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Japan will withdraw its U.S. support mission in the Indian Ocean, and emphasizes hearts and minds in Afghanistan. North Korea fires five new short-range missiles off its coast. The famously-drunk finance minister is found dead. Nagasaki and Hiroshima announce a joint bid for the 2020 Olympics. Unemployment drops slightly. A U.S. company orders 100 jets from Mitsubishi. Business is booming for the Japanese maker of Sarah Palin's specs. A pair of thieves is arrested by 40 patrol cars and a helicopter. And All Nippon Airways suggests passengers use the loo before boarding to cut carbon emissions.
Top News: The new government has shown it may be serious about a break from Japan’s past security relationship with the US. The administration has decided that in January, it will withdraw from refueling U.S. ships supporting the Afghan war in the Indian Ocean. This follows Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada’s surprise visit to Kabul, where he emphasized the importance of winning hearts and minds over military action.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is also expected to assert Japan’s position more forcefully than the previous administration, in talks on the relocation of U.S. Marines in Okinawa ahead of President Obama’s visit, scheduled for Nov. 12-13.
Meanwhile, North Korea continues to play its role as the region’s bad-tempered brat as it fires five short-range missiles – believed to be a new weapon — off its coast.
Former Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa, 56, who famously appeared drunk at a press conference at this year’s Rome G7 meeting and lost his seat in the August election, was found dead at his home on October 4. Although many initially suspected suicide — his politician father took his own life — the preliminary autopsy revealed blood vessel abnormalities.
Recriminations have begun over Tokyo’s failed Olympic bid, though there was little comment on how Tokyo Governor Ishihara’s record of insulting nearly everyone on the planet may have impacted the decision.
Undeterred, Nagasaki and Hiroshima announced they are mulling a joint bid for 2020 based around their aim to have nuclear weapons banned by that year, citing Obama’s Nobel Prize victory as a boost to their ideal. The IOC however, appears cool on the idea of two-city games.
Japan has been criticized again by UNICEF for its lack of a law against possessing chlid-porn. Although production and selling are offences, along with Russia, Japan is one of the only industrialized countries where owning it is not illegal.
Money: Unemployment took an unexpected dip to 5.5 percent in August, down 0.2 percent from the previous month. Nevertheless, there is concern that the new administration’s cutting of 3 trillion yen in ‘wasteful’ public spending could trigger further economic hardships. Amongst those on the chopping block are 48 dam projects, which, along with bridges and roads to nowhere, are something of a symbol of LDP pork-barreling. With the hunt for further fat to trim, a massive and complicated task, the second extra budget looks set to be delayed. Though when it finally does arrive, it will focus on bringing down unemployment further.
The bailout of former national carrier Japan Airlines (JAL) continues to provoke debate, and has been compared to saving GM in the U.S. Another high-profile business casualty is iconoclastic designer Yohji Yamamoto, whose company has gone into bankruptcy protection.
In a spot of good news for corporate Japan, U.S. company Trans States Holdings has ordered 100 passenger planes from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. The small-size jet is the first domestically-produced passenger jet and the order is the first from overseas. Another, if somewhat smaller, Japanese firm that has been enjoying success is Masunaga Optical, which was thrust into the spotlight last year when it was revealed to be the maker of Sarah Palin’s distinctive specs. Other celebrity customers of the small regional manufacturer include Robert De Niro, Tiger Woods and Janet Jackson.
Elsewhere: Sunday night in Saitama, just north of Tokyo, 40 patrol cars and a helicopter, carrying nearly 100 police officers in total, set off in pursuit of a local Bonnie and Clyde duo. Having carried out a $100 bag-snatch, the pair was later involved in a hit-and-run, before ditching their vehicle and attempting to escape separately on foot across rice paddies. They were arrested within 250 yards of the accident scene.
Industries with less than sexy public images, including the septic tank cleaning sector, have allegedly been cultivating political ties with the new DPJ administration. Political commentators will be hoping this doesn’t signal a return to the dirty politics of the old LDP days.
Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is to take a voice-over role in legendary kids’ TV program “Ultraman.”
All Nippon Airways (ANA), clearly aiming to avoid the bailout fate of its main rival, is asking passengers to lighten the load on planes by emptying their bladders before boarding as an experiment this month. The firm believes it could lead to a 5-tonne reduction in carbon emissions through fuel savings.