Monday, October 31, 2005

A new alliance, a new constitution and now this

A thought for the day—what we are about to witness over the next few hours time is not just a unique cabinet selection process, but a political act bordering upon the perverse. Prime Minister Koizumi is picking a Cabinet by himself—not even the LDP general secretary, if we are to take him at his word, knows who is being selected for what post.

Some time this evening, most all studies of Japanese politics—all the papers, all the op-eds, all the textbook entries—will become moot. Goodbye to nemawashi, goodbye to factional balancing, goodbye to ryotei politics, goodbye to “plus ca change...”

Koizumi alone is acting. All others are just spectators (Koizumi gekijo indeed).

The closest parallel in Japanese history today's events is probably Ito Hirobumi's solitary authorship of the Imperial Constitution. The closest parallel in modern history may be Lee Kuan Yew's construction of the modern Singaporean state (I.C. is invited to comment).

The Koizumi penchant for surprises has inured us to epic scale of the change he is attempting. Today he will be crafting a representative government for his people out of the extension of his will, according to it the structure of his mind, and with the backing of an overwhelming majority in the country's legislative branch

I hope he knows what he is doing. This one-man strategy has the potential to piss off just about everyone in some way.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2005

Getting all parochial about dugongs

David Pilling has been doing an excellent job of reporting on Japanese politics and economics for The Financial Times.

His zoology and syntax, however, are killing me.

Dugong dispute strains US-Japan alliance
By David Pilling
Published: October 27 2005 17:50

The dugong, an ancient marine mammal related to the seacow, loves to feed in the warm, blue waters off Okinawa in Japan's tropical south. Few would believe that this creature, with its vacuum cleaner-shaped snout and penchant for seaweed, could be undermining one of world's most important military alliances. They would be wrong...


Oh, all right. The first sentence make sense if one:

a) has read Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book cover-to-cover
b) ignores that "seacow" is one of the common names for the dugong, and
c) knows that fossil record indicates the dugong family is the older of the two families of surviving sirenians.

Otherwise it is absurd, the equivalent of:
The cow, an ancient land mammal related to the bovines, loves to feed on the sun-blessed ridges of England's green and pleasant land.
Or perhaps:

The elephant, an ancient land mammal related to the mammoth, loves to feed on the sere, golden plains of Tanzania.
And how tired must one be to miss that the second half of the Pilling's paragraph sentence says exactly the opposite of what he intended?
"Few would believe that this creature could be undermining...They would be wrong."
So the few who believe that it is undermining the alliance...are wrong.

No, no, no, no, that makes no sense.

What Pilling wants to say is that almost everybody would be mistaken. What he wants to say is:

“Most would believe that this creature could not possibly be undermining...They would be wrong.
Editor, Editor!!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

I am the very model of a modern major prime ministerial candidate

With the scheduled announcement of new LDP leadership lineup on November 1 and the new Cabinet a day later, the networks and print media are atwitter with the race to replace Prime Minister Koizumi. The PM has vowed that he will step down as president of the LDP when his term of office expires next September. In the aftermath of Mr. Koizumi’s following through on his threat to dissolve the Diet this past August, no serious commentator doubts his intent to keep his promise as regards his term of office. The prime minister has also promised to support to the candidacy of the LDP member who acquits himself or herself best over the next 10 months, thereby setting up an intense competition for both the most visible postings and the most onerous tasks.

Such competition for the favor of a sitting prime minister is a brand new phenomenon. Japan has never had a tradition such as the Mexican dedazo, where the leader of the country indicates (dedazo means “to point the finger”) his choice of a successor. In postwar Japan, prime ministers have had no say in the selection of their successors, if only because the end of most terms in office have come as the result of a forced resignation or death. Indeed, many prime ministers have been succeeded by their political enemies within the LDP, a sort of alternation of governance most other nations have realized through a change in the ruling party.

Should Koizumi succeed in enforcing his own form of dedazo, he will have created a significant new instrument of prime ministerial power, a mighty bequest to his successors in their battles against the return of LDP factionalism.

What is equally intriguing is that Koizumi has also managed to mandate--without significant protest--that his successor exhibit administrative competence and/or charismatic leadership skills. This is a startling requirement, given the LDP’s history of relying on numerical strength of faction, seniority and factional balance as guides for personnel decisions. As the formidable Sam Jameson explains, in a post to the Japan Forum:
Former Prime Minister Mori, head of the faction to which Shinzo Abe belongs, has said publicly that Shinzo Abe, 51, is still too young to become prime minister. In addition to nenko joretsu standards, choosing three consecutive prime ministers from the same faction (Mori, Koizumi, Abe) would ruffle feathers in the party. Yasuo Fukuda, 69, might be considered for a short-term prime minister if he, too, were not a member of the Mori faction.
If you apply both the nenko joretsu and the factional considerations to predictions for Koizumi's successor, you wind up with Taro Aso, 65, who is five years older than Sadakazu Tanigaki.
I don't get the feeling that Aso inspires great enthusiasm among voters, however. If the LDP, despite its 296 seats in the lower house, feels it needs another henjin (strange person) to avoid losing control of the government in the NEXT (in 2009?) lower house election (an unlikely prospect, in my view), the old customs would go out the window…
[The full thread on potential successors to prime minister Koizumi, including Sam Jameson’s comment, can be accessed here]

Koizumi's warning that his support—that is his vote, the votes of the Koizumi Children and the votes of LDP members chafing under the yokes of the surviving faction leaders--will depend upon performance has given rise to wild speculation about Koike Yuriko and Takenaka Heizo--the one a political opportunist of the highest order, the other a neophyte--as black sheep candidates for the LDP presidency.

At present, Abe Shinzo is far ahead in the running for the next LDP presidency. His youth, rather than being a negative, projects an image of strength and durability. He is telegenic, well-bred and fairly handsome. He is adored by the American establishment. Poll after poll shows him with a commanding lead over other potential LDP party presidents.

However, it is not clear that Prime Minister Koizumi is comfortable with handing over the reins of party and government to Abe.

Koizumi is aware that by the end of his term, the relations between Japan and China and Japan and South Korea will be in tatters. He long ago promised that if elected prime minister, he would visit Yasukuni Shrine on August 15--a promise he has heretofore not kept. He will fulfill his promise next year. He feels he must. He probably feels that it would be in the country's best interest for the next prime minister to be just as committed to not visiting Yasukuni. Abe, as everyone knows, is a Yasukuni enthusiast.

Major questions remain also about Abe's administrative or leadership skills. While capable of projecting an aura of command, he has only a weak record as a commander. His only posting of significance, his terms as secretary-general of the LDP, ended somewhat ignominiously.

A further demerit, one that has attracted little attention so far, is Abe's electoral district. Abe is the representative for Yamaguchi district #4. While not deeply rural district (the prefecture's largest city, Shimonoseki, is inside Abe's domain), it is still part of the inaka, the hinterland that had produced every single post-war prime minister before Koizumi. Abe’s district is indeed part of the old Choshu han, the homeland of a vast number of prime ministers, including the very first (Ito Hirobumi) and Abe’s grandfather (Kishi Nobusuke).

Koizumi is very aware of the pernicious relationship between a rural electoral base and the misallocation of national wealth. He attacked the postal savings system and highway construction cabal for this very reason. He has consistently chosen urban and suburban residents as his advisors and confidants. It seems inconceivable that he would turn over control of the LDP, only a year after the party managed to sweep up every seat but one in Tokyo, to the same rural forces that dragged the nation to near ruin.

My bet therefore is that Koizumi anoints not one of the four princes (Abe, Tanigaki, Aso or Fukuda Yasuo) but the person I believe will be the next foreign minister, Yosano Kaoru. By agreement with the Mori faction, Abe will succeed him, with Koike succeeding Abe in 2011 or 2012.

But then again, a week is an eternity in politics.

President George W. Bush comes a' visitin' next month. The U.S. embassy will probably arrange a reception where President Bush meets with future leaders. As for what will happen when President Bush actually steps out into the meet-and-greet with members of the Diet who imagine themselves candidates for the LDP party presidency, I am afraid the result will look a lot like this (add your own sound effects):

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

So it's Charismatic Megafauna 1; Badass Hyperpower 0

He came with eyes aflame, whifling through the off-gold lobby.

He burbled the Five Tasks:

1) Bilateral assessment of strategy and threats
2) Assessment of different roles
3) Assessment of respective force structures
4) Examination of basing structure for U.S. and Japanese forces
5) Consideration of force presence issues

He accentuated the Many Recent Positives:

· Research Cooperation in Missile Defense
· East Timor
· Operation Enduring Freedom
· Refueling of the Fleets of 10 Nations
· Operation Iraqi Freedom
· Contingencies Legislation
· Launching a Missile Defense Program
· Relaxation of Weapons Exports Rules
· Revised National Defense Guidelines

But he was not finished. He was not satisfied. He needed to diss:

But measured against Japan's capabilities to contribute to international security, and measured against Japan's global interests and the benefits Japan derives from peace and stability around the world, these changes remain quite modest.”

Raise eyebrow. Shift in seat. Think to oneself:

"Mr. Deputy Under Secretary, we are seated no more that 150 meters away from the office of the celebrated Mr. K. himself. All the Japanese networks have their cameras rolling. You are a guest in this country. What is appropriate in a presentation before the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcomittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee might sound discourteous in this neck of the woods, if not within the confines of the particular room you are standing in right now."

But he was not finished, no.

"We must make up for the time we have lost."
Who is this "we" Kemosabe*?

When did this losing of time begin?

How far away is this place where "we" belong?

Do "we" have time for a vote before "we" start off?

"Remained caught up in parochial issues"

Local parochial issues such as, for instance,

- environmental regulations,

- international animal protection treaties,

-judicial precedent,

-local law and

-the opinions of local elected officials?

Then the kicker, at least as I remember it (transcripts and sound recordings are frequently unreliable. MTC memory products, however, are definitive):

"If the security relationship is not brought up to the point where it should be, we will not be able to secure the alliance."

Nice use of the conditional there. Inspires fear. And who is this "we" again?

The Deputy Under Secretary's speech was mighty entertaining, jolting even. "The highlight of the conference so far," RS confided over dinner.

Boy, it sure seemed that this was one American official who was going to grab his Japanese interlocutors by the eri (collar) and tell them what's what and who's who.

But last night, as night fell upon the great city, he must have stood at the window of his hotel and raged at the peaceful, flickering ocean of lights:

"Hearken to my words, my friends. See therein that I threaten you. Look upon my name — LAWLESS — and despair. I am Shiva, devourer of worlds. I am the ugly man with the pretty wife** . I am Sauron with both the Ring and a Ferrari Testarossa. I am the representative of the most awesome killing machine to ever stalk the surface of this planet and I am being GUMMED TO DEATH BY DUGONGS!"
For it was on the next day that the Deputy Under Secretary went before the microphones and signaled surrender.

With a presidency adrift, an official visit looming, a 10 year-old dispute festering and a mild-tempered, extremely endangered sirenian in the way, he was not going to get a promise for an offshore helicopter base any more substantial than the promises made a month ago to the DPRK for a new light-water reactor.

Ah, the mysterious East...kabuki first, then karma.


* Reference to the old Lone Ranger and Tonto joke:

"Tonto, there are 1000 Sioux to the north of us, 2000 Shoshone to east of us, 3000 Cheyenne to the west of us and 4000 Navaho to the south of us. We're surrounded."

"Hmmm...What do you mean by 'we', paleface?"

** In the metaphorical sense, only. Mr. Lawless is no Quasimodo. I know less than nothing about the appearance of Mrs. Lawless.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Paging John Dower

From the Chosun Ilbo...

"Second surprise mission to provoke Korea and China to anger accomplished, sir!” reports the Japanese pilot to his delighted wartime commander, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who launched the first attack. Their mission: a massive 101 lawmakers pay their respects at the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors convicted war criminals among the country’s war dead and is the epicenter of historical revisionism in Japan.

Could someone explain to me, in simple terms--so that I might understand --why is it that in the year 2005 Koreans draw Japanese as buck-toothed, mustachioed, Harold-Lloyd-coke-bottle-glasses-wearing dweebs?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Reading can be fun...if...

Professor Gavan McCormack is a very frustrated man. In his essay "Koizumi's Kingdom of Illusion" he demonstrates a compelling need to work out—at length—his disquiet over recent political events.

Part of his argument shows signs of coming from essays on rather different topics (a sin, but a venial one in this our age of silicon) but on the whole McCormack offers an expansive look at why it is just so wrong that the LDP did so well in the September 11 election. He also offers a glimpse of the rarest of creatures: a non-Japanese who feels a tremulous nostalgia for the doken kokka.

Sadly for Professor McCormack, Koizumi not only won but won big. He must be doing something right. (Bricolage, peut-être?)

Philip Brasor, who makes his living as a media critic, offers up some juicy sentences but a few too many overripe paragraphs in his Japan Times opinion article "Roll up! Roll up! For a freak show starring Koizumi's children", also available here.

It is not until very end of the essay that Brasor seizes upon what should have been the focus of his piece: the crucial role the morning television shows played in midwifing Koizumi's electoral victory. Instead of repeating what Shukan Shincho said about Katayama Satsuki's prickly personality, Brasor should have examined exactly how the morning shows have become so powerful, supplanting the evening news hours as sources of information for the general public. (Was it simply because the sun rises early in August?)

While McCormack and Brasor write about a country that resembles contemporary Japan, I am afraid David Kang fails to do so in his essay "Japan: U.S. Partner or Focused on Abductees?" in this autumn's The Washington Quarterly.

Kang teaches government at Dartmouth with a concurrent post at the Tuck School of Business. He writes on Korea-Japan relations for the excellent e-journal Comparative Connections produced by the Pacific Forum CSIS.

I am not particularly disturbed this article's relentless reprojection of the Japan-North Korea relationship through the prism of the United States. Kang is, after all, writing for a Washington audience. However, Kang's reliance on English-language sources is somewhat disconcerting. A certain piquancy is lacking in the resulting stew, as key ingredients go missing.

Take for example his account of the derailment of the normalization process that took place after the September 2002 Pyongyang summit (p. 108). According to Kang:

Koizumi traveled to Pyongyang for a breakthrough meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the first-ever meeting between the two countries' heads of state. The summit produced a dramatic declaration: after three decades of denials, North Korea admitted and apologized for the past abductionof Japanese nationals and held out the possibility of normalizing diplomatic ties between the two countries...

The summit's concluding Pyongyang Declaration was significant, as both sides apologized for past actions—a precondition for moving forward—and pledged to cooperate in the future.

Unfortunately, this optimism was quickly overshadowed by the nuclear crisis. Within just weeks of Koizumi's trip, all hopes of a rapid improvement in relations faded as North Korea and the United States squared off.

My memory of that stunning September three years was somewhat different. Koizumi came back from Pyongyang holding ashes—not literally, that was to come later—but gray and speechless at the stunning revelation that most of the abductees were dead, purportedly in "accidents," their graves all "washed away in floods." He and Abe Shinzo had debated whether to return during the scheduled lunch break without signing the Declaration. They had furthermore traveled to Pyongyang already briefed about the possible clandestine HEU program, fully cognizant of the likely public outcry that would ensue when the U.S. went public with its suspicions.

Nothing prepared them, however, for the shock of so many Japanese dead at such a young age. Since they were bringing no one home, there was nothing to cushion the blow delivered to the families...all of which was broadcast live on television.

The HEU accusation was a sideshow, comparatively speaking.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

If this is dictatorship, maybe we need more dictators

Over the past few weeks, a debate has broken out within the LDP over the severity of the punishments to be meted out to the LDP postal rebels. Simple logic would dictate that the rebels and their fellow travelers should be expelled from the party forthwith. Any lighter punishment would make a mockery of the recent election, which at its heart was a plebiscite on the rejection of the postal reform bills.

Since 1945, however, a not insignificant fraction of the citizenry has been led to believe that you can get out of being punished for a transgression if you tell everyone, out loud, that you are really, really sorry for having committed it.

For reasons most execrable, the postal rebels of the House of Representatives are trying to take advantage of this misguided magnanimity. Of the rebels who were elected to the Diet as independents, only Hiranuma Takeo voted against the postal legislation again. The other 11 independents tucked their tails in between their legs, announced that they had been wrong in both voting against the bills in August and in running against LDP-appointed candidates, and humbly voted for the legislation.

Koizumi loyalists, most prominently the neo-Jacobin Koizumi Children, have demanded the heads of the rebels. Other less sanguinary members of the LDP, recognizing that one day they may find their own heads on the chopping block, have been pushing for reinstatement following an apology. Koizumi himself has not delivered a final verdict but is likely in favor of an imposition of the ultimate sanction.

Wisely, the PM grabbed a chance today to demonstrate that pitilessness and severity toward traitors is not the same as intolerance for dissent. In a move that can only redound to his credit, he encouraged the members of his cabinet to speak their minds on the record about his visit yesterday to Yasukuni. Two member of his cabinet, Land, Infrastructure and Transport minister Kitagawa Kazuo and National Public Safety Commission chairman Murata Yoshitaka seized the opportunity to tell the press that they felt the PM should not have visited the shrine.

Now, this may be a "Hundred Maple Leaves Campaign" where the cabinet members who expressed opposing views mark themselves as targets for the next round of party purges. More likely, however, Koizumi set the cabinet membership free to express opposing views in order to deflate opposition warnings that the LDP's extraordinary victory margin in the September elections laid the groundwork for a Koizumi dictatorship of the majority.

Speculation indulge in do I, but the prime minister is probably particularly disappointed in Noda Seiko. She opposed the postal bills out of principle, unlike the Democrats who voted against the legislation in order to provoke a political crisis. If she had remained defiant and had voted against the legislation again, Koizumi would have respected her for sticking to her guns, even as he could not agree with her vote or permit to her remain an LDP party member. Now, she is just another pol, shifting and recalibrating in order to keep her options open. No hinkaku at all.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Et tu Seiko-san, et tu?

What are we to make of Noda Seiko's tenko on the postal reform bills? Noda won her district outright, seeing off the then somewhat awkward, now increasingly fearsome shikaku Sato Yukari. The local LDP chapter chose to commit seppuku out of loyalty to her. Local officials ran away or showed no emotion whenever Sato, the official LDP candidate, came to town.

Is the looming shadow of Koizumi so frightening now that even Noda, an attractive, healthy sansei in a district with a strong pro-post office voting record, cannot vote exactly the same way she did before? After having been minister of Posts and Telecommunications? After having led all her friends and neighbors into ostracism and exile from the LDP? Now she wants to get back in the party's good graces?

I can understand why Noda Seiko as an individual would want to keep her seat on the political gravy train. I can even imagine her offering the rationalization that the economy of her district is so dependent on government handouts she feels she has to sacrifice her personal integrity for the economic well-being of her constituents.

Funny thing about being one of the people's representatives in an elective democracy--one really does have to keep one's campaign promises. In an ideal world, forever--but if push comes to shove, at least one election cycle. One will be considered flighty but at least not mendacious.

Changing sides after only a month tends to erode one's credibility (a euphemism, my dear Watson). To her credit, Noda held out longer than the real rebels, members of the LDP in the House of Councilors like Nakasone Hirofumi. They precipitated the political crisis by voting down the bills in August. They then raced each other to the microphones in the aftermath of September 11 in order to be the first to offer up songs of praise for Koizumi’s leadership.

Still, who among Noda's constituents will ever trust a single thing she ever says again?

No matter how one looks at it, this is a sad turnaround for one long picked to be "probably Japan's first woman prime minister."

Et tu Robert?

Heavens to Betsy and sakes alive--this must be a self-sustaining recovery. Either that or someone's undergone an exorcism.

After years of vocalizing the most intense desires of the Ministry of Finance for tighter budgets and harder money, Robert Alan Feldman of Morgan Stanley seems to have given up his querulous quest and joined the Collective. Last night on Channel 12's Nightly Business Report he asserted that deflation is bad and should be avoided.

OK, this may not sound like an earthshaking revelation. For Mr. Feldman, however, it is the scream of a liberated man. He has heretofore never missed a chance to offer dire warnings about the level of Japanese government indebtedness and the need for fiscal retrenchment. Indeed, the immanence of such retrenchment has been a theme in his public statements and analysis for gosh, I do not know how long.

Clearly, I have to go through the back issues of the Morgan Stanley Global Economic Forum to find out when this tenko occurred. The most recent Japan posts are here and here but they are by Sato Takehiro.

Perhaps Mr. Feldman woke up one morning recently, feeling sore and ill-used. Suddenly, with the swift thunderclap of self-awareness that otherwise only comes from sitting in an overstuffed chair in a hotel lobby and noticing one is wearing the toilet slippers, he must have understood that the bureaucrats and ex-bureaucrats who have been whispering sweet nothings in his ears have done so in support a private agenda, not the public good ("Oh ye feckless, ruthless bureaucrats, lacking either feck or ruth!"). Tossing aside the bedclothes, he probably threw open the curtains, looked out into the bright, gray Tokyo skyline, the yellow sun glinting on a hundred thousand panes of glass and declaimed:

“Economic growth--for the lack of a better phrase--is good. Growth is right. Growth works.”

Lest anyone be lulled into thinking that Mr. Feldman has not only joined the Collective but is now also a member of the Congregation of the Seriously Bemused, he launched, following the video segment on the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Economics, into a rather earnest and discombobulated explanation of how game theory could offer insights into some recent Japanese economic and political events. Like the last election.

It was a valiant try.

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.