AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Archive for May, 2011

Ichigen Koji (10)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, May 30, 2011

一言居士
- A person who has something to say about everything.

“Replacing the prime minister always depends on the strength of the ruling party, not the opposition party. There has been criticism of the recent annual turnover in prime ministers, but depending on one’s viewpoint, one might say it serves the function of purification within the ruling party. I wonder whether the current ruling party no longer has either the strength or the moral energy to accomplish it.”

- Takenaka Heizo

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Who’s calling whose bluff?

Posted by ampontan on Monday, May 30, 2011

A FEW DAYS ago, I wrote that the passage of a no-confidence motion in the lower house of the Diet would require the dissolution of the body and a new general election. That wasn’t entirely accurate, because Article 69 of the Constitution specifies that the Cabinet has to resign en masse unless the prime minister calls an election within 10 days. On that choice could hinge the course of Japanese politics — and post-earthquake society — for the foreseeable future.

No-confidence motions have passed four times under the current Constitution, the last in 1993 for the Miyazawa Cabinet. Each of the rebuked prime ministers has chosen to dissolve the lower house and hold an election. The political media thinks there’s a real possibility this one could pass too, even though it would require a rebellion by an estimated 80 of the 308 members of the ruling party in the lower house. That’s why Prime Minister Kan Naoto is reportedly threatening DPJ MPs that he too will choose an election rather than go quietly into that good night.

The word “threat” is an unusual one to use for a prime minister’s dealings with the nominal allies of his own party, but it’s a bon mot here. A senior member of the opposition LDP told one newspaper their internal polling shows they’d pick up from 100 to 150 seats in an election. That would be a bloodletting on a scale similar to the previous lower house election (and the 2010 American Congressional elections). The lower figure alone would be enough to give the LDP the most seats in the chamber.

Whether or not those numbers are accurate, the polls and polling results for the DPJ have been dismal for some time. Some local members are running for office by running away from their party ID. Therefore, a DPJ member voting for a no-confidence motion might be voting himself out of a job, particularly the first termers who arrived in the 2009 landslide.

That’s why Ozawa Ichiro, now working to bring down the prime minister of his own party, is telling those delegates — many of whom owe their seats to his expenditures of time and money on their behalf — that it’s still not physically possible to hold an election in the earthquake/tsunami damaged Tohoku region. Therefore, he says, Mr. Kan is bluffing; resignation is his only real choice. (There are also reports the DPJ leadership is quietly canvassing local governments in the Tohoku region to see if they can conduct an election.)

That’s also why LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu told reporters he wasn’t in favor of holding a lower house election, even though his party and New Komeito would be the ones to introduce the no-confidence motion. He’s purposely flashing his cards to the DPJ MPs to signal that their seats are safe with him.

Because this is a parliamentary system and party disloyalty is a hanging offence, both Mr. Kan and party Secretary-General Okada Katsuya have promised to lay their vengeance upon their fellows who vote for the motion, or even play hooky on the day of the vote. (Let’s put aside for now how the party would deal with, say, 70 rebellious members voting for a failed motion. How will they throw them out and survive?)

The prospect of being a party-less Diet member appeals to no one; they’d have to find their own cash spigot instead of feeding at the party trough. That would explain the rumors of the Hatoyama Brothers forming a new party. If money indeed walks, they have enough between them to shoe in golden slippers any pol who wants to walk to a new home.

Who’s next?

But who would replace the prime minister after he was relegated to the ashkan of history? Freelance journalist Itagaki Eiken thinks he has an idea.

Mr. Itagaki once covered the Kantei for the Mainichi Shimbun, so he knows his way around Nagata-cho. He’s also become a semi-shill for Ozawa Ichiro and has a taste for conspiracy theories involving David Rockefeller, so a salt shaker needs to be kept handy when reading his columns.

This time, he’s focused on former Defense Minister Maehara Seiji, who would have been a logical candidate anyway had he not resigned earlier this year, ostensibly over accepting political contributions from a Korean national born and living in Japan. Mr. Itagaki also thinks the Americans have made it known to Tokyo they want to see Mr. Maehara come on the September state visit instead of Mr. Kan. (The former takes a harder line against China and is not averse to amending part of the Constitution’s Peace Clause.)

Before Maehara can become prime minister, however, Mr. Itagaki says he will have to dispose of some political baggage. He cites other examples from the past: Sato Eisaku passed on his geisha mistress to political ally and widower Kanemaru Shin (later known for keeping the LPD’s stash of gold bullion in a safe at home). Nakasone Yasuhiro relinquished his mistress, the proprietress of a nightclub, to a trusted aide.

Outside women do not seem to be Mr. Maehara’s problem. Also, as this previous post notes, the campaign contributions from the zainichi woman were not significant, she was a family friend, and if she uses a Japanese name, aides wouldn’t have known her ethnic background. Many people suspected at the time this was merely a face-saving offering to allow him to resign without more damaging information being revealed. Mr. Itagaki echoes the stories that appeared in weekly magazines about campaign money from gangsters and ties to North Korea. He adds that one story is so explosive it could cause collateral damage to Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko and Reform Minister Ren Ho, but concludes it’s not too late for Mr. Maehara to tidy up his affairs.

New Komeito Party Head Yamaguchi Natsuo says this is the week the players start calling bluffs and putting their cards on the table. We’ll soon find out who’s holding the aces and how likely it is that nothing can be a real cool hand.

Afterwords:

Yesterday the voters of Mito in Ibaraki elected Takahashi Yasushi mayor. Mr. Takahashi is an independent backed by the LDP. The election was supposed to be held last month, but many city functions are shut down until 30 June to deal with the earthquake damage. Mito managed to hold an election, but the problems in the Tohoku area are more daunting.

My previous post on Maehara Seiji is dated 9 March, two days before the Tohoku quake. Even then, Yamaguchi Natsuo was saying the Kan Cabinet was in “an endless state of collapse”, and Tanigaki Sadakazu was mulling a no-confidence vote. The disaster is the only reason they still have Kan Naoto to kick around some more.

Over the weekend, I ran across a website for an organization overseas purporting to present foreign affairs analysis. (I forget the name.) They claimed that one of the reasons Mr. Kan was in trouble with Japanese voters was a political contribution from a zainichi man he met for a round of golf.

This is bologna made from the worst quality tripe. The prime minister acknowledged the contributions, said he didn’t know the man was Korean (possibly true), and the slight ripple created by the story had smoothed over within days.

In short, they’re peddling air-based preconceived notions about Japan and Japanese society as professional analysis.

Science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon once said that 95% of everything is crap. That’s still a pessimistic exaggeration, but not in regard to the pronouncements about Japan from journalists/academics/think tanks.

*****
Who’s going to draw the bad card?

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Ichigen koji 9

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 29, 2011

一言居士
- A person who has something to say about everything

“On 14 March, (Tokyo Metro) Gov. Ishihara Shintaro met with Ren Ho, the Minister in Charge of Energy Conservation Awareness, and gave her this advice: ‘If you’re going to ask the people to conserve energy, you should do so based on a Cabinet Order.’ In fact, during the oil shortage (of the 70s), the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (today’s METI) announced planned usage restrictions for large facilities, as well as restrictions on neon signs, through a notification based on a Cabinet Order citing the Electricity Enterprises Law. He told her the same thing should be done now.

“Planned electricity stoppages (rolling blackouts) are a measure based on the contracts between Tokyo Electric and their users. The utility will shut down power in different areas to avoid a major blackout. But whether the power will be cut off won’t be known until that day. This is going to cause difficulties for shops, eating and drinking places, and factories. They run the risk of closing their shop in anticipation of a stoppage, but sometimes one does not occur. To avoid confusion, the shops have to close.

“Further, factories must bear the cost of restarting machinery once the power source has been cut. They also have the problem of what to do with their employees. It’s not possible to operate a business when the decision for a blackout won’t be made until the day it’s carried out. But comprehensive restrictions and restrictions on short-term large power consumption based on a Cabinet Order are planned restrictions on use, so factories and business managers can draw up schedules in advance.

“When she heard this advice, however, Ren Ho just stared blankly. ‘There’ll be a time lag until the Cabinet Order is issued,’ she answered. She probably didn’t know these Cabinet Orders existed.”

- Inose Naoki, Vice-Governor of the Tokyo Metro District and a non-fiction writer, on the government’s policy of rolling blackouts in Tokyo

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Hai! Tech

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 29, 2011

SCAN the inner corners and back pages of Japanese newspapers, or the Science section of Internet news aggregators, and you’ll be served a smorgasbord of fascinating stories gainsaying the hollow declarations of fly-bys that a malaise-ridden Japan is in a downward spiral from which there is No Hope of Escape.

Indeed, it’s a buffet amply illustrating that old Ma Necessity is alive and well in the archipelago. For example, a report was published shortly after the nuclear accident at Fukushima that a team led by Aritomi Masanori, the head of the Tokyo Institute of Technology Research Institute for Atomic Reactors, had developed a technology for purifying water contaminated by cesium from nuclear power reactors by employing a mass market pigment used in pharmaceuticals. They think it can be applied to treat the water from the Fukushima accident and purify the nearby ponds and swamps.

The team noticed that iron ferrocyanide, the primary ingredient of the Prussian blue pigment, adsorbs cesium. They developed a system in which the pigment is mixed with the water, separated by centrifugal force, and then passed through a filter together with the cesium.

To conduct their experiments, they recreated for laboratory use the radiation-contaminated water from the reactor by mixing sea water with iodine, cesium, and strontium, with the iodine and cesium content at 10 parts per million. They inserted a gram of the pigment for each 100 milliliters of the lab water. After treatment, the measurable cesium was less than one part per 10,000 — in other words, it was removed almost entirely.

Their process doesn’t remove the iodine, but the team notes that iodine has a half-life of only eight days. They think they can find a way to remove the strontium using a similar method with a different substance.

With the current portable devices used to clean muddy water, this system could decontaminate 300 liters of water an hour. In addition, the team suggests this system could be used for the cooling water in atomic power plants.

*****
Necessity is driving other forms of relief in the coastal areas of Tohoku as well. Seven Bank has incorporated and applied different technologies to begin operating mobile ATMs in the earthquake/tsunami-stricken areas of Miyagi two weeks ago. Yes, Seven Bank is operated by 7-Eleven, and it’s a real bank that provides Internet banking and international transfer services. Considering the mini-commercial dynamos that are Japanese convenience stores, no wonder the story went unnoticed. It was almost to be expected.

*****
While electronics companies have been devising ways to provide cell phones with Internet and PC functions, Fujitsu approached the problem from the opposite direction. Last week, the company announced they had developed the world’s smallest PC, the F-07C, which will be equipped with a cell phone function. The product will be sold to the public this summer by NTT DoCoMo.

The F-07C will have options for two types of CPUs. It is six centimeters high, 12.5 centimeters wide, and two centimeters thick. It will contain spreadsheet and word processing functions, a touch panel, and a keyboard that slides out from beneath the screen. The device will automatically switch to phone mode if a call comes in and it is being used as PC. (Unless that function can be turned off manually, that seems like another fine way for computers to exasperate their owners.)

The Japanese market already has Fujitsu’s Android cell phone and Apple’s iPhone, but the company thought it would be a good idea to offer a product to people who wanted to use the software they already had.

The next step, of course, is a small portable unit that transcends the definitions of cellular telephone and personal computer altogether.

*****
Speaking of Fujitsu, miniaturization, and PCs, here’s a story that did find its way into English last month:

Fujitsu Limited, Fujitsu Frontech Limited, and Fujitsu Laboratories Limited today announced its achievement of the world’s smallest and slimmest contact-free vein authentication sensor out of the previous plethora of vein authentication devices including those for the finger or back of the hand.

The sensor’s smaller and slimmer form factor makes it easy to incorporate into the design of personal computers and other electronic devices, thereby helping to expand the range of potential applications for palm vein authentication.

With the inclusion of a high-speed image-capture function that can continuously capture up to 20 frames per second, as well as a feature that can instantly pick out the best image for authentication and automatically verify it, users do not need to hold their hand motionless over the sensor, as before, but can instead perform authentication by simply placing their palm lightly over the sensor. This enables a dramatic improvement in usability.

All of that means it just got a lot easier to distribute your vein patterns anywhere almost instantly over the Internet, assuming you’re not the type that would rather distribute nude photos of the ex-girlfriend who dumped you.

Finally, another story distributed in the Anglosphere last month describes a relatively primitive first step in a process that might lead to teleportation. Here’s Clara Moskowitz at LiveScience.com:

Our world is getting closer to “Star Trek” every day, it seems. Scientists announced…they’ve been able to teleport special bits of light from one place to another, a la “Beam me up, Scotty.”

The basis of the phenomenon in quantum physics is so unusual that Einstein referred to it as “spooky action at a distance”. The scientists the author was referring to are a team headquartered at the University of Tokyo.

The process involves destroying the light at one location and creating an exact reproduction in another. That isn’t just a scientific advance — the possibilities for the theological and philosophical debate of the matter, not to mention the nature of matter itself, would seem to approach infinity.

Who knows? One of these days Japan might lead the rest of the world in following the lightsteps of George “Sulu” Takei:

UPDATE:

In 1995, Mico Hirschberg of the Eindhoven University of Technology wrote a paper suggesting that trombones emitted shock waves briefly exceeding the speed of sound. Now it’s been revealed that he and Takayama Kazuyoshi and Otani Kiyonobu of Tohoku University’s Institute of Fluid Science worked together to capture these shock waves on video using schlieren photography.

Anyone who’s stood downwind from a gusting trombone shout band with their hands over their ears will understand perfectly. Less easy to understand is why this performance didn’t cause spontaneous combustion in the hall.

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Ichigen Koji (8)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 29, 2011

一言居士
- A person who has something to say about everything

“There were several bureaucrats who were serious about promoting the separation of electric power companies into generating companies and transmission companies. There were also younger bureaucrats opposed to the nuclear fuel cycle policy. But their efforts were repelled every time by a thick wall, and most of them left the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. I also urged the separation of generation and transmission at the OECD in Paris more than 10 years ago, and came very close to being recalled to Japan and fired. What could the reason have been?”

“If reform falters, and measures and industrial policies to promote economic growth are delayed, the insufficiency of tax revenues could cause a shortage of funds for the operation of the government. Yes, even a government shutdown is not out of the question. But inflaming that sense of crisis and instituting a large tax increase will consign the Japanese economy to the abyss. The time limit to prevent that is the upper house election of 2013 and eliminating the gridlock in the Diet. That is my appraisal.”

- Koga Shigeaki, an official in the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, in his recently published book 日本中枢の崩壊 (roughly, The Collapse of the Central Administration of Japan). Mr. Koga was the bureaucrat threatened by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito last year when he testified on behalf of civil service reform.

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Matsuri da! (115): Rebirth

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 29, 2011

LIFESTYLE Luddites sporadically surface with the lament that globalization is holding a knife to the throat of indigenous cultures. Because cultures are less fragile and more resilient than they understand, however, this posture is really just a stalking horse for an unwillingness to allow the people of a particular place access to the same choices that globalization has allowed them. When the folk shed their colorful traditional garb for Western dress and develop a taste for musical styles other than those that rocked the world of their grandparents, it spoils the experience of enjoying them from afar, away from all the flies and the dysentery.

A look at the Japanese and their simultaneous embrace of their own traditions and the latest in global fashionability should be enough to improve anyone’s posture. The urban youth are just as likely as their fellows anywhere else to wear ugly untucked t-shirts, eat gloop, and listen to the unlistenable, but they are also just as likely to time slip without warning several centuries into the past to savor the celebrations of the ancients.

Earlier this month, for example, the Chokaisan Omonoimi Shinto shrine in the Fukura district of Yuza-machi, Yamagata — which dates from 871 at the latest — held its annual festival in supplication for a bountiful harvest. The event has several elements, including parades with three different mikoshi, or portable shrines. One of the mikoshi is for children, and another is in the shape of a ship that the carriers toss about to depict a sea voyage. The primary attraction, however, is the Hanagasa dance, or Fukura dengaku, a pre-planting rite. The dancers don headdresses with red decorations representing rice blossoms that rival anything worn by Carmen Miranda at the peak of her Hollywood career. Suspended from the brim are strips of paper called shide that represent the rain. Instead of castinets they provide clatter with an instrument called a sasara that for some reason is said to symbolize the croaking of frogs. At the end of their performance, the dancers toss the hats into the audience, and snatching one is supposed to guarantee good luck in the coming year. Anyone who’s been in the midst of a crowd in Japan during similar events knows the wisest course of action is to dive right in and grab one of your own. That’s beats being shoved roughly out of the way with an elbow to the ribs by somebody’s grandmother.

Though the festival dates from sometime in the Muromachi period, which ran from 1338 to 1573, and was designated an intangible prefectural cultural treasure in 1993, a look at this YouTube video featuring all the highlights is enough to see this isn’t a museum piece frozen in the aspic of the past.

In October 2007, the Yamagatans went on the road to Seoul to perform with other Japanese and Korean groups in the Japan-South Korea Exchange Festival, which you can see and read about here.

Teramachi Ichiza

Another of the benefits of globalization in Japan is the unexpected delights that result from all the mixing and mingling. One of the earliest manifestations of that was the chin-don bands, in which musicians dress in fanciful clothing to perform as a living jukebox stacked with global pop music on instruments both Japanese and Western, usually to advertise local shops. There are several excellent examples on-site that can be accessed at the tag below, but here’s another — Teramachi Ichiza from Iwate. The group, which usually works the Tohoku area, has won awards at national chin-don competitions for its performances. The members live in the mountainous part of the prefecture away from the coast, so they weren’t affected by the earthquake/tsunami, but they decided to suspend their activities after the disaster anyway in the spirit of self-restraint.

In the spirit of rebirth, however, they resumed performing in the Iwate city of Ofunato in the coastal area known as Goishi Kaigan at an event designed to buck up everyone’s spirits. (Enka megastar Sen Masao, an Iwate native, also sang.) The members of Teramachi Ichiza decided to bring their axes and blow because it had been 49 days after the earthquake. The 49-day Buddhist period of mourning originates in the Tibetan concept of bardo, the transitional period between one’s previous life and the consciousness’s entry into the life to come. Doesn’t that joyful noise contain an echo of the second line parade of brass bands in New Orleans switching from a dirge to jazz once they depart the cemetery after a funeral?

The chin-don band’s performance at Ofunato doesn’t seem to have been recorded, but their performance at the Miyako Horsehair Crab Festival in Iwate this February was.

This is what happened to Miyako one month later:

But destruction is not a permanent end. Doubters need only look to a small story at a park in a community center in the Kaminiida district of Yonezawa, Yamagata. A 300-year-old cherry tree on the center grounds collapsed last winter in the heavy snows. Before the deadwood could be cleared away in the spring, however, center director Nagaoka Takao spied shoots sprouting from the old trunk. He watered them with a PET bottle for the next two months. When cherry season arrived in the Tohoku region, so did the blossoms on the fallen tree.

Cultures included, we are all less fragile and more resilient than we sometimes think.

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*****
The song, the scene, and the band’s name — they get it, too.

Posted in Arts, Festivals, Music, Popular culture, Traditions | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Ichigen Koji (7)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, May 27, 2011

一言居士
- A person who has something to say about everything

“Recently, there’s a new catchphrase at Liberal Democratic Party conferences. Rather than AKB48 (the name of a popular singing group), it’s ABK480, or Anybody But Kan Out Of 480 (the number of lower house Diet members).”

- Yamamoto Ichita, an LDP upper house MP, who attributes the joke to Motegi Toshimitsu, a lower house MP of the same party

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Gold among the dross

Posted by ampontan on Friday, May 27, 2011

AT LAST we’ve discovered there was someone responsible for dealing with the accident at the Fukushima power plant who knew what he was doing and did it — site manager Yoshida Masao. It’s a shame the same can’t be said of the people in nominal control of the situation in Tokyo.

To quickly review: The government’s official record states that Prime Minister Kan Naoto instructed that seawater be inserted into Fukushima’s Reactor #1 for cooling at 6:00 p.m. on 12 March.

Kan aide Hosano Goshi now says that’s not what really happened. He claims that METI chief Kaieda Banri told the people at Fukushima to make preparations to insert seawater.

The record also states that Tokyo Electric began adding seawater at 7:04 p.m., but the utility says it suspended operations 20 minutes later when they found out a debate was underway in the Kantei over whether that could cause recriticality. The record first stated that Nuclear Safety Commission Chairman Madarame Haruki said it was possible. When that became a point of contention, however, Mr. Madarame successfully demanded the record be changed to reflect that he said “the possibility wasn’t zero”.

Finally, the record states that Prime Minister Kan gave the order after 8:00 p.m. to insert the seawater.

Now Mr. Yoshida has come forward to say that he took it upon himself to ignore the decision made in consultation with Tokyo Electric headquarters to stop the insertion. Instead, he used his judgment to follow the manual of emergency procedures and continued without interruption.

In other words, everything in the records compiled by the government and Tokyo Electric is now suspect. While the government amended Mr. Madarame’s statement, they changed nothing else. Does that mean the government would have us believe Prime Minister Kan gave an order to do something that had already started an hour earlier on instructions he issued two hours earlier?

Incidentally, Mr. Hosono claimed the Kantei had trouble communicating with the people on-site, but now we find communication was no trouble for Tokyo Electric. The decision to stop the seawater insertion that Mr. Yoshida ignored was made using a videoconferencing setup between Tokyo and Fukushima.

The revelation that the procedure was not stopped as originally reported has displeased the government. Said Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio:

“Unless Tokyo Electric has an accurate understanding of what actually happened and reports that, the people will be suspicious….the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency will have to ask detailed questions about how that mistake occurred.”

Substitute “the Kan Cabinet” for Tokyo Electric in that statement and it would work just as well, but Mr. Edano will never cop to that. In fact, he also said this:

“We have not at all hidden or sparingly released the information held by the leadership at the Kantei.”

The only explanation for this song and dance is that Mr. Edano must think he’s in vaudeville. We know they thought the fuel started melting the day of the incident, but the prime minister has lied about it — badly — for more than two months.

Speaking of the new, open style of truthfulness in government promoted by Kan Naoto, DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya yesterday took it upon himself to explain why Mr. Kan has stopped giving the brief informal burasagari news conferences that have been standard practice for prime ministers since Koizumi Jun’ichiro. Mr. Okada had to make the exuses because Mr. Kan’s too high hat for that sort of thing. Here’s what he said:

“They weren’t very productive. The people always doubted whether they really had any value.”

Other than a generic political party convention, an organized street demonstration, or a cocktail party for the swells, is it possible to find a group of people gathered at the same place at the same time more unaware of how stupid they look and sound than the current DPJ/government leadership?

Meanwhile, Tokyo Electric is mulling disciplinary measures for Mr. Yoshida because he failed to accurately report his actions. That would be another TEPCO mistake. Their judgment based on their observations of the government was political, in the broad sense, while Mr. Yoshida’s was practical.

He deserves a medal instead.

It’s easy to understand the TEPCO position, however. The only time truth has had any currency with the past two DPJ governments is when it can be counterfeited to make them look good.

Afterwords:

The account I read didn’t mention his name, but apparently one upper house MP from the opposition LDP slammed the government and Tokyo Electric for stopping the procedure with seawater. Now he’s talking out of the other side of his mouth and criticizing the utility for continuing the insertion. One wag said he should do everyone a favor and throw himself into the moat at the Imperial Palace.

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Political manga for the left

Posted by ampontan on Friday, May 27, 2011

READER Get a Job Son and I have been discussing an op-ed that appeared in the Japan Times this week by Michael Hoffman. The author read a dialogue between two prominent social conservatives which appeared in a weekly magazine and became concerned the Tohoku earthquake/tsunami might cause the Japanese equivalent of swastikas to come shooting out of the national orifices like shuriken. It’s titled, Extreme nationalism may emerge from the rubble of the quake.

I didn’t read the original dialogue, but the only extremism I saw in the rubble of the Japan Times article was an extreme lack of a basis for the author’s frisson of delicious fear. People have been warning about extreme nationalism emerging in Japan since 16 August 1945, but it never does — nor will it this time.

Hoffman is worried about two things in particular. First is the suggestion by the two participants that the Japanese people might look to the Tenno (emperor) for moral support during a national crisis. Were they to do so, it wouldn’t be unusual in the least; that’s what the Meiji Restoration was all about. He doesn’t explain why this would be a problem, but instead gets in a lather because some Japanese see themselves as unique. That’s a trait shared by most of the rest of the world’s nations — does Hoffman ever read the American or British or Russian or Chinese or Korean (South and North both) press? — but he doesn’t explain why that’s a problem either.

Second is his observation that the Saudis have been so impressed by Japanese post-quake behavior that a Japan boom is underway in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps there is. And?

Extreme nationalism, whether one uses the concept as understood by normal people or the one that exists in the imagination of Michael Hoffman and the rest of the staff at the Japan Times, is as likely to emerge in Japan as the music of the spheres will be audible at a Kan Naoto news conference. Pretending that it might, however, is a favorite form of masturbatory mentalism for the Adullamites with a passing interest in Japan.

Those who have a taste for political manga by and for the left know how to find this particular cartoon panel if they want to see it.

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Posted in I couldn't make this up if I tried, Mass media, Social trends | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Ichigen Koji (6)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, May 26, 2011

一言居士
- A person who has something to say about everything

“After operations at the Hamaoka nuclear power plant were suspended at the prime minister’s ‘request’, a citizens’ campaign to end nuclear power has spread throughout the country. That’s only to be expected. An accident occurred at Reactor #1 at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which had an earthquake probability of 0.0%, so if earthquake risk is to be used as a standard, all the nuclear power plants in Japan are dangerous.

“The one person who has consistently made clear demands about this issue is Fukushima Mizuho, the head of the Social Democratic Party. She had sought the closure of Hamaoka for some time, and now she’s stepped up her efforts, asserting that ‘All nuclear power plants should be shut down immediately as a way to value life’. That’s exactly right. To be even more consistent, how about calling for the prohibition of all automobiles and airplanes as a way to value life?

“The hysteria that seeks absolute safety, which she represents, is an illness of Japanese society. That is not unrelated to her demand that the temporary seconding of workers be prohibited. In both cases, the demand is only to eliminate the unpleasant phenomenon in front of one’s face and to disregard the results. It is easy to understand the advantages of ending nuclear power, but the resulting rise in electricity rates and decline in economic growth will occur in the future, so it isn’t easy to understand the cause and effect relationship. But when summer comes and there’s an electrical power shortage, all one has to do is go on the attack and blame government blunders or something.”

- Ikeda Nobuo, author, university professor, and blogger

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Prediction

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, May 26, 2011

REPORTS are now circulating that LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu is planning to introduce a no-confidence motion against the Kan Cabinet soon after 1 June. He has refrained from submitting one before now to allow Mr. Kan to attend the G8 summit. Meanwhile, former DPJ Prime Minister Hatoyama is exhorting MPs of his own party to show courage and resolution, which is taken as a hint he hopes they vote for the motion. To be sure, courage and resolution will be required for more than a few in the party to vote aye. Passage of a no-confidence motion will require a new general election in which some of those legislators will surely lose their seats.

Mr. Hatoyama has also met with former party president Ozawa Ichiro and Koshi’ishi Azuma, the chairman of the DPJ caucus in the upper house, to discuss their gripes with the current government.

For his part, Mr. Ozawa and several of his allies are ramping up their criticism of Prime Minister Kan. Mr. Ozawa himself said he was “angry” at the government’s post-earthquake conduct. DPJ MP Haraguchi Kazuhiro, Internal Affairs and Communications minister in the Hatoyama Cabinet, has resumed his call for the removal of the Kan Cabinet that he suspended after the Tohoku earthquake/tsunami. (His first public statements urging that Mr. Kan be toppled were in an interview he granted to the March issue of the monthly Gekkan Nihon.) He hinted that were the motion to pass, requiring a new lower house election, he would be unable to campaign in support of the DPJ. If the rumors of a new Hatoyama-funded party are true, he and other disaffected DPJ members could find a comfortably feathered nest there.

It is never wise to make any predictions about Japanese politics, so we’ll wait and see whether Mr. Tanigaki introduces the no-confidence motion, and who decides to vote for it.

But you can take this prediction to the financial institution of your choice: If such a motion is introduced, not to mention approved, fly-by members of the Western media and commentariat will consider it a prime space-filling opportunity to fulminate against the dysfunctionality of Japanese politics at the national level. They will offer clichéd platitudes about petty partisan squabbling and indulge in political cosplay by wrapping themselves in the Japanese flag to lament the absence of a dedication to the greater good during a national emergency.

What their readers outside of Japan will not understand, however, is that had Mr. Kan been the head of government in their own country and performed as he has over the past year —- and especially these past two months — these glorioskies would be baying for his blood 24/7. Indeed, were Prime Minister Kan not a man of the left, some of them would be marching in the streets holding amateurish banners festooned with misspelled words, swastikas, and Hitler-moustachioed caricatures.

In their hearts, they know I’m right.

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Ichigen Koji (5)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, May 25, 2011

一言居士
- A person who has something to say about everything

“The in-house power generation by corporations totals 60 million kW, equal to that of Tokyo Electric Power alone. It’s unfortunate that regulations prevent this vast amount of reserve power from being used. Since the earthquake, we’ve been facing a power shortage whether we like it or not, and the sweeping regulatory reform of opening up the transmission network is an urgent necessity. The twisted logic preventing this is the claim that it prevents reverse power flows. Nonsensical regulations that exclude those outside the system because of reverse power flows should be relaxed or eliminated. I think we’ve reached the limits for regional power monopolies and a unified system of generation and transmission. We must consider Tokyo Electric’s compensation for the nuclear accident and the future (of the system) as a single issue.”

- Watanabe Yoshimi, President of Your Party. The original Japanese for twisted logic was literally “fart logic”.

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It’s yesterday once more

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, May 24, 2011

“The day after the earthquake, I asked the prime minister, ‘Hasn’t a meltdown occurred?’ He answered, ‘It’s not a meltdown. It’s not a situation in which there has been radiation leakage. The cooling water level has been restored, the situation is under control, and everything’s OK.’ The hydrogen explosion at Reactor #1 occurred right after that. The series of false announcements that belittled the common sense of experts continued.”
- Watanabe Yoshimi, head of Your Party

MORE THAN ONCE, it’s seemed as if Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s ticket has been punched for the trip across the River Styx of Japanese politics, so it would be premature to say that the ferryman has flicked his cigarette butt into the water and is now waving him aboard. The revelations of the past week, however, have made it more likely the people on the pier will grab him by the seat of his pants and toss him over the side, not caring whether he lands on the bottom of the boat or the bottom of the river.

This time, it’s a controversy over the events at the Fukushima nuclear power plant on 11 and 12 March, the day of the earthquake/tsunami and the day of the hydrogen explosion at Reactor #1. The general outline, however, is familiar: Did Mr. Kan’s inept micro-management of the work from Tokyo and a misplaced confidence in his own abilities make matters worse? Are history being rewritten and reputations being smeared to allow the prime minister to employ one of his favorite political tactics of blaming his blunders on someone else?

Let’s start with the known knowns: Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) revealed at a news conference on 27 March that they had forecast the possibility of a fuel meltdown at Fukushima — what they called a “worst-case scenario” — within three hours after the earthquake and the tsunami struck the plant. They explained the problem to Prime Minister Kan at 10:30 p.m. that night. At 12:30 a.m. on the 12th they thought the meltdown had begun. Tokyo Electric officials and Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) Chairman Madarame Haruki decided this would require the venting of Reactors #1 and #2, and consulted with officials at NISA. At 5:00 a.m., high levels of iodine were detected near the entrance to the plant, indicating that a meltdown had begun. At 5:44 a.m., Mr. Kan ordered the evacuation of the area in a 10-kilometer radius from the site.

One of the most common criticisms of the prime minister is his taste for performance politics — a tendency to play a pushy Forrest Gump and insert himself into situations to demonstrate that he is The Man in Charge. In this case, he insisted on viewing the Fukushima site by helicopter on the morning of 12 March with Mr. Madarame. The venting process, however, involved the release of steam with radioactive elements, which would have exposed everyone on the helicopter to radiation. Tokyo Electric did not want to take that risk, and they were unable to discuss the matter with Mr. Kan until he returned at 8:30 a.m. The venting did not begin until 9:04 a.m.

Thus the helicopter tour that many charge was unnecessary to begin with delayed the venting, which in turn delayed the start of operations to cool the reactor with seawater — which were also delayed after they began. Some believe these delays exacerbated the severity of the situation, for which both Mr. Kan and Mr. Madarame are responsible.

At an NISA news conference at 2:00 p.m. on 12 March, Deputy Minister Nakamura Koichiro said it was possible the reactor core had begun melting. Late that same night, he was removed from his position for “creating unease among the people” — or is that a euphemism for telling the truth? The decision to relieve him of his duties has been attributed to Kan Naoto and Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio.

The hydrogen explosion at Reactor #1 occurred shortly thereafter at 3:36 p.m. on 12 March. At 7:04 p.m., Tokyo Electric began adding seawater to cool the reactor in a trial, i.e., without adding boric acid, but they stopped 20 minutes later.

They explained they had been told a debate was underway in the Prime Minister’s office whether adding seawater would create a situation of recriticality. Their man in the Kantei who passed that information along was Takekuro Ichiro, a former Tokyo Electric vice–president and current “fellow” (roughly equivalent to vice-president), as well as the president of the International Nuclear Energy Development of Japan Co. (They sell Japanese nuclear power plants abroad.) It’s unclear whether Tokyo Electric decided to wait until the people in Tokyo made up their minds or Mr. Kan got royally pissed off because they acted on their own and told them to stop. They resumed adding seawater, this time with boric acid 55 minutes later, at 8:20 p.m. on the prime minister’s instructions. TEPCO tried to soothe everyone’s concerns:

“It was thought a meltdown of the nuclear fuel had begun at Reactor #1 the night before, and the hydrogen explosion had already occurred, so the suspension of work had no effect in making the accident worse.”

Mr. Takekuro presented the reason for starting with a trial:

“It was necessary to insert seawater appropriately when the safety of the process was being evaluated, so trial insertion was done first.”

During Question Time in the Diet in April, more than one month after the incident, Watanabe Yoshimi asked Prime Minister Kan again whether there had been a meltdown at Fukushima. Mr. Kan again denied it.

*****
Now it’s time for the backstabbing and who-struck-John arguments.

The records of one of the 20 new government councils for dealing with the nuclear power accident contain the following notation for 6:00 p.m. on 12 March:

“Prime Minister Kan said, ‘Stop the insertion of fresh water (into the reactor) and use seawater’”.

At the same time, Mr. Kan instructed Mr. Madarame to examine whether it was safe to use seawater. Mr. Madarame was asked whether seawater could cause recriticality, and the record states that he answered, “It is possible”. NISA officials explained to the prime minister at 7:40 p.m. there would be no problem.

The news media, however, is reporting they were informed by “multiple sources in government” that when Prime Minister Kan heard that TEPCO had begun using seawater instead of fresh water, he screamed “I hadn’t heard that!” The best functional equivalent in English would be, “No one told me!” Tokyo Electric then stopped the operation.

The prime minister is well known in Japan for outbursts of temper that verge on hysteria. When he was Minister of Health 15 years ago, the custodians removed the heavy ashtrays from his office because he would throw them in fits of rage.

A report in the 21 May edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun contains this sentence: “The insertion of seawater into Reactor #1 at Fukushima was stopped for 55 minutes due to the intent of Prime Minister Kan.”

The utility says it told NISA officials verbally about the start and the temporary suspension of operations, but NISA says there is no written record.

*****
Democratic Party MP Hosono Goshi is serving as a special advisor to Prime Minister Naoto Kan on the management of the nuclear crisis. Here’s a description of the party’s former Deputy Secretary-General:

“One of the most outspoken and high-profile members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, Goshi Hosono has defended the government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan despite a huge setback in the July 11 (2010) House of Councillors election.”

At a news conference on 13 May, Mr. Hosono said that the meltdown was unanticipated:

“We thought the fuel was melting, but we didn’t envision that almost all the material would collect at the bottom.”

He claims the record stating the prime minister issued an order at 6:00 p.m. to begin adding seawater is inaccurate. Instead, he says that Kaieda Banri, the Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, told Tokyo Electric officials at that time to start preparations to add seawater.

He noted there were problems getting in contact with the people on site at Fukushima. There was a debate in Tokyo over how difficult it would be to pump the seawater into the reactor, which lasted until 7:30 p.m. He insists they (and Mr. Kan) didn’t know the pumping had already started until days later.

Tokyo Electric President Shimizu Masataka was asked during Diet questioning on 16 May when he became aware of the meltdown at Reactor #1. He answered:

“Last month, when people entered the reactor housing, and they discovered the water level in the reactor.”

Madarame Haruki testified at the same hearing and answered the same question:

“I recognized the possibility several days after the accident on 11 March…That changed to a certainty on 28 March when I found out that water contaminated by a high degree of radioactivity was under Reactor #2.”

Shortly thereafter, Tokyo Electric, the prime minister’s office, and NISA released records stating the decision to stop pumping seawater was made after Mr. Madarame warned it was “possible” that recriticality could occur. At a 21 May news conference, a livid Mr. Madarame insisted he never said such a thing. Attending the news conference was Kato Shigeharu of the NSC, who is also a deputy minister in the Cabinet Office. He did not object to Mr. Madarame’s statement.

After the news conference, the NSC chairman told the Asahi Shimbun that “the text of that announcement was created by TEPCO, the Kantei, and NISA.” He described it as “an insult”.

He also told the Yomiuri Shimbun:

“I absolutely did not say there was a danger (of recriticality by inserting seawater). It is not possible for there to be concerns of recriticality just because of a switch from fresh water to seawater. Those are the ABCs of nuclear power.”

What he did say, he asserts, is “Either (fresh water or seawater) is fine, so put it in.”

*****
Hosono Goshi spun a different story at his own news conference the same day. He explained the prime minister asked Mr. Madarame at 6:00 p.m. on 12 March if there was a danger of recriticality if seawater was added, and the NSC chairman told him there was. Mr. Hosono said that Tokyo Electric had told NISA verbally they had stopped adding water, but NISA did not inform the prime minister’s office. He added that the prime minister didn’t get angry, and that the report he lost his temper because he wasn’t told “is not based on fact.”

Mr. Hosono was interviewed the next day, 22 May, on the Fuji TV program Shinhodo 2001. Here is an excerpt of the exchange:

NSC Chairman Madarame Haruki objected that he did not say the insertion of seawater had the potential to cause recriticality.

Hosono: At a meeting at 6:00 p.m. (on 12 March) a Tokyo Electric official said the hydrogen explosion had caused a great deal of confusion on the site, and they couldn’t insert seawater for an hour and a half. During that period Prime Minister Kan Naoto instructed that the effect of inserting boric acid and seawater be studied….We met again at 7:40, and the work to insert the boric acid had proceeded. From 7:04 to 7:25, there was no information that Tokyo Electric had begun the trial insertion.

Did the prime minister ask, ‘Isn’t there any danger of recriticality’?

Hosono: It is true the prime minister was worried about recriticality.

That’s because he had received the opinion of Mr. Madarame?

Hosono: That’s what I remember.

Mr. Madarame says that wasn’t possible.

Hosono: It’s my recollection that Mr. Madarame said that, but I’ll have to confirm it.

*****
Later that day, Mr. Madarame asked that the official documents recording that he said “it is possible” the addition of seawater could cause recriticality be amended to, “It isn’t the case that the possibility is zero.” He explained:

“If I were to say such a thing, my life as a nuclear power expert would be over. It is defamation of character, and it is not a joke…changing from fresh water to seawater would even lower the potential of criticality because of the impurities in the water.”

Also that day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio denied the government ordered Tokyo Electric to stop filling the reactor with seawater.

Yesterday, it was revealed that Kato Shigeharu represented the NSC at the news conference during which the government/TEPCO/NISA attributed their decision to Mr. Madarame’s advice. After Hosono Goshi handed him a text of the record about 15 minutes before the news conference, Mr. Kato objected to the wording of the Madarame statement. Replied Mr. Hosono:

“It’s not a literal, word-for-word transcription, but everyone who was there (Kantei) said that. You weren’t there, were you?”

Mr. Kato asked him not to distribute the text, but Mr. Hosono told him it had already been released.

Mr. Madarame told the media yesterday he had a long talk with Mr. Hosono on the 22nd and is willing to let bygones be bygones, but wants a full investigation to discover who wrote the text and the circumstances surrounding the incident.

*****
At an 11 May news conference, however, Edano Yukio said that records of the conferences at disaster headquarters chaired by the prime minister were not written down. If there is to be an investigation, he said:

“Perhaps we will have to seek testimony based on memory… There are a certain number of memos that exist, but it is a fact that there were few places for keeping records of the crisis management response.”

An aide and chief blogger for LDP MP Nakagawa Hidenao remarks that the idea no memos of the conferences exist is far-fetched. He maintains they certainly exist, if only held in confidence by aides and bureaucrats. In a back-handed reference to the DPJ’s search for documents related to a secret U.S.-Japan agreement about bringing nuclear weapons to Japanese territory, he said, “They’ll turn up on a shelf somewhere after the DPJ is out of power.”

Back to Mr. Edano’s news conference:

“One important point is whether there were systemic problems that prevented the accident from being resolved before it occurred.”

In other words, he wants to blame it on previous LDP governments.

Mr. Kan, however, tried to shift it somewhere else. When he was asked in the Diet on the 20th why he didn’t tell people about the meltdown until two months after it occurred, he said:

“What I told the people was fundamentally in error. I am deeply sorry in the sense that the government was unable to respond because of the mistaken assumptions of Tokyo Electric.”

What about the meltdown?

“Until the announcement (of the meltdown earlier this month), I hadn’t heard anything about it. It wasn’t that I knew about it and didn’t say anything.”

Kakiwaza Mito of Your Party reminded Mr. Kan that on 12 May, just three days before the government announcement, he told a meeting of party leaders in the Diet that there was no meltdown. “Didn’t you lie?” he asked. Said Mr. Kan:

“I merely expressed the official government view.”

*****
But the prime minister is backing away from some of his previous attitudes. It’s been widely reported that after the Fukushima problems began, he bragged to aides that he was extremely knowledgeable about atomic power. During testimony in the Diet yesterday, he said:

“I am not a specialist in atomic energy, so I don’t know everything.”

The prime minister held a discussion on 15 March about whether the Self-Defense Forces should drop water from the air on the Fukushima reactors. Here’s how part of the conversation went, according to sources present:

Kan: By the way, should we insert boric acid in a powdered state or a liquid state?

The other official did not answer.

Kan: So you can’t answer? Go discuss it with a Tokyo Institute of Technology professor whom I know and get back to us. (Mr. Kan is a T.I.T. graduate)

What a charmer!

Not only is Mr. Kan criticized in Japan for his top-down decision making, he’s also disparaged for his information-gathering methods. One source in the Kantei told reporters, “He doesn’t ask those around him for opinions”.

During his Diet testimony yesterday, the prime minister said:

“Since the earthquake, I’ve been receiving advice from TEPCO and the Nuclear Safety Commission (of which Mr. Madarame is the chairman).”

The print media reported that laughter erupted from the opposition benches after they heard this statement.

*****
An article at Diamond Online likens the Kan government’s announcements to those of Imperial Headquarters during the Second World War. By the end of the war, the Japanese public realized that if Headquarters announced the Imperial Army had chosen to “advance in a different direction”, it meant that the army had lost a battle and was retreating. Headquarters in those days was staffed by ex-Army officers, so in other words, it was that era’s version of amakudari.

As Diamond Online put it, the policy of the Kan Cabinet is to “hide the information when circumstances are unfavorable, and when the information is made public, offer the excuse that ‘it was an unforeseen event’”.

The Japanese public voted for reform in 2009, but what they got instead is even worse than what the LDP offered: Wartime information management.

UPDATE: Two stories have surfaced that are somewhat related in spirit. The first: Despite the prime minister’s denials, the “multiple sources” continue to insist that Mr. Kan said “No one told me about it”, when he found out that TEPCO had switched to seawater. One of the sources, however, said that Mr. Kan didn’t issue any specific orders, but continued to discuss the problem. The source thinks the Tokyo Electric officials got jumpy when they heard the story. Reading between the lines, it’s possible they stopped the insertion because they were leery of being subject to the Wrath of Kan.

The second: Scientists think that if Mr. Madarame did say “the possibility is not zero” in regard to recriticality, he was right in that it was technically possible but very unlikely. The government officials who heard a distinctive turn of phrase by another scientist giving a scientifically honest opinion might have overreacted in a way similar to that of the Tokyo Electric officials and jumped to conclusions.

*****
Shinhodo conducted a poll on 19 May, before this controversy had come to a head, and reported the results over the weekend. Here’s one question:

What is your opinion of the government’s information disclosure about the nuclear accident?

Can’t be trusted: 82.4%

Here’s another:

Which party will you vote for in the next lower house election?

DPJ: 11.6%
LDP: 27.0%
Your Party: 7.0%

Notice that the LDP rating in percentage points is more than double that of the DPJ, the gap between the DPJ and the LDP is greater than the DPJ’s overall total, and the gap between the DPJ and third-place Your Party, a small reform-minded group just three years old, is not far from the usual margin of error for polls.

*****
Speaking of information disclosure, the damage to the building housing Reactor #4 at Fukushima has rendered it structurally unsound. (One person compared it to the Tower of Pisa.) If it collapses, so does the fuel pool underneath. Construction work to shore it up is now underway. Have you heard anything about that from the government or Tokyo Electric?

*****
Yokokume Katsuhito, a first-term proporational representative in the lower house from the Southern Kanto region, was a member of the DPJ until last week, but he’s now an independent. He submitted his resignation from the party on the 20th. Secretary-General Okada Katsuya said he would stick it in a desk drawer rather than accept it, but Mr. Yokokume told him not to bother.

He told the news media:

“With their response to the Tohoku earthquake and other matters, the DPJ is now hopeless.”

Writing on his blog about the possibility the prime minister would delay a second secondary budget to prolong his term in office, he said, “If that’s the truth, I’d be speechless.”

Mr. Okada told the rest of the party that Mr. Yokokume had potential and that he would continue to talk to him to convince him to return. Meanwhile, Mr. Yokokume told the media that depending on the circumstances and the timing, he could vote for a motion of no confidence in Kan Naoto. At a news conference today making it official, he said that Prime Minister Kan’s administration of government “is incapable of protecting the citizens’ lives and livelihoods, which is the basis of politics.”

*****
American comedian David Letterman hosts a late night television program five days a week. One of the program’s most popular recurring segments is the Top Ten list, which originated as a way to mock similar lists by People magazine. List subjects range from the comically absurd to those lampooning current events, and the items are always presented in reverse order.

After this twisted skein of fatuous lies and juvenile cover-up attempts, some comic absurdity sounds good right about now. Therefore, for your delectation, here’s another Top Ten list. It consists entirely of quoted passages from an article written by Thomas Berger, an associate professor of international relations at Boston University, and published by The Diplomat website. I call it the Top Ten Reasons Why Kan Naoto and His Cabinet Are Japan’s Salvation!

10. “Naoto Kan has shown during the ongoing crisis his determination for a more open style of government in Japan.”

9. “The first difference is the considerable lengths that the Kan government has taken to keep the Japanese people informed about the crisis and its efforts to deal with it.”

8. “(T)he government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan is struggling to respond to the crisis in a new way, and to redefine Japanese politics and the country’s relationship with the outside world.”

7. “The Prime Minister and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano have been offering regular press briefings as the crisis has unfolded, in sharp contrast with the hapless Murayama government, whose initial response in 1995 was marked by indecision and apparent confusion.”

6. “Kan’s policies are part of a general trend away from the ‘Japan Inc.’ style of policymaking in which decisions were made behind closed doors by a coalition of business, bureaucratic and conservative political elites.”

5. “Kan, who as a health minister in the 1980s played a key role in exposing bureaucratic efforts to conceal the contamination of Japanese blood supplies with the HIV aids virus, is unusually well-suited to the role of a populist prime minister.”

4. “This reflects a new openness in the Japanese government, not only with its own people, but also with the outside world.”

3. “These three trends all point in the direction of a more open, more democratic and more normal Japan.”

2. “(I)nevitably the issue will become politicized. When it does, a new cycle of recrimination may emerge that will undermine the political process and dash public hopes for a new, more open and more democratic Japan.”

And #1 on the list:

1. “(T)here is a sharp clash between the operating culture of TEPCO, which continues to be characterized by the more closed ‘Japan Inc.’ way of doing things, and the new style of openness and accountability that the Kan government is trying to promote.”

Comic absurdity aside, the Berger article was published on 2 April this year, and it was flummery the day it was written. Where was this new style of openness and accountability last year when everyone in the Kan government insisted the decision to release the Chinese fishing boat captain who rammed Japanese Coast Guard vessels in the Senkakus was a political judgment by public prosecutors in Okinawa? Is demonstrating an openness “not only with its own people, but also the world” and “keeping the Japanese people informed about the crisis” to be defined as withholding a video showing the Chinese boat ramming the Japanese ships so as not to anger either the Japanese public or the Chinese government, and then disciplining the man who put it up on YouTube?

This is yet another flannel-cortexed academic wishing on a star and pushing an agenda, and yet another website either doing the same or so desperate for daily content it would justify the publication by claiming it’s just offering a wide range of opinion.

One wonders what the author and the website would have done had they read this Kyodo report of 14 April, fewer than two weeks later:

“Kenichi Matsumoto, a renowned writer who serves as a special adviser to the Cabinet, sparked the controversy during a conversation with reporters Wednesday after his meeting with Prime Minister Naoto Kan, quoting the premier as having said people evacuated from homes near the plant would be unable to return to their hometowns ”for 10 or 20 years.” Matsumoto later retracted his remark, while Kan himself told reporters that day, ‘I did not say that.’”

I’d bet on form: They’d have written and published the same article had the date been 22 April instead of 2 April

Afterwords:

Takekuro Ichiro, the man who supposedly passed along the word to Tokyo Electric officials about the debate in the Kantei, was once the site manager of the TEPCO-owned Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata. It was the first power plant to have released radiation due to an earthquake, though the amount was slight. The plant was shut down for 21 months, and Mr. Takekuro had to visit the prefectural governor to apologize for problems that included nine fires at the plant after the earthquake and the spilling of radioactive material from storage containers because of loose lids. The utility’s story changed several times in the space of a few days after the earthquake.

Speaking of publicizing videos, it wasn’t so long ago that Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro immediately released videos of the firefight between the Japanese Coast Guard and North Korean smugglers that ended with the Koreans scuttling their ship. Though the conjecture falls under the category of a known unknown, is there really any doubt that Mr. Koizumi would have handled the events at Fukushima with greater maturity and expertise — and yes, more openness? The reason some people have short memories is that Mr. Koizumi is not a man of the left, and therefore not a person to be praised until he’s been dead a decade.

Thomas Berger thinks trends point in the direction of a “more normal” Japan. Japan is less normal compared to what? The governments of any other G8 countries? The rest of the EU?

Gag me with a spatula.

As for Berger’s insinuation that Japan is insufficiently democratic (again, compared to whom?), we’ve wasted enough time on him as it is.

*****
Away with the bogus and on to the bona fide, namely ukulele whiz Jake Shimabukuro. With every mistake, we must surely be learning.

If you liked this, look for his version of Sakura, Sakura.

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Posted in Government, History, I couldn't make this up if I tried, Politics, Science and technology, World War II | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Ichigen Koji (4)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, May 23, 2011

一言居士
- A person who has something to say about everything

“JPY 12 trillion in government bonds has already been issued this fiscal year. If we were to fully use the JPY 30 trillion framework for Bank of Japan bond purchases in this year’s budget, it would create a revenue source of JPY 18 trillion. This is not a fiscal liability. The funds could be quickly used for earthquake reconstruction and for dealing with the nuclear power plant disaster. I do not understand what the Kan administration and the Bank of Japan are thinking when they oppose it and offer such nonsensical reasons as confidence in the currency…

“Those who argue for a tax increase are very displeased when you talk about providing JPY 40 trillion in revenue by having the BOJ underwrite JPY 18 trillion in reconstruction bonds, and using JPY 10 trillion from the government debt consolidation fund, JPY 5 trillion from labor insurance, and other sources for the rest.”

- Takahashi Yoichi, author, university professor, and former Finance Ministry bureaucrat

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Connecting the dots

Posted by ampontan on Monday, May 23, 2011

THE SQUABBLE continues of whether the financial institutions that lent money to Tokyo Electric Power should be asked to write off some of the debt if the government uses public funds to keep the utility from going bankrupt. Financial Services Minister Yosano Kaoru will hear none of it, and he and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yosano Kaoru have been straw-spitting BBs at each other over the question all week long.

At a news conference after a Cabinet meeting on the 20th, Mr. Yosano said it would be unfair to hold the institutions liable for compensation because they were lending to a public utility. He added that the accident at the Fukushima power plant “could only be explained as an act of God”, and that the “ultimate in human wisdom was employed” when developing safety measures for the plant.

He also said:

“They lent the money knowing that (the utility) didn’t have the ability to repay the loan (in a situation such as this). A classic example of this is the sub-prime loans of a few years ago (in the U.S.). The banks lent the money while believing that the receipients couldn’t afford to buy a house.”

Since it will be impossible to further shock you after that blockquote, I’ll mention here that his explanation was hailed as a very sensible argument by Yamamoto Ichiro, who runs an investment firm called Irregulars and Partners. Mr. Yamamoto’s website, by the way, was selected as something called “Blog of the Yeah” in 2003, the last year that particular honor was awarded. See what I mean about not having to read fiction any more?

The response of everyone else, however, seems to have been “WTF is he thinking”, even though Mr. Yosano is well known to be a Finance Ministry water carrier. But it didn’t take long to connect the dots.

After Mr. Yosano was graduated from the University of Tokyo in 1963, his mother asked her friend Nakasone Yasuhiro, still 20 years away from becoming prime minister, to help find her son a job. Mr. Nakasone did so, and The Graduate was hired by the Japan Atomic Power Co. He worked there for five years, specializing in insurance matters.

Those of a philosophical bent who are intrigued by the question of whether loyalty is a virtue or “only or primarily a feeling or sentiment — an affective bondedness that may express itself in deeds though more as an epiphenomenon than as its core” might find this paper to be of interest.

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Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Government | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

 
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