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Partisan scandals grip Tokyo

Alleged campaign finance breaches may enable the Liberal Democratic Party to retain power in upcoming elections despite dismal approval ratings. Meanwhile, as tensions heat up with North Korea, Japan tries to boost the economy with TV subsidies and cheap plane tickets for elderly.

Top News: The biggest story, other than the omnipresent economic meltdown, is a scandal enveloping the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. The party had seemed on course for certain victory in this year’s general election. Now its leader Ichiro Ozawa faces calls for his resignation after his aide was arrested  on charges of receiving political donations from the Nishimatsu construction company in return for helping it secure public works contracts.


Such quid-pro-quos have long been commonplace in Japan, and few doubt the timing of the revelations is a coincidence. The government of Taro Aso’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has been polling around the 10 percent mark recently, and looked certain to lose its grip on power for only the second time in the post-war era – until the scandal erupted. Curiously, when allegations spread to the LDP, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Iwao Uruma stepped in saying he didn’t think it was on a big scale within the LDP, so the investigation wouldn’t extend that far. This strengthened suspicions that the revelations about the Democratic party were politically motivated. His subsequent denials caused more anger.


Nishimatsu, the company at the center of the allegations, found itself linked to a new scandal. A majority of voters now think Ozawa should resign, while, perhaps unsurprisingly, over 90 percent of Japanese people polled described themselves as dissatisfied with politics.


Tensions are mounting as North Korea declares its intention to test an “experimental communications satellite.” Japan says the Taepodong-2 is a long range missile, and vows to shoot it down if it flies over its airspace. Pyongyang says any attempt to shoot it down will be an act of war.


Experts say that among the biggest long-term threats to Japan’s prosperity is its falling birthrate and shrinking population. The liberal Mainichi Daily News took a look at the French approach to encouraging women to have more children, while there is some way to go in Japan in terms of treating women with children fairly in the workplace. This may be getting worse in the current slump as employers look for ways to cut costs and reduce workers by axing women who choose to have children. The other possible solution to Japan’s demographic woes would be immigration, an option the country’s never been keen on.


The case of a 13-year-old girl who has elected to stay in Japan after her parents were sent back to the Philippines for being illegal immigrants, has been making headlines. Noriko Calderon, who was born in Japan and speaks only Japanese, has been forced to choose between her continued education in Japan or following her deported parents to the Philippines.


Money: A central pillar of the government’s limited stimulus package is the suprisingly unpopular 12,000 yen ($120) cash handout for everyone in Japan. The famously wealthy Prime Minister has flipped back and forth on the issue of personally accepting the money, before finally deciding to take it.


One positive economic effect of Aso’s gaffe-prone premiership has been increased sales of books on studying Japan’s complicated writing system after the PM made a string of highly-publicized mistakes.


The Japanese auto industry has been one of the biggest casualties of the slowdown and now the Tokyo Motor Show is suffering as global firms including the U.S. Big Three pull out. Domestic automakers are also diversifying into the used car business, to try and weather the storm.


With the current account deficit showing record levels, the government is set to support non-financial firms that find themselves in difficulties. To boost demand for electronics and help the shift to digital TV, scheduled for 2011, the government is buying old TVs from consumers for $200 in hopes they will invest in new large-screen models. All Nippon Airways (ANA), meanwhile, has a campaign to let seniors fly anywhere in Japan for 9,000 yen ($90).


ANA has been facing strike disruption to its domestic flights this week as negotiations broke down with unions. Toyota, meanwhile, managed to reach a compromise with its unions on bonuses, which will still be paid despite the company predicting its first ever loss this year. Negotiations in the annual spring round of wage talks continue against the backdrop of the worst economic situation in the post-war era.


One business that has been remarkably resilient in Japan: newspapers, where sales are down only slightly in recent years.


Elsewhere: Given the scandal bloodletting in political circles, producers of NTV’s "Shinso Hodo Bankisha" investigative news show must consider themselves seriously unlucky: they managed to air a program alleging graft where there was none. The president of NTV, a leading commercial broadcaster, took responsibility and resigned.


Too many supposed tourist hotels which have been receiving tax breaks  have been shown to provide no multi-lingual service for guests and have been told to raise their game.


When the toilets at Oji Station in Tokyo were fixed over 40 years ago, somebody apparently forgot to attach a pipe to the sewage system. Human waste fed directly into a nearby river until the mistake was recently discovered. Residents had complained of unpleasant odors.