Monday, March 31, 2008

Oh Bully! The reprising sequel!

The Sankei Shimbun is reporting that Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo will be offering a formal apology for the expiration of the gasoline levy this evening.

Like one needs to apologize for a tax cut primarily benefiting the rural areas and businesses...and during an economic slowdown, too.

In other news, the compromise legislation extending all the other otherwise expiring budget-related measures for another two months swept through the Diet today as though carried aloft on wings.

Diet Passes Stopgap Bill To Extend Tax Measures Until May

TOKYO --The Diet passed a stopgap bill Monday to extend until the end of May various special tax measures which would have expired the same day, in a bid to avoid confusion across wide areas of commerce including used car and land sales and financial transactions in the Tokyo offshore market...
I guess the Democratic Party of Japan is willing to be flexible and responsible on matters of national importance--it just considers beyond the pale unpopular and utterly corrupted (and utterly corrupting) programs that have long deserved to die.

So there.

The Net's Closing In Around

In the case of the murdered taxicab driver (references begin here, et al) assertions today by the Yokosuka Police have made it much harder to believe in the innocence of the accused American sailor.

One report has the sailor calling an acquaintance from within Yokosuka just after the estimated time of the murder. According police, the sailor's words in that telephone conversation intimated that something bad had just happened to him.

The police have also claimed that the image of a person resembling the suspect was recorded by a Shinagawa security camera the night of the murder.

What this tells me is:

a) DNA tests and fingerprint dustings on the murder weapon and from the interior of the car have been inconclusive

b) there is pressure to lock down this case sooner rather than later.

These revelations, though not damning, are going to put extreme pressure on the U. S. Navy and the FBI to transfer the suspect to Japanese custody.

I would like to see a prosecutor convince a judge to issue an arrest warrant here first, before beating myself over the head for doubting the full guilt of the suspected murder.

Later - True to form, the Asahi Shimbun is swimming in the deepest end of the pool. While the other news agencies are claiming that the sailor in his mobile phone conversation "gave hints" or "gave indications" or "intimated" that he was involved in an incident, the headline of the top story of this evening's edition of the Asahi screams:

"The AWOL American Serviceman: 'I Stabbed Him!'"

I note with some sardony that in the article, the Asahi admits that its previous exclusive, that the serviceman claimed he was in a Dobuita drinking establishment at the time of the murder "has yet to be confirmed."

No kidding.

Still later - This is getting stupid.

The evening Asahi Shimbun claims that the serviceman told his acquaintance, "several things including 'I did it, unfortunately...' (yatte shimatta) and 'I stabbed him!' (sashita) and the like." Now the weekly tabloid magazine Shukan Gendai, always a paragon of probity, offers yet another version of today's police revelations, claiming that the serviceman said, "I did it, unfortunately..." (yachimatta) which the Shukan Gendai insists is supposed to be understood to mean, "I stabbed him."

[I file as a mental note for future reference the Shukan Gendai's use of a contraction and the Asahi's use of the formal phrase.]

It seems that nobody really knows anything.

The Nihon Keizai Shimbun is hedging the most, noting that the source of today's revelations is not actually "the police," but "sources with connections to the investigation."

Which means...

Oh Bully!

On the day I predicted we would witness the death of Tanakaism, Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo has called yet another unscheduled press conference.

I wonder what he will have to say.

On the Plus Side, the Shinginko Disaster Becomes A Lot Easier to Understand

Words of wisdom from Ishihara Shintarō, governor of the Tokyo Metropolitan District, regarding the loss of road construction financing should the temporary gasoline levy be repealed:


"Because the fiscal resources are going to disappear, other activities are going to grind to halt. As gasoline becomes cheap and people drive more, what are the cars going to drive on? The roads will all come to dead ends. It cannot be helped."
I do not even know where to begin.

Quote courtesy the Asahi Shimbun of March 31, 2008, morning edition, p. 2.

Later - "Anonymous" in comments has a suggestion...

Sunday, March 30, 2008

It happens to be a certain time of year again

Sakura - Prunus yedoensis
Variety: Somei Yoshino
Along the Kandagawa from Yodobashi to Otakibashi
Shinjuku and Nakano Wards, Tokyo Metropolitan District
March 29, 2008
All images: MTC

Friday, March 28, 2008

Tokyo Still Rising

The rise of the metropole continues...

According to the General Affairs Bureau of the Tokyo Metropolitan Goverment, the population of the Tokyo Metropolitan District was 0.89 % higher on January 1st of this year than a year earlier. This marks the 12th straight year of increase and the move of a million persons into the TMD over the last decade.

Furthermore, the rate of increase grew greater the closer one drew to the center of the TMD. In the core 23 wards, where 2/3 of the population lives, the rate of population growth was 1%. In the central Minato and Chuō wards the annual rates of population growth were a stunning 5.33% and 2.94%, respectively.

The Tokyo Shimbun report on the TMD population increase can be found here.

I do not know about you, but upon reading this report, my first instinct was to immediately demand more road construction in the countryside.

Looking southwest from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo Metropolitan District
August 19, 2006
Photo courtesy: MTC

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Waving or Drowning

Well, now we know why Fukuda Yasuo was so nervous...he does not have the party behind him.

A nonchalant LDP Secretary-General Ibuki ("Gumby") Bunmei, flanked by New Komeitō Secretary-General Kitagawa ("Magilla Gorilla") Kazuo, practically shrugged his way through the press availability after the Prime Minister's announcement. Ibuki's stunning revelation that...

"This is the Prime Minister's idea. Not the party's. We must support the Prime Minister."

...and Kitagawa's vaguely disgusted look as he echoed Ibuki's sentiment indicated they were testing out a new meaning of the word "must"-- and they did not like it. It was a "must" somewhere near "have to" only minus enthusiasm, interest or any commitment to any outcome.

Has an LDP prime minister ever gone out on a limb without making sure his party secretary-general was out on that limb with him? Has an LDP PM ever just done his own thing, without seeking the assent or the understanding of the General Council (sōmukai) or at least some ad hoc council of party elders?

If this bold, last minute maneuver does not work out--and the DPJ leadership has already prepared the groundwork for rejecting the new proposal--Fukuda really cannot go on.

At least not in any way that my poor brain can understand.

Emergency Rules

Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo was just on television giving a hastily organized press conference, outlining a new last-minute proposal regarding the road tax and other expiring legislation.

He outlined a seven point program, the main change being a shift of revenues to the general fund after one year, down from the three years previously discussed.

The PM looked shaky, stumbling over the words of his text and seemingly unsure of what to do with his face. He tried to look grim but succeeded only in looking frightened.

What is he thinking? It is way too late for this kind of political theater to change the Democratic Party's stance. It is a repeat of the Tanami nomination - a sudden, unexpected, hurried announcement of not terribly much, topped off with a plea to the opposition to cooperate.

He cannot go on like this.

Great Smoggy Mountain

At a meeting of the Chemical Society of Japan yesterday, researchers from Waseda University announced a surprising discovery - the level of photochemical smog precursors in the air atop Mount Fuji is higher than that found in the center of Tokyo. Indeed, in the case of toluene the levels in the air at the summit were 3 times higher than in city air.

So much for standing on the mountaintop, taking in a bracing lungful of fresh, clean air.

The Waseda result may help explain the disconcerting red haze over the summit of Mt. Fuji in this image that I took when halfway up Mt. Ono last year (click on image for larger view).

View of Mt. Fuji from Yaga
Ashigarakami-gun, Kanagawa Prefecture
April 29, 2007

Unsurprisingly, researchers suspect that the source of the high-altitude pollution is China somewhere outside Japan's borders, though they do not have the evidence supporting this contention yet.

Our beloved 99 Yen Store products come with an increasingly visible second price tag, it seems...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Weirdness Done Right

Janne Morén visits the antiseptic shrine to the gastronomic genius of Andō Momofuku.

Owned by The Washington Post Company

"I have an idea. Let's send an American guy to Japan. Someone who know nothing about Japan. Have him wander around a Japanese city, learning what he can about his surroundings from the signs that are in English. In order to ground him, let's have him read some books other Americans have written about the place and the events that happened there...and let us not have him interact even once with a Japanese person.

Then let's publish it."

Amaterasu, save us!

Oh, why bother getting upset, when the provincials perceive even Les Français to be feral beauteous exotic beasts.

(Hat tip to reader NP)

Still Wrong

Kyōdō News just cannot help itself.
Emirates Airline may buy Mitsubishi Heavy small passenger jet
Kyodo News

TOKYO, March 25 - Emirates Airline may purchase Japan's first-ever passenger jet, to be produced by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., a source familiar with the matter said Tuesday.

The Dubai-based carrier, one of the world's fastest growing airlines, is in talks with the Japanese company about purchasing the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, which will seat 70 to 90 passengers, the source said, without elaborating.


Emirates denies plans to buy Japan's first passenger jet

DUBAI — Dubai-based airline Emirates on Tuesday denied reports it is planning to buy a new regional passenger jet under development in Japan -- the first such aircraft to be built in the country...
Entertaining the suspicion that someone might be trying to profit from the spread of such pie-in-the-sky rumors is, of course, preposterous.
Mitsubishi Heavy Shares Rise on Report of Jet Order

March 24 -- Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., developer of Japan's first passenger jet, rose to the highest in more than two weeks in Tokyo trading on a report the company may sign its first overseas order with Vietnam Airlines Corp.

The shares gained 2.8 percent to close at 449 yen on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, the highest since March 6.
Kyōdō News - when you absolutely, positively have to disseminate partial truths, untruths and outright fibs.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Giving It Away

So what is the game plan of the leaders of Democratic Party of Japan? What do they think they are doing? Why do they not feel obligated to compromise, to meet the Prime Minister and the ruling coalition halfway? Why do they not feel pressured into offering their version of bills or nominees to important positions, despite denunciation by the ruling coalition and upbraiding by editorial boards and pundits?

Stripped of the fuzziness and affectation, the bare bones of DPJ strategy seem to be:

(1) Reject any bill or nomination not proposed by the DPJ.

(2) Force the ruling coalition either to

a) abandon its game plan, or
b) use its House of Representatives supermajority or
c) call an election.
(3) React to the ruling coalition's choice in (2) by either saying

"We told them what we wanted so this is the result," or

"They don't know how to compromise so they had to pass their program using brute force," or

"Well, it's about time!"
(4) Repeat as often as possible or until the ruling party learns to think 60 days ahead.

Ideally, the DPJ and its allies in the House of Councillors will harass the prime minister so much that he loses his senses and calls an election. Fukuda Yasuo or whomever is leading the Liberal Democratic Party has no reason to call an election before September 2009. However, given the amount of total nonsense espoused in the guise of political discourse every day of the week, it is possible the PM may be somehow tricked into believing life will be better after an election.

Barring an election, the goal is to force the government to swallow Democratic Party proposals whole or leave it with no choice but the invocation of the override. Either outcome paints the Democrats as the party of ideas and firm principles, whether or not the press plays along.

The DPJ does not have a reasonable chance of seizing control of the House of Representatives outright in an election. However, it and its allies will win more than a third of the seats, eliminating the use of the override provision.

The Diet will come to a standstill.

Incapable of passing legislation or appointing anyone to anything, the present government or its successor will have to enter into coalition talks with the DPJ. Bargaining from a position of strength greater than it possesses today, the DPJ will win control of key levers of economic and political power.

So the critics are wasting their breath: the DPJ does not give a hoot whether or not it appears responsible in its opposition right now. Until

a) the PM calls an election, or
b) the Liberal Democratic Party elects a party leader willing to excise the most rotten bits from the LDP or
c) the LDP leadership learns how to Plan Ahead

the DPJ will just reject, reject twice and reject again every damn fool idea the ruling coalition tosses at them--and most of smart ones too.

So there.

I have given it away.

Tunnel on road between Fudōjiri Camp and Kōtaku Onsen
Isehara City, Kanagawa Prefecture
March 16, 2008

Image courtesy: MTC

Tuesday Morning's News

The Asahi Shimbun is reporting that the sailor in the Yokosuka taxi driver murder case is claiming that he was in a drinking establishment on the Dobuita at the time of the murder last Thursday. The paper cites, as a source, "a person with ties to the investigation being carried out by the Navy Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS)."

Possibly unsurprisingly, no other paper is reporting this revelation.

Perhaps it is because the Dobuita is the main bar zone just outside the Yokosuka U.S. Naval base.

If I were a Navy sailor who has gone AWOL, I think the last place I would be hiding out is in a bar in the rowdiest district of town, next to the base. It would tend to be crawling with MPs (and I do not mean "Members of Parliament").

But then, I am the cynical one.

Then again, it was not until this morning that I realized what it was that was bothering me so about the case.

Imagine if you will that you are a 61 year-old Japanese taxi cab driver, in Shinagawa on a Thursday night at 8 p.m. You have been driving a cab in Tokyo for thirty years, so you have seen pretty much everything, twice.

You pick up a really dark-skinned, 22 year old male who asks you to take him to Yokosuka.

What do you do at this point? Do you drive 45 kilometers south with a passenger whom you know is paid, at Japanese rates, what are less than poverty wages? Or because you are in Shinagawa and it is 8 p.m. do you drive over to Shinagawa Station, turn around and say, "Here. Take Train Here. Yokosuka. Very Fast. Cheap." and if the passenger refuses to get out, you go over the Kōban and tell the policeman, "I have a nutcase of a U.S. serviceman in my cab demanding to be taken to Yokosuka. Can you help me get him out of my cab?"

I think it is the latter.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Our Nuclear Nightmares Now

The Japan Times has published Brad Glosserman's very competent review of Japan's need for a discussion on nuclear weapons, "Japan Peers into the Abyss", on the opinion page of this morning's print edition.

Unfortunately, The Japan Times has the storage capacity of a thimble, so the above link may soon go dark. The essay will probably be available on a more permanent basis on the Pacific Forum CSIS website later this month.

One of the fun parlor games that Glosserman avoids indulging in is the always amusing, "How long would it take for Japan to become a nuclear power?" Up until a few months ago I had always thought that it would take a number of months or even years for Japan to arm itself with nuclear weapons, based upon the amount of time it would take to perfect an implosion device for a plutonium weapon.

In a humbling exchange on Dr. Jeffrey Lewis' Arms Control Wonk blog, I learned something important that I really should have known: that Japan has 2 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) on its soil, much of it at the Fast Critical Assembly (FCA) reactor in Tokai Mura.

....which is really important to know...because according to slide #12 of this helpful presentation, (thanks Japan Atomic Energy Commission!) 60 kgs of HEU would be sufficient for a simple gun-type fission weapon.

So if the Japanese government, or even a cabal within the Japanese government, felt pressed to respond to the threat posed by the many nuclear weapons states in the area--then with the H2A rockets all ready tested and ready to go, the amount of time required to "go nuclear" would likely be brief.

Insanely brief.

Thought on a Monday Morning

On whether or not it is proper to class Koizumi Jun'ichirō among "the revisionists."

No, though there are similarities.

Koizumi Jun'ichiro was the enemy of the current crop of politicians.

The revisionists are the enemies of the current crop of citizens.

Both have found their enemies to be inadequate, and have sought to replace them with a better class of human being.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

He's On To Us

Ibuki Bunmei, the increasingly unpopular Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic Party, has discovered the reason for the constant stream of bad news that has been undermining the image of the cabinet of Prime Minister of Fukuda Yasuo and public support for the ruling coalition:

The press is a tool of the Democratic Party of Japan.

According to an article in the today's print edition of the Tokyo Shimbun, Secretary-General Ibuki, fed up with a reporter's asking whether or not it was "difficult" (i.e., impossible) for the Diet to pass the budget enabling legislation, including the renewal of the temporary gasoline levy, by the end of the fiscal year, responded with a prophecy:


"And why is that? Showing approval of the stance being taken by a Democratic Party that does not examine (a bill) within the set time limit except on the appointed days, this is the death of the Press!"
Well, yes, if you mean by "Press" the uncritical lapdogs of the ruling party and the Establishment. Yes, Ibuki-san is absolutely right on that score.

Later in the article he expresses shock and dismay that the Press, rather than printing only the approved leaks of the government--the endless parade of naikaku keikensha, naikaku ni chikai hito, tō no moto kanbu whose anonymous opinions are reported as fact on a daily basis--dares to facilitate the leakage of information by the Democratic Party:


"When we talk to the DJP, it gets leaked and become fodder for articles. When the rules of human society are not being preserved, then it's frightening when you cannot know aforehand the repercussions."
which is Ibuki-speak for "If the stuff the Democratic Party leaks gets printed, I cannot predict my ability to control my vengeful wrath."

...which means "Now that you people print what we tell the opposition, rather than vice versa like you are supposed to, we're scared of our own shadows to even approach the Democrats."

So be careful, members of the media--Ibuki Bunmei's on to your petty, treasonous schemes.

---------------- Image of Ibuki Bunmei courtesy of Reuters.

Later - So many strikethroughs! Thanks James.

He Who Fell From Grace With the Sea

Curiouser and curiouser...

According to reports, the AWOL (the news reports have called him a deserter but the Navy would probably charge someone stationed in Japan with the lesser crime of being "Absent Without Leave") sailor is of Nigerian extraction. He claims to have no connection to the murder of the taxi cab driver.

If the sailor is indeed of Nigerian heritage or even a Nigerian citizen, then his ability to hide out in Japan becomes more comprehensible. Anyone who has walked through Roppongi on a Friday night knows there are plenty of jobs available for English-speaking African men in the entertainment and leisure industry, principally as bouncers and touts.

In general, non-Americans seem to have an easier time of disappearing into the nooks and crannies of Tokyo. Recall that last June on the occasion of the second goodwill visit ever by the Pakistani Navy, 11 Pakistani sailors simply vanished .

I have had a difficulty believing the sailor to be the murderer. Part of my doubt can be attributed to my recurring pattern of sympathy for defendants in high-profile criminal investigations. A more significant portion, however, is is attributable to my unease when the number of inexplicable events exceeds one. The absurd itinerary (from Shinagawa to the gates of the Yokosuka Naval Base by taxi, then back to Shinagawa by some unknown conveyance) the too convenient presence of an incriminating credit card, the 62,000 in cash still in the cabby's purse--does not fit the story of a desperate deserter on the lam. If he were on the run, why take a taxi back to the gates of the Navy base? If he were desperate, why did he not take the money?

Who killed this cab driver and why? A pair of questions not so simple...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Missing Sailor

American MPs have apprehended the AWOL serviceman. According to the evening reports, they picked him up in Gotanda--the armpit of the Yamanote Line (honestly, it is an unappealing place).

Now just how this fellow, missing for 6 3 weeks, made his way south from Shinagawa (Gotanda is in Shinagawa Ward) all the way to Yokosuka, murdered a cabby on damn near the doorstep of the U.S. base, took none of the wads of cash on the cabby's person, dropped his credit card in the cab, then made his way back up to Shinagawa with the police looking for him everywhere--is a mystery to me.

A further mystery--how did the MPs find him in Tokyo and not the local police? Unless he called the military police asking them to come pick him up, of course

Why did the cabby have to die, if not for robbery purposes?

Too many questions send my fervid imagination to spinning out up ever more ridiculous scenarios...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Ambassador Schieffer, Line Two

On the front page of this morning's The Asahi Shimbun, a cabby was found last night slumped over in the front seat a taxi in Yokosuka, a knife sticking out of him.

Inside the passenger compartment, a U.S. serviceman's credit card.

Methinks today is going to be a long day for the denizens of Akasaka Ichōme.

The Asahi story in 日本語 can be found here . The Mainichi Shimbun site has a sketchier English version of the story here.

For filling a vacancy, a crazy idea

Why not Ōta Hiroko for Bank of Japan Governor?

She is an academic with tons of government experience, is considered an independent thinker in favor of economic reform, knows her macro and her micro and if not famous, is at least a recognized figure in overseas economic circles.

How about it, Prime Minister Fukuda? How about shattering the glass ceiling in order to shock your moribund administration back into life?

Click here for her cv in English, complete with unflattering photo image.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mr. Yen Talks Sense and More

Congratulations to Bruce Wallace of the Los Angeles Times who extracts a great interview out of former Ministry of Finance Vice Minister of International Affairs Sakakibara Eisuke.

Kudos to both of them for the great takeaway metaphor:

There will be resistance from Congress and from the American people, because people, whether in Japan or the United States, simply don't like the banks. They are the institution that lends you an umbrella when the weather's fine and won't lend it to you when it's raining.
I am fairly certain that the U.S. financial system will be bailed out. The team at the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department will take one more look at what happened here during the lost decade, what Fukui Toshihiko and the Koizumi team did to liberate the country from the cycle of no growth and decaying public finances, shudder, and then go ahead and craft an unpopular infusion of future, unborn taxpayers' dollars.

However, there is a really important part of the puzzle I think everyone ignoring--one that leaves me very pessimistic about the U.S. economy recovering even if there is a titanic infusion of public monies to bolster the tottering financial system.

The U.S. savings rate.

While the property and stocks bubble did burst in Japan, the regular economy did not contract. The government did its part--keeping keep up demand through a mix of both apt and idiotic public works spending. Japanese consumers and businesses kept up their spending, too. Prior to the bubble's bursting, Japanese citizens and companies had been stuffing yen into bank accounts and safes at absurd levels, at least in terms of economic efficiency. When the bubble burst, consumers and businesses responded by a) reducing spending, yes, but also b) by reducing the rate of their savings. In the lowest ranks of society, the savings rate fell to zero. The regular economy was able to lumber on through a mix of government largesse, lower personal spending and reduced savings.

Switch over now to the situation in the United States. Wild increases first in the value of stock and then homes and property have been supercharging private consumption for over 10 years. With the stock market stalled, and home and commercial property values plummeting, Americans can no longer finance their spending out of rising wealth.


The calamity, however, is that in the United States, the personal savings rate is already zero--there is nothing consumers and business can to do in response to a downturn in income but cut spending. The government cannot help out much--upping government spending will feed inflation and trigger a further dollar weakness at a time when the dollar is reeling from the triple debt hangover resulting from the Iraq War, the Bush tax cuts and the expansion of entitlements like the Part D drug benefit. As the dollar falls net exports will of course rise, as will tourism to the United States--but not in a manner commensurate with the fall in personal consumption and investment. Demographic change will not help in a timely or proportional fashion, either; meaning that I think Professor Alex Tabarrok, writing in The New York Times, is dead wrong.

Having done not saved for a rainy day, the U.S. economy, beset by storms, will not avoid shrinkage in the second half of this year.

But then again, this is only the view of a cynic, prone to partisan rants and irresponsible conjectures.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Until the Wave Function Collapses

Monday's "From multipolarity to multilateralism in China" by Leif Eric Easley is not entirely bad.

The prose may be as lethally dull as ever...

Multipolarity describes a global distribution of power where major countries share roughly equal influence. Multilateralism is a means for addressing global problems based on the cooperation of multiple countries. One does not necessarily indicate or cause the other, but the relative emphasis of these concepts is telling about China's changing approach to international affairs.
...but the main theme--that China has refined its international approach away from an insistence on the establishment of a multipolar world in defiance of U.S hegemony toward a gentlemanly ganging up on U.S. unilateralism via international institutions and norms--is not trivial.

Among the more interesting points is what I believe to be the first cogent explanation of why I should care about the current dearth of security mechanisms in the Far East. Heretofore, I have not given a damn.

If, as I have long assumed, the Chinese government's goal in its foreign policy is a transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world order, it would hardly make any sense to enmesh China in a web of international commitments. The setting up of conferences, talk shops and multilateral talks by other governments would in the end be pointless--China would engage in a lackadaisical fashion while continuing to pursueits own autarchic goals.

However, if the Chinese government is pursuing an expansion of its multilateralist efforts, then it would be incumbent upon other governments--wishing as they do to maximize their own returns from Chinese behavior--to build up and deepen international security institutions in the Far East.

Commitment to a network of mutual obligations and responsibilities first; the creation of institutions second...a vitally important progression from A to B that heretofore has been obscured by peddlers of "self-fulfilling prophecies" and "positive feedback loops" arising from security institutions.

Commitment first; institutions second. Not the other way around.

Easley's assertion that the Chinese elites are increasingly drawn toward pursuing the national interest through entaglement in multilateral obligations echoes some thoughts I have been having regarding Dick Samuel's assertion that Japanese security thinkers are working on a "Goldilocks strategy" -- neither too close to the U.S. nor too close to China; neither fully committed to rearmament nor completely dependent on the U.S. for security; neither reviving a warrior ethos nor abandoning itself to pacifism and meekness-- but maneuvering to find the midpoint along the scale.

I am not sure I can buy it.

The problem is that Goldilocks hedging behavior (not too hot, not too cold, just right) seems nearly impossible to put into practice. Individual commitments are binary: you can either do something or you cannot. Anyone taking part in a negotiation would have to be able to understand the entirety of the set of promises made and their relationships with one another in order say yes or no to something. He or she would hope, that, in the aggregate, the commitment shifts the national balance closer toward the "just right" midpoint.

Something I do not think anyone can do--and certainly not without infuriating one's counterpart in a negotiation.

Instead, Japanese security thinkers and negotiators are more likely pursuing, possibly without self-awareness, a strategy of superposition. Rather exhaust themselve in a paralyzing oscillation about a Euclidean midpoint, diplomats and politicians are maximizing the country's power through piling up commitments--

by being both closer to China AND closer to the United States;

by insisting upon a defensive strategy AND expanding offensive force projection capabilities;

by expanding a warrior ethos (arata na senryoku) AND promoting Prince Pickles.

The ideal being not a stationing of oneself at midpoint between two stated positions but to be in both stated positions simultaneously, ambiguously but without contradiction -- i.e., in superposition.

At one point in Securing Japan, Dr. Samuels belittles a plan (I will have to find the reference) that purports to pursue three mutually exclusive goals (mutually exclusive due to the fact that resources and budgets are finite, not because they goals are mutually contradictory). In Euclidean space, a lack of a commitment to a particular goal means that one is shortchanging all of one's options.

However, when one is enmeshed in ever more dense networks of mutual commitments (and yes, it is convenient that physicists talk about particle in superposition being "entangled" in all its possible states) you can add more commitments to the network willy-nilly without having to check each time whether you are heading toward a "neither too cold, neither too hot" midpoint.

A Japan in superposition is pro-Asian unity and pro-American; militarily potent and pacifist; autonomous and tightly bound.

Of course, there is a drawback to the piling up of commitments on the head of a pin: someone could test you. At which point the wave function collapses; you have to commit to one side or the other.

And you will have only the briefest of moments of time to make the right decision.

Reflection of hinoki in the Tenōnuma
Ogawa Township, Saitama Prefecture
February 16, 2008

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Statureless in Nagata-chō

No, no, no, no!

(Sound of head pounding on table)

The Liberal Democratic Party's leaders didn't clear the nominations of Tanami Kōji and Nishimura Kiyohiko with the Democratic Party leadership before the 11 a.m. announcement.

(Vocalization. Sounds like "AAaaaaargh!")

I think we can safely say that the Democratic Party is exonerated. Off the hook. In the clear. The failure to name a replacement for the post of Governor of the Bank of Japan is now 100% the fault of the LDP.

(Wiping of the hands gesture)

By not vetting the nominations with the Democratic Party aforehand, the LDP has proven itself incapable of anything but vengeance.

Bloody moronic, near-sighted, knee-biting attack Chihuahuas. Vamos!

Nobody's Home

Governor of the Bank of Japan Fukui Toshihiko's term ends tomorrow.

This is what Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo said last night, on the subject of finding a replacement for the head of Japan's central bank during what marker cheerleader Alan Greenspan has called the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930's.


"The ruling coalition, the government cannot decide this unilaterally. There are things we don't know about what the Democratic Party of Japan is thinking."

Dear Prime Minister,

Stop delegating.

Stop hoping beyond hope that the deadbeats, lunatics, fanatics and sycophants about you are going to buckle down and do the jobs you have been asking them to do since September.

It will not happen.

Phone. Receiver. Call. Speak.

If no one answers, try another number.

Repeat until you have talked to Ozawa Ichirō, Kan Naoto and Hatoyama Yukio.

Find out, this morning, yourself, what the opposition is thinking.

You have a newspaper journalist as your finance minister. You have no central banker. The dollar is at 97 yen. The stock market is flopping about like a fugu on pavement.

Later - Nikkei Online is reporting that a new nomination bill will be presented to a joint meeting of the steering committees of the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors, with a finalization vote on the bill taking place tomorrow. No word on who is doing the presenting of this bill or who the new nominee might be. Heck, there is no indication that there even is a new nominee.

One would assume that the announcement has the DPJ's blessing...

Even later - And the winner is...Tanami Kōji (田波耕治) of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC).

Thank you all for playing along.

Monday, March 17, 2008

All I Ever Wanted To Do Was Wear A Gray Suit

The video of "After Dark," a song by Asian Kung-fu Generation (whose song "Blackout" was featured here in November) has been awarded the Space Shower Award for Best Rock Video.

The video explores, humorously, the struggle against and final acceptance of personal difference. It seems to find the rejection of fear of difference liberating and of tremendous social value.

Perhaps the video should be required viewing for anyone asserting the existence of a happy (or exhausted) national to conformism.



Hat tip to Sparkplugged.

One More For The Road

While the global financial system is going to hell*, I am still obsessing about the governments's gasoline levy bill in support of road construction, a piece of legislation which, according to today's Sankei Shimbun, the ruling coalition finally admits is unsalvageable.

Still, I cannot let a day go by without a dip into the bottomless cesspit of the offspring of the old Construction and National Land ministries.

The front page of Sunday's Mainichi Shimbun featured the results of an investigation into 50 corporations affiliated with the Ministry of National Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. The 50 corporations had 7288 employees and 1063 members of the board of directors, a pretty rich 7:1 employees-to-directors ratio.

However, looking more closely, the median was a lot richer. Indeed in 16 of the 50 corporations, the number of members of the board of directors outnumbered the number of employees. The most absurd skewing was found in the National Land Policy Research Council (Kokudo Seisaku Kenkyūkai), an organization boasting 16 directors and 1 employee. Other magnificent organizations included the Tour De Hokkaidō Association (Tsūru do Hokkaido Kyōkai) with 17 directors and 6 employees; the Road Development Promotion Center (Dōro Kaihatsu Shinkō Sentā) with 21 directors and 8 employees; and the Hokkaidō Auto Resort Network Association (oh, I give up) with 24 directors and 6 employees.

Did anyone say anything about amakudari positions? A check of the 16 directors of the National Land Policy Research Council found that 9 were retired bureaucrats. Ouch.

Here is the original article.

Of course we also have today's report that the DPJ is asking questions about the 2.3 billion yen paid out over the last five years though the MLITT's "special road equipment account book" (道路整備特別会計) for taxi tickets for ministry employees traveling to and from the Ministry's eight regional equipment centers.

As much as the revision of the Constitution, as much as a reinterpretation of the ban on participation in collective self-defense, the attempt to wrestle down the road construction beast is a struggle over the identity of Japan. If the road lobby can be killed or restrained, much of what has been "Japan" and the "Japanese way of doing things" will cease to exist. Certainties will crumble...and many things considered "difficult" will suddenly become "possible."

Every little of light shone upon the monster weakens it. Every pinprick is making it bleed a little more, slowing it down.

* The void is filled by a depressed and angry Nihon Cassandra posting up a philippic from London.

Before the Spring Migration

On the JIC trips Dr. RD teases me, "MTC, where are the birds?"

I should reply, "At the manmade marshes and beaches of Kasai Rinkai Kōen, my good doctor."

At this time of year, at least.

Suzugamo - Aythia marila

Not even trying very hard at Kasai Rinkai Kōen on March 16, 2008 from 15:45 to 17:45

The Ducks
SuzugamoAythia marila
Hoshihajiro - Aythia ferina
Kinkurohajiro - Aythia fulicula
Onagagamo - Anas acuta
Karugamo - Anas poecilorhyncha
HoshibirogamoAnas clypetea
KogamoAnas crecca
OkayoshigamoAnas streptera
HidorigamoAnas penelope

HoshibirogamoAnas clypetea
KogamoAnas crecca and
KaitsuburiTachibaptus ruficollis

The Grebes
KaitsuburiTachibaptus ruficollis
HajirokaitsuburiPodiceps nigricollis
KanmurikaitsuburiPodiceps cristatus
MimikaitsuburiPodiceps auritus

The Gulls
KamomeLarus canus
YurikamomeLarus rufibundus

The Herons
AosagiArdea cinerea

The Raptors
Chōhi Chūhi- Circus spilonotus

The Thrushes
TsugumiTurdus naumanni

The Cormorants
KawauPhallocrocorax carbo

The Wagtails
HakusekireiMotacilla alba

The most surprising time to visit the park is in late summer, when armies of toads and crabs turn the bitumen paths into their playground. Above them, the bats gang up on the moths and beetles drawn to the light of the tree-trunk-shaped streetlamps (the lampposts are made of concrete).

It makes you realize that in Tokugawa times the city was home to a million souls...yet still teemed with creeping, crawling, scurrying and whirlygigging creatures.

Not so much, now.

Ferris wheel at Kasai Rinkai Kōen
Edogawa Ward, Tokyo Metropolitan District
March 16, 2008

Images courtesy: MTC

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Cracking up

In the illustrious history of Diet interpellation train wrecks, the performance of Senior Vice Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Matsushima Midori (Liberal Democratic Party, House of Representatives, Tokyo #14 District) on Friday managed to transcend the once hilarious, now sadly Brechtian performances of the late MAFF Matsuoka Toshikatsu.

Matsushima is the representative for Arakawa and Sumida wards. She expresses a fervent belief that the 10 year, 59 trillion yen (I just love those numbers; I cannot stop writing them) road construction plan and the taxes to pay for it are the best thing since handmade soba noodles. According to her explanation, while she once decried the "waste" of road construction spending, she came to see the light at a special meeting of the mayors of the wards of inner Tokyo. In what can only be a coincidence, she managed to get herself appointed Vice Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism following her conversion to the road construction creed.

Unfortunately, Matsushima is a rather recent convert and has not, until now, publicly renounced her earlier skepticism. Indeed, on her website, uncontested or altered, is her 2002 diatribe against the funding of useless road construction.

In interpellations in the House of Councillors Budget Committee Tsuda Yatarō, a mean, mean man of the Democratic Party, read her diatribe to her, then asked her about the contradictions between what she said then and what she is saying now.

Matsushima explained...and explained...and explained...and explained...and was about to explain some more when Budget Committee Chairman Kokoike Yoshitada -- a fellow LDP member -- told her to give cut the four part harmony and variations and give a succinct reply (簡潔な答弁) to the question.

Matsushima ignored the chairman's warning. She kept going and did not stop her verbal dance until, after full 5 minutes of pirouetting around, Kokoide erupted, shouting at her, "Cut it short! Cut it off!" (打ち切りなさい!).

Konoike became so enraged at her indiscipline that he threw the book at her (actually, paragraph 48 of the Diet Law). On his own authority, he banished her from the committee room for "contempt of the Diet."

Reporters and scribes went scrambling to find a like instance when a committee chairman, unprompted by an opposition protest, unilaterally banned a fellow party member from further participation in a Diet committee--or an instance when a political appointee to a ministry had ever been sanctioned in this way.

Morals of the Matsushima banishment:

1) prior to betraying your constituents, your supporters and yourself, practice your alibi in the elevator--otherwise maybe, just maybe, you will receive the public humiliation you richly deserve.

2) the lure of road construction funds makes fools of us all.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Your test, should you choose to accept it

Psychology 101 - Mass delusion
(Essay question - 20 points)

With the enthusiastic support of Diet members, Shinkansen train lines are being extended to Kyūshū in an effort to improve access to economically disadvantaged areas. Income projections indicate that these lines will never earn enough to settle the loans taken out to build them. In order to pay for the rights-of-way and settle "nuisance" claims, the railway companies intend to transfer to the prefectural governments their landholdings ("Excellent economic development opportunities!") along existing JR rail lines. The prefectural governments, strapped for cash, decide to in turn transfer these landholdings to local communitie--this in lieu of transfering tax revenues. Local mayors and town councils, knowing they are given improperly assessed landholdings in lieu of the cash they need for their operating expences, refuse to accept the land. The prefectures and the railway companies sign an agreement to build the Shinkansen lines anyway. The new Shinkansen line will have no stops servicing the local communities being saddled with the twice-transferred trackside landholdings.

With the stars invisible, the late night television programs cover the last run of the overnight Blue Train service from Kyōto to Kyūshū and from Tokyo to Ōsaka. All is sepia-tinted floods of tears and plastic-wrapped bouquets. Silver-maned male commentators and their mahogany-tressed female counterparts recall how wonderful the Shōwa Era was. They wonder why the Japanese people are abandoning their cultural treasures and touchstones. Individualism and Koizumi reforms are mentioned as the likely culprits.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Hundred Things Now To Do or Say....

...before the sun goes down upon this day.

Janne Morén of Janne in Osaka speculates on the potential for diminishing loyalty to institutions, be they universities or political parties.

Bill Sakovich -- whose posts continue to improve as the number of comments in his comments section has shrunk (yes, I am being obscure on purpose) -- has a detailed rundown on the main actors and currents in the Sentaku movement.

The Mitsubishi Heavy shipyards in Nagasaki turned over the keys to the Ashigara, the sixth and final Kongō-class Aegis destroyer, to the Marine Self Defense Forces (Where have you gone Iwashita Yatarō?) in a ceremony in Sasebo.

And in business news, the yen-per-dollar rate sliced through the par level like a knife falling through a sheet of paper, driving the Nikkei Index down to new lows.

A lot to get a handle on.

Hyakunin Isshu Ceiling of the Zendōji (detail)
Yorii City, Saitama Prefecture
February 11, 2008
Image credit: MTC

About bloody time

Whippet-smart and multi-talented (a photographic eye to die for) journalist Anna Kitanaka has a blog.

Finally, a female voice in the professional Japan politics & society blogosphere.

If we can now convince her bosses to shell out a little to give her a proper page, she could be a force.

Nagata-chō's Other Game of Chicken

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

The DPJ-led House of Councillors' smacking down the Mutō Toshihirō nomination for Governor of the Bank of Japan yesterday does not end the mutual face-slapping over the management of the movement of legislation through the Diet.


In an unfortunate compromise worked out after the July 2007 election between the Democratic-led majority and the LDP-Kōmeitō ruling coalition, the Liberal Democratic Party received the chairmanship of the Budget Committee. That chairman, on orders from party central, is now tying up the passage of the budget and budget related bills. He is insisting that the government's versions of the budget and ancillary bills, including the infamous renewal of the gasoline levy for road building only, be first on the committee's schedule. The Democratic Party and its allies, eager to demonstrate their ability to promote legislation as well as kill it, are fighting to have a rival DPJ-crafted gasoline levy bill, one that would direct revenues into the general fund, debated first.

In the end, no budget-related bills may make it to a vote in the House of Councillors before the April 1 start of the new fiscal year, unless the DPJ-led majority can figure out a way of opening up an alternate route for legislation to escape via the Finance Committee, which has a Democrat as its chairman.

If no budget bills get through:

1) the gasoline levy disappears - vaya con Dios, arrivedercci, kwaheri - even for use in the general fund, and

2) the budget will go into effect without the legislation necessary to fully fund outlays.

This is high stakes chicken.

The LDP is throwing everything it can muster at bringing the DPJ to heal, on the one hand negotiating toward a deal of some kind regarding Mutō's candidacy...

(a) Why did the ruling coalition not negotiate before sending Mutō's appointment to the House of Councillors?

(b) Is it constitutional to submit a person's name as a candidate for a post twice in the same Diet session?

...and on the other with a railroading of the absurd 10-year, 59 trillion yen mid-term road construction plan through the construction committee of the House of Representatives.

Lawmaking is all about pride and position, it seems.

Who let the dogs out?

1. A person who believes all people are motivated by selfishness.
2. A person whose outlook is scornfully and often habitually negative.

A Cynic was an ancient Greek philosopher or a member of a group of ancient Greek philosophers who believed that virtue is the only good and that the only means of achieving it was through self-control. The sect was founded by Antisthenes in the 4th century B.C. From Greek kunikos and then through Latin cynicus, "dog".

These sect members had a doglike insolence, a doglike disregard for social customs, a doglike use of tubs or kennels for sleeping, and a currish insistence upon one's own opinion.
Nihon Cassandra forwards a message to those who luxuriated in the carry trade from their ultimate creditor.

Western Fear of the Neonsign explores the (insert Japanese noun)-as-metaphor publishing industry.

And this site is so subversive, it should be mandatory reading in most democracies.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

In Praise of Ozawa Ichirō and the DPJ

At the moment when the world is primed to heap opprobrium or just scalding disgust upon Ozawa Ichirō's head for his irresponsible brinkmanship, I would take a moment to praise him and his party for sticking to a vow to sink the nomination of Mutō Toshirō as Governor of the Bank of Japan.

Despite a blast of invective and advice from Serious Persons everywhere, predicting dire consequences for the stability of Japan's economy should the governor's seat be open but a single day, Ozawa and the DPJ showed they possess spine and tactical smarts. They were not bullrushed into accepting the Liberal Democratic Party's unilateral choice for the BOJ governor. They have established the principle that parliamentary cooperation is of a piece--that the LDP cannot choose to slap the DPJ around using the override provision for the budget, then expect the DPJ to deal on the BOJ appointment.

When the DPJ LDP-led coalition panicked and passed the budget and the gasoline levy renewal on February 29 with nary a Democrat in the room, the DPJ returned the insult by throwing the LDP's best boy into the fire.

Tit-for-Tat: the optimum strategy for multi-round games play that seeks to encourage cooperation.

And cooperation is precisely what the LDP still has not mastered.

What did the LDP leadership and Mutō believe--that the Deputy Governor just rises up, up, up like a helium-filled balloon into the Governor's chair--as if the promotion were one of the inescapable consequences of physics? What presumptuous, arrogant rot! Dealing means dealing--it means a sales job, it means offering special discounts, it means proving to the customers that the product is not just something nice but something each and every one of us needs.

Which the LDP most pointedly did not do.

Instead, in utter reprehensible laziness, it relied on some purportedly innate sense possessed by every citizen to comprehend, without explanation, that Mutō was indeed the sober, steady and independent-minded person his advocates claimed he was...that from the fact that he had been a financial specialist for a long, long time he was obviously a great candidate for BOJ Governor.

Yes sir, an iron keister--the ultimate proof of personal excellence.

And as for the looming vacancy--excuse me, but what about the job in question is so bloody difficult? How vital is it that a human being be sitting in the chairman's chair, when all he or she will be called on to do is hold off on raising interest rates until economic conditions improve or stabilize? As one acerbic observer has noted, ASIMO can do that.

[That the twin U.S. deficits and the sub-prime loan crisis seem to be prima facie evidence that really smart, pro-active central bankers are a positive menace to a balanced global financial system is a whole other avenue of analysis I will not attempt to tackle at this time....but is a concept worth bearing in mind anyway.]

In fairness, the inability for the politicians to get their act together and nominate someone for the post of BOJ governor puts a black mark on everyone. Just do not not be hornswaggled into believing it was Ozawa and the DPJ that set up this outwardly idiotic-looking game of chicken.

Today's rejection was a proper response to the petty thuggery of the smug, anachronistic and self-deluded leadership of the LDP.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Over AJISS - Commentary, Koizumi economic supremo Takenaka Heizō offers what are initially some solid but dull observations regarding the sub-prime loan nightmare.

Sober reading, yes, but not inspiring

He redeems his brief review essay, however, with a neat suggestion for a swift way to broaden and internationalize the asset base of the postal savings bank:

This leads to my final suggestion. Japanese institutions should actively help American and European banks bolster their capital. Capital injections to this end may open up new opportunities for Japan's financial institutions, which have finally almost cleared up their accumulated non-performing loans. Of course, decision-making must be based on cautious management plans. Yet given the current situation in which American financial institutions are considering turning to sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East, they might well appreciate help from Japanese private institutions. Wouldn't it be symbolic if the new Japan Post Bank, the world's largest bank created as part of the privatization of the Japanese postal services, could take the lead and lend out the vast pool of its under-utilized postal savings? I think this is at least worth considering.
Now, I have no idea what he means by "symbolic" in this instance, but the proposal seems rather clever, no?

Why go to all the trouble of messing around with the establishment of a sovereign wealth fund when you could have the Yūchō Ginkō providing the nation's international capital contribution?

Heck, why not have Kampo dive in too?

* * *

Over at Japan Econony News, Ken Worsley offers his two yen's worth on the sovereign wealth fund idea.

I am not sure what point Adachi Masamichi is trying to make (text inside the gray box). Pretty much all currency reserve accumulation actions are sterilized, meaning they are backed with government debt.

Someone needs to set me straight on this.


* = "Takenaka Heizō Pulls A Rabbit Out Of A Hat"

Monday, March 10, 2008

Down by the Sea

Though it is hard to believe that the top bureaucrats of the Fisheries Agency would accept the end of research whaling---the defense of which is the only way most of them have of becoming famous (if only as targets of intense, worldwide loathing)--The Independent reports that a revival of the commercial coastal fishery, the only solution that treats everyone, the biosphere included, with some semblance of respect, is finally being discussed.

Secret plan to let Japan resume whaling
The Independent

London meeting discusses compromise over much-flouted ban on commercial hunting

By Geoffrey Lean and Jonathan Owen - Sunday, 9 March 2008 - Controversial plans to lift the worldwide ban on whaling were presented to a secret meeting of more than 70 governments in London last week.

The plans, which have alarmed environmentalists, have been welcomed by both pro- and anti-whaling governments and seek to lift a long stalemate over hunting, enabling Japan officially to resume commercial whaling for the first time in more than 20 years.

The plans would permit the world's main whaling nation to carry out a limited hunt in waters close to its shores. In return, Japan would have to stop exploiting a loophole in international law, through which it kills hundreds of whales around Antarctica each year under the guise of "scientific research".

The plans – drawn up at another unpublicised meeting in Tokyo last month – were presented by the governments of Argentina and the Netherlands to a closed three-day session of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) at the Renaissance Hotel near Heathrow airport, which ended yesterday...
Coastal whaling is historic and cultural in a way that pelagic whaling is not (it was somewhat difficult to be a pelagic whaler during the Tokugawa period, you know, sakoku and all that). While pelagic research whaling is a ward of the state and of benefit to the bureaucrats who defend it, coastal whaling is commercial (well largely, anyway) and is of direct benefit to the communities practicing it.

Accepting coastal commercial whaling of Minke whales in the waters near Japan offers a workaround for some intractable differences of opinion. The IWC would extend its formal mandate over whaling, drawing in activities that have been destabilizing the organization--either through the abuse of the research clause (Japan), through whaling for non-baleen whales not on the IWC lists (Japan) and through out and out rogue whaling (Iceland and Norway).

It would establish a de facto Southern Ocean whale sanctuary.

The resumption of coastal commercial whaling will also relieve the pressures built up by multiple hypocrisies. IWC rules accept the hunting of the bowhead whale (Hokkyoku kujira - Balaena mysticetus) by North American indigenous peoples. In terms of impact the killing of an an individual adult has upon the gene variation within the population of the target species, permitting any hunting of the bowhead is madness.

Similarly unsound in terms of impact upon reputation of the IWC is the the continued legal Euro-American hunt for large bluefin tuna in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. The number of wild adult bluefin has plummeted yet North American and European and fishermen to continue go out into international waters, hunt them and then send the carcasses to Japan. Banning Japanese hunting a small number of minke whale-- in raw numbers a more numerous species--inside their own EEZ looks a lot like discrimination.

Outsiders should also appreciate that by appearing to be a concession on the part of the international community, the resumption of coastal commercial whaling would remove an arrow from the nationalist quiver. The anti-whaling = anti-Japanese equation is a recurring charge of the right--and one that many Japanese can take seriously.

Allowing the resumption of coastal whaling for minke might finally give governments and activists some leverage in the struggle to abolishe the abominable Taiji porpoise and dolphin slaughters.

I can sympathize with the anti-whaling organizations; they feel final victory is so close. After all, the tactics they are using now against Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean convinced the Soviet Union (The Soviet Union! The Empire of Evil!) to abandon commercial whaling.

However, the tactics that brought the Soviet Union to heel will not clip the fins of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. In a democracy with superempowered rural votes, a bureaucracy with a chip on its shoulder and nationalism as the one, true political movement linking the cities and the rural communities -- the attempt to box in the whalers has an effect opposite to the one desired: it has swelled the ranks of true believers in the movement and has deepened national commitment to the cause.

There is a ticking clock. The confrontation in the Southern Ocean, should it continue, could prompt the dispatch of a Coast Guard cutter (the unofficial motto of the Japan Coast Guard: "Shoot first--and there will be no questions later") increasing the possibility of truly violent clashes. If the activists challenge the whaling vessels in the presence of the Japan Coast Guard, the possibility of a tragedy occurring will not be zero.

Let us hope that cooler heads and braver hearts prevail to find the middle ground.


Last week Christopher Hogg produced a fair but perhaps overly dispassionate story for the BBC about the fishery in Wada, the whaling village closest to Tokyo (which, as you can see in the above photo, is all a-bustle on a Sunday afternoon). The Economist published a story on the town's claim to fame in July 2007.

For statistics and information about the existing commercial coastal whaling fishery, see the website of the Nihon Kogata Hogei Kyōkai. Its fey English language slide presentation can be found here.

For statistics and news about whale meat stocks, remains the English-language site of reference.

Wadaura Station
Minami Bōsō City, Chiba Prefecture
August 6, 2006
Photo credit: MTC

Friday, March 07, 2008

Abe Shinzō - another look

Rather than messing with photo images of famous figures, with their lighting and attribution problems, Japanese newspapers tend to print graphically bold and proprietary caricatures next to articles about those figures.

The following three caricatures of Abe Shinzō appeared in articles printed yesterday announcing his return to active political life. They come from the left-of-center elite The Asahi Shimbun, the populist Mainichi Shimbun and the revisionist right Sankei Shimbun.

From the political orientation of the newspaper alone, can you match the image with the newspaper? (Answer below)

In my post on Abe's reemergence I wrote, "I cannot say whether the considerable length of time between his resignation as PM and his reacceptance into the faction is due to the damage he suffered himself or the damage his resignation inflicted upon the LDP."

A mid-level Machimura faction member, quoted in the Mainichi Shimbun, makes it clear it is the latter. Asked for his comment on Abe's moves this week, the member said:


"The party suffered considerable damage due to Abe's sudden resignation as Prime Minister. It is too early for him to appear on center stage."
So there you have it. The doghouse still in he is.

Answer - Left image: Mainichi. Center image: Sankei. Right image: Asahi.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Reaching For the Sun

Former Prime Minister Abe Shinzō has come back to the surface.

Six months after his intestinal fortitude failed him in September, forcing to leave the premiership, Abe seems to be taking baby steps toward rehabilitating himself in the political realm.

Yesterday, he presided over the first session of a new study group, Kūru āsu 50 (Cool Earth 50), dedicated to supporting the Toyako Summit and the goals, set down during the desperate days of the Abe administration, of halving greenhouse emissions by the year 2050.

At the time the project was announced, the Japanese name was Utsukushii sei 50, (The Beautiful Celestial Body 50). Abe, or whoever is propping him up, seems to realize that anything with utsukushii (beautiful) in the name is radioactive, politically speaking.

The launch of the study group, held inside LDP headquarters, was not exactly the "must attend" event of the day. Fourteen lawmakers showed up, mostly close allies and fellow doghouse dwellers like former Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki Yasuhisa and former Special Advisor for Public Relations Sekō Hiroshige.

Today (March 6) Abe made his formal request to reinstated into the Machimura Faction. He had left the faction, as tradition demands, upon his election as president of the LDP in 2005. I cannot say whether the considerable length of time between his resignation as PM and his reacceptance into the faction is due to the damage he suffered himself or the damage his resignation inflicted upon the LDP. I doubt anyone will ever give an honest account of the last few months.

Abe is very solicitous as regards Fukuda's present political weakness. He has sworn to do what he can to bolster the government by ensuring the Toyako Summit's success.

He did, in code words, indicated that the petulant fantabulist obsessions still guide him:


"I have returned to the enthusiasm of the beginner, supporting the Fukuda Cabinet as a member of the Diet. I also want to go forward, building a country, Japan where there is pride (hokori no aru kuni, Nippon)

A great right wing favorite that hokori (誇り) . The right damn near owns a copyright on the word.

Even after the fall, the pride -- still trying to tell the citizens that their mode of thought is all wrong.

"Build a country, Japan, that has pride"-- not "a country, Japan, people can be proud of."

Those damn citizens again--still not appreciating beauty cool.

Yatsude (Fatsia japonica) in the courtyard of the Myōhonji
Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture
May 27, 2007
Photo credit: MTC


Later - The Japan Observer has his own fabulous post on this subject.

They Should be Getting Medals

Leo Lewis of The Times makes the world a brighter place by reporting to the citizens of the globe what was front page news on Tuesday in the Tokyo Shimbun - the National Police Agency's hasty backtracking on an announcement of a crackdown on one of Japan's most lethal-looking and beloved road hazards - hoikuen and yōchien mothers (hoikuen fathers do it too, only more safely, lest they catch hell from some quarters) barreling down lanes and sidewalks on bicycles with the elder child in the back, the younger child up front.

For the beleaguered parents of the nation, the Police Agency's shift into reverse is a welcome victory against the otherwise relentless and oppressive nagging of authority figures.

The quick retreat on this issue demonstrates that the defense of liberty can take quirky forms on these shores.

Propose legislation to regulate the Web as if it were the printed press, threatening to put the hosts of bulletin boards and even bloggers out of business--and no one will say diddly squat.

Try to enforce the law against parents overloading their bicycles and riding in an unsafe manner while they are trying to transport their kids to and from kindergarten --and the entire country comes down on your head.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Choice

Over at GlobalTalk 21, Okumura Jun explores the Sentaku movement in detail.

I would only wish to underline two points touched upon in Okumura-san's impressive review of the goals and attributes of this two-headed (local government and central government) political reform organization.

The first is the existential point: if local government officials and the younger generation of Liberal Democratic Party and Democratic Party of Japan members in the Diet feel it necessary to form an organization that has a goal of pressuring the party leadership to produce meaningful policy manifestos--then local government officials and the younger generation of LDP and DPJ members have no confidence in the standard operating procedures of the parties as regards the production of meaningful manifestos.

Manifestos, yes...meaningful ones, no.

As for what "meaningful" might mean in a concrete sense, it probably means (gosh I hope it does) manifestos that recognize the necessity for tradeoffs and sacrifice--that do not, as the famous joke about the idiot manager's recommendation says, "focus our attention and energy across the board."

The second point is regarding the relative youth of the participants. While the principle of "the lower the number of elections to the Diet, the more untainted the politician" may be a good rule of thumb (depressing as it may be) such a rule may not hold up under scrutiny. Unless the Sentaku membership declares in advance from what pedestal it intends to address the excluded elder statesmen of both the major parties, I do not predict respect from the press.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Yet Another Paradigmatic Shift...

...I wish I had appreciated on my own.

"Russians are richer today than ever before in their history."

- "The Return of the Bear", Newsweek, March 10, 2008

A state of affairs likely to make negotiations over the Northern Territories rather...uneventful.

But an article in the Sankei Shimbun tells me that Dmitri Medvedev's election will mean change! His foreign policy will have colors! Uniquely driven colors!

Only such colors as may be found in Vladimir Putin's rainbow, I'm afraid.

Trees at the foot of Kan no Kurayama
Ogawa Township, Saitama Prefecture
February 16, 2008
Photo credit: MTC

Monday, March 03, 2008

Jump clear of plane, pull ripcord

Aside from being members of the Diet, what do Shimamuro Hakubun, Obuchi Yūko, Kosaka Kenji, Okada Katsuya, Kawaguchi Yoriko, Matsubara Jin, Hashimoto Taku, Ōsaka Seiji, Seko Hiroshige, Katayama Satsuki, Itokawa Masaaki, Noda Seiko and Ishihara Nobuteru have in commmon?

Nothing that I can tell...except that they all were in attendance today when the non-partisan political group Sentaku held its first meeting for interested Diet members.

Here is the list of the 107 attendees.

In attendance were:

51 Diet members from the LDP
47 from the DPJ
8 from the Komeito
1 from the Japan New Party

The attendees each knew why he or she was at the meeting. Unfortunately, as they looked around the room, they were probably wondering what the heck all these other Diet members were doing at the meeting.

If a word describes the membership of this club, "exclusive" is not it.

To be fair, a glance at the list reveals some patterns. The attendees listed tend toward the younger end of the political scale, with most of those in attendance in their fifties and forties. Very few attendees seem to be from the party bloc seats--which make sense as the Diet members from the blocs owe their seats to their party affiliation...and folks who owe their seats to their parties would be pushing the envelope if they were to be seen actively participating in a non-partisan group whose purpose is to "cleanse" (sentaku - 洗濯) politics and offer real "choice" (sentaku - 選択)。

The number of inherited seatholders--members who can hold on to their seats whether the leadership likes them or not--seems also fairly heavy.

Now I must confess...I have had the hardest time taking seriously a political movement whose name is a pun...or at least a tortured homophone. I must admit this first meeting was rather well attended.

Let us see how they do with the next one.

On the 9 p.m. NHK News, after the report on the meeting, the anchor asked her co-anchor, "All these cross-party study groups and associations forming, what could it mean?"

Normally, this is the co-anchor's cue to explain the world for us stupid people...but unbelievably, he did not answer the question.

He just let it hang there in the void.

A rhetorical question? On NHK? Could it be possible?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Childhood's End

Over at Observing Japan, Tobias Harris reports on Katō Kōichi's radio broadcast announcement that "YKK is over."

I may be wrong...but I sense that Mr. Harris sees the declaration as both less and more than it is.

YKK – the policy-first political alliance of next-generation politicians Yamasaki Taku, Katō and Koizumi Jun'ichirō--was far more than a footnote in Japanese political history. In the 1990s, the press dutifully covered every flick of a finger by the trio, trying to discern the future course of the LDP, which was assumed to be in their hands. That the trio intended to achieve power on their own terms, without waiting their turn in line for the revolving door of the LDP presidency, in defiance of inter-factional balancing, was a real turn-on for many in the commentariat, the LDP rank-and-file and the general public.

In the end, only one of them managed to become prime minister—but what a prime minister he turned out to be!

As to the significance of Katō's declaration of an end to their fellowship, it must be viewed through the Katō's eyes. He receives a call from his old buddies to come to a restaurant to talk shop. He looks his desk for a moment, then at the pictures on the walls and in the alcove. He reflects for a moment. Koizumi became prime minister, the most celebrated prime minister in a quarter century. Yamasaki had his time in the doghouse due to his mistress...but he is back in the saddle, a faction head who nonchalantly jets off to Beijing once a month, acting as the undisguised back channel to officials of the Pyongyang regime.

He, however, lost control of his faction after failing to topple the lamentable Mori Yoshirō from the premiership. He lost his ancestral home and his aged mother was nearly killed by a nationalist arsonist who burnt down the family's house in retribution for Katō's criticism of Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni--a huge loss for simply expressing one's opinion that nevertheless earned Katō and his family almost no sympathy from the public and his fellow party members.

Is it odd then that Katō should tell his former boon companions, "Sorry guys, I can't make it. Politics is not a game for me anymore. Unless whatever you are planning to discuss over dinner is damn serious, count me out."