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The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat

The Democratic Party of Japan sweeps the election, with a new privileged Prime Minister at the helm. Women break the 10 percent barrier in parliament. The economy slowly recovers. A military officer sells the personal data of more than 100,000 of his comrades. Plus, a "Cove" controversy, and an ex-priest steals Buddhas.

Top News: The general election has predictably dominated the news in recent weeks. The Democratic Party of Japan’s landslide historic win ended the conservative Liberal Democratic Party’s half-century grip on power. Besides LDP’s crushing defeat, its junior coalition partner Komeito – a Buddhist party – was also devastated, with its leader losing his seat. New Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, wasted no time in courting the other minor parties by holding talks on the day after the election, despite the fact that his party doesn’t need a coalition, thanks to its overwhelming numerical superiority in the House of Representatives. Hatoyama is to be sworn in on September 16 at a special Diet (parliament) session.


Profiles emphasizing Hatoyama’s “silver spoon” upbringing have appeared in most of the press. How the allegedly all-powerful bureaucrats are preparing for new political management is another recurring theme. The conservative Yomiuri newspaper aired its concerns about the influence of former DPJ leader, Ichiro Ozawa.


The right-wing Sankei’s reporters, meanwhile, caused a stir on election night with their tweets, which were less than welcoming to the centrist-left DPJ victors. The Sankei apologized and promised it would, “continue to hold fast to its company line of neutrality,” much to everybody’s relief. Speaking of impartiality, the left-of-center Asahi ran a predictably damning indictment of the defeated Aso’s premiership.


Before the election, the UN urged Japan to address gender inequality; meanwhile Japan celebrated Women parliamentarians breaking the 10 percent barrier for first time. Japan’s gay community is hoping for an anti-discrimination law from the DPJ as there is currently no legal protection.  


Money: The economy appears to be taking its first steps on a slow road to recovery, though there is caution about the reliance on stimulus measures, both domestically and abroad. The cost of such measures has particular resonance here where the national debt has reached 860 trillion yen, (over $9 trillion) and servicing the debt alone is to cost 22 trillion yen ($236 billion) next year.


One of the causes of such levels of debt — and one the new government has pledged to tackle — is huge public works projects. A case in point: Kansai International Airport, a tremendous feat of human engineering built on a reclaimed island, is a black hole for public money. It recently announced plans to cut its landing fees —some of the highest in the world — by 80 percent to attract more planes, which have been deserting it during the recession.


One sector that is said to be booming domestically is the sales of luxury ‘eco-goods’. 


Elsewhere:A member of the military is in trouble after selling the personal details of 140,000 Ground Self-Defense Force (army) members, while officials have been trying to play down the potential security risk. Somebody else who had been taking and selling things he shouldn’t is an ex-priest who took Buddha statues from unmanned temples.


A senior yakuza gangster was apparently doing a roaring trade in “Peko-Chan” statues, the 4-foot figurines that stand outside Fujiya confectioners. The life-sized dolls of a six-year-old girl in various costumes cost 40,000 yen ($430), but go for up to 200,000 yen ($2,150) on the black market. The senior mobster is apparently blaming an accomplice for the dastardly deeds.


A survey found that at least 141 government offices had been threatened by rightists or gangsters posing as right-wing groups. The two groups, who both see themselves as the guardians of the samurai spirit, often have close ties.


A US documentary film of the Taiji dolphin slaughter, “The Cove,” has been causing controversy both in the US and Japan, as well as Australia where Taiji’s twin town has severed ties with it.