Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Boys of Summer

I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone…

- Don Henley,
The Boys of Summer

Walk or bike through some of the quieter sections of the country at this time of year, and you are likely to hear wafting out of open windows a tell-tale “plink” and the sound of announcers going crazy. It is the time of the national high school summer baseball tournament, and a goodly part of the nation is transfixed by the drama. Forty-eightnine teams representing each of the forty seven prefectures in the country (Tokyo, due to its massive population, sends two teams and Hokkaido sends two as well) try to pitch, hit, bunt, slide and catch their way through a single elimination tournament.

August thus is a time of heightened prefectural identity, where individuals, no matter where they are now, follow with intense emotional attachment the team from the prefecture where they were born or where they grew up*.

The summer tournament also presents a regular test of the competitiveness of the populations of the various prefectures. Entrants in the national contest are selected by prefectural tournaments. In the aggregate, prefectures with larger populations or larger populations of young persons should have more intensely competitive intra-prefectural tournaments. These teams that have been tempered in more intense intra-prefectural contests should do better in the inter-prefectural competition.

It is an imperfect test of course. The presence in certain prefectures of baseball magnet schools like the once predominate but now mercifully defanged PL Gakuen can tilt the results. Also the presence of a supremely talented pitcher – a Darvish Yu, for example -- can pull a mediocre team from a small prefecture upward to a finish well above expectations.

The final eight surviving teams of this year's national tournament will be playing in the quarterfinals today. The draw features a fairly good mix – one of the two Tokyo teams, a Tohoku team (though from one of the prefectures least affected by the March 11 disasters), one team from the North Kanto area, one team from the South Kanto (if Yokohama High School had not suffered one of the most epic ninth inning breakdowns in the history of the tournament, there would be two), two teams from the Kansai and two teams from the Chugoku region.

As for the correlation of the competitiveness of the teams versus population, the results are pretty good. Only one team from a small population prefecture (Aomori) has survived until today’s game. A team from Tokyo, the prefecture with the highest population, has survived – and if the coach had not replaced his starting pitcher in the Yokohama-Chiben game, the top two prefectures in terms of population would be represented.

Overlay the surviving teams with political maps, and one sees further patterns. Again, had Yokohama not had its breakdown, the team with from the prefecture that is the least-well represented in the House of Councillors would still be in the tournament. Surviving also is the team from Chiba, the prefecture boasting the least-well represented House of Representatives electoral district in the country.

Lay across the eight teams the Democratic Party of Japan's plan for reforming the House of Councillors – a reform mandated by a Supreme Court decision that the current level of disparity between the representation for the prefecture with the smallest population and Kanagawa Prefecture -- and things get really interesting. The combination of two factors – the Supreme Court standard of disparity and a pledge in the DPJ's 2009 Manifesto to reduce the number of members of the House of Councillors by 40 – has guided the DPJ to produce a radical bill cutting across political red lines and carefully constructed regional identities. For the first time prefectural boundaries would be dispensed with, as nine small population prefectures will lose their right to have two members in the House of Councillors. Instead, eight small prefectures will be teamed up into four groups of two, with the voters in the two combined prefectures voting for a single House of Councillors seat in the triennial elections. One large prefecture will be teamed with a small one to send four members to the House of Councillors.

Additional reforms are found in the bill. Six prefectures will have their current representation by four senators knocked down to two. Only one prefecture — yes, Kanagawa — will have its representation bumped up from its current six senators to eight.

Lay this new map across the eight surviving teams in the national baseball tournament -- the pinnacle of a national talent contest of the youth populations of each prefecture – and you see a fairly solid correlation. None of the teams from the prefectures slated for political union** is in the final eight. Only one of the prefectures slated to have its representation in the House cut from four members to two*** under the DPJ plan is in the final eight. Tellingly, it is Hiroshima, the largest of of the six prefectures threatened with the halving their representation****.

The DPJ House of Councillors draft bill is one of the likely subjects of lengthy horse trading in between the DPJ and the opposition Liberal Democratic and New Komeito parties. Some kind of bill has to be passed before 2013, as one would have to tie oneself into intellectual knots before one could justify the holding of an election under a system the Supreme Court has already identified as unconstitutional (the same problem haunts the House of Representatives districts, which have similarly been declared unconstitutional). The draft bill would certainly need to be dealt with prior to any serious policy linkage of the three main parties -- yet another difficulty standing in the way of a grand coalition or government of national salvation.

As for the prefectures, their governors and legislatures are going to hit the roof over the DPJ's current plan, if only for the cameras.

In the interim, Kosei of Aomori (population rank = 31) has just beaten of Toyodai Himeiji of Hyogo (population rank = 7). The final score was 2 - 1.

Not everything in the game proceeds according to the numbers.


* Mid-August is also when the time of Obon, when one is expected to return to the family's ancestral home to pay respect at the family gravesite -- yet another intense driver of prefectural identity.

**The four new political unions would be Ishikawa-Fukui (2 seats); Shimane-Tottori (2 seats); Kochi-Tokushima (2 seats); Nagasaki-Saga and Yamanashi-Nagano (4 seats).

*** The six prefectures dropping from four seats to two are Miyagi, Fukushima, Niigata, Gifu, Kyoto and Hiroshima.

**** It would be interesting to go back and check over the results of the summer tournament over the decades, to see whether or not the level of disproportionality of Diet districts correlates in a significant way with the summer tournament's final eight. Of course, since there were middle-sized, multi-seat districts for the House of Representatives and funky electoral systems for the House of Councillors in the past, the meaningfulness of the exercise may only extend back to the nineties.

Later - Many thanks to Peter Cave for finding the error in my count of the number of teams.


Jan Moren said...

And meanwhile Hanshin Tigers lose the use of their home arena and has to play all away-games for weeks on end. :/

Anonymous said...

If they were smart they could temper the loss of power for prefectures at the national level by offering increased autonomy for prefectural governments themselves. De-centralization and national electoral reform would in a perfect world go side by side - in terms of political decision-making they should complement each other. That is, if politics were run by political scientists and didn't have to deal with the messiness of "interest" groups. Yuk.

Jan Moren said...

It is hard to see how LDP and the prefectures can wriggle out of this, with a supreme court decision and all.

Except, what leverage does the court actually have if the Diet never reaches a decision? If the Diet doesn't enact any new election legislation and the ministries choose to ignore the court?

They can do nothing except possibly invalidate elections or bar them from being held. But in the unlikely case of such a standoff the current Diet could basically stay in power indefinitely by simply never holding another legitimate election.

Unlikely, I know, but what are the other scenarios if the legislation isn't enacted?

MTC said...

Herr Morén -

in the case where the Diet cannot pass a bill reforming the electoral districts, I am fairly sure that some civic group will file a motion to delay the election. As to what happens after that, I am in the dark.

Peter Cave said...

Pedant's comment: there are 49 teams in the High School Baseball tournament, not 48. Hokkaido also has 2 teams.

MTC said...

Peter Cave -

You are correct.

I will make the necessary changes.