Saturday, December 31, 2011

Notes From The Kohaku Gassen

This year's song contest is the year of the furusato, the inevitably rural hometown of legend and memory. One could not expect otherwise, in the year when so many rural communities were ruined, either from the earthquake and tsunami, from the fallout of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster or the summer's devastating rains and typhoons. Images and messages from the disaster zones have dominated the telecast, while the song selection has avoided urban areas and conventions in favor of rural sentimentality.

A few personal and decidedly shallow questions have been answered.

Q: Could Perfume really perform "Laser Beam" live?

A: Yes, but only just. When the song ended, the members of the group bent over laughing in relief, as they clearly had never done anything but lip-synch in previous performances.

Q: Would Shiina Ringo behave, or go off-script?

A: The producers must have been crossing their fingers when the volatile singer took the stage with her backup bank Tokyo Jihen. She delivered a pedestrian performance of "Carnation," the song NHK wanted her to tear up, as it is the theme song to their daily serial drama. Instead, she and Tokyo Jihen tore into their 1950's big band number "Onna no ko wa dare de mo."

The producers probably sighed a sigh of relief anyway.

Q: What was Matsutoya Yumi appearing on the program for, decades after her last hit and for only the second time, singing "Haru yo, koi", a tune she penned in 1994?

A: One reason was that the song was appropriate for a country exhausted by the triple disaster of the Tohoku, the high yen, the prospect of tax increases, pointlessly feuding political parties and yet another government with its head seemingly in the sand. A call for spring to come soon, a spring unsullied by disaster as this year's was, seemed to hit the right notes, both physically and spiritually. NHK certainly made into a spectacle, having all the performers come out and sing "Spring come!" (Haru koi!). Then again, for a performer like Matsutoya, with her giant sets and stage shows including elephants, having everyone come out for her song was just a matter of course.

The sadder possibility is that Yuming's performing days may be over. From what I just saw, the greatest singer-songwriter of her generation seems to be suffering from some sort of degenerative nerve disease, possibly Parkinson's.

This may have been a last hurrah.

As for the results of the contest, the Red (female) side eked out a rare win in the national voting -- surprising as the votes of adolescent girls often overwhelm the votes of the rest of the population, handing the annual title to the White (male) side. However, given that aside from Nishida Toshiyuki's performance of "Ano machi ni umarete" ("Being born in that town"), a tune he made into a love song to his hometown of Koriyama, one of the cities hard hit by the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown, the White performers' performances were duds, the very rare Red victory was not so surprising.

Friday, December 30, 2011

What Lies Within May Surprise You

Lest it be thought from my post and comment on the restaurant chain in China employing persons with learning disabilities that those with such conditions are relegated to repetitive, unchallenging work, it should be noted that the calligraphy for this next season's Taiga Drama Taira Kiyomori (seen above) is by Kane Shoko, a 24 year-old master large brush calligrapher with Down's syndrome.

Here is her website and the page from it showing her in action.

Image courtesy: NHK

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Nine Defectors From The House Of Representatives

Okumura Jun has produced a person-by-person analysis of the nine members of the Democratic Party of Japan's House of Representatives delegation who turned in their party badges yesterday (Link).

To Okumura-san's extensive research I would only add the observation that six of the nine were among the 16 legislators who left the Democratic Party Diet caucus in February over the then party leadership's then incipient decision to put Ozawa Ichiro on probation.

So one can assume that not a lot of tears are being shed at the defection of this particular group.

Hardship Duty

I had heard that the air in New Delhi was the worst in the world -- but this is ridiculous:

When NHK showed Prime Minister Noda reviewing the color guard sent out to meet him, you could scarcely see him through the brown murk.

Now I have been extremely critical of the PM these last few days -- but for making this trip and just breathing (or at least trying to) he deserves an imperial decoration.

Image courtesy: TBS

Koike Yuriko Embarrasses Herself

Koike Yuriko, the former newscaster, Defense Minister (veeerrrryyy briefly) and official attack dog of the Liberal Democratic Party in the English-language press has produced a "thought piece" on the political situation in the DPRK (Link). Having been warned by Janne Morén on the use of quotation marks, I nevertheless think them absolutely warranted here, as under no circumstances was Koike's brain ever actually engaged in the production of "North Korea's Samurai Rules." I was tempted to produce a post on "The Literary Crimes of Koike Yuriko" in an homage to Mark Twain's incomparable takedown "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" -- but frankly Koike's piece is not worth the effort. It would take hours to go through the errors, misrepresentations, mistaken notions, inconsistencies, self-defeating assertions and vain hopes populating this brief essay. My only hope is that some mean-spirited soul produces a Japanese translation of this exercise and disseminates it widely.

I will limit myself to a single scream of frustration: even a seven-year old knows that Hojo Masako was the wife of Minamoto no Yoritomo, not his daughter-in-law!

To think that this nonsense is to be reprinted in media outlets all over the globe makes the mind reel and stumble.

Tip o' the hat to Corey Wallace for posting the Koike piece on Facebook, where it has earned not a single "like" or comment.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

And Then There Was One

As noted in comments to a previous post, nine members of the Democratic Party of Japan's House of Representatives delegation have submitted their resignations from the party (E) in protest against a number of policies the government has recently rammed down the party's throat.

In a "let's all take a deep breath and wait before predicting the deluge" post at Global Talk 21, Okumura Jun noted that no House of Councillors members had headed for the exits (E).

Well, guess what? A few hours ago House of Councillors member Yokomine Yoshiro offered up his resignation from the DPJ (J).

Now Yokomine, the father of the golfer Yokomine Sakura, has been a huge pain for the party, being involved in a series of mishaps and ethical lapses since he was picked as a proportional seat candidate by party leader Ozawa Ichiro. His resignation from the party for what his political secretary called "personal reasons" may have nothing to do with the current party distress over the proposed rise in the consumption tax, the Yamba Dam restart declaration and the prime minister's hair-splitting and ultimately undone solution to winning party support for Japan's entering into discussions on joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

But the timing of Yokomine's resignation is, if not suspicious, then still bad for the image of the prime minister.

I am not going to say that I warned that that fission could happen...but I warned that fission could happen.

What I got wrong was the timing: I did not think the breakup would begin before the New Year.

Later - Over at σ1, Corey Wallace goes into some particulars as to why it is appropriate to think that "this time, it's different" (Link).

Analysis Not For The Faint Of Heart

Kyle Mizokami tells it like it is...and it ain't pretty (Link).

Good to know that the human component of the III Marines Expeditionary Force will remain based in Okinawa for the foreseeable future, ready to save the day.

Yes, I am being somewhat sarcastic.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Take That, Perfidious Sea Slug!

On Christmas Eve I likened Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko to a marine invertebrate, disgusted at his floopy defenses of awful, divisive decisions made by his government last week.

Well, it seems that an onslaught of feelings of disgust and dismay are washing about the prime minister right now, so much so it is hard for him to keep his head above the froth. How lucky that he spent the weekend in China and this evening hopped aboard a plane to India.

Where to begin?

- The F-35 decision - Liberal Democratic Party defense policy wonk Ishiba Shigeru, who has never been known to oppose any military acquisition before, promises in an interview with the Tokyo Shimbun (J) that his party will grill the government in Diet Budget Committee session. Ishiba quite clearly believes that the decision was a political one, to please the government of the United States when the Democratic Party of Japan has made such a hash of handling the Futenma Replacement Facility controversy. He is also convinced that the F-35 is simply the wrong plane to purchase at this time.

When you have lost a confessed military otaku as Ishiba over an order for a cutting-edge weapons system of primarily U.S. manufacture, you have really messed up.

- The Yamba Dam decision - DPJ Policy Research Council Chairman Maehara Seiji told the prime minister and the chief cabinet minister that a decision to restart the cancelled Yamba Dam project would not garner party support. DPJ Secretary-General Koshiishi Azuma echoed Maehara view. Acting Secretary General Tarutoko Shinji said the party will not support the decision. To this, Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu seems to have responded something on the lines of "What we have here is a failure to communicate." The three party officials threw up their hands and deferred to the government's wishes to restart the miserable project.

Well, what has happened, aside from every media outlet pointing out that the restart of the dam project represents a final turning away from the promises set out in the party's 2009 electoral manifesto? Nakajima Masaki, a proportional seat holder from the Northern Kanto Bloc has announced his intention to leave the DPJ, with support for his decision from the DPJ's district seatholders (J). In addition, Ishizeki Takashi, the party's Representative for Gunma District #2, is resigning from all of his party posts. In the party's Tax Committee meeting on Monday, which was supposed to discuss the government's various tax proposals including a rise in the consumption tax, two of the three hours of the meeting was taken up by opponents of the Yamba Dam airing their complaints about the decision.

- The Budget and Tax Proposals - The prime minister wants to have all discussions of the budget and tax rise proposals finished by the end of the year. A budget put together seemingly without rhyme or reason was approved on Saturday, with provisos to set in motion a rise of the consumption tax. The rush to push through all the decisions on these proposals before the end of the year has result in severe party discord. Three DPJ Representatives have announced they are leaving the party in a protest against the precipitous raising of the consumption tax. They hope to lead another seven to eight Representatives out with them and form a new political party (J). In another move, 89 first term members of the House of Representatives have sent a joint message to the party leadership that before the government can consider imposing a rise in the consumption tax on the citizens, the DPJ must follow through on its promise to cut the number of Diet members -- this even though the most of the seats to be cut would come from amongts those held by the first-termers.

Seems like some folks still have some spine and revolutionary spirit in the DPJ after all.

To be sure, the multiple rebellions and threats seems to be taking their toll on the heretofore unflappable PM. On the news tonight, his right eyelid was drooping, making the man look as though he needed a shave, a shower and a full night's rest.

Maybe he will get some sleep on the plane.

The Kiwi Does It Again

Corey Wallace on the history behind the revision of the Three Principles regarding arms exports (Link).

Read it, dangnabbit.

The Food You Eat

The Wall Street Journal's China blog ChinaRealTimeReport has a post up about a Chinese restauranteur's answer to tightening labor conditions and the incresing mobility of workers: hiring staff with learning disabilities (E).

In this, the Chinese entrepreneur is well behind Japan in this innovation. The food preparation business, with its emphasis on repetitive, unchallenging tasks, is probably the major employer of Japanese adults with learning disabilities. It gives persons that would otherwise be unemployable a job, a salary and often independence. It certainly also reduces the burdens on the parents and the state, which would otherwise be charged with entertaining and coping with these otherwise difficult to mainstream human beings...and given the almost total absence of the practice of amniocentesis for decades and its rarity even now, the population of intellectually challenged is not insignificant.

Even major chains have experimented with introducing those with learning disabilities into their workforce. I remember the shock and then admiration I felt at a visit to my local McDonalds when I noticed that a young woman with Down's Syndrome was taking my order. The experiment seemingly did not work, for the girl did not work at the outlet very long -- but it was a worthy effort by an organization whose scale and output volume tend to consign it to the category of unfeeling corporate behemoth.

So when you hear in the business press about how inefficient the food preparation business is in Japan, keep in mind that it provides work not only to those living in the economically bereft hinterlands but also for those who would otherwise be denied the dignity of a job.

Monday, December 26, 2011


T'is the season of reviews and of looking to the future.

Sheila Smith of the Council of Foreign Relations in New York has a published her impressions of 2011 (Link). The piece is geared to an American foreign policy audience and hits most of the major points. I would have included a bit more on the virtual collapse of the chances for the construction of a Futenma Replacement Facility at Henoko among the foreign policy issues of note -- but then again, Dr. Smith has been writing about the hopelessness of the move of the Futenma U.S. Marines assets to northern Okinawa for years. She may be afraid of sounding like a broken record.

(English speakers have just got to concoct a more contemporary metaphor for this condition. Then again, the Japanese equivalent is "sounding like a broken tape recorder.")

Just one question, though: what how does the Nadeshiko Japan victory in the World Cup demonstrate the effectiveness of civil society in absorbing the trauma of 3/11? Is it not the opposite, that the country needed the victory to shake itself of a post-3/11 national depression?

Television and radio journalist Lucy Craft has put together a report for NPR (Link) that is going to get her into hot water with the knee-jerk Japan defenders. While it is true that she does not give equal time to any kind of scientific assessment of the dangers of longterm exposure to low-level radiation (one should perhaps, for example, note that Europeans living in houses made of stone, particularly granite, expose themselves to significant annual doses of radiation, while radon in basements is a worldwide radiation hazard), she does expose what we all have been doing, to a greater or lesser extent: avoiding products from near the Fukushima plants and wondering when the next shoe will drop.

And there are so many shoes to drop, like where all the incinerators and water treatment plants, whose standard operating procedures transform large quantities of waste into small amounts of waste now have to deal with the reality of that they are taking massive quantities of material with low levels of radiation and transforming them into concentrated high-level radioactive muck that has to be buried somewhere.

More to come on this score, I am sure.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

What The Angels Sing

Neither this nor this is a Christmas tune, nor has the least thing to do with Japan or Asia. However, the one is based upon the other...and J.S. Bach loved the melody so much he sprinkled it throughout his repertoire.

Let them be my little presents for those who come to visit.

It has been a long year, with many changes in the lives of the permanent residents of this sad and lonely little blue planet. However, this morning, Christmas morning, the sun is out over Tokyo, Mt. Fuji gleams with snow and a dusting of chocolate and a dollop of whipped cream flavor my morning cup.

Pax vobiscum.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Bah, Humbug!

On Christmas Day, you can't get sore
Your fellow man you must adore
There's time to rob him all the more
The other three hundred and sixty-four..."

- Tom Lehrer, "A Christmas Carol"
In an hour's time I will have to beam at all mankind a shining grin of blessed munificence. Before that hour strikes, however, I would like to wish a few lumps of coal upon those deserving them in their stockings.

To Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko: Shame on you for this week, where you proved through the F-35 decision, the decision to restart the Yamba Dam project and the budget proposal you delivered today, with its staggering 49% of intake from borrowing (this in order to deliver everything on every ministry's wish list, it seems - E) that you are not a flexible dealmaker, but a shambling, dissembling sea slug. Maybe it was a bad week for you -- but yowza, what a week it was!

To Ozawa Ichiro - for batting your eyelashes at Osaka City Mayor Hashimoto Toru when the latter came slouching up the capital to beg from everyone whose office door he found open to please, please, please let him turn Osaka from a "fu" to a "to" --although no sane person can explain what good that bit of bureaucratic paper shuffling will do: Osaka will still be Osaka, with nearly nothing to recommend it save the bunraku puppet theater and Janne Morén. Thanks Ozawa-san for tossing the DPJ into yet another round of self-doubt and suspicion as to you and your acolytes' intentions.

To Defense Minister Ichikawa Yasuo - for having accepted the offer to head a ministry about whose issues and history you knews zilch...and having the gall to remain in office after admitting you had no qualifications for the post, other than that you were a breathing human being with the proper citizenship.

To Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu - for never having a proper explanation of what it is the government thinks it is doing. Is there anyone senior to you in the party hierarchy to explain to you simply, so that you might understand, how important it is for you to know the answers to the questions being put to you, as you are supposedly the government's COO?

To Watanabe Yoshimi - for quitting a dying party out of principle, then wasting years not articulating what your new party stands for, other than for adolescent slacker narcissistic snark.

O.K., O.K., I think I hear sleigh bells on the veranda, so I had better stop here.

Merry Christmas, メリー・クリスマス, Joyeux Noël, Vesel Bozic!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Suicidal Tendencies

Even though it goes against everything that the Democratic Party of Japan stands for and is sure to piss off millions of voters (E), the government today approved the appropriation of funds for restarting construction on the Yamba Dam. DPJ Policy Research Council Chairman Maehara Seiji warned the others present at the leadership meeting that the party will not support the decision. He now is resisting calls from well wishers that he resign (J) in protest of the government's decision.

The monthly childcare support payments for all? Halved, then limited to families below a certain income level, then cut again. Freeing up the expressway system? Abandoned except for temporary measures to aid those in the Tohoku Region. Reduction in the number of Diet members? Delayed indefinitely. Elimination of the "temporary" tax on gasoline is place since the 1970's? Forgotten.

With the Diet not in session and today a Friday and a national holiday, the government must have been thinking it can get away with this horrible reversal of policy.

Are they ever going to learn what a lousy political decision it is to spike the very last campaign promise kept...and if the DPJ fissions in the new year, the government can only blame itself for it.

The DPJ Cannot Trust The Bureaucracy To Make Its Decisions For It

I had an American academic of great renown and insight tell me that the Democratic Party of Japan simply had to start working more closely with the bureaucracy. At the time I was horrified, not only because battering the bureaucracy into submission is one of the core tenets of DPJ identity but because it simply would not work.

This week we have had two examples of two horrible decisions made by the ministries, one of which was bullrushed through a Cabinet decision and the other which, as long as Maehara Seiji is breathing, will have a wooden spike driven through its black heart.

The first bad decision was the selection of the F-35 fighter as the replacement for Japan's fleet of aging F-4s. That the F-35 is a work-in-progress for the wrong mission at the wrong price has been hammered home repeated over the last few days, both in the Japanese press and English-language commentary - the most recent example of which is the opinion article by Alessio Patalano (who has more knowledge about the Japanese military in his pinky than I will ever know) in The Asahi Shimbun (Link).

The second slap-me-because-I-think-I-am-dreaming decision is yesterday's inexplicable announcement by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism to restart construction on the Yamba Dam (E). The cancellation of the Yamba Dam is item #1 on the DPJ's list of cost saving measures it will undertake to provide funding for the expansion of its social welfare spending. The September 2009 announcement by the then Minister of MLIT Maehara Seiji that further work on the dam was cancelled was the first clear indication that the newly-elected DPJ government was serious about its promises to reform the way Japan has been run. For a DPJ MLIT minister to earmark funds for a restart of the project, this with the collusion of Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu, boggles the imagination.

Luckily (for the citizenry and whatever shreds of credibility the DPJ has left) the now Chairman of the DPJ's Policy Research Council Maehara Seiji has told everyone within hearing distance that the project will restart only over his dead body.

In both these instances, the decisions coming out of the ministries have the fingerprints of bureaucrats all over them, largely in that they are politically deaf and seemingly profitable only to the members of the bureaucracy itself and a tiny circle of special interests.

Where is Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko in all of this? Is he not supposed to be leading, thinking about the national interest and the interests of his party?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Government With Its Priorities Straight

The Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito have been giving the government of Noda Yoshihiko a lot of flack over its response to the announcement of Kim Jong-il's death. They claim that the government's response was lackadaisical and foolhardy and betrayed a lack of sense of crisis over the event.

The timeline on what happened on Monday morning went something like this (all times are JST):

10:00 The KCNA posts a bulletin that an important announcement will be made in two hours' time.

11:00 Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu is asked in his morning press conference whether he has heard about the DPRK announcement. Fujimura replies, "Yes, but we do not know what it is. So?"

11:59 The PM departs for a noontime rally promoting his vision of fundamental reforms and cutting government waste. He tells Fujimura, "If the announcement is anything important, call me back."

12:03 Fujimura learns that Kim Jong-il is dead.

12:05 Fujimura calls the PM; informs him of the situation. The PM's car is turned around.

12:09 The PM arrives at the Prime Minister's Residence.

12:10 The PM calls for a convening of the National Security Council.

13:01 The National Security Council is convened. Missing are Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro (in Washington) and National Public Safety Commission Chairman and State Minister for North Korean Abductions Yamaoka Kenji (in his Tochigi Prefecture constituency on a political tour).

13:30 Fujimura holds a press conference on the news.

Now it must be said that Yamaoka's not returning to the capital in time for the Security Council meeting looks incredibly bad. Then again, since he has been censured by the House of Councillors and is thus on track to resign from his positions in the government (perhaps now a near certainty, despite his being Ozawa Ichiro's right hand man), his absence was not much of a loss.

In truth, the Noda government's unperturbed attitude toward the surprise announcement of Kim Jong-il's death shows it has its priorities straight, not backwards.

First, the prospect of an announcement from North Korea did not drive the Prime Minister's Office into a tizzy. The Prime Minister and the government went about their business, until such time as a real security threat had been confirmed. Instead, the prime minister in particular concentrated on the important task of winning public support for his painful and fundamental reforms of the Japanese economy and public services, a herculean task.

Second, the absence of vital members of the National Security Council, indeed the members most directly involved with the response to national security threats, did not affect the functioning of the Council. Some effort was probably made to whisk Yamaoka back to Tokyo in time for the meeting but when it was clear he was not going to make it, the meeting went on without him.

This is a demonstration of a government in control, not out of touch. It focused on the nation's fundamental and chronic problems, not the sudden irruption of an event that it had no control over, had no obvious consequences and required no specific action (read the list of what the Japanese government committed itself to doing posthaste here - hat tip to Japan Real Time).

The LDP and the New Komeito are just barking -- but their barking will likely be heard by their friends in Washington, who are banking on the LDP-New Komeito coalition's return to power next year.

Later - In reconstructing what went wrong with the summoning of Yamaoka back to the capital following the DPRK's 10:00 a.m. alert as to a coming special announcement, the government has determined that the fault lay with the staff at the Prime Minister's Residence, who failed to contact Yamaoka in a timely fashion (J). Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura has apologized for this failure, absolving Yamaoka of any responsibility.

Lest anyone argue that this apology undermines my thesis, please note that this was clearly an error in execution, not in priorities.

More On That Damn Plane

Like I have been saying (Link).

White elephant, pink elephant, millstone...whatever.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Another Long Journey Ended

While the rest of the planet can mull over the deaths of writer Christopher Hitchens, freedom fighter, playright and leader Vaclav Havel and super-dictator Kim Jong-il, Japan can mourn the passing from TV land of Tokugawa Mitsukuni. After 42 years of wandering Japan in mufti, halting mayhem and doling out justice with the aid of his magical tobacco container -- or more properly the crest on his magical tobacco container -- Mito Komon will grace our screens no more. The TBS fictionalized life of the legendary second daimyo of the Mito han, the longest running TV drama in Japanese history, had its final broadcast last night.

On a night otherwise dominated by the death of Kim Jong-il, the old wanderer managed to garner a 14% audience share (J).

Not bad for a serious contender in the "hokiest show on Earth" contest.

Statue of Mito Komon in front of JR Mito Station, Mito City, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Photo by MTC

Oh Well, It's The F-35

It is official now: the national security council and the Cabinet have both signed off on the procurement of the Lockheed Martin F-35 as Japan's replacement for the F-4 (J and E).

I would not hold my breath in anticipation of when the Air Self Defense Forces accepts its first delivery of the plane, nor of any of Japan's beset heavy industry giants getting much in the way of ancillary contracts.

Guess that the timing of this announcement is proper: near to the darkest days of the year and amidst a flurry of speculation about the situation in North Korea post-Kim Jong-il. This decision has all the attributes of a snowjob.

The Best Thing You Will Read On Kim Jong-Il's Death All Day

The Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability has always been best non-Asian source of information (pax the usual Russians) on what is going on inside the DPRK. It is not surprising, therefore, that has published the best flash review of the outlook on the transition of power following the death of Kim Jong-il.

Then again, if the death of the despot still leaves you with a wish to giggle, there is The Okapi Factor's take on the events. It is both funny and not so, as it leaves out of its list of potential sources of future tyranny the ability of companies, organizations and governments to vacuum up information on the individual, exposing all of us to the threat of character assassination, search with out probable cause, rewritten personal histories and seizure of property without any legal recourse.

Tyranny without the martial music, if you will.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Kim Jong-il And The Axis of Crazy

Kim Jong-il is dead, or at least has been dead for a while, with the generals waiting until everyone was safely ensconced in his or her work unit this morning to announce his death.

Jong-il has died too early to complete the installation of his son as his rightful and suitable heir. The 2012 year of prosperity was to be the saddle of the transition, where Jong-il would hand off the reins to his third son Jong-un.

However much the progaganda department calls on the citizens of the Workers' Paradise to rally around Jong-un (E), the young man has none of the terrifying record of oft-deadly nuttiness that made Jong-il immediately legitimate in the DPRK's world of surreal institutionalized social violence. Recall that before taking over for his father, Jong-il had:

- signed off on the attempt to assassinate the South Korean cabinet. The bombing in Rangoon, Burma killed seventeen South Korean officials, including four cabinet ministers.

- ordered the bombing of KAL Flight 858 in order to disrupt the 1988 Seoul Olympics

- supervised the kidnapping of Japanese citizens for the purpose of teaching DPRK spies Japanese language and customs

- had South Korean film director Shin San-ok and his actress wife kidnapped in order to improve North Korea's film industry

Kim Jong-un, aside from growing his hair in the style of his revered grandfather Kim Il-sung, likely does not have what it takes to survive inside the North Korean system, despite the rumors that he was in some way in charge of the shelling of the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. Even a man as bloodthirsty, ruthless and capricious as his father Jong-il needed three years to solidify his rule after the death of his father Il-sung, and this after having been in charge of the daily business of the government for more than a decade.

I would not count on the Young Leader's lasting long. The DPRK system rewards ambition, an ability to keep one's intentions hidden and utter heartlessness. Jong-un is a pup surrounded by wolves. Whether or not he stays in power depends on how firmly the other, older members of his family inspire loyalty and/or fear in the armed forces and the secret services.

The Okinawans Should Be Pleased With This Outcome

While United States sources like Stars & Stripes do not have confirmation up on their websites, Japanese news sources are reporting that a longstanding grievance of Japanese who live near U.S. military bases has been resolved in a manner that dramatically extends the reach of Japanese law enforcement authorities (E).

Previously U.S. military personnel and Department of Defense civilians who caused accidents due to intoxication would have to be handed over to U.S. authorities if the accused could argue he or she was "on duty" at the time of the accident. Since the definition of "on duty" could be extended to off-base receptions and parties, dozens of U.S. service personnel and civilian contractors had had to be handed over to be U.S. base authorities, where the accused would be tried under the Uniform Code of Military Justice -- if the accused was a member of the armed services. Civilian employees tended to fall through the cracks, as they are exempt from trial in military courts.

The handing over of suspects has been a constant source of frustration for local law enforcement, local citizens, prefectural governments and the national government. The issue of immunity for civilian employees of the Department of the Defense reached a breaking point this past January, however, when a 24 year old DOD civilian returning from an offbase job and driving drunk crashed head on with a car, killing its 19 year old driver. Under the Status of Forces (SOFA) agreement the young American was handed over to U.S. base authorities, who decided that the proper punishment for causing a fatal accident was the suspension of the young man's driving privileges for five years.

The rage of Okinawan citizens and the government of Okinawa was intense. The Government of Japan, encouraged as always to act in order to keeping intact the possibility of moving Futenma Marine Corps Air Station assets to a replacement facility to be built at Henoko, sought either a revision of the SOFA (an unlikely prospect, as this would open the possibility of reopening all the SOFA's the United States has with governments all over the world) or a reinterpretation of the application of the SOFA that would mollify Okinawan anger.

Last month, Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro announced that the U.S. and Japan had negotiated a new, narrow formula whereby if a civilian DOD employee driving drunk caused a fatal or severe injury accident, and, after being handed over to U.S. base commanders, was determined by said commanders to be not prosecutable for a criminal offense, the said suspect would then be handed over to Japan prosecutors for trial under Japanese law (J).

It was under this tight bureaucratic fiddle that prosecutors sought an indictment of the 24 year old American over the January vehicular death of the 19 year old.

Despite the fiddle, U.S. military personnel arrested in drunk driving accidents off base would still be tried in U.S. military courts. Furthermore, the question of what would happen to a civilian in case of a drunk driving accident not involving death or a serious injury remained an open question, with the degree of severity of injury likely to be a point of contention.

On Friday, however, U.S. and Japanese negotiators came up with a sweeping solution to the problems of U.S. base personnel and drunk driving accidents. According to the new agreement, driving while drunk and causing an accident immediately ends one's ability to claim immunity under the SOFA, no matter whether one is an armed services member or a civilian employee or the accident has caused death or severe injury (J).

Rather than trying to find a work around a specific problem (a bureaucratic solution) the Japanese and U.S. sides were able to establish a principle by which present and future cases could be judged without question (a political solution).

Good for them...and good news for the people of Okinawa.

The F-35 Decision, The Backlash

Last week, the Chunichi Shimbun Group (which includes the Tokyo Shimbun) came out with a strong editorial demanding to know why the government of Japan seemed set to procure the Lockheed-Martin F-35 as the replacement for Japan's aging F-4s (J). For the Chunichi, the issue was largely cost, which seemed likely to have no limits as to upward revisions.

At the same time on Friday, the Sankei Shimbun, which rarely has a problem with a program that strengthens Japan-U.S. military ties and interoperability and never, seemingly, has previously had a problem with Japan acquiring a new whizbang weapons system, also came out with an editorial (J) also asking the government to explain its decision. While admitting that the F-35 offers a counter to Chinese and Russian Fifth Generation fighters and the choice of the F-35 ensures better relations with the United States, the Sankei editors have the same reservations about spiraling costs the Chunichi editors do. They are equally unhappy with the many technical flaws that keep emerging, setting back the probable delivery date of the new fighters. Given the retirement schedule for the F-4s, there is the possibility of a sizable hole in Japan's air defense when it will have only the F-15s (which have only recently come back into service after having been grounded after one of them dropped a fuel tank on a residential neighborhood - E) and its few F-2s as its fighter component.

Now the Mainichi Shimbun, has come out with its own editorial asking many of the same questions as the Chunichi and the Sankei (J). In its editorial, the Mainichi points out the case of Australia, which, out of concern over the delivery dates of the F-35, has weighed acquiring several more F-18s rather than rely upon the F-35 for its defense needs (E). In addition, the Mainichi calls into question the supposed promises of technology sharing and local manufacture of F-35 components, this in the light of the Eurofighter consortium's promise to allow indigenous manufacture of its aircraft, with no technologies kept hidden from cooperating Japanese companies.

On the other side of the ledger, the Yomiuri Shimbun, which normally has opinions about everything including the actual color of the sky, has so managed to willfully ignore the F-35 decision -- which was, to be fair, rescheduled from Friday to sometime this week (My guess is that Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko did not want anything to detract from his press Friday press conference announcing the completion of the cold shutdown of all of the Fukushima Dai'ichi Power Station's reactors). The paper's coverage of the purported decision has been willfully uncritical (J).

So the left and the right do not like the plane and the conformist center-right is keeping its usually open mouth shut.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Compassion, Fear and National Interest

It has been a weird week: running into the right wingers protesting the installation of the comfort woman statue in front of Japan's Seoul Embassy (what the members of the Diet had to do with that one I have no idea); seeing the hardcore nutcases charging the tent of the anti-nuclear protesters, yelling at them that they must all by Korean residents of Japan to have anti-nuclear views; and the rumors leaking out that the Government of Japan was going to purchase the F-35, an aircraft which has little value in the upgrading Japan's defense but would sure be great in attacking another country -- and the Tokyo Shimbun to wonder whether the Air Self Defense Forces were running policy decisions, not the civilian leadership.

Dealing or not dealing with the leftovers of the last war and preparing unnecessarily for the next one?

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Plane Without A Policy, Revisited

Today's Tokyo Shimbun editorial "Making Japan's Next Generation Fighter The Unfinished F-35: Is This Safe?" (Jiki sentoki mikansei F35 de daijobu ka - Link) lists a series of problems with the rumored decision of the Government of Japan to procure F-35 Lightning II's as replacements for its aged F-4 fighters.

The Tokyo Shimbun's main arguments are not the usual ones about the range of technical problems and delays that have plagued the program so far. Instead, the editors worry about the way the cost of each plane will be calculated, if the heretofore undeployed aircraft can even be delivered to Japan at the promised time.

What makes the editorial bite, however, is its final paragraph, where the editors go out on a limb to point fingers at who seems to responsible for the F-35 decision -- and it is not the usual or proper policy makers:


One has the strong fear that Japan is being led in ridiculous direction by the reckless defensiveness of an Air Self Defense Force that says, "We want a cutting-edge aircraft."

What was it that our current Defense Minister Ishikawa Yasuo said, that his ignorance of military affairs was the very essence of civilian control of the military?

The Comfort Woman Statue

So now I know what was really ticking off the crowd of folks I ran into on Wednesday.
Statue Deepens Dispute Over Wartime Sex Slavery
The New York Times

The unsmiling teenage girl in traditional Korean dress sits in a chair, her feet bare, her hands on her lap, her eyes fixed on the Japanese Embassy across a narrow street in central Seoul. Within a day, the life-size bronze statue had become the focal point of a simmering diplomatic dispute as President Lee Myung-bak prepared to visit Tokyo this weekend.

The statue, named the Peace Monument, was financed with citizens' donations and installed Wednesday, when five women in their 80s and 90s who were forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military during World War II held their thousandth weekly protest in front of the embassy, joined by their supporters.

For them and many other Koreans, the statue — placed so that Japanese diplomats see it as they leave their embassy — carries a clear message: Japan should acknowledge what it did to as many as 200,000 Asian women, mostly Koreans, who historians say were forced or lured into working as prostitutes at frontline brothels for Japanese soldiers.

The Japanese government's main spokesman, the chief cabinet secretary Osamu Fujimura, called the installation of the statue "extremely regrettable" and said that his government would ask that it be removed. South Korean officials said Japan cited international treaties that required host governments to help protect the dignity of diplomatic missions. On Thursday, South Korea made it clear that it had no intention of forcing the protesters to remove the statue...

Well, OK, the statue is there to stay. Lest it become a permanent sore in Japan-South Korea relations and a focal point of anti-Korean sentiment in Japan (as it was on Wednesday) the Japanese Embassy should follow some good advice:
"Dont't get mad; get even."

- Robert F. Kennedy

"You say potato and I say potahto.
You say tomato and I say tomahto.
Potato. Potahto. Tomato. Tomahto.
Let's call the whole thing off."

- George and Ira Gershwin
If anyone had half a gram of sense in the Japanese Embassy in Seoul or at the Foreign Ministry in Kasumigaseki, there should have been a press release:
In Seoul today, opposite the Japanese Embassy, a peace statue was unveiled, commemorating the positve contributions of the Japanese occupation and annexation of Korea. The statue is of a young Korean woman, sitting in a chair. She is happy because she is attending her first day in class, an opportunity extended to her by the education policies of the Japanese authorities. Especially meaningful is that she can receive an education despite her poverty, symbolized by her bare feet. At the same time, the young woman is sad, as the chair beside her is empty. The empty chair represents the wasted lives of millions of young women held back by the repressive paternalism of Korean society."
And let it go at that.

Art is plastic, open to interpretation. What you get out of it depends on what you put into it.

The statue helps out in that it is ambiguous. The expression on the young woman's face is not unsmiling, as The New York Times states with conviction. It is at best blank, with a bias toward cheerful.

Lest anyone think I am being puckish and denigrating the comfort women's rights to an offical apology and compensation, I am not. They have deserved and have been denied the right to hold their heads up high in their communities, able to say, "I was never a prostitute. I was a prisoner of the Japanese Imperial military."

However, when there are situations and provocations too fraught with domestic political baggage to be resolved by diplomats, the only possible solution is an embrace of ambiguity non erit finis*.

Ambiguity and a resignation to the status quo are the salves and supports of East Asian peace. They keep Taiwan free of Beijing's control; keep the Senkakus Japanese territory; and keep the Russians and the Japanese from ever coming together to surround and thus render paranoid China (ambiguity also keeps the Republic of Korea and Japan from becoming close, despite their democratic governments. No thing is ever always a positive).

Making demands that the statue be removed are going to lead nowhere. The government of Japan should just insist, as it does in the Senkakus, the East China Sea and in the Northern Territories that it believes what it does about the situation, no matter what the other side says -- and let those on the other side cut off their own fingers in frustration at the GOJ's intransigence.

And then do its damndest to give the surviving comfort women what they deserve.

* Not the World of Warcraft guild of the same name.

Image Courtesy: Yomiuri Online

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Plane Without A Policy

Michael Auslin of AEI has produced an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal taking quite a different view of the likely Japanese government decision to purchase Lockheed-Martin F-35s than I did the other day. At least in terms of which direction the author's thumb is pointing.

As far as I can tell from the essay, the clear advantage for Japan in owning a set (and by a set I mean 40, the number of planes being jiggled about in the mainstream press) of F-35s is that the plane will be invisible to pilots of the current generation of Chinese and Russian attack fighters. Which is all very well and good up to the point where the F-35 actually fires something, when its presence will then become very much known.

Now the possession of F-35s could have a deterrent effect, making Chinese or Russian commanders less willing to invade Japanese airspace or attack a Japanese ship or aircraft in international airspace or waters on the chance that an F-35 could be nearby, ready to retaliate. However, in the event that such an intrusion or attack would occur, it would certainly only be carried out as a part of a coordinated and multi-asset planned attack, which the presence of F-35s would not deter.

An F-35 could ostensibly be used to loiter around in the wake of an attack squadron of F-15s and/or F-2s, serving as an invisible friend of these planes should they be set upon by more acrobatic Sukhoi 27 and Sukhoi 30 variants. However, not even the role of silent protector works out in terms of Self Defense Forces doctrine, because stealth is only really advantageous when given the chance to fire first, without warning, which no ASDF commander has the authority to order and no ASDF pilot is trained to do. Firing on the Sukhois after they have engaged the F-15s or F-2s may be psychologically rewarding, but will not bring back the lost F-15s and F-2s. Firing on the Sukhois while they are engaging the F-15s and F-2s will make a messy situation only messier (Missiles here, missiles there -- missiles, missiles everywhere...).

As for ASDF F-35s invisibly intruding into Chinese, Russian or DPRK airspace, what would be the mission? Destroying the opponents command and control systems? Destroying fixed missile sites? Destroying mobile missile launchers? Engaging fighters over the other country's territory? All of these acts are not just contrary to Japanese defense doctrine, they are unconstitutional -- and no seriously proposed revision to the Japanese constitution gets within even shouting distance of permitting such missions except as a response to an attack on Japan, which is already covered under the Japan-U.S. Security Arrangements -- i.e., it is a problem for the United States to handle, whereupon the F-35s that would be responding will be U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy planes.

No matter how one slices it, one cannot come up with a mission for Japanese F-35s to perform, save keeping the U.S. government happy and the reputation for paying exorbitant amounts of money for a small number of fighters intact.

As for the Russian and Chinese stealth fighter programs, which are themselves responses to the threat posed by the U.S.A.'s F-22s -- a threat that, every so often (twice this year, at least) does not exist -- neither of them are going anywhere soon, either because the generals are kidding themselves (the Russians) or the generals know damn well that test flying a prototype stealth fighter in daylight is not something a country with a serious stealth program does (the Chinese).

And if the policy problems were not enough to kill interest in the F-35, the plane itself, as Tobias Harris passes on in a Facebook link, has so far been a dud.

So I would agree with Michael Auslin in thinking a Government of Japan decision to acquire the F-35 has Tokyo taking security to another plane (Hardy, har har har!). Unfortunately, it is another astral plane.

Later - It probably means nothing...but it seems the announcement of the F-35's having won the contest to become Japan's next generation fighter has been delayed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Strategic Industries In Peril from What?

On a trip up the hill to the offices of the Diet members, I mistakenly took the route in between the Finance Ministry and the Foreign Ministry. I say mistakenly because it took me in between two sets of protestors: a tiny tent housing the handful of anti-nuclear activists camped out in front of the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry and an ear-splitting multitude of right wing nutjobs hyperpatriots bearing Hinomaru flags and a barrage of portable loudspeakers. In between the two groups was an army of police officers, struggling in a bored sort of way to keep the right wingers from rushing at the pathetic little anti-nuclear protest.

Apparently, from the hyperpatriots shrieks and grunts of "Zainichi, zettai zainichi" ("Korean residents, definitely Korean residents") and all kinds of imprecations of leaving Japan open to attacks from the DPRK, they were convinced that the anti-nuclear movement was a Korean plot. "How is this country going to survive, you idiots!" yelled one of the hyperpatriots at the knot of anti-nuclear protestors.

Later, my walking companion and I were treated to a very fine explanation from a very nice old lady that Japan is full of DPRK spies, this as she and the multitude were on their way, according to my walking companion, to a large gathering in front of the offices of the Diet members protesting the Big Lie that is the comfort women issue.

There have always been folks who have claimed that Japan's devotion to nuclear power development and the possession of all the elements of a fuel cycle represented an incipient nuclear capability, a backup for the day the U.S. suddenly withdraws its nuclear umbrella, leaving Japan naked and surrounded by nuclear armed states. What I did not know is that among the enemies to be crushed to protect this incipient deterrent was a bunch of old Korean women and their co-conspirators who pretend to be Japanese radicalized by the Fukushima disaster.

Amazing the things you can learn from just walking around.

Later - Someone better not tell this crowd that NHK's lineup for the annual New Year's Eve Kohaku Uta Gassen ("Red/White Song Battle" - always bet on White) includes not one, not two, but three K-Pop acts (KARA, Toho Shinki and Shojo Jidai - the last being a pop act based on the premise "the longer the bare leg, the better the song."). Because you know what all this means: we have to support Japan's nuclear power industry even more.

It's all connected, obviously.

Later still - Please click on comments to learn about the interesting characters I ran into, courtesy the Shingetsu News Agency.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Plenty O' Nothin'

Way back in the distant past -- three days ago -- Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko was scheduled to pay a formal visit to Washington in early January, sometime prior to his policy speech opening the regular Diet session. Then came word yesterday that the prime minister's visit would be postponed (E), something of a pattern for this prime minister all of a sudden (E). Now we have word that Kurt Campbell in Washington has hopes the PM will come in April, during the time the cherry trees on the Tidal Basin are blooming, in celebration of the hundredth anniversary of Japan's donation of the trees -- and expressed this desire to, of all people, the visiting Ishihara Nobuteru (J), the Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic Party, who wants to shut down the government, force the downfall of Noda and the calling of elections in March (J).

Well, we can dispense with the official explanation of the postponement of the Washington visit -- that the two sides could not find a way to mesh the schedules of the two leaders. After all, the Noda government had been planning on the trip, at least until two days ago -- so something had been in the works for a long time.

Let us try to imagine, however, how a conversation would have gone between the two leaders, had the meeting taken place in early January.


O – "So now that the cameras are out of the room, what's going on with Futenma?"

No – "Wow, you just jump right into things, don't you? Can't we start on something simpler, like playful banter on which city is colder right now, Tokyo or Washington?"

O – "No."

No – "Oh."

O – "Seriously, what progress has been made?"

No – "Progress? Well, I can honestly report that to my knowledge, no one in the Defense Ministry has behaved as stupidly as Tanaka Satoshi or Minister Ishikawa did in the closing weeks of the Diet's extraordinary session (E)."

O- "And that's progress?"

No – "Given that Tanaka has been dismissed and Ishikawa has been censured by the House of Councillors, yes."

O – "OK, how about something simpler. Tell me about the progress made on the beef importation issue."

No – "Progress…well that is tricky. You see…in Japan…we have…what is the phrase I am searching for…it's two adjectives, an adjectival infinitive and a noun…"

O – "Xenophobic, paranoid, science-hating idiots?"

No – "Precisely the phrase I was searching for! How do you know about such things?"

O -– "You're kidding, right?"

No – "Oh, sorry. I forgot for a moment to which country's president I was speaking. Anyway, I would not be hoping for any movement on that issue in the immediate future. You see, I have a minister of consumer affairs who has absolutely zero credibility as a consumer advocate (E)."

O – "So get rid of him…or her."

No – "It's him. And I can't because I have an Ozawa problem."

O – "What does that mean?"

No – "Well, it's like your conservative majority on the Supreme Court problem. One gets to thinking sometimes that nothing is going to really change until someone is…I believe you say, 'Caught in flagrante delicto' or 'Sent to the hoosegow.' Not that I would ever dream of wishing such things on a person, of course. I cannot speak for other members of my party, however."

O – "I think I get it. Nice use of the vernacular idiom, by the way."

No – “"Not at all. I am famous for both my silver tongue and my humble, down-to-earth style."

O – "Let's try something even simpler. What do want to do about the TPP?"

No – "I want you to have your staff to quote me completely and without error. No deletions or paraphrases based on a compilation of public statements I may have made about the TPP. That is for starters."

O – "Oh, forget about the TPP. Since your government came in so late, you haven't an icicle's chance in hell of getting in on the rule making phase of the process anyway."

No – "Icicles? Does this mean we will be having our playful banter about the weather after all?"

O – "No."

No – "Oh."

O – "Tell me, because for some reason I am more patient than a lump of granite, what progress your government has made in loosening of its export rules on military technology our two countries have co-developed, so that the resulting technology may be sold to U.S. allies."

No – "None."

O – "None?"

No – "Mr. President, Japan is a peace-loving country. The renunciation of war and the promotion of peace are written into our constitution. If we were to allow the sale of these systems to other countries, they might actually be used. In war, you see."

O – "First, we are talking about sales of defensive systems. And second, from our intelligence community I know that the Nissan Pathfinder remains the transportation choice of half of the world's known terrorists*…and that from news photos half the Toyota trucks in Africa seem to have a machine gun bolted to the cargo bed."

No – "That is sooo unfair."

O – "This conversation is sooo over."

* Not an actual statistic. C'mon, this is satire.

Oh, No. Not The F-35. Please, No

So it seems the Japanese government is set to announce a decision to acquire the F-35 fighter, seemingly out of stealth envy (J)* and the possibility of the consortium tossing Japanese defense contractors the opportunity to manufacturer some of the plane’s parts, with technology transfer (J).

So Japan hopes to replace its aging F-4 fleet with a plane that is still only in the prototype phase and has seen action only in a Bruce Willis Die Hard flick. At some hazy future date when the F-4s have to be replaced now (Even the usually gung-ho Sankei Shimbun has reservations about this point). At a price that is giving the Finance Ministry angina.

As the French might say, “Quel bordel!”


*Stealth technology? In an interceptor? Really? Is not the point for the other side, stealthy or not, to know you are there, waiting for them? Is there not some kind of doctrinal contradiction between Japan, an ostensibly peaceful nation, possessing have a weapons system whose main feature is the ability to attack, then sneak away, undetected?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Very Kind Of Them #5

Shisaku will continue to be on hiatus for a bit longer. In the meantime, the very kind folks at Al-Jazeera English have published an essay of mine "Is Japan Cracking Up?"

See ya soon.