Archive for October, 2012

Candidate deposit requirement guarantees same faces on the ballot

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Ever wonder why so many Japanese politicians are old and that the only new faces tend to be their progeny? There are a number of cultural explanations for this phenomenon, but there’s also a financial one. It’s called the kyotakukin, or deposit, system.

The candidacy … paid in full (or How much is that politician in the window)

To run for any office in Japan, whether national or local, a person must deposit a certain amount of cash with the relevant election authorities. If the person wins, the deposit will be returned, but if the candidate loses and in the process fails to garner a certain percentage of the votes cast, he or she forfeits the money. The amounts required are high, and for national office almost prohibitively so. Candidates for prefectural and municipal office need to pay deposits of between ¥300,000 and ¥600,000, depending on the size of the constituency. However, candidates for the Lower House of the Diet have to deposit ¥3 million for a constituency seat and ¥6 million for a proportional seat. Constituency seats are decided for an electoral district simply by the number of votes cast in the district. Proportional seats are decided by the portion of votes a particular party receives on the proportional part of the ballot.

Many candidates, in order to guarantee success, run in both contests, because while they may lose in the constituency race, their party may gain a large enough portion of votes to allow them to be swept into office on the proportional ticket. In that case they have to pay deposits for both seats, meaning ¥9 million. If a constituency candidate doesn’t garner at least 10 percent of the total votes, he or she has to forfeit the deposit.

A few other countries have candidate deposit systems, but Japan’s is the most expensive by far. According to a recent article in the Tokyo Shimbun, the United Kingdom only requires the equivalent of ¥62,000 to run for national office, Canada ¥80,000, and Korea about ¥1 million, the highest after Japan. Most democracies either never had the system or have done away with it. Historically, its purpose was always obvious: to limit the number of candidates and make sure that those with financial power also held political power.

Continue reading about election campaign deposits →

Clarifying the economic damage of the Senkakus row

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Prepare for descent.

Japanese conservatives contend that people should not get “emotional” about the economic consequences of the current row with China over the Senkaku islands, implying that some things are more important than money. But what exactly are the economic consequences given that since 2009 China has been Japan’s biggest trading partner?

According to the Finance Ministry, one-fifth of total Japanese exports in 2010 went to China, while the same portion was 7.7 percent in 2001. A Reuters analysis shows that Japan would suffer mightily if trade stopped, citing an annual loss of ¥12 trillion if exports went down to zero for only one month. Under such conditions, automobile companies would be the main loser. They’d lose ¥144 billion. Bank of America estimates that 25 percent of all Nissan’s profits are derived in China, 21 percent for Toyota and 16 for Honda.

Moreover, Japanese companies directly invested ¥1 trillion in China in 2011, 60 percent more than what they spent in 2009. China’s Bureau of Statistics says that as of the end of 2010 there were 22,307 joint Japan-China ventures operating in China comprising 3 million workers and accounting for 16 percent of all the country’s foreign-related companies.

Still, the sector that tends to get the most media attention in Japan is tourism, since visitors from China spend more here than visitors from any other country. According to the Asahi Shimbun, China’s state tourism agency, which controls some 5,500 travel agencies all over the country, has stopped selling tours to Japan for the time being. Cancellations of reservations already made amount to about 500 million yuan, or ¥6.2 billion.

For the big vacation week of Oct. 1, there were at least 10,000 cancellations. China said it originally expected to sell some 45,000 individual tour packages to Japan for that week. On the other hand the agency said that the number of Chinese tourists who visited South Korea during the big vacation week was 125,000, a new record. They spent the equivalent of ¥190 billion, according to South Korea’s retailers association. Department stores and duty-free shops, in particular, did booming business.

Japanese companies lose less with cancellations of Japanese tourists going to China, but the cancellations do have an effect on Japanese airlines and tour packagers. Various media have reported that there were around 52,000 seat cancellations on flights between Japan and China as of September 24, with 37,000 on ANA and 15,000 on JAL. Many of these cancellations were Japanese business travelers, who tend to pay premium prices for tickets.

Japanese tour companies suffered, too. China and South Korea are always two of the top three destinations in terms of number of Japanese tourists, and Sankei Shimbun reports there has been a 30-45 percent decrease in the number of tours to these two countries in the second half of the year compared to the same period last year. This negative effect spreads to other sectors, since tourist companies are also not bothering to advertise. They say it would just be a waste of money.

Tax auditors running out of cheaters, ponder purpose in life

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Pandora’s box

You know that the recession is getting serious when even the National Tax Agency is reduced to twiddling its thumbs. The amount of unclaimed income that tax investigators discovered last year was ¥19.2 billion, comprising a measly 189 cases, the lowest since 1978. Moreover, of all the cases they investigated, only 61.9 percent were prosecuted, the lowest rate since 1973.

It should be noted that these numbers actually apply to tax returns or lack of reporting that occurred in 2008, since it takes about three years for the agency to complete an investigation before deciding on whether to pursue prosecution. So these numbers could simply be a temporary dip owing to the fact that 2008 was the year of the Lehman Brothers failure that jump started the whole economic crisis. However, there are other factors at play.

A tax agency official recently told Tokyo Shimbun that “prosecutors’ attitudes” changed after several recent scandals in which the legality of their methods were questioned, in particular that case in Osaka where a prosecutor cooked up evidence to nail a health ministry bureaucrat. Consequently, prosecutors are a bit gunshy about borderline cases that they would have pursued more aggressively in the past. In addition, over the years tax evaders have become more skillful at hiding income thanks to advances in information technology and the globalization of finances.

But a former tax official told Tokyo Shimbun that he thinks the quality of the auditing has also gone down. When he was an investigator, new recruits were trained under the strictest, most punishing circumstances. Veteran auditors put the screws to their underlings to make sure they were tough and relentless in getting as much evidence against tax scofflaws as they could.

Continue reading about a change in tax audits →

Money for education ends up in the toilet

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Every elementary school student’s dream

Last month the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released statistics from 2009 related to the cost of education in 31 developed countries. For the third year in a row, Japan was the lowest in terms of portion of GDP spent on education and schools: 3.6 percent, which, while being 0.3 percentage points higher than in 2008, is still much less than the average, 5.4 percent. (Denmark, for the record, spends the most: 7.5 percent.) Not surprisingly, Japanese families spend more for college than anyone else in the world, and in terms of how much of the money spent on education was from private individuals, Japan ranked third at 31.9 percent (after Chile and South Korea). The world average is 16 percent.

In addition, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reports that in 2010, the year the ruling Democratic Party of Japan did away with tuition for public high schools, the average family with a full-time salaried head of household still spent 5.7 percent more for education than it did the year before. In the same class of households that had high school or college students, the increase was 9 percent.

On average, a household spent ¥1.91 million a year on education, down ¥700,000 from the previous year probably owing to the tuition break. That’s about 37.7 percent of the average family’s yearly income, and the poorer the family, the greater the burden: for families that earn ¥2 to ¥4 million a year, the portion spent on school is 57.5 percent. And if you wonder where all this money goes, don’t blame teachers, whose average salary over the past ten years has decreased by 9 percent.

It also doesn’t seem to be going to school infrastructure. The education ministry says that 60 percent of all public elementary and junior high schools in Japan are at least 30 years old and have never been renovated. In major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, the portion is 70 percent. The part of the physical plant that tends to show its age the most are the restrooms. In fact, Japanese public school lavatories are infamous, as evidenced by all the J-horror movies that take place in them. Invariably they are described with “the 3 Ks” — kusai (smelly), kitanai (dirty), kurai (dark).

Continue reading about public school lavatories →

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