Friday, March 30, 2007

Don't You Know It's Gonna Be...

(shoobedoo)...All Right?

I just stopped by Yoshinoya, the beef bowl chain, for a late lunch.

The manager was a young Japanese man in his late twenties, maybe.

The two men and the woman doing the cooking, washing the dishes and preparing the trays were all special needs individuals.

The two servers were Chinese women. The older one, who has been working at this particular outlet for a while now, had her name in just the one in kanji: Yang, with the hand radical, pronounced Yō in the Japanese. The younger one, however, had both her last name and furigana for the Chinese pronunciation next to it. Her name was Ms. Chang, with the bow radical, pronounced Chō in the Japanese. On her name tag, next to the single kanji, in parentheses, was the katakana "Chan".

Rather than passing as a Japanese--which she could have since Chō is a common family name--she instead was given the liberty to assert her nationality.

"It's not 'Chō' its 'Chang'--get used to it."

is not a message many of the old school would have ever imagined being said on these shores. Especially not in the service industries.

All in all, a snapshot of the meaning of full employment in downtown Tokyo, spring 2007.

Friends in Warm Places

Occasional lunch companion and decent human being Lance Gatling (that he is the president of the Japan chapter of the Republican Party should not be held against him) is in Okinawa trying to reassure anyone who cares to listen that the new ballistic missile defense systems will be both effective and congruent with Japan's defense-only military policy.

Expert: U.S., Japan ready to counter N. Korea
Consultant says missile defense plan can oppose threat
Pacific Stars and Stripes

By David Allen - Saturday, March 31, 2007 - NAHA, Okinawa — Japan and the United States are in an excellent position to counter the threat of North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, a Tokyo-based aerospace and defense consultant said Thursday at the U.S. Consulate on Okinawa.

North Korea's test-firing of a missile over Japan last July and a nuclear test in October is proof the country is developing the capability to strike a crippling blow to Japan, said Lance Gatling, a former State Department foreign officer who now heads a defense and space consulting firm.

A recent Japan Ministry of Defense strategic review called North Korea's weapons development the greatest threat to peace in East Asia.

Japan is particularly vulnerable because it is so close to North Korea and nearly half the population is in just four urban centers, primarily Tokyo, Gatling said.

"This makes it very difficult to defend," he said. "Having weapons of mass destruction (so close) to a highly concentrated population is a very bad combination."
Yeah, that's definitely not good.

While I do not share Mr. Gatling's confidence in a technical solution to what is a political problem (if I am lucky, he has not been reading any of my recent less-than-complimentary posts about the military hardware the U.S. has been flogging in the Asia Pacific region) he at least knows what he is talking about.

Unlike a lot of folks (sadly, they do not know who they are) who get to spout in the dailies and the magazines.

Anyway, if these darn things are going to be deployed in our backyards we better sure as heck bone up on what they are all about.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Powering up

In advance of House of Councillors election in July one is likely to see multiple references to the House of Councillors as the "less important" of the two Houses of the Diet.

I would take care not to fall into that trap.

Constitutionally, yes, the House of Representatives can pretty much override any delaying action the House of Councillors may toss out.

However, the staggering numerical advantage held by the ruling coalition in the House of Representatives has made the lower house the less politcally effervescent on this year. So dominant is ruling coalition in the lower house that the only way the opposition parties have managed to attract notice has been by not show up to their question times.

Interpellations in the much more balanced House of Councillors have, at times, even been fun. It was in the upper house that Ogawa Toshio painted the grandiloquently corrupt Matsuoka Toshikatsu into a corner over his utility bills. It was in upper house budget deliberations that Communist Party bulldog Yoshikawa Haruko kept harassing the PM until, in exasperation, he expressed heretofore unimagined sympathies for the suffering of the comfort women.

Moreover, for the minor parties, which of late have been punching above their weights in terms of putting the Cabinet to task, the seats in the House of Councillors are their last refuges.


Fukushima Mizuho
head of the Social Democratic Party
House of Councillors at large seat

Mataichi Seiji
secretary-general of the Social Democratic Party
House of Councillors at large seat (up for election)

Ichita Tadashi
party secretary of the Communist Party
House of Councillors at large seat (up for election)

Yoshikawa Haruko
scourge of the PM
House of Councillors at large seat (up for election)

Koike Akira
Wide show resident Communist and
thorn in the government's side
House of Councillors at large seat (up for election)

With the Democratic Party in disarray and the every single committee in the House of Representatives under overwhelming LDP/ Komeito control, the "less important" of the two houses is where accountability and, dare we say it, democracy survives.

More on thoughts on this subject at a later date

Detour - Rice in the Orient

This semi-professional bit of faux news on an elsewhere little-heralded diplomatic mission to Asia (this evening's NHK news has nothing about it so far) is not quite as funny as it thinks it is. Nice cameo by the Kangxi Emperor, though.

I have to confess my preference for this risqué bit on the same person that rank amateurs cobbled together and posted on You Tube.

Stop Making Friends

Well, that just about seals it.

When a hard power respecting, high achieving wonk with Dan Drezner on his blogroll tells you to cough it up, you had probably better listen.

Though I have a radically different perspective on the news, I encourage everyone to pay a visit to the frightfully erudite Observing Japan on the blogroll at right.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Just tryin' to help out, ma'am

Hmmm...I wonder whether MAFF Minister Matsuoka "Steambath" Toshikatsu, clearly the brightest and shiniest of the Cabinet's many bright and shiny middle-aged lights, has suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous Democrats solely in an attempt to boost this recently published book's sales figures.

Oh, the brave and selfless man.

Here is the listing for this timely tome.

Oh, terrific

The current Cabinet and its supporters have exhibited a great deal of enthusiasm for ballistic missile defense.

Funny thing is not really clear that anyone is minding the store:

Rain KO'd Interceptors During Korea Missile Tests (Updated)

Torrential rains wiped out a quarter of the U.S.' intercontinental ballistic missile interceptor silos in Ft. Greely, Alaska last summer -- right when North Korea was preparing to carry out an advanced missile launch, according to documents obtained by the Project On Government Oversight.

"The flooding occurred during a three-week period between the end of June and early July 2006," POGO notes, in a statement. "The flooding damaged 25% of the U.S. interceptor missiles’ launch capability. These silos house the interceptor missiles that would be used to attempt to intercept a missile aimed at the United States. No interceptors were in the flooded silos."

An internal assessment by Boeing, the silos' chief contractor, shows seven flooded interceptor silos, out of the 26 at Ft. Greely. Two silos have more than 62 feet of water; a third has more than 50. Estimated times of repair range from four to 14 months. Boxcar like structures called Silo Interface Vaults (SIVs), adjacent to the interceptor silos, were also flooded, "two of them by as much as 15 feet of water," POGO says. "Three SIVs must have all electronic and mechanical systems replaced. Four other SIVs have partial damage. One SIV was so damaged that it shifted vertically in the ground like a house shifting off its foundation." It's a strange turn of events, considering "an environmental impact study of the facilities at Ft. Greely notes there is 'little rainfall in the region.'"
Two silos are filled with water 20 meters deep. Now that's a pumping job.

Concrete-lined holes in the ground with a cap on them--kind of hard to screw up--or so one would think.

This news makes the secret deployment of the troubled X-band radar ship last June to track the North Korean missile tests somewhat hilarious (almost as hilarious as the details of the operation being revealed by a congratulatory PR announcement posted on an international seaman's union website). At best it seems, test observers were going to know in which direction they should be waving as the unseen missiles flew by.

And to think the press gives poor Dr. Nakamats grief for his unorthodox missile defense plans.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


The Honorable Saitō Yukio, writing in NBR Analysis Volume 18, No. 1, manages to dispose with clarity and brevity the possibility of Japan undertaking a nuclear breakout.

It is evident that independent nuclear deterrence is not an optimal strategy for a country like Japan, which geographically lacks the so-called strategic depth. Japan does not need nuclear weapons for the purpose of attaining recognition in international politics. On the contrary, an attempt to possess nuclear weapons, which would be costly for Japan politically as well as economically, would be almost tantamount to opting for isolation. More fundamentally, the Japanese people's abhorrence of nuclear weapons, which derives from the experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is far more deeply rooted in the nation's psyche than strategic calculations. All in all, a nuclear domino involving Japan is not a plausible assumption, even though the hypothesis is not theoretically deniable.

Nicely put. the Ambassador to the Netherlands in the period 1994 to 1995, I wonder whether or not Saitō-sensei might have some choice words about the current government's fumbling over the comfort women issues. The PM's fellow travelers (and possibly the PM himself) have made Saitō-sensei's life more interesting than he would have liked over the past few years. Perhaps he might be willing to share with us all the Japanese government's goals and strategies in seeking a separate settlement the Queen's government over the comfort women of the former Dutch East Indies--a compact whose meaning the Dutch government is purportedly starting to question.

Tokugawa Period

a 250 year-long hostage crisis, with entertainment and full color illustrations.

- From The Iconoclast's Encyclopedia of Japanese Things, Sibelius Mornings Press, 2007.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Dead Man Backpedaling

The claims made by Ms. Reynolds earlier this evening are confirmed.

Having leveled off at 35% and with local elections only a few weeks away, Prime Minister Abe Shinzō seems to have decided that today is the perfect day to commit political seppuku:





Not even the dependable knuckle walking of Shimomura Hakubun may be able to salvage this betrayal of the faithful.

Heck, half the Cabinet might tender their resignations at tomorrow's morning meeting.

Naahhh...probably not.

Quitting in a fit of pique assumes a level of commitment to principles most likely far beyond the ken of this Cabinet.

What the Jigoku is this?

Why is there no hint of this on the Japanese-language newswires or on Google News Japan?

Japan PM Abe apologizes for WW2 sex slaves

By Isabel Reynolds
Monday, March 26, 2007; 5:06 AM

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, under fire abroad for denying government involvement in forcing women to serve as sex slaves during World War Two, said on Monday he was "apologizing here and now as the prime minister."

Abe said earlier this month there was no proof Japan's government or army kidnapped women to work as "comfort women," as the wartime sex slaves are known in Japan.

He has also said he stood by a 1993 apology known as the Kono Statement that acknowledged official involvement in the brothels. But he has said there would be no new apology even if U.S. lawmakers adopted a resolution seeking one.

"I am apologizing here and now as the prime minister, and it is as stated in the Kono Statement," Abe told a parliamentary committee in response to a question by an opposition lawmaker...

I hope Ms. Reynolds really has a scoop here--because otherwise she is going to be eating Corvus corrone for as long as the grass grows, the wind blows and the stars shine in the sky.

A modest proposal

When I see images like these from the Noto Peninsula (complete with breathy commentary from cute young things on the scene in their white hardhats) all I can think of is "Why is there no infuriating and expensive kaken commensurate with the onerous shaken?

Courtesy: AP
Courtesy: AP

A requirement to have one's home inspected every three years for the first 30 years after it is built--then every two years afterward for the lifetime of the building--would do Japan a world of good by forcing encouraging folks to either reinforce or junk substandard and dangerous digs. I also cannot think of a better way of giving a jolt to private consumption other than pressing folks to invest in some better housing.

A project for the Canadian lumber industry council? Or the depopulating mountain villages with their hideous monoculture Legoland plantations of pollen-spewing hinoki and sugi?

...that and the heavy ceramic roofing tile industry admitting to its customers that while attractive and fireproof, its main product line is a killer.

Friday, March 23, 2007


T'is not that there is nothing happening.

T'is only that the end of March is
the end of the school year and the end of the fiscal year.

Other responsibilities beckon.

See you next week.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I'd like to teach the world to sing...


The directors of Livedoor turn state's evidence against their former boss Horie Takafumi, guaranteeing his conviction on window dressing and other fraud charges. In return, the backstabbing executives--the very ones who cooked up the schemes that Horie has been sentenced to jail for approving--can look forward to leniency in their own sentencing.

But let's be fair here: their testimony helped the police put away the real bad guy.

However, these same uragiremono can find themselves in complete agreement with Horie, who testified today at the Murakami Yoshiaki's trial on insider trading charges, that they were all of them kidding in November 2004 when they told Murakami that Livedoor was thinking about buying Nippon Hōsō--the crux of the insider trading case against the former Murakami Fund president.

Funny--it is almost as if when bringing down a person with damning testimony will not reduce their own sentences one jot, the convicted co-conspirators can find themselve in total agreement that they do not mean what they say when they say it.

Take that, Tokyo Public Prosecutor's Office!

Ah, self interest...the world's only reliable voice coach...

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Note on Dating...

...and I do not mean how Ryū first approaches Kana.

With the blast of Continental War/World War II-related news since the beginning of the year, I am having trouble accepting the common era nomenclature of Japan. Indeed, when I read of "Japanese sex slaves", "Japanese war guilt" and "Japan's Imperial Army" I am having a heck of a hard time understanding what the words "Japan" and "Japanese" are supposed to signify. Sentences like "members of Japan's Kempeitai, many of whom were actually Korean, often meted out the worst excesses against their countrymen" fritter away into motes of sparkling dust.

Who? What? Countrymen as of when and under what system of government?

One of the primary sources of confusion seems to be uncritical acceptance of the dating system according to imperial reign names--as if the identity of the emperor defines his times. Whilst accepting the Japanese government's divisions of history shows a wonderful respect for Japan's government and the person of the Emperor, I think it shows scant respect for Japan and the Japanese people.

My proposal, which is far from fully developed in the organ of my body sometimes taken for my brain, is to junk the Japanese divisions of Tokugawa - Meiji - Taishō -Shōwa (often painfully subdivided into Early Showa and Postwar Showa) - Heisei in favor of a division along constitutional/geographic delimitation lines:

1600 to 1867.......Tokugawa State
1868 to 1945........Meiji State (or Meiji Imperial State)
1946 to present.....Second Constitution
............................(aka Contemporary Japan)

While romantics will probably lament the loss of their favorite political monikers ("Goodbye, sweet, brief flowering of Taishō demokurashii") we will also finally get over the 1945-46 caesura in the Showa era--a fountainhead of so much poisonous rhetoric about continuities between pre-1945 and post-1945 worlds.

In the face of evident geographic and government structural differences, we refer to the self-limiting and largely closed Tokugawa State, the militarily expansionist Imperial Meiji State and the peaceful rise within-Tokugawa boundaries post-1945 Second Constitution state--as "Japan". How is it that we have been willing to further compound the error by camouflaging the stark differences between these three "Japans" of the last 400 years through granting historical significance to the reign of a silent half-wit like the Taishō Emperor and the nearly interminable and ultimately grand guignol term on this planet of "Mr. Ah-so"?

Imagine the clarity of discussion when we stop talking about "Japanese war crimes" and instead talk about "Meiji State war crimes"---or if we can talk about how "Abe and many of his fellow travelers insist on reviving aspects of the Meiji State, saying that it had many virtues"--rather than the diffuse and almost idiotically essentialist "reviving the values of pre-war Japan."

Reimagining the Tokugawa, Meiji Imperial and Second Constitution "Japans" as being three different countries could also liberate the words "Japan" and "Japanese" from the cul-de-sac of Yamato minzoku and epicanthic folds to more open definitions corresponding to mass cultural movements and historically specific programs for the creation of national identity.

Again...I have not really thought through the implications of my proposal...but it is helping me deal with my disquiet over Shimomura Hakubun, Nakagawa Shōichi, Inada Tomomi, Sakurai Yoshiko and the like calling themselves Japanese patriots--all as they hack away at the Second Constitution state--the only "Japan" most of them--and the only one I--have ever known.

Fantasy Island...

...but without "The plane! The plane!"

I am going to go a'begging.

I would be very, very grateful if someone could tell me whether he or she has seen, in a major Japanese-language national newspaper or news source, any mention of why an eagerly awaited squadron of the Air Force's F-22 Raptors failed to land at Kadena Air Force Base on February 10, only to land there with far less fanfare a week later.

All I have seen are brief, inaccurate descriptions of the incident, like the one in the evening edition of The Asahi Shimbun of February 17:


Far be it from me to question the reportage of The Asahi Shimbun and its fine stable of reporters (Oh, cut to the chase, will ya? - Editor) but :

"The projected arrival date had been the 10th, but because of bad weather or navigation system problems, the arrival had had to be pushed back."

would be considered factually correct only among the squirrel-brained.

In case you don't know what happened, you will either laugh your head off or be very, very concerned about the U.S. military's testing of its weapons systems.

Please recall, each one of these planes, the most advanced in the U.S. arsenal, costs between $100 million and $160 million.

Hence, my request--did anyone tell the Japanese people why the planes did not arrive at Kadena on the 10th? Wouldn't the reporters and camera crews sent to cover the arrival have been interested to explain why the whole thing was suddenly dotakyanned?

The reason why I bring this up is I saw this "Ooops!" moment courtesy of Sharon Weinberger at Danger Room and suddenly realized I could not recall any follow-up to the Raptor no-show.

Suffice it to say that these tales fill me with confidence about the reliability and dependability of the U.S.-supplied anti-ballistic missile systems upon which the GOJ is pinning so many of its hopes.

New bloglist entry - Ampotan

I do not know Bill Sankovich. From the tone of his authorial voice I sense I might not like him overmuch as a person.

However, he does write extensively on current events and cultural traditions. On a trial basis I add his blog Ampotan to the bloglist on the right.

Read with care.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Thank you for your support

Well, it's official now. The Cabinet has thrown Japan's diplomats under the bus:

慰安婦問題、強制連行の証拠なし 政府
Sankei Shimbun


Let's see how that first quote renders into English, shall we?

"Within the documentary materials uncovered by the Government of Japan, we have not seen any notation directly linking the military or civil authorities with what is called 'the forcible taking (of individuals)'."
Of course, someone might have uncovered something somewhere else, but as for the hard working, dedicated truthseekers in the luck.

The second quote is even better for the poor sods at the Embassies in Seoul, Beijing, Manila, Washington, the get the picture:

"While the Kono Statement has never been endorsed by a Cabinet, cabinets have come to inherit it...This Cabinet has no intention of endorsing the Kono Statement (kakugikettei sure koto wa kangaete nai)."
Well, I guess that just about does it for the "Japan has officially apologized" line of argument, eh?

That this latest fiasco comes in response to questions from Tsujimoto Kiyomi is just too rich.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Verdict - Guilty...

with a serious amount of time in the pokey.

Ex-Livedoor chief Horie gets 2 1/2-year prison term

The Tokyo District Court on Friday sentenced Takafumi Horie, the Livedoor Co. group founder, to two and a half years in prison for securities law violations.
Details in a while, maybe.

I grit my teeth

As all and sundry await the verdict with bated breath (the announcers on Fuji Television are practically slobbering over themselves) I am perusing the news reports.

That is how I find total drek like this:

Verdict due for Livedoor tycoon


Legal experts said Mr Horie's repeated protestations of innocence and his unwillingness to show any remorse could prove determining factors in the outcome of the trial.

"In the Japanese court system, expressing remorse and paying penance can be a key factor to mitigate punishment," said Yoji Ochiai, an attorney not involved in the trial.

"In Japan there is a culture that those who admit to a crime and reflect on their act should be readmitted to the community, which is reflected in criminal trials."

Actually, Japanese culture has nothing to do with it.

Defense attorneys are paid a huge lump fee at the outset. Convincing their clients to confess thereafter makes it possible for attorneys to make a comfortable living without doing any real work.

A nice racket to be in, if you can pass the exam.

A Sign?

Forgot to mention, did I, that my neighborhood in Tokyo saw its first snow of the year this morning?

On March 16.

Perhaps the three hashibirogamo (Anas clypetea) pairs living in the moat at Ichigaya will stay with us a little longer now.

Waitin' on the Horiemon

Well, in just over an hour, we'll get to find out what the judge thinks of the case presented by the prosecutors in the Livedoor case.

My guess is that Horie Takafumi walks for lack of evidence, while Miyauchi and company are convicted on their confessions of wrongdoing.

Horie's ability to sue the government for a host of civil crimes (defamation, destruction of property, false arrest, et cetera) is kept on hold through the threat by prosecutors to appeal their criminal case against Horie to the District Court. The criminal convictions of Miyauchi & Co. serve as a firebreak against Livedoor stockholders suing the government for destroying the company.

The targeting and killing of Livedoor has been a sordid, disheartening bit of business (as I type, the air is filled with the sound of news helicopters hovering over Roppongi Hills). If the laws on accounting violations had been applied to the nation's banks with the same fervor, tens of thousands of executives would be behind bars.

As I said at the beginning, this was a set up--more properly, a takedown . Pour l'example.

We'll see if (let's hope that) the judge agrees.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Oh Snap! Take That JMSDF!

From the English language page of the Chosun Ilbo, with a head's up from The Marmot's Hole:

Navy to Build up Strategic Fleet with Six Aegis Warships

The South Korean Navy has begun the task of building up its mobile fleet by 2020. The strategic fleet will consist of six 7,000-ton Aegis-class warships, twelve 5,000 ton KDX-II destroyers and two Landing Platform Experimentals (LPX), which are similar to light aircraft carriers. South Korea will be the third after the U.S. and Japan in terms of the number of the Aegis-class warships, considered one of the world's most powerful naval vessels.

A military insider on Tuesday said that as part of its plan to build up the strategic fleet, the Navy will double the number it originally planned to build of Aegis-class warships and 5,000-ton KDX-II destroyers. Specific steps to do that will be proposed to higher-ups including the Joint Chiefs of Staff by as early as the end of this month, the source said.

Of course, the fact that Japan's Marine Self-Defense Forces will have, when at full strength, a fleet of...hmmm, let's see here..oh here it is...six 7,250 ton Kongō-class Aegis destroyers and...looking it up right now...seventeen conventional destroyers in between 4,550 and 5,050 tons and...searching, searching ...three Ōsumi-class platforms has nothing to do with the heretofore litoral warfare-focused South Korean Navy's sudden decision to double up its deep blue water force.

Nothing at all.

Later - I cannot help but wonder about the significance of the word "mobile" in the sentence, "The South Korean Navy has begun the task of building up its mobile fleet by 2020."

The sentence seems to indicate that a significant portion of the South Korean Navy's current fleet, possibly all of it, is sadly, perhaps permanently, immobile.

And if this is the case, what does one do with an immobile fleet, except, of course, look at it? Or perhaps play blackjack or Texas Hold'em on it?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Ouch! Please Don't Hurt Me Anymore!

The domino-like tumbles of the sub-prime lenders in the United States are hitting market sentiment in Tokyo today.

Better hope that your retirement kitty is not heavily weighted in shares of companies dependant on exports to the U.S. of A.

Me? Retirement? Diversification? Planning?

How stupid an investor am I? I co-own a piece of Tama Area real estate.

For an educated opinion, go visit Cassandra.

Fair and Impartial....Bwahahahaha!

I am so angry at Nishimuro Taizō I could spit.

Can TSE still secure investors' trust?
The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Tokyo Stock Exchange decided Monday to keep Nikko Cordial Corp. listed on the Tokyo bourse. However, it is a questionable decision. Could this not shake investors' trust in the fairness of market operations?

The securities company included inflated profits in its financial statements for the business year ended in March 2005 and thereafter by manipulating financial statements of a special-purpose company under the Nikko group and through other means.

One of the TSE's criteria for removing listed companies from the bourse is if the "effects of false reports on financial statements and other documents are serious."

The TSE concluded that Nikko Cordial's wrongdoing did not justify delisting, saying, "We could not obtain solid evidence that the false accounting was carried out by the company systematically," adding that the amount of inflated earnings was relatively small.

Oh, that and the little business detail that the reversal in the decision to delist will force Citibank to raise its offer, oh, a little bit (as of this morning, 26% more), earning current stockholders of the disgraced brokerage a windfall profit they do not deserve.

Under Nishimuro, an exceedingly tall, gracious and dignified individual, the Tokyo Stock Exchange has reeled from disaster to embarrassment to disaster again. I have until now defended him as having been the inheritor of a decrepit organization incapable of handling modern finance.

With this capricious decision, however, Nishimuro has demonstrated that the TSE is not an exchange, it is a protection racket. If I were an outsider, I would go elsewhere.

Raingawa o Miru

Having crossed over to the reclaimed islands of Tokyo on these bridges more than a few times (one can see the bridges also in the rear windows of "inside the car moving through Tokyo" scenes of movies filmed the late 30s, 40s and 50s) I am charmed to come across this account of their Teutonic design antecedents .

The story demonstrates the weird capacity of Japan to hang on to bits and pieces of culture that have crumbled into dust in their land of origin.

I also like the "originals lost in the battles of World War II angle"--especially since these bridges are almost the only physical structures that managed to survive the March 10, 1945 firebombing (except, of course, for this neighborhood).

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Ode to a defunct lender

Though Cassandra and I do not get along at all in the comments sections we both frequent, I commend his/her posted poetic salve for the wounded wallets of forelorn investors.

I needed the laugh.

Now for the Japan economy mavens the question is whether or not the collapse of a U.S. prime lender at the same time the GOJ is announcing smashing ("real" but not that real) growth figures will trigger the long-awaited risk adjustment against dollar asset holdings, setting off a rally in the value of the yen and in the stockmarkets, giving the BOJ enough leeway to raise rates yet again a few weeks from now despite the looming shadow of deflation.

That would have Cassandra feeling frabjous indeed.

Mt. Ōtake (1266 m)

Winged tengu figure on Mt. Nokogiri
Okutama Township, Tokyo Metropolitan District
March 10, 2007

Area represented in the Diet by Inoue Shinji, a 36 year-old former Construction Ministry bureaucrat. LDP, 2 elections to the Diet, Kōno Group.

The second son of a wealthy Tokyo optometrist, Inoue boasts a sterling academic record, including a BA from the Faculty of Law of Tokyo University and a Masters in Land Economics from Cambridge University. Spent a year seconded to the Foreign Ministry's Eurasian Bureau, Eastern Europe Division.

With all his training in land management, I am sure Inoue will figure out a way to accommodate Governor Ishihara Shintarō's brutal but necessary plan to cut down a million pollen spewing cedars and false cypresses in Inoue's district without leaving behind denuded and eroded hillsides like the miserable and depressing clearcut just completed below the tramway to Mitake-san.

Or perhaps not.

It seems that Representative Inoue's vision for his district is:

1) the completion of the unneeded Ken'ō Expressway -yes, the nightmare that has already ruined the view north from Takaozan,

2) a crackdown on visa overstayers,

3) strong measures discouragine shoplifting and crimes by young people,

4) flood control projects (I guess that is why workers are paving the hillside beneath the Mitake historical district)

--all of which will produce a district where "everyone from the children to the elderly can live with peace of mind".

Oh, and try to entice foreign tourists (obviously not those suspected of #2) to come and see the historical and natural sites (such as may survive #1 and #4 above).


Better go and see it while you still can...or hope the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport's budget craters sometime soon.

Spring snow on Mt. Nokogiri
Okutama Township, Tokyo Metropolitan District
March 10, 2007

View southward from the summit of Mt. Ōtake
Hinohara Township, Tokyo Metropolitan District
March 10, 2007

Ayahiro Falls in The Rock Garden (Gansekien)
Ōme City, Tokyo Metropolitan District
March 10, 2007

Nanayo Falls
Ōme City, Tokyo Metropolitan District
March 10, 2007

Twelve kilometers; rugged, rocky, narrow and very steep at the beginning but path widens after descent from Mt. Nokogiri. Six hours with a lunch break. Holiday Kaisoku trains leave Shinjuku at 7:44 am and 8:19 am. 1110 yen to Okutama Station; 570 yen for tram down from Mitakezan; 950 yen from Mitake Station back to Shinjuku.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Neo Neo Marxiste

For those with a taste for a lashing of consumer culture, try clicking on the link for the new blog clast in the bloglist on the right.

From the first four entries it seems that David "Marxy" Marx, the author of the distressingly variable blog NéoMarxisme, has buckled down to doing what he does best: ripping away at the flouncy flesh of Japanese consumer imagery to reveal the bones underneath--all without tying up the reader in the chains of post-modernist critical theory.

What happened? What's gonna happen?

For those like myself who are still confused about what the heck is wrong with Japanese personal consumption, Professor Ono Yoshiyasu of Osaka University offers a two page review of the macro effects of government policies of the last 15 years, with some guesses about the individual saver's thinking processes, courtesy the fine folks at the Australia-Japan Research Centre.

Professor Ono's paper makes for a depressing, if brief, reading experience. He certainly sees little good in the "purging the bad from the system" experiments of the late 90s and early millenium.

The concept of a "stagnation dynamics" is great oxymoronic fun, though.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Remembering the Brilliantine

The other day I said something on the order of that the problem with the Abe Cabinet is Shiozaki Yasuhisa—and that the problem with Shiozaki Yasuhisa is Abe Shinzō.

What do I mean by that?

Abe had the misfortune of becoming the prime minister after serving a year as Chief Cabinet Secretary. I say misfortune because Abe's service in that post under Koizumi seems to have left him ignorant about the functions of a proper Chief Cabinet Secretary.

Koizumi had a fine set of antennae. He tended to know and pick up rather quickly what the majority of the voters were thinking—or even, better what they would be willing to think, if given a little shove. What Koizumi needed next to him was 1) someone to run the day-to-day business of government, coordinating the activities of the bureaucracies with the political program set by the PM, 2) answer the questions of journalists at the daily briefings, and 3) keep him abreast of right wing thinking.

Koizumi, though a patriotic nationalist, was not a conservative. Intellectually, he preferred liberalism and/or libertarianism. He rarely relied on institutions; was not much a joiner in pressure or power groups; tended not to listen to what the traditional establishment said; and generally behaved in a highly individualistic and self-willed manner. He was hardly a right winger of the nemawashi, kurodokoro and kokutai political tradition. He needed someone close by who could set him straight about what a conservative--a real knee-jerk, fire-breathing conservative--felt about certain issues.

Abe fit the bill, perfectly.

A famous example of Abe's riding to Koizumi's rescue occurred in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of Princess Kiko’s pregnancy. The Diet was set to debate the proposal of opening up the throne to direct primogeniture, creating the possibility of Princess Aiko becoming a reigning empress. At the announcement of Kiko-sama's pregnancy, Abe remarked to Koizumi in a matter-of-fact way that the discussion and the legislation were now moot. Koizumi, to his eternal credit, could not grasp Abe's point. He asked Abe why the effort to revise of the imperial house law could not proceed. Abe, his brain probably bursting from incredulity, managed to explain that if the revision passed, and Kiko-sama gave birth to a boy, then many persons would scream that the Diet had stolen the throne from Kiko's son.

Koizumi, grandson of a dockworker who rose up in the world by eloping the bosses's daughter, who himself has no relationship with his third son, relied on Abe to remind him of the "blood and semen" obsessions of the typical conservative.

Hence when Abe became PM, he named Shiozaki Yasuhisa to fulfill the administrative and communications roles he had played under Koizumi. As for relations with the right wing, Abe would handle these matters himself, as he was one of the right wing's golden boys.

Unfortunately for Abe, he is not Koizumi. He has almost no understanding--emotional, intellectual, gut or otherwise--of what the people are thinking. Indeed, Abe probably really doesn't care.

The problem is, of course, that nowadays, a prime minister sort of has to care what the people are thinking. Politics can no longer be conducted in contempt of the citizenry—or by third parties handing out bags of money.

Hence Abe needs a ugly, old, leather-skinned Chief Cabinet Secretary—an ancient reptile of a pol who could grab Abe by the collar, drag him in the Prime Minister's office, throw him into the big chair there, press down on Abe's left shoulder with his right hand, get right in the PM's face and tell him, "Your mouth is making my life difficult. Now you're going to go out there and say the following to the press. Not one word less. Not one word more. OK? And then when you're done, you will come right back here—because you and I are going to call in a few of your ministers for a little talk. Now get out there."

Shiozaki Yasuhisa is not that person. He is a smart, careful, well-spoken, good-looking conservative with a sense of Japan's place in the world. However, he does not scare Abe in the least—and that's what Abe needs, to be a little less blasé about his and his government's conduct.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Seven hundred and thirty-seven... the number of the day.

737 = number of hours police spent questioning one defendant, trying to get her to confess to vote buying on behalf of a candidate in the April 2003 Kumamoto prefectural assembly election. Others arrested in the purported vote buying scheme, some of them men and women in their 70s, were questioned for over 500 hours.

395 = number of days one defendant spent in jail under administrative detention

With unrelenting pressure applied, the 12 defendants signed police-concocted confessions. However, the judge, looking at the evidence presented, found all the defendants not guilty on February 23.

In the verdict, the judge excoriated the actions of the police, writing:

"There was no objective physical evidence* and it is doubtful that the 'meetings to buy votes' ever took place."
* kyakkanteki na shōko - a phrase that seems to be popping up all over nowadays

Yesterday all 11 surviving defendants in the case were delivered from double jeopardy when the prefectural police headquarters chose not to appeal the verdict.

Banzai! Banzai! Banzai!

No, I do not believe the nation's policemen (I reserve judgment on the female members of the force) have the slightest idea what their job is supposed to be.

Why do you ask?

The Asahi Shimbun has more of the gory details.

Some Like It Hotter Still

Ken Belson, writing for The New York Times, had a fairly decent article on Takaozan this week.

However, he missed the big story of the weekend--that the yamabushi of Takaozan have their annual fire walk this Sunday (March 11, at 13:00).

A Mr. Wada Yoshio, a man with a seriously finer camera than mine, has a site with several pages of super photos of last year's festival.

A good thing to go take a gander at on Sunday, if the weather cooperates.

Photo: Preparing the coals for the firewalk
Takaozan, Tokyo Metropolitan District
March 12, 2006

Photo credit: MTC

Some Like It Hot

Matsuoka Toshikatsu, the minister with the golden utility bill, is...
Feelin' the Heat.

In Hot Water Now.

In Need of a Cold Shower.

Oh, just make up your own caption.

Courtesy: Sankei Shimbun
March 9, 2007

Actual caption: "Kinda hard to keep lookin' cool in such an environment, isn't it?"

Interestingly, judging from tody's shasetsu page, the editors of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun find themselves seriously unamused at Matsuoka's Diet statements of the other day.

I guess the Nikkei folks think that their readership might have a hangup about someone trying to blow off charges of accounting fraud.

I can't imagine why.


Amid all the sound and the fury...ANU Professor Tessa Morris-Suzuki is offering the progressive view of the comfort women issue in Japan's 'Comfort Women': It's time for the truth (in the ordinary, everyday sense of the word) with only a tiny amount of gratuitous point scoring.

Oh, why be coy. With some really great gratuitous point scoring:

Abe, of course, has his own history in relation to this issue. Early in 2001, the Japanese national broadcaster NHK made a documentary program about the recently-concluded Women's International War Crimes Tribunal. A few days before the program was due to go to air, NHK's Executive Director General of Broadcasting had a meeting with Abe, who was then Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary. They discussed the content of the documentary, and immediately after, the program's producers were instructed by NHK management to make last minute alterations which substantially weakened the critical tone of the program.

Four years later, the issue became headline news when an NHK whistleblower came forward to say that Abe Shinzo had exerted direct pressure on the national broadcaster to have the content of the program changed (an intervention which would have violated Japan's public broadcasting regulations). Abe, who admitted discussing the program with NHK staff, denied that his meeting had constituted "political pressure". (Should that have been "political pressure in the narrow sense of the word"?) The story caused a political furore, in which most of the mass media focused on attacking the credibility of the whistleblower.

Even if you think that Abe has received a raw deal in all the coverage, you have to love the parenthetical zinger in the second paragraph.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

De Re Nakagawa Shoichi

Barking again -- but really rather less than the headline indicates.

My response to the 17.8% growth figure in Chinese defense spending is a bit more sanguine: something's gotta defend all those tankers leaving Port Sudan and Lobito and the ore carriers leaving Cape Lampert and Mejillones.

Last time I looked, "Peaceful Development" ("Peaceful Rise" is sooooo early 2004) does not mean, "Oh no, we have no intentions on becoming a superpower fast."

De Re Shiozaki Yasuhisa

In a discussion of the Abe Cabinet's ills, Bruce Wallace of the Los Angeles Times reminded me that Abe Shinzō was Koizumi Jun'ichirō's Chief Cabinet Secretary.

Not a trivial fact...

No, not trivial at all...

It helps to explain how it is that Shiozaki Yasuhisa finds himself forever insisting, "No, no, the ship was designed to sink upon leaving the harbor."

The Tsukioresan-Nantai Traverse

Area represented in the Diet by Kajiyama Hiroshi, son of Kajiyama Seiroku (the "gunjin" of Tanaka Makiko's famous "gunjin, bonjin, henjin" assessment of the choices in the 1998 LDP presidential race).

Daigo Township:
area: 325.8 sq. kms
population in 1955: 42,124 in 7,779 households
population in 2006: 22,103 in 7,337 households

Fukuroda Falls
Daigo Township, Ibaraki Prefecture
March 4, 2007

Creeper up a Trunk
Daigo Township, Ibaraki Prefecture
March 4, 2007

Burnt snag atop Tsukioresan (423m)
Daigo Township, Ibaraki Prefecture
March 4, 2007

Mt. Nantai (654m)
Daigo Township, Ibaraki Prefecture
March 4, 2007

Kamiogawa Station at 17:42
Daigo Township, Ibaraki Prefecture
March 4, 2007

Near the border between Ibaraki and Fukushima Prefectures on the Suigun Line. Six and a half hours with a lunch break; concrete steps until saddle, rugged trail thereafter; with huge trees. Cheapest fare is 5900 yen roundtrip. Far out--three and a half hours out by JR local train from Ueno with a layover in Mito.

Photo credits: MTC

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Kane to Seiji

It was absolute high comedy in the Diet yesterday as Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Matsuoka Toshikatsu tried to avoid asking questions in the House of Councillors Budget Committee about his utility bills. Specifically, how his office in the House of Representatives Office Building (and if you have ever been to a Diet member's office, you know how tiny those damn things are) managed, according to Matsuoka's accounts, to run up a 5 million yen tab in water/sewer/gas/electricity in 2005.

The first problem is, of course, that all utilities are provided free of charge to the offices of Diet members. Indeed, there is no gas, electricity or any other sort of meter in front of the Diet member's office that a meter maid could read in order to determine what the Diet member, his/her political secretary and the two administrative secretaries were using.

The second problem is, of course, 5 million yen is a lot of water, electricity and gas. As Mino Monta pointed out on his morning program, 5 million yen is equal to to the total water/sewerage/gas and electricity bill of a typical family of four (and remember, this includes washing machines, dishes for three meals a day for four persons and a daily ofuro) for NINETEEN YEARS!

Unsurprisingly, Ogawa Toshio of the Democratic Party sort of went to town at Matsuoka's expense:

"You say you have special heating arrangements. What, do you have like a hundred electric heaters in there?"

"We all have a faucet in our offices for the tea and coffee. Do have another faucet or other water connections?"

"Since water, heat and electricity are provided at no charge to Diet offices, why do you have this on your expense report? This is accounting fraud, isn't it?

Great stuff.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Could it be? Oh, hell why wouldn't it be?

Is it really possible that no one has sat the PM down and explained to him about the power of the English language press, especially on matters pertaining to the history of World War II? (Does he remember who won that conflict--and what they say about winners and the writing of history?)

That a too free translation of his assertion of a lack of shōko 証拠 as "lack of proof" has him denying the existence of any "proof of coercion" (an especial thanks to you Mr. Onishi of The New York Times)? 

That he is being pilloried all over the planet because dictionaries manage to translate both shōko 証拠 and shōgen 証言 as "evidence" and "testimony", making it seem as though he is denying the verbal evidence (shōgen) of the confort women about coercion when all he is saying is that there is no surviving conclusive documentary evidence (shōko) ?

Or does he even care?

With fellow travelers like Nakayama "Cafeteria" Nariaki (Google it--you will be appalled) what are we to expect?

Stupid man. Stupid, incurious, arrogant, dogmatic man who deserves to lose in July.

Why has his prime ministership replicated intellectual trajectory of the Bush presidency, only at 12 times the speed?

An Essay in a Moment Captured

As regards public displays of affection between spouses in contemporary Japan.

For my friend Michael Zielenziger.

Married couple on their way to a funeral dozing
aboard the 8:00 AM Hitachi Super Express train
March 4, 2007
Photo Credit: MTC

Friday, March 02, 2007

Ahhh, the fond ethnic stereotypes of yesteryear!

Hey, look! Thanks to the efforts of the LDP study group on revising the Kōno Statement the bucktooth barbarian look is back.

That's it. I've reached my crassness quotient for the day.

Message control lost

This will really spice up Prime Minister Abe's visit to the United States next month.

Japan's Leader Denies Women Were Forced Into WWII Brothels
Associated Press

TOKYO, March 1 -- Japan's prime minister denied Thursday that the country's military forced women into sexual slavery during World War II, casting doubt on a past government apology and jeopardizing a fragile detente with his Asian neighbors.
You cannot buy a headline like that.

And on the Washington Post website too.

Just think of how much it would have cost the proponents of the Honda resolution to place an ad in the WashPo denouncing the proposed reinterpretations of the Kōno Statement.

Poor Ambassadors Katō and Ōshima. With reports like these coming out of Tokyo, who needs enemies?

Later - Just to make it clear, through his statement playing fast and loose with the word "coercion", the Prime Minister has, in essence, labeled the surviving comfort women "old whores". Such was probably not his intent---but intent has little to do with the outcome.

You shoulda quit while you wuz ahead

The Levee Breaks:

"Stop using us for political purposes!"

Prime Minister Abe, under criticism from the families of the abducted

For months now, I have been expressing my mounting disgust at the Abe Cabinet's trying to camouflage its policy vacuity through incessant caterwauling about the abductees issue .

The message on the poster hanging in my subway car this morning: even the families of the victims have reached their limits.

Shūkan Shinchō advertisement
Hibiya Line, Tokyo Metropolitan District
March 2, 2007
Photo credit: MTC

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Riben Province, China

There are good reasons why I call him Nakagawa the Barking Mad.

And this guy is Seichōkaichō?

If I were a lobbyist in Washington for the Government of Japan...

...I would have to feel somewhat concerned over the grins on the faces of the folks in this relatively recent photograph.

Caption: Mr. Versaw, Ms. Tokudome, Mr. Perkins, Congressman Honda and Dr. Tenney

Text: "On August 29, 2006 Dr. Lester Tenney, Mr. Donald Versaw, Mr. Clay Perkins and Ms. Kinue Tokudome visited Congressman Honda (D-CA), who has been a long time supporter of former POWs of the Japanese."

From the website of

Deep thought...maybe

Why is it that every issue commanding the passions of Abe Shinzō's followers, supporters and hanger's on seems to revolve around an assertion of paternity?

May I have the envelope, please?

And the Inadvertant Hilarity Award goes to...Yagi Hidetsugu, professor of the Takasaki City University of Economics and member of the Abe Shinzō brain trust, for the following killer quote in a speech sponsored by Seiron, reprinted in the February 28 edition of the Sankei Shimbun:


"He insisted on the necessity of a revision of the Constitution, saying, 'The current constitution does not have its foundations in Japan's long history and it denies the past.'"

Professor Yagi, if he has the time, should take a plane to Ann Arbor, Michigan and catch the talk on March 15 by this notorious individual, perhaps now the only surviving perpetrator of the dastardly deed.

The good professor will find out that "denying the past" was sort of the point of the whole exercise.

And if you look at the sixty years that have followed the commission of the unnatural act as compared to the sixty years that preceded it, you have to say that maybe denying the past wasn't such a bad thing.

Coming in like a lamb...

Today is the first day of March. Time to flip over to the next page in your calendars.

The Great Stone Buddha of the Nihonji
Nokogiriyama, Chiba Prefecture
March 14, 2006
Photo credit: MTC