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Too many workers, too little work

After Clinton wins freedom for American journalists in North Korea, Japanese call for their own citizens’ release. With a strong lead in pre-election polls, DPJ signals it would reduce dependence on U.S. security. The government finds excessive dead wood in corporations. Incomes drop 7.1 percent, but spending and trade stats signal recovery. A major convenience store will recharge electric vehicles. Nikei promotes anti-Semitic lit. Plus, wives who charge their husbands for haircuts, lunches and sex.

Top News: Bill Clinton’s successful mission to get two U.S. journalists freed from North Korea after nearly five months in prison has once again raised demands from relatives of Japanese citizens abducted by Pyongyang agents to have them brought home. North Korea has admitted taking 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970's and 80's, and asserted the people it hasn’t repatriated have died. Many Japanese believe more were taken and doubt Pyongyang’s explanations regarding the other abductees.


The opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) holds a 39 to 22 lead in the polls against the ruling Liberal Democratic Party ahead of the August 30 elections. Gaffe-prone prime minister Taro Aso, didn’t help his cause by insulting Japan’s huge and growing elderly population, telling a group of young voters that working is seniors’ “only talent.”


In June, the DPJ had issued a draft policy document that included a proposal to end the refueling mission for ships in the Indian Ocean to support troops in Afghanistan in January. The DPJ also said it would reduce Japan’s dependence on the U.S. for security. Now that victory appears imminent, it has backed off from those pledges. The post World War II pacifist constitution — semi-imposed by the U.S. — has long been a source of debate, and North Korea’s recent belligerence has once again brought reform on to the agenda.


After losing 19 court battles against atomic bomb survivors over compensation claims, the government will set up a fund to provide assistance for those who contracted illnesses after Hiroshima and Nagasaki more than 60 years ago.


Legal reform has also been in the news, as the first lay judge trial began on August 3 with six citizens sitting alongside three professional judges. By the third day of the trial, all six lay judges had exercised their right to question the defendant – one of the most controversial elements of the new system.


Money: Japanese companies have long been famous for their reluctance to fire permanent workers, and a government survey estimates there are now over 6 million 'excessive' employees nationwide with little work to do. If they were all let go, the unemployment rate would hit 14 percent, the record rate being 5.5 percent.


Average income dropped 7.1 percent in June, compared to the same month in 2008, largely due to a drop in summer bonuses. However, household spending managed to creep up for the second consecutive month. Other signs of recovery are the trade surplus, up fivefold in June, and production, also growing for the fourth consecutive month. Still, declining sales of 10 percent year-on-year at major department stores has led to aggressive price-cutting, which in turn is triggering fears of a return to a deflationary spiral.


Major convenience store Lawson will introduce electric car charging stations at some of its outlets that will be available to both company vehicles and those driven by the public. The world’s biggest carmaker, Toyota, announced losses for the second quarter around a tenth of the size of those for the first quarter.


In what may well be a harbinger of business to come, Laox, a Japanese electronics retail chain, has been taken over by a Chinese firm.


Japan’s leading business daily, the Nikkei, has been attacked by the Simon Wiesenthal Center for running ads promoting anti-Semetic books after having agreed not to do so in the past. There is a small but long-running tradition of Jewish conspiracy literature in Japan, despite there never having been any significant Jewish population.


Elsewhere: An article in Japan Today reports that wives are charging for everything from making lunch to making love — and husbands like the idea.


A police sergeant was arrested for filming up a university student’s skirt and a train conductor was forced to run along the tracks to the next station after being left behind as a result of tending to a drunken passenger.


A group of university researchers may have discovered an alternative to dentures with teeth grown in 50 days in mice.


The TASPO card system was originally introduced to thwart underage purchases of cigarettes, though it has now been revealed that companies have handed over cigarette purchase data to the police to aid them tracking suspects' movements, which is raising issues about smokers' civil liberties.