Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One more year then - 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryūhō Grapes
Katsunuma City, Yamanashi Prefecture
September 22, 2008

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

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

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

Thursday, December 25, 2008

From Every Mountain


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

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

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

It shines.

メリー・クリスマス。  Joyeux Noël.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sailin' Away

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

Shisaku will go on hiatus until January 6, 2009.

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Age of Indiscipline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We live in an era without accountability.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Fodder

Oh boy. This does not look good.

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

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

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

Happy holidays!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The First Day...

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Harris and The Brave New World

It seems we live in the Tobias Harris era.

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 19, 2008

Strict, Benevolent Yet Clueless Patriarchy for Dummies

Why does this magazine exist?

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

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

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

Some titles of noteworthy chapters:

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, ick. Ick, ick, ick.

Who would be caught dead reading this stuff?

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

Oh Happy Day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the judge explain:

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

[Expletive deleted] sumō.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Waiter Needs a Tip

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

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

As reported in The Yomiuri Shimbun:


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

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

Any Club That Would Have Me As A Member

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

Sunday, December 14, 2008

On Shutting Up Morons

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

Please. Shut up. Now.

It is truly over.

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

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

It is that the LDP cannot deal with itself.

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

Messages for D

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

Welcome back, D.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Till Death Do Us Part

Dear Brother Francisco,

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

Aso silent on opposition to tobacco tax hike
The Yomiuri Shimbun

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

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

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

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

Please call the election on Monday.

I am sorry. Anything is better than this.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Market Magic

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

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

There goes the American imperium.

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

Tase Yasuhiro Said It

So do not blame me.

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Some Signs...

...of the advent of the Apocalypse:

China's exports, imports fall as economy hits wall

By Langi Chiang and Zhou Xin

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Go ahead.

No need to be reticent.



Failing, falling

Retrieved from comments:

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

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

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

Sakurai Yoshiko Freakout Watch


Robert Alan Feldman
Chief Economist
Morgan Stanley Japan

Dear Dr. Feldman:

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

You do remember saying this, yes?

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

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

A good candidate for Minister in charge of education?


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


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

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Facade

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

Imagine that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory

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

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

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

Friday, December 05, 2008

New Books I Wish I Were Perusing...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All You Need Is A Market...

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

As told in Breitbart - whatever a Breitbart is.

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

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

To every kafunshō sufferer, a chainsaw!

Of Nagata-chō in Flames

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Letter from Ukraine

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

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

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

Japan as the New Paradigm for Dummies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With apologies to Porfirio Diaz, I can only wail:

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

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

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

We Are Our Parents Revisited, Revised

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

First to Abandon Ship

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Joy in Mudville

This is...hilarious.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Road to Nowhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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