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Eighth in a series

Staff writer

The coming Upper House election is a good opportunity for the nation to discuss its first major overhaul since the war, according to Mari Yonehara, an essayist and noted Japanese-Russian translator and interpreter.

This is especially true because the government is introducing a system in which the “strong prey upon the weak,” as evidenced by the “Big Bang” financial-sector reforms, Yonehara reckoned.

“The direction in which the government is pushing to change the system and the ways the system should be changed are issues for the entire nation,” said Yonehara, 48, who served as interpreter for such top political leaders as former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Russian President Boris Yeltsin during their visits to Japan in the early 1990s and headed the Association of Russian-Japanese and Japanese-Russian interpreters from 1995 to 1997.

Protection of the weak is declining in such areas as health insurance, and taxpayers feel that what they are shelling out may not be enough to help them when they are really in trouble, she said, adding that taxes are being used to rescue financial institutions, while the weak are afforded no such protection.

This government attitude is partly to blame for the economic slump. To remedy the situation, it needs to ease the public’s anxiety over the future, according to Yonehara. “If the government is serious about boosting domestic demand, it needs to improve people’s basic lives in areas such as medical care, housing and education,” she said.

Japan has the world’s highest savings rate but its people are not willing to spend because of lingering anxieties, Yonehara said, noting this is not the case in Russia, where people are willing to spend money because they have fewer worries, having inherited a sense of stability from the socialist policies of the former Soviet Union.

A major Japanese electric appliance maker has surprisingly increased sales in Russian cities, selling 13 times over its target in the past two years, Yonehara said.

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