Thursday, August 31, 2006
Oh gosh--this does not look good.
There has been some talk recently--oh, let us say here , here, here, and...dammit, why couldn't the moderator just think of just one thread subject for the whole damn dispute--about the (possible) rise in intolerance of improper thought in publicly-funded research institutions.
Now it might be possible to argue that it should not matter too much what happened over at JIIA--and Amaterasu knows an unfortunate number of persons seem to have convinced themselves that "nothing is wrong"--except that the morning edition of my Asahi Shimbun of August 30 tells me that Komori Yoshihisa is one of Abe Shinzo's two closest advisors from within the punditocracy.
The other is--I wish I were making this up--Okazaki Hisahiko.
Whatever one may feel about the quality of the JIIA Commentary essays--and I thought the last one was horrible--Komori's use of the phrases "Anti-Japanese" and "radical leftist scholar" in his now infamous Sankei op-ed had no purpose other than to mark his targets as worthy of destruction.
That Komori succeed in having JIIA Commentary expunged from the public record (if not from the cybersphere) is bad enough.
What made the whole matter intolerable was the rank dishonesty of Saito Yukio's mea culpa. Whatever Saito-san did, he did not "reflect deeply" on his responsibility. Whatever it was that was so offensive, it certainly not the "misuse of technical terms."
Were I the skeptical kind, the insincere Saito "apology" would make me wonder about the worth of the identically phrased apologies drafted by Saito's former employer.
Furthermore, the identification of Komori and Okazaki as confidants feeds into a gnawing worry --that Abe and his Cabinet ministers are about to make a real hash of things.
Koizumi took years to develop his keen grasp of the fracture line in the Japanese polity, the point where persons of good faith will rally around a leader who chooses to make a stand. Intellectually honest, Koizumi has never been sure at the outset where the rallying point might be. The variety in the kinds of Yasukuni visits he made over the years demonstrated his willingness conduct a dialogue with the populace over where he could eventually draw the line.
Abe and his people are cut from a different cloth. So many of those hovering in the wings seem to share an adamant conviction in the correctness of their views.
Unfortunately, when the dead certain go beyond what the public can accept, falling on their faces in the process, they tend not to blame themselves for overreaching. Instead, they blame the public's perfidity--or dark, disloyal forces undermining the State, the dignity of the Government, the national character...whatever unquestionable good they decide has been besmirched.
In sum, I would be a lot more sanguine about Abe had he a few more bon vivant flakes trailing in his wake.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
...we have a new politics blog in English (yeah!).
Tokyo's favorite ex-MITI, ex-METI, fun-loving misanthrope is offering his unvarnished (unsanded, undrilled and unplaned) opinions about all your favorite Nagata-cho miscreants at
I wish him well.
...this is going to be one hell of a weird ride.
Asahara daughter seeks new guardian"Some hesitation?"
Journalist who covered cult agrees to be replacement for 17-year-old
The fourth daughter of condemned Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara has filed a request with the Saitama Family Court to have journalist Shoko Egawa, who exposed the cult's crimes, appointed as her legal guardian.
The 17-year-old daughter took the move Monday after she dismissed her current legal guardian, Takeshi Matsui, a defense lawyer for her 51-year-old father, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto.
In June, Asahara's defense counsel filed a special appeal with the Supreme Court seeking to overturn the Tokyo High Court's rejection of his appeal against the death sentence he was handed for his involvement in Aum's crimes, including the 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system.
"I had some hesitation about becoming a legal guardian, but I want to offer my support, if only a little, for the daughter, who wants to do her best in society and to be helpful to others," Egawa said at a news conference later in the day.
Egawa's willingness to take responsibility for this child shows once again--it's such a fine line between "eccentric" and "totally out of your bloody mind."
I guess that after having been on the cult's death list for nearly two decades Egawa figured, "Oh well, what the hell--what is the absolutely worst thing that could happen?"
Still, is there any indication where this child will be living? In Egawa's residence perhaps?
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Yestereve's Nihon Keizai Shimbun published a series of graphs that should give pause to political scientists and Japanophiles/phobes in general.
The graphs show the course over time of public opinion polls on the three crucial inflection points of the Koizumi prime ministership:
-the dispatch of SDF to Iraq,
- the decision to dissolve the Diet over the failure of the postal reform bill in the House of Councilors and
- the visit to Yasukuni this year on August 15.
In all three cases, public opinion polls showed a clear majority of voters opposed to the plans of the government. In all three cases, shortly after Prime Minister Koizumi made public the decision to go forward as he saw fit, the positions of the public reversed, with the majority of the public supporting the prime minister's decision.
The writers of this brief article do not even dare try to speculate what the hell is going here. Instead, they opt for a breezy cop-out. They ascribe the phenomenon to -- and I am not making this up -- "magic."
Indeed, how can public opinion be so malleable that the prime minister can sway it by over 20 percentage points in less than a month, according to these graphs, by the mere expression of his will?
Does anyone want to go there?
Graphs courtesy: Nihon Keizai Shimbun
22 August 2006 - evening edition
Click on the image of the graphs to enlarge
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
... to note that two days after posting this, The Asahi Shimbun had the following as the lead story of its morning edition:
Incentives aim to lure top Asian students to stayJapanese version of the story here.
The government plans to offer scholarships for Asian students to study at universities and graduate schools in Japan to encourage them to stay and work for domestic companies after graduation.
According to sources, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology will launch the scholarship system in fiscal 2007 in cooperation with domestic firms interested in recruiting students from China, South Korea and other Asian countries.
The idea is to raise the number of skilled foreign nationals working in the corporate sector, the sources said.
While the GOJ's trying to cajole students from Continental Asia into staying in Japan post-graduation--and the inner city retail sector's salvation from its employment of large numbers of Chinese students---presents something of an apples and oranges problem (skilled vs. unskilled labor)--both stories reflect a shift toward a greater acceptance, indeed desire, for non-Japanese participation in the national workforce
(Take that, robots! Back! Back!)
Something of a corrective for the very public fiasco over the opening up nursing positions for qualified Filippina applicants.
I am not going to say that I told you so (re point #2) but I told you so:
No. of January-June births in Japan increases for 1st time in 6 yrsSo much for a nation in perpetual decline.
The number of babies whose births were registered with local government offices in Japan between January and June increased for the first time in six years, according to a health ministry report released Monday.
A total of 549,255 babies were newly registered at municipal offices in the first half of this year, an increase by 11,618 from the same period last year, according to the ministry's preliminary figures.
An official at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said Japan's overall fertility rate, which hit a record low of 1.25 last year, could turn upward in 2006 if the trend of increase in the number of births continues.
Japan's fertility rate, or the average number of children born to a woman aged between 15 and 49, hit an all-time low for the fifth year in a row in 2005, with fewer people getting married, marrying young and giving birth soon after marriage, the government announced in June.
The latest report also showed that the number of marriages registered between January and June was 367,965, up 10,936 cases from the same period last year, with cases registered in February reflecting an increase of about 5,000 from the same month last year.
With the increase in marriages, we should we start hoping for (expecting?) a further stabilization in population--with the consequent diminution of the predicted destruction wreaked in the Götterdammerung of "too many retirees supported by too few workers"?
An informed reader begs to differ with something I typed up a few days ago:
"* Yes, yes, I am aware that a return of the Southern Kuriles to Japan would be a real blow to the commanders of the Pacific Fleet, reducing the ability of Russian submarines to slip in or out of the Sea of Okhotsk undetected."
Actually, the Soviet subs transit to the Sea of Okhotsk via the La Perouse or Soya Strait between Hokkaido and Sakhalin Island. And it's so shallow and dangerous they typically have to do it on the surface, w/ an escort ship.
In fact, supposedly the USS Wahoo, a very famous WWII sub, was just found where it was thought to have been sunk, during a transit through the Soya Strait into the Sea of Japan.
Probably sunk during a night transit, on the surface, under a half moon. Caught by shorebased seaplane bombers.
See Amazon.com for "Wake of the Wahoo: The Heroic Story of America's Most Daring WWII Submarine, USS Wahoo"
and this is why Stalin wanted at least the northern half of Hokkaido.
The Kuriles help seal the bastion in the Sea of Okhotsk from outside
The Russian occupation of the Northern Territories keeps the Sea of Okhotsk free of pesky intruders--and, of course, the islands themselves free of golf courses.
* A recent fair and balanced assessment from a regular Shisaku reader.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Two weeks ago, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications* released its annual Analysis of Internal Migration in Japan Derived from the Basic Resident Registers (in J: 住民基本台帳に基づく人口・人口動態及び世帯数の調査).
The survey provides one of the three official population figures of Japan, the other two being the results of the personal interview surveys done every five years and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor's population clock.
The Basic Resident Register Survey is just that--the sum of the number of registered residents as reported annually to the Ministry by every local government.
Now the survey reconfirmed what a lot of people knew already:
1) the country's on the downhill slide--the total number of registered residents in Japan fell by 3,505 persons
2) if you live around Tokyo or Nagoya--or in Shiga or Okinawa Prefectures--and you feel as though the world is crowding in on you, you are not imagining things.
The population of Metro Tokyo grew by 0.74% in 2005 (highest growth in the nation); Aichi Prefecture by 0.49%. The immediate area around Tokyo grew by an aggregate 0.47%. The long-lived and loose-living Okinawans had the greatest rate of biological increase (births minus deaths). Shiga grew purportedly because some geniuses are building vast highrise suburbs there for the Kyoto-Osaka market.
3) If you lived anywhere else your neighbors were getting scarcer (OK, OK - Fukuoka grew a 0.10%--so sue me). The worst to go looking for new customers for whatever it is you want to sell was perennial loser Akita, where last year 0.88% of the population either died or moved away. Aomori shrunk by 0.85%; Kochi by 0.81%; Nagasaki by 0.75%.
Akita, Aoki Mikio's beloved Shimane and Abe Shinzō's stomping grounds of Yamaguchi are tied in the contest for the longest losing streak--all have been losing population for 14 straight years.
4) Your neighbors, in addition to getting scarcer, were getting older (just before getting scarcer, one should guess). In Akita, Shimane and Kochi, the percentages of persons over 65 years of age are 27, 27 and 26, respectively--way over the national rate of 20.3%
5) Osaka--where not a hell of a lot has gone right for a while--lost its place as the second most populous todōfuken. Kanagawa is now number two in the rankings, having added 40,000 persons over the last year (all those Kawasaki towers filling up, you know) .
Now these and a lot of other fun facts for marketers and super store locators can be found on the MIC website and the morning newspapers of August 5.
What the Nikkei did with the figures that was clever was run a cross check of the population shifts in the local government registers against the representation of those areas in the Diet.
The most over-represented district in the Diet is Kōchi Prefecture District #3 (population 264,014), whose Representative is Yamamoto Yūji (LDP - 6 elections).
The most under-represented district is Hyōgo Prefecture District #6 (the city of Takarazuka--among other things) whose Representative is Kobiki Tsukasa (Who? Never heard of him. Oh, Koizumi Kid...LDP - 1 election).
Now what is interesting is the ratio of inequality. From the Nikkei's calculation every vote in Kōchi #3 is the equivalent of 2.177 votes in Hyōgo #6.
I was under the impression the top level of inequality was much higher, above 3-to-1.
2.177 sounds almost...mild, really.
It is still pretty depressing that the voters in these 27 districts --and the least represented districts are all either urban districts (Nagano #1 is Nagano City) or in Hokkaidō (I guess that explains the Takushoku Ginkō failure)--have votes worth half as much as those of the voters of Kochi District #3 and its simulacrae in Shimane, Tottori, et al.
And dangnabbit, these underrepresented districts are the places that are growing (pax Hokkaidō), that have vibrant economies (ibid) and are where the young and the restless can be found!
All figures courtesy: Nihon Keizai Shimbun
Morning edition for August 5, 2006.
* MIC - What an embarrassingly cute acronym! MIC! MIC! I work for MIC! As in MIC...KEY...M-O-U-S-E!
Sunday, August 20, 2006
George Will is one of the most perplexing writers in the American political arena.
During the Reagan years Will was a rare conservative voice of sanity, arguing for the knowable when the entire government seemed to follow the prognistications of astrologers. He remained quiescent in the Bush I years--a reasonable position, as George H. W. Bush governed with understated good sense.
However, when William Clinton won election, Will fell off the level. He developed a knee-jerk hatred of Clinton and wasted the eight years in vociferous denunciation of everything the Clinton Administration tried to do.
With the election of George W. Bush, Will was in heaven. The great era of personal responsability and limited government was dawning. When the Bush II Administration failed to deliver either of these, and indeed ran as fast as it could from either, Will defended the perfidious incompetence of the president and his advisors.
For five and half years.
Suddenly in mid-2006, after 14 years seemingly in a coma, George Will, the real George Will whom people used to read, has shaken himself awake.
Last week, in the midst of the hysteria over the breakup of a purported British terrorist cell, Will lacerated the Bush Administration for their willful blindness of the real way to fight terrorism.
All of which is a very long introduction to George Will's column in today's Washington Post. It is almost inconceivably erudite--if a bit heavy-handed on the condemnation of victimhood.
Frankly it scares the bewilickers out of me.
The Uneasy Sleep of Japan's DeadHow can Will write so knowledgeably about the subject of Yasukuni in the context of East Asian power politics, a subject he could hardly ever have the time to research while perched upon his pundit's swivel chair in Washington DC? And what is Will doing in Tokyo--in August? And who has he been talking to while he's been here?
Sunday, August 20, 2006; -TOKYO -- The past is present everywhere, but Japan is an unusually history-haunted nation. Elsewhere the Cold War is spoken of in the past tense. Japan, however, lives in a dangerous neighborhood with two communist regimes -- truculent China and weird North Korea. For Japan, the fall of the Berlin Wall did not close an epoch. Even World War II still shapes political discourse because of a Shinto shrine in the center of this city.
Young soldiers leaving Japan during that war often would say, "If I don't come home, I'll see you at Yasukuni." The souls of 2.5 million casualties of Japan's wars are believed to be present at that shrine. In 1978, 14 other souls were enshrined there -- those of 14 major war criminals.
Between that enshrinement and 1984, three prime ministers visited Yasukuni 20 times without eliciting protests from China. But both of Japan's most important East Asian neighbors, China and South Korea, now have national identities partly derived from their experience as victims of Japan's 1910-45 militarism. To a significant extent, such national identities are political choices...
And where the hell has he been for the past 14 years?
Saturday, August 19, 2006
...and an ass has a brain fart.
This, this is so offensive and/or dangerous we cannot have the children/foreigners reading it?
Oh well, the institution has acted. The milk is spilled; the bag is catless.
Series: Is Japan Re-Entering the World of International Power Politics?
Japanese Discovery of Democracy
26 April 2006
If civilizations tend to clash, is there among nations within the bounds of civilization a propensity toward affinity? Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso writes, "I welcome China's return to center stage-as long as China evolves into a liberal democracy. And I believe it will." (Wall Street Journal, March 13, 2006) The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman says China is intent on isolating Japan until its neighbor shows sincerity and wisdom in handling their mutual history. Democratic evolution and historical justice are generally laudable goals. Still, given the cold diplomatic relations between Japan and China at the moment, there is certain competition for moral superiority couched in terms of democracy versus historical justice.
South Korea, which Aso heralds as one of the world's most vibrant democracies, is casting its vote on the side of historical justice. A more democratic South Korea emerging from decades of military dictatorship tends toward populism and encourages attitudes critical of Japan. Memory of the Japanese empire remains significant in the formation of both South Korean and Chinese national identities. Of late, Japan's diplomatic relations with South Korea have turned almost as cold as that with China. And arguably, a democratic China today would be markedly more anti-Japanese than the China under strict Communist Party control; much more than a tool of official manipulation, popular anti-Japanese sentiment runs deep. Irredentism-an age-old source of international conflict and fuel for nationalistic passion-over tiny islands divides Japan and South Korea, as well as Japan and China, and is making the headlines. Between Japan and South Korea, shared democratic values are not yet proving to be a source of affinity.
Trumping the History Card
Talk of democratic Japan facing dictatorial China is commonplace in the Japanese foreign policy circle today-it is difficult to conduct reasonable discussion with a dictatorial regime. Such talk is used to explain the cold diplomatic relations of the past five years with China. Worryingly missing is any elaboration of the policy implications of framing Sino-Japanese relations in terms of an ideological divide. It is as if many believe that dismissing China as a dictatorship is in itself sufficient. But, surely, such a dismissal does not make a viable strategy. And yet, it is also true that the Japanese talk of democracy versus dictatorship became commonplace only after diplomatic relations with China had turned thoroughly cold, so the talk is more an expression of frustration and helplessness than a thought out policy.
Officials in the limelight perhaps may be excused for making such a talk, for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has been adamant about taking the history card out of China's hand, even at the cost of creating a diplomatic impasse. Since assuming office in 2001, Koizumi has not wavered in his promise to make an annual visit to Yasukuni, a Shinto shrine in central Tokyo where the spirits of modern Japan's war dead are enshrined. His predecessors had trodden with caution around the issue of Yasukuni, for among the 2.5 million spirits enshrined are those of 14 judged to be war criminals by the allied powers following the Second World War. Beijing's point of contention is the 14, and Yasukuni has become the central issue symbolizing Sino-Japanese friction.
While Koizumi clearly states that he has no intention of honoring the 14, and that his visits are pledges of no more war, plurality of opinion in Japan finds the diplomatic cost too high, or that Koizumi has chosen the wrong symbol to trump China's history card. The major national dailies-Yomiuri, Nikkei, Mainichi, and Asahi-have come to take a critical stance against the Yasukuni visits; Sankei newspaper is the exception. There is no consensus in Japan on the status of the 14, though they are far from admired-Were they responsible for starting the war? For the wartime atrocities? For prolonging a losing war? Or, for losing the war? What are the 14 guilty of? Postwar Japan's failure to satisfactorily sort out these questions lies at the root of the nagging history problem. Beijing understands well the Japanese situation and takes advantage.
Both Tokyo and Beijing are waiting for next September, when Koizumi is scheduled to step down, to try new diplomatic initiatives. Meanwhile, the Japanese dismissal of China as a dictatorship is a way of biding one's time.
A More Assertive Japanese Foreign Policy
Those familiar with post-1945 Japanese foreign policy will readily notice that bringing ideological difference to the fore is new. After the collapse of its empire by the defeat in war, Japan had refrained from expressing value judgments on how other nations organize themselves-empires are exactly about organizing the lives of other nations. Today's new talk of democracy is one manifestation of the debate as to whether Japan should begin to adopt a more assertive foreign policy. Supporting the emergence of new democracies has become a part of the foreign policy agenda, though not central.
Elevating democracy above totalitarianism, liberty above tyranny, of course, had been the language of the United States in the Cold War. Cold War thinking and habits linger in the way Tokyo and Beijing frame their security structures with each other. And Japanese pundits who pit democratic Japan against dictatorial China surely have in mind the United States as audience. Emphasizing democracy is their way of reaffirming the bond of Japan's alliance with the United States in the face of rising China. But the United States is not quite buying the Japanese rhetoric. Washington's China policy is engagement, and its slogan is turning China into the world's "responsible stakeholder." While Washington has not entirely given up on "transformational diplomacy," there is increasing impatience with the way Japan handles China; there is even concern that the U.S.-Japan security treaty might turn into a burden if Japan's alienation in East Asia were to worsen.
Many Japanese analysts agree that Japan now faces a fluid and unstable strategic environment-the issues are the rise of China and nuclear brinkmanship of North Korea. Throughout the Cold War and beyond, Japanese foreign policy has had a simple architecture. How to maintain the American relation was key, and most all else flowed from that relationship.
Following the defeat in war in 1945, Japan recoiled from the harshness of international power politics. The American victors offered vanquished Japan a deal, which was sealed with the U.S.-Japan security treaty: The United States extended a security umbrella over Japan in exchange for the use of Japanese territory as America's forward military base. The United States acted as Japan's buffer to international power politics, while Japan happily pursued the life of economism. In this way, the security treaty became Japan's highest source of authority, the functional successor to the prewar emperor, "sacred and inviolate."
The Cold War provided Japan with a stable strategic environment, the threat of nuclear annihilation of humanity notwithstanding. And there was nothing much that Japan could or was willing to do to affect the deadlock of mutually assured destruction. This Japan could not make any value judgments about the world, according to Kiichi Miyazawa who would be prime minister in the 1990s. So the goal of Japanese foreign policy was to establish friendly relations with as many countries as possible, while under the protection of the United States, the final guarantor of Japan's willful innocence of international politics.The question today is: To what extent should Japan continue to depend on the United States to frame its place in the world? While there is a handful of younger parliamentarians espousing the brave vision of a Japan independent and responsible for its own security, the bulk and core of the Japanese foreign policy establishment sees no wisdom in imagining a world without American protection. The current dispatch of Japanese troops to Iraq as part of the American "coalition of the willing"-Japan's first military venture abroad since 1945 without United Nations cover-is not unrelated to the Japanese calculation of the rise of China; the American insurance premium has gone up.
Japan is out of practice of thinking about international politics, and it shows. A course in strategic studies could hardly be found in universities in the Japan of willful innocence. It is only recently that those trained in strategy, mostly at American and British graduate schools, are beginning to find university and think tank jobs. They are on the whole injecting the realist assumption of conflict into Japanese discourse, introducing notions like balance of power, deterrence, land and sea powers, pre-emptive and preventive wars. They see that China poses the classic security problem of a rising power upsetting the status quo relations among great powers, which historically has tended toward conflict. They are pushing the idea that Japan should become a "normal country" and reacquire the use of force as an instrument of state policy. They are at the moment getting attention for their novelty, still the nascent field of thought requires more time and experience to achieve a desirable level of sophistication and balance.
The Politics of Status Affirmation
China is a source of existential angst for Japan's political class. While Japan floundered through economic deflation beginning in the early 1990s, the Chinese economy made unimagined strides. China's gross domestic product calculated by purchasing power parity is now bigger than the Japanese. And according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, China's gross domestic product will outstrip that of the United States in fifteen years, making China the largest economy in the world. China's rise has robbed Japan of its identity as the world's economic miracle.
Japanese national identity had been about catching-up with the achievements of the West. The Japanese celebrated and took their country's advances for granted as Japan's economic performance outstripped those of France, Britain, then Germany. This Japan had never been the object of catch-up, until now-and by so close a neighbor. The Japanese political class is having a difficult time mentally adjusting to China's rise; some are even sulking.
Underlying much of the discussion about China in the Japanese political class is the effort-and the psychological need-to affirm status differentiation. Status affirmation is key in the way Japanese society functions, found in everyday manners and rituals, and in restrictive rules and endless intrigues. Japan's status affirmation has its origin in Chinese tradition, of course, and China also continues to see the world in hierarchical terms. The Japanese on the whole are comfortable with "knowing one's place."
This Japan is in the midst of searching for a post-economic identity in the international world, especially in Asia. The search is for a new hierarchy in which Japan can claim leadership status. There is even talk of identifying Japan as a leader in having experienced and dealt with horrendous industrial pollution, meaning Japan has the answers to the problems of industrialization China and others are facing. Organizing the world in terms of a hierarchy of democratic evolution is another way of awarding Japan leadership status in Asia. But, in the end, the real question of Japanese national identity is whether Japan in Asia can develop a sense of equality.
The source of affinity in East Asia is not civilization but the degree of engagement with world capitalism and middle class development-economic interdependence. China is Japan's largest trading partner, and Japan is China's second largest foreign investor. The Japanese economic class manages to cut deals and make profit, despite the cold diplomatic relations, taking little notice of any ideological divide. And the Japanese public, in contrast to the somewhat jittery political class, remains sanguine about Japan and its future with China.
Mr. Tamamoto is editor of JIIA Commentary.
The views expressed in this piece are the author's responsibility and should not be attributed to JIIA Commentary or The Japan Institute of International Affairs
Nothing to be done, no way to fight back.
Whenever I am in such places and find myself of need of something to drink or a small pick-me-up (I am rather fond of Beck's coffee houses—but please don't tell anyone), I am jolted by the presence, behind the counter, of a Japanese.
“How is it possible,” I find myself asking myself, “that Japanese, particularly young Japanese, are at work in the retail services sector?”
It turns out my question to myself is not entirely mad.
Two Saturdays ago (August 5), the front page article of the evening edition of The Asahi Shimbun revealed what had long been an open secret: the restaurants and convenience stores of the downtown areas are dependent on Chinese workers. Without young Chinese to man the registers, take the orders and fill them out, much of the retail sector would shut down.
From my daily contact in Minato-ku with retail company employees whose name cards read, as the article states, “Chang”, “Wang” and “Sun” I have assumed that at least some of the workers working in the downtown areas must be illegals. The Asahi article insists that these workers are all legitimate--that they are students holding visas permitting them to work up to 28 hours per week or trainees with the right to work 4 hours per day.
Clearly for corporations like the gyūdon chain Matsuya Foods--which according to its own records has 1230 non-Japanese employees--the incentive would be to work within the law, employing only students with the proper papers. However, for the smaller establishments and some franchises like the convenience stores, the acute shortage of low-wage labor in inner city areas must present incentives to feign willful ignorance at the real eligibility of an applicant—especially since employers are relying on their foreign employees' networks of friends and acquaintances as a major source of new recruits.
(An aside--but another trend I have noticed is the increasing number of children working the registers of their parents' stores in the early evening hours and on weekends).
The Asahi provided the below graph below of the number of students with work visas.
A few items are worth noticing:
* 400% growth in less than 10 years
* Rapid growth took place during a time when Japan was wallowing in the worst economic and employment crisis of the postwar era
* The number of students seeking work permits declined in 2005 despite an increase in demand for employees (the result of a post-April 2005 crackdown on the more marginal of the Chinese pseudo-students, perhaps?)
* The staggering number of Chinese exchange students in the country (89, 374)
Now if this is a purely city center phenomenon--as the article indicates and my own observations during my perambulations about the countryside seem to confirm—then one has to start thinking about the application of the inner city model test case to the purported nation-wide looming triple threats of shortages in labor, students and young people. The model seems to working downtown—what about uptown and in the chihō? What is Japan’s carrying capacity in terms of a minority of Chinese young people— 1 million, 2 million, 5 million? Will they stay—probably a lot of them will want to—and how will the state receive them?
The immigration answer to the shōshkōreika mondai is not a hypothetical—it is upon us.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Oh you must be bloody kidding me.
From The Asahi Shimbun of August 10, 2006.
Hands up if you agree that the body types of these Gojira-sized corporate raiders, caught in mid-consumption of the headquarters of the poor little corporation that could ("My company, the one I worked hard for, making it grow...one day..." -- my sweet Watusi!) look suspiciously non-Japanese.
...found the time in all the hubbub to take a poll.
The pollsters found that most of Japan is not entirely appalled by you-know-who's visit to you-know-where.
Over 50% approve of Yasukuni Shrine visitThe Japanese can be found here.
The Yomiuri Shimbun
More than half of the public supported Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's decision to visit Yasukuni Shrine on Tuesday to commemorate the end of World War II, according to a survey conducted Tuesday and Wednesday by The Yomiuri Shimbun.
According to the survey, which polled 1,832 eligible voters, 1,104, or 60.3 percent, of whom were interviewed by telephone, 53 percent of the respondents either "support" or "somewhat support" Koizumi's visit to the shrine, while 39 percent said "they do not."
As to the reason, 35 percent of those who said they supported his visit said it was a matter of course that a prime minister would console the souls of the war dead and pay tribute to their memory, while 31 percent said a prime minister could visit the shrine to renew his or her pledge not to engage in war. Twenty-five percent said it did not make sense to stop visiting the shrine because of protests by China and South Korea.
Among those who said they did not support the visit, 41 percent cited possibly worse relations with China and South Korea; 27 percent disapproved because Class-A war criminals were enshrined there with other war dead; and 16 percent said it went against the principle of the separation of church and state.
While 33 percent of the respondents said they could understand protests by China and South Korea against Koizumi's Yasukuni visit, 57 percent said they could not.
Now that last set of numbers just leaps out at you...until you look back at the original. I wonder whether or not they held a meeting about how they should translate nattoku. Translating nattoku as “understand” represents a rather interesting choice.
In terms of statistics, it should not matter that nearly 40% of those called did not want to participate in the poll. Why the writers/editors should want to grant the refusal rate the honor of the second paragraph is perplexing. Either
1) the writers/editors at the Yomiuri are innumerate,
2) they feel a need to conduct a pre-emptive reaction strike against innumerate critics who will shout, "Oh, yeah...and how many people refused to cooperate with your dumb old poll?" or
3) “Statistical methods, borrowed from the West, do not capture the Japanese people's true feeling. We have a tradition of speaking through not speaking—of non-verbal communication. Ever since the country was unified under the Tokugawa Shogunate…”
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Why don't they just give up on the damn islands?*
From the loud shouting and orchestral noises filtering through the shut windows of my office, the Russian Coast Guard's killing of a Japanese fisherman and the seizure of his 3 shipmates in the waters off Kagarajima has initiated a real party out in front of the Russian Embassy.
Oh, boy! And Saturday is the 61st anniversary of the Soviet military takeover of the Southern Kuriles.
Oh yippie tai yai yeah!
Combine the shooting with last night's burning down of Katō Kōichi's Yamagata home by an unconscious and thus rather uncommunicative right wing nutjob--and what we got is a real Uyoku Week Extravaganza!
And you just gotta believe that somewhere in Beijing or in Seoul, someone is telling an interviewer right now:
"See? See? I told you this would happen!"
* Yes, yes, I am aware that a return of the Southern Kuriles to Japan would be a real blow to the commanders of the Pacific Fleet, reducing the ability of Russian submarines to slip in or out of the Sea of Okhotsk undetected.
I agree with the Tokyo Shimbun* - let us all hope we do not have to go through that ever again.
Today, the visit to Yasukuni is the subject of a plague of editorializing, some fair, some balanced (do not let the title of the op-ed deter you) and some beyond redemption (For those into self-abuse, catch the article Deborah "It's Not About Me, It's About the Looming Pagodas" Cameron wrote about her visit to Nara).
The looming prospect of a Yasukuni sanpai on August 15 has subsidized a minor industry of U.S.-based Japan scholars offering advice to the Mssrs. Koizumi and Abe. The increase in total tonnage of commentary produced in Japan itself will undoubtably affect GDP growth figures in the third quarter, partially offsetting an expected drop in exports to China.
Like Liberace, I will accentuate the positive:
1) Institution building - Koizumi Junichiro's primary goal upon winning the LDP presidential election was the restauration of the prime ministership. At the time Koizumi took over, the position had deteriorated into the display case for the latest brand of stupid favored by the greasy heads of the factions. His goal may have been narrow - transform the position of prime ministre into a political force for itself--but he attacked it from all angles. Visiting Yasukuni was not just a politician keeping a campaign promise. It was establishment of a tradition--that a prime minister's speech and his actions should be as one.
2) Neutering the right - "I feel light, like a mist over my heart has burned away!" exclaimed Tōjō Yūko yesterday.
Oh, how light will she feel tomorrow, or next year? Have she not heard of the proverb that warns when God wishes to punish you, He answers your prayers?
The perception of the existence of an international ban on Japanese prime ministers visiting Yasukuni has been a key psychological drawing point for the right. As long as prime ministers stayed away from Yasukuni, outsiders were clearly meddling with Japan's sovereignty.
Koizumi has shown that no ban exists--a prime minister goes or or does not go based on his own personal desire.
So if the next prime minister (Abe) does not go--because cold calculation tells him such a visit will a deleterious effect on Japan's national interests--what will the right's excuse be? That Abe was given bad directions? That he has lost his cojones? That he has lost his mind?
3) Educating the people - The weeks and months of buildup to a date certain August 15 sanpai gave the press ample time to present the issues in exhausting detail. The public received a rare chance to reexamine an issue they had not faced as honestly as they should have in 2005: Japan's part in the War Against Which All Other Wars Shall Be Judged II (WAWAOSBJ 2). The controversy over the enshrinements exposed the public to the issue of assigning blame for the start of the war--without everyone getting bogged down in maudlin arguments over the moral equivalencies of the incendiary bombings of Japan's cities, the atomic bombings, the entry of the Soviets into the war and the surrender. The number of tokushū and tokuban willing to plunge up to their elbows in the muck of the War on the Asian Continent seemed to far exceed the number willing to do so last year.
Funny thing - the more leeway the press gave the rightists to air their grievances and repressed thoughts, the less popular the
Maybe sunlight is the best disinfectant... even in the Land of the Rising Sun.
And speaking of sun, there really are better places to spend one's days in mid-August than central Tokyo.
Looking north from the summit of Myōgisan
Ashikaga-shi, Tochigi Prefecture. August 13, 2006.
Click on the image to open in a new window.
* The title of today's editorial in the Tokyo Shimbun was Kore de owari ni shitai (With this, we want to make an end of it).
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
What I love about the Press Law is the requirement that all news must be reported in a balanced and dispassionate fashion.
It seems that for the sake of thoroughness, this principle is understood to extend even to balance in terms of truthfulness.
A short while back--oh, let's say...Sunday--Kyōdō News was foisting this bit of malarkey upon the world:
S. Korea, China to Accept 1 Shrine Visit by Next PremierInformed Japanese sources! Gosh, it must be true! Isn't it?
The Chinese and South Korean governments intend to accept one visit to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine by the next Japanese leader after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, but only on condition that no more visits are made during his tenure, Kyodo News reported quoting informed Japanese sources as having said on Aug. 13, 2006.
[Warning: The above link may present some return problems. For a 日本語 version, click here.]
Shrine visit by next premier opposed
Updated: 2006-08-13 09:26 China has denied a Kyodo News report that the Chinese and South Korean governments intend to accept one visit to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's successor.
The report is "totally groundless," a spokesman at the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo said late Saturday night. "The Chinese side's position on the issue of visits to Yasukuni Shrine where Class-A war criminals are honored is very clear and there is no change."
That's Kyōdō News, "Striving to Make UPI Look Almost Respectable"
Urrkkk!!! The Japan Times was talking to the same cabal of conjurers.
Either that or they are using Kyōdō News wire reports without attribution.
That would be bad.
Monday, August 14, 2006
The Sankei Shimbun printed a really interesting graphic on August the 7th.
It seems that the Showa Emperor lost interest in more than just Yasukuni after the enshrinement of the infamous 14 in 1978.
It seems up until the secret enshrinement, Hirohito was one pretty busy beaver in the "preserving the nation" religious affairs department.
All those visits to all those Gokoku Jinja--yow.
By contrast, the Showa emperor's son seems to have very little enthusiasm for the ritualized nation protecting business.
Mayhap because the Gokoku Jinja idea is a historical and cultural detour from viable Shinto?
Sorry to hear that Jim Frederick will be moving on from the TIME office here in Tokyo to become an editor of the European edition of TIME.
Mr. Frederick has been a good sport. When he made a not terribly serious mistake in the first sentence of a recent article on the BOJ, prompting a facetious email from yours truly, he saw to it that the magazine published a correction in its paper edition.
Saraba and ganbatte.
Speaking of unquiet spirits from unsuccessful wars--in this case my own from my neverending battle against the shakai kakusa hysteria--reader Etienne writes in comments:
The NBER has an interesting paper on top income inequality in Japan over the long term (1885-2002). It shows that the bubble had a relatively low impact on wage income concentration and that the equalizing effect of the institutions created in the immediate post-war period was not really reversed. As for the impact of the Koizumi reforms on income inequality, the jury is still out.
Now if anyone can teach me how to get my comments up in something other than gigantic white script, I would be much obliged.
and every year, it's still wrong.
Mari Yamaguchi from AP, your moment in the sun:
Japan debates war shrine anewI suppose you could call it the Curse of Nelson's. My ancient edition of Nelson's Dictionary defines （ 靖 ） as "peaceful". Mayhap the present edition still does.
PREMIER MAY VISIT MILITARISTIC SITE ON SURRENDER DATE
TOKYO - Its name means ``peaceful nation,'' but the Yasukuni shrine to Japan's war dead generates a lot of rage. Asian neighbors attack it as a promoter of militarism, Japanese have filed a slew of lawsuits against official visits there, and the United States, Japan's main ally, finds its take on history disturbing.
If Yasukuni means "peaceful country " it means it in sort of the Pinochet-Chile/Assad-Syria sense--quiet, without conflict, but not exactly due to a outbreak of brotherly and sisterly love.
Perhaps the FCCJ and the Foreign Press Center could put out a little explainer note for the benefit of the newbies and the lazy:
Oh, but who the hell will care about semantics and philology, right?
"Yasukuni" does not mean "Peaceful Nation". It means "Pacified Nation" -- a conflicted land brought under control. The shrine was built to to house the agitated kami of the dead fighters of the Boshin War--as a preventative against those kami coming back to plague the imperial government from beyond the grave. It was named "Yasukuni" after the addition of the kami who died in the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. (See Tenjin-sama and Kanda Daimyojin for other examples of this phenomenon.)
A Pacified Nation, not a Peaceful One.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
Robert Alan Feldman reads Toward a Beautiful Country and hazards a few guesses about an Abe Cabinet's
and foreign policies.
I, of course, have some questions for Mr. Feldman:
1) When Japanese bureaucrats join guerilla forces, do give up not only their ties but their wire-rimmed glasses too?
2) You say Sakurai Yoshiko is an expert on education...what part of education is she an expert on? (Please, please, please do not let it be disciplinary measures!)
3) Abe sees Japan's international identity arising out its enforcement of its laws. Where could he have ever come to have this conception of the special origin of the Japanese state? (Amaterasu is going to be very angry...)
Seriously, although Mr. Feldman gets a lot of exposure from his on-again, off-again gig on Channel 12, the stuff he tosses out as a part of his day job deserves a wider readership--as does the work of the other Morgan Stanley Japan analysts. The Global Economic Forum material is given away for free, for goodness sakes, with free public access to the last five years' worth of archives!
Contrary to its reactionary image, the Sankei Shimbun published an editorial on Thursday that swims against the tide of panic over a statisticaly significant increase in income diversity among younger Japanese in the 1990's and early 2000's.
「冷静な視点に立ち対策を」(sorry, no link) or "Let's choose our countermeasures from a sober point of view" acknowledges the results in
# the Ministry of Finance's Annual Report on the Japanese Economy and Public Finance 2006 , (English version here),
# the Ministry of Health and Labor's White Paper on the Labor Economy (a shorter summary report here)
# and the OECD's recent Economic Survey of Japan
and still has the gumption to say, "Yes, but...I don't really like your data sets." *
The editorial notes that in recent years, as the economy has expanded, the number of available jobs has increased, the number of "freeters" has shrunk and fraction of new employees being hired as permanent employees (正社員) has jumped.
As a result of these trends, the editors caution against the initiation of wasteful and unnecessary government programs.
They do leave one door open in terms of areas where government can help--in the prevention of a hardening of socio-economic differences.
Research in the U.S. has found that entering the workforce during a recession or at the time of a market will have a significant permanent effect on an individual's earnings and advancement:
"The Short- and Long-Term Career Effects of Graduating in a Recession" (National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 12159, April 2006.
"The Making of an Investment Banker: Macroeconomic Shocks, Career Choice and Lifetime Income" (National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 12059, February 2006
Having an entire seething generation stuck in the slow lane for the crime of being born at the wrong time seems like something the Japanese government should tackle, if it wants to A) be popular and B) maximize the output of its citizenry.
The trick will be, of course, in targeting the help to the age cohort that needs it.
One reasonable way would be to offer grants to young adults who wish to return to tertiary education or who wish to take graduate-level courses in the hopes of improving their job prospects.
But anyway, bravo to the Sankei Shimbun for bucking the tide-even if it is in language conspicuously similar what are ostensibly the words of Abe Shinzō.
* Oh! If there were only some way to illustrate relatively paucity of demand for labor in 2002 that might have made it difficult for employees to bid up wages and demand permanent positions!
How about page 26 of the Ministry of Health and Labor's summary report)?
Uh, gee. It looks like unemployment for all age cohorts topped out in 2002, with the youngest cohort (ages 15-34) seeing an unemployment rate of over 7%.
In the latest of their hyperlinked briefing notes, the Council on Foreign Relations has a Yasukuni page on the CFR.org website.
Unfortunately the review and the links are not very good--unlike the Backgrounders, which have up until now been quite informative and tightly composed.
The only thing new under the sun on this page is this article in the Washington Quarterly by Professor Wu Xinbo. I will have to review it in my copious free time for evidence of sanity.
Do not click on either of the "Related Materials" offerings. Both links take you on a voyage into the abyss.
Friday, August 11, 2006
As Daniel Sturgeon has reminded us through his research on the official stamps one needs to make a kami Yasukuniable, all festivities related to the War Against Which All Other Wars Shall Be Judged II (WAWAOSBJ 2) are run by the Ministry of Health and Labor.
For those of you who have not yet received your notice, here is the program for this year, straight from War Victims Relief Planning Division (援護企画課) of the Bureau of Social Welfare and War Victim's Relief (社会・援護局).
English language version of this announcement?
See if you can guess the author of this quote, taken from an Asahi Shimbun article on the Democratic Party of Japan's young adult and middle-aged candidates.
"It is simply not true that they are utterly charmless. That they are fresh is good, as is the fact that a lot of them are from the elite, like bureaucrats, lawyers and the top-ranked companies. They understand the legislative process and the crafting of policy better than the LDP and are just more chipper right across the board."
O.K. Let's ask Okada Katsuya how that yūtōsei theme plays out in terms of votes on election day...Mr. Okada, your comment?
Oh. Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
A reader, in whose presence I quake, sends an email:
You praised Patrick Smith for his article on Yasukuni but Smith wrote that Japan was about to face up to its Yasukuni problem.
The Yomiuri on page 2 of its Aug. 9 morning edition carried the results of a poll it took about the Yasukuni issue.
After examining the poll results, to the contrary of Mr. Smith, I noticed, with a bit of surprise, that even after the comment by the Emperor Showa not visiting Yasukuni because of the enshrining of the 14 war criminals, public opinion remains hopelessly divided.
The Yomiuri poll showed that the COMBINATION of "support" (for Yasukuni visits by the next prime minister) and "dochira ka to ieba, support) amounts to only 40.4%, compared with the opposite combination of "oppose" and "dochira ka to ieba, oppose) of 50.3%
[NOTE: "Dochira ka to ieba" means "If I have to say one or the other."]
If you eliminate the "dochira ka to ieba" Japanese who can't bring themselves to express a clear opinion, you're left with just 22.2% on the "sansei" (support) side, 30.1% on the "hantai" (opposed) side and 47.8% who are biting their fingernails or haven't thought enough about the issue to answer the question.
It's enough to make you want to sympathize with the leaders of Japan! With nearly half the people unable to enunciate a clear opinion, I find it hard to believe Japan is about to face up to the problem of Yasukuni.
In raw figures, the answers to the question about support or opposition to visits by the next prime minister were:
dochira ka 18.2%
dochira ka 20.2%
"no reply" 9.4%
If you look at the 9.4% of those polled who had no answer and take away the 38.4% whose replies only expressed an inclination (not a commitment), you wind up with only 22.2% supporting visits by the next prime minister and 30.1% opposing them.
Straight support or opposition 52.3%
"Dochira ka" (on both sides) plus "no reply" 47.8%
In support of my erudite reader's argument, I reproduce below, in jpeg format, the image of the Yomiuri Shimbun poll cited.
Just click on the image for an enlarged view in a new window.
Having posted a Yomiuri graphic of the
So it is:
80 Mori Faction
76 Tsushima Faction
36 Yamasaki Faction (unbelievable, I know)
32 Ibuki Faction
15 Tanigaki Faction
15 Kōmura Faction
15 Nikai Group
11 Kōno Group
I am not quite sure whether or not these figures take into account Speaker of the House of Representatives Kōno Yōhei's official status as an independent member of the Diet. It is possible he might not be eligible to vote for his son in the LDP presidential race.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
I have a good friend who has assigned himself an admirable task: helping the Democratic Party of Japan find itself.
An admirable task...and mostly likely, a futile one.
The DPJ has lost its raison d'ètre.
Most observers of Japan, myself included, assumed ipso facto and on the basis of our own nation's politics that Japan needed a viable opposition party, capable of ruling Japan in alternation with the LDP.
Without the alternation of administrations, or at least the threat of an alternation of administrations, Japan was condemned to mindless and endless recurrence, making the same mistakes, inflicting the same wounds upon itself and upon others, ad infinitum.
Now, I am not so certain that faith in a two-party system is warranted.
Not that there are not two parties in Japan. Just that their boundaries do not conform to the respective memberships of the modern LDP and the modern DPJ.
Japan's two real parties are the Party of Statis and the Party of Transformation.
The Party of Statis, what I alternately call Tanakaism, is the party of neurotic insecurity and inconfidence. It obsesses about the past, believing people should stay where they are, doing what they were doing, not rocking the boat. It believes that the Japanese people are weak, needing to be helped and protected.
In terms of policy, the Party Statis tries to keep funds flowing to the countryside, to keep traditional family structures in hegemonic dominance and to keep Japan's head down in foreign affairs.
The Party of Transformation, which I believe we can now call Koizumi-ism, has a contrary faith in the flexibility and ingenuity of the Japanese people. It boasts an urban and urbane sheen, an almost nonchalant confidence in the special strengths of the Japanese people. For the Party of Transformation, the reality of Japan is not the past, but the future.
In terms of policy, the Party of Transformation feels that the role of government in Japan to urge everyone to run in footsteps of the winners, into the unknown. Those who succeed should be protected from expropriation; those who fail should be encouraged to transform themselves. As for foreign policy, the Party of Transformation believes Japan has much to be proud of--and relatively little to be apologetic about—in terms of its conduct of its foreign affairs. Japan can hold its head up high, and should—for even better days are yet ahead.
At the birth of the new era that began in the 1993 collapse of the Takeshita faction, the rebels leaders of what is now the Democratic Party were vocally anti-Tanakaist and pro-Transfomation. Theirs was going to be the party of the urban voter, of the non-machine floating voter, of the liberal and progressive voter, of those who were unafraid of deregulation and the free-flow of information.
Through the 1990s, the multitudinous threads (and the below graphic from the Yomiuri Shimbun of August 9 shows just how numerous and equipotent these individual threads are) of the Transformationist rebellion all shared a commitment to a defeat of the Tanakaist, static Japanese state.
What the Transformationists who had fled the LDP did not realize (not a reason to feel ashamed, by the way-- nobody else realized it either) was that bereft of its life support systems—-rising tax revenues and rising savings-—Tanakaism was dying. In its death throes it coughed up, like phlegm, a series of ever-more dispiriting prime ministers, starting with Murayama Tomiichi, the ultimate sellout, downward through Hashimoto Ryutarō(PBUH), Ōbuchi Keizō(PBUH) and finally, at its nadir, Mori Yoshirō, selected to serve, in morbidly symbolic fashion, by five LDP bigwigs gathered around Ōbuchi's undead corpse.
The downward spiral of Tanakaism, as embodied by the declining quality of the selections made by the LDP national leadership, managed to do what it was thought only a two-party system could do: lead everyone outside Nagatachō, even the LDP's membership, to reject the party central leaderhip.
It was the local revolt against the LDP Tanakaist center that propelled Koizumi to power. Along the way he borrowed, for as long as he could stand it, the populist shine of Tanaka Kakuei's daughter. When her obstreperous behavior became too disruptive to ignore, he jettisoned her in favor of a more strictly Fukuda Takeo-line-of-descent government.
Hence the existential dilemma of the modern Democratic Party: the alternative they had hoped to offer Japan is the standard of the new core leadership of the LDP. The Democrats's great enemy—the mighty, multi-headed Tanaka patronage machine--is now so depleted it cannot even get one of its own to run in the LDP party presidential election. It is so far removed from its grunting populist origins that it is led by a Tsushima, for Amaterasu's sake! True, he is an adoptee--but what kind of world is this where the family that epitomizes flighty, self-obsessed-to-the-point-of-selfishness literati mores is in charge of the Tanaka legacy?
With Tanakaism and Stasis politics almost completely dead, the Democrats are left to joust with shadows.
Perhaps they should take up fishing full-time.
I will admit it; I was wrong.
It is still possible to compose a worthwhile general news article about Yasukuni. Patrick Smith has done it.
If you have not already seen his analytical article in today's International Herald Tribune, you can find it here.
The kicker is the quote from Takebe Tsutomu at the end.
However, I do not think he gives the Japanese people or Japanese policy makers enough credit in this recently published column.
Japan's next prime minister needs to answer many questions
2006/8/8 - By William Pesek - Few elections may be more pivotal for global markets than one happening in Tokyo next month.
After more than five years of shaking up Japan's economy, Junichiro Koizumi is stepping down. Oddly, global markets seem to be paying scant attention to one of the most important power shifts in the modern history of the No. 2 economy.
There are scores of questions investors should be asking Japan's next prime minister, whether it's Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, Foreign Minister Taro Aso or someone else. Here are four key ones.
1. What about the debt? "The most pressing challenge is regaining sustainability in the public finances," International Monetary Fund Managing Director Rodrigo de Rato said in Tokyo on Aug. 3. "We urge policy makers not to be overly optimistic about what can be achieved through spending cuts."
Or economic growth. While de Rato's comment was right on, officials in Tokyo also seem to think Japan's recent growth will reduce debt. The 2 percent expansion the central bank expects next year won't be enough to do that.
It hardly helps that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates Japan's debt burden is 170 percent of gross domestic product, the largest in the industrialized world and bigger than the government claims. Not only is debt holding Japan's credit rating below Botswana's, but a "crowding out" dynamic is making it hard for healthy companies to issue debt to expand.
2. How about more babies? Japan's population actually shrank in 2005 thanks to a declining birthrate in a country where a fifth of the people are already 65 or older. Japan needs to figure out how to pay lower debt-servicing costs -- which now eat up 20 percent of the budget -- so it can pay for rising social- security costs.
Part of the issue is tackling discrimination against women in the workplace. While things are improving, motherhood remains a career-ending proposition for all too many women. Underutilizing the female workforce not only holds back growth, it also means women will increasingly delay childbirth. Without action, the labor pool will dry up further.
3. Will you leave the BOJ alone? An ominous suggestion came last week from Hidenao Nakagawa, head of the LDP's policy-making board, who said Japan's next leader should look for ways for the Bank of Japan and the government to cooperate more to boost growth.
You really have to wonder how independent a central bank that lowers interest rates to zero really is. After all, if politicians had done their part 10 years ago to deregulate the economy and boost employment instead of relying on free money, the 1990s wouldn't have been a lost decade.
Investors should be very afraid at the mere suggestion the BOJ could be any more helpful to politicians. It's imperative that Japan's next leader leave the BOJ alone and focus instead on repairing the nation's fiscal position and tweaking tax policies to make the economy more productive.
4. Whither Japan's role in Asia? It's a simpler question than it seems and it may boil down to one thing: Yasukuni Shrine.
It's just as sensitive an issue in Japan as outside, but few topics will say more about how connected the economy will be to Asia's economic rise. Sixty-plus years after World War II, Japanese want to move on. Visits by top Japanese officials to Yasukuni, which honors 14 war criminals among the dead it commemorates, are increasingly unnerving China and South Korea.
First, about the debt. Call me a simpleton (Editor: "MTC, you're a simpleton.") but I somehow cannot get extraordinarily excited about it.
As far as I understand it, the national debt is a debt the Japanese largely owe themselves. There is no incentive for ever calling the debt, as it can only be paid immediately through domestic tax increases, which will send the economy into a tailspin. Nobody wants to kill the economy to collect on a debt, so long as interest rates remain low, the debt will just get rolled over every time it comes due, and the government will pay off the interest.
Second, about babies. I know citations of anecdotal evidence are as good as the numbers backing them up--but I swear I have seen more women enceinte this summer than I can recall seeing for a very long time. Something about a stabilizing work environment making women (and on occasion, their male spouses) willing to take time off to produce a generation of future taxpayers, then being able to return to their old positions, without jeapordizing their careers.
Third, about leaving the BOJ alone.
Not if one value one's livelihood--and everybody else's, one shouldn't.
Sweet William, alas, you knowest not into what brambles into which you tread.
Nakagawa Hidenao is an old Nikkei Shimbun guy--he knows a thing or two about how the Japanese economic system really works. Or fails to work, as the case may be.
The Koizumi years have been in a time of unprecedented government control over the Ministry of Finance and the BOJ...especially after the Bank rid itself of the Most Supreme and Excellent Lord of Bitter Chastisement Hayami Masaru -- the consensus "Worst Central Banker in the World" for four years straight. Naming Tanigaki Sadakazu Minister of Finance also has to be classed among Mr. K's masterstrokes. Truly a file-and-forget move of extreme prejudice--nothing else was needed to leave the MOF quietly, painlessly and effectively emasculated.
Looking back, it was sweet little operation Mr. K & Co. had going.
Nakagawa, however, sees an end to this happy Gelded Age of government fiscal and monetary policy in the next Cabinet. A replacement for Tanigaki (whose political career will go on extended holiday or indeed be over as of September 20) will have to both offer red meat to his hounds in the Ministry while simultaneoulsy whipping the legs of the BOJ from time to time--this in order to keep the Governors from following through on their obscene lust for monetary normalcy.
My guess is the role of the heavy will be played by Yosano Kaoru.
As for Yasukuni, don't get me started on on that, just don't get me started!
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
While the very patriotic among Japanese society entertain me and my Russian diplomat neighbors with glorious songs of conquest and self-sacrifice and mellifluous megaphonic shouting on this Most Special Day in Russo-Japanese Relations--a glance at yestereve's headlines indicates some intrepid newspaper editors have found convincing evidence of a far more pressing threat being posed by--yes, the anti-Koizumi crowd's and my own favorite modern made-up bugaboo--the increasing stratification of incomes.
The Asahi Shimbun and the Yomiuri Shimbun (why these two papers, I wonder?) find the lives of young people in their twenties diverging in alarming ways.
Concern grows over widening income gapAunty Em, Aunty Em, it's a Twister! Oh, the Humanity! Für dich leben! Für dich sterben! Alma!
August 9, 2006 - The disparity in incomes among employees in the same age groups continues to widen due to the increasing use of nonpermanent staff and the introduction of performance-based wage systems, a government report said Tuesday.
In its white paper on labor and economy, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said that more than 20 percent of workers in their 20s earn less than 1.5 million yen annually.
But the number of those drawing 5 million yen or more in the same age group is rising. The report said the disparity in monthly income among permanent and nonpermanent workers in their late 40s was now as much as 300,000 yen.
The white paper, approved Tuesday at a Cabinet meeting, called for measures to prevent the income gap from becoming a permanent feature of life in corporate Japan.
Seriously, one has to love the Yomiuri's graphic illustration of the transformation of the pyramid of monthly salaries over time, particularly the sad, shaggy-haired generic youth dolorously studying his lonesome 1000 yen bill.
Courtesy: Yomiuri Shimbun
Meanwhile the percentage of those earning in between 1.5 million and 4.99 million has shrunk (Those saying "Well, duh!" at this point are in real danger of receiving a reprimand!)
Now the report finds that "over the past decade" the percentage of those in their twenties earning less than 1.5 milion yen a year has grown from 15.3% of the population to 21.8% of the population. Those earning more than 5 million a year has soared from 2.9% of the population to 3.2% (Yes, I am being sarcastic here).
The growth of the percentage of those employed in temporary or part-time work is sobering.
At the beginning of the decade, only 10.7% of persons in the 20 to 24 year-old age cohort were in temporary positions. At the end of the decade, the number was 31.8%.
For those in the 25 to 29 year-old cohort, the shift was from 11.6% at the beginning of the decade to 22.7% at the end of the decade.
But then, it kind of matters what you mean by "decade", doesn't it?
Can we have a closeup of the graph again? Thank you.
Whoa Nellie! What's this we have there now here? The decade in question takes 1992 and 2002 as the base years?
Stacking the deck are we not--just a little?
Picking as a starting year a year when the crappy remuneration practices of the bubble years (when everyone could get paid for doing anything) had yet not beem wrung from the system by the 1994-5 crises--and taking as the terminal year 2002, when the economy hit rock bottom?
Over the past three years I have watched the hourly wage for restaurant waiting jobs soar from 800 yen an hour to 1100 yen an hour. The Jonathan's near my office now has an easel it puts out on the sidewalk every lunchtime, advertising waiting jobs like they were prix fixe menu items. Over the same period of time I have seen the name tags on the people working the cash registers in this neighborhood fall from two kanji to one--and I know damn well their is no such thing as a "retail service sector" visa program.
Before we loose the dogs of taisaku (To every bureaucrat, a mondai. To every mondai, a taisaku) let us see if these ominous figures are still quite so impressive four years from now, shall we?
Monday, August 07, 2006
Everybody is gearing up the Yasukuni Huff 'n Puff Machine in preparation for next Tuesday.
It's everywhere (here and here and here)!
For the columnist, War Remembrance Day is just like Christmas and Jun'ichiro Koizumi has been Santa Claus.
But with Santa Claus facing retirement and the number of persons with significant direct links to the War Against Which All Other Wars Shall Be Judged II (WAWAOSBJ 2) filling up the graveyards--can we pack up, go home and call the Yasukuni Round a draw?
What is the likelihood the public servants in camouflage will ever add up to an offensive military force?
What percentage of the Japanese populace would agree with this statement: "I regret that I have only one life to give to my country"?
What percentage, if you did not tell them the source of the above quotation, would think it was taken from a DPRK propaganda poster?
What has ever kept the PM from proceeding as he wished (well, Kiko-sama's pregnancy--but even that turned out for the best for Mr. K) on anything he really seemed to care about?
How many people read SAPIO anyway -- without laughing?
What are we talking about then?
Friday, August 04, 2006
No, Abe Shinzo's starting his "Photo Ops in Rural Japan Reassuring Local LDP Chapters of How Much He Loves Them Before Sticking It To Them In February" Tour in Iwate Prefecture had no hidden agenda or particular significance.
What makes you think that?
Courtesy: Asahi Shimbun
August 2, 2006.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Their clean, clever and colorful political cartoons...and I mean colorful in both senses of the world.
Here is the official poster for the Liberal Democratic Party's presidential election.
Courtesy: Liberal Democratic Party *
And here is this morning's Tokyo Shimbun, with its surmise about the next logical step.
Courtesy: Tokyo Shimbun **
Touchy! Touchy! Touchy!
* The Next Japan...To Whom?
** The Next to Yasukuni...Will Be Whom?
...for another unsensationalized account of the release of a ponderous, plodding obscurity of little or no significance.
Riot fears over Hirohito filmBloody hell!
From Leo Lewis in Tokyo - POLICE are preparing for potentially violent protests by right-wing extremists when a film portraying the human side of Emperor Hirohito is released next week.
Many academics believe that the film, which supposedly breaks numerous Japanese taboos in its portrayal of the Imperial Family, may represent an important step towards the “normalisation” of Japan and its ability to debate its wartime past. However, scenes that depict Hirohito as weak-willed and suggest that he bore moral responsibility for the Pacific War are likely to enrage Japan’s belligerent and vocal lobby of arch nationalists, who see anything that damages the Emperor’s image as deeply offensive.
The film, Solntse (The Sun), is the critically acclaimed work of the Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov, who has also made films about Hitler and Stalin. It has been around for almost two years but, fearing the kind of violent reaction anticipated by police, Japanese distributors have been reluctant to buy the screening rights. Just two cinemas — one in Tokyo, the other in Nagoya — are scheduled to show Solntse and instances of violence are certain to hamper a wider release.
"People were really worried about the chance of violence from right-wing groups, so companies were fearful of buying the rights," said Michio Koshikawa, who is distributing Solntse in Japan. "But I think the movie will be a good chance to discuss the whole issue of Emperor Hirohito."
Could someone wake up The Times editor in London and tell him or her he or she does not work for The Sun...so he or she had better start asking the correspondent some questions like, say, "Are you sure you're not being played for the PR angle"?
Can anyone recall the last "riot" Japan had--aside from the arrivals of certain South Korean male television drama stars at Narita Airport?
Riot fears? From the descriptions of the film, "Narcolepsy fears" sounds more apt!
Later - A choice nugget.
The name of the company distributing the film in Japan: Slow Learner, Ltd.
I am reading the Reuters wire report on the release of the Japan Defense Agency's new White Paper, and I find myself saying:
"From whence come these quotes? Am I going senile? Is the writer?"
Japan warns over N.Korea missiles
By Teruaki Ueno - TOKYO - Mon Jul 31, 2006 9:47 PM ET - Japan, stunned by North Korea's multiple missile launch last month, said on Tuesday it believed the reclusive communist state had developed ballistic missiles capable of "pinpoint" attacks on targets in Japan.
Saying North Korea apparently deployed medium-range Rodong ballistic missiles that could put all of Japan within their range of about 1,300 km (810 miles), the white paper added: "It is thought that their precision is so high that they can carry out pinpoint attacks on specific facilities."
North Korea shocked the world in 1998 when it fired a missile that passed over Japan and experts believes it has up to 200 Rodong missiles that could reach most of the country, including Tokyo.
"North Korea's development, deployment and proliferation of ballistic missiles, coupled with nuclear issues, have become destabilizing factors not only in the Asia-Pacific region but in the entire world, and we are gravely concerned about it," the annual report said.
Try as I might, I cannot find any claims about missile accuracy or destabilization fears in the JDA's pdf version of the white paper.
What am I missing here? All I see are the usual cautious and level-headed positions.
Am I looking at last year's text?