AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Archive for December, 2009

Over, under, sideways, down

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 28, 2009

They say the world is spinning around.
I say the world is upside down.
- Joe Higgs, “The World is Upside Down”

HERE’S A REPORT from North Korea that the people are starting to get “mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore”, as the famous line from the film Network goes.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il moved early this month to wipe out much of the wealth earned in the past decade in his country’s private markets. As part of a surprise currency revaluation, the government sharply restricted the amount of old bills that could be traded for new and made it illegal for citizens to have more than $40 worth of local currency.

It was an unexplained decision — the kind of command that for more than six decades has been obeyed without question in North Korea. But this time, in a highly unusual challenge to Kim’s near-absolute authority, the markets and the people who depend on them pushed back.

Grass-roots anger and a reported riot in an eastern coastal city pressured the government to amend its confiscatory policy. Exchange limits have been eased, allowing individuals to possess more cash.

The currency episode reveals new constraints on Kim’s power and may signal a fundamental change in the operation of what is often called the world’s most repressive state. The change is driven by private markets that now feed and employ half the country’s 23.5 million people, and appear to have grown too big and too important to be crushed, even by a leader who loathes them.

Even the Kim Family Regime is unlikely to be able to keep the hayseeds down on the farm once they’ve seen Paree.

Stripping wealth from merchants is consistent with Kim Jong Il’s long-held abhorrence of capitalist reform. His government regards it as “honey-coated poison” that can lead to regime change and catastrophe, according to the Rodong Sinmun, the party newspaper in Pyongyang.

“It is important to decisively frustrate capitalist and non-socialist elements in their bud,” said the newspaper…

But capitalism seems to have already taken root. U.N. officials estimate that half the calories consumed in North Korea come from food bought in private markets, and that nearly 80 percent of household income derives from buying and selling in the markets, according to a study last year in the Seoul Journal of Economics.

There is a Chinese saying that wealth doesn’t last three generations. Now that the North Koreans have gotten a taste of freedom and the chance to express the natural aspirations of all people everywhere, let’s hope the same holds true for antique Stalinist despotism.

And speaking of China, get a load of this: The country’s tax authorities plan to cut corporate taxes for small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as for companies in the service and high-tech industries.

Meanwhile, Japan’s new government, led by its Democratic Party, is set to submit the country’s highest budget on record, funded in part by floating government debt at a level exceeding tax receipts for the first time ever. Earlier this summer, they campaigned on a pledge not increase the amount of deficit-financing bonds.

They also pledged not to increase the consumption tax, but now some in the new government are admitting it is a question of when, not if.

When the economy doesn’t improve, the Finance Ministry will continue to prod their posteriors with pitchforks to do even more of the same. Whichever group is in power will oblige them, if only to avoid the havoc the ministry can wreak on uncooperative politicians.

And in the United States, President Obama and his Democratic Party seem to be intent on wrecking the financial structure of the country, breaking their word not to raise taxes on certain income levels, boosting government expenditures by obscene amounts for their policy schemes (both standard operating procedure for left-of-center politicians), and piling on more debt in one year than the aggregate amount of debt created by the national government since the country was founded. Oh, and blaming it on their predecessor.

When the people of North Korea and the government of China demonstrate a better grasp of economic fundamentals than the nominally free market governments of Japan and the now-Untied States, we are indeed sailing into uncharted waters.

American pollster Frank Luntz has been asking the question, “Are you mad as hell and not going to take it anymore,” since the early 1990s. He reports that he has never gotten more than 50% agreement–until this year, when the total reached 72%.

HoaxHope and Change isn’t working out very well in Japan, either. While the Japanese tend to express their dissatisfaction in other ways, I suspect the needle on the “mad as hell” meter is now starting to approach the red line.

To borrow another Chinese expression, it seems as if we are going to be living “in interesting times” for the next few years. The best-case scenario? The people push back against oligarchies clearly oblivious to the daily lives of their “subjects”, and cognizant only of their survival, petty interests, and justification of their lighter-than-air theories.

I’d rather not think about the worst-case scenario just now.

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, China, Government, North Korea | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Shimojo Masao (7): Duty and social standing

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 27, 2009

Duty and Social Standing

Japanese tend to consider employment at one company until retirement to be the ideal. The lifetime employment system is a characteristic of Japanese-style management, and it originates in attitudes that existed during the Edo period (1603-1868). The social structure during that period was overlaid with the feudal system. Therefore, it was often the case that the transmission of a hereditary occupation fixed one’s social standing. The work of one’s family was passed from generation to generation as the family business. Naturally, craftsmen and merchants were compared to the founder of the enterprise and his successors—their predecessors—in terms of technique and business acumen. Also, as successive generations of customers patronized those craftsmen and merchants, they evaluated their skills and business conduct.

For that reason, craftsmen and merchants worked relentlessly to improve themselves and hone their abilities until they approached those of the founder of the enterprise and those of succeeding generations. They thought it shameful if they failed to accomplish this, and redoubled their efforts until they succeeded. As a result, even the feudal class division of samurai-farmer-craftsman-merchant was linked to a milieu in which everyone exerted themselves to the utmost in the occupation (duty) allotted to them. Samurai strived to conduct themselves as ideal samurai; farmers worked in accordance with the concept of the ideal farmer.

The logic behind this concept of employment has been the impetus behind the success of the Japanese manufacturing industry. The people on the shop floor endeavor to provide the finest craftsmanship and work so as to make even better products, even if their wages are relatively low, because in that behavior they discover their reward. In short, one’s role is considered to be the performance of one’s obligations.

This conception of duty and obligation did not arise in China and South Korea, the other countries in the Confucian cultural sphere. The social structure in those countries was based on a centralized authority, so even when the rulers compelled their subjects to work and produce, those subjects did not become engaged in craftsmanship of their own accord. In Joseon and China, craftsmen were viewed as serfs, and craftsmanship and production were considered drudgery.

South Korea has now attained the standing of a developed nation. Yet, they are plagued by a shortage of factory workers, regardless of the duration of economic downturns. That’s due to their conception of the manufacturing industry as hard labor.

- Shimojo Masao

Posted in China, History, South Korea, Traditions | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Nippon Noel 2009 (3): Straight from Santa’s arbor

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 26, 2009

IT DOESN’T FEEL like Christmas without the decorations, and Christmas decorations aren’t complete without the most important symbol of the secular festival—trimmed Christmas trees. As a click on the Christmas tag below will reveal, the Japanese apply their prodigious imagination for adding Big Fun to festivals and create unique tannenbaum designs. Here are a few more in this year’s Christmas card of a post.

Saga ceramics

The towns of Arita and Imari in Saga are known throughout the world as production centers for ceramics and porcelain. Close by in the same prefecture is the Hiryu Kiln in Takeo, which has the world’s largest noborigama, or climbing kiln. Those kilns have multiple chambers, making possible the creation of fine porcelain. This year was the second year the kiln produced ceramic Christmas trees, both for exhibit and sale. The photo shows a few of the 100 from this year’s batch. The base of the trees is 15 centimeters in diameter, and they are 20 centimeters tall. Light-emitting diodes in three colors provide the illumination. If you’re interested in placing one on your end table or mantel as a seasonal adornment, prices start at JPY 3,500 (about $US 38.26).

Tokushima bread

It’s a simple matter for ceramists to apply their skills to Christmas decorations, but that’s a bit more difficult for bakers to do. The bread chefs at the Tokushima Grand Vrio Hotel in Tokushima City were not to be deterred, however, and they came up with the idea of making the hotel’s first floor Christmas tree out of French bread. This year’s version was the fourth for the hotel’s doughboys. The 2.5-meter-high tree, which looks a bit like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, was built with 132 loaves of bread in six tiers. The long tubular shape of most bread doesn’t lend itself to seasonal decorations, so the chefs created their own Christmas bread art by making edible ornaments in the shape of stars, wreaths, airplanes, and tigers—2010 being the year of the tiger in the Oriental zodiac.

Making a good design better

The train station in Iwamizawa, Hokkaido, is the only one in Japan to have received a Good Design award from the Japan Industrial Design Promotion Association. Buildings recognized for their good design deserve a Christmas display worthy of the honor, so the Iwamizawans decorated the 25-meter-high dawn redwood, or metasequoia, in front of the station with 30,000 blue, red, and green LEDs for Project Xmas 2009. The station building received the award this year, so those 30,000 lights are 20% more than are hung in a normal year. A crowd of about 300 people showed up to watch the lighting ceremony, in which a group of parents and their children dressed up as Santas to hold a countdown. The lights go on from 5:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.

Obama’s PET bottles

Who else but the Japanese would find a way to turn garbage into seasonal beauty and develop the citizens’ eco-consciousness at the same time? As this post from 2007 shows, making Christmas trees from discarded PET bottles has become something of a national pastime, and the folks in Obama, Fukui, got into the act for the first time this year. About 150 of the Obamanians teamed up to build a six-meter-high tree with 4,286 PET bottles in front of a culinary school. This was no casual activity—it took three months to assemble the PET tree using 500-milliliter and two-liter bottles. The base of the tree is 3.5 meters in diameter, and steel was used to make both the trunk and the base. The base was secured to the treetop with 16 wires. The bottles were hung by the cooking school with care by passing other wires through each one from a hole in bottom to the mouth. To create the effect of interior illumination, lights were attached to the steel frame. Who would have thought that sticky plastic gunk could be made to create something so attractive? The tree will be lit from 5:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. until January.

Trees on a Tokyo beach

Having spent my high school years in Virginia Beach, Virginia, I can vouch for the fact that it does snow on the beach. It’s incongruous to see snow drifts on sand that was the scene of summertime fun just a few months before, but it does happen. So it wouldn’t be a stretch to brighten up the beach with decorations on a seasonal theme, even in Tokyo. That’s the objective behind Candle Night in Odaiba 2009, in which the beach is lit up by 3,000 candles covered with paper lamps. The candles are arranged to look like Christmas trees, shooting stars, and snow crystals. If you’re in the neighborhood and want to see the combination of several traditions with some local innovations, the candles are lit from sundown to 9:00 p.m., as long as the surf’s not up.

Bottoms up

What’s a hotel to do during Christmas if it wants to attract casual visitors but doesn’t have a boulangerie on the premises? The proprietors of the Grand Park Otaru in Otaru, Hokkaido, must have stood on their heads to come up with an answer, but they found one that works. They decorated their first floor lobby with an upside-down Yuletide tree. The tree—or should it be cone?—is three meters tall from the base down to the top. It is festooned with the usual decorations, including balls, lights, and boxes crafted to look like presents. Speaking of what things looks like, the people who stopped by to see for themselves thought the tree looked like a bouquet.

Christmas Day-o

Bananas wouldn’t seem to fit with the wintertime images that have become associated with the holiday festivities, but that didn’t stop a public-private sector partnership for municipal development in Iga, Mie, to trim a tree in a local shopping arcade with bananas. The three-meter-high tree was made with materials that would ordinarily have been discarded as unusable by local businesspeople and merchants. Seven bamboo poles were used for support, and that’s another material which seldom comes to mind as a Christmas decoration. The primary ornaments were 400 bananas that couldn’t be sold for consumption because of size standards, and would have otherwise been thrown away. In addition to the bananas, other decorations included cotton—to represent all the snow in banana-growing countries, of course—and two Santa dolls climbing up the side. Ten people put it together earlier this month, and if they wanted a snack while they were working, they probably didn’t send out for pizza. This tree is illuminated from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., though the reports didn’t say how they managed to get the LEDs inside the fruit without peeling them first.

In most Western countries, 25 December has traditionally been the start of Christmas celebrations, so people leave the trimmings and decorations up until at least the first week of the new year. But in Japan, the big yearend holiday is still a week away, and that means most of these trees, lights, bread, bananas, and PET bottles will disappear for another year starting from the 26th.

Posted in Holidays, Popular culture | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The choices of Korea’s veteran travelers

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, December 24, 2009

SOUTH KOREA’S Korean Air Lines (KAL) is one of the top 20 airlines in the world in passengers carried. It provides service to 130 cities in 45 countries, and is one of only eight airlines with regularly scheduled flights to all six continents.

Thus, KAL’s cabin crews working international flights have the opportunity to visit the world’s most glamorous cities and popular tourist destinations. Their work takes them to so many different places, it would stand to reason that their tastes in travel have become somewhat jaded.

Last month, questionnaires were distributed to the crews that asked them to rank the world’s cities they most liked to visit. Topping the list of their favorites was Sapporo, in Japan, and Fukuoka City was fourth. The reasons they liked Fukuoka included the local hot springs and the shopping.

This information was included in a short article in the Nishinipppon Shimbun, which is published in Fukuoka City. That’s probably why more detailed information wasn’t included on the crew members’ rankings of other cities, such as the other eight destinations in the top ten. They certainly have a lot to choose from, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, New York, London, Paris, Rome, Honolulu, Hong Kong, and three Australian cities.

Do you keep reading that Koreans dislike Japan? The facts show otherwise.

Posted in Japanese-Korean amity, South Korea, Travel | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Poll-axed

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 19, 2009

THAT DIDN’T TAKE LONG. Jiji Press, a Japanese wire service, revealed on 18 December the results of its latest political poll. It shows that the approval rate for the Hatoyama Cabinet has fallen below 50% for the first time to hit 46.8%–a 7.6 percentage-point drop from last month’s survey. That wasn’t all the bad news for the DPJ, either; the Cabinet’s disapproval rate climbed five percentage points to 30.3%.

Considering that the Cabinet’s approval rate was roughly 72%-73% immediately after being sworn in, the new numbers show that one-third of its support has evaporated in a mere three months.

An approval rate north of 70% is impossible for most politicians to maintain for very long, but the plummeting poll numbers demonstrate that the electorate is quickly losing patience with the Boy Prime Minister and Amateur Hour at Nagata-cho. To be sure, the new Government was skating on thin ice to begin with—while its initial favorability rating might have been a kilometer wide, it was only a centimeter deep. The voters turned to the Democratic Party of Japan not because it thought them capable of serious reform and competent governance, but because they had finally thrown their hands up in exasperated disgust at the performance of the Liberal Democratic Party, particularly during the post-Koizumi period.

A breakdown of the poll numbers is quite instructive. Here are the two reasons most frequently cited by those who support the Government:

* Good policies: 14.4% (down 3.7 points)
* There are no other suitable people: 14.0%

In other words, one of the main reasons for the support they do receive is, as the Japanese might say, neko yori mashi–it’s better than a cat (it’s better than nothing).

Here are the reasons cited by those who do not support the Government:

* No expectations for them: 15.3% (up 4.5 points)
* No leadership: 14.5% (up 10.2 points to triple in value in one month)
* Can’t trust the prime minister: 9.0% (up 2.1 points)
* Bad policies: 8.9% (down 0.2 point)

They’re not yet in any danger of being overtaken by the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, if only because the latter group is still groggy and rolling on the mat after its August defeat. When asked which party they support, the respondents said:

* Democratic Party: 25.0% (down 3.4 points)
* Liberal Democratic Party: 15.6% (up 0.3 point)

But here’s the most interesting answer by far to that question:

* Do not support any party: 51.7%

That’s the first time in four months the figure has surpassed 50%. It means a capital opportunity still lies there for the taking by a group of enterprising, gutsy politicians capable of following through on a well-presented plan and acting as if their primary purpose was something other than to avoid criticism from the public, the media, and the bureaucracy to hang on until the upper house election. But don’t be putting in a call for Diogenes and his lantern—it’ll take more than that to find a handful of that breed.

Who’s in charge here?

It’s not surprising that people just aren’t impressed with Hatoyama Yukio—they don’t see any leadership skills, and they don’t trust him. Rather, it was to be expected. He’s never demonstrated anything remotely resembling public leadership skills in his political life, so it’s not as if he was going to find an express-delivered package full of them in his mailbox on the morning of 1 September. If they were that easy to obtain, his mother would have bought them for him long ago.

That leads us to another unsurprising finding. Jiji also asked the respondents who they thought was in real control of the Hatoyama Cabinet. Here are the answers:

* Ozawa Ichiro (party secretary-general): 71.1%
* Hatoyama Yukio: 10.6%

Not even close, is it?

All the other possibilities on the list were selected by fewer than 3% of the respondents, while 11.5% said they didn’t know.

In other words, most people in Japan consider this to be the Ozawa administration rather than the Hatoyama administration. That would go a long way to explaining why the Cabinet’s approval rate is taking on water faster than the DPJ can bail it out. The only time all year the LDP led in the generic polls was the period extending from the arrest of Mr. Ozawa’s chief aide for accepting kickbacks from a construction company until Mr. Ozawa finally resigned the party presidency. They didn’t want an Ozawa administration, and now they’re starting to think they’ve got one anyway.

Arrogant drama queen

People have always considered Mr. Ozawa to be an arrogant cuss with a taste for drama, and that arrogance has been increasingly evident to the public in the past month. His attitude also exacerbates the perception that his conduct of affairs incorporates the worst aspects of LDP machine politics, particularly when his patron Tanaka Kakuei was the Big Enchilada.

There are as many reasons for this perception as there are playing cards in a deck, but perhaps an article that appeared in the 16 December edition of the Mainichi Shimbun encapsulates the most obvious of them.

On that day, Mr. Ozawa held a meeting at party headquarters to present to the Government his “important demands” for next year’s budget. According to the newspaper’s sources, Mr. Ozawa’s attitude turned Arctic and his tone became sharp as soon as the media left the room following their photo opportunity.

Asked Mr. Ozawa:

“I doubt whether (the budget) was formulated under political leadership…Did you put together this budget without the bureaucracy getting involved? I want government officials to study the issues, make decisions, and execute them.”

Remember—he is the head of the party, not the head of the Government, and he was addressing the party members in the Government.

He added:

“You might be too carefully responding to the (industry) groups that were closely allied with the LDP governments. We formed a Cabinet because we won the election.”

And concluded:

“I’ve assumed the role of the person whom everyone hates because I say what somebody has to say.”

He’s got that first part right. There may be no politician anywhere more disliked by his own party than Mr. Ozawa, but the DPJ put up with him because he was the only one capable of holding their incompatible elements together long enough to teach them how to win elections Tanaka style.

The Mainichi article concluded by saying that Prime Minister Hatoyama was present at the meeting and took notes.

At least he didn’t hire a stenographer to do it for him.

The question of Mr. Ozawa’s influence arose during a media briefing with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi on the 18th. When asked what he thought of the view that the party secretary-general was really running the show, Mr. Hirano replied:

“The Cabinet is operating under Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s leadership. Any other idea is a distortion. This Government exists because of the strong backing of the party. The party president is the prime minister, and Secretary-General Ozawa is giving strong support to the party.”

You didn’t expect him to tell the truth, now did you?

Here’s one more question from the Jiji poll. When the subjects were asked whether they thought the DPJ had disassociated itself from the bureaucracy and instituted rule by the political class, 50.6% of the respondents said they had not, and only 26.3% said they had. That’s an increase of 3.7 percentage points among the nay-sayers in the past month.

In fact, someone very clever at Jiji inserted an interesting potential answer when asking about the most important person in the Government. To a list that included Messrs. Hatoyama, Ozawa, Kamei, Kan, and Okada, that person also slipped in the Finance Ministry.

A total of 0.6% of the respondents thought they were in charge, edging out Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Minister Maehara Seiji at 0.5%, and Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya at 0.4%.

Still the same old Kasumigaseki

The public has good reason to think the Hatoyama administration is still under the thumb of the bureaucracy in general and the Finance Ministry in particular. The following is an excerpt of a roundtable discussion among representatives of Japanese government ministries that appeared in the 17 October issue of the weekly Shukan Gendai. They were discussing the dog-and-pony show held in a Tokyo gym to make determinations on the continuation of certain government programs and the elimination of government waste. (The DPJ showed that it learned one lesson about theater from Mr. Koizumi. The exercise was more about humiliating officials from the lesser ministries than having anything to with real government.)

METI stands for Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, MOF for Ministry of Finance, MIAC for the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, and CO for Cabinet Office.

METI: In fact, the Finance Ministry is not acting recklessly and is not out of control. The head of the secretariat of the Governmental Reform Council is Kato Hideki, the head of a non-profit think tank.

MIAC: He’s a Finance Ministry alumnus (hired in 1973) that devised the methods for the operational review to remove waste from government.

METI: That’s right. That project was done using statistics from the Budget Bureau. In other words, Mr. Kato and the Finance Ministry are as one. The personnel decision that put him in charge of the project was made by Deputy Prime Minister Matsui Koji (Note: He’s actually deputy chief cabinet secretary, but the man from METI was repeating a common joke). That’s because the DPJ’s primary objective is to maintain control of the government until the upper house election. He thinks the most important factor in maintaining control is to not alienate the Finance Ministry.

CO: The Finance Ministry can be frightening when it’s aroused, can’t it? Eda Kenji (of Your Party), an aide to former Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro, testified that immediately after Hashimoto told the MOF of his decision to spin off the Finance Department into a separate agency, it was leaked to the press that Yamaichi Securities had gone bankrupt. That was followed by an unprecedented credit crunch. The administration was trounced in the upper house election, and the Cabinet resigned. When it comes to protecting its own organization, The MOF has no qualms about crushing a Cabinet.

MOF: No comment.

The electorate voted for the DPJ in the hope of finding decisive leadership, competent governance that puts the people’s interests first, the disassociation of politics from the bureaucracy, and the renunciation of the money politics of the past and the people who its visible symbols.

One of these decades, they might actually get it.

Afterwords:

* I attended a seminar in October in Tokyo, and one of the speakers (the head of a small political think-tank) went off-topic briefly to state rather firmly that Mr. Ozawa is waiting for the best time to gather up his supporters and walk out of the party, leaving the leftist elements of the DPJ behind. He then intends to create a new Government on his own and rule in somewhat the style of former Prime Minister Koizumi, though more odayaka (calm and mild). Reading between the lines in the Japanese print media, most Japanese commentators seem to half-expect this as well, and sometimes events seem to be trending in that direction.

One Japanese journalist recently compared Mr. Ozawa to a powerful chemical agent because he generates a strong reaction when he comes in contact with other people. That reaction is just as often negative as positive. It’s possible he’ll split and form a government of his own, but it’s unlikely that anyone can expect anything odayaka from any enterprise in which he’s involved.

* To his credit, Mr. Ozawa does seem to want to wrest power away from Japan’s civil service. To his detriment, he seems to want to seize that power in his own hands. It’s unfortunate that his personality is more suited to leadership in a single-party dictatorship than a parliamentary democracy.

* Right after Mr. Hatoyama was named party president and it became apparent that he would soon become prime minister, he began sporting a silly new hair style that makes him look like a girl in junior college who knows she isn’t pretty but can’t make up her mind what to do about it.

When a man in his late 60s behaves that way, it’s a dead giveaway he hasn’t got a fully formed personality, and, at his age, never will.

Yes, it wasn’t his fault that he was born into a family with more money than they’ll ever know what to do with, and for that he deserves a bit of slack. But just because he had the opportunity to use that money to buy a political party doesn’t mean the rest of the country should be subjected to his shortcomings.

Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Nippon Noel 2009 (2): Instead of street corner Santas…

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 18, 2009

IF CHRISTMAS IS FOR KIDS, how do children get in the holiday spirit in Japan, which doesn’t have traditions of dashing through the snow on a one-horse open sleigh, good King Wenceslaus surveying the winter landscape on the Feast of Stephen, or, for bigger kids, having a close encounter under the mistletoe after a couple of cups of eggnog as a prelude to Santa sliding down the chimney? Here are three examples.

The first is a special class for children and their parents in Christmas ikebana, or flower arranging, in Tokushima City. Held in a local community center, it was part of a program sponsored by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. The class attracted 20 primary school students and their parents.

Providing the instruction was a director of a national ikebana association and officers of the local branch association of one of the flower arranging schools. The children used holly, lilies, azalea branches dyed red, and carnations to create flower arrangements with a Christmas theme. Said 11-year-old Hayakawa Yuri: “I was able to do it better than I thought I would. I want to see how it looks in my room.”

Meanwhile, the Susami Aquarium in Susami-cho, Wakayama, which features exhibits of local shrimp and crabs, decided to decorate their main attractions to offer a festive accent to the season. They dressed up two types of crabs as reindeer with Santa, or, to ensure a white Christmas, covered in snow.

One of the varieties given a seasonal makeover was the sponge crab dromidiopsis dormia, which has 15-centimeter-wide shells as an adult. Sea sponges naturally attach themselves to the shell, so the museum employed this trait to stick on sponges reworked to look like Santa dolls. The other was a local variety of spider crab with two-centimeter shells that sometimes disguise themselves with floating debris. The museum has loaded 20 with white thread to represent snow in an exhibit that lasts until the 25th.

Finally, in Rumoi, Hokkaido, municipal workers came up with a clever idea that uses the Chii-chan character. Chii-chan was an idea conceived by city employees to promote local scallop production throughout Hokkaido. Employees drafted 200 of the young scallop shells into holiday service, drew faces on them, and dressed them in red to resemble Santa Claus. The photo here shows them being displayed in a city building.

The Chii-chan/Santa figures are being given as presents to those who contribute to a campaign conducted by the Marine Rescue Japan organization. Some children, anxious for a Santa of their own, have even donated to the campaign.

So who needs visions of sugarplums dancing in your head when you can groove on Yuletide fantasias featuring original ikebana, sponge crabs, and scallop shells instead?

Posted in Holidays, Popular culture | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The devil’s in the details

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A COMMON LYRICAL HOMILY in Black American gospel music is the observation that everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die.

With a slight modification, that would be equally applicable to the Hatoyama administration’s pledge of a 25% reduction in CO2 emissions from 1990 levels by 2020.

Hypersensitive as always to what passes for the conventional wisdom of their brethren in Western countries, the Japanese mass media were thrilled when the self-anointed elites overseas pronounced themselves delighted with Japan’s new policy. After the disappointing 8% reduction pledge from the troglodytes in the Aso administration, this was much more like it. Japan was getting good press, and that’s all the local boys and girls needed to know.

But the Japanese mass media is just as loath as their fellow guild members in the Anglosphere to do any real investigative work and dig into just what those promises would entail. The new promises sounded good, the Amen Corner in the Church of Latter-Day Environmentalist Saints shouted Hallelujah, and the UN–that exemplar of good government–kept pumping out hot air about climate change, so they were down with it.

Besides, it allowed them to return to covering the stories they much prefer, such as the pre-election career of new lower house proportional representation MP and DPJ member Tanaka Mieko. It seems Ms. Tanaka caught some vicarious kicks by dressing up in strange costumes and interviewing women in the sex industry for sleazy magazines. She also appeared topless in the film Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf, which gave her the opportunity to display her thespian skills by pretending to enjoy a chest massage from the Blind Beast himself. But I digress.

For starters, the pledge wouldn’t mean a 25% reduction in CO2 emissions from present levels. It would be a reduction from 1990 levels–which means Mr. Hatoyama’s promise involves cutting emissions by 33% in 11 years.

Some Japanese scientists have done the research, and Roger Pielke Jr., a professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, posts some of their findings on his blog.

Before reading what would have to happen, I suggest fortifying yourself with a warming drink first. This will be enough to make your blood run cold. Keep in mind Prof. Pielke’s link is to someone who thinks this is all a wonderful idea.

One wonders whether Taro and Hanako would consider it a wonderful idea if the Government actually kept its promise to solve a “global warming” problem that–thanks to Climategate–we now know doesn’t exist. They’d be put on a forced march through Hell to get to the Promised Land, only to discover that their Green Heaven is just as mythical as the pot of gold at the end of the Rainbow Warrior.

But by then it would be too late. And all the accomplices in governments and their bought researchers would be congratulating themselves for a Mission Accomplished in fantasyland.

Fortunately, governments often don’t keep environmental promises, the Hatoyama administration has backed off its proposed Green Tax for now, and the whole scam of using environmentalism as a stalking horse for global governance might be completely discredited by the time a Japanese government got off its duff. Even the mainstream media has now begun hooting at Al Gore.

Follow the link and then consider how life in Japan would have to change to meet the government’s stated goal. Read also the first commenter’s claims that using photovoltaic arrays in Japan would actually result in greater CO2 generation than less.

Note: The important information is easily available at that site, but the link to more information at the bottom requires a paid subscription. Don’t let that stop you from clicking the link to the post here, however.

Posted in Environmentalism, Government, Mass media | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Left-wingin’ it

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 16, 2009

WRITING in the New York Times, Martin Fackler briefly examined the difficulties the Hatoyama administration faces regarding the scheduled move of the U.S. Marine air base at Futenma—in addition to such problems as the Government’s lack of competence, leadership skills, and decision-making ability. He cites as one of those difficulties their importunate coalition partners, which he refers to as “two small leftist parties”.

Eh? While everyone recognizes that the Social Democrats, nee Socialists, are around the bend sinister, that’s not the label usually applied to the People’s New Party, AKA the Kamei Family Political Caucus. After all, leader Kamei Shizuka is a reject/rebel from the Liberal Democratic Party, which the New York Times and others in the Western media so often informed their readers was “conservative” and “right-wing”. A few weeks ago, the PNP held discussions about a merger with a group led by Hiranuma Takeo, another LDP reject/rebel, who talks incessantly about creating a “true conservative force” in Japanese politics.

But hold on a minute. They might be on to something for a change.

After all, Mr. Kamei was the prime mover behind the effort to renationalize Japan Post. In addition to delivering the mail, which is declining 2%-3% annually by volume in Japan in the age of the Internet and express delivery services, this enterprise involves operating a bank, an insurance company, and a string of recreational lodges that bleed red ink. All are being shifted back to de facto government control.

The same Mr. Kamei was the instigator of recent legislation to encourage banks to institute a loan moratorium for small businesses. The bill includes a promise to use public funds to cover any financial institution losses; i.e., Socialize their debt. He also enjoys demagoguing what he denounces as free-market fundamentalism in the West.

The term left wing works for me.

Now all Mr. Fackler and the New York Times have to do is fully extend that description to Japan’s Democratic Party—a mainstream haven for teachers’ union veterans, ex-Socialists, and DINOs, or Democrats In Name Only. The DPJ roster of MPs includes ex-Peace Boaters and others whose philosophy could have been lifted in toto from a smudged Socialist Party mimeograph. They ran under the DPJ label because a) They couldn’t get elected otherwise, and b) Ozawa Ichiro made it party policy to accept anyone who would stand for office and stand for being told how to vote.

The New York Times, however, considers the DPJ to be “slightly left-leaning”. One wonders if they arrived at that determination using cattle scales–after adding the avoirdupois of the party’s non-left wing factions, the red pointer settled a skoche to the left of center.

They should apply the same rule to the DPJ as they did to the PNP–if it walks like a duck…

Their difficulty is understandable, however. It’s not so easy to tell in which direction the party’s walking. Since forming a government, the DPJ has been stumbling like a plover instead of waddling like a duck. That’s the Japanese analogy for staggering like a drunken sailor at the end of the first night of shore leave.

A couple of weeks ago, the weekly Shukan Gendai headlined rumors that strongman Ozawa Ichiro already has Mr. Kamei lined up to replace the wingless and hairy Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio.

Now that really would be winging it.

Posted in Mass media, Politics | Tagged: , | 13 Comments »

Matsuri da! (108): Slippery when wet

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 14, 2009

WATER FIGHTING for fun seems to be a universal human phenomenon. Put two children into a stream or swimming pool, and it won’t be long before they’re splashing away at each other and laughing like crazy. What kid doesn’t like water pistols and water balloons? We’ve all been to carnivals where one of the attractions involves throwing a ball to hit a spot on a board connected to a switch that pulls the seat out from under a hapless volunteer sitting atop a pool. Sometimes they don’t even bother with the mechanism and just let people throw big wet sponges at a guy with his head stuck through a hole in the board. And I remember one summer evening as a kid watching in envy as my parents and a few adults in the neighborhood got gloriously silly while having a mock battle with a garden hose.

Of course the Japanese like water battles too, and of course they go everybody one better. At the Kashima Shinto shrine in Fukushima, Okayama, they turn one into a religious festival every year on the fourth Sunday in October.

It all began more than 800 years ago when a plague ravaged the area. On the instruction of the divinities, some “bright children” (the reports say prodigies, but they don’t explain why) started splashing each other with muddy water, and the plague disappeared.

Here’s the sequence of festive events as handed down over the centuries. After an initial ceremony at the shrine, the parishioners parade through the area with a mikoshi, or portable Shinto shrine, to a separate location. There another ceremony is held to open the cask of consecrated sake, which in this case is doburoku.

Wouldn’t you know there was liquor involved! And in this case, it’s consecrated, so they’ve got a legitimate reason for calling it “spirits”.

After opening the barrel of spiritually infused sake, everyone heads back to the shrine. The various festival officials take their seats in a specified order at a special site erected on the shrine grounds called a mizuya, or water house. Then they sing the Noh song of Takasago.

Liquor: Check. Singing: Check.

Once the song is over, they offer the consecrated sake to the divinities twice. That’s what a group of young men outside the mizuya have been waiting for. All the young dudes start yelling “Mizu da!” (It’s water!), and douse the older guys inside with muddy water from buckets. But the festival officials inside aren’t defenseless—oh, no, not at all. They fight back with ammunition from tanks of water of their own under the floor. Soon water is flying inside and out across the engawa, an interior porch in traditional Japanese dwellings.

Just in case everybody isn’t wet and dirty enough, they add some straw to the muddy water in larger tanks outside, and then toss in people who’ve gotten married in the past year. According to one account they also push in married men who’ve taken their wife’s family name (which happens sometimes in Japan) and middle-aged people. Apparently no one leaves the premises dry.

Now that everyone’s gotten good and wet and laughed themselves silly, the shrine officials toss pieces of mochi rice to the crowd and everyone goes home and gets wet again in the shower. The festival, which has been designated an important cultural treasure of the prefecture, is held in supplication for the good health and prosperity of the residents. Who knew muddy water could be good for you? If it comes to that, who knew a water fight could be turned into something so exalted?

Lest you get the wrong impression, here’s another festival that demonstrates the Japanese are perfectly capable of demonstrating their veneration and respect for water. This one’s called the O-Mizugaeshi, or Water Returning, and it’s held at the same time of year at a local pond in the Azumi district of Matsumoto, Nagano.

This event is much more recent—it began in 1992, and one of the prime movers was the Azumino Tourist Association. It starts with a ceremony at the Hotaka Shinto shrine, which is next to the pond itself. After the ceremony, some priests and local representatives board two boats and make a slow circuit of the pond. They bring along some water taken from the local Sai River at the point where it and the Hotaka and Takase rivers converge. Then, once they’ve finished circling the pond, they ceremoniously pour in the river water. And that’s it.

This year about 50 attended the festival, which is held to prevent shipwrecks and other disasters involving water. One of the men on the boat was a university professor studying local festivals (now there’s a gig I’d like to have). He said, “These days we take the existence of water for granted, but it’s very important to have a festival of this sort, which gives thanks for water.”

Doesn’t that go to show you really never can tell? Suppose someone told you there were two festivals, one involving a fight with muddy water and the other an elegant ceremony of reverence for nature, and that one of them began 800 years ago and the other was not quite 18 years old.

Would you have been able to match the festival with its age?

Afterwords: It’s been almost six months without a festival post. That’s way too long! Mea culpa and moshiwake arimasen!

Posted in Festivals | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Giant sea theater

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 12, 2009

The nature of the mass media today is such that the truth is irrelevant.
- Paul Watson

IT’S LATE FALL AGAIN, the time of year the Japanese government-funded whaling fleet departs Shimonoseki and heads for the South Pacific hunting grounds, with the rich celebrity-funded ships of Sea Shepherd, skippered by Cap’n Paul Watson, in hot pursuit. In years past, the organization’s vessels have flown the Jolly Roger, an image that captures both their behavior and drugstore buccaneer attitude. Watson considers people who eat whale meat to be “cannibals”, which isn’t so surprising once you’ve seen his photograph. One of the SS’s crewmen called what they do “giant street theater”, and that meshes well with the 24/7 needs of the infotainment business.

This AFP report takes a vague stab at describing the concerns over any mishaps that might occur when the curtain comes up this year; the remoteness of the area would make rescue operations difficult. The AFP explains the potential for mishaps by referring to what it calls a “collision” last year between the SS’s Steve Irwin and one of the whaling ships. Those who would like to see last year’s two “collisions” for themselves can do so by accessing the video provided by Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research (link on right sidebar). Another “collision” two years ago was even more blatant, as the ICR video showed an SS ship ramming one of the Japanese vessels from a 90 degree angle. The intent was obvious to anyone who has ever been a six-year-boy that played with other six-year-old boys by crashing toy trucks together.

That same year, the SS outfitted the Steve Irwin with a seven-foot steel blade on the starboard side to maximize the damage to the hulls of the ships it rammed. Demonstrating either their distinctive sense of humor or their personal fetishes, the SS called it a “hydraulic can opener” and threatened to give the Japanese a “steel enema”.

Ramming ships is one the many reasons people, organizations, and governments try to keep the SS at arm’s length. They’ve already sunk 10 vessels throughout the seven seas. Greenpeace refuses to even discuss them, while the anti-whaling Australians and New Zealanders have provided the Japanese whaling fleet with updates on SS ship movements. Here’s another taste of SS humor: They’ve painted the flags of the 10 victim ships’ countries of registration on the hull of one of their vessels, as if to cop a feel from World War II fighter pilots with little Rising Sun emblems painted around the cockpit. In addition to installing can openers, they’ve purposely reinforced the ship’s bow with concrete and steel. All the better to ram you with, my dear.

Greenpeace threw Watson out of the organization because it considered him a violent extremist that brought more harm than good to their cause. The vote of the Board of Directors was 11-1, with Watson himself being the lone dissenter.

The AFP merely refers to the SS as “militant protesters”. Unfortunately, the AFP can’t find the space to infotain their readers by dissecting Cap’n Paul’s nutzpah claim from last year that a sniper on one of the Japanese ships fired a gun at him. He tried to prove it by holding up a metal fragment for a TV crew on board ship and getting all in a huff’n’stuff.

How lucky for him that he was the only one of his crew to be wearing a bulletproof vest at the time, that “the bullet” struck an anti-poaching badge on his chest without leaving any marks, and that “the bullet” was nothing but a twisted piece of metal. In his book Earthforce!, Watson admitted that he’s down with the idea of making up facts and figures as a way to manipulate the media.

For their part, the Japanese authorities say they used flashbang devices against the SS ships, which are designed specifically to prevent shrapnel injuries.

Believing Mr. Watson would require that one also believe the Japanese were ready to abandon more than a half-century of pacifism and ruin their reputation for the rest of the century by taking a pot shot at a media whore parading in front of video cameras in the middle of a confrontation. These are the same Japanese whose national legislators twist themselves into pretzels over the question of whether to allow their military personnel to carry sidearms for self-protection during an assignment to a real war zone.

To steal a line from the American comedian Chris Rock: When did the words “crazy” and “ram” get eliminated from the dictionary?

International interest

The AFP also conveys the furrowed-brow concern of the foreign ministers of The Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand, who hope that no one breaks any laws. The Dutch are involved because the SS ships are registered with that country and fly their flag of convenience. The vigilante fleet wound up with Dutch registration because Canada, the U.K., and Belize revoked theirs. It turned out those fun-lovin’ guys of the SS had claimed their ships were “pleasure craft”. Now even the anti-whaling Dutch say they are putting together legislation to wash their hands of them. Part of the deal to obtain Dutch registration was that the SS sign an agreement to comply with safety rules and not resort to violence.

Then again, one wonders how much of a priority this is for the Dutch. The Norwegians issued an arrest warrant for Watso after he tried to sink some of their smaller whaling ships in the early 90s. The Dutch took him into custody and held him for 80 days, but refused to extradite him. Maybe they were miffed that the Norwegians didn’t want to join the EU.

The Australians and the New Zealanders have gotten involved because their islands happen to be in the vicinity, they think whales are cuddly, and the Australians think they should be treated better than the way they themselves treat wallabies and kangaroos. That’s no excuse for the international news media to think the Australians and New Zealanders are more worthy of attention than other anti-whaling nations, however. Yes, they are close to the region, but they’re not directly affected by the Japanese activity. The Australians claim jurisdiction, but no one else recognizes the claim, and even they refer to it as “tenuous”.

Could it be that they receive coverage because they’re the closest countries whose population is mostly Caucasian? If you think that’s not a factor, imagine how interested the media would be if the whales were frolicking somewhere in the Indian Ocean and the two countries complaining were Madagascar and the Seychelles. But I digress.

The sailors’ tactics

Last year, the Japanese sprayed the SS ships with water cannon and played an amplified recording of noise that was said to resemble that of a smoke detector. This year the SS decided to bring some noise of their own, as the green gossip blog Ecorazzi reports:

Pete Bethune, captain of the new Sea Shepherd stealth boat “Ady Gil”, has revealed that he’ll be blaring the song “Tangaroa” from NZ musician Tiki Taan. “It’s a pretty spooky dark song and it’s got this sort of ethereal Maori chant going on it and I don’t think they’ll like it at all,” he told a NZ Radio station.

Here’s the YouTube video of Tangaroa. Listen for yourself to what the mocha latte warriors consider spooky, dark, and ethereal. Some might think it resembles the crowd noise during the second half of a rugby match instead. Cool dudes that they are, they probably also dug the skull on the t-shirt and the neck tattoo. Keepin’ it real!

The political tactics

Meanwhile, the new Japanese government seems to have developed a good cop, bad cop routine.

Remember, whatever you do, don't mention the war--er--warhl--uh--whale, yes, whale, that's it, never eat it myself, can't stand the taste.

The good cop is played by Japan’s Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio. Mr. Hatoyama, who doesn’t seem to be the type to have smashed trucks at age six, met with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende at the end of October and asked his government to deflag the SS’s mini-navy. That should have been enough, but no–for some reason he felt compelled to expound on his dietary habits, telling Dr. Balkenende, “I detest whale meat.” The Dutch prime minister promised that he would have legislation drawn up to allow for the deregistration of the SS ships.

Guess which part of the story got hit by the international news media spotlight. Guess what legislation hasn’t been written yet. Guess who has no one to blame but himself.

This wasn’t the first time the prime minister got entangled in some dippy diplomacy. Here’s an excerpt from a previous post:

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith met on the 26th (2008) for talks with Hatoyama Yukio, the secretary-general of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. Here’s a story the latter told Mr. Smith, according to a report in the Sankei Shimbun.

“Actually, my wife served some home-cooked whale this morning. I don’t believe in eating whale, so I turned it down, but it is in fact a popular dish on the Japanese table.”

Back-translating from the translation into Japanese, Smith’s reply was, “You’re a braver man than I. My policy is to eat everything my wife serves.”

Mr. Hatoyama later said his wife had made a type of whale stew for breakfast. He also explained that he didn’t eat whales because people from the district he represents in Hokkaido were trying to develop whale watching as a tourism resource.

And yes, it is stretching it a bit to have us believe that the wife of a politician in his 60s doesn’t know he refuses to eat whale and serves it to him in a breakfast stew on the very morning he is to meet the Australian foreign minister.

I’m not sure that Mr. Smith swallowed the story about the breakfast any more than Mr. Hatoyama swallowed his wife’s whale stew.

Well, what’s the real story? Does he refuse to allow whale meat to pass his lips because of his constituents, because he’s a politician who’ll say anything, or because he thinks whale tastes terrible? Having eaten whale in Japan that was better than beefsteak, and knowing this is not a hot-button issue for the Japanese, I’d place my chips on number two.

What Mr. Hatoyama did was put into practice an old Japanese proverb: Uso mo hoben, or, a lie can be expedient. Having also been on the receiving end of an expedient lie or two soon after coming to Japan, I can testify they do more harm than good. The listener knows dang well he’s being lied to, and suspects the expedient liar thinks him incapable of understanding something that’s easily understood to begin with.

Instead, he came off as what the Japanese call a happo bijin—literally, a beauty in eight directions, and figuratively, a phony who tries to please everyone.

And if that weren’t enough, why should he bring himself down to the level of Paul Watson?

It was something of a surprise, however, that the new Japanese government debuted a bad cop this year in the person of Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya. Demonstrating that there is more to the Japanese political pond than jellyfish, Mr. Okada told the Australians that the two countries’ food cultures were different and to get used to it. Only he said it more diplomatically.

This is a change from the previous Japanese insistence that they were whaling primarily for scientific reasons. The Institute of Cetacean Research actually does perform research into the tasty cetaceans brought back from the South Pacific and has had the results published in scientific journals, but the world has always assumed that was another expedient lie.

Bully for Mr. Okada, whether he eats whale meat or not. The Japanese political class might finally have become fed up with all the malarkey despite conducting themselves in exemplary fashion for more than a half-century. Some foreigners think they’re devious bastards that are a) ready to march back into East Asia at the drop of a hat, or b) ready to monopolize the world’s automotive and consumer electronics industries if they aren’t able to do a). Others think they deserve to have a voice in the content of Japanese school textbooks and the schedule of Japanese prime ministers on national days of memoriam. Still others expect them to behave as ATMs for the world whenever some other country comes up with another grand international scheme and demands cooperation.

It wouldn’t be surprising if a consensus of sorts of sorts has developed that, by Jingo, if they want to make us jump through all these other hoops, then we’re going to catch all the damn whales we please. And eat them, too!

If I might make so bold, perhaps it would be profitable to take one more step. Seeing as how the Australians insist on having a voice in the matter of Japanese whaling, it would be only fair to apply Australian rules to the game. To wit:

Australian Maritime Law, the Crimes (Ships and Fixed Platforms Act) 1992, Part 2, Division 1, Section 10:

“A person must not engage in conduct that causes damage to a private ship or its cargo, knowing that such damage is likely to endanger the safe navigation of the ship.

Penalty: Life imprisonment.”

They’ve already asked Interpol to issue arrest warrants for Watson.

This could cut two ways, however. On the one hand, it would have the benefits of giving him what he deserves and putting him out of circulation for a while. On the other hand, the huckster-at-heart might not mind that much; he’s seen the inside of jails in other countries before, and a stretch in what the Japanese call the pig box would give him the chance to play the martyr.

It might even give him the idea of channeling another vege-maniac on a mission who once led a band of misfits with a taste for street theater. After his release/parole/expulsion, he could write a book about his experiences and call it My Struggle.

UPDATE:
Reader Kushibo writes in to scold the “pro-whaling movement” for making Watson and SS the face of the “anti-whaling movement”.

I think not. The anti-whaling movement has got just the guy they want as their front man.

It takes a lot of money to purchase, outfit, equip, and operate ships on the high seas throughout the year. It also requires registration with a country. Watson doesn’t have any problem getting either.

The man has a rap sheet more than a quarter of a century long, but the Dutch asked him to sign an agreement that he would be a good boy. Are we to believe they’re surprised he didn’t live up to it? The Australians and others governments give him some mild harassment, but it amounts to little more than a perfunctory, “round up the usual suspects” gesture.

If the anti-whaling movement/governments didn’t want him as their face–particularly as their PR man for the media–he’d have been history long ago.

Afterwords:
There are several other posts linked to the Whales tag, but perhaps this one has the most intriguing opinion from an outside observer.

Posted in Environmentalism, Food, International relations, Traditions | Tagged: , , , | 11 Comments »

Update on will China buy Japan Inc.

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, December 10, 2009

A FEW DAYS ago, we had a post about three Westerners who are Gold Card members in good standing of the transnational, global governance jet set that genuflects at the altar of big bureaucracy, big regulation, top-down control, and little liberty. Their view of contemporary Japan, which seems to originate from somewhere in Deep Space, keeps them afloat on the book and lecture circuit and brings in consultation fees to discuss future developments and conduct what they call Multi-Stakeholder Dialogues.

Reader A-nihonjin sends along a Japanese-language article dated 9 December from the Chosun Online website of the South Korean newspaper of the same name. One of the trio, Jean-Pierre Lehmann, gave two talks in Seoul on the 8th. The title of one was, “Will South Korea Play a Central Role in the Age of a Powerful East Asia Soon to Come?”

The article on the site, which is a translation from the Korean of remarks originally in either English or French, quotes Mr. Lehmann as saying:

“There must be mutual trust and uniform thinking to create a unified East Asian region, but both Japan and China are lacking in these areas.”

One wonders how much he charged for telling the South Koreans what they already know—and for not telling the Koreans that the same sentence applies equally to them.

“Despite past discord between France and Germany, they were able to create the EU and lead Europe because they both had democratic systems of government. But the East Asia in which China and Japan are located is different.”

Yes, it is different. Japan is the Northeast Asian pioneer in both democratic government and the (relatively) free market economy. After a period of military dictatorship, South Korea is catching up. Will China ever get there? If they don’t, what would be the point of an East Asian entity?

If there is any discord in this neck of the woods, Japan is the last country at which he should be pointing the finger of blame.

And yes, the Franco-German dominance of the EU is precisely what more than a few Europeans dislike about it.

Here’s what he said about Japan:

“There are a lot of aspects that Japan does not understand, and the country lacks trustworthiness. That was true during the Koizumi era, and I don’t know what’s going to happen in the Hatoyama era.”

Watching a massive edifice of false knowledge ostentatiously being paraded in public is similar to seeing the aftermath of an auto accident. You know it’s going to be ugly, but it’s still difficult to turn your head.

We are told neither what it is that Japan does not understand, nor how he would know what it is Japan does not understand.

That he would not care for Mr. Koizumi is to be expected. The former prime minister was an advocate of deregulation, privatization, smaller government, the devolution of authority, the free market economy, and individual initiative. Those are not the sort of ideas a believer in global governance overseen by a bureaucratic elite would find appealing.

Nor does he explain just what is so sneaky and underhanded about the Japanese. Perhaps he knows just enough to realize that the South Koreans have been so conditioned they will find some way to fill in the blanks for themselves. By mentioning Mr. Koizumi, he is presumably referring to his Yasukuni visits. Is Mr. Lehmann informed enough to realize that the Chinese and South Korean governments make it a matter of public policy to inflame anti-Japanese sentiment, and that they manipulate the mass media to achieve that? Could he look someone in the eye and say the Japanese do anything remotely similar?

About China:

“It has many dictatorial aspects and that sort of history.”

Caution: Geopolitical analyst at work

Therefore:

“In the end, to achieve unity in East Asia, South Korea, which has democratized and achieved economic success, will probably play a central role as a third site that has extricated itself from the struggles of those two countries.”

The unspoken bargain seems to be that he feeds their ego by seducing them with—literally—sweet nothings, and they give him a lot of money in gratitude.

I suspect there’s been a translation error in the next part, and this is perhaps what he was saying (alternate translations welcome):

“In the first year of the next decade of the 21st century (2010), it is possible that the current global governance system will not be capable of presenting solutions for the Doha Development Agenda (Doha Round, the World Trade Organization trade negotiations), sustainable development, and the climate change conference. South Korea, which will host the G20 summit next year, can offer an alternative proposal for a new global governance system.”

Putting aside a clear lack of knowledge about contemporary Northeast Asia compounded by anti-Nipponistic sentiments, Mr. Lehmann’s premise is that large multinational governance structures are a good thing. It should be evident that they are not. They are schemes for transferring money, as well as individual and local rights and privileges, to large bureaucracies, which offer nothing in return. They are to public affairs what pantyhose are to sex. The only beneficiaries are those of the self-anointed political priesthood who have found a niche for themselves somewhere in its superstructure.

Building organizations such as these in smaller units from the ground level up and allowing them to grow organically is the only way to ensure their long-term efficacy, but that model generates few rewards for the bank accounts or vanity of the dirigistes.

One would think there would be a better way of helping promote an East Asian entity than by deliberately sowing the seeds of discord in a speech to one of its potential members. But how else is a European member of the transnational Laputans going to get a piece of that action in this part of the world?

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, China, Government, International relations, South Korea | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Mushrooms update

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Number of hits on Google (English) for “Climategate”: 32 million
Number of hits on Google (English) for “Tiger Woods”: 14.5 million

Number of hits on Google (Japan) for “Climategate”: 31,900
Number of hits on Google (Japan) for “Tiger Woods”: 1,490,000

A few stories (on Climategate) have now appeared in Japanese dailies. This one, which is fairly good, was published today on the Internet site J-Cast. The article briefly describes the “trick” used to create the discredited Hockey Stick graph, and then continues, “If true…” It does not mention that the university in question has admitted all the e-mails are genuine.

I tried one more search on Google News (English). Here is the result:

“Your search – Climategate + “Japan Times” – did not match any documents”

Posted in Environmentalism, Mass media | Tagged: | 13 Comments »

Land use in China

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 8, 2009

IN THE POST immediately preceding this one, Prof. Shimojo Masao makes a reference to agricultural reform in China and the private ownership of land. He holds that agricultural problems in China will not be solved until land can be privately owned and democratic reforms established.

In one of those serendipitous examples of synchronicity, fewer than 12 hours after posting it, I ran across this article from the Hoover Institute that compares land reform in Russia in the post-Soviet era and in China in the post-Mao era. It is both enlightening and frustrating. On the one hand, it does present a contrast worth considering. On the other, the authors celebrate the wonders of Chinese agrarian reform while glossing over the critical fact that Chinese farmers still cannot own land outright. They offer a vague hope that it might be possible in the future, depending on the way in which a new law passed in 2007 will be implemented.

I understand that academics and intellectuals as well as journalists want to pitch a tent to present a point of view, and create narratives to further that presentation. But why is it so difficult for them to realize the reader needs the basic facts first. They’re not going to find them all here. The curious reader will have to plow through several more articles and sift through several bushels of infotainment before a picture begins to take shape.

That picture contains several scenes the Hoover Institute article doesn’t even hint at–serious anti-governmental unrest in rural areas and a Chinese debate over what degree of private ownershop is necessary.

It will come as no surprise the author of this Time magazine article chose to dramatize government thuggishness–it’s a glossy infotainment mag, after all–but still didn’t manage to get the facts down. (He says land is owned by the state. Chinese farmland is owned by the individual villages.) This recent Financial times article has more information, but still does not present the basic fact about Chinese land ownership.

This Christian Science Monitor article has the same problem. None of these articles, however, make it clear that the Chinese government is still opposed to private ownership. That information is to be found in this piece in the Vancouver Sun.

This summary by the Council on Foreign Relations is much better, but again they have little to say about the new law. (It will allow freeholding rather than outright ownership.) Instead they just provide a link to the English translation of the law itself. Couldn’t they have found the time and space–a clearly written paragraph?–to properly explain, rather than invite the reader to wade through 247 articles of legalese?

Yet again one has to recognize the brilliance of Akutagawa Ryunosuke for his literary montage Rashomon, later turned into a film by Kurosawa Akira that starred Mifune Toshiro. It tells the story of a man’s murder and the rape of his wife from the perspectives of four people. Their accounts differ so greatly the reader or viewer wonders if they are describing the same incident.

That, however, was fiction. How unfortunate that it also describes the state of academic writing and journalism.

Posted in Agriculture, Business, finance and the economy, China, Government, Mass media | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Shimojo Masao (6): The countries of the Confucian cultural sphere

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 8, 2009

WITH THE EXCEPTION OF JAPAN, the names of the countries that were once part of the Confucian cultural sphere are now entirely different. Qing of the Manchu Dynasty has been divided and become the Peoples’ Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan), while Joseon has been divided and become the Republic of Korea and the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea. Their social systems have also diverged, with some becoming socialist states and some becoming capitalist states.

Of these, Taiwan and South Korea adopted the market economy and advanced economically. At the end of the 19th century, they were part of highly centralized states. The one on the Korean Peninsula was then called the world’s poorest country, and Taiwan was a remote region on the outskirts of Qing. What lies behind their achievement of economic growth on the level of that of developed nations?

The one factor both have in common is that they were under the administration of Japan until the latter’s defeat in 1945. Taiwan was ceded to Japan after the Japan-China War of 1894, and Joseon merged with Japan in 1910. During that period, the ground was prepared that enabled the economic structures of a centralized government to take on the characteristics of a market economy.

There are examples to corroborate this. Today, with its rapid economic growth, China cannot halt the expanding gap between the cities and agricultural villages. In 2006, the government decided to launch the semaul (new village) movement, an effort to strengthen agricultural villages that was first implemented in South Korea in the 1970s.

The roots of the semaul movement are found in the period of Japan’s colonization and administration. It began in 1907 with the activities of the Regional Financing Association (the forerunner of the South Korean agricultural cooperatives), which converted tenant farms into independent farms. Its slogan was “Diligence, Self-Help, Cooperation”, and it encouraged the autonomous activities of the farmers. The semaul movement had the identical slogan, and it closely resembled the agricultural promotion policies during the period of Japanese administration.

Grappling with the severity of the so-called Three Agricultural Problems (farming villages, agriculture, farmers), the Chinese government launched the “New Farm Village Construction” program modeled on the success of the semaul movement. That is difficult to achieve in the single-party dictatorship of China, however. It is the same sort of difficulty encountered after the centralized Soviet Union collapsed and a market economy was introduced into a national structure based on a planned economy. It is impossible to create a market economy without recognizing the private ownership of land and creating the foundation of a democratic society.

In this regard, the South Korean view of the Japanese colonial administration as nothing but an invasion is an incorrect historical understanding. That’s because the foundation that promised the economic growth of today had already been laid during the period of Japanese administration. That is the backdrop for the economic development of South Korea and Taiwan. This fact should provide some hints for the advancement of developing countries and considerations of an East Asian entity.

- Shimojo Masao

Posted in Agriculture, Books, China, History, South Korea, Taiwan | Tagged: , , | 9 Comments »

Will China buy Japan Inc.?

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 7, 2009

GOT THE BLUES after all the gloom and doom about the economy in some recent posts? What’s the solution when the news on the financial pages seems so bleak?

Comic relief!

When the shtick is about Japan, however, the comedy is all too likely to resemble Dumb and Dumberer instead of something more sophisticated. Here’s yet another example from three people billing themselves as East Asian business experts.

John Haffner, Tomas Casas, and Jean-Pierre Lehmann wrote a three-part article earlier this year for The Globalist website that includes excerpts from their book, Japan’s Open Future. The authors’ premise is that vigorous and forward-looking Chinese free market shock troops could storm and seize the castle of backward Japanese protectionism and create an impact as much cultural and psychological as economic.

To support their argument, they’ve conjured up spaghetti-like strings of speculation woven together to create enough straw men to populate a Potemkin Village. Their premises are so dated the three names on the article might as well have been Rip, Van, and Winkle. In both content and writing style, the article resembles nothing so much as a collage slapped together after midnight by an amphetamine-fueled undergraduate for a class assignment due before lunchtime.

See for yourselves!

As China continues to push for a robust free trade regime in Asia, it will only be a matter of time before it pressures Japan to join — and Japan would find it hard to resist. If the Middle Kingdom is able to pressure Japan to join a free trade agreement, such an agreement would likely allow China to challenge Japan’s myriad forms of economic protectionism through the agreement.

The website of the Doing Business project of the World Bank Group says it “provides objective measures of business regulations and their enforcement across 183 economies and selected cities at the subnational and regional level.” It has global rankings for the ease of business in each country.

Their overall ranking for Japan: #15.
Their overall ranking for China: #89. It edged out Zambia at #90.

Their rankings are also broken down into categories that examine specific aspects of doing business. One of those categories is “Trading Across Borders”.

Japan’s rank in that category: #17.
China’s rank in that category: #44.

Meanwhile, in other news, representatives from Japan were down in Singapore last month at the APEC conference, talking to delegates from every country about trading across borders through free trade agreements. Remarkably, no one was photographed twisting their arms.

But you can tell these guys are Asia hands. They call China the “Middle Kingdom”, just like all the Timeweek journalists.

Japan could very well wake up one day to find, in a scenario no less dramatic than Godzilla’s arrival in Tokyo, that many of its top companies are owned by Chinese investors.

Godzilla destroyed Tokyo in 1954 during the Eisenhower Administration, the same year Elvis Presley began his career change from truck driver to singer. The filmographic record of this destruction arrived in the U.S. in 1956, when Eisenhower was still in office, and was specially edited to include the young actor Raymond Burr.

Ike, Elvis, and the man who played Perry Mason are as long dead as any Japanese perception of foreigners as Godzilla.

At least Rip Van Winkle was alive enough to wake up after 20 years.

There is a feeling in the West that despite Japan’s impressive economic performance, the country did not remember to include its friends when times were good.

That’s the problem with the West these days—too much touchy-feely and not enough study-researchy.

Japan become the world’s leading provider of ODA starting in 1993 according to the OECD, and times weren’t all that good for them—their economic bubble had collapsed and they were just beginning their 10 lost years.

The government’s cut back a bit on ODA since then, however. They plummeted to second place in 2000 and third place in 2006.

They helped out their Kuwaiti friends in the 1990s to the tune of $US 13 billion after the first Gulf War, but their “friends” in Kuwait left them off the list of nations it wanted to thank in a full-page ad in the Washington Post.

They’ve been so helpful to their American friends that Japanese car makers built plants in the United States to keep alive the polite fiction that Americans can still build competitive automotive products.

Japan might also be surprised, in this scenario, to discover that the Europeans and Americans would not rush to provide Japan with a diplomatic or financial cushion against Chinese economic and political pressure, regardless of how strongly Japan might continue to align itself with the United States on political and military matters.

Meanwhile, in the real Japan scenario, no Japanese make the assumption that the West will provide it with a “cushion” against Chinese economic or political pressure, whatever the authors intend by the term “cushion”. If the premise is that the Chinese are going to crack open a protectionist Japanese market and buy Japanese companies, what “financial cushion” could the West provide?

As for protection against Chinese political pressure, the Europeans and the Americans couldn’t even cushion themselves.

Mercantilism excludes, it alienates potential friends and lonely Japan has failed to cultivate loyalty or allies in the world.

In contrast, the mercantilism of the immensely popular Chinese has won them a Facebook full of loyal friends and allies on which the sun never sets.

There is a feeling in the West that despite Japan’s impressive economic performance, the country did not remember to include its friends when times were good, as the United States has done, and as China is doing now.

We’ve already seen some examples above of the Japanese remembering friends when times were both bad and good. The authors fail to gave us concrete examples of how China is “including its friends” in their piece. They certainly haven’t helped with Iran and North Korea. Surely they aren’t referring to the Chinese presence in Africa.

Just what the deuce are these people talking about?

Warning, non sequitur ahead!

A minority of forward-looking Japanese would be comfortable with the larger significance of such a development (i.e., Chinese takeover of Japanese firms). As the Hong Kong joke goes, China just had a couple of bad centuries and is back in business.

How’s that for a concept: when business interests from Country A, many of which would be state-owned, snatch up the corporate jewels of Country B, the “forward-looking” people of Country B would find that “comfortable”. After all, China’s state-owned enterprises are such upstanding, responsible corporate citizens compared to the dead-in-the-water Japanese private-sector firms.

Curious, is it not?

And how they define “forward-looking Japanese” and how they’re sure who and who would not “be comfortable” with such a development aren’t explained. Maybe the authors are like Topsy. Topsy just grew. They just know.

Throughout the long article, the authors quote only one supposed authority—Ohmae Kenichi, who has thrown so many darts at the board over the past 20 years one of them is bound to stick eventually.

(A)s management consultant OHMAE Kenichi comments, “Over the last 4,000 years of history, Japan has been a peripheral country to China, with the exception of this one last century. In the future, Japan will be to China what Canada is to the United States, what Austria is to Germany.”

Drat, missed again! That wall around the dartboard is starting to look awfully tacky.

That’s the same Ohmae Kenichi who wrote a slapdash article of his own in the August 2008 issue of Voice magazine titled, “The Limit for One China Has Been Reached.” In true consultant fashion, he forecasts, without offering anything in the way of support, a loosening of the center in China over the intermediate term and the country’s transformation into a confederation of Chinese-speaking states.

It’s hard to see how Japan would be a Canada or an Austria to that.

In its roughly 2,000 years as a polity, Japan has never been to China what Canada is to the United States, nor what Austria is to Germany—and those two groupings share the same language. What reason is there to expect it will happen in the future?

For the first time, modern Japan could see a fellow Asian country — a country it invaded and colonized — as the catalyst of its own reform and economic improvement.

Has one of the major flaws of this article become clear now? It is ostensibly written about Japan, but the perspective is that of contemporary China. Japan did colonize Manchuria and Taiwan, and it did set up puppet governments with a shaky hold on authority. But the colonization of China, as most people other than the Chinese define it? Not in this time-space continuum.

It is not uncommon for Japanese to discount any advantages the Chinese might be gaining on these fronts with the kinds of rationalizations that, funny enough, the West tended to apply to Japan when it was gaining competitiveness in previous decades: lousy quality, advantages based only on cheap labor, lack of innovation and technology pirates.

Why shouldn’t it be uncommon? Funny enough, every one of those rationalizations is true.

From a subscriber-only article:

Who’s Monitoring Chinese Food Exports?
Nicholas Zamiska
The Wall Street Journal, 13 April 2007

Tainted foods from China are becoming a growing problem as the country plays a greater part in the global food chain. Chemical use is high, regulations are lax, and while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has the authority to check imports for contaminants that are in violation of U.S. law, it is able to physically inspect only a small fraction of them…

China’s contamination problems stem in large part from its loose regulations and highly fragmented food production. Hundreds of millions of small farmers grow its food, and they rely heavily on chemicals to coax production out of intensively cultivated soils and to fight pests.

The result: “China has one of the world’s highest rates of chemical fertilizer use per hectare, and Chinese farmers use many highly toxic pesticides, including some that are banned in the United States,” according to a report published last November by the economic-research service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Dateline!

Jan. 4, 2009: Yomuri Shimbun reports that the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries will set up a mechanism to protect Japan’s intellectual property rights in farm, forestry, and fisheries sectors in China.

Back to our story.

Unless Japan undergoes a huge change in national psychology, therefore…

Shouldn’t there be some QED before we get to “therefore”?

…a forced Chinese economic opening would likely evoke a range of negative emotions, from mild embarrassment among moderates to a sense of unprecedented humiliation among hard-core nationalists.

Putting aside the lighter-than-air speculation, isn’t it odd they don’t mention leftists? It’s almost as if they don’t exist. Their boundaries of political thought are defined by moderates on one extreme and hard-core nationalists on the other.

By the way, those hard-core nationalists, assuming they exist in significant numbers, are unlikely to find any humiliation unprecedented. Japan did lose the war, after all.

But that was in the pre-Godzilla period.

But even if Japan does go nuclear, this is not a war that would be fought with military weapons or deterrence, just as Commodore Perry and General MacArthur did not use economics and the rule of law to force reform. In fact this is not game of war at all, although it would be a contest of sorts. China would be using economic jiu-jitsu, beating Japan at its own mercantilist game.

So, if Japan has nuclear weapons, it will fight a war with China, but instead of being a military war, a war-war, or a game war, it will be a sort of a contest in a mercantilist game.

Gotcha.

Meanwhile, here’s a question: if General MacArthur didn’t use the rule of law to force reform, what was the big idea with the Japanese constitution?

Let us here recapitulate the ironic sequence of moves: The postwar Japanese economy kept itself focused on exports and closed to imports in an effort to deal with foreigners on Japanese terms. And precisely because it has maintained this economic model for so long, it has become asymmetrically dependent on China. Thus Japan’s very strategy may have unwittingly created the conditions for foreigners to come in once again.

Let us here recapitulate the ironic sequence of facts:

In 2002, China replaced the United States as the largest exporter to Japan. In 2007, China replaced the U.S. as Japan’s biggest trading partner in combined value of imports and exports, even though the value of Japanese exports to China was less than that to the U.S.

In 2008, Japan’s exports to China were valued at JPY 12.95 trillion yen. Their imports from China were valued at JPY 14.83 trillion yen. Apart from the Middle East region, which exports oil, hummus, and pita bread, China is the only country to have a trade surplus with Japan. This surplus has existed since 2003.

The authors refer to this as asymmetrical dependence on China.

Now let us recapitulate Rip, Van, and Winkle: “The postwar Japanese economy kept itself focused on exports and closed to imports in an effort to deal with foreigners on Japanese terms.”

Instead of behaving like normal, well-adjusted countries and dealing with foreigners on the foreigners’ terms.

(Japan) is threatened by its own ambivalence, intransigence and isolationism.

You’ve heard of sister cities? Busan in South Korea and Fukuoka City in Kyushu have sister municipal fish markets with their own trade agreement. It is one of 23 measures recently adopted by the two cities to further their development of a supra-national economic sphere.

Are these people listening to voices in the air?

Japan is not contributing to defuse this state of affairs, and, on the contrary, its “realists” and hawks seem oblivious to the threat of a self-fulfilling prophecy of conflict.

Only a committee of three with nine academic degrees among them could write the second half of that sentence and still have the contacts to get it published somewhere.

Japan is no more likely to be involved in a war in the foreseeable future than Norway. The scare quotes around realists denote that the authors think they’re not really realistic, unlike, presumably, themselves. The authors neither identify nor describe the pseudo-realists.

Of course, there are some Japanese who think the country should have the same rights of self-defense as other sovereign nations. They’re the “hawks”.

Japan must therefore decide whether it would like to embark on a clear path centered on a commitment to building stability, openness and peace in Asia.

Which is exactly what they’ve been doing for the past 64 years. Whereas China…

Not only Japanese leaders, but also ordinary Japanese need to ask themselves: Are we willing to cultivate trust and learn how to cooperate with Asian powers, especially China?

I asked Hiroshi, who runs the noodle shop down the street, if he would be willing to cultivate trust and learn how to cooperate with Asian powers, especially China. He said, yeah, sure, they can stop by for lunch any time.

Many in Japan with personal experience of the Chinese, on the other hand, would say they’ve got it backwards. The guy running the noodle shop in Xian needs to ask himself: Are we willing to cultivate trust and learn how to cooperate with Asian powers, especially Japan?

Take any 500 Japanese off the street at random and any 500 Chinese off the street at random, and I’ll bet cash money the Japanese give far better answers to that question than the Chinese.

If the answer is that “Japan can say no, and says no,” what positive vision does Japan have for Asia in this negative affirmation?

If you reread that a few times, it gets even funnier.

The China-Japan nexus is also a crucial space in which energy and environmental history will be written for good or ill.

Maybe it isn’t voices in the air. Maybe it’s peyote.

If the world fails to act decisively in responding to climate change in the next decade, the whole planet, and Japan in particular, will face unthinkable challenges from extreme weather events, to flooding along the banks of Tokyo, to climate refugees, to food and water shortages.

No wonder they fancy the Godzilla metaphor–they’re big science fiction fans!

Of course the challenges are unthinkable. Nonexistent challenges always are.

Until last month, this would merely have been the equivalent of tabloid journalism for self-appointed public intellectuals. But since then, we’ve discovered that Trofim Lysenko and the Piltdown Man left a very large carbon footprint when they stomped through the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. Now, it’s cat box liner.

By opening its business climate — and pushing forward international efforts to define a meaningful successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol and build carbon markets — Japan could become the center of green innovation in Asia and the world, magnificently positioned to help bring China and India back from the environmental precipice.

Japan’s environmental ODA has averaged more than 20% of its overall ODA for more than a decade, and some years has exceeded 30%.

Why should Japan be responsible for cleaning up after the Chinese when the Chinese choose to live in their own filth while spending money on much more military than they need? Heaven forbid they divert some money from building a blue water navy to building some sewer systems for their dirty water instead.

As for India:

India is (the) first country to which Japan extended the first Yen Loan and India has been one of the largest recipients of Japan’s ODA. Japan has long been actively providing assistance to India, primarily in the form of Official Development Assistance loans, for upgrading of economic infrastructure, alleviation of poverty through public health and medical care, agricultural and rural development and population and AIDS countermeasures, support for small business and for environmental conservation…

India has actively pursued economic liberalization and market oriented economy since 1991. With India’s push towards greater economic liberalization policies, Japanese corporations’ interest in India has risen, and private-sector investment has increased dramatically and it is expected to rise further in future….Japan’s assistance under ODA since fiscal 1990-91 to 2001-02 cumulates at ¥977.14 bn.

However (for many Japanese companies), the inhibiting factors are differences in business practices, environment and culture etc…there is a lack of clarity in the policy guidelines. Also, most of Japanese investors feel that ground level hassles like labour laws, taxes, legal and regulatory framework are high in India. They consider procedural delays a major discouraging factor for potential investors. The infrastructure forms the backbone of development of any country. According to the majority of the Japanese investors, overall infrastructure facilities are lacking in India….Japanese investment in India is driven by Indian domestic demand, and that for reasons such as geographical factors, high tariffs and other regulations, it would be difficult to expect the same level of growth as in Sino-Japanese trade.”

And that’s not even a Japanese website.

Recall that Doing Business ranking that had Japan at #15 worldwide and China at #89?

India was at #133.

And now, for the stars of the show!

John Haffner moved to Japan in 2001 to study mixed martial arts.

I’m biting my cyber-tongue.

While in Japan, he developed and delivered an advocacy skill development program for senior Tokyo consultants of McKinsey & Company and coordinated a project to improve McKinsey’s knowledge of foreign-affiliated companies in Japan.

Now we know why only Ohmae Ken’ichi was cited. He’s a former McKinsey employee.

Since 2004…

Just three years after going to Japan to study mixed martial arts…

…Haffner has worked in strategic planning in the energy industry, with extensive experience in electricity regulation, climate change and nuclear policy. Haffner holds five degrees — from King’s, Dalhousie, Queen’s and McGill universities — and was a 2008 World Fellow at Yale University.

Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink

Tomas Casas I Klett is based in Shanghai. He worked in Tokyo for three years at the headquarters of a leading Japanese electronics company.

Ah. A Japan hand.

He has developed a number of entrepreneurial ventures with Chinese partners that lead him to travel frequently throughout China, his native Spain and other Western countries.

In other words, he has a vested interest in the success of Chinese enterprises in Japan.

Jean-Pierre Lehmann has taught and worked in many parts of the world, and offers insights into Japan from a global perspective.

His biography on another website indicates that he did spend a few years in Japan, mostly in the sort of positions that involve talking about other people doing things. He was a visiting professor. There is also mention of a “business strategy research and consulting organization”. There is no mention about being in Japan to learn about something from the bottom up, or listening to others instead of talking at them.

He is also Founding Director of the Evian Group, a coalition for liberal global governance comprised of business, government and opinion leaders from Asia-Pacific, Europe and the Americas.

The Evian Group likes to hold what it calls Multi-Stakeholder Dialogues. They appear to be what most people call “conferences”, but using that sort of commonplace terminology makes it more difficult to pad the bill.

Here’s a quote from one of the papers on the website:

How long do we need to wait before we mobilise ‘political will’? Do we wait until the temperature rises by 2 degrees? Or 4? Or 6?

If you wait that long, you’ll never mobilize political will.

He obtained his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University — and his doctorate on Japanese 19th century economic history from Oxford.

…and thinks time has stood still for the past 110 years.

Well, you have to hand it to them. They’ve succeeded in their aspirations to become part of the academic wing of what Mark Steyn dubbed “the transnational jet set — the EU, the UN, the NGO neo-imperialists, the foreign correspondents for CNN, the BBC and so forth”.

They don’t have to know or do anything. All they have to do is talk about business strategy research and liberal global governance and riff on implausible scenarios. That’s the beauty of a gig like theirs.

We all know that some people will write one-offs based on a highly distorted hypothesis to stand out from the pack, thereby promoting themselves and making a buck from the publicity they generate. The unfortunate aspect of this lot is their cynical manipulation of a common lack of knowledge about Japan and East Asia to enrich themselves while intellectually impoverishing anyone unlucky enough to stumble across this and read it.

Here’s the link to part one of the article. To read parts two and three, click on the authors’ names on that page. One link for this is plenty.

Posted in Books, Business, finance and the economy, China, India | Tagged: , | 6 Comments »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 117 other followers