Thursday, August 21, 2014

Golf Is Just A Four Letter Word

It is 4:35 a.m. I am wondering whether the paper man has left my morning paper in the mailbox.

Yes, I still get news the old fashioned way. Though perhaps not for long, for as of August 1, the Tokyo Shimbun has electronic delivery.

If and when I do go downstairs, I will turn to the inner pages, ignoring the immense tragedy in my old hometown, the humble city of Hiroshima.

One of the ignored aspects of the rural-vs-urban struggle in Japan is the number of medium-sized cities like Hiroshima with insanely high quality of life. Hiroshima is a modern city, with a reasonable economic mix and a fairly stable outlook where hiking trails and verdant seclusion are a 30 minutes's walk from midtown. Unlike most of Tokyo and the central Kanto, the mid-sized cities have retained, like Kamakura and Zushi, the forested hills, sending green fingers deep into the residential and even business areas.

It was, of course, these hillsides that came crashing down on the valley floor housing in the downpour two days ago.

But I digress.

My purpose in going downstairs would be to open the paper to the inner folds, where, in a tiny feature, the full listing of the prime minister's day yesterday will be printed. The PM is on vacation right now, up at his villa in the lakes region of Yamanashi Prefecture. Vacation time means barbecue, hanging out with allies, working out the details of the September 3 Cabinet reshuffle and golf.

Lots of golf.

Damn near daily rounds of golf.

Monday was an exception. The PM and Akie-sama spent the morning at the villa, with probably a smattering of security officers and aides milling about. Just after lunch the PM went for a soak at the local hot springs, coming home just after 3 p.m.

Just before 5, the pace at the villa kicked up into another gear entirely. Tanaka Kazuho, the head of the Ministry of Finance's budget bureau, showed up in advance of what an early (5:36 - probably a barbecue) dinner of with Abe and his aides. The group was joined at 5:43 by Honda Etsuro, one of Abe's two main economics advisors and a fervent critic of Finance Ministry thinking fiscal consolidation. Discussion of next year's budget and the economic outlook, with probably a pretty intense debate over the advisability of a further rise of the consumption tax went on for hours afterward. Most of the guests left just after 10:30, with Honda the last to leave at 10:47.

Those of the "growth first/tax rise whenever" persuasion might want to take heart in Honda's having the last ten minutes of the prime minister's attention to himself and presumably the last word on the subject of the consumption tax rise.

However, Prime Minister Abe in his second run has been extremely savvy as regards the management of personnel. Giving special attention to an advisor is just as often an indicator that Abe will be ignoring that advisor's counsel as he will be taking special heed of it. Remember that in the midst of the initial staged "debate" on whether or not to go forward with the rise of the consumption tax, Abe made the time to have a private lunch with Honda and Hamada Ko'ichi, the PM's other big economics advisor who like Honda was against the 3% jump in the consumption tax scheduled for April this year. Abe gave the pair a big chunk of face time. In the end it seems it was only so the two would not feel humiliated by their inevitable defeat in the rigged contest of ideas.

Knowing how to let people down without alienating them: a really important skill for someone wishing to stay in power a long time.

Just to hammer home the point on collegiality and remaining friends, the next day the prime minister and Akie-sama brought Honda, Tanaka, and Hie Hisashi, the CEO of Fuji Television, together for a round of golf.

In the evening, the PM attended what one should call, I suppose, the gathering of the tribe at the villa of Sasakawa Yohei, the head of the Nippon Zaidan. Also at the dinner pow wow were:

Former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro
METI Minister Motegi Toshimitsu
Senior Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kishi Nobuo (also the PM's brother)
Senior Vice Minister Nishimura Yasutoshi
Cabinet Parliamentary Secretary Kato Katsunobu
Representative Hagiuda Ko'ichi (the PM's August 15 offering carrier to Yasukuni, just like last year)
Representative Yamamoto Yuji

as well as Fuji TV's Hie-san.

The PM arrived back at the villa from the party just after 10 p.m.

Rounds of golf occupied most of the PM's waking hours on the weekend as well. On the first day of his vacation, Saturday the 16th, Abe was out on the golf course with his closest political aides. Why he should spend his first day off with all the same persons he spends his every working day with is beyond me (then again, much is beyond me).In the evening he had dinner with his mother and his wifein the restaurant of a members only resort hotel.

Considering the ludicrous packing of Abe schedule the day before, the end-of-war day (no, he did not have his hair done after the memorial service like last year) his kicking back and hanging out with his family and underlings on his first day of what is projected to be a near postwar record length prime ministerial summer vacation deserves an "OK, so he's kind of dull" shrug.

The next day, Sunday the 16th, was a full day of Abe 2.0 recreation strategy at its purest. In the morning the PM was on the golf course with:

Chairman of Nippon Keidanren, former chairman of Toray Industries Sakakibara Sadayuki

Former chairman of the Nippon Keidanren (Sakakibara's predecessor but one), chairman and CEO of Canon Mitarai Fujio

Honorary advisor and former CEO, JX Holdings Watari Fumiaki

Wait a minute, you might be saying, each of these hefty executives has made his name in the past few years using his position to preserve/resurrect the foreign investor-suspicious, government coddled and coddling Japan Inc. big business model. Does a foursome like this one not send a terrible message to the outside world what kind of economy Abe favors? Is not Abe also setting himself up for having a very skewed view of his country's path forward, too?

Yes and yes.

Dinner in the evening was a relatively restrained affair, with the PM and Akie-sama joining Hie-san and Kato-san for dinner at a French dining area of the Hotel Mount Fuji.

Wait a minute, longtime readers of this blog might be again saying, this is exactly the same group of cronies and power brokers Abe vacationed with last year. (Link)


Indeed, in his first four days of vacation, Abe has spent quality time with virtually all of his tight circle of cronies and family member. And basically no one but his cronies and family members.

Which is why I am itching to go downstairs and fetch the paper, to find out the answer to my impertinent question:

"OK, but does the prime minister have any new friends?"


But upon picking my newspaper up, and checking the political news, I learn that yesterday for Abe, like for Mori before him, golf became a four letter word. (Link - J video)

N.B. The title is an allusion to the Robert Allen Zimmerman song making an even more provocative assertion. (Link)

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