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22 juillet 2012 7 22 /07 /juillet /2012 09:37

Charismatic outsider Toru Hashimoto tipped as future leader of Japan

Japan's established parties have much to fear from radical mayor of Osaka who talks of tearing up pacifist constitution



Depending on who you ask, Toru Hashimoto is either a dangerous populist bent on returning Japan to its militarist past, or a charismatic radical leading a crusade to breathe life into the country's stagnant politics.

Still in his early 40s, and with no experience of national office, Hashimoto is not only the most talked-about politician in Japan, he is now being tipped as its future leader.

As mayor of Osaka, he has built a reputation for controversy, openness and a self-belief that has delivered stunning victories in local elections – qualities that could soon be tested on the national electorate.

As the prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, battles to keep his Democratic party of Japan (DPJ) intact after a recent defection by its largest faction, Hashimoto is priming as many as 300 hand-picked candidates to run in what some analysts expect will be a snap general election this year.

"The next election is our last chance to change Japan," Hashimoto said recently. "If there are voices calling for Osaka's example to spread across Japan, [we] will respond firmly to those calls. Japan's old politics has to be swept away and a new politics built in its place."

The established parties have much to fear from Hashimoto, who became mayor of Japan's second biggest city in December after three years as governor of Osaka prefecture.

The prospects for an alliance with Ichiro Ozawa, the influential "shadow shogun" who left the DPJ to form a new party, have dimmed. But behind Ozawa is a queue of leaders from minor parties – as well as Tokyo's rightwing governor, Shintaro Ishihara – who are expected to consider a pact with Hashimoto's upstarts from Osaka.

With his policies yet to be tested on the national stage, much of Hashimoto's appeal lies in his style and unconventional background. He was born in Tokyo, and after his parents divorced was raised by his mother in a poor district of Osaka, home to the buraku – an "untouchable" underclass – since the 17th century. He never knew his father, a member of the yakuza, who committed suicide after becoming indebted to underworld associates while his son was still young.

Despite his origins, Hashimoto went on to study at Waseda, a prestigious private university in Tokyo, and became a familiar face on TV offering his views as a celebrity lawyer before entering politics.

His Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka Restoration Group) party has positioned itself as an alternative to politics as usual which, after the appointment of six prime ministers in as many years – during which there have been only two elections – resembles a power-sharing agreement between a political elite with an unshakeable sense of entitlement.

In style and substance, Hashimoto could not be more of a departure from that. Critics say his high-profile tussles with teachers' unions and his ban on public servants with tattoos are proof that he is an autocrat in the making.

But from his power base in Osaka, a port city faced with huge debts, failing schools and the highest proportion of welfare recipients in the country, the 43-year-old has won over despondent voters with attacks on inept national politicians and calls for a more presidential style of leadership.

His contempt for consensus building is matched by an enthusiasm for tearing up Japan's US-authored pacifist constitution, prompting one commentator to liken him to Hitler and nickname his movement "Hashism".

After months of speculation, Hashimoto has said 200-300 Ishin no Kai members will run in the next general election, selected from 2,000 students at the political finishing school he opened in Osaka in March. "Become warriors," he told them during a recent address. "Let's fight together. Let's change Japan."

As support slips away for the ruling and main opposition parties, Hashimoto and Ishin no Kai have a deep well of popular disillusion from which to draw. Nearly 80% of Japanese are dissatisfied with the direction the country is heading in, while 86% blame the government, according to a survey by the Pew Research Centre in Washington.

Hashimoto has said he will not run for national office while he still has work to do as mayor, notably the merging of Osaka city and prefecture into a huge, Tokyo-like metropolis. But experts on the city's politics believe he may simply be biding his time.

"He probably won't run this time," says Yuji Yoshitomi, an Osaka-based journalist who has written a book about Hashimoto. "But the problem for Ishin no Kai is that its popularity is entirely dependent on him."

Yoshitomi believes Hashimoto may wait and see what kind of political arrangement emerges from the next election – which must be held by August 2013 – before deciding on his future.

At the very least, a decent showing by Ishin no Kai – perhaps 60 out of 480 seats in the lower house – could be the catalyst for dramatic changes in Japan's political landscape.

"The DPJ is in trouble and the main opposition Liberal Democratic party [LDP] is in no fit state to fill the void, so the time is ripe for Ishin no Kai and other regional parties," Yoshitomi says. "The next election could see the birth of a new kind of Japanese politicis."

In the meantime, Hashimoto has launched attacks on the Tokyo political elite's dithering over everything from to nuclear power to tax increases. Instead, he envisages a "grand reset" he likens to Japan's transformation from a feudal to industrial economy 150 years ago. The postwar search for consensus, he says, has turned Japan into a democratic basketcase.

"Japan is a democracy but it can't make decisions," he said at a recent press conference. "We have endless discussions and take on board everyone's opinion, but nothing ever comes of it."

To achieve that change, he has proposed the abolition of the upper house of parliament, which can block legislation; direct elections for prime minister; and more powers for local government.

"Like the rise of extremist and nationalist parties of the right and left in Europe, Hashimoto derives his popularity from popular frustration with the established mainstream parties and the perceived failure of representative democracy," says Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo. "He offers oversimplified, authoritarian pseudo-answers, which don't really solve problems, but serve as an outlet for popular frustration with the existing political system."

At times, Hashimoto sounds like Junichiro Koizumi, a former Japanese prime minister with hawkish views on defence who shares the mayor's enthusiasm for Thatcherite social policy.

He wants to make it easier to revise Japan's constitution, which bans the use of force to settle disputes, a move that critics say would open the door to a more aggressive military amid mounting territorial friction with China. On welfare, he apes the conservative right in the US and Britain. "Of course we have to support people who are absolutely unable to fend for themselves," he said. "But the rest should be encouraged to stand on their own two feet."

Nakano, however, sees a man willing to ditch his principles in his quest for Japan's highest office. "He is not a Margaret Thatcher or even a Junichiro Koizumi," says Nakano. "He seems less principled and more populist than they were. He approaches politics purely as a power struggle. Domination is what is at stake."



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8 juillet 2012 7 08 /07 /juillet /2012 04:27


Diet to review bill for Osaka metropolis

Five parties have formally agreed to submit a bill that would realize Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto's initiative to create an Osaka metropolis.

With the agreement, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito, Your Party and the People's New Party will jointly submit the bill to the Diet as early as this week, which would allow local governments to establish special administrative wards similar to Tokyo's 23 wards.

The bill is expected to be enacted during the current Diet session.

"I'm very pleased," Hashimoto told the press Friday at Osaka City Hall. "I'd like to leave the matter to the Diet members until it's completed."

Hashimoto aims to abolish the city of Osaka in April 2015 and instead establish eight to nine special administrative wards.

Currently, the Local Government Law designates only Tokyo's 23 wards as special administrative wards.

If enacted, the bill will allow ordinance-designated cities with populations over 2 million to create special administrative wards. It is possible that a special administrative ward can be created with stronger budgetary authority than a Tokyo ward.

The bill also allows areas comprised of an ordinance-designated city and its neighboring municipalities with a total population over 2 million to create special administrative wards.

At present, three ordinance-designated cities--Yokohama, Osaka and Nagoya-- each with a population over 2 million, are eligible for the envisaged legislation. Seven smaller cities are also eligible: Sapporo, Saitama, Chiba, Kawasaki, Kyoto, Sakai and Kobe.

The bill obliges local governments to first hold discussions with the internal affairs and communications minister regarding three matters--distribution of tax revenues, fiscal adjustment and sharing of administrative work--when they draft plans to set up the special administrative wards.

In addition to such discussions, the bill requires local governments to compile a document outlining the names of the special wards, their total area, and the distribution of administrative work.

(Jul. 8, 2012)
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26 juin 2012 2 26 /06 /juin /2012 05:40

Political activities by local civil servants must be curbed

Central government officials face criminal penalties if they engage in political activities, but there are no such punitive provisions for local government officials. Is there any rational explanation for this?

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto has raised this question. He plans to submit a bill to the Osaka City Assembly in July to establish an ordinance that would restrict political activities of city government officials. The mayor initially considered including a provision that would ban all political activities by city officials and criminally penalize violators.

In response, the central government adopted a view at a Cabinet meeting that stipulating punishment in an ordinance restricting political activities of local government officials violates the Local Civil Service Law. As a result, Hashimoto had virtually no choice but to remove the punitive clause from the bill.

According to the government view, the Local Civil Service Law, which was enacted in 1950, did not include a criminal penalty clause because the government concluded when drawing up the legislation that administrative discipline would be enough for violations of restrictions on political activities.


Few activities regulated

In fact, few political activities by local government officials are subject to restrictions, and in any case violators are not penalized. However, political activities by central government officials are strictly restricted based on the National Civil Service Law and rules set up by the National Personnel Authority. Violators face imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of up to 1 million yen.

Why are the two groups handled so differently? The government's explanation that disciplinary actions are enough to deal with violations by local government officials is inadequate.

Irrespective of whether they work for central or local governments, public servants must maintain political neutrality. Given that decentralization of power will progress further in the future, local government officials will be required to become aware of and assume responsibility for their political activities just as central government officials are.

Against the backdrop of Hashimoto's bill are interventions by the labor union of city government officials into elections, which could be described as excessive.

Up to 2003, the labor union worked as one of the support groups for successive mayors in election campaigns. In the Osaka mayoral election last year, executives of the labor union distributed election campaign handouts that were not approved by the city's election administration commission. The handouts called for voting for the then incumbent mayor, an act that appeared to be excessive.


Teachers problematic, too

In addition, there are problems involving teachers.

In Yamanashi Prefecture, it came to light that a political organization comprising the labor union of teachers and school officials in the prefecture as well as other groups were involved in collecting political funds in an organized manner for the House of Councillors election in 2004. In the House of Representatives election in 2009, the labor union of teachers and school officials in Hokkaido illegally provided political funds to the election campaign office of a Democratic Party of Japan candidate.

Political activities by public school teachers are restricted just as those by central government officials are. But they are not subject to penalties. This omission presumably is behind such political activities by school teachers and officials.

To restrict activities of civil servants that are not part of their jobs, we believe it would be effective to strengthen restrictions of such activities by establishing punitive clauses.

The DPJ is supported by the All Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers' Union and the Japan Teachers' Union. Will the party remain reluctant to create punitive clauses in the Local Civil Service Law and the special law on civil servants engaged in education?

Ruling and opposition parties must deepen discussions on regulating political activities by local government officials and consider revising the relevant laws.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 25, 2012)

(Jun. 26, 2012)
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9 juin 2012 6 09 /06 /juin /2012 14:28

Depuis http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20120507p2a00m0na013000c.html via http://visualanthropologyofjapan.blogspot.jp/

Draft ordinance criticized for blaming developmental disorders on lack of parental love

OSAKA -- A draft ordinance mulled by a group of city councilors here has come under fire for attributing developmental disorders to a lack of parental love.

The group -- members of the Osaka Municipal Assembly who belong to the Osaka Restoration Association (Osaka Ishin no Kai) headed by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto -- is planning to propose the draft called the "home education support ordinance."

The proposed ordinance links juvenile delinquency and child abuse by parents to development disorders, and blames a lack of parental love for such disorders. However, doctors and parents have voiced strong opposition to the proposed ordinance, saying it is groundless and would increase prejudice.

On May 7, 13 groups of parents and guardians who raise children with development disorders visited the Osaka Municipal Assembly and demanded the draft not be proposed. In response, the municipal assembly members' group has decided not to submit the draft to this month's municipal assembly meeting.

The planned ordinance was unveiled by the city councilors' group on May 1, with the aim of raising parents' awareness as guardians and enhancing support for home education amid a series of child abuse cases. The draft ordinance has five chapters and 23 articles, including "support for parenthood education" and "prevention of development disorders and abuse."

The draft ordinance, however, attributes development disorders to a lack of attachment formation during infancy and maintains that such disorders can be prevented by traditional child-rearing.

Satoshi Takada, professor at Kobe University graduate school, criticized the proposed ordinance, saying, "The assertions that development disorders can be prevented by traditional child-rearing and the expressions that attribute such disorders to the parents' way of child-raising are groundless from a medical point of view and could lead to prejudice against children and their families."

A 45-year-old mother in Higashiosaka, Osaka Prefecture, whose 16-year-old son has pervasive development disorder, was critical of the proposed ordinance.

"I was hurt because the ordinance appeared to be blaming me for my son's development disorder. While I'd appreciated recent legal improvements and deepened public understanding of development disorders, I'm too angry for words," she said.

The 13 groups of parents that visited the Osaka Municipal Assembly -- including "Osaka Jiheisho Kyokai" (Association of autism in Osaka) and "Osaka LD Oya no kai Otafuku-kai (Association of parents of children with learning disabilities in Osaka) -- criticized the planned ordinance as "based on logic that is academically groundless," demanding its withdrawal and the holding of study meetings inviting concerned groups and experts.

Protests against the proposed ordinance have also prevailed on Twitter since May 1, with comments saying, "Is my child a failure?" and "It's bogus science."

Mayor Hashimoto revealed on May 7 that he demanded the city councilors' group review the controversial ordinance plan. "The proposed ordinance is tantamount to declaring to mothers of children with development disorders that they are lacking in affection for their children," he told assembled media representatives.

May 07, 2012(Mainichi Japan)

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9 juin 2012 6 09 /06 /juin /2012 14:26

Depuis http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20120608p2a00m0na005000c.html

Man who lived near Osaka asbestos factory develops cancer

OSAKA -- A man who once lived near an asbestos factory in Osaka's Nishinari Ward has developed an asbestos-related cancer, it has been learned.

The man, who is in his 70s, lived close to a factory run by the former Osaka Packing Seizojo (now Japan Insulation Co.). He was diagnosed last year with mesothelioma, a cancer of the membrane lining the lungs and abdomen.

It is the first time a local Osaka resident has been found to have contracted an illness caused by asbestos contamination. The company has admitted that its operations could have affected the health of nearby residents, and will cover health checkup costs for anyone who lived near the factory before it moved to Mizuho, Gifu Prefecture, in 1964.

The Nishinari Ward factory produced asbestos insulation and fabric, among other products, and the man -- who was an office worker -- lived in the factory's vicinity until it moved away.

When he was diagnosed with mesothelioma last year, the man had no idea what could have caused the illness. His family, however, noticed the former factory's name on a list released by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare last autumn of businesses with connections to asbestos. The man requested in March this year that the company "implement measures for people who get sick."

Japan Insulation, meanwhile, has told the Mainichi that the man's illness is "very regrettable," and that it will cover the costs of all physical exams he applied for. However, the firm also stated that "no one knew that asbestos was dangerous at the time (when the factory was operating), and therefore Japan Insulation has no legal responsibility for the man's condition."

One former employee at the Nishinari plant has already died of mesothelioma, while a total of 10 workers at the Osaka and newer Gifu factories with mesothelioma or lung cancer have had their illnesses certified as work-related.

June 08, 2012(Mainichi Japan)

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5 juin 2012 2 05 /06 /juin /2012 01:36

Japan small factories get creative to keep power on



By Yoko Kubota

OSAKA, Japan (Reuters) - In a darkened industrial hangar in eastern Osaka, Yoshihiro Yamanaka is tearing up the rule book that once made Japanese manufacturing the feared global standard of efficiency.

At Fuji Spring, a company with one factory, one product and 18 workers, Yamanaka has dimmed the lights, allowed inventories to pile up and - most strikingly - shut off an automated part of his assembly to do more jobs by hand.

The goal is to slash power consumption in the face of possible electric shortages, a new uncertainty that has pushed Japan's already embattled manufacturers closer to the brink.

But in rejecting Japan's accepted industrial wisdom, Yamanaka is also accepting the do-or-die risk that customers will pay more for his springs.

"Until recently, my priority had been to cut people and unnecessary steps as much as possible. Unless we did so, we could not win the pricing battle," Yamanaka, 59, said on a recent tour of his factory, which makes springs that go into console boxes in the Nissan Leaf electric car and Panasonic Corp's (6752.T: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) fuel cells assemblies.

"But we are no longer battling on price."

How small Osaka factories like Fuji Spring ride out the summer and its uncertainties is a window into the bigger question of whether resource-poor Japan will follow the United States in its drift away from manufacturing, a source of national anxiety and debate for three decades.


Fuji Spring is one of some 43,560 manufacturers in Japan's second largest city. Most are at the bottom of an industrial food chain that winds its way to the likes of automakers Nissan Motor Co (7201.T: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Toyota Motor Co (7203.T: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and electronics makers such as nearby Panasonic and Sharp Corp (6753.T: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz).

On average, three Osaka manufacturing have closed shop every day since the peak year of 1983, hit by a shakeout caused by a strong yen, an ageing labor pool and brand-name customers moving out of Japan to chase lower costs and faster growth.

The latest blow comes from the uncertain outlook for power, with all 50 of Japan's operable nuclear reactors still offline after last year's accident at Fukushima. The problem is especially acute in Osaka because its utility Kansai Electric (9503.T: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) had relied on nuclear power for 40 percent of its electricity generation, the highest of any power company.

The government is pushing to restart two of Kansai Electric's nuclear reactors, a controversial step. But even if the reactors restart as expected, both will not be ready by early July, when the hot summer season begins.

In response, some Osaka manufacturers are considering starting shifts at odd hours such as 2 a.m. so they can shut down by the afternoon when power demand peaks. Others have invested in costly energy-saving technology. But some cannot afford such steps or distrust the power shortage forecasts and say they will opt to do nothing.


What they all share is fear of a blackout.

"If electricity stops due to a power shortage, that would be fatal," said Chikashi Kawakatsu, 51, a specialist welder who fixes broken dies for Japanese automakers and other industries.

The share of manufacturing as a percent of Japan's overall output has fallen to about 20 percent from near 30 percent in 1975, government data show. By comparison, the U.S. equivalent figure was near 13 percent in 2008.

But Japan has traditionally relied on a trade surplus in manufactured goods to buy the energy and food it needs and to pile up savings that have allowed it to fund its huge government deficit, now twice the size of its $5 trillion economy.

The lack of any decisions on a long-term energy policy has darkened the outlook from the shopfloor. "It's another bad thing on top of all the other bad stuff," said Ryuzo Kanezaki, the 38-year-old president of Kyoei Die Casting, which makes parts used in car navigation systems and other products.

Osaka's surviving manufacturers, who make everything from toothbrushes to massive metal dies, are hanging on to a tradition of "monozukuri", a pride in making things many see as their last defense against a hollowing out.


Kawakatsu, the welder, works on a dirt-floored shop that once employed 15. He is down to just one worker, himself. After nearly 30 years on the job, he has a method of fixing broken dies within one-hundredth of a millimeter, a precision he sees as protecting his remaining business.

The picture is similar at Fuji Spring, which sits upriver from Osaka Castle, famed as the site of a failed rearguard battle against forces from eastern Japan in the 17th century.

Production of all kinds of springs inside Japan has dropped by 40 percent since 1990. At the same time, the number of Japanese spring makers with factories in Thailand and China shot up five-fold from 1995 to 2008, according to the Japan Spring Manufacturers Association.

That trend rocked Fuji Spring, which was founded in 1953 by Yamanaka's father. The company saw its customers moving production offshore and demanding steep price cuts.

In response, Fuji pushed into product development to create springs that could not be easily knocked off by rivals.

After the Fukushima crisis, triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan last March, Yamanaka also pushed the company to save power.

The firm cut electricity costs by around 300,000 yen ($3,850) in the 13 months to April and targets a 30-percent consumption cut this year. That has meant shutting down some automation. Workers now collect springs from coiling machines before running them through a heat-treating furnace in batches.

Fuji Spring has also piled up inventories to prepare for the summer months when the company plans to trim output to conserve energy. That is the opposite of the "just-in-time" production principle that made Japan's biggest and best-run factories the subject of study and admiration around the world in the 1980s.

The costs outweigh the power savings, but Yamanaka sees a long-term, if intangible benefit in the pride he believes it fosters in his workers.

"To survive is to be able to do something that others can't," said Fuji's senior manager Hiroshi Sugiura.

(Editing by Kevin Krolicki and Alex Richardson)

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25 mai 2012 5 25 /05 /mai /2012 03:01

Exposition au Musée de l'Histoire d'Osaka:



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25 mai 2012 5 25 /05 /mai /2012 02:56

Le meilleur article en anglais sur la question vient du Japan Times:


Tattoo flap escalates as dissenters face penalty


Staff writer


OSAKA — The Osaka Municipal Government was preparing Thursday to take disciplinary action against civil servants who refused to answer a survey on whether they have tattoos, as concern in and out of the city was growing that the questionnaire constituted a human rights violation.

Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who ordered the survey, has already threatened to deny promotions to any of the 33,500 municipal employees who refused to answer it. So far, 110 employees, including over 70 in the environmental department who work as garbage collectors, have admitted to having tattoos.

In the past, municipal sanitation workers typically had backgrounds as day laborers. During the 1970s, large numbers of city sanitation workers were also affiliated with yakuza in Nishinari Ward, a noted day laborer area. Many had tattoos and their successors today appear to be carrying on the tradition.


La suite est ici.

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15 mai 2012 2 15 /05 /mai /2012 02:37

Osaka to bury debris from disaster area on man-made island

OSAKA -- The Osaka prefectural and city governments have agreed on plans to accept debris generated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and bury it on a man-made island in Osaka Bay after incinerating it.

The Ministry of the Environment (MOE) is expected to give instructions at the end of the month on measures to prevent radioactive cesium from the debris ash from spreading into the bay. Afterward, the prefectural government will hold a meeting of safety experts and make an official decision on the plans.

The location that will be used to bury the debris ash, situated near Hokuto Port on man-made Yumeshima Island, is also the final disposal spot for the city's waste. Currently, 730,000 square meters of the 3.85 million square meters of Yumeshima is used for waste disposal.

The Osaka Prefectural Government has indicated its intention to take on 180,000 tons of debris from Iwate Prefecture. In December of last year, it set a standard of "100 becquerels or less" of radiation per kilogram of debris, and in January of this year it asked municipalities within the prefecture holding incinerator facilities to take on debris and explained the disposal procedures and standards. However, most of the municipalities are reluctant and worried about protests from residents, and only the city of Osaka has indicated it would agree to the move.

In February, the Osaka Municipal Government asked the MOE to survey the safety of the Hokuko Port disposal area. As the capacity of the area is limited, the prefectural government is aiming for disposal at other sites as well.

May 13, 2012(Mainichi Japan)

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4 mai 2012 5 04 /05 /mai /2012 03:31
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