Thursday, August 28, 2008

Paying for it dearly

Blaine Harden of the Washington Post skates right up to the edge of danger with this article on the decline in the birthrate.

The main body of the article is far more serious and interesting than the title and lead paragraph. Indeed, there is a jarring discontinuity between the salacious "I have never met a Japanese man who did not want me to be his mommy" quote and the remainder of the article, where the author does grapple with the relationship between marriage and childbearing in Japan.

This one claim is fascinating: that the rate at which married women have been having children has remained unchanged for the last 30 years, leading to the conclusion that the factor playing the greatest role in the drop in the birth rate is not a fall in the desirability of having children but the desirability of marriage.

This means that all the benefits the government and companies have been splashing out over the last two decades in order to make it easier for married mothers to keep working (and believe you me, for those who are working, the benefits and new work rules are much appreciated) have nevertheless had no observable effect on increasing the number of children born.

Indeed, in theory, if one wanted to see children crowding the playgrounds, amusement parks, classrooms of this blessed land again, all the government would have to figure out is how to induce folks want to get hitched at the ages at which they married in the past. how would the government go about doing that? By strictly enforcing the anti-prostitution laws? By instituting no-fault divorce (and thus eliminating the grisly current drawn-out process that keeps unhappy people in legal bondage to each other until both are well out of peak childbearing years)? By teaching young men how to be objects of desire? By a huge, utterly unfair tax deduction for those married and under the age of 25?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Comment suspension

Comments will be temporarily suspended. They will reopen on September 16.



Tuesday, August 26, 2008

70 Days Later

Well it's official least pretty much close to nearly official. The ruling parties have agreed to call the Diet to order on September 12 and shut the whole shebang down on November 20.

A seventy day session means that no piece of legislation even approaching controversial will be passed. Seventy days is insufficient time to

- conduct debate on the bill,
- have the bill sail through the House of Representatives committee and the full House vote
- have the bill sit, unattended, in the foyer of the House of Councillors for the Article 59-determined sixty days
- see the bill passed using the ruling coalition's two-thirds majority to override the inaction of the House of Councillors

No time for an override means:

- no extension of the refueling mission in the Indian Ocean

- no meaningful reassignment of road tax revenues to the general fund

- no reform of the tax system (even as late as two weeks ago the papers were trying to guess the chances of the current, fiscally hawkish Cabinet's being able to chaperone the passage of a rise in the consumption tax in this session. Bwahahahhahahaha!)

The agreed extraordinary session does not even survive into even the last weekend of November.


The stage is set, if the ruling coalition so desires (What's to prevent it, aside from the Cabinet's abysmal popularity numbers?) for a House of Representatives election on the 23rd of December.

With nothing to run on except the passage of an emergency supplementary spending package.

What a mess this unrepresentative democracy has become.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hello Tokyo, We've Got a Problem...

Hague Convention On International Child Abduction: Applicable Law And Institutional Framework Within Certain Convention Countries

Report To The Senate by Jesse Helms & Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Available here.

It's the late Senator Helms's report; Biden just wrote the foreword. But Biden's a single father, having raised his two boys with the help of his sister after his wife and infant daughter died in a car accident.

Bet the Embassy in Washington is hitting on for copies of this little study.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Welcome to My Illusion

It went from "NODA!" to "NO!...Duuuuuh" all so quickly.

Tobias Harris has been providing the timely reporting (here and here) and Okumura Jun the magisterial analysis of the collapse of Noda Yoshihiko's bid to run against Ozawa Ichirō for the post of leader of the Democratic Party of Japan.

However, I find cannot agree with either gentleman's view of the root cause of the collapse.

The narrative in the newspaper accounts is that Noda was ready and rearing to go. He had to withdraw his bid, however, as his supporters grew fearful of reprisals at the hands of Ozawa and his supporters.

Fearful of reprisals? This is not Fatah versus Hamas here.

Besides, Ozawa will need strong candidates in every district and in the proportional lists if the party is to seize control of the House of Representatives in the next election. Why would he do anything to hurt the standing of even one of his party members? Especially since too many of them - yes, I am looking at you Okada Katsuya and Maehara Seiji - are more than capable of hurting themselves.

Several DPJ members have been either whining about Ozawa's policies from the sidelines or been given hectares of column space in the monthlies to snipe about Ozawa's reckless promises. That these disaffected and disgruntled members of the DPJ have, one by one, ducked the opportunity to challenge Ozawa is proof, for Harris, of the personal "cravenness" of these ostensible Young Turks.

For Okumura, at least in terms of his headline, the DPJ apparat has pressured the Young Turks into abandoning their attempts to discuss Ozawa's leadership on the grounds that dissent in and of itself is bad. Or as Okumura-san puts it:

Open dissent, or even careless speculation unchecked, can only make the leader and leadership look weak and vacillating, as the Fukuda administration has amply demonstrated.
Noda's retreat, in Okumura's interpretation, was the product of a structural weakness within Japanese politics wherein the image of the leader is too fragile to brook the discussion of policy options, much less the discussion of the possibility that the leader has made a mistake.

I take a sunnier view of both the characters of politicians and the resilience of the status of leaders. Noda's challenge did not fail because he is surrounded by cowards or because Ozawa is a naked emperor.

Noda and the others before him have been convinced to give up because an open discussion of the party's political platform is damaging to the party's chances in the next election.

If one is talking about the DPJ's image, what would the public make of a party which, after it has won the most important and shocking electoral win of its existence, rewards the architect of that win with a pink slip? Would not the party want to promote instead an air of stability and, indeed, sanity?

The argument for knocking Ozawa off his perch on style points is not compelling. He may be autocratic, dismissive of others and a poor public speaker. He also cobbles together improbable electoral wins.

What the rebellious elements of the party have been worrying about are the possible electoral consequences of the public appreciating that under Ozawa, the DPJ has lost its soul.

Now this is a non-stupid point. The foundation myth of the DPJ is that it is the party of "honest, hard-working, knowledgeable folks willing to make the hard decisions for the good of the nation." The policy wonks in the party have thus been in a panic over the near certainty that the public -- with the help of the pro-LDP, anti-Ozawa press -- would become aware of the promises that Ozawa made to various constituencies in order to win in control of the House of Councillors. The restive elements were certain that Ozawa's baramaki ("throwing roses before the crowds") budget-busting assurances would be electoral poison. Once the urban and suburban voters appreciated where the the funds for the baramaki proposals would be coming from -- their wallets and purses -- and where they would be going to -- the wealth-destroying economic parasites of the rural areas -- the DPJ would fail to win back the hearts of the urban and suburban voters.

A non-unreasonable argument, except for one glaring weakness: it assumes that Ozawa is being honest to rural voters when he promises to succor them in their time of need.

There is no reason to believe that this true.

Yes, he is from a rural district himself. Yes, he is a product of the Tanaka Kakuei school of politico-economics.

Nevertheless, he played a trick on the rural areas in 2007. He made loads of promises fully cognizant he had no way of honoring the promises he was making. The Constitution and the the ruling coalition's majority in the House of Representatives gives the DPJ zero input in matters of the budget.

So Ozawa could not deliver on his budget-busting promises -- and surprise, surprise -- he did not.

It is Ozawa's intent to go back to the rural voters, the ones who voted for the Democrats in 2007 praying that the Democrats would bring the revival of special subsidies, tax cuts or government handouts, and say to them, "'Sorry, as you know, I have argued long and hard for you to get the help you deserve but the b_____ds in the House of Representatives have turned down every one of my proposals. We need your votes to kick these b_____ds out of office."

Ozawa is guessing -- and it is a reasonable guess -- that he can go to the well twice with the same set of promises.

In that case, the last thing the DPJ needs is a meaningless contest -- meaningless in that Ozawa's victory is preordained -- where the challenger shines a harsh light on the ugly truth that the party's budget numbers do not add up.

That most certainly will hurt the party's image in the urban and suburban districts -- and also likely knock a few points off the DPJ's proportional vote in the blocs.

So why go there?

What has sealed the deal for Ozawa in the last two weeks is the ruling coalition's abandonment of budget balance targets in favor of a large-scale fiscal stimulus package. The accusation of baramaki had been the club the ruling coalition was holding in reserve, waiting for its chance to draw it out and beat Ozawa and the Democrats over the head with it. Partly due to the sudden rise of the New Komeitō's influence, partly in response to the bad second quarter GDP numbers, the ruling coalition is tossing its hardwon reputation of fiscal probity into the dumpster -- and in so doing has removed the last objection to Ozawa's reelection.

With the threat of being labeled the baramaki party in retreat, which is more dangerous: shining a light on the party's inconsistencies, or ignoring them?

It is clear: holding an election poses greater risks than not holding one.

It just took Noda a bit longer than most to come to understand this.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

He Ain't Insensitive

He's just regional-dialect-challenged.

After having been slapped around in the media and in political circles for having described Japanese consumers as being yakamashii (in English: nagging, picky, always complaining) -- which he quickly explained meant "acting as free citizens within the full scope of their constitutional rights" -- Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ōta Sei'ichi received an unexpected vote of confidence from Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Asō Tarō.

As General-Secretary Asō explained, "In areas west of the Kansai Region, such an expression is normal (futsū)."

Having lived on the sunset side of 134th East meridian myself, I cannot tell you the number of times I walked through a quiet neighborhood late at night only to hear suddenly shouted from an open window:

"Shut up! (Damare!) You are acting as a free citizen within the full scope of your constitutional rights! (Yakamashii!)"
But this post is not about me and my experiences.

Instead, it is about everyone's favorite Yasukuni-sanpaiing, hubby-dumping inheritor of a political dynasty State Minister Who Has Been Tasked With Showing That The Government Cares About Consumer Affairs No Matter What Stupid Things Her Male Colleagues Do Noda Seiko said in response to Asō's attempt to excuse Ōta's smirking and contextually sexist remark:

"When one is a minister of the government of Japan, one is expected to use Japanese that can be understood from Japan's North to its South."
Oooooooh! Looks like the country has found its Minister of Discipline!

Because Francisco sure seems to need one.

Seriously, when Asō-san gets up in the morning, does he go to the bathroom, look in the mirror and ask himself:

"OK. So what major government initiative am I going to undermine today?"

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mañana con arroz

Yoshikawa Miho of Reuters has an excellent article out on the insanity of rice agriculture policy. You cannot imagine a more ridiculous and counterproductive (literally) way of managing land.

Rice subsidies and acreage limits are classic examples of "after the next election" problems. Everyone knows the current policy is nuts; everyone with a brain knows the current policy cannot drag on indefinitely. But no one can do anything until "after the next election." Except, of course, there is always a next election, even immediately after you hold one.

So bad policies live on - making a mockery of both democracy and the nation's patient citizens.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo's Not So Great Day

The rats are staring at the rising water, their whiskers twitching.

Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo looked and sounded terrible in his one public appearance yesterday. It was as though he had stepped out in front of the microphones without having been briefed, leaving him sounding not merely diffident but clueless. Asked for his view of the resignation of President Pervez Musharraff of Pakistan, the PM released a string of inanities . Rather than stating clearly that the forced resignation of a nation's leader is a huge step into the unknown -- something that Prime Minister Fukuda really should be emphasizing right now -- he prattled on glumly about the likelihood of continuity (sashiatatte henka ga aru to wa omowanai ga ) - in Pakistan's relations with world.

Well, here's to hopin'.

The Prime Minister also tried to tie in a plug for legislation extending the dispatch of Maritime Self Defense Forces ships to the Indian Ocean. The appeal sounded flat-footed and forced.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Asō Tarō's collusion with the New Kōmeitō to undermine the Fukuda premiership continued apace, with Asō and LDP Diet Affairs Chairman Ōshima Tadamori ( Check out the URL - ya gotta admit, Ōshima's got a certain verve) meeting with their New Kōmeitō counterparts last night to plot strategy for the upcoming Diet session. With the deferral of the start of the Diet session to mid-September now a certainty, the supplementary budget bill is the new focus of coalition wheeling and dealing.

As the Mainichi Shimbun sees it, Asō and New Kōmeitō leader Ōta Akihiro are singing from the same score sheet:

New Kōmeitō leader Ōta Akihiro and LDP Secretary-General Asō Tarō sing a loud song in praise of a large-scale supplementary budget as the government's answer to current economic problems. Down in front of the platform, Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo is trying to prop up his sick partner "Economic Situation." The asides tell the story: the economic situation is out of puff (ikigire) and Prime Minister Fukuda is just lip-synching (kuchi paku).*

Image courtesy: Mainichi Shimbun, morning edition, August 19, 2008

Asō's blasé failure to defend the early start of the extraordinary Diet session and his peculiar undermining, as noted by Okumura Jun, of the government's plans to extend the MSDF dispatch to the Indian Ocean, is a stunningly bald betrayal of the PM.

Just to make the Mr. Fukuda's day complete, former Minister of Economics, Trade and Industry minister Amari Tadashi took a moment to draw the Prime Minister's line of ultimate failure. Three weeks ago Fukuda dumped Amari from the Cabinet a few hours after Amari's had flown back from the last ditch, round-the-clock efforts to save the Doha Round of trade negotiations. Amari returned the favor yesterday by proposing that Prime Minister Fukuda must resign should the popularity of the Cabinet fall below 20%.

Which could happen as early as late October.

Later - Tobias Harris of Observing Japan has more on the Amari Line.

* Memo to producers of Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies: when you set Japanese to thinking that lip-synching is cheesy, you know you have blown it .

Monday, August 18, 2008

I Me Mine

I was reading in the Sunday edition of the Jōmō Shimbun...

(When I am in the chihō I always pick up the local newspaper. As local papers are only 100 yen, it is hard to regret the purchase. You learn stuff too.)

...that the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry has scored a major coup for its clients. In a plan that seems fairly sure to clear the Finance Ministry gauntlet, the Ministry will be funneling financing to companies in order that they may invest in overseas mining projects in pursuit of non-ferrous metals.

I have mixed feelings about this plan. The memory of the vast sums expended and tiny rewards derived from MITI's oil exploration shenanigans should be warning off the bureaucrats from ever, ever attempting strategic resource extraction investments. However, the concentration of the mining of important metals and minerals in countries with real chips on their shoulders - and yes I am speaking about Russia and China -- as well as in countries where Japanese companies find themselves getting shoved aside by a coordinated aid/trade/finance/military sales push from China, pinning one's hopes on "the market" providing Japanese companies with materials at competitive prices seems somewhat naive. Even though the government has a lousy track record, lowering the barriers for companies to invest in the development of reserves in less politically fraught countries seems a least-worst option.

Not being an expert in mining or the resource trade, I find it hard to come to any sort of conclusion on the plan.

Jōmō Electric Railway train crossing the Watarase River
Kiryū City, Gunma Prefecture
August 17, 2008

It was serendipitous to be reading the story as an article in the Jōmō Shimbun whilst on my way to Kiryū. The bulk of northeast Kantō Region's wealth in the 19th and early 20th centuries was generated by the silk trade, centered in Tomioka and Kiryū. However, the area's other major industry was copper mining -- at the giant Ashio copper mine located on the upper reaches of the Watarase River.

Japan apologists have had a bad habit of defending dumb Japanese government and Japanese company decisions on the basis of "as we all know Japan is a resource-poor country." This demonstrates a willfull blindness toward the contributions Japan's gold, silver and copper mines made to the global economy, particularly the use of copper for coins.

Later - Here a Japan Network News article on the METI plan (in J only).

Saturday, August 16, 2008

What is Your Favorite Flavor at Baskin Robbins?

Or any other place with a numerically large number of varieties of a fairly uniform product, with selection based on a number of subjective criteria.

(An inquiry into the validity of polling results with no rants about English language journalists.)

In a post on the upshot of the Fukuda fold over the start of the Extraordinary Diet session, Tobias Harris cites a Yomiuri poll on the public's views of the extent to which a particular member of the Diet would be most appropriate (mottomo fusawashii) for the position of Prime Minister.

Of the possible choices, Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Aso Tarō comes out way ahead of everyone else, with nearly double the number of votes of his nearest rival, former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō, and with seven times the votes of current Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo.

Before we all go gaga over the implications of this poll, I would like to voice (well, actually type out) a few concerns.

Below is the list of candidates and the numbers they pulled in response to the question "Which among these members of the Diet do you think is the one most appropriate to be the Prime Minister? Pick only one of the following."

Machimura Nobutaka 0.7
Tanigaki Sadakazu 1.3
Ishihara Nobuteru 0.9
Nakagawa Hidenao 0.4
Koizumi Jun'ichirō 13.0
Nukaga Fukushirō 0.0
Nakagawa Shōichi 0.3
Hatoyama Yukio 1.2
Noda Katsuhiko 0.1
Masuzoe Yōichi 3.4
Maehara Seiji 1.1
Okada Tatsuya 2.8
Ota Masahiro 0.3
Koikei Yuriko 1.0
Fukuda Yasuo 3.4
Yosano Kaoru 0.3
Ozawa Ichirō 9.6
Noda Seiko 0.5
Abe Shinzō 1.6
Kan Naoto 3.4
Aso Tarō 24.7

Somebody Else 0.4
None of the Above 24.7
I Can't Answer 5.1

My concerns are:

1) That is a heck of a lot of names to have to stare at.

2) Is is fair to put Fukuda's name in a list of names of those persons most appropriate to be Prime Minister. Because he is the Prime Minister, you know. Why nominate for prime minister a person who is already the Prime Minister?

3) The question was put to 3000 person nationwide. Of those, 1758 persons chose to reply to the poll. Am I to understand that of the 1758 who chose to reply, 5.1% said, "I cannot answer the question"?

4) "None of the Above" wins 24.7% of the vote. Out of a list of 21 possible names of prominent politicians. And "None of the Above" is not a proper answer to the question the pollsters asked.

Enough said.

5) Was the list of candidates randomized and the selection process unpressured?

I should hope so. Still, I have to wonder -- because in the newspaper story reporting the results of the poll, the names of the candidates were in gojūon order.

I produced the above list by arranging the names in a descending order based on the number of romaji letters in the name. The order in which the names of the candidates were presented in the article was as follows:

Aso Tarō 24.7
Abe Shinzō 1.6
Ishihara Nobuteru 0.9
Ota Masahiro 0.3
Okada Tatsuya 2.8
Ozawa Ichirō 9.6
Kan Naoto 3.4
Koikei Yuriko 1.0
Koizumi Jun'ichirō 13.0
Tanigaki Sadakazu 1.3
Nakagawa Shōichi 0.3
Nakagawa Hidenao 0.4
Nukaga Fukushirō 0.0
Noda Seiko 0.5
Noda Katsuhiko 0.1
Hatoyama Yukio 1.2
Fukuda Yasuo 3.4
Maehara Seiji 1.1
Masuzoe Yōichi 3.4
Machimura Nobutaka 0.7
Yosano Kaoru 0.3

If the average person were confronted with a list of 21 names in a personal interview situation, and the LDP's Secretary-General was the first name on the list, would there not be a bias toward the selection of that name?

Normally arranging names by gojūon order would reduce bias. However, when the most probable candidate's surname is Aso, making him first in a long list of names, gojūon -- if that is what was used -- seems almost guaranteed to create a bias.

It is possible that this poll was conducted in an defensible, fully randomized way.

It is also possible that it was not.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bring Me the End of Diego Garcia

News organizations are reporting that the Prime Minister has lost his tussle with Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Aso Tarō and the New Komeitō. The Extraordinary Diet session will not begin in two weeks time.

Instead, it will begin in the later half of September.

As noted previously (here and here) such a decision basically renders moot the renewal of the legislation authorizing the dispatch of the Maritime Self Defense Forces to the Indian Ocean. A late start also means that there is almost no chance that reform (i.e., painful) legislation will pass this autumn. The Diet will consider a stimulus package and then adjourn.

It seems we will be seeing an early election after all.

TIME Magazine Is Eating Holes in My Brain

I have been thinking of a verb, one crafted out of a person's name like "guillotine" or "boycott." The person in question would be a journalist based in Japan. The verb associated with his/her name would be:

[Name] - (v) the act of writing an article for a major English-language publication wherein one disingenuously argues that what a shameless self-promoter is doing is a key to understanding the true essence of Japan, giving the self-promoter free publicity and the publication a black eye.


"Wow. Have you seen what Hannah Beech, TIME magazine's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief has written about Japanese design for the Asia edition? I mean she totally [Name]d it...and what's worse, it's this week's cover article!"
I can think of a present participle describing Beech's self-delusion and self-admiration - "appalling." How can a journalist not know that anyone claiming to be drawing upon the essential spirit of (insert country name) in defiance of what his/her peers are doing -- is offering up a steaming pile of either nonsense or propaganda -- or both?

That that someone is trying to play on the journalist's desire to be the member of a knowing elite, to be "in" with the culturally more sophisticated and aware crowd?

Few artists and thinkers consider themselves avatars of national purpose or essence. Instead, most admit themselves to be hodgepodges of past and present, of national, international, regional and local habits and messages, bound by the technology of the present, caught in and not the spinners of a web of influences. Real talents express admiration for the past, lament the inadequacy of own meagre work but insist upon the undesirability of a return to the way things were.

What compels journalists to write essentialist junk on Japan? Is it because in order to maintain one's station in Mediaville one must present an illusion of knowing? Or is it just "Narita, bar, bing, bam, there I am, I'll be damned, the real Japan, Narita and home again" unseriousness?

Were there any justice, the below sentence from Ms. Beech's opus would be cast in brass and hung on the wall of the Foreign Correspondent's Club in Uchisaiwaichō with the caption, "When Stupid Met Insulting."

"For a country that has assimilated foreign concepts so successfully — today few Japanese think much of the overseas origins of baseball or curry — the idea of exporting true Japanese craftsmanship is, indeed, revolutionary."

What would be revolutionary would be for TIME magazine to revive the position of Editor.

And yes, I was not done reeling from this.

Wishing You Were Here

Onishi Norimitsu has a good article on the Kawakamimura leafy vegetable pickers this morning. Unfortunately, his sensationalist New York editors just could not restrain themselves.

The Asahi Shimbun/International Herald Tribune version of Onishi's article has the headline "Chinese workers are a sign of change in aging Japan."

The New York Times version of the same article? Well, what did you expect?

Tart me up!

Though I did not make note of it, Isabel Reynolds also submitted a good article on recent trends in immigration a while back in response to the arrival of the first contingent of Indonesian nurses.

I once heard, oh I guess a few years back now it was, a prediction of Europe in the year 2050 as being a continent of elderly women, living in dark forests, cared for by young Muslims.

Japan will be much the same, I guess. Indeed, it is likely to arrive at that destination first.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

This My Economy of Sadness Is Made

Urban Corporation goes to it.

Courtesy: Yahoo Finance

All that remains is for the great Cassandra to offer up her funeral ode.

Do I think that the government announcement yesterday of a 2.4% annualized rate of shrinkage of the economy in the April-to-June quarter, coupled with the announcement of Japan's largest business failure of the last six years will in any way stimulate members of the ruling coalition to push hard for a major supplementary budget, in defiance of the government's own debt-reduction guidelines?

Why would I think that?

And why would I think politicians and the ministries would fail to seize the opportunity provided by a current need to counterbalance swings in the world economy to dump support of profitless, wealth-destroying activities in favor of investment in and operational finance for projects and industries with real prospects of future economic and employment growth?

Oh, right.

Later - I am not an advocate of market-based solutions for all pressing economic issues. Force feeding market-based solutions ends up being sub-optimal in democratic states. It is just that I have zero faith in the current LDP-led government's being able to find a means of resolving a problem that employs incentives and a wise use of public funds.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Run on the Fukuda Begins

When Prime Minister and Liberal Democratic Party President Fukuda Yasuo announced the recruitment of Aso Tarō as the LDP Secretary-General, many analysts hailed the appointment as a positive for the government. Handing Aso the Secretary-General position would guarantee Aso the attention and status he seems to crave while making him responsible for the government's performance. It was a set of golden handcuffs necessary for the immobilization of a potential troublemaker.

Only the move seems to have backfired on the Prime Minister.

Caption: "What? For me a dud...but then from out of left field..."

Image courtesy: Mainichi Shimbun
August 5, 2008, morning edition

Before Aso was the malcontent outsider, the sore loser of last year's leadership race, forced to wander on a meandering course throughout the backwaters of the archipelago, speaking to fellow losers and malcontents about what a great country this would be if only he were in charge. Now he is the heir apparent, the man on the threshold of power...who talks to everyone about what a great country this would be if only the government had the right policies.

Even Katō Kōichi, the king of cluelessness, the avatar of the obvious, has managed to notice the deleterious side effect of bringing Aso into the central leadership group:

"Secretary-General Aso is placed at the front and center, and has become unfortunately quite famous. I am afraid that the sense that Mr. Fukuda is still in existence has grown rather tenuous."*
Aso's wolfish grin and willingness to say just about anything also does little to help raise the public's appreciation of the serious, harried and decidedly owlish Fukuda.

Aso has also not played a helpful role regarding the most contentious issue of the fall legislative calendar: the renewal of the legislation authorizing the dispatch of Maritime Self Defense Forces ships to the Indian Ocean.

A renewal of the current legislation has no chance of passing save by override; the minimal amount of time necessary for an override is sixty days after the House of Representatives approves a piece of legislation. In order to preserve the dispatch, supposedly the symbol of Japan's integration in the worldwide struggle with terrorism, it would be imperative for all the members of the LDP's central core leadership to agree to do two things

1) push the New Komeitō to accept a late August start of the session. Even if the New Komeitō in the end betrays the coalition and refuses to vote for the override , at least there will have been the time in the Diet session to attempt the maneuver. Letting the start of the Diet session slip away into mid-September - the New Komeitō's preferred starting time - would leave no doubt that Fukuda's administration has no sticks to go along with its carrots.

2) encourage some members of the Democratic Party in the House of Councillors to see the wisdom of the dispatch--or the wisdom of a dispatch helping guard the sea lines of communication through which Japan-bound tankers sail, whatever -- and vote against their party "in service of the national interest"

Secretary-General Aso, however, has not shown much of an interest in fostering the achievement of either of these two goals. There is little evidence of his leaning on the leadership of the New Komeitō, telling them to stop fooling around and accept the original Diet session starting date. Worse, on his first visit to the House of Councillors as Secretary-General, in his courtesy call to Speaker Eda Satsuki (a Democrat, but on sabbatical from the party) he blurted out his now infamous remark indirectly associating the takeover of the Diet by the Democratic Party with the rise to power of the Nazis.

Way to build bridges to members of the Democratic Party, Francisco! Way to get them to feel loved!

In addition to torpedoing the government's planning for fall session, Aso has shown himself to be a remarkably disinterested party official. Like a bad dog, he will not stay. True, it is Obon season - a time when many leave the capital region on trips of various kinds. Does Aso really have to be out touring though, missing two ruling coalition general planning meetings in a row? He only just started in his new job two weeks ago. And it is not as though the folks out in the hinterlands need to see him: since losing the leadership battle in September last year, he has given over 160 speeches to audiences in the chihō.

Makes one almost think he is more interested in bolstering his standing with the local LDP chapters, rather than helping Fukuda lead the party, doesn't it?

* * *

The Fukuda administration is entering a crucial two week period. It has to cajole the New Komeitō into accepting an early start for the extraordinary Diet session. Such a concession is a minimal quid-pro-quo for the party's gleefully pressuring the LDP into sacrificing the plan to bring the budget into primary balance in favor of the New Komeitō's program of profligate fiscal excess...or as one observer of the process put it:

"It is best to call the proposals 'tossing roses to the crowds' (baramaki) " **

At the last ruling coalition strategy meeting - which Aso conveniently missed.

If Fukuda cannot force the New Komeitō to accept an August or at least first week of September opening for the extraordinary Diet session, then the sand will start spilling out of the hourglass. Fukuda's low popularity ratings and Aso's obvious desire to be the LDP's standard bearer in the next House of Representatives election will converge, leading to showdown.

Unlike my friend Okumura Jun, I believe that the party will find a way of disposing of Fukuda swiftly, despite his own willingness to fight on.


* Nihon Keizai Shimbun, August 13, 2008. Morning edition, page 2 .

** Sankei Shimbun, August 12, 2008. Morning edition, page 2 .

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I'm the Heavy, Ya See? I Don't Care What Nobody Thinks

Former Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General, current party Strategy Headquarters chief and principal heir to the Koizumi legacy Nakagawa Hidenao has been making all kinds of independent and headstrong statements about party backsliding on the commitment to a return to fiscal balance in a bid for...relevance? Certainly not for popularity with his fellow LDP bigwigs, who all seem intent on falling over each other with ever more impossible "cost-free" economic stimulus packages.

Yesterday, according to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Nakagawa introduced himself with these words:

"It is said that in the party I say shocking and heretical things. But then I'm not afraid of being left isolated."

Which hardly seems the attitude of the man who should be busying himself leading the team crafting the party's shared strategic vision.

What is Nakagawa's hope? Does he hope that something will be worth salvaging after the LDP goes to its post-Koizumian doom? That he will have enough "maverick" street credibility to pick up one of the bits that will splinter off the great LDP juggernaut and create a new party?

I can think of phrases that describe Nakagawa - but somehow "team player" is not one of them.

Later - It seems that Nakagawa is looking ahead -- way, way ahead -- in search of public support for his mavericky ways. His boastful statement of not been afraid of being isolated within the party? Delivered to a group of children taking part in the annual "Children's Diet" mock Diet session.

"I'm with all of you, the next generation," he told them, "I'm not afraid being isolated from adult society."

"I'm telling the leaders of the Spending Faction of the party, 'Let's drop this notion that we can just push our debts out on the next generation."

Oh, are the ultimate position player...and in only three to nine years, your young listeners will even have the legal means of showing you their support via the ballot box.

Later still - So what was the Nihon Keizai Shimbun's goal in quoting Nakagawa out of context -- the NKS saying only that Nakagawa had made the topmost statement "while in Tokyo"?

Monday, August 11, 2008

They Have Lost the Plot

When I first saw this cartoon in the Sankei Shimbun of July 18, I thought it was off-base.

Here is the stern Diet Building, with glasses and jabbing index finger, instructing a glum Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo, himself in casual summer garb, to pay attention to the open textbook of Cabinet Reshuffle (Naikaku Kaizō) whereupon is the blurb, in tiny lettering "Without Making a Mistake!" Another textbook lies on the desk: Summer Homework (Natsu no shukudai).

The explanation at the bottom: "Because if you fail the makeup exam, then you will be in real trouble!"

First, to print this cartoon on what was for most of Japan's elementary and middle school students the first day of summer break, reminding them of the mountains of homework their teachers have assigned them to do over what is ostensibly a vacation period, was unspeakably depressing.

Second, the idea that Fukuda absolutely had to shuffle the Cabinet, like a child has to do his summer homework, seemed specious. Given the paucity of plausible cabinet members and the seriousness of the issues being tackled, a reshuffle seemed more of a distraction than an imperative.

However, I had forgotten that even under Koizumi Jun'ichirō (my hero) the replacement of ministers was a common occurrence. Indeed, under the celebrated Mr. K the Cabinet reshuffle was a startlingly predictable event - always in September, as a preamble to the extraordinary Diet session, except in 2005 when the House of Representatives election delayed the reshuffle until October.

So in a sense, Prime Minister Fukuda did indeed have to buckle down and get the reshuffle out of the way, like a schoolboy getting through his homework.

However, the idea of having a reshuffle out of the way by the first day of August, before everyone skipped out of Tokyo for their Obon break, was predicated on the theory that the extraordinary Diet session was going to be starting in late August...and the reason why the extraordinary session had to start in late August was to have ample time for the House of Representatives to pass a one year extension of the refueling mission to the Indian Ocean, with time enough left in the session to override the House of Councillors, should the House of Councillors fail to take action on the dispatch legislation.

Because the dispatch is vital to Japan's international standing.

However, here we have entered the Obon break period...and the starting date of the extraordinary session is left hanging the air.

Leaders of the New Kōmeitō are reportedly pushing for a mid- to late-September start for the extraordinary Diet session, rendering an extension of the Indian Ocean dispatch via override within the allotted time a near impossibility. Liberal Democratic Party leaders, rather than telling their ruling coalition partners to kindly go to hell, are starting to talk about changing the nature of the dispatch mission in the hopes of finding common ground with at least some of the members of the Democratic Party of Japan in the House of Councillors. Indeed, the LDP elite has have been jawing up a storm about transforming the mission from the refueling of Allied ships patrolling the Arabian Sea in order to thwart the free movement of terrorists into a mission to guard crude oil tankers headed for Japan.

LDP strategists (I know, I find it hard to type out the phrase) believe that a goodly fraction of the DPJ members in the House of Councillors would be willing to vote for such an escort mission.

The cooperation of DPJ House of Councillors members would obviate the need to use the override - which LDP leaders think is the only way to get the anti-terrorism extension passed (gosh, they did learn something from the events of last year). The New Kōmeitō has stated point blank it will not provide the votes necessary to pass the dispatch legislation via a House of Representatives override.

The ability to pass some kind dispatch legislation without the override permits a delay the start of the fall extraordinary session. So it is OK if we are eleven days into August without a scheduled starting date.

Or, at least, that is the theory.

Faced with the possibility of annihilation at the polls unless it bribes voters, the ruling coalition has suddenly gone squishy. The government's official declaration of the end of the economic expansion has been taken not as signal of a need for tough decisions but as a green light for a tossing out of fiscal targets in an attempt to preserve economic growth. Fundamental reform of the tax system, which the ruling coalition was claiming as recently as a few weeks ago was to be the centerpiece of the fall political calendar, has been kicked a few years down the road again.

As for the delayed transfer of gasoline levy revenues to the general fund, does anyone believe the government will keep its promises?

The New Kōmeitō is furthermore purportedly pushing hard for an election in mid December-early January. Again, mysteriously, the leaders of the LDP have not told their coalition partners to go acquire carnal knowledge of themselves -- which is what one would expect were the LDP leaders serious about choosing to do what is right for the country in the extraordinary session (raise the consumption tax, resist further fuel subsidies, attack the long term weaknesses of the pension system) then holding off conducting a House of Representative election until September 2009, the last possible moment - hoping that in the meantime the public would had come to forgive the LDP for biting the bullet on the tough issues facing the country.

[Note - The breakdown of fiscal discipline is a predictable, but still sad response to the Ozawa Ichirō-led DPJ's tactics of making outlandish promises to every single special interest. That the DPJ is being insincere in making these promises is self-evident: there is no way to make their budget numbers work. However, the ruling coalition's resistance has been broken; it feels it must meet or surpass the DPJ's promises of largess.]

If the LDP is going to go even further, and accept the New Komeito's schedule for a snap mid-winter election, how in heck will the LDP switch from Prime Minister Fukuda -- an assumed electoral dead weight -- to supposedly groovy but only Secretary-General Aso Tarō? Or do they think that the public will accept Aso as a "leader-in-waiting" with Fukuda anointing him as his certain post-election successor?

And more importantly, if the ruling coalition is going to take an intentional pass on the tough issues it had promised to tackle in the autumn extraordinary session, shifting instead into pre-election mode - what the heck was the point of the Cabinet reshuffle?

Later - Upon reflection, a better title for this post would have been, "They Have Lost Me."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Fires in the night sky

The night quiet is ripped apart by the thuds of a nearby fireworks display. Even with the windows closed the sound is startlingly loud.

Upsettingly so.

It is very hard to write about the discombobulated Nagatachō political calendar or take pleasure from televised Olympic competition as war sets Georgia alight.

It is painful to think that there is nothing anyone can do to force a pause in the escalation of the conflict...and it seems naive to believe that not responding to Russia's disproportionate counterattack will not have repercussions.

Night sky over Minato-ku
July 27, 2008
Photo: MTC

Friday, August 08, 2008

In An Unrepresentative Democracy

In the hullabaloo over the new Cabinet last Friday, new demographic and population data released by the various ministries on July 31 received somewhat less attention than usual.

Average life expectency figures showed that for Japanese women at least Japan is a pretty good place to grow up in, with a world best average life expectancy at birth of 85.99 years.

For men the picture is not so great, with Japanese men dropping to third in the world in life expectancy behind Iceland and Hong Kong. A male child born today can expect, on average, 79.19 years of years of life.

That men are living longer on Iceland and Hong Kong, two places reknowned for their mild and temperate climates, varied and healthy dietary practices and generous government social welfare programs, should put to rest any doubts that the consumption of the products of the partly state-owned JT has had any "cough" effects on the average "hack" life expectency of Japanese men "wheeze."

It is all genetics, all natural.

But that's the Health, Welfare and Labour population report. Over at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the "We Know Where You Are" ministry, July 31 saw the release of the Basic Household Registry survey of the distribution of Japanese citizens across the Japanese archipelago, in two parts -- the second of which has to be the one of the saddest-looking official pdfs of a central government document in the OECD.

The newspapers set to work on the new data to see how shifts in residency have affected what is known as "the other shakai kakusa" ("inequality of society") -- the deviations from the principle of one citizen = one vote resulting from the demarcation of House of Representatives district boundaries.

The winner of this year's contest for the district with the seemingly most superempowered voter is Kochi District #3. A mere 256,545 persons reside within its limits, which embrace Tosa City and its environs. Kochi Prefecture as whole seems far and away the champion of concentrated voting strength, with its three House of Representatives districts ranking first, second and fourth on the list of most representation per citizen.

The loser is Chiba District #4 (Funabashi City) with 584,152 sadly deluded yūkensha and their children crammed within its borders. Oh, clustering together in large numbers might have knock-off positive urbanization effects -- but politically, the Chiba #4 people are...well, not quite people.

Taking a Japanese citizen living in Kochi District #3 as the definition of a fully cognizant and plenipotent human being -- i.e., as 100% of a Human Being, here below are the 10 districts with the residents who are comparatively the least human.

The residents of

1) Chiba District #4 are 43.91% of a human being
2) Hyōgo District #6 -- 44.26%
3) Shizuoka District #5 -- 45.24%
4) Kanagawa District #10 -- 45.28%
5) Aichi District #12 -- 45.724%
6) Hokkaidō District #1 -- 45.745%
7) Hokkaidō District #5 -- 45.91%
8) Hyōgo District #7 -- 45.93%
9) Tokyo District #6 -- 46.01%
10) Tokyo District #23 -- 46.04%

The percentages start to bunch up, so here are the next ten districts without the red figures. All are inhabited by persons who are no more than 47.1% human.

11) Tokyo District #19
12) Tokyo District #16
13) Kyoto District #6
14) Kanagawa District #15
15) Saitama District #3
16) Kanagawa District #13
17) Kanagawa District #5
18) Saitama District #2
19) Tokyo District #3
20) Shizuoka District #6

A little heavy on the "Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area" districts, would you say?

According to the newspapers, there are now 53 House of Representatives districts where the votes of residents are worth less than half of a Kochi District #3 voter's vote. Incredibly this represents an increase of 16 districts over last year's total.

The next round of reapportionment (Be joyful citizens of voting age in the loser districts, at least there is one!) is not for another three years.

Just for fun: who are the Representatives of the top 20 loser districts? Anyone we know?

The tribune of the woefully sub-human voters of Chiba #4 is Noda Yoshinori...and yes that is "Democratic Party of Japan Spokesman and former Parliamentary Affairs Chairman Noda Yoshinori."

Any other familiar names in the list of the most populous/least empowered individual voter districts?

Let us take a look:

1) Noda Yoshinori - DPJ
2) Kobiki Tsukasa - LDP
3) Hosono Kōji - DPJ
4) Tanaka Kazunori - LDP
5) Sugiura Seiken - LDP
6) Yokomichi Takahiro - DPJ
7) Machimura Nobutaka - LDP
8) Ōmae Shigeo - LDP
9) Ochi Takao - LDP
10) Itō Kosuke -LDP
11) Matsumoto Yōhei - LDP
12) Shimamura Yoshinobu - LDP
13) Yamai Kazunori - LDP
14) Kōno Tarō - LDP
15) Imai Hiroshi - LDP
16) Amari Akira - LDP
17) Sakai Manabu - LDP
18) Shindō Yoshitaka - LDP
19) Ishihara Hirotaka - LDP
20) Watanabe Shū - DPJ


Note Bene: Fukumoto Kentarō, professor of political science at Gakushūin University recently posted a claim on the Social Science Japan Forum that in an unpublished paper he demonstrates the effects of malapportionment are small in Japan, on the order of a 2% shift - a remarkable, counterintuitive result.

Is this the paper Professor Fukumoto is talking about? If it is am not sure we need to toss our prejudices and intuitions out just yet.


Later - a review of the original articles reveals that the ippyō no kakusa seems to be based on number of citizens, not eligible voters, residing in a House of Representatives district. This makes the comparison somewhat stupid -- for how can one talk of the "difference in the worth of one vote" if your divisor includes residents who, because they are minors, cannot vote?

I have modified the post to reflect this new understanding.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

A Measure of Uncommon Decency

On Tuesday I marked the passing of Kōno Sumiko, the victim of the 1994 Matsumoto Sarin gas attack whose husband Yoshiyuki's early raising of alarm at the unfolding calamity led the police to finger him as being the perpetrator of the crime. I expressed some doubt at the time that the media would take a moment to note the police's execrable and relentless campaign of leaks and innuendo that attempted to pin the blame on Kōno Yoshiyuki or the media's unthinking presumption of Yoshiyuki's guilt.

I do not know about the media's reaction but Hayashi Motō Moto'o, the newly appointed Chairman of the National Public Safety Commission (essentally the civilian head of the National Police Force) paid a visit to the family home this afternoon to offer his condolences and an apology for the additional misery caused the family by the mistaken assumption of Yoshiyuki's complicity.

With the forbearance of the saint he must be, Kōno Yoshiyuki thanked Chairman Hayashi for coming.

A small tableau of simple decency meeting fearsome dignity in defiance of an oft brazen, crass and uncaring world.

We Have Learned Nothing

I will admit it: I was wrong about the bump the government would get from the reshuffle of the Cabinet and the top executive positions in the LDP. Far from being insignificant, the bump was historic, sending all the polls higher by solid margins -- save, unsurprisingly, the poll conducted by The Asahi Shimbun *.

Kyōdō News 080802
26.8% -> 31.5% +4.7%

Yomiuri Shimbun 080803
26.6% -> 38% +11% (caveat regarding methodology)

Mainichi Shimbun 080803
22% -> 25% +3%

The Asahi Shimbun 080803
24% -> 24% +0%

Nihon Keizai Shimbun 080804
26% -> 38% +12%

Sankei Shimbun 080805
21.7% -> 29.3% +7.6%

The relative significance of the jump can be seen in this rundown of the shift in the Cabinet popularity numbers in the immediate aftermath of previous reshuffles printed in the morning edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun on August 1. While admittedly these number come from but a single news organization -- and one with a definite bias -- the overall message is that 1) reshuffles can lead to a decline in popularity almost as often as a rise, and 2) the effects on popularity tend to be small.

( ) = number of changes in makeup of the Cabinet

90.12.29 Second Kaifu Cabinet (17)
49% -> 47% -2%

92.12.22 Miyazawa Cabinet (18)
20% -> 22% +2%

95.08.08 Murayama Cabinet (16)
35% -> 36% +1%

97.09.11 Second Hashimoto Cabinet (17)
56% -> 44% -14%

99.01.14 Obuchi Cabinet (1)
24% -> 35% +11%

95.10.05 Obuchi Cabinet (16)
56% -> 52% -4%

00.12.05 Second Mori Cabinet (11)
18% -> 20% +2%

02.09.30 First Koizumi Cabinet (6)
66% -> 66% +0%

03.09.22 First Koizumi Cabinet (9)
58% -> 65% +7%

04.09.27 Second Koizumi Cabinet (11)
48% -> 47% -1%

05.10.31 Third Koizumi Cabinet (11)
59% -> 61% +2%

07.08.27 Abe Cabinet (12)
27% -> 29% +2%

While I would love to be able to retrieve more data and do a comparative study across news organizations (while I am at it I would love to be smarter and physically more attractive) the from 3% to 12% jump in popularity looks, in context, fairly significant.

What is the reason for the shift in the popularity numbers despite a Cabinet containing a whole lot of familiar faces? I would have to attribute the bump to the appointment of Aso Tarō as LDP Secretary General. The incorporation of one of the core members of the revisionist right, and his installation at the threshold of the prime ministership itself, surely jolted some of the LDP's disaffected right wing supporters to give the party one more chance. It could also be that Aso's prefrontal-cortex-straight-to-the-lips (i.e., without secondary processing in the brain's judgment centers) style appeals just enough folks to kick the support numbers up a few notches. Or both.

A reaction I did not anticipate, due to my own prejudices.

All of which may be for naught, however, if the public reacts in a predictable manner to the news that the government has, in an effort to protect the Chinese government from embarrassment in the runups to the Toyako Summit and the Beijing Olympics, been hiding what it knows about the JT/Tianying gyoza poisoning incident.

China 'gyoza' poisonings hushed up: same pesticide, processor tied to Japan outbreak
The Japan Times

BEIJING (Kyodo) -- The same pesticide found in frozen Chinese "gyoza" dumplings that caused food poisoning in Japan early this year caused a recent outbreak in China among people who ate the same manufacturer's fare — a revelation Japan kept under wraps since before the July Group of Eight summit.

An unknown number of Chinese suffered food poisoning in June from the pesticide methamidophos after eating frozen gyoza once recalled by Tianyang Food in Hebei Province but later redistributed on the Chinese market. The Chinese Foreign Ministry admitted Wednesday the dumplings caused a food poisoning outbreak in mid-June...
Newly minted Minister of State for Consumer Affairs Noda Seiko was incredulous that she had not briefed about the June poisonings in China and their likely implications. She learned about what the government knew the way everyone else did: from press reports.

I know that given the delicacy of Sino-Japanese relations the temptation was strong to keep the information about the pesticide poisoning under wraps until after the summit and the Olympics Games. Nevertheless, how could the government be more fearful of the consequences of hiding the information from the public? Was nothing learned from the pension debacle, where the public's anger came not the failure of the bureaucrats to do their jobs but from the government's trying to pretend the problem did not exist, and once it became known that it did exist, at the government's pretending that it had everything under control?

Right now it seems that the short answer is no, nothing was learned.

Which means that the Cabinet can pretty much kiss goodbye the hardwon slight change in the public's willingness to give the government the benefit of the doubt.

* I am a believer in Okumura Jun's theory -- that the consistent skewing of poll results in a direction convergent with the editorial stance of the news organizations sponsoring the polls must be the result of pollsters identifying the news organization for which they are conducting their polling. A significant number of target voters, upon hearing who is sponsoring the poll skew the sample by choosing to answer the questions from news organizations they patronize and/or refusing to answer the question from those they do not.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

What I am thinking...

Re: Aso Tarō as LDP Secretary-General, Koga Makoto as LDP Elections Measures Chairman and faction leaders Ibuki Bunmei, Komura Masahiko, Nikai Toshihiro and Machimura Nobutaka all in the Cabinet

"I like to keep my friends close, and my enemies even closer."

Re: Ibuki Bunmei as Minister of Finance and Yosano Kaoru as Minister of Minister of Economics and Fiscal Policy and what this portends for the consumption tax

"When God is trying to punish you, he answers your prayers."

Re: moving Tanigaki Sadakazu from the chairmanship of the LDP Policy Research Council and Nikai Toshihiro from chairmanship of the LDP General Council to positions in the Cabinet

"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

When I saw the new lineup, which nominally "replaced 13 of 17 ministers" and yet somehow failed to embody change, my initial reaction was that Prime Minister and LDP President Fukuda Yasuo had set up the LDP for a wipeout in the next House of Representatives election.

I am beginning to entertain quite a different possibility: that Prime Minister and LDP President Fukuda Yasuo has set up the LDP for a wipeout in the next House of Representatives election.

Popular, stylish, showy and bold Koizumi Jun'ichirō gave the LDP a new lease on life by actively, openly and paradoxically seeking to destroy it.

Fukuda, the anti-Koizumi, the colorless, assuredly unpopular, purportedly indecisive, stand-in prime minister who seems to get blown sideways by the least issue...he...


It could not be.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Our Wombs Against the Foreign Hordes

Wow is all I can say.

In an edition of Seiron that reads like a greatest hits compilation of the finest of rightwing nutcase literature* (the main article is a Sakurai Yoshiko taidan with Abe Shinzō, for Amaterasu's sake) Nishio Kanji's anti-immigration increase screed "Aratamete chokugen suru 'rodo sakoku no susume'" ("I will once again speak frankly of 'a suggestion for a country closed to labor'") sets new standards for sheer repulsiveness.

Given the argument that in the long run declining birthrates will lead to a labor shortage, which in turn will put pressure on the country to accept a greater number of immigrant workers (Dirty little secret: we are already there. Go to Minato-ku in Tokyo. The only Japanese working in retail are the barristas at Starbucks) Nishio decides that there is only one solution: more 100% Made In Japan babies.

And how does one make more 100% Made In Japan babies? Nishio has some ideas!

Not namby-pamby supplementary payments and paid leave for parents like they have in Sweden. They won't work (ah, how great to not have to explain why). In France, or so he's heard, these kind of social welfare payments have only increased the breeding among immigrants (more on that later).

No, what Japan needs is both "sweets and whips" (ame mo muchi mo ryōhō hitsuyō de aru). Like:

- criminalizing abortion. Just like in the Christian Countries! Honestly, abortion was soooo postwar-food-shortage-driven. We do not need it anymore**

- eliminating ambition and higher education for women (just be a normal daughter and a normal woman, getting married and bearing children...nothing could be finer)

- repeal the Basic Law for a Gender-Equal Society (Danjo Kyōdō Shakai Sankaku Kihonhō).

Few realize that the Basic Law created such-childbirth suppressing notions and institution as

1) nuclear familes rather than multi-generational families,
2) love-for-love's sake and
3) a search for personal happiness.

All of which did not exist prior to the passage of the Basic Law for a Gender-Equal Society...which happened

Nishio does make a valid point -- and again (I love this line) a valid point in rightwing literature is notable for its lonesomeness -- Japan's traditional society does have a hard time meshing with the philosophical concepts that underpin the Basic Law. But like any conservative, he manages to come to the diametrically wrong conclusions from the results of research. Modernity and equality do not suppress childbirth; modernity and traditional, inflexible gender and social roles do.

So there would seem to be two models for achieving higher fertility: the neosocialist Scandinavian system and the laissez-faire American one. Aassve put it to me this way: “You might say that in order to promote fertility, your society needs to be generous or flexible. The U.S. isn’t very generous, but it is flexible. Italy is not generous in terms of social services and it’s not flexible. There is also a social stigma in countries like Italy, where it is seen as less socially accepted for women with children to work. In the U.S., that is very accepted.”

By this logic, the worst sort of system is one that partly buys into the modern world — expanding educational and employment opportunities for women — but keeps its traditional mind-set. This would seem to define the demographic crisis that Italy, Spain and Greece find themselves in — and, perhaps, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other parts of the world. Indeed, demographers have been surprised to find rapid fertility changes in the third world, as more and more women work and modern birth-control methods become standard options. “The earlier distinct fertility regimes, ‘developed’ and ‘developing,’ are increasingly disappearing in global comparisons of fertility levels,” according to Edward Jow-Ching Tu, a sociologist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. According to the United Nations, the birthrate in 25 developing countries — including Cuba, Costa Rica, Iran, Sri Lanka and China — now stands at or below the replacement level. In some cases — notably China — the drop is explained by a concentrated effort at containing the population. In the rest, something else is happening. The lesson of southern Europe is perhaps operative: embrace the modern only partway and you put your society — women in particular — in a vise. Something has to give, and that turns out to be the future...
And where in Nishio's dire reproductive world view are we to fit the births last year of 35,641 children where at least one of the parents was a foreign national...meaning that some 2.0% of the inhabitants are producing 3.3% of the future pension fund contributors? For the most part they are 100% Made in Japan babies...and yet they are somehow...tantalizingly...different.

Makes me want to ask: who really loves this country, baby?


* Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times I am sure will be thrilled at the lengthy attack on him in which Sheryl Wu-Dunn is described as Kristof's shinajin spouse.

** And in the next month's essay, without a batting an eyelid over the inconsistency, how imported food makes Japan a target for future Chinese blackmail!

To Her Final Rest

Kōno Sumiko has died, fourteen years after being put into a coma by Aum Shinrikyo's Sarin attack on a Law Ministry dormitory in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture.

She leaves behind her husband Toshiyuki, a medical researcher who alerted police of a possible poison gas event the night of the attack. In a grotesque but typical turn of events, Toshiyuki became the prime suspect of police investigation of the incident that killed 7 and poisoned hundreds. "Somehow" his identity was leaked to the press, which then hounded him as he tried to care for his incapacitated wife and pick up the pieces of his life. Only Aum's March 20, 1995 attack on the subways of Tokyo turned away the attentions of the rat pack press to the real culprits.

We will see if the news conglomerates today take even a moment's time to express real remorse for what the various arms of their organizations did to the Kōnos -- or explore the dark side of the methods used by the police to identify criminals.

I do not have my hopes up.

Starting Off With A Bang

You can always count on Aso Tarō to put on a show.

Yesterday Aso paid his formal respects (!) to House of Councillors Speaker Eda Satsuki. Eda, a member of the Democratic Party of Japan (his membership suspended during his term of service as Speaker), used the opportunity of the visit to prod the new Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General into thinking about holding a House of Representatives election sometime soon, telling him that "the LDP has lost touch with the feelings of the people."

To which Aso replied only has he can:


"Looking at history one finds examples where the result of 'the ruling party's having lost touch with the feelings of the people' was the seizure of power by parties like the Nazis."

There you have it. Your LDP, the last bulwark against like the Nazis taking power.

Oh Francisco, how we have missed you!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Second Meditation

All right, accentuate the positive.

- The Americans should be pleased. The new Minister of Defense is a graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, as is Motegi Toshimitsu the new Minister of Financial Services, Administrative Reform and Public Officials System Reform. (Public Policy is at the Kennedy School, yes?)

- The appointment of Sasakawa Yōhei's second son Sasakawa Takashi to be Chairman of the General Council will give conspiracy theorists just hours of fun. (For example, is he really named after the Yao Emperor?)

- Amaterasu bless the Prime Minister for naming Tanigaki Sadakazu Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. Nothing could make the passage of legislation transferring the gasoline tax revenues from unneeded road construction into the general fund more certain.

- Naming Nakayama Kyoko the Minister in Charge of Falling Birth Rates probably will not stimulate an increased production of future taxpayers. However, naming her "Minister of State for Abduction Issues," raising the portfolio to ministerial status, will keep the right wingers away from the door. It will make at least appear that the government cares about the issue.

- Judging from the responses he gave at the press conference introducing him as the new Minister of Finance, the Imaginary Restaurant Worker is going to drive the journalists in the Finance Ministry kisha club to drink or worse.

You know Ibuki-san, your responses start to lose their punch at around the seventeenth paragraph.

- Noda Seiko deserves better than to be the one midwifing the birth of the Consumer Protection Agency (Cue Marlon Brando: "And I refused to be a fool dancing on the strings held by all of those big shots. That's my life I don't apologize for that. But I always thought that when it was your time that you would be the one to hold the strings. Foreign Minister Noda. Prime Minister Noda. Something...").

True, consumer protection is one of her policy playgrounds...but she deserved better than this.

- Not one Koizumi loyalist was picked. Either the dinosaurs are trying to keep them out of the spotlight or they realize that the Koizumi Kids cannot be trusted. Either way, the Koizumi reformers come out the winners...and by winning I mean avoiding being set up for slaughter in the next election.

No amount of positive thinking can counteract an immense sense of letdown. Aside from the departure of Hatoyama Kunio (hurray!) there is little in this reshuffle that reassures the public that the Cabinet is reenergized and ready to tackle the nation's problems. If anything the appointment of a panorama of embarrassingly familiar wrinkled, male faces could drive the Cabinet support numbers down in the weekend telephone polls.

Later - The Kōmeitō's been given charge of the environment. Why? Environmental protection has heretofore never been their bag.

An Initial Meditation on the Second Fukuda Cabinet

They have got to be kidding.

Seriously, they have got to be kidding

Either that or the ruling coalition leaders are encouraging, no, begging the populace to vote the whole damn zoo out of office.

August's Song - All Because of You

Onuki Ami and Yoshimura Yumi produced by Avril Lavigne. And how.

Because August is a month when one has the right to be more than a little bit silly. And because there is simply not enough Japan-Canada collaboration going on in popular music.

August's song "All Because of You" by Puffy, in the column on the left.