Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What Womenomics Can Achieve

I have on-gain/off-again Twitter wars with the opinionated Professor Noah Smith of Stonybrook on subjects Japanese. In a recent exchange I lost my patience with the good doctor, for which I am only slightly sorry.

Dr. Smith asked a simple question: why did Japanese women's fertility (number of births per woman) fall when the level of participation of Japanese women in the workforce was still low? To which I offered a simple answer: because age of first marriage rose. (Link)

In the economics explanation women have fewer children based upon calculations marginal utility and opportunity cost. While in agricultural societies children represent potential increases in labor force and output, in industrial and post-industrial societies children represent zero increase in output. Furthermore, for the woman in developed societies the birth of each child represents an economic subtraction, time and energy that could have been spent furthering their careers or increasing their take-home pay.

In Japan's case, however, declines in fertility preceded and exceeded possibilities of tradeoff between work and childbirth.

Hence my answer -- that in East Asia behavioral effects of calculations of marginal utility and opportunity cost are small compared to the effects on fertility of later marriage and the social stigma/economic catastrophe of out-of-wedlock birth. In contradistinction to the economic explanation, married women in Japan are having children at the same rate they always have -- lost economic opportunity turns out to be a terrible predictor of Japanese fertility.

The policy implications of this for the second of the Abe Administration's New Three Arrows -- raising the number of births from 1.4 per woman to 1.8 -- are clear. The government can:

1) Convince Japanese to marry in their early twenties like they did in the 1970s.

2) Eliminate the social stigma and economic consequences of out-of-wedlock birth.

3) Increase the rate at which women above 35 years of age have children or extend the window of fertility by a delay in the onset of menopause, or

4) A combination of all three.

Good luck with the above.

But don't take my word for it. Check out the amazing slide presentation of Saito Jun of the Japan Center for Economic Research on Japan's capacity to overcome its lower fertility and shrinking population (Link). The whole (expletive deleted) argument over Japan's demographic limits to growth is laid out in detail.

Those with a little more time can check out the Tokyo on Fire videos for discussions of these matters. Like this one perhaps.

Class dismissed.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

No Factions, No Peace

Over the weekend I received suggestions from two friends to read the Jiji Press article on the decline of the factions.(Link)

My reaction? A shake of the head.

The factions are stalled as vehicles for leaders seeking to become prime ministers -- no question. Since the advent of the new single-member district electoral system 22 years ago, only three of the eight the Liberal Democratic Party Prime Ministers (counting Abe twice) have been faction leaders. The factions are still nurseries for prime ministers: every single LDP PM has been a member of a faction. However, that a person becomes the leader of a faction has only marginal bearing on his/her viability as a potential PM.

That being said, the factions are far from dead. In answer to the question asked by the LDP member quoted at the end of the article, the factions exist in order to keep the LDP together. They provide a mechanism for making appointments in a manner that dampens individual competition between members. Rotating posts amongst the factions, particularly sub-Cabinet level posts, enforces patience and forbearance among individuals who would otherwise fight tooth-and-claw to win a party post or political appointment. Factional rotation of appointments gives members reassurance that if they get along with others they will be rewarded, in due time. It also provides a mechanism for adjudicating appointment puzzles posed by the candidacies of several members with identical seniority records and tribal (zoku) affiliations. Handing the post to one person rather than another based an arbitrary (non-merit based) external attribute -- factional affiliation -- defuses a rivalry.

The argument against faction-based appointment decisions is that merit and talent and not rewarded. The institutional answer to that is "Yes, precisely." If competitions for party and government posts were talent-based, then the losers in competitions, had they any self-confidence (sort of a necessity in politics, really), would be left questioning the impartiality of the judgment or the relevance of the judging criteria. With factional rotation, however, a person loses a post because, well, "It was a decision based upon the need for balance among the factions." So nothing the candidate did was really wrong; the timing just was not right.

With the factions no longer led by persons with an inside track to becoming PM, where are we to look for good future PM candidates? With the rise of the theatrical PMs Hashimoto Ryutaro and Koizumi Jun'ichiro a pattern seemed to be emerging: wavy haired, energetic, outspoken, listenable, life-loving, defined, liberal economic reformist bottchan PMs with a need to play to the television cameras -- the type of personality and image tailor made for what political scientist Inoguchi Takashi has termed "kabuki politics" (Link). Neither Hashimoto nor Koizumi was the leader of his faction at the time. However, their flashy personas and stubbornness transcended their seeming institutional weaknesses.

Anyone who has had to listen to Abe Shinzo, who is not the leader of his faction, speak for more than 30 seconds, in whatever language, knows that while he is a bottchan, "listenable" and "defined" he ain't.

So how is it that Abe got himself elected in 2012 and reelected without a vote this year, making him a historically durable PM? That I will save for another time.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Double Take In Osaka

What to make of yesterday's double victory of the Osaka Ishin no Kai in the Osaka gubernatorial and mayoral races? (Link)

Not terribly much. At least not on a national scale.

While the candidates of Hashimoto Toru's and Matsui Ichiro's start up party were able to seize both posts over united establishment rivals, keeping alive Hashimoto's pet project of transforming Osaka into a metropolitan district (the merits of which no one has yet been able to explain to me) the caveats to the victories are many.

First was voter turnout. The gubernatorial and mayoral races attracted 45.4% and 50.5% of the voters, respectively. Both numbers were down from the last Osaka double election, 7.4% down in the prefectural race and a big 10.4% down in the race for the Osaka mayor's office. Both figures were way, way down from the Osaka unification referendum in May where 2/3 of the voters showed up in a contest Hashimoto's forces lost by a whisper. (Link - J)

Second was the ambivalent position of the Abe Administration toward Osaka's political actors. Despite their immense difference in backgrounds, Prime Minister Abe and Hashimoto have long seen each other in a common cause. Hashimoto indeed asked Abe four years ago to leave the Liberal Democratic Party and become leader of his first upstart national party. Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide have been very solicitous of Hashimoto, making time in their schedules to meet with him and saying nice things about him at every invitation.

The close political cooperative relationship between Abe and Hashimoto has engineered a complete breakdown in coordination and trust between the Osaka chapters of the LDP and the national LDP headquarters. The LDP in Osaka ran its own candidates in the double election, asking for and receiving electoral support from blood rivals the Democratic Party of Japan and the Japan Communist Party. The election also caused a minor split between national allies the LDP and Komeito, with the Osaka Komeito chapter releasing its supporters to vote for whomever they wished.

Third, even with their victories in the executive branch posts, the Osaka Ishin no Kai still lacks enough seats in the prefectural and municipal assemblies to initiate the metro area plan. Osaka Ishin no Kai will still need cooperation from another party, ostensibly the Komeito since they are the enemies of just about everybody else.

Fourth, even with this victory, the Osaka Ishin no Kai is still only the rump of the rump of the national party Hashimoto co-led to an astonishing second-place finish in the proportional vote of the House of Representatives election of 2012. Independents spin-offs of the national party still remain in other parts of the country, some clinging to the Ishin brand name while clinging also to a significant amount of Hashimoto's cash in their bank accounts. Hashimoto is going to be fighting for that money -- to the detriment of his political mission and the forward progress of his regionalist movement.

Tactically, Prime Minister Abe's embrace of Hashimoto seems a disaster. He has made enemies of the LDP establishment in Osaka, Japan's second city.

Strategically, however, Abe's continued encouragement of Hashimoto's efforts hurts the national forces of opposition. As long as Hashimoto and his acolytes are in operation, the Kansai region has its own, home-grown opposition to the LDP. With the Ishin no Kai and the LDP slugging it out, perhaps good-naturedly (if Abe invests the time to bring the two sides to a truce) in the Kansai, the DPJ will have forego making a play for the Kansai's rich harvest of seats, making the path to becoming a worthwhile national challenger to the LDP all the harder.

Later - This morning's NHK news has zero reports on the Osaka elections results. Granted, today is a national holiday, meaning that NHK's newscasts are abbreviated. However, even the commercial networks seem to be downplaying the story -- demonstrating that the post-Koizumi, post-DPJ erosion of the image of politics and politicians continues. While terrible news for governance in Japan, the continued decline of the salience of politics is great news for those infatuated with/dependent upon the façade of stability.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

That Feeling Of Recursion

How important is resolution of the issue of the move of the functions of the Marine Corps Airbase Futenma to...anywhere but where they are now? On Friday, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo presided over a cabinet meeting. He had to do so because Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide, holder of position in charge of Cabinet meetings, is in Guam reviewing sites and facilities being prepared for the relocation of fraction of the U.S. Marine Corps forces currently based at Futenma. Though it was not much remarked in the reporting on the Suga visit (Link) Friday's meeting marked the first time in 19 years that a PM had to fill in for an absent chief cabinet minister.

When and what was the occasion of the last time a CCS was out of town and the PM had to direct a cabinet meeting? When Chief Cabinet Secretary Kajiyama Seiroku was in Okinawa, negotiating (successfully, as it turned out) Nago City's acceptance of being the host of a Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF). Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro presided over that cabinet meeting, a seeming eon ago (Remember the press conference of Hashimoto, with U.S. Ambassador Walter Mondale standing behind him, announcing the move of the Marines base from Futenma to Nago within five or at most seven years?) (Link -J)

Speaking of the move to Nago, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism approved a resumption of the groundwork for the FRF, overriding Okinawa Governor Onaga Takeshi's revocation of the initial construction permit (Link). While a logical move, the ministry's action represents further erosion of the guarantees of local autonomy, found in Articles 92, 94 and 95 of the Constitution. (Link)

Since the candidates supported or provided by Liberal Democratic Party of Abe Shinzo lost, in order, the Nago City election, the Okinawa Governor's election and all of Okinawa House of Representatives seats to anti-base construction candidates, Thursday's resumption of construction is a failure of the concept of local, democratic control.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The One Child Left Behind Policy

I hope to be on Al-Jazeera later today, talking about the Park-Abe-Li trilateral summit.

In the meanwhile, the latest* from Japan's master of political cartoons, Sato Masaaki, on the reception Mr. Abe may receive when he meets with the other two leaders in Seoul.


Li Keqiang: "The One Child All By His Lonesome" Policy will continue!

Park Geun-hye: You mean the "One Child Policy"? Aren't you discontinuing that?


(no translation necessary)


Tomorrow, try to not end up left out.


* Original image in color. Color removed to avoid copyright infringement.

Friday, October 30, 2015


It is one of my favorite prescient quotes in the Japanese political science literature:
"One of the most important conclusions to come out of the case of Japan is that the standards of a poor leader vary greatly by institutional and political context. A good leader in one such context may be a poor leader in another, but the reverse is also true. Miyazawa or Mori are good examples. Had they governed Japan 15 or 20 years before at the height of LDP dominance and not in the transition period of demands for reform with a different relationship with the media and the prime minister, they might not have done as badly. Kishi in power 35 years later with a center-left in opposition would have not had to violate democratic norms to get the Treaty passed. On the other hand, Koizumi would not have been as successful 15 or 20 years before. A contrary case is Abe. Had he governed in a top-down cabinet government with a united parliamentary party, he might have appointed better people to his cabinet and been able to indulge his passion for foreign affairs."

- Krauss, Ellis S., and Robert Pekkanen. "9. Profiles in discourage: prime ministerial leadership in post-war Japan." Poor Leadership and Bad Governance: Reassessing Presidents and Prime Ministers in North America, Europe and Japan (2012): 173.
Indulge his passion for foreign affairs... (Link)

On the other hand, the statement on Kishi may still be too hopeful. Kishi's grandson had some difficult getting his security bills through the Diet unscathed, even with a center-left opposition and full coalition majorities in place and already on board.

As for Abe's passion, it was the subject of discussion of Timothy Langley and my second-to-last Tokyo on Fire session, recorded two weeks ago and released on October 19. (Link to Video)

Later - For the record, Krauss and Pekkanen submitted the manuscript with the above conjecture as regards an alternate universe Abe Shinzo in October 2011 -- well before Abe reemerged from his own private political Siberia to seek the presidency of the LDP for a second time.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

My Morning News for 29 October 2015

Rockin' the DPJ's Boat

Not much good is coming from DPJ head honcho Okada Katsuya's meeting last month with the Japan Communist Party's Chairman Shii Kazuo on the terms of the two parties cooperating ahead of next year's House of Councillors election. Okada nixed the JCP's offers of a coalition (Link) up to and including a seductive and bewildering JCP promise to (provisionally) accept the constitutionality of the Self Defense Forces and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty (Link). The conservative wing of the DPJ, led (provisionally) by the party Policy Research Council chief Hosono Goshi, are screaming that coalition/cooperation with the JCP would plunge the DPJ into existential crisis.

One should always be wary of the declarations of the DPJ's perfidious conservatives. However they are right in this instance: the upside of electoral cooperation is outweighed by the message of incompleteness which it telegraphs:

"We do not have what it takes to fight the Liberal Democratic Party toe-to-toe; vote for us."

DPJ Leader Okada is in a tough position. He cannot simply say, "No" to the Communists, as they could be allies after the election. However, by not immediately rubbishing what Shii says, Okada creates the opportunity for the ambitious Hosono and his supporters to open up old ideological wounds.

In the meantime former Minister of Foreign Affairs Matsumoto Takeaki, one of the perfidious conservatives (How conservative? His website is a single page), delivered his request to resign from the DPJ,  citing irreconcilable differences with the party secretariat (Link - J). The departure of the former cabinet minister is painful but not unexpected: Matsumoto has been playing footsie with the Japan Innovation Party's Matsuno Yorihisa for quite some time (Link). The son of the Kaifu Cabinet's Director-General of Defense, Matsumoto serves in a safe and conservative district.

See ya, ya LDP wannabe.

As for the DPJ, neither the current leadership group nor the rank and file have found a message resonating with the non-aligned voters. Without a means of cajoling the uncommitted to make the journey to the polls next July, grim indeed are the party's chances of defending the 15 prefectural and 26 proportional seats it has up for grabs in 2016.

Ceci N'est Pas Un Poisson

On Tuesday, the new head of the LDP's Taxation Committee, former METI minister Miyazawa , met his coalition party opposite Saito Tatsuo for the first time since LDP president Abe Shinzo kicked the former tax sumpremo Noda Takeshi upstairs. The subject of the meeting was a split in the application of the next rise in the consumption tax, scheduled to take place on 1 April 2017. Both sides agree that certain everyday items should continue to be taxed at the present 8% rather than at the scheduled 10%. However, the parties are wide apart on what those items should be, with the LDP proposing to limit the lower rate to "fresh food" so as to blunt the loss of revenues. The Komeito, by contrast, wants all food and non-alcoholic drink to be taxed at the lower rate, shrugging off the tripling of the loss in revenues under such a broad definition. (Link)

The beauty of the Komeito's suggestion is its relatively simplicity: if people eat a product in the form in which it is sold, then it is taxed at the lower rate. The LDP's attempt to define "fresh foods," by contrast, leads to peculiar outcomes, the current favorite being that a large chunk of raw fish is fresh food while that same piece of fish sliced for consumption as sashimi is not.

Cue the TV announcers reporting from a supermarket, holding trays of fish both sliced and unsliced.

For two guys sitting and talking for an hour last Friday all about the consumption tax rise, check out me and Timothy Langley on the latest edition of Tokyo on Fire (Tokyo on Fire - Episode 30).

We Don't Need No Stinkin' International Court of Justice

As mentioned here last week, in response to the International Court of Justice's ruling that Japan's research whaling program violates the terms of the 1986 moratorium of the International Whaling Commission, the Abe Cabinet vewy, vewy qwietly proposed on October 6 an astonishing exemption of whaling from the ICJ's jurisdiction. Just how quietly became evident as the nation's broadcasters and new organizations reported on the story as news for the first time yesterday (Video - J). The Yomiuri Shimbun's English account, with its "learned Wednesday" of a story reported here a week ago, is especially precious. (Link)

What is mind boggling is that the unilateral exemption of whaling from ICJ jurisdiction contradicts Japanese government strategy, not just as regards the whaling issue but all of international relations. The government of Japan has traditionally and this Abe government particularly interested in arguing for a need to respect the rule of law in international relations. This strategic choice, due in part to Japan's position as a reticent military actor, puts Japan on a moral and tactical higher plane than its grand regional rival China, which is more likely to cite the judgment of history as the justification for its actions.

Why no one in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has pointed out the government is throwing out the baby with the bathwater only adds to an ineluctable sense of wonder at this evolving story.

Gotta Dance, Gotta Dance

Professor Jennifer Robertson of the University of Michigan should be feeling pretty spiffy today. In 1989 she produced a then pretty out-there paper on how the Takarazuka Review informed the behavior and public discussion of lesbians in the Late Taisho and Early Showa periods. (First Link Displayed)

Yesterday Masuhara Hiroko and Higashi Koyuki were first in line to register as partners under Shibuya's City new (and so far the country's only) program creating a legal equivalent of gay marriage. In a nice bow to history, Higashi, the tall one (naturally) is a former Takarazuka otoko yaku (male lead). (Link)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

My Morning News for 22 October 2015

What has caught my attention:

- Still slack-jawed with amazement am I at the Government of Japan's seemingly brand new approach to the decision of the International Court of Justice on the so-called scientific whaling program, outlined in this pdf available on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website:

For a government that has until this point claimed the moral high ground in disputes, calling for a strict adherence to international law (Link) the Abe administration claim that the ICJ does not have jurisdiction anymore over research whaling is mind-blowing. Taking disputes to the ICJ is a consensual process: both states accede adjudication willingly, under the presumption that whatever the Court's decision will be, the states will abide by it.

Unsurprisingly, the Australian Government is stunned by the GOJ's move (Link 1 and Link 2). What can the government of Australia do? Rescind the just agreed-upon visit by the Prime Minister (Link)? Downgrade security coordination? Mess with the submarine acquisition?

As for the Abe Government/MOFA, what the heck do they think they are doing? Is not strict adherence to the rule of law the cudgel of choice for bashing the People's Republic of China for that country's actions in the East China and South China Seas? Or does the rule of law only apply to territorial disputes (a possible reading of Abe's address to the U.S. Congress, cited above)?

- Party time at the party headquarters!

Masterful is the Liberal Democratic Party's latest gambit on a two-tiered system for the legally-mandated rise in the consumption tax from 8% to 10% on 1 April 2017: have the list of those items eligible for a lower tax rate expand incrementally (Link - J).

Absolutely gob-smacking brilliant! Have a tiny list of items at the outset, simplifying the passage of the necessary adjustment legislation through the upcoming 2016 Regular Session of the Diet, allowing the coalition partner Komeito to keep its promises of a lower tax rate for household necessities made to the Married Women's Division of the Sokka Gakkai. Include the new, lower tax rate as a part of the package of goodies coalition candidates can crow about in their House of Councillors campaigns next summer. Then, from here until eternity, have representatives of companies and industrial & consumer groups lounging around in the hallways of the LDP, begging for inclusion of their items in the list of "household necessities."

- I wrote a short piece for the FCCJ's Number One Shimbun arguing that Abe Shinzo is likely to avoid visiting Yasukuni for the rest of his term in office. My reasoning? Abe has found something even better than Yasukuni. (Link)

I have worried that Abe can reverse himself, that in the giddy atmosphere of Abe's unchallenged reelection as president of the LDP and the continuing lack of public interest in the opposition parties he might pay a visit to Yasukuni out of sheer adolescent exhilaration.

My worries were considerably lessened by Hagi'uda Ko'ichi's declaration to the Nikkei that in the name of regional peace Abe need not go to Yasukuni (Link). If Hagi'uda, the Yasukuni bagman (Link) whom I have characterized as Abe's "Id" (in the Freudian sense, with Abe as the Ego and Suga as the Super-Ego) is now on board with Abe's avoiding Yasukuni in the interests of diplomacy, then the deal is pretty much done.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Flaming Cabinet Pick Threat Level: DISCO INFERNO

Panchi yori
Pantsu ga saki ni
nyukaku shi

Before "The Punch"
It is "The Pants" ("the underpants")
Who got in the Cabinet first!

- Tweeted senryu by @damdamj, retweeted by Senator Yamamoto Taro


Most of the time the push-off replies "No Comment" and "I will not dignify that question with an answer" are the politician's friends.

There are some questions, though, which a politician has to answer with a direct "Yes" or "No" and let the chips fall as they may.

This afternoon, newly minted Minister of Reconstruction Takagi Tsuyoshi, shown below seated beside the Prime Minister at today's 14th meeting of the Reconstruction Promotion Council (this is a just-released tweet from the Prime Minister's Residence) was confronted by one such question. Rather than surrender to the inevitable, he reached into the grab bag of push-off answers and let fly with one of the politer of the formulaic phrases:

「今日はそういった場所ではございませんので、お答えを控えさせていただく」 (Link - J)

"Today we are not at a place where we should be talking of such things so I should like to forego responding to your question at this time."

Minister Takagi Tsuyoshi

Unfortunately for Minister Takagi, the question being yelled at him at the Prime Minister's Residence was in regards certain allegations of misconduct of a rather peculiar kind. These allegations have been prominent in the headlines of the scandal sheets and the weekly magazines this week.

What was the question?

"Minister Takagi, it is true you were arrested 30 years ago for breaking into a young woman's home and stealing her underwear?"

Hope as one might, plead for delay as one might, there is no wiggle room here, so to speak.

This was really a "Yes" or "No" moment for Takagi.

Blew it he did.

By choosing to evade the question, he has instead opened the floodgates for what is a rising tide of ridicule.

Will the brand new minister's increasingly likely resignation damage the Abe administration? No, not significantly.

Will the resignation of a minister only 10 days after his installation increase pressure on Prime Minister Abe to reverse his present course and instead schedule an Extraordinary Diet Session for sometime in the last two months of this year? Possibly.

As for the above senryu it is a play on the words panchi ("punch") and pantsu ("underpants") which are separated by a single space in the table of the kana syllabary. "The Punch" referred to is the fist of Liberal Democratic Party Senator and former Ground Self Defense Forces Colonel Sato Masahisa in the face of Democratic Party of Japan Senator Konishi Yukihiro, a misleading image made infamous by The New York Times. (Link)

Colonel Sato, despite being one of the Prime Minister's favorite Senators and invaluable in the campaign to push (literally, in the final showdown) the security legislation through the House of Councillors, was not rewarded for his service with a cabinet post.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Very Kind Of Her #62

Elaine Kurtenbach and I recently had a conversation about the Olympic logo and stadium belly flops. As a much appreciated courtesy, she inserted a snippet from our talk in her eventual article. (Link)

However, I take exception to the thesis announced in the title, that the succession of egg-on-the-face embarrassments is the result of a particular Japanese mode of behavior or set of behaviors.


Indifference, laziness, buck-passing, box checking and blunt ignorance are not Japanese traits, nor are they the traits of Japanese bureaucracy and the Liberal Democratic Party. An insinuation that something essential about Japan has been exposed by this farce is poppycock.

Tokyo 2020 shows the world the weaknesses of one person: Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. Effective recruitment and deployment of talented advisors and officers are the prerequisites of good administration. In naming the persons he did to the chairmanship and vice chairmanship of the organizing committee, Abe guaranteed the committee's inability to function.

What we are left to speculate upon is whether failure -- albeit failure down the line, not right at the git-go -- may indeed may have been Abe's intent.