Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tanaka Satoshi: The Aftermath

As expected, from the way that the Japanese media interpreted Defense Ministry Okinawa Tanaka Satoshi's off-the-record gross comment (the Mainichi Shimbun's English version euphemistically refers to it as "indiscreet" (E)) Defense Minister Ichikawa Yasuo had no choice but to relieve Tanaka of his duties (E). Tanaka now claims that he cannot remember using the loaded term "okasu" in offering an explanation why there has been no announcement of the date of the release of the environmental impact report on the building of a Futenma Replacement Facility at Henoko (J).

As for the tenuous entente the Noda government was trying to establish with Okinawa Governor Nakaima Hirokazu (E) over the move of elements of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko, it is now in tatters. "Moving Futenma is now impossible, isn't it?" the Mainichi Shimbun has a senior Ministry of Defense official saying (J).

Over in Washington, DC, the Japan Desks at the State Department and the Defense Department must be, shall we say, "perturbed" over the events of the last two days.

Ranting About Monozukuri

One of the most infuriating obsessions of a certain generation of mostly male leaders is the concept that Japan must protect its manufacturing because of its monozukuri culture. At its base, the concept is that Japanese have an innate or learned ability to make objects. In its most admirable meaning, monozukuri is a dedication to time consuming, delicate or technically demanding manufactures. In its grossest form, the term means little more than "making stuff."

I probably do not have to tell you which end of the spectrum the Nippon Keidanren and the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry place their marks.

Hence the delicious irony in the wake of the flooding of the industrial parks of Thailand of the desperate demands from Japanese manufacturers with drowned Thai factories for thousands of temporary visas for their Thai workers. It turns out the Thai workers are the ones with the necessary manufacturing skills for the Japanese companies to keep operating, the Japanese workforce being the data managers. For the companies to survive, they needed their monozukuri workforce, which, for some reason, is Thai.

The devotion to the cult of monozukuri has also its flip side: "We Japanese are pathetic when it comes to services." Maybe unschooled, perhaps not rapacious -- but not pathetic, no. I can get so much done through my local convenience store that it frightens me sometimes. All the new owners of baseball teams are service industries, the latest being the DeNA software company, which is buying the truly pathetic Yokohama Bay Stars. Japanese financial institutions, after going through the wringer of the 1990s, are solid -- at least as long as Japanese government bond prices remain in nosebleed territory.

Monozukuri mania engenders such nonsense as "Japan must concentrate on cutting edge technologies and only the most painstaking technical tasks." Sorry to say this but that is where Japanese manufacturing is already. There is nothing north of the North Pole. As for biotechnology, nanotechnology, human-like robots...whatever...they are all fine and dandy...but give me further refinements of car navigation systems (Have you seen these darn things? They reproduce streets in 3-D, with renderings of the buildings. You could not get lost if you tried.)

The cult of making stuff is not just a Japanese phenomenon, of course. In the course of imitating the Japanese model of economic growth through exports, all the rapidly developing countries of Asia have, at least for some period during their development, obsessed about the percentage of GDP coming from manufacturing (Hong Kong and Singapore are now known for their services but initially they were major manufacturers).

When you are a developing country pushing hard to make stuff, you of course can sell some of your output at home. Being that yours is a poor country, however, the majority of what you manufacturer has to be sold to rich countries, which have to be open to your manufacturers. Throughout the postwar era, Japan and the countries of East Asia could benefit from a huge U.S. market and later on the markets of Europe.

Both of these regions are now in crisis, however. They are unlikely to pull themselves out of crisis for a long time. So where is all the previously valuable "stuff" going to go now?

It is refreshing, therefore, to read an essay like Suman Bery's Does India really need a National Manufacturing Policy?" offering an argument that making stuff -- especially in light of China's having taken the East Asian manufacturing model to its illogical conclusion -- may not be as important as some folks make it out to be.

As for Japan, until a certain generation and its ideas about the way Japan works passes on (Rakuten gave up on the Nippon Keidanren after the organization refused to support the separation of the transmission and power generation arms of utilities) we are stuck with a charming but dulling ideology, confusing government policy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Wow, That's One Way To Not Make Your Boss Happy

Tanaka Satoshi is the head of the Defense Ministry's Okinawa Bureau, a position of great responsibility and sensitivity.

Hence the not terribly thrilled response within the halls of government at the report that Tanaka, when asked why there is no release date for the environmental impact report on the Futenma Replacement Facility at Henoko, replied in a private meeting with reporters:
which, in context, means:
"When you are planning to rape someone, do you say, 'I am going to rape you' ahead of time?"
Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu in his morning's press conference said, "If this is true [that Tanaka said such a thing], this is something we cannot just let slide." (J).

Yeahhh, probably it offends just about everybody...and makes difficult the government's job to present the Futenma-to-Henoko move in a positive light.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

TPP In A Strategic Context

Corey Wallace has published a long thought piece on the confusion among the major players in the parties over the strategic implications of Japan's participation or non-participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (E). The key takeaway is that the TPP does not detract from Japan's options as to strategic alignment but adds to them, forcing other actors within the East Asian drama to be cognizant of Japan's more varied ecosystem of strategic choice.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Imperial Y Chromosome To Get Some Competition (Maybe)

In the course of the debate during the Koizumi era on whether or not the Imperial House Law should be changed in order to allow Aiko, the only child of the Crown Prince and his wife Masako, to ascend the throne as a female empress -- a debate cut short by the birth of a son, Hisahito, to Prince Akishino and his wife Kiko -- one lawmaker declared the plan to have a female emperor an abomination due to the sacred nature of the imperial line's Y chromosome (E).

Well, it looks as though the holy Y-chromosome adherents are going to have a run in with a determined opponent: a bureaucrat concerned that he and his successors might lose control of a part of the nation under their supervision.

In this morning's press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu revealed that Haketa Shingo, the head of the normally reflexively conservative Imperial Household Agency, has importuned Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko to lead a change in the Imperial Household Law to allow princesses to retain their nobility after marriage, making their children potentially eligible for throne. Currently, princesses who marry outside the imperial line -- which is all of them since the dramatic pruning of the Imperial line by the authorities of the U.S. Occupation to a pair of branches, namely the descendants of the Showa emperor and his brother, Prince Mikasa (still kicking around at age 95) -- lose their nobility.

Haketa's plea has a sound basis. Currently, the holy imperial Y chromosome is in desperate straits. While there are seven living heirs to the throne under the current law, only one, Hisahito, is under 45 years of age and only three, Hisahito, his father and the Crown Prince, are under 60.

On the other hand, the Imperial Family has been, for the last forty years, a prolific producer of daughters (the Yomiuri Shimbun has a helpful chart for all this on the side of its article on the subject here - in J only). There are currently eight princesses, six of whom are legal adults, the most recent addition being Akishino's eldest daughter, Princess Mako.

Fujimura, in his press conference, indicated that the government is unlikely to rush into revising the Law any time soon. He only spoke about the matter to confirm that the conversation had taken place.

Why this should be the top news of the moment, or of any consequence, is that pretty much alone among public institutions, the Imperial Family has performed flawlessly since the disaster of 3/11. The Emperor, not the Prime Minister, delivered a prime time address to reassure the nation in the aftermath of the disaster, the first time the Emperor had ever given an address to the country on live television. He and the Empress, despite their advanced ages and numerous health problems, have visited the disaster areas and displaced persons centers on numerous occasions, with the Crown Prince and Princess (a rarity in her case, as she normally stays cloistered inside the Crown Prince's Residence) and Prince Akishino and his wife performing similar public visits to comfort and encourage the survivors.

With imperial institution relevant again and with so many young women of marriageable age (the oldest, Princess Akiko, is 29), the bureaucracy, at least, has decided its time to dump the holy Y chromosome rigmarole and get the Imperial family's numbers up again.

One wonders whether one can hear the sound of black trucks with loudspeakers on them revving their engines...

Later - Reuters has noted the revival of the significance of the Imperial Family, if in a different context (E). Tip of the hat to Tokyo Times for this reference.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Really? Was There A Question Here, Really?

In yesterday's newspaper, there was a report that Wakao Ayako (b. 1933) has been named a special adviser to the National Police Agency on the prevention of bank transfer fraud -- which means that Wakao Ayako will be featured on posters this year warning the elderly to not immediately wire money to persons claiming to be friends, relatives or bill collectors -- a burgeoning crime (at least in monetary terms, if not in the number of reported incidents).

Here is the photo that accompanied the story.

Check out the caption at the bottom.

If you are a Japanese speaker, you are probably, as I was, laughing your tail off.

For the benefit of the non-Japanese speakers, the caption reads:

"Named an adviser to the National Police Agency on preventing bank transfer fraud, Wakao Ayako (second from the right) and others. Photo provided by the National Police Agency."

No...Wakao Ayako is not the African American dude.

She's not the dog.

And she's not the middle-aged policeman.

Someone in the editorial offices has a very dry sense of humor...or no sense of humor at all.

Erratum Demonstratum

On Tuesday, I stated that there has always been a loophole in the implementation of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), one that the government was in serious negotiations with U.S. officials to close. Under current procedures, when an member of the armed services or a U.S. defense department employee commits a crime or causes an accident while on duty, no matter if the person involved in the incident was chemically impaired (i.e., stoned or drunk) the arresting Japanese authorities had to turn over the suspect to the U.S side upon request.

The issue was especially fraught in the case of non-military personnel, the U.S. Supreme Court having ruled long ago that U.S. civilians cannot be tried in military tribunals. Whether the defendant will be turned over to a U.S. court for trial and whether, in the absence most of the time of the victims from the U.S. courtroon, the sentence will be commensurate with the crime has become a hot issue particularly in Okinawa. In the period 2006 to 2010 the U.S. Forces Japan exercised its jurisdiction over non-military personnel held by Japanese police 62 times. In 27 of the incidents, proceedings against the individuals transferred to U.S. custody ended with no charges being filed (J).

Anyway, I was wrong on the issue of "always." The problems with the implementation of the SOFA only began in 2006, when the U.S Forces Japan began issuing special "get out of jail free" documents for U.S. DOD civilian employees under the 2000 Military Extraterritoriality Jurisdiction Act (MEJA). Prior to that time, the USFJ left civilians to be tried by Japanese courts, while taking into custody U.S. military personnel. In recent years, the final jurisdiction of the U.S. military member perpetrator has been negotiated on a case-by-case basis -- the bias being toward trial in a U.S. military tribunal, as the punishments there are almost always more severe than those meted out by Japanese courts.

The Asahi Shimbun, by the way, seems to have gotten ahead of itself on this story, claiming that the two governments have already pretty much sealed the deal and that the new procedures will cover drunk driving incidents by military personnel on duty as well as the civilian employees (J). Nobody else is reporting that the deal is done or that the USFJ is giving up its right to demand the transfer of U.S. military personnel to U.S. custody.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Into The Countryside Let Us Go

I recently got involved in a tiff with a person over what would seem to be a rather simple question, "To what extent to rural votes still dominate over urban ones in Japan’s Diet?" Having some idea of the answer to the question would give one insight into some rather pressing current problems in Japan, in particular the Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko’s non-decision on participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a problem he seemed to have licked until the White House uploaded to its website a readout of the Noda-Obama meeting that had the prime minister putting all goods and services on the table. Period. A formulation that guaranteed the prime minister would face a buzz saw when he returned from Hawaii.

Anyway, I tried to answer the way the newspapers do, or at least did on October 27: by publicizing the degree of inequality in voting strengths between the smallest electoral districts and the largest ones – the results of which I blogged about last week. Of particular significance was the fact that based on the 2010 census data, 97 of the nation's 300 electoral districts had populations greater than 1.99 times the size of the nation’s least populous district – meaning that the voters in close to a third of the nation’s districts were disenfranchised to a level in excess of the constitutionally acceptable limits as described in a Supreme Court ruling of March of this year.

No, no, my interlocutor persisted, how much more representation do rural voters have in the Diet than urban voters?

Now that is a very interesting question…and one that is very difficult to pry out of the data without colliding with bias. Is a rural voter a farmer, fisherman or lumberman? Someone who works in the processing of the materials provided by the primary producers? Someone who lives in a prefecture where half the workforce is in primary industries? A third of the workforce? A fourth? Is it someone who lives in a city surrounded on all sides by a vast area of dark, foreboding mountains? Is it someone living in a district stretching like a ribbon, with one tail in city and the other in pure farmland, with an increasing/decreasing level of urbanization along its length? Is it someone working as a clerk in a branch of JA Bank?

Furthermore, in most countries, there are boundaries, city limits where one can say, "OK, now I am in X City." However, in the great Heisei Consolidation (J) so many cities swallowed up previously independent rural communities that the statement "I am in the city now" became almost meaningless in terms of the density of population on the ground in a particular locale.

One can make certain gross guesses, of course. One can guess that the 97 districts with populations in excess of double the population of the smallest district are probably "urban" under a general understanding of the term. One can also guess that the 100 smallest districts by population are probably "rural" by the self-same general understanding. However, for the 103 districts in between, where does one draw the line between rural and suburban, rural and mostly rural or mostly urban but with a large rural backyard?

The meaning of “urban” and “rural” is further muddied by land use laws which seek to protect farmland within what are ostensibly urban areas. This author lives in one of the 23 central wards of Tokyo, the hard urban core of the greatest urban conglomeration on earth. However, in front of the building where I live there is farmland, whose produce I can buy from a small streetside stand open three days a week. A three minute bicycle ride away is an apple orchard, where one can pick one’s own apples in the fall. A two minute bicycle ride away is a grape arbor, where, if one can remember the day, one can harvest grapes on the vine for one's table.

The urban harvest



As one heads out on one of the great arterial train lines or freeways, the size and number of these plots multiplies – all while one is ostensibly still in the city, as is manifested by the intense knots of urbanization around train stations, themselves surrounded by kilometers of low-level housing.

An aside, but this jumble of urban development, suburban sprawl and farmland is one of the main reasons the prime minister’s pledge to protect Japan’s "beautiful agriculture" (utsukushiki nogyo) from destruction by the TPP is so fatuous. Japanese agriculture is messy, indeed unsightly most of the time. One is hard-pressed to find a pretty valley or vista, as fields are cheek-and-jowl with so much suburban and semi-urban clutter. "Utsukushiki" for the most part it ain’t. We all know that the PM is a smoker…but has anyone checked to see what it is he is smoking?

This blending of urban and rural, or bleeding into of the rural into the urban, even in the capital, makes the definition of urban vs. rural voters so difficult to disentangle. Sure, this author lives in an urban area and thus an urban voting district. However, just down the street aways, in a sizable building, are the offices of JA Zenchu, the Central Union of Agriculture Cooperatives, for the ward. There are farmers in my neighborhood – mostly old, retired folks but nevertheless farmers, with produce for sale (though the corn crop this year failed, for some reason).

So how much pull do rural voters have over urban voters? Gosh, that would be an interesting question. However, one would have to make all kinds of arbitrary decisions, with significant consequences as to one's final result.

Suffice it to say that voters from districts where inefficient primary industries and inefficient secondary industries dominate have an inordinate amount of influence on the nation's decisions, due to their overrepresentation in the Diet, as compared to consumers and producers of the nation's surplus, who are crowded into districts with relatively poor levels of representation.

Trying to pin a number on the level of this misrepresentation, however, is a matter of individual judgment.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Closing One Loophole

There has always been an odd loophole in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) regarding the handling of cases of traffic accidents caused by members of U.S. forces or Defense Department civilian employees. As long as the perpetrators -- for these are cases where who caused the accident is undeniably a U.S. national working for U.S. Forces Japan -- could argue that he or she was on official duty, then he or she would be handed over to the U.S. for prosecution. This was true even when the perpetrators were found to be drunk at the time of the accident.

This morning, Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro promised that he would meet with his U.S. counterparts on revising the SOFA so that in these cases or similar crimes committed by a chemically impaired U.S. Forces member or DOD civilian employee the perpetrators would lose the right to argue they were acting while on official duty, i.e. would lose their immunity from Japanese law. He also promised to visit Okinawa, where this has been a big issue, to meet with officials and explain the Japanese government's concern about this issue (J).

Now if only someone could figure out how to close the loophole on the American side -- where civilian employees cannot be tried in military tribunals, meaning that if one commits a crime while on duty in an area under Japanese juridiction, he or she gets off scott-free...

A Grand Performance

This is from last week but it is also for the ages.

For aficionados of Japanese political theater, it is hard to beat last Wednesday’s performance by Katayama Toranosuke (J) in the House of Councillors Budget Committee hearing. In his brief time before the microphones, he cleaned the prime minister's clock with such thoroughness and ruthless humor it is hard not to clap. His is a show with everything: a comparison to leaders past, tireless boring in on his target, the arms spread eagle wide at one point in an appeal to speak on behalf of the citizenry and a Cheshire cat grin throughout.

Now I have to admit I have not always been an admirer of Katayama. When he was a member of the House of Councillors for the Liberal Democratic Party, I saw him as one of epitomes of what was holding this blessed land back. “Old Chipmunk Cheeks” I used to call him, making fun of his appearance. I cheered when he was knocked off his perch in 2007 despite his position as the #2 man for the LDP in the House by a newcomer (and a woman to boot!).

However, my opinion of Katayama changed last year in response to his brilliant revival of himself as the Sunrise Party’s (Tachiagare Nippon's) sole elected senator. He managed to leverage a sudden and one would suspect not terribly deep conversion to the party’s hard rightist ideology in order to draw on the votes of the sadly overzealous nationalists. To these he added the personal votes of his old support group (koenkai), and in a pirouette, bounced himself back into his old playground.

To watch the spectacle, go the Sangiin TV website (here) and click on the calendar for the 16th of November. The only show that comes up is the Budget Committee hearing. Click on that link to start the video. Katayama’s turn at the microphones starts up at 4:52 into the broadcast.

Then Again

Then again, about yesterday's post, if Hiroko Tabuchi of The New York Times has revealed results of an internal investigation finding connections between Olympus overpayments and the Yamaguchi Gumi, facts that even the police and the Tokyo Prosecutors Office are loathe to divulge, then she may have pulled a Jake Adelstein.

We shall see.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Let Me Have A Look At That Memo

A few weeks back I hailed Hiroko Tabuchi of The New York Times for her report on the Olympus investigation and the peculiar investment advice handed out by a pair of banker brothers, the Yoko'os (E).

Last week, Ms. Tabuchi produced a follow up article that makes the startling claims of not only vastly greater losses at Olympus but also the involvement of organized crime, namely the Yamaguchi Gumi. This second claim backs up a statement an annonymous commenter left on my earlier post about the relative paucity of local news coverage of the Olympus scandal, at least as compared to foreign financial outlets and the local coverage of the Daio Paper scandal. If organized crime organizations were indeed behind the coverup at Olympus, domestic reporters would understandably be very, very cautious in their reporting on the affair.

Now I would normally say, "Brava!" to any follow up article that finds even more dirt on Olympus (I have nothing against the company or its employees...well, at least its non-director employees). Only this time I cannot feel but holding back on my applause.

What worries me is the source of the accusations.

Billions Lost by Olympus May Be Tied to Criminals
The New York Times


In a memo prepared by investigators and circulated at a recent meeting of officials from Japan’s Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission, the Tokyo prosecutor’s office and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, officials say they are trying to determine whether Olympus worked with organized crime syndicates to obscure billions of dollars in past investment losses and then paid them exorbitant sums for their services.

The memo — a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times from a person close to the official investigation — appears to link the Olympus losses for the first time to organized crime groups...
Eeeek! A police memo, from a person close to official organization! And that "may" in the title!

The Olympus scandal "may" be linked to the Thai floods. The Olympus scandal "may" be linked to the fall of the Roman Empire.

Ooooh, this is such a bad time to go all Japanese news media practice on a story. In fact, any time is a bad time to go all Japanese news media practice on a story.

When an internal police or public prosecutors memo is leaked to the press "by a person close to the investigation" one can be almost certain that what is about to ensue is a fishing expedition, wherein the investigators arrived with their cardboard boxes and clean out a building or several buildings.

Now given the size of the sums bandied about in last week's article (US $4.9 billion of unaccounted for funds) and the specific mention of the Yamaguchi Gumi, it is possible that the police targets this time are actual Yamaguchi Gumi offices. If so, the police are either a) out of their minds or b) determined to put the Yamaguchi Gumi out of business -- which is, of course, a variation of a).

There is no doubt that if the police and public prosectors did raid Yamaguchi Gumi offices, they would find in the course of their extensive search for evidence of crimes linked to the Olympus scandal enough evidence of other crimes to put hundreds of gang members behind bars - if Japan had the courtrooms and jails to try and house all the suspects, of course.

There is, of course, the possibility that the police memo is all nonsense, meant either to smoke out any leftover questionable acquisitions that Olympus officials may still be hiding, or embarass Ms. Tabuchi for blowing the whistle on the Yoko'os before the police could nab them (one of them at least seems to have disappeared).

We shall see.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Getting to "No"

Oh for a screen capture of that map!

Bugger NHK for putting up online only the intro and the signoff of their flagship 7 o'clock news program, rather than the whole program -- even if it would be only for one day!

As it is I only could watch the ominous intro of the flag of the People's Republic of China blending into images of China's most threatening new military hardware, including the reconstructed Varyag aircraft carrier... a report on President Barack Obama's visit to Australia and the announcement of a rotating deployment of up to 2,500 Marines to Darwin.

After the report from Australia on the summit meeting, the speech before the parliament and the visit to Darwin, announcer Takeda Shin'ichi walked over to the big wall of screens for the analysis portion of the segment. "So why Darwin, Australia?" he began.

On the big screen was an image of East Asia, with ripples spreading out from the contours of China. "Here is a map," he continued, "of the ranges of Chinese missiles. As you can see inside the limits is most of Japan, including Okinawa. Guam is also inside the range of the missiles."

"But here," he interjected, pointing at northern Australia, "is still outside the range of China's missiles. And here is Darwin," he said, pointing to the city.

Now there is nothing particularly new in the information NHK provided. However, it was the first time in memory that the 7 o'clock evening newscast, Japan's most watched news program, explicitly sought to undermine the 2006 Japan-U.S. Roadmap for Realignment of U.S. Marines forces. Though the thought was unstated, the clear inference from the presentation was that the fraught move of some of the Marines currently based on Okinawa to Guam and the construction of a replacement facility for Futenma in the town of Henoko were vain endeavors, since the redeployed forces would still be in Chinese missile range. While U.S. military planners may deny that the Darwin deployment is specifically tied to Chinese missile capabilities, that mattered little to the NHK producers.

Now, the Japanese public is about as far from stupid as one can get. If NHK puts up a map with Okinawa and Guam inside the range of Chinese missiles, and hears about the U.S. semi-basing Marines outside the range of the missiles, the public will ask, "Then what the heck are we doing knocking heads with the Okinawans over the construction of the Henoko base and what-is-more paying through the nose for a partial move of Marines to Guam, when the strategic vulnerability of these forces remains the same?"

One could be cautioned that one should not read too much into a single news broadcast. Still, when NHK's News 7 uses a sledgehammer to present a particular viewpoint on the deployment of U.S. Marines to Australia, it indicates a change is in the offing over the seemingly neverending merry-go-round over Futenma-to-Henoko -- that it is not just that the redeployment of forces is damned unfair to the Okinawans but that the redeployment might also be pointless.

A pivotal first step in the public sphere in the direction of "let us put an end to this farce."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Where You Stand Is Where You Sit - Addendum

That Yamada Masahiko should be the leader of the opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership now makes a great deal of sense. Yes, he is a former minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, making him a logical candidate on an intellectual level. However, as the representative of Nagasaki District #3, the second smallest district by population in the country, Yamada is set to lose his official position. For no matter under which reform of the House of Representatives one chooses (Each party has at least one reform plan. The Democratic Party of Japan has two. The New Komeito, terrified of being relegated to the ranks of a micro-party, has three.) Nagasaki District #3 is set to disappear.

Challenging the central leadership of the party has no downside for Yamada, as it might for others. Yamada has literally nothing to lose.

Where You Stand Is Where You Sit?

In parsing out the internal dynamics of the domestic fight over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it is perhaps worthwhile to look at how the sides in the battle line up against the nation's electoral map.

On the 26th of last month, the Ministry of General Affairs and Telecommunications released its revised preliminary population figures from the 2010 national census. As usual, the boys and girls of the news media immediate set to work with their spreadsheets, comparing populations within the nation's 300 electoral districts, looking for the greatest levels of disparity within the country.

The highest level of disparity found was 2.52, meaning that a person voting in the least populous district had 2.52 votes for a legislator as compared to a voter in the most populous district.

The winner in this contest? Kochi District #3, a rural outpost whose largest urban center is the city of Shimon (pop. 40,000 and shrinking). It is represented by Yamamoto Yuji of the Liberal Democratic Party. Liberal Democrats also represent Kochi District #1 and #2, for those who are keeping score.

Who gets stiffed the worst? It is Chiba District #4, comprised entirely of the core of the city of Funabashi (pop. 600,000 and growing). Chiba District #4 is represented by a member of the Democratic Party of Japan, namely (drumroll please) Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko.

There are 97 districts with populations greater than double Kochi's District #3, which are thus unconstitutional under the ruling handed down by the Supreme Court in March of this year. This is whopping jump in the number of unconstitutional districts, as there were only 48 such districts based on the 2005 census figures.

Now what about Yamada Masahiko, the leader of the fight against Japan's participation in the TPP within the DPJ? He represents Nagasaki District #3, the second smallest district in terms of population after Kochi District #3.

Need I say more.

Just for completeness' sake, in the House of Councillors the greatest disparity can be found in between Tottori and Kanagawa Prefectures. A vote in Tottori is worth 5.124 times a vote in Kanagawa. Tottori is primarily rural prefecture, with the city of Tottori (pop. 197,000) as its largest urban center. Kanagawa is almost entirely urban and suburban (pax the Hakone Area and the Tanzawa Range) with the city of Yokohama (3.7 million) as its largest urban center.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The People's Prime Minister

It was a small item, but it looms large in my imagination.

On October 14, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko visited a day care center in Yokohama, joining the children for lunch. Here is the photo of the PM saying "Itadakimasu" seated at table with what look like the five year olds.

Considering how small the chair he must be sitting on, the PM's placid, almost beatific composure is remarkable. He looks utterly at ease and in his element.

It is hard to imagine Noda's predecessor Kan Naoto, an incorrigible adult, being able to pull this off. It is flat out impossible to imagine Hatoyama Yukio in this pose, nor any of the trio of Liberal Democratic Party prime ministers who preceded Hatoyama.

Could Koizumi have pulled it off? With teenagers, maybe. But with small children, probably not. Koizumi was cool, not child-like.

In the coming months and quite possibly years, we will have keep a sharp eye on the low key, accommodating style of this prime minister. His common touch -- arising from his literally being from nowhere, or as close to nowhere as one can get (both his parents being the youngest child of a large family -- i.e., the inheritors of nothing -- and his father's being a Ground Self Defense Forces member, meaning that the family had no town to call its home) and his necessary reliance on the national safety net (of all prime ministers in history, he is the one with the fewest assets) is linked to an inspiring, if sometimes overwhelming, desire to get things done. The economist and former minister Takenaka Heizo has warned the Noda Administration that it is tackling too many issues at once, that it should concentrate on two or three main issues, so as to guarantee they receive the attention necessary for success.

Noda and his advisors are ignoring this sound advice, tackling issues both pressing like Japan's galloping demographic imbalance and ancillary, like the recent blowup over participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The PM and the Democratic Party of Japan's policy makers have proposed tax rise after tax rise, even grasping the third rail of Japanese politics -- the raising of the consumption tax to 10% -- and survived. To be sure, the prime minister's poll ratings are down from his initial numbers -- NHK's most recent poll (J) finding support for his cabinet at 45%. Considering how many different sacred cows the PM and his people have gored during his first two months in office, 45% is a very respectable number.

The Noda administration's success will depend on how well it can continue to impress with the themes of humility and sacrifice. Noda has already received a thumbs up review from a very hard-to-please senior figure as regards his low-key demeanor. His response to the provocative Obuchi Yuko speech in the Diet was admirable for its restraint. As for sacrifice, Noda, unlike his predecessor, seems to derive only benefits from calling attention to the needs of those displaced by the triple disaster of 3/11 (he also seems more than willing to wield the suffering caused by 3/11 to batter his opponents senseless). "Sacrifices have to made," has been his motto since his second speech at the DPJ congress that elected him party leader, and not even sacrifice-be-damned stalwarts like Kamei Shizuka, Hatoyama Yukio and Haraguchi Kazuhiro have been able to say much in response.

I would be pushing the envelope to call Noda "better even than Koizumi" -- the other prime minister who was able to call for painful national sacrifice with the populace backing him up -- but from what I have seen these first two months, Noda is certainly "the best since Koizumi."

Image credit: Tokyo Shimbun

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fudge Factor Looking Forward

It is hard to argue with the brilliance of the fudge on participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership the Prime Minister concocted on Friday. The New York Times bought it (en). The U.S. government bought it until the Foreign Ministry told the USG that no, Japan had not committed to joining the talks, only to discussions with the member states of the pact about the response to which the United States side apologized for misstating the Japanese position (ja).

Now there is a classic move. Not only snookering the opposite side but getting the opposite side to apologize for getting snookered.

On the domestic side, the anti-TPP forces, which include all the opposition parties, the government's coalition partner, the agriculture and food production sectors (the bloody Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives collected, in only a matter of weeks, 11 million signatures protesting Japan's participation in the TPP -- in a country where there are no more than 2 million farmers), the Japan Medical Association, the Consumers Union of Japan and half the ruling Democratic Party of Japan's Diet membership, are all declaring victory for the Prime Minister's proposal to participate in talks without commitment (sort of like dating, but not going steady, on a national scale).

Just how long this salutary state of affairs lasts, once the PM returns from his Asia-Pacific road air trip with all his new-found friends (what a deal: APEC to ASEAN+3 to the East Asia Summit -- all together and with damn near the same lineup of leaders. Makes you wonder whether or not some brilliant PR person will dream up a midair race of all the leaders' jets, just for the hell of it) is a question. The time needed to negotiate with the various governments on Japan's participation in the TPP, with or without a final Japanese commitment, will be months and monthes, pulling the issue off the front burner.

The anti-TPP forces inside the DPJ have been mollified, at least according to the statements made by their leader Yamada Masahiko (ja). However, the PM will have to explain the meaning of his words fully to a joint congress of the DPJ caucus before heading off the ASEAN+3 meeting.

The opposition meanwhile, after having put every bit of its energy and credibility into stopping the prime minister from discussing the TPP at the APEC conference, has to parse out whether or not it succeeded -- but not in such a way as to interfere with with the passage of the third supplementary budget, which is slated for a House of Representatives vote sometime this month, despite the PM's being away from Japan an inordinate amount of time. They also have to worry about not jamming up the committee meetings on the enabling legislation for the third supplementary budget, which also need passage through the Diet before it recesses on December 9.

Just an aside, but from the looks of the calendar, the People's New Party will be continuing its role of "always the bridesmaid but never the bride" as regards its raison d'être, the counter-reformation of the Post Office. It is hard not to believe that the constant failure of the DPJ-led government to pass the PNP's postal reform rollback has not becoming a standing joke in the halls of the Diet.

Later - This comes courtesey Corey Wallace: Toronto's Globe and Mail bought into the misunderstanding of the Japanese government's true position vis-a-vis the TPP, it used Japan as the counterexample to the Canadian government's protectionism.

I would laugh but is just too sad.

Friday, November 11, 2011

In A Democracy

The failure yesterday of Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko to come to a decision regarding Japanese participation in preliminary talks toward joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an embarrassing non-decision decision from points of view both domestic and international, should still be seen in a positive light. In the overall scheme of things, discussions of and decisions regarding globalization are controlled but those who benefit most from its spread and infiltration. The losers from globalization are given short shrift, as they are for the most part too busy scraping by to have the time to engage the elites and their facilitators in the news media and academia.

In Japan, however, due to skewed apportionment and a convoluted electoral system, globalization's likely losers have a platform from which they can shout out their fears about the future. Politicians and the news media have an interest in listening to these fears, and transmitting them to the loftiest corridors of power.

When confronted by the fears of globalization's losers, elites -- who have overwhelmingly benefited from globalization's march, socialize with each other, intermarry and raise new elites -- have had remarkably weak arguments for globalization's deepening. Having not pre-emptively addressed the rising levels of inequality in societies everywhere, even in a rigidly self-reinforcing egalitarian society such as Japan's, the elites should have better answers than "society in the aggregate benefits." Globalization's losers need to know that they, not just "society," will benefit and in clearly definable ways*.

Something for the frequent-flyer-and-meet-you-in-the-hotel-lobby class to think about on this day.

Just like Prime Minister Noda has had to.

* It is true that not all the potential losers are poor. One could hardly argue that the members of the Japan Medical Association are hurting for cash.

Something I Can Do In My Sleep

This is from the Director of Policy Studies at the Cato Institute in Washington D.C.
Asia's Free-Riders
Foreign Policy

Washington policymakers in both parties seem to think that reassuring America's Asian allies is the best way to defend U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific. But instead of seeking to assuage their partners' anxiety, America ought to sow doubt about its commitment to their security. Only then will they be forced to take up their share of the burden of hedging against Chinese expansionism... (Link)
It seems that at a major Washingtong think tank, one does not need a knowledge of a region's history, its component countries's laws, their politics, demographics, economics, the deployment of U.S. forces, U.S. history or anything.

I so very much want his job.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Oh, You Have Got To Be Kidding Me

Noda The Decider (Once I Have A Consensus) at work:
Japan postpones decision on whether to join Pacific free trade talks
Kyodo News

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda decided Thursday to postpone an announcement on whether Japan will join negotiations for a Pacific free trade agreement, heeding calls from the ruling party to make a decision in a cautious manner, the top government spokesman said.

The abrupt announcement to delay the decision regarding negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement to Friday came after senior officials of the government and ruling Democratic Party of Japan met at the prime minister's office.

"Please give me one day to think," Noda was quoted as telling the officials, according to DPJ policy chief Seiji Maehara. (Link)
Like what, the PM is going to have an epiphany in the midst of Diet Budget Committee questioning tomorrow?

This is not high drama; this is low comedy.

Hey Nippon Keidanren and METI, see what happens when you do not make an effort to make your case, failing to appreciate that this is a political battle to death, not a gentleman's/gentlelady's debate? You leave your prime minister befuddled, perplexed and finally an object worthy of ridicule.

Crunch Time For The TPP and Noda

Today's the day when the heretofore Delphic Oracle of Nagata-cho, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko, makes his "political decision" regarding Japan's participation in Trans-Pacific Partnership talks. I say the odds are still 50-50, despite the intellectual firepower that has been deployed in favor of participation. On the ground and over the airwaves, the actions of pro-TPP forces have been pathetic in their flaccidity, whilst the anti-TPP forces have marched unimpeded into the public consciousness.

With the DPJ neatly divided in two, the public (according to the latest polls) showing only a fractional majority in favor of participation and not just the opposition parties (Do you know how weird it is to see Oshima Tadamori, Shii Kazuo and Fukushima Mizuho sharing a stage at a huge rally, with all three of them wearing identical headbands?) but the government coalition partner the People's New Party against participation, the consensus builder Noda is facing the challenge of his life, at a time he would much rather be hammering out the details of the third supplementary budget, ferreting out the resources necessary to reconstruct the Tohoku region and mitigate the Fukushima disaster and pushing through a rise in the consumption tax to pay for Japan's mounting retiree and healthcare costs.

As for the Korean Example, which was supposed to goad the country into accepting the mixed bag of burdens that is the TPP so as not to fall behind the seemingly FTA-mad ROK, the opportunistic fight breaking out in Seoul over ratification of the Korea-U.S. FTA could not come at a worse time.

The world (well, at least the world investor class, which controls much of the way the world is portrayed) is screaming "Go" and the political situation at home is screaming "Stop."

No matter which path Noda chooses today, he loses.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Sympathy For The Devils

Amidst the opprobrium being rained down upon the corporate leadership of Olympus, it is worthwhile to draw a distinction between the devils worthy of our sympathy and those not. Certainly the present president of Olympus, Takayama Shuichi, needs to be replaced as soon as possible. His denials over the last two weeks of the inappropriateness of the astronomically high payments to soon-disappearing Cayman Islands entities and the acquisition of clearly worthless companies for immense sums that one year had to be written down, only for him to come forth yesterday with an admission that whole kit and caboodle was a scheme to wipe off the books losses the company had been hiding for some time (he implied decades – I am not so sure it has been that long) immediately nullifies his capacity to serve as CEO. Who can ever trust anything he says now, when he could not/would not investigate payments that the rest of the planet saw as clearly beyond all reason?

As for those who cooked up the schemes -- former president Kikukawa Tsuyoshi, former vice president Mori Hisashi and their as-yet unnamed collaborators -- they deserve a measure of sympathy. True, they likely broke security laws and willfully stiffed shareholders of the information necessary to make a proper evaluation of the company. They were, however, simultaneously responsible for the continued viability of a profitable company that has 40,000 employees worldwide. The schemes that they cooked up also probably cost Olympus next to nothing, as the money paid out almost certainly made its way back to Olympus' accounts.

That the corporate leadership of such a valuable and value-creating entity might get confused as to whose interests they were supposed to be serving and the morality of their undertakings is understandable, especially within the confines of a corporate culture where shareholders are not given precedence among a company's stakeholders.

From the looks of it (the facts may change quickly, especially as regards the acquisitions of the three tiny profitless companies), the leaders of the company thought they had laid to rest a problem that had been handed to them by their predecessors, and in a manner that left no one the wiser and nobody hurt – until an outsider* came in and began asking some rather simple questions.

* OK, so maybe it is a stretch to call a 30 year veteran of the company an outsider. Ride with me on this one.

Later - John Gapper of the Financial Times presents a refreshingly non-bombastic argument to the contrary (Link)

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Up Against The Wall On The TPP

Prime Minsiter Noda Yoshihiko has an insane schedule this week, and all over a project that he inherited, not initiated.

Noda will meet with Kamei Shizuka (I will admit it, I include the live link solely for the singing) the leader of the People's New Party, the Democratic Party of Japan's coalition partner. Noda and Kamei will confer on whether or not Noda should notify the leaders of other Asia-Pacific nations this weekend that Japan will enter negotiations to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Given that Kamei spoke out against such an announcement at a multi-party meeting yesterday (en) one can be fairly sure of the tenor of today's conversation.

The DPJ's TPP project team will wrap up their search for a common ground within the party on Japan's participation in TPP negotiations on Wednesday. They will then report their findings to the prime minister and the leadership of the DPJ. That they will report the party hopelessly divided on the subject of the TPP with no common ground to stand upon is a foregone conclusion.

On Thursday, the prime minister will consult with the Cabinet, coming to his final decision, yes or no, on announcing Japan's participation to the leaders assembling on Saturday. He will then give a nationally televised press conference explaining his decision.

On Friday, the PM will face the hostile questioning of the opposition in Diet Budget Committee session. Despite the session's being ex post facto it promises to be an absolute doozy, given that every opposition party except the Liberal Democratic Party has already declared itself against Japan's participation in TPP discussions.

On Saturday morning the PM flies to Hawaii for the APEC meeting, and his fateful meeting with President Barack Obama, who is expecting a "Yes" from the PM on TPP.

The PM's mad week is testament to the difficulties of the decision facing Prime Minister Noda.

1) This a binary decision, yes or no, thumbs up, thumbs down. Noda, however, is Mr. Compromise, always trying to finesse a middle position, as was demonstrated in the offer made yesterday to the LDP and New Komeito to have the Tohoku reconstruction bonds have a 25 year maturity. The DPJ had been insisting on a 10 year maturity; the LDP had insisted on a 60 year maturity.

For the TPP, there is no gray area in between.

2) Unlike in the Republic of Korea, where the political classes made sure to reform the electoral system, diminishing the political influence of agriculture before embarking on full-scale, multi-directional free trade agreement initiative, Noda is stuck with a Diet elected through an unreformed electoral system, giving farmers and the domestic food production industry -- an extremely inefficient industry that by definition provides a lot of folks with jobs -- an inordinate influence over lawmakers and the government (How many bureaucrats are there in the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries? Uncountable multitudes...).

Even though electoral reforms stripping the rural prefectures of their representatives is mandated by decisions of the Supreme Court, the Diet has not quite found the time to pass these reforms yet. The cart, therefore, is before the horse.

3) Yamada Masayuki is not kidding when he is saying that there will defections from the DPJ should the prime minister decide to press forward with formal TPP negotiations. This will be a body blow to the prime minister, who made unity of the DPJ one of his core promises at the party leadership election in September.

4) As stated above, participation in TPP is not Noda's cup of tea, but something he had passed on to him. The situation is completely different from the one that brough Koizumi Jun'ichiro into conflict with the membership of his own party over the LDP's addiction to the votes garnered by the postmasters and the pork barrel projects funded by the fiscal investment and loan program (FILP). Koizumi had been railing against Japan Post for two decades prior to the final confrontation with the party in July-August 2005. He was willing to accept party defections because he was fighting for his own hobby horse.

5) The effects of participation in large multilateral economic structures does not necessarily guarantee the passage of the internal reforms necessary to put a country on a sturdy politico-economic footing. Just ask the Greeks about this.

6) One can be a paranoid anti-Chinese nutter and pro-military alliance with the U.S. enthusiast...and still see the TPP as the stake through Japan's heart. Just read Inada Tomomi's piece in the Sankei Shimbun (ja). Yes, it is that Inada Tomomi, the one who tried to lead a delegation of LDP Diet members to Ulleung Island, only to be denied entry to the ROK.

All of the above must be swirling around inside the prime minister's head, probably without the necessary ironclad belief in the law of comparative advantage.

Lots of folks are predicting that in the end, the prime minister has no choice but to go forward with an announcement that Japan will be an active participant in TPP negotiations. Then again, as Michael Sutton has pointed out in The Japan Times (Link) a lot of folks in the "inevitable" business enjoying getting their salaries, plane tickets, hotel rooms and meals paid for by the kinds of companies that benefit most from trade liberalization.

What will the prime minister decide? Hell if I know...and that is the only intellectually honest answer anyone can give.

Monday, November 07, 2011

A Departure From Precedent

On Saturday, Speaker of the House of Councillors Nishioka Takeo died of pneumonia (en). In instances such as these I usually relate some charming anecdote or point to some significant contribution the deceased made to the national weal. Unfortunately, in Nishioka's case, nothing comes to mind – which may explain why the passing of a man has been marked with a collective national shrug – though Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko made a special trip to Nagasaki to be at his wake on November 5 and 2000 persons, including Nishioka's longtime patron Ozawa Ichiro, showed up for his memorial service in Nagasaki today.

For environmentalists, Nishioka will remembered as the chief Diet sponsor of the Isahaya Bay reclamation project: the most visible and needless environmental crime of the Japanese government against nature of the later quarter of the 20th century. The blocking of the entrance of Isahaya Bay and the consequent destruction of the wetlands there, in violation of Japan's international commitments to wetlands protection, remains the symbol of the imperatives of the Construction State running roughshod over decency and common sense.

For historians of the Diet, Nishioka will be remembered as a Speaker of the House elected with only the barest of majorities and the most blank ballots since the Lockheed scandal. The positions of Speaker and Deputy Speaker are filled by the choice of the ruling party and the top opposition party. The elections for these positions have been, or at least were, until Nishioka's election, mere formalities where the ruling and opposition parties vote en masse for each other's candidate. This tradition was preserved in the election of Deputy Speaker Otsuji Hidehisa of the Liberal Democratic Party. When it came time to elect Nishioka, however, members of the LDP and the New Komeito, incensed as they were at the selection of a candidate who had treated his peers in the opposition with contempt during his time as the Democratic Party's Diet Affairs Chairman, turned in ballot papers with nothing on them, if they showed up at all.

For members of the DPJ, Nishioka will be remembered as the Speaker who departed from the precedent of a Speaker's neutrality in order to lead a campaign of vociferous criticism of the government of Prime Minister Kan Naoto and its handling of the triple disaster of 3/11, criticism that proved to be without merit or substance when the Yomiuri Shimbun gave Nishioka the opportunity to write an open letter to Kan. The editors at the Yomiuri thought they had landed a whale when they won the exclusive right to publish Nishioka's criticisms. What they found at the end of the line, however, was a minnow: the only accusation Nishioka could muster was Kan's having departed from constitutional procedure in unilaterally ordering the dispatch of the Self Defense Forces to the disaster areas, rather than calling a meeting of the security council first.

For editorial cartoonists, Nishioka's passing means the loss of a politician whose ears and diminutive stature made him a subject of easy caricature. That Nishioka was forever in a snit about something made the drawing of him in an unflattering manner all the more justifiable.

In practical terms, Nishioka's death will mean that the DPJ will lose yet another seat in the House of Councillors, as the new Speaker, when he/she is elected, will resign from his/her membership in the party. If the DPJ wishes to limit the damage done by the election of a Speaker from out of the party's ranks in upper house does, it will bypass candidates for the post like former defense minister Kitazawa Toshimi or former METI minister Naoshima Masayuki in favor of Eda Satsuki, who has held the post once before and is therefore seen as being of too high stature to serve in a Cabinet post or major party post.

Japan Perhaps Not So Cool

Akimoto Yasushi, the promoter behind the ubiquitous phenomenon that is AKB48, set out some time ago to look for expansion of his gynormous girl group concept outside of Japan.

After clearly a lot research into local music industries and deep reflection, he decided that the best place for the first foreign franchise of his idea would be...Jakarta (ja).

After tryouts, the initial core brood of what will be JKT48 was lined up before the cameras yesterday.

One has only to consider the promotional video of AKB48's most famous song "Heavy Rotation" (Link - warning NWSF) to question the wisdom of Akimoto's dream.

I cannot wait for the guys in white with the skullcaps to show up -- and the bomb threats.

Call me a prudish worry wart but this seems on a par with the Foreign Ministry's decision to send Fukushima agricultural products overseas as food aid as a main draw in the Hall of Very Bad Ideas.

Image courtesy: Hokkaido Shimbun

Later - It is worthwhile to follow the link to The Asahi Shimbun article on the unveiling, just to confirm how entirely nuts Akimoto is.

On the G20 Cannes Meeting - Two Classical Civilizations Meet At Last

We live in a world where the question of whether or not the global economy tumbles into depression depends on whether or not the savings of Chinese peasants can be mustered to bail out Greek pensioners and civil servants.

Sometimes it is worthwhile to be on the sidelines -- as the Japanese government is laboring mightily to do -- and watch the circus parade go by.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Two Michaels Mikes on Futenma

Over at CNN's Global Public Square, two of the Michaels Mikes -- Professor Mike Mochizuki of George Washington University and Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institute -- present the most cogent alternative I have yet seen to the Futenma-to-Henoko transfer of U.S. Marines assets (Link).

They do not make the point in their article but the current positioning of U.S. Marines forces on Okinawa, while marginally contributing to regional stability, makes the island a guaranteed magnet for Chinese intermediate range missile forces, likely pinning the Marines down and certainly putting Okinawan civilians at risk. If Chinese expansionism (if that is what the Chinese military build up represents) is to be deterred, then it has to be in a manner that is hard to attack.

Besides, what did the Okinawans/Ryukyuans ever do to end up at the receiving end of all this, aside from living on an archipelago positioned in between China and the Japan main islands?

Then again, that is the question everyone has been asking since, oh, around tail end of the 1970s.

Later - I have it on impeccable authority that Professor Mike Mochizuki is just Mike, not Michael. I suppose a major edit is in order.

Later still - While I am on the subject, Professor Mike Green of CSIS is supposedly in town...and Michael Penn's Shingetsu News has a stunning news report on the Foreign Ministry's program to ship Fukushima agricultural products out as foreign aid (Link).

Saturday, November 05, 2011

The Spearpoint Of Stupid

Oh, please. Tell me that Nagashima Akihisa, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister, did not say what he is reported as having said on Tuesday.

Arrghhhh. It is in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun. The quote must be accurate.

Here is what he supposedly said, in regards to the strategic importance of the Trans Pacific Partnership:


"Japan would be, seen from the point of view of China, arranging a strategic environment that [they] will see [us] as formidable." (ja).
Oh holy crap.

As Corey Wallace has reported, any hint that the TPP is an anti-China front will send the Australians and the Kiwis packing (en). Well, this is not a hint: this a damn declaration.

A few weeks ago I was asked whether or not Nagashima, or "Aki" as he is known in certain Washington circles where he is beloved, has an influence on Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko's thinking.

For Amaterasu's sake, I sure hope not.

Friday, November 04, 2011

The Latest On Olympus In The Japanese Media

For those who follow these kind of things, Peter Cave (whom I assume is the Dr. Peter Cave of the University of Manchester) and I have been going back and forth on NHK's treatment of the Olympus scandal.

Well, NHK recut its report of last night (ja - warning: time sensitive) for rebroadcast as a part of this morning's telecast, coming this time as close as it has to calling out Olympus for having engaged in multiple instances of questionable M&A practices and covering the matter up with cursory reports on the company's actions.

This is a huge improvement over the silence that has reigned on what looks more and more like a criminal enterprise masquerading as an internationally recognized camera and endoscope brand.

Still, the mainline non-economic Japanese news media should be ashamed that it is wading into this mud puddle a week and a half after non-Japan media blew the story wide open, complete with the names of the likely perpetrators.

The Shukan Daiyamondo's online version agrees (ja) with my initial assessment on the Japanese news media's coverage of the Olympus scandal, asking whether or not the domestic news media can be accused of just staring up at the sky.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Black Ships Of The TPP

When Prime Minister Kan Naoto raised the possibility of Japan's participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership, he likened it a "third opening" of Japan -- on a par with the transformation wreaked upon Japan by the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry's black ships and the post-surrender Occupation of Japan.

Besides the tactical problem of trying to present the TPP in a positive, neutral light after describing it as commensurate with the two instances the United States forcefully dragged Japan into its vision of a world order (and boy oh boy, have the troglodyte nationalists and anti-American leftists gone to town on portraying the TPP as an American plot to destroy Japan...not that Japanese special interests are not slowly destroying Japan on their own without U.S. interference, thank you very much) is the question of the real value Japan can draw out of a further set of shocks to its system. What with the reconstruction of the Tohoku region, the continuing disaster that is Fukushima Daiichi (now they are finding evidence the melted fuel at the bottom of the reactor has gone critical...oh great), the soaring yen (pax Richard Katz and others who argue that the yen is not at an aberrantly high level), declining population and fertility and a looming mass of baby boom retirees landing on the pension system, the rise of highly competitive rivals in all tradeable goods, does Japan actually need any more shock treatment? The Nippon Keidanren (and when the history of the TPP fight is written, the Nippon Keidanren's complacency and sloth should be the subject of scathing criticism) and the government have not made the case that this is so.

A society can only take so much torsion before it breaks. It it should not surprise anyone that in the next week the Noda government packs it in on the TPP fight, realizing the country faces way internal challenges that only can be handled on an individual and idiosyncratic basis, rather than via a multilateral, all-encompassing template.

If the Prime Minister really believes that TPP participation is not beyond the pale, the next key date is November 8, when the Liberal Democratic Party is scheduled to release its position paper on TPP participation. Based on what the main opposition party says, the New Komeito having already come out against TPP participation, the government and the Democratic Party of Japan will map out their next moves.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Interesting Reads On Asian Politics and Economics

Clyde Prestowitz, who is usually a bit too extreme for my tastes, has published some common sense about the stated United States policy of refocusing its military might upon the stabilization of the Asia-Pacific region -- which means saving the Senkakus for Japan, one would assume. His point about the already overwhelming U.S. military presence in the region seems right on the money to me.

Or maybe I am just a sucker for anything with a Takahashi Korekiyo* quote in it.

Over at The Diplomat, Rajeev Sharma updates us on a fast developing story -- the deepening of security ties between India and Japan -- though I am not quite sure he has a correct read on the role of the U.S. plays in the Indo-Japanese security dialogue.


* The claim in the online short bio of that there is no long-form biography of Takahashi Korekiyo is no longer true. There most certainly is an English-language biography.

Oh, How Inconvenient!

Former Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro, fresh from annointing Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko a worthy successor with an excellent chance of surviving a long time in office, must not be feeling too pleased with The Asahi Shimbun. It seems that the long lost records of the comfort station Nakasone set up as a Navy paymaster in Indonesia have finally come to light -- and contrary to his claims, there is now direct evidence that the comfort station had more than game boards inside as the answer to the the frustrations of the 3000 member 2nd Construction Division, Yabe Unit -- that indeed local women were recruited serve in the comfort station (ja).

Oh, how inconvenient!

Then again, given the former prime minister's advanced age, there is probably something of an inverse power law in effect as to how much of a hoot he gives at the discovery of the actual records of his having recruited comfort women.

Later - Ooooh! Akahata reported on this story last week (ja). So the records were found in Kochi Prefecture.

Who knows what other interesting records are to be found outside the confines of the Kanto Plain?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The LDP Goes Overboard

It was freakish. It was macabre. And it indicated that something is seriously wrong with the Liberal Democratic Party.

Friday, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko gave his policy speech. Yesterday, the parties, including the DPJ, could send their representatives up to the rostrum to question the prime minister on the policy speech.

The Liberal Democratic Party sent up as its main representative LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu. He was his usual diligent but unimpressive self. However, in a surprise move, the LDP sent up Deputy Secretary General Obuchi Yuko as its other questioner.

Now Obuchi is all of 38 year of age. She has been elected to the Diet only 4 times. She is way down the leadership chart, being not even the highest ranking of the Deputy Secretary-Generals. While true she is a not unattractive young woman, her appearing as one of the LDP's two questioners made little sense, at least in terms of seniority or policy influence.

However, Obuchi's appearance was not about policy. Instead, it was a naked and very, very creepy extended personal insult directed at the Prime Minister.

Obuchi compared Prime Minister Noda to her father, former Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo. She said that there were those drawing parallels between Prime Minister Noda and her father, in that both men who adopted humble, low profiles. She noted that both were associated with lowly images, her father being "cold pizza" (The actual original phrase, coined by John Neuffer, was not that Obuchi himself was "cold pizza" but that he had "all the pizazz of cold pizza." Be that as it may.) and the PM as being “a loach.”

She acknowledged that the situations surrounding the two men's coming to power were somewhat similar, with her father having become prime minister at a time of a twisted Diet and where economy and the financial system were poised on the brink of disaster.

Obuchi argued that despite the twisted Diet her father, within two months of becoming Prime Minister, had ushered through the Diet legislation bolstering and reforming the financial sector, which was then in crisis. "What," she asked, "had the Cabinet of Prime Minister Noda done in its first two months?"

"Though one cannot deny similarities, the difference between [my father and Prime Minister Noda] is the distance between Heaven and Earth."

At this, those seated in upper tiers of the LDP’s side of the Diet, most clearly Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru, lolled about guffawing and clapping.

Gutter talk this was, with more than a little historical revisionism.

As I remember it, when Obuchi Keizo came to power, after Hashimoto Ryutaro's resignation in the wake of the LDP's defeat in the 1998 House of Councillors election, the rescue and reform bills which the new prime minister purportedly ushered through the Diet were opposition-authored bills, ones with provisions the LDP had fiercely resisted and had to swallow (nomikomi) wholesale. Obuchi had provided leadership by surrendering to the opposition. I also seem to remember that the humiliation of this experience was so great for Obuchi and those around him that they dispensed with all pride and common decency to put together The Coalition From Hell – a combination of the LDP and the Liberal Party, led by Ozawa Ichiro, unquestionably the man whom the LDP Diet membership and LDP rank-and-file hated most – a coalition that was later joined by the supposedly evil New Komeito, which the LDP had been bitterly criticizing only a few years earlier.

The "Heaven and Earth" remark, despite sounding pretty mild in translation, really stunned the political classes. Last night's news played up the remark and the morning papers all featured it.

Though Obuchi Yuko's calling up of the ghost of her father in a phrase was intent to provoke, the PM did not bite. He ignored the heaven and earth comparison, responding simply:

"That there those who find elements that are similar fills me with awe and humility. All I wish to say is how much warmth and respect I feel toward [former Prime Minister Obuchi].” (ja).

What has gotten into the LDP, that it would descend to such grand guignol actions? Do they really want people to reflect upon the chaos and decay of the Obuchi era? Do they not remember how the party leadership behaved when Obuchi died, the secret pact over his brain dead but still breathing body to make Mori Yoshiro, postwar Japan's all time least popular leader, the new prime minister?

Why do they want to go there? Could it be because in Noda, the DPJ has found its Koizumi -- a popular, effective administrator with a deft common touch, ready to ditch at a moment's notice his party’s purported guiding precepts -- and that this is scaring all the sense of the main opposition party?

Trouble In TPP Land

In yesterday's post, I took a skeptical look at a Kyodo report of what seemed a supremely confident Democratic Party of Japan leadership leaking that, come what may, the Prime Minister was going to announce at the APEC conference his government's intent to become a participant in the Trans Pacific Partnership talks.

Well hold your horse, Daisy.

It seems that the government is having a hard time getting the membership of the Democratic Party of Japan, much less anyone in the opposition, to come together in favor of Japan joining in TPP discussions. At first, the government was going to halt internal discussions on November 2 (en). Then it announced that November 2 is too early but the DPJ project team will have definitely found intra-party consensus by November 4 (ja).

Well, guess what. It seems that the government has sort of had to let that November 4 deadline slide (ja). Instead there is now no deadline, save that the DPJ's leadership has to announce something by November 12, when the APEC conference starts.

Good luck guys (and why is it that you are all guys?).

Dia De Los Muertos

Once upon a time, Tokiwa Takako was on television interviewing Sakamoto Ryuichi. The subjects of the hour-long conversation were music, stardom, the Yellow Magic Orchestra – all the subjects one want to hear about from Sakamoto-san save his views of Japan’s divorce laws.

Offhandedly, Sakamoto asked Tokiwa about the kinds of music she listens to.

"Well, mostly I listen to The Grateful Dead," she replied.

At this, Sakamoto had jerked upward with such force that he nearly tumbled out of the armchair he was sitting in (he walks now with a cane).

A startled Tokiwa cried out, "That's all right, isn’t it?"

"No, no," replied a now calmer Sakamoto, "It's all right. In fact, I think it's great. It's just that it was the last thing I thought you might say."

Well today, November 1, is the Day of the Dead in Catholic countries. So for Tokiwa Takako and Paul Scalise, the go-to man on TEPCO who rubbished The Dead on Facebook the other day, a list of links to easy-listening favorites:


Box of Rain

Casey Jones

Sugar Magnolia

The Wheel


Uncle John’s Band


Franklin’s Tower


Scarlet Begonias

Touch of Grey

Live Covers

Knockin' on Heaven's Door

Not Fade Away

Quinn the Eskimo

Satisfaction (Image is of Bob Weir, but may be NWSF)

The Star-Spangled Banner

The Weight

Werewolves of London



1) Tokiwa Takako is appearing on NHK as the improbably beautiful and perfect wife of an impossibly handsome Matsushita Konosuke in the pretified biopic Kamisama no Nyobo. This is one of a mini-explosion of NHK programs on the wives of famous men, the most prominent being the current Taiga Dorama on Go, the wife of Tokugawa Hidetada and her equally prominent sisters, and last year's NHK morning 15 minute drama series Ge,Ge,Ge no Nyobo on the wife of cartoonist Mizuki Shigeru (Not such a bad deal, really. The NHK series on Mizuki's wife earned him and his wife an invitation to the Emperor's Autumn Party this year. Not that having a TV drama on his wife will do Matsushita-san any good, since he died in 1989.)

Sakamoto Ryuichi has his own program on NHK, Schola where he is shown each week teaching the fine points of various styles of music to students.

2) If you should ever go to Tokiwa Takako’s incredibly fey official website, you will mutter, "Yep, this is exactly the kind of site a Deadhead would dream up." Her production company must love her.