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Japan remembers the War and the Bomb

Wartime remembrances held throughout August. Budget cuts and stimulus. Executions. Japan takes (a few) refugees. No longer world’s 2nd biggest economy. Strong yen hurting but offshore production easing pain. Yahoo Japan and Google hook up. Missing centenarians.

Japanese imperial army soldiers

Top News: On the anniversary of the end of World War II on Aug. 15, Prime Minister Naoto Kan reaffirmed the nation’s pacifist stance and once again apologized for Japan’s wartime actions. This followed a speech earlier in the month in which he expressed regret for Japan’s 35-year colonization of the Korean peninsula that ended with the defeat in the Pacific War. Despite often repeated statements to the contrary, Japan had made numerous apologies for its imperial expansionism in the lead up to, and during, World War II.  

John Roos became the first U.S. ambassador to attend the memorial ceremony for the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on Aug. 6, 1945. His attendance drew mixed reactions, including some that called for an apology from the U.S. for the dropping of the bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Other firsts included attendances by the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and representatives from nuclear powers Britain and France. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Kan’s speech on deterrence highlighted the policy contradiction of Japan being a leading anti-nuke campaigner while existing under the security of the U.S. nuclear umbrella. In another apparent contradiction, as Japan was commemorating a series of wartime anniversaries with peace messages and apologies, the government was relaxing its export ban on missile technology that could potentially be sold on to third countries.

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) government has also announced another 1 trillion yen ($11.6 billion) worth of economic stimulus measures, to be directly overseen by Kan, even as all ministries face 10-percent budget cuts. Kan has also touted plans to slash the ranks of lawmakers in the Diet (parliament) as part of the cost-cutting measures to save the state’s creaking finances, while vowing to stay on despite defeat in the recent Upper House elections.

Two death row inmates were executed — the first use of the death penalty since the DPJ took power last year. Justice Minister Keiko Chiba — a longtime supporter of the abolition of capital punishment — announced the Tokyo death chamber would be opened to the media for the first time, after she became the first holder of her post to attend an execution. Abolitionists criticized Chiba for signing off on the executions, as a justice minister is required to do under Japanese law. Japan is one of the only industrialized countries — along with the U.S. — to still use capital punishment; though with China’s rise they now have another member of the club.

Japan, known for its reluctance to accept immigrants or asylum seekers, is to take 32 refugees from Myanmar who are currently living in Thailand.

Money: Following weaker than expected growth in the April to June quarter, China officially overtook Japan as the world’s second-biggest economy, a title Japan had held since it surpassed Germany in 1968. China’s ascendancy was caused in part by the continued rise of the yen, particularly against the dollar, which has sparked concern among businesses and politicians as the currency recently hit a 15-year high against the greenback. The government and the Bank of Japan are under pressure to intervene, which could put the brakes on the somewhat fragile export-led economic recovery. However, the impact is likely to be less damaging than it was during the period of appreciation during the 1990s since many manufacturers have shifted production to markets around the world over the last decade. The automotive industry is a case in point, having produced more cars overseas than domestically for the first time in the financial year to March. This helped Japanese carmakers recover strongly in the first half of this year, as companies like Toyota target emerging markets.   

As Japanese corporations expand their operations overseas on an unprecedented scale some have decided to adopt English as their in-house language at their domestic headquarters. On internationally recognized English tests Japan has the second-worst scores in Asia, besting only Laos.

In another relatively recent development of globalization, Japanese banks are increasing their presence in the growing Islamic finance sector.

Yahoo Japan and Google have announced they are joining forces on the domestic market. Yahoo will use its rivals search technology amongst its services. Yahoo Japan, a group company of Softbank, leads Google in the Japanese search market 60-40 and says it intends to remain independent and competitive.

Another leading internet firm, Twitter, has recently been celebrating dramatic growth in Japanafter a slow start.

Elsewhere: The strange story of the missing centenarians has been making headlines around the globe. It all began in late July when the body of Tokyo’s reputed oldest man was found mummified in his family’s house. His 49-year-old grandson is believed to have been collecting welfare for him for over 30 years. Then it emerged that the whereabouts of Tokyo’s oldest woman were also unknown. A nationwide search for centenarians then ensued and 105 were discovered to be missing in the city of Kobe alone, including a woman who would be 125 — making her the world’s oldest person — registered as living in a park. The current total — including 10 foreign nationals — of missing persons over 100 years old, is currently 281. The Japanes have the world’s longest average lifespan. Officials insist that the current discoveries, or lack of discoveries, have no bearing on this.  

Staying with centenarians, Japan’s oldest giant salamander, a 5-foot long, 132-pound beast, passed away at the hot spring resort where it had been on public display since 1971. It was believed to have been over 100 years old and was due to be officially weighed and measured next month.