Another trial

After a week of hard working, I've got a strong urge to poish up my own English abilities.

There has been a long interval since the last time I listened to English-learning medea, practiced taking notes and eye-translation, and got deep into grammatical studies. Now, I'm not sure it's fortunate or unfortunate that I don't have a steady job. But anyway, I have a lot of time, which allows me to do whatever I want to do, or which can be easily wasted.

During the past five years I spent in Hokkaido, I was sufferd from severe depression. The disease often tempted me to destroy myself and robbed me of meaning of my life. I badly struggled and survived anyhow. I've got back myself, and got back to Osaka where I was born.

Time is precious as I get older. Some might say I am too old to seek a prefessional career, others might say there's no such a thing that is too late to be started. I don't know which is the right view for me to adopt. But I cannnot affort any choice to make because I have little time to fulfill my life, which means I should take up the latter view and do whatever I can do.

As long as I live, I try to be better than myself. That is what life is about.

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Japan's New Leadership

It took Japan decades, but voters finally got fed up with the entrenched ruling clique and threw it out of office. The landslide election victory for the Democratic Party of Japan was the worst defeat for the rival Liberal Democratic Party in more than 50 years. We hope this stunning rout presages the end of economic decline and political stagnation, but that will take real leadership, not just trading one group of politicians for another.


The first challenge is getting the economy out of its worsening crisis. Japan, crippled by recession throughout the 1990s, is about to lose its standing as the world’s second-largest economy, to China. The economy, projected to contract 6 percent this year, is among the world’s worst performers.


Although constrained by a public debt approaching 100 percent of its gross domestic product and a fiscal deficit hovering around 10 percent of G.D.P., Japan needs to do more to stimulate domestic demand — to deal with the immediate emergency and diminish its historical dependence on exports as an economic engine. This requires maintaining fiscal stimulus. It also requires a longer-term strategy that encourages spending by Japanese households. The Democrats’ plans do not yet amount to a strategy that could rebalance the economy and put it on a path of domestically focused growth.


Yukio Hatoyama, who is expected to be the next prime minister, wants a more equal alliance with the United States. Some of his policy proposals are reasonable, but others are cause for concern. We are eager to hear more details. The United States needs a responsible strategic partner committed to a strengthened alliance.


One concern: Mr. Hatoyama’s suggestion that Japan not renew the mandate for its ships on a refueling mission in the Indian Ocean in support of United States military operations in Afghanistan. President Obama is implementing a new Afghan strategy. Japan should continue its risk-free mission, at least through next spring.


One good sign: Mr. Hatoyama’s pledge not to visit the Yasukuni Shrine, a symbol of Japan’s wartime past. Visits by some of his predecessors stirred damaging tensions with China and South Korea.


Some wonder if the Liberal Democratic Party can survive this loss. We hope it — or some successor — does. Every democracy needs a vigorous and responsible opposition to give voters a choice — just like the Democratic Party finally gave the voters in this election.


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Washington PostとThe New York Timesの社説から


Shake-Up in Japan

THERE CAN BE no democracy without political competition: For that reason alone, the landslide victory by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in Sunday's national election is cause for celebration.


The DPJ defeated the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had ruled Japan with only 11 months of interruption since 1955. Japan under the LDP was hardly a dictatorship, but its political machine and its unelected allies in the bureaucracy had run out of ideas and energy. Japan's once-dynamic economy has been in stagnation pretty much since 1989. With its falling birthrate, even Japan's population of 125 million is not only aging but actually shrinking.


Can the Democratic Party of Japan, a mix of former LDP politicians, ex-socialists and civic activists, succeed where the LDP has failed? One irony of the party's reform message is that its behind-the-scenes leader is Ichiro Ozawa, a former LDP boss with a knack for power politics. Yet its proposed governance reforms, such as transferring budget authority from bureaucrats to elected officials, could make Japanese policymaking more transparent.


Japan needs further restructuring of an economy that depends heavily on exports to support less-efficient sectors such as construction and agriculture. Greater reliance on domestic demand would help both hard-pressed Japanese families and the United States, insofar as such a policy might reduce Japan's trade surplus: The DPJ has several pro-consumption proposals, from lower highway tolls to increased support for couples with children.


Alas, the party has been less clear about how it will pay for these goodies, no small omission given that the national debt is already almost twice Japan's gross domestic product. Unfortunately, too, the DPJ bought the votes of Japan's farmers with promises of money and protection.


The LDP stood for close U.S.-Japan relations, while Yukio Hatoyama, the inexperienced politician who leads the DPJ and will probably be Japan's next prime minister, has called for a more Asia-centered foreign policy, sometimes dressing this up with assaults on American "market fundamentalism" and other ills of globalization.


There will no doubt be room for negotiation with the Obama administration, perhaps over such issues as the basing of U.S. Marines in Okinawa. But the threat of a nuclear North Korea makes Japan's neighborhood too dangerous, we think, for the government in Tokyo to seek a rupture with Washington or for the Obama administration to let one develop.


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Young swingers

MANY campaign posters for Japan’s general election on August 30th print the candidate’s name in hiragana, a rudimentary, phonetic script first taught to children, rather than the formal kanji. This is in part to appeal to younger voters who are so disaffected by politics that they would probably not be familiar with a candidate’s written name—but might recognise how it sounds.



These flighty voters, referred to as yawarakai hoshu-so, or “flexible conservatives”, are the kingmakers of Japanese politics. Typically in their 30s, they are university-educated, middle-class, prefer stability to big changes and do not care much about politics. Shigeru Inaida, who is responsible for opinion polling at Kyodo, a Japanese news agency, notes that they tend to vote as a block, and can sway the outcome of elections. They played a large part both in the landslide victory in 2005 of Junichiro Koizumi, a former prime minister, and the LDP’s upper-house defeat two years later.


Their opinions fluctuate wildly, but they can be decisive (see chart).


The lesson for the 2009 election is that winning the flexicons is crucial. To this end, the DPJ has put forward youthful, telegenic candidates; typical LDP candidates are in their late 60s and have little to say on matters affecting younger voters.


That strategy has its attractions too. The elderly vote in greater numbers than the young. In the 2005 election, the turnout of voters in their 60s was 83%, far higher than among those in their 30s (around 60%) and 20s (a modest 46%). And winning the flexicon vote is difficult. A defining characteristic, after all, is a lack of interest in politics. But Yutaka Oishi of Keio University argues that many also feel that if they are to bother voting, they should at least back a winner. So their biggest impact is to re-inforce front-runners, turning close victories into landslides. This may explain why the DPJ’s lead has widened just before the election: the flexicon herd is migrating.


A ban on internet campaigning during the election hardly helps woo young voters. Some DPJ politicians claim it is a way for the LDP to thwart the opposition, which enjoys more support from younger, wired voters. And Japan, an ageing society, badly needs the energy and ideas the young could bring to politics. Their influence may, in fact, be undercounted: telephone surveys call fixed-line phones, and younger people tend to own only mobiles.


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Railing against the wrong enemy


Mr Koizumi is playing a big role in this election too. He is not on the ballot, after shamelessly betraying his own anti-dynastic principles by bequeathing the right to run for his seat to his son. But he still looms large—these days, as a target for both Mr Hatoyama and Mr Aso. Both men appear more intent on laying into his legacy of free-market reforms, though some predated his rule from 2001-06, than on attacking each other. They blame his removal of a ban on temporary workers in manufacturing for soaring inequality and high rates of poverty in a country that used to pride itself on being almost universally middle-class. But neither has come up with a very convincing alternative.


In an article this month, Mr Hatoyama railed against American-led “market fundamentalism” that, he said, the LDP had embraced since Mr Koizumi’s leadership. But his alternative is a mushy-sounding concept, yuai, that mixes up the Chinese characters for friendship and love. He calls it fraternity, and says it means that activities such as agriculture—already under Fort Knox-like protection in Japan—will not be left “at the mercy of the tides of globalism”. Mr Aso has likewise pledged to break with “excessive market fundamentalism”.


Such views have helped shape both parties’ manifestos. The DPJ’s policy platform, for instance, proposes undoing one of the main Koizumi reforms by banning the use of temporary labour in manufacturing. It also wants to raise minimum-wage levels. Exporters fighting for business in China deplore both policies. Yet analysts say Mr Hatoyama, who at a recent press conference asked an aide to field questions on economics, will have little influence on—or even interest in—economic policy. Also, an upper-house election is due in 2010. This may limit the DPJ’s ambitions; its priority is likely to be restructuring the civil service, where it can most easily score political points.


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NYTimes を読んでいると日本の選挙の話題が出ていた。After Decades, Japan Prepares for Likely New Ruling Party

Ever since Japan’s emergence as a modern state more than a century ago, political parties have tended to be a sideshow to the real business of running the country, which has been left to bureaucrats. It has not helped that Japan, despite being East Asia’s oldest representative political system, never seized democracy through a popular uprising, as in neighboring South Korea.


Instead, its modern constitutions and parliamentary systems were bestowed from above, first by samurai reformers in the name of the emperor in the late 19th century, and then by American occupiers after defeat in World War II.


The result has been a politically apathetic public. Now, political analysts say the biggest significance of a Democratic Party victory would be demonstrating to Japanese voters that they can actually shape the direction of their nation.


“Just having choice will bring a huge, huge change in the political culture of Japan,” said Gerald Curtis, a professor of Japanese politics at Columbia University. “This is a country that has great potential. What it has lacked is leadership, and politicians who can paint a picture of what a bright future looks like.”


The Democrats claim they can paint just such a picture. But they face an uphill battle.


Reining in the bureaucracy means taking on an elite group of top achievers in Japan that actually writes laws and has served as a permanent government — even though it has come under fire for failing to combat the long downturn. Politicians’ past efforts to wrest control from bureaucrats have usually failed, in part because they have traditionally been looked down upon as self-interested and corrupt.



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