AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Archive for the ‘Social trends’ Category

Ichigen koji (273)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 28, 2012

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

That portion of the elite capable of performing a role globally will in the future become detached from most of the low income group. Opinions on whether this type of society should be permitted are probably divided. But the age in which people called for prosperity for everyone is over.

- The Tweeter known as Galois225

Posted in Quotations, Social trends | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Smallness playing large

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 28, 2012

AT what point does one’s reaction to the absurdities of South Korea’s preoccupation with Japan pass from amusement at a diversion that resembles the ramblings of a wild-haired street corner preacher to sadness tinged with dismissive indifference at the frenzied intensity of smallness playing large? This excerpt from an article written by Seon U-jeon that appeared in the Chosun Ilbo — which the newspaper translated into Japanese — comes close to defining that passage for me. It’s titled, What South Korea has but Japan doesn’t.

It’s tempting to answer, “Crazed irrationality about a neighboring country”, but I’ll leave that for you to decide.

*****
There are 290,000 foreign students in China, of which the most, 60,000, are from South Korea.

Japan once sent many students abroad 100 years ago, but it has lost its vitality. This is reflected in the sharp decline in students going abroad, the popularity of Korean pop culture, the strength of Korean corporations, and education.

Today’s South Korea is just like Japan a century ago. From the 19th century to the early 20th century, the number of Japanese going abroad to study reached 24,700. They sent more students overseas than any country in the world. There were 43 students accompanying the Iwakura mission (1871-1873) to visit the Western powers, six of whom were young women. That gives one an idea of their passion for studying abroad at the time. The stunning development of modern Japan resulted from their bringing learning back with them, though many were dismissed overseas as monkeys. They served as a bridge to the Great Powers. It was these students who broke the chains binding Japan during its period of isolation.

The number of Japanese students now in China is fewer than half the number of South Korean students. The number of Japanese students in the United States is just 28% the total of South Korean students. It is not that Japan is a country with nothing to learn from other countries. Even after Japan became a member of the advanced countries, it continued to send many students abroad into the 1980s. The sharp decline in the number of overseas students began when economic growth stalled and society lost its vitality.

Students studying abroad are an accurate reflection of a country’s hopes and the strength of its people. We view Japan’s rightward lurch as the floundering of out-of-control old men, because we now have what Japan had 100 years ago. The passion for Korean pop culture sweeping the world is as resplendent as the Japonism that swept Europe and the United States a century ago. The ability of Korean companies to seize markets is reminiscent of Japanese corporations after the war. Times have changed.

*****
Some observations, though you surely have many of your own.

* I’ve read some of the records of the Iwakura mission, which are still in print. They’re boring and not worth reading in their entirety because they are nothing but hundreds and hundreds of pages of the most basic travelogue. They’re like a postcard expanded into a book. The Meiji-era Japanese were literally visiting a new world beyond their imaginations. Nowadays, Japanese of average means can — and do — hop on a flight to New York after work on Friday to catch a Saturday night concert by a favorite performer and return in time for work Monday morning.

* Mr. Seon might be more accurate in his assessment than he suspects. In this article, Koreans do come off like the Japanese 100 years ago — going abroad to marvel at a new world beyond their imaginations. That says more about Korea, its degree of openness, and its entrapment in the mindset of a previous century than it does about Japan and its vitality.

* What is it exactly that Japanese students need to learn by studying at a Chinese university? Other than getting advanced practice in the Chinese language, very little. And what, for that matter, is it that Japanese students have to learn as undergraduates or masters candidates at the exorbitantly priced cesspools of political correctness that American universities have become?

* Japan sent so many students abroad a century ago because it was so far behind the West and wanted to catch up. Exactly what learning would they be bringing back from China?

* If Japanese universities are so inadequate that education needs to be supplemented by overseas universities, why are so many Chinese and South Koreans coming here to study?

* The only real reason that so many Koreans are studying in China is commercial — that’s where they think the money is. But then Koreans have a long history of fealty to the Chinese imperium.

* The Japonism of a century ago was a result of the admiration for the aesthetics of Japanese art and culture, such as ukiyoe and ceramics. Do Koreans think they have supplanted the Japanese in the West by offering chewing gum pop culture?

I’m glad I won’t be exposed to the internal Korean dialogue when the world forgets about Gagnam Style and they have to pick themselves up off the floor in a daze after the crash of the mother of all sugar highs.

* It always bears repeating: Saying that Japan has lost its vitality is prima facie evidence that the speaker knows next to nothing about today’s Japan.

* And yes, Japan is still the gold standard by which the Koreans judge themselves.

*****
When he was assigned to Japan, the author of this article received the Japan-Korea Cultural Exchange Award as the representative of a Korean newspaper.

*****
Speaking of Korean education, here are some photos of a demonstration earlier this month in front of the Japanese embassy conducted by primary school students and their teachers. Got to start washing those brains early, eh?

Japanese people apologize!

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Japanese people, recognize your errors! (That’s a photo of the comfort woman statue on her sign.)

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Apologize for the comfort women!

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The photo prop on the left is the comfort woman statue and the photo prop on the right is holding a sign saying that Takeshima is our land.

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If Korean primary school take their students on field trips such as these, it is a matter of extreme urgency for even more students to study abroad when they reach university age. Even at Chinese universities

Posted in China, Education, History, I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, Social trends | 65 Comments »

Nippon Noel 2012

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Christmas tree at Huis ten Bosch, a theme park in Sasebo, Nagasaki, that recreates The Netherlands with full-scale copies of old Dutch buildings.

Christmas in Japan is a festival of light. For even more creative examples, hit the tag at the bottom of the post.

Merry Christmas to Mr. Lawrence, and to you all!

Posted in Holidays, Social trends | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Ichigen koji (269)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 24, 2012

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

The nations that flourish are those which do not emphasize the state, but understand the grammar of a globalized world, with its flow of exceptional people who can transcend borders, that which is necessary, and chic information. That is different from the past, when the great powers with their military forces competed to obtain colonies.

People in Japan often talk about becoming a “normal country”, but that is an old, out-of-date model. Japan was late to ride the wave of civilization with the Internet and globalization. It also has difficulty keeping up with the contemporary grammar of civilization that includes harmonious coexistence and networks. That means there is a danger Japan will recede farther and farther away from the path towards prosperity.

- Mogi Ken’ichiro, brain scientist, senior researcher at Sony Computer Science Laboratories, and multi-million-dollar tax cheat now prohibited from appearing on NHK-TV.

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

Normalization

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 14, 2012

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Foreigners are making a big commotion about how Japan is moving to the right, but that’s all those people have been saying for the past 60 years. We’re not on some clock, and even if we are moving rightward, militarism is not going to return. So, just how far to the right is Japan moving then?

- The Tweeter known as Aceface

JAPAN will go to the polls on Sunday to select 480 members of the lower house of the Diet, and, as a consequence, a new government. This will be an important election for several reasons. One is that it will be the first election after the Democratic Party of Japan betrayed the public’s trust in the same way the Liberal-Democratic Party did post-Koizumi, while demonstrating unspeakable incompetence in the bargain. Thus, the politicians are facing an electorate who does not want to get fooled again.

Another is that it will be the expression of the political will of a younger generation of Japanese for whom debate of events several decades ago in a world long dead and gone has no meaning. Why should they? Their parents were born after the war. It is as of little interest to them as America’s victory in that war is for the Millennials in the United States, many of whom don’t know the difference between Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt.

Regardless of who wins — and it looks now as if a negotiated coalition could result — there will be more people in the Diet representing ideas that make some people outside the country uncomfortable. There is growing interest in amending the Japanese Constitution to remove the indignity of Article 9, the peace clause. Everyone has the right to defend themselves, including the Japanese. Americans once thought, and many still do, that self-defense is a natural and inalienable right. Events over the years have shown the Japanese are no more likely to become involved in malevolent adventures abroad than any other country. Events in recent years have shown they are a lot less likely to become involved in those adventures than some of their neighbors.

Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru isn’t running for the Diet, but he —- and Chinese behavior — has made constitutional reform a legitimate issue for public discussion. Some detractors label him a dictator and use the word Hashism as a code word for his movement. That reaction to what he represents shares much in common with those in America who tar with the racist brush those who criticize Barack Obama for spending too much time on the golf course or employing the poison ball brand of Chicago politics he was schooled in.

Dictatorial? Mr. Hashimoto wants a national referendum on the question. What could be more democratic?

The Osaka mayor also said:

We must create the defensive capabilities and policies for Japan to defend its sovereignty and land by itself.

He and many like him would draw the line with China which needs to be drawn and continue cooperation with the United States. He’s written:

China has become a great power with responsibility, so it also has to behave responsibly. Demonstrations are one thing, but they have to stop the violence. It would also be a good idea to end the childish threats to cut off all relations whenever disputes occur. The international community jeers at them behind their back….

…Japan should be proud of the path it has taken in the postwar period. It should be proud of the more than JPY 3 trillion in ODA they’ve given to China. It should say what needs to be said to China. But we should also be aware that it won’t be so easy to wash away our past behavior.

As for other territorial disputes:

We cannot change South Korea’s effective control of Takeshima with military force.

He therefore proposed joint management of the islets while taking the case to the International Court of Justice. (Prime Minister Noda’s government is backing off their threat to do so. They’re waiting to see who wins the South Korean presidential election and thought sub-ministerial discussions with the Koreans have gone well lately. All of that is pointless considering the hard-wired Korean intransigence.)

He’s also in favor of downsizing government, rethinking the government’s social welfare responsibilities, decentralizing government authority, and controlling the out-of-control public sector unions.

Another result of the election is that Abe Shinzo, who also wants to amend the Constitution, and who passed the legislation enabling national referendums during his term as prime minister, might be serving a second term.

That the Chinese, the South Koreans, and some in the United States throw up their hands as if they were maidens threatened with violation and exclaim “extreme right wing!” or “nationalism!” says more about them than it does about the Japanese. Ending the renunciation of warfare and enforced pacifism is not right-wing, nationalistic, hawkish, or abnormal. The abnormality lies with those who object because they might lose their favorite diplomatic weapon. Are Japanese born with some geopolitical original sin that afflicts no one else?

The real complaint is that Japan is moving to end the postwar regime. That would inconvenience too many people not only in China and South Korea, but also the United States. Who knows? If they keep going down this road, Japan might actually start to tell the Americans no. Can’t have that, can we?

William Choong in the Straits Times of Singapore understands. He discusses both Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Abe in this article, and says:

(I)t is important to see things in perspective. Japan’s rightward shift does not mean that it will go all the way right and revert to its odious World War II-era aggression. Instead, Japan is moving right to the centre.

In the long run, Japan will become a “normal” country – it will retain the right to wage war, assemble a standing army (as opposed to self-defence forces), and contribute substantially to the provision of regional and global security.

(Forgive him the “all the way to the right” line. Pre-war Japan had fascist political tendencies, and those are always statist — and therefore of the left.)

Mr. Choong also quotes University of Macau Prof. Wang Jianwei on China’s proper response:

Japan should sign a formal statement of apology for its wartime crimes, ban visits to the Yasukuni Shrine by its prime ministers, relinquish its bid to control the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands and resolve the dispute through negotiation.

If Japan were to agree to such conditions, China could, writes Prof Wang, recognize Japan’s “normal” country status and even support Tokyo’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.

Why the Chinese need another apology from the Japanese government after having received more than 20 already, JPY 3 trillion in ODA as de facto reparations, and signed a treaty normalizing relations that pledged to let bygones be bygones is not explained. In any event, China would be no more likely to keep its promise about supporting a Security Council seat than the South Koreans have kept their promises in bilateral negotiations over the years.

In a larger sense that few people outside the country can understand, Sunday’s election is not about government. Japan has all the government it needs, and like everyone else, needs a lot less of what it has.

Rather, the vote on Sunday will be another step in Japan’s reclamation of its nationhood. When that reclamation is complete, then it will be normal again.

*****
It’s been a long and winding road.

Posted in China, Government, International relations, Military affairs, Politics, Social trends, South Korea, World War II | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

An oasis in the desert of ignorance

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 5, 2012

IT’S an ironclad law that’s almost mathematical in its inverse proportionality: The more a commentator buncomizes with faux insight about the Japanese decline, the less that commentator actually knows about Japan. Now here’s an example that demonstrates the theorem works both ways. Gerald Curtis, a professor of political science at Columbia University, director of the Toyota Research Program at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, and the senior research fellow at the Tokyo Foundation, thinks the declinist debate is a diversion.

He starts out with some much-needed common sense:

Japan is declining in some respects and in other important ways it is not declining at all. It is well known that Japan’s relative standing in the hierarchy of the world’s economies has declined. Japan as number one has given way to a Japan that is number three. But would you prefer to live in the number two economy China or the number three economy Japan? If you think about living standards and the quality of the air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat, the health care and other social services you receive, and the number of years you can expect to live, the answer is obvious: better to live in a “declining” Japan than in a rising China.

More pertinent to the decline issue, is Japan’s diminished stature as an economic superpower really a matter of decline or the consequence of the ability of other countries to grow richer? The share of global GNP occupied by both the United States and Japan has declined thanks to the ability of other countries to emerge from abject poverty. That is good news not only for the people of those countries but for the United States and Japan as well, who have access to inexpensively priced goods and new markets for their exports.

It’s tempting to just copy and paste the whole thing:

The declinist narrative exaggerates Japan’s economic so-called decline because it fails to take into account the one indisputable aspect of Japan’s decline which is the decline of the number of Japanese. Has Japan’s economy performed notably worse than other advanced economies over the past twenty years? No, especially if you compare GDP growth per capita or per employee. Over two decades of “stagnation” Japan has grown, living standards have continued to increase and unemployment has been kept low.

Prof. Curtis is also aware of what so many people who presume to pontificate about Japan aren’t:

What about something we might call the nation’s social health. In terms of social cohesion, sense of community, and general civility, the Tohoku disaster showed the world how strong Japan is. Whatever political problems were revealed by the government response to the Tohoku tragedy, they pale by comparison with the self-discipline, restraint, outpouring of goodwill, and cooperation that Japanese people showed each other—and the welcoming attitude with which they greeted foreign assistance. And it is not only in rural areas like the Tohoku disaster zone in which these social bonds are strong. In urban Japan as well, cleanliness, low crime rates, and basic good manners still make Japanese cities like Tokyo some of the world’s most comfortable, civilized places to live.

The only problem he sees is demography, but he points out that Japan is by no means alone.

Demography may be robbing Japan of some of its vitality. Japan seems tired which should not be so surprising seeing that it is becoming more and more a country of older people; alas, elderly people tend to get tired. But this too is hardly a uniquely Japanese problem. Immigration brings vitality to the United States but most countries in Europe as well as South Korea, China, and many others face a demographic reality similar to Japan’s.

You’ve hit the link and read the whole thing? Good, because this is an excellent opportunity to mention one of my theories: people might be misunderstanding what’s happening with demographic decline. The cosmos naturally seeks the due mean, and extremes will always be balanced out.

The demographic decline might just be part of the ongoing process of survival of the fittest. Those people without the ability to protect themselves from predators, develop hunting skills, or recognize dangers and potentially fatal situations did not pass their genes on to later generations. The genes of those without the physical resiliency to withstand fatal bacteria also were not delivered to the future. All of us alive today are descended from stock capable of surviving massive plagues, which have continued into modern times. For example:

The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than the Great War, known today as World War I (WWI), at somewhere between 20 and 40 million people. It has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351. Known as “Spanish Flu” or “La Grippe” the influenza of 1918-1919 was a global disaster.

Nowadays, saber-toothed tigers do not spring on us from out of the bushes, and improvements in medical science continue to extend our lifespans. Those who now do not pass their genes on to the next generation are the people blase about the brass tacks of life, whom modern society has rendered psychologically ill-equipped to follow the biological imperative of reproduction. It makes no difference whether the diversion is the contemporary manifestation of café society, computer games, Twitter addiction, or outré pastimes; they are all a divergent path.

When the due mean has been reached and the extremes balanced, most of the people then alive will be those who have demonstrated yet another facet of the fitness for survival.

Am I wrong? Perhaps, but it is likely that none of us will be around long enough to see that process work itself out.

Afterwords:

* Prof. Curtis is considered in some quarters to be one of the Japan Handlers.

* He wrote this post as a guest of the regular blogger, Sheila A. Smith. Considering what she’s offered in the past, it’s a pity he can’t replace her permanently.

Posted in Demography, Social trends | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Sex, culture, history, and the Japanese

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 3, 2012

AUTHORS Dekune Tatsuro and Nakamura Akihiko held a wide-ranging discussion about the Japanese view of sex throughout history that was published in the weekly Shukan Bunshun. Here are some translated excerpts:

Nakamura: When you think of the Japanese view of sex since ancient times, the first thing you become aware of is a certain easygoing attitude.

Mr. Nakamura then quotes a poem from the Manyoshu about a soldier going with the troops to Kyushu.

Nakamura: The Katori in this poem is probably the Katori of Chiba Prefecture. The solider has made a firm promise to a young woman there. But as soon as he arrives at Chikushi, he sees a young woman so attractive he completely forgets his promise and gets her pregnant (laughs). The editing of the Manyoshu was an enterprise conducted under the aegis of the national government. It’s amazing this poem is so prominent in the collection.

Dekune: Sexual morality then was quite different than it is today. In those days there was no system of monogamy, and there wasn’t even the custom of having sex in a room. They did it out in the fields. Even now there are still practices that resemble the old Kurayami festival. Men and women would meet, pair off, and head to the grass for sex. Recently, people don’t go to those lengths, however (laughs).

Nakamura: That’s because the people became able to build their own houses. That’s when the custom changed to night crawling.

Dekune: The Heian nobility did quite a lot of night crawling. The Genji Monogatari was written to overcome the vicissitudes of that practice. It starts with how to write a love letter in the form of a waka, and how to carry affairs to their conclusion. In a way, it’s a textbook for male/female relations. The male and female nobles, including the Emperor, competed to read it. It was very easygoing.

Nakamura: Incidentally, Fujiwara no Michinaga was said to be one of the models for Hikaru Genji. He gained power by marrying off his daughters to the Emperor, and setting up their son as the next Emperor.

To determine whether or not his daughter was pregnant, he would pull on her nipples to see if milk came out. I don’t know whether a woman lactates when she is pregnant, but it would be unthinkable today for a father to grab his daughter’s breasts like that….

Dekune: When I first came to Tokyo in early 1965, and rode on the Joban train line, a young woman in her 30s sitting across from me suddenly pulled out her breast and fed her baby. No one thought that was unusual….

Nakamura: Erotic ukiyoe used to be called “funny pictures” (笑い絵). That sort of sensibility is the Japanese view of sex itself, I think. The people who have been easygoing, laughing a lot and enjoying themselves in male-female relations, without putting on a show of getting weirdly deep, have been the Japanese, don’t you think?

Dekune: We’ve been laughing for 2,000 years (laughs).

*****
There’s a lot more to the interview, but some of the historical references are obscure and of lesser interest. They also discuss the taste some male members of the nobility and warlords had for young men, and suggest that Oda Nobunaga liked the female role. But that’s not my stroke, and I’m the one doing the translating!

Posted in History, Sex, Social trends, Traditions | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

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 »

The wild bunch

Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 26, 2012



* The Japan Restoration Party and Your Party reached a broad agreement on common policy. But after (Japan Restoration) reached a policy agreement with the Sun Party, their policies of eliminating nuclear power and creating a governmental revenue agency have fallen away. We no longer know whether they are positive or negative toward the TPP. (Your Party President) Watanabe Yoshimi always says the spirit of a party is its policies.
– Kakizawa Mito, Your Party MP

* I’ve been asked why I left Your Party. Regrettably, Your Party cannot achieve reform…Your Party wants to pursue its own course. They want to be different than the other parties. That’s not how you change the world.
– Sakurauchi Fukimi, former Finance Ministry bureaucrat and current upper house member, who shifted from Your Party to the Japan Restoration Party

IT’S been just 10 days since the process of electing a new lower house in the Diet and installing a new government in Japan began, and three weeks remain before the election. Yet this has already become the wildest, most freewheeling, most confusing, and most exhilarating election campaign I’ve seen in any country. More has flown by the past week than the several months of UFOs that get airborne over America during a presidential election campaign.

One reason is the astonishing state of flux in the political world. Eleven MPs have left the ruling Democratic Party of Japan since the Diet was dissolved. The party had 423 members in both houses when they took power three years ago, but have lost a total of 102 since then. They would not have a majority in the lower house today. That is both due to their multitudinous failures and the result of political karma for slapping together a smorgasbord of a group with very little in common except the desire to oust the old Liberal Democratic Party. How many other parties in the world contain both serious socialists with terrorist connections and Thatcher worshippers? The DPJ does.

But in a few instances, they did share a general policy consensus. Lower house MP Nagao Takashi recently left the party with the intention of switching to the LDP. He is in favor of amending the peace clause of the Constitution, which the DPJ opposes. He wrote on his blog:

I was always alone.

Another reason for the excitement is that the Japanese public is extraordinarily engaged. There are much fewer political ads on television here than in the U.S. (the smaller parties can’t afford it, for one), so most of the politicking is retail. All the candidates give street corner speeches, sometimes standing right there on the sidewalk, and sometimes on the back of flatbed trucks or temporary platforms.

The heckling of the speakers is said to be intense this year, and the outgoing ruling party, the Democratic Party of Japan, is bearing the most of the public dissatisfaction. Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko has been buffeted with shouts of “Liar!” and “Fake manifesto”” during his street speeches.

In Saitama, current economy, trade, and industry minister and former chief cabinet secretary (during the Fukushima disaster) Edano Yukio tried to beautify the DPJ performance after three years in office, but admitted they were not sterling. He was answered with shouts of, “You were terrible”, and “Cut the crap!” (ふざけるな).

Former social democrat and current DPJ MP and terrorist moll Tsujimoto Kiyomi also got an earful throughout an entire speech in Osaka when she begged the public not to forsake the Democratic Party.

Concerns are even being raised in some quarters that the younger voters will adopt a “burn it all down” approach and cast their votes for the newer third force parties rather than the established parties. If so, they would be following a trend that’s been underway in local elections throughout the country for several years. It might be that this is the year the fire goes national at last.

Mr. Noda and LDP President Abe Shinzo blast away at each other in every speech to an extent unusual for Japanese elections. Mr. Noda challenged Mr. Abe to a debate Japanese style, which the LDP chief initially refused. He’s since changed his mind, however, and something is being arranged to be broadcast on an Internet channel. UPDATE: The LDP suggested the Niconico video channel, but the DPJ is backing off. One reason speculated for their hesitancy is that Niconico allows viewers to upload comments in real time during the broadcast, and they’re worried they’re not going to like what the viewing public has to say.

Indeed, it’s so crazy it’s impossible to keep up with it all, which is another factor causing concerns. There are 14 parties contesting the election, and it’s not easy to keep up with the shifting alliances and party memberships. It could very well be that the public won’t wind up with the decisive politics it seeks, at least for this electoral cycle. (There’s no voting for the upper house, and the membership there will remain static until next summer.) The extent of the success of the so-called third forces could keep the situation fluid for the foreseeable future.

The problem facing Ozawa Ichiro is a case in point. Mr. Ozawa formed a party in July called the People’s Lives First Party in English, or Kokumin no Seikatsu ga Daiichi in the original. All Japanese ballots are cast by write-in vote. That means the voters have to write in the name of the party they choose in the proportional representation phase of the voting, and all parties have their preferred abbreviations.

His party prefers the word Seikatsu, or lives. Because the party is still so new, however, some party leaders are worried the voters will write in Kokumin, or people, which is the term used for the People’s New Party that was the last coalition partner of the DPJ.

Even a local party executive in Mr. Ozawa’s home prefecture of Iwate thinks the name still hasn’t penetrated fully there, but sighs and says it’s too late now. One newspaper interviewed an older resident of Rikuzentakata in the prefecture, who cackled:

I’ve always backed Mr. Ozawa, but he keeps changing parties and I can’t remember their names. But I certainly won’t mistake it for the Democratic Party of Japan.

Bickering among the challengers

Emblematic of all this glorious chaos is the running battle being waged between the Japan Restoration Party of Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru (and now Ishihara Shintaro) and Your Party, the first national reform party.

This is not their first rift, as we’ve seen before. Earlier this year, Your Party President Watanabe Yoshimi wanted Japan Restoration to merge with them. Believing he and his party held the upper hand, Hashimoto Toru refused and suggested they join him instead. The upshot of that was mutual huff. It was exacerbated when three Your Party members bolted to join the Osaka group.

With too much to lose from poor relations, however, the two parties patched up their quarrel and were discussing areas of policy agreement to work together in the election. But then Mr. Hashimoto announced on television last Friday that he had called Mr. Watanabe and Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji and asked them “to make the bold decision to create a single group in some form.” He followed that up on Saturday with the explanation that while Japan Restoration wants to win an outright majority, it would be more realistic to achieve that with Your Party seats. He added, “Mr. Watanabe’s decision will be a major step toward political realignment.”

The Osaka mayor made the proposal for several reasons. First, he does not think his party will be able to field a full slate of candidates to give his party a chance to win a majority. Second, the two parties are competing against each other in 18 election districts in eight districts, which is suicidal. Both would siphon off votes from the reform-minded electorate, making it easier for an establishment party to pick up the seat.

Mr. Watanabe dismissed the proposal out of hand. He complained that they had changed their position on eliminating nuclear power after merging with Ishihara Shintaro’s Sun Party.

We are not satisfied with the agreement between Japan Restoration and the Sun Party. Working with the Sun Party has somehow obscured their principles and policies. Haven’t they become somewhat desperate?

He added:

The word ‘reform’ does not appear in their policy agreement. They have not written about their resolve to fight.

In fact, he made any discussion about an alliance conditional on Japan Restoration dumping Mr. Ishihara and the Sun Party.

What are we supposed to say after they ask to work together now that they’ve merged with the Sun Party: “Oh, really”? That won’t cut it. No discussion about working together will proceed until they divorce the Sun Party.

Said Eda Kenji:

Our policies have to align on abandoning nuclear power, preventing the consumption tax increase, participating in the TPP, and prohibiting all corporate and group donations.

Japanese political observers suspect that apart from the desire to stand firm on their policies, Your Party is taking a hard line because they think they’re stronger in the greater Tokyo region than Ishihara Shintaro’s Sun Party. Their strength is in Tokyo and Kanagawa, where Yokohama is located.

In retribution for their stance, Ishihara Shintaro told fellow Sun Party member Sonoda Hiroyuki to call both Mr. Watanabe and Mr. Eda and tell them their agreement to work together in the election for Tokyo Metro District governor was off. (It’s scheduled on the same day as the Diet election to fill the remainder of Mr. Ishihara’s term.) That further irritated the Your Party leaders. Said Mr. Watanabe:

Breaking an agreement that we put in writing with one phone call doesn’t sit well with me…Holding discussions with them at this point is probably pointless.

Japan Restoration Party officials are none too happy either. Said Secretary-General Matsui Ichiro:

Just because they became established as a party first, does that mean Japan Restoration has to concede everything to them?

Another Japan Restoration exec who remained anonymous considered the Your Party statements to be a type of declaration of war. He thought they were being self-serving, and pointed out that Japan Restoration had a larger political organization despite being the newer body.

Affairs then took a turn for the absurd when Hashimoto Toru gave it one more try in public to convince Your Party to work together and avoid competing in the same districts:

We can make the final judgment on working out (who runs in which district) with (the) rock scissors paper (game). I will not insist on making an issue of my position as the acting president of Japan Restoration.

Retorted Mr. Watanabe:

Who could permit something that stupid? We haven’t selected the sort of candidates for our party that can be decided by rock scissors paper.

He wasn’t the only one who jumped on that comment — all the establishment parties piled on as well, only too happy to find some tool to hammer the Osaka mayor. But Hashimoto Toru never sits still for hammer blows:

Critics (of that comment) have no sense of language. Rock scissors paper was not meant to be taken in a literal sense. It was instead a strong message to become unified. People incapable of understanding at least that much would make me uneasy and fearful if they were involved in conducting the affairs of national government.

This does not necessarily mean Japan Restoration is in a weaker position. Ikeda Nobuo, who is often quoted around here, thinks Your Party is weaker and fading. A recent poll taken in Tokyo (which we’ll get to in a minute) supports that view.

Regardless, this dispute, plus the silliness with Kawamura Takashi and Tax Reduction Japan moving away from both of these parties to tie up with the likes of Kamei Shizuka (and perhaps Ozawa Ichiro) can only make things easier for the DPJ and the LDP.

Meanwhile, in other news:

* Japan Restoration has reached an agreement to not run candidates against New Komeito candidates in nine districts, and will perhaps even support them. They still do not have an outright majority in the assembly in Osaka, so they need New Komeito’s cooperation to get anything passed locally. That sort of arrangement is unremarkable in politics, and would be here, too — were not New Komeito allied with the LDP.

* Speaking of the LDP, Hashimoto Toru is taking them on, too:

The Takeshima problem began when South Korea declared the Syngman Rhee line in the Sea of Japan. After that, South Korea built structures on the islets. The ones who did not prevent the steady and repeated Korean efforts to maintain effective control was the LDP. Is it so important for them to shelve their responsibility while calling for the name of the Self-Defense Forces to be changed to the National Defense Forces? And that’s not all — their coalition partners New Komeito are also opposed. That’s just incoherent.

* Three members of the Ishihara family are running for Diet seats in this election. Father Shintaro is running for a proportional representation seat in the Tokyo bloc, son Nobuteru of the LDP is running for an eighth term in his Suginami Ward district in Tokyo, and #3 son Hirotaka (48) is running Tokyo District #3, which includes Shinagawa and other areas. Hirotaka already served one term in the Diet, which he won during the 2005 LDP landslide. He lost that seat in the2009 DPJ landslide.

* Shinhodo 2001 released its weekly poll on 22 November. It’s conducted only in the Tokyo area, but politicians find it a useful guide. Here are some of the results:

Who is the most suitable leader for Japan?

1. Ishihara Shintaro: 15.0%
2. Hashimoto Toru: 12.8%
3. Noda Yoshihiko: 12.2% (tied with:
3. Ishiba Shigeru: 12.2% (LDP Secretary-General)
5. Abe Shinzo: 12.0%

The low numbers should not be a surprise. This is a frequent question in the poll, many possible answers are offered, and the respondents choose only one. The only person I’ve seen score over 20% was Koizumi Jun’ichiro after he stepped down from the premiership and before he retired.

What party will you vote for in the proportional representation phase?

LDP: 24.0%
DPJ: 13.2%
Japan Restoration: 10.2%
New Komeito: 3.8%
Your Party: 1.4%
Undecided: 40.1%

There’s the indication that Your Party might be fading. The latest Kyodo poll has Japan Restoration in second place now, with the DPJ down to the 8% level. The former party has gained ground in that poll since their merger with Sun Party, while the LDP and DPJ have slid.

What form would you like the new government to be?

LDP alone: 28.2%
Third force combination (Japan Restoration, Your Party): 26.0%
LDP/DPJ coalition: 20.0%
DPJ alone: 10.8%

No one can predict what the final form will be, but I think it’s safe to say we’ve seen the last of a DPJ-centered government for a while.

Afterwords:

A post written by Francisco Toro at the Latitudes blog at the New York Times on Hashimoto Toru’s impact on this election, called The Rise of the Green Tea Party, is surprisingly good for that newspaper. Fancy that; somebody at the Times at last decided to do some research about Japan before writing about it. But having them do enough research was too much to expect, alas:

The gray-suited world of Japanese politics isn’t known as a hotbed of excitement, but insofar as next month’s general election is generating any buzz at all it’s because of one man: Toru Hashimoto, the plain-talking 43-year-old mayor of Osaka. An outsider with a hard-nosed reform agenda centered on cutting spending, Hashimoto has pioneered a new kind of Japanese populism. Call it the Green Tea Party.

After his 2008 landslide election to lead the 8.9 million people of Osaka, Hashimoto set out to do what no Japanese politician is supposed to get away with: rocking the boat. This took the form of a cost-cutting crusade, which pitted Hashimoto against some of the city’s sacred cows.

The only way to deal with this is to be blunt: Anyone who thinks the Japanese politicians aren’t allowed to rock the boat, that the electorate doesn’t love it when they do rock the boat, that Japanese politics is an unexciting “gray-suited world”, or that this election wouldn’t have generated any buzz without Hashimoto Toru, is not qualified to write about Japanese politics. All of that is very wrong, and it should be evident to even the casual observer.

*****
Listen to this tune by Okuma Wataru’s group all the way through, and see if you don’t think it makes a perfect theme song for this election.

Posted in Politics, Social trends | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (240)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, November 25, 2012

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

Some people say that (Osaka Mayor) Hashimoto (Toru) is right-wing, but I don’t think so. For better or worse, this is a new generation without ideology, in which Kimi ga Yo (the national anthem) and calls for eliminating nuclear power coexist.

- Ikeda Nobuo

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

Ichigen koji (231)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 16, 2012

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

Whenever I Tweet to defend the use of nuclear power, there are many responses that question my character as a person. Do these people think someone who defends the use of nuclear power is a villain who gives precedence to his own interests over the rights and lives of others? Do they so strongly believe that an anti-nuclear power stance is so moral and proper? It is difficult to debate with a group who thinks they are morally correct, just as it is with the anti-whaling forces. The people who would doubt a person’s character because of their positions should try asking themselves just what morality is.

- Baba Masahiro, coming to understand that the mindset of certain groups in the West has now infected some people in Japan.

Posted in Quotations, Science and technology, Social trends | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (222)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 7, 2012

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

Neither politicians nor the bureaucracy are as respected as they once were, but the title of “university professor” still has prestige. Under the pretext of learning and culture, governments will inject tax money into money-losing universities and no one will complain. This is Japan’s final taboo.

The promotion of science and technology is also sacred ground for the government, and journalists do not criticize universities, and I speak from the standpoint of a part-time professor lecturing on the mass media. When it comes to prolonging unproductive services, universities are worse than agriculture.

Private universities have already collapsed. National universities are now collapsing at the graduate school level through the “laundering” of academic backgrounds.

- Ikeda Nobuo. He is speaking in reference to the uproar caused by Education Minister Tanaka Makiko’s decision to refuse authorization for three new colleges. The decision has been reversed, and the three proposals will undergo a new screening process. De facto, that means they will be approved.

All three of the schools are local institutions. One is a junior college of the fine arts in Akita whose operators want to convert it into a four-year college. Another is a women’s college in Aichi.

But it gets better!

I don’t know what’s specifically wrong with the three schools. I also don’t think they’re bad.

- Minister of Education Tanaka Makiko

Posted in Education, Government, Social trends | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji  (215)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, October 31, 2012

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

NHK warns that the rapid increase in “Twitter dependence” is dangerous. Much more dangerous than that is “NHK dependence”, which is the misconception that all the information presented by NHK is correct. It’s ironic that thanks to Twitter, “NHK dependence” has been drastically reduced.

- The Tweeter known as Tsugunosuke

Posted in Mass media, Quotations, Social trends | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

The only surprise is that they’re surprised

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, October 30, 2012

TO the extent anyone talks about it, people tend to present the Okinawan independence movement as more significant a factor in public opinion than the reality might warrant. This post from February 2007 contains the results of a survey conducted by the University of the Ryukyus:

The Okinawa Residents’ Identity Survey 2006 discovered that 78% of those Okinawans surveyed between the ages of 18 and 24 were opposed to independence. That’s more than 10 percentage points higher than the total of 65% for all respondents. The people favoring independence gave as their primary reason the difference in political, economic, and social conditions from the rest of Japan, as well as a different historical experience. The foremost reason for those opposed was that Okinawa did not have the capability to be independent.

When asked about their identity, 57% of the young people said they were both Okinawan and Japanese, a far higher total than the 40% figure for the entire population. Just 20% considered themselves Okinawan only, substantially less than the overall total of 30%.

My experience over the years with Okinawan students in the two university English classes I teach every spring bears this out. They are not clannish, and they are impossible to identify by observing their behavior, interaction with other students, or speech. As far as they and the other students are concerned, they are Japanese in every way, but with a heightened sense of regional identity.

I haven’t seen any news of that sort since the 2006 survey, but the events over the past five years are starting to make me wonder if there have been any changes. Okinawa, a small island chain, is still the home to 74% of all the American bases in Japan. The rest of Japan doesn’t want the Americans in their back yards. It isn’t easy to coexist with foreign troops in limited space, even if they do provide a reliable source of employment.

Then there’s the fact that it is part of the job of soldiers to behave like soldiers. That means jet fighters screeching overhead at all hours, and (according to one of my students) drills being conducted in public places that become off limits to the residents. The islanders were thrilled to award their votes to the Democratic Party of Japan when it promised that the Futenma base would be moved out of the prefecture, and ideally out of the country. It is not difficult to imagine their disillusionment and disgust when it soon became apparent that Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio was going to break that promise throughout a six-month charade when he claimed he was trying to come up with an acceptable solution. His term in office ended shortly after the promise did.

Yet despite all this, some Japanese outside Okinawa still have difficulty understanding what’s on people’s minds. Earlier this month, the Nishinippon Shimbun ran a special feature on the 56th National Roundtable Discussion on Ethics conducted by a national association of newspapers, broadcasters, and magazines in late September. This conference was held this year in Naha to mark the 40th anniversary of the return of Okinawa to Japan, and its theme was “Japan today and media responsibility”. The primary topic of debate was Japan’s security structure and its excessive reliance on Okinawa.

According to the feature, they were shocked at the response of Okinawans and what they termed the locals’ distrust of the rest of Japan, all because of the base issue. Said the newspaper:

We were jolted by what we heard repeated many times during the conference, such as “There is no democracy in Okinawa, ” and “Forcing the bases on us is structural discrimination.” This compelled reporters who seldom cover stories in Okinawa to start over with a clean slate in their thinking.

The keynote address was given by former Gov. Ota Masahide, now 87. He was an academic by profession before serving two terms as governor, and he also served in Japan’s upper house. Here are some of the excerpts from his address quoted in the newspaper:

“People are now seriously reexamining one issue in Okinawa — just what was the return to Japan all about? Was the return a good thing?”

“Okinawa was not returned under the terms of the Peace Constitution. It was returned under the terms of the Japan-U.S. security structure.”

“Democracy is an excellent system, but, ironically, Okinawa will be subject to discrimination by the majority forever. There is a structural discrimination.”

And about the deployment of the Osprey:

“You (reporters) shouldn’t be going on about the safety of the Osprey, which is the point you’re emphasizing. You just don’t understand that we don’t need any more bases or any more aircraft.”

Of course there are caveats. Mr. Ota once alluded to what he called “the impossible dream”, by which he means independence, and he is part of the generation most likely to favor it. He was unaffiliated with a political party during his term as governor, but he was considered a politician of the left. He is associated now with the Social Democrats, who are so far out on the political limb it’s a wonder it didn’t snap off years ago.

But he’s been making these points for years, and many people agree with him. If the average Japanese journalist is still being surprised by of local discontent after all this time, and after all the coverage the Futenma issue received during the Hatoyama administration, the Okinawans well deserve to be chuffed.

Decentralization and disorder are the trends of the age. Separatist movements are gaining momentum in Europe. People are even starting to wonder in print if the United States can hang together. If the “mainlanders” remain obtuse and the younger generation in Okinawa starts to warm up to the ideas of Mr. Ota, the rest of Japan need only look in the mirror to see where the fault lies.

Posted in Military affairs, Social trends | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

All you have to do is look (84)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 22, 2012

Temporary bus service that began at the end of the summer on 55 kilometers of the railroad line between Kessennuma and Yanaizu in Miyagi Prefecture, rendered unusable by last year’s earthquake and tsunami.

Photo by Sankei Shimbun.

Posted in Photographs and videos, Science and technology, Social trends | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

 
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