Sunday, March 30, 2014

Abe Shinzo's Prospect Of Unwilling Political Fidelity

Watanabe Yoshimi explains himself.

On Twitter, Corey Wallace makes an excellend point about the potential for Abe Shinzo and his allies to go on a revisionist breakout after the summit with President Barack Obama: with the Japan Restoration Party's Hashimoto Toru navel gazing about his Osaka Metropolitan District Plan (Link) and the revelations regarding the Your Party's Watanabe Yoshimi's astonishing 800 milllion yen in personal loans from the CEO of DHC (Link), Abe who was entertaining (literally, it was discussed over a pair of dinners) the idea of dumping the cautious New Komeito in favor of the militant and revolutionary JRP and YP and his Liberal Democratic Party find themselves in the unenviable poisition of no longer being able to threaten their long-time alliance partners with replacement.

Sticking with the New Komeito means attempting crazy policy fiddles like a "we will say this but cannot possibly mean it" promise to reinterpret the Constitution, making unconstitutional collective self-defense (CSD) constitutional, but only in the immediate geographical neighborhood of Japan and on the high seas (Link)

Note to Japan's present and potential security partners: stay close to Japan and away from land.

With Abenomics, the great legitimizer of this second coming of The Abe Cabinet, about to enter a very very rough patch indeed (Link) Abe will have a much reduced capacity to simply bludgeon the New Komeito into submission. Having to make concessions to NK conservatism, particularly in security affairs, complicates if not complete negates the Abe strategy of countering opposition to and criticism of his revisionist political program by the giving to the U.S. Pentagon everything it desires, whether it be in terms of bases or a more activist and proactive Japanese military posture.

Rather than the well-discussed shibboleths (Yasukuni, comfort women) of Abe Shinzo and Friends, what seems set to trip up the Abe Revolution are the sources of its heretofore terrible strength: a jazzed-up economy and clingy allies in the Diet.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

On Hakamada's Survival

For I'm as free as a bird now
And this bird you cannot change
Oh, no I can't change.

- Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Free Bird" (1973)

Amid the flurry of articles about the freeing of Hakamada Iwao (Link) a key point is not being emphasized enough.

Hakamada is still alive.

The list of persons on death row not very long -- with Hakamada's release for retrial 131 men and women are in prison awaiting their hangings -- and Japanese Ministers of Justice are rarely squeamish about ordering executions. Tanigaki Sadakazu, the current minister, is reputed to be a soft-hearted soul. He has, however, signed eight death warrants since his appointment. Even Chiba Keiko, a death penalty opponent, ordered executions during her term in office. (Link)

Despite there being a very short list to choose from and pressure to press forward with executions, Hakamada's name never came up.

It's the dog that did not bark in the night.

A long time ago, probably long before the Supreme Court confirmed Hakamada's death sentence in 1980, Justice Ministry employees must have determined that their colleagues across the street at the National Police Agency had conned the prosecutors and the judges. Perhaps "Not Hakamada. He is innocent" was a part of the secret lore passed on by each Justice Minister to his or her successor.

However it happened, what could have happened did not happen.

So as we decry the injustice of an almost certainly innocent man spending more than half a lifetime on death row, let us remember that upon death row is where he stayed. Somehow for decades persons whose identities will remain a secret prevented his sentence from ever being carried out.

In a country where public support for the death penalty clocks in at around 80%, that is amazing...and encouraging.

Photo image: Umineko (Larus crassirostris) and yurikamome (Larus ridibundus) off of Ito City, Shizuoka Prefecture on 23 March 2014.
Photo image courtesy: MTC

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Pre-emptively, before I can even write a proper post about it, I would like to claim authorship of the name of a new social phenomenon -- some might call it a blight -- now making its appearance in this blessed land.

I call it "dumbwalking."

It is the glacial gait, with eyes and attention glued to the screen, of persons who are attempting to travel on foot while operating a smart phone.

Perhaps citizens of other lands where smart phones became items of mass consumption earlier than in Japan have their own words for it. If so I would love to hear about them.

One used to be able to make transfers through Tokyo, Shinjuku or Shibuya stations at a furious clip, with everyone else making minute adjustments to avoid collision with you. It would not be much -- a turn of an ankle, a slightly harder clutching to the breast of a package -- but everyone's mutual spatial awareness prevented impacts or blockages.

Now we have the dumbwalkers, meandering on their random, semi-catatonic, purblind courses amid the crowd. Blinded snails, they see neither where they are going nor the way anyone else is going.

"Smart phones make for dumb walks" I find myself saying over and over as each of these new technology-disabled pseudo-autistics impedes my forward, backward or anyward progress (yes, the aphorism is a modification of J.R.R Tokien's axiom in The Fellowship of the Ring of "Short cuts make for long delays" -- if ye be wanting to know).

With the ever greater use of smart phones and tablets, particularly by the more self-involved generations, I foresee a day -- and it will be soon -- when the famed Shibuya scramble crossing fails to clear.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fire On That Mountain

The Wall Street Journal's JapanRealTime blog has published a chart of corporate Japan's Mt. Fuji of retained earnings. It shows corporate Japan, after entering a downward trend on the socking away of cash, switching post-Lehman Brothers into a "bury me under a pile of gold" mode. (Link)

The chart show companies adding to their cash Mt. Fujis in the fourth quarter of 2012 and first quarter of 2013 much as they had in the previous three years. However, the sharp drop off of cash on hand (in 10,000 yen bills, the mass would weigh around 22,200 tons) after the March end of the fiscal year seen in 2010-11 becomes weaker in 2011-12. In 2012-2013, the drop off disappears entirely, with companies having having as much cash in their accounts in September as in March.

Looking at this mountain, it would not be out of place for Abe Shinzo to stand up before a gathering of the captains of industry and commerce to say, "After all I have done for you, this is how you say, 'Thank you'?"

A corporate sector so unwilling to invest in new equipment, seriously increase employee pay or distribute earnings to the shareholders deserves Abe Shinzo's disdain. It certainly does not deserve a reduction in the corporate income tax rate, which would generate even large stashes of earnings companies do not know how to use.

Until such time as the corporations start to seriously deplete their savings accounts, it will be difficult for Abenomics to be more than a damp squib. Noises about a cut in the corporate tax cut will also be just that, noises, made in order to retain the interest of foreign investors who, coming from economic systems where there is no tolerance for companies hoarding cash or, alternatively, generating no accounting profits (71% of Japan's companies paid no income tax in 2012), would otherwise look at investing in Japan as not just depressing, but insane.

Photo image: Tanigawadake on 27 June 2007
Photo courtesy: MTC

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Three Cartoons By Sato Masaaki On The Abe-Park Meeting

Tokyo Shimbun editorial cartoonist Sato Massaki is a national treasure. With the U.S.-Japan-South Korean trilateral meeting on the fringes of the nuclear security summit at The Hague, the first face-to-face meeting of any substance between the leaders of Japan and South Korea since Abe Shinzo became prime minister, only hours away, here are a trio of recent Sato cartoons on the fraught Abe-Park relationship.

[N.B. The sequence of cells within a cartoon is supposed to be read from the top right to the bottom left.]

"A Collection of Contemporary Disappeared Items"
Published: 18 March 2014

Click on Image To Enlarge

Relevant URLs:

"Japan's Beethoven Admits He Is A Fraud"

"Reliability of STAP cells 'breakthrough' questioned"

"For Abenomics, 'Third Arrow 'Is Hardest -- And Most Needed"

"Ending? Beginning?"
Published: 22 March 2014

Click on Image To Enlarge

Two hooks here. The seemingly eternal run of noontime variety show Waratte ii to mo ("It's OK to Laugh") comes to a close on April 1. Abe, in tribute to the show's longtime appeal and in order to counter his reputation of being a stiff, made the first and what will be last appearance by a sitting prime minister on the show on Friday. (Link)

The recurring bit in the show is to have the guest call up a "friend" on the telephone and invite that friend to appear on the show. The friend, after some banter, is supposed to agree with a cheery "that sounds good."

In reality, Prime Minister Abe called up superstar actor and musical performer Kimura Takuya, who did his part by replying cheerily in the affirmative. In Sato's cartoon world, Abe calls up President Park of South Korea. Her response to his invitation to appear is a grudging, scowling, shrugging resignation.

"We Want This To Be A Match Without An Audience”
Published 25 March 2014

Click on Image to Enlarge

The title reference is to the Urawa Reds - Shimizu S-Pulse match played to a stadium of empty seats in a league punishment for a fan group's display of a xenophobic banner. (Link)

However, the audience behind Madame Park that Mr. Abe and for the most part U.S. President Barack Obama want gone is composed of North Koren leader Kim Jong-un, a South Korean flag-waving President Xi Jinping of China and the comfort woman statue installed both in front of the Japan Embassy in Seoul and in a park in the California city of Glendale.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

On Some Kind Of Fishing Expedition

Shisaku will be on hiatus for a couple of weeks, undergoing a revamp.

In the interim I will continue live tweeting the significant moments of each day's most important Diet committee interpellations, as well as offering brief comments on and links to other developing stories at:

Monday, March 03, 2014

OK, Utamaro. Where've You Been?

In the news, the confirmation of the rediscovery of the so-called "lost third painting" by Edo master Kitagawa Utamaro, one of a famous set of three paintings and the only one, having been shipped overseas, to have returned to Japan. (Link)

"Snow in Fukagawa" disappeared after a department store exhibition on the Ginza in 1948. No color images of it existed.

Now they do. (Link)

The incredibly annoying question that the news media cannot/will not answer:

"Where in this blessed land has this massive work (199 cm x 341 cm) been hidden/misplaced for the last 66 years?

Where The Wind Blows

Michael Penn thinks out loud and clearly about the right of this spring. (Link)

As for the drop-dead fantastic photo image at the head of the piece, what matters Hitler to them, or them to Hitler?

Oh, in case you did not catch it, the donor of the 137 books on The Diary of Anne Frank to the Tokyo Central Library, to be distributed to the libraries which lost books to vandals, is one Sugihara Chiune. He lives, evidently -- staff at the Central Library got to speak with "Mr. Sugihara" on the telephone. Reports of his death in 1986 appear to have been exaggerated. (Link - J)

Unsurprsingly, there are now reports that among the 300+ copies of "Anne Frank's 'Diary' and related works" with pages ripped out are books primarily on Sugihara. Upsetting this is to folks in Gifu. (Link - J video)

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Being In The Right State Of Mind

I have been willing to suspend judgment. I have been willing to view Eien no Zero's box office appeal (Link) as merely being just another iteration of a once-in-decade phenomena, seen last with Otokotachi no Yamato (Link - video). I was willing to accept the 610,000 votes retired general Tamogami Toshio received in the Tokyo Metropolitan governor's race as the by-product of the Liberal Democratic Party's continuing inability to field a candidate for the post, a base level contempt for politics and a somnolent and therefore complicit press.

However, even I have to admit "This time it may be different" when the magazine display area at the entrance of the Book Express outlet at Ueno Station has literally front and center multiple stacked copies of paranoid revisionist drivel publication WiLL (Link) with cheerful handwritten signs extolling its virtues.

In Ueno Station, alongside all the panda junk!

A small plea: if anyone is passing by or through Ueno today, please grab photo imaages of the whole storefront and the display, as I was not in a position yesterday to stop and take the shots.