Monday, April 30, 2012

Yet Another Paraphrase Of Hemingway

Friendly correspondent Stephen Harner has a new post on regarding the ill-starred Noda-Obama summit and the strategic rebalancing of Asia. (Link)

Mr. Harner is a businessman and sees the world from a businessman's perspective. It is not unusual that he should view geographic proximity, increased trade links and enmeshing supply chains as favoring an ascendant China in regional relations over the continued presence of a dominating United States. He and I would probably be in agreement that Hatoyama Yukio and Ozawa Ichiro were not far wrong in steering the ship of state a little closer to China, relying, perhaps unrealistically, on the United States to understand this blessed land's position.

However the idea of a reestablishment of Chinese suzerainty seemingly going beyond the Finlandization of regional territorial disputes is not on anyone's agenda -- nor should it be. Liberty and autonomy are precious and worth the fighting for...if not for ourselves then for those whom education and wealth have not blessed with the ability to deracinate and resettle wherever there is money to be made.

Very Kind of Them #10

The good folks at the East Asia Forum have uploaded a reedited and updated version of my post of the other day on the Ozawa Ichiro trial. (Link)

Ozawa has come out swinging against the government of prime minister Noda Yoshihiko. True, he has done it within the safe confines of a fundraising party for his right hand man/chief "Yes" man Yamaoka Kenji, which one could reasonably claim does not really count as calling out Noda for a fight mano a mano. (J)

However, until the suspension against Ozawa is lifted, which will not be for at least another week due to the Golden Week holidays, Ozawa should not be expected to be showing up at party central anyway...not that he ever does, except on days when he or one his followers is running for the position of party leader.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bang A Gong

The Spring list of awardees of national honors is out and it is a snoozer. Except for Sakaiya Tai'ichi, Iwashita Shima and Jacques Diouf, one is left asking "Who are these folks?" and in the rare instance where one knows the answer, "Why this award, now?"

Sakaiya Tai'ichi (real name: Ikeguchi Kotaro) has received the Grand Cordon Order of the Rising Sun for his contributions as a former bureaucrat and a writer of fiction and non-fiction. He was, until recently, a key supporter of Osaka City Mayor Hashimoto Toru, providing some intellectual firepower and legitimacy to Hashimoto's Osaka Ishin no Kai movement. He has downplayed his ties with Hashimoto since the Ishin no Kai released its eight point Ishin Hassaku plan for reviving the country, parts of which Sakaiya has derided as rubbish.

Choosing to honor actress Iwashita Shima (real name: Shinoda Shima) with an Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette, a decidedly low-ranking award for someone who has contributed so much to Japanese cinema, still represents a pretty gutsy call for the awards committee. Iwashita, whatever her actual morals, always played the baddest of the bad girls. In terms of the number of sex scenes in which she has appeared in what have been classed as serious films, she is simply without peer (if I am wrong in this, please tell me).

That Iwashita travels in rather better social circles than the characters she has played can be surmised by her having been one of the featured lecturers last year at Shimomura Mitsuko's juku.

As for the awards, they are, as they always have been, a way of only adding to the disparity between what bureaucrats do for other bureaucrats and what they do for the populace at large. In addition to their pensions, their lump sum retirement grants, their falling gently into sinecures at corporations or non-profits, bureaucrats and other officials are still receiving the lion's share of the gongs: over 56% of the 4110 handed out this spring. (J)

Also as usual, the over 50% of the population of this blessed land with XX chromosomes got gypped, receiving a mere 9% of the awards.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Real Emperor Makes Real News

On Monday night I had the pleasure of attending the Machimura Faction's political fundraising party, my impressions of which I hope to write up in a little piece entitled "Dances With Dinosaurs."

The highlights of the evening's festivities were the self-introductions of the faction's wannabees: the as-yet unelected Liberal Democratic Party candidates the faction would be supporting in the next House of Representatives election.

The Machimura Faction is the most patriotic of the LDP's factions. Its members make no excuses for holding on to some now rather curious, or should one say incurious, views of how life was in this blessed land before 1945. One of the candidates, a tall exhibitionist fellow, made an ostentatious show of turning his back to the audience to bow deeply to the Hinomaru flag, then marching to the front of the stage and shouting out his name and constituency, along with an incomprehensible bit of nationalist gibberish (there is a penalty that comes from shouting into a microphone and it is paid in a loss of the audience's ability to comprehend what one is saying).

One of the candidates introduced hopes to take Tokyo's District 24 from Democratic Party of Japan member Akutsu Yukuhiko, a former political secretary of Ishihara Shintaro and ardent defender of Article 9 of the Constitution (politics really does make for some strange bedfellows). The prospective candidate started out with a "Hello, my name is ____ and I am running for the district of the city of Hachioji" -- and then proceeded with the oddest and yet so-very Machimura Factionish of introductions of Hachioji I had ever heard -- "the district graced with the presence with the tombs of the emperors."

Now this is a true if not generally well-known fact about Hachioji. It does host the Eastern Imperial tombs, which are off-limits to the general public and can be seen only from the air. What is more they are tombs, that is to say the Taisho and Showa emperors and their spouses are buried there, each under a gigantic rounded mound. Indeed, emperors, empresses and Muslims are the only persons who are buried instead of cremated.

Yesterday the Imperial Household Agency made an announcement that will set the Machimura faction's District 24 candidate and every other rightists' head spinning: the ever-surprising and refreshing Heisei Emperor and the Empress have asked to be cremated. Furthermore, rather than an elaborate and hideously expensive separate tomb mound for each of them, they wish a simple shared gravesite.

It has been 350 years since an emperor or empress has been cremated. Emperors and their empresses have also been entombed separately since that time. (J)

The announcement will likely further enhance the reputations of the present emperor and the imperial family. Both are riding high in public opinion in their selfless devotion to the comforting of the people of the Tohoku in the aftermath of 3/11. The imperial couple's request to have the same sort of funeral the law requires of everyone else (again, with the exception of Muslims) and be together forever will likely result in a renewed outburst of public praise and admiration for the trendsetting couple.

The announcement will also drive a further wedge in between the members of the Imperial House and the rightists who claim to be the imperial family's supporters and protectors. The rightists are already up in arms over the proposal to have imperial princesses retain their nobility after marriage. This latest announcement will give the rightists fits.

Of course, the Heisei emperor has always had a penchant for thumbing his nose at the hyper-patriots and their historical blindness. His 2001 acknowledgement of his debts to his Korean ancestors, even in the minimalist way he did it, drove the preposterous celebrators of the pure imperial line nuts. His classic dry put-down of the Tokyo Metropolitan District official who boasted that all the employees of the TMD now sang the national anthem -- "Yes, and wouldn't it have been nice if they had not been coerced to do so?" -- left that official and the right speechless.

The current emperor and empress are opening up space for the succession of the crown prince, a subject that has gained increased urgency with the emperor's recent bypass surgery. If there is a rift between the current imperial couple and the rightists, there will be a chasm between the two when Naruhito and Masako mount the throne.

What is reassuring is that Prince Akishino is on board for all these changes. He has for the longest time been the wild card in the imperial house, willing to rebuke his older brother for departures from decorum and tradition. Now he sings the liberalization tune, being the one to bring up the possibility of the emperor being able to retire, a reform with ample historical precedent which right wingers for some reason detest. Perhaps being the father of the future emperor has something to do with Akishino's being a little more magnanimous and relaxed.

Professor Ruoff, would you have anything you would like to add?

Later - Yoree Koh of WSJ JapanRealTime has checked with some further information on the imperial request. (E).

The government has asked for a year to study the imperial couple's request to be cremated (J). It is hard to ascribe a noble purpose to not immediately granting the imperial couple's wish, save possibly putting to rest speculation that the emperor is at death's door.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Emperor After The Fall

Today is The Big Day -- when the judge in the Ozawa Ichiro trial on violations of the Public Funds Control Law Political Funds Control Act hands down his verdict and if Ozawa is found guilty, his sentence. The news is full of analysis of the meaning of the Ozawa verdict, including these two pieces by Toko Sekiguchi (E) and Aurelia George Mulgan (E).

I hate to be the grump in any instance -- but the verdict today is largely irrelevant. As Sekiguchi points out in her piece, Ozawa will appeal if he is found guilty. If he is found not guilty, the Association of Those Seeking the Truth (Shinjitsu o Motomeru Kai) will have failed in its quest to milk the arrest of Okubo Takanori for some evidence to put Ozawa away. Given that the members of this group, whoever they are, all seem to be in retirement and thus with plenty of time on their hands to cause mischief (the Devil makes work for idle hands, after all), it is likely the Association will just find another blind alley to send prosecutors running down.

(An aside: the slavering anti-Ozawa weekly Shukan Bunshun decided that yesterday, the eve of the verdict, was the perfect day to release an exclusive story about a heretofore unknown child Ozawa fathered out of wedlock. Classy rag, that Shukan Bunshun.)

Whatever the purported goals of the cases against Ozawa and his aides, the political purpose has been served. The arrest of Okubo forced Ozawa to resign as head of the Democratic Party of Japan on the eve of the election that was to push the Liberal Democratic Party off its perch and install a DPJ-led coalition government. The resignation as party leader prevented Ozawa becoming prime minister. While Ozawa was able to engineer the election of his ally-puppet Hatoyama Yukio as his replacement, with Ozawa taking the role of effective party leader through the post of DPJ Secretary-General, Ozawa was denied the prize which he had long desired and had long labored to seize. As for the arrests of former aides Ishikawa Tomohiro and Ikeda Mitsutomo, on the basis of evidence of violations of the Public Funds Control Law found by the prosecutors after a proctological search through the documents seized in relation to Okubo's arrest, these weakened Ozawa's position in the party, making it possible for middle-level legislators to challenge his stranglehold on party policy making.

Ozawa's indictment on January 31, 2011 (E) gave the anti-Ozawa members of the DPJ, including prime minister Kan Naoto, the leverage needed to force party secretary-general Koshi'ishi Azuma, an Ozawa ally, to suspend Ozawa's party privileges.

Stripped of all formal party positions and even access to party funds for his own reelection. Ozawa had to exercise influence indirectly through the first-term and second-term legislators in Houses of Representatives and the House of Councillors whom he had hand-picked as candidates, and through the largely second- and third-grade legislators who had followed him through party after party. These nominal disciples number about 150 legislators, a third of the DPJ's membership in the Diet.

However, without his hands on the money spigots of the party, particularly the public financing provided to finance elections, Ozawa has had to rely on the bonds of affection, loyalty and his own funding apparatus to keep his allies faithful. This bond has weakened, however, as Ozawa's time in internal exile has dragged on. On issues of policy, such as opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the rise in the consumption tax, he has had to ally himself with other disaffected elements of the party, such as Mr. No To Everything Yamada Masahiko. He also found himself, in June 2011, on the verge joining hands with the LDP, the party he had worked so hard to unseat and dismantle, in a vote of no-confidence against Prime Minister Kan. Only a last-minute and ultimately empty face-saving compromise worked out by the feckless Hatoyama prevented Ozawa from fulfilling the media's negative portrayal of  him as a selfish destroyer of parties and governments.

Even this indirect influence over party policy making has evaporated, however. In a show of principle and utter political naïveté, Ozawa's allies in the DPJ dragged out the party debate over the legislation raising the consumption tax from a projected 3 days to 3 weeks. Exasperated, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko cut off debate, giving the final decision on the legislation to Policy Research Chairman Maeda Maehara Seiji -- an outcome that effectively negated the entire three weeks of debate. In response, four of Ozawa's acolytes in government positions and 30 in party positions resigned their posts. Eager to preserve party unity, the party leadership refused to accept the resignations, giving the legislators and Ozawa a chance to reconsider their actions. After six days of waiting, the government accepted the resignations of the government appointees on April 5 (E). It still left the door open, though, for those who had resigned party posts.

The party, however, very quietly shut that final door on Monday (J,) accepting resignations of the Ozawa allies who had resigned their party posts.

So as the political commentariat and twitterati await the verdict with bated breath, the political impact of the outcome is less significant than political observers will admit. Ozawa is now more shadow than shadow shogun. The current leadership group, knowing his tendencies, will not permit his appointment to any position of power. He will not be allowed near the party's pot of political funds. His followers have abandoned the positions they could have used to influence or if necessary gum up policy making.

Ozawa has been the most influential, hated and fascinating politician of the last 30 years. However, whatever happens today will not shake the political world to its roots. Its branches may shiver a bit -- but that is all.

 Later - My apologies for the HTML failures that led to half the original text being swallowed up into the ether.

Still later - Many thanks to alert readers O.J. and M.P. for catching the errors.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How Can This Be Even Close To True?

I will not pretend to have the least knowledge of the mechanics of removal of radionuclides from the environment. However, looking at these government projections of radiation exposure potentials in Fukushima over the next 10 years, I found myself baffled.

For a larger view, click on image.

Are these maps not wildly optimistic? Cesium 134 admittedly has a half-life of two years. Cesium 137, however, has a half-life of 30 years. Strontium-90, which has an affinity for deposition in human bones, has a half-life of 29 years.

The most dramatic illustrations of the radiation levels post-disaster are the government maps we have seen of radioactive dispersal based on aerial surveillance of radiation emissions of deposited cesium 134 and 137. The maps for the deposition of the two isotopes are indeed seperated: See Annex 3 of this government report for Cesium 134 and Annex 4 for Cesium 137 (Link). Both show nearly identical hot areas.

Even given heavy rains as a flushing element, would not the virtually all of the Cesium 137 and Strontium-90 still be in the ground 10 years hence?

Well, yes, but what that means in terms of radiation exposure is another matter.

The significant image is not the radiation fallout map but Figure 2 on page 22 of The Final Report of the International Commision of on the Remediation of Large Contaminated Areas Off-Site the Fukushima Daichi NPP. According to the report, Cesium 134 and 137 were released in equal amounts by the multiple explosions at the Fukushima Dai'ichi nuclear power plants. As Figure 2 shows, due to its shorter half-life, decay of Cesium 134 is currently producing more than 70% of the radiation measured. In 10 years, the level of radiation coming from Cesium 134 decay will be 1/32nd the level of today, meaning that virtually all the measurable radiation will be coming from the decay of Cesium 137. Due to Cesium 137's long half-life, however, the number of decays per hour will be significantly lower than are measured at present. In ten year's time, the number of decays will be 1/5th of the amounts currently measured.

For a larger view, click on image.

So as the maps indicate, large areas that are currently uninhabitable could become habitable, at least in so far as scientists can guess regarding the safety of areas with levels of radionuclides emitting radiation at high doses. To what extent radiation at low doses can be considered acceptable for human habitation, nobody really knows.

Image Courtesy: The Asahi Shimbun Asia & Japan Watch

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Best Of Times

This is going to be a fun week.

On the 26th, the decision in Ozawa Ichiro's political funds mishandling case comes down.  Expect the otherwise circumspect Ozawa to wax loquacious to the mainstream press on how the investigation and trial were political charades from beginning to end, intiated with the goal of undermining the principle of elected officials governing the country.

On the 29th, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko travels to Washington with next to nada in his travel bag (see my short review of the outlook for the visit here). Of greatest interest to the U.S. officials in the know will be whether the Diet is functioning again and what Noda intends to do about Ozawa and his followers. As for the officials not in the know, they will wonder what the heck Noda is even doing in Washington.

Good News, For Once

The Ministry of the Environment confirmed yesterday that for the first time in 36 years, a pair of Japanese Crested Ibis or toki, a bird so emblematically Japanese its scientific name is Nipponia nippon, had produced a hatchling. The news was so important NHK (and I suppose the other networks as well) flashed a Breaking News chyron across the top of a regularly scheduled program (in NHK's case is was during the atrocious Taiga Drama series on Taira Kiyomori, which is so boring the icky sadaijin on helpless handsome heishi sex scenes almost come as a relief) to pass on the announcement.

The Japanese population of toki went extinct, done in by the industrial polution from Japan's rapid industrialization period, the use of DDT to control mosquitoes, herbicides used to boost the productivity of rice paddies and the paving over of natural flowing streams and estuaries. The last of its kind, a female named Kin, died in captivity at the immense age of 36 years in 2003. ( J)

However, a tiny population of toki was still hanging on in China's Shaanxi province. In an exemplary display of bilateral cooperation (now extended trilaterally, with the inclusion of South Korea, where a captive breeding program has been established) scientists from both countries have cooperated on bringing the bird back from the edge and out of caged environments, first in China and more recently in Japan.   It has been indeed also an example of region-to-region cooperation, with Japan's toki population kept in captivity and released on the island of Sado, where Japan's wild toki population made its last stand.  The toki breeding center has been one of the means of drawing tourists to remote Sado, one of the former places of exile for those who would lose out in medieval period power struggles whose otherwise scenic shorelines and fishing villages were long ago ruined by the Tanaka family.

The recovery and release program has suffered some terrible setbacks of late.  In March of 2010, a Japanese marten (Ten - Martes melanpus ) found a small hole in a group pen at the Sado center and in a few seconds of blinding carnage at a full run, killed 9 of the birds.  Of the 78 of the long-lived birds released since 2008, 32 have either died or are missing and presumed dead, and none of the breeding pairs produced a hatchling. (J)

Until yesterday's confirmation.

Break out the sake.

Image courtesy: Ministry of the Environment, via News 47

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Some Very Tense Family Dinners

A sweet little tidbit from the Yomiuri Shimbun's home page:
LDP secretary general postpones China visit
Jiji Press
Nobuteru Ishihara, secretary general of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, has decided to postpone his visit to China, party sources said.
The decision came after his father, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, unveiled a plan earlier this week for his metropolitan government to buy the Senkaku Islands claimed by Japan and China, provoking fierce criticism in China.
The junior Ishihara had planned to visit China for four days from Friday to give a lecture at a university in Shanghai. However, he was informed by the university that his safety could not be ensured, the sources said Thursday...
I would not be at all surprised if Ishihara fils is convinced that Ishihara père is out to ruin his future.

Poor I. Nobuteru has a decent shot at replacing Tanigaki Sadakazu as the president of the LDP this fall, his only plausible rival being former defense minister Ishiba Shigeru. However, I. Shintaro keeps sucking up all the oxygen in the room -- whether through his linking up with Kamei Shizuka and Hiranuma Takeo to create a "true conservative" party, his crusade (a remake) to bring the Olympics to Tokyo or his pulled-from-out-of-his-nether-regions proposal to buy some of the Senkaku Islands from their private owner (E). At every moment, I. Nobuteru has to be ready to crouch down to duck the shrapnel flying out from his father's playing around with explosives.

One can imagine I. Nobuteru thinking, "Dad, why can't you announce incredibly expensive idiot plan to eliminate cloud cover over the Tocho, just to ruin my older brother's day?"

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Yoshihiko, Takeshi, Naoki, Azuma, Sadakazu, Natsuo, Yoshimi, Yo'ichi, Hirohisa, Jun'ichiro and Ichiro

It's been a bad day (Please don't take my picture!)
It's been a bad day (Pleeeaaze!)

- REM "Bad Day"(2003)
As scheduled, the House of Councillors censured Defense Minister Tanaka Naoki and Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Maeda Takeshi. Their business done, members of the House from the Liberal Democratic Party promptly stood up and strode out of the chamber, making a spectacle of their party leaders' threats to boycott all Diet business until Tanaka and Maeda are either fired or resign.

Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko has sworn he will not force the ministers to resign -- which we can assume is code begging the two to resign. DPJ Secretary-General Koshi'ishi Azuma, who is looking older and older these days, as if that were physically possible, continues to hold to an improbable line that there are no reasons for the two ministers in question to resign.

Technically, Koshi'ishi is correct: the censure motion is a symbolic measure with no legal consequences. However, with the LDP and the New Komeito refusing to consider any legislation pending in the House of Councillors, indeed boycotting committee meetings, the ostensibly sanction-free measure has teeth. Fujii Hirohisa, the equally venerable but not so sepuchral-looking as Koshi'ishi head of the DPJ's tax committee (whose resignation from the Hatoyama Cabinet for health reasons looks more and more suspect every day) has asked the prime minister to bow to the inevitable and fire Tanaka and Maeda if he wants to save the consumption tax rise legislation, the supposed cornerstone of his political program (J).

To make the survival of Maeda and Tanaka even less likely, the Tokyo Prosecutors Office Special Investigations Branch (cue Star Wars Imperial March music) on Friday accepted documents accusing Maeda and others with violations of the public elections law. Maeda's use of his office's stature and materials in order to influence the Gero City mayoral election is indisputable. The prosecutors' failing to transform the charges into an indictment would shock the conscience. (J)

So Maeda must go, and with the undertow he generates, Tanaka must be swept out with him. Having pledged in his victory speech in last fall's DPJ leader election to be a "no-sides" party leader, meaning that he will choose his cabinet and fellow party leaders based not upon ability but on fair representation of all the different groups within the party, Noda harvests the rotten fruit of his ill-considered magnanimity.

Former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro, wherever he is hanging out right now, must be thinking, "Noda-san, when I was prime minister, were you not taking notes? Even Ozawa Ichiro, who accepts no one as his equal, saw that my way of tossing into the trash the candidate lists from the faction leaders, appointing the competent and firing even the popular when they caused trouble was the only way to run this blessed land."

Image: Maeda Takeshi (L) and Tanaka Naoki (R) leaving the Cabinet meeting room on April 17, 2012.

Image courtesy: Mainichi Shimbun

Arc Of The Cool

You don't know me, you're too old.
It's over.
Nobody listens to techno.
- Eminem "Without Me" (2005)

Sakamoto Ryuichi (with the rest of YMO)

Behind the Mask (1979)


Sakamoto Ryuichi (with the incomparable Bernard Fowler)

Behind The Mask (1987)


Sakamoto Ryuchi (with the rest of YMO, minus Yano Akiko)

Behind The Mask (2010)

Mr. Mathers, in this blessed land, techno never goes out of style.

As for the opening act at the end of the world, I submit Perfume.  Does the linked video not look like the cabaret scene in every "the human race in its final state of decadence" SF film ever produced?


edge(⊿-mix) (2009)

Fritz Lang would have loved this performance. "Zis is vat I vaz dreaming of. Except zat it is even harder to tell the robots from ze humans zan even I imagined."

In the United States, the music community uses holographic technology to resurrect Tupac Shakur, murdered on the Las Vegas Strip in 1996. In this blessed land, they use holographic technology and crowd sourcing to create pop stars where there is no authorial voice and no attempt to recreate reality.

I am sure that W. David Marx could compose a 15,000 word exegesis on just that last point alone.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Raising Children In the Land Of the Rising Sun

Dear me, the threatened longer CFR version of this New York Times op-ed looks as though it is going to be a total, alarmist, misleading waste of time.
Mind the Baby Gap
by Steven Philip Kramer

Although overpopulation plagues much of the developing world, many developed societies are now suffering from the opposite problem: birthrates so low that each generation is smaller than the previous one. Much of southern and eastern Europe, as well as Austria, Germany, Russia and the developed nations of Southeast Asia, have alarmingly low fertility rates, with women having, on average, fewer than 1.5 children each, well below the replacement level.

At the same time, life expectancies in those places have reached record highs. As a result, the dependency ratio — the ratio of the working population to the nonworking population — has become increasingly unfavorable, and it is projected to get more so. Making matters worse is that economic growth gets harder to achieve as workers age and their ranks dwindle; aging societies will have a tough time succeeding in an era of rapid technological change.

Population decline poses a danger to the developed world. Yet there is nothing inevitable about it. History shows that governments can raise birthrates close to replacement levels if they adopt the right policies. France and Sweden, for example, have crafted thoughtful, comprehensive and consistent policy responses that have largely reversed their declining birthrates over the long run.

France was the first country to experience a declining birthrate in the 19th century. French leaders blamed the country’s defeat in 1940 on its stagnating demographic, economic and social development. If France was to regain its status, it needed a new dynamism — more social justice, a stronger economy and faster population growth. So France tried to plan itself out of industrial underdevelopment and demographic decay, and it did so through, above all, a generous program of financial support for families with children.

Sweden suffered from extremely low birthrates in the 1930s. When the Social Democrats came to power at the height of the Great Depression, one of their economic strategists was Gunnar Myrdal, who in 1934, with his wife Alva, wrote a best-selling book on the population crisis. It argued that if Sweden was to boost its birthrates, women had to be able to both raise children and have careers — a revolutionary idea at the time...

Especially since the very same paper published the below op-ed five weeks ago.
The Fertility Implosion
by David Brooks

When you look at pictures from the Arab spring, you see these gigantic crowds of young men, and it confirms the impression that the Muslim Middle East has a gigantic youth bulge — hundreds of millions of young people with little to do. But that view is becoming obsolete. As Nicholas Eberstadt and Apoorva Shah of the American Enterprise Institute point out, over the past three decades, the Arab world has undergone a little noticed demographic implosion. Arab adults are having many fewer kids.

Usually, high religious observance and low income go along with high birthrates. But, according to the United States Census Bureau, Iran now has a similar birth rate to New England — which is the least fertile region in the U.S.

The speed of the change is breathtaking. A woman in Oman today has 5.6 fewer babies than a woman in Oman 30 years ago. Morocco, Syria and Saudi Arabia have seen fertility-rate declines of nearly 60 percent, and in Iran it’s more than 70 percent. These are among the fastest declines in recorded history.

The Iranian regime is aware of how the rapidly aging population and the lack of young people entering the work force could lead to long-term decline. But there’s not much they have been able to do about it. Maybe Iranians are pessimistic about the future. Maybe Iranian parents just want smaller families.

As Eberstadt is careful to note, demographics is not necessarily destiny. You can have fast economic development with low fertility or high fertility (South Korea and Taiwan did it a few decades ago). But, over the long term, it’s better to have a growing work force, not one that’s shrinking compared with the number of retirees.

If you look around the world, you see many other nations facing demographic headwinds. If the 20th century was the century of the population explosion, the 21st century, as Eberstadt notes, is looking like the century of the fertility implosion...

Each country has its unique combination of reasons for its fertility collapse. A willy-nilly reproduction (pun unintended) of the French or the Swedish models, without taking into account the the cultural, institutional, economic, immigration policy, ethnic profile and country size and location aspects bracketing those models, is playing with fire.

In this blessed land, the government has experimented with codifying generous leave rights for women and now men. It conducted a successful crash program to build day care centers in the 1990s (contrary to the conventional wisdom, waiting lists for day care center spaces are an extremely limited and localized phenomenon). As a part of an economic stimulus program, it has experimented with direct payments of subsidies to parents of children, without means testing (50% of which ended up, due to the law of unintended consequences and personal asset management advice printed in women's magazines, in bank savings accounts -- precisely where the government did not want its stimulus money to go).

The one salient fact that has seemingly never sunk into policy makers heads is that married women now are having children at the same rate they were four decades ago. The difference is that women are marrying in their thirties, meaning that their window of fertility is smaller. The issue is getting men and women to marry young, either by setting up their own households or by living with their inlaws in large houses.

If the government can also find ways of making the finding of jobs more secure -- which means encouraging flexible employment practices and the eradication of the bias against who choose or must suffer job mobility -- above and beyond the considerable efforts it has tried to make, then the birthrate "crisis" would ease.

Due to what has gone on over the last 30 years, this blessed land's population is set to drop no matter what -- last year's drop of more than a quarter of a million citizens serving as a wake up call of dramatic falls lying ahead (E). Making young people feel safe about marrying young would, however, ease the decline.

Like They Had Never Asked Before

In a follow up on my post of the other day, NHK has released a survey of the residents of Oi Township, the home of the reactors the government is pushing hard to restart (E), the residents of the the four communities surrounding Oi Township (Maizuru City, Obama City, Takashima City and Wakasa Township) and the City of Osaka -- where the eventual main consumers of the power generated by the Oi reactors live.

The results:

In Oi Township

In favor of the restart 54%
Opposed 37%

In the four surrounding municipalities

Opposed 60%

In Osaka City

Opposed 62%

(Link - J)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Given 'Em The Axe, The Axe, The Axe

"Give 'em the axe, where?
Right in the neck, the neck, the neck!"

- The Stanford University Axe chant
Aside from the Prime Minister and Chief Cabinet Minister Fujimura Osamu, Tanaka Naoki and Maeda Takeshi have been my favorite members of the current Cabinet. Given how much the latter two ministers have done to damage, sully or otherwise trash the reputation of the Noda Government and the Democratic Party of Japan, it is has only been natural to write about them (click on the labels below for earlier posts). I could have written so much more, too...

However, it seems these halcyon days are drawing to a close. Rather than play with Tanaka and Maeda as a cat would with mortally-injured-but-still-living mice, the opposition trio of the Liberal Democratic Party, the Your Party and the New Renaissance Party yesterday submitted motions of censure against both men to the president of the House of Councillors. The censure votes will come on Friday, with passage a seeming mathematical certainty. (E)

I heartily support the censure motions. If any pair of ministers has deserved the axe, this pair has.

I have two reservations tempering my glee, however.

First, Noda Yoshihiko should have fired both of these morons himself the moment each first cast doubts upon the ethical or intellectual standards of the Cabinet, rather than giving them time to add to their pewter reputations and besmirch his and the DPJ's rule.

Second, the LDP has debased the censure motion. It will be hard for the public and possibly historians to see a difference between the censures Tanaka and Maeda and those of Ichikawa Tatsuo and Yamaoka Kenji. These latter motions were passed on the last day of the last year's extraordinary session of the Diet in what looked like a fit of pique. Ichikawa started out as a defense idiot but grew into his job over the course of the Diet session. Yamaoka was censured not anything he had done as minister but for not renouncing his support from direct-marketers. Censuring Ichikawa and Yamaoka was done not for actions by the ministers but with the goal of sowing confusion within the DPJ, as both Ichikawa and Yamaoka were Ozawa Ichiro supporters, through and through.

Defenders of the LDP will point out that the DPJ, in its time in opposition, filed a blizzard of censure motions. While true, the claim elides over the crucial point that prior to the takeover of the government by the DPJ, only one cabinet minister had ever been forced to resign after being censured: Nukaga Fukushiro in 1998. Since the LDP-led opposition seized control of the House of Councillors in July 2010, however, it has used the censure motion to force the resignation of four cabinet ministers and is set to hack down two more.

Use of the censure motion when the opposition has the power to halt the progress of non-budget legislation carries with it the danger of censure becoming nothing more that a blunt instrument of political mischief-making, rather than a weapon of righteous anger or for shaking when political circumstances render the opposition impotent.

Later - The morning's NHK plain white rice news show Ohayo Nippon had person-on-the-street interviews regarding yesterday's submissions. Voters -- men and women, young and old -- all thought the opposition was abusing the power to censure.

Later still - The Asahi Shimbun offers its two yen's worth, not significantly different from my own. (E)

Calling Jake Adelstein

Japan firm wants to lease 1 northern island for tsunami debris
Saipan Tribune

A private Japanese firm has offered to lease one of the islands north of Saipan as a disposal and recycling site for tons of debris from the March 2011 tsunami in Japan, Rep. Froilan Tenorio (Cov-Saipan) said yesterday.

Tenorio said officials of the firm will be coming to Saipan next week to meet with Gov. Benigno R. Fitial to discuss the proposal, which could mean millions of dollars of fresh revenues for the CNMI and help Japan in its recovery.

"If the response is good, there's a plan to charter a plane to fly to one of the islands and take a look at it. If the deal is okay, then we'll sign a lease," Tenorio said in an interview after meeting with the governor yesterday afternoon.

Tenorio, a former governor and speaker, pointed out that the tsunami debris from Japan that are planned to be shipped to one of the Northern Islands are "non-toxic" and "non-radioactive" materials...
Yeah, right. I am sure the certificate of guarantee will be printed on genuine "Govemnet of Japan" stationery, too.

This could all be legitimate, of course. Honestly. Truly.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Questions About Chinese Intentions

With democracy in Myanmar seemingly moving forward as if mounted on a freight train and the Chinese vote in the UN Security Council yesterday in favor a resolution condemning the DPRK for its rocket launch last Friday, are we seeing the results of a reassessment by the Chinese government, even during a leadership transition year when policy changes are presumably destabilizing and thus verboten, of the policy of having Asian pariah states as its clients forming "a buffer zone around China" or giving access to the Indian Ocean and natural gas? Are dictatorial regimes that isolate states from the rest of the world and leave their citizens in dire poverty now seen as being more trouble than can be justified?

Just asking.

Energy And The Future Of The DPJ

There have been so many issues raised that have been purported to be the mark of death for the Democratic Party of Japan at the polls.

The first and least plausible was a lousing up of the Japan-U.S. alliance over the government taking a less antagonistic stance toward China and rethinking the Futenma-to-Henoko plan -- a plan which at present looks deader than the Okinawan Sho Dynasty.

The second was the raising of the consumption tax from 5% to 10%. Prime Minister Kan Naoto's simply talking about the tax was supposedly a main cause of the DPJ's poor (but not horrific performance) in the House of Councillors election of 2010. The explanation might be plausible had former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio and Ozawa Ichiro not handed Kan a severely skeptical electorate, enervated by both Hatoyama's inability to know his own mind and Ozawa's putting on a show of seizing dictatorial control of the nation's policy making apparatus -- neatly fitting into narratives of DPJ amateurishness cultivated by the party's enemies in the bureaucracy, the press, the permanent commentariat and the opposition alliance of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.

In any case, the collapse of consumer spending after the imposition of the first step toward 10%; the opposition of Ozawa Ichiro, Yamada Masahiko and others in the DPJ leading to a schism of the party; the violation of the campaign pledge to immediate take a tax rise to the voters to seek their approval -- any and all of these were to doom the DPJ at the ballot box.

The third spine breaker was supposedly Kan's enthusiastic support of the country's becoming early participant in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a program taken up, as in all things, wearily by his successor Noda Yoshihiko (seriously, is therei nothing that Noda does with zest out of joy, rather than out of what seems a resentful sense of duty?). Trying to play catch-up on the TPP is a supposedly transparent attempt to curry favor with the still pro-LDP Nippon Keidanren, Keizai Doyukai and the multinationals at the expense of Japan's parasitical farmers and protected insurance and healthcare giants, with those groups joining to paint entrance into the TPP as the end of Japan as we know it. Hysteria whipped up by these presumed losers in a post-TPP accession economy would doom the DPJ in rural areas and among elderly voters, ensuring a wiping out of the party.

However, what is going to kill the DPJ -- or appears to be killing it -- is none of the above but an entirely new and unexpected phenomenon: a mass rejection of the restart of Japan's idled nuclear power plants. The prefectural governments are up in arms (as I noted in passing, the government of Shiga and Kyoto prefectures had severe reservations regarding the restart of the Oi reactors. Yesterday, they made their demands public (J). Local communities are in seemingly unflinching opposition; the DPJ is split (E - did I not say that everything Sengoku Yoshito touches turns to mud?) and the electorate has switched to being largely for it to being largely against it - by a margin of nearly two-to-one. (J)

As a result of the nation's new nuclear antipathy, the popularity of the Noda Cabinet and the DPJ have plummeted into the Death Zone, with support for the Cabinet dropping over 5 percentage points over the last month (J). The entity most likely to profit from these falls are not necessarily the current opposition the LDP but the Ishin no Kai, which, along its pie-in-the-sky political program is likely to absorb the anti-nuclear power plant restart stance of its leader Hashimoto Toru. (E)

All of which is of particularly morbid interest as Japan's power and energy positions are likely not nearly as dire as the conventional wisdom holds. Todd Kreider of Kanazawa University, who can be "difficult" in discussions, has a crushing April 13 post to the NBR Japan Forum claiming that contrary to the hype, energy-security-wise, this blessed land is in pretty good shape. (E) *

Ironic it would be for the DPJ to go to its Waterloo over a problem that might not even exist.

Later - The raw results of the Asahi Shimbun poll on energy attitudes are what most everyone is talking (J). Interestingly, the Asahi poll gives support levels for the DPJ double those of the Jiji Press poll above -- and more importantly for the DPJ's fortunes, above those for the LDP.

* As for all links to individual NBR Forum posts, if you cannot access the page directly, go to the main page, scroll down to the "Join the Forum" section and click on the link "Visit the Japan Forum's online message archive."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

About That Other Failure

Last Friday, the DPRK launched a rocket in commemoration of 100th birthday of the country's founder Kim Il-sung. U.S. thermal imaging satellites immediately detecting the ignition of the rocket's engines. Under information-sharing agreements worked out long ago between Japan and the United States, the launch detection warning .was relayed to the government of Japan. The U.S. information was immediately shared with Japan's Self Defense Forces, which were on high alert to detect, track and, if necessary, shoot down the rocket-- oops, I'm sorry, missile.

The service personnel on board three Aegis-class destroyers equipped with SM-3 missiles and the personnel at the ground based radar stations on Shimokoshikijima (E), Fukuejima and numerous other sites in Kyushu, northern Chugoku and Okinawa stared at their screens, waiting for the confirmation of the rocket's rise.

And they waited.

And they waited.

And they waited.

Funny thing about the Earth: it's curved. If some object blows up before it rises above your horizon, you are going to be waiting forever.

Both the Aegis destroyers in the East China Sea were cruising far to the south (having two in the Sea was a public relations stunt: in terms of missile defense and radar coverage, one was more than sufficient). The choice of positioning did provide greater protection to the Okinawa Islands but also did not upset the Chinese. It would have made more sense from an intelligence gathering standpoint to position one of the two destroyers in the north, closer to the launch site. Unfortunately, China tends to consider the northern part of the East China Sea and all of the Yellow Sea as a no-go area for all but the most intrepid of foreign naval powers.

So following Friday morning's launch, Japan was blind to a no-longer-existing-possible-threat. Which, when you think about it, is no big shakes.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu, the government spokesman and concurrently the government's COO, did not come out of the Security Council -- which he is a part of, meaning that he is somehow responsible for reporting to the public on a meeting he supposed to be attending -- until an hour after the launch to admit the fascinating but tentative possibility that a launch may have taken place.

All of which looks terribly bad and stupid, considering that U.S. and South Korean officials were making announcements of a launch having taken place within minutes of the launch's having taken place.

Predictably, the main opposition parties have gone to town on the "failure" of the government to keep the public informed in a timely manner about what was going on. The national official security threat system called J-Alert was never engaged. Government email communications even 50 minutes after the launch were saying that a launch had not been confirmed. In a bit of humorous bad luck resulting from the width of the computer screens of the government's official communications systems and the peculiarities of Japanese sentence structure, the message from the government read what is is the equivalent of:

"As for the launch of a missile, the current status is that a missile launch confirmation has

not happened."

Whatever hyperventilations about the Japanese government's lack of preparedness or bad execution emerge, three points:

1) With the rocket doing itself in, nobody was ever in a position to get hurt.

2) The SDF and the government followed prudent protocols, showing they had learned from the false positive report in 2009 that led to an unnecessary warning being passed on to local officials.

3) The ridiculousness of Fujimura's having had to have been in two places at once may fan into flame the ever-smouldering debate over the Cabinet's need for a dedicated spokesman.

Burning one of the five Special Advisor to the Prime Minister (shusho hosakan) positions in order to appoint an individual charged solely with providing information to the public was one of the few good ideas former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo brought with him when took over as prime minister. That the decision blew up in his face was due to his having chosen the shameless self-promoter Seko Hiroshige as his Special Advisor for public communications.

Ever since the Seko fiasco, no PM has been willing to repeat the experiment -- which is too bad, as the present arrangement has never been to the public's benefit in terms of providing comprehensive and comprehensible information. It has also in some cases become something of a power trip for the man (yes, only men so far) chosen to simultaneously wear two very important government hats, turning the Chief Cabinet Secretary into something of a Chief Cabinet Jerk.

Circumlocutions - Why It Has To Be A Missile

Scholar Earl Kinmonth, who has very little tolerance for ungrounded concepts, has a post up on the SSJ Forum on the proliferation of phrases describing the North Korean launch vehicle as being "really a missile" -- with the emphasis on the adverb -- a subject I touched upon in my bantamweight post of Saturday.

Last night, NHK tried out a brand new phrase describing the DPRK launch vehicle:

"The what-is-in-reality-a-missile, acting out the part of an artificial satellite..."
On Saturday, I half out of facetiousness, half out of actual confusion, asked the reader to chose a potential force mandating these verbal tangles.

Yesterday, I played around with the idea that refusing to call the DPRK launch vehicle a "rocket" was a way of expressing contempt for the DPRK's history of sophistry and duplicity. However, that theory had a weakness in that it is hard to get everyone to share a feeling, even in a mass-market society with a strong conformist streak.

This morning I think I have it...and it is one these, "Duh, MTC, what else could it have been?" answers that leaves one thankful there is coffee for solace's sake:

Japanese media outlets do not call the North Korean rocket a rocket because if it were a rocket, then the Self Defense Forces could not shoot it down.

The Japanese government is a stickler about terminology most of the time. On defense and security issues, however, it is outright fanatical. Fall into any kind of linguistic fuzziness on security and one runs the risk of slamming right into the wall of Article 9 of the Constitution.

Ballistic missile defense (BMD) has been judged permissible under Article 9. The term is translated directly; in Japanese it is "dando misairu boei" (弾道ミサイル防衛). If one is to use BMD to bring down anything, that thing had better be a missile. Shooting at anything else would be unconstitutional.

So, as is so often the case with these tortured circumlocutions, the reasoning is transparently practical. Call it a missile and you can shoot at it. Call it anything else and you are left with nothing but watching and praying.

Monday, April 16, 2012

On Capuchin Monkeys And The DPRK

Corey Wallace recently wrote a lengthy thought piece on the options of Ozawa Children in the face of the Democratic Party of Japan's low popularity ratings and the Noda government's likely contractionary imposition of a higher consumption tax. I think he gives the Ozawa children a little more freedom of choice than they possess, unless they have the personal resources (i.e., personal wealth) to pay for their own reelection campaigns or, barring that, an appetite for self-destruction.

Wallace has also just posted up on Facebook a TED speech by the animal behaviorist Frans de Waals of the Yerkes Primate Center. In the speech, de Waals reviews the possible evolutionary origins of morality. Take the time to watch the full 17 minutes of the video, if only for your edification and amusement. (Link)

I have always thought that the Capuchin experiment, where the monkey who receives the cucumber becomes so angry about being cheated out of getting a grape that it throws the cucumber at the experimenter, provided an insight on how negotiators, particularly American and Japanese ones, get played by negotiators from the DPRK. Coming from societies where reciprocity is valued and presumed to the point where it becomes invisible, the American and Japanese negotiators have time and time again been willing to throw away whatever they have gained when they see the DPRK getting more out of a deal.

In the video, de Waals, by being a little too funny, fails to nail down the point the audience should be taking away from the presentation: not that Capuchin monkeys have what have been previously thought to be a human sense of fairness, but the obverse, that we humans, when raised in a normal environment, are no more than tall, hairless Capuchins. We react emotionally to unfairness because we are programmed to do so.

In the horrible Stalinist nightmare (in George Orwell's immortal image, "Imagine a booted foot, stamping a human face, forever") that is the DPRK, those who have risen in the hierarchy and/or survived it have had much of their organic humanity ground out of them. They are true economic animals, treating every meeting as a one-off (because one never knows if one will be meeting that person again) and always seeking to maximize one's profit immediately, without seemingly caring about what happens in the future.

This startling capacity to go against the fundamental programming of the human species is at the base of the insane/logical dispute over the nature of the DPRK regime. Seen from the point of view of normal human society, that is to say from the point of view of the Capuchin monkey, the behavior of the DPRK is insane – it constantly rejects reciprocity in favor of bat-excrement crazy threats and cheating. At the same time, analysts, when looking at the results the DPRK has managed to extort with its behavior, see a basic outline of reasoning and calculation.

The two supposedly contradictory views of DPRK behavior are actually two sides of the same coin. The superiority affected by the analysts and commentators who see logic in the behavior of the DPRK is unmerited: those who see the DPRK as insane have an equally vital an insight into the true nature of the regime.

So what does one do with a negotiating partner who is ultimately unreliable?

1) Take the damn cucumber – When dealing with a purely economical partner, one has to accept whatever small profit one attains. This will be hard, especially to explain to legislators and a populace who expect you to walk away from a negotiation having received a grape for a grape. If it is necessary to drop down to the level of popular culture to explain the hopelessness of trying to walk away from a negotiation with the DPRK with one’s honor intact, quote the Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #109: “Dignity and an empty sack is worth the sack.”

2) In the long run reciprocity pays, whereas purely economic behavior is the road to penury – This assertion seems to run counter to primitive economic reasoning, where the maximum benefit for all is achieved through each individual attempting to maximize his/her own profit. However, societies with a strong sense of fairness, or "trust" as Francis Fukuyama chose to call it, become rich out of an ability to plan ahead, thanks to the faith that a sacrifice or act of altruism done today will be paid off equally or even in excess some other time. Societies where reciprocity runs deep -- United States, Japan and the Republic of Korea -- are rich: the DPRK is a basket case.

3) When all you really have is cucumbers, a cucumber is costly – For immensely wealthy nations such as the United States, Japan and the R.O.K. a tiny reward is close to nothing. For immense poor nations like the DPRK, every sacrifice is costly, in real and relative terms. In terms of Capuchin behavior, every cucumber the fat monkey accepts from the thin one brings the thin one pain. It would rather consume the cucumber itself.

So what would a rejection of our natural programming – i.e., our Capuchin monkey brains – direct us to do?

The first step would be to stop the silly nonsense of going to the UN Security Council for stronger sanctions or a condemnation of the DPRK after its failed rocket launch, or of cutting off promised food aid (the official euphemism is "nutritional assistance" – which sounds like a vitamin supplement drop from the back end of a C-130) because the DPRK ingnored a warning to not test "ballistic missile technology." Insisting that the rocket launch was a test of ballistic missile technology focuses on the rocket as a technological object, ignoring the more important function it had a political object – a function it failed to perform, due, it must be said, to its shortcomings as a technological object. Cutting off assistance and going to the UN Security Council because the DPRK humiliated U.S. negotiators of the Leap Day "agreement" (for the reason why the word agreement should be in quotes, see this post by Dr. Jeffrey Lewis) is just the sort of Capuchin behavior that will give the DPRK justification to conduct a nuclear test.

Second, test the nerve of the DPRK’s new leader. The U.S. and Japan should put the rocket launch "under consideration" pending the perpetration of further provocative acts. Let the DPRK leadership be torn over the outside world's willingness to forbear retaliation. Make it hard for them to really go forward with a nuclear test, as that will certainly bring all hell down upon them, and they would lose the grape they got out of February's face-to-face meeting with the United States.

Japan and the United States should give the DPRK something to lose, rather than nothing to lose. Let us rely on what we know of the DPRK: that they neither assume generosity nor operate without a certain logic. If the DPRK goes ahead with the currently prophesied nuclear test, the outside world loses nothing – since it will turn out the test was inevitable, no matter what the outside world did. Furthermore, the outside world will gain valuable piece of information: that the DPRK regime is not coldly calculating but instead profoundly, irredeemably stupid.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Point About The Oi Reactor Restart

Martin Fackler has had an article published in the NYT:
Japan Seeks to Restart Some Nuclear Power Plants
The New York Times

TOKYO — Hoping to avert potentially devastating summer power shortages, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Friday that his government would seek to restart two nuclear reactors, in what would be a first step toward ending an almost complete shutdown of the nation’s nuclear power industry.

Mr. Noda declared units No. 3 and No. 4 at the Ohi Nuclear Power Plant in western Japan to be safe based on the results of computer simulations designed to check the reactors’ tolerance of a large earthquake and tsunami like those last year that knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The resulting meltdowns and explosions spewed radiation across a wide area of northeastern Japan and the Pacific Ocean in the worst nuclear accident since the one at Chernobyl a quarter century earlier.

Mr. Noda now faces the tricky task of convincing skeptical local leaders and voters in Fukui prefecture, where the Ohi plant is located, that it is safe to turn the reactors back on. Public concerns about safety after the Fukushima accident have prevented Japan from restarting any of its nuclear reactors as they have been gradually taken offline for legally mandated maintenance checks...

Except for the cryptic reference to "skeptical local leaders" Fackler and the NYT manage to almost, but not quite, entirely miss the main point regarding the restart of Oi reactors. Given the government's new, Fukushima-derived regulations regarding evacuations out of areas within 30 kilometers of a nuclear power station, not just 10, the range of evacuation goes beyond the borders of Fukui Prefecture and well into Kyoto and Shiga Prefectures. The major cities of Obama (Fukui Prefecture) and Maizuru (Kyoto Prefecture) are within the 30 kilometer zone.

As far as the governors of Kyoto and Shiga are concerned, the government has done close to nothing to help prepare their prefectures for an accident at Oi. The mayor of Maizuru says it is simply not the time to restart the reactors (J) -- prompting a major presentation by Democratic Party Policy Research Chairman Maehara Seiji in the city last night (J).

The takeaway missing from Fackler's report is that restarting the nuclear power plants now involves far more municipalities, prefectures and voters than the original start ups did. As Daniel Aldrich has documented, it was hard enough to win local approval to build the darn things in the first place. The problem now is that post-Fukushima, what counts as "local" is too big and too variegated for the power suppliers and the government to buy off.

Convincing so many folks that they must run the risk of losing their hometowns (not their their lives - as nuclear advocates say, no one died from the Fukushima nucleotide release, if one does not count the individuals who survived the tsunami but were trapped in the debris and were left to die of shock, dehydration and starvation when rescue crews were pulled from the disaster zone) and livelihoods so the neon can stay in Osaka, when Osaka mayor Hashimoto Toru has declared war on the DPJ-led government for trying to restart the Oi reactors (J) -- well, it is a bit more of a climb than the Fackler piece indicates.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Way Too Newsy Day

What we know after yesterday is:

- The DPRK is a miserably poor country locked in a Stalinist nightmare ruled by a kid who grew up in Switzerland who likely as not wishes the whole horrible structure would go to hell. The country can threaten the Republic of Korea with the annihilation of Seoul through artillery fire and Japan with a barrage of fairly reliable Nodong missiles. Other than that it is a pathetic candidate for a threat to human civilization.

In other words, it is right now a land offering a hint of opportunity, not to be walloped with the same tired routines of going to the UN Security Council for a bunch of whiff and poofing.

Also that Japanese news programs, driven by pressures from (viewers/advertisers/government/right-wing organizations/the United States - circle one or more) have an almost infinite creativity when it comes to thinking up pejorative alternatives, no matter how long-winded -- "the artificial satellite, in reality a long-range ballistic missile," "the long-range ballistic missile called an earth-sensing artificial satellite," "the artificial satellite in name only, actually a ballistic missile" -- to the simple, neutral term "rocket."

- You do not need a confession to convict a person of murder and sentence her to death. All you need is a string of bodies left behind someone who extorted all the money she could from the victims before they managed to commit suicide whilst drugged. (E)

Also that the lengthy trial of an unattractive woman capable of luring in, defrauding and killing three lonely men, keeping up a blog of her activities, is a huge draw among middle-aged and young women. For the record, which is slim, the these out-of-the-ordinary trial attendees have been dubbed the Kanae Girls (kanae gyaru).

- A former banker with Nomura Securities can go before the microphones in the Diet in sworn testimony, admit to producing accounts in no way reflecting the realities of the fund he was managing, admit to running a Ponzi scheme (tenbai sukiimu)-- and still insist he had no intent to defraud anybody.

The guy has got a hell of a lawyer: "Just keep telling the truth but repeating that you're sorry and you never meant to hurt anyone and the judge will go easy on you, I promise."

Sad thing is, that lawyer is almost certainly right.

- When you as a government body hurriedly approve the restart of two nuclear reactors, after the nation has suffered the worst civilian nuclear disaster since and the only one on a par with Chernobyl, based on a safety assessment finding that procedures for preventing the repeat of the disaster have, for the most part (omune ni), been put into place -- the Japanese public, prefectural governments and the press will go bananas. (E)

I mean like top-of-every-newscast, first-four-pages-of-the-newspaper-on-a-day-that-the-DPRK-fires-off-a-rocket bananas.

Yesterday I posited that the fate of Maeda Takeshi, the ethically compromised and extremely unhelpful Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, would be a page 2 story in this morning's newspaper.

Heck, he is not even in this morning's newspaper.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Why Is This Man Still A Minister?

Do you know me?

Chances are, you don't.

I am the minister who has made an utmost effort to kneecap my own party, signing off on the dream budgets of bureaucrats under me with such craven disregard for the Democratic Party of Japan's welfare I have split the party's core leadership over my shenanigans, when it already has enough trouble dealing with the looming shadow of Ozawa Ichiro.

Now I have gone and done something so stupid, so incredibly wrong that I finally may get the ax I have so richly deserved. Imagine me, the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, taking time out of my day to write a letter to construction companies of Gero, a city of 38,000 persons in Gifu Prefecture, asking for the support of these companies for a former DPJ legislator now running for mayor of that city.

I wrote the letters, signed them, then sent them to the construction companies in Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism envelopes!

My excuse for this egregious abuse of my office for political purposes? None. But believe me, I am vewy, vewy sowwy I did this.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu has said that he will investigate my actions. What is there to investigate? I did it. I have confessed to the press that I did it.

DPJ Secretary-General Koshi'ishi Azuma says I did not break the law on public officials interfering in politics (J). If I somehow did not manage to break the law, then that law is not worth a damn.

The Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito are demanding my resignation. Considering what I have done for and to my own party, it is a miracle DPJ legislators have already not bound me up, gagged me and dumped in the trunk of a government car.

My name? Maeda Takeshi. I was a page 2 story two days ago. Thanks to the DPRK's expensive fireworks display today, I will be a page 2 story tomorrow.

Very Kind of Them #9

The very kind folks over at The Point have published a short essay of mine on what the U.S. can expect Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko will bring with him when he visits Washington next month.



9:24 - Much ado about nothing. All the major networks have reverted to their daily television pap, save Fuji Terebi, the home of paranoia about the DPRK and China.

9:07 - The focus now shifts to Pyongyang: who gets blamed, who gets demoted. Will Kim Jong-un take this very public failure to move against elements that stand in the way of the DPRK's opening up to the world, in the manner that China did in the 1980s? The faction advocating provocation, duplicity and brinkmanship has taken a hit. Will they go quietly, or will the capital be swept up in factional conflict? Having everyone in Pyongyang for the party conference makes for a great opportunity for a lot of mutual finger pointing.

8:57 - The Defense Ministry has announced that the rocket split into four pieces at a height 120 kilometers in altitude. This would seem to preclude a self-destruct message from the ground.

8:55 - True to the national consensus, NHK is referring to the rocket as a missile. Historically, as Japan is the only country threatened by the DPRK Nodong missile force, the government of Japan and the Japanese in general take the most intolerant view of the DPRK's rocket/missile program.

8:45 - According to the Defense Ministry, the rocket blew up one minute into its flight. Like I said on Monday, the international ban on the testing of ballistic missile technology created what would be an unacceptable chance of this launch being a failure.

8: 40 - The North Korean rocket has blown up in midflight. More details as they come in.

No one seems to have gotten hurt. The Japanese government, like everyone else, is trying to figure what has happened. The Security Council is meeting: an announcement will be forthcoming.

NHK is broadcasting live from Pyongyang: the DPRK media has not as yet reported on the launch failure.

Look for a few of the DPRK generals and the rocket scientists to disappear.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

At The Frontiers Of Human Possibility

While much of television programming geared toward entertaining children is disturbing (what is with the NHK morning show where the main characters are a chair whose lips do not move and a tall, dancing, talking saguaro cactus?) there is one segment in one of the morning shows that gives me the shivers. The segment is called "Otetsudai robo" ("The Helper Robot") which encourages children to think of themselves as helpful household robots. The first part is an animated section where the child, as a heroic, flying character, helps out his mother and father, earning their gratitude and affection. The second half is a live segment where the human/robot -- sometimes a child, sometimes a parent, sometimes a grandparent -- responds to a command sent from a box with a series of buttons from the "a, i, u, e, o" order of kana.

I wish I did not have an inkling of what the producers of the show are trying to tell me here. If it is that the relations between humans are bettered when one side is a robot responding mechanically to the orders of another -- they should be reassured that I and probably the children are getting that message.

This is a terrible message to be sending to small children.

Of course, I could, due to my upbringing, be failing to see the cute, acceptable side of defining ideal human relations in such a peculiar fashion. After all, this is the country of Astro Boy (Tetsuwan no Atomu), the extremely humanoid robot boy (powered by atomic energy, in a nice, desensitizing nod to the nuclear power industry) who is not just a boy and a robot but cute and brave and strong. What a role model!

However, the interchangeability of the human with the humanoid, where the humanoid is not manufacturable using current technology, leads to a breakdown somewhat in the ability of children to discriminate what is real and what is not. In the lastest annual survey of Kuraray, a manufacturer of the ubiquitous landoseru -- the anachronistic leather backpacks all elementary school students are required to buy -- the fourth most popular answer to question of "What do you want to be when you when you grow up?" when it is put to 6 year-old boys is "Television/Anime Character."

I can foresee the conversation:

"Son...about your answer to the survey. I am afraid that when you grown up you cannot become an animation character. Sorry."

The really odd thing about the Kuraray survey is that the parents have input into the process, as the survey results are based on postcards filled out and sent in to the company. There is a special section for the parents to write down what their dreams are for their children (and yes, the answers in that section are very interesting). So it is not as if the children are slipping off, confessing to the company their secret wish that they were alive in only two dimensions, not three. (Link - J)

The Kuraray survey is of course a goldmine for marketers, which can gear their advertising to fit the most prominent current life goals of children. Furthermore, it recounts the dreams of 6 year-olds, which cannot be criticized too much for reflecting their consumption of hours and hours of television broadcasts.

Then again, if one could not believe that when you grow up you could be an anime character, then we might not have Wrecking Crew Orchestra taking dance performance to now-world famous and previously unimagined technical limits (You Tube).

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reputed: On Sengoku And Hatoyama


Oi naru
Chaban ni ikari

Anger over
The grand farce of Oi
We pass it by

Alternate (see the below acknowledgment)

The grand farce of Oi
Leaves me beyond anger

This morning's Tokyo Shimbun has an exclusive report with a screaming banner headline stretching across the whole top of the broad sheet:
「チーム仙谷」再稼働主導 首相・閣僚4者協議 形だけ

Leading the (Reactor) Restart Is "Team Sengoku": The Prime Ministerial Council of Four is a Figurehead

Link -J)
The article purports that the four-man (yes sadly, all men) council charged (pun unintended) with deciding whether the nuclear reactors of Japan, starting with Kansai Electric Power Company’s Oi Power Station Units #3 and #4, will restart or not, has been superseded by a five-man team (ibid) led not by the prime minister but Sengoku Yoshito, the Acting Chairman of the Democratic Party of Japan’s Policy Research Council.

One part of the shock value of this report is supposed to come from the revelation that the prime minister is not primarily responsible for leading a decision of such immense magnitude and significance. The other is that the real leader is a person of operating from a post of relatively minor status, nominally far below those of the ministers he is leading.

The membership of the Council of Four is Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko, Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu, Minister of Economics, Trade and Industry Edano Yukio and Minister of the Environment and State Minister for the Nuclear Accident Settlement and Prevention Hosono Goshi. "Team Sengoku" is supposedly composed of Sengoku, Edano and Hosono together with State Minister for National Policy Furukawa Motohisa and Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Saito Tsuyoshi.

According to the report, Noda and Fujimura are so busy with ushering through the legislation needed to raise the consumption tax to 10% that they have ceded formal operation of the Council to this unofficial group.

If this report is accurate, the ceding of the restart decision to a group led by Sengoku seems great news for advocates for a quick return to nuclear power. Sengoku is seen as the great pragmatist, with an overarching view of national goals far beyond immediate politics and traditional stances. According to the report, he also in his years in the opposition was close to the power industry, a closeness he maintained during his time as the head of the national strategy office and as Kan Naoto's Chief Cabinet Minister.

However, opponents to nuclear power should take heart from the report as well. Despite his much lauded smarts (E) Sengoku has a black thumb: everything he touches seems to turn to mud.

Like Liberal Democratic President Tanigaki Sadakazu, Sengoku has a reputation for policy brilliance that outstrips his achievements. Unlike the featherweight Tanigaki, however, Sengoku's stumbles have had serious consequences. His almost indescribably bad resolution of the Chinese ship captain arrest crisis, carried out while Prime Minister Kan was out of the country, not only made him a marked man (the House of Councillors eventually censured Sengoku, forcing his resignation as Chief Cabinet Minister) but fatally wounded the Kan administration.

Sengoku's farsightedness, while admirable in isolation, possibly makes him blind to present day reality.

Speaking of reputations, former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio has got himself into a heap of trouble with his ill-considered private visit to Iran.
Hatoyama on his own after 'private' Iran trip

The administration distanced itself Tuesday from the brewing controversy stemming from a visit by former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to Iran, which was carried out over government objections.

Hatoyama was quoted by Tehran as criticizing the International Atomic Energy Agency for "applying double standards" to the country in his talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but the former prime minister denied making such comments after he returned to Japan on Monday…

Admittedly, "ill-considered" is superfluous in a sentence about Hatoyama. One strains to remember a decision he has made which has avoided descent into the "ill-considered" category. One may laud his decision to resign as prime minister and his commitment to take Ozawa Ichiro with him as "salutary" – but was his decision in that instance "carefully considered"? No.

As for the Iranians, all congratulations to them. Clearly they have been reading up on Hatoyama. They knew that they could print whatever passel of nonsense they could dream up, fully aware that when Hatoyama returned home and complained that he had never said anything of the things attributed to him, no one would believe him.

Regarding the senryu at the head of this post, it comes from what was an excellent batch printed in the Tokyo Shimbun three Saturdays ago. The last two weekends have been disappointing, with little to share in terms of topicality or clever word play.

The key in the above is oi naru. Oi is written in the kanji of the Oi nuclear power station. Naru would then be a classical version of the modern no. However, oinaru, if written only in kana (おおいなる) or with the kanji dai means "great" or "grand" (大いなる) becomes the adjective oinaru, meaning "great."

So oinaru chaban is at once "the Oi farce" and "the grand farce."

Later - Credit where credit is due: the senryu above is by Tezuka Tatsuo, a resident of Yachimata City, Chiba Prefecture. Printed in the Tokyo Shimbun of 12.03.24.

Later still - Many thanks to reader AG who has pointed out that if you curl around the last line break and add the article o, you get the phrase ikari o torikoshi, which means "beyond anger"

Party By The Numbers

All day...and all of the night.

Public funding of elections

On April 6, the Ministry of General Affairs and Telecommunications announced its dispensation of public campaign funds to the established parties.

The winners and their winnings (in yen) are:

Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)

Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)

New Komeito
2,279,166,000 yen

Minna no To (Your Party)

Social Democratic Party (SDP)

People's New Party (PNP)

Kizuna Party (Kizuna)

Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party)

Japan New Party (JNP)

Shinto Kaikaku (New Renaissance Party - NRP)

Shinto Daichi-True DPJ


The ones making out like bandits are the PNP, who after the coup last week will be splitting up amongst the six remaining members an apportionment for eight.

The Japan Communist Party (JCP), out of principle and/or basic stupidity (at times the two resemble one another), does not take public funds.

Seats in the Diet, both Houses

Following the resignations of Kamei Shizuka and Kamei Akiko from the PNP and the dissolution of the caucus linking the PNP and the JNP, the memberships of the Houses of the Diet are divided as follows.

House of Representatives

DPJ-Club of Independents 291
LDP-Association of Independents 120
New Komeito 21
Kizuna 9
Your Party 5
Shinto Daichi- True DPJ 3
Sunrise Party 2
independents 10
unoccupied 1

House of Councillors

DPJ-Shinryokufukai 104
LDP-Sunrise Party-Association of Independents 86
New Komeito 19
Your Party 11
SDP-League to Protect the Constitution 4
Shinto Daichi- True DPJ 2
independents 5

The Shinryokufukai is a party is a political relic, existing only in the name of the House of Councillors caucus.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

When A Policy Falls On Deaf Ears, Does It Make A Noise?

If the news media has any influence, it might.

Yesterday, the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito stopped dilly-dallying about the request from Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko for direct talks between himself and LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu, New Komeito Leader Yamaguchi Kunio and the heads of the other parties in the Diet. Democratic Party of Japan Diet Affairs Chairman Jojima Koriki put the question of negotiations prior to Diet discussions to the six Diet Affairs chairmen of the non-government parties. New Party Kizuna and interestingly the Communists were the only parties that agreed with the governing coalition's proposal. The other parties indicated that the legislation is only half-baked (literally, "not fully boiled") and needs to be discussed in the Diet, starting with the party leaders debate on the 11th. (J)

The primary subject Noda wants to talk about with the two leaders of the main opposition parties would be the passage of legislation enabling the government to raise the consumption tax to 10% by the year 2014. Since the raising of the consumption tax to 10% was in the LDP's manifesto for the 2010 House of Councillors election (J), talking with Noda about smoothing Diet passage of legislation raising the tax to 10% should be a given. Refusing to meet with the PM to discuss the subject is thus equivalent to Tanigaki and Kawaguchi sticking their fingers in their ears and baying, "Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah. I can't hear you!"

Unfortunately, the same day the decision to not meet with Noda came down, the LDP released its campaign manifesto for the next House of Representatives election -- an election that the LDP and the New Komeito would like to precipitate by refusing to cooperate with the government on any legislation or by passing only a limited number of bills in exchange for a dissolution of the Diet -- the so-called "discussion dissolution" (hanashiai kaisan).

Somewhat unexpectedly, the news media took the confluence of these two events as an opportunity to paint the LDP as a party that puts political maneuvering (seikyoku) ahead of policy (seisaku).

Jiji Press


"The LDP - Fighting Specifically and With Fervor on the Raising of the Consumption Tax to '10%'; Its Integrity Now Being/Can be Questioned"



自民 消費税率10%で政権公約

"The LDP: a rise of the consumption tax to 10% in its campaign promises"


TV Asahi

自民党が政権公約を公表 消費税は「当面10%」

"The LDP Announces Its Campaign Manifesto: The Consumption Tax 'To 10%, For The Time Being'"


Mainichi Shimbun


LDP: The Consumption Tax 'To 10%, For The Time Being'...Its Current Manifesto for the House of Representatives Election


Nihon Keizai Shimbun

自民公約原案、苦肉の「当面10%」 話し合い解散に含み

"The LDP's Current Manifesto, A Desperate 'To 10%, For The Time Being,' With A Discussion Dissolution Included"


Sankei Shinbun

自民党 責任野党の努力足りない

"The LDP: Efforts As A Responsible Opposition Party Are Lacking"


When the nation's top business paper, the voice of the establishment and morning paper of the furthest right wing rap you on the knuckles over your shenanigans, you are in serious trouble.

True to its transparent and voluntary role as the unofficial party organ of the LDP, the Yomiuri Shimbun did its best to ignore the glaring contradiction in between the party's promises and its present actions, preferring to focus in its reporting on other parts of the manifesto, skating right past the consumption tax issue:

Yomiuri Shimbun


"The Current LDP Manifesto: From Nuclear Power Policy to the TPP, Persistence Ducking"


The bold effort at willful blindness is sort of the Yomiuri Shimbun's way of saying to the other news outlets, "Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah. I can't hear you!"

Raising the consumption may be unpopular in general, the most recent NHK polls showing 36% of voters opposed to the legislation with another 35% with lukewarm feelings about it. Only 25% of voters favor the government's plan to raise the consumption tax to 10% -- which I suppose is not a bad level of support for a tax rise in a sluggish economy. The attempt to blast the consumption tax legislation first through the DPJ, where about of a quarter of the membership has serious qualms about the legislation, and the through the Diet is not helping the popularity of the Noda Cabinet and the DPJ. Both lost support from last month's tallies -- though possibly not in a statistically significant way -- the constant caveat necessary given that Japanese pollsters never advertise their margins of error. (J and J)

However, as the concerted attack, the Yomiuri excepted, on Tanigaki's ducking the invitation to meet with Noda shows that the press does not consider the consumption tax issue one the LDP and the New Komeito can evade, no matter how hard they may try to do so.

Later - Many thanks to the Chrysanthemum Sniffer for his suggestion that I revisit my translation of the Yomiuri title.