Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Does The Seoul Comfort Women Agreement Exist?

A technical question...but one with implications as to the conduct of foreign policy and the behavior of elites in elective democracies: does the Seoul agreement "finally and irreversibly" ending the comfort women dispute between Japan and the Republic of Korea actually exist?

By "exist" I mean in the way an English speaker would understand an agreement existing, as in "Is there an actual text on paper, parchment, stone tablet or pdf which both sides have signed -- with a pen, a brush, a mouse or a stamp? Is there some object, real or virtual, with the names of representatives of both sides on it?"

And if so, can we see it?

My current thinking is that there is no actual, signed agreement between the two nations containing the details announced at the press conference on December 28. The lack of a signed agreement would explain some of the odder bits of Monday's announcement, including

- why the announcement was not accompanied by a printout (Link)

- why the Japanese government promises in section 1(iii) of the announcement to do what it said it would do in sections 1(i) and 1(ii), with the government of the ROK repeating the assumption ("on the premise that the Government of Japan will steadily implement the measures specified in 1. (1) (ii)above") in 2(i). Under normal circumstances governments making declarations do not immediately double check themselves.

- why a Japanese embassy official in Washington has said the current agreement would not need to be approved by the Cabinet and

- last but not least that stunning adverb "approximately" in the English language version of the agreement, as in "approximately 1 billion yen". In the Japanese version, the numeral is modified not once but twice (omune ni 10 oku en teido - "roughly in the vicinity of 1 billion yen") -- not your everyday binding agreement figure of speech, to put it mildly.

Of course, that the Japanese press describes Monday's announcement as introducing to the world a go'i ( 合意 - "our meanings are in sync") rather than a kyotei (協定 - "formal agreement") should be probably be seen as prima facie evidence there is no document underpinning this supposed final and irreversible settlement.

If no actual document exists perhaps one will be produced later, possibly as a requirement of legalization of the transfer of "approximately one billion yen" from the government of Japan to a special account created by the government of the ROK.

I hope I am wrong in all this: I hope there is an actual signed agreement. I very much like signed agreements when the goal is to end a bitter, longstanding dispute.

However, if there is not one and the two countries end their animosity on the issue with proper restitution and respect being paid to the women, I am not going to niggle about a technicality.

Not today at least.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Looking at the So-Called Comfort Women Agreement

First, read the announcement of the agreement on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. (Link)

Second, read what Tatsumi Yuki of the Stimson Center has dashed out (she is a wonderworker). She nails down the implications of the main points of the agreement like no one else can. (Link)

A few additional thoughts:

- Over the weekend the Japanese news media reported a blizzard of leaked details about the agreement. Many of these reported details turned out to have been wrong.

a) the reported size of the fund was 100 million yen. The actual fund will be TEN TIMES that amount

(Hey, it is Japanese taxpayer money, so who cares, right? It is not as if those who poured oil on the fire of the comfort women issue all these years had to personally pony up.)

b) South Korea is not contributing to the fund. Instead, all it is doing is opening the account in its name.

c) The comfort woman statue in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul is not being removed or moved. The South Korean government has merely agreed to talk to the private interests who built it, keeping in mind Japanese government concerns about the statue.

A forensic look at the reporting over the weekend would determine which news organization reported which false assertion when. However, in general, by Monday morning, all the major news outlets, ideological cant notwithstanding, had at least a couple details about the agreement wrong. As a result, on Monday morning, the agreement being described in the news media was unbelievable.

Now just how it was that so many false leads were planted, and by whom for what purpose, is largely an academic exercise. However, a cavalier treatment of reporters, burning them with fake leaks, may have more serious consequences down the road for the perpetrators. The reporters will simply not trust their sources anymore, making the news media less likely to play along with whatever mischief or agenda shaping the leaker may wish to perpetrate in the future.

- Now we have a very good reason for why Inada Tomomi was passed over for a Cabinet post in the October Cabinet reshuffle. A Cabinet Decision (kakugi kettei) by the full Cabinet is necessary for the agreement to become official government policy. In light of Inada's longtime, vehement assertions that the South Korean position on the comfort women is "all too many lies" (Link - J) her vote on the Seoul agreement would have been uncertain. Most likely than not, she would have had to resign rather than vote in favor of what was announced yesterday, damaging both her career and any image of sincere Japanese government remorse.

So Abe kept her out of the Cabinet, avoiding a certain clash. Smart.

- Aside from the limp ROK promise to talk to private parties on the statue issue, most of the wording of the announcement favors the Japanese side.

Take the first line of yesterday's agreement, with the seemingly missing "its" after the conjunction:
(i) The issue of comfort women, with an involvement of the Japanese military authorities at that time, was a grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women, and the Government of Japan is painfully aware of responsibilities from this perspective.
The Japanese military gets off the hook here, with the procurement of women for its officers and enlisted men downgraded to "an involvement" in the trafficking. The Japanese text is actually a bit more forceful, saying that activities took place "under the umbrella of" (kanyo no shita ni) of the Imperial Army. However, the Japanese is also more legalistic, quarantining the military as being not the Imperial Army but "the army of that time" (toji no gun).

As for what might be called "the missing 'its" as in "the Government of Japan is painfully aware of its responsibilities" it is also missing in the Japanese text. When I was reading the first reports of the agreement in Japanese, I wondered whether the lack of a clear recognition of the government's being responsible was the result of a stylistic or an intentional vagueness. The awkward English translation seems to confirm an intentional fudging, again very much to the benefit of the GOJ, of just whose responsibilities are being discussed.

- Is it just me, or does the announcement seem a lot like an agreement struck between children? Both sides agree to fulfill their part of the bargain as long as the other side fulfills theirs first. Adults do not demand these kind of chronologically impossible guarantees, do they?

- Trying to make sense of what was being reported in the news, I came to an incorrect conclusion in my post of yesterday. However, I wrote to a friend:

"I find Abe's diplomacy refreshingly amoral -- never seeking to do what is right, only that which incrementally increases leverage, knocks opponents off balance and fulfills the minimum requirement."

A few days back I also tweeted:

I believe yesterday's announcement not inconsistent with these statements.

As a result of yesterday Abe Shinzo is being hailed as "Japan's Nixon," cutting the deal only he can cut as in "only Nixon can go China."

Uhmmm...please tell me something I did not already know...a year ago.

After careers as arsonists on the comfort women issue, Prime Minister Abe and President Park had their surrogates show up on the scene with fire extinguishers. We will see if the current geopolitical environment allows the pair of hereditary rulers of their respective countries to simply waltz away from their suddenly unfriended extremists.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The So-Called So-Called Comfort Women Issue Resolution Proposal

There is nuts. Then there is full blown, hair-askew, pants-on-backwards insane.

From news reports, the proposal on resolution of the comfort women issue Foreign Minister Kishida Fumio will be offering to his South Korean counterpart in a few hours's time is the latter.

According to news reports, Kishida is going to ask the ROK side to accept:
1) a fund of 100 million yen (currently about USD $825,000) for the medical, welfare and income needs of the surviving Korean comfort women

2) a request that the ROK government also contribute to the fund

3) letters from Prime Minister Abe Shinzo to all the survivors expressing his remorse at their pain, deprivation and humiliation

4) the ROK government's declaring that the government of Japan bears no legal responsibility for acts done to the comfort women, i.e. that the repudiation of ROK legal claims in the 1965 normalization treaty apply also to the comfort women's claims

5) that the ROK government will agree to remove or move the statue of the seated young girl installed by private interests in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul

6) that the two governments sign a binding agreement declaring the comfort women issue resolved.

I am not making any of the above up. (Link - J video)

I know very little about contemporary South Korean politics (it is hard enough to keep track of the politics of Japan, thank you very much) but my cursory knowledge still tells me there is virtually nothing in the above that the Park Geun-hye government can accept, given its level of popularity with the voters.

With unacceptability as the assumption, two alternative explanations have been bandied about:

A) That the above is actually not the proposal, and that the news media of Japan have been quoting sources who are voicing their virulent opposition to whatever the Abe administration is actually proposing, or

B) The above is really what the Abe Administration is offering, fully cognizant that the ROK will reject it, allowing Abe and Company to shrug their shoulders and say, "Look, we made an offer and they turned us down flat. Next."

Of course, there is always:

C) the ROK through gritted teeth accepts the above.

The reason for (C) even being remotely plausible is pressure from the United States, ally of both of these headstrong governments. According to the Asahi Shimbun " numerous persons in the loop of Japan-ROK relations" have confirmed that if an accord is reached the U.S. government will immediately issue a statement of congratulating its allies for resolving this difficult bilateral issue. (Link - J)

A statement of congratulations...oh whoop-de-doo.

As persons following my tweets on Twitter know I am firmly in the (B) camp. My reading is that key members of the Abe government are certain the current ROK government and a large chunk of the South Korean public have no intention of ever letting Japan and the Japanese off the hook for the colonial era -- and why should they, as resolution of historical/territorial issues would open the door for closer Japan-US-ROK military cooperation, upsetting China?

As a consequence, any realistic Japanese attempt at a rapprochement would be pointless, leaving Japan looking like a rejected beggar.

Japan's main interest in these talks seems to be the pleasing of U.S.A. policy makers, putting on a show of seeking resolution so that the Japan Hands can check off the "a more concerted effort toward resolving the comfort women issue" box on the U.S. list of "Things the Abe Government Needs to Do."

In a few hours' time we will know better.

Monday, December 07, 2015

As Heresies Go, Mine's Not Going To Make Me Too Popular

Let me just toss this out, as it has been annoying me for a while.

"Womenomics" -- the precise term invented by Goldman Sachs analyst Kathy Matsui (Link) and the Abe Government's fluffier set of programs intent on improving the status and numbers of women in corporations and government -- promise(s) to increase the size of Japan's GDP per capita and in total. By injecting the talents of women into the established sectors of the economy, corporations will have greater sales and government will become more responsive, bettering people's lives.


When since the beginning of the Meiji Period has Japan's problem been a lack of talent? Put another way, when since those very few decades after the Restoration has there been a massive need to import skilled labor?

Has not the problem in Japan been, and acutely so since the collapse in the Bubble, corporations and government sitting on talent, misapplying it or allowing it to wither?

If so, how will luring more women into the corporate and career government paths improve the performance of these entities? Without a fundamental reform in the way labor is used -- with workers allowed to flow toward more profitable and efficient enterprise -- having more women in the corporate management and government might mean only women will be gaining an equal chance at having their talents go to waste.

As for society at large, the triumph of "Womenomics" could significantly decrease public welfare. A consequences of the poor uptake of women into career path Japanese corporate and government positions has been a surplus of talented women seeking to become professionals (doctors and lawyers), working for non-Japanese corporations and establishing their own businesses and NGOs. By increasing the percentage of the women gaining access to higher level positions in The Establishment one would be shrinking the pool of talent available for these often much more socially constructive courses.

Already improving opportunities for women in corporations and government could be one of the factors behind the trend identified in a hard-to-read but still fascinating recent graph from plotted//grundriss. Entrepreneurship, rather than equalizing in between the sexes, has become an increasingly male activity. (Link)

While other factors may be in play -- the large lump of mostly male Baby Boom retirees looking for something to do with the last two decades of their active lives, for example -- the decreasing percentage of women entrepreneurs corresponds with the expected outcome from greater opportunities opening up for women in government and established corporations.

In a broader and less fair sense, should we not be more skeptical about ideas hatched in the Goldman Sachs fun factory? Kathy Matsui may be a fine human being (I cannot say, having only chatted with her that one time at that bizarre conference) but any analysis finding "the world would be a better place if more persons were able to become like us" has to be seen as at least potentially unsound -- especially if the definition of "better" is "that which allows us to sell more of our precisely targeted investment instruments."

I get it that in the aggregate having more women working increases the number of wage earners and thus the size of the economy. However, that "Womenomics" has never been shy about being a nakedly regressive nationalist social policy, pushing Japanese women into the workforce to take up mostly the sorts of jobs other societies have immigrants do -- receiving thunderous applause from international circles in the process -- that I do not get.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Me-ish Stuff, Of Cabbages And Kings

- The announcement of my press luncheon at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan on December 17 (Link)

- The announcement for my open-to-the-public talk at Temple University Japan's Azabu Campus on January 7 (Link)

- My most recent essay in the FCCJ's in-house magazine on Abe Shinzo's ichi oku so katsuyaku rigmarole (Link)

- Rikkyo University's A. J. Sutter's rendition of our discussion on this blog (Link A) into a Japan Times article. (Link B)

"Respected scholar and blogger" - something to add to the sidebar?

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Speaking Of The Dead

De profundis clamavi ad te Domine!

"From the depths I call out to thee, oh My Lord!"

Yesterday, Former U.S. National Security Advisor Samuel "Sandy" Berger died at the age of 70. None of the Japanese language obituaries of him mention Berger's having been awarded last month the Grand Cordon of the Rising Sun, the nation's highest award for non-Japanese (Link), a fact that CNN, in its obituary, did not fail to mention. (Link)

Berger's award was peculiar in at least three ways. First because he has never been portrayed in the popular media as a particularly special friend of Japan, or as someone openly associated with the careful management of the Tokyo-Washington political relationship. Second because of his infamous and shameful attempt to walk out of the U.S. National Archives with original copies of government documents hidden in his pants -- an incident so bizarre it would normally disqualify someone from receiving a major award. Thirdly because he was a token Democrat in an otherwise staunchly Republican list of American awardees announced on November 2.

Who were the other Americans (5 of the 12 awardees were Americans) receiving the Grand Cordon of the Rising Sun this Autumn? Hold on to your hats (and possibly your hearts):
Richard Armitage
Brent Scowcroft
James Baker
Donald Rumsfeld
The first three would be on anyone's list of The Usual Suspects list of Establishment Friends of Japan. They were all going to get the Grand Cordon eventually.

The last name, however, should have been the source of screams of disbelief. "DONALD RUMSFELD!?!" Co-concoctor of the now 11 year old Iraq War? A figure so divisive and disgraced U.S. Republicans will not touch him?

Need anyone be reminded that Donald Rumsfeld was U.S. Secretary of Defense when a gaggle of joy-riding Republican donors crashed a U.S. nuclear-power submarine into a training vessel of a Japanese high school, sinking the ship killing five teachers and four students? That he refused to send a high-ranking Defense Department official to apologize to the families and the Japanese nation after the accident? And that he repeatedly said "No" to requests that just out of simple decency he stop the practice of allowing civilians to handle and operate U.S. weapons platforms and systems? (Link)

That guy gets a Grand Cordon of the Rising Sun? Who submitted the recommendation?

And no, that former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro himself did not leave his golf game after hearing the first reports of the Ehime Maru Accident, a show of detachment and contempt that forced the hated Mori's resignation and his replacement by Koizumi Jun'ichiro, does not make Donald Rumsfeld's being gonged any the less appalling.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Regarding Osaka's Ambitions and Koizumi The Younger

Uploaded to YouTube, the latest from Langley Esquire's Tokyo on Fire series of videos, with host Timothy Langley, Nancy Snow and me offering our takes on the results of the November 22 Osaka double election. (Link)

Liberal Democratic Party president Abe Shinzo's gloating abandonment of the Osaka chapter of the LDP is a thing of wonder. As a display of raw power, I can think of nothing comparable in recent Japanese politics, save perhaps Koizumi Shinjiro's winning the most votes of any candidate for office in the December 2014 House of Representatives election, despite having spent only TWO DAYS campaigning in his district. (Link)

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

That 100 Million Figure, Mr. Prime Minister

I have a new article out in the latest edition of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan's house magazine, the Number 1 Shimbun. I take a brief look at the bizarrely named and even more bizarrely developing New Three Arrows of Abenomics, or as the program is called, mendaciously, "Promoting the Dynamic Engagement of All Citizens." (Link)

A few things got left on the cutting room floor. One of the "so"s of a so katsuyaku (Setagaya Mayor Hosaka Nobuto has noted that the government is taking a passive stance here, since grammatically katsuyaku is something that one can only observe others doing, not do oneself). Oh, and this decorative bit of pontification:
Writing on politics requires a sturdy skepticism, some would even say cynicism. But the duplicitous use of pre-1945 rhetoric as decoration for a national program that does not exist and in all likelihood will never exist transcends the boundaries of cynicism.
As we know, my assessment of "never existing" was premature: a document has been produced...a really embarrassing-to-read document. (Link)

Speaking of shimbun, what the heck is going on at the Yomiuri? The heretofore frenetically applauding advocate for all things Abe and Abe-like is suddenly reporting all kinds of unflattering things about the prime minister's friends and programs (some examples: Link and Link).

It is as if the welcome mat is not so happy with being stepped upon anymore.


Image: Mitsu no kama no taki ("Three Pot Falls") Okutama Township, Tokyo Metropolitan District on 29 November 2015.
Image courtesy: MTC

Monday, November 30, 2015

Oh King Of Awful Majesty!

Rex tremendae majestatis
qui salvandos salvas gratis,
salva me, fons pietatis!

"King of Awful Majesty
You who save the worthy without charge,
save me, oh font of mercy!"

[Link - video]
Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is in Paris today, a participant in the mass gathering of world leaders for the COP 21. The good and the mighty will come together, maybe, to map out the next step in our saving of ourselves from the consequences of our lifestyles and organizations, at least as far as climate change goes.

While Mr. Abe is likely to be still asleep at this hour, a brilliant morning awaits him politically. The latest Kyodo News poll is out and it is a stunner for the PM and his allies.

First is the baseline Cabinet support number. It has risen a solid 3.5 points, continuing the Abe Cabinet's popularity's steady climb out its August nadir. Support for the Abe Cabinet now stands at 48.3% of all respondents, with 40.2% of respondents not supporting (down 0.8% from last month). Only 11% of the voters remain on the sidelines (down 2.7% since last month).
Q: Do you support the Abe Cabinet?

Support 48.3%
Do not support 40.4%
Don't know/can't say 11.3%
Asked the reason why they support the Cabinet, a staggering 36.5% of the respondents now say it is because "There is no other appropriate person but Abe Shinzo." This represents a rise in this figure of 8.4 points over a single month. At no time in recent memory has such a large fraction of the electorate enthusiastically/resignedly seen no alternative to the current leader.

Emphasizing the "One Abe to Rule Them All" theme was the movement in favor of the Liberal Democratic Party over this last month -- which is there was no such movement.

Here are the support figures for the parties, both from the survey over this weekend and the one conducted October 7-8 (in parenthesis).
Q: Which party do you support?

LDP 36.7% (36.8%)
Komeito 4.2% (3.6%)
DPJ 10.2% (10.4%)
Communist 4.2% (4.2%)
Innovation 1.1% (4.4%)
Osaka Ishin 4.4%
DSP 0.8% (1.2%)
Other parties 1.4% (1.3%)
Undecided 36.5%% (36.1%)

Osaka Ishin, fresh off its triple victory in the prefectural, mayoral and assembly elections on November 22, has siphoned off the support from the rump Innovation Party (no surprise here) and some further votes from...somewhere else (time will tell). While it has been tempting to write off Osaka Ishin as a minor regional force, with no hope of a national reach anytime soon, attracting 4.4% support in a national poll should shake up some quarters as it surpasses the support for the indubitably national Communist and Komeito parties.

The DPJ secretariat should also be breathing a sigh of relief today, as the poll shows that the bitter and pointless attempt by DPJ conservatives to unseat the moderate party leadership, revealing the ideological divisions within the main opposition party, has not cost the party much of its support. Yet.

In addition to basking in the glow of a near 50% approval rating that is his alone, Abe Shinzo will likely be beaming from the results of the last question of the survey. The responses seemingly refute the concept that Japanese voters are risk-averse when it comes to deploying the Self Defense Forces.

Q: Do you agree with or oppose the dispatch of the Self Defense Forces to the South China Sea to engage in 'cautionary surveillance' (keikai kanshi) of China's building of artificial islands?"

Agree with 52.7%
Oppose 39.9%
No opinion/not sure 7.4%

If you had told me yesterday 52% of Japanese voters are ready and willing to send the SDF into a confrontation with China, I would have thought you daft. Today I obviously would not think you daft...but I am not convinced the Japan normalization partisans should be toasting each other in victory. A telephone poll by definition does not have the respondents looking at a map. For those on the main islands of Japan, the difference between the East China Sea and the South China Sea could be kind of fuzzy. The Senkakus and the Spratlys are both in "the south" at least as seen from everywhere in Japan except Okinawa, and there both in a "China Sea" of a sorts. Asking the voters would they be willing "to have the SDF sailing in between increasingly militarized artificial islands lying in between the Philippines and China" might have generated a different percentage of approving respondents.

Whatever the reality of the level of support for provocative peacemaking, Mr. Abe has reason to look at the mirror today, turn his head to the right, and sigh:


Image: Sunrise from atop Mitake-san, looking toward Yokohama and the Chiba Peninsula. Ome City, Tokyo Metropolitan District, 28 November 2015.
Image courtesy: MTC

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Prime Minister's New Plan, Sir

It is a rare foggy morning here, appropriate weather for the release of the interim plan for the "Dynamic Engagement of All Citizens" - the Abe government's grab bag of proposals to meet its New Three Arrows goals.

For those willing to rush in where angels fear to tread, here is the link to the Prime Minister's Residence proposal text. (Link)

Whether this text is the Request from the Liberal Democratic Party regarding an "Urgent Proposal for Realizing the Dynamic Engagement of All Citizens" (Link); the proposal from the Komeito on "Realizing a Society in which Every Single Person Can Shine and Play an Active Role"(Link); a conflation of the Request and the Proposal; or none of the above, I do not know.

The Kantei text seems to be a flash-translation with little-to-no input from any native speakers of English. The result is an excruciating to the point of being humorous ("Dream-Weaving Childcare"? Somebody call Gary Wright, he has a theme song to sell) read.

Of course, the clumsy English could be part of a Sirius Cybernetics strategy, where the superficial deficiencies of the language mask the deep and fundamental deficiencies in the thinking.

The busy might want to skip to the last page of the ostensibly brief (19 page) plan. Here on a single slide is the whole report, in what wags might call inimical Japanese Powerpoint style.

As for those who slog through the swamp of the text and peer into its forest of lofty notions and ambitious timetables, they might find themselves reprising in their heads the exchange between Colonel Kurtz and Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now:
Kurtz: Did they say why, Willard, why they want to terminate my command?

Willard: I was sent on a classified mission, sir.

Kurtz: It's no longer classified, is it? Did they tell you?

: They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound.

Kurtz: Are my methods unsound?

: I don't see any method at all, sir.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Supreme Court Says, "FIAT"

Back in the bad old days, back before the company owned a major U.S. car maker, Fabbrica Italiana Automobili di Torino had what could be charitably called "quality control issues." The sardonic joke about the automobili manufactured by the company was the acronym "FIAT" actually stood for what one had to say to one's mechanic Anthony when one brought the automobili in:
"Fix It Again, Tony!"
Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Japan did largely the same thing. The automobile in this instance was the nation's electoral map. Anthony's Garage is the Diet and Anthony (Tony) is the Liberal Democratic Party.

In a split decision the Supreme Court ruled that the 2014 electoral district map, where the greatest vote disparity was 2.13 (meaning that 2.13 times as many voters lived in the largest district as lived in the smallest, reducing the value of each individual's vote in the largest district to only 47% of a vote in the smallest one) violated the principle of the legal equality of citizens under Article 14 of the Constitution. Three of the justices ruled the electoral map unconstitutional, one declaring the election invalid. Two dissenting justices ruled the electoral map constitutional. An outright majority (9 of the 14 offering opinions) ruled the electoral maps and the election results "in a state of unconstitutionality" (iken jotai - 違憲状態 - Link).

Ruling a distorting electoral map "in a state of unconstitutionality" is a sophistic fiddle. Some might see it a pusillanimous fiddle, with the justices running away from a confrontation with the Diet despite an Article 81 "power to determine the constitutionality of any law, order, regulation or official act." The Diet and the Government, for their parts, could choose reject a Supreme Court unconstitutionality decision, arguing that under Article 41 the Diet is "the highest organ of state power" which cannot be unseated by a lesser power. (Link)

Labeling the electoral map "in a state of unconstitutionality" does sidestep a clash of the branches of the government over who is supreme based upon the two conflicting Constitution articles. However, rather than a flight from responsibility this twisted non-ruling ruling (similar to the option in Scottish jurisprudence of a verdict of "Not Proven" where guilt cannot be established but everybody still thinks the defendant guilty as hell) should perhaps be more properly seen as a necessary and paradoxical step toward preserving the constitutional order.

Suppose the justices were to ever to lose their collective minds and rule a House of Representatives election unconstitutional and invalid. From such a ruling the sitting Diet would instantaneously become illegitimate and without constitutional standing. The Diet, however, is under Article 41 "the sole, law-making organ of the State" and under Article 47 the sole organ vested with power to determine electoral districts. The justices would thus be ordering a repair of the electoral map whilst simultaneously wiping out the only body able to fix it.

What Masunaga Hidetoshi, one of the leaders of the lawyers who filed the complaint, thinks the Supremes did yesterday. (Link - J)

By ruling the electoral map in a "state of unconstitutionality" for the third time, the Supremes are scolding the LDP for its shenanigans without tearing the entire edifice down in the process. With the closest the Supremes can come to fury they are pushing the electoral map back into the Diet building and telling the LDP that the ruling coalition's sneaky +0/-5 solution of 2013 did not fix the disproportionality problem in the House of Representatives.

"So FIAT!" is what the Supremes are saying.

The government has promised to take the Court ruling seriously - coded language for "we will fiddle with the map again until we find a way to limit the difference between the largest and the smallest districts to 1.994" -- the level of proximity to the Supreme Court-determined no-go level of 2.0 the LDP's crafty map makers achieved in their last version of the electoral map -- in a whatever the ruling coalition thinks a reasonable amount of time may be. (Link)

Yesterdays decision and the ruling coalition's promise to be serious is all that anyone could have and can hope for in terms of the Supreme Court's making Japanese elections more fair and thus better, in theory, at delivering good governance.

Meanwhile, in another challenge to a widely disliked Abe Era law, the Tokyo District Court passed on ruling on the constitutionality of the new and extremely controversial Designated Secrets Act (Link - J). The refusal to accept the case was to be expected, the Tokyo Court following the precedent set down by the Supreme Court's Suzuki Decision of 8 October 1952, which found that unless a plaintiff can demonstrate an actual injury from a statute, the judicial branch will abstain from all involvement in a case. Groups representing the news media argued that the Act injures journalists by preventing them from doing their jobs. The judges of the Tokyo District Court asked, "Who is the specific plaintiff and what specific hurt was caused by the Act?" -- questions to which there were, of course, no answers.


So Case Dismissed.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What Womenomics Can Achieve

I have on-gain/off-again Twitter wars with the opinionated Professor Noah Smith of Stony Brook University on subjects Japanese. In a recent exchange I lost patience with the good doctor, for which I am only slightly sorry.

Dr. Smith asked a simple question: why did Japanese women's fertility (number of births per woman) fall when the level of participation of Japanese women in the workforce was still low? To which I offered a simple answer: because age of first marriage rose. (Link)

In the economics explanation women have fewer children based upon calculations marginal utility and opportunity cost. While in agricultural societies children represent potential increases in labor force and output, in industrial and post-industrial societies children represent zero increase in output. Furthermore, for the woman in developed societies the birth of each child represents an economic subtraction, time and energy that could have been spent furthering their careers or increasing their take-home pay.

In Japan's case, however, declines in fertility preceded and exceeded possibilities of tradeoff between work and childbirth.

Hence my answer -- that in East Asia behavioral effects of calculations of marginal utility and opportunity cost are small compared to the effects on fertility of later marriage and the social stigma/economic catastrophe of out-of-wedlock birth. In contradistinction to the economic explanation, married women in Japan are having children at the same rate they always have -- lost economic opportunity turns out to be a feeble predictor of Japanese fertility.

The policy implications of this for the second of the Abe Administration's New Three Arrows -- raising the number of births from 1.4 per woman to 1.8 -- are clear. More day care, including day care centers inside corporate buildings (Link- J)? Largely irrelevant for fertility. Relevant for the workforce participation rate? Sure, flattening the infamous "M Curve" (Link). But largely irrelevant for fertility.

To raise fertility, the government can:

1) Convince Japanese to marry in their early twenties like they did in the 1970s.

2) Eliminate the social stigma and economic consequences of out-of-wedlock birth.

3) Increase the rate at which women above 35 years of age have children or extend the window of fertility by a delay in the onset of menopause, or

4) A combination of all three.

Good luck with the above.

But don't take my word for it. Check out the amazing slide presentation of Saito Jun of the Japan Center for Economic Research on Japan's capacity to overcome its lower fertility and shrinking population (Link). The whole (expletive deleted) argument over Japan's demographic limits to growth is laid out in detail.

Those with a little more time can check out the Tokyo on Fire videos for discussions of these matters. Like this one perhaps.

Class dismissed.

Later - There are many, many debates where I am rooting for Dr. Smith, such as the one he is currently having with John Cochrane on inter-generational fairness. (Link)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

No Factions, No Peace

Over the weekend I received suggestions from two friends to read the Jiji Press article on the decline of the factions.(Link)

My reaction? A shake of the head.

The factions are stalled as vehicles for leaders seeking to become prime ministers -- no question. Since the advent of the new single-member district electoral system 22 years ago, only three of the eight the Liberal Democratic Party Prime Ministers (counting Abe twice) have been faction leaders. The factions are still nurseries for prime ministers: every single LDP PM has been a member of a faction. However, that a person becomes the leader of a faction has only marginal bearing on his/her viability as a potential PM.

That being said, the factions are far from dead. In answer to the question asked by the LDP member quoted at the end of the article, the factions exist in order to keep the LDP together. They provide a mechanism for making appointments in a manner that dampens individual competition between members. Rotating posts amongst the factions, particularly sub-Cabinet level posts, enforces patience and forbearance among individuals who would otherwise fight tooth-and-claw to win a party post or political appointment. Factional rotation of appointments gives members reassurance that if they get along with others they will be rewarded, in due time. It also provides a mechanism for adjudicating appointment puzzles posed by the candidacies of several members with identical seniority records and tribal (zoku) affiliations. Handing the post to one person rather than another based an arbitrary (non-merit based) external attribute -- factional affiliation -- defuses a rivalry.

The argument against faction-based appointment decisions is that merit and talent and not rewarded. The institutional answer to that is "Yes, precisely." If competitions for party and government posts were talent-based, then the losers in competitions, had they any self-confidence (sort of a necessity in politics, really), would be left questioning the impartiality of the judgment or the relevance of the judging criteria. With factional rotation, however, a person loses a post because, well, "It was a decision based upon the need for balance among the factions." So nothing the candidate did was really wrong; the timing just was not right.

With the factions no longer led by persons with an inside track to becoming PM, where are we to look for good future PM candidates? With the rise of the theatrical PMs Hashimoto Ryutaro and Koizumi Jun'ichiro a pattern seemed to be emerging: wavy haired, energetic, outspoken, listenable, life-loving, defined, liberal economic reformist bottchan PMs with a need to play to the television cameras -- the type of personality and image tailor made for what political scientist Inoguchi Takashi has termed "kabuki politics" (Link). Neither Hashimoto nor Koizumi was the leader of his faction at the time. However, their flashy personas and stubbornness transcended their seeming institutional weaknesses.

Anyone who has had to listen to Abe Shinzo, who is not the leader of his faction, speak for more than 30 seconds, in whatever language, knows that while he is a bottchan, "listenable" and "defined" he ain't.

So how is it that Abe got himself elected in 2012 and reelected without a vote this year, making him a historically durable PM? That I will save for another time.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Double Take In Osaka

What to make of yesterday's double victory of the Osaka Ishin no Kai in the Osaka gubernatorial and mayoral races? (Link)

Not terribly much. At least not on a national scale.

While the candidates of Hashimoto Toru's and Matsui Ichiro's start up party were able to seize both posts over united establishment rivals, keeping alive Hashimoto's pet project of transforming Osaka into a metropolitan district (the merits of which no one has yet been able to explain to me) the caveats to the victories are many.

First was voter turnout. The gubernatorial and mayoral races attracted 45.4% and 50.5% of the voters, respectively. Both numbers were down from the last Osaka double election, 7.4% down in the prefectural race and a big 10.4% down in the race for the Osaka mayor's office. Both figures were way, way down from the Osaka unification referendum in May where 2/3 of the voters showed up in a contest Hashimoto's forces lost by a whisper. (Link - J)

Second was the ambivalent position of the Abe Administration toward Osaka's political actors. Despite their immense difference in backgrounds, Prime Minister Abe and Hashimoto have long seen each other in a common cause. Hashimoto indeed asked Abe four years ago to leave the Liberal Democratic Party and become leader of his first upstart national party. Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide have been very solicitous of Hashimoto, making time in their schedules to meet with him and saying nice things about him at every invitation.

The close political cooperative relationship between Abe and Hashimoto has engineered a complete breakdown in coordination and trust between the Osaka chapters of the LDP and the national LDP headquarters. The LDP in Osaka ran its own candidates in the double election, asking for and receiving electoral support from blood rivals the Democratic Party of Japan and the Japan Communist Party. The election also caused a minor split between national allies the LDP and Komeito, with the Osaka Komeito chapter releasing its supporters to vote for whomever they wished.

Third, even with their victories in the executive branch posts, the Osaka Ishin no Kai still lacks enough seats in the prefectural and municipal assemblies to initiate the metro area plan. Osaka Ishin no Kai will still need cooperation from another party, ostensibly the Komeito since they are the enemies of just about everybody else.

Fourth, even with this victory, the Osaka Ishin no Kai is still only the rump of the rump of the national party Hashimoto co-led to an astonishing second-place finish in the proportional vote of the House of Representatives election of 2012. Independents spin-offs of the national party still remain in other parts of the country, some clinging to the Ishin brand name while clinging also to a significant amount of Hashimoto's cash in their bank accounts. Hashimoto is going to be fighting for that money -- to the detriment of his political mission and the forward progress of his regionalist movement.

Tactically, Prime Minister Abe's embrace of Hashimoto seems a disaster. He has made enemies of the LDP establishment in Osaka, Japan's second city.

Strategically, however, Abe's continued encouragement of Hashimoto's efforts hurts the national forces of opposition. As long as Hashimoto and his acolytes are in operation, the Kansai region has its own, home-grown opposition to the LDP. With the Ishin no Kai and the LDP slugging it out, perhaps good-naturedly (if Abe invests the time to bring the two sides to a truce) in the Kansai, the DPJ will have forego making a play for the Kansai's rich harvest of seats, making the path to becoming a worthwhile national challenger to the LDP all the harder.

Later - This morning's NHK news has zero reports on the Osaka elections results. Granted, today is a national holiday, meaning that NHK's newscasts are abbreviated. However, even the commercial networks seem to be downplaying the story -- demonstrating that the post-Koizumi, post-DPJ erosion of the image of politics and politicians continues. While terrible news for governance in Japan, the continued decline of the salience of politics is great news for those infatuated with/dependent upon the façade of stability.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

That Feeling Of Recursion

How important is resolution of the issue of the move of the functions of the Marine Corps Airbase Futenma to...anywhere but where they are now? On Friday, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo presided over a cabinet meeting. He had to do so because Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide, holder of position in charge of Cabinet meetings, is in Guam reviewing sites and facilities being prepared for the relocation of fraction of the U.S. Marine Corps forces currently based at Futenma. Though it was not much remarked in the reporting on the Suga visit (Link) Friday's meeting marked the first time in 19 years that a PM had to fill in for an absent chief cabinet minister.

When and what was the occasion of the last time a CCS was out of town and the PM had to direct a cabinet meeting? When Chief Cabinet Secretary Kajiyama Seiroku was in Okinawa, negotiating (successfully, as it turned out) Nago City's acceptance of being the host of a Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF). Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro presided over that cabinet meeting, a seeming eon ago (Remember the press conference of Hashimoto, with U.S. Ambassador Walter Mondale standing behind him, announcing the move of the Marines base from Futenma to Nago within five or at most seven years?) (Link -J)

Speaking of the move to Nago, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism approved a resumption of the groundwork for the FRF, overriding Okinawa Governor Onaga Takeshi's revocation of the initial construction permit (Link). While a logical move, the ministry's action represents further erosion of the guarantees of local autonomy, found in Articles 92, 94 and 95 of the Constitution. (Link)

Since the candidates supported or provided by Liberal Democratic Party of Abe Shinzo lost, in order, the Nago City election, the Okinawa Governor's election and all of Okinawa House of Representatives seats to anti-base construction candidates, Thursday's resumption of construction is a failure of the concept of local, democratic control.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The One Child Left Behind Policy

I hope to be on Al-Jazeera later today, talking about the Park-Abe-Li trilateral summit.

In the meanwhile, the latest* from Japan's master of political cartoons, Sato Masaaki, on the reception Mr. Abe may receive when he meets with the other two leaders in Seoul.


Li Keqiang: "The One Child All By His Lonesome" Policy will continue!

Park Geun-hye: You mean the "One Child Policy"? Aren't you discontinuing that?


(no translation necessary)


Tomorrow, try to not end up left out.


* Original image in color. Color removed to avoid copyright infringement.

Friday, October 30, 2015


It is one of my favorite prescient quotes in the Japanese political science literature:
"One of the most important conclusions to come out of the case of Japan is that the standards of a poor leader vary greatly by institutional and political context. A good leader in one such context may be a poor leader in another, but the reverse is also true. Miyazawa or Mori are good examples. Had they governed Japan 15 or 20 years before at the height of LDP dominance and not in the transition period of demands for reform with a different relationship with the media and the prime minister, they might not have done as badly. Kishi in power 35 years later with a center-left in opposition would have not had to violate democratic norms to get the Treaty passed. On the other hand, Koizumi would not have been as successful 15 or 20 years before. A contrary case is Abe. Had he governed in a top-down cabinet government with a united parliamentary party, he might have appointed better people to his cabinet and been able to indulge his passion for foreign affairs."

- Krauss, Ellis S., and Robert Pekkanen. "9. Profiles in discourage: prime ministerial leadership in post-war Japan." Poor Leadership and Bad Governance: Reassessing Presidents and Prime Ministers in North America, Europe and Japan (2012): 173.
Indulge his passion for foreign affairs... (Link)

On the other hand, the statement on Kishi may still be too hopeful. Kishi's grandson had some difficult getting his security bills through the Diet unscathed, even with a center-left opposition and full coalition majorities in place and already on board.

As for Abe's passion, it was the subject of discussion of Timothy Langley and my second-to-last Tokyo on Fire session, recorded two weeks ago and released on October 19. (Link to Video)

Later - For the record, Krauss and Pekkanen submitted the manuscript with the above conjecture as regards an alternate universe Abe Shinzo in October 2011 -- well before Abe reemerged from his own private political Siberia to seek the presidency of the LDP for a second time.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

My Morning News for 29 October 2015

Rockin' the DPJ's Boat

Not much good is coming from DPJ head honcho Okada Katsuya's meeting last month with the Japan Communist Party's Chairman Shii Kazuo on the terms of the two parties cooperating ahead of next year's House of Councillors election. Okada nixed the JCP's offers of a coalition (Link) up to and including a seductive and bewildering JCP promise to (provisionally) accept the constitutionality of the Self Defense Forces and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty (Link). The conservative wing of the DPJ, led (provisionally) by the party Policy Research Council chief Hosono Goshi, are screaming that coalition/cooperation with the JCP would plunge the DPJ into existential crisis.

One should always be wary of the declarations of the DPJ's perfidious conservatives. However they are right in this instance: the upside of electoral cooperation is outweighed by the message of incompleteness which it telegraphs:

"We do not have what it takes to fight the Liberal Democratic Party toe-to-toe; vote for us."

DPJ Leader Okada is in a tough position. He cannot simply say, "No" to the Communists, as they could be allies after the election. However, by not immediately rubbishing what Shii says, Okada creates the opportunity for the ambitious Hosono and his supporters to open up old ideological wounds.

In the meantime former Minister of Foreign Affairs Matsumoto Takeaki, one of the perfidious conservatives (How conservative? His website is a single page), delivered his request to resign from the DPJ,  citing irreconcilable differences with the party secretariat (Link - J). The departure of the former cabinet minister is painful but not unexpected: Matsumoto has been playing footsie with the Japan Innovation Party's Matsuno Yorihisa for quite some time (Link). The son of the Kaifu Cabinet's Director-General of Defense, Matsumoto serves in a safe and conservative district.

See ya, ya LDP wannabe.

As for the DPJ, neither the current leadership group nor the rank and file have found a message resonating with the non-aligned voters. Without a means of cajoling the uncommitted to make the journey to the polls next July, grim indeed are the party's chances of defending the 15 prefectural and 26 proportional seats it has up for grabs in 2016.

Ceci N'est Pas Un Poisson

On Tuesday, the new head of the LDP's Taxation Committee, former METI minister Miyazawa , met his coalition party opposite Saito Tatsuo for the first time since LDP president Abe Shinzo kicked the former tax sumpremo Noda Takeshi upstairs. The subject of the meeting was a split in the application of the next rise in the consumption tax, scheduled to take place on 1 April 2017. Both sides agree that certain everyday items should continue to be taxed at the present 8% rather than at the scheduled 10%. However, the parties are wide apart on what those items should be, with the LDP proposing to limit the lower rate to "fresh food" so as to blunt the loss of revenues. The Komeito, by contrast, wants all food and non-alcoholic drink to be taxed at the lower rate, shrugging off the tripling of the loss in revenues under such a broad definition. (Link)

The beauty of the Komeito's suggestion is its relatively simplicity: if people eat a product in the form in which it is sold, then it is taxed at the lower rate. The LDP's attempt to define "fresh foods," by contrast, leads to peculiar outcomes, the current favorite being that a large chunk of raw fish is fresh food while that same piece of fish sliced for consumption as sashimi is not.

Cue the TV announcers reporting from a supermarket, holding trays of fish both sliced and unsliced.

For two guys sitting and talking for an hour last Friday all about the consumption tax rise, check out me and Timothy Langley on the latest edition of Tokyo on Fire (Tokyo on Fire - Episode 30).

We Don't Need No Stinkin' International Court of Justice

As mentioned here last week, in response to the International Court of Justice's ruling that Japan's research whaling program violates the terms of the 1986 moratorium of the International Whaling Commission, the Abe Cabinet vewy, vewy qwietly proposed on October 6 an astonishing exemption of whaling from the ICJ's jurisdiction. Just how quietly became evident as the nation's broadcasters and new organizations reported on the story as news for the first time yesterday (Video - J). The Yomiuri Shimbun's English account, with its "learned Wednesday" of a story reported here a week ago, is especially precious. (Link)

What is mind boggling is that the unilateral exemption of whaling from ICJ jurisdiction contradicts Japanese government strategy, not just as regards the whaling issue but all of international relations. The government of Japan has traditionally and this Abe government particularly interested in arguing for a need to respect the rule of law in international relations. This strategic choice, due in part to Japan's position as a reticent military actor, puts Japan on a moral and tactical higher plane than its grand regional rival China, which is more likely to cite the judgment of history as the justification for its actions.

Why no one in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has pointed out the government is throwing out the baby with the bathwater only adds to an ineluctable sense of wonder at this evolving story.

Gotta Dance, Gotta Dance

Professor Jennifer Robertson of the University of Michigan should be feeling pretty spiffy today. In 1989 she produced a then pretty out-there paper on how the Takarazuka Review informed the behavior and public discussion of lesbians in the Late Taisho and Early Showa periods. (First Link Displayed)

Yesterday Masuhara Hiroko and Higashi Koyuki were first in line to register as partners under Shibuya's City new (and so far the country's only) program creating a legal equivalent of gay marriage. In a nice bow to history, Higashi, the tall one (naturally) is a former Takarazuka otoko yaku (male lead). (Link)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

My Morning News for 22 October 2015

What has caught my attention:

- Still slack-jawed with amazement am I at the Government of Japan's seemingly brand new approach to the decision of the International Court of Justice on the so-called scientific whaling program, outlined in this pdf available on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website:

For a government that has until this point claimed the moral high ground in disputes, calling for a strict adherence to international law (Link) the Abe administration claim that the ICJ does not have jurisdiction anymore over research whaling is mind-blowing. Taking disputes to the ICJ is a consensual process: both states accede adjudication willingly, under the presumption that whatever the Court's decision will be, the states will abide by it.

Unsurprisingly, the Australian Government is stunned by the GOJ's move (Link 1 and Link 2). What can the government of Australia do? Rescind the just agreed-upon visit by the Prime Minister (Link)? Downgrade security coordination? Mess with the submarine acquisition?

As for the Abe Government/MOFA, what the heck do they think they are doing? Is not strict adherence to the rule of law the cudgel of choice for bashing the People's Republic of China for that country's actions in the East China and South China Seas? Or does the rule of law only apply to territorial disputes (a possible reading of Abe's address to the U.S. Congress, cited above)?

- Party time at the party headquarters!

Masterful is the Liberal Democratic Party's latest gambit on a two-tiered system for the legally-mandated rise in the consumption tax from 8% to 10% on 1 April 2017: have the list of those items eligible for a lower tax rate expand incrementally (Link - J).

Absolutely gob-smacking brilliant! Have a tiny list of items at the outset, simplifying the passage of the necessary adjustment legislation through the upcoming 2016 Regular Session of the Diet, allowing the coalition partner Komeito to keep its promises of a lower tax rate for household necessities made to the Married Women's Division of the Sokka Gakkai. Include the new, lower tax rate as a part of the package of goodies coalition candidates can crow about in their House of Councillors campaigns next summer. Then, from here until eternity, have representatives of companies and industrial & consumer groups lounging around in the hallways of the LDP, begging for inclusion of their items in the list of "household necessities."

- I wrote a short piece for the FCCJ's Number One Shimbun arguing that Abe Shinzo is likely to avoid visiting Yasukuni for the rest of his term in office. My reasoning? Abe has found something even better than Yasukuni. (Link)

I have worried that Abe can reverse himself, that in the giddy atmosphere of Abe's unchallenged reelection as president of the LDP and the continuing lack of public interest in the opposition parties he might pay a visit to Yasukuni out of sheer adolescent exhilaration.

My worries were considerably lessened by Hagi'uda Ko'ichi's declaration to the Nikkei that in the name of regional peace Abe need not go to Yasukuni (Link). If Hagi'uda, the Yasukuni bagman (Link) whom I have characterized as Abe's "Id" (in the Freudian sense, with Abe as the Ego and Suga as the Super-Ego) is now on board with Abe's avoiding Yasukuni in the interests of diplomacy, then the deal is pretty much done.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Flaming Cabinet Pick Threat Level: DISCO INFERNO

Panchi yori
Pantsu ga saki ni
nyukaku shi

Before "The Punch"
It is "The Pants" ("the underpants")
Who got in the Cabinet first!

- Tweeted senryu by @damdamj, retweeted by Senator Yamamoto Taro


Most of the time the push-off replies "No Comment" and "I will not dignify that question with an answer" are the politician's friends.

There are some questions, though, which a politician has to answer with a direct "Yes" or "No" and let the chips fall as they may.

This afternoon, newly minted Minister of Reconstruction Takagi Tsuyoshi, shown below seated beside the Prime Minister at today's 14th meeting of the Reconstruction Promotion Council (this is a just-released tweet from the Prime Minister's Residence) was confronted by one such question. Rather than surrender to the inevitable, he reached into the grab bag of push-off answers and let fly with one of the politer of the formulaic phrases:

「今日はそういった場所ではございませんので、お答えを控えさせていただく」 (Link - J)

"Today we are not at a place where we should be talking of such things so I should like to forego responding to your question at this time."

Minister Takagi Tsuyoshi

Unfortunately for Minister Takagi, the question being yelled at him at the Prime Minister's Residence was in regards certain allegations of misconduct of a rather peculiar kind. These allegations have been prominent in the headlines of the scandal sheets and the weekly magazines this week.

What was the question?

"Minister Takagi, it is true you were arrested 30 years ago for breaking into a young woman's home and stealing her underwear?"

Hope as one might, plead for delay as one might, there is no wiggle room here, so to speak.

This was really a "Yes" or "No" moment for Takagi.

Blew it he did.

By choosing to evade the question, he has instead opened the floodgates for what is a rising tide of ridicule.

Will the brand new minister's increasingly likely resignation damage the Abe administration? No, not significantly.

Will the resignation of a minister only 10 days after his installation increase pressure on Prime Minister Abe to reverse his present course and instead schedule an Extraordinary Diet Session for sometime in the last two months of this year? Possibly.

As for the above senryu it is a play on the words panchi ("punch") and pantsu ("underpants") which are separated by a single space in the table of the kana syllabary. "The Punch" referred to is the fist of Liberal Democratic Party Senator and former Ground Self Defense Forces Colonel Sato Masahisa in the face of Democratic Party of Japan Senator Konishi Yukihiro, a misleading image made infamous by The New York Times. (Link)

Colonel Sato, despite being one of the Prime Minister's favorite Senators and invaluable in the campaign to push (literally, in the final showdown) the security legislation through the House of Councillors, was not rewarded for his service with a cabinet post.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Very Kind Of Her #62

Elaine Kurtenbach and I recently had a conversation about the Olympic logo and stadium belly flops. As a much appreciated courtesy, she inserted a snippet from our talk in her eventual article. (Link)

However, I take exception to the thesis announced in the title, that the succession of egg-on-the-face embarrassments is the result of a particular Japanese mode of behavior or set of behaviors.


Indifference, laziness, buck-passing, box checking and blunt ignorance are not Japanese traits, nor are they the traits of Japanese bureaucracy and the Liberal Democratic Party. An insinuation that something essential about Japan has been exposed by this farce is poppycock.

Tokyo 2020 shows the world the weaknesses of one person: Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. Effective recruitment and deployment of talented advisors and officers are the prerequisites of good administration. In naming the persons he did to the chairmanship and vice chairmanship of the organizing committee, Abe guaranteed the committee's inability to function.

What we are left to speculate upon is whether failure -- albeit failure down the line, not right at the git-go -- may indeed may have been Abe's intent.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Ooops, I...

...have taken another major project that will keep me from posting regularly.

This time I will be hardly in evidence for just over a month. Inshallah.

Too bad, really. With the end of the longest Diet extended session ever; Abe's reelection as president of the Liberal Democratic Party; new parties emerging out of yet another Hashimoto Toru's ego-driven pile up; an emerging knot of schooled protest cadres taking on the security legislation and ultra-right wing harassment; and the likelihood of a Cabinet Reshuffle in October, the tightly-wound world of Japanese politics is about to a little looser.

Meanwhile, I do not think I ever acknowledged Dr. Jeffrey Lewis publishing an excerpt from an email I wrote (publishing it without checking with me first -- which is OK with me, but only because he is the one who did it) in one of his astonishingly intelligent contributions to Foreign Policy. (Link)

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Tokyo On File* - The Latest On Apologies (For Your Listening Pleasure)

As is our wont, Timothy Langley and I sat down and talked about a hot topic in Japanese politics. Last week we reviewed the Cabinet Statement on the 70th Anniversary.

The video is hard for me to look at due to my necktie's being askew. So I cannot recommend a viewing. However, the conversation is decidedly listenable, except for when I call Chairman of the National Safety Commission Yamatani Eriko "Minister Nakatani." Nakatani Gen is this blessed land's Defense Minister.

For those wanting to read about the Statement, I cannot recommend any analysis more highly than Kent Calder's essay reproduced in The Japan Times. He homes in on the most important failure: the Statement's lack of agency (Link). Interestingly this week Kitaoka Shin'ichi, the second-in-command of the 21st Century Commission that provided the prime minister with a framework for the Statement, complained that he wanted the Statement to be in the first person rather than in the passive voice. (Link - J)

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Edifice Complex Time

Is this for real?

Mitsubishi Real Estate has announced plans to construct a new office tower north of Tokyo Station. It will be the tallest building in Japan, surpassing the current record holder, the Abeno Harukas of Osaka, by a whopping 90 meters. The building will also be way, way taller than the longtime standard measure of bigness, Tokyo Tower.

And yet only 61 floors. Kind of...a waste. (Link)

Two items of note:

1) The artist's rendition has the Shuto Expressway de-elevated -- brought down to street level -- and Nihombashi, the central measuring point of Edo Japan, standing in the sunshine for the first time since 1963 (arrow in the above).

If this change is for real and not just wishful thinking by the artist the project, despite its gargantuan proportions, will draw cheers. Getting rid of the elevated Shuto Expressway, built out over the river in order to avoid property acquisition issues, has been an essential dream of preservationists and urban specialists, not to mention Bank of Japan officials who have resented the Expressway's ruining of their neighborhood.

Of course the shade provided by the expressway has kept water temperatures in the river cooler, not a bad thing in a time of climate change, warm water discharge from domestic use and urban heat island effects...

2) As a markets indicator, the announcement is a real downer. The near completion of giant buildings traditionally presages a crash in stock and real estate markets.

The developer hopes to start construction of the building in 2023 with completion in fiscal year 2027.

So mark your calendars. And watch your wallets.

Image courtesy: Yomiuri Shimbun

Monday, August 31, 2015

Very Kind Of Him #61

"Yui-san, I see you are flanked by two U.S. astronauts. This would be a perfect time for you to express your indignation at Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's recent visit to Etorofu!"

I'm not the man they think I am at all
Oh, no, no, no.
I'm a Rocket Man!

- Elton John & Bernie Taupin, "Rocket Man" (1972)
Andy Sharp of Bloomberg News has a bulletin out on the seeming contradiction between weekend's protests against the collective security legislation, the recent spate of truly crappy economic news and the rise in support for the Cabinet in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun's latest poll. He quotes me in the piece thusly:
"Abe has weathered a hot summer, both inside and outside the Diet building," said Michael Cucek, an adjunct professor at Sophia University in Tokyo. "It seemed for Abe the news could not get any worse, and then it happened: the news did not get any worse,” he said, adding that Abe seems to be "levitating in contempt of the normal downward pull of political gravity."

The crucial relationship is between the words "seems" and "to be levitating." Abe is not actually levitating. He does not have to: he is standing atop a lit multi-stage rocket.

The stages are:

First: a disengaged, disenchanted and lethargic electorate

Second: no major economic proposals promising better results than Abenomics

Third: no major rivals within the LDP

Fourth: no House of Representatives elections necessary for 3 1/2 years;

Fifth: almost suicidally fissionable opposition parties / no appreciable support for an opposition capable of seizing the reins of government (Tie)

There are likely more stages below these, hidden in the clouds.

Original image courtesy: Abe Shinzo Facebook page.

Very Kind Of Him #60

In his most recent column for The Japan Times Dr. Jeff Kingston has corralled quotes from a number of notables in the field of Japanese studies on the intrusion (eruption?) of Donald Trump in U.S. Republican Party politics. Somehow Dr. Kingston includes among me amongsst the august company.(Link)

I am, as always, grateful.

To be honest, I was reticent to contribute a comment. Politics in America is deeply unfunny.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Can Abe Save The Tokyo Olympics?

So the Yomiuri Shimbun is sycophantic. Tell me something I did not already know. (Link)

But beyond asking the reader to laugh at the Yomiuri articles's North Korea-like reverence for direct guidance from the Supreme Leader, some further, unbridled thoughts on the story of the search for a National Stadium:

1) These are the Abe Olympics

It is not clear from what springs Abe Shinzo's authority over matters as mundane (but crucial, given the current plan to hold the Olympics in August) as what kind of cooling system will be employed to keep spectators at the National Stadium feeling somewhat more comfortable. True Abe is the head of the government and the chairman of the government committee overseeing the Olympic effort.

However, a chairmanship is not an executive role. These are the decisions that need to be made by the director-general of a bureaucratic organization. The committee should be merely rubber stamping the decision of this as yet unnamed director-general.

So what is Abe doing here?

Guess: making sure that when he hands off the premiership in 2018 in a precedent-shattering transfer of power (to Inada Tomomi) parachuting in as the savior of the floundering Tokyo 2020 organization, that there still will be a Tokyo 2020 organization for him to save.

Abe decided to go all in in 2013, flying to Buenos Aires, delivering a speech in English in support of the Tokyo Olympic bid. At the time it seemed to many (including yours truly) that the Olympics were to be both an integral structural element and the capstone of the Abenomics economic revitalization program.

Hence the befuddlement of many (including yours truly) at Abe's inexplicable appointment of a leadership team of superannuated, serial losers and misfits to guide the Olympics effort.

What seems more likely now is that inevitable failure of the committee to guide the Olympics effort was not a bug but a feature, with the ages of the principals giving away the plot from the outset.

Under a not-at-all implausible scenario it was Abe's intention to descend from the Olympian heights of the PM's office; supplant an ineffective and insipid Mori Yoshiro-led program; electrify the staff, volunteers and partners with his new, dynamic, experienced leadership (all brimming vim and vigor); and with only seconds to spare, lead Tokyo to host an Olympics putting all previous and future Olympics to shame.

Only, of course, having put a band of self-important stuffed shirts whose only real daytime activity should be a round of golf in charge of a modern Olympics imploded far sooner than Abe could have dreamed. Perhaps he thought that his back would be covered by charter member of the Friends of Abe: Minister of Education, Culure, Sports, Science and Technology Shimomura Hakubun (seen musing above at the meeting of the steering committee for the new National Stadium). If so, Abe seriously misread his revisionist co-conspirator: Shimomura, who lifted himself out of dire poverty through academic scholarships, actually cares about education – and nothing else.

So bereft of direction was the structure Abe put into place that it had to be Abe, not the committee or Minister Shimomura, who had to pull the plug on the gargantuan Zara Hadid-designed Bicycle Helmet. It is Abe who is making changes to the design specifications for the next attempt.

2) They still do not know what the heck they are doing

One does not have to read the analysis of the new stadium plan, though there is a lot of juicy stuff coming out, to know that even with Abe's direct intervention, the Olympics effort is ensnared in a web of cross-purposes.

One only has to read the official government description of Friday's meeting of the National Stadium committee.

According to the Prime Minister's Residence website, those deciding on the new design for the new National Stadium will "undertake their investigation bending an ear to the voices of the citizens and the athletes."

Gee, what a concept.

As comedian Chris Rock would say, the Kantei wants the committee to get credit for activities any other committee knows it is just supposed to do.

Under the rubric of "putting the athletes first" the committee will, and I am not making this up, "as a principle limit the functions of the national stadium to what is necessary to put on the sporting events themselves."


How is building a structure that does the least possible and still be called an Olympics venue become "putting the athletes first"? Was a design for a structure in which Olympic events cannot be held one of the alternatives?

Then there the little matter of the design itself. The committee promises, and again I am not making this up, to "simultaneously reflect international universal design, Japaneseness and other such attributes."


How can anything have a goal of simultaneously reflecting "international universal design" and "Japaneseness" and qualities that are "like these things" – which is to say, "like" polar opposites (if something has "Japaneseness" that means by definition is it not "universal")-- qualities that are not even described? (Link – J)

Mark this still a catastrophe-in-progress.

What would save this situation would be an open, national competition, with a young unknown architect or designer offering a simple, spare and elegant design (with an impact the lines of Maya Lin's design for the Vietnam War memorial in Washington DC with its legion of imitators, including Okinawa's "Cornerstone of Peace") bailing out Abe and his cronies from the fiasco they have spawned. The narrative of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics being a citizen's Olympics could then be resurrected.

No, I am not hopeful.

Original image courtesy: Prime Minister's Residence.

Friday, August 28, 2015

He's The One

Feelin' just peachy...
Why don't we stop foolin' ourselves
The game is over.
No Good Times.
No Bad Times.
There's no Times at all...'cept the New York Times.

- Paul Simon, "Overs" (1968)

It's official: the Kishida and Ishihara factions of the Liberal Democratic Party yesterday declared themselves in favor of the reelection of Abe Shinzo as president of the LDP. Barring an accident or illness, Abe Shinzo is both the present and future leader of the party and the country (Link - J).

The question now -- and since the outcome is preordained it is not much of a question -- is whether or not there will even be an election. A candidate would have to come out of the ranks of the party's non-aligned members. While there are some leading lights among the non-aligned, even a few former candidates like Ishiba Shigeru, the sheer cussed pointlessness of setting up a run for the presidency when all 7 factions are lined up behind Abe should deter even the most ornery from running. The legions of the most ornery in the LDP are paltry indeed: only two Diet members -- the larger-than-life Murakami Sei'ichiro and the anti-Abe media favorite Noda Seiko -- even attempt to adopt the stance of opposition to Abe government policies.

It is possible that the leadership of the LDP might ask one of the party mavericks to at least try to mount a campaign. Such an attempt would benefit the party: it would foster of the illusion that democracy survives in Japan. One cannot imagine, however, how a pantomime fantasy farce candidacy would even leave the starting block. There is the little technical matter of a candidates's needing to corral 20 other LDP Diet members into supporting the challenge to Abe's leadership...Who could muster five, much less 20 Diet members into tarring themselves with the brush of "Not An Abe True Believer"?

When the September 8 declaration date rolls around, no one will stand against Abe. He will be reelected at the moment his aides register his candidacy.

Huzzah! Abe, Abe, he's our man! If he can't do it no one can.

No one.

Statiscally, politically, whatever. No one can.

Abe Shinzo: he's The One.

Later - Right after posting, The Japan News (translated stories of the Yomiuri Shimbun) checked in with a long article explaining some more of the background to the automatic reelection of Abe as party president (Link). The Yomiuri story throws yet more cold water on the "Let's Draft Noda Seiko" narrative.

With Abe's reelection to go unopposed, the focus of LDP politics switches to the guessing game around the new Cabinet lineup expected to be announced just before an extremely brief (1 month?) extraordinary session in the autumn. Who among the many Cabinet eligible mid-career members of the LDP will be incepted? Who will be left out, forced to accept a lesser Vice Minister post, or a directorship of an LDP division?

What we do know is by all lining up behind Abe's reelection, the faction leaders will each have the right to nominate one Abe-cannot-refuse-me cherished princeling subordinate to the new Cabinet.

Beyond these seven, a Chief Cabinet Secretary from Abe's home faction (one expects that Suga Yoshihide will continue to labor on in what is arguably a better buddy-buddy act than the Koizumi-Takebe pairing) and a few "Friends of Shinzo," the selection process for the remaining spots will be a crap shoot.

Image courtesy: Prime Minister's Residence

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Abe Shinzo's Secrets

About three weeks ago Timothy Langley and I had a long YouTube conversation about the implications of the Wikileaks release of July 31 (Link). The release itself featured rather innocuous information regarding Japanese trade and climate change thinking in 2007. What was stunning was the information demonstrated that the United States' National Security Agency was intercepting, translating and then disseminating the transcripts of the telephone calls of Japanese government officials in Tokyo.

At that time of our conversation Mr. Langley told me that despite efforts of the current governments to downplay the significance of this spying, the story was not going away.

Looks like he was right:
Abe Asks U.S. to Investigate Alleged NSA Spying on Japanese Government
Wall Street Journal

TOKYO—Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday asked U.S. President Barack Obama to investigate alleged spying by the National Security Agency on the Japanese government and companies, Mr. Abe’s spokesman said.

Documents posted online by WikiLeaks last month suggested that conversations involving government officials, central bankers and Japanese companies had been secretly intercepted by the U.S. agency. In a phone conversation Wednesday morning Tokyo time, Mr. Obama expressed regret that the issue has caused trouble for Mr. Abe and the government, according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga...

It is a rare instance where the United States feels a need to express its regrets to a leader of Japan. Abe, however, has received an apology of sorts (Mr. Abe now knows what it is like to hear "Regret" when what one wants to hear is "Sorry") both from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (Link) and now from President Obama himself.

During the recording of the podcast on August 7, I thought the issue with legs would be the hunt for the door openers. The extent and depth of the infiltration into the communications of government officials, particularly the extraordinary number of telephone numbers tapped inside Japan's Ministry of Finance, indicated full cooperation, either knowing or unknowing, of Japanese entities and individuals. My thought was that the current Abe administration would demand to know who allowed the NSA access to Japan's communications networks or even physically into the ministries and the Prime Minister's Residence, that these collaborators or dupes might be reprimanded or even punished.

My thinking now, in light of Prime Minister Abe and President Obama having a conversation on a subject that should have been closed by the previous conversation with Vice President Biden, is that the prime minister has a much bigger worry on his mind.

The Wikileaks release featured analyses of internal communications from Abe's first term in office. The list of high priority targets includes "EXEC SCY TO CHIEF CAB SCY" - the executive secretary to the chief cabinet secretary -- meaning that the U.S. was listening in on the calls made by the executive secretary of the person who is the operations command center of Japan's bureaucracy, the Cabinet and the Prime Minister's staff.

Bad enough news for the alliance-- one has to have a serious attitude problem to dare tap such a nexus of power in a country that supports the U.S. in almost every instance (not to mention figures out how to pay for a lot of what the U.S. wants to do).

The timing of the tapping activity and closeness to the center of the intercepts, however, raises a searing question for Abe: what, if not everything, the United States government knows and has shared about what transpired inside the Prime Minister's Residence in late July, August and early September, 2007.

The facts that his Diet colleagues do not know.

The facts that his supporters do not know.

The facts that possibly only his closest aides, Aso Taro and Yosano Kaoru know.(Link)

The sports newspapers and the weeklies accounts of Abe's last weeks in office in 2007 were pretty wild and woolly. Abe has been insulated from the repercussions of these "revelations," however, because everyone knows the sports newspapers and weeklies will print anything, no matter how implausible, misrepresented or just plain made up.

But if the U.S. was listening in to the calls being made by Yosano's executive secretary, then some folks, maybe a lot of folks, might just know...the truth.


Only semi-prophetic was I on Monday. While I did guess correctly that a close associate of the prime minister would claim the Abe administration's prudent stewardship of the Japanese economy was the reason for the sudden surge in the value of the yen, I missed guessing the identity of the perpetrator. I had hoped the claimant would be LDP Political Research Council Chair Inada Tomomi. Instead, it was the equally close Friend of Shinzo, Economic Revitalization Minister Amari Akira, who checked in with the fundamental stability claim (Link).

Image courtesy: Prime Minister's Residence