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Japan’s sixth leader in four years? Tensions rise with China. U.S. POWs get apology. Economy grows but yen rises. Even more missing centenarians. And some real monkey business.
Top News: Ichiro Ozawa is running almost neck and neck with Prime Minster Naoto Kan in the Democratic of Japan’s leadership race, which will make the “Shadow Shogun” the de facto PM if he is elected on Sept. 14 by lawmakers and party members. Although, Kan holds a lead of 66 to 18 percent with the public, amongst whom Ozawa is widely disliked for his involvement in funding scandals – for which he may still be indicted – and his reputation as a ruthless backroom dealer. If elected, Ozawa would be the sixth Japanese leader in four years. Some in the media are citing the danger of diplomatic upheaval if Ozawa wins, particularly his intention to reopen the can of the worms that is the relocation of the U.S. Marine base on Okinawa, which was one of the main reasons for the failure of the short tenure of Kan’s predecessor, Hatoyama, who resigned in June after eight months in office.
Tensions with China are once more on the rise after the Japan Coast Guard arrested the captain of a Chinese trawler that collided with two Japanese Coast Guard patrol vessels while allegedly fishing illegally in Japanese waters near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. China has postponed talks with Japan over a proposed joint gas field development in disputed territory in the East China Sea in protest over Tokyo's arrest of the fishing boat’s captain. In a move unlikely to help matters, the Self-Defense Forces will conduct exercises simulating the recapture of an isolated island near Okinawa from enemy forces in December, the first such drills by the Self-Defense Forces and widely believed to be a response to recent excursions in the area by China's growing naval forces.
Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada apologized to six former U.S. POWs for the “inhumane treatment” they received as prisoners of the Imperial Army and private companies which used them as slave labor after their capture. It was the first official public apology and the first visit sponsored by the Japanese government. The veterans said it was also the first time they had received any help from U.S. Embassy in Japan or the State Department, which had blocked earlier attempts by the men to sue the companies involved.
After the Tokyo execution chamber was opened to the Japanese media — the foreign press was excluded for “reasons of space” — many people learned for the first time that the country carries executions by hanging. Whilst the death penalty enjoys high public support, some were shocked at the method being used. The noose was not on display for visiting cameramen to snap.
Like many countries Japan has experienced its hottest summer ever. Nighttime temperatures stayed above 77 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 consecutive nights. Heatstroke has killed 158 people since late May, while 46,728 others have been hospitalized. Record-high sea temperatures have also affected fishing hauls.
Money: The economy grew 1.5 percent in the second quarter, revised up half a percent from preliminary figures, though the yen has hit a new 15-year high against the dollar this month, further squeezing exporters. Nevertheless, Fujitsu and Sony are boosting their domestic production of high-end computers, believing the “Made in Japan” label still carries enough cache to compensate for the strong yen. No doubt with one eye on the stronger currency, Sony is aiming to take the top spot in online content distribution from Apple, with a new delivery service, after having outsold the iPod in Japan with its Walkman series in August, for the first time in eight years. The strong yen is however a boon for some, including foreign automakers which have been able to cut prices in Japan, helping them record sales up 26.2 percent in August, versus 2009, and luxury fashion brand importers
The strength of the yen is not putting off newly wealthy Chinese tourists, who have been visiting Japan in record numbers, and spending big. Relaxed visa regulations helped attract Chinese 880,000 travelers to Japan in July, up 39 percent from the same period last year. The Chinese visitors spend an average 136,870 yen ($1,625) per trip, compared to 121,767 yen ($1,466) for Americans and 77,111 yen ($928) for more frugal South Koreans.
Elsewhere: The strange case of Japan’s missing centenarians just keeps getting bigger and more bizarre. The latest survey shows that there are 234,354 unaccounted for people listed on family registers who would be over 100 years old if they were still alive — including 77,118 who would be 120 years old or older and 884 would be at least 150 years old.
After 81 people were attacked by monkeys in a series of incidents in Shizuoka, local officials have offered 200,000 yen ($2,375) reward for anyone who locks one of the marauding primates in a room it has entered. Catching monkeys is normally prohibited under the Wildlife Protection and Hunting Law.