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Why Abe's diplomacy with Putin will come up short

Updated : 06.09.2016 / Category Sentaku in The Japan Times

The prospect of a constitutional amendment has been making headlines after proponents of revising the supreme law gained a two-third majority in both chambers of the Diet following the July 10 Upper House election. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's top political priority for the remainder of the year is not amending the Constitution, but holding talks with Russia to conclude a peace treaty and resolving the territorial dispute over the Russian-occupied islands off Hokkaido.

Abe has long maintained that the only way to resolve the territorial row with Moscow would be for him to talk directly with President Vladimir Putin. He has thus instructed officials of the Prime Minister's Office and the Foreign Ministry to secure as many opportunities as possible for one-on-one talks with Putin during his overseas tours this fall. It has already been decided that Abe and Putin will meet in the Russian port city of Vladivostok during the Eastern Economic Forum starting Sept. 2 and again on the sidelines of the Sept. 4-5 Group of 20 summit in Hangzhou, China. He looks forward to meeting with Putin again in late September during the United Nations General Assembly session in New York.

Idemitsu's internal mudslinging having far-reaching ramifications

Updated : 05.09.2016 / Category Economy

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This is no longer a feud affecting just the founding family of Idemitsu Kosan Co. Ltd., Japan's second largest oil wholesaler. In mid-August, the head of one of Japan's three megabanks received a phone call from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

"Your bank doesn't really intend to antagonize the ministry, does it?" the senior METI official said down the line.

In early August, the second act unfolded in the tense drama between Idemitsu's founding family and the company's management over the plan to merge Idemitsu with Showa Shell Sekiyu K.K., Japan's fifth-largest oil wholesaler. The founding family opposes the merger. On August 3, Shosuke Idemitsu, the eldest son of founder Sazo Idemitsu and holder of 34 percent of Idemitsu shares (with voting rights), announced he had bought a 0.1 percent stake in Showa Shell for about ¥400 million.

The LDP's draft constitution

Updated : 02.09.2016 / Category Sentaku in The Japan Times

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party's draft constitutional amendment has become so ill-reputed that it is now being treated as a "historic document." Still, the 2012 draft remains a heavy burden on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's pursuit of revising the nation's supreme statute while he's in office. The LDP's inability to effectively shelve the draft as invalid continues to keep its coalition partner Komeito as well as opposition parties on guard over the issue.

The draft amendment was essentially penned by Yosuke Isozaki, deputy head of the LDP's Constitutional Reform Promotion Headquarters, while the LDP was out of power and before Abe returned to the party's helm in September 2012. The problem with the document was that it did not receive full scrutiny of Abe, who, in his pursuit of constitutional revision, entrusted Isozaki to work out its details. Meanwhile, Sadakazu Tanigaki, the LDP president at the time the draft was unveiled, was also indifferent to the text.

Mitsui & Co.'s 15 cursed years: Powerful chairmen blight a major trading house

Updated : 01.09.2016 / Category Economy

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This composite photo shows Masami Iijima, left, and Shoei Utsuda

About 15 years have elapsed since two Mitsui & Co. employees were arrested in connection with a power generator project championed by then Diet member Muneo Suzuki, plunging the major Japanese trading house into a quagmire.

Mitsui has since strived to restore the public trust it once enjoyed, the first step being the hasty appointments of Nobuo Ohashi as chairman and Shoei Utsuda as president in October 2002. The memorial service held July 4 for Ohashi, who passed away in April, may offer some clues as to what is really going on at the trading house, which suffered a huge deficit in the last business year following years of robust performance.

A large number of people paid tribute to Ohashi at the memorial service held at Tokyo's Imperial Hotel. The ceremony was conceived to commemorate Ohashi's achievements and was obviously important to Mitsui, but current President Tatsuo Yasunaga left the venue early for unknown reasons, leaving Chairman Masami Iijima to deal with visiting guests, according to a former Mitsui executive who attended the service.

Prosecutors, securities watchdog in unseemly open fight over Toshiba case

Updated : 31.08.2016 / Category Capsule

Speculation is rife about why discord between prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission over whether to bring charges against former top executives of Toshiba Corp. has spilled into the open.

According to a reporter of the city news section of a national newspaper, the kerfuffle—concerning an accounting scandal—erupted after a prosecutor recently told the media it would be "hard to make a criminal case" against the former executives due to a lack of evidence. This leak came as the SESC was still investigating the case and sparked a furious response from the securities watchdog.

Murky future prospects for Line

Updated : 30.08.2016 / Category Capsule

After a spectacular start following this year's largest initial public offering, Japanese messaging-app operator Line Corp. has lost much of its luster. As the number of active Line users stalls, there is mounting concern over the company's future direction.

About 68 million people in Japan use the free messaging app, but the global number of users has plateaued at about 200 million. "There's no sign that Line will expand outside the limited area of Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia," a reporter for a business magazine said. The success of an online service like Line hinges on increasing its number of users. With no expectation that this is likely, there is no way the company can draw up an effective growth strategy.

Toyota pressing parts makers to slash costs despite robust Asia markets

Updated : 29.08.2016 / Category Capsule

Parts makers affiliated with Toyota Motor Corp. are feeling the squeeze as the major automaker "bullies" them to slash costs in their operations in Thailand, which is a major production base in Toyota's global network.

The drive to push down costs in Thailand is all the more brazen given that auto markets in nearby Asian nations are growing robustly. According to an executive of one parts maker, Toyota has seized a sharp cooling of the Thai vehicle market as an opportunity to "repeatedly demand that its subcontractors slash costs."

U.S. frustration grows over Okinawa's equivocal call for land return

Updated : 26.08.2016 / Category Capsule

Do they want the land returned, or don't they?

The U.S. government is becoming increasingly frustrated by the Okinawa prefectural government's tacit approval of actions by protestors disrupting the construction of helipads—a project essential for the return of land sought by the Okinawa government for decades. Indeed, duplicity is becoming something of a forte for the government of Japan's southernmost prefecture.

Kodo-kai still raking in funds despite tougher yakuza laws

Updated : 25.08.2016 / Category Sentaku in The Japan Times

Between late August and early September, the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan's largest yakuza syndicate, suddenly split into two groups, leading people to worry that the feud might lead to violent infighting.

But a police insider has all but brushed aside such fears, pointing out that the winner in this infighting will be determined not by guns and swords but by money. And well-positioned with a lot of money in hand is the Kodo-kai, a leading group within the Yamaguchi-gumi that has controlled the overall syndicate for more than a decade.

Shinobu Tsukasa, 73, whose real name is Kenichi Shinoda, has headed the Kodo-kai since 1984, and it was his talent for accumulating huge sums of money through various types of business that enabled him to become the sixth-generation leader of the parent Yamaguchi-gumi in 2005, according to a writer who has covered yakuza affairs for many years.

Japan's crack submarine fleet

Updated : 23.08.2016 / Category Sentaku in The Japan Times

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China has lately been resorting to defiant and audacious acts like claiming its territorial rights over waters around artificial island it has built in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea and unilaterally designating an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea.

While these acts are visible to all, the real front battle line lies deep in the sea where submarines are principal players. This article attempts to provide in-depth descriptions of the real picture of submarines of the Maritime Self-Defense Force and their roles, as little has so far been made known about them.

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