A New Beginning in Japan: Glimmers of False Hope?

April 1 marks a new beginning in Japan and coincides roughly with the arrival of cherry blossoms. The first ethereal pink was sighted last week in Kochi. Now blossoms have appeared in Tokyo. Full bloom is expected by Friday. Last year, after the horrific earthquake and tsunami that took over 18,000 lives, cherry-blossom events had been canceled. But this year, it’s different. And there is even an uptick in the numbers.

A Revolt, the Quiet Japanese Way

New revelations seeped out about the control Japan’s nuclear industry had over regulators. In 2006, the Nuclear Safety Commission studied the enlargement of disaster-mitigation zones. But the Economics Ministry put an end to it, worried that it ”could cause social unrest and increase popular anxiety.” Five years later, after the preventable meltdowns at the Fukushima power plant, the people paid the price.

March 11 Earthquake and Tsunami: A Personal Perspective

The earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11 a year ago and the nuclear catastrophe that followed are personal to me: my wife is from Tokyo, and my in-laws live there. To our immense relief, no one we know was hurt. But others weren’t that lucky: 15,854 died and 3,155 are still missing. This missive, written by my wife four days after the quake, depicts the chaos in Tokyo, the emotions, and the unique Japanese ways of coping with it.

Evaporating Japanese Pension Fund Assets

Japanese pension funds face a tricky situation. On one side is an investment environment of near-zero yields, declining real estate values, and a stock market that is down 75% from its peak in 1989. On the other side is a ballooning retirement-age population who enjoys the longest life expectancy in the world. So the one thing they don’t need is pension fund assets evaporating from an asset management firm.

Nuclear Contamination As Seen By Japanese Humor

After an endless stream of horrid reports on the tragedy of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and the subsequent nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima, we’re ready for something … lighter. This has been circulating in the Japanese internet community for months, has garnered countless comments, and a lot of nodding, agreement, and knowing smiles because it represents, in the eyes of many Japanese, a larger tongue-in-cheek truth.

Unpopularity Contest at the Edge of the Japanese Abyss

While all eyes are on the Greek farce, a much bigger fiasco on the other side of the globe is advancing at an inexorable pace. All Japanese prime ministers since Koizumi slither down a steep slope that lasts between 8 and 15 months. When approval ratings drop into the low twenties, they’re replaced by a new sacrificial lamb. And Prime Minister Noda is on a straight line down to replacement hell—while economic fundamentals are falling apart.

The Endgame: Japan Inc. Seeks Salvation Overseas

Japanese companies spent $70 billion on acquisitions overseas in 2011—a record. Armed with a ferociously strong yen, they’re going overseas to escape the pressures at home where electricity rationing has become part of corporate life, along with a stagnant economy and a dwindling working-age population. But they’re doing it just when Japan can least afford it.

Friday Night Economic Indices

There still are some economic numbers that aren’t seasonally adjusted or manipulated with fancy statistical footwork by governmental, quasi-governmental, or non-governmental number mongers. And they give us the true picture of the worldwide economy: beer, wine, mood, and San Francisco real estate—with more predictive power than is allowed by law.

Crap, Sovereign Debt Downgrades Matter?

After they were downgraded in early August, US government bonds gained upward momentum and yields fell. Japan, which has danced the downgrade tango for years, is contemplating the next step, from AA- to A+, yet 10-year Japanese Government Bonds are yielding below 1%. Downgrades of sovereign bonds of developed countries make good headlines, but the impact on bond markets has been nil. With one exception: the Eurozone.

The Endgame: Japan Makes Another Move

The cabinet approved a doozie of a budget with a horrid deficit. Yet it relies on accounting shenanigans. In reality, the government will borrow a disastrous 56.2% of every yen it spends. The vaunted trade surplus has become a trade deficit, the working population is declining, the savings rate plummets…. But the government has a solution: a miracle.