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Home » Archives » August 2007 » "It is 'dark' in Japan"

"It is 'dark' in Japan"

Wednesday, August 1, 2007 Posted: 11:12 PM JST

Long before Sunday's election results showed Abe's utter defeat and the opposition's gain of a historical majority in Japan's Upper House I started casually interviewing dozens of people about the elections.

Although I have not seen any research yet that confirms this I noticed that the LDP seemed to be supported mainly by the elite this time. Even the people who consider themselves middle class went for the opposition. But not necessarily because they liked them. Lots of women told me that they were turned off by the Democratic Party of Japan's Ichiro Ozawa and Yukio Hatoyama. Quite a few told me that they want to turn off the TV when they see his face. Not promising for a party that now wants to take over the reigns from the LDP.

What also became clear was that few people have benefited from Japan's economic growth of the past few years. As I wrote last week, real wages have gone down by 2.7 percent since 2001 and a third of Japan's workforce works under a temporary contract. A 54 year old taxi driver in Tokyo told me how has to drive 2 hours from Ibaragi where he lives to Tokyo where he hunts for passengers. "There is no work in Ibaragi," he said, "I must drive to Tokyo to find enough customers." Even so, times are hard. He used to be able to take his daughter and wife on trips abroad. Even though his daughter married and it is now only he and his wife, they can hardly make ends meet.

There are also people who think that it is just not healthy anymore to have one party in the driver's seat for so long. "It is time for change," an employee of an antique book shop in Tokyo's Jimbo-cho told me. "It is strange that we have had only one party for such a long time.

Many staunch LDP-supporters seem totally out of touch. Somebody who voted for the LDP told me that times have changed and that it is impossible to have a safety net for everyone. "It is their own fault," he said, "that people are in trouble. It is because they didn't study hard or don't want to work."

Research contradicts him. It is not that people didn't study or work hard enough. Many work their pants off and still go down the drain.

However, there may be a lack of imagination and inspiration among some of Japan's smaller business people. On June 29, the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency published the findings of its fiscal year 2006 survey on shopping malls. Approximately 70 percent of the representatives of the malls surveyed answered that business was stagnant and likely to decline. As problems facing shopping malls, respondents cited "lack of really attractive shops" (36.9 %); "the shop owners' poor sense of participation in the activities of their malls" (33.4 %); and "the difficulty of finding successors to the businesses as the present shop owners age" (31.4 %). The first two reasons seem to suggest that there is opportunity, but that it is not being grasped.

But to many the opportunity is just invisible. A research group of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has found through a survey that one out of 10 employees (10.3%) of small and medium-sized enterprises in Tokyo thought about committing suicide during the previous year. Some 1.8 percent replied that they "frequently thought about suicide", and 8.5 percent "sometimes".

A self-assessment test shows that 25.6 percent of the employees surveyed may be "in a dispirited state," a fairly high rate compared to the rates of 13 - 18 percent found in previous surveys.

As political analyst Minoru Morita told me last week, it is 'dark' in Japan, and Prime Minister Abe is totally unable to see how people are struggling.

Keywords: opinion_item

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The now legendary Sir Ernest Mason Satow (1843-1929) was a member of the British legation in Tokyo for twenty-one years. This classic book is based on the author's detailed diary, personal encounters, and keen memory. In it, Satow records the history of the critical years of social and political upheaval that accompanied Japan's first encounters with the West around the time of the Meiji Restoration. Fascinating.
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