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.

Noodle Guy Wins In Dispute Between Japan and Taiwan

Udon noodles came, like so many things in Japan, from China. Kūkai, a Buddhist monk from the province of Sanuki on the Japanese island of Shikoku, had brought them back. Today, the province is called Kagawa Prefecture, but the noodles are still called Sanuki udon—which sparked an international dispute between Japan and Taiwan. All because of a noodle guy.

The Endgame: Japan Inc. Plays By Its Own Rules

Plunging approval ratings of Prime Minister Noda follow tradition. Public approval is high at the start when voters still have hope. As reality sets in, approval skitters down a steep slope for 8 to 15 months. Then a new guy is installed. But bureaucrats and corporate interests stay in place, public debt turns into a mushroom cloud, and the endgame continues.

Tokyo Tidbit: Superlative Supercar Pileup

A convoy of 20 supercars was speeding down the Chūgoku Expressway, trying to get to a supercar gathering in Hiroshima. The mere sight of such an apparition can turn heads and cause accidents. The convoy entered a left-hand bend at 90–100 mph, though the posted speed limit was 50 mph. The highway was wet. And the rest was very expensive.

Japanese Micro-Steps Toward The End Of An Era

“Japan’s economy is likely to continue to face a severe situation for the time being, especially with respect to exports,” said the Governor of the Bank of Japan. He blamed the European debt crisis and the strong yen. But his bland central-banker language marked the end of an era.

Yakuza Ineligible For Life Insurance

Yakuza just can’t catch a break. Now it’s life insurance companies that are tightening the noose. Organized crime is big business in Japan. Extortion, built on a culture of shame, is phenomenally successful. But…. In 1963, there were 184,000 yakuza. In 2009, they were 80,900. And new laws disrupt the ambiguous relationship between them and society.

No More Golf or Pizza for the Yakuza

Tokyo’s organized crime exclusionary laws went into effect in October—and are wreaking havoc. Now doing business with the yakuza is a crime. In an ingenious twist, paying off the yakuza is also a crime. Even victims of blackmail—hush money is an outright industry in Japan—commit a crime if they pay.

Tokyo Tidbit: Minister Calls Tsunami Victims ‘Idiots’

The new ministers just can’t keep their mouths under control—that’s the problem with the cabinet of Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, himself in office only since September 1. This time it was Tatsuo Hirano, ironically the Minister for Disaster Management, who issued the latest gaffe by calling tsunami victims “idiots.”

Tokyo Tidbit: High Radiation, False Alarm, Real Danger

All heck re-broke loose online when the Associated Press reported that a local resident, equipped with a dosimeter, had discovered a highly radioactive hotspot in a residential area of Tokyo, 145 miles from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant. Foreign media jumped on the story and speculated. But this time, it was different. And what else is hidden under floorboards?