Posts Tagged ‘DPJ’

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 →

How much money do rice farmers need to make from farming?

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Bags of rice for sale in a JA retail outlet

The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which Japan endeavors to join, continues to be controversial, though most people in Japan only have knowledge about the broadest arguments. If Japan joins TPP, it’s the end of Japanese agriculture; if it doesn’t, Japan will not have access to one of the biggest markets in the world.

Several recent articles in the Asahi Shimbun at least give some idea of what rice farmers stand to lose or gain from the agreement. Two farmers are profiled, one in Fukui Prefecture, the other in Aomori prefecture. The Fukui farmer works a one-hectare paddy that he inherited from his father about 15 years ago. The paddy yields about 96 hyo (1 hyo = 60 kg) a year and ¥1.47 million in revenues, which breaks down to ¥1.1 in sales and the rest in government subsidies. When the Democratic Party of Japan became the ruling party, it threw out the old Liberal Democratic Party subsidy system, which basically discouraged farmers from growing rice. The DPJ subsidy, called kobetsu shotoku hosho (individual income compensation), pays them to grow by making up for any losses they might incur due to low market prices.

The Fukui farmer’s annual expenses for cultivating his paddy run to about ¥1.77 million, which includes ¥520,000 for outside labor. It’s implied that the paddy owner himself does very little actual farming. On his tax return he also lists in the loss column ¥600,000 in depreciation for his farm equipment. All in all, the farm in 2010 lost ¥300,000. However, he says it doesn’t really bother him. His main job is working for an electrical parts maker, which pays him a salary of ¥5.3 million. His wife also works, earning ¥2.8 million.

Continue reading about the cost of growing rice →

Politicians hope you don’t notice when their pay goes back to normal

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Nice work if you can get it

Six months is a long time, and considering all that has happened since the March 11 earthquake, the past half-year may seem even longer. So it wouldn’t be surprising if a lot of people have forgotten that the Diet passed a law shortly after the disaster to cut their own salaries by 30 percent for a period of six months. This gesture was on top of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s forfeiture of his own special prime minister’s allowance, not to mention the 10 percent additional cut in salary for all members of the cabinet as a budget countermeasure, which has been in force since the Yukio Hatayama administration.

Next month things go back to normal, and maybe the lawmakers are hoping the electorate has forgotten, but at least one person, Kenji Eda of Your Party (Minna no To), is determined that people will remember. On Sept. 27, during the budget deliberation talks, he asked Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda whether or not he would forfeit his prime minister’s allowance, just as Kan did, for the sake of reconstruction. Noda, of course, is expected to ask for a long-delayed increase in the consumption tax as a means to fund reconstruction, which, over the next decade, is estimated to cost ¥11 trillion. As it turns out, while Noda as a Diet lawmaker has had his salary cut 30 percent like everyone else, it seems he’s been receiving his prime minister’s allowance, calculated on a daily basis, in full since he took over from Kan. Noda answered that the cabinet would continue with the 10 percent cut but said nothing about his own pay.

This is notable in that one of the items in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s manifesto was a 20 percent cut in all personnel costs, covering pay and expenses of all government employees, politicians and civil servants alike. Had the DPJ actually carried through with that promise, they could easily come up with the ¥11 trillion needed for reconstruction. Of course, at the time the manifesto was made the savings were envisioned to pay off Japan’s debt, so by itself the 20 percent personnel expense cut isn’t enough.

Continue reading about politicians' pay cuts →

Ramen chain widens definition of ‘new graduates’

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

That's using your noodle: Korakuen in Akihabara

That's using your noodle: Korakuen in Akihabara

On the surface, there isn’t much to distinguish Korakuen from other chain Chinese food restaurants. The company, which is headquartered in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, operates 430 outlets, mostly in the Tohoku and Kanto regions. Their fare is pretty cheap, maybe cheaper than most Chinese restaurant chains, with prices for ramen ranging from ¥290 to ¥600. And like other companies in this line of business, Korakuen’s workers are mostly part-time and non-regular, which describes about 8,000 of its 9,000 employees.

However, on Oct. 14, Korakuen issued an announcement that sets it apart, not only from other chain restaurants, but from most Japanese companies in general. Starting in spring 2012, the company will recruit and hire as full-time, regular employees new graduates (shinshotsu) of universities, junior colleges, vocational schools and high schools who matriculated from their respective institutions in 2009, 2010 and 2011. To anyone unfamiliar with Japan’s traditional employment system, this will hardly sound remarkable, but to most Japanese people it’s nothing short of revolutionary.

Continue reading about Korakuen's recruiting shift →

Lawyers’ livelihoods to get needier

Monday, October 18th, 2010

JFBA Hall in Hibiya: Not so exclusive any more

JFBA Hall in Hibiya: Not so exclusive any more

Six years ago when the Liberal Democratic Party overhauled the legal system and established the lay judge system, the revisions also included measures to increase the number of practicing lawyers in Japan by changing the juridical education and certification systems. Logically, that would mean allowing more people who took the bar examination to pass. The aim was an extra 3,000 law professionals entering the market each year, and though this target hasn’t been achieved on a regular basis (2,074 passed the test this year), the increase in the number of lawyers has had a big effect on incomes.

There were about 17,000 lawyers in Japan in 2000, and by 2008 the number had increased to more than 25,000. The government estimates that this number will double by 2018. Consequently, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, five years ago, before the influx of new blood was felt in the marketplace, the average attorney made between ¥16 and ¥20 million a year. Last year, the average attorney income had dropped to ¥8 million. No wonder you see so many lawyers these days moonlighting as TV talent.

Continue reading about Japan's high bar for lawyers →

Redefining the minimum wage in an age of no expectations

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Labor ministry poster explains life to Tokyo wage slaves

Labor ministry poster explains life to Tokyo wage slaves

One of the pledges in the Democratic Party of Japan’s 2009 manifesto was boosting the national minimum wage to ¥800-an-hour as soon as possible. As with many of the DPJ’s pledges, this one has also had a harsh reality check. Prefectural governments set their own minimum wages, which means if the central government wants to boost it for everyone it has to deal with national labor groups and associations of small and medium-sized businesses. The Minimum Wage Council did manage to increase the national minimum wage so far this year by an average of ¥15, the highest  increase ever, but the national average is still only ¥713 (from Okinawa’s ¥629 to Tokyo’s ¥791), far below the ¥800 target.

In order to understand the change, one first has to realize that the meaning of the minimum wage in today’s world has also changed. Originally, it was formulated as the first wage for new school graduates who would still live with their parents. It was the foundation for a wage structure that assumed salaries would increase with age, so that by the time a worker was in his 30s (this structure was built for men) he was earning enough money to raise a family and buy a home.

However, the 1990s economic downturn changed all that. By the end of the decade one out of every three workers was a non-regular employee whose wages remained stagnant regardless of how long they worked in the same job. As it stands now one out of every five heads-of-household in Japan earns less than ¥2 million a year. A person who works full-time, meaning 40 hours a week, for the minimum wage of ¥713 an hour earns about ¥1.5 million a year before taxes. There are currently 12 prefectures where minimum wage workers earn below what a person receiving welfare gets from the government. That, in fact, is the definition of “working poor.”

The DPJ could not reach its ¥800-an-hour target because of opposition from small and medium-sized businesses who say that any increase in the minimum wage would push them to bankruptcy. That is basically why the gap between rich and poor is increasing; not just in Japan, but in the U.S., where this gap is the widest in the industrialized world. The principle in Japan and the U.S. is that businesses must be supported for the sake of the economy as a whole, whereas in most of Europe the principle is that workers must be supported for the sake of society as a whole. In Europe, companies are expected to guarantee their workers a wage that ensures a certain standard of living. If the companies can’t do that, then they shouldn’t be in business. Of course, Europe also has high taxes and more thorough social services.

The thing is, even ¥800-an-hour is not enough to raise a family on. (The long-term DPJ plan is ¥1,000 by 2020.) A recent article in the Asahi Shimbun reported on a young man who has worked in a convenience store in Miyazaki for 13 years. He now earns ¥630 an hour, or ¥1 above Miyazaki Prefecture’s minimum wage. He works six days a week and earns ¥130,000 a month before taxes and medical insurance are subtracted. He should also be paying ¥15,000 a month for the national pension — which is uniform for non-regular employees nationwide, regardless of what they earn — but he doesn’t because he can’t afford to. Fortunately, he still lives with his parents, but he has a girlfriend whom he wants to marry. Her parents disapprove of the match, and who can blame them?

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