Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Alls Hell That Starts In Disarray

Once again without a single non-Communist member of the opposition in the chamber, the LDP-New Komeitō ruling coalition has used its supermajority in the House of Representatives to vote for a revival of the temporary gasoline levy.

One cannot imagine that the scenes of gasoline distributorships shutting down mid-afternoon in response to the vote in the House of Representatives will play too well on the late night, non-NHK networks--nor that the new, higher prices tomorrow will be greeted with cheers from the public.

So where do we go from here?

Not to censure, at least not immediately.

Ozawa Ichirō has moved his marker regarding the possibility of the House of Councillors censuring the Prime Minister. Rather than censure the PM for using an Article 59 override to force a reapplication of the temporary gasoline levy, Ozawa will be "keeping an eye on the road construction bill" -- i.e., the 10 year, 59 trillion yen, truly grotesque testing of the public's patience that is the next bill up for the override treatment.

The PM has promised to put the revenues from the gasoline tax go into the general fund as of next year. Unfortunately, the PM's wish is not included in the current language of the road construction bill.

This would seem to create an interesting procedural mess.

Opening up the road construction bill and rewriting it in joint committee would be one solution. Unfortunately, convening an interparliamentary committee it is not possible without at least a sister bill having been passed by the House of Councillors.

That has not happened. It will not happen.

Alteration of the legislation already passed by the House of Representatives will be, in terms of the rules, the submission of a brand new bill.

However, unless the House of Representatives votes down its own 10 year, 59 trillion bill first, the House of Representatives will be on record--as far as I can tell--as having sent to the House of Councillors two mutually contradictory bills on a single subject.

Not exactly a place where anyone wants to be.

Submitting a bill reflecting the Prime Minister's plan to move revenues to the general fund--i.e., a brand new bill--will also start the 60 day override clock all over again.

Now a clock starting in the first week of May would set the Diet up for an override in early July...which is something the PM's people and the ruling coalition would probably want to avoid given that would put a loud battle about an incredibly important bill right smack dab in the middle of the Toyako Summit--the most historic, important and environmentally correct summit ever™!

As for what the DPJ's response to today's events will be, it looks like going forward with the threatened censure motion will be a tough call. It is not necessarily significant that the PM can ignore the censure motion--the point all the newspapers harp on. The core issue is that a censure motion could be perceived as a waste of time.

Not showing up for votes--boycotting the Diet--is perfectly acceptable political theater with a long and illustrious history. Not showing up challenges the ruling party to push forward legislation using the rules of the Diet and its majority.

A censure motion, however, will be under the operational control of the opposition. The Democratic Party House of Councillors Diet Measures Chairman will have to go to Speaker Eda Satsuki and the other opposition parties to instigate the assembling of a quorum of the House of Councillors for an act that has 1) no effect as law and 2) no basis in law.

The calendar of the House of Councillors is the DPJ's ball of string--to play with or not depending on the party's reading of the mood of a public pissed off at new taxes and automatic deductions.

The public may not be in the mood for meaningless gestures--expecially ones engaged in by those living off the public purse.

Tricky thing, the public mood, what?

Manazuru Again

Yeddo Hawthorn
Sharinbai - Rhaphiolepsis umbellata
Manazuru Township, Kanagawa Prefecture
April 29, 2008

Feather duster worm
Keyarimushi - Sabellastarte japonica
Manazuru Township, Kanagawa Prefecture
April 29, 2008

Autumn Olive
Akigumi - Eleagnus umbellata
Manazuru Township, Kanagawa Prefecture
April 29, 2008

Pacific Reef Heron
Kurosagi - Egretta sacra
Manazuru Township, Kanagawa Prefecture
April 29, 2008

Umeboshi plum anemones
Umeboshi isoginchaku - Actinia equina
Manazuru Township, Kanagawa Prefecture
April 29, 2008

Toward Nebukawa
Manazuru Township, Kanagawa Prefecture
April 29, 2008

Dwarf Solomon's Seal
Narukoyuri - Polygonatum falcatum
Manazuru Township, Kanagawa Prefecture
April 29, 2008

Kanagawa District #17

Representative: Kōno Yōhei
Speaker of the House of Representatives
LDP, Kōno Group
(party and faction memberships in suspension during term in office)
71 years old
14 elections to the Diet

One has to admit it, Kōno Sensei has an incredibly attractive district.

Good Morning, Nagata-chō!

Well now, here we are--the big day, the day when we get to see whether Kōno Tarō will pull a lion's head out of a top hat, or whether he is all bluster and no votes.

(Seriously, if he had not gone to Georgetown, would anybody still be listening to him? Well, O.K., I will admit, the liver section donation thing was very impressive...)

On the other side of the aisle of treason, Sunday Mainichi says 15 Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers in the House of Councillors are poised to jump ship over the party's opposition to road construction and other fiscal goodies. No doubt Ōe Yasuhiro and Watanabe Hiroshi already have both feet out of the party -- I swear one of the newspapers told me that Ōe went so far as to voice support for the LDP candidate in Sunday's Yamaguchi by-election, mirroring Watanabe's support of the non-DPJ candidate in Niigata one election back.

However, I still do not see how they could leave the party when their seats are a regional bloc seats assigned according to a position on a party list.

Can one walk out with a proportional seat? Or leave with it under one's arm after being expelled from the party?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Opposition Has Its Privileges

Ozawa Ichirō is trying to put together a winning coalition by promising the earth and the sky to various blocs of citizens.

The LDP and the New Komeitō are using the levers of government and the public purse to retain the loyalty of their clients, who are in large part parasites on the system.

These are not equivalent activities--even if, in theory, both pose a threat to the taxpayer's bank account.

Monday, April 28, 2008

100 Japanese Public Intellectuals List - Numbers 51-70

Thanks to commenters and some suggestions from a friend, I have a further twenty names for the master list of 100 currently active public intellectuals.

Noguchi Yukio
Yonekura Sei'ichirō
Nonaka Ikujirō
Tanaka Naoki
Itō Takatoshi
Itō Motoshige
Kang Sangjung
Mori Tatsuya
Takahashi Tetsuya
Karatani Kojin

Hosaka Masayasu
Tanaka Hitoshi
Soeya Yoshihide
Tachibana Takashi
Hata Ikuhiko
Okonogi Masao
Ebata Kensuke
Tahara Sōichirō Murakami Haruki
Komori Yoshihisa
Tamamoto Masaharu

I include Tamamoto-san on a tentative basis. Having met him on several occasions, I have a personal liking for him. He has gone through hell because of the machinations of his nemesis Komori. However, I have not read anything recent work by him published in Japanese. If the suggestor could send me a URL, I would be much obliged.

Some persons suggested Ozawa Ichirō and Ishiba Shigeru. While Ozawa and Ishiba and others politicians like Yosano Kaoru do write significant thought pieces and participate in taidan (discussion) works, their influence grows out of their positions in the political firmament, not necessarily the power of their ideas. Ishihara Shintarō and Inose Naoki, by contrast, established themselves as literary figures before becoming political players.

After the Yamaguchi #2 election

In a hotly contested race portrayed as a referendum against the government of Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo, Democratic Party of Japan candidate Hiraoka Hideo defeated the Liberal Democratic Party candidate Yamamoto Shigetarō by 10 percentage points in the Yamaguchi District #2 by-election. Turnout was a spectacular 69.0% of the electorate, the highest turnout for a stand-alone by-election since the system reforms of 2000.

I was hoping to write a "Dos and Don'ts" list from the results of the election. However, I can only think of a list of "Don'ts", namely:

- Don't run a newbie against local three-time winner who's only defeat, and a narrow one it was, came as the result of the Koizumi landslide of 2005

- Don't select a former Construction Ministry bureaucrat as your candidate while trying to say, with a straight face, "We have not abandoned reform."

- Don't fool yourself with "Yamaguchi is a rural, conservative bastion" type prefecture-based thinking when the district in question has a huge U.S. Marines (and soon U.S. Navy) base in it

- Don't start compulsory medical care deductions from the pensions of seniors over 75 years of age one week before an election if you have not made sure beforehand that the pension record of every single person over 75 in the district is in order first

- Don't expect to hold on to a Diet seat when you send your best candidate, the incumbent, on a career-sacrificing mission to capture the mayoralty of the district's largest city (see U.S. Marines base issue above)

- Don't announce ahead of time that you are going to vote for the reapplication of the gasoline tax no matter what public opinion might be--or without a "if-I-do-not-get-my-way-I-will-dissolve-the-Diet" public pledge from the Prime Minister on the passage of a revision of the road construction plan bill

While spin masters in the LDP will try to downplay the election as having been a lost cause from the beginning, the weight of office has probably become very, very heavy on the shoulders of LDP Secretary-General Ibuki Bunmei. As a holdover from the First Abe Administration, Ibuki is something of anomaly in the current administration--appointed to the #2 party position not because of his political savvy but because he is a faction head and a relic Meiji State fantabulist (i.e. Ibuki signals to the revisionist wing of the LDP that the party will not ignore their needs and concerns). Ibuki's only refuge is that he is not formally responsible for the outcomes of elections anymore, as he would have been in the old days. Koga Makoto's insistence he be given the post of Election Measures Chairman (senkyo taisaku inchō) and that the status of that office be raised to the same level as sanyaku posts shifts at least part of the blame for the defeat on to Koga's shoulders.

Even if this loss does not trigger a further major erosion of the popularity of the Fukuda Cabinet, it will almost certainly increase the timidity of the Cabinet and the ruling coalition as regards policy innovation and implementation. When you are down, everything difficult looks like a threat. When you are struggling, every challenge looks too unpopular to undertake.

Landscape Worship

Goodness me, this individual manages to capture glorious images from the highest points of this blessed land.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Do You Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' ?

And they say there is a dearth of innovation in this country.

Japan sees wave of suicides using detergent-produced gas
Associated Press

By MARI YAMAGUCHI – TOKYO — At least four people killed themselves Friday by inhaling fumes from a detergent mixed with other chemicals amid a wave of similar suicides that has reportedly claimed about 50 lives this month in Japan.

Authorities are alarmed by the sudden rise in such incidents — an average of two a day were reported in April — because the chemicals are easy to get and the fumes could spread to affect bystanders or rescuers.

A 47-year-old man killed himself Friday in a Tokyo luxury hotel, said Fire Department official Toshiyuki Miyake.

Officials said emergency workers also found a 29-year-old man dead in his Tokyo apartment; a man in his 50s at a public gymnasium in northern Tokyo; and a man in his 30s in an apartment in nearby Yokohama. All died after inhaling hydrogen sulfide gas, produced by mixing detergent and a bath lotion...
It is such a good thing that religious zealots, individuals with grudges, the mentally ill--or some combination thereof--are all illiterate.

For the good of my own conscience, I am not going to go into my thinking in any more detail than that.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


View from the Nyotai Summit
Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture
April 26, 2008

Katakuri - Erythronium japonicum
Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture
April 26, 2008

Nirinsō - Anenome flaccida
Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture
April 26, 2008

Eizan sumire - Viola eizanensis
Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture
April 26, 2008

Hime miyama sumire - Viola sieboldi ssp. Boissieuana
Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture
April 26, 2008

Trail to Nyotai Summit
Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture
April 26, 2008

Friday, April 25, 2008

What one wants

I must admit, I have hoped Sergeant Hadnott not guilty of the crimes of which he has been accused. I suppose I have not lost hope that he is still partly innocent--that he is being charged with very serious crimes in order that he may be intimidated into confessing a lesser crime as a part of a plea bargain--a dirty trick but one exasperated prosecutors will employ in order to win a conviction sometimes.

It is a long shot though--and one that unfairly impugns the motives of JAG officers--a really bad initial assumption, generally.

What one wants is not often delivered.

I really wanted the Box on the Euphrates to be something other than a graphite moderated reactor being constructed with technical help from the North Koreans.

I really wanted Olatunbosun Ugbogu to be just a sailor on the run, someone who left his wallet lying about to be picked up by a killer--not the killer himself.

I really wanted the Japanese government not get caught abnegating itself to the permanent members of the UN Security Council, particularly the United States and China, in order to get a pat on the shoulder from the Security Council for sending ships to the Indian Ocean -- in the hopes that the purloined authority of the UN would somehow force the Democratic Party of Japan to back down and vote for the bill extending the Maritime Self Defense Forces refueling mission.

Not because I want others to believe I can make sense of the world. Nice that is but not necessary.

But because I want the world to make sense, period.

What? Now? The Hadnott Case Resurfaces

After a month and a half, charges.

This is beyond bizarre.
U.S. Marine Charged With Rape of 14-Year-Old in Japan
Fox News

TOKYO — The U.S. military in Japan says it has charged a Marine with raping a 14-year-old girl in Okinawa.

The military said Friday it charged Staff Sgt. Tyrone L. Hadnott earlier in the week in the alleged Feb. 10 attack.

No date has been set for the court-martial.

Japanese police initially apprehended Hadnott in the attack, but released him after the girl dropped charges. U.S. authorities then investigated the case under the strict military justice code...
Wow...does not even cover this.

Later - OK, the host nation support bill ("the sympathy budget" - omoiyari yosan) bill did fail in the House of Councillors this morning--meaning that two-thirds of the House of Representatives needs vote for the bill later--but I am not going to go all conspiracy theorist over this news flash--if it turns out to be factually correct.

My first question is procedural--how was it possible for the U.S. military to charge Hadnott with rape "earlier in the week" and not reveal the action until Friday? Or was the announcement held off until after the failure of the host nation support bill made it pointless to delay the announcement further?

Timing, timing, everything.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

100 Japanese Public Intellectuals List - A First Fifty

Over at Observing Japan, Tobias Harris reports on a contest trying to select the top 20 of the world's public intellectuals from out of a list 100 candidates.

Not surprisingly, the list of candidates contains not a single Japanese name -- though 5 Indian citizens and 5 Chinese made the list.

In the comments section of the post, I proposed producing a list of the 100 top public intellectuals in Japan--a task I lack the skills to complete, even at swordpoint.

As an exercise, however, I have produced an initial list of fifty names.

My criteria are not terribly strict--the persons selected must be

- currently active

- well-known to the public

- commenting on current affairs and society

(I love Miyazaki Hayao as an artist. His work frequently contains strong political and social messages. However, he is too much the recluse and too oblique in his criticism to be classed a public intellectual)

- have earned their reputation through published work or activities other than just the carrying out of the duties of a Japanese national government or local government official

The last criteria is convoluted. I wanted to keep Ishihara Shintarō and Inose Naoki on the list--for even though the two of them are the Governor and Vice-Governor of Tokyo, their reputations as maverick thinkers and writers preceed their terms of public service. I also wanted to keep Inoguchi Kuniko on the list--in part because the list suffers from a terrible dearth of prominent women.

I have also excluded active corporate executives and the heads of corporate lobbying organizations. I would appreciate any reasonable explanation for my having done this.

I would appreciate suggestions of further names, particularly from the Davids if they could spare a moment on writers and thinkers in art and music worlds and from Okumura Jun on domestic politics or administration.

Fifty Japanese Public Intellectuals of Note

Ishihara Shintarō
Inose Naoki
Yamauchi Masayuki
Nakanishi Terumasa
Yayama Tarō
Sakakibara Eisuke
Satō Masaru
Gyōten Toyo'o (Toyoo Gyohten)
Sakaiya Taiichi
Sakurai Yoshiko

Setouchi Jakuchō
Iokibe Makoto
Nakanishi Hiroshi
Tanaka Akihiko
Kitaoka Shin'ichi
Umeda Mochio
Ōe Kenzaburō
Inoguchi Kuniko
Tahara Sōichirō
Takenaka Heizō

Ōmae Ken'ichi
Kobayashi Yoshinori
Takemura Ken'ichi
Morimoto Satoshi
Funabashi Yōichi
Hama Noriko
Kawamoto Yuko
Ogata Sadako
Shimada Haruo
Katō Hiroshi

Nishio Kanji
Nishibe Susumu
Izumi Hajime
Fujiwara Masahiko
Yōrō Takeshi
Hinohara Shigeaki
Murakami Ryū
Uchida Tatsuru
Ikeda Nobuo
Kusaka Kimindo

Ando Tadao
Kokubun Ryōsei
Yanai Shunji
Okazaki Hisahiko
Sassa Atsuyuki
Inoguchi Takashi
Miyazaki Tetsuya
Miyadai Shinji
Kayama Rika
Katsuya Masahiko

On Factions - a revision

Updating of a previous observation:

LDP Diet members join factions and study groups for the same reason other people surf the Internet -- it sure beats working.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Not Content Within the Confines of a Little Pond, Evidently

Damn, is she in a hurry.

Former Environment and briefly Defense Minister Koike Yuriko (literally "Little Pond Lily Girl") --whose possible candidacy for the prime ministership has been labeled a media fantasy by former Prime Minister Mori Yoshirō -- seems nevertheless to be preparing for a possible sloughing off the LDP in yet another immaculate political ecdysis*.

Koike, whose career has given "rapid shifts of party allegiance in Japanese politics" a whole new meaning, is doing an astoundingly rapid build out of the interesting meeting of April 9 where she dined with former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō, Motegi Toshimitsu and others--the precursor of the projected monthly meetings being organized by former Toyota Chairman Okuda Hiroshi .

Last night, following a speech on the environment, Koike had a very interesting comment about her "buddies" (nakama) that bears translation:


"Me, I'm originally from the Japan New Party. I have buddies in the LDP and the DPJ. Though we are apart, we are pointed in the same direction: we must change Japan. If we fulfill our role turning of events around (butai mawashi) in the manner of adults, like we know how to do..."

She also purportedly complimented her former colleagues as individuals who could put aside political gamesmanship (seikyoku) in favor what is good for the nation.

The Japan New Party...hmmmm...oh, the LDP-busting center-left party that snatched 35 seats in the historic July 1993 House of Representatives election, propelling its leader Hosokawa Morihiro into the prime ministership and pulling Koike out of the sleepy political parking lot that was the House of Councillors.

Anybody of that party still around, now that Hosokawa has switched his energies over to the production of ceramics?

Well, let uss ssssseeeee here.

There is Koike and

Motegi (LDP) who is the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Health, Labour and Welfare

and, oh

Minister of the Environment Kamoshita Ichirō (LDP)
Special Advisor the Prime Minister Itō Tatsuya (LDP)
former Democratic Party Leader Maehara Seiji
Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Audit and Oversight of the Administration Edano Yukio (DPJ)
Speaker of the House of Councillors Eda Satsuki (DPJ - currently in suspension)...

Looks like a decent bunch of well-respected centrists whose loyalty to their respective party leaders is...uncertain?

Couple this with former Prime Minister Koizumi having purportedly "ants in his pants" (oshiri ga muzu muzu shite iru)--at least according to Koike (no tittering from the peanut gallery, please) about the way his successors have mishandled reform--I would not be too sure that Koizumi will be willing to help out the LDP candidate in the Yamaguchi #2 election.

[That the kind of help several in the LDP want Koizumi to extend is to become the lightning rod for anger at the start of the automatic pension deductions for elder care--at a time when the government is underpaying many seniors through having lost track of their pension accounts--is another reason I think it unlikely he will trek on down to the Iwakuni area this week.]

I would also, if I were in a position of power in the LDP right now, be very suspicious of Koizumi's advice. I would also not be taking at face value the nodding agreement of Koizumi fellow travelers Nakagawa Hidenao and Takebe Tsutomu that passing the gasoline tax bill using the override provision is a simply smashing idea.

* The use of the word "ecdysis" in this post is dedicated to Coco Masters's use of the word "micturition" in a TIME general interest article on Japan last week.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Even the Pharoahs Had to Import Hebrew Braceros

A few days ago a good friend of mine asked a nasty question:

"Fine. We are finding out what is going on from day-to-day. But what about the big picture? What's a few years down the road?"

I always mistrust myself on these kinds of questions. The farther one looks into the future, the more one sees what one hopes for, rather than what one can expect. There are many changes I feel should happen. They could indeed happen. But for me to say that they will...that is testing my ability to restrain my desires.

But I can say this--the reality on the ground is changing faster than the politicians or the bureaucracy are willing to acknowledge or accept.

Take, for example, the stunning two-part story printed on the front page of Sunday's Asahi Shimbun.

The correspondent travels first to Kawakami Village in Nagano Prefecture, the capital of upland lettuce and leafy greens agriculture. This spring the village has 4,800 permanent residents...and 615 young men from China's Shandong Jilin Province serving a 7 month stint as "trainees" (kenshūsei) under the government's special trainee visa program. The young men are turfed out, two to a farmer. They plant, water, mulch, spray--i.e., grow and harvest--leafy vegetables: lettuce in the winter and summer, white cabbage in the fall. They earn 530 yen an hour--less than the minimum wage. Under a special arrangement, they are underpaid for any overtime they do. They live in rather primitive, if not quite appalling, housing. They do, however, receive a monthly stipend (teate) of 85,000 yen for living expenses.

They stay for only 7 months. If they stayed and worked longer, they would come under the protection of several inconvenient labor conditions laws.

The young men of Shandong Jilin began arriving four years ago; 48 of them in the first year, replacing Sri Lankans, Indonesians and before them Iranians. Their numbers have grown year by year. Some of the "old-timers" among them have even taken Japanese names, for convenience's sake.

(An aside, but Okumura Jun was mulling over the tendency of Chinese to take local names just the other day.)

Why all these Shandong Jilin men in rural Nagano? The farming community has been suffering from an acute shortage of labor. There is no way to get young Japanese, even at wages many, many times higher, to do the backbreaking labor involved. In the past, even in the go-go 1980s, the local farmers could hire Japanese nationals to grow and pick their crops--but for the last 20 years they have become dependent on foreign labor.

Now the Asahi, true to form, does a great job in exposition, only to get the point completely wrong. Obsessing, as its editors always do, about the labor side of the equation (the title for the second story on the use of foreign trainees in the Kyūshū fishing industry: "Six tons of katsuo in the hold; 6 Indonesians on the deck") sees hypocrisy as the issue. "Even kokusan vegetables, part of the 40% of the food we eat that we purportedly grow ourselves, is actually produced by foreigners!" it declaims.

More important issues:

1) the rapid, almost painless acceptance of foreign laborers into communities that are supposed to be immutable and close-minded

2) the continued insistence by Diet members and local officials that there is a labor surplus in the countryside--when in truth the primary industries in rural areas are shorthanded and have to import workers from overseas

3) At some point, a number of these young men from Shandong Jilin are going to want to bring their wives with them and settle in these rural communities...which means in a few years, half the students at the local schools could have Chinese parents (the local elementary school in the entertainment district of Kabukichō, in Shinjuku, has a student body that is half non-Japanese where half the students have at least one non-Japanese parent - and we're not talking South American returnees here).

Do you think local officials and local Diet members are thinking out loud about how their philosophy of state will accommodate these facts on the ground?

The "bigger picture" here: government subsidies and contracts, paid for out of money drawn from the salaries of city workers, are provided to the rural areas "to create jobs." The superfluous construction projects raise the price of local labor to the point where farm labor wages become uncompetitive, leading Japanese agricultural proprietor/owners to import foreign labor at sub-minimum wages under special, government-run programs...which benefits...well who, exactly?

* * *

The archetypal rural Japan of Grandpa and Grandma and Uncle Hiroshi and his wife Satoko and their two kids Kiyoshi and Kana whom you go to see in August and at New Years--it is disappearing fast, as fast as the "one race, one nation" model is failing in the city centers.

However, listening to the hereditary princelings in the Diet and in local politics one would believe that the archetypal Japan is mere wounded, ready to rebound if only it gets one last little bump.

Quite frankly, it is stone cold dead. The local farmers know it. The local representatives of Nōkyō know it. Local community leaders in the failing townships know it.

But the edifice of government wants to pretend otherwise.

Amaterasu help us, the next census is not until 2010--which means the next redistricting plan will not be submitted until late 2012. Which means even longer until the next House of Representatives, one that somewhat more properly reflects the Japan that exists*.

That is five years from now.

Five years ago, there were no Chinese at all in Kawakami Village.

* Yes, this scenario does assume that

1) the commission redrawing the boundaries will pay attention to population rather than all the other, loosey-goosey "environmental" criteria it can use to draw electoral boundaries, and

2) the hereditary officeholders on both the national and local level will do all of us the great favor of keeling over dead or retiring

--which are both rather unlikely.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Tick-tock, tick-tock

Cabinet approval ratings

1) The Asahi Shimbun national telephone poll, conducted April 19-20: 25%

Previous result, poll conducted March 29-30: 31%

Down 6%.

2) Nihon Keizai Shimbun national telephone poll, conducted April 18-20: 29%

March poll: 31%

Down 2%.

Both April findings are new lows for the present cabinet.

Party popularity

3) Sankei Shimbun, Tokyo metropolitan area poll of 500 voters, April 17:

Which party will you vote for in the next House of Representatives election?

Democratic Party 29.0%
Liberal Democratic Party 20.8%
New Komeito 2.8%
Communist Party 1.8%
Socialist Party 0.0%
People's New Party 0.0%
Destroy my ballot 1.2%
No idea 43.8%

So when Yamamoto gets thrashed in the Yamaguchi #2 by-election next weekend (not the poor fellow's fault really. It is just not the time to be a Construction Ministry alumnus neophyte LDP candidate running against a popular former district representative from the DPJ) will the LDP backbenchers win a promise from the party bigwigs of a timetable for Fukuda's resignation?

Or will they establish a yet another set of inter-party study groups (you can never join just one) instead?

Like I was saying

Justin Currie Norrie files a report on how the food crisis is impacting Japan.

He managed to find a Mrs. Watanabe for the intro.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Land of Little Milk and Honey

I have to admit, it is damn disorienting to go to the refrigerated section of the supermarket and see, instead of a shelf of boxed rectangles of butter, a humble and miniscule sign explaining that butter is unavailable at this time.

And to have imported cheddar lined up right next to the empty butter shelf which is twice as expensive as it was just a few months ago.

After 15 years of deflation and a surfeit of damn near everything, twice over, it is stunning to see scarcity again.

I know that in the broader scope of price changes sweeping this planet, such as those for rice that are threatening hundreds of millions with a tumble back into abject poverty or even starvation, the loss of access to butter and cheese are trivial events.

But it is still troubling to see the devolution take place over just a matter of weeks.

Upon such thin threads have we woven our world...

Dairy Farm atop Onoyama
Ashigarakami County, Kanagawa Prefecture
April 29, 2007

Why blogging matters - Japan edition

Tobias Harris goes home and is promptly horrified.

Janne Morén shows what happens when drop dead design sense meets demographic data.

Okumura Jun writes off the cuff about the healthcare system (once and twice and thrice).

Ad Blankestijn seems intent on giving away the manuscript to a fantastic guide to Japan.

Me? I tip-tap-type out marginalia.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A spanner in the works

Wow, did the judges in Nagoya throw the government for a loop yesterday, ruling that the dispatch of the Air Self Defense Forces to Iraq is unconstitutional.

Japan Court Rules Sending Troops to Iraq Illegal, Kyodo Says

By Naoko Fujimura April 17 -- A Japanese court said the country's dispatch of troops to Iraq was unconstitutional, becoming the first court to rule the mission illegal, Kyodo news service said.

Airlifting activities by Japan's Air Self-Defense Force in connection with the U.S.-led war in Iraq violate Japan's constitution, which renounces war, Presiding Judge Kunio Aoyama at the Nagoya High Court in central Japan said, according to Kyodo.

Even though the court declined to suspend the mission or award damages, plaintiffs won't appeal the ruling, the report said. Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told reporters the decision won't affect Self-Defense Force activities in Iraq, Kyodo said.
The court ruled that the air dispatch was not just unconstitutional, but illegal, the flights into Baghdad violating the provision of the Special Measures for Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance Law limiting the activities of the Self Defense Forces in Iraq to "areas outside of a zone of conflict".

The response of the government? Dismisssive. "Heck, it's non-binding. So no problem." According to the Tokyo Shimbun, one legislator even said, "The lead judge just wanted his name to go down in history." (He did have a little caveat, continuing, "Even so, it's a problematic ruling.")

[Just an aside--but is it not interesting that when a judge rules that what a street criminal did is illegal, the street criminal is universally condemned, particularly by the law-and-order types in the Diet, as having been a bad, bad person. However, when a judge rules that what the politicians have done is is the judge who is wrong!

Perhaps politicians, when they were young, were taught to not respect the law by leftist teachers who would not sing the national anthem.]

The ruling represents a shot in the arm for a lot of causes that had fallen moribund.

The ruling will revive the Democratic Party's fight to withdraw the SDF from the Mideast, the next hurdles being the renewal of the Indian Ocean dispatch in January of next year (it was for only one more year, was it not?) and then in July, the renewal of the law permitting the ASDF flights in and out of Iraq.

The ruling will also revive the constitutional revision crowd, many of whom must have been stunned at the Yomiuri poll of a week ago showing that the number of respondents thinking the constitution in need of revision fell below the number of those thinking the constitution should be kept as it is. If the constitution does not permit the dispatch of the planes, and a dispatch of the planes is indeed vital to Japan's overall security--then efforts must be made to have the constitution amended, with popular disquiet an issue that needs be dealt with by-the-by.

Another group who can take heart in the ruling is a broad coalition of folks from all points in the political spectrum who share a common, humble wish: that the courts of the land force everyone, even the powerful and the influential, to obey the law as it is written. The Nagoya court looked at the words of the law and decided that they meant something--and in this land, that is no mean achievement.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Saved by the Bowel

Uggghhh! I opened up the Asahi Shimbun this morning, thinking myself basically safe from the most egregious of nonsense, only to be greeted with this advertisement for a book by right wing hotcake and president of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals Sakurai Yoshiko:

Courtesy: The Asahi Shimbun

"Parents must properly scold their children."
"The Teacher is not my friend."
"To be with a family member at the moment of death"

These things that Japanese have forgotten, let us bring them back!

The Graces of the Japanese

Let us become Japanese who have pride!
Oh gag me...with straw men...and that bloody word hokori again.

Yes, the nation is shamed by its ravening hordes of improperly scolded children who are way too chummy with their teachers and skip out on Grandma's crossing over to the golden land.

Uh, no.

But for Sakurai, an even more insidious evil lurks just over the horizon. At her blog she reports on the possibility of a perfidious E Pluribus Unum...and the purblindness of the current political leaders to the potential isolation and abandonment of A Beautiful Country®:




"In testimony on March 12 before the Senate Armed Services Committee, PACCOM Commander Keating said that he received a proposal from an admiral of the Chinese Navy to divide-and-rule the Pacific. That admiral offered, with a straight face, that the U.S. control everything east of Hawaii and China control everything west.

What China is describing is a form of the former order where the U.S. and Soviet Union divided the world in two and each ruled. What is more, China is not adopting the anti-U.S. confrontational stance of the Soviet Union. It is easy for the U.S. to be enticed by China. In this, Taiwan is already swallowed up by China, making the Ma (Ying-cheou) government's respect for Taiwan's autonomy meaningless. Once again, Japan faces severe isolation.

We must prepare to grapple with this situation* using our own powers. Japan at this very moment must make its will firm** keeping in mind the worst possible potential outcome. Such a thought probably never crosses the minds of either Fukuda Yasuo or Ozawa Ichiro. Truly, it is through the poverty of its politics that Japan's power is being thrown away."

Truly, I cannot express with any brevity my relief at the thought that Sakurai and her allies are no longer frequent and honored guests at the prime minister's table.

Tonight, let us lift a glass of special thanks and shout, "Hurrah for chronic bowel disorders!"


* Normally, I would translate "kō shita jitai ni wa" as "in this kind of situation" but here she is clearly only talking about a division of the Pacific between China and the United States.

** To be fair, "kakugo o katamenakereba naranai" can also be less militantly translated as "must make preparations for."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tokyo Rising Yet Again

Among the many interesting figures highlighted in the April 15 population statistics release of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) is a landmark in the Tokyo Metropolitan District's march to national dominance.

As of October 1 last year the TMD's population had risen to 10% (with a little rounding help) of Japan's total population.

The concentration has historical antecedents. According to the linked pdf document, Tokyo's proportion of the total population rose to 11.1% in the period 1965 to 1969, then began to decline. It fell below a statistical 10.0% twenty-eight years ago, as the great mai homu and manshon boom of the Seventies and Eighties and then the skyrocketing of urban land prices under the late 1980's property bubble drove population out of Tokyo into the surrounding Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba Prefectures. The failure of the financial system to cleanse itself and the grinding down of property values perpetuated the fall in the TMD's relative standing. Little new housing was built as land owners awaited the real estate rebound that never came. Fewer came to try their fortune in Tokyo. Births dropped as couples chose to have fewer children.

The TMD's proportion of the total bottomed out at 9.4% in 1998--the year of the Takushoku Bank and Yamaichi Securities failures and the "Japan Premium" in the debt markets, when the national mood was at its nadir.

During the past decade of economic recovery population has been swirling back population into the TMD. In addition, within the 23 central wards of the TMD natural population growth--i.e., births outnumbering deaths--continues to significantly contribute to population growth as well (these figures not in yesterday's MIC report but in the TMD government's own population report, introduced here). On the aggregate within the TMD, the natural rate of population growth is only just a shade above zero at 0.07% (Easy-going Okinawa remains the land of the breeders, with a 0.54% natural growth rate).

The concentration of the population into a very small number of megacities continues apace. According to the MIC figures, the total population of the Tokyo metro area ( 東京圏 -- i.e., the TMD and the three prefectures surrounding) was 34,827,000--a thumping 27.3% of Japan's total population. The proportion of Japanese living in the top five prefectures by population--the TMD, Kanagawa, Osaka, Aichi and Saitama--is 35.1%, while the proportion of those living in the top 3 urban concentrations--the Tokyo, Aichi and Osaka greater metro areas--is a wild 50.6% of the total national population.

So where are you going to site your retail business? Or invest, if you need workers? Or live, if you want to assure yourself of services as you grow old and as the total national population declines? *

And despite the ingestion of 99,000 new residents from October 2006 to October 2007, in addition to the 12,659,000 that were already there, you still can, if you need to, get away from them all--without ever leaving the TMD.

The Minami Akikawa Valley
Hinohara Township, Tokyo Metropolitan District
November 5, 2006

* Janne Morén will be pleased, I'm sure, by this string of rhetorical questions.

From the Archives - Regarding the Folding of the Gasoline Tax Revenues Into the General Fund

Saturday's Tokyo Shimbun had a hilarious cartoon regarding the fight over the gasoline tax bill.

Kan Naoto, Hatoyama Yukio and Ozawa Ichirō of the DPJ try to seize the torch from a discomfitted Prime Minister Fukuda as the teal-clad Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura Nobutaka and LDP Secretary General Ibuki Bunmei rush in to protect the gasoline nozzle topped symbol. In the background, former Prime Minister Abe Shinzō lies prostrate, a gasoline nozzle by his side.
Courtesy: Tokyo Shimbun. April 12, 2008, morning edition.

Which provides an excellent excuse to dredge up a post from the archives:

Will You Compose a Requiem for the Postwar Era?

Ostensibly, the fight is about concrete and budgets.

In reality, it is a fight about the future.

Road funds debate
The Asahi Shimbun

In recent weeks, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been stressing his "unwavering" commitment to reform far more frequently than before. Now, Abe faces the first major test of his political will to push through his reformist agenda. Talks between Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party over a proposal to funnel tax revenues currently earmarked for road construction into general-purpose funds have reached the final phase.

The focus of the debate is what to do with the 3 trillion yen or so in gasoline tax revenue, which accounts for 80 percent of overall state tax receipts set aside for road projects. Given the nation's fiscal crunch, there is undoubtedly a strong case for scrapping this system under which a sizable portion of the government's tax take is used exclusively for building new roads.

By incorporating the earmarked tax collections into the general revenue account, it should be possible to use the funds for any purpose, including road construction and repair projects.

But this policy change is not as easy as it sounds. Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi promised to do the same thing when he swept into office in 2001. But this turned out to be a formidable political challenge because of strong opposition from LDP lawmakers with ties to road construction-related companies, as well as local governments, ministries and the auto and oil industries. In the end, Koizumi's attempt was thwarted.

Late last year, amid the political euphoria that followed the ruling party's overwhelming victory in the Lower House election over the single issue of postal services privatization, the LDP agreed with the government to make the road funds available for general use.

But the task of shaping a specific policy was left to the new administration. So it came as no surprise that Abe would reaffirm this agreement when he reiterated his pledge to push through the reform late last month.

He said at the time, "We must accomplish this reform on behalf of the people to ensure we never again build unnecessary roads." Abe needs to push forward with the policy without allowing the initiative to be watered down.

Will he stick with his plans to advance structural reform or will he steer the LDP back to its old self by making unseemly political compromises with special-interest politicians?
Everyone involved in this fight knows that this is a death match. Once the gasoline tax receipts are folded into the general account, they will never be pulled out and reserved for road building again.

The "road tribe" in the Diet and most of the district seat holders from rural areas also know that this is their Toba-Fushimi. This battle that will determine whether the postwar superstructure survives or is swept away.

Sadly, it a battle the rural districts must lose if Japan is to have any future at all.

Many good things will perish, among them the laudable rough equality in living circumstances found throughout the country. Many towns and villages will die.

However, if anything has been suppressing Japan's economic recovery and reemergence from stagnation over the past 15 years, it has been the vain attempt to maintain existing political boundaries and administrative arrangements. Faced with demographic and international competitive pressures, the country drifts as a handful of prefectures struggle to subsidize the entire archipelago.

Why, pray tell, does anyone live in Saga? Why build new (roads, bridges, tunnels, dams, jetties) there?

To be sure, the system that has evolved, the one the LDP "forces of resistance" are trying to protect, is a finely tuned system, a non-disruptive system.

Parasitism, successful parasitism, works hard to not kill the host...but it still breeds lethargy, ambivalence and immobility in the host organism.

One of the recurring conundrums for the economics writers is the neverending wait for the reemergence of robust Japanese personal consumption (not that they don't have their theories). Surely after so much government stimulus, the populace must start spending its bounty?

When there is no multiplier effect--when a new road or bridge does not increase economic activity in a rural community and indeed it makes a once pretty bit of scenery ugly--fiscal and monetary stimulus leads to nothing.

Stimulus becomes at best economically neutral, like gray wallpaper.

Most of the reaches of rural Japan, even the areas close to Tokyo, live as parasites--they rely on the southern Kantō plain, Aichi and Fukuoka to provide the surplus the rural areas live on. Residents in those urban districts pay for the bizarre privilege of keeping voters from moving to regions where economic growth is taking place.

This has got to stop.

But without visionary, revolutionary and self-confident leadership, it will not stop.

The original December 7, 2006 post can be found here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sign of the Apocalypse - Parallel Developments

In what can only be described as an act demonstrating that all LDP internal discipline has collapsed, 50 zōhangumi (opponents of reform) legislators, including those returned from expulsion like Noda Seiko, gathered yesterday for the first meeting of the Postal Business Study Society (Yūsei Jigyō Kenkyūkai).

Attending the meeting as a guest was the chairman of the National Association of Private Postmasters - the Zenkoku Tokutei Yūbinkyoku Chōkai -- or Zentoku, for short.

T'is the sign of an LDP upon the brink.

Can it be less than a year and a half ago that Noda and her fellow exiles were readmitted to the party after lengthy and bitter discussions between the then Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao (Nakagawa the Sane) and unbending dead ender Hiranuma Takeo? Each of the eleven returnees signed a letter confessing a personal error in having opposed post office privatization and swearing allegiance to the new party line on postal reform.

Now they are meeting with the chairman of Zentoku, discussing legislation to modify the postal reform plan.

If this does not drive Koizumi Jun'ichirō, Nakagawa Hidenao and other reformers into paroxysms over the LDP's abandonment of the banner of reform--I do not know what will.

Which makes yesterday's other announcement all the more salient.

Telegraphing Realignment Or Just Hanging Out?

If you are infatuated with, and some people are, the idea that the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan are destined to sort themselves out into ideologically coherent parties, with reformers banding together into a new political force--then you are going to love the new meeting of minds being set up by Special Advisor to the Cabinet Okuda Hiroshi, the former chairman of Toyota Motors.

According to today's Nihon Keizai Shimbun, sometime after the Golden Week holidays a gang of folks will start getting together on a regular (teikiteki) basis to talk about...well, gosh, what could they be talking about?

From the LDP
Former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō
Former Minister of Defense/the Environment Koike Yuriko
Former McKinsey consultant and Harvard M.A. holder Motegi Toshimitsu
Tōdai Law graduate and former aide to U.S. Senator Willian Roth Hayashi Yoshimasa
Tōdai Law graduate and holder of an M.A. from the Maryland School of Public Policy Nishimura Yasutoshi

(Nota Bene - are we talking considerable experience in either work or study abroad here, or what?)

From the DPJ
Former Party Leader Maehara Seiji
Tōdai Law graduate and the Socialist Party's go-to guy on legal issues Sengoku Yoshito
Deputy Policy Research Council Chairman Fukuyama Tetsurō
Former Deputy Secretary-General Genba Kōichirō

(Maehara, Fukuyama and Genba are all products of the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management political finishing school)

From the corporate sector
Rakuten founder Mikitani Hiroshi

and others.

I ask again, what would these folks have to talk about, meeting on a regular basis?

For some odd reason I think that neither "above all loyalty to party or one's organization" or "in order to make Japan great again we must lead a revival of traditional values" will be major themes.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Everything He Touches

Liberal Democratic Party Policy Research Chaiman Tanigaki Sadakazu still had, as of this Saturday, problems with the law on appointments to the Bank of Japan...and with the Constitution:

"Is it all right for the Bank of Japan Law to be this way? When in this twisted Diet one thing after another gets just cannot go on this way! This kind of thing will simply repeat itself unless one takes into account the predominance of the House of Representatives, which the Cabinet has its base in. It is terrible!"
Now I repeat - Tanigaki is the LDP's Policy Research Council Chairman, the person in charge of directing the crafting the laws and regulations so that they are coherent with the Constitution, the existing code and the LDP's policy goals.

What the Constitution says about the membership of the Cabinet:

Article 68:

The Prime Minister shall appoint the Ministers of State. However, a majority of their number must be chosen from among the members of the Diet. 2) The Prime Minister may remove the Ministers of State as he chooses.

"The House of Representatives, which the Cabinet has its base in" (naikaku no kiso o oite iru shūin)?

Maybe this one. Maybe all of the postwar cabinets. But de jure? Sorry but no--unless he is using o oite iru to mean something other than what I think it means. Legally, the entire Cabinet could be comprised of House of Councillors members.

Can the Democratic Party of Japan pay Tanigaki enough for the damage he must be wreaking inside the LDP's policy councils? And how can he be considered a princeling, an heir apparent by anyone except an airhead?

At the Kosaka Kenji's fundraising party a few months back, Tanigaki introduced me to a sound that I had never heard before. As he took his turn at the microphone, he was greeted by a round of applause.

Not just any applause mind you. HOSTILE applause.

"Wow, is this guy unpopular," thought I.

In the brief, off-the-cuff remarks that followed, Tanigaki, in almost a Herculean effort, managed to make matters worse. The trite calls for firmness in the face of DPJ intransigence, the inappropriate bashfullness and attempts to ingratiate himself with the assembled...only made the attendees more stone-faced.

It was too awful to watch, too horrible to listen to without doubling over. It was like being forced to watch video of a child's athletic competition where you know that two childen will smash into each other at full speed over possession of a ball.

At last the ordeal ended. As Tanigaki bowed and walked backwards away from the microphone, I turned to my conservative companion and asked:

"How could anyone, anyone see in him a candidate for prime minister?"

My companion, without hesitation, responded in the flintiest of monotones:

"He will never be prime minister."

To Ogose

Somei Yoshino and the Hill above Yamazaki Village
Hannō City, Saitama Prefecture
April 12, 2008

Chert and Water below Tengu no Taki
Ogose City, Saitama Prefecture
April 12, 2008

The Oppegawa flowing through Kuroyama Village
Ogose City, Saitama Prefecture
April 12, 2008

Courtyard of the Katsuragi Kannondō
Ogose City, Saitama Prefecture
April 12, 2008

Summit of Kanhatsushumiharashidai
from the summit of Ōtakatoriyama
Ogose City, Saitama Prefecture
April 12, 2008

From Nishi Agano Station to Ogose Station over Kanhatsushumiharashidai (770 m) and Ōtakatoriyama (376m) via Hanatatematsu no Tōge, Kuroyama Santaki and Katsuragi
15 kilometers (give or take a few)

Saitama District 9
Representative: Ōno Matsushige, LDP, 4 elections to the Diet, 72 years of age
Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyūkai (Machimura faction)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

After We Take Off the Masks of March

The country has millions of hectares of pollen-spewing biological deserts of cedar and false cypress, the wood of which is so worthless that when loggers thin the forests, they leave the downed trunks just lying on the ground...and no wood-burning thermal power stations on the drawing boards.

Am I missing something here?

Just as a means of rapidly destroying a health hazard, incineration seems a reasonable way to go. Do it up under a boiler, send the steam to generator, shovel the generated electricity on to existing transmission grid (no comments about AC versus DC please) collect the creosote as raw material for a chemicals industry and somehow work out the carbon sequestration—and off we go.

Or so one would think.

So again I ask—what am I missing here?

By the way, I spent much of Saturday in Ogose, in Saitama Prefecture, where the residents and local authorities make a concerted effort, or so it seemed at least, to make use of locally available wood in housing construction, furniture and road and trail reinforcement.

Bravo for the good people of Ogose.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Wouldn't Be Nice If...

...we could trust the views of decent, well-adjusted human beings?

The Economist thinks so.

The author of this week's article on Japan's politics elicits the views of Yosano Kaoru and Inoguchi Kuniko, two hyper-intelligent, sympathetic individuals, regarding Fukuda Yasuo, another smart, sympathetic individual. For spice he quotes Nakagawa Hidenao (Nakagawa the Sane) who has the build of a rugby player and the charming self-assurance of a toad with a belly full of grasshoppers--but who also has a deep commitment to responsible and responsive government.

Which is rather unfortunate because they are all being quizzed about the future of the Liberal Democratic Party.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Kenryoku no Ranyō - Lest My Head Explode

Today's papers all highlight Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo's chastizing Democratic Party leader Ozawa Ichirō for an abuse of his constitutional powers (kenryoku no ranyō) in opposing the nominations of Mutō Toshirō, Tanami Kōji and Watanabe Hiroshi as Governors or Vice Governor of the Bank of Japan.

Oh thank you, Prime Minister Fukuda, for admonishing Ozawa and rightly scourging him for the constitutionally specious path he has chosen!

Because we all remember your vigorous denuciations of Prime Minister Abe Shinzō, his Cabinet and the LDP/New Komeitō coalition when last year they shut down committee debate and public discussion of legislation and appointments, choosing instead to railroad every single bill introduced, reducing the opposition to hopeless gestures of despairing defiance.

We all remember your vociferous criticism of Abe and his minions, the way you stood in the doorway of the House of Representatives chambers yelling:

"No! No! This is not over! You will give these people a chance! There has to be a public debate! You will not just do whatever you want! This is an abuse of constitutional power!"

We are remember your intellectual courage then.

Don't we?

Later - Tobias Harris over at Observing Japan finds even more ridiculousness to become irate over.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Tokudome Kinue, who sometimes seems on a quixotic one-woman crusade in support of what used to be called common decency, sends a reminder of what day it is today.

Dr. Tenney, the last Commandant of the ADBC, will be coming to Japan in late May. I understand from Robert Dujarric that Dr. Tenney will be either speaking or participating in an educational event at Temple University's Japan campus.

Dr. Tenney hopes, while he is here, to have a meeting with the Prime Minister.

I wish him well.

But Before That All Happens - The DPJ Has Loyalty Issues

In the vote for or against the nomination of Watanabe Hiroshi to become the Vice Governor of the Bank of Japan, the Democratic Party of Japan had three of its members defy the party by giving "yes" votes to the nomination:

Watanabe Hiroshi, a former Minister of Posts and Telecommunications (fat chance of him being a reformer)

Ōe Yasuhiro, a previously recognized traitor and

Fujiwara Masashi, a former Kansai Electric executive

all of whom are at-large proportional seat councillors--and thus players with constitutional fire.

Watanabe and Ōe are lost causes, incapable of of displaying respect for party discipline. They should have been canned by DPJ leader Ozawa Ichirō long ago. That they are troublemakers Ozawa himself brought into the party--both are former members of Ozawa's Liberal Party--makes their continued presence a black mark on Ozawa's leadership ledger.

A further two DPJ members abstained and three absented themselves (one of the absentees is actually a member of the DPJ-allied Shinryokufūkai) from the vote.

The various rebellious actions required DPJ floor managers to be a little more active than usual, as the DPJ leadership's margin of victory in the "Nay" vote narrowed to only 6 votes. In the case of the Mutō Toshirō rejection, the margin had been 23 votes; in the Tanami Kōji vote the margin had shrunk to just 13 votes.

DPJ Party Secretary General Hatoyama Yukio shrugged off the desertions as "One of those things that are bad but cannot be helped."

In a sense he is right--the defections by Watanabe, Ōe and Fujiwara in the end signified nothing. Indeed, the defections could be seen as an ruse, a means of giving the ruling LDP/Komeitō coalition a false hope that they are only a few votes short of winning back control of the House of Councillors--when in fact, they are a few votes short of winning back control of the House of Councillors.

Then again, Hatoyama may not be the person to be asking about his extra-party activities, especially today--as today marks the opening of the Hatoyama Juku, the school for aspiring politicians Yukio has co-founded with his brother, LDP member and Minister of Justice Hatoyama Kunio.

What Ozawa Ichirō Needs... a House of Representatives election as soon as possible.

But not

--because he thinks the Democratic Party of Japan can become the new majority party.

The personal relationships between Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) district representatives, around half of whom are 2nd, 3rd and even 4th generation representatives of their electoral districts, and their many, many clients are probably too high barrier for any challenger to leap over--at least until the next round of redistricting.

--because he wants to be prime minister.

Even if the political opposition prevents the LDP/New Komeitō coalition from winning a majority of seats, forcing the LDP/New Komeitō into negotiations establishing a grand coalition with the DPJ, opening the door for Ozawa to demand the premiership, it is doubtful that Ozawa has the physical stamina to be the nation's leader.

(All of which should not be interpreted to mean Ozawa does not desire either of the above electoral outcomes. Of course he believes that winning outright or keeping the ruling coalition from winning a majority would be just grrrrreat!)

Ozawa wants an immediate election in order for the DPJ to win enough seats to rob the current ruling coalition of its 2/3 majority in the House of Representatives. Winning 1/3 +1 seats, even if it requires continued collaboration with the Socialists and the Communists, would be a worthwhile achievement--because it would terminate the current coalition's ability to override the actions or inactions of House of Councillors. Denying the ruling a coalition of override power would force the ruling coalition to good faith (i.e., DPJ-dominated) negotiations about all legislation and appointments--something the ruling coalition has failed to do so far and--as the nomination of former Finance Ministry Vice Minister Watanabe Hiroshi to be Vice-Governor of the Bank of Japan demonstrates--the ruling coalition continues to fail to do.

A modest and proximate goal, 100% guaranteed to happen. The DPJ would need to take only around 20 seats from the ruling coalition--in an election that would be testing the abnormal Koizumi Jun'ichiro-engineered LDP House of Representatives majority of 2005.

Ocha-no-ko saisai (piece of cake).

So why do so many pundits keep floating a "the DPJ should be careful, not push too hard on getting its own way, because the party could come out looking obstructionist, costing it its chance at victory in the next election" nostrum?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Only Game in Town

You must play with the hand that has been dealt you.

On April 29, a national holiday (the miserably named Shōwa Day--as if the reign of the Shōwa Emperor in and of itself was a cause for celebration) the sixty day time limit passes for the House of Councillors to take action on the bill renewing the gasoline tax. Okumura Jun has argued convincingly that the Prime Minister and the rest of the LDP grand pooh-bahs have enough carrots and sticks at their disposal to strong arm enough Representatives into reimposing the 24 yen per liter levy.

But to what end?

If the legislation reimposing the tax were facilitating the realization of the plan the Prime Minister outlined on March 27, then all the LDP members in the House of Representatives, even ones from the five prefectures whose governors refused to put themselves on the record as demanding a reinstatement of the gasoline tax, would fall into line.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister's plan is not the plan that is on the table.

What is on the table, set up for passage using the override provision in May, is the obscene 10 year, 59 trillion yen plan, with all the tax revenues getting sucked into road construction.

Would a Representative from let us say Kanagawa Prefecture, represented in the Diet by both Koizumi Jun'ichirō and Kōno Tarō and with a governor who does not support the gas tax renewal, vote for the reimposition of a tax without knowing whether he or she is voting for fiscal support of the Prime Minister's "one year and out" plan or for the road tribe's multi-year road construction-hogfest?

Would you, in light of the possibility of a snap election sooner rather than later, choose to trust Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo's assurances that "no, no, the Road Tribe's plan is not the operative plan, even though it is currently the only game in town. It is my plan that you are voting to support" -- given how well he has pushed forward reform in general since he became Prime Minister and how well he has kept his other vows so far?

Well would you?

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Fukuda Future - Into The Unknowable

Over at Global Talk 21, Okumura Jun posts a brilliant counterargument to my forecasts of doom for the gasoline levy and the road construction plan.

I think both our assessments are correct.

Okumura-san assumes that factions still behave like factions; that people learn from their mistakes; and that even the holders of LDP party posts can count to three.

I believe that the factions are fictions; that the present LDP leadership has learned nothing in eight months of living with an opposition in charge of the House of Councillors; and no one in the LDP can count to three, or six or any multiple of three thereof.

Both are a reasonable set of assumptions, fully supported by historical precedent and simple logic.

Holding one set or the other as true, however, predetermines one's predictions.

When Fukuda Yasuo became Prime Minister in September 2007, most observers assumed that that the leaders of the ruling coalition could perform a pair of simple tasks:

1) They could count to 60


2) They understood the concept "three to six years"

The performance of the first task would give ruling coalition leaders the ability to look at a calendar, find a red letter date by which a certain bill would have to be passed, then count backward to the date by which the House of Representatives would absolutely, positively have to pass the bill. The sixty day span is the amount of time the House of Representatives must wait for action by the House of Councillors on a bill before the House of Representatives can pass the bill using the two-thirds majority override power outlined in Article 59 of the Constitution.

The performance of the second task would give ruling coalition leaders the ability to look a multi-year calendar and understand the immense span of days stretching out before them before they could hope to win enough seats in a House of Councillors election to return the Diet to its familiar rhythms -- a state of legislative tyranny so ingrained into the body politic that the press, without reflection or irony, refers to its restitution as seijōka (正常化) - "normalization". Given that the next opportunity to overthrow opposition control of the House of Councillors is not until either 2010 (a marginal opportunity due to the large number of seats the LDP will be defending) or 2013 (far more likely scenario, given that the DPJ will be defending its 2007 gains) even the most obtuse and/or militant member of the LDP hierarchy would understand that the coalition would have to find a way to share power with Ozawa Ichirō and the DPJ.

These two basic assumptions were indeed the cruxes of the argument for Fukuda Yasuo's election as the president of the LDP. Only the managerial, mild-mannered and colorless Fukuda could play the game of seemingly abnegating himself and the LDP before the DPJ, flattering Ozawa's mighty ego, and, at the same time, keep legislation moving on track toward passage using the override provision.

Everyone believed the above formed the backdrop of political theater as it was to be played out until September 2009, the final possible date of the next House of Representatives election.

Even Ozawa Ichirō believed it. He would have never entered into negotiations exploring the formation of a coalition government--or a legislative entente or whatever it was--if he knew aforehand that the LDP would

a) care so little about the country's political paralysis that they would never engage in good faith nemawashi (prior discussions toward consensus) on the content of bills, and

b) not use the override provision with efficiency and ruthlessness, when it had to.

Ozawa expected the ruling coalition to both care about appearances and still be able to execute most of its legislative program--whether the opposition-led House of Councillors objected or not.

It turns out that Ozawa--and just about everybody else--was wrong.

The ruling coalition, in what has been an almost gleeful hanging out of Fukuda to dry, has delivered ultimatum after ultimatum to the DPJ, trying to force the DPJ at every instance to go down on bended knee and offer its submission--which the DPJ and the rest of the opposition has pointedly refused to do. Compounding the error, the ruling coalition, after delivering these ultimatums, has been unable to deliver on its threats, either losing track of the time it needs to get legislative packages through the House of Representatives using the sixty day override or worse forgetting that in the case of appointments requiring Diet approval, there is no override provision.


Which brings me back to the original propositions in this post.

Okumura Jun believes that the ruling coalition has learned its lesson, that it will be supportive of the PM's strengths in conciliation with the DPJ while retaining a monomaniacal focus on management of the legislative calendar--that it will be able from here on out to use both carrots and sticks to govern the country in an acceptable fashion.

I believe that the ruling coalition has not adapted because it cannot adapt--that the last eight months are not a series of fluke occurrences but symptoms of the ruling coalition's hopeless, structurally determined ineptitude.

Take your pick.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Rapid Decline of the Fukuda

When a currency collapse occurs, it occurs all of a sudden. It often occurs even before the total mass of stresses upon the currency doom the currency to failure.

What happens is rapid recession through time of the currency's viability horizon.

When a currency seems doomed in the long run, the smarty pants traders to stay in as long as possible, then get out just before their colleagues and rivals do, maximizing their return at the expense of others. Of course, when pretty much everybody participating in the market is a smarty pants--or thinks that he or she is a smarty pants--this means that each and everyone of them will be trying to beat the other out the door. The combined effect of everyone trying to avoid getting burned pushes the collapse of the currency backward through time, right past the point where the currency, under normal circumstances, would look capable of a rebound.

What I am saying is I think we going to see a run on the Fukuda.

Here are the Cabinet approval rating numbers over the last 10 months, taken from the polling by Sankei Shimbun. The red line marks the resignation of Abe Shinzō as prime minister and the election of Fukuda Yasuo to replace him.

With a 23.8% support rating in the latest poll, conducted on the 2nd and 3rd of this month, the Fukuda Cabinet is only just above the support level (22.0%) granted the first Abe Cabinet after the LDP's historic defeat in the July 2007 House of Councillors election. Abe's numbers rebounded after his unwilling appointment of The Cabinet-of-All-Stars (all-stars except, of course, Justice Minister Hatoyama Kunio) but the numbers fell again when Abe suffered his physical and mental breakdown.

Now there is nothing wrong with Fukuda Yasuo as prime minister, except of course that his private goal in life--the fair and generous management of government personnel--is not what the job of prime minister is about in 2008.

However, for the members of his party, Fukuda Yasuo is a problem. As the LDP's president, he is their leader at election time.

The next House of Representatives elections are going to be held in September 2009 (inshallah). Whenever the election is held, the LDP-Komeito coalition will lose its two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives. However, depending on the popularity of the Cabinet, the LDP could come out of the election as still the largest party in the House of Representatives or it could quite conceivably be annihilated.

So Fukuda needs to get his Cabinet's support numbers back up, ideally above 42%, if he is to lead the party to an unembarrassing result in the September 2009 elections. Unfortunately, with these latest polling results, and the downward trends seen in the results of the polling done by the other news organizations, it seems increasingly unlikely that a Fukuda Cabinet will ever be clawing back up to 45% support.

So if Fukuda cannot get the job done--get back above 42% by September 2009--why stick with him?

And if the party is not going to stick with Fukuda in the long-term, why stick with him now? When is the proper time to bring in the reliever? Why wait, if the conclusion if foregone?

With the rush to form new study groups, alliances and leagues, I think we are seeing the politicians in pursuit of a store of value in which to entrust their futures. They are hedging.

The big boys (and they are all boys) in the Party are still sticking with the Fukuda--and pooh-poohing the Fukuda's weakness, at least in public.

But I think the end is coming, and I think it is coming soon.


In Black & White

and in Color

Hiwadasan walk - all abilities, 8.2 kilometers, 267 meters of vertical gain
Access from Koma (高麗) Station
52 minutes out of Ikebukuro on the Seibu Chichibu Line

Hidaka City, Saitama Prefecture
Saitama District 9
Representative: Ōno Matsushige, LDP, 4 elections to the Diet, 72 years of age

All images from April 5, 2008
Image courtesy: MTC