Friday, November 30, 2007

The Democrats learn something, maybe

In marked contrast to the stunning self-immolation of Democratic Party of Japan leader Maehara Seiji over the forged Takebe Tsutomu email, the DPJ and its allies in the House of Councillors have backed down from the demand that Minister of Finance Nukaga Fukushiro testify on Monday regarding his relationship to Takemasa Moriya and Miyazaki Motonobu:

Japan's Parliament Won't Summon Finance Minister, Lawmaker Says

By Keiichi Yamamura and Sachiko Sakamaki -- Nov. 30 -- Japan's upper house of parliament decided not to summon Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga next week for questioning in an investigation of bribery for defense contracts, an opposition lawmaker said today.

Kenji Yamaoka, parliamentary affairs chief of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said in parliament today that the upper house reversed its earlier decision and will not summon Nukaga on Dec. 3.

The upper house, controlled by opposition lawmakers, decided on Nov. 27 to questions Nukaga and former Vice Defense Minister Takemasa Moriya.

Moriya, 63, and his wife Sachiko, 56, were arrested on Nov. 28 on suspicion of receiving bribes from Motonobu Miyazaki, an executive of defense contractor Yamada Corp. Moriya has said he and Nukaga met with Miyazaki at a dinner on Dec. 4 last year.

"It was meaningful to summon Mr. Moriya and Mr. Nukaga at the same time for sworn testimony," said DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama at an earlier press conference today. "But with Mr. Moriya's arrest, it's become impossible..."
Hatoyama is lying prevaricating, of course. Moriya's arrest was a distraction, not a roadblock. The DPJ gave up because it had nothing on Nukaga.

Given the current hopeless guyishness of the DPJ leaders, they probably would have gone right over the edge into the abyss, asking question after pointless question of Nukaga just to show the world how determined they are to not back down. However, House of Councillors Speaker Eda Satsuki -- on hiatus from his membership in the Democratic Party but clearly thinking about the party's health -- saved his old allies stumbling into a very public embarrassment. It was Eda's request to the DPJ leadership to try once more, in the interest of commity, to accommodate the opinions of the LDP (the motion to have Nukaga testify passed without a single LDP or Komeitō member in attendance) that opened the trapdoor allowing the DPJ to escape from its own ultimatum.

Damn lucky thing for the Democrats that Eda was there to slam on the brakes of this runaway train.

Damn lucky for all of us.

Enough With The Indian Ocean Dispatch Already

In the course of my duties I had a chance to look at this pair of population pyramids from Japan in Figures 2007.

I find the figure on the right, the one that is supposed to fill me with horrified awe, only midly intriguing. The year 2050 is so far out as to be meaningless to me.

The population pyramid on the left though, from 2005, fills me with a jokey horror. I suddenly feel like the white kid with the freckles and the curly reddish hair in the non-descript Hollywood horror flick who, because he is facing in the right direction when all the other teenage protagonists are looking the wrong way, engrossed in some pointless activity, has to say:

"Uh guys? Guys? I think we have a bigger problem over here..."

Except that the sleeves upon which I am pulling in my imagination are not those of some band of attractive post-pubescents but those of Prime Minister Fukuda, Ozawa Ichirō, Fukushima Mizuho, Ōta Nakahiro, Ōshima Tadamori and the whole merry crew performing their Indian Ocean dispatch dispute pantomime to the amusement of only themselves.

"Uh...guys? Guys? Remember about the pensions problem we used to fret so much in the 90's before we decided to go for economic growth first? Well...uh...does anyone remember the age at which we said people will probably be expecting to retire?"


Courtesy: Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare

Uh-oh. Wow, where did the time go?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

How can you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

I myself liked the cheesy attempt at a Sound of Music reference rather more than the cheesy attempt at a Lord of the Rings reference...until I learned I did not know the actual lyrics of the song the nuns sing about the Julie Andrews character.

Anyway, the nuns can definitely stop singing now; the Tokyo Prosecutor's Office has answered their question...

Prosecutors Search Japan's Defense Ministry Over Bribery Case

By Sachiko Sakamaki

Nov. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Japanese prosecutors searched the Ministry of Defense building in central Tokyo in connection with a bribery case involving a former vice minister, an official said on condition of anonymity.

Investigators carried out the search after they arrested Vice Defense Minister Takemasa Moriya yesterday on suspicion he accepted bribes to award contracts to a defense company.

Public broadcaster NHK Television showed live footage of more than 20 men dressed in black suits filing into the defense ministry's main building in Shinjuku ward in two lines a little after 12:00 p.m. Tokyo time
Funny hour of the day for a raid.

Image courtesy: The Asahi Shimbun

Nice atrium. Too bad about the guys in the suits.

Arrests of Moriya Takemasa and his wife....A full blown in-your-face stroll by the agents of doom into the heart of the Defense Ministry....Gosh, is this ever going to play into the hands of the DPJ--and I can believe this even after reading Okumura-san's smashing post.

It is looking more and more like:

"Nejire Now! Nejire Forevah!"

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dumb stuff

I recently wrote that neither Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo nor Ozawa Ichirō is stupid.

This should not be construed as meaning it is impossible for either of the two gentlemen to commit raging stupidities.

For example, the head of the Democratic Party of Japan must wake up nights, stare at the window and wonder, "Whatever made me say that phrase?"

On the night of November 2 double meeting of the PM and Ozawa that precipitated the Ozawa resignation drama the PM pointedly refused to say that he had discussed a coalition government (renritsu seiken) with his counterpart. Instead he kept repeating that he had only discussed a "new political framework" (shinseijitaisei).

By contrast, after the second meeting where Ozawa informed the PM that the Democratic Party's executive committee had voted down the PM's proposal, Ozawa told reporters that the Democrats had rejected a renritsu seiken.

In that instant, Ozawa should have felt control of the political calendar slipping from his fingers.

In stating that he himself not had rejected out of hand a proposal for a DPJ-LDP coalition--one that would make both the LDP's coalition with the Komeitō and the DPJ's alliance with the Socialists, Communists and the Kokumin Shintō instantly superfluous--Ozawa stomped on every last shred of Fukushima Mizuho's, Shii Kazuo's and Watanuki Tamisuke's trust.

The electoral map of the House of Representatives present problems that are almost insurmountable without at least a public perception of ongoing lockstep cooperation between the Socialists, the Kokumin Shintō and the DPJ (the Communists are still too intent on proving their own importance to think about the political health of the nation. Their continued existence siphons off enough progressive votes in marginal districts to consign Japan to eternal conservative government. But I digress..) The DPJ has about 220 candidates ready to go for election to the district seats. It is hoping to recruit another 30 candidates before year's end. Prior to the fateful Friday meeting, the DPJ was counting on the Socialists and the Kokumin Shintō to provide 20 to 30 candidates of their own to run in districts where the DPJ would voluntarily not field a candidate. In return, the Socialists and Kokumin Shintō would encourage their local organization to work hard for the DPJ.

How enthusiastic will the cooperation minor parties be now? Not very. Not unless, as a penance, the DPJ uses its numbers in the House of Councillors to harass and annoy the LDP in a long series of pointless, destructive demonstrations--such as the vote yesterday reversing law permitting the dispatch of Air Self Defense Forces units to Iraq.

If Ozawa had just followed the PM's lead, talking about a vague "new political structure" -- he then could have pretended he really did not understand what Fukuda had been offering and did not realize he was accepting a plan to ditch his allies.

Instead, he and the DPJ are forced to grovel before their disgruntled (enraged?) confederates in the House of Councillors. The marginal parties control the extra votes giving the DPJ the majority --and the marginal parties are really, really mad.

Which may be part of the reason why Fukushima and Watanuki made such a show of seeming to be having such a jolly good time with Prime Minister Fukuda last Thursday.

Three cultures, at least

James Fallows, the former Tokyo-based correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly (why is there no The Pacific Monthly?), takes a moment today to extract, via his facility with definite and indefinite articles of English, a greater meaning from within the way members of two outwardly similar alien cultures performed the same act.

But then of course, the status of observer is privileged. We are looking at him looking at them...and he is the guy whose life situation permits the flying of light aircraft for fun.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Censuring a Prime Minister

Should Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo, his party and the Komeitō make use of their supermajority in the House of Representatives to override either a rejection of the revised Indian Ocean dispatch law or a failure to act upon it, the Democrats and their allies in the House of Councillors will pass a censure motion against the Prime Minister.

Some confusion lingers, abetted by forces within the ruling coalition, about the seriousness of a censure motion.

A censure motion is serious, serious enough to trigger a move toward a forced resignation or an election--among men and women of conscience, that is.

A censure motion is, in a certain sense, a declaration of war. The power of the censure motion comes not from what it says about the present but what it says about the future.

Namely that, for the object of the censure motion, there is none.

A censure motion from the House of Councillors should be understood as saying this:

"We are not able to work with you today. We will not be able to work with you tomorrow. Since this is the House of Councillors and we just had an election, we do not have to work with you for the next three years. So shove off."

That is the sunny, positive version of the message. A more somber, menacing version points out that given the electoral map of 2010, the anti-LDP coalition in the House of Councillors is nearly guaranteed a lifespan of six years.

Prime Minister Fukuda must understand this, even if his nominal underlings do not.

Later - a thank you to the anonymous commenter who spotted the error in the first paragraph.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Neither Fukuda Yasuo nor Ozawa Ichirō is stupid

So it is best to ignore editorialists who say otherwise.

Fukuda Yasuo and Ozawa Ichirō are playing the long game, a game that Ozawa knows well.

Fukuda has the threat of ultimate sanction--the ability to reextend the Diet session until January 13, when the 60 day limit on House of Councillors inaction on the Indian Ocean redeployment legislation expires. After January 13, a two-thirds majority of the House of Representatives can reapprove the dispatch over the objections of the opposition.

Such a confrontational stance would likely trigger a disastrous Diet regular session from late January to early June 2008. The steamed DPJ would just sit on every bill that reached the House of Councillors. Every bill would then end up being passed via the override provision. It would be legal but would look awful.

While such brute force tactics may have their admirers in the LDP and its hangers on, they are -ultimately self-defeating. The terms of a member of the House of Councillors is 6 years; the next House of Councillors election is not until 2010. Relying on force to pass legislation now would not lead to just a winter of discontent. It would lead to several years of discontent.

Ozawa is fighting with one hand tied behind his back. He cannot ultimately beat Fukuda's and the ruling coalition's initiatives in the Diet through procedural means. He also cannot call too loudly for new elections: the DPJ is still 80 candidates short of a full slate.

Nevertheless, Ozawa might have cards galore up his one free sleeve. For every day the Diet is extended, the greater the chance is that yet another scandal involving the Defense Ministry or the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare appears on the front pages of the newspapers. Due to the Yamada Yōkō Affair, Finance Minister Nukaga Fukushiro is radioactive--he looks more and more like a goner. He was the only Tsushima Faction no-show at the political party I attended last week (Did I refer to Nukaga as the master-of-disaster in three months ago? You bet your sweet bippie I did.) With the investigative powers resulting from the opposition alliance's capture of the majority in the House of Councillors, the offices of the Democratic Party are beehives of activity, looking for the next Matsuoka-Akashi-pension records-Moriya embarrassment.

Ozawa also has not erred in his choice of battlefield. Support for the new dispatch legislation will never reach a level of 60% even 50% for a sustained time period. The dispatch, especially the new, hyper-restrictive version of the dispatch awaiting the approval of the House of Councillors, is a humiliation for Japan. Its key selling point is not "Japan participates in the world anti-terror fight" but "Japan wins the applause of the Bush Administration while doing the absolute minimum to keep itself in the game." Try as you might, you cannot prettify such a presumptuous and miniscule contribution to international security.

"Come, let us march hand in hand with our allies! Then, well before the moment of truth, let us stop, wave and watch our allies slip over the horizon to get killed!"

If Hatoyama Yukio can restrain himself to just one head-slapping non-sequitur per day--and someone in the Democratic Party can illuminate the press on the crucial point "Defense Minister Ishiba Shigeru's tactic of speaking softly, enunciating and stating the obvious veeeeeewwwwwy slooooowwwly should not be preventing you from noticing that he is still stating the obvious!"*--then every new morn gives the Democrats another chance to draw real blood from the LDP.

So two old political pros, the scions of old political pros, are playing a game of chicken. It is not out of a personal desire to be stubborn--the pair indeed went the extra kilometer to try to work out a private, amenable solution. That got shot down.

Right now each man is merely acting as the avatar of his party. Each one has good reasons to believe it can wait the other side out.

We get to watch.

* For the record, I like Ishiba Shigeru immensely. The press is letting him get away with murder, though.

Welcome to the Machine

Swedish roboticist, Osaka resident and blog commentator extraordinaire Janne Morén has hung out his shingle out on Blogger.

Expect architectonic intellectual rigor and supple argument.

Fear it.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Hating Hakone

The map inside the Hakone Tozan Railway car could not be more explicit.

As the line on the map slithers from Odawara to Hakone Yūmoto it changes color at Hakone Yūmoto, then changes color again at Gora; then changes color yet again at Sōunzan; then changes at Tōgendai. Then it changes color again.

Train to mountain train to funicula to cable ropeway to...ship or bus or ship and bus.

Serial larceny. Slow moving, serial larceny...and on a major holiday, an hour's plus wait at every step.

Hakone is a famous trysting spot. The reason seems to be that just getting to Hakone requires everything in you. Either you and your automobile crawl up scenic mountain valleys on a narrow road for hours on end...or you partake of every sort of non-animal transportation know to humankind save aircraft to get to your destination. By the time you arrive at your accommodations, night has fallen, your wallet is empty and you have not done a damn thing.

And there are only just so many times you can go to the ofuro.

Oh there are some deceptive "places to visit" like the Hakone Open Air Museum.

But Amaterasu help you if you try to get to them.

It was not always thus.

It cannot have always been thus.

It should not be this way now.

Hakone is touted as a vacation spot. It is not. It is a monumental organizational failure.

If the governments national and local want to attract more visitors to Japan, fixing Hakone would be a great place to start. The Cantonese, Mandarin and Korean speakers in the lines with me on Saturday did not sound thrilled at the Hakone experience.

The problem: getting human bodies up into the caldera and out again.

Taken as given: it is not feasible to increase the volume of passenger traffic carried by the Tozan Railway. The grade necessitates the short trains (oh, the numerous switchbacks) and the hard curves necessitate short train cars.

The grade on Route 732, the old Tokaidō, does not permit a rail line.

In 1962 the powers-that-be figured out that the best way to get more people into Hakone was to build a major toll road to Ashikō, paralleling Route 732. When that jammed up, the powers that be saw to it that a second toll road was built on the ridge above the other two roads--the former Hakone Turnpike, which is, as of this March, under corporate sponsorship, so it is now called the Toyo Tires Turnpike.

At no point did anyone say, "You know, making it easier for cars to enter the caldera seems to be ruining everyone's peace of mind. Not to mention the air quality and the auditory experience...and why do we have only a pathetic remnant of the actual Hakone Tōkaidō Route? What happened to the cedars and stones?"

Solutions? Replacing the private cars with buses, restricting automobile use to residents only, and permitting taxi services within the caldera but not outside it. Radical, anti-democratic moves...but it is either the people or the wheeled steel boxes who will be served.

Some thought might also be given to a footpath paralleling Route 1. Yes, I know about the Yusakaji and the Myōjōgadake ridge paths. I have walked them both. That is precisely why I am saying a new foot route is needed.

I hate going to Hakone. Always have.

But what I hate most about that some parts are still heartstoppingly lovely.

Hakone Tozan train crossing Deyamatekkyō
Hakone Township, Kanagawa Prefecture
November 24, 2007

Climbers at the summit of Myōjingadake
Hakone Township, Kanagawa Prefecture
November 24, 2007

Ōkamakiri Tenodera aridifolia (female)
Hakone Township, Kanagawa Prefecture
November 24, 2007

Iroha momiji Acer palmatum thunbergii
Hakone Township, Kanagawa Prefecture
November 24, 2007

Smart people with smart solutions should contact House Speaker Kōno Yōhei. Hakone is in his district.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Smiles all around

It must be the holiday tomorrow.

The 9 o'clock news had a lengthy roundup of the meetings today between Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo and the heads of all the other parties in the Diet.

Peculiar were the tête-à-têtes. No, downright twisted.

With the notable exception of Ozawa Ichirō, who seemed intent on performing his best "Roh Moo-hyun meets a Japanese Prime Minister" impersonation, the heads of the parties were all wore broadest smiles, shaking with laughter as they lined up for their "two-shot" poses with the PM. He grasped their hands warmly and made what seemed impossible-to-resist small talk.

You would have thought they were all coalition allies, rather than fierce political enemies.

Adversity has the strangest effect on the PM himself. The more hopeless the situation--and the situation for the revised Indian Ocean dispatch legislation is hopeless--Ozawa reiterated his party's adamant opposition during the meeting and in his press conference afterward--the bouncier and looser-limbed the PM becomes. He almost appeared to relish the pointlessness of his every round of asking the party leaders for a more flexible attitude toward the revised bill.

Oh, well. Perhaps a foolish hope is better than no hope at all.

Enjoy your holidays ye political types.

Autumn colors upon Ōtsukayama
Ōme City, Tokyo Metropolitan District
November 18, 2007

The Armies of the Very Old

Today's Guardian Unlimited forwards a brief wire service report that blows my mind. Not for the sum, mind you, but the delta:

Tenth of Japan population aged 75 or older - govt
Guardian Unlimited

TOKYO, Nov 21 (Reuters) - A tenth of Japan's population is now aged 75 or older, a historical high signalling risks to the economy's long-term growth and ability to fund growing pension payments.

The number of people in Japan aged 75 or older came to 12.76 million at the start of November, up from 12.21 million at the same time last year, monthly data from the Internal Affairs Ministry showed on Wednesday.
Look at those last two numbers again. In between November 2006 and November 2007, the net increase in the population aged 75 or older was 550,000 individuals. For a sense of scale, consider that Tottori Prefecture's TOTAL population is 599,000.

They are become legions.

And they all, each and every one of them (well almost) have the right to vote.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

George W. Bush's former best friends

G.W.B. - "I can't believe I took him to Graceland! In my jet! And let him touch the King's things!"

Adamu at Mutant Frog Travelogue has the images that might cause Vietnam War veteran former Texas Air National Guardsman George W. Bush to question the depth of his shared values-based relationship with the celebrated Mr. K.

Funny I don't remember President Bush's choice of native garb when he visited Vietnam.

Oh, yes. "Slumber Party at Hogwarts."

Chez Ibuki Bunmei's Maison de Disastrous Similes

I attended Deputy Parliamentary Affairs Chaiman Kosaka Kenji's Tokyo fundraising party last evening at the Hotel New Otani.

Quite the eye-opener.

The split majorities of the Houses of the Diet have transformed the offices of the Parliamentary Affairs Chairman and his immediate subordinate. Once more of a ruffled feathers smoother position, the kokutai iincho dairi is now a linchpin of political wheeling and dealing. The character, interests and talents of a deputy parliamentary affairs chairman are now crucial to the passage of legislation through the Diet.

Not surprisingly, the speaker's list at this year's fundraiser was an order of magnitude more powerful than last year's.

Six sitting Cabinet ministers, both of the ruling coalition's kokutai iinchō, Komeitō leader Ōta Akihiro, LDP Secretary-General Ibuki Bunmei--not to mention Ichikawa Danjūrō XII--all took turns at the microphone.

A plenitude of posting's worth of material, some of which I hope to share soon.

However, the highlight of the evening was Ibuki Bunmei's catastrophic attempt to describe, in concrete and simple terms, so that we morons might understand, what he and Kosaka-san do every day.

I do not have a tape or transcript, but it went something like this:

"Prime Minister Fukuda is like the proprietor of a great eating establishment. It is his place; it has his name on it. I come out of the kitchen with a tray, that's all I do is carry the tray, that has all these tasty bits of legislation on it."
Incredibly Ibuki held his arms out in front of him, as if he were holding a real tray.

He continued his explanation:

"But you have to know that behind the door, in the kitchen, someone is cooking up these tasty bits of legislation, these things on the tray. That is the job of the cook, Oshima Tadamori-sensei, who spoke earlier, the Parliamentary Affairs Chairman.

If Oshima-san does not do a good job, then the legislation is not tasty and it reflects badly on the reputation of the proprietor, Fukuda-san.

And Kosaka-sensei here..."
Ibuki's voice trailed off. He suddenly realized that he was about to relegate the evening's host to the rank of sous-chef at a fancy restaurant.

Caught in a corner of his own devising, Ibuki followed the course of greater valor and...pretended he had finished his thought. Unfortunately, this only liberated him to go veering off in an even more embarrassing direction:

"...anyway we have these great people here, making great efforts and capable of making tasty things...and then, what we get from the Democratic Party is all these lousy ingredients..."
At which point he hunched over. With a pincer gesture he brought his index finger and thumb together, as if he were manipulating a pair of chopsticks. He picked away at an imaginary dish on his imaginary tray. At the same time he pursed up his face in an awful way, as if he had just inhaled a slice of lemon.

Ibuki's narration again ground to a halt. Realizing that vaudeville rakugo pantomime was possibly below the dignity of the Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic Party, he chucked the restaurant concept, straightened up his spine and started all over again:

"Uuhhh...Of course, we have serious problems that must be faced...the passage of the law approving the redispatch of the MSDF refueling mission...the fallout from the sub-prime loan mess..."

Ah Ibuki-san! To see your unguarded and unvarnished self! Thank you. No really, thank you.

Now I know...should I ever want to get your undivided attention, all I have to do is shout:


Monday, November 19, 2007


...are the thoughts former Prime Minister Mori Yoshirō shares with us in an exclusive interview with the Nihon Keizai Shimbun (sorry, no link).

The former prime minister rambles on on a variety of subjects, upon none of which he seems to have any reliable information. The main thrust, however, is a defense of the meeting between Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo and Democratic Party of Japan leader Ozawa Ichirō last Friday. For Mori, the problem was not that Fukuda and Ozawa were meeting alone to decide the possible formation of a new government but that the two did not meet often enough, giving Ozawa time to do nemawashi with all the levels of his party, building up a consensus for a radical shift to close political cooperation with the LDP.

Of course, in light of the process by which Mr. Mori was chosen prime minister--by a collection of fewer than half a dozen LDP central party executives gathered around the still warm body of poor Obuchi Keizō--Mr. Mori's prescriptions and conclusions are simply surreal.

Measuring the marigolds

I cannot help but laugh at this illustration from the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report.

A brief glance at this graph and you would come away thinking, "Wow, there is a fantastic correlation between Gender Equality and World Competitiveness rankings! Look at that clustering around the median line!"

No kidding. Could this result be due to the fact that both rankings are compiled by the same organization, with one of the major classes of criteria used to determine the World Competitive Report rankings being measures of how effectively states make use of the talents of their female citizens?

The graph is a comparison of apples and apples.

Japan's rank, by the way, on the Gender Equality list is #93. Some folks are flabbergasted.

Maybe the ranking has something to do with this.

When two pythons hug each other...

...we are all going to feel the squeeze.

I was struck over the weekend by the difference in tone between the reports.

From the Tokyo-based correspondents, reporting on the summit meeting downplayed the importance of the meeting (aside from the Australians that is. I swear, some of the current crowd from Down Under have a doomsday fixation). From the jaundiced Tokyo perspective, the White House summit was a mistimed and unfortunate first encounter, with little real excitement or purpose.

From the Washington-based correspondents, however, came description of the atmosphere around the summit or the Japan-U.S. relationship as universally "strained" or filled with "tension," with President George Bush either "cementing" ties or being forced to "pressure" a reluctant ally.

Considering that most of the Washington reporters are unlikely to know anything about the actual state of Japan-U.S. relations, they most likely picked up their slant from somewhere. Call me naive, but I do not think one can pin this on anyone in the State Department or the Defense Department-- no conscientious State or Defense briefer would try to incite the press into depicting the relationship to be on the brink.

So where did the Washington types get their peculiarly hyped up view of Japan's relations with the United States?

Bush, Fukuda set to grapple with strained ties

WASHINGTON — US President George W. Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda will attempt to ease strained ties between Washington and its top Asian ally when they meet for the first time on Friday.

"I think there is a noticeable stress in the relationship," Randy Schriver, a senior State Department official in charge of East Asian relations during the first term of the Bush administration, told AFP.

Relations between the world's two richest nations have suffered for a variety of reasons.

Washington felt slighted when Japan suspended a critical mission on November 1 to supply fuel to US-led coalition forces in the Indian Ocean as part of "war on terror" operations in Afghanistan.

The United States has been pushing Japan, officially pacifist since the end of World War II, to take on a greater security role in Asia.

Japan, on the other hand, was disillusioned for being kept out of the loop as the United States courted China in a desperate bid to end North Korea's nuclear weapons drive.

"Japan, of course, is the most profoundly disillusioned by America's move to enlist China to co-manage Asia with us," said John Tkacik, a China expert formerly with the State Department.

"The cornerstone of our Asia policy -- the US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty -- is being pried loose by China," he said.

Tkacik cited an example in June, when the very morning US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill was to leave Tokyo for what turned out to be a surprise visit to North Korea, he first stopped by to brief his Japanese counterpart, Kenichiro Sasae.

"But not once did he say, 'Oh, by the way, I will be in Pyongyang in a few hours,'" Tkacik said.

There was also a sense of suspicion in Japan that Washington's decision not to sell it the F-22 aircraft, which boasts stealth capabilities far superior to those of any other aircraft available, was out of mistrust.

But as Bush and Fukuda prepare to grapple with some of the key issues, experts remain confident that tensions in the US-Japan alliance can be eased if the two sides considered the broader interests of their half century ties.

"I think by and large, the relationship is very sound," said Richard Bush, head of Asian studies at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

"These are differences among friends and I think they can be managed. The important thing is we maintain good communication with each other and so minimize the doubts that each might have about each other," he said.

Some in Washington for example expect Fukuda's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to override any legislative attempts by the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) led by Ichiro Ozawa to thwart a resumption of the six-year naval mission in Afghanistan.

The LDP controls parliament's lower house and, if it wants, can override any veto by the upper house controlled by the DPJ.

"What some people don't realize is that Mr Fukuda's LDP does have the power to push through reauthorization. Some people are a little bit cynical -- they question why Mr Ozawa is doing this if the LDP has the power to do this anyway," analyst Bush said.

He also feels there could be "some convergence" between the United States and Japan on North Korea, whose past abductions of Japanese nationals remain an emotionally charged issue in Japan.

"We had a similar conundrum with our POWs (prisoners of war) and MIAs (missing in action) from Vietnam. It took us quite a while to figure out a workable approach," he said.

Due to the abductee issue, Japan has refused to provide energy aid to North Korea as part of incentives under a six-party deal brokered by China for Pyongyang to disband its nuclear weapons network.

The White House said President Bush "looks forward to a productive exchange on ways to further enhance our strong partnership," ahead of the talks with Fukuda, who is making his first official overseas trip since taking office after his predecessor Shinzo Abe's abrupt resignation in September.

Fukuda told the Washington Post newspaper that his first foreign trip as prime minister was intended to affirm that "many Japanese, not just myself, think the US-Japan relations are by far the most important and most valuable" component of Japan foreign policy.

This particular account is extreme--but you get the picture.

In addition to the universal tone of crisis, I could not help but notice the extraordinary variety of voices present. It seems the only individuals expressing trenchant opinions on the Japan-U.S. relationship are middle-aged Caucasian American males who direct Asian studies divisions at Washington think tanks. Only in the last paragraph does the main actor, Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo himself put in a near-cameo appearance.

Before I go too far down any path, I pass on the below link, without comment:

May the reader draw her/his own conclusions.

Later - I apologize to the folks at AFP for reprinting the full text of their release. I would normally redact and link. Without the full text, however, the point of the post is impossible to discern.

No Questions

Page 11.

According to, page A11 is where one could find, in Saturday's print edition of The Washington Post, an article on Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo's visit to Washington.

Now, the last I heard, WashPo Editorial Page Editor Fred Hyatt Hiatt is a "big friend of Nippon" (he was once Tokyo Bureau Chief). Do you think Hyatt could have called the news desk and asked them to give the report a little shove?

Then again, what else could a proper news editor do with such a visit?

"They came. They read throught their laundry lists. They took no questions."

On page 11 it goes...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Even former public servants still can't be trusted... much as folks marking time in retail outlets.

The other day the ever-productive Japan Observer posted up "The state is less dependable than a convenience store," a fine review of an essay in Chūō Kōron by Minister for Health, Labour and Welfare Masuzoe Yōichi.

So impressed at the Observer's work were the good gentlemen of Trans Pacific Radio that they turned around and included a mention of the article in one of their broadcasts.

(Sound of one eyebrow, raised.)

Anyway, as the Japan Observer explains:

The title of his article — which I've borrowed for the title of this post — is based on the idea that somehow banks, post offices, and convenience stores manage to handle the transfer of funds without problems, but the national and local governments cannot transfer social security payments without embezzlement.

It is these repeated incidents of less than exemplary accounting practices and cash management in the ministries which make the rigamarole one has to go through in order to pay the entrance fee to the Koishikawa Botanical Gardens of Tokyo University all the more hilariously over the top.

At the entrance to the gardens is a guardhouose where the garden's keepers collect your tickets.

But can they sell you tickets?


No, a forest of signs directs you 30 meters away across the narrow lane fronting the entranceway to the local tobacconist. At the sliding window of the tobacconist's you pay the still-surly-after-all-these-years obāchan your 330 yen entrance fee (110 for children) .

You then go back across the lane to the guardhouse and hand the attendant the ticket.

Why not just buy your tickets at the guardhouse? seems that until 2004, when the national universities were reorganized as non-profits under the National University Corporation, the attendants were public servants...which meant, for some reason, they could not be trusted with collecting the 330 yen entrance fee.

It had something to do with handling change.

Now, there is no problem with city employees or even volunteers collecting entrance fees at the city parks. The national universities, however...

[Hmmm, come to think of it at the courthouses you have to go the baiten to buy the revenue stamps...and at Immigration out on that ridiculously hard-to-get-to island out in the bay, you have to go the convenience store on the first floor...)

Anyway, that was then. This is now. It should be possible, given that the garden's keepers are no longer tarred with the black brush of national public service, they could be trusted with the 330 yen entrance fee.

But they're not.

If you have never been to the Botanical Gardens, please go. They are verging on down at the heel in parts--Tōdai should be putting a little more money into them, methinks--but they remain a wonderful retreat from the city.

Original Building of the Faculty of Medicine, Tokyo University
Koishikawa Botanical Gardens of Tokyo University
Bunkyō-ku, Tokyo Metropolitan District
November 17, 2007

Somei Yoshino Prunus X yedoensis
Koishikawa Botanical Gardens of Tokyo University
Bunkyō-ku, Tokyo Metropolitan District
November 17, 2007

Dahlia imperialis
Koishikawa Botanical Gardens of Tokyo University
Bunkyō-ku, Tokyo Metropolitan District
November 17, 2007

Sotetsu Cycas revoluta thunbergii
Koishikawa Botanical Gardens of Tokyo University
Bunkyō-ku, Tokyo Metropolitan District
November 17, 2007

Here is information on the Botanical Gardens in English and 日本語.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Mines of Moriya

Today in the House of Councillors---and on live national television--former Vice Minister Moriya Takemasa offered a more complete accounting of the depths of his selfishness and the bottomlessness of his mendacity.

Much of the movement of his lips could be called "testimony" only if one were in a charitable mood. Seemingly due to extensive contacts with officials of the the Bush Administration, he is suffering from Alberto Gonzalez levels of memory loss and inattention to detail.

"I do not remember..."

"I have no recollection..."

"I did not see any such possible connection at the time..."

"I did not notice such a notation in the documents at the meeting..."

Ah Moriya-san, nice try. But you should known this was not to be your day. You should have just told everything after:

- the Diet member soliciting your responses had to ask you if you understood that you had sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

- after dissembling, you coughed up the names of two former heads of defense as recipients of the largess of your arrested buddy. The revelation then triggered in one of the named, the one who is currently Minister of Finance, an attack of Sudden Party Time Attendance Memory Loss Syndrome.

(Pssst. Minister Nukaga. The PM in his press conference said that as a minister, your answer has got to be better.)

- you were forced to beg those assembled to please not think that everyone in the Ministry of Defense is as rotten as you are.

What a total [expletive deleted] disaster.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Yet another mind in disorder

From tonight's news, a new low in the Moriya Takemasa story.

A former underling of former Defense Ministry Vice Minister Moriya, when asked about where he "invested" (Moriya's word, not mine) 40 million yen that Moriya had handed him 10 years ago, requested a little time to "put his memory in order" regarding what he had done with the money.

Moriya purportedly explained to the underling that the 40 million was part of the profit from a sale of forest land in Miyazaki Prefecture (ah, all those trees in Miyazaki). In fact, the 40 million was a kickback from defense comprador company Yamada Yōkō, 80% of 50 million yen Yamada Yōkō had embezzled from the government for services never rendered to GSDF forces serving as a part of peacekeeping forces in the Golan Heights.

Yes, the embarrassing Golan Heights dispatch...where the GSDF's contribution is washing the laundry of all the other UN peacekeepers.

Of course, this latest round of revelations of the depths of Moriya's corruption will in no way impact the schedule of the Indian Ocean dispatch bill in the House of Councillors.

Not with Moriya set to testify in the Diet again tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Is It Not A Humiliating Day?

There were the ruling coalition talking heads on the evening news, declaiming, "How can they be so irresponsible? Why will they not even consider this bill so vital to our nation's interests?"

How can they not consider it? How can could you in good conscience pass it with such unseemly haste?

Japan Lower House OKs Navy Mission
Associated Press

By MARI YAMAGUCHI – TOKYO — Japan's lower house of parliament approved a resumption of the country's anti-terrorism naval mission in the Indian Ocean on Tuesday, defying opposition lawmakers who had forced a halt in the operation.

The legislation, which now goes to the upper house, would limit Japanese ships to refueling and supplying water to ships used in monitoring and inspecting vessels suspected of links to terrorism or arms smuggling.

Japanese warships had refueled vessels the U.S.-led coalition fighting in Afghanistan since 2001, but withdrew on Nov. 1 when the opposition blocked an extension of the operation, saying it violated Japan's pacifist constitution.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's ruling Liberal Democratic Party argued that Japan would be shirking its responsibilities as a leading nation if it left the mission halted indefinitely. The United States also has been pushing for a resumption.

"How can Japan be the only one to drop out when our fight against terrorism is only half way through and other countries are cooperating?" asked LDP lawmaker Yasutoshi Nishimura during the debate leading up to the vote.

The move came ahead of Fukuda's visit to Washington later this week, where he is expected to offer assurances to President Bush about Japan's support of U.S. foreign policy...

Has there ever been a time since the Occupation, or even during it, where either House of the Diet passed a bill for display only, one that has absolutely no chance of passage in the other House, one whose sole purpose is to make it possible for the the prime minister of Japan travel to Washington with a glittering, useless bauble to present to the American president?

Laws, treaties, private agreements...these have been brought to Washington as omiyage before.

But a transparently false pledge of Japan's loyalty and steadfastness...has this ever happened?

Or do the bearers of this half-law really believe that having committed Japan to the refueling mission in direct White House negotiations with the American president, they will extort a House of Councillors vote approving this bill?

Baaah! So much for the "Let's wait until 60% of the population approves of dispatch before proceeding" plan!

Later - Let me make it clear: the Japan-U.S. Security Arrangements are a fantastic deal for both sides. The refueling mission is a cheap and easy way for Japan to participate in the worldwide struggle to contain terrorism. It is the misuse of the House of Representatives as a means to provide atmospherics for the summit meeting in Washington that upsets. Diet session and debate should never be sold for such a low price.

Abandon all hope...

...all ye who enter here.

Samsung Quits Japan's Consumer Electronics Market
Chosun Ilbo

Samsung Electronics has decided to stop selling consumer electronics in Japan with the exception of monitors, the company said Friday.

The company sold MP3 players, LCD TVs and DVD players through websites and some retailers in Japan but sales have been lackluster.

Samsung Electronics said consumer electronics account for around just one percent of its total sales in Japan, which lean heavily towards semiconductors and LCD panels...

Consumer electronics manufacturing is a miserably low-margin business to be in in the first place. An electronics retailer would furthermore have to be daft to tie up with Samsung, endangering its relationships with major Japanese manufacturers. To this add the fact that consumers still tend to buy their electronics and white goods according to their employers's directives, that is to say from the approved keiretsu manufacturer...

(I once bought a SONY digital camera because it had the features and qualities I desired. No problem until, in a moment of inattention, I whipped it out to photograph an office act for which even today I have yet to be forgiven.)

...and you have the makings of a failed long-term concerted attempt to enter the market.

Now if the president of South Korea had been Best Friends Forever with the Japanese government or had been friends with the leaders of even a particularly powerful faction of the LDP, maybe something could have been worked out...

I wonder what Mr. Nikkei is saying today

The only reason this bit of nastiness might be considered Japan-related news is because Japanese banks have a sad tradition of doing next to no due diligence and are suckers for a gold-plated reputation.

Later - Oh look! Mr. Nikkei is taking the news so well!

Courtesy: Yahoo Japan Finance

Monday, November 12, 2007

Some op-eds are better than others

Yamatotakeru no mikoto* ! Will miracles never cease? I have found a Brad Glosserman op-ed that does not drive me into slavering madness.

I believe...I believe...I have found a point that I can almost agree is both salient and true.

Here it is:

The fissures in the DPJ are well known and provide opportunities for the LDP. They provide a ready mirror in which the ruling party can demonstrate its stability, maturity, and political competence. If the July Upper House vote was a vote against the LDP, rather than a vote for the DPJ, then the opposition's recent fumbles could be very damaging, if not fatal. The LDP is now likely to woo disaffected DPJ members, and the attractiveness of those offers has increased significantly over the last week.

Fatal, of course, is too strong a word--the DPJ will not keel over and die just because party leader Ozawa Ichirō had to crack the whip over the heads of his minions when they dared defy him.

But I do agree that if the vote in July was more anti-LDP than pro-DPJ...

(Since Ozawa betrayed the policy traditions of the Democratic Party of Japan in order to attract the farm vote, is the pro-DPJ vs. anti-LDP dichotomy even at issue?)

...then recent fumbles could be very damaging.

Or perhaps not.

Because if the public mood is anti-LDP, then the voters will choose Miwa Akihiro, Garu Sone or Nakamura Shidō...

(I know what you are thinking. "Be serious. No one would ever vote for Nakamura Shidō for anything printable." Upon reflection, you are probably right.)

...before they would cast their votes for the LDP candidate.

Which sort of means I do not really agree with the sentence...which means...oh no...


[All apologies to reader MT who forwards highlights from GLOCOM's website, a place where one can find all kinds of interesting stuff]

* I have been doing a little background reading on the traditions of Musashi Mitakejinja and the Okutama Region.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

On the collapse of rural communities - a response to Janne Morén

Three items of news, as an introduction.

The first is the LDP announcement that the top four party officers aside from the president will go on fact-finding tours to rural areas. The officers will visit local farms and speak to agricultural industry workers in order to gain a better sense of the kinds of problems that need to be addressed by legislation.

The announced schedule was:

November 10 – Chairman of the General Council Nikai Toshihirō visits Kinokawa City, Wakayama Prefecture.
November 11 – Elections Measures Council Chairman Koga Makoto visits Saga City, Saga Prefecture.
November 25 – Secretary General Ibuki Bunmei visits Hachirōgata, Akita Prefecture.
December 1 – PARC Chairman Tanigaki Sadakazu visits Sakai City, Fukui Prefecture.

These fact-finding missions tours are, of course, more of a demonstration of concern rather than a confrontation with reality. If Diet members wanted to check out local conditions, they could just take their "free travel anywhere in the green car" passes, get on a train and go, any day of the week. Indeed, the staged expression of interest in the plight of the common rural voter resembles nothing so much as PRC Premier Wen Jiabao's visits to farms and mines.

The second is the announcement from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications of the approval of yet another round of municipal mergers in 2008. By July 1, 2008 the number of local municipal administrations will have shrunk to 1788, down 55% from the 3232 municipalities existing in March 1999.

Those are amazing numbers, indicating an extraordinary haste in consolidation. What I fear is that the consolidation of local administrations is paralleling consolidation in the banking industry: the quick transformation of a multiplicity of minute dysfunctional entities into a tight group of gigantic dysfunctional entities.

The third was Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Masuda Hiroya's submission on Thursday of a "Program for a Symbiosis between Major Cities and the Rural Areas" (Chihō to toshi no kyōsei puroguramu) to the prime minister’s Council on Economic & Fiscal Policy (Keizai zaisei shimon kaigi). The goal of the program, according to a Reuters report , is the "correction" (zesei) of the differences in incomes between rural and urban areas through what, from the sound of it, can only be the creation of special rural consumption tax and business tax rates.

Of course instigating a separate, lower rate of taxation in government-designated rural areas will not lead to massive tax avoidance through questionable billing practices, peculiar routing records and fishy business registrations—nor will it lead to attempts to influence, either through political pressure or bribery, the classification of particular communities as being either rural or urban.

Of course.

The above news items are a good introduction to a response to a criticism, retrieved from comments, of my sympathy for rural communities undergoing collapse.

Janne Morén writes:

Communities disappearing is distressing to watch, and even more so if you're connected to the area in some way.

But the reality is that the population numbers are flat and likely to shrink the next decade, while heavily urban areas (in Japan as elsewhere; that is a global phenomenon) continue to grow.

Bluntly, a lot of communities will die, and there is no realistic way around it. Yes, you can try to entice people to move in, but people ready to move in are overwhelmingly already living in a rural or semi-rural area elsewhere, or were already ready to move out into the countryside anyway. The effort thus mostly shifts people around, making other areas disappear all the faster.

For all the justified criticisms of the urban landscape, it is built by humans for humans, and offers both necessities, opportunities and conveniences in abundance. It is optimized for life in a way that a rural area never can be, and people recognize this. So major population centers will continue to attract people to a greater degree than rural areas, and the rural population will continue to shrink.

Except for the line claiming that most of the people ready to move into rural areas are already in rural areas, I will accept the above as true. As one city born and bred, I can attest to the suitability of cities for human habitation.

However, the problems of Japan's rural communities are worthy of the attention of the metropolitan, border-transgressing classes because:

1) The attempts to protect the rural communities from international economy are major sources of Japan's most easily mocked and self-defeating behaviors. If you want to know what those are, ask the Australians...or the Singaporeans...or the Thais. It would hardly matter so much if Japan were not such a pipsqueak in military terms and such a leviathan in economic ones.

2) Rural community collapse has been both retarded and accelerated by government intervention. I will concede that the shift from country to town in the 1950s and 1960s was structural and part of a worldwide pattern of urbanization. However, it takes a certain kind of genius to start with fertile soil, mild climate, excellent pest control, plentiful rain, a hard-working, educated rural workforce...and create an ugly, economic basket case. Japan's agricultural bureaucracy and politicians have a lot to answer for.

3) The rural areas control a lot of votes in the Diet. Even after the 1994 reforms and redistricting, the rural prefectures control a disproportionate number of Diet seats. Their access to the government purse and government attention, as the above stories indicate, remains perverse. The depth of Koizumi Jun'ichirō’s reformist fanaticism against public works is inexplicable without the recognition that urban Kanagawa's is the prefecture with the lowest level of representation in the Diet. Ozawa Ichirō's sacrifice of DPJ core principles in order to win rural votes—abandoning the only attributes differentiating the DPJ from the LDP, would be likewise inexplicable.

4) The rural townships are all our tomorrows. As noted, the population of Japan has begun to shrink. The consequence, as an American anthropologist remarked to me the other day, is that what is happening today in Akita will be happening in 2030 in Tokyo—the abandonment of housing, the collapse of local commercial districts, the inversion and tipping of the population until communities are composed primarily of old women. "When you try to bring that subject up with bureaucrats, though," the anthropologist continued, "their reaction is this." He placed his hands over his eyes.

5) The rural areas are inhabited by human beings. Despite the political and social significance of Japan's rural towns, most of what the world reads about rural areas either dismisses them as economic absurdities or populates them with charming archetypes. There are just too many more pressing, exciting stories elsewhere—of people getting their heads hacked off heads over religious differences, of new, even bigger passenger jets being flown, of more tantalizing virtual environments being sold—for professional writers to try to walk their readers through what is going on and why it might be important. Academics are making the effort but their work cycles are measured in decades and their attitudes toward information sharing remain largely medieval.

I am a believer in the analytical power of economics. I believe that demographics is destiny. I believe that our options in life cannot be disentangled with the types of technology we have at our disposal. I also believe that we tend to live the major portion of our lives interacting with narratives, caught up in stories we tell about ourselves to ourselves and to others. In focusing from time to time on the problems of rural areas, I am claiming the peculiar notion that a consideration of the human scale problems of the rural areas is important to the construction of an honest understanding of Japan.

Friday, November 09, 2007

At long last

The Economist has a competent writeup of the current state of political turmoil.

However, one sentence and theme in the text is no longer operative: two months after the opening of the current extraordinary session, the Diet
has finally passed its first law, a reform of the regulations governing the post-natural disaster disbursement of housing reconstruction and housing acquisition aid.

You see, the LDP and the DPJ can get along.

The Diet also voted today to extend the extraordinary session by 35 days. If the gentleladies and gentlemen could pick up their pace a bit , they might even manage to pass yet another law before the session peters out in December.

May all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out

It has been an ugly last two months, with both of the main parties undergoing leadership meltdowns.

The question is not why did these leadership breakdowns occur. The question is why they did not occur sooner.

The answer to the question seems deceptively simple: they did not take place because until now the ruling coalition could, at the end of the day, count on legislation passing both houses unmolested.

The LDP had to seek legislative compromises in the 60s and 70s to avoid strikes and mass demonstrations. But in this more passive and peaceful era, when the Socialist and Communist parties cannot set hundreds of thousands to marching, the lack of an implicit threat of internal disorder long ago extinguished the LDP's desire to accommodate the left, the mewling of the editorial board of The Asahi Shimbun notwithstanding. In these fat later days, the LDP lost the knack to even care about the opposition's views.

But even LDP pig-headedness could not explain the mess of this autumn. Even parties without a recent past of cooperation can pull themselves up to compromise on behalf of generally popular or absolutely necessary legislation. What inflated party policy disputes into party leadership catastrophes was that both parties simultaneously were still taking new model leaders out for a test drive.

Having driven Japan into the ditch with patronage politics, the LDP needed a new type of leader to knit together the countryside, the heads of industry and the urban salaried worker. They settled upon the urbane, fiscal conservative hawk. The first attempt at this new kind of leader was the pompadoured and pugnacious Hashimoto Ryūtarō. He might have enjoyed a reign as long and as glorious as that of Koizumi Jun'ichiro had he not listened to the worry warts of the Finance Ministry and raised the consumption tax. The second attempt was the celebrated Mr. K. The third was Abe Shinzō, the first of the knee-jerk, cockeyed, Meiji State fantabulist, my-kokka-right-or-wrong reactionary revivalists--a Hashimoto Ryūtarō without a sense of play (Ah what Hashimoto would do to Mickey Kantor, not just once but over and over and over again...)

Amaterasu knows, there will be others.

The DPJ drafted Ozawa, the ultimate outsider, to come bail them out. After the party's straightest arrows--Kan Naoto, Okada Katsuya and Maehara Seiji--blew themselves up with their hypertrophied earnestness--it was time to start not just winning hearts and minds but control and power. This Ozawa proceeded to do by expanding the DPJ's reach beyond the traditional base of urban and suburban salaried workers.

The selection of these two leaders had little impact on the political process during the first parts of their reigns. The trains Abe and Ozawa were driving were running on separate tracks; though Ozawa would yell out at Abe from time to time, telling him what a lousy driver he was.

The public's fateful decision to hand control of the House of Councillors to the Democratic Party-led coalition on July 29 put the two trains on the same track. As the trains chugged toward a predictable collision, dissatisfaction, if not sheer horror, at the choices of drivers surfaced among the party memberships.

In Abe's case disquiet surfaced immediately. Marked with the rotten smell of failure, the LDP coughed him up like a clot.

The problem posed by Ozawa has proved too difficult for the DPJ to solve. He still shines with the golden light of electoral success. That he is the representative of little more than the fraction of the human species bound within the confines of his own skin was known--but what to do about it? As the assembled party members had voted him into power, and he had achieved the members had never dreamed they could achieve, what grounds lay for his dismissal? That he talked to Prime Minister Fukuda?

It was this contradiction--between what the Democrats had always wanted to do and what they had actually done--between winning without sacrificing their principles and actually winning--that dogged and will continue to dog the DPJ. As Dr. Gerald Curtis notes in an op-ed today, the DPJ is a new party with no bench. To whom could it turn to rescue itself from itself?

I disagree with Professor Gerald Curtis on his basic premise--I find the idea of high-level policy coordination imperative. At the very least, such coordination, "a new policy framework" (shinseijitaisei)to borrow Prime Minister Fukuda's careful locution, will make sure that both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors are debating similar bills in some sort of logical sequence. At present the incentive is merely to pass what is in the party manifesto without a clue as to how or when the legislation may pass the other house.

The people certainly deserve better than that from their legislators.

They Fly

Eight Twelve helicopters are circling overhead. Not even the PM's losing his mind or Horiemon's arrest earned such rotor aircraft interest.

What can it be? My guess the full-scale invasion of Yamada Yōkō and Nihon Miraise offices by the black suit crowd from the Tokyo Prosecutor's Office.

Later -
Nope, seems to be a fire in a seven-story building in Shiba. At least half the helicopters seem to be rescue units in line to pull folks off the roof.

Still, the black suit crowd did march into Nihon Miraise today.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Newspapers have flavors

Okumura Jun takes a long, hard look at bias in Japanese newspaper reporting.

For those who might say, "So what? media sources always have bias!" I would retort, "Yes, but in their presentations of 'Japanese opinion' foreign wire services and news reporters rarely include adjectives and adjectival phrases that could help their readers comprehend the bias inherent in the products of particular Japanese news outlets. The Asahi Shimbun is not always identified as the "liberal, LDP-doubting Asahi" nor either is the Yomiuri Shimbun always identified as "the often shamelessly pro-government, baseball team flogging Yomiuri".

Minister Masuzoe Gets It

Thank Amaterasu for publicity-hungry celebrity politicians and Mino Monta's morning show!

Health, Labour and Welfare Minister Masuzoe Yōichi appeared on Asa Zuba! this morning and got scalped for his trouble.

As he did yesterday at the meeting with the plaintiffs in the Hepatitis C case, Masuzoe began his explanation of the way forward with the forced smile and ingratiating manner of an elementary school teacher trying to cajole two fighting children into cooperating whilst on a school outing. He repeated his incredibly annoying metaphor of climbing Mt. Fuji:

"With yesterday's verdict and our meeting, we are now at the Third Station (sangōme) coming from opposite sides of the mountain. Now if both sides get along, making a full effort, we can come together at the summit."

Ignoring for the moment the reality that Masuzoe's metaphor is nonsensical--if the plaintiffs and the defendants are on opposite sides of the mountain, they will not need the other's cooperation to reach the summit--the idea that the summit was still so far away irked the show's guests. They assailed him with barbed comments, wiping the earnest smile off his face.

- "Don't you understand that the plaintiffs at this point have absolutely no trust in the ministry?"

- "What kind of guarantees can you give? This is not the first time this kind of situation [protection of the domestic pharmaceutical industry over the health of patients] has arisen at MHLW. What can you do to make sure this kind of situation stops repeating itself?"

- "What is the basis for your asking the victims to make greater efforts and to be more cooperative?"

If Masuzoe did not know how poorly his "let's all cooperate together" act was being received by the gallery before, he sure knows it now.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Unclear on the Concept

In the civil suit pitting individuals infected with Hepatitis C against the manufacturer of the blood products that infected them and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the Supreme Court of Osaka admonished both sides to find a mutually acceptable solution to their dispute.

You robe-clad morons! The reason why the two sides are fighting out the issue in the courts -- desperately, painfully, through months and years five years of delay, subterfuge and evasion -- is precisely because they could not find a mutually acceptable private solution!

Why do you think they went to you for, to admire the decor in your chambers?

"We do not find for the plaintiffs. We do not find for the defendants. We find a way out for ourselves. You annoy us. Be gone!"

They cannot even run a proper show trial.

How dare these judges admonish (kankoku) the victims to try harder.

Hypocrites, it is they who have shirked all responsibility. Rather than coming down with a decision, they put all hope of justice being served upon the conscience and stamina of Health, Labour and Welfare Minister Masuzoe Yōichi.

Masuzoe seems to be a decent enough guy, willing to listen to both the victims and Naoto Kan--the last Health, Labour and Welfare minister forced to confront the combined forces of these horrible blood poisoners and their handlers in the Ministry.

Maybe Masuzoe will get some measure of compensation for the victims. His inappropriate nervous grinning and obsequious bowing today at the meeting with the representatives of the victims does not inspire confidence, however.

The clock is ticking--for both him (How long will he be Minister?) and those infected.

For some particulars on the cases, see the following article from the international Herald Tribune.

Furusato Roads Take Me Home

I have been indirectly accused of being soft-hearted, if not indeed soft-headed, about the abruptly collapsing economies and social carrying capacity of the rural areas.

I will someday respond to the criticism.

In the interim, how about an example of what real softhearts/softheads can produce as regards the areas outside the major metropolises:

Editorial: Toward a society of hope
The Asahi Shimbun

We believe that Japan's best course for the future is to develop into a "cooperative welfare state." But how to achieve that goal? On specific proposals, let us first discuss decentralization. We propose that all issues related to living be handled at the regional level, and entrust to the central government only those that cannot be resolved locally. "Local sovereignty," rather than decentralization, is the principle to which we should adhere.

For that, we need to develop local administrative bodies into what might legitimately be called regional governments--truly autonomous bodies that are vested with an independent administrative, fiscal and legislative authority. Municipal and village governments, which deal directly with residents, will be entrusted with the heaviest responsibilities.

According to our envisioned image of Japan, it will be a nation where the central and regional governments share responsibilities as equal partners. Some people may think this is a pipe dream. But if this does not happen, the future will be bleak indeed.

Japan's total debts, run up by the central and local governments, now stand at 773 trillion yen. One of the causes is wasteful spending of taxpayers' money under the current taxation and fiscal systems.

Expensive roads are built in mountainous areas and regional administrative bodies compete with their neighbors to do the same. Nobody is held accountable even if those roads or facilities remain unused or underutilized.

Central government ministries and agencies exercise their authority over regional governments, and the latter expect central government subsidies as their deserved windfall. Contracts for public works projects buoy regional economies and secure votes for local politicians.

Eventually, things can go very wrong. The city of Yubari in Hokkaido, which went bankrupt with massive debts, exemplifies this. As a traditional mining town that had fallen on hard times, Yubari sought to survive through tourism and used central government subsidies to invest excessively in the construction of tourist facilities. But tourism never took off, and the city ran up 18 billion yen in debt in this industry alone.

The post-Meiji Restoration concept of nation-building was that the provinces should just follow what Tokyo said. This may have been effective during the years of national reconstruction after World War II, but is now nothing more than a huge drag. Things have to change.

The European Union is adapting to economic globalization by strengthening the unity of member states. On the other hand, however, the EU is also promoting local independence by transferring authority to local governments in areas such as education and welfare...

A veritable baikingu* of everything that drives a sane person into shrill howls of madness over the progressive's favorite national daily:

- the use of sophistry and jargon to mask intellectual confusion

- a belief that the national government is insensitive and corrupt

- a belief that "the little people", if left alone, would be angels

- caricatures of pre-1945 conditions

- the reification of European Union policies

Whenever I read Asahi Shimbun editorials I am always reminded of the excuses communist party organs would make for the failures of socialism or the explanations Sankei Shimbun op-eds give for the ineffectiveness of aggressive diplomatic stances and the promotion of unquestioning patriotism -- that the failure of the resulting initiatives is not intrinsic to the doctrines being followed but is the result of a failure to impose the doctrinal recommendations stringently enough.

For the Asahi, the unassailable good is "democracy"-- you can just never have too much of it...

...which is pretty much the opposite of what the quiet doyen of Japanese political studies found when he looked hard at the data.

For those who want to check the's English version for translation issues, a Japanese original can be found here. (link expired)

* "smörgåsbord"

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Nagatachōterasu Ōmikami

Ozawa Ichirō has not given his answer whether or not he will accept the invitation of his fellow leaders of the Democratic Party to remain the head of the party. Indeed, he has told them that "he needs time to put into order his mind" (kokoro no seiri ni jikan ga hitsuyō) before he can respond to their their entreaties.

So they wait...and wait...and wait...

At least one of the evening papers sees a similarity with a certain situation described in the ancient chronicles:

Courtesy: Mainichi Shimbun


So thereupon the Heaven-Shining-Great-August-Deity, terrified at the sight, closed [behind her] the door of the Heavenly Rock-Dwelling, made it fast, and retired. Then the whole Plain of High Heaven was obscured and all the Central Land of Reed-Plains darkened.

Owing to this, eternal night prevailed.

Hereupon the voices of the myriad Deities were like unto the flies in the fifth moon as they swarmed, and a myriad portents of woe all arose.

Therefore did the eight hundred myriad Deities assemble in a divine assembly in the bed of the Tranquil River of Heaven, and bid the Deity Thought-Includer, child of the High-August-Producing-Wondrous-Deity think of a plan, assembling the long-singing birds of eternal night and making them sing, taking the hard rocks of Heaven from the river-bed of the Tranquil River of Heaven, and taking the iron from the Heavenly Metal-Mountains, calling in the smith Ama-tsu-ma-ra, charging Her Augustness I-shi-ko-ri-do-me to make a mirror, and charging His Augustness jewel-Ancestor to make an augustly complete [string] of curved jewels eight feet [long],--of five hundred jewels, --and summoning His Augustness Heavenly-Beckoning-Ancestor-Lord and His Augustness Great-Jewel, and causing them to pull out with a complete pulling the shoulder [-blade] of a true stag from the Heavenly Mount Kagu, and take cherrybark from the Heavenly Mount Kagu, and perform divination, and pulling up by pulling its roots a true sakaki with five hundred [branches] from the Heavenly Mount Kagu, and taking and putting upon its upper branches the augustly complete [string] of curved jewels eight feet [long],--of five hundred jewels,--and taking and tying to the middle branches the mirror eight feet [long], and taking and hanging upon its lower branches the white pacificatory offerings and the blue pacificatory offerings, His Augustness Grand-jewel taking these divers things and holding them together with the grand august Offerings, and His Augustness Heavenly-Beckoning-Ancestor-Lord prayerfully reciting grand liturgies, and the Heavenly Hand-Strength-Male-Deity standing hidden beside the door, and Her Augustness Heavenly-Alarming Female hanging [round her] the heavenly clubmoss of the Heavenly Mount Kagu as a sash, and making the heavenly spindle-tree her head-dress, and binding the leaves of the bamboo-grass of the Heavenly Mount Kagu in a posy for her hands, and laying a soundingboard before the door of the Heavenly Rock-Dwelling, and stamping till she made it resound and doing as if possessed by a Deity, and pulling out the nipples of her breasts, pushing down her skirt-string and exposing her private partes.

Then the Plain of High Heaven shook, and the eight hundred myriad Deities laughed together.

Hereupon the Heaven-Shining-Great-August-Deity was amazed, and, slightly opening the door of the Heavenly Rock-Dwelling, spoke thus from the inside: "Methought that owing to my retirement the Plain of Heaven would be dark, and likewise the Central Land of Reed-Plains would all be dark: how then is it that the Heavenly-Alarming-Female makes merry, and that likewise the eight hundred myriad Deities all laugh?"

Then the Heavenly-Alarming-Female spoke saying: "We rejoice and are glad because there is a Deity more illustrious than Thine Augustness."

While she was thus speaking, His Augustness Heavenly-Beckoning-Ancestor-Lord and His Augustness Grand-jewel pushed forward the mirror and respectfully showed it to the Heaven-Shining-Great-August-Deity, whereupon the Heaven-Shining-Great-August-Deity, more and more astonished, gradually came forth from the door and gazed upon it, whereupon the Heavenly-Hand-Strength-Male-Deity, who was standing hidden, took her august hand and drew her out, and then His Augustness Grand-jewel drew the bottom-tied rope along at her august back, and spoke, saying: "Thou must not go back further in than this!"

So when the Heaven-Shining-Great-August-Deity had come forth, both the Plain of High Heaven and the Central-Land-of-Reed-Plains of course again became light.

A happy ending for all...though we be hearing and definitely seeing more of Hatoyama Yukio than we may want to, if the drawing is any indication.


* The full Basil Hall Chamberlain translation of the Kojiki can be found online here.

The party unmentionable

At the end of the day, the current political turmoil has its origins in the failure of the Komeitō eight million to show up on July 29.

Had the heretofore rock-solid 8 million + votes turned up, both the Komeitō and the LDP's losses would have been minimized. Twenty thousand votes here, twenty-five thousand votes there and pretty soon you are talking about a different political landscape. The DPJ together with its grab bag of allies are not holding the majority in the House of Councillors; Abe is still prime minister; the radicals cling to their Cabinet positions; the refueling bill passes despite desperate bleating by Ozawa Ichirō...

Without the guaranteed 8 million votes, however, the coalition with the Komeitō seems only so much policy baggage for the LDP. The alliance is given a reprieve: the Komeitō-held seats in the House of Representatives push the total number of seats held by the coalition over the two-thirds majority it needs to override a veto by the House of Councillors.

Circumstances intervene, though; the governing coalition never gets to deploy the override weapon in time to renew the Indian Ocean dispatch legislation.

Over the course of the autumn, as the fate of the dispatch legislation becomes hopeless, the thinking of the LDP leadership changes. Unlike the Abe Clique, whose controversial and radical programs demanded extremist solutions, the new Fukuda-led consortium of faction leaders are more comfortable pursuing broad-based, consensual initiatives--the kind of initiatives the DPJ can support.

If the DPJ can support the LDP's legislation and vice-versa, what then is the need for the current coalition providing a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives?

(An obverse is also true: if the LDP and the DPJ can cooperate on legislation, of what need is the DPJ's alliance with the fossilized opposition microparties of the House of Councillors?)

To the broth let us add one more element: the suspicion that the tumble in Komeitō support from 2004 to 2007 was not just policy-based as is commonly argued but was partly structural.

The growth of the Sōka Gakkai movement, the support base behind the Komeitō, was immensely aided by the social disruption caused by the great migration from the countryside to the cities in the post-war years. Lonely individuals looking for social connections or displaced persons looking to better themselves found in the Sōka Gakkai a source of community, personal solace and micro-finance.

However, ever since the 1980s, the social need for a "Study Society for the Increase of Wealth" has been less pressing. Recruitment for the movement would slow down. Membership in the group and thus the Komeitō vote would continue to swell, however, as the children of the first generation took their places alongside their elders.

However, at some point, without a) renewed vigorous recruitment or b) a higher fertility rate among the Sōka Gakkai faithful, the religious organization and the political movement it sponsors would fall prey to the same demographic downward spiral threatening all of Japan's institutions.

If you knew or suspected that the Komeitō not only did not but indeed would not ever again deliver 8 million votes-- but that indeed the Komeitō-Sōka Gakkai was about to suffer a sharp drop in support followed by a slow, steady, demographics-drive decline--what would be your alliance strategy today? If you guessed that an alliance with the Komeitō would still not eke out a majority in the House of Representatives, even after the inevitable major LDP losses in a general election, what kind of political dealmaking would you, if you were Ozawa Ichirō, countenance right here, right now?

* * *

Admittedly this is all but a diaphanous gedanken experiment...

Nevertheless, death and senility will start thinning the ranks of the massive postwar burst of Sōka Gakkai recruits. The hit up until now definitely does not account for the huge 8.6 million votes to only 7.7 million votes drop in Komeitō support between the 2004 and the 2007 House of Councillors elections--but dismay at the party's alliance with the Abe-led LDP seems insufficient as well.

It taxes my credulity to believe that ten percent of the Komeitō's support could have evaporated away in three years's time due solely to doubts sown by the internal contradictions of a pacifist party serving as the handmaiden of the LDP. Members of the Sōka Gakkai believe that beating a drum and chanting for an hour each morning, combined with unswerving devotion to Ikeda Daisaku's leadership, puts them on the path to wealth and happiness. Lose faith and/or disobey the leadership are not what members of the Sōka Gakkai do.

(Last paragraph rewritten for clarity)