As Sharp slumps, Japanese city feels pain
TOKYO - The Mie Prefecture city of Kameyama, the home of a major state-of-the-art Sharp Corp. factory, enjoyed a boom when the electronics maker led the global market for liquid crystal television sets.
But the mood in the city of about 50,000 residents has become gloomy since the manufacturer fell into serious trouble after the global financial crisis hit in the fall of 2008. Voters there appear to be most interested in what measures parties propose to boost the economy as the House of Representatives election approaches.
"I never had to wait long for customers a few years ago," a taxi driver said at JR Kameyama Station on an afternoon late last month with a can of coffee in hand as he killed time with his similarly idled colleagues.
Sharp's Kameyama plant went fully operational eight years ago and the LCD televisions it shipped were praised as "the Kameyama world model." A line of businessmen waited for taxis in front of the train station to visit the plant about 5 kilometers away.
"The fare between the train station and the factory is more than 2,000 yen. The majority of sales used to come from Sharp-related services," said a 54-year-old male driver.
The rise of manufacturers in South Korea, Taiwan and other locations, however, has caused business to suffer, with Sharp racking up huge losses and seeking voluntary retirements. There are rumors the Kameyama factory may be separated from the parent firm as well.
These days, it is quite common for taxi drivers to wait for two to three hours in front of the station to catch a customer. The driver said he currently earns less than half of what he used to.
"If key industries grow, so will our livelihood. We need an administration that is capable of running effective support measures for companies to grow," he said.
The prefecture and the city spent 13.5 billion yen in subsidies to attract the Sharp plant. As the move apparently spurred the growth of companies related to electronic parts, the city stresses the factory's positive ripple effect.
"Tax revenues significantly increased, and apartments and business hotels also increased thanks to the influx of workers," a city employee said.
But now, the city's shopping district is dotted with closed businesses. "We hear of anxieties about the future and wages from regular patrons working for the manufacturing industry," said Hiroyasu Ichikawa, 34, a supermarket employee.
The city falls within an electoral district in which new candidates from the Liberal Democratic Party, the Japan Restoration Party and others are challenging the incumbent from the Democratic Party of Japan in the Dec. 16 lower house election.
But voters are not optimistic. The winner "must implement measures to increase wages and make employment stable. Unrealistic pledges are a problem," one person said.
A 79-year-old male shopkeeper says he is focused on discussions about the consumption tax hike.
"I feel bad about charging consumption tax to customers and often find myself paying (the tax) for them," he said. "The priority is to eliminate waste in finances and I want each candidate to think firmly by looking at the lives of those who live on the margins (of society)," he said.