Thursday, May 31, 2007
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Boy, and to think the Beijing government was upset at him for having the audacity to just go to Japan.
Is this the way Abe satisfies the mad dogs of the Japanese right, by having the former president of Taiwan do a Yasukuni sanpai in his stead?
What an interesting explanation Lee gives for his (potential) visit to the shrine, too.
"If I said I would not go there, to the place where my elder brother whom I have not met in 60 years is celebrated, that would be be an unbearable--from the point of view of a younger brother and from the point of view of ninjō."
There is that word again, serendipitously.
Strange rules guard the gates of the realm of the spirits... Lee Teng-hui, a graduate of Kyoto Imperial University who dreams in Japanese, born a Japanese citizen--ineligible for kamihood.
His elder brother, Japanese navy man, dead in the Philippines in February of 1945--enshrined at Yasukuni.
All in all...this has been a most exciting week...and it is still only Wednesday.
I did not get to check whether or not the guests and the hosts of these programs are mulling over or even propagating the theme floated by Suzuki Muneo--that the late Matsuoka Toshikatsu wanted to quit or at least put on a huge show of contrition and remorse but was prevented from doing so by Prime Minister Abe Shinzō.
[See the impressive rundowns of the reigning interpretations of Matsuoka's death at Observing Japan , Liberal Japan and Mutant Frog Travelogue]
If the chattering classes or the editorialists (not at the Yomiuri Shimbun of course) cleave to this new very subversive and corrosive narrative--that Abe failed to respond to depth of Matsuoka's despondency over remaining in his post-- then Abe's ability to remain Prime Minister will become tenuous indeed.
You can be crooked. You can be duplicitous. You can be naive. You can be hideously ugly. You can be flatulent. You can be boring. You can all of the above.
But if you want to be accepted as a leader in Japan, you cannot for one instant be thought to be lacking in ninjō (人情、人の情け = human empathy）for your subordinates.
And I hate to tell you (What is that, a phrase you found in a box somewhere? - Editor) a review of the record since Monday afternoon would show Abe-san a little short in the other-than-rote expressions of ninjō department.
If you think the Russian government under Vladimir Putin has been "difficult" up until now, you will need a whole new vocabulary to describe the attitude that it will be copping in the very near future.
Given this emerging reality, could someone tell the very angry gentlemen screaming at the Russian Embassy across the way that the Russians will be ready to discuss the return of the Northern Territories in say, oh, 2045 A.D. at the earliest?
So please save your voices.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Though the 42% disapproval rating for the Cabinet is a shade below the top rating in the dark days of early March, the 36% approval rating is the lowest approval number for the Cabinet since its inception. The 8 point drop from only a week ago (May 19-20) is just stunning and matches similar collapses in the Nikkei and Mainichi approval ratings.
I wish I could point to a single root cause for the sudden collapse in the approval ratings. However, I find myself at a loss. Could it be the announcement Friday of multiple launches of short range missiles by the DPRK? Perhaps...but would not the effect be opposite the one observed, of the populace rallying around Abe for his steely resolve against the "mad" regime of the North?
The only reason for the fall seems to be the softness of support for the Cabinet's policies. The spinmeisters and their dupes in the commentariat have been pushing the line that the steady rise in the approval numbers since the end of April has been the result of public joy at Abe's astute diplomacy and his government's steadfast passage of the legislation intent on enabling the PM's political program. I do not doubt that a certain percentage of the population has responded positively to the government's actions. A larger fraction, it seems responds with delight to the government's inactions--when the government manages to not screw up something simple but important. Hosting Wen Jiabao without incident or humiliation...ushering Shinzō and Akie through Washington without either of them contracting foot-in-mouth disease (I would like to say something positive about the Mideast tour--but it seems to have been a footnote in the public consciousness)...
Achieving these soft goals may have thrilled a section of the non-aligned vote that had been wondering whether or not the PM and his crew could do anything right.
A rise in popularity built upon low expectations is likely to be volatile, however. Tellingly, both the Mainichi and the Asahi have found a rise in potential support for the DPJ over the last week in direct correlation with a fall in enthusiasm for the LDP.
How the suicide of MAFF Minister Matsuoka Toshikatsu will play into this broader movement is difficult to say. Some segment of the population will feel sorry for the man, despite the crude selfishness of even his final act of contrition. The opposition has lost its poster boy of institutionalized corruption in the Cabinet so some of the steam has probably escaped from their scandal-fueled kane to seiji ("Money and Politics") electoral express. On the other hand, questions about how Abe could have selected such a creature as Matsuoka are still pertinent--and the opposition will likely pound away on the subject after the passage of a decent interval.
Then again, the country may just put the whole episode behind it. As the NHK announcers last night stated in a matter-of-fact aside amidst their morose coverage, Matsuoka's death just ahead of the minimal day limit set by law means that Matsuoka's open seat in Kumamoto will be contested in a special election held together with the House of Councillors election on July 22.
Sic transit sine gloria
A cut on the bridge of his nose, his skin gleaming with oil and sweat and his entire face contorted and lopsided...all in all, it looked like he just got tossed from an Irish pub for engaging in contests of pugilistic prowess.
Is he not entirely in control of things?
But that is no longer news.
Amaterasu Omikami! Somebody in Tsukiji was asleep at the switch this morning.
The below, I am not making this up, is the title and subtitle of today's editorial in the English language version of the The Asahi Shimbun:
Leave policymaking to trustworthy politicians
And people complain about me being insensitive and unaware of my surroundings.
Monday, May 28, 2007
Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture
May 27, 2007
Ichimonji Limenitis camilla, Myōhōji
Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture
May 27, 2007
Sleeping Cat, Myōhonji
Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture
May 27, 2007
Blossoming vine, Shōeiji
Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture
May 27, 2007
Shell gatherers, Yuigahama
Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture
May 27, 2007
News reports say that Sakai Izumi, the secretive and ravishingly lovely lead vocalist of the group ZARD has died after "a fall down a flight of stairs" on Saturday at the hospital where she had been undergoing treatment for uterine cancer since June of last year.
Sakai Izumi (birthname: Kamachi Sachiko) was 40.
14:21 Kyōdō news wire
"Farm Minister Matsuoka dies at hospital..."
Bloody [speak no ill of the dead].
What did killing yourself accomplish?
Later - When I am ready, I will think about the political implications of all this.
Just think, today had started out so well, the air crisp. the sun so bright.
A bit later still - NHK is reporting that Matsuoka's is the first suicide by a sitting Cabinet Minister in the postwar era.
That sounds about right--so please, no "sociological inclination toward suicide" claptrap.
Not right now.
２８日午後０時３０分ごろ、東京都港区赤坂２の新衆議院議員宿舎１１０２号室で、同室に住む自民党衆院議員・松岡利勝農相（６２）が首をつっているのが見つかった。 １１９番通報を受けた救急隊が手当てをしている。警視庁によると、心肺停止という。同庁は、松岡農相が自殺を図ったとみて調べている。 松岡農相を巡っては、自らの資金管理団体「松岡利勝新世紀政経懇話会」が政治資金収支報告書に計上した「光熱水費」について、記載が虚偽ではないかとの疑惑が浮上。同懇話会は、光熱費や水道代が公費で負担される議員会館に事務所を置きながら、２００１～０５年に計約２８８０万円の光熱水費を「支出」として記載していたため、国会で問題となっていた。
I can hear helicopters flying all over the place--are they following the ambulance?
Later - For those who cannot read the above, Minister of Agricultural, Forestry and Fisheries Matsuoka Toshikatsu hanged himself in his Diet apartment some time before 12:30 today. He was found without a pulse. He has been taken to hospital.
Later still - For those who want to know more about Minister Matsuoka, see this Observing Japan post from Sunday. For those on a deadline, the Observer would probably be a great source for background on the man and the disaster his appointment has been for the Abe Cabinet.
I have written about Minister Matsuoka here and here.
This tale has gone from knee-slapping straight to Brechtian, with no stops in between.
内閣支持率41％に急落、仕事ぶり「評価せず」49％・日経調査Whooooee! Somebody open a window!
The support rating of the Cabinet falls 12% in a month, from a decidedly unbelievable 53% to a far more realistic 41%. Down 12 points in a month when NOTHING REALLY BAD HAPPENED.
No particularly egregious verbal gaffes, no embarrassing revelations--well, aside from that minuscule inconvenience over at the Pension Central .
Could it be that the problem is--the Cabinet?
To pour salt in the wound, 49% of those polled "do not value what the Cabinet is doing". Only 33% find the Cabinet's efforts worthwhile.
Now you may say, "OK, but a 41% approval rating is high for a Cabinet, in historical terms."
Sorry, no go on that escape clause. We are are in 6 A.K. (Anno Koizumi) when the prime minister is expected to be a star. After the meetings with Wen and George (Oh, George! Oh, Shinzō!) Abe's star was rising.
When that star now suffers a precipitous decline in altitude--it is news.
We are within 60 days of the House of Councillors election. Unlike in the House of Representatives, where the district representative is, at least outside the central urban districts, bound to his constituents via strong patron-client ties, the House of Councillors district members are elected prefecture-wide. In such a wider geographical and economic area,the mood of the non-aligned voter can be crucial toward determining the final vote tally.
The prime minister and the Cabinet's popularity is therefore watched and fretted over. The huge, unexpected fall in the popularity ratings will sow panic in the ruling coalition. If it worsens, lawmakers may start looking for ways to distance themselves from the Abe Cabinet.
And there is only one more regular cycle of polls left before the election day.
"OK, but this was just one newspaper's poll--and the Nikkei's April approval rating of 53% was a freakish outlier."
Sadly for this line of reasoning, the Mainichi also released the result of its polling this morning:
Cabinet approval down 11 points since April, from 43% to 32%. Disapproval rating up, from 33% to 44%. Both scores records for the Abe Cabinet. So many floating votes too--22% of the people just cannot bring themselves to care.
The results to the question "Which party do you want to see win in the House of Councillors election?" are even more alarming for the ruling coalition.
Wowza! From a slim 38% to 36% lead, the LDP hits an air pocket, falling to 33%. By contrast, the heretofore forelorn DPJ wins a little respect by stealing all the LDP's lost affection and a bit more in rising to 42%.
Not all of the gains and losses recorded may be significant. Of those contacted in the April poll, 29% identified themselves as LDP supporters and 16% as DPJ supporters. In this round, only 25% of those polled identified themselves as LDP supporters while 19% called themselves supporters of the DPJ.
Still the jump up for the DPJ in likability is double the support number, while the loss of likability for the LDP closely matches the decline in the number of firm supporters polled.
Looks like we got a game goin' on.
Later - The polling results from this weekend also seem to indicate that--racchi mondai fever to the contrary--there are some things not even archenemy North Korea can get to lift off.
Friday, May 25, 2007
One, have three confirmed cases of bovine spongiform encephelopathy (BSE) in your country's total cattle population of 100 million.
Two, refuse to kowtow to the regulations of a country that has had confirmed 32 cases of BSE out of a total cattle population of 2.5 million--because by any sane statistical measure, eating your country's beef would be safer.
Three, ignore the fact that one of your main competitors in the international beef market, a sunny land to the south of the Japanese islands called Australia, has had nary a single case of BSE in its bovids.
Four, watch said Australians become the import market, giving them pricing power and the ability to sell everything they've got that lows. Watch Aussies waltz in the sun all the way to the fair dinkum bank.
Dark line = U.S.
Light line = Australia
Courtesy: Yomiuri Shimbun
May 24, 2007, morning edition
Five, blame Japanese bureaucrats for being short-sighted and protectionist.
Six, tell President to feed visiting Japanese prime minister hamburgers until he caves.
Seven, repeat steps Five and Six, ad nauseum. Do not be surprised at their continued ineffectiveness.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Yesterday, The Asahi Shimbun English-language print edition featured a multi-page document dump of 21 lengthy op-eds describing a gamut (perhaps a gamut-and-a-half) of strategic objectives for the country.
Today, the entire mass is available on-line.
I will try to go through some of this mountain of good intentions and bright ideas over a nice bowl of miso ramen...
...and maybe a coffee or two.
"You know what I hate the most about amakudari. It's the ama, the character ama (Heaven). I hate that. I really hate that. I mean, who do the bureaucrats think they are?"
amakudari = "descent from Heaven"
Japanese consumers have exhibited no interest in--let us be honest, virulent hostility toward--genetically modified (GM) plants being grown for food. But it seems that allergen suppresant GM rice can be sold in Japan for human consumption. The trick is that growers have been working to make sure the GM rice is classified as a drug, not a food.
See that? That's how you work the system.
Now I wonder if American ranchers can get their beef reclassified as "a food supplement."
By the way, the English-language version of the article includes a line "and must go through strict animal experiments before it can be commercialized" which does not appear in the Japanese original.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
"How far will it reach, this image of a policy that cares about the countryside?"
On the megaphone:
"The furusato nōzei" ("the old hometown local tax")
In case you missed the furusato nōzei promise, the LDP is proposing to modify the local tax laws. Individuals now living in the cities who have their roots in the countryside would be given the opportunity to direct a portion of their local taxes to their birthplaces.
Does this make any sense in terms of providing services to the places where people actually live? Of course not! This sends local tax revenues to the places where people aren't!
Top that one for pandering, Democratic Party of Japan . If you can.
Oh, by the way, did I mention this was only a promise? That the tax reform bills are not to be submitted until September, at the earliest? But you can trust Abe Shinzō, can't you? George W. Bush does--and he is an excellent judge of character.
Vote early; bring along your friends!
I know I should not expose my ignorance in this manner (You have done it in so many other ways, why worry? - Editor) but has anyone explained to the Abe Cabinet that because the United States of America and the Republic of South Korea have signed a Free Trade Agreement--and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has established a Special Economic Zone in Kaesong--and a rail link has just opened connecting Kaesong to the South that will complement the existing road link--it is possible that large quantities of goods manufactured or assembled in North Korea are going soon to be loaded upon ships for tariff-free export to the United States?
Wouldn't that be a Schieffer-Abe tête-à-tête worth having on DVD?
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Wolfowitz Legacy Is Reviving Asian Monetary Fund
By William Pesek
May 21 (Bloomberg) -- Lost in the brouhaha over Paul Wolfowitz's tenure at the World Bank is what it means to Asia.
The word ``means'' is used here since Wolfowitz hasn't left yet amid a furor sparked by his involvement in a pay raise for his companion. His departure is effective June 30. So, the multilateral institution is stuck with an infamously unilateralist leader for six more weeks.
There's another reason to discuss Wolfowitz's 23 months as World Bank president in the present tense: His legacy is a work in progress. It's called the Asian Monetary Fund, and his peers at the International Monetary Fund may not be happy about it.
An Asia bailout fund was considered during the 1997-1998 crisis. It died a quick death amid strong U.S. resistance to Asia creating a counterpoint to the IMF, one over which the U.S. Treasury Department would have zero influence.
The IMF, of course, drew much ire during the crisis for demanding fiscal austerity and higher interest rates in return for bailouts. Since then, Asian governments have worked to wall off their economies from speculators and to stop outsiders dictating policies. Hence the unprecedented build-up of currency reserves. China alone has more than $1 trillion.
Earlier this month, finance ministers from 13 Asian nations agreed to pool part of their $2.7 trillion of foreign-exchange reserves to prevent a repeat of the crisis that depleted the region's holdings 10 years ago....
Where to begin?
1) The World Bank and the IMF are two separate institutions. They share data with each other and the BIS in Basle.
Does anyone know whether or not Paul Wolfowitz has ever even visited the IMF's offices?
2) Paul Wolfowitz was running the Paul Nitze School at Johns Hopkins in 1997. The President was the Democrat William Clinton; his Secretary of the Treasury was Robert Rubin--now at Citigroup. The head of the IMF was Michel Camdessus.
What in Amaterasu's name does Wolfowitz have to do with the IMF's response to the Asian currency crisis?
3) What does the World Bank have to do with it, for that matter?
4) Let us look at some numbers. Big numbers.
China has $1 trillion+ in its currency reserves; Japan has $915 billion. The ROK has $243 billion; Hong Kong has $135 billion. Singapore has $134 billion; Malaysia has $88 billion. Even the crisis kingdom of Thailand has $70 billion. To put that last number into perspective, the United Kingdom, a country with an economy 13 times larger than Thailand's, has only $84 billion in its currency reserves.
There is absolutely no need for an Asian Monetary Fund at this time. The whole currency swap announcement was a public relations stunt, nothing more. In 1997, the region was importing capital like crazy. A sudden reduction of the capital flow from the industrialized countries caused the collapse of the pegged currency regimes of the weakest nations and pummeled the won. Now the region is a huge net capital exporter--mostly financing investment and spending in that most ridiculously spendthrift nation the United States!
Furthermore--who will have the authority to run a pool of $2.7 trillion? (Seriously, you officials who made the announcement, who will have this authority?) The IMF's entire one year forward lending capacity is just $190 billion--and the IMF has 2,716 individuals on staff.
One could go on and on.
I must admit--I was less than kind to Fujioka Nobukatsu yesterday.
This op-ed by Pesek, however, is on a whole new level of bizarre.
Monday, May 21, 2007
This morning's The Asahi Shimbun has provided gratis a first exemplar:
Debate on patriotism/ NOBUKATSU FUJIOKA: Holistic patriotic education still missing
Special to The Asahi Shimbun
May 21, 2007 - Is it necessary to provide Japanese children with education aimed at fostering patriotism? The answer is yes.
Let me illustrate my point by depicting a classroom scene. In Japanese schools, children are taught simple but structured Japanese history lessons for the first time in the sixth grade. The following scene describes the first lesson. The teacher asks a student: "Do you know how many of your ancestors were living four centuries ago, when Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of Tokugawa Shogunate, was in power?" The student appears confused because he does not understand the question.
Watching his reaction, the teacher gives out a work sheet to each student with a family tree, at the bottom of which appears the student's name. It shows two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents and so on. With each generation (about 30 years) the number of ancestors doubles. Thus, theoretically, four centuries ago, a single child can be traced back to about 10,000 ancestors.
But going further back into the past, the calculation hits a paradox. The total number of ancestors of a single child would exceed the total population of Japan at the time. This is because we mistakenly assume that we do not share the same ancestors. Actually, the farther back we go, the more our ancestors overlap.
Thus the child makes new discoveries. Contemporary Japanese are distant relatives who share the same ancestors. In any given period of Japanese history, the child discovers that those ancestors had constructed and paved new paths to walk upon. History is a constant relay of culture and tradition, and the child finds himself at the receiving end of this continuous process. His thoughts take him to his network of ancestors, and to the fact that he would never have existed, if there had been a single missing ancestor...
"Yes child, if you had failed to have biological parents, or if any of your ancestors had failed to have biological parents...you would not be here."
Deep...and yet at the same time, kind of self-evident.
Looking more closely at this "the total number of ancestors of a single child would exceed the total population of Japan" concept, if a child were to extend the exercise further back in time, the number of relatives would exceed the total population of Earth -- meaning that if Fujioka's line of reasoning makes even an iota of sense -- then the child must be related to ALL OF HUMANKIND.
Such a result would somewhat undermine the importance of patriotism argument.
I encourage everyone to read the whole thing. It helps to remember that Fujioka-san is a founder of the Tsukurukai and the intellectual godfather of its somewhat controversial New History Textbook.
From the news this morning, recent political developments in Vietnam seem to have slipped completely beneath my radar (Oh, you never had any radar to speak of and you know it - Editor).
Sheepish should I be, but I was floored when I saw this photograph and read the caption associated with it.
Vietnamese residents look for their names on the voters' list at a polling station in Hanoi May 20, 2007.
Holy [expletive deleted]!
Sure. Vietnam is experimenting with only a highly restricted form of democracy. But come on, this is a national election. In Vietnam.
Will Vietnam get invited to Foreign Minister Aso's big bash?
Sunday, May 20, 2007
In other words, they were talking about the July elections.
According to most accounts, the elections will be won or lost in the single seat districts.
The reason for this is not too difficult to tease out. In the two-seat districts, one seat will go to the LDP and the other to the DPJ. That is just the way it is, unless one is in Hiroshima Prefecture, where the LDP usually grabs both seats.
In the the three seat districts, barring a miracle, the seats will be split in between the LDP, the DPJ and a Komeito candidate (I will go through each of the districts in a later post to confirm such three way contests are the likely finishing lineup).
In Tokyo, anything goes--the Communists might retain their seat, the LDP might steal one from the DPJ.
As for the at-large seats, the handouts will be made according to prime ministerial popularity. If Prime Minister Abe continues to stay steady in the polls at the same levels he is at now, then the LDP will likely take half the 48 seats up for grabs, with the DPJ and the Komeito splitting the rest--Socialists and Communists each losing at least an at-large seat unless they get on the morning shows and I mean pronto.
What remains are the single seat districts, and here is where the ski area is important.
The two, three and four seat districts are all highly urbanized prefectures, by definition. The single seats districts, the only place where the DPJ can take a seat away from the LDP, are all by definition rural, poor, underpopulated and dependant on public spending to stay afloat.
The ski area in question, located in Fukui Prefecture, had been established in order to draw tourists to the area. Now the local municipalities went into debt to build the ski area and operated it for years and years with ever increasing losses. Finally in 2005, local authorities shut the ski area down, the whole shebang having blown an immense whole in the local budget.
Now the local authorities argue that the reason the ski area failed was not that it had been in the wrong place offering the wrong service at the the wrong price but because the national government had resisted calls to widen the access road to the ski area so that the road could accommodate the cars of enough skiers and snowboarders to make the ski area a profitable business.
The dispute of the central government's role in the failure of the ski area, and the fiscal catastrophe it and a myriad other ill-conceived local projects have left behind, cuts right to the current electoral strategies of the main political parties.
The Democrats, having started out as the anti-Tanaka-pork-barrel fiscal reformist politicians, have been scrambling to junk their fiscal-tightening core policies in order to try to portray themselves as the true allies of the rural voters--with all the right views on agricultural and road building support. It is a bit of a stretch for the party but the leadership is promising it will not abandon the local areas just to balance the central government balance sheet.
Now the DPJ has a viable point, in theory. During the Koizumi years, the central government was practically at war with the local areas, fighting to keep cash in the capital. The Prime Minister's men took on all of the major tribes in the Diet, most particularly the Road Tribe, to break the parasitic hold the rural prefectures had had on the economy.
The LDP, in other words, has a history over the last five years of accepting rural votes, then stiffing the local areas something fierce.The DPJ wants to snatch those votes by promising to take care of the rural areas.
This was Ozawa Ichirō's great innovation as he took over as leader--and in a country with a unicameral legislature, this identity switch just might entice rural prefecture voters to switch to the DPJ.
However, everyone knows that no matter the outcome in the July House of Councillors elections, the real power to decide the fate of the rural districts lies in the House of Representatives...a place where the LDP holds a supermajority.
Now there is a word for citizens of a prefecture dependant on government subsidies and handouts who vote against the ruling party.
That word is "stupid".
Combine this basic "knowing where your rice and fish come from" impetus--based a promise the government knows it does not have to honor--with the Abe Clique's special message of loving the Emperor, patriotism, traditional gender roles and respect for the nation's honored dead (remember the demographics of the rural areas are strongly titled toward the elderly) and you have a potent, almost omnipotent electoral strategy in the single-seat districts that the DPJ can only bang its poor little pointed head upon.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Check out the last paragraphs of the linked article--and try to remember that this gentleman is married to a prize-winning Japanese author and that he was an Asia correspondent for The New York Times for 20 years:
Shinto, like Japan itself, originated in the mists of mythology. Two ancient texts record those myths, but Shinto has no sacred scripture, no Judeo-Christian Bible or Muslim Koran.
Shinto's gods number 8 million, led by Amaterasu-o-mi-kami, the sun goddess.
The lakes, rivers, mountains and rice fields each have gods to watch over them.
None, however, are ascribed the power of God or Yahweh or Allah.
Moreover, Shinto and Buddhism coexisted after Buddhism was imported from China. Japanese, unlike Westerners who belong to only one denomination, see no conflict in following the tenets of both faiths...
??? (Sound of a single eyebrow being raised)
OK. Maybe it is part of a new series, "an introduction to religions of the Orient." Mr. Halloran is a military affairs specialist, but who knows, maybe this is a new gig.
Let us backtrack.
April 20 - Report on progress against Islamic terror in Southeast Asia
That has got a religion angle--but there is no explanation of Islam at the end. Puzzling.
April 29 - Analysis of Chinese submarine capabilities.
It is about the Unseen, I will grant you that...and traditions. Traditions of seamanship.
May 7 - An upbeat status report on the fight against Asian piracy.
Arrrgghhh! But no faith-based piracy noted.
May 16 - Possible rise in dissent in the DPRK.
A lot of stuff taken on faith there--but not a lot explaining juche, the world's 10th largest religion, (hat tip on link to The Marmot's Hole)
May 17 - Shintō is a hot old faith on a roll.
OK, now you have got me. There is no pattern.
Friday, May 18, 2007
I was having a very nice breakfast, plying myself with all the cafe latté I can down at one sitting for one low price at the local Jonathan's, when I opened up the opinion section and saw this:
What is perplexing, Dr. Green, is that you are given even a half-an-inch of newspaper column space after your -- shall we say less-than-100%-successful? -- conceptualization of an effective response to the North Korean nuclear and missile development programs during your five plus years inside the Bush White House.
Pyongyang thrives on America's constant concessions
By Michael Green
Published: May 17 2007 - After North Korea's nuclear test in October, the Bush administration put together an impressive international coalition to contain and roll back Pyongyang’s proliferation activities: the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved sanctions against Pyongyang; South Korea froze all new economic aid and co-operation; Japan stopped ships known to be making drug runs for the North; and Chinese officials engaged in an unprecedented debate about the need for even greater pressure to force Kim Jong Il to accept denuclearisation.
It is therefore perplexing to see the US now take a series of unilateral steps to unravel this policy and reward North Korea for doing . . . well, nothing.
It was not enough for you and the Administration to have been wrong about how to keep a lid on the North Korean nuclear program? You have to criticize those who are trying to pick up the pieces after you too?
Thursday, May 17, 2007
When the irreplaceable Japanologist Hervé Couraye asked me this question several months ago, I have to admit--I thought he was kidding me.
Tragic? The history of Japan in the post war era--tragic?
Lacking in gloire, sure. Perhaps a little weak on the patrie side, at least overtly.
However, after considering the largely unquestioned accelerating integration of Self Defense Forces capabilities with the activities of the U.S. military--and all the recent chest-thumping about the Japan-U.S. alliance becoming "a global alliance", I must confess that Docteur Couraye may have a point.
One of the old illustrations of the relationship between the SDF and U.S. Forces Japan had the SDF as the Shield and the USFJ as the Spear. The SDF was in charge of protecting Japan's land and territorial waters. It was also in charge of protecting U.S. Forces based in Japan and operating in Japan's territorial waters (all those Coast Guard ships circling about U.S. warships coming in for port calls, driving off protesters with their wakes...)
The USFJ, due to its force projection capabilities, was the Spear, in charge of forward defense and counterattack, taking the battle to the enemy on the enemy's territory and in his waters.
However, since the evaporation of the existential threat that Soviet Communism posed to the alliance, the United States has been incrementally asking for more and more out of the Japanese side.
The SDF is now not just the archipelago's shield --and GOJ the alliance's investment banker, host nation support of about $4 billion annually being not small potatoes. The GOJ, the SDF and Japanese municipalities are integral contributors to and participants in the U.S. Department of Defense's global logistical system. SDF ships, plans, helicopters and fixed-wing cargo aircraft are either serving (in Iraq) or training to serve in support roles to U.S. military forces engaged in combat operations.
As the integration between the SDF and the American military has become more intense--and if the Prime Minister's special task force on the expansion of collective self-defense gets its way, the potential level of integration will be all the greater--then dimmer and dimmer grow the chances of the GOJ's being able to throw the handbrake on some operation, saying "Stop! Helping U.S. Forces out here is not in Japan's interest! We want out."
There will be no out. If U.S. Forces operating out of Misawa, Kadena, Iwakuni, Sasebo and Yokosuka are dependent on the logistical capacities of their pacifist fellow services in the SDF, then a Japanese refusal to respond to a U.S. request come for Japan to keep supply lines open and provide cargo and personnel transport--on the grounds that in the GOJ's assessment, America is doing something stupid or unnecessary-- creates a potential fatal point de rupture for the alliance.
If you value your skin, you do not want to mess with America's mistaken faith in its own unfettered freedom of action in military affairs.
But such will be Japan's strategic dilemma as long as it fiddles about with and within the limits set by Article 9 to the Constitution, choosing to be a non-combatant logistics expert.
Call it the Caterer's Dilemma.
Imagine you have to tell the bride that due to your own scruples or assessment of a situation, you are not going to follow through on the agreement to cater her wedding.
Imagine trying to do this on the actual date of the wedding.
See how long your head stays firmly attached...oh wait, that's not very tasteful.
Anyway, you will know no fury like unto it. Verily.
All of which is a long way of saying I am not thrilled by Plan B--the expansion of collective security under the present Constitution being contemplated by Okazaki Hisahiko, Yanai Shunji, Kitaoka Shinji and Co.
However arduous and possibly ugly it may be, Plan A--a revision of the Constitution allowing Japan to exercise its right of collective security (or not exercise it, based on the judgment of the Cabinet) as an equal partner--seems preferable to slip-sliding into a conflict situation where you cannot say no because you are the one with the wheels (or, in the Japanese case, "the legs")--and like dude, you promised.
Nevertheless,this story is insane.
Now I am long ways away from my 62nd tour of the solar system--and Amaterasu knows I love the mountains--but if someone were to offer me a chance to climb Sagarmatha/Chomo Lungma today, and it was going to be the only offer I was to ever receive, I would tell the person extending the offer, "No [expletive deleted] thank you." *
Now that Adventure Guides Co. has lost a 63 year-old and a 62 year-old customer in successive years, anyone think its executives might be looking to revamp the age limits on their most expensive tours to perhaps, say, 61?
Perhaps there are some nice countries a bit farther away from China's industrial heartland which could develop and sell some "age-appropriate" adventure tours to these overly-ambitious types. There are, if I remember the demographic/pension data correctly, about to be millions of them looking for something to do with their copious free time.
* My refusal would be far less certain if the offer were a chance to climb Gasherbrum III.
In the post Sakovich offers this trenchant reminder of why we have kisha clubs at all and why they are really bad for the Japanese people.
The kisha clubs are press clubs affiliated with every important governmental organization in the country. They originally served the worthwhile purpose of enabling reporters to act as a group to force the government to divulge information. The impetus for their formation was the government’s refusal in 1890 to allow reporters to cover the first session of the Diet.Another decayed and anachronistic part of the postwar regime, perhaps? Mr. Prime Minister, your thoughts?
Now, however, the clubs are more likely to stifle information than to facilitate its disclosure and distribution. Critics charge that club members merely regurgitate government press releases. Reporters cannot attend press conferences unless they are press club members, and this requires a considerable expense of time and effort. This hinders not only the access of foreign journalists to the news; it also limits the access of freelance journalists and reporters for trade journals in Japan.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
But I love this observation from a few days ago.
When Abe talks about discarding the postwar regime, what does that mean? What part of the regime? Just the security bits? Or the whole bloody mess? If so, why isn't Abe talking about destroying the LDP, which has played an outsized role — arguably a more significant role than the constitution — in shaping postwar Japan?
Vestiges of the 1955 system, which has long distorted policy by placing sectional and local interests above national interests, remain. Why isn't Abe turning his attention to this significant piece of the "postwar regime"?
Please don't tell me I have to read Abe's book to find out the answer. I have been so successful so far in failing to read it.
If pressed, I may read it aboard a train to somewhere far away which passes through a lot of hideous suburban sprawl. It will put the title of the book into context.
Perhaps I will wait for it to come out in English . Then I can bounce back and forth between the export and domestic consumption versions of the vision.
The true meaning of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the United StatesI think I am going to be sick. Remind me, did my tax yen pay for this?
The Japan Times
By Mitsuru Kitano
Wednesday, May 16, 2007 - WASHINGTON — Most of the reporting and reviews surrounding the visit of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the United States on April 26-27 focused on the issue of North Korea or the wartime "comfort women," but in truth, the significance of the visit was much broader.
First, the 90-minute summit meeting at Camp David on April 27 was of great significance to both Abe and U.S. President George W. Bush in that they confirmed the "irreplaceable Japan-U.S. alliance" and committed to strengthening it further.
Characteristic of the meeting was that the two leaders devoted about half of the 90-minute meeting to their tete-a-tete talk. Abe told Bush that he would strive to move Japan beyond the postwar regime as the mission of the Abe administration and that he was determined to carry through structural reforms in the economic area.
The fact that the prime minister of Japan and the president of the U.S. laid bare their respective political convictions and talked frankly about what they are trying to achieve through their policies deepens the Japan-U.S. alliance sustained by our shared values of freedom and democracy. This is what was achieved at the summit meeting at Camp David.
On second thought, don't remind me.
Is it just me, or is that first sentence of the fourth paragraph way too hot?
...the meeting between Abe and congressional leaders had a substantive meaning to further strengthen the ties between Japan and the U.S. Among those attending this meeting were the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Minority Leader John Boehner, as well as such influential senators as Daniel Inouye and Ted Stevens, who have personally valued the Japan-U.S. relationship.And I have nothing to say about whether that nasty turncoat Representative Mike Honda was invited to the meeting or not. Look at me, I've already forgotten him completely! Learn from my example!
Let's all think happy thoughts. Mmmmm...meetings with substantive meaning...so much better than meetings with non-substantive meaning, don't you agree?
...the fact that Abe visited the U.S. with his wife broadened the width of summit diplomacy. Mrs. Abe visited cultural and educational facilities in Washington. She also deepened interchanges with the president and Mrs. Bush and gave them a favorable impression. "Prime Minister Abe married very well," Bush said. Adding to the fact that the two leaders came to call each other "George" and "Shinzo" (this was proposed by Bush), it was a big plus for bilateral relations that this personal relationship of trust was built.Look I call my dog by his first name--it doesn't mean a damn thing.
Madame Abe's presence "broadened the width of summit diplomacy", did it? Are you sure it didn't "heighten the height"? Or perhaps "deepened the depth"? Or were her "deepening the interchanges with the president and Mrs. Bush" racy enough for one already hot and bothered op-ed, thank you very much?
Currently, the Japan-U.S. alliance has transcended a bilateral relationship between Japan and the U.S.; it is an alliance for Asia and the world. It is sustained by multifaceted people-to-people relationships. Should the debate on the results of Abe's visit to the U.S. be confined to a small number of issues and fail to notice its wide impact, the significant outcome of this visit will be overlooked.Yes, if the debate on the results of Abe's visit to the U.S. is confined to a small number of issues and fails to notice its wide impact, the significant outcome of this visit will be overlooked. You are correct. Good. A+.
"Currently"? The transcendence is only temporary? How unimpressive.
Mitsuru Kitano is minister for public affairs at the Embassy of Japan in Washington.And he will get paid this month, on time, for doing such a crackerjack job.
We have department stores (I am looking at you, Ito-Yokado) where one can clothe an entire family in decent style for a miniscule fraction of one's monthly income.
We have the products of Japan's heavy industry, automotive industry, silicon industry and garbage collectors filling cargo containers headed east. The paychecks and bonuses from those exports fill the wallets and bank accounts of millions.
And in Kawasaki, Toyosu and dozens of other former industrial zones, we see high rise condominium and apartment complexes rising along broad avenues lined with plane trees and sakura, with easy access to train stations and brand new schools and hoikuen, where thousands of ashen-faced laborers once toiled.
The bill was going to come due someday.
That someday was May 8.
Japan's problem is not its constitution. Yet that is all we hear everyone talking about these days.
A kamikaze, has come....but not to save Japan.
The barricades are broken; the moat is crossed. If it wants to save itself this time, Japan will have engage its great neighbor in ways the current crop of politicians cannot even imagine.
And we all will have to stop dreaming that we can avoid the paying the bills for our ever so comfortable lives.
============================== * On May 8, all over Japan, the photochemical smog alert sirens sounded.
A week after this day.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
I have been perplexed by the Prime Minister and his wandering gaze. From the below article in the Tokyo Shimbun, it seems I am not alone:
So let's see here. On the advice of his super genius media master, he is looking straight at the camera for the first month of his administration.
That weirds people out, especially the members of the press, who expect him to look at them when they are asking him questions. So the PM gives up on the staring into the camera bit and starts facing the person talking to him.
Then, just before the big overseas visits in April, he starts talking to the camera again.
In order to craft an image of strength and decisiveness.
Monday, May 14, 2007
In response to whether he paid for the installation of a masakaki at Yasukuni for the Spring Festival, the Prime Minister told the press last week:
"As for whether I will pay a visit to the Shrine or not, or as to whether I had [a masakaki] installed or not, I will not say."Check it out here.
Not only does he say he will not tell--but he repeats, over and over again, that he will not tell.
Look, repeating to the press "I will neither confirm nor deny" makes sense when you are talking military ops, black ops or the presence of nuclear weapons. When you go all NCND over paying for the shrine decorations, you are getting a little full of yourself.
"This current Constitution you all think needs revision...doesn't it have a certain legitimacy?"
He then goes on to challenge Diet member to explain how it is they came to think that they must undo the existing political order.
Ishihara is not just interested in putting a hole in the fuel tank of Prime Minister Abe's revisionism express, he gives a damn good reason why one should--any revision has to be justified as responding to particular external conditions threatening the kokka.
I may not see the world to be quite the apocalyptic mess (aside from the ongoing destruction of the biosphere) that Ishihara sees it--but damn do I think he is asking some good questions and making some reasonable demands. He asks that the constitution debate be carried out in the open by the people's elected representatives--and that said representatives make clear their comprehension, such as there may be, of the current Constitution's operation. He furthermore demands that an examination of the current Constitution's shortcomings be carried out not in the abstract (Who's your daddy?) but in the concrete. Specifically, he wants the examination of the potential revisions be carried within--warning, the next phrase will contain a term that can cause internal bleeding in staunch right wing commentators---the CONTEXT of the existing international order and ongoing historical change.
Ishihara Shintarō pulls an Edmund Burke!
Now mind you, Ishihara is not saying the Constitution should not be changed (for one thing, he pleads for a text written in "beautiful Japanese"-- a fabulous jab at both the inelegant translation of the Occupation's draft and Abe's pet phrase) but he demands that it be the result of careful consideration, not self-loathing.
[The crash you just heard was the sound of a preconceived notion smashing into pieces on the floor.]
If Japan is to revise its constitution, it should do so under a prime minister who is capable of soberly assessing the matter, not one who is utterly consumed by the idea of revision as redemption.You can read the rest of the post here.
I am not sure I would agree with the Observer's characterization of the Chōshu side of the Sat-Chō oligarchy--and clicking through on the link, I am damn sure I would never agree with Okazaki Hisahiko's.
Had I all the time in the world, I would want to produce the definitive biography of Itō Hirobumi and his dream of empire. What a character! What a life! What a death!
It seems to me that following his loss of influence in the Cabinet to Yamagata Aritomo and his protégés, Itō sought redemption of his own in taking on the job of Governor-General of Korea, possibly trying to modernize Korea in line with the vision he has been unable to realize in Japan. In this he was a conservative precursor of the idealistic leftist intellectuals who worked in the research division of the South Manchurian Railway Company because they could not pursue their reform ideals at home.
Drifting back from the 19th century, despite his being the representative for Shimonoseki, Abe Shinzō is not a man of Chōshu. If he is anything, he is a man of Kichijōji.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
緯度経度】リベラル派が日本の改憲支持 - 古森義久Really?
Oh c'mon, please no.
Is there anything that Kōmori-san mails in from Washington that is not packaged in such a way as to deceive his readership?
Oh, dammit, ok. I will hold the heels of my palms on the sides of my temples and read how it is possible that American liberals support the revision of Japan's Constitution.
Somehow, I have a feeling that it will not be for the same reason that this group wants to revise Japan's Constitution.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
The consensus in the news reports is that Prime Minister Abe sent a sakaki, a very nice dark-leaved plant of the camellia family used in Shintō religious ceremonies, to Yasukuni Shrine for the Spring Festival. Or sponsored the presentation of said plant to the Shrine.
However, the original reports I read had the Prime Minister sending/sponsoring a masakaki ---which a a rather different and I think more significant thing.
A masakaki is a ceremonial banner surmounted by a sprig of sakaki.
Here is a photo of masakaki from Kyoto Shingu, a Kyoto-based Shintō religious implements manufacturer and retailer.
Here is a pair of masakaki positioned on either side of an altar.
Now if we are talking about a masakaki, then we are talking about a sacred object that is part of a set tableau with a specific ceremonial purpose. It seems also that a single religious tableau can have only two masakaki in it.
Which makes Prime Minister Abe's and House Speaker Kōno Yōhei's sponsorship of masakaki at Yasukuni a little bit more significant than either of them just sending a nice plant to brighten up the place.
Somebody should check.
Later - OK, I have checked. According to reports the PM indeed paid for a masakaki - which the following Hokkaido Shimbun editorial (Japanese only) helpfully identifies as "a holy offering called a 'masakaki' that was presented as an oblation to the shrine".
Goodbye houseplant. Hello "separation of church and state" dispute.
Friday, May 11, 2007
“I felt a surge of emotion when I realized that this furniture had watched over the progress of Japan-U.S. relations for over 150 years,” Abe said.
Uh, Shinzō, what was it that you said you felt?
Shall I take you and Aki to IKEA on your next visit?
To see how the sleepy one arrived at such an epiphany, check out the original article.
Technical issues delay Raptors leaving JapanOtherwise, F-22s are just grrrrrrreat!
The Associated Press
TOKYO — Two of the newest — and most expensive — fighters in the Air Force wrapped up a three-month deployment and roared out of Japanese skies Thursday, completing the F-22 stealth fighter's debut on the international stage.
The planes, the last of a dozen F-22s on the deployment, left the southern Japanese island of Okinawa several hours later than the rest because of "maintenance concerns," the Air Force said in a statement from Kadena Air Base on Okinawa.
The statement did not elaborate on what the problems were.
It said after a complete check, the planes were approved to leave Kadena and move to "another location in the Pacific region." The first 10 F-22s departed Kadena on schedule before dawn Thursday for their home at Langley Air Force Base, Va.
Honestly, with the stealth coatings on their wings, F-22s are probably the most delicate and hard-to-maintain fighters around.
As to what Japan should be doing in cooperation with the United States and the ROK with the 203 F-15s Japan already has in its possession, a post from the Defense Tech golden age.
There may be nothing inherently wrong in combining nationalism/patriotism and revisionism. Indeed, the two tend to go hand-in-hand. Recent French legislation, for example, requires that French history books reverse course and teach children that those who fought pour L'Empire in France's colonial conflicts were "fighting the good fight".
Inspiring national renewal through a reframing of the national ethos seems on the whole a cheap method of realizing the reform of a nation.
What is problematic for the Japanese version of national renewal on the spiritual and intellectual plane is its collision with the rote application of the formula "all compensation and apology issues were handled at the time of the normalization of diplomatic relations." While a niggling unwillingness to reopen discussions upon an ugly topic may be a smart strategy for avoiding lawsuits, it is a dumb way of handling dynamic shifts in the social and intellectual environments of neighboring countries.
In the case of South Korea, China and most of the ASEAN countries, normalization of diplomatic relations was carried out with a government led by a dictator. What "the people" thought and felt about Japan and the Japanese were ignored. Indeed the feelings of "the people" represented a threat to all those seated at the table at the normalization talks.
The result of this exclusion of the citizens of Asia from the normalization process was a stunted hansei on the Japanese side--some would even call it a dishonest, shambling and weaselish hansei -- done with a wink and a smile as the tyrant offered Japan his forgiveness.
As Asia has democratized over the last two decades, the long-suppressed resentments and hatreds lurking in the hearts of the people have been seeping out (sometimes with more than a little help from governments trying to bolster their own legitimacy). Successive Japanese governments have tried to keep a lid on these sentiments by pointing out the straitjacket Japan has put on itself (the parallel strategy of trying to buy friendship by slinging about fantastic amounts of foreign aid having not worked out quite so well).
Under the progressive nationalisms of Hashimoto and Koizumi, however, the straitjacket was loosened. Under the Abe Clique's ministrations, the straitjacket may indeed be removed.
What will Japan's diplomats point to then?
And what is the strategy for dealing with a democratized China? South Korea had at least the presence of U.S. Eighth Army to detract some of the Korean nationalist movement's attention. South Korea was never the #1 trade or investment partner of Japan. With Korea's population being much smaller than Japan's, South Korean hatred has been, in a certain sense, manageable.
The feelings of an awakened mass of 1.3 billion Chinese, however, are probably beyond management--even by the highly persuasive methods employed by China's government. As hundreds of millions of Chinese enter the middle class, they will call into question the deals that have been done in their name. At some point, whimpering "But we had a deal with Mao Zedong!" will engender the response "Oh yeah, the guy who unified China only to drive it into penury and spiritual destitution. Well guess what, now you are dealing with me!"
So my advice: cool it on the cute potted plant tricks. Now and forever.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
From The Abe Agenda: Japan on the World Stage , organized by the Council on Foreign Relations.
MANYIN: Emily, do we have time for one more? One more question.
QUESTIONER: Ayako Doi, Japan Digest publications.
Last November, after the election here, you could almost hear the gasp of horror among the Japanese business and government establishment when the Democrats took both houses of the Congress. Japanese, as far as we can remember in the last few decades, have always been more comfortable with a Republican administration, Republican policies, partly because the Democrats have focused on the conflicting economic interests. And then, you know, they still remember that. Assuming that -- well, possibly the Democrat administration will come in this Capitol in two years or even if it doesn't, Republicans probably won't have as free hand as it has had in terms of foreign policymaking. Do you see the rise of the Democrats -- the rise and vigor of the Democrats -- in the foreign policy arena affecting U.S.-Japan relationship in the medium term future?
GREEN: You know, I can't prove this, but you know, if you look back 100 years to Teddy Roosevelt, one gets a sense that Republican administrations tend to be a little more sympathetic to Japan. It's not consistently the case, but it goes even before the trade issues. The thing I would say, though, to reassure Japanese friends is if you look at the Armitage-Nye report -- people always forget Joe Nye, but it was co-chaired by Rich Armitage and Joe Nye, and the people who signed on were from both sides of the aisle -- I think there is bipartisan support for a strong alliance. And you know, McCain and Hillary Clinton are both surrounding themselves with people who are pushing that line I think. So, even within this early stage, you see people associating with candidates who are, you know, solid on Japan no matter who wins.
I think the affect on trade is pretty serious and significant, and it's going to be -- we'll know in the next month whether or not people like Charlie Rangel have gotten their caucus under control, and free trade will continue to be on the agenda. And so, it has an effect there. But you know, the reaffirmation and redefinition of the U.S.-Japan alliance -- the famous '96 Nye Initiative -- that was all under President Clinton. The Bush approach was, in many ways, the exact continuation of that. So I think the people are there on both sides to keep this going.
MANYIN: Do you want the last word?
CALDER: I think one has to remember that there have been many positive interactions between the Democrat Party and Japan. Having worked once upon a time with Edwin Reischauer academically and then, of course, thinking about his ambassadorship, I think the Reischauer years, the Kennedy years are one of the real high points. Cultural communication -- this has been something Democrats have always been concerned about. Environment, pluralism and an understanding and a respect for that, the role of Japan in the world, broadly speaking -- many Democratic presidents and supporters have strongly seconded that. And it was really at the Kennedy years that Japan joined the OECD, and Japan's role was broadened. Democrats have supported normalization in Japan's relations with Asia. The Korea-Japan normalization, for example. So, sometimes when -- I would echo what Mike said. Certainly, on both sides, U.S.-Japan relations has been appreciated by both parties. There have been difficulties, I think it's fair to say, on the trade side. Things often have been a little rockier in Democrat administrations. But we can't lose sight of the fact that U.S.-Japan relations is fundamentally a vital interest that's been appreciated by both parties.
MANYIN: And I would add that two of the Japan-specific hearings that have been held in the last couple of years -- on trade a couple of years ago and then the "comfort women" hearing just last month -- were dominated by Republican criticisms of Japan. So, when there are these overarching issues, it can get bipartisan -- bipartisanship alive and well and criticizing Japan as well.
Well, that brings our session to a close. Thank you very much for coming. Let's have a big hand for our panelists. (Applause.)
Democrats have lingering trust issues with the Japanese government. They arise out of the structure and habits of the Democratic Party itself.
As any glance at a gathering of Democrats makes clear, the Democratic Party is a rainbow coalition of interests with a divided and boisterous leadership. In order to make sense of their diversity and find a common ground between them all, Democrats tend to stress the primacy of logic, law, science and compassion. They find unity in the abstract world of reasoned argument.
It should not be surprising that Democrats extend this "reasoned argument" model outward from their dealings with each other to their dealings with people coming from other countries. Since reasoned argument allows Democrats to bridge their own differences, Democrats deep down believe reasoned argument will bridge international differences as well.
That Japanese do not respond Democratic overtures fills Democrats with almost homicidal frustration. Under Clinton "Japan bashing" evolved into "Japan passing" and finally into "Japan nothing" largely on the impression that Democrats had that Japanese interlocutors were impervious to reasoned argument, even as their national economy and politics fell into stagnation.
By contrast, the Republican Party since Reagan is a largely monochrome, ideological movement where loyalty to the leader and the cause are paramount. Republican unity comes in the abstract form in faith and patriotism--and in the concrete form in a general physical similarity of members to one another. Republicans tend to admire stubbornness, while Democrats tend to see it as a form of mental illness.
It is not hard for Republicans to feel a certain kinship with the Japanese, particularly Japanese elites. The stubbornness, the deference to authority, the hardened patriotism, the appeal to ethic and religious homogeneity are very familiar. Perhaps as a consequence, Republicans tend to be more appreciative and more grateful when their Japanese counterparts bend.
These differences in frames of reference have practical consequences.
In terms of World War II issues Democrats tend to want these issues resolved, with the emphasis on putting the past behind you through a regulated, legal process. Democrats are willing to go through this process even at the cost of friendship or personal profit.
For Republicans, the boundaries of what constitutes an acceptable solution are much fuzzier, with latitude being made for personal interest, a history of loyalty from the other party and even insincere expressions of shared cultural or political values. They are also in not as much of a hurry as Democrats, preferring to let cussedness live on well passed its shōmikigen.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
I concede: given the DPJ's own shady members and its multiple paternity, it will be very hard for the party to confront the LDP in the Diet over policy. The running joke--only it is not very funny--is that the DPJ is the mirror image of the LDP, only without the ideological unity or the experience at governing wisely.
Unfortunately, the alternative to Diet theatrics--conducting face-to-face retail politics--may fail to ingnite excitement at the ballot box.
If recent opinion polls are accurate--and that is always a big "if"--then the Prime Minister has reversed the decline in his Cabinet's popularity. The collapse in the Cabinet's ratings was starting to give the LDP rank and file a bad case of the jitters during the winter. Approval ratings rising into the 40%-50% range (53% approval, if were are to believe the Nihon Keizai Shimbun) are by contrast very favorable, even by the lofty standards set by the prime ministership of Koizumi Jun'ichirō.
General approval rating numbers are indicators of the likely voting patterns of the non-aligned electorate. When the prime minister is popular, the non-aligned vote is largely complacent and tends to vote along patronage and log rolling lines. When the prime minister is unpopular, the non-aligned vote rushes into the arms of the largest and best organizse secular opposition party so as to punish the Cabinet.
If the current Cabinet approval ratings hold--and there is no reason to doubt that they will--then the DPJ cannot pin its hopes on winning thanks to the protest vote. The protest vote will not be there.
If the party cannot rely on the protest vote then it will need to provide an actual policy platform in opposition to the Cabinet's platform. The platform has to be credible and it has to be distinctive.
I wish the DPJ luck. As the Observer notes in his post, getting all the various members of the DPJ to sing from the same sheet of music is a nightmare.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Prime Minister Abe, we see the reemergence of the tawdry hedging and quibbling that saddled Japanese leaders with the reputations of being the world's worst (and by worst, I mean least convincing) connivers.
"But I didn't GO to the shrine. I just sent a gift. In secret. Signed 'From the Prime Minister of Japan'. What's wrong with that? Why do you have such an angry look on your face? You must be unbalanced...or hate Japanese. That's it, you're a racist--that's your problem. George, help!"
This morning on Mino Monta's wide show there was the latest installment of the neverending story "How the public education system is failing our kids and we don't have a clue what to do about it."
Today's subject was the decline of knowledge of kanji among elementary school students, as measured by a recent survey taken by the Nihon Kyoiku Gijutsu Gakkai.
The NKGG tested both reading and writing skills for grades one through six. From the test of writing ability per each grade, researchers found the kanji compound on the left (○) gave the children the most trouble, with the most common error being the form listed on the right (×).
Now everything was proceeding according to the usual pattern--the host was asking his usual rhetorical questions while one of the guests offered his pet theory why pedagogy was going down the drain--when someone, I cannot remember whether it was a guest or one of the presenters, said:
"Wait a minute, in the line for the fifth graders. That isn't pronounced shiji. What's there would be pronounced shitai. That's the kanji for 'wait' with 'man going' radical. It should be "carry" with the 'hand' radical."
And lo and behold, the guest was right. The table purporting to illustrate the disheartening kanji errors of students itself had a kanji error in it.
Mino-san gamely put his his finger over the incorrect radical, then with a shrug put the table face down on the desk, saying, "Oh well, moving right along..."
He then swiveled toward the camera. His face a mask of false rage, he vowed, "After the show is over there's going to be a staff hanseikai*."
* = "meeting for reflection and remorse"
Monday, May 07, 2007
Oh, all right, I skimmed Bush's statements. I have to preserve whatever semblance of sanity I may still retain after over six years of his presence in the Oval Office.
First things first: I will be ever so glad when this tawdry habit of world leaders referring to other world leaders by theirs first names in public is banned.
Secondly, I have a few idle, pointless remarks:
1) Does someone in the Administration understand what Prime Minister Abe is saying when he says:
"I explained to the President that as the mission that my administration I will strive to move Japan beyond the post-war regime. "
Because I sure don't.
Because he follows it with this sentence:
"As part of this endeavor, I explained to the President that I launched on the eve of this trip a blue-ribbon panel for the purpose of reshaping the legal foundation for national security in a way that will benefit -- that will befit the times, now that the security environment surrounding Japan is undergoing major change."
Now I am frightfully stupid--but last time I looked "moving beyond the postwar regime" was a code word for revising the Constitution.
The blue-ribbon panel, however, is charged with investigating the possibility that JMSDF can engage in collective security actions under the current constitution.
So unless the panel charged with failing to perform its function-- i.e., it is supposed, after a decent interval, to throw up its hands in collective despair and cry to the winds, "It can't...it can't be done! We need a constitutional rewrite now!" -- then it cannot be "a part of " moving beyond the postwar regime.
2) What's with the outpouring of religiosity?
"I visited Bethesda Navy Hospital and the Arlington Cemetery, and prayed for the repose of the souls of those who died for the cause of stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, and prayed for early recovery of those injured. And I would like to pay respect and express gratitude for the noble sacrifice the United States is making."
You would think he was trying to impress maudlin, self-absorbed, American, born-again Jesus freaks who value prayer above critical thought.
Abe-sōri---cut it out! The God Show is so 2001 to 2006 (Allahu akbar, baby!)
3) I could not help but notice how little the Bush plea for completion of the Doha Round moved Abe-san. That Mr. Bush's special authority to sign trade agreements is languishing seemed to be sooooo not Mr. Abe's problem.
4) If I ever hear another smirking "I am going to serve him delicious American beef while he is here" joke I am just going to be unpleasant.
If the U.S. producers are not willing to test every beef carcass for BSE, the U.S. government should just give up on the joshing and the arm twisting. Japanese consumers have been indoctrinated into believing that the testing of every carcass makes the meat supply safe.
Testing every damned ungulate is now a cost of doing business in Japan.
There is no way of getting around it.
5) Now I have hopped up and down over the irresponsibility of the view of expressed by some in Washington and in Tokyo that we must leave history to the historians.
But that assertion pales in significance to the all out Homo sovieticus creepiness of this request to move beyond the historical blame game as represented by the calls for a formal apology to the comfort women:
The 20th century was a century that human rights were violated in many parts of the world. So we have to make the 21st century a century -- a wonderful century in which no human rights are violated. And I, myself, and Japan wish to make significant contributions to that end. And so I explained these thoughts to the President.
First--uh, Abe-san, we are already six years into the 21st century. Believe me, rights have been violated.
Second--are you out of your freaking mind? Just because the date on Gregorian calendars start with a 2, we have to kiss off thinking about what happened in the past? (For all you on Jewish, Chinese or Hejirah calendars, you are not in the 21st century. You are on your own as to whether to violate or not violate human rights)
Why didn't the press go ballistic over this naked attempt to characterize the history of the 20th century as, well, water under the hashi, you know--spilt miruku, as it were?
"Keep moving folks; there's nothing to see. The show's over."
Not on your life, you sleepy eyed scion of war facilitators.