Friday, October 07, 2005

First, cue up track #9 from Who's Next

Your day starts out quite nicely. It is overcast and mild in Tokyo, with showers expected later in the day. Your employer is in a relatively relaxed mood. The coffee from Doutor is not unpleasant, though you realize you really do like Starbucks better.

Then you read this:

Rumsfeld cancels Japan visit due to base row-media
October 6, 2005

TOKYO (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has canceled a visit to Japan planned for later this month because of a stalemate in talks on where to relocate a U.S. military base in Japan, Japanese media reported on Thursday.

The Asahi Shimbun said plans had been made for Rumsfeld to visit Tokyo around October 21 or 22 for talks with Japanese officials including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, part of Washington's plans to transform its military globally into a more flexible force.

But the two allies are at odds over the relocation of Futenma air base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, a key element in redeploying the nearly 50,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in the country, media and military experts said..

Talks between senior defense officials in Washington this week ended without much progress.


No, let me rephrase that.


First indication of high probability that a mass of purest bovine excreta has been foisted upon the world: Linda Sieg's by-line is missing. I guess no one wanted wake her up to ask a few questions.

To all Reuters reporters who are not Linda Sieg (and I know there are some of you who aren't) there is something you need to know about Japanese reporters.

They tend to make stuff up.

Not in a vile, crafty "in order to promote personal agendas, to curry favor with particular individuals or to take part in conspiracies to obfuscate and undermine the public discourse" sort of way.

No, more in the "I-have-a-few-centimeters-I-have-to-fill-up-fast-if-I-am-to-make-my-deadline-and-I-overheard-some-nitwit-in-the-halls-of-the-kantei-talking-trash-so-I-will-just-plug-that-in-sourced-anonymously-and-trust-that-my-editor-does-not-flag-it" reptilian forebrain way that only an immense mortgage on an ugly house the Tama district can justify.

If we are to believe the reports, ascribed to both to the Asahi Shimbun and Kyodo news service, Donald Rumsfeld will be skipping a stop in Japan on his Asian tour because talks last week on the Futenma base relocation dispute failed to find a mutually agreeable solution to the issue, potentially casting a pall over the visit.


First, are we talking about the same Donald Rumsfeld who is sort of kind of running of two bloody anti-insurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, who belittles reasonable petitioners with patronizing rephrasings of their questions and generally stomps about the planet as God's Almighty Gift to the Men and Women of the Pentagon? Are we saying he might be unable to handle the pressure of a few reporters asking about Futenma and U.S. plans for force realignment in the Far East?

Second, are we talking about the same Futenma relocation issue that has been dragging on for more than a decade through a saturnalia of commissions, studies and bi-lateral meetings, where both sides have managed to steer clear of any commitment to solving the significant political, technological, environmental and logistical problems posed by the Nago offshore base plan?

Please, please, people...if you are going to spout nonsense--or even worse repeat it verbatim--make sure that it is inspired, plausible and entertaining nonsense.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

No dilly-dallying

The un-named powers that be have told the press that a new Cabinet and a new LDP leadership lineup will be announced on November 2. When asked for the reason why the change would happen on that date, the source(s) explained that the special session of the Diet ends on November 1.

The PM has already indicated that he will offer his political support to the prime ministerial candidate who turns in the best performance over the next 11 months. Given the importance of securing an influential post in this next round, it is not unreasonable that the PM and his people are trying to minimize the amount of time the candidates have for public displays of jockeying for position.

Coming after a general election, the changes in the next Cabinet are likely to be far more dramatic than a simple reshuffle. I have already made some rather speculative guesses here about some of the main Cabinet and LDP leadership positions.
Well, thank the kami for that

It turns out that the Democratic Party's presentation of its own version of a postal reform bill during the special session of the Diet will not be a complete waste of time. Some Kluge Hans in the LDP (perhaps Takebe Tsutomu or Mr. K. himself) realized that the otherwise pointless examination of this doomed bill presented a risk-free opportunity to put some of the Koizumi Children through their paces, providing some much-needed on-the-job training in asking questions in committee. The sessions will probably also serve as a final audition for the Sisters (Katayama Satsuki, Sato Yukari and Inoguchi Kuniko) to see if there are any heretofore undetected peculiarities in their behavior that would preclude them from serving in high visibility party or government posts come November.

Commentators should know better

Does anyone know why Hama Noriko and J. Sean Curtin are not taking a sabbatical from punditry post-September 11? I turn on the television and see her (Eeeeeek! Does her university not provide dental coverage?). I search for “Koizumi” in Google News and find him. The failure of either of them to catch any of the prevailing political winds over these past few months should have convinced either or both of them that neither of them really has a clue what is going on.

I'm one to talk, of course.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Guys, guys...please

The leaders of the Democratic Party agree: the party's opposition to the government's draft bill for postal privatization without proposing one of its own was a major reason for the huge defeat the party suffered in the September 11 elections.

This view is not without merit. During the campaign, Prime minister Koizumi relentlessly cudgeled his opponents with the contradiction between the Democrat’s claims to being the party of reform and their straight, party line vote against the only postal reform bill available.

So given this epiphany, what has the Democratic leadership decided to do? To not make the same mistake twice...which is great. You know, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" and all that.

However, it is how they have decided to demonstrate their resolve to not be fooled again that boggles the mind. As news reports earlier this week indicated and the meeting of the Democratic shadow cabinet on Friday confirmed, the party will rebound from its history of error by offering its own version of a postal reform bill next week.

Uh,'re killin' me here...

That cow is already out of the barn. Japan just had an election where the main question was whether the country supports Koizumi's continuing on as prime minister because of or in spite of his attachment to his personal pet project, the privatization of the post office. The country's overwhelming response was, "Yes!" Now unless the Democrats are presenting a bill that Koizumi and his supporters will love even more than the one they themselves have drafted, it would probably best for the Democrats to let this one go. Not only does Maehara not have the votes to do anything meaningful (and he and his colleagues are, after all, paid salaries in order to do meaningful things) but further delaying Koizumi's privatization bill will tick the man off. And there are people who can tell you, that's not the way to build a working relationship with Mr. K.

For him--postal privatization--it's personal.

Save that youthful moxie and those great ideas for the next fight, will ya? As far as I know, no chapter in Master Sun's The Art of War suggests:
"When an error in tactics leads to large losses and defeat on the battlefield, make up for the mistake with an utterly pointless symbolic counterattack with such forces as are left you."
And the men of sumo will fly

For those who have been pinning their hopes on the internationalization of Japanese society, the Asahi Shimbun's September 26 editorial on the proliferation of non-Japanese in the top ranks of sumo “Ozumo Takokusekika wa omoshiroi”( English here ) is a worthy read.

What is interesting is the Asahi's assertion that the introduction of foreign rikishi bearing techniques from other wrestling traditions has stimulated the production of better native Japanese rikishi. While Asashoryu's and Kotoshu's unfamiliar holds, grabs and movements have certainly facilitated their rise to the top ranks, it is in no way clear that Japanese participants have benefited from their creativity. To the extent that Asashoryu's and Kotoshu's more numerous victories prevented Kisenosato from winning the tournament, I would count the net impact for him as a negative.

What is interesting is the Asahi editorial board's commitment the principle that open competition in sumo brings benefits to Japan. Perhaps the huge impact Brazilians players and coaches have had upon the quality of Japanese soccer is the model. Or perhaps the Asahi board has embraced a larger, liberal view that competition is an engine for good, even when it dilutes the national character of an activity.

Mind you, the Asahi editorial does not endorse all forms of competition. It contrasts the impact of Mongolian and Eastern European wrestlers with the impact of the Hawaiians. According to the Asahi, the Hawaiians (i.e., the Americans) brought only an emphasis on bigness, of overpowering others through mass alone. Boring...and leading many rikishi to bulk up so much that their tissues fail, resulting in repeated, recurring tournament withdrawals and long recuperation periods away from the ring. The Mongolians and the Eastern Europeans by contrast bring finesse and speed to the dohyo (技が多彩になり、スピードあふれる攻防が確実に増える).

Now one could argue that the Asahi editors are just trying to look on the bright side of a depressing trend: the increasing inability of Japanese to compete at the highest levels of their national sport. However, the editorial goes out of its way to lament the passage in 2002 of the one-foreigner-per-beya rule, the mirror of yakyu's three- foreigners-per-team rule and similar rules for other Japanese sports leagues. What is fascinating is that the editors are decrying restrictions on foreign participation in a sport that is purely Japanese and which is imbued with religious, cultural and historical significance.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

It is from the muck that the lotus emerges

Richard Lloyd Parry of The Times is granted an exclusive interview with the PM and produces this. Koganei resident and all-around curmudgeon Earl Kinmonth get his two yen in about it and asks a question:
Although I have been a resident of Japan the entire span of Koizumi's tenure in office, I cannot for the life of me think of any reforms of any significance that Koizumi has actually achieved. Can someone help me out here?

Not following the advice of the Ministry of Finance on tightening the purse strings or raising taxes?

Not cluttering up the economic machinery with any really dumb stunts (anyone seen a 2000 yen note lately)?

Letting the Bank of Japan's Fukui Toshihiko redefine the position of central banker as "the individual charged with the task of not making decisions about the money supply, as conditions demand"?

Appointing a financial reconstruction minister committed to pressing the banks to stop deferring the write downs of the bad loans in their portfolios?

Not having governmental or semi-governmental financial entities intervene in the stock markets (through PKOs or other such nonsense) despite a big slump during the first two years of his prime ministership?

Weaning the LDP from its reliance on farmers, postmasters and the construction industry, setting the stage for massive reductions in goverment support for these economic actors?

Getting the SDF involved in security actions outside the Asia-Pacific region without running to the UN for cover?

A lot of non-actions to be sure--but the Hippocratic injunction "First, Do No Harm" was ignored by Koizumi's predecessors.

Late Breaking Developments - Due to strong negative reactions in Japan and in China to statements attributed to Koizumi, The Times is now offering a full transcript of the interview.

Even Later Breaking Developments - Parry and Robert Thomson drop in for a chat with foreign minister Machimura Nobutaka.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

But they would say that, wouldn't they?

As you can see here the editors of the Asahi Shimbun did not very much like prime minister Koizumi's policy speech. Surprise, surprise.

Clearly baffled by Koizumi's unwillingness to meet their standards of policy specificity, the editors have fallen back on ascribing the broad-brush policy address to a "May slump," the purported lethargy that grips new company recruits in their second month on the job. Unfortunately for the metaphor prime minister Koizumi, as he points out in the speech, has been elected three times to the prime ministership, having been in the job since 2001.

A bit of a delayed reaction, to put it mildly.

Since the Asahi editors found the foreign policy section particularly wanting, perhaps they need it retranslated.

The fight against terrorism is not over. Japan will cooperate with the international community and strive for the prevention and eradication of terrorism by, among other measures, extending the deadline of the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law.

In Iraq, the Iraqi people themselves are making efforts to establish a peaceful democratic nation. Japan's financial assistance through ODA as well as humanitarian and reconstruction assistance activities extended by the Self-Defense Forces have earned high praise from the people in Iraq. As to the future activities of the Self-Defense Forces, I will make my decision taking into consideration the requests of the Iraqi people and the international situation and upon closely assessing the situation in Iraq.

Technically, the legal conditions and constraints under which the SDF have been operating in Iraq and the Indian Ocean are unchanged. The bills my party will be presenting to the Diet will be extensions or reorientations of the existing missions, not plans for withdrawal. So go stuff it.

With neighboring countries including China and the Republic of Korea, Japan will strengthen cooperation in a wide range of areas and build future-oriented friendly relations based on mutual understanding and trust. On Japan-North Korea relations, I will aim to normalize our relations by comprehensively resolving the abduction, nuclear and missile issues.

I am sick and tired of Sino-South Korean insistence that relations be carried out "looking into the mirror of the past." However, I will be damned if I am going normalize relations with the DPRK without a more tangible show of contrition on its part for past trangressions.

Regarding the sharp rise in crude oil prices, there is concern that this will have a significant impact not only on Japan, one of the world's major oil importers, but also on Southeast Asian countries. In response, Japan swiftly released its oil reserves, and through such measures, is contributing to the international community. In order to prevent the occurrence of another oil crisis, we will continue to cooperate closely with other countries.

Look, we have offered to show you how we achieved the lowest energy-use per unit of GDP in the world, but up until now you have ignored us. Now we are going to bail you out with some of the petroleum we have stockpiled. Only this time you bloody well better listen to us.

Japan will also actively advance its initiatives for bilateral economic partnership and work tirelessly toward reaching a final agreement at the new round of the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations.

I did not say "also" in the original speech. Why did my Japanese-to-English translator put "also" here? It drains all the energy out of the sentence. I want to emphasize the "and" (to tomo ni). My administration will pursue both bi-lateral FTAs and a multilateral post-Uruguay Round with equal fervor.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Behold, a New Power Rises in the East

Well, that did not take very long.

The Koizumi Children are already a force to be reckoned with in the House of Representatives. Twenty three times during Prime Minister Koizumi's 14 minute and 36 second inaugural address, the second briefest address in postwar history, the Children applauded their leader. In comments to reporters afterward, Maehara Seiji, the new leader of the Democrats, derided them as "the applause crew" (hakushu yoin).

Certain television networks whose names need not be mentioned (i.e., TV Asahi and TBS) sliced and spliced the post-address interviews with various newcomers into montages that made it seem as though all they were all echoing each other:

"The Prime Minister sounded strong."
"The speech was extremely strong."
"Strength was what the prime minister was showing us."
"I came away with an impression of strength."

Convicted felon Tsujimoto Kiyomi added her two yen's worth, calling the Children "creepy" (bukimi). But she softened her comment by grinning broadly while she said it.

Speaking of the felons, due to the vagaries of the party-centered seating arrangements, all three of them are bunched together in the cheap seats near the left field foul line, so that a shot of the dais speaker's right profile has all three of them full frontal.

The Little Village People

The former Ozato Group, which has been leaderless since Ozato Sadatoshi chose to retire rather than run in the September election, has selected Finance Minister Tanigaki Sadakazu as its new leader. Former secretary-general of the Defense Agency Nakatani Gen takes over as the group's #2. The Tanigaki (?) Group will have 11 members in the House of Representatives and 4 members in the House of Councilors.

Say Goodnight Gracie

Keidanren Chairman Okuda Hiroshi paid a visit on China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in Beijing on Monday. Okuda told Wen that Prime Minister Koizumi said, "Pass on my best regards to Prime Minister Wen...because I am a member of the 'Friends of China' wing of my party."

Wen's response, according the Mainichi Shimbun: “Me too.”

I need to see the Chinese original on this one.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Enter the Dragon

The scale of the victory of September 11 has thrust upon prime minister Koizumi a burden he never expected to be shouldering: the future of the LDP. He had probably assumed that the LDP would either change, becoming a smaller, tighter minority party controlling about 40 to 45% of the seats in the Diet, or else fall into pieces. These bits would in turn re-assemble themselves, combining with elements of the Democrats, into two large center-left and center-right coalitions.

Now, instead of a diminished LDP, Koizumi has a huge dragon. Nominally, the party is under his near-dictatorial control (one commentator, viewing footage of the first cabinet reunion after the election, spat out, "It looks like a damned CCP Politburo meeting."). It is nevertheless not hard to imagine the LDP devolving into factions the moment Koizumi steps down as party president. How can he protect the "new LDP" he has inadvertently midwived without drafting the Koizumi Children, the 80+ currently unaffiliated new members of the House of Representatives, into service as a de facto Koizumi faction? Currently, the plan is to have monthly education sessions for the newcomers--a woefully inadequate step if the PM really wants to keep his flock from seeking shelter in the LDP's traditional apportioners of party and cabinet positions, information and personal contacts.

If the prime minister had more time, he could pound the surviving factions to bits by passing over their members again and again in his cabinet appointments. However, he is going to stick to his promise to serve only one more year, in line with his intent to establish an archetypal prime ministership ("Grandpa, why do they have a statue of Koizumi shusho in Ueno Park?"). So his next cabinet will be his last.

Before getting all in a tizzy about next fall, however, let us see what was in the policy speech today.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Don is Gone

I was of half a mind to write about the death of Gotoda Masaharu, one of the most important politicians of the last half-century.

I shall wait a decent interval before trying to tackle his historical legacy, for two reasons.

One, my knowledge of Gotoda is restricted to his activities over the last 15 years, when he loomed over the polical sphere as the superannuate oracle of pinched legalisms.

Two, he is spoken of with near god-like reverence in my office, though Gotoda and my employer rarely agreed with each other over the last decade.

Best keep to keep quiet until I have something bright and cheery to say.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Wakamono, bakamono

T'is a sad day in folliedom. Sugimura Taizo, the LDP's twenty-six year-old blunderkind whose thunderclaps of inspired nonsense and on-camera breakdowns have been a source of much merriment since September 11, has been silenced.

On orders from He Who Shall Not Be Named (Takebe Tsutomu) Representative Sugimura can no longer talk to the press--though in tearful defiance Sugimura continues to nod or issue high-pitched whiny honks from his nose whenever he is asked a yes-or-no question.

How unfair to the populace--who had begun to rely on Sugimura as proof that even a flailing idiot-savant with less gravitas than a bicycle parking lot attendant could hope to someday be elected to the Diet. How unfair to political beat reporters--who instead of following Sugimura around for the laughs will have to now buckle down and actually read the kosei nenkin kaikaku proposals and not cry for their beloved country's pensions.

We are left now with just the memories...

Sugimura: “Learning the ways of the Diet from inside a faction is not a bad thing. In fact, it is what I believe I must do.”
Reporter: “Actually, the prime minister has asked that none of the freshmen join any of the factions.”
Sugimura: “The prime minister...the prime minister said that? Well, if that's what he said--then that's what I must do!”

Monday, September 19, 2005

Thank you master, may I have another?

Well, they have gone ahead and done it.

The Democrats, that is.

Having plummeted to ignominious defeat under the leadership of a dull, earnest, youngish policy wonk, Democrats chose on Saturday to reverse themselves, electing as their new leader a dull, earnest, slightly younger policy wonk.

Oh, the audacity of it all.

Seriously, do they have a death wish?

I tried to watch Maehara Seiji explain himself on Nichiyo Toron. It was excruciating.

I wish him and his party all the luck in the world.

The Sisters are doing it for themselves

By contrast, a joint appearance by Koike Yuriko and Sato Yukari on Saturday morning made for good television viewing. Some time between her less-than-impressive performance in the four-way debate of the candidates a month ago and the interview yesterday Koike decided she had better know what the heck she was talking about before going out before the cameras. Gone were the little girl voice chirps and the non-sequiturs. She was as sharp as a pin, concise and to the point, but not above being playful.

Perhaps too much.

After the first question, the interviewer complimented Koike how clever and excellent her answer was. The compliment was delivered with a frosting of sarcasm, however.

Something clicked in Koike's mind--a defense response-- and she fell into the “ara, so ka shira” gesture: the left hand held straight up with fingers extended but still slightly bent, reaching to touch the crown of the head just above the hairline, with the head slightly bent to the left and am impish smile creasing the lips.

It was an immediate, probably autonomic reaction, the product of years of playing the burikko charmer. Before completing the gesture, however, Koike caught herself. For the briefest of moments, her eyes flamed with her disappointment in herself--still playing the cutie despite her age and her status.

Sato, liberated from the burden of trying to be likable, reverted to her default, hard-nosed, mistress-of-the-Universe persona. Even when answering questions she had never ever thought through, such as whether or not she supports Prime Minister Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni, she was able to spin out plausible-sounding BS with all the buzz words intact.When the questions steered into more familiar waters, such as possible new economic initiatives, she put her chin down and stayed ferociously on message, playing the cold-blooded ideologue role to near perfection, breaking down only every so often to add in those little human touches that used to make the members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang so adorable.

Thank you master, may I have yet another?

Just when the fortunes of the Democrats could not sink any lower, they sink lower. On Sunday, Kobayashi Kenji, the Democratic Party's failed candidate for Aichi District #7, got busted along with a few of his buddies for smoking crystal meth. Well, not exactly for smoking, for possession, but he seems to have already confessed to have been smoking it.

Gosh, how...trippy..and to think some folks used to call Japanese politics bland and predictable.

Yes, I know that Kobayashi went to college in theUnited States...University of West Virginia..and I am sure that tomorrow everybody else in Japan will know.

Furukawa Motohisa, the advisor to the Aichi branch of the Democratic Party, has already announced Kobayashi's expulsion from the local party organization.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Teppanyaki League Cabinet and Party Post Selections

Once the ever-so-slightly-fiddled-with postal reform bill passes both houses of the Diet (Trumpets! A triumphal procession at Tokyo Big Site with Koizumi dressed as Susa-no-o! Piranha versus Ball Python spectaculars!) Prime Minister Koizumi will want to move on to a reshuffling of his cabinet.

Remember how easy it used to be to work out who was going to be in the Cabinet? Five ministers from the Obuchi faction, four from the Miyazawa faction, four from the Mori faction, one from the Kyu Komoto faction…a mix of old and new, everybody with at least 6 elections to the House of Representatives or 3 to the House of Councilors and one token woman…Good times those were for analysts and political writers, fat times...

Well now those days are gone and we are not so self-assured. All the dailies had articles with titles along the lines of "Looking at the Cabinet and the Post-Koizumi Race." Reading them, I could do nothing but shout out the Sergeant Schultz* reaction:

"Nahsing! I see nahsing at all. Nahsing!"

First, how to proceed, now that the faction leaders have been brought so low? Hashimoto retired in disgrace. Watanuki, Tsushima and Hori, the three next most senior members of the Keiseikai are all no longer in the LDP. Kamei and Horiuchi are out on the street. Komoto is in the doghouse for abstaining from the postal vote.

How can the LDP bang out a cabinet when the faction heads can no longer lock horns over sake and kaseki ryori at some discrete ryotei?

Second, what to do about the Koizumi Children/Koizumi Proto-faction/Koizumi Sisters (the new name for Katayama/Inokuchi/Sato/Fujino axis)?

The new Diet will have 83 first-timers, a mass of loyal Koizumi coattail riders larger than the dominant Mori faction. High intellectual wattage, youthful moxie and telegenic appeal will go to waste if some of these newcomers are not given prominent place in the new order. Since these newcomers cannot rely on a slow climb up the factional ladder (Koizumi himself has asked the newcomers to put off joining factions), they need to be put to good use now. Otherwise, the most worthwhile of them will drop out after a few years out of sheer boredom.

A Hint from the Man

Trying to determine who might go where given the above conditions would drive one to distraction. The PM, however, has laid down a marker: whoever it is who shall succeed him next September will have to proven himself or herself worthy during the preceding 12 months.

This means that the really key positions in both the party and the cabinet will be filled by potential prime ministers.

It also is a brilliant way of guaranteeing that even as September approaches, the Koizumi Cabinet will just keep on humming. The prime ministerial candidates, eager to make a good impression, will be knocking themselves out until the very last day trying to get their bailiwicks to outperform everyone else's.

It might even mean that the top candidates will be too busy to fall back into the bad old habits of winning the prime ministership through factional math games.

Here is a first attempt t at the possible lineup of the party and cabinet posts come October. (Warning: the following contains at least one utterly gratuitous joke)

The Party Posts

Kanjicho – Machimura Nobutaka – because one needs un grand fromage from the Mori faction in this post

Kanjicho dairi – Koike Yuriko – because one would want her to gain some experience in negotiating the obstacle course of the party bureaucracy and yet keep her in the public eye

Somukaicho – Tanigaki Sadakazu – because he neuters every organization he is made leader of.
Seichokaicho – Inoguchi Kuniko – because the tekko no onna has sat on more commissions than any other Japanese of the postwar era. She can be counted on to promote Koizumi’s vision. She also might revive the PARC into a viable source of crude policy products.

The Ministries

Finance – Aso Taro – because you need an Aso in charge of how the money gets spent...and from all accounts, this guy an Aso.

Foreign – Yosano Kaoru – because he knows the exact meaning of every word he utters; never loses his cool; kept the PARC from challenging the kantei on policy formation issues; and Tokyo boys do not get jobs that involve the dishing out of pork.

Health & Welfare– Abe Shinzo – because working out a solution to the pension problem will be a difficult and thankless job. If he succeeds in producing something of value over the next few months, he deserves to be the next prime minister. If not, he will at least have been kept away from the foreign policy beat.

Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries – Takebe Tsutomu – because Hokkaido needs some love and homeboy Takebe can be trusted to provide it without blowing the budget.

Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications – Takenaka Heizo – because he should have to implement what he helped craft.

After this I am lost. I cannot guess the criteria Koizumi will be using in making his selections for:

Science & Education
Justice – all I know is that who ever it is, the individual will be old
Land Infrastructure and Transport
Defense Agency

I Love to Laugh

As for the silly side of Sunday’s election, I do not know which story I like best:

1) the LDP’s Tokyo branch having to forfeit one seat because it did not have enough candidates to take all the proportional seats it had won, or

2) the supermarket manager whom Takebe called up at the last minute asking whether or not he would be willing to be on the tail end of the proportional list in his bloc. Now the poor guy has to find some to mind the store, or

3) the 26 year-old (Sugimura Taizo) who applied to be a proportional candidate by email and
whose life has been turned completely upside down. Since Sunday he has had to quit the company where he was about to be made a full-time employee; has had to buy a suit; and has had to find out what a member of the House of Representatives actually does.

Sugimura's crazed rants at his unexpected and unwanted good fortune have made great television. In one clip, he is standing on a sidewalk in a white t-shirt and slacks, reading out loud from a fax that explains the perks and privileges members of the Diet enjoy:

"Look at this! You get a rail pass! A rail pass good on any railway! Going anywhere! As far as you want! In the Green Car!


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Where to folks?

Prime Minister Koizumi has won an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives. Rebel members of the House of Councilors are already rolling over and offering up their throats to the great leader (long may he reign!). Should Koizumi wish, he can now embark on a crash program of radical reform.

We know that Item One on the agenda is passing postal reform legislation and Item Two is reshuffling the cabinet. What are the later items? Where will he concentrate his efforts during this last year of his presidency? Is there an issue regarding which he will be lured into going too far, shattering party unity a la Tony Blair it over the Iraq War? (Hmm....over-extending cooperation with the United States in...what? Or perhaps the exile of Abe Shinzo to the Oki Islands?)

P.S. Yes, I have considered "declaring Swedish the official language of Japan" an example of going too far. Replacing the emperor with Suzuki Muneo is also on the list.

P.P.S. Speaking of Suzuki Muneo, the top three felon candidates all won seats. I guess there really is no such thing as bad publicity.

P.P.S As for going medieval, I have never been happy with the Oda Nobunaga association. Koizumi is really more like Minamoto no Yoritomo. And yes, the Hojo Masako corollary of the simile applies.

The last paragraph of my incoherent ramblings of September 12, I failed to mention that I was writing about the proportional vote, not the total vote.

I here offer the corrected version:

A nice little demonstration of the political genius of this “ice cream for everybody” approach can be found in this evening's Asahi Shimbun. Page 3 is crammed with an even-more-abstruse-than-usual set of post-election, multi-colored, three-dimensional graphs that are guaranteed to resist even the most stubborn reader's comprehension.

However, the graph in the top right hand corner of page 3 tells a beautiful tale. According to the Asahi Shimbun's calculations, the LDP received 1) inside Tokyo, 2) in all the cities and 3) in the town and villages of the countryside exactly the same fraction of the proportional vote: 38%. Pathetically, the Democratic Party in defeat nearly matched the LDP in its consistency, winning 30% of the proportional vote in Tokyo and 31% in the cities and towns and villages.

In sacrificing a small part of the LDP's rural support (3%) the Koizumi LDP blew away the Democrats in the urban areas--just as political scientists had always predicted.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Try saying "Post-Koizumi" ten times fast...

To whomever it may or may not concern, interest or bore, as the case may be:

Given the size of the victory, who is the presumptive heir to take over the party presidency after Koizumi?

Takebe seems a more of Diet tactics and organization man (though I must confess I like his guiltless obesity); Yamasaki has the charisma of a cardboard box (and after an entire August on the campaign trail, a skin color to match. Boy, he could fit right in with the crowd at Enoshima). Abe was clueless as kanjicho dairi (Is there a job this man can do?) and bringing on Fukuda after the public has had the fireworks of Mr. K would be asking for trouble (just for a moment imagine what a Fukuda-Okada electoral fight would have been like. Yep, my jaw clenched in exactly the same way).

As for the princes, my disdain for them precedes me. Tanigaki, if memory serves me, took eight years to graduate from college and seven tries at passing the bar before he became a real boy. Aso is not a name one can say outloud in polite company--though, to his credit, he finally must have changed his accountant because he was not the #1 taxpayer in the Diet this year.

Now, I believe the public is more than ready for a Koike sosai --but is the LDP rank and file?
Cue the surf music

I am so glad Idid not try to extend my district by district analysis to the entire country. I would have ended up looking like a fool (sloth has its benefits). As it is, I remain as I was: a mildly annoying ignorant twit.

What was really surprising was that the public opinion polls were right.

In recent years, projections based on the results of public opinion polls have consistently underestimated Democratic Party performance on election day. A number of unscientific theories had been advanced for the decay in the reliability of the opinion polls, the most famous of which being that "the increased used of mobile telephones by the young had made it impossible for randomized telephone dialing to tap into the mood of this part of the electorate."

My own pet view has been that in two-income homes, no one iss around or has any time to answer the damn phone.

Two days prior to election day, theLDP central party headquarters warned its local organizations to look away from the gaudy poll projections in the newspapers, faxing the local branches photocopies of Mainichi Shimbun front pages from 2003 that predicted an outright LDP victory--quite the opposite of the spanking actually delivered by the electorate that year.

This time around public opinion polls accurately reflected the eventual relative performances of the two parties, at least in proportional seat terms.

The problem for pundits now is that they have to come up with a whole new set of unscientific theories to explain why the poll were right.

As to the specific projections of the total seats the LDP would win...let us just say that a whole bunch of folks at the Sankei Shimbun are feeling pretty smug right now.

Uh oh, Kanto!

The really stunning images for political junkies were the "Before" and "After" maps of the Kanto region. What was once a red heart surrounded by a speckled band of red and green became a sweeping green plain with a few tiny desultory poppies stuck on it for variety’s sake.

The Democratic Party went from 37 district seats in the Kanto to 5, one of which was a near-death experience for Kan Naoto [A personal note: Kan's victory, the only DPJ district win in Tokyo, means that the equipment and buildings at my daughter's elementary school will probably remain substandard. Just remember, Kan's is the district that got sodomized by JR East's plan to double the width of the Chuo rail corridor--making it impossible for cars and pedestrians to cross the tracks for hours at a time).

Being an overseas member of the U.S. Democratic Party, I know how it feels to see at electoral maps change like that in the hours after the polls close.

Things I am not surprised that did not happen, but would have loved it had they did:

a) An LDP candidate, frustrated at the Socialist or People's Party candidate opining yet again about "what will happen to inaka no ojiichan or obaachan if the nearby post office is no longer offering financial services in 10 years time," blurting out, "Cut the crap! In 10 year's time, according to census estimates, ojiichan and obaachan will have either moved to the cities or will be dead!"

b) a “yusei min'eika” ticker been printed in the top corner in the newspapers, counting both the number of times Koizumi said the phrase “yusei min'eika” in the last 24 hours and in the hours since he dissolved the Diet (the phrase must haunt his dreams).

c) in the wild “summer of love” spirit of cool biz, shikaku and "even if I am killed" an LDP candidates had come out of the closet. That or Fukaya Tadashi had explained what "my father was a shoemaker" means (ahh, Nonaka Hiromu's one saving grace).

d) a live web broadcast of Hu Jintao watching the results come in.

Finally, a pox on every idiotr who utters the platitude that Koizumi triumped by offering a simple, black & white choice to the electorate--as if the electorate had the political sophistication of a class of two-year olds. Ridiculous! Koizumi's genius was strategic ambiguity (and not a little tactical sexuality) in offering all possible choices to all the the electorate.

His actual "simple" message:

"If you love the LDP, vote LDP. If you want to reform the LDP, vote LDP. If you want to destroy the LDP, vote LDP."

A nice little demonstration of the political genius of this “ice cream for everybody” approach can be found in this evening's Asahi Shimbun. Page 3 is crammed with an even-more-abstruse-than-usual set of post-election, multi-colored, three-dimensional graphs that are guaranteed to resist even the most stubborn reader's comprehension.

However, the graph in the top right hand corner of page 3 tells a beautiful tale. According to the Asahi Shimbun's calculations, the LDP received 1) inside Tokyo, 2) in all the cities and 3) in the town and villages of the countryside exactly the same fraction of the vote: 38%. Pathetically, the Democratic Party in defeat nearly matched the LDP in its consistency, winning 30% of the votes in Tokyo and 31% in the cities and towns and villages.

In sacrificing a small part of the LDP's rural support (3%) the Koizumi LDP blew away the Democrats in the urban areas--just as political scientists had always predicted.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Last call!

We've emailed all the party heads to ask them to send us a final, very brief word of encouragement.

Mr. Koizumi's message:
"If you want to defeat the LDP, vote LDP!"

Mr. Kanzaki's message:I'm just along for the ride. No, I don't know how much my childcare and eldercare promises cost. Vote Komeito!"

Mr. Okada's message:
"People, people. Don’t listen to Koizumi. What he says makes no sense. I represent the real anti-LDP. Vote Democrat!"

Mr. Shii's message:
"You're one to talk, Okada-san! Once upon a time you were in the LDP, remember? If you want to send a message, vote Communist! Face it, we are the only ones to have really, truly, always been against the LDP!"

Ms. Fukushima's message:
"Do you have to bring up the Murayama episode? It was a mistake. We're past that now. To be honest, we never really liked them. Peace and security for everybody! Vote Socialist."

Mr. Watanuki's message:
"I love Toyama. Koizumi is a fascist. Wouldn't it be great if we could stop time? Vote…damn, what's the name of my party?"

Mr. Tanaka’s message
"Why am I doing this? I had some time. Don't get me wrong, being governor of Nagano’s great…but it’s not enough for my ego. Vote for Japan New Party! Or New Party Japan! Whatever."