Tuesday, January 24, 2006


What do you want me to say? That Japanese prosecutors do not make their move until they are sure they have enough evidence to convict?


As the TV Asahi announcer pointed out with barely disguised glee in the opening segment of last night's Hodo Station, the cells at the Kosuge Detention Center are unheated. Horie, Miyauchi, Okamoto and Nakamura can be held in detention for 23 days.

They are brave now.

But not for long.

One of them will soon crack from the cold, the isolation, the boredom and the hours and hours of interrogation.

He will sign a deposition, implicating the others.

The lawyers of the others will then encourage their clients to sign the depositions as well in order to end their torment and possibly win a reduction of their sentences.

You see, when the prosecutors marched into Livedoor on Monday a week ago, they had nothing.

They still have nothing.

They will never have enough physical evidence to convict. Horie and the others are too smart to leave even virtual traces of actionable behavior.

No, the suspects have to be broken.

That is why the prosecutors have moved so fast. To take Horie and the others down before they have arranged a management succession strategy for Livedoor and a defense strategy and common storyline for themselves.

Before the weather warms up enough to make 23 days in a metal box survivable.

Monday, January 23, 2006

What does NHK stand for?

Evidently, from the glance over the shoulder of a man reading a sports newspaper, it stands for:

N 何にも
H 本質には
K 変わっていないぞ。

Not bad for a supposedly "dumb" publication.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

No snarkery

It would be inappropriate on such a beautiful day.

Instead, I will just post some images from today's wanderings.

Window, Gokokuji

Steeple of St. Ignatius Church, Yotsuya

Togetsukyo, Rikugien

Tufted Ducks , Rikugien

Hidden S, Koishikawa Botanical Garden of Tokyo University

Friday, January 20, 2006

Reality wins a round

It is so hard to accept not being normal...

Bank of Japan to Keep Pumping Cash Into the Economy

Jan. 20 -- Japan's central bank held interest rates near zero and will keep pumping cash into the economy as it awaits evidence that deflation is beaten.

Policy makers kept the bank's target for reserves it makes available to lenders at between 30 trillion yen ($259 billion) and 35 trillion yen, six times more than in March 2001, the bank said in Tokyo. The decision, made at the end of a two-day meeting, was by a 7-2 majority.

One should not read too much into a single meeting. But by voting 7-2, the Board is sending the message it is willing to take a flyer on the promises made by politicians and bureaucrats to carry out responsible and rapid fiscal retrenchment.

Let us hope the politicians, particularly the LDP freshmen from the long-neglected urban districts, hang tough at budget time.

On the labor cost side, I am seeing a lot of retail "Help Wanted" signs with hourly compensation above 1100 yen. That is a non-trivial amount of change for a young person or an immigrant.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

"How much do you hate deflation?"

In order to avoid seeming obsessed with the Livedoor debacle--I mean, sheesh, why should I consider the destruction of US$400 billion in market wealth over 3 days important?--perhaps I should look at some other economic news.

The prophet of Channel 12 has come down from the mountaintop. Upon the stone tablets he bears are shining the fateful words:
"Mene, mene, tekel upharsin"
No, wait, wrong prophetic words. I'm sorry. Here are the correct prophetic words:
"I have changed my view on the speed of introducing inflation targeting in Japan," Feldman said in a note to clients dated Jan. 10. "Japan will introduce inflation targeting within 2006."
Yes, Robert Alan Feldman, who only last year was still channeling some of the filthiest fiscal rebalancing fantasies of the Finance Ministry, now expects the Bank of Japan to adopt a positive inflation target.

Wow! Out with the old and in with the bold!

Funny thing though, Feldman's contribution to the Morgan Stanley Global Forum of January 13 seems to be saying that the implementation of inflation targeting may be delayed by anti-reform elements diddling around until the clock runs out on Koizumi's premiership:
The threat comes from the ability of anti-reform forces to use foot-dragging as a technique to delay reforms, hoping that the next administration loses interest. The importance of this threat was emphasized a few weeks ago, when PM Koizumi angrily admonished some of his ministers for inadequate proposals on reform of government financial institutions. The result was more aggressive on reform than expected.

However, not all issues get to the PM’s level. Inflation targeting is a good example. There are many complex issues, such as how to create a better consumer price index, how to model the relationship of actual inflation expectations to official inflation targets, how to measure actual GDP and potential GDP, etc. With the clock ticking, it is easy for bureaucrats to work slowly, and avoid changing anything. On the other hand, the ticking clock makes the administration more impatient with foot-dragging, and imposes shorter deadlines.
So which is it?

Now Stephen Kirchner, whom the incomparable Brad Setser has weighed in the balance and found wanting, has submitted an essay to the Business Week website expressing a similar opinion. "Similar" in this case means that while Feldman tries to make sense of a glaring inconsistency, Kirchner elides over it:

Will Japan Target Inflation in 2006?
Business Week Online

The Bank of Japan may well adopt a formal target figure to guide monetary policy after easing interest rates.

As the Bank of Japan prepares to finish quantitative easing of interest rates, an important issue will be how it defines its post-reflationary monetary policy framework. Despite its previous opposition, the Bank of Japan is now likely to find merit in the adoption of a formal inflation target, possibly in conjunction with the government.

Aaaaaaarghhhh! Stop it! Stop it! OK, Kirchner is not necessarily to blame for that idiotic summary line. It is probably just stupid editorial error--for why indeed should an editor of a Business Week article about Japanese monetary policy know anything at all about Japanese monetary policy? No matter whose fault it is, could someone please see to it that the summary line gets corrected or deleted?

All right, Dr. Kirchner, feel free to skip ahead to the main argument.

The Bank of Japan has also been influenced by the "Nike," or "Just Do It," approach of the U.S. Federal Reserve. The Bank of Japan sees the Fed's approach as more relevant to its situation than, for example, dollar-bloc economies like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, which adopted inflation targets from the early 1990s. With incoming Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke sympathetic to inflation targeting, however, this is likely to spark a reassessment on the part of the Bank of Japan. If the Fed moved to adopt an inflation target, the Bank of Japan would not want to be an outlier in terms of G3 practice. The Bank of Japan is now likely to see an inflation target as a useful way of containing long-term inflation expectations as the Japanese economy recovers.
Gosh, all that sounds so reasonable. Too bad it is really, deeply, sincerely bizarre.

OK, even given the Japanese prediliction for following the lead of others except in all those areas where Japanese seek to be different (sic) the concept that the BOJ could adopt an inflation target is hard to swallow:
1) The BOJ's current policy is quantitative easing, which is Central Bankerese for "it's free money--just take it, damn you."

2) There is currently no inflation in Japan, nor has there been any for several years--despite the BOJ policy of giving money away.

3) The BOJ, in an effort to return to "normal central banking," will cease the policy of quantitative easing sometime this year (Inshallah). When translated from the Central Bankerese, "cease the policy of quantitative easing" reads, "OK, the money is still free but you have to come and get it yourself."

4) Meaning that the volume of money sloshing through the economy will be smaller.

5) Which, and correct me if I am wrong, is a deflationary act.

6) After which, the BOJ will announce a policy to target a positive rate of inflation.
Yes, I am oversimplifying the debate and the policies...but it seems daft to target a positive rate of inflation when you can't even spark it by giving money away.

Somehow, I feel I have heard a similar debate somewhere else...
Why are you always on about women, Stan?
I want to be one.
I want to be a woman. From now on, I want you all to call me 'Loretta'.
It's my right as a man.
Well, why do you want to be Loretta, Stan?
I want to have babies.
You want to have babies?!
It's every man's right to have babies if he wants them.
But... you can't have babies.
Don't you oppress me.
I'm not oppressing you, Stan. You haven't got a womb! Where's the foetus going to gestate?! You going to keep it in a box?!
Here! I-- I've got an idea. Suppose you agree that he can't actually have babies, not having a womb, which is nobody's fault, not even the Romans', but that he can have the right to have babies.
Good idea, Judith. We shall fight the oppressors for your right to have babies, brother. Sister. Sorry.
What's the point?
What's the point of fighting for his right to have babies when he can't have babies?!
It is symbolic of our struggle against oppression.
Symbolic of his struggle against reality.

[Photo and script from Life of Brian]
Well, I hope they're happy now

With the computer systems of the Tokyo Stock Exchange crashing to a complete halt from the number of sell orders, I hope the staff members of at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office are appropriately stunned by what their heavy-handed tactics have wrought.

Their botched raid of Livedoor (on charges so flimsy Tsutsumi Yoshiaki would have considered them an insult) has unhooked the latticework of trust underpinning the 2004-05 revival of the Tokyo stock markets. It is now a smashed, dusty heap. Everyone--retail investors, foreigners, institutions--wants out.

Not that the consequences of their actions ever entered the compressed and underfed minds of the prosecutors. You could seen it in their eyes as they strode purposefully into Roppongi Hills--the hard gleam of fanaticism. Their information told them that they had found some very bad guys. They were going in to punish those bad guys. It was simple.

It seems that what we had was a walk-in, probably a disgruntled former manager of a Livedoor affiliate. With his copies of company emails, he went first to the public prosecutors. The securities regulators were brought in to confirm whether the activities the walk-in was describing were illegal (my guess is that the walk-in has moved on to giving "exclusives" to the Mainichi Shimbun. Just a guess, based on this and this and this). After the securities representatives answered in the affirmative, the prosecutors, egged on by contacts in the business establishment, set off to bring Livedoor and Horie down.

At no point did someone stop and ponder, "Whose interests are being served by our actions?"

Before anyone starts up with "a crime is a crime and must be dealt as such," please tell me how many CEOs of companies in the Keidanren would be behind bars if the the level of scrutiny currently being applied to Livedoor were applied to their accounting and public relations shenanigans.

My guess: all of them.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Bureaucracy meets modernity, is appalled


NHK's 9:00 o'clock newscast revealed some of the most compelling of evidence yet that Horie Takafumi and his minions were up to no good: according to unnamed sources inside the Tokyo District Prosecutors Office, investigators sent to seize the Livedoor records found almost no paper documents. Instead, the company executives seemed to work on computers and communicated with each other by email!

This is just getting better all the time.

He's doing this on purpose, isn't he?

Finance Minister Tanigaki Sadakazu, the purported policy wonk of the Cabinet, continues to dream weird dreams about places that do not exist.

Tanigaki says Japan should take the middle way on social security
Financial Times

By David Pilling in Tokyo--As its population ages, Japan should carve out a middle way between the social security systems of Scandinavia and that of the US, according to finance minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, one of several contenders to replace Junichiro Koizumi as prime minister.

Mr Tanigaki, who has just returned from a profile-raising trip to Washington, told a seminar yesterday that Japan needed to steer a course between the high benefit, high tax burden model of Scandinavia and what he described as the "survival of the fittest" model of the US.

The United States is "survival of the fittest"? Ahem, ever heard of Nigeria?

I have always wondered about the political viability of constantly appealing to the mean. Moderation is a good thing, yes, and many Japanese leadership contests have come down to everyone accepting the moderate, humble, middle choice.

The public is aware, however, that moderation is more than just finding two positions and staking out a point equidistant from both. Policies have to possess internal coherence; they cannot be just pasted-together chimerae "half of this and half of that".

Tanigaki seems unaware of the increasing sophistication of his countrymen and women. The people are no longer being bowled over by Asahi Shimbun editorial board-type appeals to the middle way.

Caveat Lictor: Access to FT articles is time-sensitive. If you wish to read more, please click on the above link within the next 24 hours. I will not, out of respect for copyright, be posting the entire text of articles.
Rewind and reconsider

Let me see if I get this straight.

Public prosecutors--i.e. the state's criminal investigators, not its securities regulators--raided Livedoor in order to secure evidence of the company's shifting of a set of assets from one subsidiary to another and for a subsidiary's overstating of its profits.

In Japan.

The empire of keiretsu, tobashi and dango*.

You have got to be kidding me.

* Was it really only last month that the main general contracting companies caused a huge stir by publicly swearing to give up dango?

Shadenfreude: I'm so happy to see you so unhappy

Fuji Television executives are shocked and saddened by the allegations made against Livedoor. They are almost certain they will have to abandon the share exchange agreed upon last year as the price for Livedoor's ending its takeover bid for Nippon Hoso.

The Fuji guys (and they are all guys--curiously tanned and understressed) would be crying rivers if they were not so busy dancing about with glee.

As for the interactions between the timing of the raid and the news broadcasts on NHK, the story grows ever more peculiar. NHK was tipped off so far in advance it began broadcasting news of the raid an hour and a half before it began. The 5 p.m. news broadcast began with a description of the prosecutors entering the Livedoor offices at 4:30 p.m.

Unfortunately, no such raid had yet taken place.

NHK's false report, of course, made it possible for all the other networks and news organizations to sprint into action and encircle Roppongi Hills with live cameras, crews and reporters in time to catch the real raid at 6:30.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Establishment Strikes Back

It seems that Horie Takafumi will have a little more burdening his mind tonight than what T-shirt to wear to dinner.

Japan's Livedoor raided by prosecutors

Mon Jan 16, 2006 5:09 AM ET - TOKYO, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Japanese prosecutors raided the offices of Internet firm Livedoor Co. on Monday in what media described as a probe of the firm and its maverick 33-year-old president over securities law violations.

The prosecutors are also searching his home.

Now it is hard to imagine what written rules Horie could have broken, aside from good taste and possibly personal hygiene--but oh, the unwritten rules he has violated!

While I think he's a scoundrel, this looks like a setup.

The 64 million yen question is whether or not the people (or their unelected representatives, the commentators appearing on the private network news broadcasts tonight and tomorrow morning) rise to his defense .

If they do, will the prosecutors back off?

Later: OK, so now I have seen the 9:00 NHK news.

The Livedoor offices were raided by twelve members of the staff of the Tokyo District Prosecutors Office at 6:30 p.m.

Now forgive me for my skepticism, but twelve sounds like a suspiciously low number of officers to send into a company the size of Livedoor. When the public prosecutors went after the construction companies involved in the Aneha scandal, they pressed their way in by the hundreds.

Secondly, there is the hour of the raid. Public prosecutors normally do not raid during evening business hours. All the footage I have ever seen of the prosecutorial march has been late at night or just before the formal start of the business day.

However, a 6:30 p.m. coincides nicely with hot footage appearing on NHK's uncritical 7:00 p.m. news broadcast.

Let's see what TV Asahi has to say.

Even later: True to its modern form, TV Asahi missed the free kick.

Furutachi Ichiro admitted he did not understand the allegations (allegations because the prosecutor's office has yet to release a statement about its actions this evening) against his network's next door neighbor.

Furutachi introduced a purported market expert. According to his presentation, Livedoor is first suspected of trying to run a pump-and-dump scheme. Under the scheme, a Livedoor subsidiary announced the acquisition of what was nominally independent company. However, according to the report this firm was a de facto subsidiary of Livedoor's finance arm. Now which of these three company's shares were being pumped is unclear. The second allegation is that the nominally independent firm's latest financial report is fraudulent.

Now another possibility, which the expert introduced, is that the investigation is something of a fishing expedition--a way for prosecutors to troll through Livedoor's documents and records in search of securities violations.

Still no information on Horie's whereabouts or whether the prosecutors have left his private residence.
When former Foreign Ministers need to vent

Former Minister for Foreign Affairs Komura Masahiko, after mistakenly purchasing inexpensive "shrink-to-fit" armor from an unscrupulous Tokyo dealer, gamely proceeded in the solemn traditional public gymnasium rite of purification on January 9.

After screaming a lusty battle cry

he gathered with every hyakume of his strength

and slew a massive and clearly threatening amount of potentially trachea-clogging mochi.

I had always wondered, when I finally got around to throwing out the plastic-encased oshogatsu display mochi sometime in mid-May, what I had been expected to to with it.

Now I know.

I am one the last one to titter at the former FM's oversized outfit, of course. For two years, I led our local school's oendan at the Koganei City All-City afterschool program athletic meet, dressed as a pink and pale gray dancing elephant.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

He shoudda been more careful with his use of the subjunctive mood

The Finance Minister's “Hopes and Dreams: U.S.A. Tour 2006” continues to embarrass and amaze:

Japan's Tanigaki Says Govt May Not Object to BOJ Policy Shift

Jan. 13 -- Japanese Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki said the government may not object to a change in the Bank of Japan's zero-rate policy as more than seven years of deflation come to an end.

"There are various price indicators the Bank of Japan needs to examine carefully to make the policy decision," Tanigaki said in an interview today in Washington. "We are of course not assuming at this point in the situation that we would need to object" to a change in policy.

Tanigaki repeated that he hopes deflation in Japan will end in 2006. Sustained gains in consumer prices would allow Bank of Japan Governor Toshihiko Fukui to reduce the amount of money the bank pumps into the world's second-largest economy, a precursor to raising interest rates from zero. Tanigaki said he wasn't sure when the policy might change.

Someone has to warn the Minister, “Nakagawa Hidenao is going to be waiting for you at the gate at Narita. Whatever you do, don't get in the car.”

Friday, January 13, 2006

Catch it while you can

The reliable David Pilling today has a succint review of the multiple fronts of the fiscal and monetary policy war:

Bickering kicks off debate about post-deflation Japan
Financial Times

January 13 2006 02:00--Only the most diehard pessimist would dispute that Japan's economy is looking healthier than it has for many years.

Consumer deflation is breathing its last; the labour market is so tight some employment agencies are worried they will not be able to fill available posts; and banks are finally, if still very cautiously, doing something that has not come naturally for ages - lending people money.

Strange, then, that just when economic policymakers could finally give themselves a pat on the back, they have instead descended into unseemly bickering.
Jolly good--if one overlooks the somewhat silly promotions of Yosano Kaoru to peacemaker and sybil (See what kind of glowing tributes granting an exclusive interview can get you, though?)

Now, why did the FT leave this article outside its subscription wall?

Update: The FT has it back behind the subscription wall. Tha, tha, tha, tha, that' s all folks!
The Good Guys Don't Wear White Hats...

...they wear glasses?

In this morning's Sankei Shimbun, Hu Jintao seems to have discovered the secret of how to tell the Japanese hawks (Accipiter gentilis) apart from the Japanese doves (Streptopilia orientalis).

Birds of a feather...flock together.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A Well-Intentioned Catch-22

The intentions of the promulgators of this new regulation are noble...but nobility here is running slam-bang into the hormones of tens of thousands of hyped-up 19 to 24 year-olds. Does anyone share my worries about the effect this new regulation will have on the number of 1) rapes committed by, and 2) accusations of rape made against, U. S. servicemen and DoD civilians in Japan?

Commands across Japan spread news of solicitation ban
Sailors, Marines briefed about new UCMJ prohibition
Stars and Stripes

Pacific edition, Thursday, January 12, 2006--Along with the security and liberty briefings U.S. sailors and Marines from Japan received before visiting the Philippines for bilateral training in late 2005, they learned about a new article under the Uniform Code of Military Justice that for the first time makes it a crime to solicit a prostitute.

An Oct. 14 presidential order made soliciting prostitution a specific crime under the UCMJ, although it had been punishable under other charges in the past, officials said.


The awareness is part of a larger Navy campaign to inform sailors and Marines about human trafficking. A Navy instruction in November mandated that all Navy and Marine Corps servicemembers and civilians take an online course by February about recognizing signs of human trafficking.

The training is part of a Defense Department effort to root out military involvement in human trafficking, which in recent years Pentagon officials have called a threat to national security.

The focus, according to DOD Deputy Inspector General Jerry Hansen, began in 2002 with a Pentagon study that found soldiers in South Korea were contributing to human trafficking by supporting prostitution there.


Under a directive by Brig. Gen. Joseph V. Medina, Marine Corps Bases Japan deputy commander, all Marines on Okinawa will receive training about the new UCMJ article and human trafficking prevention by the end of January, Albrecht said. Marines new to Japan are to receive the training within the first 90 days they are in the country.


James Duke, a Department of Defense civilian at Yokosuka Naval Base, said he heard about the new UCMJ law in similar human trafficking training.

“Maybe it will make sailors behave better, but it will definitely make civilians think twice,” he said.

Aaaiiiyyyaaah! A minefield!

Oh, how busy the military courts of Okinawa, Sasebo and Yokosuka will be...busy, busy, busy.

Now it is true that many prostitutes are the victims of human trafficking. However, equating prostitution with human trafficking is unsound.

The Department of Defense is furthermore not simply extending the application of U.S. values and laws to its employees working overseas. Prostitution is illegal everywhere in the U.S. but two (?) Nevada counties. However sex therapists, escorts and fortune tellers openly ply their trades in every state, city and hamlet.

Nota Bene - As a father with a 10 year-old daughter, I am fully cognizant of just how wrong prostitution is.
Lord, make me chaste...but not yet

It seems that “Sore wa i-Kanzaki” has finally determined what it is that he finds impossible to endure:

Kanzaki says next prime minister should not visit Yasukuni Shrine

FUKUOKA, Jan. 11 -- New Komeito party leader Takenori Kanzaki said Wednesday that the successor to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi should not visit the war-related Yasukuni Shrine so that Japan can mend ties with Asian countries.

"Repairing the relationships with Asian countries is an important responsibility of the next Cabinet," Kanzaki said at a party meeting in Fukuoka. "The next prime minister should not visit Yasukuni Shrine."

Kanzaki, whose party is the coalition partner of Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party, said the prime minister's visits to Yasukuni, where Class A war criminals from World War II are also honored, are inconsistent with Cabinet policy as past leaders have issued statements reflecting on Japan's invasions.
There is nothing quite as inspiring as man drawing a line against immorality, especially after only four years of cohabitating with it. One can only hope that Kanzaki and the other members of his party have the strength to endure to these next nine more months of what can only be the purest of tortures for their immaculate souls.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

If wishes were fishes

Sometimes I wonder whether I should have established a Tanigaki Sadakazu investment fund. The fund's secret strategy: tracking the Finance Minister's every utterance and then betting on the exact opposite economic policy outcome.

Deflation expected to end this year, Tanigaki says

NEW YORK --Japan may be able to move out of deflation within this year, Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki said Monday.

Tanigaki, who is visiting the United States, made the comment at a lecture at the Japan Society in New York.

"The government compiled an economic forecast last year based on the assumption that Japan will overcome deflation this year," Tanigaki said. "Overcoming deflation has been our aim for a long time. I think everyone has the feeling that Japan will overcome deflation within this year, although my saying so may have attracted attention."

Call it a coincidence, but I have been following a similar strategy of getting myself in the news...

Pulitzer Prize expected this year, MTC says

Minato-ku --MTC may be able to win a Pulitzer Prize this year, semi-literate blogger MTC said Tuesday.

MTC, who is seated upon his ample behind, made the comment at random passersby at around 5 p.m. in Tokyo.

"I compiled my datebook last year based on the assumption that I will win a Pulitzer Prize this year," MTC said. "Overcoming invisibility has been my aim for a long time. I think everyone has the feeling that I will overcome my invisibility within this year, although my saying so may have attracted attention."

What is it they say, "Hope is not a plan"?

If we are to believe the newspapers, the powers in Washington are already hedging their bets in the post-Koizumi sweepstakes by giving Tanigaki "the full Chalabi"--slipping him into meetings with the soon-to-be-defunct Alan Greenspan, the unprintable John Snow, Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

If we are to believe the newspapers...
A gentle reminder

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Kong Quan has some issues with certain members of the Japanese media:

Japanese media urged to play role in enhancing mutual understanding

BEIJING, Jan. 10 -- Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Kong Quan said here Tuesday that he hoped the Japanese media would play a positive role in enhancing mutual understanding between the general public of the two countries.


He said the media are playing a very important role in increasing mutual understanding and trust between the people in China and Japan.

But he pointed out that some Japanese media are keen on playing up the friction and problems emerging from the currently troubled bilateral relations.

The media should think more of the overall prospect of China-Japan relationship and not play up events that undermine the bilateral ties between the two countries, he said.

Press passes! Get your Beijing Olympics press passes here! Unless you're from a Japanese media organization, of course! Members of the Japanese media must undergo a proctological exam and are limited to one press pass per news conglomerate! Press passes! Get your press passes here!

The Asahi Shimbun (page 4) huffs, "This is bizarre."
When the going gets tough...Road Trip!!!

It must be budget compilation season.

Japan, China to exchange 2,000 students
The Yomiuri Shimbun

More than 2,000 high school students are to be mutually invited to visit Japan and China each year as part of efforts to improve bilateral relations, according to government sources.

The exchange program, which is part of mid- and long-term efforts to boost ties, aims to build a forward-looking relationship. Relations have soured over Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to war-related Yasukuni Shrine.

Officials of the Japanese and Chinese foreign ministries held a working-level meeting in late December in Beijing to discuss the plan, the sources said.

At the meeting, the Japanese side officially told their Chinese counterparts that Tokyo would put aside 10 billion yen in a new fund for the exchange program by February at the earliest, and would start accepting Chinese high schoolers in September.

In response, Beijing is to shortly start inviting about 1,000 Japanese high schoolers a year to China.

The Japanese side considers that about 1,100 Chinese students a year will be invited for short visits of 10 days or so; about 100 on middle-term stays of two to three months; and about 50 on long stays of a year.

The short stays will be handled by the Japan-China Friendship Center, with the others to be organized by the planned fund.

Gosh this sounds like a great idea...for the year 2035. Until then, these kids will not be in much of a position to influence the relationship between their two countries. In the meantime, wouldn't it be neat if their parents' generation could learn to get along, if only just a little?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Call METI for a rewrite

I saw yet another fabulous commercial from the amakudari quasi-governmental sector this morning. I only saw it out of the corner of my eye, so I did not catch the entire engrossing drama.

A father and son are out playing in a grassy area behind a levee. In a heartstring-yanking metaphorical demonstration the marvels of technology, the father tells his son, “Now watch this!” and uncorks a mighty throw.

The scene then shifted to a friendly graphic of the nuclear fuel cycle, starring our pal from the lower boroughs of the periodic table, Perky Plutonium, in his brand new and friendly disguise, MOXy Mixed Oxygen Fuel.

We are then switched back to the levee, where the father makes a stirring catch.

The utterly unfraught piece of sports equipment the father uses to illustrate the utterly great benefits of the nuclear fuel cycle?

The boomerang.

The desperate wail you may have just heard was the sound of irony dying.

(Come on here people. "Bumeran koka" is in the damn dictionary!)

Irony may indeed not be dead, however, just resting. One irritated Japanese blogger suggests that in order to depict the reality behind reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, the commercial should be interspliced with the infamous "I'll catch it!" boomerang scene from The Road Warrior.


Monday, January 02, 2006

Uncharitable Thoughts about a Suicide

As the year came to a close, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs all of a sudden felt a great need to prove that it too could act in a fashion inimical to Japan's interests. With the prime minister's, the chief cabinet secretary's and the foreign minister's repeated provocative statements and the PM's "I'm just an average guy" visit to Yasukuni in late 2005, another year of the Asia Bureau's best efforts (Full Disclosure - I have an annual karaoke outing with Sasae Ken'ichiro) were evidently ruined.

"Might as well just pile on," must have been the MOFA bureaucracy's conclusion.

Otherwise, it is difficult to comprehend what the good ministry was trying to achieve in holding a press conference complaining about Chinese internal security officer's involvement in the suicide of a Japanese diplomat in Shanghai over a year ago.

MOFA certainly could not have been expecting a damburst of remorse flooding out from the Chinese Foreign Ministry in response.

As matters stand, MOFA looks pretty foolish. One of its officers took his life because he was being blackmailed about a sexual relationship he was having/had had with a Chinese woman in violation of...well, what, we do not know. We are not being told the man's name out of concern for his privacy. Forgive for being rude, but if I do not know a person's name, his standing or his story, my concern for him is minimal. Unless he betrayed Japan, my concern is for him is indeed non-existent...and if he betrayed his country, then myconcern shifts to contempt.

If your lust leaves you liable to be blackmailed into betraying your country—do not double your failure by blaming the blackmailer for doing his job.

And if you are the employer of the one with the wandering eye (among other body parts), blaming the blackmailer's employer only makes you look like an idiot for employing the wayward one in the first place.