Friday, September 26, 2014

Live Blogging Law Minister Matsushima Midori's Press Conference

15:15 Merci Joel! Ambush question on Yasukuni. Minister Matsushita indicates she has no intention to visit Yasukuni during her term as minister.

15:10 AAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGHHHHH. Matsushima is the Abe Cabinet's point person on the Secrecy Act, which goes into effect on in December. A room full of journalists forgets to ask her what she is going say in the Diet about defending the rights of journalists.

15:05 Yet another question - or is a question - on Koreans in this case the North Korean schools. Should not the North Koreans be treated as other foreigners.

14:55 D. Leussink asks a question that those who do not know about the impasse Japan's death penalty has represented in the negotiation of an EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement. The EU countries are pushing Japan hard to abandon the death penalty.

14:49 Holy Cow is that Egawa Shoko the Warrior Against Aum Shinrikyo asking a follow up question on the Zaitokukai? Holy crap it is!!!


14:42 Death penalty and Zaitokukai question from R. L. Parry.

"As to the (Zaitokukai) organization, I do not know enough about them to comment?"

MC - "Would you not want to know, as Law Minister, more about this organization?"


14:37 Wicked first question - "You once in Diet session said that trying to accommodate a Muslim prisoner's request to have no pork in his meals would constitute 'reverse discrimination.' Is this still your position?"

14:29 Personal anecdote of how difficult it was to be a working woman in her youth and thus how much she values Prime Minister Abe's advocacy of improving the ability of women to have careers.

14:27 A request from the MC to talk about "Women in Politics" -- one of today's advertized topics -- somehow instigates a long explanation about anti-DV and assault activities.

14:25 Note to self - Minister Matsushita uses an extremely hard "p" in her pronounciation of "Nippon."

14:23 Immigration will be hiring 300 persons this year, a big jump from the current 2200 officers.

14:19 Now the sunny side of the street stuff: Matsushima is in charge of Immigration so she can bubble, as best she can, about welcoming foreigners to Japan in advance of the 2020 Olympics. "Smooth entry into the country" (nyukoku) - particularly for high frequency travelers, like businesspersons.

14:16 (Note to self - the right wing defense league is sitting along the wall on the left side of the room. I guess they heard about the verbal scourging Abductees Minister Yamantani Eriko suffered yesterday.)

14:15 "On the first day of my service as Law Minister, my first act was to order the revision of the sentencing laws that punish theft more severely than sex crimes."

14:10 Lots of explanation of the peculiar situation where property crimes are legally more heinous than sexual assault.

14:05 "Of all my Diet career, that which I am most proud of my part in the drafting of the legislation that became the Victims of Crimes Act."

14:00 Minister of Law (Homudaijin) Matsushima Midori walks in. She has rejected the lectern and is speaking while standing, mike in hand, as if on a campaign stop.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Oh, The Persons You Will Talk To!

This was the scene in the Liberal Democratic Party cafeteria on Friday, the first of the "Whale Meat Fridays" demanded by General Council Chair Nikai Toshihiro and other scientific pelagic whaling-supporting party members.

In the center is Nikai, a representative of the Wakayama district that has in it the infamous town of Taiji, where the residents conduct coastal harvests of dolphins, porpoises and small whales not covered by the International Whaling Commission ban. He is holding aloft a hunk of sei whale (iwashi kujira - Balaenoptera borealis) a species which can only be harvest on the deep ocean. The meat has been deep fried Tatsuta style -- one of the two ways whale was being served on Friday (the other was in a whale meat curry). Former Defense Minister Onodera Itsunori (Miyagi, another whaling prefecture) is among the other politicians visible preparing to have their Sei.

"Whale in an irreplaceable part of Japan's food culture. If foreigners come [to this cafeteria] we will shower them with whale!" crowed Nikai. (Link)

Friday's very public eating of Sei whale conflates and confuses coastal whaling, which is traditional for communities with very little flat, arable land like Taiji or Chiba Prefecture's Wadaura -- and which I support -- and industrial pelagic whaling, which has no traditional basis and is a ward of the government -- a point conceded in the Yomiuri Shimbun's pro-pelagic whaling editorial of yesterday (Link).

Because it is my nature to never leave any dishonest and poorly thought out thing well enough alone, I decided to have a bit of fun on Twitter at the expense of Nikai -- whom I like immensely -- and the other politicians pictured.

A cheap shot, perhaps. However, given the absurd bravura of Nikai's lofting of his whale-laden fork, a not entirely inappropriate cuffing of the chin, metaphorically.

Well, since having loosed the above, you can imagine the number and variety of folks of all persuasions have been blessing me with their opinions. Or perhaps you cannot. Anyway, it has been a lot of folks, some of whom did not see the humor intended.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Tanigaki Pulls Out The Fire Extinguisher

A bit of good news that might otherwise slip by...

Remember how last month, in response to The Asahi Shimbun's retractions of a number of its stories on the comfort women from over two decades ago, the Liberal Democratic Party's Policy Research Council (PARC), under the direction of the now Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Takaichi Sanae, announced its intention to demand that Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide formulate a new Statement to replace the Kono Statement? (Link)

Funny thing about that demand: it had to get past the desk of the LDP's secretary-general.

Now if the LDP secretary-general were still Ishiba Shigeru, the gentleman who really wants to replace Abe Shinzo as president of the LDP and prime minister, the demand might have had a chance of receiving the necessary stamp of approval. Ishiba needs the votes of the freshmen and freshwomen of the Houses of Representatives and Councillors if he is to have even a chance against Abe or Abe's anointed successor in the LDP's internal elections for president. These Diet newcomers are for the most part stubborn on issues of national pride and national honor. Ishiba would have had no choice but to acceded to the PARC's nihilistic demand.

Ishiba, however, has moved on to the possibly greener pastures (it is still unclear whether his choice is a coup or a trap) of wandering about the least populated areas of the country making promises about economic and demographic revival the government cannot possibly keep. In his place at LDP secretary-general is certified Friend of China Tanigaki Sadakazu, who harbors not the least hope or desire to become the party president again.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Tanigaki was asked about the pending demand for a new Statement to replace the Kono Statement. Tanigaki replied:
"Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga has said on numerous occasions that he will not revise the Kono Statement. I would like to be with him on this."
(Link - J)

Tanigaki's response is weak-sounding. Paradoxically, flaccidity makes the response all the more credible. Tanigaki has a history of tripping himself up whenever he has played the implacable tough guy. Saying that he would merely "like to be with" the chief cabinet secretary on the matter of not revising the Kono Statement, however, is in character and thus plausible. Tanigaki's phrasing also leaves plenty of space for him to tell the militants in his party, "Look, I only said 'like to be' -- not 'will,' you know."

For as long as Tanigaki is secretary-general, it seems, the LDP will not be submitting a formal request for a Statement replacing the Kono Statement. This is regardless of Takaichi's having been replaced at PARC chair by Inada Tomomi whose revisionism no less feral than her predecessor's.

All in all, a very good bit of news -- for the Kono Statement is the keystone of the Japan-South Korea relationship. Mess with it and the architecture collapses.

Original creen shot courtesy: NHK News

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Parties Talking To The Party

"Normalization? What normalization? Sino-Japanese relations have always been run throught the Komeito." *

Two weeks ago on Channel News Asia I tried to explain that newly announced Cabinet and Liberal Democratic Party line ups hinted that repair work on the Sino-Japanese political relationship was less likely to be conducted state-to-state as party-to-party. (Link)

Yesterday, at a lecture/press availability, New Komeito vice representative Kitagawa Kazuo revealed that unnamed high-level members of the LDP and New Komeito executive secretariats will be traveling to China in October to meet with counterparts in the Chinese Communist Party in what should be read as a preparatory visit for a possible Xi Jingping-Abe Shinzo direct dialogue on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in November. Unsurprisingly, Kitagawa made mentioned of the two high ranking officials of the LDP I highlighted when I talked on CNA two weeks ago. (Link - J)

Working party-to-party, in what I called in the video a privatization of the relationship, is not necessarily a bad thing, despite the negative connotations "privatization" has. Working LDP/NK-to-CCP certainly allows both sides to get past the cumbersome prerequisites each of the respective governments has declared are the minimal decencies that must be met before the two sides can sit across from each other in those grotesquely overstuffed armchairs the Chinese favor.

However, those of us who still harbor illusions of living in a democracy rather than in what is one of a set of strangely similar Asian plutocratic aristocracies (thank you, Indonesia, for keeping lit the pathetic tiny flame of meritocracy) still must wince at princelings convivially meeting each other in their private capacities rather than facing off against each other in the public arena.

Given how close we might be to stupid shooting breaking out between paramilitary forces of both sides, we possibly should not be so picky about how conversations get restarted.

* Not an actual quote, of course. C'mon.

Image: Kitagawa Kazuo speaking on 17 September 2014.
Image courtesy: New Komeito official website.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Opposition Update - I'm A Fixin' To Die

OK, so now we know: the Democratic Party of Japan has a death wish.

When Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is invoking, on seemingly an hourly basis, the need for greater opportunities for women not just in Japan (Link) but everywhere (Link and Link), and he is slotting women into a record number of cabinet and Liberal Democratic Party posts (Link), when the international discussion on Japan is focusing on the country's ridiculous underutilization of women's talents and energy (Link), the DPJ responds with a new leadership council compose of dudes, dudes and nothing but dudes.

And not just just dudes, but dudes we have all seen before. (Link to classic Jiji Press sarcasm)

There is such a thing as optics. Truly, the new DPJ leadership group (above photo) is excruciating to behold.

Matching the DPJ in its wish for its own demise is the Your Party, whose founder and former leader Watanabe "Sticky Fingers" Yoshimi is demanding that his beleaguered former deputy, party leader Asao Ken'ichiro link Your Party up with the LDP or die. Asao, exhausted by the toxic Watanabe's interference, has finally snapped, saying that if Watanable wants to consummate his love for the LDP, he should leave the party. Watanabe, as mature as he can be (Can you believe he was once considered a shoo-in for future prime minister?) has said that a founder cannot leave a party, so it is Asao who must go. (Link - J)

Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah -- same as you!

To be fair, Watanabe did have a viable plan to link up with the LDP, even after the departure of Eda Kenji and the defectors of Unity (oxymoron alert) -- who are having their own problems in trying to merge with the Osaka rump of Hashimoto Toru's Restoration Party. (Link)

However, getting caught with arms up to his elbows in the cookie jar sank Watanabe's plans for a glorious hawk-hawk-hawk superalliance supplanting the LDP/New Komeito ruling coalition -- because it became apparent once he resigned as party leader that the only real link between the LDP and the Your Party was the personal one between Watanabe and Abe Shinzo (Watanabe being one of the four-member "Abe Road" group of Abe and his most trusted political allies).

The Party For Future Generations (no, that is its real name - don't laugh) launched itself Tuesday night in what was a thoroughly joyless affair. Spry stroke survivor, party leader and adopted son of a convicted Class A war criminal Hiranuma "Shall We Dance" Takeo (75) and his somewhat more mature senior adviser, the frustrated stand up comedian Ishihara Shintaro (81) wore themselves out thundering about a future they, if actuarial tables are to be trusted, will not see -- Ishihara talking about the goals over the party over a decade, where he will be in his early 90s. Fellow party members, who might be around when the future generations arrive, sat quietly and uncomfortably, looking like a group of random strangers in a urologist's waiting room. (Link - J -video)

I know what you are thinking: Japan's opposition parties cannot, cannot be as pathetic as they seem here . There must be some glimmer of hope somewhere -- like the appointment of Edano Yukio as the DPJ's secretary-general giving a clear sense that Edano will succeed the hapless Kaieda Banri as party leader.

Yes, it is true, the Edano appointment provides a glimmer of hope. But only a glimmer. When lumped together with the amazing sublimating Socialists and the cash-burning Communists, Japan's opposition parties are a mind-boggling flaming heap of wasted time and talent.

Which has got to represent a huge temptation for Abe Shinzo to shuck his newly minted Cabinet and call a snap election of the House of Representatives -- after, that is, he signs off on the second raising of the consumption tax from 8% to 10%.

Image courtesy: Democratic Party of Japan official website.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Putin's Jujitsu - A Fantasy

In the aftermath of Mori Yoshiro's little visit to Russia last week (Link) I was asked what, if anything, Abe Shinzo hopes to achieve by continuing his now indirect engagement with Vladimir Putin.

My stock answer has been that Japan's Russia diplomacy runs down two tight corridors:

1) efforts to gain a return of the Northern Territories and

2) the development of Russian energy sources for importation into Japan.

These are still open questions so Japanese diplomats and politicians just keep on shuttling, riding on the carryover from earlier rapprochement efforts and from out of a desperate search for energy, particularly LNG, post-3/11 and Fukushimi Daiichi.

Having said the above, I wondered whether there was not a back door to a substantial and radical recalibration of Russia's position. Let say that after the annexation of Crimea and the disruption of the Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine Vladimir Putin has absolutely unassailable Russian imperial expansionist credentials. The cost, and it has been huge, of acquiring these credentials has been the Western Alliance's opprobrium, which has closed all kinds of doors to Putin, his siloviki cronies and his country (there is also the very real possibility of shooting breaking out soon in between Russian and NATO forces). What if Putin were to take all the momentum of the moment and pivot, cutting a deal with Abe Shinzo for the return of part or even all of the Northern Territories, in return for, let us say, the Japanese government's abandonment of U.S.-led efforts to isolate Russia? A grateful Japan then goes overboard in its support of the development of Russian Far East hydrocarbon resources, enriching Putin and his henchmen and markedly increasing Japan's dependence on Russia for its energy. Meanwhile, at the other end of Eurasia, Putin's sudden strategic abandonment of Russia's hold on the Northern Territories raises insane and stupid hopes regarding the potential return to Germany of Kaliningrad, a dream most modern Germans did not know they even had (Karelia, of course, was won fair and square in the good fight against the dreaded Finns and so is not a part of the grand strategy). The Kaliningrad gambit, transparently manipulative as it would be, disrupts EuroAmerican unity just when the Western Alliance was getting over the reality of Europe's dependency on Russian energy.

[An aside, but as I told MK last week, Russian strategists are probably not serious in playing China against Japan or China against Europe as regards access to Russian energy resources. If possible, Russians want everyone to be dependent upon them.]

The above is a crazed confection of paranoia and geostrategy (sometimes these two items are difficult to disambiguate) -- but Putin must be telling Abe something in order to keep the Japanese side hoping beyond hope for an sudden, improbable ippon gachi.

Original photo image credit: BBC

Dumbwalking - The Meme

Dumbwalking (Link) is now an international menace and joke -- though it seems the proper American term for the activity is the neutral "distracted walking." (Link)

A propos of which, this seems to be dumbwalking in Vietnamese. (Link)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

An Appreciation Of Green

Just in case anyone who read my post of yesterday thinks I am down on Dr. Michael Green, I am not. In the two-part interview he has given to Peter Ennis ( Part I , Part II ) he demonstrates his incredibly fine-grained knowledge of the political arena, policy structure and technical demands constraining the operations of the Japan-U.S. alliance. The reader may not like the assumptions Green and his counterparts make (the nonchalance in Abe's justification of reinterpretation over revision takes the breath away) but knowing that the PM, his advisor and military planners on both sides are thinking ante- and not just post-facto is reassuring.

Underappreciated also is "Japan is Back: Unbundling Abe's Grand Strategy," the analysis Dr. Green produced for the Lowy Institute (Link). I am eternally grateful for the devastating anecdote (in the "Values, History, and The Korea Problem" section) on the effect Abe's weekend golf partners have on the PM's thinking.

And yes, the above statement is true, too. My favorite opera is also by a guy named Green, for good measure.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Eat, Pray, Fund, Party, Pose

Source: Prime Minister's Residence

I will be happier when the day comes -- and the day may never come -- when Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's minions stop pretending that the PM's meeting the persons he vacations with is work.

Just to remind everyone, Abe attended a five hour party on August 22 at Sasakawa Yohei's vacation villa in the lakes region of Yamanashi Prefecture. The other guests at the party were former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro, METI Minister Motegi Toshimitsu, Senior Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kishi Nobuo (the PM's brother), Senior Vice Minister Nishimura Yasutoshi, Cabinet Parliamentary Secretary Kato Katsunobu, Hagiuda Ko'ichi, Yamamoto Yuji and Fuji TV's CEO Hie Hisashi...

...which was a quid pro quo for Sasakawa's being one of the guests, along with Mori, Motegi, Hagiuda and Environment Minister Ishihara Nobuteru, at the dinner at the Abe vacation villa on 15 August 2013, in the evening after the PM had completed his 2013 End-of-War day responsibilities and had his hair done at the Imperial Palace Hotel.

Yes, the Nippon Foundation funds important work. No, that does not make it OK for the Kantei to pin up a photo of Sasakawa-san with his employees and collaborators, pretending that the group got a face-to-face with the PM on the merits.

Myths About Myths: Wakefield and Martin vs. Green and Hornung

In a short essay published by Japan Focus this week, Bryce Wakefield and Craig Martin try to set the record straight on the significance of the July 1 Cabinet Decision removing the block on Japan's exercise of the right of collective self-defense (Link). The essay is a response to a longer work, "Ten Myths About Japan's Collective Self Defense Change," by Michael Green and Jeffrey Hornung, published by The Diplomat. (Link)

I am forced to say "try to set the record straight" rather than "set the record straight" because the Wakefield/Martin essay fails to thump the Green/Hornung opinion article hard enough. Wakefield and Martin do dissect the misleading assertions in the Green/Hornung piece and do offer some suggestions as to the sources of the misunderstandings, if not outright misrepresentations, therein.

Wakefield and Martin's argumentation, however, is not crisp. The essay compares unfavorably with "Abe's Law: Domestic Dimension of Japan's Self-Defense Debate," the magisterial paper Wakefield produced earlier this year for the Wilson Center's Japan's Vision of East Asia conference review (Link). That paper describes with great clarity the constitutional red lines the Abe administration was proposing to and eventually did cross in crafting the July 1 Cabinet Decision.

A lack of crispness in the more recent work should not be ascribed to anything Wakefield and Martin may have done or left undone. One has to indeed applaud them for the time and intellectual capital they expended in the effort of nailing down Green and Hornung.

The problem with confronting the assertions of the Green/Hornung article and knocking them down is that the whole process is rather like punching a bale of kapok. Try as one might, one cannot inflict much damage on what is, no matter its size or sense of self-importance, a bag of fluff.

In their article Green and Hornung set out to debunk ten "myths" about the collective self defense debate. However, there is no sourcing for these "myths" -- indeed, there is, in the whole length of the article, not a single person quoted as an author or transmitter of any of the ten propositions being debunked. Since what is presented is not the assertions of identifiable, real persons, Green and Hornung are jousting with the made up quotes of imaginary persons -- or, looking at the problem from a slightly different angle, since they and no others are the authors of the text, they are debunking themselves.

Hence the difficulty of the task Wakefield and Martin have taken on. If Green and Hornung had attacked the assertions of real persons, Wakefield and Martin could go back ro the original assertion, look at the context in which that assertion was uttered or even email the author to ascertain whether or not Green's and Hornung's characterizations of the so-called myth make any sense. Since the assertions are figments of Green's and Hornung's imaginations, however, Wakefield and Martin must first demonstrate the relevance of the "myth" to the actual intellectual and political debate going on in Japan. It is not surprising that Wakefield and Martin should get bogged down, as more often than not the "myth" only vaguely resembles actual assertions by actual actors in the drama.

It would be unfair to condemn Green and Hornung too much for having handed over to their opponents the responsibility of proving the salience of their essay. Though Green and Hornung both teaching academics, they have spent much of their careers in the trenches of America's think tanks, where wargaming against imaginary opponents has become confused with -- or has completely replaced -- argument. Many major think tanks only rarely take the time to paint pictures of reality. Such pictures are messy and require a certain level of knowledge to understand. More useful to the consumers of think tank-style writing is a set of smart-sounding answers to potential talking points of foes: i.e., "If Ms. X says A, you can respond by saying B."

In the combat of ideas, wargaming is probably indispensable as a preparatory measure. The problem is when, as in the piece by Green and Hornung, wargaming purports to be an explanation, rather than what it is, a set of responses to conjectures.

The real portrait of collective self defense debate has yet to be produced. Wakefield in his March paper presented a stunning sketch of the debate prior its July 1 denouement. Perhaps Wakefield and Martin, or even Green and Hornung, if the fancy so strikes them, will tackle the task of revisiting the struggle as it has been fought these last few month using the actual words of the combatants -- with a preview of the potential future fights tacked on. If none of the four gentleman is willing to take up the task, I know of at least one major scholar laboring away at what will most likely be the definitive presentation and analysis of the collective self defense debate.

That paper I will definitely blog and tweet about, if I am still blogging and tweeting when it comes out.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Original Tweets for 8 Sept 2014

- Dreading that first use of Nishikori's run at US Open under tutelage of Chang as metaphor for potential unlocked by JPN-CHN-US collaboration    [Tweet regarding this story]

- Hayakawa on why Abenomics cheerleaders should shut up about JPN's low unemployment rate

- C. H. Kwan underscoring audacity of Abe's challenging CHN given JPN economy's dependence and complementarity (wonkish)

- RIETI's Nakajima: no, yen devaluation *is* boosting exports - JPN cannot do much about other countries' weakness

- Miyake-san's talents are many and he is tight w/ the PM but he has got to stop talking about JPN's silent majority

- Popcorn Time: Abe Shinzo has given Ishiba Shigeru and Takaichi Sanae the same task of rural revitalization. Hmm...

- Quality Time: Newly appointed METI minister Obuchi makes a Sunday visit Fukushima Daiichi (J)

- Always provocative Peter Tasker urges more radicalism, confidence and contrarian thinking from Abe Shinzo, not less

- Without Infrastructure: Someone has to explain the JPN gov't's sudden fascination with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

Original Tweets for 6-7 Sept 2014

- Gerry Curtis sees Ishiba Shigeru's acceptance of rural revival post as tantamount to abandoning run for LDP pres?

- One reason why it took Asahi so long to repudiate articles with Yoshida's claims? Fear of reprisals, since realized

- @philipbrasor on the mounting reasons why a casino in Tokyo any time soon is a bad bet

- @JMSchles Major news out of Dhaka. China was supposedly pushing hard for Bangladesh's winning the UNSC seat over Japan. [Tweet regarding this news].

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Irony Bites - The Yomiuri Shimbun Edition

Everyone makes mistakes oh yes they do
Your sister and your brother
And your dad and mother too
Big people, small people
Matter of fact all people
Everyone makes mistakes so why can't you?

- Sesame Street, "Everyone Makes Mistakes"

Last month Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest circulation daily newspaper and a staunch ally, nay, the house organ of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's administration, severely criticized its main rival The Asahi Shimbun following the Asahi's admission last month that a number of its articles on the comfort women published in the 1990s contained unprovable and likely false information:

After a review of its reports on the so-called comfort women issue, which has become a huge thorn in the side of Japan-South Korea ties, The Asahi Shimbun has admitted its mistakes in the reports—albeit partially—and retracted some of the contents.

The retractions allude to reports on remarks by Seiji Yoshida, who claimed to have forcibly taken away local women from Jeju Island, South Korea, to make them serve as comfort women. During World War II, Yoshida was said to be the former head of the mobilization department of the Shimonoseki Branch of Romu Hokoku-kai, an organization in charge of recruiting laborers.

In September 1982, the newspaper reported—without verification—the remarks of Yoshida, who claimed to have "hunted up 200 young Korean women in Jeju Island."

Misperceptions about Japan

The report added fuel to anti-Japan sentiment in South Korea, and also became a basis of misperception of Japan spreading through the world. In its Tuesday morning edition, the Asahi concluded—for the first time—that Yoshida's remarks were baseless, and finally retracted the newspaper's reports regarding the remarks.

We cannot help but point out the correction should have been made at a much earlier stage. Doubts about Yoshida’s remarks have been raised as early as 1992. The newspaper’s negligence in allowing the issue to linger for more than 20 years is deplorable.


The Yomiuri's criticism, sharp and unforgiving, is still restrained as compared to the enervated glee of the Fuji Sankei Group's Sankei Shimbun and the legions of Japan Keyboard Defense Korps members like economics blogger Ikeda Nobuo and National Fundamental head honcho Sakurai Yoshiko -- who have simply gone overboard in their demands for retribution against the Asahi for its errors.

The Yomiuri's restraint in its mirth over the Asahi's too credulous reporting demonstrates an inadvertent wisdom in the editorial office -- because this week, it was the Yomiuri that swallowed a fish tale, hook, line and sinker.

In a pair of exclusive reports, the Yomiuri reported that prime minister Abe Shinzo was going to appoint Takaichi Sanae as minister of economics, trade and industry -- which prompted me to tweet:

and that Obuchi Yuko would be the new secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, which prompted me to rant:

The last time I looked, and that was today, Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic Party is a serious, serious job. It requires an intense understanding of policy, party financial and personnel matters. It is a lightning rod, having to deal with intra-party resentment, political feuds, local versus national politics and demands for funds. It is also a very public post, with the secretary-general frequently having to interact with the news media as the party's top representative.

A nightmare, in other words.

Into this spot Abe purportedly wants to slot a five-term (5 terms is the usual minimum number of elections for consideration for a first cabinet posting) House of Representatives member, a legacy member with but a single stint in a minor, invented cabinet post, as not just the first woman but the youngest person ever to serve as secretary-general of the only party in Japan which really matters.

(Link) turns out that both of these exclusives did not only sounded bogus, they were bogus -- which prompted the Yomiuri to print an extraordinary postscript to its Friday story on Obuchi's becoming secretary-general having been a longtime and thwarted dream of the prime minister:

The Yomiuri Shimbun's Political News Department has operated a dedicated team over the past month or so to cover matters related to Wednesday’s Cabinet reshuffle and shakeup of top LDP executives. Our coverage has been based on the work of as many as 30 reporters who gathered information on developments by contacting members of the LDP and the Prime Minister’s Office, among other sources, and thoroughly and comprehensively scrutinizing the information available.

Yomiuri articles that reported Abe as considering appointing Obuchi to the LDP secretary general post and Sanae Takaichi as likely to become economy, trade and industry minister may have misled our readers.

When covering political circumstances that change constantly, we will make further efforts to offer fast and accurate reports based on diversified information-gathering and careful news judgment.


"May have misled our readers"?

Is this not the point where one is supposed to say, "We blew it!"?

Or do the editors at the Yomiuri need a little more time?

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Senryu For 6 Sept 2014

17-syllable poems on politics and social affairs published on the editorial page of the Tokyo Shimbun on Saturday, September 6, 2014:


In response to five women
Becoming ministers
Sudden cheering

- Matsuda Masaru, Saeki City

In a poll conducted on September 3-4, the Yomiuri Shimbun found that support for the Cabinet among women voters rose 18 points, from 45% to 63%, in the aftermath of the announcement of a new cabinet line up including five women as ministers.

That same poll found that 67% of the voters "appreciated" (hyoka) the increase in the number of women in the Cabinet from two to five. By contrast, 25% of voters did not appreciate it, presumably because these voters felt the increase was mere electoral pandering.

So Mr. Matsuda is either reflecting the enthusiasm or the cynicism of one segment of the voting public or the other. It is up to the reader to decide which.


So the words "Military State"
should be pronounced
"A Beautiful Country"?

-- Hakeshita Koba, Yokohama City

Last week the Defense Ministry submitted the largest budget request in its history, with highly visible requests for an extra Aegis destroyer, an extra submarine and Global Hawk surveillance drones, among other hardware. (Link)

The poem, however, probably is alluding to more that just the defense ministry budget request, which, when compared to the growth in military spending in the region, is a risible increase. Instead, the author (Hakeshita Koba - the pronunciation is a guess - it may be a nom de plume) is probably also making reference to the July 1 Cabinet Decision on collective self defense, the loosening of restrictions on arms exports and last year's passage of the Special Secrets Act. The sarcastic suggestion that the kanji for "military state" (gunkoku) should be pronounced "Beautiful Country" (utsukushii kuni) is a reference to Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's book Toward A Beautiful Country (Utsukushii kuni e -- a sympathetic review of which can be found here) wherein the PM waxes nostalgic about the majesty of the pre-1945 Japanese state and its people.

The practice of having idiosyncratic pronunciations of kanji is widespread in the arts. An example of a similar duplicitously deviant pronunciation of a provocative kanji compound can be found in Shiina Ringo's theme song for NHK's broadcasts of the World Cup - a song which sparked quite a kerfuffle due to its seemingly World Cup inappropriate pugnacious punk patriotism.

In the song Shiina (above photo) sings, "Hurrah, Hurrah, for the blue skies of Japan" (Hure, Hure, Nippon bare). "Blue skies" is an allusion to both the actual sky over Japan and "The Samurai Blue," the nickname of the men's national soccer team (with France's "Les Bleus" and Italy's "Di Azurri" the blue category seems kind of crowded). In the printed lyrics of the song, however, the expression pronounced "Hurrah!" is written "Banzai!" (万歳!) in kanji -- an upfront patriotic and historically problematic expression. (Link - You Tube Video - J)

As luck would have it, the men's team crashed out of the tournament early. The public was spared full renditions of NHK's theme song -- and an extension of the controversy over its lyrics -- during the latter weeks of the tournament.

Later - For those who only know Shiina Ringo from her Kurt Cobain phase (YouTube video) here is something a little more recent...and in something of a different mode. (Youtube - video)

To be fair to the NHK execs hired Shiina to provide the theme song, they really had no idea which of her personae would show up.

Photo image: Shiina Ringo promotional photo for the World Cup
Photo courtesy: unrecorded

Friday, September 05, 2014

Very Kind Of Them #25

Last night Channel News Asia had me on via Skype, commenting together with Wilson Center scholar Goto Shihoko on the potential ramifications of the new Cabinet and Liberal Democratic Party line ups.

Our section begins at the 15:15 mark of the below broadcast segment:

If you watch the full broadcast from the beginning, you will get to see one the rarest of phenomena: absolute silence from chief Abe English speech writer and Kantei message agent Taniguchi Tomohiko.

Original Tweets For 5 Sept 2014

- 7 days ago I tweeted that reporting on Dengue in Yoyogi Park was ignoring Meiji Jingu's being next door (J)

- Ms. Arimura Haruko, the new minister of women's affairs, opposes abortion, separate surnames + female emperors (J)

- Mission Accomplished: Yomiuri polling finds approval of new Abe Cabinet at 64% (+13), LDP party support at 46% (+8)

- Nikkei Won't Say, "Head Fake!": Keikyu Railways (9006) casino announcement seems just a way to goose share price (J)

- Nikkei: Kansai Electric to study decommissioning Mihama reactor No.2, entire power station in jeopardy (J)

- C. Wallace's dense and indisputable analysis of results of snap telephone polling done after the Cabinet reshuffle

Quantifying The Shift Within The Shift

On Twitter, Eric Slavin of Stars & Stripes has asked whether the Cabinet reshuffle, particularly the inception of five women into the Cabinet has changed the Cabinet's approval ratings among women. The answer from the Yomiuri Shimbun's polling (not yet on line; may never be) is, "Yes" -- and in a big way. According to the Yomiuri, support for the previous Cabinet, measured on August 1-3, was 51%, with with 58% of men and only 45% of women supporting the then Cabinet. Polling conducted over September 3-4 as regards the new cabinet found total support at 64%, with 66% of men supporting the Cabinet (+8 pts) but a nearly equal and whopping 63% of women now supporting the Cabinet (+18 pts).

Eighteen points overnight is movement, baby.

Even larger, according to the Yomiuri, was the shift in the number of middle-aged persons showing renewed or first time support for the Cabinet. In August, 48% of persons in the 40-50 years of age bracket supported the cabinet. Yesterday, 67% voters in that age bracket said they supported the Cabinet, a 19 point shift. Voters 60 years of age and above also found something to like, with the support ratio in that age bracket going from 52% to 64% (interesting less than middle-aged folk) -- a shift upward of 12 points.

Interesting but perhaps not surprising because it was insanely high already, support for the Cabinet among the very youngest voters, those in between the ages of 20 and 30, did not budge a millimeter: 59% in August, 59% now.

That last figure -- showing the Abe Cabinet with inordinately stable and high levels of support among the youngest class of voters (indeed in August younger voters were the ones who were the most faithful to Abe) -- spell disaster for the opposition parties, who by definition have to run on a message of change. The very young voters, the supposedly most volatile and impressionable of cohorts, have found their messenger of change -- and according to the Yomiuri's polling results, it is Abe Shinzo.

Later - Apologies for the plethora of typos in the first release.

The Prime Minister's Upcoming Year, In Color, Unseriously

Click on the image to enlarge.

Original image courtesy: The Japan News

Link to source article

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Now That's Revisionism!

Chief Liberal Democratic Party propagandist Koike Yuriko, who somehow managed to be at once female, an LDP Diet member, a noted hard liner, ally of Abe Shinzo and NOT PICKED for a cabinet or party top leadership position on Wednesday, quietly and without much of a fuss published an opinion piece with Project Syndicate that if is at all possible is even more outré than her shivving of Angela Merkel and Park Geun-hye (Link) of a month and half ago.
Ending East Asia's History Wars

TOKYO – Georges Clemenceau, who, as France's prime minister, led his country to victory in World War I, famously said that "war is too important to be left to the generals." Japan is now discovering that history is too important to be left to newspaper editors.
In the 1990s, the newspaper Asahi Shimbun caused a firestorm at home and in South Korea by publishing a series of articles, based upon testimony by the former Japanese soldier Seiji Yoshida, on "comfort women" – Koreans forced to provide sexual services to the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. Asahi has now admitted that the soldier's confessions were unfounded, and has disavowed the core supporting evidence for the articles.

That retraction appears to be causing as much embarrassment – and diplomatic vitriol – in Japan and South Korea today as the original series did. But, at a time when both countries cannot afford to permit partisan or sloppy abuses of history to roil their bilateral relations, Asahi's careless work has turned out to be more than abysmal journalism; it has introduced a dangerous element into regional diplomacy.


Japan and South Korea need to take responsibility for the future, not obsess about the past. A recent Japanese government white paper called South Korea the country "that shares the closest relationship with Japan historically and in areas such as economy and culture." No doubt, many, if not most, South Korean foreign-policy experts and strategists share that sentiment. But it will take committed leadership to transcend the history wars and tap the full potential of Japanese-Korean cooperation, something that both countries' key ally, the United States, strongly desires, as it seeks to draw China into a lasting and peaceful Asian order.

For too long, intemperate historical debates – often driven by biased newspaper accounts – have poisoned bilateral relations. Now, as another war of words heats up, Japanese and South Korean leaders need to step back, recognize where the real interests of their people lie, both today and in the future, and calmly begin to take the measures required to ensure durable reconciliation.

Bravo, Koike-sensei, bravo. I have not seen such breath-taking leaps -- albeit from non-sequitur to false congruence to unsupported assumption to evasion of responsibility, and not from the flying trapeze -- since I went and saw the Bolshoi Circus this summer at Jingu.

My favorite, favorite, favorite line in the whole piece, however, is this one:
Of course, given that Japan and Korea have not fought a series of wars against each other, their relationship is not the same as that between Germany and France.
Lety us put aside the fact that there are hundreds of years of military conflicts between Korean and Japanese, including some full scale invasions, occupations and colonial rule. It is the "Of course" that gets me, like I am supposed to be able to agree with her a priori.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Sense And Sensibility In the Cabinet Reshuffle Narrative, Part II

This is Part II of my look at the new Cabinet and LDP leadership line ups, announced this morning and this afternoon. Part I can be found here.

Economic Revitalization (State Minister) - Amari Akira
CONTINUING Amari has been the most forceful and consistent advocate of all aspects of Abenomics. The point man on Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations, he may be ceding some of the responsibilities to Nishikawa Koya, the Liberal Democratic Party committee chairman on TPP, who is slated to join the cabinet as agricultural minister.

Amari fought a successful battle against tongue cancer this year, scarcely taking any time off from his tasks. If he is now at full strength he will be in a position to carry the Abenomics agenda further -- and the economic reform movement needs guidance, at the very least.

Health, Welfare and Labour (MHLW) - Shiozaki Yasuhisa
News of this appointment arose very late and comes as a bit of a surprise, even though Shiozaki is widely seen as one of the politicians Abe relies upon for policy advice. When Shiozaki was left out of the Cabinet after Abe's return to power, many wondered what he had done to be so out of favor. That Shiozaki had been chief cabinet secretary to the most spectacularly failing cabinet in history, at least until Hatoyama Yukio's no doubt contributed to his being left on the sidelines.

Shiozaki sudden emergence from obscurity over the last few days has been remarkable, especially in light of reports that Abe was struggling to find spots in his cabinet for the 60+ LDP members of the Diet who have at least 5 House of Representatives elections of 3 House of Councillors elections under their belts without ever having been ministers. These "left behind" (taiki) senior Diet members have been all on their best behavior hoping to win a seat in the next cabinet. Disappointing them carries risks that they will throw their support behind whoever challenges Abe in September's party presidential election.

According to news reports, the primary reason Abe is appointing Shiozaki, a former Bank of Japan official (Link), to the post of Health Minister is to scare the Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) into raising the risk profile (a.k.a. - buying shares) of its investments. (Link - J)

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) - Nishikawa Koya
Hayashi Yoshimasa had the temerity to run for the LDP presidency against Abe Shinzo in 2012. For his quixotic and wildly unsuccessful effort, Abe awarded Hayashi the ungainly and ultimately soul crushing MAFF portfolio.

In his leadership of the LDP's committee in charge of the TPP, Nishikawa has been a thorn in the side of the government, or at least has made an insufficient effort to push the government's line within the party. For his efforts, Abe will be awarding him the MAFF portfolio.

Sense a pattern here?

Defense (MOD) and Defense Legislation - Eto Akinori
Eto has been Senior Vice Minister of Defense three times. He is more than ready to grasp the brass ring of MOD. However, with Ishiba Shigeru's refusal to accept the post of state minister in charge of legislation supporting the Cabinet Decision on collective self defense, Eto will be discharging the responsibilities of what until a few days ago were considered two full-time ministerial positions.

Good luck dude.

Law - Matsushima Midori (W)
Matsushita is a cheerleader for the LDP. Really. She started the baton-twirling club at Tokyo University, where she majored in economics. She is the chairman of the national baton twirling association (She also has, and I am not making this up, a Level II certification as a Rajio Taiso Instructor). She was an economics and politics journalist for the currently beleaguered The Asahi Shimbun (read this article for the Asahi's latest stumble) for 15 years before turning to politics.

Why is Matsushita the right person for this post? Law used to be where the PM would stick the oldest, most decrepit member of the Cabinet. Now, with Hatoyama Yukio Kunio and Tanigaki Sadakazu as recent alumni (the holders of the #1 and #2 spots in the ranking of the number of executions ordered since the electoral reforms of 1993) Law now seems the factional/gender/elections balance posting.

Environment - Mochizuki Yoshio
Mochizuki's is an odd case. He has 6 elections to the Diet but has already had two stints as a cabinet minister, both times as minister of MLIT. Mochizuki was also a parliamentary secretary of the environment over a decade ago and has been associated with the movement to make Mt. Fuji a World Heritage site. In between those two extremes his loyalties lie.

Reconstruction (State Minister) - Wataru Takeshita
Takeshita Wataru is the half-brother of the late prime minister Takeshita Noboru. He is the brother-in-law of Ozawa Ichiro. He serves as representative of what is one one of the most parasitic of the parasitic (i.e., government construction contract dependent) prefectures. Abe is putting Takeshita in charge of the Tohoku's revival from the devastation of the 3/11 triple disaster. Iwate Prefecture, Ozawa's kingdom, is arguably the most affected of the three prefectures most devastated by the disaster.

You do the math. Abe clearly did.

National Public Safety Commission and Abductees (State Minister) - Yamatani Eriko (W)
Yamatani made the flight from Democratic Party of Japan madonna to LDP firebrand poster child so fast almost no one remembers how she got from there to here. She has not been all abductees, all the time (she has an interest in "reforming" education identical to Shimomura Hakubun's) but she has sure made it seem that way. Now she has them all to her very own, just in time for the much anticipated and already behind schedule report from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on what it knows about hundreds of purported abductees and other Japanese living in North Korea. Her appointment to the leadership of the national police, replicating the work assignment of her predecessor Furuya Keiji, represents a leap of faith on Abe's part.

Rural Revitalization (State Minister) - Ishiba Shigeru
For the LDP's #2 man to take a state minister post is incredibly peculiar, even more than former party president Tanigaki Sadakazu's descending the ladder to replace Ishiba at secretary-general. Clearly neither status nor expertise clearly affected Ishiba's choice to accept this portfolio; he turned down the defense legislation posting, the seemingly natural policy home of a "defense otaku" as he styles himself.

Ishiba's service in this newly created post seems a private bet between himself and Abe. Ishiba sees the post as a way of maintaing his popularity and influence in the local LDP chapters (Ishiba defeated Abe in the first round of the 2012 presidential election based on his greater appeal in the local party apparat), maintaining the relationships he fostered during his time as party secretary-general. Abe probably sees the post as a way of entangling Ishiba in the chronic, insoluble problems of the rural areas, making him the scapegoat when the government fails to implement any viable policies - because there really aren't any.

We shall which gentleman's bet pays off.

Woment's Empowerment, Administrative Reform - Arimura Haruko (W)
This appointment makes more than a modicum of sense. Arimura was earning her second master's degree from Aoyama Gakuin (her first is from SIT, in Vermont) while working full time at McDonald's Japan and then running for a seat in the House of Councillors (before gasping, note the seat was a party list proportional seat).

Arimura is a direct lineal descendant of one of the assassins of Ii Naosuke (a rather extreme form of administrative reform) and also a descendant of the Hero of Tsushima, Togo Heihachiro.

Trendy Stuff, Okinawa and the Northern Territories (State Minister) - Yamaguchi Shin'ichi
This grab bag of all kinds of topics hot (including the Cool Japan Initiative) and not used to be Inada Tomomi's bailiwick. The nice thing one can say about Yamaguchi's appointment is that at least this embarrassing collection is not pinned like a brooch on any of the new women members of the cabinet.


What kind of Cabinet and LDP secretariat is this? A Cabinet and Secretariat for ruling Japan until the end of the current House of Representatives term in December 2016? A line bright, competent faces for display purposes only prior to a dissolution of the Diet and a snap election?

Let us say that one cannot say. The assignments, particularly in terms of factional balance, speak of stability, as does the intake into the Cabinet, Japan's face to the world (however unrepresentatives that face) of 8 newcomers and 5 women.

Stability may only last until August 2015. Depending on how the economy is performing and how jagged the passage of the legislation needed to enable the Cabinet Decision on collective self defense, Abe and his core lieutenants might either be loafing out on the golf course or scrambling from one LDP parliamentarian's district and offices to the next, begging dissatisfied or scared members of the Diet for support for Abe's reelection as president of the LDP.

What is done, though, is done...and I am done for the day.

Later - This one leapt out at met during the newscast listing all of the new ministers's titles and should have leapt out at me earlier: Arimura's main responsibility will be running the Consumer Affairs Agency. She is a former McDonald's Japan management track employee. Beyond perfect. Bravo Mssrs. Abe and Suga. Bravo.

Screenshot courtesy: NHK News

Sense And Sensibility In The Cabinet Reshuffle Narrative, Part I

No, I do not reference Jane Austen below. Primarily because I cannot. I have never read any of Austen's works and I likely never will.

Early (it's 4:30 a.m. local time) news reports are providing the last pieces of the puzzle of Abe Shinzo's reshuffle of his cabinet. Minister of Law* and former Liberal Democratic Party president Tanigaki Sadakazu will take over as LDP Secretary-General. LDP Policy Research Council (PARC) council chair Takaichi Sanae, who yesterday was rumored to be the new minister of economics, trade and industry (METI) will instead be taking over at internal affairs and communications (MIC). The youthful Obuchi Yuko, whom the Yomiuri Shimbun two days ago assured us was on the fast track to the new secretary-general post (Link), will instead be named METI minister. (Link - J)

These latest announcements make a great deal of sense. Perhaps not in terms of policy but definitely in terms of individual temperament and the balancing of the prime minister's numerous priorities in leading both the state and the party.

So, after what seems to have been 10,000 leaks, what are the current projections for the revamped (commentators have asked whether after so many shifts of personnel the word "reshuffled" is appropriate) second Abe cabinet and LDP secretariat? And what can one say about the postings?

First, the top LDP posts, which are to announced later this morning, with women officer holders indicated by a (W).

Secretary-General: Tanigaki Sakakazu
Provides the solution to
a) the need for a non-Machimura faction member in the top 3 (prime minister/party president, chief cabinet secretary, party secretary-general) power positions
b) the need for a high-ranking, seasonsed secretary-general (Tanigaki has been LDP party president and finance minister)
c) the need for someone who will not use the secretary-general position as an instrument of personal advancement (Tanigaki is never going to be party president again and has no implementable political agenda)

PARC Chair - Inada Tomomi (W)
By switching Inada out of the Cabinet and Takaichi in, Abe replaces one revisionist highly qualified professional woman prone to indiscriminate spouting of katakana English management jargon and high tech terms for another.

Chair of the General Council - Nikai Toshihiro
Nikai has been masterful in the all-important post of chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, where all of the government's main business is debated and discussed. He has been marching the government's business through the committee all while giving the powerless minority a chance to make its case or poke holes in the government's positions. Such competence and fairness is, of course, inexcusable -- so Nikai is being moved to the LDP's General Council, which has devolved into the party internal complaints department.

Little mention has been made in the press of a new chair for the LDP's election strategy committee, the party's next highest ranking post. NHK is saying this morning that the inoffensive and managerial METI minister Motegi Toshimitsu will be sliding over into the post. If that turns out to be yet another failed trial balloon, Kawamura Takeo will remain where he is, maintaining continuity in planning for a snap House of Representatives election, if Abe deems one necessary. (Shisaku archive)

In the afternoon, Abe will hand out his cabinet posts. The line up so far is:

Chief Cabinet Secretary - Suga Yoshihide
CONTINUING - because Abe cannot find anyone better for the CCS position, even if he tried, which he will not.

Finance (MOF)- Aso Taro
CONTINUING - because Aso's serving in the minister's post is the least offensive way of diminishing to nearly zero the Finance Ministry's influence on government proceedings. It is is best for Abe to keep Aso near at hand and burdened down, for Aso has been unfaithful in the past. Setting him loose poses dangers for Abe in terms of LDP unity.

Foreign (MOFA) - Kishida Fumio
CONTINUING - Abe needed to sweep the faction leaders out of his cabinet to make room for junior members of the factions. However, he has found it hard to get rid of Kishida, who has both been a fine representative of Japan on the international stage and who has never openly differed with the prime minister on any issue. So Kishida stays.

Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) - Ota Akihiro
CONTINUING - The New Komeito used to demand the health, welfare and labor post because it seemed the best faucet from which to shower benefits upon New Komeito voters and potential New Komeitor voters. Then the party discovered the fiscal charms of MLIT. The LDP's partner has coveted the post ever since...and who can blame the NK for wanting to keep it?

Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) - Shimomura Hakubun
CONTINUING -Shimomura is the lone member of the cabinet who can claim to have grown up in dire poverty. He is the least wealthy of the cabinet members and will likely remain so after the revamp. Shimomura's story is an inspiring one of pulling oneself through study, scholarships and hard work -- which makes him Abe's perfect sledgehammer for whatever independence and liberality may linger in Japan's education system. Shimomura was kept on leash during these first two years of Abe 2.0. He is likely to be let loose now to run rampant on Japan's supposedly "masochistic" education culture.

METI - Obuchi Yuko (W)
Though most reports identify Obuchi-sensei as a former state minister for population and gender equality, her most recent government post was the not insignificant one of Senior Vice Minister of Finance (Dec 2012 to Aug 2013)

MIC - Takaichi Sanae (W)
With Takaichi taking over for Shindo Yoshitaka, one possibly has to call MIC the "ministry posting for those Diet members who pay frequent, ostentatious visits to Yasukuni"

[to be continued - MTC]

Screenshot courtesy: NHK

* The official English translation of Homusho is "Ministry of Justice." However, as anyone who has ever dealt with the nation's judicial system can tell you, "justice" is just about the worst description possible of the outcomes of Japanese juridical practice.

Monday, September 01, 2014

A Bogus Cabinet Reshuffle?

The big news this week is Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's planned reshuffle of his Cabinet on Wednesday. The cabinet lineup is looking rather long in the tooth; it is indeed the longest-lasting unreformed lineup in history (Link). It has had to weather some rather nasty fights -- the initiation of construction of the Futenma replacement facility at Henoko, the constant grind of bad news out of Fukushima Daiichi, the forcible passages of the Special Secrets Act and the Cabinet decision on collective self defense -- and looks a bit ragged for all its continuing popularity as measured against the support numbers of previous Cabinets. There is also a huge cohort of mid-career Liberal Democratic Party members who have never served in a cabinet post (not surprising: there was a change in government in 2009). Finally, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo feels compelled to matching his rhetoric on greater opportunities for women in public life with action, increasing the number of women in his cabinet from two to perhaps six (the pool of candidates is too small to go any higher).

Given the importance of the atmospherics, rather than the policy preferences of the various candidates for office, in the selection process, the buildup to this cabinet reshuffle has been inadroit. No, let us not be coy. It has been a farce...and it is not getting any better.

Abe mulling Obuchi as LDP's No. 2
Yomiuri Shimbun

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering appointing junior lawmaker Yuko Obuchi as secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party as he is set to reshuffle his Cabinet and party executive lineup, party sources said.

The prime minister hopes to form an internal consensus about his idea of granting Obuchi, 40, a House of Representatives member, the second most important position in the LDP, by confirming the wishes of the leadership of the LDP’s Nukaga faction to which she belongs, according to the sources.


Obuchi is the second daughter of the late former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. If her appointment is realized, she will be the youngest LDP member and first woman to take the post of party secretary general.

The sources said Abe aims to demonstrate his stance of proactively promoting women and create an image of the LDP renovating itself.

By gaining support from the public with these steps, Abe aims to overcome political battles over the security legislation and the next unified local elections...

(Link to article)
The last time I looked, and that was today, Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic Party is a serious, serious job. It requires an intense understanding of policy, party financial and personnel matters. It is a lightning rod, having to deal with intra-party resentment, political feuds, local versus national politics and demands for funds. It is also a very public post, with the secretary-general frequently having to interact with the news media as the party's top representative.

A nightmare, in other words.

Into this spot Abe purportedly wants to slot a five-term (5 terms is the usual minimum number of elections for consideration for a first cabinet posting) House of Representatives member, a legacy member with but a single stint in a minor, invented cabinet post, as not just the first woman but the youngest person ever to serve as secretary-general of the only party in Japan which really matters.


I know that the Fukuda, now Machimura, Faction -- Prime Minister Abe's and Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide's faction -- is fundamentally at odds with the Tanaka, now Nukaga, Faction. However, even as an act of exquisite historical spite, the appointment of Obuchi as the LDP's Secretary-General is beyond the pale. Everyone likes Obuchi-san; no one is frightened of her or feels intimidated by her. One does not have to read Machiavelli to realize how the drama will end.

Indeed, the entire process of selecting this new Cabinet and LDP party officer lineup has been surreal.

First, the process of sculpting a new administration and party leadership, which was supposed interspersed and intertwined with rounds of golf, was completely overwhelmed by the landslides of Hiroshima. Abe had to commute from his vacation home to the Kantei, where he could do exacly nothing about the number of those who died and the on-again, off-again rescue and recovery efforts.

Second, the seemingly all-important replacement of Ishiba Shigeru as Secretary-General spun out of Team Abe's control. Even a child could see there was zero chance that Ishiba would accept the thankless made-up job of minister of revising legislation to implement of the July 1 Cabinet Decision on collective self-defense. When economic developments and ugly, incoherent, lurching management of nuclear reactor restarts, the Special Secrets Act (due to go into effect in December) and collective self defense have darkened the outlook for Abe, the incentives for Ishiba all point to turning down the offer and preparing for a run at the LDP presidency next fall. That run to replace Abe as LDP leader is still alive and indeed chances for it are improved by Ishiba's supposed turnaround on Friday. At a highly anticipated "summit meeting" between Ishiba and Abe at the Prime Minister's Residence Ishiba agreed to consider accepting a cabinet position other than the military legislation one (Link). The breadth of the grin on Ishiba's face as he spoke to reporters at the Kantei showed it was the prime minister who was in the desperate, sweating wheeler-dealer role and Ishiba in the role of magnanimous and harmonious party magnate...

...all of which absolutely no sense because whoever is serving in the post of secretary-general will be responsible for success or failure of LDP candidates in three incredibly difficult and highly visible elections: the Fukushima gubernatorial contest, the Okinawa gubernatorial contest and the April 2015 unified local elections. The chances of the LDP's candidates prevailing in all three races are basically nil. The question facing the party's secretary-general is how to minimize the losses.

To whit: why forcibly replace Ishiba, when events are likely to usher in his disgrace and resignation?

UNLESS, of course (and I am indebted to my friend T.K. for this line of reasoning) the cabinet reshuffle is just a front, a slapping up of freshly painted, smiling faces for an abbreviated Diet session where the only work done is the decision to proceed with the rise of the consumption tax from the current 8% to 10%, followed by a Diet dissolution. The consequent House of Representatives election would then be billed as a virtual referendum on the tax decision and the first two years of Abe 2.0.

If that is the game afoot then a lot -- the muted Obuchi appointment, the desperate need to get Ishiba out of the way -- starts to make sense. The LDP is likely to get its butt handed to it in local elections over the next few months due situations (the continuing environmental disaster at Fukushima Daiichi; the presence of U.S. Forces on Okinawa; rural economic decay) beyond any immediate solution. So why let the calendar and chronic problems rule the party, when the prime minister/LDP president can just derail the train of events? Why not change the subject, in a big way? Why wait, when the opposition parties which have few institutional supporters and zero inspiring leaders, are unready to defend even the few seats they control in the House?

So what we are to see on September 3 is not perhaps not so much a bogus cabinet reshuffle as a mendacious one -- tactically mendacious, as I am fond of saying.