JIN-493 -- Lonely times ahead for the Otaku Prince

J@pan Inc Newsletter
The 'JIN' J@pan Inc Newsletter
A weekly opinion piece on social, economic and political trends
in Japan.
Issue No. 494 Wednesday December 10, 2008, Tokyo

I know I keep going on about the LDP leadership but I still find it
remarkable how a guy like Prime Minister Taro Aso has managed to get
so many people offside in such a short period of time. His approval
rating is now lower than both Fukuda and Abe at the time they made
their exits from the top job.

Even some within the otaku community have turned against Aso. The
prime minister, who was dubbed affectionately as Rozen Aso due to his
self-proclaimed affection for the manga Rozen Maiden, was criticized
by Japan's most famous anime director, Hayao Miyazaki recently.
Miyazaki basically said that Aso should keep his love of manga and
anime to himself.

Infighting has continued within the ranks of the LDP and the DPJ has
been doing its best to cause nuisance by delaying the proposed $51
billion stimulus package in the Upper House. Also, disagreements
between the LDP and coalition partner New Komeito have further slowed
down the passing of the bill - the junior coalition partner has called
for tax rebates. Meanwhile, some within the LDP have called for the
ruling party to scale back its commitment to public works spending.
So all of this is going on as things continue to deteriorate on the
economic front – machinery orders fell in October by 4.4 percent as
cars and electronics took a hit. The orders are an important indicator
as to what capital spending will look like over the next three to six
months. Bloomberg reported that orders received from overseas dropped
by 37 percent – that's the biggest drop in five years.

Also gross domestic product contracted at an annualized rate of 1.8
percent in the third quarter. Initially it was forecast by the
government to be 0.4 percent. And now Jesper Koll, the Tokyo research
head for Tatallon Capital and a J@pan Inc columnist, says in an
article on Forbes.com that the annualized pace will contract to 5
percent in the October to December period.

Writer Tina Wang argues in the article that a lack of political action
could actually be a good thing as it forces corporations to become
more efficient. Koll goes on to say: "The fact that corporations in
Japan are not relying on the government for help, that corporations
are restructuring by themselves rather than waiting for a bailout,
suggests that Japan may very well be the big winner."

Koll tends to be overly positive in his assessments of Japan and its
economic future but I tend to agree with him here. Although the
government was initially quick in their reactions following the
fallout that came after the Lehman collapse, things are slowing down
now. It's no secret that the country runs itself without the Central
Government – it has had to over the years of inept leadership and
factional infighting within the LDP. But despite the recession, the
country is in relatively good shape when compared to other nations.
Koll says that corporate Japan is in better shape structurally now
than when compared to the recession of the early 90s. Also homeowners
aren't weighed down by the mortgage and credit card debt of the
average American household.

While the Japanese business world may face an uncertain future, it is
in a position to pull through the coming year. Aso, on the other hand
is facing a rather certain future – and his position just looks worse
each week. It was not under the most favorable circumstances that he
entered office, but Rozen Aso has done his best to make sure the next
PM is in a worse position – that is if he (she? would Yuriko Koike be
the next in line?) is from the LDP. If the unthinkable happened and a
DPJ prime minister was elected, at least he could play on one positive
– he's not from the same camp as the Otaku Prince.

Michael Condon


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