Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Brief Announcement

Anonymous blogging will end today.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Better Stick With Economics?

Dear Mr. Economist,

I have some problems with your article, "Poodle or Pekingese?"

They are not few.

1) America does not have 134 bases in Japan. According the Ministry of Defense, U.S. Forces Japan has 85 bases and areas of operation in Japan.

2) The total land area of U.S. bases in Japan is not "one-and-a-half times the size of Tokyo." According to the Ministry of Defense, the total land area of U.S. bases and areas of operations, is 309 square kilometers. The total land area of Tokyo, according to the Geographic Survey Institute of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, is 2,103 square kilometers. Even if you limited yourself to the 23 central wards of the Tokyo Metropolitan District, the assertion is still wrong. According to the TMD website, the nijūsanku together cover 622 square kilometers.

Here is a bonus. The total land area of Japan is 377,945 square kilometers. Run the numbers and you will find that U.S. bases and areas cover a whopping 0.08% of Japan's total land area.

3) You have never heard of Douglas MacArthur' great gaffe. Otherwise you would have never dared print a paragraph like this (color scheme, mine):

His main foreign-policy goal is to establish a more “equal” partnership with America. This, however, puts him in the predicament of a rebellious youth desperate to break out of its parents’ clutches—but unable to afford it. He has expensive campaign promises to meet, such as expanding social welfare and child support, and little scope to spend more on rearming.
What you have committed with this little turn of phrase is what we in this blessed land call "a self-inflicted injury."

4) You call Japan the main Asian ally of the United States in the Cold War. I believe the South Koreans, who have fought alongside their U.S. allies in a bloody conflict on the Korean peninsula, sent fighting men and women to Vietnam (and Iraq, for good measure) and who have allowed their forces to be commanded by a U.S. general, might find your assertion a bit...obtuse.

5) You write that:

One of those parties consists of former socialists who have staunchly opposed keeping American troops on Japanese soil. Only after lengthy bargaining did it agree to water down its anti-American stance.
One of the parties, the Democratic Socialist Party of Japan, is a not a party of former socialists (small "s"). It is a party of real, present day socialists (small "s").

As for the second assertion, that the DSPJ watered down its anti-American stance after lengthy bargaining, it did no such thing. It retains its anti-American stance, undiminished.

7) I am not quite sure of your grasp of history, either of the world or of Japan.

Throughout its history Japan, when it has not closed its doors to foreigners altogether, has tended to seek out and support the dominant or rising powers of the day, be that middle-kingdom China, Nazi Germany or post-war America. China's emergence thus presents its diplomats with something of a novelty: the task of balancing relations between two powers at once.
I have to think of the last time a government based in Japan has sought to support any of the dynasties of "middle-kingdom China." O.K, the Ashikaga bakufu, maybe. No, it really is hard to see how this claim of accommodating the rising or dominant powers can be squared with Japan foreign policy since, oh, let us say the time of Sugawara no Michizane (845-903) to the arrival of the black ships of Commodore Matthew Perry.

As for "something of a novelty: the task of balancing relations between two powers at once" -- how are you characterize the interwar years in East Asia, where Great Britain and the United States were the two regional colonial big shots? What about balancing in between the U.S.S.R and the U.S.A during the Cold War?

6) I am trying to figure out your final aside in this paragraph.

Mr Hatoyama has made a strong commitment to improve relations with other Asian countries, and has a chance of easing decades-old tensions because of his party's history of sincere apology for Japan’s wartime atrocities.
The DPJ has a history of sincere apologies for Japan's wartime atrocities? Individuals within the DPJ, possibly...but the party as a whole? I am willing to be proven wrong on this one...or on any of the rest of the points I raise above.



Thursday, September 17, 2009

Throwing Out the Rule Book

"Councils and commissions and committees, oh my!"

Read Tobias Harris's latest post.

You may think that reform of political party structures and bureaucracy-politician jostling is just an overhyped quest for a new way to carve up a huge but not terribly appealing okonomiyaki.


However, take heed: unless you read Mr. Harris' post, everything you think you know about how things get done around here will be wrong.

Quietly, without any fuss, the new sheriffs threw out the rule book yesterday.

Toward An Unmanageable Relationship

I was thinking about writing about how the Democratic Party of Japan's foreign policy platform -- even the much-maligned essay by party president Hatoyama Yukio -- reflects a more realistic view of Japan's new strategic position than the views of the usual suspects we have seen opining in the op-ed pages and on television.

The inimitable Peter Tasker has beaten me to it -- to everyone's benefit -- outlining his contrarian view with erudition and clarity.

Tasker is largely alone in viewing the DPJ's more autonomous policy line as representing a positive turning of the wheel. Tobias Harris endorses the DPJ's program, but more out of a contempt for the pusillanimity of the past (in colloquial terms, "What is so great about a succession of symbolic gestures of alliance solidarity? Why not actual alliance solidarity?") than in agreement with an ineluctably more Asia-centric vision of Japan's geostrategic position.

Me? I believe that threat to life on the planet posed by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions trumps all other struggles ideological, political or economic. The possession of nuclear weapons by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which the international community disgraced itself in failing to prevent, represents an existential threat to this blessed land. Mitigations of these two threats will depend on China's cooperation; we must be ready to sacrifice much in order to win it.

Japan's special relationship with the United States, the hothouse plant shielded and nurtured by a couple dozen caregivers for three generations, will almost certainly have to be one of the sacrifices borne.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A beautiful day

Fukuda Eriko, receiving the badge of a Member the House of Representatives of Japan.

Fukuda Eriko, just 537 days ago.

Yes it is.

Yes it is.

Yes it is.

Image courtesy: Jiji Press

Tanigaki Sadakazu, Candidate

Speaking of answered prayers, the very prominent candidacy of former Finance Minister Tanigaki Sadakazu for the position of president of the Liberal Democratic Party brought warm feelings to every LDP-hating heart. Nothing would more certain to spell the utter doom of the party than having Tanigaki, the master of nothing but disaster, as its president.

The old joke has it that "those who cannot do, teach" to which Woody Allen sagely added "those who cannot teach, teach gym." Sadly, I am convinced that Tanigaki-san could not teach gym.

The fun choice for reviving the party would be Kōno Tarō. He can talk up a storm in both Japanese and English; represents Kanagawa (tied with Chiba for the title of Japan's most disenfranchised prefecture); rejects nostalgia in policymaking and saved his sick father's life by donating to him part of his liver.

And he blogs too.

When the Gods Want to Punish You...

...they answer your prayers.

Fukushima Mizuho, the leader of the Socialist Party, will be State Minister for the Birthrate, Consumer Affairs and Sexual Equality.

Shizuka Kamei, the leader of the People's New Party, the party established by those kicked out of the LDP for opposing Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro's privatization of the Post Office, will be Minister of Financial Services and the Post Office.

Who would like to place bets upon fractious, strained relations between the parties in the new ruling coalition? Not I. Not now.

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) also has a positive reason for being generous to its allies. In next year's House of Councillors election, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has 48 seats up for reelection, 33 of which are district seats. DPJ-Shinryokufūkai alliance has 49 seats up for reelection. The alliance would have to hold on to every one of its seats and then pick up 10 from either the LDP or independents to give the DPJ majorities in both Houses of the Diet (somebody correct me if I am wrong here).

Given the Japanese public's wise tendency to throw roadblocks in the way of absolute power (see the 2007 House of Councillors election) taking those 10 seats may be a more difficult task than many believe.

Better to err on the safe side by giving one's friends, no matter how minute and anachronistic, the toys they have always wanted.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Fireworks on Lake Suwa
Suwa City, Nagano Prefecture
September 5, 2009

Fireburst display
Suwa City, Nagano Prefecture
September 5, 2009

Matsumushisō (Scabiosa japonica)
Kirigamine Highlands
Suwa City, Nagano Prefecture
September 6, 2009

Kujakuchō (Inachis io)
Kirigamine Highlands
Suwa City, Nagano Prefecture
September 6, 2009

Yajima ga Hara Marsh
Kirigamine Highlands
Suwa City, Nagano Prefecture
September 6, 2009

All photos: MTC

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Things We Said Today

(Under Revision)

Why "Asa Zuba!" Rocks My World

Where else would you get your morning news and also learn that Yoshida Shigeru kept three dogs whose names were, in order, "San", "Fran" and "Cisco"?

Way to show love for that peace treaty!

Hilarious and fabulous.

Click here for the "Asa Zuba!" home page.

Friday, September 04, 2009

They're Doing This On Purpose, Aren't They?

A week ago, I suggested only half facetiously that Hatoyama Yukio should choose the telegenic and tough Ren Hō as Chief Cabinet Secretary. Nothing would send a clearer message that a new sheriff is in town than to have a woman of Taiwanese heritage (who took Japanese citizenship for good at ripe old age of 18) as the government's main spokeperson, changing the official face of the Japan's government from this:

To this:

Of course, the Chief Cabinet Secretary is not just the main spokesperson for the government. The CCS is also the traffic cop for the Cabinet, overseeing who sees the prime minister and what issues the government handles on any one day.

An insane concantenation of jobs, in other words.

Given the immense administrative responsibilities, and the reflexive prejudice that has heretofore kept women from being appointed to positions of power (the exceptions being the Cabinets of Koizumi Jun'ichirō, where two women in succession served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs) the likelihood that Hatoyama would actually pick Ren Hō for the position was zero.

Nevertheless, given the need to make clear that a new day is dawning, especially so soon after asking Ozawa "Team Player" Ichirō to become the DPJ's Secretary-General, and so soon after the doozy of a PR disaster that the Voice essay turned out to be, one could have hoped that Hatoyama would at least thought about the atmospherics of his next big personnel decision, and chosen someone projecting an aura of vitality and openness.

Well...the reports coming out of the major wire services are that Hatoyama has made his decision and will name Hirano Hirofumi (Osaka District #11, 5 terms in the Diet) as the new Chief Cabinet Secretary...meaning that the face of the government of Japan in this bright, shiny brand new age will be this:

Perhaps the Democrats will go the Abe Cabinet route, and hand off at least part of the spokesperson duties to a Special Advisor to the Prime Minister.

Photos courtesy: Sankei MSN, Yomiuri, Reuters.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Echoes Across Waters and Strings

The great battle is over.

New wars - between the DPJ and the bureaucracy; between the DPJ and the nationalist press; between the DPJ and the military-think tank-industrial complex that insinuates itself into any rational consideration of Japan's foreign policy -- loom in the near future.

I am somewhat tired of documenting the absurdities...or trying to explain them.


When I hear Oshio Kōtarō (the featured video in the column on the left) I can close my eyes and almost believe that Michael Hedges didn't drive off that Mendocino road coming up on 12 years ago now.

Which was three years before Miyazawa Yūto was even born.

We Are Even More Unpopular Than You Have Heretofore Imagined!

These incredibly cool national figures come via Okumura Jun, who dug them up in response to a question that had been circulating.

Proportional List (hireiku) - total votes

DPJ 29,844,799
LDP 18,844,217
New Komeitō 8,054,007
Communist 4,943,886
Socialist 3,006,160

Small district (shōsenkyoku) - total votes

DPJ 33,475,799
LDP 27,301,892
New Komeitō 782,784
Communist 2,978,354
Socialist 1,376,739

a) that the "8 million strong army of followers" is still very much alive for the New Kōmeitō. Some have speculated (including yours truly) that the New Kōmeitō numbers would diminish as the Sōka Gakkai followers recruited in the immediate postwar era and during the era of the population shift to the cities began to succumb to old age.

b) 782,784 votes went to the New Kōmeitō's 8 district election candidates. Where did the other 7 million New Kōmeitō votes go?

Let us look the two sets of figures. OK, if you subtract the number of voters supporting Communist Party and Socialist Party district candidates from those who voted for those parties in the proportional voting, hmmm-- that neatly makes up the increase in the number of votes between the DPJ's proportional vote total and its district vote total. Communist and Socialist sympathizers, after voting their hearts in the party vote, then voted with their brains for DPJ district candidates.

Which means...?

If you do the math, it looks like that around one out of every four voters who voted for an LDP district candidate was actually a New Kōmeitō voter.

Which means...?

c) The LDP is even more incredibly unpopular than the final vote tallies and its seat totals indicate.

d) It redefines "beholden to" in terms of its relationship with the New Kōmeitō.

Ladies and gentlemen of the LDP, you have an 11 million vote hole to dig yourselves out of...and an incredibly ticked off main ally whom you owe big time.

Good luck on that party revival plan!