Friday, September 27, 2013

Cut And Pastiche

According to the conventional wisdom, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has been blessed with a new set of more adept and aware English-language speechwriters, making Abe II a much easier international sell than Abe I was.

For those who have had the pleasure (?) of reading his book, though, in either of its versions, New Abe retains many of the defects of Old Abe. He is still offering the regurgitation of rote memorized bullet points, without bridges in between the points themselves. What is new about New Abe is the presentation of a broader topic list -- the offering of a greater variety of monochomatic sketches of potentially attractive subjects. New Abe also delivers his points and anecdotes with vim and vigor, rather than the hangdog look of haughty contempt of six years ago.

An honest desire to appear interested in what listeners might be interested in, however, cannot compete with the Prime Minister's unwillingness or inability to satisfy the human need for a defensible architecture of thought. Further crippling is the lack, even at this late date, of Mr. Abe having a sense of the kind of country he intends to craft via the Third Arrow of Abenomics.

The result, as can be judged from the text of his speech to the New York Stock Exchange (Link) is earnest, trivial, bewildering, winding and embarrassing rhetorical chaos. The smart money will applaud (because it is the smart money) but will note in the aide-mémoire only "Structural reform/YES, TPP/YES, More women/YES. Substance? NOTHING -- jury still out."

Later - The Mainichi Shimbun checks in with a report that a cool reception awaits the PM from within the Liberal Democratic Party in response his eager beaver rhetorical flourishes in New York. (Link)

Later still - Over at The Diplomat, Jonathan DeHart derides the speech as "a barrage of pop cultural references" and highlights the blowback from at least one of the PM's metaphors. (Link)

Some Math Required

Thanks to a blog at a major media institution (whose employees I respect) we have been reminded over the last few months that:

1) The Constitution of Japan, in an extremely liberal reform for 1947, inadvertently banned gay marriage:
Article 24 - Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.

With regard to choice of spouse, property rights, inheritance, choice of domicile, divorce and other matters pertaining to marriage and the family, laws shall be enacted from the standpoint of individual dignity and the essential equality of the sexes.
2) In Japan, adults can adopt other adults. Indeed, adults adopting other adults is the rule. (Link)

Given that an individual can establish his or her own sui generis family registry (koseki), I leave it to the readers to work out what could/should/must happen next.

I confess: like much of the rest of the world, I guffawed at the speculations of actor Jeremy Irons as regards changing the definition of marriage (Link). In retrospect, the problem is not that Irons' hypothetical is too far out there: it is that it is upside-down.

So sociologists, time to get out there and start counting.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

An Augustinian Timetable?

Having appointed Komatsu Ichiro to the position of head of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has set the stage for a significant expansion of Japan's capacity to participate in security actions on the behalf of the government personnel of other nations, even unto full-throated collective security.

However, when asked by journalists in New York about Japan's timetable for participation in collective security arrangements, Mr. Abe demurred:


On the one hand, as regards a reinterpretation of the constitution looking toward participation in security actions, the prime minister said, "I am not here to set up timetables. I will work hard on pushing forward a popular understanding [of the changes]."

(Link - J)
According to other news reports, the PM's plan is to not even start a public debate on reinterpretation of the constitution until the new year. (Link - J)

Hmmmm. I hope he did not say this to his friends at the Hudson Institute.

For a guy supposedly chomping at the bit, eager to have Japan bust out and become a major military player, obsessed with getting the country over a hump it has been sizing up for thirty years now (debating the rightness or wrongness of collective security to death in the process), Abe-san sure seems to be reticent about pressing the government to get its arse in gear.

It is just like Augustine of Hippo said, "Lord, make us a first rate military power -- but not yet."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Across The Board

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, whose economics is beloved of liberal economists Joseph Stiglitz (Link) and Paul Krugman (Link), is about become the first non-American to receive the hardline conservative Hudson Institute's Herman Kahn Award. (Link).

Dig it.

Responses to the question "Which party do you support?"
NHK News poll of September 8-9, 2013

In just a year since Abe's election as president of the LDP, he and his Liberal Democratic Party have become the unexpected colossus, spanning the ideological spectrum. Only the thin ultra-liberal, anti-business left end of the political stick is left open for the Communists to hang onto. Otherwise, the LDP and its coalition partner the New Komeito are everywhere.

Public opinion polls find a majority of voters supporting the idea a vigorous alternative to the LDP. However refreshing such a faith in politics-as-renewed-by-the-possibility-of-electoral-defeat, after Abe and his party move into the room, there is precious little oxygen left to breathe.

And the struggle for breath has become oh, so ironic in the case of the party whose campaign slogan for the July election was "We will be the power to protect livelihoods" (Kurashi o mamoru chikara ni naru) -- a.k.a., the Democratic Party of Japan. The DPJ now finds itself in dire straits if it cannot somehow find a way to lay off a big chunk of its own workforce. (Link)

Oops-a-daisy! (Hey former prime minister Noda, how's that manly sudden dissolution offer working out for ya?)

As for the Japan Restoration Party, with all the crud that Ishihara Shintaro has been saying the past few months about his co-leader Hashimoto Toru and Hashimoto's core program of converting Osaka from a prefecture to a metropolitan district, is it correct to even label that mad vessel a party?

The members of LDP certainly could still blow this sweet deal they have right now. They could get greedy and start pocketing some of the money they have tossed into economy through fiscal irresponsibility and monetary slaternliness. They could start fighting ordinary citizens to push through mega-projects making little economic or environmental sense (completing the capital ring roads, digging the Linear Motor Car Line from Shinagawa to Nagoya, restarting nuclear power plants in of questionable geomorphology). They could mess up the march of economy policy out of an inability to sacrifice some of their supporters.

Right now, however, they are on a roll -- right over every other party except the JCP.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Just One Of Those Things Making Life A Little Less Simple

Just for the record, Dr. Campbell (Link), the Nippon Professional Baseball league's record for most home runs in a season has been held by a foreigner since 1964* -- O Sadaharu being a citizen of the Republic of China.

O's retentions of the citizenship of a lost state -- his father hails not from Taiwan but from Zhejiang -- was the reason he could not play at the Kokutai (the national sports festival takes its once-in-a-half-century's turn in Tokyo starting on September 28 - Link - J) despite being a hero at Koshien.

The sublimation of O's citizenship -- what, the first person awarded a Kokumin Eiyosho is not a kokumin? -- and later players' dutiful protection of the record makes for an interesting study of the notion of ethnicity, loyalty and gradations within insider/outsider divisions.


* Why has no one seen it fit an interview Nomura Katsuya, the Japanese player O took the record from? If there is anyone in this blessed land with an otherwise unspeakable opinion and willingness to express it, it's Nomura.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

It Takes My Breath Away: Fairbank and Reischauer on East Asia (1967)

Forty six years ago...(Link - video)

Yes, it does belong in the "holy cow" file.

Later - For some sense of the incredible vision of Fairbank in particular, listen to what he says about the United States use of aerial bombing in 1967 and compare it to comedian/commentator's Bill Maher's rant of 13 September 2013.

Ignore What I Said. Please!

This morning the news organizations reported what is probably a non-story. Asking the rhetorical question, "Is he making light of the electorate?" the nation news providers pointed an accusative finger at Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General for the House of Councillors Waki Masashi, who told a gathering held in honor of the LDP's women legislators:

"The current mean of selecting party candidates, by the steps established by the parties, is immature. First, can the parties really select members of the Diet correctly? If we can deal decisively with this one thing, although one cannot say it in too loud a voice, even if morons are making the selections, the selected persons are impressive."
Given the audience at the reception, which included Prime Minister and LDP President Abe Shinzo (Link - J video), it is difficult to state with any certainty who it is Waki thinks deserves the label "moron" (aho). Nor can one easily discern who precisely the chosen persons (erabareru hito) are. Nor is it clear how "moron" selectors can chose "impressive" (rippa) persons.

Waki is a Tokyo University grad (Engineering) and a former national government bureaucrat -- albeit of the now demoted Construction Ministry. So despite being a card-carrying member of the LDP's Road Tribe, the Mos Eisley Spaceport of Diet groups, he cannot be assumed to be complete out of his senses.

So while it is difficult to ascertain what Waki thought he was saying -- and to whom -- an assumption that he was calling the voters "morons" is not plausible.

Two points:

One, this is the second major flareup over peculiar remarks about elected government by an LDP bigwig since the July 21 House of Councillors. The first was the brouhaha over Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Aso Taro's suggestion to a Japan Institute of National Fundamentals-provided audience that those wishing to revise the 1947 Constitution should learn from the Nazi party's overturning of the Weimar Constitution. In that instance, initial transcripts left open the possibility that Aso was being sarcastic or ironic.  Recently, sound recordings featuring the audience reaction to Aso's remarks indicate that whatever his intent, the audience clearly thought a Nazi-like takeover of the present Japanese state hilarious (Link J - audio) -- showing that major news outlets were not being unfair in their framing of Aso's weird ramblings.

Two, chasing-after-gaffes journalism -- merited in Aso's case, unmerited in Waki's -- is back from the grave. We are in a time of turmoil, where serious issues and ideas are being debated. Nevertheless journalists are wasting their time and ours on revealing politicians to be idiots -- which is a lot like reporting breathlessly about zebras having stripes.

The second point is bad news for persons looking for a Japan with the wherewithal to lift itself out of its doldrums. Attention spans are limited, and if the people's eyes and ears are clogged with trivialities, the voters will not be the guides for the politicians that they will need to be, this blessed land having nothing resembling an opposition in the Diet. Grim and frightening it is to watch august news institutions like national broadcaster NHK roll over and become mere PR outlets for the government and select businesses (Last night's 7 pm broadcast actually began with the announcer chirping, "Tonight there is wonderful news (ureshii nyusu): the sites of the stations of the proposed high speed linear motor line have been chosen!"). If what little time that is left for critical commentary is wasted on parsing the semantics of the perspective challenged -- then we are all in the pot, ready to be roasted.

Later - Many thanks to commenter "TheStrawMan" for noticing my skipping over the phrase marked in red above.

Still left unanswered is how the party composed of mere humans can conjure up and approve a system of selecting candidates which is idiot-proof.

The Future Is Supposed To Look Like This

A music video (one cannot really call it a video tour) of the new Zaha Hadid-designed National Stadium. (Link)

I am neither engineer nor architect, which is probably why the dearth of lateral bracing in the roof scares me. In a country where the primary stress is gravity working upon arches, where the load is composed almost entirely of the arches themselves, fine. However, in the Tokyo Metropolitan District, the stress comes from side-to-side motion of varying intensity and wavelength, several times a year. The immense window spaces in between the structural elements, with only a few gargantuan linkages, look like invitations to disharmonic disaster.

Tip of the Hat to Michael Rofe for the link.

Later - Was I saying something about earthquakes? (Link)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Not Even With Free Money May This Land Be Healed

Where macroeconomic policy making meets psychology, unhappily: Kathleen Chu's and Katsuko Kuwako's look at Japan's brain bursting housing and land markets. (Link)

Hint to world: after a housing bubble bursts, destroying the equity and/or the virtual savings of everyday folk, be not surprised if weird, interest-rate and market-clearing-mechanism-defying resistance should move in...and never leave. Even in the most densely populated environs on the planet.

Hoarding is what Chu & Kuwako describe...but the hoarding of a vacuum, the lost value of land and buildings owners never had a chance to hold in their hands.


Image: Conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and the Moon above the Kanda River on 30 November 2008.
Image courtesy: MTC

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Sea Of Futility

Read James Przystup in Comparative Connections -- on the hopeless back-and-forth between the governments of Japan and China since March, with some informative detours along the ways. (Link)

A tragi-comedy in all its glory.

Przystup highlights Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's declaration on August 12 that revision of the Constitution remains his historical mission (Link - J). For those keeping score August 12 was my guestimate of the date Abe would pay a private visit to Yasukuni. It was also the 35th anniversary of the signing of the Sino-Japanese Treaty of Friendship.

Abe's declaration of a continued, unshakable commitment to constitutional reform ("Facing the future, facing the revision of the Constitution, I go onward. Revision of the constitution is my historic mission...") flies in the face of the conventional wisdom, which was and is that constitution revision is off the table, replaced by a near-term program of gradual expansion of the activities judged constitutional by the Cabinet Legislative Bureau. The announcement of the appointment of Komatsu Ichiro, the new more malleable head of the CLB, had indeed been announced a week before Abe's declaration. (Link)

One has to discount the seriousness of Abe's words, at least in terms of the PM's schedule for the rest of the year. According to reports, the vow was made at a private dinner at an inn in the PM's nominal hometown of Nagato, Yamaguchi Prefecture. Attending the dinner were top members of his support group (koenkai). Abe probably felt he had to provide, along with actual food and drink, some political red meat. Pledging loyalty to the cause of constitution revision has been one constant in Abe's limited repertoire of political tricks. It is not surprising he dragged the magic act out one more time for his most loyal and biggest fans.

The article ends with a calendar of significant days. One crucial date that is not mentioned, either in Prystrup's article or in Michael J. Green and Nicholas Szechenyi's update on Japan-U.S. relations, is April 28, 2013 -- the first official Return Of Sovereignty Day (Do not bother looking for the event in the previous edition's Green & Szechenyi -- it is not listed there either). At the official ceremony, the first ever, the prime minister intoned portentous piffle of the purest, highest incoherence (Link). The speech was eclipsed, however, by the incident at the end when the Imperial Couple were making their departure from the stage. An impromptu and jubilant chorus of "Long Live The Emperor" (Tenno heika banzai!) froze their Imperial Highnesses in mid-step like two jacked deer.

April 28 seems to mark both the zenith and terminus of Abe's dalliance with history issues. A week later, when asked to clarify his remarks about the definition of shinryaku (invasion, aggression) in Diet session, Abe demurred. When a week later still Liberal Democratic Party policy affairs chief Taka'ichi Sanae claimed that Abe rejects the judgments of the International Military Tribunal of the Far East and the Murayama Statement, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide rubbished her statements, saying she was jawboning her own views, not those of the Abe Government.

After the provocative ceremony and the banzais, something snapped.

Later - As regards the prospects for reinterpreting the constitution, Yuka Hayashi has just posted an interview with a frank Komatsu-san on JapanRealTime. (Link)

Image: Surfers waiting, hoping for the least wave. Kugenuma Beach, Fujisawa City, Kanagawa Prefecture on 6 December 2009.
Image courtesy: MTC

Monday, September 16, 2013

One Simple Answer To A Complex Question / A Momentary Lapse Of Reason

A Nagging Question: How is it that Japan's opposition parties, particularly the Democratic Party of Japan, are now so moribund? Did not the DPJ win a landslide victory in 2009? How can these once high fliers now be so irrelevant?

Something Like An Answer: Holding aside the New Komeito, which is an entirely different genus of political beast from anything else out there, there are only two parties in Japan with deep bases -- the Liberal Democratic Party and the Communist Party. Commitments to these parties are reliable, in the first case thanks to personal ties, self interest and a recognition of the durability of power elites, in the second in a faith in an ideology and notions of the family.

For the other parties, loyalty is largely a matter of the head, not the heart. In the specific case of the DPJ, its support, save among members of the Rengo league of labor unions, was at its height a kilometer wide and a centimeter deep. When the going got tough, public support evaporated.

As Pink Floyd asked:
Was it love?
Or was it the idea of being in love?
During the DPJ's rise in popularity to where its leaders cobbled together a surrogate, but supposedly honest and trustworthy, big tent center-right party, public support arose from out of the latter: the idea of an opposition rather than the actual opposition party in question. The same seemingly holds true for the backing for the other non-Communist opposition parties -- their supporters are not in love with them, they are in love with the idea of being in love with them.

Reviving the DPJ (Link) is thus unlikely on a technical level -- for the most part, its supporters had a crush on it, not a relationship with it.

The State Secrets Law's Surprising Opponent

"I want to live in this Japan I love forever and ever. If , however, because each and every one of us fails to raise his or her voice right now, this bill passes as is during autumn extraordinary session of the Diet -- because we did not act as citizens investigating it..."
Tarento (a.k.a. "celebrity") Fujiwara Norika is known for, well, largely two things (Link). That she might have thoughts as well as...uh...attributes...probably would not strike many folks as likely.

Which is why the Japanese news mediaverse is all in a tizzy about Ms. Fujiwara's September 13 posting to her online diary (Link - J) encouraging her countrymen and women to start paying attention to the new state secrets bill up for passage in the Diet during the fall extraordinary session (Link - J). She urges all citizens, whether for or against the draft, to offer public comment -- and lists the relevant government email and postal addresses and fax number. She also notes that the deadline for public comment is September 17.

The nation's news organizations were not going to go quietly in the darkening fall without making a huge fuss about the draft law, which commentators see as seriously restricting the public's ability to learn about government misbehavior, malfeasance and/or incompetence. The Abe government has unsurprisingly promised that the law will not endangering anything except behavior threatening to Japan's security (Link). Reporters, cognizant of how enhancement of the legal protections on personal privacy have become a blanket protection on the heretofore unreported conduct of public figures, have not unreasonable doubts as to whether the secrecy law will simply criminalize what remains of investigative journalism.

Ms. Fujiwara's sudden championing of the public's right to know has made the task of news media organizations -- which can be accused of hectoring the electorate and making mountains out of molehills -- highlighting the dangers of the state secrets law a lot easier -- and a lot sexier too.

Help comes in from strange quarters sometimes.

Later -The September 18 edition of The Japan Times has provided more details of Ms. Fujiwara's opposition to the bill. (Link)

Make Friends And Influence People

Kunihiko Miyake, a retired Arabist member of the Japan diplomatic service, who served at the embassies in Baghdad, Washington and Beijing (yes, fluent in Arabic, English and Chinese), who served during Abe I (2006-7) as the special assistant on diplomacy to Abe Shinzo's wife Akie, is the director of research at the Canon Institute of Global Affairs (Link). Undaunted by the big issues (Link) Miyake-san is a go-to person for Japanese and non-Japanese news organizations alike for commentary on the international scene.

So the post-July 21 interview of him published on the English language site The Asahi Shimbun is really worth reading (Link), especially alongside his short report on his visit to Washington published by the Sankei Shimbun (Link - J) a day earlier.

Parallel Problems Among The Princelings

Japan has no bumiputera policy of ethnic favoritism. Otherwise, the East Asia Forum essay "Domestic interest groups haunt Najib’s TPP campaign" on the political barriers looming in front of Prime Minister Najib Razak as regards Malaysia's participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership is a word-for-word description of the barriers before Abe Shinzo as regards Japan's participation. (Link)

My own sense is that Abe's and the Liberal Democratic Party's big tent policies transform Japan's  participation in TPP negotiations into a stopgap measure, a way of keeping Japan's options open as the world's trade negotiators rush around from conclave to conclave, each fruitlessly trying to win a "best of a bad lot" deal for his or her country from out of a jumble of acronyms. (Link)

I look forward to Abe & Co. proving me wrong.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

No Nukes, Again

The morning papers are reminding me that as of tomorrow when the Oi #4 reactor goes offline for maintenance, Japan will once again be without nuclear-generated electrical power. (Link - J)

Paul Scalise (a friend) argues frequently, forcefully and plausibly that the continued shutdowns of the country's nuclear power plants imperils the finances and indeed the existence of the nation's power companies (Link - the text, not the video). Business scholar Ulrike Schaede, somewhat less plausibly, argues that Abenomics will fail without reactor restarts. (Link)

As for what the public thinks, the most recent Asahi Shimbun opinion poll, conducted September 7 and 8, finds 26% of the public in favor of reactor restarts, and 56% opposed (Link - J). The monthly NHK poll, conducted September 6, 7 and 8, found 22% in favor, 41% opposed and 34% undecided on the restarts, even under the proviso that the restarts would be of reactors meeting new, stricter Nuclear Regulation Authority safety guidelines. (Link)

Most of the public feels cautious about accepting official statements regarding the safety of operation of the nuclear power stations. There is also seemingly a great deal of skepticism about pronouncements of doom should the reactors continue to be kept offline. That the power grid has not collapsed, and the economy crumpled, after probably the hottest spring and summer on record, puts a dent in the credibility of those arguing for restarts even if public opinion is against them.

A pair of senryu and accompanying cartoons on that subject:


Genpatsu ga
iranu to wakaru
natsu owaru

Learning that we do not need
nuclear reactors
a summer ends

(by "Michi" of Suginami City, published in the Tokyo Shimbun of 7 September 2013)


Kokusho ni mo
denryoku fusoku no
koe nashi

Despite the blistering heat
of a lack of electric power
no voice is heard

(by Koyano Takeshi of Higashiyamato City, published in the Tokyo Shimbun of 31 August 2013)
In the case of the latter poen, the cartoonist has drawn a dog with a mouth, nose and eyes that together form the corporate logo of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Link). It is sweating bullets beneath a burning sun. Despite its suffering, however, it does not bark or howl -- a seeming extended reference to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous dog that did not bark in the Sherlock Holmes story "Silver Blaze."

An aside, but one of the striking attributes of the humorous verses and cartoons published in the Tokyo Shimbun is how many of them require a knowledge of non-Japanese music or literature, international affairs or English to understand. However, neither the Tokyo Shimbun nor its parent the Chunichi Shimbun do any publishing in English. The upshot is that the products of the Japanese news organizations whose outlook and shared culture would be most recognizable to non-Japanese readers remain locked up behind the wall of the Japanese language.

Funny, that.


Image courtesies: Tokyo Shimbun

Abe Shinzo in 2020? (Not Hindsight)

Twice this week I have read in prominent publications musings about whether or not Prime Minister Abe Shinzo could possibly still be in office at the time of the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Could Abe be the premier at the torch lighting ceremony?

In theory, yes. The only requirements for a prime minister are being alive and a member of the Diet (yes, I am aware that the latter presumes the former. Bear with me).

Prime Minister Abe is 58 years old, meaning that he will be 65 at the time the 2020 games. Abe's father Shintaro died at the relatively young age of 67 of undetermined causes -- explanations including heart failure (the official cause of death), liver failure and cancer. Shinzo has also had health problems, the nature of which are the subject of speculation (secrecy about health issues seems to run in the family). Shintaro's death came after a two year period of hospitalization -- a collapse and sudden withdrawal from public life seemingly triggered by the shuddering halt in his career brought about by the Recruit Scandal (another parallel - Link).

While the robustness of Abe Shinzo's physical health has a question mark over it, there should be no questions about his political health. Yamaguchi Prefecture is the home of conservative elective politics and a Liberal Democratic Party (all six Diet members) and Kishi clan (Abe's younger brother Kishi Nobuo is the representative for Yamaguchi District #4) bastion. Abe will continue to win in his Yamaguchi #2 district as long as he is running for a seat.

Nevertheless, the charter of the LDP pretty much rules out Abe presiding over Olympics in 2020. Article 12 of the charter sets the term of the presidency of the LDP at three years, with a maximum of two consecutive terms in office (Link - J). While there is no stipulation that a prime minister must be the head of a party, the general consensus is that only the heads of parties are eligible for the prime ministerial election. Murayama Tomiichi became prime minister even though he was not the leader of the largest party in the Diet. He nevertheless was at least the leader of the soon-to-be-doomed Socialist Party.

In the already unlikely event Abe Shinzo manages to serve out two full terms, he will lose his party presidency. This will mandate his resignation as prime minister.

Abe could, of course, return to the LDP presidency after the term in office of a successor. However, it is extremely unlikely that the members of the LDP, or more specifically the many prime minister wannabees in the LDP, would let Abe have a third chance at the party's top post. It is even more unlikely that Abe would run for the premiership as an independent or the head of a party other than the LDP.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Not Another Harangue About Public Day Care In Japan

Every year about this time the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare releases the report on the state of the nation's public day care facilities as of April 1. In reponse I usually I lose my senses and compose a long post on how the statistics once again show that the provision of public day care by local authorities is really good, contrary to the reporting of journalists and assertions of Japanese day care activists. The purported failure of local jurisdictions to be responsive to the needs of working parents turns out to be that-- purported -- existing mostly only in lazy strings of anecdotes.

I will restrain myself this year. I will only ask readers to look at the MHLW press release (Link - J) and note:
- The total number of children attending public day care in Japan increased by 42,779. To put that in perspective, that represents the equivalent opening of 850 new day care centers (the newest one in my neighbor accommodates 50 children) in a single calendar year. This was the largest year-on-year increase in children ever.

- The actual number of new day care center that opened -- 327 -- indicates that much of the record increase in children was handled by existing facilities with excess capacity

- Only two prefectures have chronic day care deficits as represented by waiting lists: Tokyo and Okinawa. All other prefectures are either at zero children on waiting lists or are on a course toward that goal.

- Yokohama, the municipality that gets all the attention from the press and the politicians for zeroing out its waiting lists (Link) was not even in the top five among cities cutting back on its lists last year. The best performer in raw numbers was Nagoya, which managed to reduce its waiting lists by 73% in a single year. There were 1032 children on waiting lists in Nagoya in April 2012 but only 280 children a year later.

- Maintaining a reputation of success is costly. Keeping the promise to have no children on waiting lists within three years meant the Yokohama city government had to find or build public daycare accommodations for 3,740 more children in the last fiscal year. The Tokyo ward of Suginami, which won national recognition for its zeroing out of its waiting lists a decade ago, is still recovering from the consequences of earning a reputation of being "working parent friendly" and thus an attractive destination for young parents or would be parents. Of all the nation's municipalities Suginami had the largest raw increase in children on waiting lists.

- Despite immense efforts of local authorities, the number of children on waiting lists nationwide remained stuck above 20,000 -- though there was improvement, with the totals falling from 24,825 to 22,741.
The struggles of Yokohama and Suginami to keep ahead of increases in demand and the failure of the nationwide numbers to plummet, despite record levels of new children getting incepted into the system (an annual increase double the number on the waiting lists!) -- illustrate the difficulties of inherent in meeting the challenge of what reader JC calls the "out of the woodwork effect" -- where increases of the supply of a good increases the demand for that good, even with rising prices.

Considering that local authorities have little ability to raise funds for specific projects, that the total and relative numbers of small children are declining, that both the national and local budgets have to accommodate rapid increases in costs associated with the elderly (who vote) and all levels of government face severe fiscal crises, the effort being put into increasing access to public day care seems very respectable.

Not that you would ever hear about these successes from demagogues fishing for the votes of women (Link) or worse from men who wish to show their sensitivity.  For the record, public day care is used by families -- sometimes single-parent, most times not -- not women. In these families the men are very often equal partners in child rearing and the household. Indeed, in terms of beneficial social transformation of individuals, day care centers probably rarely make better mothers -- but they seem to make better fathers.

Let Me Tell You How It Will Be

On January 6 of this year, I published the first of my rants about Abenomics. The final imprecation in my screed went like this:
Abenomics is grand larceny. It takes, in the form of the taxes and the value inherent in the yen, money from the people and gives it to the supporters of the Liberal Democratic Party.
I wish I were wrong about this but I am not.

Indeed, Abenomics thinking has so infected governance that economic decisions taken before Abe Shinzo became prime minister are now subject to it:
Abe poised to OK tax hike
The Yomiuri Shimbun

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has nearly resolved to raise the consumption tax rate from 5 percent to 8 percent in April as initially planned, government sources said Wednesday.

The tax hike will be complemented by a set of pump-priming measures worth about ¥5 trillion—equivalent to about two-thirds of the revenue anticipated from the three percentage-point increase—to prevent the economy, which has been gradually improving, from taking a downturn due to the higher tax.

The economy-boosting measures will be made possible through such steps as drafting a supplementary budget for the current fiscal year and a regular annual budget for fiscal 2014 in a manner that will enable each to complement the other. This will also be combined with tax system revisions that will primarily feature tax reductions, according to the sources.

The prime minister will likely make a final decision about the envisaged tax increase after analyzing the Bank of Japan’s quarterly survey of short-term business outlook for September. The central bank will announce the results of the Tankan business confidence survey on Oct. 1. Immediately after arriving at a final conclusion on the matter, Abe is expected to hold a press conference to explain why the consumption tax rate must be raised and unveil the new economy-boosting package....

Raise a regressive tax on everyone's purchases to supposedly shore up the finances of everyone's health and pension systems. Fine. Raid that store of funds before they have even been collected and spend 2/3rds of it on stimulus measures -- the apportionment of which I am sure will not be affected by politics. In the seemingly unlikely possibility one cannot find enough pork barrel projects to fund, replace increased spending with reduced revenues, i.e., tax cuts, which I am also sure will not be influenced by lobbying or votes-for-perks quid pro quos with industry favorites or major support organizations.

It is not impossible that a government can spend and invest the people's money in a fashion generating a higher rate of return than if the people were left to make random, desires-based decisions on their own. Singapore and its People's Action Party government can reasonably claim to such exalted and enlightened taxation and spending policies.

The ruling party of this blessed land, however, is the LDP -- a party that despite numerous attempts at internal reform and new corporate outreach is still enmeshed in ties with the dregs of the economy -- the tax avoiders, the deadbeat borrowers, the uncompetitive producers, the protected industries and entire sectors (new road construction) that have no economic reason for existence.

The LDP can be entrusted to spend the 2/3rds of the money that was supposed to be keeping the pension and health systems afloat, this in order to keep Mr. Abe's economic program, which is really a vote buying scheme, chugging along another year?

Ha, ha, ha, ha.

Really? That's the proposal?

No seriously, that's the proposal?

Later - The Tokyo Metropolitan District's hometown newspaper this morning presents pretty much the same take on the mooted Abe administration plan: "Obscuring the goal of protecting social welfare" (Kasumu shakai hosho mokuteki -- Link - J).

Later still - A potential need to clue in  means an opportunity afforded for a semi-gratuitous link to Georgia Harrison and Eric Clapton in Tokyo.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Shimomura Hakubun, Japan's New Friendly Face To The World

Prime Minister Abe is giving Shimomura Hakubun, the minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, a man who really does not need another title, another title:

Minister for the Olympics (Link)

Oh, what could possibly go wrong with this appointment?







* Bet you didn't know that "The 67 years since the end of World War II have been a history of Japan's destruction."

A Marriage Most Peculiar

One of the fixtures of life under an Abe Administration is the appearance, off to the side or in the corner, of Seko Hiroshige (Link). The fourth termer House of Councillors out of Wakayama is one of the prime minister's most trusted advisors and constant companions. On official trips when the PM's wife Akie does not accompany the PM, Seko seems the go-to surrogate. It was Seko who stood and sat beside the PM on his grueling globe-spanning trip from St. Petersburg to Buenos Aires and back again this past weekend -- a trip which began with the insane scene of the PM trotting up the stairs to his official plane, turning and giving a hearty wave for the media gaggle, turning back to step into the plane door, followed by Seko, in imitation of the PM, turning to the media and giving his own solo wave of departure at the top of the stairs.

Seko-sensei, control yourself. You are not one of that plane's passengers. You are the baggage.

The incongruity of Seko, a former communications and public relations executive at NTT who seems to lack even a smidgen of sense when it comes to image creation, and the efforts the PM has made to give Seko appointments to keep him close by (Seko is currently a Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary) has led me to uncharitably consider on more than one occasion the possibility that the relationship between the two was more than professional.

Well, those thoughts, while not shelved, must compete for my attention this morning with the reports that the divorced Seko quietly filed a marriage certificate on September 2. What has the political sphere abuzz is that his spouse is Hayashi Kumiko (Link), a second term Democratic Party of Japan member of the House of Councillors.

That Seko, who is no great shakes in the appearance department, should be cohabiting with and is now the spouse of a former BBC newsreader ten years his junior should give hope to all the unwed of the planet.

More significantly, inter-party relationships and marriages are extremely rare in Japanese politics -- one can count their postwar numbers on the fingers of one hand. Despite living in physical proximity, the ideological divides and the parliamentary tactics of the parties would make an extra-party romantic relationship extremely tough. The Seko\Hayashi marriage seems to the first one ever between a member of the ruling party and a member of the main opposition party.

Seko, who most of the time has a half-cocked opinion on everything, is reticent to talk about his remarriage (it is a second marriage for Hayashi as well). He has asserted to confidants that he and Hayashi do not discuss politics at home (Link - J) -- a statement that burnishes his reputation of having only a weak grasp of the remotely plausible.

The question this morning is whether the PM best bud's secret tieing of the knot with a member of the opposition changes the relationship of trust and cooperation between the two men -- or whether in the new on-sunny-side-of-the-street-all-the-news-is-wonderful Abe II Cabinet (and of late, all the news for the administration has indeed been wonderful), everything is all to the good.

Later - For those wondering about Seko's position in the political spectrum, whether he is a moderate inside the Abe administration, the answer would be "not on your life." Class him rather as a pugnacious militant. He was a co-signer, along with Abe, of the Sakurai Yoshiko-authored advertisement in The New Jersey Star-Ledger of November 4, 2012 (yes, less than a year ago) denouncing the teensy-tiny comfort women monument on public land in Palisades Park, New Jersey. (Link)

Speaking of Sakurai, she makes a brief appearance speaking English (she is a graduate of the University of Hawaii in Manoa) in this just-released video report on Japan's decidedly minor (as ever) adjustments to its military posture and capabilities. (Link)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Shoe, Meet Other Foot

A U.S. Navy SEALs-adoring, English speaking Japanese by the name of Sato is trolling the prime minister's Facebook page (Link - J) this morning, leaving comments all over the place, calling the PM a traitor, commanding the PM to fall into Hell if Mr. Abe does not order Japan's (non-existent) special forces teams to slip into North Korea and retrieve all the abducted Japanese held there right now.

Mr. Prime Minister, I hope this clarifies the point that the "leftists" you have heretofore so publicly despised (Link) are the very least of your problems.

While we are on the subject of reporting by Yuka Hayashi, please check out her story on Tokyo Metropolitan District Governor Inose Naoki's submergence of his mourning for his wife in order to lead the TMD's successful bid for the 2020 Olympics (Link).

I have long praised Inose's commitment to change and accountability in government. To this I must now add a dedication to the role of leader beyond the call of duty. He is clearly as self-sacrifing a public servant as has ever graced a government office in this blessed land.

Not bad for a non-politician/non-bureaucrat, an author of non-fiction books on infrastructure spending and literary biographies.

To his wife, whose sudden death this summer was kept quiet until after the dust settled in Buenos Aires, I can say naught but requiescat in pacem.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

SDF Personnel Are Public Officials

English language news outlets are reporting that Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide, in responding to a journalist's prompt, suggested today that the Abe government has the option of considering having "public officials" (komuin) deployed as a continous presence upon the Senkaku Islands. (Link - J)

What the news outlets are not explaining is that soldiers and sailors of the Self Defense Forces are, like the prime minister, judges, the policy secretaries of Diet members and Japanese employees of UNESCO working inside Japan (I have no idea why the last category gets special mention or consideration, but it does), "special employment national-level public officials" (tokubetsu shoku kokka komuin). (Link - J).

I think that that decoding this invitation to casuistry -- where a government spokesman can, in the aftermath of a garrisoning of the Senkakus, say, "But we told you we were considering permanent deployments of public officials to the islands!" -- would really help readers, listeners and viewers comprehend the threat of crisis implicit in Suga's airy and evasive suggestion.

For longtime readers, I am aware that this is not the first time I have shown irritation over the omission of crucial background about the legal status of SDF personnel. Ignosce mihi.

Threatening Nonsense

You may recall Suzuki Nobuyuki, the radical right winger who managed to capture 74,000 votes in the Tokyo Metropolitan District on July 21 (introduced here, with the look at how he might have been a sponsored spoiler candidate here).

The frighteningly well-spoken Suzuki holds forth in a new video report from Michael Penn: "Japan Grapples With The Rise Of Hate Groups."

If you have 12 minutes, it is worth a watch.

I would take exception to the statement in the report that the noisy, threatening ultra-right is a new phenomenon. All kinds of things were yelled out at political events in the 1960's (the audio to the video of the assassination of Socialist Party leader Inejiro Asanuma demonstrates how out of control the audience was - Link). However, it is true that threats of death and other violence have been beyond the pale for the past 40 years.

I also worry about misinterpretation of the statement that Prime Minister Abe Shinzo shares many of the ideological beliefs of the radical fringe. Rather than sharing ideology, it is probably better to say that Abe-san and his friends in business, academia, and the media have same the data points and talking points in their arsenals as one finds in the speeches and online drivel produced by the fringe groups and politicians like Suzuki.

The claims of radical parties like Suzuki's Restoration New Wind and organizations like former air self defense forces general Tamogami Toshio's Ganbare Nippon are outlandish in their paranoia. They would not have any attraction, though, if they did not in some way provide a template for understanding actual events. The intrusion of Chinese coast guard ships into the territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands (Link) or the erection of monuments to the comfort women -- the women (and some boys) trafficked by the brothel network established to serve the troops and officers of the Imperial Army -- on public land in the United States (Link) provide Japanese hate groups all the evidence they need of a vast global anti-Japanese conspiracy encircling and strangling the nation. These groups do on their own then layer on farcical claims, perhaps out of theatricality, perhaps as ornamentation in order to disguise the poverty of their intellectual wares.

That the relationship between Chinese and South Korean patriots and right wing fringe groups in Japan is symbiotic, each side providing the other with the justification for festering hatred and provocation (possibly providing a comfortable living for some of the participants) rarely makes the news anywhere.

Monday, September 09, 2013

It's A Four-Letter Word

Now from his pocket quick he flashes
The crayon on the wall he slashes
Deep upon the advertizing
A single word, only comprised
Of four letters...

- Paul Simon, "Poem On the Underground Wall" (1966)
And if it were me, that word would be "GOLF."

Perhaps not wishing to demolish Tokyo's chances in the Buenos Aires vote on the hosting of 2020 Olympics (congratulations to all involved in the winning bid), I did not on Friday post this photo I came across of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo engaged in his favorite, ummmm, sport this summer:

a passion/duty, the Prime Minister's energetic engagement in I have blogged about previously.

In terms of ultraviolet radiation protection, the prime minister's garb (note the rarely seen glasses) seems effective. In terms of mode of dress...the totality transcends even geek fashion. And it sure defeats the best efforts of the photoshoppers and makeup artists have been making at disguising the prime minister's true age.

A full 15 years ago, in the aftermath of the Asian Currency Crisis, about which so much is being written in the current red hot argument over whether or not the raising of the consumption tax from 3% to 5% was the economic growth killer it is in this country's political lore (Link), The Economist offered its own explanation as to why the economies of East Asia keeled over in 1997-98 like too-portly industrialists on the 16th hole at the Koganei Country Club in mid-August. (Link)

To be fair, while GOLF is indeed a four-letter word, so, according to Robert Allen Zimmerman, is LOVE.

Yes, by my tastes I do date myself.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Forget About Weimar

Today is the big day. The peculiar menagerie of humankind known as the International Olympic Committee will gather in a single room in Buenos Aires to select, in what is a frankly bizarre and fraught election, the winner of the title of the most convincingly mad town on Earth: the city to be shackled with the hosting of the 2020 Olympics.

How we or anyone else should care about this contest or the Olympics themselves, considering the history of the IOC's looking away or actively courting strongmen governments, how much the Olympics usually costs the citizens of the host city, how juiced up and strung out the athletes are and how little the Olympics deters us poor East African Plains Apes from killing each other -- which was the point of the whole shebang -- I do not know.

There is a special twist in today's pitting of Team Japan against Team Turkey, however. Unlikely as it may seem, the country that Japanese revisionists and arch-conservatives look to for answers, where they turn to when they need hints, is not, as Finance Minister Aso Taro indicated, Weimar Germany. The country Japan's most patriotic patriots really love is Turkey.

Yes, Turkey: a country with its own culture, with a strong military and a strong sense of historical mission. A problematic U.S. ally that says no to the U.S. at crucial times -- most prominently the refusal to allow an invasion force to pass through Turkey in the Iraq War. A country so tightly wound up it is engaged in a bitter territorial dispute with a treaty ally, clinging to Northern Cyprus of when all logic argues for a settlement, ignoring pressures from both the U.S. and the EU in the process. A country that despite being a royal pain can still twist the U.S. Congress around its finger -- successfully squelching successive congressional resolutions condemning the Armenian genocide -- a sharp contrast to the government of Japan, which despite spending tens of thousands of dollars per month in fees to Washington insiders and lobbyists, failed to squelch the comfort women resolution.

That the prime minister who has to lead the final charge against the Turks today is Abe Shinzo, a revisionist of the first rank and the prime minister at the time of the passage of the comfort women resolution, is for me the highest irony. If Tokyo were not in competition, Abe and his friends would all be Fools for Istanbul.

That being said, I do hope Tokyo wins today's election. For only one reason, too: if there is a single municipality on the planet capable of absorbing the cost of an Olympics, it is the Tokyo Metropolitan District.

We shall see if the IOC members agree.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Measured Radioactivity In The Tokyo Metropolitan District

Via reader GK on Facebook, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government-affiliated English language site reporting the radiation levels in Tokyo, with links to the reporting by the waterworks and other monitors.

Measurement results of environmental radiation levels in Tokyo

Clicking on the link to Tokyo Metropolitan Industrial Research Institute, for example, gives you access to the most recent (September 5) findings on radioactivity in atmospheric dust.

Nothing. No iodine. No cesium.

Of course, it was raining yesterday, meaning that there was probably little dust in the air to measure...

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Readings On The Izumo

Corey Wallace, the mind behind σ1 and many useful and insightful posts at Japan Security Watch, has just published an essay with the East Asia Forum on the implications and potential missions of the first of the new Izumo class of destroyers -- a ship about which so much utter, sensationalist nonsense has been written. (Link)

Wallace's essay is a broader policy-based complement to the narrow explanatory essay on the ship itself Dr. Alessio Patalano produced for The Asahi Shimbun (Link) -- an earlier draft of which he published on SSJ-Forum and I excerpted here.

Reading the two essays will sharply reduce the wool content in between both ears as regards these big "escort" (the Japanese term) vessels. As to what ships the Izumo-class of vessels would be escorting...that is left up to the imagination.

In all fairness, I have take exception with one sentence in Mr. Wallace's essay:
No self-respecting bureaucratic organisation would invest in a $1.2 billion piece of hardware specifically for the purpose of launching jump jets that may not materialise for many years, if at all.
I believe that that seeming improbable is indeed a pivot point of this famous sketch examining the Royal Navy's acquisition of the Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers.


What Could Really Kill Abenomics

My admiration for Yale University professor Hamada Ko'ichi, the acknowledged intellectual father of the first two arrows of Abenomics (Link), has been, for the most part, non-existent.

Until today. (Link)

And yes, my newfound appreciation is based in his seeing the data the same way I do, as unsupportive of a declaration of victory.

By contrast, thanks to reporting by the same financial news service, my faith in the economic reasoning at major financial institutions has plummeted. In a survey of 32 economists at financial giants like JPMorgan Chase & Co and Nomura Securities, 22 thought that Japanese stock markets would suffer a significant fall if Prime Minister Abe Shinzo decides next month to delay or cancel the April 2014 rise in the consumption tax from 5% to 8%. (Link)


1) It would diminish the capacity of the Bank of Japan to buy government bonds (What???)

2) Because it would reduce the credibility of the reforms in Abenomics growth package (What???)

Unless the 22 economists with a negative view can offer a mechanism that would cause the relative value of owning shares to fall vis-a-vis other investment opportunities -- which would have to be opportunities outside of Japan as the value of the main domestic alternative, Japan government bonds, will likely be crushed by any hint the government will not even attempt to keep its promises on finding a way of repaying the debt -- then those economists should not answer the phone the next time Bloomberg calls.

As for the so-called Abenomics growth strategy (which is not a strategy since strategy involves choice and sacrifice), its vacuity, not a failure to raise taxes, seems the most imminent and likely cause of a crushing of investor sentiment. In response to a massive letdown after the official Third Arrow announcement in June (Link), the government and its advisors seemingly have chosen the paths of least, or possibly no, effort:

a) Canvassing the public for ideas as to what policy changes should be in the growth strategy (Link) -- as if a grab bag of a hundred little ideas, all of which would require regulatory or legal changes, could even be implemented, much less coalesce into coherent programs, and

b) Doubling down on the announced plans, assigning to the Abe government brain trust the task of making the June proposals seem more than what they are (Link - J) -- the infamous recommendation of the "Plan B is to make Plan A work" school of management.

Oh, fabulous...

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Philosophical Difference

Otto: Apes do not read philosophy.

Wanda: Yes they do, Otto. They just don't understand it.

I have a standard paragraph about the impossibility of trying to accommodate the international claims of the present Chinese government. It hinges on the hopeless anachronicity of Chinese assertions:

"China's is only major government, aside from government of Bolivia, that insists its 19th maximum area of administration should delineate its natural borders. The key difference is that Bolivia lost its access to the sea, condemning the country and its people to isolation from world prosperity. As a consequence the Bolivian claims, though retrograde, at least engender some degree of sympathy."

My illustration is not particularly strong, however. There are probably a few other countries contesting for territories and Exclusive Economic Zones based upon the legacy of the grand Era Of Empire -- but none so blatantly, loudly and dangerously as the current Beijing regime.

Which is why I am glad that Sinologist J. Mohan Malik of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies has produced a long essay for The Diplomat examining the modern Chinese failure, intentional or not, to accept the premises for the proper limits on the interactions of nation-states.
History the Weak Link in Beijing's Maritime Claims
The essay may not be as rigorous as policemen and policewomen of international law would want. However, it still manages to lay down the main point -- that China's current territorial and maritime claims are embodiments and efflorescences of narratives, not de jure claims made under the auspices of international law. As such they are indefensible, provocative, potentially unlimited and certain to promote conflict.

It has been this anachronicity, or even a-chronocity, of China's claims that justifies the current Japanese government position of there being no dispute over the sovereignty of the Senkakus. Many extremely competent, even visionary security policy practitioners have argued that Japan would be conceding nothing of substance by admitting the existence of a dispute and indeed would be strengthening its position as regards both policing the Senkakus and bringing international pressure to bear on the can of worms that is Dokdo (Link). In theory, maybe, but trying to reposition Japanese assertions of sovereignty within a framework of international law seems pointless if the Chinese side is talking about rights and claims predating and outside the Westphalian framework.

With the Chinese officials lumbering about, ostensibly trying to craft coalitions of the unwilling against nations arguing the validity of their own claims (Link) the best course for the Japanese government is to just sit tight and wait for the next bout of Chinese government overreach -- based largely, in Malik's view, upon a inability to accept discontinuities in the conduct of international relations.

In the grander scheme, China's officials and China's defenders are frequently adept at quoting principles of international law in order to justify Chinese behavior. They just seem unclear on the point of the whole enterprise. Whether intentionally or not, they fail to understand that international law is not an instrument of state power. It is a replacement of the exercise of power. The paradox of great power -- and a great one it is, for its spares humankind from an eternity of horror -- is that it bides longest in the hands that wield it the least.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

All For The Olympics

Yesterday morning, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's first task was a 40 minute run through of the presentation he will be making before the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires (Link - J). Tokyo Governor Inose Naoki, whose presentation skills in English are non-existent, or at least were at the last Olympic get-together, is already in Argentina preparing for his part in the presentation. (Link - J)

Given Prime Minister Abe's still suspect constitution (the digestive system-related kind) his agenda this week is one to give anyone who gives a damn the jitters. Not only is the PM crowding his daily calendar right now with the groundwork for the fall legislative session, he is also attending the G-20 leaders summit in Moscow on the 5th. It is a long way from Moscow to Buenos Aires, even aboard a Self Defense Forces' 747 jumbo jet, just for the opportunity to stand and read, pronunciation and internal clock askew, off the teleprompter to the jaded and already spoken for delegates prior to the final host city vote on the 7th.

Abe's willingness making the trip, however, seems to have forced the hand of a beleaguered Tayyip Erdogan (Link). Turkey's prime minister probably feels he should probably be spending his time responding to internal dissent and coping with the ripple effects of the civil war in Syria, rather than jetting to the ends of the earth to plug Istanbul's host city bid.

Such decision are part of the responsibilities of leadership, or at least the keeping up of the appearances of leadership.

It will be of great interest to historians, picking their ways through the first eight months of the Abe II premiership, to find out how much Abe's actions or inactions have been influenced by the need to put the best face possible on Japan in the run up to the IOC vote. Have Abe and his friends toned down, delayed or foregone their potentially more provocative moves -- an Abe visit to Yasukuni, for example -- in order to create a positive atmosphere for Inose and the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee to work their public relations magic? My guess is probably, yes. Ken Belson's article on Inose (Link) must have stimulated the Tokyo Olympic bid committee into making frantic pleas to the Prime Minister's Residence to be proactive, thinking not just about international repercussions of any nationalist activity but the potential for even innocent mistakes to get blown out of proportion.

If such pleas for caution have kept a lid on the Abe Cabinet's potential for causing upset, then perhaps this whole Olympics/world peace talk is not all so much nonsense.

It also might mean that these past eight months have been the calm before the storm.

There is, or course, the inverse effect -- of perhaps too readily seeing a pre-Olympics conspiracy behind the government's post-election behavior, most prominently its seemingly months-too-late takeover of the cleanup at the Fukushima Dai'ichi nuclear power station. As yet, the main news outlets have shied away from making the connection between the government's crash program of facing up to the immense task of stabilizing Fukushima Dai'ichi and the IOC vote. The Asahi Shimbun seems to have crept out the farthest, liberally quoting those who say they see a government trying to keep a lid on the leaking storage tanks story in order to minimize the potential adverse impact on the Olympic bid. (Link)

Persons who would like to disparage the suppression-of-bad-news-in-order-not-upset-the-Olympic-vote claims, seeing in them violations of Hanlon's Razor, would find their task much easier if the head of Tokyo's bid committee would not take such actions as sending a special, last minute letters to each and every IOC member, explaining that despite what they may have heard about highly radioactive water leaking from storage tanks on the Fukushima Dai'ichi site, "Tokyo is safe." (Link and Link - J)

Japan-based foreign journalists have recently published a few local Olympics-related stories of interest.

Over at The Japan Times's YenForLiving blog, the team of Brasor and Tsukubu have taken a dispassionate look at the claims by bid supporters of a positive economic outcome from hosting the Olympics (Link) - which must be the first "the economics of the Olympics" essay I have ever read that does not mention the budgetary catastrophe wreaked on Montreal by the 1976 Summer event. For The Times of London Richard LLoyd Parry writes about the impossibility of holding the triathlon's swimming leg in the waters off of Odaiba unless a means is found to cleanse the water there of E. coli and other enteric-disease causing bacteria (Link - great, subdued headline). I am not sure as to where Parry is getting his numbers but even the easily searchable reports from 2010 studies (Link - J) seem to show post-rainstorm bacteria concentrations in Odaiba water at 100 times the permissible limit.

As one who used to swim at Odaiba and who two week ago was wading into the water at the Tokyo Metropolitan District's one swimming beach (warning at beach: "Do not dive into the water" - Link ) after a day of exceptionally heavy rain, I am at best agnostic on the coliform bacteria problem being a threat to health. To be honest, I was a heck of a lot more worried about the stingrays -- which I have seen in the waters off Odaiba.

Later - This post has been edited to restore lost text and links.

Later still -- An earlier version of the post misidentified the author of the E. coli article as David McNeill. The actual author is Richard Lloyd Parry. My apologies to both gentlemen.

Monday, September 02, 2013

As In "Bush Clover"

As we enter September we should be seeing the Lespedeza coming into bloom...which is an awkward and gratuitous introduction to the subject of the non-existence of one of the Prime Minister's closest aides. With a rather astonishing frequency I have been reading of the exploits of Liberal Democratic Party Deputy Secretary-General, Representative for the Tokyo #24 District, Abe Shinzo's Yasukuni cash courier and government spokesman on matters nuclear for no apparent reason Haguida Ko'ichi.

Astonishing in that Hagiuda, the Big Man from Hachioji's actual surname (Link) is peculiar but not entirely impenetrable -- the direct translation of which is "Bush Clover Raw Paddy Field" (somebody please call Monty Python's Flying Circus!).

Reading the misspelling "Haguida" on my screen sends my synapses into conniptions. "What is that, Tagalog? Bahasa Indonesia?" may poor cortex shouts at me at really too early an hour in the morning.

Hagi-u-da. A name to remember in September.

* * *

As for Abe Shinzo and Yasukuni, I predicted back on July 9 that Abe Shinzo would pay a visit to Yasukuni in August.

Well here we are in September...and no visit.

Wrong MTC! You were wrong, wrong, wrong. Nyah, nah, nah, nah, nah.


However, if the Chinese government keeps making impossible, ahistorical demands of the Abe Administration as regards Japan's sovereignty over the Senkakus, these as preconditions to a summit (Link) Abe may become so frustrated at Chinese and South Korean intransigence as to visit Yasukuni during the Autumn Festival, which will be held October 17-20. (Link)

And the Latin month name "October" means "the Eighth Month."


Photo image:
Pale Grass Blue (Yamato Shijimi - Pseudozizeeria maha) resting on Hagi (Lespedeza sp.)
Katsunuma-cho, Koshu City, Yamanashi Prefecture.
September 21, 2008
Photo image credit: MTC

Sunday, September 01, 2013

If You Asked Sixty Persons The Government Finds Acceptable A Question

I frequently give The Yomiuri Shimbun a hard time. It is not difficult to do so, the editorial staff being charged with but a single directive: worship every thought issuing from the current Liberal Democratic Party Prime Minister (and, if an opposition party is in power, scream "Betrayal!").

Since Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has given no indication on whether he intends to approve the scheduled rise in the consumption tax from 5% to 8% next April, or delay or modify the rise, the Yomiuri’s editors have been forced to do something unfamiliar: think for themselves.

Their conclusion: going forward with raising the consumption tax rise as planned is a bad idea. (Link)

The editorial is not without its faults. It contains, unsurprisingly, some half-baked miracle suggestions to make up for the revenue shortfalls resulting from the cancellation of the tax rise. The propositions to issue zero coupon bonds exempt from the inheritance tax and curtailing non-urgent spending sound responsible until spends a few moments thinking through the implications. The first proposal would give politicians guilt-free pocket money without any strictures on what kind of return the government should be expecting on investment (assuming that the extra money is used wisely and not just spent, period). The other would reduce the size of the economy -- which, last time I looked, is not exactly the best way to support economic growth.

Nevertheless the Yomiuri's editors at least try proceed from the government's stated fundamental goals:

1) Japan must escape from deflation

2) Japan's economy must show significant and sustained nominal growth before attempting fiscal consolidation

The result arrived at by the editors -- can the tax for now, do it when the economy can take the strain (which, given Japan’s demographics and other structural impediments may be never) -- may sound populist and irresponsible. However, the result at least has the virtue of being consistent with the supposed principles underlying the Abe government’s monetary and fiscal policies.

By contrast the Abe government seems ready to ride roughshod over any semblance of logical consistency as regards the tax rise. Consider the government’s handling of Hamada Ko'ichi, the emeritus professor previously known as “Abe’s brain” on economic policy:

Hamada on The Effects Of Expanding The Bank Of Japan's Balance Sheet: he is one of the world’s experts in monetary policy and not without reason!

Hamada on The Effects Of Continued Fiscal Expansion: he is a super genius -- stability in the Japan Government Bond market proves it!!!

Hamada on The Serious Constriction Of Consumer Spending From A Consumption Tax Rise Next April: he is entitled to his opinion.

Hamada and 59 other experts -- the definition of expert being left up to the government -- were given a chance to present their views on the consumption tax rise this week (Link). Of the sixty called up to testify forty-four came out in favor of the scheduled rise from the current 5% to 8% in April 2014. Eleven of the speakers favored a delay (Hamada's suggestion) or a more gradual imposition of the tax rise. Two speakers could not say whether they support or oppose the tax rise (thank you for your lack of an opinion and please do not show up again). Only three speakers opposed the tax rise outright. (Link - J)

Hamada and Honda Etsuro (another purported father of Abenomics who advocates a rise of the tax in smaller 1%-2% increments), must have felt mighty strange sitting at the same table as Banzai Akira, the chairman of the Japan agricultural cooperatives or Kishi Hiroshi, the head of the fisherman's cooperatives (they luckily did not have to sit at the same table at the same time -- Hamada testifying on Tuesday, Banzai and Kishi on Thursday and Honda yesterday). One can imagine Hamada and Honda thinking, "I love democracy as much as the next guy -- but how in the name of all that is decent did these moochers of taxpayer money ever get on an economics advisory panel?"

While the convening of the week of presentations for and against the planned consumption tax rise did represent a triumph of democracy, it was democracy of a crabbed, backward-looking and ceremonial sort. Members of The Establishment held most of the spots on the panels, despite the obvious contradiction in between the ostensible goal -- open debate -- and the inherent wish of members of The Establishment to suppress serious discussion of how, despite their supposed expertise and intelligence, Japan finds itself still in a rut 23 years after the burst of The Bubble. That 70% of the invited came to the conclusion "With wise management, we can handle this" should surprise nobody.

Which makes the Yomiuri's stance all the more surprising and admirable. The Yomiuri is telling The Establishment, "Stop kidding yourselves. You can't handle it. The current consumer data is lousy (Link) and your track record on predicting the behavior of the macroeconomy leaves a lot to be desired. And Abe-san, if you listen to these folks, you are nuts."

Later - The Wall Street Journal checks in with a long report on the week of hearings, coming up with a different set of numbers as regards those in favor, those asking for changes, those opinionless and those opposed. (Link)

The WSJ highlights the Friday lunch the PM had with Professors Hamada and Honda (Link - J). I find that têtes–à–tête most intriguing, possibly even more than the meet-and-greet the PM had 45 minutes later with Center for Strategic and International Studies President John Hamre and Carnegie Institution of Science President Richard Meserve, with JR Central Japan CEO Kasai Noriyuki (Link) acting as the chaperone for the two Americans.