Monday, December 31, 2007

One more year then - 2007

View from Tsurugi Misaki toward the Bōsō Hantō
Miura City, Kanagawa Prefecture
January 7, 2007

Sunset over Kōbōyama
Hadano City, Kanagawa Prefecture
February 12, 2007

View southward from the summit of Mt. Ōtake
Hinohara Township, Tokyo Metropolitan District
March 10, 2007

From the Plum Room
Nikkō Tomozawa Imperial Villa
Nikkō, Tochigi Prefecture
April 8, 2007

Sakakishita and the Izu Peninsula
Manazuru Township, Kanagawa Prefecture
May 3, 2007

Hakusan'ichige - Anenome narcissiflora
on the summit of Tanigawadake
Minakami Township, Gunma Prefecture
June 17, 2007

Main Building, Kiryū Higher School of Textile Studies (1916)
Kiryū City, Gunma Prefecture
July 9, 2007

Fishing boat and Daisagi Ardea alba
Katsu'ura City, Chiba Prefecture
August 12, 2007

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

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

Okutama Lake below Tsukiyomiyama
Okutama Township, Tokyo Metropolitan District
November 3, 2007

Yamagara Parus varius in Meiji Jingu
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo Metropolitan District
December 31, 2007

All images by MTC

Friday, December 28, 2007

And to all your stories shall come end

With the decision on Wednesday by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to accept the restoration of textbook mentions of Imperial Army complicity in the forced suicides of Japanese civilians during the battle of Okinawa, a reversal of the reactionary conservative revolution neared its completion. On Tuesday, the Fukuda goverment buried the National Security Council--a seminal structural reform spearheaded by former prime minister Abe Shinzō and lavishly praised by his American handlers.

Yoi o shōgatsu o.

Tobias Harris has produced a magisterial review of Japanese politics in 2007. Without a doubt this has been the most turbulent year since at least 1993, possibly the most turbulent year since 1960.

In his exhaustive review (I disagree with Martin Frid: the Aegis data leak controversy seems to be small jagaimo trumped up to assuage American umbrage) Mr. Harris recounts the major inflection points and head-slapping blunders of the last 12 months.

However, Mr. Harris, out a sense of balance and objectivity, has left out the texture of this year, the rough and nameless warp through which the events of this year were wefted.

Though it is impolitic to make mention of it--and opens me up to accusations of paranoia-- the country dodged a bullet in 2007. The LDP under Abe's leadership looks pathetic in retrospect--but until the middle of the night of July 29, when the full scale of the LDP losses became clear, feeling persons should not have been able to rid themselves of a looming sense of dread.

We look back on the period of January to July 2007 and see a weekly and monthly cavalcade of embarrassments. In the Diet, however, where the leftist furies of the Op-Ed pages, the mocking of the cartoons and the sniping of the morning shows died away into a background murmur--the reactionary-revolutionary movement went from strength to strength. Everything the movement wanted--with the notable exception of the elimination of the references of comfort women from the official Japanese historical narrative--the movement succeeded in pushing through.

In publications and on television, where critical and vital debate should have raged, a gray sameness of clipped observations reigned. Faced with the potential retaliation from the right wing politico-media colossus, even men and women of goodwill quavered and toned down their reasonable objections. One can laugh about it now--but from January to August the omnipotent and omnipresent national broadcaster NHK reduced itself to AAN, the All-Abductee Network. Lesser publications and networks were even more supine in their self-censorship and slavish in their promotion of government initiatives.

Had the LDP prevailed in the July 29 elections, justifying the rule of Abe and his fellow reactionary-revolutionaries, then the much-criticized steamrollering of every piece of legislation in the January to June 2007 period would have looked like a love hug. Unbound by either a functioning constitutional court system or a viable opposition, the merciless Meiji fantabulists (and hangers on like Fujiwara Masahiko, a merciless Tokugawa fantabulist) would have finally had the means to become legislative tyrants. They would have unmade post-1945 Japan -- in their eyes, an ugly, groveling, ignoble beast of a nation -- in favor of a beautiful country of more obedient, and more abject, citizens.

The people of the this blessed land, for reasons both selfish and selfless, managed to short-circuit this incipient pseudo-Meiji restoration. Thank Amaterasu for a mandated and inescapable election--it forced the revolution's hand before the damage was beyond repair.

It was a close run thing, though.

Too close.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Cetacean discrepancies

This is just a general shout-out inquiry--but does anyone know why non-Japanese sources say the pelagic whaling fleet is out to catch 935 Minke whales this season while domestic news sources say the fleet seeks only 850 Minke?

I suppose I should put the question to David@Tokyo--who has got to have one of the Japan-based English-language blogosphere's most esoteric specializations--but perhaps someone else knows.

For the record, the Saturday morning papers noted the two-year postponement of the humpback whale (zatōkujira) hunt in the following ways:

The Asahi Shimbun - p. 1 long article

Mainichi Shimbun - p. 1 short article with supporting material on Australian attitudes toward the resumption of hunting of humpbacks on p. 7

Yomiuri Shimbun - p. 2 short article

Sankei Shimbun - p. 3 short article on Australian government plans to dispatch surveillance ship; p. 3 micro article (a mere 140 kanji spaces) on government postponement of hunt

Nihon Keizai Shimbun - p. 42 short article

I leave it to the reader to make his/her own conclusions about the relationship between political leanings and coverage.

Interestingly, or perhaps not, not a single article made mention of the estimated world population of humpbacks--or any other whale species, for that matter.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A violent stain

It was an epic moment, made all the stranger by the pell-mell rush of fifty journalists into the small room where the meeting took place.

On the one side were the women:

Kuwata Satoko, whose infection prior to August 1985 made her ineligible for full treatment under the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry's final offer;

Yamaguchi Michiko, the national representative for the plaintiffs, whose rage and calm gave her the demonic strength necessary to break a government;

Asakura Mitsuko, the one who could not keep her emotions in; and

Fukuda Eriko, the youngest, the nearly pretty girl whose bloated visage and prognosis of premature death had become the arrow to everyone's heart.

Their backs straight in their chairs, they sat ready to pronounce sentence upon those who would consider themselves their betters.

On the other side, waiting, alone except for an amanuensis, standing, was the Prime Minister of Japan.

Fukuda Yasuo had never wanted to be in this position. He had never been in charge of the ministry that had sided with the perpetrators of so many crimes, the ministry that had fought with disheartening stubbornness to avoid taking responsibility for the resulting deaths and illnesses.

This was never Fukuda's fight. But it was his fight to end.

His shoulders sloped over, he said the words the women and the other plaintiffs had demanded to hear, the ones which all the billions of yen of promised treatment could not in the end buy.

His personal apology for their suffering....and his promise that all infected from the contaminated medical preparation would be treated equally under the law.

Strangest of all Fukuda's abject utterances was what seemed to be his praise of the plaintiffs for their perseverance over the many years in the courts fighting the government.

One more time: the Prime Minister praised the women for fighting the government...the government which, if you look at the organizational chart, he happens to be in charge of.

It should never had had to become a public spectacle, a P.R. meltdown, ending in the passage of a new law. It should not have required the intercession of the prime minister.

The bureaucracy failed to care for the citizens. The courts failed to provide some measure of common justice for the plaintiffs.

Why are the people asked to pay for this disfunctional system and obey the orders of its minions?

Left to right: Fukuda Eriko, Asakura Mitsuko (holding photo), Kuwata Satoko
Courtesy: MSN Sankei News

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

From Vaughan Williams - with your permission

From the Five Mystical Songs

"Let all the world in every corner sing!"


May all the world rejoice at a new beginning.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Abandoning one's principles

Over the weekend, in two stunning reversals, the government decided to override decisions taken by two rather troublesome ministries.

Japan suspends hunt for humpback whales
Associated Press

By ERIC TALMADGE in TOKYO - ANTARCTICA is safe for humpback whales – for now.

Following worldwide criticism, Japan's government announced yesterday that a whaling fleet currently in the Southern Ocean for its annual hunt will not kill the rare species as originally planned.

The fleet will, however, kill some 935 minke whales, a smaller, more plentiful species, and 50 fin whales.

Japan dispatched the fleet last month to the southern Pacific off Antarctica in the first major hunt of humpback whales since the 1960s.

Commercial hunts of humpbacks have been banned worldwide since 1966 and commercial whaling overall since 1986.

The fleet was to kill 50 humpbacks. However, the plan drew criticism from environmental groups, which had opposed the hunt in general but were outraged by the inclusion of humpbacks due to their rarity.

Nobutaka Machimura, the Japanese government's chief spokesman, said: "We hope that the discussion (on hunting] will (now] be carried out calmly on the basis of scientific evidence."

* * *
Japan PM says wants to help all hepatitis patients

TOKYO, Dec 23 - Japan's prime minister said on Sunday his party will draft legislation aimed at helping thousands of hepatitis patients, the latest development in a high-profile scandal that has drawn voter anger.

At least 10,000 people are believed to have contracted hepatitis C from tainted products, most notably fibrinogen, a coagulant used to stop haemorrhaging during surgery or childbirth. The drug was used in Japan even after it was withdrawn from the United States in 1977.

The emotive scandal has been instrumental in further eroding Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's approval ratings, already suffering from the government's mishandling of a public pensions crisis and a defence procurement scandal.

"Steps will be taken to provide aid to all the hepatitis sufferers," Fukuda told reporters.

On Thursday, hepatitis patients rejected a government compensation proposal.

The prime minister said he hoped to be able to present the bill during the current session of parliament...

The government has backed down before when faced with looming public relations disasters--but giving up on two principled stands in a single weekend? Holy moly.

It seems that some folks in the Kantei finally started thinking about something other than the Indian Ocean dispatch.

I wonder what else they will find once they start doing their end-of-the-year cleaning off of their desks? Enough money in the budget for a temporarily expanded team at the Social Insurance Agency, maybe?

Christmas Eve naughtiness

I am fairly certain that no one uses the verb form anymore, for some reason...

Ahmadinejad felicitates Japan on National Day
Tehran Times
Especially after what happened in New York (no, I am not going to provide the link).

Friday, December 21, 2007

The secret to His success

A few weeks ago I offered the proposition that neither Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo nor LDP leader Ozawa Ichirō was stupid. After a few days I admitted that while not fundamentally stupid, Ozawa had done a stupid thing.

Now it is the Prime Minister's turn.

The continuing dispatch of supply ships to the Indian Ocean dispatch was a safe and convenient way to keep Japan involved in the "War on Terror." Gassing up and providing water to ships may not sound valorous but it kept Washington happy--and nothing seems to be quite as important as keeping Washington happy.

The smarter puppies in Nagatachō, Kasumigaseki and the commentariat were understandably appalled at Ozawa Ichiro's determination to follow through on his party's campaign threat to prevent further renewals of the dispatch legislation. "Does the great toad not comprehend what a great deal this is?" the habitués wondered with mounting stupefaction.

So the smart puppies published and spoke, whispered and presented, cajoled and declaimed, hoping beyond hope that Ozawa and his crew would see reason.

All of which would have been fine (the greatest thing about the assertion that the dispatch was in Japan's national interest was that it was) except that Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo made it clear he took the dispatch seriously.

He should never have done that.

True, he had been one of the dispatch's chief architects, pulling the elements together at the request of Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō in the wake of 9/11.

Still, seeing what the dispatch's impending demise had triggered in Abe's case, Fukuda should have known to not commit himself too deeply to the dispatch legislation's renewal.

When the PM came on in relief of the indisposed Abe Shinzō, he did affect an affable, absent-minded cheeriness about the dispatch legislation. He did not seem to worry much about it--making Ozawa's hard-faced opposition look overwrought. That the prime minister seemed so genial--and that Ozawa's alternative was sending Japanese citizens to Afghanistan--encouraged everyone to give the legislation a second look, even after Ambassador Thomas Schieffer had made an utter hash of things.

At some point around the time of the visit to the United States, however, Fukuda's public position hardened. He did not just express hope regarding the renewal legislation's passage, he became committed to its renewal. He promised the U.S. president that he would see the legislation through to passage--the same pledge that Abe had made.

By visibly committing himself to the renewal no matter what, Fukuda became Ozawa's mirror opposite and co-conspirator. The contest between them--which at first seemed an impromptu discussion between an abashed, somewhat disoriented grandpa and an illogical fanatic--shifted into a battle of wills between two stubborn old men and their self-interested parties.

Again, Fukuda's commitment to the passage of the renewal legislation--the reason for the extension of the extraordinary Diet session--is logical. The Indian Ocean refueling mission is a safe and low cost way to build up a tremendous store of international goodwill.

Nevertheless, the decision to commit to the renewal was a major blunder. Public support for the mission has dropped. Support for the DPJ's characterization of the mission has risen.

* * *

In every struggle, you need a Plan B--for those times when Plan A either will not work or will take far more time than anyone expected. Having a Plan C and a Plan D are often helpful, as backups to Plan B.

Koizumi Jun'ichirō and his followers were the masters of switching to Plan B. If you go back through the Koizumi promises of 2001 and then over actual achievements of his term in offices, you will find that much of what was promised never ever got going until at least 2003 or was just dropped. The master plan of breaking up the Post Office and thereby smashing the traditional powers inside the LDP was not achieved until late 2005, four years in. The plans to balance the budget through spending cuts and flagelate the banks into shape proved unworkable and were abandoned.

Rather than getting hung up on these "policy failures" (that is the way the foreign commentariat, particularly the financial press, portrayed them) the Koizumi Korps always had something else ready and raring to go. Whenever Plan A ran up against a roadblock, the team piled out, got into Plan B, and drove off, leaving Plan A for more auspicious times.

By contrast, the Abe Cabinet was "All Plan A, All The Time. " Abe had six years of rule mapped out, a step-by-step rebuilding of the Japanese state and population from the ground up.

Until May 2007, the implementation of The Plan proceeded like clockwork. The constitutional referendum bill prepared the way for the revision of Article 9. The education reform bill established the substructure for an education system nurturing a tougher, more patriotic, more obedient, more self-sacrificial youth.

All for The Plan. The Plan to Save Japan.

That the laborious, single-minded effort was only possible due to the Diet majorities left behind by the improvisational wizard Koizumi Jun'ichirō was ignored.

Following the suicide of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Matsuoka Toshikatsu and the exposure of the pensions debacle, however, the revolution's wheels fell off. The loss of control of the House of Councillors sealed The Plan's fate--and it became apparent that the Abe Clique had no Plan B. While the reactionaries had a step-by-step blueprint for reviving a version of the Meiji State, they had no plan to run modern, post-1945 Japan--not surprising really, since they HATED post-1945 Japan.

However, with Ozawa Ichirō calling the shots in the House of Councillors, Abe had an imperative to chuck whatever Plan A may have been and figure out how to humor the Destroyer. Abe found he could not and subsequently imploded.

Fukuda had an imperative to chuck Plan A too--in this case, the plan to force the passage of the Indian Ocean renewal legislation at the earliest possible moment. He needed to hang on to that more flexible, more Koizumiesque manner, the ability to muse, "If it happens today, it happens. If it doesn't happen today, there's always tomorrow. Or sometime. Or never. Whatever. We'll get there."-- and proceed to Plan B.

To their despair, Abe and Fukuda found it impossible, when the chips were down, to emulate the one person who found a way to rule this unruly archipelago.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Poisoning itself

The government decides to absorb a public relations disaster rather than show magnanimity...and the Masuzoe resignation clock starts ticking.

Japan hepatitis patients reject govt aid plan

By Chisa Fujioka - TOKYO, Dec 20 - Japanese hepatitis patients on Thursday rejected a government compensation proposal in a high-profile scandal over tainted blood, a move that could further erode Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's falling support rate.

Media have presented the emotive scandal, in which patients were infected with tainted blood products years ago, as a test for Fukuda, who already faces voter anger over mishandled pension records and a bribery scandal involving a former top defence official.

At least 10,000 people are estimated to have contracted hepatitis C from tainted products. Most of the cases have been linked to the coagulant fibrinogen, used to stop haemorrhaging during childbirth or surgery and sold in Japan even after it was withdrawn in the United States in 1977.

A group of patients had sued the government and drug makers seeking compensation but rejected a settlement proposal by a regional court last week, saying it would only provide aid to a limited number of patients.

They called on Fukuda to go beyond the court proposal and provide compensation under equal conditions to all those who contracted hepatitis from tainted blood products. The patients had also repeatedly asked for a meeting with him but were turned down.

"As long as the government continues to draw a line for lives, we cannot go on with settlement talks," Tomoko Kuwata, one of the plaintiffs, told reporters.

"Why were our fair demands not accepted? It makes me sad," she said, with tears in her eyes.

Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe, while bowing in apology for the scandal before flashing cameras, said the government could not compensate patients beyond the court proposal.

The government's plan offers to pay money directly to around 700 patients, while setting up a common fund for 300 others, in a deal worth a total of around 17 billion yen ($150 million), Kyodo news agency said.

"We cannot have an settlement that goes against the settlement proposal by the Osaka High Court," Masuzoe told a news conference...
And why the hell not go against the settlement proposal of the Osaka High Court? Exactly what point in the recent past did the court system of Japan suddenly acquired the ability to protect the weak and restrain the powerful?

In the system of government we have here, if a politician does not care or does not threaten to take a flamethrower to the facilities, nothing is resolved, no one is saved.

With a single bow and an abject apology, Masuzoe becomes a hated puppet figure...and the government sinks to 1998-levels of impotence and indirection.

Of what possible benefit was the government's hewing to the court settlement's pitiful terms? To save just a little money? As if the government had any political capital to burn in order to hold the line on spending.

In terms of tactics, this was the second worst option imaginable. Even a child knows to never, ever, ever come back to a negotiating table with exactly the same offer as the one that was rejected earlier.

Later - OK, the numbers have come out on the television reports. T'is not as bad as it could have been. The government is willing to cough up a serious clot of cash for the special treatments the plaintiffs need--but refuses to take responsibility for any infections other than those that occurred between August 1985 and June 1988.

In comments, Okumura Jun is correct--both sides are stubbornly clinging to principles they possibly need to jettison.

We will have to see how the morning shows handle the stone heads on both sides.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

How long is forever?

I have always felt an intense annoyance at the use of the word "forever" (永久に) in Article 9 of the Constitution. It is nonsensical excess verbiage--no person living today can make a promise on behalf of generations not yet born. The best anyone can do is speak for the present, leaving to future generations the choice over whether or not to renew the pledge*.

Nevertheless, I am suddenly interested in how long forever might last. Explanations I have read of the Yoshida Doctrine have emphasized its limited mandate--that the crafters of the Doctrine felt a focus on economic development was a temporary measure. Eventually, Japan would return to strength, become a normal country again and ally itself with the winning side--just as it did so successfully during the first two decades of the 20th century. The "forever" in Article 9 was a contingency, a convenient interim falsehood.

What the liberal, internationalist crafters of the Doctrine and the conservatives who acquiesced to it did not and could not imagine was that the Doctrine would outlive Japan's devastated state. Under the wing of the United States military and in a zone of largely free trade, Japan's economy zipped past medium power status right into superpower status before a political adjustment could take place. The upward economic march furthermore lasted long enough for two entire generations to grow up indoctrinated in an official creed arguing that Japan's prosperity's was the result of an unwillingness to go to war. That extremely militarized societies in South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore somehow enjoyed even faster spurts of economic growth managed to have--and still manages to have--zero impact on the thinking of most Japanese as to the relationship between prosperity and military preparedness.

Japan is now crossing a further Rubicon. Having become the world's number #2 economy without reestablishing a function for the military in its external relations, Japan must now grapple with the spillover effects of becoming the first society of the elderly, redoubling the difficulty of shifting out of the passive, cautious, and dependent Yoshida formulation.

Hence my wondering about the word "forever" in Article 9. Rather than indicating the depth of sincerity of a voluntary pledge--which I believe was the intent of the original drafters of the Constitution--has "forever" become an inescapable fact? Is "forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes" not just the default mode but instead Japan's ineluctable fate? And when you promise to do something forever that you cannot avoid, is it a promise at all?


* For certain hopeless situations "forever" is apt. Chief Joseph's surrender speech is an example.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hey, Mr. Spaceman

Won't you please take me along?
I won't do anything wrong.
Hey, Mr. Spaceman
Won't you please take me along for a ride?

No, we do not have enough embarrassing nonsense going on with Hatoyama Yukio Kunio's imaginary friends of friends who are members of Al-Qaeda.

No, we have to have the Chief Cabinet Secretary justifying his personal belief that alien life forms have been piloting ships in and around the Earth's general vicinity.

"Why else would the Nazca Lines of Peru have been drawn?" Machimura Nobutaka asks.

Nobutaka-kun, stop.

My mind is going.

I can feel it.

I can feel it.

There is no question about it.

I can feel it.

Daisy...daayyyyssiiieee...giiiiiivvvvveee meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee yourrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr aaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnswer truuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu

Seriously, I sure hope Machimura knows what he is doing...because I don't see "whimsical bemusement" reflected in the poll numbers.

For the world is hollow...

...and I have seen the stars.

Kaboom! Support for the Cabinet drops into the low thirties.

Courtesy: Mainichi Shimbun

The previous ruling coalition leadership group lied when it promised to account for every yen of every individual's pension by March 2008. Clearly, trying to fudge this fact is wounding the present ruling coalition leadership.

Unpopular also is the extension of the Diet session in order to pass the Indian Ocean dispatch reauthorization. That the members of the House of Representatives would go way out of their way for this marginal contribution to Japan's international standing when the economy is heading for a brick wall, the social order is disturbed and people are freezing their butts off in Hokkaidō due to colder-than-usual weather and high kerosene prices is simply rubbing folks the wrong way.

It is becoming impossible to ignore the signs that the job of Prime Minister is devouring Fukuda Yasuo, making him appear ever smaller with each passing week. He is falling prey to the false certainties of the party hacks, the relationship handlers, the op-ed artists and timid bureaucrats--much like the parade of little-remembered men who sat at the prime minister's desk in the late 1980s and the 1990s.

For more detailed analyses of earlier public opinion surveys, see Okumura Jun and Tobias Harris.

Monday, December 17, 2007

We would like to help you learn... help yourself.

What everyone is getting in her/his newspaper today? Why it is a four-page public announcement from Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Masuzoe Yōichi!

What's up my man?

Why, he is going to be writing me soon, sending me a record of my payments into the national pension system. I need to go over his letter, checking for omissions and discrepancies. If I find mistakes--or what I think are mistakes--I should go through my back files for evidence that I did pay into the system or that I moved to Tokyo from Hiroshima 17 years ago or that I am a serial monogamist with six different surnames on record, bring my evidence and his letter to my local office of the Social Insurance Agency and see if I can get everything squared away.

Thanks Masuzoe-san!

Oh, yeah, and thanks for apologizing, indirectly, sort of, for missing the promised deadline of clearing out the backlog of floating accounts by March 31, 2008. Oh wait, you are not really apologizing, just redefining success. "皆様の基礎年金番号の記録と結びつく可能性のある記録が出てきた方に"...hmmm, try plugging that phrase into an automated translation program!

Seriously, it has taken too long for the Social Insurance Agency to come up with a simple, reassuring public announcement--even a slightly disingenuous one.

It is not as though the Agency has been outside the public eye, either. Mino Monta has been on its case for over two years now, smacking it both for its inadequacies and its outrageous wastes of the people's money.

Why is the first reaction always to try to maintain a veneer of competence and omniscience, attributing failure to simply a lack of effort (and union rules)? Why does it take the powers that be so long to do the simple humbly ask the citizens for their cooperation in cleaning up this mess, so that promises can be kept?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Regaining our manhood

The other day I made mention of a peculiar recent phenomenon:
Is this the essence of the right wing reactionary movement--a fear of weakness--a paranoia about Japan failing because of a lack of aggressive irascibility? Is this the explanation of the irruption of the cult of Shirasu Jirō over the last few years, the sudden omnipresence of a largely forgotten figure remembered now for his rebuking Douglas MacArthur when the General showed disrespect toward a gift from the Shōwa Emperor?
Thanks to Japan Probe, we find out the worship of Shirasu Jirō has transcended cult status. It has ascended to the level of maudlin, transvestite camp.

When a top Takarazuka otokoyaku plays you--you are The Man.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A traditional industry ruined in rural Japan

The government has always cosseted farmers and small businesses...except when it didn't want to.

Before most of what was rich farmland was subsumed beneath exurban and suburban sprawl in the 1950's, the Sagami area (modern-day Kanagawa Prefecture) was a breadbasket of the southern Kantō plain. Agriculture in the greater Sagami area was mixed, with about 20% of production in wet rice, 50% in dry land cereals and 15% in vegetables, beans and root crops.

From the 17th century on, one Sagami plain upland town, the town of Hadano, specialized in a non-food crop brought to Japan in the 16th century: tobacco. During the Edo Period Hadano tobacco was a favorite of Edoites, including, it is rumored, the sybarites of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters. As the tobacco growing area closest to the capital, Hadano certainly had an advantage over other tobacco growing areas in terms of the prices it could charge for its production.

Mt. Fuji above the Hadano plateau
Hadano City, Kanagawa Prefecture
December 9, 2007

The end of sakoku policies and the resulting ability to import tobaccos from outside Japan did not lead to a collapse of the Hadano growing industry. Indeed, the rise of the Tokyo and Yokohama metropoles, growing populations and social mobility throughout the country and the establishment of road and rail networks led to a rapid rise in the consumption of tobacco products--and increased prosperity for the people of Hadano. In 1887, 700 hectares in Hadano were planted in tobacco. A decade later, in 1897, the area under cultivation had doubled to 1400 hectares.

While most of the industry's production was primitive and home-based, with families manning the fields, drying sheds and sorting and cutting houses, Hadano Town had, again in 1897, at least twelve factories employing at least 10 workers-- an anomalous, small-scale, non-government-led industrialization of a rural community.

The bustling agriculture-based, small-enterprise, free market capitalist industry of Hadano went into terminal decline after 1897, however. The culprit was neither disease nor foreign competition but the heavy hand of government.

The passage in 1898 of the Tobacco Monopoly Law centralizing tobacco distribution and sales and the passage of a similar law in 1904 regarding production led to limits on the areas farmers could plant in tobacco and the prices farmers could charge. It forced the closure of the small local factories and production facilities. The Hadano industrial base withered: production knowledge and workers were lost to the government's large facilities, the price controls led to the land becoming more valuable for activities other than tobacco growing. Eventually Hadano's tobacco production was replaced by production from other areas or by imports.

Today one can find mikan groves, long rows of vegetables and even the raising of farm animals in Hadano City. No one grows tobacco, not even on a demonstration farm. The only physical remains of the industry is a stela, erected upon a crest of a ridge where the tobacco farmers used to gather the autumn leaves they needed to mulch and fertilize the soil of their tobacco plots.

Memorial stela to the Hadano tobacco industry and JIC members at the site
Hadano City, Kanagawa Prefecture
December 9, 2007
Photo credit: MTC / TBP 2007

So if anyone ever starts a sentence, "Rationalize agricultural production? Forget it. The Japanese government has always protected its farmers and small businessmen..."


Hadano Stela text.

Takamura Naosuke, Ueyama Kazuo, Kokaze Hidemasa and Ōmameuda Minoru, Kanagawaken no Hyakunen: kenmin hyakunenshi 14 (Tokyo: Yamaka Shuppan, 15 June 1984), p. 82-84.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Please, please depress me more!

Wow, tonight's 9 pm NHK news has given just about everyone a reason to hate every single branch of government.

First up, the unaccountable Osaka High Court adjudicating the Hepatitis C-infected blood products case accepted the government's risible offer to the Hepatitis C sufferers, a plan that would limits those compensated to those who received the tainted products in between August 1985 and June 1988 - the narrowest window of responsibility recognized by any of the courts with Hepatitis C cases in its docket.

What an absolutely fabulous way to win hearts and minds, your honors, trying to drive wedges between desperately ill people, offering hope and treatment only to some of them--or none at all for all of them. Chim, chim, chirree!

The plaintiffs, demanding equal treatment for all sufferers, rejected the court's selection, cursing the health ministry and the government.

Yes, your honors. That is what I call a fine wakai (Eng: "amiable settlement") just like the one you ordered.

Next came a segment on the extension of the current extraordinary Diet session in order to pass the anti-terror special measures law.

Too much has been said about that already.

Everything is set up to extend the current session to January 15. Giri giri? You bet. The next day, the 16th, is the Democratic Party national convention. The day after that is the LDP's national convention. An the day after that? The first day of the 2008 regular Diet session!

Ta dah!

Finally, Tsushima Yūji's tax commission released its long-awaited (long-feared?) recommendations for new tax legislation...and holy moly, it looks like just about every single possible bad idea was waved on.

- An approval of a rise the consumption tax to pay for increasing retirement and health costs...but with no set date when this rise is supposed to take place and no indication how much the rise is going to be

- Approval of the transfer of corporate tax revenues from the cities to the countryside--without any explanation as to the point of the exercise or if it is ever going to end

- Approval of the furusato nōzei plan, allowing taxpayers to send 10% of their local residence tax to their hometowns (Gosh, is that ever going to be easy to administer and police!)

- Offering no changes to the way the receipts from highway funds are handled (the DPJ wants the receipts to go into the general fund)

Would you believe Tsushima and Co. expects the Diet to pass the necessary enabling legislation during the 2008 regular Diet session?

Heck, even Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo looked bad today. He sweated his way through a tortured explanation of his evasive statement of last night wherein he insinuated that Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Masuzoe Yōichi's admission that the Social Insurance Agency will

a) miss its self-imposed deadline of cleaning up the 50 million account backlog of lost accounts, and

b) will probably never identify the holders of about a million 10 million floating accounts

did not constitute a breaking of the LDP's July election pledges on the subject.

"You know it's answers like yours," the PM's Democratic questioner scoffed, "that made nise the kanji of the year this year."

Later - As Fred Uleman points out in Institute of Social Science, Tokyo University's SSJ-Forum, the ultimate, unstated aim of the "voluntary" transfer of corporate taxes from Tokyo and other metropolitan areas to depressed rural areas is the guaranteeing of the reelection of the LDP candidates in the rural districts.

But you knew that...even if no one on the news said it.

Non-stop nonsense

Over at GlobalTalk 21, Okumura Jun does the heavy lifting on yesterday's opéra bouffe over Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Masuzoe Yōichi's admission that the govenment would never meet a self-imposed March 31 deadline for clearing up the missing pension accounts mess.

I must confess I did not want to address the brouhaha, even though it dominated the evening newscasts. My heart hardened at the government's defenders refusing to admit that there had never been any hope of fulfilling the campaign promise of "every yen and every passbook number accounted for." I was equally ticked off as the DPJ's, the Communists' and the Socialists' attack dogs issued smug denuciations of the government's "breach of trust"--when the government that had issued the absurd, overreaching promise was only nominally related to the one in office.

In a typically self-confident, shambling gambit, former LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao offered his decapitated head up once more, saying, "The ones who have to apologize for this unfulfilled promise are those who were LDP executives at the time."

Who will be the LDP maverick who will halt the rot and admit:

"Abe and his people lied. There was no way to fulfill their campaign promises on this issue--and they knew it. They did not want to tell the truth to the people because the truth could lead to defeat in the July elections. Abe and his allies had a higher purpose in mind--the salvation of Japan--so any act that could keep them in power, even blatant lying to the people, was permissible. On July 29, the voters indicated that they had seen enough. Now Abe is out of power and his friends are outside of the government. Let us stop hitting each other over this. Instead let us cooperate on reducing the number of lost accounts to the barest minimum as early as possible."

Kamei Yasuhisa would have been able to issue such a statement...but he is in the opposition now.

So who can stop this infuriating charade?


Later - Fukushige Shin argues that Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura Nobutaka has taken the plunge--sort of.

Japan Economy Watch - a group blog

I was hoping (dreaming, expecting) that some folks were blogging on the Japanese economy from a rigorous, academic standpoint (though he is doing a hell of a job, Ken Worsley cannot do everything).

It seems that the someones I have been hoping for are Claus Vistesen, Edward Hugh and Scott Petersen of Japan Economy Watch (Please, please, please ignore the acronym--why didn't you listen to me?)

If memory serves, the trio orbit within the Roubini-Setser-Calculated Risk (i.e. - "sane") sector of the economic blogging universe--some portals into which are in the column on the right.

That Mr. Vistensen is all of 22 years old of course makes my eyes water.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

On paying respect to China's leaders

Okumura Jun over at GlobalTalk 21 has already offered a formal defense of Ozawa Ichirō's massive ambassadorial progress to Beijing. I would merely like to add an impressionistic coda to his work.

The Chinese government's authority is fragile. None of the current crop of leaders participated in the liberation struggle. None of them can tell a particularly harrowing story of personal suffering during in the intra-party madness of the Cultural Revolution. None can weave an inspiring tale of resistance to the crackdown that followed the events of June 1989 (then again, none of them has any deep black marks either). The earning of legitimacy through the ballot box has not been expanded upward from the village elections level. Instead, the central government's right to lead the nationa is being bought through a racing of economic engines, impressed upon the public' s mind through a capricious system of law enforcement and surveillance and insinuated through performances of benevolent empathy and personal simplicity.

[As though working from a script, Wen Jiabao softly plays the traditional pragmatic, sympathetic, always-on-the-edge-of-tears #2 in the party hierarchy whilst above him Hu Jintao leads his cult of no personality toward its apotheosis. ]

Hu, Wen and the other members of the Party Central Committee know that as the Party's commitment to its own ideology falters, their actual writ grows smaller. Far more powerful and terrifying than any of central government pronouncements are the business development plans of provincial officials and the common thuggery of the local cadres. The PLA's loyalty to the center and its trustworthiness are also suspect.

The core leadership also must know that the mighty China they are steering is not just a world-shaking juggernaut but a crack-riven disaster-in-waiting too. The staggering social inequality, the environmental destruction wreaked and the gargantuan trade and financial imbalances generated over the last decade of "crossing the river by feeling for the stones"--a non-confrontational, non-aspirational form of non-leadership--has woven webs of interconnected incipient catastrophes. Pull on one loose thread and everything everywhere bends from the strain.

When the authority of the government is so low and the stakes for the entire planet are so high, it behooves Japanese politicians to show extraordinary deference to the core leadership of China. Though Tokugawa Japan refused to be party of the Qing Dynasty tribute system, it hardly seems possible that modern Japan can avoid joining the rest of China's neighbors in bolstering Beijing's authority over its own land and people through ostentatious displays of respect.

The radical right in Japan of course would love nothing more than deny the Chinese leadership anything but the minimal decencies under the rules of the Westphalian state system. From their point of view, Ozawa's huge entourage and almost obsequious lauding of the Japan-China relationship must be disparaged and criticized--with nary a thought as to the possible consequences .

However, Japanese have an overwhelming interest in a peaceful, prosperous and stable China. Symbolic overkill--traveling with hundreds of retainers in tow, enduring interminable photo ops, spouting the effusive speeches--is a means of reinforcing the facade of Chinese central government control.

Had Ozawa tried reduced the scale of the visit to a more reasonable size--or attempted to reschedule the visit--Japan as whole would have lost out. By keeping his side of the bargain, leaving little unchanged, he boosted the authority of the Chinese Central government. While many see such deference as degrading or destructive, my sense is that it earned Japan a little more very necessary breathing space in its dealings with its immense and fast-changing (nuclear-armed) neighbor.

No longer a wolf alone

The Asahi Shimbun is reporting that former Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ishihara Nobuteru will be joining the Yamazaki Faction. After so many years as a non-aligned member of the LDP, he seems to have come to the conclusion he needs factional support to make the next jump upward in the party hierarchy. Since he has already been been LDP Deputy Secretary-General and (very) briefly Chairman of the Policy Research Council, Ishihara is clearly thinking big.

Once he steps inside the 39-member Yamazaki Faction (36 members in the House of Representatives) he will be the faction's princeling.

As one who is on record as being partial toward Ishihara (we were neighbors, our homes less than 150 meters apart) I wish him the best.

I wonder what longtime members of the Yamazaki Faction feel about the sudden arrival of a usurper, though.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

We Chose Death

The Liberal Democratic Party today established its Election Measures Committee in preparation for a House of Representatives election. At the meeting, Election Strategy Chairman Koga Makoto laid down what has to be the most brain-dead standard ever for selecting candidates:

"We will chose the candidate who can win."

As if anyone has ever used the opposite as a standard for choosing candidates.

Let us try this out as a campaign slogan, shall we?

"Vote Nakata. Because I can win."


Of course, the "candidate who can win" is a reference to the struggle in Gifu District #1 where two attractive women candidates--Satō Yukari, the former investment banker, parvenu and Koizumi assassin (shikyaku) and the once-exiled, disgraced but winning local girl Noda Seiko--cannot both be the party's nominee.

The phony struggle over which woman will fill the Gifu #1 slot (Noda will win it--everybody knows that) may be perfect fodder for the tabloids and the daytime soft news shows (oooh, cat fight!). However, it should be no more than that. Incredibly, the Gifu fight seems to be so mesmerizing that the LDP election leadership has lost sight of the glaring structural rot threatening the party once again.

The news just now showed former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō rapidly marching away from trailing journalists asking him his opinion of the committee's likely abandonment of his assassins. He was always smiles and playfulness until he was asked about the district candidatures.

What is Koizumi doing--just letting it slide? Will he do nothing to give hope to the Koizumi Children? Is this part of some kind of plan, to allow the current party leadership to set itself up for some kind of fall, completing the "I will break the LDP" part of his 2001 pledge?

Looking at Koga, I have not the least confidence he has an idea what a winning candidate looks like. Oh sure, he has just been touring the prefectures, meeting the support groups, listening to the complaints of the local party branches. He has been interacting with the locals, getting a sense of what will bring them back on board.

However, that is "winning candidate" in the narrow sense, the numerical sense of 50% of the ballots cast plus 1 vote in traditional LDP strongholds. The "dumb as a sack of cement but he's/she's our boy/gal" kind of winning candidate.

Looking at Koga and hearing him speak, I see someone willing to lose every seat in Tokyo if it means he can hammer together the traditional coalition sweeping all of the district seats in Shikoku.

That Tokyo has 25 seats and Shikoku only 13 would be immaterial.

Let us now praise the praiseworthy

Over Néojaponisme, W. David Marx has done great service to the non-Japanese-reading public by translating an essay by Ikeda Nobuo on the ideology of blogging and user lists in Japan. It is an excellent companion piece to Adam Richards' white hot fury at Blaine Harden's borderline cretinous Washington Post article on blogging in Japan. Marx also has a wonderful article on the "Real Clothes" movement in the November edition of J@pan.Inc.

While we are on the subject of praise, I congratulate Martin Fackler at The New York Times for his article on rural-urban disparities . If he can just keep up the momentum, some of us might even forgive him for the wearable Coke machine article.

Okumura Jun over at GlobalTalk 21 continues in his gloriously cantakerous contrarianism, putting up numbers to show that this fall's chaotic extraordinary Diet session cannot be dismissed as a total waste of time.

Though I meet up with Bank of Japan Governor Fukui Toshihiko every few years and have a great deal of sympathy for his predicament, I also can laugh every time Cassandra goes over the top at his expense. I also appreciate Cassandra's analytical irritability (look in comments for the skinning of the much-ballyhooed investment schemes of Steel Partners).

I spend almost no time wondering whether or not tokyology and callygraphykid are one and the same person. I am just waiting for a new installment of hearbreakingly dry satire.

Of course, if Janne Morén would stop wasting his time engineering incredible bipedal robots, he could offer more level-headed commentary on Japanese issues (Can we get this series #1, #2, #3 tidied up, translated and published in The Asahi Shimbun, please?) making the world a better place.

And of course, praise for Mr. Tobias Harris even though (especially because?) some weeks I cannot agree with a single damn thing he posts.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Exhibit no signs of weakness

A pair of posters hanging from the ceiling on the Marunouchi Line...

On the right, an advertisement for the latest edition of Voice, PHP Sōken's contribution to the right wing communiverse (somehow Seiron, WiLL, Shokun! and Sapio do not offer enough publishing space for Japan's angry old radicals to fill). The cover article, with a flattering half-lidded photo of Ozawa Ichirō reads, "Democratic Party: the argument for decay" (suitairon).

I cannot be certain whether the article is arguing that the Democratic Party advocates decay or is its symbol--but either way, the association is between Democrats and the weakening of Japan.

But who rides to the rescue in the final article? What, it is our favorite former absolute shoo-in for prime minister, his bouncy otakuness Aso Tarō, the title of whose article seems to redefine brevity: "Tsuyoi! Nippon" ("Strong! Japan").

In the taidan article, Sakurai Yoshiko and Hiranuma Takeo get a chance to compare notes at length about the coming great realignment of the political world.

Yes, I agree. "Eeek!" is the proper response.

On the left-hand side is an advertisement for another PHP Sōken production, the history magazine Rekishi Kaidō (Eng: History Road). January 2008's special feature is a slew of articles (14? 15?) on Sakai Saburō, Japan's ultimate flying ace, the man who was always there (a pilot in China in 1939, he flew a Zero fighter during the assault on the Philippines on the Pacific War's first day of December 8, 1941) who always came back (shot in the head and with the canopy of his fighter blown away, he managed to fly his airplane 1000 km over the Pacific for four hours to a safe landing on a Rabaul airfield) and who never gave up--that last trait which seemingly turned into a bit of a problem as he, half-blind though he was, managed to participate in the final dogfight of between U.S. and Japanese forces--a Zero attack on a pair of B-32s on a photography mission over the Kantō--on August 18, 1945.

Ooops. That last little display of martial ardor seems to have got him into a wee bit of trouble with SCAP.

What was striking about the ad for the Rekishi Kaidō special edition was the repeated use of the word "akiramenai" ("never giving up") in the copy.

Because you know, sometimes you really should.*

Is this the essence of the right wing reactionary movement--a fear of weakness--a paranoia about Japan failing because of a lack of aggressive irascibility? Is this the explanation of the irruption of the cult of Shirasu Jirō over the last few years, the sudden omnipresence of a largely forgotten figure remembered now for his rebuking Douglas MacArthur when the General showed disrespect toward a gift from the Shōwa Emperor?

Is this what the abductees issue is all about? Not the search for justice and eternal repose but the flaunting of a pugnacious "you looking at me?" manner, where talking tough is just as important as being tough?

(Prior to Prime Minister Fukuda's arrival in the United States last month, Hiranuma did a tour of the offices of the Executive and Legislative branches in Washington, family members of the abductees in tow.)

The allure of displays of toughness...this would not have anything to do with the onset of physical deterioration among a number of persons who have spent their adult lives abnegating themselves to persons no better than themselves? Of the vicarious experiencing of bravery through surrogates by those who could not bring themselves to snapping back?

Because that would be absurd.

Especially because PHP Sōken is Matsushita Kōnosuke's old shop, the "PHP" being the acronym of "Peace and Happiness through Prosperity."


* In Sakai Saburō's defense, he had more of a "never say die" spirit than a "never give up" spirit. Ordered on a kamikaze mission, he took off, flew to the target area, saw the action was a waste of his life, turned around and flew back to base...which reveals a facet of Sakai's philosophy that some on the right might not want us to ponder on too deeply.

Sakai Saburō died in September 2000, passing away after falling ill during a reception at the U.S. Navy base at Atsugi.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Fab Four on Tour

Chairman of the LDP Election Strategy Council Koga Makoto spent some quality time yesterday with the Yamanashi Prefecture LDP Prefectural League. It was the last stop on the seven-week "Extraordinary Contrition Tour" organized by Koga for the top four executives of the LDP in the wake of the devastating losses in the July 29 House of Councillors elections.

Koga, Secretary-General Ibuki Bunmei, Policy Research Council Chairman Tanigaki Sadakazu and Chairman of the General Council Nikai Toshihiro visited the prefectural party chapters, the prefectural Kōmeitō offices and the local offices of support groups such as the Japan War-Bereaved Association (sixty-two years and counting) in 42 prefectures .

O tsukaresama deshita.

It is really too bad that the LDP has not made a special effort to document and celebrate this fantastic tour of the Japanese outback. The boys have tried so hard.

So I am trying to help.

The Yonyaku - Magical "Must We?" Tour
Magical "Must We?" Tour
(I'm a) Fool With A Bill
Buru Jei Ue
Your Budget We'll Blow
I Am So Worthless

Hello (LDP) Goodbye (DPJ)
Protected Rice Fields Forever
Pretty Lame
Baby You're a Poor Sap
All We Need's Your Votes

But I have only a sophomoric sense of humor...and I don't have Photoshop.

Two groups not likely to intersect

The Japan Observer reports on a creepy meeting of the LDP's reactionary-nationalist wing with arch-exile Hiranuma Takeo. While the right wing is currently in eclipse, attention must still be paid to its activities. Reactionary fantabulism seems to be the only political movement still spanning the rural-urban divide without effort. In the bad old days (say, 1998) when the entire country was going to hell in a handbasket, reform had a broad appeal. Now it is an increasingly an urban-suburban phenomenon.

That an adoption of the untethered beliefs of the right wing would lead the country to ruin is, of course, the other reason why one has to keep a list of the membership in one's breast pocket.

I am saddened that Noda Seiko--the best chance this country has at a woman prime minister--still feels it necessary to associate with this crowd. I guess I will have to console myself with the thought that she sent an underling to attend in her stead.

In other news, Prime Minister Fukuda has established a foreign policy advisory group comprised of non-bureaucrats/non-politicians in advance of the 2008 Summit. Much of the membership is drawn from Koizumi Jun'ichirō's Task Force on Foreign Affairs which Fukuda effectively chaired during his time as Chief Cabinet Secretary.

With the collapse of former prime minister Abe Shinzō's National Security Advisor experiment, the PM has been relying on the traditional bureaucrats seconded from their ministries and private meetings with experts for his foreign policy advice. Institutionalizing the advice coming out of this private network is probably an indication of the PM's impatience with the status quo. The structural changes may indeed serve as a trigger for the release of a new wave of Japanese activism in foreign policy, unconstrained by normal bureaucratic caution.

At very least, the new group represents a clipping of the wings of Foreign Minister Kōmura Masahiko and Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura Nobutaka. The two gentlemen have enjoyed a greater authority in directing and defining Japan's foreign policy than their immediate predecessors (It is natural that they feel rather confident about their foreign policy expertise: both served as Foreign Minister in previous Cabinets). The appointment of the advisory group would indicate that their reign as the lords of Japan's foreign policy is coming to an end. Machimura will be expected to chair the regular meeting of the advisory group, so he will still nominally be in charge of the agenda. However, I suspect that the influence of the group will be rather one-way, with the ideas of the group infiltrating and molding Machimura's thinking, not the other way around.

Later - I see the Yomiuri has posted an English announcement of the formation of the group. The Sankei story above is still the reference for the group's membership, however.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Showdown In Nagatachō

The lead story of this morning's Yomiuri Shimbun claims that Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo has decided to fight for the passage of the revised Indian Ocean dispatch bill using all means at his disposal. Should the House of Councillors fail to address or vote down the bill, the PM will ask the ruling coalition to reextend the Diet session past January 12, when it will become possible for the House of Representatives to simply override the actions or inaction of the House of Councillors.

The opposition majority in the House of Councillors will immediately pass a censure resolution against the PM.

Then things will get interesting--as the regular budget debate will be thrown out of whack and the House of Councillors will become an exceedingly hostile venue for the PM.

This has all the makings of a real train wreck come March.

Later - Aha! Global Talk 21 reports of possible cracks in the wall of intransigence.

What we have here... one for the political scientists and sociologists:

On page 2 of today's Mainichi Shimbun, Europe correspondent Machida Yukihiko writes about an unfortunate failure to communicate. In a mini-op-ed entitled "Japan Nothing" (Japan Nasshingu) he laments the absence of a single Japanese company among the signers of the Bali Communiqué on Climate Change printed on two full pages of the Financial Times of November 30. Almost all of the signers are European corporations. However, the Americans are present in force (GE, Nike, Du Pont, Gap Inc., Sun Microsystems) and even some rather odd, unexpected signers from the developing world (Pakistan Petroleum Limited; Shanghai Electric) show up.

But no Japanese corporations, aside from the Sony/Ericsson joint venture.

According to Machida, the organization sponsoring the communiqué contacted several Japanese corporations but not a single one showed any interest in signing on.

Machida's conclusion is suitably exhortatory:

"Let's show that Japan is a place where the instruments needed to combat pollution are well developed. Europe's impression of Japan is that, in terms of the environment, it is a backward nation."

Not only in terms of the environment, sadly.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Two of a kind

" Half the people are stoned
And the other half are waiting for the next election.
Half the people are drowned
And the other half are swimming in the wrong direction."

- written by Paul Simon as a gift to Leornard Bernstein.
included in The Bernstein Mass

Courtesy: Mainichi Shimbun
December 4, 2007

On November 25, in a speech in Ōtsu*, Democratic Party leader Ozawa Ichirō warned the assembled that they should prepared for a sudden dissolution of the Diet and House of Representatives election. He asserted that there need not be a reason for the dissolution, that neither side needed to be ready to campaign--something might just happen in a "hyon na koto de deaigashira."

A deaigashira jiko is a head-on collision around at a blind corner--where neither side is necessarily in the wrong in terms of rights of way--but a collision nevertheless occurs out of a combination of imprudent speed, inattention and blocked vision.

So we have our two heroes, Ozawa and Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo, clad in their fall coats (nice seasonal detail here) their backs pressed to a wall, centimetering up to the corner. Improbably, since the two men are on two sides of a single continuous wall, Ozawa is in "Diet Censure Sanchōme" while Fukuda is in "Diet Reapproval Sanchōme"-- for each man the act in the Diet that ensures a confrontation with the other. At the corner, the street sign warns "Diet Dissolution" with the words surrounded by the universal graphic for a collision.

"Deaigashira keikai piripiri" -- "tingling with warning of an impending head-on collision at a blind corner"

In recent years the LDP has earned a great deal of criticism for its unwillingness to face the voters. Even this year the party chose to delay the House of Councillors vote, demonstrating an almost pathetic fear of the voter's wrath (the delay did not help one iota--not that delaying ever does).

Right now, however, both the LDP and the DPJ wish to avoid going to the polls--and not only because it is cold right now ( you wonder why no elections in the winter?) . The LDP has still not proven it can get anything done in the new Diet environment created by the loss on July 29. Indeed, if one thinks back over the fun of the last 3 months, one would come to the opposite conclusion. The DPJ, for its part, is still way behind in finding enough candidates for the district seats...and still has to make amends with the microparties for Ozawa's nearly joining hands with the LDP in a grand coalition last month.

Neither side is ready for a dissolution.

So our doughty lads creep along the wall, terrified of running into each other.

Later - Thank you OJ, for the correction.

* The Ōtsu speech was a stop on Ozawa's continuing grand tour of the countryside while the Diet is in session. Ozawa's imperial progress to Beijing is just part of a larger pattern of his absenting himself from his Diet duties in order to shore up his image as a man who can deliver the political goodies.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Democracy Exhausted

On July 5 of this year the members of both the Houses sat wriggling in their seats, waiting for permission to leave.

The Diet session had been extended; the House of Councillors election pushed back; time was running out.

Before the members could rush the exits to start campaigning, however, they had to endure a closing ceremony with remarks from House of Representatives Speaker Kōno Yōhei and House of Councillors Speaker Ōgi Chikage.

A simple, trite dribble of inanities, thanking everyone for his or her effort, wishing fond wishes of "good luck and may the best man/woman win on July 29"--nothing fancy, nothing memorable, just "Hello. Goodbye. Well Met. Gambatte!" was what Diet members were expecting.

It was not to be.

Kōno, who spoke first, was almost wistful in administering the first slap:

"This last session has forced me to rethink management of the Diet both in terms of method and purpose (arikata)."
Yes, becoming the target of a censure motion by the opposition does tend to make Speakers feel rather under appreciated.

Ōgi, a former Takarazuka showgirl who was retiring from politics, chose to be far less discrete in her validictory address:

"There were times when the House of Councillors did not resemble a 'House of Worthies.' Let us see to it that the next House of Councillors responds more clearly to the needs of the citizens."
Kōno and Ōgi served notice. "Your performances were disgraceful, all of you," was the message.

If that is what the pair of them thought then, imagine what they must be thinking now!

(The Diet members should thank their lucky stars they do not have Ōgi around anymore to come and rain hellfire upon their heads.)

Over the weekend, the Japan Observer wondered aloud whether or not the rules of the game ought to be changed in order to press legislators into cooperating for the national good. Unfortunately, the suggestion generates a classic "putting the bell on the cat" dilemma--in order to revise the Constitution you need the cooperation of the very individuals whose powers would be circumscribed by the revision.

The legislative constipation over the Indian Ocean dispatch has shown that what is important to the political class right now is not having the right policies but having the right stances. Both the DPJ and the LDP are obsessed with positioning themselves for "the next election"--probing, searching for the fulcrum point allowing the candidate of one party to lever his/her opponent out of a seat.

Politics has deteriorated into non-stop electioneering. Should we be surprised that what ensues is intransigence for the sake of effect?

Radical idealists argue for a cure worse than the disease. Problems created by elections somehow can only be solved by even more elections. The ink on the newspaper reports of the DPJ's victory on July 29 was not even dry when commentators began baying for a House of Representatives election. What would that have solved? Frittering away the coalition's 2/3 majority in the House of Representatives would only make the political deadlock tighter.

Unfortunately for Japan, the country in a similarly bad bind is the United States. The electoral college system and the polarization of the South have transformed the race for U.S. president into the cementing of vast defensive formations with minor political skirmishes in a handful of political no-man's-lands. A deadened Congress, hemmed in by the ridiculous cloture rule of the U.S. Senate, finds itself unable to challenge the puny might of an imperious and freakishly unpopular Administration.

The politicians and the people in both countries expend their energies coping with their democracy's defects--leaving them no time to enjoy any of democracy's fruits. Like the LNG tankers that have to consume a significant portion of their cargoes just to keep the natural gas they are carrying cool, Japanese and American democracies consume most of their energy (in Japan's case all of its energy) combating the consequences of their own attributes.

The current highly enervated and ultimately draining stasis mocks the generations who craved democracy. Not anarchic, abstract freedom, mind you, but democracy -- which, as opposed to authoritarianism, provides a pathway to achieving progress and social justice.

It seems that democracy is not just rule by the people but rule by the people with a progressive agenda. A Turkish scholar, examining democratization in two large, non-Euro-American (non-Arab, Muslim) states with a history of military interventions and overthrows of democratic rule, found that:

A deeper question persists as to what the majority of Turks and Indonesians understand by democratization. There is reason to believe that, when most Turks and Indonesians express support for democratic reforms, they are really communicating a desire for political stability and economic development. It should be noted that, in both countries, popular demand for democratization peaked in the wake of devastating economic crises that were associated with widespread corruption and mismanagement. As the economy stabilised, the momentum for reform in each country gradually declined. *
More than a few phrases stand out.

"...when { } express support for democratic reforms, they are really communicating a desire for political stability and economic development."

"...popular demand for democratization peaked in the wake of devastating economic crises that were associated with widespread corruption and mismanagement."

Sound like any country's people you have heard/read about?

"Political stability and economic development" does not sound like a terribly difficult goal. However, the democracy of Japan left to its own devices can no longer deliver it. There has to be an ability to instigate movement, to will development, to guarantee that tomorrow will not be like today. This was the fire that Koizumi Jun'ichirō brought back. It was not a destructive fire, despite what his opponents now say about it. It was a warming fire. You knew that come what may, the congealed carapace would crack; the icy, rusted joints would be thawed out and oiled.

That fire, the fire of liberality and openness, is being allowed to go out again. Movement and heat are antithetical to the pure political operator--who has to know that what he secured today will be unchanged when he comes back to it again in a year. Calculation and cowardice devour all; democracy becomes a numbers game.

The Observer posits that a change in the rules could jump start the eternal revolution again. I think something more is needed: namely, a plan, any plan, to get the country somewhere where it has never been before.

Right now Japan's democracy is just sitting down, frazzled and panting.

* Karabekir Akkoyunlu, Military Reform and Democratization: Turkish and Indonesian experiences at the turn of the millennium, Adelphi Paper 392, (London: Routledge, November 2007) p. 67-8.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Foreigner's Cemetery, Yokohama

The Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery Foundation opened up a small section of the grounds on The Bluff to the general public today.

The graves of the railroad builders
Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture
December 2, 2007

The tilting graves from 19th century spoke of sudden death by disease and accident, of dispatches to fetid and disorderly ports to impress a fine Christian imperialism upon the peoples of the globe and of the strange wanderings suddenly made possible by the age of steam.

The Russian section
Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture
December 2, 2007

I was surprised by the number of graves of foreigners born in Yokohama in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with French-, British- and American-sounding surnames whose death dates were well after 1945.

Where did these people all go during the War? What did they have left after it ended?

It was not all solemnity and introspection in the graveyard, however.

Americans, it seems, are irrepressible. They cannot take anything seriously, not their own mortality, not even the minor demands of simple good taste:

He Took It With Him (for Paul and Yuki)
Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture
December 2, 2007
(click on image to enlarge)

Frank Joseph Burke must have been quite a character. His wife, 25 years his junior, seems to be still with us--and must be a saint. Not every wife is ready to spend eternity underneath the image of a safe, a dollar sign, crossed golf clubs and a golf ball.

I note the misspelled adverb. "Extremly devoted" indeed!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

December Song - Koko de kisu shite

1998: Shīna Ringo falls from out of the sky and proceeds scare the living daylights out of everybody.

Maybe it was the debut fashion doll as corpse thing.

Maybe it was the adult video fantasy nurse breaking through glass thing, with the gratuitous out of control lesbian love scene.

Or the Kurt Cobain - "Heart Shaped Box" homage with bonus decolletage.

Maybe it was the way she gave multiple personality disorder patients a run for their money.

But mostly it was the collision of Gary Oldman, Rickie Lee Jones, Winona Ryder and Led Zeppelin in her third single and video "Koko de kisu shite" that blew the minds of a failure-frazzled nation.

The Song for December in the column on the right can be found here.

Later - Hmmm....the embed is unstable. Until such time as I figure out what is going wrong with Blogger (you may note that half of the header image has disappeared too) we will have to do with an active link to the You Tube recording Fixed it.