Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hashimoto Toru Comes Back Down To Earth

In a Golden Week post ("Chaos Awaits") I made a spectacularly wrong prediction: that private lawyers hired to prosecute Ozawa Ichiro would not bother to appeal the verdict handed down on April 26, despite noting in the very same post that the judge may have ruled Ozawa "Not Guilty," but did not like it, preferring, if he could, to rule the case against him to be "Not Proven."

[I blew it at least two ways. I overestimated the concerns the three lawyers might have as to the negative effects a continued pursuit of Ozawa would have on their images and income streams. I underestimated the likely financial rewards the lawyers could reap -- for "consultations" and "advice" from seemingly not very demanding clients -- should they continue their quixotic tilting at Ozawa.]

In the same post, I proposed three goals for the Democratic Party of Japan and Prime Minister Noda:

- carry out a public relations campaign laying out the government's reason for a need to raise the consumption tax, with the PM in particular stepping forward to sell his vision

- continue to find ways of driving wedges in between the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito

- fail, despite their best efforts, to win the support of regional leaders in the Kansai for a restart of the Oi reactors, setting up Hashimoto Toru, an opponent of the restarts, for a fall.

The Noda government is making good progress on the first item, sending the PM into a buzz saw of a live interview on NHK's 9 o'clock news on May 17.

As for the second item, any progress that had been made, particularly in drawing the LDP and the New Komeito apart on the issue of electoral district reform, has probably been sent into reverse by the Li Chenguang Affair. The two parties will march in lock-step, together with the Your Party and the Sunrise Party, demanding a full investigation into Li's contacts with DPJ politicians.

The third item, as cynical and cold-blooded a political calculus as one can make in Japan, seems likely now to never be tested. Hashimoto has backed away from full opposition to a restart of the Oi reactors, paving the way for them to be brought back online. (E)

Hashimoto may be stubborn and a poll watcher but he is not stupid. He held his ground long enough to make his point -- that the national government is rushing the restarts, having no grounds on which to assert the safety of reactor operations under extreme conditions. However, with the surge in power consumption to come in the months of July and August and the likelihood that no matter how private persons, governments and corporations cut back on power usage, Hashimoto faced being blamed for the brownouts and timed blackouts the Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) would have impose to preserve its transmission grid.

Once the Oi reactors are started, it will be very difficult to shut them down again. Even with the Oi reactors online, KEPCO will make it through the summer only by the skin of its teeth -- and only thanks to loss-creating shutdowns by businesses. Once the summer is over the company will want to shut down at least a few of its thermal plants for maintenance, jacking up the pressure for keeping the Oi plants online.

Given the threats the continued shutdown of the reactors pose to the economic well-being of the people of Osaka -- and their very lives, the loss of the capacity to cool living spaces or keep life-saving devices on being very real -- there was only so far Hashimoto could ride the populist anti-nuclear wave.

The Bloodletting Begins - China, Spying and Phytosanitary Restrictions

The dirty game of leaking from the Li Chunguang case has begun. Unsurprisingly, the Yomiuri Shimbun is at the forefront at publishing the leaked information, targeting members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan with missiles of filled with innuendo and non-sequiturs.
Agriculture leak to be probed / Ministry team to investigate Chinese diplomat's link to secret documents

The agriculture ministry will set up an investigation team within the ministry to investigate the alleged leaking of classified documents, following Wednesday's report by The Yomiuri Shimbun that a Chinese diplomat may be responsible for the security breach.

Speaking to reporters at the ministry on Wednesday, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano said: "As long as such a report was made, I believe it's important to thoroughly investigate the case as a ministry. I told this to the team members."

The leaked documents are believed to contain information on a program for exporting agricultural products to China. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported the 45-year-old first secretary at the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo, who is suspected of espionage, was involved in the program organized by the Promotion Association of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries & Foods Exporting to China, a Tokyo-based incorporated body.

The diplomat, who also is suspected of violating the Alien Registration Law, has already left Japan

Senior Vice Minister Tsukasa Iwamoto will lead the ministry's investigative team, whose members include several senior officials, such as Parliamentary Secretary Tetsuo Morimoto and a vice minister, Kano said

The ministry's other senior vice minister, Nobutaka Tsutsui, who led the program in question, was not included in the team

Asked about Tsutsui, Kano said, "I guess we'll have to ask him [about the leak]."
Read the full story (Link) though there is really not much of a story. A shipload of Japanese produce and fish destined for a special Japanese agricultural products promotion got held up at agricultural inspection by the Chinese government's failure to waive its usual phytosanitary restrictions. Li went to visit Vice-Minister Tsutsui, presumably to explain what was going on and/or offer an apology. The shipment eventually had to be destroyed.

End of story.

TV Asahi has a report out alleging that Li entertained members of the DPJ's agriculture tribe, MAFF elite bureaucrats and representatives of agricultural interests at restaurants and other venues (ANN News - J - time sensitive).

The Mainichi Shimbun's coverage of the story hones in on the opening of the bank accounts and the money allegedly transferred to those accounts (E). That the Mainichi acquired such detailed information as the exact amounts transferred to the accounts says very little that is admirable about the Tokyo Metropolitan Police's ability to protect information with possible vital national security implications.

As can be seen from the Yomiuri and Mainichi texts and the TV Asahi segment, the mainstream media is clinging with desperation to their at once inconsistent and overbearing applications of restrictions on revealing the identities and images of persons under investigation (Why the giant, floating blue ball, TV Asahi, on what seems to be footage from open government sources?) Internet news outlets, You Tube and the non-Japanese press are circulating reports featuring Li's name and image. The hopeless maintenance of a veil of secrecy makes the story seem more sinister, which may be good for ratings. However, the effort at concealment makes the mainstream press look like fools, in the same way their tentative coverage of the Olympus scandal did, after FACTA and the foreign press had already broken the case wide open.

Later - Will opposition parties go bananas about Li Chunguang's activities, the extent to which the government's had knowledge of them, the possibility of security breaches and the compromising of appointed officials and bureaucrats, tying the Diet's schedule into knots, making it impossible for the Noda government to pass the legislation necessary for the implementation of its political program?

Let us say, to be brief, yes.

Later still - Li's purported efforts to influence opinions at MAFF and among legislators with strong ties to agriculture interests will mean that the MAFF will likely be off-limits to foreign entities trying to encourage the loosening of restrictions on agriculture trade and the ending of agriculture and fishery subsidies. This would indicate that Japanese participation in TPP negotiations are deader than Elvis, for the time being.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

First Secretary of the Embassy of China, Economic Section -- Spy, Hustler Or A Combination Thereof?

This story makes no sense. (E)

If anyone never needed to open an illegal bank account, using a false foreign resident's card somehow received thanks to his old University of Tokyo ID, this in order to receive money transfers of consulting fees from Japanese companies, then First Secretary Li Chunguang of the Embassy of the People's Republic of China was that person.

Li was as well-connected as any Chinese could conceivably be, having studied both at the prestigious Matsushita Institute of Government and Management -- the finishing school of both Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko and Foreign Minister Gemba Koi'ichiro-- and at the University of Tokyo's Institute of Oriental Culture, presided over during the years Li was there by the extremely influential Tanaka Akihiko, now Todai's Vice President.

Li should have never been in need of money, at least not in performance of his duties. In addition to his diplomatic salary, he was secretly a member of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army. With his fluent Japanese and his contacts in business, government and politics, it is inconceivable that China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chinese security agencies and/or the PLA would not have a limitless and quite legal ATM account for Li to draw upon to pay for information, when he needed to do so.

So I think Channel Sakura, which has an old Okazaki Institute (!) seminar video showing Li's face, name and affiliation (Your tube - J) and the major news outlets are mistaken in claiming that Li used the money he accepted as consulting fees for spying purposes. It just does not stand to reason that anyone in the Government of China would sign off on such clumsy method of buying information.

Then again, it is impossible to understand how someone as valuable as Li would ever stoop so low as to be shilling for what amounted to pocket change.

Like I said, this story makes no sense.

The only person who can explain it is Li, who made it out of the country on May 23, just ahead (?!?) of Japanese authorities ready to detain and expel him for violations of the Vienna Convention prohibiting serving diplomats from conducting business in the countries in which they do their service.

My guess is that no one will be seeing much of the handsome and worldly Mr. Li for quite some time.

If ever.

Storage Is Cheap, Information Precious

Simplyfy Info has a rundown of the English-language information on the front page story of today's Tokyo Shimbun: that the staff of the Fukushima Prefectural Office, having received emails from the Nuclear Safety Technology Center (NUSTEC - J and E) containing the System for Prediction of Environment Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI) data predicting the direction and size of the plume of radiation spewing from the crippled Fukushima Dai'ichi nuclear power station, deleted the files unread in order to save server space (Link - E). The report is a follow up to the Yomiuri Shimbun's barely noticed breaking of the story on March 22. (E)

What the Simply Info reports do not mention is that the admission of the mails having been deleted came from Fukushima Prefectural Governor Sato Eisaku in testimony he gave yesterday (May 29) to the Diet's "Tokyo Electric Power Company's Fukushima Power Plant Accident Investigative Committee" (Tokyo denryoku Fukushima genpatsu jiko chosa iinkai). In total, Governor Sato admitted, prefectural staff deleted 65 of 85 emails the prefectural government received from NUSTEC in between March 12 and March 16.

Sure, it is possible the members of the Fukushima emergency teams did not understand the importance of the NUSTEC messages or even know what the hell NUSTEC is. However, the onus of not disseminating the SPEEDI information made available is now mostly, not entirely, on MEXT and the Prime Minister's Office, as we had been led to believe. (E)

Armageddon Can Ruin Your Whole Day

The most hilarious line I have read in a long while:
"If Japan's finances collapse, social order would collapse as well. That would be a tough environment to raise children."
You can find it a huffing-and-puffing Reuters piece on a heretofore unknown sweeping social trend: Japanese buying overseas real estate and non-yen currencies in order to have a safe haven to which they will flee prior to Japan's descent into chaos. (Link)

I know that it is in the writ of wire journalists to alert their most important readers (private investors and money managers) as to emerging social trends. That way said readers can get in on the opportunity before everyone else does. It is in the writ of editors, however, to cool the jets of journalists with "Uhhhh, how sure are we that we are not being sucked into someone else's marketing scheme?"

As for the book whose sales supposedly validate the trend of Japanese seeking security oversees, Escape from Japan (Nippon dasshutsu), check out the home page of its publisher, Asa Publishing (Link - J).

Yes, there's the link, that jittery thing on the right.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Noda-Ozawa Meeting

Tomorrow at this time, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko will be meeting with former party leader Ozawa Ichiro. Noda's stated goal going into the meeting is to convince Ozawa to support the government's bills raising the consumption tax from 5% to 10%. Ozawa has publicly stated that he is not inclined to support the tax. (E).

So is the meeting a preamble to a breakup of the Democratic Party of Japan over a point of principle? Or it red meat thrown to sate the voracious news media monster? A song-and-dance show put on by the two men in order to confuse the opposition Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito?

That I should ask these rhetorical questions telegraphs my feelings that this is a charade.

Why feel that this is a meeting with a predetermined outcome, one of Ozawa tossing the decision to vote for or against the bill to his followers to decide on their own?

- Ozawa is meeting Noda at DPJ headquarters. As a general rule, Ozawa meets with no one -- though the weeklies have Ozawa "going to Hachioji" with some regularity -- unless there are votes as the door prize (remember his pilgrimage to Koya-san?).

Ostensibly, DPJ headquarters is a neutral venue for the meeting. After all both men are DPJ members. However, as Noda is the DPJ's leader, party headquarters is his house: he is the master of it. For Ozawa to show up at headquarters makes it clear who is calling upon whom.

- Noda has stated there will be only one meeting, or as he colorfully put it, "I will explain that my intent is for this to be a single meeting on this one issue, a single last throw of the dice for everything (kenkon itteki)." (J)

Such brinkmanship is not Noda's style. The PM is something of an anaconda. He wraps his coils around you, waiting patiently, tightening his grip each time you inhale, until you asphyxiate.

If he is saying, "This is it. My way or the highway," in advance of a conference with the kingmaker who supposedly enjoys the loyalty of 1/4 of the DPJ's Diet delegation, then the likelihood that the two are going to have a serious debate with an outcome still in doubt is pretty close to zero.

- The DPJ has already had its internal debate on the bills raising the consumption tax. Ozawa's side lost that debate.

Noda will not throw a defeated man a lifeline.

- Cultivating the image of the DPJ as hopelessly divided has its uses. In addition to keeping journalists busy chasing after wild geese, it confuses the heck out of the opposition.

It would be unwise to head into a general election with the party's image being that of a house divided. However, due to the effective current constitutional ban on elections, the leadership of the DPJ has the freedom to play this purported deep split for at least a little while longer.

- Ozawa is in the Hotel California of Japanese jurisprudence ("You can check out any time you like/But you can never leave"). On May 9, the private lawyers prosecuting Ozawa on violation of the political funds act appealed his April 26 acquittal. The appeals process is normally relatively speedy, with the higher court judge having a strong incentive to affirm the judgment of the lower court. However, in the Ozawa case, the presiding judge's presentation cast doubt upon the veracity of Ozawa's testimony -- and by extension his determination of Ozawa's innocence. This opens the door for the appeals judges to reverse the verdict.

In any case, Ozawa will be stuck in an indicted state for a goodly while -- which makes it highly unlikely he and his flock will leave the DPJ. With their champion hobbled, the Ozawa loyalists have almost zero chance of surviving as an independent political force.

So though his loyalists and hangers-on attend Ozawa's seminars and he their fundraising parties, he is not going anywhere, party-wise.

The question for the political commentariat after tomorrow should not be "Whither Ozawa?" but how many of Ozawa's followers will abstain from the votes on the consumption tax bills, considering the light punishments the party meted out to the first-termers who absented themselves from vote on the no confidence measure against Kan Naoto's Cabinet.

Follow Up On Day Care Reform And Why We Should Care

I wrote a longish piece a while back on the government's plan to merge the nation's day care center system hoikuen with its kindergarten system yochien. I argued that reform of childcare want not a pressing issue, indeed it was unnecessary. I proposed that the merger was reform for reform's sake, the government feeling pressed to deliver on a change simply to show that it can.

There is now evidence that the major consumers of childcare have a strong antipathy to the government's plans. A Daichi Life Research Institute survey of the mothers with children attending yochien and hoikuen has found that both the mothers of both groups oppose the merger by a two-to-one margin. While the conventional wisdom holds that mothers with children in yochien, the system run by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport, Science and Technology, are the most afraid of the merger because of its possible degrading the education experience, while mothers with children in the hoikuen would support the measure from the added education content carried in with the merger, the survey found that no statistically significant differences in between the reportedd support/do not support levels of the two sets of mothers.

Do you support the proposed merger of hoikuen and yochien systems?

Yochien children's mothers

Support 25.9%
Oppose 48.9%

Hoikuen children's mothers

Support 24.1%
Oppose 47.8%

One could question the survey's methodology, which consisted of mailed responses from 247 mothers with children in yochien and 274 with children at hoikuen from 547 childcare facilities. It is impossible to determine until the research institute itself releases its report to what extent the respondents were self-selective and what effect that might have on results.

So why care about this arcane reform? Why not concentrate on the big, hard reforms in military export rules, the post office, the consumption tax?

Let me see...

1) Article 15 of the Constitution.

2) A persistent and pernicious faith of many in the economic and business media-academic circles is that Japan lacks sufficient childcare facilities for the country's women to be full participants in the nation's economy, limiting Japan's potential for growth. The truth is that outside Tokyo and Kanagawa, where most of the nation's news makers and analysts live, the country has sufficient childcare facilities.

If women's talents are not being fully exploited, it can be due to far more difficult to eradicate sexism in entry and promotion into career-track employment. It can be due to continued high rates of wanting to quit to work after marriage (J - Figure 7) -- despite expectations in and encouragement from their future husbands to continue working (J). The peculiarly high rate of wishing to quit work after marriage (I have seen figures showing indeed an increase of this percentage during the 1990s) may be due in part to the discovery that working in a corporate environment sucks, a reality captured in NTT Docomo's brilliant and bewildering new Shinjin no kimi e commercial.

Corporations would really want to know what their women employees wish for and expect.

3) When a government pursue reforms that are not of primary importance and which have only meager public support, the indication is that a congenital failure exists to focus on the important and pressing, with a preference (even when members of the government are aware of its failings) to ticking items off of lists.

The other possibility is the existence of powerful consituencies whose personal interests are being allowed to take precedence over the national interest. It is salient to find out just who is being served by these changes, that one might know the interests to which a party is beholden.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Ecce Homo

Today former prime minister Kan Naoto is appearing before the Diet's "Tokyo Electric Power Company's Fukushima Power Plant Accident Investigative Committee" (Tokyo denryoku Fukushima genpatsu jiko chosa iinkai). Kan's testimony is the culmination of the Committee's investigations, which have seen former minister after former minister summoned to tell his version of what happened during the first few hours, days and weeks of the Fukushima Dai'ichi disaster. Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio had his day before the Committee yesterday (On a Sunday! The Diet is normally like Melina Mercouri -- never on a Sunday!).

Today, however, is the grand finale, the final act, where the biggest fish in the sea is hauled out and interrogated about his actions and decisions in the most hectic and desperate days this blessed land has known since 1945.

The Committee's chairman is Kurokawa Kiyoshi (bio), a Fellow at National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) and an emeritus professor of Tokyo University. Despite the pointed, possibly highly technical questions it might ask, the Committee is likely to not be the kangaroo court the opposition and members of the news media desire.

Nevertheless, the news media and the opposition will hover like vultures over Kan's testimony, trying to find sentences to misconstrue, quote in isolation and otherwise tease and torture until meaning is drained from them. The colossal politico-media-entertainment squid bought into and promoted a narrative that the PM was an impediment to those who were fighting a panicked and ultimately failed effort to prevent meltdowns, explosions and the release of many terabequerels of radiation. Its members even went so far as to accuse him of initiating cascades of events that worsened the disaster.

So far, the news has accentuated the negative:

Japan refused US offer of nuclear experts in PM office

Edano: PM's office did not block use of 'meltdown'

Japan government spokesman says he didn’t deliberately mislead public on nuclear crisis
(Check out the accompanying photo. Shameless!)

As can be expected, each of the participants has used the occasion of his testimony to exonerate himself (E - photo issue as above). As a consequence, the final report of the Committee is likely to present a braid of different narratives, rather than a definitive chain of causation.

Most desperate to get their version out are the Tokyo Electric Power executives, who were not interviewed for the most recently compiled comprehensive investigation into the Fukushima nuclear disaster, produced by Funabashi Yoiichi's Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation (Link - J). If anybody has had a story to tell (and I do mean story) it is TEPCO executives, particularly as then president Shimizu Masataka checked himself into a hospital less than two weeks into the crisis. (E)

In the end, the report will disappoint those who want someone to blame. A giant earthquake and a towering tsunami hit a nuclear power station designed to resist the greatest natural blow this blessed land had heretofore experienced, not a black swan event. With the main and backup systems gone, everyone, with the possible exception of the TEPCO executives and the unprepared public information service of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, performed heroic ad hoc efforts to bring the nuclear reactors under control and ensure the public's safety.

So while the wire services, the nightly news on the anti-DPJ channels and even the reports the neutral channels, out of a misunderstanding of the concept of fairness, will bore in on the confusion and improvisation in March and early April 2011, and tomorrow's newspapers will echo and elaborate upon tonight's themes, the truth is that individuals like former Prime Minister Kan and plant manager Yoshida Masao, by following their better instincts, led others to do the same, and prevented a disaster from becoming a cataclysm.

Hold up your chin, blessed land, for producing men and women such as these.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Very Kind Of Them #11

A while ago the very kind and very patient Tiago Alexandre Fernandes Maurício of Japan Foreign Policy Observatory asked me a series of probing questions, then held his breath as I provided my answers.

If you think my posts too chatty and incoherent, this interview will really bug you.

In it I reveal

- the names of some folks with whom, when a non-elite and non-taxi-driving Japanese citizen is not available, one can talk to about Japanese politics (there are a lot of other worthy folks whose names I do not mention because of the nature of the question)

- the identity of the most important person in politics today (no, you will not know the name)

- why Koizumiism is not dead, it's not even resting

- why studying change in Japanese foreign policy has to be left to experts

- why "reflection," "foreign policy" and "Japan's political elites" should probably not be used in the same sentence

- the limits to Hashimoto Toru's ambitions (notice the use of the word "to" rather than "of")

- my doubts as to the ability of government policy makers to steer the economy through rough waters.

The whole lot can be read at:

As to the creative and energetic folks at Japan Foreign Policy Observatory (Link) they are planning an e-magazine of interviews to complement their omniverous samplers "J-Soft Power Weekly Brief" and "East Asian Security and Defence Digest."

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mr. Noda's Ambivalent Attitude Toward The National Bureaucracy

The conventional wisdom state that Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko is a tool/enabler of a resurrected national bureaucracy.

Signs of the return of bureaucratic power include:

- the reinstitution of the right of bureaucrats, particularly the head of the Cabinet Legislative Office, to testify in the Diet

- the full acceptance of a plan to raise the consumption tax to 10% -- a longtime dream of the Ministry of Finance (actually their dream is to send the consumption tax rate even higher).

This a corollary of Noda's having moved directly from the position of Finance Minister to the premiership. Former prime minister Kan Naoto made the same move in June of 2010, and seemingly the first words out of his mouth upon taking over as the country's leader were that taxes will need to be raised. This statement sent Kan's and the Democratic Party of Japan's popularity ratings southward and is credited as having been a significant factor in the the DPJ's losses in the July 2010 House of Councillors election -- losses that handed control of the House to the opposition, derailing the DPJ's ambitious plans to change the way the country is run.

In the popular view, any politician who serves as the minister of finance succumbs to that bureaucracy's mantras, becoming a glassy-eyed novitiate in the cult of raising the consumption tax ("Must-raise-the-tax. Must-save-Japan")

- the deceleration in the campaign to cut the funding of projects of questionable merit made by the ministries and the quasi-government entities that provide retiring bureaucrat with cushy sinecures

- the acceptance without question or amendment of the budget compiled by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, including spending for a restart of the Yamba Dam project -- the cancellation of which was the signal in 2009 that the new DPJ-led government was willing to go to the wall to effect change in the country

- the selection of the F-35 as Japan's next generation fighter, which seems to have no justifications other than simultaneously pleasing the United States government and satisfying the Ministry of Defense's lust for stealth -- even if Japan's beleaguered defense contractors get nothing out of the deal and the stealth technology remains entirely in the hands of the United States

[Please add to the list, if you can, in comments]

It is tempting to believe that the PM is allowing national bureaucrats (kokka komuin) to run amok because he needs them as allies or at least neutral parties. He cannot be fighting simultaneously on two fronts against both the bureaucrats and the political opposition, as the first DPJ prime ministers Hatoyama Yukio and Naoto Kan tried to do, with catastrophic results.

Evidence exists, however, that the above is only half of a double-sided game the PM is having with the national bureaucrats, the left hand taking while the right hand gives. Noda did nothing to stop his party from swallowing whole a New Komeito bill cutting bureaucratic salaries by an average of 7.8% for the next two years, with a retroactive cut of 0.23% for this year and no collective bargaining rights, the last item being a promise the DPJ made to the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), a crucial vote machine for the party. He has a government-appointed panel recommending a four million yen cut in the lump sum bonus bureaucrats receive upon retirement, as well as an accelerated program of early retirement buyouts. ( J)

Prime Minister Noda has said and done nothing about Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya's staggering cuts in the intake of new recruits into career track positions, this taking place on top of previous cuts in the number of national bureaucrats:

Number of career-track hirees
by the office, commission, ministry and agency
April 2012 --> April 2013

Cabinet Secretariat 10 --> 4

Cabinet Legislative Office 2 --> 1

Cabinet Office 35 --> 20

Imperial Household Agency 32 --> 16

Japan Fair Trade Commission 37 --> 22

National Police Agency 164 --> 100

Financial Services Agency 42 --> 22

Consumer Affairs Agency 2 --> 1

Ministry of Internal Affairs
and Communications 120 --> 73

Ministry of Justice 1,475 --> 942

Ministry of Foreign Affairs 141 --> 80

Ministry of Finance 1,482 --> 929

Ministry of Education,Culture,
Sports, Science & Technology 66 -> 36

Ministry of Health, Labour
and Welfare 625 --> 298

Ministry of Agriculture,
Forestry and Fisheries 235 --> 120

Ministry of Economy
Trade and Industry 181 -- 107

Ministry of Land, Infrastructure
Transport and Tourism 1078 --> 682

Ministry of the Environment 34 --> 27

Ministry of Defense 575 --> 300

Ministry of General Affairs and Telecommunications

With these assaults on the income and the number of national bureaucrats (who will have to do the same amount of work as their predecessors, despite their reduced numbers) is it any wonder that the number of those taking the entrance examinations to become national bureaucrats dropped 13% in between 2011 and 2012? (J)

So is Prime Minister Noda just so much putty in the hands of the bureaucracy? The numbers do not seem to support that view.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Chinese Fishing Boat Captain Slips Through The Net Again

So much for all that.

The other day I had a post on the Committees for the Inquest of the Prosecution, the liberalization of indictment procedures intended to serve as a backup route for citizens to bring to justice politicians and power brokers prosecutors found too intimidating to challenge. Unfortunately, the Committees have morphed into tools for conspiracy theorists and self-righteous vigilanteism.

Except in the post I praised the decision of the Naha Committee for the Inquest of the Prosecution to indict the Chinese fishing boat captain who rammed two Japan Coast vessels patrolling the waters off the Senkaku Islets in September 2010. The captain was arrested on charges of interfering with officers of the Government of Japan carrying out their duties -- which any sane person would admit he did. The Naha Prosecutors Office, however, after receiving the captain from the Coast Guard, dropped all charges against him on the peculiar, extra-legal excuse that the arrest had become an international incident.

"So what does that have to do with anything? That the arrest is becoming an international incident is Kasumigaseki's problem, not yours," was the response from the public -- which saw the release as the result of base and craven (no one in Tokyo would admit to having pressured the Naha prosecutors) political meddling in the judicial process.

For once, it seemed, a Committee for the Inquest of the Prosecution was going to perform the function for which it had been created: indicting and bringing to trial someone the prosecutors would not touch due to their spinelessness.

Indict him they did and bring him to trial they did -- but that is the end of the story. Last Thursday the presiding judge Suzuki Hideyuki revoked the right to prosecute (koso gikyaku) in the case, ending the trial.

The judge's action came after the three court-appointed lawyers failed to deliver a letter of indictment to the ship's captain within the requisite 60 days after they filed their mandated indictment (kyosei kiso) on March 15, 2012. The lawyers had until midnight, May 16 to provide the court with proof the indictment had been delivered. (J)

That they failed to complete their task in the allotted time should surprise no one. Under the Treaty between Japan and the People's Republic of China on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters (2007) indictments handed down in Japanese courts are sent to the Homusho (Ministry of Justice) which then forwards them to its counterpart in China, the Zhongguo Renmin Gongheguo Shifabu.

Funny thing happened to that Naha District Court letter of indictment, or did not happen, as the case might be. The Zhongguo Renmin Gongheguo Shifabu seems to have not forwarded the letter to local authorities to serve to the captain. Indeed, just to demonstrate that tough-minded justice ministry bureaucrats that they may be, those working at the Zhongguo Renmin Gongheguo Shifabu are not without a sense of humor, they waited, according to the Sankei Shimbun, until May 15, the day before the expiration date of the letter of indictment, to send a message to Ministry of Justice of Japan that:

"As the Senkakus Islets (sic) are our national territory, we cannot accept applications made by the judiciary of Japan." (J)*

The Sankei Shimbun is understandably up in arms about these developments. It demands to know why Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko did not bring up the matter of the non-delivery of the letter of indictment when he met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on May 13.

Gosh, why would he not bring the matter up? Why would that be? Can anyone think of a reason? Or any number of reasons?

So the case -- which had the potential of becoming a major irritant in the bilateral relationship -- ends not with bang, but with a snigger.

Later - This post has been edited for clarity.

* The Sankei Shimbun commits a howling error here. There is no way that the PRC Ministry of Justice would refer to the islands in question as the Senkaku shoto.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Catching Up On The News - Unconstitutional Elections

Something huge happened yesterday.

In a footnote to my post of yesterday, I noted that NHK announcer Okoshi Kensuke last Thursday confronted Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko with the bald fact that the current map of the House of Representatives districts is unconstitutional, rendering an election impossible on technical grounds. While the Prime Minister had no alternative but to concede that the current map is unconstitutional, he dodged the thrust of Okoshi's question, saying that the Diet had too many important and difficult issues before it for anyone to be discussing a dissolution and an election at this time.

Noda had been, until the live NHK interview, careful to not get cornered on the question of the constitutionality of holding an election. He had left it up to Koshi'ishi Azuma, the Democratic Party of Japan's secretary-general, to tell the seemingly bone-headed members of the political press over and over again that since the issue of the disproportionality of a single vote (ippyo no kakusa) had not been resolved in accordance with the standards set down by the Supreme Court judgment of March 2011, no House of Representatives elections could take place.

While any position aside from the one Koshi'ishi has taken is ludicrous -- unconstitutional meaning “contrary to the basic law of the land, the law upon which all other laws are based” -- Noda has been careful to preserve the notion that the holding of an election is a matter of opinion -- his opinion -- rather than a matter of law.

The reason Noda has needed to maintain this fallacy is simple: his power to call an election is the whip he needs to keep the followers of former DPJ party leader Ozawa Ichiro in line. Nothing terrifies the Ozawa-vetted first termers like the possibility being plunged into an election. With the disdain the public has at present for the DPJ and perhaps permanently for Ozawa, each and every one of these Ozawa acolytes would be wiped out.

Perversely, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito have aided Noda in the maintenance of this illusion. The leaders of both the LDP and the New Komeito know just as well as anyone else that elections are impossible if the districts are unconstitutional. Nevertheless they have been calling for elections for two years straight. And why not? It is the biggest free lunch in history. The public opininon polls on the level of public support for the LDP and the New Komeito could find that both have 0% support and it would not matter: the two parties would still call for elections.

Noda, for his part, tacitly used opposition demands for elections as a means of bolstering the illusion he has wished to preserve. If the opposition is demanding elections, it stands to reason that the opposition at least believes elections can be held.

Hence the sound of breaking glass yesterday when LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru asked Prime Minister Noda, in special Diet Committee session, whether in fact the failure to correct the disproportionality of votes in the electoral districts put a shackle on the right to dissolve the Diet. Noda replied that no, failure to act did not shackle the right and that elections would be held when they he thought they were needed. (J)

Technically, both men are correct. Following through on Ishihara's thought, a dissolution of the Diet would trigger the implementation of Article 54 of the Constitution, which states that following a dissolution of the Diet, an election must be held within 40 days. Since the current electoral districts have been ruled unconstitutional, and the Diet would no longer be in existence to fix them, the election would a priori be void.

As for Noda's insistence that the right to dissolve the Diet is not compromised, his position is true only via the most painstaking of hairsplitting. The right to dissolve the Diet, held by the Emperor but exercised upon the advice of the Prime Minister, is not compromised until the moment the right is exercised, at which point the country would be blasted out into extraconstitutional space.

While the constitutional implications of this conundrum are fascinating*, what was of immense political importance in Ishihara's question was that unless the LDP tries to pull off the same trick that the DPJ has been pulling -- i.e., having the party secretary-general insisting that holding a House of Representatives election is impossible while the party president maintains that it is not -- the delicate minuet Noda and the opposition have been dancing together has come to a sudden stop. If a gaggle of reporters corner LDP president Tanigaki Sadakazu and press him on whether or not Ishihara's question means the LDP now believes holding elections is unconstitutional, chances are the not terribly swift-thinking Tanigaki will not have an intelligible response.

If and when Tanigaki flubs his moment in the spotlight, the political game board will become completely scrambled, just when Ozawa Ichiro, the master of Go (Part 1 and Part 2) is set to meet with the prime minister. (J)

* The current emperor, being the conscientious, cautious but independent-thinking man that he is, would likely, on the most perfect of legal grounds, toss post-1945 precedent into the dustbin by refusing the prime minister's request for a dissolution.

Sky Tree Downs Averted

In a few minutes' time the Tokyo Sky Tree, the world's tallest free-standing tower, opens for business. I must confess I am royally sick of the whole circus surrounding what is, in grossest fact, just a tower from which to beam out digital broadcast signals, the 1958 vintage Tokyo Tower being too short (333 m) for the job.

I am sick of the pun on the height of the Sky Tree, 634 meters = 6 Mutsu + 3 san + 4 shi = Musashi, the name of the ancient province where much of modern Tokyo is now located (J). I am sick of the product tie-ins. I am sick of the uniforms of the information girls. I am sick of the cost to ride up to the second observation level: 3000 yen, or US$37.85 at current rates. I am sick of everyone's ignoring the reality that compared to the Burj Al-Khalifa, the Tokyo Sky Tree is a pipsqueak.

Leave it up to the cartoonist at the Tokyo Shimbun to find a new, refreshing angle to look at the opening, one that can make even a grump like me smile:

In the first panel, citizens are looking up with safety glasses at the ring eclipse that appeared in the skies above Tokyo on May 21.

In the second, the people are looking up with cameras, binoculars and the naked eye at the Sky Tree, which opens for business today, May 22.

In the third panel, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko remarks to Democratic Party of Japan Secretary-General Koshi'ishi Azuma, "The citizens of Japan have come alive, haven't they?" Koshi'ishi cannot for the life of him understand what has the PM thinking this way.

The hook in this instance is in the title on the left of the panels. It reads:

Futsuka dake no utsumukanai hibi.

"Just two days when people are not looking at the ground as they normally do."
The hook is the term utsumuku,"to look down," "to keep one's eyes down." The second half of the word, muku, and the images in the first two panels, take the reader on a mental leap to what is probably the best known Japanese song in the English-speaking world, "Sukiyaki" -- the only Japanese-language tune to ever make it into the Top Ten of Billboard's music charts, this in July 1963.

The song, by composer Nakamura Hachidai and lyricist Ei Rosuke, was a huge hit for the singer Sakamoto Kyu in 1961. It begins with what is probably the third best known opening line of any Japanese song, after the national anthem and "Sakura, sakura":

Ue o muite, aruko...

"Let me be walking, looking up..."
The song, written after the first burst of Japanese economic growth and on the heels of the "doubling of incomes in 10 years" economic strategy announced by Prime Minister Ikeda Hayato, typifies the hopeful attitude of the times.

In the song, the young man is trying not to cry but ends up doing so because he is all alone. However, he vows to keep looking up -- just as the whole of the country was, hoping for a better tomorrow.

Here is Sakamoto singing and whistling the song in 1983 (You Tube).

Hence Prime Minister Noda's conclusion, after two straight day of people looking up: "Hey, the hope is back!"

Of course, the song has a tragic coda. Sakamoto died in the JAL 123 air disaster of August 12, 1985 -- still the worst single-plane air accident in history. The 747, crammed with passengers heading home for the Obon holidays, lost its the hydraulic steering system a few minutes after takeoff, becoming a veering, swerving uncontrolled mass of terror. After 44 minutes of out-of-control flight, the plane plowed into a mountainside in Gunma Prefecture, killing 520 passengers and crew.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Just Keep On Trying

In this morning's feel good story, #7 maegashira Kyokutenho, 11 years after he first entered sumo's top division and at the ripe old age of 37 years, eight months, has won his first tournament. He becomes the oldest first-time winner ever.

For a sport still reeling from gambling, drug-use and even wrongful death scandals, having such low-ranked rikishi with a lengthy record of just-barely-above mediocre performances (in what was, until the Kisenosato/Baruto bout, a rancid tournament) is a flash of good fortune.

Bad news for the sumo purists who long for the great days of yore: Kyokutenho, though possessing Japanese citizenship, is still Mongolia-born, extending his countrymen's crushing domination of the sport for the last six years. (E)

This Is So Not The News

"Mr. Prime Minister, if I could have a moment. The members of the House of Councillors of the Liberal Democratic Party, in protest of your decision to not fire the two ministers the House censured, are not attending committee sessions examining major pending bills."

"That's right, they're not."

"So even though this is boycott is preventing the discussion of major parts of your policy program, you are not planning to fire the two ministers."

"The two ministers are reflecting deeply on their actions. So as to the following up on the demands to fire the pair, I'm not going to do it."

"Despite the deadlock in the Diet and the demands from the opposition for elections, or whispered plans of a quid pro quo where you dissolve the House of Representatives and call for elections in return for opposition votes on the bills establishing the legal basis for a rise in the consumption tax, and of course your inability to establish any kind of internal consensus within the Democratic Party of Japan on these bills, you are not planning to call elections, correct?

"I wish to strengthen the unity of the government and the opposition in grappling with these issues, so no, I am not planning to hold elections at this time*."

"Well, there you have it folks. From Dulles Airport, Commonwealth of Virginia, all the news that is not going to happen."
That is the gist of this article posted by the Yomiuri Shimbun.

For no apparent reason.

* NHK announcer Okoshi Kensuke, in a special live interview on the 9 o'clock news, managed to squeeze out of Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko the admission that the current electoral districts for the House of Representatives are unconstitutional. Okoshi could not, however, pressure the prime minister into admitting that it was impossible to call an election. (J). Instead the PM launched into the same rigmarole as in the main text, about the many important bills to be considered this session.

This is what is called "staying on message."

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Hatoyama and Hashimoto, Hatoyama and Ozawa, Hashimoto and Ozawa

Oscar Wilde once described the proper English gentleman on horseback chasing after a fox as "the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable." Yesterday on television, we had "the unbelievable examining the undoable" -- Hatoyama Yukio criticizing the "Ishin no Kai Version of Eight Policies From The Ship" (Ishinkaihan no sennchu hassaku). (J)

Nominally, having Hatoyama offering his opinions about the Osaka Ishin no Kai's long-range vision for Japan is a former prime minister calling upon his collected wisdom and practical knowledge to point out the flaws in the policy program of a popular protest movement whose emergence has jolted the political realm. In reality, it is having a man who does not know his own mind commenting about persons who are quite out of theirs.

Why go through this agony? Since Hatoyama has no opinions of his own, he might be channeling the thoughts of his ally/former puppeteer, Ozawa Ichiro. Just what Ozawa is thinking about the Ishin no Kai and its leader Hashimoto Toru is of great interest, as Hashimoto's movement and Ozawa Ichiro's plans for himself and his followers inside the Democratic Party of Japan (the "Is-he-in-or-is-he-out?" question) are the two most glamorized sources of potential disruption of the political sphere.

[Whether or not the two are the most interesting or likely sources of disruption is not relevant. Hashimoto and Ozawa are simply the easiest subjects to write about. In a sense, this concentration of attention is mostly about journalistic sloth.]

Hashimoto and Ozawa coming to some sort of quid pro quo regarding the toppling of the Noda government and the construction of a new political order after a snap House of Representatives election* has been the subject of fevered speculation (E). Just how Hashimoto's corporatism (the next person who calls it "populism" needs to find out how to use a search engine or a dictionary) meshes with Ozawa's Liberal Democratic Party socialism ("Ice cream for everybody now! We'll think about paying for it tomorrow!") has not been clarified, perhaps because elucidating a basis for these two autocrats reining in their colossal egos long enough for a coordinated overthrow of the current, constipated regime is asking too much of the domestic political wind machine.

Finally, for a bit of fun, check out the website for the newest buddy comedy crime thriller Osaka Ishin no Kai (Link). Yes, it does look like a movie version of what a website of a upstart political movement should look like.

As in the life of Hashimoto Toru, politics and entertainment blur.

* Yes, I know that holding elections at this time would be unconstitutional.  So do all the national political writers and politicians.  However, they still they write and talk about it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

It's Complicated

Of course, it is not only the spring days of Chinese diplomats which are being ruined by blunt instructions from the ministry back home. Japanese diplomats based in New York are also being told to issue dumb statements, inflaming issues best left alone.

It seems the brilliant strategic campaign being waged on the Palisades Park, New Jersey comfort women monument, briefly described in a long post earlier this week, has, in the immortal words of the Showa Emperor, "developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest."

Or so says The New York Times (Link).

Many, many thanks to read MK for the follow up on this misguided adventure.

Friday, May 18, 2012

This Will Damage Japan's Own Security As Well

Nice going, Embassy of the People's Republic of China in Japan.

I can imagine the cable back to Beijing:
"A protest letter! A great idea. I cannot agree more. We have to make clear our position to the hosts of the meeting of the traitors and thieves falsely claiming to speak for the loyal Uighur citizens of Xinjiang.

Could not agree more with the idea of sending the letter to the offices of the members of the Diet misled into supporting the Uighur terrorists and splitists. After all, these Diet members are to be speakers and guests at the meetings.

(By the way, that works out to over 100 letters. Could we talk about a bumping up of the postage budget in the next cable?)

I love the text. Brilliant! However, any possibility of our deleting that one little phrase? Japanese is such an indirect, suggestive language. Expressing ourselves in such bald terms will seem uncouth. The rest of the text makes our point clear anyway. The phrase is just superfluous.

Thanks in advance for your consideration of this request."
And I can imagine the response from Beijing:
"Send out the letter as is, or I will have you stamping passports in Yinchuan for the rest of your career."
Well, Ambassador Cheng Yonghua did as he was told and sent out the letter, with this killer sentence in it:

Chugoku e no naisei kansho de, Nihon jishin no anzen ni mo gai ga aru.

This is interference in the internal affairs of China and will damange Japan's own security as well.

(Link - J)
Way to sway the opinions of Japanese legislators, PRC leadership!

As 90 of the 100 or so Diet members who received this charming missive are members of the Liberal Democratic Party, it is should not be surprising that LDP headquarters hosted a little show-and-tell party today, releasing the text of the response to the Ambassador's letter (J - personal blog), complete with the signatures of 46 members of the Diet on it.

You have to admit, it is an effective document. When you would expect it to scream, it hisses, to devastating effect:

Dokuritsu shuken kokka no kokkai giin e no shojo to shite wa, ichijirushuku tekisetsusei no kaite iru to iwazaru o emasen.

We must tell you that sending such a document to the national legislators of an independent sovereign state shows marked lack of a sense of propriety.

I tend to give the LDP lots of hell...but this is the epitome of cool.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

That Unanswered TEPCO Question

Now that the government of this blessed land has taken a majority stake in the technically bankrupt Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), phased in the replacement of the chairman and the president (E) and seen to a housecleaning of the board of directors. (E)

Many questions arise from the government's takeover as the main shareholder and appointer of executives and board members. What intrigues me is what will happen when the government and the new board members, particularly the outside board members, go through the books at TEPCO? Specifically, what are they going to find -- and once they find what they find, what are they going to do about what they find -- when they go through the accounts on how electricity costs are compiled?

From my understanding of the research done by Dr. Paul Scalise (and if Dr. Daniel Aldrich, if your research has identical findings, I apologize in advance for the sin of omission), a stunningly large fraction of the cost of TEPCO electricity cannot be explained by labor, capital or fuel costs. Indeed, if memory serves, the largest fraction of the costs of electricity is listed as simply "Other" -- and the amount listed in this category has remained unchanged, even as the costs of the various other inputs has either declined over time or has fluctuated in line with world energy prices.

What is this "Other"? To this point none of the electric power companies has been very upfront about the contents of this grab bag accounting entity. A certain fraction of this amount has always been assumed to have been payoffs to local communities, farming and fishing cooperatives and other business organizations with their facilities in the vicinity of power plants. Just how much of this other can be accounted for in this way is something the government can now, in theory find out, along with the rest of what has been lumped in to the category of "Other."

Of course, does the government want to know? Does it cut the subsidies to the local parasitic claimants, many of whom no longer can live and work in the vicinity of Fukushima Dai'ichi anyway, in order to lessen or forestall the rate hikes TEPCO has announced (E)? Do they keep them in place, as a sort of disaster recovery fund-by-default? Do they open up the accounts for public debate, or try to bury the truth in order to hide the complicity of regulators and politicians in the payouts? Or what if the government and the new board members find even more damaging reasons for the classing of certain costs as "Other"?

If the government owns TEPCO it not only owns company's problems but its secrets too.

What lies in between the covers of its account books?

Catching up with Toru and Yoshihiko

At little less than two weeks ago, I wrote:
The goals for the Noda Cabinet and the DPJ, if it can hold together as a party, are [snip] hope that after exerting every possible effort to restart the Oi reactors and other reactors feeding into Kansai Electric Power (KEPCO)'s grid, their efforts fail.

The last is a cynical but seemingly necessary failure of the imposition of national will over local governmental authorities. Any responsible national government, looking at the predicted shortfalls of generating power in the Kansai, would be proceeding as the Noda government has proceeded. The politicians and the citizens of the Kansai region, particularly the voters of Osaka City and their mayor, Hashimoto Toru, have perversely been those most opposed to the restart of the reactors, despite KEPCO's assertions that it faces a crushing lack of generating capacity of nearly 20% this summer.

Hashimoto and the voters of Osaka have a deep mistrust of KEPCO, extending back to last year. KEPCO's management has been far from transparent about its power capacity and rate calculations. However, this blessed land dodged a bullet last year, the summer being rather mild and the nation's tolerance for energy saving being exceptionally high. This year may be very different, and will almost certainly be most different not in the capital region or the region hardest hit by the earthquakes and tsunami but in the Kansai and Hokkaido, where the power companies were most deeply committed to nuclear power.

Should Hashimoto and other local leaders persist in hampering the restarts of reactors, and the resulting lack of power generating capacity lead to blackouts, either planned or unplanned, the Kansai's current regionalist challenge to Tokyo control will be severely damaged. Hashimoto's political ambitions may indeed be seriously set back, if the government can pin the blame for the power cuts on him, saying, "We told you so, we told you so, we told you so...and you just wouldn't listen."

Well, guess what appeared in The Japan Times yesterday?
Kansai power crunch just political rivalry?
Oi reactor factor tied to Noda's Hashimoto feud

By ERIC JOHNSTON - Staff writer - OSAKA — The confrontation between the central government and Kansai area leaders over the restart of two nuclear reactors in Oi, Fukui Prefecture, has more to do with the growing power struggle between Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda than with safety or objective attempts to determine how much electricity will be available this summer.

Since February, Kansai Electric Power Co. has revised downward its projected electricity shortages after being grilled by Hashimoto-appointed critics.

On Tuesday, Kepco said that while it currently stands by its projection of a 15 percent shortage, a combination of purchasing electricity from other suppliers, ramping up natural energy use and instituting curbs on power use might actually shrink the projected shortage to 5 percent.

Meanwhile, the governors of Kyoto and Shiga as well as Hashimoto are critical of the way Noda's administration is pushing for the Oi reactors' restart without addressing their detailed safety concerns.

They are also angry the administration and Kepco announced blackout preparations without first consulting independent outside experts who might offer different views.

The reason for these actions, Hashimoto's supporters and critics suggest, is pure politics.

"Right now, the central government says that, depending on the circumstances, it will have to cut power this summer and that if so, it will be Hashimoto's fault. But Hashimoto is not responsible for the Oi reactors. The central government and Kepco are," Tetsunari Iida, head of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, said in a recent local media interview. He is also a Hashimoto adviser who serves on an Osaka city committee challenging Kepco over its projections of electricity shortages if the Oi reactors remain idled.

"Tokyo is growing increasingly worried about Hashimoto's rising popularity. Warnings of shortages from politicians and bureaucrats critical of Hashimoto have convinced many in Kansai that Noda's real aim is to do whatever he can to halt or at least slow Hashimoto's rise," said Yuji Yoshitomi, a local freelance journalist who has written critically of Hashimoto...

The funny/sad aspect of this whole KEPCO vs. Hashimoto struggle, with the Noda government playing the role of concern troll, is that Osaka City is the top shareholder in KEPCO. In theory Hashimoto and the Ishin no kai should be pressuring the KEPCO executives to at least pay attention to their ideas and answer their questions. They are failing, in part because the Osaka stake, while large (9%), is still far from controlling.

Let the game of chicken (or as we say in this blessed land, chikin gemu) roll on!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Enemy Of My Enemy Is Not My Friend

The World Uighur Congress is holding its triennial conference in Tokyo this week, the first time the conference is being held outside Germany or the United States, the home-in-exile of the movement's leader and former delegate to the People's Congress Rebiya Kadeer (Link). The Chinese government is, true to form, completely beside itself over Tokyo's hosting this conference. The conference's opening , along with the recent waking up sleeping dog that should be left to lie, the status of the Senkaku islets, poisoned the atmosphere at the weekend's vitally important trilateral meeting. (Link - J)

It is hard to not feel some sympathy for the Uighur cause. A host of nation states emerged out of the collapses of the Chinese, Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires in the period 1912 -18, only to be reabsorbed in their successors in the world-wide descent into madness of the late 1930s and 1940s. Almost all of these absorbed nations have since been reestablished as independent and autonomous states, with the exceptions being the continental Asian states on China's periphery: Tanu Tuva, Tibet and East Turkestan. The Tibetan and Uighur claims on their homelands are being undone by the irrational (the Cultural Revolution) and rational (urban development) destruction of the physical traces of their distinctive cultures and mass Han Chinese immigration into these formerly undesirable areas. That the Han immigrants, sick of the altitude (in the case of Tibet), the lack of water and isolation will likely move out again in a few generation's time is pretty much a given, but hardly a salve for the present generation of Uighurs and Tibetans. (Link)

[The Tuvans, due to the extreme isolation of their land, the lack of a demographic need for ressetlement of Russia's population -- which is indeed collapsing at an alarming rate -- and the lack of Russian government interest in stirring up trouble with any of its dozens of ethnic oblasts or republics, given what has happened and is still happening in the Caucasus Region, have shown zero interest in reestablishing their independence, limited as it was.]

However, the Uighurs are courting real disaster by coming to Tokyo. Their hosts here are not a coalition of conservative and liberal organizations and individuals, as would be the case were the conference being held in the U.S. or Germany. Instead, their hosts and likely underwriters of the costs of holding the Congress in Tokyo -- where the hard yen would blow the budget of any normal non-profit - are the most retrogressive of this blessed land's hard right wing. The above linked article's mention of:
"Several members of the Japanese political opposition participated in the opening session and expressed support for the Uighur cause."
is a very bad sign. Arch-conservatives parliamentarians Hiranuma Takeo (Link - J) and Fukuya Keiji (J - personal blog) and three other Diet members have been reported as having attended sessions of the conference. Fellow traveler Yamatani Eriko (possibly one of the attendees) and other MPs have hosted their own gatherings publicizing the Uighur struggle for self-preservation and self-determination. (Link - J)

[Incidentally, several of these MPs made a Golden Week pilgrimage to Palisades Park, New Jersey, to buttonhole the mayor there into removing a monument commemorating the Comfort Women (Link). All the members of this expedition into enemy territory -- ironic really, given that during the Bubble Years, Palisades Park and its neighboring town of Fort Lee were home to the expatriate Japanese community -- documented this brave endeavor (Link - J and Link - J), part of the GWOSG (the Global War On Symbols and Gestures*). Given that the present population of Palisades Park is 50% Korean-American, the mayor told the visiting members of the Diet they were wasting their and his time. (Link -J)**

These same Diet members were flabbergasted when they visited Washington, this time to publicize the plight of the families of the DPRK abductees, only to be greeted by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and the Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell telling them, "We here in the U.S. have our own abductee problem of young American citizens being abducted to Japan, often against the custody rulings of U.S. courts (Link - J)." Hiranuma's blood pressure probably hit the roof, which is bad for him, as he has already had one debilitating stroke.]

As for the claims that disgraced Air Self Defense Forces Chief of Staff Tamogami Toshio has attended conference sessions or that members of the attending Uighur delegation visited Yasukuni Shrine, these seem to be inventions of Chinese news organizations (I invite evidence of my being wrong here).

[Later - Reader MP has pointed to the Channel Sakura coverage of the conference (Link J and U - You Tube). Not only was Tamogami Toshio present, he addressed the conference, as did Hiranuma, plus a long list of the usual suspects: members of the House of Representatives Shimomura Hakubun and Takaichi Sanae and author and critic Sakurai Yoshiko. Tamogami clocks in at 7:28 into the broadcast.

As for the visit to Yasukuni, it is hard to argue with the video of Kadeer's visit to the shrine starting at 10:45 in the broadcast.

Interesting how the mainstream media did not report these two stories.

To the members of the Chinese news media, my apologies.]

The association of Japan's ultra right and Islamic nationalism goes back a long way. As scholar of Japan's historical relations with Islam Michael Penn reminded me in a private communication, Japanese support Islamic self-determination movements was a staple of 1930s Japanese involvement in Asia, though by private rightist organizations, not the Imperial government (Link). This support was often carried out under the rubric of Pan-Asianism (Yoshikawa Yukie has produced a comprehensive survey in English of pre-1945 Pan-Asianist writing. Scholars of China will likely fault the paper for its unfortunate indiscriminate switching from pinyin to Wade-Giles and back again) which a cynic would, in the Uighur case, put down to a de facto desire to keep China weak.

One hopes that Kadeer and her movement realize that joining hands and accepting the support of Japan's right, because of historical resonances, is a one-way ticket to illegitimacy.

The signs, however, are that she does not:
"The 63-year-old leader said the international community seems more interested in trade with China than in human rights. But she noted that Japan’s support in hosting the general assembly illustrated a growing awareness of the Uighur issue."
Not exactly, Madame President.

* To which South Korean organizations, with their crusades to rename the Sea of Japan and their bolstering of South Korea's de facto hold on Tokto/Takeshima through full-page ads in U.S. newspapers, are hardly strangers to.

** Which is not to say that the visit of the arch-conservatives to Palisades Park did not have any affect. According to the Sankei Shimbun, the government of Japan has lodged a formal protest against the monument. (Link - J)

This Morning

Yesterday's rains have washed away every hint of whipped up dirt (the same storm that produced the tornadoes left tiny half-moons of soil on my windows, once the drops had evaporated), pollen and what little industrial pollution (mostly diesel exhaust) as besmirches the air. Mt. Fuji, the snow of its ridges now melted away, seems just a arm's length away.

Sometimes, living in the Tokyo Metropolitan District is really not all that bad.

Mt. Fuji over the rooftops. May 16, 2012, 5:30 a.m.

Photo credit: MTC

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

He Always Has Something Interesting To Say

The Nihon Keizai Shimbun at one point chose Peter Tasker as the best equities analyst in Japan for five years running. That is not the best foreign analyst of equities. The best analyst of Japanese equities markets, period.

In an essay for the Financial Times, he proposes a very, very long-term solution to Japan's debt and stagnation crises.

Always a worthwhile read.

Monday, May 14, 2012

In Lotus Land

Thank goodness for The Tokyo Diplomat. Without it I would never have been alerted to Tokyo Metropolitan District Governor Ishihara Shintaro's spectacularly weird suggestion that nuclear power plants be built on Nokogiriyama in Chiba Prefecture ("There's a lot of empty land up there," the governor claims), under the reasoning that if the Greater Tokyo Area is the consumer of the power produced by nuclear power plants, it should host a few. (J)

Guys, and Kannon-sama, Ishihara-chiji thinks you need some big time engineering company.

Black-tailed gulls (Umineko - Larus crassirostris) over Nokogiriyama.

Kannon of the Nippon-ji.
Nokogiriyama, Chiba Prefecture.

Jigoku nozoki ("The Glimpse Into Hell").
Nokogiriyama, Chiba Prefecture.

One of the 1,500 Rakkan.
Nokogiriyama, Chiba Prefecture.

The Great Buddha of the Nippon-ji
(carved 1783-6 and until 1984 the largest Buddha figure in Japan).
Nokogiriyama, Chiba Prefecture.

Face of the Great Buddha of the Nippon-ji.
Nokogiriyama, Chiba Prefecture.

All photos: MTC

That Pinoy Magic

Last week, the Democratic Party of Japan's fluent English speaking, Stanford MA-holding, Adjunct Professor at Shanghai University House of Councillors member Ishii Hajime had to resign his post as chairman of the Budget Committee, the most powerful post in the House of Councillors after President. Ishii had to tender his resignation after having violated the House rule requiring members to alert the chamber if he or she intends to be outside the country for more than 8 consecutive days. Ishii failed to do this prior to paying a visit to the Philippines from April 27 to May 7.

Ishii had originally planned to be in the Philippines on a vacation lasting from May 3 to May 6. However, Ishii, the president of the Japan-Philippines Friendship League, received an invitation to a party on the 27th, so he pushed forward his departure to that date.

Why is this news, aside from the DPJ and Ishii losing face and the opening up in mid-Diet session of a scramble for the incredibly important position Ishii held? Because this resignation marks the second time in a year that Ishii has had to resign an important position because of a May vacation in the Philippines. Last year, when he was the Deputy Chairman of the DPJ Committee on Measures Regarding Earthquakes, he used the Golden Week break to go on a golf vacation in the Republika ng Pilipinas -- when he really should have spent the time visiting somewhere else (Need it be said where that somewhere is?)...or at least staying home. (J)

Once is misfortune; twice looks like carelessness...

Later - On the positive side, Ishii will now be available for interviews and questions from the foreign press, one of his former major roles inside the DPJ.

Just do not mention the p-word.

Japan As A Normal Nation - Bic and Kojima

A profitable competitor in an overcrowded market swallows up an unprofitable rival. The merged company will become #2 in the market, even after closing 40 to 50 underperforming units of the merger target. The founding family of the merger target is told to go stuff it. (E and J)

Which country is this happening in?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Of The DPJ And Children - Special Mother's Day Edition

In my post of yesterday, I remarked that "(t)ackling the birth dearth has been of tertiary interest for the DPJ leadership -- which has been expending far more of its political capital on solving the budget and pension gaps through raising the level of taxation or goosing economic growth rather than raising the number of taxpayers." (Link)

While this is true, one small caveat is in order. While the proposed rise in the consumption tax to 10% (part of the bill dump the Democratic Party of Japan unloaded on upon the Diet this week) is slated to be used primarily to put the fiscal houses of the pension, medical and eldercare systems in some sort of order, a slice will be reserved for programs to increase the birthrate. According to the May 11 print edition of the Tokyo Shimbun, if the raising of the tax rate to 10% nets the predicted 13.5 trillion extra yen for the government, then 700 billion -- 5.2% of the total -- will be set aside for programs supporting the birth and raising of children.

It is to be presumed that the extra revenues set aside for measures to raise the birthrate (shoshika taisaku) will in part restore cutbacks in aid for families with children (kodomo teate) the DPJ promised in its 2009 election manifesto -- aid that the DPJ first had to halve because of budgetary constraints, then cut further and reduced to a needs-based system (jido teate) largely indistinguishable from the jido teate system in place under LDP rule (in an fit of pettiness, the LDP and the New Komeito made their votes for the new truncated system contingent on the revival of the jido teate name).

However, no one knows for certain what the DPJ intends to do with the 700 billion, if that amount can even be raised. No bill is in the works. No plan has been announced. All we have to go on is Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko's response to a question posed to him on Thursday by DPJ member Izumi Kenta:

"Througth the Comprehensive Reform, investment in the future will be strengthened. [The Comprehensive Reform] has a goal of bringing into being a social safety net responding to the needs of all generations. As for the revenues raised through the consumption tax to be devoted to children and childrearing, I believe this means that social safety for life's first half will be strengthened." (Link - J)

Did you get that? Do not be alarmed: it was designed to baffle. Luckily for Noda, he was being questioned by a member of his own party. An opposition member would have snapped, "Excuse me, but what the blazes does your answer mean?"

The setting aside of a portion of the revenues raised by the elevated consumption tax for children and childrearing -- whatever the plan for those revenues might be -- is not the only fundamental reform the DPJ has proposed for government programs for children. In order to implement a reform I am not sure anyone asked for and I do not think anyone can explain, the government on Thursday presented to the Diet three bills that together will unify Japan's bifurcated pre-school childcare systems.

That Japan has two systems of childcare run by two different ministries may look odd but is eminently rational. The day care system (hoikuen) is run by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. It is focused on the "Labour" part of the ministry's mandate -- that is providing childcare for mothers who work. It takes in children as young as two months of age, looks after them from around 7:30 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. (actual operation hours vary according to the center and extended hours are available, for an extra fee).

The kindergarten system (yochien) is run by the Ministry of Education. It is a pre-school, primarily the children of mothers who do not work or who work only part-time. The hours are limited, with the children being taken in at around 9:00 am and let out in the middle of the afternoon. It takes in children once they are three years of age. Its nominal focus is on education, unsurprising given the ministry that runs it, which means preparing the children for the habitudes of elementary school.

Aside from the cost aspect of having two seperate bureaucracies running parallel systems, there is little if any impetus for having the two systems merge. There is a hope that having yochien keeping hoikuen hours will cut down on the backlog of children on waiting lists to get into hoikuen. However, since the staff backgrounds and physical layouts of hoikuen are very different from those of yochien, the unification will lead to a period of confusion as new staff are trained or old staff retrained and centers have to be retrofitted or rebuilt.

Besides, as page 9 of the most recent Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare report on day care centers shows, the problems of insufficient day care center spaces is a relatively small and extremely localized phenomenon. Only 25,556 children are on waiting lists to get into day care centers, a miniscule number compared the national population and to to the hundreds of thousands on the waiting lists in the 1990s, before the government went on a day care center opening binge. Furthermore, as the red dot shows, the problem of insufficient spaces is concentrated inside the Tokyo Metropolitan District, where 31% of the children on waiting lists live. Twenty-six of the 47 prefectures have fewer than 100 children on waiting lists.

Overturning the apple cart because the TMD is a hard place to build day care centers (here is one area where Richard Katz's great bugaboo, the imposition of the tax rate for on bare land on agricultural land located inside urban areas, would result in a net social good. Otherwise, the imposition of taxes would be an ecological and psychological disaster, the urban farms providing the only green spaces and open sky in many neighborhoods) seems, on the face of it, reckless beyond reckoning.

The systems, bifurcated as they are, largely work. There is a possibility, but no one has the statistics to back it up, that the conversion of the abbreviated day yochien to full-day hoikuen will encourage more women to take full time jobs. There is also a possibility -- but again without any statistical evidence -- that the education focus of the yochien will somehow improve the atmosphere of hoikuen, making them better at preparing children for school. Whether hoikuen children perform less well in school, all other factors being equal, than yochien children, remains unproven. Indeed, given that hoikuen children have been living much of their first six years of life in group settings with strict schedules and egalitarian values, they would just as likely to do better in school environments than children raised primarily by their mothers.

With that, a Happy Mother's Day to you all.

Later - Credit where credit is due: the Liberal Democratic Party, for all its faults and whatever its reasons, is opposed to the DPJ plan for a merger of the two public childcare systems -- which has all the appearances of a reform for reform's sake.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The X-Y Axes of Stupid: Children and Childcare

There days one wonders, "Oh, why fight it? Why not just sit back and be stupid, like seemingly nearly all those in positions of wealth, power and influence?"

Today is one of those days.

In a Children's Day (May 5) bit of thought-provoking whimsy, researchers at Tohoku University posted a Zero Hour time clock (J). Based upon the rate of decline in the number of children in between April of 2011 and April of 2012 -- the researchers provide the URLs of the relevant government populations statistics pages -- the clocks tick off both the number of children in Japan and the number of days until, if the decline in between April 2011 and April 2012 were extended indefinitely, there would be but a single child left in Japan.

The press release on the workings of the time clock (J) by team leader and Graduate School of Economics and Management Professor Yoshida Hiroshi explains that he copied his idea from the famous U.S. debt clock. He also makes clear that the purpose of the clock is to stimulate discussion of 1) what the current state of the decline in the number of children means, and 2) what are the consequences if declines continue in the future.

That the whole exercise is not an academic but a polemic exercise is apparent from the press release. It is a rush job, with typos. For instance, in the paragraph explaining the goals of the clock, the text should say "apiiru" not "piiru." There is no such word as "piiru."

Of course, the writers and editors news organizations would never, ever take this bit of fun and blow it up into an an actual scientific enterprise. Oh no, they would never do that:

3011 to see last child in Japan: population clock
Jiji, Kyodo

SENDAI — Japan will no longer have children under the age of 15 in 999 years, a group of researchers at Tohoku University Graduate School has estimated.

The team, led by professor Hiroshi Yoshida, developed a child population clock that displays an estimated number of children at any moment based on past percentages of decline. The clock was made available on the university's website Thursday.

The team used a 2011-2012 percentage change in the number of children that was released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications on April 1. The number of children aged under 15 fell to 16.6 million in 2012 from 16.9 million in 2011.

The clock calculates the estimated number of children at present and counts down to the last child, based on the assumption that the number of children is expected to continue falling.

Japan's child population drops by one every 100 seconds, according to the clock. As a result, there will be no kids on May 18, 3011...


Of course, this version of the story has gone both viral and mainstream, at least among the publications assuming their readership have sub-bonobo IQ (and if any of readers out there are 100% bonobos, please accept my apologies for associating you with these organizations).

(Search results)

Now this is not to say that the decline of the birthrate has not been one of the social policy areas where the government, both under Liberal Democratic Party and Democratic Party of Japan leadership, has run up against a brick wall. The LDP in the 1990s went on a day care center-building binge that continues to this day -- the green line in Figure 1 of this 2011 Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare report.

[By the way, check out the map on page 9 of the report. It shows that of all the children awaiting placement in day care centers, 31% live in the Tokyo Metropolitan District. Add in Kanagawa Prefecture, and percentage rises to 43%. And nine prefectures have zero children on waiting lists.

Can we please now decently bury the "Japan lacks sufficient childcare for working mothers" canard?]

As for the DPJ, it promised, though it in the end has not been able to deliver, direct financial support to all families with children. The child allowance (kodomo teate) was potentially good social policy, as it certainly would have made it possible for lower and middle income couples to have children earlier and in greater numbers. However, the DPJ simultaneously sold the child allowance as an economic stimulus measure, which was dumb, as families, even though receiving only half of the monthly payments promised, still managed to save half the amount dispensed. Of course, financial planners writing in women's magazines advised readers to put all the child allowance into savings.

[If we are to take Shakespeare as our guide (E), the agenda for the DPJ should have been: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the financial planners."]

Tackling the birth dearth has been of tertiary interest for the DPJ leadership -- which has been expending far more of its political capital on solving the budget and pension gaps through raising the level of taxation or goosing economic growth rather than raising the number of taxpayers. Indeed, the "measures for for the declining birthrate" portfolio has become the hot potato of cabinet jobs. A humiliating nine different ministers have held the portfolio since a DPJ-led coalition took power in September 2009 (J) -- a rate of turnover neared only by the hard right dream portfolio of Minister for the DPRK Abductees Issue (six different ministers since the takeover).

Despite failure of the government to find a game plan for reversing the decline in the birthrate, the Japanese people -- whatever that means in genotype terms -- is not going extinct. The Japanese language might go extinct* -- look at at the state of Manchu one century after the fall of the Qing Dynasty. However, writing about the Japanese people going extinct based on the extrapolation of the rate of decline between April 2011 and April 2012 -- not a particular cheerful and hope-filled year, if one may say so -- that deserves a spanking.

* Mori Arinori (E) thought it a potentially worthwhile goal -- just one of the brainstorms that got folks angry enough to kill him on the morning of Constitution Day in 1889.