Monday, December 19, 2005

Beyond all logical explanation...

I had been hoping to write something intelligent and insightful to counterbalance my childish labeling of photographs from last week's East Asia Summit.

Then my friend BJM sent me the link to this JMSDF recruiting video and my brain melted.

You will need to turn up the volume on your speakers for the full effect.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Personal Effects of Nashimoto Itsuko

The Tobacco and Salt Museum is holding a special exhibition of the personal effects of Princess Itsuko of Nashimoto.

Who was Princess Itsuko?

Born in Italy in 1882, she was the daughter of Nabeshima Naohiro, the 11th of the Nabeshima line of Saga daimyos. Her mother, the formidable Marchioness Nabeshima, was one of the belles of the Rokumeikan (one of her ballroom gowns is on display) and later the president of the Japan Red Cross.

At 19 Itsuko, one of the most beautiful women of her time, married the watsoneseque Imperial Prince Morimasa of the Nashimoto line.

The marriage united two of Shibuya's wealthiest families (The Tobacco and Salt Museum is located in Shibuya, perhaps the sole reason why the museum is hosting the exhibition. Nothing in Princess Itsuko life is in any way related to tobacco or salt). Prince Morimasa was an Imperial Army man. He was later to be imprisoned in Sugamo as a war criminal (a copy of the 1945 Asahi Shimbun announcing his arrest is on display).

The Nashimotos had two daughters. In 1920, the elder daughter, Princess Masako, was selected to become the wife of the pathetic Yi Eun, the last crown prince of the Yi dynasty of Korean kings--purportedly because Masako (Yi Bang-ja) was assumed to be barren. As photos in the exhibition show, she was not--though her first born was to die--poisoned--at age of two during a family visit to Korea. One of the photos is a an almost parodically stuffy photo of the Nashimotos with Yi Eun and Masako flanking her parents.

The Nashimotos lost almost everything in the incendiary bombings of 1945 (the Nabeshimas, for their part, lost most of their personal effects in the 1923 earthquake) so the exhibition is a charming mishmash of odd bits of things that survived. Among the more interesting objects is a silver bonbonniere in the shape of a torpedo, with the imperial crest upon it in gold. One can also hear the Columbia Records recording of a song Itsuko wrote about Manchuria.

I learned things I should have already known. For example, the Annex of the Akasaka Prince Hotel is the former official residence of Yi Eun and Masako.

Stripped of their nobility in 1947, Morimasa and Itsuko lived on in Shibuya as commoners. Morimasa died in 1951. Itsuko lived on a further quarter century, passing away in 1976 at the age of 95. The exhibition has a photo of Itsuko participating in the 1975 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Shibuya #1 Elementary School. A piano that Morimasa and Itsuko had donated to the school is also on display.

For information on the exhibition, click:

In English:

The exhibition runs until January 15. Admission to the Museum is 100 yen. There is no additional charge for the special exposition.

Friday, December 16, 2005

He is soooo not next to me...

OK, so we had the little business with the pen. Despite himself, Wen Jiabao broke character, allowing the most nervous of smiles to crease his lips for a moment in response to Prime Minister Koizumi's naked gambit.

Wen Jiabao had better watch out: he has been photographed acknowledging that Koizumi was right next to him!

Wen should realize that Chinese politics is inflexible and unforgiving, that photos condemn one to the political wilderness. Be in the wrong place at the wrong time next to the wrong person and you are forever marked. The rest of the leadership turns upon you like rabid dogs, destroying any hope you may have of ever being...

Oh, never mind.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Stay away from the center, then do a space inversion

Mathematicians tell a joke about setting parameters:

An emir had a daughter whom he loved dearly. "Such a treasure as this," he thought as he looked upon her, "can only be given to a great and cunning hero."

All the eligible young men were summoned to the courtyard of the palace. In the center of the courtyard they found a massive cast iron cage, with a great brass key in the lock.

From a high balcony, the Emir spoke:

"Out in the desert there is a gigantic lion. The people call him Al-Jabbar. Many have set out to kill or capture him. Not one has returned. I will give my daughter in marriage to the one who puts Al-Jabbar alive in this cage."

The young men were astonished. "It can't be done," some shouted. Many hung their heads and began to shuffle home. The most foolhardy or greedy ran to the market to buy weapons and rope.

Just then the son of the court mathematician got up from where he was sitting and walked up to great iron cage. Pushing with all his strength, he opened the great door. Then to everyone's surprise, he climbed inside the cage, closed the door behind him, locked the door and put the key in his pocket.

"Now," he declared in a confident voice, "Given the initial assumption that I am outside the cage..."

Prime Minister Koizumi seems to want to be the court mathematician's son as regards Yasukuni. "A single issue should not affect relations," he harrumphs as the leaders of China and South Korea continue to shun him. In Koizumi's view, Roh, Hu, Wen and anyone else unhappy with his visits to Yakukuni should just swallow their respective prides and take it....especially since Mr. K will be going to Yasukuni again in 2006.

Wouldn't be nice if we could just declare certain topics off limits and not have to deal with them anymore? What a wonderful, wonderful world it would be. Indeed, I think everyone should have the right to unilaterally declare a small number of unpleasant topics off limits. For example, when my employer calls me into his office next time, I think I should have the right to say, "Stop right there. My not doing as you instructed should not be the basis of our conversations today."

Wish me luck.

Oh, what happened to the mathematician's son? He and the princess were soon wed and they lived happily together until the end of their days.

At least that is the story the mathematicians tell.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Disdain in Kuala Lumpur, a photo essay

Photos courtesy of Reuters, AP and AFP.

"Hey Roh, did you hear the new Chirac joke? Chirac and Sarkozy are walking down the street..."

"Just then Sarkozy says, 'That's not the phone number of his mistress! Those are the GDP figures!"

" the G8 they loved that joke."

"Right, right, right...nothing is happening to my left. Nothing at all. The right side of the room is just so fascinating. Hmmmmm, end of the table down there...hmmm, just so interesting."

"Psst, Comrade Wen, you're showing your discomfort again. When you-know-who's in the frame with me, I just do my 'Dead Guy in a Light Green Tie' act.
Check it out."

"Ladadada, he's not here. Keep smiling...keep smiling...Keep facing right...He's is sooooo not here."

(This post edited on 2007/1/14 for greater clarity)

Monday, October 31, 2005

A new alliance, a new constitution and now this

A thought for the day—what we are about to witness over the next few hours time is not just a unique cabinet selection process, but a political act bordering upon the perverse. Prime Minister Koizumi is picking a Cabinet by himself—not even the LDP general secretary, if we are to take him at his word, knows who is being selected for what post.

Some time this evening, most all studies of Japanese politics—all the papers, all the op-eds, all the textbook entries—will become moot. Goodbye to nemawashi, goodbye to factional balancing, goodbye to ryotei politics, goodbye to “plus ca change...”

Koizumi alone is acting. All others are just spectators (Koizumi gekijo indeed).

The closest parallel in Japanese history today's events is probably Ito Hirobumi's solitary authorship of the Imperial Constitution. The closest parallel in modern history may be Lee Kuan Yew's construction of the modern Singaporean state (I.C. is invited to comment).

The Koizumi penchant for surprises has inured us to epic scale of the change he is attempting. Today he will be crafting a representative government for his people out of the extension of his will, according to it the structure of his mind, and with the backing of an overwhelming majority in the country's legislative branch

I hope he knows what he is doing. This one-man strategy has the potential to piss off just about everyone in some way.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2005

Getting all parochial about dugongs

David Pilling has been doing an excellent job of reporting on Japanese politics and economics for The Financial Times.

His zoology and syntax, however, are killing me.

Dugong dispute strains US-Japan alliance
By David Pilling
Published: October 27 2005 17:50

The dugong, an ancient marine mammal related to the seacow, loves to feed in the warm, blue waters off Okinawa in Japan's tropical south. Few would believe that this creature, with its vacuum cleaner-shaped snout and penchant for seaweed, could be undermining one of world's most important military alliances. They would be wrong...


Oh, all right. The first sentence make sense if one:

a) has read Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book cover-to-cover
b) ignores that "seacow" is one of the common names for the dugong, and
c) knows that fossil record indicates the dugong family is the older of the two families of surviving sirenians.

Otherwise it is absurd, the equivalent of:
The cow, an ancient land mammal related to the bovines, loves to feed on the sun-blessed ridges of England's green and pleasant land.
Or perhaps:

The elephant, an ancient land mammal related to the mammoth, loves to feed on the sere, golden plains of Tanzania.
And how tired must one be to miss that the second half of the Pilling's paragraph sentence says exactly the opposite of what he intended?
"Few would believe that this creature could be undermining...They would be wrong."
So the few who believe that it is undermining the alliance...are wrong.

No, no, no, no, that makes no sense.

What Pilling wants to say is that almost everybody would be mistaken. What he wants to say is:

“Most would believe that this creature could not possibly be undermining...They would be wrong.
Editor, Editor!!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

I am the very model of a modern major prime ministerial candidate

With the scheduled announcement of new LDP leadership lineup on November 1 and the new Cabinet a day later, the networks and print media are atwitter with the race to replace Prime Minister Koizumi. The PM has vowed that he will step down as president of the LDP when his term of office expires next September. In the aftermath of Mr. Koizumi’s following through on his threat to dissolve the Diet this past August, no serious commentator doubts his intent to keep his promise as regards his term of office. The prime minister has also promised to support to the candidacy of the LDP member who acquits himself or herself best over the next 10 months, thereby setting up an intense competition for both the most visible postings and the most onerous tasks.

Such competition for the favor of a sitting prime minister is a brand new phenomenon. Japan has never had a tradition such as the Mexican dedazo, where the leader of the country indicates (dedazo means “to point the finger”) his choice of a successor. In postwar Japan, prime ministers have had no say in the selection of their successors, if only because the end of most terms in office have come as the result of a forced resignation or death. Indeed, many prime ministers have been succeeded by their political enemies within the LDP, a sort of alternation of governance most other nations have realized through a change in the ruling party.

Should Koizumi succeed in enforcing his own form of dedazo, he will have created a significant new instrument of prime ministerial power, a mighty bequest to his successors in their battles against the return of LDP factionalism.

What is equally intriguing is that Koizumi has also managed to mandate--without significant protest--that his successor exhibit administrative competence and/or charismatic leadership skills. This is a startling requirement, given the LDP’s history of relying on numerical strength of faction, seniority and factional balance as guides for personnel decisions. As the formidable Sam Jameson explains, in a post to the Japan Forum:
Former Prime Minister Mori, head of the faction to which Shinzo Abe belongs, has said publicly that Shinzo Abe, 51, is still too young to become prime minister. In addition to nenko joretsu standards, choosing three consecutive prime ministers from the same faction (Mori, Koizumi, Abe) would ruffle feathers in the party. Yasuo Fukuda, 69, might be considered for a short-term prime minister if he, too, were not a member of the Mori faction.
If you apply both the nenko joretsu and the factional considerations to predictions for Koizumi's successor, you wind up with Taro Aso, 65, who is five years older than Sadakazu Tanigaki.
I don't get the feeling that Aso inspires great enthusiasm among voters, however. If the LDP, despite its 296 seats in the lower house, feels it needs another henjin (strange person) to avoid losing control of the government in the NEXT (in 2009?) lower house election (an unlikely prospect, in my view), the old customs would go out the window…
[The full thread on potential successors to prime minister Koizumi, including Sam Jameson’s comment, can be accessed here]

Koizumi's warning that his support—that is his vote, the votes of the Koizumi Children and the votes of LDP members chafing under the yokes of the surviving faction leaders--will depend upon performance has given rise to wild speculation about Koike Yuriko and Takenaka Heizo--the one a political opportunist of the highest order, the other a neophyte--as black sheep candidates for the LDP presidency.

At present, Abe Shinzo is far ahead in the running for the next LDP presidency. His youth, rather than being a negative, projects an image of strength and durability. He is telegenic, well-bred and fairly handsome. He is adored by the American establishment. Poll after poll shows him with a commanding lead over other potential LDP party presidents.

However, it is not clear that Prime Minister Koizumi is comfortable with handing over the reins of party and government to Abe.

Koizumi is aware that by the end of his term, the relations between Japan and China and Japan and South Korea will be in tatters. He long ago promised that if elected prime minister, he would visit Yasukuni Shrine on August 15--a promise he has heretofore not kept. He will fulfill his promise next year. He feels he must. He probably feels that it would be in the country's best interest for the next prime minister to be just as committed to not visiting Yasukuni. Abe, as everyone knows, is a Yasukuni enthusiast.

Major questions remain also about Abe's administrative or leadership skills. While capable of projecting an aura of command, he has only a weak record as a commander. His only posting of significance, his terms as secretary-general of the LDP, ended somewhat ignominiously.

A further demerit, one that has attracted little attention so far, is Abe's electoral district. Abe is the representative for Yamaguchi district #4. While not deeply rural district (the prefecture's largest city, Shimonoseki, is inside Abe's domain), it is still part of the inaka, the hinterland that had produced every single post-war prime minister before Koizumi. Abe’s district is indeed part of the old Choshu han, the homeland of a vast number of prime ministers, including the very first (Ito Hirobumi) and Abe’s grandfather (Kishi Nobusuke).

Koizumi is very aware of the pernicious relationship between a rural electoral base and the misallocation of national wealth. He attacked the postal savings system and highway construction cabal for this very reason. He has consistently chosen urban and suburban residents as his advisors and confidants. It seems inconceivable that he would turn over control of the LDP, only a year after the party managed to sweep up every seat but one in Tokyo, to the same rural forces that dragged the nation to near ruin.

My bet therefore is that Koizumi anoints not one of the four princes (Abe, Tanigaki, Aso or Fukuda Yasuo) but the person I believe will be the next foreign minister, Yosano Kaoru. By agreement with the Mori faction, Abe will succeed him, with Koike succeeding Abe in 2011 or 2012.

But then again, a week is an eternity in politics.

President George W. Bush comes a' visitin' next month. The U.S. embassy will probably arrange a reception where President Bush meets with future leaders. As for what will happen when President Bush actually steps out into the meet-and-greet with members of the Diet who imagine themselves candidates for the LDP party presidency, I am afraid the result will look a lot like this (add your own sound effects):

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

So it's Charismatic Megafauna 1; Badass Hyperpower 0

He came with eyes aflame, whifling through the off-gold lobby.

He burbled the Five Tasks:

1) Bilateral assessment of strategy and threats
2) Assessment of different roles
3) Assessment of respective force structures
4) Examination of basing structure for U.S. and Japanese forces
5) Consideration of force presence issues

He accentuated the Many Recent Positives:

· Research Cooperation in Missile Defense
· East Timor
· Operation Enduring Freedom
· Refueling of the Fleets of 10 Nations
· Operation Iraqi Freedom
· Contingencies Legislation
· Launching a Missile Defense Program
· Relaxation of Weapons Exports Rules
· Revised National Defense Guidelines

But he was not finished. He was not satisfied. He needed to diss:

But measured against Japan's capabilities to contribute to international security, and measured against Japan's global interests and the benefits Japan derives from peace and stability around the world, these changes remain quite modest.”

Raise eyebrow. Shift in seat. Think to oneself:

"Mr. Deputy Under Secretary, we are seated no more that 150 meters away from the office of the celebrated Mr. K. himself. All the Japanese networks have their cameras rolling. You are a guest in this country. What is appropriate in a presentation before the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcomittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee might sound discourteous in this neck of the woods, if not within the confines of the particular room you are standing in right now."

But he was not finished, no.

"We must make up for the time we have lost."
Who is this "we" Kemosabe*?

When did this losing of time begin?

How far away is this place where "we" belong?

Do "we" have time for a vote before "we" start off?

"Remained caught up in parochial issues"

Local parochial issues such as, for instance,

- environmental regulations,

- international animal protection treaties,

-judicial precedent,

-local law and

-the opinions of local elected officials?

Then the kicker, at least as I remember it (transcripts and sound recordings are frequently unreliable. MTC memory products, however, are definitive):

"If the security relationship is not brought up to the point where it should be, we will not be able to secure the alliance."

Nice use of the conditional there. Inspires fear. And who is this "we" again?

The Deputy Under Secretary's speech was mighty entertaining, jolting even. "The highlight of the conference so far," RS confided over dinner.

Boy, it sure seemed that this was one American official who was going to grab his Japanese interlocutors by the eri (collar) and tell them what's what and who's who.

But last night, as night fell upon the great city, he must have stood at the window of his hotel and raged at the peaceful, flickering ocean of lights:

"Hearken to my words, my friends. See therein that I threaten you. Look upon my name — LAWLESS — and despair. I am Shiva, devourer of worlds. I am the ugly man with the pretty wife** . I am Sauron with both the Ring and a Ferrari Testarossa. I am the representative of the most awesome killing machine to ever stalk the surface of this planet and I am being GUMMED TO DEATH BY DUGONGS!"
For it was on the next day that the Deputy Under Secretary went before the microphones and signaled surrender.

With a presidency adrift, an official visit looming, a 10 year-old dispute festering and a mild-tempered, extremely endangered sirenian in the way, he was not going to get a promise for an offshore helicopter base any more substantial than the promises made a month ago to the DPRK for a new light-water reactor.

Ah, the mysterious East...kabuki first, then karma.


* Reference to the old Lone Ranger and Tonto joke:

"Tonto, there are 1000 Sioux to the north of us, 2000 Shoshone to east of us, 3000 Cheyenne to the west of us and 4000 Navaho to the south of us. We're surrounded."

"Hmmm...What do you mean by 'we', paleface?"

** In the metaphorical sense, only. Mr. Lawless is no Quasimodo. I know less than nothing about the appearance of Mrs. Lawless.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Paging John Dower

From the Chosun Ilbo...

"Second surprise mission to provoke Korea and China to anger accomplished, sir!” reports the Japanese pilot to his delighted wartime commander, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who launched the first attack. Their mission: a massive 101 lawmakers pay their respects at the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors convicted war criminals among the country’s war dead and is the epicenter of historical revisionism in Japan.

Could someone explain to me, in simple terms--so that I might understand --why is it that in the year 2005 Koreans draw Japanese as buck-toothed, mustachioed, Harold-Lloyd-coke-bottle-glasses-wearing dweebs?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Reading can be fun...if...

Professor Gavan McCormack is a very frustrated man. In his essay "Koizumi's Kingdom of Illusion" he demonstrates a compelling need to work out—at length—his disquiet over recent political events.

Part of his argument shows signs of coming from essays on rather different topics (a sin, but a venial one in this our age of silicon) but on the whole McCormack offers an expansive look at why it is just so wrong that the LDP did so well in the September 11 election. He also offers a glimpse of the rarest of creatures: a non-Japanese who feels a tremulous nostalgia for the doken kokka.

Sadly for Professor McCormack, Koizumi not only won but won big. He must be doing something right. (Bricolage, peut-être?)

Philip Brasor, who makes his living as a media critic, offers up some juicy sentences but a few too many overripe paragraphs in his Japan Times opinion article "Roll up! Roll up! For a freak show starring Koizumi's children", also available here.

It is not until very end of the essay that Brasor seizes upon what should have been the focus of his piece: the crucial role the morning television shows played in midwifing Koizumi's electoral victory. Instead of repeating what Shukan Shincho said about Katayama Satsuki's prickly personality, Brasor should have examined exactly how the morning shows have become so powerful, supplanting the evening news hours as sources of information for the general public. (Was it simply because the sun rises early in August?)

While McCormack and Brasor write about a country that resembles contemporary Japan, I am afraid David Kang fails to do so in his essay "Japan: U.S. Partner or Focused on Abductees?" in this autumn's The Washington Quarterly.

Kang teaches government at Dartmouth with a concurrent post at the Tuck School of Business. He writes on Korea-Japan relations for the excellent e-journal Comparative Connections produced by the Pacific Forum CSIS.

I am not particularly disturbed this article's relentless reprojection of the Japan-North Korea relationship through the prism of the United States. Kang is, after all, writing for a Washington audience. However, Kang's reliance on English-language sources is somewhat disconcerting. A certain piquancy is lacking in the resulting stew, as key ingredients go missing.

Take for example his account of the derailment of the normalization process that took place after the September 2002 Pyongyang summit (p. 108). According to Kang:

Koizumi traveled to Pyongyang for a breakthrough meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the first-ever meeting between the two countries' heads of state. The summit produced a dramatic declaration: after three decades of denials, North Korea admitted and apologized for the past abductionof Japanese nationals and held out the possibility of normalizing diplomatic ties between the two countries...

The summit's concluding Pyongyang Declaration was significant, as both sides apologized for past actions—a precondition for moving forward—and pledged to cooperate in the future.

Unfortunately, this optimism was quickly overshadowed by the nuclear crisis. Within just weeks of Koizumi's trip, all hopes of a rapid improvement in relations faded as North Korea and the United States squared off.

My memory of that stunning September three years was somewhat different. Koizumi came back from Pyongyang holding ashes—not literally, that was to come later—but gray and speechless at the stunning revelation that most of the abductees were dead, purportedly in "accidents," their graves all "washed away in floods." He and Abe Shinzo had debated whether to return during the scheduled lunch break without signing the Declaration. They had furthermore traveled to Pyongyang already briefed about the possible clandestine HEU program, fully cognizant of the likely public outcry that would ensue when the U.S. went public with its suspicions.

Nothing prepared them, however, for the shock of so many Japanese dead at such a young age. Since they were bringing no one home, there was nothing to cushion the blow delivered to the families...all of which was broadcast live on television.

The HEU accusation was a sideshow, comparatively speaking.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

If this is dictatorship, maybe we need more dictators

Over the past few weeks, a debate has broken out within the LDP over the severity of the punishments to be meted out to the LDP postal rebels. Simple logic would dictate that the rebels and their fellow travelers should be expelled from the party forthwith. Any lighter punishment would make a mockery of the recent election, which at its heart was a plebiscite on the rejection of the postal reform bills.

Since 1945, however, a not insignificant fraction of the citizenry has been led to believe that you can get out of being punished for a transgression if you tell everyone, out loud, that you are really, really sorry for having committed it.

For reasons most execrable, the postal rebels of the House of Representatives are trying to take advantage of this misguided magnanimity. Of the rebels who were elected to the Diet as independents, only Hiranuma Takeo voted against the postal legislation again. The other 11 independents tucked their tails in between their legs, announced that they had been wrong in both voting against the bills in August and in running against LDP-appointed candidates, and humbly voted for the legislation.

Koizumi loyalists, most prominently the neo-Jacobin Koizumi Children, have demanded the heads of the rebels. Other less sanguinary members of the LDP, recognizing that one day they may find their own heads on the chopping block, have been pushing for reinstatement following an apology. Koizumi himself has not delivered a final verdict but is likely in favor of an imposition of the ultimate sanction.

Wisely, the PM grabbed a chance today to demonstrate that pitilessness and severity toward traitors is not the same as intolerance for dissent. In a move that can only redound to his credit, he encouraged the members of his cabinet to speak their minds on the record about his visit yesterday to Yasukuni. Two member of his cabinet, Land, Infrastructure and Transport minister Kitagawa Kazuo and National Public Safety Commission chairman Murata Yoshitaka seized the opportunity to tell the press that they felt the PM should not have visited the shrine.

Now, this may be a "Hundred Maple Leaves Campaign" where the cabinet members who expressed opposing views mark themselves as targets for the next round of party purges. More likely, however, Koizumi set the cabinet membership free to express opposing views in order to deflate opposition warnings that the LDP's extraordinary victory margin in the September elections laid the groundwork for a Koizumi dictatorship of the majority.

Speculation indulge in do I, but the prime minister is probably particularly disappointed in Noda Seiko. She opposed the postal bills out of principle, unlike the Democrats who voted against the legislation in order to provoke a political crisis. If she had remained defiant and had voted against the legislation again, Koizumi would have respected her for sticking to her guns, even as he could not agree with her vote or permit to her remain an LDP party member. Now, she is just another pol, shifting and recalibrating in order to keep her options open. No hinkaku at all.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Et tu Seiko-san, et tu?

What are we to make of Noda Seiko's tenko on the postal reform bills? Noda won her district outright, seeing off the then somewhat awkward, now increasingly fearsome shikaku Sato Yukari. The local LDP chapter chose to commit seppuku out of loyalty to her. Local officials ran away or showed no emotion whenever Sato, the official LDP candidate, came to town.

Is the looming shadow of Koizumi so frightening now that even Noda, an attractive, healthy sansei in a district with a strong pro-post office voting record, cannot vote exactly the same way she did before? After having been minister of Posts and Telecommunications? After having led all her friends and neighbors into ostracism and exile from the LDP? Now she wants to get back in the party's good graces?

I can understand why Noda Seiko as an individual would want to keep her seat on the political gravy train. I can even imagine her offering the rationalization that the economy of her district is so dependent on government handouts she feels she has to sacrifice her personal integrity for the economic well-being of her constituents.

Funny thing about being one of the people's representatives in an elective democracy--one really does have to keep one's campaign promises. In an ideal world, forever--but if push comes to shove, at least one election cycle. One will be considered flighty but at least not mendacious.

Changing sides after only a month tends to erode one's credibility (a euphemism, my dear Watson). To her credit, Noda held out longer than the real rebels, members of the LDP in the House of Councilors like Nakasone Hirofumi. They precipitated the political crisis by voting down the bills in August. They then raced each other to the microphones in the aftermath of September 11 in order to be the first to offer up songs of praise for Koizumi’s leadership.

Still, who among Noda's constituents will ever trust a single thing she ever says again?

No matter how one looks at it, this is a sad turnaround for one long picked to be "probably Japan's first woman prime minister."

Et tu Robert?

Heavens to Betsy and sakes alive--this must be a self-sustaining recovery. Either that or someone's undergone an exorcism.

After years of vocalizing the most intense desires of the Ministry of Finance for tighter budgets and harder money, Robert Alan Feldman of Morgan Stanley seems to have given up his querulous quest and joined the Collective. Last night on Channel 12's Nightly Business Report he asserted that deflation is bad and should be avoided.

OK, this may not sound like an earthshaking revelation. For Mr. Feldman, however, it is the scream of a liberated man. He has heretofore never missed a chance to offer dire warnings about the level of Japanese government indebtedness and the need for fiscal retrenchment. Indeed, the immanence of such retrenchment has been a theme in his public statements and analysis for gosh, I do not know how long.

Clearly, I have to go through the back issues of the Morgan Stanley Global Economic Forum to find out when this tenko occurred. The most recent Japan posts are here and here but they are by Sato Takehiro.

Perhaps Mr. Feldman woke up one morning recently, feeling sore and ill-used. Suddenly, with the swift thunderclap of self-awareness that otherwise only comes from sitting in an overstuffed chair in a hotel lobby and noticing one is wearing the toilet slippers, he must have understood that the bureaucrats and ex-bureaucrats who have been whispering sweet nothings in his ears have done so in support a private agenda, not the public good ("Oh ye feckless, ruthless bureaucrats, lacking either feck or ruth!"). Tossing aside the bedclothes, he probably threw open the curtains, looked out into the bright, gray Tokyo skyline, the yellow sun glinting on a hundred thousand panes of glass and declaimed:

“Economic growth--for the lack of a better phrase--is good. Growth is right. Growth works.”

Lest anyone be lulled into thinking that Mr. Feldman has not only joined the Collective but is now also a member of the Congregation of the Seriously Bemused, he launched, following the video segment on the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Economics, into a rather earnest and discombobulated explanation of how game theory could offer insights into some recent Japanese economic and political events. Like the last election.

It was a valiant try.

Friday, October 07, 2005

First, cue up track #9 from Who's Next

Your day starts out quite nicely. It is overcast and mild in Tokyo, with showers expected later in the day. Your employer is in a relatively relaxed mood. The coffee from Doutor is not unpleasant, though you realize you really do like Starbucks better.

Then you read this:

Rumsfeld cancels Japan visit due to base row-media
October 6, 2005

TOKYO (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has canceled a visit to Japan planned for later this month because of a stalemate in talks on where to relocate a U.S. military base in Japan, Japanese media reported on Thursday.

The Asahi Shimbun said plans had been made for Rumsfeld to visit Tokyo around October 21 or 22 for talks with Japanese officials including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, part of Washington's plans to transform its military globally into a more flexible force.

But the two allies are at odds over the relocation of Futenma air base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, a key element in redeploying the nearly 50,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in the country, media and military experts said..

Talks between senior defense officials in Washington this week ended without much progress.


No, let me rephrase that.


First indication of high probability that a mass of purest bovine excreta has been foisted upon the world: Linda Sieg's by-line is missing. I guess no one wanted wake her up to ask a few questions.

To all Reuters reporters who are not Linda Sieg (and I know there are some of you who aren't) there is something you need to know about Japanese reporters.

They tend to make stuff up.

Not in a vile, crafty "in order to promote personal agendas, to curry favor with particular individuals or to take part in conspiracies to obfuscate and undermine the public discourse" sort of way.

No, more in the "I-have-a-few-centimeters-I-have-to-fill-up-fast-if-I-am-to-make-my-deadline-and-I-overheard-some-nitwit-in-the-halls-of-the-kantei-talking-trash-so-I-will-just-plug-that-in-sourced-anonymously-and-trust-that-my-editor-does-not-flag-it" reptilian forebrain way that only an immense mortgage on an ugly house the Tama district can justify.

If we are to believe the reports, ascribed to both to the Asahi Shimbun and Kyodo news service, Donald Rumsfeld will be skipping a stop in Japan on his Asian tour because talks last week on the Futenma base relocation dispute failed to find a mutually agreeable solution to the issue, potentially casting a pall over the visit.


First, are we talking about the same Donald Rumsfeld who is sort of kind of running of two bloody anti-insurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, who belittles reasonable petitioners with patronizing rephrasings of their questions and generally stomps about the planet as God's Almighty Gift to the Men and Women of the Pentagon? Are we saying he might be unable to handle the pressure of a few reporters asking about Futenma and U.S. plans for force realignment in the Far East?

Second, are we talking about the same Futenma relocation issue that has been dragging on for more than a decade through a saturnalia of commissions, studies and bi-lateral meetings, where both sides have managed to steer clear of any commitment to solving the significant political, technological, environmental and logistical problems posed by the Nago offshore base plan?

Please, please, people...if you are going to spout nonsense--or even worse repeat it verbatim--make sure that it is inspired, plausible and entertaining nonsense.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

No dilly-dallying

The un-named powers that be have told the press that a new Cabinet and a new LDP leadership lineup will be announced on November 2. When asked for the reason why the change would happen on that date, the source(s) explained that the special session of the Diet ends on November 1.

The PM has already indicated that he will offer his political support to the prime ministerial candidate who turns in the best performance over the next 11 months. Given the importance of securing an influential post in this next round, it is not unreasonable that the PM and his people are trying to minimize the amount of time the candidates have for public displays of jockeying for position.

Coming after a general election, the changes in the next Cabinet are likely to be far more dramatic than a simple reshuffle. I have already made some rather speculative guesses here about some of the main Cabinet and LDP leadership positions.
Well, thank the kami for that

It turns out that the Democratic Party's presentation of its own version of a postal reform bill during the special session of the Diet will not be a complete waste of time. Some Kluge Hans in the LDP (perhaps Takebe Tsutomu or Mr. K. himself) realized that the otherwise pointless examination of this doomed bill presented a risk-free opportunity to put some of the Koizumi Children through their paces, providing some much-needed on-the-job training in asking questions in committee. The sessions will probably also serve as a final audition for the Sisters (Katayama Satsuki, Sato Yukari and Inoguchi Kuniko) to see if there are any heretofore undetected peculiarities in their behavior that would preclude them from serving in high visibility party or government posts come November.

Commentators should know better

Does anyone know why Hama Noriko and J. Sean Curtin are not taking a sabbatical from punditry post-September 11? I turn on the television and see her (Eeeeeek! Does her university not provide dental coverage?). I search for “Koizumi” in Google News and find him. The failure of either of them to catch any of the prevailing political winds over these past few months should have convinced either or both of them that neither of them really has a clue what is going on.

I'm one to talk, of course.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Guys, guys...please

The leaders of the Democratic Party agree: the party's opposition to the government's draft bill for postal privatization without proposing one of its own was a major reason for the huge defeat the party suffered in the September 11 elections.

This view is not without merit. During the campaign, Prime minister Koizumi relentlessly cudgeled his opponents with the contradiction between the Democrat’s claims to being the party of reform and their straight, party line vote against the only postal reform bill available.

So given this epiphany, what has the Democratic leadership decided to do? To not make the same mistake twice...which is great. You know, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" and all that.

However, it is how they have decided to demonstrate their resolve to not be fooled again that boggles the mind. As news reports earlier this week indicated and the meeting of the Democratic shadow cabinet on Friday confirmed, the party will rebound from its history of error by offering its own version of a postal reform bill next week.

Uh,'re killin' me here...

That cow is already out of the barn. Japan just had an election where the main question was whether the country supports Koizumi's continuing on as prime minister because of or in spite of his attachment to his personal pet project, the privatization of the post office. The country's overwhelming response was, "Yes!" Now unless the Democrats are presenting a bill that Koizumi and his supporters will love even more than the one they themselves have drafted, it would probably best for the Democrats to let this one go. Not only does Maehara not have the votes to do anything meaningful (and he and his colleagues are, after all, paid salaries in order to do meaningful things) but further delaying Koizumi's privatization bill will tick the man off. And there are people who can tell you, that's not the way to build a working relationship with Mr. K.

For him--postal privatization--it's personal.

Save that youthful moxie and those great ideas for the next fight, will ya? As far as I know, no chapter in Master Sun's The Art of War suggests:
"When an error in tactics leads to large losses and defeat on the battlefield, make up for the mistake with an utterly pointless symbolic counterattack with such forces as are left you."
And the men of sumo will fly

For those who have been pinning their hopes on the internationalization of Japanese society, the Asahi Shimbun's September 26 editorial on the proliferation of non-Japanese in the top ranks of sumo “Ozumo Takokusekika wa omoshiroi”( English here ) is a worthy read.

What is interesting is the Asahi's assertion that the introduction of foreign rikishi bearing techniques from other wrestling traditions has stimulated the production of better native Japanese rikishi. While Asashoryu's and Kotoshu's unfamiliar holds, grabs and movements have certainly facilitated their rise to the top ranks, it is in no way clear that Japanese participants have benefited from their creativity. To the extent that Asashoryu's and Kotoshu's more numerous victories prevented Kisenosato from winning the tournament, I would count the net impact for him as a negative.

What is interesting is the Asahi editorial board's commitment the principle that open competition in sumo brings benefits to Japan. Perhaps the huge impact Brazilians players and coaches have had upon the quality of Japanese soccer is the model. Or perhaps the Asahi board has embraced a larger, liberal view that competition is an engine for good, even when it dilutes the national character of an activity.

Mind you, the Asahi editorial does not endorse all forms of competition. It contrasts the impact of Mongolian and Eastern European wrestlers with the impact of the Hawaiians. According to the Asahi, the Hawaiians (i.e., the Americans) brought only an emphasis on bigness, of overpowering others through mass alone. Boring...and leading many rikishi to bulk up so much that their tissues fail, resulting in repeated, recurring tournament withdrawals and long recuperation periods away from the ring. The Mongolians and the Eastern Europeans by contrast bring finesse and speed to the dohyo (技が多彩になり、スピードあふれる攻防が確実に増える).

Now one could argue that the Asahi editors are just trying to look on the bright side of a depressing trend: the increasing inability of Japanese to compete at the highest levels of their national sport. However, the editorial goes out of its way to lament the passage in 2002 of the one-foreigner-per-beya rule, the mirror of yakyu's three- foreigners-per-team rule and similar rules for other Japanese sports leagues. What is fascinating is that the editors are decrying restrictions on foreign participation in a sport that is purely Japanese and which is imbued with religious, cultural and historical significance.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

It is from the muck that the lotus emerges

Richard Lloyd Parry of The Times is granted an exclusive interview with the PM and produces this. Koganei resident and all-around curmudgeon Earl Kinmonth get his two yen in about it and asks a question:
Although I have been a resident of Japan the entire span of Koizumi's tenure in office, I cannot for the life of me think of any reforms of any significance that Koizumi has actually achieved. Can someone help me out here?

Not following the advice of the Ministry of Finance on tightening the purse strings or raising taxes?

Not cluttering up the economic machinery with any really dumb stunts (anyone seen a 2000 yen note lately)?

Letting the Bank of Japan's Fukui Toshihiko redefine the position of central banker as "the individual charged with the task of not making decisions about the money supply, as conditions demand"?

Appointing a financial reconstruction minister committed to pressing the banks to stop deferring the write downs of the bad loans in their portfolios?

Not having governmental or semi-governmental financial entities intervene in the stock markets (through PKOs or other such nonsense) despite a big slump during the first two years of his prime ministership?

Weaning the LDP from its reliance on farmers, postmasters and the construction industry, setting the stage for massive reductions in goverment support for these economic actors?

Getting the SDF involved in security actions outside the Asia-Pacific region without running to the UN for cover?

A lot of non-actions to be sure--but the Hippocratic injunction "First, Do No Harm" was ignored by Koizumi's predecessors.

Late Breaking Developments - Due to strong negative reactions in Japan and in China to statements attributed to Koizumi, The Times is now offering a full transcript of the interview.

Even Later Breaking Developments - Parry and Robert Thomson drop in for a chat with foreign minister Machimura Nobutaka.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

But they would say that, wouldn't they?

As you can see here the editors of the Asahi Shimbun did not very much like prime minister Koizumi's policy speech. Surprise, surprise.

Clearly baffled by Koizumi's unwillingness to meet their standards of policy specificity, the editors have fallen back on ascribing the broad-brush policy address to a "May slump," the purported lethargy that grips new company recruits in their second month on the job. Unfortunately for the metaphor prime minister Koizumi, as he points out in the speech, has been elected three times to the prime ministership, having been in the job since 2001.

A bit of a delayed reaction, to put it mildly.

Since the Asahi editors found the foreign policy section particularly wanting, perhaps they need it retranslated.

The fight against terrorism is not over. Japan will cooperate with the international community and strive for the prevention and eradication of terrorism by, among other measures, extending the deadline of the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law.

In Iraq, the Iraqi people themselves are making efforts to establish a peaceful democratic nation. Japan's financial assistance through ODA as well as humanitarian and reconstruction assistance activities extended by the Self-Defense Forces have earned high praise from the people in Iraq. As to the future activities of the Self-Defense Forces, I will make my decision taking into consideration the requests of the Iraqi people and the international situation and upon closely assessing the situation in Iraq.

Technically, the legal conditions and constraints under which the SDF have been operating in Iraq and the Indian Ocean are unchanged. The bills my party will be presenting to the Diet will be extensions or reorientations of the existing missions, not plans for withdrawal. So go stuff it.

With neighboring countries including China and the Republic of Korea, Japan will strengthen cooperation in a wide range of areas and build future-oriented friendly relations based on mutual understanding and trust. On Japan-North Korea relations, I will aim to normalize our relations by comprehensively resolving the abduction, nuclear and missile issues.

I am sick and tired of Sino-South Korean insistence that relations be carried out "looking into the mirror of the past." However, I will be damned if I am going normalize relations with the DPRK without a more tangible show of contrition on its part for past trangressions.

Regarding the sharp rise in crude oil prices, there is concern that this will have a significant impact not only on Japan, one of the world's major oil importers, but also on Southeast Asian countries. In response, Japan swiftly released its oil reserves, and through such measures, is contributing to the international community. In order to prevent the occurrence of another oil crisis, we will continue to cooperate closely with other countries.

Look, we have offered to show you how we achieved the lowest energy-use per unit of GDP in the world, but up until now you have ignored us. Now we are going to bail you out with some of the petroleum we have stockpiled. Only this time you bloody well better listen to us.

Japan will also actively advance its initiatives for bilateral economic partnership and work tirelessly toward reaching a final agreement at the new round of the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations.

I did not say "also" in the original speech. Why did my Japanese-to-English translator put "also" here? It drains all the energy out of the sentence. I want to emphasize the "and" (to tomo ni). My administration will pursue both bi-lateral FTAs and a multilateral post-Uruguay Round with equal fervor.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Behold, a New Power Rises in the East

Well, that did not take very long.

The Koizumi Children are already a force to be reckoned with in the House of Representatives. Twenty three times during Prime Minister Koizumi's 14 minute and 36 second inaugural address, the second briefest address in postwar history, the Children applauded their leader. In comments to reporters afterward, Maehara Seiji, the new leader of the Democrats, derided them as "the applause crew" (hakushu yoin).

Certain television networks whose names need not be mentioned (i.e., TV Asahi and TBS) sliced and spliced the post-address interviews with various newcomers into montages that made it seem as though all they were all echoing each other:

"The Prime Minister sounded strong."
"The speech was extremely strong."
"Strength was what the prime minister was showing us."
"I came away with an impression of strength."

Convicted felon Tsujimoto Kiyomi added her two yen's worth, calling the Children "creepy" (bukimi). But she softened her comment by grinning broadly while she said it.

Speaking of the felons, due to the vagaries of the party-centered seating arrangements, all three of them are bunched together in the cheap seats near the left field foul line, so that a shot of the dais speaker's right profile has all three of them full frontal.

The Little Village People

The former Ozato Group, which has been leaderless since Ozato Sadatoshi chose to retire rather than run in the September election, has selected Finance Minister Tanigaki Sadakazu as its new leader. Former secretary-general of the Defense Agency Nakatani Gen takes over as the group's #2. The Tanigaki (?) Group will have 11 members in the House of Representatives and 4 members in the House of Councilors.

Say Goodnight Gracie

Keidanren Chairman Okuda Hiroshi paid a visit on China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in Beijing on Monday. Okuda told Wen that Prime Minister Koizumi said, "Pass on my best regards to Prime Minister Wen...because I am a member of the 'Friends of China' wing of my party."

Wen's response, according the Mainichi Shimbun: “Me too.”

I need to see the Chinese original on this one.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Enter the Dragon

The scale of the victory of September 11 has thrust upon prime minister Koizumi a burden he never expected to be shouldering: the future of the LDP. He had probably assumed that the LDP would either change, becoming a smaller, tighter minority party controlling about 40 to 45% of the seats in the Diet, or else fall into pieces. These bits would in turn re-assemble themselves, combining with elements of the Democrats, into two large center-left and center-right coalitions.

Now, instead of a diminished LDP, Koizumi has a huge dragon. Nominally, the party is under his near-dictatorial control (one commentator, viewing footage of the first cabinet reunion after the election, spat out, "It looks like a damned CCP Politburo meeting."). It is nevertheless not hard to imagine the LDP devolving into factions the moment Koizumi steps down as party president. How can he protect the "new LDP" he has inadvertently midwived without drafting the Koizumi Children, the 80+ currently unaffiliated new members of the House of Representatives, into service as a de facto Koizumi faction? Currently, the plan is to have monthly education sessions for the newcomers--a woefully inadequate step if the PM really wants to keep his flock from seeking shelter in the LDP's traditional apportioners of party and cabinet positions, information and personal contacts.

If the prime minister had more time, he could pound the surviving factions to bits by passing over their members again and again in his cabinet appointments. However, he is going to stick to his promise to serve only one more year, in line with his intent to establish an archetypal prime ministership ("Grandpa, why do they have a statue of Koizumi shusho in Ueno Park?"). So his next cabinet will be his last.

Before getting all in a tizzy about next fall, however, let us see what was in the policy speech today.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Don is Gone

I was of half a mind to write about the death of Gotoda Masaharu, one of the most important politicians of the last half-century.

I shall wait a decent interval before trying to tackle his historical legacy, for two reasons.

One, my knowledge of Gotoda is restricted to his activities over the last 15 years, when he loomed over the polical sphere as the superannuate oracle of pinched legalisms.

Two, he is spoken of with near god-like reverence in my office, though Gotoda and my employer rarely agreed with each other over the last decade.

Best keep to keep quiet until I have something bright and cheery to say.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Wakamono, bakamono

T'is a sad day in folliedom. Sugimura Taizo, the LDP's twenty-six year-old blunderkind whose thunderclaps of inspired nonsense and on-camera breakdowns have been a source of much merriment since September 11, has been silenced.

On orders from He Who Shall Not Be Named (Takebe Tsutomu) Representative Sugimura can no longer talk to the press--though in tearful defiance Sugimura continues to nod or issue high-pitched whiny honks from his nose whenever he is asked a yes-or-no question.

How unfair to the populace--who had begun to rely on Sugimura as proof that even a flailing idiot-savant with less gravitas than a bicycle parking lot attendant could hope to someday be elected to the Diet. How unfair to political beat reporters--who instead of following Sugimura around for the laughs will have to now buckle down and actually read the kosei nenkin kaikaku proposals and not cry for their beloved country's pensions.

We are left now with just the memories...

Sugimura: “Learning the ways of the Diet from inside a faction is not a bad thing. In fact, it is what I believe I must do.”
Reporter: “Actually, the prime minister has asked that none of the freshmen join any of the factions.”
Sugimura: “The prime minister...the prime minister said that? Well, if that's what he said--then that's what I must do!”

Monday, September 19, 2005

Thank you master, may I have another?

Well, they have gone ahead and done it.

The Democrats, that is.

Having plummeted to ignominious defeat under the leadership of a dull, earnest, youngish policy wonk, Democrats chose on Saturday to reverse themselves, electing as their new leader a dull, earnest, slightly younger policy wonk.

Oh, the audacity of it all.

Seriously, do they have a death wish?

I tried to watch Maehara Seiji explain himself on Nichiyo Toron. It was excruciating.

I wish him and his party all the luck in the world.

The Sisters are doing it for themselves

By contrast, a joint appearance by Koike Yuriko and Sato Yukari on Saturday morning made for good television viewing. Some time between her less-than-impressive performance in the four-way debate of the candidates a month ago and the interview yesterday Koike decided she had better know what the heck she was talking about before going out before the cameras. Gone were the little girl voice chirps and the non-sequiturs. She was as sharp as a pin, concise and to the point, but not above being playful.

Perhaps too much.

After the first question, the interviewer complimented Koike how clever and excellent her answer was. The compliment was delivered with a frosting of sarcasm, however.

Something clicked in Koike's mind--a defense response-- and she fell into the “ara, so ka shira” gesture: the left hand held straight up with fingers extended but still slightly bent, reaching to touch the crown of the head just above the hairline, with the head slightly bent to the left and am impish smile creasing the lips.

It was an immediate, probably autonomic reaction, the product of years of playing the burikko charmer. Before completing the gesture, however, Koike caught herself. For the briefest of moments, her eyes flamed with her disappointment in herself--still playing the cutie despite her age and her status.

Sato, liberated from the burden of trying to be likable, reverted to her default, hard-nosed, mistress-of-the-Universe persona. Even when answering questions she had never ever thought through, such as whether or not she supports Prime Minister Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni, she was able to spin out plausible-sounding BS with all the buzz words intact.When the questions steered into more familiar waters, such as possible new economic initiatives, she put her chin down and stayed ferociously on message, playing the cold-blooded ideologue role to near perfection, breaking down only every so often to add in those little human touches that used to make the members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang so adorable.

Thank you master, may I have yet another?

Just when the fortunes of the Democrats could not sink any lower, they sink lower. On Sunday, Kobayashi Kenji, the Democratic Party's failed candidate for Aichi District #7, got busted along with a few of his buddies for smoking crystal meth. Well, not exactly for smoking, for possession, but he seems to have already confessed to have been smoking it.

Gosh, how...trippy..and to think some folks used to call Japanese politics bland and predictable.

Yes, I know that Kobayashi went to college in theUnited States...University of West Virginia..and I am sure that tomorrow everybody else in Japan will know.

Furukawa Motohisa, the advisor to the Aichi branch of the Democratic Party, has already announced Kobayashi's expulsion from the local party organization.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Teppanyaki League Cabinet and Party Post Selections

Once the ever-so-slightly-fiddled-with postal reform bill passes both houses of the Diet (Trumpets! A triumphal procession at Tokyo Big Site with Koizumi dressed as Susa-no-o! Piranha versus Ball Python spectaculars!) Prime Minister Koizumi will want to move on to a reshuffling of his cabinet.

Remember how easy it used to be to work out who was going to be in the Cabinet? Five ministers from the Obuchi faction, four from the Miyazawa faction, four from the Mori faction, one from the Kyu Komoto faction…a mix of old and new, everybody with at least 6 elections to the House of Representatives or 3 to the House of Councilors and one token woman…Good times those were for analysts and political writers, fat times...

Well now those days are gone and we are not so self-assured. All the dailies had articles with titles along the lines of "Looking at the Cabinet and the Post-Koizumi Race." Reading them, I could do nothing but shout out the Sergeant Schultz* reaction:

"Nahsing! I see nahsing at all. Nahsing!"

First, how to proceed, now that the faction leaders have been brought so low? Hashimoto retired in disgrace. Watanuki, Tsushima and Hori, the three next most senior members of the Keiseikai are all no longer in the LDP. Kamei and Horiuchi are out on the street. Komoto is in the doghouse for abstaining from the postal vote.

How can the LDP bang out a cabinet when the faction heads can no longer lock horns over sake and kaseki ryori at some discrete ryotei?

Second, what to do about the Koizumi Children/Koizumi Proto-faction/Koizumi Sisters (the new name for Katayama/Inokuchi/Sato/Fujino axis)?

The new Diet will have 83 first-timers, a mass of loyal Koizumi coattail riders larger than the dominant Mori faction. High intellectual wattage, youthful moxie and telegenic appeal will go to waste if some of these newcomers are not given prominent place in the new order. Since these newcomers cannot rely on a slow climb up the factional ladder (Koizumi himself has asked the newcomers to put off joining factions), they need to be put to good use now. Otherwise, the most worthwhile of them will drop out after a few years out of sheer boredom.

A Hint from the Man

Trying to determine who might go where given the above conditions would drive one to distraction. The PM, however, has laid down a marker: whoever it is who shall succeed him next September will have to proven himself or herself worthy during the preceding 12 months.

This means that the really key positions in both the party and the cabinet will be filled by potential prime ministers.

It also is a brilliant way of guaranteeing that even as September approaches, the Koizumi Cabinet will just keep on humming. The prime ministerial candidates, eager to make a good impression, will be knocking themselves out until the very last day trying to get their bailiwicks to outperform everyone else's.

It might even mean that the top candidates will be too busy to fall back into the bad old habits of winning the prime ministership through factional math games.

Here is a first attempt t at the possible lineup of the party and cabinet posts come October. (Warning: the following contains at least one utterly gratuitous joke)

The Party Posts

Kanjicho – Machimura Nobutaka – because one needs un grand fromage from the Mori faction in this post

Kanjicho dairi – Koike Yuriko – because one would want her to gain some experience in negotiating the obstacle course of the party bureaucracy and yet keep her in the public eye

Somukaicho – Tanigaki Sadakazu – because he neuters every organization he is made leader of.
Seichokaicho – Inoguchi Kuniko – because the tekko no onna has sat on more commissions than any other Japanese of the postwar era. She can be counted on to promote Koizumi’s vision. She also might revive the PARC into a viable source of crude policy products.

The Ministries

Finance – Aso Taro – because you need an Aso in charge of how the money gets spent...and from all accounts, this guy an Aso.

Foreign – Yosano Kaoru – because he knows the exact meaning of every word he utters; never loses his cool; kept the PARC from challenging the kantei on policy formation issues; and Tokyo boys do not get jobs that involve the dishing out of pork.

Health & Welfare– Abe Shinzo – because working out a solution to the pension problem will be a difficult and thankless job. If he succeeds in producing something of value over the next few months, he deserves to be the next prime minister. If not, he will at least have been kept away from the foreign policy beat.

Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries – Takebe Tsutomu – because Hokkaido needs some love and homeboy Takebe can be trusted to provide it without blowing the budget.

Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications – Takenaka Heizo – because he should have to implement what he helped craft.

After this I am lost. I cannot guess the criteria Koizumi will be using in making his selections for:

Science & Education
Justice – all I know is that who ever it is, the individual will be old
Land Infrastructure and Transport
Defense Agency

I Love to Laugh

As for the silly side of Sunday’s election, I do not know which story I like best:

1) the LDP’s Tokyo branch having to forfeit one seat because it did not have enough candidates to take all the proportional seats it had won, or

2) the supermarket manager whom Takebe called up at the last minute asking whether or not he would be willing to be on the tail end of the proportional list in his bloc. Now the poor guy has to find some to mind the store, or

3) the 26 year-old (Sugimura Taizo) who applied to be a proportional candidate by email and
whose life has been turned completely upside down. Since Sunday he has had to quit the company where he was about to be made a full-time employee; has had to buy a suit; and has had to find out what a member of the House of Representatives actually does.

Sugimura's crazed rants at his unexpected and unwanted good fortune have made great television. In one clip, he is standing on a sidewalk in a white t-shirt and slacks, reading out loud from a fax that explains the perks and privileges members of the Diet enjoy:

"Look at this! You get a rail pass! A rail pass good on any railway! Going anywhere! As far as you want! In the Green Car!


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Where to folks?

Prime Minister Koizumi has won an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives. Rebel members of the House of Councilors are already rolling over and offering up their throats to the great leader (long may he reign!). Should Koizumi wish, he can now embark on a crash program of radical reform.

We know that Item One on the agenda is passing postal reform legislation and Item Two is reshuffling the cabinet. What are the later items? Where will he concentrate his efforts during this last year of his presidency? Is there an issue regarding which he will be lured into going too far, shattering party unity a la Tony Blair it over the Iraq War? (Hmm....over-extending cooperation with the United States in...what? Or perhaps the exile of Abe Shinzo to the Oki Islands?)

P.S. Yes, I have considered "declaring Swedish the official language of Japan" an example of going too far. Replacing the emperor with Suzuki Muneo is also on the list.

P.P.S. Speaking of Suzuki Muneo, the top three felon candidates all won seats. I guess there really is no such thing as bad publicity.

P.P.S As for going medieval, I have never been happy with the Oda Nobunaga association. Koizumi is really more like Minamoto no Yoritomo. And yes, the Hojo Masako corollary of the simile applies.

The last paragraph of my incoherent ramblings of September 12, I failed to mention that I was writing about the proportional vote, not the total vote.

I here offer the corrected version:

A nice little demonstration of the political genius of this “ice cream for everybody” approach can be found in this evening's Asahi Shimbun. Page 3 is crammed with an even-more-abstruse-than-usual set of post-election, multi-colored, three-dimensional graphs that are guaranteed to resist even the most stubborn reader's comprehension.

However, the graph in the top right hand corner of page 3 tells a beautiful tale. According to the Asahi Shimbun's calculations, the LDP received 1) inside Tokyo, 2) in all the cities and 3) in the town and villages of the countryside exactly the same fraction of the proportional vote: 38%. Pathetically, the Democratic Party in defeat nearly matched the LDP in its consistency, winning 30% of the proportional vote in Tokyo and 31% in the cities and towns and villages.

In sacrificing a small part of the LDP's rural support (3%) the Koizumi LDP blew away the Democrats in the urban areas--just as political scientists had always predicted.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Try saying "Post-Koizumi" ten times fast...

To whomever it may or may not concern, interest or bore, as the case may be:

Given the size of the victory, who is the presumptive heir to take over the party presidency after Koizumi?

Takebe seems a more of Diet tactics and organization man (though I must confess I like his guiltless obesity); Yamasaki has the charisma of a cardboard box (and after an entire August on the campaign trail, a skin color to match. Boy, he could fit right in with the crowd at Enoshima). Abe was clueless as kanjicho dairi (Is there a job this man can do?) and bringing on Fukuda after the public has had the fireworks of Mr. K would be asking for trouble (just for a moment imagine what a Fukuda-Okada electoral fight would have been like. Yep, my jaw clenched in exactly the same way).

As for the princes, my disdain for them precedes me. Tanigaki, if memory serves me, took eight years to graduate from college and seven tries at passing the bar before he became a real boy. Aso is not a name one can say outloud in polite company--though, to his credit, he finally must have changed his accountant because he was not the #1 taxpayer in the Diet this year.

Now, I believe the public is more than ready for a Koike sosai --but is the LDP rank and file?
Cue the surf music

I am so glad Idid not try to extend my district by district analysis to the entire country. I would have ended up looking like a fool (sloth has its benefits). As it is, I remain as I was: a mildly annoying ignorant twit.

What was really surprising was that the public opinion polls were right.

In recent years, projections based on the results of public opinion polls have consistently underestimated Democratic Party performance on election day. A number of unscientific theories had been advanced for the decay in the reliability of the opinion polls, the most famous of which being that "the increased used of mobile telephones by the young had made it impossible for randomized telephone dialing to tap into the mood of this part of the electorate."

My own pet view has been that in two-income homes, no one iss around or has any time to answer the damn phone.

Two days prior to election day, theLDP central party headquarters warned its local organizations to look away from the gaudy poll projections in the newspapers, faxing the local branches photocopies of Mainichi Shimbun front pages from 2003 that predicted an outright LDP victory--quite the opposite of the spanking actually delivered by the electorate that year.

This time around public opinion polls accurately reflected the eventual relative performances of the two parties, at least in proportional seat terms.

The problem for pundits now is that they have to come up with a whole new set of unscientific theories to explain why the poll were right.

As to the specific projections of the total seats the LDP would win...let us just say that a whole bunch of folks at the Sankei Shimbun are feeling pretty smug right now.

Uh oh, Kanto!

The really stunning images for political junkies were the "Before" and "After" maps of the Kanto region. What was once a red heart surrounded by a speckled band of red and green became a sweeping green plain with a few tiny desultory poppies stuck on it for variety’s sake.

The Democratic Party went from 37 district seats in the Kanto to 5, one of which was a near-death experience for Kan Naoto [A personal note: Kan's victory, the only DPJ district win in Tokyo, means that the equipment and buildings at my daughter's elementary school will probably remain substandard. Just remember, Kan's is the district that got sodomized by JR East's plan to double the width of the Chuo rail corridor--making it impossible for cars and pedestrians to cross the tracks for hours at a time).

Being an overseas member of the U.S. Democratic Party, I know how it feels to see at electoral maps change like that in the hours after the polls close.

Things I am not surprised that did not happen, but would have loved it had they did:

a) An LDP candidate, frustrated at the Socialist or People's Party candidate opining yet again about "what will happen to inaka no ojiichan or obaachan if the nearby post office is no longer offering financial services in 10 years time," blurting out, "Cut the crap! In 10 year's time, according to census estimates, ojiichan and obaachan will have either moved to the cities or will be dead!"

b) a “yusei min'eika” ticker been printed in the top corner in the newspapers, counting both the number of times Koizumi said the phrase “yusei min'eika” in the last 24 hours and in the hours since he dissolved the Diet (the phrase must haunt his dreams).

c) in the wild “summer of love” spirit of cool biz, shikaku and "even if I am killed" an LDP candidates had come out of the closet. That or Fukaya Tadashi had explained what "my father was a shoemaker" means (ahh, Nonaka Hiromu's one saving grace).

d) a live web broadcast of Hu Jintao watching the results come in.

Finally, a pox on every idiotr who utters the platitude that Koizumi triumped by offering a simple, black & white choice to the electorate--as if the electorate had the political sophistication of a class of two-year olds. Ridiculous! Koizumi's genius was strategic ambiguity (and not a little tactical sexuality) in offering all possible choices to all the the electorate.

His actual "simple" message:

"If you love the LDP, vote LDP. If you want to reform the LDP, vote LDP. If you want to destroy the LDP, vote LDP."

A nice little demonstration of the political genius of this “ice cream for everybody” approach can be found in this evening's Asahi Shimbun. Page 3 is crammed with an even-more-abstruse-than-usual set of post-election, multi-colored, three-dimensional graphs that are guaranteed to resist even the most stubborn reader's comprehension.

However, the graph in the top right hand corner of page 3 tells a beautiful tale. According to the Asahi Shimbun's calculations, the LDP received 1) inside Tokyo, 2) in all the cities and 3) in the town and villages of the countryside exactly the same fraction of the vote: 38%. Pathetically, the Democratic Party in defeat nearly matched the LDP in its consistency, winning 30% of the votes in Tokyo and 31% in the cities and towns and villages.

In sacrificing a small part of the LDP's rural support (3%) the Koizumi LDP blew away the Democrats in the urban areas--just as political scientists had always predicted.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Last call!

We've emailed all the party heads to ask them to send us a final, very brief word of encouragement.

Mr. Koizumi's message:
"If you want to defeat the LDP, vote LDP!"

Mr. Kanzaki's message:I'm just along for the ride. No, I don't know how much my childcare and eldercare promises cost. Vote Komeito!"

Mr. Okada's message:
"People, people. Don’t listen to Koizumi. What he says makes no sense. I represent the real anti-LDP. Vote Democrat!"

Mr. Shii's message:
"You're one to talk, Okada-san! Once upon a time you were in the LDP, remember? If you want to send a message, vote Communist! Face it, we are the only ones to have really, truly, always been against the LDP!"

Ms. Fukushima's message:
"Do you have to bring up the Murayama episode? It was a mistake. We're past that now. To be honest, we never really liked them. Peace and security for everybody! Vote Socialist."

Mr. Watanuki's message:
"I love Toyama. Koizumi is a fascist. Wouldn't it be great if we could stop time? Vote…damn, what's the name of my party?"

Mr. Tanaka’s message
"Why am I doing this? I had some time. Don't get me wrong, being governor of Nagano’s great…but it’s not enough for my ego. Vote for Japan New Party! Or New Party Japan! Whatever."

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Reader P. W. asks:
"It sure looks like Koizumi has worked wonders with the mess he created, while the good old DPJ has floundered badly. Would you agree? And how would you explain it?"

MTC responds:
The short answer (the only answer I have time for right now) is that Koizumi did what he always said he would--but only when it suited his political needs.

He warned that he would dissolve the Diet out of spite if his much watered-down postal privatization measure were rejected. His clueless opponents thought he was bluffing. They forgot that his favorite movie is "High Noon." In the movie, the hero is abandoned by everyone: his bride, the townspeople, his brothers-in arms. Nevertheless he stays on to take on the bad guys, alone if need be--because he just knows that facing down the bad guys is the right thing to do.

Much to everyone's shock, the populace absolutely grooved to Koizumi's following through on his threats to dissolve the Diet and throw the postal rebels out.

He then spiked the punchbowl by nominating a bevvy of very attractive and talented women to take on the chinless creeps among the LDP post office rebels.

Suddenly way ahead in the polls, he was smart enought to reverse his much-feared promise to go to Yasukuni on August 15--for why make such a controversial and provocative move when you are on the cusp of blowing out all of your enemies in the general election?

Since then it has been a constant bashing away at the Democrats for their perfidious political opportunism --"they call themselves the reform party yet joined hands with the most decrepit of the LDP dinosaurs to defeat the postal privatization bill!"

Now if the Prime Minister can keep the whole confection believable for only six more days, he will be sitting pretty.
Sit Venia Verbo

Reader O. J. writes:
"MTC: I am too much of a gentleman to point out that there's nothing odd about a "Ho" at the 'guy party.'"

...and I thought I was being crass when I described the Koizumi assassins plan as a broad-based strategy!

I sure hope Professor S. is not reading this.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Now, if the torrential rains would stop and we had about six more weeks...

On Saturday, the Democratic Party finally found an able and articulate spokesman in its ranks. The only problems are that:
1) she is a spokesperson, which puts her at something of a disadvantage in what is for all intents and purposes " the guy party,"
2) she is not a member of the House of Representatives, and
3) she has that Taiwanese name.

Despite her ostensible handicaps, Ren Ho has been everywhere—taking command of a Saturday morning debate with other House of Councillors members (and pinning Takemi Keizo on the to the floor more than once), appearing alongside Okada Tatsuya in the official party video (Dude, she is like, so not a candidate in this election!) and squiring Okada in a saunter down the Ginza on Sunday.

Watching Ren Ho present the Democratic platform in clear, direct language while simultaneously dissecting the ruling party's plans, I am left to wonder where the Democratic Party would be today had it handed the communications duties to her. Okada's mannerisms—the lisp, the constant interruptions of the LDP speaker, the angry torrent of words that spill out when he is granted his moment—exhaust the listener or the viewer.

The Dog and Pony Show

Koike Yuriko and Kobayashi Koki conducted a joint appearance (one would hesitate to call it a debate) at the Foreign Correspondent's Club last week. I would very much like to know what the organizers of this coy slapfest were trying accomplish. It is not that Koike and Kobayashi do not see enough of each other--their campaign headquarters are in adjoining buildings, for goodness sakes.

The appearance of only two of the candidates in the Tokyo District #10 election rubbed a lot of folks the wrong way. Many commentators felt that foreign correspondents were facilitating the the degradation of Japan's politics to the level of mere performance. Why were the other two candidates even invited? If not, what was the higher purpose being served by this dog and pony show?

Splitting up is easy to do

The existence of two kinds of voting systems—one for a single district representative seat, the other for a bloc proportional seat—encourages vote strategic or message voting. Some savvy voters realize that by voting for one party's candidate in the district elections and his or her opponent in the proportional election, the district will end up with two legislators to the Diet.

Another voting strategy has been to split the vote between one's belly and one's head. Over the last several elections, indeed going back during to time of the Shinshinto, voters have been giving their district votes to their local LDP representative in order to preserve patronage networks. Their proportional votes, however, have been going to the main opposition party in order to deliver a vote of no-confidence in the government.

This pattern of voting has been the lifeline of the Democratic Party. Due to gerrymandering and patronage voting, the Democrats are a lost cause in the outlier districts. However, they can still eke out a few seats in even the most reactionary regions thanks to the proportional vote. Consequently, the mixed voting system has been generating something resembling a two-party system.

This election, with its the LDP rebels in the district elections, its "assassins" sent down from Tokyo to defeat them, a quietly revitalized neo-conservative left and deep urban-rural polarization around the postal reform bill, the mixed system is tearing up the old constituencies, support networks and voting strategies. No one knows who will benefit in the end.

The Prisoner of Toyama

We have heard damnably little of the interest from the People' s Party . While the television networks do allow its representatives a seat at their tables, the chair itself is usually empty, with the representative " appearing" as a video image piped in from a local affiliate. Rule number one regarding parties should be that if not even one of members is willing to make the trip to Tokyo, they are independents--and therefore need not be coddled.

I know I should not comment on a person’s appearance (other than Fukushima Mizuho's, that is) but every time I see Watanuki Tamisuke’s benign and artificially browned countenance smiling motionlessly from some non-descript hotel interior somewhere in his fiefdom, I find myself whispering, " It is the party of the living dead."

Friday, September 02, 2005

Five o'clock follies - a day of remorse and reflection edition

I will be taking a day off to ponder and reflect upon the evils of e-mail.

However, before I go on my retreat...

The Communist Party "elect a real opposition party" campaign grates on the nerves. However, Shii & Company do have a point. I am stunned at the number of "LDP" or "DPJ" candidates have been swingers, with multiple spells in and out of the LDP. Four of the seven parties and all the expelled rebels contesting this election are really only different strands of the old LDP coalition. Despite the high level of coverage of this election in the non-Japanese press, I cannot recall seeing a non-Japanese publication pointing out the common mongrel origins of the nominally "ruling" and "opposition" parties.

Perhaps I am reading the wrong non-Japanese publications.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Reader S. K. writes:
"Looking all the names in the list of candidates, I thought this election was only a game among politicians, 'cos, you know, most of candidates in the small constituencies are also listed in the propotional vote, so, even if they lose in the consituency, many will be anyway elected in the propotional vote. Then, not so much excited, except dissidents who can only run for the small constituency, and have little chance to win.

Professor S. brings up a salient point: voters have an incentieve to cross party lines between their district and proportional seat voting so as to elect two candidates from their districts.

The clearest case for such a split decision this election is Gifu District #1 where two extremely attractive (and not just in a prurient sense) female candidates are facing off against each other. By putting Sato Yukari in the number #3 spot on the LDP's list for the Tokai bloc, the LDP is begging the voters in Gifu #1 to give their district vote to local sweetheart Noda Seiko and their party vote to the LDP. For the moderate conservative female voter, it's a two-fer.

The problem is when one tries to integrate such hedging behavior into predictions of final vote counts in the district elections. Adding another variable will certainly help one develop a more accurate model.

However a more accurate model will not necessarily deliver better results, if one's data is not particularly good.

For myself, I rely the results of past elections, the likely participation rate (63%?), public opinion polls, basic rules of thumb (Rule #1: the Democratic Party receives about twice as many votes as pre-election public opinion polls predict) and the occasional off-beat thought (Of all the party candidates, those of the Komeito have the highest average age. Is the Sokka Gakkai going into demographic decline faster than the general population?).

At this point, I stop thinking and have to go with whatever I have got--because one can think oneself to a standstill:

"Two elections ago DPJ Candidate A in District Z was an proportional seat LDP representative who served only one term...while three elections ago LDP candidate B was a Shinshinto district representative from adjoining District W. Last election, DPJ Candidate A defeated LDP Candidate B by 2300 votes....AAAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!"

Reader O. J. asked:
"Speaking of prurience, have you noticed many of the assassins, includingHoriemon, are divorced? Could it be many of them are single and/orchildless too? What does this say about social isues in Japan? The role ofwomen? Demographics?"

I answered:
"It is hard to run about making revolution when you were up until 12:30 a.m. doing dishes and other housework, the dog needs his walk, the laundry needs to be hung, the spouse has left without setting up breakfast, the seven year old has not done his homework, the nine year old has no idea where her swimsuit is, the birds have crapped on the telephone and shorted it out, the mother-in-law has come to the door demanding to be paid for "babysitting" you never requested, the garbage has to be put out, you have not worked out the meal plan for the gakudo hoiku camping trip (where you have to feed 105 adults and kids for two days), your boss calls, asking if you could come in 15 minutes early today and you live in a bedroom suburb an hour by train away from Nagata-cho."

Unconsciously I was echoing "The Scarlatti Tilt," a two-sentence short story by Richard Brautigan, author of Trout Fishing in America:

The Scarlatti Tilt

It's very hard to live in a studio apartment in San Jose with a man who's learning to play the violin.

That's what she told the police when she handed them the empty revolver.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005 this on?

Hokkaido - district seats

District #1 -Yokomichi (DPJ)
District #2 - Mitsui (DPJ)
District #4 - Hachiro (DPJ)
District #7 - Kitamura (LDP)
District #10 - Kodaira (DPJ)
District #11 - Nakagawa (LDP)
District #12 - Takebe (LDP)

District #3 - Ishizaki (LDP)
District #5 - Kobayashi (DPJ)
District #6 - Sasaki (DPJ)
District #8 - Sato (LDP)
District #9 - Iwakura (LDP)

Hokkaido - proportional seats

LDP - 3
DPJ - 3
Komeito - 1
Daichi - 1

Predicting reelections requires little mental acuity. In the district seats I see switching, I am going to take a shot in predicting that Foreign Minister Machimura will lose out to Kobayashi in the ground war for District #5. By contrast, I am taking a tremendous leap in predicting a defeat for Hatoyama Yukio in District #9. Two elections ago Hatoyama barely squeaked through; this time the Koizumi oikaze just might sweep him out.

In the proportional seats, I see the LDP and the DPJ in a tie, with the LDP slightly ahead in the vote total. The Komeito will get its token seat. I have been warned that Hokkaido is still full of Muneacs, so I am giving a seat to Daichi -- though it kills me to do so. If the Northern Con fails to win a seat, then I see a chance for the JCP to pick up a proportional seat.

Therefore, in the Hokkaido Bloc

Komeito 1
Daichi 1