Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Smooth Sailing For Abe And His Crew?

The Abe government and the LDP must be humming in the halls of Nagatacho after yesterday's release of the latest Kyodo News numbers:

Kyodo News poll of 26-27 March 2015 (2-7 February 2015)

Cabinet support numbers

Support 55.4% (54.2%)

Do not support 32.7% (32.5%)

Political party support

LDP 42.1% (39.0%)

DPJ 6.5% (7.4%)

JCP 4.8% (5.0%)

Komeito 4.2% (2.8%)

JIP 4.0% (4.9%)

. . .

No party/don't know 35.9% (38.7%)
A month of attacks on the ministers of the Abe government in the Diet over potential violations of campaign finance law have done nothing, or less than nothing, for the fortunes of the main centrist opposition parties. They are not in appreciably better electoral position than the Communists, who are better funded. The Communists of course blow their cash on running for every possible seat on the ballot -- but that kind of moxie keeps the adherents loyal.

When the April local elections roll around, the voters will look at the Democrats and the Innovators (?) and rightly ask, "Yeah fine but what can you do for me and when do you think you will be able to do it?"


That being said, the three-times-in-a-row loser Abe Shinzo-led LDP (2014 Nago City election; 2014 Okinawa Prefectural gubernatorial election; 2014 House of Representatives election) and the government are flirting with disaster in Okinawa. By taking on Governor Onaga Takeshi in such an officious way, without top government leaders even meeting with him to at least create the appearance of a willingness to seek a middle ground (even when a middle ground is not available, really) Abe and Company are on the brink of going to The Place You Must Never, Ever Go In Japan: the inside of a court house. (Link)


Has anyone noticed, in this year of big East Asian relations anniversaries (70th anniversary of the end of World War II, 50th anniversary of the normalization of Japan-Republic of Korea relations) that if the relations between the Big Three countries of the region were to improve then the United States would feel free to dial down its presence -- which is precisely what two of the Big Three -- Japan and the ROK -- absolutely do not want the U.S. to do?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Very Kind Of Him #53 - The 70th Anniversaries

In a video talk from two weeks ago, Timothy Langley and I visit the various low points for the human species in this year's commemorative calendar, at least until September rolls around:

Link: Tokyo on Fire!: Episode 6 - Pacific War Anniversary

For the record the Abe Cabinet on Friday declared in a Cabinet Decision (kakugi kettei) responding to a question from Party of Future Generations member Wada Masamune that the words "invasion" (shinryaku) and "colonial domination" (shokuminchi shihai) found in the Murayama Statement are "difficult" to define -- and that the Cabinet will not try to do so. (Link - J)

Yes, a Cabinet Decision of "Sorry, we can't help you. Yes, it is a government statement. No, we do not know what it means."

To put a positive gloss on this Cabinet Decision, should Abe break down, listen to advisors like Kitaoka Shin'ichi (Link) and put those words in the 70th anniversary Abe Statement (Abe danwa) he will not have to defend a particular meaning for them. So the contested terms can be there -- pleasing the governments of China, South Korea and the U.S. -- without Abe having to explain them to anyone -- mollifying his movement's core supporters.

Of course, the lack of a willingness to explain the Murayama Statement -- which the Abe government has been saying it classes it alongside other apologetic postwar statements, accepting them all "as a body" (zentai to shite) -- can only be defended as pure opportunism. In terms of condemnation, the avenues of attack (ex: simple logic - how can can a government accept concepts it cannot define?) seem endless.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Forbidden Phrase Resurfaces

"Hakko ichi-u" (八紘一宇) is found in the Nihon Shoki, the words of the prayer "ama no shita oite is to nasamu" (掩八紘而爲宇) the ancient era Emperor Jimmu is reported to have said at his accession.

(By the way, Foundation Day, February 11, is the day of Emperor Jimmu's accession.)

This "Hakko ichi-u", in simple terms, "Shall I not found a nation where all can live together as one family?"

The text "Building of a Nation" (建国) written in Showa 13 [1938] says:

"Hakko ichi-u" means that the whole world should be tied together as though one family. What that means is as in a single family, the strongest member does not exploit the weakest. In a family the system is that the strongest works for the weakest. Has this been the basic principle demonstrated in standard international behavior? No, standard international behavior has been "the strong devour the weak as prey." Strong countries exploit the weak. Anything is allowed, based upon strength. A strong country thrives; the weaker races are laid low. When throughout the whole world a system is put in place where the very strongest countries work for the weak nations and weak races, that is when the world will know peace. Japan has become the strongest of countries, where the hearts of all that stand in between Heaven and Earth beat as one. Is it not commanded that we work on behalf of the weaker races? (1)
It is not often that Minister of Finance Aso Taro is struck speechless. He almost never intimidated by a microphone. More often than not, Aso Taro's tongue and public manner are way too loose, resulting in outrageous, off-the-cuff bombshells that are the despair of his bureaucrat handlers.

On Monday, March 16, however, Aso Taro was struck speechless. Well, not exactly speechless, just wishing desperately, hopelessly, in sweating, head-shaking abandon that he could find a way to get away from a microphone WITHOUT SAYING ANYTHING.

Mihara Junko, House of Councillors Budget Committee Session, 16 March 2015

LDP member of the House of Councillors Mihara Junko has been turning heads since she was 13 years old. In that year she appeared in her first television drama. Her reward for her precociousness was getting herself kicked out of her elite private school, having not cleared her appearance beforehand. She finished her middle school years in a public school.

Two years later, Mihara dropped out of high school when she rocketed to fame as a cold-blooded juvenile delinquent in a television drama. Her character's explanation on how to properly abuse a victim

"Not the face. The face is bad. Do it to the body, the body."

became a catchphrase for calculated evil, famous enough for Mihara to reprise as a joke in a personal healthcare product ad years later:

At 16 she began a singing career. Her debut single "Sexy Night" (no, I am not making this up. Here is the cover)

was a surprising (?) hit. Her burst of hit singles landed her a place on NHK's end-of-the-year Kohaku Gassen program two years later.

From then until her marriage in 1999 Mihara appeared in numerous acting roles, though always seemingly typecast as either the villain or the evil accomplice. She was also a much sought after model and product spokesperson.

In 1991, she took up competitive auto racing (again, I am not making this up):

Over seven years she compiled a record of 23 finishes out of 31 starts in three different car classes, her highest finish being a 9th place in 1995 (Link). Her driving career also reportedly featured seven accidents resulting in broken bones.

In 1999, Mihara married television celebrity and talent agency manager Coala (real name: Miyatani Nobuya) and settled down to what she must have thought would obscurity with her husband as the breadwinner.

In 2007, however, her husband's talent agency went bankrupt. The couple divorced (as it turns out, it was to be her husband who was to fade into obscurity. Nikkan Gendai found him in 2014 running a production company organizing shows at shopping malls). A year later, Mihara was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She had a complete hysterectomy to save her life.

Recovery from cancer transformed Mihara. She became an activist for women's health issues, primarily the free provision of the HPV vaccine. It is in this role of health activist that she won international recognition. (Link)

The political recruiters came knocking, and soon. In addition to her fame, her inspirational story of cancer survival, her looks (she caused a stir when she had her face remade on camera, having botox, laser spot removal and minor facial surgery done live) Mihara had also revealed herself to be a rock-ribbed conservative. She said (and continues to say) all kinds of internationallly problematic things about comfort women, about the Asahi Shimbun and about Yasukuni (she pays her respects at the Spring and Autumn festivals as well as on August 15). She is against separate surnames for married couples (Link - J) -- kind of surprising, given her former profession and divorce.

On Monday, Mihara was the seventh and penultimate questioner in a session of House of Councillors Budget Committee session. Sitting in the front row of the seats reserved for Cabinet members were Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, Finance Minister Aso Taro, Economics Minister Amari Akira and Rural Revitalization Minister Ishiba Shigeru. They waited for the questions Mihara was to put to them.

They waited a long time. Mihara began with a long and pretentious speech about the social and government response to the Jogan Earthquake in 869 CE. It seemed a bit of a stretch to start out with a tale of Emperor Seiwa reducing taxes in the affected provinces of Mutsu and Dewa (the modern Tohoku) in a question time session supposedly about getting tough on corporations. However the tale of Emperor Seiwa's response to an earlier Tohoku disaster did set up Mihara's introduction of the supposed Emperor Jimmu prayer for hakko ichi-u as a model of modern international behavior.

Mihara's hobby horse, upon which she was to ride into controversy, is corporate tax avoidance. For her (and for many others, all around the world) it is wrong for "companies like Amazon to make use of Japan's infrastructure and yet pay no taxes to maintain it." It is also wrong in Mihara's view (and again, for many, many others) that corporations can claim tax exemptions through legal but clearly spurious corporate registrations in places such as the Cayman Islands and Guernsey.

It was in this context that Mihara introduced, or reintroduced, the phrase hakko ichi-u. Would it not be better, she asked Finance Minister Aso Taro, if the global standard of corporate behavior be one of hakko ichi-u, where the strongest corporations play the role of leaders and protectors and providers in their countries? She then read out the passage, paraphased in the blog post above, from Shimizu Kentaro's Kenkoku (1938).

Aso Taro is not a man necessary familiar with the thought of economic and social writers of the pre-war era. He knows when to steer clear of the land mines of public discourse, though.

The phrase hakko ichi-u is one of those landmines. While the text at the top of this post exhibits an admirable desire for a post-imperialist world of the strong defending the weak (a world which we live in now, more or less) the final two sentences of the passage foreshadow the interpretation of the phrase favored by pre-1945 Japanese leaders and intellectuals. For those running and leading in Japan in 1938, hakko ichi-u was the justification for the presence of Japanese soldiers and colonists in Korea, Manchuria, China and the South Pacific. Japan was not invading or occupying these non-Japanese territories of East Asia. It was protecting them, in the stern and possessive way a father protects members of his family, from the invading forces of the western imperialists. (Link - J)

Since 1945, the phrase hakko ichi-u has been toxic and explosive. How explosive? The U.S. Occupation directive ordering the dismantlement of State Shinto has a specific ban on the use in public documents of two phrases. One is of those phrases is Daito'a senso - "the Great East Asia War." The other is hakko ichi-u. (Link - J)

For an equivalent event, think of the response if a member of the Christian Democratic Union were to ask the Labor Minister, in a live televised Bundesrat session, about modification in Germany's apprenticeship programs, with this:

"You know, we used to have a phrase in this country 'Arbeit Macht Frei' that really expresses the liberating feeling of being involved in gainful employment. Mr. Minister, what do you think of this idea as a model for our contemporary era?"

To Mihara Junko's blithe resurrection of a forbidden and fraught phrase, the normally loquacious Aso Taro could only offer a spluttering, shuddering response:
Well, uh, there were only two of use here (gesture) born before the end of World War II. Uuhhhh. There isn't anyone else here I think. Uh, there is standing in Miyazaki Prefecture a so-called Hakko Ichi-u tower. Noone from Miyazaki Prefecture here? (gesture). There is a hakko ichi-u tower, isn't there? You don't know yes or no? Well, uh, oh, Fukushima-san [former leader of the Socialist Party Fukushima Mizuho - Ed.] you know about it? I have no connection to Miyazaki Prefecture but uh hakko ichi-u is that kind of thing, you know.

You see they brought all these stones from every prefecture of Japan, piled them all up and called it hakko ichi-u, and it is in Miyazaki Prefecture, I think...and it appears in pre-1945 songs, like in Ike, hakko to ie nashi and such...there are lots of such songs. Anyway, that there was this kind of thing where, well it was one kind of mainstream thought, I think.

As for myself, well, you know...hmm, how to say this...because this was in a world of more than 1500 years ago, where if one is going to say anything, what we call the country of Japan today, that country, when saying the same word is the same place, for any place other than Japan of these emperors of the unbroken line back to the beginning of time, it's not applicable. Other than Japan there is probably not a country that exists now that existed before the 10th century when Denmark appeared, or thereabouts... where in the 5th century the Nihon Shoki existed as a document written in a foreign language and the Kojiki existed as a document written in the Japanese language, a well established nation state...well there aren't any. That the country has continued to exist in this form, uninterrupted is perhaps what this Mr. Shimizu was trying to say in his writing.

That a person of Mihara-sensei's generation would have this is as a way of thinking, is frankly astonishing to me. (2)

Aso then strode away from the dais, quickly.

The monument to which Minister Aso referred does exist. It is, as he surmised, in Miyazaki Prefecture. It was built in 1939 for the 2,600th anniversary celebration of the accession of the Emperor Jimmu, a 1940 event remembered by few now living. A few years back Kenneth Ruoff of Arizona revisited the all-encompassing commemoration in his Imperial Japan at Its Zenith (2010).

And as you can see in the top photograph and on the website for the park, the incongruously named Heiwadai Koen ("Peace Plateau Park" - Link - J), the monument is a stunning, sinister, Brutalist Angkor Wattish stone tower, with the phrase prominently displayed on the front.

Gotta go there someday. Really.

Here, by way of reference, is the Asahi Shimbun's English language version of the story (Link). I disagree with their characterization of Aso's response. In the archived video on House of Councillors Television (Link - J), Aso looks absolutely furious about being questioned on hakko ichi-u.

Later - Many thanks to reader MK for the link to the Heiwadai Koen website.

Later still - Thanks to reader JK for pointing out that Ken Ruoff is at Portland State. (Link)





Mihara Junko blog post "Hakko ichi-u to wa." Retrieved at http://ameblo.jp/juncomihara/entry-12002521691.html


もうここで戦前生まれの方というのは、2人くらいですかね、あの、他におられないと思いますけど、これは、今でも宮崎県に行かれると八紘一宇の塔というのが立っております。宮崎県の人、いない? 八紘一宇の塔あるだろ? 知ってるかどうか知らないけど。ねえ、福島(みずほ)さんでも知っている。宮崎県関係ないけど、八紘一宇っていうのは、そういうものだったんですよ。




Huffington Post, "'Hakko ichi-u' to wa nani ka? Mihara Junko giin ga hatsugen shita kotoba wa GHQ ga kinshi shite ita." Retrieved at http://www.huffingtonpost.jp/2015/03/17/hakko-ichiu_n_6883314.html.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Yes, An Expletive Is Appropriate Here

Yesterday the government began placing bags of Fukushima topsoil contaminated by the March 2011 nuclear accidents into an "interim" storage facility near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi complex.

The scale of the enterprise boggles the imagination. As the The Japan News (a.k.a, the Yomiuri Shimbun, translated into English) reports:
The Environment Ministry plans to move the contaminated soil — currently being kept at more than 75,000 locations in the prefecture’s 43 villages, towns and cities — to the facility gradually. Work to remove the soil, seen as an impediment to reconstruction efforts, has finally been launched.

The construction of the facility is planned in a coastal area of about 1,600 hectares that straddles the line between the towns of Okuma and Futaba. The facility, which is designed to prevent leaks of radioactive substances, is capable of storing up to 22 million cubic meters of soil and other radioactive waste for a maximum of 30 years.

For a period of one year, the transfer will be conducted on a trial basis. During the period, 10 million cubic meters of soil will be moved from the villages, towns and cities affected... (1)

Ten million cubic meters? In a "trial run"? In a year?

Folks, to give some sense of what they are talking about doing, the standard 20 foot shipping container on the back of the truck in the below photograph is 33 cubic meters -- and that is outside dimensions, not what you can actually pack inside.

That means, just doing the math roughly, 304,000 truckloads of the above size, 830 truckloads every single day (no holidays), will arrive and be unloaded at the site -- in a year.

Something is seriously wrong with these numbers. If not, something is seriously wrong with the folks in charge.

It gets worse. In the highly redacted online Japanese version of this article, the 12 bags (~12 cubic meters) of topsoil deposited in yesterday's opening ceremony were brought to the site in two dump trucks. At that rate it would take 1.7 million truck trips to transport the 10 million cubic meters of soil from the current short-term storage sites to the "interim" site.

This is just...insane.


1) "Soil transfer to interim storage begins / Major step in recovery of Fukushima." The Japan News, 14 March 2015.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Very Kind of Him # 52

Steve Miller of Asia News Network has put up the home version of his podcast (some might find the recording studio decor a bit...eccentric). He and I have a short conversation about the bill in the Diet proposing to lower the voting age in national referendums to 18 years of age. (Link - Video)

I know, I know. I have the voice of a 25 year old, at best. As for the photo, I took it at home in October 2013. Really.

For Japanese speakers, here is the link to a report from Fuji Television on Liberal Democratic Party Policy Research Council Chair Inada Tomomi letting the cat out of the bag as regards to what may have always been the goal of the bill (Link - J). Note how she weaves in the theme of "not just rights, citizens must have responsibilities too" found in the LDP's proposed revisions to the Constitution.

And yes, this I wrote about this subject earlier this week.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

No Sense Of Decency

Parliamentary Vice Minister Nakagawa Yuko apologizing in the House of Representatives on 12 March 2015

A few minutes ago in Diet Budget Committee Session, in one of the most crass displays of false outrage ever, Democratic Party of Japan member of the House of Representatives Onishi Kensuke called up Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Nakagawa Yuko (Hokkaido #11) to explain her qualifications for remaining in her appointed position after she was photographed kissing her married colleague Kado Hirofumi on the night of February 23, the night when her ultimate MAFF superior Minister Nishikawa Koya resigned as minister.

Oh for Amaterasu's sake. Do you have, at long last, no sense of decency?

Nakagawa Yuko is the widow of Nagakawa Sho'ichi, the Liberal Democratic Party's most notorious alcoholic, forever remembered as "the inebriated Finance Minister." Sho'ichi died, for no known reason, one month after losing his seat in the 2009 landslide election toppling the LDP from power (Link). Sho'ichi's father Ichiro, the Bear of Hokkaido, also died mysteriously, in Ichiro's case after losing in an LDP leadership battle. (Link - Wikipedia)

Nagakawa Yuko was 48 years old when she lost her husband. She had been from the age of 24 the silent guardian/nursemaid of a man so perpetually soused that one American official once told me, "my memories of him are of peeling him off the couches at the Imperial Hotel, putting him into a car and sending him home -- almost every night." Someone who was loved by members of the press assigned to follow him around because "with him, there was never any work to do before lunchtime."

If anyone deserves a wild happiness, that sense of elation in the throes of passion, of losing one's bearings in being kissed by someone who is crazy about you -- and not just plain crazy -- think it possible it may be her.

Nakagawa slowly wended her way to the microphone, apologized profusely to the Japanese electorate, promised to be the best official she could be in the flatest, most abject of monotones, never once lifting up her face.

After putting Nakagawa through this public humiliation, one on top of the multitude she has suffered and will suffer (as the "other woman" in Kado's infidelity, Nakagawa should be liable for damages in case Kado's wife files for divorce) Onishi asked the PM his view of what the assembled had just heard, then moved on to badgering Minister of Education Shimomura Hakubun about his political support groups and their financing.

He dragged her before the electorate, in a live nationwide NHK broadcast, to answer one question. Just one question. And then he just tossed her aside.

Disgraceful. Disgusting and disgraceful.

Later - For those wishing to see the video, the active link list of questioners is here. Onishi's question time is the third from the last on the list, with the time signature "14:51."

Later still - In case you were wondering how the mainstream media organizations reported on Nakagawa's alcoholism, they covered it up for nearly two decades. Even after the Rome press conference disaster, mainstream media to my knowledge never identified N. Sho'ichi as an alcoholic.

And yet later still - I cannot believe it. Onishi summoned Nakagawa to the Budget Committee AGAIN today (March 13) this time to apologize for having been caught smoking during her emergency hospitalization after the publication of the photographs.

She again apologized, this time for violating the hospital's rules.

Onishi is truly without shame or a sense of proportion. How can the DPJ leadership not rein him in?

Image courtesy: Shugiin TV

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Sometimes There Is No There There

I walk this empty street
On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Where the city sleeps
And I'm the only one and I walk alone...

My shadow's the only one that walks beside me
My shallow heart's the only thing that's beating
Sometimes I wish someone out there will find me
'Til then I walk alone

- Billie Joe Armstrong, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" (2004)

Today is the fourth anniversary of the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor meltdown in Japan's northeast. The television news broadcasts will be full to the brim with reports on commemorations and the current situation of the residents of Eastern Tohoku.

One reality the reports will not be able to avoid is the modest amount of rebuilding and resettlement completed. Few buildings have be restored in the devastated areas; even fewer businesses have been established. Over 200,000 persons remain displaced, scattered all over Japan or still huddling in tiny, cold temporary housing units.

The delay in or lack of revival (fukko) of the Tohoku despite the cubic kilometers of hot political aired spewed over it is not indicative of a lack of resolve or resources. The minor communities of the Tohoku seaboard were political clients and mendicants, surviving into the contemporary era not due to their ability to generate livelihoods for their inhabitants but due to their ability to attract subsidies and development funds from the nation's core areas. They were, for the most part, places that were not habitable save under severe government intervention.

Which means that Daniel Aldrich may have to provide a modification -- and not a very big one -- to his illuminating thesis on recovery from disaster. High levels of social capital in a community and social exchange in between local residents do seem to be of vital importance in speeding up recovery from disaster. However, for reconstruction to take place, the affected communities have to have had real socio-economic value for the nation in the first place.

Which the seaside communities of the Tohoku have not had for decades...and under any and all reasonable scenarios never will.

So if today you see or read a report condemning the lack of reconstruction as a sign of political failure, feel free to say, "No, the failure to reconstruct is not the political failure. The political failure was the continued existence of these towns and villages."

As a coda, if a public official or former public official comes on lamenting about the communities lost to the rain of radiation from the explosions of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, you can say, "Phooey! The reason why the nuclear power stations were even there" -- this is from another one of Aldrich's books - "was because those municipalities were NOT communities! Communities would have banded together and rejected the plants!"

Later - Please, please, please read the comments where I am excoriated for the above.

Original image courtesy: Mainichi Shimbun

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Live Blogging The Oe Kenzaburo Press Conference

Nobel laureate Oe Kenzaburo (b. 1931.01.31) will be speaking at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan. I will see if I can live blog the event

Oe Kenzaburo arriving at the FCCJ.

12:42 Journalist Kamata Satoshi is offering introductory statement of the situation in Fukushima on the eve of the 4th anniversary of the triple disaster of 3/11.

12:46 Oe begins his remarks. He speaks in a high, halting voice.

12:51 Oe points out the ridiculousness of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's insistence in Buenos Aires that "Fukushima is under control" -- and that the attitude of duplicity (to self, the country and the world) became the seeming norm.

By contrast, the German people were able to view the nuclear issue as a world issue. Japanese could not see the problem in a global sense.

13:00 "In my literature, trees play a huge role. I think the fate of the trees of Fukushima is a symbol of the scale and methodology of the clean up effort. In particular 80,000 highly contaminated large trees have been cut down, chopped up and put into storage.

13:01 One of the ideas is to burn the wood of these trees, collecting the ashes and burying it. But what of all the radiation released in the burning?

While not downgrading the suffering of humans, the loss of these trees is striking to me. Trees are promises to the future. Here the future has been lost.

The Germans [Oe is riffing on the ongoing visit to Japan of Chancellor Angela Merkel] thinks about the limits of technology -- that Chancellor Merkel in a conversation with Prime Minister Abe noted that despite Japan's technical prowess, control of a nuclear facility was lost. Prime Minister Abe, however, has no such reaction and reflection to Fukushima.

13:09 The current government of Japan has no understanding of the issues and no Japanese politicians who have the will and the capacity to learn from the lessons of Fukushima.

This government does not pay attention to the views of non-Japanese, particularly the government of Asia.

13:13 [In a nice segue, Oe draws a parallel by the Japanese government's state of denial about the seriousness of the situation in Fukushima and the state of denial regarding relations toward China -- as regards the Senkakus -- and South Korea -- as regards Takeshima or as the South Koreans call it "Dokto" -- that in both cases, the current Japanese government seems to have no intention or effort to change the terrible relations that exist]

13:19 Five years I had decided to give up the life of a novelist...I wanted to start a new way of living. I took my hints on what to do with the rest of my life from the late Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said. I had been rereading my own work when Said was diagnosed with leukemia.

13:24 Said got me thinking about the artistic style of the end of humanity or the end of a single person's life.

On Late Style - his book of his views on the style expressing one's thoughts in the face of one's end...got me thinking about my end and the world's end.

13:29 Fukushima represents a late style of humankind's express of barbarism. Adorno spoke of barbarism after Auschwitz. After Auschwitz, after Hiroshima and now after Fukushima, what is literary production if not barbarism -- what would Said have said?

How are we to live, what is the style in the state of utter disappointment? The interviewers of Said would say at the end, all he felt optimistic (rakkanteki) about .life

[Oe's prolix delivery would overwhelm an ordinary translation. Takamatsu Tamako, the FCCJ's translator is far from ordinary.]

13:34 I want, in my late style, post-novelist period in my life to find out how others speak, how to not be involved in barbarism.

Snap Back - This Month's NHK Poll Numbers

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo presiding over the special economic zones advisory commission on 3 March 2015. Image courtesy the Prime Minister's Residence.

If Abe Shinzo is looking for reassurance on the public's continued confidence in his leadership (I would suspect that after December's romp in the House of Representatives election he might not) then yesterday's release of the results of NHK's weekend polling results would leave him feeling bereft.

Support for the Cabinet March 6-8 (February 6-8)

Support 46% (54%)

Do Not Support 37% (29%)

Down and up 8% represent major movements in both numbers. These big moves in public sentiment may be one offs, reflecting public disgust with "money and politics" scandals seared into recent memory by the resignation last month of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Nishikawa. Sadly most of the attention of Nagata-cho residents seems to have already moved from campaign finance scandal to Shukan Shincho's photos of Nakagawa Shoi'ichi's widow Yuko (Hokkaido #11 and currently Parliamentary Vice Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) on-the-street snogging with the younger and married Kado Hirofumi (Kinki proportional - no jokes here please).

It's the scandal du jour.  Well, it was actually du soir -- indeed the very night that Nishikawa turned in his resignation...but I digress.

More likely, however, the numbers reflect a return to reality for the Abe administration. Looking back, they are not very different from the support/do not support numbers of the Abe government in July of last year, before the Cabinet reshuffle and November, before the calling of a snap election. In between, the Cabinet's numbers have been goosed upward by positive feelings about the large number of women appointed to the Cabinet in the reshuffle and by what was likely a mild "rally round the flag" effect as a result of the hostage crisis.

Just what Prime Minister can do now to bump up his Cabinet's numbers is anyone's guess.

The survey (Link - J video) also shows a rare switch in the ranking of issues the public wants the government to tackle. The usual top answer is keiki taisaku "countermeasures against the deterioration in the economy." Tops this month, however, is the perennial #2 answer, "Fixing the social welfare system." These findings, however, came before Monday's release of revised figures for the Q4 2014 GDP growth to 1.5% annualized from 2.2%, with the resulting calendar year 2014 GDP growth figures negative. (Link)

Later - NHK's surprisingly low numbers put Abe back in a race again, between himself and bad news. The outlook is largely positive for him in the short run, if negative for the country. Beyond the June end of the Diet session (a question mark there - committee work is so behind schedule most folks in the know say the session will be extended well into July) the outlook for the PM is not so sanguine.

Abe and his appointees have pulled every economic lever: extreme quantitative easing, fiscal profligacy and shifting the nation's pension assets from Japan government bonds to Japanese equities. The Bank of Japan under Abe-selected Kuroda Haruhiko has gummed up the JGB market so thoroughly that the prices of bonds no longer contain any information. The GPIF and the Post Office are doing their dangest to achieve a similar result in equities markets. Soon, if not already, the price of a share in a listed Japanese company will say nothing about the capital stock, labor force, management, technology or special advantages of that company. Instead the price will only reflect only what government and government-linked investment behemoths are willing to pay for the shares, right now.

Despite the Abe government's every effort to game the system, the public has not responded. Neither the puffed up indicators of a coming prosperity nor the government's promises are reassuring. The voters currently does not have much of a choice as to alternate visions keeping Japan a player on the world stage. However, unless the economy turns, the stagnation-despite-steroids will set the eyes of the electorate to searching for another leader.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Will The Kids Be Alright At 18?

I feel I gotta get away...

Pete Townsend, "The Kids Are Alright" (1965)

The Yomiuri Shimbun is reporting a rise in the number of voters supporting lowering the voting age in national elections.

Well, sort of.

Yomiuri Shimbun poll takers found in a poll taken this weekend that 51% of the voters now favor lowering the voting age from 20 to 18, while 43% are opposed to the change.

When in June 2014 pollsters asked the public about lowering the voting age, only 48% were in favor and 45% were opposed.

Hmmm...far be if from me to rain on the expansion of sufferage parade but a 3% movement, up or down, is pretty much within the margin of error. (Link - J)

Not that this will retard the change in any way. The legislation will pass the Diet simply because no party wants to be seen as the one that voted against extending the franchise to young people. That only 32.5% of those in the 20-29 age bracket bothered to show up at the polls in December last year only reemphasizes the absurdity of this unstoppable reform.

As for the noises emanating from the Liberal Democratic Party's policy research council, that extending the vote to 18 and 19 year olds opens the door for charging youthful criminals as adults, I thought these mumblings were just so much vengeful nuttiness erupting in response to the Kawasaki middle school student killing. (Link)

However, I recall now the off-kilter and incessant intonations of "we want a society where heinous crimes like children killing their parents do not happen" during the first Abe Cabinet of 2006-7. "Children killing their parents" was the explanation of why a "morality hour," now "the morality curriculum," had to be inserted into the weekly school calendar, among other things. (Link)

Now these unseen legions of murderous youths are forcing he LDP to consider another change, one eliminating the legal loophole that has allowed them to run rampant, transforming Japan into an ungovernable, homocidal wasteland.

Or something like that.

So give them the vote, then lock 'em up.

Later - Upon reflection, that a proposed historic reform could be under discussion for nine months without a demoralizing drop in public support (on the order of 10 points or more) is an amazing thing, for this administration.

So yeah, let's call this a win!

From A Distance

Shitamachi area of Tokyo, night of March 9-10.
They train young men...
to drop fire on people...
But their commanders won't allow them to write "Fuck" on the sides of their airplanes...
because it's obscene!

Colonel Kurtz, Apocalypse Now (1979)

Seventy years ago tonight, the greatest massacre of civilians in wartime since the fall of Baghdad to a Mongol force in 1258 took place in Tokyo's low districts.

Robots of my homeland are still dropping fire on people, on what seems an almost daily basis, the mayhem and murder made moral, seemingly, by altitude and distance.

Were it that for every bomb and missile, the amount of money spent in ending lives were awarded as scholarships training specialists in Pashto, Dani, Arabic, Farsi, Turkmen, Uighur, Tajik, Uzbek, Malay and Kanuri, languages and cultures, we might call ourselves civilized, or have plausible claim to a civilizing aim.

De profundis clamavi ad te Domine!

Later - Unstinting reporting from

Julian Ryall (Link)


Elaine Kurtenbach and Mari Yamaguchi (Link)

Saturday, March 07, 2015

First Read - 7 March 2015

Screenshot of 6 March 2015 NHK morning news caricature of U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and East Asian leaders unable to sit down and talk because of discord over history in this year, the 70th anniversary of the final year of World War II.

- There is a huge amount to like in Professor Jennifer Lind's essay for the Council on Foreign Relations on the prospects for warming Japan-Republic of Korea ties (Link). However, the essay does not emphasize strongly enough how the current frozen state of ties, the government of South Korea having, or pretending to have, concerns in common with the government of China as regards Japan, furthers the ROK's best interests. One would only has to consider the hypothetical of an East Asia without a Japan to realize there is nothing fundamental to the current Sino-ROK warmth, that the ROK would be in a perilous position indeed if not for the focus Japan's presence provides.

Rather than offer hints about Japan-ROK spring, Professor Lind should have hammered away at the likelihood of a long frost.

The knife attack this week on U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert (Link) and the government of Japan's revision of its description of the ROK on the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs website from "a neighboring country with whom we share common values of liberty, democracy and free markets" to "most important neighbors to each other" (sic) - Link J - video) may be harbingers of change in the ROK's heretofore rather cushy position in East Asian politics. The U.S. government has been fairly tolerant toward the ROK government's and civil society's anti-Japanese radicalism, allowing South Korean activists to push past the envelope of what are normally acceptable expressions of historical anger. The government of Japan has also been mild in its responses to violence against its diplomats and citizens. The GOJ clearly has had enough of the ROK's special status. The US Gov may be less automatic in its support as well.

- The big story in the news today is the general positive noises coming out of the bilateral talks in between the Liberal Democratic Party and the Komeito on the legal framework for an exercise of the right of self-defense (Link). The Komeito is purportedly signaling an understanding of the LDP position in the aggregate. The LDP's coalition partner needs more specifics about the levels of response to distant attacks that might threaten the safety of Japan. (Link - J)

The LDP has to be feeling pretty good about the Komeito's mild distress at this point. With the Unified Local Elections coming up on April 12 and April 26, the Komeito should be in the position to arm wrestle the LDP into moderating or even abandoning its more ambitious security proposals. That the Komeito is merely reticent at this point bodes well for major Komeito retreats in May.

- The really big story on security on Friday was the Cabinet Decision on changing the structure of the Defense Ministry giving uniformed, active-duty officers of the Self Defense Forces direct access to the Ministery of Defense (Link). Arguments for the change are feeble: there is no evidence the requirement that the requirement to work with the "suits gang" (sebiro gumi) prevented the "uniform gang" (seifuku gumi) from acting or offering their views to the minister or director-general. Arguments against the change are the results of memory, both in terms of the nation in general and the Self Defense Forces in particular. The current structure has been supported, like the determination of the unconstitutionality of the exercise of collective self-defense, by generations of prime ministers. That the minister leading the change, Nakatani Gen, is a former member of the Ground Self Defense Forces, makes the change look less like a reform and more like a rejection of the reality of history.

In a broader sense, I am beginning to think that "escape from the postwar regime" means "in our future, there will be no history."

The change is still only a proposition. Like the 1 July 2014 Cabinet Decision on collective self-defense, it is not enshrined in legislation. Like the July 1 Decision, it is the subject of withering criticism from the opposition parties.

However, like the July 1 Decision, any delay or modification in the implementation of the plan depends upon the Komeito's intestinal fortitude.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Very Kind Of Them #51

The very nice folks at Langley Esquire have been sitting me down on Friday afternoons with Dr. Nancy Snow and company president Tim Langley to discuss the week in politics. In this most recent iteration, we have a conversation on how scandals grip and then release both the denizens of Nagatacho and the public's imagination. (Link - YouTube Video)

First Read - 6 March 2015

- The knife attack yesterday on U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert (Link) immediately brought to mind the much more serious stabbing of U.S. Ambassador Edwin Reischauer in Tokyo on 24 March 1964 (Link). However, seemingly only to my mind, as a Google News search of "Reischauer" in katakana returns nothing more recent than reports of the visit of Dr. Kent Calder of the Reischauer Center.

For those historically minded, Dr. George R. Packard, the author of book in the above link and Ambassador Reischauer's special assistant, is still with us. Someone should try to contact him for historical perspective -- especially because he wrote his Ph.D. thesis on the Ampo disturbances.

- For those of us who were wondering, "When only about 33% of those in their twenties vote in national elections, what is the point of lowering the voting age from 20 to 18 years-of-age for national referendums on constitution revisions?" the Liberal Democratic Party let the other shoe drop yesterday. The LDP unveiled plans to have all definitions of adulthood lowered to 18 years of age -- in particular the right to charge (and presumably, in the case of murder, execute) youths 18 and 19 years-of-age as adults. "With rights must come responsibilities (gimu)" intoned LDP policy research chief Inada Tomomi, repeating the conservatives' mantra regarding the Constitution.

That this proposition comes amidst then nation's horror at the murder of 13 year old Uemura Ryota by a gang of youths led by an 18 year old is a mere coincidence.

The Komeito and opposition parties are deeply skeptical about the LDP's plans, saying that changing the legal definition of childhood goes far beyond discussions the parties have had on the subject of altering the franchise. (Link - J)

Just what the LDP has been thinking on the issue of lowering the voting age, aside from a bizarre, "if we can lower the voting age AND change the education system to inculcate hyperpatriotism, making younger voters more ready to vote for us AND we can hang the killer of Uemura Ryota, we will be invincible!" is a mystery.

Then again, what the other parties cooperating on the bill lowering the voting age are thinking is equally mysterious.

As for Inada, a wild, wild guess: though no hint of this has escaped Abe Shinzo's lips, he wants her or Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Taka'ichi Sanae to succeed him as prime minister.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Very Kind Of Them #50

The warm-hearted, open-minded and hard-working crew at East Asia Forum have kindly published "Commission impossible for Abe's foreign policy," -- my brief look at the Commission for a Framework for the 21st Century, the assembly of 16 foreign policy gurus and internationally adept business folk who are to advise Prime Minister Abe on his Statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.


Mari Yamaguchi of the Associated Press has published a blast on the backgrounds and writings of some of the members of the commission, filling us in on some of the quirks of the individuals involved (Link). Yamaguchi classes Globis Capital Partners chairman and Globis University president Hori Yoshito as being among the group's revisionists. Considering some of the material Hori has published in English -- let us say, this essay -- the categorization may not be unfair.

Live Blogging The Robert Shiller Press Conference

Are We Headed for Another Financial Crisis?
Robert J. Shiller
Economist and Nobel Laureate
Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan

11:06 Shiller presentation: Of course there is going to be a crisis, the history of the last 800 years is a cascade of crises.

11:08 My view is that financial crisis is a crisis of human emotions, the loss of confidence, a psychological effect.

11:09 In 2005, the new edition of Irrational Exhuberrence focused on the housing market, rather than the stock market (first edition focus)

11:10 The weakness/source of concern now is bond markets, where prices of bonds seem way out of line.

11:11 So talk today is about stock markets, housing markets and then some observations of  world bond markets, where the yields are startingly low.

11:15 Cyclically adjusted price earnings (CAPE) in U.S. markets are at their third highest marks in history, second only to the 2000 millenium boom and the 1929 Roaring Twenties.

11:16 Japanese CAPE ratios were astronomical in the EARLY 1980s but now shrunk to global norms.

11:18 Japanese confidence in rising share prices remains aberrantly positive.

11:20 U.S. economy is now in deflation.

11:21 Trend in yields in U.S. bonds in relentless downward, and downward at an almost constant rate for the last 30 years.

11:24 Psychologically, loss of confidence, less of a sense of security, from 1) capitalist ideology (everyone for himself/herself)

11:22 Trends in bond yield declines are a global phenomenon, somewhat irrespective of the particular actions of central banks.

11:24 2) computer technology,

11:25 The result is excess savings and the bidding up of the prices of existing businesses and governments.  The lack of security is thus leading people to cut back spending and/or starting their own businesses.

11:27 Entrepreneurial and development successes are receding, leading to weakness in confidence that is often called secular stagnation.

11:29 Q: How much can politics can change economic psychology? (Abe reference)

11:31 The "Three Arrows" are actually concrete proposals, not an attempt to talk up the economy. That is what makes the proposals worthwhile, as just cheerleading has a poor record of success.

11:33 Shiller - NASDAQ high yesterday, adjusted by CPI inflation, is not at historic highs. So not so significant.

11:34 Japanese confidence bled into world markets, distorting international flows toward Japan, in the same way that overconfidence in tech magic led to NASDAQ historic highs.

11:37 Shiller - I had a conversation with Prime Minister Abe a year ago - unfortunately I (Shiller) did most of the talking so I have little so say about Mr. Abe's thinking about Abenomics.

11:38 (Says an interesting thing about labor force security - MTC here). Shiller sees the easier firing of Japanese workers as a good thing for efficiency. Intriguing...really?

11:42 In the U.S., there is a socialist economy in the housing markets.

11:44 Schiller - Decision to create the euro was politically an act of genius and not an act of genius economically. Euro is important as a symbolic act, but one with too many economic consequences. Symbolism is good.

11:47 Income inequality - Piketty, capital accummulation; Shiller, technological inequality.

11:48 Shiller quotes Norbert Wiener on whether the nuclear weapon or the computer is more dangerous. Worries about robots replacing human labor.

11:50 Abe advisor and fellow Yale economics professor Hamada Koichi is offering commentary on the presentation.

Hamada Koichi
FCCJ press conference of Robert Shiller on 3 March 2015


11:51 Hamada: "There is a rosy future for the Japanese economy."

11:52 Hamada: "Mr. Abe is holding back, allowing the figures to speak."

"Oil prices are a positive. A million workers have entered the labor force. Wage are increasing. But Abe must do reforms, overcoming obstacles."

11:54 Hamada+Shiller  - Womenomics is important. Shiller: it is inspiring. Hamada: numbers are returning (???) to the job market.

[Nota bene: the % of women in the Japanese workforce is higher than the participation rate for U.S. women - MTC)

11:57 Q: with true declines in populations and aging of populations, is not there no exit out of slowing or contracting economies?

Shiller: government policy to combine career and family is an important step to reversing or slowing decay in confidence.

11:59 If you want to end inequality, you should have career insurance -- takes care of the insecurity of life planning. Governments must have a plan to tax the wealthy and subsidize work, do it now for the future rather than try to deal with inequality (worsening?) in 20 year's time.

Monday, March 02, 2015

That New Illiberal Thing

First there was Noah Smith. (Link)

Then there was John Feffer. (Link)

Now we have Jake Adelstein getting in on the action. (Link)

To which I say, "Um....really?"

Perhaps I am under undue influence of the brighter days of incipient spring but Japan under Abe Shinzo 2.0 does not seem to be on the march toward to illiberalism. Sure, the egregious Special Designated Secrets Act passed on Abe's watch, with ridiculous protections (under wraps for 60 years?!?) for certain government actions. It cannot be denied that he preceding Democratic Party of Japan-led government, had it continued in power, would have presented and passed a similar bill. It was after all the government of Kan Naoto which suffered the humiliation of the uploading to YouTube of the Chinese trawler collision videos by an active member of the Coast Guard.

As to assumption of the onset of an era of silence and spreading darkness, I am not convinced. The voters of this blessed land are too wise to the ways of flim-flam artists to give up their credulity to the Abe administration's message massagers. As to keeping the public bereft of news and new thinking, paraphrasing the original Star Wars, the more Abe and his colleagues have tried to tighten their grip on information and information providers, the more information has slipped through their fingers.

The Momii Katsuto appointment is, for example, frequently cited as evidence of the government seizing editorial control of NHK and thus suppress the public's right to know (Link - a wonderful brand new article by Yoshida Reiji). The conventional wisdom is that with Momii as chairman and a host of other eccentrics as board members of the nation's broadcaster(Link) the arms of network executives would be twisted into pretzels, convincing them of the need to soft-pedal Japan's pre-1945 detours through crazyland and the Abe government's attempts to redefine the past.

As one of the earliest to issue warnings about the pernicious influence of Momii and his fellow band of comedians (Link) I have the distinct pleasure to say I was wrong.

NHK itself of course cannot do mocking reports of the clown show of the Governors' meetings have become. That the network has to leave to the commercial networks. Without hesitation, the commercial networks have kept us abreast of the latest nonsense issuing from Momii, Hyakuta, Hasegawa and whole motley crew.

Anyone who watched the 7 p.m. NHK evening news on the 25th, however, would laugh at my concerns about the governors pressuring the news division to accentuate the positive as regards the Abe administration. On the day of the first meeting of Framework for the 21st Century Commission, the committee of worthies Mr. Abe appointed to advise him on what he should say on the 70th anniversary of Japan's acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration (I have an essay on the commission coming up on the East Asia Forum tomorrow) Takeda Shin'ichi walked the viewers through the key apologetic phrases, displayed in red and underlined, of the Murayama Statement of 1995 and repeated in the Koizumi Statement of 2005 expressing remorse for the invasion and colonization of Asia. Then he presented a series of video clips of Abe Shinzo showing unable to admit or flat out denying the truths of invasion and colonization.

The effect was devastating. The nation's premier newscast could have had a chyron saying "MORON" on the bottom of the screen during the Abe video appearances. However, such would have been insulting to the viewer's intelligence.

As to the non-news programming, ok, yes, this year we are being treated to a biopic of sorts of Abe's big favorite Yoshida Shoin on the flagship Sunday night Taiga Drama. Happy to say, though, the show's ratings have been abysmal.

By contrast, the morning drama series, the most important 15 minutes on television each day, have featured back-to-back during the past year two biographies with searing anti-war, anti-imperialism and anti-authoritarian messages, with record smashing viewership. The ongoing series "Massan" on the Japanese-Scottish couple that brought whisky making to Japan, and its predecessor "An to Hanako" on the Japanese translator of Anne of Green Gables have been hammer blows to anyone arguing there was anything "beautiful" about the Meiji state.

As for the other evidence of a coming era of fear and repression, I have to be skeptical. The oft-quoted numbers are "61" and "1200" -- the first being the ranking of Japan in the Reporters Without Borders rankings of press freedom, down from 10 a few years ago, and the second being the number of signers to a petition decrying increasing self-censorship in Japan...started by a Japanese living in New York City. (Link)

Forgive for being blunt but both these numbers are silly. They are both based on self-evaluations, which means they cannot be objective, and are not in any corrected for swings in emotions. Frankly speaking, given the laws that were already on the books before the Designated Secrets Act, there is no way Japan's news media should have been ranked as high as 10th in the world in terms of press freedom. The drop to 61st place is equally absurd, demonstrating nothing but the volatility of the human heart.

As for the self-censorship issue, goodness me, where to start...except to ask whether the New York based instigator of the present petition would have spent his time more wisely if he had, instead of lambasting the Japanese government for its attempts -- futile, as it turned out -- to discredit critics of its Mideast and security policy floundering, started a petition against the New York-centered U.S. finance industry's successful suppression of critical thinking about the actions of its members and the continued silence of the nation's business press on the robber barons of 21st century capitalism's waltzing away, their bonuses still pouring into their bank accounts, from the torched the savings and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of ordinary citizens all over the globe?

Finally, is there a fundamental contradiction putting one's name on a petition against the evils of self-censorship? Is not not by definition expressing one's opinion, in an open manner?