Friday, November 28, 2008

You Cannot Always Get What You Wanted

Today, the first batch of individuals will be notified of their selection to serve as lay judges (saiban'in) in the revamped legal criminal court system. According to the plan, the lay judges will start hearing their first cases on May 21 of next year.

Ostensibly, the inclusion of regular citizens into the legal process should curb the judiciary's notorious penchant for issuing peculiar, illogical and even extra-constitutional judgments. It is hoped that the common sense of common citizens will mete out justice more effectively and regularly than capricious and cautious judges whose main concern is not the application of the law but avoiding handing down any decison that could harm the his or her chances at receiving a full pension.

At least, that seems to be the idea behind the lay judge system.

However, sitting by the warmth of a wood stove in the mountains on Saturday, under a single bare lightbulb, my toes kicking up little clouds of ash, I got to hear a rather different view of why the lay judge system will be a boon to society.

"When the new saiban'in system comes in, we'll finally get to do something about drunk and reckless drivers. If you get behind the wheel and you swerve around and strike someone and kill them....well, I'm sorry..that deserves the death penalty. You have taken another's life through your irresponsible behavior, why should you be allowed to live? Death is what you deserve. Judges have been too lenient, letting these killers off all the time with light sentences. The lay judges will see to it that justice is done."
My, my...a not very civilized or genteel understanding of the problems affecting justice in this country, I am afraid.

And one, I think, that far more citizens share than the legal reformers have wanted to admit.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I Am Not Stupid

But George Wehrfritz thinks I am.

According to the website of his employer, George Wehrfritz is Newsweek's Hong Kong Bureau Chief/Asian Economics Correspondent and the magazine's former Beijing bureau chief. On occasion he plunks out a piece on Japan.

His article "Why Beijing Is In A Risky Place" examines the possibility of a depression-like severe economic downturn in China.

It is the cover article of Newsweek's Asia edition.

I find it awful...but that is not why I think George Wehrfritz thinks I am stupid.

He thinks that he can write a major magazine cover article on China, the most populous country on Earth, without interviewing a single Chinese person...and that I would not notice.

I did, Mr. Wehrfritz.

I did.

(That he thinks he can get away with not speaking to any women--they who hold up half the sky--either, when the cover photo of the print edition is a female worker covering her eyes in despair, is just beyond me.)

Off topic, I know--but reading this article on the Marunouchi Line this morning blackened my mood.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Country Roads on Sunny Sundays

Let us say you were some sleazy, seat-of-your-pants backstreet investment operation, a serial burn unit of invested funds, a boiler room shakedown specialist always browbeating those whom you had conned earlier for ever more money with ever greater claims of the inside scoop.

Let us say somebody, somewhere finally told you that you had to put up some real numbers. When would you leak them, in order minimize exposure?

How would a Sunday in the middle of a three-day weekend do for you?

You know where this is heading, I am sure.

As a part of the numerous disputes over the divvying up of the revenues from the gasoline levy and the necessity for new road construction, the Democratic Party of Japan has been complaining that the Ministry of Infrastructure, Land, Transportation and Tourism (MLIT) uses overoptimistic and dated projections of road usage. The DPJ has been demanding an update of the projections, last made in 2002, using data from more recent years.

Well, on the 23rd, in the inimical akiraka ni shita ("it came to be clear that") style of releasing public information ("As if we would put this stuff out on the ministry website, where just anyone could look at it!") the MLIT informed its kisha club members that the ministry staff should perhaps have been a little more expeditious in providing revised projections and possible more circumspect in their growth claims.

Like when they claimed that road usage would peak in the year 2020 at 870 billion vehicle/kilometers? Well, it turns out that road usage plateaued in the year 2000 at 776 billion vehicle/kilometers and has been sliding ever since. In 2006, the last year for which the statistics are available, usage was at 763 billion vehicle/kilometers.

The online edition of the Asahi Shimbun provided the below somewhat less than adequate graph illustrating the revised projections the MLIT has deigned to release.

Image Courtesy: The Asahi Shimbun

The high blue line is 2002 projection that the MLIT has been using in its estimates of road usage. The red lines are the new projections, with the solid upper line the high growth case and the dotted lower line the low growth case. The upper bound case seems fanciful considering that road usage declined during the 2000-2006 economic expansion. With the likelihood over the next few years of GDP contraction or flat growth, together with the increasing poor demographic profile (older drivers drive less than younger ones) it seems hardly possible that road usage could grow over the trend line.

Now, of course, these new projections, optimistic as they are, throw into confusion the plans of using the gasoline levy as the means of plugging the holes opening up in the social welfare safety net. It also calls into question the magical 10 year, 59 trillion yen budget for "necessary construction" which was the source of so much entertaining fumbling around earlier this year.

Helluva misoverestimation, as George W. Bush might say.

Here is a relevant Nikkei snippet (Nihongo only).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It's APEC, the After Power Evaporates Club

"All those former businessmen elected to the highest political office of their land, found to be unable to govern and now despised by their citizens, raise your hands!"

"Spankings for the lot of you, then! Off with those robes, boys!"

Photo courtesy: Reuters

Monday, November 24, 2008

When Man's Laughter Becomes Manslaughter

From the "They Can Smell Fear and Weakness...and They Eat Their Wounded" file, the headline of the article in the sports newspaper the man next to me was reading in the train yesterday:

"For Members of the Media, It is 'Ahō Tarō' Now"

Aho being the Japanese equivalent of "jackass."

Then there was the judgment of The Middle School Student when she read the list of Asō Tarō's recent kanji reading mistakes published in today's Tokyo Shimbun:

"What? He misread that? Now, you gotta admit, for an adult, that's pretty sad. I mean, a sixth-grader is supposed to know how that word is pronounced."

The hip Ambassador from Mangaland Prime Minister is just not wowing them the way he was supposed to be. Indeed, more and more scribes are suggesting that the prime minister's reading habits and his wealth and high status, rather than making him "groovy," have instead left him in a state of arrested intellectual development.

The Middle School Student, on the PM, once more:

"I mean, come on, look at him. After he finally winds up his stint as prime minister, he will have an immediate job offer from TBS to play the bad guy in an episode of Mito Kōmon. "

Which, as anyone who has ever watched Mito Kōmon knows, means that the PM is dead meat.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Increasingly Unbearable Lightness of Being Asō Tarō

Asō Tarō was hired to lead his party into an election, not lead his country in a crisis.

He is a glib, cheerful, dapper fellow who has a hopeless, shallow infatuation with his country (when I read his 2007 book I could not stop repeating to myself, "This reads like a book written by a foreigner about Japan which was then translated into Japanese!"). No matter what the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal might pretend (Come on folks, nobody sane person believes he ever even read this op-ed, much less wrote it) he is no policy wonk. He talks without thinking, comfortable in the knowledge that no matter how far his tongue runs ahead of his brain, his money and his pedigree will leave him standing on his feet. He has no philosophy of governing, other than saying, "What do you do for a living? Great!"

He wants the country to feel better about itself, as if attitude were 100% of achievement.

His unbearable lightness of being would be less of a problem if he had surrounded himself with a team of competent political professionals. Unfortunately, certain that his Cabinet would be consigned to the rubbish heap within a few weeks after his election to the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party, he appointed his friends (where possible) and folks to whom he owed favors (where necessary). As the economy and the Cabinet support levels both headed south, this motley crew was asked to become policy makers, not placeholders.

Unsurprisingly, the metamorphosis has not been successful.

Rather than taking everyone on a beguiling adventure, he is stuck reliving the nightmares of his predecessors:

- sparring with an obstreperous and immovable Ozawa Ichiro on policy

- pushing off vital decisions to "the next parliamentary session, when X can be handled properly" (Remember Fukuda Yasuo's promise in April to honestly, truly enact the plan to have the road tax revenues shifted to the general fund during the fall extraordinary session? Hilarious!)

- examining whether to extend the Diet session so he can pass legislation via the Article 59 route

- facing a legislative train wreck in the new year due to DPJ intransigence

- chasing after international approval, in the hopes it will improve his standing on the domestic front

- begging for action on the Indian Ocean dispatch...

He was billed as an artificer, one who could magically make the citizenry not see the LDP for the tattered and battered shell it had become.

As the weeks drag on, however, the act has become less funny, the rents in the whole cloth he and his supporters sold to the LDP are less to easy ignore.

Caveat emptor...

Australia's Gift to the World

Yukari Iwatani Kane is telling us...what, exactly?

Japan's Latest Fashion Has Women Playing Princess for a Day
Part Marie Antoinette and Part Paris Hilton, The Style Affords Pricey Stress
The Wall Street Journal

TOKYO -- When Mayumi Yamamoto goes out for coffee or window shopping, she likes to look as though she's going to a formal garden party. One day recently, she was decked out in a frilly, rose-patterned dress, matching pink heels with a ribbon and a huge pink bow atop her long hair, dyed brown and in pre-Raphaelite curls.

Ms. Yamamoto is a hime gyaru, or princess girl, a growing new tribe of Japanese women who aim to look like sugarcoated, 21st-century versions of old-style European royalty. They idolize Marie Antoinette and Paris Hilton, for her baby-doll looks and princess lifestyle. They speak in soft, chirpy voices and flock to specialized boutiques with names like Jesus Diamante, which looks like a bedroom in a European chateau. There, some hime girls spend more than $1,000 for an outfit including a satin dress, parasol and rhinestone-studded handbag....

What in Amaterasu's name would make a curl "pre-Raphaelite"? Or are we being treated to such nonsense because of the Millais exhibition that was at the Bunkamura?

How many these stylized, hyper-feminine, budget-blasting fashion waves are going to be featured in non-Japanese newspapers before the papers realize they are being played by the boutiques selling these goods?


And what is this article doing in The Wall Street Journal?

Double Arrrggghhh!

Which is not to say that princess fantasy is not fascinating. One of the truly astonishing free street spectacles (on par with the hip hoppers who practice around the Sonpo Japan Building in Nishi Shinjuku at night or around Nakano Zero on Saturdays and Sundays) is the Friday night hairdressing scramble visible through the giant windows of the salon D-COLOR on the southeast side of the Ichinohashi intersection in Azabu Jūban. Watching the stylists transform young women into hostess-bar-ready confections is terrific, if somewhat terrifying, free theater.

Later - Do follow the link in the title to the full article. The featured photo is half the fun horror.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Linkfest on Takahashi Korekiyo

University of Pittsburgn Professor Richard Smethurst has recently published a biography of Takahashi Korekiyo, in whose former home I spent some time on Sunday. Here is a review.

A Japanese version of Dr. Smethurst's book is scheduled to be released by Tōyō Keizai Shinpōsha this year.

More on the Death Penalty

In addition to David McNeill's Japan Focus article, which I linked to in an addendum to my last post, here are a few more online docs regarding the death penalty in Japan:

- An interview with House of Representatives member Kamei Shizuka, perhaps Japan's most prominent opponent of the death penalty. Recall that Kamei is a former National Policy Agency official and was the head of the "leftist extremist crimes" division at the time of the Asano Sansō Incident.

Kamei Shizuka's profile can be found here.

- The list of countries that have abolished or retain the use of the death penalty, courtesy Amnesty International.

- The various lawyers associations throughout Japan produce press releases and commentaries after every execution. Here is a Google search that kicks out a host of links (Nihongo only).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Explaining Japan's Death Penalty to a Texan

Early this morning, in between the hours of 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. local time, I was scheduled to be patched into an international conversation on BBC World Service. The discussion was about the death penalty, with the original discussion being between death penalty proponents and opponents in Texas. The announcer was then supposed to draw in other participants, waiting to offer views from various other parts of the globe.

The producers had asked me to explain in simple terms why Japan was one of only two advanced industrialized democracies, the other being the United States, that retains the death penalty--and why the death penalty enjoys broad popular support.

Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, the producers were not able to patch me in from the wireless network I was on. The show went on without me.

C'est la vie.

My idealized script, written to an imaginary Texan interlocutor, went something like this:

"There are a number of reasons why the death penalty enjoys solid support in Japan.

I can think of two overarching ones.

First, Japan is not a country where the Ten Commandments apply. Japan is 1% Protestant; 1% Catholic. The Prime Minister is a Catholic, the first one in history.

For the remaining 98% of the population, however, the Biblical injunction "Thou Shalt Not Kill" has no meaning. Government is seen as having the right "to kill" and indeed in some instances to have the responsibility "to kill."

The second overarching reason is that the death penalty is applied intelligently.

What does that mean?

It means that first, death sentences are rare. Japan has 127 million citizens but only 101 men and women on death row. So far this year there have been 15 executions. This is an extraordinarily large number, the result of the appointment of three law & order politicians to the post of Minister of Law in the past calendar year. In most years, the number of persons executed is fewer than 10.

Second, prosecutors are cautious about asking for the death penalty and judges are cautious about handing them out. A case has to meet a set of strict criteria before prosecutors and judges will seek death. Interestingly, these criteria are both formal and informal.

1) the defendant has to be guilty--there can be no question that he or she committed the crime. There were a number of death penalty cases in the 1940s, 50s and 60s where it was unclear whether or not the defendant had indeed committed the crimes in question. Authorities realized quite quickly that handing out the death penalty in these ambiguous cases undermines support for the death penalty.

2) formally, the crime committed has to be murder and
3) informally, the crime has to be multiple acts of murder--mass murder, serial killings, or killing, going to jail, and upon release from jail, killing again.

Now this third criteria is not written down anywhere in the law. Nevertheless is it broadly understood and accepted.

A recent example can be seen in the different reaction to three executions that were carried out in September.

The first two executions were of two men who had each murdered a husband and a wife. Nobody questioned these executions.

The third execution, however, was of a man who had stabbed to death a 19 year old girl in the Osaka subway. He stabbed her multiple times in the chest, then ran away. When the authorities caught him, they realized he had been the culprit in a series of violent assaults on young women, including stabbings and beatings with a metal pipe.

Nevertheless, imposing the death penalty on this third man generated a great deal of discussion. He had killed only the one girl, and he had attacked his victims not in order to inflict pain but because he was trying to rob them. Executing this man seemed excessive, even though he had been given a fair trial and had been sentenced according to the law.

That is how strong this unwritten rule of "multiple acts of murder" is.

By imposing strict limits on the cases where the death penalty is imposed--where there is unquestionable guilt, there has been murder and then, almost exclusively, multiple acts of murder--by setting the bar very high, authorities have preserved the legitimacy of the death penalty as the ultimate sanction.

It should surprise nobody that opinion polls show public support levels for the death penalty at around 80%."

"Keep it simple" was my mandate...and simple it is. Simplistic. A lot is left out.

Nevertheless, I believe the main gist correct.

Then again, when the competition is the lamentable Hatoyama Kunio, I was not in any real danger of making an incredible fool of myself, even at three in the morning...

I invite comment and criticism.

Later - This is serendipitous. David McNeill has released a magisterial article on the death penalty in Japan over at Japan Focus.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Man Forgotten

I sat in the room he was murdered in on Sunday.

I go there every few years, to consider the elegant and intricate webwork of wood and Meiji era glass panes ("Don't Touch the Windows" the signs warn) of the wraparound hallway on the second floor, the floor the assassins found him on. I go to look at the large photograph on the stand, of him vital despite his advanced years, bursting with pride and impishness, his bashful granddaughter beside him.

To consider the indecency of his killers, the self-appointed defenders of the country he had actually saved.

A small artificial stream burbles outside the house, whilst from downstairs come the disconcerting sounds and smells of a restaurant.

Someday maybe they will move the kissaten out of the lower floor. It is distasteful, given the violent death suffered by the owner of the house within its walls.

The house is not where it was. The land upon which it once stood is now a little-visited, somewhat forbidding public park next door to the Canadian Embassy.

To visit the home, to be in the room where he was cut down, one must go to the Edo Tokyo Tatemonoen, the outdoor architecture museum in Koganei whose buildings have served as the inspirations for the interiors and exteriors of so many of the Studio Ghibli's animated features.

There by the temporary entrance (the grand entrance is closed for renovations) is the main part of his home, salvaged and reconstructed.

* * *

With grinding, almost terrifying slowness, we are being engulfed in the greatest economic collapse since the 1930s...and no one mentions him.

The one whose wise leadership, action and counsel guided his country out of the pit.

A week ago I was watching one of the Sunday talk show programs where the host and his guests were discussing the global economic crisis and the election of Barack Obama as president. For some reason the assembled were stuck on talking about whether America now needs a new New Deal and whether indeed Japan will need a New Deal-like fiscal stimulus and employment package.

I felt like screaming at the set, "What are you babbling about? The New Deal did not pull the U.S. out of its economic crisis! It only prevented the U.S. economy from collapsing into nothingness! If you want to talk about recovery, why the hell are you talking about what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did? Especially as the person who figured out what to do was a Japanese!!!"

University of California Berkeley professor and blogger J. Bradford DeLong has this graph

posted to his website, part of his invaluable, open study materials for his Econ 161 class.

Look at the blue dotted line. Whilst other countries wallowed in the Great Depression, Japan leapt out of it, recovering its 1929 level of output in 1932--before Franklin Delano Roosevelt was even elected President of the United States. By 1936, the year the young officers of the Imperial Army were to murder the architect of the recovery--the man in whose house I was sitting in on Sunday--as well as the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal and the Army Inspector-General, Japan's GDP was 25% larger than it had been in 1929, when the boom had peaked.

And yet, since the beginning of the greatest financial crisis of our times, I swear I have not heard one television mention of him, one article outlining what he did to halt deflation and wealth destruction whilst most of the rest of the world economy was spiraling down the drain, not one photograph of his face on the posters in the subway for the monthlies and weeklies on purportedly serious subjects.

Could it be because the sons and grandsons and granddaughters of those who rose to power in the chaos of the 1930s -- they and their flunkeys who still afflict this blessed land -- they would not want us to remember that not all were as compromised and ignoble as their ancestors and heroes?

Member, Dead Blog Society of Japan

Looks like somebody was trying to make a concerted, formal effort.

I wonder who it was...and why it never caught on.

A good way to start the day

Pulled back the shades from the window at the office and was surprised to see a male Daurian Redstart (Jōbitaki - Phoenicurus auroreus) pop down onto the balcony opposite.

Of course it is the time of year the redstarts return to the southern Kantō. Nevertheless it was startling to see such a brightly colored little fellow flitting about in the concrete and reflective glass jungle that is Minato Ward.

Nice that we have a jinja nearby - it saved a little patch of green for our avian friends to take refuge in.

Now, what silliness are we to find in the papers on this day?

Monday, November 17, 2008

"I Shall Return!" - Asō Tarō Edition

Just to make this clear...the below is supposed to be something approximating a news report.

Japan and the United States: A Reversal of Roles Seven Years Later
Sankei Shimbun

WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Asō Tarō is showing the forceful self-assuredness of Japan's position at the emergency meeting of the heads of state (The Finance Summit) which opened on November 14th. It is not just because the financial system of Japan is being pushed back and forth less than others by the tsunami spreading out from the United States, the epicenter of the international financial crisis. For the Prime Minister, who has believed in and has never doubted the Japan that some have derided as "low-powered," it is possible that he is now on stage, after the passage of eight years, for "revenge" against the United States...

Well gosh, now that would be a really helpful attitude to have right now, would it not?

How serious are the editors of the Sankei Shimbun in channeling their revenge fantasies out of resentment for slights past?

Oh, gee, let us look at the Kyōdō Tsūshin photo they chose to accompany this article.

For the pharisees amongst us, this could be nothing more than a picture of Asō Tarō deplaning in an impractical, photogenic way...just like important folks do all the time.

Yet somehow, I think it is supposed evoke this photograph.

Let me be clear. I am in no way insinuating that the right wing in Japan has a corrosive, anachronistic obsession with the American Occupation.

I am stating outright that they do.

Later - Here is the on-line version of the article.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Too Clever By Half

This cartoon has too much going for it. Not posting it would be criminal.

Prime Minister Asō Tarō, dressed in an outlandish military uniform, gets plunked on the head by a fragment falling out of kūji - the unofficial nickname of the Air Self Defense Forces ( jieitai) which is, appropriately, floating in the sky. Unfortunately, without the missing piece, the characters now read kūhaku meaning "vacuum" -- highlighting the utter absence of oversight and authority over the officers of the Air Self Defense Forces exposed by the Tamogami Affair. Indeed, the piece of the kūji that has fallen out is labeled bunmintōsei -- "civilian control of the military."

"Oh!" cries the citizen in the tower, "Supreme Commander and Oversight Officer of the Cabinet. The protector of the skies (sora no mamori - i.e., the Air Self Defense Forces) has..."

At the bottom, just to add to the surfeit of references, is the caption:

The Seiji (Politics) , ji (ASDF), haku (Vacuum) Dominoes."

The word play seemingly being the shared characters tumbling from one word into the other like falling dominoes.

I know, it is too clever by half.

Source: Mainichi Shimbun, morning edition, November 11, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

From Where the Birds Fly

A few months ago, Tobias Harris speculated about the ramifications of a missile attack on the Yokosuka naval bases.

Since Mr. Harris seems to have used an embed for his post, the image in his post no longer conforms with his captioning.

However, the current extremely high-resolution image of Yokosuka spliced into Google Maps renders his speculation about temptation even more salient. On the U.S. side of the main harbor I count six guided missile destroyers (one in dry dock), one guided missile cruiser, two Los Angeles-class Oyashio-class attack submarines and one possibly Seawolf-class attack submarine (I am guessing it is the U.S.S. Jimmy Carter). Five hundred meters away on the Japanese side of the main harbor is the Aegis destroyer Kirishima, plus the Murasame, the Takanami, the Ōnami and the Hatakaze.

Holy Moly, that is a lot of firepower to have in one place...and that is just the main harbor. There are two more MSDF destroyers and an MSDF submarine at the Nagaura anchorage and something I cannot identify out in the channel.

It's hell of a shot, to speak.

Later - An imagery specialist checks in in comments and gently tells me I am full of it points out possible errors.

I have made changes in the above to reflect the commenter's suggestions.

Stupid Crap I Should Have Known

A connection I did not make until yesterday: True Conservatism majordomo Hiranuma Takeo is the adopted son of the former prime minister and Class A War Criminal Hiranuma Kiichirō.

I really should have known that.

Amaterasu-omikami, are they all the kids or grandkids of big time war criminals?

A Little Testy, Are We?

Given what we know now about former Air Self Defense Forces General Tamogami Toshio's political views and the participation of a significant number of ASDF officers in the APA Hotel Group's "True Perspectives of Modern and Contemporary History" essay contest, should we look at the recent increases in the number of ASDF jet fighter scrambles, a heretofore purported measure of increased Chinese testing of Japan's air defenses, with a tad more skepticism?

Just a thought.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Serial Offender

William Pesek is the worst columnist writing on Japan for a major news organization.

Please, please, somebody make him stop.

On a tangentially related topic, David Pilling has been promoted to the Hong Kong position at the Financial Times. He was frighteningly decent on the telephone the other day, announcing his transfer from Tokyo -- which makes me kind of sheepish about some of the things I have written about him over the years.

I told him I thought this piece was really rather good.

It is.

Wrestling with ghosts

Confronted with a print from the China's Cultural Revolution of ruddy-cheeked, gleaming white-toothed peasants cheerfully going about their revolutionary business in perfect harmony, a shaken Michael Stipe of REM wrote the hit song "Shiny Happy People"* -- hoping that through blithering innocuity he might simultaneously obfuscate and highlight the real faces of the Cultural Revolution.

The sharp contrasts between the richness of life in modern-day coastal China, Stipe's bouncy, impossible nonsense and the sheer insanity of the subjects of these newly available images from the actual Cultural Revolution (including images of the denunciation of the descendants of Confucius) etch in high relief how lucky we all are that "black cat, white cat, what does it matter?" Deng Xiaoping and his allies prevailed.

A reminder that we must all be wary, as it takes only a claim of righteousness, a prescription of discipline and an appeal to resentment to make a determined, dishonest madness seem (almost) rational.


* Yes, this song.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Into a Headwind

Gakushūin professor Sasaki Takeshi, writing on the unexpectedly long-lived First Asō Cabinet in the Tokyo Shimbun:

The American presidential election is over. Senator Obama, who chanted, "Change!" has triumphed.

The financial crisis was the final tailwind pushing his message of "Change." The twists and turns we saw are an omen that the world is entering a once-in-every-20 years cycle of "Change." This election was the warning shot.

As for the Asō Administration, the one thing that is absolutely clear is that it seeks, if nothing else, to tenaciously prevent "Change" from occuring in Japanese politics.

Yep, that sound just about right.

Have a nice trip to the United States, Francisco.

No F-22s for You!

A friend's email reminds me that certain persons were discussing the possibility of Japan's Air Self Defense Forces acquiring the F-22 Raptor in order to meet the challenge posed by China's acquisition of Sukhoi-27 variants.

In the as-yet not warm and fuzzy aftermath of the Tamogami Affair, I would rate the odds against the U.S. Congress passing a waver of the export ban on F-22s at about a quintillion to one.

Thanks a quintillion, Toshio-kun!

Later - The count of Air Self Defense Forces officers identified as contestants in the APA Group essay contest has risen to 94.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Guess I'm not in the M0D Squad

It has been difficult to focus on political events in the land of the Rising Sun over the past week. In comparison to the spectacle taking place on the other side of the Pacific, events in the home provinces are pretty mild.

Still, it is hard to refrain from commenting on the Tamogami Affair. That persons like Air Self Defense Forces Chief of Staff Tamogami Toshio should seek to serve in the Self Defense Forces is not to be unexpected. Energetic, devoted patriotism borders on nationalism, and it is not unusual that a young man who desires to protect his fellow citizens should not be able to discern the boundary line. At some point, someone should have been able to see that Tamogami's beliefs regarding the pre-1945 state, which he did not hide, made him unfit for a career in the SDF. Despite years in the service of the government, employed, educated and trained at the public’s expense, Tamogami did not understand or refused to understand the significance of his oath of obedience to the civilian government. It is incomprehensible (no, wait, it is comprehensible, it was just ridiculous) that he was able to rise through the ranks to the highest position in his service while being in a state of rebellion against the principles undergirding the SDF's and the current government's existence. That he was given command of a military base, in charge of the instruction of hundreds of airmen and was, in the end able to cajole or pressure 78 of his fellow officers into participating in an act of spiritual rebellion against the state is not grounds for dismissal, it is grounds for arrest on the charge of conspiracy to commit insurrection.

(I will have to look up what the applicable law would be.)

Serious minds should be debating whether or not the Ministry of Defense ought to be demoted to an agency again. Over just the last two years, the defense establishment and the individuals working for it have compiled a staggering record of contempt for simple right and wrong. Vice Minister Moriya's dismissal, arrest and conviction on bribery and bid-rigging charges; the dereliction of duty that allowed the MSDF Atago, the most advanced ship in the fleet, to run over a fishing boat earlier this year; the decades of unpunished corruption at the Defense Facilities Agency that forced the government to disband the agency in 2007; the sadistic ritual beating death of a special forces serviceman who had the audacity to believe he had the right to resign from the force; and now the Tamogami Affair indicate that the MOD is the Ministry of Outright Disaster...and that we need disaster relief.

And that is something the Self Defense Forces are purportedly really good at.

Later - a collection of the best writing on the Tamogami Affair

Tobias Harris

"The Tamogami affair "

"Japan's revisionist problem"

Okumura Jun

"Norimitsu Onishi's Obsession with Japanese Revisionism Continues"

"The Latest, Troubling Twist in the Tamogami Incident"

"Update on the Tamogami Affair; Plus, a Few Thought on the Evolving Relationship between Politics and the Bureaucracy"

Roy Berman

"Gen. Tamogami Toshio, Motoya Toshio, and Abe Shinzo"

Make no mistake, something sickening and awful has happened. The Self Defense Forces have a founding myth--that they are sui generis, a purely defensive force, the shield unto the United States's spear in the Japan-U.S. alliance. Unless someone figures out how it was possible for a reckless buffoon like Tamogami to remain in good standing with his fellow officers and the civilian defense bureaucracy, everyone will be forced to recalibrate his or her thinking about the fundamental nature of the SDF, the principles underpinning the current Japan-U.S. military alliance and the future of security relations in Northeast Asia.

Monday, November 03, 2008

In An About Face


It seems that the Machimura Faction, the nest from out of which sprung the four prime ministers preceding Prime Minister Asō Tarō (namely Mori Yoshirō, Koizumi Jun'ichirō, Abe Shinzō and Fukuda Yasuo) finds itself somewhat ticked off at the LDP's acquiescence to Asō's decision to delay the House of Representatives election indefinitely.

"If the election is not going to be held this year," the Machimurans ask, "then why the heck was it necessary for Fukuda Yasuo to resign?"

Why indeed?

Oooh! Guess that means there's one more set of campers (the Democrats and other members of the opposition, the New Kōmeitō) that has been made unhappy by the delay of the elections!

Not that any of them can do anything to ease their pain...

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Tokyo, This Evening


Sunset. From Odaiba

Jazz band. Odaiba

Dance performance. Odaiba

Tokyo Tower

All images: MTC