Friday, August 31, 2007

For the weekend: a Maruyama plan

I had hoped to take the Female Child on a hike up Maruyama on Sunday, climbing though the chert-enracinated stands of cedar and cypress to the viewing platform overlooking Chichibu, descending through monkey and boar fences to the minshuku with the hot baths. As we waited for the water to get warm we would slurp down the house specialty: konnyaku tofu sashimi.

After soaking ourselves, would wander down the narrow lanes, stopping off to pick heavy, round, grapes with dusty purple skins at one of the many arbors on the outskirts of the village spread out on the hill before the station.

A perfect plan for the day.

But for the weather, it seems.

Chestnut Tiger Butterfly - Asagi Madara - Parantica sita
Maruyama Trail, Yokose Township, Saitama Prefecture
September 10, 2006

Bring me the head of the Liberal Democratic Party

Ozawa Ichirō has more tricks up his sleeves--even if they are Abe Shinzō's tricks.

Ozawa appoints Maehara as vice president, urges Abe to quit
Kyodo News

Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa appointed former party president Seiji Maehara as vice president and upper house member Masayuki Naoshima as chief policymaker Friday in a shakeup of the party leadership aimed at stepping up the rivalry with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

At a news conference just after the appointments, Ozawa urged Abe to leave office following a crushing setback for his Liberal Democratic Party in the House of Councillors election last month and reiterated his opposition to the antiterrorism law being extended beyond its Nov. 1 expiration.

"Since (the LDP-led ruling camp) lost a majority in the upper house, the very person who should be reshuffled is the prime minister," Ozawa said.

A neat replay of the "bring the internal critic inside" tactic. Abe dared Masuzoe Yōichi to join the Cabinet and take up the poisoned chalice of the Health & Welfare post. Maehara Seiji, despite his history of American Alliance First noises will be expected to hove to the Ozawa leadership line--as he's part of the leadership group now--even as he believes he will be influencing its final port of call. Whatever happens, he will at least serve as a convincing feint, the unwitting (?) straw dog able to draw the LDP into desperate, self-delusional negotiations with "the reasonable DPJ guy" time slips away...

Why do I feel Maehara's battlefied promotion is more in the nature of a trap than a concession to his stated views?

It might have something to do with the fact that there are seven--count 'em--seven DPJ vice presidents.

Kind of makes Ozawa's gesture a little less impressive, doesn't it?

More of the Same

The 11th installment of the AJISS Commentary just dropped into my mail box.

Amaterasu, do not provoke me--the Commentary, entitled "Russia Reverting to Type," highlights the matter I brought earlier today--the familial connections behind and between the present day actors on the international scene.

But I get ahead of myself.

In line with AJISS guidelines since "that little misunderstanding of last year," the piece does break too much crockery. However, it is not without value: it does offer a corrective as regards the recent outcry over Russia's abandoning liberal democracy:

Putin's Russia does not care about its reputation in the West, for the president is now aware that Europe and the United States can no longer ignore the economically powerful Russia. The former Soviet republics, which moved away from Moscow in the economically difficult 1990s, are reviewing and placing greater emphasis on their relations with Russia, while the Kremlin is nurturing the ambition of extending its influence over them. The chilled relationship with the West has driven Moscow to deepen ties with Beijing. Such was the backdrop against which Putin in Munich unleashed his strongest criticisms ever of Washington in February 2007.

Has Russia changed? When viewed from a long-term historical perspective, the Gorbachev/Yeltsin era, during which Russia sought integration into the West, was rather exceptional. Today’s Russia can be seen as reverting to the “original Russia” or revealing some of its true face. Those democrats and reformists in the West and Russia who had optimistically expected that a Western-style democracy and a market economy would take root in Russia in a short period and that political and economic integration into the West would easily be achieved did not fully understand the history and social reality of Russia.

If Russia as a whole is to make a qualitative change, a stable middle class will need to take root in society at large and the international-minded business elite and the young generation will need to occupy the center stage of Russian society. It would take at least several generations for this to happen, although certain Russian businesses are likely to reach the world-class level soon.
The really interesting aspect of the essay is how AJISS - Commentary chooses to introduce the author.

Shigeki Hakamada is a Professor in the School of International Politics, Economics and Business at Aoyama Gakuin University.

Which is true...but insufficiently descriptive. The introduction probably should have been a wee bit longer. Something like:

Shigeki Hakamada is a Professor in the School of International Politics, Economics and Business at Aoyama Gakuin University. His father was Masuo Mutsuo Hakamada, a member of the Japan Communist Party who fled to the Soviet Union in 1938. Known as the mockingly as the "Tiger of Siberia" and "Emperor Hakamada" he was the editor of the Nippon Shimbun, the Japanese language paper printed for the Japanese POWs of Siberia. The author's uncle was Satomi Hakamada, former Deputy Chairman of the Japan Communist Party. The author's half-sister is Irina Khakamada, a former Deputy Speaker of the Russian Duma and member of the opposition The Other Russia coalition. She ran for president of Russia in 2004 as an independent and finished fourth.

That's better.

Addition, Subtraction, Movement

I have been playing around with the blogroll again.

For those wanting to get their feet wet (水遊び)in the Japanese language blogosphere without gulping huge lungfuls of H2O, new addition Chris Salzberg has committed himself to the thankless and noble task of translating blog posts from Japanese into English for Global Voices Online.

Well Isn't That Interesting

In his extremely fair article on Prime Minister Abe's paying tribute to Radhabinod Pal during his last Asia tour, Norimitsu Onishi of The New York Times manages to dig up another Indian gentleman with interesting Japan connections:

In many ways, Judge Pal seemed to share the mixed feelings that many Indian anticolonialists had of Japan. As an Asian nation competing with the Western powers, Japan inspired admiration, but also consternation for its colonization of Asia, said Sugata Bose, a historian of South Asia at Harvard.

Mr. Bose said his great-uncle Subhash Chandra Bose, the Indian independence movement leader, criticized Japan’s invasion of China but allied himself with Japan against the British.

“It is a complex view from South and Southeast Asia,” Mr. Bose said. “There is some degree of gratitude for the help that the Japanese provided, to the extent that such help was provided. At the same time, there was also grave suspicion of Japan.”

Still, Subhash Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army, a popular armed force formed by Indian anticolonialists, accepted assistance from Japan.
The grandnephew of S. C. Bose is a professor of South Asian history at Harvard.

The grandson of Manchukuo's biggest boss, a prime minister of Japan, gets to spend some quality time the grandson of Judge Pal--when he is not reminding GW of the time his grandpa and GW's grandpa played a round with the President of the United States.

The great grandson of the killer of General Charles George "Chinese" Gordon is an Oxford-educated member of all the best talk shops.

A English-fluent thinktanker from Moscow comes to visit. Despite the pleasant smiles, I cannot shake the sense of hard steel beneath the flesh. I google his name afterward and find out he is the grandson of one Stalin's longtime henchmen.

History lives on, walks amongst us--and it freaks me out.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Secret to His Success

Given the generally positive press and public responses to the new Cabinet and the new LDP executive lineup, is it too early or impertinent to ask who actually worked out the job assignments?

Prime Minister Abe Shinzō was on his "Asian Democracies: One Arc Under a Groove" tour for almost the entire week prior to Monday's announcement. While I know that in this era of email, wireless broadband and compressed video one can exchange information over great distances, enabling an individual to maintain a scary simulacrum of teleomnipresence--it nevertheless seems unlikely that the selection of a Cabinet could be done without a lot of formal visiting, private signaling and realtime, actual handholding. Everyone had to be on board with this new beginning, particularly because the LDP's political fortunes were in a tailspin. Someone also had to be keeping in mind the big picture, making sure that the party's new lineup and the Cabinet would inspire an immediate recovery of public confidence, braking the party's and government's falling ratings in the polls.

I have a hard time believing Abe Shinzō was on the phone, leading the troops, pleading with the elders, intimidating the reticent as his jet flew hither and yon over the Bay of Bengal. Possible it is but not probable...especially in light of his pathetic inability to manage underlings and peers when physically present in Tokyo.

So if not Abe, who was in charge of piecing together the new Cabinet? Who was the executor while the putative supreme leader was on his late August jaunt?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Speak of the Devil...

...and He Appears.

Or is it "Get Thee Behind Me, Masuzoe!"?

Courtesy: Sankei Shimbun
August 29, 2007

As newly appointed Health & Welfare Minister Masuzoe Yōichi looms behind him, Prime Minister Abe Shinzō has finished writing down his spooky discovery:

"If you write 'enemy' [テキ - teki] backwards, it becomes 'come to me' [キテ - kite]."

The Japan-China Friendship Association

The paper I mentioned last week:

"People’s Diplomacy: The Japan-China Friendship Association and Critical War Memory in the 1950s"

By Dr. Franziska Seraphim of Boston College, is now available at Japan Focus.

Yōrō Keikoku
Ichihara City, Chiba Prefecture
August 11, 2007

The World Is Coming to an End at the End of the World

All the peoples of the planet talk to us--never to you.

Trust not in what you can do for yourselves but in what we tell you to do for yourselves.

Ignore our overuse of the conditional--please.

The future is crystal clear. The past, however, is cloudy and has be left to professional historians.

There has never been a more dangerous moment than the one you are in right now.

The Japanese constitution is a prison into which you have locked your minds.

There are 300 million Americans in addition to ourselves. Ignore them.

POINT OF VIEW/ Kurt Campbell and Michael Green: Ozawa's bravado may damage Japan for years
The Asahi Shimbun

It appears that Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) leader Ichiro Ozawa is determined to force a crisis with the government over the counterterrorism bill. This comes as a disappointment to those Americans who remember him as a stalwart defender of the U.S.-Japan alliance from his days as deputy chief Cabinet secretary almost two decades ago.

However, it does not come as a surprise to those who know his single-minded determination to deal a body blow to the Liberal Democratic Party today. We are told that Ozawa has decided that any political damage done to U.S.-Japan relationship will be forgotten in a few years when there could be a Democratic administration in Washington and--he hopes--in Japan, too. We fear that assumption is flawed and hope Ozawa will reconsider his stance and find a creative and workable compromise with the government. It will not be as easy to recover the reputations of Minshuto and Japan as Ozawa may think.

Many in Minshuto believe that pulling Maritime Self Defense Force ships out of the coalition will only do damage to the "Bush-Abe" relationship. After all, both leaders are under assault at home and the Iraq war is polarizing American public opinion. However, the bill that Ozawa wants to kill authorizes the deployment of ships for the effort in Afghanistan and has nothing to do with Iraq. And support for the effort in Afghanistan enjoys broad bipartisan support in the United States.

If Japan pulls out suddenly from the coalition against the Taliban and al-Qaida, this will lead to inevitable and unfortunate questions for the next administration--whether Republican or Democrat--about Japan's reliability as an ally.

Nor would the damage to Japan's national interest stop with the bilateral U.S.-Japan relationship. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have both been clear that they highly value the MSDF contribution to the war against terror in their region.

The Indian government has been keen to strengthen strategic ties with Japan and welcomes the MSDF presence in the Indian Ocean. In the Gulf states, the MSDF and air and ground deployments have also been well received and many leaders in those countries want to see even more Japanese military and diplomatic presence to help bring stability at a time when Iraq's future is uncertain and China is attempting to increase its access and influence in this rich oil-producing region.

The basis of Japan's relationship with all these countries is diplomatic and economic, but Japan's readiness to show the flag is viewed across South and Southwest Asia as a metric for how serious Tokyo really is as a strategic player in that region.

Then there is the impact on other members of the coalition. Canada is taking casualties on the ground in Afghanistan. Australia, South Korea and New Zealand all have troops and aid workers in harm's way. NATO is there. These are the major democracies that have made a commitment in Afghanistan because their leaders see this as a battle between civilization and terror. These are also nations that have supported a more active role for Japan in Asia and globally.

Whether or not Japan stands with them in Afghanistan will inevitably have an impact on how they assess Japan's future leadership in arenas such as the Group of Eight, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and the U.N. Security Council. If Ozawa succeeds in blocking the counterterrorism legislation and Minshuto comes to power some day, what would a Minshuto prime minister say to Stephen Harper of Canada or the Australian prime minister, whether it is John Howard or Labor leader Kevin Rudd?

Would a Minshuto prime minister be able to say that Japan stands firmly with those countries in the war on terror? Would they be able to make the claim that Japan is ready to play a larger role in the international community? And how does Japan's ambassador to the United Nations explain that Japan is ready to take the leadership responsibilities of a permanent U.N. Security Council member the day after the counterterrorism law is killed and Japanese ships pull out of the coalition effort?

North Korea's view of a Minshuto decision to block the counterterrorism law is easier to predict. Alliances are not judged in one region alone, but globally. And North Korea saw a clear signal in Japan's decision to dispatch the MSDF to the Indian Ocean that the U.S.-Japan alliance is stronger than it realized precisely because it is a global alliance.

But if that alliance deflates or drifts because of a withdrawal from the coalition, Pyongyang will be delighted. Pity the diplomats who have to try to negotiate with Pyongyang about the abductee issue after that...
No, no, no, no, no and finally no.

Being America's grinning delivery boy is the prison, gentlemen. Ozawa Ichirō and millions of his countrymen and women want their liberty back.

Liberty, gentlemen, not freedom. Freedom is the absence of rules, the absence of responsibilities. Liberty is the right to lead a life according one's own ethical and moral principles, without interference of a higher power.

Under liberty, one finds peace, security and personal consolation through helping others. Sometimes to sow and reap. Sometimes to fight.

Always according to the dictates of one's own conscience.

The terms of the Indian Ocean deployment were dictated to Koizumi Jun'ichirō and the Japanese people by Osama Bin Laden and Kim Jong Il.

Six winters and six summers ago.

Now they are being dictated to Japan's second largest party by Washington.

Give the Japanese people a chance...or at least credit them with the ability to think something through.

By themselves.

For themselves.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Personal Note on Policy Research Council Chairman Ishihara Nobuteru

Back when I was living in a small apartment in Hamadayama 4 chōme, in Suginami City, Ishihara Nobuteru lived right around the corner.

I do not mean that figuratively.

He and his family lived in an unimposing, almost ugly house, with no garden to speak of and barely a place to park the car. Indeed, it only became clear that the house was his when he became Parliamentary Vice Minister to MITI in 1996. A tiny temporary guardhouse, no wider than a chair, with nothing in it but a telephone, suddenly appeared next to the gate one day, manned by single ancient, tiny, emaciated police officer.

It was a security detail--of a sort.

The only time I ever saw Ishihara in person in all the years I lived in Hamadayama was the day of a mochizuki taikai at the local children's play hall (jidōkan).

The hall was a moldering, concrete aesthetic disaster painted sky blue, with a weird trapeze-shaped microgymnasium, a book reading room, a carpeted children's play room and a music room--all in a stunning state of disrepair. Outside there was a depressing concrete courtyard and a large sandbox.

The taikai was held in the courtyard. Men from the chōkai occupied themselves with the mochi mallet and mortar, with the children taking turns pounding the rice into mochi. Mothers whose children attended the nearby day care center (hoikuen) or elementary school stood for hours making tray after tray of soy sauce, kinoko or sweet bean paste mochi servings for everyone to eat. Children gadded about, helped with pounding the mochi, hammered on the old piano upstairs, played with Lego blocks in the play room--having a grand old time in the not-so-grand surroundings.

Ishihara, who lived about 300 meters away from the play hall, did not come for the festivities. Instead, he arrived after the food and drink were all gone, the mochi mortar cleaned and drying out and no one but six or seven old members of the chōkai still about, sitting in the gymnasium on folding chairs, smoking cigarettes.

He came in, pulled up a chair and sat down with the old men.

I could not hear what he and the men were saying. I was still new to the neighborhood and did not feel comfortable approaching a member of the Diet out of the blue. I especially did not want to make a spectacle of myself before the members of the chōkai.

So my memory of this first and only time I ever saw the new Policy Research Council chief was the sight of him, in silhouette, spending his Saturday afternoon not with his family, not downtown with the Mrs., not with his uncle's stable of actors (the Yūjirō gundan) or his dad's right wing crowd--but instead, sitting in a decrepit gymnasium of a nearly empty children's play hall on a folding steel chair in the company of a handful of sweating, stinking old men.

It was at that moment I was struck by two realizations.

The first was that I am damned grateful I am not a politician. To have spend a sunny Saturday afternoon in such way...

The second was that while his father may be an author playing the role of a politician, Ishihara Nobuteru is a politician--through and through. It was what he knew how to do and what he was willing to do.

So if you should go to his homepage and read his own account of how he became what he is, do not scoff when he says:

Recognizing the importance of establishing personal relationships with voters, I began visiting the district's stations, shopping centers, and street corners. I introduced myself to as many people as possible and handed out business cards that simply read: "Nobuteru Ishihara." More importantly, I listened to the voters' comments, fielded their questions, and shared with them my vision for Japan.
Ishihara is not exaggerating one bit.

I am sure he did all those things, in utter sincerity.

I know he did...because of what I saw one sunny January afternoon.

A Companion to Literature

The language of the Genji Monogatari is allusive, indirect and discrete.

Or so they say.

Leading translator of Japanese literature dies in Tokyo
International Herald Tribune

TOKYO: Edward Seidensticker, a leading scholar and translator of Japanese literature including the epic Tale of Genji, has died in Tokyo. He was 86.

Seidensticker passed away on Sunday of complications from a head injury suffered earlier this year, according to an associate who asked not to be named, saying he did not wish to see his name in the media.
and in conclusion:

Seidensticker was not married and had no children, according to the associate. A small gathering in his honor was to be held in Tokyo later this week.

Requiescat in Pace.

* * *
Low City, High City and Tokyo Rising are essential guides to the lost worlds of Edo and pre-war Tokyo.

Having read both the Waley and the Seidensticker translations of the Genji a long, long time ago, I cannot tell you which I liked better.

I suppose I also read Seidensticker's translations of The Makioka Sisters, Woman in the Dunes, Kokoro, The Sound of the Mountain, House of the Sleeping Beauties and The Master of Go.

Again, all a long, long time ago.

The PM Doesn't Need Your Stinkin' Advice

So, we go from five Special Advisors to the Prime Minister (shushō hosakan) to two.

The Good News: both of the remaining Special Advisors are women, somewhat ameliorating the embarrassing male-to-female ratio of the Cabinet.

The Not-So-Good News: the two ladies in question...

Lady in Question #1, for Abductee Affairs, and

Lady-in Question #2, for Revitalization of Education

...are not exactly sane-- gosh, is there a polite way to put this? What's the best word? Oh yes, here it is -- tolerant of more relaxed attitudes toward their areas of specialization.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

The new Cabinet lineup is out and it is remarkably better than the one it replaces (I am most definitely not thrilled with your staying on, Ibuki-san).

My fear was that at best the Cabinet was going to be a faction-leaders-only collectivity, a stolid, unimaginative "at very least these old farts will not lose us the next election" kind of leadership council.

Instead we have some incredibly bright folks with clean records getting their hands on the tiller of government.

The biggest and best surprise is Yosano Kaoru as Chief Cabinet Secretary. He is the complete package--brilliant and patient to a fault (7th dan in Go), a Representative from a purely urban district (Tokyo #1), with all the right hobbies (computers, amateur astronomy, photography and...oh well, nobody's with tons of Cabinet and economic policy experience. He also has known failure, first for being a Yosano (your grandmother was the greatest poet of her age--so what have you done with your life?) and second through electoral humiliation--Kaeda Banri having evicted him from his seat for a few cycles.

Beholden to no one, not even his great benefactor Koizumi Jun'ichirō with whom he struggled over fiscal policy, Yosano will likely be a quiet, behind-the-scenes operator. That Yosano is so much smarter than the PM will be a problem only if the PM tries to pull rank. His intelligence was certainly one of the reasons he was shut out of a Cabinet position last fall.

Yosano's demeanor and mastery of detail will also serve him well in his daily sessions with the press--think a Fukuda Yasuo but with more knowledge and less attitude.

Kōmura Masahiko is an inspired choice as Minister of Defense. A brilliant legal mind, he will be able to answer questions about the constitutional limits on the SDF in his sleep. His mere presence will raise the average IQ inside the gates of Ichigaya by 10 points. A China dove, he will almost certainly force a change in tone in the next White Paper--should the government last long enough. Sadly for the bureaucrats of the Defense Ministry, Kōmura will expect them to work--something they may find they are not used to doing very much of. Inheritor of the foreign-policy oriented Kōmoto Faction, Kōmura even looks like a minister.

In a chess game, moving a piece back to where it was before is usually a sign you do not know what the hell you are doing. However, Abe has probably made a smart move in putting his faction's leader Machimura Nobutaka in at the Foreign Ministry. With Yosano and Kōmura controlling two legs of the foreign policy triumvirate (METI is not what MITI was) Abe will have at least one person not intent on reminding at every moment how dumb he is, relatively speaking.

Having Nukaga Fukushirō as Minister should give the usually unbearably self-confident Finance Ministry guys a very necessary case of the willies. Nukaga is the master of disaster--wherever he lands, a huge, shattering scandal is uncovered. Nukaga then resigns, while his nominal underlings go to jail.

Start practicing your alibies now, guys. (It could not happen to a nicer bunch of folks, really.)

I am sure that Masuzoe Yōichi is just thrilled to be the one who has to clear out the Augean Stables of the National Pension Accounts problem over at the Social Insurance Agency.

See where complaining about the Prime Minister's performance can get you?

The only side benefit--Masuzoe gets to smack upside the head the nitwits who allowed the pension accounts problems to fester and grow. Or so I have heard.

Having Hatoyama Kunio at Justice--a comedian's dream.

First thought: "naked pool parties!"

But there is no fountain in front of the Justice building. Bummer.

Second though: "Vice Minister Terry Itō!"

Damn, has to be a career bureaucrat!

Whatever happens (Amaterasu save me, Kunio will be signing death warrants!) Hatoyama will have to really cut down on his post-midnight TV appearances.

I have not looked at the others--I will await the little kaobure articles with the cartoon caricatures that will come out in tomorrow morning's papers.

Nevertheless, my overall impression is that Abe has selected a fairly capable crowd of folks.

How weird.

Later - It would be wrong to not highlight the selection of former Iwate Prefecture Governor Masuda Hiroya (what a silly and fun "Under Construction" message on his webpage!) as Minister of Internal Affairs. A protégé of Ozawa Ichirō's, he will be expected to line up against his old patron and send him twisting into the dust. One of the most prominent of the "reform governors" Masuda has had to make the hard decisions at the prefectural level. If anyone will find the means and the words to sell reform to the rural districts, it will be him.

Take that Ozawa-san! See how long people hang around for your sweet seductive songs of subsidy now!

Nobody's Fool

Gwynne Dyer, whose television series "War" was seminal in the development of my present attitudes toward armed conflict, comes down hard on the new Abe-Aso duarchy's neat little idea:

The anti-Chinese Alliance: Japan, India

Gwynne Dyer

Monday, August 27th 2007 - When you are creating a military alliance aimed at a third party, it's always best to swear that you are doing no such thing, and that you simply share common values with your prospective allies. So Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, addressing the Indian parliament on Wednesday, said: "This partnership is an association in which we share fundamental values such as freedom, democracy and respect for basic human rights as well as strategic interests."

You notice how "strategic interests" was just tacked on at the end there. Sort of "Oh, yeah, and that too, if anybody cares." That's how the game is played, and Abe didn't mention China at all. But by defining this new partnership as an association of democracies, he neatly excluded China from the list of possible members: "By Japan and India coming together in this way, this 'broader Asia' will evolve into an immense network spanning the entirety of the Pacific Ocean, incorporating the United States of America and Australia."

But not China. And it is not at all a coincidence that all the major members of this evolving alliance see China as a potential military threat...
Dyer is clear about where the blame lies for the origination of the specious "Arc of Democracies" idea: the crazy-a** thinktankers of Washington, DC (yes, we're talking about you, Second Lady Lynne Cheney) and their enablers in the press (yes, I am talking about you, Bill Gertz. By the way, Bill- how's the Reverend?).

Dyer shows he has also not lost his flair for mild snark, as in this assessment of the unfolding U.S.-India strategic relationship.

It may not technically be an alliance, but it's definitely not just a sewing circle.

While the Japan Observer has been making many of the same points over this last week, it is reassuring to find that a North American-based former military man sees the democracies initiative with a similarly jaundiced eye.

Gwynne Dyer's homepage (a little bit too snazzy, if you ask me) can be found here.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Prime Minister Abe's Magical Democracy Tour

The Japan Observer (here, here and here) and The Asahi Shimbun (here) have taken Prime Minister Abe Shinzō to task for flitting about Southeast and South Asia, proposing the establishment of a closer union of democracies. As the Observer notes, the "Arc of Democracies" is essentially no longer operative : nobody believes G. W. Bush and the U.S. of A. capable of imposing its will and way of life around the world. The "spreading of democracy" moment--brief as it was--has come and gone, leaving Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza smashed and smoldering, the Saudis and Pakistan under dictatorial rule, Russian democracy being ground up beneath the slow imposition of a KGB state and every single one of the rulers of the "outposts of tyranny" still in charge of his battered homeland.

Furthermore China has discarded the oafish street thug behavior it flaunted under Jiang Zemin, making it so much harder to instill a "we democrats, we've got to hang together" vibe:

Abe received no applause in the Indian parliament when he referred to a stronger partnership between Japan and India as "an association in which we share fundamental values such as freedom, democracy and the respect for basic human rights as well as strategic interests."

He also failed to get a reaction when describing his vision of establishing a "broader Asia" or an "arc of freedom and prosperity" throughout the Pacific and the Indian Ocean that would eventually incorporate the United States and Australia...

From: "Abe's stale diplomacy won breathing space, not momentum"
Source: Kyodo News
Printed in The Japan Times, August 26, 2007.
So why did Abe go hat in hand to the Indonesian, Indian and Malaysian governments, asking for them to be his values-based friends?

Bureaucratic inertia, to be sure--the policy had been decided many, many months ago, it was just too bad the prime minister's ability to project authority evaporated away in the meanwhile.

More important, however, is the interlock the Prime Minister sees between the concept of Japan being part of a family of democracies and a determination to revise or eliminate Article 9.

The Japanese public is still too nervous about a straight up repudiation of the principle of giving up war for all eternity. A lot of good times have been had behind the shield of Article 9 and the U.S. -Japan Security Arrangements. If one were ask members of the public, "Should Japan get back into the war game?" most everyone would answer "No!"

For their part, U.S. government officials and U.S. politicians, though they have made a great many noises about Japan "pulling its weight" or "putting boots on the ground" over the years, would not want Japan to repudiate the Peace Constitution for reasons of pure, national self-interest--the primary one being the establishment of an independent Japanese deterrent military capability JUST IN CASE there is a perception of a deterioration in the reliability of U.S. security guarantees.

Japan's self interest = bad, for you that are keeping score.

Abe's understanding--and if he were a real leader, he would probably not be far wrong--is that Japan needs to be a visible part of a recognizable family of democracies before it can step out into the world as a military power. Becoming one of a league of champions of democracy gives a moral savor to what is in truth selfish hedging behavior on Japan's part.

With no two-thirds majority in the House of Councillors and lacking all political and personal skills necessary to cobble one together, Abe Shinzō will not be the PM who will preside over a revision of the Constitution.

However, due to his personal and familial identification with constitutional revision--and despite his loss of stature in July--Abe Shinzō has not abandoned hope of leading such a revision. He would scarcely have a reason to stay on as Prime Minister otherwise.

Hence his embarrassing flogging of the dead horse of democracy promotion. For Abe, it is the moral imperative permitting, even forgiving constitutional revision. Without an "arc of Asian democracies" as a cover, Abe would have to defend a revision on naked national interest grounds--a thought that sends his heart sinking into his shoes.

He would have to face the fact that the jig is up.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Karn Evil 9, part 1

"Hi guys! I'm back. Anything happen while I was away?"

"Oh? You don't say."

Reports: Japan communications minister hit by scandal ahead of Cabinet reshuffle
Associated Press

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's beleaguered government was hit by another scandal Saturday, as local media accused a Cabinet minister of accounting irregularities.

Yoshihide Suga, minister for internal affairs and communications, claimed about 20 million yen (US$172,235; €126,503) in expenses for rent on two offices in 2005 — even though he owned the building they were in and they cost him nothing — the Yomiuri newspaper said.

Kyodo News agency carried a similar report.


Suga claimed he had paid 19.56 million yen (US$168,446; €123,720) in rent in 2005 for the two offices in Kanagawa, his constituency just south of Tokyo, even after he had purchased the land and the building that housed the offices in December 2004, according to the reports.

Kyodo quoted Suga as saying there was nothing wrong with his accounting.

Officials at Suga's office were not immediately available for comment Saturday...

Just in time for the Sunday talk shows, right on the eve of the announcement of the new Cabinet.


The show that never ends...

(For those of tender years, reference is being made to the opening stanza of this)

Strictly business

Pravda-by-the-Imperial-Palace is reporting that Defense Minister Koike Yuriko will not remain in her post much longer:



"I want to leave it for the new minister to handle" - Defense Minister Koike announces her intention to not stay on
Yomiri Shimbun

Prime Minister Abe has come to the decision to switch out Defense Minister Koike in the Cabinet reshuffle scheduled for August 27. On August 24, Koike announced that she would be taking responsibility for the leak of Aegis defense system data and other things. She believes she will not be continuing on...

"And other things..."

One aspect of the Nagata-chō game which eludes me is the tendency to dissemble past the point of credibility. Then again, Washington DC perplexes me.

The Aegis leak? What did she have to do with that?

The reason Koike is being fired is simple: she has made too many enemies.

1) She has risen farther and faster than her status within the LDP warrants. Having leaped from party to party with the agility of a gibbon, finally landing in the Cabinet with a hugely important post after only a smattering of elections under the LDP flag, leaving a lot of the lower downs in the LDP feeling slighted.

2) She upbraided Ozawa, calling him out-of-date, in a seeming attempt to mollify and encourage her American hosts when she made her run to Washington after the election. Only one problem with that--she would have needed his total cooperation if anything was to be done about the November expiration of the legislation sanctioning the Indian Ocean deployment. Ooops.

3) She has the Defense Ministry bureaucracy up in arms for her spectacular but unwise dumping of Vice Minister Moriya Takemasa. Oh, if she had only not selected a National Police Agency guy to replace Moriya...

Anyway, with a huge national debate about to start over the renewal of the anti-terrorism law, Koike's continued presence in the point position was untenable. With so many of her allies and underlings arrayed against her, how could she have the wherewithal to overcome the resistance and delaying tactics of the Democrats and their allies in the House of Councillors?

It was not as though no one was aware of Koike's anomalous position. In an August 21 op-ed published by the Yomiuri (foreshadowing...foreshadowing) Akaza Koichi seems to have laid out pretty much the whole case against Koike staying on.

This was not personal.

Later - Over at Observing Japan, Tobias Harris shares my incredulity at the official reason for the firing...and he has worked in Washington, the other metropole of prevarication.

Even later -
Okumura Jun over at Global Talk 21 seems to be saying that Koike's announcement is making it look as though she, and not the prime minister, was in control of the decision. I do not know how this gibes with the verb ending (交代させる)in the Yomiuri version of the story quoted above.

Friday, August 24, 2007

What? You want to clean up your act?

Today's LDP.

Running scared...and looking ridiculous doing it.

改造前に身ぎれいに? 自民議員の収支訂正相次ぐ

2007年08月24日 - 内閣改造を目前に控え、自民党の国会議員が政治団体の政治資金収支報告書を相次いで訂正している。「政治とカネ」が焦点のひとつとなった参院選の大敗を受け、党が所属の国会議員に関連政治団体の収支報告書の点検を指示したことがきっかけだ。塩崎官房長官が代表を務める自民党支部で多額の着服が発覚したほか、大臣経験者ら大物議員の政治団体も含まれる。「赤城ショック」の後遺症はまだ続いている...

Before the reshuffle, a rinse off? One after another, LDP Diet member restate their revenues and expenditures
The Asahi Shimbun

August 24, 2007 - On the eve of a Cabinet reshuffle, LDP Diet members are one after another revising the political donations and expenses reports of their political support organizations. After suffering a huge defeat in the House of Councillors election where one of the main points of contention was the "politics and money" issue, now is the moment the party has indicated it will examine the expense reports of the political organization affiliated with particular Diet members. The discovery of the large sum embezzled from the LDP branch fronted by Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki Yasuhisa, the political organization of party bigwigs, many with Cabinet experience--these are all included.

The fallout of the "Akagi Shock" is continuing...

They are checking the accounts NOW?

THIS week?

Like they did not feel compelled to act after, let us say, May the 28th, when the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries committed suicide in shame for the exposure of the corruption at his various political offices? Not after the staggering electoral loss on July 29th? Not after Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Akagi Norihiko's resignation on August 1?

They want to make sure their are no skeletons in the closets of longtime, high-ranking LDP Diet members NOW?

On the eve of the Cabinet reshuffle?

Wow. I guess that in comedy...timing is everything.

Repeat after me

"It's not an aircraft carrier. It's not an aircraft carrier. It's not an aircraft carrier..."

Just because everyone refers to it as such does not make it so. Japan has no offensive military capabilities--well, aside from the new Boeing 767 aerial tankers allowing the ASDF to refuel in mid-flight. Otherwise, no. Besides, a 1988 Cabinet Office decision determined that Japan cannot possess attack carriers.

Got that?


The first of Japan's next generation of large helicopter destroyers, the MSDF Hyūga, had its launch and naming ceremonies yesterday in Yokosuka.

Damn funny looking destroyer.

But then again, the ersatz Japanbureaucratese word for "destroyer" is "escort ship."

Later - Any similarities to this July 12, 2005 launch ceremony (hang in there--it takes a while to download) should be studiously ignored.

Though you have to love the choice of names for the darn thing: the "Dokdo."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

And Unto the Farmer...

...shall be given...what?

A great deal of attention has been paid to the possible consequence of the DPJ's following through on its campaign promise to not support an extension of the anti-terrorism special measures law. Equal attention should be paid attention to the consequences of the DPJ trying to follow through on its promises to the nation's small farmers.

Japanese agriculture faces a plethora of crises. It has a demographic time bomb : half of farmers are over 60 years of age, with the median age of the full-time farmer at around 58. Most farms are too small for economies of scale, most indeed are little more than income-producing gardens, with the main family income coming from construction, factory or office work. For tax, inheritance, sentiment and ideological reasons, land sales to other farmers remain low. Corporations were prevented from farming, shutting off another avenue for land consolidation. Finally, with the liberalization of air and ship trade in agricultural products, Japanese growers find themselves in competition not only with the factory farms of the U.S. and Australia but the dirt poor peasantry of China.

In an effort to encourage the rationalization of the agriculture sector, the government began providing large scale growers of rice and four other staples with "market stability support payments." While laudable in terms of ends--the establishment of a professional class of farmers growing crops on large enough plots for economies of scale--the subsidy program was tone deaf in terms of politics and social justice.

Paying large-scale farmers to squeeze out small- and medium-sized farmers may make sense on an Excel graph or a consultant's Powerpoint slide--but small- and medium-sized framers still vote, a fact not lost on Ozawa Ichirō. He promised to extend the subsidy program to small- and medium-sized farms--negating the entire purpose of the exercise, of course. The owners of small- and medium-sized farms saw the opportunity to beat the system ...and on July 29, they did--punishing the LDP for the government program.

Having won the votes of these farmers and control of the House of Councillors, will the Emperor of Iwate Prefecture force the government to follow through on his promises?

It is hard to see what could stop him.

Rice farmer and the shadow of the Koiwa Line train
Ichihara City, Chiba Prefecture,
August 11, 2007

Consider that the DPJ is riding high in the polls, trouncing the LDP in theoretical House of Representatives contests. Consider that the DPJ, with help from the Socialists and popularizers of right-wing nostalgia, has spliced white- and blue-collar worker resentment for not receiving a share of the increase in corporate profits from this last recovery together with the declining economic relevance of the countryside into a single concept--shakai kakusa no akka--"the worsening differences in society"--camouflaging the enormous differences between the two issues (indeed, the expansion of subsidies to farmers will only worsen the status of the workers and mid-level management due to the increase in taxes necessary to pay for the subsidies).

Given the number of LDP bigwigs in the House of Representatives with their home districts in rural constituencies, is it at all plausible to believe that the LDP will hold the line, restricting the subsidies to large-scale growers?


Of course, if small-scale, part-time farmers refuse to sell out and move to town, leaving agriculture to those willing to specialize in it (comparative advantage) then agriculture in Japan will slowly choke itself to death...and the Japanese government in the meanwhile will find itself unable to sign a single major free trade agreement requiring concessions on agricultural products.

For more, see the Asahi Shimbun editorial of August 19, 2007 政治と農政―改革につながる提案を (sorry, no translation available) .

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What Abe Shinzo needs is a Cabinet

But exactly what kind of Cabinet?

From the names that have been floated so far for ministerial and sanyaku posts--Aso Tarō, Nikai Toshihiro, Kōmura Masahiko, Machimura Nobutaka, Niwa Yūya, Nakagawa Shōichi--candidacy for Cabinet and top party posts seems limited to faction and political group leaders.

Hence the following cartoon:

Courtesy: Mainichi Shimbun
August 21, 2007

Abe Shinzō is sitting and fishing on and Aso Tarō clinging to a life ring. In the background the ship "Friends of Shinzō" sinks beneath the waves. The name on the life ring read kyotōtaisei ("the unification of the party"). Hoping to survive while perched upon the life ring of party unity, Abe fishes (tsuru, which also means to go in search of) for a jinshin isshin -- a revival in the public opinion's. Ozawa Ichirō and Kan Naoto, rather better situated for their survival at sea, laugh. Ozawa wonders whether or not Abe will actually pull up a jinshin hanshin -- half-human (the public's mind), half-faction monster.

While seriously unfunny, the cartoon does point out an possibly unavoidable looming disaster for the LDP. Abe selected his first Cabinet all by his lonesome, at least as lonesome as one can be in a villa by the shores of Lake Kawaguchi (photo courtesy: MTC).

This time around Abe is not even in the country--his underlings and allies are making the rounds, cutting the deals with the LDP faction heads and the Komeitō. With the grand themes of the selection process being "let us bring feuding factions of the party together" and "no more 'Friends of Shinzō' cabinets", one freakish possibility is an "Enemies of Shinzō" Cabinet, half-filled with older and peer-level returnees like Nakagawa, Niwa and Aso and half with resentful older Diet members who have felt a lack of sufficient respect emanating from Abe and his band of youngish ideologues. Machimura could take pity on his former faction mate and serve as tie-breaker/peacemaker--but I would not be surprised at Machimura's thinking he could probably be a heck of a better PM than Abe.

Even if the "let us unify the party" selection process does not end up with a hung and feuding Cabinet, the advent of a purely LDP-Komeitō Cabinet following July's electoral wipeout and current polls will be an open invitation for the DPJ and its allies to block or stall every piece of legislation sent to the House of Councillors.

The selectors of the second Abe Cabinet have a strong incentive to craft a Cabinet of national unity--either by handing out a lot of posts to non-politicians, or as Nakagawa Hidenao and the Yomiuri Shimbun have suggested, extending a limp and unenthusiastic invitation to the Democratic Party to provide a number of ministers to the next Cabinet (my guess would be a minimun of three, maximum of four).

The Japan Observer has already offered his view of the likelihood of such an offer being accepted.

Given the moribund status of other ways of selecting a cabinet--the liberal economic reform model (Koizumi), the sharing-out according to seniority and factional strength model (1960-2001 LDP), the conservative backlash model (Abe I)--offering the DPJ a junior position is not necessarily such a bad idea.

Who knows, in return for a vague and possibly insincere promise of automatic elevation to the position of premier-in-waiting, Ozawa (whose biological clock is ticking loudly) might just go for it. At very least, he could hold Abe on tenderhooks, always threatening to pull out of the coalition, forcing Abe and the LDP to concede on a raft of legislation while restoring his battered image of a can-do reformer.

Hasegawa Tsuyoshi's storytime

Going through my email just now, I became quite giddy at the announcement of the publication of a new paper by Franziska Seraphim, one of my favorite scholars of Japan and war memory.

Unfortunately, the promise of a good read proved to be an empty one, as Japan Focus has yet to upload the contents of the article.

They will get the job done soon, I hope.

Having been thwarted in my quest, I looked down the list of the other recent papers posted to Japan Focus.

I came upon the following:

The Atomic Bombs and the Soviet Invasion: What Drove Japan's Decision to Surrender

I hesitated before clicking. Hasegawa, a professor at UC Santa Barbara, has written THE BIG BOOK about the Soviet Union's entry into the war against Japan, entitled Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan (2005) , published in Japanese by Chuō Kōron as 暗闘―スターリン、トルーマンと日本降伏 (2006).

If you do not mind reading off a screen, the goodly portion of Racing the Enemy is available from Google Books at

Why the hesitation?

First, I have personal reasons why I would not want to antagonize anyone on the faculty of UC Santa Barbara.

Second and more importantly, Racing the Enemy argues that the declaration of war by the Soviet Union on August 9, 1945 had a persuasive power equal to or perhaps even greater than the dropping of atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, breaking the logjam in Imperial policy circles over acceptance of the Potsdam terms of surrender.

I have a vested interest in propagating the faith that the dropping of the atomic bombs pushed the Imperial government to sue for peace. As a former resident of Hiroshima, I have a visceral reaction against even a hint that all that death and destruction had been for nothing--or worse, that it had been a part of a grand guignol experiment.

I also believe in Occam's Razor. Given the mention in the Showa Emperor's surrender address of the use of nuclear weapons as a decisive reason for ending the war (petty and naive of me, I know) and the documented nuttiness of the Japanese Imperial Army whenever actual shooting started (Iōjima and Okinawa were not the worst. The worst was Tarawa) the atomic bombings were necessary to hasten the end of the war.

For his part, Hasegawa has a vested interest in aggrandizing the effects of the Soviet invasion. He is, after all, an historian of the Soviet Union. Writing about the Soviets pays his bills.

Which would make us just about equal in the bias department.

I had seen far too many citations of Racing the Enemy, however, in poorly thought out condemnations of United States for the use of the nuclear weapons to make me entirely comfortable.

What if the case were strong for the predominance of the Soviet invasion in decisionmaking? What then of my world view, would it evanesce away into the air?

After clicking on the link, and reading bits and pieces here and there, it is clear that Hasegawa's grand thesis is not all it is cracked up to be. He has no definitive evidence proving that the Soviet Union's entry into the war caused anyone to fall to his or her knees and give up. The Soviet declaration of was crucial for some in the very final hours but the way had been primed by the nuclear bombings.

Indeed, to come to Hasegawa's view, one has to believe that individuals torture their own thoughts, that persons do not mean what they say, that silence speaks volumes and that documentary evidence in support of the thesis of the bombings as crucial should be read with a grain of salt while the documents arguing to the contrary are salt-free.

For example, here is a passage he translates from the diary of Deputy Chief of Staff Kawabe Torashiro:

The Soviets have finally risen! [So wa tsuini tachitari!] My judgment has proven wrong. But now that the situation has come to this, we should not consider seeking peace. We had half anticipated this military situation and the military fortune. There is nothing to think about. To save the honor of the Yamato race, there is no other way but to keep fighting. When we decided to begin the war, I always belonged to the soft and prudent faction, but once the situation has come to this, I don't like to think about peace and surrender. Whatever the outcome, we have no choice but to try.

One would think that:

"We should not consider peace"

"There is nothing to think about"

"...once the situation has come to this, I don't like to think about peace and surrender. Whatever the outcome, we have no choice but to try. "

would be pretty tough to turn into an argument that the Soviet invasion shocked the Japanese Empire into surrender.

Here is Hasegawa's exegesis:

Asada is correct in pointing out that despite the news of the Soviet invasion in Manchuria, Kawabe was determined to continue the war. And yet Kawabe's diary also betrays the shock and confusion he felt at the news. Contrary to his "judgment," Kawabe conceded, "the Soviets have risen!" This exclamation mark speaks volumes about Kawabe's shock. In fact, until then all Ketsu Go strategy had been built upon the assumption that the USSR should be kept neutral, and for that reason Kawabe himself had campaigned hard for the Foreign Ministry to secure Soviet neutrality through negotiations. He admitted that his judgment had proved wrong. But this admission was immediately followed by a Monday morning quarterback–like reflection that the eventuality of a Soviet attack had been in the back of his mind. This is not necessarily a contradiction. In fact, Kawabe and the Army General Staff had been bothered by the nagging suspicion that the Soviets might strike at Japan. This suspicion, however, prompted the army to double its efforts to secure Soviet neutrality. Moreover, the army did not anticipate, first, that the attack was to come so soon, at the beginning of August, and second, that the Soviet invasion would take place on such a large scale against the Japanese forces in Manchuria and Korea from all directions.

Kawabe's diary also reveals his confusion. If his judgment proved wrong, logically it should follow that the strategy that he had advocated based on the erroneous assumption should have been reexamined. Instead of adopting this logical deduction, Kawabe "did not feel like peace and surrender in this situation." This was not rational strategic thinking, but a visceral reluctance to accept surrender. The only rationale he could justify for the continuation of war was "the honor of the Yamato race." His insistence on fighting was also a preemptive move, anticipating, quite correctly, that the peace party would launch a coordinated move to end the war. Nevertheless, his argument for the continuation of war indicated the degree of the army's desperation and confusion.

If the Soviet invasion indeed shocked the military, which event, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima or the Soviet attack, provided a bigger shock? In order to answer this question, one must compare the August 9 entry with the August 7 entry in Kawabe's diary. In the entry for August 7, Kawabe wrote: "As soon as I went to the office, having read various reports on the air raid by the new weapon on Hiroshima yesterday morning of the 6th, I was seriously disturbed [shinkokunaru shigeki o uketari, literally, 'received a serious stimulus'] With this development [kakutewa] the military situation has progressed to such a point that it has become more and more difficult. We must be tenacious and fight on." Kawabe admitted that he was disturbed by, or more literally, received "a serious stimulus [shigeki]" from the reports of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima. Nevertheless, he avoided using the term "shogeki [shock]." Compared with this passage describing the news of the atomic bomb as a matter of fact, the first thing that catches the eye in his entry for August 9 is the first sentence, "So wa tsuini tachitari!" ("The Soviets have finally risen!"). As far as Kawabe was concerned, there is no question but that the news of the Soviet attack gave him a much bigger shock than the news of the atomic bomb. Both diary entries advocated continuing the war. But there was a subtle change. While the effects of the atomic bomb were described as having worsened the military situation, there was no change in the overall assumptions. But Kawabe's insistence on fighting after the Soviet attack is marked by his defensive tone, deriving partly from the anticipated move for peace and partly from the disappearance of the fundamental assumptions on which the continuation of the war had rested. In this respect, too, the shock of the Soviet attack was much greater to the military than the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
Where to begin?

1) if Kawabe had been so wrong in his assumptions about the Soviets possibly entering the war, why did he write tsui ni ("in the end","finally")?

2) What is the difference between "we must fight on" (Kawabe's reaction after hearing of the destruction of Hiroshima) and "we must not consider peace"? And how is such a determination to keep fighting rational on August 6 but not rational on August 9--except if you are accepting a priori that the Soviet invasion was more significant?

3) After hearing the first reports of August 6, the Army insisted that the bomb dropped on Hiroshima might possibly not be a nuclear weapon. Could not Kawabe's thought of August 6 "we must fight on" be meant to be have been understood as "we must fight on until at least the confirmation of the research team proves our situation is militarily hopeless"?

4) Since when does is there a "being distraught doesn't count unless one calls it shogeki" rule? Does Kawabe use shogeki on August 9 (to the Archives, soldier, to the Archives!) ? Is there even a smidgeon of a point in making the distinction between shigeki and shogeki except that in romaji, they are one letter different?

And it goes on and on and on. Hasegawa's thesis seems at times banal (the Soviet invasion of Manchuria was significant--right, got it) at times silly. That Hasegawa is being cited as a magisterial source seems an indication of a continuing dearth of good work in English on the history and politics of East Asia--either or that his book cleaves to the prejudices of the kinds of folks who have an ax to grind.

The Sankei Shimbun misleads...

...but that is not news.

However, even the writers and editors of the Sankei need to have some minimal standards, don't they?

Don't they?

Here is the writeup of a weekend poll, published in the Monday, August 20 edition of the Sankei Shimbun.

The results of the "Which party will you vote for in the next election?" question are pretty astonishing. Just a shade below 35% of those polled said they would vote for the Democratic Party of Japan--easily the highest support numbers ever for the DPJ ever--while only 19% say they would vote for the Liberal Democratic Party. Evidently winning an election (and making a few impossible-to-keep promises to the over-represented rural voters too) goes a long way toward making the DPJ a legitimate political alternative.

The results of the "Who would be the appropriate person to follow Abe Shinzō as Prime Minister?" question are also good news for the DPJ leadership. Ozawa Ichirō tops the list with 19.4% support, followed by, get this, Aso Tarō and Fukuda Yasuo tied at 12.8%, Koizumi Jun'ichirō at 10.0%, Koike Yuriko at 3.0% and Tanigaki Sadakazu at 2.4% (somebody out there loves you, Sadakazu-kun!).

Of course, all the breathing human candidates are trumped by the morose "There are no appropriate persons around" who clocks in with 26.4% support.

One should not get too excited about the poll. The Sankei does not indicate how the polling was done. The pollsters also only asked 500 persons their opinions. One really needs to ask about 1000 likely voters at random their views in order to get to a close approximation of actual public opinion.

The above is just filler, however. What I really wanted to talk about is question #3.

Can we please get a closeup of the title of the box item reporting the results of the survey?

"76% of those polled find their lives have been made worse by reforms"


76% think reforms have made their lives worse? How does that gibe with Koizumi Jun'ichirō's continuing relative popularity?

OK, can we go 10 centimeters down the page to the actual question asked?

"Have your daily lives improved under the reform policy lines pursued by the Koizumi and Abe administrations?"

Have they improved? 76.4% say no. But that is not the same as 76.4% say their lives have grown more difficult.

And what is this business of conflating the Koizumi and Abe reforms, as if they were in any similar? What major economic reform has been passed under the Abe Cabinet? How are we not to know that any good established by the reforms of Mr. K have not been frittered away by Escalator Boy, leaving the people no better or worse off than before?

However you look at it, the the assertion made in the title cannot be supported byt actual questioned asked.

What opinion can the Sankei editors have of their readership?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

An offer you cannot refuse

Funny how these investigations come to fruition just just when the party leadership wants Shiozaki Yasuhisa to cease his annoying wangling and vacate his office without any more fuss.

Shiozaki's office staffer embezzled, double-booked 6.3 million yen

TOKYO, Aug. 20 - A staff member at Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki's parliamentary office has embezzled about 6.3 million yen in political funds and double booked expenses in funding reports in 2005 as a coverup, the lawmaker's office said Monday.

The latest in a spate of money scandals involving Cabinet ministers is another blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, coming less than a month after farm minister Norihiko Akagi was effectively dismissed over scandals including the double-booking of office expenses.

"I myself am very shocked and find it regrettable that something like this has happened," Shiozaki said in a statement. "I will deeply reflect on my responsibilities to manage and supervise, and will make utmost efforts to investigate the situation and prevent a recurrence."

The incident may dampen the hopes of Shiozaki, a close ally of Abe, to take the foreign ministerial post in next week's Cabinet reshuffle...

Place your personal effects in the boxes provided and turn your badge in at the front gate of the Residence by 17:00.

That is all.


Courtesy: The Sankei Shimbun

Visit Theme Song: My Heart of Asia

Carin' n' sharin'...oh yeah...
One ASEAN...oh yeah...
Dynamic...oh so dynamic, yeah...
You and you and you and you and you and you and you and you and you and you and me...oh yeah...

Beyond parody, really.

When the title of a formal address is this bad, one can be fairly certain no one has a clue what the policy focus should be.

Monday, August 20, 2007

More on Sekō Hiroshige

When the history of the Abe Shinzō collapse is written, the chapter on Sekō shushō hosakan will be a long and unbelievable one.

Sekō Hiroshige is nominally the Special Advisor to the Prime Minister for Public Relations. In reality Sekō is the the anti-Karl Rove, the Trofym Lysenko, the Marie Antoinette of the Abe Cabinet's PR efforts. The positive of impact of his ideas has been immeasurable.

Seriously, there is simply no measurable positive impact from his ideas.

As for the negative impact, rescued from comments is an account of his brilliant PR trip to the United States in support of the Japanese government's effort to squelch House Resolution 121, the so-called "Honda Resolution":

(A huge round of applause for reader "Lyons Wakeman" who forwards this translation)

Abe Administration's PR Officer 'Publicizes' Comfort Women Issue in US Papers"
Shukan Bunshun

March 22, 2007

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is facing increasing criticism around the world on the comfort women issue. An editorial of The New York Times (6 March issue) criticized him and said "Abe should apologize." On 8 March, the same paper carried testimonies by former comfort women under a sensational headline, "Sex Slaves" on its front page. This wave of criticism has spread to other countries in the world, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is frantically trying to put out the fire.

However, why is it that the comfort women issue is receiving such attention in the US media now? Actually, somebody started the fire -- namely, Abe's assistant for public relations, Hiroshige Seko.

Seko visited the United States from 19 February. He went on the trip declaring confidently to Kantei [Prime Minister's Official Residence] officials that, "I am going to explain how Prime Minister Abe really feels" about the resolution on Japan's apology to the comfort women submitted to the US House of Representatives.

However, a Kantei source says: "Mr Seko's plan was off the mark. He made the visit to the United States in full knowledge of the fact that the House of Representatives was in recess for a week for holidays, and members of the House had all went home to their constituencies. As a result, he wasted over 2 million yen of government money flying to the United States on first class and yet failed to meet even one single Congressman."

The only official he managed to see was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Pamela Stephens, a subordinate of Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill.

The same Kantei source observes: "No Diet member would bother to travel all the way to meet such a low ranking official. Moreover, Ms Stephens knew nothing about the comfort women issue itself, and the meeting, ironically, made her think 'this is serious'."

Furthermore, what Seko did was counterproductive. He paid a visit to The New York Times, which started the controversy, the three major TV networks, and other leading media organizations.

A reporter in the United States says: "The comfort women issue is one of the human rights issues that have been taken up repeatedly in the Lower House. Nobody cared about it. Since the prime minister's assistant paid visits to media organizations specifically for this issue, this served to attract undue attention. In the first place, it was best to just ignore the resolution since it is not legally binding anyway."

After returning home, Seko reported to Abe that he "met a total of 60 people," but he hid the fact that he had not met even a single Congressman, whom he was supposed to persuade. Recently, he has been lying to reporters that "the comfort women issue was not discussed at all during the US trip" ...

An unfair, sneering hit job by one of the weekly scandal magazines?


But wait, here is Sekō Hiroshige in an interview published on page 4 of the August 15 morning edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun, a paper that is supportive of the "Toward a Beautiful Country" program.

Listen in to what he thinks the public needs to understand before it can appreciate the Prime Minister's and the Cabinet's mysterious ways.


We tried to be as open as possible in terms of the overflow of the public pension records. However, we had to refrain from activity as regards the "money and politics" (kane to seiji) problems because those were knotted up in Cabinet personnel decisions. Somebody should have sounded the alarm. For problems that will be linked to the the government and the LDP, it is necessary to quickly produce an assessment (asesumento), to report to the prime minister and the chief cabinet minister and improve the situation.

The signboard for the administration "A Beautiful Country" has never been linked to actual feelings people have about their daily lives. I want to think about a course correction. Building a beautiful country is "the reform of a society where things are happening like children killing their parents." Now, how far can we go in presenting such jagged edge thinking?

Yes, you read it correctly.

The PM's primary media strategist wants everyone to understand that "building a beautiful Japan" means, among other things, making patricide and matricide "not OK."

In his view when you explain the "beautiful country" program in such concrete examples as the dissuasion of the killing of parents by children--actual feelings people have in their daily lives--then the public will appreciate what the government is trying to do.

I know what you are thinking:

"Utsukushii kuni e assumes that our current society is sending out messages like killing your mother and father is not necessarily bad...and the prime minister's program of a revival of Meiji State values will put a stop to such moral confusion?"

"No one could be this cretinous."

Oh, no? Just imagine the mental acuity of the person who hired and retained such a man to run his PR campaigns.

Sawara on a Sunday (by request)

Sawara (佐原) is one of the Kantō Region's "date daytrip" towns. Though nowhere near in the same league as Kamakura and Kawagoe in terms of abekku action, a former transhipment point near the mouth of the great Tonegawa boasts a precious and charming collection of Edo, Meiji and Taishō buildings clustered along the willow-lined Onogawa, a narrow navigable waterway.

Sawara looks like a movie set. Indeed, it has been frequently used as the backdrop for television dramas and commercials. Visit the Seijō tsukudani store to see stills from some of the major productions filmed here.

The attitude in town seems laid back, almost sleepy. Most stores were not open until 11. From the looks of the spot, it did not seem like they would stay open much past 4:30.

The town is home to a number of venerable sake breweries, some of which offer informal tours. Many just invite the passerby to walk in.

This openness extends to the owners of historical private homes. Many residents leave their gates and even their dirt-floored genkan areas open so that tourists can come in and have a look. As long as visitors do not cross the bamboo barriers or disturb the residents, they seem to be free to take pictures and view the gardens and architectural details.

(Watch out you do not brush up against the homes with the carbonized wood sidings - you will decorate your backsides with charcoal scrawls)

Sawara has a rather unusual favorite son. Unlike many places, he is neither a warrior, an industrialist nor a poet. Inō Tadataka (1745-1818) was taken in as a 17 year old young man to be the heir of a sake and rice business (the original Inō house is still standing, behind the willows on the left by the bridge in the above photo). For 33 years he labored in his adopted parent's shop, a pillar of the community. At the ripe old age of 50, however, he figured he had given enough of his life to the shop, put on his zōri and went to Edo to learn the latest advances in astronomy, cartography and mathematics. After five years of study, he set off with his Dutch surveying instruments to walk the length and breadth of Japan, producing, over the last 18 years of his life, the first map of the coastline of Japan based on European surveying methods.

One should never think oneself too old to change or make a difference, I guess.

Bee collecting pollen
Sawara, Chiba Prefecture
August 19, 2007


From the Sankei Shimbun of August 18:

On Sunday, Katō Ryōzō began his 2124th day as Ambassador to Washington, making him the longest-serving Ambassador to the United States in the post-1945 era.

With the humiliating unanimous House vote for passage of House Resolution 121 last month--this despite the Ambassador's very visible and energetic lobbying against the measure--can Katō come home now, or does he have to stay on and take a make-up year?

From the Mainichi Shimbun of August 18:

The number of persons paying their respects at Yasukuni Shrine in on August 15, 2006 = 250,000

Number paying their respects on August 15, 2007 = 165,000.

The Mainichi posits a relationship between the 33% drop in the numbers of attendees and the recent intense heat. While the weather was likely a factor in keeping down the number of visiting ojiisan and the obaasan legions, I would hazard a guess that the countdown to Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō's visit last year and the near-certainty of an Abe no-show this year were more important determinants of crowd numbers.

Koizumi showed that a PM could go the Yasukuni Shrine on August 15, if willing to face China's wrath over the issue. Now that it the point has been proven, and Japanese hurt national pride mended, Yasukuni may be less a national issue and more an obsession of a recalcitrant, recidivist fringe with an occasional penchant for silly cosplay.

Friday, August 17, 2007

How to make up for a lousy Friday

On Saturday morning, from Shinagawa, board the Keikyū line. From Tokyo, the JR Yokosuka Line. Descend at Kurihama. A short walk or taxi ride will get you to the port, where you board the Tokyo Bay ferry for the trip across the Uraga Channel.

From Kanaya Port you can climb up the mountain to the abandoned quarries of Nokogiriyama and the great sandstone Buddhist statues of the Nipponji.

Or take the local train from Hanakanaya to Iwai. Climb the double peak of Tomiyama, where the terrifying coordinated pulsing of the cicadas sounds like the dropping of ball bearings on steel plate or a million imps sniggering. In the late afternoon catch the rolling surf at the uncrowded Iwai Kaigan.

Or, if you have the time, you transfer at Tateyama and ride all the way to Wadaura, the whaling village, where the hike to the summit of Karasubayama up the Hanayome Kaidō takes you through some of the best preserved coastal broad-leaved evergreen forest in the Kantō region...

...and the hike down takes you past the black waterfall.

Just get out of Tokyo, this weekend. Next week is going to be hell.

All photos MTC, 2006.

It's mid-August: no one is in charge here

Twenty minutes from the closing bell, the Nikkei Index has fallen nearly 900 yen. In the FX markets, the yen has risen more than 3 yen against the dollar.

Could someone please pull the plug on the computers?

Courtesy: Yahoo Japan Finance

Nishimuro Taizō, Tsuda Hiroki and Yamamoto Yūji, please answer your keitai.

Lazy A** Crap I Don't Want to Read Anymore

Please, please, please...if you are going to write about the current Japanese political scene, do not lapse into the following:

"the LDP lost because the Abe Administration did not focus on the issues that were important to the voters"

First, it takes a particularly strong-smelling brand of gall for anyone to think he or she knows what issues are important to the voters. Given the shallow, leading questions poll takers ask, not even the poll takers know for sure.

Second, opinions can change. If a leader, rather than telling everyone what he thinks they think, fosters conditions making it possible for them to think they think what he thinks (let that roll around there for a second) then he can get them to change their minds, leading them to take as important what he feels is important.

Remember these graphs?

In all three cases, Koizumi Jun'ichirō took ideas that were unpopular at the time and made them popular. Indeed, in the case of the need to dissolve the Diet over the failed postal reform legislation, he whipped the public around from 65% "against" and 23% "for" to 33% "against" and 54% "for" in A SINGLE MONTH.

Abe Shinzō does not know which issues are important to the voters? Heck, not even the voters know them sometimes!

"the DPJ will have to act more responsibly as regards Japan's international obligations"

Under the present constitution (I frequently must remind myself that a constitution is not necessarily a particular written document but the principles under which a people is willing to be ruled) Japan's international obligations are rather limited:

1) adherence to the rules and standards set down in the international treaties to which Japan is signatory, and

2) to stand aside while other people kill themselves over ideas and resources.

The DPJ is not advocating an abandonment any of Japan's treaty obligations. What it is trying to do is to get the country back into obedience with the second of the above principles.

The Indian Ocean/Iraq adventures, while they have been legal, have ultimately not been constitutional. Representative models of government demand that in the long run, governments act according to constitutional principles, not just immediate national self-interest.

Besides, from the scheduling alone, the Indian Ocean dispatch looks like a goner. When Abe conceded on the delay for the opening of the fall Diet session to mid-September, that meant that not even a snap vote on the renewal in the House of Representatives would leave enough time for an override of inaction by the House of Councillors (see Article 59 of the Constitution as regards the 60 day limit) before the expiry of the anti-terror law.

"the people are watching. The DPJ has to realize it cannot just play just an obstructionist role in the Diet"

Oh, yeah? Oh, right, I can remember that due to the skeptical and severe gaze of the electorate over the Diet's every action, the LDP went the extra kilometer, reaching across party lines to work toward common goals for the common good of the Japanese people, foregoing the petty tyranny it could have wielded thanks to the ruling coalition majorities in both Houses in order to forge a national consensus with its political opponents.

Tit for Tat. What goes around comes around. Nyah, nyah, nyanyanah!

The DPJ has won the right to give the LDP grief on every single piece of legislation it sends up to the House of Councillors. Had the LDP restrained itself from running roughshod over the opposition on every piece of legislation it offered up during the winter session, the DPJ would face a social expectation to be more accommodating now.

Editorialists and essayists, particularly over at the Asahi Shimbun, warned the ruling party, "Be careful, LDP. Your karma may run over your dogma!"

The LDP did not listen. No amount of argument makes the DPJ responsible for the LDP's having been stone deaf.

If the non-Japanese press uncritically repeats the saccharine "we all need to promote consensus-building" nonsense Nikai Toshihiro will be spouting henceforth, I will just spit.

"popular reforms"

There is nothing popular about reform. Reform is like the cleaning out of your house at New Years: you have to throw out all the broken, marginal and useless junk--despite your having developed a stupid sentimental attachment to some of it. You have to attack the dirt and the disorder. You work like hell, exhausting yourself in order to get everything "just so"--only to have to watch it all go to pot all over again.

A light in the darkness

In a post to the NBR Japan Forum, W. David Marx, the brilliant if maddeningly inconsistent essayist behind Néomarxisme and clast has blessed us with a dense and intelligent summary of the basic structure and flaws of the Japanese popular music scene.

As to why so much of what one sees and hears on the "Tops of the Pops" television shows is both formulaic and terrible, he explains:

Creative control and rights management happens at the jimusho level, and since only 12 or so jimusho have access to regular television programs, hit artists come disproportionally from these companies or their subsidiaries. Most of these artist management companies have small staffs, are secretive, private, and questionably-financed, and this organizational style results in them only knowing how to make a very limited palette of music. Artists are bound by strict contracts and threats of blacklisting if they jump to smaller or independent jimusho (as seen with Suzuki Ami and countless others), so they cannot afford to make a stand for creative control. The jimusho oligopoly makes for a very controlled market, with very little chance of innovation occurring unless outside companies can break in. The artists that are "stars" in Japan are usually from the oligopolistic companies, and therefore, are not particularly "competitive" commodities.

If the pop music scene in Japan has utterly perplexed you ("Can't the public tell how bad it is?") take the time to read Marx's full essay.

Afterwards you will feel both incredibly dumb and incredibly smart.

I had always wondered what had had happened to "Amigo" - Ami Suzuki, the childish answer to Hamasaki Ayumi. For a time she is omnipresent; then suddenly, non-existent.

Now I understand: she challenged the production system and lost.