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Fellow correspondents tell me that they are noticing the same trend that has been worrying me for a while: newspaper editors seem to increasingly see Asia as a far-away place that doesn’t really need that much attention. “Those Asians, they are so different from us, their experience doesn’t relate to our daily life,” some seem to think. That of course, is a very limiting way of thinking. Some one hundred years ago, British author and poet Rudyard Kipling beautifully expressed how They are really Us:
The streets in Ashiya, a small town bordering Kobe, are surprisingly quiet. “It is like New Year’s Day,” says a young mother wearing a mask. “This is to protect my daughter,” she explains as she points at her mask. “She is at home as her school is closed all week.” As the H1N1 flu is now spreading much faster as authorities had expected, more than 4000 schools were closed in Hyogo and Osaka prefectures. Many museums and companies followed suit, leaving streets and trains far more quiet than is usual for a week day.
Japan’s pandemic reaction is “exaggerated” compared with other countries, says Hitoshi Kamiya, chairman of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s committee on vaccinations in an interview with the Japan Times.
Over 170 patients have now been infected with H1N1 in Kobe and Osaka. The worst hit area is Kobe. About 80% of the people here are wearing protective masks, and over 4000 schools as well as many businesses have been closed. This Associated Press report is already outdated, but gives some of the basic info. The quick spread may persuade the World Health Organization (WHO) to raise its pandemic alert to the highest level.
Japan’s best-known proletarian novel, Kani Kosen (depicting conditions aboard a crab-canning factory ship operating off Soviet waters) by Kobayashi Takiji (1903-1933), enjoyed an utterly unanticipated revival in the course of 2008.
Many attribute the revival of the novel to the deepening impoverishment of the ranks of the irregularly employed, now widely said to account for one-third of the work force. The majority of the latter earn less than two million yen per year. It is their increasingly insistent presence that has given such terms as “income-gap society” (kakusa shakai), “working poor” (waakingu pua), and more recently, “lost generation” (rosu jene) widespread familiarity.
Among the labor economists who pay careful attention to international comparisons of labor market outcomes, the gender wage gap of Japan, as well as that of Korea, is known to be the largest among OECD countries.
The hourly wage in Japan of permanent and regular female workers relative to male workers, which is not adjusted for the observed characteristics of workers, was 59.1 in 1990, while the corresponding figure for 2000 was 66.0; this indicates that there has been only a 6.9 percentage point gender wage convergence in this 10-year period. This wage convergence, however, may have been caused by the convergence of the characteristics of workers across genders. Indeed, Akira Kawaguchi reports that 60% of unadjusted wage convergence between 1990 and 2000 is explained by the convergence of the observed characteristics of workers across genders, based on a large sample from the Basic Survey of Wage Structure. He pointed out that in particular the convergence of years of job tenure explained the gender wage convergence.
With this persistent gender wage gap as a background, the Japan Labor Review, published by The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training, has published a special issue aiming to explain the mechanisms behind the gender wage gap in Japan. It contains five papers that are largely classified into two categories. In the first category are two papers that attempt to explain the gender wage gap by occupational segregation. The second category consists of three papers that examine the relationship between female employment and the performance of firms.
The link below lets you download the pdf file (1.9MB) of this special issue.
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The economic outlook in Japan is very grim, as brief overviews indicate. Right now, Japan has the worst growth outlook in Asia. That is a surprising fact, if one recalls that this is a country presumably dusting itself off from the collapse of its own bubble nearly two decades ago.
After such a long period of economic crisis, Japan should be renovated and ready to thrive. Instead, it may be in worse shape than even the United States (though clearly not Iceland and much of Eastern Europe). Exports plunged a record 35% annually in December, while the industrial production figures for November revealed a record 8.9% month-over-month drop.
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