Saturday, July 29, 2006

Tanigaki Redux

Let's say you do not want to be the Prime Minister of Japan.

The members of your faction (which you tried to avoid becoming the leader of) nevertheless want you to at least pretend to run for the presidency of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

How do you sabotage your own candidacy--aside from the Edwin Edwards ways?

How about saying stuff like:

"Taxes? What am I going to do about taxes? I am going to DOUBLE them, that's what I'm gonna do."

"I will guide Japanese foreign policy in a new direction, relying on the advice and consent of Roh Moo-hyun and Hu Jintao in all my decisions."

"I'm gonna take money from the areas of Japan where the population is growing and where industries are adding value to the national economy...and give that money to places that have been losing population for decades and have parasitic industries that survive only through subsidies and government contracts. Yep! Uh-huh, uh-huh."

Ooooh, you sly devil! But somehow I do not think even a grand guignol act of political seppuku will be enough to get you named Minister of Foreign Affairs of the First Abe Cabinet.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Caveat Lector

I really tear into Tanigaki Sadakazu in the post below.

Let me be clear: I think he is a sweet, if a bit sad, serious, assiduous, humble individual. I like him a lot.

He also has neither the political savvy nor administrative skills necessary to be anything more than a party backbencher.

As for the possibility that I might name the persons in Abe Shinzō's brain trust I find to be little more than "hacks, kooks and flim-flam artists"--I can assure you, I would not go there at gunpoint.

All To The Chirping Of The Kōrogi

I will stop calling Finance Minister Tanigaki Sadakazu "the man who put the idiot into idiot-savant" when he stops acting like a schyphozoan.

The afternoon's big news:
Tanigaki calls for two-step Japan sales tax hike

TOKYO, July 28 - Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, a dark horse contender for Japan's next prime minister, said on Friday the government may need to consider a two-stage increase in the nation's politically sensitive consumption tax.

Tanigaki on Thursday formally announced his candidacy for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election whose winner is virtually assured to succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi because of the party's power in parliament.

As part of his policy platform, Tanigaki said on Thursday the consumption tax, now at 5 percent, should be raised to at least 10 percent by around 2015.

Providing more details about how to approach such a tax hike, Tanigaki told a news conference on Friday: "It is probably appropriate to consider a two-stage approach."

The first stage will focus on achieving Japan's goal of shifting the primary balance -- revenues and spending excluding debt issuance and servicing -- into surplus by the fiscal year starting in April 2011, he said.

Revenues for the first-stage tax hike would also be needed to finance planned reforms that will require the government to pay more for the nation's pension system from April 2009.

An additional tax increase would be needed later to help the government achieve its goal of lowering the ratio of outstanding public debt to gross domestic product by the mid-2010s, he added.

Now, one might wonder the how it was that the Minister of Finance...I will say that again...the Minister of Finance came to decide that the best way to close Japan's fiscal gap is to raise the consumption tax from 5% to 10% in a two-stage process sometime over the next 10 years.

You will not believe it.

You will not believe it because it is so mind-boggling it leaves one's brain starving for oxygen.

He made it up.

He made it up. This morning. On live TV.

Tanigaki was the 8:00 a.m. guest on Mino Monta's influential Asa Zuba! television program. Mino and the other guests tried their darndest to be nice--but Tanigaki's salmon-like all-consuming urge to swim upstream, unburden himself and die could not be curtailed.

Among the gems was his introduction of his plans for revitalizing the commercial districts of small towns (the shattā-gai problem):

"Well, the people of the big cities (daitokai) may not like hearing this..."

Kusssssssabana! Takashi and Noriko, hide your wallets! Tanigaki's got a plan...and he says you're not gonna like it!

Damn straight we're not going to like it.

Gettin' hard to tell what's worse--locusts, tsunamis, typhoons or the MOF.

Anyway, in addition to the usual humiliating references to the eight years it took Tanigaki to get his Bachelor's degree and the seven years it took him to pass the bar, Mino and the more serious guests plugged away at his policy promise to raise the consumption tax to 10%.

When someone-- I cannot remember whether it was Mino, his newspaper sidekick or someone else--asked Tanigaki how the raise would be implemented, Tanigaki demurred, saying a rise would, "of course, be a shock to the system"--and thus would have to be implemented according a method determined by careful consideration of the alternatives and the repercussions.

A fine, nuanced position that survived almost 25 seconds.

As the host and guests pressed for specifics, Tanigaki decided (if that is what you want to call it) to wing it:

"Oh, I guess it would most likely have to be in two steps."

Shazam! Presto! There you have it! Your careful consideration of the alternatives and the repercussions! Based on analysis recently plucked from my nether regions!

* * *

What is frightening is not that Tanigaki has even a snowball's chance in hell of prevailing in the presidential race.

He doesn't.

Unless of course Abe Shinzō steps out in front of a moving vehicle.

No--what is frightening is that Abe's "brain trust"-- the community of like minds that is supposed to save us from the Tanigakis of the world-- seems stuffed with hacks, kooks and flim-flam artists.

But that observation is for another post...perhaps after I check out Toward a Beautiful Country...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Fair, balanced, informative...

I must be going soft...I am giving a thumbs up to a second article in two days.

Actually, I owe Paul Wiseman one--I was way too cranky about one of his recent articles.

This one is a keeper.

Income inequality shrinks Japan's middle class

By Paul Wiseman and Naoko Nishiwaki, TOKYO — Since he dropped out of college a few years ago, Takeshi Ito has bounced from job to job — washing dishes, waiting tables, selling mobile phones.

These days, he works for a temp agency, laboriously typing data into computers. Ito, 29, lives with his parents, trying to save enough money to marry his girlfriend, a kindergarten teacher.

"I can't be picky" about jobs, he says. "My choices are limited. ... I'd like to be independent, but realistically, I can't."

He speaks wistfully of a friend who finished college and landed on the fast track at an advertising agency. "He got a 1 million yen ($8,600) bonus," Ito says. "And he recently became an executive. I wish I could do such a thing."

Ito and his yuppie friend have found themselves on opposite sides of a widening gap: the one that separates Japan's economic winners from its losers.

Click through and listen to all the voices!

Seven individuals: five Japanese, one American, one European.

A politician, 4 economists (from a bank, the OECD, academia and an independent research institute), a linguist and an unfortunate, to put it all in context.

Numbers, numbers, numbers, everywhere!

And with a coda that does not feel forced.

Calloo, callay, I chortle.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

There is no pain, you are receding...

Today's Asahi Shimbun shasetsu on the Koizumi Phenomenon is so succint, clear-eyed and fair the editorial page editor must have been dosed with hallucinogens.

I recommend that everyone click through to read it:

Koizumi's unique style
Asahi Shimbun

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi must be in high spirits, filled with the pride of achievement. After more than five years in office, he ranks as the third longest-serving prime minister in postwar Japan. His high approval rating in opinion polls is likely to continue until he steps down as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in September.

Five years ago, the nation appeared to be on the brink of bankruptcy, bogged down in a morass of mounting bad loans. Now the economy has regained sufficient strength to allow the Bank of Japan to end its longstanding zero-interest-rate policy, introduced to stem the nation's deflationary downturn. We are not surprised that Koizumi's high spirits led him to croon Elvis Presley songs during his recent swing through the United States...

Aha! Now I know why the article is complimentary. Parts II and III, on his structural reforms and his foreign policies, are forthcoming.

[For those too young to recognize the title reference, or who were living on a planet other than on Earth in 1979, here is a You Tube tutorial from 1994]

Monday, July 24, 2006

That's (Not) Entertainment

It seems that the titles for Chūgoku Shimbun editorials are written by teenagers.

Boooriing! Booooriing! The LDP presidential race is going to be, like, chō tsumannai!

The actual editorial is not so superficial, though.

For the Naysayers

Here's a thought for the "What is so significant about Koizumi? What did he really achieve in his six years?" crowd.

Koizumi visibly and unashamedly supported the Bush Administration's decision to invade Iraq, entangling his country in that mad cause by sending Self Defense Forces to participate in the occupation. He will retire from politics not in disgrace, not with a shrunken reputation but in superordinate power, standing astride his nation's politics like a colossus.

Name one other leader who has plunged his/her country into the mire of Iraq and has come out with his/her reputation enhanced.
I bow down before the Will of Landru!

The always helpful editorial board of The New York Times advises yet another world leader on how he should behave.

In the hearts of leaders
The New York Times

SUNDAY, JULY 23, 2006--For years, the prime minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi, has been making a pilgrimage to a shrine to the war dead that includes 14 Class A war criminals from World War II, seven of whom were hanged.

This shameless pandering to the right outrages China and other victims of Japanese imperialism and makes many Japanese fear that Koizumi is embracing the old militarism. Yet Koizumi is believed to be planning another of these visits to Yasukuni Shrine before he steps down in September. And his likely successor, Shinzo Abe, has said he would do the same. (Abe also recently suggested that Japan should attack North Korea's missiles on the launch pad.)

Last week, a Japanese newspaper added to the national anxiety over this issue by publishing portions of a diary of a former member of the imperial household. He revealed that Hirohito, the emperor who led Japan into a Nazi alliance and a drive to rule Asia, stopped going to the shrine in 1978 after it added the war criminals to the list of thousands of souls lost in Japan's wars. "This is from my heart," Hirohito was quoted as saying.

One would think this would have some effect on Koizumi and his supporters. But he told reporters dismissively that "everyone has their own feelings" and that the emperor's remorse would have no effect on him.

The emperor almost certainly committed war crimes himself, which were ignored only because of the exigencies of the postwar era. But apparently this elderly product of an imperial age had more room in his heart for doing the right thing than a self-styled modern reformer, international leader and Elvis lover.

Ah, the obligatory Nazi reference, signet ring of evil!

[Imperial conquest of Asia, leading to the death and displacement of millions? Bad. Alliance with the Nazis? OOooooh! Very bad!]

"One would think this would have some effect on Koizumi and his supporters." Why? Because all patriots are by definition emperor-worshippers, who fall prostrate before him as though he were the mighty tobacco container of Mito Kōmon?

Well, surprise, surprise--they aren't and they don't.

Welcome to cold-blooded, I-got-the-votes-and-you-don't democracy of modern Japan, Old Gray Lady. The emperor is just a man, if constitutionally a symbol of the nation.

Come to think of it, your own reputation would be in better shape if you had not been so quick to fall to your knees in recent years before the gilded imperial pretensions of decidedly little men.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Tidying up

I was wondering the other day what Vodaphone and Toshiba were thinking when they hired Kōda Kumi to sell their new mobile phones.

It seems that Vodaphone was thinking, "Now please lend us some money."

An amazing amount of money:

Softbank Seeks Record $12 Bln Financing for Vodafone

July 21 -- Softbank Corp. plans to borrow 1.4 trillion yen ($12 billion) in Japan's biggest asset-backed loan to refinance debt used to acquire the local mobile-phone unit of Vodafone Group Plc, people involved in the transaction said.

Citigroup Inc., Deutsche Bank AG and Mizuho Financial Group Inc. are leading negotiations to replace a 1.28 trillion yen one- year loan with longer-term financing, said three people who asked not to be identified until a deal is signed. Softbank has agreed to set aside revenue from phone customers in a separate unit to cover repayment, they said.

Billionaire Masayoshi Son, who founded Softbank in 1981, is seeking to reassure investors who are concerned a slump in profit at the phone unit would make it harder to obtain longer-term funding. Shares in the Tokyo-based company fell 33 percent since the takeover was announced in March and yields on its five-year bonds doubled this year.

If you have 1.4 trillion yen, say around the house doing nothing important, you might want hurry. Son needs the money kind of soon because...well..because of this.

Do it or else in their next ad, they will have Kōda-san push the envelope even further.

Of course, I was also wondering the other day whether Hamlet Prince of Gunma was really going to drink hot blood and taking up arms against the King, or whether he was going to just going to shuffle off this mortal coil with a typically sardonic, supercilious answer to The Question.

On Friday, we found out.

He ain't gonna be.
It's not The Daily Show, but I kinda like it...

Koreans of the South tend to trumpet the areas in which the ROK surpasses Japan. I am, however, at a loss to name what those areas are aside from World Cup finals goals, penetration levels of high-speed internet service, short-course speed skating, archery and supertanker construction...oh, and nationally humiliating scientific frauds.

However, to this list of areas where Koreans are way ahead of the Japanese I believe we should include "the use of snark in editorials published by major newspapers", as demonstrated by this mean-spirited takedown of the Blue House:

Korea in Appeal to Alternative Universe
Chosun Ilbo

Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok told a TV forum on Thursday, "I'm not sure if the phrase 'cooperation between South Korea, the U.S. and Japan' is appropriate in the North Korean missile issue. Based on its cooperation with the U.S., South Korea will cooperate with Japan, China and Russia." He also said Korea will "go its own way in step with the international community. It has to be seen if what the U.S. does coincides with the wishes of the international community."

Only the UN Security Council is empowered to speak for the international community. Its 15 members unanimously adopted a resolution on North Korea last Saturday which condemned the North's missile tests and urged UN members to stop supplying materials that Pyongyang could use to build missiles. As of now, that is the only position the international community has taken on the missile question. Washington and Tokyo are now searching for specific ways of sanctioning North Korea based on that resolution.

Is Lee aware of a position deliberated on by the international community in a place other than the UN? His remarks distinguishing "cooperation between South Korea, the U.S. and Japan" from "cooperation with Japan, China and Russia based on cooperation between South Korea and the U.S." suggest that he expects China and Russia to take a different view from the international community. But China and Russia are permanent Security Council members that supported the North Korea resolution.


In terms of cosmology, the title should probably have had Korea appealing to an "alternate universe" ("equal and opposite") than "alternative universe" ("in addition to the current one")...but in terms of geopolitics, "alternative universe" might be closer to what the Blue House wants.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Extra...extra read all about it!

The Nihon Keizai Shimbun scooped everybody else on publishing a handwritten note by the former head of the Imperial Household Agency recording a conversation he had with the Showa Emperor. According to the note, the Emperor could not countenance the enshrinement of the 14 A-Class war criminals among the spirits of Yasukuni, so his heart told him he could no longer pay his respects at the shrine.

Guess what is going to be clogging the tubes of the internets leading out of the NBR Japan Forum tomorrow?

(On Robyn, on Christopher, on Gregory, on William! On Mindy, on Michael, on Alex and O jeez, nothing rhymes with "William"!)
Come to think of it, that is weird...

In an analysis article on the third page of Tuesday's Sankei Shimbun...

[I have some problems with the title of this article. "'Seiji shudō' fumidasu: anpori jōnin rijikoku no kabe dakai kagi" is nonsensical. If you had a key, why would you need to "break through the wall surrounding the Security Council"? Why not just use the key and open the door? And what's with the quotation marks around seiji shudō ? What part of "political initiative" do I not understand?]
...the author highlights as weird (mezurashii) that the Japanese and U.S. efforts in the UN Security Council were coordinated at the highest levels through a series of telephone calls (at least four) between Chief Cabinet Secretary Abe Shinzō and White House National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. A Prime Minister's Residence staffer is quoted as saying he(?) could recall a single instance of former Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuda Yasuo coordinating policies with the then NSA Condoleezza Rice.

The equating of Chief Cabinet Secretary (CCS) with the NSA is more than a bit weird. International policy coordination is not one of the usual bailiwicks of the CCS. The CCS is the government's official spokesman. He is also the chief traffic policeman keeping tabs on the policy drafting and presentation process. Furthermore, as the person just below the prime minister in stature, the CCS must far outrank the NSA in protocol terms.

So why the coordination between Abe and Hadley?

First guess - Abe's personal links with the policy production apparat on the East Coast of the United States. He has been a frequent guest of the Washington chattering classes and power brokerages. He must have come to know Hadley along the way.

The conversations between the two must have been rather smooth.

By contrast, the mind boggles at the thought of Minister of Foreign Affairs Aso Tarō and Secretary of State Rice trying to transcend their quirks to carry out a substantive conversation over strategy. Just thinking of this imaginary conversation between the two ostensible pilots of Japan's and America's foreign policies finds me unconsciously retreating into the Merkel cringe.

With Abe likely to make an immaculate ascension to the premiership, will this policy coordination channel dry up? Or do we have a new institutionalized back-channel appropriate to the needs of the post-9/11 Japan-U.S. relationship?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Exactly where is this...whatever it is you are describing?

I am still trying to find domestic voices accusing the government of amateurishness and ineptitude in its shepherding of a resolution through the UN Security Council condemning North Korea for its missile tests of two weeks ago.

For those of you who did not catch the Linda Sieg article, a few excepts.

ANALYSIS - Japan gets passing grade on N.Korea diplomacy at UN

TOKYO - A newly assertive Japan may have won the best U.N. resolution on North Korea's missile tests it could have hoped for, but experts said Tokyo's leaders often looked like diplomatic amateurs in their drive for sanctions.

Hawkish Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, point man on North Korea, could get a boost in his bid to become Japan's next prime minister from the high-profile diplomatic campaign by Tokyo -- usually content to follow America's lead on the global stage.

But analysts said Japan's failure to secure binding U.N. sanctions has also left Abe and his rival, Foreign Minister Taro Aso, vulnerable to charges of ineptitude.

"Diplomatically, this is a better outcome for long-term peace and security of the region than what Japan had said it wanted," said Andrew Horvat, a professor at Tokyo Keizai University.

"What you want is North Korea to get the message that there are five countries, including nominal friends and potential foes, that all disapprove," Horvat said, referring to the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea, who are parties to stalled talks on Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes.

"In that sense, it's been a success."

O.K., so the article's first direct quote contradicts the thesis. Not the way I would go about trying to bolster an argument--but to each her own, eh?

Shall we continue?

After 15 days of wrangling, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday for a resolution requiring nations to prevent North Korea from getting dangerous weapons and demanding Pyongyang halt its ballistic missile programme.

The Security Council was sharply divided over whether to refer to Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which allows for military force if another specific resolution is adopted.

China threatened to veto the measure if Chapter 7 was mentioned. That meant Japan, the United States, Britain and France were forced to drop the phrase, although they said they still considered the resolution to be both tough and binding.

Some analysts said Japan was putting the best face on what actually amounts to a diplomatic failure.

"The resolution didn't go the way Japan wanted, so now they are saying that it was fine because it was unanimous," said Masao Okonogi, a Korea expert at Keio University in Tokyo.

"If they say it was all tactics, that's not true. They actually thought they could get Chapter 7, but China was opposed and the United States wouldn't support them," Okonogi said.

Japan has recently stepped up its campaign to win a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and some media said the outcome of the resolution battle showed the limits of its U.N. diplomacy, since in the end it had to follow the U.S. lead and compromise.
Follow the U.S. and compromise?

It is clear that "some media"-- if such a person or group of persons even exists--has not had the pleasure of meeting UN Ambassador John "I Am Not The Walrus And Stop Calling Me That" Bolton.

Compromise? Maybe killed and grilled, served with a bernaise sauce.

Anyway, two more quotes, the first from Gerald Curtis:

Abe, who regularly leads in surveys of voters preference for the next prime minister, became a household name when he took a stern stance four years ago towards North Korea on the emotive issue of Japanese citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang decades ago.

This time he was also out in front, insisting on Japan's commitment to binding sanctions and even, some said, threatening privately to force a veto from China to demonstrate its isolation.

Some analysts said Abe would win domestic kudos, others that he had survived the test, but with less than top grades.

"What's more interesting is the lack of sophistication on the part of Japanese leadership," said Gerald Curtis, a Japan expert at New York's Columbia University. "You don't stake out a position as a bottom line that you aren't confident will be a success, because that is setting yourself up for defeat."
Far be it from your truly, a lowly office ATM*, to challenge a learned professor--but since when has acting stubborn and making extreme, unworkable demands been deemed improper in international political fora? I can think of a number of countries and pseudo-countries whose entire diplomatic linguistic repetoire is comprise of screaming vituperation.

By sticking to its guns on the necessity of a Security Council Resolution with sanctions and scaring the willies out of the Chinese with talk of acquiring a pre-emptive military capacity, the Japanese government, led by Abe, succeeded in convincing both China and Russia that Japan was serious to the point of mania about these missiles. The Japanese government's wild talk convinced the Chinese that they had to up their ante from a mere presidential statement to an actual UN resolution.

In general, "staking out a bottom line that you aren't confident will be a success" is a sign of a--gasp!--risk taker.

I do not think the Japanese government ever needs to be advised to be more cautious...

Finally, the grand summation, the piece de resistance, the big makizushi herself makes her appearance:

Some diplomatic experts also faulted Abe for reviving a debate over whether Japan should develop the capability to strike overseas enemy bases in the event of an imminent attack, just as delicate negotiations on the U.N. resolution were underway.

The comments sparked outrage in Seoul and Beijing, where bitter memories of Japan's past militarism run deep.

"Japanese politicians ... still think they can speak out of both sides of their mouths and that what they say to a domestic audience can be kept from an international audience," said Robyn Lim, a security expert at Japan's Nanzan University.

"It was a really inept performance."
Gosh I really wish I knew what they hell Lim is saying when talking about politicians talking out of both sides of their mouths!

Actually, I do not care a fig, but whatever she may be driving at in the initial quote, Lim is the source of the "inept" charge.

Oh,if only someone, somewhere agreed with her!

Here is an image of the front page of the Yomiuri Shimbun of July 17, 2006.

In the middle are two full color photographs, of Japan's representative to the United Nations on the left and China's ambassador the UN on the right, both holding up their hands in a decisive gesture. The Chinese ambassador is even allowing himself a bit of smile. Below them, is the first installment of a special three-part article on the UN decision.

The article's title?

Nihon gaikō : Kyōki no seika

"Japan Foreign Policy : The Fruits of Taking a Tough Stand"

Sounds pretty disappointed at the ineptitude, doesn't it?

And what do the editorialists on the insides of the papers say?
Intl community must act on N. Korea
Yomiuri Shimbun

China and Russia each have a stake in North Korea and threatened to veto the resolution to express their opposition to any reference to Chapter 7 because they placed a priority on their national interests.

However, the two countries eventually accepted the resolution out of concern they would be isolated in the international community, which has hardened its stance against North Korea.

Japan, which played a key role in drawing up of the initial draft resolution, played its part to defend its national interests by bargaining fiercely with China and Russia.

EDITORIAL/ Resolution on N. Korea
Asahi Shimbun

Japan and the United States tried hard to produce a resolution that included language that would pave the way for military or nonmilitary sanctions against North Korea. But China and Russia fiercely opposed, saying they would veto such a resolution.

It was of the utmost importance at this juncture to avoid a deep gulf in the Security Council. In order to demonstrate the unity of international society, it was necessary to settle for a resolution condemning North Korea.

Even if the resolution does not include sanctions, it is extremely meaningful. This is because international society, including China and Russia, all came together to put additional pressure on North Korea. The resolution is a straightforward warning to Pyongyang, that if it continues its missile provocations or nuclear development, the United Nations will take an even firmer stand.

The editorial of the Mainichi Shimbun of July 17 (sorry, Japanese only) argues:

It is impossible to deny that the removal of the Chapter 7 citation weakened the enforcement aspect of the resolution. However, one cannot think that the resolution has become ineffective because is is no longer binding. Member States have a duty to obey Security Council decisions.

...As the Council resolution was unanimous, we have created a platform in the Security Council to work together on the North Korea problem.


As the resolution this time has China and Russia on board, there is no escape route for North Korea.

Surely the Sankei Shimbun must be livid at the sellout of the sanctions resolution, railing as it always does about Japan pussilanimity!


Look, on the front page, July 17, 2006, it's an op-ed from Okazaki "Huggy Bear" Hisahiko!

Surely he's slathering mad:

日本始の主導 実る

"The First Time Japan Takes the Initiative Matters Come to Fruition"

Although the UN Security Council Resolution criticizing North Korea had the Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which enforces sanction, removed from it, we can still value this outcome.

Even if a resolution with enforcement provisions had been passed, it is doubtful that China would have really implemented the sanctions--this because the ones actually implementing sanctions are the Japanese. That Japan and the United States received the go-ahead from the Council decision for sanctions, that alone we can say achieves our goal.

Oooooh, feel the love therein for the Chinese Communist Party!!!

When Okazaki Hisahiko is willing to conceed anything involving Japan's handling of China or the DPRK, one has to consider oneself a winner.

* ATM = Automatic Typing Monkey Marketing for a rewrite...pronto...

Following the carbon monoxide poisoning death of a cook in a Ginza restaurant on July 16, Paloma Co. executives have confessed that faults in four types of Paloma gas water heaters have led to the carbon monoxide poisoning deaths of 20 persons since 1985.

Now when one considers the number of Paloma water heaters in Japan, 20 accidental deaths seems rather small. is less than great for the company's PR folks that the official slogan of the water heaters is "SAFETY PALOMA".

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The usual suspects...not

A cartoon from one of today's newspapers:

Kim Jong-il is counting down:


To which a disembodied voice replies:

"So you finally have noticed. The number of countries now protecting you is zero."

Well, what do you expect from Japan's aggressive rightwing press? Of course it is chortling in shadenfreude at North Korea's apparent isolation. It hates the DPRK and loves making Kim into an object of ridicule. They simply do not understand...

Uh, wait a moment...I'm getting a note passed to me here.

It seems this cartoon was printed in the July 18 morning edition of the Asahi Shimbun.

Oh, never mind...

A thought in passing

Did I see Linda Sieg's piece on the Security Council decision, entitled variously:

"'Inept' hawks clear first U.N. test on Pyongyang" - Japan Times

"ANALYSIS - Japan gets passing grade on N.Korea diplomacy at UN"- Malaysia Star

all over the news today?

Of course I did.

Am I going to comment about it?


Why not?

Because it ticks me off... and nobody pays me to be ticked off.

Still...I wish someone would whisper to Ms. Sieg that for the bulk of the opinions issuing forth from Robyn Lim's redoubt, the classic Wolfgang Pauli putdown applies.
Sweet, if true...

Two articles, a Seiji no Genba analytical piece in today's Yomiuri Shimbun and a op-ed by Hoshi Hiroshi in the Asahi Shimbun ask the same pointed question:

Has the Mori faction succeeded in snookering the anti-Koizumi forces?

It has dawned on some of the brighter Tarōs and Osamus of the Tsūshima, former Horiuchi and Kōmura factions that something is amiss. Finance Minister Tanigaki, Foreign Minister Aso and Chief Cabinet Secretary Abe have all made clear their intention to run in the September LDP presidential election. They are already campaigning hard. Abe releases his manifesto, Beautiful Japan Toward a Beautiful Country, on the 20th.

Fukuda Yasuo, the presumed #2 man in the race, has not announced anything. If he is running for the party presidency, he is running a stealth campaign, invisible even to his assumed allies.

Which brings up the possibility that Fukuda--who at 70 years of age has always been odd man out among the main candidates for the prime ministership---has been playing the role of Pied Piper of Hamlin for those opposed to Abe's ascension. By staking out the position of the anti-Abe, he has kept the anti-Koizumi forces in the party from fielding a challenger of their own. Indeed, he has been stealing oxygen from the campaigns of Aso and Tanigaki.

The possibility that Fukuda may decide to forego a run for the presidency is so threatening to the anti-Koizumi cause its members can scarcely even bring themselves to think about it.

Even if they wake up to their worst nightmare tomorrow, they have no time to concoct a remedy.

We are in mid-July. The Diet is not in session. In two weeks the country shuts down for what is may be the biggest blowout August in memory (the nation has spent the last 15 years in self-denial and self-abnegation). The LDP election is slated for the second week in September.

If Fukuda turns out to have been a stalking horse for Abe, the anti-Koizumi folks lose--which means Koizumi wins...again.

Sic transit ...

When the Koizumi biography is written (probably long before the Hashimoto Ryutarō biography is written, which is too bad, as Hashimoto's life and death offer a far more interesting narrative arc) I hope the author notes that one of the keys to Koizumi's success was an ability to take advantage of individuals who thought they knew more than they really knew.

Now this speculation about Fukuda may all end up having been just paranoid fantasy. He may decide "damn the faction, policy demands I go ahead!" and announce his bid in the next few days. The Hoshi op-ed indeed begs Fukuda to run, for the sake of salvaging Japan's relations with its East Asian neighbors.

But if Fukuda's candidacy is really only just a big setup, what a sweet story that would be.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

OK, you've got me. What is it you're trying to say?

It was the thunk seen 'round the world...

Within the past week Zinedine Zidane's headbutt to the chest of Marco Materazzi has transmogrified from international shock to national controversy to cultural metaphor to cliché to...inevitably and irrevocably... farce (here 1 and here 2).

However, I will offer just one more take on the incident, in a version printed in the Tokyo Shimbun of July 15.

OK. Let's turn on the interpretation machine.

Kim Jong-il says some nasty things to Prime Minister Koizumi's back. Koizumi turns around, points his hirsute noggin at the surprised Kim's chest. At the very instant Koizumi delivers the most delicate of taps ("Pita!") to the now truly concerned Kim's chest, referee Hu Jintao blows his whistle, calling the foul on Koizumi.

OK, fine, cute. I can smile at the reference.

Here's the part I don't get.

Could we have a tight focus shot on the front of the uniforms? Thank you.

Koizumi is in a Japan blue uniform. No problems there.

Kim Il-song, however, is in the team colors of South Korea (the Red Devils, as they style themselves) with the logo "S. Korea" on the front of his shirt.

Is the artist trying to make a statement here...and if so what is it?

Is the artist acknowledging that South Korea was in the 2006 World Cup finals?

Is the artist confused about which country Kim leads?

Is it some kind of reference to the Blue House's obtuse criticism of the Japanese response to the North Korean missile firings--that Koreas North and South are now one team?

[Clap! Clap!] Mangakuninushi no Omikami, please enlighten me that I might understand! [Clap!]

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Regarding the sex and reputation post

No, I have not lost my mind. Nor lost it in the gutter.

As a background to discussions of childbirth promotion legislation, daycare center funding, legislation permitting married couples to have different surnames, women's rights and privileges (exclusive railcars), women's roles in Japanese society (whatever that may be), the maudlin pseudo-nostalgic bombast of politicians, the just-so stories concocted out of social science research conducted decades ago on a completely different people -- all these need to be compared to paradigmatic images of the female in the popular imagination.

Otherwise one is just pontificating based one's prejudices--or worse, kidding oneself.

P.S. Yes, I did want to talk about something other than North Korean missiles today.
Sex and reputation

I see from ads hanging in the subway today a major manufacturer has at last taken a flyer on Kōda Kumi.

Until now the popular Kōda has been considered radioactive from a marketing standpoint. She is huge in recorded music and has appeared on several teen fashion magazine covers. She has a Diet Coke commercial, supposedly.

But big-name manufactured goods and services — no.

There is nothing startling or new about multinationals using the starlets of popular music for marketing campaigns. Manufacturers, particularly their male executives, seem almost eager to have fetching, nubile young women in various states of undress hawking their (that is to say the company's) goods. From Namuro Amie to Utada Hikaru to Hamasaki Ayumi—with many other, lesser lights in between—the relationship between young female sexuality and commerce has been intimate.

Toshiba's collaboration with Vodaphone in offering a Kōda Kumi-promoted mobile represents a foray into new territory, however—and not what one could call virgin territory.

Kōda's image is, to be frank, that of a cheap harlot.

Really cheap.

For an illustration of what I am talking about, here is a Kōda Kumi ad for a jewelry chain. Warning: even though this ad was broadcast on commercial television, it is not worksafe.

Now it is unclear how large the target "young women who dress like and want to be mistaken for Roppongi sex workers" market may be, but I cannot imagine it to be a particular lucrative market.

Then again, such young women probably use their mobile phones—a lot.

I cannot conceive of where the Toshiba folks think they will be going with this association. For Vodaphone, however, there is nowhere to go but up.

Someone will have to fill me in on the conventional wisdom in the business press explaining Vodaphone's staggering loss of market share and eventual ignominious retreat from the Japanese mobile market. I certainly hope it is not ascribed to "they did not understand the corporate culture" or "they did not fully understand the consumer market" or similar rot.

I have been heretofore more than satisfied with a simple observation:

Vodaphone Japan conducted the most inept, insulting and self-destructive marketing and advertising effort ever.

After hiring as their spokesgirl the porcelain ingénue Itō Misaki, white-hot from her turn in Densha Otoko, Vodaphone managed to produce a string of the ugliest and most baffling commercials in recent memory. Bad with a capital “B”, they left behind an indelible impression—that they had been commissioned by Vodaphone's competitors.

I wish Vodaphone/Softbank Mobile (and Toshiba) lots of luck with their new...their new...campaign.


Here's the video version. I guess Toshiba et al decided to keep things under control by making Koda stand still and by shooting her from a distance...well at least until they chance a closeup of her kissing the mobile phone...suddenly, we're right back in Harlotsville.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Stranger than comedy

I used to have something of a sideline in crafting bizarre, borderline humorous satires of politics and foreign affairs in the areas and waters about Japan.

Since becomine president, Roh Moo-hyun has horned in on my action and stolen all my mojo.

Rifts widen over North Korea
Financial Times

Meanwhile, a bitter spat between South Korea and Japan escalated as Seoul became more critical over Tokyo's tough stance towards Pyongyang. Roh Moo-hyun, the South Korean president, said Tuesday night that the suggestion by some Japanese officials that Tokyo should have the capacity to make pre-emptive attacks on North Korea was a threat to peace in north-east Asia.

"Japan's attitude may cause a serious situation threatening peace in north-east Asia," said Mr Roh. "That's why we can no longer back off."

Let me see if understand His Excellency correctly.

Firing real offensive missiles at random in the direction of inhabited areas is not threatening peace in Northeast Asia.

Talking about a hypothetical right to target missiles on their launch pads is.

You cannot make this stuff up.
Forgotten incidents

Barry Petersen of CBS came over from Beijing the other day to do some reporting on the Japanese response to a certain country's missile tests (I will give you a hint--it wasn't India's).

Mr. Peterson's final report concluded with footage from the outlandish December 2001 shootout in between the patrol ships of the Kaijō Hoanchō and the North Korean "mystery ship" --the exchange that ended with the "mystery ship" taking a trip to the bottom of the East China Sea.

That ship, by the way, is purportedly now on public display at a specially built museum next to the front gate of the Coast Guard station in Yokohama.

I say purportedly because I somehow whenever I go to Yokohoma, I always end up doing the waterfront walk at dusk--well after the museum's closing time.

Anyway, the voiceover of the CBS report concluded with the following paragraph:

North Korea and Japan are longtime adversaries. Five years ago, a Japanese patrol boat traded machine gun fire with a North Korean ship, the first shots that Japan's military has fired in anger since the end of World War II.
Now this is not strictly correct. The patrol boats featured in the footage were Coast Guard, not Self Defense Forces. Including the Coast Guard in Japan's military is a mighty stretch.

But then, in 1999 the MSDF did fire warning shots (big ones) at two North Korean ships trying to slip into Japanese waters off Kanazawa.

So one could say that Mr. Petersen was right in a sense--only that he was talking over the wrong video clip.

But I have recently learned that even calling the 1999 warning shots "the first shots that Japan's military has fired in anger since the end of World War II" is not true.

Thanks to Hervé Couraye's wonderful L'alliance nippo-américaine à l'épreuve du 11 septembre 2001 I have learned of the August 1953 incident, when the MSDF had a serious exchange of gunfire with a Soviet spy boat trying to make landfall on the coast of Hokkaidō.

Don't even try to Google for the information about the incident in English--out pops a hopeless wilderness of unrelated junk.

Googling in Japanese brings a up a load of--surprise--posts and comments to ultraright blogs and electronic BBs.

But no serious articles or analyses.

Except among the uha faithful, the 1953 firefight seems a forgotten incident.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006 all I can say

Seoul: Japan inflaming N-crisis

Tuesday, July 11, 2006 - SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea has accused Japan of intensifying the North Korean missile crisis with provocative rhetoric about knocking out the North's missile bases with a pre-emptive strike.

The comments by Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe on Monday were "threatening remarks" that undermine peace on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, said Jung Tae-ho, a spokesman at the South Korean president's office said on Tuesday.

South Korea "will strongly react to the Japanese political leaders' arrogance and outrageous rhetoric that further intensifies the crisis on the Korean Peninsula with dangerous and provocative rhetoric such as 'pre-emptive strike,"' Jung said.

The spokesman also accused the Japanese of using the missile tests as "a pretext for becoming a military power."

I guess that's final: we can stop pretending South Korea is on the same team anymore.

What the hell does "South Korea 'will strongly react' to the Japanese political leader' arrogance and outrageous rhetoric," mean?

A cutoff of cultural exchanges..economic sanctions...a military showdown?

Where the hell are the denizens of the Blue House getting this stuff about Japanese military power pretensions?

Japan's predicament: both of its security partners are led by unpopular, incurious, pugnacious men with no experience living abroad, held isolation from alternate viewpoints by courtiers pandering to extremist elements.
And then Kim Jong Il comes along...

...and dashes my pet theory on the ground.

I have always thought the following truth to be, if not self-evident, at least not entirely stupid:

Good things do not happen to bad people by accident--the bad have to work for it.

Corollary: Bad people are always very busy.

The Taepodong launch is pushing my faith in this principle to the breaking point.

Monday, July 10, 2006

No more MOFA interviews either!

Ted Galen Carpenter is the defense and foreign policy issues fellow for the Cato Institute. He has just released an op-ed that is sure to win him accolades galore from within the halls of Kasumigaseki.

A nuisance, not a threat
Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON // Regardless of how many times North Korea tests its missiles, it does not constitute an existential threat to the United States or its allies.

In fact, some of the suggestions for a response to the missile tests that have significantly increased international tensions are more dangerous than the specter of a North Korean missile capability itself.

Uh-oh. No more stays at the Hotel Okura for anyone's expense!
I love

...and have relied on their technical analysis for years.

I am, however, not happy at all with their technical analysis of the Taepodong flight.

Boy, is the introduction ever jut-jawed and convincing.

A least-energy great circle route for a missile leaving the Musudan-ri site, crossing Aomori Prefecture and proceeding 8000 kilometers downrange, would sweep past all of the Hawaiian Islands and end up in a splashdown just about on the Equator.


The analyst, however, backtracks immediately from this provocative conclusion, saying that DoD officials have not revealed anything more than the missile was "heading East." He also admits that his graphic is not a reflection of any information regarding the angle of ascent of the boost phase of the missile--just a best guess based on a satellite booster.

Then there is the claim that the Taepodong 2 was not the third missile fired, as most people believe, but the fourth missile.

And a claim that the missile's propellant was Unsymmetrical Dimethylhydrazine and the oxidizer Inhibited Red Fuming Nitric Acid--not Kerosene/Gasoline with Nitric Acid/Di-Nitrogen Tetraoxide like most analysts and news services seem to be claiming.

Does anyone know of a site that marches through what is known, what is not known and the questions I should be asking?

On a slightly different topic, does anyone think Japan's chances at the United Nations would improve if someone pulled an Adlai Stevenson and laid everything out on the table--you know, to sort of remind the Chinese what a threat to international peace and security looks like?

P.S. The one really interest bit of information I learned from Charles P. Vick is that neither Soviet nor Chinese missiles have a self-destruct mechanism. By extension we have to assume the same for the North Korean missiles.

Now that is completely nuts--but sounds just like the save-a-kopeck/lose-a-rouble mentality of the Evil Empire we all used to fear so much.

P.P.S. To their credit, the folks at have finally taken down their ludicrous machine translations of MSDF ship names.

The translation for the name of the Ōsumi (LST 4001) was for years and years, despite numerous emails from your truly begging them, pleading with them to change it:

"the Male - to See"

No, I am not making this up.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The U.S-Japan Security Alliance: better defense...

...through cheese!

Courtesy: VOA

Friday, July 07, 2006

MTC hits rock bottom

Damnation--I even flagged this four months ago.

So MTC, why does the DPRK feel the need to hurry up and conclude the tests of its new missile at this time?

Because she's coming...

Image courtesy

U.S. Navy test intercepts warhead

Friday, June 23, 2006; Posted: 12:39 p.m. EDT (16:39 GMT) WASHINGTON -- A U.S. warship has successfully knocked down a short-range missile fired from Hawaii, the Pentagon has said, amid global concerns about a possible North Korea missile test.

An interceptor rocket fired from the cruiser USS Shiloh knocked down the warhead from a target missile about 250 miles off Kauai shortly after noon (6 p.m. ET), the Defense Department's missile defense agency reported on Thursday.

The U.S. missile defense agency said Thursday's test had been scheduled for months and was not prompted by indications that North Korea was planning to test launch a long-range missile, AP reported.

The latest test of the U.S. missile defense program is the seventh time in eight attempts the military has successfully shot down a target with a ship-based interceptor, the Pentagon said.

A Japanese warship took part in the exercise, using its radar to track the test missile, the Pentagon said.

It is the first time a U.S. ally has taken part in a sea-based missile defense test after Tokyo agreed to develop missile defense technology with America last year

On August 14, 2006 the crew of the USS Shiloh (CG 67) will walk off their ship. In a hull swap, the Japan-based crew of the USS Chancellorsville will take over the ship, rename it the Chancellorsville, and deliver it to Japan for the start of a 10-year deployment.

The USS Shiloh has been the launch platform for the U.S. Navy's SM-3 anti-ballistic missile test series for the last two years. It is one of only three ships in the world with the capability of shooting down ballistic missiles. The others are the USS Lake Erie (CG 70) and USS Port Royal (CG 73), both of which are homeported in Hawaii.

Did I recently say I was an idiot?

Well, this just about proves it.

Then again, who would of guessed that anyone in the DPRK watches CNN instead of Fox News?
The Sankei Shimbun hits rock bottom

The front page article of this morning's Sankei Shimbun, quoting "numerous U.S. and Japanese government sources," claims that an analysis of the telemetry of the course of the Taepodong missile shows that the missile's original target was the waters off Hawaii.

Holy B*llsh*t Festival from Hell!

Are you seriously asking me to believe that in a post-9/11 world, a member of the Axis of Evil would hold an unannounced missile test, overflying Japan, targeting HAWAII!?!?!?!?

With the U.S. and Japanese militaries already on high alert?

And that the missile (conveniently) failed and (even more conveniently) swerved north toward Vladivostok?


Sorry about that. I'll calm down now...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Uninformed comment on rocket science

The article in the middle of the front page of today's Sankei Shimbun asks whether or not the Taepodong II test yesterday really can be classified as a failure. The article offers some good reasons why the DPRK military might be satisfied with the test flight.

The article, however, does not speculate on what happened.

According to Occkam's Razor, the best answer must be the simplest one:

They never fueled the missile's second stage.

The bottom stage of Taepodong is thought to be a variant of either the Chinese CSS-2 or CSS-3 land-based missile, or a Russian SS-N-6 submarine-based missile. The second stage is thought to be Nodong.

In terms of a minimal testing requirement, it was necessary only to test the first stage boost phase flight characteristics of a Taepodong II. Data from an upper stage burn would have been a bonus—-but sufficient Nodong performance data already exists to venture a guess about what a full missile firing could do.

For the purposes of a boost phase test, the upper stage could be filled with an inert substance, preferably a liquid in order to maintain similarity of flight behavior--simulating the mass of a fully fueled rocket.

An unfueled upper stage would answer one of the conundrums of mid-June:

U.S. ships to monitor N. Korea launch
Washington Post

By Thomas E. Ricks and Joohee Cho - June 21, 2006 – Seoul – The U.S. military Tuesday moved ships into position off the coast of North Korea to detect the launch of any long-range ballistic missiles and prepared its new, unproven missile-interception system.

It is apparently the first time that the U.S. government has readied its rudimentary missile-defense system other than to test it. But officials played down the possibility that the interceptors might be used against a North Korean missile, and the South Korean government expressed doubt that Pyongyang is even preparing a test launch of its first intercontinental missile. It suggested that the government of Kim Jong Il might be only preparing to send a satellite into space.


A South Korean parliamentary panel concluded that North Korea "does not seem" to have completed injecting fuel into the missile, citing information from South Korea's National Intelligence Service.
"The NIS reported that it is hard to believe the missiles have been fully fueled already," Rep. Chung Hyung Keun, secretary of the National Assembly's Intelligence Committee, told reporters in Seoul. The lawmaker made the remark after emerging from a briefing by the NIS. "The 40 fuel tanks spotted at the site do not contain enough to launch a missile that needs 65 tons of liquid fuel," the lawmaker said.

U.S officials have examined intelligence that they say suggests Pyongyang may be preparing to test a Taepodong-2 missile from a remote village on North Korea's northeast coast. They have said U.S. satellites have observed liquid fuel canisters placed near the missile, but officials said there was no confirmation that the missile had been fueled.

Why not fuel the second stage?

Several months ago, some of the more militant voices among the Japanese political classes declared that undeclared missile overflights of the Japanese main islands should be considered acts of war.

Best ways to avoid some really, really serious political unpleasantness then?

1) point the damn thing at Russia, and

2) don't give it enough gas to make landfall.
Ticked off am I

Sigh...what are we going to do about David Pilling?

I do not want to skewer him in a letter to editors in London. He is an occasional guest in our offices. He seems a decent enough chap, though I could hardly say I know him. I have his card, having been introduced to him in our entranceway. So it is not as though I can ring him up and have a little conversation.

Still, I have had it up to here with the FT's misrepresentations.

Hawkish Abe first to vow tough response
Financial Times

David Pilling in Tokyo - Although the seven missiles lauched by North Korea splashed harmlessly in the sea, they could have an impact on domestic Japanese politics.

Abe Shinzo, the chief cabinet secretary who forged his political career by being tough on Pyongyang, stood the most to gain.

It was Mr. Abe, the frontrunner to become prime minister when Junichiro Koizumi stands down in September, who was first to the microphone after the first early-morning missile tests. His 6am emergency press conference ensured that the nation awoke to his face sternly warning Pyongyang that its actions would not be tolerated and that Japan was working on a tough response.

Abe was first to the microphone....dammit because that is his job!

He is Chief Cabinet Secretary, the official spokesman for the government. His political ambitions and past associations with anti-DPRK politics are irrelevant to his being "first to the microphone".

I would not care so much were the Financial Times not one of the increasingly lonely outposts of sanity in the English language printed news with a global audience. Having misleading assertions in the FT makes the whole world dark.

Later -

All right, I can calm down, I guess. Mr. Pilling is not the only one offering this overenthusiastic interpretation:

N. Korean missile launch 'huge bad news' in Asia
USA Today

By Paul Wiseman and Naoko Nishiwaki - SEOUL — North Korea's defiant launch of missiles Wednesday rattled its neighbors in northeast Asia, dismayed sympathetic governments in China and South Korea and strengthened the hand of a hard-liner seeking to become Japan's next prime minister.

"Obviously, this is huge bad news here," says regional analyst Jeff Kingston at Temple University Japan in Tokyo. The multiple missile tests were a vivid reminder that Japan and the thousands of U.S. troops stationed there are within range of North Korea's arsenal — even though the missiles apparently fell harmlessly into the Sea of Japan.

North Korea's provocation boosted the prospects of Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, who is the front-runner in the race to replace Junichiro Koizumi as prime minister in September. Abe, vying for the job against politician Yasuo Fukuda and several long-shot candidates, built his political reputation in recent years by bashing North Korea for abducting Japanese citizens in the 1970s and '80s.

"He's out in front on this issue. His popularity stems from demonizing North Korea," Kingston says. "Six o'clock in the morning (Wednesday), and he's giving a press conference. He looks like a take-charge leader."
Does the crisis help Abe's image? Sure it does. Any time a politician can get in front of the cameras and not be apologizing for something he did, or drooling, he gets a feather in his cap.

Will the crisis affect the LDP election? Sure it will. Even LDP members with skullcaps of stone understand that having Abe's face on the television day and night makes him the party's representative in the public eye. While those voting in the September election may have their own private agendas, they still have to conform to the public's impressions of what constitutes reality.

Of course, relying on crises to boost one's image can be treacherous. If something untoward happens, the "take-charge leader" is--surprise--expected to really be in charge. If he is not, public perceptions can do a bold about-face.

Call me an idiot (Editor - "MTC, you are an idiot.") but I have a problem with those saying that Abe's morning performance projected a muscular, pro-active image in response to the missile firings.

(I know, I know--how can anything "pro-active" be "in response"? Patience, patience, I'm getting there).

The Manyongbyong moratorium was automatic, almost autonomic. As for other actions the Japanese government might make, all that Abe could say yesterday morning was the Security Council and the Cabinet were going to "study" (kentō) other measures.

If I had 10 yen for every time a government official made a promise using the word kentō, well, my second home would be on Moorea...

Uh, how long was the Taepodong on the launch pad? Why did the government not have, like you know, a set list of measures to be taken in case A, B or C occurred? How about a set press release for Abe to read?

Since we live in a supposedly more assertive era in Japanese security affairs, why did Abe not request someone from the JDA to be present as co-participant in the briefing?

Folks it has been eight years since Taepodong should have looked a lot less ad hoc.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Maybe, just maybe...

...this will be of interest to the powers that be.

The shakai no kakusa mini-crisis (everything in Japan is a mondai, but we can be a little more discerning) has got the editorial chattering classes in a tizzy:

"Oh, how will we survive with society divided into winners and losers?" they cry to the merciless, unblinking stars.

The correct answer, a snide, "Excuse me, but how do sports leagues cope with the horrible, divisive strains of having some teams winning more games than others?" will probably not win one any invitations to the nicer television programs. Also, the question of why wage differentials are increasing throughout the developed world trawls up vast caches of ugly cultural warmongering ("The only good Anglo-Saxon capitalism is a dead Anglo-Saxon capitalism." -- Fujiwara Masahiko) that really need a hard data reply.

That is why I am intrigued by the two sentences flagged by economist Tyler Cowen. Professor Thomas Lemieux of the University of British Columbia, after examining U.S. data, finds a strong correlation between increasing income differentials within similar groups as both age and education level increases. As a society, or more properly a working population, grows older and more educated, the fractional differences between individuals compound, creating a more varied income spread. Indeed, Lemieux finds that all residual wage differentials can be accounted for by looking at the average age and education level of a workforce.

Now the Socialists and the more reactionary elements of the Democratic and Liberal Democratic parties have been criticizing the current Cabinet for exacerbating if not encouraging the rise in Japan's Gini coefficient. The criticisms have a strong xenophobic tinge, possibly because certain social scientists at some point found egalitarianism to be a Japanese trait (which is, of course, why we have keigo, variable depth bowing and lifelong senpai-kohai relationships--all are manifestations of the profound egalitarianism at the core of Japanese society). Inequality, or more precisely, income inequality, is posited as being a foreign-- mayhap even an "American"-- import.

My guess is if one runs the numbers for postwar era, one will find Lemieux's correlation in the Japanese data. If so, and if Lemieux's thesis checks out, then Japan's income inequalities are greater because its work force is older and better educated-- shikata ga nai.

Speaking of shakai no kakusa--did you see this map in the evening Asahi Shimbun of June 30?

Now Earl "The Pearl" Kinmouth has for many a moon been declaiming that differences in the education expectations of the residents of eastern Tokyo versus those of western Tokyo should be considered prima facie evidence of strong class differences in modern Japan.

This map largely supports his point--though I would love to see it extended all the way out to Hachioji to see how places like Kunitachi and Musashino compare.

According to the accompanying article, a startling 24% of students in Shibuya-ku attend either a private or national school (Full disclosure - the Nine Year-Old attends a national school) rather their local district school. Bunkyo, Minato, Meguro, Setagaya--even Chiyoda (the seat of the national government!)--send at least 10% of their elementary students to non-public schools.

For reasons I can scarcely imagine, the Asahi Shimbun does not name the ward with the lowest ratio of students in private or national elementary schools. The paper only mentions that Shibuya's 24% rate is "20 times as high" as the rate of some of the eastern wards.

Somehow, I do not think this is because the public schools in the eastern wards are soooo much better than the public schools in the western wards.

Somehow, I think someday in the future the youngsters of the eastern wards are going to have wage differential resentments vis-a-vis their age peers from the western wards.

Maybe...just maybe.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Requiescat in Pace

Hashimoto Ryutarō

b. 29 July 1937

d. 1 July 2006

Swordsman, father, mountaineer, photographer, Prime Minister

"This I say to you: Forget not that you were once a beginner" *

The Curse of the Seven Magistrates

In the 1980s Takeshita Faction had seven rising stars who looked poised to dominate Japanese politics for the rest of the century. Called the Seven Magistrates, this next generation of Japan leadership represented the cream of the crop in the largest, richest and broadest-based of the factions.

Three of the Seven Magistrates rose to the position of Prime Minister. Two became Foreign Minister. Two became Finance Minister.

Nevertheless, membership in the company of the Seven Magistrates seems closer to a curse than a blessing. The doom of the Seven can even be seen as emblematic of the collapse of the Tanaka money and power machine.

The Seven Magistrates and their fates:

Hashimoto Ryutarō (d. 1 July 2006 – aged 68)
Hata Tsutomu (left the LDP 1993)
Kajiyama Seiroku (d. 6 June 2000 – aged 74)
Obuchi Keizō (d. 14 May 2000 – aged 63)
Okuda Keiwa (d. 16 July 1998 – aged 71)
Ozawa Ichirō (left the LDP 1993)
Watanabe Kōzō (left the LDP 1993 – battling Parkinson's Disease)

Typically for the faction nowadays, Saturday was the day the news leaked out that younger members of the former Tanaka faction, now led by Tsushima Yūji, were planning a renegade bid to nominated Nukaga Fukushirō as the faction's candidate in the September LDP elections. Of course, this hot political nugget was blasted into nothingness by the news that Hashimoto had died.

* Interestingly, also the motto of Obuchi Yūko.