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LDP slumps

The Democratic party posts major gains in Tokyo elections, positioning themselves to take on PM Aso in August. Russia and Japan fail (again) to reach agreement on northern islands, officially prolonging WWII. A secret U.S.-Japan nuclear deal is exposed. Kirin and Suntory to merge. Google Books gets mired in the law. Plus, the mob branches into matchmaking, "herbivorous men," the mini-skirt police, wingless lady bugs, an escargot invasion, pyramidal watermelons, and more...

Top News: After much speculation, the general election has finally been called for August 30. The House of Representatives was dissolved on Tuesday July 21. The move came just after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party sustained heavy losses in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly elections on July 12, when the opposition Democratic Party of Japan became the largest party. This presented challenges for the nationalist Tokyo Governor, Ishihara.


There were brief attempts to remove embattled Prime Minister Aso in the interim, with some predicting the disintegration of the LDP. In the end, two LDP bigwigs resigned to take responsibility for the defeats and Aso will face the country as head of the ruling party. In one recent poll of registered voters, the DPJ lead the government 65 percent to 23 percent. Despite assurances of moves to end the practice, more than a third of LDP candidates have inherited their constituencies from elder relatives, including the son of supposedly reformist former prime minister, Koizumi.   


A meeting between the Russian and Japanese premiers, once again failed to reach agreement on the disputed islands north of Hokkaido. The two nations never signed a peace agreement after WWII because of the disagreement, and are officially still at war.


The owner of a Thai restaurant is suing the head of Japan’s largest yakuza organization, the Yamaguchi-gumi, over a robbery-assault carried out by an affiliated gang. This is the first such prosecution under the Anti-Organized Crime Law, enacted in 2008, making bosses responsible for underlings’ actions.  


A secret U.S.-Japan deal allowing nuclear-armed Navy ships to sail through Japanese waters without notification, dating back to the 1960s, has been causing controversy again after the full text of the document — which the government denied existed — has come to light. Opposition leader Hatoyama has promised to discuss the matter openly if he wins the election.   


Money: The government has so far spent 3.83 trillion yen ($40 billion) aiding ailing domestic firms – small potatoes compared to what has been sunk into companies in the U.S. and Europe. Meanwhile, two beverage heavyweights, Kirin and Suntory, look set to merge to form a global drinks giant.


Domestic consumer demand remains weak as department stores logged a record 11 percent drop in sales in the first half of the year. Even convenience stores, which had been fairly recession-proof, showed the first sales decline in 14 months. The sports retail sector, particularly goods aimed at women, has been rare bright spot. The Tokyo Stock Exchange won’t be leading the way out of the recession either, as it reported a record 38 de-listings in the first half of the year.


One of the apparently successful stimulus measures that provided road-toll discounts to help get domestic tourists to struggling regional areas, has been found to be hurting rail and ferry operators.


The finance ministry has been hailing the success of a scheme in which it recovers money from loan-sharks and pays victims’ unpaid health insurance premiums with the proceeds.


The Google Books copyright controversy has hit Japan and negotiations between the Japan Visual Copyright Association (JVCA) and lawyers representing the internet behemoth continue.


Elsewhere: The so-called “Herbivorous men” continue to make the news in Japan as their distinctly non-macho lifestyle choices continue to baffle older traditionalists in the country that produced the fearless samurai and tireless salaryman.


In a life-imitates-art moment, a member of the “Mini-skirt Police” – a group of models who dress in sexy police outfits – nabbed a man who had been groping her on the train home.


Wingless ladybugs have been bred by Nagoya University - not a scientific version of pulling the wings off insects, but a step towards controlling other more harmful pests. Meanwhile, an Osaka public housing project has been invaded by escargot. Also in the Kansai area, a Kyoto University is to offer the nation’s first post-graduate course in manga comics. 


The yakuza, hit like everyone else by the recession, have been diversifying into the matchmaking business.


No Japanese summer is complete without a few stories about excessively overpriced or strangely-shaped and excessively overpriced fruits. A farmer in Hokkaido has grown 16 pyramid-shaped watermelons that are selling for 52,500 yen or $555.


Another essential element of the Japanese summer is the spectacular fireworks displays that occur across the nation. The granddaddy of them, the Sumida River Fireworks, will be on July 25 from 7 to 8.30pm. The weekends of August 1st and 8th will also feature a number of large displays around the metropolis.