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The DPJ's first day

PM Hatoyama takes office. The DPJ's toll-free road pledge raises questions. Parliament's "Ozawa Girls" draw attention. A popular signer's upbringing and amphetamine use make headlines. Ten years after approval, only 3 percent of women use the birth control pill. Unemployment hit a record high in July. The video game industry isn't "recession-proof." Japan Airlines will cut thousands of jobs. Also, groping prevention week halts train molestations, crime bosses take exams, and blink-inducing glasses help the overly studious.

Top News: All eyes are on the new government and ministerial appointments as Yukio Hatoyama officially takes over as prime minister today, Sept. 16. Seventy-two per have high expectations for the new administration, according to polls, even higher than the percentage of votes the Democratic Party of Japan won in the August 30 landslide election victory. The new prime minister is likely to be tested early by the issue of North Korea and its provocative missile tests. 


The abolition of the nation’s expensive road tolls, a central pledge in the DPJ’s manifesto, is already prompting questions about practicality and about contradicting the party’s promises to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent by 2020.  Some commentators have pointed out that Hatoyama, as an heir to the Bridgestone/Firestone fortune, will also benefit from increased mileage burning up tires on Japan’s roads.


The DPJ's pledges to make high school '‘free" – parents currently pay nominal fees for public schools – and increasing support for education-related expenses in order to try to boost the falling population, are also coming under scrutiny.


The spotlight is also on the “Ozawa Girls”, the new intake of female parliamentarians groomed by DPJ heavyweight fixer and election strategist Ichiro Ozawa.


Noriko Sakai, the actress/singer whose antics dominated domestic news until the election, has been released on bail after being charged with methamphetamine use. As many as 200 hundred reporters waited outside the detention center for her to appear. Recent news coverage has been focusing on her upbringing as the daughter of a yakuza crime-boss of a small regional gang.


Use of the contraceptive pill remains at only three percent in Japan, ten years after it was approved, compared to 18 percent in the US, 26 percent in the UK and 44 percent in France. By some estimates, one in four pregnancies in Japan end in abortion.


Money: Unemployment hit a record high of 5.7 percent in July, even as exports and GDP showed the first signs of growth. The anniversary of what the Japanese call the “Lehman Shokku” was a time for analysis as to the causes, lessons, and what has changed in the intervening 12 months.


Even the once supposedly “recession-proof” gaming industry has been feeling the pinch, as the value of the domestic market dropped from 238 billion yen ($2.61 billion) to 181 billion ($1.97 billion), for the April to September period. Like every Japanese manufacturer, Sony and Nintendo, two of the world’s biggest game companies, have been hurt by the global slowdown.


Japan Airlines is to slash 6,800 jobs as it struggles with falling passenger numbers, even as Delta and American Airlines compete to link up with the former national carrier. Staying with travel, a newly rearranged set of national holidays, to be known as Silver Week – there is already a Golden Week in late spring – is expected to boost domestic tourism when it debuts September 19-23. 


Elsewhere: Police are clamping down on train-groping, a widespread problem on Tokyo’s packed commuter lines. The “groping prevention week” campaign had some success on its first day when police caught a newspaper employee who had been previously accused of molesting a high school girl on a train. The Metropolitan Police Department is also cracking-down on the 100 train-groping websites that offer tips and techniques on successful molestation.

Gangsters have to do their homework too: police have discovered an exam given to yakuza members to help them remember what activities should be avoided under Japan’s newly strengthened Anti-Organized Crime Law. Under the new law, Japan’s equivalent of RICO, bosses can be held legally accountable for subordinates’ actions. The exam, which was distributed amongst affiliates of the Yamaguchi-gumi — Japan’s largest — includes questions on dumping industrial waste and fuel bootlegging. A yakuza boss in Fukuoka may have been skimping on his legal studies before getting himself in hot water at a public bathhouse. Most public hot springs and bathing facilities ban customers with tattoos — a yakuza symbol — but the gang-leader ignored the owners warning and found himself arrested for trespassing.


For those who spend too long poring over their studies, or any other reading material, a lack of blinking is apparently a problem. A glasses’ manufacturer in Fukui has come up with the solution: spectacles that cloud over if the wearer doesn’t blink for five seconds. They clear automatically once a blink is detected.