Japan’s hawkish Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has reignited controversy over the conduct of Japanese soldiers during World War II by engaging in historical revisionism. In particular, one area of contention arises when considering the topic of “comfort women” brought from around Japanese-occupied Asia and forced to become prostitutes to please Japanese soldiers.

Although the 1993 statement by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kano on comfort women admitted coercion by Japanese soldiers into forcing women into prostitution, the topic has been brought to the forefront of international debate recently as Japanese nationalists have started to deny past wartime actions.

Understandably, Abe and other nationalists who appear to be washing over Japanese actions during World War II bother Japan’s neighbors in the region, namely South Korea and China. Japan refuses to offer South Korea official compensation to individuals affected by the “comfort women” controversy.

Certain cities around the United States have also permitted the erection of statues of comfort women to promote awareness of Japanese crimes during the war. In Glendale, California and in Palisades Park, New Jersey, comfort women have already been commemorated. A small victory was won by Korea when a Virginia school board approved textbooks with the name “East Sea” in conjunction with “Sea of Japan” in an atlas depicting the sea between the two countries.

Japan has historically been confident that with the U.S. as an ally, the country would stand by the position of the Japanese government regarding comfort women. But in 2007, Congress adopted a resolution condemning the practice of taking comfort women and pressed that the government of Japan should “formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Forces’ coercion of young women into sexual slavery.”

Controversy has also arisen in China over the comfort women. In response, China has approved the building of a memorial museum to Ahn Jung-Geun, the person who assassinated Itoh Hirobumi, one of the first prime ministers of Japan. In China and Korea, he is seen as a hero but in Japan he is labeled as a terrorist.

If Japan’s historical revisionism continues, tensions will continue to rise with its Asian neighbors and Japan will find itself increasingly isolated from the protection of its major ally, the U.S.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: The Diplomat, MOFA, GovTrack
Photo: Los Angeles Times

On September 26, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed the United Nations General Assembly, discussing his initiatives to create Japanese “womenomics,” an economic theory that posits the advancement and success of women in a society as directly correlated to the country’s larger growth rate.

The idea of utilizing Japan’s greatest resource—its women—is not entirely new. In 1999, Kathy Matsui, along with a variety of other employees at Goldman Sachs addressed a similar topic, suggesting that Japan could significantly increase its gross domestic product (GDP) by about 15 percent by better integrating its women.

In order to implement “womenomics,” the Japanese government will contribute over $3 billion by 2016 to increase female participation in society, aid in female healthcare costs, mitigate violence against women, and further empower women in a variety of other realms.

In a country with a rapidly shrinking population and a remarkably low birthrate, a successful implementation of “womenomics” is crucial. By introducing large numbers of women to the workforce, Japan will vastly benefit both economically and demographically. Clearly, women are the key to Japan’s future.

Of course, “womenomics” also exists as a crucial necessity in the rest of the world, particularly in developing regions like Africa. Fortunately, the Japanese government has recognized this and is now providing enormous support to Africa’s women.

Instead of working within the donor culture of international development, Japan is striving to help transform agriculture in Africa, a domain primarily characterized by female laborers. Japanese efforts have already proven successful, as many farmers’ incomes have doubled in regions of Kenya.

Tellingly, African and Japanese women—as well as their female counterparts everywhere—are the key to a thriving economy. Yet, without egalitarian access to governmental resources and support, they cannot be empowered economically. Thus, it is the responsibility of governments everywhere to support their female citizens, and thereby, support themselves.

– Anna Purcell

Sources: United Nations, Wall Street Journal
Sources: Japan Today

Poverty in Japan
According to The Economist, poverty in Japan is rarely visible. There is little begging and little evidence that the homeless exist. The poor are quietly hidden in shadows away from what appears of economic homogeneity in Japan. They are hidden from sight and very difficult to measure.

However, the truth of the matter is that poverty is increasing at alarming rates in Japan. After years of economic stagnation, now statistics show that nearly one in six Japanese lived in poverty in 2007. This accounts for nearly 20 million people within the population.


Poverty in Japan


Yet the popular perception of Japan is one of a nation of prosperity and centenarians. Even many Japanese themselves were horrified to find out that Japan’s poverty rate was in recent years as high as 15.7%, nearly as high as the figure for the United States. The Japanese government has admitted that it had been keeping poverty statistics hidden since 1998. Aya Abe, a researcher at the National Institute of Population and Social Security in Tokyo has stated, “it is very unpopular for the Japanese media to say anything about Japanese poverty.” By denying the existence of increasing poverty, Japan has failed to support its growing impoverished population.

The results of this lack of support are visible in the plight of single parents in Japan. The poverty rate of single parents is now the highest of the all of the nations that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Furthermore, statistics show that now one in seven children in Japan lives in poverty. According to Japan Times, more and more children are now unable to afford schoolbooks and basic materials for education.

Despite these grim facts, few impoverished Japanese are even willing to admit that they are poor. Poverty experts in Japan say that 80% of the poor in Japan are “working poor.” That is to say that these poor may be working temporary jobs with few benefits but they unable to or even unwilling to reveal the true condition of their financial or living situation.

Furthermore, years of deregulated labor and competition with China have created a wide market of low paying jobs. For a nation that is accustomed to lifetime jobs, there are few social safety nets for the unemployed. Thus, while the poor in Japan may fair considerably better than those in developing nations, they face a social taboo that attempts to cover up poverty. Thus the climb upwards is a difficult and lonely challenge.

– Grace Zhao 

Sources: New York Times, Japan Times, The Economist

Japan Invests in Michigan
A Japanese pension fund has purchased a Michigan power plant, the Midland Cogeneration Venture, for $2 billion with a Canadian partner.

The organization, Japan’s Pension Fund Organization, will be co-owners of the plant along with Mitsubishi, Mizuho Bank, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, and Omers, a Canadian pension fund. The investment is being made through the Global Strategic Investment Alliance (GSIA), a partnership with Omers to target North American infrastructure assets.

Japan, the country with the third-highest overall GDP, is a major trading partner with the U.S. and has significant investments in the country. These types of investments bring money into the U.S. economy, diversify the financial backing of U.S. infrastructure, and give foreign countries a stake in the U.S. economy. Overall, having one of the largest economies in the world invested in the U.S. economy is very positive for the U.S. economy.

Japan, however, was not always one of the world’s economic powerhouses. After the Second World War, Japan was a struggling nation and needed assistance to recover. Its infrastructure was obliterated, its government collapsed, and the country was occupied by foreign powers.

The U.S. stepped in after WWII with vast amounts of aid provided mostly under its Government and Relief in Occupied Areas (GARIOA) grants. According to statistics from the Federation of American Scientists’ report U.S. Occupation Assistance:  Iraq, Germany and Japan, assistance to Japan during the U.S. occupation totaled roughly $15.2 billion. This aid is what enabled Japan to enact its miraculous postwar recovery and become one of the United States’ top 4 trading partners today.

As current U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made clear in his first speech in the country, 11 out of the US’s top 15 trading partners are former beneficiaries of U.S. foreign assistance. Yet despite the effectiveness of giving over $15 billion in aid to postwar Japan, the U.S. now only gives $30 billion a year in aid, which amounts to less than one percent of GDP. If the U.S. can learn anything from its past successes, it is that aid is highly effective and investment in the future of the American economy.

– ­Martin Drake

Source: Financial Times, Federation of American Scientists, The Borgen Project, Foreign Policy Association
Photo: Bay City Times