There are many stories to be chasing after.
There is the humanization of arrested Aum Shinrikyo fujitive Kikuchi Naoko in the news media and the implications the humanization of a mass murderer could have on the imposition of the death penalty in her case -- a given, considering the sentences handed out to the other members of the cult -- or even the death penalty's continued application. Can the state kill a person who has, during her life on the run, worked as an eldercare provider? Is there such a thing as redemption after committing great evil? And what of the National Police Agency's incapacity to capture anyone unless that person is handed to them on a platter* or in the case of Hirata Makoto, tries desperately (E) to hand himself in on a platter? And what of the irony of the Kikuchi arrest coming the day after rededication of a monument to Sakamoto Kuniko -- the Sakamotos being the first of Aum's victims, whose killings, had they been investigated (it would not have been too hard. One of the cult members, horrified at what he and his fellow followers had done, left his Aum Shinrikyo badge at the scene of the crime) would have stopped the whole mad murderous machine in its tracks? (J)
One talk about the flip side of the collapse of the economies in rural areas: that larger-than-one-would-imagine-in-a-country-with-a-population-as-big-as-Japan's tracts of uninhabited land are available for renewable energy resource projects -- nicely graded and leveled abandoned rice paddies, failed golf courses, unused rural economic development zones and perhaps even an underused airport or two make fine candidates for solar farms. (E) **
However, the big story is the Cabinet reshuffle (E) and the big story of the Cabinet reshuffle the appointment of academic Morimoto Satoshi as Minister of Defense.
For those looking for background on the appointment there is a wealth of material. Morimoto has been in the public eye for two decades as a public intellectual of the first rank, serving as the media's go-to conservative academic on matters such as the Japan-U.S. security alliance, the DPRK, defense systems, the revolution in military affairs and the rise of Chinese military power. If someone were looking for "gotcha" moments -- stunningly incorrect predictions, overblown rhetoric, rumor mongering, untenable analysis -- there are hundreds of hours of video and ten of thousands of words to troll through. Luckily for Morimoto and Prime Minister Noda, the organizations with the most reflexive tendencies to go trolling for items with which to embarrass Morimoto and the government -- the Yomiuri Shimbun and its Nihon Terebi terrestrial TV network and the Sankei Shimbun and its terrestrial network Fuji TV -- both have relied on Morimoto as the outside expert most likely to hew to their editorial line.
Morimoto is a hardline realist. He has little love for Article 9 and the limits placed upon Japan's ability to engage in multilateral security actions. A former Air Self Defense Forces (the most gungho of the services) officer and a graduate of the National Defense Academy, he has probably always dreamed of being Minister of Defense. Now he has the responsibility to be one. He will be the man in the cross hairs and the guy with his name on the dotted line when the government signs the contract for the acquisition of F-35 Lightning IIs, with the costs and delivery dates to be determined.
Morimoto has previous experience in government, having been appointed the first Special Advisor to the Minister of Defense after the position was created during the premiership of Aso Taro. As a former member of an LDP administration with no previously noted links to the Democratic Party of Japan, he represents a bit of wicked deviousness on Prime Minister Noda's part: after disgracing the position with two Ozawa Ichiro-nominated defense ignoramuses -- whom the LDP had the House of Councillors censure -- he gives the country a defense minister about whom the LDP can raise not a peep of protest.
Morimoto, despite his defense smarts, comes into office with severe handicaps that will limit his ability to transform his own ideas into action. First, he is a non-politician: he will facing the bureaucracy naked, without even a political secretary to back him up. Such support as he will enjoy will come from the Prime Minister's Residence (the Kantei) and in the person of the man who appointed him. Second, the cost of acquiring the F-35 threatens to upset the balance between the ASDF and the already beset Ground Self Defense Forces and the proud and dominant Maritime Self Defense Forces. After personnel costs and procurement costs, Morimoto will have little to spend on actual operations or any expansion of operations he might press the government to consider.
The appointment of Morimoto once again raises the question of whether or not Noda is his own defense minister. While he for once has less experienced in defense matters than person he has appointed as his defense minister, being only the son of an SDF man rather than a former SDF man himself, Noda still believes himself an expert in the nuts and bolts of defense policy.
The appointment seems more a tactical move rather than a strategic one. At a stroke Noda has neutralized potential LDP, right wing and center-right media and nationalist complaints about his support for a robust Japanese defense capability and outlook. Left-leaning and leftist news media have indeed been hopping up and down that the appointment of an academic rather than a politician means that the MOD bureaucracy and uniformed officers will be too powerful, undermining the concept of civilian control (shibirian kontororu***). He will win the applause of the American think-tank-political-appointee merry-go-round ridership, who will be thrilled by Morimoto's heretofore unshakable support of the Japan-U.S. alliance and his hardline security stances, ignoring Morimoto's rather weak bureaucratic and non-existent political support. He also removes from the commentariat one of his most potent and visible potential critics.
So Morimoto has the "right" views and the wrong attributes. We shall have to see which of the two initial conditions proves the more significant.
Later - And yes, I did notice. It was the first thing out of my mouth when I saw the Cabinet lineup in the paper this morning: "What? Again? Where are the women, you torpid [expletive deleted] sea slug?"
Later still - This post has been edited for greater clarity.
Way later - The Magnificent Kiwis have checked in -- Bryce Wakefield in Comments and Corey Wallace over at Japan Security Watch (Link) -- with far more intelligent things to say about the Morimoto apppointment than I have.
* Until further notice, I will remain agnostic regarding the police story that a neighbor recognized Kikuchi and turned her in. The difference in appearances between the 1994 Kikuchi and the woman arrested on Sunday are significant (E). It seems unlikely that anyone looking at her would see the chubby, smiling former runner, especially as Kikuchi, while living in Sagamihara, was, according to residents, always hiding her face by looking at the ground.
A more likely scenario is that her lover, exhausted by life on the lam, turned her in with a promise of clemency for himself and mercy for her, with police concocting the alert neighbor story to keep the public on the lookout for the last remaining Aum fugitive, Takahashi Katsuya.
** Note to The Economist: the title of your story about this subject has to be, "Huge...tracts of land..."
*** One critic whose opinions I value has said that whenever elites in this blessed land want to reduce the ability of citizens to understand certain concepts, they simply take the English word and transliterate it using katakana. The plague of katakana eigo terms in finance industry terminology (konpuraiansu, gabanansu...) would tend to support the "let's keep them in the dark" thesis.