Sunday, January 31, 2010


One of the interesting little bits of information to emerge out of the flood of leaks from investigation into the financial dealings of the Rikuzankai, Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro's political fundraising organization, was a notation in one of the day planners of one of his secretaries:
"Brought 400 million yen to Ozawa's home. Put it in the tatami room."
Ozawa Ichiro is the kind of person who has 400 million his tatami room. I hope he at least has the SECOM people working for him.

Then again, such a familiarity with money is rampant in the upper reaches of the DPJ. Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya's progenitors founded the AEON supermarket chain. Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio is an heir to the Bridgestone Tire fortune. When the investigation into his political funding organization called into question the deposits his mother, the daughter of the founder of Bridgestone, had made into the organization's accounts, Hatoyama agreed to pay back taxes on the donated amount...600 million yen in back taxes.

The Achilles heel of this administration has been the revelation of possible violations of campaign financing laws, laws which were designed to prevent the votes of Diet members from being bought by interest groups. Ironic, seeing as how nobody possibly could have near enough money to buy any of these guys.

As a bonus, could please explain to me -- in simple terms, so I can understand -- how anyone could have gotten away with labeling the DPJ a gang of "share the wealth" socialists?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tentative Notes Upon the Hatoyama Government's Statement on Non-Interference in U.S. Strategic Planning

Dr. Jeffrey Lewis of Arms Control Wonk passes on some good news: the Government of Japan is not in favor of the U.S. military’s retention of the TLAM-N nuclear-armed cruise missile and the development of the RNEP earth penetrator. At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs press conference of January 22 of this year, it was revealed that Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya sent letters to both U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on December 24 of last year. In the letters FM Okada declares that the Government of Japan has no opinion as to the retention or abolition of these two systems, or any other systems for that matter. The letter to Secretaries ask only that the U.S. consult with Japan regarding the cancellation or development of systems, explaining how U.S. actions will affect deterrence.

In his post on the Okada Statement, Dr. Lewis shows confusion over Foreign Minister Okada’s dismissal of an inconvenient truth: Japanese diplomats did actually lobby the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States for the retention of these weapons systems.

Dr. Lewis sees a “non-denial denial” going on:
"It was reported in some sections of the Japanese media that, during the production of the report of the “Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States” released in May this year, Japanese officials of the responsible diplomatic section lobbied your government not to reduce the number of its nuclear weapons, or, more specifically, opposed the retirement of the United States’ Tomahawk Land Attack Missile – Nuclear (TLAM/N) and requested that the United States maintain a Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP).

However, the Japanese Government is not in a position to judge whether it is necessary or desirable for your government to possess particular [weapons] systems. Hence, although the discussions were held under the previous Cabinet, it is my understanding that, in the course of exchanges between our countries, including the deliberations of the above mentioned Commission, the Japanese Government has expressed no view concerning whether or not your government should possess particular [weapons] systems such as TLAM/N and RNEP. If, hypothetically, such a view was expressed, it would clearly be at variance with my views, which are in favor of nuclear disarmament.

Nevertheless, if TLAM/N is retired, we hope to receive ongoing explanations of your government’s extended deterrence policy, including any impact this might have on extended deterrence for Japan and how this could be supplemented."
“Some sections of the Japanese media” almost certainly refers to Masa Ota’s excellent story, Japan lobbied for robust nuclear umbrella before power shift, in Kyodo News(November 24, 2009). Ota reported that senior Japanese diplomats told the Commission that the United States should retain the TLAM-N and develop low-yield nuclear options.

Although Okada seems to deny that Japan lobbied the Commission, it looks to be the classic non-denial denial. (It would be helpful to parse the original Japanese, but Okada admits to the exchanges, which in any event are listed at the back of the Posture Commission Report, denying only the expression of a “view concerning whether or not [the US] should possess particular [weapons] systems.”)

In any event, everyone in Washington knows that Mr. Akiba and Mr. Kanai expressed precisely such a view, even if it would be inconvenient, not to mention career-ending, for them to admit it now...
Looking at the original Japanese letter to Secretary Clinton, it seems that the source of the confusion is an imprecise translation. On the whole, the translation provided by the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center is fluid and correct. However, the translation of the face-saving pair of sentences beginning "Hence, although the discussions...” and ending ”...which are in favor of nuclear disarmament" contain what seem to be two significant errors in translation.

First, in the translated version, "the Japanese Government" is the subject of the subordinate clause in the first sentence. In the Japanese original, the subordinate clause has no subject due to the use of "the government of our country as itself" (Wagakuni seifu to shite) as a subordinate clause topic identifier and the sly replacement of the normal robust construction nobeta koto ga nai with the more diffuse nobeta koto wa nai. Under normal circumstance switching “wa” for “ga” would be a style matter, an affectation. Here, however, the writer seems to be intentionally choosing the smudgy nobeta koto wa nai construction. He/She is very careful to switch back to the robust "ga" form in the next sentence (“nobeta koto ga atta") when talking about the reality that Japanese diplomats did indeed make such requests.

Second, the words moshi and kari ni are translated “if, hypothetically…” I am not sure to what extent the most popular online dictionary’s translation of the phrase “moshi kari ni” as “hypothetically” has affected the word choice here. As there is a comma in between moshi and kari ni these are separate clauses, the moshi indicating the introducation of a hypothetical and kari ni indicating the idea of “temporarily” or “tentatively” -- this rather than a repetition of the hypothetical established by moshi.

Introducing these ideas, the sentences read something more like:
"Hence, although the discussions were held under the previous Cabinet, it is my understanding that, in the course of exchanges between our countries, including the deliberations of the above mentioned Commission, it was never the case that views were expressed as being those of our government concerning whether or not your government should possess particular [weapons] systems such as TLAM/N and RNEP. If, in some tentative way such a view was expressed, it would clearly be at variance with my views, which are in favor of nuclear disarmament."
I think that this clears up the problem of attribution Dr. Lewis identifies.

I of course invite readers to show me I am talking out of my hat.

Later -
The FAS Strategic Security blog has more on the Okada letters.

Later still - Fixed the broken link to the original MOFA document.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

They're Panicking in Saga Prefecture

The election of the anti-base candidate in the mayoral election of Nago City, Okinawa Prefecture has come as a jolt to the local party branches of leftwing organizations in Saga Prefecture. The heretofore theoretical candidacy of Saga Ariake Airport as a destination for the Marine Corps aircraft assets of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station has become, since the results of Sunday's election, startlingly, upsettingly real.

Consistent with its opposition to the entire Japan-U.S security apparatus, the local chapter of the Japan Communist Party is opposed to having the Futenma assets moved to Saga Ariake Airport. The local Democratic Socialist Party-allied labor union peace organization is also opposed -- a bit of a sticky problem for the national DSP organization, since the national party's study group headed by Teruya Kantoku (House of Representatives, Okinawa #2 district) has highlighted Saga Ariake as a reasonable alternative to the Nago City site. The DSP-affiliated Peace Movement Center (Heiwa Undo Senta) held its anti-base meeting in Saga City last night.

Just how important the opposition of the JCP and the local DSP-affiliated activitists would be in keeping Saga Ariake from becoming the default alternative to Nago is debatable. Saga Prefecture, true to its largely rural character, has a long history of overwhelming conservative dominance. In the 2009 August election, won by the incumbent Ogushi Hiroshi of the Democratic Party of Japan, the current Parliamentary Secretary of Finance, in a three way race, the JCP candidate received 1.3% of the vote. In 2005, in a four-way race, the Communist candidate received 3.7% of the votes.

As for what the DPJ and Ogushi think of the possibility of moving Futenma assets moving to Saga Ariake, there is naught but silence so far.

Further Cracks in the Levee

In a decision taking one more chip out of the edifice of power that thwarted the popular will, inflated the importance of rural votes and helped perpetuate rule by the Liberal Democratic Party, Hiroshima High Court judge Hirota Satoshi has found that differences in the size of voting age populations inside House of Representives districts leading to dilutions of voting strengths greater than two-to-one are unconstitutional. While Hirota ruled against the plaintiff, a Hiroshima Prefecture man whose own voting district in the August 2009 elections has a voting age population 1.47 times larger than the least populated district the nation (Kochi District #3) he did state a seemingly obvious but heretofore ignored principle:
"It is difficult to think that without any (specific) constitutional sanction, a single voter living in a least populated district gets two votes or, conversely, that two voters in a high population district get only one vote."
Slowly, slowly the courts have been chipping away at the vast disparities that exist in voting strengths, starting with the first decision in December 1972 that found unconstitutional a difference of greater than 4.99 in voting strengths. The informal standard since 1990 has been anything greater than 2.99 is unconstitutional, challenges of a 2.0 standard having failed in 1996, 2000 and 2005.

For those who believe in the wisdom of the people, particularly a highly educated people with a general neutrality towards religious or other ideologies, the court's timidity heretofore in giving the people their constitutionally guaranteed equal voice in how they are governed has been an infuriating and demoralizing spectacle. With this ruling, there is hope, albeit a late one that Japan's stumbling responses to the decay of the last 20 years will come to an end.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Into Hell

Ko entered a university and eventually became a professor there. She married and had two children. But life remained oppressive. Her parents aged prematurely; her stepfather was arrested and interrogated.

Finally, Ko received the order from officials that convinced her that she had to flee North Korea: to secretly dispose of the bodies of neighbors who died during the 1990s famine.

"I was dumping these bodies into the river at night and thinking, 'What is this country doing to us? I could end up like this one day.'"
From the article by John Glionna of the Los Angeles Times on the background of the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Chosen Soren for the postwar program encouraging Korean residents of Japan to move to the DPRK.

Read it here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Japan-China-U.S.Triangularity

The new situation in East Asia, or at least one graphical illustration of it.

(Click on image to enlarge)
The top curve, with the white triangles, is the proportion of Japan's total trade that is trade with the United States. The bottom curve, with the black squares, is the proportion of Japan's total trade that is trade with China. The gray bars are Japan's total trade volume in dollars.

Image by Shibota Atsuo. Image copied from from here.

Japan Link List for January 2009 - a draft

Armstrong, Shiro
Improving Japan-China relations and the global trading system

Auslin, Michael

The Prosecution of Power in Japan

Brooks, William
Ozawa’s position weakens as media smell blood

Japan polls: The rot has stopped

Golden opportunity to reaffirm vows, editors hope

America: Japan loves you

Unhappy New Year for Hatoyama's foreign policy

Dickie, Mure and Daniel Dombey
US-Japan relations clouded by Okinawa

Drifte, Reinhart
A new start for Japan-China relations?

Funabashi, Yoichi
Testing time in Japan for Hatoyama’s diplomatic skills

Gaunt, Jeremy
What can Kan do?

Green, Michael, et al
Analysis of Secretary of State Clinton’s Asia Architecture Speech

Harden, Blaine
Japan's prime minister weakened by arrests, scandals in ruling party

Harris, Tobias
The Ozawa saga continues in Japanese politics

A new US-Japan alliance in the making?

Masuzoe threatens Japan’s LDP

Kan will replace Fujii as Japan’s new finance minister

The unrealistic DPJ?

Japan: Returning to Asia

Hosoya, Juji
Japan's Hidden Champions Hold the Key to Revitalization of Regional Economies

Koike, Yuriko
Change in the Japan-U.S. Alliance

Klingner, Bruce
Military Base Dispute Strains U.S.-Japan Alliance

Kubota Yoko
Date Therapy for Japan’s Bureaucrats

Kwan, Chi Yun
China Set to Pass Japan and Become World's Second Largest Economy
- Sights now on surpassing the United States in terms of GDP -

Ikenberry, G. John and Charles P. Kupchan
A New Japan, a New Asia

Madsen, Robert
Playing Politics With Japan's Money Supply

Masters, Coco
New Scandal Hits Japan's Ruling Party,8599,1955028,00.html

Mattich, Allen
Is It Too Soon to Worry About Japanese Debt?

Marx, W. David
Japanese Music: 200-2009

Mulgan, Aurelia George
Japan’s Ozawa Ichiro – the power of one

Asia’s New Strategic Partnerships

Is Japan’s DPJ a party of reform on agriculture and agricultural trade?

Munekata, Naoko
The U.S., China, and Japan in an Integrating East Asia
(Contribution to the Brookings Northeast Asia Commentary

Nagaoka Sadao
Seeking the Differences in Research and Development in Japanese and U.S. Companies

Penn, Michael
Why DPJ said 'no' to an Indian Ocean mission

Samuels, Richard J.
Tokyo and Washington Celebrate their Alliance -- Too Soon

Scalise, Paul
When ‘Revolution’ Turns To Despair

Shinada, Naoki
Stock ownership and corporate performance in Japan: Corporate governance by institutional investors

Slater, David
The Making of Japan's New Working Class: "Freeters" and the Progression From Middle School to the Labor Market

Takahashi, Kosuke
Hatoyama to Nanjing, Hu to Hiroshima? The New Face of China-Japan Relations

Urashima, Etsuko
Electing a Town Mayor in Okinawa: Report from the Nago Trenches

Japan Productivity Center
International Comparisons of Labor Productivity

Any suggestions of additions would be much appreciated.

More of That Socialist Stuff

Yuka Hayashi of The Wall Street Journal has interviewed Democratic Socialist Party Leader Fukushima Mizuho.

The takeway line the world has been waiting for:
"We are not opposed to all military bases in Okinawa and we aren't saying all troops should leave right away," said Ms. Fukushima, a human-rights lawyer. "But I believe we should use this opportunity to discuss broader issues, like why there is such a huge concentration of U.S. bases in Okinawa and why, after 64 years since the end of the World War II, there is still such a significant presence of U.S. forces in Japan."
Now that we have settled that little bit of business, perhaps now would be a good time for Ambassador John Roos to pay a small social call on Fukushima-sensei, to hear what she and her colleagues have to say.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Socialist Party Alternative to the Henoko Site?

Futenma MCAS, with the Ginowan City surrounding it

One of the enduring minor myths associated with the current coalition government's attempt to revisit the 2006 base shifting agreement with the United States is that one of the microparties in the coalition, the Democratic Socialist Party of Japan (hereafter, the Socialist Party) wants the Marines and their equipment moved entirely out of Japan.

The origins of this myth are hard to trace. Socialist Party Leader Fukushima Mizuho is not known to have ever made this demand. No such demand exists in the DSP’s manifesto. Indeed, the demands made in the supposedly radical Socialist Party manifesto are more tough-minded nationalist than wild-eyed pacifist. It is also fairly accommodating, seeing a need for negotiation rather than confrontation.

“We seek a renegotiation with the United States of the agreement regarding the relocation and realignment of U.S. Forces. We will suggest the reduction and elimination of U.S. bases on Okinawa and elsewhere. We seek a closure of the Futenma MCAS and the return of its land to Japan. We oppose an increase of the functional capabilities of the bases, including the construction of new base facilities at Henoko. We will demand a scrapping of the “Agreement to Move U.S. Forces to Guam.”
Tough demands…but not entirely unreasonable ones and certainly there is no demand that the Marines leave Japan. There is not even a demand that the Marines leave Okinawa.

The Socialist Party does, however, want the unit currently stationed at Futenma MCAS out of Okinawa. To that end Socialist Party members of the Diet Teruya Kantoku (Okinawa #2 District, House of Representatives) and Yamanouchi Tokushin (House of Councillors proportional list seat, a registered resident of Ginowan City) yesterday visited the Ariake Saga Airport in Saga Prefecture, a potential alternative site for the aircraft of the Marine Corps unit currently stationed at Futenma.

After visiting the airport, Teruya declared that Ariake Saga, with no homes in the area and plenty of open space around it, represents the “best location” (he switched to the English phrase to say this) for a base. Careful politician that he is, he immediately qualified his remarks by saying that he was in no way declaring that Ariake Saga should be the site of a new base – that would be a subject for another time.

As can be seen from the above photograph from Google Maps (click on the image to enlarge it) the Ariake Saga Airport has nothing in its immediate vicinity except the sea and many hectares of reclaimed agricultural land. The nearest habitation seems to be about 4 kilometers from the terminal. The current runway is 2000 meters long, long enough for landings and takeoffs for C-130 or a C-17 heavy lift fixed wing aircraft but too short to accommodate an Antonov 124-210 heavy lifter, which only just was able to takeoff from at Futenma, where the runway is 2740 meters in length. However from the aerial view there is no obvious reason why the runway cannot be extended another 1000 meters or more. In addition, since the area around Saga Ariake Airport is reclaimed land one can expect that there will be few of the difficulties with land acquisition, should expansion of the facilities be necessary. In almost every other case, the existence of traditional landholdings would stymie attempts to acquire land for expansion.

On the minus side, and it is a big minus. Saga Ariake Airport is all the way on the other side of the peninsula from the Sasebo Naval Base, where the ships of the III Marine Expeditionary Force are berthed. It looks to be at least 50 kilometers as the crow flies over rugged terrain – a potential deal breaker, as the sea route to a rendezvous follows a ridiculous roundabout

Teruya intends to do a document exchange with officials of the Ministry of Defense to submit materials on the possibility of converting Saga Ariake to U.S. military use. One should hope the bureaucrats of the MOD treat the MPs with greater courtesy than Saga Governor Furukawa Yasushi, who refused to meet with the Socialist MPs on the grounds that their request for a visit was not an official government request.

Thank You, Martin Fackler

There, I have said it.

And this is why:
In Japan’s Scandals, a Clash of Old Order and New
The New York Times

TOKYO — It had all the trappings of a typical political scandal in a nation that has seen all too many of them: stacks of cash from construction companies, shady land deals and late-night arrests of grim-faced political aides widely seen as fall guys for their powerful bosses.

But the unfolding investigation into possible political finance irregularities by the kingpin of the governing party, Ichiro Ozawa, has also gripped Japan for a very different reason. It has turned into a public battle between the country’s brash new reformist leaders and one of the most powerful institutions of its entrenched postwar establishment: the Public Prosecutors Office...

Read the rest here. It is really good*.

That the prosecutors are out to get Ozawa Ichiro by hook or by crook does not excuse Ozawa from his responsibility to explain to the public where the mysterious 400 million yen originally came from...and if he has some time left over, the justification for the Rikuzankai's investments in illiquid assets like land and apartments.

* I reserve judgment on the author's refusal to use the word "whom" when the reference seems to be to the direct object of the verb.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

China's Non-Existent Takeover of Japan's Refueling Mission in the Indian Ocean

It was OK when the Lowy Interpreter got taken in by this bit of Yomiuri Shimbun rigamarole. No damage done. However, when The Economist's Banyan blog reprints it, then one has to get out the intellectual herbicide, lest the garden of knowledge get completely overrun.

The original source of the fable of the Chinese Navy taking over Japan's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean was a January 11, 2009 front page story in the Sankei Shimbun. January 11 was Seijin no Hi, a national holiday and a traditional slow news day. Someone at the Sankei decided to take a few conversations with unnamed mid-level bureaucrats in the Ministry of Defense -- persons who have an incentive to invent threats, in order to justify the money we taxpayers are paying them -- dress up the result as leaks by unnamed persons "inside the government" that a serious likelihood exists of China taking over Japan's role in the Indian Ocean, supplying fuel to warships participating in Operation Enduring Freedom, and had a little fun.

So total was the ridiculousness of this idea, however, that not even the author of the piece could keep a straight face about it. Near the end of the article, there was an admission that the actual likelihood of Chinese ships refueling American ones was zero.

That is where is all should have ended. Unfortunately, as I noted here, the Yomiuri Shimbun seems to have lost all sense of shame since the Liberal Democratic Party's fall from power last year. The Yomiuri dressed up the Sankei's thinly-sourced bit of fun as fact, having not even the decency, as the Sankei had, to reveal that its "government sources" were in act, nobodies spouting irresponsible speculation.

The rest, as they say, is hysteria.

Later - Yes, it is demoralizing when a purportedly serious public intellectual like Takushoku University professor Morimoto Satoshi lends credence to this story by revealing his "fear" that China's "might" take over Japan's role.

Even later - Curiouser and curiouser. I could not find the online version of original Sankei Shimbun article because the title of the online version is completely unlike title of the printed version I read on January 11. On the other hand, the title of the original printed Sankei Shimbun article title is repeated nearly verbatim in the title of the Yomiuri Shimbun article that appeared five days later.

中国 引き継ぎ検討 (Sankei Shimbun, January 11)

インド洋での給油活動、中国が引き継ぎ検討 (Yomiuri Shimbun, January 16)

Cry plagiarism, Sankei Shimbun! Or at least bragging rights!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

On Ozawa's Choosing To Fight

Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro came out fighting mad in his speech at the DPJ party congress well he should. In arresting three of his former secretaries, one of whom is on trial in another case similarly built on unsupported accusations of construction company executives under criminal investigation and another who was 72 hours away from having parliamentary immunity, the Tokyo Public Prosecutors Office has committed such a blatantly political act one should look for the daifuku boxes marked "Many thanks, your friend, the Liberal Democratic Party" on the desk of the head of the Tokyo District Prosecutor. That the trio will now be held in solitary confinement in cells that are not heated though we are in the middle of January, ostensibly for a maximum 23 days but in practice ad infinitum because judges, being deferential to the Public Prosecutors Office, almost never say no to a request for an extension of a detention, until such a time one of them signs a confession implicating himself, the others being held and anyone else living on this planet, does little to inspire confidence that justice will be done. Indeed, it pretty much guarantees that it won't.

The only hope is that the citizens, who are neither stupid nor particularly forgetful, will see the similarities between the prosecutors' actions in this case and their conduct of the Livedoor case against Horie Takafumi. You can take a pudgy, unattractive, widely-disliked renegade who is in the process of supplanting the Ancien Regime using its own weapons against it and try to bring him down by arresting his associates in mid-January, using the cold, dark, loneliness and police browbeating to coerce them to betraying their boss -- but please do not insult me by doing it twice in four years' time.

We like our heroes handsome, young and uncomplicated. We are not going to get what we want in this instance. Ozawa Ichiro is smarmy, arrogant, physically unattractive, secretive, wrong-headed, treacherous and insincere. He is far removed from anyone's idealized portrait of a hero. The prosecutors are counting our dislike of Ozawa the politician to blind us to the rampant disregard for due process, fairness and balance in the cases being brought against Ozawa's secretaries -- a belief in our gullibility that is far more ugly, arrogant, wrong-headed, secretive, treacherous and insincere than the prosecutors seeming ultimate human target.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Ishikawa Arrest

The Tokyo prosecutors have just arrested Ishikawa Tomohiro, DPJ member of the House of Representatives for the Hokkaido #11 District, the former manager of DPJ Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro's political fundraising group. Unless I am mistaken, only three more days and Ishikawa would have been covered by parliamentary immunity under Article 50 of the Constitution.

A pretty desperate gesture...

Prosecutors are a rogue element, beyond anyone's control it seems, driven by self-righteousness that transcends common sense. They will stop at nothing to bring Ozawa down.

Now more than ever he and the DPJ need a media relations strategy...and they do not have one.

Rearranging the Deck Chairs

On their own private Titanic...

The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan received some welcome news today as Matsushita Shimpei, a 43 year old member of the House of Councillors (district seat, Miyazaki Prefecture) presented his application to join the LDP. Matsushita, a DPJ ally when first elected, dropped his membership in Reform Club, an LDP-friendly micro-party, in order to join the LDP.

Given how the bad news has been of late for the LDP, the gain of this one seat in the House of Councillors could loom large in the party's search for renewed relevance and self-esteem.

Or at least it might have had the chance to do so, if the Matsushita's move from the Reform Club to the LDP did not drop the number of Diet members in the Reform Club to four, making the micro-party ineligible for public funding -- necessitating LDP's having to accept the defection of House of Councillors member Yamanouchi Toshio (district seat, Kagawa Prefecture) from the LDP to the Reform Club, bringing the membership of the micro-party back up to the five-member minimum.

One step forward. One step back. Net result: zero.

Words cannot describe how pathetic this looks.

Later - For those who want to keep score, the official chart of the numbers of all members of the different parties and parliamentary groupings in the House of Councillors can be found here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kyodo drives a stake through the LDP's heart

Earlier this morning I only had fragmentary results from the January 10-11 Kyodo telephone poll. Through the good offices of the Tokyo Shimbun, I have now have the full report. It contains very, very bad news for the Liberal Democratic Party's dream of clawing and scratching its way back into the public's good graces and engineering an electoral miracle in this year's House of Councillors election.

[Most recent figures in bold. Previous poll in (). All numbers are percentages]

Do you support the Hatoyama Cabinet?

Support 50.8 (47.2)
Do not support 33.2 (38.1)
Don't know 16.0 (14.7)

Which political party do you support?

DPJ 38.7 (36.1)
LDP 17.3 (23.7)
New Komeito 3.4 (1.9)
Socialists 3.0 (1.8)
Communists 2.9 (1.3)
Everybody’s Party 2.7 (1.7)
People’s New Party 0.1 (1.1)
No particular party 30.6 (30.5)

When you have the former closest advisors of your opponent's leaders under indictment for fraud (and the Tokyo prosecutor's office still combing through your opponents' books looking for financial irregularities), a low-level verbal war ongoing between your opponents and U.S. government, and the leader of your opponents being relentlessly assailed for his purported vacillation and weakness, you really cannot excuse a 6.4% drop in your support ratings.

The LDP's sub-18% finish in all the polls released so far indicates that it remains a deeply unpopular political entity. Party members have considered a number of ways of saving their political skins: change the party's name, allow the party to split up into politically coherent fragments, elect a new party secretary-general to replace Tanigaki Sadakazu. These movements have heretofore resulted in a lot of media buzz but little of substance.

With polling numbers like these, however, most every LDP politician up for reelection in July must be at least be considering the option of running in his/her district as an independent.

N.B. - There is a great deal of variation among the results for the various micro-parties. I would be cautious to draw any conclusions regarding the electoral chances of any of them in the House of Councillors election. The >3% support figure for the New Komeito is also a bit of an outlier in terms of polling data, as New Komeito voters tend to hide their numbers until just before an election.

The Hatoyama Cabinet Pulls Out Of Its Nosedive

The first round of post-New Years’ polls are out and the results are cause for dancing in the halls of Democratic Party of Japan headquarters. The heretofore declining support numbers for the Cabinet are leveling off.

[most recent figures in bold. Previous poll in (). All numbers are percentages]

Sankei Shimbun (January 7)
Support 56.4 (51.0)
Do not support 37.8 (40.4)
Don’t know 7.6 (8.6)

Yomiuri Shimbun (January 8-9)
Support 56 (55)
Do not support 34 (33)
Don’t know 10 (12)

Kyodo News (January 10-11)
Support 50.8 (47.2)

That all the polls show a rise in the support numbers is nice...but except for the Sankei poll, the rises are not necessarily statistically significant.

As for the party support numbers, the news just goes from bad to worse for the opposition Liberal Democratic Party. In the LDP-friendly Yomiuri Shimbun 's poll, the LDP’s result is the party's worst showing ever.

Sankei Shimbun (January 7)
I support the…

DPJ 33.4
LDP 17.2
Communists 3.2
New Komeito 2.8
Everybody’s Party 1.4
Socialists 0.6
People’s New Party 0.4
No particular party 40.0

Yomiuri Shimbun (January 8-9)
I support the…

DPJ 39
LDP 16
Communists 3
New Komeito 3
Everybody’s Party 1
Socialists 1
No particular party 35

These results are incredibly bad news for the LDP. Its support levels have remained static or even declined even as the prime minister struggled and both he and DPJ Secretary-General have had their former underlings go on trial or be put under indictment for political funds law violations. The four months since the election have provided numerous opportunities for the party to get itself back on its feet and score some political points against the DPJ in preparation for fight for control of the House of Councillors in July. From these polling results, the LDP has failed to capitalize on the DPJ’s difficulties in any way.

Having blown its chances in the fall, the LDP’s hopes now hang upon the embarrassing questions it intends to ask about Hatoyama’s and Ozawa’s finances in the regular Diet session that starts on January 18. The dream is that public opinion will shift strongly against Hatoyama, forcing him into resigning, leading to a cascade of events that break the DPJ's back. This was strategy that the LDP deployed against the only other post-1955 non-DPJ Prime Minister Hosokawa Morihiro.

Of course, the chances of this plan working to the LDP's satisfaction are nil. First, the DPJ is a unified party with a 300+ seat majority in the House of Representatives. There is no chance of the DPJ breaking apart under the strain as the anti-LDP coalition did in 1994.

Furthermore, the DPJ’s leaders, many of whom served in the Hosokawa administraton, learned their lessons from that experience, the chief lesson being never, ever, ever resign, no matter what the LDP throws at you.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Media Shifts Make Japan A Harder Read

A note on sources of information...

I was watching the news on the resignation of Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa on Thursday night, flipping in between the various terrestrial channels. As I flipped back and forth, I was struck by how similar the reports were on the Fuji TV and Nippon TV networks. The two newscasts were nearly identical, except for the clothing and the sets. The editorial stance, the rumors, even the vocabulary were indistinguishable. If not for the bug in the corner of my television’s screen, I would not have been able to tell which network broadcast was which.

This is a new development. Until the election of August last year Fuji TV, which is a part of the Fuji Sankei Group, and Nippon TV, which is owned by the Yomiuri Shimbun, offered the news in distinct flavors. Fuji Sankei Group news, which includes the reporting in the Sankei Shimbun newspaper, offered conservative iconoclasm with a bias toward free markets and a gnawing worry about the growing power of China. As such, Fuji Sankei news reporting found itself frequently at odds with Liberal Democratic Party government decisions. Yomiuri-flavored news, however, was strictly conformist conservatism, in near complete agreement with the course of action of the current administration, save during the years when Koizumi Jun’ichiro was prime minister.

Since the ouster of the LDP from power, however, the two formerly separate identities have grown closer to one another. Tobias Harris has already documented the glee at the Sankei Shimbun when the editors realized that the LDP's election loss made the paper a candidate to be the voice of the opposition. The Yomiuri Shimbun, bereft of the government it had seen itself as serving, has seemingly reversed a previous caution about printing every rumor, plausible or otherwise, it has in the company inbox.

The consequences of this shift toward a unitary conservative reportorial voice are appearing in the non-Japanese press. The Economist’s article this week on the Fujii resignation and Blaine Harden’s Washington Post account of the purported emergence of Ozawa Ichiro from the shadows both show a lack of skepticism toward story elements being trumpeted by the emerging unified Fuji Sankei/Yomiuri opposition news. The explanation that Fujii quit because he had lost a policy battle with Ozawa, rather than one with his own frail constitution, and that he was terrified of being called to testify in the Diet about a financial scandal involving Ozawa, are reported as fact. That Fujii had sworn that he was giving up politics last summer, only to be begged by Hatoyama to run again via a campaigning-free position on DPJ proportional list, is ignored.

Harden is at least aware of the possibility that he may be passing on a skewed version of events, although he buries this admission down in the eleventh paragraph:
But Japan's two most influential newspapers -- which are not friendly with the new government -- have detected a new form of two-headed rule. The Yomiuri newspaper calls it "dual-governance." The Asahi suggests "there is another prime minister outside the cabinet."
The Asahi Shimbun's position in the new order is an ambiguous one. It is frequently characterized as being a center-left publication. In truth, it is aspires to being a non-partisan publication, modeling itself seemingly on The New York Times. Along with its affiliated but independent TV Asahi network, it has tried to maintain a near Olympian position, criticizing the current government for failing to live up to what most ordinary persons would consider impossible standards of achievement. In terms of its purported politicial bias, the Asahi should be gentle on the new government, having waged a long, bitter war against LDP rule. It has, however, been sharply critical.

In trying so hard to remain above political partisanship, however, the Asahi editors have had trouble avoiding the trap of false equivalence. Given the length of tenure of the new government, it is impossible that every DPJ foible is equal to the multitudinous sins of the LDP. However, by failing to take the extra step of saying “we remain suspicious of the current crop of leaders but they at least better than continued rule by their predecessors” the aggressively skeptical reporting of the Asahi has worked hand-in-glove with its now strictly partisan reporting of the paper's conservative competitors.

The strong anti-DPJ government stance of the working-class oriented Mainichi Shimbun is inscrutable, at least from a readership standpoint. The owners seem convinced that the antagonistic segment of the media market can support three players. Unfortunately, Yomiuri and Sankei are set to dominate this segment. An aggressive anti-government, anti-Ozawa line only threatens the Mainichi group with ever greater marginalization. That the Mainichi Shimbun still maintains a translation department, a peculiar luxury for a downscale news organization, has been granting the Mainichi's aggressive reporting and its editorials international stature out of proportion to the organization’s status in the domestic media market.

The shift in news reporting has not gone universally against the government. While The Asahi Shimbun and TV Asahi have struggled to find an admirable independent stance, the national newscaster NHK has surged forward and become the government's most supportive news conduit. This shift is not out of sycophancy to the new power in the capital, however. NHK lived in terror of government retaliation during the LDP years. As a consequence its reporters and editors did their very best to avoid offending the government. Freed by the election from a fear of retaliation from the LDP, NHK news has responded by working with the government to rapidly dismantle the intellectual edifice that kept the LDP in power and NHK cowed. NHK and its legions of talented reporters are now free to report what they know – and they know plenty.

Given the power of NHK’s 7 pm and 9 pm newscasts to determine the national conversation on the news, the relative durability of the Hatoyama Cabinet’s popularity becomes less perplexing. Someone just reading the translated reports from the major newspapers would come away with a vision of the popular mood in Japan as being fixedly anti-Ozawa and anti-Hatoyama and rueing the results of the August election. The truth is that despite serious ongoing investigations of financial fraud in the political offices both the prime minister and the secretary-general of the DPJ, the government and the party still enjoy a large measure of public support.

In an ideal world, foreign reporters with long memories would notice the rapid shifting about in the Japanese media and adjust their sourcing accordingly. However, with most non-Japanese media organizations cutting back staff or pulling out of Japan entirely, the world is relying more and more on unfiltered retransmission what Japanese media outlets are producing. Rather than giving a clearer view of what is going on in Japan, this direct transmission has instead reflected the prejudices and weaknesses of the original outlets, resulting in the broad dissemination of reporting which is potentially more harsh and negative than the on-the-ground reality would require.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hatoyama Family Matters

I have a suggestion for every journalist who still writes about Japan or every analyst who is trying to get a grip what the heck is going on inside the Prime Minister's mind:

Find the answer to this riddle.
The firstborn grandson of a former prime minister on one side and the founder of Bridgestone Tires on the other is not groomed to take over the family business on either side. Instead he is released from familial obligations to seek a doctorate at Stanford University.

A few years later he comes back to the family home with not a degree (he was to finish his Ph.D. in 1976) but a vivacious, delicious batty, divorced, Shanghai-born former showgirl whom he had met when she was still married to a California-based Japanese restaurateur.

He tells his parents his plan to wed his divorcée girlfriend and his parents respond, "O.K. That sounds fine."
Take a moment to let the tendrils of that story curl about the folds of your cerebral cortex.

Do you see? The tale is inexplicable. No, it is beyond inexplicable: it is impossible.

One of the wealthiest and illustrious families of Japan permits the eldest of its male heirs to wed a previously married Takarazuka starlet. Anyone familiar with parents-in-law in this blessed land, especially wealthy or high-status ones, and the way they can twist themselves into knots over the implications a marriage might have on the family's image and the inheritance of assets, should have sat bolt upright and said, "Hey, wait a minute. Run that story by me one more time. Slowly."

The newspapers obsess about what they have come to call the O-Hato (小鳩) dual premiership, where Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro is either sharing power with Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio or dictating to him. All media everywhere unleashed a storm of derision upon Hatoyama Miyuki for her vision of flying in a spaceship to Venus, consigning her to the outer fringes of the Gamma Quadrant of Political Relevance.

However, I am becoming convinced that the really important pairing in the Hatoyama administration, the one that gives a clue about the hows and whys of Prime Minister Hatoyama's so far unnerving style of governance, is not Yukio & Ichiro, it's Yukio & Miyuki ...and that if the country or the wider world wants to be at peace with him, they might need a read on why his family his family came to be at peace with her.

Photo courtesy: Sankei Shimbun

Friday, January 08, 2010

Prime Minister Hatoyama Is A Blogger

O.K.,. maybe not. However, he at least started a blog on January 1.

There are only two posts up on Hato Cafe and the PM has not posted anything since the 2nd. Nevertheless, I am grateful for this so far minimal stab at using alternate media -- though not for the usual reasons of the PM's needing to bypass the mainstream media's twisted reporting to communicate directly with the electorate -- though he needs that too.

No, it is because only on the Internet would anyone be anywhere near so blithe in an apologia for a political donations scandal that has led to the indictment of two former aides:

"Last year, I made all of you very worried because of my political donations problems. Of course, there are very severe criticisms (of me). Whilst I will sincerely bend my ear to these criticisms, my wish is to go forward, expending every bit of my energy in completing my work duties."
Got that? 'Cause that's all there is.

Gosh-golly, can we not help this Prime Minister? From what he has written, all he really wants to do is just do his job.

Hat tip to my friend LL for the link.

Yet Another Sign That He Is Getting The Hang Of This...

..and that the media is not.

Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio had a conversation yesterday with astronaut Noguchi So'ichi, who is on a six months-long mission aboard the International Space Station. The PM took a moment to make a small joke regarding his nickname.

"They call me 'the man from outer space' (uchujin) but I have never ever been in space. I envy you."

Self-deprecating humor is a sign the Prime Minister is feeling more comfortable in his own skin. He even indulged in a bit of risky wistful idealism with Noguchi:

PM - "If all the people of all the world could ride in the ISS and view our planet, then would not all wars end? That's the dream I have."

Noguchi - "Me too. When I look down upon our beautiful Earth, it is unbelievable to me that it is a zone of conflict."

Of course the editors of the Asahi Shimbun could not resist taking a swipe at the PM, entitling its report on the conversation "So he is a space man after all? 'I envy you,' the PM tells ISS resident Noguchi" -- (Yahari uchujin? ISS no Noguchi-san ni shusho "urayamashii") -- even though such a title contradicts what the PM actually said.

What is it with the Asahi? Are its editors unaware that being cynical about everything does not constitute an intellectual stance?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Laying Aside the Baton

Famed conductor Ozawa Seiji will step down from the podium because of esophageal cancer.

Funny, it was just the other day that I was wondering whatever became of the signed photograph of him I received when I was eleven years old.

A Few More Brief Notes Upon the Kan Appointment

- Newly installed Minister of Finance Kan Naoto is known to be easily annoyed, having earned the nickname iraKan ("Kan the Irritable") early on in his political career. He will have to keep his irritability in check in his new position, however, as he and the DPJ will be dependent on the Finance Ministry bureaucracy's backing of the new government's attempts to claw away at the preverse perquisites of the parasitic ministries.

- The prime minister seems to have learned his lesson over the holidays: faced with a crisis in the form of Fujii Hirohisa's hospitalization and poor health prognosis, he found a successor within a day.

The inability to decide upon a course of action quickly, whether actual or seeming, has been the main cause of public unhappiness with the Hatoyama Cabinet. Fujii's resignation is terrible news for the prime minister: he has lost a capable and highly credible policy ally. However, the PM did not exacerbate his problems by dithering.

If Hatoyama can build upon the positive repercussions of this incident, either institutionalizing or internalizing a process by which he can make expeditious decisions, then he will likely see a reversal in the decline in his support numbers.

- Even after three months of a new administration, the media has found it hard to shake its tendency to associate smooth government operations or execution (un'ei) with good governance. The rushed, very public replacement of Finance Ministry old boy Fujii by Kan, who cut his political teeth in the consumer movement, is thus being portrayed as posing a huge threat to the Cabinet's ability to guide and execute policies (naikaku un'ei).

One has to receive this "the sky might be falling down" media hyperventilation with skepticism. Having so long reported on political decisionmaking with their ears against the crack of the closed rooms in which decisions were actually made, journalists and editors are misrepresenting both the messiness and uncertainty inherent in open government and the actual effectiveness of the previous opaque system.

So It's Kan the Irascible

The media is reporting that Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio has asked strategy commission chief Kan Naoto to replace Fujii Hirohisa as Finance Minister. In so doing Hatoyama has chose to fill the vital Finance post with an MP with stature within the party and in the media, rather than someone possessing financial expertise or who was directly involved in the compilation of the current budget. Hatoyama seems to have calculated he needs a strong ally with a big ego capable of defending the current budget in the Diet in between now and April rather than a person capable of leading the compilation of a succession of budgets.

In moving Kan over to Finance from National Strategy and having Administrative Reform Minister Sengoku Yoshito take over Kan's portfolio, the Prime Minister is making the best of an unfortunate departure from his Cabinet. Having Sengoku wearing two hats may end up increasing in the internal coherence of long-range fiscal planning and restructuring. Until now Sengoku's mandate has been pretty much limited to finding ways to cut the national budget. He will now be directing cuts with an eye to a grander strategy, which he of course will be now be in charge of fleshing out.

Later - Tobias Harris has more.

Later still - In retrospect, this post should have been entitled "Finance Minister II: The Irascible Kan."

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Fujii Resignation

I agree with everything that Tobias Harris has written, including his dismissal of the Sankei Shimbun's theorizing that Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa is resigning in order to avoid being questioned in the Diet about a possible fundraising scandal.

As all of the newspapers note, Fujii's departure knocks a big hole in the Cabinet -- in terms of its credibility with the financial markets, in terms of its policy independence from the DPJ party apparatus and its chief Ozawa Ichiro and in terms of its ability to work hand-in-glove with the Finance Ministry bureaucracy. As for who would be a proper replacement for Fujii, I have little clue. A search for continuity and stability would suggest that either of the two Senior Vice Ministers of Finance, either Noda Yoshihiko or Minezaki Naoki should move up to the top spot, despite lack of personal ties to senior members of the bureaucracy. Shifting anyone else around from another ministry or government post would be disruptive to the government and the DPJ's delicate internal machinery.

Once a replacement is named, will market players be restrained from acting out their desires to test the replacement's intestinal fortitude? Speculative attacks on the Ministry's and the Bank of Japan's self-imposed ban on currency intervention; shorting of the Nikkei index; sending Japan Govenment bond rates pogoing up and down or any of a number of other provocative, panic-inducing strategies -- would be bad for the country, but good for business, or at least some businesses.

With Approval

Great news: Bill Brooks is blogging at The Point. Either that or a William Brooks other than the one I know has just posted a tasty review of the relentless negativism in the New Years editorials of the nation's major dailies.

The nation's newspapers, not just their editorials, have indeed been awash with peculiarly high levels of antagonistic pessimism. Could a large part of the decline of the popularity of the Hatoyama Cabinet be due more to media conglomerate sour grapes and nitpicking posing as objectivity than anything Hatoyama or his ministers have done?

Absolutely not-to-be-missed is the preceding post on Moriya Takemasa's self-serving dirt-dishing on everyone involved the scramble for construction funds for the Futenma-to-Henoko move. Moriya's article, published in Chuo Koron, goes a long way to confirming what was already pretty much surmised: that everyone, even Okinawa elected officials, has a price at which he/she can be bought. Especially Okinawa elected officials!

Hat tip to Our Man in Abiko for the link.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Fear of A Sinitic Planet or Something

Shorter version of today's Washington Post editorial:
If the U.S. government does not ease up on insisting that the perfidious Hatoyama Yukio deliver on the 2006 Futenma-to-Henoko agreement, Hatoyama will split his party in two by choosing to draw Japan closer to China. So let us give Japanese democracy a chance because the current government, which will deliver a decision in May, cannot decide anything important before the House of Councillors election in July.
Times are admittedly tough in the print industry. Many in the industry are hanging by a string. But is the Washington Post abandoning checking even its own editorials for clarity and continuity?

As for the swipe at the Democratic Socialist Party, has Fukushima Mizuho or anyone under her been demanding that all U.S. troops leave Japan? There is no mention of a total withdrawal of U.S. forces from Okinawa, much less Japan as a whole, in the party manifesto. Or is it the People's New Party that is demanding total withdrawal?

One should perhaps not complain, of course. The author of this piece is at least considering the possibility that it may be unwise for the U.S. government to continue pursuing a full court press on the Government of Japan in an attempt force a commitment to the 2006 agreement.

The Numbers Against the Move to Henoko

It is fourth day of January, the first work day of the New Year, if only for a few more minutes here in Tokyo. Americans, being the dire workaholics that they are, would normally had been hard at work from the second day of the year on. That the second day of the New Year fell on a Saturday meant that the residents of this blessed land were able to steal a march on the denizens of the U.S. of A., getting a full day’s work done on Monday the 4th before most of the Americans even got up in the morning.

So perhaps rather than being forced, as in most years, into playing catch up from the outset, the Government of Japan has taken the opportunity to try to get the Americans to understand that The Relationship (capital T, capital R) is not in crisis.

When we left off at the end of 2009, the situation for The Relationship was looking pretty grim:
Japan pressed on Futenma
The Japan Times

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Japanese Ambassador to the United States Ichiro Fujisaki to the State Department on Monday for an unscheduled meeting. She reportedly called for Japan to promptly implement the 2006 bilateral accord to move the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in the central part of Okinawa Island to Henoko in the island's north.

Ms. Clinton's unusual move is a clear indication of U.S. frustration with the Hatoyama administration's decision to postpone until some time next year a resolution of the Futenma issue and to seek additional candidate sites for the relocation...
”Unusual” is hardly sufficient as a description for summoning an ambassador of a peaceful and unfailingly polite ally to Foggy Bottom to read him the Riot Act on a day when the U.S. capital is shut down due to snow.

One has to wonder what the Secretary of State thought was the tactical or strategic advantage she was exploiting to achieve her desired outcome. One certainly hopes it is not a belief that Prime Minister Hatoyama is vulnerable and support for the DPJ weak, offering an opening for the U.S. to exert pressure in order to seal the Futenma-to-Henoko deal. Rising public upset with Hatoyama, as measured in the public opinion poll results, has been more over the style of his leadership rather than his party's platform. The public particularly dislikes the prime minister's inability to appear either in control or at peace with himself. They are annoyed also at his constant reiteration of the bromide that the prime minister should be a final arbiter, as if a job description were a salve for what has been his inability to articulate his approach to finding workable solutions to the nation's problems.

Nevertheless, Hatoyama is far from finished and the more compliant Liberal Democratic Party far from mounting a comeback. It needs to be remembered that support for the Cabinet hovers at around the 50% mark – at a time when the Prime Minister’s former subordinates are under indictment for using the safe in the Hatoyama political office for what can be argued is the modern world’s most achingly sad attempt at the laundering of political donations.

The public of course also hates some of the Hatoyama government's policies. Refreshingly, however, they tend to be the really dumb campaign promises (the elimination of tolls on the nation's expressways, for example) that no really one expected a DPJ-led government to enact anyway, as they contradict the general philosophy underlying the Democratic Party of Japan's manifesto. The voters are quite able to discern guiding principles from out of a mass of noise...and they are also aware that politics and public finance require tradeoffs and sacrifice.

A reconsideration of Japan-U.S. accord on Futenma, however, is not one of the government policies the public finds objectionable. Indeed no matter whether the poll is conducted by an ostensibly liberal or conservative organization, poll takers find a public that is overwhelmingly in favor of the Hatoyama government's basic stance, if not in its scattershot tactics.

[In the below, the most recent poll results are in bold. Results from earlier polls are in (). All numbers are percentages.]

From the Asahi Shimbun, a center-left, salaried worker oriented newspaper
Re: Hatoyama

"Do you support the Hatoyama Cabinet?"
- Support 48 (62)
- Do not support 34 (21)

Re: Okinawa/Futenma

"Do you value the way the Hatoyama Cabinet has handled the Futenma issue?

- Appreciate it 30
- Don't appreciate it 60

From the Mainichi Shimbun, a center-right, working-class oriented newspaper

Re: Hatoyama

"Do you support the Hatoyama Cabinet?"
- Support 55 (64)
- Do not support 34 (21)
- Don't have any particular position 12(15)

Re: Okinawa/Futenma

"How should Prime Minister Hatoyama respond to the problem over the transfer of elements of the Futenma Marine Air Station? Please pick the answer that most closely corresponds to your feelings.

- The prime minister should have discussions with the Americans on moving the Futenma base elements either out of Okinawa or out of Japan 51% (50%)
- The prime minister should seek another site inside Okinawa Prefecture 15% (17%)
- He should accept the current Futenma-to-Henoko plan 25% (22%)

From the Sankei Shimbun/FNN, a decidedly anti-DPJ, anti-Hatoyama Cabinet media group
Re: Hatoyama

"Do you support the Hatoyama Cabinet?"
- Support 51.0 (62.5)
- Do not support 40.4 (22.9)
- Don't know 8.6 (14.6)

Re: Okinawa/Futenma

"In terms of the problem of the transfer of elements of the Futenma Marine Air Station, what should the government be emphasizing most?

- Quickly moving to implement the Japan-U.S. agreement as written 28.3
- Reinvestigating whether or not the base can be relocated either inside Okinawa or outside, even if this takes time 43.4
- Definitely moving the base outside of Okinawa, even if this takes time 23.8
- Don't know 3.6

What should be the element of the Futenma problem the government should care about most?

- The Japan-U.S. relationship 38.5
- What the people of Okinawa think 55.8
- What the other parties in the ruling coalition are thinking 2.1
- Don't know 3.6

Those are the numbers -- after repeated strong U.S. messages in favor of the implementation of the 2006 accord and a lockstep media storm warning that a failure to implement the 2006 accord could fracture the close Japan-U.S. security alliance. The public's view of the Futenma-to-Henoko agreement has so far not budged -- and over two thirds of the electorate believes that move to Henoko is just wrong.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Toward A Critique of DPJ Governance

Noted commentators on the international scene Dr. Ian Bremmer and Dr. Nouriel Roubini have published an incomprehensible op-ed on Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio and the Democratic Party of Japan for The Wall Street Journal - "incomprehensible" being a euphemism, of course.
Why Japan Needs a 'Hatobama'
Tokyo's new leader faces a rough 2010 without some pragmatic adjustments.


There are two main reasons why Mr. Hatoyama's unrealistic goals are more worrisome than any of the economic plans Mr. Obama has proposed.

First, there are far fewer political checks on Mr. Hatoyama's ability to pursue them. Mr. Obama faces a hostile Republican Party, a divided electorate, and moderates within the Democratic congressional caucus skeptical of his plans. He has accepted compromise on important issues like health-care reform and troop deployments to Afghanistan because he knows he must. Recognizing the complexities involved, he's taken a go-slow approach on domestic climate change legislation and the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Fiscal conservatives in both parties make a second stimulus package all but politically impossible.

The DPJ, meanwhile, has built a strong single-party majority in the lower house and relies on a pair of coalition partners to dominate the upper house. Mr. Obama's party has majorities too, but Mr. Hatoyama faces fewer institutional obstacles, like the filibuster, to setting a political agenda and pushing it forward...

Setting aside the subtitle’s use of “pragmatic” – my very least favorite word – one must adhere to a rather extreme form of iconoclasm to suggest the legislative gridlock and rent-seeking of Washington presents an attractive alternative to a fast-moving, functioning, popularly-elected parliamentary government. Most of the reality-based world considers America’s legislative process to be far from exemplary – indeed, a goodly proportion of the reality-based commentariat finds the U.S. legislative process to be irredeemably broken.

More insidious, however, is the next paragraph. No, “insidious” is not the right word. The right word is…
Finally, the U.S. has a two-party system that allows business and industry groups to hedge their bets by lobbying both sides. Five months ago, Japan had a one-party system—one in which business elites negotiated legislative language with an LDP-dominated bureaucracy. For the commercial elite, it now has a no-party system, a ruling coalition of mostly new faces with far fewer connections in the business world.

First of all, what in Amaterasu’s name is “an LDP-dominated bureaucracy”? The wording makes it sound like the Liberal Democratic Party is some kind of religion or ideological movement, with party cadres infiltrating and guiding the bureaucracy.

Second, assuming that what Bremmer and Roubini wanted to say was Japan had one party system, with business elites enjoying direct influence over the drafting of legislation through both the party and the bureaucracy, it takes more than mere carelessness to overlook the fact that the existence of business influence on the LDP and the bureaucracy did little to prevent almost three decades of disastrous financial, economic, regulatory and trade policies. And, if being wrong on governance in Japan was insufficient grounds for the brain of the reader to boil over, not noting that the existence of a two-party system in the United States did not prevent the buildup of a series of economic imbalances in the U.S. and around the world that were to implode into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression certainly would be. In both cases, the influence of business interests upon policy makers and policy played a major role on the failure of governments and central banks from engaging and bolstering safeguards, making the economic booms more vertiginous and the ensuing economic busts more abysmal.

According to the evidence of what occurs when business has a strong influence over policy, whether in a two-party or a one-party system, that Japan currently is ruled by a "no-party" system with the DPJ keeping Japan's business interests at arm's length, should a cause for celebration, not derogation.

Later - Tobias Harris has read the same piece and finds yet other ways of being less than pleased.

Waiting For the Day

Introducing Toad and Frog:

“Is it not peculiar,” Toad grunted, “That the smarty-pants, when they have been selling Japan as an investment destination, have declared the Japanese people to be industrious, well-educated and sober—but when they are describing the Japanese popular views of security policy, find those very same people to be passive, naïve and overly idealistic?”

“Good Old Toad,” Frog burbled, “It is not just security policy. When the subject is domestic spending priorities, regulation and taxation the smart set finds the populace just as deficient in mental acuity. But we cannot be surprised at this, can we? The tune always depends on who ultimately will be paying the piper.”

“You mean?” Toad began.

“Yes,” Frog chortled, “The hurly-burly will continue until someone figures out how to make money out off of the policies of the DPJ.”