Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I Don't Know No Hatoyama Cabinet

The pollsters may ask selected voters over the weekend about whether or not they support it. The news media may report about its gatherings, or use its name as a shorthand for the government.

However, after yesterday's Cabinet meeting, the term "Hatoyama Cabinet" ceased to have anything but a technical meaning. The fight, short as it was, over Kamei Shizuka's draft of a law revising the Post Office privatization act, has broken it. You could tell by the body language. When a usually taciturn-to-the-point-of-morose figure like Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi is laughing and gesticulating like an albatross on nitrous oxide trying to take flight, you can be sure the event has hit the skids.

So deep was the wound in the collegiality of the cabinet inflicted by the Prime Minister by his forcing the acceptance of the Kamei draft that participants afterward did not even camouflage their jostling for position at a run for the prime ministership. Nakedly ambitious Internal Affairs and Telecommunications Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro -- a supporter of embattled Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro -- told reporters that what the PM had forced the Cabinet to approve was "the Kamei-Haraguchi bill." National Strategy Minister Sengoku Yoshito, the acknowledged leader of the anti-Ozawa wing of the DPJ and a fierce opponent of Kamei draft, explained his acquiescence to the bill in a calculatingly petulant verbal stiletto to the ribs of Hatoyama:

"Well, it's because I am in the Cabinet, isn't it?" ("Datte, naikaku ni irun da mon.")

Today Prime Minister Hatoyama will face off against Liberal Democratic Party President Tanigaki Sadakazu in Party Leader Question Time. A sad, bizarre, infuriating performance it will be: neither is the leader of anything.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hatoyama At Bay

If Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio was counting on the smooth passage of the national budget (fifth fastest passage in history) and the passage of the childcare support payments bill (ok, ok, so 50% of potential recipients are saying that they intend to put the money into savings, negating the economic purpose of the payments -- at least the legislative part is done) to boost his public image, he should be probably disavowing himself of his illusions this morn.

In the past 24 hours Hatoyama has repudiated his own thrice-revised deadline for a new plan for the Futenma relocation (end of December wait, end of May wait, by the end of March 2010!) falling back on the least likable excuse ("There ain't no law!") ever and seen his former chief accountant plead guilty to multiple, repeated acts of fraud in his (the accountant's) misrepresenting of 400 million yen's worth of deposits in the accounts of the PM's private political funding organization as donations from Hatoyama supporters (some alive, some not quite alive) rather than as direct cash transfers from Hatoyama's and his mother's private holdings.


When the above is coupled with turmoil caused by the Kamei postal reform law revision announcement and the distressing fall in the support figures for both the Cabinet and the Democratic Party of Japan in the weekend poll conducted by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, one comes away with the sense that the PM really needs to start thinking about his exit strategy -- or his exit plain and simple.

To A Man With A Hammer...

...everything looks like a nail.

According to the bio provided at the end of the page, Mr. George Melloan is a former columnist and deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the author of "The Great Money Binge: Spending Our Way to Socialism" (Simon & Schuster, 2009). In an opinion article printed in his maternal publication, he tries his hand at linking his and the Wall Street Journal's personal hobby horse to the Kamei draft revision of the postal reform law.

It is not a pretty sight.
Killing Postal Reform Won't Help Japan
The Hatoyama government is cloaking fiscal profligacy in populist cant
Wall Street Journal

It was perhaps inevitable that the opponents of Junichiro Koizumi's 2007 privatization of the Japanese postal savings system would some day regain power and scuttle his bold reform. Indeed, that was one of the first moves by the Democratic Party of Japan when it ended the postwar dominance of Mr. Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party in the general election last summer. LDP defectors who had opposed privatization aided the DPJ victory.

Postal service privatization, intended to proceed gradually over 10 years, was halted last November by the DPJ. Last week the government of Yukio Hatoyama announced that the state will not complete privatization but instead will retain a controlling interest in Japan Post Holding Co. Moreover, it will try to expand the system by doubling the limit on the size of postal savings accounts and nearly doubling the ceiling on postal insurance policies.

While cloaked in populist cant, these measures are coldly calculated. Populist governments need money—lots of it—and for decades before Mr. Koizumi embarked on reform, the postal savings system provided the government with cheap financing. A high percentage of its massive $3.3 trillion in assets are government bonds.
The whole, which you can access by clicking on the title link, is a tour-de-force of guilt-by-association.

Given his readership, Melloan would probably have succeeded in this exercise conflating the People's New Party with the Hatoyama government, the postal reform law revision with government spending plans for the upcoming fiscal year and total national saving with personal saving.

Melloan exposes the vacuity of his argument, however, in a paragraph that only Liberal Democratic President Tanigaki Sadakazu could believe (because when Tanigaki was Finance Minister, he said something similar):
Japan's financing strategy has other weaknesses. The government has managed to keep the yen strong despite its heavy borrowing not only because of its high savings rate but also its ability to build up a huge foreign currency reserve through its traditional focus on producing for export. It recently surpassed $1 trillion in reserves, second only to China.
Therein magic must lie.

The Bank of Japan/Finance Ministry's purchases of U.S. dollars, reducing the amount of dollars in the market and increasing the amount of yen, drives down the price of the yen against the dollar, keeping Japan's exports competitive in dollar terms. In the end, however, all that it does is make the yen stronger, which weakens the Government of Japan's ability to finance its debts long term.

Ingeniuous. Counterintuitive and contrary to the laws of supply and demand -- but come on, this is the Wall Street Journal. The rock of American business. On basic economic issues, it must be right.

Yep. Right. Far right.

This is not an op-ed about Japan. It is not even an op-ed about the United States, though that was clearly Mr. Melloan's intent. It is about no place extant on this small blue-green planet.

Be careful with that hammer, Mr. Melloan. You could hurt yourself.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Japan As Number One

World Men's - Takahashi Daisuke

World Women's - Asada Mao

World Junior Women's - Murakami Kanako

World Junior Men's - Han'yu Yuzuru

It turns out that Ezra Vogel was right. About figure skating.

Nota bene on the links: One would think that a sport obsessed with physical beauty, cosmetics and costumes would have better photos of the champions.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ticking Down on Okinawa

Just one more day to go -- if we are to put any stock in Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio's inexplicable self-appointed deadline of "the end of March" for his government to come up with its proposal on the transfer of the functions of the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to another location.

Somehow in the first weeks of this year Hatoyama felt the urge, after granting himself in December last year an additional six months to come up with a mutually agreable alternative to the Henoko site, to lop two months off of his own extension. I suppose a premature sense of self-assuredness arose when Shimoji Mikio, the People's New Party's MP from Okinawa, made a land-based Camp Schwab plan the centerpiece of his party's proposals. Hatoyama and his circle came to what seems a gleeful and somewhat premature conclusion that come-what-may, the government can force the inside-the-boundaries-of Camp-Schwab-land-based-solution on all the recalcitrant parties, including the United States military.

Faith in the default option, while not entirely misplaced, looks a lot less reasonable than it did a few weeks ago.

We shall see whether the Wavering One has anything at all on the table come the April day of fools.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Today is Not the Same

The street's alive with camera crews
Everywhere he goes is news
Today is different
Today is not the same
Today, I'll make the action
A snapshot into the light...

- Peter Gabriel
"Family Portrait"

In chess, the very worst blunder one can commit is to move a piece forward, then move it back to exactly the same position as before. It telegraphs to the opponent that you do not have a plan and are merely flailing about for solutions.

Yesterday the Ozawa Ichiro crony-packed Standing Council of the Democratic Party of Japan, after having voted last week to oust Ubukata Yukio from the post of DPJ Deputy-Secretary, unvoted his dismissal. Ubukata, who earned his expulsion for speaking out against Ozawa's continued tenure in the secretary-general post whilst his aides are under indictment for as yet unexplained acts and against the centralization of policy making in the Ozawa-led Standing Council, had no limits placed upon him in return for his being reinstated as deputy secretary-general.

Ozawa is not a player of go, not chess. He cannot be unaware, however, of how reversing course on Ubukata has ripped away his necessary facade of invincibility in party affairs.

Today, everybody who knows anything about politics understands Ozawa has no game plan for July. He is floundering about, playing for time.

Thus begins the end game.

Later - For a less epigrammatic take on events, see either Okumura Jun, Ethan Chua or Isabel Reynolds.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Why Do the Seven Magistrates Not Act?

The Democratic Party of Japan is undergoing a period of rather unpleasant and unsightly stress. As reported by Tobias Harris, the party executive council is leading the junking of the concept of the party as a variegated collection of talented individuals representing many different constituencies. In its place, the council is concentrating financial and policy power making in a central directorate controlled by the party secretary-general. The directorate has has a mandate to carry out the party platform, and...everybody else just shows up to vote, when they are asked to do so. Harris views the process as the inception of a Westminster-style party structure; much of the Japanese political world, including not a few members of the DPJ, think of it as nothing more than the attempted imposition of an Ozawa Ichiro dictatorship.

This week Ubukata Yukio (House of Representatives, Chiba #6 District, 4th term) decided he had seen enough. Perhaps he was inspired by the defection of Hatoyama Kunio from the Liberal Democratic Party over the lackluster leadership of Sadakazu Tanigaki. Perhaps he was driven to distraction by the decaying support numbers for his party (Ubukata having spent, unlike Ozawa, his entire 14 years in politics inside the DPJ). Whatever his tripping point, he abandoned earlier quiet protest in favor of a frontal attack upon the party secretary-general. In media appearances, Ubukata demanded answers to some rather pointed questions, such as:

- If Ozawa cares about the party, why has he not given a public explanation of his use of his political fundraising body as a real estate invesment fund, the accounting for which has led to the indictments of three of his former aides?

- The DPJ manifesto promises to devolve power to the local areas to make government more responsive to the public's needs. Is not the centralization of power in the core executive of the party completely contrary to this philosophy?

For a party whose main raisons d'etres were 1) to give the people of Japan a chance vote someone who was not entangled in murky campaign finance and 2) to give the people a chance to vote for a party that did not buy votes through targeted budget allocations -- what has been transpired over the last few months would give any DPJ true believer a horrible sinking feeling. This is especially so given the voters have repeatedly used elections to the House of Councillors to send a message to the ruling party.

Given the decline in the party's support levels under ruling duarchy of party president and prime minister Hatoyama Yukio and party secretary-general Ozawa, the loneliness of Ubukata's rebellion seems rather remarkable. The well-regarded anti-Ozawa group known as the Seven Magistrates of the DPJ remain inert, despite many cabalistic meetings covered by a panting political press. The party is suffering; all the Seven have to various degrees made the same points that Ubukata has been making. Why do they not follow Ubukata's lead and move to liberate the party of its two troublesome leaders before the duo lead the DPJ to electoral humiliation in July?

I am not privy to the thinking of any of the Seven or their associates and allies. I would venture, however, that they have come to the conclusion that inaction represents a win-win course. If under the leadership of Hatoyama (given that he survives the May deadline he set himself for finding a solution to the Futenma relocation problem) and Ozawa the party goes down to ignominious defeat in the July elections, then the two of them are out the door. Kan Naoto, the surviving member of the Troika, takes over as prime minister and the Seven Magistrates take over the party. If somehow Ozawa pulls a rabbit out of a hat one more time and the party defends its current numbers in the House of Councillors, or improves upon them, then their having kept their heads down and done their jobs will turn out to have been pretty savvy.

To some, Ozawa at present may seem the dictator-in-the-offing. He is, however, a dictator with a sword hanging over his head. He has to the lead the party to victory in July: nothing less than victory will do. Unfortunately, his personal problems, his virtual appointment of the less-than-stellar Hatoyama as party president and his management of party affairs since the August 2009 elections have turned the electorate against him 3 to 1.

If I were one of the Seven Magistrates, I would like those odds.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Ubukata Dump

On Ubukata Yukio's home page, he still lists himself as a Deputy Secretary-General of the Democratic Party of Japan.

He is, however, no longer a holder of that title.

Ubukata had made a splash last month, joining with a group of DPJ legislators in demanding the revival of a intra-party policy research body to replace the abolished Policy Research Council. As a member of the party holding a fairly central post, Ubukata really did not have a reason to demand a voice in party policy making affairs. Nevertheless he went along with a number of mid-career party members who felt powerless the current power structure left too many powerless to affect party decisions.

For reasons that may become clearer over the next few hours, Ubukata has gone rogue. In television appearance after television appearance, he denounced the centralization of power under DPJ Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro and asked pointed questions why Ozawa has not been forced to explain in excruciating detail the story behind the arrest of three of his former political secretaries.

Unlike the Liberal Democratic Party, whose leadership has remained inert in the face of internal criticism of the party leadership and numerous defections, the DPJ apparatus mobilized with brutal efficiency and speed. The DPJ's Standing Officers Council met yesterday and stripped Ubakata of his party post.

What will be of interest is how this crushing of an admittedly out-of-order critic will play in the media and the public eye. Ubukata has portrayed himself as a paladin of the true DPJ, counter to the apostate vote-grubbing, power-grabbing opaque leadership of Ozawa. It is possible the public, which has an overwhelming dislike for Ozawa's continued tenure as DPJ Secretary-General, will applaud Ubukata's self-immolation as a heroic act of resistance. They also just might see it as merely Pyrrhic bonfire of vanity... or a minor key repeat performance of Hatoyama Kunio's defection from the LDP, minus, of course, all the money that Kunio has to spend to console himself whilst he wanders in the political wilderness.

Of course, with Edano Yukio, the State Minister for Administrative Reform and former chairman of the DPJ Policy Research Council reportedly weighing into the fray, the whole mess is getting a lot more interesting...

That Asahi Shimbun Whaling Editorial

Just in case The Asahi Shimbun's editorial on Japan's stance towards whaling and those who oppose it confused you with its seemingly self-critical reasonableness...
EDITORIAL: Anti-whaling activists
The Asahi Shimbun

Should Japan pick up the gauntlet thrown down by anti-whaling activists? It might feel good, but to do so would mean falling for a provocation.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which operates from Australia, is really an annoying bunch of people.

The Japan Coast Guard has arrested a member of the anti-whaling group, which has been trying to disrupt Japan's whaling activities for research purposes.

Peter Bethune, a New Zealander, was arrested on suspicion of "vessel invasion" after he boarded without permission a Japanese ship conducting a whale hunt in the Antarctic Ocean.

Japan has every right to take legal action against such a violation. But it would be detrimental to the nation's interests if the action is used to turn this activist into a hero and drum up anti-whaling sentiment aimed at Japan in many countries.

The whaling debate should focus on how to use and protect marine resources based on scientific theories and evidence. It could get sidetracked if issues concerning cultures and values emerge as major flash points... assured, reasonableness and respect for science are not actually on the table.

Indeed, the text is not an op-ed at all. The original Japanese title, "Whale frictions: do not contest this on culinary culture grounds" (in J. - Kujira masatsu: shokubunka ni tairitsu suru na) indicates that this is more of an open letter to the local officials of Taiji Township and the bureaucrats of the Fisheries Agency, advising them to cool it on the "suppression of our food culture" line of argument.

If I follow line of argument in the March 14 Japanese original, the folks at the Asahi seem to think that too few citizens eat whale in sufficient quantities for the GOJ to mount an argument that eating whale is an ineluctable part of Japanese culture. Indeed, pushing the food culture argument will somehow hamper the Australian government's ability to go along with the tentative IWC negotiations over the resumption of a limited commercial whale hunt.

But...if the killing of whales is not a culinary culture matter, then there is no reason for a non-subsistence level population to hunt whales at all, except perhaps out of a nihilist "we kill them because they are out there" (Caution: Not Work Safe) ratiocination. And while the consumption of whale flesh may not be a matter of significance to national culinary culture, whale hunting is certainly a part of local sub-cultures. I am sure far fewer Japanese have venison on the table each year than have whale or dolphin meat. However, this is scarcely an argument for shooshing down the discussion of the legal hunting of deer for food in mountain communities.

No matter how you slice it, the arguments of the folks at The Asahi Shimbun sometimes just do not make sense.

On Japanese Debt and Deflation

T'is a rare gift: to write, and write accessibly, and never once write anything mundane.

Peter Tasker has it.

Furthermore, I find that his every composition there is one sentence that cuts through the tangle, undoing the Gordian Knot inside one's head. In his latest essay for the Financial Times on the relative sustainability of Japan's debt burden, he writes:

The buyers of these bonds - deleveraging corporates, de-risking financial institutions, individuals turning their backs on equities and real estate - are hardly speculators. They have sound reasons for the choices they made. Not least is the fact that deflation - which is understated by Japan's outmoded CPI calculations - generates an invisible tax-free gain to holders of cash and bonds.
I have heard several dozen specious explanations of why the citizenry, business and policy makers have tolerated deflation these past two decades. I have found these explanations wanting and almost always demeaning of the people's ability to think. After a while one is no longer thrilled by minor boon of the can of soda getting larger every decade, or new cheaper low-end goods. The economic literature warns against deflation. Deflation cripples the mechanisms of borrowing capital for business activity, crushing borrowers beneath ever heavier real burdens. It also makes central bankers doing plain vanilla central banking operations look like total fools.

Given the erosion of economic animal spirits, why would any nation long accept deflation, except when it is the consequence of technological change leading to increases in productivity?

Because, for bond holders and equity holders, it represents an untaxed net gain.

Oh yeah. That would make deflation worth the pain for some folks, wouldn't it?

My stupid.

Richard Katz's essay for the Asian Wall Street Journal (behind the subscription wall, but excerpts appear in a posting to the NBR Japan Forum), offers some sad facts for Kan Naoto and others who seem to believe that there is a quantitative easing free lunch. As Katz points out, consumer inflationary expectations are chronic: despite twenty years of evidence to the contrary, the public still believes that price rises are just around the corner. He is also right in saying that the public considers inflation a tax -- and they cut their consumption now in order to have the savings to cover the tax later.

Katz is probably wrong, however, in arguing that deflationary expectations do not erode spending. As evidence he cites the decline of the savings rate. A decline in the savings rate says little about a propensity to spend and a great deal about declines in disposable incomes. If one makes 10 million yen one year and save 10% of one's income, then only 8 million yen the next year and saves nothing, one's spending still has declined by a million yen, and your mood, quality of life and contribution to GDP has declined accordingly.

Furthermore, while deflation may be neutral for necessities and small ticket items, it stands to reason that it is devastating for big ticket items. Buying a new home or signing a rental contract or splashing out for the purchase of a new automobile will be restrained by a fear of possible of humiliation, of feeling dumb for paying too much for something that will be cheaper later on. While imperatives such as the birth of children or having to care for an aging parent may force some decisions, the threshold to taking on a life cycle-level purchase is lowered when one has the knowledge that one will in part be bailed out by the diminishing value of cash. It strikes me as unlikely that revised cultural preferences, technological shifts or regulatory limitation (or lack of space) are keeping houses small, telling consumers switch to keijidosha or convincing them to purchase white goods less frequently.

Not in the News

President Barack Obama has postponed his visit to Indonesia and Australia.

According to the Yomikei Shimbun, this sudden decision is yet more evidence, along with the sudden cancellation of Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell's visit, of the Obama Administration's mounting anger at the government of Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio over the decision to revise the planned relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. Mr. Obama will clearly not even visit Asia until this impasse is resolved.

Yes. I am kidding. Come on, it's Friday.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Pacific Age

Maybe this morning, as you drank your coffee, you looked out your window over the rooftops at a cloudscape tinged with golden light.

Perhaps that wild prediction you made actually panned out, despite what that loud-mouthed conservative moron said.

Perhaps you heard that someone you cared about had been in an accident. However, you got a call later saying that she was all right, just a little shaken.

Perhaps you read about someone doing a good deed.

Perhaps a not unattractive fellow passenger in the train looked at you quizzically for a moment, then smiled.

Too bad, because this photo essay is about ruin your whole day.

Link from Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

You Cannot See Something That's Not There

The Atlantic's economics blogger Megan McArdle graphs an amazing coincidence: the evil goblins inside Toyota automobiles seem to have a particular grudge against older Americans and immigrants.

Hmmm...somewhere in Aichi Prefecture, someone is muttering, "Yappari..."

Later - And of course, if I were a former CEO of Toyota Motors, I would be quietly drumming my fingers on a smooth, black meeting room table, very slowly...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Third Time's The Charm - LDP Edition

It was another tough Sunday press event for the increasingly haggard-looking Tanigaki Sadakazu. The Liberal Democratic Party's president, on a probably poorly thought-through visit to Nago City in Okinawa, had hardly finished his canned demand for Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio's resignation when he was asked to comment on the other Hatoyama, younger brother Kunio, who in a televised interview announced he would be leaving the LDP and forming a new party, with his estimated date of departure sometime during the Golden Week holidays. Kunio became the third well-known LDP member in last two weeks to issue a threat to leave and form a new party if Tanigaki did not not himself resign.

Tanigaki, so far from home and so close to becoming a footnote in Japanese political history, could only sputter that he was not informed as to the content of H. Kunio's announcement.

(Not an issue to hang one's hopes on, I am afraid. The discovery of content inside a Hatoyamo Kunio announcement would be a thing of wonder.)

Coming on the heels of Masuzoe Yoichi's appearance at the Foreign Correspondent's Club and Yosano Kaoru's essay for Bungei Shunju, both of which resulted in no appreciable punishment for the perpetrator (Masuzoe was replaced at the last minute as lead questioner in the House of Councillor's budget committee interpellations, which meant that the LDP had a lesser mortal asking the Cabinet the LDP's questions) H. Kunio's announcement pushes the core LDP leadership group to the brink. The party's most popular, most respected (at least in bureaucratic and business circles) and richest members have all now threatened to jump ship and form new parties if Tanigaki does not step down. It is inconceivable that the party leaders can just hunker down and hope for the storm to pass. They have to either expel the rebels, strip them of all party privileges or accede to their demands.

All in all, it looks like it is going to be a very interesting Monday at LDP headquarters.

More on Whaling in Japan

Bryan Walsh of TIME explains very little in what is supposed to be an explainer article, proving once again that the real endangered species is the American magazine editor who gives a damn. How could the following line ever get past anyone with even the slightest concern about informing the reader, one of the ostensible but clearly lesser goals of what is purportedly a magazine?
Japan is not the only country to refuse to sign onto the whaling ban, but it's the only one that pursues whale in any significant way.
Not one but two falsehoods, in only 25 words. That has got to be some kind of modern record.

By contrast, Banyan explains a great deal in what has to be some of his most impassioned writing, a Notebook post offering background to his most recent column for his home publication.

On one point Mr. Walsh, Banyan and myself are in agreement -- the degustation of whale flesh is, as a purely sensory experience, simply not worth the fighting for.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Green Grass of Home

The Monday article by Gavin Blair on the declining numbers of murders in Japan had a very interesting observation in it by the crime researcher Professor Hamai Koichi of Ryukoku University:
“In other research I carried out 50 percent of people thought that crime had greatly increased in Japan, but only 4 percent felt it had in their neighborhood. That’s a huge gap,” he adds.
It is funny but I saw the same odd discrepancy -- between perceptions of a miserable national situation and a rather contented take on one's own station -- in the Pew Survey on Global Attitudes regarding the views folks hold of the Japanese economy and their own personal income situation.

Pretty damn low… and yet, when you ask the same persons about their level of satisfaction with their own economic situation, you get:

Fascinating...and frightening. I cannot think of a pair of graphs that more clearly indicates that whatever fiscal or monetary ideas the DPJ may have on offer, the likelihood that folks are going to risk their current stability in order to try something new, that is become entrepreneurial in their behavior in order to reap potentially huge rewards, is pretty darn slim.

Where I grew up, there was the saying that “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” – that try as one might, one would never find one’s own station satisfactory, that one would always look enviously beyond one's own small patch of ground.

And green indeed was the traditional color of envy.

In contemporary Japan, however, it seems there is nothing quite so nice and comfortable as the green grass of home.


Based on communications from the author, I have made significant corrections to yesterday's post on the article Toyota and the End of Japan.

I Went To The Animal Fair

On Monday the Mainichi Shimbun published an unusually intelligent and evocative column comparing the electoral promises of the Democratic Party of Japan and the party's actual recent behavior.
The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which came to power with a promise to stamp out old patronage politics, is now engaging in a more explicit form of pork-barrel elections than the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

DPJ Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa stumped in Nagasaki for a DPJ-backed candidate in the Nagasaki gubernatorial election campaign, saying, "If you elect X, we will be able to build a highway here."

Meanwhile, DPJ Election Campaign Committee Chairman Hajime Ishii used intimidation when he went to show his support for the candidate. What he actually said was: "If selecting the LDP-backed candidate is your choice, then the government will act accordingly."
The dangling of public works contracts before local voting bloc leaders and the naked threat of abandonment should the local area vote turn against the DPJ remind staff editorialist Yamada Tadao of the behavior of the pigs in George Orwell's 1945 novel, Animal Farm.
One day, all the animals on a farm unite to overthrow the farm owner, Mr. Jones, turning the farm into a farm of the animals, by the animals, for the animals. But the pigs that had led the other animals through the revolt assume increasingly more power and become oppressive rulers just like Mr. Jones had been.

Any time the other animals question the pigs' words and actions, they would respond: "Surely there is no one among you who wants to see Jones come back?" This sounds very much like the cliched "words of support" uttered by DPJ leaders who ask the public: "Do you want to go back to a time of collusive ties between the LDP and bureaucrats?"
Two things to note here.

A) Yamada's drawing of parallels between the electoral victory of the DPJ and overthrow of Farmer Jones in Animal Farm makes clear that calling what happened last year "a revolution" is not just a foreign vice. In order to make the simile work, the takeover by the DPJ has to have been a revolution -- one that has since been betrayed.

B) Yamada elides over two crucial assumptions. The first is that the voters (the animals of the farm) to whom the DPJ (the pigs) made their "we'll do politics differently" promises are the same voters that Ozawa and Ishii were alternately enticing and threatening in Nagasaki Prefecture.

This is almost certainly not the case. Voters who would drool like Pavlov dogs over the prospects of a new highway being built are probably not core DPJ supporters or independents. They are most likely LDP voters...and Ozawa and Ishii were talking to them in a blunt and crass manner of speech that longtime LDP voters fully understand.

The second assumption is that Ozawa and Ishii were telling the truth to this crowd. This is also highly questionable, especially in light of Ozawa's history of duplicity and sudden reversal. The DPJ might retaliate; it might not. It might reward LDP turncoats with a new road or it might just stiff them. Whatever happens it will be three years before the voters next get a shot at the DPJ...and in politics, three years is an eternity.

So while Yamada's essay is clever, and renders more concrete an uneasy feeling many now have that the election victory of the DPJ has done little to improve politics and indeed possibly made politics worse, it is in the end a bit of a literary magic show.

All the voters are not interchangeable -- and not all are innocents.

The original Japanese text can be found here.

Later - Edits made at the suggestion of reader KT.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mr. Zakaria, You Blew It

The print edition of Devin Stewart's Newsweek article has landed, or I should perhaps say splattered, on my desk. He gave ample warning to everyone, alerting folks via his LinkedIn page of the arrival of the Newsweek piece. A simple Google search pointed me in the direction of his reworking of the same material original text, written for the Huffington Post.

Now the Newsweek print copy has arrived, worse than imagined. The article is wobbly on the facts, when not outright wrong. The black-and-white photos illustrating it are pure poverty & disfunction pornography.

I do not have the time to go through everything in the article worthy of criticism. I can offer, however, a few pointers on what I believe are some journalistic conventions:

1) When a government minister says to you in a speech, "a non-profit organization has claimed that the number of hikikomori in Japan could be as high as 3.6 million," you are not allowed to hewing close to the line when you write, "More dramatic is the presence of the hikikomori or shut-ins who have given up on social life and number about 3.6 million, according to the Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Kazuhiro Haraguchi, citing a Japanese nonprofit" or, and over that line when the text says, "last month authorities said it may be as high as 3.6 million."

As for the hikikomori phenomenon, if you are going to conjure up the image of a lost generation of youths languishing behind the walls of their homes, you had better hope that the government's own survey data does not show that men and women in the 20-29 age cohort are the least likely to agree with the statement "I hardly ever go out," followed by those in the 30-39 cohort (Look at figure 8-2, if you do not believe me).

2) When you write "According to a 2008 Pew survey, Japanese were more dissatisfied with the direction of their country than almost any other nation, including Pakistan and Russia" you had better hope beyond hope that the folks at Pew stopped conducting surveys after 2008 and have closed down their website. Otherwise someone might actually go to the Pew survey database and find out that not only were Japanese surveyed in 2009 twice as satisfied as they were seven years ago, but that their rate of satisfaction was a scant 2 percentage points below the rate for Russia, nearly three times the rate for Pakistan and way above South Korea.


Ultimately, the responsibility for the intellectual calamity that has been inflicted upon the world's understanding of Japan lies with Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek's international edition. In this age when news magazines have let of their regulars, relying instead on outsiders to produce content, a journal's reputation is protected only by a tenacious and unpretentious commitment to the verifiable, incongruent with the jitterbug lifestyle of the global glitterati.

Later - To be entirely fair, nothing that DS has written is untrue. The data, however, has been selected and the quotes parsed in such a fashion as to excite, not illuminate.

Even later - Devin Stewart responds in comments and I reply. I very much appreciate his willingness to engage me as regards his article.

Blogroll Addition - Tokyo Notes

Paul Jackson, whom I do not know, is blogging on Japanese politics and business for The Diplomat. His latest post, on the weird Washington Post editorial denouncing Fujita Yukihisa, can be found here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Tree Falls Alone

Sometime before 4:40 this morning, the great gingko tree of Tsuruoka Hachiman Shrine snapped in two, its massive bulk thudding into the courtyard.

Estimated at over a thousand years old, the tree was famous for having provided a hiding place for Kugyo, the second son of Minamoto no Yoriie, as he awaited to wreak vengeance upon his uncle Minamoto no Sanetomo, the third shogun, whom Kugyo thought had arranged Yoriie's assassination when Kugyo was only 5 years old. According to the legend, as Sanetomo descended the staircase following a service, the now 20 year old Kugyo leapt out from behind the tree, sword in hand, shouting, "I take my vengeance on my father's enemy!" and hacked off Sanetomo's head.

Kugyo was later killed on the orders of his maternal uncle, Hojo no Yoshitoki. His execution marked the end of the Minamoto line, less than 35 years after Minamoto no Yoritomo and his brothers led the extirpation of the Taira at Dan no Ura.

Rest in peace old one. Your tale is now done.

Photo courtesy: Tokyo Shimbun

Kaffé Taimu

May Amaterasu bless Janne Morén...he makes me laugh without malice.

Renounce Thy Loons Now!

Very much an aside, but does anyone know the backstory to The Washington Post's publication of an editorial denouncing Fujita Yukihisa, an uninfluential and decidedly quirky DPJ member of the House of Councillors whom most Japanese have never heard about? In a blog post, Fujita calls himself the victim of a bait-and-switch interview arranged by the Foreign Press Center (deliciously, he chooses to name names).

From the scale of the conniption fit the Washpo throws, one would think that Fujita was a person of extraordinary significance.

Does this brouhaha have anything to do with Fujita's being a bête noire of the fantabulist right wing over the war reconciliation issues? And if so, what is The Washington Post's interest in all this?

Because the story about the story is becoming a story here.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Ozawa's Grip On Policy Loosens A Little

One of the decisions made with strikingly little debate and seemingly little aforethought in the aftermath of the August 2009 election was the dissolution of the Democratic Party of Japan's Policy Research Council. I understood the symbolic point being made: that the policy framework set out by the new National Policy Unit (Kokka Senryaku Shitsu) should not be subject to second guessing by the party's own policy crafting apparatus. However, the likely practical and political fallout from the abolition of the party's policy arm seemed to outweigh the symbolic value of the act. Was it really necessary to abolish the party's ideas factory in order to enforce party/government message discipline? A simple suggestion -- "don't make waves" -- would have sufficed.

The decision seemed particularly perilous in light of the default alternative: the concentration of policy drafting in the hands of Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro. Handing all policy making to Ozawa guaranteed that DPJ proposals would be perceived as having a bias toward winning votes, not the national interest. Eliminating the Policy Research Council also reduced the structural framework for the party's middle ranks to take part in policy making -- which resulted in the party mid-levels predictably demanding a forum.

Having Ozawa in unfettered control of all aspects of DPJ business -- the party purse, party appointments and policy making -- was furthermore bad in optical terms. It certainly seemed to support the Liberal Democratic Party's contention that the DPJ was evolving toward an "Ozawa dictatorship" where the Prime Minister and the Cabinet were just so much democratic window dressing. Since Ozawa could not conceivably be good at everything, having him responsible for everything seemed less a matter of efficiency and more a matter of jealous megalomania.

Monday's horrific opinion polls results (to read all about the carnage in English, go here and here. For Japanese, go here and here and here) seems to indicate that the electorate had crossed a crucial threshold. Voters are no longer merely doubtful about wisdom of the DPJ holding a majority of seats in the House of Councillors; they indeed believe that giving the DPJ control of both houses would be undesirable.

It is interesting therefore that the PM and Ozawa are suddenly talking about the revival of an independent party policy crafting apparatus. With a well-deserved electoral spanking for power mongering now staring them in the face -- the fate that befell Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and the LDP in 2007 -- the PM and Secretary-General Ozawa are all of a sudden of the opinion that, yes, perhaps the DPJ policy drafting needs to be a little more democratic. They have proposed the establishment of a Diet Member Policy Research Study Meeting (Giin Seisaku Kenkyukai) open to all DPJ Diet members. Attendees would learn about new party policy initiatives from policy specialists and research and lobby groups. The Diet members would then be able offer their views of the proposals to the "Manifesto Planning Committee" (Manifesuto Kikaku Iinkai), a joint party\government entity comprised of the DPJ's manifesto realization group headed by Senior Vice Secretary-General Takashima Yoshimitsu and the National Policy Unit.

The likelihood that such an ad hoc, "everyone's welcome to join in" meeting will promote a less capricious crafting of policies is small. Nevertheless, establishing the research group sure sounds policy drafting is going to be more inclusive and open. In light of the unnecessary concentration of power in Ozawa's hands since the election, the proposal does represent a tiny step toward a healthier balance between centralization and empowerment within the DPJ.

If the ruling DPJ duarchy can have a few more these brainstorms over the next few weeks, who knows, the outlook for the summer's elections may be less bleak.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Brilliant Curmudgeon

Though I do not share the feeling, I cannot help but wish I had concocted this cracking complaint:

I can't get behind Japanese comedy. God, I can hardly stand to be in front of i
Taken from here.

Friday, March 05, 2010

For the Australians About Whaling in Japan

Since the Australian government has taken the hardest of hardline stances regarding whaling in recent years, some random idiosyncratic thoughts about means by which a larger number of whales might get saved, particularly in light of the Maquieira proposal, where the operative paragraph is:
Fundamental components of this consensus decision are to: bring whaling by all members under the control of the IWC; reduce catch levels significantly; limit operations to those members who currently take whales; establish caps that are within sustainable levels for a ten year period; enhance monitoring and control measures; create a South Atlantic sanctuary; and provide a mechanism for enterprise and capacity building for developing countries. Members agree not to authorize whaling outside IWC control and not to exceed the prescribed catch limits (Appendix A). Subsistence whaling by indigenous people that was previously approved by the Commission will continue under existing management measures. The Commission will now refer to aboriginal subsistence whaling as indigenous subsistence whaling.
- Stop warning about catastrophe "after the resumption of commercial whaling" - Despite the best efforts of Greenpeace and others confuse the public on this issue, commercial whaling never ended in Japan. After the imposition of the moratorium in 1986, the five municipalities with small-scale coastal whaling operations (Hakodate, Ayukawa, Abashiri, Wadaura and Taiji) shifted from hunting the now protected and numerous Minke whales to hunting rarer toothed species: Baird's Beaked whales, false killer whales and Risso's dolphins. In addition to the small-scale coastal whaling operations some fisheries cooperatives in Hokkaido, Iwate, Wakayama and Okinawa prefectures conduct under-reported "hand harpoon" hunts of hundreds of toothed whales and smaller cetaceans.

A limited commercial hunt of abundant species carried out under international supervision seems preferable to the current policy, which has encouraged largely invisible hunts of species not protected by the IWC moratorium.

- Don't get hung up about the research whaling exception - Japanese negotiators are fighting for the right to continue conduct research whaling operations in the Southern Ocean even after the lifting of the moratorium on commercial whaling of some of the 13 IWC-regulated whale species.

Before gagging, remember that having the right to do something does not mean that one will do something. The costs of manning and sending a factory ship and harpoon ships south of the Equator, with the chance that the Sea Shepherd and its brethren will be waiting for them, all in order to collect only a tiny number of whales allowed under the new quota system, will not pass the fiscal sanity test. The Hatoyama government is already dragging every government-supported program over the coals in search of savings. It is not going to keep a factory ship program going when Japan's meat needs can be satisfied either by near-shore hunts in the North Pacific or imports from Norway and Iceland.

For a country that cannot use military force as a means of settling disputes, the protection of rights guaranteed by treaty, even useless ones, is an obsession. Japan's negotiators need to preserve the right to conduct research whaling even if (especially if) the new government wants to phase out the actual conduct of research whaling expeditions.

- Demand unified data collection - Currently, the data on number of small cetaceans killed and processed in Japan is collected by the individual prefectural governments and the five municipalities conducting coastal whaling. The pelagic research whaling expeditions report to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. With all the people at working in the Fisheries Agency, the purported scientific approach to whaling, and the international political pressure continued whaling brings upon Japan, one would think that the government would have a rigorous, unified, timely and easily accessible national database on whale hunts and the whale meat industry.

Not exactly.

- Get the by-catch numbers in the totals - One of the tragedies of normal purse sein and drift net fishing is that large numbers of seabirds, sharks and sea mammals die in the nets. For some reason, however, there is virtually no mention of the domestic market's absorption of the large number of baleen whales killed during the course of fishing operations. In 2008 (the latest figures I have found) 136 baleen whales (133 Minke, 2 humpbacks, 1 fin) were landed and recorded as by-catch. The flesh of all of these baleen whales was consumed, with 128 of them being sold for a profit in the domestic commercial whale meat market.

- Insist on commercialism - If commercial harvesting of IWC-regulated species is to resume, then the hunt has to be commercial. No more government subsidies to the hunters or their communities, or sleazy wheezes like distributing whale meat for free to the public schools so students "can get a taste of life as it was 50 years ago."

- Be patient - Impatience with the Japanese government, as exemplified by the direct actions taken as at sea of the Sea Shepherd Society, has hardened public support for Japan's various whaling operations. Rather than going for a complete reversal of prior behaviors, work hard to get a reduction in the numbers of cetaceans being killed, even if it means a resumption of commercial hunts of IWC-regulated species. After the new regime is in place, work on convincing the citizenry that whaling is inhumane and pointless. Make the decline or cancellation of the hunt due to domestic pressures, not international ones.

Besides, there is a new ruling party in Japan. The folks behind the "Japan" sign are different from the crowd at the 60th annual meeting. Sure, the ministry bureaucrat may be the same, but his/her boss is not. Work with these new people; they want to work with you.

- Forget about the International Court of Justice - For two reasons:

1) Only the very best of Japan's students pass the entrance examinations to enter Tokyo University...and only the best of those who enter Tokyo University enter the Faculty of Law...and only the very best of those who graduate from the Faculty of Law enter into the Finance Ministry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs...and only the very best of those who enter the Ministry of Foreign Affairs get selected to serve in the Treaties Bureau. The Bruces and Sheilas of the Treaties Bureau know more about language than a cartload of philologists...and they know every comma, period, preposition, suffix, adverb and semi-colon in every treaty Japan has ever signed.

You think you can take these folks on?

What about the matter of the president of the International Court of Justice's being the Crown Prince's beloved wife's dad?

(What bureau was ICJ President Owada the Director-General of in the Foreign Ministry? The Treaties Bureau.)

2) Two years ago, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd characterized the whaling dispute as "an important disagreement between friends."

You do not sue your friends.


So Kobayashi Chiyomi (Hokkaido #5 District) is forced to give up her Diet seat because of the arrests of four of her associates for channeling four illegal donations to her campaign from the Hokkaido Teacher's Union totaling 16 million yen...and the PM stays on despite the indictment of two of his former aides for filing false statements regarding seven years of monthly cash payments from his mother totaling 1.17 billion yen?

Amaterasu, if the Prime Minister Hatoyama, Ozawa Ichiro or others in the Democratic Party of Japan think that throwing a female junior legislator to the wolves will in some way limit the damage that has been done to the Democratic Party of Japan's reputation, they are living on another planet. I cannot think of anything that will turn off floating voters, particularly women voters, more.

Let us hope that this report of the DPJ having a glaring double standard in the way it handles campaign contribution violations was just somebody's trial balloon.

Speaking about floating trial balloons, Richard Lawless and Nagashima Akihisa have been busy trying to bull rush the Futenma replacement base selection process. Lawless, since he is out of government, does not have to care about what he is spouting...and neither do we (Nota bene: Kato-san, please stop talking to these people). Nagashima, however, is in the government and has been caught talking way above his pay grade.

Nagashima is most likely telling the truth, that the Futenma onshore option is a done deal. However, telling the truth prematurely, as Nagashima seems to have done, can have serious consequences for his continued tenure at the Ministry of Defense.

Let us keep an eye on how Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi handles Nagashima's sudden onset of loose lips syndrome.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

As Scandal Swirls About the DPJ, It Is The LDP That Is Drowning

Though I have linked to it once already, T. Harris has written a magisterial post on the current parlous state of the Liberal Democratic Party. He proposes some possible answers to the current conundrum of Japanese politics: how despite the many wounds inflicted these past few months to the Democratic Party's longtime "clean" image, the Liberal Democratic Party has failed to earn even a modicum of respect in opposition. Indeed, with the rapid decline in the chances of the LDP returning to even par with the DPJ, the party has lost the support of the dentists, one of the LDP's most loyal institutional voting blocs... and is facing the loss of the doctors as well.

It seems the Japanese political market can only support one variegated, everybody-gets-something, ethically compromised umbrella party at a time.

When you are reduced to throwing tantrums because three ministers (though admittedly a very interesting trio of individuals) failed to get the message that a committee meeting start time had been rescheduled from 9:00 a.m. to the unusual hour of 8:50 a.m., you have really lost all sense of proportion.*

The LDP's stature has indeed sunk so low, and the New Komeito with it, that the only real opposition the DPJ faces comes from its own coalition partners.** It is because of People's New Party vehement opposition that the controversial foreigner's local suffrage law seems a dead letter, at least for this Diet session. The Democratic Socialist Party has played a milder but still corrective role as well, reminding the DPJ again and again to deliver on its campaign promises.

So there is reason for ruling in coalition with tiny but obstreperous political allies, even when they are superfluous: they can prevent you from falling in love with your own cleverness.***

The self-styled paper-of-record The Asahi Shimbun is today predicting a potentially disastrous House of Councillors election for the DPJ, on the basis that the support levels for the Hatoyama Cabinet have sunk from "stratospheric" to merely "moderate." The argument does not hold much water. The voters need to see the emergence of a plausible alternative to the DPJ before they will be willing to instigate yet another round of change. There is not one now nor is there a likelihood of there being one by the time July rolls around.

Wishing something is true as a recompense for your illusions having been shattered is not analysis. Sometimes justice is not served; sometimes a sin will go unpunished.

* That the media would report the ministers' having been late as the top political news story of course indicates how low the news media have sunk.

** A coalition ally's being the only effective opposition is not unprecedented. It was only because of intense New Komeito opposition to the LDP's authoritarian draft revision of the Basic Law on Education that the bill eventually passed in 2007 was not utterly egregious.

** Not unlike friendship in between individuals, no?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

You Do Not Speak For Us

Liberal Democratic Party House of Councillors member, former Minister of Health, Welfare and Labour and Ranking Member of the House of Councillors Budget Committee Masuzoe Yoichi was scheduled to lead the questioning of the Cabinet over the 2010 Budget bill in House of Councillors Budget Committee interpellation sessions today and tomorrow.

That is until the core leaders of the LDP decided yesterday to relieve Masuzoe-san of his responsibilities.

It seems they have a problem with sedition.

Petty of them, really.

Thoughts on the Hokkyoso Political Donations Scandal

Over at Twisting Flowers Ethan Chua has an overview of the Hokkyoso political donations scandal engulfing Democratic Party of Japan member Kobayashi Chiyomi. While it seems impossible to believe that Hokkaido Teachers' union representatives, many of whom held high positions in the Kobayashi campaign headquarters, were unaware of the campaign finance law forbidding donations by organizations to individual campaigns, the real rascal here seems to be Kimura Michiru, the Kobayashi campaign's accountant. When asked why he placed the four rounds of direct donations from the Hokkaido teachers's union in a separate secret bank account, he replied, "Well, I had reason to believe the donations were illegal."

Whatever happened to refusing to accept the donation, telling the union representatives, "I'm sorry; I can't take that. It's illegal."? Or, conversely, accepting one's professional responsibility of identifying oneself as a co-conspirator an attempt to circumvent campaign finance laws?

Kimura hereby adds his name to the ever-burgeoning assembly, the "Japan League of Unhelpful Accountants."

While the eruption of yet another DPJ political funds scandal would normally redound to the opposition's benefit, there are extenuating circumstances here that could conceivably turn Kobayashi's predicament into a plus for the DPJ.

First, the teacher's unions normally ally themselves not with the DPJ but with the Japan Communist Party. Right wingers have indeed long insisted that the national umbrella Japan Teachers' Union (Nihon Kyōshokuin Kumiai, or Nikkyōso) is nothing more than a JCP recruitment and organizing committee. The Communists, normally the loudest voices on political corruption issues, have indeed remained remarkably subdued about Kobayashi's problems, probably in order to avoid drawing any more attention to the subject of where exactly the nation's teachers unions have been sending their money.

Second, the Hokkyoso scandal gives added impetus to one of the DPJ's signature legislative proposals: a ban on all corporate and non-profit organization donations to political campaigns. This proposal is detested by the Liberal Democratic Party, which due to its minority status is now even more dependent on corporate and organizational giving than ever. The ban is strongly supported, however, by the LDP's former coalition partner the New Komeito, and support/opposition to the ban has emerged the wedge issue driving the two former allied parties apart.

If Kobayashi's problems trigger a precipitous passage of a draconian campaign finance law reform detrimental to the LDP's fundraising efforts, and a fracture of LDP-New Komeito comity, then the DPJ leadership will likely count the whole affair as a worthy sacrifice of a few percentage points of party support.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Yet More Trouble for the LDP?

Oh crackers! As if all hell were not already breaking loose for the #1 party in opposition on the cohesion front, the darn economy has begun pulling out of its nosedive.
Japan’s Unemployment Rate Unexpectedly Falls to 4.9%

March 2 -- Japan’s unemployment rate unexpectedly fell to a 10-month low in January as the economy added the most jobs in more than 30 years.

The jobless rate dropped to 4.9 percent from a revised 5.2 percent in December, the statistics bureau said today in Tokyo. The median forecast of 25 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News was for the rate to be unchanged from a preliminary 5.1 percent.

A separate report showed that households increased spending for a sixth straight month, adding to signs that a rebound in exports is starting to benefit consumers in the world’s second- largest economy...
Amaterasu Omikami, why must you afflict poor Tanigaki Sadakazu so? The Hokkaido Democratic Party of Japan Diet member with the fraudster accountant who did not inform the teacher's union representatives that their donations were illegal? Normally, a lifeline, manna from heaven. But not even LDP Secretary-General Oshima Tadamori could could feign caring during his statement criticizing the DPJ's latest political funding arrests.

And now we have positive developments on the economic front...

There May Be Differences After All

Under the cabinets of Koizumi Jun'ichiro and Abe Shinzo, the Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition government was in the position the current Democratic Party of Japan-led coalition finds itself: in possession of majorities in both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors. During the first 10 months of the Abe Cabinet at least, the then opposition parties screamed in impotent rage as the LDP-led coalition railroaded every bill through committee and then through the full Houses with little or no debate.

Today the House of Representatives will pass the 2010 budget, the first budget compiled under the DPJ's radically new politician-led compilation process. Despite the purported revolutionary in the way this bill has been drafted, we have not heard the slightest whimper of complaint about the DPJ-led coalition's management of the committee debates over it. Indeed, none of the opposition parties have made a single complaint about the DPJ-led coalition's management of the debates over any bill currently under consideration.

Either the LDP and the New Komeito do not know (and the Communists have forgotten) how to complain about the way the committee meetings are being run or there is nothing about the way the committee chairmen are running their committees that merit complaint.

Or so it seems...

Sub-Cultures: Visual Kei

What some folks are willing to give away for free (shake of the head).

Tokyo Damage Report on the backstory to the Visual Kei band business, and by way of example, the popular music industry in general.

Tip of the hat to Mutant Frog Travelogue.

Planning Ahead Pays Dividends... the very long run.

Did you notice where and when China's new ambassador honed his Japanese language skills?

China's new ambassador takes post
Kyodo News

China's new ambassador to Japan, Cheng Yonghua, arrived at Narita airport Sunday evening and took up his official duties in Tokyo.
The new ambassador studied at Soka University in Tokyo between 1975 and 1977 and is proficient in Japanese.
Oh my goodness.

My goodness gracious.

All the visits, all His talks with China's leaders...

All worth it.

Monday, March 01, 2010

The Seven Habits of Highly Endangered Public Interest Corporations

Last year's Government Revitalization Unit review process for government-supported programs was wildly and widely popular. Most of the public enjoyed in a quite visceral way the sight of members of the bureaucracy undergoing a thorough grilling, with the suffering being inflicted being minor in comparison to the arrogance of the administrators and the venal pointless of many of the programs.

Support for the GRU process was not unqualified, however. While some of the quibbles persons had with the process were just that, quibbles, some of the points raised in opposition were significant. A particularly apt criticism of the process was its capriciousness: nowhere was it spelled out what the GRU's commissioners were looking for in terms of red flags or red lines. Administrators of public programs and state aid recipients flailed about under the camera lights, trying to determine in the few moments they had before the commissioners what they needed to say in order to earn the commissioners' mercy.

Last Friday, State Minister for Economic Revitalization Edano Yukio [he has asked reporters to forego calling him "Mr. Minister" ("daijin") in favor of the simple "Edano-san" they had been using before his post was upgraded] took some big steps in the direction of transparency. The GRU would be using seven guidelines to identify public-interest corporations (kōeki hōjin) worthy of examination in the next round of reviews scheduled for this April. That the number of koeki hojin is astonishingly large (24,648, according to The Japan Times) probably played no small part in the decision to publish some rules of engagement in the battle of The Government (big T, big G) vs. government (little g).

The seven habits of highly endangered public interest corporations are:

1) receiving more than 10 million yen a year total from either the government or independent administrative agencies (dokuritsu gyōsei hōjin) in 2007

2) being founded on a mandate established by statute

3) receiving more than 50% of revenues from public-supplied funds

4) controlling over 1 billion yen in assets

5) receiving funding from local governments

6) accepting public-supplied funds to pay for outsourced functions

7) serving as a source of amakudari (post-retirement sinecures) for ex-bureaucrats.

The final standard brings up "the assen problem" of whether or not a sinecure that has not been directly arranged for "through the good offices of the Ministry" (fushōchō ni yoru assen) is eligible for examination. Edano has said that there will be no attempt to make a determination the extent of the involvement of ministries or agencies of the koeki hojin's hiring of former bureaucrats. All koeki hojin with former bureaucrats on staff should consider themselves suspect.

The LDP Loses One in Gifu

While the capital's media mavens pout and preen about how the messed up finances of the Democratic Party of Japan's president and secretary-general are triggering a collapse of the support for the DPJ in advance of this summer's House of Councillors election, the erosion of the base of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party continues apace. This morning House of Councillors member Matsuda Iwao announced that he had resigned from the LDP, freeing himself and political support group (kōenkai) to campaign on behalf of his former political secretary Komiyama Yoshiharu, who will be running for one of the two Gifu Prefecture district seats as a DPJ candidate.

Matsuda's becoming an independent and his stated wish to campaign hard "in order to promote the cultivation of a new polical force in Gifu" solidies the likely DPJ pick up of a Gifu seat in the House of Councillors. Politically, Gifu should be considered a swing prefecture, with three district seats going to Democrats and two staying with the LDP in 2009. The Gifu House of Councillors delegation , however, was all LDP was similar split, 2 to 2, until this morning . Matsuda's dumping of his party affiliation was no doubt smoothed by his having won his first election to the House of Councillors with DPJ support.

Matsuda is now the fifth sitting member of the LDP's House of Councillors delegation to quit the party since the debacle in last year's House of Representatives election.

For those keeping score at home, the party affiliations in the House of Councillors, after today:

DPJ-led four party caucus 122
LDP-Reform Club 81
New Komeito 22
Communist Party 7
Socialist-Rengo 5
Independents 6

Later - As regards the howling error, the House of Councillors website needs more legible lists...and searchable ones too. Who puts a space in between the two kanji of Gifu?

Dr. Hama's Imaginarium Delirium

Yes, it is shooting fish in a barrel but no, Dr. Hama Noriko is not Japan's Paul Krugman.

She is...well-nigh incomprehensible.

With all due respect (you know what is coming) Hama has challenged Fujiwara Masahiko in terms of all out self-indugent industrial-strength weird.

Note to the Washington Post Group: however wonderful the analysis Daniel Gross provides in his own habitat, he was lost in Japan.