Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why One Can Admire This Man

Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko has finished his two-day visit to Okinawa. He paid the obligatory visit to the Himeyuri Monument and also the War Dead memorial. He, however, had a private, informal dinner with the governor at the governor's residence, the sort of respectful yet warm and egalitarian gesture that escaped the grasp of his predecessors. In the formal meeting at the prefectural government offices the next day, the PM apologized profusely for the conduct of various officials and his party, putting the governor in the position of the superior. The governor reciprocated as good manners demanded, by saying a magnanimous, "No, no, no need to apologize."

It is both encouraging and sad to see Prime Minister Noda trying to make amends for the supercilious attitudes of his many predecessors. He had a tough message to transmit: that the move of Marine Corps elements from Futenma Airbase to a new base to be built at Henoko was the only possible solution to the danger posed by Futenma's continued operation. It is a deeply unpopular message, even on the mainland -- the Mainichi Shimbun (J) and Asazuba! newscast this morning castigating the PM for calling the move to Henoko the only effective solution (Henoko isetsu ga yu'itsu, koka na hoho). However, he delivered the message with such humility and reason that in a less enervated time, he might have pulled the Henoko rabbit out of his hat. As the atmosphere on the island is irrevocably poisoned -- that the PM must abnegate himself for a plan that the rival Liberal Democratic Party agreed to but never carried out -- is deflating.

Noda perseveres, putting his shoulder to wheel on issues like pension reform, raising of the consumption tax, closing down Futenma and building the Henoko Replacement Facility, watching his public popularity plummet despite his bringing responsibility and dignity to the office in which serves. That many of his efforts look Sysiphian, or destined to collapse into failure -- especially now that the near certain exoneration of Ozawa Ichiro and the now undeniable unconstitutionality of dissolving the Diet exposes him to a revolt from within this spring, elicits a sigh of pained resignation. Were it that Noda or his like in charge of the country a decade ago, these these many gestures, courtesies and displays of spine would have made a huge difference.

Now...so much is exhausted, broken and hobbled with cynicism.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Reform of the Sumo World

Former yokozuna Takanohana surrounded by talent-challenged and unfunny Yoshimoto Kogyo performers.

I remember gagging when I read this title and introductory paragraph.
Reformer Takanohana elected to sumo board
Kyodo News

Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010 - Reform-minded former yokozuna Takanohana was elected to the 10-man Japan Sumo Association board on Monday.

Takanohana was among 11 candidates running in the governing body's first board election in eight years, held because of his surprise departure from the Nishonoseki faction...

(
Link)
Words and their meanings should have to have some meeting place -- or at least be in the same general vicinity as one another. A person is not a reformer just because is he someone under 40 years of age joining a group of half-catatonic septuagenarians and octogenarians. Reform is understood to be the effectuating of positive change.

In justification of my gagging reflex, Takanohana recently inked a contact with organized crime gang-infested promotion company and talent (their noun, not mine) agency Yoshimoto Kogyo. This was done in order to promote sumo, which has seen drastic declines in popularity due to numerous scandals and the multiplications of sports alternatives, the outcomes of which are not necessarily fixed in advance. (E and E)

On Saturday Takanohana joined a performance of Yoshimoto Kogyo players for the first time, ostensibly to promote the Spring Sumo Tournament. His appearance included such tasteful and hilarious moments as being passed a paper bag purportedly filled with 3 million yen in cash and being tapped on the penis by a female member of the troupe. (image).

This represents reform, I suppose, in a sport where, to borrow a phrase from disgraced former yokozuna Akebono, grown men walk about in public in diapers.

All appropriate, I guess, for the promotion of an event with its stars seriously crossed. The date of the opening of the Spring Grand (their adjective, not mine) Sumo Tournament: March 11, the one year anniversary of the Great Eastern earthquake and tsunami.

Where have you gone Chiyonofuji? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Image courtesy: Daily Sports Online


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reversion To The Norm?

One of the most-commented on features of Japanese politics is the short lifespans of Japanese premierships since the long rule of Koizumi Jun'ichiro, abetted by the spectacular meltdowns of Cabinet popularity ratings in the months following the election of a new prime minister.


(Source - Kyodo figures with typo uncorrected)

Perhaps we have been looking at these curves on these graphs the wrong way. Rather than depicting the popularity of a prime minister precipitously declining over time, perhaps the graph shows the unreasonably high expectations of the public at the inauguration, followed by an actually quite gradual fall of each Cabinet's popularity to a low-level norm, conditioned by economic stagnation, an unhealthy number of workers in temporary or contract work, demographically-determined economic and social challenges and the poor stewardship of the nation's wealth in the pre-Koizumi era.

What is striking when one reads the responses to the questions of why a particular prime minister is not supported is the stability of the answers given. Those not supporting the Cabinet explain their views as the result of a lack of faith that the government delivering on policy, that the government is pursuing the wrong policies or that the prime minister lacks leadership. These explanations remain in the same relative positions even as the identity or personal style of the prime minister changes or the Cabinet's popularity travels drifts down the curve. They are always in double digits in the polls, whilst all other explanations remain in the single digits.

We should consider as likely that these three explanations are the three legs of an idée fixe regarding the prime minister and his cabinet. What the curves are indicating is a return to a normal level of cynicism based upon the three principles, completely disassociated from the actual policies or leadership skills of the prime minister, with rare exceptions.

The current curve of the popularity of Prime Minister Noda's premiership is proceeding according to this internal dynamic. Noda is doggedly pursuing a radical path of forcing a doubling of the consumption tax through the Diet, a choice that should precipitate a fall in popularity even more severe than the one we are seeing. Compare the Noda curve with that of the popularity of Kan Naoto, which suffered a sharp fall after Kan merely mentioned the possibility of raising the consumption tax. In addition, whereas Kan suffered from a fully twisted Diet and a vicious campaign to undermine him led by Ozawa Ichiro for most of his tenure, his path was not unsimilar to his four immediate predecessors who had either a supermajority in the House of Representatives or, in Abe Shinzo's and Hatoyama's case, majorities in both houses of the Diet (Abe indeed had both). If actual performance mattered rather than perceived performance, the curves of all the prime ministers should have been different. Furthermore, the prime minister in the weakest political position, with the least-liked policy changes and the least chance of passing them, survived the longest -- though it cannot be denied that Kan's tenure was extended by the disaster of 3/11.

All of which suggests that the norm for voters is mistrust of the cabinet. The initial high popularity ratings of a new cabinet represent not an actual feeling of hope in the new person taking over as prime minister but a shrugging temporary suspension of an ingrained feeling of pessimism and despair.

AIJ Is Not A Lousy Investment Company...

...it is a truly excellent Ponzi scheme. (E)

The Bernard Madoff scandal barely made the news here in Japan. So it is not surprising that an investment company reporting steady returns for over a decade, even as the globe was rocked by the greatest financial meltdown since the Great Depression, was not flagged by regulators or corporate pension fund managers as suspect. Now, according to The Asahi Shimbun, many of the 120 corporate pension funds that invested in AIJ are on line to writing off half of their asset base, meaning they will not be paying out their corporate retirement benefits (kigyo nenkin) or even the full amount of their employees pension (kosei nenkin). (J)

Greed makes simpletons of us all. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't. A fool and his money are soon parted.

Yes, the clichéd admonitions could just go on and on.

Friday, February 24, 2012

On Sunday, We Enter A State Of Transcendance and Transgression

On Saturday, February 25, the clock runs out on the Diet's efforts to come up with an electoral map for the next House of Representatives election. In March of last year, the Supreme Court declared the 2009 electoral map unconstitutional due to excessive disproportionality in between the populations of the smallest electoral districts and the largest. It suggested that the maps be redrawn so that the disproportionality of population between the smallest and largest districts does not exceed 1.99. Otherwise, the Supreme Court might for the first time in its history invalidate an election.

It is only on Sunday, however, that this blessed land enters of state of transcending the Constitution and transgressing against the Supreme Court's orders.

The Diet was given a reprieve by the judicial branch. It had up to one year after the announcement of the results of the 2010 population census to make the necessary adjustments to the electoral map to bring the disproportionality in districts below the 1.99 threshold.

It was one year ago on Saturday that the results of the 2010 decennial census were announced.

Due to the split control of the Houses of the Diet, both the ruling parties and the opposition parties had to come together to devise an electoral map that fell within the guidelines set by the Supreme Court's ruling.

This the parties have failed to do.

The parochial interests of the parties are in opposition. The ruling Democratic Party of Japan, in particular, has wanted to make good on its 2009 Manifesto promise to cut the number of proportional seats in the House of Representatives to 100 from its current 180. This guaranteed a showdown with the mini- and micro-parties, which remain viable solely because of the large number of proportional seats available. Since the major opposition party, the Liberal Democratic Party, desperately needs the votes of the mini-party New Komeito to elect its candidates in the district elections, it (the LDP) could not support the DPJ's proposed cuts.

The winners and losers are easy to distinguish. The ruling DPJ, which is languishing in the popularity polls, has no wish for an election at this time. For the DPJ, it is no elections, no problems. The New Komeito and the micro-parties are also winners, as the logjam has prevented the DPJ and the LDP from colluding in chopping down the number of proportional seats, which is in both DPJ's and the LDP's interests as the only two parties currently capable of running credible campaigns for the district seats.

One sure loser is the LDP. According to recent poll results, a head-to-head contest against the DPJ would lead to a reversal of the losses the LDP suffered in 2009. The LDP has a strong desire to force an election while this iron is still hot. The LDP is also desperate to contest andelection before the regionalist parties, the most important of which is Hashimoto Toru Ishin no kai, get themselves organized for running candidates for House of Representatives seats. Once the regionalist parties nominate candidates, the voters will have two large anti-DPJ parties on the ballot. Given the still strong public aversion to the LDP brand and a natural wish to not admit a mistake (for having dumped the LDP from power in 2009) the default anti-DPJ vote will like fall into the hands of the regionalists.

The major news outlets are enraged at the political parties for allowing the country to fall into a state of constitutional disgrace (Here is The Asahi Shimbun's editorial. Here is the Nihon Keizai Shimbun's -- better hurry up and copy this latter one).

News dudes and dudettes, the time to get enraged was last year, not days before the deadline.

Does the end of the grace period mean that the prime minister cannot dissolve the Diet, since a valid election cannot be held? Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu would want everyone to believe that the prime minister could still call an election (J) -- this in order to scare the living daylights out of the first-termers and Ozawa Ichiro supporters in the House of Representatives, as they would likely be utterly wiped out were an election to be called today.

Unfortunately, that the Chief Cabinet Secretary says something is so does not make it so. In this case, Fujimura is clearly wrong/being economical with the truth (take your pick).

Rest assured that Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko and current DPJ leadership will use this suspension of normal constitutional processes to drive the LDP leadership nuts -- and to hold out electoral reform carrots to the New Komeito in repeated efforts to entice the mini-party into betraying the LDP, its longtime ally.

Very Kind Of Them #8 - The Neapolitan Edition

The nice folks at The Point have posted an essay of mine. It is about Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko's two scoops of triple-flavored ice cream.

(Link)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Excuse Me, But What The [Expletive Deleted] Does That Mean?

We were talking about Liberal Democratic Party President Tanigaki Sadakazu and his huge problem: that in 2 and 1/2 years as LDP president, he has taken the party virtually nowhere in terms of its popularity.*

It seems that certain members of the party have been aware of this problem for some time now. Indeed, in the fall of last year, the party established an advisory committee to help Tanigaki develop a more appropriately conservative doctrine and image for the LDP.

The members of this council of advisors?

Former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro
Former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo
Former Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo
Former Prime Minister Aso Taro

I know what you are thinking: "Wise men...and winners...each and every one."

Put aside for a moment the comedic possibilities of having these four elder statespersons offering adobaisu (just quoting the Japanese text here) on how to make the LDP a more vital party and Tanigaki a more inspiring leader.

You're right, I can't do it either.

Be it as it may, the first public meeting of the group took place on Monday. Well, actually, not. There was a meeting but only Abe and Aso showed up. Mori and Fukuda had better other things to do.

At the meeting the pair representing the collective wisdom of the foursome presented nine proposals. These nine proposals were so salient and pertinent that not a single news organization has published them in their entirety. They furthermore cannot be found on the LDP's, Abe's, Aso's or Mori's websites. It is possible Fukuda would post them on his website, if he had one.

The Tokyo Shimbun, whether out of duty or pity, reproduced two of these proposals in its article on the meeting. (J)

The first suggestion is that rather than focusing on improving the efficiency of fiscal policies and reforms of the tax system, the party should emphasize fiscal reconstruction and not passing on a burden to future generations.

If you can tell how those two ideas are different in a significant way, or how doing the one precludes doing the other, please send me an email.


[Ed. - See Comment #Alex]

The second suggestion is even better than the first. It is -- and I am not making this up:

"Reform of the Constitution and the establishment of a Japan that is more like Japan."

Now this particular suggestion has Abe Shinzo's paw prints all over it. It was Abe who declared that one of the primary goals of his term in office (which turned out to be far briefer than he imagined it would be) would be the promulgation of a constitution "written by our own hands." It seems that the current constitution, drafted in English and in haste by an ad hoc team of SCAP staff members in 1946, suffers from a lack of legitimacy and sensitivity to Japan's spiritual identity.

Tossing away the context -- the faith in Japan's right wing that the U.S. Occupation Forces-drafted Constitution condemns Japanese to an eternal self-flagelatory inferiority complex and domination by left-wing teachers unions -- just what exactly, in an absolute sense, is "a Japan that is more like Japan?" I do not think that the four former prime ministers could come up with a single answer, much less 126 million Japanese citizens. I do not think that Abe and Aso, who managed to both agree to make time in their schedules to show up at this meeting, could come up with a single answer.

To whit, a huge cartoon of a grinning Aso overlooks the maid cafes, electronics bazaars, game figurine emporia and various shrines to AKB 48 and its spin offs in Akihabara. The image of the manga-fan former PM declares his love of all he surveys, the epicenter of Japan's post-post modernist otaku cultural earthquake.

Would Aso classify the seething, transmogrifying mass of Akihabara's simultaneously infantilist, hypersexualized, exhibitionist and alienated sub-cultures as part of Japan that is truly Japan? Judging from what is written in his book, you bet.

By contrast, I do not for one second believe Abe Shinzo has ever spent any amount of time in Akihabara...and if he were ever to spend any time there, I am sure, from what it is in his book, he would not like it.

Not one little bit.

-----------------------------

* The very most recent polls have had some encouraging news for Tanigaki. When subjects were asked which party they would likely vote for on the proportional ballot in the next House of Representatives election, around 23% have said they would vote for the LDP and only around 14% have said they would vote for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (one example - J).

These figures are far more promising for the party than the absolute party support numbers, which have the LDP and the DPJ in a near statistical tie in their unpopularity.

Bora lá Portugal!

Tiago Alexandre Fernandes Maurício and Rui Faro Saraiva are pair of Portuguese researchers at the University of Kyoto and Osaka University, respectively.

They are out to conquer the world. (Link)

The site currently suffers from occasional document embedding overloads and comment spam -- but these are just teething problems.

Amaterasu Omikami! What some people can do in their spare time...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The U.S. Establishment Wishes It Had A Vote Here

Democratic Party of Japan senior advisor Watanabe Kozo is one of the grand old men of Japanese politics. He is one of the three surviving members of the famous Seven Magistrates (shichinin no bugyo) of the Liberal Democratic Party, the seven middle-ranking members of the Takeshita Faction identified as likely future prime ministers (the other two surviving members of the group are Ozawa Ichiro and Hata Tsutomu. An oddity: only those who left the LDP are alive today).

However, the weight of years (79 of them) and ill health are forcing Watanabe K. to consider retirement at the end of the current Diet's term.

Herein lies a problem. The support group (koenkai) of Watanabe K. wants his first born son, Watanabe Tsuneo (no, obviously not that Watanabe Tsuneo) to succeed his father. DPJ rules, as laid down by the party manifesto of 2009, forbid the handing down of seats to family members. It is a rather ridiculous rule, as it was laid down by Ozawa Ichiro and Hatoyama Yukio, both of whom are hereditary seat holders (ah, the sweet scent of the double standard).

[Ed. Re: Hatoyama, see comment #5 below]

So Watanabe T. cannot receive the support of the local DPJ chapter should he wish to run. Of course, if the DPJ local chapter chooses someone else to run for Watanabe's seat, that person is unlikely to defeat an LDP opponent without the full support of the Watanabe K. koenkai.

Yesterday Watanabe K. suggested a novel solution (Watanabe K. is notorious for mumbling out contrarian and cranky suggestions, making him every journalist's best friend). If DPJ rules prevent his son from inheriting his seat and his koenkai remains adamant that it will support no one else, then Watanabe the Younger can run as a candidate on the Your Party ticket. (J)

Cue sound of DPJ senior cadres rolling their eyes and biting their lips.

Of course, Watanabe the Younger may not even want the job. A political scientist who spent a decade at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, he has what seems to be a comfortable position as the Director of Policy Research at The Tokyo Foundation. The thought of the soft-spoken Watanabe T. atop some sound truck giving campaign speeches to knots of elderly strangers or empty parking lots simply boggles the imagination.

Of course, one influential group would be thrilled to tears if Watanabe T. were to run for and win a Diet seat: the U.S. Japan policy establishment. "Nabe," as he is commonly known in Washington circles, would be considered a trustworthy DPJ shepherd of the Japan-U.S. alliance, a role that has been monopolized until now by Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Nagashima Akihisa or "Aki," as he is commonly known.*

The Washington policy establishment has no say in this intra-party kerfuffle **, of course. However, wise persons in the U.S. Japan policy community might want to email Watanabe the Younger and ask him, "Nabe, do you really want to run for a Diet seat?"

------------------------------------------
* It seems that anything more than two syllables taxes the Washington imagination.

** Watanabe Kozo is not the only problematic party elder. Fellow senior advisor and former Magistrate Hata wants his son to inherit his House of Representatives seat.


Oh, Kawamura-san...

...what would we do without you for entertainment?

I have not been respectful of Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi, calling him "a buffoon" and "nuts" (the latter of which was only last Wednesday). Honestly, do the words "serious" and "mature" come to mind when you see his home page?

So surprised should no one be about this:
Nagoya mayor denies Nanjing Massacre occurred, drawing fire from China
Kyodo
NAGOYA -- Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura on Monday told a visiting official from Nanjing, China that he doubts a massacre of civilians by Imperial Japanese Army soldiers occurred in Nanjing in 1937 during the Sino-Japanese war, immediately drawing fire from China.

The 63-year-old Nagoya mayor, whose father was in Nanjing when the war ended in 1945, told Liu Zhiwei, a member of the Chinese Communist Party's Nanjing City Standing Committee, he believes that only "conventional acts of combat" took place there, not mass murder and rape of civilians.

"Why were people in Nanjing kind to Japanese soldiers only eight years after the incident?" Kawamura asked, referring to his father's experience. "I could go to Nanjing and attend a debate on the history of the city, if necessary," he said....

(
Link)
That Nanjing and Nagoya have a sister-city relationship just makes Kawamura's brain flatulence all the more inappropriate.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tanigaki's Ticking Clock

President of the Liberal Democratic Party Tanigaki Sadakazu must be feeling pretty blue these days, despite the relatively mild weather in Tokyo (mild as compared to the Japan Sea side of the nation, which has been absolutely flattened with snow this season). He has led the LDP from a nadir of around 17% popularity in the aftermath the Democratic Party of Japan victory in August 2009 to its current 17% after two-and a half years of DPJ fumbling and bumbling. He has never cultivated a particularly memorable personality: whether of that of an intellectual, of a super-nice guy or of a calming influence upon the fractious factionalism of the LDP barons -- all of which were reasons given for his appropriateness as party leader in September 2009.

In the meantime, the DPJ, whilst originally setting itself apart from recent (post-Mori Yoshiro) LDP practices in terms of foreign affairs and fiscal policies, is now plundering the LDP party manifesto for ideas, which the LDP, even though it is the main opposition party, obviously cannot oppose. When the DPJ cannot stomach the LDP's proposal, it turns to the LDP's ally the New Komeito for draft legislation, whether it is for the reduction of the remuneration of national bureaucrats or the counter-reformation at the post office (J). The DPJ's acceptation of the latter draft bill is especially ominous for the LDP and its leader, as the original reform of the post office was an LDP government crusade, admittedly under the iconoclast prime minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro. Walking back a reform that split the LDP asunder in 2005 is very difficult for the LDP to contemplate. That not backing the New Komeito bill would create a rift in between the LDP and the New Komeito makes the eventual decision on what to do all the more fraught.

Now to Tanigaki's woes are added the rise of regional parties, the most prominent of which is Hashimoto Toru's Kansai-based Ishin no kai. The emergence of these regional parties means that the LDP cannot rely on the stance of being the default anti-DPJ alternative, even in the districts, the contestible ones of which the LDP was hoping to recapture in the next House of Representatives election. The emergence of these regional parties and the low poll ratings of the LDP have undermined Tanigaki's core policy of demanding a dissolution of the Diet and elections. At worst, the LDP may not come out of an election in less dire straits than it is in now; at best it and its ally the New Komeito will not have an outright majority, requiring cohabitation either with the DPJ or the volatile regional parties.

There has even been a blowup over the LDP's latest campaign poster. The choice of a side-lit image, with most of Tanigaki's face in shadow, is unusual, to say the least (J). Major party figures, including past prime ministers, have called the image dark and depressing; many in the party have demanded the poster's withdrawal and destruction.

Tanigaki's term ends in September. He can run for reelection. However, he faces rivals already maneuvering to oppose him. Acting policy research council chairman Hayashi Yoshimasa has already established a study group, the equivalent of a candidacy exploratory committee (J). Hayashi has a handicap in that he is a member of the House of Councillors, a body from which no LDP leader has ever been elected. As the first speaker to his study group Hayashi invited a stronger candidate, the former policy research chief and agriculture minister Ishiba Shigeru (J). Ishiba has a voice that takes some getting used to, but once one has inured oneself, one clearly recognizes a formidable intellect and drive. He has had not restrained himself in criticizing both the leadership of Tanigaki and the LDP's current drift into the party of simply saying "No."

Still quiet but very much in the race to replace Tanigaki is party secretary-general Ishihara Nobuteru. Being Tanigaki's right hand man until September will make it hard for Ishihara to do anything but sotto voce campaigning for the top spot. When visiting Washington (hard on Ishiba's heals, it should be noted) Ishihara did tell audiences there, "If Tanigaki does not run again, I am am thinking of running." (J)

Tanigaki is staring at leaving a historical record of mediocrity. It will be interesting to see whether this psychological burden pushes him to greater recalcitrance or a resigned cooperative stance over these probable last few months of his presidency. Prior to his election as party president, Tanigaki had alway been portrayed as a moderate -- and he probably is one -- which would explain his ineffectiveness as a party bulldog. He may not want to act the poodle or the lapdog. However, with the DPJ insinuating itself in between the LDP and the New Komeito, he may feel he has no choice during but to do so.

Eastern Coast of the Izu Peninsula

Blue Rock Thrush - Isohiyodori (Monticola solitarius).
Ito City, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Toshima and Niijima, seen through a cleft in the cliffs.
Ito City, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Clouds above Oshima.
Ito City, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Cliff near Yawatono.
Ito City, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Tops of basalt columns.
Ito City, Shizuoka Prefecture.

All photos: MTC

Full series here.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

So Far, No Disaster

Just give me what I want
And no one gets hurt.

- U2, Vertigo (2004)

So far the release of Hashimoto Toru's Ishin no kai's radical campaign manifesto has not seriously damaged the credibility of the proto-party. So far the number of defections from the front of allies, friends and wannabee friends has been limited.

Hiranuma Takeo of the Sunrise party, who has been discussing with Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintaro and People's New Party leader Kamei Shizuka the founding a new, broader-based "true conservative" alternative to the Liberal Democratic Party, said the document demonstrates "a lack of sense of the nation." Hiranuma continued, "This requires all kinds of changes to the constitution; I had been wondering whether or not he [Hashimoto] really thinks this way, a thing I sensed."

Perhaps more painful for Ishin no kai's spiritual leader is the loss of the former unswerving support of former bureaucrat and prolific author Sakaiya Taiichi. Sakaiya's appearances at Hashimoto's side has given Hashimoto's brute populist movement a sheen of intellectual legitimacy. Sakaiya has shaken his head in wonder at the manifesto's radicalism, calling it a plan for the distant, distant future. As for the promise to abolish the House of Councillors, he has called it "incredible." (J)

However, Hashimoto still has on board some important allies and potential allies. By showing a thumbs up signal on the Ishin no kai manifesto, Your Party leader Watanabe Yoshimi kept sensible members of his party from voicing any skepticism over the document. Ishihara has stayed fully in support, making such encouraging statements as, "There are parts with which I am totally in agreement" and "As for the other things, they resemble the kinds of things I myself was saying long ago, so they are really all right." (J) Kamei has remained silent about the manifesto, even though it declares support for Japan's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a rise in the consumption tax, two Kamei no-nos.

An aside, but all of the above prompted a senior member of the LDP to remark that if the planned party led by Hiranuma, Ishihara and Kamei goes forward and links up with Ishin no kai, the result will be "an unholy alliance." (J)

No polling data yet exists to show whether the manifesto has affected the public's view of Hashimoto and the Ishin no kai as standard bearers for a viable political movement. The relatively low-level coverage of the Ishin no kai manifesto's contents on television, however, indicates that the release of the document is not seen to be a front burner issue. We will have to see if coverage picks up after all the brouhaha over the emperor's bypass surgery dies down.

If the more radical elements of the manifesto are brushed off as adolescent blowing off of steam, as Ishihara would want us to do, and the Hashimoto-led populist movement still represents a looming threat to the established political parties, then we can expect more cooperation of the sort we saw on Friday, when the policy research council chiefs of the three major parties signed off on an agreement to pass a bill cutting the salaries of national bureaucrats by an average of 7.8% (J). The bill was drafted by the New Komeito and was opposed by the Rengo national labor union organization, the political ally of the Democratic Party of Japan (J). However the cutting of the cost of government is an essential building block for the DPJ public relations effort to swing the public opinion on the divisive and unbeloved bill raising the consumption tax - a bill the prime minister wants passed in this Diet session.

Keeping the main national political parties in a state of terror promotes Hashimoto's immediate goal of transforming Osaka Prefecture into a metropole like Tokyo. Hashimoto needs revisions to the laws concerning municipalities before his vision can be realized. He will need the cooperation of the parties currently dominating the Diet to pass these revisions. Since members of the Diet would under normal circumstances either tell Hashimoto to go take a hike or let the revisions die in committee from neglect, the fear factor the Ishin no kai engenders will encourage the national political parties to pass the required revisions and thereby keep the man-in-an-awful-hurry happy.

Or so the national parties hope.

Image courtesy: The Sanyo Shimbun

Friday, February 17, 2012

Ozawa Ichiro Clears A Major Hurdle

In his trial for purportedly overseeing the filing of false political funding organization accounts, Ozawa Ichiro today received a huge gift from the Tokyo District Court. The court threw out as evidence the confession investigators forced from Diet member Ishikawa Tomohiro, Ozawa's former political secretary. (J)

Ishikawa's confession was the one damning piece of evidence the prosecuting attorneys had against Ozawa. It had been thrown out of court in Ishikawa's own trial due to evidence of prosecutorial misconduct. Ishikawa was still convicted along with two other former or present Ozawa secretaries of filing false funding accounts based on other evidence.

Commentators agree with Ozawa's lawyers' contention that without the acceptance of Ishikawa's confession into evidence, the case against Ozawa falls apart (J). Only in Ishikawa's confession was there any statement that Ozawa unambiguously assented to the falsification of the recording of a personal loan Ozawa made to his political funding organization, the Rikuzankai.

Ozawa's full exoneration will not come until April, when the court renders its verdict. However, with an acquittal now a near certainty, Ozawa will have greater leeway to inject himself in the political fights within the DPJ, particularly the battle over the raising of the consumption tax (E). He can also be expected to cause headaches for Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko over whether or not he will lead his followers and allies within the party to join with the opposition in passing a no-confidence motion against the Cabinet, as he nearly last June did against the Kan Cabinet.

From all appearances, the big dog has slipped his leash.

Enough About Hashimoto Toru Already!

Why this sudden focus on Hashimoto Toru? Why not write about some other important topic, one with greater interest to the international relations crowd? What about the stunning package deal on the movement of U.S. Marines announced a week ago?

OK, yes it was remarkable that the United States relented on having the return of five facilities in southern Okinawa (including Naha Port!) being conditional on the building of a Futenma Replacement Facility at Henoko. Yes, it was historic that the plan to move 8,000 Marines and their dependents to Guam was downsized to sending only 4,700 Marines to Guam, with the remainder of those slated for redeployment scattered about the Asia-Pacific. (E)

Nevertheless, one has to wonder who the genius was -- whether it was someone in the U.S. Pentagon or, in a brilliant reverse strike against the congenitally anti-bureaucrat Democratic Party of Japan, a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and/or the Ministry of Defense -- who had the brilliant idea of proposing to send 1,500 of the Futenma Marines to Iwakuni, in Yamaguchi Prefecture. (E)

For it is not often that just days after signing off on what is purported to be a big win for Japanese diplomacy (E) that the government of Japan has to send two cabinet ministers to visit a prefectural governor and a mayor and assure them with their heads bowed that under no circumstances is the government of Japan considering to send more Marines their way (E) -- especially as the threat of such a move led to the mayor of Iwakuni City to cancel a land sale necessary for the provision of housing to the U.S. Navy service members and their dependents already being moved out of the Atsugi Airbase. (E)

Technically, the 1,500 Marines to Iwakuni proposal is a snafu, the result of not thinking something through -- and thinking things through is sort of what government officials are paid to do.

So somebody -- or a lot of somebodies -- did not do his/her/their job(s).

Now, as to Hashimoto Toru, the latest stunning revelation -- and it is a doozy -- is that upon discovering that Osaka City employees last November carried out anti-Hashimoto campaign activities using Osaka City property (J) the man-in-a-awful-hurry ordered all of Osaka City's 35,000 employees to fill out a questionnaire detailing their political and union activities, requiring them to return it by the 16th (yesterday - J).

The local teacher's union told Hashimoto to go take a hike (J). Japan's Communist Party is in a complete, slavering snit (J). Japan's national bar association has told Hashimoto he was out of his mind (J).

Something about the mayor's order being a violation of the Constitution, something about Article 14, Article 15, Article 19...Article 21...Article 28...

Why did Hashimoto bother to do this? He won the election, running away. Furthermore, what Osaka City employee in his or her right mind would fill out the questionnaire truthfully?

The incident just adds another brick to the wall of what is being derisively referred to as Hashimoto's "Hashism."

Oh Frabjous Day!

Have you been wondering, as I had, why TIME's reporting on Japan has suddenly become gloriously readable? (Link)

It was a puzzle to me until I learned that TIME's former Tokyo Bureau Chief Jim Frederick became editor of TIME International in September (E).

Hip, hip, hurray!

What a difference it makes to have real journalists in charge -- as can be seen in how the other major U.S. franchise was run into the ground by Davos Man (seen here talking about Japan -- or what he thinks is Japan).

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Revolutionary Council Overreaches

It was strange watching the video of Osaka City Mayor Hashimoto Toru presiding over the meeting of an Ishin no kai steering committee as the delegates ratified list of ultimate goals for the quasi-party, if and when it participates in national elections.

The list of the Ishin no kai goals includes:

- abolition of the House of Councillors

- direct elections of the Prime Minister

- abolition of the prefectures in favor of larger regional units resembling the German lander (the various plans known collectively as the doshusei).

- abolition of the grants from the national government tax revenues to local areas (chihokofuzei) in favor of direct taxation carried out by the local areas themselves

[By the way, where are the sources of the chihokofuzei grant monies?

32% of income taxes
32% of taxes on alcohol
34% of corporate income taxes
29.5% of the consumption tax
25% of tobacco taxes (Source)

Not a bad cut of national revenues...]

- elimination of national pension payments to the wealthiest taxpayers after their retirement (nenkin hokenryo no kakesute - J)

What was so strange about the video clip was how disengaged Hashimoto looked (especially since that last idea is his). Whether it was out of boredom, madness or a desperate attempt to anesthetize himself to the berzerk radicalism of his minions, Hashimoto was simply not there, emotionally or intellectually.

The list of campaign promises, which the Ishin no kai, in complete agreement with its ersatz Meiji Restoration revivalist ethos has called its "Eight Policies from the Ship" (senchu hassaku) in imitation of Sakamoto Ryoma's famous missive, has already drawn guffaws from the established political parties. The leaders and spokesmen of the parties had a field day yesterday, pointing out that item after item would require not just a revision of numerous laws but even amendment of the Constitution, a document which has not seen the alteration of even a single punctuation mark since its promulgation on November 3, 1946. (J). That any and every amendment would require not only its passage through the Diet with a two-thirds vote in both Houses but approval from the voters in a national referendum (the governing rules of which came into effect less that a year ago - J) casts the Ishin no kai wish list into the realm of fantasy.

Applause did come from some quarters yesterday. Predictably, the terrible twins of the Chubu Region Aichi Governor Omura Hideaki and Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi had nice things to say about the quasi-party platform (J). Omura echoes every decentralization plan coming out of Osaka and Kawamura, well, he is just nuts (but in a damnably warm and clever way. His tour de force has been providing the depleted Tohoku with wave after wave of Nagoya civil servants to replace persons lost in the triple disaster or for the training of their replacements -J).

The surprise was the positive reaction of the Your Party to the Ishin no kai proposals. Your Party leader Watanabe Yoshimi praised the list, saying that in terms of bringing the national bureaucracy under control, decentralizing of authority and making Japan a nation of prosperity, the goals of the Ishin no kai and the Your Party are completely in sync (J).

Maybe he just scanned the text.

Major media outlets have panned the proposals. The Asahi Shimbun suggests that the ideas expressed needed a little more intra-party discussion before being released (J). The Sankei Shimbun wonders what happens to the Emperor as head of state, if the prime minister is popularly elected (J).

Up until now the Ishin no kai has been on a roll. It had, possibly because the reality of what it represented had not been spelled out, been gaining popularity in the public imagination.

It remains to be seen whether the release of this wild wish list slams the brakes on the what had been until a hurtling "Go Go Hashimoto" freight train.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mr. Hashimoto, You're Wanted On Line One


The Yomiuri Shimbun has a new poll out today (J).

The key takeaway is not the fall of the support for the Noda Cabinet to 30%, the lowest level since its inception. Noda wants to pass legislation that will raise the consumption tax to 10% by the year 2015 and rework the pension system in such a way that the self-employed who make a barely comfortable living will triple their national pension system contributions, whilst receiving only a risible increase in their payments once they retire.

Why should the government be popular, under such conditions?

In the perennial "making stuff up column" are the reasons why those opposed to the Cabinet feel the way they do.

36% say they have no hopes as to the current Cabinet's policies
24% say the prime minister lacks leadership

One has to guess that in order to make month-to-month comparisons, the pollster provides the interviewees with a fixed list of reasons not to support the PM, then asks the interviewees to pick one. As a consequence the responses always strangely tangential and dissonant, immune to shifts in the particular kind of leadership each prime minister exercises.

As for whether the government, in compiling the new budget, is combating government waste, only 7% of the populace thinks it is, while 89% thinks it is not.

Not a surprise when one reads news reports like the one highlighted in my last post.

Support for the Democratic Party of Japan fell from 25% to 16% since the last poll. This compares unfavorably to the current 17% support for the Liberal Democratic Party -- but not in a statistically significant way. The tumble merely shows that the January DPJ support number was an outlier and a fluke. The Mainichi Shimbun poll of late January had pretty much the same numbers as the Yomiuri has now, only with the DPJ and LDP numbers reversed.

A massive 54% of the population supports no organized party.

The real takeaway from today's Yomiuri poll can be found the type of government the pollees wished they had.

5% want a DPJ-led government

9% want an LDP-led government

23% want a DPJ-LDP grand coalition

53% want a government based upon a realignment of political parties and a new political fabric

Now far be it from me to draw dramatic conclusions out of just one set of numbers, but the answers to that last question seem to indicate that Japan has a fed up populace ready for yet more change.

Image courtesy: Yomiuri Online

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sometimes An Idea...

...is so bad you cannot imagine anyone ever thinking it.
Japan enlists foreign bloggers to revive tourism in quake-hit areas
Kyodo

TOKYO -- Japan's Foreign Ministry is inviting prominent overseas bloggers and twitterers to visit areas devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The ministry has launched the initiative to revive the tourist industry in quake-hit northeastern Japan. It wants foreign guests to write about the progress made in rebuilding disaster-ravaged communities and let the world know that the area still remains an appealing holiday destination.

At the ministry's invitation, Spanish blogger Roger Ortuno Flamerich came to Japan in December, followed by Louisa Liu Chu, 45, a food blogger from Chicago and Khaled Hamza, 48, editor-in-chief of the official website of the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt, who arrived here on Jan. 31.

Hamza's group is a well-known Islamist movement that played a pivotal role in bringing down the autocratic government of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Hamza made a daytrip to Ishinomaki, Miyagi, the prefecture closest to the epicenter of the March 2011 temblor, to inspect reconstruction sites. Chu spent three days visiting fish markets and sake brewers in Kesennuma and Sendai, two other Miyagi cities.

Deciding to mobilize the immense communicative power of blogs and Twitter, the Foreign Ministry earmarked some 21.5 million yen for the project for the current fiscal year through March.


This month, two influential twitterers -- a Chilean university professor and a Chinese children's storywriter -- will come to visit... (Link)
I know what you are thinking: please tell me this is all just a weird dream.

Will someone please explain to me, in simple terms, so that I might understand, exactly how this program is going to seriously alter conditions set by the rock hard yen, the international fears of radiation and the country's poor tourism planning and development?

Please?

My thanks to The Tokyo Times for unearthing this gem of bureaucratic out-of-box-out-of-mind thinking.

Essential Reading on Hashimoto Toru

This has been a fertile weekend for postings on the rolling snowball that is Hashimoto Toru.

First we have the essay from Spike Japan on the personal history, amazing sayings and local achievements of Osaka's more-than-just-a-mayor. (Link 1)

I, for one, do not really care if Hashimoto and his family came from the wrong side of the tracks. The Liberal Democratic Party's Nonaka Hiromu came from the wrong side of the tracks and he managed through grit, patience and knowing-where-you-had-dinner-last-night-and-with-whom to push past many a princeling and former elite bureaucrat to become a force within the party, eventually becoming secretary-general. Nonaka, however, never forgot about where he came from, and he would lacerate bureaucrats for their institutionalized prejudice against persons with suspicious ancestral addresses. Nonaka also retained a sympathy for Japan's North Korean population -- the country's least beloved and most misunderstood minority.

What worries me about Hashimoto is he has seems to have the airs of a self-made man. Few things are worse than self-made men, as they believe their success is due to their own special form of greatness, rather than because in their case talent transected with chance and opportunity.

Then we have the always comprehensive Corey Wallace on the confusion Hashimoto has whipped up in the political world, particularly the cosy little corner of the world inhabited by the Liberal Democratic Party. (Link 2)

The part of Hashimoto's Ishin no kai's declaration that has me shaking in my boots (and I am wearing boots) is the proposal for direct elections of prime ministers. (J) Such a proposal faces the same soaring constitutional hurdles as the other major radical reform: the abolition of the House of Councillors. Unlike the abolition, which has no chance of passing as the House of Councillors would have to vote itself out of existence -- a decidedly unlikely event -- a move toward a direct election of prime ministers could gather up enough support to pass through both Houses of the Diet and then received the people's imprimatur in a national referendum.

Nothing would guarantee gridlock in the Diet or, paradoxically, tyranny than to have a popularly elected prime minister. Floating Japanese voters do not vote for something, they vote against the status quo, often in the absence of logical examination of the content of a person's political program (Japanese undecided voters are, of course, far from unique in possessing this trait). Japan lacks the formal institutional brakes or political and social structures necessary to channel the energies of a leader voted into office for negative reasons into positive, rather than merely populist, directions.

Tools

Online Japanese-English, English-Japanese dictionary

http://www.alc.co.jp/

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Online Japanese-English, English-Japanese machine translation

http://www.excite.co.jp/world/

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Online clickable topographic map of Japan (from the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan)

http://watchizu.gsi.go.jp/

From The Miura Kaigan to Jogashima

Daikon, harvested and topped.
Miura City, Kanagawa Prefecture on February 12, 2012.

Pacific Reef Heron - Kurosagi (Egretta sacra) in flight at Ena Bay.
Miura City, Kanagawa Prefecture on February 12, 2012.

Little Egret - Kosagi (Egretta garzetta) in Ena Bay.
Miura City, Kanagawa Prefecture on February 12, 2012.

Tilted rock pillar near Mikawa Bay.
Miura City, Kanagawa Prefecture on February 12, 2012.

Fishing boats.
Mikawa Bay, Miura City, Kanagawa Prefecture on February 12, 2012.

Cash register at Miura Port restaurant.
Miura City, Kanagawa Prefecture on February 12, 2012.

Rookery of Japanese Cormorant - Umiu (Phalacrocorax capillatus) on Jogashima.
Miura City, Kanagawa Prefecture on February 12, 2012.

Sunset seen from Jogashima, with Mt. Amagi of the Izu Peninsula on the left.
Miura City, Kanagawa Prefecture on February 12, 2012.


All photos MTC.

For full Flickr series click
here.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Nuclear Follies: A Farce In Many Acts

One would think that if one were bringing workers in to the site of a major nuclear power plant disaster, where loads of radioactive material are scattered all over place, that maybe, just maybe, someone was checking up on the backgrounds of the workers.

In the case of the Fukushima Daiichi Power Station, one would be wrong.

Yesterday, it came to light that an expert panel of the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan has recommended that the government establish a rule banning those with criminal records or those who are deeply in debt from working on nuclear plant sites -- this to be in line with similar regulations in North America and Europe.

For some reason, the experts worry about the possibility that individuals with criminal records or huge debts might be liable to whisk away materials that could be used for nuclear terrorism.

Of course, the recommendations of the expert committee have not actually been delivered yet. The report is still in the draft stage, and will remain open for public comment for a month before it will be presented to the government sometime in mid-March. (J)

Yes, it is 11 months to the day after the triple disaster.

No, I am not making the above up.

Of course, if you have been reading Jake Adelstein, you would know all about the wonderful folks who procure the grunt labor force cleaning up Fukushima Daiichi.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Hypocrisy Watch: Ozawa Ichiro

Appearing Thursday on a Web-based interview program (because he does not do mainstream media, with all their annoying "questions") former Democratic Party of Japan leader, former party Secretary-General (under the pathetic Hatoyama Cabinet) and incorrigible schemer Ozawa Ichiro told his audience the following:
"Neither the Liberal Democratic Party, neither the DPJ, neither the Your Party and the Osaka Ishin no kai will be able to seize a majority [of seats in the House of Representatives if there is an election]. Since instability in politics will lead to the unhappiness of Japan, I would like to avoid this situation." (J)
Aaaaaarrrrrggggghhhhh! Oh, oh, my brain hurts!

Ozawa Ichiro wants to avoid instability in Japanese politics. Ozawa Ichiro!

Up is Down. Left is Right. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength!

OK, let us forget, for a moment, the last 19 years. Let us just concentrate on this month, where Ozawa Ichiro has:

- led the first meeting of an anti-consumption tax rise study group, attended by 101 members of the Diet. (12.02.09 - the same day he made the above statement - J)

- done nothing to discourage (i.e. - encouraged) Hirono Tadashi, a member of Ozawa's support group, to resign as the director of the DPJ's public affairs unit. Hirono's reason for quitting: he cannot countenance the Noda cabinet's plans to offer legislation raising the consumption tax. (12.02.09 - the same day as Ozawa made the above statement - J)

- invited Aichi Governor Omura Takeaki, who is trying to establish a regional anti-tax party based in the prefectures surrounding Nagoya, to speak at the Ozawa Juku, Ozawa's annual convention for training politicians. Omura will be speaking to the trainees, most of whom are members of the Diet loyal to Ozawa, on February 11. (12.02.07 - J)

- met with former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio to form a united front against the Noda government's plans to raise the consumption tax. When asked whether his actions were not in tune with the party's policies, Ozawa replied, "Which is the canary that has forgotten his song?" (12.02.03 - J)

Granted, Ozawa's anti-Noda Cabinet activities can be said to be grounded in principle. He thinks it daft to impose a rise in the consumption tax during a period of deflation -- which is sound in economic, if not in governance, terms (even in good economic times, no Japanese prime minister since Hashimoto Ryutaro has had the intestinal fortitude to raise the consumption tax -- despite all projections showing a rise was necessary to cover increasing social welfare costs associated with the aging of Japan's population). Ozawa's stance is also smart politics, for he predicts, with historical precedent and common sense as his guides, that raising the consumption tax will lead to a DPJ wipeout in the next elections. (J)

For Ozawa to claim, however, that his in-your-face anti-consumption tax activities do not make him a opponent of the DPJ leadership is disingenuous, nay, mendacious.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

On Electoral Reform and the Possibility of Constitutional Crisis

Members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the opposition alliance of the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito met inside the Diet building yesterday to discuss the New Komeito's proposal for a brand new way to distribute the proportional seats in the House of Representatives. The New Komeito, with the backing of the mini- and micro-parties, has proposed the adoption of the hirei daihyo renyosei, which Wikipedia translates as the "Additional Member System."

The new system would strongly favor medium-sized parties while penalizing large parties. In a bid to drive a wedge between the members of the alliance, the DPJ has been inviting the New Komeito to make its case on the application of the new system. With a comfortable majority in the House of Representatives and a mandate running out in August of next year, the DPJ has the luxury of sitting back and watching the two erstwhile allies slug it out over the new system. (J)

The onus on passing electoral reform quickly is upon the LDP. Both parties are in the dumps in terms of public popularity, with party support numbers in the teens. Both would rather not hold an election at this time, given the uncertainty over which direction the non-aligned voters will break. The LDP, however, feels far more threatened by the rise of regional parties such as Osaka City mayor Hashimoto Toru's Ishin no Kai and the nascent force Aichi governor Omura Takeaki hopes to raise through the establishment of his political training school (J). The new forces, should they be able to field candidates in a sufficient number of constituencies, will represent the non-LDP alternative to the DPJ -- i.e., the party to vote for when you want to vote against the DPJ but just cannot stomach a return to power by the LDP.

The longer the time it takes to reform the electoral system, the longer the amount of time the new regionalist politicians have to build their political machines, the worse look the odds for the LDP.

Hence, when you hear about the Noda government cutting a deal with the LDP and the New Komeito over passage of the consumption tax bill in return for early elections, reach for the salt shaker. The party that has the incentive to sacrifice is the LDP, not the DPJ.

Now as to the other strange thought -- that Prime Minister Noda can call a House of Representatives election -- a warning. Last March, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional any apportionment system where there are electoral districts with populations 1.99 times greater than the population in the smallest district. According to the official population census of 2010, 97 of the current 300 House of Representatives districts have populations 2 times those of Kochi District #3, the current smallest district by population. The 97 districts are thus unconstitutional.

"So what?" some say, "The courts have declared House of Representatives elections unconstitutional before but have never nulified an electoral outcome. The March ruling invalidated the 2009 results and the Supreme Court did nothing." True, but all previous rulings have been ex post facto. The Supreme Court had no incentive to try to reverse what had already taken place.

In this instance, however, the constitutional standard is already in place. The current system has already been declared invalid. Holding an election may be physically possible but the Supreme Court would trigger a constitutional crisis if it were to not invalidate the results.

As to those who speculate on a constitutional fiddle, such as the one devised to allow the existence of the Self Defense Forces in seeming defiance of Article 9 of the Constitution, based largely on the playing around with the names ("It's not an army; it's a Ground Self Defense Force. They are not soldiers and sailors; they are Self Defense Forces personnel!), another warning -- there is really no constitutional fiddle possible.

Article 81 of the Constitution reads:
The Supreme Court is the court of last resort with power to determine the constitutionality of any law, order, regulation or official act.
and Article 47 reads:
Electoral districts, method of voting and other matters pertaining to the method of election of members of both Houses shall be fixed by law.
(Source: Prime Minister's Residence website)

These two Articles put up a solid wall. There is no crack to squeeze a snap election through. If there were, the parties would not be meeting right now and fighting so fiercely over the eventual bill.

The DPJ has set a date of February 25 for the final draft of a compromise bill. Frankly, given the incentives on all sides to hang on for dear life to their own plans, it will take a miracle for the parties to meet this deadline. (J)

But under duress, miracles sometimes occur. Necessity is, as they say, the mother of invention.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Handing DPJ Strategy To The Contrarians

Yesterday, Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Koshi'ishi Azuma announced that some of the party's most senior and experienced leaders will be charged with the mapping out of long-term party strategy. The areas which will be examined by these party advisors and senior party post holders will include foreign policy, energy policy, defense policy and reconstruction policy.

The first two appointments announced yesterday?

For Foreign Policy: Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio

For Energy Policy: Former Prime Minsister Naoto Kan

No, I am not making this up. (J)

The opinions of these two men differ from the prevailing status quo just about as much as one can imagine. Rather than being wary of China and close to the United States, the Hatoyama program is to position Japan in between the two giants, effectively meaning Japan's having more intimate relations with China and more distant relations with the United States.

As for Kan, his experience in trying to manage the consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster has made him an adamant foe of nuclear power and close friend of the renewable energy industry, particularly biofuels. His views run counter to the Noda government's so far very quiet push to rehabilitate nuclear power. (E)

It remains to be seen whether these appointments represent a Japanese version of U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson's quip regarding J. Edgar Hoover or an honest attempt to integrate the contrarian views of these two senior politician into the pool of ideas that the party can draw upon when drafting its next electoral manifesto.

Let us say that this cynical would say it is the former, while the hopeful would pray it is the latter.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Oh Yeah, Sure, Blame The Assistant

In a move that smacks of desperation, Defense Minister Tanaka Naoki sacked his bureaucrat minder Mannami Manabu on Saturday. Replacing Mannami will be Yoshida Takahiro, the minder for former Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi. (J)

The move is not entirely cynical. At the time Kitazawa was named defense minister, he was basically a novice at defense issues. Still, with Yoshida's steady hand on the tiller, Kitazawa managed to serve with distinction if not inspiration in two successive Democratic Party of Japan-led cabinets.

Mannami, however, was unable to corral the worst instincts of his two charges, former Defense Minister Ichikawa Yasuo and Tanaka. That the House of Councillors censured Ichikawa for his idiotic remarks and general lack of knowledge was a black mark on Mannami's record.

Tanaka's move, however, smells to high heaven. The news media are speculating that Tanaka has taken cues from his wife, the more famous Makiko, whose tenure at the Foreign Ministry was rife with sudden and wrenching personnel changes. (E)

Just watching Tanaka bumbling, stumbling, umming and ahhing in Diet committee testimony, making, for example, his already much-mocked pledge to give up his coffee habit (E) shows a man so far out of his depth one cannot even see the top of his scalp above the waterline.

You say Iejima, I say Iojima

Should Tanaka soon get the boot, he will leave behind a trinket for geography buffs.

During his embarrassing visit to Okinawa last month, Tanaka paid a social call on Okinawa Governor Nakaima Hirokazu. Tanaka tried to make small talk, telling how his family had come to Okinawa Prefecture to vacation many times, visiting places including Iojima (or Iwojima, as it is more commonly written in English).

Only, of course, Iojima is not in Okinawa Prefecture. The famous battleground is at the tail end of the Ogasawara Islands chain, thousands of kilometers away from Okinawa.

What Minister Tanaka had been trying to say was Iejima, which is part of the Okinawa island chain -- as the minister's staff made clear after the awkward meeting (J).

As it turns out, there is not even an Iojima anymore. According to an announcement of the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan of June 18, 2007, "Iojima" is now officially "Ioto" -- where the character for "island" is to be read in the Chinese, not the Japanese fashion. (J - check out the Powerpointesque explanation with arrows at the bottom of the press release)

Just to be on the safe side of this issue, during Diet questioning from House of Representatives member from Okinawa Teruya Masaaki on February 2, an aide, most likely Mannami, wrote out in kana "i-o-u-to-u" so that Tanaka, should Teruya ask him about his Iejima-Iojima mixup, might respond using the island's official name.

Seeing the passing of the note, the either crestfallen or exasperated Teruya could only blurt out, "Oh c'mon. Don't be instructing him." (J - ibid)

Monday, February 06, 2012

The JNN Poll of February 4-5 - A Quick Review

This is a "catch it while you can" post.


TBS has put up the results of its telephone public opinion poll taken February 4-5 (J).

The key takeaways from the post are:

Support for the cabinet has declined to 32.2%, while the percentage of those not supporting the Cabinet has risen to 66.6%. The decline in the Noda Cabinet's support numbers have been uninterrupted since the cabinet's inauguration, with no bounce at all from the cabinet reshuffle of January 13.

This news would be terrible news for Noda if it were not for the conveniently provided numbers for the Kan Cabinet, which stood at 28.3% at the time of the opening of last year's regular session of the Diet. Of course at the time the Kan Cabinet was reeling from the horrible mishandling of the Chinese fishing boat collision and subsequent leak of the video of that collision (a pair of extraordinary blunders that Sengoku Yoshito walked away from with a censure from the House of Councillors. That Sengoku is now in charge of drafting the DPJ's new electoral manifesto shows that some folks and organizations never learn). Kan received a bump due to his efforts post-3/11 but never regained the popularity Noda enjoys now.

As for the reasons why voters do not support the Noda Cabinet, the tired old "Because we have no hopes for his policies" occupies the top spot with 42% of all those not supporting the Cabinet. The reason why this is tired and old is that "no hopes for his policies" is always in the top spot, that or "no hopes for improving the economy" -- something a prime minister nowadays has almost no control over. As for not implementing policies, in a previous post I have indicated that there is, quite on the contrary, a great deal of movement toward the implementation of policies, if not quite the policies of the DPJ per se.

- As for the fraught legislation raising the consumption tax from 5% to 10% by fiscal year 2015, a majority of those polled, 56% are in favor, with 46% opposed. This is good news for the Noda government, for which the passage of the consumption tax legislation is the highest hurdle in its agenda for the current Diet session.

- Demonstrating that "by the year 2075" has not yet stuck in the voters heads as the height of absurdity, the further 7.1% rise in the consumption tax projected to be need by that date in order to pay for the 2009 manifesto promise of a floor of 70,000 yen per month in national pension payments is unpopular with 72% of the voters. These voters want the DPJ to reconsider its 2009 pledge -- no matter that only a small fraction of those offering this opinion will still be alive in 2075.

- Demonstrating that the sudden burst of activity in regionalist politics is having an effect on voters, 75% of those polled believe it desirable that regional parties participate in national politics. Unsurprisingly, the top vote getter among politicians that the voters find themselves drawn to is Osaka City mayor Hashimoto Toru, the poster child of the regionalist movement. Number two on the voters' mind is Tokyo Metropolitan District Governor Ishihara Shintaro, who has allied himself in name with Hashimoto's proposed administrative reforms in Osaka Prefecture. Coming in in third place is current Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko.

Though it does not appear in the above linked report, the JNN poll found the support numbers for the main national parties still on a downward slide, with the popularity of both the DPJ and the Liberal Democratic Party below 20% and falling from last month's reading. The continuing decline in DPJ and LDP numbers is good for the country as it reduces to nil the enthusiasm of either party to face the voters in a snap election. These figures and the sudden irruption of interest in the regional parties going national are strong incentives for the two main national parties, along with the LDP's alliance partner the New Komeito, to produce a solid record of achievement in the current Diet session.

Whether the DPJ and the LDP follow these incentives, or find themselves getting sidetracked yet again by new developments in the ever-shifting saga of Ozawa Ichiro and his convicted lieutenants (one of whom, Ishikawa Tomohiro just got married to a former television presenter -- demonstrating that even future jailbirds still got wings to fly), remains the big question.

Image courtesy: TBS

Later - Here it is the next day and the link to the TBS report has already been removed from the Web.

As I said, catch as catch can.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Parsing Out Hashimoto's Goals

Over at σ1, Corey Wallace present a long exposition on the position of Hashimoto Toru in terms of links he might or might not make with national or other regional politicians. (Link)

To his views, a few comments of my own.

- A link-up between Hashimoto's proposed party and Your Party could be quite profitable in a geographical sense. The Your Party is mostly a Kanto Plain area party. If Hashimoto and Watanabe Yoshimi can work out an entente, the result would be an East Japan/ West Japan split of responsibilities, which would be much easier for both parties to handle.

- A major potential stumbling block to any sort of alliance between any of the national parties and a potential Hashimoto national party is Hashimoto's ego. Mr. Wallace sees him as a pragmatist. I see him as a revolutionary -- and revolutionaries are known to have (usually with disastrous consequences) amazing self-confidence.

Anyway, it is all aboard the regionalism train. In the wake of Hashimoto's announcing of the establishment of a training school for prospective national politicians -- to be opened, according to the latest accounts, in March (J) -- Aichi Governor Omura Hideaki has announced the establishment of his own training school for prospective politicians (J). Furthermore, the governors of the prefectures on Shikoku (Ehime, Kagawa, Kochi and Tokushima) have announced they will be forming a regional organization to better coordinate their relations with the central government and collaborate with regionalists in the Kansai. (J)

Interesting times.

Hatoyama Never Ceases To Amaze

Due to his bulging eyes and spacey pronouncements, former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio earned the sobriquet "the Alien." To be sure, he acts as if he is from another planet.

The planet Horse Manure.

When will the man stop making nonsense promises?

Yesterday, in Muroran City, he told a group of 700 supporters he wanted to change the Chinese characters of his name Yukio (由紀夫) to Yuukio (友紀夫) in order to promote his and his father's concept of yuuai (友愛). (J)

Sure. Like he is going to change the pronunciation of his name to something ridiculous.

Like he said:

- he would move the operations of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma outside of Okinawa Prefecture (19 July 2009)

- "Trust me" to U.S. President Barack Obama, when asked whether or not he had a solution to the Futenma problem. (13 November 2009)

- he was "totally unaware" of the hundreds of millions of yen his mother donated to his political funding organization (25 December 2009)

- he would have a solution to the Futenma problem by the end of May 2010 (7 January 2010)

- in the Diet testimony that he had "a secret plan" to solve the Futenma plan (31 March 2010)

- to supporters in Hokkaido that he would not seek reelection to his Diet seat (made June 2010, rescinded on 18 December 2010)

- he had secured the resignation in the very near future of Prime Minister Kan Naoto (claimed on 2 June 2011, repudiated by Kan on 3 June 2011)

It remains an open question of course, whether or not Hatoyama will, upon his retirement from the Diet, take up farming (21 February 2010).

Somehow, I would not bet on it.

Ozawa Ichiro sure did the party a favor when he railroaded the election of Hatoyama to head the Democratic Party of Japan in May 2009. Yep, he foisted upon the country a real leader for a new age.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Stumbles On The March To Glory

Bad news for the voters who thought that the victories of Hashimoto Toru and Matsui Ichiro as mayor of Osaka City and governor of Osaka Prefecture last November would lead inexorably to Osaka Prefecture's achieving the grand and glorious status of a Metropolitan District (thus becoming "just as good as Tokyo," dangnabbit): Sakai City mayor Takenaka Osami told Hashimoto and the governor yesterday that he will not take part in any discussions aimed at compromising either the autonomy or the integrity of his city. (J)

Good news for folks who believe that Hashimoto is a taut mass of ambition in a huge hurry to mount the ladder of success because is running away from the promises he has made that he cannot keep.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Very Kind Of Them #7

The nice folks over at The Point have published a short piece I have written on the two main political circus events of last weekend. (Link)

[Yes, yes, the term is marunomi, not nomikomi. I will get that fixed.]

One correspondent drew an immediate corollary to the assertions made in second half of the piece, namely that the three major parties -- the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito -- now have a strong incentive to work together in the Diet, proving to the populace that they can get things done, this in order to counter the drawing power of Hashimoto Toru's Ishin no Kai.

Already a great deal of positive movement seems to be afoot. Contrary to negative predictions of train wrecks in the Diet made prior to the opening of the regular session, including one made by yours truly, the DPJ and LDP-New Komeito alliance are cutting deals on specific pieces of legislation.

The drafts of three controversial bills have already either been signed off on or are near to closing:

- A draft of a postal counter-reform bill (E)

- The New Komeito's draft bill reducing of the remuneration of central government bureaucrats by an average of 7.8%, a draft that has the DPJ's ally, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) hissing mad (J)

- A draft revision of the law on dispatched workers in which the DPJ is following the lead of the LDP (J)

As for the crucial bill on reapportionment of Diet seats (crucial in that the current apportionment is unconstitutional), the DPJ is playing around with both LDP and New Komeito ideas in order drive a wedge in between the two opposition partners, making them both more amenable to a DPJ-proposed compromise. The DPJ has already submitted a draft bill taking the LDP's proposal to eliminate the five smallest districts in the nation (the so-called "+0/-5 solution") and bolting on to it the DPJ's manifesto proposal to cut 80 proportional seats -- a bill that if passed into law would favor the election of DPJ and LDP candidates but devastate the New Komeito. At the same time, the DPJ is listening very carefully to the New Komeito proposal to chuck the d'Hondt method of awarding proportional seats in favor of the Additional Member System (hirei daihyo renyosei), which, if it had been in use during the August 2009 House of Representatives election, would have left the DPJ still winning a majority of seats, would have more than doubled the number of seats won by the New Komeito and the Communists and would have left the LDP a skeleton. (J)

With the looming possibility of the emergence over the next few months of a third force in Japanese politics -- i.e., a non-LDP alternative to the DPJ -- a lot of otherwise unfocused LDP minds are focusing on passing an electoral reform bill sooner, rather than later.

The Construction State, Crumbling

From Jiji Press:
2 Japan Ministries Warned of Poor Infrastructure Maintenance

Tokyo, Feb. 3 --Japan's infrastructure and health ministries have failed to carry out sufficient maintenance of public infrastructure, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said Friday.

The Internal Affairs Ministry urged the two ministries to improve the management of infrastructure under their supervision, including ports, airports, water and sewage systems, and rivers.

Many of such facilities in Japan were built during the nation's postwar economic boom, and adequate maintenance is now required to help prolong the lives of the aging facilities.

The Internal Affairs Ministry conducted a survey on the conditions of part of such infrastructure facilities between fiscal 2006 and fiscal 2010.

During the five years, no regular maintenance work was conducted at 13 of 18 ports managed by local governments and five of nine state-managed airports, the survey showed.
To the above the Nihon Keizai Shimbun adds that at 7 of the airports, 80 different areas in need of maintenance remained untouched and at 19 water treatment facilities, 6 were not carrying out regular inspections. (J - but beware of rapid link rot)

This was always on the horizon: how would it ever be possible to maintain original facilities built in the high growth era when the countryside was slathered with new but basically unneeded facilities in the slow growth era. Sure the latter tweaked the GDP figures and perpetuated the cycling of cash between the construction companies and the Liberal Democratic Party. However, the bill would eventually come due, when the country's debts and deficits would limit the amount of money that could be spent maintaining the nation-spanning concrete, asphalt, steel and glass jungle.