Sunday, September 30, 2007

One hundred and ten...

...thousand protestors in Okinawa.

Courtesy: The Asahi Shimbun

Twice as many as organizers had hoped for.

Nearly 10% of the prefecture's population.

You may not be Education Minister anymore Ibuki-san...but these folks have delivered a verdict upon one of your pet projects while you were the minister.

The succint version of the message is, "Shove it."

For more on see:
Okinawa residents protest over Second World War history textbook amendment.

Friday, September 28, 2007

I really don't know anything... I?

The comically gravel-voiced, maudlin, ugly-as-a-boot, tough guy personaed, for-me-every-day-is-a-bad-hair-day schmoozer and former hard-nosed police officer Kamei Shizuka (Hiroshima District #6, Kokumin Shintō, 10 elections) has come down hard on Justice Minister Hatoyama Yukio Kunio for suggesting that the carrying out of death sentences become an automatic process not requiring the icky business of the Justice Minister signing a death warrant.

Kamei's respose: Hatoyama is "Lacking any human qualities at all."

Kamei, you see, is the Chairman of the Parliamentarians League for the Encouragement of an Abolition of the Death Penalty.


Of all the members of the Diet...I would have never guessed him in a hundred years.

And another bit of prejudice, born of ignorance, evaporates into nothingness.

Newsworthy -- the unwilling dead

In the news, sumo is dead...and so is a Japanese photo-journalist in Myanmar.

For a former fan (Chiyonofuji, why did you ever retire?) the implosion of the current iteration of the sport could not come about sooner.

The collapse of sumo from within is well deserved -- the Nippon Sumō Kyōkai (Japan Sumo Association) long ago lost any shred of credibility. From blanket denials of yaochō (fixed matches), to failure to police younger wrestlers to looking the other way during the periodic bouts of xenophobia against foreign ōzeki and yokozuna (most recently, the near pogrom against yokozuna Asashōryū)--the association failed to confront its own irrelevance and decay. The end has come, as in all terrible stories, with a murder--the beating death of a young Japanese rikishi at the hands of his stable master and fellow stable mates.

Following the shooting death amid the crackdown in Yangon, it will be interesting to see what the Prime Minister will have to say today. He most certainly will have to say something.

If he mumbles out a "We are concerned and have passed on our concerns to the Myanmarese government. We are waiting for an explanation of the incident. Our sympathies go out to Nagai-san's family" he will have fulfilled his duties but missed his chance.

If he is properly briefed and realizes that ASEAN has lost all patience with the SPDC, he could say something memorable on the order of "The generals have stayed too long and done too much harm to plausibly claim they are working for the good of the country anymore. They have to return to their barracks and let the legitimate civilian government take over."

Not too much of a chance of that happening, I know. However, as a reputed Fukuda fan, I cannot shake the sense that the PM might say something surprisingly strong.

I cannot wait to hear the explanations of the various news critics why only the Mainichi's and The Japan Times's cover shot of the incident show the photographer lying in the street. Bad information? Injudicious editing? Pressure to not inflame people's feelings? A desire to spare the readers and relatives the sight of the dying man?

The last Friday in September

Aosuji ageha Graphium sarpedon
feeding on Yabu garashi Cayratia japonica

Minato-ku, Tokyo Metropolitan District
September 28, 2007

Thursday, September 27, 2007

From the "Aso Tarō did not get the message...

...better make sure you do" department:

"Rather than friendship, let's think about the party. At any rate, let's think about winning elections." *

Former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō to vising LDP Secretary-General Ibuki Bunmei, alluding to any plans Ibuki might have on following through with former LDP Secretary-General Aso Tarō's proposal to readmit postal exile Hiranuma Takeo without conditions.

* "Rather than out of friendship's sake for the party's sake" (Yūjō yori tō no tame ni). Nihon Keizai Shimbun, September 27, 2007 morning edition.

A Gray Japan is a Beautiful Japan

From the Cabinet support numbers published in the morning editions of the dailies:

57% Mainichi Shimbun

53% Asahi Shimbun

59% Nihon Keizai Shimbun

It looks as though the Prime Minister is somewhat more popular with the public at large than he is with the LDP rank-and-file members.

Is this good? Is this bad?

Hmmm...I need to eat breakfast first.

His name means "Dove Mountain" you know

Poor turns he's kind of afraid of ordering the death of a human being. Can't we like get a computer to do it? Or maybe ASIMO, if he/it is not otherwise engaged?

Remove justice minister from execution process: Hatoyama
Kyodo News

Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama proposed Tuesday scrapping the rule requiring the justice minister's signature for executions because "no one wants to put his signature on an execution order."

Under the Criminal Procedure Law, the justice minister is required to sign and issue an execution order within six months after a death sentence is finalized.
"The law should be abided by," Hatoyama told a news conference after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet resigned. "But no one wants to put his signature on an execution order. "I wonder if there is any way not to delegate the responsibility solely to the justice minister," he said.

Hatoyama called for devising an "automatic and objective" procedure for executing people without having to involve the justice minister.
I had predicted there would be trouble on this issue. Funny thing, though; I thought it was going to be the other way around--that his vulgarity and insensitivity would lead him to sign death warrants with abandon.

But then it probably takes a narrow, pinched, bureaucratic (anyone quoting Hannah Arendt has to leave the room) mindset to order the dispatch of humans, even the utter wastes of human skin on death row (you have to be a multiple murderer to earn a death sentence). Hatoyama's predecessor Nagase Jinen could order hangings with a dry efficientcy, fulfilling every functionary's dream: moving a file from the IN basket to the OUT basket and leaving behind a clean desk.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

As for all that

I do not have much to add on the political front that Tobias Harris hasn't already said. I would only point out that the elimination of the last of the Special Advisors to the Prime Minister and the transfer of the Abductees portfolio to the Chief Cabinet Secretary indicate that this cabinet will not pursue any grand visions or vast strategic projects.

This is a fox cabinet, not a hedgehog one.

On the economic front, I tend to agree with the opinions found in David Pilling's article of September 23. There is really no money in the kitty for enlarging subsidies or public works.

My only fear for the overall economy is that Fukuda, Nukaga and Tanigaki will pay far too much attention to the eternal paranoiac tales of Finance Ministry bureaucrats about budget deficits...and insufficient attention to the unraveling of the U.S. housing market, a slow train wreck that will mercilessly stomp upon the revenues and profits of the export sector.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Your Post-Kanemaru LDP

You have got to love the reasoning:

In addition, others in factions that supported Fukuda said a sizable number of the lawmakers changed their minds and voted for Aso because they felt uncomfortable supporting Fukuda, who is regarded as less conservative.

A junior Machimura faction member said, "Junior members of our faction have expressed displeasure toward Mr. Fukuda due to his support for equality between the sexes, [establishing] a state-run facility [to replace the religious Yasukuni Shrine] to honor war dead and improved ties with North Korea." (1)

Yep, thems is the kind a' radical lefty fringe anti-Japanese wifely-hand-holdin' nutcase attitudes that gets a real Japanese patriot's blood a' boilin'.

Like a list spat out by a random right wing cliché generator...

Anyway, as regards the weaker-than-expected-vote for Fukuda, I am not going to say I told you so...but I told you so.... (Editor - Yes, if the reader ignores your assertion that it would be the rural prefectural offices, not the urban ones, that would turn most strongly against Fukuda)


(1) "Victory bittersweet for Fukuda / Initial predictions of landslide win over Aso tempered by reality," Yomiuri Shimbun, September 25, 2007.

Why are elections now the new focus?

Until yesterday, the top executive posts in the LDP, aside for the presidency, were collectively known as the sanyaku ("the three roles").

Secretary-General - in charge of party finances and election outcomes (the latter being the reason why the Secretary General gets to resign a lot more often than the prime minister)

Chairman of the General Council - in charge of discussion of party affairs and coordination of party activities.

Policy Research Council Chairman - in charge the generation and compilation of policy and bills for the Diet

However, yesterday the position of Director of Elections Strategy was handed over to Koga Makoto. In terms of symbolism it was made equal in stature to a sanyaku post.

So now there is talk of the top posts collectively being the yonyaku ("the four roles").

Does this new emphasis on elections in the LDP executive mean that elections will be held soon?

Tactically, it would make sense to call an election, probably right after the failure of the legislation extending the stay of the Maritime Self Defense Forces in the Indian Ocean. Though members of the Democratic Party have spent the break fanning out into the districts as if in preparation for an election, the party is still about 80 candidates short of a full electoral slate. In December, the Fukuda Cabinet will likely still be enjoying something of a honeymoon, if the near hagiographic treatment he is receiving in this week's edition of Aera (an Asahi Shimbun publication) is any indication.

However, if you intend to defend the Koizumi Children seats purloined in 2005 from traditionally Democratic districts and from the Democratic side of the at-large regional bloc lists, would you really want Makoto "the Enforcer" Koga as the man running the campaign?

I don't think so either.

So is Fukuda's surreptitious agenda to place powerful party leaders in positions of responsibility for elections, then put off a House of Representatives election until the last possible moment? This would give potential troublemakers the badges of authority but no power, leaving Fukuda free to pursue a rollback of the more radical parts of the Koizumi/Abe ideological legacy, all while keeping fiscal and other economic reforms on schedule.

Hmmmmm....we'll have to see how the purportedly minor adjustment of the ministerial posts turns out.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Your faction head employment agency

They are calling it habatsu dangō jinji ("collusive group bidding for posts among the factions")

[no macrons]

LDP Secretary-General: IBUKI Bunmei - faction head

LDP Policy Research Council Chairman: TANIGAKI Sadakazu - faction head

LDP Director, Elections Strategy Headquarters, General Affairs: KOGA Makoto - faction head

LDP Chairman of the General Council - NIKAI Toshihiro - faction head

Foreign Affairs Minister - MACHIMURA Nobutaka - faction head

Defense Minister - KOMURA Masahiko - faction head

That leaves TSUSHIMA Yuji, YAMAZAKI Taku and the newly unemployed ASO Taro as faction heads without a major post.

Tsushima feels himself too old and has ceded his spot to Nukaga Fukushiro (and what a nice spot too: Minister of Finance).

Assuming LDP job assignments are made on the basis of logic, Yamazaki will be named something on the order of "State Minister for DPRK Relations" tomorrow.

After Aso Taro's strong showing in the LDP presidential election and his sudden removal from the Secretary-General post, many in the LDP rank-and-file are putting pressure on the core leadership to give him a spot in the Cabinet as a sop.

Stumbling blocks included whether or not Aso would be willing to take up the Education & Technology post vacated by Ibuki; whether would be able to countenance the possible replacement of his ally Hatoyama Kunio as Minister of Justice; or whether the leadership, still ticked, thinks he needs to go off and cogitate for a while about just how badly he blew it.

Oh, did they have to?

That was awful.

Watching a thick-tongued Abe Shinzō, intermittently slurring and stuttering his way through a prepared statement, an apology to the nation from his hospital.

Puts a damper on the whole day.

Damned if they are not going to wheel him out to the Diet Building for the election of his successor tomorrow.


He should be OK, as long as he is really not suffering from digestive distress. It takes about a week for anti-depressants to take affect...and he has been in there for 10 days...

No, it is still too soon for him to come out and face the world.

I know I am just speculating. I cannot tell from the video what he might be taking. Maybe not even an expert could--side effects vary.

If he had been in serious physical pain and unable to sleep, as reported, doctors would have been tempted to start him a TCA rather than one of the weaker SSRIs. TCAs tend to cause constipation, though--which, if he had been having digestive problems, would be not good.

No, they will never tell us what the hell happened.

No, they will never tell us what he's been taking.

Stupid us. Stupid, uninformed us.

I will destroy the LDP

Who would have ever imagined it would be Fukuda Yasuo who would fulfill Koizumi Jun'ichirō's pledge to the nation?

And so soon?

Have you ever seen such a carnival of gruesomeness, political and otherwise? The new party leadership lineup is a veritable cabal most hideous, the least attractive political convocation since the Ugliest Golf Foursome Ever of Waseda-grads-and-LDP-rejects held late last year.

Ibuki Bunmei as Secretary-General

The good news: he will no longer inflicting his nationalist authoritarian idealism upon the Ministry of Education--and by extension upon the nation's children. Bad news: for the rest of us--not much. For the party---aaiiiiaaaah!

For extra credit: try not think of Gumby when you see Ibuki's hair.

Tanigaki Sadakazu as Chairman of the Policy Research Council

How to put it nicely?

Tanigaki Sadakazu gives to any organization he is put in charge of what Michael Corleone gives to his brother Fredo in the Havana party scene in Godfather II.

Loves his work, Tanigaki does. Loves it to death.

Look out PARC. You're going fishing.

Koga Makoto as Director, Elections Strategy Headquarters, General Affairs

Does Fukuda owe him money?

In terms of physical appearance and posture, Koga is the one for whom the adjective "thuggish" was coined. He is the Prince of Darkness Nonaka Hiromu's political heir, for Amaterasu's sake.

I have nothing bad or silly to say about Nikai or Ōshima...but looking at the above group photo, all I can think is:

"Wow, this just screams, 'We really intend to lose the next a HUGE margin.'"

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Down and out in Tokyo (Einstürzende Altbauten)

Eric Berman of Mutant Frog Travelogue has a daring series of photographs of the interiors several buildings set for demolition in the Shimbashi area. The south end of Shimbashi, once a warren of the lowest end bars, soaplands and cheap eateries, is rapidly being scraped down to the foundations in preparation for a tumult of new building, perhaps a mirror of the great Wall of Shiodome.

At the same time Lionel Dersot tries checking out old haunts in Shimokitazawa, the only neighborhood in Tokyo anyone could ever have possibly called "funky."

Unless a miracle occurs (they don't, if you really want to know) much of the savor of Shimokitazawa will be lost. You see, it was necessary to demolish the maze-like warren in and around the station in order to create space for...a highway.

In Setagaya Ward?

The other day, while on a walk over to Temple University to go to hear a talk, I found that over the summer the forces of renewal had demolished 7th, 8th and 9th blocks of Mita 1-chome. Now a lot what was demolished was barely habitable vinyl-siding over wood-frame tenement-like housing. However along the fringes stood some really charming mid-Showa commercial buildings.


A single cussed homeowner has refused to sell out, leaving the white barrier fence to cut a sharp U around the property.

Best catch a glimps of the 10th and 11th blocks of Mita 1-chōme, the isolated low-income neighborhoods on the bend in the river (euphemism, euphemism) while they are is still there. Heartbreaking for me it is finding out it is too late to take a final bath in the Komanoyu, the Taishō-era sentō where the water was scalding one night and tepid the next, where one of the signs above the bath exhorted patrons show respect for human rights and where gents with full body tatoos were not turned away.

They'll come for Yodobashi 5-chōme after that.

I have seen the plans.

Camera crew filming a "police in a bar in a rundown section of Saitama Prefecture" scene in Yodobashi 5-chōme.
Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo Metropolitan District.
July 3, 2006.

A little math problem from the LDP election results

197 total votes for Secretary-General Aso Tarō

- 65 votes from the prefectures

- 16 votes from the Aso Faction

- 73 votes from all the LDP Diet members not in factions, assuming they all voted for Aso, which they did not,

means at least


43 disloyal, naughty little faction members.

Omote Tanzawa Kenmin no Mori

Located inside the district represented in the Diet by former LDP president Kōno Yōhei, in the foothills below Nabewariyama, is the Omote Tanzawa Kenmin no Mori, a small public recreation area of Hatano City.

From Shinjuku take the Odakyū Line to Shibusawa. Board the bus at the #2 platform for Togawa Kōen and get off at the last stop. Loop around the swinery (whew, what a smell!) and take the lumber road north until you reach the sign.

Omote Tanzawa Kenmin no Mori, Kanagawa Prefecture
September 22, 2007

Nihon Tokage Plestiodon japonicus
Omote Tanzawa Kenmin no Mori, Kanagawa Prefecture
September 22, 2007

Hauchiwa kaede Acer japonicum thunbergii
Omote Tanzawa Kenmin no Mori, Kanagawa Prefecture
September 22, 2007

Akayamatake Hygrocybe conica
Omote Tanzawa Kenmin no Mori, Kanagawa Prefecture
September 22, 2007

Headwaters of the Shijūhassegawa
Omote Tanzawa Kenmin no Mori, Kanagawa Prefecture
September 22, 2007

Live blogging the election

14:05 -

The results from the prefectural vote have just come in. Out of 141 votes:

Fukuda 76
Aso 65

Not bad for Aso, but way less than he needs to lead an insurgent campaign.

Still he was not humiliated--something for the central party apparat to think about later.

14:10 -

Aso has just cast his vote. As is the habit, he is surrounded by close supporters. To his right is seated Shimamura Yoshinobu (no faction - the building housing his offices was the target of arson attacks recently--an event underreported in the media). To Aso's left is Hatoyama Kunio (the current Justice Minister).

Fukuda has a pair of not immediately recognizable middle-aged Diet members on his flanks.

14:26 -

Fukuda has just cast his ballot to light applause.

14:30 -

Former Prime Minister Mori Yoshirō has lumbered up on stage to deliver his vote. He's grinning, possibly reflecting (I know, I never thought I would use that word regarding Mori) on the improbable reality that his faction is on the cusp of providing the country with its fourth prime minister in a row--an impossibility under the old "wait your turn" rotation of the prime ministerships from faction head to faction head.

Either that or he is thinking he still might still be able to use his tickets to the finals of the Rugby World Cup in Paris.

14:36 -

House of Councillors member and former multiple Olympian Hashimoto Seiko is still scaring me after all these years. Why did she have to look up at the paper listing the names of the two candidates what seemed to be at least five times? (Under the rules of the election, if you mess up on the kanji or write only the last name, the vote is invalid.)

14:44 -

Nice camerawork NHK. When the two announcers started talking about the kane to seiji ("money and politics") problem, the camera zoomed in on the gleaming head of Endō Takehiko, the disgraced Ag-Minister-for-a-Week.

14:45 -

Voting by the prefectural representatives ends. Now we go to the counting.

14:50 -

The seven vote counters, two each for each of three sides of the table plus an overseer, are counting the ballots. The two women are on either side in the front, likely for photographic appearance reasons.

Aso just keeps grinning. It's getting kind of unnerving.

15:01 -

Well whoever it is who is doing the Nishimura Shingo impersonation on Fukuda's right I don't know, but it is Nagano Prefecture's Miyashita Ichirō (Machimura faction - 2 elections to the Diet) who is on his left.

15:09 -

528 votes
527 votes valid
1 vote invalid

330 votes for Fukuda
197 votes for Aso

Fukuda Yasuo is elected president of the LDP with 62% of the votes. Aso bags 132 Diet member votes - not bad.

To the Diet chambers!

15:11 -

Whoa! They are reading out a message from Abe Shinzō. What a way to throw a wet towel on the proceedings. Oh well, he was party president and all...and having no mention of him would have been weird.

15:16 -

Nice little speech by a tearing Fukuda, thanking the assembled from the bottom of his heart. He has two hopes: to end the confusion in the party and to win the people's trust through enacting policy (too close to an Abe promise for my taste, in the latter case).

In case you are wondering, it seems he wants to built "a Bright Japan" (akarui nippon). So we have left behind Beautiful, dallied awhile with Awesome (totetsu mo nai) and have settled on Bright.

15:19 -

Three banzais and we are out of here.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The LDP presidential election - unhatched chicken counting

It just may end up a lot closer than a lot of people imagine.

First because Fukuda Yasuo has been going out of his way to say the unspeakable:

- that the consumption tax will have to be raised sometime, probably soon

- that the rural-urban economic inequalities are something "to be studied" – which in Bureaucratese means "stared at mutely, doing nothing, until whatever it is goes away or dies"

- that the continuing reduction of public works is a non-negotiable part of the national program toward fiscal balance

- that the resolution of the abductee issue has to put back its proper place among the plethora of Japanese national interests

- that he does not really, really, really want the job (maybe two reallys, but not three).

He really did not need to be so honest...which is another way of saying he really should not have been so honest.

Second because Fukuda's strongest support comes from the leadership of the factions.

The factions are not what they once were. They cannot push you into the victory column at general election time. They do not hand out the fat envelopes of cash—though they do still help you organize successful fund-raising parties. They cannot win you a minister's portfolio—under Koizumi and the first Abe Cabinet you had to win your place yourself through personal or ideological friendliness with the leader and his non-politician advisors.

So tomorrow when the faction leader yells, "Everyone in the van!" a lot of mid-ranking conservative ideologues will say, "It is a secret ballot bozo. I will write whichever name I want."

We already have the spectacle of Hatoyama Kunio defying common sense to play the role of Aso Tarō’s biggest fan. We should expect a lot more defections. The final count of the ballots will likely show a significant gap between the arithmetic sum of the memberships of the factions supporting Fukuda and the actual number of ballot papers with Fukuda's name on it .

Third because the rural prefectural branches have an incentive to go for broke. If they vote for Aso and Aso loses, they will at least be on record as having told the central party apparatus how fed up they are. "If Aso loses and Fukuda goes on to do what he has promised, please don't expect us to do diddly for you in the next House of Representatives election," is another possible message.

(An aside – does anyone else feel a frisson seeing how closely Fukuda's program seems parallel the program DPJ leader Okada Katsuya offered the voters in August-September 2005?)

If certain rural prefectural branches try to curry favor with Fukuda by giving him their support, they will find their self-abnegation as having been for naught. Come what may (well no, probably come February) the rural prefectures will almost certainly get stiffed again in next year's budget.

So why not throw votes away at Aso?

Interesting times...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Just one more...

...and I'll call it a night.

Tonight's News Station (yes, I know it has not been worth a damn since around the turn of the millenium) highlighted a division in society, one for whom the promises made by politicians could end up really messing up the country's fiscal balance.

No, not the rural district / urban district divide. The other one.

It seems that Kōmeitō got a bee in its bonnet over the plan to force 70-74 year olds to start kicking in 20% at the doctor's office, rather than the 10% they are currently paying, starting April 2008. The Clean Government Party wants a freeze in the plan to the raise the personal contribution rate...for how long, nobody knows.

Of course, if this jump in personal contributions is frozen, the immediate shortfall in predicted revenues due will have to be made up by entire country, including those already paying their 20%.

Somehow April 2008 is the wrong time for this little bit of fiscal adjustment. Does anyone know why? There are no elections scheduled.

Finance Minister Nukaga Fukushirō, Amaterasu bless him, is fulfilling his role as the nation's finger-wagging maiden auntie. He has unloaded on the Kōmeitō for their act of fiscal apostasy.

How did this (there are a few more details to the plan, including a possibly sensible freeze on cuts in child support disbursements) get into the mix of ideas jostled about during the month between the July 29 wipeout and the August 27 picking of a new Cabinet? And who, aside from the suprement leaders of the Kōmeitō, signed off on it?

The last thing the incoming prime minister needs right now is for the LDP's coalition partner to starting to play footsie with senior citizens. An internal fight over whether or not to pander to senior voters has only one outcome: pandering to seniors voters--because darn it, seniors seem to live in every damn electoral district and municipality in the country.

And they vote. Early and often.

Even a blind squirrel...

...sometimes finds a nut.

Tobias Harris has been saying that what Japan is looking for is another weirdo.

It seems that Shūkan Bunshun has found one.

Fukuda Yasuo - truth is, he's a huge weirdo!

A record of his off-the-record wild-and-crazy utterances!

"Kim Jong-il was being sincere."

"You can't get any information from Iijima [Koizumi's political secretary, not the ex-soft porn starlet]. He doesn't have any."

"Mori-san [faction leader former prime minister Mori Yoshirō] is just so at ease and isn't it great...for him?"

"Those who insist on exclusively male primogeniture, they're stupid."

"Men are black leopards [beasts]"

It's like they say:

"He was really quiet. Didn't draw attention to himself. Said he liked reading and listening to classical music. You never would have thought such a unremarkable little guy would be such turn out to be such a weirdo."

Yes, I am aware that logic would normally forbid the publication of "A record of his off-the-record wild-and-crazy utterances" (offu reko bōgen roku). But this is a Japanese weekly magazine, folks...

Four papers on labor immigration

Readers of this blog know I have a deep interest in the largely subterranean transformation of Japanese society, particularly in urban areas, resulting from the increasing use of immigrant and foreign student labor, both legal and illegal.

Japan Focus has a quartet of new papers out (and a summary article) on the subjects of government response to demographic shifts, the opening of borders, immigration regulation and images of foreign labor in the media.

What Japanese Policymakers Should Know about How Government Contributes to Irregular Immigration

"Guest Workers" for Japan?

Japanese Local Governments Facing the Reality of Immigration

Migrant-support NGOs and the Challenge to the Discourse on Foreign Criminality in Japan

I want to read them all asiduously but when will I have the time? Why are there only 24 hours in a day?

Shimotsuke Spiraceae japonica
Shimonida Township, Gunma Prefecture
July 29, 2007

The measure of a man

This weekend the LDP will select a new party president, even though, as far as we know, Abe Shinzō has not turned in his resignation papers.

Oh well, what the hell, the whole bloody government is just winging it right now, anyway. Just don't ask a legal expert who is in charge, OK?

Unbeknownst to him and to his coterie of friends, Abe was elected to be a symbol--of youth, of freshness, of resilience and of steely-eyed patriotism. His value to the party was purely symbolic. His thin book, his agenda were reassuringly stuffed with symbolism, with magical gestures and political mie. With an election coming up in July 2007, the party went, and went strongly (464 to 135 to 102), with the most photogenic leader they could cough up.

Now the party is going to reverse course, picking a decidedly non-sexy, non-photogenic septuaginarian. His policy direction, particularly the direction of his foreign policy, will be nearly opposite that of Abe.

Now assuming that the entire voting membership of the LDP has not died and been replaced with a race of contrarian zombies, what could lead a party to turn on a dime?

1) LDP legislators do not have a real policy, other than winning elections. Having lost an election with one flavor of conservatism, they are switching to another.

2) The experience of having an ideologically attractive but administratively obtuse government has led to a sudden appreciation that the real business of a ruling coalition is governing, not running for office.

3) With electoral victories in the chihō a lost cause due to the party's commitment to structural reform, the only hope is to bolster the party's reputation with its new urban and suburban base through honest and competent governance.

4) A sub-conscious commitment to the nuclear option, using the supermajority in the House of Representatives and the hopes and aspirations of urban Democratic voters to railroad through a redistricting plan, spiking both the chihō and Ozawa Ichirō's strategy with a single stabbing motion.

Or some combination of the above, I suppose.

Whatever the reason, with Fukuda Yasuo as its Prime Minister Japan will be visually out of step with the rest of the G8, which, with the exception of Italy, has opted into or will be opting into selecting Abe Shinzō-like leaders in their fifties (or in the case of Barak Obama, in their forties).

However, it is not necessarily true that Fukuda will be out of step as regards policy. With Prime Minister Ron John Howard of Australia on the ropes and George W. Bush set to leave the Oval Office, the psychological and ideological consilience of the Asia-Pacific's power triangle is set to break down anyway. Fukuda's thinking will be far more in line that of European heads of state and with those likely to replace the current officeholders in Canberra and Washington.

As regards Japan and its prime ministerial selection process, what else needs be noted, if only in passing?

The measure of a man cannot made according to a single, idealizing template. It may not be necessary that he be perceived to be a commander; that he be a great communicator, that he have all his hair (though it must be thought to help, if Nakasone Yasuhiro's combwork is any indication); that he radiate youthful energy; that he be quirky and fun; that he project bone-crushing authority.

It may be more important that a man be simply in tune with his times, whatever his physical age. That he be able to read change in the wind...and reassure his people that they will ride upon it.

Memorial statue of Finance Minister Takahashi Korekiyo
Former site of his home in Minato Ward, Tokyo Metropolitan District
June 12, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

In enough trouble already

I am in enough trouble as it is (Shall I have a web vote as to which of my hats I am going to eat thanks to the miserable UN resolution on ISAF?)

However, I really cannot avoid letting off a little steam in response to this passage from Weston Konishi's latest opinion article:

The question is whether Ozawa's opposition to the anti-terror bill is a political tactic or a more fundamental shift away from his previous support for the U.S.-Japan alliance? And where, by extension, does the DPJ – which includes critics and supporters of the alliance – stand as a whole regarding elements of the U.S.-Japan security relationship?

Statements by Ozawa, as well the official DPJ policy platform, shed little light on these questions. The DPJ is generally supportive of the U.S.-Japan alliance, but calls for Japan to have greater "autonomy" in the decision-making process. The DPJ's basic security policy statement elliptically argues that: "The stance that Japan should take from now on is to engage in close dialogue and consultation with the United States, giving full consideration to Japan's national interests." (Since when did Tokyo stop considering national interests when engaging the U.S.?)

Now that the DPJ is no longer just a noisy opposition party, it needs to move beyond iconoclastic critiques of the alliance and start filling in the details of its position on security cooperation with the United States.
No, Mr. Konishi, it might be you who has to move beyond icon worshipping cheap shots. Please study the history of the Democratic Party's and Ichirō Ozawa's security thinking. There is one; I am sure of it.

Perhaps you will then hesitate before typing out breezy "Since when did Tokyo stop considering national interests when engaging the U.S.?" flummery. Trust me, if you stopped a hundred persons on the street you would find a goodly number who will give you a precise answer as to exactly when "Tokyo stopped considering national interests when engaging the U.S."

You would also understand what every Japanese understands, that:

"The stance that Japan should take from now on is to engage in close dialogue and consultation with the United States, giving full consideration to Japan's national interests"

is a code phrase for "not what Abe-san was willing to keep giving away in order to keep America in line with his personal hobby horses, most particularly his quixotic hardline position on the abductee issue."

That there is a reason why the word autonomy is emphasized and probably should not be entrenched between dismissive quotation marks.

You might also be slinging about fewer such LDP-friendly "Now that the DPJ is no longer just a noisy opposition party" bon mots about as party favors. You could even help out by exhorting the LDP to be "more than just a power-mongering, overbearing cauldron of mendacity and corruption."

Just a thought.

Oh, Glocom has it posted the full essay here, should all and sundry wish to read it.

Later - I know that Konishi-san meant well, trying to offer analysis and advice only to get tripped up by unthinkingly dismissive hipster lingua franca of the Washington policy centers. He needs to drop the hooks, tropes and cute asides when he leaves the warm concrete confines of the Beltway.

Know any good hat recipes?

Wow, I hate to think the promises made to get just one phrase inserted in the resolution's preamble:

U.N. renews NATO troop mandate in Afghanistan

By Evelyn Leopold - The U.N. Security Council authorized NATO-led troops to stay in Afghanistan for another year on Wednesday and gave the Japanese government support in its domestic dispute over refueling American and other ships in the Indian Ocean.

The vote was 14-0 with Russia abstaining in the resolution that emphasized "the increased violent and terrorist activities by the Taliban, Al Qaeda, illegally armed groups and those involved in the narcotics trade."

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has close to 40,000 soldiers in Afghan to combat the country's former Taliban rulers, toppled by U.S. and Afghan forces in 2001.

New in the resolution is a sentence expressing appreciation to NATO and contributions from many nations to ISAF, which includes Japan, "including its maritime interdiction component."
The Russians and the Chinese both criticized the inclusion of a phrase solely for domestic political consumption in one member state.

"A decision was made to give priority to domestic considerations of some members of the United Nations," Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said. "But we believe our main responsibility is to the Security Council."

Churkin noted that the mandate for ISAF did not expire for another month and council members should have "exerted every effort to get unanimity."
Uuuuh, the bear in New York is not pleased but shrugs with tired contempt.

Back in Moscow, however, the emerging Japan-Australia-U.S. half-arc of freedom gets a huge thumbs down.

The panda snarls but goes along...because...oh, it will figure out what Japan will be handing over to it in due time.

Something expensive to be sure.

As regards the LDP election...

...the key concept seems to be "about one third."

In gross (the precise numbers are something that Okumura Jun could work out in his sleep) the prefectures hosting only a third of Japan's population will be providing two thirds of the local party organization votes for the Liberal Democratic Party presidential election.

In gross, the single seat districts and at-large regional bloc Diet seats producing less than a third of Japan's economic output will be providing over two thirds of the Diet member votes for the LDP presidential election.

In sum, in the selection process for a new party president--and by extension, a new Prime Minister for the Land of the Rising (?) Sun--the forces of regression will outnumber the forces of change two-to-one. About one third of the party votes cast will be representing nobody and nothing.

And in the rural-urban differences debate, the LDP is supposed to be playing the role of the party of the rational good guys and gals!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I have eaten strange things

Ants taste like pepper (it is the formic acid).

Roasted grasshoppers taste, unsurprisingly, like grass.

I am willing to go one step further and eat one of my hats (I have a pair of old straw hats from Worth & Worth that are getting kind of tatty and thus may possibly be fully ripe) if any part of this report is true:

UNSC to praise MSDF antiterror role
Yoshikazu Shirakawa / Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondent

A resolution to be adopted soon by the U.N. Security Council to extend the mission of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan will include words of appreciation for Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), which has been carried out by a coalition of nations, including Japan, Britain and the United States, sources said Tuesday.

The resolution likely will mention for the first time the maritime OEF activities the Maritime Self-Defense Force participate in by refueling U.S.-led ships in the Indian Ocean. The maritime activities are being carried out by multinational forces, including those of Britain and the United States.

As the Democratic Party of Japan has refused to extend the Antiterrorism Law, which is set to expire on Nov. 1, the MSDF's refueling operations would be halted. The government therefore asked Britain and the United States to recognize the important role played by the MSDF via its refueling mission in an attempt to sway the DPJ.

According to U.N. diplomatic sources, the key permanent Security Council members--Britain, France and the United States--have entered the final stage of discussion on a preamble to be included in the resolution, which likely will state the council appreciates the role played by participating countries in the ISAF and OEF operations, including the marine activities...
Yes, Vladimir Putin's Ambassador to the United Nations will cheerfully ignore the inclusion of praise of Operation Enduring Freedom, a non-UN operation, in a UN Security Council Resolution. Because at the UN nobody is very careful about the language inserted into resolutions nor worries much about establishing precedents.

Where was the editor here? "According to UN diplomatic sources" --oh, my sweet watusi! Those anonymous diplomatic sources--they never try to mislead or misrepresent ever, do they?--if they even exist, that is.

No names means no credibility.

Suggested New Overnight Robo-call Snap Poll Question:

"Are you too reasonable and level-headed to be reading the Yomiuri Shimbun?"

(Hat tip to Observing Japan to alerting me to this story)

Later - This idea of putting in a request to the U.S. and U.K. delegations for a shout out to Operation Enduring Freedom is so preposterous, I cannot shake a feeling that Sekō Hiroshige must be behind it.

An Institutional Void

One of the questions I have not seen being asked -- which I would like to see asked -- is whose job was it -- or whose job should it have been -- to keep an eye on the health and well-being of the Prime Minister.

The atari mae answer is Inoue Yoshiyuki, Abe's political secretary. He is the crucial occupant of Abe's Diet office, the other two staff members being receptionist/tea servers. As Prime Minister Abe's personal assistant, the person to whom Abe entrusts every facet of his political career, he was presumed to be keeping a close watch on his man's every grimace and complaint.

Inoue, however, is responsible for the health and well-being of House of Representatives member Abe Shinzō. He is not, nor should he ever have been presumed to be, responsible for the health and well-being of the nation's top official. As Abe's political secretary, Inoue had to stay in Tokyo -- the first time he had ever been separated from Abe for any considerable span of time -- to help Aso Tarō and others put together a new Cabinet.

Presumably Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki Yasuhisa should have been the official most responsible for watching out for Abe's welfare. However, Shiozaki was pretty much a zombie after the election and since the Diet was not in session, was inert and unresponsive. He was also not on the plane with Abe.

So as the Prime Minister's health deteriorated throughout his ill-starred visits to South and Southeast Asia, the only persons he had around him were terrified, useless functionaries, not a single one of whom had the sense or the authority to override the schedule and save the man.

Something tells me this means there is a damned huge hole right in the middle of the Kantei -- based leadership's organizational chart -- one that needs to be filled immediately.

Because you know what the first thing was that I thought when I saw that picture of Abe being taken away to Keiō Hospital by three special police officers in a hastily organized two car motorcade?

It wasn't:

"Ano metsuki o mite, he's right on the edge."

No, not by a long shot.

It was:

"Boy am I ever glad we don't have nukes."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007



The Yaz.

Yass Man.



Rats! What is President Bush going to call him, assuming the deal goes down as expected on the 23rd?

They're off

Weird matchup on Mino Monta's morning show.

A sober-looking Nakagawa Shōichi arguing for Aso Tarō (only one surprise there).

A smiling Hirasawa Katsuei arguing for Fukuda Yasuo.

Weird because there is no member of the House of Representatives more associated with the abductees issue than Hirasawa...and there is the human interest angle of Hirasawa's having been Abe Shinzō's tutor (katei kyōshi) when Abe was in the fourth and fifth grades of elementary school (Momma obviously wanted Shin-chan to at least try to get into a top-flight middle school. Hmmm, whatever became of that?)

Mino-san put it to Nakagawa directly, "You were Policy Research Council Chairman under the First Abe Cabinet and you are now support Aso. If Fukuda prevails...well...that's going to put you in a kind of tough position, party-wise, isn't?"

In Awe in Kamakura

I am once again in awe at the miracle that is Observing Japan (check out the posts from the last two days).

Not only is the Observer able to pound out essay after essay on topics of immediate interest, he is able to do it while living in Kamakura.

Were I living in Kamakura, I would be hopeless.

I would visit temples, fiddling about with an ever-increasing array of photographic equipment (This lens just does not do this scene justice! Time to visit Yodobashi Kamera...again)

I would study shodō or biwa or Rinzai zen or temple inscriptions.

In the afternoons I would take my dog to the beach, my board strapped to my bicycle. I would leave my dog to guard my stuff (he's cool about that) and lose a few (just a few?) hours catching some waves. At night I would wander the lanes with above mentioned dog, maybe buy a purple sweet potato ice cream cone and suddenly wonder, "Is tomorrow really a work day?"

White manjushage - also called higanbana
Grounds of Myōhōji
Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture
September 17, 2007

White ginger - Shōga- Hedychium coronarium
Grounds of Myōhōji
Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture
September 17, 2007

Finial of the Main Hall, Myōhōji
Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture
September 17, 2007

Heavenly King, Chōshōji
Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture
September 17, 2007

Up through the cracks
Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture
September 17, 2007

Windsurfers, Yuigahama
Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture
September 17, 2007

Yep, it's not all sarariman, racchi jiken and shakai kakusa. There's the Shōnan alternative.

Later - It seems that Lionel Dersot was in Kamakura too, right on the beach, right about the same time as moi.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Abe Premiership: an early post-mortem

A year in review in just under 100 words:

Abe Shinzō was selected to serve as a symbol for an election; got himself caught up in running a country he did not like; tried to replace it with a country and a population he could like; trusted sleazy friends to cover his backside just as he would cover theirs; and made China very happy by not doing things he had been doing for years. His popularity fell when he followed his own desires and rose whenever he acted contrary to his reputation. He was finally broken into shards by his appointments calendar.

New In Global Asia

The East Asia Foundation binannual Global Asia is out, with a passel of essays upon U.S. power in Asia.

The essay by Clyde Prestowitz is cartoonish and the one by former Ambassador to the United States Sung Chul Yang is a waste of time, but the essays by Kishore Mahbubhani, Funabashi Yōichi, Wang Jisi and Gerald Curtis are worthwhile reads.

I smiled at one of the final points Dr. Curtis makes. Under the Cold War framework, the range of possible effects and outcomes anyone had to take into account was far more limited. In the post-Cold War, however, a policy maker has to take into account many, many more variables and has to steel herself for the generation of a multitude of fine-graded but quite distinct eventualities.

We like things simple, don't we?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tarō Francisco Aso's Sudden Fall From Heaven

Which St. Francis is Aso Tarō named after?

For most Catholics one would guess St. Francis of Assisi. For a Japanese Catholic, especially one with his roots in Kyūshū, the smart money would have to be on St. Francis Xavier.

Courtesy: Kobe City Museum

Either way, Francisco blew it last week by failing to show de Assisi's compassion or Xavier's smarts. According to the feisty folks at the Chuō Nippō, Aso did himself in by awakening the vengeance of the Machimura faction.

Knowing that the Mori-Machimura Faction had provided the last three Prime Ministers and most likely feeling serious shame at the sudden bizarre behavior of the faction's young champion, Foreign Minister Machimura Nobutaka really had no plans of supporting yet another faction member as a candidate to replace Abe Shinzō.

It seems, however, that one of the last comprehensible sentences the distraught and agonized Abe was able to blurt out on Wednesday night was:

"Aso tricked me. After the reshuffle of the Cabinet, I lost all my rights over control of personnel."

Well, everyone knew that. Abe was a cardboard cutout after the Endō takedown. So no surprises there.

But Aso's cocky, smiling attitude on Wednesday night and his impossible-to-believe-revelation that a wounded Abe had expressed a wish to step down to him in private on Sunday blew Machimura's stack (as well as pretty much all the stacks of the party veterans). Fukuda, the polar opposite in terms of policy positions and style to the bullrushing Aso, became the faction's and the LDP crowd of the disaffected's incongruous fresh face.

The only possible problem was the reaction of Koizumi Jun'ichiro and the Koizumi Kiddy Korps in both Houses of the Diet to a possible Fukuda candidacy. Without Koizumi's say-so, the plan to draft Fukuda would pit the party's elders against its youth wing--a badly divided bunch already.

Both Fukuda and Koizumi have reason to dislike one another: Koizumi for Fukuda's abetting of the sniping war between Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko and the bureaucrats under her that seriously tripped up the Koizumi program in 2002-3, Fukuda for Koizumi's torpedoing of Fukuda's run for the prime ministership in mid-2006.

Nevertheless, it was Fukuda Yasuo's father Takeo who had rescued Koizumi from oblivion by making Koizumi his political secretary after the young returnee failed to win his family's Diet seat. With such a bond of obligation in the background, it was not likely the bad blood between the two men could support Koizumi's opposing Fukuda's running--especially after the spectacular implosion of Koizumi's handpicked successor.

Like brothers they must be in certain ways--rivals who get on each other's nerves, picking unnecessary fights with one another, but ready to stand up for the other when the conditions demand unity...

...that and the fact that among the other dumb stuff Aso did was to say, "The LDP that was destroyed by Koizumi I will rebuild."

Mr. K took umbrage at that little dig it seems... and gave his full-throated approval to Fukuda's challenge.

In terms of the LDP votes in Nagata-chō, Francisco is well into de profundis clamavi ad te Domine territory.

But out in the uncivilized ... hinterlands...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Eyes Are the Windows to the Soul

The image that should haunt us the rest of our days...

Prime Minister Abe Shinzō being driven to Keiō University Hospital
September 13, 2007

Courtesy: The Associated Press

Abe Shinzō made a terrible error. He trusted his friends.

One should never do that...not in politics, at least. You can like your friends but you sure cannot trust 'em.

Your enemies, you can trust. They will never lie to you or try to cover up for you. They will always be there for you.

Your friends though...they will let you down...because they can.

Real Reform Lives!

Or at least I hope it does.

With Aso Tarō having nearly completed his role in a stunning reenactment of the race between the tortoise and the hare (note bene - he's not the tortoise) we have the possibility of finally ending this Year of Living Weirdly.

Just say No to constitutional revision! Say Yes to giving the Keidanren the finger when ever it brings up the subject of cuts in the corporate income tax and the immigration of future blue-eyed suitors for Aiko-sama!

We have a Fuku in the House! And he's ready to go mano a mano (mildly) against the Disciple of Kaku now running the DPJ!

Say No to more bridges, highways and crop subsidies; say Yes to redistricting, organic farming, healthy forests (business tip – the government wants to cut down a million hectares of cedar and cypress plantations—and replace the whole kit and caboodle with pines and broad-leaved evergreens. Got an ax?) and meaningful decentralization (Is it smart to have the headquarters of 35 of the world's top 500 companies in Tokyo? No!).

Oh, and I do not think we will be hearing much about prime ministerial visits to Yasukuni...

Fukuda Yasuo...rockin' a world near you.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Set Warp Speed for the Sun

It is a measure of the speed at which the ground is shifting that this was unassailable yesterday.

This morning, the "Anyone but Aso Tarō" movement is blowing away Aso's fantasy of a triumphant march into the prime ministership:

Support for Fukuda grows LDP race on Sept. 23 seen as 2-way battle with Aso; Nukaga may also join
The Yomiuri Shimbun

Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda has decided to run in the Liberal Democratic Party presidential election to choose a successor to outgoing party leader and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, sources said Thursday.

LDP Secretary General Taro Aso is expected to declare his candidacy at a press conference scheduled to be held Friday, while Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga has expressed his intention to run.

The contest is expected to be a two-way race between Aso and Fukuda. According to observers, Fukuda is gaining support across the LDP's factions...

To what extent Aso's insensitivity toward Prime Minister Abe Shinzō's mental illness, indeed his glee at the prospect he would be soon replacing the prime minister, has driven members of the LDP to the elderly Fukuda Yasuo (who, at this time last year, was "too old to be prime minister") will be an interesting question for political junkies.

For social scientists, last night's open discussion of Abe's damaged mental state challenges the prevailing wisdom that Japanese find mental illness too embarrassing to talk about. Though I have seen no discussion of his medication regimen, such as there may be, the willingness of news reporters and politicians to openly discuss his incapacitation was both shocking and encouraging.

As for the Koizumi Children, the LDP first-termers in the House of Representatives, and the Koizumi Korps of the House of Councillors--the young sophisticates and media marvels who have been written off as roadkill in the race to win back the support of rural voters--they have gone on the offensive. In a show of force, they demanded and received a four day delay in the party presidential election, which will now be held on September 23. This morning, they are hitting the airwaves, demanding that not just the LDP, but all parties act responsibly for the good of the nation, not just cater to faction or special interests. (Mino Monta just had Inokuchi Kuniko and Satō Yukari on his morning--and the pair of assassins looked and sounded fabulous.)

The landscape is rumbling and churning beneath our feet.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

While the Bull---tometer is on...

I would like to know why Prime Minister Abe Shinzō could not make a single mention of his having health problems in his resignation announcement, since, if we are to believe the word of the Keiō Hospital spokesman, the PM is suffering from a functional gastrointestinal disorder (here is the Sankei Shinbun's Japanese language version of the story.)

Instead it was up to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yosano Kaoru to reveal that the Prime Minister was in extreme distress.

I would also like to know how times anyone has seen a seriously ill individual wearing a suit to his emergency medical examination.

And since when do persons with gastrointestinal troubles beg to quit on Sunday, pledge to fight on to the finish in a public speech on Monday, say nothing about their physical suffering in a resignation speech on Wednesday and disappear in to the bowels (sorry, I had to) of a discreet private university hospital on Thursday?

What the heck is going on here?

From the Department of Imaginary Japans

...comes a status report:

Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo announced his resignation Wednesday afternoon in Tokyo. Despite widespread agreement that he should have resigned after his party's rout in the July Upper House election, the decision still stunned many, especially since it came only two days after he had vowed to "stake his job" on extending the Maritime Self-Defense Forces' (MSDF) mandate to refuel vessels in the Indian Ocean.

While this may end Abe's political career, it is a brilliant tactical move: it robs the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) of political momentum and gives the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) a chance to reconnect with voters. Much depends on who the LDP picks to succeed Abe: a party determined to reassure voters will opt for an older, known quantity, even though that may herald a return to the old LDP and a retreat from the dynamism of the Koizumi years.


Abe's resignation changes the dynamic. Stepping down eliminates a lightening (sic) rod for criticism. Giving up the prime minister's office is the sort of sacrifice that Japanese expect from their leaders. It changes the focus of the political debate from Abe to Ozawa, who many believe is making a technical argument against a deployment that he would have supported under other circumstances. The MSDF is refueling ships from many countries (only 30 percent of the fuel has gone to U.S. vessels this year), supporting a multinational force that is struggling to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and making precisely the type of international contribution that Ozawa fought hard for in the first Gulf War. Abe's retiring from the scene means that Ozawa's arguments, rather than Abe's behavior, will be the focus of debate. (The speed with which Abe reversed gears also feeds speculation that a deal may have been struck with the DPJ on the MSDF issue; such backroom maneuvers are not unknown in Japan.)

I know that the author of this report is just passing through Tokyo...but he should have made the effort to ask some questions of persons not ensconced in the offices and lobbies of Nagata-chō, Kasumigaseki and Toranomon--wherein all things are connected to everything else and all outcomes predestined.

He would find out that the people are sovereign here; that fate and chance intervene in the best of plans; and the Elect are charlatans performing shadow plays for the entertainment of captive foreign visitors.

Prime Minister Abe's resignation was not a brilliant tactical move--nor was it a sacrifice Japanese expect of their leaders. It was the embarrassing final desperate tantrum of an unformed man--or possibly something quite sinister and sad.

The rest of this essay (it will be #34 in the series) will likely appear here in a short while.

I can wait.

OK, so now he's being hospitalized

Yes, Kyōdō is telling us very little.

10:41 Abe to vist Tokyo hospital for health reasons: gov't source

Since he has shown no evident signs of physical pain or disfunction, he is either in really bad shape mentally or trying to duck questions.

The above explains the swarm of helicopters hovering over my office right now.

Later - Whoa, talk about ill omens.

According to Yomiuri, the PM has gone to Keiō Hospital--the hospital where the police took Matsuoka Toshikatsu's body after his suicide (and the hospital where Sakai Izumi mysteriously died).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Seeing the elephant for what is, perhaps...

Abe Shinzō's resignation has led to an explosion of different stories explaining today's sudden announcement.

It is like the fable of the elephant...each person has a different explanation, depending upon what bit of the animal each person has a grip on.

- It turns out that on Sunday night after returning from APEC, the PM told Aso Tarō privately of his desire to quit. According to Aso, Abe felt his continued presence had become a distraction. Aso claims he told the PM to put off the decision, as there was important work to do. However, the PM did not change his mind over the next three days.

- Yosano Kaoru says the PM cannot reveal the reason...but he has been having severe health problems of late. During the visit to India and Southeast Asia, the symptoms grew terrible.

- The scandal press flacks say the Prime Minister learned of the publication of a major exposé in Shūkan Gendai tomorrow involving a slush fund left behind by his father and grandfather. Abe thus jumped before being pushed.

- Katayama Satsuki (the former highest-ranked woman in the Finance Ministry, a Koizumi assassin, an Abe backer and the former Mrs. Matsuzoe) says, "This is a coup d'état."

I do not give much credence to the first three explanations--well, I will cut Yosano some slack if "mental illness" can be included among the unspeakable illnesses of which he speaks. I can see Abe cracking under the pressure--losing a friend to suicide; seeing his other friends being forced to resign one after the other; being the butt of everyone's jokes; seeing his entire political "Beautiful Japan" movement in ruins; watching his best friends overseas getting crushed by their own domestic political problems.

The idea that a Shūkan Gendai article could be a trigger for the resignation seems the most specious of all. The scandal mags have been printing a career-ending exposés about Abe and company every week for at least half a year now.

However, the simplest answer is probably the correct one--he had an epiphany over these past few days that he was not the prime minister anymore. He was left out of the loop in the Endō takedown. It is not at all strange that a broken-spirited Abe would take leave of the whole sick farce.

The timing of the announcement also makes sense: just about the time he was explaining his intention to quit, he was scheduled to be facing intense questioning from the leaders of the other parties in Diet session. Look at it from Abe's perspective--why should he have to be lacerated by the opposition before the assembled membership of the Diet and the entire nation--when the government in place is not his government anymore, not really?

Wouldn't you, if you were in Abe's place, just cut your losses and skip town, leaving in the lurch all those who have been tormenting and denigrating you?

At the close of trading on the day of resignation

Here is the graph of the Nikkei's moves today.

Courtesy: Nikkei Online

Volatility after 13:00, anyone?

The Nikkei Index ended the day at 15,797.

Someone of a waggish bent has already decoded the message the market has sent to Abe and his cabinet.

1 5 7 9 7
i(chi) go na(na) ku na(na)

igo naku na - "After this, don't cry."

Hattip to reader TN for filling me in on the little numerical play on words.


Abe Shinzō just indicated his intent to resign...I think.

Honestly, that has to have been the worst resignation speech I have ever heard. It wandered about without engaging the emotions, waltzing endlessly around the point.

The only saving grace: he saw that he had no more pull in Nagata-chō:

"Ozawa Ichirō turned down my invitation to a little get-together of the leaders of the parties so I decided to speak to my fellow party executives about my intentions."

Yes, when you're the PM and you ask the leader of the opposition to come and talk about a piece of legislation vital to the national interest...and the opposition leader blows you off--it is time for you to go.

Later - Curiouser and curiouser.

In his own press conference, Democratic Party leader Ozawa claimed that Abe had made no formal request to him for a meeting of the party heads.

The story of Ozawa's refusal was printed in the morning papers. What is the game here?

What? What? What?

This just on the Kyōdō wire:

Sep.12 13:00 Abe offers to resign: LDP executive

What? What? What?

Later - You want to know how the stock markets responded?

Courtesy: Nikkei Online

One more time...we're gonna celebrate

Well, at least he does not have to say the entire speech over again.

It seems that on Monday, when Prime Minister Abe Shinzō was delivering his policy address to the Diet, the verbal jousting between the hecklers (yaji) of the various parties so flustered him that he skipped a line in the speech.

The biggest commotion occurred when newly elected member of the House of Councillors Maruyama Tatsuya, having had quite enough the Democratic hecklers, stood up, put his hands to either side of his mouth like a megaphone and shouted, "This is the Prime Minister's address. So shut up and listen!"

Of course, Maruyama only ended up egging on the hecklers, who proceeded to rag on the freshman lawmaker without mercy:

"Ah, ya damned celebrity lawyer!"

"You're not allowed to stand up ya know? Sit down!"

Since the line Prime Minister Abe skipped was kind of important, pledging to make every effort to ensure the success of the G8 Tōyako Summit in Hokkaidō, he has applied to have the chance to say the skipped line in Diet session.

No, no one can remember the last time a prime minister asked for a do-over.

Does nothing go right for poor Shin-chan?

A Convocation of Devils

Here's an image to chill a Liberal Democratic Party heart.

Courtesy: The Japan Times

Former Tanaka Kakuei protégé, once one of the LDP's Seven Magistrates (shichinin no bugyō) and now DPJ party leader Ozawa Ichirō garrulously chatting up his seatmate, Socialist firebrand, Koizumi Jun'ichirō nemesis and convicted embezzler Tsujimoto Kiyomi.

How did those two ever end up sitting next to each other in the Diet on Monday?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Time Stand Still

"What was he thinking? Or was he thinking at all?"

Pity the rank-and-file of the LDP.

In the course of the last week, the LDP party president and the secretary-general have allowed their tongues and lips free rein, unbridling their inner moron. Just when the party most needed calm and internal cohesion, Abe Shinzō and Aso Tarō have managed to utter the most unspeakable of stupidities, sending the party faithful hurtling toward a spinning abyss of defeat and dissolution.

Aso struck the first blow in his declaration supporting the reabsorption of Hiranuma Takeo into the LDP without conditions. Well, not exactly his support--more like his his inability to think of why he might have any reason to oppose the idea.

Aso and Hiranuma are longtime fellow travelers in the neo-rightist movement. Along with ally Abe Shinzō, the pair serve on the executive committees of nearly all of the dozens of political study groups that sprang up following the 1990s collapse of dirty money politics. Whether the subject was rewriting the constitution, altering the teaching of pre-war history found in school textbooks, returning elements of pre-war society--particularly Shintō ritual--to prominence, opposing critical views of the Japanese imperial state, resurrecting subservient and sex-determined roles for women and promoting ministerial and prime ministerial visits to Yasukuni--wherever you found one you were sure to find the other.

The only problem with reinstating Hiranuma is, of course, he was expelled from the LDP for refusing to toe the party line on the privatization of the Post Office. He still refuses to toe the line. He negotiated the return of the Dirty Eleven last year with the currently ostracized Nakagawa Hidenao on the condition that the Dirty Eleven sign admissions of error in having opposed the postal reforms. Aso is now willing to waive this requirement for his old friend.

Only two small problems with that, of course.

First the House of Representatives is filled with first termers, particularly LDP members from traditionally Democratic districts and Democratic proportional seats, who won election precisely because Koizumi Jun'ichirō had Hiranuma and the other recalcitrants expelled. Aso's greenlighting Hiranuma's return to the bossom of the party makes it clear that the policy under which the first-termers won election is no longer operative--meaning that the LDP is flipping off the populace in terms of policy. It would also guarantee that nearly the entire freshman class could get wiped out, in the untoward event of a House of Representatives election.

The second small problem is that Hiranuma and the others were only ever even given a chance to return due to their supposed ability to swing elections in their home areas. The results of the House of Councillors election speak for themselves: it is difficult to find a single race where the return of the exiles did not make the defeat worse. One of the major talking points in support of Hiranuma's return that he went out of his way to support LDP candidates in Okayama Prefecture. Too bad the man whose career Hiranuma was supposed to save, LDP House of Councillors #2 Katayama Toranosuke, the LDP's man in Okayama, went down to ignominious defeat.

If Hiranuma cannot deliver the goods, why take him in?

Under normal circumstance another member of the party leadership would have already stepped in to point out to Aso that his fantasy of readmitting his buddy was sowing divisions within the party.

Unfortunately, the other powers in the current leadership all happen to lack qualities that would make it possible for them to confront Aso over his infatuation. Party president Abe Shinzō is as eager for Hiranuma's return as Aso--indeed, perhaps even more eager. General Council Chairman Nikai Toshihirō owes his position more to his potential to coordinate with DPJ party leader Ozawa Ichirō and New Komeito party leader Ota Akihiro than for his ability to lay down the law within the LDP. Indeed, as a former defector and Ozawa confidant, Nikai has just about zero party disciplinary power. Policy Research Council Chairman Ishihara Nobuteru is just too young and too isolated from the factions to be able to tell Aso to go and take a shower.

Which leaves Chief Cabinet Secretary Yosano Kaoru to play the role of executioner. Fate, history, health and the webs of mutual support and obligation intervene, however: Yosano and Hiranuma were classmates at Azabu High School (the high school of the bureaucratic and political elite) and Hiranuma is recovering from a stroke suffered late last year. Yosano would become persona non grata with his fellow Azabu alumni if he were to heartlessly deny a sick fellow classmate the chance to return to the fold.

So Yosano, who is not unaware of the unpopularity of the return of Hiranuma both within the LDP and outside of Nagata-chō, has nevertheless passed the issue right back to Aso.

The one person seemingly intent on derailing Hiranuma's return to the LDP is Hiranuma himself. His insistence that the LDP consider the readmittance of the assassinated exiles, the ones who failed to win election to the Diet as independents following their expulsion from the party (and who thus bear the double stigma of not only being rebels but losers) first before readmitting Hiranuma himself has thrown the party a lifeline at the last second. If Hiranuma is really serious about this condition, the party leadership can--if it gets its act together--turn around and rebuff this arrogant and doomed demand.

That, of course, leaves the other runaway train, one for which there seems to be no last second reprieve.

No doubt Abe Shinzō wanted to appear principled when he blurted out his intent to not cling to his post should the attempt to renew the Anti-Terrorism Law fail. Unfortunately, he could not have thought of a better way of encouraging every person opposed to the renewal to stand in league with Ozawa Ichirō --or to discourage those who were willing to fight for the law's renewal.

The only goad for a face-saving compromise between the ruling coalition and the opposition before the November 1 deadline was the threat that Abe would still be in power; would still be able to lead an override of the House of Councillors through an extension of the Diet session leading to a revote in the House of Representatives; would use parliamentary procedures to make the opposition's lives miserable; would even resubmit a deployment bill in January--anything to fight back tooth and nail, no matter how malicious and petty it made him look, to keep Japan's ships in service in the Indian Ocean even if there were a brief interruption.

Now Abe has promised to walk away should the deadline pass without passage of the bill in the House of Councillors.

Who the hell will even bother showing up for committee meeting on the renewal bill in the House of Representatives ? Who the hell will speak up for the bill in the House of Councillors, except to score meaningless debating points?

Hurtling to his destruction goes Abe...does he think any of the rest of his party will clamber on board with him?

1) Water Temple in Shinkawa Park. Kiryū City, Gunma Prefecture.

2) The Kiryū Meijikan, formerly the Gunma Prefectural Hygiene Station and Medical School, built in 1874. Kiryū City, Gunma Prefecture.

3) Playing a 78 on the steel-needle Victrola in the tearoom (coffee with apple pie = 500 yen). The Kiryū Meijikan; Kiryū City, Gunma Prefecture.

4) Study Hall of the Ashikaga School. Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture.

5) Sunset from atop Ryōgaisan. Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture.

All images captured on September 8, 2007. All images by MTC.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Muscling in on their action

I used to think the Washington Post a newspaper. Now I may have to change my views. Over the weekend, the online version at least seems to have morphed into an extra-fat blog:

Japan's Floundering Abe Fights for Floating Gas Station
Refueling Operation Is Vulnerable to Domestic Power Plays
Washington Post Foreign Service

By Blaine Harden - TOKYO, Sept. 7 -- For the election-battered, scandal-plagued and competence-challenged government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, it has come down to this: If he cannot keep a floating gas station open in the Indian Ocean, Abe may be finished as the leader of Japan.

The high-seas refueling operation has been Japan's principal contribution to the war in Afghanistan. Over the past six years, Japanese military tanker ships cruising far from home have pumped more than 127 million gallons of fuel, free of charge, much of it into U.S. warships hunting for terrorists and smugglers.

Yet in recent weeks the gas station has become a political cudgel...

"Japan's Floundering Abe Fights for Floating Gas Station"? What kind of serious news publication's article title is that? How does the writer avoid censure for affixing the misleading label of "floating gas station" to the MSDF's oilers?

Does Mr. Blaine not understand that disdainful verbal slaps and gross disregard for accuracy are blogger traits?

Shinzo's just been on...

...slamming a new, pugnacious message into the ears of the assembled members at the opening of the extraordinary session of the Diet.

He clearly has a new speech stylist--the address was just non-stop aggression, from start to finish. No quiet moments, no place to catch your breath, no dynamic shifts--just relentless pounding, like a Rammstein performance.

Mr. Abe seemed to be promising to end income inequality, raise Japan's reputation in the world, respond to the message the people sent him on July 29, guarantee economic growth through continued reform and repeal, if possible, the law of gravity.

Instant analysis from a voice of reason two cubicles over:

"What a shameful speech. According to Abe-san, we are all going to Heaven!"

Nobody likes me, everybody hates me...

I'm gonna eat some worms!

Really Shin-chan, you're gonna eat worms? Let's see you do a handful. In fact, we want to see you chug 'em. (*)

Abe ready to resign if Diet doesn't extend fueling mission
The Mainichi Shimbun

SYDNEY -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday he was ready to resign if parliament fails to extend Japan's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean in support of U.S.-led anti-terrorism operations in Afghanistan.

"I would not cling to my job as prime minister," Abe told a news conference, when asked what would happen if the vote fails. Abe was in Sydney for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which ended Sunday...

Gosh, Abe Shinzō's threat to resign will certainly stop Democratic Party leader Ozawa Ichirō dead in his tracks. No way Ozawa will let legislation founder in the House of Councillors now.

I guess the constant needling since the announcement of the new Cabinet has hit home: Abe does not want to be just a pretend prime minister. He is going do it otokorashiku. He is going to show them all what he is made of. He is going to go down, and down hard, on his own terms.

He will resist the majority of the population's wishes, forcing through even against the advice of friendly opinion a law aimed at bolstering a close, demeaning and possibly counterproductive politico-military relationship with the United States.

Crowds of angry demonstrators outside the gates of the Diet
protesting the Abe Cabinet's attempt to renew the Anti-Terrorism Act
(artist's rendition)

a) Is there anything Abe says which does not immediately jackhammer into your skull the thought that he is a pale, underachieving reincarnation of his grandfather?

b) One of my less-than-complimentary monikers for Mr. Abe (I have a few) is "the Prime Minister from AEI". In pledging to sacrifice his prime ministership on the altar of the Anti-Terror legislation, who else could he be trying to impress except right-wing U.S. think tanks?

(*) all apologies to Gary Larson's famous cartoon in The Far Side.