Friday, June 29, 2007

A Pleasant Weekend to You All

The weather report says it will be sunny in Gunma Prefecture all day tomorrow.

Tanigawadake (1977 meters)
Minakami Township, Gunma Prefecture
June 17, 2007

Horsetails above the south ridge
Minakami Township, Gunma Prefecture
June 17, 2007

The snowfield
Minakami Township, Gunma Prefecture
June 17, 2007

Hakusan'ichige - Anenome narcissiflora
Minakami Township, Gunma Prefecture
June 17, 2007

Tenjindaira Cable Car
Minakami Township, Gunma Prefecture
June 17, 2007

For some reason, it feels as though this has been a long, long first half of the calendar year.

Barfing Lima Nights

The Observer has a comprehensive and tidy post up pulling together the various bits and pieces of the absurd candidacy of Alberto Fujimori--or should that be Fujimori Aruberuto?

Amaterasu, what kanji does Fujimori use? What will the voters write on the ballot papers?

The Observer leaves out the biggest piece of the puzzle, however: the reason why Alberto Fujimori is even being considered as a candidate, the reason why he was sheltered here in the first place, why the Japanese government refused to extradite him, why he was granted citizenship...

because of his second greatest publicity triumph, second only to the capture and display of a quite alive and completely bonkers Abimael Guzman...

the storming of the Japanese Ambassador's Residence in Lima.

Remember that wondrous winter of 96-97...and the denouement?

On April 22, 1997, after a four month siege, Peruvian commandos burst through a hole blown in the floor of the Residence's atrium, slaughtered the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement guerilla hostage takers and liberated Ambassador Aoki Morihisa and the 71 other hostages (the remainder of what was, at first, a hostage crisis with over 600 hostages) with the loss of only 1 hostage and 2 commandos (one of the commandos by friendly fire).

The sight of Alberto Fujimori in shirtsleeves, striding purposely through the gates of the compound after the raid, waving at the cameras, was a made-for-television moment.

One the Japanese public will very likely soon be seeing again...and again...and again.

By contrast, the hostage crisis in Lima proved the nadir of Japan's image in the 1990s. The Ambassador's Residence been taken despite intense security precautions (at the Residence that day was the cream of Peruvian society, including future president Alejandro Toledo and President Fujimori's relatives) . As the hostage crisis stretched out from days to weeks to months, the Japanese government could only wail, "Please no violence! Don't upset the hostage takers!" while on the inside, Ambassador Aoki drank his way through the liquor cabinets...resulting, upon his rescue, in The Interview The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Wants You To Forget.

Dismissing criticism that he had spent the 126 days of the siege in an alcoholic stupor, Aoki stunned the globe with this completely unabashed public relations catastrophe:

大使 - 「まあ私が酒を好きなのは事実です。それを批判されるのは仕方ない」 

Ambassador Aoki - That I like alcohol is no secret. That I am criticized for this, well, that's life.

記者 - 「独り占めして酒ばかり飲んでいたと」 

Press - It is said you did nothing but drink, hogging it all for yourself.

大使 - 「そんなこと、するわけないよ。最初のころ、何人かで薬用アルコールを飲んだことがあった。そしたら激しくおう吐し、すごい二日酔いになった。98度のアルコールを半分に薄め、それをさらに水やコーラで割って飲むんです。コーラで飲むと味は大丈夫だけれど、おう吐してしまう。水で割ればおう吐しないけど、この世のものとも思えないぐらいまずい」 当時のことを思い出し、楽しそうに大笑いした。

Ambassador Aoki - I wouldn't do that. A lot of people drank rubbing alcohol neat. If you did that you would throw up violently and have an incredible hangover the next day. However, if you would water the 98 proof alcohol down by half with water or cola, then you could drink it. It you did it with cola it tasted all right...but you would still end up vomiting. If you drank it cut with water you wouldn't vomit...but you could not imagine that there was anything in this world that could taste so bad. [He seemed to smile broadly at the memory of this.]

大使 - 「水で割って飲めたのは、三村晴夫医務官と私の2人だけだった。1リットルは飲んだね。でもあんまり飲むと体に悪い。赤十字の尽力で、公邸の倉庫に備蓄されていた本物の酒を飲むことができるようになった」 

Ambassador Aoki - The ones who could drink it cut with water? Well that would be just Embassy Medical Officer Mimura Haruo and myself. We drank a liter of the stuff. However, if you drank too much of it, it would be bad for your health. Thanks to the efforts of the Red Cross, however, it became possible for us to drink the real drinkable alcohol that was stashed in the Residence's cellar.

記者 - 「どのくらいの量を飲んだのか」 

Press - How much did you have to drink?

大使 - 「割り当てはウイスキー換算で、1日2本。夜になると、『酒保』という酒場を開いて皆で毎晩飲んだ。そりゃあ私が行かなければ酒場は始まらないし、いつも最後までいたから、一番たくさん飲んだかと言われれば、そうですと言うしかない。でも独り占めしたとかそういう報道は信じられない」

Ambassador Aoki - If we convert it into equivalents of bottles of whisky, drunk as mizuwari, then two bottles every day. When night fell, we opened up a drinking spot we called "Sakabo." We all drank together, every night. Since the drinking spot would not open if I did not go, I was there until the very end. If you say that means I drank the most, then I'll have to say you're right.

But the report that I was keeping it all for myself, that's unbelievable.

That folks, was Japan's man on the scene...the one the other hostages had to look up, the one whose job it was to reassure the others and help them face their fears.

Not surprisingly, Ambassador Aoki was forced to resign his position within 3 weeks of his liberation.

The Japanese hero of the hour, both by deed and by default, became Fujimori.

Viva Aruberuto!

This just in, twice

Busy news day.

Japan's former top intelligence official gets arrested...for playing footsie with the North Koreans.

Ex-intel chief Ogata nabbed over fraud
The Yomiuri Shimbun

Prosecutors arrested Shigetake Ogata and two others Thursday on suspicion of fraud in connection with the transfer of the ownership of the headquarters of a pro-Pyongyang Korean residents organization in Tokyo.

Ogata, who is a lawyer and former director general of the Public Security Intelligence Agency, has denied the allegations...

I would like to think that the Abe Cabinet insisted on expediting this indictment for a whole lot of reasons, not the least of which is the elections of July 29.

However, I am not even sure who is defrauding whom.

The biggest foreign policy and security news story in Japan right now, perhaps the most explosive story in years--that the former head of Japanese intelligence extorts from frightened zainichi chōsenjin the deed to North Korea's defacto embassy, then returns the deed hours BEFORE a court ruling seizing the property--and I do not know thing one about it.

Worthless me.

In other news, former Prime Minister Miyazawa Kiichi has died.

Japan ex-PM Miyazawa dies at 87
TOKYO, Japan (Reuters) -- Former Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, whose career stretched from Japan's defeat in World War Two through the 1990s "lost decade" of economic stagnation, died on Thursday at the age of 87, his office said.

A finance expert at ease on the world stage and a diplomatic dove keen on better ties with Asia, Miyazawa first served as finance minister from 1986 to 1988, when low interest rates fueled soaring stock and land prices.

He was forced to resign the post over a shares-for-favors scandal that ensnared his party -- only to return as prime minister just three years later...

The man who made Japan--delegate to the San Francisco peace treaty negotiations; head of the Economic Planning Agency for five consecutive terms during the 1960s; Finance Minister during the Bubble and Prime Minister after the Bubble's bursting, then Finance Minister again in the darkest part of the Lost Decade--Miyazawa had been looking increasingly frail these past few months, as if he were imploding.

Nakasone Yasuhiro is alone now--the last survivor of the wartime generation handed the task of transforming this nation from from a mobilized and centralized imperial state to a democratic (some have argued far too democratic) constitutional one.

Miyazawa Kiichi, the diminutive giant of the bureaucrat-politicians.

Requiescat in Pacem.

Neither nor

Just a thought in passing...

The reason why the fundamental principles of Japan's security alliance with the United States must undergo change is not the rise of China, the Revolution in Military Affairs, the transformation of the technological base of terrorism (or as Thomas Friedman put it so many years ago, the rise of the Superempowered Angry Young Man) or even the rebirth of nationalism in Japan/East Asia (Where did it go? When did it leave?).

It is that the fundamental security tradeoff has not functioned since at least 1991.

Under the Yoshida Doctrine, Japan would forego becoming a normal nation-state, giving up the ability to defend its own territory. Freed of the burdens of defense, Japan would run circles around the rest of the world in terms of the pace of its economic development.

Oh, on occasion Japan would have to pull out its checkbook and pay for something: a hydroelectric project here, a liberation of Kuwait there. For the most part, however, Japan would stay out of the military power racket and would instead concentrate on becoming rich.

The qualified syllogism promised the Japanese people was:

If virtually no military expenditures in Japan, then no international dignity. However, economic prosperity.

Somehow through long years of the Lost Decade in Japan and the Clinton prosperity the breakdown of the syllogism seems to have passed unnoticed (If somebody can prove otherwise, please send me the reference - MTC).

But the syllogism clearly no longer held...because it was not guns or butter. In the 1990s and even now, the Americans could have guns AND respect AND butter--lots of butter, 4% annual GDP growth with low inflation butter.

In Japan, by contrast, it was NO guns and NO respect and NO butter--year after year after year.

Where was the prosperity? If the Yoshida Doctrine were a viable description of reality, after a short dip due to that unfortunate bout of over-investment in 1986-89, Japan's economy should have continues its Vogelian march to hypremacy.

Instead, Japan became the world's economic anorexic--and the United States, a hyperpower.

Yet even now, sixteen years down the line, the Yoshida tradeoff rules as the master narrative underpinning all discussion of Japan's security options.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Intellectual Poverty

There 127 million people in Japan--and these mush brains choose a Peruvian caudillo under house arrest in Chile as their candidate?

Fujimori to Run in Japan's Upper House Elections

By Sachiko Sakamaki -- Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, under house arrest in Chile, will run in next month's elections for Japan's upper house of parliament.

Fujimori, who holds Japanese as well as Peruvian citizenship, will run for a proportional representation seat with the People's New Party, he said by phone from Santiago at a press conference at party headquarters in Tokyo...

How far beyond the normal bounds of embarrassment must one be to even come up with such an idea?

Wait a minute, who made the announcement in Tokyo?

People's New Party leader Shizuka Kamei said he hopes Fujimori will use his experience and knowledge to help Japan.

Oh, that far beyond the normal bounds of embarrassment.

He "hopes Fujimori will use his experience to help Japan"...hope is not a plan, Kamei-san (How can Kamei Hisaoki, who is hands down the most plainly decent human being of all the party leaders in the Diet, and Kamei Shizuka, the most plainly indecent one [pax, Suzuki Muneo] be in the same microparty--and not be related?)

Maybe the Kokumin Shintō hopes Fujimori will bring his ample experience of uncovering and eradicating radical terrorists groups to the task of...oh, gosh, may be smoking out the fugitive leadership of Aum Shinrikyō(those chalk portraits displayed at all the kōban are getting old).

And given the current state of Japanese politics, Fujimori's old sidekick Vladimiro (Here, Take the Money...You Cannot Refuse) Montesinos could be the most feared and respected seiji hisho ever.

Sakai Izumi - for the last time

Though I fear a backlash for posting two consecutive posts about pop music acts of the Lost Decade, I do wish to follow up on the Sakai Izumi/ZARD story.

Her funeral had been a private and quiet affair, with just her family in attendance--not even longtime associates from her record company or her back up band were invited. About 30 fans who had managed to find the funeral site hung around outside.

Yesterday (June 27) was the wake for Sakai Izumi which members of the music industry and the general public could attend.

The attendance at this memorial service was somewhat different.

Courtesy: Chūnichi Shimbun

Forty thousand persons waited up to four hours in line to pay their respects to the older sister whom, to the very end, nobody knew.

And on the news this morning, in their special reports on the wake, did they mention "it"?

Of course not.

Not even in passing.

The Sankei Shimbun does have a special article about the human papilloma virus and the HPV vaccine--which is available in Japan for women age 20 and over, though fewer than 20% of women have received it.

Maybe some lives will be saved that way.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Street Sliders: Baby Don't Worry

And now for something completely different.

When I first saw the Street Sliders a decade ago, performing one of their own compositions, my first thought was, "Amaterasu, they are writing Rolling Stones songs better than the Rolling Stones have done in years."

If attitude had been yen, the Street Sliders could have bought the Imperial Palace grounds.

That Old Imperial Standard

You could read the level-headed round up of the implications of yesterday's action in the Foreign Affairs Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives (here and here).

Or you could bend an ear to the gnashing of teeth and feral howling at the moon of the correspondents of the Sankei Shimbun (no link, my translation)

Women...Human Rights...and Misperceptions of Historical Facts Too

Sankei Shimbun
June 27, 2007

By Yamamoto Hideya, Washington

This Resolution that criticizes Japan as regards the Comfort Women Problem, the one to be voted upon in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, has been in the works since September of last year. The advocates of this legislation--Representative Honda, South Korean-American organizations and the like--lifted up the political "imperial standards" (nishiki no mihata) of "Women" and "Human Rights." This stance bowled over Japan's apologies- and historical facts-based arguments.

The nishiki no mihata (here is an image of one) were the silk standards embossed with a single, giant gold imperial chrysathemum that the forces of the fledgling Imperial Army carried before them at the battle of Fushimi-Inari. For some reason the symbolic power of nishiki no mihata--and not the oh-well-what-the-hell desperation of the irregular Imperial Forces under Okubo Toshimichi--was the key to the surprise victory over the better trained and better equipped Tokugawa bakufu army.

After Fushimi-Inari, the nishiki no mihata became the terror weapon of the Bōshin War. Held aloft, they notified all upon the field of battle that imperial blessings now rested upon the Satsuma, Chōshū and Tosa warriors and not the Tokugawa forces. Indeed, like Mito Kōmon's fabulous tobacco container of ultimate power, the nishiki no mihata so demoralized Tokugawa adherents that they would surrender, realizing the futility of fighting against the glory of His Imperial Majesty.

Now you have to be in a pretty tighly wound snit in order to be imagining South Koreans AND Mike Honda holding aloft imperial house banners, albeit ones embossed with the words "Women" and "Human Rights." (So Honda and the South Koreans are Imperial forces...which would make the Embassy of Japan in the United States the...)

But you have to be in an even more bizarro state of anger when you spit out the words "Women!" and "Human Rights!" as expletives.

I can't help myself. It immediately reminds of this guy.

"You set me up over a woman. A WOMAN! You must be insane."

Later - Ken Worsley over at Trans Pacific Radio has checked in with his two yen's worth. He decides the problem is pyromania.


N.B. - Heard of a nishiki no mihata before? I hadn't. I know now that when the term appeared in one of Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō's email magazine messages, the Kantei staff thought it sufficiently obscure that they felt it necessary to post a picture of one these banners on the Kantei website.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Over the line

The other day the Yomiuri Shimbun, in fulfilment of its self-appointed role as the party organ of the Abe Cabinet, printed on its inside a rather misleading cartoon regarding the shift of the election from July 22 to July 29.

Courtesy: Yomiuri Shimbun
morning edition of June 22, 2007

If we are to accept the imagination of the cartoonist, a curiously unwinded and kempt Prime Minister Abe Shinzō and Komeitō Party chief Ota Akihiro are pulling a fast one on the political playing field, yanking up the goal posts and moving the touch line just as the exhausted and sweating heads of the other parties are arriving to score a try.

Of course, in the real world, the persons who are sweating like mad are Abe and Ota. Abe is wondering how he ever got himself into the predicament he is in. Ota is wondering how he ever got himself entangled with Abe.

In the real world too, while Abe and Ota may have run away with the goal posts, they have done themselves few favors.

In the real world, the pair have run ahead of the pack, reset the goal posts, then have had to RUN LIKE HELL to get back, pick up their ball and then rush with every gram of their strength to try to catch up with the others, who zipped by them on their way to the new goal.

Unbelievably, one could argue that they might just pull it off.

According to the graph on the front page of today's Asahi Shimbun, the bubble of support for the DPJ (blue line) in the wake of the pensions scandal has burst, allowing the LDP (red line) to pull fractionally ahead among voters ready to commit to a particular party in the at-large proportional vote. From a high of 29% of polled voters just two weeks ago, support for the DPJ has fallen down to 23%--which happens to be the lowest point the LDP reached during its swoon.

Courtesy: The Asahi Shimbun
morning edition of June 26, 2007

A long-term (and boy, I may not have put in the hours--but I sure have put in the years) observer of Japanese polling would not be advising a smashing of sake casks at LDP headquarters just yet.

For starters, support for the LDP has risen just a single percentage point, leaving it darn near its trough for the Abe Cabinet.

Second, the rise in the Komeitō numbers, from 3% to 5%, is aberrant--Komeitō voters are always reticent to (some say they are ordered to not) reveal their affiliation. A support rate of 5% prior to election day is suspect.

Third--and this may be crucial--the House of Councillors election is the traditional means of sending a message to the Prime Minister and the LDP. While in most elections voters tend to look into their wallets, think a while, sigh, then write down the name of the individual whom they want to represent them (and they go through this ritual in manner bordering on fanaticism in a House of Representatives election) there are times when the electorate foregoes the wallet issues and just punishes the reigning oligarchy for its stupidity and venality.

A rule of thumb in the years when the electorate is ticked off--like this year--is that the final House of Councillors proportional vote totals for the main opposition party are double the numbers found in the pre-election polling. The undecided voter, having kept his or her peace long enough, finally breaks down at the polling booth and votes for the opposition--even if the opposition is no great alternative.

Which means that even if overt support for the DPJ does not climb upward toward the magical 30% level in pre-election polls again, the party could still thump the ruling coalition on July 29.

In appreciation - Observing Japan

Though I do not link to it often enough (indeed, one could maintain a rather decent blog just providing counterpoint and commentary for it) I urge all and sundry to visit Observing Japan as often as possible.

Thought the Japan Observer is always prolific, the "Chicago-born fledgling Japan/East Asia specialist" has just been running rampant these past few days.

And the price for the Japan Observer's words of cannot beat it.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Okayama Prefecture, where all the peaches are sweet,

...all the gardens are subdued...and all the politics are Positively Byzantine.

Remember this guy, the one with the aura of power about him?

Well, he's still looking up and to the left...but this time, he looks somewhat more concerned that something big and bad is about to hit him.

Courtesy: LDP homepage

How did it come to this, where even the Yomiuri Shimbun, the national daily whose relationship with the current Cabinet is at best sycophantic (at worst it is a dirty word not suitable for a family blog) depicts the PM in a cartoon as a sweaty pol, desperate to power up his rule by means of an extention cord?

Courtesy: Yomiuri Shimbun
morning edition of June 20, 2007

Was it really only "events, dear boy, events?"


At least half of the blame can be attributed to two greedy and sweaty House of Councillors bigwigs, depicted below as being now so ever reluctant to open up the Diet session extension omikuji brought to them by the callow Abe Shinzō.

Mainichi Shimbun
morning edition of June 22, 2007

For it was Aoki Mikio and Katayama Toranosuke who put the pressure on Abe (not that there was not much pressure needed) to reinstate the former LDP members Koizumi Jun'ichirō had expelled from the party .

In truth, while twelve former members were sent invitations to rejoin the party, Aoki and Katayama were only interested in one of them:

Hiranuma Takeo.

The one member of the twelve who in the end refused to sign a letter of apology--and who in the end was refused readmittance.

* * *

The problem, you see, is that Katayama Toranosuke faces reelection this year.

Katayama is the #2 guy for the LDP in the House of Councillors. For a big time power broker in the Chūgoku region, reelection should be a sleepwalk.

Unfortunately, Katayama has a unique problem: the number of enraged chipmunks, his natural constituency (you think I am exaggerating? Check out this photo--or better yet this caricature) is rather small for a prefecture the size of Okayama.

Their numbers cannot make up for the fact that most sane human beings cannot stand the guy.

Now Katayama had won handily in 2001, crushing his closest rival by 260,000 votes.--which in terms of Okayama's population means by a margin of 2 to 1.

This time around, however, he faces a rather more popular opponent than in 2001.

More importantly, about 120,000 of his votes in 2001 came from House of Representatives District 3 and another 120,000 came from District 4.

District 4 is the city of Kurashiki. In 2001 it was still represented in the Diet by former Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryūtarō. But Hashimoto resigned from the Diet in disgrace as a result of the dental funds scandal and died a horrible death last year. The city is now firmly in Democratic hands.

District 3 is--yes, you are way ahead of me--Hiranuma Takeo's district.

If Hiranuma did his all for Katayama's opponent--this in order to spite the LDP that had expelled him--or if he just sat on his hands, telling his supporters to vote their conscience--then Katayama was likely a goner.

So in order to save Katayama's political skin (and what an expansive and expensive skin it has turned out to be) Abe had to send Nakagawa Hidenao (Nakagawa the Sane) to negotiate with Hiranuma the terms under which he and the rest of the Dirty Dozen could return to the LDP.

A move so unnecessary in numeric terms, given the size of the LDP's majority in the House of Representatives, that the public immediately reacted with horror.

Rather than dropping the idea right then and there, as the LDP leadership should have, it persisted, with Nakagawa and Hiranuma going at it, round after humiliating round.

Finally, Nakagawa, in order to salvage something of the party's reputation, the one he and Koizumi had built up through the expulsion of the rebels, demanded that anyone seeking readmittance to the LDP had to sign a letter saying that he or she had been wrong in opposing the privatization law.

A letter each and every one of the Dirty Dozen signed, except Hiranuma Takeo.

For was just too demeaning. Indeed, he demanded that the LDP apologize to him for expelling him.

So all of the effort, the selling of the soul of the party, the besmirching of the Abe administration's image went to waste.

But fate was not finished with the LDP leadership.

For not two days after failing to lure the dark prince of Okayama back into the bosom of the LDP, Hiranuma suffered a massive stroke.

He was out of commission--and now his support group had a real axe to grind.

You think Katayama was nervous before? Guess how he felt when it looked as though the LDP had not just expelled Hiranuma--a close personal friend of the PM and a longtime fellow traveler in conservative reactionary circles--but had basically killed him?


But Hiranuma, while non compos mentes for a long while, has come back from the dark side. He is once again lurking in the halls of the Diet, though with more than a bit of hesitancy and a certain fragility.

And somewhere in the process of recovery, his vengefulness evaporated. He asked his supporters to vote for Katayama--meaning that he with the chubbiest cheeks in the House of Councillors is probably going to sleepwalk to victory after all.

Not that any of this is going to help Abe Shinzō, whose reputation had had to be tarnished before it had ever been allowed to shine.

* * *

And the other half of the blame...well, that is a story for tomorrow.

Japan to build a Space Bridge

A careful reading of this news item from Pakistan indicates that JICA, JAXA and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport are at last combining their many strengths to build a tall bridge in Azad Jammu-Kashmir.

A really tall bridge:

Japan to construct highest bridge in AJK
Pak Tribune

MUZAFFARABAD, June 23 (Online): Japan, as an accolade, will construct earthquake proof world highest bridge in the world in AJK.

The 1km long and 500km high bridge, RCC Chattar-Nalochi, would be constructed over River Jehlum at Muzaffarabad, capital of Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK). A 4 Kilometre long earthquake proof road would also be constructed with the bridge. A Japanese firm Jaica, which earlier designed geological report and master plan for Muzaffarabad as a bequest, would construct and manage the task.

After construction of this 500km tall structure, Japan will dominate the "drive up and kick it out of the bed of the pickup" satellite launch business.


Seriously, even without the typo, why is Japan doing this? Does it really want to build a) a juicy target for Muslim extremists to blow up (Future Headline: "Anti-Islamabad extremists destroy world's tallest bridge")and/or b) the means by which the Pakistani military's heavy brigades gain greater access to Azad Jammu-Kashmir--i.e. India's backside?

Yes, I know. I know. It is to help the earthquake victims...but that is not the way it will end up being used or abused.

Later - Do click on "comments" below, for Okumura Jun has left a very sober and informative answer to my inquiry.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The LDP Under Abe Shinzō: We are the Bourbons

"Since we have the pensions mess and all, delaying the vote by even a single day is to our advantage."

This quote, attributed to a member of the LDP elections executive committee in an article printed in the June 22, 2007 morning edition of the Mainichi Shimbun, indicates in that in just 9 months the LDP has managed to remember everything it once was and unlearn everything Koizumi Jun'ichiro taught it.

It is all back:

The fear of facing the electorate.

The petulant whining about having to submit themselves to a vote.

The contempt for the issues that matter to the people.

The belief that elections are won or lost based on the actual date of election ("In the last week of August the weather will be very hot, so a lot of senior citizens might collapse in the midday sun. On the other hand, a lot of younger folks will go to the beach or up into the mountains. The Komeitō people will vote no matter what the weather but if there are summer rainstorms in the Hokuriku and Shin'etsu regions, persons who would normally vote for the DPJ...")

Contrast this desire to rule without conflict or contestation with the exuberance former Prime Minister Koizumi brought to every fight. Koizumi LOVED elections. He still loves them.

A friend of mine recently asked me to look at a draft of a paper he was writing on the lessons Nicolas Sarkozy might learn from the prime ministership of Koizumi Jun'ichiro. In the paper, my friend had written, "Koizumi became a veritable machine at winning elections." I flagged that line, noting that the LDP suffered a setback in the 2004 House of Councillors election.

I realize now that my friend had been about 85% right. Koizumi may not have been a machine for winning elections—-but he was certainly a machine at CONTESTING elections. He loved standing on the sound trucks, alternately delivering the talking points and riffing on whatever the environment threw his way ("Is this on? Is this on? Can you hear me? It seems this microphone doesn't work…but I assure you my reforms will!"). With his diminutive form and his exuberance, one half expected him to dive off the edge of the platform for some crowd surfing.

He would schedule elections whenever he damned pleased...and damn the legislative calendar or the weather. The 2004 House of Councillors election: held on July 11! "But the children are still in school, their parents will still be around to vote! The weather may be hot but not ferociously so. There are no typhoons in early July! The DPJ will win."

The 2005 House of Representatives "Yūsei min'eika" election: September 11. "But nobody campaigns in August! Nobody campaigns on a single issue! The people will hate us for this! The DPJ will win."

We all know how the 2005 elections panned out

Now the DPJ did do smashingly well in the House of Councillors held on July 11 in 2004, when an unexpectedly high 56.57% of the electorate showed up...and the LDP did do smashingly well in 2001, when the election was held on July 29...and an unexpectedly high 56.44% of the voters showed up.

So, if I am to understand this correctly, LDP election officials are intent on suppressing the popular vote by 0.13%.

Indeed, they are counting on it.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Mother of All Defeats

I will have to write a lengthier post on the motivations driving this brain-dead stupid idea:

Ruling parties agree to Diet session extension plan, delaying July elections
Mainichi Shimbun

Ruling parties agree to Diet session extension plan, delaying July elections

Liberal Democratic Party leaders approved plans Thursday to extend the current parliamentary session, delaying next month's House of Councillors elections and giving the administration more time to push through legislation it hopes will boost its popularity.

LDP leader Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Komeito counterpart Akihiro Ota agreed to seek an extension of the session by 12 days until July 5, Ota told reporters.

The Diet has to vote on approving the extension, an LDP official said on customary condition of anonymity. The vote could take place as early as Friday, she said, adding that it has to be held before the current Diet session ends Saturday.

We will have to see if the LDP rank-and-file members come to their senses and vote this idea down today.

If the 12-day extension of the Diet session passes:

- Gunma Prefecture will have to hold two elections on consecutive weekends, since the gubernatorial election by law must be held one month after the end of the current governor's term.

- In Morioka, the elections will conflict with the city's summer festival and fireworks display.

- In Tokyo, if there is rain on the 28th, then elections will be held on the makeup date of the Sumida River fireworks display--an event that draws about a million attendees downtown.

- The summer break reconstruction and repair schedules of schools all over the country (public school gymnasiums and facilities are used as the voting centers) will have to be pushed back one week, leading to chaos in what is already, thanks to the Obon holiday, a panicked time in the public school facilities maintenance calendar.

- The tens of thousands of civil servants who are scheduled to serve as poll workers and ballot counters will see their early summer childcare and vacation plans fly out the window.

In brief, the inconvenience and expense will make a good many persons even more pissed off than they already are at the ruling parties. The question will then be not be "Will the Democrats win big?" but "Do the Democrats have a sufficient number of good candidates running in the two- and three-, four-, and five-person prefectures to deliver the Mother of All Defeats to the ruling coalition?"

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Clearing the air

When I read about the death of Lake Tai or hear the sirens announcing the arrival of another bank of photochemical smog from Jiangsu (an important issue for the Prime Minister because his home district, the city of Shimonoseki, has been getting clobbered by China-generated air pollution this year) I try to remember the hideous pollution of the 1960s and 1970s.

While conservatives may tear up at remembering how much better life was during the high growth era--when families were strong, students were well behaved, incomes were rising and everyone just got along (a characterization designed to drive leftists mad)--it is good to look away from the unnatural projected wholesome Technicolor image in the foreground to the brown, fetid haze obscuring the details of the background.

As for the condition of the rivers and bays--well, let us say a hell of a lot of downtown office buildings built in the 1970s turn their backs to the river with only the tiniest of windows facing the water.

Now, riverfront and waterfront views, if you can secure them, are worth a fortune.

I know that in many cases, the cleanup of Japan's environment came at the cost of sullying China, with many of the most polluting processes being handed off to either Chinese factories or to foreign factories based in China. However a great deal was accomplished by the people and their government fighting together against vested interests, investing a lot of money, shifting their priorities and complaining, complaining, complaining until the pollution ceased.

Last Sunday, for example, I climbed Tanigawadake on the Gunma/Niigata border. It was not one of those it-takes-you-breath-away-everything-looks-so-close days one sometimes enjoys in late January-early February or during Golden Week. It was just a bright, clear sunny day.

Nevertheless, looking over my shoulder from the saddle between Tenshindaira and the summit, I could see across three prefectures to the snow-clad peak of Mt. Fuji 160 kilometers (100 miles) away. (Due to underexposure, Mt. Fuji is invisible in the photo below. The arrow indicates its approximate location)

Call me an optimist...but if the country can dump the absurd fears and beliefs of a few crapulous souls ("It was not 300,000 viciously murdered. It was only 20,000 viciously murdered....and they were all volunteers!") that are cluttering up the bilateral relationships, it has the wherewithal to save a lot more Chinese and Southeast Asian lives every year through sharing what it knows about pollution abatement and energy efficiency than were ever lost in the killing fields of the Great War.

All that is needed is a clear picture of what is possible.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Trafficking in human persons report...

A shift in percentages we should be paying attention to, courtesy The Marmot's Hole:

As of March of this year, some 10,300 defectors have come to the South... since August 1953. Of these, 6236 are women. In fact, through 1989, women made up only 7 percent of defectors, but the ratio has been increasing to the point that last year, 78 percent of the defectors who came South were women.
Read the entire post on the emerging South Korean market for arranged marriages with North Korean women.

Boeing Gets Something for Nothing... least it sure looks that way.

Too many viewings of Project X on NHK seem to have convinced the captains of Japan's heavy industry that what this country needs most is to annoy the governments of Canada and Brazil.

Boeing to help Mitsubishi Heavy market regional jet - report
AFX News

TOKYO (XFN-ASIA) - Boeing Co has signed a partnership agreement with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd to help promote Japan's first passenger jet, the Nikkei reported, without citing sources.

Mitsubishi Heavy plans to commercialize the 70-90 seat regional aircraft by 2012 if it secures enough orders by next spring, the business daily said.

The companies will focus on operational cooperation in areas such as marketing and maintenance.

Mitsubishi Heavy must sell a total of 350 jets in order to breakeven for the jet project, the Nikkei said, adding the engineering firm will launch a global marketing campaign this fall.

Boeing executives, knowing full well that Mitsubishi Heavy will never get 350 orders in a market already dominated by Bombadier and Embraer, cheerfully agree to put in a best effort, thereby winning MHI's gratitude...

...which will come in oh so handy the next time Boeing and MHI meeting to discuss the pricing of the parts, components and assemblies MHI sells to Boeing.

Oh, and maybe even will tip the scales toward Boeing and away from Airbus the next time JAL or ANA need to buy a new set of wide-bodied aircraft (MHI will be encouraged to make the calls).

Right about now would probably be a good time for a loudmouth to tell the Japanese taxpayer how much he or she will likely be shelling out to support MHI's bid to build a kokusan jettoki -- since every other aircraft manufacturer in the world receives all kinds of subsidies, tax relief, government contracts and government activity on the maker's behalf.

(Just imagine Japanese ambassadors pleading with African strongmen to buy Japan's hyper-expensive mid-sized passenger jets -- kimochi warui!)

I can understand the fear--with no military sales in the works (the F-2 is dead) MHI and the other Heavies are desperate for some way to maintain their capacity to build complete aircraft.

Still, do they have to mess up relations with the Canadians and the Brazilians (really useful people to be friends with, should relations with the U.S. and China hit turbulence) to maintain this design and manufacturing capacity? Why not just sign on as a part of the F-35 consortium instead?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Are You Single-Minded Enough... be a Bank of Japan employee?

Cassandra has the entrance exam questions.

[Be advised: accessing the above URL will expose the viewer to banker jokes]

The shrimp may not be whistling but...

Dear Bill Sakovich:

I am a frequent skimmer of your blog Ampotan.

You have, shall we say, a rather defiant--shall we say, Nippon Kaigiesque--take upon every issue.

For example, I cannot help but recall a post you wrote on April 29, 2007, regarding Prime Minister Abe Shinzō's visit to Washington.

Permit me to quote from it, if will you:

Democratic Rep. Mike Honda, a sponsor of a nonbinding congressional resolution demanding that Japan formally apologize for its role in coercing women into sexual slavery, said he was heartened by Abe's apology.

“The logical extension of Mr. Abe's remarks is now for the government of Japan to endorse the prime minister's personal sentiments in a formal, official and unambiguous fashion,” Honda said in a statement.
That'll happen when shrimp learn to whistle, Mike. You just got the brushoff by a master and you didn't even realize it.

Indeed, the congressman seems to think the Earth moved under his feet. After a taste of celebrity, it's understandable that he would be tempted to take a turn on stage as an important player in international diplomacy. To milk 15 minutes out of it, at the very least.

Instead, here's what will likely happen—by the Fourth of July, Mike Honda will have returned to being the same congressional cipher that he was this time last year. And any nonbinding congressional resolution will be lining the fish crates in Tsukiji Market

Well, Mr. Sakovich, guess what?

U.S. committee to vote on "comfort women" resolution next week
The Asahi Shimbun

WASHINGTON--The U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs will vote June 26 on a resolution demanding that Japan accept historical responsibility and apologize for the "comfort women" issue, a committee official said Monday.

The resolution, submitted by Mike Honda, a California Democrat of Japanese descent, on Jan. 31, is expected to be passed. Tom Lantos, chairman of the committee, has indicated he would support the resolution.

It is unclear if the resolution, which demands an official apology from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, will be passed by the House of Representatives. But support for the resolution is gaining momentum, in part because of an advertisement that appeared in The Washington Post defending Japan's stance on the issue.

So far, 140 lawmakers, including both Democrats and Republicans, of the 435-member House of Representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of the resolution...

Just in case you think The Asahi Shimbun is pulling your leg, or that the article has been mistranslated, here is a Tokyo Shimbun article that lays out the whole sordid back story in Nihongo.

What is that Oliver Cromwell quote I wanted to pass on to you?

Oh, yes, here it is.

"I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."

Hot brown flightless birds...and I mean hot

This one is for Okumura Jun.

It seems we now have a new stereotype: the Japanese housewife rate shopping currency speculator.

Running wild.

Do ya think finance is sexy?

Kiwi seduces Japanese housewives
The Dominion Post

By JAMES WEIR - Tuesday, 19 June 2007 - Reserve Bank governor Alan Bollard is trying to take the top off the Kiwi dollar again, but Japanese housewives are standing in his way.

Bank economists are also warning that home mortgage rates could rise another notch into the "pain threshold", despite Dr Bollard's second attempt to bring the New Zealand dollar down...

I love the name of the newspaper too...The Dominion about a pain threshold, baby!

One little, two little, three little...

Indians Pakistanis.

Four little, five little, six little Indians Pakistanis.

Seven little, eight little, nine little Indians Pakistanis

Ten little Indians Pakistani boys.

Or maybe eleven.

Or twelve.

What the hell is going on here?

10 Pakistani Navy sailors go AWOL during rare Tokyo goodwill port call
The Associated Press

At least 10 Pakistani sailors ditched their crews and apparently went absent without leave in Tokyo during a rare goodwill visit to Japan by two of the country's naval ships on a training cruise, an official said Friday.

"They went out for sightseeing and then they disappeared," a Pakistan Embassy official said on condition of anonymity, citing protocol. "We've asked (authorities) to apprehend them so they can be deported to Pakistan for violation of the law."

A Pakistani destroyer and supply ship docked Tuesday in Tokyo, marking the second-ever port call by the Pakistani Navy and the first since 1983. The naval exchange is part of the two countries' cooperation in antiterrorism activities in the Indian Ocean.

On Thursday, 11 low-ranking sailors went on shore leave in Tokyo but never returned for duty, the embassy official said. It was unclear what happened to the missing crew, but the ships left port Friday without them.

Local police official Shuji Saito put the number of sailors at 10, and said eight disappeared Wednesday and another two disappeared Thursday. It was unclear what accounted for the discrepancy.

Uh folks...where do 10, 11, 12 Pakistanis males Tokyo?

What level of intelligence is necessary to achieve the rank of captain in the Pakistani Navy? According to Japanese police, the flotilla lost 8 sailors on Wednesday and then two more on Thursday.

Cancellation of shore leave and confinement to quarters, anyone?

What kind of hellhole must those ships be that at least 10 members of their crews would jump off in a foreign capital, condemning themselves to a life on the run with the strong possibility of imprisonment followed by repatriation for court martial?

And can someone also explain to me why the United States (the "9/11! 9/11! 9/11!" country--you may have heard of it) is not going absolutely screaming bonkers over this disappearance?

I know I am.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Japanese small investors: 1

Masters of the Universe: 0

Guess what--when the stock market is a con game and the domestic bond market is a graveyard, you can still send money overseas!

Housewives Outmaneuver UBS, Deutsche Bank Trading Yen

June 18 -- Japanese businessmen, housewives and pensioners betting against the yen in their spare time are wrecking the forecasts of the world's biggest currency traders.

The yen has slumped 4.6 percent to a 4 1/2-year low against the dollar this quarter, making it the worst performer among 72 major currencies and confounding predictions by strategists at Deutsche Bank AG and UBS AG for gains of about 1 percent.

The banks didn't reckon on the risk appetite of Japanese individuals, who are borrowing money like never before to buy currencies with higher yields. They tripled their trading in the year ended March to a record $11 billion a day, according to Tokyo-based Yano Research Institute Ltd., publisher of an annual report on the business. Globally, currency trading by retail investors rose 54 percent in 2006, according to research firm Greenwich Associates in Greenwich, Connecticut.

``Japan's interest rates are too low,'' said Hiroshi Ono, a 40-year-old sales clerk at a telephone company in Tokyo. Ono said he has made about $17,000 since March by borrowing $200,000 of yen and buying U.S. dollars to take advantage of the 4.75 percentage-point difference between Japanese and U.S. interest rates.

Japanese investors are borrowing yen at the central bank's 0.5 percent overnight lending rate and buying higher-yielding currencies in New Zealand, the U.K., Australia and even Brazil to increase returns on 1,536 trillion yen ($12.5 trillion) in savings. The strategy is called the carry trade.

Yep, that's what they call it.

For once, the Japanese small investor does not lose his/her shirt/blouse. Maybe it is because the Japanese small investor is betting his/her own money and doing everything he/she can to not listen to expert advice.

Ah, self-interest...and huge interest rate differentials, too.

A New Social Crisis: Idiots as Parents

Japan has a new crisis: monster parents from Hell.

Examples of some of the cruddy things bad parents have been doing or saying to teachers, from this morning's front page top story of the Yomiuri Shimbun:

"My child doesn't do any house cleaning in our home so please do not make him/her clean anything at school."

"Please do not teach my child anything that will not be on the entrance examination."

As regards even the tiniest bit of trouble between two students, "Ask the other child to switch to another school!"

After asking a middle school student a question on a primary school level because he/she could not answer at a middle school level, "You hurt my child's pride."

"My child is gifted in piano. Letting another child play accompaniment for the choir is bizarre, you understand?"

After the child on his/her bicycle collides with an elderly person, "There is a problem with the way the school teaches children how to ride."

Calling the teacher or the principal at his or her private residence in order to talk on and on about problems in the school.

Parents who in order to make sure their requests are taken seriously, insinuate that they have relations with organized crime.

Because nothing says "family" quite like claimed ties to organized crime.

Now I would hardly give a darn about all this--except that last nigtht TBS had a program on exactly the same subject, with further weirdness like a parent calling a teacher and telling her:

"My child refuses to take a bath. Can you come over and make my child get in the tub?"

O.K. First of all, everyone call down.

Individuals who should have never become parents have been becoming parents since time immemorial.

We have a slightly more atomized society, where the grandparents--the solvers of all problems great and small and the grand store of common sense in days of yore--are not in the adjoining hut anymore. So the bird-brains are calling on the teachers when they are overwhelmed by simply living.

There are a lot more only children, smaller families with just a few children spaced close together and children who have few relative--who are now themselves reaching child-rearing age. OF COURSE, they will not know thing one about discipline, how to care for children and how to be anything but reliant on others.

Japanese need to get used to monster parents from Hell...or, if they want to do something about them, encourage babysitting so that kids learn to take care of kids.

Whatever happens, let us hope (Pray!) the foreign press shows a little sense and does not immediately follow the lead of the Japanese press in identifying a new Japan-specific social crisis ready to bring this country to its knees.

Because "Some persons are just nuts" is not news.

Later - Yomiuri Online has today (07/06/19) published a translation of the article.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Suicide, Hikikomori and the Death of Sakai Izumi

The visit of Michael Zielenziger to Japan has stimulated a frenzy of commentary on his book in the NBR Forum and a very energetic side argument on the prevalence of suicide in Japan.

Some mention has been made of the suicide by hanging of Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Matsuoka Toshikatsu and of Yamazaki Shin'ichi of Japan Green Resources stepping off the side of his apartment building into thin air.

It is odd...or perhaps not that in the storm of invective no one has made mention of the unique professional path and mysterious death of Sakai Izumi.

Sakai Izumi was The Voice of the Lost Decade. Ostensibly, she was the lead vocalist of a pop group called ZARD. The number two female recording artist in terms of singles sales, Sakai Izumi (real name: Komachi Sachiko) was both omnipresent and invisible. Her versions of her songs were the musical wallpaper of the 1990s as well as being massively popular as karaoke numbers.

However, unlike every other recording artist in Japan, Sakai refused to do live promotional work. Except for a very few appearances early in her career, she did not sing on any of the myriad Tops of the Pops television programs. She refused to go on live tours or do club performances. She never appeared on the talk shows or variety shows--the bane of the existence of every other pop performer, even ones with real pipes and chops like Utada Hikaru.

Instead, Sakai inhabited an image of a person who had put an impossible distance between herself and the rest of humanity. Her videos, when they were not a series of stills of her with her never looking at the camera, featured her driving around through unidentifiable landscapes. While her being in the driver's seat was visually empowering, she was always making the journey alone...and never seemed to be getting anywhere. She had a hard time staying in the frame...and again, never looked into the lens.

In time, the urban legend grew up that ZARD was the Japanese version of Milli Vanilli--that Sakai's was the pretty face shown in videos and on album covers but the voice belonged to someone else.

Part of the legend was true: there was really no band ZARD. Izumi wrote the songs and sang the vocals. The musicians who played the instruments remained exchangeable non-entities.

The legend about there another woman providing the vocals for ZARD recordings was both weird and unnecessary. The voice one heard was not very strong or achingly beautiful. Why would anyone go to all the trouble of pretending Sakai was the singer when the voice on the tracks was no better than average?

It was Sakai's maddening iconoclasm toward every convention of Japanese pop music promotion that made the legend believable, of course. Professionally, she did not exist--at least in terms of the whirlwind of idiocy that goes for normal interaction between a pop phenomenon, her fans and the media.

Others had managed to completely withdraw from popular culture superstardom before, most notably Hara Setsuko (who must still be alive, probably still living in seclusion in Kamakura). What made the ZARD phenomenon so different from Hara's retreat into obscurity was that Sakai was able to withdraw while continuing to work as a pop star.

[For those into hikikomori, NEETs and otaku culture, this would be a good point to start your exegesis]

What made her complete withdrawal from normal pop star life all the stranger was that Sakai had started out in what at first glance would be one of the least likely places to produce a withdrawn, publicity-allergic singer-songwriter: the world of auto racing queens.

It must have seemed the perfect marketing ploy to a producer--have a crowd of non-descript musicians fronted by one of the fantasy dolls in spandex who has made her living by doing nothing more than displaying her body alongside high performance automobiles and handsome daredevil race car drivers while hundreds of drooling jerks photograph her from every angle.

Indeed the entire invisible life of Sakai--not even the scandal magazines had anything to say about her or managed to take paparazzi photographs of her--may have been spent in escape of those first few years when she had been ogled and pawed by the throng.

What only added to the weirdness of the ZARD phenomenon was Sakai's ability to withdraw from normal life not only in spatial terms but temporal ones as well. Even as the years rolled past, the young woman in the photographs and snippets of video did not age. Indeed, while she grew thinner, more transparent, her hair pulled back into a school girl's pony tail, she only increased in loveliness-- the eternal onēsan, always singing about her romantic dreams, never succeeding in getting married or leaving home.

It is not clear what finally pulled Sakai out of her shell for a brief experiment in public performance. After trying a live set before a limited number of fans in 1999 (on a cruise liner!) Sakai finally decided to do a musical tour in 2004, 13 years after the debut ZARD single.

On the tour Sakai would appear out of a black hole at the center of a matte black stage. She would be wearing simple matte black clothing. The only gesture toward excess was the brigade of musicians, all dressed in black as well. 10 performances over 4 months.

These 2004 tour dates were to be her only public appearances.

Following the detection of cervical cancer in mid-2006, Sakai was to spend the last year of her life in Keio Hospital. Knowing Japanese hospitalization practices and Izumi's obsessive privacy, it must have been a prison-like 11 months of increasingly painful half-life.

In April of this year, doctors discovered the cancer had metastasized to her lungs.

Sakai died on May 27, according to reports, from a brain injury resulting from a fall. That she had fallen on or from a multistoried wheelchair access ramp and was discovered in the morning "on the hospital grounds" somehow led to no police inquiry or calls for an investigation of hospital practices.

She fell, hit her head and died--that's all.

Did the Makenai de ("Don't Be Defeated") girl give up on life, as the Mainichi Online morbidly wonders?

Given the circumstances... probably yes.

But while Matsuoka Toshikatsu and Yamazaki Shin'ichi will each be making their 1/32,000 th contribution to next year's totals of suicides in Japan, Sakai Izumi's death will be listed among the accidents.

Accidents do happen.

* * *
I have embedded one of the later ZARD hits Eien in the side column. Clicking on the image starts the feed at the top of this post. For a taste of ZARD imagery and music, here is a You Tube clip of one of her later hits Eien (Forever).

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

While on a hiatus-like status...

I was asked last night whether I thought there was any substance behind the rumors of a House of Representatives election this year.

I would have to class such an outcome as "damnably unlikely."

Accepting that the Abe Shinzō prime ministership has been a bit of a stinker, the LDP has nothing to gain and much to lose from a House of Representatives election.

In September 2005, the party stole seats in the urban areas that by all rights should be Democratic Party of Japan seats. The tactic Prime Minister Koizumi used to achieve this act of electoral larceny was brilliant and iconoclastic in the extreme: tell the people that his LDP was running against the Old Guard.

That most of the Old Guard was still in the LDP, even after the rebels were kicked out, was a mere detail. The celebrated Mr. K had a plan to push Japan into a brighter, snazzier, edgier future and no old fuddy duddies were going to stop him.

DPJ leader Okada Katsuya's response to Koizumi's bold play--sticking to promises of fiscally restrictive policies that everyone was already sick to death of, declaring the Postal Reform Law an irrelevant sideshow, campaigning in the guise of a bureaucrat and whining that Koizumi and Takenaka had purloined all the DPJ's best ideas--translated into the Democrats being wiped out in their urban strongholds. In Tokyo, the DPJ went from 12 of 25 district seats to 1. One lonely seat (Naoto Kan's) out of 25.

In Tokyo.

What is the chance that the LDP could get even close to such a result in the urban areas today? With the prime minister's personal popularity in the 30s?

Damn near zero.

So why would anyone in their right mind (or far right mind, as the case may be) be even dreaming of a House of Representatives election at this time?

Later - It seems that the weekend polling results from The Asahi Shimbun, showing a switch in party popularity rankings among likely voters, drive a further stake into the heart of predictions of a snap House of Representatives election.

While these results are not definitive as to voter behavior in a House of Representatives election - voting for the House of Councillors tends to be more emotional and volatile, with voters tending to "punish" the party in power at the least provocation--seeing the DPJ rising to 29% while the LDP remains mired at 23% pretty much precludes the possibility of the PM calling a snap election.

One thing does seem certain: the non-aligned voter is back...and seemingly does not give a fig for Abe's idealist program. Abe and echo-chamber of advisors may have dreamt of completing the work of his grandfather as regards to restoring Japan to a prominent role in world power politics...or of building a better Japan through better Japanese. The non-aligned voter, however, sees these as peripheral and possibly even toxic.

Constitutional reform for the purpose of becoming a more formidable military power active participant in global security affairs is great for a think tank speech or a right wing rally...but it is a hellacious positiong to try to sell to grandmas and grandpas who waiting in line at the pensions office, hoping beyond hope that their employment records are in order.

As for the middle-aged and the youth vote, it seems unlikely that educational reform emphasizing love of country and/or a constant chanting of "Racchi jiken" will disuade voters from their wish to kick the already wounded Abe in his shins.

Seriously who is going to turn down a chance to kick a weak, more-than-slightly-pompous rich kid when he is down?

Much later - Sorry, an earlier version of this post had a dropped "not" that rendered the argument unintelligible. The first sentence of the second paragraph the "Later" section now makes a bit more sense.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Lee, Lee, Lee

According to Kyodo News:

7日靖国訪問へ 台湾の李登輝前総統

I wonder whether or not any of the networks will carry Lee Teng-hui's Yasukuni sanpai live. It will also be good, clean fun to see who is accompanying him as he undertakes this provocative act.

Gentlemen and Ladies, start your DVD recorders!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Thwack! Thwack! Thwack!

Technically, the Prime Minister is clearing every hurdle.

Courtesy: The Asahi Shimbun
Morning edition. June 5, 2007

Already down are the Referendum Law and the U.S. Forces Realignment Law. Coming down is the Special Law on Statute of Limitations for Pensions. Ahead looms the Civil Service Reform Law.

No, it has not been pretty. Instead of the Olympic ideal of citius, altius, fortius it has been, in the Asahi's eyes, "Rather Quickly, Rather Unevenly, and Pretty Much by Brute Force ."

Now I have to apologize... the PM, of all people.

A few weeks ago I gave the PM grief for a particularly egregious utterance at the Camp David press conference:

"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."
I must admit, I sort of lost all control over the soul crushing myopia of this statement.

Now thanks to this morning's Asahi Shimbun (sorry, no link) I find out the PM was not the perpetrator of this thought crime. Okazaki Hisahiko seems to have bequeathed this dangerously-close-to-ironic-dig-at-the-United-States-over-Abu-Ghraib-and-Guantanamo-Bay ("The 20th century was a century that human rights were violated in many parts of the world...") to the PM immediately prior to the Washington-Camp David visit.

Sadly, the story does not end there.

In remarks in Tokyo on Tuesday, Okazaki not only crowed about his formulation, but revealed his understanding of the context framing the issue.
"During the 20th century, in China, tens of millions of people were killed. Stalin in his purges killed millions. For the United States too there were the atomic bombs and Dresden. The 'comfort women'? Hardly a problem."
OOOhhhh, no you didn't.

Not the

(Comfort Women) < (Hiroshima + Nagasaki + Dresden)


Silly former Ambassador to Thailand! Don't you know Americans hate math!

But did Okazaki stop there about the comfort women?

No, why stop digging when the hole is only up to your neck?

"When there is enough of a supply, coercion is unnecessary. Now is there enough documentary evidence showing the level at which the compensation was sufficient for recruitment and the provision of supply? It's not likely that the creeps (yatsu) who saved up money to open their own kisaeng houses* will offer us reports."

Oh, Okazaki-sensei.

What can I a mere blogger say except, "Thank you. Thank you ever so much."


* Odd, telling little error by the Asahi Shimbun. Rather than call the kisaeng houses "Korean houses of prostitution" [Chōsen(jin) no baishun shisetsu] it called them "houses of prostitution in South Korea" [Kankoku no baishun shisetsu].

Oh, I am sure the Asahi is quoting the dictionary definition...but I think it is inappropriate, given the context.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

For folks who could never stop...

...railing about all the terrible, shallow and duplicitous tricks he pulled on the Japanese people, the sports newspapers are sure giving former prime minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro a whole lot of respect.

The one-step above toilet paper rags are speculating that the powers-that-be inside the LDP--terrified at the plummeting Abe Cabinet poll numbers--have swallowed their considerable pride and turned to Koizumi to go forth and work some of his electoral magic one more time to save the party in July.

Oh, c'mon.

Koizumi is campaigning for Kawaguchi Junko Yoriko--and that's all he is doing.

He owes her big time. Kawaguchi was one his most loyal, self-sacrificing and competent lieutenants. After the chaotic reign of Tanaka Makiko, Kawaguchi pulled the unruly elements of the bureaucracy back into line while maintaining an air of quiet dignity about her. It was Kawaguchi's hard work and dedication that made it possible for Koizumi to play the artless and blithe bon vivant on the foreign stage.

Another reason Koizumi is stumping for her is to fight off questions about her health and vitality. Kawaguchi is trying to recover from Guillain-Barré Syndrome. It is amazing that she is running for a 6-year term. From the statements at the reception, it seems she will likely have to do some of her campaigning from a wheelchair.

Koizumi also knows how to play a good political angle. Kawaguchi, prior to taking over for Tanaka, was briefly Minister of the Environment. Koizumi senses that the environmental story is a winner over the long term--so he is shamelessly plugging Kawaguchi's brief association with it.

Kawaguchi is also one of the Koizumi Kidz, albeit one 66 years old. She won her seat in a 2005 by-election held concurrently with the House of Representatives landslide. Of the top 12 candidates on the LDP party slate for the July elections, she is the only one not the member of any faction.

Finally, love him or loathe him, you have to admit...he knows how to treat a lady who gave of her all for him.

Courtesy: Sankei Sports

Oh, you Academic Wing Nuts... had me going there!

In the latest installment of the eternal and ongoing saga "Yes, Okumura Jun DOES know better than YOU!" the man I look to for the answers has a post up on the otherwise peculiar decision of the Fusōsha company to abandon its pet pedagological product.

It seems the Fuji Sankei Group wants more.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Birds of a Feather

The Asahi Shimbun editors, always looking for a silver lining as far as Prime Minister Abe Shinzō is concerned, decided to check and see whether or not the suicide of Matsuoka Toshikatsu (M.H.R.I.P) had any effect upon the prime minister's already low standing in the polls.

The results were not pretty:

Support rate for Abe hits record low 30%
The Asahi Shimbun

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's support rate further deteriorated to a record low 30 percent, as public criticism increased over shoddy pension records and political money scandals, an Asahi Shimbun weekend survey showed.

The support rate was a marked slip from 36 percent recorded in a similar survey taken on May 26 and 27 and less than half of the 63-percent backing the Abe Cabinet received when he took office in September last year.

The nonsupport rate for the administration jumped to 49 percent from 42 percent in the previous survey.

Among male respondents, the support rate slid from 36 percent to 27 percent while the nonsupport rate rose from 47 percent to 56 percent.

Among women, who had been bigger supporters of the Abe Cabinet, the support rate stood at 32 percent, while nonsupport was 43 percent.

Ah, those hooded, bedroom eyes and his hard right positions...still holding sway over one segment of the electorate.

Seriously, why is the PM's support level higher among women?

Anyway, while I may not agree with the Japan Observer on Russia, I do agree with the contention that the Democratic Party of Japan will pound away on the issue of competence and control.

In scraping in at only 30% support, the Abe Cabinet is probably engendering some real buyer's remorse in the LDP.

I can remember the time early last summer when Abe began to pull away from Fukuda in the leadership sweepstakes. The reason for Abe's surge, if I remember it correctly, was, "Abe can help us win elections; Fukuda can't."

I can even remember former Prime Minister Mori Yoshirō arguing that Fukuda should be made prime minister first. According to Mori's plan, Fukuda would then lead the LDP to defeat in the July 2007 House of Councillor's elections. This would set the stage for Abe to be brought in as the party's savior (Maestro, cue the music, extended version)

What the prime minister and his Cabinet need are a few weeks of blunder-free parliamentary procedures and normal central government functions. Sadly, this sets the PM on the same level as his unwitting role model in the White House--another 30 percenter who has sunk so low that a week going by without a massive embarrassing failure or scandal is now considered news. (Hat tip to

And to see how close the pair are, nothing beats the cover of the July edition of Shokun! magazine, with the lurid red letter cover story "Jūgun ianfu okisari ni sareta shinjitsu" ("The truth of how the Comfort Women got left in the lurch")

Oh, c'mon Editor, nobody can see that. Can't we have a blowup of just the two men?

Ah, there. Best Friends. Makin' and acceptin' apology-like things and craftin' global alliances.

And stuff.

Hey, Kyūma Daijin

Whenever the U.S. Pentagon gives you grief over Japanese Self Defense Forces personnel who have Chinese wives with visa problems and some not exactly cleared-for-public-consumption data in their homes, tell them:

"Yeah, and we would really like it if you did not have the X band radar platform we need to track North Korean missiles being serviced by undocumented illegal aliens. Yes, the radar with the proud seaman's union representatives openly providing timelines for secret missions. That one.

Visit the suitably wonky and always fun Arms Control Wonk for more details and analysis.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Devin T. Stewart

has a blog.

Some recent post titles:

Asia as Post-Modern Experiment

Rather than experimenting with post-modernity, I tend to think that the community of Asian nations is slowly easing its way out of the 160 year long Westphalian detour.

Which may be the same thing.

A New Day for ASEAN

I would prefer to think of ASEAN as conducting "non-hegemonic hub diplomacy" than "promiscuous diplomacy"--but hey, who am I to looks down upon sexier, freer foreign affairs?

And what is sure to be the big crowd pleaser...

Thoughts on the Bush-Abe Meeting

...though, of course,it was really the "Abe-Bush meeting."

Recommend / Don't recommend / Don't know ?

As far as I can tell...

...the pensions brouhaha is about:

1) social class

The 50 million derelict, ownerless pension fund accounts are not the accounts of salarymen. They are not the accounts of government officials.

The employers of both of these groups dutifully and permanently recorded the payment histories of their employees.

The retirement money that may be out of reach due to the needless multiplication of account numbers belong to those of persons employed in the non-lifetime employment sector, or persons who changed jobs and employers often--i.e., the persons MOST IN NEED of the government's special attention and care.


2) governmental competence

It was hard for the Democratic Party to fight against the rushed passage of the bill suspending the five year statute of limitations on unmatched pension claims. Resisting the passage of a bill offering immediate relief to those who have been left high and dry by the system made the Democrats look look heartless--and bent upon electoral self-immolation.

Freezing of the current statute of limitations on a person's ability to make back claims on pension payments the individual made in in obedience of the law seems a negative for the electability factor.

The party has realized it has to deploy its smart cookies to explain both the party's goals and strategy. The Democrats' point is not technical and trivial: it is somewhat daft to hand the messed up accounts back to the same officials who lost control over the proliferation in accounts in the first place. Furthermore, the legislation does not provides additional resources to combat the backlog in matching accounts and their owners.

Over the last year, the Social Insurance Agency managed to link 1.4 million derelict accounts with the persons who paid for them. At such a rate, clearing up the ownership questions regarding the remaining 50,000,000 derelict accounts will require thirty years to resolve.

Problem with that is...a lot of the heretofore alive and shafted beneficiaries will be somewhat less than alive in 30 years' time--and thus rather unable to enjoy their being reunited with their own money.

I wish the DPJ luck in its principled resistance. Being conscientious and substantive at a time when folks are all hot and bothered is not always the best electoral strategy.