now intensively debating the integrated tax and social security reform proposed by the administration of Prime Minister Naoto Kan. The Kan administration intends to announce a plan for revamping the social security system in April and then draft a blueprint for the integrated reform incorporating tax increases to finance the social security overhaul.

Reform of the nation's tax and fiscal regime and the social safety net was the underlying theme of the series of editorials we published from October 2007 to April 2008 on proposals to make Japan a more hopeful society.

Immediately after the series of editorials, U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed, pushing the world into synchronized recession. The global economic crisis revived deflation--continuous declines in prices and wages--in Japan.

A vision for rehabilitation

A power transfer took place in the United States and then in Japan.

With the nation heading into a future of unprecedented demographic situation due to the aging of the population and low fertility rate, repairing the frayed social security system and mapping out a feasible plan for restoring fiscal sanity is the principal challenge facing policymakers.

The further deterioration of the nation's fiscal health due to stimulus measures taken in response to the economic crisis has increased the urgency for a radical reform of the tax code centering on a consumption tax hike. Such a tax overhaul is an indispensable prerequisite for social security stability.

We would like to add some fresh proposals to the arguments we made in the series of editorials for a hopeful society.

As for reform of the state pension program, it should be based on the current social insurance formula. That would be more realistic than the fully tax-financed system for basic portions, which is proposed by business organizations and Rengo (Japanese Trade Union Confederation), the nation's largest labor organization.

The precious new revenue from tax hikes in the coming years will have to be used mainly to finance programs in such areas as health and nursing-care and child-care support.

Between fiscal 2006 and fiscal 2025, the total amount of health-care and nursing-care benefits will grow by 70 percent and 160 percent, respectively, compared with a 40-percent increase in pension payouts, according to estimates by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

In addition to tackling the problems of the shortages of doctors and special elderly nursing homes, the government needs to expand its policy support for families rearing children and people struggling to become financially independent.

Securing a balance between generations

But it is important to ensure financial stability of the pension program. The government has raised the ratio of state financing of the program's basic portions to half, but the step is partly paid for with surpluses and reserves in special budget accounts known as "maizokin" (buried gold) under a stopgap-funding program. The priority should be on securing a stable tax revenue source for the partial state funding of the pension program.

To reduce the number of people who fail to pay into the "kokumin nenkin" national pension program, the "kosei nenkin" plan for corporate employees should be expanded to cover nonregular workers like part-timers and temporary workers. Efforts to collect premiums for the national pension from the remaining nonpayers should be redoubled.

But at the same time, steps should be taken to make certain that all low-income earners will be exempted from premium payments or benefit from premium cuts.

The national identification number system the government is considering is essential for providing welfare services better tailored to the needs of the people. The proposed integration of the kokumin and kosei nenkin programs should be promoted as the effectiveness of the ID number system for efforts to track the income of self-employed workers is ascertained.

Companies should be required in principle to have all employees enrolled in the kosei nenkin program and contribute to the system. It is part of a company's social responsibility to pay its fair share of the cost of social welfare for its employees.

Economic growth is also crucial for the health of social security. Ensuring the long-term financial stability of the social security system requires effective efforts to develop people and industries to create huge additional value for economic growth. The reality, however, is that pension benefits remain at high levels despite stagnant wage growth and a deflationary trend. This situation is causing pension inequality between generations. Fixing the inequity is imperative.

The pension reform in 2004 introduced a system to gradually but automatically lower the levels of pension benefits in response to the aging of the population and the low birth rate. But a provision stipulating that nominal amounts of benefits should be kept unchanged as much as possible has caused the real levels of benefits to rise amid deflation.

As a result, the financial future of the public pension system is in jeopardy. The levels of pension benefits should be lowered in line with falling prices.

Taking a hard look at the dire state of the nation's public finances and recognizing the need to increase the burden on taxpayers is a prerequisite for meaningful social security reform.

Our serial editorials proposed that the state budget be divided into two parts.

One part would finance expenditures crucial for the people's sense of security, such as spending on the health and nursing care, pension and child-care support programs. The additional revenue from future tax hikes would be used mainly to fund these outlays.

The other part of the budget would finance the rest of government expenditures, including spending on debt servicing. This part should be subject to exhaustive efforts for spending cuts through the elimination of waste. We also predicted that Japanese taxpayers would have to brace themselves for a future consumption tax rate above 10 percent.

Virtual cycle of reform and growth

Since the Lehman Shock, Japan's fiscal conditions have deteriorated further. The nation's horrendous fiscal morass is underscored by the fact that on the basis of the original budget, the government's borrowing will surpass its tax receipts for two straight years.

The fiscal management strategy announced by the Kan administration in June last year and the fiscal rehabilitation bill drafted by the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party both call for ensuring that all government outlays, excluding debt service expenses, will be fully covered by tax receipts in fiscal 2020.

But there will be a gargantuan revenue shortfall of nearly 26 trillion yen (about $317 billion) in fiscal 2020 unless nothing is done. That would be equivalent of the revenue from a 9-percent consumption tax.

Filling the budget hole with a tax hike, however, would only amount to this. The cost of the government's services provided in that year would be covered by its tax take in the same year without any fresh borrowing that would increase the burden on future generations.

Welfare states in Europe have been using their revenues from value-added taxes to finance their social security payouts. This approach has won the trust of European taxpayers by convincing them that they will receive benefits in return for the increased burden. In contrast, Japan has been expanding social security benefits without securing sufficient revenue sources to finance them. It is time to fundamentally change this approach.

Much of the fresh money to be raised through a tax increase will have to be used to reduce the government debt. This is necessary for paying for the debt-financed services provided in the past.

The government also needs to make cool-headed efforts to eliminate overlapping services and review the level of benefits.

The new money to spend on social security will come from economic growth. On the other hand, health, nursing and child-care services are a crucial part of the social infrastructure for economic growth. It is important to create a virtuous cycle of social security reform and economic growth.

Laying down a grand vision for the future of social security and taking the first step toward securing revenue sources to finance the system is absolutely vital for rescuing Japan from the trap of stifling stagnation.


原油価格急騰 脱「石油・中東依存」を進めよ


The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 26, 2011)
Reduce dependence on oil, Middle East
原油価格急騰 脱「石油・中東依存」を進めよ(2月25日付・読売社説)

Crude oil prices are rising quickly amid growing political tension in oil-producing countries in North Africa, including Libya, and the Middle East.

Every kind of crude oil whose price is used as a barometer for international trading has topped the benchmark of 100 dollars a barrel.

Should oil prices continue rising, they will slow the world economy, now moving toward recovery, and weigh down the Japanese economy as well. We must remain on guard.

The government and industrial sectors may need to promote anew energy measures to help Japan become less dependent on oil and the Middle East.

Among internationally traded crude oil, North Sea Brent Crude--the most quoted oil product in the London market--exceeded 110 dollars a barrel, while Texas Light Sweet Crude Oil hit the 100 dollars mark in New York.

As we ushered in the 2000s, crude oil prices were on the rise, due chiefly to growing demand in such emerging economies as China and to an inflow of speculative money. They hit a record high of 147 dollars a barrel in New York during the summer of 2008.

However, prices later dropped markedly, due to a rebound from their excessive highs and the repercussions of the collapse of Lehman Brothers.


Turmoil drives up prices

Crude oil prices have been moving up ever since, as if in step with the recovery in the world economy. With energy demand remaining brisk in emerging economies, the oil market probably expects a shortage of crude oil in the future.

The situation in Egypt boosted the upward trend in oil prices earlier this year; concerns grew over the safe passage of tankers through the Suez Canal. Uprisings also took place in Bahrain and Libya, sending crude oil prices even higher.

If political turmoil also erupts in such major oil producers as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, crude oil prices will inevitably climb further. Some observers have said prices could rise to the levels seen in summer 2008.

Japan's first step should probably be to diversify the source of its oil imports.


History repeats itself

Learning from the oil crises of the 1970s, Japan reduced its dependency on Middle East crude oil from 90 percent of its oil imports at that time to a 60 percent level in the 1980s.

Due to such factors as a decline in oil production in Indonesia, however, oil imports from the Middle East began rising again. Today, nearly 90 percent of Japan's oil imports come from the Middle East.

What must Japan do to improve this situation? From a geographical point of view, increasing oil imports from Russia is a viable measure. Japan might also be able to rely on unconventional oil recovery methods, such as extracting oil from rock and sand formations.

On the other hand, it is also important to make use of energy sources other than petroleum. Japan should promote the shift from oil to natural gas, which has stable prices.

Needless to say, it is also crucial to promote the generation of nuclear and solar power and to popularize the use of electric vehicles.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 25, 2011)
(2011年2月25日01時19分 読売新聞)


Suu Kyi's determination to peacefully defy dictatorship remains unchanged

I'm moved to tear several times while editing this column in the morning.
This is also one of the finest columns I've ever read in my life, being edited by an editor with Mainichi Shimbun.
I'm deeply moved.

(Mainichi Japan) February 24, 2011
Suu Kyi's determination to peacefully defy dictatorship remains unchanged

The Mainichi Shimbun resumed Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's column, "Letter from Burma," this year after a 13-year break. I flew to Myanmar where press restrains were in force late last year and visited Suu Kyi's residence prior to the publication of the first part of the column on New Year's Day.

Suu Kyi had been under house arrest there on and off over a 15-year period from 1989 to November last year. I stood by one of the windows of her residence, and thought about how firm her determination must be to spend her life resisting Myanmar's military dictatorship.

The military dictatorship has been in power in Myanmar for nearly half a century since the 1962 coup. Suu Kyi founded the National League for Democracy (NLD) in 1988 in a bid to democratize the country, and the party secured 82 percent of the seats in Parliament in a 1990 general election. Nevertheless, the military regime refused to hand over power to the NLD and suppressed pro-democracy movements.
The military regime has continued a reign of terror, detaining and torturing NLD members and supporters. Last autumn, the regime called a general election and released Suu Kyi from house arrest. However, the shift to civilian rule was a mirage and the military is still ruling the country.

Suu Kyi's residence is situated in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar. Since its gate is higher than an adult's average height, it is impossible to look into her home from the street. There is no other house nearby, and since security forces are surrounding her home round the clock, ordinary citizens are reluctant to approach her house out of fear that security authorities might suspect they have ties to Suu Kyi.

Her house is a western-style two-story building with white walls, and security authorities set up a fence with barbed wire behind her home facing a lake. When I saw a scene at the lakeside while waiting for her to return home, I could hardly believe my eyes. There, dozens of couples were dating while people with children were taking a walk. A promenade leads to an amusement park and a Ferris wheel towers over trees.

A place isolated from the outside world and a place where citizens lead their daily lives coexist there -- a ruthless reality.

Suu Kyi, who was separated from her family because of her house arrest, has never lost courage even though she regularly sees citizens nearby who appear happy, and instead tolerates her solitary life. She has reasons for having to do so.

Suu Kyi lost her husband, who had been battling cancer in Britain, in 1999 while she was under house arrest. Feeling that he was close to the end of his life, he applied for a visa to visit Myanmar to meet his wife, only to be rejected. The military regime hoped that Suu Kyi would leave for Britain to meet with her ailing husband. However, she chose to stay home because there was no guarantee that she would be allowed to come back to Myanmar once she left the country. She chose to prioritize her pro-democracy movement rather than stay with her dying husband. Her determination is undoubtedly attributable to the existence of fellow freedom fighters imprisoned as political prisoners.

In December 1995, shortly after she started the column in the Mainichi Shimbun, Suu Kyi told the world political prisoners were barred from meeting their children for over two years and that their family members were being interrogated and harassed.

Her message that she was not the only Myanmar woman detained for her political thoughts appears to reflect a kind of guilty feeling she harbors toward other people who were being suppressed by the military regime.

There is a special reason why Suu Kyi evaded being tortured or imprisoned even though she is the leader of Myanmar's pro-democracy movement. Her father played a leading role in winning Myanmar's independence and she is well-known to the world as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The military regime cannot simply take her away from society.

In other words, Suu Kyi is a pro-democracy activist whose safety is guaranteed. Therefore, she is obviously determined to share the pain imposed on her fellow pro-democracy activists. In the second letter of the current series that ran on Feb. 6, she confessed that she made a habit of having breakfast quite late during her house arrest "so that in my hunger I would not forget our comrades who were incarcerated not in their own homes but in prisons, often in places far distant from where their families live."

I have met various people as a journalist, but I clearly remember I felt tense when I first met Suu Kyi. The feeling derived from my sense of reverence -- similar to a feeling I harbored toward citizens who repeatedly staged a sit-in protest in the Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, to express opposition to the relocation of a U.S. base to the area and those who were involved in a signature-collecting campaign against a so-called plutonium-thermal power generation project. They are determined to confront political power without resorting to violence.

I asked Suu Kyi, a Japanophile who studied at Kyoto University in the 1980s, what she expects Japan to do for the democratization of Myanmar. Instead of answering my question, she asked me whether I, as a Japanese national, have urged the Japanese government to pressure Myanmar's military regime to release all political prisoners. I couldn't nod with confidence to Suu Kyi, who shot a questioning glance at me. (By Pak Chong-chu, Foreign News Department)

毎日新聞 2011年2月24日 0時12分


NZ大地震 「直下型」の怖さ見せつけた

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 24, 2011)
N.Z. shows horror of near-field quakes
NZ大地震 「直下型」の怖さ見せつけた(2月23日付・読売社説)

It was a bleak scene that prevailed after Tuesday's earthquake in New Zealand--buildings and other structures were reduced to piles of rubble, including an old British-style brick church.

The disaster that struck Christchurch, the largest city on the country's South Island, has palpably demonstrated the ferocity of quakes that have their focus just below urban areas, known as near-field temblors.

The powerful earthquake has caused many casualties, including people crushed under the rubble of houses and other buildings that crumbled to the ground. According to media reports, an office building occupied by about 200 workers collapsed in the quake.

More than 3,000 Japanese are believed to have been in the city at the time of the earthquake, including local residents, tourists and students.

Among them were 23 teachers and students from Toyama College of Foreign Languages, who were visiting Christchurch to attend classes at a local school.

Reports say the teachers and students from Toyama were in the school cafeteria having lunch when the quake hit and that several members of the group were injured, some when they were trapped under the debris of the collapsed building. There has been no contact with some students.

We hope the Foreign Ministry, the travel agency responsible for arranging the group's trip to the city and all others connected to the latest disaster will try to confirm the situation of all Japanese victims as soon as possible.


City overwhelmed

The earthquake has disturbed road traffic and communication networks in the city. Many local residents have evacuated from the devastated city center. Local medical institutions have found their staff and equipment insufficient to treat a large number of wounded people, and a state of emergency has been declared in the city.

The Japanese government has sent an advance team to New Zealand to prepare for rescue operations in devastated areas there. Our country must extend swift and sufficient aid to the stricken area.

New Zealand is an earthquake-prone country, located in the southern Pacific Ocean at the convergence of two gigantic continental plates. Numerous active faults that can cause near-field earthquakes run under the country's inland areas.

This latest disaster came months after another major earthquake struck Christchurch in September, injuring more than 100 people. Tuesday's quake--which had a smaller magnitude than last year's temblor--turned out to be more devastating, as its focus was located only five kilometers underground.

New Zealand sees only one-tenth as many noticeable and major quakes of Japan. Only a few massive earthquakes have ever been recorded in New Zealand, a nation that experienced its first major influx of immigrants from Europe about two centuries ago. Also, little progress has been made in investigating the state of active faults and other seismic elements in the nation.


Quake resistance insufficient

The latest quake has destroyed not only historical structures but many new office and other buildings, including some that were constructed with advanced quake-resistant technology. The degree of damage suffered by these buildings shows their resistance to seismic shocks was less than satisfactory.

The Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 was no less illuminating in this respect. The damage caused by that disaster shed light on the lack of sufficient earthquake resistance in many buildings in this country.

Efforts have been made to improve the ability of such structures to withstand earthquakes, but there have been delays in anti-seismic reinforcement work on such structures as primary and middle school buildings nationwide.

It is essential to reexamine our preparedness for massive earthquakes, which could occur anywhere in the nation. This is particularly true with a near-field earthquake predicted to strike Tokyo soon, as well as quakes that seismologists say may happen in the Tokai region and some parts of the Kinki district.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 23, 2011)
(2011年2月23日01時12分 読売新聞)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 21
EDITORIAL: Politics in shambles

Japan's political disease appears to be getting worse by the day.

The malady that has stricken so many members of the political community is characterized by an obsession with power struggles in Nagatacho and causes lawmakers to neglect their primary task: the development and execution of policies.

A group of 16 lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan who are close to former party chief Ichiro Ozawa have announced their intention to leave the party's Diet bloc. Within the party, open calls are being heard for Prime Minister Naoto Kan to step down.

Kan has responded to the moves within his own party by indicating he might dissolve the Lower House for a snap election.

All this is happening in the midst of the Diet deliberations on the government's draft budget for new fiscal year, which starts in April.

The outlook of crucial budget-related bills is unclear. It is a matter of great urgency to craft a plan for the proposed integrated tax and social security reform.

In other words, Japan cannot afford to allow its lawmakers in both the ruling and opposition camps to be engrossed in the political power game.

At the root of the current political situation is the struggle between Ozawa supporters and the anti-Ozawa camp that has defined the framework of Japanese politics for two decades.

It is hard to believe that the nation's political maladies can be cured without solving this problem.

It is therefore important to take a fresh look at what Ozawa's brand of politics is really about.

The concentration of power

The key word to understanding Ozawa's politics is, after all, power.

Ozawa once led the movement for political reform. But for what?

In his book "Nihon Kaizo Keikaku" ("Blueprint for a New Japan,") published in 1993, Ozawa wrote about a "troubling lack of leadership."

According to Ozawa, Japan is "a dinosaur with a small brain." The creature's every move is controlled not by the brain of the leader's decisions, but through coordination among its limbs and tail. That's how Japanese politics works, he argues.

During the Persian Gulf crisis, the overseas deployment of Self-Defense Forces troops to support international peace-keeping efforts was blocked by opposition within the government and resistance by opposition parties.

Referring to this experience, Ozawa calls for changing the decision-making system and "democratic concentration" of power in the top leader.

Ozawa's political reform was aimed, first and foremost, at enabling quick decision-making.

From time to time, Ozawa has played brass-knuckle politics to secure the power needed for such decision-making.

In 2007, when he was the DPJ's president, Ozawa led the party to a victory in the Upper House election that made it the largest voting bloc in the chamber.

Ozawa parlayed his party's strength in the Upper House to stage fierce political attacks on the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, forcing one prime minister to resign after another.

Still fresh in our memories are his successful bids to block the government's nominees for the post of Bank of Japan governor, which caused the top post at the central bank to remain vacant for a while. And then he won the political battle to ensure the expiration of gasoline tax surcharges.

The DPJ's manifesto for the 2009 Lower House election was developed in line with the agenda set by Ozawa before his resignation as party president over political donations by Nishimatsu Construction Co.

Ozawa enlarged the scale of the DPJ-proposed child-care allowance program, claiming the money needed to finance the program would be raised, no matter how much.

While it's true that Ozawa's political tactics made some contribution to his party's ascent to power, the government is now paying an enormous price for his tactics.

The Kan administration is facing opposition criticism that the DPJ made many empty policy promises not backed by a solid financing plan. There is currently little hope for constructive bipartisan talks on Kan's key policy proposals.

Ozawa's past behavior indicates that his political priorities may not be realizing policies and visions, and he has insisted that the DPJ should stick to its manifesto.

Old-fashioned numbers game

During the process of formulating the budget for the current fiscal year, however, he decided that the gasoline tax surcharges should stay in place despite his previous fight to have them scrapped.

Ozawa also decided that outlays for land improvement projects should be halved, a move seen as political punishment for an industry organization that supported the LDP. His move forced the organization to declare its "political neutrality."

If his true goal is the realization of his policy visions, he had many opportunities to pursue the goal while the DPJ was an opposition party controlling the Upper House. But he didn't take advantage of these opportunities.

In addition, there is little transparency in the way he exercises his political power. In a dual power structure, Ozawa made policy decisions as a party kingpin while pulling the strings of the prime minister, who is supposed to be the top decision-maker.

Unlike the prime minister, who cannot escape from his accountability to the Diet, Ozawa can easily avoid being held accountable for his decisions.

He acts on the conviction that the source of political power lies in the number of allies. This is the logic of faction politics, which involves increasing the number of followers by offering election support and money.

That's why the public casts a suspicious eye on his fund-raising machine, which secures the huge amounts of money needed for this politics of patronage.

Ozawa's advocacy of reform is fundamentally incompatible with his old-fashioned approach to politics, which is a legacy of the so-called 1955 system, marked by the de facto monopoly of power by the LDP amid ideological confrontation with the Socialists.

Ozawa's commitment to creating a political situation where power transfers to and fro between two major parties is the original goal of his political reform has also become shaky, if his actions in recent years are any indication.

During the administration of Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, Ozawa surprised the public by plotting to engineer a "grand coalition" between the LDP and the DPJ.

After the DPJ came to power, however, Ozawa adopted a political strategy focused on weakening the LDP's power base.

His political track record inevitably leaves us wondering what he has been pursing other than power.

No time to unseat the Cabinet

Politics, of course, is a practice that can never be separated from power.

Japan's voting public will never see an end to power struggles among their lawmakers. But something has to give.

The nation has been plagued by constant political bickering. Since the departure of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the revolving door at the prime minister's office over the past several years has presented an unseemly spectacle. Ozawa's political influence was apparently behind many of these leadership changes.

It is about time for Japan to outgrow this acceptance of constant political power struggles and depart from winning power by making smooth talk to voters.

Maybe then lawmakers will be able to take a hard look at the bitter realities facing the nation and tackle them head-on.

Japan needs a leader who offers careful explanations about his policies and makes serious efforts to persuade the public to support them, instead of a leader who acts as if he had a carte blanche.

Japan also needs a Diet that seeks agreements through serious debate focused on policy issues, instead of a Diet preoccupied with partisan invectives.

The public is taking a dim view of the Kan administration, which is struggling to improve its performance.

Even so, with every Japanese keenly aware that the nation is facing a litany of woes, this is no time for political battles between ruling party rebels trying to overthrow the Cabinet and a prime minister threatening to dissolve the Lower House.





Is 'butterfly flapping wings' in Federal Reserve linked to revolution in Cairo?

The unexpected has struck, and for unexpected reasons.

In Japan, the roots of the revolutions now taking hold in many nations in the Middle East could be described with the expression, "If the wind blows, the bucket-makers prosper," meaning that events can bring about effects in unforeseen ways.

One might also turn to the "butterfly effect," a term from chaos theory used to describe how small changes in a complex environment can result in major consequences elsewhere.
The term "butterfly effect" is taken from perhaps the most famous illustration of chaos theory in action: the butterfly that flaps its wings in the Amazon, triggering a series of small but crucial atmospheric events that result in a tornado in Texas.

In the case of the Middle Eastern revolutionary movements, the "butterfly" could be the easing of monetary policy in the United States.

The revolutionary winds -- which have blown down dictatorial regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, and are now gusting in Libya, Bahrain and Iran -- have shown no sign of slowing down.

The U.S. aim of loosening domestic monetary policy was certainly not to inspire democratic uprisings in the Middle East.

The only goal the Federal Reserve had was to juice up the U.S. economy by boosting the money supply.

Central banks in Japan and Europe are also doing similar things.

However, the currencies of the rich, industrialized countries flow all over the world, and have spurred price spikes in basic commodities like food and oil felt particularly keenly by the people of less wealthy nations.

World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick recently stated that average global food prices have reached dangerously high levels, and one of the issues that have brought people onto Middle Eastern streets by their hundreds of thousands is undoubtedly the impact these high prices are having on the daily lives of ordinary citizens in the region.

The power of money on the global stage is increasing, and as it bounces from one corner of the world to another in the blink of an eye -- or, more accurately, trader's keystroke -- it leaves trouble in its wake.

This is what "globalism" is, apparently.

However, just how far-reaching its effects will be is impossible to see.

The meeting of G20 finance ministers which recently wrapped up in Paris tried to put together ideas on exactly what monetary globalism is and how to manage it -- and failed, it would seem.

According to expert opinion, the anxiety felt by G20 finance ministers relates not only to what is happening in the Islamic world but also to inflation in China.

As the engine of world growth, if the Chinese economy goes off the rails, it will take the global economy with it -- and U.S. consumers are a major source of fuel for the Chinese engine.

And so the eyes of the world turn to the thunder of the U.S. money presses; a butterfly flaps its wings in the Federal Reserve, and a revolutionary tornado strikes Tunis, Cairo, Tripoli and beyond. ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)

(Mainichi Japan) February 21, 2011
毎日新聞 2011年2月21日 0時21分


香山リカのココロの万華鏡:カゼの功名 /東京

(Mainichi Japan) February 20, 2011
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: The unexpected upside of a cold
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:カゼの功名 /東京

Although my health is one of the few things I pride myself on, I recently came down with a cold. My fever went down after a single night, but after that I completely lost my voice.

A psychiatrist cannot just laugh off losing her voice. However, I discovered that my lost voice wasn't as much of a hindrance as I expected it to be. When I told my patients, my voice just a whisper, "Sorry, I have a cold ..." they would lean forward to hear me, and I felt the emotional distance between us greatly vanish.

During our meetings, there were patients who would tell me, "I understand, doctor," and grasp what I was trying to say to them. There were even patients who kindly helped me out with their prescriptions. I was completely reliant on my patients, practically doing nothing but sitting and nodding.

Of course, there were times when my lost voice kept me from conveying things I wanted to, but for those things that absolutely had to be said, I could still whisper them out.

Perhaps it was because the patients had to listen very closely to hear me, but for some reason I felt like my whispering got across better than when I speak normally. Even patients who normally are picky about what medicines they take simply agreed to what I said.

Looking back at this, it's enough to make me feel that almost all of the things I normally go on about during a consultation are in the end, perhaps needless. Maybe a few words are all that's really needed for accurate communication.


The more we feel awkward or like we have something to be ashamed of, the more likely we are to increase the number of words we use in an effort to hide our uneasiness, but this only makes us seem more suspicious to others. I have told myself that in future patient consultations, I want to try to take a relaxed approach, using short sentences and only saying what is necessary.

While I learned that having one's voice taken by a cold is not a necessarily negative experience for a psychiatrist seeing patients, it made me a big burden on my colleagues at the university I work at. I was supposed to proctor entrance examinations, but since I could not project my voice, another teacher had to take my place.

Even though I was present at a morning assembly of the proctors, the speaker had to announce that another professor would stand in for me. How embarrassing it was. Ah, sure enough, I had better take care of my health. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

毎日新聞 2011年2月15日 地方版


調査捕鯨中止 悪質な妨害行為は許されない

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 20, 2011)
Violent antiwhaling actions must be stopped
調査捕鯨中止 悪質な妨害行為は許されない(2月19日付・読売社説)

The Japanese government has decided to call off this season's research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean one month before its scheduled end, due to persistent attacks by the antiwhaling organization Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Sea Shepherd's obstruction of legitimate research whaling has been in full gear since 2005, but this is the first time Japan has been forced to cancel it.

As the organization's harassment threatened the lives of the Japanese crew, it was inevitable for the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry to decide to give up on continuing the whale hunt, out of concern for the crew's safety.


IWC condemns harassment

However, we must remember that Japan's research whaling, which started in 1987, is a legitimate, justifiable action based on the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

Sea Shepherd's violent actions to disrupt the research whaling should never be allowed under any circumstances.

The International Whaling Commission has unanimously adopted a statement strongly condemning Sea Shepherd's dangerous obstruction activities.

In July, a former captain of a small high-speed boat belonging to Sea Shepherd was found guilty by the Tokyo District Court of crimes including trespassing on a whaling ship and injuring a crew member.

However, Sea Shepherd's harassment has become increasingly violent year after year, as if it is sneering at global criticism of the group.

For example, the organization ascertains the location of the research whaling fleet via satellite, and a high-speed boat approaches perilously close, almost colliding with one of the fleet's vessels. Then Sea Shepherd members throw smoke bombs and incendiary devices. They also tangle ropes in whaling vessels' screws to hinder their steering.

We are worried that Japan's early end to this season's research whaling may give antiwhaling organizations and others the impression that Japan has yielded to obstruction.

To prevent this, Japan must once again present the legitimacy of the research whaling to the international community.

Australia, which is an anchorage site for Sea Shepherd boats, is an antiwhaling nation and has been dragging its feet in monitoring the organization's activities. However, one of the boats used for obstruction recently was reportedly Australian-registered.

If that turns out to be so, Japan should demand the Australian government strictly control the boat's activities.


Continue patient dialogue

Sea Shepherd's harassment has been left almost unchecked. This is mainly because the confrontation between whaling and antiwhaling nations shows no signs of resolution. All Japan can do is patiently continue dialogue with antiwhaling countries.

In that sense, last year's IWC convention was a noteworthy turning point for the whaling issue.

The chairman submitted a compromise proposal to greatly reduce the catch quota for Japan's research whaling over 10 years and approve the resumption Japan seeks of coastal commercial whaling, albeit with a cap on it.

Although the plan was not agreed upon, the mood for possible compromise between the two sides strengthened.

Under the current research whaling plan in the Antarctic Ocean, Japan is scheduled to catch about 900 minke whales annually.

Taking into consideration the low consumption of whale meat in the country, Japan's whaling policy hereafter must be reviewed based on the IWC compromise plan.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 19, 2011)
(2011年2月19日01時16分 読売新聞)


民主党内紛 会派離脱は筋が通らぬ

(Mainichi Japan) February 18, 2011
Pro-Ozawa lawmakers' attempt to split from parliamentary alliance lacks sense
社説:民主党内紛 会派離脱は筋が通らぬ

Only recently former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama stirred up a political storm by labeling his reference to the deterrent role of the U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa as an "expedient" to rationalize relocation of Air Station Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture.
Now, another commotion has erupted within the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) over an attempt by 16 party members close to scandal-tainted party heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa to break away from the DPJ-led parliamentary alliance in the House of Representatives.

Indeed, the latest move deals a blow to Prime Minister Naoto Kan and underscores the deadlock that his administration has reached. But as long as internal strife continues within the party, public distrust of the DPJ will only increase.

The actions of the 16 party members -- who are attempting to leave the parliamentary alliance in the lower house while remaining in the party -- cannot simply be described as a surprise move; it is a tactic that cannot be permitted.

Parliamentary groups are constituents of the Diet that play a part in deciding the number of seats on committees and the allocation of questioning time. It is not unusual for a particular party to form an alliance with independent Diet members or for several parties to form a single alliance, but the party remains a key factor in forming the alliance.

If one political party were to split up into several parliamentary alliances and their decisions were divided on important decisions such as the naming of the prime minister and the passing of important bills, then the very foundations of party politics or parliamentary business would be shaken.

In order for politicians to leave a parliamentary alliance, the representative of the alliance must submit notification to the chairman. In other words, they must submit to procedures determined by the party.

It is only natural for DPJ Secretary-General Katsuya Okada to announce that he does not plan to allow the members to leave the alliance.

In a declaration, the 16 lawmakers heavily criticized the Kan administration, saying it had discarded its election manifesto along with its promises to the public. However, the members told a news conference that it would be meaningless for them to leave the party.

The 16 are probably of the position that their party should return to the roots of its manifesto.

But if that's the case, the members should be working to achieve their goals. They will not win understanding from the public by leaving their parliamentary alliance because their arguments are not getting through, or shaking the political situation by taking a different line in the Diet -- they would be better to leave the party altogether.

Of course, this would not be of any benefit when the party is trying to pass next fiscal year's budget and related bills quickly.

The Liberal Democratic Party and other opposition parties have demanded major revisions or the withdrawal of the DPJ's manifesto, and it is clear that returning to the line of the manifesto at this stage would not lead to smooth operations in the Diet.

But at the same time, one could not be blamed for thinking that the 16 lawmakers are actually upset about moves by the DPJ leadership to suspend Ozawa's qualifications as a party member, and are trying to topple Kan to secure new leadership and a review of any punishment of Ozawa.

Kan and Okada cannot get away with leaving the situation as it is.

They have to take firm action against the move to split from the party alliance.

The party is dreaming if it thinks it can take part in discussions with the opposition parties when the prime minister can't bring his own party under control.

There is now no option but for Kan to be prepared for a split within the DPJ.

毎日新聞 2011年2月18日 2時32分


抑止力は「方便」 国益損なう無責任な鳩山発言


The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 18, 2011)
Hatoyama's loose tongue damaging natl interest
抑止力は「方便」 国益損なう無責任な鳩山発言(2月17日付・読売社説)

Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said recently that when he cited the deterrent provided by U.S. marines stationed in Okinawa Prefecture as a reason for axing a plan to move the marines' Futenma Air Station outside the prefecture, it was "an expedient excuse."

This irresponsible and inappropriate remark could basically deny the importance of U.S. forces stationed in Japan--a foundation of the Japan-U.S. alliance. His comments will arouse distrust among the people of Japan and the United States, let alone residents of Okinawa.

Last May, when Hatoyama was prime minister, he announced a plan to relocate the Futenma base outside Okinawa Prefecture had been dropped, and the administration would focus on a new site within the prefecture. "I've come to learn that the deterrent provided by the U.S. Marine Corps [in Okinawa Prefecture] can be maintained only as part of the entire U.S. forces stationed in the prefecture," he said in justifying his decision.

Yet in a recent interview with an Okinawa newspaper and other media, Hatoyama admitted he used the word "deterrent" to rationalize his broken promise to move the base outside the prefecture. He added, "If you call it an expedient excuse, it was."


Ignorant on alliance

Hatoyama then tried to rationalize this statement by saying he had just agreed when a reporter asked him if "deterrent" had been an "expedient excuse." Regardless, he was extremely careless with his choice of words.

The fact that Hatoyama only became aware of the importance of the deterrent after he became prime minister was astonishing in itself. But we were dumbfounded that he was so quick to admit that the deterrent was "an expedient" excuse.

An even more fundamental issue lies in Hatoyama's views on the bilateral alliance.

Under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, U.S. marines in Okinawa are operated in conjunction with the U.S. army, navy and air force, with all the forces functioning as the deterrent. That is why the Japan-U.S. alliance, a cornerstone of which is the U.S. forces stationed in Japan, is considered "public property" that maintains peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

Despite this, after Hatoyama became prime minister, he said, "Japan has had a tendency to excessively rely on the United States," and started advocating the creation of an "East Asian community." His words and actions while he was in office all seemed to indicate Japan's foreign policy was shifting away from the United States and toward Asia.

We feel compelled to say Hatoyama lacked a basic understanding of the importance of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

His ignorance was all too obvious when he admitted during the interview that even during discussions on relocating the base outside the prefecture, his administration had no specific prospective site in mind.


Kan right to be angry

Hatoyama blamed fierce opposition from the foreign and defense ministries as one reason for his failure to move the base outside the prefecture. This argument is ridiculous.

Even after the change of power, it was unreasonable for the new administration to so readily reject bilateral agreements and erode the relationship of trust carefully built up by previous Japanese and U.S. administrations over many years.

At the House of Representatives Budget Committee on Wednesday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan expressed frustration at the "very problematic" remarks made by his predecessor. "His understanding on the matter is different from mine," Kan said. He was quite justified in saying so.

Kan needs to swiftly settle the Futenma relocation issue and strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance.

After he stepped down from the premiership, Hatoyama made clear he intended to quit politics. However, he made a U-turn and said he would continue his political activities "for the benefit of national interests."

Hatoyama should reflect seriously on just how badly his loose remarks have damaged Japan's interests.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 17, 2011)
(2011年2月17日01時40分 読売新聞)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 15
EDITORIAL: Japanese economy

Concerns about a double-dip recession--sliding back into recession after a short-lived recovery--have mostly dissipated.

As widely expected, Japan's gross domestic product contracted in the October-December quarter from the previous three months, according to preliminary government data released Monday. The decline was blamed mainly on the wearing-off of the effects of the government's economic stimulus measures, such as the eco-point program to promote sales of energy-efficient home electric appliances.

But key economic indicators, like industrial output, clearly suggested that the economy remains on a recovery path.

Japan's rebound has been supported primarily by economic growth in emerging countries.

Aggressive efforts by Japanese companies to capitalize on swelling demand in these countries, such as developing new products tailored to the fast-growing markets and ramping up investment for expansion, are beginning to pay off.

Another piece of good news for the Japanese economy is receding fears about a U.S. economic downturn. The Federal Reserve Board's second round of quantitative easing, called "QE2," and President Barack Obama's decision to extend Bush-era tax cuts in a bold compromise with the Republicans have combined to stoke consumer spending.

The New York Stock Exchange is now on an upward trajectory.

As a result, the yen has stopped climbing against the dollar, and the currency market has regained stability.

Stock prices in Tokyo have bounced back to life as investors around the world have started returning to the stock market in droves.

Immediately after the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers triggered a global financial crisis in autumn 2008, Japanese companies were stupefied as their global business strategies based on traditional dependence on Western markets had suddenly become obsolete.

From 2009 through 2010, Japanese companies focused on pulling themselves together for the development of new broad-based strategies for the entire world, including emerging economies, and redistribution of management resources.

This year, they are regaining self-confidence and making bold strategic moves to expand globally with renewed determination.

The trend has been epitomized by a flurry of major strategic alliances, including an agreement between Nippon Steel Corp. and Sumitomo Metal Industries Ltd. to enter merger talks and NEC Corp's decision to set up a joint personal computer venture with China's Lenovo Group Ltd.

Japanese firms are also stepping up their efforts to globalize their management, as evidenced by Olympus Corp.'s decision to promote a British executive to the post of president.

A growing number of Japanese companies will start making such aggressive moves to expand their global presence in the coming months.

But there are still many causes for worry both at home and abroad.

Excess liquidity sloshing around the world is driving up the prices of food and raw materials, raising concerns about inflation, especially in emerging countries.

In Europe, the sovereign debt crisis keeps shaking confidence in the euro.

Heightened jitters about the world economy could trigger a new round of the yen's appreciation.

At home, political momentum for fiscal rehabilitation remains alarmingly weak despite the recent downgrade of Japan's sovereign debt by a major credit rating agency.

In addition to the murky outlook of the budget for the new fiscal year, a Diet preoccupied with partisan bickering is arousing anxiety among the public.

There is, fortunately, a positive mood in Japan's business community.

Signs of forward-looking politics would do a lot to help accelerate the expansionary trend among Japanese businesses.

Political leaders should at least make sensible efforts to avoid becoming a drag on the private sector.

It has also been confirmed that China's GDP surpassed Japan's last year. The news should be taken by Japan as a signal to finally forget its past success and move ahead.


GDPマイナス 足踏みからの着実な回復図れ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 16, 2011)
Aim for steady economic recovery
GDPマイナス 足踏みからの着実な回復図れ(2月15日付・読売社説)

Although the margin of Japan's negative economic growth in the fourth quarter last year was smaller than anticipated, we remain concerned about this nation's economic prospects.

In a preliminary report released Monday by the Cabinet Office, the nation's gross domestic product for the October-December period in real terms fell by a seasonally adjusted, annualized 1.1 percent from the previous quarter. This figure backed up previous observations that the economic recovery paused in the second half of last year.

On a more positive note, consumer spending and production appear to have gradually improved since the beginning of this year. Many private research institutes have projected a moderate recovery for the January-March quarter.

However, there are still many reasons to feel uneasy. To put the economy firmly on the recovery track, it will be vital for the government and the Bank of Japan to continue implementing policies that prioritize economic growth, such as maintaining an easy-money policy.


A mix of good and bad

In the fourth quarter last year, domestic demand shrank for the first time in five quarters due to a temporary lull in consumer spending resulting partly from a fall in vehicle sales after the government subsidy program for eco-friendly car purchases ended in September.

A consumer buying spree for flat-screen TVs and other home electronic appliances before the government's eco-point program for energy-efficient appliances was scaled back in December helped make up for the sluggish car sales.

Although overseas demand declined due to the prolonged rise in the yen's value and the global economic slowdown, Japan's exports to other Asian nations and the United States remained steady.

Consequently, Japan's GDP recorded a yearly increase for the first time in three years, in both real and nominal terms.

The data in the report reconfirmed that Japan's economy has finally managed to emerge from the serious recession that started after the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in autumn 2008.

That being said, there is still little room for optimism on the country's economic prospects. Sharp rises in global prices of natural resources and grains, such as oil and wheat, are pushing up prices of raw materials, which is beginning to bite into corporate profits. Japan's employment situation remains severe; the unemployment rate has stayed stubbornly high.


Overtaken by China

Despite these worrying circumstances, Diet deliberations on the fiscal 2011 budget and related bills--which are essential to support and boost the economy--have made little progress. The government must make more efforts to pass these bills through the Diet as soon as possible by reviewing the controversial child-rearing allowance program and other wasteful hand-out policies.

The Cabinet Office also confirmed that China's GDP surpassed that of Japan in nominal terms on a U.S. dollar basis in 2010.

Japan was crowned the world's second-largest economy, behind the United States, when it eclipsed West Germany in 1968. After 42 years, Japan has relinquished this position to China.

China's rapid economic growth has created a massive market that should provide plenty of lucrative opportunities for the Japanese economy.

Unfortunately, the scale of Japan's economy remains at about the same level as it was two decades ago. Although the government should not blindly aim to expand the scale of Japan's economy, it needs to steadily promote strategies that ensure society maintains a certain level of wealth.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 15, 2011)
(2011年2月15日00時04分 読売新聞)



Northern islands-Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and Habomai Islands are historically an integral part of Japan.

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 15, 2011)
Don't let territorial dispute just drift along
日露外相会談 「領土」前進へ粘り強く交渉を(2月13日付・読売社説)

During their meeting in Moscow last week, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, discussed the bilateral territorial dispute over four islands off Hokkaido but failed to reach agreement as they reiterated their countries' conventional stances.

Japan-Russia relations have become seriously strained since Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited one of the four islands in November. There seems to be little chance of a breakthrough in negotiations over the territorial issue.

But letting bilateral relations continue in this chilled state will not benefit either side. We urge both governments to take every opportunity to continue negotiations in a bid to untangle this long-standing issue.

The Maehara-Lavrov meeting was reportedly tense after beginning without a handshake. Maehara proposed seeking a solution acceptable to both sides based on past accords--including the Tokyo Declaration of 1993--as well as law and justice.

Lavrov, on the other hand, insisted the two countries "should promote discussions without any premise and historical connections." He appeared to be calling on Japan, which insists all four islands be returned, to take a more flexible stance.


Outcome wasn't surprise

The meeting lasted about two hours, double the length that had been scheduled. However, both sides ended up arguing at cross-purposes over the four islands known as the northern territories in Japan. The only outcome was an agreement to continue negotiations.

That the meeting would end with such paltry results had been widely anticipated.

In recent years, Russia has been striving to develop oil and natural gas fields in its Far East region. As part of this endeavor, Russia has invested a considerable amount of money and resources in the four disputed islands. Opinion seems to have been growing in Russia that there is no longer any need to make concessions to Japan on the territorial issue.

This view has gained traction following a string of visits to the islands by Russian government leaders following Medvedev's visit to Kunashiri Island.

The government should not sit back and allow the "Russianization" of the northern territories. Tokyo must devise a concrete strategy to tackle this issue, rather than merely lobbing inflammatory insults at Russia as Prime Minister Naoto Kan did when he recently called Medvedev's trip "an unforgivable outrage."


Flow-on effects

In a meeting of the Japan-Russia Intergovernmental Committee on Trade and Economic Issues held after the foreign ministerial talks, the two countries agreed to set up a roundtable panel consisting of government officials and executives of major businesses to promote bilateral economic cooperation. The panel is expected to discuss modernizing Russian production facilities and development in the Russian Far East.

Japan's direct investment in Russia has been rising steadily in recent years. Russia, for its part, is hungry for Japan's cooperation in high technology and other fields.

We hope this bilateral economic cooperation will eventually lead to improved diplomatic and security ties. This would also help keep China in check.

However, economic cooperation should not be allowed to charge ahead while the territorial dispute is swept under the rug.

The government must persistently remind Moscow that economic development can be taken to the next level only through the conclusion of a peace treaty that establishes a genuine relationship of trust.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 13, 2011)
(2011年2月13日01時24分 読売新聞)


Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day!

(Mainichi Japan) February 13, 2011
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: To those worried about their elderly parents living far away
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:遠距離介護に悩む人へ /東京

I am occasionally interviewed about "long-distance care," perhaps because my parents live in Hokkaido while I work and live in far off Tokyo.

One thing I can say about my own experiences is that, as my parents have entered old age, all kinds of problems I couldn't have even imagined when I was young have popped up, from how to go about treating illnesses to how to deal with daily events like shopping and cleaning.

If I lived nearby, I could stop by my parents' house on my way back from work. However, since I don't live nearby, I can't very well hop on an airplane and fly across the country every time a light bulb needs changing.

I admit, while saying to my parents, "I'm sorry I can't do anything to help," part of me is secretly relieved that I can get out of the situation without having to do anything. I take advantage of my physical distance as a means to avoid caring for or helping out my parents.

However, patients who come to see me at my office are more dutiful. Some even complain of mental and physical stress caused by worrying about their parents. "If my mother calls me and says she's not feeling so well, my heart starts to race," they may tell me. Some of these people fall more and more into negative thinking, and even come out with things like, "I knew it was a mistake to come to Tokyo for work. I should have stayed in my hometown."

Although I admire these patients' kindness and love for their parents, I don't think it is right for them to blame themselves.

I say to these patients, "Maybe your parents act needier now, but in the past, didn't they say how happy they were that you had made your own way in Tokyo?"

When I tell them this, even patients who initially respond, "No, all my parents ever say is that they had wanted me to live nearby," start to gradually remember. "Now that you mention it, I seem to recall my mother bragging to the neighbors about how hard I was working in Tokyo. I made her stop it because I was embarrassed."

For any parent, the goal of raising a child is not to bring up someone who will take care of them in their old age, rather it is to bring up someone who will stand on their own two feet in the world. People living far from their hometowns have fulfilled their parents' dreams by making their own, independent lives. Those parents surely feel proud of their far-away children and feel satisfied for having raised them in that manner.

Those people caring for parents from afar, don't attack yourself or feel ashamed. Do not feel you have failed as a child. Have confidence. It's sufficient to do what you realistically can to help your parents. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

毎日新聞 2011年2月8日 地方版




The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 13, 2011)
Japan-Australia EPA essential for TPP talks
日豪EPA 早期合意がTPPの試金石だ(2月12日付・読売社説)

Japan and Australia ended their first round of negotiations on an economic partnership agreement in 10 months Thursday without any breakthrough.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan has advocated what he calls the "opening of Japan in the Heisei era," an initiative to promote trade liberalization, and pledged that his government would decide around June whether to join talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement with Asia-Pacific countries.

Australia is one of the key members in regional negotiations involving the TPP. It would therefore be difficult for this country to join the TPP talks if it fails to reach an agreement in bilateral free trade negotiations with Australia.

The bilateral free trade pact with Australia is a touchstone for Japan's determination to open its domestic market. Agreeing to it might not be easy, as some members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan strongly oppose it, but the government should decide to conclude a pact with Sydney as soon as possible.

The EPA negotiations between Japan and Australia started in 2007, but they were suspended for 10 months because Tokyo refused Sydney's demand to reduce its tariffs on imports of agricultural products.


4 products block progress

The latest round of talks was held in Tokyo to make a fresh start. Attention focused on to what extent Japan would make concessions, but the country did not offer any breakthroughs and the talks ended in disappointment.

The negotiations were hobbled by tariffs Japan has imposed on four foodstuffs--beef, wheat, sugar and dairy products. Their tariff rates are quite high, including 38.5 percent on beef and 360 percent on butter.

The government has protected these items as exceptions to market liberalization in the EPA pacts Japan has agreed to so far with 12 countries and one region.

However, the TPP negotiations are pursuing a higher level of trade liberalization and would require members to reduce all tariffs to zero in 10 years, in principle. Treating some items as exceptions from the very beginning will not be tolerated.

An EPA policy outline that the government released in November stipulates all products will be subject to negotiations regarding trade liberalization. The government needs to change its current stance to conform with this principle.

The government is to compile a policy outline in June on agricultural reform aimed at enhancing the international competitiveness of the nation's agricultural sector.

It is expected to draft strategies such as assistance measures for farmers, who would suffer from an influx of cheap agricultural imports as a result of lowered tariffs, and acceleration of free trade talks with Australia to pave the way for participation in the TPP negotiations.


Mining, industrial goods key

Mining and industrial products are also important in the free trade talks with Australia. Tokyo is demanding Sydney eliminate its tariffs on imports of automobiles and other industrial products. If it does, Japan's exports to Australia would increase.

With the envisaged agreement, Japan could also expect a more stable supply of iron ore and coal from Australia, which provides 60 percent of Japan's demand, and of rare earths, which are plentiful in the country.

South Korea has already signed free trade agreements with the United States and the European Union, and is engaged in FTA talks with Australia as well. Tokyo must become serious about its own free trade talks with Sydney, so it will not be beaten to the punch by Seoul.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 12, 2011)
(2011年2月12日01時12分 読売新聞)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 10
EDITORIAL: Substituting rare earths

The "magical" elements of rare earths, which can make magnets stronger or produce light, are indispensable in high-tech products, such as motors for hybrid cars and electronic parts, for which Japan is famous.

Unfortunately, the amount is limited. And major producer China has started to restrict exports, leading to a sharp rise in prices. This is a serious problem for Japan, which is poor in natural resources.

What if such "magic" can be realized with iron, the most common element on Earth? This may not be a far-fetched dream.

Under an "element strategy," Japanese scientists are thoroughly studying chemical elements to draw new functions and replace rare elements with more common ones. With the support of government offices, including the ministry of science and technology and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, researchers will host a symposium on their strategy in March.

We want them to advance their research. Of course, it will not be easy, but there must be other researchers eager to take on this difficult challenge.

Restrictions on resources are not limited to rare elements.

For example, resources are limited for phosphoric acid and calcium, two of the three elements essential to plants. The other essential element, nitrogen in the air, can be turned into fertilizer in factories.
The limits are particularly true for phosphoric acid because China is starting to impose restrictions on exports of phosphate rocks from which it is produced.

Resources are also limited for rare metals, such as indium, which is indispensable for liquid crystal displays, and it is also difficult to find substitutes of more common elements, such as copper. The situation has led to increasing thefts.

Technology concerning such materials is a specialty of Japan and Japanese industries. For example, Masato Sagawa of what was then Sumitomo Special Metals Co. was the first to develop a powerful magnet using neodymium, a rare metal, during the 1980s.

Professor Hideo Hosono of the Tokyo Institute of Technology is attracting international attention for developing a superconductive substance using iron.

But Japan cannot afford to be complacent. Last year, China surpassed Japan in terms of the number of important research papers in the area of substances and materials.

The element strategy project was proposed by Eiichi Nakamura, a University of Tokyo professor, in 2004 to take advantage of Japan's strengths.

Technology to make fertilizer from nitrogen in the atmosphere was proposed at the end of the 19th century by a British chemist, who warned that people would starve if they ran out of nitrogen fertilizers.

"I want young researchers with motivation to take the challenge," Hosono said.

With global resources becoming increasingly limited, research into the elements will become all the more important for humankind.

We want Japan, which is scarce in natural resources, to bring this flower into full bloom.