Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Chiba Voters Pick Their Own Fool

It would be unfair to criticize Chiba Prefecture voters overmuch for selecting a nearly 60-years old adolescent former actor for their governor, after two rounds of the super serious Dōmoto Akiko.

In 1995, the Tokyo and Osaka voters elected television comedians Aoshima Yukio and "Knock" Yokoyama as the governors of the then two largest prefectures (Kanagawa has since pipped Osaka for the title of #2 in terms of population). Aoshima, though rendered nearly powerless during his term by the Tokyo Metropolitan District council, still is remembered fondly for his intense humility and decency. Yokoyama is remembered for being a blockhead and for his humiliation in a sexual harrassment scandal.

In 2000 Nagano Prefecture elected Tanaka Yasuo, a celebrity novelist known for his soft porn columns for a major lads magazine, to the first of two terms.

Chiba Prefecture will be joining a fun club. Tokyo and Osaka are ruled by celebrity governors: novelist and right wing gadfly Ishihara Shintarō and celebrity lawyer and television commentator Hashimoto Tōru. Miyazaki Prefecture, where the previous governor just got sent to the pokey, has the irrepressible former television comedian Higashikokubaru Hideo as its leader.

Rather than mull over how much the Chiba gubernatorial election result reflects public unhappiness with Democratic Party of Japan leader Ozawa Ichirō, I will pass off Morita's win as reflecting renewed exhaustion with regular politicians and politics. We are back where we were in the pre-Koizumi era, where the public was sick to death with the norm.

Furthermore, with the exception of Yokoyama, the celebrity governors have turned out to be rather better than average in their performance. They have been able to use their popularity to promote 1) their prefectures and 2) hard-nosed policies. Whether due to the governor's ability to claim legitimacy from public popularity or simply because the celebrity governors have alternate means of employment should they fail, they have managed to ram down the throats of the fossilized prefectural assemblies reforms and budget cuts that seasoned political observers have deemed to be "impossible" to impose.

Which does not mean I do not find this series of photos of Morita Kensaku's celebrations of his victory boding no good for the citizens of Chiba.

Monday, March 30, 2009

For the Observer - Nishimatsu Kensetsu In the Looking Glass

I have been trying to figure out what, if anything, Nishimatsu Kensetsu could have been buying from Ozawa Ichirō via its fully legal but entirely bogus political donations organizations. What the company could derive from Nikai Toshihiro, I understand: Nikai is a big fish in the Liberal Democratic Party pond, despite his years in the opposition, and the sitting minister of economic, trade and industry (Bingo!).

But Ozawa? A Democrat? The bureaucrat's arch-nemesis?

Aurelia George Mulgan, who wrote the book on the early career of the tragic clown Matsuoka Toshikatsu, believes Nishimatsu Kensetsu and other donating companies had a pair of goals:

1) the facilitation of bid-rigging and
2) insurance against Ozawa interference in the bidding on public works projects in his stronghold of Iwate Prefecture.

Ozawa political secretary Ōkubo Toshinori's helping rig bids for public works projects in Iwate and Akita in return for donations would be a fine crime indeed. Unfortunately, the concept has a gaping hole in its middle: bid rigging requires the collusion of at least one bureaucrat. To date no bureaucrat has been brought in for questioning in regards the Nishimatsu Kensetsu/Ozawa scandal. Without at least one person with his/her hands on the public purse strings, there is no case.

Buying insurance against Ozawa meddling in public works allocations in the Tōhoku region is a bit more ingenious. Unfortunately the accusation is not convincing -- and not only because of the unreliable publication quoted.

First, for Ozawa to be able to interfere in the disposition of public works projects in Iwate and the Tōhoku region, he would have to have leverage over central government bureaucrats. He may have had such leverage in the 15 months his Liberal Party was in coalition with the LDP (January 1999 to April 2000) but not before or since.

Second, as an Ozawa stronghold, Iwate Prefecture has been under constant threat of abandonment by LDP-led governments. It would be unlikely that Ozawa would "interfere" with any project, as interference could just as soon doom a contract bid as propel it forward.

Third, when the key to the narrative is that Ozawa is actually a gangster -- meaning that one has to pay him off if one does not want him messing up one's life -- bright red warning lights should start going off. "Ozawa = yakuza" is just too cheap, tawdry and obvious to be anything but a political hackjob. One has to wonder about the source, not the politician.

I prefer to wager that Nishimatsu Kensetsu donated sums to Ozawa and Nikai in order to gain protection from anti-competitive practices by other construction firms--and to get a leg up on smaller, local operators. As a mid-sized construction company (jun ōte kensetsugaisha) Nishimatsu Kensetsu is in a precarious position in the public works ecosystem. It is too small to openly challenge the Big Four construction firms and too big to be one of the Big Four's subcontractors. Unable to compete with other firms in either returns to scale or local expertise -- and always in danger of being colluded against by the Big Four - the company would need an alternative means of holding its ground. Donating, albeit through a subterfuge, to Ozawa, Nikai and others would be insurance, yes -- but insurance against the company's being locked out of bidding for contracts. Ozawa, Nikai or any of the other politicians patronized by Nishimatsu Kensetsu could, in theory and at short notice, be kindly asked to raise hell either in the Diet or on the prefectural level should Nishimatsu Kensetsu be prevented from winning contracts for reasons other than proper qualifications.

Whether Ozawa ever did anything in return for the Nishimatsu Kensetsu donations -- the whole point of prosecutors pursuing a case against Ōkubo Toshinori, by the way -- has so far not been established. Perhaps the ability to pose a counterthreat -- "Look, we are close to Ozawa, Nikai, Mori and others, so do not mess with us" -- was all the company ever needed.

The above would, of course, plop us down in a whole new bizarro world of political corruption and its prosecution -- where investigators hound politicians for accepting donations for which there was never a quid-pro-quo -- and where private insurance against bid-collusion, log-rolling and other anti-competitive practices is deserving of punishment.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Width Doesn't Enter Into It, Methinks

"Kabuya" means "wide boys"? In which regional dialect?

Wide girl
The Economist

Mrs Watanabe is tiptoeing back into Japan's stockmarket

Mar 26th 2009 TOKYO - "NOT trusted" is how Japan's Prime Minister Taro Aso described stockbrokers this month, before calling them kabuya, or "wide boys". And with the Tokyo stockmarket scraping 26-year-lows in mid-March before soaring 20% in the past fortnight, the reputation of equities as an investment is shoddy at best. Yet some Japanese investors are throwing caution to the wind and beginning to buy...
Kabu - ya: "share" + "the house thereof."

Ergo, "the house of the selling and buying of shares."

You know, like "yaoya" or "sobaya."

Or perhaps the prime minister just wanted to say kabu o yatte iru to -- "those who are doin' shares" -- a kind of loose-limbed, free form expression meant to be equivalent to the more formal"kabu torihiki" ("the selling and buying of shares on an exchange").

Or so I might have thought.

Now, with the authoritative pages of The Economist telling me otherwise, I must face the possibility that all is not as simple as I supposed.

As for the prime minister's assertion that those in the countryside believe that those who buy and sell shares are shady, well, given that he has heretofore been a reliable source of information and analysis on all subjects he has pontificated upon, he must know.

I defer to his authority.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Maehara Seiji Has A Problem

Having enjoyed the better part of valor at Tuesday's Democratic Party of Japan leadership committee meeting, the middle-aged members of the DJP core group seem now ready to test the depths of the moat surrounding party leader Ozawa Ichirō.

Okada Katsuya, the presumed front-runner in any internal party race to replace Ozawa, is remaining circumspect, issuing gnomic utterances like "This is a test to see if the Democratic Party can actually take up the burdens of government" -- a statement that seems to support every possible potential course of action or inaction.

The press is reporting strong support among the middle-aged and younger party cohorts for Okada over Kan Naoto and Hatoyama Yukio, the other, and lesser, members of the DPJ's leadership troika. While not graybeards, Kan and Hatoyama are being portrayed as being too old (and probably too close to Ozawa) to represent a clean break for the party from the mess of the Nishimatsu Construction scandal.

Unable to repress himself is Maehara Seiji, the last, obstreperous draftee into the DPJ central leadership. Like Okada, Maehara is a former DPJ leader. Unlike Okada, who seems to know which party he belongs to, Maehara always seems to be showing up at study groups about serious subjects where the attendees are mostly Liberal Democratic Party members.

He likes to be outside the mainstream.

At an evening gathering on Saturday, Maehara began opening up the way he probably should have done on Tuesday, before his peers and elders in the party. He made a good point about the deletion from the DPJ manifesto of the promise to not accept donations from companies engaged in public works projects, a line that disappeared with Ozawa's accession to the post of party leader.

However, Maehara also came out with this stinker, which the press is running as the first drip of the awaited flood of party member criticism of Ozawa.

"For example, even if legal, receiving that much as a donation is a problem. For me, it is an unthinkable amount of money."
It is that second sentence, beginning with the "For me" (Watashi ni wa) which is unfortunate. Some of us have not forgotten that Maehara has very little credibility on the issue of discerning the difference between what is unthinkable and what is not. Neither has Maehara, as he himself reminded everyone that he lost his party leadership position because of his flogging in the Diet of a painfully bogus email, claiming it was possible evidence of LDP's Secretary General Takebe Tsutomu's accepting bribes.

Maehara-san, please. Sensitivity to the damn peculiar? Not your strong suit.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Silence of the Dems

In the short story "The Adventure of Silver Blaze," Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson have this famous exchange:
"Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.
I was thinking of this little bit of wordplay the other day while listening to the reports on the first meeting of the Democratic Party of Japan's steering committee after the arrest of party leader Ozawa Ichirō's right hand man Ōkubo Toshinori. At the meeting Ozawa apologized for the disruption and difficulty the arrest was causing his fellow party members. He also swore that the prosecution was politically motivated, that he would not resign and that he was committed more than ever to press for an election.

The assembled members of the party, young, middle-aged and senior, were then given a chance to offer their opinions.

No one said anything.

Nothing. Nada. Rien.


The meeting broke up, and the attendees went their separate ways, desperately avoiding press reporters and their inconvenient questions.

Now I have heard repeated that the Democratic Party is an ideological tossed salad, hopelessly riven with divisions of opinion, lacking any unifying principle and guaranteed to fall to pieces should the party somehow prevail in the next House of Representatives election. Tobias Harris of Observing Japan and Curzon of Coming Anarchy are having a contretemps over this issue.

The arrest and the meeting of the leadership presented an open invitation to express frustration at Ozawa's carelessness.

But no - all remained mute, just nodding to Ozawa's explanations and excuses.

So either...

1) The potential wrath of Ozawa the Merciless scares the living daylights out of every living one of them, so that only a poor benighted fool would express disquiet over the current state of affairs, or

2) Every single one of them has a political secretary who could be picked up for violating the election laws, making it best not to call attention too much to oneself with a display of righteous anger and/or frustration at the damage the Ōkubo arrest is doing the party, or

3) They have figured there is no real downside to sticking with Ozawa.

If Prime Minister Asō Tarō dissolves the Diet, calling a House of Representatives election in order to capitalize on Ozawa's and the Democratic party's slumping poll numbers -- then Ozawa pulls a fast one on the PM by resigning his party leadership position in favor of a more telegenic and likable DPJ leader.

Advantage: Democrats

If the prosecutors find a smoking gun -- evidence demonstrating a clear solicitation of funds from the construction firm and political payback from Ozawa to the ultimate donors of the money -- then the party members unseat Ozawa immediately on grounds of unethical conduct -- showing that the party both respects the rights of the individual and knows how dump bad apples.

Advantage: Democrats

If the investigation into Ozawa's finances stalls, or the prosecutors are forced to recant some of their charges, then Ozawa looks like he was right all along about the partisanship and prejudices of law enforcement.

Advantage (albeit a weak one): Democrats

The supposedly seething mass of Democratic Party dissenters (for details, anonymously sourced, see the Yomiuri, Mainichi and Sankei Shimbun articles of this week and last) had a chance to speak their piece the other day about this deeply wounding incident.

Every single member of the variegated flock failed to bleat.

And that, given the conventional wisdom on the DPJ, should be seen as curious.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

She Blogs Beautifully by the Potomac's Shore

Through the good offices of Our Man in Abiko, I have learned that a lady of some importance in The Imperial Capital's Japan-related community has begun to blog.

I hope she keeps up the good work, like this most recent post.

A Respected Member of the Establishment Weighs In

Or should I entitle this, "Gerry Curtis Tries a Little Gentle Gaiatsu"?

In an opinion piece on page 15 of the paper version this morning's The Asahi Shimbun (I am trying to find a link) Columbia University Professor Gerald Curtis asks why the Tokyo District Prosecutor's Office has so far failed to hold a press conference explaining what it thinks it is doing in arresting Ozawa Ichirō's political secretary Ōkubo Toshinori -- and why the Japanese press has not asked for such a press conference.

The key passage from Professor Curtis' op-ed:


"That the people can believe that the power of the state is being used in an absolutely fair and equitable manner is an indispensible requirement of democracy. Have not the politicians and the mass media, and by the same token, the mass of the people, become far too desensitized as regards this problem?"
Well, by those standards of what is indispensible for democracy, one pretty much has to write off the ASEAN democracies, Bangladesh, Taiwan...

Of course, that is probably Dr. Curtis's point. Publishing this opinion article in the Asahi, he is trying awaken the populace to the fact that Japan has, or at least should treasure, a comparative advantage in Asia in terms of fundamental democratic precepts, and that these are being threatened by the lack of accountability in the actions of the Tokyo District Prosecutor's Office.

Anyway, it is good to see that not just wild-eyed bloggers in the thrall of the Democratic Party of Japan are thinking that the prosecutors have some to explaining to do.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Intimations of Spring's Imminence

Honeybee on Na no hana (Brassicus napus)
Yokosuka Township, Kanagawa Prefecture
March 7, 2009

Francisco Does Something Unprecedented

Lest folks come to the conclusion that I have nothing nice to say about Prime Minister Asō Tarō, I quote a passage from an open letter from Lester Tenney, the Commodore Commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor:

"The Prime Minister of Japan Taro Aso is to be commended for his courage for setting the record straight about his company’s use of POW forced labor.

Mr. Aso’s statement is the first admission by any senior Japanese government or industry official that private Japanese companies used forced labor to maintain production during the Pacific War..."
It seems astonishing that no other active government or corporate figure has ever admitted that private companies employed Allied Forces prisoners of war. Then, if someone had, Dr. Tenney would probably be the one to know about it.

See the rest of the letter by clicking on the link at the bottom of this page (no permalink yet).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bumpin' It Up For The Ruling Coalition

The weekend polls ran badly against the Democratic Party of Japan and its leader, Ozawa Ichirō. In all but one poll over 50% of those polled thought that Ozawa must resign as head of the party. In most polls over 70% thought that they could not accept Ozawa's explanations of the the arrest of his political secretary Ōkubo Toshinori. In answer to one somewhat silly polling question -- did Ōkubo's arrest and Ozawa Ichirō's and the DPJ's response to the arrest make them think more highly of the DPJ or less highly of it -- 1% of those polled thought that the news made them think better of the DPJ.

1% of those polled.

Can we assume a generous rounding upward?

The populace is simply not buying "the arrest of Ōkubo is a purely political action intent on preventing Ozawa from becoming prime minister through the electoral process so we should suspend judgment, for the time being" proposition. It seems that Ozawa has something of a reputation as a fixer and a disciple of Tanaka Kakuei. Somehow this "reputation" thing is rather significant, making it hard for the populace to suspend its judgment. That Ozawa is probably also the victim of a purely political action intent on preventing him from becoming prime minister is seen as a side issue.

The weekend polls may have been bad for the DPJ but the party could take solace that the prime minister and his party were not accruing any major benefit from Ozawa's troubles. Most of the increases in the Cabinet's popularity over the weekend were laughably small, from one to two percent -- hardly the stuff of panic, even as the news crews crowd around. Given that the news crews are now gathered even more tightly around Minister of Economics, Trade and Industry Nikai Toshihiro than around Ozawa, DPJ members must have been feeling a sense of, if not stability, at least a shift in momentum.

This salubrious state of affairs may be ending, however.

Last night, TV Asahi broadcast a startling result, a 7% upward shift since the last poll, resulting in 26% of those polled now on board as "supporting" the Asō Cabinet - the first time anyone as seen a figure starting with a "2" for a while. Nippon Television for its part claims Cabinet support has doubled, from 9.7% to 18.8%, in since its latest poll. The shift in the party support numbers was even more dramatic, with the LDP edging past the Democrats in both polls.

OK - now it is time for the Democrats to panic.

While this significant bump upward in LDP and Cabinet ratings is in part due to Ozawa's troubles, it also is possible that it is a reflection of the other big piece of political news from last week: the House of Representatives' override of the House of Councillors' rejection of the second supplementary budget. Distribution of the 12,000 to 20,000 yen per person supplementary budget disbursement began the next day to much fanfare, while former prime minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō's supposedly epic absence from the revote was relegated to the inner pages of the papers.

Now the press has been hounding the government on the issue of the disbursement, and polling has, until now, shown it to be rather unpopular with the electorate -- in the aggregate.

All the umbrage and eyebrow arching may be moot, however, as the cash handout plan swings into action, revealing itself for what it always has been: a shamelessly feel-good hamlet and rural area vote-buying plan.

The disbursement is pretty much a dead letter as a short-term economic stimulus in urban and suburban areas. No ward of Tokyo has the infrastructure to distribute cash to hundreds of thousands of residents. Imagine trying to establish booths at the ward office capable of servicing hundreds of thousands of residents showing up to get their cash, this in the odd event that they would take a day off from work to do so, or were able to convince Grandma to go down to the ward office to get everybody's share. You cannot do home delivery -- most of the residents are commuters. Getting all the money into the economy via the urban and suburban municipal governments will take months, if ever. Adamu at Mutant Frog Travelogue outlines how Adachi-ku is trying to deliver the money, by sending out application forms for a delivery of the money to the head of the household via wire transfer.

In the rural areas, however, distributing the money is easier and upfront, a true "cash handout" to the residents. In the first town in the nation to begin the disbusement process, a metropolis of 537 residences, local officials just turned on the town's PA system and told everyone to come on down to the town office to pick up their envelopes. In other hamlets the top local bureaucrat and the rest of the town's office staff have just picked up baskets of full of envelopes, hopped in the town vans and driven to people's residences in order to drop off the Fukuzawa Yukichis.

Guess what -- in towns with over 25% of the residents over 60 years of age, there always seems to be someone at home.

It was the technical aspects, not the economics, of the cash disbursement (lost on some of the English language press--one English-language news organization even talked about the amount of time it would take until the citizens "get their checks in the mail." Checks? In the mail? In the Land of the Rising Sun?) that made it such a bad idea. The economics of plan was actually rather good -- given the zero rate of interest, almost all of the cash being handed out -- when it is handed out -- is likely to be spent.

When the money is being deposited into bank accounts...well...

Funny thing about rural areas full of retirees -- they tend to be rather poor. Twelve thousand to twenty thousand yen per person is a huge cash windfall. Another funny thing about retirees and the elderly -- they tend to vote like they have nothing else to do, which they don't.

Free money + high voting rates + overly represented rural districts = ?

On a national level, the video of all these ojīchan and obāchan receiving their cash, joyously shaking the hands of local bureaucrats, telling the reporters, with a hint of wickedness in their shining eyes, about the items and services they are going to buy -- has been fabulous PR for the ruling coalition.

Oh, and yes, the LDP and New Kōmeitō candidates out on the hustings will never make mention that the Democratic Party of Japan fought tooth and nail against the cash disbursement program's passage.



Maybe I am being unnecessarily nostalgic, but vote buying used to require subterfuge...and a personal touch. It used to be that a politician would have to inadvertently leave behind or drop an unmarked envelope full of cash whilst leaving a constituent's residence or place of business.

Nowadays, politicians cannot be bothered. Just pass a law ordering local officials to deliver the damn envelope to the constituent.

Such vulgar and unimaginative times we live in.

Later - I leave to others to comment on the attempts by the local authorities to channel the cash disbursement to local merchants through preferential coupon programs.

Is anyone else thinking that these coupon programs might impact nominal inflation statistics, as well as impacting the voting patterns of the retailers in the traditional shopping arcades?

Both the Good and the Bad, on Social Issues

Good article.

Bad article.

That is all, for now.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Where We Are

For some reason Observing Japan is suffering difficulties.

From memory, Mr. Harris put forth the proposition that a point of stasis has been reached over the arrest of Ōkubo Toshinori, Democratic Party of Japan Leader's Ozawa Ichirō's political secretary.

I would have to second that observation.

And say that Ozawa's continued headship of the Democrats is a thing of wonder.

Ozawa Ichirō this last week demonstrated an insane level of bravery, a quality for which he is not generally known. He denounced the arrest of his closest aide, refused to resign (the "dignified way out") and called the Tokyo District Prosecutor's Office a political tool. The Tokyo Prosecutor's Office seemingly fired back, as all kinds of information about the investigation appeared in the Yomiuri and to a lesser extent, the Sankei and Mainichi. Among the news was the possibility that the prosecutors would call Ozawa in for questioning.

Normally, given the record and reputation of the Tokyo Prosecutor's Office - formidable even at this, the end stage of the LDP-dominated state - most politicians would have taken the hint and thrown in the towel.

To his credit, Ozawa has suddenly become a gambler - albeit with the political careers of all his colleagues. To the credit of his colleagues, they have stood by him, despite frantic efforts by the above trio of newspapers to gin up an internal revolt against Ozawa's leadership.

By Thursday, it became clear that the prosecutors had run out of ammunition. Having issued their threat to call Ozawa in for questioning, they had shot their bolt. Momentum seemed turned to a new narrative, pushed in part by The Asahi Shimbun and its sister organization, TV Asahi -- that Ozawa had a point about the investigation and arrests smelling fishy, given that mid-sized contractor Nishimatsu Construction had been generous to LDP politicians, as well. Minister of Economics, Trade and Industry Nikai Toshihiro became the new celebrity, with opposition members grilling him mercilessly on his fundraising from Nishimatsu-affiliated groups. In the most biting exchange, Koike Akira of the Communist Party asked Nikai what he meant by his repeated promises to "return the money" -- since the so-called dummy fundraising organizations are no longer in existence. In a vicious coup-de-grace, he asked the hunkering minister, "When you promise to 'return the money,' do you mean 'return it to Nishimatsu Construction'?"

The threat to Ozawa is far from over, of course. We seem to be entering a fifth phase of the drama, where the common folk are called in to deliver their verdict. The Mainichi published
the first poll, showing 57% of those polled in favor of Ozawa resigning as head of the Democratic Party. Kyōdō has clocked in with a poll a showing of 61% of respondents thinking it would be best for Ozawa to resign.

Whether the citizens believe Ozawa should step down is because

a) he is dragging his party down, or

b) because the citizens do not want a crooked politician at the head of a major party

is not made clear, for some odd reason.

Key to this new phase is how the Monday morning papers and variety/news shows play these numbers. I believe the editors of the newspapers are going to take heart in the figures that are coming out. The Mainichi's editors certainly have, entitling their Sunday editorial, "As we thought, the judgment of public opinion has been severe" (Yahari yoron wa hageshikatta).

"Just as we thought," indeed.

Spicing up the mix is the report that Tanaka Makiko -- who as the daughter of Tanaka Kakuei is not entirely ignorant about how one hangs on by the fingernails in resistance against the prosecutors -- has called the polls and their findings rubbish.

This is great news for Ozawa. While Tanaka is certainly aligned with the Democrats, and wants to see them succeed, she has retained an independent voice in terms of judging phoniness when and where she sees it.

We will have to see what tomorrow morning brings...

Later - It seems that someone has solved the technical problem that had been blocking access to Observing Japan.

In between the seasons

A propos of nothing; neither here nor there...


View from Fujishiro Tōge

From Tamamo no Iso toward Naka no Shima

Stone lantern and cherry

Photos from visits to the Rikugien on January 21, 2006 and August 19, 2006.
All images: MTC

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Furu ike ya kawazu tobikomu

Okumura Jun has put together a huge post on the latest details to emerge regarding the Ozawa Ichirō political fundraising scandal.

Read it.

Afterward, perhaps questions will bubble up:

"But when did the reporters and editors of the Yomiuri Shimbun and the Sankei Shimbun learn the details of this story...and how long did they intend to forego publishing anything about it...and why have the prosecutors been taking years to put together an indictment on activities have been ongoing since 1995...and why did Watanabe Tsuneo, the don of the Yomiuri media empire, try to broker negotiations between Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo and Ozawa Ichirō on the establishment of a government of national unity in December 2007, likely knowing then that Ozawa's political fundraising machine was prosecutable?

The sound of water.

Robbed of Words

Impossible is it to restrain the blind, black fury I feel about the arrest of Ōkubo Toshinori -- and yet rendered nearly speechless am I at the flood of ever more wolfish and credulous reporting from the Sankei, the Yomiuri and even the usually anti-LDP Mainichi. Pell-mell is their run for the easy prize of fomenting disgust with Ozawa Ichirō, oblivious to the damage might be done to the country's democratic institutions and its democratic spirit.

The latest claim? That prosecutors have invoices -- or documents that served as invoices -- which Ōkubo sent to Nishimatsu Construction, outlining how much money the company should illegally donate through its ersatz citizen's groups.

Invoices for illegal donations? Directly to the company, not the donating dummy organizations?

I know that journalism in Japan is just another careerist job...but come on. It is not just taking notes, getting together with the members of the press club to collude on what will and what will not get into print, then typing out whatetever anonymous quotes one managed to glean from somewhere.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Q&A on the Nishimatsu Construction Affair

Q: Is the arrest of Ōkubo Takanori, the chief secretary of Democratic Party of Japan Leader Ozawa Ichirō and accountant of the Rikuzankai, Ozawa's political fundraising organization, an act of naked interference in the political process undertaken on what could only be the thinnest of evidence in a desperate move by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor's Office, a body that seems to capriciously target threats the status quo, to keep Ozawa and the Democratic Party from power?

A: Yes.

Q: Why do you say that? Why not trust the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor's Office to issue arrest warrants with impartiality and fairness?

A. Horie Takafumi. Murakami Yoshiaki. Nakatsuji Masato...

On NHK this morning, the reporter in charge of the story explained that the prosecutor's office had to arrest Ōkubo before the statute of limitations ran out on his possible violations of the Political Fundraising Fund Law.

That the prosecutors could not get their act together before now means either:

1) their real goal was not to prosecute the identifiable criminals but to link Ozawa to the purported illegal donations, a self-appointed, extra-legal task they have failed to accomplish

2) they have nothing on Ōkubo either, and with the statute of limitations looming, are tossing the dice in the hopes they will get a pliable and craven judge to convict him in the first trial.

...and to think a revue of Japan blogs called these my tippy-tappings "politics with a cynical edge."

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

An Arrest in the Ozawa Camp

Hold the debate for just a second.

This evening's The Asahi Shimbun (paper edition) reports that Ozawa Ichirō's Rikuzankai fundraising organization has been raided by police.

The Sankei Shimbun (the electronic edition - there is no evening print edition) is claiming that arrest warrants have been issued for a Rikuzankai official and executives of the scandal-plagued Nishimatsu construction firm -- and that two of those sought have been arrested.

Oh golly.

Okinawa Fact of the Day

Okinawa Prefecture has the lowest jobs-to-job seekers ratio of all the prefectures, with a January yūkō kyūjin bairitsu reading of 0.32 -- meaning that for every three Okinawa residents looking for work in January, there was but a single position open.

[The average for the nation was 0.67, meaning there were three job seekers for every two open positions. The nation's most employment rich prefecture was Tokyo, which enjoyed absolute parity at 1.00. From Friday's report.]

How Low, How Low, How Low?

Here we are now, entertain us.

The top story on the front page of Japan's main English-language rag:

Aso decides he will take cash handout
The Japan Times

After several months of equivocating, Prime Minister Taro Aso finally came out and declared Monday evening he will accept his portion of the controversial ¥2 trillion cash handout, contradicting his previous position that he wouldn't take the cash.

"I will accept the cash handout," Aso told reporters. "I will use it immediately to stimulate consumption."

Aso said last year he would not take the cash and went as far as branding rich people who accepted it as "mean-spirited." Aso, the grandson of the late Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, is an heir to a major coal mining and cement business in Fukuoka Prefecture...
Yes, we at LDP Observation Station Gamma are now at Lowered Expectations Stage IV, where "Prime Minister Decides to Participate In A Program His Own Government Is Promulgating" is news.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Ozawa's Imaginary Japanese Defense Forces

Ozawa Ichirō blew my mind the other day.

"From a military strategy point of view, the Seventh Fleet is here, so that's enough of a U.S. presence in the Far East. Beyond that, we can deal with matters by Japan playing a solid role in the Far East.*
(Translation by Okumura Jun)
It seems he blew the minds of The Asahi Shimbun editors as well:

Did he mean that when and if Minshuto becomes the ruling party, it will demand that all U.S. Air Force personnel and Marines stationed in Japan leave? Does he intend to fortify the Self-Defense Forces to fill the gap after the U.S. forces depart? Did he make the remarks in the same context as the one when he stressed to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during her visit here in February that the Japan-U.S. alliance must be an "equal" partnership?
Let's be real: if your thoughts on security policy are too fluffy for The Asahi Shimbun, you have skipped way, way down the yellow brick road.

Tobias Harris has provided a thorough run-through (in "What is Ozawa's Angle?" and "Ozawa holds his ground") of some of the political reasons why Ozawa would make his astonishing suggestion. According to Harris, the remark shows Ozawa skating between the ideological lines of the members of his coalition of opposition forces in the House of Councillors, all while staying true to a conservative vision for Japan's defense. For his part, Okumura Jun provides evidence that Ozawa's remark, while surprising, is not inconsistent with other statements he has made. In comments to Okumura-san post, Janne Morén notes that whatever one may think of Ozawa's remark, the conception of Japan's defense being espoused at least has the virtue of being constitutional.

To which I can only say, "Yes, but...the whole idea is nuts...and when your party is an untried force, you should be trying to avoid giving the voters a reason to run back to the safety of the Big Daddy LDP."

What do I mean by "nuts"? I guess it is placing one's faith in a force that does not exist and probably cannot exist. Where in Japan's budget, for example, is the money to purchase a new generation of fighters to match China's squadrons of Sukhoi 30 variants -- and where are the agreements to acquire any of these fighters, either from among those currently on the market or in development?

Where in the budget is there money for "playing a solid role in the Far East"?

Whatever that is.

It sounds expensive.

Japan's neighbors are expanding and improving their force projection capabilities. Japan will need to accelerate the transformation of its legal and technological framework for military response just to remain in its current strategic position. Where is the will to make these changes? Again, where in the budget is the money to pay for the force upgrades? Where also are the young men and women needed to serve in the more fully self-sufficient Self-Defense Forces?

Now lets us add to the mix the shortfall firepower and warfighting experience that would open up following a radical redeployment of U.S. Forces. Somebody please explain -- in simple terms, so that I can understand -- how a country that cannot protect itself now will find the resources, both financial and human, to deal with loss of the air and ground capabilities of U.S. Forces Japan in an Ozawan dream future?

Ozawa can wish all he wants that Japan were more self-reliant and self-directed in international security matters. Until he has a plan on how reach that state of grace -- starting from Japan as it exists right now (rest assured, he doesn't) --his casting of shadows across the Japan-U.S. Security Arrangements must be condemned as irresponsible.

Incredibly irresponsible.

* Ato wa Nihon ga kyokutō no yakuwari o ninatte iku koto de hanashi ga tsuku.

And They Will Go Bonkers All Over Again

Or maybe they will try to ignore him, hoping he will go away.

In The New York Times, Tamamoto Masaru of the infamous Affaire Tamamoto gives his critics a whole new set of reasons to spit when they hear his name.

But what most people don't recognize is that our crisis is not political, but psychological. After our aggression — and subsequent defeat — in World War II, safety and predictability became society's goals. Bureaucrats rose to control the details of everyday life. We became a nation with lifetime employment, a corporate system based on stable cross-holdings of shares, and a large middle-class population in which people are equal and alike.

Conservative pundits here like to speak of this equality and sameness as being cornerstones of "Japanese" tradition. Nonsense. Throughout much of its history, Japan has had social stratification and great inequality of wealth and privilege. The "egalitarian" Japan was a creature of the 1970s, with its progressive taxation, redistribution of wealth, subsidies and the dampening of competition through regulation. This all seemed to work just fine until our asset-price bubble popped in the 1990s. Today, the hemmed-in Japanese seem satisfied with the knowledge that everyone around them is equally unhappy...
The whole opinion can be read here.

No anti-Tamamoto screed on Komori Yoshihisa's blog site yet -- at least as far as I can see.