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Pledging to lose

An outspoken minister resigns, triggering a slide in the LDP’s poll ratings. Prime Minister Aso brought levity by pledging to lose upcoming Tokyo elections. A new bullet train will reach 200 mph. Big business says the economy has bottomed out; small business disagrees. Shareholders get aggressive at annual meetings. Plus, computers that can be erased remotely when stolen; chubby at 40 means you may live longer; and Kinki University pugilists mug pedestrians.



Top News: Outspoken Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, Kunio Hatoyama finally quit on June 12 in a dispute over the reappointment of Japan Post’s boss. The head of the newly created postal delivery, financial and insurance private entity Nishikawa, was reappointed despite trying to sell off a chain of company hostels at a knock-down price to a company involved in Japan Post’s privatization.


With Hatoyama, one of Prime Minister Aso’s closest allies, now out of the cabinet, speculation is rife he may leave the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to either form his own party or join the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). He should feel at home in the (DPJ), as the leader is his older brother. If he does join him in fighting Aso at the upcoming election – this would set up a “rematch” of their respective grandfathers’ political rivalry.


The LDP’s abysmal poll ratings had been slowly rising, but dropped after Hatoyama’s resignation, which also set off some familiar factional fighting that has characterized much of the LDP’s half-century rule. Recent local election results have done little to settle the nerves of LDP lawmakers who could finally be facing life as the opposition. Prime Minister Aso, rarely far from a verbal gaffe, managed to unintentionally lighten the campaign mood with a pledge to “secure a close defeat” in the July 12 Tokyo metropolitan assembly election. Whether the occasional slip of the tongue from Aso is enough to get the politically apathetic young voting again, is another matter.


The government has decided that Google Street is not an infringement on privacy and the service can continue in Japan. An even faster bullet train, or Shinkansen, will begin its runs in the north of the country in 2011. It will reach speeds of around 200 mph.


Money: Big Japanese firms think the economy has bottomed out, and the government is inclined to agree with them. However local businesses say things are still worsening. The Nikkei has broken the 10,000 barrier, though since fallen back again.


Even at 10,000, this is still 75% off the peak reached during the bubble at the end of 1989. Given their dismal record over recent decades, it should be little surprise that overseas holdings of Japanese stocks were down record 4% in 2008 to 23.6%. Shareholders meetings, many still held on the same day to foil disruption by ‘sokaiya’ – the corporate racketeering arm of the yakuza – were livelier than usual this year as investors let rip into boards over massive losses incurred at many firms.


Shareholders had been growing more assertive in recent years, partly inspired by more aggressive stances taken by foreign investment funds. This year’s meetings were quieter on that front and the liberal Asahi heralded this as the beginning of a new kind of capitalism, taking a longer term view. Many would say this is what Japanese companies have been doing all along. Japan’s citizens have also taken the long-term fiscal view; despite being hit by the falling stock market, household assets still total 1,400 trillion yen or $14.5 trillion.


Japan’s advanced mobile phone system is set to get even faster by the end of next year when data-transmission speeds equivalent to a fiber-optical network, go wireless. Google is launching its Android phone in Japan’s fussy and faddy handset market, hoping to emulate the success of the iPhone, which showed that the domestic market can be cracked by overseas products.


Along those lines, computer manufacturers have developed laptops which can be erased remotely using mobiles, even when the computer is switched off. Companies report that lost laptops are their biggest source of data leaks.


Elsewhere: A male shoplifter in Hyogo prefecture was arrested while attempting to steal four pairs of women’s shorts by wearing them. Some shoppers at the opening of a menswear shop in Tokyo’s high-end Ginza district were curious at just how many suited salarymen had managed to get time off work on a weekday morning to buy more suits, until it emerged they were ‘plants’ sent there by the clothes store company and its business affiliates.   


Two members of Kinki University’s boxing club had been using their pugilistic prowess to mug pedestrians in Osaka. The two members of the business administration faculty confessed to a dozen previous offences after their arrest. 


People who neglect to exercise may be relieved to hear about a study from Tohoku University that found those overweight at 40 actually live longer.


Being too overweight may cause you to struggle to get into some of Tokyo’s most interesting bars, which can get full with just a carload of people. If you can find the small alleyways under the tracks at the Hachiko exit of Shibuya station, try your luck at any of the cozy bars and eateries inside. Just don’t bring too many friends.