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Show me the money: Who paid for what in the Lower House election

January 5th, 2015 by

Posters for LDP candidate still standing (and lying) in a Chiba field a month after the election

Posters for LDP candidate still standing (and lying) in a Chiba field a month after the election

When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dissolved the Lower House in November and called a general election, some people complained about the cost. Why should taxpayers foot the bill for an election that was more or less being carried out on a whim?

The complaint got lost in the post-election buzz, when other complaints became louder, but at least one person still wonders about all that money. In a new column in the Asahi Shimbun called “Re: Okotae Shimasu” (Re: Answering Questions), a reader mentions that she heard that the election cost ¥63 billion. What, she asks, was that money spent on?

It’s a good question, but one that’s difficult to answer since the government is still adding up all the receipts and won’t actually reveal the results until next fall, by which time the election will be a distant memory. However, the Asahi was able to give the reader some idea based on the last general election held in 2012, which cost ¥58.8 billion.

In addition, when a “snap election” is held, meaning a poll that doesn’t follow the normal election cycle, the money comes from an “emergency fund” (yobihi) that is kept in reserve for when something unexpected happens.

CONTINUE READING about the cost of elections →

Consumer stimulus is not the same as welfare, though the purpose is the same

December 29th, 2014 by

Screen shot from Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, city office home page informing residents that the deadline for the one-time welfare handout is Jan. 5.

Screen grab from Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, city office home page informing residents that the deadline for the one-time welfare handout is Jan. 5.

Last weekend the cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reemerged from its victory lap to approve an economic stimulus package worth ¥3.5 trillion whose purpose is to help rural areas cope with inflation brought on by last April’s consumption tax hike, not to mention the more recent drop in the yen’s value, which has made imported goods more expensive. Some of the money will go to local infrastructure projects, mainly in the area of disaster prevention, and a little less will go directly to consumers and companies.

This handout, however, shouldn’t be confused with the one that the government implemented last summer for poor people, though there will be overlap. In fact, some local governments, which administer the one-time welfare handouts (rinji kyufukin), are still looking for eligible people since many residents who aren’t on their welfare roles nevertheless are qualified to receive the money. So far, about 24 million have received the handout.

The only real difference between the welfare handout and the stimulus handout is the ostensible purpose: the former was designed to help low income people adjust to the CT hike, while the latter is a means of getting more money into the distribution system, but in the end the government wants the same thing: higher consumption, which is why the stimulus handout will likely be in the form of a coupon that can only be spent on goods and services. That isn’t necessary with low income people, who by necessity spend everything they get on goods and services.

CONTINUE READING about consumer stimulus →

Annals of cheap: Narita express buses

December 22nd, 2014 by

Screen shot of new express bus service to Narita Airport

Screen shot of new express bus service to Narita Airport

We live in northern Chiba Prefecture on the Hokuso Line, part of the conduit for the Sky Access Express, a train that runs between Haneda and Narita airports and which incorporates a number of other private railways. Our closest station is only three stops from Narita International Airport, and it takes a little more than 20 minutes to get there. However, it costs ¥790 one-way, which seems like a lot of money for such a short journey.

The reason for the high fare is that the Hokuso Line is one of the most expensive train lines in Japan owing to its high construction costs and the fact that not enough people use it to pay off those costs. But if you take the Sky Access from Nihonbashi on the Toei Asakusa Subway Line, it takes one hour and 8 minutes to get to Narita and costs only ¥1,330. Though passengers who board the Sky Access for Narita at stations on lines other than the Hokuso still have to ride over Hokuso tracks, they don’t have to pay Hokuso prices.

What’s even more frustrating for us is that now there are express buses between central Tokyo and Narita Airport that cost only ¥1,000 each way. A company called B Transse, headquartered in Chiba City, launched an airport bus service in August 2012 between Ginza and Tokyo Station at one end and Narita Airport at the other: ¥1,000, one hour. And don’t worry. It has toilets.

The impetus behind the new service is the rise of Low-Cost Carriers (LCC), or budget airlines, which have been gaining a foothold at Narita ever since Haneda Airport in Tokyo started increasing the number of its international flights. Right now, 21.5 percent of all the flights in and out of Narita are LCCs. In April, Narita will open a new terminal dedicated exclusively to LCCs.

CONTINUE READING about transportation fees to Narita

Deflation Watch: bean sprouts

December 15th, 2014 by

Bean down so long: Cheap moyashi is still the norm

Bean down so long: Cheap moyashi is still the norm

Last week Tokyo Shimbun reported that an industry association of food producers sent letters to supermarket chains and other food retailers saying that they had reached their limit of patience. This particular association represents companies that produce moyashi, or bean sprouts, a pretty lowly item, even within the realm of produce, and one that is not strictly agricultural in nature.

Though bean sprouts definitely qualify as vegetables, almost all Japanese producers import the basic ingredient, which is mung beans (ryokuto or midori mame), and then make them sprout in factories. In other words, no land cultivation is involved. Bean sprout production is a ridiculously simple process, since all it entails is making the mung beans wet, setting them aside for a few days to sprout, and then packaging them.

The moyashi association is saying that production costs have become untenable, which sounds strange considering how easy the process is, but what they’re really talking about is the cost of mung beans, 80 percent of which are imported from China, mainly Jilin Province, where farmers are switching over to corn because the price of animal feed has gone up and they can make more money. Consequently, the market price for mung beans has also gone up, by as much as 30 percent since a year ago.

CONTINUE READING about the cost of bean sprouts

Cosmetics market shifts up in age

December 8th, 2014 by

Poster for Shiseido makeup outside discount drug retailer Matsumoto Kiyoshi

Poster for Shiseido makeup outside discount drug retailer Matsumoto Kiyoshi

You can tell how important an industry is to the media by how many news outlets cover the same story in the same way. What happened was a company put out a press release that everyone feels obligated to cover since the company is a major advertiser.

Last week everyone mentioned that cosmetics maker Kao will be coming out with a new line of eye shadow targeting older women under its Aube brand. Makeup specially formulated for older consumers isn’t a new thing, but what makes Aube Couture Bright Up Eyes of more than just passing interest is that its main appeal is the application rather than the wearing. When older eyelids become flaccid, it’s more difficult to put on eye shadow evenly, so Kao came up with a special foundation that makes it easier for the customer to apply the shadow on top of it. In addition, the case comes with a special 2X magnifying mirror for older eyesights.

Shiseido also announced a brand new line of 33 items for older women called Prior that will come out Jan. 21 and is centered on a cream that gives the skin a glossy tone which “medicates” wrinkles and age spots as a way of “reducing” them. It’s another way of saying that the cream covers them up. It also obviates the need for foundation, thus making it “easy to use.” Also, Prior’s eye shadow comes in a box with instructions in large type and photos to make it easier for consumers to understand how to apply it. CONTINUE READING about new markets for cosmetic makers

Attitudes about money continue to affect marriage prospects

December 1st, 2014 by

Head first: Newly married couple having their picture taken at a park in Makuhari

Head first: Newly married couple having their picture taken at a park in Makuhari

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has characterized the upcoming general election as a referendum for his fiscal policies, popularly known as “Abenomics,” so it’s not surprising that the opposition has focused on those policies as a means of discrediting his administration.

The Democratic Party of Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, recently gave a public speech from a sound truck in Yamagata City, and talked mainly about the effect that Abenomics has had on employment. Abe brags about creating new jobs with his policy, but Edano contends that these jobs are not the kind that allow young people to “get married and start families,” since they are mostly temporary or contract work (haken) that doesn’t guarantee a stable future. “At the very least, we have to increase the number of jobs that guarantee stability, otherwise we can’t call it an employment policy,” he said.

Edano has a point, though he may not realize how sharp it actually is. Last year, the marriage information company O-Net, which is part of the Rakuten Group, conducted a survey of single men and women in the Tokyo metropolitan area between the ages of 25 and 39 to find out their prospects for marriage. When asked why they were not married, the most common answer (multiple responses were allowed) for both genders was that they “don’t have a chance to meet people of the opposite sex.”

CONTINUE READING about marriage proposal criteria

Local governments finally getting around to public toilets

November 24th, 2014 by

Get down: Public rest room in a park in northern Chiba Prefecture

Get down: Public rest room in a park in northern Chiba Prefecture

Japan is a country of tradeoffs. Though there is an intentional paucity of public waste receptacles, there are plenty of free public restrooms, something that foreign tourists should note with appreciation. What they may not appreciate is the fact that most of the public facilities still feature squat-type toilets, which is certainly an irony since one of Japan’s most famous gifts to the world is the all-service commode, or “washlet,” which does practically everything but pull your drawers up.

We searched high and low for some kind of survey that revealed the portion of public toilets that are squat-type and couldn’t find any, so our claim that most public toilets, whether they be in parks, train stations or just along a street, feature squat type facilities is mainly due to observation.

But it’s obviously a situation that people are aware of. Chiba Prefecture recently announced that it set aside a supplemental budget in order to subsidize local governments and private entities who need to replace older Japanese style toilets under their management with Western style equipment before 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympics and it’s assumed lots of foreign tourists will come to the metropolitan area.

CONTINUE READING about public rest rooms

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