Monday, October 30, 2006


Prime ministerin' sure can be hard.

You have gotta admit it. Prime Minister Abe Shinzō had a great month.

He gets himself elected party president in a landslide and picks a cabinet of his BFFs (Best Friends Forever) without having to cave in to the factions, the tribes or the raving lunatics.

He hands off all his burning issues to mind-numbing committees.

The leader of the main opposition party goes AWOL.

Minions toiling in the shadows finagle visits to Beijing and Seoul and face time with the Big Boys in both capitals. Abe receives the invites from his continental peers without having to surrender his NCND (If You Have To Ask You Can't Afford It) position on Yaskukuni.

Just as he is about to greet the Seoul Man, the Dear One has his scientists blow a chunk of their plutonium, or at least give it the old college try, making Abe's militant anti-DPRK posture look reasonable and prescient.

The UN Security Council grooves on sanctions, the Chinese banks cut off electronic transfers and the DPJ manages to lose both by-elections on October 22.


Come unto me, oh my encomiums! (Inside this Parenthesis, You'll See Something New! Encomium #1 and Encomium #2)

But, dangnabit, it turns out that there are SECOND months in prime ministerial careers.

And the first week of the second month of the Abe era turned out to be really crummy:

- a national scandal erupted in education that had nothing to do with either of two Abe educational obsessions: insufficient patriotism and more than sufficient sex ed (what the?).

Yes, it seems a number of elite high schools have been stiffing the government, filing false reports of students fulfilling national education requiremements . Instead of teaching the required subjects, the high schools, all of them known for the high percentage of graduates they have been sending on to quality universities, were caught teaching the content of the entrance exams .

Now the Gadfly at GlobalTalk21 points out a rural vs. urban disparity (all major economic and ethical issues run smack dab into this dichotomy one way or another) that partially exonerates the actions of the principals of the cheatin' schools.

I see no need for exoneration.

The dishonesty was in the Ministry of Education's regulations.

The decision to cheat was a rational one. The high schools had an interest in maintaining a high rate of production of successful candidates for elite universities. The parents wanted their children to be prepared for the university examinations, at the lowest possible cost. The children just wanted to win a space on the escalator of modern Japanese life--matriculation in a reputable university--as the crushing, traditional recruitment systems are reasserting themsleves in the companies made flush by the post-2001 economic recovery.

Rather than blindly follow the idiotic directives of the Ministry, the principals, the teachers and the parents conspired to promote the welfare of the children over the long term.

Calloo callay! Economic rationalism rules the day!

The more anal of commentators have been fluxommed at the lack of rage in the many public meetings being held the various affected schools.

"The schools principals lied; the children might not graduate! Where's the outrage?"

The schools were doing what the parents wanted, you (expletive deleted) rule-and-order-obsessed morons.

The real problem for Abe is that the miscreants in this scandal were the "good schools"--ones that are highly competitive, engage in practical teaching and submit themselves to rigorous, outside testing of their students.

Just the kind of schools parents would encourage their children to attend in the widely touted but impractical to the point of nonsense proposal to give out vouchers.

- On Tuesday, the Lionheart voiced his first criticism of his successor.

The subject was, unsurprisingly, the return of the postal exiles to the bossom of the LDP.

Aoki Mikio is convinced the exiles have a a major following in their home prefectures. This makes them dangerous political opponents. In Aoki's view, the sooner the exiles return the LDP, the sooner this threat is neutralized. Ozawa Ichirō has abetted Aoki's worries by sidling up to the exiles, declaring that the Democratic Party will cooperate with anyone willing to topple the LDP.

Abe, in order to woo Aoki and earn his support in the LDP presidential election, clearly promised to reintegrate the exiles at the earliest possible opportunity.

The exiles have so far cooperated, keeping Ozawa at arm's length. Twelve of the 13 exiles who retained their seats in the House of Representatives voted for Abe in the Diet election.

With the less-than-promising results of the October 22 by-elections, however, Nakagawa Hidenao--the architect of next year's overall elections strategy--is getting cold feet over the deal. The loss in Chiba during the summer and the LDP's dependence on the Komeitō vote on Sunday last has him thinking that maybe, just maybe, the LDP cannot just do whatever it wants and still win elections.

The Lionheart was much more blunt about the impact of the return of the exiled:

"If those dependent on the post offices come back, we'll lose in the House of Councillors election."

Surprise! A lot of the Koizumi Children agree.

True, it would be great for Noda Seiko to be back in the LDP, providing a counterbalance to the ridiculous Takaichi Sanae and the Sisters of Opportunism (Katayama Satsuki and Satō Yukari).

But God, the thought of three quarters of the Ugliest Golf Foursome in the History of the Sport

back in the party gives me the creeps too.

- All for one and everyone has it out for the hosakan.

It was also clear last week that the bureaucrats will not be taking the appointment of Koike Yuriko and Yamatani Eriko lying down. While Abe may want to concentrate policy generation inside the kantei, the ministries have made clear they will not countenance commissions and councils that do anything but their traditional function of generating Good Ideas That Will Never Be Realized. The Education Ministry even shoved Ibuki Bunmei in front of the microphone to declare his ministry will not necessarily follow the recommendations of Yamatani's Education Reconstruction Council, which met for the first time on the 25th.

Way to show your support for the Prime Minister, Ibuki-san!

To make matters worse, Yamatani was sent on a fool's errand last week. Someone thought it necessary that she investigate firsthand an egregious case of bullying, incited by a teacher, that drove a child to suicide.

Unfortunately, while Yamatani can play the prude or the scold, she has no real warmth in her repetoire to bestow or deny as the occasion warrants. When confronted by the school's paucity of remorse she could only utter dumbstruck promises to change...uh..something. Her deer-stuck-in-the-headlights-look indicated she had never entertained the possibility that her job would be anything more that driving anatomically correct dolls and incompetent teachers out of the classroom.

Discipline and social rectitude, she seemed to be realizing for the first time, can be two-edged swords.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Except that that would be an insult to Neanderthals

It seems that Shimomura Hakubun is fast on his way to earning the title of Chief Cabinet Lunkhead:

Abe protege urges 'objective' look at sex slave apology, draws flak
The Japan Times

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hakubun Shimomura's Wednesday remark that it is necessary to review the "historical facts" that led to a 1993 official apology for the sufferings of Japan's wartime sex slaves, or "comfort women," was quickly played down Thursday by the government.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki gave his assurance Thursday that Japan will uphold the 1993 apology issued by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.

"I have been told (that Shimomura) spoke in a private capacity. The government's position in honoring the 1993 Kono statement remains unchanged," Shiozaki, the top government spokesman, told reporters.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a Lower House Budget Committee session earlier this month that he accepts the Kono statement.

When Abe was asked Thursday if Shimomura's remarks contradicted his, the prime minister replied, "I believe he made the remarks in his capacity as an individual Diet member. I see absolutely no problem at all."

In the 1993 statement, Kono officially acknowledged that the Imperial Japanese Army forced women in Asia into sexual servitude.

Shimomura said in a speech in Tokyo that the Kono statement should be reconsidered "by studying more about the facts after collecting objective and scientific knowledge."

Yes, Shimomura did backtrack somewhat by saying that the present government is unlikely to reverse the 1993 declaration. Still, why does he have to tangle himself up in these matters? Does he not know he is in the government now, serving at the whim of the Prime Minister? What the hell does he think he is saying when he calls for "science-based knowledge" (kagakuteki na chishiki) of the comfort women issue?

Acually, the entire sentence is a doozy and deserves a gander:


Soooo...according to Mr. Shimomura, there has not been enough coordinated study of the comfort women issue in terms of its factual basis.

Well, not denying that the program had ever existed might have gotten ball rolling a little earlier...but, you know, it has only been a few decades since scholars began looking at the historical records of these events.

And this coordinated study (kenkyu shiau) requirement...who exactly needs to be coordinating his or her study with whom?

And what is the meaning of that naked "kekka" hanging out there, showing its shortcomings to all of creation?

"Should we not take the time, and, with objectivity, collect more of the science-based knowledge?"

Yeah verily, we mere politicians and citizens, we cannot judge. Our job is to collate. Judgment must be left to future scholars of history, the same ones whom the Prime Minister is hoping will someday deliver a judgment on the invasion of North China (Oh ye objective historians of the future as yet unborn, we long for your guidance!)

Shimomura's appointment was a concession to the Neanderthal wing of the conservative movement (pace the title of this post). The knuckledraggers are the PM's natural supporters. Shimomura throws them red meat on the issues they care about: male imperial succession, the "masochistic Marxism" of the modern curriculum, the 1947 Constitution...

Nevertheless, Shimomura is in the Kantei now, a satellite in orbit about the PM. He needs to be thinking about controlling his mouth. If he does not, the PM, of his own volition or at the request of Nakagawa Hidanao, will have to dump him.

No one is going to mess up the PM's relations with the Chinese and the South Koreans except the PM himself.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


I must be getting on in years.

My addled brain took several seconds to process what this headline was trying to tell me.
US will fully protect Japan: Rice
The Hindu
I can remember when those same words, in a different order, or at least punctuated differently, resulted in mass explosions of think tank hystrionics.

Those were the days, my friend...

Life on Earth May Be Wiped Out By Ravenous Space Goat

There are days when I want to throttle David Pilling's editors.

Today is one of those days.

Japan may axe state debt guarantees
Financial Times

By David Pilling in Tokyo- Published: October 25 2006 22:19 - The Japanese government is proposing to end its guarantee on local government debt in a move that would expose municipalities across Japan to the threat of bankruptcy and their lenders to the risk of default.

If adopted, the proposal could have an enormous impact on about Y200,000bn ($1,700bn) of outstanding local government debt, which lenders currently treat as carrying almost no default risk.
Wow, this would be an extraordinary, shattering development in global finance, with serious implications for Japan's continuing economic expansion, the long-term viability of the LDP, the pace of economic and bureaucratic reform and the policies of the Bank of Japan.

Wouldn't it be even a better story if it were actually something the Cabinet had decided? Or even discussed? Or even dreamt of?


It sure would.

Except, of course, the Cabinet has done no such thing.

The proposal comes from the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, a powerful policymaking body chaired by Shinzo Abe, prime minister. It is part of a drive to rein in public spending by forcing local governments to take more responsibility for their own spending.

Other proposals include further transfers of tax and spending authority to local governments and reorganising Japan's 47 prefectures into a smaller number of states.

Takatoshi Ito, a professor at Tokyo University and one of four private sector members of Mr Abe’s economic council, said: “This would push the cost of local government borrowing up, so they would have to be more careful. It would bring market pressure and force discipline on local government spending.”

Mr Ito said the change, which is at an embryonic stage and could take several years to implement, would have to be introduced carefully to avoid chaos and mass default. A mechanism similar to that relating to developing country debt would need to be put in place to enable municipalities to restructure debt if they were in danger of default.
So the Japanese central government MAY repudiate its implicit guarantees of local MAY reorganize the MAY relinquish the power to tax and spend for local needs beyond even the Trinity proposals.

But then again, maybe "Japan" won't.

Ah come on, who cares about the difference between the subjunctive and the indicative, right?

Put all on the front page in scare font! And slap the Prime Minister's name on it for good measure!


Monday, October 23, 2006

Welcome to the Machine

As expected, the LDP candidates defeated the Minshutō candidates in the two by-elections held on Sunday.

Just as predictably, the newspapers this morning are saying that the results cast doubt upon Ozawa Ichirō's mythical powers of pulling electoral rabbits out of hats.

[An aside--but how hard can it be to cast doubt upon mythical (shinwateki) powers? They're mythical, aren't they? Only the Mainichi Shimbun seems to get the vocabulary right, calling into doubt Ozawa's "mystical powers" (shintsūryoku)]

Like certain ventilations on North Korea, the speculation in the newspapers does not even have the saving grace of being wrong.

Ozawa's "mythical" or "mystical" reputation largely rests on one big surprise result: the Shinshintō's win in the 1995 House of Councillors election. The gleeful almost giddy face of Ozawa as he handled his first press conference following the Shinshintō's 1.5 million vote stomping of the LDP in the national election totals is a nearly iconic image of 1990's politics.

With the passage of time, Ozawa's achievement seems far less of a "Wow!" and more of a "Well, duuuhhhh."

While the general public in 1995 still felt the sting of intense disappointment at the weakness of the two short-lived anti-LDP coalition governments, it was nevertheless open-minded toward non-LDP parties. With the Socialists in bed with the LDP, the Shinshintō was fighting the Communists and the bizarre Sakigake and Niin Clubs for protest votes.

Ozawa, however, had an ace in the hole--the Shinshintō had absorbed the Komeitō. Even before making his first campaign appearance, Ozawa had around 8 million votes in the bag.

How significant was an 8 million vote cushion?

Let us review the final counts

Niin Club......................1,282,596
Sports and Peace...........541,894
New Heisei.....................506,551

Well, dang. The hostage Komeitō vote put Ozawa two thirds of the way to victory.

To Ozawa's credit, the Shinshintō was able to pull in more votes than the Communist Party in an election that was half free-for-all, half freak show (Remember the UFO Party, advocating greater recognition for peaceful relations with space aliens? 54,524 votes!)

Since then, Ozawa's powers have been far from mythical or mystical or even remotely scary. He is a regional politician with national pretensions. Secure in his homebase of Iwate and surrounded by a defensive wall of acolytes in the Tōhoku, he has seduced the nation's center with blather about founding a real conservative movement, moderate but tough, patriotic but internationalist--and not a rag bag like the LDP.

A humdinger of plot...until Koizumi Jun'ichirō stole it.

Since then Ozawa has been drifting. His Conservative Party blew up after his second break up with the LDP (Can anyone think of a ruling party in major Western democracy with as many swingers as the LDP? First they're in, then they're out...then they're back in, and, in a few instances, they're right back out again).

After a long period of lurking in the shadows, Ozawa has grasped the nettle of leadership of the Democratic Party, a party without an ideology or a core constituency.

Which brings up a second point: the Democrats did great on Sunday.

Sure the party lost both elections by hideous looking margins:

54.8% to 40.3% in Kanagawa #16

50.2% to 41.7% in Osaka #9

....but the margin of the loss was small--only about 19,000 votes in both cases.

What killed the chances of the Democrats was neither policy gaffes, nor poor candidates nor the Abe Cabinet's soaring popularity.

It was turnout.

The percentage of eligible voters casting ballots in the Sunday by-elections set new record lows in both districts.

Only 52.15% of the electorate voted in Osaka District #9 (as compared to 67.56% in the 2004 general election.) Only 47.16% voted in Kanagawa #16 (as compared to 64.88% in 2004).

When voter turnout is low, the machine voter rules.

So the Democrats lost...but they did best where it counts in the long run: among the non-aligned voters.

Exit polls showed that in Kanagawa #16, running for a seat vacated by the death of his father, LDP candidate Kamei Zentarō could only attract 37% of the non-aligned vote. His challenger, newcomer Gōtō Yuichi, received 59% of the non-aligned vote.

In Osaka #9, winner Harada Kenji did even worse among the non-aligned, receiving a mere 28% of the non-aligned vote while his opponent, veteran Otani Nobumori, received 61% of the non-aligned vote.

In both districts, exit polls found that non-aligned voters made up only 17% of those voting.

The inescapable conclusion: that in a general election, when voter turnout is higher and the percentage of non-aligned voters swells, the Democratic candidates will be much, much tougher to beat.

So, though I have been hard as heck on the Democrats, I like their chances in the July elections a lot better today.

I even think the party's fey commercial works.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Appointment announcement

MOFA premature Old Boy (he quit before retirement age), saxophone hipster and good friend Miyake Kunihiko has been appointed to a most intriguing new Kantei post:

Wife of premier given diplomacy, fashion advisers
Yomiuri Shimbun

Former Foreign Ministry bureaucrat Kunihiko Miyake has been appointed to a newly established position in the Cabinet Secretariat to act as an adviser to Akie Abe, the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Miyake will assist Abe in areas such as diplomatic activities, with his role mainly consisting of counseling the prime minister's wife on etiquette and the art of conversation when foreign dignitaries come to the residence for dinner and other social occasions, and also to arrange her schedule when she joins her husband on overseas trips.

The prime minister pushed strongly for the establishment of this part-time post, which was created on his direct orders.
Well, it seems the role of the wife is going to be pushed to the forefront in the Abe Era... not that such an option existed in the Koizumi Era (First Concubine?).

Is is it modernity...or tradition that is in the ascendant?

How long will it be before the women's weeklies start finding a "pawā kappuru genshō" to chatter and tut-tut about?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Well, at least that's settled

The New York Times reports that the DPRK bomb was a plutonium weapon.

Test weapon powered by plutonium
The Australian

October 17, 2006 - US intelligence agencies have concluded that North Korea's nuclear test on October 9 was powered by plutonium, rather than enriched uranium, The New York Times reported today in its electronic edition.

The newspaper quoted officials who reviewed the results of atmospheric sampling from which a radioactive material was found. The sampling was collected after the blast, it said.

North Korea has obtained plutonium by reprocessing the spent nuclear fuel rods extracted from an experimental graphite-moderated nuclear reactor in Yongbyon, though exactly how much is unknown.

So the MTC laziness conjecture holds--and likely explains the low yield of the first test.

Plutonium - a snap to extract; an absolute pain to set off.

Uranium - an incredible pain to extract; a breeze to blow up.

A guess about the second test: while still nasty as all heck, a sub-1000 ton fizzle is insufficient as a deterrent. The DPRK has little choice but to continue testing until the ignition of a successful (10,000 ton or above) explosion.

Of course, given the DPRK's pathetic poverty and unreliable technology, the country may run out of plutonium cores before it manages to conduct a single successful test.

Couple this with the rather brief flight of the Taepodong II in July, it is safe to assume that Kim Jong-il is one really ticked off Supreme Leader...and the scientists and engineers of Punggyeyok are in a real hurry to conduct a second (and, they pray, successful) test.

Later - This post originally had the sizes of the nuclear explosions off by a factor of 1000. The correct numbers have been inserted.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

L'Age d'Or

The other day...ok, Friday...I went completely off the rails in a rant about right wing heroine Sakurai Yoshiko, commentator ordinaire.

I know that Ms. Sakurai, bless her hair, is not worthy of a moment of my time.

However, today, to torment me, she unleashed, upon the back page of the Fuji Sankei Groups's business paper Business i an op-ed so damned scary I was left shaking.

While it is uncouth to post entire articles of copyrighted material, even to a site such as mine that boasts no ads, I have feel the common weal requires a broad dissemination of this material.

Out of cussedness or good sense, the online version of Business i does not carry the op-ed. The pseudo-blogsite, where the posts all seem to be reproductions of her magazine articles, has neither the text nor a link to it.

(Whether is a fan site or a real Sakurai Office production, I do not know)

Anyway, in the interests of exploring the places where the New Nationalist brain can wander when set loose out of sight of the major dailies and magazines, I append the ninth installment of her series Kagiri naku aishii kono kuni ("Oh, this country! How I love it without bound!):

"Nintokutei no chisei"
("The Reign of the Emperor Nintoku")

Courtesy: Business i
Click on the image to open in a large printable format

Forgive me for being blunt--but any public figure who

1) accepts the depictions of the emperors in the Nihon Shoki as basically factual

2) believes the Kofun Era to have been a time of enlightened rule where the good emperors thought deeply about the happiness of the little people and

3) believes that the construction of the kofun came about in a sort of mass celebration of civic mindedness and plucky volunteerism (Not for us the slaves who built the pyramids of Giza, no!)

that--dare I say it--that person a threat to Japan's collective sanity.

Even as a metaphor, the Kofun Era is a hideous choice.

The entire classical narrative--which is all we have to go on-- is a misrepresentation, where the commonfolk have no voice of their own, only the lines assigned them by the court scribes.

I invite your critical or not-so-critical judgment of Ms. Sakurai's essay.

Later - This post has been edited for greater clarity.

Monday, October 16, 2006

And yes, finally, North Korea

Now that I have spent part of my weekend bolstering my superficial knowledge of sub-atomic physics, chain reactions, beta and alpha decay, atom mass numbers, thermal neutrons and the like, I would like to ask a few questions:

If the North Koreans are so damned serious about developing ICBMs and a nuclear bombs for military purposes, why do they carry out the preparations for their tests in plain sight?

In both the recent cases of provocative escalations, the North Koreans carried out their preparations in full view of commercial satelittes.

Why would they do such a thing, when the information on satellite flyovers, both military and commercial, is available on the Web? The Indians were able to carry out their preparations without detection. Why don't the North Koreans? Are the North Koreans stupider than the Indians?

Why did the North Korean announce their intent to test a nuclear weapon in advance, via official channels?

Why did their big missile not work? Why was their atomic explosion so pathetically small?

Think, think, think!

What does Kim Jong-il want? What does his military brass really want? If the nation in peacetime does not have the ability to heat people's homes, light the cities, fuel the factories and design workable weapons, what will happen when it has to fight a real war? Where is the surplus capacity, the surplus civilian strength it will shift to warmaking?

Think, think, think!

The DPRK is a nuclear power that, as one newspaper writer noted, cannot manufacture its own bicycles!

Sweet Amaterasu, can we not think it possible we may be acting rash, or even like chickens with their heads cut off?

And do not give me any crap about the secret uranium program. It is a f----g pain to run a centrifuge cascade separating U235 and U238. There is no way an installation of sufficient size to produce a sufficient amount of enriched uranium for nuclear bombs could escape detection. The intelligence community has managed to identify every single hole of interest in the whole bloody country. If we are to believe the news reports, the cover on the uranium program was supposedly blown by satellite photos of a single C-130's load worth of equipment, for Amaterasu's sake.

Furthermore, why make the effort? Dissolving spent fuel rods to extract P239 is a snap, comparatively. Dictatorships are lazy; communist ones incredibly so. How does the DPRK impress foreigners? Through people-powered displays - jokey quadrangles of dancing soldiers and stadiums full of card flippers!

Sanctions? More sanctions?

How about pity, for a change?

The Ministry of Resource Abuse raises its hands

When the Australian fisheries authorities presented their findings on overfishing of South Pacific bluefin tuna to the Japanese government last month, I thought there was no way the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries would even give them the time of day. I was sure their reply to the Australian analysis was going to be something on the order of:

"Statistical evidence? We don't accept no stinkin' statistical evidence."

Hence my astonishment at the reports in this morning's Australian papers:

Japan forced to halve bluefin catch
The Age

Andrew Darby- October 16, 2006- JAPAN has buckled under Australian pressure, accepting a severe cut in its southern bluefin tuna catch after officials accused it of illegally taking fish worth up to $8 billion over the past 20 years.

The reduction came in international talks where the Australian Government attacked Japanese fishers for their deceit, describing the bluefin scandal as among the world's worst cases of overfishing.

Australian officials refused Japanese demands to tone down their language, as they used the case to demand changes to the way the fishery was regulated.

"No, it can't be," I thought to myself. "The MAFF bureaucrats never say sorry. There has to be a catch. They must have snookered the Australians into thinking they have conceded when in truth they have no intention of following through on the deal."

But tonight, the evening papers have the story on the front page. For the Yomiuri, it is the lead story:






What, no simpering? No wailing about prejudice? What about "the cockroaches of the sea" and other colorful turns of phrase? A complete acceptance of the circumstantial evidence of wrongdoing and an acceptance of punishment? What?

"Damn," thought I, "What strange world is this where the MAFF just coughs it up as if it were ejecting a toothfish vertebra from out of its gorge?"

Is this not the same ministry that this past winter approved the hunting of humpback whales--an endangered species--in waters off Australia, nearly driving bilateral relations off a cliff?

What the heck is going on? This sudden surrender cannot be laid at Kim Jong-il's door, can it?

Friday, October 13, 2006

De Re Sakurai Yoshiko

I was trying to determine what it is about Sakurai Yoshiko that drives me up the wall.

I hated the thought that it might be her appearance--that I am creeped out by her choice of foundation (I think it is Shiseidō's "Funereal Beige") and by the mind-boggling amounts of hairspray she must use (if the natural covering on our heads were meant to billow out in an immobile shell like a frozen spinnaker, Amaterasu would have endowed our follicles with little carbon nanotube factories).

I did not want to believe it is her stiff side-to-side head movements.

I would surely be disappointed in myself if it were her alarming voice: a measured, soft and ultimately menacing sibilance that gives Harada Mieko's Lady Kaede a run for her money in the "Yikes!" department.

When I find something distasteful, I do not want it to be simply because of style. I want my unhappines to arise out of a substantive disagreement.

To try to figure out whether I had a real beef with Sakurai's thinking, or whether it was just Sakurai's atmospherics that upset me, I decided to read her writings.

A not very difficult task as the Fuji Sankei Group let her run amok in the pages of Business Sankei every day last week.

So I dutifully photocopied five of her recent essays, and sighed at the prospect of having to pick through her expostulations.

I caught a break yesterday (October 12), however, when I chanced upon Ms. Sakurai's contribution to that day's Sankei Shimbun :

"Abe shushō ni mōsu: Nipponkoku no daisenryaku egake" ("I Tell Prime Minister Abe: Outline the Japanese State's Great Strategy!") [no link]

Boy did that ever sound militant in the English...almost...PRC/DPRK-level militant.

But I digress.

Reading through the pummeling Sakurai-san gives the Chinese government for its fecklessness and the Japanese government for its spinelessness, I realized what it is about her that drives me bananas.

Her consistency.

Her ugly, triumphant glee at wading through the inconsistencies of others, grabbing hold of them and holding them up, wriggling, for all to see.

Paragraph after paragraph of slopping through the reversals, revisions and changes of others, then contrasting them with her (or Japan's, she elides the two sometimes) adamant, unwavering certainty.

It was in that instant I recalled Emerson's dictum:

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."
A foolish inhuman flaying of others for their failings, contemptuous of the historical context within which those failings occurred, followed by the suggestion of a simple, clear and impossible-to-implement counterproposal whose only purpose is to humiliate.

Now that..that is worthy of my dyspepsia.

Or am I just completely off-base?

Later - Due to exhaustion and anger, the original version of the above included two indefensible accusations. I have since removed them.

Graphical Analysis of Japanese Sanctions Regime: Simulation Under Actual Economic, Political and Geographic Boundary Conditions

Black to stop play and lose in three moves.

Simulation Start Position

Position after One (1) Move

Position after Two (2) Moves

Position After Three (3) Moves

Run Simulation again? (click one) YES / NO

Les Amours Fous des Sud-Coréens

Pour le Francophones:

Nucléaire : ambivalences sud-coréennes
Le Monde

Par Robert Dujarric - L'essai nucléaire nord-coréen met les Sud-Coréens dans une situation délicate. Ils ne souhaitent pas que des sanctions aboutissent à la chute du régime de Pyongyang, qui conduirait à une réunification. Pour eux, subventionner le Nord est moins coûteux et dangereux que de fusionner avec lui. Heureusement pour les diplomates sud-coréens, l'administration Bush, confrontée au fiasco irakien et au défi nucléaire iranien, cherche aussi à éviter une crise en Asie.

Mais, au-delà des péripéties diplomatiques des semaines à venir, il faut essayer de comprendre ce que représente la "bombe" nord-coréenne pour certains Sud-Coréens. La Corée du Sud est un pays profondément divisé par l'histoire du XXe siècle, comme le fut la France du XIXe entre les admirateurs de la Révolution et les Français en deuil du roi très chrétien.

As Mr. Dujarric notes in the text, South Korea is an odd bird--a country where the progressives are from the backward provinces, proudly and vocally ignorant of the outside world and its ways, while the conservatives are urban professionals with exposure to foreign influences.

Try as I might (Communists versus the LDP? Socialists versus the DPJ?) I cannot think of similar duality for Japan.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Why I don't

Strange--with everybody and his/her mother commenting on the North Korean nuclear test, I find myself reticent to offer my two yen's worth.

That is saying something--because it is rumored that I have an opinion on EVERYTHING.

Still, a fundamental honesty about the depth of my ignorance prevents me from my usual pontifications.

Let us see if I can pass a simple test to tell whether or not I am worthy to speak about the nuclear test:

Section A: North Korea

1) We all know Pyongyang is the DPRK's largest city. What is the second largest?

2) How long is the DMZ? How wide is it?

3) What are the names of the major agricultural regions?

4) What is the name of the number 3 person in the hierarchy?

Section B: Japan-DPRK relations

1) What is the most valuable export, by total value, from the DPRK to Japan?

2) How much of this good was shipped at the peak of the trade? When was the peak?

3) How much money was being tranferred each year from Japan to the DPRK prior the 1998 missile tests?

4) How much money was tranferred in 2005?

5) How many North Korean passport holders have permanent residence?

Section 3: Disarmament and non-proliferation

1) What is the formula for calculating yield based on energy detected though ground motion?

2) What is the minimal amoung of plutonium necessary to trigger a chain reaction? What is the minimun amount of uranium?

3) What role does deuterium play in nuclear weapons production? What role does tritium play?

I do not know the answers to any of these basic questions.

I have never been to North Korea.

I indeed have never laid eyes on a single bit of North Korean territory.

So what do I know?

Fantasies, rumors, lies and wild, screamingly untethered guesses.

Not a good basis for analysis.

Kawagoe Matsuri, October 14 and 15

If Tokyo is getting you down and you are not going to be taking a trip to Kyoto or Takayama any time soon, then get thee to Kawagoe (via either the JR or Seibu lines) this weekend for the Kawagoe Matsuri.

It looks like a damn decent substitute for the Gion and Takayama matsuri.

To appreciate the town of Kawagoe it is best to make a visit at some other time of the year. It is an especially nice place to go on a day of light rain when one cannot contemplate even spending one more minute indoors.

I doubt there is another town close to central Tokyo that preserves so much Edo to Early Showa era architecture (not much on the Meiji side, I'm afraid). While touristy, the kura and Taisho districts are graced with quaint shops containing merchandise I am actually tempted to purchase (make me turn over my wallet when I enter the cutlery shop, for example). The candy lane and the restaurants are charming as all heck.

The Kitain on the town east side is an overlooked treasure. Head temple of the Tendai sect in the Kantō, it was shown special favor by the third Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu. When the original buildings burned down in 1638, Iemitsu had rooms of Edo Castle disassembled and shipped to the Kitain to replace the lost living quarters. Consequently, the Kitain preserves what I believe are the only surviving Edo Castle interiors.

The time to go the the Kitain is probably in Golden Week when the temple treasures go on display. My guess is the monks are sitting on a mountain of extraordinary stuff.

When I visited in the temple in March this year, someone had tacked up an original Wen Zhengming (1470-1559) landscape scroll behind a mound of some Tokugawa lacquered household crap--directly under the light fixture in a case without temperature or humidity controls.

I nearly had a coronary.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Understanding the Abes, Not

Maybe somebody could help me out with this.

He is dedicated to education reform--but he attended a single private school all his scholastic life, riding the escalator, never facing juken hell.

He and his wife, furthermore, have no children.

He is interested in promoting pride in being Japanese.

However, half of his speech to the Diet seems to have been in heavily accented English and his government is modeled upon the American White House system. His wife is a fanatic for all things South Korean.

I am no going to use the "H" adjective here...but folks, keeping this Utsukushii Nippon confection aloft is going to take a nauseating amount of spin.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Incompletion Backwards Principle

Kim Jong-il is losing his touch.

Where once he could drive three wedges between the countries of East Asia before lunchtime, now all his jiving and jigging just drive them closer together.

In July, he gives a big thumbs up to missile tests.

In response, the Security Council, after some initial hemming and hawing by China and Russia, gives him a big thumbs down, coming down on his government like a load of lumber.

The U.S. and Japan were pushing for a load of bricks...but c'mon, the DPRK and China are allies, for Amaterasu's sake (and just how many of the thousands of DPRK workers allowed to toil in the forests of the Russian Far East have military or security services backgrounds, do you think?)

This time around, I was willing to bet good money that Abe was going to have to burn the Yasukuni card in order to get Hu Jintao to meet him--or at least promise a year-long, renewable moratorium on visits to the shrine

Along comes the DPRK Foreign Ministry announcement of an intent to test a nuclear device...and boom (well, hopefully not boom), the heads of state now have to meet without preconditions in order to talk about this new existential threat to the major cities of the region.

Which means that Abe gets to keep Yasukuni in his back pocket for a rainy day.

Courtesy: AP Photo

Call me an idiot, but we may be seeing the emergence at last of a new dynamic at work in Northeast Asia.

Somewhere in between the massive shift of the world's manufacturing capacity to China, the war on terror (which has brought U.S. standards of conduct so low it can no longer criticize Russian practices), the endless profligacy of the U.S. government and populace and the immense buildup of currency reserves in the oil authoritarian states and East Asia, the dependable 20th century emnities and knee-jerk rivalries--the stuff that Kim Il-song swam in as though through water--have become tenuous and unreliable.

I would not go so far as buy into all of R. Taggart Murphy's analysis. I think the Chinese bought into what is called Bretton Woods II by accident, trying achieve a completely different goal. Tag agrees to disagree. Still, everybody has a now share in the America-centric game...and if a bunch of American volunteers die in a miserable little war somewhere on an entirely peripheral matter involving one very dim man's desire to show up his father, well, we'll all get to pay for it.

And criticize from the sidelines.

And Kim, looking at the whole, will see the japes and gambols of Presidents Ahmedinejad and Chavez, the petroleum-powered tweekers of America's nose--and completely misunderstand his place in all of it.

Kim, boobie, you have nothing to sell.

You're not in this game at all.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Amaterasu, guide us!

Lest we be cast into the seas of fire!

It works like clockwork, doesn't it? I write a post about how sick I am of the racchi mondai's overwhelming the Japanese government's capacity to negotiate with the DPRK.

Eight hours later, the other shoe drops.

North Korea says will conduct nuclear test

SEOUL - An increasingly isolated North Korea said on Tuesday it would conduct its first-ever nuclear test, blaming a U.S. "threat of nuclear war and sanctions" for forcing its hand.


"The U.S. extreme threat of a nuclear war and sanctions and pressure compel the DPRK (North Korea) to conduct a nuclear test, an essential process for bolstering nuclear deterrent, as a corresponding measure for defense," the statement said.


Japan's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said any nuclear test by North Korea would be unacceptable.

Yep, just like stunning success of containing the nuclear program of the Islamic Republic of Iran, all you have to do to keep the DPRK in line is set unreasonble, humiliating preconditions for any negotiation and keep racheting up the pressure through sanctions and international isolation.

Works every time.

Please, count me out

Tonight, barring a miracle, those who dare watch television (as a recovering TV addict who has gone cold turkey I will be either swimming, cooking or riding a train at the time)--you will have a chance to witness what looks like a visit to the Marianas Trench of bathos.

What we all really need to see--a dramatic recreation (guaranteed to be tasteful, believable and not at all maudlin) of the life of Yokota Megumi.

Can the families of the abducted please give the rest of us a break? It is bad enough that they get not only a cabinet-level post and one of the Special Advisor to the Prime Minister posts dedicated to their hopeless cause...but they also are the first non-politicians the new prime minister deigns to meet.

However horribly the government of Japan treated the families of the abducted--and they were treated horribly, do doubt about it--do the rest of us have to have our noses ground into the dirt over it? [No, not really--we could just not watch the program when it airs on Nippon Television (Channel 4) at 21:00 tonight]

Do the surviving family members realize how far beyond the pale they have pushed their complaint? I am so sick of the stranglehold the families and their handlers have on any aspect of North Korea-related policy I am finding myself--Amaterasu help me--in agreement with Gregory Clark.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Standing on their Heads

The editors of the Sankei Shimbun, seeing their beloved champions wounded and bleeding from the sarcastic darts of the Mainichi Shimbun, sing a new, stirring patriotic ode to the "beautiful Japanese" as it is not being taught to elementary school children.

Today's lament: how the limitation on the number of kanji is anti-democratic.

小学生の英語 国語こそ知的活動の基礎





Before attempting a direct translation, let's have a go at the low hanging fruit.

Call me snide and immature, but if you are going to publish a lament decrying the hopelessness of introducing children to the complexities of certain abstract concepts because the children are not familiar with the kanji of the technical terms then YOU HAD BETTER NOT USE FURIGANA TO SHOW THE PRONUNCIATION OF NOT ONE BUT TWO TECHNICAL TERMS USED IN THAT SAME SENTENCE.

OK, breathe, breathe...maybe irony is a cultural affect. On to the next thought.

Let us see if the statement holds any water (i.e., let us see if we can spot the politics, shall we?)

English for Elementary Students: Our National Language is the Basis of Intellectual Activity


Language is not just a tool for communication. It is the acquisition of knowledge, the way of thinking about things, a means without which a certain ethnic group cannot formulate the framework of its ethos. This has become a good chance for us to once more to try to think deeply on this matter.

Under the banner of popularizing and democratizing knowledge and information, education policy in the postwar era has been engaged in singleminded vulgarization. The limitations on the number of kanji embodies this for only 1006 kanji are taught in the first 6 years of elementary school.

It is unlikely that texts of sentences using mixtures of kanji and kana can foster reading abilities. The words of abstract thinking are almost all in the kanji lexicon (LEH-ku-sih-KON). If the restrictions on the number of kanji one can use become a limitation, then the ability to think with precision is not likely to develop. One will not appreciate beautiful poetic language or stories. The fostering of hearty enrapture (en-RAHP-chur) will not take place.

Oh, Amaterasu...where to begin...

[I know that last sentence is weak. I am open to suggestions about other ways to translate 豊かな情緒を涵養(かんよう)することもままならない]

Amaterasu, yes!

About this minzoku (ethnic group) ethos business...which minzoku are you referring to here? All of them, or one in particular--an early 20th centurey construct that sort of excludes zainichi chosenjin, Ainu and Okinawans? Or are we elevating Osaka-ben to a cultural determinant--along with pairing off to tell jokes and an inexplicable longing to leap into fetid rivers? Oh, I know the editors could have been using minzoku to mean just "a people"--but come on, this is the Sankei Shimbun here.

And then there is that funny little problem with know what I mean. It is like kan (pause) ji --the "writing" of the "Han" people.

Funny thing is, of course, Japanese are not Han. Not even close.

So kanji--the writing of the Han--really is not Japanese. It is sort of a "borrowed ethos" with a lot of ugly compromises.

Hysterically, of course, kana--the bad guys in the Sankei's version of events--ARE Japanese--they were created by Japanese--in order make comprehensible...the...abstract meanings contained in the imported Chinese...kanji.

And what's more a lot of what is considered "beautiful Japanese"---like the poems in the Kokinshū or the Genji monogatari--they are all in nothing but kana.

Ergo: learning English in elementary school is...oh forget it.