• Kyodo

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Japan returned to work on Thursday after New Year’s holidays, with politicians and corporate managers vowing to overcome challenges and people hoping for a better year.

The government expects the Japanese economy to grow in fiscal 2018 at a faster pace than previously projected, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to carry out promised reforms.

“The ordinary Diet session (from January) will be a session to implement labor reforms,” Abe told a news conference, referring to his pledge to bring change to the country’s working style by curbing chronically long hours and boosting women’s participation in the workforce, among other steps.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told metropolitan government officials she will work more closely with the central government to accelerate preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

“This will be a very eventful year globally in sports, particularly with the Pyongchang Winter Olympics and Paralympics coming up. I hope to carry this momentum to the 2020 Tokyo event,” she said.

In an address to employees, Takashi Kawamura, chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., reiterated the company’s resolve to fulfill its responsibilities as the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and ensure a high level of safety in its operations.

Two of the utility’s nuclear reactors were cleared for restart by the Nuclear Regulation Authority late last month, becoming the first operated by the company to clear stricter government safety standards imposed after the 2011 Fukushima crisis.

“We will make sure that we operate with safety standards higher than global levels while achieving secure supply in the liberalized (electricity) market,” Kawamura said.

Hitachi Ltd. President Toshiaki Higashihara said while the company, which has posted record profits so far in the current business year, needs to work harder to meet its earnings targets and boost its global competitiveness, and it is equally important to become a trusted organization.

“It is really hard to win back trust once it is lost,” Higashihara said.

Japan’s manufacturing sector was rocked by a series of product quality problems in 2017.

“As much as we need to achieve profit goals, we have to keep providing safe and high-quality products to continuously grow as a reputable company,” he said.

Last year, Nissan Motor Co. and Subaru Corp. halted production at domestic factories and filed recalls due to inspection violations.

Japan’s third-largest steel-maker Kobe Steel Ltd. as well as Mitsubishi Materials Corp. and Toray Industries Inc. also admitted to data tampering.

A pair of small business operators had mixed perceptions about the year ahead.

Naoaki Fukatsu, 39, a fruit and vegetable distributor from Chiba Prefecture, said he does not feel that the economy is improving.

“While I would like to try something new this year, I’d rather live peacefully without any ups and downs.”

Travel goods retailer Hiroshi Abe, 57, expects his business to look up as Japan continues to see an increase in foreign visitors.

“Lately, tourists from Vietnam and Thailand are increasing in particular, and I expect to see higher sales toward the Tokyo Olympics,” he said.

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