Saturday, March 31, 2012

Such A Hullabaloo!

It is one thing to resign.

It is another to deliver a letter of resignation knowing that the boss will not accept it.

I have no idea what Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko is going to do with the resignation letters of the four sub-cabinet members of the government who resigned last night to protest the Cabinet's approving a bill raising the consumption tax to 10%. He may accept them, he may not. Ridding the government of the influence of former party leader Ozawa Ichiro might be tempting.

As for the resignations of 15 or so members of the group of Democratic Party of Japan legislators close to Ozawa from their party posts, Secretary-General Koshiishi Azuma did as it was guessed he would do: he said he would refuse to accept them. (J)

Have Ozawa loyalists given the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito excuses for refusing to enter into negotiations with the DPJ over a smoothing of the way for the bill's passage? Sure they have.

Will it matter? Possibly not much.

The LDP's party manifesto commits its members to voting for a raising of the consumption tax to 10%. LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu called the DPJ's bill unacceptable not because of its content but because it is contrary to the DPJ's campaign promises.

We will have to see how "They are delivering to us what we demanded! This is an outrage!" will fly with the electorate.

That the cabinet's decision to approve the bill sends those loyal to Ozawa scurrying away, albeit not very far away, is probably a boost for the bill, given the public's level of trust in Ozawa.

Do the voters like public debate over bills to be clean, quiet and orderly? Possibly. It is also possible that they know that a clean, quiet and orderly outcome on the surface can only be achieved through a lot of greasy and nasty dealmaking underneath. Watching the LDP in power for fifty plus years cannot have left the electorate completely ignorant of the way politics really works.

All involved have the two day weekend to calm down (though today's weather is going to be awful). The various parties, aggrieved or not, will have the Sunday morning talk shows to either vent their spleens or puff out big clouds of smoke.

Come Monday though, the first day of the new fiscal year, the legislators will have to go to work. They are starting the new year on the wrong foot, having missed the deadline for passing the FY 2012 budget, requiring a bridge budget until the actual vote of the House of Councillors on the 6th (J).

As for the consumption tax kerfuffle, huffing and puffing about about a bill's being unsuitable may not be the same as rejecting it.

You Wore Our Expectations Like An Armored Suit

I was brain-dead
Locked out
Not up to speed...

- REM, "What's The Frequency Kenneth?" (1994)

A week ago I took The Economist to task for publishing an article of questionable merit.

It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I two days ago clicked on a Banyan essay entitled:

"Japan a year later: The view from the north"

However, I was amazed, engrossed, enthralled. The writing was clear, concise, yet evocative. The examples were apt; the arguments balanced; the conclusions firmly rooted in fact.

"Well, now," I thought, "Perhaps I was a little hasty and haughty. It seems everything is going to be all right."

Then I checked back at the beginning of the essay -- and my heart went into a steep dive.

"by K. N. C." the byline said.

"Oh no. It's Kenneth!" I wailed.

The one Japan lost to London.

Can't blame The Economist. Where one wants an employee with a talent for rendering complex concepts into succinct sentences, a head for figures and a work ethic "asiduous" fails to capture is back home at the mothership.

Damn this blessed land will miss him.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Where The Boys Are

Today the competition begins between final eight (besuto eito) teams remaining from the 32 teams invited to the spring high school single-elimination baseball tournament.

The Besuto Eito are

Kanto Dai'ichi (Tokyo Metropolitan District)
Yokohama (Kanagawa Prefecture)
Osaka Toin (Osaka Prefecture)
Aikodai Meiden (Aichi Prefecture)
Urawa Gakuen (Saitama Prefecture)
Naruto (Tokushima Prefecture)
Kendai Takasaki (Gunma Prefecture)
Kosei Gakuin (Aomori Prefecture)

Population ranking of the 8 prefectures represented among the 47 prefectures

Tokyo Metropolitan District (#1)
Kanagawa Prefecture (#2)
Osaka Prefecture (#3)
Aichi Prefecture (#4)
Saitama Prefecture (#5)
Tokushima Prefecture (#18)
Gunma Prefecture (#19)
Aomori Prefecture (#31)

Yes, I know a number of the surviving schools are magnet schools recruiting from all over the country. However, so are a number of the schools in the least populous prefectures.

The general gist remains: the rich get richer and the poor go home.

Later - Gunma Prefecture had an advantage in that it had two teams entered in the tournament. Then again, so did Hokkaido (#8) and Nara (#29). Both the entrants from those two prefectures were eliminated.

We Ain't Leavin' Til We Get What We Came Here For

In the end, Kamei "Pavarotti" Shizuka could only convince his policy research council chief Kamei Akiko (who, strangely enough, is not a close relation. She is the direct lineal descendant of the daimyo of the Tsuwano han. He comes what might be a branch line that reverted to being peasants during the Sengoku period) to leave the government. For reasons that only he can fathom, he thinks he can decamp with the People's New Party banner under his arm, leaving the 6 now former PNP members to labor on in the Diet as independents.

Kamei's leaving in a huff allows Jimi Shozaburo, the financial services minister, free to vote in the next cabinet meeting in favor of the bill increasing the consumption tax -- the last hurdle the government of Noda Yoshihiko had to vault before it could offer the bill to the House of Representatives.

Unfortunately for Kamei, and for persons trying to make sense of the situation, Jimi, party secretary-general Shimoji Mikio and the 4 others say they have not left the PNP. (J)

Something has to give. Likely as not the 6 will form a new party that can then join the government in a new coalition, maintaining the leverage they need in order to pressure the Democratic Party of Japan into scheduling a vote on a postal counter-reformation bill the 6 like. Or they can rely on the assurances of the prime minister (5 of them met with Noda last night) that the raison d'être of the PNP will be respected, even if the PNP is in the state of non-être.

So after Fukushima Mizuho of the Social Democratic Party of Japan, Kamei Shizuka of the PNP has headed for the doors on a point of principle (the point of principle not being the execution of three death row convicts, the other subject that kept Kamei Shizuka, a fervent death penalty opponent, busy yesterday).

The first post August 2009 election prime minister Hatoyama Yukio, Kamei and Fukushima, the trio who ushered in the new era of Japanese politics just 2 1/2 years ago (or quartet, if one adds the shadow prime minister Ozawa Ichiro) have all strode off from center stage, leaving their respective parties either hobbled or in shambles.

The revolution rolls on, having devoured its first generation of leaders -- as is so often the case.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Age Of Innocence

With the Democratic Party of Japan under the leadership of Noda Yoshihiko rolling back many of the changes the party promised in the 2009 manifesto...

1) the elimination of the child allowance (kodomo teate) and the reinstitution of the child support payment system (jido teate)

2) the proposed restart of construction of the Yamba Dam

3) the raising of the consumption tax without calling an election

4) permitting bureaucrats, in particular the head of the Cabinet Legislative Office, to testify in Diet committee session could come away with the impression that there is not a yen's worth of difference in between living under the rule of the DPJ and living under the rule of the Liberal Democratic Party.

However, there is one major difference in the way the machinery of government functions now and the way it did under the previous regime -- and it is of such vital importance that persons of conscience must pray that some way, somehow, the DPJ wins back the support of the voters in the months ahead:

Under the DPJ, the organs of the law have not been used to capriciously imprison those who buck the system.

Under the LDP, the prosecutors office sent former Livedoor president Horie Takafumi to prison on charges that, if they had been applied to Japan's banking community, would have sent hundreds, if not thousands, of bank executives to prison. The confessions that were the sole pieces of evidence of Horie's complicity in misstating the value of Livedoor assets were extracted from his subordinates by placing them in solitary confinement in unheated cells during one of the coldest winters in the last half-century and threatening them with lengthy prison sentences should they not identify their employer as a co-conspirator.

The prosecutors office sent activist investor Murakami Yoshiaki to prison based solely on a confession police tricked a naive Murakami into making. Livedoor executives, who testified against each other in their own trials, were united in stating that Murakami was innocent.

Just when it seemed predestined that Ozawa Ichiro was going to be prime minister of Japan after the next House of Representatives election, the prosecutors moved in on Ozawa Ichiro political secretary Okubo Takanori for campaign funding violations, ostensibly for knowingly accepting donations from a private organization founded and funded by a mid-sized construction company for the purpose of evading campaign finance rules. The Okubo arrest meant Ozawa had to resign as DPJ leader, robbing him of his rightful chance to become PM. He was able to engineer the election of his ally/puppet Hatoyama Yukio as his successor but this was a poor substitute for actually winning the top prize.

Prosecutors used the Okubo arrest as a pretext for seizing the records of Ozawa and his funding organization, the Rikuzankai. They then proceeded to go on a fishing expedition, trolling through the records for something, anything to send Ozawa to prison.

What they found was a mis-recording in the 2004, 2005 and 2007 (but strangely, not the 2006) Rikuzankai accounts of a personal loan Ozawa extended to the organization. The loaned sum was used as collateral (tampo) for a bank loan (in Japan, unless you borrow from the consumer finance companies, you can only borrow money if you can prove you can pay the full amount of the loan back, immediately). The recording mistakes were such that if that were they found in the accounts of any other politician, they would have earned the perpetrators a stern verbal warning. Instead member of the House of Representatives and former Ozawa secretary Ishikawa Tomohiro and Ozawa secretary Ikeda Mitsutomo were arrested and convicted of campaign finance violations.

With Ozawa as the party with fiduciary responsibility in the case, his name and seal appearing on the first page of the account books, the prosecutors could certainly have gone after him next. However, somehow in the interim, something has dulled the heretofore zealous prosecutors office. It certainly had the right target: the most unpopular, least-trusted politician in the country; a man who behaves like a complete jerk toward even his ostensible allies; a person disappears from public view, only to reappear wearing a surgical mask, whenever things heat up; and a man with a seemingly inexhaustible, to borrow an image from Okumura Jun, ATM located in his home.

Nevertheless, the prosecutors refused to indict Ozawa on anything. It was left up to the never-say-die mugwumps of the "The Association of Those Seeking the Truth" (Shinjitsu o motomeru kai) to force the courts into appointing a trio of lawyers from the Tokyo #2 Bar Association (and boy, did it take a long time to find three lawyers willing to sacrifice their time, potential income and reputations on the case) to file an indictment of Ozawa not on the provable charge of fiduciary negligence but on unprovable charges of conspiracy to file falsified campaign documents -- unprovable because the sole piece of evidence was a confession forced from Ishikawa that he had told Ozawa about the misleading records, evidence that the judge in Ishikawa's trial threw out as a product of prosecutorial misconduct.

That the judge in the Ozawa case would also throw out the confession was nearly guaranteed (judges in Japanese courts looooovvvve precedent). He did indeed throw it out, pretty much ending the chances of a guilty verdict (the judge's verdict will be delivered on April 26).

Anyway, since the election of a DPJ-led government, we have seen nothing of the "the nail that sticks up will be hammered down" miscarriages of justice of the kind that sent Horie and Murakami and may still send Okubo, Ishikawa and Ikeda to prison. With the DPJ in power it is the nose-thumbers, the outcasts and the misfits (and the occasional mostly harmless loony) who have control of the asylum.

That is the way it should have been years ago. For this blessed land's sake, that is the way it should remain.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Usual Suspects; The Usual Outcome?

They were supposed to wrap things up on Friday but they could not come to an agreement.

They were supposed to come up with some neat ideas over the weekend to patch up the yawning fissure in between the two sides. However, there were no realistic ideas, just a lot of wishes expressed.

Monday was supposed to be the day when the final offers were can guess the outcome.

Finally, in the wee hours of this morning, the chair of the Democratic Party of Japan ad hoc committee trying to forge an intra-party consensus on the conditions for the raising of the consumption tax declared the debate over. Those opposed to the raising of the consumption tax raised a fuss...but that is what they were going to do anyway.

So the drafting of the final language of the bill is handed over to (ichinin suru) Policy Research Council Chairman Maehara Seiji, which is tantamount to this multi-week debate's never having taken place.

The Noda Yoshihiko led-executive did offer some last minute concessions. The first was the mentioning of economic growth targets in the body of the bill as a necessary consideration for reconsideration of the appropriateness of the timing of the tax rise, without actually having those targets serve as triggers. What was promised was sort of "It would be nice if we have nominal growth of 3% and real growth of 2% when the tax is raised. It we do not have these levels of growth we will be vewy, vewy sad." Opponents to the tax rise have been demanding the numerical triggers. They were, shall we say, less than impressed at the leadership's offer.

The other concession was the elimination of the article in the bill which left the door open for further raising of the consumption tax beyond 10% after 2014. Both sides of the debate, however, knew from the outset that that particular article was a sacrificial lamb, so its elimination is more an insult than a concession.

So the bill is set for approval by the Cabinet this Friday, meeting a deadline set in a 2009 bill for reforms of the consumption tax. Will the anti-tax group, most of whom are either supporters or past supporters of splitists (borrowing the Chinese pejorative) Ozawa Ichiro and Hatoyama Yukio, go so far as to break away from the DPJ?


Why say that with such conviction? These folks have been staying up late (last night's session lasted 7 hours), night after night, doing their darndest to stymie the leadership from offering to the Diet its own version of the bill.

Yes, and after all that effort, they did not manage to do diddly, did they?

Let us surmise that this was a debate with a pre-determined outcome, a pantomime show put on for the benefit of those either hoping for

1) a break up of the DPJ,
2) a halt in the raising of the consumption tax,
3) evidence of real, considered policy debate within the ruling party,
4) an intra-party political drama keeping the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito off the nation's TV screens and political news pages, or
5) any combination of the previous four elements.

The first hint that this was a set piece was the players. In a real debate, there would be twists and turns, unforeseen heroes, impromptu memorable quips. However, in this show, we saw the same seven characters:

Policy Research Chairman Maehara Seiji
Tax Committee Chairman Fujii Haruhisa

in the pro-tax corner

Azuma Shozo (now with a beard)
Kawauchi Hiroshi
Yamada "Mr. No To Everything" Masahiko

in the anti-tax corner

with Ozawa Ichiro and Hatoyama Yukio catcalling in from undisclosed locations, never from within the confines of the committee room itself (the place was packed last night, with 200 legislators attending)

saying the same darned things one would expect them to say.

The second hint was that this debate was framed as an "Ozawa vs. the Leadership" smackdown. By now we should have learned that when push comes to shove, Ozawa does not have the numbers to back up his either dominating the DPJ or breaking it. The closest he came was in September of 2010, when he ran directly against Kan Naoto for the post of party leader. At least among the Diet membership, Ozawa came tantalizingly close to beating Kan in the voting. The takeaway from that date, however, is that despite having so much of the present membership of the Diet indebted to him for their seats, he still failed to win a majority of the votes of the Diet membership. As for the votes of the assembly members and the party supporters, Ozawa got snowed under.

When Ozawa had the chance, nine months later, to put Kan away by leading his followers in voting "yes" for an LDP-sponsored no-confidence motion, he demurred, not even bothering to show up at the Diet chamber for the vote.

So when the fight is billed "Ozawa vs. the powers that be" we should be suspicious, even with the big dog about to slip his leash.

Of course, there is a major problem looming for the leadership: Kamei Shizuka's opposition to the consumption tax hike. Friday's Cabinet approval has to be unanimous. If the People's New Party's representative in the Cabinet, Financial Services Minister Jimi Shozaburo (who is kind of busy right now) does not vote for the proposal, it cannot be offered to the Diet as a government bill. Oddly, the commentariat is largely silent on the possibility that Noda will have to fire Jimi in the same way as Hatoyama had to fire Consumer Affairs Minister Fukushima Mizuho when she refused to sign off on the Futenma-to-Henoko decision. If Noda fires Jimi, then the PNP will likely follow the Democratic Socialists out of the government.

While the departure of the PNP would not mean much for the Noda government in terms of lost votes in the Diet, the optics of such a break up would be poor.

Since Kamei has been talking on and on about the establishment of a new "true conservative" party, however, it is possible that the PNP is already dead. Jimi can thus be ready to vote "yes" for the bill on Friday, making the PNP's moribund state official, and allowing Noda to move on to the next phase: corralling either the LDP or the New Komeito into voting for the bill.

Further Evidence That Inose Naoki Is The Actual Governor Of Tokyo

If the blinking one has time to jet off to Washington for this event at the Heritage Foundation...

The U.S.-Japan Alliance and
the Debate Over Japan's Role in Asia

The Honorable Shintaro Ishihara
Governor of Tokyo

A fixture on Japan's political scene, long-time Governor of Tokyo (1999-present) Shintaro Ishihara is far and away one of Japan's leading political figures... [Link]

...we can state with some degree of certainty that:

1) Ishihara Shintaro is more interested in drumming up interest for his new, "true conservative" party than running the world's richest city

2) The person keeping the lights on, the sewers flowing and the roads passable is Inose Naoki and not the Tokyo Metropolitan District's elected leader.

The latter of those two points is a damn good thing.

[Hyperbolic hyperbole alert: " far and away one of Japan's leading political figures"

"Far and away"?

What is wrong with "is one of Japan's leading political figures"?]

Words Are Not Enough

Japan's AIJ chief admits loss cover-up, apologizes

The president of Tokyo-based money manager AIJ Investment Advisors admitted to Japanese lawmakers on Tuesday to covering up losses of $1.3 billion in clients' pension money, but said he had no intention of cheating his clients.

In his first public comment since the scandal broke in February, Kazuhiko Asakawa apologized to clients and the financial industry for the cover-up and said he had been confident that the losses could be recovered.

AIJ lost the funds through bad bets on equity and bond derivatives, wiping out the bulk of the $2.4 billion in client assets it was managing, Japan's financial regulator, the Financial Services Agency (FSA), said last week.

More than 90 corporate pension funds, mostly smaller ones, were invested with the money manager, which was handling pensions for about 880,000 people.

"I want to use this opportunity to apologize to all beneficiaries who believed in our funds and purchased them," Asakawa told a financial committee of parliament...

I was watching snippets from the hearing yesterday on NHK -- and I would not characterize the attitude of Mr. Asakawa as apologetic. Oh, he may have mouthed phrases that when translated by a machine would scroll out as apologies. His attitude, however, said, "Yeah, I lost your money. But then you were stupid enough to give it to me. Who is the jackass here?"

As for the other executives called to testify, including Old Boy advisor from the old Social Insurance Agency, when they claimed that if they had to choose between calling themselves victims (higaisha) and perpetrators (kagaisha), they would call themselves victims -- that was rich.

Prior to yesterday's performance, I was thinking, "For their sakes, Asakawa and his cronies had better hope beyond hope that none of the small- and medium-sized companies they bilked has ties to organized crime." After last night's performances, I found myself thinking, "For their sakes, they had better hope beyond hope that none of the 880,000 investors whose savings they destroyed watches television."

Not Quite The Protocols Of Zion, But...

There is a problem with moles. They live underground, shoveling through the dirt, feasting on worms, safe from predation. But every so often, as if to spite fate, their snouts pop up out of the ground...

City employee list 'fabricated'
The Yomiuri Shimbun

OSAKA--The Osaka Municipal Transportation Bureau said a list of its employees released by a city assembly member as evidence of the bureau's labor union's systematic support of the former Osaka mayor during November's mayoral election was fabricated by a temporary employee of the bureau.

The list was released by Kotaro Sugimura, an Osaka municipal assembly member, in February. Sugimura belongs to Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka restoration group), which is led by incumbent Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto. Hashimoto defeated his predecessor, Kunio Hiramatsu, in the November election.

According to the transportation bureau, the employee is in his 30s and works at the bureau's railway service headquarters on a part-time basis. He is not a union member, the bureau said Monday...

Evidence of conspiracies against the leader, fabricated! Who would have ever thought it possible?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

No Free Ice Cream Today

It is a fundamental, unshakeable rule of blogging: never post when you are upset.

I am very upset today.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Back Again, With The Same Message

This morning's The Tokyo Diplomat has a very subtle and clever analysis of the People's New Party's next moves, if there are to be any -- and a smart look at the current status of the consumption tax debate within the Democratic Party of Japan.

Of course, one cannot find out what I am talking about without a subscription.

Out the goodness of his heart, Michael Penn, the editor of The Tokyo Diplomat, has made available the counterfactual essay I was praising the other day.

It can be read here.

Just do not count on goodness to keep the goodies coming.

Hashimoto's Women And Some Wishful Thinking

Over at σ1, Corey Wallace has a new post up about the Saturday opening of Hashimoto Toru's juku. In his post Wallace argues that the Ishin no kai movement has an Achille's heel: it seems to have only a limited attraction to women. Women candidates have had powerful symbolic force in the last two House of Representatives elections, yet fewer than 10% of the 3326 applicants for the Hashimoto juku have been women.

I am not sure I buy the argument. First, 10% of 3326 is 330, which 30 more than the total number of candidates the Ishin no kai is expected to run in the next House of Representatives election.

Second, Hashimoto, who will have final say as to the candidates, is no dummy. Where a woman candidate will have a better chance to win than man, he will select a woman to run.

Third, and this is significant, the current ruling Democratic Party of Japan is a disaster when it comes to empowering women. A glance at the current Cabinet and the sub-cabinet level political posts makes this abundently clear. It is true that former party leader Ozawa Ichiro recruited high-profile women candidates to run and win against male Liberal Democratic Party candidates. However, the association with Ozawa currently disempowers these women in intra-party politics and prevents them from receiving significant posts.

The Liberal Democratic Party, despite its reputation, did promote women -- not only to more significant posts but in greater numbers. The cabinets of Koizumi Jun'ichiro were very woman-friendly: a surprising outcome from a divorced politician with a reputation of one with an eye for, but not a commitment to, the ladies. Tanigaki Sadakazu had Koike Yuriko as his chair of the General Council; no DPJ woman has ever been anywhere near a top party post.

So if any party needs to fear its relationship with women, it is the DPJ. Contrary to misconceptions, the DPJ has historically had a greater popularity with men than with women. Given the current DPJ leadership's retrenchment on issues of special importance to women like the child-rearing allowance (E), a supposition that the DPJ will do as well among women as it did in 2009 is shaky.

As for the DPJ's views of the opening of the Hashimoto juku, the member of the party executive who states...
"Ishin no Kai's use-by date will expire in a year. If the dissolution of the lower house is moved back further, Ishin no Kai will lose its momentum."

Link) living on Fantasy Island.

The Ishin no kai will not just fade away into irrelevance like the LDP reform revolts headed by Kato Ko'ichi, Watanabe Yoshimi and Masuzoe Yo'ichi. The Ishin no kai is a popular movement with a base in the Kansai. It is not a just wooden horse from the Nagata-cho merry-go-round that has suddenly reared up and bolted away.

Stopping Hashimoto from reaching greater heights and amassing more power will require hard, hard work, with the news media colluding cooperating with the mainstream parties to hold him down. Just sitting around in the tatami room, drinking mugi-cha and swatting at mosquitoes, waiting for the Ishin no kai to fall à la Blood, Sweat and Tears, will just not suffice.

And In The Other Japan...

...the one that is fabulous, successful and full of youthful energy, a shock: Maeda Atsuko (20) is "graduating" from AKB 48. The gigantic group's pivot point, two-time winner of the title of Party Leader (sosai) announced her retirement/ascension/eviction at the end of the group's concert on Sunday (J and SP -- I cannot help myself: the news sounds so much more poignant and significant en español).

Serious discussions must have already begun on whether the fans of AKB 48 can be brought together for a snap election of a new Party Leader, so as to avoid leaving the group, the fandom, the marketers, the makeup artists, the clothes designers, the lighting crews, the semi-closeted nympholeptics leaderless.

Questions will also now grow ever louder as to whether Shinoda Mariko, the oldest member of the group at 26, should not also announce her departure.

Later - Oh dear, I was pipped by Japan Probe. Oh well.

Later still - And yes, they can sing beautifully, when they try (Link).

The Article 51 Exemption

During the Friday's House of Councillors Budget Committee session, the first Liberal Democratic Party questioner was the painfully little-known Ishizaki Yosuke (OK, try; try to name whom he represents. See? Neither could I. I had to look it up).

Ishizaki Y. (there were, unbelievably, two LDP questioners in Friday's budget session with the surname Ishizaki) began his questions with the following speech, none of which had anything to do with the business of the day:
Last year on March 29, in a session of the Budget Committee with the purpose of reviewing what had happened, I was seated at this seat.

This was the first session of the Budget Committee after the Great Easter Japan Disaster. Prime Minister Kan and the members of the Cabinet were all in emergency disaster relief uniforms. I asked, "Was it not strange for the supreme commander of the disaster relief effort to board a helicopter for the nuclear power station? For the prime minister to go before Tokyo Electric Power Company, going about yelling at them, "What are you going to do?" I asked, "Was not the venting [of the reactor vessels] and the provision of seawater to the reactors slowed down by this?"

What I got in return was, "At at time of national crisis, to question whether or not government the government was harassing [TEPCO and its workers] -- give us a break (keshikaran)"

Yet now, a year later, if you look at the news reports of today, we have come to learn that almost everything I insisted at the time was true. [Isolated shouts]"
Uh, no. In either retractions of previous stories, reports from the news outlets contradicting their own previous assertions and from reports on the investigations of outside organizations, nearly every one of the things you asserted on that day, Senator Ishizaki, turned out to be false.

How do the members of the Diet get away with continuing to hold to positions that are demonstrably untrue? How do they get to repeat them, so that they are once again entered into the historical record?

First, no one is watching. Well, I was watching -- but what good does that do? Actually that is not true either. My old Mizuho Bank branch used to have the Diet sessions on for the edification/entertainment/sedation of their customers waiting their turns. Many municipal office waiting areas have the broadcasts on for similar reasons. So I was not exactly the only witness to Ishizaki's attempt to rerewrite history.

Second, there is the little business of Article 51 of the Constitution. What Senator Ishizaki was insisting was true was a slander of former Prime Minister Kan Naoto. Even though it was not in his initial slanderous remarks, Ishizaki went on later to implicate and by doing so slander the then Chief Cabinet Minister, now Minister of Economics, Trade and Industry Edano Yukio, seated not four meters away.

What could Edano or Kan do to stop Ishizaki from perpetuating lies and damaging their reputations? Absolutely nothing. It was his Diet time, in which he can say any damn thing about any damn citizen he chooses, because, under Article 51:
Members of both Houses shall not be held liable outside the House for speeches, debates or votes cast inside the House.
Unless his own colleagues censure or expel him, a costly process in terms of political capital and time, he is going to have a lectern at which he can spew outrageous (keshikaran) calumnies forever.

Ishizaki Y. is truly blessed. Contrary to the adage, he can have not only his own opinions but his own facts.

For the video of the session, click here, and do a little digging.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Friends Call Me Keith But You Can Call Me John

Or you could call me Al (Link).

In a story I am amazed has not made the "Japan is so weird" circuit, the Osaka Prefecture city of Izumisano (pop. 102,397) is so close to bankruptcy that it is considering putting the naming rights to the city on sale.

The contract would be for 1 to 5 years. The preferred customers are corporations whose products would be associated with the city, a spurious imitation of real company towns like Toyoda City. Non-Japanese companies are welcome to offer their bids, which can be placed anytime between June and the end of November this year. (J)

Osaka City mayor and former Osaka Prefecture governor Hashimoto Toru thinks Izumisano City's idea to be pretty nifty (J). Minister of Internal Affairs and Telecommunications Kawabata Tatsuo, by contrast, is not amused. He thinks that having a municipal area with a possibly constantly changing name would be disconcerting (J).

Of course, these naming-for-money schemes can also go awry, which is why we have such abominations as the Monkey (Callicebus aureipalatii) (E). Ostensibly, someone with enough money could name the city after himself or herself. I am not sure that the news of the Izumisano City offer has reached Steven Colbert -- but given his past attempts to have a bridge in Hungary named after himself, among other things (E), I am sure he could be convinced to offer up Suteifuenkoruberu as a new name for the city.

As the new name would end in the title for city (shi), one temptation for the person or organization with the winning bid would be to have the new name be a joke name, such as Ekusuta(shi) or Puraiba(shi).

What would I call it, if I had the yen? What else? Emutei(shi).

Gratuituous Insults Of The DPRK's Nominal Leader

To his formal titles of "Great Leader," "Head of the Worker's Party Central Committee,""Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces" and "Fatty," North Korean wonder boy Kim Jong-un can add a new one: Party Pooper (E).

10,000 invitations - that is one heck of a party. With all the money saved maybe the Government of Japan can buy a few more SM3 Block-1a missiles for the Maritime Self Defense Forces.

Photo: Early blooming cherry at Shinjuku Gyoen. March 20, 2009.
Photo credit: MTC

Friday, March 23, 2012

Just Catching Up

Following up on the recent post on the new societal panic, the double deaths of caregiver and dependant living in virtual isolation (virtual in that the most famous cases have taken place in urban environments) is a The Mainichi Daily News editorial on the subject (E).

In the recent post on the hanging of Ozawa Ichiro's portrait in the Diet, there was the mention that the House of Representatives Steering Committee had approved the hanging of troubled lawmaker Suzuki Muneo's portrait in the House as well.

Here it is folks, in all its ragged glory.

Let's call the style "Hokkaido Primitive."

Some might say that the portrait makes Suzuki look demented. Some might argue that for Suzuki, demented is a step up.

And yes, that is Sato Masaru on the left, the former Ministry of Foreign Affairs bureaucrat who spent 512 days in pre-trial detention for refusing to answer questions about Suzuki's under-the-table dealings and the man who called Suzuki "MOFA's Rasputin."

Image courtesy: Jiji Press

Be Still My Beating Heart

I am watching the House of Councillors Budget Committee session broadcast on NHK. Every time I see the head of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau come to the microphone, my heart skips a beat. After the Democratic Party of Japan's election victory of 2009, I was not supposed to see bureaucrats, specifically not that bureaucrat, at the Diet microphones again. Ozawa Ichiro promised that politicians were going to take questions. Early on in the Hatoyama Cabinet, that became the rule. In 2010, the three party coalition even submitted a bill banning bureaucrats from giving testimony. That bill was later withdrawn.

The rule against bureaucrats taking the mike slipped during the Kan Cabinet and was completely undone by Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko.

I have to admit, it depresses me to see the CLB (the only paper on the institution you will ever need to read can be found here) back in the saddle, explaining to law makers what the law is -- at it has depressed me to see any bureaucrats back at the microphones.

However, having bureaucrats giving testimony on the nation's laws and policies is a logical consequence of Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko's promise to be a "no sides" leader of his party. "No sides" means every group within the party will have a chance to have one of its members appointed to a ministerial or sub-ministerial post -- regardless of whether a specific group within the DPJ actually has members who are of ministerial caliber. If you want to know what that means, ask the employees of the Ministry of Defense. They will tell you.

Ironically, the group which has provided the least capable appointees, or at least has failed to keep its appointees out of the line of opposition and news media fire, is the group orbiting around Ozawa.

It is one thing to promise that politicians will lead the country. It seems to be quite another to actually cultivate and promote politicians capable of holding on to the reins.

The Philosopher King

Let us say you are reading an op-ed from Toronto's The Globe and Mail on Japan's immense national debt by a Mr. Daryl G. Jones, director of research at Hedgeye Risk Management in New Haven, Connecticut. You read that:
The Asian nation has been adding debt at an accelerating pace over the past decade. In 2001, Japan’s debt-to-GDP ratio stood at 144 per cent. A decade later, it was 212 per cent – meaning that Japan is now far more indebted than Greece was at the worst point of the recent crisis, when Athens’ debt topped out at 165 per cent.
And you sort of shrug, as you know half of the gross debt is actually owed by the government to itself, and that 90% of the remainder is in the hands of passive domestic investors -- who have an incentive, as they are Japanese, to not push Japan into foreclosure.

So you trundle along:
Japan’s debt burden is still expanding rapidly. We project the country will run a budget deficit of more than 9 per cent of GDP this year. This is a huge gap and will require even more borrowing. The Japanese government says that revenue from bond issues will account for 49 per cent of all government revenue in 2012 – a situation comparable to a family having to borrow half of the money it expects to spend over the next year.

Turning the situation around is difficult. Social security spending and debt repayments are projected to make up 53 per cent of Japan’s 2012 federal budget. Both areas are hard to cut, especially with an aging population.

Government is also tough to trim because Japan’s government spending is only 40 per cent of GDP, lower than in most industrialized nations. Thus, it is unlikely that Japan can, or will, implement austerity to reduce its deficit.
This makes you a bit more worried, as it reflects some of your own concerns. Laying aside the country-as-household metaphor, which never works, any more than the country-as-corporation metaphor, the inability of the Democratic Party of Japan, despite its best efforts, to find "wasteful government spending" in amounts that would make sensible Hatoyama Yukio's and Ozawa Ichiro's complaints about the sequencing of the imposition of a rise in the consumption tax ("First find all the waste; cut it; then make the necessary tax adjustment") is a point the Noda government is failing to hammer home.

The op-ed then takes a turn, as they always do, through Japan's demographic conundrum. You skip over the part about investors losing confidence as they did in Greece, Portugal and Spain, which managed to have debt crises prior to demographic crises.

Then you read another interesting passage:
There are a number of reasons that Japanese sovereign debt may be re-priced sooner rather than later. The first is that Japan will have to refinance 24 per cent of its outstanding debt this year, an enormous amount that will test the limits of the market’s hunger for Japanese bonds. Second, Japan is shifting from a current account surplus to a current account deficit, which naturally reduces the appetite for Japanese bonds.
If the current account were going into the red zone, that would be really worrisome. It must be noted that yesterday the Finance Ministry announced an unexpected trade surplus for February (E) -- so perhaps, for at least today, we can ignore our fears of the inevitable switch to a current account deficit.

So everything is going pretty well. There are some dire predictions and uncomfortable facts, but nothing you cannot handle.

Then, in the second-to-last paragraph, you hit this:
Japanese philosopher Daisaku Ikeda once said, "A person, who no matter how desperate the situation, gives others hope, is a true leader."
...and then your day is shot, as your mind is filled with increasingly elaborate and borderline paranoid theories ("Hedgeye...You know if you say it really fast, you know what it sort of rhymes with?").

"Philosopher"? That is a new one for me.

For the full op-ed, click here

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Back To Its Bad Old Habits

Someone recently sent me a series of questions -- which I had better hurry up and answer (Sorry, I will get to it soon, I promise).

Anyway, one of the questions was why I air my thoughts, as disreputable as they may be, online.

I have used a lot of "waiting for the train" time to think about a concise response to that question. Hard it is, though, for over the years the answer has changed. For a while I was just trying to keep up in an informal debate-conversation with Okumura Jun and Tobias Harris -- and failing spectacularly in doing so. For a while I was posting appreciative reviews of what Japanese pundits derisively called Koizumi Theater -- and oh, what a glorious show it was!

One of the first reasons though -- and it is a decidedly bottom-dwelling, mud-sucking reason -- was to spur professional journalists into putting in an effort at the office. With what the Web was to inflict upon the journalistic profession, to have been so critical and demanding then might now be seen as my having wasted my time beating a soon to be very dead horse. However, Japan had stories to tell which were not being told, particular how scrutable its politics could be if you just gave enough of a damn to identify who the players were and what they were after.

A particular cause of worry, even before I began writing online, was the quality of political reporting on Japan by The Economist. As the newspaper of the smart, or at least smarter, set, it had a special status in the global discussion of world events. Reading its political pieces on Japan, and knowing them to be misleading, made me concerned that all of its political reporting was similarly unreliable. In the days before Tim Berners-Lee's baby bounced out of its crib at CERN, and one had a limited budget, pretty much all one would ever read regarding the politics of many countries was what was printed in The Economist. If The Paper misrepresented the political and social landscape of this blessed land, what did I or any reader know of any other country's politics and society?

For the longest time, however, The Economist has been a faithful friend, even when the views in its articles have not hewn to my own. The anonymous authors did their homework (like making sure London got the names of the politicians spelled correctly) and treated their sources here like they would sources at home, with skepticism.

Hence my nearly going into coronary arrest at this most recent article.

The 21st-century samurai
Good and bad ways to revive Japan’s national spirit

MITSUKO SHIMOMURA is an unlikely steward of old-fashioned Japanese values. First, as a woman who was a trail-blazing foreign correspondent in the 1980s, she does not quite fit the samurai mould. Second, with a pink mobile phone and Louis Vuitton handbag, she unambiguously belongs to the modern world.

Ms Shimomura is fed up with Japan’s drift, however. Most of its leaders are weak, and the country has lost its national spirit, she says. Politics is in a state of paralysis, but, as she acidly puts it: “You get the politics you deserve.” The Japanese she most looks up to is her friend Kazuo Inamori, founder of Kyocera, an industrial-ceramics company based in Kyoto, who has recently applied what he calls his Buddhist management philosophy to bring Japan Airlines back from bankruptcy. Like Mr Inamori, Ms Shimomura has established a juku, a kind of academy whose roots date back to the 17th century, in order to revive Confucian and Buddhist values. She says she wants to put some spine back into the Japanese people.

Her type of juku is different from Japan’s ubiquitous cramming schools of the same name. Students as young as 15 or as old as 80 come to her home in Fukushima prefecture, where they practise Zen meditation, discuss oriental philosophy and end the day—in one Japanese rite that thankfully endures—with several glasses of sake. Mr Inamori’s juku is more exclusive: he mostly takes in business-owners. Someone has called it “McKinsey in the lotus position”, but that probably sells it short. Every day at Japan Airlines workers chant parts of a white book of Mr Inamori’s management thinking.


Mr Matsushita would be “so disappointed in heaven” if he knew how shallow-minded his protégés had become, Ms Shimomura laments. Her type of juku may be more promising. On March 11th she challenged her students to gather before dawn on the windswept shore 30 miles (48km) south of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear-power plant to remember the tsunami. They were asked simply to hold hands and pray quietly. As many as 1,800 people, including this correspondent, turned up. It ended in a reflective journey home, after a drink of sweet sake. Japanese values at their best.

What in Amaterasu's name is this? Inflight magazine writing? And who the %&#&!* is Shimomura Mitsuko?

Well, what does a little poking about the Web reveal?

- She is from Fukushima, probably Koriyama.

- She has a B.A. in Economics from Keio and a M.A. in Economics from NYU.

- She is a former journalist and editor for The Asahi Shimbun group.

- She is on the boards of more organizations and corporations than she could likely name, much less steward.

- She is fabulously wealthy. Come on, she has own juku.

- She, Hatoyama Yuki (former prime minister Hatoyama Yukio's wife), Hosokawa Kayoko (former prime minister Hosokawa Morihiro's wife) and music critic Yukawa Reiko are a singing quartet. They call themselves "the Swan Sisters" (I am not making this up. I wish I were but I am not).

- Her Wikipedia page is composed almost entirely of insults of her journalistic and editorial skills by journalist-icon Tachibana Takashi.

- After retiring from journalism, she became the chairman of the 120 year-old Zaidanhojin Nihonkenbikyoin. No, it is not, as one would guess from the name, the Japan Institute of Microscopy. It is instead a hospital and medical testing group, with an extraordinarily expensive taste in real estate. Shimomura-san succeeded her mother as head of the organization. Her mother had succeeded her husband. The current chairman seems to be Shimomura's younger brother, a former Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ Banker.

- She was a director of the Asian Women's Fund (uh-oh).

- She is a member of the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan (ahhhhh...).

What about this juku of hers?

Anyone can join, if he or she pays the 25,000 yen fee for the 6 full day sessions to be held over a half year. Yes, for an extra fee, you can party into the night with Shimomura-san (Photos here).

Unfortunately the new member will have missed session I and II but he or she can still get in on session III, which takes place on April 21 and features...talks and a concert by the Swan Sisters! (I am not making this up.)

Now somehow she talked the Dalai Lama's handlers into having His Holiness swing by Koriyama last year to speak at an event organized by her group. So membership in her juku is not without its privileges.

So if you are interested, here is the link.

I know that The Economist's excellent economics writer Kenneth Cukier is headed to London. I am not sure whether or not his move is what The Asahi Shimbun is talking about in its article on the travails of the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan (E).

You can guess who I think should be going to London instead.

Long Time, Hard Time

Anecdotal -- but it seems that judges are handing out increasingly long sentences to parents who have killed their own children. Just yesterday the Osaka District Court upped the prison terms of a father and mother who killed their infant daughter from 10 years to 15 years (J). Last Friday, another Osaka court handed out a staggering 30-year prison term to a 24 year-old bar girl who abandoned her two children to starve to death in the family apartment (J).

I want the courts to be merciless with the killers of the children of others, for those that kill the children of others rob parents of life's only true treasures. However, persons killing their own children is almost always the result of families or individuals being under extraordinary stress. Judges should be taking circumstances into account, rather coming down with peculiarly arithmetic maximum sentences for these first-time offenders. In the first case mentioned, the baby, the family's third child, was killed out of a moment's rage at her not eating her food. In the second case, the young woman had only been recently divorced and was in retrospect overwhelmed by both her night work and childcare.

I can understand that society would have a vested interest in transmitting the message "Do not kill your kids." However, is it really necessary to deliver the message with a sledgehammer? Furthermore, is the judicial system the transmitter of choice?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

OK, So Maybe We Are Wrong

Let us assume that Ozawa Ichiro is right, that the public wants the Democratic Party of Japan to fulfill its campaign promises of 2009 -- and that unless the DPJ returns to the true path (that, we shall not forget, Ozawa authored) by the time the next elections come around, the party.

Or, let us assume that Tanigaki Sadakazu, Ishihara Nobuteru and Oshima Tadamori are right, that the nation is sick to death of the bumbling and stumbling of the DPJ, particularly its inability to come to internal agreement on the government's major policy plank, the revitalization of the social welfare compact through a rise in the consumption tax.

Or, let us assume that the league of anonymous analysts are right, that the government is incapable of making the significant changes Japan needs to invigorate itself, meaning that Noda Yoshihiko is heading downhill and out the door the same way his last five predecessors have.

Then why in the dickens are the support levels of this Cabinet rising at this time? The Kyodo News poll of this morning finds support for the Cabinet rising to 32% from 29% the month before. This finding echoes the Jiji Press finding of cabinet support at 27%, a rise of 3 points from a month earlier (J) and NHK's finding of cabinet support at 33%, up 2 points from a month earlier (link expired). A week ago, the Yomiuri Shimbun found cabinet support at 35%, 5 points up from a month earlier (J). A week before that Nippon Television found a similar 5 point rise in public support for the cabinet (link expired).

Now these moves, while in sync with one another, may not represent an updraft for the Noda government. For all we know, they may represent a firming of confidence in government in general in response to the upwelling of feelings of national unity over the 3/11 anniversary. The politics-news-entertainment complex may have been pulling its punches pre-anniversary, giving the government a breather from the usual battering it faces, allowing the electorate to have a brighter view of the present.

Still, if the Noda government were really messing up, or the country on the way to a political train wreck, one would expect at least some polls to show declines in cabinet support.

Obviously, that is not happening.

Indeed, even more reassuring the PM and his government should be the fall in the percentage those holding negative views of the Cabinet: down 5 points in the Kyodo poll, down 3 points in the Jiji Press poll, down 5 points in the Yomiuri poll.

On the all-important question of which party the electorate will vote for in the bloc proportional vote (noting, of course, that a national survey does not reflect the strength of a particular party's appeal in specific blocs) the prime minister's party still trails the Liberal Democratic Party. The Kyodo poll finds the split to be 20% for the DPJ versus 23% for the LDP: the Yomiuri poll finds find the split to be 17% versus 21% (J).

For both parties, the real pain will be in the Kinki bloc, where the Yomiuri poll found that the top vote getter would be Hashimoto Toru's Ishin no kai receving 24% of the committed vote, with the LDP second at 18% and the DPJ third at 10%. (J)

The Ishin no kai's participation in the next House of Representatives election, even while not generating direct support of greater than a quarter of the voters in its home region, is still popular overall. In the Yomiuri poll, 58% of the electorate has positive expectations over the Ishin no kai's participation in national politics. In a poll the Mainichi Shimbun conducted in the first week of March, 61% of the electorate had favorable views of Ishin no kai participation in national politics (J).

Today's Kyodo polls frames the question of the Ishin no kai's rise and the possible formation of a "true conservative" party under the command of some combination of Ishihara Shintaro, Hiranuma Takeo and Kamei Shizuka in a different way: if the government could be rearranged according to your wishes, what would be its constituent parts?

A government with the DPJ at its heart 8%
A government with the LDP at its heart 13%
A grand coalition government of the DPJ and the LDP 23%
A new structure based on a realignment of the political world 38%
Other 4%
No opinion 12%

(due to rounding, the above does not add up to 100%)

A grand coalition, which the press has been talking up ad nauseum over the weekend after Deputy Prime Minister and designated go-between with the opposition parties Okada Katsuya purportedly talked about a grand DPJ-LDP coalition over several bills --- an offer Okada denies making, not that he might not be making it at some future time, mind you (J) does not set the public's heart a-flutter. The large number of persons wishing for a whole new political world, together with the miserably low numbers for a future DPJ-centered government may light a fire under the tails of some in the DPJ to accept the Noda government's already significant openness to the opinions of the opposition, particularly the New Komeito but the LDP as well (the other opposition parties might just as well not exist).

As to when the electorate next wants a shot at choosing its representatives, those desiring to have an election next year outnumber those wanting an election this year 66% to 27%, with the plurality (44%) wanting the current House of Representatives to serve out their full terms, again according to Kyodo News.

So we are on course for a double (House of Representatives - House of Councillors) election next year in mid-summer -- which is good because the Diet has yet to tackle the black hole in the nation's voting systems, the methods of electing the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors both being unconstitutional.

Tell Me Something I Do Not Know

Every once in a while, in the course of wading through the effluvia, I come across a news article or news fragment that truly astonishes.

I would have never guessed, for example, that Togo Shigemori, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Class A War Criminal, though born in Japan, was ethnically Korean.

The story of the Togo family was already very interesting. To have the founder turn out to have been of Korean stock (assuming the Russian academic author knows what he is talking about) makes them all the more fascinating.

A tip of the hat to Japan Probe.

Let's Try This, One More TIME

TIME magazine blogs has a post (E) about the government's possible use of the Self Defense Forces' anti-ballistic missile capabilities should North Korea proceed with its planned rocket launch.

I here reproduce the TIME text, with my annotations.
TOKYO – Japan knows just what to do if North Korea goes ahead with a thinly disguised test of a new ballistic missile next month: shoot the @#$! thing down.

Japanese Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka told Diet members Monday that “We will take the (necessary) procedures in the event of a contingency that threatens our country’s security,” and pointed out that Japan has Patriot PAC-3 and Aegis destroyers that could do the job. Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Forces began deploying Patriot batteries to Japan’s southern islands today.
What Defense Minister Tanaka Naoki has said is that he is thinking about giving the order to shoot down the rocket, pending the prime minister's approval. In the event of pieces of the rocket falling or such a similar contingency (implictly, the rocket falling as a whole) in a manner threatening Japanese territory, the SDF under existing law can attempt an intercept of the threatening material. (J)

Not exactly "Shoot the @#$! thing down."
The Japanese are still traumatized by a 1998 test in which nuclear-armed North Korea lobbed a ballistic missile directly over the home islands. The incident prompted the Japanese to join the US in missile-defense R&D, and it remains a cornerstone of Japanese defense policy.

North Korea said Friday it will attempt to put an Earth observation satellite into orbit sometime in April. But that’s seen as a cover for a testing a long-range ballistic missile, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, of course. Technically, the launch would violate UN Security Council Resolution 1874. Tokyo could claim it was enforcing the mandate, although it does not authorize use of force.
First, the nuclear anachronism. In 1998, North Korea was not nuclear-armed. Yongbyon's spent nuclear fuel rods were under IAEA seals until 2002. The DPRK did not claim to have weaponized the plutonium it extracted from the fuel rods until 2004. It did not carry out a nuclear test until 2006.

Second, according to the Ministry of Defense, cooperation with the U.S. on BMD research began in 1978. At the same time, Japan was asked to prepare facilities for U.S. BMD systems on Okinawa. (J)

Third, a launch of a space vehicle does not violate UN Security Council 1874. The North Koreans know this. That is why they are calling the launch a space vehicle launch.

Fourth, Tokyo cannot claim it is enforcing the mandate if the resolution does not authorize the use of force.
North Korea said the missile will be fired in southerly a location, which means Tokyo-ites won’t see contrails flying overhead. Nevertheless, Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba said he couldn’t rule out the possibility that the missile would pass over Okinawa or other southern islands.

Whether the Japanese could actually take out the missile would depend on whether an Aegis destroyer or Patriot battery were in the right place. The Patriot missile travels has a published range of about 70 kilometers.

If Japan does try to take out the missile, it would be its first shot fired in anger since World War II. That’s one reason it’s unlikely to happen. In addition to annoying the North Koreans, it could also make the Chinese and South Koreans — ever suspicious of Japan — nervous.
The "first shot in anger" statement is true only for the SDF. The Maritime Self Defense Force's predecessor, the Coastal Safety Force, had a gun battle with a Soviet spy ship off the coast of Hokkaido in 1953. So Japan has fired shots in anger.

Shooting down a space-bound vehicle would more than just "annoy" the North Koreans. That I can assure you.

Why would Japan firing a defensive missile at a rocket make the Chinese and the South Koreans any more nervous about Japan? Japan is already deeply bought into BMD. Japan has liquid and solid-fueled rockets capable of boosting payloads into space. Now that capacity represents a threat to China and South Korea, but it is one that has existed for a long time.
Japan has conducted tests of the Patriot and Aegis systems, but has never fired at a real ballistic missile. That’s another reason the Japanese are unlikely to make good on the threat, says Ralph Cossa, president of Honolulu-based Pacific Forum CSIS: “It would be embarrassing if they missed.”
Part of the testing of the Aegis-linked Standard III system has been the intercepting of missile warheads over the Pacific. Those were real missile warheads. If by "real" the writer meant "in battle" - well, he should have said so.

Cossa's comment on how embarrassing it would be should the SDF's anti-ballistic missile systems miss their target makes sense only if Japan fires willy-nilly at a rocket headed in its direction, which would be akin to an act of war. Since the rules of engagement outlined by the Minister of Defense preclude a rash and unnecessary act, the comment is superfluous. If the Standard III and Patriot systems miss their target and a piece of or a whole rocket lands in Japanese territory, with consequent damage or casualties, the result would be a lot worse than merely embarrassing to the SDF.

An academic of great standing recently complained to me about blogs, how even the ones with editors allow any idiot with a computer and an opinion to vomit forth some perverse piece of nonsense, which thanks to the the low cost of computer storage and search is kept alive, rendering the world just a little bit stupider, non erit finis.

What can I say?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Far More Magnificent Despot

It seems that Watanabe Tsuneo (not that Watanabe Tsuneo, the other one, the one who looks like turtle) pipped Liberal Democratic Party President Tanigaki Sadakazu in comparing Osaka City mayor Hashimoto Toru to Hitler. Watanabe makes the connection in the April edition of Bungei Shunju, which went on sale ten days ago.

According to the Mainichi Shimbun:
"I'm reminded of Adolf Hitler," Watanabe was quoted by the magazine as saying. "Soon after Hitler became German chancellor, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act giving him absolute power. This act became the basis of fascism (in Germany). I think it's an extremely dangerous sign."
Hashimoto gives as good as he gets, however. In a Twitter tweet on Sunday, the same day that Tanigaki was comparing him to Japan's 1930s gunbatsu leaders, Hitler and Mussolini, Hashimoto replied:
"With Mr. Watanabe's control not just of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, but also in the political, financial and even baseball worlds, he is a far more magnificent despot (gyujiru dodotaru dokusai)!"

Incidentally, in the same issue of Bungei Shunju are interviews with three former prime ministers: Nakasone Yasuhiro, Murayama Tomi'ichi and Aso Taro. The title of Aso's interview, "Japan will not collapse!" (Nihon wa zettai hatan shinai) reconfirms my judgment of him as a conservative who loves his country, warts and all, unlike the fantabulists, who could hardly give a fig whether contemporary Japan failed or not. Indeed, they would welcome it as a chance to rebuild the country upon their Meiji-inspired lines.

Monday, March 19, 2012

He Who Laughs Last

I'm sure my critics will say
It's a grotesque display.
Well they can bite me baby
I perform this way.

- Al Yankovic, "I Perform This Way" (2011)

Despite the best effort of Shukan Bunshun, Kaieda Banri (Wait, was he not Ozawa Ichiro and Hatoyama Yukio's candidate in the last DPJ election? Yes, but he was also the 1996 author of this tome. Ambition has many colors) and mysterious associations working their magic from the shadows Ozawa Ichiro has survived to serve more than 25 years in the Diet. After passing the 25-year milestone, members of the House of Representatives are entitled to a number of perquisites, one of which is the hanging of his or her portrait in the Diet Building.

Ozawa, being a retiring, secretive individual of course...wait, here he is, beaming in front of his portrait as it is being hung for the benefit of the cameras both still and video. In a dose of purest irony, the portrait is hung in the room where the Committee for Judicial Affairs has its meetings.

The portrait has its host of critics. To be sure, it sure clashes with the more genial and relaxed mood of its immediate neighbors.

The Liberal Democratic Party's Hirasawa Katsuei -- "Mr. Abductees Issue" to you and me -- has complained that it gives him the creeps (iwakan - 違和感). "I feel like it's staring at me," he complains. (J)

Hirasawa and others have declaimed that now, while Ozawa is still on trial for violating the political funding laws, is hardly the time to hang his portrait. Such complaints have very little traction, however, given that the House of Representatives Steering Committee has just greenlighted a similar hanging in the Diet of the portrait of jailbird Suzuki Muneo, the multi-year winner of the "Most Corrupt Member of the Diet" in public surveys. (J)

But while Ozawa is beaming, possibly even laughing in the above photo images, I am not sure whether or not the joke is on Ozawa's many enemies or on himself.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, a close-up of the portrait, painted a former graduate of Ozawa's political training school:
I have heard it said that truth is beauty, and beauty truth.

Though my artistic judgments have landed me in trouble of late, I will venture that the adage is hereby proven wrong.

Image courtesies:
Top: Tokyo Shimbun
Middle: Jiji Press
Bottom: TV Asahi

Tanigaki Sadakazu And Godwin's Law

It had to happen eventually, and as almost as eventually, Liberal Democratic Party President Tanigaki Sadakazu was going to be the man at the center of the action.

Hashimoto Toru's blustery manner, tyrannical treatment of civil servants and pursuit of enforced patriotism has emboldened some of his followers to monitor at school graduations ceremonies not only whether teachers and school administrators were standing for the national anthem but whether their mouths were moving (J has led to elites, mostly based in the capital, to deride his Hashimoto's manner and his political quasi-party the Ishin no kai as representing "Hashism."

It was up to Tanigaki to violate Godwin's Law -- which means to confirm it, of course.

On Sunday, in a speech in Kyoto, Tanigaki stamped up and down on subtlety and seemingly stepped in kemo sabe.**

"In saying that party politics is no good, it is like like the emergence of the military faction in the teens of the Showa Era. It seems to be in the same atmosphere that Hitler and Mussolini emerged." (J)

OK, wow, he has gone and done it, called Hashimoto a neo-proto-Hitler.

Somebody had to do it.

One cannot not deride Tanigaki's musings as a full expression of Godwin's Law, where given time and an ever enlarging number of comments the chances of a debate devolving into comparisons with Hitler comes to equal 1. Kamei Shizuka called former prime minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro a "Hitler" in 2003 for having the temerity to use his powers a president of the LDP to force members to toe the line he set for the party (E). Boy, I am sure Kamei was surprised when Koizumi forced him out of the LDP two years later!

Tanigaki's comparison of Hashimoto Toru's rise that of Hitler comes prefaced by negative remarks about the rise of the military faction in the Japanese government during the 1930s.

Such talk would seem odd from the grandson of one of the generals who commanded the forces invading and occupying China. However, Kakesa Sadaaki was not your ordinary 1930s general. Indeed, he was transferred out of China and plopped on the island of Rabaul on the direct order of Prime Minister Togo Hideki for having being too solicitous and respectful of the Chinese.

One of Tanigaki's main political peculiarities, one which is not so peculiar given the example set by his grandfather, is his comfort with things Chinese as compared the rest of the LDP, which tends to be extremely suspicious if not paranoid about China. While his affection toward China is focused more on its classical tradition, thinking positively of China would, in a happier world, serve as a bridge between himself and Ozawa Ichiro, who has cultivated close relations with the leaders of China, despite the political unpopularity of such behavior.

Should sinophilia be seen a litmus test in Japanese politics against fascism? In Ozawa's case it is clearly does instill distaste of strong man rule, when the policies merit it. Just who might be the judge of the merit of said policies is the question. Ozawa clearly took Democratic Party of Japan's 2009 House of Representatives victory as a justification of the implementation of the party's 2009 manifesto. That the DPJ victory might possibly have been as much the result of disgust with the LDP as a stamp of approval for the manifesto did not serve as a bridle on Ozawa, who saw to it that the promises were carried out, even at the cost of party unity, party popularity and the term in office of his puppet Hatoyama Yukio.

But back to what happened on Sunday. Despite Tanigaki's tendency to misunderstand situations and concepts, his sincerity he feels in comparing "Hashism" to its namesakes is not as easy to dismiss as it would be had the above quote issued from other lips.


* This last news item has already been mentioned by another blogger. However I do not remember who it was. My apologies to him or her for not being able to extend a tip of the hat.

** This is a joke regarding an upcoming Johnny Depp movie. Don't worry about it.

Later - This post has been edited for greater clarity - MTC.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Quotable - Minoru Mochizuki

The thoughts of frequent NBR Japan Discussion poster Minoru Mochizuki are sometimes difficult to follow.

In this post of yesterday, however, I think he hits more than a few nails on the head. I especially like the highlighted bit.

Why Japanese prime ministers after WWII have become so feeble? That is because Japan has chosen (partly because of inevitability as a country defeated in the war and occupied, and partly as a choice of free will to reconstruct the nation under the U.S. protection, particularly, the philosophy of PM Yoshida, born out of his many years of experience as a diplomat in the Western world) to become a fat cat, a show piece of winner in the free trade and open-market system created by U.S. against Soviet Block.

Now, Soviet is gone. Both China and Soviet are well into the road to become capitalist countries. So nobody needs Japan as a fat cat as a show piece. What U.S. needs today is South Korea, as a symbol of military alliance against a rather unlikely North Korean desperation attack.

For a country like today’s Japan, which does not have a military power which operates on its own will, the presence of its leader has little importance in the world politics, as it is a follower than anything else in
the midst of strategic decisions and bargaining of major countries of the world. Thus, its prime ministers concentrate on internal affairs primarily...

Japanese elites fret about South Korea's economic performance: its growing economy, its globally competitive giants like Samsung, LG and Hyundai and its free trade agreement with the United States.

Mochizuki points out that it the elites need to just as worried about South Korea's global political presence.

Later - Reader Tiago finds that the above link does not work. The alternative is to go the NBR Japan Forum's home site, scroll down to the link for the Japan-U.S. Discussion Forum archive, then look for Mochizuki's post of 3/16/2012.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Fewer Than Two Continued - On Death And Dying

Where the new figures for household size in the Tokyo Metropolitan District intersect with the prevailing zeitgeist in two ways.

The first is the reporting of the increasing number, as if it were a surprise, of famous persons dying alone (kodokushi) and not being found for several days or even weeks.

The first really shocking case was of the former porn actress, television talent, then later blogger and AIDS activist Iijima Ai, who was found dead in her home three weeks after her last blog post in December 2008. The 2009 discovery of the body of longtime film and television superstar Ohara Reiko in her home two weeks after anyone last heard from her further shocked the country. Newscaster and television talent Yamaguchi Mie was found dead alone last year under similar circumstances.

Of course, with the greater number of persons living alone, that the number of persons dying alone should be rising should not surprising. Given the anonymity of the big cities and the hyper-sensitivity over respecting a person's privacy, that persons are not being found dead for days or weeks should also not be surprising.

That the number of persons dying alone at home has not, until recently, been a societal obsession can in part be traced to the incredible rates of hospitalization of the very ill and very old, with over 82% of deaths occurring in a hospital and an addition 3% in special homes for the aged (J - page 9).

Iijima, Ohara and Yamaguchi were 36, 62 and 51 years of age respectively at the time of their deaths. Both Ohara and Yamaguchi had spent many years prior to their deaths caring for aged and incapacitated parents.

It is in the latter situation that the new figures on the size of households gives folks the heeby-jeebies, though in the case of Ohara and Yamaguchi, the parents each had been caring for had either been moved to an elder care facility or died.

In recent weeks there have been a spate of stories about caregivers dying, leaving their disabled or senile charges to die of starvation, thirst or cold. The most shocking was a case in mid-February of a 45 year-old woman dying, leaving her four year-old mentally retarded son to die a few days later of an as yet unrevealed cause, despite visits to the home by what were supposed to be help providers. In more recent days, news organizations have been reporting on couples or parent-child homes where the deaths of the caregiver have left the other, incapacitated resident to die, either slowly or quickly, from lack of care. Despite the fact that these pairs of individuals are not technically dying alone, these types of double deaths are being classed kodokushi.

With Japanese enjoying, if that can be the term, extended lifespans, and the chances of one member of a two-person household being seriously incapacitated in some way increasing, the number of these kinds of double deaths is sure to increase unless civil society or local government develop ways on keeping tabs on caregivers and their charges. A great deal of help is currently available. With the society as a whole aging, however, the capacity for society or local governments to continue to provide help services will diminish.

Some companies, such as the ALSOK corporation, advertise home surveillance cameras for younger relatives to keep tabs on the status of their elders. The concept seems way too creepy and invasive to come into common usage, however. This may change. Indeed, the installation of cameras might come to be seen as a natural part of the aging process -- that once you are past a certain age, you will never have a moment's privacy again, even in your own home.

Fewer Than Two

This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by
Don't give up
Until you drink from the silver cup
And ride that highway in the sky

This is for all the single people
Thinking that life has left them dry
Don't give up
Until you drink from the silver cup
You never know until you try

- America, "Lonely People" (1974)*

If you are in the Tokyo Metropolitan district, and you are alone, you are not alone. Indeed, you are in the whopping majority.

The TMD released the results of its survey of households yesterday. As of January 1 of this year, Tokyo had 12,686,067 residents living in 6,368,485 households, an average of 1.99 residents per household. Considering the number of families with children in the TMD, the balancing number of persons registered as living alone is simply immense -- over 60% of all households registered.

The Mainichi Shimbun provides a nice graph of the crash in the number of persons per registered household since 1957, the first year the survey was conducted.

TMD Governor Ishihara Shintaro, ever the one to come up with the conservate morality play view of a situation, remarked, "I am shocked. It a matter of grave concern. It's truly unhealthy. I feel as though the family unit has fallen to pieces."

If so, then our dear governor (How is it possible that he has won election four times?) should be worried about our neighbors to the north, with all their cows, corn and sunflowers, for the next in line is Hokkaido, with 2.06 residents per household. (J)

The TMD being the great vampire squid of Japan's prefectures, it still managed to eke out a 0.31% increase in its population, the 16th straight year of population growth, despite its shrinking household size (J). It also has remained relatively youthful, with persons in their 30s being the largest age cohort and the percentage of those over 65 years of age still a low (for Japan) 21% of the population. (J)

So all the ongoing creative destruction, with old neighborhoods and commercial properties being demolished and being replaced by high-rise and low-rise condominium and rental units is not necessarily cheap financing leading developers to run amok.

* Yes, I know that the song is an appeal to rebith through faith in Jesus Christ. However, it was either this or "Eleanor Rigby."

Photo credit: MTC

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dogma, Meet Karma

I am not known as a vicious human being...though Tanigaki Sadakazu may take exception to that assertion.

I have, however, enjoyed almost too much the titanic implosion of Yamamoto Masahiro on the National Bureau of Asian Research's Japan-U.S. Discussion Forum. His self-appointed Sisyphean task is to perpetuate, with increasing shrillness and decreasing tolerance, the now increasingly untenable myth of Prime Minister Kan Naoto's behaving in anything other than a "heroic" manner (J) during the Fukushima Dai'ichi crisis.

NBR is considered a moderately center-right organization. Its list-serve is hardly a sump of leftist skulduggery. Avowed leftist Ronald Dore indeed complains that his most provocative thought pieces are constantly being rejected by the list moderator.

However, if you come aboard with an uncritical recitation of the accounts of last year printed in the Sankei Shimbun or, when you are feeling particularly magnanimous and collegiate, the Yomiuri Shimbun, you are going to get your behind fried. When you go further and claim that your view comes from having read Japanese-language sources rather than reading English-language ones, on a list serve of Japan experts, you are going to get your oshiri handed to you. If you then deliver a farewell address, vowing to drop the subject as others are ganging up on you, then come back with a list of demands on how the debate should be conducted on what is already a moderated forum, well...

Yamamoto Masahiro does not identify himself as being associated with any institution. There are a host of Yamamoto Masahiros on the Web. I would suspect, however, that the Yamamoto Masahiro in question is not the Tokyo University mathematician but indeed the author of Nanking: Anatomy of an Atrocity. The review of the book in the American Historical Review states that Yamamoto is "a self-described 'centrist-revisionist'."

This is an interesting compound noun. It seems to mean, "Yes, we killed, mutilated and raped large numbers of persons in absolutely horrible ways -- but not as many as you think!" with what appears after the "but" as the "revisionist" part of the phrase.

"Centrist-revisionist" in an absolute sense seems to mean cherry-picking the written record for evidence confirming one's prejudices and rejecting the documentation and reasoning of others as biased and politically-tainted.

The fun begins on March 5, in an over-the-top post by Gregory Clark, a character in his own right. Just start on the main list then pop back and forth to follow the discussion.

As I said, I am enjoying the results way too much.

Bo Xilai Is Replaced

From the land where politics is played with a hardball comes the stunning news that Chongqing mayor, princeling incomparable and purveyor of scrubbed Maoist nostalgia Bo Xilai (薄熙来) has been replaced by a central government official.

The Yomiuri Shimbun speculates, in an article entitled "The firing of Chongqing's top official: aiming at an early resolution of internal political strife?" (J) that Bo's departure comes as a result of Bo's conflicts with President Hu Jintao, without specifying what Hu's problems with Bo might be. It also hints that the preemptive removal is an echo of Hu's previous struggles with allies of former President Jiang Zemin, the so-called Shanghai Clique.

The Mainichi Shimbun's article, "The firing of Chongqing's top official: in the leadership group, the severe political struggle" (J) goes into the fine detail of the background of Bo's firing, most particularly the peculiar Wang Liqun asylum episode. The article presents Bo's removal as Hu's protecting his own princeling and dauphin Xi Jinping, the guardian of the legacy of Hu's Chinese Communist Party's Youth League clique in the leadership. Bo's revival of the singing of "Red songs," including tunes from the Cultural Revolution when the CCP turned upon itself, was simply the most easily mockable aspect of a deeper and more cutting criticism of the inequalities in society that have been built up under the leadership of Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao.

The paper states that the toppling of Bo is a blow against both what it calls the "conservative faction" and the princelings, seemingly hinting that even the princelings of the "Youth League faction" have to watch their backs.

The Asahi Shimbun's account (J) is straight reporting of the removal of Bo and also of Wang, without commentary.

More later, as the various news organizations offer their analyses.

The Extraordinary Complexity of Our Planet

The Wall Street Journal's Japan Real Time blog has a not-to-be-missed animation of the course debris from the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami will take across the Pacific and back again.

That the courses the various rafts of debris will/can take can be so indeterminate, and that scientists have a reasonable degree of certainty about the reliability of these pathways affected by "a butterfly beating its wings" reminds me of how little I know about the Earth and of those who have dedicated their lives to studying it.