Thursday, February 28, 2013

On Those Trees Nobody Wants

Kevin Short, whose hard-to-find Nature in Tokyo is an initially frustrating but eventually rewarding guide to the biological diversity, nature parks and land use practices of the Tokyo Metropolitan District, writes in the Daily Yomiuri about those damn trees. (Link)

Given that Dr. Short is writing in the English language version of Pravda-By-The-Palace, I am sure he is pulling his punches.

For The Record

It has been decades since the NYT has had a journalist as good as Hiroko Tabuchi working in its Tokyo bureau.

That is why I can get upset at an article with her name on it.

Also for the record, the prefecture with the worst ratio of children on waiting lists for public daycare to population is Okinawa -- a not surprising situation given Okinawa has the high birthrates and lowest median incomes among the prefectures. In Okinawa at least, the argument that low incomes for men push women into the workforce is clearly valid. However, the need for two incomes in Okinawa is chronic, not the result of erosions of incomes and job security after the bursting of The Bubble.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Nonsense In The New York Times

The Japanese daycare in crisis story rears its ugly head again, this time in an article by Hiroko Tabuchi.
They turned instead to the government-subsidized child care centers, where their collective needs led to a nationwide waiting list that is now more than 25,000 places long. The government estimates the waiting lists for all types of day care would be tens of thousands of names longer, but that many families have given up.

Increasingly, families try private unsubsidized day care centers, which can be twice as expensive despite sometimes offering lower standards of care. But in Japan's cities, even private centers are hopelessly oversubscribed.

Some families are so anxious to get into public day care that they upend their lives, moving to districts known to have the shortest waiting lists.


(Link)
I do not know where Ms. Tabuchi is getting her numbers. It is clearly not from the authorities. Had she taken the time to look at the relevant government publication (Link - J) she would probably have noted somewhere that insufficient public daycare slots are a Tokyo Metropolitan District problem. Yes there are some 25,000 (maybe) children on waiting lists nationwide. About a third of that national number, however, will be on waiting lists inside the TMD.

Now that the lack of spots exists inside the TMD is relevant for managers of non-Japanese companies who intend to employ Japanese women, as most of these foreign representative offices and subsidiaries are located in Tokyo.

To talk about the TMD's problem as Japan's is a misrepresentation.

Second, Tabuchi fails to nail down the reason why competition for spaces in public daycare facilities has increased in Tokyo. Rather than rely on statistical evidence, she relies on the anecdotal evidence from one parent whom, when one reads the article, one realizes to be a bit...extreme in her attempt to secure a spot for her daughter -- and the testimony of advocacy groups, which, while better than nothing, still tend to be in support of particular narratives.

Birth statistics for the TMD seem to indicate, furthermore that the narrative of women being forced into the workforce by the decline in the economic security of their spouses and partners is probably a false one.

Here is the graph of births in the Tokyo Metropolitan District, by age cohort, from 1960 onward.



(Source -- click on the image to enlarge)

Look at the upward swoop in the births for women in the 20-24 and 25-29 cohorts until the mid-1960s (I have marked the two curves with a red circle and a green triangle, for clarity), and the incredible collapse of the numbers since the late 1960s.

By contrast, look at the number of children being born to women in between the ages of 30 and 34 (the dotted line): basically unchanged since 1980 (Showa 55).

Meanwhile the number of children born to women in the 35-39 cohort has risen rapidly, while at the bottom, the number of babies being born to women in the 40-44 years of age cohort now exceeds the number of babies being born to Tokyoites in the 20-24 cohort!

What is going on then? There is a decline in the number of women under 30 years of age, meaning there are fewer women in the youngest cohorts. However, the decline of the number of young women in Tokyo is in no way commensurate with the collapse in the number of births among Tokyoites under 30 years of age.

Most likely we are seeing a strong correlation of childbearing not with population, work or wealth but with marriage and fertility. The stigma against out-of-wedlock births and the crushing of potential earnings such births normally provoke are strong incentives toward delaying initial births until after marriage -- which for Tokyoites means sometime after one is 30 years of age.

What happens when women are in the work force for a decade before they have their first child? Those women will have careers -- which means that these women will be in jobs they want to keep. It also means women must squeeze a lifetime's worth of births into not just a shorter span of time, but a span of time when their fertility is falling.

So demand for daycare has risen rapidly, even as the total number of births have stayed steady and total number of births per woman have been declining.

Where Tabuchi's article really fails the reader is in giving a sense of how hard national and local governments have been working to expand public daycare over the last two decades. The buildout since the bottom in 2001 (Link-J) should be a source of national and local pride. That the number of centers, workers and spaces available has increased, shrinking the waiting lists even as the number of children seeking places increases 3% per year and the demands for services from senior citizens -- the folks who turn out at the voting places on election day -- are increasing even faster, is simply astonishing.

A crisis? A problem? Actually, daycare in Japan is an example of the system working, despite enormous odds.

Of course, a more accurate account would not fit into global master narratives of the sexism of Japanese institutions, Japan's inability to change, Japan's unresponsive and flailing government...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Toxicity 2.5

The Japan Times has published an editorial advising to the Chinese and Japanese governments as to actions they should undertake regarding airborne pollutants swirling across the East China Sea.
China's pollution problem

Air pollution has become a serious issue in China and the government there is facing rising public criticism. Concern in Japan is also increasing as winds carry the pollution here. The Chinese government must take drastic measures to rectify the situation. Having experienced and overcome similar problems that cropped up during its period of high economic growth, Japan should provide whatever technical assistance it can.

Especially problematic are fine particles called PM2.5, whose diameter is 2.5 micrometers or less (1 micrometer is one-millionth of a meter). These particles can penetrate deep into lungs, causing asthma and bronchitis and increasing the risk of lung cancer. It is also feared that inhalation of PM2.5 can lead to hardening of the arteries, which in turn can result in myocardial or cerebral infarction.

Automobiles, factories, coal-burning power plants and heaters at home using coal are the sources of PM2.5 in China. Japan's standard is a daily average of 35 micrograms in one cubic meter of air. The corresponding Chinese standard is 75 micrograms.

According to the Chinese Environment Protection Ministry, during the Chinese New Year holiday from Feb. 9 to 15, a maximum 306 micrograms of PM2.5 was detected per cubic meter of air in Beijing, 577 micrograms in Tianjin (Tientsin) and 527 micograms in Shijiajuang in Hebei Province.

[snip]

To better protect the health of citizens, the Japanese government should try to get relevant information on pollution from China in a timely manner. It should also provide financial assistance to local governments so they can set up more monitoring posts. The Environment Ministry has a goal of setting up some 1,300 monitoring posts, but fewer than 600 posts are expected to be established by the end of March.

When fine articles from China are forecast to blow to Japan, the government should quickly issue warnings so citizens can protect themselves by wearing face masks or limiting their time outside.

(Link)

The escape of China's choking air pollution, most particularly (pun not intended) the PM 2.5 soot from vehicles and power stations, from out of China's immediate confines, has become a major subject of concern in Japan this winter. (Link)

Last week, the Tokyo Shimbun's political cartoonist Sato Masaaki, in his usual dense sardonic way, depicted the PM 2.5 problem as just one of a sudden spate of airborne assaults.


The title of the cartoon is Ue o muite aruko ("Let's Walk, Looking Up") - the title and opening line of Sakamoto Kyu's 1961 megahit -- the "Gangnam Style" of its day in terms of being a song in an Asian language that went mainstream in the English language world.

The first half of the joke is the theme of Sakamoto's song is inverted. Whereas the song has the singer looking up with hope, forgetting his troubles on the earth, the cartoon suggests that the source of troubles is above, with Russia's meteor, the DPRK's rocket, Japanese silviculture's annual spring gift of sugi and hi no ki pollen and China's clouds of both yellow dust from the desertification of the country's northern plateaus and 2.5 m soot particles are all raining down.

The kicker is the woman in the front, who remarks in an aside, "And let's look below too." Beneath the surface of the ground lurk an unexploded bomb like the one that brought the city of Hamamatsu and the Tokaido Shinkansen to a halt last week and an active geological fault (katsudanso) -- the latter of which are somehow, in Japan of all places, being found running right through most every nuclear power station site. (Link)

A week ago (February 16), the Tokyo Shimbun published a senryu by a reader on the foreign threat coming in via the air:
スモッグの
領空侵犯
抗議なし

Sumoggu no
ryoku shinpan
kogi nashi

To the smog
Criminally breaching our airspace
There is no protest
Kogi is very much in the air about Nagata-cho and Kasumigaseki these days, seeing as how "vigorously protesting" is the only action the constitutionally-restrained government of Japan will undertake in response to aerial incursions by Chinese and Russian aircraft and targeting radar flashes. The author is noting, bitterly, that the vigorous protestation that the Abe government has been whipping out again and again this winter over temporary, only indirectly threatening phenomena is nowhere in evidence over a much longer lasting and clearly damaging intrusion.

The reader is given hints, however, that the anger in the poem is theatrical, a bit of fun with the over-the-top rhetorical flourishes of nationalist outrage. The author's pseudo-Chinese pen name of 和 平 -- i.e., "Peace," in the reverse of the usual order of the word, with the character wa, the ancient name of Japan and the word for harmony, first -- indicates that the tone of outrage is affected, with tongue firmly in cheek.

As for the Japan Times's grim clucking or the Tokyo Shimbun's drollery, I cannot participate in either. I look around at the room and see all the items with Japanese brand names on them. Turn those same items over and they will, each and every one of them, have "Made in China" label. I think of the blue skies and open spaces that have made Kawasaki and other former industrial towns -- their smokestacks gone, their factories demolished and cleared away -- the hot places to live -- and realize that my material comfort and environmental good fortune come at the cost of the strangulation of China.

I am complicit in a crime, the offshoring of the consequences of my lifestyle.

Can I complain or laugh about the wind's bringing a bit of invisible dust back to haunt me?


Later - To clarify, the geological faults criss-crossing nuclear power plant sites were known. What has happened since 3/11 is that faults judged during the surveying stage to have been conveniently inactive are now being classified as being inconveniently active. No doubt the expert panels now making the determinations are erring on the side of caution. However, one only has to look at a geography of a site like that of Tsuruga Power Station (Link) to know that some seriously delusional thinking was going on.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Just Two More

As regards the Abe-Obama meeting of minds over the weekend, I failed to recommend the look-behind-the-scenes of the run up to the summit provided by Peter Ennis:

"Obama to embrace Japan, not Abe"

My mistake.

The post reveals the quiet but quite obvious desperation of the Abe camp, which needed the summit to counter domestic inertia on number of issues including the Futenma Replacement Facility, Japan's participation in negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership and Japan's becoming a signatory to the Hague Treaty on child abduction (if I see another essay uncritically accepting accusations of domestic violence as sufficient grounds for dismissing the crime of child abduction, my head will explode -- not that it has not already exploded in response to the public debate over the appropriateness of corporal punishment).

On what can be seen as the other side of the ledger, I was waiting for a commentary on the passing of Donald Richie that confronted the issues of power, knowledge, cultural transmission and sexuality he embodied.

Out of respect for the dead, no such commentary appeared.

It was left to the excrutiatingly humble Richard Lloyd Parry to fill in the void, through a Facebook link to his scintitilating 2006 examination of Richie's The Japan Journals. (Link)

A laudatory, yet damning obituary, published six years before the fact.

If you should read but a single piece of writing about Japan today, let it be Parry's essay.

Equivalences

Gavan Gray of Ritsumeikan University has a new long essay out on the Comfort Women Problem (jugun ianfu mondai). (Link)

Gray seems to be attempting to demonstrate that those advocating a greater awareness of the comfort women issue are peddlers of unsound, unscientific evidence and anti-Japanese propaganda. However, he fails his readers early and often at this task, making the reading of his work a slog through a morass of oblivious prejudice.

Some basic rules Gray disregards:

- Do not refer to countries using third person female possessives ("her accusers")

- Do not refer to the partisans of one side as being an epithet in quotation marks and the other side as an epithet without quotation marks ("revisionist academics")

- Do not be snide ("public 'awareness' of the issue")

- Do not pair serial prevaricators with historians based upon similarity of names ("Between them Yoshida and Yoshimi thus established a theme...")

- Do not disregard inconvenient detail in documents used as references [For a voyage into the banality of evil, read the document referred to in footnote 26 (here at http://www.sdh-fact.com/CL02_1/81_S4.pdf). After you have stopped shivering, reread the paragraph in Gray's work which references the document]

- Do not use a history written by the most internationally famous Japanese revisionist as the source for the internal politics of the Korean redress movement (Footnote 44)

- Do not use a 2009 interpretation where it cannot go, namely to pass final sentence an act that was not to take place until 2012 (Footnote 257)


One could spend hours on the work -- hours I do not have.

The length of the piece is one of the major indicators of its weakness. The "throw everything you have at the problem and see what sticks" method of argument shows that the writer himself is unsure of the effectiveness of his presentation.

There is an essay disinterring the story of the Imperial military's brothel system from out of the mountains of nonsense that has been disseminated and redisseminated about it, mostly by persons of South Korean descent, to counter walls of denial, built mostly by persons of Japanese descent.

This ain't it.

Up, Up And Away

The Abe Cabinet numbers continue to soar (Link - J) and the Liberal Democratic Party is running away in the projected voting for the House of Councillors elections in July. (Link)

As to why the 72% of respondents find the Abe Cabinet worthy of their support, 34.9% of respondents said it is because of the expectations as regards economic policy.

That's all I know, as none of the survey data is in my morning dead tree news delivery device...because of the system breakdown at Kyodo (Link - J) perhaps?

For those still a bit giddy over Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's feat of stomping out of Washington with the acceptance in principle of Japan's participation in Trans Pacific Partnership talks without Japan's having made making a prior commitment to tariff abolition (a jiggle that will come back to haunt both governments when it comes time to confront the United States' 25% tariff on light trucks) some more good news: 64% of the respondents in the Kyodo poll approve (to a greater or lesser extent) Japan's participation in the talks. As for the reasons why Japan should be in talks as soon as possible, the top two responses are...slightly different in the Japanese- and English-language Kyodo reports.

#1 reason, with 59% of agreeing

English language version:

"It is essential for Japan to join the Pacific Rim initiative so it can benefit from the global expansion of free-trade deals"

Japanese language version:

"Trade liberalization is the way of the times, so is it mandatory that Japan take part for its own good"


#2 reason, with 43% agreeing:

English language version

"It would increase exports and allow Japanese companies to better compete with their global rivals"

Japanese language version

"The opportunities for export for Japanese companies would increase and [Japan] could better compete with global rivals such as South Korea."


Ah, the South Korea prod...

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Not Just Negative Vibes

Lest I be accused of just dumping on the weakly argued or the incoherent, a few articles or opinion pieces worth one's time:

Gerry Curtis - "Japan's Cautious Hawks" - Foreign Affairs

The master. My only quibble is the one I have already highlighted: the suggestion that the Government of Japan give up its current position that no dispute exists as regards the sovereignty of the Senkakus.

Christian Caryl - "Handle with Care" - Foreign Policy

Newsweek's former Japan bureau chief does not offer any challenging concepts but hits all the right buttons.

Fred Hiatt - "Shinzo Abe’s new agenda: Better ties with U.S." - The Washington Post

Credit where credit is due. In the transcript of the Washington Post interview Abe wriggles like a salamander. Hiatt, in his distillation and framing of the interview, pins the salamander down.

Peter Drysdale - "Settling China–Japan territorial problems" - East Asia Forum

Professor Drysdale is correct in pointing out that the depth and volume of Sino-Japanese economic ties mitigate against direct Japan-China conflict, or at least provide a strong argument for the two countries coming together in discussions of a way out of the current standoff over the Senkakus.

Nevertheless, the behavior of Japanese companies and politicians as regards Japanese investment the ASEAN region after the 1997 Asia Currency Crisis indicates the existence of a surprising capacity to pull out of a region, given incentives to do so.

Mark Valencia - "How to prevent a China-Japan clash" -- CNN Global Public Square

Though I normally gag at anything connected to Davos Man, Valencia provides a detailed look at a potential Sino-Japanese incidents-at-sea (INCSEA) agreement. A great idea, except, as I noted in my unkind response to Sourabh Gupta's most recent essay for the East Asia Forum, negotiating and signing agreements are just the beginning. Implementing and sticking to the agreements, in both form and substance -- there are the shoals upon which the ship of entente may founder.

Unclear

Oche, who raised me to love the English language though it was not his native tongue, had a pithy dismissal: "Unclear on the Concept."

That is all I can say when I read Ron Huisken's latest posting to the East Asian Forum, “North Korea's nuclear test." (Link)

Huisken identifies regime security as the DPRK's goal in its nuclear test program. He then suggests that what the other five members of the Six Party Talks should not do is offer the North Koreans regime security.

Huh?

This would be the course of action if the goal were the confusion of the North Koreans.

Would it not be better to get the North Koreans to understand something, namely that

1) they can continue to pursue the goal of a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile, only

2) it is pointless, as no one in the region has a desire to topple the DPRK regime and

3) if they continue their pursuit of this goal, they will end up utterly cut off from the rest of humankind?

The decision as to whether the Stalinist Kim dynastic state lingers on or is replaced should be left up to the North Koreans, based upon their own calculations of national and personal interest.

To be fair, Huisken at least frames his issues correctly and believes in his answers. Sadly, these minimal decencies are too much for some published commentators.

Friday, February 22, 2013

You're Listening To

NPR, Nationanl Public Radio.

Lucy Craft reports. (Link)

Seriously, if I believe the 1947 Constitution and the 1960 Security Arrangements are the most awesome deals the United States and Japan ever had on their plates -- which I do -- then I had better learn how to sell my faith.

Reality, What A Concept

Reuters takes a look at the Abe promises regarding fiscal stimulus through public works, a big par of the first arros of the "Three Arrows" of Abenomics. (Link)

The argument regarding the Yamba Dam is weak. Then again, an explanation of the Yamba Dam project and the difficulties folks have had in killing it requires an tour through the relationship between the central government and the prefectural governments.

It is also refreshing someone giving the Democratic Party of Japan -- at least the pre-Noda Yoshihiko premiership version of the DPJ -- some credit in trying to put a leash on Japan's love affair with concrete.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Abe Shinzo Thought, Without Apologies

In the run up to the December 16 election, Abe Shinzo and the Liberal Democratic Party were coy about the campaign slogan on their official poster. 



"Nihon o, torimodosu" -- "Japan, We'll Take It Back!"

"Take Japan back?" wags asked, arching an eyebrow. "From where? To where?"

One would think that Abe & Company would leave the questions hanging, with no one admitting the darker reading.

One would be wrong.

Here are the last two paragraphs from Abe Shinzo's just released book Atarashii kuni e:
 今回の総選挙で自民党は「日本を、取り戻す。」というスローガンを揚げています。

これは単に民主党政権から日本を取り戻すという意味ではありません。敢えて言うなら、これは戦後の歴史から、日本という国を日本国民の手に取り戻す戦いであります。

In the last general election, the LDP held aloft the slogan, "Japan, We'll Take It Back!"

This does not simply mean taking Japan back from the administration of the Democratic Party of Japan. If I dare say so, it is the fight to return the country called Japan to the hands of the citizens of Japan from out of the grip of postwar history.

[emphasis added]
How much does Abe Shinzo despise post-1945 Japan, that is to say Japan as it is? So much that he seems to not even admit that the country called "Japan" is the actual Japan. He has to qualify, using the locution Nippon to iu kuni -- "the country called Japan" -- because calling Japan "Japan" would be a...travesty?

As for freeing "the country called Japan" from the clutches of postwar history...

A little passage to quote to anyone who tries to peddle the line that Abe Shinzo has mellowed or learned to keep his revisionism private.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mr. Abe's Ostensibly New Book

In preparation for my talk at Temple University Japan next week on the Abe Cabinet (announcement) I have been reading Abe Shinzo's Atarashii kuni e ("Toward a New Country") the 2013 update of Abe's famous Utsukushii kuni e ("Toward a Beautiful Country").

 

"Toward a New Country" is a deeply disturbing and frustrating work.

First and foremost, the expanded edition of Abe Thought does not explain the "new" of "New Country" anymore than the 2006 version explained the "beautiful" of a "Beautiful Country" did. It does not even backtrack and fill us in on what the "beautiful" was.

I am left with my own idiosyncratic understanding of Abe's aesthetic sense, which is to equate Abe's "beautiful" with "fine" in as it is found in Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls:
The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and and I hate very much to leave it.
A beautiful Japan is one worth the fighting for -- a formulation which incepts Abe & Company's maundering about the citizenry's lack of hokori (誇り) and dispenses with the contradiction in between "a beautiful Japan" and the incredible destruction that has been wreaked upon Japan's traditional natural and man-made environments.

Second, the new version of Abe Thought is as reliant on British and American examples as the old one. How can a man be a prime minister of Japan yet in his major opus on his views on how to run his country constantly be talking about Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher?

Abe's reliance on non-Japanese illustrations for his approach to politics must be a feature, not a bug. My guess is that if he used Japanese figures and historical incidents as his touchstones, readers and commentators would have a greater capacity to contest his version of events and lessons learned. By going outside his own tradition, with "Winston Churchill said this and meant this" propositions, Abe is free to make stuff up without anyone calling him on it.

Third, Abe is unreconstructed. Five years after his collapse, three of which were spent as a member of the opposition, and all we get that is "new" is a two page introduction and 19 pages of appendices regarding the December 2012 election manifesto.

As to everything in between, Abe proudly states, "Nothing has changed."

Ah, but the world has changed in the interim...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Senkakus Debate - A Look At An Essay By Sourabh Gupta

Sourabh Gupta is a terribly smart fellow. He is probably the third most effective agenda sweeper I know, behind Unnamed and Our Man in Abiko.

However, the essays he has written for the East Asia Forum have left me feeling flat. I find myself asking, "Is this the best he can do?"

The latest essay, "Japan–China relations: a grand bargain over the Senkaku (Diaoyu) islands" (Link) is the latest disappointment. It starts out with a whimper, then slumps over for a long, painful slouch toward a fantasy dressed in reason's clothing.
The downward spiral in Sino–Japanese relations that was unleashed by the Noda government's purchase last September of three of five uninhabited islands of the Senkaku chain shows no sign of abating.

Arrggggghhhh.

Having regained one’s senses after being bludgeoned by such an opening, one has to ask, "Are the assertions in the above valid?"

The downward spiral shows little signs of abating -- if one disregards the one-on-one meeting New Komeito leader Yamaguchi Natsuo had with Xi Xinping as well as formal visits to China by former prime ministers Hatoyama Yukio and Murayama Tomiichi.

Assigning the onset of the downward spiral to the Noda government's purchase of three islands in September is rich. The Noda government's decision sought to prevent private actors from provoking a bilateral incident, as was the case in the Chinese trawler’s ramming of Japan Coast Guard vessels in 2010. The reactions of the Chinese government and proxies in response to the arrest of the trawler captain were outlandish, with China lauding the captain's piratical behavior. Keeping private actors out of the picture was the obvious impetus for the Japanese government preemptive purchase, after Ishihara Shintaro began collecting funds to buy the islands from their private owner.

Propulsion of the downward trajectory in relations has furthermore been rather one sided. Under normal circumstances, relations deteriorate as two parties trade tit-for-tat actions. Since the island purchase, however, the Japanese government has had to endure a tit-tit-tit-tit-tit-for-tat situation -- albeit not without not ancillary public relations benefits.
Beijing is channelling its annoyance at America’s military entanglement into provocative acts against Japanese forces, including the recent training of fire-control radar on a MSDF warship and a helicopter in the East China Sea, an action which China has denied.

How does Gupta know the deep psychological impulses driving of Chinese behavior? Has he been receiving information from the psychiatrists of Chinese naval commanders and their civilian controllers, in violation of doctor-patient confidentiality?
Politically, Beijing seeks a long-term bilateral understanding that shelves the question of ultimate sovereignty of the Senkakus to an indefinite future.

Beijing already has this understanding. It even has a collaborator in the act of shelving: the United States, which, even though Japan is a treaty ally, refuses to acknowledge Japan as having a definitive claim on the Senkakus.
Rather than let yet another dangerously repetitive farce play out at the time of expiration or buy-out of that lease —held incidentally by a relative of the ex-owner of the three islands — Beijing appears prepared to force the issue of the islands' future dispensation at this time.

Is Gupta arguing we should in some way be thankful for China's provocations coming now rather than later? Probably not...but is that not the implication of the above?

One has wonder what is so dangerous about something being repetitive...and from whose Olympian viewpoint is the Sino-Japanese struggle over the Senkakus "farcical"? The two governments are damn serious about the fight; we should be serious too.
That a dispute exists with regard to the status of the Senkakus should be obvious to all but the unbending.

I do not know what those serving in Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs feel about such language. I would be insulted by an outsider trying to insinuate himself into a discussion with a "we are all reasonable men and women here" gambit.

The anonymous slap at the position held by the Government of Japan is particularly unfortunate, as the rest of the paragraph contains useful information.

The essay reaches its nadir in the succeeding paragraph, here presented with the original links:
In the eyes of international law, neither party has a water-tight case. Japan can confidently assert that, in displaying peaceful and continuous exercise of jurisdiction, it has assiduously protected its claim of evidence of title. Besides, it may be reasonably sure that no international court will have the gumption to strip a sovereign of (disputed) territory that it has administered from a point of time that predates the court's establishment itself. Set against this argument is the fraudulent basis of Tokyo's incorporation of the islands as ‘unclaimed territory’ despite clear knowledge to the contrary, as well as the illegal basis of its formalisation, which was done in secrecy and without public notice. An international court may well hold that an incorporation conducted in the de facto shadow of imperial war victory was exactly that, de jure. That no international case law precedent exists with regard to a territorial dispute between a state and its erstwhile imperial master adds to the unpredictability of the verdict. China’s inability to press, and thereby protect, its claim during the crucial early-1950s to late-1960s period must likewise be seen as a grievous failing.

Let us take on this meal morsel by morsel.

1) "In the eyes of international law, neither party has a water-tight case."

Unfortunately, this is not even wrong. In dispute arbitration, one does not need a water-tight case – just one better than the one the other side has. Japanese diplomats, if you scratch them, will say: "If the Chinese have a case, why do they not take it to the International Court of Justice?"

The answer is, of course, because the Chinese would lose as they have

a) insufficiently pursued refutations of Japan's claim and
b) no evidence of effective administrative control for over 120 years.

2) "Set against this argument is the fraudulent basis of Tokyo's incorporation of the islands as 'unclaimed territory' despite clear knowledge to the contrary..."

Whoa, smile when you say that, pardner.

"Fraudulent" is a word on the precipice. When you say it, you probably should not have as your anchor point a New Zealand university master’s thesis by a Chinese-speaking German law student whose argument hinges upon an extension of a 1998 decision on the borders of Eritrea and Yemen to include the Sino-centric world order as explained to us by John K. Fairbank and others in the 1960s.

3) "as well as illegal basis of its formalisation, which was done in secrecy and without public notice."

"Illegal basis" -- another provocative turn of phrase.

One would wish to know from whence Gupta derived this assertion. Unfortunately the linked article is behind the Wall Street Journal's pay wall.

The author of the WSJ article has submitted a post to Nicholas Kristof's blog making the same claims (Link). Unfortunately the evidence presented in the post is inconclusive. Allusive to be sure, but not conclusive.

If I had the full text of Wall Street Journal article, my lack of enthusiasm might be cured.

4) "An international court may well hold that an incorporation conducted in the de facto shadow of imperial war victory was exactly that, de jure."

If anyone can make head or tails of this sentence, please leave an explanatory comment.

5) "That no international case law precedent exists with regard to a territorial dispute between a state and its erstwhile imperial master…"

At no time in history was Japan the imperial master of China. This sentence is therefore an an unexpected and unannounced irruption of the narrow Taiwan-Japan contretemps, unless there is a new meaning for the word "erstwhile" that I am not privy to.

Gupta's prescription for cooling the fires of nationalism -- Japan's throwing open a discussion over sovereignty by admitting the existence of a dispute -- has a number of highly reputable advocates. The initial popularizer of the idea seems to have been the formidable Togo Katsuhiko. The almost always correct Gerald Curtis, in an brilliant essay he circulated yesterday, concurs with the proposal. (Link)

I hold the extreme view that Japan should concede nothing. Beyond the principle that democracies should never make concessions to tyrannies, China is unlikely to stand by any agreements, gentlemanly or not.

In his conclusion, Gupta tells us:
These elements of a settlement are not too much to hope for. The East China Sea has been an arena of peace and cooperation in the post-normalisation era and bilateral, principles-based arrangements have been concluded in the areas of fisheries, marine scientific research and joint development of oil and gas resources. China's and Japan's friends and alliance partners have every incentive to quietly encourage a similar outcome on the vexed Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute.

I am afraid I am about to rain upon a parade.

The collapse of the joint development of oil and gas is fairly well-known (Link). What is less well-known is the effective collapse of the fisheries agreement.

Last week NHK aired a report on the joint fisheries area. It was an eye-opener.

Have a look at this pair of NASA images, here presented with some snarky overlays.





The area inside the orange line is the joint fisheries area. Japanese fisherman, in an effort to preserve the resource, do not use arc lights. However, Chinese vessels use every means including the luring the fish with giant arc lights -- and by doing so have depleted the resource in the joint area. These giant vessels have little recourse but to congregate along the border of the joint area, seeking schools of fish make the unfortunate decision to swim in from inside Japan's EEZ.

In effect, there is nothing joint about the joint fisheries area. Japanese fisherman have given up trying to secure their share of the catch -- a catch that at present probably only exists in the imaginations of diplomats. (Link – J)

Monday, February 18, 2013

An Exasperated Man

Okumura Jun emailed me immediately after I posted my little look at the assets of the members of the Cabinet. He assailed me for not explaining that the reported value of the real estate holdings was only the barest fraction of the actual market value.

I suggested post the formulae of the actual state of affairs.

He has obliged. (Link)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

More On The North Korean Nuclear Test

Pacific Forum CSIS has posted Muthiah Alagappa's February 13 essay "North Korean Nuclear Test: Implications for Asian Security" (Link). Over at the Foreign Affairs, Dr. Jennifer Lind, who made her reputation studying war apologies, joins with two arms experts to deliver a similar message -- that continuing to pursue CVID (complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement) of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's nuclear program is a pipe dream, as the DPRK is hell bent on developing a nuclear deterrent. (Link)

I agree wholeheartedly with the above authors in calls for pragmatism. The North Koreans are not going to give up their nuclear and missile development programs no matter the incentives.

However, both essays are seriously flaws in their rage at arms control experts. Dr. Muthiah's rubbishing of the non-proliferation regime, its architects and its managers, is borderline deranged:
Nonproliferation enthusiasts contend that accepting the DPRK as a nuclear weapon state would further undermine the NPT regime.This simplistic argument does not bear scrutiny. Throughout its history the NPT regime increased the cost and slowed the spread but did not prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by determined states. Further, there is no rationale for some states to have nuclear weapons and for others to be denied that capability. This is not to argue that “more is better” or that every state that desires it must be free to develop such capability. Those interested in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons must address the demand side of the equation (insecurity) and not just the supply side as is the case with the present NPT. Like all other armaments, nuclear weapons are symptomatic of insecurity not the cause of it.

Accepting reality of nuclear Asia

Contrary to conventional wisdom, nuclear weapons have increased security and stability in Asia though there are also dangers and insecurities that should be addressed. Rather than hide behind the NPT regime and persist with a failed approach, it is time to confront the reality that, broadly defined, Asia has seven of the nine nuclear-weapon states (US, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea). A
determined Iran could well become the eighth nuclear weapon state in Asia and the tenth member of the world nuclear club. The Asian nuclear era is fundamentally different from that of the Cold War.

Not only will the acceptance of North Korea as a nuclear weapons state not disrupt the non-proliferation regime, but the non-proliferation regime has been ineffective, and it's unfair, but unfair is not all bad, and it's not Asia aware...whaaaaaat?

As for Dr. Lind's essay, she and her co-authors attack a straw man. None but a fool -- and the folks who tackle the proliferation of nuclear weapons and rocket systems are not fools -- would argue that the DPRK's nuclear test program is a bargaining chip. It is a complex knot of drives, aspirations and hard science -- immensely useful for the DPRK and immensely difficult to halt precisely because it is not just one thing.

Yes, arms control experts are annoying in their rectitude -- but it is because arms control experts have to be. They are trying to keep a lid on the most dangerous objects humankind has ever made.

I am still looking for the essay offering the synthesis -- one acknowledging that the DPRK's pursuit of a nuclear deterrent is intrinsic to geo-strategic and political situation of North Korea and insisting that non-proliferation and disarmament are fundamental to the human project.

Later - This post has been edited for clarity.

More On East Asia's Aristocracies

While political dynasties are a perverse development in democracies around the world, the case of East Asia is alarming. I have posted briefly and unremarkably here and here on the topic, which deserves far more attention. Over at the East Asian Forum, Julius Trajano and Yoes Kenawas bring me up to speed on the political dynasty situation in the Philippines, which I was aware of, and in Indonesia, which I was not (Link). Their analysis of the causes of dynasty formation and their proposed solutions indicate a parochial focus, though, rather than a broad-based comparative approach.

A big book to be written, or big conference to be organized. Problem: who will fund a deep look into such a discomforting subject?

Back in this blessed land, the members of the Cabinet revealed their assets yesterday, with caveats. As the Wall Street Journal reports, members of Abe II are by and large significantly better off than the members of the Noda Cabinet. (Link)

My morning dead-tree news delivery device devoted a full page to the members of the Cabinet and their holdings:


I had always wondered what was the juice behind Inada Tomomi, the card-carrying Friend of Shinzo and lawyer whose leaden pronouncements of doom have been a page-filler of the right wing press for the past decade. The answer seems to be her husband's diversified equity holdings and a bewildering number of small Tokyo rental properties the couple co-own.

In terms of landholdings, the very wealthy Taro Aso (whose dandyism is now a subject international commentary) and Prime Minister Abe Shinzo are the barons. In terms of number and variety of declared holdings, however, National Safety Commissioner and Abe family retainer Furuya Keiji puts all other Cabinet members to shame. He lists 62 real estate holdings, 9 of which are of less than 10 meters square. Three of his listed properties are only 1 square meter in size (total assessed value = 60,000 yen) while nine parcels of forest and field land are given an accounting value of zero (which means that the parcel is worth less than the cutoff point of 10,000 yen).

The person with the shortest report is, unsurprisingly, child of dire poverty Shimomura Hakubun. His holdings are not just small, but sadly unimaginative: his home, 200 million in bank savings accounts and 60 million in postal savings. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide and State Minister for Declining Birthrate and Consumer Affairs Mori Masako, two of the Cabinet's coolest and most celebral members, are also asset-light.

Winners of the "we know what the rules are" awards are the earnest sons of privilege Sadagaki Tanigaki and Ishihara Nobuteru, both of whom list savings accounts with the guaranteed amount in them -- and not one yen more.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Holding The Line In North Korea


The Democratic People's Republic of Korea's detonation of a nuclear test device on Tuesday caught folks off guard. The test itself was, of course, not unexpected -- the preparations having been visible from space for weeks. Not inexplicable either was the timing of the test -- just hours before President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address, where an act of North Korean defiance would have maximum impact on the U.S. national conversation, and a safe few days before the anniversary of the birth of leader Kim Jong-un's father, Kim Jong-il (a.k.a., the Day of the Shining Star).

As for the detonation, my feelings are congratulatory -- as in "Congratulations, DPRK. You have replicated the technological sophistication of the United States of the late 1940s, at the cost of only the loss of membership in the family of humankind and most of the basic necessities of human life."

In order to keep a sense of proportion about the North Korean regime, one needs to adopt an attitude of sad resignation. Fearful of the outside world and of each other, the North Koreans pursue a weapons capability with the very reasonable goal of putting their enemies at a risk level equal to the one the DPRK faces. Of course, each step in the direction of such a capability boxes the leadership in more and more. Eventually the DPRK will produce, Amaterasu knows when, a nuclear-tipped long-range ballistic missile. What is certain is by that time they do they will be working on it by candlelight, chewing on leather for the flavor.

Japan and its U.S. ally are demanding a reversal of the programs building toward a North Korean nuclear-tipped ICBM. Given the fundamental insecurity of the DPRK regime, both on psychological and politico-economic grounds, such demands are ludicrous. The best anyone could hope for is a suspension of ongoing research & development -- and the only way that could happen would be if all in the United States collectively declared themselves utterly terrified by the awesome capabilities of the mighty and legitimate Kim regime.


Of course, for reasons of both politics and sanity, the United States cannot play the role of the elephant terrified of the mouse. Instead the U.S. plays the role of the exasperated adult, scolding the misbehaving child:
"...the Government of North Korea should abandon and dismantle its provocative ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs, cease its proliferation activities, and come into immediate compliance with all United Nations Security Council resolutions and its commitments under the 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks"
Yes, the DRPK should do these things, in order that the world might be more convenient for a hyperpower with a short attention span. Funny thing, though, the leaders of the DPRK will not do what they should, and moreover would not be leaders for very long if they did.

My thinking on the need for greater realism as to North Korea's nuclear and missile programs is best reflected in the recent essay by Dr. Muthiah Alagappa, "North Korean Nuclear Test: Implications for Asian Security," published by PacNet (no URL for the essay yet - but the PacNetters assure me that there will be one soon). At the same time, I am sympathetic to the Nth country problem outlined by Dr. Jeffrey Lewis in his essay "Friends with Benefits" published by Foreign Policy last week (Link -- the South Koreans did what in 2000?!?). Indeed, I am on record at the same publication for concern pre-election about Japan's capacity to become a Nth nation, a view which earned me the scorn, probably deserved, of Dr. Michael Green. (Link)

And the above image? It is a shot through the glass at the Perry Hall in Kurihama (Link - J) of an 1854 woodcut showing a fearful and tear-stained Commodore Matthew C. Perry and his similarly awe-stricken and crying officers cringing in terror as they present a letter from U.S. king Millard Fillmore to the mighty magistrate (bugyo) of Uraga.

When it comes to surrealist, seemingly delusional misrepresentations of one's country's stature in international affairs (Link) pretty much everyone's been there, done that.

Just remember what happened to the bakufu that greenlighted the above representation of Japan's place in the world.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ibuki Bunmei's Anachronistic Madness

Ibuki Bunmei (Kyoto District #1, 9 elections to the Diet, 75 years of age) is the Speaker of the House of Representatives. His appointment to the post just over a month ago, a reward for his having supported Abe Shinzo in the Liberal Democrat Party presidential contest, represents an insult to the people of Japan.

Because is it poor form to separate the act of speaking from the acts of thinking or feeling.

Ibuki gave ample evidence of the threat his mouth poses to common sense and common decency in lecture to a study group for LDP politicians in Gifu City on February 9. Given the national discussion over corporal punishment in light of the suicide of a star student at Osaka’s Sakuranomiya’s high school (Link) and the forced resignation of the women's national judo coach for having beaten, kicked and otherwise abused his charges (Link), the party's views of corporal punishment came up.

Ibuki decided he should add his voice to the national conversation. Here are verbatim translations of some of the statements Ibuki made:
"If we forbid corporal punishment, education becomes impossible."

In response to an attendee's comment that "in order to raise a human being, there are times when, from the time of childhood, beatings must be administered," Ibuki replied, "My thinking is close to yours."

When asked how corporal punishment could become a problem, Ibuki suggested, "Because there has not been a clear establishment of why corporal punishment has been included. There are too many persons who do not come to the conclusion that it has been included as the expression of the affection of one who wants [the children] to become admirable human beings or athletes. It has been said that corporal punishment is being condoned, and it is troublesome that teachers appear who have seemingly been transformed into sadists. In sum, it is the polishing of human beings."

I know what you are thinking, "Please, no more of this. This is insane."

We must press on, however:
"Nowadays, if you use even a little [corporal punishment] fathers and mothers come into the school, shouting. How much love do these parents have for their children, I wonder?"

That's right. If an adult at your child's school slaps your child -- or slaps your child 30 or 40 times -- and you go to the school in a rage, you possibly do not really love your child.

Q: What ministerial portfolio did Ibuki Bunmei hold the last time Abe Shinzo was prime minister?

Is this even a question? (Link)

Yes, nausea is the proper physical response.

That and the thought, "Ibuki-san, I have an idea. Let us test your theory of education and sporting excellence. I will stand next to you with a baseball bat. Every time you say something I find stupid, I club you with the bat. If I find your movements kind of awkward or slow, I club you with the bat.

Amaterasu how I love you. Let the polishing begin!"

Unfortunately, as the statement above by one of the attendees at Saturday's meeting indicates, the theory that corporal punishment has no value in education is off the radars of the political classes – save those among those damn Socialists and Communists and their sympathizers in the ranks of teachers and children's day care center specialists, of course.

As for the latter, when would these public servants have the time to learn how to mold children into persons of great worth, given that they waste their days trying to teach children to get along with others and take care of themselves -- oh and the official curriculum too?

Seriously, where do people like Ibuki Bunmei come from? The past, yes. Any reason why they cannot stay there?

---------------------------------
Sources:

The Asahi Shimbun
http://www.asahi.com/national/update/0209/NGY201302090008.html

Chugoku Shimbun
http://www.chunichi.co.jp/s/article/2013020990233525.html

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Abe Cabinet's Ratings Continue Their Climb

Oy!

Link - J

Link - video - J

With support for the Abe Cabinet above the 70% line, Washington will not likely seeing a pliant or self-critical Abe Shinzo next week -- despite Abe's having no gifts to pull out of his travel bag

- no progress on the construction of a replacement facility for the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station

- no change in Japan's relationship with South Korea

- no meaningful promise regarding participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Indeed, one should expect the Abe stance vis-a-vis the Americans will be, "You may think you know what you want. However, you do not know what you want. What you really want is what I want."

One Tiny Little Word

Today is a national holiday, Day in Commemoration of the Founding of the Country (Kenkoku kinen no hi).

But wait...what is that no doing there? Why is today not just the more compact and natural "National Foundation Day" (kenkoku kinenbi)?

Funny thing about this holiday...it was promulgated in the Meiji period to honor the beginning of the rule of the Yamato line of emperors. Occupation authorities abolished the holiday. It was resurrected (after a whole lot of tries) in 1966.

The catch was (and is) that the name of the resurrected holiday acknowledges the mythological status of the official date of the founding of the nation. There can be no "National Foundation Day" per se - just a date commemorating that founding.

Hence the insertion of the no in there. A Euro-American equivalent would be to have December 25 called "Day of Christmas" rather than "Christmas Day" -- which is a far more reasonable construction, given the ahistoricity of that celebration.

One can no longer assume that Japanese governments will honor history by making this distinction between the real and the mythical. The changing of the name of today's holiday is not among the promises made in the Liberal Democratic Party's most recent manifesto. However eliminating that niggling no is surely on the reactionary movement's to-do list. With the Abe Cabinet's approval ratings now above 70% and the Chinese government doing its darndest to boster Abe's claims that Japan faces an existential crisis, few and quavering would be the voices raised in protest of the extraction of that tiny, but oh so significant, little word.



Saturday, February 09, 2013

Keeping An Eye On Ishiba Shigeru

Abe Shinzo should be in the clover right now. His cabinet and the Liberal Democratic Party are basking in high and rising popularity ratings. The LDP's nominal rival, the Democratic Party of Japan is in disarray on both the policy and public relations fronts. Abe's continued striking of poses dear to the right wing, albeit not when he is on center stage, steals the thunder of Ishihara Shintaro-Hashimoto Toru's Japan Restoration Association. Unless a set of scandals emerges to debilitate Abe II the same way the Matsuoka office accounts and pension records scandals did in Abe I, the man from Minami Azabu Choshu seems set to rule this land for a long time.

However, Abe cannot sit in complete comfort...and not for the reason you are thinking.

Despite the heavy presence of Friends of Shinzo in cabinet and sub-cabinet posts (for a fright, check out Asia Policy Point's translations of the prime minister's daily schedule -- Link -- for the amount of time the PM spends in the company of Seko Hiroshige, the holder of the title of "Stupidest Man To Ever Serve In The Kantei" until Hirano Hirofumi wrested it from him in 2009) Abe has only a tenuous hold over the party membership. It is not by coincidence that where there are not Friends of Shinzo one finds Faction Heads Who See Abe As A Means Of Furthering Their Own Goals.

Abe led the LDP to victory in the December election. However, it was with candidates approved by the Tanigaki Sadakazu-Ishihara Nobuteru leadership regime, which, given Tanigaki's arrested adolescence, means that the freshmen are most likely tacit Ishihara Nobuteru partisans.

In July, Abe will again be leading his party into a battle, this time for control of the House of Councillors -- a battle he is sure to win. However, the new faces and many of the old faces in the races will likly again not be beholden to Abe. Instead they will likely be quiet allies of Abe's second-in-command and rival, Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru.

Abe beat Ishiba for the LDP presidency in a runoff election last September in a count of just the votes of the then shrunken LDP Diet membership. Ishiba had won the first round where the votes of the local party chapters were included. Appointing Ishiba the party's secretary-general was necessary from the standpoint of maintaining party unity. However, from the standpoint of controlling the levers of party power, the move made zero sense ("Appoint the guy I beat on points to run the party while I have my hands tied running the government? Great idea!").

Abe has not been negligent as to the threat Ishiba poses. He has declared, as he did in 2006, the status of the post of chairman of the Elections Strategy Committee (Senkyo taisaku iinkai) to be equal to that of the posts of secretary-general, policy research council chairman and general council chairman, turning the sanyaku into the yonyaku. He has appointed fellow Yamaguchi Prefecture member Kawamura Takeo to the newly elevated position.

Though the election measures chair may now be the nominal equal of the secretary-general, responsibility for the outcome of elections remains with the secretary-general. It is difficult to imagine that the PM or his proxy Kawamura will prevail in a contest with Ishiba over candidate selection.

Those whom Ishiba cannot choose directly he can buy -- since the position of secretary-general also gives him control of the party's purse strings.

One of the major stumbling blocks between Ishiba and greater power, however, is unity of the faction heads and former faction heads in support of Abe -- even when as individuals they have had serious policy disagreements with the current party president (yes Komura Masahiko, I am talking about you).

Which makes a pair of proposals put forth at the February 6th meeting of the LDP Political System Reform Headquarters (Seiji seido kaikaku honbu) most interesting.

The body, chaired by Aizawa Ichiro, a fellow alumnus of former Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko's in the Matsushita Institute of Management and Government's inaugural class, has proposed:

1) the move of all faction offices into the main LDP headquarters building, and

2) the banning of factional
a) searches for new candidates,

b) education of newly elected members of the Diet,

3) financial support for election losers,

4) distribution of party and government posts

(Link - J)
A list to which a faction head might respond drily, "Ummm, anything else you do not want us to do?"

Proposals to defang the factions have been tabled before, most importantly by former prime minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro, and reforms of the party structure have been undertaken that have weakened the influence of factions. Asking for the utter dismantlement of factions, the gist of the above proposals, is a serious throwing down of the gauntlet. The party is only just emerging from its longest, darkest period of relative weakness. An attack upon the party's structure coming from within after a major electoral victory is extraordinary.

While we are on the subject of Koizumi Jun'ichiro and factions, Koizumi Shinjiro (Koizumi Version 4.0), a better, if it can be believed, politician than his father (and so handsome he melts camera lenses), so controls the LDP's Youth Division (Seinen kyoku) as to be a defacto faction leader -- with a base of followers (81 Diet members are members of the Youth Division) that puts him at the front line of party powers.

A rising power that Ishiba hopes, possibly against hope, to coopt. (Link - J)

Not bad for a guy with a whopping two elections to the Diet.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Meanwhile, In Osaka

Just now, at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Osaka, China National Champion Song Nan skated a vibrant short program. The crowd clapped along in time to the Middle Eastern music, the only time the crowd has engaged itselt in a performance tonight. When Song finished, rising up from the ice with his fists raised, the crowd responded, giving him a standing ovation -- the first of the evening.

The common run of inhabitants of this blessed land know how to behave.

Lest I Be Misunderstood

Your continued attacks on Abenomics is awful...

These attacks have been the worst part of following your blog.

I am grateful for readers willing to tell me that I am full of crap (and possibly full of myself).

As for Abenomics, I will keep hacking away until I get an explanation of the program that I, a layman in every sense of the word, can believe in.

One of the few benefits of being on the wrong side of life's great divide (where the number of sunrises ahead is fewer than those already seen) is that one has locked away a fine personal collection of flim-flams, frauds, gyps, rip offs, shafts and scams to consult whenever someone offers simple solutions to complex problems.

All collections are eclectic, though, which is why I ask readers to smack me down whenever I misapprehend.

As for Abe Shinzo, the man, I worry about him. I sincerely do.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Dr. Krugman Expands Upon His Idea

In response to calls for clarification by persons as ignorant as myself, Dr. Paul Krugman has explained his support for Abenomics.

Krugman's argument, and it seems a good one, is that Japan is in a liquidity trap, where the optimum real interest rate, where savings and investment intersect, is negative. Unfortunately, with deflation and nominal interest rates at the zero bound, there is no way for conventional monetary policy to generate the optimal real interest rate. (Link and, as background, Link)

The answer is government-policy driven inflation, with allows the economy to achieve the desired intersection of savings and investment.

Ignoramuses such as myself may still not accept the story, convinced that the Abe program as simply the taking advantage of of the patience of Japan's bond holders. If Japan's debt were held more broadly and domestic financial institutions were not stuffed to the gills on Japanese paper, leaving them hostages to their own capital bases, it is unlikely for any of these fiscal and monetary shenanigans would fly.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

The Unwritten Essay On Japan's Judo Crisis

This Guardian story on the crisis in Japanese judo is a good start. (Link)

However, the story of purported mentors and leaders succumbing to the spell of committing acts of violence upon young athletes should be expanded further, including:

- politicians getting caught flat-footed, with Minister of Education Shimomura Hakubun having to deal both on the level of sport and education with adult-on-child violence, not the child-on-child bullying violence he has his nostrums for...and all reactionary politicians trying to feel their way around what is the national consensus on corporeal punishment (taibatsu)

- Hashimoto Toru's sudden swerve into absolutism against violence in the Sakuranomiya High School case, seemingly only after he realized the case could be used in his war against the Osaka City school board

- the role of gaiatsu still seems to play in reform, with the international judo federation and the International Olympic Committee putting pressure on the Japan national judo federation to go beyond its earlier investigations and disciplinary measures

- how quickly the Japan Olympic Committee, desperate to win the 2020 Olympics for Tokyo, simply overran the national judo foundation in bringing the scandal to light and forcing resignations

- the role the internationalization of judo, with the continued blind eye being shown to the spoiling techniques Japanese judo despises, has played in pushing Japanese judoka to overcompensate with pure aggression (Ever watch Matsumoto Kaori, Japan's only gold medalist in London, psyche herself up?)

- the national crisis that already existed in the provision of judo instructors for youngsters, after the passage (when guess who was in charge) of an education reform bill that blindly made the learning of a martial art mandatory - without anyone having checked beforehand whether there were enough teachers trained in the teaching of children or that the martial art could even be practiced safely (Link)

Judo is a Japanese sport enwrapped in a host of mystical and ahistorical associations that has gone global. No need for a hook.

Tell Me What I Do Not Understand About Toyota Motors

Newscasts a day ago breathlessly announced that Toyota Motors this year will be booking a profit, on an unconsolidated basis (Link -J), for the first time in five years. In a press conference, Toyota Senior Managing Officer Ijichi Takahiko attributed the booking of a profit to the Abe government's economic proposals, adding for effulgence's sake, "Ever since the new government took control, it feels as though Japan is filled with the spirit for economic revival." (Link)

What the above tells me is that Toyoda Akio is a dedicated car maker and an atrocious businessman, surrounded by toadies pretending to be businessmen.

An automobile manufacturer should be in the business of manufacturing automobiles for a profit. It should not be a currency play. If the company makes money based on the fall of the yen relative other currencies -- a shift in market sentiments that no one at the company has any control over -- then something is very wrong. Rather than crowing about a profit, the company should be burying the news, embarrassed at its good fortune.

Toyota Motors is a global company, or is at least portrayed as one. At a normal global manufacturing company, however, volatility in currencies is mostly zeroed out in either one of two ways:

1) in the short term by the use of derivatives

2) in the long term in a globalized supply chain and localized plants

Of course, extreme currency events cannot be entirely hedged. However, most of the shifts should be covered.

What Toyota executives seem to be admitting is that their corporation is neither financially sophisticated nor properly globalized (the company having a much higher percentage of its manufacturing base in Japan than its rivals). Indeed, they seem gleeful in this admission.

I have worried about Toyoda's management of Japan Inc.'s marquee corporation ever since he engineered the coup ousting Watanabe Katsuaki as president. The line Toyoda used to lever Watanabe out -- we have expanded too fast and lost sight of the business of making cars -- was absurd in light of the losses having been the result of the Great Recession. Toyoda's expedient excuse came back to haunt the company in the ludicrous lawsuits and U.S. Congressional hearings over mythical unintended acceleration problems, due, according to Toyoda's testimony, Toyota's having expanded too fast and lost sight of the business of making cars. (Link)

Now Toyota executives seem to be saying that if it were not for Abe Shinzo, they would not be able to run the company at a profit.

Tell me: am I too cynical, talking out of my hat or just plain stupid?

Later - Sorry about the typos. A bit of a wild morning this morning.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

A Little List Of Labor, Love

The Economist Buttonwood blog has posted a table published by Denis Chavez of Research Affiliates (inexplicably attributed to Chris Brightman) of the net labor workforce ratio -- the number of persons 20-64 years of age minus number of the number of those 65 years and older divided into the total population.


(Link)

While I do not buy the analysis accompanying the table, it is nice to see someone as having done the calculations showing the basic pointlessness of Abenomics. Economic growth will require more people working doing meaningful work. Neither the stimulus bills nor the new Bank of Japan monetary policy will attack this issue.

I do admit surprise at the healthy bulge in the 2010 net labor workforce figure for China, given the one child policy and increases in longevity. Perhaps the Chinese economy has a few more years of growth in it after all.


Memory Of Kabuki Greats Passed

Kabuki great Ichikawa Danjuro XII passed away two days ago. The cause of death was pneumonia. He was 66.

Danjuro XII's death comes two months after the death at age 57 of Nakamura Kanzaburo XVIII, another towering figure of kabuki's revival and transformation. These two greats have passed away in what are the years normally spent training the next generation of actors. The brothers and sons of these two men will have to carry on their program of expanding the reach of the tradition through their brilliant performances as guides -- but without the lights and wills that heretofore guided the expansion.

The deaths of two giants withing such a brief span of time also casts a shadow of superstition over the demolitions and rebuilding of the Kabukiza. The latest iteration of the building will enter into service with a curse.

Actors and actresses of the stage and screen have entered politics but with uneven success. Screen lightweights Aoshima Yukio, Morita Kensaku and Higashikokubaru Hideo have all become governors, for example. Ishihara Shintaro's career as a political maverick has been boosted by the public relations savvy and drawing power of the "Ishihara Army" -- the stable of handsome actors managed by the agency founded by Shintaro's brother, screen superstar Ishihara Yujiro.

However, the wattage of the stage and cinema lights has not translated into power in Japanese parliamentary politics -- a disconnect that should concern Ishihara and Higashikokubaru, who are both now members of the House of Representatives. No actor has ever been close to a top-level government job, nor held the top job itself, as has been the case in the United States and the Philippines.

Former hoofer Ogi Chikage seems to risen the highest. She served out the second half of her last term as president of the House of Councillors, kicking tails whenever she felt it worth her while.

Kabuki actors, however, have had a particular role in parliamentary politics as party attractions. The presence of a kabuki actor at these formalized festivities gave the wretched affairs some pizazz, without the star power of the actors upstaging the important business of politics. Danjuro XII was a fixture in the political world, with the patron-client-friend relationship bringing benefits to both. It is not surprising that former prime ministers Mori Yoshiro and Koizumi Jun'ichiro paid their respects at the Ishikawa home yesterday.

I have never been to an adult kabuki performance (Children's outdoor kabuki is another story). I thought at first that I had missed a chance to see either of the two recently departed greats in person.

Then I remembered that I had seen Danjuro XII once -- at a fundraising party for Kosaka Kenji in 2007.

I did not have a camera capable of capturing an image from across a vast, dark hall of the great one delivering his humble address, Mr. and Mrs. Kosaka standing stiffly to his right.

My only personal memory is a blur.

Monday, February 04, 2013

So South Korean and Japanese Governments Do Not Get Along

To what extent does the policy community of the United States understand that the presence of U.S. forces in East Asia creates incentives for the governments of South Korea and Japan to not resolve their differences -- and that Japan-South Korea tensions are indicators of a relatively benign security environment?

What would prompt Japan and South Korea to lay aside or better yet tackle their disputes over Dokdo, the sex slaves of the Japan Imperial Forces (a.k.a. the "comfort women") and the history of the colonial period?

a) China turning truly evil and dangerous

b) Russia turning truly evil and dangerous

c) North Korea having a truly crazy government and important military capabilities

d) the U.S. really pulling its forces out of the region

As for d), those ruling Japan and South Korea have done the math. If the governments and elites of the two countries get along, then Washington's dreaded "burden sharing" kicks in. If the two sides remain divided, U.S. forces have to stay in the region in pretty much their current form and numbers -- which is not only what the democratic governments of South Korea and Japan want (cheaper, it is) but what all persons of sense inside China want, a massive U.S. presence restraining the crazies inside the PRC from doing anything really stupid.

So the collapse last year of the intelligence sharing agreement in between Japan and South Korea (Link)? An opportunity to mess matters up mercifully missed.

A pulling back from the pantomime dispute over the sovereignty of Dokdo? To be avoided.

Work hard to stop Japanese textbook publishers to stop using weasel words in descriptions of the colonial period and South Koreans to stop playing the historical victim card? Probably not the best use of one's time.

On the matter of the sexual slavery, those who are the guardians of Japan's interests should, but probably will not, present the options on what to do to the people of Japan. For the governments, the incentives are not in favor of reconciliation. Individual citizens of free societies are perhaps incentivized differently.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Sweeter Than Honey

Thanks to commenter Graham Leonard, I now have the Ur-text of the "land surrounding the Imperial Palace was worth more than the land of California" chestnut.

From The Economist of 16 July 1988:
The party's over
Land values in Tokyo are coming down

"TOKYO - The nominal value of all the land in Japan is $1,200 trillion-two and a half times that of the whole of America. For the price of Tokyo and the province of Kanagawa, you could buy America once. The land taken up by the Imperial Palace, in the centre of Tokyo, is worth one California. For the price of a square metre at the Ginza crossing, the epicentre of Tokyo's fashion and expense-account entertainment district ((¥60m or $450,000), an Englishman or an American could buy a luxury home.

Prices have been driven to these ludicrous levels by four years of frenetic speculation..." (Link)
Thanks to Mr. Leonard, my heart is at peace.

However, it is thanks to The Economist that the corners of my eyes are crinkled with joy this morning. I have not been the only one unaware of from whence the anecdote comes.

From The Economist of 11 October 2007:
Back from the grave
It has taken 16 years for commercial-property inflation in Japan to turn positive

THERE was a time when the price of the land surrounding Japan's Imperial Palace (about the size of Disneyland) was said to be worth more than the whole of California. Apocryphal, surely, but it summed up the hype during Japan's property bubble in the late 1980s. When prices plunged—by as much as 80% in two years—it took the economy more than a decade to emerge blinking out of the bomb crater. Only now is Japanese commercial property showing renewed signs of life. (Link)

I must admit, I cannot recall much of what I have posted here. I had completely forgotten, for example, having taken the time to produce this.

Still, "I am the source of my own apocrypha!" is a battle cry for a new era of cheerful forgetfulness.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Blegging You Please

- I want to listen to speeches at The University of British Columbia symposium of 23 January 2013 on the results of the 16 December 2012 election and the outlook for the Abe Cabinet. However, every time I try to access the site:

http://mediasitemob1.mediagroup.ubc.ca/Mediasite/Play/ce434facbb64415aa8cd5c2ef4a17d2e1d

the video feed crashes about two seconds after start up.

I have contacted the folks at UBC and they find nothing wrong at their end.

Does anyone have a guess as to what could be causing the crashing?


- Listening to Dr. Ed Lincoln's 2011 (?) Temple University Institute of Contemporary Asia Studies (ICAS) talk on Tokyo as an international financial hub (Link) I realized:

a) Though I have heard the "at one time in the late 1980s the assessed value of the land under the Imperial Palace was greater than the assessed value of all the real estate in California" statement dozens of times, I have no idea whether or not it is true.

Does anyone know of the ultimate origins of this anecdote? What organization, if any, did the assessment of the Imperial Palace's land value -- and on what basis?

I am tired of hearing this chestnut without knowing its origin.

b) Dr. Lincoln is fine up until he gets to the "this is why things are the way they are" part of the presentation. Then he hits the rocks.

I dare not listen to his recommendations, as I might try to loft something into low-earth orbit.

Of course, if not for Ed Lincoln's and Clyde Prestowitz's Asian Wall Street Journal op-ed encouraging Koizumi Jun'ichiro to not just resign as prime minister and call elections but to leave the LDP -- published on the 344th of what was to be Koizumi's 1980 days as prime minister -- Shisaku would not exist.

I leave it to the readers to decide whether the annoyance I felt at that op-ed has had a constructive result.

ICAS is the host and sponsor of my 28 February 2013 talk on the Abe Administration. Email icas@tuj.temple.edu for details.


Later - Thank you for all the suggestions regarding viewing the UBC conference. I found it runs on Explorer but freezes up when I use Chrome.