AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Archive for March, 2012

Rocky road ahead

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, March 31, 2012

FOR a better understanding of the phenomenon Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru represents, the following anecdotes offer a clear and compelling window on the popular mood.

Rock target Ota Kazumi

The first story comes from the 9 February edition of the weekly Shukan Shincho and concerns DPJ lower house member Ota Kazumi, a second-term MP and member of the Ozawa group. She first won election in Chiba and then switched to a district in Fukushima (where her parents are from) for the lower house election in 2009.

Japanese politicians deliver street corner speeches more frequently than their counterparts in the United States, and Mr. Ozawa in particular likes to impress on his acolytes the importance of retail politicking and mingling with the public. Ms. Ota decided to speak outside a Shinto shrine on New Year’s Day, as a political journalist explained to the magazine.

That holiday is a rough analogue for Christmas in the West and has many secular and Shinto traditions. One of them is for families to visit three Shinto shrines in the first days of the new year. Some people still dress up for the visits, and it’s common to see younger women wearing kimono.

This year, no sooner had Ms. Ota began to speak when the crowd started to heckle and jeer. There were shouts of “liar” and other insults. Some even threw rocks at her, though the journalist didn’t specify how many people were throwing. She had planned to speak for two hours, but cut it off after 45 minutes.

Take a few seconds to let that sink in. On the most important holiday of the year, in a country known throughout the world for its manners and courtesy, standing outside of what is, in many senses, a religious institution, while people are participating in a traditional activity of the holiday season, they shout down and throw rocks at a politician…who is a woman.

There you see the Japanese equivalent of overturning and torching automobiles, or police and mobs throwing Molotov cocktails, tear gas, truncheons, and punches at each other. In Libya she might have wound up with a bloody backside.

But put any sympathy you might have for Ms. Ota on hold until you read the rest of the story.

One of the political controversies in 2008 during the Fukuda administration was the disposition of the soon-to-expire gasoline surtax, a “temporary” levy that had been maintained for more than 30 years. Some Democratic Party MPs organized a performance troupe they called the “Gasoline Price Cutting Squad”. They amused themselves by blocking hallways in the Diet chamber and temporarily confining the chairman of the lower house to his office. The idea was to publicize the DPJ’s pledge to eliminate the tax and cut gas prices. That pledge wound up in the party’s 2009 manifesto.

Yeah, it was as childish as it sounds.

Soon after their 2009 landslide and formation of a government, the party announced they would preserve (de facto) the gasoline surtax they had promised to eliminate immediately on taking office. Ms. Ota was asked about that and her activities as a member of the squad on a 22 December 2009 news program. Her answer:

“Oh, did I do that? Ha ha ha!”

On her official website, she explained that the party hadn’t failed to implement the manifesto pledge, but had only delayed its implementation. She also charged that the program was deliberately trying to manipulate public opinion against her.

The DPJ later officially removed the pledge to eliminate the tax from its manifesto.

If I were Japanese and saw her — or any other DPJ pol — giving a street corner speech, I’d be tempted to break off chunks of sidewalk or building cornices and hurl those.

The same journalist had another story for the Shukan Shincho:

“Innumerable DPJ diet members have stopped giving street corner speeches, because opposition to them is so great, it’s like pouring gas on a fire.”

An unnamed “mid-tier” DPJ Diet member lamented that all he can do when he visits groups in his district is bow his head and apologize.

That’s why people aren’t raising their eyebrows over reports that surfaced on the 26th of the results of a private poll conducted by the opposition Liberal Democratic Party. The survey found that Mr. Hashimoto’s One Osaka group would win about 60 of the 77 lower house seats in the Kinki region — roughly 80% — if an election were held today. The group wants to run 300 candidates nationwide.

And that’s why it’s no surprise that other reports say the DPJ wants to put an election off as long as possible (they have until the summer 2013) in the hope that Mr. Hashimoto’s star fades by then. Or that some in the LDP, particularly prominent party members projected to lose in the next election and those still affiliated with factions, want the polls to be held as soon as possible before Mr. Hashimoto and One Osaka select a slate of candidates from his political juku. Nevertheless, circumstances and the wild card of Ozawa Ichiro and whatever it is he’s planning to do this time could cause an election to be held as early as June. Even people in the other hemisphere will feel the earth move under their feet on that day.

It’s curious: Some Westerners who couldn’t distinguish a 6 from a 9 in contemporary Japanese affairs have convinced themselves that the country is an irrelevant non-player tumbling down the tubes of history. What they can’t see — and couldn’t, even if they were looking — is that Japan could well be the first of the world’s democracies to spear, if not gut, the belly of the beast.

****
They’re rumbling down in Indonesia too. Is that Shiva playing the drums?

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Hashimoto Toru (3): Other policies, other views

Posted by ampontan on Friday, March 30, 2012

**This is the third of a multi-part series on Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and the phenomenon he represents. The first is here, and the second is here.**

Japan is now in a crisis state, so we have to put it all on the line to make a real change in the form of the country.
- Hashimoto Toru, 24 March

WHILE the centerpiece of Hashimoto Toru’s proposals for Japan is the radical devolution of authority to local government and to cut big national government down to size, his policy menu would be a wonk banquet if he were the sort of mobile mannequin-pol that appeals to most policy wonks. He insists that most of his proposals are starting points for discussion, and that politicians should enter at the end of the process, rather than the beginning. Finally — unlike 99.44% of the world’s politicians — he serves his banquet straight up, with neither the meat nor the words minced.

Earlier this year, Mr. Hashimoto drafted a statement of general principles and guidelines for his One Osaka movement that he titled Ishin Hassaku, or eight policies of renewal. It was a deliberate modification of the title of a similar document called Senchu Hassaku written by Sakamoto Ryoma, a samurai/activist in the final days of the Edo period. His “eight shipboard policies” became the basis for the later Meiji-period reforms. All Japanese of secondary school age and older understand the reference immediately.

He explained the reason for the document:

“Our work is to determine the course of Japan. We will develop a concrete philosophy for policy, politics, and government administration. The ones who don’t have that are the current political parties. Both the DPJ and the LDP are in a stupor.”

That last sentence is also immediately understood by all Japanese of secondary school age and older.

The mayor sometimes refers to it as the Great Reset. Now here’s his explanation of the basic principle:

“The argument of the Isshin Hassaku is simple. One Osaka will achieve, as the image of the nation for which we strive, a nation of individuals who behave independently, regions that behave independently, and a nation that behaves independently. To achieve that, it is indispensable to establish a democracy and a government mechanism capable of making decisions and accepting responsibility, and to promote the vitalization of the generation active today.”

The mention of decisiveness and responsibility refers to everyone in the legislative and executive branches of the national government in general, and the Democratic Party administration in particular.

The document’s eight sections cover such topics as the restructuring of governing institutions and reforming education. They include the direct election of the prime minister, the institution of the state/province system, the abolition of regional tax distribution, the abolition of education committees (i.e., boards of education), and the integration of pension, welfare, and unemployment programs.

To explain further, the Constitution requires that the prime minister be a sitting member of the Diet elected by the Diet members. That requirement has been abused by decades of passing the washtub, in the Japanese phrase, of the prime minister’s position among the members of the ruling party without voter input. The LDP started it, but the DPJ liked it just fine after they got a taste of their own. Putting it to a popular vote would require a Constitutional amendment, and the public might be up for that. All Japanese of secondary school age and older understand that the status quo is untenable.

In fact, his One Osaka ally, Osaka Prefecture Gov. Matsuo Ichiro, said earlier this week he thought anyone should be able to run for prime minister as long as they had 20 sitting MPs back their candidacy. That immediately generated speculation the intended beneficiary would be Mayor Hashimoto himself (though the process to enable his candidacy would take some time), but the idea has enough merit on its own to warrant serious discussion. What they’ve got now isn’t good enough, and the DPJ has shown everyone that it isn’t going to get better.

The young lawyer makes a television appearance.

The abolition of the regional tax distribution from the national government would mean giving greater authority to the sub-national governments to raise their own revenue. (Where I live the prefectural government now sells advertising on the autos for public sector use.) The abolition of the education committees refers to his effort to make local government executives the final authority for education, rather than professional educators. That issue will be presented in more detail in a later installment of this series.

When Mr. Hashimoto unveiled the Ishin Hassaku, he explained that it contained “guidelines for political thought” for the next lower house election, but that it wasn’t an election manifesto/party platform. “If we submit something like the DPJ manifesto,” he asserted, “it would be a failure.” The document intentionally contains no numerical targets, because it is supposed to be a rough guide for changing the system.

Such is the political discourse in our age that the media and his political opponents immediately called it a manifesto and criticized it for not being more specific in the way manifestoes are supposed to be. Among the newspapers, the Sankei has since dialed back on their language and now call it a “de facto manifesto”.

Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio observed that Mr. Hashimoto had learned a lesson from the failure of the DPJ’s 2009 manifesto. Of course, we’d be here all week if we were to mention all the lessons everyone learned from the failures of the DPJ since 2009. The first would be not to take anything Hatoyama Yukio says seriously.

Mr. Hatoyama forgets that he wasn’t so anxious to call a manifesto a manifesto either in 2009. Just before the election that year, as party president, he rolled out the DPJ manifesto to great fanfare, with banners over the stage heralding the arrival of The Manifesto, a word that was printed in big red letters on the front cover. Then the governor of Osaka prefecture, Hashimoto Toru objected the document was not specific enough about the devolution of authority. Mr. Hashimoto was massively popular even then, so the DPJ rewrote it and resubmitted it a few days later. When the media quite rightly questioned the process, Mr. Hatoyama insisted that the first one wasn’t really a manifesto but a “collection of government policies” instead. (The story is here. I’d congratulate myself for my prescience about what a DPJ government would be like if it hadn’t been so bloody obvious.)

Other policies

We’ve seen before that he’s proposed a two-year national discussion on Article 9 of the Constitution, the inaptly named Peace Clause, followed by a referendum. He thinks it’s time for Article 9 to be history, and recently restated his position:

“Ceaseless efforts are required if you would maintain a tranquil life. The people themselves must do the work. The text (of the Constitution) has caused us to forget that completely.”

Wealth redistribution

In one of his famous daily Tweet-a-thons, the governor wrote:

“There’s the idea of the negative income tax. This is one item for consideration as a way to further develop Basic Income.”

University professor and commentator Ikeda Nobuo, who tends to hold the governor at arm’s length, was impressed. He wrote, “It is unprecedented for this (idea) to emerge in Japanese policy discussions.” Look closer and you’ll see that he’s discussing two social welfare schemes, one from the Right in Milton Friedman’s negative income tax idea, and one from the Left with the Basic Income idea, which Prof. Ikeda attributes to Andre Gorz and others. It’s also important to note that the governor says it is “an item for consideration”, if only because his critics charge him with dictatorial tendencies. Dictators are not usually guys who willingly say, “Let’s talk about it.”

Prof. Ikeda then offers a simple comparison of the basics.

The concept of negative income tax involves the positive taxation of income that exceeds the minimum taxable amount, and negative taxation, or providing some of the funds obtained to people with incomes below the minimum taxable amount.

If the minimum taxable income is set at JPY four million, for example, and the tax rate is 20%, the amount of income exceeding that benchmark would taxed at 20%. People with incomes below that amount would receive 20% of the difference between their actual income and the minimum taxable income. A person whose income is JPY two million would receive a benefit of JPY 400,000 as 20% of the JPY two million difference, giving him a total income of JPY 2.4 million. Based on the same calculation, people who earned nothing would receive JPY 800,000.

Prof. Ikeda goes on to say there are different approaches to Basic Income, and uses one of those approaches as an example. Assuming JPY 800,000 would be distributed to those with no income as the basic income, a person who earned JPY 2 million would have that amount taxed at 20%, resulting in JPY 1.6 million. To that amount would be added the Basic Income of JPY 800,000 to get JPY 2.4 million, or the same amount that person would receive under the negative income concept.

Regardless, he says, the idea is to eliminate conventional social welfare, which is one of Mr. Hashimoto’s key proposals. Prof. Ikeda holds that the current system is unfair because it distributes funds from young people of relatively modest means to older people who are financially better off. Since the issue is income rather than age, the idea is to eliminate public pensions, welfare payments, unemployment insurance, and long-term care insurance (nursing for the old and infirm) and integrate those schemes into either a Basic Income or negative income tax system. He also notes that it would eliminate the vast expenditures for the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare.

Prof. Ikeda admits it would be difficult politically to eliminate the existing substantial benefits under the current system. He also says it would generate concerns of an infringement of property rights, because Japanese pensions are two-tiered and include both corporate payments and personal payments.

Maintaining the status quo, however, means that the current pension system will go bankrupt in 20 years, and enormous taxation would be required to offset a JPY 800 trillion yen shortfall.

That’s the reason the proposed increase of the consumption tax is such a contentious issue in Japan. The Finance Ministry estimates that expenditures for pension, healthcare, long-term care, and “demographic problems” will exceed JPY 40 trillion in 2015. The current 5% consumption tax produces about JPY 13 trillion in revenue, or about or 30% of the amount required for those expenditures. Raising it to 10% would result in JPY 27 trillion of revenue — says the Finance Ministry. Some people are even calling for an increase in the tax to 30% to make up the difference.

That explanation is what makes opponents so livid. The Finance Ministry ignores that a tax increase of that size will depress consumption, which will depress the economy, resulting in lower-than-projected revenues. That’s exactly what happened when the tax was raised from 3% to 5% during the Hashimoto Ryutaro administration. (To be accurate, the tax revenues that fell were those from the income tax and corporate taxes. Consumption tax revenue rose.) Current deflationary conditions would make the impact worse today.

The assumption that the status quo of the system should be maintained regardless of the impact on the finances of both the nation and the individual households also angers people. (This is what people mean when they say we’re witnessing the collapse of social democracy.)

So — Mr. Hashimoto jumps on the third rail of politics everywhere and insists that changes have to be made because the current system is untenable and the government/bureaucracy’s solution is unworkable. He then offers in a public forum possible solutions for the problem, one from the left and one from the right, neither of which is well known in Japan, and suggests that everyone mull them over.

Combine that with his communication skills and ability to win big in elections, and now you know why he scares the vested interests of the national political and bureaucratic class, as well everyone on the Left.

North Korea

Mr. Hashimoto spoke to a group of family members of North Korean abductees in early February. He told them:

“The national government must express its thinking more clearly. I have no idea what they want to do….Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka will not permit the abduction problem (to continue). I want to clearly express the view that we will have no relations whatsoever with the outlaw state of North Korea until they become a normal country.”

He also said he would tighten the government’s requirements on providing public (financial) assistance to schools in Japan operated by Chongryeon, the North Korean citizens’ association:

“All the local governments throughout the country can do that if they want. Why is it that the national government cannot issue this sort of directive?”

Energy

He serves the chair of a Kansai area federation of local government heads. At their last meeting, he suggested that the mayors of Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe should use their cities’ stock holdings in Kansai Electric Power to create a new, non-nuclear energy strategy, though he didn’t offer specifics. The governor of Nara is generally opposed to Mr. Hashimoto’s schemes, so he does not participate in the group. That might explain why the group decided to back a proposed route through Kyoto instead of one through Nara for a maglev train line.

Governmental systems

One Osaka wants to create a system that allows the prime minister to leave when required to attend to business overseas. This week, the debate over the budget started in the Diet just as the leaders of the U.S., China, and South Korea were meeting to discuss ways to handle North Korea. Asks Mr. Hashimoto:

“What about Japan? As usual, the prime minister is chained to the Diet.”

While recognizing that Diet debate is one means of democracy, he suggests it is not an absolute that requires the prime minister’s constant presence. Just as a company president doesn’t have to do everything himself, he wrote, there are questions the prime minister doesn’t need to answer in person, and these should be delegated to his representatives. He tips his hat to Ozawa Ichiro by repeating the latter’s charge that out-of-control bureaucrats in the past appeared in the Diet and gave whatever answers they liked, but says it is the job of the leading “politicians’ group” (he didn’t call it a party) to control the bureaucrats’ answers.

As for what being chained in the Diet meant in practical terms on this occasion, here’s a report from Kyodo:

“With Pyongyang’s planned rocket launch looming over East Asia, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda had the perfect opportunity at this week’s global nuclear summit in Seoul to raise Japan’s presence in dealing with North Korea.

“But Noda missed out on the chance as he arrived in Seoul only on Monday evening, skipping a working dinner that officially kicked off the two-day Nuclear Security Summit, and barely engaged in substantive bilateral talks….

“The prime minister was instead preoccupied with his key domestic task — pushing the consumption tax hike on which he has said he is “staking my political career.”

“Prior to his trip to South Korea, Noda had been tied up with Diet deliberations on the tax hike, with his Cabinet aiming to approve the key bill Friday.”

Kyodo doesn’t tell us that Mr. Noda is preoccupied about a lot more than the tax increase. There is also the possibility that the issue will splinter his party and force either an immediate election or an alliance of the tax hikers in the DPJ with those in the opposition LDP.

Outside observers, in brief

The 5 February edition of the weekly Sunday Mainichi offered some observations of Hashimoto the politician from others in the same business who’ve seen him in action. Here’s one from a member of the Osaka City Council, who chose to remain anonymous.

“One thing he’s got going for him is that he didn’t make the blunder of dashing into national politics right away as soon as he achieved a little popularity. He’ll probably select candidates (for the lower house election) based on the circumstances of each election district and after probing the response of those around him. He’s a very solid strategist.”

A man identified only as a veteran LDP politician said he had exceptional skill at enhancing his presence:

“From the voters’ viewpoint he looks hot-blooded or emotional, but in fact he’s the opposite. He’s cool, settled, very objective, and makes shrewd calculations. He’s very shrewd at sizing up a situation and advancing or withdrawing accordingly…with all the attention on him now, he’s showing interest in national politics, and observing the course of events. Because he always views circumstances with a certain detachment, he can maintain his popularity and increase the level of opinion in his favor. He’s a politician that’s very much his own man, and that can’t be imitated.

“(Former Prime Minister) Koizumi had Iijima Isao to orchestrate his appearances and make sure he wasn’t overexposed, but Mr. Hashimoto seems to have been born with that knack. He might even be better at it than Koizumi.”

The author of the Sunday Mainichi article suggested that his strategy is to hold off on running himself in the next lower house election — he’s 42, so he has plenty of time — but instead place some of his people in the Diet to establish a foothold and form alliances with like-minded people, such as those in Your Party or any other new regional party members that might get elected.

When asked about the possibility of an alliance between One Osaka and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru quite logically observed:

“Mr. Hashimoto is winning acclaim because he’s anti-existing political parties. It would be a difficult decision for them to ally with the LDP, an existing political party.”

Incidentally, Mr. Ishihara supported the creation of an Osaka Metro District during the November election in Osaka.

To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction

That someone as outspoken, specific, and fearless as Mr. Hashimoto will attract critics and enemies is as immutable a principle as Newton’s Third Law. Here’s a brief look at a few:

Sengoku Yoshito, former Chief Cabinet Secretary in Kan Naoto’s first Cabinet, speaking of the Osaka Metro concept:

“The core body of self-government is the basic government of municipalities. The prefecture should leave things up to the city. I wonder how well (his idea) would work.”

Works in Tokyo, doesn’t it? Mr. Sengoku is presenting the DPJ’s vision of decentralization — doing away with prefectures and organizing everything around 300 fiefdom/cities. It makes more sense when you know that Mr. Sengoku (like Kan Naoto) doesn’t believe in nation-states, but rather a worldwide network of communities in a New World Order guided by such bureaucratic globutrons as the UN and the EU.

Anyone could have guessed that Social Democratic Party head Fukushima Mizuho, the vile body of Japanese politics who’s always up to some black mischief, wouldn’t like Mr. Hashimoto:

“A policy of bringing the principle of competition into education and discarding (teachers) is very dangerous…As for the Osaka Metro concept, I have no idea what they’re talking about with many of the points. I’m going to watch this carefully.”

She knows exactly what he’s talking about. She has to monitor Mr. Hashimoto because he’s orbiting on the other side of the galaxy from social democrats.

Ms. Fukushima used the same I-don’t-know-what-he’s-talking-about line for Abe Shinzo’s vision of a Beautiful Japan, even though he wrote a book about it. She knew what that was all about too. She just finds distasteful the idea that her native country in particular, or any nation-state in general, is beautiful.

Indeed, most commentators pro and con agreed that during the Osaka election, the arguments made for the Osaka Metro plan and those of its opponents were clearly stated and easy to understand.

But here’s my favorite — you can almost see the spit fly. It’s from Ichida Tadayoshi of the Communist Party. A reporter pointed out to Mr. Ichida that some of the One Osaka policies, such as those for nuclear energy, the tax system (i.e., consumption tax) and social welfare were similar to those of Japan’s Reds. He didn’t like that:

“There is absolutely no match at all. Even though in some places it looks like some of the letters in the words are the same, there is no value in critiquing the policies of a person who would trample on the freedom of thought and conscience guaranteed in the Constitution.”

Isn’t it entertaining to watch a Marxian fulminate over freedom of thought?

Meanwhile, over in Japan’s English-language press, the boys and girls who play newspaper at the Japan Times made a bad Kyodo article worse by trying to convince readers that Kansai political leaders don’t like the Hashimoto plan to reorganize the prefecture/city. Here’s the first paragraph.

“Osaka Mayor-elect Toru Hashimoto’s administrative reform plan has only limited support so far among prominent local leaders, with just six openly backing his proposed bureaucratic shakeup, a survey has found.”

That story falls apart as soon as they fill in the details.

“The survey polled the mayors of Japan’s 18 officially designated major cities, and the governors of the 13 prefectures that host them, excluding Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka.”

Here are the results:

In favor: Four governors (Niigata, Aichi, Kyoto, and Hyogo) and two mayors (Niigata and Nagoya). There’s a similar reorganization proposal being discussed in Niigata, by the way.

Opposed: One governor and three mayors, all unidentified, perhaps to protect them from constituents.

Neutral: 21

So the total is 6-4 in favor and 21 sitting on the fence with their fingers in the wind. Now here’s the headline the Japan Times ran:

Few leaders back Hashimoto’s plan

And you just know the kids are congratulating themselves on their cleverness.

Finally, try the Japanese Wikipedia page on Mr. Hashimoto for the portrait photo. Thousands of photographs have been taken of Mr. Hashimoto since he was elected governor of Osaka five years ago, but this is the one someone thought was representative. Now we know that Wikipediatric immaturity is an international phenomenon.

Coming next: There isn’t room here to describe the policy positions that most upset his enemies, so that will come later in the series. The next installment will present his use of Twitter as a weapon. In the process, the reason he generates such strong opinions will get a lot clearer.

Afterwords:

I make it a matter of principle to forget about links to the Japan Times in the same way it’s a matter of principle not to pay to see an Oliver Stone movie (much less watch one). I made an exception for the Kyodo article about Prime Minister Noda because it is so delicious when the denizens of La Tour D’Ivoire unwittingly reveal their overeducated vacuity. Here’s the end of the article:

“As things stand, political observers already see Japan as having little influence over North Korea, unlike China and the United States.

“Japan is a peripheral player with no significant leverage over Pyongyang” despite its strong interests in changing North Korea’s hostile policy, said Denny Roy, senior fellow of the East-West Center in Honolulu.

“According to Roy, who focuses on Asia-Pacific security issues, “Japan is trapped into a noninfluential role unless it gives up its tough position on the abductee issue.”

“Yoshihide Soeya, director of the Institute of East Asian Studies at Keio University, said Japan’s North Korean policies are being held “hostage” by domestic sentiment over the abductions, which has compelled the government to take a hardline stance.”

It isn’t often we see such a short, concentrated burst of willful ignorance from oblivious, self-important people. And then there’s the stupid — there is no other word — attempt of Mr. Soeya to be clever by describing Japanese policy as held hostage because the Japanese public is outraged their citizens were (and might still be) held hostage by an outlaw state.

North Korean agents conducted black ops in Japan by kidnapping innocent civilians — including a mother and her young adult daughter, two young lovers on a moonlit stroll, and a 13-year-old girl on her way home from school — removing them to the Prison Nation, and forcing them to teach the Japanese language and culture to their agents whose assignment was destabilizing Japan.

How unfortunate for Japan that “domestic sentiment” (i.e., they’re so angry they could spit) is tying the hands of the Japanese politicos, when they could be do-goodering for the international community, such as sending food to feed the North Korean army, or money to feed the lifestyles of Pyeongyang’s rich and nefarious.

Denny Roy might ask some of the people on the street outside his Honolulu office what they would think had Cubans done the same to Americans, and never fully ‘fessed up — and even offered fraudulent birth certificates for premature deaths.

Has he read this article, or would he care if he did?

“His first memory is an execution. He walked with his mother to a wheat field, where guards had rounded up several thousand prisoners. The boy crawled between legs to the front row, where he saw guards tying a man to a wooden pole.

“Shin In Geun was four years old, too young to understand the speech that came before that killing. At dozens of executions in years to come, he would listen to a guard telling the crowd that the prisoner about to die had been offered “redemption” through hard labour, but had rejected the generosity of the North Korean government.

“Guards stuffed pebbles into the prisoner’s mouth, covered his head with a hood and shot him. In Camp 14, a prison for the political enemies of North Korea, assemblies of more than two inmates were forbidden, except for executions. Everyone had to attend them.

“The South Korean government estimates there are about 154,000 prisoners in North Korea’s labour camps, while the US state department puts the number as high as 200,000. The biggest is 31 miles long and 25 miles wide, an area larger than the city of Los Angeles.

People are meeting in South Korea because everyone is concerned of an imminent North Korean missile launch. But just last month:

“A U.S. delegation has just returned from Beijing following a third exploratory round of U.S.-DPRK bilateral talks. To improve the atmosphere for dialogue and demonstrate its commitment to denuclearization, the DPRK has agreed to implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches.”

Denny Roy says Japan is “a peripheral player with no significant leverage”.

So, as a missile is being gassed up a month after a deal not to launch one, might we ask just who does have significant leverage? (The Chinese probably do, but they’d rather be part of the problem than be part of the solution.)

And why be a player in a pointless game?

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Hashimoto Toru (2): The company he keeps

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, March 28, 2012

**This is the second of a multi-part series on Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and the phenomenon he represents. The first is here.**

SOME people in Japan were suspicious: Was Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru just blustering with his declaration of intent to capture the Bastille of Japanese politics at Nagata-cho and implement his revolution from the inside out? That concern is now a very unlikely scenario — to prepare potential candidates for a lower house election, which rumor has it could come as early as June, he opened and begun operating on Sunday a political juku to prep potential candidates running either under the banner of One Osaka, his local party, or as allied forces. Backing down now would seriously wipe out the credibility of a man who’s riding The Big Wave.

Nagata-cho, here we come. Hashimoto Toru announces that One Osaka intends to field candidates in the next lower house election.

The word juku is often mistranslated as “cram school” in English, inspired by those exemplary Western educators who think Japanese children study too much. (Kumon is one of those jukus, and its system was adopted some years ago in a few of the lower southern states in the U.S. as a way to help laggard students.) This, however, is a juku in the original sense of the term — a private facility for the instruction of one’s “disciples”.

Mr. Hashimoto announced his intention to eventually accept 400 students for intensive training, of which 300 will become candidates, and of which he hopes 200 will win election. That’s a bit short of a lower house majority, but with even half that number, nothing happens in the Diet without him. That’s also before the totals of Your Party and other regional parties are factored in.

An article in the 10 February weekly Shukan Asahi (Hashimoto opponents) presented the argument that it won’t be possible for One Osaka to field 300 candidates. They quote one veteran pol as saying that it costs about JPY six million for a campaign, either for a single-district seat or a proportional representation seat, and the party doesn’t have the national organization, money, or bed of existing votes to pull it off. He thinks that even 200 is a pipe dream.

Someone the magazine claims is close to One Osaka is quoted as saying that even Mr. Hashimoto knows its an impossibility to run that many candidates, but he’s using that as a ploy to get the national government to approve his Osaka Metro District plan.

An anonymous source affiliated with New Komeito in the Osaka area suggests that many of his local supporters are ready to back him in local elections, but because they are affiliated with other parties, they will revert to their former allegiances in a national election.

Elsewhere, LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru declared, “They can’t take 100 seats. 30-40 is the reality.”

The magazine appeared on newsstands at beginning of February. Since then, he received 3,326 applications for admission to his school, and after a review of their essays, 2,262 students were accepted. The 400 selected for more intensive study will come from that group.

Some of the applicants were said to be sitting Diet members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. Now who can blame them? They didn’t learn anything about politics, the popular will, and keeping promises where they are now.

The funding for elections might be a problem because One Osaka is not a national political party with a minimum of five Diet seats. Therefore, it receives no public subsidies, and candidates will have to pay their own way. They’re already paying JPY 120,000 for the tuition to meet five times between now and June, when the winnowing takes place.

If you can tell a person by the company he keeps, Mr. Hashimoto is clearly a respectable but radical reformer. Several of the teachers already work with Your Party and have often been mentioned on this site. (In fact, there are tags for most.) Here’s a list:

Sakaiya Taiichi: Former head of Economic Planning Agency, non-fiction/fiction writer, chief Hashimoto advisor, professor emeritus at the juku

Nakata Hiroshi: Former lower house member and Yokohama mayor, member of the Spirit of Japan Party

Okamoto Yukio: Former diplomat, now foreign affairs commentator and independent businessman, former aide to Prime Minister Koizumi, has served on board of several companies, including Asahi Beer, and served as Mitsubishi auditor

Koga Shigeaki: Former Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry official, author of three books, and the man who became the symbol of the national victimhood when the DPJ betrayed its promises to get the bureaucracy under control.

Hara Eiji: Another METI vet and bureaucracy-bashing author

Takahashi Yoichi: Former Finance Ministry official, devised the original plan for Japan Post privatization under Takenaka Heizo’s supervision, now a commentator, advisor to Your Party, and university professor.

Yamanaka Toshiyuki: Former diplomat, now works in human resource training

Suzuki Wataru: Economics professor

Kitaoku Nobuichi: Professor specializing in foreign affairs and diplomatic history, former personal advisor to Prime Minister Koizumi.

The belle of the ball

Winning big is the best way for a politician to win friends, influence people, and become a supersized enchilada himself, and that’s just what Mr. Hashimoto does. Since his initial success as Osaka governor, many politicians flocked to the political alpha male in the hope some of his shine would reflect off them. Three years ago Masuzoe Yoichi, then the Health Minister in the terminal LDP governments and viewed by some as the last great hope for the LDP reformers, tried to coax the governor into an alliance. Some viewed him as an ineffective political organizer/operator, which subsequent events have borne out. Mr. Hashimoto seems to have understood that right away, and deflected his interest.

He’s also attracted the attention and approval of Tokyo Metro Gov. Ishihara Shintaro, who’s defended him against charges of dictator tendencies:

“People call him a dictator, so perhaps everyone’s a little daunted by him. But that’s just arbitrary. Unless a person with the power of ideas directs affairs from the top down, nothing gets done. It’s the same way here (in Tokyo).”

Mr. Ishihara’s only beef seems to be that the Osaka Metro District plan calls for the creation of an “Osaka-to” in Japanese. That’s a throwback to the Tokyo governor’s emergence into the public eye more than 50 years ago as a literary sensation writing best-selling fiction and non-fiction. (He was also a Vietnam war correspondent on special assignment.) He objects to the use of “to” (都), which he insists should be applied only to national capitals. (He has a point; one meaning of the Japanese reading of the word is “seat of government”. Then again, Osakans have always had a big idea of themselves.)

While Mr. Hashimoto welcomes the attention and is respectful of his elders, he’s also done a good job of deflecting the talk of an alliance with the Tokyo governor. Mr. Ishihara is discussing the formation of a new political party with Kamei Shizuka, an anti-Japan Post privatization non-reformer and paleo-conservative in the Japanese sense, whose party is still officially a junior coalition partner with the DPJ government. Mr. Hashimoto politely gave them the stiff-arm:

“There has to be a certain agreement on policies, such as opposition to tax increases and devolution from central authority.”

Mr. Kamei is not interested in the second of those policies mentioned. He’s part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The Osaka mayor has also developed a close professional relationship with Nakata Hiroshi and Yamada Hiroshi of the Spirit of Japan Party (more here). Both were appointed special advisors to the city after Mr. Hashimoto’s election, and Mr. Nakata is teaching at the juku. Asada Hitoshi, the chairman of the Osaka Prefectural Assembly and the policy chairman for One Osaka, attended a banquet for the Spirit of Japan Party in Osaka. Mr. Asada thanked them for their help in creating the Ishin Hassaku, or One Osaka’s policy framework, and added, “We share a sense of values.” Replied Mr. Yamada:

“We have great hopes for what’s happening in Osaka…We hope to be able to create a third political center by gathering people who share their view of the state and history.”

Former LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao, the most prominent of the Koizumians left standing in the party, invited Mr. Hashimoto to Tokyo to participate in a study group and offer his opinions on devolution. Said the mayor:

“The people think that nothing will happen unless the Kasumigaseki social system is changed.”

But he was preaching to the converted. Several younger and mid-tier LDP members are attracted to the mayor’s movement, and there are also rumors of more private contacts with LDP member Kono Taro. The son of a former prominent LDP pol himself, Mr. Kono claims to be an advocate of small government, but sometimes skates onto very thin ice. (He thinks international financial transactions should be taxed and the funds given to multinational public sector do-gooders. He still hasn’t figured out that the global warming bologna was a scam.)

Another LDP member in the Hashimoto corner is former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. Mr. Abe recently spoke at an Osaka symposium for a private sector group called the Organization for Reviving Japanese Education. Attending was new Osaka Gov. Matsui Ichiro, Mr. Hashimoto’s partner in One Osaka. Their common objective is to reshape the current educational system, and at a post-conference meeting with reporters, the governor said they were on the same page. Mr. Matsui also said that the schools’ opposition to the amendments of the Basic Education Law passed during the Abe administration means that the popular will is not reflected in the school curriculum.

The most important of Hashimoto’s allies, however, is the reform Your Party. (Reports of their activities often grace these pages.) Party head Watanabe Yoshimi was interested in joining forces when Mr. Hashimoto arose as a political figure (a year or two before Your Party was formed), but was said to have been restrained by his party co-founder and Secretary-General, Eda Kenji, due to concerns that the Osaka mayor was a loose cannon. If that was true, the leash is now off. Said Mr. Watanabe:

“We must work to ensure as a party that this movement (One Osaka) spreads nationwide.”

He says the policies of One Osaka and Your Party are nearly the same, and adds that they have plans to form a joint policy study group and a political alliance nationwide. Those policies include the reorganization of local governments into a state/province system, the creation of an Osaka Metro District, and the idea that the new sub-national units receive all the consumption tax revenue. Mr. Watanabe has created a catchphrase to crystallize the ideas of his party’s policies, which is “giving the ‘three gen’” to local governments. Gen is the final syllable of the words kengen (authority), zaigen (revenue sources) and ningen (people).

L-R: Gov. Matsui, Mayor Hashimoto, Mr. Watanabe, Gov. Omura. The shape of things to come?

Further, Your Party executives as well as others in the party responsible for the candidacies in single-seat districts will study at the One Osaka political juku with the party leadership’s blessing. That includes about 20-30 people from Osaka, Kyoto, and Hyogo. Your Party plans to run 100 candidates in the next lower house election, and they’ve settled on about 70 so far.

The Shukan Asahi also quoted a Your Party source as saying that Mr. Watanabe and Mr. Hashimoto have reached a private understanding that the former would be “the first prime minister”. They suggest that Mr. Watanabe thinks control of the Diet is in their aggregate grasp.

The Osaka mayor is also an official international phenomenon — he’s attracted the attention of South Koreans. That’s only natural: national elections will be held in that country in April and December this year. KBS-TV sent a crew to hop over to Osaka for interviews. Commenting on the Korean interest, the mayor said:

“I look forward to the emergence in South Korea of new politicians who aren’t beholden to vested interests.”

Asked by a Korean reporter about his political juku, he answered:

“We must create politicians who aren’t under the thumb of vested interests. If South Korea can get excited about the same thing, I’d like to see Japan and South Korea move in same direction.”

The Japanese media spoke to one of the KBS reporters after the interview, and he told them:

“There’s quite a lot of reporting on Hashimoto in South Korea. After actually meeting him, I sensed his strong intent for reform.”

Critical to the success of any politician is his capacity to appeal to people who don’t agree with all his positions, but are on board for the most important of them — in this case, governmental reform. For example, Mr. Hashimoto supports amending the Constitution to permit the Japanese to maintain military forces for self-defense. Chiba Mayor Kumagai Toshihito also supports amending the Constitution, but for the opposite reason — he wants to prevent Japan from becoming involved in any conflict. Nevertheless, he said:

“The structure of the local governments where we live is an important issue, but one that has not attracted much interest. That it became the primary issue contested in the Osaka election is epochal…We of the “government ordinance cities” (cities with authority similar to that of prefectures) strongly seek the transfer of authority from the prefectures. I don’t agree with all of the opinions in Mr. Hashimoto’s Osaka Metro District concept, but our intent to change Japan from the regions is the same.”

Local party time!

Hashimoto Toru is the most visible manifestation of the ferment of regional politics in Japan, but he is by no means alone. This time last year, all eyes were on the newly elected mayor of Nagoya, Kawamura Takashi, and the governor of Aichi Prefecture, Omura Hideaki. Their victory in a February 2011 triple election might have been more impressive than the Osaka result because the Kawamura — Omura alliance is between men originally of different parties. Also, their tax-cutting, small-government message was accepted by people in a region that has been a stronghold for the tax-raising, big government DPJ. (This is the national headquarters of Toyota, and there are plenty of labor unions.)

Mr. Hashimoto actively lent his support to the two men and their respective regional parties last year, and members of One Osaka came to help campaign. (It should not be overlooked that this revolution is occurring in Osaka and Nagoya, Japan’s second- and third-largest cities.) It’s expected that the three men will form an alliance for a national election, and while that will probably happen, there are some differences in viewpoints between them.

For example, Kawamura Takashi’s party is called Genzei Nippon, or Tax Reduction Japan. He favors sharp cuts in taxes (which he has partially achieved in his first year in office). Though Mr. Hashimoto has criticized the Noda Cabinet’s plan to raise the consumption tax, and he is allied with the anti-tax increase Your Party, he has also criticized the Kawamura approach. That criticism provides a fascinating glimpse of his philosophy:

“The awareness I would like to see is not transferring work or duties from city hall to the ward offices, but transferring decision-making authority from the mayor to the heads of the ward offices. The ultimate objective is, ‘We don’t need a mayor’.”

He’s also said that he would be cool to a formal alliance with them unless Mr. Kawamura makes some adjustments, including his campaign for tax cuts:

“At the current stage, let’s stop talking about tax increases, or reducing taxes, or opposing tax increases. It is nonsense in our present state for politicians to be expressing an opinion about either tax increases or cuts. If society as a whole is going to create a system of mutual support, it’s natural for the members of society to assume the liability for an appropriate share. First, we should identify what sort of social system we want to create. Whether or not the residential tax should be cut is a minor matter that should be discussed at the end of the process.”

Mr. Hashimoto has presented this view on several occasions. If he’s serious, that would represent a drastic departure from the political status quo anywhere, much less Japan. He’s talking about bottom up government with the political class last.

The Aichi governor and Nagoya mayor have a plan for the administrative reorganization of their own area, which they call Chukyo-to. (Ishihara Shintaro won’t like that to either.) While they’re working on common ground, Mr. Hashimoto believes they need to do some more thinking about the concept, and he has the sense that they aren’t clear on exactly what they want to accomplish. Representatives from Aichi and Nagoya have had meetings on the Chukyo concept, but they have yet to present a plan for changing the current form of the administrative bodies, such as breaking up Nagoya (The Osaka plan calls for eliminating the administrative entity that is the city of Osaka and creating self-governing wards in the region.)

Mr. Kawamura says, however, that he spoke to Mr. Hashimoto by phone and explained that their plan calls for the merger of Aichi and Nagoya, but that the framework will take into account regional considerations. That will include maintaining the form of a city of Nagoya. Nevertheless, he wants to maintain their alliance.

Complicating this somewhat is that Your Party’s Watanabe Yoshimi has his own plan for the region, which would eliminate Nagoya and its current 16 wards and create seven new regional districts. Each of these special districts would have a chief municipal officer and a legislature. As with the Osaka Metro District concept, the idea behind the Watanabe plan is to eliminate redundant government systems. It would reduce the number of city workers by 20% and save JPY 50 billion. Mr. Kawamura thinks the people of Nagoya would not support it, and Mr. Omura thinks the Watanabe plan lacks specifics.

Meanwhile, both men have decided to establish a political juku of their own. The first was Mr. Omura, who announced his at the end of January:

“I want the three major metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Aichi, and Osaka to form an alliance and change Japan.”

His idea is to present candidates for the four Tokai prefectures of Shizuoka, Aichi, Gifu and Mie. Mr. Omura announced yesterday that he had received 751 applications, and after reviewing their documents, 678 have been accepted. About 80% are from Aichi, and include company employees, national and local civil servants, and local government council members. One of the speakers will be Takenaka Heizo, the Koizumi privatization guru, and another will be one of the elder statesmen of Japanese journalists, Tahara Soichiro.

Oddly, Mayor Kawamura didn’t like the idea at first. He told reporters, “I cannot agree with how they’re going about it.” That didn’t change his relationship with the Aichi governor, however. He still supports the Chukyo-to concept, and said, “There is no change in our friendship.”

But Mr. Kawamura suddenly changed his mind — you know what they say about imitation and flattery — and plans to set up his own political science class to start next month. His reasons:

“I want to communicate my thinking to the next generation. It is also for the next lower house election.”

The curriculum at his school will focus on taxes and national defense issues, and he will ask Hashimoto Toru and Omura Hideaki to send over some teachers. He expects to run Genzei Nippon candidates in the next lower house election in the five lower house districts in Nagoya.

He’s sticking to his tax cutting pledge, too. Despite Mr. Hashimoto’s criticism, it’s easy to like his approach.

“To improve the people’s lives, we must not raise taxes. Rather than tax revenue, we must raise (the people’s) income…the revenue source for tax reduction is governmental reform.”

It’s not often mentioned in the media, but Mr. Kawamura would have special committees established in each district of the city to have the residents determine how they would spend the tax revenue in their area. While taxes would be cut, it would give — you got it — power to the people to decide how they want to spend the money.

Now this is the kind of debate I can get behind. One man is opposed to immediate tax increases absent reform and says let the people decide what they want first, while the other man says the issue is raising income rather than taxes and tax reduction should be achieved by cutting government.

That’s my idea of win-win.

Coming next: An overview of other Hashimoto policies and a first look at his critics. Here’s a taste — He’s backing an idea proposed by the man being interviewed.

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Hashimoto Toru (1): The background

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, March 27, 2012

**This is the first of a multi-part series on Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and the phenomenon he represents.**

One Osaka, led by Mayor Hashimoto Toru and others, won a landslide victory in the Osaka double election. That shows the voters are an active volcano, and that they haven’t given up on reform.
- Nogata Tadaoki

IT’S tempting to say that Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru is the change Japan has been waiting for, but prudence and the corruption of that phrase by the hope and change hucksters demand that we resist the temptation. This much, however, is true: Mr. Hashimoto is today the most visible manifestation of the hope for change the Japanese electorate has long demanded and voted for, but seldom gotten.

Open fires of non-violent rebellion have been burning at the local level for years, but now there is a viable receptacle for the nationwide malcontent with the malefactors of not-so-great government. Not since Koizumi Jun’ichiro, the icebreaker of Japanese politics, has there been a figure as important, and Mr. Hashimoto has the potential to surpass the pioneer. The difference is that Mr. Koizumi worked from the top down, but the Osaka mayor also works from the bottom up. His message is simple: power to the people. Not the people in the imagination of those who wear raised fist tee-shirts, but real people in the real world.

The mugshot of Public Enemy Number One is identical to those on the wall in the United States and Europe — a glossy PR photo of that congeries of political, bureaucratic, and academic elites grown torpid from their confiscation of public funds and their lazy, inbred assumption that they rule through the divine right of secular kings; the big business interests that go along to get along very handsomely indeed; their wingmen in the international jet set of NGO doo-gooders; and their enabler/cheerleaders of the industrial media. The default mode of operation is a slouch toward the Gomorrah of tax-and-sloth social democracy and global governance. One of the many boons of the Information Age has been the broad exposure of their “insolence of office”, in Shakespeare’s felicitous phrase, and the contempt the public servants have for their servants in the private sector.

Left, Hashimoto Toru; Right, Matsui Ichiro

Owing to the nature and speed of their post-Meiji and postwar development, the Japanese might be ahead of the international curve in recognizing the face of the enemy and in trying to use the means of democracy to do something about it. The response of the local mugs to the Tohoku triple disaster seems to have amplified an already present trend and created a greater urgency for action. The aim of this reform wave is not mere reorganization, but resuscitation. The woolgatherers who doubt that the country is capable of it need only to look at the relatively recent example of the heady atmosphere of change that occurred during the Meiji period after more than 250 years of isolation — a period as familiar to the Japanese as the Civil War is to Americans. The Silent Majority in this country broke their silence long ago, but it is in the mugs’ self-interest to play deaf and ignore the popular will. Now, it is at last beginning to look as if, soon or late, they will pay for their hearing disability in the way that the Liberal Democratic Party part of the problem paid in 2009.

That the eyes and ears of the nation are on Mr. Hashimoto is undeniable. He is now the most followed person on Twitter Japan, and, as the first national politician since Mr. Koizumi capable of speaking directly to the people over the heads of the know-it-alls, he is worth following for the entertainment alone. He is not the blow-dried, focus-group tested, oatmeal-mouthed, and teleprompter-fed Oz Wizard-machine politico that has been the professional ideal since JFK. Nearly every day, he fires all of his guns at once on any and every issue, explaining his ideas and his positions with lucidty, hammering his critics unmercifully with a barrage of machine-gun Tweets, so relentless that one wonders if he will explode into space. He is an attorney in a country that requires extraordinary intelligence and effort to pass the bar, so few of his foes can out-argue him, and most are left impotently spluttering. Every major newspaper carries an article about him every day, and the Sankei Shimbun and the J-Cast website make a point of featuring his continuing adventures. We’ve all heard the tired old Japan hand pseudo-wisdom that the nail that sticks out gets hammered in. Hashimoto Toru is the ultimate protruding nail, but he’s the man swinging the hammer, and the nation is spellbound.

When still an attorney/television personality before launching his political career, Mr. Hashimoto wrote a book called “Negotiating Techniques”. The publicity blurb read, “You’ll never lose the psychological war with these negotiating tactics.” When published in 2005, it sold for JPY 1,000. Now out of print, it is selling on the web for as much as JPY 24,570 per copy, with others changing hands on auction sites for JPY 20,000 and 18,000.

The start

The political attention began four years ago when he was elected to the governor of Osaka Prefecture in a walk. His approval ratings throughout his term hovered at the 70% level, and he resigned a few months before his term was to end to run for mayor of the city of Osaka (more on why later). Inspired by the simultaneous election victories of Kawamura Takashi as mayor of Nagoya and Omura Hideaki of Aichi Prefecture in that region’s triple election of February 2011, he ran as a team with Matsui Ichiro, a fellow member of his One Osaka group, who stood as the candidate to replace him as governor. Mr. Matsui, formerly of the Liberal-Democratic Party, was in his third term as a prefectural council member, and is the son of the man who was once head of the chamber.

Mr. Hashimoto took on the incumbent Osaka mayor, Hiramatsu Kunio, while Mr. Matsui’s primary challenger was Kurata Kaoru, the mayor of Ikeda in Osaka Prefecture. Both Mr. Hiramatsu and Mr. Kurata were officially backed by nearly everyone in established politics: the local chapters of the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party, and the Communist Party. (New Komeito stayed out of it because they didn’t want to antagonize Mr. Hashimoto.)

It was open warfare. Hashimoto Toru said the elections were “a battle between citizens who favor change and those who have benefitted from the status quo.” Hiramatsu Kunio said the elections were “a battle to crush Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka).” Kurata Kaoru didn’t know exactly what to say, so he emphasized cooperation within the existing structure. The Communists, always outspoken opponents of Mr. Hashimoto, charged a Hashimoto win would make Osaka “a bastion for dictatorship”. (Pots call kettles black in Japan too.) They went so far as to withdraw their own candidate in the mayor’s race to help Mr. Hiramatsu. It didn’t help.

There are roughly seven million registered voters in greater Osaka, and the turnout in the mayoral election was 60.92%, up 17.31 percentage points from the 2007 election and more than 60 percent for the first time since 1971, the last time a double election was held in the region. Turnout is usually at the 30% level. In the election for governor, 52.8% of the eligible voters showed up, 3.93 percentage points higher than in the previous election (when Mr. Hashimoto was elected).

Public interest was so great that the NHK television stations in the six prefectures of the region rescheduled for an earlier time the final segment of a popular drama series to present live election coverage as soon as the polls closed.

The identity of the winners was clear at 8:40 p.m., 40 minutes after the NHK live coverage started. Mr. Hashimoto wound up with roughly 750,000 votes, about 58% of the total and almost a quarter of a million more than Mr. Hiramatsu.

Mr. Matsui won election as the Osaka governor with roughly two million votes, almost double the total of Mr. Kurata, his closest opponent. He received 54% of the total vote in a field of six candidates.

The Asahi Shimbun (a Hashimoto opponent) said that nonaligned voters accounted for 36% of the total, and their exit polls showed that Mr. Hashimoto won almost all of them.

Though Mr. Hashimoto has an outspoken opinion on everything under the sun, moon, and stars, the centerpiece of his campaign for mayor was a proposal to combine and reorganize the separate city and prefecture of Osaka into a single administrative unit similar to that of the Tokyo Metro District to end the duplication of government services. It is part of a larger vision to eliminate Japan’s prefectures and create what is known as a state/province system, the elements of which would assume greater authority over local affairs from the national government, and would pass some of that authority down to smaller administrative units within the state/province. They would resemble Tokyo’s wards, but have more autonomy and fund procurement ability. Since the November election, the Osaka City Council solicited essay applications from people interested in becoming the chief executive officers of those wards and received 1,460. Mr. Hashimoto was pleased:

“They’ve passionately communicated their desire to make changes and take part in the great current of the age.”

Though the issue might sound dry to people outside Japan, the idea is to drive a stake through the heart of the vampire national government and bureaucracy, and deprive them of what most of the public perceives as their excessive authority. This is the vehicle to neutralize the power of the national bureaucracy at Kasumigaseki through the devolution of authority. It would also have the salubrious effect of reducing the size of the national government.

Power to the people, right on!

The idea has been floating around for decades and started to gain traction in the early 90s, even among some politicians and bureaucrats at the national level. In 1996, Tajima Yoshitsuke published a book called Chiho Bunkengotohajime, or The Start of Regional Devolution, which describes the efforts at the local level nationwide and at the national level to achieve just that. One chapter, which outlines the official policy of the Murayama Tomi’ichi Cabinet in 1995 on the issue, could have been written yesterday. Plans were afoot even then to devolve authority to local governments, reform the unneeded “independent administrative agencies” that suck up public funds to serve as the receptacles for post-retirement bureaucrat employment, rethink the system in which the national government returns to local governments the taxes it collects in the form of grants (a system Mr. Hashimoto would abolish), and offer legislation allowing local governments to issue bonds. Those measures, like so many other reform proposals, were deboned, as the Japanese expression has it, by national civil servants and their allies in the political class.

For Mr. Hashimoto and other advocates to realize the plan, however, requires a substantial amount of legislation to amend existing laws and create new ones in the Diet. That in turn requires allies in the Diet, and the establishment realizes the reforms now championed by Mr. Hashimoto are an existential threat. The mayor’s solution is to get a slate of One Osaka-backed candidates ready to run in the next lower house election. He is not merely offering the nation an alternative, however. He’s declared war on the national government, just as he declared war on the old Osaka leadership.

The declaration was bound to come before long, but was issued after Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya of the Democratic Party of Japan revealed an inability to read the writing on the wall extreme even for his party and the mudboat wing of the LDP in a speech in Tsu on 28 January. He spoke of the Noda Cabinet’s proposed consumption tax increase:

“A certain percentage of the 5% consumption tax goes to the regions. There’s an argument that the national government must cut out the fat if it is to raise taxes, but local governments also ask the people to share the liability, so they should make the same efforts to cut out the fat.”

This from a party who bequeathed to the nation a legacy of record high national budgets for every one of its three years in power with record high deficit bond floats, that promised to shake out funds by standing the budget on its head until it got a nosebleed (their exact words), who claimed they could shake loose JPY 16 trillion through policy reviews that would slash waste and fat, but whose efforts to do so produced less than 10% of that amount in non-binding recommendations handed down during a series of dog and pony shows that trumpeted the cuts and muted the reinsertion of some into different budget categories weeks later.

That was a bit rich even for a man as wealthy as Mr. Okada, whose father is the head of the Jusco chain of mass merchandise outlets. It was all red meat for Mr. Hashimoto, however:

“Deputy Prime Minister Okada said local governments must also cut the fat. The central government and the regions are in complete opposition. It’s now time to accelerate the trend for recreating the system of the state. The state system of Japan devised during the Meiji restoration had centralized authority. The regions were the arms and legs of the nation…but the chief executives and the assembly members in regional areas are also chosen by election. There’s no justification for binding the nation’s arms and legs. With Okada’s statement, we can expect a great battle between the central government and the regions…

…A clear division will be made between the work of the central government and the work of the regions. Then, there will also be a clear division in the funding sources. The national tax allocations to local governments will be abolished. Then this pitiful consumption tax system, in which the regions would receive the portion that the national government increases, would end. The regions should be able to raise the consumption tax on their own responsibility…Let’s move to a national system in which there is a division of roles between the nation and the regions, with authority and responsibility clearly defined.”

He went into overdrive on 16 February:

“The Diet members are retreating, but the people are telling them what they have to do. The question is whether or not the MPs will get serious. If they don’t, it will lead to a large national war that will be bloodier than the Osaka double election.”

It wasn’t his blood on the floor after that election, either.

How would his allies do in a national election? As that old faux soldier Ozawa Ichiro, the former president and secretary-general, and currently suspended member of the DPJ, continues to fade away, he told his acolytes the obvious earlier this month:

“While the rate of support for the Cabinet and the DPJ is falling day by day, One Osaka is climbing.”

For data instead of anecdote, the Mainichi Shimbun released the results of a poll on 5 March asking if the respondents had high hopes for the regional parties (a euphemism of Hashimoto’s One Osaka, though others are included).

Yes: 61%
No: 34%

Or, about twice the current public support rate of the Noda Cabinet.

Meanwhile, Tokyo Metro Governor Ishihara Shintaro (a Hashimoto supporter) is planning to create another old-guy conservative party with Hiranuma Takeo and Kamei Shizuka, the head of the People’s New Party. That was a splinter group formed specifically to stop Japan Post privatization and float on the votes of the postal lobby. The same poll asked the public if they had expectations for the codger group:

Yes: 38%
No: 57%

Further, a 16 January survey conducted by the Sankei Shimbun and Fuji TV network asked respondents which prominent political figures were most suited to be the national leader. The results:

1. 21.4% Hashimoto Toru
2. 9.6% Ishihara Shintaro
3. 8.3% Okada Katsuya


9. 3.6 % Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko

The result that curdles the innards of the national parties, however, is the one from the 19 March Yomiuri Shimbun survey. In addition to individual candidates, voters in Diet elections also cast ballots for political parties to allocate proportional representation seats. For the Kinki bloc, where Osaka is located, the results were:

One Osaka: 24%
LDP: 18%
DPJ: 10%

Dumb and dumberer

Anyone who’s surprised hasn’t been paying attention. Even after years of clearly expressed popular discontent, the national parties still insist — today — on ignoring the national will. For example:

Koizumi Jun’ichiro won the second largest majority in postwar history when he dissolved the lower house of the Diet to take the issue of postal privatization to the people — a plan favored by 70% of the public. The legislation that subsequently passed the Diet called for the creation of four companies (two of which were separate firms for Japan Post’s banking business and life insurance business), and the sale of government stock in the companies by 2017.

But the triple disaster of the DPJ government, the LDP, and New Komeito put their sloping foreheads together and agreed — this week — on legislation to change the privatization framework from four companies to three, and to modify the requirement that the stock be sold by 2017 to a clause stating that the government would make every effort to sell it with the aim of disposing it. The deadline for the sale date was eliminated. In other words, they’ll sell it whenever they feel like it, and they’re unlikely to ever get in the mood. Why would they? When some people say the Japanese don’t have to worry about the deep doo-doo of deficit spending and the bonds floated to pay for it because the bondholders are domestic, they mean that much of those purchases are funded by the captive bank accounts in Japan Post. The change in language is a classic example of how reform is deboned in Japan.

The national government is in the hands of a platypus party whose members can’t agree internally on a common statement of political ideals, much less tax increases. Even many in the political class are calling for the government to reform civil service before trying to raise the consumption tax, so the Noda Cabinet proposed a 7.8% cut in government employee salaries and began discussions for unifying the pension systems of the public and private sector. (The former sector has more benefits, of course).

But that plan got changed by the party. Reform? That’s just campaign boilerplate. The cuts will now be limited to national government civil servants, which results in only JPY 600 billion savings, and will last for only two years. The civil servants working in regional areas have an aggregate salary seven times greater than their national trough lickers, but they were exempted. The butchers handling this deboning were DPJ-affiliated labor union leaders and labor union-affiliated DPJ Diet members, led by party Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma, a former Robin Redbreast of the Japan Teachers Union.

Prime Minister Noda this weekend continued his Dark Churchill impersonation by declaring he would stake his political life on passing a tax increase, i.e., maintaining the spendthrift status quo of the administrative state. He also spoke at a Tokyo conference of business executives on the 24th on the subject of Japan’s participation in the TPP trade partnership:

“If Japan is Paul McCartney, then the U.S. is John Lennon. It is not possible to have The Beatles without Paul. The two must be in harmony.”

This brings to mind Juvenal’s observation of two millennia ago that it is difficult not to write satire.

One of the factors driving Hashimoto Toru’s popularity is that nature does abhor a vacuum, after all.

Next: The Hashimoto political juku and his allies.

*****
The man was born to be wild. So is this pedal-to-the-metal performance. For those unfamiliar with Kuwata Keisuke, he sings the same way in Japanese, and it’s sometimes hard to say just what language he is singing in.

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Ichigen koji (95)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, March 18, 2012

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

Why are there so many people here? Important matters are decided by five or six people. Quit screwing around! Get a smaller room ready!

- Former Prime Minister Kan Naoto on 15 March 2011 at Tokyo Electric Power headquarters, as quoted by the Tokyo Shimbun. He was in the Operations Room, where more than 200 people had stayed up all night the night before dealing with the Fukushima nuclear accident. He thought he was in the Conference Room.

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21st century Class A war criminals

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, March 17, 2012

It’s been one year since the Tohoku earthquake. What we need now is not words, but actions. Not repeated words, but repeated actions — actions in which everyone shares a bit of the burden. There is nothing else.
- Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru

If Australia is to get the government it needs (and deserves) it must first experience the full horror of the government it doesn’t deserve.
- James Delingpole, who could just as well have been speaking of Japan

LAST Sunday was the first anniversary of the Tohoku triple disaster — the fourth-largest recorded earthquake in history, a monster tsunami, and the nuclear accident at Fukushima. The Nishinippon Shimbun presented the numbers in a small box on the front page of its Monday edition:

Dead: 15,854
Missing: 3,155
In shelters or temporarily in other areas: 343,935

Also in the Monday newspapers were the results of a recent poll:

* How would you evaluate the government’s response to date for recovery efforts in the stricken area?
Good: 25%
Bad: 67%
No answer: 8%

* How would you evaluate the government’s response to date for the nuclear accident at Fukushima?
Good: 12%
Bad: 80%
No answer: 8%

There are no excuses when four out of five people think you stink. It’s time to reach for the soap.

Fortunately, the public is doing it for them. Among the noise and distortion and useless pallid confetti of media discourse, a low but distinct signal is emerging. Long before 11 March, people understood the crimes of commission and omission of the so-called Iron Triangle: the political establishment in Nagata-cho, the governmental establishment at Kasumigaseki, and the business establishment everywhere else. The voters have persistently expressed the wish to destroy that triangle. But the national disaster seems to have focused their attention and made vivid the futility of relying on the long-running disaster that is the triple establishment. Another poll released this week revealed that pre-existing political trends are accelerating. The question asked was about the contours of the government they’d like to see. The answers:

A government centered on the Democratic Party (the current ruling party): 7%
A government centered on the Liberal-Democratic Party (the largest opposition party, and the ruling party for more than half a century): 10%
A DPJ – LDP coalition government: 26%
A government with a new framework after a political reorganization: 50%
No answer: 7%

Note that the current DPJ government could manage only a rating equal to that of the stragglers in any poll who can’t be bothered to form an opinion. It was lower than the No Answer response to the previous two questions. The LDP is not viewed as an acceptable option.

The people have thus disqualified the major political brands from serious consideration. While their enthusiasm for alternatives was evident before, it’s so strong now that even the Three Disasters in Tokyo have noticed. They see that the tsunami of popular will is surging in their direction. No one knows when it will break, but when it does, there is no levee big enough to stop it.

Kusaka Kimindo, born in 1930, a former director of the Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan, and a commentator on business and governmental affairs, recently released a book called The Collapse of the Japanese Establishment. He welcomes that prospect. The blurb on the front cover reads:

The government-patron academics, the Western-worshipping intellectuals, and Big Mass Media have lost their authority.
A new wind has begun to blow.

The next few posts, and others from time to time in the future, will focus on aspects of the speed and direction of that wind. Perhaps it might blow as strong as a third kamikaze, the divine wind, combining the salvation of the first with the internal origins of the second.

First, however, we must look at what is collapsing, and why.

The Kan Cabinet: Class A War Criminals?

That’s the question asked in the lead article of the 18 March weekly Sunday Mainichi, issued to coincide with the anniversary of the disaster. The tone of Japanese weekly magazines is often wild and woolly, but this time they’re quoting someone else: political commentator Kinoshita Atsushi, a former lower house member from the Democratic Party — the same party as Kan Naoto.

It’s the job of a leader to create a more comfortable working environment, but Mr. Kan did the opposite. You could say he was a Class A war criminal.

Mizote Kensei is the secretary-general for the LDP bloc in the upper house, and a former Minister for Disaster Management. He expressed the same sentiments in a different way:

If this were a backward country, they’d be taken to court, and might even be executed.

The Sunday Mainichi thought that was extreme, but they did spend an entire page discussing the possibility of court action against several former Cabinet members, including whether it would be a criminal or civil proceeding, the precedents for such action, and what might happen. (They conclude it would be possible in theory, but difficult to pursue in practice.)

Lower house LDP member Kajiyama Hiroshi doesn’t have Mr. Kan to kick around any more, but he called for the immediate resignation of Madarame Haruki, the chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission:

The LDP certainly has responsibility for promoting nuclear power. But beyond that, Tokyo Electric and the government, particularly Prime Minister Kan, bear a heavy responsibility. After the Fukushima accident, Mr. Kan spoke only to Madarame Haruki, chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission, about technical matters. That’s because no one else capable of expressing a different opinion was there.

That only Mr. Kan would listen to Mr. Madarame’s personal views on technical matters was decisive. Also, there are no records of their discussions. There is no choice but to assume that the information we’ve received has been doctored, and there are even doubts he didn’t want to hear the views of other technicians….The other members of the commission should have met together to create a consensus, and that should have been the advice given to Mr. Kan.

In addition to allowing other people to use the term Cabinet Class A war criminals, the magazine referred to Kan Naoto as a “self-righteous hothead” and said that Mr. Madarame was “unconnected to the real world”.

Then again, it’s not as if Mr. Kan listened to Mr. Madarame even when he was listening to Mr. Madarame. During the prime minister’s universally lambasted helicopter trip to Fukushima on the morning of the 12 March 2011 to view the facility from the air, the NSC chair tried to communicate several of his concerns en route. Mr. Kan issued an order: “Just answer my questions.” (It sounds even worse in Japanese.)

One of his questions was whether there would be a hydrogen explosion. Mr. Madarame thought not. There was an explosion, however, about eight hours later. When the prime minister saw it on television, he exploded himself:

Isn’t that white smoke rising? It’s exploding, isn’t it? Didn’t you say it wouldn’t explode?

See what they mean about “self-righteous hothead”?

The technicians thought a meltdown was possible at Fukushima the night of the accident, and detected evidence that it had started early the next morning. They informed the government, but Kan Naoto lied about it, not only the next day, but for several months thereafter — including on the floor of the Diet.

He also says he failed to receive information from SPEEDI, the system that generates projections on the dispersion of radioactive material. There are even claims that he didn’t know the system existed. Had the information from SPEEDI been employed, it could have limited the region’s exposure to radiation.

Itabashi Isao, a senior analyst for the Council for Public Study, explains that Ibaraki Prefecture publishes a book for high school students to explain nuclear energy, and that the book contains a description of the SPEEDI system.

They say the data reached the crisis management center and stopped there without going to Mr. Kan or the others. When politicians say they didn’t know something that’s being taught to high school students, it should not be the end of the discussion.

To continue the discussion, in October 2010, five months before the earthquake, a disaster prevention drill and simulation were conducted based on the premise of failure in the cooling function of Chubu Electric’s Hamaoka nuclear plant. The drill used data generated by SPEEDI. The government formed a group to oversee and monitor the drill and simulation. The head of the group was Kan Naoto, the man who supposedly didn’t know about SPEEDI.

But of course he did. Hosono Goshi was then an aide to Mr. Kan. He was later appointed as the minister in charge of dealing with the nuclear disaster, and added the Environmental Ministry portfolio with the inauguration of the Noda Cabinet. Last May, two months after the accident, Mr. Hosono said that SPEEDI information was not made public because of worries the people would panic. (There are also suspicions in some quarters that he held on it to it to enhance his career prospects.)

The Sunday Mainichi quoted a journalist:

They hid information because they thought if they told the truth, the ignorant people would panic. It is an indication of their viewpoint based on the premise of stupid people, stupid thinking (gumin guso).

We already know that’s the way they think — it was clear in the fall of 2010 during the incident in the Senkakus with the Chinese “fishing boat” captain. The government wouldn’t release their video of the incident because they thought it would inflame both the Chinese government and the Japanese people, but someone in the Japanese Coast Guard solved that problem by uploading it to YouTube. The government also claimed that the Naha prosecutors were in charge of the disposition of the case. More than 80% of the public thought they were lying.

Now the phenomenon of the circular firing squad is emerging as the Fukushima investigation continues. Mr. Madarame has been testifying to the Diet committee looking into the nuclear accident, and said the following about then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio:

From the perspective of those of us who work with nuclear power, saying (as Mr. Edano did) ‘there will be no immediate effect’, sounds as if he is saying the effect would be late-developing cancer. We would not say anything like that. Therefore, I did not make any suggestion of that sort to the chief cabinet secretary.

Not everyone in the Cabinet was complicit in the war crimes. One of those was Katayama Yoshihiro, then the Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications. A former governor of Tottori Prefecture, he has an idea about the way government executives are supposed to conduct themselves. He’s on the record about Mr. Kan:

Who was the leader of the operations? It was impossible to understand the intent of too many of the various demands and requests (from the government command center). They were fragmentary and childish. There was no leadership at all.

Mr. Katayama also cited the breakdown in communications between the underground command center for the crisis in the basement of the Kantei, and Mr. Kan’s fifth floor office. He said that the prime minister never took the elevator downstairs, but communicated with the center only by cell phone. Mr. Kan, meanwhile, complained that 90% of the raw data came through Tokyo Electric, and that “the gears of communication did not move”, even when he put Mr. Hosono and then-METI Minister Kaieda Banri on the job. Shifting the blame to someone else is a Kan hallmark.

It will be difficult to find out exactly what happened in the Kantei because no record was kept of governmental discussions immediately after the disaster. It is widely assumed that Kan Naoto didn’t want people to know.

There are no records of the first 18 of the 23 meetings of the main group tasked with dealing with the Fukushima problem. An official with the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency took records of the 19th meeting on his own initiative, but there is no organizational record.

One of the unindicted co-conspirators is then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio, who as the government spokesman said a meltdown had not occurred, and repeatedly insisted there would be no harmful effects from the nuclear accident. Mr. Edano is now the Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, the body overseeing nuclear power operations in Japan. He has reportedly aligned himself with the METI bureaucrats promoting the continued use of nuclear power. He’s interested in becoming prime minister, and thinks this will help him win the support of Big Business. (A former attorney who defended radical labor unionistas, he could use the credibility.)

Mr. Edano is also backing the METI position in the ministry’s dispute with Tokyo Electric Power. Remember how the Democratic Party was going to take political control of the bureaucracy?

Showdown at the hypotenuse

METI and the past two DPJ governments want to temporarily nationalize TEPCO. Their plan is to inject JPY one trillion of public funds into the company to help offset what could be tens of trillions of yen in eventual liabilities. They would receive a two-thirds ownership stake in return, replace all the top executives, and sell off the generating division. (That last one’s a good idea, and should be applied to all the power companies as part of the implementation of a national smart grid, but that’s yet another one beyond the capabilities of this government.)

Tokyo Electric objects. They think the government is incapable of operating a utility — can’t argue with that — and charge the government has no clear plan for divesting itself of ownership in the future.

So in classic Old Japan fashion, Tokyo Electric Chairman Katsumata Tsunehisa is getting chummy with the Finance Ministry to head off nationalization. The Finance Ministry is sympathetic to the utility, if only because they don’t want to put the government on the hook for paying off the liabilities. Katsu Eijiro of the ministry, serving as an aide to Prime Minister Noda (and dubbed his puppeteer by the press), told his subordinates they should not permit government control of the utility in negotiations, and to draw the line at 49% ownership, no matter how much they have to compromise before reaching that point. With that capital stake, the government could only reject major proposals, and the Tokyo Electric leadership would stay.

Prime Minister Noda, however, has left the responsibility for negotiations with Mr. Edano, as he is said to be too involved with a consumption tax increase to handle anything else. Mr. Noda wants to unify social welfare programs using the consumption tax as funding. The people backing this idea are calling it a “reform”, a term the Western media echoes. Yet the reform so far consists of allocating just one-fifth of the assumed revenues from the tax increase to social welfare programs (JPY 2.7 trillion) while earmarking JPY four trillion to public works projects. Remember how the Democratic Party was going to shift the emphasis from concrete to people? Nor has the Noda Cabinet come up with a specific proposal for the future form of the social welfare system. They just want the taxes first.

What they don’t want is to remind everyone that the last time the consumption tax was raised, during the Hashimoto administration, it had a negative impact on the economy that further decreased tax revenue.

Edano Yukio, however, says there will be no government support without a two-thirds stake. For negotiations, he has enlisted his political patron, Sengoku Yoshito, who became a Class A war criminal as chief cabinet secretary in the first Kan Cabinet during the Senkakus incident.

The METI bureaucrats are said to like Mr. Sengoku, including those with greater political ambitions, as well as banking industry veterans now in subordinate Cabinet positions. They think he’s a genius at lobbying and working behind the scenes. (Yes, they said “lobbying”; in Japan, the politicians in government are the lobbyists.) Mr. Sengoku is thought to be interested in shifting the power industry’s votes and money from the Liberal Democratic Party to the DPJ.

Another aspect of the stalemate is another Old Japan struggle for the authority over the nuclear power industry itself, with METI, the Ministry of Education (which includes science affairs), Defense, the National Police Agency, and the Cabinet Office duking it out.

While the servants of the people have been attending to what they perceive as national affairs, others have offered many good ideas for recovery programs. These included making the Tohoku region a special economic development zone as a trial for a move to a state/province system, giving tax breaks to donations (there are donation boxes nowadays in most public places and commercial establishments), and issuing long-term bonds bought by the Bank of Japan.

Neither the Kan nor the Noda governments could manage any of that.

Shiva’s second coming

Talk of dinosaurs brings up the subject of Ozawa Ichiro, the former president and secretary-general of several political parties, and now suspended as a member of the ruling DPJ, though he was their secretary-general until May 2010 and president until a year before that.

He’s back in the news because the government he wants to topple this time is the one led by Mr. Noda — ostensibly for failing to uphold the party’s 2009 election manifesto, but really for not paying attention to him.

One of the weekly magazines conducted an interview with him on 14 December 2011 and published it in their 31 January edition.

Ultimately, I look at Japan with doubt, wondering whether it is a democratic state…In Japan, the power of the citizenry is not linked to changing politics.

No one has to doubt who’s ignoring the democratically expressed desire for change. The Japanese say hansei, or reflecting on one’s past conduct, is a national trait, but that’s one mirror Mr. Ozawa passes by without looking in.

The interview contained the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here’s the good (or at least the accurate) part:

If Japan had the ability to negotiate with the US as equals, there would be no worry about TPP. But the present government isn’t capable of doing anything like that. The people are concerned that in the end, it will turn out the way America wants it.

It isn’t just TPP. It’s everything, including the security issue, starting with the Futenma base. It’s the same with economic issues. What has to happen is that the Japanese become independent. But the government has to be able to stand up for the Japanese national interest….I agree in principle with free trade, and we should negotiate based on that. If the government had any ability to negotiate, there’d be nothing to worry about.

Now for the bad:

To prepare for the market opening, the DPJ put in the manifesto a domestic policy of income supplements for agricultural households. If we (upheld) that, agriculture would survive.

The legal vote-buying schemes of power politicians might buy a few votes, but that wouldn’t ensure the survival of agriculture. The romantic vision of the family farm is no longer enough to put food on the nation’s table, especially considering that most farmers in Japan are not exclusively engaged in farming. Policies that promote agribusiness are the means for survival, but few politicians want to campaign on that.

Now for the ugly:

People who criticize my assertions don’t understand anything at all.

He also sat for an interview with the Asahi Shimbun earlier this month, which they thoughtfully translated into English:

Question: It has been two and a half years since the change of government, but the political sector does not appear to be functioning. Why?

Ozawa: That means that democracy has not matured to a point of taking hold in Japan. It is often said that politicians are only as good as the people who elect them.

Remember what the journalist said about stupid people and stupid ideas?

Ozawa: The change in government with the Lower House election of August 2009 was a major decision by the Japanese public, which dislikes change. I believe they held a dream.

The Japanese public likes change a lot in politics. They keep voting for it. They don’t get to realize the dream they hold because Mr. Ozawa and his party keep stepping on it.

Ozawa: However, the DPJ did not have the qualifications necessary to respond to those expectations. It was unable to fulfill its role because the responsibility may have been just too large.

Either that or their capacity to fulfill their role was too small.

Noda Yoshihiko: a chip off the old blocks

Noda Yoshihiko isn’t as appalling as the vaporous Hatoyama Yukio or the repellent Kan Naoto, but the performance of those two has jaundiced the media’s view of anyone who would lead the DPJ government. Here’s the 16 March edition of the Shukan Post:

It is usual for prime ministers to make frantic efforts to get the people on their side when managing the affairs of state becomes difficult, but this man, who has little experience or few accomplishments at the upper levels of government, does not understand the meaning of authority. He increasingly curries favor with the bureaucrats, the Americans, and his powerless supporters, while showing his fat ass (肥えた尻) to the people.

What has been appalling are his Cabinet appointments, despite his trite claim that he was putting the right people in the right places. A career bureaucrat was quoted on his opinion of Finance Minister Azumi Jun, a former NHK broadcaster:

He’s pretty good. Like Kan, he doesn’t pretend that he knows anything. He admits that he doesn’t understand fiscal policy. He stands up for (Finance Ministry policy positions) in the Cabinet. He’s also cute, and has a cute personality.

Yes, he said kawaii.

With public sentiment running against his plan to increase taxes, Mr. Noda is trying to trim expenditures to convince the public that he actually is the fiscal hawk in the portrait the spin doctor present.

He’s announced a plan to reduce public sector hiring 40% from 2009 levels in 2013, to about 5,100 people. The figures are likely to be similar in 2014. Hiring was already down in 2011 and 2012, however.

Another plan to cut civil servant salaries by 7.8% passed the Diet rather quickly. Japan’s industrial media played up the legislation, but one of the jobs of kisha club reporters is to circulate the PR handouts for the Finance Ministry.

The Shukan Post points out that’s officially only JPY 300 billion a year for two years, and probably closer to 270 billion. The politicos said the savings would be spent on Tohoku recovery, but the bill contains no specific mention of that, nor has a framework been created for that expenditure. It hasn’t even been allocated to the special recovery account.

Meanwhile, Mr. Noda not only rescinded the freeze on civil servant salary increases in place since 2006 this spring, he gave them a double bump. That increase will also be reflected in overtime allowances. The bureaucrats still get overtime while attending to Diet members, i.e., sitting and watching the Diet in session or going out drinking with MPs after the session is over. They also get taxi vouchers for the trip home.

He’s also retained the special allowances public employees receive in addition to their salary — JPY 26.4 billion a year in residential allowances, apartments in Tokyo at roughly 20% the rent of commercial properties, and JPY 7.1 billion for cold weather assignments. There’s even a special allowance for those assigned to work at a ministry or agency’s main office, which eats another JPY 10.2 billion a year.

Former bureaucrat and current freelance journalist Wakabayashi Aki asked them why they needed a special allowance to work at headquarters. She was told assignments there had the unique and difficult responsibility of formulating legislation and policies.

In other words, they get a bonus on top of their salaries to do the jobs they were hired to do.

But the generosity of the Japanese public sector doesn’t stop at the water’s edge. They’re also giving the money away overseas.

International exchange

This week the Foreign Ministry released its 2011 white paper on ODA, which offered their explanation of the reasons for foreign aid. They emphasized the importance of international cooperation and pointed out that the feelings of trust and thanks toward Japan from overseas were fostered by lavish ODA. To support their assertion, they cited the assistance received from 163 countries, including developing countries, after the Tohoku disaster.

You might have thought money can’t buy you love, but the Foreign Ministry has other ideas.

Some of it read as if it were a script for the TV commercials of the kind that oil companies produce to convince viewers of their environmental awareness: Students in Sierra Leone sold their meals and collected US$ 500 for donations, and all the national civil servants of Mongolia donated one day’s salary to Tohoku relief. While Japan’s ODA has declined for 13 straight years, the Foreign Ministry touts it as a great success, saying “active donations to the international community are connected to Japan’s own benefit.”

The prime minister thinks so too. Mr. Noda met Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on 7 March in Tokyo and promised to help rebuild her country’s infrastructure, including expressways, railroads, and IT, after last year’s floods.

Said Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osama at a news conference:

A friend in need is a friend indeed. We will never forget the goodwill of the Thai people, who offered us support as a country during the Tohoku disaster. There are many Japanese in Thailand working for companies in the Japanese manufacturing industry, and the expectations toward Japan are great. We want to formulate solid measures that will not betray those expectations.

The folks at the Seetell website are on the case again. They quote this from the Nikkei:

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has decided to provide Japanese companies with subsidies for their 18 infrastructure-related projects in China and other Asian countries, The Nikkei learned Saturday. The subsidy program mainly targets projects for building smart communities in China and Vietnam. It covers not only exports of infrastructure facilities and systems but also smart community projects involving land development in China, Thailand and Vietnam, sources said.

After providing some details about the programs, the paper added:

The ministry will extend subsidies of tens of millions of yen to these projects, sources said.

Seetell asks several excellent questions:

So, the bureaucrats at METI can allocate funds to build cities in China, Thailand, and Vietnam, but no one in the government can seem to rally any focused effort to rebuild cities in Japan? What could possibly cause such a mismanagement of resources and priorities? Are not the Japanese people of greater concern than the Vietnamese, Thais, and Chinese?

And how does it fit that Japan is building cities in China when the US occupation of Okinawa continues for its 67th year because China is seen as a threat to Japan?

Here’s one Seetell missed:

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria today welcomed a $340 million contribution by Japan, the highest amount that Japan has ever made in 10 years of vigorous support for the Global Fund. Japan is now making its first payment of US$ 216 million for its 2012 contribution.

“Japan has always been a leader in the fight against disease, but this is a great vote of confidence in our commitment to saving lives,” said Gabriel Jaramillo, General Manager of the Global Fund. “We recognize Japan’s determination to see real advances in global health, and we are equally determined to deliver.”

This new contribution represents a significant increase over Japan’s previous highest contribution of US$ 246 million in 2010. In 2011, Japan’s contribution was reduced to US $114 million following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeast Japan in March of last year, but this new contribution demonstrates that Japan’s commitment to the Global Fund remains steadfast.

The Boy Finance Minister Azumi the Cute is warning of a Greek-like catastrophe, people in the cold Tohoku region spent the winter in prehabs, but Japan had to almost triple the amount of money it gives to this group? The Global Fund couldn’t get by with just 100 million again this year? Japan was the only country they could tap for cash?

Here’s another from the Shukan Post. The IMF wanted $US 100 billion (about JPY 8 trillion) from Japan to help bail out the Europeans. Japan said it could only contribute about half of that, but the IMF insisted. The Finance Ministry finally told Mr. Azumi to cave again, so now Japan will help bail out the unbailable Greeks. The magazine points out that this amount of money, if kept in Japan, would remove the necessity to raise taxes for the Tohoku recovery, and the necessity to float bonds to cover national pension outlays.

To be fair, returning favors and gifts for favors and gifts received is an important element of Japanese culture. Nonetheless, one has to suspect that part of the motivation is the fear of government ministries and agencies that they’ll lose the budget money they don’t use. Besides, the government has been selectively generous about which favors it returns. Taiwan, which contributed JPY 20 billion to the Tohoku recovery, sent a representative to the memorial service in Tokyo last Sunday. They were left off the list of donor acknowledgments, and the representative was shunted to the general seating area on the second floor while the other foreign delegates sat downstairs in a VIP section.

Prime Minister Noda later said he was sorry if he offended anyone, but his lack of sincerity was offensive in itself. Chief Cabinet Minister Fujimura admitted the seating arrangements were settled at the Foreign Ministry and the Cabinet Office.

Na Nu Na Nu

Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio enjoys his nickname of The Alien, but one has to wonder if the entire DPJ that he once led is just the Martian Space Party morphed into human form.

Last week, the DPJ announced the appointment of Mr. Hatoyama as their supreme advisor on foreign policy and Kan Naoto as their supremo for new energy policies.

How fitting. One screwed up relations with the U.S., and the other screwed up Fukushima.

Mr. Kan also gave a speech to a DPJ study group on the 5th, attended by mid-tier and younger party members. The topic: Achieving real governance by the political class. “Japan should give serious thought,” he said, “to its approach toward state governance organs.”

Considering his accomplishments in office, that speech was over before his listeners could settle in for a nap.

If this were a backwards country, as the man said, Ozawa Ichiro might wind up being hung. But civilized Japan instead hung his portrait in a room in the Diet chambers last week.

A rule allows those MPs with 25 years of service to put their picture on a wall as long as the governmnent doesn’t pay for it. One of his political protégées did the painting, so he didn’t have to dip into his well-stocked safe at home for the petty cash.

If this were a backwards country, he might also be in the dock along with the other war criminals. But then again, he already is in the dock for political fund problems.

The party that insisted every day from 2007 to 2009 that elections be held immediately is none to excited about holding one themselves now that the executioner is motioning for them to stick their head into the hole of the guillotine. During a TV interview on the morning of the 10th, Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya said:

If we dissolve the lower house now, the anger of the people will be directed at the existing political parties.

It already is, but then Mr. Okada is not known for his insight into popular sentiment.

They would complain that we were only holding elections without accomplishing anything.

Instead, they’re complaining that the DPJ has done little, what little they did was bad, and what they want to do now is what they promised they wouldn’t do.

Anachronisms

It is clear to everyone that these are men whose time has gone. They are living relics of a now irrelevant age. Their approach and viewpoint, while stemming in part from the self-interest endemic to politicians everywhere, is as obsolete as the Cold War. Adding their evident contempt for their own citizens to the list of charges means they’ll have a dread judge to face in the next election.

Disturbed as much by the failure of the Iron Triangle to deal with the triple disaster as they were by the disasters themselves, the people — wiser than their leaders — have moved on. Former Koizumi privatization guru Takenaka Heizo recently published a book-length dialog with former Yokohama Mayor Nakata Hiroshi, who is working as an advisor to Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru. Mr. Takenaka observed:

The people now have high hopes for new regional parties, and I think there’s a good reason for that. The era of putting government administration in the hands of the bureaucracy and somehow achieving consistent growth is over. This is now an era for solving our problems. In society’s terms, people are looking for new CEOs. In fact, the best CEOs are the heads of local governments.

The next posts will examine Mr. Hashimoto, the most prominent of those local government heads.

Afterwords:

Try this for a refresher of what democracy means in Ozawa World.

Worried about the potential unpleasantness of Kusaka Kimindo’s comment about “Western-worshipping intellectuals”? Don’t be. Nothing bad will happen, and a renewed appreciation for Japanese values might be salubrious. Besides, even a cursory glance at current social, political, and economic conditions in the United States and Europe is enough to know how well contemporary Western values are working out.

*****
Here’s Takeuchi Mari singing Genki wo Dashite (Cheer Up!).

There’s a good reason this is an evergreen song in Japan, and it’s not just the melody. The premise of the song is that a woman is singing to a friend who’s down in the dumps because she’s been dumped by a man.

But the lyrics have other applications as well:

All you have to do is start again at the beginning…

If you feel like you want to be happy,
Tomorrow will be easy to find.

Life isn’t as bad as you think
So cheer up and show me that smile.

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Read it in the news

Posted by ampontan on Friday, March 16, 2012

STILL dealing with an influx of work, but in the meantime here are some links providing an update on the state of the industrial media in the U.S.

One Free Korea examines the working relationship between the Associated Press and the North Korean government. No one else will.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post is now on the payroll of the Chinese government.

As Harry Truman once said, I feel sorry for the man who reads the newspaper at the breakfast table and thereby thinks he has an understanding of what is happening in the world.

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Japan and the F-35s

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, March 11, 2012

VERY busy with paying work, so here’s something until I have more time. It’s a comment by Kiyotani Shin’ichi, a journalist specializing in military affairs and the Japan correspondent for Jane’s Defence Weekly, and who is often critical of Japanese procurement practices for weapons and military equipment. He was quoted in the 13 January edition of the weekly Shukan Post:

“This decision (to purchase F-35 fighter aircraft from the United States) will be fatal to Japan’s defense strategy. In the budget for the upcoming fiscal year (that starts next month), there are allocations to spend JPY 9.9 billion per aircraft. Ultimately, however, it is still unclear what the procurement costs will be, and it is possible the purchase price will be even higher.

“In addition, it’s been reported that the plane has serious technical difficulties, and it cannot be denied that the U.S. Department of Defense considered cancelling the development program before it was completed. Information on the assembly of critical parts is not being disclosed to the Japanese. This will be a serious blow to the Japanese defense industry, which has been focusing on maintaining the ability to develop and produce its own military aircraft. That we are adopting the F-35 in spite of all these problems provides an insight into the American attitude. The Japanese-American security relationship is undermining Japanese national defense from the root. This (decision) is mistaking the means for the end.”

The American refusal to provide information on parts to the Japanese is nothing new, by the way. Thirty years ago — yes, 30 years ago — I read an article in an American newspaper describing how the U.S. chose not to provide information on the navigational system (if I remember correctly) in a fighter plane. It was a new system, and the Americans wanted to keep it secret.

The Japanese thought that was unacceptable, for reasons having to do with maintenance, repair, and replacement at the least, so they developed their own system they could easily drop into the U.S. aircraft.

It turned out the Japanese equipment was superior to the new American equipment. When they found out about it, the Americans threatened unspecified (in the article) retaliatory measures unless the Japanese offered the system to them.

In other words, they forced Japan to give them information they refused to give Japan.

“Security alliance”, eh? I’m sure we can all come up with different terms that would be more appropriate.

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Ichigen koji (94)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, March 9, 2012

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

Taxes should not be raised with these economic conditions. If you submit a bill (to raise taxes), you and Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko will fall into hell.

- Kamei Shizuka, president of the People’s New Party (still in the governing coalition), speaking directly to Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya

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Japan’s cultural kaleidoscope (4)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, March 7, 2012

JUST because the warts of the overseas media and the commentator-bloggers who rely on them think their folderol is insight doesn’t mean you have to fall for it. The national decline of Japan, if it exists at all, is greatly exaggerated. Here are a few short snorts testifying to the national vitality. The first is a translation of a brief article, while the rest are summaries.

Island hopping

Japan Air Commuter, a small Kagoshima-based airline serving the prefecture’s outlying islands, has hired its first female pilot, Hamada Eri (29). Her maiden flight was as co-pilot on two round-trip flights between Kagoshima Airport and the islands of Amami and Tokunoshima. After returning in one piece, Hamada said, “It was different from training. I sensed the weight of the responsibility for carrying passengers. I was very nervous, but it was a lot of fun and I was relieved when it was over.”

Hamada Eri

Her ambition to become an aviatrix originated when she was a student at Ryukyu University (Okinawa). While flying on commercial airlines to her home in Sendai (the northeast part of the country), “I discovered I liked the scenery from the cabin window and wanted to see the view from the front.” She enrolled at a flight school in Miyazaki City after graduation. She chose to work at JAC because she enjoyed her many flights over Kyushu during training, and because she wanted to repay the many people in the industry in Kyushu for their help.

The flights to the outlying islands are a lifeline for the people living there. “I was spurred by a desire to be of service on these flights, which are so important for their daily life.”

The Tohoku earthquake struck while she was still in training. The family home was washed away by the tsunami. While her parents were safe, a grandmother living in an institution died in the wave. She wanted to be near her family, but her parents encouraged her by saying, “We’re fine. You work hard in flight school.”

“I’m far from the stricken area (about 740 miles), but I decided to put forth my best effort along with all the people who suffered as they head toward recovery.”

Ms. Hamada is the 13th female pilot in the JAL group. “I intend to gain experience and become a full pilot, not only for my benefit, but also for the women who follow.”

—————–
A Japanese sentiment permeates every sentence of that article. For contrast, imagine how much self-importance it would have contained had the story originated in the Anglosphere instead of Kagoshima.

Tokushima seaweed comes home

Last year’s Tohoku disaster was also a disaster for Sanriku wakame, a noted product of Miyagi. To help rebuild the industry, a Tokushima Prefecture maritime research institute in Naruto sent local fishing co-ops some wakame spores last October that the Miyagians raised in Kessennuma Bay. The first harvest was last week.

It was a homecoming in a sense for the wakame because the folks in Miyagi shipped the Tokushima institute some of theirs in 2004 for cross breeding. The spawn from that mating is what Tokushima sent back. The spores grew to a length of two meters, though the water temperature this winter was lower than ideal. The quality, color, and thickness of the seaweed is good enough for it to appear on your dinner table soon. Local watermen harvested 400 kilograms on the first day. The harvests will continue until the beginning of April, when they expect to have hauled in a total of 3,400 tons.

Off to see the Iyoboya

The big maritime product in Niigata is salmon. The Niigatans like it so much, in fact, they established the nation’s first salmon museum in Murakami called the Iyoboya Museum.

Niigata was the Murakami domain during the Edo period, and it was there that salmon were first successfully bred in Japan. Since then, salmon has been an important part of local culture. Iyoboya is the name for the fish in the local dialect.

Iyoboya fanciers say the best part of the museum is the mini-hatchery. Starting at the end of October, the museum recovers salmon eggs and fertilizes them. The eggs hatch two months later. Visitors get to see the fingerlings, and if they’re lucky, the hatching itself. The museum is now raising 50,000 fish, give or take a few, which it plans to release in the Miomote River at the beginning of next month. The museum also offers views of the river through glass windows.

There’s a restaurant on the museum premises. Guess what’s on the menu!

Snow fun in Kamakura

The Kamakura winter festival has been underway since 21 January at the Yunishikawa Spa in Nikko, Tochigi. The event is held in small snow huts in a gorge along the banks of the Yunishi River, which sounds like just the ticket for those who get off on nose-rubbing. This is a hot spring town, so visitors can enjoy both the hot and the cold of it, dipping in the spa waters for relaxation after all the fun with snowmen, snow slides, snow hut barbecues (reservations required) and musical performances. If you’re in no hurry for spring to start, the festival will last until 20 March.

Let 100 dragons soar

There’s a lot of snow in Hokkaido, too — probably more than in Nikko — but that didn’t stop Sapporo kiters from holding their 35th annual kite-flying contest in the city’s Fushiko Park. The winner this year was Tanaka Mitsuo, whose design featured a 100-meter-long chain of 100 linked kites.

Mao Zedong once said, “Let a hundred flowers bloom”, but that’s got to be easier than getting 100 kites up in the air. Each of the hundred was 60 x 42 centimeters, made of bamboo and washi (traditional Japanese paper), and designed to look like a dragon. This is Dragon Year in the Chinese zodiac.

Rebuild it and they will come

They’ve been repairing the Izumo Shinto shrine in Shimane lately, the first major renovations in more than 60 years. The local carpenters know just how to go about it, too — the Izumo shrine has been rebuilt 25 times, the last in the 18th century, and also moved several times.

It’s the oldest shrine in the country, but ranks only number two in order of importance. (The enshrined deity is Okuninushi no Mikoto, the nephew of the Sun Goddess.) There’s still a fence around one part where mortals may not enter.

The repairs are being made in conformity with the original construction techniques. That includes softening thin sheets of Japanese cypress by soaking them in water, and then using them to thatch the 600-square-meter roof with bamboo nails. Preparations began in 2008 and the work won’t be finished until next year, though the current phase ended in February. Had I finished this post when I intended, readers nearby might have been able to glimpse the main hall. Alas, I was sidetracked by other work and projects, and now the hall won’t be on view for another 60 years. Attendance also required a dress code: t-shirts, sweatsuits, or sandals will not do for a visit to the abode of Okuninushi, even though the divinity was moved to a temporary site on the premises in 2008 for the duration.

Leg room

Naruse Masayuki of Tamana, Kumamoto, has presented a paper on the safety of his single pedal automobile system to the Society of Automotive Engineers in the United States. Mr. Naruse operates a company that makes industrial materials, one of which is One Pedal. That’s an all-in-one pedal for controlling the gas and the brake to prevent accidents caused when drivers step in it by stepping on the wrong one. There’s an attachment on the right side of the floor pedal for acceleration, which drivers hit with the right side of their foot to move forward. Stepping on the floor still brakes the car.

The pedal’s been around for awhile — the old Transport Ministry conducted trials that demonstrated its safety. Mr. Naruse has custom-fitted nearly 200 cars in Japan with the device, but the major automakers don’t seem interested. Said Toyota, “Technicians have studied it, but we have no plans to adopt it now.” One complaint is that it’s more difficult to keep one’s foot against the gas pedal to maintain a constant speed than it is to downpress a pedal. Nevertheless, SAE plans to hold trials in Tamana with 70 drivers of all ages and foot sizes.

Hokkii rice burger

Tomakomai in Hokkaido has the largest haul of the surf clam — that’s the spisula solidissima for you shellfish enthusiasts — in Japan. They’ve got to eat them all somehow, so they’ve begun promoting a clam rice burger made with what’s called a hokkii, which is also the city’s “image character“. (The name isn’t derived from the hockey puck shape.) It was created by college students who liked the clam and made it for their school festival, and used rice for the bun instead of bread. City officials must have stopped by for a taste, because they adopted the idea and sold 1,600 at a three-day event last year. They then conducted trial tastings and questionnaires to get the perfect recipe, and shops around town began selling it in mid-December. There are several varieties with different condiments, but most sell for around JPY 400 yen, which is not a bad price. The idea is to get more people to come to Tomakomai.

Goya senbei


They’ve got as many goya in Kagoshima’s Minamiosumi-cho as they have surf clams in Tomakomai, so a local hot spring resort developed a way to incorporate them in senbei rice crackers. They slice and dice them and knead them into the batter. Reports say they give the crackers a slight bitter taste. That makes sense — the goya is also called the nigauri, which means bitter melon. Several groups in the city, including the hot spring resort and the municipal planning agency, created the snack as a way to use non-standard goya and gobo (yeah, that’s a vegetable) that can’t be sold on the market. They’re cooked by Yamato-ya, a Kagoshima City senbei company, and 40-gram bags are sold for JPY 315 yen. That’s a bit steep, but some of the proceeds go to local welfare services. Give them a call at 0994-24-5300 to see if they have any left.

Strawberry sake

Instead of clams or goya, Shimanto in Kochi has a strawberry surplus. That was the inspiration for a sake brewer in the city to combine the berries with their sake and create a liqueur with two varieties, one dry and one sweet. The employees even filled the 500-milliliter bottles by hand, and you’ve got to wonder if they had the temptation to sample some. There were 1,000 bottles of the sweet stuff and 2,000 of the dry type going for JPY 1,600 apiece. The idea is to sell it to “people who normally don’t drink sake”, which is code for young women. They’re even selling it outside of the prefecture, so if the idea of strawberry sake appeals to you, input 0880-34-4131 into your hand-held terminal and ask for some.

Extra credit

The more serious drinkers in Aira, Kagoshima, don’t fool around with fruity beverages, and demonstrated it by starting shochu study sessions last month. Some stalls specializing in that particular grog have been set up near the Kagoshima Chuo station, and the people who will operate the stalls attended three training sessions. One of them included lessons in the local dialect for dealing with customers. (Kagoshima-ben requires listeners to pay close attention, and even then you’re not going to get all of it, sober or sloshed. That includes their Kyushu neighbors.) The scholars also examined the traditional process for distilling it, listened to lectures on the origins of satsumaimo (a sweet potato variety) and how it came to be used in the local shochu, and visited the Shirakane brewers. Now that’s dedication for being a liquor store clerk. There’ll be 50 of them working in 25 shops at the stall complex.

Really high

If the last story didn’t convince you that Kagoshimanians are serious about shochu, this one will. They’ve just marketed a new brand called Uchudayori, or Space Bulletin, made with malted rice and yeast carried aboard the international space station Endeavor last May for 16 days. It was developed by researchers at Kagoshima University and the Kagoshima Prefecture Brewers Association. (The university has a special shochu and fermenting research institute for students, and I sniff a party school subtext.) There are 12 different varieties because 12 companies used the base materials to distill their own well-known products, including those made with satsumaimo and brown sugar. Those interested in getting spaced out can buy a set of 12 900-milliliter bottles for JPY 24,000 yen, which is reasonable considering the transportation costs for some of the ingredients. Sameshima Yoshihiro, the head of the research institute, says it has a better aroma than normal. No, he didn’t say it was “out of this world”.

This'll beam you up.

Exotic booze

Did that space travel bring back an alien life form? The shochu kingdom of Kagoshima is about to get its first locally brewed sake in 40 years. Hamada Shuzo of Ichikikushikino (try saying that after a couple of hits of shochu) announced they have started brewing the beverage. They’re the only sake brewery in the prefecture, and the first to go into the business since the last one shut down in 1970.

That's where they make it, you know.

Hamada Shuzo remodeled their shochu plant last year by adding facilities for producing 60 kiloliters of sake annually. An affiliated company used to make sake in Aichi until 1998, so they’ll blow the dust off the old notebooks and apply those accumulated techniques and expertise. A Shinto ceremony was held to receive the blessing of the divinities before they began fermentation with 20 kilograms of rice from other parts of Kyushu. (Kagoshima rice doesn’t work so well.) The company hopes to cook up 800 liters by March.

The company says Kagoshima’s higher temperatures — it’s Down South — make sake brewing difficult, and the shochu culture took root several hundred years ago. I have first-hand experience that Kagoshimanians drink shochu in situations where other Japanese drink sake, and it took about a week to recover. Statistics from the Tax Bureau support that anecdote. They say 36,767 kiloliters of shochu were consumed in the prefecture in 2010 compared to 1,379 for sake.

The company’s idea is to use sake brewing techniques for shochu product development. They might begin full scale production later, but the sake is now being brewed primarily for research. Didn’t I tell you these guys were serious? They’ve also got a restaurant/brewpub on the premises, and they hope it attracts customers who’ll also take a shine to their shochu. Sales in the restaurant begin in May, and in shops after that.

Build it and they will come

The slender, the fat, and the shapeless

Former sumo grand champion and now slimmed down stablemaster Takanohana announced he was starting a program to build sumo rings throughout the country to promote the appeal of sumo. The first will be in Shiiba-son, Miyazaki Prefecture. (Takanohana’s wife, the former newscaster Hanada Keiko, is a Miyazaki girl.) Mr. T believes that sumo helps build character, and he wants to see the rings restored at primary schools and other sites around the country. The Shiiba-son municipal government will contribute funds to the project and manage the ring once it’s built. The construction will be handled by the local Itsukushima Shinto shrine under the guidance of the Japan Sumo Association.

Mr. and Mrs. T sometimes visit a local juku that seems to be more of a character training institute than an academic enhancer. When they were in town to make the announcement about the sumo ring, they attended a lecture by the head of the juku on the Yamato spirit. (Yamato is the older name for the original ethnic group of Japan.) The lecture included this message:

Live as the cherry blossom, blooming vividly with full force and quickly falling from the branch.
We cannot see the color, shape, or size of the spirit, but a person’s spirit manifests in his way of life, deeds, and words.
There are three important things in the way of the
rikishi and the way of sumo: form, greetings, and etiquette.

That old time religion is still good enough for plenty of Japanese, and not just old guys who drink shochu and watch sumo. This month, a team from Saga Kita High School in Saga City was one of two selected for the grand prize in an annual calligraphic arts competition in Nagano conducted for high schools nationwide. It was the 17th year the sponsoring organization held the event, and the 17th straight year Kita High School won the grand prize. Kita students also won 11 of the 65 awards in the individual division. Teams from 273 schools participated and submitted 15,420 works.

The Kita girls have been getting ready since October. They practiced every day after school until 7:30, and voluntarily give up their free Saturdays. Said second-year student Koga Misaki, the calligraphy club leader, “We encouraged each other while being aware of the heavy pressure of tradition, and I’m happy we achieved our goal.”

*****
And don’t forget Okinawa!

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More on the savior of Japan

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, March 4, 2012

DETAILS continue to emerge about how Kan Naoto, AKA The Savior of Japan, and his government conducted the recovery effort for the Tohoku disaster. It’s unlikely that Mr. Kan’s hagiographers at the Asahi Shimbun and the New York Times will offer those details to their readers, however. It would spoil the narrative.

For example, the Sankei Shimbun conducted a questionnaire survey of the chief municipal officers of local governments designated by the government as of 1 January as having been affected by the disaster, extending from Hokkaido to Nagano. The newspaper sent the survey to all 167 of those leaders, and received returns from 140, or 83.8%.

One of the questions asked was whether the mayors could give high marks to the national government for its recovery efforts.

Only five, or 3.5%, said yes.

Nearly half, or 68 of the respondents, said no. Another 65 thought they couldn’t say one way or another.

Another question asked whether the national government’s efforts were more or less than expected. A majority —- 81 of the executives, or 57.8% — said they were less than expected. Another 52 said the efforts were about what they expected.

Only one said they were better than they expected.

This will not surprise most Japanese, least of all the people of the Tohoku region. It was revealed last month that only 5% of the disaster’s debris has been disposed of, and we’re now just a week away from the first anniversary of the event. One reason for the delay is that the government of Kan Naoto TSOJ insisted for several months that clearing away the wreckage was the responsibility of local authorities.

Is that not a peculiar attitude for a left-of-center government? Assuming responsibility for the recovery from a large national disaster is one of the few instances in which it would be appropriate for the central government to assume a powerful role. Then again, one of the nicknames bestowed on The Savior of Japan was Nige-Kan, nigeru being the verb to flee or run away — as in, from responsibility.

The problem most frequently cited by those surveyed was the lack of a sense of urgency in Tokyo. That in turn has caused delays in construction work and cleaning up after the nuclear accident at Fukushima.

Said the mayor of Shiroishi, Miyagi:

Even when we submit orders, construction work doesn’t proceed.

The CMO of Rifu-cho, Miyagi, noted the Kantei had little understanding of the problems created by their decisions:

When they waived the expressway tolls in the area for those affected by the disaster, we were swamped with complicated work by people applying for damage certification.

That was on top of being swamped with complicated work to deal with the impact of the disaster in their municipality.

The survey also asked the executives for their opinion of the help received from Diet legislators. They came off better than the DPJ governments, to a certain extent: A total of 23 of the respondents, or 16%, gave them high marks. One of those who disagreed was the mayor of Rikuzentakata, Iwate:

I can only think that most of the MPs came to the area just to be able to say they came to the area.

Those interested in learning further details about the government’s behavior might be frustrated in their search, however: The Savior of Japan made sure it would be difficult to find out how he and his government took care of business.

A committee affiliated with the Cabinet Office for the management of public documents has been conducting hearings to examine the bureaucracy’s irresponsibility in their handling of those documents. That hearing revealed other irresponsibilities as well.

After the Tohoku disaster, the TSOJ government created more than 20 councils to deal with the recovery. We’ve noted before that these councils lacked a clear differentiation of their duties or a specified chain of command. That resulted in a substantial overlap in their roles and delays in taking action. Among those government bodies was a unit responsible for implementing measures to deal with the damage from the nuclear accident.

One of the bureaucrats testified that it was “difficult” (a Japanese euphemism for impossible) to obtain permission to record the proceedings of that unit from its director. He didn’t specify the director by name, but the media quickly identified him as Kan Naoto TSOJ. The testimony revealed that he and other Cabinet members had so intimidated the bureaucracy they didn’t ask for permission to record the meetings. Two people made nearly identical statements to the effect that the installation of microphones with recording capabilities is essential for meetings of this type. Said another:

People in the office took notes, but no official summary of proceedings was made on the approval of the unit members (Cabinet members).

The inevitable conclusion is that they didn’t want an official summary of the proceedings because they didn’t want people to know what they were — or weren’t — doing.

That would seem to vindicate another frequent charge leveled against TSOJ and his government: They wanted to take the credit when things went well, and dump the blame on the bureaucrats for any failures.

His successor Noda Yoshihiko likes to play a variation of the same game, incidentally. Last week he said the government shared the blame for the Fukushima disaster…because they took the word of the experts that nuclear power was safe. “Rather than blaming any individual person,” went the codswollop, “I believe everyone has to share the pain of responsibility and learn this lesson.”

Blame is pointless when discussing the effects of the fourth-strongest earthquake in recorded history and the resulting tsunami, but that didn’t come up in the conversation. Then again, Mr. Noda had to tread carefully. The journos wanted to know if they would get the chance to taste Tokyo Electric blood in a criminal trial. Not anti-nuke, the prime minister didn’t want to serve up that particular goblet. On the other hand, he also didn’t want to expose the culpable members of his own party who took charge of disaster control: TSOJ and his Cabinet.

The speed of modern telecommunications and information transmission means that people quickly forget yesterday’s events, both good and bad. Here’s an example: Last May, Nishioka Takeo, then the upper house president and now deceased, wrote an open letter demanding that fellow DPJ member Kan Naoto TSOJ resign his position as prime minister immediately. Many arrows in his missive landed smack in the middle of the bullseye, and this was one of the deadliest:

I believe you are not aware of your duties as prime minister concerning state affairs.

B-b-but he saved Japan!

Loaves and Fishes Update (Courtesy Seetell):

Mr. Noda seems to share his predecessor’s difficulty in understanding how to allocate funds for disaster relief, much less which people his job it is to serve.

(T)he government has not been slow about sending Japan’s dwindling wealth overseas for “humanitarian needs“.

The Japanese government granted Yemen on Saturday $22.6 million (¥1.8 billion) aiming to alleviate the humanitarian repercussions and living conditions caused by the last year political crisis…

In the last few months – all under the Noda regime – Japan has sent billions of Yen overseas to fund a highway in India, to Egypt’s new government which is already in debt to Japan, untold amounts to Europe to bail out the banks and bondholders of Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy, and JPY 67 billion to Iraq to help it rebuild following the decade-long US occupation. This is not, by any means, an exhaustive list (schools in Pakistan, ports in Indonesia, etc).

Perhaps the Japanese people should appeal to the UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, and the WHO for help so that Japanese funds will reach the Tohoku area’s Japanese people at a faster pace.

Giving money to Egypt now is the very definition of throwing it down the crapper.

B-b-but the Tohoku recovery will require tax increases!

*****
Maybe I’m just confused.

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On the way down

Posted by ampontan on Friday, March 2, 2012

Tush!
Fear not, my lord, we will not stand to prate;
Talkers are no good doers: be assured
We come to use our hands and not our tongues.
- Shakespeare, The Life and Death of King Richard III

THE soaring support for reform-minded local political parties and groups in Japan, personified by Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, is paralleled by a sharp slide in backing for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. They too talked the reform talk, but were incapable of walking the walk without pratfalls and belly flops. Any prominent party member could be selected at random to represent their failure, but Maehara Seiji, former Foreign Minister and current DPJ Policy Research Chair would be an excellent candidate for poster boy as any.

The Iu Dake Bancho

Mr. Maehara became prominent as a relative foreign policy hawk and domestic moderate in a party infused with a large element of ex-Socialists, teacher unionistas, and other variegated leftists. After the DPJ was steamrolled in the 2005 lower house election by the Koizumi-led Liberal Democratic Party, they chose Mr. Maehara to replace Okada Katsuya as party president. They just as quickly dumped him the following year after he attempted to manufacture a political crisis based on an e-mail that was found to be bogus.

A harsh critic of then-party President Ozawa Ichiro, he was viewed by some in the LDP as a man they could work with. He showed up for meetings of a short-lived study group created by former Prime Minister Koizumi, who cited him as a potential PM. Though people wondered whether he might form an alliance with disaffected LDP reformers, it never materialized. He knew the DPJ was his shortest route to power and a prominent place on the public stage.

When the DPJ took control of government in 2009, Mr. Maehara was named the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport. To demonstrate that the party would end the old LDP practice of turning on the money spigot for legal vote buying with pork barrel construction projects, he announced the suspension of work on the Yanba Dam, a controversial project in Gunma. That suspension was controversial itself, however, because many people in the region actually wanted the dam built, and he didn’t waste any time consulting with them before making up his mind. (Among the dam’s intended uses is supplying water to the Tokyo megalopolis.) The final approval to resume construction was recently announced by a successor at MLIT, but not after a substantial amount of time, money (such as penalties for cancelling construction contracts), and party credibility was squandered. Mr. Maehara was loudly against restarting construction until he was for it just before the resumption order was issued.

That and several other incidents marked him a talker instead of a doer. Exhibiting their wicked talent for wordplay, some in the Japanese news media, most notably the Sankei Shimbun, began referring to him as the Iu Dake Bancho (言うだけ番長). In fact, the newspaper coined the term just for him, but played the journo game by pretending that other, unidentified people were saying it. Before long, other identified people were doing just that.

To explain: Bancho was a term for a minor government official centuries ago, but in the 20th century it came to be used to refer to the leader of juvenile delinquent gangs of junior high or high school age. Iu means to speak or to say, and dake means “only”. The phrase was inspired by a comic book series that ran from 1967–1971 called Yuyake Bancho (Sunset Bancho) created by Kajiwara Ikki.

After the moniker appeared again in the paper’s 22 February edition, Maehara Seiji lost the plot. He prohibited Sankei reporters from attending his twice-weekly news conferences and covering in person the party affairs for which he has responsibility.

The Sankei published their side of the story earlier this week. Here it is.

*****
The Sankei Shimbun has used the expression Iu Dake Bancho to refer to the behavior of DPJ Policy Research Committee Chair Maehara Seiji. The phrase is modeled after the comic Yuyake Bancho. We also had in mind the incident with the fake e-mail that occurred in 2006 when he was the DPJ president.

There have been 16 articles in the final editions of this newspaper using that phrase in regard to Mr. Maehara. The first was on 15 September 2011. The passage read, “In the background, there is distrust of Mr. Maehara, who has been referred to as the Iu Dake Bancho. Soon after his appointment (to his current post), he proposed during a visit to the United States a reexamination of the three principles for the export of weapons. That led to criticism within the party that he shouldn’t be allowed to act arbitrarily on his own authority.”

In an article on 30 September, when Mr. Maehara proposed to increase by an additional JPY two trillion the amount in the government’s plan for non-tax-derived income to fund the Tohoku recovery, we wrote “It is possible that if the target amount is not achieved, the inglorious term of Iu Dake Bancho will become permanent.”

When Mr. Maehara was the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport, he froze construction on the Yanba dam in Gunma. When the decision to resume construction was announced on 24 December, we wrote, “It is unlikely he will be able to refute being mocked as the Iu Dake Bancho, after finally agreeing to the resumption after opposing it until just before it was announced.”

The Yukan Fuji, some weekly magazines, and some regional newspapers have also used the expression in addition to the Sankei Shimbun.

*****
The Sankei didn’t mention that they publish the Yukan Fuji, but they also didn’t mention the phrase had been picked up by the competing Yomiuri Shimbun, nor did they specify Shukan Shincho as one of the weekly magazines.

The newspaper also used the phrase in the headline for an 8 November article that began like this:

“Policy Research Committee Chair Maehara Seiji was not present during the conference of the secretaries-general of the DPJ, LDP, and New Komeito, though he had worked to coordinate policy with the opposition parties until then. The discussion among the three policy chiefs about the period of redemption for reconstruction bonds was difficult, and DPJ Secretary-General Koshiishi Azuma lost his patience and assumed the leading role in the talks. There was a marked difference in negotiating skills between the LDP and New Komeito on the one hand, and Maehara Seiji on the other, who quickly accepted their proposals with little debate. He worked very hard in the three-party conference to rebound from his reputation as the Iu Dake Bancho, but the situation was such that the authority for other ruling party/opposition party discussions in the future, including that for increasing the consumption tax, had to be taken from him.”

The last straw article in the Sankei on the 22nd quoted a senior LDP official as saying, “He will not lose the stigma of being known as the Iu Dake Bancho.” The next day, Mr. Maehara confronted a Sankei Shimbun reporter in the Diet building, said “I want to talk to you,” and escorted him to his office. Here’s the Sankei’s version of that talk:

“Why do you always write Iu Dake Bancho whenever something happens? I want a formal written answer from your newspaper in the name of the chairman. Without that answer, I will not recognize your coverage of the policy discussion meetings…I get a dark feeling just from reading your articles. This is on the level of childish bullying and the ‘violence of the pen’. I won’t recognize you at news conferences or permit your coverage until I get an answer.”

After reporting to his superior, the journalist returned to ask Mr. Maehara to specify in writing what sort of answer he wanted. “I’ll think about it,” was the answer.

If Mr. Maehara thought he was going to get any sympathy, he was mistaken. What little support he received in his own party was subdued. The Asahi Shimbun — whose political views are the polar opposite of the Sankei — wrote:

“All news companies, the Asahi Shimbun included, oppose excluding specific news organizations and demand an explanation. Mr. Maehara avoided a clear statement by refraining from discussing the specific content of reporting.”

One reason for the lack of sympathy was that a lot of people thought the shoe fit. Said a journalist:

“There have been innumerable occasions when Mr. Maehara made a statement that was just talk, such as his suspension of construction for the Yanba Dam. There’s really nothing to be said if people call him Iu Dake Bancho, but to get upset at that heckling isn’t very mature.”

Eguchi Katsuhiko, an upper house member from Your Party, knows Maehara Seiji well because the DPJ policy chief graduated from the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management, which Mr. Eguchi was instrumental in organizing and operating. He said:

“It’s extremely unfortunate. Mr. Maehara looked up to Mr. Matsushita as a teacher, but that’s not how he would have done it. Instead, he would have invited the critic in and listened to him….If he wants to become prime minister, he shouldn’t get so concerned about every bit of criticism.”

LDP Diet member Fukaya Takashi wasn’t sympathetic either:

“False and childish reporting is unforgivable, but it’s not really in error for Mr. Maehara, who has a habit of saying all sorts of things and then finishing in a fog…If you think about citing examples, they’re too numerous to count.”

Mr. Maehara has been interested in exploring an alliance with Hashimoto Toru’s One Osaka party, but his petulance made that less likely to happen. Said new Osaka Gov. Matsui Ichiro:

“Well, he goes back on his word in an instant, so what do you expect people to say? He probably gets angry, but a complete refusal to allow coverage is excessive and unbecoming…If you’re going to say something, it’s a good idea to do it. It’s best not to say things you aren’t going to do.…If he’s got something to say, he should fight back on Twitter, like Mr. Hashimoto.”

Speaking of Hashimoto Toru:

“I don’t understand the reason for it, but if it were me, I’d have the reporter come in and we’d run each other down. If he said something bad about me, I’d give it back to him…I think there’s a certain line (for the content of reporting), but being critical is their job, and without it people in authority would become dangerous.”

A similar incident with Mr. Hashimoto presents a revealing contrast, both in how they dealt with media members who displeased them, and also in how people respond in different ways to the same behavior from different people depending on their perceptions of those people.

On 9 February 2008, then-Osaka Gov. Hashimoto was invited to appear on a live local NHK broadcast with the mayor of Osaka, the former governor of Tottori, and a university professor. He told NHK when he accepted the invitation that he had official business that day in Tokyo, and would be late for the start of the program. He confirmed that they understood more than once. When he showed up 30 minutes after the program started, announcer Fujii Ayako commented, “Well, he’s a little late, he arrived about 30 minutes late.”

In Japan, late is rude unless you have a good reason and let people know in advance. Mr. Hashimoto didn’t care for the comment because he made sure to tell them ahead of time. At a post-program news conference, he also revealed that NHK badgered him to change his work schedule for their benefit. He announced that henceforth, he would no longer appear on NHK programs, though he would respond to their reporters’ questions. Ms. Fujii was reassigned to Tokyo. The incident remains largely unknown.

*****
Some observers think Mr. Maehara is wobbling under the pressure because Noda Yoshihiko may not last much longer as prime minister, and he’s one of few remaining people the party can put forward as a plausible successor. That’s assuming the party stays in power much longer and has the authority to put forward any successor. It’s no longer a secret that Mr. Noda and LDP chief Tanigaki Sadakazu held a secret meeting Saturday, like two mudboats passing in the night. The news media assumes they discussed a deal for a Diet dissolution and lower house election in exchange for an LDP promise to pass the DPJ’s consumption tax increase. Mr. Noda would not survive that election. There’s also speculation the DPJ would use the poll as an excuse to ditch Ozawa Ichiro. The bargain Mr. Sadakazu might be offering is: Get rid of Ozawa, and then we’ll form a tax-increase coalition government with what’s left of the two parties.

I suspect the problem lies elsewhere, however. Maehara Seiji’s ambition to become prime minister is not a new phenomenon, so if his knees were to get wobbly by approaching the throne, they already would have done so. The Sankei isn’t the only target of his petulance, either. He also bounced a reporter from the Hokkaido Shimbun from a recent news conference by telling him, “What you wrote differed from the facts. Please leave at once.”

After the 2009 lower house election, everything was coming up roses for the DPJ. Mr. Maehara was expected to play a prominent role in national politics. That role was likely to include a spell as prime minister. Now, fewer than three years and multiple malfunctions later, the roses are blighted and the public is ready to dig up the bushes. Indeed, former DPJ President Ozawa Ichiro met with some of his younger supporters in the party last week and told them that Hashimoto Toru had stolen their reform thunder. He added, incorrectly, that it was not too late for them to snatch it back.

Maehara Seiji knows he is on the way down without having reached the top. He also knows it might be quite some time before he gets that close to the top again.

Afterwords:

* You can almost smell the DPJ flop sweat. This week they announced they’d be doling out JPY three million apiece to their first term Diet members for “activity money”. Most of them are associated with Ozawa Ichiro’s group, which is opposed to the party’s plan to increase the consumption tax. They’re calling it activity money, but it’s really a bribe to keep them from bolting.

The funds will be distributed to 108 MPs, for an aggregate amount of JPY 324 million yen (almost $US four million).

One wonders how much of that money is derived from the public subsidies to political parties, or, if it isn’t, whether the party would be willing to spend that kind of cash if they hadn’t received the subsidies to begin with.

Americans have a system, by the way, in which people can check a box on their income tax forms to voluntarily contribute $3.00 (from the government) for generic political campaigns, without adding to their taxes. More than 90% leave the box unchecked.

* Former LDP Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro is very anxious to negotiate an election with the DPJ in exchange for a tax increase. Stupid is as stupid does.

*****
Here’s the Yuyake Bancho himself!

The same people you misused on your way up
You might meet up
On your way down.

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Ichigen koji (93)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, March 2, 2012

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

During the Edo period (1603-1868), when a townsman started a fight with a samurai, people would listen first to the townman’s side of the story. If they learned that the samurai was at fault, the samurai would take responsibility by committing seppuku (ritual suicide). Thus, there was a certain relationship of trust between the general public and the samurai.

In today’s Japan, however, the politicians and the bureaucrats, who correspond to the samurai of the Edo period, take no responsibility at all, even when they are political failures. The relationship between the policymakers and the people has collapsed. We don’t know who took responsibility for the events of 3/11 (last year’s Tohoku disaster). Therefore, can we not say that the system of governance was much more advanced during the Edo period?

- Nakano Mitsutoshi, professor emeritus at Kyushu University

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Corrupt

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, March 1, 2012

Corrupt: 1. orig., changed from a sound condition to an unsound one; spoiled; contaminated, rotten 2. deteriorated from the normal or standard; specif., a) morally unsound or debased; perverted; evil; depraved…c) containing alterations, errors, or admixtures of foreignisms; said of texts, languages, etc.
- Webster’s New World Dictionary

THE Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation, a panel consisting of 30 “university professors, lawyers, and journalists”, released its report this week on the response of the Japanese government and industry to the Fukushima nuclear disaster last March.

The coverage of that report by some elements of the mass media, both in the Anglosphere and Japan, can only be described as corrupt.

The foundation’s founder, Funabashi Yoichi, is the former editor in chief of the Asahi Shimbun. The New York Times’ Martin Fackler writes the following in his article on the release of the report:

“(Mr. Funabashi) said his group’s findings conflicted with those of the government’s own investigation into the accident, which were released in an interim report in December. A big difference involved one of the most crucial moments of the nuclear crisis, when the prime minister, Mr. Kan, marched into Tepco’s headquarters early on the morning of March 15 upon hearing that the company wanted to withdraw its employees from the wrecked nuclear plant.

“The government’s investigation sided with Tepco by saying that Mr. Kan, a former social activist who often clashed with Japan’s establishment, had simply misunderstood the company, which wanted to withdraw only a portion of its staff. Mr. Funabashi said his foundation’s investigators had interviewed most of the people involved — except executives at Tepco, which refused to cooperate — and found that the company had in fact said it wanted a total pullout.

“He credited Mr. Kan with making the right decision in forcing Tepco not to abandon the plant.

“‘Prime Minister Kan had his minuses and he had his lapses,’ Mr. Funabashi said, ‘but his decision to storm into Tepco and demand that it not give up saved Japan.’”

Ah, so. Kan Naoto is the savior of Japan.

The AFP news agency report identifies Kitazawa Koichi as “the panel head” and contains the following passage:

“The panel said as the situation on Japan’s tsunami-wrecked coast worsened, Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) had wanted to abandon the plant and evacuate its workers.

“But the utility, which refused to co-operate with the study, was ordered to keep men on site by then prime minister Naoto Kan.

“Experts concluded that if the premier had not stuck to his guns, Fukushima would have spiralled further out of control, with catastrophic consequences.

“‘When the prime minister’s office was aware of the risk the country may not survive (the crisis)…TEPCO’s president (Masataka) Shimizu….frantically called’ to tell the premier he wanted his staff to leave the crippled nuclear reactor, panel head Koichi Kitazawa told a news conference.

“Kitazawa said Kan threatened to break up the powerful utility if the company insisted on pulling its men out.

“He said Kan’s refusal to bow to TEPCO’s demand had averted a worse crisis.

“Kan told Shimizu: ‘It’s impossible. If you withdraw staff, TEPCO will be demolished,’ according to Kitazawa.”

That last sentence is a mistranslation, perhaps deliberate, but we’ll get to that later.

“‘Consequently, it’s Mr Kan’s biggest contribution that the Fukushima 50 remained at the site,’ added Kitazawa, referring to dozens of operatives who worked to contain the accident and were feted as heroes.”

In their haste to set the agenda and disseminate their narrative, both the New York Times and AFP omitted some details.

For example, here is what Mr. Kitazawa actually said, from the original Japanese:

“(Mr. Kan) himself rushed into Tokyo Electric’s headquarters, which had requested that they be allowed to leave the site. In the end, 50 workers remained on the site. It is thought by some that this ultimately averted the worst-case scenario and was a great achievement. However, most of the excessive intervention on the site by the Kantei (i.e., Japan’s equivalent of the White House or 10 Downing St.), including the former prime minister’s involvement — down to the size of one of the batteries at the site — cannot be praised. In addition, the prime minister’s information disclosure was a failure and caused a sense of mistrust to spread among the people. We have no choice other than to say that overall, their response was a failure.”

(N.B.: The second use of the word failure was fugokaku, which has the sense of failing a school examination.)

Of the English-language reports that I read, only Reuters conveyed the panel’s conclusion that Mr. Kan was a failure, and then only on the second page of the website report I saw (The Chicago Tribune).

Fackler and the New York Times quotes Mr. Funabashi as saying that Kan Naoto saved Japan. No Japanese media report I’ve seen — and I’ve read several — has quoted that statement. Of course they quote extensively from the report on the behavior of Mr. Kan and the Kantei, but the tone is quite different.

Some direct quotes from the report follow. In regard to the intervention of Mr. Kan and the Kantei:

“It is not clear that it was useful in preventing the spread of the damage, and it undeniably increased the risk of needless confusion and the further development of the accident.”

And:

“The prime minister and the Kantei command center fell into an abnormal state of tension and confusion.”

That allows you to put into context the breathless “reporting” in the West, such as this from AFP:

“A worst-case scenario sketched out by the Japanese government foresaw the end of Tokyo in a chain of nuclear explosions as the Fukushima crisis erupted, an independent panel said.

“Chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano told investigators: ‘I had this demonic scenario in my head’ that nuclear reactors could break down one after another. If that happens Tokyo will be finished’.

“Plans were drawn up for the mass evacuation of the capital as Edano — the government’s point man on the nuclear crisis — fretted that reactors all along the coast could go into meltdown and engulf the city of 13 million people.”

No excerpt of the official report I read contained the conclusion that Tokyo was in danger of being “finished”. They did say that Mr. Kan and Mr. Edano had lost their heads, however. Though the AFP calls Edano Yukio the government’s “point man”, it does not mention that Mr. Edano’s sole professional experience before becoming a politician was that of a lawyer specializing in the defense of labor union radicals.

The portions of the report the Anglosphere media omitted present a rather different picture of events. Such as this in regard to the venting of Reactor #1 on the night of 11 March and the morning of 12 March:

“At a minimum, it cannot be recognized that the decision of the Kantei, the order of the Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and the prime minister’s demand were useful in promptly achieving the venting.”

In regard to the decision to insert seawater into the reactor on the evening of the 12th:

“The debate at the Kantei had no effect in the end, but if the Kantei’s (Kan’s) order to stop the insertion had been obeyed, it would have resulted in a dangerous situation with the possibility that the work would have been delayed.”

In regard to the insertion of seawater in Reactor #3 on the 13th:

“The Kantei expressed the opinion that fresh water should be preferred to seawater, and that opinion was conveyed from Tokyo Electric to (Fukushima plant manager) Yoshida….the switch to fresh water in the end brought about little or no improvement in conditions. The change in course had the possibility of needlessly exposing the workers to radiation. Not only did the Kantei’s instructions delay the work, there are suspicions that it increased the danger of failure of the water insertion into the reactor.”

There’s more:

“There are few examples in which the Kantei’s intervention into accident management on-site were an effective response to the accident. In most cases, it had absolutely no effect, or it increased the risk of worsening the situation due to needless confusion and stress.”

And:

“The risk involved in the leader of government intervening on-site in the response to the nuclear disaster should be an important lesson from the Fukushima accident to be shared by all.”

And:

“The Kantei’s initial response after the Fukushima accident was a series of crises. During the systemically unexpected developments, the core (of those responding) consisted of a handful of politicians without specialized knowledge or experience. Their grandstanding response continued as the crisis unfolded. It cannot be said that (this response) was at all sophisticated. Rather, this was immature and slapdash crisis management.”

Remember, these are direct quotes from the report.

On Mr. Kan specifically:

“The excessive involvement and intervention under Kantei leadership was criticized for its micromanagement. The Prime Minister was deeply involved in accident management, and it is undeniable that he was negligent in providing sufficient attention to overall crisis management.”

But wait: Martin Fackler and the New York Times quoted Funabashi Yoichi as saying that Kan Naoto saved Japan. In fact, Fackler also wrote:

“Yoichi Funabashi, a former editor in chief of the daily newspaper Asahi Shimbun, is one of Japan’s most respected public intellectuals.”

Keep in mind which newspaper that respected public intellectual edited as you read the following website commentary by Abiru Rui of the Sankei Shimbun. Mr. Abiru begins by noting that every major Japanese newspaper extensively quoted the report’s criticisms of Mr. Kan and used that criticism for their headlines.

Except one.

He explains the reason for that:

“Though all of the newspapers accurately reported the private sector panel’s severe criticism of Mr. Kan and the Kantei, the Asahi did not include any of these problems in its headlines. The text of the articles does not refer to them at all. The newspaper ignored them completely. This can only be said to be abnormal.

“The Asahi (previously) ran a series of articles titled The Trap of Prometheus. They praised Mr. Kan to an unbelievable degree, and continued to beautify his behavior to the extent it sets one’s teeth on edge…Of course, the Sankei will insist on its own viewpoint, and it can be understood that the Asahi will do the same. But to go to this extent to avoid writing about Mr. Kan’s problems, and not informing its readers of the facts, is to betray its subscribers.

“The articles in The Trap of Prometheus are written as if Mr. Kan’s behavior was calm and collected from start to finish, but the panel’s report says that he panicked. Were the circumstances inconvenient for them? In any event, (the articles in) The Trap of Prometheus had the appearance of thoroughness — they even captioned a photograph of a sandal of Terada Manabu, one of the prime minister’s aides.

“The chairman of the group that conducted this investigation was the Asahi’s former editor in chief, Funabashi Yoichi. It seems as if they didn’t care what anyone unconnected with the company had to say. Rather, it was a case of “We will convey the Asahi’s strong determination and resolve to protect Mr. Kan.”

Do I need to mention that the New York Times, the Asahi Shimbun, and Kan Naoto share the same political philosophy?

The sober and steady hand on the tiller of the ship of state

You also won’t read that when Kan Naoto “ordered” the Tokyo Electric Power officials to keep personnel on the site, he had no authority to issue an order to them, as a private-sector company, to do anything at all. There are only glancing references to his threat to dismantle the company if they didn’t listen to him (which he also has no authority to do). His threat to break up the utility was the mistranslated part of the AFP piece.

In fact, there’s quite a lot of information that you won’t read in these accounts — That Mr. Kan did order the Self-Defense Forces to leave the site when he thought it was too dangerous. (Government employees should be saved, but private-sector employees should be sacrificed?)…That Mr. Kan told Tokyo Electric that employees “60 years old or older” could be sent to the site (Younger employees should be saved, but older employees should be sacrificed?)…That it is widely suspected Mr. Kan promised to save Tokyo Electric if the utility started contributing to his Democratic Party instead of the opposition LDP.

The Japanese mass media — other than the Asahi — didn’t miss any of that.

It is curious. Many news media consumers in the Anglosphere would never take at face value anything the New York Times, the Washington Post, Fox News, or the BBC had to say about Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, or the EU, to cite a few of many examples.

Yet they think that turning the cyberpage somehow waves a magic wand of objectivity and credibility over the cesspool. For some reason, the readers swallow it whole and start “retweeting” and “liking” and getting all social media about everything. You know — “having their say”.

More than 60 years ago, former U.S. President Harry Truman said that he felt sorry for the average citizen who wakes up in the morning, reads the newspaper, and thereby thinks he knows something of what is happening in the world.

Sixty years and many revelations later, however, I am not inclined to be so generous.

It is no longer possible to be sympathetic to people who accept without reservation the work of those who are so clearly corrupt.

Afterwords:

Tokyo Electric Power officials chose not to be interviewed by the panel. The panel thinks there is insufficient evidence for the utility’s claim that it did not intend to fully withdraw from Fukushima. While agreeing that the panel could very well be correct, some people in Japan are now wondering if that conclusion was influenced by the statements of Mr. Kan and other government officials, who might have gotten carried away by their panic and mistrust of the utility. They are even finding some evidence to suggest that might have been the case. But this post is long enough already…

As always, links are only for the legit. Certainly not for the corrupt.

UPDATE: The Asahi English edition finally has an article on line that is critical of Mr. Kan and his government’s response. Some of the Japanese to English translation is amusing. For example:

“He cannot be given a passing grade from the overall perspective of his handling of the crisis,” Kitazawa said.

As I noted above, Mr. Kitazawa clearly said “He failed”.

Also:

The report quotes Kan as saying: “How large is the battery that you need? What are the dimensions? Weight? Can it be transported by helicopter?”

One participant who overheard the exchange told the investigative committee: “I became somewhat frightened when I thought about whether it was good for the nation to have the prime minister looking into such details.”

“Somewhat frightened”, eh? The original was zotto shita. That means “I shuddered to think that…” It can even be rendered in more intense language, such as “It made my flesh crawl”, “I was horrified to hear”, or “It made my blood run cold”.

But in Asahiworld, that’s “somewhat frightened”.

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