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Russia fires on a Japanese vessel

A Russian helicopter attacks a Japanese fishing boat in a disputed region. Japan and the UK forge a venture to rehabilitate members of the Taliban. Ozawa to lead DPJ despite scandals. The country's national wealth fell for the first time in years. And a Sumo wrestler gets into trouble for accosting a barman.

Top News:Russian military helicopter strafed a Japanese fishing boat in waters off disputed islands between the two countries. Twenty bullet marks were later found on the boat, but nobody was injured in the incident. In 2006, a Russian patrol boat killed one fisherman and captured three others in the same area.

Fulfilling its pledge to concentrate on humanitarian aid in Afghanistan following the ending of its refueling mission to military vessels in the area, Japan announced a joint $500 million fund with the UK designed to lure Taliban fighters into civilian life. Japan has promised to provide $5 billion in aid to the country over the next five years.

The Democratic Party of Japan’s general secretary, Ichiro Ozawa, is to lead the party’s campaign for the summer’s Upper House elections, despite being embroiled in a political donations scandal. Ozawa, often referred to as the “shadow shogun” is credited with masterminding the party’s historic landslide victory in the more powerful Lower House last summer.

Japan and China issued a joint study that deals with some of their shared history. One of the most contentious issues is still the 1939 Rape of Nanking, on which the two sides failed to reach an agreement on estimates of the numbers of Chinese massacred. For its part, China refused to have an account of the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square included. Nevertheless, the report is a sign of improving relations, which – along with China’s growing economic importance – is prompting more Japanese to choose their vast neighbor as a destination for overseas study, at the expense of long-time favorite, the U.S.

Connections of a more direct kind –  an ambitious undersea tunnel project linking Korea and Japan – faces both logistical hurdles and some lingering anti-Japanese sentiment on the Korean peninsula.

Broadband speeds in Japan are the second-fastest in the world at an average of 7.9 Mbps, while South Korea grabs the top spot with connections nearly twice as fast, at 14.9 Mbps. Korea has recently been overtaking Japan in crucial technologies such as TVs and mobile phones. The U.S. trails in 18th place with 3.9 Mbps.

Money: Japan’s national wealth – total assets minus public and private debt –  fell in 2008 for the first time in three years, to 2,783 trillion yen ($30.8 trillion). Assets fell 5.1 percent to 8,016 trillion yen ($88.7 trillion). The number of new housing starts fell to 45-year low of 788,410 in 2009, down 27.9% on the previous year.

Toyota’s vice president  apologized over the current worldwide recall, but claimed delays were due to putting the customer first. President Akio Toyoda, a member of the founding family, has been criticized for his low profile during the current troubles. There are suggestions that the  sticking gas pedal problem may date back to 2007, which may further  damage Toyota's hard-won reputation for quality.

Cost-cutting companies are choosing to list only on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, leaving smaller bourses such as Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka struggling. Dual listings are becoming increasingly rare, leaving the number of companies on the Osaka exchange at less than 1,000 for the first time in nearly three decades. Osaka is to attempt to make up the shortfall through increased derivatives trading, a relatively undeveloped market in Japan.

Foreign tourist numbers, hit by the recession, H1N1 and the strong yen,  plunged 18.7 percent in 2009 – one contributing factor to Japan Airlines’ (JAL) entry into bankruptcy protection. Another is the number of small regional airports that the former national carrier was pressured into flying to; many of these now face closure as JAL cuts unprofitable routes.

U.S.-based international cable TV operator, Liberty (Media) Global, is planning to sell its stake in J:COM, Japan’s largest cable provider, to telecoms giant KDDI for around $4 billion, though not before the Financial Services Agency looks into the legality of the deal, which may require Liberty to make an open tender offer.

Elsewhere: Of all the people you don’t want to meet on a drunken violent rampage, a 150kg (330lb) Sumo grand champion, would be fairly high on the list. Asashoryu, one of the most successful wrestlers of all-time, is once again in trouble: this time for slugging an acquaintance after a night of heavy drinking during the January Tokyo tournament – which he won. Originally reported to be his manager, the victim has since been identified as  the owner of the bar where the Mongolian-born champion was drinking.

Chinese dissident who had been living inside the arrivals area at Tokyo’s Narita airport for three months after being repeatedly barred from entering his homeland, has given up his protest and come through immigration. After being met by Chinese officials, he is understood to have been given permission to return home in time for the Lunar New Year. He kept in touch with supporters via cell phone and Twitter.