Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Anger Management

Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo and DPJ party leader Ozawa Ichirō held an inconclusive private meeting on the eve of the expiration of the law the dispatch of Japan Maritime Self Defense Force ships to the Indian Ocean:

Ozawa rejects Fukuda's plea for support for new anti-terrorism bill
Mainichi Daily News

Largest opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) leader Ichiro Ozawa rejected Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's plea Tuesday for support for a new anti-terrorism bill that would allow the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) to continue its refueling mission for U.S. military vessels in the Indian Ocean.

The opposition-controlled House of Councillors will certainly vote down the new anti-terrorism special measures bill if DPJ members oppose it along with other opposition legislators. Since the current law expires on Nov. 1, the MSDF will have no choice but to suspend its mission to refuel U.S. military vessels in the Indian Ocean without a new law...

It was a glorious public relations moment for Ozawa. Nothing could be finer than the leader of the LDP humbly requesting Ozawa's personal intercession on behalf of the renewal of the dispatch--a request Ozawa could then imperiously reject.

A complete disaster for Prime Minister and LDP president Fukuda Yasuo, no?

Not exactly.

1) However late the hour and however hopeless the plea, Fukuda still managed to drag Ozawa into a meeting. Contrast this outcome with former Prime Minister Abe Shinzō's flailing attempts to cop a meeting with his opposition counterpart in September. To paraphrase Woody Allen, 90% of everything is just getting Ozawa to show up.

2) Both sides agreed to postpone the party leaders's debate in the Diet schedule for today.

This is a huge decision. By agreeing to not argue in public, Ozawa has given Fukuda and the country a reprieve. Had the debate go on, television viewers would have been treated to the spectacle of a national Diet wasting the people's time on interminable debates over past mistakes no one can actually do much about in the short term. The MSDF misrecording of the diesel fuel amount and the subsequent Defense Agency cover up, the pensions recording scandal, the Hepatitis C problem, the economic decay of the rural areas--all require long-term attention and mutual accommodation of the parties. The current Cabinet lineup is competent and assiduous (well, aside from you know who) and is working on the problems identified in the regular Diet session. What public purpose is served by the party leaders grandstanding, aside from giving the press something to pontificate about?

3) By agreeing to both a cancellation of the debate and a second meeting of the leaders of the LDP and the DPJ on Friday, Ozawa has cut the ground out from under the other members of the opposition. The Socialists, the Communists and the Kokumin Shintō were all looking forward to grilling Fukuda on their pet issues. Now they will have to hope that Ozawa raises these issues in Friday's private meeting. Two word phrase on the likelihood that Ozawa will adequately represent his fellow oppositionists: Good Luck!

Some partisans are indeed worrying that the Friday meeting is prima facie evidence of a fix being on. Are Fukuda and Ozawa really discussing the legislative calendar, or is the subject of these closed-door meetings a grand moderate-conservative coalition, with the LDP dumping the Komeitō and the DPJ leaving the smaller members of the opposition in the lurch?

Closed door meetings replacing open debate...yes, paranoia...but still...

4) The expiration of the MSDF dispatch law was never really Fukuda's problem anyway. It was Abe Shinzo's terrible sequencing of legislation after April 1; his misreading of the public mood in July; his stupid time management in August; his final breakdown in September and the weeks lost in trying to select his replacement that doomed the passage of new legislation by the November 1 expiration date. Even if the Fukuda Cabinet gets nothing done the whole rest of the extraordinary Diet session, the public will hardly be clamoring for new elections. The whole mess was Abe's idea and responsibility.

Fukuda's term as the master of his own destiny does not get started until January. Count on the public to give him at least a few more months of forbearance before really coming down hard upon him. If his government is not able to function on its own terms and according to its own schedule, Fukuda will certainly deserve the public's opprobrium.

So it's not all bad for the man at the top of the government, really.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Okumura Jun gets the essentials down in a magnificent review of the moderate consensus on the situation in East Asia.

I wanted to say something witty about the post but find myself just grinning with stupid delight instead.

The Other Hatoyama

Yes, there was a reason why back in August I labelled his appointment "a comedian's dream"

...'cause I figured, it was only a matter of time until...

Machimura Warns Japan Minister About Al-Qaeda Remark

By Stuart Biggs and Takashi Hirokawa - October 30 -- Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura cautioned Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama over comments he made yesterday suggesting a ``friend of a friend of his'' is a member of the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

``It's very regrettable that he gave an impression Japan's justice minister knows such terrorists,'' Machimura said at a press conference today. ``I think his remarks were careless, so I warned him before the Cabinet meeting.''

Hatoyama told the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan yesterday ``a friend of a friend of his'' is an al-Qaeda member involved in bombings on Bali and that he was warned to stay away from the Indonesian island because it was being targeted for attack. Hatoyama did not specify which attack he was referring to. Bali has suffered other attacks since terrorists killed 202 people in a bombing at the beach resort of Kuta in October 2002.

Hatoyama retracted the remarks at a later press conference, saying his friend received the warning about the 2002 bombings, and that he heard about it months after the attack, Kyodo News reported. Hatoyama made the comment in response to a question about the introduction of biometric fingerprinting of foreigners entering Japan from Nov. 20...

"Let me explain this to you, in simple terms, so that you'll understand. You all have to be fingerprinted because there are idiots like me who actually have information about the identities of Al-Qaeda terrorists and advance knowledge potential bombing targets who will just sit on the information for five years, not telling anyone, not even after being named Justice Minister. I mean, at that point only biometrics can save us...because if we have to rely on persons like me to lead the fight against terrorism, the job I was appointed to do, then we're all doomed."

From the pre-defeat Chōsen Hantō

The Marmot's Hole links to a marvelous series of fine-grained photographs of colonial era Keijō (Seoul).

Whatever the heck "Rēto kurēmu" may be.

In Scandal's Sweet Embrace

"Who ever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers..."

- Blanche DuBois, A Streetcar Named Desire

T'is is a small detail, but an infuriating one--one that separates scamp from scoundrel.

Yesterday, in his testimony to the Diet, former Defense Vice Minister Moriya Takemasa admitted that in addition to the 200 plus round of golf at 50%- 70% off the cost of the green fees, the paid-for mahjong games, the dinners at the yakiniku restaurants (What is it with bureaucrats that when they misbehave, they have to see meat cooking meat before them?), he accepted from the former executive of Yamada Yōkō two sets of golf bags with phoney name tags on them, facilitating Moriya's recurrent ruse of signing in at the course clubhouse under an assumed name.

Even after all the other gifts, when out on his forbidden excursions Moriya depended upon his buddy to shell out the money necessary to provide him with a believable alias.

Monday, October 29, 2007

It could have been worse

No, probably it could not.

Moriya Takemasa's live televised testimony to the House of Representatives Special Committee on Prevention of Terrorism and on Aid to Iraq, what little I could stand of it, looked and sounded bad.

Really bad.

Moriya would wince, his face saying, "Why are you asking me this? I don't know the answer to that. Don't you understand your question is formulated in a way as to be impossible to answer?"

A natural response...but it was in Moriya's interest--and the interest of the ministry he once worked for--to not look annoyed at any of the Diet members' questions.

Moriya's repeated reliance on "" in order to to buy time to recollect what he had already said reminded me of something a wizened and dignified African-American gentleman once told me as we both awaited the arrival of a bus in Goleta, California.

"Never be a liar."

(He pronounced it with such a molasses-thick accent what I first thought he said was "Never be a lawyer")

"Never be a liar...because if you never tell a lie, you never have to remember nothin'."

It was a lesson in efficient living that Moriya clearly could have benefited from.

Mitakesan's Northern Flank

Autumn Colors in the Hato no Su Gorge
Okutama Township, Tokyo Metropolitan District
October 28, 2007

Twin Dragons Waterfall
Okutama Township, Tokyo Metropolitan District
October 28, 2007

Sakashita Bridge, Sakashita Village, Tanazawa Village and Honnitayama
Okutama Township, Tokyo Metropolitan District
October 28, 2007

The Koesawa Valley and the Koesawa Buttress
Okutama Township, Tokyo Metropolitan District
October 28, 2007

Autumn Colors in the Koesawa Valley
Okutama Township, Tokyo Metropolitan District
October 28, 2007

Sarashina shōma Cimicifuga simplex
Okutama Township, Tokyo Metropolitan District
October 28, 2007

Ōba senkyū Angelica genuflexa
Okutama Township, Tokyo Metropolitan District
October 28, 2007

Kawanoriyama Massif over the Koesawa Valley
Okutama Township, Tokyo Metropolitan District
October 28,2007

Headwaters of the Koesawa
Okutama Township, Tokyo Metropolitan District
October 28,2007

Whitewater kayaking in the Tamagawa at Mitake Bridge
Okutama Township, Tokyo Metropolitan District
October 28,2007

Three hours and twenty minutes uphill, from Hato no Su Station on the Ōme Line to the Babakeoshi Residence of Mitakesan. Funicula (570 yen) down to Takimoto.

Friday, October 26, 2007

May I Hate Now, Please?

Readers of my post on borderline issues that have beem dominating the news and postponing the consideration of hard questions may have been disconcerted by my inclusion of the scandal of 418 likely carriers of the Hepatitis C virus who have never been contacted by the manufacturer of a blood-based drug that infected them.

The story of the sufferers, most ( if not all) of them women--and their treatment by the company is sickening.

However, one has to be skeptical. Why is this matter, which the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry knows only the bare bones about due to privacy rules, being used to beat the Ministry over the head? With an estimated 700,000 hepatitis C infections in Japan, many of them related to blood products and blood transfusions, why are these 418 tragedies being given such prominence? The matter is being handled, however slowly and insufficiently, by an ongoing massive lawsuit.

It should surprise no one that the company involved in the lawsuit is Green Cross--a.k.a. Mengele Pharmaceutical. The medical products company founded by the vivisectionists of Unit 731, the guys who escaped prosecution and likely execution by turning over the results of their experiments on human subjects to U.S. intelligence agencies--and who upon their return to Japan were put in charge of the nation's blood supply. The company that prevented the sale of safe, heat treated blood products from overseas in favor of its own stocks, infected with the AIDS virus.

An evil organization.

Safely evil.

A target of sanctioned and permitted repulsion.

But does not the focus on Green Cross leave other companies and other victims out of the spotlight, in the dark?

Of course it does...and that's point.

We are given a set of signifiers, sanctioned targets of our derision and disgust. Persons and organizations who become representatives of societal ills,the designated targets of permissible abuse.

In the novel nineteen eighty four, the citizens of Oceania had their "Two Minutes Hate." Here in the scandal media we have our fortnights of ritualized disapproval. This week the target of our permitted taking-of-offense is the straight-from-central-casting former Vice Minister of Defense Moriya Takemasa. Before Moriya, however, the target was boxer Kameda Daiki, before that the model Sawajiri Erika (who in a spectacular collision of teenage petulance, Gallic temper and a complete lack of acting skills provided an answer to the question, "What would happen if someone, someday, just refused to cooperate in a ceremony of enforced jollity?"). Before that we were offered yokozuna Asashōryū, former prime minister Abe Shinzō, MAFF Minister Akagi and his bandages...

I do not know the process by the symbolic enemies of the community are selected, by which the switch is thrown across the length and breadth of society, loosing a flood of obloquy against select individuals and organizations.

How is it that just a few are chosen to be the targets of society's sense of resentment...when so many others are just as deserving of exposure and disgrace?

Sociologists, your answers?

The Outer Limits

I recently wrote a post about Daigo Township's attempts to attract new residents and the deepening genkai shūraku phenomenon.

An Asahi Shimbun editorial provides a follow up.

American Democrats Are People Too.. least that is message I gleaned from a recent op-ed co-authored by Robert Orr and Edward Lincoln.

POINT OF VIEW / Japan's elites need a balanced approach to U.S.
The Asahi Shimbun

Last November, as the U.S. Democratic Party was on the verge of gaining a victory in the U.S. Congress, a flurry of activity and concern developed in Tokyo.

Suddenly, many in the Japanese elite political and bureaucratic world realized that after six years of the Bush administration and Republican Congress, the Democrats would be important for them again...
Now I think that the powers that be in the GOJ are fairly aware that Democrats are again a power to be reckoned with in Washington (that little bit of symbolic legislative business involving Democratic Representative Mike Honda of California might have provided a clue). So this op-ed is not exactly breaking new ground in terms of revelations of hidden truths.

I am intrigued, however, by one passage that does reveal something heretofore unknown to me:
The Fukuda government has introduced a proposal that would limit the scope of the Maritime Self-Defense Force's role to supplying fuel and water to allied ships on the high seas looking for terrorist-connected vessels. In addition, it would require the government to gain approval for an extension after one year.

In order to side-step opposition from Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), instead of requiring full Diet support for the extension, the new law would only require Cabinet approval, thus avoiding the prospect of losing in the Upper House, which Minshuto controls...
What? A law requiring only Cabinet approval?

What are these two august members of the Japan Academy talking about?

Anyone heard anything about such a plan?

Honestly, I'm in the dark on this.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Oh, Mr. Ambassador!

"Hello, Stephanie? It's Mark from Foggy Bottom."

"Hi, Mark."

"Hi. Look I am sorry I didn't get back to you about your email. Kind of got caught up planning for the in-house basketball league game last night."

"How did you do?"

"We kicked Near Eastern's ass. Like last year."


"Thanks. Anyway, I have had a chance to brief the DAS on the speech. His response was negative."


"He doesn't think it would be a good idea for the Ambassador to imply that not passing the refueling legislation would be akin to giving 'aid and comfort' to terrorists. He also thinks that calling the bilateral into question is way out of line."



"I really sort of wish you had gotten back to me on this yesterday..."

US asks Japan to keep Indian Ocean mission
Agence France Presse

TOKYO - The US ambassador here called on Japan Wednesday to maintain support for forces in Afghanistan, saying that ending the mission would hurt its alliance with Washington and send a bad message to the world.


"If the mission stops, the impact on our bilateral relationship would be regrettable. It will be hard to make an argument that it's strengthened," US Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer told reporters.

"If Japan stopped doing this on a permanent basis, it would be sending a very bad message to the rest of the international community and to terrorists, because I think that it would be saying that Japan is opting out of the war on terror."

Quote broadcast in its glorious entirety on last night's 9 p.m. NHK news.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Song Remains the Same

Fujimura Shirō was not a man of rest.

At 28 years of age he became the most powerful politician in the prefecture. The prefecture, however, was backward and rural, receiving hardly any support from Tokyo, barely participating in the trade-based economic boom taking place along the Pacific Coast.

Fujimura Shirō was going to put an end to his prefecture's backwardness through a three-pronged strategy of coordinated economic development.

The first element was the construction of highways. "Our main outlet to the coast is no wider than alley!" he thundered. With subsidies from Tokyo and matching outlays from the local municipalities, local construction gangs widened the narrow lanes to accommodate the biggest haulage vehicles. It was frightfully expensive. However, Fujimura guaranteed that with the new access to the coast, the prefecture's previously isolated mountain hamlets would be drawn into the modern era.

The second element was a wave of government supported industrial development. The prefecture had always been an agricultural zone. Some mining had always been done but the industry's days were numbered. There had not been any significant manufacturing in the prefecture since the Sengoku period.

Fujimura set about changing that. With government seed money and again every bit of revenue he could squeeze out of the local governments, he arranged for the construction of a giant industrial complex, the second largest of its kind in the country.

Thirdly, Fujimura needed a set of educated but obedient workers to work in the industrial complex. He took a great interest in the promotion of education in the prefecture, encouraging and overseeing the construction of modern school facilities in even the most remote locations. However, the curriculum, while intense and high quality, emphasized rote memorization of basic facts and repetition. Creative and critical thinking were not taught.

Within only a few years, a number of Fujimura's gargantuan dreams were turning into costly embarrassments.

The adjoining prefecture refused to fund the widening of its roads in order to link up with Fujimura's highways. The prefecture's expensive, expansive new roads became indeed "highways to nowhere."

Development of the industrial complex too, caused problems. The massive loss-making complex competed directly with private enterprise, smothering entrepreneurship in the prefecture. Providing workers and raw materials to the prefectural industrial complex also starved other, more traditional ventures of capital, labor and most importantly, land.

The main newspaper, taking huge political risks, grew critical of Fujimura's economic developments and their relationships with the political structure. It bewailed the lack of free expression of opinions about the changes being wrought. In time, criticism of Fujimura's policies joined with similar criticisms elsewhere, becoming a national movement among the normally passive citizenry, one that demanded a greater voice in spending of their yen and a more transparent political system.

Politicians in Tokyo, panicking, promised reforms of the political system--a promise that they did deliver upon, although in an incomplete manner, many years later, in a form very different from the one imagined by enraged citizens.

For the residents of Fujimura's prefecture, however, the once seemingly all-important questions of poorly thought-out development and political accountability faded in the face of the task of coping with a massive, long-running spiral of deflation engineered by the central banking authorities of Tokyo. Prices for everything fell sharply, driving debtors to desperation and the rural areas into sharp decline.

* * *

Fujimura Shirō (1845-1908) was a Kumamoto samurai who became Governor of Yamanashi Prefecture in 1873. He served in the post for 14 years before becoming Governor of Ehime Prefecture. During his term in Yamanashi, he directed the widening and linking of the Ōme Kaidō and Kōshu Kaidō in order to connect the remotest part of the prefecture with the great port at Yokohama, a project that came to naught when Kanagawa Prefecture refused to expand its section of the Kōshu Kaidō to accommodated carriages and other draught vehicles. He arranged for the construction of the vastly over budget prefectural silkworks in Kōfu, second in size only to the great Tomioka silkworks of Gunma Prefecture (the Tomioka works is a proposed World Heritage Site). He encouraged the deemphasis of the production of foodstuffs in favor of the cultivation of paper mulberry and the raising of silkworms. He ordered the construction of a dense network of "renaissance-style" elementary schools teaching factory skills and silk clothing manufacture, then deputized citizens to drag school age children to their classes (Yamanashi Prefecture today boasts the greatest number of surviving examples of early Meiji era elementary school architecture of any prefecture).

The newspaper that spoke out against Fujimura's economic development policies was the now long-defunct Kōchu Shinpō (峡中新報).  The political movement was the Jiyū Minken Undō (自由民権運動) that demanded, among many other liberal reforms, a constitution. Itō Hirobumi delivered his Meiji Constitution in 1889. Suffice it to say it was not quite the political reform document Jiyū Minken Undō leaders had been seeking.

The deflation was the Matsukata deflation (松方デフレ) instigated in order to halt the inflationary spiral set off by the costs of the Seinan War (西南戦争) of 1877.

JIC members visiting the Ogata Elementary School
one of the surviving "Fujimura schools," opened in 1878
Tsuru City, Yamanashi Prefecture
October 21, 2007

Eikoku no Hinkaku

The only problem with this essay is that it is not absurdly essentialist enough.

And the author has to break character at the end.

And the expression of contempt for economics, the Enlightenment and the rest of the humankind is not strong enough.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Please Be Distracted by the Sparkly Objects in the Display Case Before You

The American comedian Chris Rock has routine where he offers a theory that the tsunami of trivial but titillating news on American television is actually a well-planned effort to keep the American people from concentrating upon the absurdity of the Iraq War and the War on Terror (Caution: profanities abound, run rampant).

Watching tonight's 9 o'clock NHK newscast, where the announcers all seem to have had a run-in with a windmachine prior to going on camera, I find myself sharing some of Mr. Rock's rage at the unnameable someones who are trying to distract the populace with hysteria about incredibly minor matters.

The dispute over whether it was 200,000 or 800,000 gallons of diesel fuel that a Japanese oiler transferred to the U.S.S. Pecos which it then supplied fuel to the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk en route for the Persian Gulf and the Iraq War, seems a ploy to suppress serious discussions. The Kitty Hawk burns 200,000 gallons of fuel a day, according to reports. What could possibly be the significance of four days of the Kitty Hawk's operations versus one? Especially since we have an explanation for the discrepancy--that a clerk entered 200,000 gallons in the logs instead of 800,000, that the error twas eventually corrected--but not before officials, including the then Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuda Yasuo, had publicly stated the amount provided to the Pecos was only 200,000 gallons.

Tonight's report featured the revelation that the Defense Agency knew of the discrepancy in the fuel logs years ago but did not tell the politicians. Considering that Defense Agency officials were under the directive to not do anything to mess up the Indian Ocean deployment, they had an incentive, indeed an obligation, to not publicizing the discrepancy.

What was infuriating was the elision of the story of the refueling mistake with the story of Moriya Takemasa's golf outings with defense contractors in violation of Defense Agency and then Ministry of Defense rules. The two stories are about completely different issues. However, NHK made them appear to be a single whose only message could be "You cannot trust defense officials in anything"--which is not only misleading in and of itself but confuses the viewer regarding the root causes of Moriya's crimes: his arrogance and greed.

After which came a hyperventilation over the discovery inside the Health and Welfare Ministry of the partially blacked out records of 118 individuals possibly infected with Hepatitis C through a blood-based drug. Health and Welfare Minister Masuzoe Yōichi had stated in Diet session that the drug maker had not supplied the Ministry with the names of 418 potential recipients of possibly tainted blood products. Today, the great "Aha!" revelation: it turns out that buried in the files of the Ministry there were loose documents where in at least 116 cases one could read the Roman letter initials of patient--and in 2 cases read the entire name of the likely infected individual!

Now what happened to the persons who were treated with the drug Fiberigen was tragic. However, to jump up and down over today's minuscule revelation distracts from the Ministry's more massive failures. Did the report once mention that the estimated total number of cases of Hepatitis C infections in Japan is around 700,000? Did it offer the context that the Ministry that had no recollection of two persons full names mistakenly not being blacked out in their paper records was the one that managed to fail to input the basic data on over 50 million pension records?

A little perspective here, please.

Oh, and then the amount of time that was given to the scandal over the unlikely-to-be-lethal but definitely well-aged ingredients of the products of the confectioner Akafuku!

(Full disclosure: I have always hated akafuku with a passion. Every time someone brought akafuku back from central Japan I cringed and found an excuse to throw it out as soon as possible.)

Food safety is all important--but spare me the Claude Rains impersonations at the revelations that after Fujiya got closed down for selling food past its expiration date, the Akafuku company destroyed all of its records of its having done the same.

Hear ye, hear ye! The Akafuku executives figured out what a shredder is for!

Of course they did. They are evil and horrid, t'is true--but that does not mean they are stupid, too.

Nitrous Oxide

Does anyone have a better explanation for whatever it is that is going on at The New York Times Tokyo Bureau?

Today, we have had to suffer through a clot of nonsense about a clothing designer's cute idea:

Fearing Crime, Japanese Wear the Hiding Place

by Martin Fackler - TOKYO, Oct. 19 - On a narrow Tokyo street, near a beef bowl restaurant and a pachinko parlor, Aya Tsukioka demonstrated new clothing designs that she hopes will ease Japan's growing fears of crime.

Deftly, Ms. Tsukioka, a 29-year-old experimental fashion designer, lifted a flap on her skirt to reveal a large sheet of cloth printed in bright red with a soft drink logo partly visible. By holding the sheet open and stepping to the side of the road, she showed how a woman walking alone could elude pursuers by disguising herself as a vending machine...

On the 19th we had an up close and personal interview with Prince "Hello There My Concubine!":

A Font of Commentary Amid Japan's Taciturn Royals

by Norimitsu Onishi -TOKYO - NEVER tight-lipped about his recurring battle with cancer, he still surprised many Japanese by admitting that he was an alcoholic and checking himself into rehab over the summer. Family problems, he explained.

The inevitable strain of a quarter-century marriage, a cousin's cryptic comments, existential questions about the nature of family and life itself, all of this, he said openly, had contributed to his heavier-than-usual drinking.

The family in question is none other than Japan's imperial family, and the recovering patient is Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, a first cousin of Emperor Akihito. The family's other members are only seen, if they are seen at all, waving at some official event. But this prince has never shied away from offering his personal opinions on everything from preserving the throne's unbroken male line — even, he wrote mischievously two years ago, by reviving the concubine system — to the private burdens of royalty.

"It's not only the past one or two years," the prince said of the stress behind his alcoholism. "As long as I can remember, the imperial family's been like one big ball of stress."

"Yessir, livin' in my palace, gettin' waited on hand and foot by an army of attendants, the stress...oh Laudy, the stress of it all... "

This is not a puff piece; this is journalistic...well..the flyers surreptitiously slipped into my mailbox label it "the VIP course."

However fawning, the interview is prize-winning stuff compared to this off-putting online offering:

Memo From Tokyo: Japan Wrings Its Hands Over Sumo's Latest Woesl

by Norimitsu Onishi - TOKYO, Oct. 18 — The problems swirling through Japan's ancient sport of sumo recently would seem to be random, unconnected events.

A coach was expelled from the sumo association this month for inflicting fatal injuries on a 17-year-old apprentice in a hazing incident and may face criminal charges. One of the two grand champions, Asashoryu, has been suspended for claiming an injury and then being filmed playing soccer in his native Mongolia. He is also suspected of fixing matches with other wrestlers, including the other grand champion, also Mongolian.

When things seemingly could not get any worse, a woman tried to climb up into the elevated sumo ring last month during a match, a no-go place for women, who are considered impure in sumo tradition. She broke free from a female security guard in the audience but was pulled down by a sumo wrestler who prevented her from entering the sacred ring and, in the eyes of traditionalists, defiling it...

Bowels of Christ, Onishi-san! How can the cleaning up the spiritual pollution of a woman's presence in the ring be equated with the unsolved and thus unpunished beating death of a child?

And right before that we had a story about...well, does anyone understand what Onishi's point was?

Death Reveals Harsh Side of a Model in Japan

by Norimitsu Onishi - KITAKYUSHU, Japan - In a thin notebook discovered along with a man's partly mummified corpse this summer was a detailed account of his last days, recording his hunger pangs, his drop in weight and, above all, his dream of eating a rice ball, a snack sold for about $1 in convenience stores across the country...

Trust me, if a person's corpse is lying around during a Japanese summer, one of the things is it not is "partly mummified." Try "mostly eaten," maybe.

What is going on with these two? Do they not understand they are reporting from a real country, with real problems and that these problems have global consequences? Or, if they are being pressured to present "off-the-beaten-track" stories, that Japan has developed some really interesting ways of coping with issues other countries are just coming to grips with?

Oddball trivialities are Japan Probe's and Pink Tentacle's idiom--and they are fulfilling the world's daily requirements quite well, thank you very much.

Or has the Tokyo posting become all just one big giggle, punctuated only by once-a-year solemn visits to Hiroshima/Nagasaki and back-of-the-hand-to-the-forehead "Oh My" descriptions of cetacean carnage at Taiji?

(For the record, what happens at Taiji is an obscenity. Coastal, even pelagic whaling is fine, if strictly managed. Dolphin and porpoise slaughter, however, is pointless. Nobody can safely eat dolphin.)

W. David Marx offers his two yen's worth over at Néojaponisme.

Later - I am fairly certain that Onishi-san had a rather serious point in mind when he began writing about the starvation notebook. Unfortunately, he does not ever express the point, whatever it was, leaving the reader annoyed rather than moved.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

How do you solve a problem like Moriya?

One would think that for someone who had stuff to hide, Moriya Takemasa sure made an incredibly unsympathetic nuisance of himself in August.
Moriya played golf, dined with defense firm exec
Yomiuri Shimbun

Former Administrative Vice Defense Minister Takemasa Moriya frequently played golf with and was wined and dined by a former executive of Yamada Corp., a trading company specializing in defense equipment, while he held the post, sources said Friday.

During the five years up to fiscal 2006, the Minato Ward, Tokyo-based trader received at least 117 orders worth about 17 billion yen from the ministry.

Because the Defense Ministry's ethical code for Self-Defense Forces personnel prohibits them from playing golf with individuals who have links to the ministry, the ministry plans to question Moriya about his relationship with the former executive.

The ethical code, which came into effect in 2000, bans SDF members from playing golf with people having vested interests in the ministry, irrespective of who offers to pay. Because the administrative vice minister is treated as a member of the SDF under the Self-Defense Forces Law, Moriya could expect to be punished if he were still in office.

According to the sources, Moriya played golf with the former Yamada executive more than 100 times and was entertained at restaurants after the games for years before leaving the ministry in August. The former executive's subordinate sometimes picked him up and drove him to the golf course and took him home afterward...

While the average person might ask, "What was he thinking, making such a visible ass of himself fighting his dismissal by Koike Yuriko? Did he expect none of the magazines and newspapers would do follow up stories?"

The question belies a lack of appreciation of the superior ethical and intellectual wonderfulness of a top-ranking bureaucrat. Like Fukui Toshihiko, who never thought that being an investor in Murakami Yoshiaki's fund and the Governor of the Bank of Japan at the same time raised conflict-of-interest questions, Moriya knew that he could not be swayed to look favorably upon anyone who paid to take him out golfing over 100 times, with Mrs. Moriya sometimes taking part as well.

He was simply being entertained by friends, that's all. Long time friends. Government officials are allowed to have friends, you know.

A frightful number of top-ranking bureaucrats believe that the rules exist only for the more earthbound and less ethereal ranks of the government. For the Celestials of the higher ranks, the rules are really more like guidelines, to be circumvented by persons of great moral character without shame or danger.

They are that good.

In his heart and mind, Moriya Takemasa did not only believe he was not guilty of any wrongdoing, he believed himself not even guilty of demonstrating poor judgment in creating the appearance of wrongdoing.

It almost certainly never crossed his mind.

For the implications of the Moriya revelations, see Okumura Jun's crackerjack post

Later - The title of this post has been changed. It turns out I have a somewhat faulty memory of the lyrics of the songs of the The Sound of Music.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Afternoon of the Living Dead

Oh Amaterasu, let my math be wrong. Do not tell me that come March we the taxpayers will have shoveled 1.5 TRILLION yen into the Jūsen.

According to an article from the Sankei Shimbun Online, even after bailing out the amakudari archipelago jūtakukinyū senyō gaisha (or jūsen, for short) in 1996, the taxpayers have been quietly covering annual financial losses of the seven bust housing loan companies, with this year's contribution adding up to an infuriating 275 billion yen.

This is a scandal so so old it should be collecting pension payments (it is so old, the Ministry of Finance page in English supposedly explaining it has vanished). Instead, these crappy little financial institutions are stiffing the Japanese citizenry non erit finis.

Someone please explain to me again how the public's steadfast refusal to bail out these institutions, a wish overridden by the political classes and the bureaucracy, demonstrated the public's startling naïveté and petty vindictiveness?


It is official: Autumn has arrived on the banks of the Kanda.

The pintails returned yesterday, joining the common teals who arrived 10 days ago.

Pintail ducks Onaga gamo Anas acuta
in the Shanghai-Yokohama Friendship Garden
Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture
December 2, 2006

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Dispatch, The Coalition And The Economy

Things change.

I have been one of the hardest of the hardcore advocates of the position that the LDP dare not hold an election before 2009. The coalition supermajority won under Koizumi Jun'ichirō's leadership in September 2005 was too huge and aberrant to test. No policy fight could possibly be worth the inevitable drop in the number of seats held by the LDP and the loss of the ability to override the House of Councillors.

Now I am not so sure. The final days of the usefulness of the coalition's supermajority may be drawing near.

For Abe Shinzō, the supermajority in the House of Representatives and the majority in the House of Councillors were crucial to his revolution. Everything he did over his year in power, even the mishandling of gaffes and scandal, was done with one eye on limiting the effect of any policy or action had on the coalition majority in the House of Councillors. The constant focus on defensive moves and long-term strategic plans, to the detriment of day-to-day tactics, was the origin of it all—the covering up of errors and bad news; the shrugging at stupid statements by ministers; the betrayal of the conservative cause by avoiding Yasukuni and farming out the conservative social program to committees; the maniacal management of the legislative calendar (execution, execution, execution) without a thought about appearances.

Everything was done in the hopes that the coalition would retain its power in House of Councillors. Once the coalition got past the House of Councillors election, the stage would be set for the commencement of the full conservative revolutionary program.

While the coalition's controlling more than 2/3 of the seats in the House of Representatives was a sledgehammer before, it is becoming more of as a burden. As both the Japan Observer and Okumura Jun have admirably argued, the reduction of the mandate of the renewal of the MSDF dispatch to a single year has been done in order to placate the youth and women's divisions in the Komeitō.

[The cutting down of the extension also probably represents an attempt to peel away DPJ votes from party members distressed by DPJ leader Ozawa Ichiro's increasingly unpopular intransigence over the low risk Indian Ocean refueling operations. Forgotten in the shuffle sometimes is the inconvenient truth that the Democrats are six votes short of a majority in the House of Councillors. Ozawa has to appeal to the radicalism of the Socialists and the Communists in order win their votes—hence his lack of flexibility on the Indian Ocean dispatch.]

This concession, however, makes not the least bit of sense. Abbreviating the renewal's tenure guarantees that the country will be witnessing exactly the same debate in a year's time. Barring death, the same actors will be reprising the same roles. Given the bloodletting that has gone on over the extension and given the possession of the supermajority, the LDP should be insisting on the full 2 year maximum (Damn about the threatened censure motion in the House of Councillors!) in order to put the subject on the back burner for both the LDP's and the Komeitō’s sakes.

For a party that failed to deliver its promised number of votes—its supposedly rock solid support base being its only virtue—in the July elections, the Komeitō is making a lot of intemperate demands. The request to delay the onset of the higher out of pocket payments for medical care for seniors has no defense. At least in the notorious delay in application of maximum amounts of deposits protected by deposit insurance, the so-called "payoff" delay, the rationale offered was that neither the public nor the banks had prepared themselves for the new system: that too many banks were one the verge of failure and too many people were in danger of having their savings wiped out.

The delay in implementing the payments increase, however, is pandering to voters 70 and older. Nothing more, nothing less.

The cost to the taxpayer--about a trillion 150 billion yen per year for every year of the delay.

Within the LDP itself, there is no consensus on economic policy. The government may be able to pass a budget without the benefit of an economic plan in February by relying on the economic guidelines set down under the Abe Cabinet. However, once past March, the coalition and the government will have to come to some kind of understanding about what kind of economy Japan should have.

The mainline factions of the LDP are of two, irreconcilable minds. The key taxation and spending policy posts in the LDP -- the chairman of the Policy Research Council (seichokaichō), the chairman of the LDP Fiscal Reform Study Group (zaiseikaikaku kenkyukai kaichō) and the Research Commission on the Tax System (zeiseichosakai) are all in the hands of notorious hardhearted and hard-of-hearing fiscal hawks (Tanigaki Sadakazu, Yosano Kaoru and Tsushima Yuji, respectively). Each one of them will be beating the drum of raising revenues by whatever means possible--and holding a lid on spending at least at the present levels--all to keep the government on course for a budget surplus starting in 2011.

[Prime Minister Fukuda through word and deed has shown an affection for the arguments of the fiscal hawks.]

On the other side are ranged the fiscal profligates and tax receipts fiddlers.

Known around the world are the local vocal yokels demanding greater spending on public works in the districts with poorly performing economies.

[Prophetically, this week's Shūkan Gendai has a stunning photo pictorial series of some truly gargantuan and embarrassing wastes of taxpayer yen. Expect demands for more of the same.]

Less well appreciated are the cabal in the LDP trying to reverse to rural Japan's increasing economic irrelevance through all kinds of tax diddles. Like Dracula, the furusato nozei plan allowing individuals to earmark 10% of their the residence tax (jūminzei) to a municipality of their choice (an idea that sort of ignores the gist of representative government--but who's paying attention, right?) just keeps coming back. There are other plans to mess with corporate taxes (hōjinzei) in an attempt to funnel money into depressed districts.

Now duing the Koizumi era, pro-growth heavies like Nakagawa Hidenao and Takenaka Heizō triangulated between the fiscal hawks and fiscal profligates, telling them both to go heck. This group, numerically always tiny, has failed to hold on to any major post in the new administration and party lineup. Ota Hiroko keeps doing her best for the team but she is alone.

Now if the membership of the LDP cannot agree on a single issue of economic policy within itself, meaning that it has no program, what is the point of appeasing the Komeitō? If you have no legislation on tap that must pass no matter what, why denigrate yourself in order to secure an unshakeable ultimate majority?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Villages on the Edge

The evening edition of the Mainichi Shimbun has a story about Daigo Township's desperate offer to anyone willing to live there: 800 to 1700 square meters of land, rent free for 20 years.

But that is not all. If you hire local contractors, the township will pay 500,000 yen of your construction costs. It will pay the first three years of your property taxes (koteishisanzei). It will pay 80% of the cost of your septic tank.

The current offer is for 15 plots; the township has reportedly received around 1000 inquiries.

I have introduced Daigo Township in an earlier post. It is one of my favorite places to visit in the Kantō. The people there are truly lovely and the scenery is largely unspoilt.

But getting to and from Daigo...ay caramba!

The newspaper article says that Daigo is three hours out of Ueno by train. What it neglects to add is that is an "ideal" travel time, assuming you are starting from the station and assuming you can make a perfect connection in Mito. To give a sense of the loneliness of Daigo, suffice it to say that during the "evening commute" hours, the trains come once every hour and 8 minutes. Off peak, the wait between trains is over two hours.

All of which is an introduction of a new phrase I heard an announcer say the other day when heavy rains washed out the roads to Oshiozawa district of Nanmoku, Japan's most elderly (56% of residents are over 65 years of age) township. It is genkai shūraku - "villages that have reached their limits" - towns that through population loss to the cities; the loss of industries due to competition and elimination of protective regulations; loss of public works projects; the increasing fraction of the population either retired and never employed; the increasing fraction of the population that is either sick or frail; and the stubborn unwillingness of the oldest persons to abandon their now remote and lonely homesteads -- are on the brink of bankruptcy and social collapse.

The genkai shūraku are not necessary little Yubaris - cities that secretly borrowed and borrowed and borrowed to pay for their out-of-control operating expenses, guessing that no matter how badly they indebted themselves, the central government would bail them out. These are towns where the young and industry have left and the elderly refuse to leave--leading to an utterly predictable socio-economic implosion.

Which makes one part of the Daigo land offer story perplexing. The township has been most serious in trying to attract recent retirees wishing to leave the big cities. After living their whole lives in urban areas, city slicker retirees are going to expect a lot more in terms of services and conveniences than Daigo can ever offer. Having retirees move in also means you are just kicking the can down the road a few meters--in a decade, the newcomers will be as much as a burden on the municipality as those old folks already taxing the social welfare system.

What a fall from grace for a town once represented in the Diet by one of the Seven Magistrates (shichinin no bugyō) of the Tanaka faction!


A few more photos from Daigo, from September 2006.

Harvest time
Kita ageha
From the summit of Mt. Nantai looking west

Shades of Gray

I want to live by the ocean again.

Fishing boat and surfer in the waters off Enoshima
Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture
October 17, 2007

Natural color; no manipulation or enhancement.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Lost in Lost in the Pacific Ocean

A few weeks ago Robert D. Kaplan, a visiting professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, raised quite a few eyebrows with an opinion article, published in the International Herald Tribune, that presaged the premature rise of great naval powers challenging the dominance of the U.S. Seventh Fleet:

Lost in the Pacific Ocean
International Herald Tribune

The ultimate strategic effect of the Iraq war has been to hasten the arrival of the Asian Century.

While the American government has been occupied in Mesopotamia, and our European allies continue to starve their defense programs, Asian militaries - in particular those of China, India, Japan and South Korea - have been quietly modernizing and in some cases enlarging.

Asian dynamism is now military as well as economic.

The military trend that is hiding in plain sight is the loss of the Pacific Ocean as an American lake after 60 years of near-total dominance. A few years down the road, according to the security analysts at the private policy group Strategic Forecasting, Americans will not to the same extent be the prime deliverers of disaster relief in a place like the Indonesian archipelago, as we were in 2005. Our ships will share the waters (and the prestige) with new "big decks" from Australia, Japan and South Korea...

Wow! Or should I say, "Woo, woo! Here's to the badass East and South Asian maritime homies! Yippee!"

Except that, when you look at the details, Kaplan's claims fail to inspire quite so much shock and awe.

Take, for example, this claim:

...China, whose production and acquisition of submarines is now five times that of America's. Many military analysts feel it is mounting a quantitative advantage in naval technology that could erode our qualitative one. Yet the Chinese have been buying smart rather than across the board.

In addition to submarines, Beijing has focused on naval mines, ballistic missiles that can hit moving objects at sea and technology that blocks GPS satellites.

Wait just a darn minute.

"Ballistic missiles that can hit moving objects at sea"

Ballistic missiles are fired up into the atmosphere by a boost phase. The booster then separates and the warhead falls or glides into the target. Maneuverability is limited...or so I have been led to understand.

A guided missile...a cruise missile...a ramjet...OK.

But a ballistic missile?

Somebody help me out here.

Or how about this section:

China's military expansion, with a defense budget growing by double digits for the 19th consecutive year, is part of a broader, regional trend. Russia - a Pacific as well as a European nation, we should remember - is right behind the United States and China as the world's biggest military spender. Japan, with 119 warships, including 20 diesel-electric submarines, boasts a naval force nearly three times larger than Britain's. (It is soon to be four times larger: 13 to 19 of Britain's 44 remaining large ships are set to be mothballed by the Labour government.)

First things first. "Right behind the United States and China as the world's biggest military spender."

True, if you are not too particular about the meaning of the phrase "right behind the United States and China," that is.

"Right behind China," maybe. "Way behind the United States," definitely.

Then there is this claim that the Maritime Self Defense Forces has 119 fighting ships, including 20 diesel-electric submarines, and is nearly three times larger than Britain's Royal Navy.

Let us start with the submarines. The MSDF has 16 commissioned attack submarines. Never more; never less.

The MSDF also has two unarmed diesel electric subs for training purposes only. Well, actually only one right now. The older one had a little mishap eleven months ago.

That makes a total of eighteen, only 16 of which can attack anything.

Not 20.

As for the claim that Japan has 119 "fighting ships" it really depends on what you call "fighting ships," I guess.

Let us take Mr. Kaplan's implicit definition from his claim that the Labour government intends to retire "13 to 19 of Britain's 44 remaining large ships" in the near future. The Royal Navy's 44 large ships include:

3 aircraft carriers (22,000 dwt)
1 helicopter carrier (22,500 dwt)
2 large amphibious assault ships (18,500 dwt)
25 destroyers and frigates (all greater than 4820 dwt)
4 strategic nuclear submarines
9 attack submarines

Right off the bat, Japan has neither aircraft carriers nor strategic nuclear submarines. Its Ōsumi class helicopter carriers are tiny at only 8900 dwt. Japan's only amphibious assault ships are a pair of midget 590 dwt Yura class vessels. Only 15% (8 out of 55) of the MDSF's destroyers and frigates are larger than 4820 dwt, the smallest size of a Royal Navy ship-of-the-line.

Being generous, however, let us consider all of Japan's attack vessels above 500 dwt, including the little Yura-class vessels and the sad 85m long, one-of-a-kind, 1,290 dwt Ishikari frigate, to be "fighting ships."

Based on the list of vessels posted on the MSDF's ship's gallery page of the MSDF's website, Japan has 79 attack vessels.


Not 119.

Oh, there are nine little missile attack ships, none of which surpass 200 dwt...and three destroyers for training purposes only...and a "test ship" destroyer for exams.

But 119 "fighting ships"?

Not even close.

As for Japan's fleet being "larger," the differences in the physical bulk of the U.K.'s warships tip the scales in the Royal Navy's direction.

Total tonnage of 44 Royal Navy warships = 317,690 dwt

Total tonnage of 79 JMSDF warfare ships = 281,510 dwt
(for the MSDF the listed total is a maximum--actual total is probably lower)

I am afraid I just cannot be as afraid of what Mr. Kaplan wants his fellow Americans to be more afraid of if being afraid of Asians with haze gray ships is what Americans should be more afraid of.

Unless Mr. Kaplan is warning us of the menacing rise of a terrible new power in the East--the ghostly white ships of the Japan Coast Guard.

Later - To be clear about the ballistic missile question, I am asking about a ballistic anti-ship missile not tipped with a tactical nuclear warhead.

Later still - "James" in comments provides suggestions for improving my argument. A worthwhile read.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Will the Japans Harken to the Qing Entreaty?

It its not about the gas. It is about the future of Asia. Sadly, the Japanese government is playing Euro-American hardball.

Japan says gap remains with China on sea
Agence France Presse

TOKYO — Japan and China remain at loggerheads over their claims to the energy-rich East China Sea despite a new round of talks, a Japanese official said Friday.

Asia's two largest economies, which are both major energy importers, are locked in a long-running row over their territorial waters and have held regular talks on the issue since 2004.

The latest one-day session took place behind closed doors in Beijing Thursday.

"On the development of the East China Sea there's a considerable gulf to be filled between the two nations," Tomohiko Taniguchi, the deputy press secretary of Japan's foreign ministry, told reporters.

"The Japanese government has repeatedly requested that a high-level political decision be made on the Chinese side about the way in which the East China Sea gas field should be developed jointly between China and Japan."

China began drilling in the gas-rich area in 2003, provoking outrage in Tokyo.
Hopes for a settlement were raised after Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao paid a landmark visit to Japan in April and agreed with his then Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, to find an amicable settlement.

But talks since then have yielded no apparent progress. China says the entire area which is the focus of the dispute is part of its waters.

The key impasse is the definition of the maritime border. Japan sees the delineation of the border as a precondition to any arrangement. Only after the lines on the maps establish who owns what can both sides discuss "joint development."

China sees the definition of a border as a source of conflict. In the interests of peace, discussion of the border should be put off as long as possible, possibly indefinitely.

For those of us raised in the Westphalian system, Japan's position seems the more reasonable. Putting off the discussion of legal ownership seems to promise neverending disputes over niggling differences in assumptions. Start with a strict definition of rights and privileges, the argument goes, and the relationship will run itself, like a windup clock.

The Chinese solution of gas development first/borders later does promise an ardous, aggravating slog through the swamp of relationship maintenance. However, given the circumstances, being forced into nag and quibble over what seem to be eons may not be such a bad thing.

The first point pushing the argument in the direction of the Chinese offer is geography. Japanese companies may drill on "Japan's side" of the border (a border that the Chinese are honoring in practice, while disputing in theory) all they want. The only customers to whom they can pipe the gas, however, are Chinese. The Okinawa Trench makes it impossible to lay a pipeline delivering the gas to Japanese customers. While the prospect of a giant mid-ocean LNG plant may have Kawasaki Heavy, Mitsubishi Heavy and Ishikawajima Harima breathing heavily, it is not a reasonable solution. The Chinese price for linking up with China's gas network: non-negotiation of the border.

The second is Chinese internal politics. Elements of the Chinese polity with extreme nationalist sentiments, particularly in the armed forces, have had to sit tight in mounting frustration as the more politic elements have been showing China's neighbors a magnanimous Chinese face. Over the past decade and a half the pre-Republican era tributary states on China's periphery have been rewarded with border treaties and friendship agreements. Even Russia, which wrested control of Chinese territories north of the Amur in the 19th century and with whom China fought a short border war in the 70s, has been rewarded with a final settlement of their disputed border areas.

(The Russian exception should probably be seen as an example of China playing the long game. Russian sovereignty over the Russian Far East will be an academic point in the not-to-distant future. Demographics and migration patterns point to an effective Chinese takeover of all economic life by 2030.)

Only two states remain with whom Chinese political leaders cannot discuss borders: Japan and India. Neither country was ever party to the Chinese tributary state system. Both owe their current global status to their effective cloaking of traditional Asian civilizations in Western skins (in Japan's case a full-bore, on-the-Road-to-Damascus conversion to the Westphalian state system proved the club with which it could beat China into submission for 80 years). Concessions to either would raise outcries within the Chinese establishment of betrayal of the motherland.

So when Wen Jiabao made his offer during his April visit of joint development of the gas fields without a discussion of borders, it neither a subterfuge to undermine Japan's sovereignty nor a last-second gambit to avoid the Law of the Sea's looming imposition of default borders (the bitter poison pill that undergirds the Japanese position at the talks). It was an appeal to make the best of a bad situation.

It is also not as if China and Japan have no history of playing "let's pretend we are both sovereign here." The extraordinary 250 year long game of make believe over the political status of the Ryukyuan Kingdom demonstrates that Chinese and Japanese can simultaneously presume sovereignty over the same plot of land.

Indeed, looking at the history of Sino-Japanese relations since the imposition of Westphalian state system upon Asia, the two ancient polities are rather better off when they do.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Where have the factories been closing fastest?

It may not be where you thought.

Courtesy: Nihon Keizai Shimbun
Evening edition of October 11, 2007

According to the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry, factory and workshops have been closing down fastest in the Tokyo Metropolitan District. In between the end of the year 2000 and the end of 2005, an incredible 28.0% of all TMD factories and workshops (fabrication facilities employing fewer than 3 persons) closed their doors.

During that same period of time, the population of the TMD grew 4.2%--more half a million persons.

A lot of service jobs opening up in Tokyo, it seems.

Other prefectures with significant percentage losses over the end 2000 - end 2005 period include:

Gifu - 23.7%
Nara - 23.5%
Osaka - 23.4%

Interesting in the above map is the position of Aichi among the top ranks of prefectures in terms of percentage of closures. If any part of Japan could preserve the many-layered pyramid of suppliers and sub-contractors, one would think it would be the home of Toyota Motors.

Also interesting are the contrasting fates of the Chūgoku Region and Shikoku. In Shikoku, manufacturing has basically collapsed. In the Chūgoku is has stayed relatively steady (let me be the first to say that the Nikkei's scaling is damn suspicious). If the graph is not entirely misleading, one might hazard a guess that exports to China have something to do with the relatively better survival rates of the Chūgoku region factories.

Another general rule--if you were an economic basket case to begin with, you did not lose nearly as many factories percentage-wise (yes, I'm talking about you, Hokkaidō)--unless your name is Akita, the prefecture with the highest suicide rates of all Japan.

Shizuoka's stability is understandable, given its role as the Tokaidō's industrial underbelly.

Shiga's is an untold story. The prefecture is doing something right--aside from the southern Kantō, Aichi, Fukuoka and those happy breeders down in Okinawa, Shiga is the only prefecture that has been consistently gaining population. It is also holding on to its factories.

Whatever romantic notions one may hold of Japan's true economic strengths, the country sure as heck was not clinging to a monozukuri culture during the Koizumi years. Indeed in general, the healthier the economy of a prefecture, the faster it was disposing of its factories.

The Nikkei's choice of subject and time frame is somewhat amusing. On the very same day, METI released figures showing that for the first time in 15 years total employment in manufacturing grew year-to-year in 2006.

Ken Worsley over at Japan Economy & News Blog has already offered his take on the 2006 numbers.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Transcription rules in Japanese political writing

I am not sure there are any.

Looking back at yesterday's post, I notice I had forwarded a decent example of what is for me still a rather startling phenomenon--the alteration of quotations by the major dailies.

In the text I cited The Mainichi Shimbun's version of the Prime Minister's quote on use of the word "faction":


"Honestly, it is disheartening that even now they are being called 'factions'. I would prefer to call them 'policy research groups'"

but I linked to The Asahi Shimbun's version of the quote:

"Honestly, it is disheartening that even now they are being called 'factions'. I would prefer to hear them called 'policy research groups'"
One can argue whether or not the translations capture the nuances of the different wordings. One could even argue that there are no significant differences in nuance.

Undeniable, however, is that there are two different versions of the same quote--from testimony made in a Diet session. Any Hiroshi or Akiko with time on his or her hands can go to the Diet website and hear what was actually said.

So why are the Asahi's and the Mainichi's (and the Nikkei's, for that matter) versions of the quote different? Are they not supposed to all be "papers of record"?

As for quotations from speeches for which there is no accompanying raw video, the revision and multiplication disease runs amok. In order to get some idea of the speech former prime minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō gave to the Machimura faction last Thursday, only a bit of which was carried on NHK Thursday night, I photocopied the reports on the meeting from the five major dailies the next day. I then compared the quotations from each. All over the map, they were. In the end I could not bring myself to directly quote from or link to any one daily. Instead I offered in translation a best-effort, synthetic, median quotation...

...all of is a roundabout way of saying that anyone relying upon a fine-grained interpretation of the linguistic nuances of a particular word used in a quote found in a newspaper is setting herself up for a fall. The data set is flawed--the politician or whomever it is may have never said the key word at all.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

How to tell the situation in the Diet is not as serious people are making it out to be

I was feeling really bad that I could not get excited about whether or not the current Indian Ocean dispatch or Japanese participation in ISAF are unconstitutional...

[That the LDP and the DPJ are both proposing overseas deployments of SDF should be seen as a major step away from traditional Japanese political behavior, of course. So should the mutual accusations of the unconstitutionality of the other side's proposal. The pre-1993 LDP never ever got the chance to accuse the Socialists of spouting unconstitutional nonsense--just nonsense, plain and simple.]

There is just something so very dissonant about nitpicking over the legal status of a consignment of fuel inserted into one U.S. vessel's gas tank, which was then siphoned off to another ship's gas tank, becoming problematic when that second ship made an unforeseen left turn and entered the Persian Gulf to become the platform for the first aerial sorties of Operation Iraqi Descent into Warlordism Freedom.

As far as I remember, the previous prime minister was taken bodily from the Kantei and held in a wing of Keiō University Hospital, leaving the country without a head of government. I cannot remember any of the editorial boards thundering, "Well now that the prime minister has been hospitalized, who is in charge in the government and exactly under what law or directive?"

For me coups d'état (What else do you call the removal of a head of government by a self-selected group outside of any known due legal process?) trump runaway diesel fuel shipments in terms of posing serious questions about Japan's future.

I also find myself curiously unmoved by the "clash of the titans" between the LDP's Matsuzoe Soichirō and the DPJ's Nagatsuma Akira. Matsuzoe needs to be given a few months to fail spectacularly in his attempt to force the Pension Bureau's employees to do their jobs. Having the two critics flailing away at this stage of Matsuzoe's stint as Health & Welfare Minister gives shallow, self-important political theater a bad name.

As for the latest counterattacks against Ozawa Ichirō for supposedly shady real estate deals by his political funds management group, they are so insubstantial and petty that only a prisoner of Nagata-chō could care about them. If the funds management group did not try to cover the costs of the ownership of a pair of apartments (bought to serve purposes that have since become superfluous) through renting those apartments out to others, it wouldn't be managing Ozawa's funds very effectively now, would it?

And who the hell has an interest in flogging this "Will there be an election on December 16 of this year?" trope?

I try to keep telling myself, "These are important elements in the game--the grand struggle for power between the LDP barons, the younger generation of nationalist ideologues in both parties and Ozawa Ichirō."

I just cannot bring myself to care about any of it.

How thrilled am I therefore to see Budget Committee interpellations on whether or not the word "faction" is a good word to use to describe the main informal organizational divisions within the LDP. Three cheers for sinophobe, comfort women denier and former Minister of Education Nakayama Nariaki, who floated this love note toward the prime minister:


"The current form of factions is for practical training and the study of policy, as well as a social gathering point. The image of of a patron tieing [a faction] together with cash and appointments has faded away."

To which, Prime Minister Fukuda--the prime minister the faction heads selected after their vote-gathering automaton exploded on them--chirped:


"Honestly, it is disheartening that even now they are being called 'factions'. I would prefer to call them 'policy research groups'"

Now this is a non-policy non-debate I can get my head around!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Tough times in Japan's construction industry...

...does not necessarily mean construction companies want to take part in actual construction projects, you know.

Too few bids for one in 10 public works projects
The Asahi Shimbun

By Eiji Zakoda - Nearly 1,200 public works projects, or roughly one in 10 that the central government tried to commission in fiscal 2006, were nonstarters because they didn't attract enough bidders, a survey shows.

Analysts said a more robust market for private-sector construction along with moves to end bid-rigging practices appear to explain the higher rate of projects that failed to attract a winning bid.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport surveyed the situation on a national basis from April after a number of regional development bureaus reported an increase in the number of projects that failed to end in a successful bid. It was the first such ministry survey.

Some of the projects received no bids at all, while in others, all of the bids exceeded the maximum price limit set by the central government.

The ministry studied 10,778 projects the central government planned to commission in fiscal 2006. Of those, 1,188 did not end with a successful bid...

Here's a fine conundrum for the labor economists: when the laws against collusive bid rigging and exceeding budgetary limits are enforced, over 10% of all projects become just too much trouble for even a perfunctory bid.

Funny thing that profit maximalization imperative--it makes even beggars choosers.

The weird corollary of all this - in the supposedly overstimulated and overcrowded construction sector, a low cost outsider could scoop up to 10% of all government contracts without bothering anyone else.

I am finding it harder and harder to take seriously those who argue that at least some of Koizumi fiscal reforms will have to be rolled back...

Monday, October 08, 2007


Kiberihirata abu Xanthogramma sapporense
landing on a white cosmos flower
Ōtsuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture
October 6, 2007

Coprinus sp.
Ōtsuki City, Yamanashi Prefecture
October 6, 2007

Mt. Fuji plays coy
Tsuru City, Yamanashi Prefecture
October 6, 2007

Konara Quercus serrata forest
Tsuru City, Yamanashi Prefecture
October 6, 2007

Hanamaguri Eucetonia pilifera resting on
Shiroyomena Aster ageratoides
Tsuru City, Yamanashi Prefecture
October 6, 2007

The Katsuragawa flowing beneath Kukiyama
Tsuru City, Yamanashi Prefecture
October 6, 2007


It is not just Baghdad and New Orleans. You cannot get away from Blackwater anywhere:

Two soldiers sent to 'battle space' in remote Japan
Pair's mission is to track missiles
Stars and Stripes
October 7, 2007


Shariki Communications Site, which quietly started operations last year, sits on a wooded bluff on the edge of the Sea of Japan. Since then, the farming and fishing village of 5,500 has been home to about 100 government contractors and two Army soldiers who make up the Detachment 3 of Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 1st Space Brigade in Colorado.

Their mission: To run an AN/TPY-2 radar system capable of tracking ballistic missile launches headed from Asia toward America and its allies.


Each morning, the two soldiers meet with leaders from the other two entities at the base: Raytheon Co., which runs the radar, and Chenega Blackwater Solutions, which provides the security.

They discuss the past 24 hours, the upcoming day and any problems, orders or exercises under way. The Shariki site is run by the Missile Defense Agency, which oversees the Raytheon contract. The CBS guards answer more directly to Hunter’s unit, which is attached to the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command in Hawaii.

The Americans work closely with the nearby 21st Air Defense Missile Squadron, part of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. The JASDF base has occupied the bluff since 1980. Now its 300 airmen staff four Japanese-built Patriot missiles and monitor the international waters that separate Honshu from Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island.

Raytheon maintains the radar and Blackwater guards it, all overseen by two U.S. Army uniforms - a captain and a sergeant.

How the expletive deleted did the Blackwater employees get the necessary firearms permits from the Japanese government? And what kind of weaponry are they permitted? Do they, for example, have their attack helicopters with them?

I do not see how Blackwater could swing this unless the armed guards are all former GSDF.

Ah the twists and turns of sovereignty...and Article 9 in the modern age!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Everything you know is wrong

It is rare indeed for anything to be left to say after Global Talk 21 and Observing Japan have picked over a subject.

However, in the case of the speech Koizumi Jun'ichirō gave to the membership of the Machimura faction on Thursday, one can still say quite a bit more. His analysis of the current political situation turned upside down and flipped inside out the presumptions of the political community. In offering a radically different view of the political world, he has altered the rules, opening up the game, as it were.

The Koizumi argument rest upon oft-made observation that the main opposition party to the LDP-led government is itself led by former members of the LDP. For Koizumi, it is a bit absurd for Ozawa Ichirō to put on a show of principled intransigence and for Hatoyama Yukio to condemn the LDP for its powermongering—just where do these two think they got their start in politics?

Rather than just mock the pretensions of the Democratic leadership, however, Koizumi takes the argument further. Framing the policy differences between the LDP and DPJ as a contest between two parties is too simplistic, to redolent of a direct application a European framework to Japan's political sphere. The clash of ideologies is mild: both parties are internationalist, free trade, and now non-revolutionary (the Abe conservative revolution came within a whisper of prevailing—only to fall victim to "events, my boy, events"). Two branches, the modern LDP and the DPJ, grow out of the same trunk: the old, broad coalition LDP.

What is the LDP-DPJ policy dispute then? Koizumi sees it to be no more than the policy line disputes that used to divide the LDP factions back in the era of multi-seat electoral districts. At election time and in the runup to the selection of a new prime minister, the factions sharpened and inflated their policy differences. However, once the elections were over or a new prime minister was voted into office, factions allowed these seemingly life-or-death differences to fade. Instead, what became important was finding the means to cooperate on passing legislation and equitably dividing the political spoils.

Koizumi proposes that the present purported impasse—the division of control of the two houses of the Diet between the parties—should not be seen as resulting in a "twisted Diet" but as a normal Diet following an election where one faction did better than others. With the election now over and the prime minister selected—it is time to go focus on cooperation and mutual backscratching—just like in the old days.

There is real genius in this formulation. All at once, the great fearsome, uncontrollable unknown that has been grabbing the headlines for weeks —the nejire kokkai -- is revealed to be no more complex than the old policy wars within the LDP. "We have done this before," is the reassuring message, "We can do it again."

The newspapers reported the advice Koizumi had for the Machimura faction members, and by extension, the whole LDP:

"While in the midst of a war-like policy debate, you had best think that the DPJ is a party you can work with. Because they are 'the opposition' you are showing your opposition (to what they are saying). Amid the proposals they are making, you have to think about how you are going to respond to their good ideas."

Not reported in the newspapers (at least the big five) was his advice for the DPJ:

"The DPJ has to stop insisting that the LDP is 'all bad'."

Glorying in the fact that the last four prime ministers have come from the Mori/Machimura faction, Mr. K recalled when the faction was the laughingstock of the LDP, the "anti-mainline" faction always getting shafted by the Takeshita superfaction, the lead "mainline" faction. Since Ozawa and Hatoyama hail from the Takeshita faction, Koizumi could not keep from crowing:

"We were the anti-mainline faction; the Ozawa group was the mainline. Now that we have knocked out four prime ministers in a row, we are the mainline faction. I guess this means that the DPJ is the anti-mainline faction now."

Koizumi was attending his first general assembly of the Mori/Machimura faction since his first election as prime minister six years ago. There's been a lot of water under the bridge in those six years, including more than one episode of disrespect toward former faction leader and prime minister Mori Yoshirō.

If anyone attending believed that Mr. K was going to at least show contrition for his most egregious blunder--having favored Abe Shinzō over Fukuda Yasuo as his replacement--that person was disappointed. Koizumi blew away the potential criticism with an oyaji gaggu, a horrendous pun that can even, under duress and with a heavy Southern United States accent, be rendered into English.


"In human life, where there is an uphill, there is a downhill too. But there is another hill. The 'What the Hill?' as in 'What the Hill? I never thought Abe would step down in that manner!'''
The faction members were laughing so hard at his joke they missed him washing his hands of the Abe debacle.

Mr. K is on a plane of his own. The 9 o'clock NHK news showed soundless video of Machimura addressing the assembly and Mori doing something—but as for video clips of someone speaking, it was 100% Koizumi.

What is hilarious about that is despite Mori Yoshirō’s entreaties, Koizumi has not resumed his membership in the faction. He came to the assembly as an invited guest--but nevertheless as an outsider—and he still stole the show.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Straight from the U.S.A. - the Assassin's Friend

A slight detour from focus on politics and society...but among my other uneaten hats, I am from time to time tasked with taking a gander at what's being cooked up by the military research programs of the United States.

In the course of performing these duties that I ran across this little sweetheart. Not since the days of "Total Information Awareness" has there been a program that so loudly screams to me, "In the name of all that is sacred, do not even test the concept. Just delete the files, put a big 'April Fools' sign up and hope no one, no one ever took you seriously. The only secret left is that it can be done."

Click on the video link to see what I mean.

What a world full of angry, self-righteous, alienated and amoral individuals--not just terrorists, mind you, just persons who want somebody else dead--the last thing we need is a cruise missile system that can fit in a lady's purse.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

That was operative then...

...this is what is operative now.

NHK, formerly terrified into being the "All Abductees All the Time Network," has found a whole new set of marching orders, it seems.

During the 9 p.m. newscast, the male announcer asked guest Shizuoka University professor Izumi Hajime something close to this:

The abductees problem is very difficult and very important for Japan, but in the end, as compared to South Korea and the United States, doesn't it leave Japan a step behind the others, or the odd man out?"

Aaaaah! What a difference a change in prime ministers makes.

The Financial Services Police - Still Sleeping

I understand the L&G / Enten story on the "people are stupid and will believe anything" level.

What I do not understand is how long it took authorities to shut down an obvious Ponzi scheme.

L&G searched over alleged investment scam
The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Metropolitan Police Department on Wednesday launched a major investigation into Tokyo-based health care company L&G on suspicion that it violated the Investment Deposit and Interest Rate Law by allegedly collecting more than 100 billion yen from 50,000 people via a fraudulent investment scheme.

The MPD searched the headquarters of L&G in Shinjuku, Tokyo, and 35 other locations on the day.

The police suspect the firm repeatedly solicited new investments by promising large dividends, even though it almost went bankrupt after it stopped providing dividends to investors in February.

According to the police, L&G had held meetings at luxurious hotels across the country since 2004, encouraging people to invest in the firm's money-making scheme.

At the meetings, the firm allegedly claimed it would pay 36 percent annual interest for each investment of 1 million yen. It also reportedly said it would provide its own currency, known as "enten," according to the amount invested, explaining that the "currency" would enable people to buy items at outlets that operated exclusively for the investors.

What allowed this criminal enterprise to continue operations when there was press coverage of its activities?

Why after all this time is there still no capacity to police the financial world?

What is supposed to happen when elderly citizens start pulling money out of their postal accounts in search of higher returns on their invested assets? Where are the watch dogs?

Not a good sign.

Later - Oh, you have got to be bloody kidding me.