New govt, economy top stories of 2009
In our annual ranking of the 10 domestic news stories of the year, the change of government tops the list. The administration led by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was launched after the Democratic Party of Japan's overwhelming victory in the August House of Representatives election, in which it claimed 308 seats.
Day after day the new administration offered up eye-catching proposals. However, three months since the administration was launched under a banner of change, the high expectations initially held by the public have waned, with a sense of uncertainty and concern about the coalition government creeping in.
Much public attention had been paid to the fate of the DPJ's manifesto pledges, such as the child-rearing allowance program, the abolition of provisionally higher tax rates for gasoline and other auto-related taxes, and government subsidies for high school tuition.
Toward the end of the year, however, there was an unexpected development regarding these issues, with DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa seeking a drastic government review of the pledges. It was as if we were watching a drama unfold on TV.
The Government Revitalization Unit's review of budgetary requests for fiscal 2010, conducted to weed out wasteful spending, was an attention-getter, but it failed to find and cut as much wasteful spending as it hoped.
On the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, Hatoyama decided to put off a decision on the issue that had emerged as a hot topic until next year, leaving the Japan-U.S. relationship severely strained.
Prosecutors have indicted two former secretaries of Hatoyama without arrest over falsified fund reports that violated the Political Funds Control Law. The trial of Ozawa's former secretary over a political funds scandal has recently begun. All of which have brought problems involving politics and money back to the fore this year.
Seventh on the top 10 list is the introduction of expressway tolls set at 1,000 yen or lower. Discounted tolls on weekends and holidays for standard-sized passenger vehicles started in March on all expressways except those in major metropolitan areas. This is no doubt a topic close to the hearts of drivers.
The system was introduced in spring by the then cabinet of Prime Minister Taro Aso. But the new administration sought to go even further, proposing that all expressways be made toll-free.
However, if expressway tolls were done away with, there is concern that free expressways could lead to people in regional areas being deprived of public transport, such as railways, if such forms of transportation were to find themselves unable to make ends meet and were forced to cease operations due to more people opting to travel by car.
The 20th year of the Emperor's ascension to the throne ranks sixth. In the past two decades, the Emperor has resolutely adhered to the philosophy of sharing in the joys and sorrows of the people, always seeking to determine what his role should be as the symbol of the state.
Also this year, the Emperor and Empress celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. A variety of events were held to celebrate the 20th year of the Emperor's enthronement and the Imperial couple's 50th wedding anniversary.
Near the end of this memorable year, controversies emerged over the audience of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping with the Emperor, after it came to light that the Hatoyama Cabinet had broken with protocol to set up the meeting.
The No. 2 domestic news story is the outbreak in Japan of the new type of influenza. The disease spread from Mexico to a host of other countries in spring, and reached Japan in May. The epidemic has yet to abate, and it has become a common sight in this country to see great numbers of people wearing face masks.
The No. 3 domestic news story is the start of the lay judge system. Under the system, ordinary citizens participate in trying criminal cases as lay judges and, together with professional judges, decide whether the accused is guilty and the level of punishment.
The system, which began in May, has faced problems, with many people saying they do not want to participate in a trial. It could become necessary to flexibly review the operation of the system if a problem arises.
In another change to the legal system, prosecutors and police have begun to make audio and video recordings of the questioning of criminal suspects to ensure it can be proven at lay judge trials that confessions had not been coerced. However, many people have called for the entire questioning process to be recorded.
The public call has come because there has been an unending stream of false accusations, including the Ashikaga incident in which Toshikazu Sugaya was freed from prison, having spent 17-1/2 years behind bars, after DNA tests showed he is not guilty. Sugaya's release is the No. 10 domestic news story.
In the case, DNA retesting using the latest technology was used to overturn a result based on a less-accurate DNA test conducted during the initial investigation.
Meanwhile, it was decided earlier this month to hold a retrial regarding the so-called Fukawa incident, a robbery-murder that occurred in 1967 in Ibaraki Prefecture, for which two men were sentenced to life in prison.
Police and prosecutors must examine problems pertaining to these cases and thoroughly conduct an appropriate investigation.
The arrest of popular actress Noriko Sakai on suspicion of possessing stimulant drugs comes in at No. 5 and was given a lot of coverage by TV shows.
Drug use in show business circles and cannabis use among youths have become matters of growing concern.
Meanwhile, "recession" was a word that cast a shadow over society throughout the year. The news story that ranks 16th on the list was Toyota Motor Corp.'s posting of its first operating loss in 71 years and losses incurred by major firms, including automakers and electrical appliance makers.
The No. 19 news story is the yen's surge to the 84 yen level for the first time in 14 years.
The No. 20 news story is that the unemployment rate climbed to 5.7 percent and the job-offers-to-seekers ratio hit 0.42, the worst on record.
１年を通して「不況」の文字が社会を覆った。経済関連は「トヨタが７１年ぶり営業赤字 自動車、電機など大手赤字相次ぐ」が１６位、「『円』急騰、約１４年ぶり１ドル＝８４円台」が１９位、「失業率５・７％、求人倍率０・４２倍 過去最悪を更新」が２０位だ。
Many high school and university students who will graduate in spring have yet to find jobs.
The phrase "employment ice age," referring to an extreme scarcity of jobs for new graduates, has resurfaced in conversations.
"Deflation crisis" and "bonus cuts" also are heard here and there, and there is a growing concern the economy could enter a double-dip recession.
Some within the industrial circle have strongly criticized the government for not drawing up an effective growth strategy.
The three sports stories that make the top 10 are all related to baseball.
Japan's back-to-back victory in the World Baseball Classic came in fourth and Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki becoming the first player in major league history to reach 200 hits in nine straight seasons is eighth. The Yomiuri Giants winning their 21st Japan Series title, their first in seven years, ranks ninth.
The No. 14 news story is about New York Yankees Hideki Matsui becoming first Japanese-born World Series MVP.
The popularity of these stories prove that baseball truly is a sport loved by people right across this country.
At a time when people are uncertain about their future lives, there is no doubt that the superb showing of the Samurai Japan team at the WBC moved people across the nation and infused them with a can-do spirit.
Most at stake now are the issues facing new administration.
The task that the Hatoyama administration should focus on next year is to revive the vitality of both this nation and its people by taking aim at the clouds over the hill, just as occurs in the Ryotaro Shiba's historical novel "Saka no Ue no Kumo" (Clouds Over the Hill), a book that has found a new and growing audience today.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 27, 2009)