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The DPJ stumbles on

The ruling DPJ fires its own vice-secretary-general; then pardons him. Senior soldiers criticize the prime minister and get told off for it. The U.S. Okinawa base issue just won’t go away. Google Japan gets bigger, but not that big. Japanese criminals are facing execution at home and in China. Just how bad can Japan’s public finances get? And the Suzuki-sans of Japan are doing it for themselves.

 Top News: The new Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) administration, which took power last September after half a century of almost uninterrupted rule by the conservative LDP, continues to stumble like an unsteady toddler from one mishandled incident to the next. On March 20, Vice-Secretary-General Yukio Ubukata was sacked after repeatedly criticizing the excessive power wielded by party Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa, only to be reinstated three days later.  The day after that, he once again criticized Ozawa and Hatoyama, on television.

Given the unlikelihood of the DPJ gaining the working majority in the summer’s Upper House elections it needs in order to push through its legislative program, it may need to continue relying on coalition partners in the Lower House. The New Komeito Party – no doubt aware of the nuisance that Financial Services Minister Kamei has been making of himself as leader of coalition member Japan's People's New Party – looks to be angling for a possible deal with the DPJ. Komeito - the political wing of the Soka Gakkai Buddhist organization – was previously the junior coalition partner with the LDP before their defeat in last year’s election.

Members of Japan’s military – the Ground Self-Defense Force – have been reprimanded for criticizing Prime Minister Hatoyama on the Futenma, Okinawa, Marine base relocation, which has been causing friction with Washington. The U.S. looks likely to turn down two alternative relocation sites being proposed by Tokyo. Around 4,200 people, one of every six residents from Tokunoshima Island protested against the possibility of the U.S. military base being relocated there. The government will now miss its own “end of March” deadline for resolving the issue, which Hatoyama recently described as “no big deal.”

Japan looks set to extend its sanctions against North Korea, including a ban on ships from the isolated Communist nation using Japanese ports, for another year. 

China is to execute a Japanese national for the first time since relations were normalized between the two countries in 1972.  The man was arrested in 2006 for trying to smuggle drugs from China to Japan. The timing, after China arrested the man accused in a poisoned dumplings case which sickened 10 Japanese consumers, makes it more difficult for Japan to object. Japan also has the death penalty.

After being convicted of murdering a 4-year-old girl, Toshikazu Sugaya’s name has finally been cleared after a retrial. Sugaya spent more than 17 years in prison and is only the sixth person in the post-war era to be found not guilty in a retrial after having been given a life sentence or death sentence. Japanese criminal trials have a higher than 99 percent conviction rate.

Meanwhile, the killer of a former elite health ministry bureaucrat and his wife is to hang, despite pleas by his defense that he is delusional and mentally incompetent. The 48-year-old, who also tried to kill another former senior health ministry official’s wife in a series of attacks in 2008, claimed his victims were “demons with evil hearts.” His grudge apparently goes back to his high school days when he believes a health center had his dog put down.

Money: IBM Japan has been accused of concealing 400 billion yen in taxable income on share dealings related to ownership by its U.S. parent company in the five years to 2008. The company is facing back taxes and fines of up to 30 billion yen, though it is lodging an appeal with the National Tax Tribunal.

Google Japan is expanding its headquarters, moving to the glitzy Roppongi Hills complex, which has been deserted by a number of overseas finance firms in recent years. Japan is one of the few major markets where Google still trails Yahoo in the search-engine stakes.  Google is catching up in the smartphone market, though the iPhone is still dominant. Mobile carrier Softbank, which has the exclusive contract to provide the iPhone in Japan, is boosting its network by doubling its base stations to keep up with increased demand from smartphones, and launching a new Google Android handset in April. Softbank is also the largest stockholder in Yahoo Japan.

In other cell phone news, he government wants SIM cards “unlocked.” Phones cannot currently be used on different carriers from the ones they are sold by.

Worries continue that Japan’s ballooning government deficit could reach crisis levels, with the Asahi Shimbun running an article speculating what would happen in a full-blown meltdown scenario.

Elsewhere: An association for people called Suzuki – one of Japan’s most common names – has been formed in Hamamtsu, Shizuoka, where it is particularly prevalent. Hamamatsu Suzuki’s include the president of Suzuki Motors, Osamu Suzuki.