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The honeymoon's over

Two months into the first term, the DPJ administration's approval ratings drop 8 percent. Obama and Hatoyama meet to discuss U.S. military bases in Japan. A party elder calls Christianity "exclusive and self-righteous." Toyota gets out of the fast lane. The Tokyo Stock Exchange is looking up. Plus, sea monsters attack a fishing boat.

Top News: Two months into the new administration, it looks like the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is losing ground with the public. The cabinet's approval rating has dropped 8 percent since taking office in September, with economic challenges and the inexperience of the incoming politicians diluting the initial optimism that surrounded the party change after more than 50 years of domination by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). But even Yomiuri, a conservative newspaper that has been harshly critical of new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, conceded he defended himself well in his first debate with LDP heavyweights at the House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting on Monday.


President Obama, scheduled to arrive in Tokyo on Friday, is expected to focus his talks with Hatoyama on the issue of U.S. military forces in Japan. Hatoyama’s insistence that no deal on the relocation of U.S. bases will be reached during Obama's visit didn’t stop 21,000 residents  from demonstrating to close Futenma U.S. air base on Okinawa. Bad feelings on Okinawa are likely to be running higher since a U.S. Army serviceman stationed on the island was arrested in connection with a fatal hit-and-run accident.


DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa, the party’s most powerful figure, criticized Christianity for being “exclusive and self-righteous” and said Western society is “stuck in a dead-end.” Talking to reporters after a meeting with a Japanese Buddhist leader, Ozawa said Islam is also exclusive, but better than Christianity in that respect.


The good news: Japan's CO2 emissions are down 6.7 percent. The bad news: that's because of the recession, not increased energy efficiency. More bad news: Japan will still miss its Kyoto Protocol targets and the government is mulling a fossil fuel tax that would be introduced next year.


Permanent foreign residents of Japan may get the right to vote in local elections. The majority of these “foreigners” are in fact Korean-Japanese, many whose families have been in Japan for generations.   


Money: Low-end restaurants and retailers like McDonald's and clothing chain Uniqlo, continue to prosper through the tough times. Uniqlo founder Tadashi Yanai, Japan’s richest man, has been named the 2010 International Retailer of the Year by the U.S. National Retail Federation.


Toyota, the world's largest automaker, has pulled out of Formula One. The decision was a tough one for Toyota President Akio Toyoda, a member of the founding family who has an international racing-driver license. But by withdrawing its F1 sponsorship, Toyota is expected to save tens of billions of yen a year, including expenses to build race cars.


Japan Airlines, which has received four bailouts in the last decade, has announced its executives will go without pay in December.  But all is not gloom. The combined balanced sheets of the companies on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange look poised to return to the black in the second half of the fiscal year, bolstered by heavyweights like Toshiba and Panasonic, which turned quarterly profits. In the public sector, however, Finance Minister Fujii says it will be two years before the country can focus on fiscal discipline and stop its enormous national debt from growing further. Meanwhile, Japan’s foreign currency reserves continue to grow, hitting a record $1.057 trillion


Elsewhere: A fishing trawler was capsized by giant jellyfish that got caught in its nets. The maritime monsters, known as Nomura’s Jellyfish and weighing up to 440 pounds, wreak havoc along the Japanese coast. A nearby vessel rescued the three fishermen who were thrown into the sea when their boat capsized.  


A 10-year-old boy torched a 500-year-old wooden temple in Nagoya because he “wanted to see things burning.” On the other end of the age scale, a 71-year-old man survived a week in the mountains after getting lost while picking mushrooms, even after search teams pulled out during a cold snap.