Shinzo Abe

Japan’s snap elections
Shinzo Abe’s decision to call snap elections only two years into his term perplexed many people. Was it simply cover for a U-turn on a planned rise in consumption tax or was the prime minister seeking a renewed mandate for more radical measures to kick-start growth? Ben Hall discusses what the elections mean for the future of the world’s third-largest economy with Ben McLannahan and David Pilling.

Gideon Rachman

After a frenetic period of travel involving 10 separate trips overseas in the past three months, I am trying to catch my breath, shake off the jet lag and make sense of what I have seen. Leaving aside the big geopolitical themes, one tentative conclusion I have reached is that world leaders and hotel lobbies do not mix.

This first struck at the Ritz Hotel in Madrid as I waited to greet Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, who was the guest-of-honour at the FT’s Spain Summit. On one side of the lobby was a bank of photographers and TV crews. I was standing on the other side with a couple of FT colleagues and the hotel management. Rajoy’s limo drew up and we could see him and his entourage heading towards the entrance. Just at that moment, a party of elderly Americans came out of the lift, clad in their trademark tracksuit bottoms and fluorescent visors, and began to totter across the lobby, demanding loudly, “Where’s the coach?” The hotel manager froze — torn between the desire to shove the Americans out of the way and his duty to be courteous. He just about pulled it off but it was a close-run thing. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Atlanta coined the catchphrase that it was the city that was “too busy to hate”. During the past 30 years, the countries of Asia have informally adopted that slogan and transferred it to a whole continent. Since the end of the 1970s, the biggest Asian nations have forgotten about fighting each other – and concentrated on the serious business of getting rich. The results have been spectacular. But there are now alarming signs that East Asia’s giants are pursuing dangerous new priorities, and diverting their energy into angry nationalism and territorial disputes.

Obama’s state visit to Japan
This week, we look at Japan, where President Barack Obama is concluding a state visit. The US leader and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have vital business to discuss, from Japan’s delicate and rather dangerous relationship with China, to the state of the Japanese economy and hopes for a major new trade deal. David Pilling, Asia editor, and Lindsay Whipp, former Tokyo correspondent, join Gideon Rachman to discuss

TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images

By Jonathan Soble

Sermons from the IMF tend to make Japanese leaders fidget nervously in their pews – all fire and brimstone about budget deficits and the need for austerity. But Christine Lagarde’s warning about the evils of deflation is more likely to elicit a full-throated “amen”.

Successive Japanese administrations have promised to end deflation – the “ogre”, in Ms Lagarde’s description, that has menaced the country’s economy since the late 1990s. But under Shinzo Abe, prime minister since December 2012, and his central bank governor, Haruhiko Kuroda, deflation-fighting has become the overriding priority.

They have been getting results so far: prices of consumer goods excluding fresh food are rising nearly 1 per cent year-on-year, thanks to the Bank of Japan’s ultra-accommodative monetary policy and the related plunge in the value of the yen, which has pushed up the cost of imports. Read more

It’s been a year since Shinzo Abe got financial markets excited with his plan to pull Japan’s economy out of its more than 15-year deflation. So has Abenomics been a success? Jonathan Soble, Tokyo bureau chief investigates: Read more

By Gideon Rachman
A few years ago Wired, the technology magazine, ran a regular feature called “Japanese schoolgirl watch”. The concept was not as dubious as it sounds. The idea was simply that the schoolgirls of Japan are technological trendsetters and that the gadgets they adopt today will go global tomorrow.

♦ The anxiety over Japan’s sales tax may seem bizarre to outsiders, but it will be a stern test of Shinzo Abe’s popularity.
♦ James Politi looks at the impact of the sequester on Head Start, arguably the most high-profile casualty among the anti-poverty programmes.
♦ Nicolás Maduro is looking to blame anybody else for Venezuela’s economic problems – even Spider-Man.
♦ While support for Cristina Fernández ebbs in Argentina, Sergio Massa has risen to become one of the strongest potential candidates for presidential elections in 2015.
♦ Slate magazine imagines how the US government shutdown would be covered by the US media, if it took the same tone that it does in its foreign coverage.
♦ The Washington Post is crowdsourcing for ideas as to how congress can be punished for the government shutdown.
♦ Smuggled letters from westerners caught up in the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood reveal that terrible prison conditions remained unchanged and there is a new willingness to subject westerners to the same treatment as Egyptians, according to the New York Times. Read more

By David Gallerano and Catherine Contiguglia
♦ The tragic ending of prisoner Menes, the Hungarian stork unfairly painted as a spy (as well as a duck) by the Egyptian police and clapped into a prison in the Qena governorate.
♦ A self-organized group of armed citizens is battling – with unexpected success – a brutal drug cartel at Michoachan, in central Mexico.
♦ Japanese economist Takatoshi Ito analyses Japan’s fiscal situation and argues Mr. Abe must press ahead with tax increases.
♦ “We Syrians are human beings of this world, and the world must stop the Assad regime from killing us. Now,” writes Syrian activist Yassin al-Haj Saleh, in his plea for a strong intervention that does not just “discipline” the regime.
♦ A profile of Rwandan president Paul Kagame – who “may be the most complicated leader in Africa”Read more

Zojoji-temple in Tokyo (Getty)

The most significant International Olympic Committee meeting in a generation takes place this weekend – the committee will choose a host city for 2020 at the weekend amid reservations about all three candidates. Shortly after, it will have to decide on a successor for Jacques Rogge, president of the movement.

Thomas Bach, a German lawyer, is the favourite in the presidential race. But the decision over the 2020 host will be more difficult. Here’s what’s happened in the campaign so far and why the decision will be an uncomfortable one: Read more