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Japan's poverty of politics and tobacco policy

Updated : 26.05.2017 / Category Sentaku in The Japan Times

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.

Concerns rife over information leaks from Honda Motor

Updated : 23.05.2017 / Category Capsule

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.

How the Nikkei Stock Average became skewed

Updated : 17.05.2017 / Category Economy

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.

Sumitomo at odds with Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal over Brazilian ore firm

Updated : 12.05.2017 / Category Capsule

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.

Overwork suspected behind suicide of Mitsubishi Electric young researcher

Updated : 08.05.2017 / Category Economy

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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.

Japan poorly prepared for influx of North Korean refugees

Updated : 01.05.2017 / Category Politics

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.

The grand fiction called missile defense

Updated : 28.04.2017 / Category Sentaku in The Japan Times

There has been much talk lately in Japan about beefing up its missile defense system as North Korea, after conducting five nuclear weapons tests, keeps up its ballistic missile program, including firing four missiles simultaneously into the Sea of Japan in March. Yet given that the missile defense system was introduced in the first place as a deterrent against North Korea, it is doubtful whether the system will be effective now that Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs appear to have made such great strides and the rogue behavior of Kim Jong Un seems as unchecked as ever.

There is no such thing as a foolproof system to strike down incoming missiles. Attempts to pursue that by beefing up the missile defense system will push up defense spending endlessly. The only alternative may be to make the Self-Defense Forces capable of carrying out pre-emptive attacks on North Korean missile bases. But the government is hesitant to take such action, and relies on the offensive capability of the U.S. military. The increased tensions between Washington and Pyongyang since President Donald Trump took office in the United States sheds light on inherent shortcomings of the missile defense system.

Troubling times for South Korean manufacturing

Updated : 24.04.2017 / Category Sentaku in The Japan Times

The economic plight of South Korea has been exacerbated further by the political turmoil that led to the ouster of President Park Geun-hye from power. However, the key culprit that pushed the South Korean industry into hopeless gloom has been the downfall of Samsung Electronics Co. and the arrest and indictment of Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman and de facto chieftain of the Samsung group, in the corruption scandal involving Park and a confidante.

Samsung expanded by imitating and catching up with the management methods and technologies of its rivals in other industrialized economies while its founding family exerted strong leadership and made timely and bold investments. Today, its sources of strength are being emulated by Chinese manufacturers, which are rapidly catching up. The end of the Samsung era may herald the downfall of a wide range of South Korean manufacturing sectors from shipbuilding to steel and automobiles.

Friction reported between Panasonic, Tesla employees over cell battery plant

Updated : 21.04.2017 / Category Economy

The Gigafactory that Panasonic Corporation and Tesla, Inc. will build for battery cell production in Nevada is causing a few headaches for the Japanese firm, according to well-informed sources.

"Tesla CEO Elon Musk has absolute power over his company and his subordinates must obey what he says," said an insider. "Because of this, some Panasonic employees have grown frustrated in dealing with Tesla employees, who they regard as inflexible."


Nikon's bleak future

Updated : 17.04.2017 / Category Economy

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Nikon Corporation is acutely feeling the pinch following a steady stream of business setbacks over the past 10 years.

The low-cost digital camera market has virtually vanished due to the advent of smartphones, and sales of single-lens reflex cameras--Nikon's primary profit-earner--have declined as shopping sprees by Chinese tourists visiting Japan have cooled in the past few years. In addition, the Tokyo-based company lagged rivals in the development of new semiconductor lithography systems. Nikon's survival now depends on exports to liquid crystal-related plants in China, where capital investment on such facilities is ramping up.

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