WIT Life #85: New start

WITLife is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends together with her own observations.

Whereas here in the States today we celebrate April Fool’s Day, April 1st in Japan is a beginning.  It is the start of the new fiscal and school years, and the blooming and subsequent falling of the cherry blossoms serves as a way to mark this transition.  This morning’s news outlined several changes that will be taking place in accordance with the new year, but whether they will make life in Japan easier or harder remains to be seen.

  • The child allowance law giving parents 13,000 yen per child per month goes into effect today, fulfilling one of the DPJ’s key campaign pledges.  It differs from the previous student allowance in that the amount is higher and it lasts until the child finishes junior high, whereas before it was elementary school.  In addition, foreign residents who have lived in Japan for more than a year are entitled to the money regardless of where their children live.  The party believes this allowance will help families raise their children so much that they hope to double the amount to 26,000 yen per child next fiscal year, though where this money will come from is still undetermined.  Will this help remedy Japan’s decreasing birth rate?
  • The DPJ will also follow through on its promise to make education free through high school, whereas before the government only covered through the mandatory education age of junior high.  This is the case for public high schools, and families with children at private schools will be able to receive a subsidy of 120,000 yen as long as the curriculum is equivalent to that at public schools.  Another incentive for families on the fence about having children.
  • Kanagawa Prefecture introduced Japan’s first ordinance banning smoking in public facilities such as hospitals, schools and government offices.  Facilities that are found to be in violation of this will be charged 20,000 yen, and individuals 2000 yen.  Governors of seven other prefectures are also considering mapping out their own measures to prevent secondhand smoking, but others have said they expect the central government to enact laws with penalties to prevent passive smoking.  Looks like Japan is losing its reign as a smoker’s paradise.

And in a look at the past as opposed to the present, an article in Salon yesterday highlighted a documentary made by a Japanese activist exposing the actions of Japanese soliders in Nanking in 1937.  This retired teacher seems to be the Iris Chang of Japan in regard to this issue.  This doc had its first screening outside Japan in Hong Kong, and I wonder when it will make its way over here.

Finance Minister Fuji Resigns – First Blow to Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama

Since becoming Prime Minister last September, Yukio Hatoyama has had a dedicated cabinet. The Prime Minister and his cabinet have stood fast to battle both a horrible economic downturn in Japan and also the many issues arising from an aging population. However in recent weeks concerns have risen in regards to his Finance Minister’s health (aged 77), in particular high blood pressure. The Prime Minister’s initial reaction was to try to keep him on regardless, as Fuji-san is one of his most experienced and capable cabinet members.

Last night however the Prime Minister called a press conference where he caved in to letting Finance Minister Fuji step down. Each newspaper reported a slightly different take on the event:

Yomiuri ” Next Finance Minister Nominated, he’ll share the position with Sengoku Yoshito” The Yomiuri reported that the Prime Minister had allowed Finance Minister Fuji to resign, and commented (like every other paper) that this is Prime Minister Hatoyama’s first resignation of his cabinet. There was an interesting word choice however used by Yomiuri in its text at the end, stating Sengoku Yoshito will be “forced” to share the position with the new finance minister. (兼務させる)

Asahi “The Prime Minister Announces the Finance Minister’s Successor” The Asahi mentions that Sengoku Yoshito, in order to relieve the burden on the Finance Minister’s successor, will “help with his duties.” They also reported that after long deliberation, the Prime Minister allowed the Finance Minister to resign his post. They also added that his successor, Mr. Kan, is well versed with the DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan) and his experiences with their Manifesto, etc.

Nikkei “Next Finance Minister will share responsibilities with Sengoku Yoshito” The Nikkei give a different spin on the event vs. Asahi. The last comment they made was that the Finance Minister had a large role in the administration, and his departure might have a huge impact on the Prime Minister’s administration.

Futenma Military Base: Prime Minister Hatoyama Calls for a meeting with Barack Obama

It has been nearly 65 years since the end of World War II, but old alliances and agreements remain in place. One is the bilateral security treaty between Japan and the United States, which currently states that America’s military base, Futenma, will be moved sometime early next year to another spot in Okinawa. While the U.S. expects this to happen, Japanese politicians look like they’re trying to get something otherwise.

As to exactly what Japan’s stance is towards the United States and the relocation of Futenma military base it has not yet been formally announced. Prime Minister Hatoyama made a statement last night requesting that he meet with Barack Obama. Each newspaper had a slightly different take on the situation, and what could possibly be said at a meeting between the Japanese Prime Minister and Barack Obama.

Asahi “The Government’s Policy for Futenma will be communicated to America before the COP meeting” The Asahi, along with the Yomiuri and the Nikkei, reported on the general comments made by the prime minister. He addressed that he would like to meet directly with Barack Obama before the COP meeting on climate change to talk about Futenma. “If I could meet with the president at COP I’d be grateful. Obviously before this I’d have to explain our government’s stance, and I’d also like the opportunity of getting understanding from America.”

While the Asahi reported on the less decisive comments made by the Prime Minister, they also highlighted some stronger opinions. “Now is the time to finally say to America our stance on the issue.” “It’s not that simple as you know, we have an alliance with America, and the expectations of the people of Okinawa are elsewhere.”

NikkeiFutenma: before COP a policy will be announced” The Nikkei also reported that the Prime Minister would like to talk with President Barack Obama, and would like American understanding for Japanese sentiment in Okinawa.

However the language used by the Nikkei was softer than the Asahi’s, and less decisive. “I would like to bring to life a policy that would decrease the weight of the Okinawan people.” The Nikkei left out the fact that America’s alliance and the Okinawa people’s thoughts are two different things.

Yomiru “The policy for Futenma will need to be decided before the COP15 summit” The Yomiuri, while mentioning the general comments made by the prime minister along with the Nikkei and Asahi, focused on comments made by others within the DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan).

The Chief Cabinet Secretary claimed “The issue in Okinawa is trying to reduce the danger and noise produced by an American base.” And lastly Ozawa-san, the Chief Secretary of the Party, said “with every new ruling party comes a new way of doing things, and a new way of forming alliances.”

Strong Yen – Japanese Reactions to their Inflated Currency

The Japanese economy has had some bad news in past weeks. The index that measures new housing starts in Japan went down 27.1% in October. The historic news that JAL is lowering their retirement payouts still rocks the news, along with institutions posting historic unbalanced budgets, including JTB and the Bank of Japan.

Usually at the forefront of bad economic news are the effects felt from a strong yen. In an export driven economy with the dollar weakening and the yen strengthening, Japanese exports continue to become more expensive when compared with their competition. The newspapers this morning reported on the yen strengthening and the reactions to it.

Asahi Prime Minister Hatoyama exclaimsWe must do something quickly” The Prime Minister, in an interview with the Asahi newspaper, answered questions about the Dubai economic summit he recently attended. When asked about the weakening stock market and the strengthening yen, he responded by talking about the weak dollar and its effects: “I’ve held meetings previously in Japan about this, but basically my thoughts have not changed. There’s been a strong movement of buying another currency in the face of the weakening dollar; in fact I think only the yen has really experienced such strong appreciation. Something must be done quickly in order to keep Japan the second strongest economy in the world.”

Nikkei “From the first Itoyokado starts its 20-50% off sale” In light of the strengthening yen, Itoyokado from December 1st to December 3rd has decided to drop its prices 20-50%. According to the Nikkei, because the Yen’s getting stronger, Itoyokado anticipates that they can buy groceries such as fruit and pork at a lower price.

For example, American made pork will go on sale for 34% off, to 84 yen per 100 grams. Salmon imported from Chile will be 25% off, to 88 yen per 100 grams.

YomiuriStock Market and Strengthening Yen Policy Announced” Prime Minister Hatoyama announced a plan to combat a volatile market on September 29th, according to the Yomiuri. Just like the Asahi the Yomiuri also mentioned the prime minister’s concern about rising stock prices and a falling yen, but they noted the specifics of how the plan will combat these two things has yet to be determined.

Ozawa “Buddies Up” with the American Ambassador

Ichiro Ozawa was the main candidate for The Democratic Party of Japan, leading up to the election in September. Then leading up the summer he was rocked by a scandal that put his secretary potentially embezzling funds that he shouldn’t have been embezzling. He resigned, and the now current Prime Minister, Hatoyama, took over the Democratic Party of Japan, and ended up winning the prize of Prime Minister. The election was historic for Japan, in its 50 year history since WWII this was the first time the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) had taken the reigns of power from the Liberal Democratic Party, or (LDP).

Nevertheless, Ozawa-san has managed to hold onto power, both behind the scenes and as now the Secretary General of the Democratic Party of Japan. Each newspaper had a different take on Ozawa-san this morning and his meeting with the American ambassador to Japan, John Roos.

AsahiWe should be frank with each other.” The Asahi painted the meeting with the American Ambassador, John Roos, as a tough yet honest discussion. Sources within the DPJ, according to the Asahi, claimed that Ozawa exchanged opinions with the Ambassador about trade frictions during the LDP era. Ozawa-san said to the ambassador, “If America has an issues, I want you to clearly state them. Japan should also frankly state their opinions in return.”

YomiuriOver a drink, let’s talk about the past election.” The Yomiuri’s interpretation of the meeting between Ozawa and Roos was one of friendship, not one of frank speaking. They also had a different take on what Ozawa-san said to John Roos when he asked “If America has an issues, I would appreciate if you could you say them.” The Yomuri used “言ってもらいたい instead of the more direct form, 言ってほしい.

In the Yomiuri not just the language was different, but also what they talked about was apparently friendlier. Ozawa said “Even when I meet the American Ambassador, I can’t really say political things.” Ozawa then went on to say “I commend the majority the Democratic Party in the US has obtained. I also have experience with running a campaign, let’s grab a drink sometime and discuss it.”

NikkeiA new strand of the virus hospitalizes 445 people.” The Nikkei actually didn’t report on the meeting between the American Ambassador and Ozawa. This could partly be reflective of their lack of support for the new administration…

They instead talked about the Swine Flu, and the surprising impact it has had in the past week. 445 people were hospitalized, and a staggering 8,534 schools were closed due to the threat of flu. Over 50% of those schools were elementary, where as about 25% were middle schools.

Prime Minister Hatoyama Leaves Japan for the First Time

In early September Prime Minister Hatoyama and his party the DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan) won a historic election. For the first time since the second world war, the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) is no longer in power, and the DPJ is now in the driver seat in the Japanese government. How things will change, and what this means for Japanese diplomacy, has yet to be seen.

Prime Minister Hatoyama left Japan with his wife last night for the United States, and for the G20 summit. Each Japanese newspaper reported something different about what policies and goals the Prime Minister would have on his first diplomatic mission.

AsahiPrime Minister Hatoyama Leaves for the U.S. for his Speech at the G20” The Asahi describes in their first paragraph how the Prime Minister sees this trip to the U.S. as his chance to really make an impression on world leaders. With this historic change in power, he wants to give the impression of a positive diplomatic change for the heads of state of China, Russia, and the U.S.

The Asahi focused on the ambitious goals for climate change that the new prime minister has. The former Prime Minister, Aso of the LDP, had placed a target of reducing greenhouse gases by 8% in comparison with 1990 levels. Prime Minister Hatoyama has placed a 25% reduction target, representing a change in focus for diplomacy going forward.

“I would like to have everything go smoothly. If possible I would like countries to gain our trust, even if just a little bit.” They also mentioned the theme of his presentation would be “friendship.”

Nikkei “Gaining Trust is our Number 1 Priority” The Nikkei’s theme of “gaining trust” is a large contrast to the Asahi’s “winds of change.” As a whole, these themes are probably representative of how the Asahi vs. how the Nikkei sees the change in political power. The Asahi welcomes change, and focuses on how the first diplomatic mission of the Prime Minister will hopefully demonstrate positive changes. The Nikkei focuses on how the Prime Minister will try to “gain trust,” insinuating even possibly that the Prime Minister will have to gain the Nikkei’s trust.

The Nikkei also mentions Hatoyama’s purpose of discussing global warming, but they also focus on issues such as Nuclear Proliferation, and of course the American / Japanese relationship.

Yomiuri “The Prime Minister Leaves for America” The Yomiuri surprisingly paid little attention to the Prime Minister’s first diplomatic mission. While both the Nikkei and the Asahi had the Prime Minister’s trip as front page and headline news, the Yomiuri stuck an article of 3 sentences towards their backpage in the political section. It was also like the 5th one down, below a political traffic scandal, an article on changing medicare policies in Japan, etc. The Yomiuri did mention one thing the other newspapers did not, and that is the Prime Minister will be visiting a nursing home during his trip to the U.S.

Japanese Prime Minister Just Says NO to Yasukuni Shrine

Background: Yasukuni Shrine is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) diplomatic challenges that Japan has with its neighbors. The shrine exclusively celebrates the Japanese war dead, so naturally when an anniversary of a war comes up the prime minister needs to look patriotic and pay homage to fallen soldiers. The problem is that those fallen soldiers, to neighbors such as China and Korea, also include Class A war criminals that tortured and killed their people. Every prime minister in recent years that has visited the shrine has ended up getting key diplomatic missions cancelled, and on a more extreme level countries will shut off economic and political negotiations entirely.

Prime Minister Aso today commented on Yasukuni, in the background of the anniversary of the end of WWII coming up on August 15th. Each newspaper had a different take on the event.

Nikkei “I’m Against Visiting Yasukuni While in Office” On the evening of August 10th at the Prime Minister’s residence, Prime Minister Aso stated in regards to the anniversary on the 15th of WWII: “It’s a mistake to mix up the confusion of the election and paying homage to fallen soldiers. I think politics and the media should be placed far away from this process. I would like to pray in a quieter spot.”

The second paragraph states Aso’s intentions since the budget meeting last year in October. The Nikkei claims that although the Prime Minister said, “I don’t have to answer if I will go to Yasukuni or not,” sources from the Nikkei claim that his advisors around him stated he had decided he wouldn’t go during his term in office.

So for the Nikkei the Prime Minister is following his past promises. Although they did mention that one of his cabinet members had paid money to the shrine this year in April.

Asahi “The Prime Minister Expresses Thoughts about not Going to Yasukuni” The Asahi had a more critical approach to the events on the evening of August 10th. Unlike the Nikkei, the Asahi skipped the Prime Minister’s commentary, and instead decided to focus on comments made to the newspaper in the year 2006. At that time the Prime Minister said, “Giving contributions to Yasukuni would set a bad precedent. It would politicize this process of praying for the war dead.”

They then drilled the Prime Minister on this issue, stating that he had given contributions earlier this year to Yasukuni in April. His reply was “I think politics and the media should be placed far away from this process.”

The Asahi’s trying to paint the Prime Minister as a flip flopper, who could possibly go back on his word again and maybe even visit the shrine this August 15th. The Nikkei however tried to show the Prime Minister as following a policy that he had instituted last year in October.

Yomiuri “Buried by a mudslide in Oita Prefecture” The Yomiuri didn’t have any political commentary on the Prime Minister’s speech and instead decided to focus on the mudslide in Oita prefecture. Japan has had record rainfall, at 69.5mm in one hour on August 10th. At about 7pm a mudslide buried 5 cars, one car was sent into a river, and four drivers are currently attempting to be rescued from their cars covered in mud.

J-News Mini-Roundup: “Talent” Governor, Candidate for Congressman?

Background: One of the most amusing parts of Japanese politics is the willingness for politicians to get involved in comedy shows. Although this might sound familiar in terms of American politicians joining Saturday Night Live, David Letterman, or Obama at Jay Leno, the Japanese air tons of comedy and game shows everyday, most of which do not have the star quality of a light night talk show. It is here where the “Talent” Governor, Hideo Higashikokubaru, appears so much that the average viewer wouldn’t recognize him as a governor.

A former comedian turned politician, Higashikokubaru-san uses the television to increase his popularity and discuss his political life. Today he was encouraged to be a candidate for the Diet by Koga-san, the head of the electoral commission. Each newspaper reported a different take on the event.

AsahiHigashikokubaru: If I were a candidate…” The Asahi reported more detailed commentary and remarks than the other papers. They claim that the head of the electoral commission for the LDP, Koga-san, stated that, “The LDP needs to change and develop power to reinvent itself.” They claimed that this comment was then a signal to Higashikokubaru that he needs to run for the Diet.

In response, Higashikokubaru-san stated he would get together with all the governors, and create a manifesto outlining how he would change the party going forward. He also said that “If I were a candidate, we’d have to talk more in depth about the conditions of my candidacy.”

Nikkei “Higashikokubaru Encouraged to be a Candidate” The most striking difference between the Asahi’s article and the Nikkei’s article is the Nikkei lacks all description of the event. It makes the reader wonder if the Asahi has articles that pay much more attention to detail, or more likely the Asahi added commentary that it saw appropriate, such as “The LDP needs to change…” Usually when the Nikkei reports political events it takes the more conservative, pro – LDP approach.

The Nikkei stated: “What was discussed between the governor and the head of the election commission is not clear, what is clear is that the governor did not announce his candidacy for the Diet.”

Yomiuri “Higashikokubaru: If I were the president of the LDP…” The Yomiuri had a slightly different take on the event vs. the Asahi and Nikkei. They claimed that Higashikokubaru-san stated his conditions for running as a member of the Diet, and in response the head of the electoral commission said “I’ve heard these conditions.” They turned the event into a conversation between Higashikokubaru-san and Koga-san, with Higashikokubaru-san requesting certain conditions be met before he becomes a candidate, and Koga-san stating he’ll think about it.

The World Reacts to North Korea

Earlier this year in April North Korea did two long range missile tests, aimed at the two bodies of water bordering Japan. Although North Korea claimed the rockets were designed to launch a satellite, these launches were widely condemned by the United Nations as acts of aggression. North Korea in response to the U.N.’s condemnation said it would start testing its nuclear facilities again and continue to do more long range missile tests. Yesterday North Korea put words into action by conducting a nuclear test. The Japanese newspapers this morning reported different world reactions to the North Korean nuclear testing.

Asahi “Korean Foreign Minister: 3-4 Times the Size of Hiroshima” In response to the nuclear testing conducted by North Korea, the Asahi reported that Korea has determined the blast was 3-4 times the size of the bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Yu Myonfan, the foreign minister, claimed this in an interview in front of the Korean cabinet. Although these numbers are alarming, the Asahi does point out that the Defense Minister, Lee Sanghi, claimed the day before that the blasts were not as big as the Hiroshima blast.

Why are the opinions differing between the Defense Minister and Foreign Minister? The Asahi offers this troubling thought: “According to scientists, both the defense and foreign ministers would have had a different perspective on the bomb blast. If they were in different parts of the country when the nuclear bomb went off, they would’ve felt a different earthquake-like wave.”

Nikkei “Russia: A Strict Resolution is Inevitable” The Nikkei reported the commentary by the Russian Foreign Ministry. As Russia is part of the Security Council, any commentary made by them will surely affect the outcome of how the United Nations responds. “Using our power in the Security Council of the United Nations, we cannot back down from giving a strict response of sanctions to North Korea.”

To echo these comments, the economic summit that was planned between Russia and North Korea for the 28th of this month was delayed until further notice.

YomiuriMissiles Launched at the Sea of Japan” Perhaps the most alarming headline this morning about North Korea was the Yomiuri’s. It is one thing to talk about an event after it has taken place and the world’s reactions. It’s another to briefly state: “North Korea, as confirmed by the authorities in Seoul, launched two missiles directed at the Sea of Japan. One missile was a surface to ship, one missile was surface to air.” It appears Yomiuri, unlike the Nikkei and Asahi, preferred to focus on the long range missile testing instead of the nuclear testing. I know if I was living in Japan though, my first reaction to that article would be: where did the long range missiles end up?

The Head of Japan’s Opposition Party Resigns

Representative Ozawa of the Democratic Party of Japan announced his resignation today. The DPJ, or Democratic Party of Japan, has gained unprecedented political prominence in recent years. Just earlier this year it was highly rumored that the DPJ was going to unseat the ruling party, the LDP or Liberal Democratic Party, for the first time since the Second World War. Then, amidst a scandal where Ozawa’s secretary was accepting illegal campaign contributions, Ozawa and the DPJ abruptly started losing public favor. Each newspaper took a slightly different account of Ozawa’s resignation speech and how they viewed his departure from power.

Asahi A Political Soldier, “I did it for the Unification of my Party”. The Asahi reports that Ozawa’s main focus in his resignation was to unify his party, and continue the political battle. It’s almost made to seem as if a soldier has just retired from the battlefront. “Not only am I doing this to pave the way for a transition of power, but beyond that I’m doing this for sake of political solidarity.” The Asahi then adds that Ozawa still feels that “winning the snap election is of the utmost importance. I will continue along with my party to fight till the end.”

Nikkei A Vulnerable Threat, “The Party was Unstable”. The Nikkei focused on very different commentary than the Asahi for why Ozawa resigned. Their summary of the commentary states “I was the focus of attack from the media, and my departure will hopefully smooth things out and give the party the framework to work together to continue the political battle.” The Nikkei makes it seem as if Ozawa was the weakest link, rather than a strong soldier. The most interesting commentary is the words from Ozawa where he admits “My party was unstable. I couldn’t let this instability go on any longer.”

Yomiuri A Weathered Politician, “It was decided on vacation”. Interestingly enough, Yomiuri was the only newspaper that reported Ozawa’s commentary on when he decided to leave his position of power. “I decided to leave during my vacation, when I had time to sit down and think.” Although the Yomiuri also adds in comments about how Ozawa will continue to fight on within his own party, the nuance is slightly different. They add these comments after he states “I decided on my vacation”, making it seem as if his influence within the party might wane quickly.