Friday, September 30, 2011

Hiking - Japan's New Extreme Sport

The Tokyo Shimbun has begun printing a series of helicopter surveys of concentrations of Cesium 134 and Cesium 137 in the prefectures of the Kanto Plain. Unsurprisingly, they have shown for the most part that the highest readings are found along the spines of the mountains, where the earth touches the upper atmosphere and where rainfall was the heaviest in the days following the explosions of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors.

Gunma Prefecture

Chiba Prefecture

Saitama Prefecture

They have not printed the images for Kanagawa, Tochigi, Ibaraki and Tokyo. I expect them to appear over the next few days.

The dark, almost burgundy spot in the Oku Musashi corner of Saitama Prefecture adjoining the tip of the Tokyo Metropolitan District pretty much guarantees that like my longtime dream of climbing Kumotoriyama, the highest mountain (2017 meters) of the TMD, will be a much hotter trip than it would have been before.

I cannot wait for boot decontaminators to hit the electronics stores or to see signs posted at train stations, "Hikers! Please thoroughly wash your boots before entering the train cars!"

Images courtesy: Tokyo Shimbun

Credit Where Credit Is Due - Time Magazine Edition

Time Magazine Blogs has published a pretty decent review of the state of the anti-nuclear movement in Japan:

Can Japan's Anti-Nuclear Protesters Keep Its Reactors Shut Down?

And to paraphrase Mark Twain, a pretty decent article on Japan from TIME is conspicuous for its lonesomeness.

It's Not LDP Lite, It's LDP Resurrected

If you are not already a subscriber to the SSJ-Forum, you might consider moseying on over to their subscription page and joining up. Once you are a member, you can wait for Greg Noble's tour-de-force post [SSJ: 6879] Back to the (bad old LDP) future, or necessary recalibration? (hurry up and archive it, people!) on the ways DPJ Party Leader and Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko is turning the clock back to what seems to be pre-Koizumi times.

T'is a stunner...and t'is depressing.

Taxes, taxes, taxes

One may wonder why I have not weighed in on the numerous tax proposals currently floating around the halls of the Democratic Party of Japan. This is because everyone else is talking about it.

Why add to the noise?

Economists are already claiming that the retail consumption figures are reflecting a drawback in spending in anticipation of higher taxes, as good rational choice theory would predict.

The Bloomberg piece also asks what seems to be an eternal question: do title writers at the major media outlets ever read the texts to which they are afixing their titles?

(Hat tip to The Tokyo Times)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Blinded Justice

It was buried in back pages (the crimes section) of the newspapers this morning but a decision came down yesterday in the heinous Ginza Eye Clinic case. As if in counterpoint to the post of yesterday, where a judge severely punished defendants for crimes that may not even exist, the defendant in the eye clinic case got off with what seems an absurdly light sentence.

For those who have forgotten the Ginza Eye Clinic (Ginza ganka) case, Dr. Mizoguchi Tomo was arrested in December 2010 for having conducted hundreds of LASIK procedures with unsterilized or reused medical devices, sometimes moving from one patient to another without even washing his hands, causing hundreds of serious eye infections that damaged the eyesight or even blinded patients.

Yesterday, Judge Kondo Hiroko sentenced Dr. Mizoguchi to 2 years in prison (prosecutors had asked for 3 years) for malpractice in the cases of 7 patients (ja).

C'mon judge, give him 10 years. Better yet, give him as much time in prison as his victims have to live with blindness...and yes, some of his victims were teenagers.

The next step is, unbelievably, petitioning the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labour to strip Mizoguchi of his license to practice medicine. Then there is the ongoing class action suit against the Ginza Eye Clinic, attempting to recover for the victims whatever small monetary compensation they can expect to receive for their suffering.

That Mizoguchi was convicted at all was attributable to the huge number of patients affected: over 100 are either party to or are applying to be parties to the class action suit. It was easy for doctors to come forth and testify in court that Mizoguchi had departed from even the most basic medical practices in his surgeries.

In most medical malpractice cases, doctors are reluctant to come forward to testify against other doctors. Serve as consultants to legal teams, sure...but testify? No -- not when it means they might be ostracized by their peers for breaking the professional code of silence on malpractice...a kind of behavior one would normally associate with gangsters.

In a sense, Mizoguchi was sentenced to prison as much for having generated bad press for doctors as for injuring hundreds of trusting individuals.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Not Gleeful At All

I was going to write a long post on Ozawa's status following the conviction of his three former political secretaries. However, The Economist has gone ahead and done it for all of us.

I would just like to make two points in reference to my last post. A reader wrote me saying that I had expressed little but my glee at Ozawa's downfall.

Sometimes, I guess my tone is impenetrable.

I thought that including "miscarriage of justice" as one of the labels was hint enough that all I felt at this decision (and its implications for Ozawa's trial, which starts October 6) was utter disillusionment.

In the decision handed down on Monday, construction company executives (!) offered testimony confessing to committing crimes in collusion with Ishikawa Tomohiko and Okubo Takanori. The defendants, on the contrary, said that they had not committed crimes in collusion with the executives. Indeed, Ishikawa claims he never even met the executive who supposedly secretly gave him 50 million yen in cash.

So what was the judge's thinking?

"Well, let me see here. The executives are willing to admit to committing crimes. The defendants say they are innocent. Now it is well-known fact that construction company executives bribe politicians. Since the executives' admission of the commission of crimes puts them in jeopardy, they must be telling the truth. The defendants, meanwhile, have selfishly maintained their innocence. Therefore it is plausible that the crimes occurred and the defendants are lying."
I wish I were kidding about this.

The judge's decision to accept as valid the testimony of the construction company executives exposes on a grand scale what is practiced on the small scale every single day in Japanese jurisprudence: the tendency of judges to make decisions based which side tells a better story. This tendency has been intrinsic, for example, to lack of success that fathers have had trying to recover their children. Once the wife declares she or the children have suffered abuse, the game is over. "The wife ran away, therefore there must have been abuse," is the weird syllogism judges draw in these cases, literally without thinking.

Japan has a huge number of legal experts (administrative scriveners and the like) but a piddling number of lawyers. There is a reason for this: the last place anyone would want to be is in front of a Japanese judge, trying to defend oneself or explain a situation.

As for Ozawa's career being toast, I say it without glee. While Ozawa is worthy of criticism (he should have, for the good of everyone involved, wrapped himself in the Japanese flag and taken a victory lap around the stadium following the electoral victory in August 2009, then retired to take up napping in the upper tiers of the House of Representatives as a hobby) no one deserves to be the victim of a judicial kneecapping. It destroys lives and careers, whilst diminishing the nation in the eyes of the world.

That is what has happened here and it makes me ill.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Stick a Bamboo Chopstick in Him: He's Done

The judge's decision in the trial of the three former secretaries of Ozawa Ichiro is not just bad news for the former leader of the Democratic Party of Japan: it is an {expletive deleted} catastrophe. The judge not only found the trio criminally bad accountants -- an outcome that was predestined by the mere act of the three being arrested -- but also went out of his way to lend creedence to the claims of Mizutani Construction that it paid bribes to Ishikawa Tomohiro and Okubo Takanori in order to win contracts in Iwate Prefecture, informally known as "Ozawa's Kingdom."

How will the judge's decision affect Ozawa's trial? Well, it is fair to say that the three lawyers prosecuting him now have a better idea of what to put in their "statement of the facts" (in J. chinjusho) regarding the charges they have filed against Ozawa. A far, far better idea.

How will this affect Ozawa's political career? You smell that toasty smell? That is his political career.

Ozawa-san, though your hair be improbably black, given your age, this song is for you tonight.

It's Official: Guilty

NHK flash news has reported that former Ozawa Ichiro secretaries Ishikawa Tomohiro, Okubo Takanori and Ikeda Mitsutomo have been found guilty of falsefying accounts for Ozawa's Rikuzankai political funding society.

In Diet Budget Committee, Ishihara Nobuteru has asked the Prime Minister for his reaction, whether or not he, as the head of the DPJ, thinks that the party should be reflecting upon the conviction one of its former members. The Prime Minister has demurred on offering an opinion, saying that the content of the court's decision is as yet unknown.

Very Kind of Them #4 - Judgment Day

Over at the East Asia Forum, the formidable Aurelia Mulgan George has published a warning about the appointment of close Ozawa Ichiro allies to positions of influence within the secretariat of the Democratic Party of Japan. This morning, the EAF has very kindly posted my response.

We are both right, in our own ways. The very best policy outcomes would result from a continuation former DPJ leader Kan Naoto's purging of the party of Ozawa influences whilst retaining much of the framework of new policies instigated under Ozawa's leadership. Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko is reversing course on both, a dangerously flaccid way to rule.

Ozawa is no Putin, if we want to put a contemporary gloss on things. He has his followers in their numbers but they are B-class and C-class political talents. None of them should be considered adept enough to enact their patron's bidding with any degree of competence. As one U.S. academic pointed out to me recently, Ozawa has not groomed a successor (again, he is no Putin).

On the subject of Ozawa and his lieutenants, the verdict in the trial of member of the Diet and former Ozawa political secretary Ishikawa Tomohiro* and three two other former Ozawa secretaries will be unsealed today (ja). As the four three were formally indicted, they are all likely to be convicted on what are, on the surface, ridiculously petty crimes. Were any other politician involved except Ozawa, this would have been handled merely as an adjustment of accounts, the foursome receiving nothing worse than a scolding in the press.

The likely result of likely conviction of the four three will be a new round of Ozawa-bashing in the mainstream press. This will not affect Ozawa, as he hates the press as much as they hate him. However, the hysteria in the news will drag Ozawa further away from the levers of power, as even those who have been most dependent upon his largess and his influence will find continued direct association with him threatening to their political well-being.

* In the election for prime minister held on August 30, Ozawa Ichiro received one vote. That one vote came from Ishikawa.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Coming Crisis In The Diet - Or Should That Be Crises?

Japan's government and media have been rather occupied with natural disasters, the passage of Typhoon No. 15 being only the latest iteration of what seems to be an extraordinary number of massive acts of destruction (Does anyone even remember the massive earthquake that shook Niigata Prefecture on March 12 or the heavy rainstorm in that prefecture that destroyed a goodly portion of Japan's most valuable rice crop?).

Meanwhile, off the big screen, a massive breakdown is looming in the Diet, as Hirano Hirofumi, the Democratic Party of Japan's Diet Affairs chairman, is doing as predicted.

Today is a busy day, so I do not have the time to go into the seriousness of the problem facing Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko when he gets home from his uncritical and mechanichal repetition of Foreign Ministry and Finance Ministry talking points first overseas trip as prime minister.

However, I would point readers to this Yomiuri Shimbun story on the total hash Hirano and DPJ Secretary-General Koshiishi Azuma made of the very first negotiation that they had to undertake with the opposition. Since the publication of this story Matsumoto, Kato and Matsuno defied an order to return to work, leading to the suspension of their party privileges.

When a person's assistants tender their resignations after the end of the very first project they undertake, you would not be far wrong in expecting nothing but trouble ahead.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Painfully Obvious Thoughts

Typhoons: mildly interesting when they are far away victimizing folks you have never met. Not so amusing when they are whipping past your window and you know that in an hour and half you will have to venture out into the teeth of one of them.

Heavy Rotation

One of the continuing plaints in the media is that the Democratic Party of Japan is on its third prime minister in the two years since it seized power, this despite the party's insistence it would not replicate the annual turnover in prime ministers that characterized the Liberal Democratic Party in its waning years in power.

However, if the speed at which the DPJ has sent prime ministers through the revolving door has been disconcerting, then the speed at which tossed through state ministers has been dizzying. In the two years since the DPJ came to power it has had 5 State Ministers for the Abductees Issue, 6 State Ministers for Declining Birthrate and Gender Equality and 7 State Ministers for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety (ja).

While the ostensible reason for the remarkable turnover in state ministers is the law limiting the number of formal members of the Cabinet, requiring a shuttling back and forth of these issues as ministers have resigned or cabinets have been shaken up, one cannot help but wonder whether the families of those abducted, women and consumer advocates think that the DPJ does not give a hoot about their interests.

Meanwhile, the only heavy rotation that most of the denizens of these blessed and currently very wet isles care about is this one. (WARNING: definitely NWSF, possibly causes irreparable brain damage.)

Climate's Fearsome Beauty

2011's Typhoon No.15

Rainfall per hour

Wish for the best for the good people of the Kii Peninsula: they are being drowned by this.

Image Courtesy: Japan Meteorological Agency

Yes, He's Still Out There

A former prime minister spoke at a conference in India urging stronger India-Japan military cooperation and warning of the danger posed by China...and also likely picked up a check along the way.

C'mon, who else could it be?

Meanwhile, in his continued inspiring turn as an ex-premier with a clear sense of vision and a conscience, Koizumi Jun'ichiro spoke out against the nuclear power industry's deceptive accounting of the costs of nuclear power and strongly advised a rapid development of renewable energy sources to replace Japan's reliance on nuclear power and oil (ja and ja).

Should it be so hard to imagine a Koizumi Jun'ichiro/Kan Naoto cross-party tag team renewable energy advocacy movement in the near future?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Goodbye To All That?

An image is worth 1,000 words. An image that will make Tobias Harris, who has written so much on the Democratic Party of Japan's promise to Westministerise Japanese governance, howl.

Finance Minister Azumi Jun (right), minister of the most powerful ministry in the government, handing the two temporary reconstruction tax increase proposals drafted by the National Tax Commission to Maehara Seiji (left), the chairman of the DPJ Policy Research Council.


Image courtesy: Tokyo Shimbun

The Policy-Go-Round

Though it is a bit dated, I felt I should share this Reuters news flash which, because it was redistributed by The New York Times, will remain online for the foreseeable future -- unlike most Japan-related news, which falls off the screen after two weeks due to link rot.
Japan: Former Cabinet Spokesman Will Now Oversee Energy Policy

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Monday named a former cabinet spokesman, who became the government’s public face during the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in the spring, to the cabinet post responsible for overseeing the response to the nuclear disaster. The former spokesman, Yukio Edano, was named trade minister, who is in charge of energy policy, among other things...(
The statements made in the title and in the body of the text regarding who is in charge of energy policy would come as something of a surprise to State Minister for National Strategy Furukawa Motohisa. "Implementation of energy policy" would certainly be in the bailiwick of Mr. Edano. "Crafting national energy policy" would, however, be logically done with the confines of the National Strategy Office, or by the Energy and Environment Commission, both which Mr. Furukawa leads (jp).

However, as we know, the Cabinet will no longer be the locus of policy making, at least according to draft flow diagrams of the new policy making structure under the Noda Administration. The Policy Research Council of the Democratic Party of Japan will craft legislation pre-approved for the Cabinet to rubber stamp. According to a cursory analysis, this would mean that the reins of energy policy would be largely in the hands of the Chairman of the Policy Research Council Maehara Seiji.

That, however, was sooooo two weeks ago, an eternity under Noda, who presides over an administration that spurts out radical shifts like a geyser. In a move that dilutes the power of the Chairman of the Policy Research Council, decisions of the PRC will first make a stop at the Government and DPJ Executive Leadership Commission (Seifu - Minshuto sanryaku kaigi).

The Commission will be composed of six members, two from the government and four from the party. Representing the government will be the prime minister and the chief cabinet secretary. Representing the party will be the party secretary general, the deputy secretary general, the PRC chairman and the Diet Affairs chairman of the House of Representatives. This smaller group will make a final decision on the legislative or policy decision items before they are sent to the Cabinet for rubber stamping (ja).

For those of you keeping score at home, this new commission puts Maehara, a vocal and bitter critic of Ozawa Ichiro and his politics, at a level with two Ozawa allies – Secretary-General Koshiishi Azuma and Diet Policy Affairs Chairman Hirano Hirofumi, with Prime Minister Noda, Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu and Deputy Secretary-General Tarutoko Shinji, a former recipient of Ozawa support, as the swing votes.

Would it surprise the reader that this new commission was created at the insistence of Koshiishi? I thought not.

So who is "in charge" of the nation's energy policy? A commission of six men, one of whom is a stakeholder in the program and two of whom are his natural rivals.

Is it me, or is this new structure way too close to a Politburo Central Standing Committee for Japan?

Later - Come to think of it, the assertion in Reuters article that Edano will be in charge of overseeing the Cabinet's response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster would come as a surprise to State Minister for Nuclear Accident Settlement and Prevention (and Environment Minister) Hosono Goshi, too.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Worth Reading

- Joel Reuben at the East Asia Forum:

Could the Tohoku earthquake lead to local government reform?

Beware: link rot has already set in.

- Scott Hockley at The Diplomat:

The Poison of Guanxi

- Adam Segal at CFR Blogs:

China and Information vs. Cyber Security

This is going to be a sticky subject for the foreseeable future. It seems to portend the erecting of higher and higher walls around certain vital functions, the increased ability of rich dictatorial regimes to ferret out dissent and an eternal threat of superempowered angry young men (the only idea of Thomas Friedman which has had any staying power) to bring entire countries to their knees.

Yu Keping at East Asia Forum:

A shift towards social governance in China

A historical review of the evolution of a concept, by someone whose job it is to make concrete the political implication of such concepts.

- Robert Dujarric’s gleefully iconoclastic praise of the spy recruitment opportunities inherent in foreign investment at The Diplomat (not that I think that Japan can in any way take advantage of them):

China's Welcome FDI

[Full disclosure: I have been a dinner guest of M. Dujarric on more than one occasion and on a recent BBC broadcast, we spoke in succession on the challenges facing a Japanese prime minister.]

Advance warning: some readers will absolutely hate the Dujarric piece. That is half the fun.

The Tokyo Times on the 2011 JARPN II whale hunt (though I am somewhat disappointed by the use of what appears to be a pod of orcas as the illustration. Nobody hunts orcas):

Japan hunts 195 whales in northwest Pacific Ocean

This is the pelagic whale hunt nobody does diddly about, unlike the Antarctic one the now-exposed-to-be-a-semi-sociopath Paul Watson spends his time harassing.

For the Japanese press release on the results of the hunt, click here. What is interesting is the final map, showing that the kills of Minke whales were all fairly close into shore, indicating that the deal that fell through on replacing the pelagic hunt with a take of Minke by the existing small-scale coastal whaling stations is at least technically feasible. Of course, justification of the small-scale coastal whaling option may have led the whalers to concentrate on making their quota close to shore, while ignoring Minke in the open ocean.

- And last but not least, the very interesting comment by "Johntaro" to my post of Tuesday the 13th.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Momentary Lapse of Reason

One slip...and down the hall we fall
It seems to time at all.

- Pink Floyd, "One Slip"

So Hachiro Yasuo has fallen on his sword for telling one truth (that the towns around the Fukushima are "dead cities") and one bad joke about passing on radioactivity to a reporter by brushing him/her with the sleeve of his public safety uniform (en). His replacement is former chief cabinet secretary Edano Yukio, whose retirement from the front ranks of politics has lasted less than two weeks (en).

The opposition has decried this appointment. That Edano is a a cool-headed, indefatigable, smart communicator and a bureaucrat wrangler with a deep knowledge of the issues facing the ministry is irrelevant to the opposition. For the purpose of wounding Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko, Edano is being categorized as a central figure of "the failed Kan administration” – an opposition trope that makes not one bit of sense when you consider that Noda was the Finance Minister of the said failed administration -- and half the Cabinet had senior positions in that administration as well. Since the PM has already appointed Edano to replace Hachiro, the opposition has demanded that Edano prove that he has reflected deeply upon the “failure” of the Kan administration in which he served (ja).

Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko's appointment of Edano is a first false note (though Edano is an excellent singer) in what has been Noda's heretofore brilliant playing of the role of the reweaver of the frayed national fabric. The reaction of the opposition to the appointment was entirely predictable. What else would opposition do except put on a show of harrumphing irk at the appointment of the former chief cabinet secretary -- the chief operations officer, official face and tenacious defender of the previous "failed" administration -- to a high position in this supposedly new administration?

Second, the appointment of Edano violates Noda's avowed policy of inclusiveness. Hachiro was the cabinet representative of the former Socialist Party members of the Democratic Party of Japan (whether Noda promised the former Socialists he would appoint one of their members to lead a major ministry in advance of the leadership election is…something to think about). It flies in the face of reason that Noda should pick, with the same preposterous speed at which he chose the members of his cabinet, a replacement without connections to the former Socialists.

Third, Noda already had a replacement for Hachiro in his cabinet, waiting only for the nod to step into the open slot. That would be Renho, whom Noda had royally stiffed at the time of the parceling out of cabinet posts. She had worked hard for his election, becoming the public face of his support in the Diet. However, when it came time to hand out ministerial posts, he not only gave her a post that is not only sidetracked -- State Minister for Government Revitalization at a time when the government's stated policy stance is treating bureaucrats with greater sympathy and respect -- but is the same darned post she had under the Kan Administration. What a way to say, "Thank you!"

[That Renho was pissed off at Noda for being given the Government Revitalization posting was self-evident to anyone who saw the video of her storming into the Prime Minister's Residence on the day of the announcement of the cabinet selections.]

As the scourge of bureaucrats and their pet programs Renho would have been the perfect whip for a ministry that needs a proper disciplining. Instead METI will be led by a person without a fixed sense of what role he should be playing -- whether he should be the ministry's manager, reformer or defender.

So instead of solving the Hachiro problem, Noda has compounded it. Now he will have to defend not only his first choice for METI minister, but his second one as well.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ishihara Shintaro's Little Boy and More

Regarding the attacks of 9/11, in speech he gave today in Aomori, here's Ishihara Nobuteru:


"Was this event not a historical inevitability, the revolt of the Islamic world against its domination by Western, Christian civilization from the time of the Industrial Revolution?"
Oh, someone is so not going to receive an invitation to speak in Washington from the Heritage Foundation.

Meanwhile, according to TV Asahi, Minister of Economics, Trade and Industry Hachiro Yoshio has resigned after joking about bringing back radiation from the Fukushima Power Station on his sleeve (ja).

It was an unfunny, black joke -- but let us be real, these guys are not professional comedians.

Hachiro was already in the doghouse for referring to the towns around the Fukushima Power Station as "dead cities." According to the LDP's Oshima Tadamori, this expression hurt the easily-bruised feelings of those evacuated from the irradiated towns.

Recall that the LDP and the New Komeito jumped all over Prime Minister Kan Naoto several months ago for his surmising out loud that the towns around the power station could remain uninhabitable for perhaps one or two decades -- and for the same, pathetic reason: that such talk hurts the feelings of the evacuated.

Frankly, not having jobs and being seperated from their networks of neighborhood relationships hurt the evacuated, not what this or that minister said.

[Major tip of the hat to Michael Penn of Shingetsu News for the Ishihara quote]

Every So Often

A calm post by the Ampontan on a recent speech by the man who figured out how to buck the system.

It is indicative of the withered state of Japanese politics that the description of every man who has either occupied the post of prime minister or been a candidate for the post is prefaced by "he's no Koizumi but..."

[Note to BS - could you please provide a link to the Japanese source text next time?]

Friday, September 09, 2011

More on the Noda DPJ's Reorganization of the Policy Making Process

The English-language version of the Yomiuri Shimbun weighs in with its own version of the story I considered yesterday: the transfer of policy drafting away from the Cabinet and into the Democratic Party of Japan's revitalized Policy Research Council.

Noda maintains cautious stance / Prime minister gives more power to DPJ Policy Research Committee
Daily Yomiuri Online


Party gaining more power

The power relationship between the government and the DPJ is changing dramatically under the Noda administration: The party seems to have gained the upper hand over the government in policymaking.

On Tuesday, Noda established a council of top government and party members, an institution regarded as the administration's top decision-making body.

Among the six council members, only Noda and Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura represent the government. The other four members all represent the party. Azuma Koshiishi is the DPJ's secretary general, Seiji Maehara is the party's Policy Research Committee chairman, Hirofumi Hirano is the party's Diet Affairs Committee chairman and Shinji Tarutoko is its acting secretary general.

The party has gained a greater voice in the top decision-making body than it had under Kan. Under the Kan administration, the number of Cabinet ministers and top party members in his top decision-making body were about the same. Some members even spoke at the body's meetings from a middle ground, such as Koichiro Gemba, who under Kan served concurrently as state minister for national policy and the party's Policy Research Committee chairman.

The DPJ's Policy Research Committee has already gained further power under the Noda administration. Before approving bills at a Cabinet meeting, the government now must put the bills to the committee to be examined and obtain the endorsement of the committee's chairman, Maehara, a procedure that was not required in previous administrations... (

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko has tasked State Minister for National Strategy, Economic and Fiscal Policies Furukawa Motohisa with the establishment of the "National Strategy Council." Modeled seemingly on the disbanded Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy (CEFP), the new Council would presumably be offering its own policy recommendations to the government on behalf of industrial and commercial interests (ja).

Interestingly, Furukawa suggested today that members of the DPJ leadership have seats in the National Strategy Council (ja) -- a suggestion perfectly in line with the Yomiuri's contention that the party is gaining power at the expense of the government.

In the aggregate, it looks as though Noda is overseeing a rapid, in-your-face LDP-ization of the DPJ's institutional innovations.

Who Would Have Thought 2

Who would have ever thought that Yamaoka Kenji, Ozawa Ichiro's sunny right hand man, National Public Safety Commission Chair and State Minister for the Abduction Issue and Consumer Affairs, and the only other Ozawa confidant aside from Ichikawa "I am an amateur" Yasuo appointed to the Cabinet, would have dodgy enterprises in the list of corporate donors to political fundraising organizations he heads?

Consumer minister's groups linked to pyramid schemes

Two political groups under new consumer affairs minister Kenji Yamaoka received over ¥2.5 million between 2005 and 2008 from businesses and a group involved in a pyramid scheme, his political funding report showed Thursday.

Yamaoka, a member of the Democratic Party of Japan, admitted the groups received the money but said he has recently declined such donations to avoid creating misunderstandings.

According to the report, the DPJ chapter Yamaoka heads in the Tochigi No. 4 district got ¥2.06 million in donations from two Tokyo-based pyramid scheme businesses and a political group that represented the unidentified industry from 2005 to 2008.

In addition, Yamaoka's fund management body got ¥480,000 in 2007 from the political group, mainly in the form of attendance fees for a seminar...(
Funny too how these stories just pop out of the woodwork just when a person is appointed to the Cabinet or becomes Prime Minister.

Makes you kind of wonder what news providers have in the files...and how they justify their not releasing the information they have.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Graphing the Noda Administration

When I saw the below graphic in yestermorn's Tokyo Shimbun, I cried out, "No, no it can’t be! This is the Liberal Democratic Party all over again ! O.K, maybe there will not be DPJ zoku giin but there is no national strategy oversight. Please say it isn’t so!"

The graphic -- which is unfortunately not appended to the abbreviated online version of the article, which can be found here -- shows the work flow within the Democratic Party of Japan's reestablished Policy Research Council and its connection with the decisions of the Cabinet.

Prospective bills and policy recommendations flow from DPJ research committees specializing in specific policy areas (it is unclear whether or not these will correspond one-to-one with the ministries, as they did in the LDP era) to the Policy Research Council's Directors Council (seicho yakuinkai), which is comprised of the PRC's Executive Committee and the heads of all the research committees. The Directors Council will then send reports to the Executive Council (seichokanbukai), which is comprised of the Executive Committee and the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary (kanbufukuchokan), the highest-ranking bureaucrat in the prime minister's secretariat. The Executive Council will make revisions to the bill or policy recommendation, then send it back down to the Directors Council. If the Directors Council can abide by the revisions made by the Executive Council, the result is sent to the Cabinet to receive a cabinet stamp of approval (kakugi kettei).

That's it. According to the graphic, bills and policy directives go directly from the DPJ's Policy Research Council to the Cabinet "pre-authorized" (jizen shonin). Bureaucrats get their hands on the bills by offering advice to the research committees and by the presence of the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary in the Executive Council.

The National Strategy Office, the supposed great reform of the bill-crafting process the DPJ promised the voters in its 2009 Manifesto, is nowhere in sight.

So much for Westminsterisation?

Perhaps not. According to the Tokyo Shimbun's account, the heads of the research committees are already grumbling that even this arrangement is over-centralized, that it gives too much power to the Policy Research Council Chairman (seicho kaicho) Maehara Seiji. This is, of course, what committee heads would say if they were angling for a little more leverage over the final product.

Keeping the committees from having too much say over the final policy product would be a feature, not a bug in the new system. The last thing that any DPJ leader wants, no matter which one you choose, is for sub-units of the party to band together into tribes (zoku) in support of particular industries and professions. That was one of the hallmarks of LDP governance. Utter loathing of the power of the zoku has been one of the core shared values keeping the DPJ in one piece.

But is what is on paper (in the paper) a fair representation of reality? One has to wonder.

Post-election, DPJ Leader Noda Yoshihiko had to do something to reward the failed party leadership candidates who, after running against Noda in the first round, turned around and instructed their followers to vote for Noda in the runoff against Kaeda Banri.

Rewarding Kano Michihiko was simple: he would get the same position he had before -- which suits the old agriculture, forestry and fisheries patrón just fine.

Maehara, however, presented more of a problem. Due to the questions that would inevitably arise from his office's having accepted donations from a foreign national, Maehara could not be in the Cabinet. The Liberal Democratic Party and other opposition parties would go to town over the illegal donations. Furthermore, due to Maehara's popularity with the public he had to be given a significant post.

Installing Maehara as the policy research council chair killed two birds with one stone. It gave Maehara a very visible and presumably vital position. At the same time it counters the influence Ozawa Ichiro can have on the party policy making process through his (Ozawa's) links to Secretary-General Koshiishi Azuma and Diet Affairs Committee chairman Hirano Hirofumi. Maehara will oppose whatever Ozawa and his allies propose, even if it is a resolution thanking the sun for rising every morning.

However, it is premature to believe that Noda has ceded policy drafting to Maehara and the Policy Research Council. Minister for National Strategy and Economic and Fiscal Policy Furukawa Motohisa is almost certainly not going to be just hanging out in the atrium of the Prime Minister's Residence, whistling. Maehara was, after all, a rival in the leadership contest, one who nearly derailed Noda's drive for the premiership. As likely as not, Maehara and the PRC are not so much the designated drivers as the designated big fat targets for Ozawa, Hatoyama and their followers to shoot their arrows into, while the ex-Finance Ministry bureaucrat Furukawa runs a below-the-radar policy shop close, both physically and philosophically, to the prime minister.

Just because you can diagram it doesn't mean it's real.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Not Headed In The Right Direction

The position of Vice Minister is the seed corn of future ministers. Despite the brief span of time the Democratic Party of Japan has been in power, a goodly smattering of the present members of the Cabinet have a stint as Vice Minister under their belts. These include the PM (Vice Minister of Finance), the Finance Minister (Vice Minister of Defense), the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare* (Vice Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare), the Minister of Justice (Vice Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications), the Minister for Post Disaster Reconstruction (Vice Minister of the Cabinet Office) and the Minister National Strategy, Economic and Fiscal Policy (Vice Minister of the Cabinet Office).

So how many of the 22 Vice Ministers announced on Tuesday are women, giving us a peek at what may be a new generation of leaders?


Mori Yuko, Vice Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, is the sole woman among among the twenty-two -- and even she has to share responsibilities, as MEXT is assigned two vice ministers.

Well, then how many women are there amongst the five (the maximum number allowed) Special Advisors to the Prime Minister, another post whose placeholders have risen to the rank of Minister?


The Liberal Democratic Party in its Koizumi and post-Koizumi years did a heck of a better job placing women in positions of influence and power.

Speaking of Koizumi Jun'ichiro, women and power: Sheeeeee's Back. A decade after her stormy tenure as Koizumi's Minister of Foreign Affairs, where the bureaucrats beneath her colluded with the press and Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuda Yasuo to undermine her authority, Tanaka Makiko is the new Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Expect torture and fireworks.

Oh yes, and how many of the 37 chairs of the House of Representatives committees are women?



* Note that the MOD uses American spelling but the MHLF uses British spelling.

A New Gilded Age

These two items from The Wall Street Journal's China Real Time blog are not surprising news -- but the implications are dire.
China to Overtake Japan in Luxury Demand

China's consumers are pushing the nation to the top once again.

It will overtake Japan this year to be the country with the biggest appetite for luxury goods, HSBC predicts in a research report issued late last week. The broker said that it expects China’s consumers to keep spending, even if their affluent counterparts in the West stop.

The reasons are, at least in part, cultural. "Displaying wealth has become a trend in China, and we think this will continue to translate into growing purchases of luxury goods for oneself, or as gifts," HSBC said. "We think consumer habits may not necessarily always correspond to income levels due to the need to socially fit in and show off wealth." (

Chinese Bidder Goes Over $500,000 to Nab Chateau Lafite Lot

Bundled into a single lot, 300 bottles of Château Lafite-Rothschild sold over the weekend for $539,280 to an anonymous Chinese phone bidder at a Christie's auction in Hong Kong, making it the most expensive single lot this year and boding well for a slew of autumn sales in the city.

While normal lots in top-tier wine auctions are typically made up of around a case, Lot 44 comprised 25 cases of Lafite from every year between 1981 and 2005, averaging around $1,800 a bottle. The entire two-day sale raised $7.6 million, with Burgundy's Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Moët & Chandon champagne from 1911, and Bordeaux’s ultra-rare 1982 Le Pin making up other top slots.

"It was an extraordinary Lafite collection, and the seller actually trades wine for a living," said Christie's Charles Curtis, head of wine for Asia, who estimated the vendor received a 20% premium by selling it as a multi-year collection, or vertical. "We had several bidders, and they were all from China, and they are just getting into wine." (

Staggering poverty in over half of China's 1.3 billion; thousands of buildings standing empty; trillions of paper yuan chasing after any asset.

I know I am stupid in the short run but in the long run this will all end very badly.

(No, no you silly longtime Tokyo resident. The Chinese government's technocrats have studied the Japan and U.S. experiments and will avoid the mistakes made there.)

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

In The Poisoned Chalice Department

From a very kind reader in comments, a Jiji press flash notice that Nagashima Akihisa has been named Special Advisor to the Prime Minister for security and foreign affairs (ja).

To say that Nagashima is well-known in American foreign policy circles is an understatement. He has spent so much time in Washington he might as well be given a green card.

Which has me thinking Noda will hand him the Futenma Marine Air Station move with a dry "Here. I do not have time for this. You figure it out. Good luck" sendoff.

Yes indeed: good luck, Nagashima-san.

Monday, September 05, 2011

More Numbers in Support of the Cabinet and the Parties

This morning's newspaper poll numbers, from Shin Hodo 2001 (the Sunday news program of Fuji Television) and Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) replicate the numbers found in yesterday's poll.

Do you support the cabinet of Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko?

Shin Hodo 2001

Support 70.8%
Do Not Support 21.8%


Support 66.5%
Do Not Support 30.1%

Though the TBS polls find a very high level of support for the Noda Cabinet (the 6th highest since 1994) it finds, as did The Asahi Shimbun and the Mainichi polls of yesterday, a steady decline in the support numbers for the successive prime ministers of Democratic Party of Japan-led governments.

In the suddenly extremely important support numbers for the parties, the new polls find the same results as the polls printed yesterday: that the DPJ has pulled ahead of the Liberal Democratic Party, after trailing the LDP since the late spring:

Which party do you support? (previous month's reading in brackets)

Shin Hodo 2001

DPJ 25% [20%]
LDP 24% [24%]


DPJ 22.7% [14.4%]
LDP 18.8% [18.3%]
New Komeito 2.6 [3.0%]
Your Party 2.2% [-]
I do not support any party 48.9% [58.1%]

Among the questions the TBS pollsters asked their respondents is what level of cooperation they want between the major parties as regards the passage of legislation. While a small percentage (17%) want a grand coalition government, the vast majority (72%) want the DPJ and the LDP to cooperate and/or link up without going through with a full coalition arrangement.

These numbers are likely to cause the LDP to behave as if it has a split personality. It will likely be very circumspect as regards legislation, cooperating with the DPJ lest the LDP be tarred with the brush of non-cooperation. At the same time, it will try to make political hay out of Defense Minister Ichikawa Yasuo's confession of his own shortcomings and the PM's political funding group having received donations from foreign nationals.

As to the problems of foreign donations that have so far hit Maehara Seiji, Kan Naoto and now Prime Minister Noda, the morning "Asazuba!" program pointed out an important difference between the two main parties. The LDP still receives the bulk of its donations from corporations, though these donations have dropped off sharply since the party was ousted from power. These donations are relatively easy to track as to their national origins (though not so easy, it should be noted, to track as regards their yakuza connections). The bulk of the DPJ's political funds come in the form of donations from private individuals, which leaves the party open to accepting donations from persons with Japanese names but foreign passports.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Numbers That Matter

According to the snap polls conducted this week, the majority of the public is ready to give the Noda Cabinet the benefit of the doubt.

Do you support the cabinet of Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko?


Support 62.8%
Do Not Support 18.1%
Don't Know/Don't Care 19.1%

The Asahi Shimbun

Support 53%
Do Not Support 18%

Mainichi Shimbun

Support 56%
Do Not Support 14%

The Kyodo reading is extraordinarily high, the fourth highest rating for a new Cabinet since the measurement reached its nadir in the 1998 Obuchi Cabinet, which started out with only 31.9% support. The readings from the other two news outlets are less spectacular votes of confidence, with The Asahi Shimbun and the Mainichi polls showing a steady decline among the initial ratings of successive Democratic Party of Japan prime ministers (Asahi - ja and Mainichi - ja).

We will see how the public reacts to the denouement of Ichikawa Yasuo's ridiculous statements. It seems clear that Ichikawa has destroyed his credibility and must be replaced, but with the typhoon and the soccer matches this weekend, Ichikawa's shenanigans have been pushed off the nation's mental screens.

The numbers that really matter this week, however, are not necessarily those for the new Cabinet. They are probably the numbers for party support. These have been steadily improving for the DPJ over the last month (according to the weekly FNN polls) and steadily declining or staying stagnant for the Liberal Democratic Party.

Which party do you support? (previous month's reading in brackets)


DPJ 27.2% [19.3%]
LDP 23.3% [23.3%]
New Komeito 3.5% [4.5%]
Your Party 4.9% [6.6%]
I do not support any party 35.7% [38.4%]

The Asahi Shimbun

DPJ 31% [20%]
LDP 23% [22%]
New Komeito 3 [3%]
Your Party 4% [4%]
I do not support any party 30% [43%]

Mainichi Shimbun

DPJ 19% [13%]
LDP 16% [22%]
New Komeito 4% [4%]
Your Party 6% [5%]
I do not support any party 49% [49%]

There is a wide spread in the levels of commitment to parties in the three surveys, with The Asahi Shimbun finding strong party identification, Kyodo finding middling identification and the Mainichi Shimbun finding nearly one in two voters without a preference as to which party to support.

In all three cases, however, pollsters have found the DPJ has reversed places with the LDP. While the recovery of popularity may be tenuous, the numbers have will take some of the wind out of the sails of the LDP hardliners who have argued that the best strategy for their party is to tie up the Diet in knots, hobbling the government's functions so much that the prime minister feels compelled to call an election. While the LDP was riding high in the polls, this hardline strategy, though it had little chance for success, seemed to cost the LDP nothing. Now that the LDP is back down in the #2 spot, the case of the softliners, who want to adopt a wait-and-see attitude toward legislation put forth by the Noda Cabinet, is the stronger and will prevail.

With Hirano Hirofumi as the DPJ's navigator for the course legislation will take through the Diet, however, all these positive numbers may be for naught.

Who Would Have Ever Thought

Who would have ever thought that a Defense Minister appointed from among the ranks of the followers of Ozawa Ichiro would turn out to be an idiot?

Defense chief calls himself an amateur
The Japan Times

New Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa called himself an "amateur" regarding security issues, but excused his lack of expertise by saying that's what the concept of civilian control of the military is all about.

His remark, made Friday after he assumed the post in Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's new Cabinet, may call into question Noda's ministerial appointments.

"I am an amateur regarding security issues, but this is what you call the real 'civilian control,' " Ichikawa told reporters...

What I cannot tell about this appointment is whether Noda's people accepted the suggestion to appoint Ichikawa knowing he would self-destruct, thereby discrediting Ozawa -- or that Ozawa suggested Ichikawa knowing that his self-destruction would discredit Noda's people.

As long as Ichikawa is in office, the LDP will keep up a drumbeat for his resignation. If he resigns, 5 to 10 percentage points will get knocked off the support ratings for the Noda Cabinet. If he stays, 5 to 10 percentage points will get knocked off the support ratings for the Noda Cabinet.

A Hobson's Choice.

That a resignation will hurt the image of the Cabinet has me leaning in the direction of Noda's people or Noda himself simply not thinking seriously about this appointment.

The MOD post is not a trash position, like the Defense Agency post used to be. The MOD is a realy ministry with real issues and clout. It has to provide half of the answers (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs being responsible for the other half) to the questions posed by the rise of a great power to the East, a new nuclear power to the Northeast and a rejuvenated power to the North. The MOD needs a smart cookie with extensive experience in security matters at the helm, or someone like a Kitazawa Toshimi who had sense enough to listen to what smart people had to say before he opened his mouth.

Skeletons In The Closet

One of reasons why Maehara Seiji's run for the post of leader of the Democratic Party of Japan ran out of gas was a purported fear among party members that a Maehara administration would get bogged down at the outset over donations made to Maehara's political fundraising group by Japan permanent residents with South Korean citizenship. Rather than have the party go through the hell of the Liberal Democratic Party pestering the prime minister with questions about these donations, the better bet was to install the squeaky clean Noda Yoshihiko as the party's leader.

Well, guess what:
Noda got donations of foreign cash
Yomiuri Online

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda received a total of about 160,000 yen in political donations from a South Korean resident in Japan from 2001 to 2003, it was learned Saturday.

The Political Funds Control Law bans political donations by foreign nationals, but the three-year statute of limitations has run out on the donations to Noda.

According to a political funding report, Noda's political funds-management organization--Mirai Kurabu--received 158,000 yen from a man who operates a real estate business in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture.

The man acknowledged during an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun he was a South Korean resident in Japan and made donations to Noda.

He said he has been serving as an executive of a chapter of the Korean Residents Union in Japan since before he made the donations.

"Mr. Noda should've known I was a foreign national," he said. "But maybe he didn't notice I made the donations." The man made the donations under a Japanese name...
Yes, of course it is a set-up. The final quote makes it brazenly clear.

Staffers at the Noda office claim they knew nothing about the background of the donor, which is very likely true.

I am sure that the LDP, having suddenly ceded the top spot to the DPJ in the party support polls, this according to this morning's Kyodo Poll (ja), will certainly not waste precious Diet Budget Committee time questioning Prime Minister Noda on this matter.


Friday, September 02, 2011

The Noda Cabinet - First Impressions

- The glass ceiling is still in evidence. Two women in the Cabinet, one in the "soft" Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the other, a State Minister for Administrative Reform.

- A fully political cabinet - no civilian members.

- Payoff time. To the coalition partner People's New Party,: reappointment of Jimi Shozaburo as Minister of Financial Services and Postal Reform (Will the PNP finally get its dream of legislation rolling back of Koizumi era postal reforms?). To the Ozawa supporters in the DPJ: the appointment of Yamaoka Kenji, Ozawa's right hand man, to the chairmanship of the National Public Safety Commission. To Kano Michihiko, for getting at least some of his supporters to vote for Prime Minister Noda in the second round of the DPJ leadership election: reappointment to the post of Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (kiss the TPP goodbye!).

- So young in the big posts! Azumi Jun (49) is Finance Minister. Gemba Koichiro (47) is Foreign Minister. With the reappointments of Hirano Tatsuo and Goshi Hirono, it is time to reread "Prosperity's Children: Generational Change and Japan's Future Leadership by Boyd and Samuels.

- Ren Ho! Ren Ho! Ren Ho!

Noda's Upcoming Cabinet Selections Vs. The Hirano Hirofumi Selection

I suppose that I should be feeling relieved that the newspapers are reporting that Hirano Tatsuo will be continuing in his role as State Minister for Reconstruction and that Hosono Goshi will be named Environment Minister, in line with the shift of the regulatory functions over the nuclear industry shifting from the Ministry of Economic, Trade and Industry to the Ministry of the Environment. Both Hirano T. and Hosono are part of the "younger generation" to which former Prime Minister Kan Naoto wanted to hand over the government.

I suppose I should be looking into the background of Fujimura Osamu, the incipient Chief Cabinet Secretary, for clues on how he might run the government. I am encouraged to no end that he is vice-chairman of the Ashinaga organization, the group that originally focused on helping children whose parents died in accidents but which has recently found itself working most with children of suicides. I am less than sanguine about the reality that Fujimura has been in the Diet for 19 years without making a name for himself. That Fujimura was a desperate second choice, after Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko found that former DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya, his first choice, was, in fact, despised by a large segment of DPJ rank-and-file (How could that be, after the DPJ suffered a string of electoral defeats and Ozawa Ichiro was stripped of his party rights during Okada's tenure as secretary-general?) – I can shrug off as Noda going for a credible interlocutor with the bureaucracy (Okada being an ex-MITI guy) in defiance of common sense.

However, I find I cannot move forward. I am stuck in the past. I just cannot get over Noda’s appointment of Hirano Hirofumi as the DPJ's Diet Affairs Committee Chairman.

I should be resigning myself to accepting Hirano H.'s appointment as a necessary to keeping Hatoyama Yukio happy, as Hirano H. is the close (and possibly only) friend of the former prime minister. Keeping Hatoyama from undercutting the government with nonsense criticisms should be worth the price of having Hirano H. in the party leadership. Coupled with appointment of Koshiishi Azuma as secretary-general, the wishes and demands of the 130 or so diehard Ozawa Ichiro and Hatoyama fans in the DPJ ranks should be satisfied. Hirano H. is also said to be close to Rengo chairman Koga Nobuaki, the both of them having been members of Matsushita Electric's workers' union. The DPJ has been having trouble communicating with Rengo of late and to have a close personal relationship linking the party leadership with that of Rengo is a definite plus.

The problem is that the Diet Affairs Committee chairmanship (kokkai taisaku incho) is the vital link between the government and the Diet. It is the (let’s call it the DACC, shall we?) DACC who meets with his counterparts in the opposition to decide on the schedule for the bills the government is generating (most bills are government-generated; only a small fraction are generated by Diet members themselves). The person who holds the DACC has to have an extremely fine ear as to what the opposition tells him it will do at the same time as having a constitution of iron to push the government's program through the Diet. Without an astute, sensitive and convincing DACC, the government's programs will run up against a deadlock in the Diet.

Astute, sensitive and convincing are not adjectives that come to mind when one thinks of Hirano Hirofumi. His tenure as Chief Cabinet Secretary showed him to be inept, politically deaf and not credible. The newspapers for the most part have ignored his appointment, as if it were a bad dream.

When they do mention him, it is only in negative terms.

Appointment of former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano as Diet Affairs Committee chairman has been criticized by some members of the Hatoyama group, who state that Hirano, who served as chief cabinet secretary for the Hatoyama administration, should be held responsible for his role in the administration that lasted less than a year.

Some are also concerned that Hirano's appointment may cause conflict with former Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yorihisa Matsuno and former Environment Minister Sakihito Ozawa, both supporters of Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda in the DPJ presidential election, and Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Akihiro Ohata, who supported Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano in the election.

- Yomiuri Shimbun, August 31

Yes, you read that right: members of the Hatoyama group think that Hirano's appointment is a clunker.

But it gets worse. The Mainichi Shimbun asked around the Diet about prospects for good communication between the new DPJ leadership lineup and its counterparts in the opposition. For the new DPJ secretary general Koishiishi Azuma, there was the feeling that his ability to communicate with the LDP never recovered from the retirement of Aoki Mikio, the don of the LDP in the House of Councillors.

As regards Hirano H., however, verdict was brutal:


"As for Hirano, the assessment was 'he is not the type who can do a proper job of preparing the groundwork (nemawashi).' There is the chance that the solid relationship of trust that has been built up could collapse in an instant."

As for my hometown newspaper, the Tokyo Shimbun, it hinted contempt for the new DACC. The yokogao article of August 31 on Hirano H. (yokogao articles are printed along with a caricature of the new official. Almost invariably they try to show a more human, likable side of the appointed individual) was entitled, "He styles himself a backroom fixer of the party" ("To no uragata" o jinin). It explains that he was so busy in the background building up the party during his service as DPJ deputy secretary general that he called himself “Urano Hirofumi” rather than Hirano Hirofumi, “ura” being the word for “background” or “in the back.”

It is the lamest of jokes.

The article also points out that when Hirano H. became Chief Cabinet Secretary, his purported skills at negotiation and conciliation never made their appearance. Since the DACC has to very publicly stroke the egos of the DPJ's enemies as well making sure he has the full backing of his own party behind him when he cuts a deal, the outlook for Hirano H. being judged a successful DACC are slight.

If Noda's choices for the cabinet today reflect the choices he made for the party leadership, selecting some individuals in order to placate various party constituencies rather than on the capacity to perform (Koshiishi at 75 simply will not have the stamina to be a fulltime secretary-general, leaving Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tarutoko Shinji to do a lot of the late night maneuvering -- which may have been one of the points in favor of appointing a Friend of Ozawa to the position of secretary-general), then we are threatened with a DPJ government that is little more than LDP Lite.

We shall see. NHK is currently leaking names like a sieve.