衆院選抜本改革 現行制度の問題点を洗い出せ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 28, 2012)
Scrutinize problems of current lower house election system
衆院選抜本改革 現行制度の問題点を洗い出せ(2月27日付・読売社説)

To carry out drastic reform of the House of Representatives election system, it is indispensable to scrutinize the current system's problems and reflect on what politics should be.

In connection with the issue of rectifying the vote-value disparity, discussions continue in the Diet to drastically change the existing system, which combines single-seat constituencies and proportional representation, in addition to cutting the number of lower house seats.

A suprapartisan parliamentary league of lawmakers seeking drastic reform of the lower house election system, for example, decided during its general meeting on Thursday that it will aim to introduce a multiple-seat constituency system.

More than 150 lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties are members of the group, with former Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Koichi Kato and Democratic Party of Japan Supreme Adviser Kozo Watanabe serving as representatives.

It is worth noting that the idea of reinstating the multiple-seat constituency system, which New Komeito and other political parties sought in the past, has become a suprapartisan movement involving members of the DPJ and the LDP.

Discussion documents prepared by the league argue that under the current single-seat constituency system, candidates only voice opinions that go down well with everyone.

Because candidates need support from a wide range of people to be elected, the league says they tend to get caught up in populism. It added that candidates' policy expertise becomes impaired and their quality as a whole deteriorates.


Status quo yields lopsided results

In addition, as seen in the resounding victory of the LDP in the 2005 lower house election and of the DPJ in the 2009 lower house election, the documents also say the single-seat constituency system tends to make the number of seats won by a party either extremely large or very small, making politics rather unstable.

We share such concerns. However, the most important thing is whether reinstating the multiple-seat constituency system will lead to improved politics.

The multiple-seat constituency system, which was in place until 1993, drew much criticism. Under that system, political parties and policies were not given top priority when election campaigns were fought. Instead, candidates competed by doing favors for voters, which costs a lot of money. In the LDP, faction-led politics dominated. It was also pointed out that a change in government was difficult to achieve.

The situation of politics and money has changed remarkably in the past 20 years, as has the status of faction-led politics, but a return to the harmful effects experienced in the past would be unworthy to be called reform.


Many ideas in the arena

The league is discussing a plan to reduce the number of lower house seats from the current 480 to either 400 or 450. It is also considering creating constituencies with two to five seats and a new voting method. These ideas need to be thoroughly discussed.

For drastic reform of the lower house election system, discussions are under way on various measures beside the proposed multiple-seat constituency system. Revisions to the current system are one idea. Another is a system combining single-seat constituencies and proportional representation with a new method of allotting proportional representation seats in a way beneficial to parties that hold a smaller number of seats from single-seat electoral contests. A proportional representation system is also being discussed.

One thing that must be kept in mind is that election system reform should make it difficult for a divided Diet to occur so political confusion will not be created. It is also important to think about the respective roles shouldered by the lower house and the House of Councillors, and create a lower house election system suitable for the lower house's role.

It is also necessary to deepen discussions by setting up an election system council of experts, rather than simply leaving the matter to politicians, who tend to care most of all about the rise and fall of their own parties.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 27, 2012)
(2012年2月27日01時08分 読売新聞)





(Mainichi Japan) February 27, 2012
Zero-growth plan from decades ago applies to Japan today

The scandal surrounding AIJ Investment Advisors Co., an asset-management firm where some 200 billion yen in corporate pension money has gone missing, follows the same plot as the American film "Tower Heist" (Japanese title: "Penthouse") that's currently showing in theaters across Japan.

In the Hollywood version, Josh, the protagonist played by Ben Stiller, joins forces with ex-convict Slide, played by Eddy Murphy, to win back the hidden assets of wealthy businessman Arthur Shaw played by Alan Alda. In the unfolding Japanese case, it's still unclear who the bad guy is, and there are no prospects of the missing money being returned to its rightful owners.

I read the transcript of a Feb. 8 lecture given in Osaka by investment banker Hideki Mitani, who even while working in the finance sector, has warned against the kind of avaricious capitalism that drives people to live large even if it means going into debt to do so.

Investment banks are financial institutions specialized in issuing corporate securities, brokering mergers and acquisitions, and offering investment advice. Following stints at Sumitomo Bank (now Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp.) and The Goldman Sachs Group, Mitani founded the investment bank Roberts Mitani in New York in 1992.

"The root of the problem lies in the belief that 'infinite growth equals good,'" Mitani said in the lecture. He explained that the Occupy Wall Street movement, the euro crisis and the Fukushima nuclear disaster are all consequences of "indiscreet financial expansion" that require fundamental change.

I first learned of Mitani through a book titled "Nihon wa warukunai, waruino wa Amerika da" (It's Not Japan's Fault, It's America's), written by the late Osamu Shimomura, the brains behind Japanese economic policy rolled out during Hayato Ikeda's tenure as prime minister. The paperback edition of the book was published in 2009 and came with a preface written by Mitani that said: "This very book indicates the correct path that Japan should take."

So what, then, is "the correct path?" It is the path in which we prepare ourselves for a worldwide depression, and start anew from a state of diminished equilibrium. It's a path in which we scrape away the gold-plated surface of our abnormally-bloated everyday lives, trim the fat, and move toward health. It's a path in which we are not swayed by frivolous money games, and instead reclaim a sober national economy.

It was in 1987 that Shimomura made these arguments, but Kamiya stated that they still applied to us today. At the time, Ronald Reagan was in his second term as U.S. president, and the administration of Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone was coming to an end. The biggest concern then was Japan's excess of exports over imports in its dealings with the U.S. A large number of Japanese called for a cooperative stance toward the U.S.; in other words, market liberalization.

The 77-year-old Shimomura strongly objected to such thought. He pointed to Reaganomics -- which promoted excessive consumption through major tax cuts -- as distorting the U.S. economy, and said that there was no reason for Japan to buy U.S. products, or create unnecessary domestic demand simply because it feels apologetic for its trade surplus.

The book's title sounds so obviously exclusionist and aggressive, which matches the image of a lone aging economist's rage. Surely it was the publisher who decided on the title, but I suspect Shimomura green-lighted it not as an expression of his anger toward the U.S., but rather toward Japanese leaders who ingratiated themselves with the U.S.

Mitani's father was Shimomura's subordinate in the Ministry of Finance. On the recommendation of his father, the younger Mitani familiarized himself with Shimomura's writings from the time he was a student. Although Shimomura was originally the theorist behind Japan's high-speed economic growth policy, this changed with the oil crisis in 1973, after which he advocated zero economic growth. "The conditions for growth have been lost," he explained.

With the spread of energy-saving technologies and policies, Japan once again ran headlong onto the path of growth. Shimomura was forgotten. As he had explained earlier, however, an increase in domestic demand led to the burst of the economic bubble, turning Japan into a country plagued by suicides and solitary deaths. The U.S., meanwhile, became a country in which the wealthiest 1 percent rode around in Ferraris while treating money like water.

Shimomura had been right.

Mitani closed his aforementioned lecture with the following plea: "Why don't we reconfirm the meaning of Shimomura's turnabout from promoting high-speed economic growth to advocating zero growth?"

(By Takao Yamada, Expert Senior Writer)

毎日新聞 2012年2月27日 東京朝刊


海外M&A 強い円のメリットも生かそう

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 26, 2012)
Encourage offshore M&As that utilize yen's strength
海外M&A 強い円のメリットも生かそう(2月25日付・読売社説)

Taking advantage of the strong yen, an increasing number of Japanese companies have been boosting their overseas acquisitions.

According to data recently released by Thompson Reuters, a major U.S. corporate information service company, the number of offshore mergers and acquisitions conducted by Japanese firms in 2011 was up a record 20 percent from the previous year. The total value of such deals rose 80 percent, also an all-time high.

Because of low growth due to the stagnant domestic economy and years of deflation, Japanese companies tend to operate defensively. The growing trend for Japanese firms to go on the offensive by venturing offshore is definitely welcome.

If Japanese businesses can bring their overseas profits into this country, thereby leveraging their newly expanded overseas businesses to promote growth in the domestic economy and higher employment, they will surely help reinvigorate the national economy.


Buyouts spreading to Asia

The total value of Japanese companies' foreign M&As in 2011 was about 70 billion dollars (about 5.5 trillion yen).

In 2008, the value of overseas corporate buyouts by Japanese firms was much the same in dollar terms as in 2011, but was worth about 7 trillion yen when converted into the Japanese currency.

This means the costs of overseas M&As have fallen remarkably thanks to the strength of the yen. We can safely say hyperappreciation of the yen spurs the expansion of Japanese firms spending capital offshore.

Although the sharp uptrend in the yen's strength seems to be pausing for the moment, Japan's currency remains at a historically high level. We hope Japanese companies stay on the offensive in their outbound M&A deals.

Especially conspicuous among purchases of foreign firms by Japanese companies are large-scale deals by firms that were previously considered stay-at-home businesses, such as food processing companies. This is prompted by fears of a shrinking domestic market because of the nation's declining population.

Japanese firms have mainly sought foreign acquisitions in the United States and Europe, but they are becoming more active in China and other Asian countries. This reflects Japanese companies' strategy of expanding their businesses in emerging countries with high growth potential.

It is also noteworthy that major trading houses have been moving to boost their capital spending offshore, to secure resource development rights in anticipation of resources development projects becoming more profitable due to soaring prices of natural resources.


Bubble's bitter lessons

Japanese companies, however, should be scrupulous enough not to be overly optimistic when making outbound investments because they do not want to miss opportunities.

They should bear in mind that many Japanese companies during the high- growth days of the bubble economy suffered huge debacles in their overseas investments, including property deals.

It is vital for Japanese companies to scrutinize the actual financial conditions and business prospects of foreign firms they are planning to buy out.

The capabilities of financial institutions that advise Japanese firms in their offshore capital investments are being tested in this respect.

A stronger yen has such negative aspects as raising prices of export goods and resultant drops in sales competitiveness.

Especially worrying in this connection is that an increasing number of Japanese companies, in particular such export industries as electric machinery and automobiles, have been shifting their production bases overseas, threatening to accelerate the hollowing-out of domestic industries.

If Japanese companies' M&As are mainly an attempt to flee from the impact of a strong yen, their capital deals overseas could plunge into a vicious circle that further darkens already stagnant domestic business activity.

In another move worthy of note, Toshiba Corp. and Sony Corp. have applied for loans from a government-backed "emergency fund to cope with the yen's appreciation" that was created last autumn to support Japanese firms' M&A operations abroad.

The government and the private sector should continue to jointly propel growth in the national economy through outbound M&A deals.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 25, 2012)
(2012年2月25日01時17分 読売新聞)



(Mainichi Japan) February 24, 2012
Town's 'lies' show stronger checks needed in gov't use of precious tax money


A report in The Mainichi Shimbun revealed that the Oi Municipal Government in Fukui Prefecture, the location of Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi Nuclear Power Plant, received 2.5 billion yen in "nuclear power plant grants" after submitting a fake business proposal to the central government. Naturally, one can point the finger at the town assembly whose members all kept quiet despite knowing, in the words of one town official, that the town "lied to the government." Yet at the same time, the fact that the government's screening system could not see through this "lie" is problematic.

In the wake of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, reviews of the government's energy policies have been mulled, and the status of such grants, which are funded by taxes, has come under scrutiny. Unless an effective checking system is in place the public will not agree to having the grant system continue.

 ◇原発マネー入り 貧しい町が一変

The public finances of Oi, a town of about 8,800 people cannot be separated from nuclear power facilities. In the 1960s, the town was so short of funds that it was unable to pay the wages of its town workers, but the when the Oi Nuclear Power Plant started operating in 1979, the situation changed completely. The town received a huge amount of nuclear power plant-related grants and fixed property tax and used the money to build hot spring facilities, a sports park and a stream of other lavish structures. Prefectural government officials said that as of fiscal 2009, the town had received 32.2 billion yen.

As the cash flowed in, the town in 1991 established a plan to turn its image from a nuclear plant town into a resort town, and a marina and other facilities were prepared. However, when the town sought an operator for a hotel that was to be a centerpiece of the resort, it struggled to find anyone due to poor economic conditions. With no sightseeing spots in the area it was hardly a favorable location, and eventually only one party applied.

Here the town told its first "lie" to the government as it eyed more nuclear plant-related grants.

The hotel operator formulated a business plan stating that it expected about 60,000 visitors a year, with the total cost of the project reaching 5.9 billion yen (Plan A). The town meanwhile prepared a 6 billion yen plan (Plan B) that envisaged 105,000 visitors a year. The town made preparations to formally adopt Plan A, but when applying for a grant it presented Plan B to the central government, showing a higher number of visitors. At the time, business at facilities funded by grants was slow, leading to criticism. It is believed the town's submission of a fictitious business plan was based on the conclusion that projects which forecasted low profitability would be less likely to be eligible for grants.

The town then told a second "lie."

When the government screened Plan B -- that is, the fake plan -- to decide whether or not to provide a grant, it judged that about 1 billion yen in operating expenses could be cut. The government urged the town to make these reductions, but the operator, which was already proceeding with Plan A responded, "It's impossible to make any cuts under our plan." Eventually the town decided to secretly cover about 700 million yen of the requested cuts to help make the amounts add up. Of course, it did not inform the government about this "covert operation."

As a result, the project passed government screening, and 2.5 billion yen was paid out. Construction of the hotel was completed in 2009, but the occupancy rate last fiscal year stood at just 30 percent.


There are two problem points in this case: Firstly, obviously, is the town's response. The background to the case was reported at a meeting of all members of the town assembly in 2007, and a town official confessed, "We lied to the government." But this was not brought forward as a problem, and at a plenary session of the town assembly two days later the project was approved. Town assembly members at the time pointed out that the project was already proceeding, and it could not be halted at such a late stage. But as a result, some 700 million yen of the town's tax funds were eaten up. There is no doubt that the town assembly checking system failed to function as a result of the town's reliance on grants for many years and its desensitization to the fact that it was using public funds.

Secondly is the central government's response. Being a case in which a local government was deceiving the central government, the central government was primarily a victim, but I think it has room for improvement. For example, it could open meetings of the external screening committee of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry's Agency for Natural Resources and Energy to the public. The agency says that meetings are not made public "to allow members to freely state their opinions," but in the Oi Municipal Government's case, it is likely that the town's false application would have been detected.

I also want to mention the examination system after grants are paid out. The agency says that inspections are the responsibility of the Board of Audit of Japan, but it's possible Board of Audit inspections could come too late. There is rather a need to review the screening system of external screening committees. If such a screening were applied to the Oi Municipal Assembly and the hotel operator, the false claim could easily have been detected. And if the screening system is strengthened, this will help prevent false applications in the first place. If problems are found only after the building is constructed, then it will be extremely difficult to recover the grant money.

In promoting nuclear power plants, the central government has enticed local bodies to host plants with a huge amount of grants. But the grants are originally collected as taxes on top of electricity charges. Officials need to be more aware that each grant they dish out is hard-earned tax money.

(By Toshiki Koseki, Osaka City News Department)

毎日新聞 2012年2月23日 0時22分


新規就農支援 魅力ある産業へ若者呼び込め

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 24, 2012)
Make farming attractive to young generations
新規就農支援 魅力ある産業へ若者呼び込め(2月23日付・読売社説)

We hope that enticing young generations to the farming industry will be a step to reinvigorate the nation's agriculture.

From fiscal 2012, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry will introduce a new measure to encourage people to enter farming.

It will be the first item to be introduced as part of the government's program for revitalizing the nation's farming industry, which was decided on in autumn with an eye on Japan's entry into talks regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade framework.

The nation's agricultural population has decreased 20 percent in five years to 2.6 million, and it is expected to decrease by another 1 million over the next 10 years.

The accelerated graying of farmers is another cause for concern, as the average age of farmers has reached 66.

It is essential to recruit ambitious people from various regions and industries to develop a robust agriculture industry that can withstand the wave of trade liberalization.


Cash for new farmers

Under the new measure, the government will provide 1.5 million yen annually for up to seven years, including a two-year training period, to people under 45 who wish to begin farming.

Each newcomer can receive a maximum total of 10.5 million yen. The government has secured more than 10 billion yen in the budget for the inaugural year.

The new measure differs from available government support to new farmers, such as providing interest-free loans and subsidizing the purchase of farm machines and tools. The government has taken a decisive step to cover newcomers' expected shortage of income by directly giving them cash.

One of the reasons young people hesitate to become farmers is concern their earnings are likely to be low in the early years.

The government aims to double the number of young people entering farming, now at about 10,000 each year, by easing their anxiety about income.

The model for this new measure is a similar support program introduced in France in the 1970s.

The proportion of farmers aged under 40 doubled in 30 years to 30 percent in that country, according to sources.


Help farmers stand on own feet

The government needs to be careful that the new measure does not end up as a mere handout policy.

The agriculture ministry and local governments need to check on new farmers and give them thorough instruction on how to stand on their own feet in the future.

We hope the ministry and local governments will create an environment in which support for new farmers is effective enough to keep them in the industry.

The important point in increasing the number of new young farmers over the medium and long term is to make the agricultural industry attractive to young generations and make it possible for farmers to profit sufficiently.

The farming industry would become a growth field if farmers and agricultural corporations accelerated their advancement into food processing and marketing. Agriculture should no longer be satisfied to exist in a primary-industry framework and should add elements of secondary and tertiary industries.

There are already successful examples of people who have moved from the information technology, financial and other industries to the farming industry, developing agricultural businesses free from conventional mind-sets.

Such successful people have increased their earning power by producing high-value-added farm products after studying the tastes of customers and finding markets abroad.

We want to urge the agriculture ministry to review various laws, regulations and customs, such as the Agricultural Land Law, which limits corporations' entry into agriculture.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 23, 2012)
(2012年2月23日01時13分 読売新聞)


ギリシャ支援策 危機を回避できても残る懸念

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 23, 2012)
2nd bailout for Greece not an end to debt crisis
ギリシャ支援策 危機を回避できても残る懸念(2月22日付・読売社説)

A second bailout plan by the European Union and other concerned parties to deal with Greece's debts has finally been sealed by eurozone finance ministers.

Greece, which is suffering from an ever-worsening debt crisis, is scheduled to redeem a large amount of government bonds on March 20. Without further debt relief measures, it would have been difficult for the country to collect funds, resulting in a default that surely would have an adverse effect that will rock global markets.

We welcome this development. The Europeans were able to arrive at the bailout agreement in the 11th hour, a step forward in averting default for the time being.

The second bailout plan agreed on by the eurozone finance ministers has two main components. The first is a 130 billion euros (about 14 trillion yen) rescue package by the EU and the International Monetary Fund. Second, private financial institutions holding Greek debt in the form of government bonds will take further losses on their nominal value.


Distrust delayed agreement

An outline of the new program had been drawn up in autumn last year. But at the time, eurozone members' distrust of Greece, which by then had already broken several times its promise to rehabilitate its finances, was strong, resulting in a delay to the agreement.

Last week, the Greek parliament passed an austerity bill that was demanded by eurozone countries and the IMF as one of the conditions for extending the second bailout. It includes additional measures to cut its fiscal spending, and leaders of the country's ruling coalition parties have submitted written promises to European leaders, pledging the politicians' continued efforts at fiscal rehabilitation.

France, Germany and other countries have recognized these efforts by deciding in favor of the second bailout. We think the decision is not only brave, but also appropriate. It will no doubt contribute to the stabilization of the euro, too.

That said, worries about the future remain.

Greece is likely to hold a general election in April. Antonis Samaras, the leader of the second largest party in the ruling coalition, which leads in voter polls, pledged his party will remain committed to the austerity measures to be implemented by the current administration. However, he also hinted at a possibility they will be reviewed.

Demonstrations against the austerity measures have been ongoing in Greece. The EU and IMF must keep a watchful eye to ensure the country's administration does not go along with public opinion and loosen its firm stance on fiscal reform.


Walk the walk

Greece is now committed to cutting its debt to 120.5 percent of its gross domestic product in 2020 from the current rate of about 160 percent. However, there are fears the country's economy could further deteriorate, resulting in less progress in fiscal reform.

The path ahead for Greece is thus a thorny one: It must carry out biting fiscal rehabilitation measures, while at the same time making efforts to rejuvenate the economy. The Greek government will need strong determination to get things done.

If Greece were to stop short of reforming its state finances and asked again for further assistance, countries such as Germany and France would become incensed and refuse additional rescue packages.

In such a situation, the cooperative bond among eurozone countries would lose strength and the idea of a eurozone without Greece could become closer to reality.

Finance ministers and central bank chiefs from the Group of 20 nations, including Japan, the United States, European countries and newly emerging economies, are scheduled to hold a two-day meeting in Mexico this weekend.

The G-20 needs to urge Greece and other European nations afresh to continue doing all they can do toward overcoming the debt crisis. At the same time, the G-20 nations must reaffirm their ties and aim at stabilizing the global economy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 22, 2012)
(2012年2月22日01時25分 読売新聞)


社説:毎日創刊140年 今こそ新聞の気概で


raison d'etre レイゾンデトラ 存在理由(語源フランス語)
paleolithic ペイリオリティク 旧石器(時代)の


(Mainichi Japan) February 21, 2012
Editorial: Mainichi vows to be forum of constructive opinions as it marks 140th anniversary
社説:毎日創刊140年 今こそ新聞の気概で

Feb. 21, 2012, marks the 140th anniversary of the publication of the Mainichi Shimbun's inaugural issue. Over the past 140 years, society has undergone drastic changes, and roles that the public expects newspapers to play have also greatly changed.

The role of newspapers to report news speedily and accurately has remained unchanged. At the same time, however, the spread of the Internet has called into question the raison d'etre of printed media including newspapers.

We would like to consider the roles that newspapers should play in modern society from the viewpoints of unearthing news and dispatching our news analysis and opinions.

To unearth hidden news, it is necessary for journalists to question common knowledge, be aware of their role of serving public interests and patiently gather materials.

One example of such efforts is a Mainichi Shimbun scoop in 2000, which uncovered that what a researcher claimed was the excavation of paleolithic stoneware was a fabrication. The reporter who covered the case confirmed the fabrication by repeatedly examining what the researcher called the excavation site.

In a campaign from 2008 that called for relief measures for children who were not covered by public insurance programs, a reporter who learned that there were children who cannot receive medical treatment because their parents failed to pay national health insurance premiums patiently examined and confirmed the details of the matter.

The Mainichi's scoop on the fabrication of the excavation of paleolithic stoneware forced publishers to rewrite their school textbooks' descriptions of the old stone age, while the campaign on children not covered by public health insurance programs led to the enactment on new legislation. We are determined to continue such news coverage.

Newspapers are expected to play an increasingly important role in analyzing various social issues and publish commentaries and a range of opinions on these matters. Such analysis and opinions are supposed to shed light on background factors behind various issues, present options to solve them and clarify the risk involved in them. To do so, we need to eliminate rigid views and view various matters from a broad viewpoint.

Japanese society is now filled with a sense of stagnation due partly to the prolonged recession and the public's distrust of politics. Moreover, the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake that devastated extensive areas of northeastern Honshu has highlighted various problems involving Japan.

History has shown that in such an age, narrow-minded nationalism and overly emotional opinions tend to be prevalent. We must not forget lessons we have learned from newspapers' involvement in Japan's moves to proceed to World War II against the backdrop of such nationalism.

The Mainichi Shimbun is determined to serve as an intersection for various level-headed and constructive opinions and as a place in which we offer materials for discussion that can help our readers develop their own opinions.

With a bit of self-pride, we would like to cite a sense of humor and a spirit of unfettered discussion as the characteristics of the Mainichi Shimbun. The career of those working for newspaper companies would quickly end if they became bureaucratic. We would like to adhere to the basics of newspaper workers of raising their awareness about various issues and checking up on authorities.

It is important for the Mainichi to have human empathy in its news coverage. A sense of humor and empathy can derive from objectiveness with which one views oneself through the eyes of others. We are determined to continue to boldly and humbly make history as a news organization with our readers right beside us.

毎日新聞 2012年2月21日 2時31分



(Mainichi Japan) February 20, 2012
Changing TEPCO in wake of nuclear disaster

Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yukio Edano and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) President Toshio Nishizawa have clashed over the utility's future, with Edano demanding that TEPCO hand its management rights to the government in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and Nishizawa arguing that private operation of the company should be retained.
Will reforms be forced through by state power, or will they be implemented independently by TEPCO? In this tense situation I think it is TEPCO that has the weaker hand.


The Jan. 22 morning edition of the Nikkei business newspaper's Tokyo edition featured the front-page headline "Smart meters to be introduced by TEPCO in 17 million households -- almost every home."

Smart meters are digital power meters that do not simply display the total electricity usage like analog meters, but enable users to constantly check -- and control -- how much power they use. They do not need to be checked by meter inspectors, and have been touted as instruments that could contribute to power conservation while helping cut management costs.

The introduction of smart meters is one of the special features of a comprehensive special business plan that TEPCO will compile next month. But from where the company will acquire these meters remains a point of controversy.

Under a TEPCO draft, the meters were to be purchased from a group company for 20,000 to 30,000 yen apiece -- despite the fact that the standard price for overseas manufacturers was about 10,000 yen each. Smart meters have already been put to use in the United States, Germany and Canada.

At this point, the Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund stepped in. The fund is an amalgamated union of members from the public and private sectors backing up TEPCO, amid its financial woes in the wake of the nuclear disaster. To TEPCO, it is like an occupation army. Its stance of seeking nationalization of the utility is no different from that of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The fund dismissed the utility's draft -- formed under a "TEPCO village" mentality favoring family companies -- and altered it to allow international bidding. The Nikkei reported the amended plan and the background behind it.

According to those with background knowledge on the amendments, it was around late November or early December last year that TEPCO presented its draft to the liability facilitation fund. It was an urgent report that the company said would be publicly announced two days later. But the fund reportedly fiercely opposed the sudden move, asking TEPCO what on earth it was doing.

Digitalization is convenient, but the system becomes delicate as a result. Furthermore, TEPCO cannot suddenly adopt a ruthless approach toward meter checkers and employees of affiliated companies. Outstanding issues remain, but at the same time, the challenge of overcoming conservatism and efforts to break away from inertia should not be viewed lightly. Isn't this a lesson we have learned from the nuclear disaster that occurred against a backdrop of collusive relationships and slack attitudes?

In exchange for formulating a general special business plan, the government is to inject 1 trillion yen into TEPCO. But the minister of economy, trade and industry, setting his sights squarely on the TEPCO president, said Feb. 13 that unless TEPCO gives the government a level of voting rights that correspond to the level of funding, then he has no intention of accepting the business plan while he remains in office.

"A level corresponding with the level of funding" means a two-thirds share of voting rights at general shareholders meetings. If the government obtains this share, it will be able to realign TEPCO's operations. This enables split handling of TEPCO's power generation and distribution businesses.

Some have received this idea in the hope that it will bring life to the economy. Others, however, have criticized it, saying that it could result in an unstable supply of power and end up destroying economic foundations.

So is the government aiming to separate the power generation and distribution businesses?

One government official deeply involved in the process commented, "We have no interest in dogmatic adherence to plans to separate power generation and distribution. What we essentially want to do is review the high economic growth system in which investment in infrastructure surged with the construction of nuclear power plants, and change it to a system suiting an age of power conservation in which no new nuclear power plants are constructed. We think someone should be brought in from outside to head the company (TEPCO)."

I respect Nishizawa for fighting his cause without remuneration, but the limits of internal reform at TEPCO have already become apparent.

The Ministry of Finance is opposed to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry acquiring a two-thirds share of voting rights, as it will have to foot the financial bill if those rights are obtained.

The prime minister, who has his mind set on increasing the consumption tax, has little interest in TEPCO reform. 「増税」一点突破主義の首相は東電改革に関心が薄い。

That may be the case, but at the same time I don't want the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry to lose hope.

I'm looking forward to seeing the government lead the company forward.

(By Takao Yamada, Expert Senior Writer)
毎日新聞 2012年2月20日 東京朝刊



--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 17
EDITORIAL: Consumers should lead the charge to reform power industry

The process of putting the embattled Tokyo Electric Power Co. under state control will likely serve as the ace in the hole for efforts to reform the electric power industry.

The objective is to create an electric power market in which new entrants can compete on an equal footing with major players.

This would help ensure a stable power supply, the most formidable challenge facing Japan as it grapples with ways to lessen its dependence on nuclear energy.

First, there should be more companies that generate electricity.

Given the growing urgency to fight global warming, efforts must focus on renewable energy sources and natural gas.

At the same time, efforts must be made to reduce the redundancy of electric facilities and equipment by linking distant power plants with areas where demand for electricity is great.

To accomplish these goals, the government has no choice but to dissolve the current setup in which electric utilities have regional monopolies. This would also mean doing away with the system in which a single utility handles all power generation, transmission and distribution.

Since the 1990s, the market for power generation and distribution has been nominally opened to new entrants.

But major power suppliers with vested interests have resorted to various means to block the entry of new businesses.
Liberalization of the market is, in fact, in name only. The framework for the power industry needs to be drastically redesigned.

Changes are taking place, however.

The March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami served as a wake-up call for quite a few companies and local governments. They now realize the risks of relying solely on TEPCO for power supply. Moves to switch contracts to new suppliers are gaining momentum.

For their part, those start-ups have been hoping to expand their power generation facilities to bolster their supply capability.

Clear direction needed

However, they remain skeptical of the government’s commitment to overhaul the power industry and are unable to decide whether to go ahead with their plans. Operators of renewables must be harboring similar doubts.

The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda must make its stance on this issue explicit and announce that it will drastically liberalize the electricity market.

The administration would signal it is deadly serious about implementing bold reform if it sticks to its resolve to nationalize TEPCO.

If it is to encourage new investments in the power industry, the government must also create a mechanism that allows power companies to sell electricity freely.

The key to the creation of such a setup is the electricity wholesale market. An electric power exchange system has already been established to spur price competition through trading by adjusting demand and supply efficiently.

But the exchange has failed to generate the intended result because of the low volume of transactions. Utilities that control transmission networks are to blame for this because they are reluctant to invigorate the electricity market.

After the reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and damage to thermal power plants created a power shortage last year, TEPCO restricted the use of transmission networks by other power companies to manage supply and demand in an integrated manner. As a result, trading at the exchange stopped.

Companies that had contracts with other suppliers were also affected by rolling blackouts implemented by TEPCO.

But they did not openly complain about or criticize TEPCO, apparently in fear that any sign of resistance would incur the wrath of this all-powerful utility.

Given this background, we cannot expect diversified players to enter the market. The government should not allow a single company to disrupt, for selfish reasons, stable power supply by competitors. Transmission networks must become part of an infrastructure that anyone can use equally.

This is why the transmission and generation of power needs to be separate.

Transmission networks for larger areas

The government is weighing three plans, from one that separates power generation, transmission and distribution to one in which different companies own each function.

Currently, transmission networks are owned by regional utilities. Apart from TEPCO, which will be brought under state control, a new law should be established to separate transmission networks from those utilities.

Even though it will take much time and effort, companies that are separate from electric utilities should handle transmission networks. That would ensure their independence. The final blueprint should be presented to the power industry so that the separation of the functions can be implemented in phases.

TEPCO should be split up into separate companies responsible for power transmission and generation, respectively. Then, the foundation for setting up a streamlined, neutral transmission company should be laid out. In this context, the cost structure of transmission networks must be made transparent.
New entrants have often complained about expensive fees for using transmission networks. The basis for cost calculation should also be made transparent.

Transmission network infrastructures can be used more efficiently when they cover wider areas.

However, different frequencies are used in western and eastern Japan despite the country’s small size, and lines connecting between utilities are not equipped to handle a large amount of electricity in the event of a power crunch. This situation is the inevitable outcome of the existing system in which regional utilities dominate.

Why not start by getting TEPCO’s transmission subsidiary to operate the transmission networks of Tohoku Electric Power Co. and Hokkaido Electric Power Co., both of which are in the 50-hertz zone. Since the Tohoku region and Hokkaido are particularly suited for wind-power generation, this could lead to the increased use of renewable energy.

A public watchdog is also needed to monitor the use of transmission networks. It should be authorized to coordinate supply and demand by working in tandem with the electricity wholesale market. If it is empowered to instruct power generation companies in emergencies, it would lead to the establishment of a power market where fairness is secured.


For households, the installation of “smart meters” should be promoted as soon as possible. Diversified fee structures should also be made available. If consumers can buy electricity generated by renewables and choose payment plans to suit their lifestyle, power companies will move to meet their needs.

The Fukushima disaster drove home to us the closed nature of the power industry and the harmful nature of maintaining regional monopolies. To clean up the mess left by the disaster, we, as a nation, have no choice but to shoulder a financial burden.

We need to reinvent the power industry, changing it from one manipulated by suppliers to one allowing consumers to take the initiative.

Our awareness of the urgency to revamp the power industry will pave the way for such reform.



(Mainichi Japan) February 18, 2012
With parties foundering, now may be time for direct election of PMs

The support rate for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has been declining. Recent opinion polls by media organizations all show that his administration's approval rating has plunged to somewhere in the 30 percent neighborhood, while the disapproval rate has climbed to some 50 percent.

"Basically, I should take the results seriously," said Prime Minister Noda during a House of Representatives Budget Committee session when asked about the unpopularity of his Cabinet. However, he also stressed that sometimes the prime minister "has to be ready to convince the public even when faced with harsh opinions at a particular moment."

Noda is absolutely determined to raise the consumption tax -- something which most opinion poll respondents oppose. On the other hand, with Japan facing an increasingly greying society, members of the public are becoming more aware that it would be impossible to maintain the current social security system without a consumption tax hike. Noda is apparently encouraged by this growing recognition.

Nevertheless, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has seen its party approval rate fall, while the largest opposition Liberal Democratic Party's support rate remains stuck in neutral. As a result, the number of independents has jumped from somewhere around 50 percent to nearly 70 percent, according to one survey.

This demographic is the target of the host of newly emerging parties across the nation.

One of them, "Osaka Ishin no Kai" (Osaka Restoration Association), a regional party led by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, has drawn up a manifesto called "Senchu Hassaku" -- the same title given to policy proposals thought to have been drafted by the late-Edo era revolutionary hero Sakamoto Ryoma.

Prime Minister Noda hailed the local party's policy pledges, saying, "It's good to raise questions about the way this country should be from various perspectives." Mayor Hashimoto was apparently flattered by the remarks, responding, "I'm glad the prime minister commented on what one local political group has been doing."

The Hashimoto-version of "Senchu Hassaku" (literally, eight proposals made aboard ship) advocates direct election of the prime minister. Such a system has often been proposed in times of political chaos. In a recent opinion poll, over 70 percent of respondents favored the direct election of prime ministers.

Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who has been advocating direct election of prime ministers for some 50 years under the slogan, "Let's be able to choose our lovers and our prime ministers," underscores the advantages of the system.

"What is appropriate for Japan as a communal nation is a system to elect the people by the people.

If we set the (prime minister's) term at four years, with a maximum of two terms, the country's executive power would be stable.

It is irrational that while people can directly elect the heads of their local governments, they can't do the same with the prime minister.

Based on past experience, the Japanese people should have enough self-esteem to know they have the right to elect their own prime minister.

Once elected, the person would be appointed as prime minister by the Emperor," Nakasone said.

(By Takakazu Matsuda, Expert Senior Writer, Age 66)
毎日新聞 2012年2月18日 東京朝刊



--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 16
EDITORIAL: Put TEPCO under new management as part of restructuring effort


Japan is beset by an unprecedented nuclear disaster. In this editorial, one of two devoted to the issue, we outline steps the government is being forced to consider to reform the nation's troubled power industry.
Central to this issue is the future of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the embattled operator of Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which faces financial ruin.

  ◇  ◇  ◇

Few people would dispute that TEPCO has an obligation to shoulder the bulk of the colossal costs associated with the catastrophe at the Fukushima plant.

Clearly, it is impossible for the utility to bear all the costs. There is no doubt that taxpayers will end up footing a substantial portion of the bill through higher electricity rates or taxes.

This is the reality confronting TEPCO in determining the company's future.

But first, let us take a look at the plan the government is drawing up to ride out the crisis.

It has decided to inject public funds totaling 1 trillion yen ($12.75 billion) into the company, which has little chance of surviving on its own.

The huge injection of taxpayer money is aimed at preventing disruptions in electricity supply and turmoil in financial markets.

But the Finance Ministry is voicing doubts about the wisdom of the government acquiring a more than two-thirds stake in the company, which would make it directly responsible for the utility’s management. That, the ministry fears, could entail an additional fiscal burden for the government in the future.

Instead, it wants the government to provide funds to tide over TEPCO for the time being. Under this scenario, TEPCO would remain as a private-sector company and eventually pay back the money it receives from the government.

At first glance, this idea is attractive, at least from the viewpoint of minimizing the financial burden on the public. This is because the nuclear damage liability facilitation fund law, enacted to enable the government to help TEPCO pay compensation to victims of the nuclear disaster, is also rooted in this concept.

But does it really make sense, from a long-term perspective, to allow TEPCO to continue to exist in its current form?

For TEPCO to pay back the money, the government would have to maximize the profits the company earns. To protect TEPCO’s monopoly on the regional power market, the government would have to make it almost impossible for other players to enter the market.

In short, there would be a powerful disincentive for the government to embark on reforming the nation’s electricity supply system.

There would be no momentum for drastic restructuring and selling off power plants.

The TEPCO management would have a strong incentive to minimize the compensation it pays to victims. This could result in further delays in the company’s negotiations with victims over compensation.

Still, it would be a tall order for TEPCO to raise the necessary funds to stay in business.

The job of cleaning up the nuclear mess could be a financial black hole. As for the costs of decommissioning the crippled reactors, it is not even clear how the melted nuclear fuel could be recovered.

It is generally estimated that tens of billions of yen are needed to decommission a reactor that has reached the end of its useful life. But TEPCO must deal with four reactors that have been disabled by the accident. It will take three to four decades to dismantle these facilities. The total bill will most definitely balloon to more than 1 trillion yen.

The cost will further grow if the two remaining reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant and the four reactors at the Fukushima No. 2 plant are factored in.

The company is already under financial strain due to growing fuel costs resulting from expanded use of thermal power generation.

It is impossible to estimate how much money will be needed to decontaminate areas hit by radioactive fallout.

TEPCO has no choice but to cut back on new investment. In doing so, it runs the risk of seriously undermining its ability to provide proper maintenance of its power supply facilities. That, in turn, could jeopardize the electricity supply situation to the Tokyo metropolitan area.

If the government wanted to avoid providing public funds to bail out TEPCO by making sure the firm will generate sufficient profits, it would have no choice but to force businesses and households in Tokyo and surrounding areas to accept exorbitant hikes in electricity bills.

Another option would be for the government to take control of TEPCO's management, fully expecting to be forced to use taxpayer money.

The responsibility for the catastrophe rests primarily with TEPCO. That said, the government had been promoting nuclear power generation as a national policy.

It had prompted the expansion of nuclear power generation, permitted the construction of the nuclear power plant and overlooked the company’s failure to take sufficient safety measures. Nobody would argue that the government shares in the responsibility for the accident.

In the scandal over cases of AIDS contracted from contaminated blood products and hepatitis B contracted from childhood vaccination, the government has decided to provide financial relief and pay compensation to victims. In doing so, it is taking responsibility for the policy mistakes that led to the public health disasters.

If the government decides to assume ultimate responsibility to deal with the aftermath of the nuclear disaster triggered by the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, it would be able to use the process to open up new possibilities for the nation’s power market.

Herein lies the biggest significance of nationalizing the utility.

Obviously, the financial burden to the public should be kept to a minimum.

That would require the government to exhaustively restructure TEPCO to scrape up as much cash as possible to pay off the debt.

TEPCO is effectively in a state of negative net worth as its liabilities exceed its assets.

Free market principles would dictate that the company should go face legal bankruptcy procedures.

The company’s stock should be declared valueless. Even though it has used up a big chunk of its capital surplus to deal with the situation, TEPCO still has some 900 billion yen in equity capital.

As long as taxpayer money is used to deal with the utility mess, shareholders should accept the loss of their investment in the company.

The government should also require the company’s creditor banks to forgive at least part of the debts owed by TEPCO to them.

Financial institutions are supposed to impose market discipline on corporate financing by lending money to companies at interest rates that reflect the risks of their businesses assessed through rigorous examinations.

But the banks had been providing funds to TEPCO at favorable terms. That’s because there was a tacit understanding that the government would protect regional power monopolies at any cost.

That attitude reflects their underestimation of the safety risks of nuclear power generation. The financial institutions should pay the price for that.

It is not easy to decide how to deal with TEPCO bonds, which are secured by specific company assets.

But the value of the company’s electricity business has been deeply compromised. There should be a reasonable way to reduce the value of the bonds in line with the decline in the value of the underlying assets.

The government should figure out what to do through dialogue with the market.

The funds thus raised should be used primarily to pay compensation to victims. This problem should be settled as quickly as possible to move the process of handling the TEPCO mess to the next step.

Clearly, the management team should be replaced. Not only the top management posts, but also key leadership positions at major sections should be filled with people committed to reform, to be recruited from both inside and outside the company. This way, employees would be encouraged to point out problems with the company and contribute ideas for fixing them.

The company’s assets, including power plants, should be sold or spun off boldly. Shady business transactions with affiliated firms should be terminated. The salaries of employees need to be reviewed fundamentally.

In addition, TEPCO’s pension program should be treated as that of a failed company. Getting the consent of former employees for cuts in their pension benefits should be done as soon as possible.

The shortfall of funds left after all these efforts would have to be covered through rate increases. But the hikes would be much smaller if these radical restructuring steps are taken.

If neither of the two options results in a financial burden on the public through electricity rate increases, then it would clearly be better if the government takes control of the company’s management.

It is almost impossible at this moment to estimate the total amount of damages caused by the nuclear accident.

Power market liberalization would prompt more businesses and households in the region to switch from TEPCO to other power suppliers.

Since TEPCO itself is dismantled in the process, there will be a limit to how much money the company can receive from electricity charges.

In the end, the government, which is responsible for the expansion of nuclear power generation in this country, will have to consider using taxpayer money to cover the shortfall while reorganizing its nuclear power budget.

Given the fiscal crunch, it is also necessary to take new measures to increase tax revenue, such as taxing the use of TEPCO’s power transmission network. That would spread the burden to all the consumers of electricity within the region served by the utility.

If all these steps fail to raise the necessary amount of money, the government will have to expand the national tax base. In that case, it will be necessary to adopt special measures to win public support for the tax increase, such as imposing higher tax rates within the region served by TEPCO.

It is vital to minimize the negative effects on people’s daily lives and the nation’s economy as a whole.

None of the ideas discussed here would be easy to implement.

But the entire nation needs to rise to the challenges created by the nuclear disaster.

By doing so, we would be able to consider the situation of people in Fukushima as our own problem and start thinking seriously about the future of our nation’s energy policy.



(Mainichi Japan) February 16, 2012
Bismarck's pension system

The world's first modern pension system was introduced by Chancellor of the German Empire Otto von Bismarck in the 19th century. The move was designed to propitiate the German people at a time when the newly forged empire was trying to stamp out the rising appeal of socialism.

Bismarck's pension system was based on the assumption that workers would pass away just a few years after retirement in their mid-50s on, according to Michael W. Hodin, a member of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations.

Since people at the time had a shorter lifespan, the government did not have to spend much money on pension benefits. One theory has it that Bismarck even set up the system with the aim of diverting part of the pension premiums to help finance Germany's hefty military expenditures.

In the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced a pension system in 1935 under the Social Security Act. Under the system, pension eligibility started at 65. However, since the average lifespan in the country was 61 at the time, only those who lived very long lives were around to collect.

University of Tokyo professor Fumiaki Kubo says pension systems were originally set up to support those who lived longer than average. In other words, pension systems were part of policy measures to care for those who grew too old to work.

Currently, the average lifespan of a Japanese woman is 86.39 years, while that of a Japanese man is 79.64. If the spirit of Bismarck's pension system were applied, Japanese women would become eligible for benefits at the age of about 88, and men at around 82.

Bismarck's and Roosevelt's systems would not be worthy of the term "pension" as it is understood today.

The social security programs we now have are far better than those introduced by these two bygone leaders, but may also be a bit too generous.

Japan can sustain its pension programs right now because the ratio of premium-paying workers to pensioners is three to one. However, the ratio will be one to one in the not-too-distant future. If social programs remain as they are now, this will put an unsustainable burden on workers paying premiums.

Considering these problems, we can no longer laugh at Bismarck's stinginess. Any great social security program is meaningless unless it is sustainable.

The government's plan to reform the tax and social security systems together, which has created great confusion and disturbance in the Diet, is aimed at reducing costs and increasing income. Nevertheless, discussions are focused excessively on a consumption tax hike to increase revenue while failing to come up with concrete cost reduction ideas.

For example, Japan has delayed a decision on raising the pension eligibility age, though Germany has hiked its eligibility age from 65 to 67. In other words, Japanese political leaders are avoiding a decision that would be highly unpopular among the elderly.

Bismarck says, "People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election."

(By Michio Ushioda, Expert Senior Writer)
毎日新聞 2012年2月15日 東京朝刊





--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 15
EDITORIAL: Hashimoto's rise underlines public mistrust in politics

February 15, 2012

Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka restoration association), a political party led by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimto, has drafted its campaign pledges for the next Lower House election.

The draft manifesto covers broad subjects that include foreign policy, the economy and the social security system, in addition to rehashing the party's resolve to overhaul the nation's local administrative structures, bureaucracy and education.

The party intends to field 300 candidates for the Lower House, where it hopes to capture 200 seats.

We have no issues with a regional political organization advancing into national politics in order to change the country.

But Osaka Ishin no Kai's main objective at its inception was to turn Osaka into a metropolis-cum-prefecture.
We can hardly say that the party has provided any satisfactory explanation for its abrupt change of course to seek considerable representation in the Diet.

Right after winning the Osaka mayoral election in November last year, Hashimoto asserted: "My goal is to consolidate the administrative functions of the municipal and prefectural governments of Osaka.

It is for members of the Diet to change the country. I would be overstepping my bounds as a mayor to think I, too, could do it."

Hashimoto also said that the party's advance into national politics would be conditional on failing to win support from other parties on his Osaka-metropolis-prefecture concept.

In actuality, however, the Liberal Democratic Party and Your Party have indicated their support and proposed their respective plans for reforming the local autonomy law.

The fact that Hashimoto has set a more ambitious goal for his party would seem to suggest that his real, personal target has always been to become the nation's top leader.

In a little over two months since he became mayor, Hashimoto has come up with quite an array of reform plans, but work has only just begun.

And the party has not rewritten its prospectus, where it is defined as a "regional political party" that "aims for Osaka's revival."

The party has expanded its influence on the strength of Hashimoto's tremendous mass appeal.

But Hashimoto himself has denied any possibility of running for the Lower House.

We believe questions will be raised in the days ahead over whether it is appropriate for Hashimoto to remain the mayor of Osaka while his party seeks to seize the reins of national government.

Campaign pledges include the abolition of the Upper House and popular election of the prime minister, both of which are predicated on constitutional revision.
The manifesto also envisions a pension program under which people will pay their premiums without collecting benefits later, which would require a radical overhaul of the conventional pension system.

These are still only "ideas" rather than official policy plans, and the party needs to deliberate them before they ask the public to judge.

In the meantime, a political academy the party is scheduled to open next month has already received applications from more than 3,000 people. They will undoubtedly form a huge reserve of would-be candidates in the next Lower House election.

Hashimoto comes across as a strong, reliable leader because the speed with which he challenges vested interests contrasts sharply with the administration's inability to fulfill its promises, year after year, with prime ministers effectively coming and going every year.

Seeing Hashimoto's style of politics, the public has understandably come to hope, if only vaguely, that a non-establishment regional party such as his may be able to get the job done.

Opinion polls indicate that Osaka Ishin no Kai is picking up considerable popular support as a force capable of injecting fresh air into stale national politics.

Established political parties should think hard about what it is attracting the public to this Osaka party.

The underlying reason is the public's mistrust with the current state of politics.


ビルマよりの手紙: ヴァーツラフ・ハヴェルの思い出

ハヴェル氏の最後の手紙は死の数日前に書かれたものですが、日本の笹川 陽平氏によりスーチーさんに届けられたいます。これも何かの因縁でしょうね。


Letter from Burma: Vaclav Havel
ビルマよりの手紙: ヴァーツラフ・ハヴェルの思い出

Aung San Suu Kyi is seen at the National League for Democracy headquarters in Yangon, Burma, in this Oct. 27, 2011 file photo. In the background, is a portrait of her father, General Aung San. (Mainichi)When I decided that the first Letter from Burma of 2012 should be about the late Vaclav Havel, I wondered how I should entitle the article. My thoughts immediately went to the little red heart he usually drew as part of his signature. Perhaps I should write about him as "The Heart President" or "The Heart Leader" or "The Dissident with A Heart" or "The Intellectual with A Heart?" In the end I decided that the name Vaclav Havel alone was more potent and meaningful than any fancy title I could think up.

It was during the first year of my house arrest, 1989, that the name of Vaclav Havel became familiar to me. The Velvet Revolution, the Civic Forum, the electoral victory that turned the premier dissident of Czechoslovakia into the first President of the newly democratic republic: I learnt about it all from my small portable radio and shared in the euphoria of political transformation in that far off land. However, I did not realize at that time that Vaclav Havel would become a personal friend.

It is a little strange to speak of a man I had never met and with whom I had barely corresponded as a personal friend. It was his vigorous and warm personality and his total commitment to the support of movements for democracy and human rights the world over that made his friendship so real and vibrant and made me feel we were linked to one another by close ties of understanding. He nominated me for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 because he believed it would help to focus international attention on our struggle. Had he allowed his name to be put forward as a candidate that year I am convinced he would have been the chosen laureate. He surely valued the Nobel Peace Prize, for he would not have wanted to give to the cause of democracy and human rights something on which he did not value himself. But it was a matter of chivalry: "Their need is greater than mine."

When my family were permitted to visit me in 1992, my husband brought me a copy of The Power of the Powerless. I have just flicked quickly through the pages of this now shabby, well-thumbed volume and reread some of the phrases I underlined in the book. "... an examination of the potential of the 'powerless' -- can only begin with an examination of the nature of power in the circumstances in which these powerless people operate ..." "... freedom is indivisible ..." "... not standing up for the freedom of others, regardless of how remote their means of creativity or their attitude to life, meant surrendering one's own freedom ..." "A better system will not automatically create a better life. In fact the opposite is true: only by creating a better life can a better system be developed ..." Ideas that seem simple yet which enmesh with basic human aspirations only when formulated with clarity by an exceptional mind.

A high intellect is no substitute for a generous heart, and it is the latter that I appreciate most in Vaclav Havel. He was a rare dissident, one who did not forget fellow dissidents in remote parts of the world even after he became the Head of State of his own country. His heart was not only generous but appealingly light, expressing its solidarity with ordinary people everywhere in the simplest way. His To the Castle and Back begins with the words: "I've run away. I've run away to America. I've run away for two months with the whole family; that is, with Dasa and our two boxers, Sugar and her daughter Madlenka." The gleeful declaration of flight and the place (right at the heart of the family) that he accorded to his dogs drew me across miles and years into the warm circle of his home. How did a man so far from ordinary manage to retain the common touch?

Vaclav Havel spoke to me once on the telephone, about a year ago. He was already in poor health and his voice was weak but he managed to convey his joy at my release from house arrest and his concern for all of us who were still far from our democratic goal. Even in his final illness he did not forget us. The last letter he wrote to me was placed in my hands a few days after his death by one of his old friends, Mr. Sasakawa Yohei.

"Dear Friend," the letter began, "Over the years I sent you a number of letters inviting you to attend various international conferences and other events that I organized. I did it being perfectly aware that the chances of you attending are non-existent but I still did it out of principle and to remind the authorities that confiscated my letters to you that we constantly think of you and support you." The spirit with which he championed the cause of the oppressed had remained intact. His interest in our struggle, too, had continued strong: "Dear friend, I am following the recent developments in your country with a very, very cautious optimism." He ended his letter on a practical, modest note. "... if there is anything we can do to help -- for example -- and only if you wish -- to share some of our transformational experience with you we shall gladly do it."

I will feel the absence of my friend as we continue along the road he walked before us.

(By Aung San Suu Kyi)
(Mainichi Japan) January 30, 2012


ギリシャ緊縮策 危機封じ込めに必要な実行力



The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 14, 2012)
Greece must show ability to implement austerity steps
ギリシャ緊縮策 危機封じ込めに必要な実行力(2月12日付・読売社説)

Will Greece, the epicenter of the European debt crisis, be able to implement austerity measures to prevent the regional crisis from worsening and spreading?

The country's ability to enforce the measures--which will certainly involve pain--is being tested.

The Greek government and coalition parties have agreed to carry out the austerity program required by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

The main pillars of the austerity program are to significantly cut public investment, lower the nation's minimum wage and ax 15,000 public sector jobs.

In 2010, the EU and IMF decided to provide the first rescue package to Greece to help the country's finances, which had been seriously damaged by irresponsible financial policies in the past. However, the effect of the first rescue package has been limited.

To receive a 130 billion euros (13 trillion yen) second rescue package, Greece is required to carry out the austerity measures as a step to rebuild its finances.

The country plans to redeem a huge amount of government bonds on March 20.

If it cannot receive the second rescue package, it will be difficult for the country to redeem the bonds--meaning Greece may plunge into a chaotic default.

It is now in the hands of the Greek government to take the necessary steps to receive the second rescue package. We welcome the heightened possibility that the country will avoid default.


Waiting on parliament

Now the question is whether the Greek parliament will pass bills related to the austerity measures.

Finance ministers of eurozone countries have postponed deciding whether to provide the second rescue package to Greece, saying they will make a final decision on Wednesday after observing parliament's decision.

The finance ministers' persisting skepticism regarding Greece is believed to be the reason they have attached such a condition to providing the rescue package.

The Greek government has promised to implement austerity measures on several occasions, but failed to sufficiently fulfill the promises.

The government's halfhearted approach has caused anxiety in financial markets in Europe and other areas, helping credit uncertainty spread from Greece to Italy and other countries.

Greek lawmakers must swiftly pass the bills related to the austerity measures to meet the demands of the eurozone countries in providing the rescue package.

The Greek government has reached a substantive agreement with financial institutions to reduce debts owned by the institutions. This will be another favorable wind for Greece to implement the austerity measures.


Public backlash

One cause of concern is deep-rooted public antipathy toward the austerity measures, illustrated by such actions as the general strikes conducted by Greek labor unions.

If the public backlash against austerity measures grows further ahead of a general election scheduled in April, the future of the austerity measures will become more uncertain.

The EU and the IMF should step up their supervision of Greece to avoid further confusion and help the country steadily rebuild its finances.

Greece's economic downturn is expected to linger after the implementation of the austerity measures.

It will be an important task for Greece to recover its growth power in the medium- and long-term rebuilding of its finances.

Resolving the Greek debt crisis is indispensable to containing the European financial crisis and stabilizing financial markets.

European countries, notably Germany and France, should enhance their cooperation in dealing with the Greek crisis.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 12, 2012)
(2012年2月12日01時10分 読売新聞)


香山リカのココロの万華鏡:「人類戦士」たち /東京




(Mainichi Japan) February 12, 2012
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: There's no such thing as a 'worthless life'
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:「人類戦士」たち /東京

There are two phrases that I often come across at my consultation room: "I'm sorry for being alive," and, "My life is worthless."

In explaining such thoughts, patients say things like: "I suffer from depression so I had to quit my job," "I couldn't fit in at school so I started staying at home," or, "In the end, I started living on welfare assistance."

Although the reasons vary from patient to patient, the most common reason seems to be related to people's inability to work efficiently and provide for themselves after falling physically or mentally ill.

I usually reject such statements, telling my patients: "That's not true," but at the same time I feel that it's extremely difficult to give them a firm reason to trust my words.

It also seems weak to tell them that what is happening is not their fault and that the difficulties they are going through are only a result of their diseases.

As I was thinking about this, I came across a book that opened my eyes. The book, titled "Omoi shogai o ikiru to iu koto" (Living with serious disabilities) was written by Kiyoshi Takaya, a pediatrician who has worked at a facility for children with heavy disabilities for a long time.

In his book, Takaya introduces children who have become bedridden as a result of their disabilities as "mankind's warriors," a reference to a well-known anime series.

Takaya says that in order for some species to continue to exist, they have to keep on transforming themselves. ある生物種が死滅せずに存在し続けるためには、絶えず変貌を遂げて行く必要がある。

During that process, it is inevitable that some will develop disabilities.

Therefore, children who carry such disabilities have undertaken the task of passing through these inevitable circumstances -- they are, in other words, warriors protecting the rest of mankind.

As I read Takaya's words, I came to think that this does not only apply to children with disabilities.

For example, among my patients there was a company employee who was diagnosed with depression due to his heavy workload.

As a result of his leave of absence, however, his company decided to reconsider all company employees' workloads, which led to an improvement of the firm's mental health policies.

Cases of "hikikomori" (social withdrawal) involving children, for example, often stem from family-related problems -- those involving their parents, siblings or other relatives.

In this way, these children can also be called "mankind's warriors" for they have -- via their conditions -- taken on other social problems.

If there were no such people, the rest of us would proudly -- and quite incorrectly -- think that the way things have been done to address certain social issues up till now has been correct.

This could lead to major problems that could actually end up affecting many people.

To those suffering from mental diseases: You should know that your current condition is sending a red signal to society, trying to make people notice the existing problems that need to be tackled.
Your life is important for society.

You didn't become ill because of your personal weakness -- it is a result of your ability to sense existing problems before others can.

Therefore I ask you -- please, don't ever say that your life is worthless.

If a patient tells me "I'm sorry for being alive" again, I would like to express these thoughts to them, though I don't know how effective I can be.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
毎日新聞 2012年2月7日 地方版