Leo Lewis

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Rina Gonoi is releasing a book about her time in Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Forces © FT montage/Getty Images

Next Wednesday, Rina Gonoi will publish her account of two harrowing years as a member of Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Forces. It is a blow that will land heavily and with devastating timing.

The book, Raising My Voice, will hit Japan with a grim depiction of life in uniform. Gonoi’s description of a sexual assault involving four drunken officers — a story that emerged last year, triggering an investigation and a string of dismissals — forced unprecedented self-examination on the nation’s military.

Her shocking allegations arrived at what should have been a pivotal moment of confidence and optimism for the SDF, a military force that has existed since 1954 in an uneasy compromise with a constitution that forbids Japan from maintaining “war potential”.…  Seguir leyendo »

Can Japan feed itself?

At the end of the month, in supermarkets across Japan, regular staff and a secret army of wholesalers will work the shelves through the night on a project that none of them — from national chains to local stores — are able to talk about openly.

When the food retail industry’s collective doors open on October 1, shoppers who have barely experienced inflation since the early 1990s will be hit by the most severe price shock in almost two generations.

The prices of more than 6,000 daily food items will have soared overnight; so too, say experts whose warnings have long gone unheeded, will the Japanese public’s realisation of what it means to depend upon the most vulnerable food supply system in the developed world.…  Seguir leyendo »

Global inflation: Japan faces a moment of truth

In the summer of 1998, the Japanese currency slid to its lowest level against the dollar since the calamitous burst of the economic bubble seven years earlier. A senior finance ministry official, Haruhiko Kuroda, cautioned that an excessive fall in the yen was negative for the Japanese economy.

Nearly one-quarter of a century later, Kuroda is the governor of the Bank of Japan and sounding a familiar refrain as the yen continues its descent through a 24-year low, again breaking the level of ¥137 against the dollar and leaving traders uncertain when the slide will stop.

“The recent rapid acceleration of the yen’s decline is not desirable”, Kuroda said last month, following discussions with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.…  Seguir leyendo »

Japan loves counting things. The precise length of the noodles in rival brands of instant ramen; the average skirt lengths of high-school girls from the north or south; the number of words for “obsessive” — Japan doesn’t wonder, it tallies.

So when general elections come around, and official campaigning for the August 30 vote began yesterday, the armchair Japanologist is immediately squashed by statistics. You want a snapshot, but end up with the whole album. Each data point seems so exact and so significant: the fertility rate, the suicide rate, number of patents filed annually, the number of people over 65, the unemployment rate, the rate of GDP growth and a thousand more beautifully calibrated gauges.…  Seguir leyendo »

When the Japanese promise radical change, howling disappointment usually follows. “New” flavours of canned coffee or “epoch-making” tatami-mat cleaning products turn out to be only modestly ground-breaking.

In Japanese politics, where general election campaigning will begin any minute now, the phrase is an outright fraud. The last truly radical change in the Japanese political arena was in 1954 when grudgingly — and only after furious debate — they decided to put a ladies’ loo in the parliament building.

But all of a sudden, Japanese friends are saying “radical change” with an earnest glint in their eyes. Japan may be about to get its first entirely new government for 53 years, and the phrase no longer rings quite so hollow.…  Seguir leyendo »