Friday, January 31, 2014

Damn You Science!

Abenomics is getting the stuffing kicked out of it this week. The Nikkei plunged 500 points yesterday, finishing the day down 376 points (-2.43%), adding to the losses since January 9. The yen has been on a mild strengthening trend, threatening earnings reporting of the big exporters. U.S. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid's rejection of a request for fast-track trade authority has put the Trans Pacific Partnership on hold.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's plans for reviving Japan's economy received another blow, this time from a bubbly 30-year old girl geek in pearl earrings.
Stem cell 'major discovery' claimed
BBC News

Scientists in Japan showed stem cells can now be made quickly just by dipping blood cells into acid.

Stem cells can transform into any tissue and are already being trialled for healing the eye, heart and brain.

The latest development, published in the journal Nature, could make the technology cheaper, faster and safer.

The human body is built of cells with a specific role - nerve cells, liver cells, muscle cells - and that role is fixed.

However, stem cells can become any other type of cell, and they have become a major field of research in medicine for their potential to regenerate the body.

Embryos are one, ethically charged, source of stem cells. Nobel prize winning research also showed that skin cells could be "genetically reprogrammed" to become stem cells (termed induced pluripotent stem cells).

Acid bath

Now a study shows that shocking blood cells with acid could also trigger the transformation into stem cells - this time termed STAP (stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency) cells.

Dr Haruko Obokata, from the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology in Japan, said she was "really surprised" that cells could respond to their environment in this way.

She added: "It's exciting to think about the new possibilities these findings offer us, not only in regenerative medicine, but cancer as well."


Dr. Obokata's paper was published in Nature, whose account of the discovery (Link) fails to mention that it rejected her original paper. According to last night's NHK report, the reviewer told her that her results, if true, would contradict 100 years of research into cellular biology.

The coverage of Dr. Obokata's new pathway to stem cells has been lavish and fawning (Link - J video) -- which is rather inconvenient for Prime Minister Abe. He already has his stem cell hero, Nobel laureate Yamanaka Shinya. They have a mutually beneficial relationship, Mr. Abe plying Dr. Yamanaka with honors (Link) and cash (Link). Dr. Yamanaka's patented induced pluripotent pathway to stem cells was supposed to be the nucleus of a bio-engineering revolution, a showcase of Japanese prowess in technological and business development -- and Mr. Abe was going to be its munificent and enthusiastic patron.

Now here comes this lacrosse-playing, turtle-keeping, media darling young lab rat with a method of creating stem cells that is cheaper, more efficient, faster and with fewer potential complications than Dr. Yamanaka's.

It must all seem so unfair.

Original image courtesy: BBC

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Now The Home Wrecker

The Yomiuri Shimbun, ever ignorant of a newspaper's role being that of a reporter of news, not a creator, is playing anti-matchmaker again in the long-running drama Jiko renritsu seiken with its recurring question, "How long can the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito keep pretending they are not really made for each other?"

In the latest episode, the New Komeito, according to the Yomiuri、is "on pins and needles" (piri piri) over Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's overtures toward the Your Party and elements of the opposition. Abe is offering a policy agreement linkup (seisaku kyogi) to the Your Party and elements of the Japan Restoration Party in four areas: reinterpretation of constitutional restrictions on collective defense, actual constitutional revision, East Asian diplomacy and elimination of the power of local school boards. The New Komeito, which has stuck with the LDP through good times and bad, has very definite views on these items which are not entirely in line with those of Abe and his coterie. The New Komeito also has a definite sense of the sequencing of policy agreements: first the members of the coalition agree amongst themselves on the policies, then they approach the opposition or non-aligned parties and MPs with an offer of cooperation. (Link - J)

The link up of the New Komeito and the LDP after years of mutual animosity was one of the miracles of the 1990s, second in its shock value only to the eviscerating (for the Socialist Party) LDP-Socialist Party coalition, which for all time exposed the LDP's raw and bottomless appetite for power. The coalition has been extremely good for both the New Komeito and the LDP, the former for the protection it gives to The Corporation, the latter for the 7~8 million sure votes for LDP candidates in the Diet district and local elections. The loyalty of the New Komeito voters saved the LDP from utter annihilation in the August 2009 House of Representatives election, with approximately one quarter of all votes for LDP district candidates coming from New Komeito voters. The NK really took on the chin in 2009 too: all of its members holding district seats, the party's top leaders, were turned out.

However, the temptation for the LDP to dump the New Komeito after nearly two decades of cohabitation seems too strong to resist. With just the remaining members of the Your Party as partners, the LDP would have majorities in the Houses of Representatives and House of Councillors. With all or part of the JRP in a three party cohabitation (what I call the "Hawks-Hawks-Hawks Coalition" as opposed to the current "Hawks and Doves Coalition") the new policy cooperation arrangement would have a gigantic supermajority in the House of Representatives and a solid majority in the House of Councillors. Not the 162 seats Abe needs in the House of Councillors to pass revisions of the Constitution -- but more than enough seats to pass just about anything else tickling the fancy of the PM and his many advisers and hangers-on.

Abe and his minister of education Shimamura Hakubun cannot and probably never for a moment forget the New Komeito's spiking of Abe's first attempt to impose a more patriotic regimen and regime upon the nation's schools back in 2007. The New Komeito's rejection and rewriting of the first ever revisions of the 1946 Education Act left a bleeding hole in the side of the first Abe Cabinet -- not the first wound the first Abe Cabinet had inflicted upon it, certainly, but one of the most painful.

Ever since that experience Abe has probably been convinced that the coalition with the New Komeito was a marriage of convenience only. Pretty much everyone with a sense of Abe's mindset probably agrees it is now a highly inconvenient marriage for him.

The Yomiuri should nevertheless just stand back and let nature take its course, rather than cheering for the LDP-New Komeito break up.

Let us keep this seemly, folks.

While were are on the subject of keeping things seemly, Temple University Japan's Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies has uploaded the video of my January 9 talk to its You Tube channel. Please check it out (Link) to see if I indeed follow my own advice.

Later - If the above image mystifies, please read Yuka Hayashi's interview.

Later still - The Economist has checked in with an extended look at the subject, with The Corporation mentioned by name. (Link)

Original image courtesy: Nikkan Gendai

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Not That Many Dolphins Killed

Trending this morning is a figure, 22,000, for the number of small cetaceans (dolphins and small whales) harvested by Japanese hunters each year (Link).

This figure is inflated. The real figure is certainly less than 10,000, probably fewer than 3,000.

Until the triple disaster of 11 March 2011, the bulk of the nation's dolphin killings were carried out by hunters working out of ports in Iwate Prefecture, with smaller numbers of killings carried out by boats departing from Miyagi and Hokkaido ports. The targets of these hunts were Dall's porpoises (Ishi iruka - Phocoenoides dalli), a small oceanic species. The hunt was conducted well offshore (meaning virtually no photographs or video record exist of it) with harpoons.

Below is the table, the most recent one available (Calendar Year 2010) of the total number of kills of various species of dolphins and small whales -- the latter term being something of a misnomer in the case of the Baird's Beaked Whale (Tsuchikujira - Berardius baidii) which is as big as the IWC-moratorium restricted Minke Whale (Minke kujira - Balaenoptera acutorostrata)*.

Click on above image to open in a larger window.


According to these government figures, the total number of small cetaceans killed in 2010 was 6,615. As the report explains the Dall's porpoise kill number is an estimate, based on the total weight of meat processed divided by a general figure of about 50kg of meat per porpoise. The number of dolphins killed outside outside the Dall's porpoise hunt was 1,696, with the bulk of that, 1,629 kills, being done by Wakayama hunters, almost all whom were probably were homeported in the infamous town of Taiji.

2010 was a particular bad year for small cetacean hunting. However, even in 2009, the last good year on record, the total number of small cetaceans killed was 10,501, with the difference coming almost entirely from the Dall's porpoise hunt. This figure is significantly less than the total number of kills allowed under the quotas of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. MAFF's 2013-2014 quotas for all small cetaceans combined, the lowest total ever, is 17,217. (Link - J)

When the tsunami wiped out the fishing gear and ports of Iwate and Miyagi, the Dall's porpoise hunt vanished (the tsunami also ended the Miyagi-based Baird's Beaked Whale hunt). The Dall's hunt has since struggled to reestablish itself -- see page 45-2 of this Japanese language only report from the Fisheries Research Agency. An enterprising journalist might want to ask the Reconstruction Minister what proportion of Tohoku reconstruction funds have been consecrated, if any, to reestablishing the Dall's porpoise meat industry.

With the Iwate hunt moribund, Japan's dolphin industry must rely on the Wakayama hunt for meat. There is, however, no evidence that Wakayama hunters have stepped up the pace of their activities. If there were a crisis in supply one would at least expect MAFF officials to increase the quota number for the species (bottlenose, striped, Risso's, pan-tropical) hunted by Wakayama hunters. While MAFF did revise the Wakayama quota upward last year, the rise was risible, with the total number of kills permitted in 2013~2014 season still below the number permitted in 2011~2012:
MAFF quotas for small cetaceans, Wakayama Prefecture hunts
Season / total kills permitted

2010~2011 / 2,760
2011~2012 / 2,674
2012~2013 / 2,589
2013~2014 / 2,604
(Sources: Link - J and Link - J)

Assuming -- and it is an immense assumption -- that the Wakayama hunters managed to use up all their quota, and the hunters in prefectures outside the Tohoku used up theirs, the total number of small cetaceans hunted this fiscal year would be 4,177.

To get some sense of how unlikely that is, the MAFF quota for Hokkaido harpooners is 1,221 Dall porpoises in 2013-14. In 2010, the last recorded year of the Hokkaido hunt, the number of porpoises taken was 116. Shizuoka hunters are permitted 250 kills under this year's quota -- yet no Shizuoka landings have been reported for over a decade.

The 22,000 figure in the CNN essay is clearly wrong. Likely as not, it is wrong by an order of magnitude.

Later - This post has been revised to include data from previous years's quotas for the Wakayama dolphin hunts.


* Virtually all contemporary images and video of cetaceans being butchered come from the Baird's Beaked Whale hunt run out of Wadaura in Chiba Prefecture. This is due both to the community's relative proximity to Tokyo and its willingness to serve as a showcase for Japan's bid to resume small-scale coastal commercial whaling for Minke Whale.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Estimated Are The Prophets And The Fruits Of Their Labors

Yesterday NHK reported the results of a pair of surveys it conducted mid-month asking public corporations about their business conditions and personnel plans for the year. The first was of leading corporations (shuyo kigyo -- with no definition as to what that means); the second was of small- and medium-sized enterprises (again no definition but the content of the survey would preclude the inclusion of no single employee proprietorships). The response rate for the leading corporation survey was fantastic: 100 companies of 100 surveyed reporting. The response rate for the SMEs survey mediocre: 201 out of 346 corporations, or 58%.

What made two surveys particularly interesting was the difference in between the content and NHK's framing of it. Last night's 19:00 News 7 (Nyusu seben) broadcast -- the nation’s most-watched news broadcast -- began with a smiling Takeda Shin'ichi assuring the viewers, "We have some very heartening news tonight..." -- which made it sound as though something truly wonderful was about to be unveiled.

What was revealed, however, seems rather less than "wonderful":

- Of the 100 leading corporations surveyed, 10 were confident enough to declare an economic recovery underway. 86 of the companies were less certain, judging that the best that could be said was that a moderate (yurayaka na) recovery was underway.

- Of the SMEs, less than 20% were declaring increased profits for the year. 46% will be reporting flat-lining results. 25% will be reporting decreases in profits and 8.5% will be declaring losses.

- The two surveys found nearly identical levels -- 71% of large corporations, 72% of responding SMEs -- studying ways to raise take home pay. Not intending to increase pay, mind you, studying (kento suru) whether to increase pay and how to do it. These potential pay raise figures would furthermore be limited to remuneration for full-time employees -- no word on the remuneration of the nation's legions of part-time workers.

- 32 of the leading corporations were considering raising pay using automatic wage hike mechanisms (teiki shokyu); 30 were considering raising bonuses and 11 were thinking of "increasing monthly compensation by some way or another." Only 9 of the 100 leading corporations were thinking of revising upward the numbers listed in the basic tables used to calculate remuneration (beesu appu).


- 100 leading corporations survey report (Link - J + video)

- SME survey report (Link - J + video)

[NB: hurry to copy down contents as link rot sets in soon -- MTC]

Given the lack of the measurement of definitive moves toward higher base pay, which would be indicative of the nation's corporate executives being willing to share an Abenomics-derived economic bounty, Takeda's bubbly intro seemed almost sarcastic -- and NHK generally does not have sarcasm in its tool kit.

What is furthermore interesting in the SME survey are the high levels of performance reported. Only 8.5% of the NHK respondents were preparing to report losses. This would seem to stand in direct contradiction to known percentages of corporations declaring losses on the financial year.

Below is a wonderful graph compiled by the folks at the Tokyo Shimbun of the historical trends of loss accounting as reflected in the percentage nation's corporations exposed to the corporate income tax. The red line is all corporations; the blue line, corporation with at least 100 million yen of base capital.

As the graph shows, since the bursting of the bubble a steadily increasing fraction of the nation's corporations are fiddling with accounts so as to declare themselves unprofitable in the current fiscal year. In Fiscal Year 2011-12, the most recent year available, only 28% of all Japanese companies paid corporate income tax, with only about half of larger capitalized firms (53%) paying the tax.

Self-selection of a particularly active kind is therefore taking place in the NHK survey. We can guess that a goodly number of the 42% of SMEs who failed to return the completed survey are companies with horrible books. We must also assume that the 46% of SMES reporting unchanged results have clever accountants who take potentially reportable profits and bury them in the bad ideas and dumb decisions of previous years.

On a somewhat ancillary note, the Tokyo Shimbun graph should drive a stake through the heart of a particularly egregious misperception of Japan: the purportedly minor size of Japanese non-profit sector. The clichéd complaint is that the lack of a large formal non-profits as they are known in the Anglo-American world -- the research centers, the foundations, the think tanks --represents a glaring weak point for Japanese society and Japanese capitalism.

As the above graph illustrates, Japan's non-profit sector is not small. It is in fact HUGE -- with the majority of the country's non-government workers employed in enterprises that should be classified as non- or even anti-profits.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Opening The Diet With Abe Shinzo's Magical Tobacco Container

In a few hours the 186th Session of the Diet begins. The session promises to be both busy (80 bills and 18 treaties are in the docket) and fiery. The Diet will be debating the merits of an expanded liberty of action for Self Defense Forces under the existing Constitution -- a shadow play, as the Abe government has more than enough votes to pass the relevant bills right now, including the votes of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan -- and the just-passed special secrets protection act, which all the opposition parties (there is no point in referring to the gutted and purified Your Party as an opposition party anymore) are united in seeing at least amended, if not rescinded. Midway through the Session, which is scheduled to end on June 22, the much ballyhooed and probably quite reasonably feared rise of the consumption tax kicks in -- an imposition which will empty the nation's stores and showrooms (be prepared for the video of clerks standing around waiting for customers in vain on April 1).

Despite the challenges, the Abe government is in a sweet spot in terms of running the Diet as it pleases. The next national elections are in July 2016, unless, of course the House of Representatives is dissolved -- which is NOT going to happen. While the government would like Masuzoe Yo'ichi to prevail in February 9 by-election for Tokyo Governor -- which Masuzoe will do unless Hosokawa Morihiro hurries up and hires a bloody-minded press secretary soon -- Mr. Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party do not have any pressing elections of any kind before the so-called unified local elections in April 2015.

The distribution of seats and the continuing stumbling about of the opposition parties make the distant elections almost irrelevant. The LDP is currently allied with the New Komeito, giving it a super-majority in the House of Representatives and a majority in the House of Councillors. Should the LDP and the New Komeito part ways over policy -- a remote but not entirely zero possiblity during the upcoming session -- the LDP could easily and quickly craft new and sturdy coalitions with the Your Party and the Japan Restoration Party, giving the LDP even larger majorities in both Houses (see slides 26 through 29 of my Temple University Japan presentation of January 9, available online here).

In general, anything the PM wants to pass into law will become law, if Abe-san remembers to preserve appearances by offering opposing voices a chance to put on at least a show of resistance.

That certain elements within the Prime Minister's own party think that Abe has been shirking his duties in that department was made manifest yesterday. At a meeting inside LDP headquarters of the members of the Machimura Faction, the prime minister's nominal faction (his membership being suspended during his time in office) leader Machimura Nobutaka took members of the government to task for their insufficient consultations with LDP parliamentarians regarding the content of pending bills. As regards the ministers's having shelved, temporarily, a move to close debate on the so-called Third Arrow structural reforms, he crowed:


It's a good thing. The government has been saying, "Can you not see this personal tobacco container? Anything with a circle and Abe in it on it will pass." "This is so because it is Mr. Abe's will!" It was all getting a bit too noticeable.

(Link - J)
A little too esoteric for the lay reader?

Machimura was alluding to, in a oddly direct and simplified way*, one of the classic and recurring bits of Japanese television.

Poster for Mito Komon, season 35.
Image courtesy TBS.

"Can you not see this personal tobacco container?" (Kono inro ga mienai ka) is Machimura paraphrasing the recurring climactic line of the long-running (43 seasons) TBS television samurai drama Mito Komon. In every episode, at the very height of a pitched and protracted battle between local ruffians and corrupt officials on one side, and simple, honest citizens and their mysterious protectors on the other, the sidekick of the protagonist, a disguised Tokugawa Mitsukuni, raises a personal tobacco container (inro) bearing the trefoil crest of the Tokugawa House on it and cries, "Kono mondokoro ga me ni hairanu ka?" ("Does not this family crest enter thine eyes?") -- at which point everyone, villains and would be victims, realizing they have been misbehaving before the uncle of the shogun, all fall to the ground motionless in awe and fear.

[A scene that has to be seen to be believed. Unfortunately, TBS scours the Internet for snippets, meaning I cannot provide a decent video illustration.]

Machimura's allusion can be understood as being:

1) a petulant complaining about an inconvenient truth: that Abe's control of the party and government is so great that even his nominal factional superior cannot do anything but fall to the ground paralyzed at the sight of Abe's seal of approval on a piece of legislation.

2) the chiding of Abe's aides and allies in the party and the government for presuming that Abe's signature precludes the need to conduct preliminary discussions (ne mawashi) of pending bills and directives

3) both these things simultaneously.

Machimura has reasons, petty ones, for feeling slighted. He is the leader of the PM's faction and nominally the PM's patron. Machimura also ran against Abe for the post of party president in September two years ago. Unlike the other rivals in the presidential election, all of whom received Cabinet or party posts, Machimura received...nothing.

That Machimura would be willing to vent his anger at function attended by journalists indicates

a) the depth of the petty resentment he feels and

b) his sense of not being the only one with gripes vis-a-vis Abe and his people.

One of the few risks that Abe runs in the course of the next few years is an efflorescence of such resentment, burst from seeds of dissension sown through high-handed action. Until recently, Abe and his government have been restrained in their stimulation of jealousy and mistrust, not that they have not been willing to cut some rather important allies -- the New Komeito over Abe's visit to Yasukuni, rice farmers over their acreage-suppression subsidies (Link) and the elderly over their health and eldercare payments (Link) -- off at the knees.

As long as the betrayals have been couched as being reluctant and for the national good, the backlash has been subdued.

There have, nevertheless, been some disturbing signs of hubris and political tone deafness in political appointments of late, possibly indicative of Abe and his lieutenants becoming incautious.

The first was the terrible decision to appoint Watanabe Tsuneo, the don of the Yomiuri media empire, chairman of the government's advisory commission on implementation of the special designated secrets act (mentioned, with a link, here). Watanabe already received the gift of People's Honor Awards for two former members of the Yomiuri Giants baseball team -- more than a reward enough for the Yomiuri Shimbun's slavish service in support of Abe's premiership and his domination of the LDP. To put a man who does not and probably cannot understand the role the Fourth Estate plays in electoral politics in a modern democracy (imagine Rupert Murdoch being named chairman of Prime Minister Cameron's advisory council on press ethics and non-partisanship -- oh, OK, maybe that is too far) in charge of offering advice on how to safeguard press freedoms -- well, that's chutzpah.

The recent nomination, with Abe's fingers all over it, of Muto Toshio to be secretary-general of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics organizing committee (Link) seems similarly presumptuous. Muto may be a smart man with international connections and ties to all the heads of the major power centers in government and the business community (Link). If one wanted to send out a signal, though, that political and politically sensitive positions will be handed out not to the most capable and forward-thinking but old cronies and persons to whom favors are owed (Abe's former faction leader Mori Yoshiro has already been named chairman of the organizing committee), selling the Olympic dream out to Big Business and Big Government -- then annointing the twice-not-named-Governor-of-the-Bank-of-Japan and 70-years-of-age Muto is a good start.

When one has a magic tobacco container, though...therein temptation lies...

Later - In comments, "exex" provides a link to an illustrative video clip of a me ni hairanu ka scene from a Mito Komon episode.


* When one considers the reality that most adult Japanese have heard the original line hundreds of times, that Machimura would paraphrase it seems really odd.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The DPJ's Failures Defeat Simple Description

In describing the downward arc of history, Karl Marx said that it repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.

Dear Karl, what comes after farce?

If you know, please write me, as I am at a loss to describe the level of ineptitude of the officers of the Democratic Party of Japan. Beyond pathetic they are, which is, what? What is beyond pathetic?

The latest episode in the DPJ's plunge into trans-Marxist levels of the ineffectual? The surprise announcement yesterday of the signing of a policy agreement in between candidate for Tokyo governor Masuzoe Yo'ichi and Tokyo Rengo, the Tokyo branch of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation. (Link - J)

So what?

Rengo (Link) is according to all common reckoning, the indispensible pillar of DPJ support. Without Rengo, the DPJ is nothing, electorally and otherwise.

Despite the seeming automatic coordination that should take place in between the two organizations, no one at DPJ Central seems to have made the call to Rengo's Tokyo offices to find out whether or not the folks there could support Hosokawa Morihiro, the DPJ's preferred candidate in the wild four-way* of those seeking to fill Inose Naoki's empty seat (Link). As it turns out, the union organization finds Hosokawa's anti-nuclear stance not to its liking, seeing it as a threat to the job security of the power and manufacturing sectors' unionized workforces. (Link - J)

So Tokyo Rengo is supporting Masuzoe.

That the DPJ officer who failed to block this incredible end around deep into DPJ territory is none other than the mouth from the south, the oleaginous Matsubara Jin (Link - J) does nothing to ease the sting of this most recent grostesque stumble. If Matsubara were in some way under threat of being held accountable for allowing Tokyo Rengo cut a private deal with the Liberal Democratic Party's favorite in the race for leader of the richest municipality of the known inhabited universe, then his humiliation would at least have a savor of Schadenfreude.

However, in Kaieda Banri's DPJ (Link) no one is ever held accountable for anything

That the present DPJ is moribund is not surprising, given its seeming inability to do anything right (lack of accountability having something to do with this situation). Do not the voters of this blessed land nevertheless at least deserve the semblance of a non-Communist opposition to the policies and practices of the Abe Administration?

As for Hosokawa, a DPJ endorsement minus support from Rengo is worth less than nothing. Thank goodness for him he has fellow former prime minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro in his corner.


* Yes, I know that the field of candidates has five individuals in it. I am trying, desperately, to forget the candidature of Dr. Nakamats.

About The Nago Election

Peter Ennis and I rarely agree on anything. Most of the time he is right and I am wrong.

He has been inordinately kind in not reminding me of this.

Nevertheless, I will test fate once again and say that his most recent Japan Dispatch post on the results of the Nago City mayoral election overstates the significance of the reelection of Nago City mayor Inamine Susumu.(Link)

Ennis is right in insisting that Mayor Inamine can throw roadblocks in the way of the construction of the Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF) at Henoko. However, he underestimates the misery the national government can and will inflict upon Nago City in retaliation.  A hopped up Abe Shinzo and Company (to see how hopped up Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party are, check out the video reports from this weekend's LDP party Congress, like this one), having failed in their charm offensive toward Nago voters, no longer have to play nice.

A steady, dull, thudding march toward the on-schedule opening of the new U.S. Marines air station at Henoko is crucial to Abe's dual programs as regards the Japan-U.S. alliance:

1) rely on the U.S. to provide crucial military capabilities to fill in for current voids in Japan's capacity to defend itself and its interests (the Self Defense Forces being unable to even do the minimum: defend Japan's territories)

2) drive the U.S. policy makers and the Japan-U.S. relationship managers to tears with his single-minded provocations of South Korea, China, the non-Yomiuri Shimbun news media (Abe appoints Watanabe Tsuneo the chairman of the advisory commission on the special secrets law?!?  -- Link), the anti-nuclear movement, the education establishment and, in one way or another, just about everybody else.

Prime Minister Abe will demand consistent, demonstrable progress on the FRF. As long as the bulldozers, dredges and cranes are in motion at Henoko, the U.S. Marines and the Pentagon will continue to provide Abe with military and political cover. If the machines slow down or halt, Abe will be stuck with strict limits on his freedom to be Abe -- and there is nothing Abe wants to be more than himself.

So Inamine-san and Nago City voters, enjoy the victory party. Cherish it as a fond, wistful memory to tide you through the storm that is about to hit you.

Friday, January 17, 2014

More Than Carelessness In Hokkaido

Something for the "you have got to be kidding me" file.

On the morning of 12 September 2011 Nakajima Naotoshi, the president of JR Hokkaido, went missing. He had been under a great deal of stress and media pressure as a result of the May 2011 Sekisho Line accident where an express train derailed and caught fire, part of a spate of accidents and incidents involving JR Hokkaido railway trains. Later investigations of the company found systemic delays and cancellations of basic line maintenance and poor labor management -- inconceivable breaches of the public trust and a violation of the cultivated image of Japan's railways as avatars of a national obsession with high quality service.

Nakajima left behind a pile of letters of apologies and final farewells, leading police and family members to fear he would be trying to take his own life. His private automobile was found that afternoon, parked, empty, in the port area of Ishikari City.

On 18 September, a fisherman in a boat of Otaru, across the bay, found the corpse of a man floating in the water. It was Nakajima. Officers examining the body ruled the death a suicide. (Link -J)

On 15 January 2014, early in the morning, Sakamoto Shin'ichi, the former president (1996-03) and chairman (2003-07) of JR Hokkaido, went missing. His private automobile was found at the seawall of Yoichi Township, just to the west of Otaru City.

At around 08:20, Maritime Self Defense Forces personnel found a corpse of a man floating in the waters of Yoichi's harbor. The Japan Coast Guard retrieved the body. It was Sakamoto. Finding no signs of struggle upon the body, the police are classifying Sakamoto's death a suicide. (Link - J)

When the second and fourth presidents of one of Japan's emblematic but admittedly struggling companies are both found, as the Sicilians, "sleeping with the fishes," within three years of one another, disappearing under nearly identical circumstances (Sakamoto left behind no notes, as far as anyone can tell) with the bodies being found basically the same condition in largely the same area, one should not feel ashamed if Oscar Wilde's admonition on losing one's parents (Link - J) bubbles up.

Comments on these deaths, Dr. Duignan or Mr. Adelstein?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Abe Shinzo's Big Bets Pay Off

Abe Shinzo and those closest to him must be grinning broad grins at this morning's public opinion polling results:

TBS Network News (JNN News)
Poll conducted: 11-12 January 2014
Figures for previous month's reading in [ ]
Do you support or not support the Abe Cabinet?

Support 62.5% [54.6%]
Do not support 36.4% [44.4%]
Yomiuri Shimbun
Poll conducted: 10-12 January 2014
Figures for previous month's reading in [ ]
Do you support or not support the Abe Cabinet?

Support 62% [55%]
Do not support 30% [38%]

By rebounding in the 7-8% range, the Abe Cabinet has recouped in a single month almost all the losses in popularity incurred by the precipitous and contentious passage of the Special Secrets Protection Act. That two news organizations at opposite ends of the spectrum as regards criticism of the Abe administration have polls exhibiting exactly the same degree and direction of momentum makes the apparent rebound all the more dependable.

The Prime Minister's visit to Yasukuni on December 26 does not seem to have in any way hurt his Cabinet's image. Indeed, the internationally condemned visit likely boosted the Cabinet's numbers among disillusioned hardliners, lifting the Cabinet's overall support numbers.

TBS Network News (JNN News)
Do you think it was a good thing or not a good thing that Abe paid a visit to Yasukuni?

A good thing 42%
Not a good thing 46%
Yomiuri Shimbun
Do you appreciate or not appreciate the Abe visit to Yasukuni?

Appreciate 45%
Not appreciate 47%
The results of the two polls deviate as regards the proposal to construct a secular national memorial for the war dead, with the numbers in favor and opposed to such construction shading in the direction of the political orientations of the two news organizations, even as the Cabinet support/do not support numbers do not:

TBS Network News (JNN News)
Should the country construct a secular war memorial?

Should 42%
It is not necessary 46%
Yomiuri Shimbun
Should the country construct a secular war memorial?

Should 36%
It is not necessary 50%
The party support numbers offer further sobering/depressing news for those who might have hoped that public anger at Abe and the LDP over the secrets act could be sustained, boosting the appeal of the opposition parties:

TBS Network News (JNN News)
Figures for previous month's reading in [ ]
Which political party do you support?

LDP 35.5% [30.3%]
New Komeito 2.3% [3.6%]
DPJ 4.1% [6.8%]
JRP 2.3% [2.8%]
Your Party 1.0% [1.6%]
JCP 2.6% [3.7%]
DSP 0.4% [0.9%]
Yui 0.3% [NA]
Life 0.2% [0.3%]
Other/Do not support any 50.8% [48.6%]
Yomiuri Shimbun
Which political party do you support?

LDP 40%
New Komeito 4%
DPJ 4%
JRP 1%
Your Party 1%
JCP 3%
DSP 1%
Yui 0%
Life 0%
Other/Do not support any 44%

The image accompanying this post was the final slide of my January 9 presentation at Temple University Japan (TUJ will be posting the full slide show and the video of the session soon). My message to my fellow travelers of the left at the presentation is the same one seemingly being sent out by today's poll results: stop your wishful thinking, reconsider your loathing. There is only one game in town...and it is Abe Shinzo and his LDP.


Online sources:

JNN News poll: Link - J Video

Yomiuri Shimbun poll: Link - J

Sunday, January 12, 2014

All Out Of Ammo

Gimme back my bullets
Put 'em back where they belong
Ain't foolin' around
Cause I've done had my fun
Ain't gonna see no more damage done...

- Rossington/Van Zandt, "Gimme Back My Bullets" (1976)

The pathetic story of the peripatetic 10,000 rounds of ammunition lent by Japanese Self Defense Forces to their bereft South Korean counterparts participating in a UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan has come to an absurd close. The South Korean troops on Thursday transferred the bullets to UN custody, their government having flown in from South Korea the same amount of ammo, using up precious space in UN cargo helicopter flights to deliver politically correct incipient chunks of flying death to South Korean forces. (Link)

So much for appreciation of the Abe Cabinet's doctrine of "proactive pacifism" (sekkyokuteki heiwashugi), so much for practicality, so much for an "we're all in this together" Band of Brothers bonding among forces under UN command.

Over at The Marmot's Hole, Robert Koehler last year documented most of the background to this week's return. It is not a pretty tale. Particularly depressing is that objections to the ammunition transfer preceded Abe Shinzo's visit to Yasukuni. (Link)

While it is appropriate to dump on the government of South Korea for Olympian levels of pettiness, the actions and stances of the Abe administration deserve an equal measure of ridicule. The much ballyhooed new National Security Council, in only its second meeting and in its first decision, choose to at least circumvent if not trash precedent. The 1976 expansion of the original 1967 Three Principles on Arms Exports (Buki yushutu sangensoku) states that Japan shall "take precautions against not making a mistake in exporting weaponry" (buki no yushutsu o tsutsushimu mono to suru). While lending ammunition to folks who insult you by sending it back to you untouched would in most instances be classified as a mistake, "not making a mistake" in the 1976 interpretation is the violation of Japan's self-reimagination as a "peace state" (heiwa kokka - Link -J).

Strictly speaking, the NSC's approval of the SDF's lending South Korean forces their ammunition did not transgress the boundaries of the expanded Three Principles. If the South Korean forces had actually used the ammunition, however, the loan would have immediately fallen outside the boundaries of permitted action.

So the South Koreans, by acting like idiots, actually did Abe's NSC a favor.

Exactly why Japan needed to establish an NSC has never been satisfactorily explained. Lionel Pierre Fatton, writing in The Diplomat, does his damnedest to make the innovation seem worthwhile. (Link)

However, reading the Fatton's argument, one comes away with the question:

"Restricting the number of persons having input into major decisions helps make the process faster. However, when in the history of humankind has the reduction of the number of persons offering their opinions ever made a decision better?"

That the NSC's first action was a double fiasco -- a violation of precedent had it succeeded in arming the South Korean forces and an embarrassment because it did not -- casts into doubt the rhetorical edifice supporting the establishment of the NSC.

There is an argument that the first decision of the NSC went sour precisely because the decision was made prior to the creation of an NSC secretariat and the assignment of staff -- deficiencies that have since been partially remedied (Link and Link). Presumably, once the NSC secretariat gets up to speed analyzing issues and suggesting solutions, the chances of another South Sudan fiasco will fall.


Maybe not.

If a group of officials start out their terms in an office with a demonstration of a willingness to approve violations of stated government principles without consulting with staff experts aforehand, it becomes harder to believe promises that the group will never, ever do it again.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Andrew Oros On Abe's Need For Moderation

Over at PacNet, Professor Andrew Oros of Washington College has just published a smashing and breathtakingly succint review of Abe Shinzo's first year in office and the challenges the PM faces in the months and years ahead. (Link)

I part ways with the good professor (full disclosure: Dr. Oros is a family friend) in his advising Abe to make a greater effort at moderation, this in the interests of fulfilling long-term goals. Staying closer to the center would make sense if Abe himself were a centrist. However, as everyone knows, Abe is not a centrist: he is a creature of, if not the avatar of, the smoke-belching revisionist wing of the Liberal Democratic Party. The best Abe can do is to cover the entire road at some point on his journey, wobbling back and forth in the center area most of the time but every so often veering right and then just as crazily left, leaving a trail of dramatic skid marks.

Rather than being static and reassuring, life with Abe Shinzo is going to be dynamic and disconcerting.

In the past Abe would be called mercurial -- and be thought unreliable for it.

Nowadays we should probably say he is just being predictably chaotic -- and shrug our shoulders, if we can.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Shrine, Temple and Mr. Abe's First Year

The past three weeks have seen the publication of reams of interpretation, analysis and discussion of Abe Shinzo's visit to Yasukuni. The East Asian Forum alone has published six different essays on the subject by authors like Aurelia George Mulgan and Tessa Morris-Suzuki, whom I admire, and Hugh White, whom I do not. (Link)

Of the hundreds of op-eds and blog postings now out there, the ones that get closest to the answer to the question of "What was Abe Shinzo thinking?" are The Economist Tokyo Bureau Chief Tamzin Booth's allusively titled Banyan post "See you at Yasukuni" (Link) and the always provocative Stephen Harner's post on the Forbes website "After Yasukuni, China Closes The Door On Abe: Why Is He Smiling?" (Link)

One would have to be a veteran of the Comfort Women resolution wars in the U.S. House of Representatives and a reader of the twisted stuff published in revisionist monthlies such as WiLL, Seiron and the now blessedly demised Shokun! -- and the blogs of folks like Sakurai Yoshiko -- to know at least one of the things Abe Shinzo was thinking when he went to Yasukuni on December 26:


If that makes not the least bit of sense to you, please come by the second floor of Temple University Japan's Azabu campus tomorrow evening. I will be speaking on Abe's first year in office and the political outlook for 2014 (Link). The doors open at 19:00 with the session staring at 19:30.

The speech is open to the public but seating is limited. Though registration is not mandatory, the host of the event, the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies (ICAS) asks that appreciates it when persons wishing to attend to send a registration email to

Later - ICAS has written to say that there is plenty of space available for tomorrow night's event. That's good to know. However, if you are not on the ICAS mailing list, a registration email to this event will put you on its list, giving you first notice of all future events.

Friday, January 03, 2014

He's Pro-Shinto, But Not That Pro-Shinto

Shisaku posts normally contain at least two or three typos, due to my own unfortunate haste and the reality that this is a private sharing of information and opinion.

The Huffington Post, by contrast, is a commercial venture, where an urge to preserve a modicum of decorum would predicate a second set of eyes perusing a piece prior to its publication on the website:

Which is what makes today's featured Huffington Post post on Japan so very special.

Click on image to open in a new, larger window.

The author of the blog post, Dr. Peter Navarro, is a professor at the University of California, Irvine (I am not making this up). His personal website directs you to to his documentary site,, where, among other things, one can download a free copy of the "Death by China" theme song (I am not making this up, either).

Of special note is the author's having the prime minister visiting the "Yasukuni Shin" -- which, one must assume, is somewhere in between the Yasukuni Foot and the Yasukuni Knee.

For the record, Abe Shinzo is a Shinto chauvinist, meaning that he not only publicly participates in Shinto rituals whilst in the dress of a public official, but he is leader or significant member of a number of political organizations aiming to promote a politico-social role for Shinto. Abe is the chairman of the Shinto Political Alliance Diet Member's Roundtable (Shinto seiji renmei kokkai giin kondankai), the Diet arm of the Shinto Political Alliance (Shinto seiji renmei, or Shinseiren - Link - J), an organization established in 1966 to combat, according to the organization's website, the spirit postwar materialism and the accelerating loss of memory of what is Japanese and what it means to be a Japanese.

Abe is also the chairman of Japan's Rebirth (Sosei Nippon), an organization recently featured here. Japan's Rebirth seeks a reawakening of the pride of the Japanese people in their history and culture, with a special focus of the Imperial House. Given the prominence of the thought of Yoshida Shoin in the organization's literature (Yoshida's spirit being, in Prime Minister Abe's life, a focus of special reverence) and given the special mention in the group's guiding principles to a fight against permanent residents receiving the right to vote in local elections (Abe and I, a holder of permanent residence, are in complete agreement as regards the idiocy of such proposals) Sosei Nippon should be seen as a rinsed and limp version of the 19th century's sonno joi ("Revere the Emperor/Expel the Barbarian") movement. As such, Shinto, particularly a version of State Shinto, is definitely in the Japan's Rebirth tool set.

Abe has always been a prominent member, of course, of the Association of Diet Members for Worshiping at Yasukuni Shrine Together (Minna de Yasukuni jinja ni sanpai suru giin no kai) which organizes the Yasukuni mass visits of Diet members and advocates a a normalization of Yasukuni to the point where Cabinet members and the Emperor pay regular official visits to the shrine.

[For more on the traditionalist/revisionist organizations boasting Abe Shinzo as a member, see "The Abe Cabinet - An Ideological Breakdown" by the Children and Textbooks Japan Network 21, translated by Matthew Penney.]

So yes, Professor Navarro, there is a "Shinto Abe" -- but only in spirit, not name.