Friday, August 31, 2012

The Yomiuri Shimbun Goes On The Prowl

The text has not yet received the attention it deserves, but the Yomiuri Shimbun's August 29 editorial "The Kono Statement: It is natural to revise this 'historical stain'" (Kono danwa: "Fu no isan" no minaoshi wa tozen da) marks a turning point in Japan's political history (Link -J). It is stunning not just for its despicable and stupid call for a revision of the 1993 Kono Statement on the sex slaves of the Japan Imperial Forces comfort stations* but for its desperate batting of eyelashes at Hashimoto Toru ("Stop tweeting for a second and come and sit down next to me...") now that the Yomiuri's long time steady, the Liberal Democratic Party, has hopelessly soiled itself.

Like all floozies, the editors at the Yomiuri have a sharp and seemingly prescient sense of When It Is Time To Move On.

As for the call for a revision or indeed repudiation of the Kono Statement -- a dormant volcano brought violently to life on Monday by People's Life First Party member Toyama Itsuki in his questions put to the Cabinet in the House of Councillors Budget Committee session -- it is based upon the most idiotic of premises imaginable: that the Statement is false because the Government of Japan, in its 1991-93 investigation of the claims of the sex slaves, could not find any documentary evidence linking the coercive or duplicitous recruitment of the sex slaves and actions taken by government officials, be they civilian or military.

How stupid is this?

This stupid:
"Mr. Capone. You have been accused of being the head of Chicago's crime syndicates. What do your own investigations into these matters find?"

"Well, let me see here. Uh, here's my card. Nope, nope. It says here that my occupation is 'secondhand furniture dealer.' It don't say nothin' about no crime syndicates."

"Well, there you have it folks -- another ugly accusation proven untrue. Mr. Capone, our apologies for having troubled you."
As if a single entity could be entrusted to play the roles of defendant, prosecutor and judge all at the same time.

As for the appeal to Hashimoto, it is no mere love call in the middle of the night. It a suitcase-in-each-hand-appearing-at-the-front-door-at-6 a.m. request of "May I come in?"

The Yomiuri has produced its own translation of the editorial ( Link - E). Unfortunately, the translators have taken so many liberties that the result sounds even more callous and mendacious than the original.

Someone will have to produce a better translation, possibly me. If I do it, I post will my draft and have expert commentators offer their suggestions.

For those who want to see the video of the Toyama questions and the answers of Foreign Minister Gemba Ko'ichiro, Chief Cabinet Secretarty Fujimura Osamu, National Safety Commision Chair Matsubara Jin and Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko, the House of Councillors video library website is:

Go to the calendar and click on August 27. When the list of committee meetings appears, click on the tiny icon of a human face on the far right on the line for the budget committee (予算委員会). This will open a drop-down list of the questioners and their question session. Click on Toyama Itsuki (外山斎). The playback will begin moments later, in a separate, small window.

* The term "comfort women" has always been a misnomer, as comfort station procurers took boys as well as women from the internment camps in Indonesia.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tanigaki Sadakazu In The Heart Of His Darkness

Willard: They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound.

Kurtz: Are my methods unsound?

Willard: I don't see any method at all, sir.

- Apocalypse Now (1979)
There are number of ways one can betray oneself. One can violate one's stated principles. One can behave in a manner that defies simple logic. One can act in a way that leads one's friends to abandon you.

In general, it is best to avoid all of the above.

However, there are times that we flawed creatures really, really, really want something so badly we are willing to betray ourselves. In these cases is still best to limit oneself to one of the above forms of self-injury on any given day.

Yesterday, the Liberal Democratic Party and their leader Tanigaki Sadakazu threw that concept into the fire.

Immediately after the Democratic Party of Japan's ramming of the bond issuance bill and the electoral reform bill through a just short of half-empty House of Representatives, the LDP and the New Komeito submitted to the House of Councillors a childish and nearly parodic motion of censure to that House's president.

The two parties wanted to have a vote on their motion the next day.

Unfortunately for the two parties, they had not conferred with the other opposition parties in the House of Councillors, whose votes they needed for the LDP-New Komeito motion to pass. When negotiators from the two parties went to meet their peers in the other opposition parties, they were aghast to find out that the other parties wanted the LDP and the New Komeito to vote for their censure motion, which had been sitting on ice in the House of Councillors since August 7.

Since the August 7 bill of censure contained a condemnation of the DPJ-LDP-New Komeito Three Party Agreement on the passage of the social welfare and pension bills -- and singled out for condemnation the consumption tax bill, which the LDP and New Komeito had both voted for, the tax rise indeed being a campaign promise of the LDP -- voting for such a censure motion would seem out of the question.

However, to everyone's surprise but those who know how deep the rot inside the LDP extends, the LDP leadership said:

"OK, if you are adamant about this, we are cool with voting for your motion."

Which immediately led to the New Komeito asking for time for "an adjustment" (chosei) of the atttack on the prime minister.

I would have loved to have been at that strategy meeting...
New Komeito Member (slowly, as if in distress): "OK, let me see if I have this straight.

You want us to vote in favor of a censure motion condemning the Three Party Agreement, an agreement to which we were two of the three Parties...and which also condemns the legislation agreed upon in that agreement, that we, together with a wounded DPJ, dutifully voted in favor of in the House of Councillors...legislation which, may I remind you, was not in the DPJ's manifesto, but in the LDP's manifesto.

Please tell me that this is not the plan."

LDP Member (grinning): "That's the plan!"
At which point the New Komeito delegation probaly told -- or should have told -- their peers in their longtime alliance partner:

"We twisted the arms of our local party organizations to forge this alliance. We took a huge blow to our reputation as the party of peace by voting with you on the dispatch of Maritime Self Defense Forces ships to the Indian Ocean. We hung with you when you tried to turn back the clock to the pre-war era under Abe Shinzo. We got wiped out in the 2009 House of Representatives election because of our association with you. Our district vote switching in that election saved your party from utter annihilation.

We have been through hell and high water with you.

But this, this insane.

Sorry, but you're on your own now."

I have said it before -- when the religious party in a secular-religious party coalition is the voice of logic, moderation, patience and the dirtying ones' hands in the service of a greater good -- then you are suffering from a serious breakdown in the natural order.

Undeterred by their friends having abandoned them, the LDP yesterday linked arms with the remaining opposition parties in the House of Councillors, including the People's First Party headed by the LDP's arch-foe and designated punching bag Ozawa Ichiro, to pass the August 7 motion of censure, the New Komeito's members walking out of the chamber before the vote.

The motion passed, 129 votes to 91.

Ostensibly, the passage of the motion of censure means the current Diet session is over. The House of Representatives can continue to carry out its business. The House of Councillors, according to tradition if not law or rule, goes on immediate hiatus. The tradition of ceasing all business after a motion of censure is a reason why under normal conditions, the House of Councillors has indulged in this non-binding nonsense on what had been previously determined to be the last day of the Diet session.

We live, however, in abnormal times. The inability of one man, Tanigaki Sadakazu, to accept that he has never had what it takes to be LDP president, much less Prime Minister of Japan -- and the inability of the LDP presidential hopefuls in the top leadership, with their vested interest in maintaining the status of the office of the president even as it was being dragged down by an incompetent -- have left the LDP sans sense, sans morality, sans anything.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Meet The Conans

A remarkable tale: on a Beijing expressway, an automobile tails the official car of Japan's Ambassador to China. The chase goes on for three kilometers, the trailing car honking its horn the whole way.  Another car appears and after a weaving and swerving course, the pair of vehicles halt the Ambassador's car.  An occupant of one the cars comes out and snaps the Japanese flag off the front of the Ambassador's car. (J)

Response of the person watching the report with me: "The Chinese are barbarians."

My response, to myself, sotto voce:

"Li Hongzhang. Shimonoseki. March 24, 1895." (E)

A feeling of pride in the emergence of a powerful new state makes barbarians of us all.

OK, Morons. Now What?

Yamaguchi Kunio Natsuo (L) and Tanigaki Sadakazu (R) are Leader and President of the New Komeito and the LDP, respectively.

As can be expected in these lamest of times, the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito, having failed to halt the passage of the bond isuance and electoral reform bills in the House of Representatives, submitted at a velocity somewhat faster than the speed of thought a censure motion to the President of the House of Councillors.

So what happens now?

All business in the House of Councillors comes to a halt, the motion taking precedence. The membership gathers in the plenary chamber. The parties submitting the motion explain their reasons for submitting the motion. The chamber votes.

Should the measure pass, nothing of consequence happens, as a censure motion has no legal effect. The prime minister, however, will be persona non grata in the House, stripped of the dignity of his office.

The presumed result is that the House of Councillors will cease to conduct any of its business, despite the Diet's still being in session -- the continued acceptance of high salaries for no work being extremely popular with the taxpayers. (J)

I am looking forward to the LDP's and the New Komeito's speeches. New levels of casuistry will be necessary to prevent folks from laughing.

The prime minister's faults:

- "He convinced us to vote for a rise in the consumption tax, which was our own policy."

- "He has increased Japan's international prestige by keeping his cool at a time when Japan is beset with challenges to its territories and territorial claims."

- "He disposed of non-Japanese activists landing on the Senkakus in exactly the same way Koizumi Jun'ichiro did."

- "He has led his party into passing a bill that provides the legal basis for the government to pay its bills."

- "He has led his party into passing an electoral reform bill that a) resolves the issue of the unconstitutionality of the districts due to over- and under-representation, b) cuts the cost of government by eliminating 40 seats of the House of Representatives and 3) increases the chances of the smaller parties to win seats."

A damning list, to be sure.

The live broadcast from the House of Councillors chamber is scheduled to begin at 10:00 a.m., accessible at

Photo image credit: Kyodo News

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Phi Slamma Jamma

I obviously did not think they had it in them.

However, faced with a Liberal Democratic Party threat to submit a censure motion against Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko tomorrow, the members of the Democratic Party of Japan ignored the bad optics of the LDP opposition parties boycotting the Diet plenary session to cram not just the bond issuance bill but the electoral reform bill, which the Special Committee on Political Ethics and Election Law sent to the floor of the House of Representatives only yesterday, down opposition's throats. (J)

Now that the bills have passed the House of Representatives, they go to committee in the House of Councillors, where the opposition, led by the LDP-New Komeito alliance will have to justify on camera why they are pushing the government to the edge of fiscal crisis and what is wrong with the DPJ's electoral system reform bill.

And wouldn't ya knowit, even though the DPJ, the LDP and the New Komeito divvy up the chairmanships of the House of Councillors committees thusly:

Full Committees
DPJ 12
LDP 10
New Komeito 3

Independent Sub-committees

Investigative Commissions

the chairs of the Finance Committee and the Special Committee on Political Ethics and Election Law are both members of the DPJ.

Did I say something about electoral reform being the crown jewel of the 2009 election, the prize worth the fighting for?

With DPJ members as the masters of ceremonies, the LDP and the New Komeito will have to talk or walk. They must either explain themselves or boycott the proceedings.

It's a lose-lose proposition.

The DPJ does not have the votes in the House of Councillors to pass the bond issuance legislation -- the bill it really needs to pass in the these last few remaining days of the regular Diet session. However, it has set up the conditions for the LDP take the rap should the government shut down because it cannot pay its bills.

The DPJ may not be ready for prime time. It still lacks, for example, a serpent- tongued guy or gal to make exquisity verbal hamburger of every LDP hypocrisy or revision of the historical record.

However, in terms of in-your-face slamming down of legislation, the DPJ's got game.

Honesty...Is Not The Best Policy

"6) If a Democratic Party member claims something is true on television, it is probably not true. When it is true, it was political suicide for him to have said it."

- MTC, "The Rules of Japanese News" (2006)
On August 20, Democratic Party of Japan Diet Affairs Chairman Jojima Koriki and LDP Diet Affairs Chairman Kishida Fumio met to discuss electoral reform. This was an "Adults Only" discussion, as not even the New Komeito was invited to the confab.

Jojima told Kishida that the DPJ was ready to submit its version of a reform bill to the House of Representatives Special Committee on Political Ethics and Election Law. Kishida responded that his party wanted to have a debate on the Noda government's management of foreign affairs in the Budget Committee beforehand. Jojima replied that he was not making a proposal, he was delivering a message.

That was supposed to be the end of the conversation. The DPJ would submit its bill to the Special Committee on Political Ethics and Election Law on August 22. If the DPJ was going to make good on Prime Minister Noda's promise to hold an election "soon," the LDP and the rest of the opposition would just have to take it on the chin.

The DPJ electoral reform bill is truly "a patchwork without principle" (hagidarake de rinen mo nai) as the editors of the Tokyo Shimbun put it.

It starts with the LDP's +0/-5 proposal, abolishing the five smallest electoral districts. Through this bit of legerdemaine, the degree of disparity between the most and least populous districts, currently 2.52, falls to 1.78, below the maximum of 1.99 set by the Supreme Court in its March 2010 ruling.

To this minimal and, for the LDP, entirely self-serving proposal, the DPJ has tacked on a reduction of the number of number of proportional party list seats by 40, half of the reduction of 80 promised in the DPJ's 2009 manifesto.

Any unqualified reduction in the number of proportional seats is unacceptable to the LDP's alliance partner, the New Komeito. In the election wipeout of August 2009, the New Komeito lost all of its district seats (and as a result, the entire top two layers of its party leadership). All of the current New Komeito's seats are proportional seats.

In order to convince the New Komeito to swallow the bitter pill of a reduction of the number of proportional seats by 40, the DPJ bill has 35 of the remaining 140 propotional seats chosen not via the d'Hondt method current in use but by the Additional Member System (renyosei). The d'Hondt seat assignment system disproportionately rewards the largest parties. The Additional Member System, by contrast, disproportionately rewards mini- and micro-parties.

Unfortunately, the Additional Member System is countintuitive to the point of incomprehensibility. According to Wikipedia, the voters of Scotland, whose Parliament is the only significant legislative body with seat assignments made through the AMS, suffered a deterioration in their understanding of the system in between their first and second parliamentary elections -- i.e., they understood the AMS less after having used it than when they had never used it.

The LDP hates the AMS, as does anyone who tries to read through an explanation of it.

What is perverse is that the patchwork bill does nothing to improve the chances of the DPJ in the next House of Representatives election. The DPJ needs revisions of the electoral district boundaries which will increase the representation of urban and suburban voters. Some argue that this is a dated, sisyphean endeavor since the level of voters dissatisfaction with the DPJ is so great the party is going to lose big in its traditional urban strongholds -- not just the rural districts that switched sides and elected a DPJ representative in 2009.

However, leaving the electoral map virtually unchanged, as the LDP has proposed, will render the elections of August 2009 moot. Whatever may have been in the manifestos of the parties, the crown jewel being fought over in 2009 was the right to redraw the districts. Breaking the patron-client relationships between the LDP, its voters in the rural districts and the central government bureaucrats who administered them was the prize that was worth the fighting for.

The DPJ's strategy, and it was a purely cynical one, was to submit the patchwork bill to committee. There the LDP, the New Komeito and the other opposition parties would launch into long tirades on the bill. The DPJ, amidst the clatter and the din, would weave back and forth over revisions both big and small. Meeting after meeting would take place, proposals and counterproposals would fly. Then, all of a sudden, an alarm bell would ring: it would be September 8 and no bill fixing the electoral system would have been passed before the end of the regular session.

"Ooops!" the DPJ would say. "Guess we'll have to start all over again in the fall extraordinary session."

Running out the clock, leaving open the question of whether or not LDP president Tanigaki Sadakazu would receive his return gift of an election "soon" (chikai uchi ni) as he understood it -- before the end of the current Diet session -- might have worked. At the very least it would have left Tanigaki confronting the impossible task of winning reelection as LDP party president after having had his pocket picked by Prime Minister Noda twice in one month. At best, seeming to waver on the electoral reform bill might have encouraged the LDP to bend on the bond issuance bill, letting that bill pass in the hopes of wringing out a better deal on the election reform bill and Diet dissolution schedule.

Except, of course, Jojima had to go on television immediately after the big meeting with Kishida and blurt out The Truth That Must Not Be Told.

On the night of the 20th, on Fuji Television, Jojima was asked whether or not there would be a Diet dissolution and elections called before the end of the current Diet session. In what can only have been a transient cessation of all higher brain functions (TCAHBF) Jojima said, "Have it during this session? Ridiculous!" (Kon kokkaichu wa arienai). When asked to elaborate, Jojima dug himself in even deeper, asserting that:

"The disparity in the value of a single vote is unconstitutional. When seen from the point of view of the citizens who are voting, it is just common sense that the demand is, 'Let's have a dissolution after you have cleaned up this electoral system that has been labeled unconstitutional.'" (E)

Aaaaarrrggghhh! Yoooouuuuu iiiidddeeeiiiiottt!

What Jojima said was absolutely true -- one cannot hold an election where the populations of 94 of the 300 districts are more than 1.99 times larger than the population of the smallest district. With the current DPJ reform bill unacceptable to the LDP-New Komeito coalition, it would die in the House of Councillor. Time would run out before an acceptable alternate solution could be worked out. Attempting to write a replacement bill would furthermore require a suspension of the Diet's rules of order, which mandate that no single issue can be considered twice in the same Diet session.

Even in the case of the passage of bill employing the quick and dirty +0/-5 solution, however, the holding of a snap election would be constitutionally suspect. A 1976 Supreme Court ruling mandated that a host of factors -- changes in municipal boundaries, proposed changes in municipal boundaries, physical size of the district, population densities, "the structure of the residents" (jumin kosei - a euphemism for communities of the very poor and previously excluded social groups), transportation networks and geographical characteristics (unifying the communities of a single river basin, for example) -- must be taken into account when settling on electoral district boundaries. (Source: 衆議院及び参議院における一票の格差. 国立国会図書館 ISSUE BRIEF NUMBER 714(2011. 6. 9.)

A process of several months, in other words, involving a great deal of research and haggling.

The LDP and the New Komeito, out of either willfull ignorance or naïveté, have been expecting the DPJ to accept the grandfathering in of the current district boundaries, daring the Court to declare the research work done 10 years ago to be grounds for invalidating an election now.

My guess is that the DPJ, which is a party that has a healthy respect for the law, has been holding the 1976 ruling in its back pocket, waiting only to flick it out after the passage of the bond issuance bill.

After Jojima stated on television that a dissolution and a calling of elections during this Diet session was impossible, the excrement hit the fan.

Realizing that it had been duped, and that "soon" meant "whenever it is that the LDP is forced to swallow the passage of the electoral reform bill the DPJ really wants," the LDP retaliated with a threat to submit a motion of censure against the prime minister in the House of Councillors. With the LDP/New Komeito alliance and the rest of the opposition furious at the DPJ, the motion would pass, leaving the government the very unpleasant alternatives of either submitting a confidence motion in the House of Representatives to counter the censure motion, or accepting the end of all Diet business prior to the September 8 closure date.

The LDP is planning to make good upon its threat of a censure motion tomorrow (August 29).

With the disintegration of the plan to lead the opposition into debating a worthless electoral reform bill (just how the DPJ intended to keep the Communists, who are legal eagles, from calling the procedings a sham, is something I have not quite managed to wrap my head around) and the hope that the drama in the committee debating the electoral reform would serve as cover for the quick passage of a bond issuance bill, the DPJ was left with the ugly business of holding committee meetings on the electoral reform bill and the bond issuance bill in not-quite half-empty rooms. Members read newspapers and checked up on their email. They then went through the motions of voting on the bills, sending them to the floor of the House of Representatives:

Vote in the House of Representatives Finance Committee
August 24, 2012

Vote in the House of Representatives Special Committee on Political Ethics and Election Law
August 27, 2012

Barring any last minute miraculous changes of heart on the part of the LDP, the DPJ will schedule a vote on the bond issuance bill, pass it, then send it on to House of Councillors, where it will either die of neglect or be voted down.

As for the electoral reform bill, it is likely to remain an orphan. The DPJ, unless the leadership suffers a collective TCAHBF, will leave it on the House of Representatives floor to die. The worst possible outcome would be for the DPJ to pass the bill, send it to the House of Councillors, only to see the LDP and the opposition suddenly switch gears and vote for the measure.

Photo image credits: Jiji Press

More Gasoline

Just when you thought that Japan-Republic of Korea relations could not get any worse, Chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, August 15 Yasukuni Shrine visitor and right wing fruitcake Matsubara Jin, in Diet questioning, has stated that he would want the Cabinet to discuss a partial retraction of the Kono Statement of 1993 regarding the sex slaves of the Japan Imperial Forces comfort stations. (J)

Really, not the best of times for a Cabinet member to be expressing a wish of this kind. Indeed, there is never a good time for a Cabinet member to express such an opinion.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu (Fujimura the Unbelievable) has responded in his usual force-free manner, "There is nothing that the government feels it needs to do."

Expect the usual explosions on the other side of the Tsushima Strait.

Later - What is Matsubara doing? He is misreading the situation. He is interpreting the louder publicizing of positions the government of Japan has always held to be the trumpets announcing the dawn of the Era of Fruitcakery.

He is, as he is in almost all things, wrong.

Fierce Beauty

This morning's NHK news broadcast was not all over this like hair on a gorilla:
Japan routs U.S. team to win Little League World Series title

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pennsylvania — Noriatsu Osaka hit three homers and tripled as Japan limited Goodlettsville, Tennessee's potent lineup to two hits in a 12-2 victory Sunday to win the Little League World Series title.

In a symbolic gesture, Japan's players jogged the traditional postgame victory lap carrying the flags for both their home country and the United States.

"We had such a great time in Pennsylvania and we really played a good game today. It was kind of a 'thanks,'" the 12-year-old Osaka said through an interpreter.

Starting pitcher Kotaro Kiyomiya struck out eight batters in four innings and added an RBI single for the Tokyo team, representing Japan. The game ended in the fifth inning after Osaka's third homer made it a 10-run game that invoked the "mercy rule"...

What surprises about the victory of a team of Japanese 12 year-olds is not that it happens fairly often but that it does not happen every year. It is impossible for me, when I pass the fence of an elementary school on a weekend day, to no not stop and watch in utter amazement at third and fourth graders fielding ground balls flawlessly, waiting for the right pitch, throwing to the cutoff player (I do not say "cutoff man" as popping out of the backs of a lot of caps these days are pony tails, there not being enough boys around to fill up the roster spots) when every ounce of their egos is screaming, "Ichiro would throw to third and nail the runner...and so can I!"

On a kilogram per kilogram and by team basis, the young players of this country cannot find their match in their age peers elsewhere.

Something goes haywire starting in high school -- my guess it comes from the hypertrophied egos of high school coaches, who extend practices and pitch counts beyond what young, still developing bodies can handle. The games of the Spring Invitational and the August National Tourneys, where coaches leave spent pitchers out to die on the mound, tend to upset rather than entertain me (that and the round heads and the marching).

But to watch children play The Game in this blessed land is a thing of fierce beauty.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Do Japan's Progressives Have To Lose Their Minds?

Something has gone wrong
Sighing, sighing
Faces have turned long
Crying, cryin'
Hear them sob and whine
Tearful, tearful
That's a real good sign that they're feelin' glum
Sad sad times have come...

- REM and CTW, "Furry Happy Monsters" (1998) *
In the same edition of the Tokyo Shimbun as the cartoon featured in yesterday's post (thank you again Jordan) the powers that be there printed an editorial that simply boggles the imagination.

Read it, please.

But wait! Before you do, get down in a prone position! I was luckily already on the tatami when I read this piece. Otherwise I would have hit the floor at a possibly injurious velocity. (Link)

For those with neither the time, inclination or capacity to read the original, here is the deal.

The Tokyo Shimbun, while it is only a prefectural newspaper and the offspring of the Nagoya-based Chunichi Shimbun, is fairly well established as the broadsheet of progressivism. Some might ask whether or not The Asahi Shimbun is not the standard bearer here. Sadly, the Asahi is not progressive, merely confused.

Anyway, the Tokyo Shimbun is the reliable voice of the non-Marxist left.

Which is why the editorial so shocking: it echoes the rhetoric of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito regarding the need for a Diet dissolution and elections.

Since a direct translation will take too long, here is a synopsis:

1) The "politics of being able to come to a decision" (kimerareru seiji) was just a cover story for the passage of a bill raising the consumption tax.

2) Now that there are only 10 working days left before the official end of the Diet session, what could the DPJ-LDP-New Komeito working arrangement hope to "decide"?

3) The first thing that needs to be decided is the matter of the disproportionately represented districts. The DPJ submitted to committee its version of a reform bill (I have argued previously that this bill is a red herring, meant to fail or never be voted upon - MTC). Opposition parties boycotted the session, leaving the DPJ representatives voting to send the bill to the floor of the House of Representatives in a show of force (kyoko).

4) This was no way to handle a matter as fundamental as the means by which Diet members are to be chosen.

5) Since the opposition parties control the House of Councillors, the sending of the DPJ bill to the floor without the consent of the LDP and the New Komeito is pointless, especially as the current bill is a patchwork of ideas without a guiding principle.

6) Did they DPJ not send to the floor this ragbag bill without a hope of passage only to delay the House of Representatives election where they are predicted to go down to ignominious defeat?

7) In order to put the questions of the necessity of raising of the consumption tax to the voters, hurry up and pass the minimal +0/-5 revision, then dissolve the Diet.

8) As for fundamental reforms such as cuts in the number of Diet members, what is realistic is to leave the problem to be solved in the interval between the upcoming election and the election after, through the setting up of a commission of experts to debate the problem.

9) Before attacking the proportional seat numbers, which reflect the people's will, try the more painful cuts of the number of districts; of the amount of public campaign finance extended; of the salaries of seat holder salaries and stipends for PR and research purposes.

10) The DPJ decided to send to the floor the bill on the issuance of new bonds without the LDP present at the committee meeting. This was impermissibly impolite conduct of Diet business.

11) The LDP intends on submitting a censure bill to the House of Councillors on the 29th. If it passes, the Diet will thereafter be just spinning its wheels. The disproportionality issue will be left in abeyance and the bond issuance bill will be put off for later.

12) It is difficult to accept a "politics of being able to come to a decision" when its result is the increasing of the burdens shouldered by the populace. It is time to put an end the politics of that fails to decide what should be decided, leaving only each side blaming the other.
This is the product of a diseased mind. Point #8 is beyond bizarre: no one could possibly believe that anything approaching fair and unbiased redistricting would be possible were the LDP to regain power, as the LDP would should the +0/-5 solution be adopted. The LDP had 54 years in power during which it could have installed a mechanism for assuring the proper representation of all the citizens. For its own profit it did nothing. Only under after its brush with life in the opposition in 1993-94 did it consent to the first serious reforms of the districts. To belive that a panel of experts would achieve diddly squat under an LDP regime is flat out nuts.

As for the lack of politesse in voting of bills out of committees when the opposition is boycotting, when did the LDP ever restrain itself on this issue during its years in power? Besides, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, if the other side does not want to show up, you cannot stop them.

Some folks are angry that the DPJ has not been able to fulfill the promises of its manifesto. Many are furious that Noda Yoshihiko staked his and his party's political life on rasing the consumption tax, an LDP manifesto promise.

However, that the editorial division of a major newspaper should forget history and despise political reality (where the LDP-New Komeito's control of the House of Councillors gives them a perverse control of the government's agenda) to the point where it is screaming "Oh, just tear it all down!" indicates we are on the precipice of a descent into nihilism.

C'mon boys and girls (and furry monsters too): things are not so bad. So the Augean Stables are taking a bit longer than a weekend to clean up. What do you expect after a fifty-four year-long elective dictatorship?

* The original version of this song has an East Asian history angle. The first line of the chorus, "Shining Happy People Holding Hands," was the title of a PRC poster lead vocalist and lyricist Michael Stipe saw in 1991. The poster had been issued as a part of the propaganda campaign encouraging national unity in the aftermath of the Tien An Men protests and subsequent crackdown. The song was meant to be sickly ironic. However, as was the case with the band's song "The One I Love," the story of an abusive relationship, the public absorbed the meaning of the song in a manner exactly opposite the way the artists had intended. The band had to just go with the flow. As a result the above linked video is a subversion of a subversion of a subversion of a suppression of a subversion.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Behaving Like Children - Lee and Noda On The Farm

This blessed land had a nursery song "Yagi-san Yubin."

It goes like this:

Shiro yagisan kara otegami tsuita
Kuro yagisan tara yomazu ni tabeta
Shikata ga nai no de otegami kaita
Sakki no tegami no goyoji nani

"From the white goat a letter arrived
The black goat, without reading it, ate it up
Itas for nothing, the writing of that letter
But he needed to know, so he wrote a letter back:
What was in that letter?"
In the second verse of the song, the colors of the sender and the consumer are reversed.

Here is brief animation of a little girl singing the song. (Link)

Following the recent amusing/embarrassing pettiness over the delivery or non-delivery of letters of protest between the governments of this blessed land and South Korea (Part I and Part II) the Tokyo Shimbun yesterday printed a new version of the song on a cartoon featuring the visages of the two national leaders.

[Maru] yagisan kara otegami tsuita
[Maru] yagisan tara yomazu ni haita
Shikata ga nai no de otegami suteta hirotta
Sakki no tegami no goyoji nani

"From the [blank] goat a letter arrived
The [blank] goat, without reading it, coughed it up
It was for nothing that that letter was thrown away
But he needed to know, so he picked the letter up:
What was in that letter?"

Here is the image of the editorial cartoon:

Yes, the two goats in the image are both white. Hence the title, on the left:

"You fill in with color the one you think is black, OK?"

Image courtesy: Tokyo Shimbun

Later - Many thanks to the reader Jordan, for catching the howling kanji error.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Your Serve, Region

Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko gave a live press conference last night, outlining what his government is doing regarding the territorial disputes with the Republic of Korea over Dokdo and China/Taiwan/Hong Kong over the Senkakus. (J)

The approach the Noda government will take is quite simple: it will assert its claims, which it has heretofore done quietly, mostly in the form of including the disputed territories in official maps, wherever appropriate in its interactions with the international community, leaving international opinion to judge the validity of Russian, South Korean and Chinese/Taiwanese behavior.

This approach is in line with the standard procedures of normal democratic states. Authoritarian regimes can enforce, as Deng Xiaoping suggested, the sweeping of competing claims under the rug for later, wiser generations to resolve, with the obvious postscript: "In the meantime, let's stay in power by letting our people make money." Democratic states cannot -- voters like problems resolved in clean, simple and tidy ways.

Adjusting to the new stance will lead to some fumbling. Even foreign policy experts will not "get it" -- see this CNN op-ed by Jimbo Ken, where he argues at the beginning that status quo policies are no longer operative, only to argue at the end that the conduct of relations between Japan and China needs the kinds of personal relations that lubricated and protected the status quo approach.

However, the chances of the new assertiveness' succeeding in freezing further escalation of territorial disputes are at least 50-50. All the governments in the region ex Japan remain at least semi-authorian -- the exception being Taiwan, which has opted out of the current round of the fighting over the Senkakus despite being led by a man whose law degree is based upon studies of Chinese claims in the East China Sea (E and E). The semi-authoritarian regimes can still rely upon considerable powers of persuasion to repress populist behavior - if the regime in question wants to do so. China has deployed both its 50-cent Party of Web commentators and its police forces (E) in a short-circuiting of anti-Japanese mob action in relation to the visit of Hong Kong activists to the Senkakus. That the South Korean president has gone in the other direction, choosing to heighten regional tensions rather than use his presidential powers to tamp them down, over a territory where South Korea has dug-in military forces, be honest, not something I do want to delve into right now because it will be, inshallah, discussed in a future op-ed for Al-Jazeera.

The takeaway from last night's speech is that the balls are now in the courts of the nations surrounding Japan. The government of this blessed land is not going to keep quiet, as was demonstrated in the most recent Defense White Paper where the government put it writing That Which Must Not Be Said: that the civilian government of China and the People's Liberation Army may not be reading from the same piece of sheet music.

It will be up to the governments in the region, coping with their own internal instabilities and tensions, to come up with new narratives to cope with Mr. Noda's New Reality.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Realm Of The Senseless

It is probably a bad idea for the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan to make available its in-house magazine. Persons such as yours truly can read articles like this one printed therein.

An editor, and you would think the FCCJ would have one, would normally send the piece back to the author on fire with the warning, "Contextualize this stuff, or every woman or Japanese member of the club will be chewing our arses off."

The publication of this set of anecdotes, rather than causing an explosion, as it likely will, would serve better as an introduction to a suppressed discussion of media and knowledge-industry colonialization of postwar Japan -- where what were by local standards insanely well paid Caucasian, mostly American, males, both straight and gay, found in the defeated nation a sexual playground, one that seemed a world away from their crabbed and intolerant hometowns. That ex-pat spouses, for economic but also racial reasons, could be complicit in the dominance relationship ("Our is cuter"? "Ours" - possessive pronoun article?!? "OURS"?) is staggering, seen from the present day.

That much of the foundation of what is known about Japan was laid down by persons enjoying vastly greater incomes and personal freedom, particularly in the sexual realm, than the persons whom they reported on and studied is a fact of life -- but not necessarily a fatal flaw. Anthropology would not exist as a discipline if inequalities in income and freedom were criteria for exclusion of research done.

However, to deny that reporting and writing about Japan is not haunted by the ghosts of sexual inequalities past would be idiotic. That is why seeing the names of so many women -- Yuka Hayashi, Isabel Reynolds, Linda Sieg, Sachiko Sakamaki, Lucy Craft, Anna Kitanaka, Michiyo Nakamoto, Hiroko Tabuchi -- on the front lines of reporting on Japan is such a heartening development.

Because there are still a lot of very confused folks out there.

And yes, I know "colonialization" is not a real word.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why Noda Chose The Consumption Tax Or How Rick And The SSJ Meet Dracula's Daughter

There are two major list-serves on contemporary Japan, the NBR Japan Forum and the SSJ-Forum. Many of the same individuals contribute to both, with the NBR Japan Forum being heavier on economics and security and the SSJ-Forum, unsurprisingly, being more often on society, culture and politics. Of the two, the SSJ-Forum is generally the more useful, as a large number of the posts are events schedules, calls for papers or book release announcements. Also the SSJ-Forum does not tend to get clogged up with long-winded debates over issues relevant to the participants but irrelevant to contemporary Japan (Rod Armstrong and Mike Smitka, I am not talking about you. Keep up the good fight!).


On August 4, Richard Katz of the Oriental Economist newsletter posted a question to the SSJ-Forum:
I'm curious to know how rational choice theorists would explain PM Noda's single-minded devotion to pushing the unpopular consumption tax hike.

My understanding of rational choice theory is that it borrows its methodology from economics in which actors try maximize their utility in the narrow sphere of the
marketplace, and utility is defined by some fairly well-specified objective function, e.g. firms try to maximize profits, consumers try to maximize materal (sic) living standards and so will buy a $300 TV rather than a $400 one if the two are perceived to be identical. In the case of rational choice theory about politicians, as I understand it, the objective function is usually said to be to gain power by getting elected and re-elected, rising in the ranks of their party and office, and being part of a ruling party. Ideology, principles, beliefs are all laid by the wayside.

How can any of this explain Noda's actions? As a result of the tax hike and his mishandling of the nuclear restart issue, the Democratic Party of Japan is headed for a calamitous defeat. Most surveys (as well as my own personal conversations with DPJ and LDP Diet members) suggests the DPJ would win about 100 seats if the election were held now whereas the LDP would win 200. One first-term DPJ Diet member from western Japan, a genuine reformer, bitterly told me he may need to switch to Hashimoto's party if he wants to survive the next election. Needless to day, Noda will no longer be head of the DPJ in the aftermath of such an electoral disaster (assuming he remains PM in the run-up to it). Whether these numbers turn out to be right or not, depends on the Hashimoto party and other factors, but I don't know of anyone who believes the DPJ will win.


So, how does rational choice explain Noda's willingness to sacrifice his own career and his party's fortunes in order to "do the right thing" as he saw it?

If one says that "doing the right thing" is now part of the objective function, then rational choice theory is basically left with saying: "he did it because he wanted to do it." That, to me, hardly seems like a contribution to either explanation or prediction.

BTW, this is not a rhetorical question on my part. I have little doubt that rational choice theorists do have an explanation for Noda's actions; I just can't
figure out what it would be. I'm hoping that its advocates on the list can help me out.
The question has prompted a number of luminaries in the field -- Aurelia George Mulgan, Thomas Berger, Ellis Kraus, Okumura Jun -- to post partial answers to Katz's question. These having been popping into my mail box at the rate of about one every 18 hours.

All of which makes me feel like Dracula's daughter -- at least as she is portrayed by Lily Tomlin in her one-person sketch, "Lud and Marie Meet Dracula's Daughter" of, oh, way too long ago.

Have a listen.

OK, now that you are back -- here is problem with the question -- which is the problem with the discussion.

When asking about how a given theory explains how a certain choice is made, it is helpful if the choice actually existed. To whit, asking, "I'm curious to know how rational choice theorists would explain why men prefer apples with blue and white Kusama Yayoi-style polka dots on them?" would be worthwhile if there were apples with blue and white Kusama Yayoi-style polka dots on them.

[An aside, but it always fascinates me that 99% of the articles promoting one of Kusama's exhibitions or analyzing her work manage to avoid mentioning that she is clinically insane. She lives, voluntarily, in an assisted living community as she is well aware that she is bonkers.

Her insanity informs her art, I think. Keeping her mental condition under wraps is a real disservice.]

Now in the case of Noda's choice, Katz has, in his written work for the Oriental Economist and his two public presentations in Japan, one at the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan and the other at Temple University Japan, taken at face value Prime Minister Noda's claim or insinuation that he had three major projects to undertake in the near future to bolster Japan's economic health:

1) begin formal, unequivocal discussion on joining the Trans Pacific Partnership

2) restarting Japan's nuclear power plants as soon as possible

3) raising the consumption tax in order to stabilize the funding of the nation's welfare and pension systems

For a Japan optimist like Katz, who sees Japan's output gap and suppressed domestic spending as criminal and reversible, the prime minister's decision to pursue option #3 at the expense of options #1 and #2 is perverse. The Japanese government's current borrowing costs are among the lowest on earth. The currency is one of the world's strongest. There is no crisis in confidence in Japan's ability to finance its debts. Furthermore the previous raising of the consumption tax in 1997 contributed to a crushing of domestic GDP growth, helping trigger the financial meltdown of 1998 and in the end reducing overall tax receipts (I think the little matter of the Asian Currency Crisis of 1997 had a little more to do with the 1998 crisis than the consumption tax rise -- but my memory is perhaps faulty).

Why pursue an end that will likely damage rather than strengthen the economy?

As Katz's question indicates, he also cannot see the political value of pursuing a rise in the consumption tax. Every single past instance of the tax either being imposed, raised or even talked about (2010) has led to the ruling party getting hammered in the next election.

However, if you look carefully at the three major policy programs listed above, it is clear that only the third, the consumption tax, was real. The first and second options, however economically sound, were political red herrings or lead balloons (choose your metaphor).

Any analysis of the "choice" a DPJ prime minister makes or may make must consider paramount the control the Liberal Democratic Party has over the passage of legislation through the House of Councillors. If the LDP does not like a policy, it has no chance of being implemented.

Looking at the TPP, one can immediately see that no matter what the government or the Nihon Keizai Shimbun may be saying, it is dead on arrival. The liberalization of the agricultural sector makes the TPP anathema in the rural districts, which are as ever overrepresented in the current Diet. Voting for the TPP would kill the reelection prospects of a DPJ representative in a rural seat. As for the LDP, which wants to regain the rural seats it lost to the DPJ in 2009, the TPP is also poison, though the LDP leadership, in pandering to the business lobby that also abandoned the LDP in 2009, keeps the TPP among its verbal bag of tricks.

So pursuing the TPP was a hopeless endeavor, especially after it turned out that the gatekeeper to Japan's joining the discussion was the U.S. Congress, particularly the U.S. Representatives and Senators from the state of Michigan and other U.S. auto producing states. There is only one thing negotiators of this blessed land want to show the legislators from the states dependent on America's bailed-out auto industry, and that is their naked backsides.

Restarting the nuclear power plants was also political poison. The country is in the grips of a deep and irrational fear of nuclear power and the nuclear power industry. Any politician speaking up for the restarting of nuclear power would be suspected of being in the pocket of the nuclear village.

Noda rational expectation was that Japan's industrial and commercial interests understood that this was their fight, not his. It was up to Japan's economic actors to make the case to the public that dangerous and unpredictable as it may be, the nuclear power plants had to be restarted, lest the country suffer economic damage or even catastrophic blackouts.

This industry pointedly failed to do. Perhaps it was unaccustomed to doing heavy political lifting by itself, having always relied on the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry to do their dirty work for them. Perhaps the elites in both the bureaucracy and industry, unaware that the political ground had shifted underneath their feet, thought that they could cow the populace into silence with just the hint that an interruption in the reactors restarts could hurt output and thus employment and remuneration.

Whatever the reason, industry failed to convince anyone that the country was on the brink of disaster. It took a personal intervention by the prime minister, at the last minute, and a chancy game of chicken with political maverick Hashimoto Toru, to persevere in a struggle to just get the Oi #3 and #4 reactors back on line before this summer, which has turned out to be a scorcher.

That prime minister Noda paid deeply for this intervention was made clear yesterday when he had to invite into the Prime Minister's Residence representatives of the crowds of anti-nuclear protesters who have been making his Friday evenings deafening affairs. In pointed contrast, representatives of the Japan Chamber of Commerce also paid a visit to the Residence yesterday to limply present the prime minister with a unwelcome written request that the government do more for the security of power supply.

As for the consumption tax, here was a policy program that had a chance in hell of succeeding, specifically because it was not a DPJ program but an LDP one. On the face of it, the LDP could not vote down one of its own campaign promises, when given the chance.

It is indicative of the intellectual and ethical rot in the LDP that the party nearly succeeded in convincing itself to negate the implementation of its own campaign program, even after the DPJ blew itself into to pieces in an act of self-sacrifice in order to accommodate the LDP.

So the answer to the question initially proposed is simple: Noda chose the consumption tax option because it was real. Governments have to do something, even seemingly stupid stuff, lest they be accused, and rightly so, of doing nothing.

"Rationality" had nothing to do with it.

Now, I will go listen to Ms. Tomlin one more time. I need the laughs.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Brief Rumination On Ozawa Ichiro, With A Long Detour Through A Condemnation Of The LDP

I have been accused for being unfairly negative toward Ozawa Ichiro, both here and in private communications.

I have always found these accusations rather peculiar. I have consistently argued that Ozawa was the victim of a baseless persecution in the public sphere.I have argued repeatedly that the charges filed against him and his aides were bogus; that his shady reputation was just that, a reputation, not a fact; that he was a bugbear of The Establishment and had suffered for it.

Often the accusations come from a misreading of my characterization of Ozawa's responsibility for a particular political situation. In my post of the other day, I seemed to be intimating that the Liberal Democratic Party learned from Ozawa its knee-jerk and unpatriotic automatic naysaying to any proposal of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, its constant calling for new elections and its criticism of every act of the governments of Kan Naoto and Noda Yoshihiko.

If this were the takeaway from my assertion, the result would be a gross misrepresentation of history. Ozawa did repeatedly call for elections during his tenure as party leader of the DPJ. He also used his party's majority in the House of Councillors to stymie government initiatives, particularly the renewal of the dispatch of Maritime Self Defense Forces ships to the Indian Ocean as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom and the renewal of the temporary tax on gasoline.

These positions were based not on an unthinking saying of "no" to every government act or policy but on fundamental principles.

After the Koizumi years, the LDP was a spent force. Execrable notions -- such as Japan could be revived as an economic and political power through the reimposition of pre-1945 respect for authority and enforced patriotism -- were not laughed out of the room but the foundation of national policies. The party's last three pre-August presidents were either the sons or grandsons of prime ministers.

After Koizumi, the LDP had no business being in power.

As for the Indian Ocean dispatch and the gasoline tax, the first challenged the constitutional limits of MSDF actions. The dispatch may have been indispensible for the maintenance of the Japan-U.S. alliance -- but it should have been explained as such, not painted over with a cavalcade of nonsense. The gasoline tax had been imposed at the height of the 1973 Oil Crisis. It had been renewed without explanation or justification for over thirty years.

In all three instances, the crucial issue was government accountability. The DPJ was demanding it because the LDP was not providing it.

However, in the basic running of the government, the DPJ, despite being the opposition party, worked with the LDP, or at least did not impede the government's delivery of basic government services. In part, this cooperation was due to the DPJ's having only limited powers, the LDP and the New Komeito together having a supermajority in the House of Representatives which could override any action or inaction of the House of Councillors, where the DPJ had the upper hand. However, the DPJ also understood that at loyal opposition had to be loyal, not just an opposition.

Once and only once did the DPJ use its legal powers to oppose the government. This was on the selection of the successor to Fukui Toshihiko as governor of the Bank of Japan. The DPJ told the LDP from the outset it would not accept as candidate an alumnus of the Finance Ministry. Out of purest contempt, the LDP sent not just one, but two alumni of the Finance Ministry as its candidates. These candidates the House of Councillors rejected. Finally, out of exasperation, the LDP proposed the academic and incumbent governor Shirakawa Masaaki, who was quickly confirmed.

What the LDP learned from these episodes were the most childish of lessons: a centrist political party had had the temerity to oppose the LDP. If the LDP is ever were in the opposition, it will oppose everything that that centrist party would propose.

Which is why we are where we are where we are today. The number of bills the government can push through during a Diet session is risible. A DPJ prime minister, in order to secure the support of three major bills (the limit it seems the LDP is willing to accept), one of which is the bill on bond issuance necessary for the government to pay its bills, must offer to resign. It happened to Kan; it is happening to Noda.

In a sense, it would be to the country's benefit for the DPJ to lose its majority in the next election. The DPJ at least has some sense of how to behave as an opposition party with some semblance of a conscience.

Of course, the LDP is even more spent as a force than when it was when it was tossed from power in 2009. It has nothing to offer to anyone, even its traditional constituencies in protected industries, big business and the rural areas.

That we are in the predicament we are in is in no small part due to Ozawa Ichiro's personal failings. His sense of entitlement, his obsessive need to be in charge, his inability to nurture talent, his incapacity to accept others as equals all contributed to his betrayal of the revolution he worked so hard to bring about. Whatever the political scientists may say about inevitable things happening inevitably, personality and individual decisions matter. Had Ozawa, when Hatoyama Yukio offered him the position of secretary-general of the DPJ in the giddy days after the August 2009 wipe out of the LDP, turned Hatoyama down with a "It's time for someone else, someone with less political baggage, to secure the gains we have made," our political today discourse would be richer and more meaningful.

Later - For a report on what looks like another episode of Ozawa's spiteful pettiness getting the best of him, please read Okumura Jun's latest, "Assassin for Kikawada? Is Ozawa Crazy? But Will the DPJ Miss a Golden Opportunity? over at GlobalTalk 21.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pictures of Modern Patriotism

Two parades...

Tokyo, August 20, 2012 - Double decker buses on the Ginza carrying medalists from the 2012 London Olympics

Chengdu, August 19, 2012 - Marchers demanding Japan give up the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands

Call me a fool but I am glad I did not choose Mandarin. I probably missed out on becoming insanely wealthy. However, I do not have to try to justify anger over ebullience.

I did study Korean, for a year. Another missed opportunity.

Then again, being able to read the Choson Ilbo's "Japan Needs to Take a Cold Look at Its Empire" in the original would likely not make it any better.

Still obsessing about the assassination of Queen Min? Did someone slip something into my coffee this morning?

Can you imagine the Austrian Minister for European and Foreign Affairs calling Belgrade, "Yo, Serbia. Before I get into your tariffs on the importation of wheat straw as a part of your accession application, what are you going to do about Gavrilo Princip?"

Photo image credits:
Top: Yomiuri Online
Bottom: Wall Street Journal China Real Time

Monday, August 20, 2012

Flag Waving Perverts

On Sunday, 140 of this blessed land's parliamentarians and local assembly members traveled by boat to the Senkaku Islands to take part in a perverse memorial service for an incident that occurred late in the Pacific War. (E)

On July 3, 1945, two ships set out from Ishigakijima, evacuating women, children and the elderly to Taiwan. En route the ships were attacked by a U.S. Navy PBY. One ship sank and the other was severely damaged. The damaged ship managed to ferry the surviving passenger to Uotsurijima. Several dozen of the passengers died in the attack. Several dozen more were to die on Uotsurijima, purportedly of starvation, more likely of a lack of fresh water -- the reason why the Senkaku Islands are uninhabited today. The survivors were not to rescued until three days after the war ended on August 18, ironically by Japan Navy ships that had remained on Ishigakijima as a part of the island's defense force. -- which of course, had never been needed, as was the evacuation, since Allied Forces made no attempt to land on Ishigakijima.

Women, children and the elderly dying in the war, marooned on an island -- very sad and worthy of being remembered -- but not by a band of right-wing nutbags.

First, as the Tsushima Maru Incident of August 1944 had shown, evacuating Okinawan women and children via commercial ships was a very bad idea. Putting military personnel on the evacuation ships was a doubly bad idea. Having those military personnel shooting back at an attacking U.S. Navy plane was a trebly bad idea.

Given when and how this evacuation was carried out, it was clearly not done with the interests of the civilians in mind. Rather it was to make sure women, children and the elderly were not on Ishigakijima lest they become burdens upon the island's military defenders.

Second, the incident was forgotten by main island Japanese. It was Okinawans who recovered the incident from obscurity, as a part of the grand history-writing project revealing of the losses the islands had suffered as the sacrificial lamb of the Japanese home islands.

Now, if the contingent of parliamentarians and local assembly member taking part in this trip to the Senkakus were the sworn enemies of the Japan Imperial State, persons who had a record of denouncing the Imperial Forces for having betrayed the Okinawans, or Okinawan politicians, then the visitation, with 10 of the politicians enthusiastically jumping out of their boats and wading ashore to carry out a memorial service to those who died, would have been acceptable. Illegal trespass but morally acceptable.

However, as is indicated by the outfit worn by the appointed spokesman for the 10 who waded ashore, Kosaka Eiji, an Arakawa City (a municipality of the Tokyo Metropolitan District) assemblyman so obscure the Yomiuri Shimbun account leaves off his personal name (J), these folks were exactly not anti-imperialists:

For those with an interest in the perky tweets of a lunatic ("It seems the police want to question me about the situation. No need to worry about me, though!") Kosaka's Twitter feed can be accessed here. Even those without an interest with Kosaka's thoughts can enjoy the stunning Photoshop work on his appended portrait.

Given the circumstances that led to the deaths of the civilians on Uotsurijima in July-August 1945, this motley crew of fantabulist outsiders (the assembly members who landed on the island were reportedly all either from the TMD or Hyogo Prefecture) were the last persons who should have been carrying out a memorial service to those who died.

De profundis clamavi ad te Domine...

Photo image credit: Yomiuri Online

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Somewhat Lame Farce About Modern Totalitarianism

When I was in high school, my favorite books in translation were the novels and short story collections of Heinrich Böll, including Billiards at Half-Past Nine and Children Are Civilians Too (My favorite book in English, for those interested in my adolescent loves, was Richard Brautigan's In Watermelon Sugar).

In Children Are Civilians Too I found particularly memorable a very brief short story called "My Sad Face." It is about a man living in an unidentified decayed dictatorship who is picked up by police for not having a smile on his face, as required by law.

Little was I to know that the story I found so moving was, according Professor William J. Schwarz, writing in the Saturday Review of March 1970, "a somewhat lame farce about modern totalitarianism."

It seems we live in the lamest of times:
UK man arrested for not smiling during Olympics

A man from Britain with Parkinson's disease was arrested while watching the Olympic cycling road race because he "failed to smile or look like he was enjoying himself."

Mark Worsfold, a martial arts trainer and former soldier, said that he was thrown to the floor and handcuffed just as cyclists passed by, Gulf News reported.

His worried wife Nicola only found out he was being held after she reported him missing when he did not turn up for their daughter's ninth birthday party.

The 54-year-old had his fingerprints, DNA and mugshot taken before being questioned about why he did not appear to be enjoying the event on July 28.

Police said Worsfold, who was held for over five hours, was arrested because of "his manner, his state of dress and his proximity to the course."

A spokesman added that the arrest was necessary to avoid a breach of the peace because he was standing near a group of protesters.

But Worsfold, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2010, said that one of the symptoms of the disease is muscle rigidity, which can cause his face to become expressionless and mask-like.

Worsfold, who had stopped to watch the men’s road race in Leatherhead, Surrey, after holding a Taekwondo demonstration nearby, said officers told him he was being arrested and taken to Reigate police station because he was not smiling.

"I was sitting minding my own business," he told a local newspaper.

"Before I knew anything the police grabbed me off this seven-foot wall, threw me to the floor and cuffed me so all I saw of the cycle race was between the feet of people from the pavement. It could have been done better. I was arrested for not smiling. I have Parkinson's," he said.

What does this have to do with this blessed land, or indeed the East Asian entire region?

Since the end of the most horrible of wars, it has been the habit of European countries and the United States to justify criticisms of government policies and practices of this region based on a presumed and pre-supposed moral superiority of their nations. It is the basis of criticism of retention of the death penalty (the EU) or just about everything (the United States).

However, since the outbreak of the War on Terror and the rise of the surveillance democracy (with the United Kingdom leading the way), the moral superiority of EuroAmerica is no longer tenable. Indeed, government (Anwar Awlaki) and mob/mass media (Bill Maher, the Dixie Chicks) attacks on individuals for expressing the wrong thoughts or having wrong attitudes are now commonplace; guaranteed freedoms are ignored with impunity (Guantanamo Bay); and basic human decency abandoned (Abu Ghraib). Privacy of communication and person have essentially vanished.

Given the self-inflicted wounding of what was indeed "better" about EuroAmerica, it should not be surprising that the government of this blessed land and other governments in the region should push back: "Who are you to criticize us, you who kill your own citizens living abroad through missile strikes, then proudly issue press releases about it?"

As a consequence, it should not be surprising that EuroAmerican cautions and admonitions about the sex slaves of the Imperial Army, visits to Yasukuni by Cabinet officials, impositions of the death penalty, arrests without due process of law and dolphin slaughter in worthless coastal burgs increasingly fall on not just deaf, but defensive ears.

With the moral high ground eroded to a nub, EuroAmerica's influence is crushed. What remains is only quiet suggestions through diplomatic channels of taking action based not a universal human rights or basic human dignity but purely out of self-interest.

Some may argue that in reality, self-interest was all that ever mattered -- that no action was ever taken out of pressures to conform with the norms of EuroAmerica. Those who hold to this tenet clearly have never watched Japanese television or read Japanese news. The views of non-Japanese bozos (as expressed on television programs, both serious and not) and the image of Japan in the world media has been the subject of intense interest. The example of other countries, particularly those in EuroAmerica, have been the guides and the drive behind the activities of non-profit organizations.

Interest is still being expressed in EuroAmerican ideas. However, is more out of momentum -- the repetition of a particular formula because it has worked in the past -- rather than out of a search for norms. To an ever greater extent, social mores are growing out of indigenous perceptions of injustice and inequality. EuroAmerica is more and more often a source of procedural hints rather than full programs or aspirations.

Some again may argue that this process has been on going for decades. I am not disputing this position. However, the process has accelerated since 2001, whilst the EuroAmerican governments, entrapped in their obsessive quests for security, have become less free.

So as EuroAmerican admonitions are met increasingly with "Got it. Whatever" -- ascribing the East Asian self-confidence to increased economic might is at best half the story. Indeed, in this blessed land, with its twenty-five years of recession and a plummeting percentage of total world GDP, confidence arising out of economic prowess is rather laughable -- though the crisis in EuroAmerica since the 2008 global economic collapse does stimulate more than a bit of schadenfreude.

The other side of the coin is the decline of freedom, of the right to have a sad face on a happy day.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Senkaku Invasion, Considered

Over at the The Atlantic, CFR Fellow Sheila Smith has had published a revised version (E) of her August 15 Asia Unbound post on the bang-your-head on the desk pig-headeness displayed on the anniversary of the worst wars.

I would only quibble with her characterization in the revised article of the Taiwaness attitude toward Japanese territories. Despite one of the activists making it to shore carrying a Republic of China flag, the Taiwanese attitude seems to be "Leave us out of this!" Not only did Taiwan authorities not allow the Hong Kong ship make port at Taichung to take on fresh water but it convinced Taiwan activists preparing to join the crew of the Hong Kong vessel that it was really in their best interests to stay home.

Furthermore, in a little noticed near incident on July 26, a Taiwanese squadron of three naval vessels sailed close to the 12 nautical mile limit surrounding the island of Yonaguni. In respone to sailing so close to Japanese territorial waters, the Taiwanese Navy went bonkers, relieving the commanding officer of his command and affixeing a demerit to his service record. Since then the committee in charge of the defending the rights of naval personnel has seen to it that the demerit will be revoked. (E)

The Taiwanese Navy's immediate and near hysterical response to even appearing to desire to violate Japan's territorial waters seems to demonstrate that government of Taiwan has a sent word on down that the basic rule is restrict territorial grandstanding to talk, not action.

Over at Global Talk 21, Okumura Jun has been dashing out a series of invaluable posts on the Senkakus landing incident. Okumura-san hammers away at the takeaway from the landing: that by carrying out maneuvers that resulted in significant damage to Japan Coast Guard vessels, but making no attempts to board the vessel -- even after the activists tossed cement blocks at the JCG ships -- and by having the arrests carried out on land as gently as possible by local -- i.e. Okinawa Prefecture -- police specially transported to the Senkakus for the occasion, Japanese claims of sovereignty of the islands have been enhanced. This was absolutely the worst possible outcome for the People's Republic of China, no matter how much it has thrilled some in Hong Kong. (E)

One ongoing domestic dispute perplexes Okumura, however:
"...there seems to be significant criticism in Japan over the fact that the authorities let the Hong Kong activists land on the Islands. I don’t understand this; are the critics suggesting that the authorities should have exercised deadly force if need be rather than let the activists land, then arrest them for illegal entry? After all, they were posing no known physical threat to any persons or assets under Japanese jurisdiction. If this had been a helicopter and not a boat, would these critics have insisted that the Coast Guard shoot it down?"

Yes, that is exactly what they are saying. You know, the old "If it was good enough for the Soviet Union (E) it is good enough for us" line of reasoning.

I am stunned. Members of the opposition, playing politics with the government's conduct of Japan's security policy, in direct contradiction to positions they have previously taken.

Where oh where could they have ever learned that little trick?

This is not to say that Ozawa Ichiro would be acting as the LDP is in this instance. Indeed, he would not. However, the LDP, with its "Learn nothing; forget nothing" ethos, is only doing what it thinks an opposition party should do: play "tit-for-tat" -- do unto others as they have done unto you -- no matter that that what they are advocating is intensely and unpatriotically stupid.

Now such stupendous nitwittery has its uses, of course. It certainly makes it easier for the Noda government to lay it on the line with with the Chinese, telling them:

"Look, keep a lid on this, OK? Do not let your self-appointed, presumably sexually frustrated middle-aged male hyper-patriots make us look bad. Because if the DPJ gets wiped out in the next election as a result of its supposed weak stance on national security, you will be dealing with this cabal of nitwits."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

It Could Have Been A Lot Worse

In yesterday's post, I lamented that the August 15 anniversary of the end of World War II was the worst of days, due to the absurd nationalist and ehtnocentric emotions the anniversary raises.

However, we have made it through to Thursday, Amaterasu be praised. A lot of bad, stupid events took place and dumb things were said, but all turned out pretty much for the best.

- The fishing boat full of Hong Kong activists, despite the Japan Coast Guard's vigorous efforts to encourage -- and by "encourage" I mean this...

to not try to make landfall at any of the Senkaku Islands, could not take the subtle hint and proceeded close enough to the shore of Uojima for seven of the activists, carrying inexplicably the flags of both the PRC and the ROC, to wade ashore.

CCTV, in a breaking news flash, depressingly referred to the charade as a "successful landing."

On shore, the seven were met by a company of JCG personnel and Okinawa Prefecture police -- a blend of security forces the activists should have thanked their lucky stars for, as coast guard personnel tend to play rough. They are the proud cowboys of Japan's security establishment and have a very short list of rules of engagement.

Despite the reduced chance of their being harmed, two of the activists turned around and immediately swam back to the boat. Perhaps they lost heart; perhaps they had a live interview wairing for them. The remaining five were relieved of their flags and arrested on violations of immigration laws.

Later, after night had fallen, the Coast Guard took control of the fishing vessel, arresting the nine remaining activists on board.

No one got hurt; the Chinese got their testosterone shot. If Japanese authorities learned anything from the Chinese fishing boat collision case, they will put the activists on a flight to Hong Kong, deporting them for being particularly unsuccessful illegal immigrants.

- President Lee Myung-bak, who threw a wrench into Japan-South Korea relations by visiting Dokdo on August 10, doubled down on his diplomatic faux pas by inviting the Heisei Emperor to visit South Korea on the condition that the emperor issue a contrite apology to the peoples of the Korean peninsula for Japan's occupation and annexation of the land a hundred years ago (E). That the Emperor did this the last time he visited the ROK Prime Minister Kan Naoto did this on the 100th anniversary of Korea's annexation seems to have not satisfied President Lee's critics.

For a guy born in Osaka, Lee sure is tough on his original home. Then again, for the suspicious act of having emerged from a uterus in Japan, the president of the Republic of Korea is a presumed puppet of Japan.

Lesson: choose your uterus wisely!

[Choosing the right uterus is only half the story, of course, even in these oligarchical times. The Hatoyama Brothers, Yukio and Kunio, made an excellent choice, only to proceed through their own particular brand of solipsism to make a hash of their advance placement in life.]

- The demonstration in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul attracted 300 persons, according to Japanese news reports. In the pouring rain, the famous statue of the young seated girl looked as though she were crying,

While particularly a effective and affective work of art yesterday, the statue has to be moved to a less provocative location. It is, of course, a stand-in for the sex slaves themselves, who cannot, due to their advanced age, keep up the weekly protests much longer.

However, the statue, in its permanence, closes minds. From the point of view of a Japanese diplomat or a Japanese politician, the statement "We will always be here" provokes the response, "Fine. We will always ignore you."

- The two members of the Cabinet who paid their respects at Yasukuni yesterday did so in a private capacity, as they had promised, lessening somewhat the fallout from the visits. They also demonstrated, in their press availabilities after their visits, that neither would make it past the first round of an "evil genius" competition.

- After reporting on the rest of the day's sordid events, NHK's 9 p.m. broadcast a special segment on a heretofore little-publicized facet of the Pacific War: the dispatch of eleven agents from the infamous Nakano military intelligence school to the outer, tiny islands of the Okinawa chain in last year of the war. The goal: to infiltrate local society in preparation of convincing the islanders to sacrifice themselves for the defense of the main islands.

The piece focused on the effort of two sisters to record, as long as persons of at least a certain age in 1945 are still alive, memories of a school teacher who arrived in January 1945 and soon became renowned for his kindness and competence.

The school teacher, was, as it turned out, one of these agents.

When Allied forces arrived near the island, the teacher was one of the local authorities who convinced islanders to retreat in to the forests. Once in the forest, the teacher, who had heretofore been known only for his sweet disposition, suddenly began talking about everyone preparing for a glorious death in battle (gyokusai - literally "a crushing of a jewel"). The islanders, in their good sense, thought he had gone insane and ignored him.

Some time later, after the war was over, Allied intelligence found the agent still at work on the island, arrested him, and took him away.

It was the last anyone on the island saw of him.

Now for the sisters, the recording of the activities of the agent, who went on to live a life of obscure normalcy as a middle school teacher on Honshu, has a deeply personal cast. While on the island, the teacher started living with a local woman, impregnating her. She later gave birth to a son.

That woman was the sisters' aunt and the boy their cousin.

The message repeated throughout the piece was the way the leadership in Tokyo considered the inhabitants of Okinawa expendable (sute ishi - "stones tossed away"). Their value. at least as regards the male inhabitants, was as a potential guerrilla force tying down the Allies, inflicting casualties, and slowing the Allied advance as the main islands prepared to repel an amphibious invasion.

Insufficient reflection on the wrongs done in the war, both on the small and the vast scales?

Not exactly.

Photo image credit: Yomiuri Online

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Worst Of Days

Today should be the best of days. A day of celebration of the end of the worst of all wars. The end of the rule of this blessed land by an oligarchy of military officers. A celebration of the end of the needless sacrifice of millions soldiers and tens of millions of civilians to a false god, a faith that security is bought through the elimination of potential threats on one's horizon, pursued and acquired with blood and treasure, only for horizon to move ahead, non erit finis. It should be a celebration of the end of the long subjugation of the Korean peoples and the attempt to extirpate their culture. The end of the 80 year struggle between China and Japan for mastery of East Asia, a conflict that left both devastated and impoverished.

It should be a day of remembrance, yes for the soldiers who died in the conflict, but more importantly the civilians, who had no part in the conflict between the military men, other than to be crushed and blown to pieces by the machine of war.

A day to raise a glass and say, "It ended on this day."

But it will likely not be the best of days. It will likely be one of the worst.

State Minister for the Abduction Issue and Chairman of the National Security Commission Matsubara Jin and Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Hata Yuichiro promised to visit Yasukuni today. Matsubara earlier this morning made good on this promise. If and when Hata makes good on his promise, these will be the first visits to Yasukuni by Cabinet ministers since the Democratic Party of Japan took power three years ago.  It will be the first visit by more than one Cabinet member since the Koizumi years.

Matsubara has always been a paid-in, Grade Triple-A, choice member of the right-wing bag of nuts. His right-wing bona fides were why prime minister Noda Yoshihiko handed him for the Abductee portfolio, which the DPJ had been passing around like a hot potato. Matsubara was always a candidate for the DPJ-member most likely to visit the shrine on August 15. He has simply made good on the threat that he posed.

Hata has never featured prominently in right wing newsmaking . He has been a regular attendee of August 15 legislators' visits to Yasukuni. A member of the House of Councillors, he is not up for reelection next year; this is no bald electoral stunt. His father Tutsomu, however, seems too ill to run for his House of Representatives seat. So Hata Junior is possibly positioning himself for a run for his father's seat.

Nagano Prefecture is not seen as a part of the conservative heartland. Hata the Younger is a real legacy politician, however, with few or no personal achievements or capacities. With the DPJ a damaged electoral brand, it seems that he feels insufficiently confident he has the gravitas to both forego going to Yasukuni today and still win the Nagano #3 seat his father has occupied since 1969.

On the 10th of this month, Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu asked members of the Cabinet to show self-control as regards official visits to Yasukuni. Matsubara reportedly has and Hata is promising to adhere to the letter, if not the spirit, of Fujimura's request by paying "personal" or "private" visits. (J)

Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko might have asked Matsubara and Hata to suspend their visits or resign as ministers if they really wished to pay their respects. However, any interest Noda may have had in the Japanese Cabinet's demonstrating restraint in the interest of regional peace flew out the window with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's visit to Dokdo/Takeshima on the same day Fujimura made his appeal. After Lee's provocation, no prime minister could survive asking his subordinates to not visit Yasukuni.

In delicious irony, the excuse that the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade made for Lees's visit to Dokdo is exactly the same one Koizumi Jun'ichiro used to give for his visits to Yasukuni: of what business is it of other nations when a leader of a country visits a location inside his own land? (E)

Noda is prickly about matters of Japanese honor. As the son of a Ground Self Defense Forces officer he sometimes takes a swerve toward the crazy as regards the actions of the Imperial Forces. His hair-splitting on the status of the 14 Class A war criminals enshrined at Yasukuni or the procurement of the sex slaves known as the comfort women makes Japan's neighbors nervous. In the case of the comfort women issue, Noda's government out of principle had no strategy to deal with the new situation arising from the South Korean Supreme Court's ordering the country's executive branch to publicize the issue. It was Noda's ignoring Lee's importuning him to make some visible effort as regards reconsideration of the comfort women issue that pushed Lee to make his final determination to visit Dokdo. (J)

Meanwhile, somewhere north of the the Taiwan Straits, a shipload of Hong Kong activists is on course for a collision with Japanese Coast vessels just inside the 12 nautical mile perimeter around the Senkaku Islands. According NHK, the activists will arrive in the area about the Senkakus at around noon today, Japan Standard Time (J). As these confrontations have ended fatally in the past (E) it is inexplicable that Hong Kong authorities did not hinder the vessel's departure.

In South Korea, today is Independence Day. Considering how they have viewed the performances of South Korea's athletes at the London Olympics as an expression of national power and the victory in the South Korea-Japan men's soccer match as an expression of spiritual power (E - Fiction is dead: there is no longer any reason to make stuff up) one shudders to think how today's end of Japanese rule over Korea will be celebrated.

So today will be not a celebration of a region liberated from a hypertrophied, paranoid, expansionist nationalism but indeed the opposite, a series of vignettes reminding the rest of the planet on how much this ideological dead end holds the region in its thrall.