WHILE WE WERE ON HOLIDAYS
Hope you had good refreshing holidays as I did. It's time to catch up with what happened in July: plenty on all fronts, both good and bad, some joy, some sorrow, some encouraging, some depressing, some simply pathetic.
Returning to Japan beginning July, the topmost news was the violent rains, floods and mudslides that had wiped out entire villages in mountainside Hiroshima and Okayama prefectures. When all bodies were dug up from underneath the mud, they accounted to more than 200. The clearing work of massive destruction and mountains of debris will continue for long time and the initial assesment of economic damage has been put at JPY 4.7 trillion (EUR 35 billion). The damage to agricultural crops alone makes 1/4 of that; scenes of destroyed oyster farms, Hiroshima's pride, have now changed to boats collecting tons of wood debris floating into fishermen nets out on the beautiful Seto Sea. In towns and villages, the debris has been piled up alongside streets sometimes upto 3-4 meters high.
The same area had similar misfortune 4 years ago, but this one was much worse.
Then there's the heat: 35-40C day in day out and hardly below 30C even night time almost all over Japan – and worst in the destructed areas where volunteers are sweating to help locals clean up their homes and streets. The fatality numbers have piled up again – so far 80 dead, mainly old people as always, with tens of thousands of others ferried by ambulance to hospitals in emergengy. The extrme heat has continued over a month now, something rare before, and the news tell us it's been very hot in Finland and across Europe, too. There's hardly anybody here or there who needs convincing about climate change.
As if for change here, we had strong Typhoon No. 12 battering the same areas along the Pacific coast over the past weekend. Now it's back to heat again.
Even the money hungry old men running IOC have finally waken up to warnings that it can be much too hot for Olympics that will be held exactly this time two years from now. They started demanding that "something should be done" to reduce the heat and avoid fatalities, not good for their PR image, yet their fat TV contracts stipulate the games must be held in summer to avoid clash with other sports, football, baseball etc. Arrangers have responded with plans to install special heat absorbing pavements, cool air blowers and starting marathon already at 7 am. In latest move, the Arranging Committee chairman ex-PM Mori suggested to his "kobun" Abe that he should make special law for having summer time in Japan for the games. Always thought that Japan should have summer time like others and if this will help people realize how good it it is, then so be it.
Economically speaking, there's silver lining from the heat: anything to cool you down has been just flying off the shelves. Not just the normal drinks, ice cream, fruits, cold soba and tofu that are known to cool you down, but specially developed drinks, cooling pads, clothes and sheets as well as air conditioners, even hand held ones, the latest fad. I'm sure the July retail figures will show a good jump up and with holiday travel figures to cool destinations yet to come in August, the peppy private consumption will contribute nicely to June-August GDP.
Even before summer, our Foreign Chambers' quarterly business survey showed the foreign companies here were almost unanimous in their views for continued positive economy and good sales performance. The foreign companies' sales for past six months were best since 2006 and 96% percent expected them to improve further in April-October. Three out of four respodents said their strategy is to grow business in Japan further and only 1 in 100 planned to downsize or withdraw. Japan IS attractive for those who know!
Japanese economists have tended to emphasize the boosting power of construction boom that has continued ever since Abenomics launched the cheap finance available to all and sundry. Some of it is related to big Olympic projects that will come to end when all is completed by the end of next year. That would coincide badly with the government vow to finally pull exactly that time through the VAT tax rise from 8 to 10 pct that was originally scheduled to take place 3 years ago. To counter any slowdown in private consumptio from that, plans are now shaping up to launch massive public spending for end 2019 and LDP politicians from various areas and fields are clamoring that it is exactly their area or business field that should get lion's share of that. It looks like "infrastructure improvement against natural catastrophes" will get best of it, ie. construction industry and the badly affected areas around Hiroshima.
There's no doubt any more that Abe-san will be re-elected in September to lead the party – and consequently Japan - for another 3 years. He will become the longest serving prime minister in history. He might even become the longest serving G-7 leader if Frau Merkel would lose her grip of Germany around same time as some pundits speculate.
It's a remarkable change from just a few months ago when Abe's popularity was brought to bottom by school scandals and other LDP heavyweights were rumored to stand up and challenge him in the party vote. Now there will be probably only one challenger, the pedestrian Ishiba-san who is popular among rank-and-file but detested by the patrician top honchos like Abe, Aso and Kishida. "You know, he sometimes takes public transport, can you believe that?"
Shaking off all the negative stains from his image among the populace in such short time shows again what a skillful PR man Abe is. This turnaround was not even his first time and various new corruption scandals still continue to stain his government's ministries, yet nothing seem to stick on Abe. No wonder they call him "Mr. Teflon".
Of course, Abe-san does not stand up in comparison to US president Trump, who famously said he could shoot a man on middle of New York's Fifth Street, yet walk away blame free - then proceeded to prove it time after time since elected. His daily record of personal dirty work and words, deception and outright lies, has took him lower and lower, yet his faithful supporters – one out of three Americans – refuse to give up on him. As always, you get what you vote for.
Trump's entourage through Europe was a sorrowful run from wreck to wreck culminating in pathetic performance in Helsinki facing Russian president. That was an unfathomable tv-comedy, a puppet play with master handler Putin hardly able to keep his face. It was unworthy of any statesman, not just US president, yet Trump claimed afterwards Helsinki was Big Success as was his every meeting in Europe. Once again Trump's reality was totally different from how the world saw it.
What a pity it was such a flop when Finland had made excellent arrangements and Helsinki summer scenery in perfect sunny weather provided such great background for the international tv-broadcasts. For us in Tokyo, it was extra thrill to see our ex-ambassador Jukka Siukosaari, now Chief of Presidential Office, side by side with President Niinisto hosting the high level visitors.
Of course, things could have gone even worse. Nothing negative of significance was agreed – at least publicly. And the world could learn again how to handle Trump: EU Commissioner Juncker certainly took a page out of Putin-Kim Manual last week in Washington when he "agreed" to some ambigious concessions and haphazard promises with Trump to avoid the impending US tariffs as long as the two sides will "negotiate" more details. And that can take long as Master Kim has shown us after his "agreements" in Singapore. EU will certainly try to follow the act. For Trump, it is not important what was actually agreed as long as it looks like he can declare he got what he wanted and "won" the feud that he set up by himself.
To wipe off the bad taste from global politics we had a simply fantastic World Cup. What a joy it was to watch! Succesful arrangements and warm national mood across Russia was a surprise to many tourists– and admittedly big political win for Putin! – yet it was the high class play and excitement how the results turned out that made it. So good has not been experienced in some time. With many of the old favorites falling wayside early on, it was thrilling to the end – and the righ team won, not Germany.
World Cup has often been accused of old fashioned nationalistic jingoism, a stark contrast to the multinational top leagues, yet there was little of any that. Competing audiences mixed happily with each other as well as with locals and many of the top teams consisted of multiracial star players. There was only one team from Africa, but majority of players in many European top teams had African parentage. There was no Congo, but Belgium and France, two best teams, had four players each from there for all spectators in Congo to cheer for. Call it global unity. Perfect opposite of nationalistic politics recently here and there.
Same feeling of universal solidarity was on show in the dramatic, multinational rescue operation of 16 school boys lost deep in a Thai cave. Expert cave divers came from all over the world – including one Finn from Malta - to join in the complex joint effort. They finally succeeded after two weeks of hard work together that the whole world followed intensively: all lost boys were miraculously rescued.
The two events, each in their own way, showed that the world can still see positive results if only we can overcome our prejudices, work together and compete fairly within the agreed rules. There's a few country leaders who could learn from this.
Tokyo, July 30, 2018
17 June 2018
"From Singapore to soccer - wrapp up for summer"
11 June 2018
"Showdown in Singapore, commotion in Canada and cover-ups in Tokyo"
28 May 2018
"Morals and responsibility, blind loyalty and power harassment"
17 May 2018
"Big Business in record results again, but consumer are not convinced - North Korea spectacle continues under Kim direction"
26 April 2018
"Political spectacle approaches grand finale
- people's trust sinking ever lower"
17 April 2018
"Cruise missiles and cronyism, business boom, old people and sumo"
6 April 2018
"Mystery train and other unpredictable moves in geopolitics around Japan"
26 March 2018
"Trump Unchained and Abelympics – Can PM Make the Party?"
16 March 2018
"Anniversaries, updates, fallacies and deception"
5 March 2018
"WHILE WE WERE WATCHING OLYMPICS..."
26 February 2018
"Korean Olympics: sports shine, politics stink"
14 February 2018
"Korea: Murky Politics and Big Business Behind the Sport Spectacle"
4 February 2018
"It's "smile time" in politics, Olympics, economics and business"
23 January 2018
"Moomin crisis, panda frenzy and Olympics turned into political farce"
12 January 2018
"Heisei 30 looks good: share prices soar, PM rides high "
20 December 2017
"Look back at 2017: commotion around Japan, but steady and safe here"
11 December 2017
"Missiles, footballers and fishermen from North - Big spending on child care to get more mothers working"
28 November 2017
"Foolish things sell in retail,
but sports are to be serious"
20 November 2017
"Making China Great - with Gaffes, Platitudes and Bullying"
10 November 2017
"Good news week: Finland business grows, EU trade deal gets cleared, Nikkei hits new heights and Trump visit goes smoothly"
20 November 2017
"Making China Great - with Gaffes, Platitudes and Bullying"
1 November 2017
"Japan: Endless Discovery"
21 October 2017
"Power play in Japan and elsewhere - some potentially serious, some not"
10 October 2017
"Abe's useless snap election sparks big changes he did not count on"
26 September 2017
"North Korea boost Abe popularity - opportunity to extend his rule"
7 September 2017
"Kims'allah, Japan is OK and doing well"
28 August 2017
"From North Korea's missiles to Turku Terror and US Navy Mishaps"
17 August 2017
"Raining cats and dogs, missiles and threats, but strong sunshine in economy"
27 July 2017
"Forests, floods, fish and consumer prices -
stories too good and data too bad to be true"
21 July 2017
"From Cool Finland to Hot Tokyo:
A Round-Up of Recent Happenings"
26 June 2017
"Anniversaries and Memories: Finland, Japan, USA."
19 June 2017
"Rainy Season in Japan, Political Storms in Europe"
8 June 2017
"Trump impact spreads - Japan struggles with workforce issues"
30 May 2017
"Taormina to Tokyo:
Heavyweights and fashionable ladies"
"New Missiles, Diet Debates, Yet Big Business in Big Profits - Down on Ground Challenges Remain Basic and Simple"
9 May 2017
"Golden Week, Special Trains, Luxury Spending,
Even North Worries Makes for Good Business"
20 April 2017
"North Korea, USA both worry Japan - Koike worry Abe and LDP even more"
5 April 2017
"Spring, Sakura and New Year Start in Japan - Commotion, Tensions Rise Around the World"
27 March 2017
"Questions Unanswered, Unasked – Lifestyle and Surveys Bring Light"
21 March 2017
"Finland in Focus: Friendship, Dictionary, Music, Food - Even Elevators?"
13 March 2017
"Uncertainty Increases Around Japan - At Home Rebuilding Uncompleted in 6 Years - Abe Popularity Takes a Hit."
3 March 2017
"Book Readers, Police Jokes, Nerdy Napoleon and Poison Scare"
24 February 2017
"Populism, Ignorance and Isolationism Leads to Mayhem and Mess"
16 February 2017
"Golf Diplomacy, Chocolate Festa and Hokkaido Deams-Come-True"
9 February 2017
"Tokyo overcoming winter, business changes, political battle and Trump threats "
2 February 2017
"Warm Feelings in Japan, Wild Winds from USA"
20 January 2017
"Ready for Rooster?
It will be a wild ride!"
The columnist is a Japan veteran among Finnish business, our Chamber ex-president and today Member of the Board of Trustees.
After running a major Finnish industry company's Japan business for over 20 years, he is now Senior Associate in a strategic consulting company.