Thursday, July 31, 2014

By The Way, Okada Katsuya Is Still Dull

"I see you have brought a card with you, Mr. Okada. Please tell us about your card."

The Democratic Party of Japan, the once and possibly future alternative to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, will today be having a joint meeting of its members of both Houses of the Diet.

The party has some big issues to face - existential ones. (Link)

Though the agenda may have other items on it, there is really only one major topic of discussion: should the current party leader Kaieda Banri be forced to hold an early leadership election? A year ago, after the party's defeat in the House of Councillors election giving Abe Shinzo and his party control of both Houses, Kaieda asked to be given a year to turn party fortunes around. By any measure, he has failed to make even minor progress in that direction. The DPJ is the main opposition party again but only because its potential rivals - the Japan Restoration Party of Hashimoto Toru and Ishihara Shintaro and the Your Party of Watanabe Yoshimi -- have fissioned into ever more strangely-named pieces. Kaieda gained a slight boost from the victory of the anti-Liberal Democratic Party, former DPJ MP candidate Mikatsuki Taizo in the Shiga governor's race two weeks ago. However, in order to win that race Mikatsuki and his many DPJ helpmates pointedly avoiding mentioning the candidate's DPJ ties, worrying that association with the DPJ would torpedo his chances.

Sincere and learned, Kaieda has failed to inspire as a party leader. He has little aptitude in playing to the public's or the news media's expectations and foibles. He has also failed to chart the party a new ideological course, choosing instead to peddle the traditional DPJ solutions to Japan's problems -- as though the Global Financial Crisis and Abenomics had not reshuffled the world's and Japan's decks.

The problem with replacing Kaieda with someone else is...who is going to be that someone else? If the party is going to press him to go, it has to make a clear, clean break -- or else the exercise will look like what it is, a desperate attempt to generate interest in the party through a coup. Kaieda comes from the DPJ's liberal wing, so reasonably the pendulum must now swing the other way, with a new leader selected from out of the party's conservative wing.

Unfortunately, none of the handful of top conservative candidates for the party leadership -- Noda Yoshihiko, Maehara Seiji, Edano Yukio, Gemba Ko'ichiro, Azumi Jun and Okada Katsuya: a collectivity the Yomiuri Shimbun refers to "The Gang of Six" -- has significantly greater electoral appeal, intellectual flexibility or party support than Kaieda. Former prime minister Noda has the gravitas. He has not, however, shed the status of "Class A War Criminal" he earned throught his inexplicable calling of the House of Representatives election of December 2012. Maehara is derided as an LDP clone and is always reminded, when he makes noises about challenging the leadership, of a little incident involving a fake email. The younger or at least younger-seeming trio of Edano, Gemba and Azumi have failed, over Kaieda's year of trial, to create the impression they are more than just former ministers and power brokers of the DPJ's fat years.

This leaves Okada, the stolid and fabulously wealthy (Link) veteran who led the party to ignominious and overwhelming defeat in the 2005 summer snap House of Representatives. To be fair, Okada had the misfortune of being asked to outsmart and outmaneuver the greatest political wizard of the age, Koizumi Jun'ichiro. This Okada failed to do -- even though Koizumi, by expelling the postal reform rebels from the LDP and running candidates against them, was fighting the election on two fronts. Like a white Toyota Corolla, Okada was sensible and dependable and safety conscious and simply got blown off the road by the red Ferrari that is Koizumi.

Okada has been feisty and crisp, however, in recent appearances. He forcefully pinned down the prime minister, for example, in the debate over collective self defense (Link). He has for the past few weeks been making a lot of reasonable-sounding noises about the necessity for a change in the party leadership, creating the impression he has decided he should be Kaieda's replacement.

In something of a dress rehearsal for a leadership challenge, Okada appeared this last Saturday on Tahara So'ichiro BS (not what you think) program to debate the Cabinet Decision on collective self defense. His debate opponent was Watanabe Tsuneo -- not the all powerful Abe-supporting media emperor Watanabe Tsuneo, the Japan Foundation's quiet researcher Watanabe Tsuneo -- who is also the son of DPJ elder statesman and legendary quote machine Watanabe Kozo.

The bad news from Saturday's debate? Even against a friendly or at least neutral opponent (Watanabe has no political ambitions -- he refused to take over his father's seat in the Diet after his father retired) Okada could not debate the issues effectively. Time after time Okada would toss up a point only to sit morosely and watch Watanabe swat it back.

Losing a debate on a minor cable channel against a researcher would not be such a big deal. However, Okada's talking points were for the most part spot on correct. Watanabe's were, by contrast, largely non-sequiturs. If one cannot smash an avuncular BS (what you are thinking) spewing individual who feels no particular emnity toward you, then you are not ready for prime time.

Okada has got to be hoping his friends and allies were not watching on Saturday. From the Twitter feeds of DPJ types and unfortunately for Okada, it seems that they were.

So don't be surprised if the big development at the DPJ headquarters today is Kaieda surviving what should be a lethal general meeting. Kaieda is terrible...but his potential replacements are not much better. Instead of Kaieda offering himself up for the good of the party, it is party secretary-general Obata Akihiro who offing himself (Link - J) ostensibly to try to make amends for what a lousy leader Kaieda has been.

Okada Katsuya's being still dull opens the door a bit wider, however, for an eventual run for the top post by Hosono "Get Lucky" Goshi -- whom we know is anything but boring. (Link)

Later - The editors of the Mainichi Shimbun largely concur. (Link)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Live Blogging The Masuzoe Yo'ichi Press Conference

Preliminaries - smart move by Masuzoe - having his top assistant collecting name cards for a contact database. After the recent, almost searing contempt for the foreign journalist community by members of the Abe Cabinet, an endearing gesture of wanting to establish a continuing, fruitful partnership

14:00 Reading from a script in English - not bad for a Francophile and Francophone Japanese.

14:05 Extemporaneous joke on what used to be called MacArthur Street, now Shintora (from Shinbashi to Toranomon) -- since tora is "tiger" he wonders whether it makes Osaka's Hanshin Tigers fans happy. He asks journalists to please call the road Olympic Road or Paralympic Road. Unless one appreciates the level of envy Osaka feels for Tokyo and contempt Tokyo feels for Osaka, probably not very funny or even comprehensible.

14:10 Special programs for working women amidst the list of infrastructure projects - seems a zeitgeist box every politician has to tick off nowadays. For some reason I believe Masuzoe more than the PM on this subject, despite the efforts of the scandal media organizations to convince me that Masuzoe still holds on to odd ideas about women.

14:15 Uh-oh, talking about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles - seduction by technologies the central government and Toyota are pushing hard.

14:17 Strengthen WiFi networks - his visit to Seoul was highly instructive. Given how geolocation and enhanced reality are developing on smart phones, a foreign language information infrastructure will make Tokyo a more tourist friendly city.
(Clearly Masuzoe is up on existing infotech infrastructure and software).

14:21 Disaster preparedness - perhaps not sexy for the foreign media set, but a huge subject after the Kobe Earthquake, the March 2011 Triple Disaster and recent super storms.

14:24 Social welfare capital - like Tokyo is not such a place already. He talks about his experience from being Minister of Health, his commuting between Tokyo and Kyushu to oversee the care for his mother during her long fight with Alzheimer's and his raising children. (The mention of the last led some of my tablemates to roll their eyes).

Yes, Mr. Governor - but how to pay for more social welfare? This city is ageing fast too.

14:27 Defense of why he is doing diplomacy and the establishment on July 16 of a special office in the Tocho for advisors seconded from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Notes that it has been 18 years since a Tokyo governor visited Seoul - "Can you believe this? This is really abnormal."

He has visited Beijing and Seoul since he won election to his new job -- more than the nominally peripatetic Abe Shinzo has been able to do.


14:45 Does Tokyo have what it takes to be an Asian Financial Center? Especially since English language skills are a general requirement? Oooooh, that is a mean question. Masuzoe skirts the human resources implications of question by talking about how business forms can be submitted in English.

14:50 "I am checking the budget for the Olympics. A compact Olympics means in terms of budget too, not just the artificial 8 km radius for venues."

14:55 "I have no interest in being the mediator in between the national governments of East Asia."

"City to city talks are my interest. As regards difficult Japan history issues, academics should be separated from politics."

Later - The basic impressions one come away with are:

1) Experience and Erudition - Masuzoe can make cogent comparisons with other locales and offer the background to a decision

2) Aware of Priorities - when a Hokkaido Shimbun journalist tried to draw him into discussing the unification of the ownership of Tokyo's two metro systems, Masuzoe told the questioner that he Masuzoe had far too many more important things to do than tackle that thorny but basically irrelevant issue

One comes away with the sense one can trust what Masuzoe says. Well, except when he starts talking about improving social welfare services (shakai fukushi) without talking about costs.

Then again, every Japanese politician has to lie about social welfare services provision.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

That Real Wages Falling Means Abenomics Is Failing Thing

Two days ago the Financial Times published an exegesis upon the most recent Nihon Keizai Shimbun's public opinion poll -- the one that everyone is talking about (Link). Entitled "Shinzo Abe faces rising disenchantment in Japan" the Jonathan Soble article features the following graph:

Source: Financial Times

Now if I were an Abe government flack, rather than trying to ignore this graph or, when confronted with it, try to explain the fall in real wages away ("There will of course be a period of adjustment...but after a while we will see real wages rise again...") I would put the graph on the first page of every presentation on the future course of Japan's economic reforms. "Look," I would tell everyone, "the currency devaluation of Abenomics and consumption tax increase of Nodanomics, implemented in April --- see where the real wage curve suddenly falls like a stone off a cliff? --are doing exactly what they were expected to do. This is not a picture of Abenomics failing; this is picture of Abenomics and Nodanomics WORKING!"

"Now the executives of Japan's multinationals can bank their currency devaluation boosted profits, leading to consumption to fall off a cliff too -- or they can buckle down and start raising national incomes by either paying more to existing workers, hiring more workers, engage in some capital expenditure or distribute the profits among shareholders. So I say to you top executives of Japan's largest companines, I know that a lot of you top executives are timid, self-pitying and avaricious tyrants -- not all of you, mind you, but a lot of you -- who will do what is right for the company books but is wrong for the nation and its people. Hear me, your country needs you NOW!"

Abe Shinzo has indeed been engaging in this kind of "moral suasion" as the IMF put it in April (Link). He just needs to do it more, twisting the arms of his best corporate buddies until they scream out serious, inflation-indexed or more raises in wages. Would it not be impressive if, let us say, Akimoto Yasushi, one of Abe's closest advisors on "Cool Japan" promotion strategy (Link) were to announce a 3.6% raise in the wages of every member of the AKB48 empire? Because, let us face it, the Akimoto stable's corporate image is in need of a buffing right about now (Link). Or how about a similar increase in the wages of JR Central employees before Abe Best Friend Forever Kasai Yoshiyuki wipes out every bit of corporate wealth those employees have created in a farcical, sure-to-have-to-be-bailed-out bid to build an electricity-snarfling hyperspeed subway (86% below ground) from Tokyo to Nagoya? (Link)

Oh, yes. Prime Minister Abe could also push up the real wages curve by using his big ruling party majorities in both Houses of the Diet to pass legislation further increasing the wages paid to bureaucrats and other government employees, reversing decades of wage and benefit cuts. Poaching a few corporate hotshots and putting them to work on the nation's problems would further foster the impression that in this blessed land there is a competition for talent, one for which Japan corporate heads will have to start loosening the purse strings or face being blindsided by defection.

When At Length A Reader Writes

I would be in remiss not to post the result.

Reader Troy Yuen, via email, in response to my post Urban Harvest Tokyo of July 17:
In my neighborhood and surrounding area (Meguro--Shirokane) while there is a lack of FREE public green space, there is a lot of private greenery available. For example, 八芳園, 雅叙園, 自然教育園 (which is HUGE). But other areas seem to have minimal amounts greenery, public or private. Shibuya, Ebisu (I'm still wondering where is the "garden" in Ebisu Garden Place).

Fortunately, in the last 10 years there seems to be some attempt to increase the amount of green space in central Tokyo. Midtown built a big garden/park/pond in the back. I noticed that some of the buildings in Otemachi have built gardens on their roofs. Next to the new Otemori building there is a mini-forest including trees and a small stream.


Flowers in Jindaiji Botanical Garden, Chofu City, Tokyo Metropolitan District on July 20, 2014. Photo courtesy: MTC.


While sound in theory, the idea always rankled。Only one who does not live in the TMD would ever think of the micro-farms as wasted land. Without the farms, life in the great concrete metropolis would be far less livable. The central wards are woeful in the paucity of their area devoted to parks. Such public parks as exist are uninviting due to bad design, regulations and a love of bare dirt.


There is so little greenery in central Tokyo that some of the best hanami parties I've been to have been at cemeteries (青山墓地 and 染井墓地)!!

Not sure that the "love of bare dirt" is entirely accurate. There are many parks that have nothing but dirt and there seems to be no attempt to grow grass, but I think that a possible reason for that is the few public parks that exist are overused to the point where they've given up trying to grow grass.

There is a park in Shirokanedai with a fountain, minimal exercise equipment, no playground, just a few benches and open space. They are always trying to grow grass by making some areas of the park off limits to give the grass a chance to grow. But once the off limits area is reopened for public use it turns into dirt pretty quickly because of overuse. They've recently tried a new strategy by laying a green protective plastic net over most of the park to prevent the grass from being trampled to death while still allowing sunlight and water to pass through. It seems to work pretty well as the grass is thriving and growing through the net.

One complaint about Tokyo greenery that I do have that you didn’t mention is that there are very few public places in Tokyo where BBQs are allowed (none inside the Yamanote as far as I know). Even where they are allowed, for example Futakotamagawa, there are rules regarding noise, start/end times, etc.

Thank you Mr. Yuen, for your readership and your missive.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Prime Minister Abe Tries It Latin Style

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has arrived in Trinidad and Tobago (Link - J) for a two day visit (Link), a part of his 11 day summer smash tour of five Latin American and Caribbean countries (Link). Tomorrow, he will be meeting with 14 heads of state attending the CARICOM conference, adding a big chunk to his already impressive list of meetings with heads of states. He then heads on to stops in Colombia, Chile and Brazil.

While the first visit of a prime minister of Japan to Latin America in a decade -- yes, the last Japanese premier to survive in office long enough to make such a trip was Koizumi Jun'ichiro -- should be significant in its own right, the leisurely (for Abe Shinzo) jaunt is being treated as an echo of Xi Jinping's July 15-22 visit to the region. (Link).

To be brutal but fair, the Abe visit does pale beside the Xi tour. Xi came to the region as a collaborator in the establishment of a new world order (the BRICS summit in Brazil - Link), as a big time customer of a national champions (Link), as a banking hyperpower (Link) and as a potential savior of limping, pariah economies ( Link and Link). Abe comes as a supplicant (groveling for votes for a UN Security Council non-permanent seat, which permanent member China never has to do - Link), as a top salesman of Japanese goods and services (with 70 Japanese corporate executives in tow, including the head of the Nippon Keidanren Link - J), as a celebrant of his blood ties to better, bolder times in Japan's diplomatic history (Link - J) and as a guarantor that Japan is not dilly-dallying on the Trans Pacific Partnership. (Link)

Not an impressive comparison. Just in terms of striking business deals, a customer is usually far more welcome than a salesman.

However, Abe will come away from his long summer trip with his reputation for incessant activity intact. He has in 18 months in office made 23 trips abroad. Admittedly, 10 of those trips abroad were for international conferences. Still, he has touched down in at least 3 countries on a single trip 11 different times since he became premier in December 2012. By September he will set a new record for all postwar prime ministers in terms of number of foreign countries visited -- and this only from his current term, not counting the countries he visited his first 2006-07 term. (Link - J)

Maybe he should take on "The Blur" as a nickname...

Later - Clint Richards of The Diplomat delivers a more positive review of Abe's Latin Swing. (Link)

Later still - Peter Ford of The Christian Science Monitor talks to Japan-based experts regarding the Xi vs. Abe comparison, among them the prime minister's most important message sculptor. (Link)

As for the psychological underpinnings of the trip, The Japan Times offers a compilation article with yes, more Taniguchi. (Link)

Original image courtesy: Abe Shinzo official Facebook page.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Dancing Toward A Better Japan-South Korea Relationship

On the occasion of Tokyo Governor Masuzoe Yo'ichi's 40 minute summit meeting with President Park Ge-Hyun (keep in mind that until the Abe-Kuroda devaluation, Tokyo's economy was assessed to be bigger than Indonesia's - Link) a gratuitous embed of World Order's "Permanent Revolution" - where Sudo Genki and the boys posit their Japanese Ultra Everymen as the agents of an East Asian concord in such sharp contrast with the current, discouraging discord.

(In HD - so do click on the Full Screen button)
It has been a lousy several weeks and months for the human species - where we seem hellbent on spinning out ever farther from Sudo's definitely quirky (and deeply skeptical of the role and motives of the United States) appeal for hitotsu no sekai e.
Later - The concantenation of ironies of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's having to rely on freshly minted Governor Masuzoe, who had been Abe's nemesis during Abe's annus horribilis of 2007, in order to get the president of South Korea, a fellow U.S. ally, to talk to him, is not lost upon me.
Later still -For those who catch it -- in the scene shot in front of Seven & I Holdings's world headquarters, Sudo demonstrates he has issues with the Masons too.

Friday, July 25, 2014

From The Folks Who Gave You A World Cup In Qatar

I'm the Burning Bush
I'm the Burning Fire
I'm the Bleeding Volcano!

- Jagger & Richards, "She's So Cold" (1980)
Today is six years to the day of the proposed start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The shade temperature at the site of the new main Olympic Stadium is at this hour a balmy 36ºC (97ºF for you of the U.S.A. persuasion). The temperature in the waterfront areas, where many of the Olympic venues are to be concentrated, is a brisk 35ºC (95ºF).

I put to you the proposition that the date of the opening of the 2020 Olympics may need to be pushed into October -- as it was in 1964.

Later - More on the heat from the good folks at JapanRealTime. (Link)

Image courtesy: NHK News

Grim Exposition Of Fundamental Flaws in Abe's Abenomics

Loose monetary policy goes a long way toward liberating a country from economic torpor. However, monetary policy alone is insufficient for the whole journey. I have for a long while been railing that the Abe Cabinet has to get down to brass tacks and figure out ways to punish companies for hoarding their profits rather redistributing them to shareholders, converting them into higher pay for employees or deploying them in investments. (Link)

In a video that everyone should watch, Charles Dumas, the chief economist for Lombard Street Research, agrees. (Link - video)

That exports continued to underperform last month despite the effective devaluation of the yen (Link) only makes the Dumas presentation all the more damning.

Given that Abe 2.0: The Return of the Princeling was orchestrated by a select group of (often China hating) empire builders of the zaikai who crowd around Abe on the weekends, not letting others with their pesky opinions near their superannuated golden boy, the chances that the PM will be made aware of the changes necessary to save Abenomics, much less implement those changes, are very, very low.

Image: Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy meeting of 22 July 2014
Image courtesy: The Prime Minister's Residence

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

From The Places They Have Seen We Might Know Who They Are

This morning Prime Minister Abe Shinzo paid a visit to the Tomioka Silk Works, Japan's first Western-style silk production facility, recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. He paid tribute to the citizens' groups which had cared for the site through its many decades of sleepy neglect and who spearheaded the drive to have the site designated a part of the world's heritage (Link). The prime minister also showed his appreciation for the women whose labors inside Tomioka and Japan's other giant silk mills produced the export yen that helped pay for the national strengthening policies of the Meiji Era.

Local community efforts, women working with the nation reaping benefits, international recognition - all great political messages to latch onto and integrate in the prime minister's Abenomics master narrative.(Link - J video)

However, in the "recognition for the previously under-recognized" travel league, the prime minister got trounced this week by their Imperial Majesties.

Yesterday the Emperor and the Empress finished a forty six year long project of national contrition and inclusiveness. They visited the Tohoku Shinseien, a former leprosarium, fulfilling a promise made in 1968 to visit all the former incarceration sites for sufferers of Hansen's Disease. (Link - J video)

Japan's leprosariums, where education and care was minimal, stayed in operation decades after other countries had ceased to isolate their Hansen's disease sufferers. It was not until 1996 that the draconian Leprosy Control Act was repealed. It took a 2001 unconstitutionality ruling by the Supreme Court (a rarity) to open the door for the Koizumi Cabinet to apologize for successive Japanese governments's violations of the patients's civil and human rights. (Link)

Their Highnesses's travel itineraries do not shirk revisiting the dark sides of the country's history. In May they visited the areas affected by Ashio Copper Poisoning Disaster, indicating that his Highness was not entirely displeased by House of Councillors member Yamamoto Taro's clumsy reinactment of the Tanaka Shozo Appeal last year -- and that their Highnesses are keeping their eyes on the government's fumbling at Fukushima Daiichi. In June their Highnesses paid their respects at the location of the wreck of the wartime evacuation ship Tsushima Maru, sunk by a U.S. submarine in August 1944 with loss of 1418 persons, most of them children. (Link - J)

It is hard not to love the Emperor and Empress for their efforts, at their advanced ages, to promote a full and complete reckoning of the nation's history.

Which suggests an intriguing idea. If Abe Shinzo's views of history make him unsuitable to meet or invite to China or South Korea, how about inviting their Imperial Majesties instead? By inviting them one proves that one's problems are with the policies of the Japanese government, not the Japanese people. One also gives oneself a wonderful chance to get off the merry-go-round of hatred and suspicion the region finds itself on.

Images courtesies: NHK News

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Nihon Keizai Shimbun Sees The Signs Too

I do not read the Nihon Keizai Shimbun's editorials as often as I should. I am glad though, that I read the editorial the paper published on July 15 on the results of the gubernatorial election for Shiga Prefecture. I am clearly not alone in seeing an emerging recidivism in Abe's and the Liberal Democratic Party's rhetoric-- like the plan to revive the economies of declining prefectures by making it easier for for small- and medium-sized businesses to win government procurement orders (I am not making this up - Link).

Abe Shinzo's party seems to be veering from its professed course of revolutionary rectitude to instead head down LDP Memory Lane -- the bramble-covered track of scrounging for rural votes and wasting everyone's time on head-in-the-sand pet security projects. You know, the things that used to make everyone to hate the Liberal Democratic Party and Abe Shinzo, only probably more so this second time around:

It has been exactly one year since the end of the so-called "Twisted Diet" of two opposing parties, one controlling the House of Representatives and the other the House of Councillors. What has come about was an easy-to-understand failure coming at a time when the gradual trend seems to be the reappearance of the LDP of old. It would be good [for the party members] to remember their zeal during their time in opposition.

The paper goes on to warn that if the Abe Cabinet, after Abe names his new State Minister for Rural Revitalization in the presumed September cabinet reshuffle, goes on to promote shallow reforms with a target of capturing local votes, then it should not expect its weakened support ratings (Link) to start climbing any time soon.

A warning worth listening to, when it comes from the editors of Japan's top business news daily, the voice, they say, of the Establishment.

Image: "The Prime Minister Receives a Courtesy Call from Members of a PR Campaign for Yamanashi Fruits"
Image courtesy: The Prime Minister's Residence

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Positive Lessons For The Opposition From The Shiga Governor's Race

"Wanna race?"

Over at Izakaya Politics, Stephen Stapczynski has published a credible analysis of the outcome of the Shiga gubernatorial election. (Link)

I cannot disagree with Stapczynski's broad point that whatever the nation's dailies and talking heads are saying, there is little reason to believe the Abe government's recent decision to reinterpret the Constitution so as to allow the exercise of the right of collective self-defense (CSD) strongly impacted the outcome in Shiga. While there is evidence the CSD decision affected the outcome by somewhat suppressing the New Komeito vote for the ruling alliance candidate (Link), talking about the possible effect of CSD detracts attention from the real valence issue in Shiga: nuclear power plant restarts -- from which Shiga Prefecture would enjoy relatively few benefits and accrue a significant amount of risk. Indeed, it is telling that Abe Shinzo and other LDP bigwigs, who have reason to blow smoke in people's eyes, have been among the most prominent purveyors of the narrative that the CSD decision affected the Shiga outcome. (Link - J)

Stapczynski's conclusion is not unreasonable:
"Abe's shift in security policy will have a broader (yet minimal) impact on his national approval rating, but nuclear energy was the key issue in the Shiga gubernatorial elections, not CSD. The LDP is still the king of the land, and I suspect that future local elections will go in their favor. And with no organized or popular opposition party in sight (Mikazuki ran as an independent), Abe really doesn’t have anything to worry about."
Nevertheless, there are aspects of the Shiga election Stapczynski does not mention which do have significant implications for revival of the fortunes of Japan's political opposition.

1) You Can Do This

After getting trounced by the LDP-New Komeito alliance in election after election since the ill-designed House of Representatives contest of December 2012, Japan's riberaru ("liberal" very much in the American sense of the word) politicians managed in Shiga to hang on in one of their strongholds. That they were able to do so at a time when the national polls show the liberal parties in total winning the loyalties of only 10% of the voters -- the LDP alone has the allegiance of 40% -- just hanging on is a major achievement.

2) The Communists Don't Enter Into It

All during the post-war era, the Japan Communist Party has served as a facilitator of LDP dominance. By insisting on running candidates in almost every race, the JCP has traditionally drained off around 10-15% of anti-LDP votes, making it difficult for moderate anti-LDP candidates to compete.

The big question for many has been whether moderate opposition is so down at present it has no choice but to forge an electoral alliance with the Communists, fielding joint candidates in order to capture that otherwise lost 10%-15%.

The Shiga result indicates that the answer to the question is "No, the opposition does not need to accommodate the Communists, a move that could destroy it, in order to beat the LDP" -- though the nuclear restart issue clouds the conclusion.

3) Make Them Happy To Vote Again

This is the big one.

Turnout for the Shiga election was 50.15%. This seems a dramatic decline from the number in 2010, when 61.56% of the voters showed up. However, the 2010 contest was held in concert with a House of Councillors election, artificially goosing the numbers in the gubernatorial race.

The true comparative is the 2006 election, when Kada Yukiko won her first term in office. The figure then was 44.94%, 5.21 percentage points fewer than in last Sunday's contest.

So what?

Here's what: the margin of victory for the former DPJ MP Mikazuki was just 13,076 votes, less than 2.4% of the total votes cast. Exit polls indicate that some of that margin of difference came from disaffected New Komeito voters, a surprising 24% of whom disobeyed the party directive to vote for the LDP's Koyari.

The vast majority of votes that made a difference, however, came from the ranks of the non-aligned vote, which according to recent polls, is 42.5% of the electorate (Link - J). Non-aligned voters broke for the anti-nuclear Mikazuki two-to-one, overwhelming the machine LDP vote (73% of self-proclaimed LDP voters chose Koyari).

The exit polls indeed indicated that while the nuclear restarts issue was crucial on the margin, it was not fundamental to the voting patterns of the voters. Only 10.3% of the voters called nuclear power the most important issue at hand. Far more named economic growth and employment (28.4%) and social welfare (19.3%) the key issues of the election. For those thinking the economy and employment the key issues, 63.1% voted for the LDP's Koyari.

So the takeaway from the election results for the opposition, particularly the moribund DPJ, are:

- keep the nuclear power phaseout plans worked out under the Kan Naoto and Noda Yoshihiko administrations - it helps at the margin

- ditch the constrictive Koizumi/DPJ economic policies of a decade ago. They made some sense in the fat times of the early part of the Zero Years. After the Global Recession of 2008-Present, they make zero sense. Be big time Abenomics boosters instead, but offer an alternative "Abenomics with a brain attached"

- snipe at Abe Shinzo and the LDP higher ups for their omniscient, dictatorial attitudes, even as newspaper editorialists tell you not to -- because doing so keeps the New Komeito leadership nervous about appearing to be the pushovers they are


The Second Abe Era began with 10 million voters not showing up at the polls in December 2012, turning a DPJ defeat into a runaway LDP victory -- in an election where there was were non-DPJ, anti-LDP alternatives for whom moderates could vote (and vote they did, for the Japan Restoration Party, which captured 12 million votes to the DPJ's 8 million). The message out of Shiga to the opposition is "Get the disaffected voters interested in voting -- not necessarily voting for you, specifically, just voting at all -- and the LDP can lose, just like it did before 2012."

Voter turnout. Voter turnout. Voter turnout.

Get it up and you are in this game again.

Later - The Economist has published a solid presentation of the more standard view, with the graph everyone has to keep in mind when thinking about Abe Shinzo -- and the advance warning the Fukushima and Okinawa gubernatorial elections are not likely to polish the image of Abe as LDP leader. As noted above, that members of Team Abe use the Cabinet Decision on CSD as an explanation for the Shiga results invites caution. (Link)

Image courtesy: Abe Shinzo official Facebook page.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Correction - Richard Katz Response To “Urban Harvest Tokyo”

In my post yesterday, I stated Richard Katz wants the micro farms inside Japanese cities abolished. I wrote off the top of my head and did not confirm with Mr. Katz his actual position.

This is his actual position, taken from an email to me:

I never said that these tiny farms should be abolished. What I said was that the property taxes on farmland, particularly urban farmland, should be the same as those on other land, and that the assessments for tax purposes should be the same. What I suspect is that many of these would no longer be commercially viable without the tax break and would go out of business. If so, the farmers should be allowed to sell their land to agribusiness or even nonfarm uses.

I have as much appreciation for nature and fresh garden vegetables as the next guy, but I don’t see why the rest of taxpayers should subsidize the old farmer in your neighborhood or your food budget. If you want him to survive, pay him the price it takes to cover his costs, without getting help from other taxpayers. When I left the speech at Temple University where you heard my comments, one man came up to me and told me that, on weekends, he went out to the nearby countryside to do gardening on land owned by someone else who had become too old to use it. It was his hobby. His hobby is subsidized by other taxpayers. My dad had a vegetable garden in our backyard every year, as did many people in my small town. But none of them required the rest of the taxpayers in the town and state to subsidize his hobby.

What I also said was that, all over Japan, land use laws that make it difficult for farmers to sell their land for nonfarm purposes. They should be abolished. That way, farmers who survive only because of huge subsidies, and most of whom are part-timers anyway, could make some money by selling their land for other purposes, if they chose. As of 2010--the latest figures I have readily at hand—the ratio of abandoned farmland as of 2010 stood at 14% IN URBAN AREAS, 6% in flat farming areas, 14% in hilly farming areas, and 16% in mountainous farming areas. All of these figures are about double their levels in 1995 and will only increase as farmers age and pass away. Land that could be used for better purposes lies useless.

How does it benefit anyone to have 14% of urban farmland lying around useless, even with the tax breaks. One wonders how much would be abandoned without the tax breaks.

My apologies to Rick Katz for misrepresenting his position.

Image: Man hoeing marginal urban farmland plot. Setagaya City, Tokyo Metropolitan District on July 18. 2014.
Image courtesy: MTC

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Live Blogging A Tanigaki Sadakazu Press Conference

Four minutes before the hour - Lugubrious, sardonic thought: "What's the difference between Japan's dovish Minister of Law and its hawkish Minister of Defense? The dovish minister gives out orders to kill people and they get carried out."

15:00 Tanigaki comes in, bowing and smiling, not wearing his trademark glasses, without tie.

15:05 He wants to talk about immigration regulations, reform in corporate law and what the Law Ministry is doing to facilitate the recovery of the tsunami, earthquake and nuclear meltdown affected areas of Northeast Japan.

Aside from substantial changes to immigration procedures, if he ends up talking about such, not much in Tanigaki's opening remarks for non-Japanese journalists to chew on.

15:10 Ten minutes in and Minister Tanigaki is still talking about minor changes to immigration control ("We now have automatic gates at Immigration!" Signs are that the good minister is eating up the clock with a drone of facts like Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide did last week (Link)

15:15 Still talking about immigration procedure reform. Leaves me wondering whether the first, annoyed questioner will ask about Japan's death penalty or the arrest of women who distributed data allowing a a 3-D printer to reproduced with a 3-D printer a perfect 3-D copy of her genitalia (Link). Am rooting for the genitalia option.

15:20 Substance makes a sudden appearance: Tanigaki condemns the abusive employters of foreign technical training visa holders - a system that has been compared to bonded labor.

15:25 Why is a Law Minister talking about corporate governance? Is this not a mission for the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry?

15:33 It is official; Minister Tanigaki is just burying foreign journalists under unprintable dreck.

I am not sure he knows why he is here, unless it is to whip the attendees into a vengeful anger.

15:45 First question is on...Abenomics. Uh, Tanigaki was Finance Minister in the...Koizumi Cabinet.

15:48 Second question is on legislation against hate speech, from a Singapore journalist. Is she asking about insults to the Lee Family? They seem to handle such speech in a most...liberal-minded way.

15:50 Four minute answer -- someone send a bouquet to the poor translator.

15:53 Ah, an appeal to his vanity as regards his knowledge of China. Carried away his love of traditional Chinese high culture, he is talking way outside his remit. Oh Mr. Minister...

15:55 Thank you Richard! "What do you feel when you sign the death warrants...?"

16:07 The conference is winding up. Tanigaki is still talking but folks are heading out.

The big takeaway - the Minister of Law wants greater protection for the low-paid workers brought in through the technical training visa program. He admits these visa holders have been abused by unscrupulous employers.


Image: Minister of Law Tanigaki Sadakazu at the FCCJ
Image courtesy: MTC

Urban Harvest Tokyo

I live in one of the 23 inner wards of the Tokyo Metropolitan District. The density of population in my area exceeds 15,000 persons per square kilometer. Nevertheless, since I live sufficient far away from the nearest railway stations there are still operating micro-farms next to my building.

At this time of year the old man who tills, sows and weeds the plots directly in front of where I live sets out the vegetables he has harvested three times a week. Most of the vegetables are purchased immediately by a crowd that gathers in front of the man's driveway in the morning. The remainder the old man leaves in a wooden shelter just off the street. Passersby pack up what they want and leave their payment in a small wooden box on shelter's left hand side.

The photo above is my morning's purchase from the old man's tiny field. Everyone says the sweet corn is divine.

Richard Katz, with whom I correspond on occasion, used to and may still have a bee in his bonnet about the farmland still dotting Japan's urban cores. For Katz, these tiny farms rob cities and the country of potential growth. Abolish them, and folks build could build big houses and apartment on the suddenly more plentiful supply of urban housing land. All Japan would benefit from the burst of consumption.

While sound in theory, the idea always rankled。Only one who does not live in the TMD would ever think of the micro-farms as wasted land. Without the farms, life in the great concrete metropolis would be far less livable. The central wards are woeful in the paucity of their area devoted to parks. Such public parks as exist are uninviting due to bad design, regulations and a love of bare dirt.

The urban farms, by contrast, are green oases -- and not just for the humans. The plots in front of my building provide shelter and food to loyal pairs of roly-poly kijibato (Streptopilia orientalis), raucous and handsome gangs of onaga (Cyanopica cyana) and flocks of mukudori (Sturnus cineraceus). The your-can't-help-but-love-them invasive pest honsei inko (Psittacula krameri) feed on the flowering tree buds. I even saw a bull-headed shrike (mozu - Lanius bucephalus) last week. It was studying the field from a perch on an electrical wire, searching the rows for prey.

When the rains come and night falls fat hikigaeru (Bufo japonicus) claw out of their holes and march on webbed feet in search worms and mates. After the rain stops, bats swoop overhead, catching flying insects on the wing.

Where would all these fellow Earth travelers have to live, if the farms were to go?

The last operating grape arbor in the ward was torn out two years ago and replaced with homes. Only two apple orchards still operate. I look forward to visiting them in the fall. But for how many more autumns will they open their gates?

Eliminating the economic inefficiency sounds excellent. Possibly increasing the size of homes sounds great. However, the actual costs to society imposed by these little fields seem trivial as compared to the benefits being enjoyed by all.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Minute With The Minister In The Garden

On Monday at the Quatorze Juillet reception at the French Embassy I had a remarkable chance to speak one-on-one with a member of the Cabinet, Minister A. After an exchange of name cards and my brief self-introduction, I asked him a simple question: on a scale of 1-100, how would he rate the performance of the Abe Cabinet? His response was that it should receive a score above 90%, first for its ability to execute on its program, second for Mr. Abe's identifying from the outset Japan's need to exit from deflation. A prime minister's committing himself to ending inflation was a key achievement in and of itself, and Mr. Abe deserves credit for his identification of the problem. All indications are, the Minister continued, that the policies initiated by Mr. Abe's commitment to exiting deflation are taking effect.

What was striking in my conversation with the minister, aside from his extreme kindness in offering his opinion to lowly me, was his expression of the Abe government's commitment to the idea of exiting deflation as a goal without his ever mentioning the target rate.

I have been wondering about the government's actual stance on the goal of an exit from deflation. Richard Katz has mocked the idea of targeting an inflation rate, likening it to trying to cure a fever by putting ice on a thermometer (Link). Katz's love of his metaphor, and it is a good one, possibly leads him away from understanding the Abe's government's true goal. My sense of is that the stated figure of 2% annual CPI is more of a placemark -- a stand-in for a more iterative and elusive figure where the Japanese economy is on a self-sustaining growth path in spite of chronic deflationary pressures.

It may be that the Abe program, at least on the monetary side, is Shirakawa defeatism turned on its head and hidden under a faux Taylor rule cloak. Former Bank of Japan Governor Shirakawa Masaaki's feeling that there is no way to generate 2% inflation may be correct -- but the fact that the task of hitting 2% inflation is impossible is the reason why you try to do it. If you cannot -- cannot -- fight deflation through monetary means, where is the downside from trying anyway? Sure, you will have to come up with some cover story about the reasons why you are not hitting the target rate at the predicted time. However if GDP and wage growth have ignited in the meantime, who is really going to care?

Paul Krugman back in the mid-1990s was advocating that the Bank of Japan pull Japan out of its rut though a commitment to unlimited irresponsibility -- that the BOJ promise to do anything to pull the economy from out of the liquidity trap. Promising to be irresponsible with the nation's money is a tough sell in any democratic state, which is probably why the idea never caught on.

However, a government committing oneself to an impossible-to-achieve goal does not sound half as crazy as unlimited irresponsibility, even though it is effectively is the same thing.

So come next year on the 14th, if I meet the minister (he may not be a minister at that time, we shall see what happens in September) again under the tent in the garden, and the CPI inflation rate is not at 2%, and if he again grants me a minute of his time, I will ask him what score he would give, on a scale from 1-100, for the Abe administration's fight against deflation.

The Two New Ministers For Mr. Abe

On Friday Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, on an official visit to Papua New Guinea, told accompanying reporters of his plan to name a State Minister for Regional Revitalization (chiho soseiso). This comes in addition to his previously voiced intent to appoint a special minister in charge of shepherding the raft of legislation needed to realize the Abe Cabinet's decision to declare the heretofore unconstitutional exercise of the right of collective self-defense constitutional. (Link)

Appointing a minister in charge of revitalizing the regions seems like overkill, seeing as how the function of most of the district members of the Diet has been the extraction of revenues and contracts from the government (i.e., from the taxes on the surpluses created by the densely populated urban prefectures) for redeployment to the areas in chronic, decades-long demographic and economic decline. The slow recovery of housing and businesses in the annihilated areas of the Tohoku has been largely due to politicians being unable to honestly answer the question, "What is the point of resurrecting communities that were dying well prior to the waves washing everything away?" -- because to do so would generate the follow-up, "And how does that make the Tohoku different from so many other areas in Japan?@

Despite the existing, institutionalized transfers of wealth from the the haves to the shouldn't bes, the government feels it needs to at least seem to care about the decay in the parasite prefectures. In large part this is due to commentariat being in a frenzy over the so-called Masuda Report, published by the former Minister of Internal Affairs Masuda Hiroya (Link - J) and his Nippon Sosei Kaigi ("Japan Rebirth Society," bizarrely translated as the "Japan Policy Council"). The Masuda Report claims that the depopulation of the rural areas, heretofore seen as debilitating, will indeed be calamitous. According the projections in the report, hundreds of currently struggling municipalities collapsing by 2040. The key to the new, more alarming projections is the accelerated movement by women of childbearing age to urban areas, both robbing the rural communities of their "baby-making machines" (a phrase for which Yanagisawa Hakuo was too blithely criticized, given that he was speaking metaphorically) and moving them to prefectures where live-births-per-woman are hover at or around one.

Today's 7:00 a.m. NHK newscast, for example, had a conference on the Masuda Report as its main story, this two months after the Report came out.

The other reasons why the PM, the LDP and the New Komeito are worying about appearing to neglect the nation's non-urban areas are the 2015 unified local elections. These elections, no longer unified due to the LDP's self-serving neglect of the county's laws on terms-in-office, will be taking place in April of next year. Though the outcomes are mostly determined by local issues and local patronage networks, the unified local elections will nevertheless be viewed as referenda upon the Cabinet and the ruling coalition. With the Cabinet's poll ratings in decline due to the Abe entourage's poor management on of the public relations push for key reforms to Japan's security and economic structures, local members of the LDP and the New Komeito must be expressing some concern, if not outright impatience, with the national branches of the ruling parties. With Abenomics not having, nor likely to have, any visible impact on the non-urban areas except higher taxes and fees, the local LDP bigwigs are probably issuing ultimata on the order of "Give us something and someone to talk about or we are dead meat in April next year."

The creation of two new ministerial positions will have downsides. The Abe government has heretofore said it will not increase the number of ministerial positions, currently tacked at 22. Adding two new jobs, none of which overlap with the main job descriptions of the current Cabinet, means that some pet LDP causes will have to be abandoned. The need for technically adept and savvy folks in the two posts means that there will be only two fewer Cabinet positions to the political riff-raff the factions will try to foist on Abe and his advisors. The rural revitalization position will come into being without staff members to guide the political and economic adjustments necessary. Rather, it will seem as if the minister will be left on his/her own, wandering the hall of Kasumigaseki looking for underemployed ministry bureaucrats willing to sacrifice a portion of their careers and cleverness to a lost cause without guide stars.

Who also will Prime Minister Abe pick to fill these two new positions? One hears talk of Abe confidants wanting LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru to take the security legislation portfolio. He has the requisite gravitas and knowledge of security affairs. One also hears of Ishiba allies and loyalists screaming that Ishiba will never (and should never) accept a mere State Minister's posting -- especially one where the office holder will likely become the most hated person in Japan.

As for the rural revitalization position, who would want to be shackled to and issue which all the Emperor's horsemen and the all the Emperor's men have failed to remediate, despite forty years of trying? Masuda, himself, maybe. However, his having served as the General Affairs minister in a Democratic Party of Japan-led Cabinet probably makes him ineligble.

LDP Vice-President Komura Masahiko, the architect so-to-speak of the government's rationalization of the approval of the exercise of the right of collective self-defense, is the most likely appointee, this despite his having served in the exalted post of Minister of Foreign Affairs. Another possibility is a hard power respecting Democrat like Maehara Seiji or Nakashima Akihisa whose service in an LDP-led Cabinet would both give the process the sheen of bi-partisanship and terminate their association with the DPJ.

Of course, deciding after the fact that one needs special ministers to take care of issues you had not really thought through before coming to a conclusion on an issue is not a sign of seriousness. Instead, it sends the message that you are making things up on the fly,

Friday, July 11, 2014

Live Blogging, Or Something, Suga Yoshihide's Press Conference

Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide at the Foreign Correspondents's Club of Japan. Chiyoda City, Tokyo Metropolitan District on July 11, 2014.

14:15 Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga reciting strings of statistics, with almost no interpretation or explanation in between. Note to self: it is very hard to argue against facts, even if they are cherry-picked facts.

14:25 More facts: "We are increasing the number of flight paths leading into Narita Airport..."

14:30 Sugar coating the establishment of a loyal, fearful upper level bureaucracy through the now politician-controlled Personnel Agency - "We have established a structure that will encourage bureaucrats to work for the nation."

14:35 Moderator David McNeill's "easy" question - "Why did the Abe Cabinet choose reinterpretation rather than revision?" Suga babbles on and on in response about protecting the country, the new elements of security and the exercise of self defense to the minimum extent possible.

14:40 Given a second chance to answer the question on whether the government should pay attention to public opinion polls, the short answer is, "Since we are already certain we are not acting outside the bounds of the Constitution, no."

14:50 Suga claims that he and Prime Minister Abe have the greatest understanding possible of the DPRK abduction issue, which makes them the best persons to be in charge of the process of negotiations with the DPRK.

Humility? Who needs it?

16:05 Pia Emilio reminds Suga that in Italy, when Prime Minister Berlusconi trumpeted his government's becoming the longest-lasting in the post-war era, the Berlusconi government fell only days later. Suga laughs for the first and ultimately only time.

16:10 Press conference ends. Applause pretty limp for a man who is is Abe Shinzo's right hand, his left arm, his head and his trunk. Must have been due to his overlong fact dump at the outset.

Very Kind Of Them #21, #22 and #23

I have been in remiss in thanking those who have mentioned me in print or on the radio.

Dr. Noah Smith of Stonybrook, with whom I have bitter collisions on Twitter, was kind enough to note this humble site in an essay for Bloomberg published one month ago;

Click - "Japan's Abe Is the World's Best Leader"

I am not quite as enthusiastic about Abe Shinzo his plans as Dr. Smith. Still we both agree he is a whirl of activity in a sea of turgid counterparts.

The Economist, a publication that has been exceedingly kind to me in the past, mentioned me as a rare fan of the Third Arrow reform announcement of last month:

Click - "The battle for Japan"

My caveat to my quote is similar: all is relative. As compared to what other governments are proposing to do, most of which is a fat load of nothing, Abe's "thousand needles" reform proposals look grand.

On the concept Jesper Koll espouses -- that the most recent bundle of 240+ proposals is like a venture capital portfolio; some policy changes bad, most washouts, a few really great -- a worry. If this throwing darts at a dartboard mentality inhabits the minds of those running the reform program, then they need to have explained to them the difference between a venture capital fund, which is taking investment and trying to forge it into a businesses, and government, which is taking revenues extracted forcibly and using them to try to build a safety net for the taxpayers.

Only those who have a plane tickets and a passports out of a country, in case things go haywire, should ever be considered an act of government just one slice of a portfolio investment.

Finally, and this is a surprise, Alex Marshall of the BBC sends an audio letter from Tokyo based upon my heretofore-decidedly-unsuccessful neologism "dumbwalking" (in Japanese, sumafo aruki):

Click - "Dumb Walking in Japan"

With the pleathora of warnings now appearing on the subways about the many ways smart phones make you a dumb walker, the proliferating letters to the editors of newspapers about the phenomenon and the news networks now compiling "death by smart phone" statistics (currently overshadowed by the national panic over traffic accidents caused by folks high on so-called "extra-legal herbs" - dappo haabu - Link J) I can hardly claim title to the individual most uptight about the consequences of the 100% rise in the use of smart phones in the last 18 months.

Image: Ring Tailed Lemurs (Lemur catta) at the Food and Agriculture Museum, Setagaya City, Tokyo Metropolitan District.

Lemurs? At the Ag Museum?

Yep. Probably more lemurs than even in the Aye-Aye Forest at Ueno Zoo. (Link - J video)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Even If This Is The Only Halfway Intelligent Thing I Say Today It Will Still Be A Good Day

Advocates for changes in the status quo in Japan tend to presume a personal knowledge of what is real and normal.

Not all of them. But most of them.

Later - In The Japan Times, Colin P. A. Jones of Doshisha University explains how twisted "normal" can be. (Link)

Image: Poppy field in Showa Kinen Park. Tachikawa City, Tokyo Metropolitan District on June 14, 2014.
Image courtesy: MTC

Japan As Asia's Plutonium Superpower

It was not until I read Jeffrey Lewis's wonderful (as always) trip down a side road of China's nuclear weapons programs (Link) that I understood there could be more to China's hopping up and down about Japan's possession of plutonium, both in weapons and reactor grades (Link)
than just spiteful, hypocritical mendacity.

Not a small part, if not indeed the majority, of China's griping could be out of simple envy.

In terms of separated plutonium, Japan is the superpower in Asia. Big, bad China, by contrast, is the minnow. (Link)

That Japan has done nothing with its plutonium except burn it in its civilian nuclear power reactors in MOX form seemingly (likely) does not affect Chinese sentiments on the issue.

Later - Up-to-date comparisons of fissile materials held by various countries. (Link)

Original image of Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant courtesy NBC News.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Fuji Sankei Sort Of Joins The Crowd On Collective Security

After the Yomiuri Shimbun pollsters stopped asking a triple option question regarding Japan's participation in collective self defense (CSD), replacing the previous options of

- Yes, Japan should do so fully
- Yes, Japan should, but only to the minimum extent possible, and
- No, Japan should not

with a straightforward Yes-or-No, the Fuji Sankei Group (Fuji Terebi and the Sankei Shimbun) became the last media organization still giving those wishing to not appear virulently selfish a false option of an undefined, vanishing responsibility to come to the defense of others.

Over the weekend, the Fuji Sankei Group came in from the cold, sort of, having its pollsters ask the one CSD question in a binary way.

The Abe Cabinet has reinterpreted the Constitution, delivering a Cabinet Decision approving the exercise of the right of collective self defense in a limited way. What do you think of this?

Approve 34%

Oppose 59%

Don't Know/Don't Care 7%

This looks a lot like the results found by all the other news organizations, with greater than 50% of the voters disapproving of the Abe Cabinet's actions as regards CSD.

However, the Fuji Sankei poll fails to disambiguate whether the voters are expressing displeasure with

a) the decision to approve CSD or

b) the Abe Cabinet's approval through the constitutionally suspect method of reinterpretation.

Other polling organizations have been separating the the two issues. They have generally found greater than 60% of those polled angry with the method while a smaller majority are upset with Japan's taking up the exercise of the CSD right.

While Fuji's fluffing (or fudging) of the question keeps Abe government opponents from claiming that "every poll shows the majority of the voters opposed to CSD," the general conclusion is clear: the Abe Cabinet or the CSD debate troika (in Mikuriya Takashi's conception) of Abe Shinzo, Komura Masahiko and Ishiba Shigeru have failed to make the case for the government's most radical effort to alter Japan's security architecture. Not event the Yomiuri's and the Sankei's sympathies with Abe's program could engineer a massaging of the polling results into even weak support for the government's actions.

So yes, Abe and Friends won the fight over Japan's exercise of the right of collective self defense -- but alienating a majority of voters in the process.

When, if ever, an opposition party works out a political program incepting the better parts of Abenomics, adding some truly sincere and mathed-up structural reform proposals, together with a greater respect for the intelligence of the average voter, that party could give the LDP some serious competition at the ballot box.

Friday, July 04, 2014

And The Horse You Came In On

If the government of Abe Shinzo thought that the protracted and painful argument with the New Komeito over the phrasing of the July 1 announcement of a reinterpretation of the Constitution allowing for the exercise of the right of collective self-defense was going to impress the voters, then the government probably received a nasty shock from pages 1, 4 and 10 of today's Yomiuri Shimbun. The Yomiuri, whose coverage of all things Abe has been sycophantic, could not sugarcoat the startling results of its most recent (July 2-3) public opinion poll.

First were the raw Cabinet support numbers showing a sharp shift since the last (May30-June 1) poll:

Do you support the Abe Cabinet? (1 June 2014 figure)

Support 48% (57%)

Do not support 40$ (31%)

The 48% is a new low in approval for the Abe Cabinet (in April 2013 support was at 74%!) and 40% is a new high in disapproval.

A majority of the voters still have confidence in Abe's economic program: 49% say they appreciate (hyoka) it, only a slight downward shift from the 52% reading of last month. However, the level of doubt in Abe's economic plans has risen a bit more, from 33% to 38%, despite or perhaps because of the June announcement of the revised Third Arrow structural reforms.

It is in explaining its actions as regards national security matters, however, that the Abe government has really failed in its efforts, such as they were, at public outreach. Even with the pliant Yomiuri bending over backward to phrase the questions in the most government-friendly way possible, the voters showed little or no mercy.

Q: The Government, revising the interpretation of the Constitution in the case of a clear and present danger linked to the rights of the citizens in a fundamental way, has decided to to make it possible to make use of collective self defense to the minimum extent necessary. Do you appreciate the ability to the limited use of the right of collective self defense?

Appreciate 36%

Do not appreciate 51%

Kaboooooom! Not even the loading up the question with positive messages could shift the needle: the majority of the population is against CSD, even in a limited way.

Until this most recent survey, the Yomiuri and its revisionist counterpart on the right the Sankei Shimbun have been obfuscating this finding, burying the results by offering a weasel triply divided set of of options: "Yes, we must completely exercise the right of collective self defense " "Yes, but we must do so to the minimum extent possible" and "No, it is not necessary." In that case, the respondents, in order to appear non-doctrinal, chose the wishful thinking "Yes, but to the minimal extent possible option (61% chose this option in the last May 30-June 1 poll).

Posing the question of supporting the Abe Government's CSD as the center-left and left news organizations have done, as a simple yes-or-no, up-or-down question, generates a greater than 50% opposition to CSD, just as the center-left and left polls have been finding for some time now.

It gets worse for the government. Even with the pollsters stacking the deck by saying that the Cabinet Decision approving the exercise of the right of collective self defense strengthens (not "may strengthen" or "is likely to strengthen" -- no, "strengthens") the Japan-U.S. alliance, the decision to exercise the right of CSD will not, in the eyes of the voters, improve deterrence of aggression:

Q: Japan by making it possible to exercise the right of collective self-defense has strengthened the Japan-U.S. alliance. From doing this do you believe Japan has improved its power to prevent the receiving of an attack from a foreign country, that is to say has improved its deterrence, or not?

Deterrence has been improved 39%

Deterrence has not been improved 49%


Q: Do you believe that the Government has sufficiently explained the issues surrounding the exercise of collective self-defense?

Have explained sufficiently 13%

Have not yet sufficiently explained 81%

Red Alert! Red Alert! Public not on board!

And for a result that will give the United States Departments of State and Defense nightmares...

Q: If the Self Defense Forces could shoot down a ballistic missile headed for the American territory of Guam or the State of Hawaii, would you agree with or oppose a shoot-down?

Agree with 37%

Oppose 51%


Mr. Abe, you, someone you trust or just someone who seems to have some semblance of giving a damn about this blessed and needs to go on national television right now and first ask Japanese voters if they have any sense of how many thousands of Japanese, both tourists and residents, are on Guam and Hawaii on any given day...and then maybe, rather than explaining to the voters the mechanics of the contrived scenarios the Abe government used in its attempt to drum up public support for CSD, simply sit down and tell the citizenry about the moral imperatives we all must accept regarding the need to protect innocent civilians, be they friends or strangers, from impending harm, unless we are willing to be thought monsters?

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

What The Third Arrow Always Needed Was A Soundtrack

Sadly, I can so see Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and First Bro Seko Hiroshige holed up in the PM's office at the Kantei, air guitaring to the arpeggios and grimacing while playing imaginary synths.

Rock on, courtesy the Prime Minister's Residence.

Yes voters of Japan, someone, perhaps a whole gaggle of individuals, got paid to put together this video celebration of the Prime Minister's growth strategy.

Your tax yen at work.

I have to admit, I am torn. I cannot tell which scene I like better: robosuit-assisted Abe lifting up an unidentified object and putting it back down again to no purpose...or the sudden almost dead stillness of a uniformed Abe driving the tea leaf harvester.