Sunday, January 20, 2013

Politics and Poetry: Senryu For the Week Of January 19, 2013 - Money Troubles

The comic verses (senryu) printed in the Tokyo Shimbun of January 19, 2013 reflect the current focus on the Abenomics, the prime minister's mix of inflation targeting and fiscal stimulus intent on jolting the economy out of its current recession.

"Kane" no wadai
bakari nari

As the year switches over
"Money" is the sole subject
of discussion
In December of each year, the monks of Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto hold a special memorial event. A large blank piece of paper is propped up on an easel set on the temple's famous giant deck. A monk, wielding an immense brush, writes upon the paper the Chinese character of the year.

Here is a photo from last December's ceremony.

The character for 2012 was kin - "gold" - a reference to the large number of medals won by Japanese athletes competing in the London Olympics.

Kin, however, can also be read as kane - "money." The author of the verse is noting that even with the change of the years -- the specific kawaru used denotes a change where one takes up something new after ridding oneself of the old -- the subject of conversation remains the same.

One of the questions regarding the inflation targeting aspects of Abenomics is what happens to consumption. The academic argument for inflation is that consumers, knowing that prices will rise, will make purchases now rather than later. There is certainly supporting evidence for this assertion in the way consumers reacted to the raising of the consumption tax level from 3% to 5% in 1997.

However, the 1997 example has its negative side. While consumers did splurge up until the date of the raising of the consumption tax, sales fell through the floor immediately afterward. Given Japan's demographics reliance on bank deposits to supplement pensions (not to mention high level of public debt held by domestic financial institutions as liquid capital) there is a reasonable fear that inflation will be a wash, as older workers and retirees respond not by exchanging depreciating money for real goods but by restricting their spending even more than current low levels.

In addition, the politically-motivated and directed fiscal stimulus package, funded through a sale of construction bonds, is seen as only adding to future tax burdens.

For one author, the end result is:

Jiichan no
saifu o kuni ga
neratte iru

The State is
taking aim
at Grandpa's wallet

Japan has been enjoying, if that is the word one wishes to use, a long span of cold, snowy weather. The extreme cold has led to a huge increase in the prices of fresh vegetables, particularly leafy greens. While some consumers have simple swallowed the rise in prices, most are responding by substitution (the other day on NHK, a vegetables specialist suggesting tiding oneself over through by increasing one's consumption of onions and kabu -- a distinctly medieval-sounding solution) or by going without.

Which left one author to look askance at the Abe government's inflation targeting scheme.

rihasaru ka na

A rehearsal
For inflation is it,
these costly vegetables?

As regards fiscal outlays, the Tokyo Shimbun has been following Liberal Democratic Party maverick Kono Taro's investigation into just one tiny slice of the budget pie: the Finance Ministry's request in the Special Account for the Recovery of the Tohoku for 2.5 billion yen to fund the acquisition of "A Large-Scale CT Scanner For Sendai Airport, Et Cetera." Kono has taken a look into what is inside that "Et Cetera" (等 - nado). Unsurprisingly, he found that more than half of the items listed under the aferementioned heading have nothing to do with with replacing Sendai's airport tsunami-damaged large CT scanner.

Of the 2.5 billion yen request,

- 1.2 billion is to purchase the CT scanner

- 800 million is to upgrade the National Tax Office's computer systems to handle the imposition of the special tax for the recovery of the Tohoku

- 320 million are to pay for the earthquake retrofitting of National Tax Office buildings in Osaka and Hyogo

- 120 million for "Other - unspecified"

The exposure of more than half of the items in a tiny corner of the Tohoku recovery account as being for non-Tohoku related expenditures, including some that the bureaucrats have not even bothered to specify, stimulated one author to acidly remark:


Hitomoji de
yosan o taberu
"Nado" kowashi

A single character
That devours the budget
A frightening "Et cetera"


Rubel said...
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Anonymous said...

I work in translating Japanese engineering documents into English. Every day I have the same fight with the same people - "What does this 'nado' really mean?"
But quite the opposite to the example in this article, I often see it unnecessarily tacked onto already exhaustive lists. Nevertheless, I am just as frightened by this evil character.
At least I will be able to have a little laugh when I see first see it tomorrow morning.

As an aside, will Emperor Hashimoto's edict regarding the closing of Sakuranomiya High School's sports program be receiving the treatment it deserves from this prestigious blog? Or has he already banned us from questioning his supreme authority?

MTC said...

Anonymous -

I have not looked deeply into Mayor Hashimoto's decision. Given the systemic failure at Sakuranomiya, the principal and teachers having allowed avowed sadists to coach the school's sports teams, Hashimoto seems to have had little choice. He cannot, as far as I can tell, fire all the persons responsible, if he could even identify them all. Aside from closing the school outright, banning sports programs at the school seems the only solution.