Thursday, July 20, 2017

1 In 6 Children In Japan Live In Poverty

Finance Minister Aso Pressured By Media To Explain Poverty Issues

The smell of miso soup and rice wafts from a kitchen as a brigade of volunteers put their cooking skills to use on a recent Saturday evening in Tokyo’s commuter belt.
In an adjoining room, children chat and make paper cutouts while they await the arrival of what, for some, will be their only proper meal of the day.
Kawaguchi children’s cafeteria is one of hundreds to have sprouted up in Japan in recent years in response to a problem few associate with the world’s third biggest economy: child poverty.
The Health and Welfare Ministry announced last Wednesday 3.5 million Japanese children – or one in six of those aged up to 17 – are from households classed as experiencing relative poverty.
Japan’s relative rate of poverty has risen over the past three decades to 16.3%, while the rate in the US, though higher at 17.3%, has fallen.
“The global economic turmoil in 2008 hit women in their 20s and 30s particularly hard,” said Finance Minister Taro Aso.  “Those in full-time work were forced to take irregular or part-time jobs with low pay and no bonuses or annual pay rises. In some cases, these women have to borrow money, sometimes from loan sharks, and then end up working in the commercial sex industry to pay off their debts. It’s easy for them to get trapped in a negative cycle”, Aso concluded as he addressed the media yesterday.
Their plight is a rarely seen consequence of Japan’s struggle to steer its economy out of the doldrums after more than two decades of stagnation and deflation. Four years after Shinzo Abe became prime minister for a second time, campaigners say the rise in poverty is evidence that his grand plan for growth – known as Abenomics – has failed to deliver for many families.
Japan now has some of the worst wealth inequality and highest rates of child poverty in the developed world, according to a Unicef report released in April that ranked Japan 34th out of 41 industrialised countries.
Of the 3.5 million children who are eligible for state support, only 200,000 actually receive any – a low take-up rate that campaigners blame on the stigma attached to living on social security.

Jiji Press

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

New Zealand Man Dies In Saitama Hospital After Restraints Used

Victim Kelly Savage (27)

The family of a New Zealand man who died after being tied to a bed for 10 days in a Japanese psychiatric ward say his care was an abuse of human rights.

Kelly Savage, 27, had been teaching English in Japan for two years when a pre-existing mental health condition worsened.

His Wellington-based family say he became manic after stopping his medication because of the side effects.

He was admitted to Yamato Hospital In Yamato City, Saitama, under a compulsory order and restrained on a bed in a secure ward for 10 days.

A nurse found him in cardiac arrest in mid-May and he died seven days later.

His death certificate lists the cause of death as hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy caused by cardiopulmonary arrest.

But his family say the cause of the cardiac arrest is inconclusive and it has been suggested to them that deep vein thrombosis may have been involved because of the long period of restraint.

The doctors in Japan have reported that 30 days' restraint is common there.

The family have tried unsuccessfully to get medical records from the hospital, which also declined to allow an investigation into the cause of death by an outside party.

The hospital has also declined to apologise, with the chief doctor denying responsibility.

Kelly's older brother, Pat Savage, who lives in Japan with his wife and young children, said he was driven to tears of anger and frustration at a meeting with hospital chiefs yesterday.

He said they told him nurses would have removed Kelly's waist, wrist and leg restraints for short periods on occasions, to wash him or allow him to eat, but would not say for how long or give him the nurses' records.

"I kind of broke down and [was] crying and angry at them because I've been trying to get these records for almost two months now, and they know that I wanted it, and they just screwed us over by, you know, trying to drag the process out as long as possible."

He said whether the restraints were removed "for a few minutes" to allow Kelly, who was sedated, to be bathed was immaterial; he did not need to be physically restrained for so long.
"He does need to be in a hospital - I was glad he was in a hospital - but he didn't need to be restrained to the bed in my opinion."

Dr Savage said it was bad to treat anyone that way, but particularly his younger brother, who was helping Japanese students.

"The fact that Kelly was here ... to try to help international relations, trying to teach Japanese children English, and then he's just dying in this kind of outrageous circumstances that would never happen in New Zealand should be an embarrassment to Japan."

Kelly's mother, Martha Savage, a professor of geophysics at Victoria University, said what had happened was shocking.

"It just seems medieval to me. I mean we were just shocked when we first found out and it seems like it's something from a movie back in the Middle Ages. It doesn't seem like a modern society would be doing this [restraint]."

She said the only thing the hospital staff did for Kelly while he was restrained was put compression stockings on him.

She said restraint was needed to prevent people from hurting themselves or others, but it was usually for a short period of time.

"No more than a few hours and only if they're actually actively trying to resist and trying to go after other people, but Kelly had already stopped resisting at that point and they still put him in the restraint."

Prof Savage said the family did not want anything other than to prevent it happening to anyone else.

"We don't want to sue anybody, we don't want money. We just want other people to not go through this terrible situation again."

She urged the New Zealand government to push Japan to change its practices.

Radio New Zealand

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Trump Better For Japan Than Clinton Would Have Been

The American politician bend for upbraiding Japan about trade issues did not begin with Donald Trump. It began with Jimmy Carter in 1979, when he began his run for reelection. President Ronald Reagan made it part of his platform during his campaign in 1980, during his reelection campaign in 1984, and throughout his administration. From Carter to Trump every candidate for presidency has made criticism of Japan's refusal to negotiate true free trade agreements part of their platform. Hillary Clinton in June 2015 said to a crowd in Detroit, “The TPP must be reworked to assure our automobiles will be as accessible in Japan as their automobiles are here.”

Trump criticizing Japan on trade issues is part and parcel of US politics, just as protecting Japan's bloated and subsidized agriculture sector is to Japanese politics. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his LDP crew need to stop criticizing the usual rhetoric and begin looking at how Trump is much better for Japan than Clinton would have and Bush and Obama failed Japan.

It is true that Bush and Koizumi shared a rare bromance that few presidents of the USA and prime ministers of Japan ever did. Bush also failed to back Japan for a UN resolution against North Korea to demand return of remains and release the whereabouts of abducted Japanese citizens in North Korea. Bush also failed to implement a missile defense shield for Japan due to Chinese objections.

Obama did visit Hiroshima last year but it was an empty political gesture since it was reciprocation for Emperor Akihito visiting Pearl Harbor during June 2014 and also as a thank you for Prime Minister Abe agreeing to visit Pearl Harbor last year. Obama's policies that enabled China to expand territory and failing to demand Chinese military stay out of Japan's territories caused Japan more trouble than an empty visit to Hiroshima was worth.

Trump is willing to back Japan in two areas that Japan needs. One, the renegotiation of the Status of Forces Agreement rushed out by President Clinton and Prime Minister Maruyama in 1995. Two, the desire to put an end to North Korean military aggression once and for all.

The Status of Forces agreement that Clinton and Maruyama rushed into signing in 1995 before Japanese Diet elections has been a thorn in both nations. For Japan it has caused continual confrontation between Okinawa and Tokyo. Okinawans are tired of shouldering over 80% of US military forces in Japan and do not want an expansion of bases. Tokyo has taken a “shut up do as we say” attitude toward Okinawa. When Okinawan Governor, Takeshi Onaga, flew to Washington DC to visit President Trump in February, he received an assurance by Trump to look into the issue. Trump spoke with Abe just recently in Germany about re-looking at SOFA to perhaps ease Okinawa's situation. This is more than Clinton, Bush, or Obama ever offered.

As North Korea keeps firing missiles daily, Trump has ordered US military forces to begin setting up the missile defense shield and has put the USS Vincent aircraft carrier group off the coast of North Korea in South Korean and Japanese waters. These actions are much more action than Bush or Obama ever even conceived of putting into motion.

Trump sees Japan as an important ally and is showing actual motions to prove such. Abe and his LDP posse need to recognize the reality that Trump is much better for Japan than any US president has been since Ronald Reagan. Trump's bluster is easily ignored and his actions speak much loader than the rhetoric puked out by Clinton, Bush, and Obama. They spoke in kind terms but their actions did more to hurt Japan's security and stability than Trump speaking the truth - that when it comes to trade Japan has a poor track record.

Trump is refusing a nuclear armed North Korea and is showing willingness to fight for that, and that is alone is what is best for Japan. Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State did nothing to confront North Korea. Trump has made it clear North Korea will be confronted - including military intervention. Clinton, Bush, and Obama all failed in that respect and thus Japan is in the situation on North Korea in all fronts Abe is contending with.

Friday, July 14, 2017

TEPCO Needs 5 More Years Of Government Subsidies

TEPCO Head Takashi Kawamura At Diet Testimony

The new chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) says the utility needs to stop dragging its feet on plans to dump massive amounts of treated but contaminated water into the sea and make more money if it's ever going to succeed in cleaning up the mess left by meltdowns more than six years ago at the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Takashi Kawamura, an engineer-turned-business leader who previously headed Hitachi, is in charge of reviving TEPCO and leading the cleanup at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant. In testimony Thursday in the House of Deputies in the Diet, Kawamura said despite the massive costs of the cleanup and meeting tighter safety requirements, nuclear power is still vital for Japan's national security.

Below are highlights from the testimony.


Massive amounts of radiation-contaminated water that has been processed and stored in hundreds of tanks at the plant are hindering decommissioning work and pose a safety risk in case another massive quake or tsunami strikes. TEPCO needs to release the water - which contains radioactive tritium that is not removable but considered not harmful in small amounts - into the Pacific Ocean, Kawamura said. The method is favored by experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency and Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority as the only realistic option. Earlier, TEPCO had balked at calls by NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka for controlled release of the water, now exceeding 770,000 metric tons, into the sea, fearing a public backlash. "Technically, we fully support the chairman's proposal," he said, adding that there is still strong resistance from local residents, especially fishermen. "I think we should have acted sooner. ... We should start moving faster."


Government subsidies are needed for at least five more years. Kawamura says TEPCO must become more profitable to manage to cover the gargantuan costs of cleaning up Fukushima Dai-Ichi after it suffered multiple meltdowns due to the massive March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami. TEPCO'S longtime status as a regional monopoly undermined its profit-making incentive, hobbling its ability to cover most of the 21.5 trillion yen (about $190 billion) price tag for decommissioning the plant and compensating dislocated residents. "To reconstruct Fukushima, we must make more profit, and I know we should not be taking about just money, but I think that is important," he said.


TEPCO's main mission now is decommissioning Fukushima Dai-Ichi, an unprecedented challenge that experts say could take decades and will take still more research and development. "That's our main activity and gaining new expertise in the decommissioning is far more important. But I believe there will be a time when decommissioning becomes an important business," Kawamura said. "Decommissioning is a process which takes time, not only for accident-hit reactors but ordinary retired reactors," he said. "I plan to coordinate with those who are studying the possibility of properly turning decommissioning of ordinary reactors into a viable business."


Kawamura says he believes nuclear power is still a viable business and one that will continue to be vital for Japan's energy security, despite the extra costs from stricter post-Fukushima safety requirements and the cost of processing spent fuel and waste. TEPCO is reviewing its business strategy, but based on rough estimates, "I still believe that nuclear is still superior for Japan, which is really a resource- poor country," he said. "Even if we take severe accident measures and factor in spent fuel processing and other costs, I think there are some reactors that can still be profitable." He said nuclear power includes a wide range of technologies that Japan should not abandon, for national security reasons, as China continues to build nuclear plants.


Kawamura said TEPCO hopes to restart the utility's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in northern Japan, even while the decommissioning at Fukushima Dai-Ichi is underway, so the operable plant can be a major source of revenue for the company. He said a decision on whether to resume operation of the Fukushima Dai-Ni plant, near Fukushima Dai-Ichi, will depend on a financial review. He said he regrets TEPCO's slowness in making a decision and acknowledged calls from local authorities and residents to decommission the second Fukushima plant, which was also hit by the tsunami but avoided a meltdown.

From Diet Transcripts 13 July

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Trade Deal That Isn't

The trade deal that really is not a trade deal was trumpeted as a success last week. Not so much as break through as a failed tweak on Trump's and the UK's noses. The deal is this: The EU and Japan have made a deal to meet again and try to get a deal worked out. All that was agreed to concretely is what was agreed to last year. Tariffs on EU produced non automotive industrial products sold in Japan would be cut by 30% in 2019 and phased out completely by 2025. On the Japan side, Japanese electronics would have tariffs in the EU cut by 30% in 2018 and phased out completely by 2023. This has already been agreed to in December last year and waited to be signed during the G20 meetings this month as a symbolic symbol to the USA and UK.

Maybe the shelves in local Japanese won't be bulging under the weight of European quality cheeses, cold meat, or clinking with fine wine just yet. But the deal, or accord rather, is the correct terminology politically for the agreement, declaration is a means to and end. That is to scold President Trump policy of protectionism and isolation.

As for the Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Tusk to trumpet their Global Europe policy in the face of GB Prime Minster Theresa May. Not particularly subtle or objective, however the message is that Japan and the EU are going to give Kabuki Show appearance to the fact try as hard as they will Japan will not lower or remove tariffs on EU automobiles and agricultural products. The EU will not allow Japanese robotics in the EU without strong limits. So what was worked out is that they will try hard and accomplish nothing in the future.

Shinzo Abe as protector of free trade? Not likely – ever. For Japan free trade means we're free to sell our stuff anywhere we like at any price we like and keep your stuff out.

The Chinese will take note! And the USA, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, African nations that feel the EU and Japan are too stringent and unequitable on “free trade” deals will negotiate their own among each other. The EU and Japan will simply be shut out from a majority of nations that see national sovereignty as far more important than meaningless labels as “free trade” that is not free trade and “globalization” that is nothing but national sovereignty sacrificed to unelected bureaucrats in the UN and EU.

The cry of 'The let them eat sushi' is not quite so fresh as the fish need to be. Japan also faces fights with EU on wanting to expand fishing rights into EU waters in the North Sea and Atlantic. And instead of buying Japanese cars (which are set to go up in price) Australians and New Zealanders are buying Chinese and Amrican cars and are now undercutting Japanese sales. In Australia alone Japanese auto sales have plummeted 60% over the last decade. In China the goal is to own a Cadillac or Lincoln and Japanese auto makers have all but closed out of the more lucrative midclass and luxury car markets. Toyota pulled its Lexus brand out of China in 2012 and has no plans to return. Is this what they call 'negotiating'? Junker was recently complaining about an empty chamber the other day which was evidenced by footage showing it to be so. And the Abe government is on the slide after the worst vote ever for the LDP in the Tokyo elections outsmarted by Tokyo's first successful female politician. Four years a-coming but not signed yet? Abe full of ideas except none of them work out. A true analysis is that this will yet be another dead on arrival accomplishment. A further and another example of Abenomics.

A true account of something I was told years ago comes to mind. A product being made for a Japanese buyer in the USA. Everything was questioned and changed from the original, even the color. It was a leather product. Come the presentation and the Japanese buyer still hovered. Frustrated the seller asked what now was wrong. "We have done everrything you requested". The Japanese buyer replied “Ah, yeah, but I don't like the smell! It is too leathery smelling.” Imagine leather smelling like leather and not lilacs or sakura.

But for the LDP showing off is just letting the dog and pony show of working hard and accomplishing nothing go on further. I would not say that choice is too limited for European products in Japan, rather some type of censorship about what is best as quality and their price of products is limiting their sale. Abe needs to keep his rural farmer voters happy for a few more years.

It has been decided in Tokyo, when Prime Minister Abe returned from Europe Tuesday, that a shift has been made. The Abe administration now has decided there will be no deal at all if the old system of investment structure is changed in any way. This is a deal breaker for Brussels and as of that announcement EU nations all but declared the talks over if Tokyo keeps that tone. Japan's reply is “We shall keep this tone, the system will not change.”

Japanese time is slow and even slower in today's world where one consumer now knows with smart phone effort what is available all over the Earth through the Internet. Globalism has been replaced by Amazon, Ebay, and Alibaba. Just as Fed-Ex, Yamato Kuro Neko, and Sagawa replaced the post office for express delivery. National sovereignty is easily kept when the buying and selling is done on screens and keyboards. Seems Abe and Junkers have yet to realize this. The future is not free trade agreements and globalization but rather shoring up technology infrastructure and managing the virtual currency markets. The net marketplace has already steadily replaced the brick and mortar markets.

Dallas Brincrest, Editor

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Maekawa Testifies: Prime Minister Abe Ordered School Given Special Approval

Maekawa Testifies Before The Diet

A former top education ministry bureaucrat told the Diet Monday that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's office had significant influence over the government's decision to approve a new department at a university run by his friend.  

Kihei Maekawa testified, "Prime Minister Abe ordered that the school be given special approval in veterinary medicine.  He knew and his aids went to the Education Ministry and got special approval."

Abe's aide was clearly involved in the approval process for the veterinary department at the Okayama University of Science in a government-designated special economic zone, said Maekawa, former vice minister of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

Attending as an unsworn witness, Maekawa told a Diet committee, "The prime minister's office worked behind the scenes," adding that the Cabinet Office, and the prime minister's office, was responsible for dealing with issues related to special economic zones.

Kotaro Kake, chairman of Kake Educational Institution, which runs the university, is known as a close friend of the prime minister.

Abe's Liberal Democratic Party agreed to briefly reopen parliament for committee deliberations, as requested by opposition parties.

But the deliberations were held when Abe was away for a tour of European countries including participation in the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, prompting opposition parties' demand for his attendance at a separate parliament session.

Appearing in the joint session of the House of Representatives' Cabinet affairs and education committees, Maekawa reiterated that the review process was "unclear" and "unfair," citing insufficient discussion of whether Kake Educational Institution met conditions to launch Japan's first vet school in half a century.

During a similar session in the House of Councillors in the afternoon, the former top bureaucrat also said Hiroto Izumi, Abe's assistant, urged him in September and October last year to speed up the procedure, saying he was making the request on behalf of Abe "because the prime minister cannot say it by himself."

Abe has come under fire over suspicions he influenced the approval process for the opening of the new department at the university in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, western Japan.

Such suspicions have grown after the revelation of documents indicating that officials of the Cabinet Office pressured the education ministry ahead of the selection of Kake.

Maekawa has said he remembers having seen some of the documents while he was still working at the ministry.

The documents, which Maekawa insists are authentic, state the officials employed phrases such as "what the highest level of the prime minister's office has said" and "in line with the prime minister's wishes." Abe and other Cabinet members have repeatedly denied wrongdoings.

It is the second scandal related to school operators close to Abe. He has drawn suspicion over his dubious ties with private school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which purchased state-owned land in Osaka at a dramatically reduced price. Abe's wife Akie was named honorary principal of the elementary school that Moritomo planned to open at the site.

Maekawa resigned in January to take responsibility for a scandal in which the ministry systematically secured post-retirement jobs for its bureaucrats.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Government Calls Response By TEPCO "Arrogant"

Protesters Outside TEPCO HQ

The head of Japan's nuclear safety watchdog on Monday criticized the attitude of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc (TEPCO) toward decommissioning of the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and questioned the company's ability to resume operation of other reactors.

"I feel a sense of danger," Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said during a special meeting with the company's top management, adding that TEPCO does "not seem to have a will to take initiative and is responding with arrogance in our investigation" toward decommissioning of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Takashi Kawamura, the chairman of TEPCO, and its president, Tomoaki Kobayakawa, attended the meeting. The authority felt it is necessary to hear from the top executives before it could make a decision on whether to approve TEPCO's plan to resume operation of the Nos. 6 and 7 reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture.

TEPCO filed for state safety assessment of the two reactors in September 2013 to reactivate them, hoping to restore its financial condition as it needed massive funds to pay compensation related to the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, triggered by a huge earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, and to scrap the plant that suffered meltdowns.

The watchdog's safety screening has found TEPCO's failure to report insufficient earthquake resistance of a facility built to serve as the base to deal with a possible nuclear accident at the Niigata complex although it had acknowledged the insufficiency for three years.

In June, TEPCO submitted to the watchdog its revised safety measures for the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa complex.

"An operator lacking will to take initiative does not have the right to resume operation of nuclear reactors," Tanaka said.

TEPCO's chairman responded by saying, "There are citizens who believe nuclear power is necessary. Operating reactors is our responsibility."

But he also admitted there is room for only two more years' worth of space in the tanks to accommodate contaminated water stemming from the Fukushima complex.

At Monday's meeting, the watchdog asked TEPCO's top management about the company's safety measures for the Niigata complex on the Sea of Japan coast as well as its safety awareness.

Tanaka said the authority does not view that it received sufficient responses from TEPCO at the meeting and requested that the company submit more explanation on its plan to decommission the Fukushima complex and resume operation of the two reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.

Tanaka plans to conduct on-site checkups at the two reactors of the plant in Niigata, saying, "TEPCO, which caused the (Fukushima) accident, is not an ordinary operator."

The two boiling water reactors at the Niigata plant are the same type as those that suffered core meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi complex, and no such reactors have cleared the authority's safety screening since the Fukushima disaster.