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This Week in Japan (09.08.17)

SNA (Tokyo) — This Week in Japan is your source for news and information about politics and other happenings in this East Asian island country. This episode covers the Top Five stories of the first week of September 2017.

One. North Korea again shocked the world by demonstrating that it now possesses a much more powerful nuclear weapon, which it said is a hydrogen bomb. While outside experts could not confirm the veracity of that claim, whatever device was tested this past week produced a much larger blast than any of the previous five nuclear weapons tests the country had conducted. In Japan, the nuclear test deepened the sense of crisis, though it remained unclear what the country could really do to secure itself.

Two. Along the edges, there were some rightwing and conservative politicians who had a policy suggestion—that Japan too might bring nuclear weapons into the country. One politician from a minor rightwing party called for debate on Japan developing its own nuclear weapons program. The much more mainstream Shigeru Ishiba of the Liberal Democratic Party suggested that Japan allow the United States to base some of its nuclear weapons inside its territory. The Abe government did not embrace these suggestions, but what was previously a taboo subject was now being openly discussed.

Three. Seiji Maehara was elected leader of the Democratic Party, making him the country’s top opposition leader for the first time since he fell from that position in 2006. Maehara was a conservative who ran with the support of the party’s conservative wing, signifying a significant swing in the ideological identity of the party. His emergence almost certainly spelled the end of the Democratic Party’s electoral cooperation with the second-largest opposition party, the Japan Communist Party. Maehara signaled that he would be looking for more conservative political alliances.

Four. Unfortunately for Maehara’s new regime at the Democratic Party, his very first decision turned into a major fiasco. He tapped the young Shiori Yamao to serve as the party secretary-general, a post usually reserved for those who are much more experienced and familiar with the party apparatus. Many of Maehara’s own supporters rebelled and he embarrassingly reversed course. At the same time, a weekly magazine reported that Yamao may have been in an adulterous affair. While the veracity of the charge wasn’t immediately clear, the once-rising-star Yamao was hounded into resigning from the party by the scandal.

Five. Several prominent lawmakers of the Liberal Democratic Party, including both Fumio Kishida and Shigeru Ishiba, the top prospects to become the next prime minister of the nation, stated that raising the consumption tax rate to 10% could no longer be delayed beyond October 2019. Although the tax is unpopular and politically difficult, the revenues are needed as a measure to help contain spiraling public debt caused, above all, by pensions and healthcare costs for the aging Japanese public.

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