Monday, October 31, 2011

Give Up Now, You've Got Us Surrounded

Kyodo has an interesting story, republished in The Japan Times purporting that the decision on whether or not the government of Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko will participate in Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations has already been made:

Noda to declare Japan will join TPP at APEC
November meet chosen to signal intent to play key role in FTA talks

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda plans to announce that Japan will join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks during a meeting with his Singaporean counterpart at November's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit, sources said Saturday.

By choosing the APEC summit as the stage for the declaration, Noda will effectively turn Japan's pledge to participate in the TPP negotiations into an international commitment.

And by deciding to declare Japan's policy to Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, whose country has from the outset been a key player in the negotiations over the multilateral free-trade accord, Noda is apparently signaling Japan's determination to play a leading role in the talks.

Noda and Lee will hold a bilateral meeting that is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 12, the first day of the summit in Honolulu, the sources said...[
I always have a great deal of skepticism regarding Kyodo News scoops. Kyodo is an entity jointly owned by all of Japan's regional newspapers and as a consequence answers to no one authority.

My antennae really start quivering when a Kyodo story is attributed to "sources" unidentifiable. There is absolutely no way to tell how close these sources are to decisionmakers, save on trust in Kyodo's word that they are, which is not worth very much.

Furthermore, what Kyodo and indeed all the other mainline sources of news get from their sources is not so much scoops as trial balloons -- ideas floated in the media in the hope of influencing opinion.

In this case the opinions that the sources are trying to influence are not those of the public, which has little say in the TPP fight. Instead, the sources here seem to be trying to convince the politicians and interest groups fighting protesting against Japan's joining the TPP talks at this time that their efforts are futile, a decision has already been made, give up.

Unfortunately for the floaters of this trial balloon, the fight over whether the government of Japan can or cannot participate in TPP talks is very much undecided. If Yamada Masahiko's count of the number of DPJ members against an immediate pledge to join TPP negotiations (202 was his latest claim) is even close to accurate, that number with the recent about faces by both the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito on the TPP would guarantee that the Diet would reject any future legislation on TPP accession, whether it be enabling legislation or treaty ratification. Yamada has also warned the DPJ party leadership that if it goes forward with TPP negotiations without forging a consensus in the party aforehand, there will be resignations from the party (Yamada has cannily not said whether or not he would resign or even be an advocate of such resignations).

What we likely have here is less a revelation as a desperate swipe back by the pro-TPP side at the anti-TPP forces, which have been landing all the effective punches of late (ja).

One facet of the Noda government the story does bring up is the seemingly emergent strategy of making commitments at internatioal gatherings, then coming back home and facing down opponents of particular policies with a "Well, it's too late. We have made an international commitment. We will lose face and credibility before the world if we do not stand by our commitment." According to analysts, Finance Minister Azumi Jun used exactly this tactic in pushing forward the Noda government's perilously contractionary plans to reduce Japan's budget deficit.

Whether or not this represents a wise strategy is doubtful. Everyone can remember the firestorm Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio found waiting for him at home after he made his pledge at the U.N. General Assembly that Japan will reduce its carbon emissions by 25% by the year 2020. Industry went bananas, and the Hatoyama government had to waste precious weeks and hours on a crash program of settling whether the Hatoyama pledge was even technically feasible.

Trying to squeeze out your opponents by briging gaiatsu back with you as your omiage seems an incredibly risky strategy. That the cautious Noda would sign off upon such an approach would seem to say volumes about the difficult position the government finds itself in.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What's The Reason For The Difference in Coverage?

I am trying to get a handle on why the non-economic news media complex is fascinated with the Daio Paper scandal while remaining virtually silent on the much, much larger Olympus scandal. Every night we are treated to breathless updates featuring snippets of the handsome, young former chairman of Daio, mostly walking down the steps of his home. Not that there is much to the story: little rich boy takes over Daddy's company, uses its cash reserves as his own personal piggy bank, blows the money in Las Vegas and other venues, finds that his own personal fortune cannot pay back even half the loan from the company's kitty. Even the Japanese press does not make any bones about this being a story of a company where the founding family treated the company as its own private possession, with their underlings obliging them (en).

By contrast, the Olympus story is rife with "you cannot make this stuff up" international skullduggery: a foreign president brought in to clean up the company uncovers a mega-sized scandal and is summarily sacked for doing his job properly; record advisory fees paid to a Cayman islands company that has since evaporated, acquisitions whose value Olympus had to write off in a year; a pair of mysterious banker brothers -- it is all just incredible (en - with a special double hurrah for Hiroko Tabuchi).

Yet in the mainline press and on television, nada. Just a rote announcement that the chairman who sacked the foreign CEO himself resigned on Wednesday due to "confusion over acquisitions" made by Olympus.

The scale of the robbery of Olympus is 50 times 5 times the size of the Daio Paper scandal.

What gives?

Why I Still Think Calling The U.S. Post-Disaster Actions "Operation Tomodachi" Was A Bad Idea

When I heard back in March that the United States military was calling its part in the relief effort after 3/11 "Operation Tomodachi" (Tomodachi sakusen) I cringed.

"Oh Amaterasu," I thought, "anything but that. Call it 'Operation Steller's Sea Eagle' or 'Operation Scrumptious Pantypacker' (OK, maybe that not that one). Just not 'Operation Tomodachi'."


Because the very first thing I thought of when I heard "Tomodachi" was...well... instead of me telling you, why not try just try a search on Google Images of "Tomodachi" in hiragana?

Just copy and paste in the bit below and see what you get.


See that? That is the first thing I thought of.

If you are asking yourself, "What the hell is that?" what you are seeing is images of "Tomodachi" -- the masked, genocidal dictator of Japan in the wildly successful manga and film series Nijuseiki Shonen. In the chronology of the series, Tomodachi is to take over Japan in 2014 on the wings of the electoral victory of his "Friends Party" (the Yujinto - now there's a name!). Something that is called "Operation Tomodachi" in 2011 would seem to be part of the master plan.

Now I have had conversations and email interpellations with folks on this. Most responses I get back are polite rephrasings of "MTC, you are nuts."

Still, no matter the noble intentions in the selection of the name, "Operation Tomodachi" just grates upon the ears.

Does anyone else feel this way? And if so, for what reason?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

On Musical Accompaniment

Late last night on NHK I was watching a documentary on ninja. Entitled "The Last Ninja" (Rasuto Ninja -- yes, it was in katakana), it was exploration of a series of texts from the later 18th century purporting to reveal the secrets of the ninja and the historical use of irregular warriors in the period stretching from the late Sengoku to the Shimabara Rebellion. Most of the program was dedicated to trying to find out if the weirdest weapons described in the texts could actually be manufactured.

Fine...but why did the entire program have to be scored with music by Pink Floyd, drawn from Meddle, Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here?

OK, sure, Pink Floyd's music is oft moody and ominous, with a driving drum beat. As a sound editor, you get to put in musical jokes, like having the section of the documentary on the payment of ninja scored with, of course, "Money" from Dark Side of the Moon*.

But did NHK pay even a yen's worth of royalties for an hour's worth of Pink Floyd? You have got to wonder...and you have got to worry for NHK. OK, sure, Syd Barrett and Richard Wright are no longer with us...but Roger Waters and David Gilmour are very much alive and VERY litiginous.

Which points up a possible reason (other than "it's better") for the near ubiquity of American and British music in public use. The music used in exercise classes, the ambient music in local government offices...all drawn from the English-language canon, even where the persons being served could not possibly identify the songs being played...all because no one is there to protect the rights of the original performers and composers. Play nothing but Frank Sinatra in your coffee shop? Fine. Play 15 seconds of an EXILE song (if you do not know about EXILE, count yourself lucky) and JASRAC comes around to make your life miserable -- or at least that is my understanding.

Which begs the question as to whether commercial Japanese music would be of better quality -- by which I mean more exportable to a global audience -- if those who spend all their time protecting the rights of Japanese music producers would just lay off a little and let folks use the music as the beat of their daily lives.

Of course, to find out anything about the Japan music business and rights issues one would have to query W. David Marx, now with YouTube Asia.


* My all-time favorite sound engineer's joke? The TV Asahi's New Station breaking news report on Kanemaru Shin and the Sagawa Kyubin scandal, backed up in its entirety by "Money for Nothing" by Dire Straits.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Going Nowhere Faster and Faster

The outlook for the Democratic Party of Japan's convincing members of the Diet and the general public of the necessity of Japan's being at the Trans Pacific Partnership table grows darker and darker. Tonight Yamada Masahiko, the former agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister who is leading the charge within the party against Japan's participation in TPP talks, claimed that he had the support of 202 members of the DPJ's Diet delegation (and, for good measure, 224 members of the former DPJ-led three-way coalition). If his claim is accurate, the government and the leadership of the DPJ hold a razor-thin 7 vote majority of DPJ members ready to support Japan's committing itself to participation in TPP negotiations.

If the government of Noda Yoshihiko seeks a silver lining in the present massing dark clouds, it would be in the weaker participation of DPJ members in the petition drive sponsored by the Central Union of Agriculture Cooperatives (Zenchu). Only 120 DPJ members crossed party lines and linked arms with members of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito to provide Zenchu with 356 names on its petition (for the full list in Japanese, click here).

Still, 120 members is more than a quarter of the DPJ's Diet membership.

What is so nonsensical about the weakness of the DPJ leadership's efforts is that the tail is really wagging the dog here -- and it is an LDP tail to boot. Agriculture, forestry and fisheries, the interest group that simply will not budge on the TPP (How could rice farmers survive minus the 778% tariff protecting them?) produces but a tiny fraction of Japan's GDP. As for the Japan Medical Association (Ishikai) it was and is a paid-in bastion of LDP support.

That members of the Cabinet or DPJ supporters of TPP participation are not out in front of the TV cameras every day, explaining the benefits of the pact for the majority of the citizenry, demonstrates that two years and three prime ministers in, the DPJ executive still does not understand what it takes to lead a government and a country.

Everyone is focusing now on Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko and his stated preference to push TPP acceptance forward (en). Noda-san has so far charmed the Diet, the news media and the nation with an easy-going manner and a conciliatory stance. Admirers and critics alike have likened his leadership style that of a safe driver on the road. Just how these qualities are going to help him pull the TPP rabbit out of the hat, if he even cares about deploying them, remains a question.

A huge question.

One For the Sankei Shimbun Readers

Over at The Diplomat, David Axe commits unholy mayhem on the hysteria about China's purportedly exploding submarine warfare capabilities. It should be mandatory reading for Sankei Shimbun readers, or those who follow the Sankei Shimbun as representing the thinking of an influential fraction of Japan's power elites (Link).

The purported dramatic growth of China's capability to conduct access denial activities out beyond the "First Island Chain" -- the chain of islands stretching from Kagoshima's Cape Sata all the way down to the Spratly Islands -- pushed the government of Japan into extending the lifespans of its diesel attack submarines and consequently a natural growth of its submarine fleet to 22 submarines. The Japanese expansion of its fleet, when combined with the submarine acquisitions of other countries in the region, will likely more than match China's purported incipient threat.

Indeed, as Axe hints, the regional upgrade may be overkill.

What will be interesting is whether or not the heretofore limited propositions regarding the relaxation of the 3 principles on arms exports (en) will open the door somewhere way, way down the line for Japan to start selling its decommissioned boats, both surface and sub-surface (none of the Aegis ships, of course), to customers such as the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Again, that is way, way out from where the current government's thinking is on the subject.

However, for a domestic arms industry that had a collective coronary last month when the last F2 jet rolled off the production line, the prospects of foreign sales of the still functional retired vessels, and the likelihood of maintenance and upgrade contracts with the purchasing entities, the first tentative steps taken by the Noda government toward relaxation of the ban allow them to dream, just a little.

And, if you are an editor at the Sankei Shimbun, to dream a lot, facts notwithstanding.

Later - And for readers of sec mil porn like SAPIO, whatever I said goes double for you.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

No, Japan Is Not Entering TPP Negotiations With An Option To Quit

No, Maehara Seiji is not reckless. No, the government is not confused.

And no, you will not know any of this, even if you follow the news reports.

On NHK's Sunday 9 a.m. talk show, Maehara Seiji, the Democratic Party of Japan Policy Research Chairman, suggested that Japan could enter into talks to join the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) only to skip out at a later date, if the elements of the pact turned out to not be to Japan's liking (ja).

The political background for making such a suggestion is clear: the outlook for the DPJ leadership pushing the Diet to give its nod to Japan participating in TPP negotiations is growing murkier by the hour. It was expected that agriculture, forestry and fisheries would be dead set against Japan participating in negotiations. As a consequence, their representative organizations were given a day to vent their grievances before the DPJ TPP project team. However, the Central Union of Agriculture Cooperatives (Zenchu) has upped the ante by employing a rarely used constitutional maneuver of petitioning the Diet in order to stop Japan’s participation in TPP talks, saying that it had the support of 350 of the Diet’s members (en). At the same time, all kinds of organizations that had been expected to remain on the sidelines have come out against Japan precipitously joining TPP negotiations, including the Consumer’s Union of Japan (Nisshoren) and the Japan Medical Association (en).

With the complexity and breadth of the TPP becoming wider known, causing more and more organizations to come out against Japan’s participation, Maehara and the rest of the DPJ’s leadership have under tremendous pressure to get as many of the DPJ’s fence sitters down on the side of the TPP as soon as possible. The temptation must have been great to drum up support now by saying that Japan’s participation could be considered contingent -- that Japan could begin negotiations only to pull out later with no harm, no foul.

Maehara's statement of course sent heads whipping around. That Japan could enter into talks with an expressed ambivalence or indeed insincerity challenged the government's and TPP opponents' common view that the fight is over whether Japan will be a committed incipient partner or will just not show up. What Maehara was suggesting was there was room at the negotiations for Japan to have some kind of special observer status, neither fully in nor fully out.

The problem with Maehara's gambit is obvious. If any entity were to enter into negotiations with Japan, it would have to consider the possibility that Japan would whip out its "option to quit" card from out its back pocket at the first sign of stress. With the possibility that the government might retreat, no nation or organization would ever want to negotiate with the Japanese government.

Being that he is no idiot, Maehara realized that he had misspoken in a big way. In a streetside interview after the end of the NHK program, he refined his statement, saying that when he was talking about Japan backing out of TPP discussions, it would be in the context of heretofore unknown facts about the pact came to light, or some other such surprise.

Pay attention to the time indication in the top right corner of this TV Asahi replay of the Maehara streetside interview (ja). Note that it says, "After 10 a.m." -- ie., after Maehara had walked off the set at NHK. Note also that TV Asahi completely ignores Maehara's nuanced restatement of his position in favor of its own narrative -- that DPJ policy chief Maehara Seiji has suggested Japan will enter into negotiations with a clear option to pull out.

Unfortunately for Maehara, what one says on Nichiyo Toron, NHK's showcase political talk show, matters far more than what one says on the street afterward. Not even for a television network that is a rival to NHK that broadcasts on its news program the video of one's restating one's position.

Since Maehara's remarks on Nichiyo Toron and his restatement of his position immediately afterward, the government has been fighting a losing battle with the news media over what is or is not Japan's position on participating in TPP negotiations.

Fully aware that under the reorganization of the DPJ's policy making process Maehara has an influence on policy second only to the prime minister*, the news media has whippped Maehara’s Nichiyo Toron comment into a confection of confusion inside the government and the ruling party. When Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu on Monday defended Maehara's restated opinion, and said there were past instances of Japan pulling out of negotiations with similar characteristics, the news media treated Fujimura's support as being support for Maehara’s original statement on the Nichiyo Toron program. When on Monday afternoon Fujimura said that Japan considers its promises to the United States weighty and important, the news media portrayed this as Fujimura reversing his position of earlier in the day (en). When on Tuesday, Fujimura again reaffirmed there are numerous historical instances of Japan pulling out of negotiations, the reporting made it seem that Fujimura had reversed himself yet again (ja).

Of course, the new media's misuse of Maehara's position opened the door for the opposition to criticize the ruling party and the government, with Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Ishira Nobuteru blasting Maehara and Fujimura for having no sense of how diplomatic relations are conducted (ja)

Even editorial cartoonists, who should know better, have had misguided fun at Maehara's expense. Here is the Tokyo Shimbun's Tuesday morning edition cartoon, drawing parallels between Maehara's stance on Japan 's TPP negotiations to Kim Jong-il's stance on participation in the Six Party Talks.

Panel 1 – Label: TPP
President Barack Obama : "Japan has to quickly commit to participation."

Panel 2 – Label: In and out, in and out
Maehara: "If we participate, there's the option of pulling out."

Panel 3 – Label: The Six Party Talks
Kim Jong-il to Maehara – "That's right. There's the option. There's the option."

Title: "Doing It The DPRK Way"

Poor Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro. He has had to go out of his way to reassure international partners that Japan is not entering into negotiations willy-nilly without any guarantee of sticking around (en). Not what he thought he would be doing when he accepted the job from Noda Yoshihiko, I am sure. Note also that the report on Gemba's refutation of the principle of Japan entering into negotiation with an option to pull out perpetuates the false narrative that Maehara and Fujimura are arguing for just such a right.

The press has bought into that narrative. The government and the citizenry are being swept up into it, no matter what anyone wants or does.


* There have been further additions to the policy making diagram since I wrote about it, putting one more advisory council in between the DPJ Policy Research Council and the Cabinet. In general, however, Maehara's special status has been preserved.

Image: Tokyo Shimbun of October 25, 2011.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

An Indefensible Decision

I do not side with Communists very often as I do not believe, as they seem to, that nearly every one of Japan's problems can be solved by providing more day care centers for working mothers (not that providing more day care centers would help solve some problems, mind you).

However yesterday, the Communists in the Tokyo Metropolitan District Assembly were dead on when they tried to stop the passage of a resolution on an official invitation from the TMD Assembly to the International Olympic Committee for the TMD to be the host for the 2020 Summer Games (ja).

With the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito, who are at each other's throats in the assembly -- the other major item of business yesterday was a no-confidence motion against the Speaker of the Assembly, Wada Muneharu of the DPJ, sponsored by the latter two parties -- all voting for the measure, the Communists' principled stand was doomed to failure. Nevertheless the Communists tried to appeal to their colleagues' sense of reason, arguing that the money spent on mounting a bid would be far better spent on bolstering Tokyo's disaster preparedness than on what is no more than a recurring vanity project of the ailing Governor Ishihara Shintaro.

Local public opinion polls generally show an even split on whether or not Tokyo should reprise its bid for an Olympic Games. The question, however, is always put to respondents in a vacuum, without ever acquainting the respondents with the likely costs associated with hosting an Olympics. If the cost estimates were laid out, the overwhelming majority of Tokyoites would likely scream "No! Never!"

Just to add insult to injury, the resolution states that Tokyo's holding the Games nine years after the triple disaster in the Tohoku will be a celebration of the nation's recovery and the sign that Japan is a safe place once again. If you think I am making this up, here is the link (ja).

I do not care if this bunch was just elected in April -- recall the whole blinking lot of them, Communists excluded.

Monday, October 17, 2011

TPP Thoughts

Corey Wallace, who is in Japan doing research for his doctorate, has taken a moment to consider the Trans Pacific Partnership and its role Asia-Pacific trade policy.

I would not have very much to add, save that in Japan there is a striking contrast between the elite representations of the TPP and the grassroots reality of opposition to Japan participating in even discussions about joining the pact.

The recent approval of the Korea United States Free Trade Agreement was portrayed by the media as proof that Japan was in decline in world importance, even with its most important/only military ally the United States, and that the country had better gets its britches hitched on and get going on negotiating free trade pacts, if only to not be bested by the South Koreans.

The news media's immediate solution to this problem, a salve really, for a gaping national wound, is the TPP. Discussion of bilateral free trade pacts or Amaterasu forbid the Doha round is pushed aside. The TPP, and Japan's having to be on board in time for the Hawaii APEC meeting, is all that anyone in medialand is talking about.

However, on the ground, the forces for and against participation are more than evenly matched. While the manufacturer-heavy and highly influentially Nippon Keidanren business lobby considers participation in the TPP of the highest national importance, an array of equally powerful political players -- farmers cooperatives, the pharmaceutical industry, labor unions -- are against Japan entering into negotiations on the very reasonable basis that once Japan has jumped in it will find it very costly to jump out again, should the content of the trade pact become politically unworkable.

As for the situation in the Diet, the gap between elite-sponsored perceptions of the importance, indeed the inevitability, of the government moving forward on participation in TPP discussions and reality were illustrated in the first open meeting of the Democratic Pary of Japan's Project Team on the TPP. After the members of the project team spoke, the floor was opened up for comment. The first person to pick up the microphone said, in a matter fact tone, "Hello, I am Yamada Masahiko, head of the 181-member group of DPJ Diet legislators opposed to Japan's participating in TPP discussion."

Kerpow! That number, 181, is within shouting distance of 50% of the DPJ's Diet representation. When the breadth and intrusiveness of the partnership agreement is better known, the number of doubters in the Diet is likely to grow.

What is going on, therefore, is a race, with the big business lobby, in collusion with a media complex transfixed by the narrative of Japan's relative decline, pushing hard for Japan's participation, against a range of less flashy, so far less organized and reactionary elements with a strong grip on the elbows of many legislators. The pro-TPP side, citing the looming spectre of the APEC conference and the disappointment the United States will feel should Japan, already in the doghouse over Futenma, ruin President Barack Obama's houseparty not committing to participation in TPP discussions, is trying to panic the anti-TPP side into surrendering to the TPP's inexorable force.

Will the pro-TPP fail in bum rushing the other side? Probably. They got a big boost from the KORUS receiving U.S. Senate ratification. There are no further big boosts on the horizon, and with every passing day, the arguments of those opposed to TPP participation get sharper and the ranks of persons aware of the challenges freer trade may pose grow more numerous.

Then again, there is nothing like the possibility that the South Koreans will run right past Japan economically to get Japanese minds focused on getting back into the fast lane.

Later - Yes, of course Masahiko Yamada is a former Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Did one even have to ask?

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Most Significant Meeting

A very careful Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko took 15 minutes out of his busy schedule on Wednesday afternoon to pay a courtesy call on former prime minister Nakasone Yasuhiro (93) at Nakasone's think tank (en). The much younger Noda stayed mostly silent, preferring to listen to the wisdom the still influential elder statesman could impart.

In paying a visit to Nakasone on Nakasone's home turf, the Prime Minister showed appropriate deference to one of Japan's most significant postwar figures. Nakasone returned the compliment, declaring that the younger man had the qualities appropriate to a prime minister. He advised the PM that if stayed on the course he has been following, keeping his head down and not making enemies, he will have a long tenure in office.

That the still sharp Nakasone paid the PM compliments was not due to any obligation the old man had to a prime minister. Nakasone regularly rubbishes Japan's current generation of politicians, no matter their status, pointing out their flaws and weaknesses. That he sees in Noda qualities of humility masking political cunning is of tremendous interest, or at least should be.

In visiting Nakasone, the PM has crossed a few more T's and dotted a few more I's. He has insulated himself from attacks from the hard right wing of Japanese politics, most of whom hold reverential views of Nakasone. He has also received a not necessarily needed but still welcome imprimatur of leadership from a man who, at least in the public eye and in the history books, is pointed out as having been an exemplar it.

Nakasone gave the PM some advice on what has been a been a sore point for Japanese prime ministers: how to behave at multilateral summits. "Summits are the Olympics for prime ministers and presidents," Nakasone told the PM. "Should you talk for 30 minutes, you will know the weight of being the representatives of one's country. It is terrifying." He continued, "What is important is to make guarded but still weighty statements." (ja)

Good advice. We will see if the PM follows through on the suggestion at the APEC summit. Perhaps then he can live down the humiliation of delegates filing out in droves during his speech to the UN General Assembly (en).

[Hat tip on the delegate walkout to Japan Probe]

The Earth Does Not Like Japanese Automakers

What are Japanese auto manufacturers supposed to do?

In order to serve the Southeast Asian market, have an alternate manufacturing center to plants in Japan which are liable to disruption due to typhoons, earthquakes and the occasional tsunami, and lastly to escape the export-depressing effects of the soaring yen, they invest in a second center.

And it is Thailand.

One would not be farfetched in thinking that at least this year, offerings made to placate the kami and petition them to shower the companies of Japan with prosperity were somehow deeply flawed.

Image courtesy: AFP/Getty Images

Later - The Japan Times has the Kyodo report on the economic disaster (en).

Those Damn Islets, Northwestern Edition

For every step in the right direction toward closer and deeper relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, there is the ever spiraling nuttiness over Dokdo
/Takeshima/ the Liancourt Rocks.

In a piece for The Diplomat, Rajaram Panda of the Instite for Defence Studies and Analyses chides South Korea for spending money on a deep water naval pier for the island of Ulleung, the spot of dry land nearest to the DTLR (why not coin an acronym?). What is fascinating is not the article itself, which is a level-headed plea for level-headed thinking about the ROK's actual security needs. It is the comment string afterward, which demonstrates just how insanely worked up South Korean activists can get about a set of islets which Japan will never, ever do anything about, save make pro-forma statements about how they are a part of Japan.

India, of course, has recently completed work on an agreement nailing down its disputed border areas with its least threatening neighbor and moving now on to new, less lethal means of enforcing that border, all so that the Indian government can concentrate on its border disputes with the two countries that really matter to Indian security.

Seen from New Delhi, South Korean wackiness over the DTLR must look like a tremendous waste of money and emotion.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Why He Doesn't Just Do It

One of the questions frequently asked about the Ozawa Ichiro situation is why, if he is as clean (keppaku) as he claims he is, does he not go before the Diet, either in camera in the Ethics Committee or before the cameras in sworn testimony, to tell his side of the story. For some, this reticence is evidence that he is indeed hiding something (en) -- that he is afraid something will pop out under the pressure of questions from the opposition.

I can think of one other reason why Ozawa Ichiro would see little reason for his appearing in the Diet: it benefits his rivals in the party. As long as he is around but not saying anything, the party's image gets tarnished and his rivals, who are the ones in control of the party and the government, struggle to get anything done. If he talks, no matter the outcome -- i.e., the testimony finds Ozawa without fault, finds him rife with inconsistencies or finds the smoking gun -- his rivals benefit, the cloud having been lifted off the party.

Put yourself in Ozawa's position. Given the chance that something heretofore ignored might suddenly come to the fore or that the only ones who really benefit from your testimony are your rivals in the party, would you testify?

As for Ozawa's attitude problem, as was demonstrated in his responses to questions at his press conference of October 6, the simplest explanation is that he is a certain part of the male anatomy. Whether he is congenitally a certain part of the male anatomy, or came to develop his certain part of the male anatomynishness under the tutelage of Tanaka Kakuei and Kanemaru Shin, both of whose certain part of the male anatomynishness was truly epic, or that his having to pass kidney stones (en) plays a part, the result is disastrous for his public image, no matter the merits of the case against him.

A Frequent Correspondent...

...has reminded me that Temple University will be hosting a presentation by U.S. POWs of Japan on Monday the 17th at 18:00.

What makes the visit special in terms of U.S.-Japan relations is that is the first arranged by the Government of Japan as part of a program of visits by former POWs and their families. Prior to this, the Government of Japan visit program was restricted to U.K. and Netherlands POWs, for reasons no one could reasonably explain -- though unreasonably, it likely had something to do with the presence of U.S. bases in Japan and the absence of commensurate U.K. and Dutch bases.

Anyway, these men are very, very mature. If you want to hear their stories, you will likely not have another chance.

These are not on the whole angry men. However, they still have issues with Japanese institutions, even after the quiet and very limited apology made by Ambassador Fujisaki Ichiro in 2009. They are still demanding the back wages they are owed by the companies who employed them during their imprisonment. Neither the GOJ nor the U.S. government are supporting these claims, though the amounts, due to inflation, are now trifling.

So if you are free next Monday eve, there is a probably last chance to see some folks who lived history, rather than watched it pass by.

The Temple page on the event can be found at:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Full Map of the Cesium Counts

I do not think the good people at the Tokyo Shimbun will mind too much if I offer a jpeg of their October 7 printout of the Cesium 134 and Cesium 137 counts of the Kanto Area, with a legend and color scheme that at least makes some kind of sense.

As the map shows, the town of Iidate, which was not a part of the original evacuation zone, just got plastered. So for several days after the disaster, the populace of the town went about their business, without precautions, though their environment was more sullied than most of the area within the 30-to-20 band where folks were advised to not leave their homes due to fallout. I would not surprised if "Iidate" does not become a metaphor for a total governmental failure (the SPEEDI data available to the Prime Minister's Office at the time of the disaster showed that the town was in danger. Nobody at the Kantei knew what to do with the data, however.)

Stunning also is the tongue of light green extending from the Miyagi border to the border of Tochigi, engulfing the major cities of Fukushima and Koriyama -- the prefecture's agricultural and industrial corridor. What a mess.

As for the other prefectures, well, the highland and alpine areas of Gunma and Tochigi are contaminated, even though they be 100 to 180 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi plant, while the plains and lower hills are spared.

As to what happened to the area southwest of Tsuchiura, goodness knows. Must have been an unfortunate front of rain.

For a large reproduction of this map, click HERE.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

As I Was Saying, About The Health Benefits Of Hiking

The other day I surmised that the far northwest corner of the Tokyo Metropolitan District, where there are many places you can wonder "Is this really still Tokyo?", would be a cesium hot spot.

Well, now The Japan Times has confirmed it.

Let it be said that as compared to the mountains of Tokyo and Saitama, the mountain areas in Gunma and Tochigi Prefectures really got walloped.

Have a great three day weekend!

Friday, October 07, 2011

Committees for the Inquest of the Prosecution

I have been trying to get a handled just how far and beyond the pale the current prosecution of Ozawa Ichiro is. The newspapers are either being slipshod or obscure in calling Ozawa's prosecution the first of its kind. I cannot tell whether they mean the first of its kind for a member of the Diet, the first of its kind under the 2009 revision of the law establishing the Committees for the Inquest of the Prosecution or the first of its kind for whatever reason.

The section of the Ministry of Justice White Papers on the subject of the dispositions by the Committees is not much help in this matter, though it does provide a very good review of the Committees in general.

For the Japanese language reader, the latest available White Paper is last year's, to be found here.

For the English-language reader, the latest available version is the 2008 White Paper, where the relevant section is White Paper on Crime 2008, Part 5, Chapter 2, Section 1.

Working from the English language 2008 publication, so that the greatest number of readers may benefit, one finds out that since the establishment of the Committees in 1949 through to 2008, 135,136 persons were recommended for prosecution by a Committee, 1,408 were prosecuted and 1,254 were convicted. One also finds out that the new law, which gives the Prosecutors Office a second crack at the evidence before the Committee submits a case to a judge, came into force on May 21, 2009 -- a rather odd date since most laws generally come into force on April 1 or October 1 of a given year. One also finds out that nationwide there are 165 Committees for the Inquest of the Prosecution.

Click on the pop out tables and matters start to get confusing.

In the first table 5-2-1-1, one learns that in 2008 2,039 cases were referred to the Committees, either by request of by an authority (what kind of authority would be doing this is unclear). Now the Committees probably have a backlog of work from previous years built up, so the number of cases they consider in a single year is not necessarily equal to the number they receive. In 2008, the Committees disposed of 2,366 cases, recommending 130 for prosecution.

Now what happened to those 130 cases?

T'is hard to tell because the second pop out (5-2-1-2) says that in 2008 151 cases were disposed of. One has to assume that this disposition was done by judges, though this is unclear. As with the actions of the Committees, the discrepancy between the number of cases disposed of by the Committees and those disposed of by the judges (?) must result from a backlog of cases from previous years or cases that did not make it to trial in the recording year.

Now it seems, though again it is unclear, that of the 151 cases brought before a judge in 2008 35 were actually prosecuted, the others being being dismissed by the court.

So what was the result of these 35 prosecutions? No way to tell, as the data does not report the conviction rates.

For the record, from the Japanese-language 2010 White Paper, 155,583 cases were referred to the Committees for the Inquest of the Prosecution in between 1949 and 2009, resulting in 1444 prosecutions and 1286 convictions.

Which indicates that in 2009, the courts started action on 36 cases and 32 cases ended in guilty verdicts. Furthermore, in comparing the data totals presented in both of the White Papers, 1 -- yes only 1 -- case ended in acquittal in 2009.

Gotta admit, that last number is not great news for Ozawa Ichiro.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Circus Maximus

In an hour, the first hearing of the trial of former Democratic Party of Japan leader Ozawa Ichiro will open. He is charged with being a co-conspirator in the financial crimes of his former political secretaries Ishikawa Tomohiro, Okubo Takanori and Ikeda Mitsumoto (en).

The charges against Ozawa are bogus or at very worst unprovable. The Tokyo Prosecutors Office looked at the accusations twice. Both times the prosecutors decided that there was no case. That Ozawa is facing a judge today is due only to the efforts of the shadowy Association of Those Seeking The Truth in convincing the No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of the Prosecution (are these terms Stalinist enough for you?) that it should command a judge to appoint three lawyers as prosecutors.

The mainstream new media, which hates Ozawa, is having a field day...and will have several field months (the conventional wisdom is that the judge will issue a decision in April. I am not so sure the wheels of the law will grind so quickly) describing what will be dramatic exchanges of paper between the defense lawyers, the prosecuting lawyers and the judge.

Despite Ozawa's previous stint as the supreme authority in the DPJ and his behind-the-scenes running of the government during the brief Hatoyama Cabinet, it is unlikely that his trial will seriously affect the image of the DPJ or the proceedings of the Diet. The DPJ has quarantined Ozawa by stripping him of his party privileges: he is a Democrat in name only. As for the demands from the opposition parties that Ozawa explain himself, either behind closed doors before the Ethics Committee (the Socialists) or in sworn testimony before the Diet (everybody else), the Noda administration will simply reply that it has no intention to interfere with the actions of another branch of the government and can we get back to discussing the third supplementary budget?

And that will be it.

But on this morning, it is all Ozawa, though in a strangely very low key way.

Later - Here he is.

Ozawa Ichiro arriving at the Tokyo District courthouse at around 9:25 a.m.

Image courtesy: Yomiuri Online

Later still - An example of the kind of press puffery that has dogged Ozawa Ichiro for years, this from The Asahi Shimbun of September 29 (Link).

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Landing On His Feet; Landing On His Face

Proving that in Democratic Party of Japan Leader Noda Yoshihiko's world, failure and ill omens are not a barrier to appointment, Chairman of the Policy Research Council Maehara Seiji on Monday appointed Hachiro Yoshio the head of the PARC's project team researching Japan's possible participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (ja). This comes less than a month after Hachiro's spectacular flameout as Minister of Economics, Trade and Industry following only nine days in office.

That Hachiro has hardly had enough time to think about what went wrong the last time he was appointed to lead the government's efforts regarding the TPP and that he is still, as he was, a bizarre choice for this effort, given his connections to agricultural interests, seems to not be of litle consequence.

What qualities Hachiro possesses that he must be in charge of the DPJ's TPP strategy remain a mystery.

Meanwhile, in the House of Councillors and on the other side of the chamber, Liberal Democratic Party Caucus Leader Nakasone Hirofumi yesterday had to swallow his pride and appoint Koga faction member Mizote Kensei as his new party secretary-general (ja). Nakasone had hoped to appoint Konosuke Yoshitada as the replacement for departing secretary-general Kosaka Kenji. However, his choice of successor was opposed by the Machimura, Koga and Nukaga factions, which have been trying to improve their influence over LDP affairs as a whole.

Accepting Mizote as his deputy represents a significant blow for Nakasone. Whether the new lineup of LDP officers in the upper house means that the LDP will pull back from Nakasone's policy of saying absolutely no to every piece of legislation landing on the upper house's doorstep is now a very good question.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

More Chess Moves

Cut your losses. If you must lose material, lose as little as possible.

-Bruce Pandolfini, "The Ten Commandments of Chess"

So Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko visited the site of the disputed Asaka government housing complex.

For 15 minutes.

Based on this extensive review of the project which he had greenlighted after it was cancelled by the Government Revitalization Unit, he returned to Tokyo and called Finance Minister Azumi Jun into his office, this in order to command Azumi to suspend further construction activity at the site for five years (en).

One has to admit that this prime minister, even when he is forced by circumstances to reverse himself, does not forget to dot his i’s and cross his t’s, unlike his predecessor Kan Naoto, who did a lot of his policy making on the fly, upsetting the powers that be.

One also needs pay attention to how quickly and coldly this prime minister deals with every problem he faces. Ignore the charming self-deprecation and the common touch he can summon seemingly without the least effort: the man is all business. Sentimentality is a tool to win over his audience -- or at times just a single individual -- to be deployed, not felt.

Which is not to say that Noda is insensitive. Indeed, quite the opposite: one has to be acutely sensitive of another person’s or group’s wants and needs before one can beguile them with words that move and/or influence. And he makes the concessions necessary to seal the deals.

When I first considered Noda as prime minister, I figured that he would be put through the wringer just as his five immediate predecessors have been, leaving behind a desiccated husk after only a year in office. Now I am more inclined to see him as surviving the Democratic Party of Japan’s leadership contest next September and leading his party into the next House of Representatives election

Behind that roly-poly jiggle of jolly jelly is one tough customer.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Worth Reading

Gavan McCormack and Norimatsu Satoko have produced a very readable and sobering view of the current state of the Japan-U.S. plan to move the forces at the U.S. Marines Corps Airbase Futenma to a new base to be constructed in the town of Henoko.

"Discordant Visitors: Japanese and Okinawan Messages to the US"

As for myself, place me among the reluctant "unrealists" described in the report, if only for my belief that everyone has a price at which he/she can be bought.

The latest Kyodo poll numbers… an initial glance tell me perilously close to nothing.

But let us take a longer look anyway, shall we?

As has seemingly been the case with every prime minister since time began, or since Koizumi Jun’ichiro, the top line number of support for the Cabinet fell from its initial reading.

Numbers are percentages. The previous month’s readings are in [ ].

Do you support the Cabinet or not?

Support 54.6 [62.8]
Do Not Support 27.8 [18.1]
Don’t know/Don’t care 17.6 [18.1]

There is has been a slight drop (30.0 to 23.5) in the number of respondents who say they support the Cabinet because they trust the prime minister. By contrast, there has been a big rise in the number who say they support the Cabinet because they see no one else as appropriate as prime minister (32.2 to 47.5).

It is this latter number that Policy Research Council Chairman Maehara Seiji has to worry about if should he seek to challenge Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko in the next Democratic Party of Japan leadership election, scheduled to be held next September. The basis of Maehara’s potential leadership run is his popularity with the public. The more Noda is accepted as the only real candidate for the job of prime minister, the harder it will be for Maehara to convince his peers that he is the leader the party needs to prevail in the next House of Representatives election.

This is an an aside, but Maehara also has to worry about being lulled into fealty to Noda through Noda’s expansion of the powers and influence of the position of Policy Research Chairman. Maehara has to keep reminding himself, as the months click by, “I am being bought off. I am being bought off…”

As to the all-important numbers of support for the parties, the numbers for the two main parties have not budged at all. There has been a slight tick upward in the number for the party of cynics and smartasses Your Party and for the Communists – but not so great as to say that voter dissatisfaction with the status quo is rising.

Which party do you support?

DPJ 27.1 [27.2]
LDP 23.2 [23.6]
Your Party 5.7 [4.9]
New Komeito 4.0 [3.5]
Communist 3.2 [2.2]
Socialist 0.9 [0.8]
PNP 0.4 [0.1]
Sunrise 0.2 [0.6]
Other 0.3 [0.1]
Support no party 33.8 [35.7]
Don't know/Don't care 1.2 [1.3]

As for the big news of the weekend (at least it was big news inside the confines of Nagata-cho) – that the Liberal Democratic Party’s factions, which had been rather dormant, rose up to lop off a few heads in party’s executive offices – it has scarcely entered the public’s consciousness:

LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu retained Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru, but named Motegi Toshimitsu Chairman of the Policy Research Council and Shionoya Ryu Chairman of the General Council. Do you have any expectations of this new LDP party executive?

Have expectations 32.1
Have no expectations 60.6
Don’t know, Don’t care 7.3

Replacing the human quote machines Ishiba Shigeru and Koike Yuriko (to be fair, having the Iron Butterfly as the head of the General Council did not make much sense, considering the number of parties she has been in. But absent the ability of giving her a cabinet post, how else could Tanigaki put her in the spotlight?) is a risky move for Tanigaki, as he is cringeworthy when cornered by the cameras. Faction leaders Machimura, Koga and Nukaga could not be denied having their own representatives in the power positions, however.

Overall, Prime Minister Noda should be pleased with the results of the poll. The index of public testiness, the date at which the prime minister should dissolve the Diet and call an election, has receded into the haze of the distant future:

When do you think that the next dissolution of the Diet and House of Representatives election should take place?

This year 15.6
Next year 33.2
In 2013, when the term of the present Diet ends 46.6
Don’t Know, Don’t care 5.2

Later - I thought the questions about the supplementary budget and tax rises were idiotic, as they did not ask the respondents, "What would you do if you were in the prime minister's position? What mix of taxes, budget cuts and bond issuance would you propose?" Instead, the respondents were asked whether or not they "value" or "appreciate" (hyoka suru) the proposed third supplementary budget or the proposed tax rises.

Others thought these questions and their answers newsworthy.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The LDP Decides Success Is Killing It

"If you blunder, don't give up fighting. After getting the advantage, your opponent may relax and let you escape."

- Bruce Pandolfini, from "The Ten Commandments of Chess"

Could someone please explain to me, in simple terms, so that I can understand it, what the heck has gotten into the Liberal Democratic Party these last two days?

First, LDP Party President Tanigaki Sadakazu shakes up his core leadership group, dumping Ishiba Shigeru as the chairman of the Policy Research Council, Koike Yuriko as the chairman of the General Council and Aizawa Ichiro as the Diet Affairs Chairman. He replaces Ishiba with Motegi Toshimitsu, the Harvard Kennedy School of Public Policy grad, former McKinsey man and former Waseda University Graduate School prof (OK, we get it: he's no dunderhead - Editor). Koike, the fireball who regularly plunks the Democratic Party of Japan in foreign newspapers without the DPJ ever knowing about it, he replaces with Shiotani Shionoya Ryu, another U.S.-educated member, though nothing nearly so high powered as Motegi. Aizawa, Prime Minister Noda's classmate in the first graduating class at the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management, he replaces with Kishida Fumio, whose claims to fame are having served a five-year stint in the Long Term Credit Bank before becoming his father's secretary, eventually inheriting his father's seat (ja).

It was true that Ishiba and Koike lost an internal argument with Ishihara Nobuteru, the LDP's Secretary-General over how much the LDP could cooperate with the DPJ in responding to the nation's myriad problems. Ishiba and Koike, being rational, could not get their heads entirely wrapped around Tanigaki's wish to simultaneously "confront and cooperate with" (taisaku to kyoryoku) the DPJ.

Aizawa seems to have been dumped specifically because he is a Matsushita Seijuku grad, making him suspect when so many of his fellow alumni are serving in the Cabinet and the DPJ's secretariat.

Tanigaki was also under a great deal of pressure, it seems, from the old men in the party to appoint an executive more reflective of LDP traditions, that is to say, one major post for each of the main factions. Motegi is from the Nukaga Faction, Shiotani Shionoya from the Machimura Faction (the largest faction) and Kishida from the Koga Faction.

We will see how all these men do in their new posts. From the outside, this looks like change for change's sake, with some slight hint that the LDP might shift gears and cooperate more with the government.

Meanwhile in the House of Councillors, all hell is breaking loose in between the chairman of the House caucus Nakasone Hirofumi and a majority of the LDP's members in the upper house. Mistrusted Nakasone appointee Kosaka Kenji has been forced to resign as the LDP's House of Councillors Secretary-General and a slate of officers including Konosuke Yoshitada, Nakasone's anointed replacement for Kosaka, was rejected by a vote of the party's House of Councillors membership. In a power play similar to what has taken place around Tanigaki, the Machimura, Koga and Nukaga factions are pushing their own candidate to replace Kosaka (ja).

Unsurprisingly, the focus of the fight is now shifting away from the replacement of Kosaka to the unseating of Nakasone as the party's leader in the House of Councillors.

Former Prime Minister Kan Naoto must be wondering right now, as he is looking up from his reading on alternative energy sources,"Why couldn't they have fallen back into their old backstabbing ways during my tenure? What effect does Noda have on them that I could not have?"

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Noted in Passing

Today in the bus parking area of Yasukuni Shrine (just inside, past the immense steel torii): seven buses rented by the "Fukushima Prefecture High School Baseball League" and one bus for Yamaoka Kenji's support group (koenkai).

No particular message there, really. Just noticing things.

Oh, and the Yushukan has wonderful restrooms, outside of the electronic gates, so anyone can use them.

More on Cesium Concentration Maps

Look at the color legend of this damn map, the way the shades of blue are ordered. Could anyone understand the map except for the two extremes?

I cannot find the map on the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology website. I want to know toward whom it is I should be directing my fury.