Sunday, December 31, 2006

Whatever you do, please don't sing "Amagi Tōge"

The last light of the last day of 2006 from Jōgashima looking toward Amagiyama on the Izu Peninsula.

For all that I have done in 2006 and for all the many things I have left undone, have mercy on me my readers (Did you know that in the Japanese version of the Confiteor, there is no sin of omission? I could say something really snide about that but won't).

May we all have a better year in 2007.

Friday, December 29, 2006

While the wheel's still in spin...

No matter what anyone might think, I am not responsible for this:

Source: Sankei Shimbun
December 29, 2006

No matter what I may have been saying two days ago.

I should know better than to be wonkin' on a day like today

Sorry I am still in remiss but I have been making a damned fool of myself (here and here) in front of the technophiles over at Arms Control Wonk.

That canonical claim that Japan can become a nuclear power in a matter of months?

It looks like somebody, somewhere along the line just made the whole thing up.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A better brand of Watanabe

In case you have not already visited to the brighter side of the Japan politics blogosphere, Jun over at GlobalTalk21 reminiscences about the father of the new State Minister for Administrative Reform.

He even has some things to say about the son.

You Sir, have been the worst way

It's huge, peach-colored, steaming and smells to high heaven.

Is it James's Giant Peach after a series of unfortunate events involving a rogue U.S. microwave relay satellite?

No, it's the Financial Times's portulent (a neologism, forget about the dictionary here) interview cum hagiography of Watanabe Tsuneo.

Japan's top daily forces war reappraisal
Financial Times

By David Pilling - Published: December 27 2006 - Pinpointing the true source of power in Japan is a notoriously slippery task. In a society where decisions tend to emerge through a drawn-out process of consensus, even prime ministers are sometimes little more than figureheads, articulating policies engineered by anonymous others deep in the bowels of the body politic.

One man, however, who has enjoyed undisputed influence is Tsuneo Watanabe, now 80, chairman and editor-in-chief of the Yomiuri newspaper, which with a circulation of 10m is the world's largest daily. Mr Watanabe, who took charge of the Yomiuri empire in 1991 after starting as a political reporter, has long had the ear of prime ministers, business leaders and elite bureaucrats, including other "shadow shoguns" who have helped shape Japan.

The country's most powerful media executive, who is also the force behind the Yomiuri Giants, the nation’s most successful baseball team, has wielded his enormous influence to promote a consistently conservative agenda.

The wealth he has amassed, unusual for someone who worked up the ranks as a reporter, has invited criticism; so have the uses to which he has put his power, which some argue have lent respectability to the strident nationalism heard increasingly in Japan these days. His causes have included a long public campaign, now closer to fruition than ever, to rewrite the postwar pacifist constitution. His newspaper has been a champion of Japan's armed forces and an advocate of the country standing taller in international affairs.

This made all the more remarkable a recent about-face by Mr Watanabe, often referred to as "God" by his awestruck underlings at the Yomiuri. It began in 2005 when the Yomiuri shook the political establishment by decrying in an editorial the visits of Junichiro Koizumi, then prime minister, to Yasukuni shrine, where 2.5m war dead, including 14 Class A war criminals, are honoured. Those visits were unnecessarily provocative to China and showed a wilful ignorance of Japan's dark wartime history, the newspaper thundered.

"Awestruck"...""thundered"..."the force"..."anonymous others deep in the bowels of the body politic"

"Bowels of the body politic"...isn't that where you find a lot of...well, it rhymes with "tit"?

Anyway, isn't way cool when you get to interview God? And not the Western God guy on the Sistine Chapel ceiling and the t-shirts. That God is so déclassé and banal.

No, this is a super-cool hidden god, only for those of us in the know (Isn't great to be part of the hip, super-beautiful elite? Like you would not believe what minor functionaries in the North Korean apparat say to me when their superiors are not around. Give up our nuclear program for economic aid and security guarantees? Not!)

No this super-slippery (?) post-Akira-like Nippono God manifests itself in a visage like unto a Nihon ishigame (Mauremys japonicus) after a minor fender bender.

All right now, give me a break.

1) Watanabe Tsuneo is yesterday. If he weren't, he wouldn't be reaching for the microphone and mugging for the cameras every single bloody day. That he is talking ad nauseum to foreign reporters is prima facie evidence of his dimished stature.

2) The Yomiuri Shimbun's sudden onslaught of conscientiousness has nothing to do with conscience and everything to do with Watanabe's hating Koizumi Jun'ichiro's guts, hair and everything that is attached to them.

The paper's servility toward the Abe Cabinet, complimenting it, encouraging it when it takes a hit, is a slouch toward relevance through sycophancy. It is also rank, rank, rank.

3) The Yomiuri's review of history is not ground breaking, nor is it particularly influential. Frankly, no one gives a...uh, we talked about what it rhymes with above.

This purportedly hard-hitting and deep examination of the war's origins finds that the Emperor was not responsible because "he was routinely deprived of information about the progress of the war, while his attempts to discuss peace options were roundly ignored."

"Deprived of information?"

What, he couldn't order out for a newspaper?

"His attempts to discuss peace options were roundly ignored?"

He couldn't tell anyone important to sit down, shut up and listen, not even after the Shitamachi and 100,000 of its inhabitants were incinerated in a night?

How bloody convenient that he somehow neither tried to find out what was going on nor succeeded in speaking firmly to anyone (nice horsemanship, though).

"If anything, the Yomiuri has been more damning than the Tokyo Tribunal"
Horse feathers!!! Beaver biscuits!!!

4) It is true: I am not amused by Mr. Watanabe's cynical grab for a role in 21st century politics. His flouncing about with the publisher of the Asahi Shimbun, pretending they were best friends forever, was hideous.

Shame on anyone believing a damn thing that comes out squawking out of Nabetsune's beak.

Later - For the person who wrote asking when I am posting on Honma, I beg a little more of your patience.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

And now, today's scandal report. Satoshi?

I am having a hard time keeping abreast of the Abe government's achievements. I am too busy dodging the wheels as they keep flying off.

Reform minister's political organization accused of submitting false reports
Mainichi Online

A defunct political organization overseen by Administrative Reform Minister Genichiro Sata has come under suspicion of stating in official government reports that it paid 70 million yen to an office that in reality didn't exist.

The "Sata Genichiro Seiji Kenkyukai" organization, which was disbanded in October this year, reportedly told the former Ministry of Home Affairs in a report on political funds that it paid 70 million yen to the office between 1990 and 2000.

Speaking to reporters following a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Sata said, "I've instructed my local secretary to examine the matter thoroughly. I want to file a report once I know about the situation."

According to the government gazette and officials at Sato's office, the political organization was founded in 1990. The organization reported that it set up an office at the Tokyo branch of Sata Kensetsu, a construction company whose president was Sata's father, but in reality the office was not operating.

In spite of this, the organization reported to the Ministry of Home Affairs that it paid a total of about 70 million yen in rent and other costs to operate the office between 1990 and 2000. In one year, the payments reportedly totaled 14 million yen.

The organization was headed by an official from a company in Tokyo that was related to Sata Kensetsu, and a government-funded secretary was in charge of work at the office.
Oh, those construction companies! Always getting into mischief!

Prime Minister Abe is quoted as having asked Minister Sata to look into these allegations.

Good idea, Abe-san!

Just to make it absolutely clear how messed up things are for the residents of the Kantei right now, this revelation was the top story on the front page of the Sankei Shimbun.

The Sankei Shimbun, for Amaterasu's sake! The sworn enemy of the prime minister's values! The vanguard of the soft headed socialism and weak-willed pacificism!

Seriously, when you cannot get your fellow travelers to bury a story on page 3, you are in deep bat guano.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Wow! Even handpicked sidekicks can't get no respect...

I am going to settle down sometime and write a post about the Honma Masaaki Affair (so to speak). The tale has all kinds of interesting lacunae and inconsistencies. It furthermore offers hints about the origins of the heretofore rather inexplicable frigidity in the relations between Koizumi Jun'ichirō and Fukuda Yasuo--the falling out that set the stage for Abe Shinzō's rise to the prime ministership.

But before I do that, did anyone else notice the chaos that erupted at the meeting of the Education Rebuilding Council (Kyōiku Saisei Kaigi) last Thursday? The English language press seems to have not reported the goings on.

What a zoo!

The Council is a 17-member Friends of Abe and a Smattering of Very Eminent Persons commission, a set of safe hands for the promotion of conservative principles in education. It is chaired by Nobel Prize winner Noyori Ryōji but is the acknowledged political vehicle of prude-in-chief and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Yamatani Eriko.

One would think that such a body would command a modicum of respect within the government.

One would think that, yes.

However, it seems that the staff of the Council, seconded from the various ministries, drafted an interim report that almost but not quite utterly rejects all the recommendations of the Council.

Imagine that.

Theater producer and council member Asari Keita stormed out (which is kind of apt, as his is "The Four Seasons Theater Company") of the meeting at the kantei.

A longtime friend of conservatives (he discovered long ago that a magical ability to provide politicians with tickets to popular theater productions for their wives, the friends of their wives and female members of the kōenkai wins you eternal gratitude and influence) Asari could not restrain himself from blurting out his frustration to the press:
"They're absolutely like Hitlers in there! What the members of the Council said and what is in the draft from the staff are completely different. We all expressed our opposition to it. The staff has imposed a gag order. In this day and age, when we should be open to the media!"
Other members of the Council used less dramatic language but all expressed their shock at how nearly every single one of the Council's recommendations had been ignored. During the meeting, Watami Co., Ltd. president Watanabe Miki challenged Prime Minister Abe:

"What we have discussed is not even touched upon (in the draft). This meeting should be open to the press. If that is the case and this (draft) represents the judgment of the PM, then I can grant my approval."
To which the PM responded:
"Pulling together everyone's opinion will take a tremendous amount of work. However, little by little, I am sure things will converge."
Whoa Nellie! What the hell is he talking about? What does he mean by "converge"? What kind of convergence can take place when the Council's opinions are not even printed out on the page?

Minister of Education, Technology, Sports and Seemingly Everything Else Takaichi Sanae Is Not In Charge Of Ibuki Bunmei, who can always be trusted to make a crisis worse, did not disappoint. It seems he felt it necessary to explain to the assembled council members exactly how much he respected their opinions:

"First, whether or not what all of you are honorably saying will be put before the Diet is up to the government to decide.

Then, on top of that, what the law will actually say will have to be decided."

Oh take that you lowly Nobel Prize winners and eminent members of society! Your opinions are not on the program! Eat my shūgiin giin shorts!

For those who want to read a full account of this clown show, here is the link to the story from the Asahi Shimbun.

As I final note, I am coming to have a finer appreciation of the use of the term ōmune.

The dictionary will tell you that the meaning of ōmune is "for the most part", "basically" or "roughly".

In practice, ōmune sees a lot of use as a marker for "the following statement is a lie. Perhaps not in narrow legalistic terms, but definitely in substance."

So I was hardly surprised at all by Yamatani Eriko's summing up of the day's proceedings.

"Ōmune hōkōsei ga ryōshō sareta ."

"For the most part, the direction we are taking met with the Council's approval."

Oh yeah. Sure it did.

Just to make the point clear--this Council is Abe's own creation. He is its honorary chairman. He named a Special Advisor to the Prime Minister to guide it. It is stocked with friends of his government. Education reform is supposed be one of the Cabinet's main thrusts. The Council is only two months old.

And its membership is already ticked off.

Monday, December 25, 2006

And Peace on Earth

Merry Christmas from the Abe Family...

Japan hangs 4, including two in 70s

TOKYO, Dec. 25 - Four death row inmates in Japan were hanged Monday, the first executions since September last year, informed sources said.

They are Yoshimitsu Akiyama, 77, and Yoshio Fujinami, 75, who were both held at the Tokyo Detention House, Michio Fukuoka, 64, who was held at the Osaka Detention House, and Hiroaki Hidaka, 44, incarcerated at the Hiroshima Detention House.

On the last Monday before the New Year. When the Diet is not in session. For our safety. And for a nice, clean desk to come back to on January the 4th.

For a beautiful country.

What is WRONG with these people? Even if Yamatoland is a decidedly unchristian nation, this is lousy PR.

Then again this crowd seems hellbent on proving itself insensitive to anything going on outside its own narrow circle of militants, sycophants and hair-splitters.

Pointer on this story from reader JL.

Later - To be fair, the quartet were really awful denizens of this planet, each and every one a total waste of human skin.

Still, not on Christmas Day folks.

Boxing Day (December 26), now that would be appropriate!

Kami no kohitsuji...

...yo no tsumi o nozoki tamō shu yo
warera o awaremitamae.

Kami no kohitsuji, yo no tsumi o nozoki tamō shu yo
warera o awaremitamae.

Kami no kohistsuji, yo no tsumi o nozoki tamō shu yo
warera ni heiwa o ataetamae.

May the Joy and Peace of the Holidays Be With You The Whole Year Through


Joyeux Noël

Vesel Božič

Mele Kalikimaka

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Barking Mad

Oh brother, Nakagawa Shōichi has gone off the reservation...again:

Lawmaker pushes revisionist history

TOKYO - Thursday, Dec 21, 2006 - A top policymaker has called for Japan to "correct" its view on World War II sex slaves, saying the government should reconsider its apology.

Shoichi Nakagawa, policy chief for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, said in an interview with the conservative Sankei Shimbun newspaper that the government should review a 1993 statement of regret.

The government needed to ensure that "what was said more than 10 years ago does not become an accomplished fact," said Nakagawa, who is known for his hawkish remarks, in the interview published yesterday.

In the 1993 statement, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono admitted and apologized for the Japanese army's involvement in sexually enslaving women in Korea and other countries during World War II.

Abe has said his government follows the apologetic stance set by Kono in 1993.

But Nakagawa said: "During meetings with other parliament members to study it, even young people who were not parliament members when the remarks were made said that the remarks were very inaccurate."

"Unless the government swiftly corrects things if there is anything to be corrected, a wrong message would be sent overseas," he said.

"We need to avoid giving wrong information to children, too," he said.

Here is the original interview in Japanese.

Now I said in way back in September that Nakagawa would be given a post to "keep him off the streets". Perhaps they should have left him there. He could hardly be doing more harm as a rabble-rousing streetside screecher than he is doing right now.

That Kōno Yōhei is scheduled to meet with Hu Jintao on Christmas Day just makes Nakagawa's freelancing all the more stupid and tawdry.

All credit to reader MK for the pointer.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Subhash Chandra Bose (1897-1945)

Indian nationalists have never been able to get him out of their system...and neither have "certain" Japanese.

I should not be surprised to hear that the Indian government has been subsidizing the upkeep of the Japanese temple purportedly housing Bose's ashes...and that someone is filing a lawsuit 51 years after Bose's death to make the Indian government stop.

But I still am.
PIL to stop funds for Japan temple
Express News Service

Kolkata, December 19: A writ petition in the form of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed at the Calcutta High Court before a Division Bench of Chief Justice V S Sirpurkar and Justice Arun Kumar Mitra seeking an order directing the Union government to block the flow of public money for the upkeep and maintenance of Renkoji temple in Japan. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s ashes are reported to be preserved in the Renkoji temple. The PIL was submitted by advocates Asim Kumar Ganguly and Subhas Chandra Bose.

The petitioners appealed before the Division Bench that the government of India should stop funding the Netaji Research Bureau for conducting research on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose as it is a drain on the public exchequer.

And the nattering ones say the Japanese have failed to find closure over the events of World War II.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Prime Time

Yesterday I posted the image of an advertisement hanging in the subways which rubbishes the prime minister's favorite turn of phrase.

Whether the transformation of the prime minister (or in this case, his ideology) into the raw material for advertizing copy is new phenomenon or not, I do not know. My guess this is a fairly new development--verging on the naughty in its disrespectful attitude to the hinkaku of the prime ministerial sash. I do not recall much use of the PM in formal advertizing before Koizumi Jun'ichirō--which is too bad, as Murayama Tomiichi's eyebrows presented a tremendous opportunity for Japan's scissor and lawnmower manufacturers.

That the use of the prime minister as material for advertizing comes as a result from the public's greater familiarity with the prime minister I have no doubt. What I am not sure about is whether the familiarity is the result of the PM's greater prominence within the political order or his downgrading to the level of being just another well-known oyaji.

I suppose it is a little of both--a by-product of a more playful and less-fearful media environment.

Still, the Brutus ad in the subways is remarkably bold and self-confident. Basically, it is telling Prime Minister Abe that his core values are way off-base.

Contrast this prickly attitude with soft, affectionate mockery of Prime Minister Koizumi's face and prominently schnozzola in this subway advertisement for an allergy medicine from earlier this year--one which gleefully borrows graphic elements from both the scandal sheets and political posters.

"Reform cannot be stopped. Pollen can be."

"Mask--Yes or No? The Mask NG (No Good) Party"

Hilarious. I especially love the phony party logo in the shape of a nose.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Fire and Water - Tsukudajima

With the discovery of the charred remains of Oda Nobunaga in the ashes of Honnōji in June 1582, the various daimyō of his alliance all rushed to Kyoto in pursuit of both Oda's killer Akechi Mitsuhide and the now-vacant seat at the top of the political order.

Tokugawa Ieyasu and his retainers were part of that rushing throng.

Just before they could reach the outskirts of what is now Osaka, however, their advance was thwarted by a rain-swollen river. Ieyasu, in desperation, asked the headman of the neighboring fishing village of Tsukuda for help. The headman rousted up his people and their boats. Together they ferried Ieyasu and his retainers to dry land on the Osaka side.

Ieyasu never forgot the timely aid of the villagers of Tsukuda. In 1613, after the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate, he invited Tsukuda villagers to come to Edo, granting them a special charter over all fishing and fishmongering along Edo's shore. Thirty-three families made the journey.

In 1644, the families moved to a small manmade island in Edo Bay across the Sumidagawa from Akashimachi. They named the island Tsukudajima, after their ancestral home.

As fishmongers, the Tsukudajima residents had to deal with the problem of a quickly devaluing inventory. To put it simply, fish rots. Perhaps due to the extremely limited land area available to them, the Tsukudajima fisherman did not dry their fish. Instead they developed a means of boiling seafood in shōyu, which had recently gone into mass production in the northern Kantō. With the explosion in the sugar trade in the late 17th century, sugar and mirin were added to boiling mixture.

The result is something one eats a lot of this time of year, probably without knowing it is "the boiled food of Tsukuda" : tsukudani (佃煮).

Three of the traditional tsukudani shops are still operating in Tsukudajima. Tenyasu, the oldest (established 1839) most charming and cheapest, is open is all year round. The other two outlets close one day a week.

Tsukudajima was the only neighborhood in the Tsukishima complex to survive the firebombing of March 10, 1945. Neighbors banded together in bucket brigades to continously wet the rooves of the houses of the tiny enclave, managing to douse or sweep off the cinders falling down like snow from out of the firestorm consuming the rest of the Shitamachi.

There is not much to see in present-day Tsukudajima. Descendants of the original settlers still live in cheaply-built houses squeezed onto the tiny lots doled out to their ancestors. The contruction of the Bridge ended the area's isolation and need for the tiny ferry that ran between Tsukudajima and Akashimachi. The enclave had never been a center of of great prosperity: there is precious little of the "Little Edo" gimcrackery one sees elsewhere.

Much the island to the north of Tsukudajima has been converted into luxury apartments. Tsukudajima itself is being allowed to lapse into senescence, its empty spaces being converted into tight, tiled terraces, cold and dark beneath the great gnomon of the Seiroka Garden Building across the river.

Tsukudajima photos by MTC.
Late afternoon of December 17, 2006.
Click on photos to open in a separate window.

Busy as an...

Apis mellifera...or for those hailing from North America, a Castor canadensis.

While I have been wasting my time working for the man and trying to earn my daily bread over the weekend, Okumura Jun has been writing up a storm over at GlobalTalk21.

Now I do not agree with half of what he is saying--but he has stuffed a great deal of value in even that half I do not agree with.

Playing off the PM

The useless revision of the Basic Law on Education ("Abe's looking out for the future of Japan." Oh yeah, sure he is) has passed.

Gag me with Fujiwara Masahiko samurai values pornography, please:
改正教育基本法が成立 「個」から「公」へ転換 制定59年で大転換

Frankly I have already had it with the phrase "beautiful county"--or as it is here " a beautiful country with radiant qualities."

In weight and substance utsukushii kuni is the equivalent of the Bush Administration's "culture of life." It is become a marker for "I am a dweeb; I quake in fear of the anti-authoritarian Left of the 1960s."

It seems that some in the media agree:

Subway flyer for "Cool Japan" Special Edition of Brutus magazine
Marunouchi Line, Tokyo Metropolitan District. December 18, 2006.

Headline in pink reads, "A Beautiful Country?
Right now, what is turning on the whole world is a Japan that is cool!"

Friday, December 15, 2006

Plausible viability

As addendum to the earlier post, unlike its predecessors in the Number 2 Party slot (the Socialists and Shinshintō) the DPJ's problems are not structural. For the Socialists in particular, no matter how hard they tried, they could not win.

The DPJ's problems are largely volitional--even now, party members do not know what it is that they are trying to do.

I agree with the speaker of yestereve: the first thing they have to want to do is win.

This post has been edited for clarity.

"How to fritter away your popularity without really trying"

A tragi-comedy starring Abe Shinzō and a cast of characters.

Outline of (losing) the plot:

1) The celebrated Mr. K declares:

Change the LDP / Change Japan

2) By extension, he bequeaths to his successor(s) the obverse

Restore the Old LDP / Japan Will Not Change

3) The vast majority of the Japanese people want change (because change offers hope for a better tomorrow)

4) Offer change--but make it change you want, not the change the people want

5) Wait about 10 minutes

And if the DPJ pays me 1 million yen, I will be willing to say the sentence twice

I attended a very stimulating lecture/discussion on the methodology of political campaigning in Japan yestereve.

Reduce to minimal terms, I came away from the event with the following:

"For an opposition party to be viable--defined as the capacity to seize the reigns of government through the ballot box--it has to able to disengage its strategy for winning elections from its process of formulating party policy."

Odd, ancillary observation: no party has gone further down this road than the Kōmeitō.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

So, we wish to know him better through communion with his blood

Thank you David Picker, whoever you are, for not portraying the Japanese people as peculiar, deviant or out-of-the-ordinary*:

Blood, Sweat and Type O: Japan's Weird Science
The New York Times

By DAVID PICKER--Published: December 14, 2006--In the end, the Red Sox apparently decided to spend more than $100 million to get the Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka in a Boston uniform for the next six seasons, a daring financial outlay for an athlete who has never thrown a pitch in the major leagues or sampled the mildly insane rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees.

For intrigued baseball fans in the United States, Matsuzaka's relevant statistics are no-brainers: 26 years old, 6 feet, 187 pounds and a 108-60 record with a 2.95 earned run average in eight seasons with the Seibu Lions.

But what many fans, the Red Sox front office and even Matsuzaka's determined agent, Scott Boras, may not realize is that in the eyes of the Japanese, Matsuzaka’s most revealing statistic might be his blood type, which is Type O. By Japanese standards, that makes Matsuzaka a warrior and thus someone quite capable of striking out Alex Rodriguez, or perhaps Derek Jeter, with the bases loaded next summer.

In Japan, using blood type to predict a person's character is as common as going to McDonald’s and ordering a teriyaki burger. The association is akin to the equally unscientific use of astrological signs by Americans to predict behavior, only more popular. It is widely believed that more than 90 percent of Japanese know their blood type.

"In everyday life in Japan, blood type is used as a kind of a social lubricant, a conversation starter," said Theodore Bestor, a professor of Japanese studies and anthropology at Harvard University. “It’s a piece of information that supposedly gives you some idea of what that person is like as a human being.

"Japanese tend to have a fairly strong kind of inherent belief that genetics and biology really matter in terms of people’s behavior. So I think Japanese might be much more predisposed to thinking about a kind of genetic basis for personality than most Americans would."

Thank goodness he talked to Ted Bestor--that at least salvages the piece from being merely one of a long line of "those goofy Japanese" entertainments that we know have a habit of hitting the front pages every once in a while.

Had the author a fairer sense of Japan (hope springs eternal), he would understand that talking about a person's blood type is not so much a mark of Japanese uniqueness as a sad reminder of the poverty of Japan's fields of polite conversation.

Which is what I hope Professor's Bestor's comment conveys.


* Thank you also for not alluding to the names of 1970's pop bands in your article titles.

A son also rises

For the collectors of Jun-chan memorabilia, I believe the below to be a first briefing paper from the second chip off the old block (currently doing an internship at CSIS in Washington):

The U.S.-India Nuclear Agreement Tests Japan's Proactive Diplomacy
Shinjiro Koizumi

India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, will visit Tokyo from December 13 to 16 for a summit meeting with his counterpart, Shinzo Abe. The two are expected to discuss many issues, including an economic partnership agreement (EPA), Abe's interest in promoting four-party talks among Japan, the United States, India, and Australia, and even the U.S.-India nuclear agreement approved recently by the U.S. Congress. This agreement has attracted little public attention despite the fact that Japan will have to take a clear stand on the issue as a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Will Japan support the deal or veto it? The more accurate question appears to be when Japan will declare its support, given Abe’s proactive diplomatic agenda...

Yes, they are everywhere...the probing, internationalist, incipient, English-speaking elite...

Be afraid for your beautiful Japan, Minister Ibuki.

Be very, very afraid.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Cleanup Time

Flash! Being young, conservative and frequently caught in flagrant PDA with your lawful wedded wife does not buy you popularity!

Or so they tell

Abe's Honeymoon Ends as Criticism in Japan Mounts

Dec. 12 -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's honeymoon with the public seems to be ending.

After 11 weeks in office, popular support for Abe's administration dropped in polls by three national newspapers and NHK Television, with one survey showing a 21 percentage point decline since he took office in September.

The plunge is largely due to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's decision to re-admit 11 lawmakers booted out by Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, in September 2005. Koizumi expelled legislators who opposed his efforts to privatize the postal system, and then won a landslide election weeks later.

or, as it is also described here:

Japan PM suffers sharp fall in popularity
Financial Times

Published: December 12 2006 10:28 --The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's popularity has plummeted in the past few weeks, according to polls published on Tuesday by leading Japanese media organisations.

The polls by the Yomiuri, Asahi and Mainichi newspapers, as well as the public broadcaster, NHK, taken over the weekend show a widespread loss of public faith in the government’s commitment to reform and mounting concerns over Mr Abe's lack of leadership and the direction of his government’s policies.

Now the precipitous plunge of Abe's popularity is not news in these parts; indeed, both Shisaku (here and here and here) and GlobalTalk21 (there and there) have been on the case since late November (to be fair, Nakamoto-san has been out of town for a long while).

So what is the meta-narrative, the grand scheme into which we shall shoehorn these facts? The Japanese public is fickle and easily bored? Abe is disdainful, inadroit and diffident? Japan is slumping again? The Economist is swamp of pretentious, smug and facile writing (wait a minute, how did this get in here?) straining toward the singular goal of bemusing the world to death?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Winner: ugliest photo framing job ever

Courtesy: Jiji Press

Still, it caught the prime minister in the damn goofiest smile he could muster.

I wonder how long that smile stayed on his face after Pangulong Arroyo then whispered, "And if you want this train to actually go anywhere, we will now need a power plant. Or should I talk to Hu Jintao about that one?"

Friday, December 08, 2006

Oh Bark!

Remember this?

Japan's Economy Expands at Twice Expected Annual Pace

By Lily Nonomiya -- Nov. 14 -- Japan's economy grew twice as fast as expected in the third quarter, spurring gains in the yen on speculation the central bank will raise interest rates next month to cool surging corporate spending.

Well, it turns out--to have not been exactly correct.

Indeed, it turns out to have been worse than I thought.

Rather worse.
Japan's economic growth revised downward
Business Week Online

By YURI KAGEYAMA - TOKYO - Japan's economy grew at a far weaker pace in the third quarter than previously reported due to downward revisions in consumer spending and capital investment, the government said Friday, raising concerns about the recovery's strength.

Gross domestic product expanded at an annual rate of 0.8 percent, well below the preliminary 2.0 percent announced in November, but marked the seventh straight quarter of expansion, the government said.

Domestic demand -- which includes consumer spending, government spending and private investment -- had contracted 0.2 percent from the previous quarter instead of inching up 0.1 percent, as previously thought.

Corporate capital investment was weaker than initially estimated, while consumption dropped more than the first reading.

"The big change was in private investment," said Hiromichi Shirakawa, chief economist at Credit Suisse First Boston Securities.

But he expects better results in the fourth quarter because the consumer mind-set was discouraged by a number of factors during the previous quarter, including higher energy costs, an interert rate hike by the Bank of Japan, a faltering Tokyo stock market.

Economy Minister Hiroko Ota blamed the downward revision mostly on weak consumer spending, but assured the public that Japan's economic revival was on track.

"The lower GDP was mainly caused by weak consumption," she said. "I don't have any concerns that the economy will fall into a downward trend. Nor do I see any signs of its entering a lull."

Uh, Special Advisor Ota, did you look at the nominal growth figure before you spoke?

You know, the number of actual yen moving around in the economy, without the statistical fiddle of trying to estimate the relative value of things?

Nominal Growth 3rd Quarter: 0.0%

That sure looks like a "lull" to me.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Oh, this is waaaaay too much fun!

You are on notice, buster!

Not Courtesy The Colbert Report

Will You Compose a Requiem for the Postwar Era?

Ostensibly, the fight is about concrete and budgets.

In reality, it is a fight about the future.

Road funds debate
Asahi Shimbun

In recent weeks, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been stressing his "unwavering" commitment to reform far more frequently than before. Now, Abe faces the first major test of his political will to push through his reformist agenda. Talks between Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party over a proposal to funnel tax revenues currently earmarked for road construction into general-purpose funds have reached the final phase.

The focus of the debate is what to do with the 3 trillion yen or so in gasoline tax revenue, which accounts for 80 percent of overall state tax receipts set aside for road projects. Given the nation's fiscal crunch, there is undoubtedly a strong case for scrapping this system under which a sizable portion of the government's tax take is used exclusively for building new roads.

By incorporating the earmarked tax collections into the general revenue account, it should be possible to use the funds for any purpose, including road construction and repair projects.

But this policy change is not as easy as it sounds. Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi promised to do the same thing when he swept into office in 2001. But this turned out to be a formidable political challenge because of strong opposition from LDP lawmakers with ties to road construction-related companies, as well as local governments, ministries and the auto and oil industries. In the end, Koizumi's attempt was thwarted.

Late last year, amid the political euphoria that followed the ruling party's overwhelming victory in the Lower House election over the single issue of postal services privatization, the LDP agreed with the government to make the road funds available for general use.

But the task of shaping a specific policy was left to the new administration. So it came as no surprise that Abe would reaffirm this agreement when he reiterated his pledge to push through the reform late last month.

He said at the time, "We must accomplish this reform on behalf of the people to ensure we never again build unnecessary roads." Abe needs to push forward with the policy without allowing the initiative to be watered down.

Will he stick with his plans to advance structural reform or will he steer the LDP back to its old self by making unseemly political compromises with special-interest politicians?
Everyone involved in this fight knows that this is a death match. Once the gasoline tax receipts are folded into the general account, they will never be pulled out and reserved for road building again.

The "road tribe" in the Diet and most of the district seat holders from rural areas also know that this is their Toba-Fushimi. This battle that will determine whether the postwar superstructure survives or is swept away.

Sadly, it a battle the rural districts must lose if Japan is to have any future at all.

Many good things will perish, among them the laudable rough equality in living circumstances found throughout the country. Many towns and villages will die.

However, if anything has been suppressing Japan's economic recovery and reemergence from stagnation over the past 15 years, it has been the vain attempt to maintain existing political boundaries and administrative arrangements. Faced with demographic and international competitive pressures, the country drifts as a handful of prefectures struggle to subsidize the entire archipelago.

Why, pray tell, does anyone live in Saga? Why build new (roads, bridges, tunnels, dams, jetties) there?

To be sure, the system that has evolved, the one the LDP "forces of resistance" are trying to protect, is a finely tuned system, a non-disruptive system.

Parasitism, successful parasitism, works hard to not kill the host...but it still breeds lethargy, ambivalence and immobility in the host organism.

One of the recurring conundrums for the economics writers is the neverending wait for the reemergence of robust Japanese personal consumption (not that they don't have their theories). Surely after so much government stimulus, the populace must start spending its bounty?

When there is no multiplier effect--when a new road or bridge does not increase economic activity in a rural community and indeed it makes a once pretty bit of scenery ugly--fiscal and monetary stimulus leads to nothing.

Stimulus becomes at best economically neutral, like gray wallpaper.

Most of the reaches of rural Japan, even the areas close to Tokyo, live as parasites--they rely on the southern Kantō plain, Aichi and Fukuoka to provide the surplus the rural areas live on. Residents in those urban districts pay for the bizarre privilege of keeping voters from moving to regions where economic growth is taking place.

This has got to stop.

But without visionary, revolutionary and self-confident leadership, it will not stop.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Nation Rises As One to Answer the Call of Glorious Nagata-chō Thought!

Over at Global Talk 21, Okumura-san has a lengthy post up offering his take on the crash of the Cabinet's popularity over the readmittance of the postal rebels.

While he paints a convincing portrait of a prime minister undone by a poor media strategy, I do not think the press led on the postal rebel issue. Indeed, the press, the commentariat and the politicians saw little disturbing in the turnarounds and whealing-'n-dealing on both sides. For them, it was business as usual.

From my rickety seat it looked like the political sophisticates started backpaddling like crazy once they understood that the public was less than pleased with the attempt to sneak the postal rebels back into the LDP.

But then again, I am an idiot.

Later - The imagery, if not exactly the text, of the cartoon in today's Sankei Shimbun indicates that Abe's welcoming back of the lost flock with open arms invoked the law of unintended consequences.

Interesting how the text posits the return of "DISAPPROVAL RATING" as a natural phenomenon, like the return of the birds (from Siberia, I suppose) at the end of the year.

Then again, staggering, stultifying, bludgeoning unpopularity was the natural state of the most recent string of LDP prime ministers until the celebrated Mr. K came along.

You cannot get the one (restore the LDP of old) without the other (public disgust).

Even Later - For a look at the origins of this contretemps, here is a Shisaku flashback.

Poor Jim Kelly

I tried to read the article on North Korea in the Winter 2006-7 edition of Survival, the journal of the International Institute for Stategic Studies.

Tried to.

I gave up.

Here is the blurb.

A Nuclear-armed North Korea: Accepting the ‘Unacceptable’?

Perhaps the least noted and most astonishing aspect of the entire diplomatic process involving North Korea during the past few years has been the almost complete inability of four of the world’s strong­est military and economic powers – the United States, China, Russia and Japan, which include three nuclear weapons states and three members of the UN Security Council – to shape the strategic environ­ment in Northeast Asia. They have proven thoroughly incapable of preventing an impoverished, dysfunctional country from consistently endangering the peace and stability of the world’s most economically dynamic region. This has been nothing less than a collective failure. Only when the other parties to the Six-Party Talks undertake a funda­mental reassessment of the costs and benefits of their current policies will there be a chance to rein in, never mind reverse, Pyongyang’s nuclear-weapons programme.

Even as their world lashes about in its death throes from entirely self-inflicted wounds...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

This is not funny! This is a serious problem!

Leave it to Okumura Jun, my favorite misanthrope, to consider weightier matters.

Paging Alanis Morissette

It depends on what you think "irony" means, I guess.

I was reviewing editorials on the Miyazaki scandal as background to a longer post I hope to write about the impact of the rural-urban divide on next year's elections and Japan's future, when I came upon this perplexing passage:
Governor Ando resigns
The Asahi Shimbun

In 1993, when the Diet passed a resolution to promote decentralization for the first time, the nation's political community was rocked by a corruption scandal involving general contractors. The scandal led to the arrests of the governors of Ibaraki and Miyagi prefectures. This time, the arrests of the governors have come just when a bill to promote reforms for decentralization is about to be passed.

What an irony that in both cases the revelations about corruption and collusion in local governments surfaced when a political move toward decentralization was under way.

Yet there is no stopping the trend toward a more decentralized society where decisions on local affairs are made by the local communities. In such an age, it is only natural that governors and mayors must be prepared to be more harshly held accountable for their actions. All these revelations about crimes committed by governors should trigger serious efforts to root out the deep-seated culture of collusion in local politics.

Far be it from me to point out the fragility of another person's logic, but is it not possible to stop the trend toward a more decentralized society by just keeping society the way it is? No change is "inevitable", especially when you have to pass a series of laws to make that change happen

But I digress.

What really bothered me was the highlighted sentence. I sensed I understood what the editorialist was trying to say. That he or she did not in fact say it left me troubled.

"What an irony..."?

How is it ironic? In which direction?

So I consulted the original.

宮崎知事辞職 談合体質の一掃こそ



Now this all makes a lot more sense--even the bit about the heretofore "unstoppable trend" which, it turns out, is merely "the trend that will not be stopped."

The difference between "can be stopped" and "will be stopped" is important, folks.

The English "irony" section is furthermore a concoction, a splicing together of sentences best kept apart and the insertion of phrases not in the original.

The section terminates with a question, aluding to--but not stating-- the possibility that members of the bureaucracy/prosecutor's office expose the venality of politicians at precisely the moment when the Diet considers legal changes that will increase the control politicians will exercise over funds. "Nanto hiniku na meguriawase ka" is less "What an irony!" and more "Isn't it ironic?"

A better translation of the critical paragraph might be:

"Looking back...the first time both houses of the Diet passed legislation encouraging the decentralization of authority, which was in 1993, the governors of Miyazaki and Ibaraki were arrested in the "General Contractors" (Zenecon) scandal. This time, right as the Diet is trying to pass the Reform Law Encouraging the Decentralization of Authority, governors are being arrested one after the other.

Are corruption and collusion tied, through some kind of cynical twist of fate, to the decentralization program?"

By "corruption and collusion" the Asahi means, of course, "discoveries of cases of local government collusion and corruption."--something they could never come straight out and say.

Because that would accuse public prosecutors of proceeding on cases with a political agenda.

And, of course, it would not be a twist of fate, either. It would be human will.

Well, anyway, chalk this up as one more contribution to the National Bureau of Asian Research Japan Forum's dormant (but never quite expired) debate on "If you want say anything worthwhile about Japan, do you have to be conversant in Japanese?" *

[Editor - It seems to me you are making a huge assumption about the value of your work here, MTC.]


* To find out what the experts think, search the following Japan Forum topics:

- Japanese language research
- Karel
- Wolferen
- Dore
- Ronald Dore

but only if you want to lay waste to a few hours.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Not a marketing concept I favor

To paraphrase the famous putdown of Wolfgang Pauli (one of many he is said to have uttered) the below does not possess the virtue of even sounding wrong:

Coffee Shop Sector Branches Out With Multipurpose Outlets (no link)
Nikkei Net Interactive

TOKYO -- More and more coffee shops are being equipped with showrooms for bathroom and other housing fixtures, radio studios and travel agencies in an attempt to lure customers by offering them more than just a cup of premium roast.

Yes, when I settle down at my seat at Beck's or that little inexpensive cafe with the yellow decor on the south side of the road running between Taishō Rōman Dōri and the Kita-in in Kawagoe, I lose myself in the reverie:

"Hmmm...bathroom fixtures."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Belshazzar's Feast

From the King James version of the Book of Daniel:

--Then was Daniel brought in; and he said, I will read the writing unto the king.
--And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.
--This is the interpretation of the thing:

MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.
TEKEL; Thou are weighed in the balance, and art found wanting.
PERES; Thy kingdom is divided...

Or you can just read the Sankei Shimbun version:

復党反対67% 内閣支持率は50%下回る FNN世論調査


Cabinet support falling from 63.9% to 47.7%--down 16.2 points.

In a single polling cycle.

Bite me.

Abe and his Cabinet managed to engineer a fall of this magnitude without a single indecorous firing of a brassy, out-of-control lady minister.

T'is furthermore a great day for statisticians everywhere when Asahi Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun-like results are replicated by a conservative newspaper under controlled conditions.

With the Nikkei clocking in with lower figures last week, the outlier is now the most recent Yomiuri poll.

Fancy that.

And how about that 67.2% disapproval rating for the reabsorption of the expelled?

It seems that the people (Damn them! Ingrates! Who cares about their opinions anyway?) want their votes in the last House of Representatives election to mean something.

Which opens an avenue for one more sarcastic quote, possibly apt, this time from Bertholt Brecht:

... the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Many thanks to Joshua Micah Marshall (Prince of all political blogging. Long may reign!) for the quotation.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Just One More, Please?

I realize that the posts of late have been heavy on the pixels and thin on the analysis. However, did anyone else notice the Sheraton advertisement in yesterday's International Herald Tribune?

All I can say is when I saw it, all of my internal fuses blew.

Source: International Herald Tribune. November 30, 2006.

Now I realize that the the advertisement was printed in the Tokyo edition of the IHT...and that not a few of the readers could be members of a family such as the one depicted.

Nevertheless I cannot think of advertisement that presents a multi-ethnic and bi-national (the contrast between the clothes of the mother and daughter and those of the father and the son telegraphs without much mystery which two nations the creators were thinking of) family--with clearly transracial children as the focal point of the image-- in such nonchalant and unmannered pose.

Where the sub-conscious message, if the advertisement is to be at all effective, must be:

" Ideal families like this one stay at our hotels."

Perhaps images like this have passed before my eyes before without registering...but I see a revolutionary transition.

And again, I will admit, the advertisement is focused on a highly select group where such pairings and children are not infrequent.

Nevertheless, that an American corporation (again, admittedly, a multi-national) would shout out, "These are our customers" is stunning.

Think of the bi-nationals peppering Japanese visual advertizing--Miyazawa Rie, the Vivi stable, Tsuchiya Anna, Rinka, the ubiquitous Becky, the nearly-as-ubiquitous Hashimoto Reika--has one ever see them in a family shot with both their parents? (Divorces notwithstanding)

Newscasters Takigawa Crystal or Masai Maya (what a name!) with their parents?

Has anyone ever seen a group shot of Darvish Yū with his parents?

Mayhap that I am an isolated fossil, but what a long trip it seems (shorter in the transnational elite readership of the International Herald Tribune than elsewhere, of course) when multi-ethnicity and multi-nationality moves from the exotic and edgy to a cosmopolitan bourgeouis norm.

OK, so much for the social commentary.

Back to more serious topics, like the Minshutō's canine obsession.