AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Archive for November, 2012

All you have to do is look (123)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 30, 2012

Champagne crabs, known in Japanese as Matsuba crabs, in a market in Tottori City.

Posted in Food, Photographs and videos | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (245)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 30, 2012

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

Mr. Hashimoto’s success in Osaka is due to his application of the one-man model to local politics. But it will be impossible to control the central government that way. As shown by his early flip-flopping on policies, it will be difficult unless Mr. Hashimoto has a substantial amount of strength. Even if he were to take control of government, he would likely be foiled by the veto power of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy, which put down the Democratic Party of Japan.

But this has been worthwhile to conduct as an experiment until now. Whether for good or ill, he will probably not take power in this election. He is still young, and even if this election is a setback for him, he can put the experience to use in municipal administration. I hope he creates a model for the city-state that transcends the nation-state.

- Ikeda Nobuo

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The end of analysis as we know it

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 30, 2012

DO editors have any real standards to determine whom they will select to write articles about Japan? Field-specific expertise certainly isn’t a requirement. If anything, field-specific expertise about Japan seems to be a negative attribute in the selection process.

Here we go again: Someone calling himself Chan Akya wrote an article titled The End of Japan as We Know it for the peculiar Asia Times website. (That site offers columns by the excellent David Goldman, AKA Spengler, regular pieces from a North Korean propagandist, and nothing of value about Japan.) The author’s noisy parade of ignorance is amplified by an infatuation with his prose and inner dialogue. That makes this analysis particularly difficult to wade through.

He even presents us with the intellectual’s version of “some of my best friends are Japanese”:

At many levels, I have a deep admiration for the Japanese people; their work ethic, aesthetic values and personal discipline all set them apart from the globalized mainstream.

That deep admiration unfortunately did not inspire him to learn anything about the country.

He begins with a discussion of Keynesian economics and the series of budget deficits the country has run since the late 90s. While that is true enough, there is no mention of the collapse of the bubble economy in the early 90s, the resultant problem with the non-performing debt held by financial institutions, and the role of the five-year Koizumi administration, particularly Takenaka Heizo, to prevent the problems from overwhelming the financial industry, and to drastically reduce the annual budget deficit. While the Japanese political class since then has failed to uphold its fiduciary responsibility, the economy has not been the unending dismal swamp that most people outside the country think it is.

Exacerbating the current situation in Japan is the collapse in the political system where, yet again, a coalition government is set to fail and new elections announced in December. Alternatively one could argue that political paralysis, much like in the case of the US and Europe’s lame duck governments, is merely the populist rendition of a sclerotic economy. The reason for the linkage of course is that the Japan is the living (ahem, some may argue that point) embodiment of the situation where the turkeys not only outvoted thanksgiving, they also allocated all the gravy to themselves.

Every word in that paragraph is wrong, including the a’s, an’s, and the’s. (Ahem yourself; don’t even think about going there on this with me.) An earlier unquoted passage, by the way, makes it clear he’s referring to the voters as turkeys.

Here’s what he doesn’t know:

* The Japanese political system is not collapsing. It would be easy to make the case that it is healthier than the political system in the United States. People who rely on the usual inadequate Anglosphere sources and who think the national legislature constitutes the entire political system cannot be expected to understand this. How unfortunate that they cannot be expected to refrain from writing about it.

* The voters have been expressing for years exactly what they want, and what they have wanted is massive central government reform. That is not easy to achieve in any system with its encrusted vested interests, nor is their fault that they haven’t received it. This election will be just the latest in a series of monumental exercises in throwing the bums out. That line about “the turkeys outvoting Thanksgiving” (of course!)? It is tantamount to a public declaration of a functional illiteracy of matters Japanese in general, and trends among the electorate, sub-national politics, and the perpetual battle with the bureaucracy in particular.

* This was a coalition government in only the most technical sense of the term — the remaining party in the coalition has fewer than 10 Diet members. The coalition was formed with two mini-parties solely to pass legislation in the upper house. It was a Democratic Party of Japan government. Period.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has done all the usual gimmicks – promises of more subsidies, the vaguely worded reforms and of course obligatory visits to the Yasukuni shrine designed to get geriatric Samurai warrior votes on its side…

Isn’t he the clever wordsmith? Yasukuni shrine visits didn’t hurt Mr. Koizumi with the non-geriatric non-samurai independent voters, but what he doesn’t know about this issue would fill several books. Included in that lack of knowledge is that none of the LDP successors of Mr. Koizumi made any of the “of course obligatory” visits to Yasukuni. Incidentally, since the LDP promises have yet to be translated into English, he can’t be expected to know their content, either.

…with the active support of the farming and construction lobbies it appears that the LDP is headed back to power albeit in a coalition framework.

Were the author able to read Japanese, I could recommend several books and articles about how these special interest groups no longer have the electoral strength they once did. He would need to read at least one article on how the farming lobby supported the DPJ in the last lower house election, but all of that would be chanting sutras into a horse’s ear.

We do not know yet how the incumbent Democratic Party of Japan is likely to fare…

Yes we do. The possibilities range from bad to near extinction.

…so convoluted are the fortunes of the party when examined against the popularity of its individual politicians.

Apart from its incoherence, the full sentence is an astonishing display of ignorance. The unpopularity of all three individual DPJ prime ministers is remarkable for its depth and the intensity of emotion it generates. It aligns almost perfectly with the unpopularity of the party as a group.

After trying various approaches, the party has now settled itself on the bandwagon of expanding the middle classes – presumably through more tax breaks and other ideas that run counter to the current orthodoxy around value-added taxes; however the party led by the outgoing prime minister has also embarked on a controversial policy to secure funding for grandiose construction projects with the issue of bonds to which it would like the Bank of Japan to directly subscribe.

The party that is making news and causing controversy because it wants the BOJ to subscribe to construction bonds is the LDP — the opposition party. While it is true the DPJ can’t provide a full accounting of the funds for Tohoku relief and reconstruction, that is due to their incompetence and inability to say no to the bureaucracy.

“Presumably through tax breaks”? The DPJ was the engine that drove the increase in the consumption tax increase from 5-10%, and they’re also engineering increases in income and inheritance taxes. One who presumes to have the knowledge required to write an op-ed about Japan should know that.

Or that Japan doesn’t have a value-added tax, assuming that’s what that reference is all about.

At long last he gets down and dirty:

At the other end of the spectrum, the right wing has become more active with the triumvirate of Shintaro Ishihara and Takeo Hiranuma’s the Sunrise Party and Toru Hashimoto’s Resurrection Party. All the politicians in the triumvirate have a somewhat unfortunate history of egging on xenophobic tendencies; the triumphalism of Ishihara in the late ’80s with his call for Japan to become more assertive against the US; and the unfortunate racial stereotypes he espoused which brought to mind the propaganda of Goebbels have not been forgotten yet anywhere in Asia or the US.

Get used to this. You’re going to be seeing so much of this bologna in the future, it won’t be possible to slice it all — even the small end that isn’t past its sell-by date. Notice how he dodges the commitment to call them Nazis or fascists: it “brings to mind the propaganda of Goebbels”.

Having spent some time studying the content of German propaganda, and much more time studying Japanese politics and politicians, I can say this comparison would occur only to those people whose minds are bent into a distinctive warp. This calls for the invocation of Godwin’s Law. He loses.

* Messrs. Ishihara and Hiranuma have had “a somewhat unfortunate” (sic) history of egging on xenophobic tendencies, but neither of them will be pinning yellow and pink identification badges on non-Japanese or stuffing them into ovens. Mr. Ishihara’s electoral success over the years originates in the name recognition value of being the first prominent celebrity politician in Japan. That success is by no means automatic; the party both these men formed for the 2010 upper house elections flopped badly. Their alliance with Mr. Hashimoto has nothing to do with xenophobia and everything to do with domestic considerations. The people who vote for them will not be driven to do so for xenophobic reasons.

Incidentally, the author also refers in another section to “a horrifying collapse in exports” without mentioning that it was attributable almost entirely to a byproduct of Chinese xenophobia and ethnocentrism.

* Hashimoto Toru’s party has an official English name: Japan Restoration Party. Evidently he can’t be bothered to spend 10 seconds to visit their website and get it right.

I would be curious to learn more of Mr. Hashimoto’s history of xenophobia that the author alleges. The Osaka mayor is a one-man political content provider. He’s written several books and is the world’s leading political Tweeter (95+% of which is related to political discussions and debates), so it’s difficult to keep up, but I can’t remember seeing anything overtly xenophobic. That includes the content of a website of a virulent “it’s positive to be negative” leftist Brit who slapped together a collection of unpleasant Hashimoto statements.

* As for the call for Japan to become more assertive against the US, that has little to with either the right wing or xenophobia. Japanese throughout the political spectrum have been growing weary of that shotgun wedding of convenience, and that trend is accelerating as the people who were children in the early postwar years head into retirement.

It is also worthy of note there is no mention of the fact that a large share of the incumbent Democratic Party of Japan membership consists of global governance types who think the nation-state is an anachronism. If that’s the context, perhaps what most people would consider normal patriotism would be seen as xenophobia.

Take stock for a moment: an ancient political party that seems hopelessly anachronistic, an incumbent political party that appears altogether confused, a right-wing organization that is built on idolizing an extinct past; does anyone hear the faint echoes from the future of other democracies in Europe and perhaps the US?

Yes, let’s take stock. The ancient political party is all of 57 years old. The name of the “right-wing organization” whose name he can’t get right is not built on idolizing an extinct past. Their original motivation is the decentralization of government and the regional devolution of authority. That none of them “idolize an extinct past” demonstrates the author is either making stuff up or listening to people who are making stuff up. In a Japanese context that party’s core domestic reform agenda is fresher and more forward-looking than any major political party in the US or Western Europe. (It is also a full-fledged party, not an “organization.”)

Again, the only people hearing “echoes from the future” are those whose minds are bent into a distinctive warp, anxious to seem perceptive by blindly setting up a comparison with anti-immigrant parties in Europe that the media mistakenly refers to as “right wing”. (Most of them are really Big Statists, from what I can see.)

It cannot be emphasized too strongly:

Conditions in Japan do not and will not resemble those in any European country, nor conform to the illusions of drive-by Western commentators.

But enough of this; the rest of his analysis is based on conjecture just as foamy. (He too quickly accepts the idea that Japan has renounced nuclear energy; I wouldn’t be too cocksure about that. It doesn’t bode well for the movement that Hashimoto Toru has left it and Kamei Shizuka and Ozawa Ichiro have joined it.)

My thinking is quite simply that Japan has reached an economic point of no-return; this will be now played out politically to provide a dignified burial of the country’s ambitions.

Through a stroke of synchronicity, the following article appeared on the same day as this op-ed:

The first of a new generation of high-speed, magnetic levitation trains has been unveiled in Japan, designed to operate at speeds of more than 310 mph…

Designed by Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai), the state-of-the-art trains are scheduled to go into use in 2027 and link Shinagawa Station, in central Tokyo, with Nagoya.

At present, it takes 90 minutes for a conventional “shinkansen” bullet train to complete the journey between the two stations, but the new technology will cut the trip to 40 minutes.

The vehicle has no wheels – doing away with friction and, hence, providing a smoother and quieter ride at a faster speed – and is propelled along a track through electromagnetic pull.

That’s just 15 years away.

Japan will be the first nation to build a large-scale maglev route and hopes to be able to export the technology once it has been perfected.

And I expect they will be successful.

Had Chan Akya or the media’s editorial class known the ABCs of political conditions in Japan, the electorate’s intense interest in reform and readiness to punish politicians who lack that interest, and indeed, the capacity for innovation and survival of actors in the free market system in general and the Japanese in particular, this article would never have been written, much less been published.

How unlucky for us.

My thinking is that chances are very good Japan will survive the coming Dark Ages better than either the United States or most of the EU. That round red sun is more likely to be rising than setting.

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Government, Mass media, Politics, Social trends | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

All you have to do is look (122)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Kishiwada Danjiri Festival held annually in Kishiwada, Osaka, is an example of the intensity with which Japanese participate in these traditional events. Danjiri is the local term for a festival float, and each of the 34 districts in the city has one. They are pulled at maximum speed through town, and they don’t slow down for turns at intersections. In fact, that maneuver also has a special name: yarimawashi. (Photo: Asahi Shimbun)

The following Youtube video is a compilation of some of the mishaps that have occurred over the years. Get your socks on before pressing play — and remember that they still do this every year.

Posted in Festivals, Photographs and videos, Traditions | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Ichigen koji (244)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 29, 2012

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

* You didn’t keep your promise to abolish the healthcare system for the late-stage elderly (put in place by the Liberal Democratic Party), and you increased the consumption tax after you said you wouldn’t. No one’s going to trust you when you don’t keep your promises and do things you promised not to do.

- Someone identified as a person affiliated with a hospital at a public meeting attended by former DPJ Health Minister Nagatsuma Akira.

* That was an extremely accurate, or perhaps I should say, harsh question.

- Nagatsuma Akira’s answer

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

Ain’t that peculiar

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 29, 2012

Iida Tetsunari and Kada Yukiko

Shiga Gov. Kada Yukiko has formed a national political party called the Japan Future Party. I met Ms. Iida several times when I was governor of Miyazaki, and we’ve appeared on the same television programs together. What’s odd about this, however, is that there is a lot of criticism and censure whenever the chief executive of a local government becomes the head of a political party. ‘Is it possible for a local government leader to head a national party’, they ask. ‘Do they have that much spare time?’ ‘They’re making light of national government.’ None of that has happened this time. I’ve said from the beginning that it is possible to do both jobs if you’re willing to work without sleeping. Where did all the people who were so critical go the last time this happened?

- Higashikokubaru Hideo, former Miyazaki governor and current Japan Restoration Party candidate for a PR seat, making an unspoken reference to Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru

NOW ain’t that peculiar?

SHIGA Gov. Kada Yukiko is well known in citizen-activist circles for a her commitment to governmental reform. She was elected governor in 2006 after campaigning on a platform of opposing a new Shinkansen station and several dams, using the slogan “It’s a waste of money.” She was part of the now idle Sentaku group of local government leaders working to change Japanese politics. But outside of Shiga, she has little name recognition with the Japanese public.

Thus, it was like grabbing a stick from a bamboo grove, as the Japanese call a bolt from the blue, when she announced this week that she was forming a new national political party from scratch to contest the lower house election — in 19 days.

She said the primary objective of her Japan Future Party was to have Japan “graduate” from nuclear power in 10 years. She was disappointed in Hashimoto Toru for allowing the resumption of power generation at the Oi plants in Fukui, and his Japan Restoration Party for backing off its no-nuclear-power pledge. Ms. Kada also thinks women’s and children’s issues are important:

We agree with Japan Restoration on detaching ourselves from the bureaucracy and central authority, but we differ on two points. Mr. Hashimoto’s perspective is the big city, while mine is the country. Japan Restoration is not aware of the diversity of views of women and children. There are areas in which we could complement each other.

Appearing at the news conference was the man who is described as the party’s “second in command, the controversial Iida Tetsunari, who founded the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies. He thinks Japan can convert to 100% renewable energy by 2050.

He was once the energy policy advisor to Mr. Hashimoto, but left when the Osaka mayor decided to back the restart of the Oi plants. He ran for governor of Yamaguchi, but could manage only 35% of the vote despite the free media publicity at the height of the anti-nuclear power hysteria in Japan. Mr. Hashimoto did not make the short trip down from Osaka to campaign for him.

She doesn’t seem to have thought very carefully about any of her policies. An official from METI, which were responsible for regulating the nuclear power industry, said:

It is not possible to imagine a path that achieves zero nuclear power in 10 years.

He pointed out that apart from water power, renewable energy, including solar, wind, and geothermal, accounts for 2% of power generation now.

The rest of the new party’s platform consists of other phantasms that aren’t the business of national government: She wants to “create more opportunities for women and promote a work-life balance that makes it easier for families to raise children.” Ms. Kada said she also wants create hiring in the agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. She didn’t say how she intends to do any of that, but it’s safe to assume the regional devolution supporter will have no qualms about strengthening the central government to achieve it.

Another plank in her platform is to require companies to rehire their non-regular employees as full time employees. That means they and new people entering the work force will wind up as non-employees.

She also promised to roll back the consumption tax increase until government waste was eliminated. That was the same promise the Democratic Party of Japan made three years ago and broke this year.

Was there anything about foreign policy? Do you have to ask?

In other words, she is a generic and watery social democrat of the type that appeal to bored housewives, hairballs, and show biz types such as Sakamoto Ryuichi (who is a Kada supporter).

It becomes more peculiar: Ms. Kada will not run for a Diet seat, and told one of her aides at the statehouse that she intends to devote most of her attention to her duties there rather than the national party. Further, her party has no Diet members and no declared candidates. (Mr. Iida is not going to run for the Diet either.) She had demonstrated no interest in forming a national political party before, and certainly has no experience in navigating those shark-infested waters. How could she do this so quickly? Just what is going on here?

What is going on became clear within a few hours of her announcement. Yamaoka Kenji, the vice-president of Ozawa Ichiro’s People’s Lives First Party and Mr. Ozawa’s designated torpedo, said:

I think we’ll merge (with Kada’s party) after dissolving our party.

And they did. In other words, Ozawa Ichiro, the Great Destroyer, facing political extinction in this election with personal negatives well north of 80% and his party slithering along at less than 2% in the polls, decided to save his career and salvage his power by doing what he has done several times in the past. That is to create a new party (his seventh), change his policy clothes into whatever seems fashionable at the time, and enlist someone pleasant, innocuous, and superficially appealing person as his front man. Only this time, the front man is a woman.

It wasn’t long before it became clearer still. Former LDP bigwig, splinter group-head, and DPJ coalition partner Kamei Shizuka recently broke up his even smaller and newer two-man splinter party to join Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi’s Tax Reduction Japan Party. That group will also become part of the Japan Future Party. Also joining is former Social Democrat Abe Tomoko, who quit to join the Greens, and Hatsushika Akihiro, Pyeongyang’s pal in the Diet, who left the DPJ earlier this month.

It became perfectly obvious yesterday, when the Japan Future Party became an official national party with eight founding members from the recently dissolved Diet. In addition to Abe Tomoko, they include Yamada Masahiko, the other half of Mr. Kamei’s two-man party, former Olympic judo champion Tani Ryoko, whom Mr. Ozawa groomed as a celebrity upper house candidate for the DPJ in 2010, and several men who have followed Mr. Ozawa through three political parties and now into a fourth.

A chart on the front page of this morning’s newspaper shows that Japan Future has 61 Diet members, which, if the Diet had not been dissolved, would make it the third-largest party behind the DPJ and LDP. When asked at a news conference how many members her party had, Ms. Kada replied:

“I understand there are about 73-74 as of now.”

“She understands”? She’s the boss. Doesn’t she know?

Of course she doesn’t know. Ms. Kada is sticking to her knitting as the Shiga governor while sallying forth for the occasional national speech and television performance. The people running the party are the people who really organized the party — Ozawa Ichiro and Kamei Shizuka.

But Mr. Ozawa is so unpopular with the public that giving him a formal position in Japan Future would ensure it would be stillborn. Mr. Iida was asked if he would be made an officer, and he answered:

“I understand that he will not have that role.”

“He understands”? He’s the number two man in the party. Doesn’t he know?

It doesn’t take long for the Japanese media to ferret out information related to political plots, and they were quick off the ball this time as well. It turns out that Messrs. Ozawa and Kamei have been discussing ways to create a new party for the last three months. Mr. Ozawa had already met Gov. Kada in June and offered her the top job in People’s Lives First then. UPDATE: The latest report is that Iwate Gov. Tasso Tatsuya, an Ozawa supporter, made the proposal to Ms. Kada for this party in late September.

They met again last week to iron out the details. Reported the Asahi:

Kada offered a draft of her plan to form a loose alliance of anti-nuclear parties, comparing it to the Olive Tree coalition in Italy, when she met Ozawa on Nov. 24.

That’s a dead giveaway that she was hooked by the Ozawa line. Mr. Ozawa has been talking up the possibility of a Japanese version of the Olive Tree coalition for some months, though he already created one in the early 90s with the eight- and then seven-party coalition governments of Hosokawa Morihiro and Hata Tsutomu in the early 90s. That lasted less than a year, thanks in part to the efforts of Kamei Shizuka to sabotage them. But that was then, and this is now.

Everyone in Japanese politics also knew exactly what was going on. Said Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi:

I hope she doesn’t become a puppet. I hope the big man behind her doesn’t manipulate her like a kuroko.

He was asked if Your Party would join the Japan Future Party, because they do share an anti-nuclear power stance. Mr. Watanabe said it wasn’t possible for this election because it was too late, and his party’s candidates have already been selected. Mr. Iida, however, said that policy discussions between the two groups were underway.

Reporters addressed that issue with Ms. Kada. Here’s what the boss said:

I will work so that this does not become the new Ozawa party, and embed mechanisms into the party that reflect the voices of women and young people.

The media is not about to let it go, either. They asked her again today, and she replied that the relationship would be beneficial because “he has a lot of experience and I have a lot to learn”.

And I have a need for one of those eye-rolling icons.

She also announced today that Mori Yuko, the token woman nominally in charge of Ozawa’s Putting People’s Lives First, will be given a leadership role in Japan Future. Ms. Mori is quite attractive, so the new party’s electoral strategy and organization has gone beyond obvious to blatant.

Even Azumi Jun, the acting Secretary-General of the DPJ knew what was up:

The Japan Future Party is the classic unholy political alliance.

He also referred to the party as a kakikomidera. That was a temple during the Edo period to which a woman would flee to begin ascetic practices and thereby establish a divorce from her husband.

When he heard that Ms. Kada wants to restore the government stipend/child rearing allowance that the DPJ implemented and withdrew after the Tohoku disaster, Mr. Azumi said it looked like they were making the same mistake the DPJ made.

Former Prime Minister Kan Naoto knew the score too:

Ms. Kada is a true environmentalist, but if the structure of the party is such that Ozawa Ichiro has the real authority, it will fall apart.

Well, wait — some politicians thought it was a good idea. Here’s former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio:

The thinking of the Japan Future Party is the starting point for the ideas of the original Democratic Party of Japan.

I really need one of those eye-rolling icons.

One more aspect to this is Ms. Kada’s desire to create a new “third force” in Japanese politics. That is the phrase usually applied to the movement now spearheaded by Hashimoto Toru’s Japan Restoration Party. The Japan Future Party is therefore an Ozawa-Kamei vehicle designed to crush that group.

Whether it works or not remains to be seen. The Japan Future Party was born out of Ozawa Ichiro’s desperation to remain a force in Japanese politics. Had he stood pat, his People’s Lives First party would have been the one to be crushed. That isn’t to say this move will be successful — the same newspaper chart this morning that gives Japan Future 61 members has photographs of both Ms. Kada and Mr. Ozawa. People know who’s pulling the strings, and a lot of them won’t like it.

Also, opposition to nuclear power has not been the path to electoral success in Japan, and polls show it isn’t near the top of the list of voter concerns. This might well be a last gasp rather than a new opening.

It’s almost possible to feel sorry for Kada Yukiko, until you remember that she was quite willing to make this Faustian bargain to serve as window dressing. While all politicos are liars who would do violence to us all (to combine observations from I.F. Stone and Tolstoy), people from her part of the political pasture are the most likely to believe that their righteously holy ends justify any means whatsoever. Even if that means lying to themselves to cut a deal with Old Scratch.

Whether this party is a success or a failure, one thing is certain: nothing good will come of this in the future. The more unpleasant of the two possibilities would manifest if the party is successful. That would mean Japan’s future really will be very bleak.

More Peculiarities

Speaking of desperate politicians, Prime Minister Noda plans to approve a JPY 880 billion emergency stimulus package this week. It is his second emergency stimulus package in two months. Of course this one won’t work either, but hey, it’s not his money. Don’t ask him what’s in it, because he doesn’t know. His party didn’t even know how the government funds for rebuilding the Tohoku region are being spent. Now they’ve decided to suspend some of them, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that their left hands don’t know what their right hands are doing.

This is an unusual step because the Diet has been dissolved. Yes, it does look like a last-gasp legal vote-buying scheme, doesn’t it?

The party’s new manifesto contains employment measures that will promote hiring in “green sectors” (energy and the environment) and the “life sector” (medical services and nursing care). They don’t seem to have learned anything from Spain that promoting green policy beggars the economy instead of making it better.

The party believes that this, combined with their consumption tax increase, will somehow increase household disposable income.

Well, what do you expect from a party of the left? Common sense? Sound financial policies? An understanding of how economic growth and prosperity for the greater population is created?

That really would be peculiar.

Afterwords:

The person who understands how to increase employment in the agricultural sector is Hashimoto Toru. From a Hashimoto tweet this week:

Growing the agricultural sector through industrialization (i.e., agribusiness) is essential for Japan’s growth. Young people will not seek work with individual farmers. It would be better if blue chip companies got involved with agriculture. They will also be a source of employment for young people. Unless a situation is created that will attract young people, the sector will wither and die. Structural reform of this sector is the only path.

This was also the path selected by the Koizumi-Abe LDP, who implemented measures to promote the creation of agribusiness. The DPJ led by Ozawa Ichiro used those measures as leverage to win farm votes by promising to roll them back and provide government subsidies to individual farm households.

*****

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

All you have to do is look (121)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The annual cleaning of the Great Buddha of Takaoka, in Takaoka, Toyama. It is one of the three great Buddha statues in Japan, and required 25 men to clean.

Posted in Photographs and videos, Religion, Shrines and Temples | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (243)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 28, 2012

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

Analyzing the Japan Restoration Party is fascinating. In order to achieve their Heisei Restoration (reforms), they think they should devote themselves to seizing power while ignoring policy. That is what the unaffiliated voters who are giving strength to Japan Restoration want. That is frightening.

- Ishii Taka’aki

Posted in Politics, Quotations | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

No surprises at all

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 28, 2012

BY now you’ve probably read that China has issued new passports with a map of the country that includes most of the territory outside Chinese borders they don’t control but insists is theirs. (The Senkakus are not on the map, but they’re small.)

If there is any surprise to this, it would be that anyone could possibly be surprised at Chinese behavior. That is who they are.

This post at China Digital Times presents a concise roundup of regional reactions. The Vietnamese are issuing visas on separate pieces of paper to avoid stamping the passports, and India is stamping the passports with its own map showing non-Sinocentric borders. A government spokesman from The Philippines said it is an infringement of national sovereignty. Certainly the Taiwanese are displeased.

But typically slow on the uptake is the United States. The China Digital Times has a post about the American reaction with the puzzling title, State Dept.: U.S. Does Not Endorse China Passport Map.

Perhaps it doesn’t, but the passage the CDT quotes from a news conference with a State Department spokesman doesn’t inspire much confidence in the American approach. The spokesman actually said:

* Accepting the passport does not constitute the acceptance of territorial claims.

* The spokesman “looked into this a little bit” to confirm the American standards for accepting passports, and “stray maps that they include aren’t part of it”.

“Stray maps”, eh?

She also said they would have “a conversation” with the Chinese about it and there were “a bunch of other issues” involved. She also refused to refer to the use of the maps as provocative. She’ll let the media know the full American position after the conversations. Then the discussion moved on to other pressing matters, such as the anti-homosexuality legislation in Uganda. (It’s also worth reading the transcript at the link inside that post to see just how unserious everyone participating was.)

Well, isn’t that dandy — the Obama administration is going to have a conversation with the Chinese about it. If we bet on form, the Chinese will ignore whatever it is the speak-softly-and-carry-a-small-stick government has to say, and the American customs officials will stamp the passports without an official objection. After all, their conversations with other malefactors, including the Russians, the Iranians, and the Egyptians, haven’t been very fruitful. They only get pushy with the Israelis, but those conversations haven’t been very fruitful either.

None of the behavior by any of the actors should surprise anyone at all.

Thus the day moves closer when Japan will beef up its military and eliminate the peace clause from the Constitution.

Those with the eyes to see…

****
And for more unserious talk, try this:

China’s navy chief yesterday briefed the US secretary of the Navy on test trials of the country’s first aircraft carrier and the successful aircraft landing tests, which Beijing recently confirmed.

Ray Mabus’ visit to China is the first by a US secretary of the navy in 28 years. The visit shows China’s sincerity to improve military ties with the US and Beijing’s growing transparency and confidence, experts said.

The experts were Chinese, of course.

“Despite sometimes bellicose attitudes on both sides, there is also a growing push for greater contact and communication to avoid misunderstandings and build trust,” The Associated Press said yesterday in a report about the meeting.

That might be reassuring if Associated Press reporting about repressive regimes had any credibility.

The real point comes at the end:

“The US used to be the only dominant force in the region. And the Pentagon is not used to a stronger Chinese military with an expanded sphere of activity,” Niu said.

It has nothing to with openness and trust, and everything to do with delivering an unsubtle threat.

Posted in China, International relations, Military affairs | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The real losing dogs

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 28, 2012

SEVERAL years ago, novelist Sakai Junko coined the expression makeinu, or losing dog, to refer to single people over the age of 30.

The term has other useful applications, however. Is that not the perfect descriptor for a left-of-center political party that loses the confidence of left-of-center newspapers? That’s exactly what happened to the Democratic Party of Japan. This article by the Asahi Shimbun is several months old, but it explains very clearly one of the most important reasons the party lost the trust of the Japanese public, and lost it almost immediately after they took office.

Among the Democratic Party of Japan’s many pledges when it came to power was to loosen the hold that bureaucrats had on policy issues and put politicians in charge.

Yet it never challenged the Finance Ministry, the bastion of the nation’s bureaucratic hierarchy.

In reality, the Finance Ministry has gained more clout under successive DPJ administrations, winning over prime ministers Yukio Hatoyama, Naoto Kan and now Yoshihiko Noda.

One of the key persons appearing in the story is former Budget Bureau chief Katsu Eijiro, who I’ve mentioned several times on this site.

In late September of 2009 (N.B.: one month after the DPJ took power), Kan (Naoto), who was national policy minister, was irritated because the government had not been able to decide on a basic budget policy due to a lack of revenue for the DPJ’s campaign policies.

Which everyone knew would happen even before the election, but then I interrupt.

Katsu, chief of the Budget Bureau, appeared. Kan asked when the basic budget policy should be drawn up if the budget was to be compiled by the end of the year.

“The DPJ has a grand manifesto,” Katsu said. “If you issue a sheet of paper and tell us to compile the budget based on the manifesto, we will follow the instruction.”

Kan was visibly relieved. “That makes it easy,” he said.

The meeting effectively put Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii, not Kan, in charge of compiling the budget under the first DPJ administration.

Fujii, 79, is a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat. He became a Diet member after Hatoyama’s father, who was an administrative vice finance minister, advised him to go into politics.

“I don’t think politicians can make correct judgments on details of the budget,” Fujii said. “The Finance Ministry has a tradition encompassing more than a century. What is expected of politicians is to make decisions.”

Fujii was instrumental in installing Noda as senior vice finance minister under him.

Doesn’t that tell you all you need to know? Well, most of it, but not quite all:

Heizo Takenaka, who battled with the Finance Ministry over the initiative in budget formulation when he served as a Cabinet minister under Junichiro Koizumi, said tax increases, not spending cuts, benefit the Finance Ministry.

“The Finance Ministry derives its power by allocating money from a fat pocketbook,” he said.

Twas ever thus, in every country, but particularly in Japan. That’s why the relationship between the bureaucracy and the political class is always an issue here. Ending bureaucratic control of the government is one of the primary issues that has motivated the regional parties.

You know what they say about reading the whole thing? Read the whole thing.

Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

All you have to do is look (120)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Main gate stone bridge, Imperial Palace, Tokyo

Posted in Imperial family, Photographs and videos | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (242)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 27, 2012

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

YES!Change is created when people gather and debate the issues. There wouldn’t be any point to debate if change didn’t result. Before you accuse me of changing my tune, judge us on our final policies.

- Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, responding to criticism that he’s been flip-flopping on the issues.

Posted in Politics, Quotations | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Clippings

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 27, 2012

MANY South Koreans continue to reveal in word and deed their lack of interest in better relations with Japan, and their antipathy to the idea itself. It doesn’t make any difference what the Japanese do — they’re not going to change.

The photo above shows one of several organized groups of demonstrators in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul last week. The demonstration was to protest the content of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party’s election pledges released on the 21st.

The LDP isn’t calling their promises a manifesto (British style). After the ruling Democratic Party congratulated themselves for bringing manifestoes to Japan, and then used theirs as toilet paper once they took office, manifesto has now become a dirty political word. But back to the story.

It was reported in South Korea that the LDP campaign pledges would “return Japan to a war criminal state that included far right-wing views which will completely repudiate (what today’s Koreans consider to be) the fact that the Japan-Korea merger was a war of invasion.”

I visited the LDP website and read the Japanese version of the document. (It’s not in English yet.) Under the Education category, the LDP promises to encourage students to take pride in traditional culture, to improve and revamp textbook screening, and to remove the “neighboring country clause” adopted in the 1980s for including considerations of the wishes of neighboring countries when editing textbooks.

There’s nothing in there about any repudiation of a “war of invasion”. (Which is not to say that there shouldn’t be, if that is cited in history textbooks.)

But telling the truth would deny a significant portion of South Korean society its favorite pastime. They just aren’t happy unless they’re unhappy about Japan.

Then again, this same element thinks Prime Minister Noda is also of the “extreme right”. That eliminates any possibility the Japanese will take what they say seriously.

No other governments at the time seemed to think it was a war of invasion, by the way. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt even thought it was an admirable example of the yellow man assuming the white man’s burden. Here’s an old map in English you’ll never see in South Korea. (It’s also worthy of note to compare the borders of China then with those of today.)

*****
Here’s an excerpt from an Chosun Ilbo editorial that appeared on 22 November.

“The Liberal Democratic Party’s promise to elevate Shimane Prefecture’s Takeshima Day into a national event is proof that Japan has lost its reason. There are now concerns that if this is accompanied by a promise to deny the government coercion of comfort women, it will be impossible for Japan to return to a normal path. It is clear that this denial will not only anger China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia. There is no one in Japan who can put the brakes on this. The LDP promises include the stationing of personnel on the Senkaku islets, which are the subject of a territorial dispute with China.

“The first South Korea-China-Japan trilateral summit was held in Fukuoka in December 2008, and it has continued every year since then. But if LDP President Abe becomes the next prime minister with these campaign promises, it will not be possible to continue these summits. The next prime minister, the next Korean president, and the Chinese prime minister will not be able to discuss together the future of Northeast Asia.”

* Hysteria is the only word that can be used to describe this.

* Taiwan, The Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia will not be angered by any of this, because they haven’t been before. In fact, the Indonesians years ago told the Japanese human rights hustlers trying to establish the same comfort woman scam there to get lost. The only countries to get angry are the two trying to use historical issues for rent-seeking.

* What Japanese government personnel are stationed on what part of Japanese territory is certainly not the business of the Chosun Ilbo. But then this is from a country that can’t get it up to do anything when another country sinks its naval vessels or unleashes an artillery barrage on its territory, killing military personnel and civilians both.

* The three leaders will not be able to discuss the future of the region as long as two of them insist on reopening and discussing past issues that were resolved by treaty decades ago.

*****
There has been for many years an official Japan-South Korea Legislators’ League to promote ties between the national legislators of both countries. Former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro was particularly active in the group.

The position of chairman on the Korean side has been vacant for six months, which is an unusual state of affairs. They finally got around to naming a new secretary-general, who is responsible for the actual liaison work with their Japanese counterparts.

The new man is Kang Chang-il, an opposition member of the assembly. In May 2011, he indulged in the Korean version of gesture politics by visiting the Northern Territories, the four small islands illegally seized by Russia after the Japanese surrender in the war.

And these are the people who are supposed to be most interested in creating stronger and friendlier governmental ties? With friends like these…

*****
Now comes word that a Korean group in Detroit wants to erect a comfort woman memorial in that city, and are waiting for final authorization from the city to proceed. In addition to wondering who among the people remaining in that dying city will much care about it, one also wonders what the Koreans think they will accomplish other than poisoning bilateral relations into the future.

The only way to describe this is to say that some people seem to enjoy being aggressively obnoxious. That isn’t a good strategy for creating friendly relations with anyone. Even if people not directly involved aren’t the immediate object of that obnoxious behavior, they realize on some level that it could just as easily be directed at them someday.

*****
The Japanese Cabinet Office released the results of their periodical survey of the public’s views of foreign affairs. Here are some of them.

Do you feel friendly to South Korea?

Yes: 39.2%, down 3.0 points from the previous survey

No: 59.0%. This percentage is higher than the one for yes for the first time since 1999.

How would you characterize bilateral relations?

Bad: 78.8%, a 42.8-point increase

Good: 18.4%

They also asked the same questions about China.

Do you feel friendly to China?

Yes: 18.0%, down 8.3 points from the previous survey. It is the lowest percentage since the question was first asked in the poll in 1978.

No: 80.65, a record high

How would you characterize bilateral relations?

Bad: 92.8%, a 16.5-point increase

Good: 4.8%, down 14 points.

There are at least two conclusions that can be drawn from these results.

The first is that one out of every 20 people you encounter might as well be living in a different galaxy. They sure aren’t paying attention to events in this one.

The other is that the Japanese are reaching, if not past, their limit of tolerance for Korean and Chinese behavior.

*****
As this previous post indicated, new varieties of the Korean alcoholic beverage makgeolli have become popular in Japan in recent years, mostly among women. South Korea shipped 39,000 tons of the hooch to Japan in 2011, an increase of 2.5 times from the previous year.

That isn’t happening this year. South Korean customs reported that makgeolli exports for the January – September period so far this year totaled 21,743 tons. That’s a 28.6% decline in volume from the same period in the year before, and a 28.0% drop in value.

South Korean attitudes and behavior aren’t leaving a good taste in people’s mouths. It’s getting harder to get makgeolli past the throat in those circumstances.

*****
NHK-TV has decided not to invite any K-pop performers for its famous New Year’s Eve musical program, Kohaku Uta Gassen. Three groups appeared last year, and those three are still performing in Japan, but the network decided they would not be conducive to creating a relaxing and pleasant atmosphere for the holidays.

The big attraction this year will be actor/singer Tachi Hiroshi singing a medley of the late actor/singer Ishihara Yujiro’s hits. As a young man, Mr. Tachi was associated with Ishihara’s production company, Ishihara was the leading male star of his generation, and he was the younger brother of Ishihara Shintaro.

*****
Here’s a video of cluelessness on a level approaching that of Joseph Biden. A South Korean man is performing parlor tricks with alcoholic beverages for the amusement of an international audience. He gives the tricks the generic title of “bomb liquor”.

About three minutes in, he performs what he calls the Hiroshima trick. It forms a boozy mushroom cloud. The Japanese ambassador is in the audience.

Then again, maybe it isn’t Bidenesque. Biden is a cloth-headed demagogue. This guy just doesn’t care.

Posted in China, History, International relations, South Korea | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

All you have to do is look (119)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 26, 2012

The Makurazaki Station, the terminal station on the Ibusuki-Makurazaki Line of JR Kyushu, the southernmost railroad line operated by the JR Group in Japan (Photo by Muyo). Six trains arrive and depart every day.

The woman in the video is a volunteer who greets tourists on weekends.

Posted in Photographs and videos, Travel | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (241)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 26, 2012

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

In this world, it is not the case that there is only white or black, or enemies or allies. There’s a gray zone right in the middle, and this is the largest zone of all. What will you do if you don’t win over that group? If you don’t make the gray zone your ally, you won’t be able to capture your objective. The truth is always in the middle. It is important to know this.

- A Tweet from the Tanaka Kakuei bot

Posted in Quotations | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

 
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