Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What To Call The New Order

I was asked a few months back what we should be calling the Japanese political order in the aftermath of the July House of Councillors election, whether it is indeed the return of the "1.5 Party System" of old. The phrase "1.5 Party System" is a demeaning* and easily apprehended international version of what was domestically called "the 1955 System," after the year the two factions of the Socialists on the left and the Liberal Party and the Japan Democratic Party on the right merged to form two large left/right divide parties, with the right dominant due to the left's division into Socialist and Communist camps. I responded that a better term for the current situation would be a 1.0 Party System. Under the 1955 system, the Socialists could tie up Diet business in a serious way and had to be paid off to an extent the term "1.5 Party System" leaves unclear. "1.5 Party System" indeed undersells the political threat that the Socialists posed (which the LDP neutralized in a whole host of shoddy ways, including absurd levels of disproportion in between rural and urban voting districts). However, the "0.5" in the "1.5" does give the Socialists at least some heft -- which they had.

After last year's House of Representatives election and the July election the rump opposition parties in the Diet are little more than confused noise machines without any power to foment change. Hence my suggestion of a "1.0 System" moniker.

The image of an utterly powerless opposition (the 0 in the 1.0 expression) is obviously an exaggeration. The general concept is not, however, entirely without merit. Leadership of Japan's small but dogged anti-nuclear power and anti-secrecy bill forces, the current most prominent movements challenging the government's attempts to sweep problems under the rug and move on, comes almost entirely from outside the Diet.

I have been and will continue using the 1.0 System expression, having possibly coined it. However, one sees in the news media the indigenous expression ikkyo tajaku (一強多弱 - "one strong, many weak"), an expansion of the standard expression ikkyo meaning "dominant." I have seen the four character compound used on NHK and I think TBS network broadcasts. Here is a letter to editor of The Asahi Shimbun that uses the phrase, though the first character is replaced by the Arabic numeral 1.

When written in kanji the expression ikkyo tajaku is both visually arresting and easily understood. However, what is/would be the elegant and succint English translation?


* Speaking of demeaning, why did the author insert a denigration of Japanese tech praxis in this article on South Korean reverse engineering of U.S. military technology?

The Official Secrets Bill - The New York Times Gets In The Act


While the ideological cant of the gaiatsu is not unappreciated, a quibble about the title: to my knowledge pretty much all secrecy legislation is illiberal.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Image - The Tokyo Shimbun Against The Official Secrets Act

A whimsical graphic, perhaps not very impressive...but below is a reproduction of the entire Saturday, 26 October 2013 Tokyo Shimbun (please click on the image to see it in full). I have blocked out in red articles or opinion pieces on the Official Secrets Act, submitted to the Diet the day before (I have blocked out advertising in yellow, for the sake of...oh...just for the heck of it).

The story takes up a lot of of the real news real estate:

To what extent does the editorial board of Tokyo Shimbun dislike the official secrets bill?

-- All of the news space on the front page not devoted to the weather is devoted to the bill (the weather stuff was sort of important: two typhoons were sweeping past the country that day).

-- 17 articles and op-eds are on the bill (this is not including the reporting on U.S. spying on the communications of Europeans and their leaders, which one might want to include as a corollary of the official secrets bill)

-- the editorial cartoon is on the bill

The editors did not even feel a need to pile on: the editorials are on the proposed Industrial Competitiveness Act and the falsification of population data in Aiichi Prefecture.

Koike Yuriko Sets The House Secrecy Debate On Fire

Former Minister of Defense (briefly), former Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party General Council and head of the LDP’s Communication Division Koike Yuriko has a reputation as a savvy media manipulator. A former television newscaster, she holds a degree in sociology from Cairo University. Thanks to her Arabic and English skills, she is a fixture in international circles. Publishing in English via Project Syndicate, she has disseminated anti-Democratic Party of Japan and pro-Abe Shinzo propaganda worldwide underneath the radar of the local representatives of the foreign press.

Despite a warm and inviting appearance, Koike holds hardline views on security and is seen as very much a kindred spirit of the prime minister's. Part of her hard defense posture may have developed out of her interaction with and study of the U.S. security community.

Part, however, arises from her political instability. She flitted during the first years of her political career from one political party to another, finally landing in the LDP. Her colleagues have labeled her a wataridori-- i.e., "a migratory bird" -- and were not complimenting her in doing so. She gained prominence under the sponsorship of maverick Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro, becoming the most visible and valuable of his "assassins." Under his encouragement, she moved from her fairly safe Hyogo district to challenge and eventually defeat postal rebel Kobayashi Koki in his Tokyo fiefdom.

Without roots in her district, her patron departed from active politics, her choosing to lean ever harder into militancy has made eminent sense. Her hardline views on defense, together with her earlier mobility prompted me to label her "the Iron Butterfly."

Yesterday, in Diet session examining the Official Secrets bill, the Iron Butterfly crash landed in spectacular fashion:

"Japan is a country stupefied by peace which has pretty much lost any appreciation of top secrets...Every day the newspapers are without fail printing at what o’clock, how many minutes, who it was that went in to see the prime minister and when they left. Doesn’t this transcend the [Public's] Right To Know?"

(Link - J)
The Prime Minister's Schedule (Shusho dosei, also called Shusho no ichi nichi) is an institution of Japanese life. Printed unobtrusively in every day's newspaper (page 6 on the bottom of my own daily paper this morning) it details, with extraordinary thoroughness, the prime minister's schedule of the previous day. With most of the machinations of Japanese government enwreathed in bureaucratic fog and shielded by the press clubs, the Prime Minister's Schedule has been one of the few means the public has had of getting even a glimpse of whatever the hell is going on.

From a security standpoint, Koike's objection to this time-honored practice would make sense if the Prime Minister's Schedule revealed the prime minister's intended movements. However, the Prime Minister's Schedule (I am not going to use an acronym, for obvious reasons) only details whom the PM met the day before. Since Japan has a defense-only military posture, foregoing warfare as a means of solving international political disputes, and the government generally does not engage in nefarious activities, there is little reason for the PM to hide the identities of the person he is meeting.

And the Prime Minister's Schedule already hides the identities of some of the persons the PM is meeting. Very often, only one or two names are listed, followed by a ra) ("and folks like that..."). It is almost certain that the PM's handlers only need to go over to whichever member of the press club is keeping the schedule that day and say, "Look, of those whom you just saw going in, can you keep quiet about Mr. X and Ms. Y? Thanks."

When the head of the LDP's press relations division takes aim at a small but important traditional news media window into the PM's actions, using the loaded terms kimitsu ("top secrets") and heiwa boke ("stupefied by peace") she sets off a red flashing light for a news media already deeply sceptical of if not adamantly opposed (Link) to the Official Secrets bill. If one wanted to create an atmosphere reinforcing the warnings of the critics of the bill, who have been claiming that the reach of the bill is unlimited, then attacking one of the new media's cherished prerogatives is a good way to start.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide, in with his usual diffidence, has said that the government has no plans to follow up on Koike's suggestion. "What the various news organizations are making public knowledge regarding the Prime Minister’s movements, these are not within expectations of what would be items of special secrecy under the Special Official Secrets Law."

Suga was trying to tamp down concerns. However, his use of sotei ("expectations"), a term strongly associated in the public mind with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster (and the cynical question "you say what happened was outside of expectations but it really wasn't, was it? And the worst did happen, didn't it?”) indicates a deteriorating awareness of the press and the public's growing opposition to the Official Secrets bill. (Link - J and Link - J).

The news media has been extremely circumspect or even supportive during these first 10 charmed months of the Abe administration. The quiet, acquiescent press environment has indeed been one of the most striking differences between Abe's first term as prime minister and the current term.

Blunderbuss threats to press freedom -- the submission of the Official Secrets Bill and extraordinarily ideological moves against the management of national broadcaster NHK (Abe wants to appoint who to the management committee? The author who every so often interviews Abe for the revisionist magazine WiLL and the PM's childhood home tutor? Oh, you have to be joking -- Link - J) are testing the ceasefire. It may be that the Abe crowd is feeling its oats, believing that coalition majorities in both Houses of the Diet making it impervious to whatever an independent press thinks anymore.

Later - In addition to the translated Mainichi editorial linked to above, The Japan Times has editorialized against the official secrets bill. (Link)

Later still - The Mainichi Shimbun has published an English-language translation of its take on the story. (Link)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Worthwhile Reads for October 28, 2013

- Don't be put off by the title. David Pilling, the incredibly skilled former bureau chief for the Financial Times, has published the fairest portrait of Abe Shinzo available in the English language (Link).

It makes one's mouth water for the book on Japan Mr. Pilling has coming out in January.

- Over at the East Asia Forum a three-part series of succinct articles on facets of Abenomics from Hugh Patrick of Columbia University. (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3)

- Though defensive, Mark Adomanis' blog post for Forbes on Russia's reputed disastrous demographics (Link) is fantastic for the graph comparing the number of life births in Russia and Japan (Graph). Generation by generation, Japan's and Russia total number of births have been declining, with the peaks in each successively lower swing in Russia coming about 12 years after a similar peak in Japan. The head shaker is how the generational climb in births in Russia births since 1998 (the build up out of the collapse of the ruble thanks to the echo of the boomer echo - i.e., the grandchildren of the post-1945 baby boom) had no equivalent in Japan, unless one counts the ripple around 1995.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Fall Of The Mino Monta Brand

Television host and personality Mino Monta, who owns the Guinness Book of World Records title of the hardest working man in television, has agreed to pull his name off his flagship news programs for the TBS network, Mino Monta's Asa Zuba! and Mino Monta's Saturday Zuba! (Link - J). In so doing, Mino and the network are acknowledging that the Mino Monta brand is a net negative for what have been the most visible and lucrative anti-Liberal Democratic Party and anti-bureaucrat news franchises around.

The proximate cause for Monta's fall is the arrest of his second son on a charges of theft. In a truly bizarre incident early last month, the son, a soon-to-be former employee of Nippon Television, purported found a man passed out on the street, purloined the man's wallet and tried to withdraw cash from the man's bank account using the man's ATM card (Link). Monta (real name: Minorikawa Norio), in an act of contrition for his failings as a father, immediately took voluntary leave of his news program hosting duties and appearances in commercial advertisements. (Link - J)

Under normal circumstances, such self-abnegation would go a long way toward tamping down the reactions of Mino's peers in the news and entertainment worlds. Mino's taking immediate responsibility for an act in which he is only tangentially involved might even earn him a bit of sympathy.

However, Mino's anti-establishment populism, as well as a purported history, ostensibly swept under the rug, of being a little too familiar and/or brutish with the many attractive young women he has hired for his programs, made him a huge, easy target for the screaming scandal press, which plays an unofficial role of enforcer for the country's elites. Mino has been a rare strong voice, if an extremely imperfect one, against the status quo. His son's transgression has initiated payback time.

The vitriol hurled at Mino is not likely to destroy him. Television has made him rich, so no matter how many media company and sponsor executives get cold feet in their dealings with him, he is no danger of falling into penury. Much of the basis of much of the enmity is furthermore not ideology or partisanship but just plain old professional jealousy, felt by lesser would-be movers-and-shakers who have been unable to establish their own brand of populism to compete with Mino's mix of effrontery, affection for the little guy and intolerance for official stupidity. Gunning for Mino Monta also represents a welcome change of pace for the dregs of the press, supplanting the usual hounding of young women celebrities for not adhering to good girl stereotypes.

Mino will be back, as in Japanese media second and even third chances are commonplace. His proteges and staff will keep the new programs alive in the interim. Viewers missing Mino's little theatrical eruptions of anger or his ironic feigned perplexity will likely trigger a flipping of the arc of scandal, with the same organizations now drumming him out of town breathlessly promoting his comeback.

Mino's absence from the airwaves, for as long as it lasts, will be a plus for the Abe administration. Selling questionable policies will be easier without Mino's daily prodding of his knowledgeable guests (former Minister of General Affairs and Communications Katayama Yoshihiro is a regular) into calling b*******t on government rhetoric and rationalizations.

Unlike during their first stint in power, Abe Shinzo and his friends, old and new, seem to have all the luck.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Erratum - Redistricting Cases

In a post yesterday I suggested that newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Yamamoto Tsuneyuki, the target of Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide's criticism a few months ago, will have a chance for revenge against the government in being able to rule on the constitutionality of the December 2012 House of Representatives elections.

This seems to be incorrect. Commenter Philippe has pointed out new reports saying Yamamoto has either been recused or has recused himself from the election cases because of his testimony in the Diet on the constitutionality of the map of electoral districts, done when he was the top official of the Cabinet Legislative Bureau. (Link)

My apologies to all for my mistaken assertion.

Yamamoto's recusal means that only 14 of the Supreme Court's 15 justices will be ruling on the constitutionality of the election, opening up the possibility for a 7-to-7 deadlocked state of indecision.

More complex grows our tale...

Yet Another Blown Auction Of Chosen Soren Headquarters

Why does it seem to be impossible for those ostensibly in charge of this blessed land to hold an auction where all those submitting bids present a bank line of credit proving they have access to enough money to pay for the building in question (Link) -- or, in the latest ridiculous round of in the saga of the sale of the headquarters building of the D.P.R.K.'s de facto embassy in Tokyo, where the winner is an actually existing legal person? (Link)

Perhaps I should submit a bid under the aegis "Shisaku Ltd., PDQ, TPP, ROTFLOL" and see how far I get.

Failing to do due diligence prior to a sensitive sale once is carelessness...but failing to do it twice?

One hopes the executors of this sale are all looking for another profession, one perhaps they have some skill in executing.

About That Crazy Linear Motor Car Fare Number

You may recall last month the splashy public announcement from the Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central, a.k.a. JR Tokai) on the start of construction of a maglev hyperexpress rail line running through central Japan between Tokyo and Nagoya, to be completed in 2027.

The superlatives were daunting:

- a top running speed of over 500 kilometers per hour,

- a start-to-terminus run time of 40 minutes

- a construction cost of 5.5 trillion yen borne solely by JR Central (9 trillion with a proposed extension to Osaka, scheduled for 2045)

- four passes above 500 meters including summit under the Japan Alps of 1200 meters (for a Tokyo comparative, that is a climb to the top of Sky Tree followed by a climb up Takao-san)

- 86% of the trip through tunnels (meaning a ride similar to one on the full length of Tokyo's Marunouchi subway line, which is 90% underground)

- power consumption 3 times higher per passenger than the fastest Shinkansen (not a reassuring number in the post-Fukushima Daichi electrical power provision environment)

Then came the kicker: how much a ticket on the wonder train would cost.

According to the plan announced on September 18, the projected cost of a one-way fare from Tokyo to Nagoya on the linear hyperexpress would be 11,480 yen, only 700 yen (7%) more than the cost for the same one-way trip on the fastest Nozomi Shinkansen train.

The response to this final claim was...astonishment. (Link - J)

Looking at the fare, the number of passengers in each train and the number of departures per hour, the Mainichi Shimbun foresaw the obvious danger -- that the project is designed to fail in its finances, the company's managers being confident they can extort a bailout from the government. (Link)

Yesterday, in a press conference revealing more details regarding what will be in essence the world's most ridiculously speedy subway, JR Central president Yamada Yoshiomi explained the reason JR Central has projected a maglev ride fare with an unbelievably low markup of only 7% over the cost of a Shinkansen trip taking twice as long. You would think Yamada would have provided some kind of breakdown of the pricing, showing how JR Central pays off the cost of the investment and the costs of operating the line while charging so little over the currently available high speed train trip.

Uh, well...he seemingly did not.

The reason the newspapers are reporting Yamada gave for the incredibly small additional cost for a maglev ticket?
"We can only receive about that much more [over the Shinkansen ticket price] from the customers."

(Link - J)
Clunk. No wait, double-clunk.

You read that right: if Yamada is to be believed, the parameters for the price of a ticket are set by not by the engineers and accountants, but by JR Central's marketing department -- what the marketers feel customers might think the improvement in service is worth.

One could laugh, except for anyone following the moves of JR Central's chairman Kasai Yoshiyuki, including his role as the bundler for Abe Shinzo's return to power (Link and Link), his hiring of former high-ranking U.S. officials as his salemen (Link) as a part of general dabbling in foreign policy agenda setting (Link) and his reported attempts to press national broadcaster NHK into adopting a more pro-nuclear editorial line (Link) would think twice about laughing anything involving JR Central plans.

There is one determined hombre behind the company advertising that nutty price.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Collision Course On Elections

Yesterday the Supreme Court began hearing arguments in the amalgamated 16 cases brought against the nation's prefectural electoral commissions requesting the nullification of the December 2012 House of Representatives elections on the grounds that the degree of disparity in the electoral districts, which reached 2.43 to 1 in the case of Kochi District #3 versus Chiba District #4, violates the constitutional principle of equality under the law. The Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling before the year is out. (Link - J)

The potential for constitutional chaos is not insignificant. If the court declares the election unconstitutional and invalid, the existing Diet is illegitimate. However, since the Constitution stipulates that only the Diet has authority over the drawing of electoral district boundaries, the country would be bereft of a legal body empowered to pull everyone from out of an electoral black hole.

As the Nihon Keizai Shimbun points out, twice before, in 1972 and in 1983, the Supreme Court has ruled that an election was unconstitutional. In both cases the court ruled that the elections results were nevertheless valid. (Link - J)

No, the concept "unconstitutional but valid" does not make any sense to me either.

The fillip in the cases currently before the court is that in '72 and '83, the Supreme Court was ruling on election districts found unconstitutionally unbalanced after the fact. In the current cases, the Supreme Court told the Diet three years ago that the electoral map was "in a state of unconstitutionality" and warned legislators to fix it before the next House of Representatives election.

The Diet failed to do so.

Given the Supreme Court's advance warning, narrow indeed is intellectual window open for the Court to issue a pass on the validity of the election that brought Abe Shinzo and his allies to power.

[See updated information here] In terms of personal stories, there the one involving the Court's most junior member, Justice Yamamoto Tsuneyuki. Yamamoto did not keep his peace when Prime Minister Abe Shinzo earlier this year kicked him upstairs from his post as Cabinet Legislative Bureau chief in favor of Komatsu Ichiro, a diplomat seen as a pushover on the changing the CLB's position on the constitutionality of collective security (Link). That Yamamoto will be caucusing his fellow justices and ruling on the constitutionality of the election that brought his nemeses Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide to power is the most delicious irony.

Suga does not make many mistakes. Counterattacking against Yamamoto, however, might turn out to have been a big one.

Stories I Wish I Were Writing

Companies I wish I had time to look into and write about, given how they seem to be making interesting statements about Japan's retail markets:

ErgoBaby - How could a 10 year old company, headquartered in the famed entrepreneurial hub of Kapalani, Maui, take over Japan's market for a consumer product, wiping out all domestic competition* using only Internet sales and word-of-mouth marketing, without U.S. trade lobby help or anyone noticing?

Kaldi - Japan's biggest coffee roaster and import foods retailer, whose dark-wood interior stores are designed to mimic the packed stalls of Mideast and Southeast Asian markets, seems to have only women employees. There must be men who work for the company -- according to the website (which features as many typos as your typical first run Shisaku post) the company president is a man -- but has anyone ever seen one?


* I recently conducted an informal survey at a local festival. In the course of 45 minutes I saw 21 babies in carriers. One was in a BabyBjorn, three in no-name knock-offs. The other 17 were in Ergobaby carriers. What was surprising was not the small number of competing carriers but that I counted any competitors at all -- Ergobaby's market dominance is usually total.

One Man, Two Teams

Hey, somebody noticed that Tanaka Masahiro, the rotation ace for Rakuten Eagles -- the still struggling Tohoku's only team that about to play the Yomiuri Giants in the Japan Series and which is owned by Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's advisor-on-Internet-commerce Mikitani Hiroshi* -- managed to go 24-0 in a season with a lively ball. (Link - J)

Tanaka's contract expires this year, meaning an astronomical figure Major League Baseball contract awaits.

What does it take for a guy to get a little notice?


* Imagine the conversation between hot baseball barons Mikitani and Watanabe Tsuneo, the don of the Yomiuri Group:
M: "New Media, Old Media. Abe listens to both of us."

W: "Abe listens to you. But he respects me."

M: "He flatters you. Only you think that means he respects you."

W: "Come back and lecture me about influencing politics after you threaten the prime minister in public a second time and get away with it."

Monday, October 21, 2013

Lawrence Repeta On the Official Secrets Bill

Last Friday I published an unhappy look at the official secrets bill the ruling coalition intends to vote into law this Diet session. On Saturday, Professor Lawrence Repeta of Meiji University published a serious examination of the bill in the context of bureaucratic implementation of existing secrecy laws. (Link)

The inescapable conclusion: the pending Official Secrets bill is absolutely wrong for this blessed land. The country lacks most of the institutional and juridical frameworks and habits necessary to prevent an abuse of the power to declare certain information an official secret. Oh certainly, bureaucrats could detoxify situation by simply voluntarily foregoing the invocation of the law. How likely is that sort of benign neglect, though, when the new law creates a mechanism for bureaucrats to hide, then erase, any wrongdoing or error?

On Abe Shinzo And Yasukuni - The It's OK, I Don't Want To Talk To You Either Edition

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's chief courier Hagiuda Ko'ichi has clocked in with what the press are interpreting as a prime ministerial promise to visit Yasukuni by year's end. (Link)

Hagiuda's rise to prominence (TBS had him on their morning roundtable talk show as the representative of the government) over the past ten months has been spectacular. He is only 50 years of age and in only his third term as a member of the House of Representatives. Until December of last year he had been cooling his heels in the hallways of Nagatacho, having lost his seat in the 2009 massacre (Fun fact that Hagiuda displays on his personal website: more folks voted for him in his loss in 2009 than voted for him in his win in 2012 -- Link - J). Yet now he is Abe's government's unofficial mouthpiece.


As for a promise/threat to visit Yasukuni before the year is out, can there be a more blunt way of making sure nothing good happens in the near future in Sino-Japanese or South Korea-Japan relations? Why would anyone in the Chinese or South Korean governments, much less President Xi Jinping or Park Geun-hye, want to be caught dead in a photo frame with a member of the Japanese government, with an Abe pilgrimage to Yasukuni impending?

Then again, in terms of ex post facto ratiocination, there is genius in the giving of advance notice. Abe has been trying and failing to secure even a short conversation on the sidelines of a multilateral summit with either Xi or Park. Being shunned by the leaders of the two other big regional powers, even after the LDP's thumping win in the July House of Councillors election, has been humiliating for the PM.

Now, however, rejection by his peers can be explained away with a breezy:

"Of course I want to talk to Xi and Park. But they know I am going to visit Yasukuni by year's end. Meeting with me right now could get them in hot water at home. So I understand their being unwilling to be seen in public with me. I don't take their standoffishness personally."

A brilliant pivot, if the above is indeed an accurate description of Team Abe's transformation of a lemon into lemonade.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Come Fly With Me

I normally rail against the citation of articles quoting anonymous sources, particularly from the major domestic news organizations. In this blessed land, anonymous sources are usually being either coy, abusive or mendacious. Coy in the sense that every informed reader of the news article knows who the source is. Abusive in that the source is a policy entrepreneur using the journalist's supposed autonomy as a shield for floating as a fact what is indeed only a proposition. Mendacious in that what is being said is flatly untrue, but having been published and incepted as a part of the detritus of discourse cannot be traced to any particular liar in government, the parties or industry.

Anonymous sourcing makes antennae up in the "stay alert, you are being manipulated" mode my default news reading and viewing position -- which is unfortunate.

However, there are times that the only way a tale can get told is when anonymous, protected persons spill the beans. The Reuters story on the politics behind JAL's decision to buy Airbus aircraft "Insight: Japan politics looms over ANA's choice between Airbus, Boeing" is one such tale. Nobody with a career or even just a job can offer details or comment upon the way passenger aircraft purchase decisions really get made. For that, one needs someone talking from behind a mask.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Dead Souls

When I see a phalanx of 150 Diet members, led by the usual suspects, tramping along the hallways of Yasukuni Shrine on a festival day, what I see is neither menacing nor distressing. What I see is a crowd of really uninteresting men and women. (Link)

To visit Yasukuni, an amusement park of death, is to reject the principles that have made postwar Japan great. Global society, in which modern Japan plays a huge part, rejects the concept of service unto death being ennobling irrespective of the regime for which it is done. As for the core trade off in Yasukuni's founding ideology -- the Emperor is a kami but you, poor peasant, are not and will never be...unless, of course, you die in the service to the Emperor, at which point we have a promotion option for you -- it is meaningless in a world where the Emperor renounces his divinity.

Which highlights the real paradox at the heart of post-1979 Yasukuni sampai: while Yasukuni is a religious site, the goal of a pilgrimage there is almost never to show reverence. The goal instead is to transgress -- to thumb one's nose at polite global society, to thumb one's nose at Korea and China (which, when you go to Yasukuni, you further prod with the derogatory appellation Shina rather than the neutral Chugoku), to thumb one's nose at the San Francisco Peace Treaty, to thumb one's nose at the Military Tribunals for the Far East, to thumb one's nose at the leftists and members of religious orders who suffered under the Meiji Constitution regime.

How many of yesterday's herd of lawmakers would have visited the shrine if it did not jolt them and their supporters with an adolescent thrill of being deliciously bad? Even General Affairs and Telecommunications Minister Shindo Yoshitaka, with his hair dye job insulting the eye, who as the grandson of military great Kuribayashi Tadamichi has a real reason to pay his respects at Yasukuni, dodged and weaved in his defense like a high school student caught with a pack of cigarettes in his pocket. (Link - video J)

Contrary to my guess of a month ago, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo again stepped away from a confrontation with China and South Korea over a visit to the shrine. Despite having his hand slapped away, figuratively, by Chinese president Xi Jinping and South Korean president Park Gyun-hye in Indonesia (the very sharpest take on the snubs being this article), he restricted himself to yet another visit-via-symbolic object (Link). He has, given his proclivity to fly off the handle at challengers (Link) stayed remarkably true these past few months to a course of inaction on Yasukuni. It is as if, with the deeply China- and South Korea-invested big business establishment as his new spirit guide, he has taken to heart the lesson of patience and forbearance in Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #109 ("Dignity and an empty sack is worth the sack" - Link). Of course, the recent quiet but pointed wreath-laying by the U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense at Chidorigafuchi can probably be seen has having slammed the door on any consideration of a Yasukuni autumn festival visit.

However, as the TBS video above concludes, Abe has limits on how much longer he will delay a prime ministerial Yasukuni pilgrimage. Chinese and South Korean ingraciousness can only be allowed to proceed so far without a response. Furthermore, Abe must in someway answer for his public expression of regret for having not made the journey to Yasukuni during his first stint as prime minister. Finally, though perhaps this is less of a threat than it might seem, he has to address the growing chorus of outraged supporters (check out the comments section on Abe's Facebook page -- the formerly overflowing waters of the Sea of Abe Shinzo Fandom are drying up) who have been wondering when the Yasukuni Commuter Real Abe they know and love will show up.

Image: Yasukuni entrance on August 15, 2013
Image courtesy: MTC

Friday, October 18, 2013

Can This Piece of ...Not Fully Considered Legislation

So close...but no.

The latest edition of The Economist does the great service of alerting its readers as to what is becoming the bugbear of the extraordinary Diet session: the Liberal Democratic Party leadership's desire to pass an Official Secrets bill. Unfortunately, the article misses more than it hits. (Link)

The crux of the matter is whether or not the country even needs the legislation. As the article points out, there are already laws on the books meting out special, long (in Japanese terms) sentences for leaking military secrets -- the most important class of secrets. However, the instances of SDF personnel intentionally leaking or stealing classified information that we know of are few and pathetic. The police thought they had a huge case in 2007 when the pick up of a Chinese national on a passport violation led to the discovery of Aegis radar data on the laptop of her husband, a Maritime SDF officer. However, the case against the MSDF officer collapsed in confusion over whether or not the data was a file miscopied in an exchanges of pornographic images done with other SDF officers or indeed was a part of the openly available teaching materials of an MDSF training facility in Hiroshima Prefecture. Eventually the officer, who was facing a possible 10 years in prison, was given a four year suspended sentence. (Link)

As for other government employees, as the cover up of the Green Cross HIV-tainted blood product sales and the refusal of successive governments to acknowledge the existence of the three so-called secret accords on the Okinawa turnover demonstrate, Japanese officials, even retired ones, have no problem keeping secrets. In the latter case, officials continue to protect the secrecy of the accords even after the U.S. copies of the documents in question could be viewed in U.S. government archives (Link). That one would become unemployable, lose one's pension, be ostracized from one's social networks and be liable for arrest on even a minor charge of mishandling public information has been more than enough of a deterrent against leaking information in need of protection.

Indeed, as the case of the Green Cross HIV-infected blood products showed, the problematic tendency is that Japan's public servants do not, indeed, serve the public. Health, Labour and Welfare ministry officials refused to acknowledge the existence of documents supporting the assertions of HIV-infected claimants until a crusading, non-LDP minister of health named Kan Naoto forced his subordinates to cough up the documents the bureaucrats had claimed either did not exist or could not be found. (Link)

The proximate stimulus for the current bill -- the contents of which, in a bit of trial baloonery, the LDP has assured friendly reporters is "largely settled" (osuji goi shita) with the LPD's cautious coalition partner the New Komeito (Link - J) -- seems to be the prosecutors office's inability to find a serious crime in the incident three years ago of an irate Japan Coast Guard officer's uploading to video sharing sites of the recordings demonstrating conclusively that a Chinese fishing ship had been steered into collisions with two Japan Coast Guard vessels. The then DPJ-led government had desperately sought to suppress the videos in an effort to prevent the spiraling out of control of a diplomatic crisis over the arrest of fishing vessel's captain.*

The government (actually, if we are going to be pointing fingers, the preening, tone-deaf and self-adoring Chief Cabinet Secretary of the time) had sought to cover up the facts of the case against the captain. However, a maniac had viciously attacked Japanese government employees. In the case of the rear ending of the JCG Yonaguni, the Chinese captain rammed his boat into a manned vessel that was neither in his way nor moving. Covering those facts up, or even trying to, never should have been accorded the mantle of realist diplomacy. It was a dereliction of an elected politician's duty to protect Japan's national interests -- or at very least, the health and welfare of Japan Coast Guard personnel. It was also, as the Banyan blog argued at the time, a politically costly insult to the intelligence of the Japanese public. (Link)

Which highlights the reason why the Abe government should abandon the secrets bill -- or if some tightening of the legal consequences of information leakage has to be passed in order to please the intelligence communities of Japan's partners, why the government should scrap the current bill in favor of one drawn up by a cross-party team of the smartest legal minds in the Diet, including, most importantly, legal experts of the Communist Party: the legislation will not be used to protect secrets. Instead it will be used most often, if not exclusively, to declare secret, either pre-emptively or ex post facto, horrible mistakes and crimes.

Ask former prime minister Kan Naoto, who was not only the hero in the Green Cross scandal but the unfortunately hands-off prime minister at the time of Chinese boat captain incident and the hero again in his shaming of the executives of the Tokyo Electric Power Company and central government bureaucrats trying to keep him from getting a handle on the situation at the Fukushima Dai'ichi nuclear power plant. Mr. Kan can probably talk from dawn until dusk about the obstruction, lying and malfeasance done in the name of the greater public good.

Later - The press is reporting that the New Komeito's project team on the Official Secrets bill (in J. - Tokutei himitsu hogo hoan) has given its a approval for a revised version of the bill that purportedly has provisions guaranteeing the freedom of the press and the people's right to know. When one considers how much those principles were trampled when officials lacked an ability to class certain information as officially secret, one is left to wonder how these new countermanding rights are supposed to be engaged and enforced. (Link - J)

* One largely forgotten part of the Chinese fishing vessel story: the captain was not initially arrested for ramming the JCG vessels. Instead he was arrested on the charges of illegal fishing. While this is standard Japanese law enforcement practice -- arresting a suspect on a laughable minor charge until the suspect confesses or evidence can be collected proving the existence of a major crime -- charging the captain with illegal fishing was an assertion of sovereignty charge, which the Chinese government could argue violated a mutual understanding that it had with the Japanese government to merely encourage fishing rules violators to run back to their home countries, rather than a violation of the free and safe use of the seas charge, which was the actual crime of the Chinese captain.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Worthwhile Reads For October 16, 2013

You Can't Touch This - Ayako Mie in The Japan Times on the really spiny legislation up for debate and a vote in the brief 52 days left before the end of the Extraordinary Diet Session (Link - J) --  bills so potentially explosive Prime Minister Abe Shinzo failed to mention them in his Diet Policy Address (Link - J). The omission of even a hint about the Official Secrets bill, which surrogates like Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru have been touting as a package deal with the establishment of a national security council, shows how fraught the outlook is.

Reform My Sweet Watusi - Sawa Takamitsu can be all over the map in his commentaries (a trait shared by a certain yours truly) but he hits the mark in an essay, also in the JT, accusing the Abe administration of reversing the reform legacy of not just the Koizumi administration, but the Nakasone administration as well. His sharpest characterization? That the peculiar attempt to browbeat big business into delivering wage hikes -- rather than, for example, creating incentives for more hiring of permanent workers or higher wages for workers already hired -- is nothing more than an attempt to establish a form of state capitalism. (Link)

As for Abe's numerous public declarations of wanting to earn the title of "Japan's #1 Salesman" it is strange that the promise has not stimulated journalists and commentators to recall French president Charles De Gaulle's famous description of Prime Minister Ikeda Hayato as a vulgar little transistors merchant.

They Made The Bed. You Have To Lie In It - Robert Dujarric, writing for The Diplomat, tells it like it is regarding the so-called East Asian history problem: Japan's engagement with historical issues is compared to West Germany's and likely always will be. Yes, the Japanese right is right: it is unfair. Incredibly so. Jiminy never told you, Fate is unkind sometimes, too. (Link)

Can You See The Real Me? Walter Lohman, John Fleming and Olivia Enos of the Heritage Foundation have produced a series of beautifully edited graphics pages providing the visual starting points for many a discussion of Asian security and economic issues. Pretty, pretty, pretty. (Link)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Thinking About The Weather

I get a shiver in my bones just thinking about the weather...

-- Natalie Merchant, "Talk About The Weather" (1987)

The Yomiuri Shimbun is reporting that the typhoon fast approaching the Kanto Area is a "once-in-a-decade strength storm." (Link - J)

Which leaves me not entirely confident about Diet question time happening tomorrow, at least not as scheduled.

To those who argue against the reality of human agency accelerated climate change, please change your minds...or get your first one, if you have heretofore lived without.

Later - Thirteen confirmed dead; 51 missing. With all the advance notice, work stoppages, robust infrastructure and media near-hysteria one could ask for. (Link - J)

And as this is typed, a bright, warm sun shines upon the aftermath.

Image of Typhoon #26 courtesy: Japan Meteorological Agency

First Reactions To The Prime Minister's Address

1) The prime minister's speech was general, simple and covered relatively few points.

2) Foreign policy was a small heap of generalities -- then again so was everything else, including the treatment of the the closely watched so-called third arrow growth reforms.

3) At 24 minutes, the speech was six minutes longer than his January speech. Somehow, it seemed shorter. No mentions of contentious issues like the decision to go forward with the 3% rise in the consumption tax or the Official Secrets bill.

4) Few applause lines or stirring expressions.

5) Torimodosu ("taking the country back"), the verb on the Liberal Democratic Party's main campaign posters in the last two national election -- got two mentions. For the most part the speech was buzzword free.

In a colloquial phrase, there was nothin' we ain't heard before...

More thoughts after the Kantei provides the official text, as necessary.

Later - The prime minister's overseas speeches so florid, embarrassingly so, and yet his Diet policy addresses so spare.

What's up with that?

Live Blogging Prime Minister Abe 's Policy Address

2:27 And the weirdness begins: Endo Toshiaki comes out for a presentation on resolution regarding the 2020 Olympics.

2:24 That's All Folks! Let's all go out there and serve the public. (The Man is Finished Speaking)

2:23 Crowd shot of the New Komeito's upper deck of seat holders. Party policy research chief secretary-general Inoue Yoshihisa seems to be asleep.

2:21 Second maudlin anecdote: what Paralympic athlete Sato Mami told him, about not counting what one has lost but what one has gained.

2:21 PM has fought for the natinal interest in his many overseas official visits, and promoted Japan's charms.

2:19 Japan faces an increasingly severe security environment. PM promises to stregthen the security response apparatus in the Prime Minister's Residence.

2:18 Here in the 21st century, Japan must abandon its reflexive passive and become an energetic participant in world peace and security actions.

2:17 Getting excited, strikes the rostrum.

2:16 Promises to reform the healthcare system but assures seniors that his goal is safety -- so I guess he is sorry now for the co-payment increases his cabinet approved in August.

2:14 Declares that this will be the parliamentary session of "taking on the question of realizing the economic growth strategy" -- a rather long-winded locution.

2:13 "In the TPP negotiations we will attack that which needs to be attacked, protect that which needs to protected." -- which means diddly, of course.

2: 11 First export story: the delicious food of Japan which I have been promoting as the country #1 salesman. However, PM notes, agriculture been unable to lower costs and become more productive. Pledge to double agriculture incomes in 10 years, nevertheless.

2:10 Notes the reality that prosperity will come when women and the young receive opportunitis for greater remuneration.

2:08 Claims his economic growth strategy will bring back Japan's economic vitality, only better than in the past, because women will be participating in it.

2:07 First maudlin anecdote: reads letter to him purportedly by a young married woman forced to leave her home in Fukushima.

2:05 Notes that recovery and reconstruction from the triple disaster of 3/11 is behind schedule or halted. Promises action as the earliest.

Pledges total effort to decomission Fukushima #1 and control the radiation linkage.

2:03 Starts out by quoting national economic growth statistics at length, and selectively so as to tell the happiest tale.

Prime Minister's Policy Speech to the House of Representatives starts at 14:00

Thursday, October 10, 2013


* Oh Sure, It Is OK If I Do It

"For me, this kind of government action represents an infringement of the ban upon the political use of the Emperor, as set down in the Constitution. I simply cannot accept it, I am prepared, as a first order of business, to pursue, in the next regular Diet session, the Cabinet's responsibility for this infringement under Article 3 of the Constitution -- and pursue it everywhere else as well!"
That was Liberal Democratic Party Policy Research Council Chairman Ishiba Shigeru, writing in his blog on December 15, 2009 about what was clearly in his mind a heinous abuse of the constitutional status and royal person of Japan's fragile 75 year-old monarch.

What the Democratic Party of Japan-led coalition government did was ask the Imperial Household Agency to arrange a brief private chat at the Imperial Palace between His Majesty and then Vice-President of China Xi Jinping. The Agency initially rejected the government's request based upon an internal rule that all requests for Imperial audiences must be made at least 30 days in advance. The Hatoyama government had put in its application 19 days prior to the proposed meeting date. Backed by the DPJ's then Secretary-General and China Best Friend Ozawa Ichiro, the government persisted (or insisted, depending upon your politics). In the face of pressure, the Agency relented, agreeing to arrange an audience.

The government's pushing for a reversal of the Agency's decision unleashed a storm of protest from both the opposition LDP and right wing activists, an uproar abetted by Grand Steward Haketa Shingo's unprecedented public complaints about the government's actions. (Link)

Despite the acrimony, including the ultra-rightists protesting in front of the Palace (Link), the meeting went off without a hitch, with Japan emerging a big symbolic winner.

Fast forward four years. An LDP-led coalition government rules Japan. Ishiba is now Secretary-General of the LDP.

In an agreement signed in May, the Abe government confirmed its readiness to send Japan's now 79 year-old monarch and his equally frail spouse on a state visit to the healthful confines of India (Link) a visit that K. V. Kesavan alerts us, begins on November 30. (Link)

India...kind of far away...maybe kind of arduous...

Last month, Grand Steward Kazaoka Noriyuki questioned the propriety of the government's urging Princess Hisako to travel to Buenos Aires in order to shore up the Tokyo bid for the 2020 Olympics. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide gave Kazaoka a public tongue lashing for having the gall to try to divine what their Imperial Majesties were thinking about the Princess' trip. (Link)

Princess Hisako's participation led to questions from all quarters regarding the use of the Imperial institution to political ends (Link). In a development that will likely leave some scratching their heads (aren't Japan's right wingers a cabal?) arch-nationalist cartoonist Kobayashi Yoshinori blew his top -- mocking the government's official explanation that the Princess was only attending in order to thank the international community for its contributions to disaster relief and recovery in the Tohoku region. In Kobayashi's view, to see the dispatch of the Princess as anything but use of the Imperial House for political gain would be inane. (Link)

Kobayashi's being a stickler about keeping the Imperial Family above politics comes as something of a surprise. Then again, Kobayashi has been of late marching to the beat of his own drummer.

As it turns out, the decision to have Princess Hisako address the IOC congress was a masterstroke. Unlike the terrifying sing-song and presumably English-language presentations by eye candy like fencer Ota Yuki and gymnast Tanaka Rie, Princess Hisako, a Cambridge graduate and translator before she married Prince Takamado (the Prince, in his charming, off-kilter way, proposed marriage to her in English) marched through the text of her opening speech both in more-than-acceptable French and then The Queen's English.

The political taint of Princess Hisako's dispatch to Buenos Aires pales, of course, besides the government decision to have their Imperial Majesties preside over the first official commemoration of the anniversary of the end of the Allied Occupation. That celebration, fraught from the outset by the slap to the face it delivers to Okinawa (Link) descended into farce when the hopped up hyper-patriot almost exclusively LDP and Japan Restoration Party attendees hooted out a triple “Long live the Emperor!” (Tenno heika banzai!) at the clearly uncomfortable Imperial Couple. (Link)

The hypocrisy of the LDP as regards use of the Imperial House for political ends, as demonstrated by Ishiba’s dudgeon over an afternoon courtesy call at the Palace (so uncool) versus nothing but smiles about a state visit to India (What problem? I do not see any problem) is emblematic of a greater trend. Having the budget under the DPJ government stay the same size but emphasize temporary support for citizens over the permanent laying of concrete ? That's baramaki ("pork barrel politics"). Passing huge supplementary spending bills and reconstituting the funding for the wasteful Construction State? That is setting up the basic conditions for economic expansion. The DPJ's prime minister not visiting Yasukuni? The mark of a squirming, China-coddling, disloyal mindset. Prime Minister Abe's not visiting Yasukuni? The mark of a mature, realistic ethos in the LDP and the Cabinet.

For issue after issue -- expansionist monetary and fiscal policy, ambitious plans for a greater acceptance of women in the workplace, delays in restarting nuclear power plants, tossing the interests of the agriculture sector to the wolves in Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations -- the progressive policies are being promoted and instituted by what is the regressive party, and indeed the most regressive members of that party. Give the DPJ power, and these same policy initiatives would be hacked down from behind by the very  persons currently implementing and promoting them.

So the LDP's electoral slogan "Japan, Let's Take It Back" (Nippon o, torimodosu!)? Not really descriptive of the Abe government's and the LDP's current trajectory.

I have a suggestion:
"Hypocrisy? Just Let Us Get Away With It!"

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Is Nothing Sacred?

And the world and the world and the world.
The world drags me down...

- The Cult, "She Sells Sanctuary" (1985)

Here is an item for filing in the "Surprises That Come As No Surprise" file:
Japan may opt to give up 'sanctuary' on TPP items
Yomiuri Shimbun

The government and ruling parties will begin considering whether tariffs on five categories of agricultural products that have been regarded as a “sanctuary” can be removed in tariff negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) multilateral trade initiative, in which 12 countries, including Japan and the United States, are participants, according to sources.

The government and the ruling parties have treated five categories of products—rice; wheat; beef and pork; dairy products; and farm products that are used as sweeteners, such as sugar cane—as key product categories for which tariffs should be maintained.

But now that the talks are facing difficulties, the government and ruling parties have to consider whether tariffs on some products in the categories can be removed.

Koya Nishikawa, chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s committee on the TPP, said Sunday he would consider removing items during his visit to Bali, Indonesia.

"We have to consider whether [some products in the five categories] can be removed [from subjects for maintaining tariffs]," Nishikawa told reporters.

Akira Amari, state minister in charge of TPP affairs, said Sunday in Bali, "It's helpful that our party will hold discussions," indicating that the government will start considering the issue in step with the LDP’s review.

In response, LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba told reporters Monday morning at the LDP headquarters, "Unless we put individual items into consideration, we will not be able to lead the negotiations to our advantage..."

Who would have ever guessed that up unto and through the July elections, where rural district votes outweigh urban and suburban ones at ratios up 5 to 1, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party would swear eternal protections for Japan's beautiful agriculture, only to turn around post-election and offer up those protections as a sacrifice in order to win a deal improving Japan's negotiating position in a trade pact Japan's large multinationals and major business lobbies see as crucial?

Who would have guessed at this treachery?

It is as if Abe Shinzo were beholden in some way to big business interests for his return to power (Link) -- and as if Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party were preparing for the possibility, however remote, that agriculture's inordinate and disproportionate influence on national affairs might be undone by a blow from on high.

An aside - while reversing course on the sanctuary status of agricultural products may hurt Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and the LDP in the long run, in the short run, the person in pain is Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Hayashi Yoshimasa. It is Hayashi's job to protect the interests of Japan's primary products producers in the Cabinet -- and he is clearly failing as champion.

That Hayashi would be hung out to dry does not come as much of surprise: he did run against Abe for the post of party president last year. Abe punished him for his temerity, giving him a portfolio destined to make him either decidedly unpopular or a laughingstock.

Hayashi's predicament is not exceptional: the other LDP presidents-in-waiting who had the misfortune of running against Abe are in similar straits. Ishiba Shigeru, who defeated Abe in the first round of voting but did not gain the majority necessary to become president, received the consolation prize of the party secretary-generalship -- only to be shackled with the chaperoning of two women (and thus undismissable) sanyaku who detest one another other. At the same time the Cabinet and the Prime Minister's Residence have been surreptitiously gobbling up powers, instigating without announcement a more Westminister-like system of policy and party management, diminishing the importance of party leadership posts.

As for Ishihara Nobuteru, Abe appointed him Minister of the Environment -- and no one has heard from or seen Ishihara since.

Later - What I have to guess is Tamzin Booth of The Economist has checked in with a fleshed out Banyan post on the Abe government's perfidity. (Link)

As for Ishihara Nobuteru, no sooner do I declare him missing-in-action but he turns up in Kyushu, at a most interesting United Nations conference. (Link)


Photo image of axe-wielding Hayashi Yoshimasa courtesy Yomiuri Shimbun

In Business - Cars And Cancer Insurance

Two recent offerings worth a look:

- Dr. Mike Smitka putting a torch to the idea that Japan will be playing to its strengths if Japanese companies push forward in developing innovative hybrid and electric car technologies (taking a swipe along the way at the larger fallacy of engineers, bureaucrats and lobbyists being able to identify and nurture technogies with real potential economic impact). (Link)

- Why behind closed doors discussions about liberalization of Japan's insurance markets bog down in fighting about what to do about a single company and its almost worthless (for the consumer -- it a gold mine for the company) product. It's about money and fear -- lots and lots of both. (Link)

Monday, October 07, 2013

The Eternal Sunshine Of Noda Yoshihiko’s Spotty Recollection

The DPJ's Gang of Six
Former Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko, who inexplicably called an election last December which led to his party's extirpation, is now doing P.R. for himself under the Bold, Mature and Sober labels.
Noda 'chose tax hike over being premier'
The Japan News

Former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in a recent interview that he placed more importance on raising the consumption tax rate than remaining prime minister when he decided last August to approve the increase.

As head of the then ruling party, Noda agreed with the then two opposition parties on comprehensive social security and tax system reforms, including the consumption tax hike.


Noda said he had intended to resign from his Diet seat if he could not pave the way for raising the consumption tax.

"At the time I thought I might have to choose between the consumption tax hike or my post as prime minister," Noda said. "After also considering that I would have to choose between the tax increase and my own party [many members of which opposed the increase], I said I was willing to bet my political life. I meant that I intended to resign as a Diet member."

During the meeting of the leaders of the three parties last August, Noda was urged by then LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki to specify when he, as the prime minister, would dissolve the lower house. At the time, the LDP wanted the lower house election to be held soon as it expected to score a major victory in the election, while the DPJ leadership wanted to delay the election as much as possible.

Noda said he replied: "I'll use an abstract expression but in a way that is as clear as possible. Both 'in the near future' and 'sometime soon' are all right with me."

After Tanigaki said, "I prefer 'sometime soon,'" Noda agreed to use that expression to describe when his administration would call an election, he said in the interview.

About the meaning of "sometime soon," Noda revealed that he had been determined to dissolve the lower house by the year-end.
“The only choice was [dissolution] by year-end. That was the bottom line. It was better for the nation considering the effects on preparing and implementing the budget," he said.


No, no, no, no and no.

That Abe Shinzo with his assault on the Bank of Japan and his profligate budgets would be reviving the animal spirits of the Japanese economy in 2013 was not something Noda could even vaguely foresee in mid-2012. Abe Shinzo was not the president of the LDP at the time. Noda was negotiating with Abe's hapless predecessor Tanigaki Sadakazu -- a mark demanding a double cross* if there ever was one -- whose economic policies were as no more expansionist than the DPJ's were. "LDP president Abe" to whom Noda would ultimately surrender, was still only a gleam in the eyes of revisionist and fantabulist members of the business establishment.

As for the excuse Noda makes for a November dissolution followed by a mid-December election, it does not hold water. An orderly process of compiling a budget is important, yes. However, is a sideshow if the DPJ has, as it did, a majority in the House of Representatives. The Constitution makes it clear that whatever the hell else happens, Japan's budget cannot be held hostage to a minority (the relevant passages are in Article 60, in case you are wondering).

What Noda did achieve, through his sobriety and iron-willed determination, was the electoral destruction of his party, the upending of a two-decade long process of building up a two-major-parties-alternating-as-the-party-of-government system and the short-circuiting the redrawing of the House of Representatives electoral map so as to reflect the Supreme Court's rulings on disproportionate representation -- all this, into the dumpster, in order to get the LDP to vote in favor of an LDP policy manifesto item. Furthermore, by calling the election in December, Noda made sure that the DPJ would suffer a huge cut in its 2013 government subsidy, making the financing of a return to power any time soon all the harder. Had Noda simply waited until January 2 for his announcement, his party, even if it lost a lot of seats in the subsequent elections, would still be on a decent financial footing.

Noda did not twist the LDP's arm, they twisted his, and his mind too. Snapping the spine of the DPJ was their job and Noda did it for them. If, as Noda indicates in this interview, it was either win the LDP's and the New Komeito's support for raising the consumption tax or resign from the Diet, I can think of hundreds if not millions of persons ready to cry, "Why the heck did you not resign from the Diet then?"

Furthermore, the Democrats cannot rid themselves of their portly DINO. He won his district handily last December by a greater margin than in August 2009. In addition, of all the members of the so-called "Gang of Six" of neither-entirely-cooperative-nor-entirely-helpful center-right leaders of the party (Noda, Edano Yukio, Azumi Jun, Okada Katsuya, Gemba Ko'ichiro and Maehara Seiji - Link - J), only Noda was able to bask in the glow of a DPJ candidate winning a seat in his home prefecture this past July.

Since the Democrats (and the rest of us) are stuck with Noda, the least we can ask for is that news organizations assign reporters willing to corner him on his dunderheaded management of the DPJ.

* How hapless was Tanigaki Sadakazu? He could be lulled into a debate over whether the House of Representatives should be dissolved "sometime soon" or "in the near future" and into choosing one of the two alternatives, allowing him to walk out of the building thinking he had extracted a concession from out of Noda.

Original image courtesy: Sankei Shimbun

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Abe Shinzo And China's New Leaders: A Thought

President Barack Obama, his schedule consumed by negotiations aimed at ending a standoff with representatives from a former separatist region of the United States, will not be attending a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders this weekend. (Link)

While disappointing in its demonstration of the U.S.A.'s continued inability to behave like a modern state, Obama's cancellation does provides an opening for Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, who is attending the summit (Link). Abe has managed to have big time bilateral meetings with just about everybody else in Asia (by the end of the month, for example, he will have visited all 10 ASEAN countries - Link). However, he has heretofore had no luck at all securing bilateral face time with Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Park Geun Hye.

An Mr. Obama no-show gives Abe the opportunity to leave a message on Facebook for his so far less-than-engaging counterparts:

"Gee, President Xi and President Park, Barack's not attending. I will miss him too. Unless I am mistaken, this means you now have an open slot in your schedule. Can we meet? Unless, of course, you are looking forward to your chance at experiencing firsthand U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's mesmerizing storytelling."

If meetings do not occur, it will not be due to intransigence on the Japanese side. The Abe folks are all for meetings, without preconditions.

If Abe and Xi do meet, however, a photo of the pair facing each other in chairs may be about all one can expect. While there are a myriad of ideas that Abe would love to bounce off of Xi, expecting a leader-to-leader talk without posturing and pretense may be too much.

From the vantage point of a perch in Tokyo, with all the biases that that entails, the chances for a personal "OK, the television crews are gone now, we can cut the crap" interaction with the present generation of Chinese leaders seems remote.

The nature of the game has changed. In the past, the official titles of the top leaders of China were adjuncts to who they were, after-the-fact official recognitions of real power, the locus of which was elsewhere -- but about which no one could plead ignorance. With Xi and his generation, however, the office is who they are. There is little leeway to get around "the official position" in private talks -- because the official position is that which the leaders must cling to in order to stay leaders. Indeed, who Xi is -- a princeling so in with the in crowd that he was able to marry one of China's superstar singers -- is precisely what Xi would probably want everyone to forget.

So while it would be great for Abe to have a chance to sit down with Xi and Park sometime in the next few days (I have likened those excusing the dearth of high-level Sino-Japanese and South Korean-Japanese contacts since Abe became PM to a coroner telling a police officer, "Well, except for the bullet in the brain and other one in the heart, this guy's in great shape!") breakthroughs should probably not be on anyone's wish list.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Honours Deserved And Given

On Tuesday, just before lunch time, Murata Natsue, a 40 year old employee of her father's real estate company, was sitting in the front seat of a van at a railway crossing. Her father was at the wheel of the van. Directly in front of them, a 74 yeard old man collapsed onto the railway tracks. Against her father's wishes, Natsue leapt out of the van, scrambled under the crossing bar and spun the old man around 90 degrees, so that he was lying in the railbed where the train could not hit him. At that moment the train arrived, striking and killing her. (Link)

Murata Natsue's sacrifice, made in saving the life of an elderly stranger, has stunned the nation.

This morning the Cabinet, in its first meeting since the accident, produced a Cabinet Decision (kakugi kettei) posthumously awarding Murata the Medal of Honour with Red Ribbon (pictured above) -- the nation's highest award for lifesaving, given to those who saved others at no thought for themselves. (Link - J)

Whatever one might want to say about this Abe Cabinet, one cannot say it is insensitive and slow to respond to the sacrifices made by ordinary citizens. The family of a most unlikely heroine did not have to wait for the nation's highest authorities to recognize and pay homage to her courage and selflessness. Many a Cabinet of the past, when faced with such an extraordinary occurence, would likely have shuffled papers, deciding only to "assiduously study" (shikkari to kento suru) the appropriateness of national honours.

Later - The Yomiuri Shimbun's online English-language service files its report. (Link)

Later still (Monday) - Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide visited with the Murata family at the funeral home prior to the start of last night's wake. He brought with him a special proclamation from Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, who is in Indonesia for the APEC summit. Kanagawa Prefecture Governor Kuroiwa Yuji and Yokohama City mayor Hayashi Fumiko showed up in person to pay their respects. (Link - J)

The United States Votes With Flowers

An official of the Department of Defense, currently on an involuntary vacation, yesterday alerted me to the laying of a wreath at the Chidorigafuchi National Memorial by the visiting U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense. I expressed to my friend a confident hope that good weather would encourage the major news organizations to highlight the Secretaries' visit to the Memorial, which progressive elements within the U.S. government and Japanese society have longed argued is the appropriate place for public officials to pay tribute to Japan's war dead.

Well, a day later, it seems I was a little too sanguine in my assessment. Agence France Presse, in its Japanese edition, played up the visit and its significance (Link - J). In English, The Japan Times went hog wild, with a title "Kerry, Hagel visit Chidorigafuchi to diminish Yasukuni," invincible to the ministrations of the mightiest of message massagers (Link). The New York Times in high-minded, above-it-all sobriety, managed to publish a huge photo of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel leaving the memorial without explaining the visit's significance. (Link)

As for the home team, there is very little good news to report. I saw no footage of the visit on any of the news programs I looked at over the last half day. National broadcaster NHK has nothing up in its online gallery (Surprised? No). On Google News, the only domestic news source with a report on the visit is Jiji Press, which has up only a brief account composed of five short sentences. Analysis of the significance of the visit is compressed into the last sentence, and is diffident, at best:

Unlike Yasukuni Shrine, where Class A War Criminals are honored and where visits by members of the Cabinet cause strife with China and other countries, [Chidorigafuchi] does not have a religious aspect to it.

(Link - J)
Perhaps the U.S. government shutdown prevented the U.S. Embassy from drumming up interest in the wreath laying, leading domestic news organizations to feel comfortable in ignoring a very obvious U.S. prod to improve the visibility and popularity of Chidorigafuchi (the Jiji News report indeed felt it necessary to spend two of its five sentences explaining what the hell the Chidorigafuchi National Memorial is, as just publishing "Chidorigafuchi" would have left readers wondering, "Why is anyone talking about a famous cherry blossom viewing site at this time of year?").

So for the visit to have any bite, the newsgoround has to make another circuit. The non-Japanese news outlets have to make a news story out of the fact that Japanese news outlets ignored the wreath laying. This would compel domestic news organization to report on the non-Japanese news media's making a fuss over the lack of coverage of the event when it happened.

T'is is a mad, mad mass media we have in this blessed land, with most peculiar tribal customs.

Later -The online version of the Sankei Shimbun does have a contemporaneous report on the visit of the secretaries to the Chidorigafuchi memorial. According the Sankei account, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, when asked for comment about the wreath laying, said it had no knowledge of the event. (Link - J)

MOFA said it had no knowledge of the U.S. Secretary of State's intent to visit a national memorial on the sidelines of attending a 2+2 Meeting in Tokyo?

Curiouser and curiouser...

Tip of the hat to Michishita Narushige for the link.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Abe Shinzo's Friends Indeed

"It is called the Unbegun Symphony. It used to be called the Pathetic Symphony. Now these names as you may know, like the Jupiter Symphony and the Eroica these names as you may know, they are usually not given by the composer. They are given by friends or the musicians and stuff. This name, the Pathetic Symphony, was given to the piece by some of my old friends.


Well, I have a new set of friends now...and we're calling it the Unbegun Symphony."

- Peter Schickele, "The Unbegun Symphony" (1966) *

Well, he has a new set of friends now...

When I hear Abe Shinzo arguing for a stimulus package (taking cash out of the national treasury and distributing it to politically important constituencies) in order to offset the likely downturn in individual and corporate spending after the consumption tax rise (raised in order to pay for the higher health and pension costs associated with a larger population of retirees) so as to not derail the economic growth associated with Abenomics monetary policy (which, by targeting inflation, will eat away at the spending power of those on fixed incomes and/or living off their savings, i.e., retirees) and fiscal policy (which by accelerating the rate of increase of the national debt, threatens jumps in interest rates demanded by borrowers, which will increase the percentage of the national budget consecrated to debt service, decreasing the amount of money available for everything else, most importantly pensions and healthcare for the elderly) all against the advice of economists Honda Etsuro and Hamada Ko'ichi, the two identified "fathers of Abenomics," whilst simultaneously trying to drum up support globally for an as yet unknown set of structural reforms to be decided on...soon...because the set of reforms his brain trust of supposedly market savvy and creative CEOs produced for the big June announcement were either trivial (Link) or so nakedly self-serving (Rakuten CEO Mikitani Hiroshi going so far as to threaten to quit Abe's industrial competitiveness council if the sales of drugs and medical equipment over the Internet were not in included in the June announcement) as to embarrass the PM -- I blackly remember Professor Schickele's sardonic, "Well, I have a new set of friends now..."

In his return to power a year ago, Abe Shinzo seems to have secretly made a deal with himself and his eminence grise Suga Yoshihide. Abe would nod in the direction of old coterie of supporters and allies, the so-called "Friends of Abe" like Taka'ichi Sanae, Furuya Keiji and Inada Tomomi -- and yes, even the duplicitous and too glib Aso Taro -- relying upon them as the backbone for his challenge to the status quo within the Liberal Democratic Party. The muscle and momentum for the takeover of the party and the government, however, would come from the zaikai, with new style but still establishment business moguls like Mikitani, Takeda Phamaceuticals CEO and Keizai Doyukai head Hasegawa Yasuchika, JR Central Chairman Kasai Yasuyuki, Fuji Film CEO Komori Shigetaka as a set of "New Friends of Shinzo" -- persons whom when you talked to them seemed full of ideas on how to transform Japan into an economic powerhouse, a state capable of paying for the kind of raw politico-military power Abe had seemingly previously thought could only come through the imposition from above of a hair-trigger patriotic, paranoid obedience to authority -- you know, like the mindset the Chinese seem to be fostering.

The New Friends seemed full of the promise of a revived fukukoku kyohei, but a fukoku kyohei for the Facebook Age -- with the New Friends of Shinzo providing the ideas and capital for the fukoku and the Old Friends providing the applause for the Abe/Suga duarchy's tentative tiptoeing toward the kyohei.

As I watch Abe's epic, manic, economic speedballing -- meeting everyone, asking everyone's advice, with resulting announcements of new economic policies off-setting the effects of previous economic policies offsetting the effects of yet earlier policies engaged to counter the consequences of even older policies, with frenetic searches for new statistics demonstrating earlier that the latest policies are indeed working (Link) or that the current policies need yet newer policies to offset them -- I find myself worrying, "Won't the pressures of finding a path through the bewilderingly numerous, numbingly complex and often mutually contradictory plans of the New Friends of Abe cause the man to break down -- just like the unseemly power-grabbing and intransigence of the Old Friends did?"

A disconcerting thought for a sunny day.

Later - It is not a sign of the Apocalypse, but when the Yomiuri Shimbun, which is as a rule sycophantic in its coverage of the policies of the LDP prime ministers, is like me in shaking its head at the PM's mutually negating proposals (Link) then the sum of the parts of the current administration's ideas is clearly less than a whole.

* The album An Hysteric Return: P.D.Q. Bach at Carnegie Hall is available here.

Your Chosen Profession

Tom Bishop: Nathan, we killed this man. We used him and we killed him. Okay then, you got to help me understand this one. You got... Nathan, what are we doing here? And don't give me some bullshit about the greater good.

Nathan Muir: That's exactly what it's about. Because what we do is unfortunately very, very necessary. And if you're not willing to sacrifice scum like Schmidt for those that want nothing more than their freedom, then you better take a long hard look at your chosen profession, my friend. Because it doesn't get any easier. You wanna walk? You wanna walk, walk.

-- Spy Game (2001)
Daniel H. Garrett walked.

My first response to a cursory reading of Garrett's letter, which I only found out about because of a mention of it in Sentaku, was, "Amaterasu, have I ever met this person?"

My second thought was, "I have to email X to ask him just how editorial at Japan Focus came to approve the publication of this lettter."

My third was, "How did the U.S. government manage to hire someone as unclear about the nature of the business he has chosen? The record of Garrett's education and employment on LinkedIn indicates an individual of rather...unconventional makeup.

I can sympathize with a desire to do good everyday in all things. And diplomats do a lot of good and decent things, overall. However, delivering incredibly bad, stupid, short-sighted and insulting messages to friends and enemies alike, as well as ferreting out intelligence from persons who are naive enough to open up to you, was Mr. Garrett's job -- a job that hundreds of diplomats from all parts of the globe do in Tokyo every day.

Speaking only in generalities until everything is declassified was another part of Mr. Garrett's job -- which the thousands of diplomats passing through in Tokyo manage to do in deference to the needs and interests of their employers. Keeping one's peace does not mean keeping quiet, either. Former U.S. Foreign Service officers like Rodney Armstrong and Stephen Harner manage to engage in ferocious criticism of the Japan-U.S. relationship while keeping the details of their own service under wraps.

Mr. Garrett seems to have been an idealist mistakenly in service to an imperial power -- a well-intentioned, pro-democracy, inadvertent (to borrow Robert Dujarric's adjective) imperial power, but an imperial power nevertheless. Walking out on that empire turns one's employer into a laughingstock -- but not for the unfortunate policies and presumptuous attitude revealed. No, for having handed to an amateur a job reserved for professionals.