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New Minister may help embattled DPJ

The Finance Minister resigns, blaming his declining health. The Deputy Prime Minister will take over the post, which may help the government's approval numbers. Using a French idea, a "child fund" will be created to boost birth rates. A survivor of both atomic bombings of Japan dies at 93. Unemployment slows and GDP is expected to grow in the coming year. Competition continues between American airlines for the chance to save Japan Airlines. Nomura begins deals in Islamic finance. And a cat gets a promotion at a railway company.

Top News: Hirohisa Fujii, the 77-year-old Finance Minister has resigned due to high blood pressure and a December hospital stay. Fujii had been at the center of negotiations over the hotly disputed first budget and stimulus package of the new government, and also reportedly clashed with party heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa.


Deputy Prime Minister, Naoto Kan is to take over, and says making the (in)famously powerful Ministry of Finance “more transparent,” is a central aim. Kan has extensive experience as a cabinet minister in administrations of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, from which he defected. Whether this will be any help with the government’s popularity, which has plunged to 48 percent, down from 71 percent in September, after its historic victory, remains to be seen. The government now heads towards the summer’s Upper House elections, which it needs to win to end its reliance on junior coalition partners in the more powerful Lower House, to get its legislative program through.


A Japanese “research” whaling ship collided with a high-tech vessel belonging to the U.S.-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in the Antarctic Ocean on Jan. 6. Australia and New Zealand have announced separate inquiries into the incident.


The falling population being one of the greatest threats to Japan’s long-term prosperity, the country is to take a leaf from a successful French book and create a “child fund” to try and boost birth rates.


Tsutomu Yamaguchi, one of a handful of people to have survived the atomic bombings of both Nagasaki and Hiroshima, has died of stomach cancer at age 93. An engineer in Nagasaki, he was in Hiroshima on business when the city was bombed, only to return to his workplace and be a victim of the world’s second atomic attack three days later. His status as a double atomic survivor was only confirmed last year.


Money: Unemployment rose 0.1 percent in November to 5.2 percent, the first rise since July, though the ratio of job offers to job seekers improved slightly. However, unemployment benefits, which last for between 90 and 360 days, are running out for many laid off in the slowdown. Deflation also remains a major concern.


A long, and somewhat rambling,  editorial in the liberal Asahi looks at various ways Japan might prosper over the next decade, mainly through greater focus on trade with emerging Asian economies. According to economists, GDP is set to grow up to 2 percent in 2010 on exports to Asia, and China has already overtaken the US as the biggest destination for Japanese exports.


Diminishing stocks led to a Blue Fin Tuna – prized for sushi - selling for record 16.3 million yen ($176,000) at Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji market. A fish of similar size - 232 kg (511.5lbs) – fetched less than 10 million yen last year.  


Competition continues between Delta and American Airlines for the white knight role to embattled Japan Airlines (JAL).


Meanwhile, Nomura, the nation’s biggest securities firm, will make Japan’s first foray into Islamic finance, using the operations in the Middle East it acquired from Lehman Brothers. Nomura also took over the failed investment bank’s Japan businesses.


Elsewhere: The mayor of a small town in the south of Japan used a disaster warning loudspeaker system, which is also broadcast directly into some homes, to make a speech hitting back at the media, which he felt had been unfairly targeting him.


Tama, a 10-year-old stray cat that was given the title of Stationmaster at the Wakayama Electric Railway Co. for helping popularize a quiet branch line, has now been promoted to the post of Corporate Executive. Over 100 people attending the ceremony for Tama’s appointment, and the cat is now listed as a corporate officer on the company website.