Japan Times on what needs to be deregulated for Japan’s future as an Asian business hub


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Hi Blog.  Sorry to veer away from the ghoulish debacle that is Ichihashi’s currying and publisher Gentosha Inc’s profiteering, but let me continue with something a bit more pragmatic — Japan’s need to open up as a regional business hub and how that’s not being allowed to happen properly.  Arudou Debito


The Japan Times, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011 (excerpt)
So you want Japan to be a true Asian business hub?
By ROBERTO DE VIDO, Yokosuka, Kanagawa, courtesy of DK

Full article at http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20110125hn.html

Dear Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda: Last month your ministry published “Current Policies to Make Japan Asia’s Center for Business.”

In the PowerPoint presentation available on your website, you note that from 2007 to 2009 Japan slipped badly as an Asian business investment destination for Western and Asian companies, while unsurprisingly, China made huge gains.

Now we all know there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics, but these are your statistics, so presumably you’ve had your people present these numbers in the best possible light.

As a possible location for an Asian headquarters, Japan slid from second among six countries to a tie with India for fourth. Only South Korea is viewed as less attractive….

What do those companies need from you in addition to a secure environment in which to develop intellectual property? They need locations in Japan that are convenient to airports that provide access to a broad swath of Chinese cities. They’d also like those locations to be relatively near to urban centers that offer employees attractive housing, dining and entertainment options.

They need those tax breaks you’ve offered, but they need greater assurance from your government that the deals they cut in establishing operations here will last longer than, well, your party’s likely tenure in power. The cost of setting up a regional research and development center makes the tax holiday you’re offering a very minor inducement, especially as your offer has an imminent expiration date.

They need immigration policies that will let them decide what employees are required to staff their facility, and if you run into your counterparts at the ministries of education and justice, you might let them know that English- and other foreign language-speakers may be required, which may disqualify many of the Japanese citizens you’d like to see get jobs. And of course, they’ll need a streamlined visa procedure for any foreign workers, even if those workers are brown-skinned Asians.

They need you to create a business environment that is quickly and easily navigable by foreigners, i.e. in English, and that is, above all, flexible. Businesses need to be able to do whatever they need to do to operate, survive and thrive, without stumbling over bureaucratic obstacles all the time.

What they don’t need, Minister, is a Japan “that can say ‘no.’ ” Business investors need to hear “yes” and “no problem” and “we can get that done for you yesterday.”

You can do it, I’m sure, and your efforts will pay large economic dividends for decades to come.

Roberto De Vido is a founder of Near Futures, which provides community development assessment and solutions services to communities and businesses in Japan. He can be reached at robertodevido@nearfutures.jp.



Over here!
Japan’s government is trying to attract business investment. Really
Economist.com, Japanese business Jan 13th 2011 | TOKYO | from PRINT EDITION


WHEN the Japanese government revealed a hefty “new growth strategy” in June, the response was sceptical. Yomiuri Shimbun, the country’s biggest newspaper, relished reporting the “21 key national strategy projects” and “about 330 policy items” up for change. They ranged from promoting clean energy and overseas infrastructure projects to attracting medical tourists and foreign firms.

Since then the ruling Democratic Party of Japan has continued to falter. The popularity of the prime minister, Naoto Kan, has sunk as low as 21%, curtailing his ability to push reforms. And the government has placed the most controversial ideas on hold, at least publicly. Yet substantial changes are quietly taking place, a few of which have already borne fruit.

The most prominent change is in tax policy. Politicians have talked for years about lowering the corporate tax rate, at 40% the highest in the rich world. Companies argue they cannot compete against rivals in countries like South Korea, where the tax is just 24%. Last month Mr Kan promised to slash five percentage points off the tax in the 2011 budget, which goes before parliament in March.

To encourage overseas companies to set up regional headquarters and research facilities, the trade ministry is also proposing to lower the combined national and local tax on foreign firms to between 20% and 29% for five years. Long accused of giving subtle, preferential treatment to domestic players, Japan is poised to discriminate openly in favour of foreigners.

The government has stepped up its economic diplomacy, too. Having lost two large nuclear-power contracts in 2009 and 2010 to Russian and South Korean bidders with strong government backing, Japan has put its politicians on the road. This month ministers have hawked high-speed trains in Florida and touted a water-treatment facility in Riyadh. A state-backed lender, the Japan Bank for International Co-operation (JBIC), has opened the financing spigot. Such efforts seem to be paying off. Vietnam has said it will turn to Japanese technology for the second phase of its nuclear programme, which is worth about ¥1 trillion ($12 billion). Turkey, heavily lobbied by Japan, is in talks to conclude a nuclear-power contract that had been expected to go to South Korea.

As an aged, technologically advanced country, Japan ought to be a global leader in medical care. On January 7th the government established a department within the Cabinet Office to enhance the competitiveness of Japan’s medical business, including research, devices and drugs. It has also created a new six-month medical visa for foreigners and their caregivers that is designed to draw health tourists.

Overall, the government wants to create 5m new jobs by 2020, rake in ¥118 trillion, and bump GDP growth up to more than 3% from its long-term average of 1%. That appears unrealistic. Even after cuts, Japan’s corporate taxes are still far higher than in other countries. And it is not clear that the government will have the clout to push through the toughest initiatives, such as joining a regional free-trade agreement.

Still, the fact that some action has taken place counts as a positive sign. It marks a remarkable maturation for the DPJ, which strode into office 16 months ago clutching a sheaf of anti-business policies such as reversing the privatisation of the post office (the world’s biggest bank by deposits), creating a three-year debt moratorium for small firms and introducing unwieldy targets for carbon-emission reduction. But crisis eventually concentrates minds.

from PRINT EDITION | Business


21 comments on “Japan Times on what needs to be deregulated for Japan’s future as an Asian business hub

  • I have a question for those living in Japan long term. I assume you’re living there under the idea that things won’t crash and burn, or at least will improve in the long term. So my question is: How exactly do you think the Japanese government is going to improve the economic situation? As you probably know, the debt level is massive and increasing, recently their credit rating was downgraded, huge numbers of the younger generation are un/under-employed, their low wages mean they can’t save to finance future spending, they’re not paying into the pension system, and the political system has effectively been comatose for the past few years.

    I assume if you’re there long term you’ve thought this through, but I can’t really imagine the answer. Of all the people I’ve asked so far, Japanese and not, the only answer I’ve heard is “It’s Japan! They’ll figure something out!” Increased immigration is not going to happen, innovative thinking and entrepreneurship is fading, manufacturing jobs are going to China, the yen has risen to a problematic level for an export economy, even changes to the tax rate don’t look likely to happen. So I’m curious, does anyone actually have any idea how things will improve or is everyone just hoping for a miracle?

    — Right now, I don’t think anybody does. Nobody wants to show leadership, propose a radical solution, and take responsibility if it doesn’t work (save the arch-conservatives, who only want to lead back to the past, because there’s precedent and culturally-based arguments and memes backing them up; they won’t be alive much longer to see their handiwork anyway). Systemic flaw, and we’re just hoping a well-educated people with a strong work ethic and dedication to a job well done will somehow suffice.

  • I’m not really “long-term”, but more rather indefinite (10 years and counting, no particular ties here other than the jobs). I’m just saving for when I leave (and not holding it in ¥).

    Not that I’m much of a doomsdayer, it probably won’t be that much worse here than elsewhere, and don’t forget there is a huge resource of stay-at-home-women who could actually go out and work if things *really* got desperate.

  • Eric, I have come to the conclusion after many years watching the eikaiwa industry in constant decline on the back of a downward spiraling economy, and seeing public school jobs for foreigners get cut in terms of number, pay and benefits from the inside for years, and even Japanese public school teachers starting to get told they’ll be getting lower bonuses, and workers in industry having to work on public holidays and having their bonuses slashed, the trends in, it’s been in a spiral for ten years, and I see no realistic hope of turnaround.

    Even my job as I’ve known it for five years is about to disintegrate under these pressures. I’m riding it out one more year to tie up loose ends, and then I’m out of here.

    I strongly suspect that for many, it’s wives who refuse to leave Japan to try and make a better go of it in the big bad scary gaikoku, and the wedge of the specter of divorce and never seeing your kids again, that keep many here. For many, but by far not all, this is a factor.

    My current partner isn’t being given the opportunity to control our lives to our detriment in that way. I’ve been consistent and adamant. This economy is dying, something she freely recognizes, and while the economy in my native land is firing on extra cylinders, it’s a no brainer. We are leaving, or I am leaving.

    I saw this coming from my very early days in Japan in 2003. I’ve done well here, but the time has come…

  • I think the challenges Japan faces either are or will be faced by the rest of the world sooner or later. With the pace of change constantly increasing, Japan’s existing problems are just the tip of the iceberg and other countries will follow suite. The countries that will fare best will be those with the most educated populations, most open to change and with the most scientific outlook. I don’t think there are any countries on earth that are better positioned for this than Japan and so currently I intend to end up in Japan permanently. If things go really wrong in the future then somewhere like Canada or Australia with a lot of space and natural resources might be a good fall back, however Japan has the advantage of being an island, being fairly large, being temperate and being in an emergency at least, probably self sufficient in food. So I still think all things considered its got a lot going for it.

    If we want to live in Japan and be rich in comparison to the rest of the word however, Japan does need to make sure it looks to a bright future and not a sad decline or even slump in to corruption and widespread poverty. It will help when the elderly finally give up the reigns of power, it would also help if Japan’s birthrate could be raised to at least replacement level and it would help if the voting age was brought down to at least 18, although I am one of those who argues it should be much, much lower than that i.e. Demeny Voting. Fantastic article here which references a Japanese paper on this very subject:


  • Believe me, the government and the bureaucracy in Japan frequently get this kind of message from the foreign business community. For all the talk of opening up, the mentality is still there that domestic businesses need to be protected.

    Getting head office at any of the foreign companies I have worked at to invest money in Japan, as opposed to China, India, Vietnam, Brazil etc. is not easy as it is, and the Japanese government does not help matters.

    The bureaucrats themselves in my experience often have an image of Japan in more prosperous times, where foreign companies would jump over as many hurdles as needed to enter the market, and this is reflected in their attitudes. The reality is now that if it is too much hassle, companies these days will bypass Japan altogether.

    A change in attitudes is needed, but it ain’t gonna happen people.

  • @Eric
    A lot of what you say is all too true, but there’s more to life than economics.After over twenty years here I’ve got friends, family and colleagues who I couldn’t possibly walk out on just for financial reasons (obviously, if I was literally destitute things would change…). The problems Japan faces exist in a lot of other countries too. Things will change once enough folk start to be forced out of their comfort zone. Call me naive, but I think we’re going to be all right 🙂

  • Japan is its worst own enemy.

    1) Always waiting for “something” to change, so they can benefit…ie US economy or EU economy picking up, so they can export their goods. Why, bceuase to do otherwise would mean someone making a decision unilaterally. That simply does not occur in Japan. Layers and layers of passing the buck, making sure that all the “t’s” are crossed and “i’s” dotted, and even then, well..er..may be. Fear of rejection from someone somewhere prevents a movement forward.

    2) I tried to open up another offshore bank account as I’ve just recently changed banks. I could not do this in Japan, why, my bank said endless bureaucracy from Japan, makes this very difficult to do and I had to provide endless paper work signed by “official-dom” of Japan. Waste of time and money, even the bank said so. They are slowly pulling out of Japan too, because of this.

    3) Tax. The current tax laws and layers are based upon the “old system of Japan”. If anyone thinks Daimiyo’s and Shoguns are things from the past, think again. Your local council is the same, acts the same, provides edicts the same and so on. Read up on what a shogun/daimiyo did, and then look at your local council…the same! In days of old, they wanted the peasants to pay for everything, to keep them in the manner they were accused too, for fight off their foes. They said jump…you said how high….the whole taxation laws are based around this antiquated way of life. (In a nut shell). This was a nice way to coerce the citizens into parting with their money…or the local samurai would dispense with “justice”.

    Every part of tax we pay, has roots to this antiquated way of life. This way of life is so out of step it is not laughable anymore. It stems growth and freedom, why, citizens were not allowed to be powerful, only those that ruled. Easing the tax laws to allow grow and prosperity for those that work hard and wish to offer “different” ways or ‘things’ from the norm will not happen until those in power allow “their citizens” to control their daily lives.

    4) Competition. To have competition would allow for greater grow and rewards. But competition is not allowed. Not one single company I approached to build my house would “copy” or provide a “similar” product. They all sais…”oh, that method is only allowed by XXX company..” It is just one big cartel. Industry has strangled growth and competition in all forms, it does not want anyone else muscling in on its hard fought niche market. These companies, are linked into #3, the powers that be want it that way. (They pay the local politician to promote laws that enshrine their product, which pays for the politicians new car/holiday etc). I have yet to see a shop promoting a product that blatantly says….buy this product here…it is the same product as everywhere else but we sell it much cheaper etc etc.

    Even green grocer shops side by side both selling the same goods both at the same price…why?..where is the incentive??

    So, no competition….therefore I pay you, you pay me, to maintain harmony and balance. No winners, no losers.

    5) Govt. Until the local Politian stops looking after “his little patch” and looks at the wider picture nowt will change. The PM can’t rally his members because they have made promises to the locals that elected/paid for them…linked into #4 above.

    It is one vicious circle where no one wants anything to change, because the current/next generation is saying…if it changes, I’ll get nothing. I’ll have to work hard and get money/promotion on merit and merit alone, not by patronage. But I’ve spent years feathering my nest….oh dear…change…not likely, never, I want what is coming to me for all the years of servitude!

    ERGO..no change…

  • Johnny, … have you developed a rigid stereotype in your head about Japanese bureaucrats as some kind of sakoku-perpetuating suicidal elite?

    Japanese bureaucrats (1) include all kinds of people; and (2) have been kicking ass on this front for the last couple years, enabled by a DPJ that has different lobbyist interests than their predecessors…

  • Learning English would be a good first step. For better or worse, it is still the world’s business language. I’ve found that the most fluent speakers usually have the least influence within the organization in question.

  • Peter McArthur says:

    I am one of the 127.5 million people who are part of the statistical aggregate we call “The Japanese Economy”. I can be pessimistic about this aggregate without being pessimistic about myself. Factors like health, illness, prudence, imprudence and family ties have influenced my circumstances far more than growth or decline in the larger economy.

  • Thanks everyone for your comments, the link about demeny voting from Chris was particularly interesting. By the way, Japan isn’t anywhere near self sufficient in terms of food:


    I might not have been clear in my initial post. So far most of the replies have been along the lines of “They’ll figure something out” without really specifying the something. Even Debito could only say they need radical solutions, without giving any examples. So to be more precise: With a low birth rate and no prospect of immigration, how will Japan maintain the levels of spending on social security/infrastructure it’s had until now with fewer people paying into the system and more people taking out?

    – Increase age of retirement? According to a UN study (http://www.globalaging.org/health/world/overall.htm), retirement age would have to be raised to about 77 to properly compensate. In other words, working almost your entire life.

    – Government incentives/tax credits for more children? The government is already trying to cut spending, I can’t imagine where enough money will come from to support this effectively.

    – More women entering the workforce? Ignoring the cultural difficulties, this will just exacerbate the problem of low birthrates.

    – Increase economic growth? To do this, they would need a sustained growth rate of 4% (sorry, can’t find the link now) with a shrinking workforce. The above report says their target of even 3% is unrealistic. And this ignores that the workforce is shrinking almost 1% per year.

    – Decrease social security payouts? This will just cause retirees to use their own savings, worsening the government debt problems. Even with current trends, “public pensions in Japan are projected to provide the second lowest pensions relative to individual earnings of OECD countries” (http://www.oecd.org/document/49/0,3343,en_2649_34757_42992113_1_1_1_1,00.html). And with a swell of retirees this will become even more of a problem.

    – Raise the sales tax rate? Ignoring that this is political suicide in Japan and higher tax rates don’t proportionally increase revenue, doubling the sales tax barely covers half of the deficit, let alone paying down debt. Income and corporate tax increases aren’t even being discussed.

    Even if other countries have the same problem (South Korea, Italy, etc) it doesn’t explain how Japan will fix it, especially since those other countries have lower lifespans, higher retirement ages or are more open to immigration. @Joe, I agree that economics isn’t everything, but the way things are going the future generations will in fact be destitute.

    Sorry for the lengthy post, but I’m really wondering if there are any solutions. Can anyone provide some ideas or pointers to articles/papers that show a way out?

  • OK, I’ll bite –
    1. Raise the retirement age to 73 (life expectancies and pension starts were originally very close); and
    2. Shift excessive pensions from the rich to provide a minimum cost of living pension for everyone.

    Problem solved.

    3. Drop low-end, bargain food prices by 80% by joining the TPP

    And the minimum required pension drops ~20% in food costs, leaving ample zaigen to subsidize new industrial-scale farmers in abandoned rural areas, build giant fighting robots, add to Japan’s GDP and improve food self sufficiency, which by the way would only matter in the modern age in a war/apocalypse scenario and gets way more press than it should.

    Why don’t we do this? Because Japanese rich people, like those everywhere, like their money and won’t give it up without a fight, even if it means poor Japanese people have to suffer with little or no pension and overpriced food. The politicians know who pays their donations and fall in line. Wait, are we talking about Japan, Europe or Korea’s 10-years-from-now?

    Japan doomsayers are ideological Nipponjinronistas in sheep’s clothing. Why not put some onus on yourselves: why is Japan special? What is so different that makes you think Japan’s doom is impending (and has been just about to happen for each of the past 20 years)?

  • Dear Eric,
    I would like to clear something for you from the viewpoint of a women and a mother currently living and raising my child in Japan. Why do you think women don’t give birth to more children despite all the media bulling them into becoming moms(just sit a watch how much attention do celebrity moms get here!)?Simply because, as Kris Kosaka once put it very well in her article “Women, know your place” http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20090331zg.html , women often end up, no matter of their qualiffications and education, as housewives(read: home slaves).They try to work as long as they can, save as much as they can and enjoy their life as free people as much as they can. Now, Eric, I personally, since I gave birth to my daughter, have been outisde my town 0 times, 30min by bus distance-5 times, restaurant or karaoke, movies or just a night out with friends-0 times.Been to a doctor 0 times, to a dentist once, and bought 1 pair of shorts for all this time.I love my daughter, and I’m sure every mom accepts this slavery for the love of their children, but when you are single and without children, this certainly looks like slavery. I want to continue my dissertation, after I was refused maternity leave from the university as a schollarship student-this won’t happen in the nearest 3-4 years.So why would I spend so many sleepless nights only to stay at home and watch day shows and Okaa-san to issho?My friends who got their PhDs are childless-they chose work over children.And you know-they get much more respect and money than I do.
    Another thing I’d like to point out is the cost of raising children. In my country education until university is completely free. University taxes are very cheap compared with the quality of education one would receive(in Japan it’s the opposite!)My brother is going to get his Medical degree for 1000euro/year.In Japan, only a semester in national university costs 3 times more.Childrens clothes are terribly expensive and you have to buy new clothes much more often than to yourself. And then here come the toys, games, then trips, fashion items, and so on and so on…Things you can go without but a child shouldn’t or he will be ostracized in his group and bullied. And with the slowly, but steadily rising costs of living, the only way to raise a child is for the mom to get to work as soon as she can.Only when they know they will have the ressourses to raise happy children women will give birth to more children.
    I don’t know what kind of answer are you looking for, but I feel that you can’t get right answers if you don’t ask the right questions.

  • Thanks Bob and Norik, it’s good to hear some actual ideas.

    I don’t think raising retirement age by yet another 8 years would be popular (it’s already supposed to rise to 65 by 2013), but at least that’s a start. Given the low employment rate for young people, if anything I imagine there would be a push to lower the retirement age and make room for new employees. It used to be that public works projects would keep the younger generation employed, but this has fallen from popularity in recent years. I’m also curious how much would be gained by shifting pensions from the rich, since there doesn’t appear to be major inequality in income (http://nensyu-labo.com/heikin_kaisou.htm) – do you have any sources for that? I support Japan joining the TPP, but I’m not sure whether this will happen since in representative democracies the farmers will tend to wield disproportionate power (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/12/business/global/12yen.html).

    As for Norik, I fully understand where you are coming from. A NJ professor I know used to teach Princess Masako – he feels it’s a shame that her talents and education have gone to waste and says most of the Japanese women he’s taught have experienced the same choice of career or family, but not both. Like I said, solving this will require overcoming a major cultural bias and I don’t see any good answers for the question “How do you get more Japanese women in the workplace without lowering the birth rate?”

    As for me being a “doomsaying Nipponjinronista”, this is mostly a function of my having lived in Japan the longest and studied about it the most – I imagine you could make similar cases for other countries but I haven’t studied them as much. As for why it’s special, it’s because of a combination of low birthrates, resistance to immigration, resistance to change, disenfranchisement of the younger generation and extreme levels of debt that paralyze the government. You can find other countries with one or two of these aspects, but I believe it’s the combination of them which eliminates all available options and “dooms” Japan. To be fair, I don’t necessarily think everything will collapse next year but rather will eat away at society over the next 10-20 years as the standard of living deteriorates. This is around the time I will retire, so I wouldn’t want to be here for that and I wouldn’t want my children to grow up in that sort of environment.

  • Debito…just a heads up if you didn’t know about this. It ties in nicely with some gender issues and opening up Japan to business stuff you’ve brought up. I hope there is an appropriate thread for it. http://www.law360.com/topnews/articles/222902/hr-manager-hits-toshiba-with-gender-discrimination-suit

    HR Manager Hits Toshiba With Sex Bias Action
    By Eric Hornbeck

    Law360, New York (January 31, 2011) — The human resources manager at Toshiba Corp.’s American nuclear energy subsidiary slapped the Japanese electronics company with a sex discrimination class action Monday.

    Elaine Cyphers, the human resources manager at nuclear reactor manufacturer Toshiba America Nuclear Energy Corp., accused the company of systematically discriminating against its female employees, according to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by Steven L. Wittels of Sanford Wittels & Heisler LLP.

    “Inside Toshiba, women are not seen as equals,” the complaint said. “If a female employee does not conform to typical gender stereotypes or is not submissive towards male employees, she is labeled insubordinate, criticized and retaliated against.”

    Toshiba discriminates against women by paying women less than men, promoting men over women and not taking women’s complaints seriously, among other allegations, according to the complaint.

    Worldwide, Toshiba employs 211 female managers out of a total 6,273 managers, the complaint said.

    The proposed class includes all current and former female Toshiba employees, according to the complaint.

    While a precise estimate of the class size won’t be known until discovery is completed, Sanford Wittels’ David Sanford told Law360 on Monday that his “back-of-the-envelope” estimate is that the class will include about 4,000 to 5,000 employees nationwide.

    The company has about 204,000 employees worldwide, with 21,000 located in the U.S., according to its website.

    Cyphers alleged in the complaint that she was paid 25 percent less than male employees who had less experience, wasn’t allowed to negotiate her pay even after she found out she was paid less than men who were also permitted to negotiate their salaries and bonuses and wasn’t paid relocation expenses that male employees received.

    Cyphers also alleged that a male employee was hired as a “senior HR manager” above her a year after she was hired even though she was told she would be the subsidiary’s “top” human resources employee when she was hired in 2008, that she wasn’t given a chance to interview for the position and that the male employee Toshiba hired to supervise her had less experience than she did, the complaint said.

    After filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2009, Cyphers alleged that the company retaliated against her by reducing her duties and caused her so much stress that she had to take a medical leave of absence, the complaint said.

    The complaint alleges violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and the Equal Pay Act.

    Representatives for Toshiba didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

    Sanford Wittels & Heisler LLP represents Cyphers.

    Counsel information for Toshiba wasn’t immediately available.

    The case is Elaine Cyphers et al. v. Toshiba America Inc. et al. in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The case number wasn’t immediately available.

  • How to get more women in the workforce without lowering the birthrate – here are some ideas:
    (1) Allow any working woman who has a child to sponsor a domestic helper from the Phillipines / Indonesia / other source country for low-priced labor
    (2) Provide subsidies for the wages of such domestic helpers (as Singapore does)
    (3) Mandate that each office building or residential “mansion” must contain a daycare center and a certain proportion of the rent from each tenant must go to help pay for it. Currently underused resource of retired workers and out of work young people can help to staff these centers.
    (4) Vastly simplify the rules and procedures for children to enter public daycares and kindergartens.
    (5) Provide facilities where sick children can be looked after when they cannot attend daycare / kindergarten / school
    (6) Stop setting the mandatory time for all vaccinations and health checks at 2.00pm – 3.00pm and start providing them before 9.00pm and after 5.00pm.
    (7) Extend school hours to 6.00pm for children of working parents, with extra activities such as English lessons, sports and art / music.
    (8) Provide free treatment for infertile couples and actually work out some rules for the “grey” areas such as surrogacy and egg donation so that people know what the options are.
    (9) Increase the overtime rate to something that actually makes employers think twice, and then ruthlessly enforce the rules.
    (10) Encourage and provide resources so that employees can work from home if feasible.
    (11) Provide mandatory paternity leave.
    (12) All pregnancy and birth medical costs should be covered by health insurance.

  • Eric,

    The majority of Japan supports joining the TPP, according to a series of opinion polls since the public debate on the topic started. For example, the kyodo poll cited here: http://www.chinapost.com.tw/asia/japan/2011/01/17/287941/Japan-PM.htm
    The opposed number is a small fraction of the remainder.

    One reason Japan faces a lot of domestic opposition is that rural wealthy people use farmland to supplement their income by a few tens of thousands of dollars per year. Almost all Japanese farmers in the sense of the landowner or ultimate owner of the product (vast, vast majority) are this kind of casual gentleman farmer, and they ride the backs of the poor through a combination of tax subsidies and tariffs. This is Japan’s major structural economic problem; it is just so fundamental and impacts all strata of society. Take this away and Japan doesn’t have a lot of real regulatory problems, just marginal stuff people whine about for various reasons.

    Raising the retirement age is a complicated social question – many old people want to keep working, and they are a near majority of the electorate. Also, Japan’s young people could in fact benefit not only in the long term pension sense but in the short term increased economic activity and job sense because capital rich old people may start businesses and give valuable training to young people. We’ll see how it goes. Perhaps the fiscal situation will force this decision, but the fact remains Japan is not doomed, unless doomed means “working genki 73-year-olds”.

    — RE other “real regulatory problems”: I daresay, as a non-expert in this field (but a homeowner, landowner, mortgage payer, and real-estate tax payer) that the largest reducer of the average consumer’s standard of living is the highly-cartelized housebuilding market. It keeps out foreign competitors, stifles innovation, sentences Japanese to live in substandard housing that lasts barely two decades (then you have to repeat cycle with a new mortgage) and in the end leaves you with a home with no resale value as an investment… It’s a scam, and this veritable sinkhole of savings probably ties up more consumer spending money in hock than anything else — and requires major reform. Opening up the consumer market to foreign contractors, and lowering fees and overly-stringent JAS and JIS qualifications, would be a good start. There, you wanted something concrete. Pardon the pun.

  • ” I daresay, as a non-expert in this field (but a homeowner, landowner, mortgage payer, and real-estate tax payer) that the largest reducer of the average consumer’s standard of living is the highly-cartelized housebuilding market. It keeps out foreign competitors, stifles innovation, sentences Japanese to live in substandard housing that lasts barely two decades (then you have to repeat cycle with a new mortgage) and in the end leaves you with a home with no resale value as an investment…”

    Whole heartily agree, on all those count, and more! (I still haven’t finished writing up my summary of the housing market based upon my own experiences…it’s coming!)

    When you consider Afghanistan, Iraq, and other similar war torn countries, even though not fully stabilised, these countries are now starting to experience a rise in house prices. This is being used as a benchmark to “show” that the economy and govt are slowly stabilising. Houses are always considered an “investment” anywhere else in the world…so why is Japan different…? Japan with a “stable” country, one must ask…er…why not here, why is a house not considered an investment?

    When I get around to finishing off my summary of the many issues with buying/selling houses all will become clear. But Debito touched upon the main issues.

  • The Japanese need to de-regulate their minds and lose the “shoganai” attitude. I spend considerable time in SE Asia (penning this from there) and China and it’s the “can do” attitude hear that drives the wheels. Unfortunately more often than not that attitude bespeaks over-enthusiasm and the results don’t measure up. They would in Japan.

    Sure deregulation would help–numerous examples come immediately to mind–but a decade’s worth of experience in Japan tells me the “can’t do” attitude is the biggest obstacle, and will be much harder to remove than any obstructionist laws on the books.

  • Reading the article on Nagasaki brings up a couple of other mental barriers:

    “Among the goals are doubling numbers of foreign students, to 3,000; turning the shipyard into a tourist site; and bolstering sales of kamaboko, a rubbery fishcake. But asked about bolder measures such as encouraging foreign investment and skilled immigrants, Mr Sato says there is “not the right environment” for that yet.”

    Doubling foreign students–students are about the weakest demographic to focus on if you want to reinvigorate an economy. Making the shipyard a tourist site–knick-knack and kamaboko stands, maybe a ferris wheel. Or a concert hall that’s low on bookings.

    But then as to real substantive ideas–“not the right environment yet.”

    A jaded view of things perhaps but evidence that they’re just casting about for symbolic changes to reassure themselves seems to be all I can find.


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