Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One more year then - 2008

Yurikamome (Larus liribundus) over the Uraga Channel
In between Chiba and Kanagawa Prefectures
January 27, 2008

Father and daughter on Morito Beach
Zushi City, Kanagawa Prefecture
February 10, 2008

Tracks of a Kosagi (Egreta garzetta) on a stone bridge
Kiyosumi Teien, Tokyo Metropolitan District
March 30, 2008

Woman pushing cart on the levee of the Koma River
Hannō City, Saitama Prefecture
April 5, 2008

Birōdo Tsuri Abu (Bombylus major) on Mitsuba tsutsuji (Rhododendron reticulatum)
Mitōsan, Tokyo Metropolitan District
May 6, 2008

Hoverfly on Himesho'on (Erigeron annuus)
Takamizusanzan, Tokyo Metropolitan District
June 1, 2008

Tent City at the Katagoya of Kitadake
Yamanashi Prefecture
July 19, 2008

Cumulonimbus cloud above the Fujiwara Reservoir
Minakami Township, Gunma Prefecture
August 9, 2008

Ryūhō Grapes
Katsunuma City, Yamanashi Prefecture
September 22, 2008

Bannaji, the ujidera of the Ashikaga House
Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture
October 18, 2008

Mt. Fuji and Shakushiyama seen from Mishotaiyama
Tsuru City, Yamanashi Prefecture
November 2, 2008

Yurikamome (Larus liribundus) on the anchor chain of the Hikawa Maru
Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture
December 20, 2008

Thursday, December 25, 2008

From Every Mountain


Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

"Antiphon" : Let all the world in every corner sing.

From every mountaintop. Across all seas. To every place where the light is thought to have failed.

It shines.

メリー・クリスマス。  Joyeux Noël.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sailin' Away

Mt. Fuji, Enoshima and windsurfers on Sagami Bay
Zushi City, Kanagawa Prefecture
December 20, 2008

Shisaku will go on hiatus until January 6, 2009.

Such posts as will appear in the interim will concern holiday matters only.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Age of Indiscipline

Is Watanabe Yoshimi even in the Liberal Democratic Party anymore? Here he in an interview, printed in the Friday edition of the Tokyo Shimbun:

"Ideally, the reformation of the political world calls for the breakup up of the LDP and the breakup of the DPJ, with the realignment then taking place based on ideals and policies. That cannot be done all at once. Therefore it would be good for us to craft an agreement that, on the basis of the results of a general election, we will put together a Crisis Management Cabinet combining the #1 and #2 parties."
Why has the LDP leadership not kicked him out for calling the party brain dead? For categorizing it as in desperate need of breakup? For joining with the opposition in demanding an election? He has been ratcheting up his attacks on the Prime Minister and the party...and the leadership does nothing.

But then, no one seems to held responsible for anything anymore.

General Tamogami Toshio, the chief of staff of the Air Self Defense Forces, submits an essay that demands a repudiation of the postwar diplomatic and political order (to a rigged private contest, no less)...and the best the government can do is demote him with honors, full pension and lump sum separation fee intact.

Fifteen members of Special Forces Unit gang up to kill one of their own who sought a transfer another unit...and no charges are filed.

Three sumo wrestlers beat a teenager to death...and they receive suspended sentences because, as Roy Berman an anonymous commenter points out, the judge accepted the notion that the young men were only following orders.

The Diet passes just 12 bills. Twelve. In almost four months of extraordinary session. It is slated to get through only more before the December 25 close of the session. Then it's party time until the start of the regular session in the later half of January.

We live in an era without accountability.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Fodder

Oh boy. This does not look good.

Kitano "Beat" Takeshi as Tōjō Hideki in Tōjō Hideki and the Outbreak of the War Between Japan and the United States (Nichibei kaisen to Tōjō Hideki). Opens on Christmas Eve!

I have always pictured Tōjō as a fussy and fusty, yet colorless, martinet. To see him played by famously outrageous wild man with a famously mangled mug is disconcerting.

It remains to be seen whether the movie features an honest Tōjō Hideki played by Kitano Takeshi, a dishonest Tōjō Hideki played by Kitano Takeshi (the worst option) or the annoying meta-Non-Method shtick of Kitano Takeshi playing Kitano Takeshi playing Tōjō Hideki. The title at the top of the poster ("Beat Takeshi" X Tōjō Hikeki) has me thinking the answer is most likely Option #3.

Happy holidays!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The First Day...

...after Christmas
My True Love and I had a fight
And so I chopped the Pear Tree down
And burned it just for spite
And with a single cartridge
I shot after that blasted Partridge

That my True Love
My True Love
My True Love gave to me
A fine parody, yes, but until now, there has not been a Japan politics version.

That is, until Our Man In Abiko put his twisted mind to composing it.

C'mon! T'is the season! Let's Santa!

Later - Yes, I am tired of writing about the ruling coalition. Why do you ask?

Mr. Harris and The Brave New World

It seems we live in the Tobias Harris era.

He has produced an extraordinary amount of material over the past few days, including this magisterial post on the death, as he sees it, of the conservative-conservative entente as the axis of Japan-U.S. security relations.

I can agree with a lot of what Mr. Harris is saying in his post and can sympathize with a great deal more. I wish it were so that the hardline alliance of democracies concept was discredited and thus, effectively deceased.

However, as long as military contractors and defense suppliers have money to spend, they will lobby hard (or pay academics and think tankers to lobby hard) for such an alliance.

These are tenacious organizations that deal death as a matter of course. They will not be deterred by mere logic, economic constraints or human feeling.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Strict, Benevolent Yet Clueless Patriarchy for Dummies

Why does this magazine exist?

All right--I know why President Family exists: into order to give helpful hints and suggestions to executives who, after they have finished reading the latest edition of President magazine, realize from the evidence (small shoes and school satchels in the genkan, annoying high-pitched voices) that at some point in the past they procreated, which means they are required to go and put on sweater in order to be the "Daddy!" or "Pops!" (exclamation points mandatory) of what will be utterly perfect future taxpayers.

Look up, you pretenders to upper class values and lifestyles! Herein lies relief from the collision between economic reality and pretension!

In a February special issue (not particularly special, as every month of President Family is about educating the child--as if that were 100% of family life) will be page after page of advice on dealing with "The Costs of Education and the Wife's Worries" (Kyōikuhi to tsuma no shinpai).

Some titles of noteworthy chapters:

"The wife, wanting to enroll the child in a private school, wishes to engage a private tutor. Should you try to stop her?"

"The husband is a tightwad and the wife is a spendthrift. What should they do now?"

"Soccer, English, far should the child be pushed?"

"You have maxed yourself out putting your child in a private school. What additional costs should you be worrying about?"

"You want to tap the wife's parents for the education costs but dare not open your mouth. What should you do?"

Oh, ick. Ick, ick, ick.

Who would be caught dead reading this stuff?

Later - President Family began publication in September 2006. Consider this an "education in transition" post.

Oh Happy Day!

Note to child killers: if you want to beat a minor to death over a two-day span, with no prison time, be sure to be wearing a fundoshi with little diddly-doos hanging from it.

3 sumo wrestlers avoid prison after conviction over grappler's fatal beating
Mainichi Daily News

NAGOYA -- Three sumo wrestlers were convicted on Thursday over the death of a young grappler whom they fatally beat last year.

The Nagoya District Court gave suspended sentences to the three grapplers, who had been charged with inflicting bodily injury resulting in the death of Takashi Saito, 17, from the Tokitsukaze Stable in June last year.

Yuichiro Izuka, 26, and Masakazu Kimura, 25, were both sentenced to three years in prison, suspended for five years, while Masanori Fujii, 23, was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison, suspended for five years, over the case.

According to the ruling, after getting upset that Saito fled the stable, the three defendants conspired with their former stablemaster, Junichi Yamamoto, 58, and beat Saito after tying him to a practice pole in a dormitory in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture, on the night of June 25, 2007.

On the following day, Izuka and Kimura colluded with Yamamoto and beat Saito for about 30 minutes using a metal bat under the disguise of a sparring bout. As a result, Saito suffered traumatic shock and died later the same day...
You see, the elaborate underwear compresses the moral fiber, making it impossible for the individual to know the difference between right and wrong. Sort of a temporary, wardrobe-failure-of-the-imagination, if you will.

Let the judge explain:

Judge Masaharu Ashizawa acknowledged yesterday that the three convicted wrestlers had to unconditionally obey instructions from their trainer, who had absolute power over his men, the broadcaster NHK said. The judge noted violent punishment was considered standard practice at sumo stables.
From one who would turn on Digest every night to watch a bronzed Chiyonofuji lift his leg skyward in the warmups, then lever out yet another pasty non-great on his way to the championship, a permanent kiss-off:

[Expletive deleted] sumō.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Waiter Needs a Tip

Rule of thumb: if you have a fundraising party and have former Minister of Finance Ibuki Bunmei (AKA "Gumby" or "The Waiter") as one of the honored guests, for Amaterasu's sake, do not give him the microphone.

On Monday, Ibuki attempted to make light of the "KKK" part of the acronym YKKK, the shorthand being used to describe the informal political alliance between senior members (Yamasaki Taku, Kamei Shizuka, Katō Kōichi and Kan Naoto) of the Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Japan and the People's New Party. The acronym hearkens back to the famous YKK internal alliance of up-and-coming LDP members(Yamasaki Taku, Katō Kōichi and Koizumi Jun'ichirō) of the late 80s/early 90s.

As reported in The Yomiuri Shimbun:


"Many black people were killed by the KKK (the Ku Klux Klan). I hope that many promising young LDP members are not similarly killed by the political realignment carried out under this beautiful moniker."
You cannot make this stuff up.

For why I call the former finance minister "The Waiter," see this post from last year on a not quite so stunning, but still cringeworthy, Ibuki performance.

Any Club That Would Have Me As A Member

Kudos for Roy Berman over at Mutanfrog Travelogue for linking to this excellent and entertaining New York Public Radio audio tour of the kisha club system.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

On Shutting Up Morons

It is debilitating that even this late into the game there are smarty-pantsies insisting that the Liberal Democratic Party is not finished because "the party has been declared dead a hundred times over and yet has always found a way to survive."

Please. Shut up. Now.

It is truly over.

The party is spitting out a president it elected by an overwhelming majority TWELVE WEEKS AGO.

The LDP's problem is not that it cannot dealt with the grubby opportunism of its coalition partner, the New Kōmeitō. It is not that it cannot deal with the House of Councillors being under the control of the Democratic Party of Japan-led opposition. It is not that it cannot deal with Japan's broader structural problems including rural depopulation, low birthrates, parasitic industries and communities and poor public spending priorities. It is not that it cannot deal with the whiplash of the current global financial crisis and economic slowdown.

It is that the LDP cannot deal with itself.

Please. Do not dare tell me the voters do not understand this.

Messages for D

Since D of Japan Without the Sugar does not seem to have comments or an email link, I invite anyone wanting to send him their best wishes or offer their views regarding his latest essay on the failure U.S. automobile industry bailout to post them here.

Welcome back, D.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Till Death Do Us Part

Dear Brother Francisco,

The Yomiuri Shimbun, the newspaper whose first impulse is to burst into embarrassing, slobbering applause for whatever the Liberal Democratic Party's current leadership is trying to foist upon the public--Pravda-by-the-Palace, if you will-- has given up on you:

Aso silent on opposition to tobacco tax hike
The Yomiuri Shimbun

Prime Minister Taro Aso's latest decision not to raise the tobacco tax reflects his failure to override the ruling parties' opposition to the hike due to his weakening leadership following a sharp plunge in his Cabinet's approval rating.

A senior Liberal Democratic Party member criticized the government for lack of prior consultation on the delicate issue.

The government and the ruling parties decided Thursday to shelve a plan to raise the tobacco tax, one of the key elements of tax reform for fiscal 2009.

The government had decided to reduce the natural increase in social security spending by 220 billion yen each fiscal year. The idea on the tobacco tax hike was floated by the Finance Ministry as a stable revenue source to offset smaller-than-anticipated cuts in the automatic increase in social security expenditures...
When you cannot get your party and the New Kōmeitō (the real opponent to the tobacco tax rise due to its sister organization's bankrolling of tens of thousands of small retail outlets) to approve the revenue-raising measures necessary to keep healthcare and social spending at its current levels--this through an additional tax on an addictive substance that hastens the death and physical impairment of hundreds of thousands of citizens every year--and instead you allow the ruling coalition to just cut the spending, this the midst of a once-in-a-century economic downturn--then you and your party have to go.

Please call the election on Monday.

I am sorry. Anything is better than this.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Market Magic

Bingo! In dollar terms, Americans in Japan are 5% richer now than they were when they woke up!

Republican members of the U.S. Congress in Washington spike a bailout of U.S. auto manufacturers, yen rises from 93 to the dollar up to 88 yen to the dollar.

There goes the American imperium.

Poor Cassandra, she is probably throwing things against the wall right now.

Tase Yasuhiro Said It

So do not blame me.

"The most important tasks for the newly elected prime minister are a policy address and a press conference where he presents his ideas to the Japanese public. There are no professional speech writers in Japan, however; the PM's speeches are written by bureaucrats. The main task of bureaucrats is to explain why they cannot execute such and such policies. How can they write for the prime minister a speech that appeals to public sentiment?"
Tase, formerly of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, has further choice observations and opinions in his AJISS commentary on why Japan has so many prime ministers.

For one who is forever branded with the faint praise of offering up "politics with a cynical edge," it is a delicious meal of professional snark.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Some Signs...

...of the advent of the Apocalypse:

China's exports, imports fall as economy hits wall

By Langi Chiang and Zhou Xin

BEIJING, Dec 10 - China's exports and imports shrank unexpectedly in November as the world's fourth-largest economy slowed in a startlingly abrupt way in response to the global credit crunch.

The drop in exports from year-ago levels was the largest since April 1999, while the decline in imports was the steepest since monthly records kept by bankers began in 1993.


Economists had expected China's exports to rise 15 percent and imports to be up 12 percent compared with November 2007. But the data showed exports fell 2.2 percent from a year earlier and imports dropped by 17.9 percent...

Japan to raise FX swaps with S.Korea to $30 bln-media

TOKYO, Dec 11 - Japan plans to expand its currency swap lines with South Korea, which has been hit by sharp falls in the won, to about $30 billion from the current $13 billion, Japanese business daily Nikkei reported on Thursday.

South Korean won has been depreciating amid worries about the global recession's fallout on its export-driven economy, and Seoul has been keen to boost a regional web of bilateral currency swap deals, called the Chiang Mai Initiative (CMI).


Under those arrangements, Japan can provide U.S. dollars worth up to $10 billion and Japanese yen worth up to $3 billion to South Korea.

The newspaper said the total amount of those swaps would likely be raised to around $30 billion and the two nations would reach an agreement during a meeting of leaders from Japan, South Korea and China this weekend in Fukuoka, southern Japan...

Japan gets set to bailout the South Koreans and the South Koreans accept the lifeline.

Anyone for a rousing chorus of "Dok-do is Korean! We will never, ever bow down to Japan's aggression!" just for old times' sake?

By the way Francisco, if you really do have a plan to take your revenge upon the United States for humiliating you in the darkest days of the post-Bubble slump -- and seize from the Americans the mantle of saviors of the global economy, now (actually earlier than that) would be a good time to put your plan into action.


Go ahead.

No need to be reticent.



Failing, falling

Retrieved from comments:

"I live in Yokosuka, which is pretty much in the shutoken but which has some of the features of a rural economy/rural politics. The new recession has been very visible here-the shotengai at the main train station is half-shut most of the time, and is covered with for-let signs. The company I am supposed to send my rent to sent me a bankruptcy notice about a week ago. Every restaurant (Yokosuka has too much commerce, a legacy of the base) has about four customers who never vary-but sometimes the number goes down to zero.

Yokosuka doesn't look like Detroit, it's true. It probably won't get that way. But what's strange to me is that the bad economy is seen as the best argument for the LDP by a lot of people. When the economy is bad, you need people in high places to look out for you as a fixer, and because the base is part of the economic security of the town, nobody wants to think of alternative ways of maintaining national security. (Despite being Koizumi's hometown, Yokosuka is mostly old-LDP: for example, the Nihon Kaigi has almost no presence there compared to "liberal" places nearby like Fujisawa.)

Why doesn't anything change? Nobody really believes that a bad economy will radically change anything-it will just make the stuff that's kind of miserable about the town worse. And I can't think of what it would take to do more than that-a lot of the identity of the town has evaporated already. It'll just end up being a little bit more like some anonymous low-end bed town in saitama."

Sakurai Yoshiko Freakout Watch


Robert Alan Feldman
Chief Economist
Morgan Stanley Japan

Dear Dr. Feldman:

Do you remember in the runup to the naming of the first Abe Cabinet, in the course of a discussion of the names of possible non-politicians who might be granted ministerial posts, you stated that Abe Shinzō Best Friend and columnist Sakurai Yoshiko would be a good candidate for MEXT Minister because she has some good ideas about reforming education?

You do remember saying this, yes?

Please if you could, consider the front page of today's Sankei Shimbun, where the said Ms. Sakurai has a opinion article, whose title is, and I am not making this up:

"(What I am telling Prime Minister Asō is) DRIVE A NAIL INTO CHINA!" *

A good candidate for Minister in charge of education?


I don't think a person like this should be near children.


* - "Asō sōri ni mōsu: Chūgoku ni kugi o sase"

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Facade

The economy performed far worse than the government statisticians first guessed.

Imagine that.

Japan's economy contracts larger-than-expected 1.8% in Q3

HONG KONG -- Japan's economy contracted at a steeper-than-anticipated 1.8% in the July to September period, or 0.5% against the preceding quarter, confirming the government's earlier assessment that the world's second-largest economy fell into recession in the third quarter, according to revised gross domestic product data released by the Cabinet Office Tuesday...
The frightening aspect of the story is that one cannot see evidence of the collapse in Tokyo. The subways are still crowded; the stores and restaurant still enjoy custom.

The wave will hit. When I look out the window of the ramen shop at the crowds of office workers lining up to ride the elevators of the Holland Hills complex, I cannot help thinking:

"They are doing this because this is all they know. They line up to take the escalator, line up to get through the subway gate, line up to take the stairs out of the subway and then line up to ride the elevators to their floors...and one out of ten is a dead man walking, in employment terms."

Hidden still is the damage from the wave upon us...which means the outer regions must be absorbing the blow, leaving the metropole largely unscathed.

So the chihō is getting hammered and is falling ever further behind.

The Liberal Democratic Party had the benefit of the greatest burst of global economic growth since the 1960s. If there ever was a time to scrap and rebuild for the future, it was during the fat years when China could sell anything to the United States, the U.S. and its citizens could borrow against tomorrow and Japan could sell to both of them.

Fat years. The years one is supposed to use to prepare for the onset of a long, dark winter.

Now we are plunged in the worst financial crisis and economic slowdown in 80 years. The bad parts of Japan get worse and the good parts start crumbling.

The leadership, true to form, has no clue what the government should do to answer the challenges of the times...and yet it chastises those who declaim that the party has lost its way.

Why are these clowns even allowed to claim to be in charge of "the serious party"?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory

As we watch the floundering of Asō Tarō (a.ka. Mr. Suddenly Sunshine, at least in regards to his relations with the press) and the Liberal Democratic Party, it is worthwhile to hearken back, way back, two years ago when the opposition was a meaningless, powerless rabble, trying to semaphore in their opinions from far off on the horizon. The LDP had the supermajority in the House of Representatives, the majority in the House of Councillors, a young if disturbingly wan Prime Minister at the head of a young, unsmiling, driven team and a next general election in 2009. The Democratic Party of Japan existed primarily as the butt of a joke, a Socialist Party for people who can live with the existence of the Self Defense Forces.

Thus the question well worth the time of the political archeologist, looking back into the past for clues:

How the in the hell did Abe Shinzō manage to screw up such a sure thing?

Friday, December 05, 2008

New Books I Wish I Were Perusing...

...or were wasting time on on a quiet Saturday night...

Emplacing a Pilgrimage: The Ōyama Cult and Regional Religion in Early Modern Japan. By Barbara Ambros.

From Foot Solder to Finance Minister: Takahashi Korekiyo, Japan's Keynes. By Richard J. Smethurst.

Kingdom of Beauty: Mingei and the Politics of Folk Art in Imperial Japan. By Kim Brandt.

...instead of what I am doing. (No, it's not blogging!)

If you need something to read, check out Okumura Jun's latest post on the revolt of the ara fifu (?) members of the Liberal Democratic Party. I have to admit a fondness for all the current lineup up of prominent talkers (OK, Yamamoto Ichita does get on my nerves more often than not). As for dark hidden impulses driving them to these extreme measures, Watanabe Yoshimi and Ishihara Nobuteru both have fathers who gave up on the LDP. Yamamoto Ichita, Shiozaki Yasuhisa and Motegi Toshimitsu are a priori incapable of simple loyalty and humble deference to authority thanks to having been infected with the virus of American higher education.

I wish these angry middle-aged political stars of the LDP well, whatever they think they are doing. Their counterparts in the party--those whom they would have to rouse to action to accomplish anything--were not exactly yūtōsei in school, if you know what I mean.

When the angry middle-aged men start plotting with the angry middle aged women, however, then the fun will really begin.

All You Need Is A Market...

...and the blessing of the Dark Lords who rule the greatest den of sin and villainy in the galaxy officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

As told in Breitbart - whatever a Breitbart is.

I will not say that I told you this would be a good idea--but I told you that this would be a good idea.

I am not sure what calculus makes burning wood "carbon-neutral" but I am not complaining.

To every kafunshō sufferer, a chainsaw!

Of Nagata-chō in Flames

I purchased a copy of Shūkan Bunshun this morning from one of the kiosks inside Kasumigaseki Station. I normally steer clear of the weeklies due to their spectacular and utterly preposterous accounts of events, their bad sourcing and clunky language. That the cover of this week's Shūkan Bunshun is of an even more depressing and alienated scene than usual (nine white, big-eyed fish-like creatures set on a jet black background) caused me to hesitate at first.

"Do I really want to pay 350 yen for such an ugly magazine?" I asked myself.

I walked away from my first opportunity to buy the magazine, telling myself that it was not worth the money. I broke down, however, and purchased it at kiosk on the next platform.

The advertisement in the subway had been just too enticing, describing a Byzantine frenzy in Nagata-chō...of the prime minister abandoned ("Asō Tarō hitori bocchi") his cabinet ministers considering their own chances of becoming PM, of him telling Minister of State of Population and Gender Equality Obuchi Yūko point blank "you were included in the Cabinet for electoral purposes," of thuds and shouting behind closed doors, of the women of the LDP plotting--the men having driven the party into the ground, of Democratic Party leader Ozawa Ichirō knocking on death's door... stuff to drive away the awful, looming panic I feel as each day passes without this country, the world's largest creditor, offering its hand (oh sure, it promised 100 billion USD from the currency reserves to the IMF--but that is the equivalent of saying, "Hey, wow, this global crisis sure is horrible. Uh here, here's 100 billion. Do something!") and the dogged determination of its people (when motivated and led) to keep the delicate and intricate dance of the global economy from collapsing into a heap.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Letter from Ukraine

Off topic, but as Japan's leaders flounder about in a vain struggle to find a governmental response commensurate with the worsening economic situation, a little perspective is in order.

The financial reporting of the press of advanced industrial economies camouflages, without malice, the extraordinarily privileged status of the producers of financial and business news--and the primary consumers of such news. The Olympian viewpoint is the default--it is so easy to forget that for most of the world, the movements of prices and the drying up of credit means sudden, unexpected, undeserved catastrophe.

Which begs a question -- what is Japan doing to stabilize and bring balance to the global economy, Francisco?

Japan as the New Paradigm for Dummies

The English-language news is full of fascinating stories on how the post-Bubble economy is like anything anyone wishes to say it is, for rhetorical purposes. Even frothing-at-the-mouth nonsense.

Fed's Bullard Says Cutting Rates May Risk Japan-Style Deflation

Dec. 2 -- The Federal Reserve may provoke deflation by cutting the main interest rate, and policy makers should consider relying on other tools to revive the economy, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said.

"I'm more concerned at these very low levels about the Japanese outcome" last decade, Bullard said today in an interview, while noting that deflation isn’t an immediate threat. Japan's central bank “went to zero” with its main interest rate, and “deflation becomes a self-fulfilling thing and you are stuck at zero."
Now I am hoping, guessing, praying that Dr. Bullard said nothing even remotely like the above--because it is insane.

More likely Dr. Bullard was trying to contradict the notion that extraordinary actions come in an inviolable sequence: first a target rate of zero, then unconventional measures. Just how one could increase the provision of liquidity while trying to maintain the effective target rate significantly above zero boggles my imagination, but then my imagination is around solely for the purpose of being boggled.

However, the Bloomberg article is not the only Japan-inspired bit of wacko in the paper this morning:

Japan's 'lost decade' pushes US to overcorrection: analysts

WASHINGTON — Lessons from Japan's "lost decade" of the 1990s are pushing the United States toward excessive steps to counter deflation and recession that could spur other economic problems, analysts say.

The collapse of a real-estate bubble, bad loans that sap the financial system, evaporating growth -- a series of events has led the US economy to a decline in consumer prices -- eerily resembles Japan's crisis in the 1990s.

The situation is quite familiar to Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, an expert on Japanese deflation.

Bernanke oversaw the rapid reduction of the Fed's key interest rate, taking it from 5.25 percent to 1.0 percent in little more than a year, in response to the global financial crisis that erupted in August 2007.

By contrast, the Bank of Japan raised its key rate in the early 1990s at the start of the country's crisis, before letting it slide to nearly zero after 1995.

The US central bank, in addition to lowering rates, has wielded an array of so-called "nonconventional" tools to support the credit markets, including cash injections, massive loans to financial firms and direct purchase of private debt.

"The Fed has been more proactive. The Bank of Japan used the nonconventional tools only after lowering its interest rate to nearly zero," Takeo Hoshi, an economics professor at the University of California, San Diego, told AFP.

The Fed dramatically bulked up its monetary base which it directly controls -- its own money and the reserves of banks. Since mid-September, the coffers have grown 63 percent.

In Japan, the monetary base of the central bank increased only 17 percent in five years, between 1990 and 1995.

Still, credit remains choked in the US financial system as banks hunker down amid the worst financial crisis since the 1930s Great Depression.

"Monetarist Bernanke and others blame Japan's post-bubble deflationary downturn on policy errors by the Bank of Japan. But he and others are about to find out that monetary gymnastics are not as effective as they would like to think," Hong Kong equities strategist Christopher Wood, who wrote a book on the Japanese real-estate bubble, says in a Wall Street Journal opinion article.

Lowering rates and flooding cash into the financial system pose inflationary risks, Hoshi says.

"In 2003, when it lowered its rates to fight against deflation, the Fed has been too successful in a way. Many criticize this policy for creating bubbles," the California professor said.

Hoshi noted that a "too cautious" Japan had unleashed "years of stagnation."

"The error is possible on both sides. The Bank of Japan had committed the error of being too conservative. The Fed may have committed the error of being too liberal, too aggressive. It's very difficult to balance both risks," he said...
Wow, taken as a single argument--as the title of the article would have us do--monetary gymnastics spur inflation, except where they do have any effect against stopping deflation. The years of stagnation resulting from the inaction of a too-cautious Bank of Japan are teasing the Federal Reserve to overreacting, extending too much liquidity, resulting in banks refusing to extend credit as they "hunker down amid the worst financial crisis since the 1930s Great Depression."

The author of the above (yes, I mean you Hughes Honore) is just about screaming, "Look at me! I can stand on my feet and on my head at the same time, casuistically!"

With apologies to Porfirio Diaz, I can only wail:

Poor Japan! So beloved as a metaphor, so abused as a source of actually useful experience!

Later - Most of the time I would not quote such a large chunk of a newswire's proprietary output...but it was impossible to capture the frenzied shifts of perspective through brief quotations.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

We Are Our Parents Revisited, Revised

Watanabe Yoshimi* was asked yesterday whether his incessant criticism of the administration of Prime Minister Asō Tarō and participation in nakedly anti-Asō activities such as Nakagawa Hidenao's study group on the pension system (or the new study group started yesterday dedicated to the preservation of the transfer of the gasoline levy receipts to the general fund) were not the preamble to his bolting from the LDP.

His response on TV Asahi last night, according to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun:


"(In response to my criticisms of the Prime Minister) They have already started telling me 'So get the hell out of the Liberal Democratic Party then!' If they keep on saying this to me, it is not impossible that that is exactly what will happen."
Like father, like son.

As reported in The New York Times of April 18, 1994:

A longtime leader of the former governing party said today that he was defecting in a bid to become Prime Minister and would create an alliance with the rocky coalition now running the country.

The announcement by former Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe added to the current political turmoil and dealt a potentially crippling blow to the Liberal Democratic Party, which governed Japan for 38 years with little challenge.

Mr. Watanabe, 70, said he was bolting from the party with an unspecified number of followers. He has been ill for some time with what is widely believed to be cancer and is said to view this as his last chance at the premiership. Political analysts said that Mr. Watanabe's chances of succeeding were slim, and that the most likely choice for Prime Minister remained Tsutomu Hata, the current Foreign Minister.

First to Abandon Ship

The turmoil follows the resignation nine days ago of Morihiro Hosokawa, who came to office last summer promising broad political and economic reforms but was forced out because of a financial scandal.

Even if Mr. Watanabe does not become Prime Minister, his decision today is likely to speed the slow disintegration of the Liberal Democratic Party. That process began last summer when a reform-minded group within the party bolted and brought down the Government...
In the end, "Micchi" was unable to convince members of his faction that they could trust the promises of the duplicitous Ozawa Ichirō-- who had courted Watanabe into defecting with assurances that he would become Prime Minister. Watanabe was forced to retract his bid to bolt from the LDP; Hata became the head of a laughably short-lived minority government; the Socialists did what Ozawa had never, ever considered possible--gripped the outstretched hand of the beseeching, falling LDP; and Murayama Tomi'ichi became Prime Minister of a matter/anti-matter coalition government comprised of the LDP, the Socialists and the Sakigake.

T'will be fascinating to see how far Watanabe the Younger wants to push the boundaries of recursion.

Did I fail to mention that Watanabe Yoshimi has long been on the short list of younger politicians thought to be good future candidates for the prime ministership?

* Yes, I have been struck by his resemblance to Scooter the Muppet as well.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Joy in Mudville

This is...hilarious.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Road to Nowhere

Because what the world needs now
Is a new kind of tension
'Cause the old one just bores me to death.
- Cracker, "Teen Angst"

Tobias Harris has from time to time portrayed the current political impasse as analogous to the so-called Bakumatsu Era. In the final decades of the Edo Period there was a growing sense that Tokugawa consensus had run its course. However, there was no single compelling vision of what the next governing structure should be like. Without a shared vision, there was no common understanding of what steps needed to be taken to remake the system. In the stalemate, allies divided against each other; (actual) political bloodletting was rampant; foreign influences were simultaneously envied and despised; some regions prospered, many did not. Ultimately, the pressures of keeping the barbarians out and the distant han down proved too much for the divisive Tokugawa political framework, resulting in its internal collapse and replacement by the centralizing, modernizing and pugnacious Meiji State.

Harris's metaphor is still relatively hopeful. It posits a new order that can, by and large, accommodate the old, as just as the samurai were transformed into the businessmen, prefectural bureaucracy, military officers and noblemen of the Meiji order. The politicians, bureaucrats, quasi-governmental foundations, local administration of the present order, in some way, may serve in the new structure, whatever it will be.

I am much more pessimistic. Looking at photos of the central leadership of Liberal Democratic Party, their hair dyed unconvincing shades of black, sitting about in their overstuffed armchairs (the Prime Minister still grinning like a gargoyle, as if he has not seen the latest polling results) or the impassive and ever more crapulous visage of Democratic Party leader Ozawa Ichirō mechanistically asking his questions during Question Time on Friday, I find myself experiencing visceral negative feelings. "What are you still doing here, you old men?" I find myself wondering, uncharitably. "Why do you still squat upon this country's chest, keeping us from breathing? Whom do you represent? Why do you still burden us with your presence?"

The political climate is so stale, we can actually have the members of the ruling coalition coming together to agree to extend the Diet session, then agreeing that many of the issues before the Diet are too important and contentious to be resolved within the extended session, so acting upon them would be counterproductive. Mind you, this comes to us from a government that said it would be irresponsible to hold an election now because the crisis facing the nation is too great--that the government's ability to respond to events would be impaired.

It is unclear how we move on. The current crop of so-called leaders does not hold the confidence of the voters. Asō Tarō and his main rival Ozawa both receive the same low level of support--17% of those polled--to the question of "Who is most appropriate to be Prime Minister right now?" However, no constitutional means exists for dislodging these ancient toads. If they are to go, they must do so voluntarily. Unfortunately they, as we, see no future for their ilk in a 21st century Japan.

So they and we sit on our tushes while the energy of the nation drains away into a vast entropic soup of exhaustion and cynicism.

Friday, November 28, 2008

You Cannot Always Get What You Wanted

Today, the first batch of individuals will be notified of their selection to serve as lay judges (saiban'in) in the revamped legal criminal court system. According to the plan, the lay judges will start hearing their first cases on May 21 of next year.

Ostensibly, the inclusion of regular citizens into the legal process should curb the judiciary's notorious penchant for issuing peculiar, illogical and even extra-constitutional judgments. It is hoped that the common sense of common citizens will mete out justice more effectively and regularly than capricious and cautious judges whose main concern is not the application of the law but avoiding handing down any decison that could harm the his or her chances at receiving a full pension.

At least, that seems to be the idea behind the lay judge system.

However, sitting by the warmth of a wood stove in the mountains on Saturday, under a single bare lightbulb, my toes kicking up little clouds of ash, I got to hear a rather different view of why the lay judge system will be a boon to society.

"When the new saiban'in system comes in, we'll finally get to do something about drunk and reckless drivers. If you get behind the wheel and you swerve around and strike someone and kill them....well, I'm sorry..that deserves the death penalty. You have taken another's life through your irresponsible behavior, why should you be allowed to live? Death is what you deserve. Judges have been too lenient, letting these killers off all the time with light sentences. The lay judges will see to it that justice is done."
My, my...a not very civilized or genteel understanding of the problems affecting justice in this country, I am afraid.

And one, I think, that far more citizens share than the legal reformers have wanted to admit.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I Am Not Stupid

But George Wehrfritz thinks I am.

According to the website of his employer, George Wehrfritz is Newsweek's Hong Kong Bureau Chief/Asian Economics Correspondent and the magazine's former Beijing bureau chief. On occasion he plunks out a piece on Japan.

His article "Why Beijing Is In A Risky Place" examines the possibility of a depression-like severe economic downturn in China.

It is the cover article of Newsweek's Asia edition.

I find it awful...but that is not why I think George Wehrfritz thinks I am stupid.

He thinks that he can write a major magazine cover article on China, the most populous country on Earth, without interviewing a single Chinese person...and that I would not notice.

I did, Mr. Wehrfritz.

I did.

(That he thinks he can get away with not speaking to any women--they who hold up half the sky--either, when the cover photo of the print edition is a female worker covering her eyes in despair, is just beyond me.)

Off topic, I know--but reading this article on the Marunouchi Line this morning blackened my mood.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Country Roads on Sunny Sundays

Let us say you were some sleazy, seat-of-your-pants backstreet investment operation, a serial burn unit of invested funds, a boiler room shakedown specialist always browbeating those whom you had conned earlier for ever more money with ever greater claims of the inside scoop.

Let us say somebody, somewhere finally told you that you had to put up some real numbers. When would you leak them, in order minimize exposure?

How would a Sunday in the middle of a three-day weekend do for you?

You know where this is heading, I am sure.

As a part of the numerous disputes over the divvying up of the revenues from the gasoline levy and the necessity for new road construction, the Democratic Party of Japan has been complaining that the Ministry of Infrastructure, Land, Transportation and Tourism (MLIT) uses overoptimistic and dated projections of road usage. The DPJ has been demanding an update of the projections, last made in 2002, using data from more recent years.

Well, on the 23rd, in the inimical akiraka ni shita ("it came to be clear that") style of releasing public information ("As if we would put this stuff out on the ministry website, where just anyone could look at it!") the MLIT informed its kisha club members that the ministry staff should perhaps have been a little more expeditious in providing revised projections and possible more circumspect in their growth claims.

Like when they claimed that road usage would peak in the year 2020 at 870 billion vehicle/kilometers? Well, it turns out that road usage plateaued in the year 2000 at 776 billion vehicle/kilometers and has been sliding ever since. In 2006, the last year for which the statistics are available, usage was at 763 billion vehicle/kilometers.

The online edition of the Asahi Shimbun provided the below somewhat less than adequate graph illustrating the revised projections the MLIT has deigned to release.

Image Courtesy: The Asahi Shimbun

The high blue line is 2002 projection that the MLIT has been using in its estimates of road usage. The red lines are the new projections, with the solid upper line the high growth case and the dotted lower line the low growth case. The upper bound case seems fanciful considering that road usage declined during the 2000-2006 economic expansion. With the likelihood over the next few years of GDP contraction or flat growth, together with the increasing poor demographic profile (older drivers drive less than younger ones) it seems hardly possible that road usage could grow over the trend line.

Now, of course, these new projections, optimistic as they are, throw into confusion the plans of using the gasoline levy as the means of plugging the holes opening up in the social welfare safety net. It also calls into question the magical 10 year, 59 trillion yen budget for "necessary construction" which was the source of so much entertaining fumbling around earlier this year.

Helluva misoverestimation, as George W. Bush might say.

Here is a relevant Nikkei snippet (Nihongo only).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It's APEC, the After Power Evaporates Club

"All those former businessmen elected to the highest political office of their land, found to be unable to govern and now despised by their citizens, raise your hands!"

"Spankings for the lot of you, then! Off with those robes, boys!"

Photo courtesy: Reuters

Monday, November 24, 2008

When Man's Laughter Becomes Manslaughter

From the "They Can Smell Fear and Weakness...and They Eat Their Wounded" file, the headline of the article in the sports newspaper the man next to me was reading in the train yesterday:

"For Members of the Media, It is 'Ahō Tarō' Now"

Aho being the Japanese equivalent of "jackass."

Then there was the judgment of The Middle School Student when she read the list of Asō Tarō's recent kanji reading mistakes published in today's Tokyo Shimbun:

"What? He misread that? Now, you gotta admit, for an adult, that's pretty sad. I mean, a sixth-grader is supposed to know how that word is pronounced."

The hip Ambassador from Mangaland Prime Minister is just not wowing them the way he was supposed to be. Indeed, more and more scribes are suggesting that the prime minister's reading habits and his wealth and high status, rather than making him "groovy," have instead left him in a state of arrested intellectual development.

The Middle School Student, on the PM, once more:

"I mean, come on, look at him. After he finally winds up his stint as prime minister, he will have an immediate job offer from TBS to play the bad guy in an episode of Mito Kōmon. "

Which, as anyone who has ever watched Mito Kōmon knows, means that the PM is dead meat.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Increasingly Unbearable Lightness of Being Asō Tarō

Asō Tarō was hired to lead his party into an election, not lead his country in a crisis.

He is a glib, cheerful, dapper fellow who has a hopeless, shallow infatuation with his country (when I read his 2007 book I could not stop repeating to myself, "This reads like a book written by a foreigner about Japan which was then translated into Japanese!"). No matter what the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal might pretend (Come on folks, nobody sane person believes he ever even read this op-ed, much less wrote it) he is no policy wonk. He talks without thinking, comfortable in the knowledge that no matter how far his tongue runs ahead of his brain, his money and his pedigree will leave him standing on his feet. He has no philosophy of governing, other than saying, "What do you do for a living? Great!"

He wants the country to feel better about itself, as if attitude were 100% of achievement.

His unbearable lightness of being would be less of a problem if he had surrounded himself with a team of competent political professionals. Unfortunately, certain that his Cabinet would be consigned to the rubbish heap within a few weeks after his election to the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party, he appointed his friends (where possible) and folks to whom he owed favors (where necessary). As the economy and the Cabinet support levels both headed south, this motley crew was asked to become policy makers, not placeholders.

Unsurprisingly, the metamorphosis has not been successful.

Rather than taking everyone on a beguiling adventure, he is stuck reliving the nightmares of his predecessors:

- sparring with an obstreperous and immovable Ozawa Ichiro on policy

- pushing off vital decisions to "the next parliamentary session, when X can be handled properly" (Remember Fukuda Yasuo's promise in April to honestly, truly enact the plan to have the road tax revenues shifted to the general fund during the fall extraordinary session? Hilarious!)

- examining whether to extend the Diet session so he can pass legislation via the Article 59 route

- facing a legislative train wreck in the new year due to DPJ intransigence

- chasing after international approval, in the hopes it will improve his standing on the domestic front

- begging for action on the Indian Ocean dispatch...

He was billed as an artificer, one who could magically make the citizenry not see the LDP for the tattered and battered shell it had become.

As the weeks drag on, however, the act has become less funny, the rents in the whole cloth he and his supporters sold to the LDP are less to easy ignore.

Caveat emptor...

Australia's Gift to the World

Yukari Iwatani Kane is telling us...what, exactly?

Japan's Latest Fashion Has Women Playing Princess for a Day
Part Marie Antoinette and Part Paris Hilton, The Style Affords Pricey Stress
The Wall Street Journal

TOKYO -- When Mayumi Yamamoto goes out for coffee or window shopping, she likes to look as though she's going to a formal garden party. One day recently, she was decked out in a frilly, rose-patterned dress, matching pink heels with a ribbon and a huge pink bow atop her long hair, dyed brown and in pre-Raphaelite curls.

Ms. Yamamoto is a hime gyaru, or princess girl, a growing new tribe of Japanese women who aim to look like sugarcoated, 21st-century versions of old-style European royalty. They idolize Marie Antoinette and Paris Hilton, for her baby-doll looks and princess lifestyle. They speak in soft, chirpy voices and flock to specialized boutiques with names like Jesus Diamante, which looks like a bedroom in a European chateau. There, some hime girls spend more than $1,000 for an outfit including a satin dress, parasol and rhinestone-studded handbag....

What in Amaterasu's name would make a curl "pre-Raphaelite"? Or are we being treated to such nonsense because of the Millais exhibition that was at the Bunkamura?

How many these stylized, hyper-feminine, budget-blasting fashion waves are going to be featured in non-Japanese newspapers before the papers realize they are being played by the boutiques selling these goods?


And what is this article doing in The Wall Street Journal?

Double Arrrggghhh!

Which is not to say that princess fantasy is not fascinating. One of the truly astonishing free street spectacles (on par with the hip hoppers who practice around the Sonpo Japan Building in Nishi Shinjuku at night or around Nakano Zero on Saturdays and Sundays) is the Friday night hairdressing scramble visible through the giant windows of the salon D-COLOR on the southeast side of the Ichinohashi intersection in Azabu Jūban. Watching the stylists transform young women into hostess-bar-ready confections is terrific, if somewhat terrifying, free theater.

Later - Do follow the link in the title to the full article. The featured photo is half the fun horror.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Linkfest on Takahashi Korekiyo

University of Pittsburgn Professor Richard Smethurst has recently published a biography of Takahashi Korekiyo, in whose former home I spent some time on Sunday. Here is a review.

A Japanese version of Dr. Smethurst's book is scheduled to be released by Tōyō Keizai Shinpōsha this year.

More on the Death Penalty

In addition to David McNeill's Japan Focus article, which I linked to in an addendum to my last post, here are a few more online docs regarding the death penalty in Japan:

- An interview with House of Representatives member Kamei Shizuka, perhaps Japan's most prominent opponent of the death penalty. Recall that Kamei is a former National Policy Agency official and was the head of the "leftist extremist crimes" division at the time of the Asano Sansō Incident.

Kamei Shizuka's profile can be found here.

- The list of countries that have abolished or retain the use of the death penalty, courtesy Amnesty International.

- The various lawyers associations throughout Japan produce press releases and commentaries after every execution. Here is a Google search that kicks out a host of links (Nihongo only).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Explaining Japan's Death Penalty to a Texan

Early this morning, in between the hours of 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. local time, I was scheduled to be patched into an international conversation on BBC World Service. The discussion was about the death penalty, with the original discussion being between death penalty proponents and opponents in Texas. The announcer was then supposed to draw in other participants, waiting to offer views from various other parts of the globe.

The producers had asked me to explain in simple terms why Japan was one of only two advanced industrialized democracies, the other being the United States, that retains the death penalty--and why the death penalty enjoys broad popular support.

Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, the producers were not able to patch me in from the wireless network I was on. The show went on without me.

C'est la vie.

My idealized script, written to an imaginary Texan interlocutor, went something like this:

"There are a number of reasons why the death penalty enjoys solid support in Japan.

I can think of two overarching ones.

First, Japan is not a country where the Ten Commandments apply. Japan is 1% Protestant; 1% Catholic. The Prime Minister is a Catholic, the first one in history.

For the remaining 98% of the population, however, the Biblical injunction "Thou Shalt Not Kill" has no meaning. Government is seen as having the right "to kill" and indeed in some instances to have the responsibility "to kill."

The second overarching reason is that the death penalty is applied intelligently.

What does that mean?

It means that first, death sentences are rare. Japan has 127 million citizens but only 101 men and women on death row. So far this year there have been 15 executions. This is an extraordinarily large number, the result of the appointment of three law & order politicians to the post of Minister of Law in the past calendar year. In most years, the number of persons executed is fewer than 10.

Second, prosecutors are cautious about asking for the death penalty and judges are cautious about handing them out. A case has to meet a set of strict criteria before prosecutors and judges will seek death. Interestingly, these criteria are both formal and informal.

1) the defendant has to be guilty--there can be no question that he or she committed the crime. There were a number of death penalty cases in the 1940s, 50s and 60s where it was unclear whether or not the defendant had indeed committed the crimes in question. Authorities realized quite quickly that handing out the death penalty in these ambiguous cases undermines support for the death penalty.

2) formally, the crime committed has to be murder and
3) informally, the crime has to be multiple acts of murder--mass murder, serial killings, or killing, going to jail, and upon release from jail, killing again.

Now this third criteria is not written down anywhere in the law. Nevertheless is it broadly understood and accepted.

A recent example can be seen in the different reaction to three executions that were carried out in September.

The first two executions were of two men who had each murdered a husband and a wife. Nobody questioned these executions.

The third execution, however, was of a man who had stabbed to death a 19 year old girl in the Osaka subway. He stabbed her multiple times in the chest, then ran away. When the authorities caught him, they realized he had been the culprit in a series of violent assaults on young women, including stabbings and beatings with a metal pipe.

Nevertheless, imposing the death penalty on this third man generated a great deal of discussion. He had killed only the one girl, and he had attacked his victims not in order to inflict pain but because he was trying to rob them. Executing this man seemed excessive, even though he had been given a fair trial and had been sentenced according to the law.

That is how strong this unwritten rule of "multiple acts of murder" is.

By imposing strict limits on the cases where the death penalty is imposed--where there is unquestionable guilt, there has been murder and then, almost exclusively, multiple acts of murder--by setting the bar very high, authorities have preserved the legitimacy of the death penalty as the ultimate sanction.

It should surprise nobody that opinion polls show public support levels for the death penalty at around 80%."

"Keep it simple" was my mandate...and simple it is. Simplistic. A lot is left out.

Nevertheless, I believe the main gist correct.

Then again, when the competition is the lamentable Hatoyama Kunio, I was not in any real danger of making an incredible fool of myself, even at three in the morning...

I invite comment and criticism.

Later - This is serendipitous. David McNeill has released a magisterial article on the death penalty in Japan over at Japan Focus.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Man Forgotten

I sat in the room he was murdered in on Sunday.

I go there every few years, to consider the elegant and intricate webwork of wood and Meiji era glass panes ("Don't Touch the Windows" the signs warn) of the wraparound hallway on the second floor, the floor the assassins found him on. I go to look at the large photograph on the stand, of him vital despite his advanced years, bursting with pride and impishness, his bashful granddaughter beside him.

To consider the indecency of his killers, the self-appointed defenders of the country he had actually saved.

A small artificial stream burbles outside the house, whilst from downstairs come the disconcerting sounds and smells of a restaurant.

Someday maybe they will move the kissaten out of the lower floor. It is distasteful, given the violent death suffered by the owner of the house within its walls.

The house is not where it was. The land upon which it once stood is now a little-visited, somewhat forbidding public park next door to the Canadian Embassy.

To visit the home, to be in the room where he was cut down, one must go to the Edo Tokyo Tatemonoen, the outdoor architecture museum in Koganei whose buildings have served as the inspirations for the interiors and exteriors of so many of the Studio Ghibli's animated features.

There by the temporary entrance (the grand entrance is closed for renovations) is the main part of his home, salvaged and reconstructed.

* * *

With grinding, almost terrifying slowness, we are being engulfed in the greatest economic collapse since the 1930s...and no one mentions him.

The one whose wise leadership, action and counsel guided his country out of the pit.

A week ago I was watching one of the Sunday talk show programs where the host and his guests were discussing the global economic crisis and the election of Barack Obama as president. For some reason the assembled were stuck on talking about whether America now needs a new New Deal and whether indeed Japan will need a New Deal-like fiscal stimulus and employment package.

I felt like screaming at the set, "What are you babbling about? The New Deal did not pull the U.S. out of its economic crisis! It only prevented the U.S. economy from collapsing into nothingness! If you want to talk about recovery, why the hell are you talking about what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did? Especially as the person who figured out what to do was a Japanese!!!"

University of California Berkeley professor and blogger J. Bradford DeLong has this graph

posted to his website, part of his invaluable, open study materials for his Econ 161 class.

Look at the blue dotted line. Whilst other countries wallowed in the Great Depression, Japan leapt out of it, recovering its 1929 level of output in 1932--before Franklin Delano Roosevelt was even elected President of the United States. By 1936, the year the young officers of the Imperial Army were to murder the architect of the recovery--the man in whose house I was sitting in on Sunday--as well as the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal and the Army Inspector-General, Japan's GDP was 25% larger than it had been in 1929, when the boom had peaked.

And yet, since the beginning of the greatest financial crisis of our times, I swear I have not heard one television mention of him, one article outlining what he did to halt deflation and wealth destruction whilst most of the rest of the world economy was spiraling down the drain, not one photograph of his face on the posters in the subway for the monthlies and weeklies on purportedly serious subjects.

Could it be because the sons and grandsons and granddaughters of those who rose to power in the chaos of the 1930s -- they and their flunkeys who still afflict this blessed land -- they would not want us to remember that not all were as compromised and ignoble as their ancestors and heroes?

Member, Dead Blog Society of Japan

Looks like somebody was trying to make a concerted, formal effort.

I wonder who it was...and why it never caught on.

A good way to start the day

Pulled back the shades from the window at the office and was surprised to see a male Daurian Redstart (Jōbitaki - Phoenicurus auroreus) pop down onto the balcony opposite.

Of course it is the time of year the redstarts return to the southern Kantō. Nevertheless it was startling to see such a brightly colored little fellow flitting about in the concrete and reflective glass jungle that is Minato Ward.

Nice that we have a jinja nearby - it saved a little patch of green for our avian friends to take refuge in.

Now, what silliness are we to find in the papers on this day?

Monday, November 17, 2008

"I Shall Return!" - Asō Tarō Edition

Just to make this clear...the below is supposed to be something approximating a news report.

Japan and the United States: A Reversal of Roles Seven Years Later
Sankei Shimbun

WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Asō Tarō is showing the forceful self-assuredness of Japan's position at the emergency meeting of the heads of state (The Finance Summit) which opened on November 14th. It is not just because the financial system of Japan is being pushed back and forth less than others by the tsunami spreading out from the United States, the epicenter of the international financial crisis. For the Prime Minister, who has believed in and has never doubted the Japan that some have derided as "low-powered," it is possible that he is now on stage, after the passage of eight years, for "revenge" against the United States...

Well gosh, now that would be a really helpful attitude to have right now, would it not?

How serious are the editors of the Sankei Shimbun in channeling their revenge fantasies out of resentment for slights past?

Oh, gee, let us look at the Kyōdō Tsūshin photo they chose to accompany this article.

For the pharisees amongst us, this could be nothing more than a picture of Asō Tarō deplaning in an impractical, photogenic way...just like important folks do all the time.

Yet somehow, I think it is supposed evoke this photograph.

Let me be clear. I am in no way insinuating that the right wing in Japan has a corrosive, anachronistic obsession with the American Occupation.

I am stating outright that they do.

Later - Here is the on-line version of the article.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Too Clever By Half

This cartoon has too much going for it. Not posting it would be criminal.

Prime Minister Asō Tarō, dressed in an outlandish military uniform, gets plunked on the head by a fragment falling out of kūji - the unofficial nickname of the Air Self Defense Forces ( jieitai) which is, appropriately, floating in the sky. Unfortunately, without the missing piece, the characters now read kūhaku meaning "vacuum" -- highlighting the utter absence of oversight and authority over the officers of the Air Self Defense Forces exposed by the Tamogami Affair. Indeed, the piece of the kūji that has fallen out is labeled bunmintōsei -- "civilian control of the military."

"Oh!" cries the citizen in the tower, "Supreme Commander and Oversight Officer of the Cabinet. The protector of the skies (sora no mamori - i.e., the Air Self Defense Forces) has..."

At the bottom, just to add to the surfeit of references, is the caption:

The Seiji (Politics) , ji (ASDF), haku (Vacuum) Dominoes."

The word play seemingly being the shared characters tumbling from one word into the other like falling dominoes.

I know, it is too clever by half.

Source: Mainichi Shimbun, morning edition, November 11, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

From Where the Birds Fly

A few months ago, Tobias Harris speculated about the ramifications of a missile attack on the Yokosuka naval bases.

Since Mr. Harris seems to have used an embed for his post, the image in his post no longer conforms with his captioning.

However, the current extremely high-resolution image of Yokosuka spliced into Google Maps renders his speculation about temptation even more salient. On the U.S. side of the main harbor I count six guided missile destroyers (one in dry dock), one guided missile cruiser, two Los Angeles-class Oyashio-class attack submarines and one possibly Seawolf-class attack submarine (I am guessing it is the U.S.S. Jimmy Carter). Five hundred meters away on the Japanese side of the main harbor is the Aegis destroyer Kirishima, plus the Murasame, the Takanami, the Ōnami and the Hatakaze.

Holy Moly, that is a lot of firepower to have in one place...and that is just the main harbor. There are two more MSDF destroyers and an MSDF submarine at the Nagaura anchorage and something I cannot identify out in the channel.

It's hell of a shot, to speak.

Later - An imagery specialist checks in in comments and gently tells me I am full of it points out possible errors.

I have made changes in the above to reflect the commenter's suggestions.

Stupid Crap I Should Have Known

A connection I did not make until yesterday: True Conservatism majordomo Hiranuma Takeo is the adopted son of the former prime minister and Class A War Criminal Hiranuma Kiichirō.

I really should have known that.

Amaterasu-omikami, are they all the kids or grandkids of big time war criminals?

A Little Testy, Are We?

Given what we know now about former Air Self Defense Forces General Tamogami Toshio's political views and the participation of a significant number of ASDF officers in the APA Hotel Group's "True Perspectives of Modern and Contemporary History" essay contest, should we look at the recent increases in the number of ASDF jet fighter scrambles, a heretofore purported measure of increased Chinese testing of Japan's air defenses, with a tad more skepticism?

Just a thought.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Serial Offender

William Pesek is the worst columnist writing on Japan for a major news organization.

Please, please, somebody make him stop.

On a tangentially related topic, David Pilling has been promoted to the Hong Kong position at the Financial Times. He was frighteningly decent on the telephone the other day, announcing his transfer from Tokyo -- which makes me kind of sheepish about some of the things I have written about him over the years.

I told him I thought this piece was really rather good.

It is.

Wrestling with ghosts

Confronted with a print from the China's Cultural Revolution of ruddy-cheeked, gleaming white-toothed peasants cheerfully going about their revolutionary business in perfect harmony, a shaken Michael Stipe of REM wrote the hit song "Shiny Happy People"* -- hoping that through blithering innocuity he might simultaneously obfuscate and highlight the real faces of the Cultural Revolution.

The sharp contrasts between the richness of life in modern-day coastal China, Stipe's bouncy, impossible nonsense and the sheer insanity of the subjects of these newly available images from the actual Cultural Revolution (including images of the denunciation of the descendants of Confucius) etch in high relief how lucky we all are that "black cat, white cat, what does it matter?" Deng Xiaoping and his allies prevailed.

A reminder that we must all be wary, as it takes only a claim of righteousness, a prescription of discipline and an appeal to resentment to make a determined, dishonest madness seem (almost) rational.


* Yes, this song.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Into a Headwind

Gakushūin professor Sasaki Takeshi, writing on the unexpectedly long-lived First Asō Cabinet in the Tokyo Shimbun:

The American presidential election is over. Senator Obama, who chanted, "Change!" has triumphed.

The financial crisis was the final tailwind pushing his message of "Change." The twists and turns we saw are an omen that the world is entering a once-in-every-20 years cycle of "Change." This election was the warning shot.

As for the Asō Administration, the one thing that is absolutely clear is that it seeks, if nothing else, to tenaciously prevent "Change" from occuring in Japanese politics.

Yep, that sound just about right.

Have a nice trip to the United States, Francisco.

No F-22s for You!

A friend's email reminds me that certain persons were discussing the possibility of Japan's Air Self Defense Forces acquiring the F-22 Raptor in order to meet the challenge posed by China's acquisition of Sukhoi-27 variants.

In the as-yet not warm and fuzzy aftermath of the Tamogami Affair, I would rate the odds against the U.S. Congress passing a waver of the export ban on F-22s at about a quintillion to one.

Thanks a quintillion, Toshio-kun!

Later - The count of Air Self Defense Forces officers identified as contestants in the APA Group essay contest has risen to 94.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Guess I'm not in the M0D Squad

It has been difficult to focus on political events in the land of the Rising Sun over the past week. In comparison to the spectacle taking place on the other side of the Pacific, events in the home provinces are pretty mild.

Still, it is hard to refrain from commenting on the Tamogami Affair. That persons like Air Self Defense Forces Chief of Staff Tamogami Toshio should seek to serve in the Self Defense Forces is not to be unexpected. Energetic, devoted patriotism borders on nationalism, and it is not unusual that a young man who desires to protect his fellow citizens should not be able to discern the boundary line. At some point, someone should have been able to see that Tamogami's beliefs regarding the pre-1945 state, which he did not hide, made him unfit for a career in the SDF. Despite years in the service of the government, employed, educated and trained at the public’s expense, Tamogami did not understand or refused to understand the significance of his oath of obedience to the civilian government. It is incomprehensible (no, wait, it is comprehensible, it was just ridiculous) that he was able to rise through the ranks to the highest position in his service while being in a state of rebellion against the principles undergirding the SDF's and the current government's existence. That he was given command of a military base, in charge of the instruction of hundreds of airmen and was, in the end able to cajole or pressure 78 of his fellow officers into participating in an act of spiritual rebellion against the state is not grounds for dismissal, it is grounds for arrest on the charge of conspiracy to commit insurrection.

(I will have to look up what the applicable law would be.)

Serious minds should be debating whether or not the Ministry of Defense ought to be demoted to an agency again. Over just the last two years, the defense establishment and the individuals working for it have compiled a staggering record of contempt for simple right and wrong. Vice Minister Moriya's dismissal, arrest and conviction on bribery and bid-rigging charges; the dereliction of duty that allowed the MSDF Atago, the most advanced ship in the fleet, to run over a fishing boat earlier this year; the decades of unpunished corruption at the Defense Facilities Agency that forced the government to disband the agency in 2007; the sadistic ritual beating death of a special forces serviceman who had the audacity to believe he had the right to resign from the force; and now the Tamogami Affair indicate that the MOD is the Ministry of Outright Disaster...and that we need disaster relief.

And that is something the Self Defense Forces are purportedly really good at.

Later - a collection of the best writing on the Tamogami Affair

Tobias Harris

"The Tamogami affair "

"Japan's revisionist problem"

Okumura Jun

"Norimitsu Onishi's Obsession with Japanese Revisionism Continues"

"The Latest, Troubling Twist in the Tamogami Incident"

"Update on the Tamogami Affair; Plus, a Few Thought on the Evolving Relationship between Politics and the Bureaucracy"

Roy Berman

"Gen. Tamogami Toshio, Motoya Toshio, and Abe Shinzo"

Make no mistake, something sickening and awful has happened. The Self Defense Forces have a founding myth--that they are sui generis, a purely defensive force, the shield unto the United States's spear in the Japan-U.S. alliance. Unless someone figures out how it was possible for a reckless buffoon like Tamogami to remain in good standing with his fellow officers and the civilian defense bureaucracy, everyone will be forced to recalibrate his or her thinking about the fundamental nature of the SDF, the principles underpinning the current Japan-U.S. military alliance and the future of security relations in Northeast Asia.

Monday, November 03, 2008

In An About Face


It seems that the Machimura Faction, the nest from out of which sprung the four prime ministers preceding Prime Minister Asō Tarō (namely Mori Yoshirō, Koizumi Jun'ichirō, Abe Shinzō and Fukuda Yasuo) finds itself somewhat ticked off at the LDP's acquiescence to Asō's decision to delay the House of Representatives election indefinitely.

"If the election is not going to be held this year," the Machimurans ask, "then why the heck was it necessary for Fukuda Yasuo to resign?"

Why indeed?

Oooh! Guess that means there's one more set of campers (the Democrats and other members of the opposition, the New Kōmeitō) that has been made unhappy by the delay of the elections!

Not that any of them can do anything to ease their pain...

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Tokyo, This Evening


Sunset. From Odaiba

Jazz band. Odaiba

Dance performance. Odaiba

Tokyo Tower

All images: MTC