While the PyeongChang Olympic Games opened the door to rapprochement between the two Koreas, tension between the United States and North Korea showed no sign of easing as Washington maintained its hardline stance against Pyongyang. The Japanese government has been in lockstep with the United States on North Korean issues, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe frequently reiterates that Tokyo stands shoulder to shoulder with Washington in dealing with the rogue state.
Against this backdrop, a bank scandal threatens to jolt the Japan-U.S. alliance to its foundations. How will the United States react to money sent from Japan that could possibly end up financing North Korea's nuclear development program? The stage for these money transfers was Ehime Prefecture, a tranquil region in Shikoku and far from the capital of Tokyo.
Few would believe that the recent crackdown on the education ministry unlawfully arranging post-retirement employment for its officials has ended the corrupt practice of elite bureaucrats landing lucrative jobs at private-sector businesses and organizations that they once supervised. Officials at government ministries and agencies continue to use clever ways to secure post-retirement positions for themselves. A typical example is the police -- which hold "reserved seats" for their retired ranks in organizations related to the pachinko industry.
The cozy ties between the police and the industry date back roughly 30 years, when the National Police Agency took the initiative of getting operators of pachinko parlors to introduce prepaid cards for their customers. This gave the police access to the vested interests in the industry, which at its peak had annual sales of more than ¥30 trillion.
Following an announcement in Beijing that China's economy scored 6.9 percent growth in the January-March period from a year earlier, some of the Japanese media painted positive pictures with headlines saying that the growth exceeded the government's target and that slowdown of the Chinese economy clearly bottomed out. As if to refute such optimism, however, concerns are mounting in international financial circles that the present status of China's economy is getting ever closer to what had existed in the United States when it was hit by the crisis triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.
An American analyst stationed in Beijing points to an extraordinary expansion of personal debt as a major risk to the nation's economy. After the economy started showing signs of a slowdown in 2014, the government took every conceivable step to revitalize the real estate market by easing housing loan regulations. As a result, housing prices in major cities have shot up -- by 78 percent in Beijing and 50 percent in Shanghai compared with 2010 levels. Household debt meanwhile kept expanding to account for more than 30 percent of fresh lending in the latter half of last year, up sharply from around 15 percent previously.
Japanese delivery service company Yamato Transport Co., Ltd. is struggling to establish a foothold in the Thai market it entered this year.
The Thai market for "refrigerated delivery services was already saturated and Yamato arrived too late," according to a source at a rival firm. Yamato likely will have a hard time achieving its annual sales target of 1 billion baht (about ¥3.2 billion) within five years.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has drafted a set of new measures to stop passive smoking as Tokyo braces for the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, calling for a total smoking ban on the premises of public facilities such as schools and hospitals and imposing penalties on violators. However, a bitter feud between opponents and proponents within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is casting thick clouds over the measures' prospects.
The crux of the issue lies in the contradictory policies that the government has pursued by trying to secure tobacco sales as a major source of tax revenue while simultaneously seeking smoking restrictions to protect public health. What the government has been doing is tantamount to hitting the accelerator and the brakes at the same time.
The health ministry's proposed rules would create three types of areas where smoking would be restricted or prohibited, with a proprietor violating the rules subject to a maximum fine of ¥500,000.
There is rising concern within Honda Motor Co., Ltd. over the possibility of information leaks as a result of the Japanese automaker's joint development of driverless car technology with Google subsidiary Waymo LLC.
Honda announced its tie-up with Google in December with an eye on joint autonomous car development that would use Honda's vehicles and Waymo's software. The deal left many people at Honda--and outside the company--scratching their heads, as Honda has been developing driverless technologies on its own. Honda R&D Co., Ltd., a subsidiary tasked with developing all Honda vehicles, is especially alarmed by the tie-up.
Japanese market players frequently gripe about the timing of Fast Retailing Co., Ltd.'s release of its earnings reports.
Fast Retailing, which operates the Uniqlo clothing store chain, releases an earnings report on the second Thursday of each new quarter. This tends to influence the Nikkei Stock Average's special quotations for index futures and options, which are calculated after the stock market opens on the second Friday. The release of special quotations is sometimes delayed and its figures often deviate from the actual Nikkei Stock Average.
A schism between Sumitomo Corporation's metal business department and its major trading partner, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation, has emerged over the former's handling of a Brazilian iron ore company.
In January, Sumitomo rejected a 1 billion real (about ¥36 billion) capital reduction plan for Mineração Usiminas S.A. (MUSA), in which it holds a 30 percent stake. MUSA's parent company and Brazil's largest steelmaker Usinas Siderúrgicas de Minas Gerais SA (Usiminas) had proposed the capital reduction.
While the suicide of an overworked rookie Dentsu Inc. employee generated plenty of headlines recently in Japan, the case of a talented young researcher of Mitsubishi Electric Corporation who killed himself in November 2016 has created barely a whisper.
The suicide note left by Takashi (not his real name) described the torment he went through at work. "I was squashed by Mitsubishi," he wrote, and, "I was publicly 'executed' in front of everybody." But, Mitsubishi Electric, a leading Japanese electrical and electronics manufacturer, has not revealed any information regarding the 25-year-old employee's death.
As tension rises over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, how Japan should deal with tens of thousands of refugees expected to arrive should a contingency occur on the Korean Peninsula has become a pressing issue.
The Japanese government began addressing the issue in the early 2000s, with an expert panel established by the Cabinet Secretariat considering a scenario in which North Korean people flee their homeland by boat to take refuge in Japan.