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The word from Tokyo

18 August, 2009

Back from a hiatus – and dodging earthquakes in Tokyo (yes, another small one this morning) – I just thought I’d slip in a few developments from Japan.

As many of you may have seen in the news yesterday, Japan is officially out of the recession, apparently,thanks to a quarter of 3.1% annualised growth (about 0.9% for the quarter?).

It’s probably the best news beleaguered PM Aso has had in a while as he faces a near certain defeat at the polls at the end of this month. It is going to take something major to stop Hatoyama at the helm of the DPJ sneaking into office… Like cutting support for whalers, banning dolphin culls in Taji, or removing reducing rice tariffs.

Of course not all sectors of the economy have been in decline – the Bank of Japan has measured a major increase in brothels in the Susukino nightclub district in northern town of Sapporo (the entry town to Niseko for any skiers/boarders out there) as part of a study to develop new metrics on the size of the services sector.

As well as his gaffes, Aso has had the misfortune of watching over the worst contraction the Japanese economy has seen in living memory for most workers. Of course, you could also blame his inability to improve his popularity on his choice of suit at the G8 in L’Aquila. That was definitely not a shining example of ‘cool Japan‘. But whatever takeaways Aso got from the G8 summit in the Italian town, the earthquakes almost seem to have followed him back to Tokyo.

But if voters are actually after real reforms in the post-Koizumi era, they may be disappointed either way. The DPJ has recently revised its manifesto to waterdown original large-scale reforms planned for the agriculture sector (including rice) in order to bring to fruition a free trade agreement with the US. So either way, the actual policies of the two major parties are likely to differ very little across most issues. (Sound familiar?) But perhaps one positive change from Koizumi, perhaps neither Aso (despite his nationalist factional roots) nor Hatoyama are likely to make regular visits to the controversial Yasukuni shrine, despite one apparent ultra-nationalist recent attempt to disembowl himself to protest the lack of visits to the shrine. But more on the politics of this later.

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