Friday, November 30, 2012

Nice Going JARPA II

Number for the day: 92.5

What is it?

Percentage of adult female Minke whales taken by the December 2011-March 2012 Antarctic research whaling expedition (total taken: 266 Minke, 1 Fin) which were pregnant at the time they were killed.

Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Link -J)

An old number...and in line with previous survey results.

Why have I never heard of it before?

Why am I even asking this question?


The above was stimulated by Justin McCurry's write up on the pelagic whale hunt, an article unfortunately illustrated with an image of the small-scale coastal whaling abattoir at Wadaura, which has nothing to do with the pelagic hunt. (Link)

Does anyone remember where the statistics on the number of tons of whale meat in storage are?

If I Had A Year...

...a month, a week and a day, I would not be able to produce an essay as cogent and level-headed as "The Declinist Debate Is A Diversion," posted to the Council on Foreign Relations website. (Link)

Professor Gerald Curtis is the smartest writer on Japan. Period.

Later - In his typically more erudite way, Kiwi author Corey Wallace concurs. (Link)

The TMD Governor's Election As Bellweather

The constantly morphing scrum in advance of the December 4 cutoff date of the candidate lists for the House of Representatives election is leaving the voters simultaneously amused, annoyed and bored -- a state of affairs that would be hilarious if not for the facts that:

- whichever party or alliance comes out on top, it will have to deal with an uncontrollable House of Councillors (thank you, Michael Penn)


- the country is going to be tossed into the same maelstrom again in eight month's time, when the half of the House of Councillors seats are up for election.

In contrast to the national vote, where four parties of the right, right, center-right and left are battling for the bulk of votes, with micro-parties (sorry Your Party, you are on the way down) battling over the crumbs (the New Komeito voters being a largely fixed quantity) the contest for the governorship of the Tokyo Metropolitan District has resolved into a clear battle between two competing ideological alliances (with an obligatory minor cast of hopefuls and freaks, of course).

On the one side is the conservative alliance of the Liberal Democratic Party, the New Komeito and the Japan Restoration Association. They are all backing former Vice Governor Inose Naoki. On the other is the liberal alliance of the Communists, Socialists and the Party of the Future (Mirai no To) behind former Japan Bar Association President Utsunomiya Kenji. The conservatives here are a really conservative, seeking a retention in office of the man who has been the TMD's real governor, Ishihara Shintaro having been the Tocho's figurehead and dreamer-in-chief. The liberals are really liberal, in the pejorative sense: hopeful that correctness of thought takes precedence over experience.

Utsunomiya's campaign has a further shadow over it: the citizens of the TMD have little to complain about. The TMD's has flourished over the last decade, despite Ishihara's numerous boondoggles. By any measure, the TMD, where most of the country's thought leaders and foreign correspondents live, is the outlier among Japan's prefectures. It has enjoyed continued prosperity, continuous growth (more people live in the inner 23 wards now than at any time in history) and relative youth (Okinawans give birth to way more children but Tokyo is a magnet for the 20-35 cohort).

The Utsunomiya campaign picked up a nice endorsement yesterday from former prime minister Kan Naoto, a liberal (in the positive sense) champion. Kan, however, is facing a surprisingly tough race in his home district (Tokyo District #18 - 10 terms) -- an indication of a possible wipeout of the Democratic Party of Japan on December 16. In the 2005 postal reform election, Kan was the only DPJ member to either win or retain his/her seat in the TMD. If he is struggling, the outlook for the party is grim.

As regards the DPJ as a whole, it has opted out of participating in the TMD gubernatorial election, telling its supporters to make their own choice. An inability to either field its own candidate or line up behind one of the nine candidates (all of them men) is a bad sign. It is a passive parallel to the strategy the party is deploying the House of Representatives election: be the mild alternative, engaging the 40% to 45% of the electorate that remains non-aligned voters in a negative way, offering the DPJ as the default, middle-of-the-road choice.

Come December 16, the emotionally detached DPJ may find out what Texas humorist Jim Hightower meant when he said, "The middle of the road is for yellow lines and dead armadillos."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A New Union Of Forces Of The Left

The slapdash creation yesterday of the Japan Party of the Future (Nippon Mirai no To) in part answers the heretofore burning question, "Where is the umbrella party of the left, the correlate of the Liberal Democratic Party as the umbrella party of the center-right, now that the ruling Democratic Party of Japan has effectively expelled all of its anti-consumption tax, anti-nuclear power and anti-Trans Pacific Partnership members?" (Link)

Funny how political realignment, which was assumed was going to result in urban, free-market, multilateralist, liberals facing off against rural, crony-capitalist, bilateral relations and traditional social policy conservatives has become a four-way fight between parties and close allies with market socialism, social conservatism, activist foreign policy, regressive social policy, patriotism, fiscal rectitude, loose monetary policy, subsidies and education reform all in a jumble.

Considering how many parties have formed and disappeared over the last two weeks, it is not out of place to wonder whether the voters will be given enough time to discern what the various electoral alliances stand for.

The whole mad process of creating viable electoral groupings should end on December 4, when the final party lists are announced. Politicians have become so addicted to rebranding, however, that they may still be redefining themselves during their last speeches in the final hours of December 15.

On Joseph Nye's "Nationalist" Japan

Joseph Nye, a member of The Quartet, the four retired United States officials who skittered through Tokyo and Beijing last month on a mission without a plan (Link) has had an infuriating opinion piece published in the Financial Times. (Link)

One can overlook the misspelling of Hashimoto Toru's name -- who can keep the plethora of minor Japanese politicians straight, right? (And you are the last person to quibble about the spelling errors of others - Ed.)

One can overlook the incorrect characterization of Yasukuni as "a controversial second world war memorial." Building a controversial WWII memorial would represent an awesome bit of prescience on the party of the Meiji government, which presided over the formal establishment of the shrine in 1879. (Link)

One can overlook Nye's having plagiarized his own work, the FT opinion piece being merely an abbreviation of the essay he published with Project Syndicate on November 9. (Link)

What cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged, however, is Nye's uncritical use of the adjective "nationalist" to describe the policy prescriptions of Japan's political classes.

A more patriotic line, a more activist line, certainly -- but nationalist? The assessment seems unsound.

What is nationalism? In English we have come to use the term as the pejorative form of love of one's country or patriotism. However, we should feel shame at this act of intellectual sloppiness. A quick glance at the dictionary finds nationalism to be a both more open and circumscribed term. There is, first of all, no obvious implied value judgment. Nationalism is a positive force against colonialism and imperialism. For an uncritical adherent to multilateralism, a "doctrine that nations should act independently (rather than collectively) to attain their goals" would be bad. Many would argue that following an independent and autonomous path is a characteristic of a smarter and more responsible government.

As for a less salubrious definition of nationalism, "a belief that one's national way of life is better than any other," nobody but nobody believes this. Different, unique, worthy of preservation -- assuming one could even define "the Japanese way of life," of course -- fine. But intrinsically better? Ummmm, possibly not since the collapse of the Bubble, definitely not in the last decade.

Nye himself indirectly acknowledges opaque nature of nationalism in allowing a Japanese citizen, identified as a "friend" in the FT piece and "a young professional" in the Project Syndicate essay, to claim:
"We are interested in conservative nationalism, not militaristic nationalism. No one wants to return to the 1930's."
Laying aside for a moment the oxymoron -- nationalism demanding a change in the way the people are governed or live while conservatism arguing against changes in governance and way of life -- the speaker, and by extension Nye, are comfortable with the thought that nationalism comes in a variety of flavors, both palatable and unpalatable.

So what does Nye mean when he writes "Japanese public opinion is shifting to the right and in a more nationalistic direction"? How are we supposed to react when one of the wise men of U.S. Asia policy makes such a declaration?

A sanguine answer would be that Nye wrote both versions of this essay without thinking about what he was saying. His flaccid use of "nationalism" conflates at once the 1930s expansionist Japanese government with a modern desire to possess nuclear weapons or an incipient nuclear weapons capability -- two items he cannot possibly believe are equivalent or the same.

The less charitable answer would be that Nye is allowing the terminology of Chinese interlocutors to dominate and devalue the discussion of what is transpiring in Japanese politics and society. Chinese government figures and public commentators are aware of the negative connotations of nationalism. They would declare their own love of country coupled with a will to power to be patriotism, not nationalism. By labeling Japanese policy prescriptions nationalism, a speaker undermines the legitimacy of goals, even when they are the decidedly modest ones of maintaining the stability of existing borders and a national polity's autonomy.

Does Japan have a discussion of nationalism? Of course it does. The Japanese discussion is possibly more intelligent, with aikokushugi, literally "Love-Country-Belief System," set against kokkashugi, literally "National State-Belief System." One can have a coherent and partisan debate over whether Ishihara Shintaro or Hashimoto or Noda Yoshihiko are advocating aikokushugi or kokkashugi, with participants coming to a consensus on the inflection points where love of one's country contorts into either a poisonous obedience to the government or a program of international violence.

If nationalism does not presume submission to a tyranny or attacks on other nations, then using the word "nationalism" seems petty and lazy.

One should not bandy empty words about, lest one's friends lose confidence in one's intentions.

Later - The FT has fixed the misspelling of Hashimoto's name.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Koizumi Fetish

They cannot get over him. In a sense we all cannot.

Koizumi Jun'ichiro is the "except for" of Japanese prime ministers. Except for Koizumi, no prime minister in the last quarter century has served even 3 years in office. Except for Koizumi, the popularity of prime ministers has followed an inexorable downward course. Except for Koizumi, no Liberal Democratic Party prime minister figured out how to tame the factions, shrug off the responsibility for losses and take credit for victories.

Of course, Koizumi reigned at a special time. The economies of Europe and the United States, super-charged by too loose monetary policy, sucked in imports from East Asia, which, through the invisible hand of the supply chain, redounded to the benefit of this blessed land. Privatization was a good word and the low hanging fruit of structural reform was ripe for the picking.

However, it was Koizumi's ability to dominate public discussion that still seems to haunt the political classes. Koizumi could utter ostensible nonsense -- "I am here to destroy the LDP. So a vote for the LDP is a vote for its destruction" -- and the public would buy it.

Not only would the voters buy the Koizumi line; it took very little time for Koizumi to get them to buy it. Back in 2006, I tossed out a brief note on an interesting trio of graphs published in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun's evening edition of 22 August 2006 (Link). It is worthwhile to take a look at these graphs once again.

The top graph shows the movement of public opinion as regards the dispatch of Self Defense Forces to Iraq. In December 2003, about 33% of those polled were in favor of the dispatch with around 53% opposed. By February of 2004, the 20 percentage point gap had evaporated; equal percentages of the voters were in favor and opposed to the dispatch.
The second graph shows the popularity of a dissolution of the Diet over the House of Councillors' rejection of the postal reform bill. In July of 2005, slightly more than 20% of those polled were in favor of a dissolution over the issue, while a whopping 60%+ were opposed. Koizumi went ahead with the dissolution anyway. Within a month, percentages had shifted by 30 points each way, with over half those polled supporting the dissolution and only slightly above 30% opposed.

The third graph shows the shift, again over a single month's time, in public support for Koizumi making good on his 2001 promise to visit Yasukuni Shrine on the August 15 end-of-war anniversary. In July of 2006, over 50% of those polled did not support the visit, while just under 30% were in favor. By the time of Koizumi's visit, the percentages had reversed, with just over 30% opposing the visit and just under 50% supporting it.

I have no inside information confirming my guess, but Koizumi fetishism, with a dash of "learning from the Aso Taro experience," offers an explanation for Prime Minister Noda's otherwise ridiculous decision to dissolve the Diet. If one believed that one could move public opinion simply by displaying a flamboyant decisiveness -- and one furthermore believed that Aso Taro had, by choosing to delay an election he had been expected to call immediately after taking over as prime minister (due to a little problem in the financial markets in the fall of 2008...), doomed his party to an electoral wipeout in 2009 -- then why not, in an atypically showy fashion, confront Abe Shinzo with an immediate dissolution offer during the live national broadcast of Party Leader Debate Time?

Unfortunately for Prime Minister Noda, public opinion polls show (Link) that conjuring up a majority will take more than just the planting of a flag and the swearing one will defend the ground one is standing on. Pledges have to be credible. Koizumi's were because he chose to stand and fight on issues where he had a record of supporting change. Noda, because he had been choosing his issues out of a hat at the last minute, has no credibility. No one knows whether his stated desire to fight is genuine or not. Noda and the DPJ are failing to win the support of non-affiliated voters even when the DPJ's opponent is an Abe Shinzo-led LDP.

Noda and the DPJ have given the voters short shrift. Though the voters might find it difficult to explain themselves, they are right at taking offense at the prime minister's facile homage to Koizumi's flash. Koizumi's views, though they were contrary to the conventional wisdom, had at least been tested and honed over the decades. Koizumi never staked his or the country's fate on values no one knew he had.

The DPJ releases its election manifesto today. Expectations are for a mild document, a simple restatement of the cautious policies of the Noda administration. Prepare to hear a lot of noise about the contents of the manifesto, followed by a dull thud as the release fails to move any hearts.

If elections were decided on the fundamental reasonableness of the campaign promises, the DPJ would win big in December.

Elections are not just about a list of promises, however. Elections are also about leverage -- that which the party has on others and that which the electorate has on the individual politician. Noda and his fellow travelers in the DPJ offer neither a sense they know the way out of legislative gridlock nor that they care about their constituents.

Voters may still vote for the DPJ district candidate or for the party as the least-worst option -- if the voters bother to show up at all. Only 61% respondents to NHK's weekend public opinion poll swore they would going to the polls on Election Day.

Pushing voters into the voting stall -- and stimulating them into feeling excited about voting -- these the Noda-led DPJ must do. For the appeal to stick, the Noda DPJ must convince voters that its promises are durable commitments.

Good luck with that.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Going Down In Flames

A little less than two weeks ago, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko decided to cut short the debate on the bond issuance and the electoral reform bills, accepting from the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito the votes for the bond issuance bill they had already agreed to give him. In return, he gave away a one-in-a-decade chance to reform the electoral districts, forcing his party to contest the election in LDP-designed districts. He also received the verbal promises that the LDP would be serious about the advisory commission on welfare and pension reforms and the submission in the regular Diet session of a bill cutting the number of Diet members.

The wisdom of this decidedly unbalanced exchange has yet to manifest itself.

This morning'g public opinion poll results are dismal for the prime minister and his party. Despite the public's having had two weeks to think seriously about the horror of a second Abe premiership -- bolstered by the release of an LDP manifesto showing that the "Friends of Shinzo" have learned exactly nothing in the five years since their being hoisted from power -- a flow from the LDP to the Democratic Party of Japan is nowhere in sight.

For the all important "Which party do you intend to vote for in the proportional bloc half of the ballot? question, the reported results of this weekend's polling and the results from a week ago are:


LDP 19% (24%)
DPJ 8% (11%)
JRA 10% (8%)*
New Komeito 4% (4%)
Your Party 3% (2%)
People's Life First 2% (1%)
Don't know 45% (43%)

The Asahi Shimbun

LDP 23% (22%)
DPJ 13% (15%)
JRA 9% (6%)
New Komeito 4% (4%)
Your Party 3% (1%)
People's Life First 2% (0%)
Don't know 41% (46%)

Yomiuri Shimbun

LDP 25% (26%)
DPJ 10% (13%)
JRA 14% (13%)*
New Komeito 6% (4%)
Your Party 2% (2%)
People's Life First 2% (2%)

The results are a big pick-me-up for the Japan Restoration Association. We shall see if Hashimoto Toru's indelicate unveiling of his unserious approach to politics -- suggesting to the Your Party's Watanabe Yoshimi that districts where the JRA and the Your Party are both hoping to run candidates be divvied up by the two of them competing in "Rock, Paper, Scissors" -- represents a lasting hiccup or just another Monday morning's tempest in a coffee mug.

The poll numbers are a mixed bag for the LDP. It still has its on its two-to-one edge in most surveys but dropped by 5 points week-on-week in the Kyodo poll.

However, it is the chins of DPJ Diet seat holders that will be sunken today. A negative trend is visible across the board, bolstering the veracity of anecdotal accounts of DPJ big wheels speaking before tiny, unenthusiastic crowds.

Of course, these national trend polls mask significant variation in the regional bloc numbers. The DPJ remains viable in the Northern Kanto Bloc and to a lesser extent the Tohoku Region. The LDP dominates in the Southern Kanto, Joetsu, Tokai, Chugoku, Shikoku and Kyushu regions. The JRA is powerhouse in the making in the Kinki Region, while remaining a decidedly minor force inside Tokyo (no surprises there).

There is still no consensus as to just what the prime minister thought he was doing when he challenged Abe Shinzo two weeks ago during party leader Debate Time. For those inclined toward conspiracy theory, Noda, sick of the leftist and anti-free trade elements in the DPJ, called the election so that the center left would be erased in a rightward wave. Equally plausible is the assertion that Noda, like Abe in 2007, had a mistaken faith in the voters' appreciating his policies. The calling of the election was thus a simple miscalculation, a dooming of the DPJ to death from policy wonkery.

I am partial to both explanations.

Later - No, I do not believe the "just so" story that Prime Minister Noda called the election in order to short-circuit a party revolt against his leadership whilst he was away attending the ASEAN summit. Noda is not an African potentate, for Amaterasu's sake.


* Totals for Japan Restoration Association are sum of JRA and Party of the Sun for November 17-18 surveys



Kyodo poll:

Tokyo Shimbun of 26 November 2012

The Asahi Shimbun poll:


Yomiuri Shimbun poll:

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Holidays in this blessed land and the United States are arguments against posting.

However, a while back -- a very long while back -- I wrote a post on House of Representatives member Kobayashi Koki's departure from the Democratic Party of Japan. I was unkind toward the little-known (well, outside of this blessed land, at least) legislator. I wrote in conclusion:
So long you Tokyo University Faculty of Law graduate, former Ministry of International Trade and Industry bureaucrat, former Liberal Democratic Party district seat holder, expelled from the LDP by Koizumi Jun'ichiro for opposing postal reform and stripped of your seat by Koike Yuriko, only to be returned to the House of Representatives as a proportional list seat winner for the DPJ -- you will most certainly not be missed.
A commenter asked for a rationale for my vehemence:

opposing postal system "reform" and the consumption tax hike on the middle class doesn't seem to be worthy of such animus.

what am I missing?
I admit, calling Kobayashi "one of the total wastes of human skin Ozawa Ichiro brought into the Democratic Party of Japan for possibly no reason other than to make himself look better" seems an inordinate investment of invective for someone who is a minor character -- and not a particularly nasty one, either.

However, Kobayashi, the uncrowned king of the retreads, is the gift that keeps on giving, back in the tiny print for his boundless opportunism.

Kobayashi, a proportional seat holder -- i.e., someone who has a seat because of his party, not himself -- defected from the DPJ in August, ostensibly in opposition to the bill raising the consumption tax -- a vote that took place in the House of Representatives in June. Kobayashi quickly started a political cohabitation with Kawamura Takashi's Tax Reduction Japan (Genzei Nippon) proto-party -- helping the Nagoya mayor and irrepressible buffoon in gathering under one umbrella the five Diet members he needed for TRJ to register as a party eligible to run candidates in the proportional seat races (Link).

Earlier this week the anti-tax Kawamura went a-courting Hashimoto Toru's Japan Restoration Association, a party which advocates a raising of the consumption tax to 11% -- a wooing that earned Kawamura a scornful tongue-lashing from Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko all the way from Phnom Penh.

Kawamura went away not only empty-handed, but minus Kobayashi, who dropped off his letter of resignation from TRJ. Kobayashi had taken a gander at the JRA and decided he wanted a piece of Hashimoto's action.

Kawamura, bereft of a fifth former Diet member for TRJ, went running yesterday into the arms of Anti-TPP, the anti-nuclear power/anti-Trans Pacific Partnership proto-party of Diet pinup boys Kamei "Pavarotti" Shizuka and Yamada "Mr. No To Everything" Masahiko. The trio agreed to a merger, giving their new party the catchy moniker of the "Tax Reduction Japan - Anti-TPP - Withdraw From Nuclear Power Party" (Genzei Nippon - Han TPP - Datsugenpatsuto).

Anti-TPP, which Kamei and Yamada founded on November 19, sets the new gold standard for party lifetimes. It bests the record set by Ishihara Shintaro's Party of the Sun, which, by lasting 4 1/2 days before merging with Hashimoto's JRA, had set a seemingly unbreakable record for brevity of a party's earthly existence. (Link)

Getting back to Kobayashi, it turns out that he did not, prior to handing in his letter of resignation from TRJ, actually talk to anyone at JRA about his joining that party. Lo and behold, when asked about Kobayashi's desire to switch parties, JRA party secretary-general Matsui Ichiro replied, "We have not discussed it. And we are not going to."


Cue Kobayashi returning, hat in hand, to TRJ. Asked about Kobayashi's letter of resignation, Kawamura replies, "I am going to hang on to it." (Link - J)

As I admitted, Kobayashi is not an enemy of the people. However, he is, despite his education and training, a raging mediocrity, a lurid illustration of how badly led and cheated -- a member of the House of Representatives costing the taxpayers, in total, about 100 million yen per year -- the good citizens have been.

Later - Reviewed some of my previous posts on Kobayashi. I had forgotten all about the Paul McCartney montage.

Ah, the Koizumi years...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

About That Paragraph On The Senkakus In The LDP Manifesto

Prodded by an email, I have looked at the foreign and security policy section of the Liberal Democratic Party's electoral manifesto. I was particulary interested in a passage Yuka Hayashi and Alexander Martin of the Wall Street Journal have translated thusly:
"We will consider installing a permanent presence of government employees to protect the islands, and implementing improvements and support of the nearby fishery environment," the party said. "We will endeavor to achieve the stable maintenance and management of the islands and the surrounding waters."
Is this a proper rendering of the Japanese original?

Let us have a look at Paragraph of Promises #132 (there are a lot of promises made in the document):

132 尖閣諸島の実効支配強化と安定的な維持管理

Amaterasu and my readers know that I have no great facility with languages. Still, let me have a go at this:
132) In order to strengthen effective control over the Senkaku Islands, and maintain stable management of them

We will revise the policies regarding the Senkaku Islands, which, while being our national territory, have been subject to a policy of non-habitation. We shall strengthen our effective control. We will study the permanent and uninterrupted presence of civil servants in order to protect the islands -- and upgrades and financial support of the local fisheries environment. We will strive to maintain stable management of the islands and the surrounding waters.
Not all that different from the above. So why choose the term "civil servants" rather than "government employees" and put it in bold?

Because term the LDP manifesto uses is komuin.

Some of you can probably already see where this is headed.

It just so happens that members of the Self Defense Forces are "civil servants." They are, in fact, "special employment national civil servants" (tokubetsushoku kokka komuin -- Link - J).

So what the LDP manifesto is saying is that the party is examining the permanent basing of SDF troops on the islands in order to protect them without saying they are examining the permanent basing of SDF troops on the islands in order to protect them.



Brilliant and stupid, all at one time.


That Other Election

On December 16, voters in the Tokyo Metropolitan District will be choosing not only their representatives in the Diet, but a replacement for former governor Ishihara Shintaro.

Contrary to my expectations, and happily so, Inose Naoki (Link -J) has declared himself a candidate. While Ishihara bathed in the klieg lights and, to be fair, wasted his golden years in the unpleasant business of attending events in all kinds of weather, clowning on demand and meeting awful people at all hours of the day, Inose has been toiling away, underappreciated, as the person keeping the lights on, the toilets flushing and the trains running.

Inose will be running with official support from the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito. He is also expected to win support from the Your Party and the Japan Restoration Association. The DPJ, taking a look at the lay of the political landscape, has decided against burning a potential winning House of Representatives candidate or spending any money in the Tokyo race.

Inose's fellow candidates are not all pushovers and jokers -- yes, Dr. Nakamats, who proudly posts his IgNobel Prize as the first item on his profile page -- Link - J -- is running again. Matsuzawa Shigefumi (Link -J) is a former governor of Kanagawa, Japan's #2 prefecture. Sasagawa Takashi (Link - J) is a former Cabinet minister and chairman of the LDP General Council with deep ties to the old downtown establishment.

However, the other candidates lack Inose's gravitas and experience (and at 77, Sasagawa may be too old). They also lack significant party support.

The vote should be a rout.

The best and most unlikely buddy act in local administration is no more -- but the voters in the TMD can at least still cast a ballot for the guy who did all the heavy lifting.

Later - The NHK morning newscast, in an almost-but-not-quite-hilarious false dichotomy, asked the question, "What do the voters want, a continuation of the Ishihara administration, or a new face?"

Amusing because what the voters will be choosing to reject or not is not a continuation of the Ishihara administration but the continuation of the Inose administration, minus the Ishihara vanity project disasters (moving Tsukiji, the Tokyo Tomin Bank, the 2016 Olympics bid, buying the infinitum).

A Snap Reaction To The LDP's 2012 Election Manifesto

Amaterasu, what a miserable, crabbed, didactic, incurious, facile, paranoid and delusional pair of documents the Liberal Democratic Party has foisted upon us..and that is the reaction after only reading the sections on education reform! I shudder to think what I will find in the foreign policy and security section.

What have the children of the 1950s and 1960s produced for our edification and delight?

- the glossy color synopsis (Link - J)

- the black and white long form (Link - J)

In case anyone on this lonely blue orb ever needed a reminder of why the defenestration of the LDP was a cause for celebration, these lists of simply awful campaign promises provide the aide mémoire.

As for those who had hoped the LDP might have learned something during its 3+ years out of power, the manifesto documents prove the contrary. The party, like its American corollate, is spinning its intellectual wheels, stuck in the later half of the 20th century.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hatoyama Steps Down In Anger

A long, long time ago I listened to a rambling lecture by a famed professor of African Studies. Almost nothing remains of that lecture (my notes vanished long ago). I cannot even remember the name of the course.

All has evaporated save one phrase. The professor had interviewed insurgents who had fought the British colonial establisment in the Mau Mau Rebellion. He had asked them what they had thought they were doing, killing so many of their own. "We were just purifying the tribe," one informant responded.*

Noda Yoshihiko has been peacefully Mau Mauing the Democratic Party of Japan, purifying it of its anti-market liberalization, anti-contractionary policy dissidents. Yesterday the purification drive bagged its biggest target yet: former Prime Minister and DPJ co-founder Hatoyama Yukio.

Out of preening arrogance and an inability to sense a change in the political winds, Hatoyama had expected to run as a dissident. The second-generation DPJ leaders currently in control of the party told him that there was no way they could allow him to run as a non-adherent to the party's platform. They insisted that he, just all the other candidates, keep a pledge to the party manifesto ("How about you? Do you promise to follow the party manifesto for as long as your term lasts?" would be a proper smart-aleck response).

Hatoyama has balked. His former political secretary Nakayama Tomoyasu (Link – J) a DPJ member of the Hokkaido Prefectural Assembly, denounced the DPJ leadership's enforcement of a loyalty oath, saying:
When was it that the DPJ turned to the politics of terror? It is normal that a person cannot not become a candidate, when confronted with a fumie-like request. (Link – J)
Calling something a fumie is a provocation of the first order. The practice of ferreting out Christians during the Edo Period by having suspected believers step on images of Christ or the Virgin (or both, as is the case of the Pietà fumie above) is code for the worst sort of repression of freedom of conscience -- the Meiji to Early Showa Eras' ferreting out of Communists, Socialists, Sokka Gakkai and other unapproved religious organization believers being still largely off-limits as a source of political metaphors for oppression (though "just like the Kempeitai" seems to be an acceptable construction).

Expect Nakayama and the DPJ to part ways soon.

The departure of Hatoyama Yukio was not inevitable, of course. He had founded the party with Kan Naoto in 1996. It was his money and the money from his mother, heiress to the Bridgestone Tire fortune, which had bankrolled the party in its early years and kept the wheels greased until the party's big electoral win in 2009.

If Hatoyama had kept his mouth shut, signed the pledge, only to repudiate it after the election, he would have had seniority and history backing up his wish to have a say in the selection process of Noda Yoshihiko's successor.

Indeed, waiting to pick up the pieces after an electoral wipeout seems to be Kan's strategy. Having indicated that he did not support an early dissolution of the Diet prior to Noda's taking the plunge during the Diet Party Leader debate, Kan has remained out of sight and out of hearing.

Hatoyama has sworn he will not run for reelection (Link – J). Given his record, chance are good that he will reverse himself in a few days' time, saying that he cannot not abandon his political support group (koenkai).

Prime Minister Noda's rapid fire announcements of a DPJ commitment to Japan's entering into negotiations for accession into the Trans Pacific Partnership and a Diet dissolution without the DPJ winning a deal on electoral reform has driven out prominent dissidents like Yamada Masahiko (Link – J and Ozawa Sakihito (Link – J).

The departure of a double handful of lawmakers from the DPJ since the TPP announcement has dropped the DPJ-People's New Party alliance below the 50% mark in the House of Representatives even before the expected electoral drubbing. It has also destroyed, as the Nakayama Tomoyasu quote above indicates, the image of the DPJ as the big tent party of the center-left, an electoral counterweight to the big center-right tent of the LDP.

"Purifying the tribe" – forcing out those who would oppose the leadership's sharpening of the DPJ’s policy message – may bear electoral fruit, especially as LDP leader Abe Shinzo flounders in his defenses of his party's promises (Link). Though the final LDP manifesto has yet to be uploaded to the party’s website, the details that have leaked out so far are sure to be sending shivers up the spines of voters (See the first footnote to Corey Wallace's post on the Japan Restoration Association/Party of the Sun merger agreement -- Link).

With the dissidents gone, Noda can offer a believable pro-market liberalization/strong defense/reinforced social safety net policy platform in contrast to an unrealistic (and lengthy) LDP wish list.

Noda has another reason why he should choose unity of message over unity of party: the House of Councillors. As Shingetsu News Agency head Michael Penn pointed out in his Monday report to clients, in response to my predictions of a post-election LDP-Third Pole tie-up:

In a 242-member chamber, it takes 122 seats to pass legislation...On their own, the LDP and New Komeito, even should they win big with a majority in the House of Representatives, will still be a minority of roughly 103 seats in the House of Councillors.

If they tie up with the "Third Pole"—including both the JRP and Your Party—they would reach the agonizing number of 121 seats, meaning that they would still need to cobble together some support from a microparty like New Party Daichi or Green Wind in order to pass legislation. **

Noda has most likely been looking at this arithmetic and concluded that the LDP will have to come knocking at the DPJ's door. Having a unified party will strengthen his hand (or the hand of a successor, should DPJ losses be so great that Noda’s position becomes untenable) in negotiations with the LDP over a common policy program. LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru confirmed yesterday that his party's plan is to work with the DPJ for at least the first few months of next year, until the run-up to the House of Councillors election ends their collaboration (Link – J -- this link comes courtesy Michael Penn)***.

The math is indisputable. It is not clear, however, that the LDP has the flexibility to enjoy a temporary dalliance with the DPJ. True, the parties post-Noda announcements and post-resignations are close in terms of core policies – if one ignores, of course, what the crazies seem to have produced as an LDP election manifesto. An NHK poll over the weekend furthermore found that of all the post-election arrangements, an LDP-DPJ grand coalition was the most popular choice (Link - J). Nevertheless, it would seem easier for the LDP leadership to explain a hook up with a plethora of mini- and micro-parties and independents than the party's choosing its primary rival as a partner.

What the voters think of all these expulsions and extended hands depends a lot on the messenger -- and this election is notable for the lack of a single likable party leader.

Later - A more discombobulated view of the above, from the Yomiuri Shimbun, coincidentally using the same language. (Link)

Even later - Hatoyama has had a one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Noda announcing his retirement from politics. (Link - J)

We are being asked to believe that the two spoke thusly to each other:

Hatoyama - "At the end of a long process of reflection, I have decided to not be a candidate in the upcoming election. I wish to withdraw from the political world and begin my walk through the third stage of life."

Noda - "I wish to express my heartfelt thanks for the numerous contributions you have made."

I would prefer to believe that the pair reenacted Art Buchwald's version of the note exchange in between JFK's French White House chef René Verdon and President Lyndon Baines Johnson:

Verdon - Mr. President, I am leaving (Je m'en vais).

LBJ - I am so sorry to hear this (Je m'en fous).


* The "purification" did nothing for the Mau Mau in terms of winning themselves or their sympathizers power in post-colonial Kenya. Even though the first president Jomo Kenyatta had been falsely accused and tried for being a leader of the Mau Mau, his government was comprised largely of persons who had collaborated with the British authorities. A ban on public discussion of the Mau Mau in Kenya remained in place until 2003.

** Since New Party Daichi and Green Breeze (Midori no Kaze) are left-wing micro-parties, Penn is being facetious.

*** As predicted Ishiba and Abe have been talking at cross-purposes. We shall see how long it is before Abe offers a revised version of Ishiba's statement as regards a grand coalition.

Image courtesy: Kyushu National Museum (Kyushu Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Legacy Turkey* Shoot Results

It is difficult to say nice things about Noda Yoshihiko in the aftermath of last week. He has, it seems, matched word with deed (a huge effort, for him) as regards the Democratic Party of Japan's 2009 manifesto pledge to abolish the practice of relatives inheriting the seats of retiring members -- a problem for the party, given the nearly unshakeable electoral lock held on the seat held by two of the retiring members, Watanabe Kozo and Hata Tsutomu**. The party has been struggling with these two retirees, telling them that there is no possibility of their sons inheriting the seat -- leading to some novel suggestions as to workarounds (Link).

Those workarounds will have to come into play, as the Nagano Prefectural Office of the DPJ has told sitting Minister of Infrastructure, Land, Transport and Tourism and Hata #1 Son Hata Yu'ichiro to forget about running for his father's House of Representatives seat.

It is hard to tell a sitting minister and son of a former prime minister to run for the seat, if he wants to run for it, as independent -- which he may do, despite having a nice seat in the House of Councillors, where he has rested his behind since 1999. (Link - J)

Credit to the party and its leader where credit is due.

Later- See Okumura Jun in comments on corrections to the above and the below.

* I am indebted to Okumura Jun for this characterization.
** The retirement of Watanabe and Hata will leave only one of the Seven Magistrates (shichinin no nana bugyo) of the LDP alive and in politics: the eternally unloved Ozawa Ichiro.

Reading For A Monday Morning - LDP As Institution

For those who have neither the time to read nor the inclination to buy Richard Krauss and Robert Pekkanen's book The Rise and Fall of the LDP, Professor Krauss has provided the pdf of the synopsis article the pair produced for The Journal of Asian Studies. It can be accessed here.

Despite the article's only leading up to the 2009 election, it is nevertheless a good review of the structural and intellectual flaws of the post-single member district reform LDP. Reading it, and remembering that the Diet membership overrode the choice of the local chapters in selecting Abe Shinzo as the party's president, leaves the impression that whatever the outlook for the final vote tallies, the LDP is Still Not Ready For Prime Time.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thoughts On The Post-Election Landscape

While there is much talk of the Liberal Democratic Party winning the next election and Abe Shinzo becoming the next prime minister, one should be keep in mind what "winning" will likely mean. If the "Third Pole" parties agree on a significant degree of coordination -- and a sufficient number of voters turn up at the polls (and that is a big "If") -- the results on election day will have the LDP and its ally the New Komeito winning under 50% of the seats in the House of Representatives. In order for Abe to win election to the premiership, and for the government to have a working majority in the House of Representatives, he and his party will have to form a coalition with either the rump Democratic Party of Japan, led by....someone not named Noda Yoshihiko, or the Third Pole forces not being led by Hashimoto Toru, who, while being the Third Pole's most legitimate and charismatic leader, has declared he is not leaving the Osaka City mayor's office. Since this election is ostensibly a referendum on three years of DPJ rule, the LDP and Abe could not endure the public and party faithful scorn at an alliance with the DPJ. Abe would begin his premiership under a cloud and low popularity ratings, with nowhere to go but down.

The basic working assumption then is that an LDP-New Komeito-Third Pole coalition will be in nominal charge of the country as of December 17 -- nominal because the negotiations on a common policy program are likely to be protracted. A person wishing to offer a guess as to the plan of action for the next government would be advised to find the points of commonality in between the policy platforms of the LDP, the Your Party and the Japan Restoration Association, with the LDP defering to its coalition partners in three key areas: subsidies, trade liberalization and the reduction of bureaucratic control over policy.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ishihara Shintaro Is A Waste Of My Time

Go to all the trouble of explaining the allusions and references in the name of his new party (Link) and Ishihara Shintaro goes ahead and pledges to disestablish it in order that the membership might join Hashimoto Toru's Japan Restoration Association. (Link - J)

Can we please go back to talking about the maneuvering of Ishihara the Younger, the real politician in the family, rather than the blinking dilletante?

With the absorption of the New Party Kizuna into Ozawa Ichiro's People's Life First and the disappearance of the Party of the Sun, we are down now to a mere thirteen parties vying for the attention of the voters.

Leaving The Hotel California

Okumura Jun has put up a series of seminal posts over the last few days at GlobalTalk 21. I suggest you check them out.

On the subject of checking out, Okumura-san is correct in stating that Section 4.2 of the By-Laws of the Democratic Party of Japan (Link-J) imprisoning Diet members inside the party until such time as their resignations have been ratified by the Executive Council (jonnin kanjikai) is in abeyance, as the dissolution of the Diet -- which the Emperor, despite the legal and constitutional issues, solemly decreed* -- strips all the House's members of their badges.

So you do not have to die to get out of the DPJ (Link). All you have to do is wait for the Prime Minister (through a dissolution) or the Constitution (through the four-year term limit) to set you free.

So why did eight members of the Diet submit their resignations to DPJ Secretary-General Koshi'ishi Azuma this week, when the Diet dissolution was going to free them to hook up with any party they pleased? For the publicity, of course, but also to humiliate the Prime Minister. It is only fair, for they feel humiliated by him.

The big news was the last minute resignation of Fukuda Eriko (Nagasaki District #1, 1 election to the Diet) the former leader of the Kyushu Plaintiffs in the Tainted Blood Products lawsuit (Link - J). Though incredibly young (32) and a first-termer, she nevertheless commands respect (Link). Her departure represents a huge, though not unexpected, loss for the DPJ and a huge shot of adrenaline for Tanioka Kuniko's Green Breeze Party (Link). As the embodiment of resistance to government intransigence and shirking of responsibility, Fukuda helped make credible the DPJ's pledge to put policy making in the hands of politicians rather than leaving everything to the bureaucrats.

The DPJ, which suffers from the image of being the guy's party (just look at the Cabinet) has lost one of its iconic woman members.

Speaking of prominent women members of the DPJ, Minister of Education, Sports, Science, and Technology Tanaka Makiko is hopping mad at the Prime Minister's decision to call an election (Link - J). She did, as Cabinet member, join in the issuance of a Cabinet Decision (kakugi kettei) ratifying the dissolution of the Diet. From her disparagement of the timing of the dissolution, however, it is hard to imagine her and her husband sticking around.


* It was jarring to hear the Speaker read out the Emperor's Diet dissolution letter. His Highness speaks and writes in curlicues of grammar and euphemism most of the time. The message to the Diet, however, was in the plain form (e.g. - "kaisan suru").

Friday, November 16, 2012

Into The Cage With You

The Emir ordered that all the young, unmarried men of his land to assemble in the square before the palace. All obeyed. When they arrived at the square, they saw at its center a huge iron cage with a great iron key in the lock. From a balcony overlooking the square, the Emir called out:

"Out in the desert there is a lion of immense age and strength, Asad the Golden. He has devoured many farm animals and too many poor villagers to count. I will grant the hand of my daughter and make my heir the man amongst you who captures this lion and puts him inside this iron cage."

The young men were amazed. Some ran off in search snares and spears. Most wandered off, muttering, returning to their homes.

Soon the square was empty except for one young man, standing still, looking at the cage. It was the son of the Court Astronomer. The young man strode up to the cage and opened its massive door. He then walked in. He turned and, slipping his arms in between the bars, turned the great key, locking the door.

He then cried out:

"I take, as my first proposition, that I am outside the cage."

The Court Astronomer's son and the Emir's daughter lived happily together until the end of their days.

Or you could admit that you were simply wrong.

-- Anonymous commenter, "From Mr. Watanabe's Sandbox"

Or, I could confess to have been unwilling to go deeper into the cage.

In October 2010, I tried to splice together two givens. The first was that redistricting was a big deal, vital to the interests of the Democratic Party of Japan. The second was that the DPJ’s promise to eliminate 80 of House of Representatives proportional seats and 40 of the House of Councillors proportional seats posed an existential threat to the New Komeito. The outlook I offered was that the New Komeito and the DPJ would realize they had the makings of a fine quid pro quo, with the New Komeito dropping its alliance with the Liberal Democratic Party, allying itself instead with the DPJ, giving the DPJ-led government a majority in the House of Councillors. In return, the DPJ would say, "Cut 80 seats in one House and 40 in the other? Oh, that was just crazy talk. Why would we want to limit the participation of small parties in the national debate?"

It was a solution that would have had the country moving again

It did not happen.

I assumed that the news media would tire of simply regurgitating LDP talking points, reducing themselves to the role of parrot in the face of an orchestrated campaign of hatred against Ozawa Ichiro (aided and abetted, of course, by Ozawa’s insecurity and cowardice). I had assumed, incorrectly, that some media organizations would either start giving Prime Minister Kan Naoto some credit for his brave and divisive de-Ozawafication program or start wondering if the charges against Ozawa could hold water (as the double refusal of the Tokyo Prosecutors' Office to prosecute and two trials with court appointed lawyers as prosecutors have shown, they could not).

As the breakup of the media's unified front did not occur (as Keynes says, "The Market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent"), the DPJ and the New Komeito never got to even the starting line as regards the discussion of a mutually beneficial quid pro quo.

I also overestimated the ability of party leaderships to accept change. The New Komeito had invested a great deal of effort to convince its voters that an alliance with the LDP was advantageous. Despite the potential for further erosion of the New Komeito’s position following the rout in August 2009, the leadership, having forced it decision down the New Komeito machine’s throat, was understandably loathe to say, "That LDP thing? That was a mistake. What we really want to do is to be allies of the DPJ."

So what does this all have to do with the present situation?

Noda Yoshihiko, in twice winning the leadership election of the Democratic Party of Japan, twice promised to be a leader for the party as a whole, a "no sides" (no saido) leader, as he put. Twice after making this pledge, he cobbled together Cabinets with representatives from all the different factions inside DPJ.

Looking at the lineup for Noda's first Cabinet, LDP stalwart Oshima Tadamori remarked, “What a trip down memory lane! That's the way our party used to pick its cabinets!"

Handing out Cabinet positions along internal group lines rather than in line with actual ability blew up in Noda's face during his first year in office. Despite the experience, Noda filled out his most recent Cabinet according to the same formula, with the almost inevitable subsequent implosions, this time from the two Ministers Tanaka.

Given a stubborn propensity to show deference to party unity, even in the face of derisive laughter ("Tanaka Naoki?!?" one Ministry of Defense official posted to Facebook at the announcement of that appointment) it was not unreasonable to assume that Noda would continue to work with the goal of party unity in mind.

On Wednesday, he threw the principle of party unity into the fire – which was unfortunate, as it was the only principle he and the rest of the DPJ had left. Oh, he had taken up support for the Trans Pacific Partnership as a new standard for the DPJ (Link). However, Noda seems to have done this without asking anyone else in the party whether or not he or she supported this reflagging.

Noda's sudden shift also trashed another not unreasonable assumption: if the popularity of your party has plateaued, admittedly at a low level, while your popularity keeps dropping month by month, you cannot blame your party for your problems. You have a difficulty getting your message out that is all your own.

I have offered an explanation for Noda’s cheek-to-cheek cha-cha on Wednesday (Does anyone, anyone believe the two men did not know in advance what the other was going to say?) just when Noda and the DPJ were gaining traction with their argument that the fiscal health of the nation should not be held ransom by the opposition: that the conservatives in the DPJ looked across the aisle and saw politicians like themselves, then looked around them and saw nobody they would want to go out for drinks with (Link and Link). It is not hard to see the Matsushita Institute grads saying, "Why not hold an election then? If all the first-termers and lefties fry, so what? We will just take our place at the table as the Noda Faction of the LDP."

To this should be added the certainty that distraught or disgruntled legislators will not defect, in part because of the money they will receive from the DPJ for their reelection campaigns, but mostly because the by-laws of the DPJ make it impossible to leave the party, even with empty pockets (Link). That only six (seven?) have taken the drastic step of submitting letters of resignation, declaring allegiance to other parties, or both since Tuesday indicates the hideous strength of the By-Laws.

We will see that strength tested after December 4, when the parties submit their final candidate lists. It would not be surprising for a number of candidates to repudiate their affiliation with the DPJ after being formally listed as a DPJ candidate, so tarnished is the brand right now.

Finally, I assumed that the constitutional issue would stay the hand of the prime minister, all other things being equal. It would be catastrophic for Japan to have legislature of questionable legality, as will be the case in a few hours' time should the Emperor agree with the PM's request to dissolve the Diet.

I did not see, and I admit it was for a lack of imagination, that the illegitimacy of the next Diet might be a goal of Noda and company. The 1947 Constitution is for all practical purposes impossible to amend, due to the high bar it puts in the way of amendments. How then can one revise the Constitution, if not by legal means? How about dissolve a constitutionally acceptable Diet and replace it a constitutionally suspect one?

I had always thought that political realignment would take place within the framework of the 1947 Constitution -- when conservatives (a misnomer there) were always going on and on about revision of the constitution! Ha!

I have to agree with you: I cannot believe I defended Noda (Link) either.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Why It Matters

So what if the House of Representatives is elected via an illegal mechanism? What are the chances that Japan's heretofore supine Supreme Court will suddenly grow a spine and invalidate the election? The Court might try to issue a cease and desist order – only we do not know whether the Court even has such an instrument – and even if it did we can be pretty sure that the justices will come to the same conclusion that they did before: "Yes, it is illegal and No, we are not going to do anything about it."

Why obsess about it and use such fiery terms as "coup d'état"? Get a grip and calm down!

Aside from the very real question as to whether the conservatives can reconcile their love of capitalism and free trade with their provocative painting of China as a regional rival and a threat, I am trying to imagine how constipated the conduct of Diet affairs will become when all the membership and most definitely freshman legislators are tainted with the label of illegitimacy. With the exception of the Sankei Shimbun, which ignored the legitimacy issue, all the newpapers this morning agreed that the incoming Diet members would never escape accusations of having achieved their positions through indefensible means. (Link)

Will everyone go along to get along? Will parties in and out of power spend their time on issues of substance – or will they bash away at each other in round after round of point-scoring?

Folks have opined that the Japanese political system is dysfunctional. Are they ready for dysfunctional and illegitimate? How masochistic can one be that one would want to weaken the supports of an already unstable electoral system?

This seems is a huge price to pay for the decidedly minor positive of restarting the membership's term clocks before the New Years holidays.

What The Editors Are Saying About The Dissolution Pledge

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

- W. B. Yeats, "The Second Coming" (1920)
As regards the Prime Minister's decision to dissolve the Diet on November 16, with an election on December 16:

Yomiuri Shimbun: Supports the Prime Minister's decision despite the lack of a legal map of electoral districts. Admits that producing a proper map would take months. (Link - J)

Mainichi Shimbun: The editors declare that they want to value (hyoka suru) the prime minister's decision highly. Do not explain the choice of "want" instead of "do." Ignores the constitutional issues, frets that not even the minimal +0/-5 bill can be passed in time for the dissolution. (Link - J)

The Asahi Shimbun: Finds the decision unavoidable (yamu o enai suru mono to) then explains at length how it will produce a Diet of suspect legitimacy. (Link - J)

Nihon Keizai Shimbun: Shows umbrage at the prime minister's having not heretofore honored his August 8 promise to Tanigaki Sadakazu to dissolve the Diet soon. Applauds Abe Shinzo for having made the tough decision to promise to examine a cut in the number of at large seats in the Diet session, in return for voting for the +0/-5 bill that the LDP itself submitted (that's courage?). Calls the passage of the minimal +0/-5 bill a surety (tanpo) for reforms to be carried out later. Concludes with an attack on the unkept promises of the DPJ's 2009 electoral manifesto. (Link - J)

Sankei Shimbun: Like the Mainichi Shimbun, wants to to value the prime minister's decision highly. It furthermore wishes to do "forthrightly" (sochoku ni). Does not mention the constitutionality issue or the +0/-5 bill even once. The constitution is mentioned only in a plea to make revision of the constitution one of the banners parties hold aloft in the election campaign. (Link)

Akahata: pending (no link)

Tokyo Shimbun: The longest editorial, running from top to bottom of the broadsheet. Is torn that the story it imagined -- that Noda and his Cabinet forced to resign for having gone back on DPJ promises to not raise the consumption tax without taking the decision to the voters -- is not what is happening. Instead is filled with a sense of dread at this forced rush into an election without the major constitutional problems having been fixed. Asks what the prime minister thinks he is doing forcing an election when the value of votes in the various districts remains apportioned unfairly. (Link)


Here is what the newspaper editors are really saying:

Yomiuri: Sure it's illegal. We don't care; our guys have the votes to pass the +0/-5 bill. Neither the emperor (who holds the right to dissolve the Diet, but defers to the wishes of the prime minister) nor the Supreme Court will lift a finger to stop us!

Mainichi We want an election because...we do not know why. We just want to have it. Can we have one?

The Asahi Shimbun I am appalled but I feel a sense of ennui coming on...

Nihon Keizai Shimbun All the important decisions that have been left alone to fester, they will all be dealt with in the near future. We are sure of this and so should you be. Noda Yoshihiko and the DPJ are liars, which is much worse than breaking the law.

Akahata -- Does anyone remember the password for the computer?

Tokyo Shimbun -- This is wrong, wrong, wrong. We have attacked Noda mercilessly for the consumption tax rise. Did we go a little too far in our hobbyhorse crusade?

Later - The text has been edited to add previously unavailable information.

What It Is

If someone should ask you, "What's happening in Japan?" feel free (?) to respond, "Oh, a coup d'état* by conservatives in the ruling party and their counterparts in the largest opposition party."


* The "Act for Establishment of the Council on the House of Representatives Electoral Districts" (1994) empowers a specific ministerial advisory council to redraw the electoral district boundaries.

a) An election carried out without an electoral map drawn by this council is illegal

b) the Supreme Court has declared the current map to be unconstitutional.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Oh Well, So Much For All That

The Democratic Party of Japan is dead. (Link - J)

It is all up to the Emperor now. He can either follow precedent and accept Noda's request for a dissolution. Or he can summon Noda, Liberal Democratic Party president Abe Shinzo and New Komeito leader Yamaguchi Natsuo up to the Imperial Palace and tell them how disappointed he is in them.

To unload this steaming, constitutionally suspect action in the Emperor's lap is not the mark of A Good Citizen.

From Mr. Watanabe's Sandbox

To an American friend:

I would caution against relying on a Yomiuri Shimbun report. The media giants want to be political players, with the Yomiuri and the Fuji Sankei groups vying for the title of the media giant most ready to cross the line between reporting on the news and manufacturing it. What appear under the masthead at the Yomiuri are often policy set pieces, with quotes and illustrations cherry picked to help bolster previous set pieces produced by the staff and editors.

In the specific case of the timing and holding of a House of Representatives election, the Yomiuri has three main goals:

First, the repetition of the lie that an election could be held at a moment's notice. The decennial census and court rulings have put a stranglehold on the dissolution of the Diet and the holding of a House of Representative election. Nevertheless, in order to keep the public on pins and needles as regards a possible early elections, the Yomiuri news group, in collusion with the other major news groups, has kept news consumers deliberately mis- or under-informed as to the constitutional and legal roadblocks standing in the way of the PM asking the Emperor for a dissolution -- under normal circumstances, a pro-forma request.

Second, the promotion of the pernicious view that governance in Japan comes not through laws and incentives but through the adherence to norms, with the news media conveniently self-appointed as the morals police.

Third the improvement of the political standing and image of the LDP. During the long decades of LDP rule, the Yomiuri new media group clung to the stoop of the Prime Minister's Residence, showering with praise whoever was the Residence's latest occupant. The advent of DPJ rule robbed the Yomiuri of its traditional role inside the media herd of the bullhorn of conformist thought. Until such a time as a member of the LDP regains the premiership, the Yomiuri media empire can be mocked as a baseball team's publicity department.
What should be changed in the above? I have already inducted NHK in the Hall of Shame this month (Link). Should the Nihon Keizai Shimbun and the Mainichi Shimbun be similarly inducted, for their stories on Tuesday claiming that Prime Minister Noda has decided to dissolve the Diet and call an election before the year is out? Or did the PM deserve to have his tail fried, first by the Nikkei and the Mainichi, then by the Democratic Party of Japan's Executive Council? (Link)

Later - The Mainichi is now saying that Noda responded to a question put to him by Abe Shinzo in party leaders Debate Time with an "I will dissolve the Diet on the 16th." The general presumption is that Noda is saying "This Friday." Knowing Noda, you really have to make sure when you ask him, on the order of "That is the 16th of this month, right? Not just some 16th of some month, sometime in the future, right?"

I will have to check out the video to find out what the Prime Minister said -- which, given Noda-san's tendency to take the debate over commonly understood terms to Clintonian levels of redefinition, might not help.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Lack Of Self-Esteem Has Never Been His Problem

This is my world
And I am
World Leader Pretend
This is my life
And this is my time
I have been given
The freedom
To do as I see fit...

- REM, "World Leader Pretend" (1992)

You and I, given the chance to make a difference, would not self-indulgently name a political party after our first commercial success.

You and I are not Ishihara Shintaro.

Today, Ishihara unveiled his brilliant idea for the name of the party he is borrowing from Hiranuma Takeo: Taiyo no To, the Party Of The Sun. (Link)

There is cleverness -- of an old-man-tell-joke flavor. Hiranuma called his party for superannuated geriatrics Tachiagare Nippon -- "Stand Up Japan!" -- which gave wags a thousands gag lines of the sort, "Yes, for the members of this party, that would be an achievement." Rather than suffer the slings and arrows of English language speakers making fun of the party name (that ship has sailed, my friend) Hiranuma chose "Sunrise Party" as Tachiagare Nippon's official English moniker.

Of course Hiranuma, a revisionist history buff and adopted sun son of executed Class A War Criminal Hiranuma Kiichiro, is not making any reference to Amaterasu Omikami, whom one reviewer notes I call upon in my moments of frustration, for that would be a gross appropriation of the Imperial Family's official divine ancestor.

Ishihara could have , of course, just translated Hiranuma's choice of an English name back into Japanese, the result being Hinode no To. In what would have been an auspicious coincidence, the Crown Prince walked down from the Mitakesan summit to the top of Mt. Hinode today.* (Link)

Ishihara could have just called the new party Taiyo To (The Sun Party) -- except, of course, that Taiyo To was the name of Hata Tsutomu's short-lived breakaway from the Shinshinto, Ozawa Ichiro's greatest feat of opportunistic political grafting.

Besides, when there is an opportunity for gratuitous self-promotion -- or any self-promotion at all -- Ishihara Shintaro is there. Taiyo no To echoes Taiyo no kisetsu (Season of the Sun) -- Ishihara's first published novel, set in the author's home town of Zushi (Kanagawa Prefecture). Below is a photo of the monument in the book's honor on the beach at Zushi. The location is, as the inscription on the monument explains, the backdrop of the book's opening scene.

Yes, the calligraphy on the monument is Ishihara's. No, I don't think he paid for the monument's erection.

The self-referential act would have attained apotheosis if the symbol of the new party were the sun found on the monument. Luckily, the party sun image on the podium today was a cheery smiling sun rather than the monument's glaring one.

Later - Commenter Fernando points out that there is another "Taiyo no To." Following that thread takes one on a journey that still ends up on the beach at Zushi.


* The Asahi Shimbun reports that today's hike was the Crown Prince's first visit to Mitakesan in 35 years -- which for an avid hiker living in the Tokyo Metropolitan District is a minor miracle -- Mitakesan being the default summit of the Okutama Region.

Photo credit: MTC

Betrayal By The Smart Puppies?

Today will be a very interesting day.

Today the first termers, the old lefties and the rural representatives in the Democratic Party of Japan will be asking Prime Minister if the news reports of this morning, with their claims that the PM has decided to dissolve the Diet this month and lead the DPJ into a campaign waving the banners of participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership and a cut in the number of proportional seats in the House of Representatives -- are just something the media dreamed up, led astray by anonymous sources, or an accurate description of reality. (Link - J)

They are likely as not to be listening to his response with their heads tilted to one side, trying to see if the picture looks any better when seen askew.

As a rule of thumb, leaders of political parties care about the parties that selected them as leader. Koizumi Jun'ichiro, in his campaign for the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party and his snap election call in 2005 did declare an intent to destroy his party from within. However, Koizumi's intra-party warfare was more on the LDP's decayed traditions than on the party per se. His intent was not to kill the LDP but drag it, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.

The fate of the LDP after Koizumi's retirement, with Abe Shinzo signaling a return to business as usual through his welcoming back into the party the Koizumi postal reform rebels, presaged an era of rapid decline in the party's popularity, culminating in its ouster from power in August 2009.

If this morning's news reports are correct, then Prime Minister and Democratic Party of Japan leader Noda Yoshihiko has seized upon Koizumi fetishism (Link) of the highest order. If the prime minister intends to drive the non-reformist elements out of the DPJ in order to save the DPJ, he is as nuts as his Minister of National Strategy and fellow Matsushita Institute of Management and Government alumnus Maehara Seiji. Maehara has a book coming out on Friday entitled "I Want To Bring To Realization A Conservative Realignment" (Hoshu no saihen o jitsugen shitai - Link - J). He has also been making statements deviating from the policies of the DPJ mainline leadership, including a call for an early election. (Link)

It has been easy to dismiss Maehara as a deviant. Despite or perhaps because of his conservative bona fides, he has again and again shown a remarkable lack of common sense (Clicking on the tag below or putting "Maehara" in the search window directs one to some of Maehara's most embarrassing moments). However, if today's headlines hold up, Maehara may be less the village idiot and more the town crier.

If the conservatives in the party are calling an election to force realignment -- i.e., the destruction of both the DPJ and the LDP -- they better have their ducks lined up. Maehara has been a fixture in non-partisan study groups bringing together free market liberals and defense wonks, so he at least has strong ties to like-minded legislators inside the LDP and elsewhere (primarily in the Your Party and People's Life First). If they blow up the DPJ in order to run in the next election as a rump centrist party ready to join a conservative coalition, the rump may be just the part of the body where they will find themselves post-election.

Everything I have written about the DPJ, including the crazy stuff (Link) has been based upon the premise that the party leadership is unified in wishing the party to survive -- which, I hope the reader agrees, is not an unreasonable assumption. However, if the DPJ conservatives dream, as Maehara is dreaming, of a realignment along ideological lines, then the DPJ is already gone.

Noda, Maehara, Diet Affairs Chairman Yamanoi Kazunori, Minister of Foreign Affairs Gemba Koichiro and Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Tarutoko Shinji are all Matsushita grads (click here for the full J-list of all 37 members of Diet who are alumni of the Institute). If they have talked themselves into rebelling against themselves, then I hope the Matsushita Institute had a little Hogwarts in it -- for it will take magic to survive the aftermath. The voters of Chiba District #4, the House of Representatives district with the highest population and thus the least enfranchised electorate, may not take kindly to their representative, a certain Mr. Noda Yoshihiko, selling them out in order to run on a neo-liberal platform and a prayer that his neo-liberal counterparts in the LDP jump ship to join him in a new conservative alliance.

One can be too smart by half.

DPJ Secretary-General Koshi'ishi Azuma is likely in a state of shock. If all that is purported to be true is true, then he fought for Noda's reelection as party leader only to be rewarded with a knee-capping.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Like, Whatever

Folks are excited that the Democratic Party of Japan has given hints it intends to submit a bill on the reformation of the electoral districts on Wednesday (Link) Folks are equally excited at the Prime Minister's lobbing of Japan's participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership into the discussions of policy promises the DPJ will be including in its election manifesto. (Link)

Both acts are portrayed as harbingers of an election.

Whoa. Try to keep stuff in perspective, folks.

The submission of a bill reforming the electoral districts, if it is the one the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito let die in the last Diet session or if it is the LDP's minimal +0/-5 draft bill, is only the first step of a lengthy bargaining process between the ruling and opposition camps. Once a bill erasing the unconstitutional disparities in between the highest and lowest population districts passes both Houses of the Diet, the Noda government can still delay the calling of an election -- on the grounds that if the government and the opposition wish to avoid any taint on the election, the process of redistricting will have to run the course described in the public elections law.

The country's main political parties could, of course, collude and hold an early election in contempt of the law. However, the hold of the winner upon the tiller of government would be unsteady, subject to court challenge. Under the circumstance who, aside from LDP president and man-in-a-desperate-hurry-and-none-too-fond-of-the-Constitution-anyway Abe Shinzo, would want to press for an early dissolution of the Diet?

As for the inclusion of Japan's participation in the TPP in the Democratic Party of Japan's manifesto, hold the horses.

As the prime minister stated, Japan's participation in TPP would be part of a broader strategy, running in parallel with negotiations on a trilateral China-South Korea-Japan trade pact. By making this linkage, the prime minister makes clear Japan will essentially be trying to play both sets of negotiating partners against each other, as well as against other inter-regional negotiations in which Japan has shown an interest.

Let us see how Japan's negotiating partners respond to that ploy, shall we?

That the PM cannot count on the vote of his own party – that indeed just talking about including the language of TPP participation in the party manifesto could drive enough legislators out of the party as to trigger the collapse of the government -- should be a cold shower for those getting all excited at the Noda announcement.

The Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito have to fold on the bond issuance bill before we start talking about elections. So let us wait for that inevitability to happen before we get hopped up about a Diet dissolution, OK?

Later - The inimitable Corey Wallace has checked in with his own, more expansive examination of the TPP as strategy, tactic, diversion and lead balloon. (Link)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Tanaka Makiko's Apology

So Tanaka Makiko has chosen the wise route of making a public apology for having had the temerity, as Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, to initiate and implement policy, when it is well known that policy making should be left in the hands of bureaucrats who in no way attempt to maximize their post-retirement value by approving projects of questionable value to the public. The Yomiuri Shimbun provides the story as it should be understood by any decent person. (Link)

That Yomiuri staff assigned to report on the ministries have an incentive to support the bureaucrats, who are a permanent feature, rather than the minister, who is a very temporary entity, has nothing to do with the way Tanaka's behavior has been portrayed either now or during her stint as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Tanaka's apology was not sincere. Resignation would be sincere. Apologizing and staying on is to put a facade of contrition. As Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko probably explained to her in their private meeting this week, while letting the bureaucrats make decisions without political oversight is letting the inmates run the asylum -- as the compilation of the supplementary budget for recovery and reconstruction has shown (Link and Link)-- he and the Democratic Party of Japan cannot take the bureaucrats on right now, as the government and the party are engaged in a death struggle with the Liberal Democratic Party. "Just say the words, bow your head and forget about it," I can imagine him telling her.

It is unlikely that the bureaucrats will accept Tanaka's apology and end their attempts to undermine her authority. The LDP and its allies in the House of Councillors will not accept Tanaka's apology either. They have threatened to pass a motion of censure against her (Link - J). Since censure is a symbolic and thus cost-free way of scoring political points, having made the threat the opposition is sure to carry it out, probably on the last day of the extraordinary Diet session.

The apology will also not defang the news media complex. It has invested its reputation in a master narrative of a loud, mercurial, headstrong and insecure (and there is nothing in that depiction that makes a play on demeaning conventional attitudes regarding Minister Tanaka's sex) individual who has no business being in a position of authority -- and will certainly not back off now that she has said, "Sorry (though I don't really mean it) for everything."

Tanaka, however, is not going anywhere. Noda is not going to ask for the resignation of the Cabinet's only woman. Resignation would furthermore be pointless, as the current Cabinet is only (and this too Noda must have explained to Tanaka) playing a caretaker role. Its purpose is to simply exist, not lead, as the DPJ bides its time, engaged as it is in a murky and dismal struggle against the LDP over the bond issuance bill and electoral district reforms.

What role does apology play in public interaction? Where if anywhere, is its ultimate anchorage point? I confess ignorance. If apology is a performance, and the main political players have incentives to ignore it, or if everyone understands from his or her own experience that apology is ritualized and insincere, who then is the audience?

Friday, November 09, 2012

Just For The Effect

Even by the low standards of this blessed land's news media, the last night's NHK News Watch 9 (Nyusu uocchi nain) broadcast was an abomination.

The opening was a long feature on the start of the Chinese Communist Party's 18th Congress. After a segment on the leadership transition came a segment on the yawning divide between the rich and the poor, with a special focus on wealthy CCP cadres. The segment had three interviews, one with the owner-manager of an equestrian center, where the membership and registration fees are understandably many times times the annual salary of an urban worker, a South China businessman looking for an apartment in Hong Kong and a Hong Kong real estate agent who claimed that 30% of his customers are CCP cadres.

In the first interview, the owner-manager revealed that he had sent his daughter to study in the United States because he wanted her to know what it is like to live in a free country. In the second interview, the South China businessman said he was looking for a way to get himself and his family and money out of China because of the incredible corruption. He also said that hoped he could bring his two daughters aged 7 and 9 (?) to Hong Kong next year.

As I watched this segment, I thought to myself, "This is insane. I know that Japanese news media burn sources and interviewees -- but this is endangering the persons being interviewed and their families."

At the end of the segment, the extremely likable Okoshi Kensuke (Link - J) informed viewers that in the course of NHK's airing of the segment, censors in China had cut off the live feed.

This morning, competing major news organizations had features on the cutoff of the NHK broadcast. TBS broadcast images of a television set showing the NHK broadcast suddenly going black (Video - J). If the bug in the corner of the TBS segment is to be believed, the video of the cutoff of the NHK broadcast was produced by TBS for its late night news broadcast News 23 -- meaning that NHK had alerted its competitors in advance of its intent to air a segment on the extreme wealth of CCP cadres and the discontents of even the well-off members of society, with one goal being the testing of the censor's patience.

It is inconceivable that wealthy Chinese citizens would allow themselves to be interviewed on camera criticizing China's lack of freedom and its corruption, especially for a program to be broadcast by Japan's national news network. This would indicate that deception, either of the persons being interviewed or NHK, had featured prominently in the production of the segment. In the most hopeful case, the persons in the interviews were actors hired by video freelancers, who then provided the faked interviews to NHK. This scenario would, however, be contrary to NHK's modus operandi, which is to do everything, even technical development, in house.

Whatever the veracity of the contents of the program segment, the airing of the segment in the hopes that the censors would indeed cut off the feed, creating a new story to report, represents a breach of the public trust.

If the program did indeed feature real interviews with real people, I feel sorry for the equestrian center owner-manager. The feed was cut during the second interview, with the South China businesman in Hong Kong. The feed was restored during a segment on the Senkaku Islands problem. (Link - J)

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Sourabh Gupta on Japan's Security Policy Choices

Sourabh Gupta is a Senior Research Associate at Samuels International Associates and an East Asia Forum Distinguished Fellow. He frequently delivers an intellectual EMP blast, knocking folks' lights out on the other side of the planet.

In his most recent piece published by the EAF, Gupta makes a series of predictions regarding Japan's security policies:
The separate approaches in terms of strategic concepts, command, control and battle management systems, operational planning and crisis action procedures will not be abolished. Rather, a fresh division of bilateral roles and mission responsibilities will progressively chip away at the separation – a process that from Tokyo's point of view will be geared as much to advancing the 'normal nation' defence capabilities as to enhancing interoperability within the alliance. Japan used activities conducted under alliance auspices in Iraq and Afghanistan — such as participation in multinational peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, deploying forces overseas during times of active hostilities, and liberalising rules on supplying weapons and transporting armaments — to push the boundaries of Japanese rearmament.

Similarly, a carefully calculated set of constitutional reinterpretations can be expected to pass into legislation in coming years. The effect of these reinterpretations will be progressively to blur definitional lines between conflict and post-conflict operations, combat and non-combat zones, and military and policing activities, which still limit Japan's involvement in alliance missions within carefully prescribed thresholds. The right to exercise collective self-defence in narrowly circumscribed situations in areas surrounding Japan will also be admitted. Fundamentally though, the geopolitical separation that is built into the heart of the alliance, and the corresponding flexibility to hedge against entrapment or abandonment, will be preserved.

If Abe Shinzo's Liberal Democratic Party and Hashimoto Toru's Japan Restoration Party do well enough in the next election, and if the two parties can find a way to cooperate despite Hashimoto's titanic ego and narcissism, maybe.

I am even less sure about the claims made in this passage:

First, unlike the British interest in manipulating the continental balance of power, the notion of aligning against the stronger power to contain its influence is at odds with the Japanese tradition. Rather, the inclination of statecraft has been to pursue policies of strategic detachment or isolation. The next best option, when this has not been possible, is to forge amicable ties with whichever foreign state appeared to demonstrate the most impressive combination of military, economic and cultural power. Equally, efforts by Great Britain and US in the modern era and China throughout much of Japanese history to involve Japan in the region's strategic balance have mostly been unsuccessful because Tokyo has avoided a too-intimate strategic association with its foreign ally or mentor. Japan is not the UK of East Asia and will not assume the role of regional offshore balancer.

Second, the meteoric rise of China at a time of receding US primacy is placing Japan's choices at odds with its enduring principles.

Adaptive resilience to the reality of Chinese power is not the issue here. The stability of central authority in Beijing has been among the surest guarantors of Japan's domestic stability and external security. Rather, it is the need to hedge against the destabilization that is rippling through the East Asian periphery, as a by-product of the rise of Chinese power. A stable, ideally prosperous, periphery has been the indispensable condition of Japan's national security. Historically, the Korean Peninsula and the Taiwan Strait have served as the outer ramparts of Japan's defence perimeter. Time and again power vacuums or instability on the peninsula and within the straits have tempted entanglements in Korea and Taiwan, and stability has allowed Japan's strategic view to turn homewards.
First, two technical issues. One, meteors tend not to rise. They tend to either burn up in the upper atmosphere (luckily this is most of the time) or hit the ground, becoming meteorites. Only the occasional one is on the right course and has sufficient mass and momentum to take take the brief tour through Earth's upper atmosphere only to rise up into space. Two, for most of Japan's history, Tokyo has not been the de jure capital or even the de facto capital. Using Tokyo as a shorthand for Japan's government is unsound (the use of Beijing as a shorthand for China's government may be, depending on how far back in time Gupta wishes us to look, similarly unsound).

As to more substantive issues, while it is hard to argue with the recurring patterns in the historical record, this blessed land happens to be no longer under military management, as it was for most of the last 900 years. Talk of enduring principles without reference to the type of government a state has at a particular time seems a leap of faith.

Subtracting democratic governance also leads to errors in gauging the intensity of a government's responses. Democracy tends at once a force multiplier in defense and a dampening factor upon the expansionist inclinations of states. For those who note the two century-old tendency of the United States to go marching out on military expeditions of varying length all around the globe ("From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli," as the U.S. Marine Corps' hymn puts it) despite its democratic form of government, the resultant empire is, Robert Dujarric puts it, largely an informal one.

As for stability and prosperity on China's periphery, that is a great concept. A swing around the states on China's periphery, however, finds damn few that are either stable or prosperous. Nevertheless, China has signed agreements with most of them delineating its borders, setting hard limit on the China/Not China divide.

Indeed, the more legitimate and stable a government is and the more prosperous the state, the less likely it is that China will have resolved its differences with it (Those in the back with their hands up, South Korea is both effectively an island state, separated as it is from China by the black, uncrossable moat that is North Korea, and also in a fight with China over ownership of Socotra Rock).

The contention that instability or power vacuums in Beijing or on the Korean peninsula are goads to Japan's intervening in continental affairs belongs in the "Been There/Done That" tray. The Korean peninsula is divided, with two states on a hair-trigger and one of those states undergoing a halting and stilted leadership transition. And Japan is...where? Furthermore, "stability has allowed Japan's strategic view to turn homewards" is an Ann Elk Theory.

On a final note, Gupta needs to talk to the editors of the EAF regarding his previous featured post, "Japan and China's latest spat over the Senkakus" (23 September 2012). Not one -- and this is not necessarily his fault -- of the links in the essay seems to connects to a text supporting the assertion Gupta is making.

* For reader/blog author Janne Morén, a warning. Clicking on the link will bring you into contact with such a liberal use of unmoored quotations marks as to put you off your lunch.