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Alcohol, nepotism and incompetence

The drunken former finance minister advocates Japanese nukes. Democrats vow to attack inherited parliament seats. As GDP falls at a record pace, Japanese object to stimulus details. Sharp manufactures the world’s first solar cell phone. Cigarette machines can recognize a purchaser’s age (or can they?). And dominating the news: “SMAP singer held over naked park romp,” as the Daily Yomiuri put it.

Top News: Less than two months after former finance minister Shoichi Nakagawa’s drunken performance at the G7 Rome summit, some fear he may have been back on the sauce again after he suggested Japan needed nuclear weapons in light of North Korea’s recent rocket launch. This did give headline writers at The Japan Times the chance to use the phrase “sobering option.” As if to illustrate just how "off message" Nakagawa’s comments were in anti-nuclear Japan, the government launched an 11-point plan for a nuke-free world a week later.


One area where Japan can match North Korea is political nepotism, though this may be about to change if the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) finally wrestles power from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Prime Minister Aso and his three LDP predecessors, dating back to the “reformist” Koizumi, inherited their constituencies from fathers or other close relatives, as did one-third of all parliamentarians. (Upon retirement politicians often nominate a familial successor; in cases of sudden death, politically inexperienced offspring often triumph in the subsequent elections.) The DPJ later announced plans to ban inherited candidates to the “third degree of kinship.” Koizumi has already announced plans to “leave” his constituency to his eldest son.


Prime Minister Aso meanwhile, said he plans to call an election, which must be held by the fall, at an “appropriate time.” 


An aide to Aso ruffled feathers with his suggestion that Russia and Japan could split the disputed Northern Territories. Japan claims Russia is occupying the islands they seized during World War II and Foreign Ministry officials were quick to contradict former administrative vice-foreign minister Shotaro Yachi’s remarks. The arguments over the islands have prevented Russia and Japan from signing a formal peace treaty since the end of the war.


The practice of “amakudari” — literally, descending from heaven whereby former bureaucrats enter companies or quasi-governmental entities, has once again come into focus with a financial scandal at the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation. The body administers tests on reading the complicated characters of Chinese origin which make up the Japanese writing system. The tests have exploded in popularity over recent years, further boosted by PM Aso’s kanji-reading blunders.


Money: The surprisingly unpopular universal 12,000 yen ($120) cash handouts that form an important of the government’s stimulus package are back in the spotlight as women who have fled domestic violence complained their abusive husbands would also be getting the wives’ share. One ward in Tokyo plans to give the $120 to battered wives who have just moved into the area, but are as yet unregistered.


Previously, citizens have complained that the stimulus measure is hugely expensive to administer, and that some famously wealthy politicians, as well as Japan’s 80,000-plus Yakuza gang members, will also be receiving the cash.


Wireless carrier KDDI has announced what it claims is the world’s first solar-powered cell phone to go on sale, manufactured by Sharp.


In other technology news, manufacturers of cigarette vending machines that are equipped with the latest face-recognition device were left with egg on their faces when a 10-year-old boy was found to have purchased smokes from one in Kyoto.


Summer bonuses for company employees are set to fall an average of 14.4 percent this year, the largest drop on record. Many homeowners have an extra payment on their loans at bonus time. The Cabinet Office announced that GDP is to fall a post-war record 3.9 percent in 2009.


Elsewhere: The squeaky clean image of Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, an actor and singer with superstars SMAP, took a battering after he was arrested naked and incoherent in a park near a notorious night-life district at 3 a.m.


Kusanagi, also famous for being fluent in Korean in a country where such skills are rare enough to provoke serious admiration, was shouting loudly in the tongue of Japan’s nearest neighbor, according to TV news reports. The incident dominated the news for days as Kusanagi did the full “perp walk” in front of a frenzied media, looking more like a murder suspect than a drunk.


A regular fixture in big ad campaigns, corporations such as Toyota immediately canceled his lucrative contracts. Kusanagi also appeared in TV commercials for the 2011 digital switchover, provoking Communications Minister Kunio Hatoyama to call him a “human of the lowest kind” — which he later retracted. Some commentators pointed out that Hatoyama had been a vocal supporter of former finance minister Nakagawa, who had appeared drunk at the G7 summit.


A theft suspect escaped a police station as a 19-year-old police officer who was supposed to be watching him dozed off. After a search involving 170 officers failed to locate the suspect, he helpfully turned himself in. Perhaps inspired by the same incident, another theft suspect escaped when his interrogator took a trip to the land of nod after drinking tea laced with sleeping tablets. The senior officer later admitted going along with the suspect’s suggestion that they swap tea cups and down the drinks in one gulp — an idea he apparently failed to regard as in any way suspicious.