小学校の英語 楽しく学べる環境を整えたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 30, 2013
Create enjoyable environment for primary schoolers to learn English
小学校の英語 楽しく学べる環境を整えたい(5月29日付・読売社説)

If Japan wants to hone its competitive edge overseas, it is essential to foster broad-minded human resources with superb foreign language skills. To do so, the government should improve the nation’s educational environment.

The Education Rebuilding Implementation Council, an expert panel under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has compiled a set of proposals that emphasize the necessity of expanding and improving the nation’s English education at all levels, from primary school to university, to foster individuals who can compete globally.

One noteworthy proposal suggests that the government consider making English a regular subject at primary schools.

Since the 2011 academic year, “foreign language activity” has become a required course at primary schools. Now, fifth- and sixth-graders take English classes once a week.

The course is aimed at familiarizing students with the language and places emphasis on nurturing basic conversation and listening skills. Unlike middle school English classes, students do not study grammar.

Hurdles remain

As it is not a regular subject, no textbooks are used. While homeroom teachers are charged with leading foreign language activities, most did not receive sufficient instruction on how to teach English during college-level teacher training courses. As a result, many are concerned about their ability to instruct pupils.

We duly understand the aims of upgrading the course into a regular subject, making an English textbook available at primary schools and improving the quality of classes.

However, many hurdles remain.

If English is made into a regular subject, student performance must be graded. But is it fitting to give exams in a class that is aimed at familiarizing students with English? If grammar lessons are required, it may cause some students to dislike the subject from the primary school level.

Enhancing the English skills of primary school teachers cannot be accomplished overnight. In addition to improved teacher training, it is necessary to establish a system in which classes are taught by teachers who specialize in English, or native English-speaking assistant language teachers work together with Japanese teachers.

In other parts of Asia, such as China, South Korea and Taiwan, students begin learning English when they become third-grade primary school students. Some experts assert that early English education is key to helping students master the language.

On the other hand, many people insist that Japanese, the nation’s mother tongue, should be prioritized over learning English. Whether the government should promote an earlier start to English lessons is likely to become a point of contention in the future.

Universities lagging

The panel’s proposals also refer to university education, saying “their lagging globalization has reached a critical state.”

The number of Japanese studying overseas is on the decline. There are also fewer foreign students studying in Japan than in the United States and European nations. It is crucial, among other things, to increase the number of courses taught in English to train Japanese students and attract foreigners.

The panel also suggested TOEFL, a test that gauges the English proficiency of nonnative speakers, and other outside tests be used for university admission and graduation. We believe this idea merits consideration on the basis of prodding students to acquire practical language skills.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 29, 2013)
(2013年5月29日02時07分  読売新聞)


波乱含みの株価 ひるまずアベノミクスを前に

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 29, 2013
Govt should stick with Abenomics despite volatility in stock market
波乱含みの株価 ひるまずアベノミクスを前に(5月28日付・読売社説)

Stock prices have suddenly turned volatile after steadily soaring on the high regard market players have for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policies, which have been dubbed “Abenomics.”

People should not overreact to daily market fluctuations. The government and the Bank of Japan should steadily proceed with Abenomics and expedite measures to realize a full recovery of the nation’s economy, whose prospects have become increasingly rosy.

The key stock average index on the Tokyo market has been stormy since late last week. On Thursday, the index rose to just below 16,000, but then suddenly plunged by more than 1,000 points, triggered by a worsening Chinese economic indicator. On Friday, Tokyo stocks swung wildly.

On Monday, the index again sharply dropped 469 points to close at 14,142.

Locking in profits

In the current state of the market, wary investors are inclined to sell their stocks to lock in profits after experiencing the rapid rise in stock prices that started last autumn.

It is believed that another factor behind the recent accelerating drops in stock prices is a selling offensive launched by speculators overseas in such things as futures to exploit the bearish mindset of investors.

It will be problematic if this unstable market situation continues for a prolonged period and drags down the real economy. The government and the Bank of Japan need to beef up their oversight of market movements.

Rises in long-term interest rates also are a cause of concern. It had previously been expected that the rates would decline as the amount of government bonds purchased by the central bank increased under its quantitative and qualitative monetary easing policy. Instead, they have been rising to levels higher than those before the monetary easing.

A continuation of this trend could dilute the effects of monetary easing, putting a damper on firms’ capital investments as well as housing sales, which would result in a cooling down of the economy. The central bank must make all-out efforts to arrest rises in the interest rates.

Rising stock prices and a correction in the appreciation of the yen since autumn can be attributed to the early expectations for Abenomics. We hope the government will give a boost to the economic recovery with concrete measures to solidify market confidence in economic policies.

Abe’s strategy for economic growth, or the “third arrow” of Abenomics, is particularly important. To enhance the vigor of the private sector and achieve sustainable growth, it is essential to implement reforms to take on vested interests and change regulations that have prevented the entry of newcomers. Policy measures must also be taken to provide support in such areas as research and development.

We consider it important for the government to hammer out a bold policy and swiftly promote it.

Road map needed

Given the poor track record of the growth strategies of previous administrations, the government should draw up a road map to realize its growth strategy by establishing systems that are powerful enough to neutralize the negative effects that have resulted from the vertically segmented administrative structure of ministries and other government bodies.

Meanwhile, private companies--the main drivers of growth--should positively regard the fact that stock prices soared on prospects for recovery in their performance, backed by the yen’s ongoing depreciation.

How can they strengthen their profit-earning capacities by opening up new markets with creative and innovative efforts as well as a can-do spirit? They will be tested for their true abilities concerning aggressive business strategies.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 28, 2013)
(2013年5月28日01時19分  読売新聞)


新型ロケット 国際価格競争に勝てる開発を

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 27, 2013
New rocket must be developed to win competition in intl launch market
新型ロケット 国際価格競争に勝てる開発を(5月26日付・読売社説)

This country must not fall behind other nations in the development of new rockets, which has been progressing worldwide.

An expert panel of the Cabinet Office’s Office of National Space Policy, the body tasked with setting the nation’s space development policies, has worked out a plan that calls for the development of a large next-generation rocket to get into full swing in fiscal 2014.

The goal is to develop an easy-to-use domestically produced rocket that can be launched at a low cost.

The current domestically made large rocket, the H-2A, costs about 10 billion yen to launch. This is 20 to 30 percent higher than launch costs for large rockets overseas.

Lagging behind rivals

The result is that Japan has been performing poorly in the international competition for commercial contracts to launch private-sector satellites for such purposes as telecommunications and broadcasting.

Costs to launch satellites, including intelligence-gathering satellites that only Japan can launch because of national security concerns, are inevitably higher than in other countries with rocket-launching capabilities.

Development of a low-cost rocket should be considered an urgent task to help reinvigorate the nation’s space development industries and mitigate the government’s fiscal burden for space programs.

The United States, Europe, Russia and China have already begun developing next-generation rockets. This comes at a time when demand for launching satellites has been expanding in recent years in emerging economies in Asia, Africa and elsewhere.

The H-2A rocket is among the world’s best in terms of performance and boasts a 95.5 percent launch success rate.

The challenge facing Japan’s rocket development program is to cut launch costs while keeping the H-2A’s high performance.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. have jointly produced a blueprint for the development of a new rocket. The plan reportedly aims to cut current launch costs by half, to about 5 billion yen per launch.

JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries are working to develop a completely new engine, the most fundamental element of rocket design. To lower launch costs, the plan reportedly calls for studying the advisability of joint manufacture of engines with U.S. companies and others.

Under the space policy council’s plan, the first launch of the envisioned new rocket will take place in 2020, the year the other rocket-manufacturing countries have set to start launching their new rockets. Specifics of the nation’s rocket development program should be crystallized as promptly as possible.

The space policy expert panel has said the new rocket development project should be undertaken mainly by the private sector, and the involvement of JAXA should be minimized. This could considerably reduce the project’s costs in the aggregate, currently an estimated 190 billion yen, according to the panel.

Make best use of JAXA

Given the stringency of government finances, curbing rocket development expenses is vital.

However, rocket development always faces potential unforeseeable obstacles: If the private sector takes the lead in rocket development, it may be unable to solve such problems as unexpectedly high development expenses and harder-than-expected technical challenges.

JAXA has so far played the leading role in the nation’s space development programs, including its first satellite launch in 1970.

In the wake of the November 1999 failure to launch an H-2 rocket, the predecessor of the H-2A, JAXA effectively identified the causes of the failure and improved the rocket’s design, successfully upgrading its performance.

In light of this, a system should be created to address the development of the new rocket by suitably combining private- and public-sector strengths to exploit JAXA’s accumulated technology.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 26, 2013)
(2013年5月26日01時38分  読売新聞)


ミャンマー訪問 経済支援で日本の存在感を

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 28, 2013
Boost Japan's presence in Myanmar using leverage of economic aid
ミャンマー訪問 経済支援で日本の存在感を(5月27日付・読売社説)

Japan has come out with a massive assistance package for Myanmar, a Southeast Asian country pushing forward with democratization and economic reforms. This is part of Japan’s strategic arrangements for carving out a new market in Asia.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Myanmar and held talks Sunday with President Thein Sein in the capital, Naypyidaw.

Abe’s official visit is historic because it is the first to Myanmar by a Japanese prime minister in 36 years. The last prime minister to set foot there was Takeo Fukuda in 1977.

Abe praised the Myanmar president’s reform efforts, and said Japan is willing to “support Myanmar’s nation-building endeavors by extending all possible assistance from both the public and private sectors.”

Specifically, Abe pledged to forgive 300 billion yen of the debts Myanmar owes Japan, and offered 91 billion yen in official development assistance for such purposes as developing an industrial park that will become a hub for Japanese companies in the swiftly emerging country.

Abe as ‘top salesman’

Abe expressed the government’s readiness to work in tandem with the private sector to develop Myanmar’s infrastructure, such as a large electricity generation plant, an electricity supply grid and a high-speed communication network.

Following its transition to a democratic government in March 2011, Myanmar has been drawing attention from all over the world as an attractive investment destination. Competition has been intensifying between many nations, including the United States, seeking to make inroads into Myanmar’s market.

Abe has played the role of “top salesman” to help Japanese firms expand their business to Myanmar.

The Myanmar president was quoted as expressing gratitude for Japan’s generosity, and stressed the importance of investment in Myanmar by Japanese companies.

Blessed with an abundance of natural resources, including natural gas, and a high-quality labor force as well as high market growth potential, Myanmar has often been dubbed Asia’s “last frontier.”

Japan’s cooperation for improving Myanmar’s straggling infrastructure will likely give a major boost to the development of its economy.

Abe told reporters the government hopes “Japan’s infrastructure-related exports to Myanmar, like those to Russia and the Middle East, will lead to growth in Japan’s economy.” Myanmar will certainly figure prominently in the Abe administration’s growth strategy.

Abe also told the president that Japan intends to help Myanmar improve its legal system and enhance its human resources.

To ensure this wide-ranging economic assistance to Myanmar proves truly effective, improving that country’s legal system will be essential for creating an environment that attracts investment and for acquiring know-how about running businesses.

Abe’s commitment to a program under which about 1,000 young people from Myanmar are to be invited to Japan will be effective in this respect.

Both leaders reached an accord on bilateral cooperation for measures to eliminate poverty among Myanmar’s ethnic minorities. We hope the agreement paves the way for resolving human rights problems in Myanmar.

Bolstering security ties

In addition, the two leaders agreed to bolster bilateral security cooperation. The Maritime Self-Defense Force’s “training squadron” is expected to make a port call in Myanmar for the first time, a move that will activate security interchanges between the two countries. This is extremely significant.

Tucked between China and India, Myanmar sits in a geopolitically important area. In 2014, Myanmar will chair meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Strengthening ties with Myanmar, which has changed course from leaning toward China, is in line with Abe’s diplomatic stance that advocates democracy and freedom.

Pursuing this line should help hold in check a China that has become increasingly assertive both militarily and economically.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 27, 2013)
(2013年5月27日01時38分  読売新聞)


共通番号法成立 公正な社会保障へ大きな一歩

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 26, 2013
My Number step toward fair, effective way to manage social security system
共通番号法成立 公正な社会保障へ大きな一歩(5月25日付・読売社説)


The key foundation for the government to fairly and effectively impose taxes and provide social security benefits is finally set to be established.

It is vital to thoroughly inform people of the new system and make it conducive to improving convenience for the public.

At a plenary session Friday, the House of Councillors passed bills for the so-called My Number system, under which people will be given identification numbers. The bills were supported by three major parties--the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the Democratic Party of Japan--and other parties. With the legislation passed into law, the system will start operating in 2016.

Most developed countries already have similar numbering systems. Japan lagged in taking such a step, but we welcome the fact that a numbering system will be launched in Japan, too.

Public concerns eased

The My Number system is intended to allow administrative bodies to better manage social security and taxation information by issuing a number card with a facial photo and an IC chip to Japanese citizens.

Under the system, personal information about multiple subjects can be obtained simply with the individually assigned numbers. This is expected to improve the efficiency of administrative work.

The system can integrate records of people’s income and benefits they receive and premiums they pay for pension, health care and nursing care.

It is likely to help prevent failure to pay pension benefits and other administrative errors. To provide substantial administrative services, this system is essential.

The benefits are also significant for citizens, as they will not be required to submit documents such as residence and income certificates when applying for pension and other welfare benefits. The system will enable cardholders to check their own records of pension and tax payments on computers.

Previously, the introduction of such a system had met with criticism, with opponents saying personal information might not be secure. They also complained that a national code-number system would allow the uniform management of personal data by the government.

The My Number system bills were enacted in light of the stable operation of the Basic Resident Registration Network, or Juki Net, which was launched in 2002.

Juki Net, which enables the sharing of personal records nationwide by numbering all Japanese citizens, has improved public services for people and the efficiency of administrative work. For the more than 10 years since its introduction, the system has seen no serious information leaks or other trouble. This apparently has eased public concerns over the new system.

The new common number system will be set up based on Juki Net.

The fact that the DPJ, which had opposed the introduction of Juki Net, came to power in 2009 could be a big factor behind the legislation of the common number system. The administration of Yoshihiko Noda compiled bills for the system based on its policy of promoting integrated reform of the social security and tax systems, highlighting a consumption tax hike.

The bills cleared the Diet on Friday after being revised by the LDP, New Komeito and the DPJ. The three parties are responsible for pushing social security reforms together.

The application of the common number system will be limited to social security and tax procedures for the time being. Care must be taken in applying the system while attaching importance to protection of personal information.

Medical care applications

The convenience of the system can be further enhanced if its application is extended to medical care information.

Resident cards and clinical records were lost after local government offices and hospitals were damaged in the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011, hampering work to rescue disaster victims. If the common number system is used in such an event, access from anywhere in the country would make it possible to confirm victims’ medical history and provide adequate treatment promptly.

In ordinary times, use of the system would make it possible for patients to avoid duplication of examinations and medication at two or more hospitals. It would also help prevent the risk of prescribing two or more incompatible medicines to the same patient, which could cause dangerous interactions.

The government is studying a plan to introduce a system to cap each household’s expenses for medical treatment, nursing care and child care, thereby curbing their copayments. The common number system is indispensable to achieve this goal.

The new law stipulates that expansion of the range for application will be studied three years after the law is enforced. The government must strive to realize an effective application of the system.

In the United States, where the Social Security number system is in place, a number of scams have occurred in which numbers were stolen to take out loans in identity-theft crimes.

And in South Korea, resident registration numbers were leaked via the Internet, resulting in a number of cases of fraud in which identity thieves bought things using others’ numbers.

In both cases, insufficient effort was made to ensure proper identification to protect against identity theft.

A credible system eyed

Drawing a lesson from these cases, the government must work out countermeasures.

To help prevent identity theft and other crimes, the new law stipulates that individual number cards with ID photos should be presented for over-the-counter identification. The law also stipulates penalties for those who leak information outside.

As a third-party organization with a high degree of independence, a specific personal information protection commission will be established. The planned body will have strong investigative authority and be empowered to issue recommendations and orders if irregularities are discovered.

All possible measures must be taken to ensure adequate management of personal information so that the common numbering system will be trusted by the people.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 25, 2013)
(2013年5月25日01時15分  読売新聞)


日本版NSC 情報収集・分析力も強化せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 25, 2013
Info-gathering, analysis capability must be bolstered in creating NSC
日本版NSC 情報収集・分析力も強化せよ(5月24日付・読売社説)

It has been noted for many years that the existing Security Council of Japan exists as a mere formality.

A control tower to discuss and lead the nation’s diplomatic and security policies must be created quickly.

The government has disclosed a draft of a bill to establish a National Security Council, or a Japanese version of the U.S. NSC.

The pillar of the planned legislation is a regular meeting of the prime minister, chief cabinet secretary, foreign minister and defense minister. The Japanese National Security Council must be recognized as the decision-making body for Japan’s diplomatic and national security strategies, according to the draft.

Periodic talks essential

The framework of the current Security Council of Japan, comprising the prime minister and eight other Cabinet members, would remain intact and deliberate the fundamentals of security policies and related issues, the draft says.

Depending on the matters concerned, a meeting of six or seven Cabinet members, or one made up of the four key ministers, plus such members as the land, infrastructure, transport and tourism minister and the national public security commission chairman, would take place anytime it is needed, according to the draft.
The government plans to submit the bill to the Diet in early June.

It is considerably difficult for the current council, which consists of as many as nine members, to have in-depth, substantive discussions and reach swift conclusions.

Although there have been unofficial meetings of the four key Cabinet members, the envisioned legislation for giving conferences statutory status as an official organ is significant.

On the occasion of launching the government-envisaged NSC, it will be important to solidly establish such arrangements as having major Cabinet members consult periodically, about once every two weeks, to craft strategies and policies from a medium- and long-term perspective as well as comprehensive points of view. All government ministries and agencies concerned will need to fully coordinate to support the NSC.

In addition, the posts of the chief cabinet secretary, foreign minister and defense minister must always be filled by highly competent individuals. These important posts should also come with guaranteed term lengths to ensure the right people are in place should they be needed.

The practical operations of crisis management, such as those for coping with emergencies, would be left not to the secretariat of the NSC, but continue to be the responsibility of the Cabinet Secretariat headed by the deputy chief cabinet secretary for crisis management, according to the draft.

It makes sense that the draft says the NSC would not be in charge of dealing with such matters as a massive domestic disaster.

However, as far as issues relating to the country’s diplomacy and security, such as the hostage crisis in Algeria in January and a North Korea missile launch, are concerned, the NSC secretariat should work closely with the the deputy chief cabinet secretary for crisis management.

National security and intelligence capabilities are inextricably linked together. To beef up the quality of security policies, the enhancement of information-gathering and analysis capabilities is crucial. The government must buckle down and foster experts in intelligence activities.

Learn lessons from Iraq War

The draft has called for the appointment of “information liaison officers” at government organizations concerned, including the foreign and defense ministries and police and public security agencies, making it obligatory that they provide information to the NSC.

Japan’s intelligence organizations have long been mocked as being “unable to pass information to superiors, share it with other bodies or keep it from leaking.”

This points to the problems of failing to have important information conveyed to the Prime Minister’s Office, not sharing information with other government entities, and not preventing leaks.

By drawing lessons from the failure of the United States in starting a war with Iraq, the government, while abiding by the principle of separation of policy formulation and information analysis, must firmly build a system to ensure prompt conveyance of information.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 24, 2013)
(2013年5月24日01時02分  読売新聞)


中国潜水艦潜航 海自の警戒能力向上が急務だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 24, 2013
Reinforcing MSDF's antisub patrol capability urgent task
中国潜水艦潜航 海自の警戒能力向上が急務だ(5月23日付・読売社説)

We would like to ask China to refrain from taking any more actions that would unnecessarily heighten Japan-China military tensions, even if they do not violate international laws.

A series of incidents have taken place this month in which submarines believed to belong to the Chinese Navy conducted submerged passages in the contiguous zone near the Nansei Islands. Japan confirmed a passage on May 2 off Amami-Oshima island, Kagoshima Prefecture, and another off Kumejima island, Okinawa Prefecture, on May 12-13. The Defense Ministry has announced the incidents without identifying the country to which the submarines belong.

It was an unusual response to such incidents, since revealing the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s submarine detection capability violates common sense from a military viewpoint. We believe the Japanese government was trying to send a warning to China.

However, it was revealed that a third submerged navigation incident took place off Minami-Daitojima island, Okinawa Prefecture, last Sunday. The warning proved to be ineffective.

International law requires submarines to remain on the surface when operating in territorial waters of other countries. But they are allowed to submerge when operating in contiguous zones. If a submarine of another nation enters Japan’s territorial waters while submerged, the Japanese government will order the MSDF to conduct maritime policing activity, as such an action constitutes an emergency.

Since Japan’s nationalization of three of the Senkaku Islands in September last year, official Chinese vessels have repeatedly intruded into Japanese territorial waters. Chinese Navy vessels even locked weapons-guiding radar on an MSDF helicopter and a destroyer.

Aiming at maritime power

China’s intermediate- and long-term objectives are to become a “great maritime power” and expand its territories and maritime interests. It intends to do this by expanding the Chinese Navy’s maritime activity area to the western Pacific, which lies outside its “first island chain” perimeter linking Okinawa Prefecture, Taiwan and other major archipelagoes.

The submerged passage incidents this month are believed to be part of its “anti-access/area denial (A2/AD)” strategy, under which China aims to prevent U.S. military deployment, including aircraft carriers, inside the first island chain. They are also considered to be related to China’s provocative actions around the Senkaku Islands.

China’s self-righteous expansionism has invited negative reactions from the international community. Consequently, the philosophy has not benefitted the country. China must seriously grasp the reality and coolheadedly review its strategy.

And Japan must urgently beef up further patrol and surveillance activities against Chinese submarines by the MSDF’s P-3C Orion patrol aircraft and submarines.

The MSDF plans to gradually replace the aging P-3Cs to new P-1 anti-sub patrol aircraft and increase its submarine fleet from the current 16 to 22 in the near future.

Beef up quality, quantity

Taking into consideration the Chinese Navy’s rapid equipment buildup and modernization, as well as its excessive provocations against Japan, the priority in the new National Defense Program Guidelines to be compiled at the year’s end must be to reinforce MSDF and Air Self-Defense Force equipment and personnel in both quality and quantity.

Furthermore, the Defense Ministry must advance its schedule for introducing the Global Hawk high-altitude unmanned reconnaissance drone.

Joint Japan-U.S. patrol and surveillance activities using the drone will lessen burdens on the MSDF and ASDF, which are operating at full capacity around the Nansei Islands. Such activities will also improve the SDF capabilities for high-level duties, including the detection of submarines.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 23, 2013)
(2013年5月23日01時14分  読売新聞)


女性の幹部登用 「なでしこ銘柄」増やしたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 23, 2013
Japan needs more companies that cherish their female workers
女性の幹部登用 「なでしこ銘柄」増やしたい(5月22日付・読売社説)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has trumpeted women’s active involvement in the workforce as a pillar of the government’s growth strategy. He aims to better utilize women’s abilities to invigorate the nation’s economy.

Abe specifically asked for cooperation from the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) and other organizations in urging all listed companies to appoint at least one female executive. Behind the request was Abe’s awareness that women’s participation in corporate management will also be conducive to companies’ growth.

However, this will be easier said than done. In Japan, many companies remain reluctant to appoint women to managerial positions. Women fill about 40 percent of managerial and higher positions at companies and the public sector in other advanced countries, including the United States, France and Britain. This is far higher than Japan’s figure of about 12 percent.

If nothing is done, it will be difficult to achieve the government’s goal of raising the proportion of women in leading positions in every field of society to at least about 30 percent by 2020.

‘Nadeshiko issues’

The reaction by stock exchanges to the government’s request merits attention. They urged listed companies to disclose their number of female executives in the corporate governance reports they require the companies to submit.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Law came into effect in 1986. Women hired for fast-track career positions at that time--part of what has often been called the “equal law generation”--have now climbed to senior positions in their companies.

We believe it is necessary to appoint capable career female workers to executive posts, rather than simply relying on bringing in human resources from outside.

In February, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry and the Tokyo Stock Exchange selected and announced the names of listed companies--including Kao Corp. and Toray Industries, Inc.--that excellently utilize their human resources by, for example, creating a better environment for women to continue working. These companies are called “Nadeshiko issues.”

“Nadeshiko issues” can be a guide for investors to evaluate a company’s business administration ability to make maximum use of its human resources, as well as its ability to adapt to changes in the business environment.

This new description gained traction after the Abe Cabinet took over proposals made by an expert panel during the administration of former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and made a request to the stock exchange. Fully using women in the workforce is an issue that every administration must address.

Longer child care leave

Last month, Abe asked leaders of business associations to let women take child care leave for up to three years. The current Child-rearing and Nursing Care Leave Law allows for one year of leave in principle and a maximum of 1-1/2 years. Abe called on companies to voluntarily extend this period.

Extended child care leave would give working women more options, and is one way to help them balance child-rearing and career. However, three years of child care leave will increase costs for companies, and some women fear it could negatively impact on their career and reduce their income. How can these problems be overcome?

The government also should steadily deal with the problem of long waiting lists for children to enroll in licensed day care centers. Setting up more such facilities for children aged 0 to 2, demand for which is especially high, would be one place to start.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 22, 2013)
(2013年5月22日01時31分  読売新聞)


シェールガス 米国産輸入で高値買い是正を

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 22, 2013
Shale gas imports from U.S. to help remedy expensive LNG purchases
シェールガス 米国産輸入で高値買い是正を(5月21日付・読売社説)

The United States, which has seen a buoyant “shale gas revolution,” will open the way for the export of inexpensive natural gas to Japan.

In the wake of the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, almost all of the nation’s nuclear reactors have remained idle. Given that Japan has to depend on thermal power generation, it is an important step to diversify the origins from which it imports the fuel for this.

The U.S. Energy Department has authorized the export of liquefied natural gas by a Texas company, in which Chubu Electric Power Co. and Osaka Gas Co. are participants. Under the project, natural gas, including shale gas extracted from subterranean bedrock, will be liquefied and exported.

Chubu Electric and Osaka Gas reportedly plan to export up to 4.4 million tons of LNG annually from 2017. The amount is equivalent to 5 percent of Japan’s overall LNG imports.

The United States, in principle, had barred LNG exports to nations that it did not have a free trade agreement with, including Japan.

It is significant, however, that the United States authorized the exports to Japan for the first time as an exception. It was likely judged that increases in domestic prices in the United States could be avoided even if it exports the gas to Japan. This is because prospects on the supply and demand balance have eased due to sharp increases in production thanks to the shale gas revolution.

TPP may have swayed decision

Also aided by Japan’s decision to participate in Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral trade negotiations, the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama likely attached weight to Japan-U.S. relations.

Enjoying the benefits of the shale gas revolution, Japan now will be able to obtain cheap gas.

The price of LNG Japan imports from Qatar and other nations is about 17 dollars per million BTU (British thermal unit), which is four times higher than the price in North America.

Japan, which has yet to reactivate idled nuclear reactors, has been forced to purchase LNG at high prices, referred to as a “Japan premium,” as producer nations are taking advantage of Japan’s situation. The trade deficit, which reached a record high of more than 8 trillion yen in fiscal 2012, is mainly attributed to LNG imports.

Gas brings negotiating power

If the nation imports gas produced in the United States, the price will be cheaper at about 10 dollars, even with liquefaction and transport costs included. Japan also can expect to take an advantageous position in LNG price negotiations with nations in the Middle East and other areas, using cooperation with the United States as a bargaining chip.

In the United States, the Mitsubishi Corp. and Mitsui & Co. consortium as well as Sumitomo Corp. have been participating in natural gas development projects. The public and private sectors should join together to lobby for early authorization of export projects involving these companies so that Japan could further correct the problem of expensive LNG purchases.

It will take about four years for imports of natural gas from the United States to begin. Unless nuclear reactors are reactivated, the situation will remain unchanged as the nation will continue to depend on thermal power generation for the time being, having no choice but to face high fuel costs.

To stem the outflow of national wealth, the government needs to steadily reactivate nuclear reactors whose safety has been confirmed. The nation must create a comprehensive strategy for a stable supply of energy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 21, 2013)
(2013年5月21日01時25分  読売新聞)


飯島氏の訪朝 「拉致」解決へ糸口つかめるか

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 21, 2013
Can Iijima's trip to North Korea be conducive to solving abduction issue?
飯島氏の訪朝 「拉致」解決へ糸口つかめるか(5月20日付・読売社説)

Is there any chance of finding a toehold to break the long-standing impasse on the problem of Japanese abducted by North Korean agents? The effectiveness of the diplomatic strategy of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration is now being tested over the issue.

Isao Iijima, special adviser to the Cabinet Secretariat, who visited North Korea from Tuesday to Friday, briefed Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga after he returned on Saturday about his trip to Pyongyang. Iijima told the chief government spokesman he held “frank discussions” with senior North Korean officials.

Among them was Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and the country’s No. 2 leader. During the meetings, Iijima was quoted as saying that Japan “will not move an inch until the abductions involving Japanese citizens are resolved.”

N. Korea moves unpredictable

His visit to North Korea was presumably on behalf of Abe, who has publicly said the abduction problem “must be absolutely resolved under my Cabinet.”

Iijima served as policy secretary for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and accompanied him on his 2002 and 2004 visits to North Korea. Abe has confidence in Iijima, who has been involved for years in North Korean diplomacy.

In 2008, Pyongyang, in working-level talks between Japan and North Korea, committed to the timely launch of a committee for the reinvestigation of Japanese abductees. North Korea, however, failed to live up to its commitment.

In November last year, bilateral discussions resumed for the first time in four years under the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but subsequent sessions have been on hold following the North’s test firing of a long-range ballistic missile.

The government has demanded all abductees be returned immediately, full information be disclosed about the abductions, and that all perpetrators be handed over to Japan. There is no telling how Pyongyang will react as it has reiterated that the abduction issue “has already been resolved.”

The government, for its part, must closely watch Pyongyang’s moves and independently develop diplomatic policies toward North Korea.

One concern is the fact that Iijima’s surprise visit, which the Japanese government arranged in absolute secrecy, was leaked to the media by North Korea immediately after Iijima arrived in Pyongyang.

While the prime minister declined to comment on Iijima’s trip, North Korea treated him very well, as if flaunting his visit, publicizing in detail what he did every day. There can be no denying that the trip was exploited by North Korea.

Was Iijima accompanied by an interpreter from Japan? Have records of the content of talks he had with North Korean officials been made available to the Japanese government? Wasn’t his visit linked to the issue of auctioning the headquarters building in Tokyo of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon)?

There are many questions like these regarding Iijima’s visit.

Bid to divide alliance

In giving the green-light to Iijima’s visit, North Korea may have aimed at probing the internal affairs of the Abe Cabinet. At the same time, Pyongyang may have been trying to drive a wedge between Japan, the United States and South Korea, which are set to increase pressure on North Korea.

Glyn Davies, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy who was in Japan last week, said, “We knew that North Korea would eventually shift their strategy to that of seeking engagement in an effort to split us.” Japan must not give North Korea even the smallest chance of taking advantage of any development in foreign relations.

The government should redouble efforts to keep international cooperation over North Korea’s missile development ambitions intact, while steadily working to resolve the abduction issue.

The Abe administration is urged to produce positive results in addressing these difficult challenges.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 20, 2013)
(2013年5月20日01時20分  読売新聞)


北極海の開発 資源や航路で戦略的関与を

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 20, 2013
Japan should strategically engage in discussions on Arctic development
北極海の開発 資源や航路で戦略的関与を(5月19日付・読売社説)

As an increasing number of countries have clearly demonstrated their interest in the commercial and military potential of the Arctic Ocean, the government should unite relevant parties to draw up a national strategy on the region.

In Sweden, the Arctic Council comprising the United States, Russia and Nordic countries held a ministerial meeting last week for the first time in two years. The council has admitted six countries, including Japan, China and South Korea, as observers.

The Arctic Council is a forum for discussing and coordinating development of the Arctic and protecting its environment. Japan was granted observer status based on its internationally recognized contributions to environmental research and observation of the region. It is significant to be allowed to participate in the council’s meetings as an observer. This will serve Japan’s interests as a maritime nation.

Potential for new routes

Since the amount of sea ice has been decreasing every year due to global warming, many countries are focused on whether new regular routes connecting Asia and Europe can be opened in the Arctic Ocean.

In December, a tanker of a company related to the Russian government transported liquefied natural gas produced in Norway to Kitakyushu in Fukuoka Prefecture. This was the world’s first instance of LNG transportation via an Arctic route.

If such routes become regularly available, Japan will benefit from a reduced navigation distance to and from Europe, as Arctic channels are about 40 percent shorter than those using the Suez Canal.

However, ships will face a higher risk of grounding in the Arctic Ocean because it is shallow. Vessels will also have to depend mainly on Russian ports for rescue activities in case of contingencies.

On the pretext of preventing accidents, Russia is gaining commercial control of Arctic routes by, for example, obliging ships traveling on them to pay to have icebreakers lead their vessels.

Japan should carefully assess whether stable navigation can be ensured on the routes and if so, if it is worthwhile to use them.

Abundant energy resources such as natural gas and crude oil at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean also make the region very attractive.

Exploitation of such resources in the frigid sea will be an extremely large-scale state project. Countries have already begun bargaining for commercial use of the resources in the future. Japan, too, must enhance cooperation between the government and private sector to study the issue.

Role in national security

It is worrying, however, that Russia, which has been pursuing a policy of southward advancement for decades, may start utilizing the Arctic routes for national defense.

There is a possibility Moscow could reinforce its Pacific fleet, including nuclear submarines, and intensify its activities in Northeast Asia.

The United States also declared it vital to expand national security interests in the Arctic, and has unveiled a strategy defining development of the region as beneficial to the country. Additionally, Beijing is escalating activities to secure its own maritime interests.

Japan cannot afford to stand on the sidelines of this issue. If more countries begin frequently using Arctic routes, the Soya, Tsugaru and Tsushima straits will become important gateways to China, Russia and other countries.

Other nations’ actions regarding the Arctic Ocean should also be closely monitored in the interest of national security.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 19, 2013)
(2013年5月19日01時11分  読売新聞)


農業の成長戦略 「所得倍増」へ農地集積を急げ

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 19, 2013
Farmland integration needed to double income of farmers in light of TPP entry
農業の成長戦略 「所得倍増」へ農地集積を急げ(5月18日付・読売社説)

How should Japan revitalize its agriculture to prepare for further market liberalization? The government is likely to face a test on whether its efforts to turn the nation’s agricultural sector from one centering on small farms into one featuring more highly productive large-scale agricultural businesses will prove viable.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday unveiled aggressive agricultural reform plans under the second part of his growth strategy.

“We’ll definitely carry out agricultural structural reform this time around,” Abe said. “Without farmland integration, we can’t improve productivity.”

We believe his envisaged reform is on the right course.

The reform plans feature a new intermediate system for farmland, which Abe called a farmland integration bank. The Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry is aiming to launch the system as soon as possible.

Govt eyes new farmland body

The plans call for prefectural agricultural public corporations, which currently handle trading of farmland, to be given greater authority and transformed into a new public body that will manage farmland. The body would lease farmland from small farmers and others and introduce it to potential tenants--farmers seeking to expand farming business and agricultural corporations.

In the past 20 years, deserted farmland doubled to a total area almost equivalent to that of Shiga Prefecture. This is a serious matter.

The focal point of the reform is whether the new system will be able to foster large farmers.

The failure to find tenants would mean the new body would need to pay rent for the farmland. It would also have to cover the cost of maintenance and management of the land as well as the development of irrigation systems.

In this case, it is estimated the body would have to shoulder hundreds of billions of yen a year in costs. If this intermediate program proves unsuccessful, it would end up injecting massive public funds without producing results.

To secure farmland tenants, it is essential that the government draw up a measure to encourage companies and other entities to enter the agricultural sector. The body will also need to offer prime farmland, which can be integrated easily.

Unless the government reviews the role of its agricultural panel tasked with leasing and trading of farmland, the panel could become an obstacle to farmland integration.

As long as the prime minister regards agriculture as a key sector in his growth strategy, we urge the farm ministry to devise effective systems that may encroach on the vested interests of entities such as agricultural cooperatives.

In announcing the next stage of his economic policy, Abe set a goal of doubling farming income during a 10-year period. This is an ambitious goal that will require efforts also by farmers and other players in the sector, propelled by effective measures.

Measures should be consistent

Meanwhile, questions have been raised about the Liberal Democratic Party’s move to consider expanding the current income-support program for certain farming households, such as rice producers, and launching a new program to provide all farmers who maintain farmland with subsidies.

If even small farmers are eligible to receive subsidies, the government is unlikely to find farmers willing to lease their farmland. We believe measures that could hamper the government’s initiative in farmland integration should be reviewed.

For a long time, the government has failed to expand domestic farmland. Ahead of Japan’s entry into talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact, the government must speed up work on agricultural reform.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 18, 2013)
(2013年5月18日01時17分  読売新聞)


「もんじゅ」 安全意識の抜本改革が必要だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 18, 2013
JAEA must drastically improve its safety awareness on Monju
「もんじゅ」 安全意識の抜本改革が必要だ(5月17日付・読売社説)

The de facto “operation ban” to be ordered for the prototype fast-breeder reactor is extremely serious.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority has decided to order the Japan Atomic Energy Agency to suspend preparations for resuming operations at its trouble-plagued prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju in Fukui Prefecture. The decision was made because of slipshod inspections of the reactor.

The JAEA, which operates Monju, reported to the Secretariat of the NRA in January this year that the agency had failed to check about 10,000 parts of the reactor during its inspections. Furthermore, the secretariat’s on-site inspection later found the agency had even failed to check important equipment such as an emergency power device.

Inspections of equipment are fundamental to ensuring safety. The JAEA, which is the core organization for nuclear research in this country, seems to have adopted a laissez-faire attitude toward the basics.

It is inevitable for the agency to come under severe criticism.

Monju is a key reactor for development of a nuclear fuel cycle to effectively utilize uranium resources.

The reactor, however, was suspended for more than 10 years due to a sodium coolant leak in 1995 shortly after a test operation. Operations were resumed in 2010, but were suspended once more after a nuclear fuel in-vessel transfer machine fell. Many people are expressing doubts about the cost of the reactor as a budget of nearly 1 trillion yen has been spent on it so far.

The agency must handle the reactor in a way that does not cause the public to further lose trust in it.

Unbelievable remark

Despite the situation, JAEA President Atsuyuki Suzuki reportedly said during the NRA Secretariat’s hearings, “It is inevitable for mistakes to be made while we carry out formalities.”

This is an unbelievable statement as it comes from an expert who once served as chairman of the now-defunct Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. He seems to have little sense of responsibility in ensuring the safety of nuclear power.

Were there no problems in the frequency and methods of the inspections? The activities of the agency should be thoroughly examined to clarify where the problems lie. It is also important to verify whether adequate funds were appropriately secured to ensure optimal allocation of staff, as well as for the inspections.

With the idling of Monju, criticism has been raised over the research and development of nuclear power and the nuclear fuel cycle. Under the circumstances, measures must be put in place to keep up the morale of the Monju and related staff.

Nuclear fuel cycle

Asked about the nuclear fuel cycle at a meeting of the House of Councillors Budget Committee on Monday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: “Japan possesses a high level of nuclear fuel cycle technology. Japan will cooperate with other countries to continue to promote the cycle.”

This is a reasonable view if we consider it from the standpoint of the energy security of Japan, a resource-thirsty country.

Abe also pointed out, “Each country has been struggling with how to handle spent nuclear fuel.” A fast-breeder reactor can efficiently burn radioactive substances in spent nuclear fuel. This specific reactor should be positioned as the main pillar of the nuclear fuel cycle.

The NRA reportedly will not lift its suspension order until the JAEA confirms it has undergone organizational reforms. To avoid the operation ban being prolonged, the NRA must give the JAEA concrete instructions on what reforms it should carry out to ensure Monju’s operations resume in the near future.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 17, 2013)
(2013年5月17日01時16分  読売新聞)


橋下氏発言 女性の尊厳踏みにじる不見識

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 17, 2013
Hashimoto's remarks affront to women, reveal ignorance
橋下氏発言 女性の尊厳踏みにじる不見識(5月16日付・読売社説)

It was a statement that made us doubt his common sense and dignity as a public figure.

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) coleader Toru Hashimoto recently told reporters that so-called comfort women were “necessary to maintain discipline in the military forces at that time” by deterring rapes by soldiers.

Furthermore, Hashimoto revealed that he advised a senior officer of the U.S. forces in Japan to let soldiers “actively utilize” sex-related services.

On Wednesday, Hashimoto offered the clarification that he “never said the system is necessary now.” And it may be true, as Hashimoto said, that similar systems to provide sexual services were used during the war by armies other than the defunct Imperial Japanese Army.

Nevertheless, it is inevitable that loudly arguing that comfort women were necessary for the military would be seen as making light of women’s dignity.

Strong opposition

It is natural that strong opposition was raised against Hashimoto’s remarks, including from Tomomi Inada, state minister in charge of administrative reform. “I believe the comfort women system violated the human rights of women,” Inada said.

Hashimoto made the statement to the press in connection with the stance of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet concerning its recognition of history.

A 1993 statement by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono concerning the comfort women issue contains expressions indicating that Japanese administrative and military authorities forcibly recruited women as comfort women in an organized manner. His comments were not based on any official or historical materials.

Such expressions, which may invite misunderstandings, need a review based on facts.

Irresponsible attitude

Hashimoto advocates a review of the Kono statement. However, to accept the existence of comfort women during wartime as “necessary” may conversely spread misunderstanding on the issue internationally.

Hashimoto criticized the Japanese government over its handling of the comfort women issue, as the government maintains the problem was legally settled with the 1965 Treaty of Basic Relations between Japan and South Korea. He also said “due consideration must be given” to former comfort women.

However, it is irresponsible for Hashimoto to advance such an argument without suggesting concrete measures.

Meanwhile, the statement about actively utilizing sex-related businesses was advice given to a senior officer of the U.S. forces stationed in Japan when Hashimoto recently visited Okinawa Prefecture.

Hashimoto told the senior officer that handling soldiers’ sexual desires is an important subject for the military in any era and suggested actively utilizing legal sex-related services in Japan.

The senior officer replied that such activity was prohibited by U.S. forces and closed the subject, according to Hashimoto.

Hashimoto lacks understanding of the disciplinary rules of the U.S. military. Such a statement was probably taken as an insult to U.S. forces in Japan.

Women’s dignity is strongly respected in U.S. society. Among history-related issues in Japan, the U.S. public has turned an especially stern eye on the comfort women issue.

It is only natural that people in Okinawa Prefecture and elsewhere have criticized his remarks as reckless statements that treat women like implements.

We cannot help but question why Hashimoto had to make such a proposal and why he had to publicly announce it.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 16, 2013)
(2013年5月16日01時46分  読売新聞)


卵子提供の仲介 子供を守る法整備に踏み出せ

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 16, 2013
Legal framework needed to protect children born from donated ova
卵子提供の仲介 子供を守る法整備に踏み出せ(5月15日付・読売社説)

The number of children born to women who have undergone reproductive treatment is on the rise. The government should begin creating a legal framework to protect such children.

Three women, suffering from infertility due to congenital or other conditions, will receive ova from third-party donors. This will be the first time women will receive ova from third-party donors through an intermediate organization.

When a nonprofit organization, mainly comprising infertile patients and their families and doctors, asked for ova donations, more than 40 people responded, according to the NPO.

At a press conference this week, the NPO read a message of gratitude from a prospective recipient, and quoted an egg donor as saying, "I'm happy to help someone who's suffering."

We can understand the feelings of people who want to help women wishing to have children.

Don't ignore problems

However, a number of potential problems arising from infertility treatment must not be overlooked. First, births from donated ova are expected to complicate family relationships. A child born via reproductive treatment will have two mothers--the mother who gives birth and the "genetic mother" who donates the ova.

Although the Supreme Court has previously ruled that a woman who gives birth is the child's mother, there is no relevant law. To prevent friction over inheritance and other family issues, legal arrangements must be made to clarify parental relationships for children born after reproductive treatment.

Ensuring children's right to learn about their birth also is an important issue that must be addressed.

The NPO has drawn up a set of rules that call for donors' addresses, names and other personal data to be disclosed if the children of recipients request such information when they turn 15. We believe a system should be created to have a public body strictly manage such personal information over the long term.

From an ethical standpoint, regulations on the egg donation business are also needed.

Following the NPO's announcement of the ova donations, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Norihisa Tamura said: "We'll take our time to consider this issue. We haven't reached the point of setting up a study panel as there are so many opinions to consider."

Government slow to act

This position would allow reproductive treatment using donated ova to spread without a legal framework.

In 1998, a doctor in Nagano Prefecture conducted the nation's first in vitro fertilization using donated ova. In 2003, a health ministry council compiled a report that gave the green light to egg donations.

However, in the 10 years since then, a legal framework for ova donations has yet to be created.

In the meantime, more than 80 children have been born through in vitro fertilization using ova donated from recipients' families and friends. A growing number of couples also received ova overseas.

Without any regulations, children born with donated ova may face obstacles when they grow up. The government must act quickly to make the necessary legal arrangements.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 15, 2013)
(2013年5月15日01時35分  読売新聞)


サイバー対話 攻撃抑止へ日米協力を深めよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 15, 2013
Japan must deepen cooperation with U.S. to deter cyber-attacks
サイバー対話 攻撃抑止へ日米協力を深めよ(5月14日付・読売社説)

A string of serious cyber-attacks and cyberterrorism incidents have occurred around the world. The government should promote extensive cooperation with the United States and reinforce its countermeasures against such attacks.

The Japanese and U.S. governments recently held their first bilateral "cyber dialogue." They released a joint statement saying they would cooperate comprehensively to defend such critical infrastructure as telecommunication networks, financial systems and electricity supplies, and to establish international rules on cyber-issues.

Both sides agreed to hold a second meeting this autumn and to deepen their dialogue.

Bilateral cooperation in the new field of cyberspace security will help both nations deepen the Japan-U.S. alliance as a whole, just as cooperation on space and maritime security has done. We hope cooperation in the new field will steadily take shape.

The threat is real

In March this year, several financial institutions and TV stations in South Korea came under a cyber-attack that caused massive disruptions to users of automated teller machines and personal computers. The South Korean government later concluded the attack had been the work of a North Korean intelligence agency.

Japan should not treat this incident as "a fire on the other side of the river." Major players in the nation's defense industry, such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd., as well as courts and government organizations have already been targeted by cyber-attacks.

It is imperative that Japan share an awareness of the threat posed by the latest cyber-attack and reinforce its defenses through exchanges of information and cooperation with the United States, a "leading nation in cyberspace."

Japan also needs to earnestly foster professional engineers in this field and strengthen the protection of infrastructure through joints efforts by the government and private sector.

Working out international rules will be an important task in the days ahead.

Last year, the United Nations established an expert panel on cyberspace security, and 15 countries, including Japan, the United States and Britain, began talks on an international code of conduct.

In the United States and European countries, the application of international laws of war and the right of collective self-defense against cyber-attacks have been discussed.

It is important for Japan to cooperate with the countries concerned, including the United States, and get involved in drawing up the international rules.

Stand united against China

The Defense Ministry plans to establish what has tentatively been called the "cyberspace defense corps" in the Self-Defense Forces in spring next year.

Under what sort circumstances will the government be able to invoke the right of self-defense and switch the primary responsibility for repelling cyber-attacks to the SDF from police authorities? Study of such issues from a legal perspective will be needed.

In an annual report released last week on military and security developments involving China, the U.S. Defense Department singled Beijing out for criticism by stating that last year numerous computer systems were targeted for intrusions, "some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military."

It is vital for the international community to stand united in guiding China into abiding by international rules, just as it must on security issues in the East China Sea and South China Sea.

It is also significant that the latest Japan-U.S. dialogue was attended by officials not only from the Foreign Ministry, but from other government bodies including the Cabinet Secretariat, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, the Defense Ministry and the National Police Agency.

In working out and implementing measures against cyber-attacks, it is important for ministries and agencies concerned to act as a single team by sharing relevant information, rather than getting bogged down by bureaucratic sectionalism.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 14, 2013)
(2013年5月14日01時37分  読売新聞)


香山リカのココロの万華鏡:「待ち疲れ」ならぬように /東京

May 12, 2013(Mainichi Japan)
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Waiting on benefits from 'Abenomics' can bring stress
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:「待ち疲れ」ならぬように /東京

Major tour companies announced before this past "Golden Week" holiday period that the number of Japanese expected to travel during the period was a record high. Experts said this is because the economic mood in Japan has been recovering thanks to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policies, known as "Abenomics." I think the point here is that Japan's economy, or people's incomes, aren't actually improving, but rather their "mood" about the economy is gaining a lift.

Meanwhile, weekly magazines are saying only some people are becoming richer under the Abenomics scheme and the economic bubble will burst before most people can benefit from it. They warn that people's lives may become even more difficult. If that is true, we can't be too optimistic that our salaries will increase just because stock prices are on the rise.

So far I haven't heard any of my patients claiming they are making a fortune because of Abenomics. Instead, I am hearing the usual negative stories such as "I can't make ends meet with my pay from my part-time job," "I was laid off" and "I have to let go of my house because I can't pay the mortgage."

Although the media is reporting that large firms are making profits, I suspect most of us are just waiting, half excited and half worried, to see how Abenomics will affect our lives.

Of course, it's better than not having any hope at all, but there is a limit to "just waiting." There was an old Japanese song that portrayed a mother waiting for her son to come home from a battle field for 10 years. However, that is a rare case. For how long in general do we have to wait? Just waiting alone can cause stress. It can cause even greater stress when there is a possibility of not receiving any benefits from Abenomics.

Those who are waiting with hope of getting a raise in their pay at their part-time job, just like stock prices, will be disappointed when they realize that their lives are not getting any easier. Then they may gradually become psychologically unstable due to stress caused by waiting. By the time they give up on waiting, many in society may have fallen into a crisis.
 「株価がどんどん上がっている。私は株を持っていないが、今にきっとバイト代も上がるはず」と、楽しみに待っている人も「あれ? まだ生活が苦しいままだぞ」と疑問を抱くようになり、「いつまで待てばいいのか」と、次第に待つストレスから気持ちが不安定になっていく。そのうち、「待ってもダメみたい」とあきらめが生じる頃には社会全体がパニックになるかもしれない。

Because people's expectations of Abenomics have been growing, I think it is time for the government to indicate just how long people will have to wait until their salaries and lives will improve and tell them what they should work on until then. I don't want to see people lining up at my clinic because they got depressed waiting.

(Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
毎日新聞 2013年05月06日 地方版


企業決算 好調自動車と苦境電機の明暗

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 13, 2013
Despite strong FY12 results, firms should seek new business strategy
企業決算 好調自動車と苦境電機の明暗(5月12日付・読売社説)

The weaker yen and other economic factors have helped many Japanese companies achieve solid financial results. Now, their ability to implement aggressive strategies that can enhance their core businesses and promote growth stands to be tested.

Many companies listed on the First Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange recently announced their consolidated settlements of accounts for fiscal 2012, and their average earnings are projected to grow for the first time in two fiscal years. It is also notable that several firms project a large or record increase in profits in fiscal 2013, which ends next March.

Many of those companies have overcome challenges such as damage caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 and massive floods in Thailand that inundated their factories the same year. Correction of the yen's excessive appreciation due to Abenomics, the economic policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government, and other measures have had tremendous effects on the improved earnings. Personal consumption has also embarked on a gradual path toward recovery.

We commend these improvements in the business environment that have led to increased profitability.

Automakers leading recovery

A prime example of the economic upswing is the auto industry.

Toyota Motor Corp. reported its operating profit in fiscal 2012 reached 1.3 trillion yen, 3.7 times higher than the previous fiscal year and exceeding 1 trillion yen for the first time in five fiscal years. The automaker projects an increase to 1.8 trillion yen in operating profit this fiscal year, approaching the peak recorded before the so-called Lehman shock in 2008.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda has said his company is standing at the starting line to realize sustainable growth. His remarks suggest the firm believes recovery is nigh due to an increase in exports.

Meanwhile, Nissan Motor Co. said its annual profit came in nearly flat due to floundering sales in the Chinese market resulting from the deterioration of Japan-China relations. However, other automakers such as Honda Motor Co. and Suzuki Motor Corp. reported rosier results. The companies' improved performance is expected to have a positive ripple effect on the broader Japanese economy because the auto industry relies on various supporting industries such as parts manufacturers.

Increased domestic demand is reflected in the results of major department store operator Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd. The firm marked a record operating profit due to brisk sales of luxury goods on the back of high stock prices, which stimulated consumption. Many housing construction firms have also achieved solid results, apparently benefitting from a rush of demand before the consumption tax increase takes effect next year.

On the other hand, the electric appliance industry has fallen on hard times, failing to reap any benefits from the weaker yen.

For instance, Panasonic Corp. said its after-tax loss exceeded 700 billion yen for the second consecutive year. Sony Corp. is back in the black for the first time in five fiscal years. However, it was only able to return to profitability thanks to restructuring measures such as the sale of some of its buildings, and has failed to pull its TV and other divisions out of the doldrums.

Toshiba Corp. reported a decline in operating profit because the weakened yen negatively impacted earnings on its liquid crystal display televisions imported to Japan from the firm's factories abroad.

Firms project turnaround

These companies project their businesses will recover this fiscal year, but competition with foreign rivals such as South Korean firms remains intense.

The Japanese players have to recoup lost ground by focusing on strategic, profitable products and rethinking their selection of and concentration on core businesses. They should aim to accelerate efforts to gain market share in emerging economies and other nations.

The Japanese economy has only halfway recovered thus far; the government's role in supporting private companies is still important. Effective growth-strategy measures are essential, such as a reduction of corporate tax rates and relaxation of regulations. Cooperation must also be enhanced between the government and the private sector to boost infrastructure exports.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 12, 2013)
(2013年5月12日01時28分  読売新聞)


1ドル=100円台 円安テコに経済再生を急げ

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 12, 2013
Govt should revive economy quickly on back of yen's persistent weakness
1ドル=100円台 円安テコに経済再生を急げ(5月11日付・読売社説)

The yen, which had been on the verge of passing the 100 yen mark to the U.S. dollar for a while, broke the key threshold for the first time in about four years this week. The Japanese currency has also weakened against the euro, drifting around 130 yen.

Correcting an excessively strong yen will provide a boost to ending the nation's persistent deflation. The government and the Bank of Japan must speed up work to revive the economy by taking up this opportunity.

The yen's surpassing of the 100 yen line was triggered by dollar-purchasing and yen-selling mainly on upbeat U.S. jobs data and growing expectations of a U.S. economic recovery.

On the back of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Abenomics economic measures and bold monetary easing steps taken under central bank Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda, the exchange rate, which was about 80 yen to the dollar six months ago, has weakened significantly.

In favorable response to the yen's weakness, the Nikkei Stock Average recovered to the 14,000 yen mark for the first time in about five years this week. Also, on the New York Stock Exchange, the Dow Jones industrial average soared above 15,000 for the first time. It is encouraging that rapidly rising stock prices in Japan and the United States have provided brisk news for the economy.

Recovery with a virtuous cycle

Propelled by the yen's depreciation, Japanese exporters, such as automakers, have seen a boost in their international competitiveness, as well as increased profits.

If growing demand overseas leads them to increase production and capital investment, the benefits could spill over to the domestic economy, as employment and consumption are likely to improve. We have high hopes of a solid economic recovery with such a virtuous cycle.

However, caution is called for regarding possible side effects of the yen's continuing weakness. One potential concern is criticism from other countries of the yen's independent slide.

In an April meeting of Group of 20 major economies' finance ministers and central bank governors, Japan gained a measure of understanding for its explanation that the Bank of Japan's aggressive monetary easing has not been aimed at manipulating its currency downward but tackling prolonged deflation.

Japan also needs to further clarify its policy to fight deflation at a meeting of the Group of Seven nations' finance chiefs and central bank governors, which started Friday in Britain.

But it is also important that in the meeting, the G-7 countries will reconfirm the view that excessive exchange rate fluctuations are undesirable.

Side effects of yen's weakness

The yen's rapid descent is expected to result in price increases for imported materials and products, weighing on profits of companies that rely on imports. Such companies cannot help but raise prices of their products and services if they find it difficult to cover rising costs with cost-cutting efforts.

Prices of flour, cooking oil and other imported items have already been on the rise. With costs of imported fuel for thermal power production soaring, utilities have also announced a series of electricity rate hikes, hitting both businesses and households.

Price increases caused by rising costs are likely to have a negative impact on companies' performances. As a result, wages would not go up. Such side effects could create a drag on the government's envisaged growth strategy. By taking advantage of the yen's weakness, we urge the government to boost demand and eventually achieve sustainable growth.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 11, 2013)
(2013年5月11日01時20分  読売新聞)