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Fewer death sentences, falling crime and suicides. Whalers not getting easy ride. Japan looking at India over China. A fertile lawmaker and a media-unfriendly mayor.
Top News: Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Jan. 6 that consultations on the bilateral security alliance would be accelerated ahead of Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s visit to the U.S. scheduled for the spring. Security ties are expected to be strengthened in the aftermath of recent tensions with both North Korea and China. Following the Washington meetings, Maehara is due to fly to Florida on Jan. 8 to pitch Japan’s shinkansen (bullet train) infrastructure — which the state is considering adopting - to new governor Rick Scott.
The number of people sentenced to death in Japan fell to 14 in 2010, down from 20 in 2009, as serious crime continued to fall despite the tough economic conditions faced by many. Peaking at 46 in 2007, the number given death sentences fell below 20 for the first time in more than a decade. Serious crime has also fallen from its peak of 11,360 incidents in 2005, to around half that level.
The number of people who took their own life remained above 30,000 for the 13th consecutive year in 2010, although the figure of 31,560 actually shows a decline of 3.9 percent from the year before and is the lowest since 2002.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been continuing its harassment of Japan’s whaling fleet in Antarctic waters, using projectile launchers to fire packets of dye and bottles at whalers. There have been no injuries to either side reported and the clashes appear less aggressive than last winter when the Sea Shepherd’s Ady Gil sunk after a collision with a whaling ship. In December, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the United States issued a joint statement calling for responsible behavior from both sides. With a shrinking market for whale meat domestically, Japan’s stockpiles have reached a record 6,000 tons.
There are concerns that declining interest in English is going to hold Japan back at a time when its shrinking domestic market will mean global business becomes more important than ever. Faster-growing Asian neighbors meanwhile are blazing ahead in terms of getting to grips with the international language of commerce.
Money: A survey of Japanese companies found India has overtaken China as the favored investment destination for the next 10 years following wage rises, strikes and anti-Japan demonstrations in China.
Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) is to drop its recent policy recommendation for wage-freezes for employees at the crucial "shunto" spring pay negotiations as earnings at major companies have improved. Keidanren is amongst the business groups calling for Japan to sign up to a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement.
Despite some of the world’s highest landing fees, budget airlines have finally gained a foothold in Japan, with six operating in the country by the end of 2010
Even as Japanese people drink less sake, exports reached a record high last year, with sales strong to United States, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. Nevertheless, exports make up only a small percentage of production, which has halved since 1989. Those concerned with the decline of the traditional Japanese diet will take little comfort from the news that McDonalds Japan posted another year of record sales — 542.7 billion yen ($6.5 billion) for 2010.
Demand from China is helping to push up fish prices, and a 342kg (754 lb) bluefin tuna from Hokkaido reached a record tag of 32.49 million yen ($389,000) on Jan. 2 at the year’s first auction at Tsukiji, the world’s biggest fish market. The fish – whose species is threatened by overfishing – was bought jointly by sushi restaurants from Tokyo and Hong Kong.
Elsewhere: A police bodyguard for Nobuteru Ishihara — the secretary-general of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party — has been arrested for peeping into a bathroom at a woman. Masahiro Kato, 47, an assistant police inspector with the Tokyo metropolitan police was disturbed by a male occupant of the house and fled. He was nabbed later when he returned to collect his bicycle while pretending he was investigating the incident.
Meanwhile, 50-year-old Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Seiko Noda gave birth to a baby boy after years of IVF treatment.
The mayor of Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba, opted to post a video on Youtube this week rather than hold a press conference and give interviews to newspapers. The 15-minute video covers his reasons for not seeking a fourth term in office.