みずほ改善計画 信頼回復への道筋が見えない

The Yomiuri Shimbun October 30, 2013
Mizuho has a tough row to hoe before it can regain public trust
みずほ改善計画 信頼回復への道筋が見えない(10月29日付・読売社説)

Mizuho Bank appears to have hastily tried to end its lending scandal with lenient punishments. Given such lax punitive steps, the megabank faces a rocky path ahead to regain public trust that was lost by extending loans to gangsters.

Mizuho should show strong determination to make a fresh start, even considering an overhaul of its management system.

In connection with Mizuho’s loans to mobsters via its affiliated credit company, Orient Corp., among other entities, the bank has submitted to the Financial Services Agency a business improvement plan incorporating internal punishments and measures to prevent a recurrence of problematic lending.

Fifty-four current and former executives are subject to punishment. The penalties included dismissal of two executives in charge of compliance and pay cuts for 40 other executives. Yasuhiro Sato will remain president but have six months of his salary docked. Takashi Tsukamoto will step down as chairman of Mizuho Bank but remain as chairman of the bank’s parent, Mizuho Financial Group.

Former bank President Satoru Nishibori and 11 other former executives will be asked to return executive compensation.

The announced punishments are far from adequate as the current management will remain in place. Sato said at a news conference: “It’s extremely regrettable. We’ll deeply reflect on it.” But we cannot help but wonder whether he seriously considers his responsibility over such irregularities.

A third-party committee established to investigate the Mizuho scandal criticized the bank by saying in a report, “The bank lacked awareness as an organization of the importance of tackling the task of cutting off relations with antisocial groups.”

The committee has also pointed out that the contracts on which loans were extended to mobsters failed to include a clause that excluded loans to organized crime syndicates. The bank’s response to the scandal was far too lenient.

The committee, consisting of three lawyers, investigated the case for only about 20 days. Some people are doubtful whether the panel spent sufficient time trying to learn the truth.

Correct corporate culture

It was natural that Mizuho’s business improvement plan included establishment of a special section on the elimination of organized crime groups and introduction of board directors from outside. Efforts must be made thoroughly to prevent a recurrence of similar scandals.

Most imperative of all is to fundamentally rectify the bank’s corporate culture that has led to repeated irregularities since it was established in 2002 through the merger of Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank, Fuji Bank and the Industrial Bank of Japan.

The turf-consciousness displayed by executives for the banks they hailed from led to a serious lack of corporate governance. This could be a factor behind the bank’s failure to deal with the loan scandal swiftly.

There are views within Mizuho calling for the current top management to be maintained to avoid a confrontation by elements in the three former banks over the selection of their successors. Such an inward-looking attitude will not lead to establishing “one Mizuho.”

In its on-site investigation of the bank, the FSA accepted at face value the bank’s explanation, that “the top management did not know about [the loans to mobsters],” thereby overlooking what actually happened. Was there any malicious attempt to prevent an additional probe? The FSA should investigate the scandal again and much more strictly.

If Mizuho’s business improvement plan is found to be flawed, the financial watchdog should consider additional administrative punishments.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 29, 2013)
(2013年10月29日02時05分  読売新聞)


第3セクター債 バブルの清算を加速させたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun October 29, 2013
Joint public-private firms must expedite efforts to end indebtedness
第3セクター債 バブルの清算を加速させたい(10月28日付・読売社説)

Joint public-private companies, generally known as third-sector corporations, may not be able to avoid liquidation as long as liabilities exceed assets.

Local governments operating loss-making firms in partnership with private-sector entities must waste no time in addressing the task of liquidating them—ending a negative legacy dating back to the days of the bubble economy—even if doing so will cause fiscal pain.

Bond issuance to expedite the consolidation or abolition of poorly performing third-sector corporations and businesses run solely by local governments has risen sharply recently.

Local governments issued third-sector bonds in 64 cases, with a combined value of ¥374.3 billion, during the April-September period this year.

In the three-year period from fiscal 2009 to fiscal 2012, bonds were issued 104 times with a combined value of ¥471.4 billion, indicating how massive the issuance of bonds issued was in the first half of this fiscal year.

With the issuance of third-sector bonds permitted specially for a period of five years from fiscal 2009, many local governments appear intent on issuing bonds just before the expiration of the deadline at the end of fiscal 2013.

Third-sector bonds are issued by local governments on the basis of resolutions by local assemblies, along with approval by either the internal affairs and communications minister or heads of relevant prefectural governments.

Issuance of these bonds enables local entities to reschedule their debts in the form of bonds, which have interest rates lower that those on other forms of debt. In addition, the central government offers preferential treatment by covering half of the interest cost by means of local tax grants, or tax allocations to local governments.

It is an extremely serious situation that the number of juridical persons, such as companies, that are considered on the brink of bankruptcy stands at 639 out of 1,928 juridical persons comprising third-sector corporations and enterprises operated solely by municipalities.

Don’t put off problems

About 60 percent of bond issues were by land development public corporations for the acquisition of plots of land prior to public works projects. Many local government-run corporations in such fields as forestry, housing and tourism are also heavily in debt.

Some third-sector corporations have racked up debts surpassing their net worth after huge tracts of land they purchased during the bubble economy were left unused because planned public works projects were scaled down after the bubble burst and land prices declined.

The vast amount of debt incurred by third-sector corporations adversely affects the fiscal health of local governments.

Third-sector business operations were the major factor behind the fiscal problems of the Yubari municipal government in Hokkaido. Because of its fiscal woes, the municipal government was designated as a body legally requiring fiscal reconstruction.

Especially problematic is the fact that a little less than 40 percent of the 1,928 quasi-public corporations, or 716, have yet to thrash out reform programs.

Liquidation of third-sector corporations makes it inevitable for local governments to take over the debts of the corporations. Fearing criticism for shouldering the debts, many local government heads tend to put off resolving the problem while they are in office.

Postponing the problems, however, will certainly result in increasing burdens on the local governments and residents due to increasing interest payments and drops in land prices.

Every local entity with third-sector debt problems must take up the challenge of drastically reforming the corporations by making use of the specially authorized bond issuance by the deadline at the end of March. This is prerequisite to ensuring an environment conducive to reinvigorating local economies.

Obviously, liquidation must be avoided as much as possible for third-sector corporations in charge of operations directly linked with residents’ lives such as hospitals and transportation.

Any further delay in heightening their business efficiency, however, will raise their indebtedness to be eventually passed on to residents.

Local governments should consult with all parties concerned about what should be done. They should provide straightforward explanations to assemblies and residents, instead of covering up the debts of their third-sector bodies.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry will, in principle, refuse local governments’ requests to extend the bond issuance deadline for third-sector corporations. However, it may conditionally allow a bond issuance if the corporations and local governments concerned are considered to be making serious rehabilitation efforts. This stance is reasonable.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 28, 2013)
(2013年10月28日01時21分  読売新聞)


活字文化の日 図書館を魅力ある知の広場に


The Yomiuri Shimbun October 28, 2013
Print Culture Day a good opportunity to bury your nose in a library book
活字文化の日 図書館を魅力ある知の広場に(10月27日付・読売社説)

Today is Characters and Print Culture Day, marking the start of this year’s Book Week.

It may be a good idea to spend time reading in a library during your day off this autumn.

For people who do not read often, libraries may not figure much in their day-to-day lives.

Sixty-five percent of respondents to a recent Yomiuri Shimbun poll have not visited a library in the past year. Among major reasons cited for not using libraries were “having no time available to visit a library” and “do not enjoy reading.”

An increasing number of libraries, however, are using their ingenuity to try to attract more visitors.

The library run by the Tokorozawa municipal government in Saitama Prefecture, for instance, has introduced a system allowing people to check out or return the library’s books around the clock at any of the city’s eight convenience stores affiliated with the library.

This is an extremely useful service for people too busy at work to visit a library during regular library hours.

The Takeo Municipal Library of the Takeo city government in Saga Prefecture has been drawing three times as many daily visitors than before completing renovation work in April. The library is visited by many people from other prefectures.

The library modeled its interior after a large bookstore in Tokyo that features a space where customers can bury their noses in books. The library’s management has been consigned to a major rental company, which runs the library services year-round. The company allows visitors to check out CDs and DVDs for a fee and provides a corner for selling new publications.

The Takeo Municipal Library has been criticized for becoming too commercialized, but it can safely be said that it provides a good example of a library using its initiative to become more attractive.

‘Bibliobattle’ events

As stipulated by the Library Law, it should not be overlooked that the steady collection and storage of books and documents are a fundamental obligation of libraries.

The library operated by the Akita prefectural government, for that matter, has created electronic versions of about 2,000 items, including books in the public domain and materials on local history, for their conservation. They can be downloaded and read using browsing software on smartphones and other media.

Only about 20 libraries in this country employ in-house browsing or renting services of electronic books, but such services will no doubt increase in the future.

In addition, libraries provide a space to enable people to get together and exchange ideas. They also serve as venues for such events as lectures and art exhibitions.

Attracting great interest at present is a library-sponsored event referred to as a “bibliobattle.” Participants in the event introduce their favorite books and exchange opinions about them. In the end, the participants vote on what book they feel they would enjoy reading most. The event can give participants an unexpected opportunity to come across a great book that they would otherwise have missed.

The theme for this year’s Book Week is “Make a journey with books and journey the world of books.” Paying a visit to a library in your neighborhood can be regarded as a small journey.
 今年の読書週間の標語は、「本と旅する 本を旅する」だ。自宅近くの図書館を訪れるのも、小さな旅だろう。

A library housing a great diversity of books is a “plaza of knowledge,” where you may encounter a book beyond your expectations.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 27, 2013)
(2013年10月27日01時19分  読売新聞)


メニュー偽装 「誤表示」の強弁は通らない

The Yomiuri Shimbun October 27, 2013
Hankyu Hanshin Hotels paying high price for misleading menus
メニュー偽装 「誤表示」の強弁は通らない(10月26日付・読売社説)

A hotel operator’s obstinate insistence that “it wasn’t fabrication, but rather mislabeling” is unacceptable.

Food materials different from those described on menus were used in many dishes offered at restaurants of eight hotels operated by Hankyu Hanshin Hotels Co.

The false labeling went on for more than seven years, with dishes cooked with falsely advertised materials served to at least 79,000 customers.

The hotel operator made excuses during a news conference, saying “there was a lack of awareness of the need to check whether the items matched those displayed on the menus” and “our staff members were ignorant and insensible regarding [food materials].”

However, some employees said they knew the dishes offered did not use materials mentioned on the menus but that they “thought there was no problem.” It cannot be ruled out that the alleged fabrications were intentional.

Examples of false labeling include a case in which Shiba shrimp was written on menus, but Vannamei prawns were actually used. The former are priced at ¥2,500 per kilogram, while the latter costs far less, at ¥1,400 per kilogram.

Also, what was touted as Kujo-negi onions were found to be ordinary green and white leeks. The latter’s wholesale price is ¥800 per kilogram compared with ¥2,000 for leeks from Kujo, Kyoto Prefecture.

Lack of compliance

The hotel operator claimed “there was no intention whatsoever of gaining profits unfairly.” But this claim cannot be taken at face value. It is astonishing that a relatively famous hotel operator apparently did not comply with the law.

Hankyu Hanshin Hotels has reported the case to the Consumer Affairs Agency as a suspected violation of the Law against Unjustifiable Premiums and Misleading Representations. Masako Mori, state minister for consumer affairs and food safety, said her office would “deal with the case strictly.” A thorough probe is called for.

It came to light in June that roast beef originating in Chile had been misrepresented as “domestically produced beef” on the menus of restaurants at four Tokyo hotels operated by Prince Hotels, Inc.

In the wake of this revelation, Hanshin Hankyu Hotels investigated its hotels and discovered the menu scam.

The success of a hotel hinges on the quality of service offered. Customers pay money in exchange for enjoying delicious food made from high-quality materials.

Hankyu Hanshin Hotels has tarnished its own brand, which was built over many years, with its wrongdoing.

Fabrication scams involving food are not uncommon. It was revealed in 2007 that a high-end Japanese restaurant in Osaka falsified the origin of its beef. The restaurant was forced to close after it later came to light that the restaurant reused food materials.

The hotel chain operator intends to reimburse customers for the dishes made from falsely advertised materials. The refunds are said to total about ¥110 million.

The price paid for misrepresentation is high, and regaining public trust is no easy task. Hankyu Hanshin Hotels’ scam cannot be shrugged off by those in the food industry as someone else’s problem.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 26, 2013)
(2013年10月26日01時32分  読売新聞)


ネット配信 外国企業にも消費課税が要る


The Yomiuri Shimbun October 26, 2013
Impose consumption tax on digital products distributed from overseas
ネット配信 外国企業にも消費課税が要る(10月25日付・読売社説)

An unfair situation has emerged regarding how domestic and foreign firms are taxed in the rapidly growing industry of online digital data distribution. An environment must be created in which they can compete on an equal footing.

The Tax Commission has started examining the advisability of imposing the consumption tax even on e-books and music provided online from overseas.

Under the current system, the tax is imposed only on domestically provided electronic information.

For instance, no consumption tax applies to e-books bought by Japanese consumers on the Amazon.com online marketplace based in the United States.

If there are price differences for the same e-products due to tax, depending on whether they are provided from overseas or at home, domestic firms will be forced into a disadvantageous situation.

The publishing and Internet industries have pointed out that such an unfair tax burden impairs the competitive environment. They have every reason to call for reexamining the tax system based on such an argument.

Such circumstances have emerged because the imposition of consumption tax is limited to domestic transactions and imports of goods. The tax is not levied on data distributed through overseas servers because they are regarded as overseas transactions of non-goods.

The amount of tax revenues lost because of the no-tax rule for products provided online from overseas is said to be in the tens of billions of yen a year.

Adverse effects of levy

The government will raise the sales tax from 5 percent to 8 percent next April. The rate is scheduled to be increased to 10 percent in October 2015. If the range of the tax’s application is left unchanged, adverse effects of the tax exemption on online products provided from overseas are expected to expand.

Such unfair taxation may accelerate the hollowing-out of industry, as Japanese digital data providers may shift their bases overseas.

According to Impress Innovation Lab, Japan’s e-book market is expected to balloon to about ¥240 billion in fiscal 2017, about triple that of fiscal 2012.

Online information distribution is a promising growth industry. The government must accelerate work to reexamine the range of the consumption tax’s application.

However, a host of challenges need to be tackled, such as how to accurately grasp the online distribution prices of foreign companies.

Among other steps, it will be essential to establish a system in which Japanese tax authorities can cooperate with their foreign counterparts to share information on foreign companies.

Since about a decade ago, Germany and other European Union member countries successively introduced the so-called value-added tax, which is equivalent to Japan’s consumption tax, on online distribution services provided from outside the EU.

Online data distributors outside the EU are required to file a business registration, which has produced certain results. Such a registration system for Japan is also worth studying.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 25, 2013)
(2013年10月25日01時41分  読売新聞)


シリア化学兵器 廃棄には国際支援が不可欠だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun October 25, 2013
Intl assistance vital for destroying Syria’s chemical weapons
シリア化学兵器 廃棄には国際支援が不可欠だ(10月24日付・読売社説)

We hope that international assistance, both economic and diplomatic, with scrapping Syria’s chemical weapons will also help bring the country’s civil war under control.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is expected to complete soon the inspection of 23 facilities that the administration of President Bashar Assad says were linked to Syria’s chemical weapons program. The OPCW will draw up a detailed work schedule for destroying the chemical weapons on the basis of its inspection results.

A joint mission of the United Nations and the OPCW has begun working in Damascus, with the goal of destroying Syria’s chemical stockpile and the equipment to produce the deadly weapons by mid-2014.

They will tackle the disposal of chemical weapons in cooperation with the Assad regime, but they have insufficient manpower and funds. The development of facilities to destroy the weapons has not yet started. It is essential for the international community to extend assistance quickly.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to award this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to the OPCW, probably with the aim of calling on countries around the world to extend such assistance.

The destruction of chemical weapons in Syria has been deemed extremely difficult, chiefly because the weapons have to be disposed of amid a civil war. Some of the chemical weapons facilities are located in areas where government forces and armed rebel groups are fighting. We cannot shake our concern that the personnel destroying the weapons may come to harm.

Ahmet Uzumcu, director general of the OPCW, is calling for a ceasefire so work to destroy the chemical weapons can proceed as planned. But it will not be easy to achieve a ceasefire anytime soon. It has been two years since the civil war began, and there is no end in sight to the fighting.

The death toll has topped 100,000, and 2 million people have become refugees. There is also the serious problem of Islamic extremist groups affiliated with the international terrorist organization Al-Qaida increasing their influence by taking advantage of the disorder in Syria.

Multilateral cooperation key

We hope international peace talks will be held soon, but most of Syria’s opposition leaders said they would only take part in such talks if Assad steps down.

We hope both the United States, which has some influence on the opposition groups, and Russia, a supporter of the Assad regime, will do everything they can to bring about peace talks and a ceasefire.

Japan is one of the few countries in the world, together with the United States and Russia, that has the technology and experience to destroy chemical weapons.

Japan is now disposing of the chemical weapons abandoned in China by the Imperial Japanese Army at the end of World War II. Work has been prolonged, as it has taken longer than anticipated to find shells buried in the ground. In 2010, a mobile Japanese weapon-disposal facility began operations.

Japan also has experience disposing of highly toxic gas due to the March 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system by members of the Aum Supreme Truth cult.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged at the U.N. General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York that Japan will provide “the greatest possible cooperation” for the international community’s efforts to dispose of Syria’s chemical weapons.

Japan has contributed to the activities of the OPCW through financial aid and the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces personnel. We hope the government will extend further assistance to bring about peace in Syria.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 24, 2013)
(2013年10月24日01時41分  読売新聞)


中国大気汚染 健康被害防止の対策が急務だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun October 24, 2013
China’s worsening air pollution crisis calls for health-hazard prevention
中国大気汚染 健康被害防止の対策が急務だ(10月23日付・読売社説)

Air pollution in China is becoming more and more serious, with haze so thick in some areas that even nearby buildings cannot be seen clearly.

It is feared that the atmospheric contamination in the country could further spread when the winter sets in, with a massive amount of coal to be burned for heating. An immediate task facing the Chinese government is to take swift measures to fight the worsening pollution.

On Monday, the concentration of PM2.5 topped the observable upper limit of 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province. The airborne particles, 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller, are considered most harmful to health.

The figure far exceeds Japan’s environmental safety standard for PM2.5, which is set at an average of 35 micrograms per day.

On Monday, all primary and middle schools were closed in Harbin, and bus service was suspended on some routes.

This dire situation is not limited to Harbin. In October, the PM2.5 pollution is extending to other areas, mostly in northern China. For instance, Beijing has been blanketed with thick smog. On many days, the Chinese capital has seen its PM2.5 pollution reach the “serious” level—the worst reading on the six-grade scale of air pollution set by the authorities.

There are concerns about health hazards posed by the air contamination. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, has certified that PM2.5 can cause cancer, saying that its cancer-causing risk is comparable to those of asbestos and smoking.

PM2.5 particles can find their way deep into the lungs and can cause asthma and bronchitis. The IARC had every reason to assert that the international community must take quick steps to address the problem. There also are concerns about the health of Japanese residents in China.

Reduce pollution sources

What must be done to fight the air pollution is, first of all, to install desulfurization equipment at coal-fired power stations and factories in China, a task necessary for making the smoke from these facilities relatively cleaner. Coal-fired thermal power accounts for about 80 percent of that country’s electricity supply. It is essential to ensure that the Chinese become deeply aware of the need to spend money for environmental protection, instead of only seeking short-term profits.

Another pressing task is to reduce the air contamination caused by exhaust gases from more than 200 million cars and motorcycles on Chinese streets. Gasoline used in China contains a good deal of sulfur, a source of high-concentration pollutants. Given this, it is imperative to improve the quality of gasoline used in China.

The key to success—or failure—is whether the government of President Xi Jinping will be able to reform his country’s petroleum industry, which has long been able to gain exorbitant profits by selling low-quality products, an achievement made possible through its strong political clout.

Japan cannot dismiss China’s air pollution as someone else’s problem. PM2.5 and other pollutants have been carried by the prevailing westerly winds to arrive in Japan, especially in the western part of the nation.

Environmental protection is an important task that Japan and China must carry out together, despite their feud over the Senkaku Islands.

The authorities in Beijing are scheduled to send a team of officials in charge of the problem to Tokyo by the end of the month. The Chinese government also has invited some Japanese experts to visit China. This apparently indicates a sense of urgency shared by both countries about the air pollution in China.

We believe Japan’s environmental know-how—the technological solutions to its own past air pollution problems—will do much to improve the situation in China.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 23, 2013)
(2013年10月23日01時55分  読売新聞)


貿易赤字15か月 原発再稼働で早期に歯止めを

The Yomiuri Shimbun October 23, 2013
Restart nuclear reactors to help stem snowballing trade deficit
貿易赤字15か月 原発再稼働で早期に歯止めを(10月22日付・読売社説)

Japan’s trade deficit continues to grow unabated. If the nation’s wealth continues to pour out of the country, the path toward rejuvenation of Japan’s economy will become tougher.

The government must do everything in its power to enable Japan to rebuild itself as a trade-oriented nation.

Japan’s balance of trade, the difference between the monetary value of exports and imports, stood at ¥930 billion in the red in September. This marked the 15th consecutive month of a year-on-year increase in the trade deficit, surpassing the previous record of 14 straight months set 33 years ago at the time of the second oil crisis.

The trade deficit for the April-to-September first half of this fiscal year reached ¥4.9 trillion, a record for a fiscal half year.

The trade deficit has primarily stemmed from the sharp rise in Japan’s imports of fuel for thermal power plants, which are being used increasingly as an alternative power source for the nation’s idled nuclear power plants. The yen’s depreciation against the dollar in recent times has also been a factor in the deficit’s expansion.

Imports of liquefied natural gas, the main fuel used for power generation, have doubled compared with just before the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011.

According to a government estimate, additional fuel costs, including those of LNG and crude oil needed for thermal power generation due to the mothballing of nuclear reactors, is expected to total ¥9 trillion over the three fiscal years from 2011 to 2013.

This extraordinary situation in which a massive amount of money for fuel imports has flowed out of Japan and into resource-rich countries in the Middle East and elsewhere cannot simply be brushed off.

This country urgently needs to restart nuclear power plants that have been confirmed safe to operate, and lessen its excessive dependence on thermal power plants.

Give companies a hand

The rise in electricity rates stemming from higher fuel costs is also a serious issue. Within the service area of Tokyo Electric Power Co., electricity bills for an average-sized family have risen by about 30 percent compared with before the 2011 quake and tsunami disaster—an increase of nearly ¥1,800 a month.

The electricity rate for corporate users has risen by an even wider margin. This situation could accelerate the hollowing-out of industry as businesses shift production bases abroad to avoid rising operating costs at home. There also are fears that a vicious circle may develop in which Japan’s exports decline as a result of the hollowing-out of industry, pushing the trade deficit even higher.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has indicated he plans to make Japan “the best country in the world for companies to do business,” by promoting his growth strategy, which includes deregulatory measures. To achieve this, it is essential to establish a system that guarantees a stable supply of cheap electricity.

It is worrisome that while imports of solar panels and smartphones from China have increased, Japan’s exports to newly emerging economies in Asia and elsewhere have remained sluggish.

The government should cut the effective corporate tax rate and help companies boost their international competitiveness. The public and private sectors also should unite in the promotion of infrastructure exports, including nuclear power plants and high-speed railway systems.

The bottom line is that private businesses produce attractive goods and services with their own originality and ingenuity. We hope they will rise to the challenge and emerge victorious in the international competition.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 22, 2013)
(2013年10月22日01時32分  読売新聞)


靖国参拝見送り 的外れな中韓両国の対日批判

The Yomiuri Shimbun October 22, 2013
Anti-Japan stance by China, S. Korea over Yasukuni Shrine unhelpful
靖国参拝見送り 的外れな中韓両国の対日批判(10月21日付・読売社説)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided not to visit Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine on the occasion of its Oct. 17-20 annual autumn festival. Instead, he simply made a monetary offering to the shrine for a sacred masakaki tree branch traditionally used in Shinto rituals.

His decision not to pay his respects at the shrine after refraining from making visits earlier this year in the shrine’s annual spring festival and on Aug. 15, the date marking the end of World War II, was to prevent frayed ties with China and South Korea from further deteriorating.

China and South Korea regard Yasukuni Shrine as a symbol of Japan’s wartime militarism, as it memorializes Japan’s war dead along with “Class A war criminals,” including former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, who were executed after being condemned by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, also known as the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. They strongly oppose visits by prime ministers or Cabinet members.

Paying tribute to those who died in the war is purely an internal affair, and no country should interfere.

As the Yasukuni issue has become a diplomatic problem, however, the prime minister’s decision to avoid visiting the shrine this time is understandable.

The prime minister is said to strongly desire to pay his respects at Yasukuni Shrine, but he must pay scrupulous attention to the feasibility of making such a visit.

In this connection, it is highly regrettable that neither China nor South Korea has shown a positive attitude after Abe’s decision to forgo a visit to the shrine.

Referring to Abe’s masakaki monetary offering in lieu of visiting the shrine, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Beijing opposes “any type of action [by the prime minister] of paying tribute at any time,” effectively saying that China equates the masakaki offering with a visit to the shrine. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry also expressed “deep concern and regret” over Abe’s offering to Yasukuni Shrine.

Tacit U.S. message

Since the end of the war, Japan has continued to follow the path of peace and contribute to the international community. We wonder whether both China and South Korea have deliberately shut their eyes to this fact.

The criticism by Chinese and South Korean leaders against the Abe administration for “veering to the right” may be largely motivated by a desire to maintain their own domestic leadership on the strength of surges of popular anti-Japanese sentiment.

As a result of the escalation of distorted anti-Japanese criticism, Japanese investment in China has dwindled, and the adverse impact has spread in the Chinese economy.

Abe has persistently called for China and South Korea to hold summit talks. The leaders of China and South Korea should respond favorably to Abe’s overture and move to break the impasse. They should shift away from a “mutual harm” approach to a path leading to “mutual benefits.”

The prime minister’s decision to forgo a visit to Yasukuni Shrine may also have been out of consideration for the United States, which is concerned about the standoff between Japan and its two neighbors.

Early this month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel laid wreaths at Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery for the war dead near Tokyo’s Imperial Palace. A state-run facility with no religious affiliation, the cemetery accommodates the remains of the war dead whose identities are not known.

The visit by Kerry and Hagel to Chidorigafuchi is believed to be a tacit U.S. message to the Japanese government to exercise caution on the issue of visits to Yasukuni Shrine by the prime minister and other Cabinet members.

Public opinion is divergent over how the souls of the war dead should be consoled. Criticism of those who played leading roles in the war remains deep-rooted.

Under the circumstances, in-depth discussions should be held on the advisability of building a state-run facility that would enable everyone to pay tribute to the memory of the war dead without harmful consequences.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 21, 2013)
(2013年10月21日01時18分  読売新聞)


イラン核協議 外交的解決へ動き出すのか

The Yomiuri Shimbun October 21, 2013
Is a diplomatic solution on horizon over Iran’s nuclear program?
イラン核協議 外交的解決へ動き出すのか(10月20日付・読売社説)

Is it possible that the problem of Iran’s nuclear development program is moving toward a diplomatic solution? We should keep a close eye on this issue.

In recent talks in what is referred to as P5-plus-1 countries, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council—the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China—plus Germany, Iran has come up with a new proposal for constraining its nuclear program in return for easing international economic sanctions that have battered the Iranian economy.

The six powers have highly evaluated the Iranian proposal as an “important contribution” that could be conducive to accelerating future talks. The release of a joint statement at the close of the talks on Oct. 15 and 16, the first of its kind, also appears promising.

Although details of the talks have not been disclosed, Iranian officials said Tehran is set to rein in uranium enrichment levels. Iran appears to have made some concessions to the six major powers, which have demanded that Iran stop producing uranium enriched to 20 percent, a level that could lead to the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

Talks between Iran and the six countries have been held since 2008, but no progress has been made because of Tehran’s negative attitude.

During the stalemate, Israel hinted at the possibility of attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities. With the heightening of tensions, a war of nerves racked the countries involved.

Whether Iran’s new proposal will push the talks forward remains uncertain.

Iran has taken a more positive stance since Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, took office as president of the Islamic republic in August in the wake of growing public discontent with the country’s severe economic hardships.

Obama’s leadership tested

Economic sanctions imposed at the initiative of the United States and European countries have halved Iran’s oil exports, the key source of revenue, causing inflation to spiral upward unchecked.

It seems the new Iranian president wants to resuscitate the faltering economy by having the United States and Europe lift the sanctions after offering a compromise.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has a final say in the country’s decision-making, basically appears to be in favor of Rouhani’s policies.

However, the leadership of U.S. President Barack Obama will now be tested.

Although Washington has had a hostile relationship with Tehran since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, Obama, in recent talks with Rouhani by phone, reached an agreement with the Iranian president to work together for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear problem.

If the United States embarks on actions to improve its relations with Iran, one of the Middle East’s major powers and a leading oil-producing country, the U.S. position in the region could be strengthened.

Negotiations with Iran, however, must be based on the premise of stopping Iran from going nuclear.

With the nuclear talks scheduled to resume next month, it is imperative for the six major powers to have Iran show its commitment through “meaningful, transparent and verifiable actions” never to undertake any project to develop nuclear weapons, as demanded by the United States.

Israel, for its part, does not disguise its intense distrust of Iran, saying Tehran “should be tested by its actions, not its proposals.”

Whether fears of Israel launching a military strike against Iran can be dispelled depends largely on how Tehran behaves from now on.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 20, 2013)
(2013年10月20日01時26分  読売新聞)


竹富町の教科書 違法状態の解消迫る是正要求

The Yomiuri Shimbun October 20, 2013
Govt must enforce rules on adoption of textbooks without any exceptions
竹富町の教科書 違法状態の解消迫る是正要求(10月19日付・読売社説)

The government acted properly to resolve the illegal adoption of a textbook in Okinawa Prefecture.

Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hakubun Shimomura instructed the Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education to issue a demand for corrective action against the town board of education of Taketomi in the prefecture as the board has been using an independently adopted textbook in violation of textbook adoption rules.

Issuing a demand for corrective action is the strongest action the government can take under the Local Government Law. The action has been taken only twice before, and this is the first time it has been taken in the field of educational administration. Taketomi’s education board must take the situation seriously.

The regional council on textbook adoption of the Yaeyama district, comprising Ishigaki, Taketomi and Yonaguni, selected a civics textbook published by Ikuhosha Publishing Inc. as the textbook for middle schools in the district in the summer of 2011, but the Taketomi board alone adopted a different textbook.

The Ikuhosha textbook, written by former members of the Japan Society for History Textbook Reform, carries detailed descriptions of territories. One reason the Yaeyama regional textbook adoption council selected this textbook is that the district is close to the border with China, with tension between Japan and China rising.

On the other hand, some people in the prefecture complain the Ikuhosha textbook provides too much space to such things as the national flag, the national anthem and traditional Japanese culture. This may be behind the Taketomi board’s refusal to adopt the Ikuhosha textbook.

The law on free distribution of textbooks for compulsory education schools, which stipulates textbooks are paid for at national government expense, obliges adoption of the same textbook for a district comprising several municipalities.

This is based on such considerations as that it is easier for teachers to jointly study teaching materials if they teach with the same textbook.

The Taketomi board’s independent adoption of the textbook obviously violates the free distribution law.

Wrong response

The confusion over the issue has been prolonged because of the wrong response to the problem by the Democratic Party of Japan-led government. Although then education minister Masaharu Nakagawa took the position that the independent adoption of a textbook violated the law, he tolerated the action if the town government purchased copies of the textbook at its own expense for distribution to students.

As a result, the town government purchased copies of a different textbook with donations from residents and started to distribute them to students in April last year. After the change of government, Hiroyuki Yoshiie, then parliamentary secretary of the education ministry, visited Taketomi in March this year and instructed the education board to reverse its decision to adopt a different textbook. However, the board refused.

It is extremely problematic that the town has been illegally conducting lessons for compulsory education without accepting the free distribution of the officially adopted textbook.

Also, it should not be overlooked that the prefectural board of education failed to instruct the Taketomi board to reverse its decision, although it was in a position to do so. To end the confusion, the prefectural board should fulfill its primary responsibility—ensuring that the Taketomi board observes the law.

The education ministry should also thoroughly implement textbook adoption rules to prevent a recurrence of the Taketomi situation.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 19, 2013)
(2013年10月19日01時36分  読売新聞)


伊豆大島災害 なぜ避難を促さなかったのか

The Yomiuri Shimbun October 19, 2013
Why was no evacuation order issued in Izu Oshima downpours?
伊豆大島災害 なぜ避難を促さなかったのか(10月18日付・読売社説)

Were there no means of preventing a major calamity from occurring?

Because of the extremely heavy rain that accompanied Typhoon No. 26, several communities on Tokyo’s Izu Oshima island were hit by debris flows. The disaster claimed the lives of 22 people and left many missing. The Metropolitan Police Department and other organizations concerned must do their utmost to locate and rescue the missing.

On Tuesday evening, when the typhoon—reported to be the strongest in the last 10 years—was moving north toward the Japanese archipelago, the Japan Meteorological Agency issued heavy rain and mudslide alerts to the Oshima town government on Izu Oshima island.

The alerts, which call for caution regarding mudslides, are considered key information for municipalities involved to use for reference in issuing evacuation advisories or orders, but the Oshima Island municipal authorities issued neither.

The town mayor explained the lack of action was because an evacuation advisory could “lead to an increased number of people exposed to the threat of strong rain at night.”

The rainfall on the island increased sharply shortly after midnight Tuesday. Precipitation in the three hours before dawn on Wednesday reached the second-highest levels in the recorded history of domestic weather. The mudslides occurred around the same time.

Any attempt to evacuate residents in the midst of the violent storm would certainly have been difficult. However, was it impossible for municipal authorities to warn people to get out of danger the previous day when the meteorological agency issued the alerts?

Given that typhoon’s paths are predictable to some extent, there can be lead time to evacuate, unlike such events as tsunami or tornadoes. The town authorities should have taken adequate precautions by recognizing the danger earlier.

Beware of localized disaster

It is possible that the town’s decision-making process was hindered by the fact that both the mayor and deputy mayor of the town were away from the island on a business trip when the typhoon hit.

On Izu Oshima island, there have been many debris flows, including those in the 1958 Kanogawa Typhoon, in which 18 people were killed or injured and 104 houses were destroyed or damaged. It is highly regrettable the lessons of the past calamities failed to be used effectively in the latest disaster to hit the island.

The meteorological agency, for its part, came short of issuing a special warning recently introduced for the purpose of calling for vigilance against the highest level of danger due to rainfall. That was because the rainfall on the island did not meet the requirements for issuing the warning that requires threshold-level precipitation across an extensive area, or an area encompassing most of a prefecture.

Based on this criteria, there can be many cases in which a disaster on a remote island may be excluded from the special warnings. Studies must be done to review the standards of how a similar level of warning could be issued against localized dangers.

Under the law for the prevention of sediment-related, each prefectural government is supposed to designate danger areas as caution zones. When the designation is made, city, town and village governments concerned are obliged to create and make public hazard maps.

The Tokyo metropolitan government, however, has yet to embark on procedures to apply the disaster-prone area designation to islands under its jurisdiction, while the town government of Oshima has failed to make any hazard map covering mudslides.

Designation of caution zones has been delayed nationwide, for reasons including opposition from local residents who worry that such a designation would reduce the value of their homes. Every municipality must redouble their efforts to secure residents’ understanding of the need for the designation.

The calamity on Izu Oshima island should be taken as a warning by everyone living in the nation, which is highly susceptible to disasters.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 18, 2013)
(2013年10月18日01時32分  読売新聞)


新聞週間 真実を伝える役割これからも

The Yomiuri Shimbun October 17, 2013
Newspapers’ mission to tell the truth becoming ever more important
新聞週間 真実を伝える役割これからも(10月16日付・読売社説)

The duty of newspapers is to spread the truth, a task essential for honoring the people’s right to know. Sincerely taking this obligation to heart once again, we wish to continue our efforts to write articles that offer analyses from various viewpoints regarding daily events and affairs.

Newspaper Week started Tuesday. This year’s slogan for the week is “Itsuno-himo Shinjitsu-ni Mukiau Kiji-ga Aru” (Every day, there are news stories that pursue the facts). This catchphrase was written by a 17-year-old high school girl.
 新聞週間が始まった。今年の代表標語は「いつの日も 真実に 向き合う記事がある」だ。17歳の女子高校生の作品である。

Some reports by newspapers and other news organizations about the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 drew criticism for their stance on the disaster. Critics said the media did not provide a full picture of the unprecedented calamity. Two years and seven months after the catastrophe, the media is still the subject of argument regarding how they should gather and report the news.

A particularly important task facing the media is to think about how to report the current situation in Fukushima Prefecture, where a nuclear disaster struck in the wake of the quake-triggered tsunami. A large number of residents have been forced to evacuate for extended periods. Some evacuees have complained that giving interviews to the media has done little to improve the situation.

Residents in disaster-hit areas face grave uncertainties about the future of their lives. With this in mind, the media must report news in a manner that would help rehabilitate these areas. This duty could be fulfilled, for example, through articles that provide food for thought about how to make steady progress in decontaminating disaster-affected areas and paying compensation to stricken people for their difficulties, a task that would help them get their lives back on the road to reconstruction.

Still the most trusted source

According to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey taken in late September, 86 percent of respondents said newspaper reports can be trusted, an increase of six percentage points from a similar poll conducted a year earlier. The figure was comparable to a level recorded before the great earthquake.

We feel the recovery of trust in newspapers indicates that the public granted the press renewed credit for its efforts to provide readers with accurate information based on news-gathering activities. Undoubtedly, browsing through Internet websites can afford anyone easy access to a huge amount of information. However, a considerable chunk of information available online is open to dispute over its credibility.

The latest Yomiuri survey included a multiple-response questionnaire regarding which medium respondents felt to be trustworthy in July’s House of Councillors election, for which the legal ban on Net-based campaigning was lifted. Only 2 percent of respondents cited such social media as Twitter and Facebook.

This compared with 59 percent for newspapers. The figure indicated the degree to which voters trust newspapers when it comes to election reporting.

A sizable 89 percent of those surveyed said newspapers would be needed in the future, too. We believe this figure shows readers greatly count on newspapers as a means of credible news reporting.

The newspaper industry has insisted the consumption tax rate for newspapers be set at a lower level than that to be imposed on other goods and services when the current 5 percent rate is increased. In some respects, newspapers can be regarded as public property.

Earlier, the Japan Newspapers Publishers and Editors Association asked a panel of experts to advance opinions about the issue. The committee put together a report that said, “Whether a reduced tax rate is applied [to newspapers] is a matter related to Japanese culture and the future of democratic government.”

Newspapers are tasked with uncovering the truth behind possible irregularities committed by the national and local governments while also pressing them to rectify any problems that emerge.

We are determined to live up to this obligation by improving the quality of our daily news gathering and reporting.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 16, 2013)
(2013年10月16日01時32分  読売新聞)


空き家問題 放置せず撤去・再活用したい

The Yomiuri Shimbun October 16, 2013
More must be done to turn abandoned houses into places to come home to
空き家問題 放置せず撤去・再活用したい(10月14日付・読売社説)

The central and local governments need to cooperate in working out how unoccupied or abandoned houses can be effectively used or removed.

The Liberal Democratic Party plans to submit to the extraordinary Diet session a bill concerning special measures for unoccupied, abandoned houses. As it is feared the number of these houses will increase in line with the nation’s graying population and low birthrate, the central government needs to take action to address the problem.

According to an Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry survey, there are about 7.6 million unoccupied houses in Japan, accounting for 13 percent of the total number.

These unoccupied and often dilapidated houses adversely impact their surrounding environments, and have generated problems not only in depopulating provincial areas but also in densely populated urban areas.

There have been cases in which houses are at risk of collapse or their exterior walls are in danger of toppling, or suspicious people frequently enter and leave such buildings, worsening public safety in the vicinity. A community must not be left to fend for itself if it feels ill at ease concerning local disaster management and crime prevention.

Dealing with unoccupied, abandoned houses has so far been mostly left to local governments. Some municipalities have established their own ordinances to urge owners of unoccupied houses to manage them properly or have them removed. However, some observers have pointed out that measures taken by prefectural or city, town and village governments alone will only have a limited effect.

To improve this situation, the LDP plans to authorize governments of cities, towns and villages to enter the premises of unoccupied houses, and enable them to order owners of houses that endanger neighboring areas to repair or remove them.

Nevertheless, it will cost a considerable amount of money to tear down and remove buildings. The central government should refer to a public subsidy system adopted by some local governments.

Give rural areas a boost

It also has been pointed out that when an unoccupied house is torn down, thus emptying the lot, the tax burden on the land owner becomes heavier because they are no longer eligible for a reduced fixed asset tax, which is applied to a housing site.

The LDP proposal likely will include a reduction in the fixed asset tax for building owners who tear down and remove these structures at their own initiative. It is hoped this would encourage owners of such buildings to take needed actions voluntarily.

In addition to the provision of the special law, it will become important for the government to make efforts to reuse unoccupied houses or plots of land made vacant in favorable locations.

It would be a good idea to expand such projects as renovating unoccupied houses into rented houses or rented stores in urban areas, and leasing them at reasonable rates to low-income earners or people who want to start up a business.

We hope that in underpopulated areas, a helping hand can be given to projects designed to reinvigorate the local economy by, for instance, helping people who want to move from urban areas to provincial areas find unoccupied houses.

An increasing number of local governments have created an online “vacant house bank,” through which the public can find information concerning empty houses in their areas and apply to rent them. The central government could do worse than to consider the possibility of expanding this into a nationwide service modeled on the examples already in operation.

Some real estate agents and security agencies have started proxy services for managing vacant houses. Both the public and private sectors need to think long and hard about how to turn plans for these abandoned buildings into action.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 14, 2013)
(2013年10月14日01時53分  読売新聞)


香山リカのココロの万華鏡:時代のアンテナ /東京

October 13, 2013(Mainichi Japan)
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Psychiatry patients as the antennas of their time
香山リカのココロの万華鏡:時代のアンテナ /東京

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe formally announced raising the consumption tax rate from 5 percent to 8 percent in April next year at a press conference on Oct. 1.

The following day I was responsible for outpatients. As I had expected, this topic was brought up several times in the consultation room. "I couldn't sleep last night," said one patient. "I'm flustered with anxiety," said another.

I suspect some people may be dubious, "Becoming immediately anxious and losing sleep when the tax rise is not until April next year is surely an overreaction."

But through the ages psychiatry patients have been regarded as antennas of their time, being very sensitive to social problems.

There are those that become depressed or frightened just by seeing incidents or conflicts overseas that in reality have no direct effect on their lives, some people even develop illnesses. These people empathize with those suffering in distant countries, regardless if it has any effect on themselves, and feel the hardship and fear as if experiencing it firsthand.

When I see people that empathize with events in faraway places, being instantly responsive to the news and worrying more than the average person, I always wonder if they are the ones with healthier minds.

In today's society there is an abundance of incidents occurring both in Japan and abroad. Everything is uncertain and there is no one that can guarantee peace and prosperity in the next decade. The lives of people in disadvantaged positions especially have become harder over time. If someone sees incidents such as widespread disasters or terrorist acts and says, "It has nothing to do with me," or dismisses whatever is reported in the news, in reality isn't this a much less natural attitude? Perhaps these people turn off their reaction switch and become programmed for indifference.

But as a psychiatrist I can't just say, "Your reaction is normal," to patients who find it more difficult to sleep after hearing news of a consumption tax increase.

The best I can do is to give the symptom a name such as insomnia and write out a prescription. But I'm always left with mixed feelings. Are they the ones who are "sick," or is it me? After all, I seem to turn off my reaction switch. "Consumption tax increases? Yet another contaminated water leak? Never mind about that for now," I think, pretend that everything is fine and get a good night's sleep.
 もしかしたら、「消費税アップ? また汚染水漏れ? いや、考えない、考えない」と心のスイッチを切ってしまい、何事もなかったかのように安眠している私のほうなのではないだろうか。

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
毎日新聞 2013年10月08日 地方版


受刑者の選挙権 「制限は違憲」には疑問が多い

The Yomiuri Shimbun October 14, 2013
Is denying prison inmates the right to vote really unconstitutional?
受刑者の選挙権 「制限は違憲」には疑問が多い(10月13日付・読売社説)

Will the public agree to recognize the right of prisoners, who committed crimes and are serving time, to vote in a public election?

The Osaka High Court recently judged that Article 11 of the Public Offices Election Law, which restricts the right to vote for prisoners across the board, violates the Constitution, which guarantees equal voting rights for every adult. The ruling was finalized, but we cannot completely agree with the result.

According to the intent and purpose of the Constitution, restrictions on suffrage cannot be permitted without unavoidable reasons except for people who violated the election law, the high court said.

“Just being a prisoner does not necessarily mean a person grossly lacks a law-abiding spirit,” the court said in its ruling. “It is not certain that there are unavoidable reasons” for stripping inmates of their voting rights.

Of course, the right to vote is an important right held by citizens of Japan.

However, restrictions on inmates’ voting rights tend to be considered a legal repercussion resulting from a criminal punishment because Japan has adopted a penalty system that confines inmates in prisons and deprives them of their freedom to protect society.

Even the high court recognized that the concept on which its latest ruling is based has not yet become a prevailing theory among legal scholars.

The Supreme Court judged in 2005 that restrictions the election law places on suffrage for Japanese living overseas are unconstitutional. In March this year, the Tokyo District Court ruled that a provision restricting voting rights for mentally handicapped and other adults under guardianship is unconstitutional.

Questionable judgment

The high court’s latest ruling adheres to the Supreme Court ruling in 2005. However, we think it is unreasonable to consider voting rights of prisoners serving a punishment under the same framework as voting rights of Japanese expats.

Meanwhile, the high court said it was unclear whether the election law’s provision was unconstitutional when the law was implemented in 1950.

However, the ruling did not clarify what has made the provision apparently unconstitutional now. We can only say that the ruling lacks persuasiveness.

The high court dismissed the plaintiff’s appeal and consequently the state won the case, so the state could not appeal to a higher court. But we think this raises more questions.

The plaintiff lost the case because the high court said his demand for a legal status that enables him to vote is unlawful because he has finished serving his sentence. If his demand is unlawful, we wonder if the court really needed to make a constitutional judgment at all.

Consequently, the court’s ruling will have wings. The plaintiff’s side intends to accept the ruling but demand the election law be revised. The government should handle this matter very carefully.

We believe that important judgments on the Constitution should in principle be left to the Supreme Court because its rulings have binding power as judicial precedents.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 13, 2013)
(2013年10月13日01時34分  読売新聞)


ストーカー殺人 見過ごせない警察の連携不足

The Yomiuri Shimbun October 13, 2013
Lack of police cooperation partly to blame for stalking-murder case
ストーカー殺人 見過ごせない警察の連携不足(10月12日付・読売社説)

Another outrageous stalking-murder has occurred.

Why wasn’t such a terrible incident prevented? Police must thoroughly investigate their handling of the case.

A third-year female student at a private high school in Mitaka, Tokyo, was stabbed to death Tuesday and a 21-year-old Kyoto man she had previously dated was arrested later in the day.

The girl had refused to see him any longer. She had rejected his mobile phone calls and e-mails since June. But after the man appeared in the vicinity of her home early this month, her homeroom teacher called Suginami Police Station of the Metropolitan Police Department, which is near her school, to request countermeasures on Oct. 4.

The problem was that the station failed to adequately listen. Its response was simply to recommend that the teacher contact the Mitaka Police Station, which has jurisdiction over the area where the girl lived. The girl and her parents visited the Mitaka station four days later—and she was killed later the same day.

Suginami Police Station displayed a lack of concern for a case that happened outside its jurisdiction. If it had communicated with Mitaka Police Station immediately, the outcome could have been different.

A question also arises as to whether the Mitaka station responded adequately. Just one police officer handled the case for half a day from when the girl visited until the time of her murder.

If the station had carefully arranged safety measures such as patrolling around her home, vigilant to the fact that stalker cases tend to involve abrupt turns and twists, perhaps the murder could have been prevented.

Lessons not learned

In a stalker case two years ago in Nagasaki Prefecture, two family members of the stalking victim were killed even after help was sought from the Chiba, Nagasaki and Mie prefectural police, all of whom failed to share information on the case.

Based on that bitter experience, in which a response was delayed due to the involvement of police from different jurisdictions, the National Police Agency directed police stations nationwide to take quick action and thorough measures to protect stalking victims who seek help.

A revision to the Anti-Stalker Law was enforced on Oct. 3, enabling police and public safety commissions from outside a victim’s area of residence to issue warnings and stay-away orders to a suspected stalker.

But the measures devised from lessons learned from the Nagasaki incident failed to meet their purpose this time. On the contrary, even two police stations that were both in Tokyo failed to communicate with each other this time.

The MPD must profoundly consider the magnitude of the consequences.

The number of stalking victims has soared. Nearly 20,000 stalking cases were confirmed by police last year alone. Dealing with stalkers is an increasingly important police duty.

Most of the offenders are said to stop stalking and other acts following police intervention.

What is the best way to contact offenders and protect victims? We suggest nationwide police organizations comprehensively study past cases to devise stalking countermeasures.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 12, 2013)
(2013年10月12日01時39分  読売新聞)


水俣条約採択 「脱水銀」へ日本の教訓生かせ

The Yomiuri Shimbun October 12, 2013
U.N. Minamata convention must lead to world free of mercury poisoning
水俣条約採択 「脱水銀」へ日本の教訓生かせ(10月11日付・読売社説)

By learning important and serious lessons from Minamata disease, considered a historic example of a tragedy caused by environmental pollution, efforts must be made to effectively stem mercury contamination from spreading worldwide.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury of the United Nations was adopted Thursday in an international council in Kumamoto, with delegates from about 140 countries and territories participating. The name Minamata was used for the landmark treaty at the initiative of the Japanese government.

The U.N. Environment Program, which sponsored the conference, aims to have the pact take effect from 2016. The treaty bans in principle the manufacturing, export and import of products containing mercury, starting from 2020.

When a coal-fired thermal power plant is newly built that emits mercury in the process of combustion for power generation, the plant operator will be obliged under the treaty to introduce the best possible technology available to curb mercury emissions into the environment. The pact also includes such regulations as banning development of new mercury mines.

This is definitely a major step forward for the realization of a “world free of mercury.”

Mercury has been used broadly in the production of goods familiar in our daily lives, such as batteries, thermometers and fluorescent lamps.

Japanese manufacturers have addressed the task of regulating the use of mercury ahead of many other countries, but there has been little progress on curbing the use of mercury in emerging and developing countries.

When discharged into the atmosphere, sea and rivers, mercury accumulates in living creatures’ bodies. Those who eat large quantities of mercury-contaminated fish and shellfish are in danger of developing poisoning symptoms like those of Minamata disease.

China the largest emitter

The quantity of mercury being emitted into the atmosphere due to industrial activities and other causes is estimated at about 2,000 tons a year worldwide.

It is a matter of urgency to cut back on mercury emissions to prevent health hazards that are a menace across national borders.

Topping the list of mercury emissions by industry are small-scale gold mines, many of which are in developing countries. They consume mercury in the process of extracting gold from ores.

Mercury is indispensable for people who earn their living through gold-mining operations. In light of this, the international treaty falls short of prohibiting the use of mercury for mining purposes, calling instead for efforts to reduce its use.

How can support be given to developing nations that can hardly afford to fund projects for environmental conservation? This problem must be addressed if the Minamata convention is to be made truly effective and viable.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed the Japanese government’s intention to earmark a total of $2 billion (about ¥200 billion) in aid to developing nations’ environmental measures projects in three years from 2014.

It is of great significance that Japan, aiming to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy of the widespread damage from Minamata disease that resulted from delays in responding to the problem, is now contributing to preventing mercury contamination around the world.

Countermeasures against thermal power generation using coal containing mercury are also a key issue. In particular, China, which is the world’s largest discharger of mercury, must proactively tackle the challenge of phasing out mercury emissions.

An outbreak of Minamata disease has been confirmed in watershed regions of some river systems in China. China appears poised to ratify the convention, seemingly with the aim of obtaining technological support from industrially advanced countries to reduce mercury emissions.

In the wake of the treaty’s adoption, Japan must take measures to respond to the fact that mercury has been recycled domestically from used products, mainly those produced abroad, for export to other Asian countries and elsewhere.

When the pact takes effect, however, it will be required to store the mercury domestically.

Taking this into account, building a system to safely manage spent mercury is certain to become a pressing task.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 11, 2013)
(2013年10月11日01時38分  読売新聞)


介護保険制度 高齢者も応分の負担が必要だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun October 11, 2013
Elderly also need to shoulder fair burden of nursing care cost
介護保険制度 高齢者も応分の負担が必要だ(10月10日付・読売社説)

To maintain the nursing care insurance system, it is impossible to ask only those people who are under retirement age to bear the heavy burdens. It is necessary for the elderly to bear their fair share of the costs.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has submitted to the Social Security Council a draft to review the self-pay rate for nursing care services from the current 10 percent to 20 percent for people earning a certain level of income.

The ministry plans to submit a bill to revise the Nursing Care Insurance Law to an ordinary Diet session next year, aiming at enforcing the revised law in fiscal 2015. If realized, it would be the first raise in the self-pay rate since the nursing care insurance system was created in 2000.

Due to the rapid graying of society, the payment of benefits under the system has been snowballing. It is quite understandable that the government is trying to secure revenue.

The people who will become subject to the increase in the self-pay rate are those with an annual pension income of nearly ¥3 million. About 20 percent of people aged 65 or older meet this criteria.

Under the health care insurance system, the self-pay rate of those aged 70 or older and who have a monthly income of ¥280,000 has already been raised to 30 percent. It is inevitable to increase the amount paid for the nursing care insurance system in proportion to income.

The ministry will also review a system to lessen the burden on residents at nursing care facilities for the purpose of spending cuts.

At facilities like special nursing homes for the aged, expenses, such as living and meal costs paid by low-income residents, are currently subsidized through nursing care insurance revenue. Under the ministry’s envisioned review, married couples with savings of ¥20 million or more will be excluded from the system.

Currently, low-income earners are eligible for the subsidies even if they have a huge amount of assets. It is natural to review the system. There are no subsidies for people who receive in-home nursing care services or residents in so-called group homes for the aged, leading some to criticize the system as unfair. This point should be taken into consideration.

Major problems

However, the increased revenue following these measures is expected to reach only about several tens of billions of yen, which is obviously insufficient. We also doubt to what extent the government will be able to determine individuals’ assets since, in principle, the government will rely on self-reporting. These are major points to be studied.

The ministry is now considering removing services for those users who require only low-level nursing care services from the nursing care insurance system and transferring them to programs run by city, town and village governments utilizing volunteers. The ministry is also thinking about changing the criteria for those eligible to enter special nursing homes for the aged from the current “Nursing care required: Level 1 or higher” to “Nursing care required: Level 3 or higher” under the nursing care requirement authorization system.

We think the direction of the policy, using the limited revenues mainly for people requiring intensive nursing care, is appropriate. The important thing is to make the entire nursing care insurance system efficient.

On the other hand, the welfare ministry will reduce the nursing care insurance premiums of low-income earners, who account for 30 percent of the elderly. It is designed to prevent an increase of the burden on low-income earners if an increase in premiums is unavoidable due to the increase in the number of nursing care service users.

However, public funds will be required to take such a measure for low-income earners. To ensure that revenue can be secured by increasing the burden on high-income earners, we think the rate and the people entitled to reduced premiums must be limited to the minimum necessary.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 10, 2013)
(2013年10月10日01時22分  読売新聞)


TPP首脳声明 交渉加速へ「聖域」絞り込みを

The Yomiuri Shimbun October 10, 2013
Govt should narrow down ‘sanctuary’ categories to accelerate TPP talks
TPP首脳声明 交渉加速へ「聖域」絞り込みを(10月9日付・読売社説)

Japan, the United States and other countries participating in Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations have put off their goal of quickly reaching a broad agreement. It will be difficult for them to reach a conclusion by the end of this year so they must reshape their strategy.

Leaders from the 12 countries involved in the TPP negotiations met in Indonesia and adopted a statement on Tuesday.

The leaders’ statement emphasized, “We have agreed that negotiators should now proceed to resolve all outstanding issues with the objective of completing this year a comprehensive and balanced, and regional agreement.”

The 12 countries initially expected to reach a broad agreement in Indonesia to conclude the TPP negotiations by the end of this year. However, the United States and emerging economies were unable to resolve differences over such areas as intellectual property rights and competition policy. The 12 countries also shelved talks over tariff elimination.

The fact that the 12 countries gave up reaching a broad agreement highlighted the difficulties of negotiations in which participating countries’ interests are intricately tangled. The abrupt absence of U.S. President Barack Obama, a facilitator in the TPP negotiations, also diminished the momentum of the talks.

The focus of attention from now on will be whether the participating countries can accelerate negotiations.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is right in saying, “We must make this [the TPP] the first step toward the creation of a great, free economic zone in the Asia-Pacific region.” We hope the TPP will help Japan harness the economic vitality of other Asian countries to boost its own growth.

Treating special items

An unavoidable issue is how to treat the five agricultural categories, such as rice, wheat and dairy products, which the Liberal Democratic Party demands should be regarded as “sanctuaries” that are exempt from eliminating tariffs.

Koya Nishikawa, chairman of the LDP’s TPP committee, said Sunday, “We have to consider whether [some products in the five categories] can be eliminated [from a list of items for which tariffs will be maintained].” His remark drew a backlash from some LDP members and agricultural organizations.

However, we believe it is quite natural and proper for Japan to closely examine the sanctuary categories.

Although the TPP adopts a principle of eliminating tariffs on all items, participating countries are discussing a liberalization rate, a percentage of trade items that will be tariff-free. It is highly likely Japan will be urged to achieve a liberalization rate of above 95 percent.

The five agricultural categories cover 586 products in tariff classifications, with the rice category alone comprising 58 items. If tariffs are maintained for all those items, the liberalization rate will be only 93.5 percent.

In preparation for an acceleration in the TPP negotiations, Japan must narrow down the sanctuary categories. Otherwise it will not be able to fully exert its negotiating power. The government must quickly have specific discussions over what items Japan should preferentially protect and on which items Japan should make concessions to best serve the overall national interest.

Rather than simply being defensive, it is also important for Japan to go on the front foot, for example, by capturing markets in emerging economies with its intellectual property.

With negotiations over the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership for East Asia getting started, the future goal is to create a wider Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.

Japan, which started later than South Korea in forming economic partnerships with other countries, must make up for this loss by leading trade liberalization. Japan’s negotiating power to better utilize different free-trade frameworks will certainly be put to the test.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 9, 2013)
(2013年10月9日01時52分  読売新聞)