AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Hatoyama Y.’

Ichigen koji (253)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 8, 2012

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

Many of Abe Shinzo’s supporters are very passionate. That’s perhaps because he clearly spells out his policies. He declared he would conduct an assertive foreign policy when he was elected prime minister (in 2006). But the person who really tried to conduct assertive foreign policy was former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio. We all know what happened with that. The national leader who conducts assertive foreign policy without technique and without the skill for indirect statements is quite the fool. It will cause a lot of trouble for the people. It’s the North Koreans who say whatever suits them, and they seem to have thought it through in terms of game theory.

- Financial advisor Baba Masahiro, who supports constitutional reform, nuclear weapons for Japan, and the draft

Posted in International relations, North Korea, Politics, Quotations | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (251)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, December 6, 2012

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

The East China Sea is the Sea of Peace.

- Hatoyama Yukio, former prime minister of Japan

Posted in I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, Quotations | Tagged: , | Leave a 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 »

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 »

When eligibility makes you ineligible

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 23, 2012

* I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.

* The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taken one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office.

-H.L. Mencken

THERE’S little to add to Mencken’s observations about politicians except specific examples that illustrate his point. It would be easy to find those examples just by shutting your eyes and sticking your finger on a random point on a world map. But two examples from Japan sprang off the newsfeed yesterday, so we’ll use those.

The first involves Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi, mentioned this week in a post about regional reform parties. He’s the leader of Tax Reduction Japan, which had six Diet members. Mr. Kawamura’s wanted to formally merge with other reform parties, but those desires were unrequited. He was even jilted by Ishihara Shintaro and his Sun Party days after they accepted his proposal. They chose to walk down the political aisle with Hashimoto Toru and Japan Restoration instead.

Kawamura Takashi and Kamei Shizuka

The latter group ostensibly rejected his overtures because of his policy positions — anti-TPP, anti-nuclear energy, and anti-consumption tax increase. Rather than modify any of those positions, he chose to keep them. He spun this as his own rejection of an alliance with the new Japan Restoration. That caused him to lose one of his six Diet members, with the possibility that two or three more might also flake.

The requirement for political parties to receive public funds as a subsidy is five Diet members, and that puts Mr. Kawamura in a bind. He was thrown a political life preserver by Kamei Shizuka and his two-man Anti-TPP, Anti-Nuclear Power, Achieve a Freeze of the Consumption Tax Party. In other words, they are kindred policy spirits.

Unfortunately, Mr. Kamei is one of the breed that combines cultural conservatism with a preference for Big Government. He so opposed the privatization of Japan Post and its banking and insurance business that he was thrown out of the LDP. He then formed the People’s New Party to cleave to those bureaucratic interests.

Mr. Kamei followed that up by becoming a junior partner in the DPJ coalition, who fiddled around with his single issue hobby horse for three years while using his party’s votes to maintain an upper house majority. His primary contribution to the DPJ administration was to require financial institutions to suspend their acceptance of loan payments from struggling businesses, while being reimbursed by the government. In short, he lacks even a rudimentary understanding of the free market.

He also personally selected an ex-Finance Ministry official to take over Japan Post just months after the DPJ won election on a promise to keep the bureaucracy at arm’s length.

So that’s who Kawamura Takashi the reformer is interested in being partners with. And now he’s talking about working out an arrangement with Ozawa Ichiro the fixer and his drolly named People’s Lives First Party. If you’re going to jump into the septic tank, you might as well dive head first, right?

For that matter, they might as well join the Social Democrats. They’re pushing the same three policy positions, though they go full-bore socially democratic by calling for an increase in the income tax rate to a maximum of 50%. (So is Japan’s Communist Party, for that matter.)

The two men even say they are interested in working with the Greens, which have yet to take off in Japan. Now I ask you…

Meanwhile, five political groups in the Nagoya City Council, including those from the DPJ, LDP, and New Komeito, urged Mr. Kawamura to forget about national politics and concentrate on his job in the city. They say his involvement with the political party is causing problems in municipal administration.

All of this leaves on-again off-again ally Aichi Gov. Omura Hideaki hanging in mid-air. Recall that Mr. Omura and the Nagoya mayor resolved their disagreements that resulted from the former’s interest in being a local branch of Japan Restoration. Mr. Omura was given a position as advisor to Japan Restoration, and as part of that deal, given the authority to select a candidate to run from an Aichi district in next month’s lower house election. He gave all that up earlier this week to maintain his local alliance.

Now he says he won’t back any candidates in Aichi this time. It looks like he made the wrong choice.

On the last loop

That brings us to former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio. Japan’s first junior high school girl to serve as prime minister was in Hokkaido this week to talk to supporters in his Diet district after announcing that he wouldn’t contest the election. The Mainichi Shimbun included this passage in its Japanese-language report:

In regard to the issue of moving the American Futenma air base in Ginowan, Okinawa, Mr. Hatoyama declared just before the 2009 lower house election that he would move it outside the prefecture at a minimum. After he became prime minister, he returned to the plan developed by the LDP-New Komeito administration to move the base to Henoko in the same prefecture. This generated a fierce response from local citizens.

The Mainichi doesn’t say that his promise also included moving the base outside the country as the ideal beyond the minimum, that his government spent six of its eight-month lifespan flopping like a fish dumped from a net on the deck of a trawler over the issue, and that it became apparent during the first month of the process he was unsuited for national government. The Mainichi also doesn’t mention that Wikileaks suggest he never seriously intended to move the base out of Okinawa to begin with.

Here’s what Mr. Hatoyama said in Hokkaido.

I want to be involved in the future in some way with the Okinawa issue, and want to cooperate to make ‘outside the prefecture at a minimum’ a reality.

Now you know why the Americans dismissed him as loopy, and more than a few Japanese agreed. What point would there be in telling him he could have made that a reality when he was prime minister, but chose not to? It would float in one ear and pass unobstructed to float out the other.

Indeed, Mr. Hatoyama lacks even the sole talent that Mencken attributed to politicians. He has no particular talent for getting and holding office. What he does have is a famous political name and vaults full of money.

Eldridge Cleaver once said that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Kawamura Takashi and Hatoyama Yukio offered themselves as solutions to the problems the public wants resolved. It didn’t take long for both them to expose themselves as part of the real problem.

Afterwords:

Talk about wet cement: Kobayashi Koki, the man who left Tax Reduction Japan for Japan Restoration, was rejected by Japan Restoration and is mulling a return to Tax Reduction Japan. The Ishihara branch of Japan Restoration was willing to admit him, but the core of the party in Osaka is said to have “very harsh opinions” about him.

The two parties are offering candidates in the same district in two cases: One in Aichi and one in Ibaraki.

The Wild West is probably a better analogy for the state of Japanese politics now than wet cement.

UPDATE: The Kawamura-Kamei party has now expressed in public an interest in getting it on with Ozawa Ichiro’s People’s Lives First party. Mr. Kawamura said he wants to create as large a party as possible, and that the group should be considered Reform Team B. That’s in contrast to Japan Restoration and Your Party, which he dubbed Team A.

A Yomiuri Shimbun article said some people perceived this as a “middle-of-the road, liberal force”. With the paleo Kamei Shizuka and the policy-as-disposable-tissue-paper Ozawa Ichiro? It is to laugh.

*****

Maybe they should all think about living together on a Yellow Submarine.

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Wet cement

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I wonder about these people who would take advantage of Hashimoto Toru’s popularity to win a Diet seat (by joining his party, the Japan Restoration Party).
– Maehara Seiji, head of the Democratic Party’s Policy Research Committee

We’ll act in such a way that we don’t become what the Democratic Party is now.
– Matsui Ichiro, Osaka governor and secretary-generation of Japan Restoration, in reply
————-
The key is when and to what extent Mr. Abe approaches the third forces (reform parties). I would really prefer that the electorate votes with that knowledge. But considering his position, it is probably to his advantage to keep that quiet for now.
– Yamazaki Hajime, journalist on economic matters and a fellow at the Rakuten Securities Economic Research Institute

THERE are eight million stories in the naked city, intones the narrator at the conclusion of both the film and television version of The Naked City, and this has been one of them. Shifting the dramatist’s eye to Japan’s lower house election scheduled for 16 December, there are what seems like several thousand stories, and the reform/regional parties that are fomenting revolution from the bottom up account for quite a few of them.

Telling some of those stories requires a list of the dramatis personae, however, and that’s where we’ll start.

* Hashimoto Toru, the mayor of Osaka, Japan’s second largest city, who became the nation’s most prominent regional politician to call for the devolution of government authority with stronger power given to local government. That has been an issue for more than two decades here, but he’s the man who achieved ignition and liftoff. He started a local party/movement called One Osaka that is now a national party known as the Japan Restoration Party.

* Watanabe Yoshimi, a former Liberal Democratic Party member and minister in the Abe and Fukuda cabinets with responsibility for governmental reform. A supporter of devolution and radical civil service reform to tame the Japanese bureaucracy and its political influence, he left the LDP when prime ministers Fukuda and Aso abandoned that course. He then created Your Party with independent Diet member and former MITI bureaucrat Eda Kenji.

* Kawamura Takashi, a former Democratic Party of Japan member and lower house MP. He ran in several elections for party president, which means he sees a prime minister when he looks in the mirror in the morning. He resigned from the DPJ to run for mayor of Nagoya on a platform of cutting municipal taxes and the remuneration of city council members by half. This is part of an ongoing movement for sub-national governments in Japan. He struggled to get his policy package passed by municipal legislators (natch), and stunned the political world and the country both when he resigned, ran again to make the election a referendum on his policies, and won in a walk. There’s more at this previous post.

He’s formed a local party called Tax Reduction Japan that is now a national party with six five members in the Diet. They want to reduce the number of lower house Diet members by 80 (to 400) and cut their salaries in half.

* Omura Hideaki, a former Liberal Democratic Party of Japan member and lower house MP. He forged an alliance with Kawamura Takashi during the latter’s second run for mayor of Nagoya. He was elected governor of Aichi, in which Nagoya is located, on the same day. He shares the same general political principles.

* Ishihara Shintaro, former upper house and lower house MP, and governor of the Tokyo Metro District. Everyone knows who he is.

The stupefying ineptitude of the Democratic Party government, the inability of the Liberal Democratic Party to reinvent itself as a coherent alternative during three years in opposition, the futility of seeking real reform from either of them, years of public dissatisfaction combined with a willingness to support anyone willing to take an axe to the waste and abuse in the public sector, and younger generations reaching middle age, have resulted in the national prominence of Hashimoto Toru. It soon became a question of when, not if, he would establish a national political organization. The answer was soon rather than late — less than a year after winning election as Osaka mayor, after spending three years as governor of Osaka Prefecture.

Here’s what he said at the time:

True reform for Osaka requires further amendments to (national) law. But even when we try to do something locally, we run into the wall of Nagata-cho (a metonym for the Diet) and Kasumigaseki (a metonym for the bureaucracy), who control the mechanism of Japan. We have to change Japan from the roots.

In addition to regional devolution, Mr. Hashimoto’s group also calls for the cutting the membership of the Diet’s lower house in half to 240, and cutting their salaries and publicly funded party subsidies by one-third.

At that point the narrative became one of wondering who would and would not become his political allies. Not only did they need to team with simpatico regional parties, Japan Restoration needed someone or some group with a national reputation. Eliminated right away were the establishment LDP and the labor union-backed DPJ, but everyone had discounted that because both were part of the problem and not part of this solution.

In an intriguing move, the Osaka mayor approached former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in August to ask whether he would be interested in switching from the LDP to Japan Restoration. Mr. Abe expressed a strong desire to form some sort of alliance, particularly because they share an interest in amending the Constitution. But Mr. Abe eventually chose to remain in the LDP and run for party president, a campaign that he won.

While both men would surely like to work together, the LDP is unlikely to support the long-standing Hashimoto proposal to convert the consumption tax into a funding source for local government, and end the current system in which the national government allocates public funds. The shape and nature of any alliance will probably be determined after the election. The results will determine who needs whom, and the extent of that need.

* Hashimoto and Your Party

Speculation on ties with Japan Restoration had always started with Your Party, the first real national reform party. Several of their most important positions meshed, including the creation of a new system of sub-national governments with greater authority and civil service reform. They both also came out for eliminating nuclear power (probably for populist reasons), though Mr. Hashimoto has since backed away from that one. Further, Your Party supported Mr. Hashimoto in the election for Osaka mayor, and they share some of the same advisors.

At one point not long ago, people assumed that there would be a formal alliance. Rumors circulated that they had cut a deal in which Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi would become the first prime minister if they won enough seats in the aggregate to form a government.

But that’s not how it worked out. The reason seems to have been a dispute over who was going to be the boss. Your Party held talks with the people from Osaka before Japan Restoration was formed, and they wanted them to join the existing party before they created their own. Knowing that his poll numbers are better Your Party’s (they can’t seem to hump it into double digits), Mr. Hashimoto refused and suggested that they disband and rearrange themselves.

Relations took a turn for the worse when three Your Party members, said to be unhappy with Watanabe Yoshimi’s leadership, quit and joined Japan Restoration. That caused more than a few unpleasantries to be hurled in the direction of Osaka.

But discussions resumed because an alliance remains in both their interests. They talked about cooperation to implement eight common policies, which at that time included opposition to the consumption tax increase, opposition to nuclear power, support for regional devolution and the state/province system, support for civil service reform, support for constitutional amendments, support for election system reform, economic growth policies, and foreign policy (they both favor participation in TPP).

The calls for a solid alliance seem to have come from Your Party, and Japan Restoration has turned down the offer for now. There was a meeting with Hashimoto Toru, Matsui Ichiro, and Watanabe Yoshimi at which blunt words were spoken.

Mr. Watanabe suggested they jointly offer an “east-west” slate of candidates for the lower house election, with Your Party covering the east (Tokyo and the Kanto region) and Japan Restoration covering the west (Osaka and the Kansai region). Mr. Matsui rejected it, and here was his explanation:

Their policies have not gained ground in the Diet, and they have become a group who can’t achieve them. Politics means taking responsibility for results. That requires a team that can create a decision-making approach.

Gov. Matsui also told Mr. Watanabe in so many words to come down off his high horse: “It was our idea to create a new type of political organization.” The Your Party boss responded that they’ve been calling for political reorganization from the day they formed the party (which is true). He asked again for an equal merger, and again he was rejected.

Mr. Matsui later said they will continue to talk to avoid running candidates in the same election districts, but it will be unavoidable, and they will try to minimize it.

Perhaps Japan Restoration has some foresight about Your Party’s fortunes. Mr. Watanabe campaigned several times for a Your Party candidate in a local election last weekend in his home district in Tochigi, but the candidate lost to one backed by the LDP and New Komeito.

Affairs are still in flux, however. Just yesterday Hashimoto Toru said Japan Restoration would probably be able to field only 100 candidates in time for the election. (One reason the major parties want an earlier election is to prevent the smaller parties from building a full candidate list.) He made a reference to working with Your Party if they also ran 100 candidates — in other words, supporting the east-west alliance he rejected a few weeks ago. Watanabe Yoshimi also gave a campaign speech today calling for the support of Japan Restoration.

Whatever is going on here, you won’t be able to read a reliable account of it in either the Yomiuri Shimbun or the Asahi Shimbun, the nation’s two largest newspapers. The Asahi is opposed to Mr. Hashimoto because they’re of the left, and the Yomiuri is opposed to him because he’s anti-establishment.

* Omura and Kawamura

As the story at the link above shows, Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi and Aichi Gov. Omura Hideaki formed a regional alliance for the Triple Election in February last year. Both also organized political seminars this year to train people who supported their ideas for elective office.

Mr. Kawamura was the first to create a political party: Tax Reduction Japan. Mr. Omura followed by creating the Aichi is Top of Japan Party. The trouble started when he converted that party into the Chukyo Ishin no Kai, or the Chukyo Restoration Group, in August. The name is intentionally modeled on that of the Japan Restoration Party. His group was formed specifically to align with the Hashimoto group and fulfill the conditions for becoming a national party.

That cheesed off Mr. Kawamura, who was on an overseas trip at the time. He was miffed because the Aichi governor told Mr. Hashimoto about his plans, but didn’t tell him. The Nagoya mayor flew off the handle, saying their relationship of trust was broken and they couldn’t work together any more.

Some people saw it as a deliberate snub by Mr. Omura to break off ties with Mr. Kawamura. The former (at the left in the photo) is the straight-arrow policy type, while the latter (at the right) is the unkempt populist with a desire to be a major player. For example, he wondered if the Chukyo region would be relegated to being the subcontractor for Osaka.

Hashimoto Toru encouraged both of them to patch up their differences, because working together is would benefit everyone, and the policies were more similar than different.

And that’s just what the two men seem to have done while the media spotlight was pointed in a different direction. They announced an agreement to work together for the coming election after discussions that lasted late into the night of the 19th.

* Hashimoto and Omura and Kawamura

During the Triple Election campaign in Nagoya and Aichi, volunteers from the Osaka group went to the region to help both candidates because of their general agreement on devolution. Since then, however, it’s been a long strange trip that keeps getting stranger.

When Omura Hideaki created the Chukyo Restoration Group, Hashimoto Toru said that despite the name, they were unrelated to the Osaka group. They were independent and they hadn’t thought about an alliance for the national election. He added that Aichi support for their positions would be the condition for any alliance.

But then in October, a group from Osaka went to Aichi for a conference with letter from Hashimoto Toru asking Mr. Omura to form an Aichi Restoration Party. The alliance seemed like a natural: Not only are their policies similar, but they share policy advisors in journalist Tahara Soichiro, former Finance Ministry bureaucrat Takahashi Yoichi, and Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s jack of all trades, Takenaka Heizo.

The Aichi governor said that an alliance would take time, however, because he was still working with Kawamura Takashi. A blurb of two or three sentences appeared in one newspaper earlier this week announcing that Aichi and Osaka had worked out an agreement. In fact, Mr. Omura would be given the leeway to choose the candidate for one of the Aichi Diet districts in the election.

But just this morning, Mr. Omura announced that he would resign his position as advisor to the Osaka party to focus on his ties with Kawamura Takashi.

Your guess is as good as mine about this one. The best I can come up with is that working with Mr. Kawahara is a better way to solidify his position in Aichi.

—–
Meanwhile, Kawahara Takashi’s attitude toward an agreement with Hashimoto Toru was 180° in the opposite direction. He was so anxious to create an alliance that a hand was coming out of his throat, as an old Japanese expression has it.

He’s long been friendly with Ozawa Ichiro, but when he spoke at a political seminar for the People First Party, the new Ozawa Ichiro vehicle, he said his priority was working with Hashimoto Toru and former Tokyo Metro Governor Ishihara Shintaro. (That might also have been a function of his assessment of the extent of Ozawa Ichiro’s political influence in the future; i.e., not very much.)

The problem, however, is that both Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Matsui have been giving the Nagoya mayor their cold shoulders. Mr. Kawamura thought a merger with Japan Restoration was going to happen when he reached an agreement to do just that with Ishihara Shintaro and his Sun Party, but no one else thought so. Mr. Ishimura thought it might be a problem with the tax reduction name in his party, and Mr. Kawamura obligingly offered to change it.

But Hashimoto Toru said the name had nothing to do with it: it was all content. He also said, however, that “In today’s circumstances, tax reduction is the wrong message.” That doesn’t necessarily mean the Osaka mayor is a tax hiker; rather, his position has always been that there should be a public debate and a consensus formed about what public services people want to receive. After reaching that consensus, it will then be time to figure out how to pay for them.

Mr. Kawamura, on the other hand, seems to favor the Starve the Beast approach: Don’t give the public sector the money to begin with. It isn’t widely known, but he also favors establishing neighborhood citizens’ councils to determine how public funds will be spent. In other words, his approach is the reverse of Mr. Hashimoto’s.

The Nagoya mayor is also opposed to TPP participation, while the Osaka mayor favors it. They were both anti-nuclear power, but Mr. Hashimoto has since modified that stance. Also, two of the five Diet members in Mr. Kawamura’s national party, which was formed at end of October, were LDP postal privatization rebels that former Prime Minister Koizumi threw out of the party. Hashimoto Toru supports the privatization of Japan Post.

Another reason Mr. Hashimoto cited for being unwilling to work with Tax Cut Japan is that another one of their Diet members, Kumada Atsushi, a lower house MP from Osaka, switched his party affiliation from the DPJ, but not before he accepted JPY 3 million to offset his campaign expenses. That’s not the sort of person he wants to work with.

Matsui Ichiro offered a blander rationale:

It’s not possible as of now. We haven’t had any policy discussions. There’s not enough time.

But wait!

After weeks of letting his tongue hang out in the national media, insisting that it would be easy to overcome the differences with Japan Reform, Mr. Kawamura announced today that he — he! — was rejecting an alliance with them. He’ll work with Aichi Gov. Omura instead.

But wait again!

Lower House MP Kobayashi Koki, Tax Reduction Japan’s acting president, said the whole point of the party going national was to work with people like Japan Restoration. After Mr. Kawamura’s announcement, he said he wanted to leave the party and join Japan Restoration. He got approval for both of his requests.

* Hashimoto and Ishihara

That brings us to strangest story of them all — the merger of Japan Restoration with Ishihara Shintaro’s four-day-old Sun Party and the appointment of Mr. Ishihara as the head of the party.

It was strange because Hashimoto Toru insisted that it wouldn’t happen, for several reasons. The first was policy differences — Mr. Ishihara and the Sun Party support nuclear power and oppose participation in TPP. Those positions are the opposite of those of Japan Restoration. The second was outlook. Mr. Hashimoto said an alliance was out of the question if the members of the Sunrise Japan party, the group that the Tokyo governor formed two years ago, joined the Sun Party. He explained that there would be no union with “pure conservatives”. (By that he means paleo-cultural conservatives.)

Another factor is that Your Party wants no part of Ishihara Shintaro at all. An alliance would threaten any cooperation with them.

The Osaka mayor said talks would get nowhere unless they changed their policies. What happened is that he changed his, even after Sunrise Japan joined the Sun Party. Here’s the list of common policies they agreed on:

1. Convert the consumption tax to a regional tax and cap the rate at 11%.

Making the consumption tax a regional tax will make a close relationship with the LDP difficult.

2. Begin discussions to achieve a state/province system

3. Implement measures to support SMBEs and microenterprises.

4. Social welfare funding sources: Eliminate the portion of central government tax revenues allocated to local governments, optimize social insurance premiums, reexamine benefit levels, and supplement the funding with revenues from the income tax and asset tax.

5. Take a positive attitude toward TPP negotiations but will oppose them if they’re not in national interest.

This is a compromise for both men.

6. Create rules and other safety standards for nuclear power.

Not only has is that a reversal of the Hashimoto position, it just might end opposition to nuclear power as a political issue. An NHK poll taken this week found that only 9% of the electorate considers it to be their most important issue.

7. Urge China to take Senkakus dispute to ICJ.

8. Prohibit corporate and group donations to politics.

[[UPDATE: Yankdownunder sent in this link showing #8 is now inoperable.]]

Mr. Ishihara suggested that he and Mr. Hashimoto share the party presidency, but the younger man declined and took the de facto number two position. His thinking was that he still has a job to do in Osaka, and Osakans would be displeased if he gave up his position a year into his term for a Diet seat.

Said Mr. Ishihara after the deal was cut:

The popular will is filled with fluffy ideas, such as ‘nuclear power is frightening’. Populism is flattering those ideas….The largest, most definite segment of the popular will, however, is ‘This country is in trouble. Do something!’ We must change the structure of governance by the central bureaucracy…

…People talk about a ‘third force’, but we have to become the second force. We have to discard our minor disagreements in favor of our greater agreements and fight together. I’ll be the one to die first, so I’ll pass on the baton later to Mr. Hashimoto. There’s no other politician who acts as if his life depends on it.

Putting aside the question of whether this merger pays off in votes and Diet seats, there are advantages for both parties. Don’t forget that Ishihara Shintaro was the co-author of the Japan That Can Say No. He now is allied with a popular and adroit younger politician who can create the environment in which public figures will stand up for Japan, rather than truckle to other countries. He’s also popular enough to drive the issue of Constitutional reform — and several other previously taboo issues besides.

For example, this week Ishihara Shintaro said this week that Japan should conduct a simulation of the use of a nuclear weapon as a deterrent. He added that he was not calling for a public discussion of whether Japan should now make nuclear weapons, but that it was only his personal opinion.

It might be only his personal opinion, but it has now been broached for public discussion. He added:

Saying that you won’t have nuclear weapons means that your voice in world affairs carries absolutely no weight. Even the US gets all wobbly when it comes to North Korea’s nuclear program.

There will also be no sucking air through the teeth and saying so sorry to China:

It would be desirable if Japan-China relations were friendly, but it would not be desirable at all if Japan became a second Tibet due to Chinese hegemonism.

For his part, Mr. Hashimoto is now allied with someone who has a power base in Tokyo/Kanto, giving the party a real east-west presence. That ally also has a national presence, which Mr. Hashimoto is still developing. It should not be overlooked that the most popular politicians in the country’s two largest cities are now allies working to reduce the power of the central government. (And Nagoya is the third-largest city; even without a formal alliance, Kawamura Takashi is likely to work with them more often than not.)

The drawback is that this merger creates a political party with as much internal incompatibility as the Democratic Party of Japan. One of Hashimoto Toru’s most prominent advisors and supporters is Takenaka Heizo, the Koizumi privatization guru. Also in the party by way of Sunrise Japan is that most paleo of paleo-conservatives, Hiranuma Takeo. Here’s what Mr. Hiranuma thinks of the Koizumi/Takenaka policies.

Perhaps it is the hope of the folks in Osaka that they’ll have outlived the paleos when the time comes they are no longer of use to each other.

*****
I’m no psephologist, and I have no desire to become one, so there will be no predictions from me about this election. You can hear all sorts of wildly varying predictions now anyway. The weekly Sunday Mainichi thinks the LDP and New Komeito combined will win 280 seats, giving them a lower house majority. They project the DPJ will win only 90 seats. The weekly Shukan Gendai, however, wonders if the LDP and New Komeito can reach 200 seats, and they think 75 is a real possibility for Japan Restoration.

The polls are all over the place, and as of this week, close to half the electorate is still undecided. A recent NHK poll found public interest in the election to be very high, and turnout could soar. That means anything in this election is possible, and all sorts of possibilities are flying around. There are now 14 political parties qualified to take part in the election, many of which will not exist at this time next year. One of them is a two-man party formed by a DPJ renegade and ex-People’s New Party head (and before that, ex-LDP honcho) Kamei Shizuka. Mr. Kamei formed his old party as a receptacle for the vested interests of Japan Post after he was dumped from the LDP for opposing privatization. He was a junior coalition partner of the DPJ for the specific purpose of allowing the DPJ to pass legislation in the upper house, and his reward was a Cabinet ministry. The party name for this dynamic duo is The Anti-TPP, Anti-Nuclear Power, Achieve a Freeze of the Consumption Tax Party. (Oh, yes it is!)

The cement in Japanese politics is now wet. The political realignment that people have been waiting for has arrived, or at least the first phase of it. The Big Bang election that just as many people have been waiting for has also arrived, or at least the first in a series of large bangs. If nothing else, the political class will finally learn what they can expect from the voters for betraying their trust and expectations after three years with the DPJ in charge. If they don’t now, they never will.

Afterwords:

* Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko said this week:

I will not participate in a competition to lean rightward.

This is the self-described conservative speaking.

On the other hand, he has no choice, whatever it is he really believes.

Roughly 40% of the current DPJ MPs have close labor union ties, and the party’s largest source of organizational support is labor unions.

* During a 15 November TV broadcast, DPJ lower house MP and member of the Noda faction/group, said: “Noda’s attitude changed after he made the deal with Abe. He dissolved the Diet because Abe could put him in the Cabinet — particularly because the Finance Ministry wants him to see the consumption tax through.”

Sitting next to him was former agriculture minister, former DPJ member, and for another month anyway, lower house MP Yamada Masahiko. He heard this and marveled, “Oh, of course that’s what must have happened!” The announcer changed the subject.

Some people expect an LDP-DPJ-New Komeito coalition based on the consumption tax increase passage. Perhaps this has all been a chaban geki designed to stifle the local parties while the stifling’s still possible.

* Said LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru:

The LDP’s biggest foe is the LDP from three years ago, not the DPJ.

He’s right.

* Prime Minister Noda is demanding that all candidates sign a loyalty oath to the party’s policies. That was the excuse Hatoyama Yukio was looking for to retire from politics. It will save him the embarrassment of losing his Hokkaido seat outright, which was a real possibility.

* Former TV comedian and popular Miyazaki Gov. Higashikokubaru Hideo, who palled around a lot with Hashimoto Toru in 2008, is mulling a run as a PR representative for Japan Restoration in either the Tokyo or Kyushu bloc.

He considered running again for Tokyo Metro District governor — he lost to Ishihara Shintaro last year — but decided against it.

But that was earlier this week. Today he said he was still thinking about which he would do.

* Only the old-line journalists are talking much about Ozawa Ichiro in this election. I suspect he is a man whose time has come and gone, and people see him as holding a losing hand. Both Hashimoto Toru and Matsui Ichiro have said they weren’t interested in any arrangement with him. One reason is that his unpopularity would wound Mr. Hashimoto in the same way that Abe Shinzo’s decision to readmit the Japan Post rebels to the LDP wounded him.

* There are other local Restoration parties in addition to the ones discussed here. Three of them are in Ehime: One for the prefecture itself, with four prefecture council members, one for the city of Matsuyama, with 13 city council members (29% of the council), and one for the city of Seiyo, with seven council members (one-third of the total). They’re all working together.

*****
Everybody needs to go to the same karaoke box and belt this out:

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Big bluster and the big bang

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, November 18, 2012

Left, nay; right, aye

(They are) people who brought forth self-interested proposals using our common property, such as “the new public commons” and “from concrete to people”. Those ideas are now so tattered no one will ever be able to wear them again.

- Ushioda Michio, member of the Mainichi Shimbun editorial committee, on the Democratic Party of Japan

ONE of Japan’s sports traditions is the national high school boys’ baseball championship at summer’s end. Teams play a single-elimination tournament for the right to represent their prefecture in the national round, and the prefectural winners play a single-elimination tournament to determine the national champions.

One tradition within that tradition is for the players of a losing team at the national championships to scoop dirt from the playing field to take home as a souvenir. The Yomiuri Shimbun observed a similar scene in the lower house of the Diet on Friday when Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko dissolved the Diet for an election next month. Several members, particularly first-termers from the ruling Democratic Party, pocketed the blue and white (actually plain) wooden sticks they use to cast their recorded votes. They know they’re not likely to use them again.

Big bluster

Speaking of baseball, one ancient observation about the game is that it doesn’t build character, it reveals it. The same can be said of politics, although it might be better to say that politics exposes character — or the lack of it.

Mr. Noda’s speech to the Diet dissolving the chamber was an exposure that revealed he never transcended his only defining characteristic before he became Finance Minister — big bluster. Every day for more than 20 years, he stood outside his local train station and delivered a political speech haranguing the commuters as they headed off to work. We’ve seen before that the content of those speeches bore no relation to his actions once he entered national government. The speech he delivered on Friday was just another page from the same script. It was a minor marvel of political surrealism.

He began by congratulating himself for a heroic performance in facing up to a difficult job, an assessment shared by 17% of his fellow citizens. He blamed most of the difficulties on the pre-2009 Liberal Democratic Party administrations, which suggests that someone’s been translating Barack Obama’s speeches into Japanese. He did not mention that the annual budget deficits of the DPJ governments are 500% higher than the 2007 Abe/Fukuda deficit, and roughly double the annual deficit when Koizumi Jun’ichiro took office in 2001. That suggests he borrowed the excuse for the same reason Mr. Obama created it.

The prime minister then hailed the great reforms achieved since the DPJ took control of the government three years ago. If you give the man on the street a week, perhaps he’d be able to think of one. He dismissed the Koizumi 2005 lower house landslide as a single-issue election, and said this election will be conducted on the basis of overall policy and the direction of the country. What he chose to ignore is that the single issue of Japan Post privatization represented the most important issue in Japanese domestic politics — breaking up the old Iron Triangle of politicians, the bureaucracy, and big business. Mr. Noda’s DPJ chose to turn back the clock, halt the privatization process, and place a Finance Ministry OB in charge of the operation.

And speaking of turning back the clock, the prime minister used that phrase while warning that the LDP would take the country back to the political Stone Age. One wonders why he thought it was convincing. He and those bothering to listen knew one reason the people gave up on the DPJ long ago was that their behavior was even worse than that of the old LDP.

He also attacked those who share the growing interest in amending the Constitution and ditching the pacifist peace clause. While the prime minister allowed that “sound nationalism” is necessary, it must not degenerate into “anti-foreigner rhetoric”. Unmentioned was that few people think Hatoyama Yukio’s claim that the Japanese archipelago was “not just for the Japanese”, bestowing permanent resident non-citizens the right to vote in local elections, and giving public assistance to a group of private schools run by a Korean citizens’ group affiliated with North Korea constitutes “sound nationalism”, if they had any idea what that means.

What perhaps drew the most derision was his rationale for dissolving the Diet that he presented during Question Time on Wednesday: He had promised to do so if certain legislative conditions were met, and he didn’t want to be considered a liar. If being thought a liar was so horrible, came the chorus of the media and the reading and thinking public on the Internet, why did he and his government break all of their promises in their 2009 election manifesto — starting with the promise not to raise the consumption tax?

The strangeness continued at the news conference following his speech. Mr. Noda criticized the LDP for their reliance on people from multi-generational political families. LDP President Abe Shinzo, for example, is a third-generation pol whose father was foreign minister and maternal grandfather was prime minister.

Of course Mr. Noda did not mention the first DPJ prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio, who (with his brother) has one of the longest political bloodlines in the Diet. He is the fourth-generation politico in his family — his great-grandfather was a Diet member in the 19th century.

The DPJ seems to be serious about this, though it is unlikely to have much of an impact on the electorate’s choices. Mr. Hatoyama got in trouble with his party for abstaining from a vote against the consumption tax increase, though he ran on a manifesto promising no consumption tax increase in four years. While he says he is willing to stay in the party he bankrolled with his mother’s money, he also thinks the DPJ could refuse to certify him as a party candidate. Mr. Hatoyama says he’s heard rumors that because Koizumi Jun’ichiro won acclaim for refusing to back former PMs Nakasone and Miyazawa in 2005, the party could give the same treatment to him.

How like the DPJ to misunderstand the difference. Mr. Koizumi made that decision based on the ages of the other two men (both were well over 80). But considering that Hatoyama Yukio was just as unpopular as Mr. Noda is now, and he might very well lose his seat anyway, the party could be looking for a way to present a candidate with a better chance of winning.

They’ve taken this strange step one step further. DPJ member and former 64-day prime minister Hata Tsutomu (in a different party) is retiring from his Nagano constituency as of this election. His son Hata Yuichiro is a DPJ upper house MP and the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport in the current Noda Cabinet. He wanted to resign his upper house seat and run for his father’s lower house seat, but the DPJ told him they would refuse to certify him.

In other words, he’s worthy of a Cabinet post and an upper house badge, but unsuited for the lower house. There’s no guarantee, incidentally, that the person they do certify for that district will even be from Nagano. (Meanwhile, LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru told them to knock off the performance politics.)

Big bang

The Japanese like to create unique names for events, and the wags have created a few for this one. It’s variously been referred to as the suicide bombing dissolution, the narcissism dissolution, and the flight-from-being-called-a-liar dissolution

Someone close to Ozawa Ichiro in People’s Life First Party said, “This is the ‘kill everybody’ dissolution.” By that he meant the prime minister took the step to forestall a dump Noda move in the party, knowing the DPJ would lose a lot of seats. He added, “This will kill all of us, too.”

But LDP head Abe Shinzo looked forward to it:

We in the LDP and the people have waited three years for this day. We are going to boldly confront them with policy.

My favorite comment came from Fukushima Mizuho, the head of the Social Democrats:

This dissolution was a coup d’etat by the prime minister. The social security reform and the dissolution were arranged by the DPJ, LDP, and New Komeito. The people weren’t consulted.

No, socialist activist lawyers masquerading as social democrats don’t know much about constitutional democracy or electoral politics, do they?

The most pertinent observation, however, came from Your Party chief Watanabe Yoshimi. He thinks this could be Japan’s political Big Bang.

The Japanese electorate has for years told the political class what it wants very clearly, and held them responsible when they don’t listen. They went big for small government, privatization, and reform in the 2005 Koizumi landslide. When the LDP turned its back on the Koizumi path, the exasperated public gave the opposition DPJ power in the 2009 landslide. Within months they were exposed as inept charlatans, and now all that land will slide on them.

You wouldn’t know it by reading the Anglosphere media, but voters in Japan spontaneously created their own combination Tea Party and Hope and Change movement long before either arose in the United States, both more ruthless than their American counterparts. They are quick to support the people who say what they want to hear, and just as quick to withdraw that support when they don’t walk the walk.

It’s a funny old world. All eyes were on the American presidential election this month, and few eyes will be on the Japanese election next month. The vote in Japan is of much greater interest, however. It will be a more compelling display of democracy in action than the one held in the United States.

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Banzai

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 15, 2012

NHK broadcasts Question Time in the Diet live on both television and radio. Most of the time it is the usual hot air accompanied by the usual posturing. That makes the broadcasts a public service in the true sense of the word.

Sometimes, however, there are exceptions. It was always entertaining to listen to Koizumi Jun’ichiro, who combined a mastery of wit and repartee with remarkable bluntness, deal with the opposition. Then there was the day Tsujimoto Kiyomi, then of the Social Democrats, was questioning/berating Suzuki Muneo, then of the Liberal Democratic Party, for his involvement in several scandals. She got carried away with herself and called him a trading company for scandal. If you can imagine someone getting hysterical and going ballistic simultaneously, then you can see in your mind’s eye how Mr. Suzuki erupted/reacted.

Today’s session between LDP President Abe Shinzo and Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko was another exception.

Mr. Abe pressed the prime minister to keep his vague promise for calling a lower house election when certain conditions had been met, and the dialogue quickly became heated. Finally Mr. Noda said that he would dissolve the lower house and call for elections on Friday if the opposition would agree to support the redistricting bill to remove the electoral imbalance among Diet districts that the Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional, as well a deficit financing bill.

The LDP leader snapped at the offer. As soon as the session was over, he convened a meeting of party executives. Their answer to Mr. Noda was, bring it on.

Less excited were the members of the ruling Democratic Party — they and everyone else assume many of them will be job-hunting after the election — and just the day before some senior members were talking about dumping Mr. Noda. But they decided to set the date for the polls at 16 December.

The Associated Press report was entertaining, if not informative. For example:

The pledge to call elections highlights the gridlock that has paralyzed Japanese politics for years, hindering progress on reforms needed to help revitalize an economy on the brink of recession and revamp government finances to cope with a fast-aging population.

The gridlock is five years old and started with the DPJ’s victory in the upper house election of 2007. They spent the next two years sticking a rod into the LDP spokes every chance they got to force the lower house election that finally came in 2009. It ultimately didn’t matter, because the LDP had a supermajority in the lower house and could overrule upper house decisions whenever it wanted.

And if reforms to revitalize the economy and revamping government finances were on the menu, the last people anyone should have entrusted with that task was the DPJ. They were capable of passing the legislation they wanted to implement because they started out with a ruling coalition in partnership with two smaller parties. They set records for the fewest bills passed during a Diet session on more than one occasion. Their performance was such that roughly 70 of their lower house MPs and one of their coalition partners have deserted them.

The AP also drags out an academic. It’s part of the template:

“There’s a real failure of leadership. That’s in part because Japan’s expectations for leadership are unrealistic. But also because the quality of leadership in Japan is really low,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University.

Japan’s expectations for leadership are basic competence, doing what you say you’re going to do, and taking a stab at doing what the voters actually want you to do. If that’s unrealistic, participatory democracy is in bigger trouble than we thought.

As for the quality of Japanese leadership, it’s low compared to that in which country?

Take your time.

The best pre-post-mortem for the DPJ government I’ve seen was on the blog of Sankei Shimbun reporter Abiru Rui. Here it is in English.

*****
The lower house dissolution that I’ve been waiting so long for has finally, at last, somehow, been decided and a new election set for 16 December. After nearly three years and three months, the opportunity has come for the expression of the public will in a lower house election. The opportunity has come for the people to boldly proclaim what they’ve learned over the past few years. It’s fortunate that this situation has emerged before Japan is destroyed any further.

Before the change in government, the Liberal Democratic Party had also come to a dead end, there was systemic fatigue, and the LDP had gone far off course due to their mistaken idea that they could win enough votes to return to the days of the old LDP. Many people left the party, internal party governance fell apart, and they were still attached to the old vested interests.

Therefore, it was not unusual in the slightest that many voters would have some hope for the Democratic Party, which seemed at a glance to be a new alternative. Also, the change in government exposed the different problems and irrational aspects of the Diet, the national government, and the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy

All that is true, but these three years have been too long. The DPJ government has no ability, is not prepared, and has no qualifications to lead. It was very clear that they had reached their limit in the first few months of the Hatoyama administration. The subsequent Kan and Noda administrations were a series of blunders that elicited the contempt of foreign countries and furthered Japan’s stagnation and retrogression. Rather than being my feeling, that is what I believe.

We have learned about the costs and risks of democracy to an extent that is unpleasant. Perhaps that was one of the few effects of the change of government. Perfection isn’t possible for the systems people create, so that makes it necessary to ceaselessly check and reexamine them. It’s perhaps possible to say that the change of government has given us plenty of food for thought.

There will be no forgetting the lack of ability, impotence, mendacity, deceit, chicanery, evasions, deception under the pretense of benevolence, arrogance, cowardice, swelled heads, misconceptions, and bitterness the DPJ showed the people. From time to time I have written about the contempt, disparagement, and scorn they had for the public, and it is not possible to forgive them.

Both Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko and the senior members of the DPJ say they have no intention of handing over the control of government to another party. That might be bravado, but it can also be taken as an expression of their deep-rooted hubris.

The Japanese voters should express their will and say they’ve had enough. It is my small hope now that they realize they want no more Hatoyama, no more Kan, and no more Noda, and show that through their votes.

Of course not everything will go well after the election. The difficulties will still be with us. We don’t have a clear idea who will administer the government, nor in what sort of framework that will be. But even that will be far better than the Democratic Party of Japan, for whom words, common sense, laws, rules, and conscience have no meaning.

Banzai.
*****

Another news item passed by almost unnoticed in the drama of the day. Minister of the Environment Ozawa Sakihito announced he is leaving the DPJ and expects to join Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru’s Japan Restoration Party. The DPJ is now down to 247 members in the lower house, after starting out with more than 300 three years ago. A majority in that chamber is 241.

The mudboat is sinking.

UPDATE: That mudboat is sinking very fast. Three more DPJ lower house MPs have announced they have quit the party, including former Agriculture Minister Yamada Masahiko. Two more have announced their intention to leave the party, which means they have already de facto lost their stand-alone majority in the lower house.

One of the departees, Tomioka Yoshitada, said that most of the DPJ MPs were opposed to the decision to dissolve the Diet and call an election. (No surprise there.) There are also reports that Mr. Noda planned on dissolving the Diet on the 22nd, but moved up the date a week to forestall DPJ Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma’s efforts to unseat him as party president. (No surprise there, either; Mr. Koshi’ishi is a teachers’ union leftist, and they would rather drink gasoline than voluntarily give up power, even though a lower house election had to be held by next summer.)

It isn’t just the DPJ, either. Abe Tomoko of the Social Democrats said she was leaving that party to hang out with the Greens. If this keeps up their membership will be able to meet in a sedan instead of a minivan.

UPDATE 2: Some are of the opinion that Mr. Noda expects the party to lose up to 160 of their 240-odd seats, but that none of the other parties will win a majority, either. Therefore, goes the theory, he wants to create a grand coalition with the LDP and New Komeito after the election, to last probably until the upper house election in the summer.

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Ichigen koji? (225)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 10, 2012

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

In those days, a senior member of the Foreign Ministry told me, “We have received no explanation whatsoever of the East Asian entity concept (i.e., an East Asian EU) from either (Prime Minister) Hatoyama or (Foreign Minister) Okada. When governments overseas ask us about it, there’s nothing else we can do except paste together the various statements Mr. Hatoyama has made on the subject and tell them, ‘It’s something like this.'”

- Abiru Rui of the Sankei Shimbun

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Ichigen koji (201)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, October 18, 2012

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


Japan has more than 100 million people, so it isn’t surprising that there’s someone like Mr. Hatoyama, but it should be very surprising that the DPJ would reappoint him to the position of Senior Advisor for Foreign Affairs for the party…This means either that Prime Minister Noda doesn’t think foreign affairs is part of the national interest, or doesn’t think the national interest is important.

- Former Foreign Minister Komura Masahiko, now Vice-President of the Liberal Democratic Party, speaking on the reinstatement of former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio.

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Ichigen koji (195)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, October 12, 2012

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

Democratic Party Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma met former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio at a Tokyo restaurant to ask for his cooperation in stemming the tide of defections of DPJ Diet members. He also sounded out Mr. Hatoyama about restoring him to his former position as Supreme Advisor to the party, from which he was suspended after voting against the DPJ government’s tax increase legislation.

Said Mr. Hatoyama:

“I’ll return if you create an environment for firmly dealing with foreign policy problems.”

And:

“I’m worried about relations with China. It depends on whether you allow me to have the responsibility for properly dealing with foreign policy disputes.”

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Ichigen koji (150)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 25, 2012

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

Mr. Koizumi was a master of language. A sense of tension disappeared with Mr. Abe, dreams disappeared with Mr. Fukuda, and intelligence disappeared with Mr. Aso. Reality completely flew out the window with the spaceman, Mr. Hatoyama, and it disappeared without a trace with Mr. Kan. That is the power of language.

- Inose Naoki, deputy governor of the Tokyo Metro District, and a non-fiction author

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Ichigen koji (128)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, August 3, 2012

The Suzuki Muneo fashion sense: Ainu jacket and the trademark lime green tie

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

THOUGH not yet in the center ring of Japanese politics, the dominance of political center stage by Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru ensures a stream of speculation by the media about whom he will jump under the political covers with. The more pertinent question is whom he will allow to jump under the political covers with him.

Speculation first centered on Ozawa Ichiro, but Mr. Hashimoto is not that stupid. That hasn’t stopped the media from looking in all the wrong places. Former Prime Minster Hatoyama Yukio was asked if he would be interested in forming an alliance with Hashimoto Toru and One Osaka. He answered:

“It is very possible that we would create a cooperative alliance with a group that is capable of policies that put the people’s lives first.”

The Osaka mayor is unlikely to have anything to do politically with that losing dog, and in the event he does it will be on his terms, not those of Mr. Hatoyama.

An even more unlikely partner is former Diet member Suzuki Muneo, but that didn’t stop the media from asking him.

Here’s Mr. Suzuki’s answer:

“Their policies are close to neo-liberalism, and I wonder what would happen (under them) to the farmers and fishermen of Hokkaido…While observing their policies, we should cooperate with those we can cooperate with.”

The reason Suzuki Muneo is no longer an MP is that he was found guilty of accepting ¥6 million in bribes from a construction company in Hokkaido while serving as chief of the Hokkaido Development Agency, and ¥5 million from a timber firm when he was Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary. When last he had a Diet seat, he was allied with Mr. Hatoyama’s ruling DPJ. He was released from prison in December 2011.

Mr. Suzuki still has a vanity party, however, and it has five Diet representatives as members. That’s the number required to receive the public subsidies given to political parties. Not so long ago, he called for the abolition of those subsidies, but changed his mind and accepted them in April. Because of his conviction, he is no longer eligible to hold public office.

A more appropriate question is what an ex-con convicted of bribery while serving the public thinks he can accomplish as the head of his own political party. Hashimoto Toru knows that he will be fatally contaminated if he gets anywhere near that toxic waste of a politician.

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

All you have to do is look (1)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 29, 2012

Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio visits a festival in his election district in Hokkaido. Mr. Hatoyama has increased his weekend visits to the district because of concerns he will not survive in the next lower house election.

(Photo from the Asahi Shimbun)

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Found in translation

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, July 24, 2012

It’s morning, and with it comes the nonsensical battle in which the anti-anti-nuclear energy forces defend the crude tactics of the Sankei Shimbun’s editorial page, which is feverishly mocking the anti-nuclear energy forces, who are feverishly defending the idiot Sakamoto Ryuichi. So good morning and how are you today?

- The Tweeter known as 4269 Jijitsujo no Chikuwa

THE lack of Japanese language ability is no impediment to understanding either the content or the tone of the disputatious uproar touched off by the Fukushima nuclear accident and Prime Minister Noda’s decision to restart the Oi plants in Fukui.

That uproar, which has frothed over into large demonstrations in front of the Kantei, has the identical characteristics of what passes for political and social debate in the West. One side is inebriate of the righteous high fueled by vibratory emotionalism, and no fact, argument, or person is about to kill their buzz. Were it not for the absence of trashing, smashing, burning, violence, looting, defecating, sexual assault, and squatting on property both public and private — this is Japan, remember — the anti-nuclear power advocates are an analogue of their brothers and sisters of the Occupy movement. They share the aerated craniums and the solidarity of show business personalities and the radical leftists delighted to find a new outlet for their destructive impulses.

The anti-anti-nuclear power advocates have their Western analogues as well. They alternate between the presentation of fact-based argument that points out the Fukushima cancer fears are absurd, and showers of ridicule and scorn when they realize that they too are only preaching to the converted.

Novelist and Nobel laureate Oe Kenzaburo has made a predictable appearance, and just as predictably, unloaded one of his freakish fantasies that the media found the space to print before it forgot about him again:

“Fukushima is the greatest crime against the world that Japan has committed…We must end this (situation) in which all Japanese benefit from atomic energy, and which will make children the victims of the future.”

But the anti-anti-nuclear power forces stopped paying attention to him long ago. Shooting the intellectual equivalent of dead fish floating at the top of the barrel is much too easy to be any fun.

Then there are the zombie politicians anxious to seize the moment and apply it as a defibrillator to the ribcage of their careers. Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio beamed down in front of the Kantei at the large demonstration last Friday in a sapless attempt to recover his irrecoverable relevance. He grabbed a microphone, stood before the cameras, and told the media within earshot:

“We must place the utmost importance on this new trend of democracy that all of you have created. I am the same. I want to perform a role that changes the trend. The walls of the Kantei have become so thick, they can’t hear… I too am seriously reflecting on my past mistakes.”

By past mistakes, Mr. Hatoyama means his previous call to increase to 50% the amount of power produced by nuclear energy in Japan as a means to ameliorate “global warming”, with all the new plants to be built underground.

Copping a lick from the Gesture Politics songbook, he then entered the Kantei and declared he would deliver the protestors’ message to Prime Minister Noda himself, who was in Kyushu at the time. (The prime minister’s daily schedule is printed in the newspapers every morning.) Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu had 15 minutes to spare for the man he once helped vote into office.

Mr. Hatoyama is so inspired, he says he will run against Mr. Noda in the DPJ presidential election in September. That will be just about the time his party privileges, suspended after his vote against the consumption tax bill, are reinstated. One of his aides, speaking anonymously to the press, said, “I have no idea what he’s doing now.”

Neither the public nor the anti-anti-nuclear power advocates had as much time to spare on the bandwagoner as Mr. Fujimura. Ikeda Nobuo summed it up and moved on:

“This is symbolic of the ‘outside the prefecture at a minimum’ Hatoyama. (That’s a reference to the Futenma air base in Okinawa.) It is just like Japan’s peace activists, free riders who make other people do the dirty work of the military while keeping their own hands clean…Many people damaged their lives by withdrawing from university after being arrested in demonstrations (in the 60s). Now they’ve gotten old, gotten mixed up in politics, and are getting their revenge. That is Mr. Hatoyama’s DPJ.”

That description would have worked just as well for Social Democratic Party head Fukushima Mizuho, had she not stayed in school, become an attorney, and defended those dropouts in court. She’s the Japanese version of the beady-eyed, punitive left who clad their intrinsic unpleasantness and in the boilerplate of high-minded idealism. You can see it in her face in the photo at the top, where she is standing to the left of Hatoyama Yukio.

Kan Naoto also created a brief ripple earlier this week when he publicly addressed Prime Minister Noda: “You have become the object of the people’s anger. Do you even understand this?” That statement, which would be serviceable as the Kan political epitaph, was sloughed off after a brief snort. Everyone saw through the undead’s transparent attempt at self-resuscitation by trying to hang his legacy on his successor.

Is that not a fitting requiem for the DPJ? Their first two prime ministers, the most unpopular national leaders in postwar history, think that soiling their successor is a purification ritual.

The serious ammo was saved for musician Sakamoto Ryuichi, the technopop pioneer and Academy Award winner who used his celebrity status to squeeze past the velvet rope lines and bouncers to claim a spot at the front of the protests. That celebrity cachet provides encouragement to the anti-nuclear power faction and the excuse to unleash a fusillade of rotten tomatoes by the anti-anti-nuclear power faction. The signal for the start of the barrage was this statement in particular:

“We should not place in danger the lives of children, who are the future of this beautiful Japan, for what is, after all, only electricity”.

Had Mr. Technopop a sense of proportion and shame, he would never live down that last clause. He might as well have written the script for his critics himself — he’s the man who used electricity to become rich and famous, moved to luxury digs in Manhattan, and paid taxes to the United States instead of Japan. Here’s one of them:

“Sakamoto lives 60 kilometers from Indian Point, which provides 30% of New York’s electricity and is said to be most dangerous nuclear power plant in the U.S. It’s time to let the ‘it’s only electricity’ New York royalty live the life of a peasant.”

And another from Tweeter Oda Masahiko:

“After all, it’s only music, so he should perform that technopop outdoors during the day with a flute and taiko drum.”

And the Tweeter Suimasenga ocha o ippai kudasai:

“Sakamoto Ryuichi asks why there should be any problem if the shift from nuclear energy to renewable energy means our electric bills will be a little higher.‏ Rich people sure talk differently than the rest of us…”

The quotation at the top of the page charges the Sankei Shimbun with crude tactics, but one of their ripostes was all the more devastating for its deftness.

They ran an essay written by Mr. Sakamoto in the culture section of their Saturday edition, the day after the Friday demonstration. Here’s the first part of it:

“As soon as you get off the airplane in any airport in the world, the distinctive culture of that country is revealed. People often mention soy sauce and miso for Japan, kimchee for South Korea, and curry for India. Perhaps that is a problem of preconceived images.

“What do you think it is for the US? I think it is air conditioners. You can hear their rumble and smell them as soon as you reach the airport. I remember that well from the time I came to New York. I’ve gotten completely accustomed to both the sound and the smell.

“Air conditioners were invented in the U.S. in the first part of the 20th century, and now they are an indispensable part of our lives. Perhaps it is because of the ”let it all hang out” attitude (おおらかさ) of Americans, but air conditioners in that country are noisy. No one asks that they be made quieter.

“Lately, however, that has begun to change. If you go to quality restaurants, cafes, or hair salons, you notice that they’ve gotten quieter. When you look closely, you see that’s because most of them are Japanese-made.”

All of this is to be expected by the mountebanks of the political class and the show business personalities motivated by the desire for publicity. That desire is particularly manifest among the once-prominent, still uncomfortable with being remaindered after their sell-by date. The idealism, to the extent that it exists, is appreciated only by their fellow travelers. Those of a different denomination discount it as soon as they hear it.

The attitude of those who are more often taken seriously as opinion leaders, however, has the potential to create greater mischief. Here’s Fujiwara Akio writing the Yurakucho (憂楽帳) op-ed for the 23 July edition of the Mainichi Shimbun:

“Just as I turned on the air conditioner in the kitchen because it was so hot, my 21-year-old son came home covered in sweat. While he expressed his appreciation for the cool air, he added, ‘Dad, you’re opposed to atomic energy. Isn’t it a contradiction to be using the air conditioner?’

“If that’s a contradiction, then contradiction is fine. You can still call for the abandonment of nuclear energy regardless of how much energy you use. It’s the same if you work for nuclear power-related companies or government agencies. The question is whether the contamination from radioactivity that occurred at Fukushima will never happen again for all of eternity, or whether you will entrust the disposal of nuclear waste to the people of the future whom you don’t know, when the final disposal sites have yet to be determined. The question is an individual’s ethics, not their energy policy.

“Opinions on any matter, and ethical matters in particular, should always be free, regardless of the consistency with one’s status, career background, standpoint, behavior, or history. That’s why criticism of the sort such as ‘How can Sakamoto Ryuichi talk about abandoning nuclear energy when he appeared in a commercial for electric cars?’, or ‘He used a lot of electricity in his technopop days’, only obscures the essence of the problem.

This in a country where everyone is being asked to cut back by 10% on electricity usage this summer. Those familiar with the decades’ worth of “do as I say, not as I do” editorializing by the self-congratulatariat in the West will recognize Mr. Fujiwara as a member of the same tribe.

The Mainichi’s just full of ‘em. Here’s another one that appeared earlier this week:

“The claim that we will suffer even worse disasters if we don’t resume nuclear power generation transcends common sense. I question the belief that money solves all, but the sense that there is no happiness without growth is the true belief of the establishment in all economic superpowers.

“Many people have offered opinions conflicting with that view of happiness. A Tokyo University student expressed the following opinion in Nagoya and was met with a wave of applause:

“‘Why is the premise economic growth? Even though the population is declining and the productive population is declining even faster, is it necessary to increase domestic goods and services? Is a society of mass consumption and mass production, in which we can get whatever we want anywhere, whenever we want it, truly a society of spiritual affluence?’

“Will we give priority to abandoning nuclear power over the economy, or vice-versa? Does success in the world depend on money, or not? The debate over the conditions of happiness will undoubtedly become the demand of history”.

Chances are the student will someday grow up and answer his own questions, unlike the author of the piece, though both have pitched their tents for now on Straw Man Island. In the meantime, chances are neither one will be sweating indoors this summer.

Here’s one reason the tone of the debate matters just as much as the content: The National Police Agency is now beefing up their defense of nuclear power plants and rethinking their anti-terrorist strategies, both for the plants themselves and the cooling facilities. They stationed personnel permanently at the plants shortly after 11 September 2001, and have had squads on 24-hour alert armed with submachine guns and sniper rifles since May 2002. The same sort of people who flew commercial airliners into office buildings have found in the restart of Japanese nuclear power plants the chance to restart their own mojo.

Sakamoto Ryuichi was in New York when the 9/11 attacks occurred. More than the attacks themselves, the American response troubled him. He thought the terrorism was a natural consequence of American behavior.

Extensive coverage was given to a report released last week that predicted perhaps 130 deaths would occur in the future from the Fukushima accident. Given less coverage was the fact that, assuming the number is correct, the total corresponds to 30 people per TWh generated. That’s much fewer than the 138 deaths per TWh that result from the electric power generated by fossil fuels, and not nearly as many as the almost 600 elderly people from Fukushima who have died, in part, due to the evacuations.

But if the professionally or avocationally outraged people mentioned in this post care about that, it would only be to resume their call to end fossil fuel generation too.

After all, it’s only electricity.

Posted in Politics, Science and technology, Social trends | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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