Japan entered a fairly quiet phase during the
year. The economy - the second largest in the world -
stabilized and the banks, which have been shaken by the
Asian economic crisis and difficulties in recovering
so-called bad loans since the 1990s, were again willing to
give credit. GDP grew by 2% and, according to joint
analysts, Japan can look forward to several years of stable
growth if nothing drastic occurs.
CountryAAH, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was replaced in
September by the successor he himself elected, 51-year-old
Shinzo Abe, also he from Japan's dominant party, the Liberal
Democratic Party, and known as quite conservative. Abe
refused to reveal whether he intended to follow in Koizumi's
footsteps and continue the criticized visits to the Yasukuni
Temple in Tokyo, which have been erected in memory of
war dead - among them several convicted and executed war
criminals. However, he has been there several times before
he became head of government. The representative's annual
visit has upset neighboring countries China and South Korea,
which were severely affected by Japan's invasions in the 20th
century. Koizumi had decided that it was time to leave. The
support that both the LDP and Parliament gave Abe can be
seen as confirmation of the success that the charismatic
Koizumi achieved during his reign.
During the year, royalist Japanese were pleased that the
emperor's family received a male supplement. A boy was born
on September 6 by Princess Kiko. Dad is Prince Akishino,
younger brother of Crown Prince Naruhito. Naruhito and his
wife Masako have daughter Aiko but no son. Female succession
had been debated, but the debate was broached in the
traditionally bound Japan with the birth of little Hisahito.
A growing problem was North Korea's provocative policy.
In early July, North Korea launched seven robots landing in
the sea off Japan On July 15, the United Nations adopted a
resolution aimed at North Korea. That did not stop the
Stalinist country from carrying out a new provocation on
October 9 - its first explosion of a nuclear charge. The
result was a new resolution on October 14 in the UN Security
Council with decisions on punitive measures against the
Pyongyang regime. Japan was one of the countries that wanted to
go the longest. Tokyo banned North Korean vessels from
entering Japanese ports and severed trade relations. The
North Korean Nuclear Test sparked a debate in Japan about the
possibility of acquiring nuclear weapons - a topic that has
been almost taboo since the US nuclear bombs against
Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Prime Minister Abe admitted
he believes the constitution allows Japan to have such weapons
for self-defense, but stressed that the country should
remain nuclear-free. By contrast, Abe wants to change the
constitution, which was then imposed on the then heavily
militarized Japan by the United States at the end of the war.
It prohibits Japan from having military forces. But Tokyo has
interpreted the text so that self-defense is allowed. Now
the Japanese military and LDP want to expand the military's
role. Among other things, the possibility of a robotic
defense against possible North Korean attacks is discussed.
Also at the summit of APEC, the Pacific Cooperation's
Economic Cooperation Organization, in Hanoi on November
17-18, North Korea became the main subject. The meeting was
attended by Abe, President George W. Bush, President
Vladimir Putin and China's President Hu Jintao.
Pyongyang was asked to participate in six-party talks
with the United States, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan
But in November, the communist regime demanded that the
Japanese be excluded because they are "politically imbecile"
as they do not recognize North Korea as a nuclear weapon.
An approximation was noticed between Japan, China and South
Korea after Abe's entry, although it was about small steps.
The Prime Minister traveled to Beijing and Seoul, and an
agreement was reached with Beijing to resume high-level
military meetings after three years' stay.
The US massive presence in Japan has long disturbed its
citizens, especially in the south where Okinawa houses about
47,000 American soldiers. On April 24, Japan and the United
States finally agreed to move 8,000 of them to the American
island of Guam.
Japan's support for the US alliance in Iraq in the form of
600 soldiers working on reconstruction ceased with the
take-home in July of all Japanese soldiers. The home opinion
was always strongly opposed to participation in Iraq. Not a
single soldier was injured - however, several other Japanese
Relations with Russia were disturbed by the conflict over
some islands in the Kuriles. A fisherman on a Japanese crab
fishing vessel was shot dead by the Russian coastguard in
Japan's hunting for dolphins and whales are concerned about
environmental activists and animal friends. In January,
Greenpeace accused a Japanese whaling vessel of hitting its
Arctic Sunrise in the Pacific. However, no human was
injured. Greenpeace accused the Japanese of catching whales
in a protected area.