AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Inose N.’

Ichigen koji (252)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 7, 2012

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

This is all obvious, but leadership consists of ideas, prompt decision-making, language ability that is rich in vocabulary but sparing in verbiage, and the same sense of responsibility as the head of a household. It is not a pleasant face, a silver tongue, or other externalities, nor is it the ability to distribute money.

- Inose Naoki, vice-governor of the Tokyo Metro District, now running to replace Ishihara Shintaro

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Ichigen koji (229)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 14, 2012

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

The stupidity of Tanaka Makiko and the controversy over authorizing the new universities…the stupidity of appointing her husband as Defense Minister…all of these originate in the historically worst stupidities of the Democratic Party government. We have to leave the world of lies and return to the world of truth as soon as possible.

- Inose Naoki, acting Governor of the Tokyo Metro District

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Inose Naoki on the Senkakus purchase

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, September 26, 2012

AS the vice-governor of the Tokyo Metro District, Inose Naoki had a behind-the-scenes view of the circumstances when the national government supplanted the Tokyo Metro District to purchase the Senkaku islets.

Twitter is the de facto Japanese blogosphere, and here is a series of six Tweets he recently wrote presenting the Tokyo Metro District’s viewpoint. They’re a bit sketchy owing to the nature of the medium, but they’re still worth reading.

*****
* It’s very risky for the fishermen from Ishigaki to travel to the Senkakus with its abundant fishery resources. They have five-ton ships and 1 watt radios. The Chinese and the Taiwanese operate much larger ships, and they have 10 watt radios. In light of this, Ishigaki Mayor Nakayama Yoshitaka (a former Diet member) asked if it would be possible to build a basin for their ships and a radio tower. Contact with the owner of the Senkakus was possible through upper house member Santo Akiko.

* A message was relayed from Ms. Santo to (Tokyo) Gov. Ishihara. He met with the owner a year ago. The owner said he wanted to transfer the islets before any problems with the inheritance (taxes) arose. Ordinarily, discussions would have started right away, but the situation became as slippery as an eel. There were financial liabilities, but an investigation would soon turn those up. There were also assets, but a look at the balance sheet showed they were worth about JPY 1.0 – 1.5 billion.

* The owner requested a deposit, but that was not possible because of our responsibility to provide explanations to the taxpayers and the procedures based on the rules of democracy. We conveyed our intent to survey the islands and to entrust the matter to the asset valuation council, which would determine an appropriate price. We would also have to ask the assembly to approve the purchase. At just that time, the Noda government approached the owner with a JPY 2.05 billion-plus offer that would ensure him a large profit.

* What was a simple matter of the domestic transfer of title from the owner to the Tokyo Metro District suddenly became a matter of nationalization. If it’s a question of shifting from an annual rental of JPY 25 million to nationalization, then it’s meaningless. When Prime Minister Noda and Gov. Ishihara met, the prime minister thought the ship basin plan was a good idea, and said he would respond soon. But the Foreign Ministry doesn’t listen to the Kantei (PM’s office). The Kantei has no influence at all.

* The Foreign Ministry made an inquiry to the Chinese in some form, but the (Japanese) official didn’t want to create a disadvantage by doing something unnecessary, so he formally withdrew. It was completely beyond me why they were nationalizing the islets for a bundle of money. It just exposed the government’s indecisiveness for everyone to see, including the Chinese. The sense of the word “nationalization” is completely different in China. They just made excuses.

* Allowing the Hong Kong activists to land on the islets was a clear error in judgment by the Noda administration and the Foreign Ministry. Allowing the issue of the territory to become a dispute will result in further escalation. They should have dealt with them before they reached shore. It is not possible to have a discussion with people who say, “The Senkakus are our land, so we’ll attack and loot Japanese corporations.” What remains is the problem of Chinese pride.

*****
Here’s an unrelated update/addendum that’s too short for a regular post, but still deserves mention.

There is a website called Asia Eye, described as the Official Blog of the Project 2049 Institute. They publish a weekly roundup of featurettes with links called Under the Radar. The heading reads, “A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.”

Here’s this week’s lead story in the parade of under the radar, under-reported events in Asia.

The Japanese government’s purchase of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands has sparked violent street protests throughout China as fishing boats were dispatched to the disputed waters to oppose Japan’s nationalization of the contested islands.

To be fair, some, though not all, of the mini-stories are under-reported. Then again, not all of them are Asia-related. Nevertheless, that’s as good a demonstration as any of why I spend so little time reading what the Western Anglosphere has to say about East Asia.

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

The Tokyo harvest

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, September 25, 2012

THAT’S not just any old hayseed harvesting those rice plants — that’s the Emperor of Japan. He put on his boots, grabbed a sickle, and got right to work, cutting down about 100 plants. The man’s no stranger to farm chores. He planted the seeds, too.

Bet they don’t do that at Buckingham Palace.

He grew two kinds of rice, one a variety of mochi. Reports say this Palace harvest was that of a typical year. The crop will be used in ceremonies as well as eaten at the palace.

It’s a simple photo, but the combination of rice and the Emperor lies at the heart of the Japanese identity. Inose Naoki, a prolific non-fiction author who also serves as the Vice-Governor of Tokyo, briefly describes one of the ceremonies at which the rice will be used.

Many of Japan’s holidays have a rather complicated history. Labor Day is originally associated with the Niinamesai (Harvest Festival), which is connected to the Tenno (Emperor).

Even those people for whom the name Niinamesai does not register should recall seeing on television the Tenno cutting the rice in the paddy at the Fukiage-gyoen (gardens) at the Imperial Palace. The Niinamesai is a festival to celebrate the rice harvest and offer a prayer for an abundant harvest in the coming year.

The Tenno’s rice harvest is a symbolic performance. The Tenno, whose spiritual power has been strengthened to the maximum through the Chinkonsai (Shinto service for the repose of the dead) held the previous night, conducts a ceremony at the Imperial Palace for offering the harvested grain to the divinities. The Daijosai is conducted when the new Tenno ascends the throne, and is best understood as a version of the Niinamesai on a larger scale.

The Tenno system has continued even with the changes to the Constitution after the defeat in the war and the transfer of ultimate sovereignty from the Tenno to the people. When decisions were being made on new holidays, the Niinamesai was offered as a candidate, adapted as a day to give thanks for the new harvest. The associations between the name of the holiday and the Tenno gradually grew weaker, and the holiday was established as a day to honor work, celebrate production, and to have the citizens extend their thanks to each other for the work they do.

A poem in the Man’yoshu suggests the Niiname was once a ceremony conducted in the home. The name Niiname is not to be found among the harvest festivals held throughout the country in the early modern period, however. In short, it is best considered a ceremony restored under the Meiji Tenno system.

Here’s a previous post on ceremonial rice harvests by younger and prettier farmhands.

But the Imperial Palace doesn’t have the only paddy in central Tokyo. Here’s a plot in the Ginza district on the street right behind the Tiffany & Co. outlet.

The leader of the group that came up with the idea explained:

“The environment in which we can grow rice is Japan’s treasure. Nothing is possible without that environment. I want people to value this Japanese environment.”

There’s also a paddy on a rooftop in Akihabara, the consumer electronics district. The plot’s been managed since 2009 by an NPO whose slogan is, “You can even do it in the middle of Tokyo.” They plant the rice in June, so it shouldn’t be too much longer before it’s time to harvest their crop, too. Pressed into service as temporary agricultural workers are the maids in the district’s maid cafes, as well as voice actors.

Here are the pretty maids all in a row at last year’s harvest. They don’t swing a sickle, but they do approach the task with typical Japanese aplomb.

Posted in Agriculture, Food, Holidays, Imperial family, Traditions | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Ichigen koji (170)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 13, 2012

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

(After the Tohoku Disaster), there arose again the awareness that we are of one culture. This awareness has been felt again in regard to the Senkaku islets.

It became apparent with the manner in which we received the public donations that the Tokyo Metro District requested to purchase the Senkakus. It came lapping in like gentle waves. It was nothing like the fanaticism shown, for example, by the South Korean president when he visited Takeshima, or those people who rip up the Japanese flag. I sensed a quiet passion.

The Metro District determined an appropriate price through surveys and the advice of the Asset Price Council. A resolution was passed in the assembly. We followed the rules of democracy and tried to purchase them fairly.

In contrast, the national government has no idea when it will pass the special legislation authorizing bond issues, and it still can’t distribute the JPY four trillion in grants to be sent to local governments. They shouldn’t have any money, but they bought the islets for JPY 2.05 billion. We do not know the basis for the purchase price, and they have not fulfilled their responsibility to explain to the taxpayers.

- Inose Naoki, Vice-Governor of the Tokyo Metro District and a non-fiction author

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Government, Quotations, Social trends | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 (137)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, August 12, 2012

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

The elites with their one-track minds give priority to their small, individual risk over that of the country. The reason the salaryman society of the sort at Tokyo Electric became the norm after the war is that those people didn’t look closely at the real causes of that war. In the end, they became emotionally anti-war. The anti-nuclear power forces should not make the same mistake.

- Inose Naoki, deputy governor of the Tokyo Metro District

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Ichigen koji (120)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, July 23, 2012

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

Ten percent of the nation’s population is in Tokyo. If the Tokyo Metro District government creates a model, it will be reflected in the national government. I hope that would be reflected in national policy. Until now, we’ve had “bad equality”. If the national government can’t make up its mind, Tokyo will, and create a model. Putting pressure on the national government is the fastest way.

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

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Ichigen koji (115)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, July 4, 2012

一言居士

- A person who has something to say about everything

Reporters in the Tokyo Metro District kisha club (i.e., the reporters assigned to cover the local government) are rotated every year or two. I have to go back and explain everything to them from the start. I have fulfilled my responsibility to explain by writing On Being the Deputy Governor of Tokyo (Shogakkan Shinsho), Who Does the Subway Belong To? (Chikuma Shinsho), The Power of Language (Chuko Shinsho), and The Power to Make Decisions (PHP Shinsho). The reporters who came to the office today to introduce themselves hadn’t read any of them.

- Inose Naoki, Deputy Governor of the Tokyo Metro District. He is also a prolific non-fiction writer

Posted in Government, Mass media, Quotations | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Ichigen koji (72)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 9, 2011

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

The central axis for crisis management should be unified, integrate information, supplement the information that is lacking, and examine long-term countermeasures. The on-site response should include the transfer of authority to professionals with a thorough knowledge of local conditions, and then proceed with (what must be done). That will resolve matters quickly and effectively. The Democratic Party government’s creation of a plethora of ad hoc groups to deal with the crisis and their management that failed to utilize local strengths was exactly the opposite of what they should have done.

A national government should only determine policy in the manner of a think tank. With some exceptions, they have nothing to do locally. That is the basis for the importance of regional devolution. The national government should be responsible for foreign affairs, defense, and macroeconomic policy. If local governments are allowed to deal with matters on site, it will invigorate Japan. This indeed is the concept that is of the essence.

- Inose Naoki, deputy governor of the Tokyo Metro District and a non-fiction author, on the DPJ’s response to the March earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident

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Ichigen koji 9

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 29, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Constants

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, March 17, 2011

HERE’S an excerpt of an eyewitness account of the tsunami that struck the Sanriku area of Japan:

“The angry roar of the waves gradually intensified with a sound that resembled branches snapping off a tree. People shouted warnings about the huge tsunami as it struck the shore, but even as they spoke, the six-meter wave was rushing onto land like a galloping horse.”

It was filed in June 1896 by a special correspondent for the Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shimbun, which became the Mainichi Shimbun in 1943. Tsunami are one of life’s constants for Japan in general and the Sanriku area in particular. Gregory Clancey, the author of Earthquake Nation: The Cultural Politics of Japanese Seismicity, 1868-1930, explains in an article in The Telegraph:

“The people of Sanriku are fated to live with seismic waves like the people of Bangladesh with cyclonic storms and the people of the American Midwest with tornados. It’s just that the region’s tsunamis are on much longer cycles, and, when they do come, give far less warning and often no ready means of escape…. The spectacle of burning debris from wooden houses carried over Japanese rice fields by fast-moving sheets of water had until last week never been captured on camera. Yet such phenomena were illustrated more than a century ago by Kokunimasu Utagawa (1874-1944) and other artists seeking to bring the sublime devastation of a Sanriku tsunami to urban Japanese audiences.”

Leave it to someone with a cubicle in the Ivory Tower to describe devastation as “sublime”; Webster’s defines that word as something inspiring awe through grandeur or beauty. The unconscious exposure of self-absorption is just as much a constant among academics as it is among journalists. The only differences are that the former use more complex sentences and often conduct actual research.

Prof. Clancey does describe briefly how technology has sometimes mitigated the effects of the tsunami in the Sanriku area. That’s a point worth remembering in light of newspaper reports in the Western media, such as the one I mentioned yesterday claiming that the Japanese deluded themselves into thinking that technology could beat nature. (The same bottom feeder was responsible for another stinker in The Independent today.)

Some people regret that modern affluence has robbed us of our connection to the realities of life. The Rational Optimist Matt Ridley quickly dismisses that idea using a copy of the newspaper clipping that he borrowed from another site, and which I swiped from him. The title of his post is, Wealth and Technology Make the Death Toll Smaller, Not Larger.

One academic always worth reading, Victor Davis Hanson (perhaps because he was a farmer), thinks the real problem is complexity in a post called Thoughts on Japan. One aspect is:

“…the inability to transmit knowledge and the dire wages of specialization. The original architects of such systems are now mostly dead, and we, their replacements, often lack their education and respect for civilization’s protocols. The result is that millions of Americans are simply enjoying a system built for them by others which they are not quite able to use, repair, expand — or understand…. Today’s popular culture knows Facebook well, but does one in a thousand know that a bee is necessary for an almond to set, or what a piston and cylinder are, or the difference between a southern and northern storm? I once asked my students to explain the winter solstice, not just the astronomy of it, but what such a date portended in terms of work, culture, and mindset. It was in the 1990s, and my favorite answer was, “She was a rap singer, Sister Solstice that mouthed off too much.”

He is unlikely to use the word sublime to describe devastation:

“There is no more ordered, successful and humane urban society than found in Japan. Like most Americans, these last few days I have been moved as never before by the courage and calm of the Japanese people amid such horrific conditions, as one of the most sophisticated and complex urbanized cultures on the planet in a split second is nearly paralyzed. I confess I do not quite fathom the constant American news blitzes about all sorts of China Syndrome scenarios. Radiation pollution is a serious worry, but right now no one has died from exposure and perhaps 10,000 have perished from the tsunami and earthquake. It seems to me the greater worry right now is not yet a meltdown, but the vast dangers resulting from disruptions in food, water, power, and sewage. Odder still, it was almost crass to watch American TV heads lead in with shrill, hyped-up mini-dramas about possible radiation clouds descending here on the West Coast, even as their backdrop screens showed biblical disasters of earthquake, flood and human wreckage.”

*****
Another constant resulting from a natural disaster is confusion; no one can be sure of actual conditions. For example, many in Japan were relieved to read that the Self-Defense Forces were given responsibility on Monday for distributing food and supplies. That means the job is in the hands of highly trained people who understand logistics and how to coordinate the actions of a large group. They will also be undeterred by any consideration other than that of accomplishing their mission.

Actor Tatsumi Takuro, however, is convinced that conditions in Tohoku are much worse than the broadcast media is presenting. (The Japanese news media does not indulge in hyped-up mini-dramas about radiation clouds adorned with pictures of biblical disasters.) Reader Ken sent a link to a Japanese language blog post in which the actor relays part of a conversation over satellite telephone with a friend in the north. Said the friend:

“Tell as many people as you can about the situation. There are dead bodies all over the place. I’m in a shelter, but there’s no food, and the children are starving.”

Based on his experience working in television, Mr. Tatsumi says that news crews go only to the safest areas and are prevented by the broadcast code from showing the worst images. Those images will be seen, he predicts, when the magazines publish special issues on the earthquake and run the gruesome photos.

Is his friend unnerved by the proximity of such death and destruction, or is the situation as dire as he describes? That’s another constant: We’ll have to wait and see.

*****
There’s also confusion about the effect of the earthquake/tsunami on the national and international economy, especially considering Japan’s sovereign debt. Katie Benner in Fortune thinks people shouldn’t bank on a debt crisis yet:

“(T)here are two reasons that the earthquake may not trigger a sharp rise in (bond) yields. First, the quake is unlikely to force insurance companies to make massive payments for earthquake damage, since only about 18.5% of Japanese households have earthquake insurance, according to reports. If those insurers don’t have to make massive payments, they probably won’t have to liquidate assets like JGBs.

“In fact, Japanese bonds have remained stable and the yen has even strengthened since the disaster. Economists have attributed this phenomenon to speculation that Japanese institutions could sell US Treasuries to raise money, and that domestic companies might repatriate money to pay for earthquake damages. Japan, the largest buyer of US debt after China, could also momentarily stop buying Treasuries while it figures out how much it needs to spend on rescue and clean up efforts.

“Second, Japan holds more than 95% of its own debt, according to Bank of Japan data. Even if foreign investors began to unload their bonds, they account for a small part of the overall market.

“So while the specter of a debt crisis hangs over Japan as much as it ever has, it’s unlikely to occur in the immediate wake of the earthquake. The day of reckoning for Japan’s debt problem will come when foreign markets determine the interest rates on JGBs.”

Her article suggests that the Americans are the ones who should have more pressing concerns about the disaster’s effect on sovereign debt. Who’ll offset the shortfall in the purchase of Treasuries if the Japanese use the money for themselves?

That’s one of the reasons a financial advice peddler named Chris Martensen has turned into a fountain of hysteria warning of a global meltdown, as you can see here in a link sent in by both readers Marellus and 21st Century Schizoid Man. His advice for Americans on the West Coast is to prepare for a “fallout event”, while he urges the rest of us to top off our fuel tanks, buy extra food at the grocery store, have long-term storage food put aside, and get extra medicine. He also advises us to stock up on chocolate and other luxury items that will be at a “mental premium”. This will help, he says, those grasshopper friends and relatives who didn’t prepare for disaster. What he doesn’t say, but probably thinks, is that the Kit-Kats can be used as a financial instrument for later sale at mental premium prices.

Also worth noting is his disclaimer that, “I cannot fully support 100% of my concerns with hard data and evidence”, his unawareness that the region affected by the earthquake is not a major manufacturing center, and his need to identify himself on the masthead as a Ph.D.

*****
The confusion about the threats of nuclear disaster is natural because the fears of the harmful effects are exacerbated by the cyber-equivalent of street-corner Bible thumpers and bearded sandwich-board doomsters. Some people are thumping their chests instead of Bibles and bristling with exclamation points to declare, I told you so! The nuclear power industry is already funding a tsunami of pro-nuke propaganda on the web!

Here’s another constant in the formulas of modern discussion:

People who express opinions I agree with = Truth, justice, and the American way
People who express opinions I disagree with = Paid propaganda by vested interests

A contrast with that view is this guest blog post by David Ropeik at The Scientific American, sent in by reader AK. It’s titled, Beware the Fear of Nuclear Fear. In the last post, I included a link to another site that explained the extensive research on Chernobyl reveals that disaster wasn’t as bad as most people think. Mr. Ropeik uses the extensive research done on the atomic bombing victims for the same objective:

“(T)he Japanese themselves have taught us, in the most awful way imaginable, what the actual health danger of radiation like this might be, and we need to keep the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in mind as we assess how catastrophic events like this actually are.

“We know from studying the survivors of those bombings, who were bathed in horrific doses of high level radiation – far worse than anything that could come from the Daiichi plant (or that came out of Chernobyl) – that ionizing radiation from nuclear energy is a carcinogen, but a relatively weak one…

“They have also been extensively studied, and 66 years later, by comparing them to cancer rates among Japanese not exposed to radiation, public health researchers estimate that only about 500 of the hibakusha died prematurely from cancer due to radiation exposure. Radiation-induced cancer killed roughly half of one percent of the exposed population. (This research is done by the Radiation Effects Research Institute, a Japanese organization supported by international public health agencies).”

And:

“(W)hat about environmental damage? A huge area around Chernobyl is off limits to humans for hundreds of years. But that’s to limit human exposure to ionizing radiation which, while dangerous, is less so than many of us presume. With people removed, wildlife in those areas is thriving.”

That last sentence is no exaggeration, either, as you can see from this article, which resembles an account of a safari in search of wild game.

Some people just don’t want to hear it, however. The last post also discussed the broken window fallacy, in which people claim disasters are ultimately good for the economy. This time, it’s some guy at the unsurprising source of the Huffington Post:

“But if one can look past the devastation, there is a silver lining. The need to rebuild a large swath of Japan will create huge opportunities for domestic economic growth, particularly in energy-efficient technologies, while also stimulating global demand and hastening the integration of East Asia.”

Tom G. Palmer points out once more that disasters do not create wealth. Perhaps this will penetrate some of those with the ears to hear. Keynes didn’t get much right, but one thing he nailed was the importance of ruthless truth-telling.

As for the integration of East Asia, readers of this site are among those who know that East Asia is already integrating economically quite well on its own. A natural disaster has nothing to contribute to the process.

As for political integration, no one takes that seriously except Hatoyama Yukio; the vapor-based community at think tanks, universities, and editorial offices; and the bureaucrats and other political time-servers in the West. Few people even in Mr. Hatoyama’s Democratic Party thought it was an achievable or worthwhile goal. They humored the man because he bought and paid for the party and happened to be in position to become prime minister when it took control of the government after the August 2009 election. Since his departure last May, I haven’t seen it mentioned at all.

******
Speaking of politics, the first sprouts of political dissension are emerging. DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya says the party will be willing to shift all the funds earmarked to offset the elimination of expressway tolls to disaster relief, as well as some of the government’s child support stipend. The opposition Liberal-Democratic Party and New Komeito, however, insist that all the latter funds be allocated for rebuilding as well. (New Komeito’s position is interesting, because a child-support stipend was their idea to begin with.)

The DPJ unwillingness to give up the child support payments is understandable because it would roll back their primary legislative achievement. Even they probably realize it won’t have an effect on the birth rate despite their claims; their primary interest was strengthening the social welfare state. They also know that in the next Diet election many of them will be swept away by another tsunami of historical proportions, so they’re anxious to preserve whatever form of it they can.

That isn’t to say the LDP and New Komeito are behaving responsibly. More than 1,000 local elections are scheduled throughout the country next month, and most people want to postpone them for a few months. Municipal and prefectural governments have more serious matters to deal with at present than an election. The two opposition parties want to hold the elections as scheduled, however, because everyone knew before the earthquake that the DPJ would be flayed. (Quick update: The government has settled on a policy of allowing those local governments that choose to delay the elections the option of postponing them for up to six months. Some are criticizing the decision; they think all elections should be delayed for the same amount of time.)

And speaking of the DPJ getting flayed in local elections, the people of Nagoya held a City Council election on Sunday after the council was recalled by voters in February. They somehow managed to drag themselves to polling places despite the paralysis, desperation, and fear gripping the country, as described by some in the Western media.

As we saw at the time, that recall was the most visible expression to date of the ongoing revolt of the Japanese voter. There are 75 seats in the council, and Mayor Kawamura Takashi’s tax-cutting and government downsizing party took 28 of them. They are now the leading party in the chamber, but fell short of their target of an overall majority. The DPJ had been the leading party, but their representation was slashed from 27 to 11. The LDP and New Komeito have even fewer seats.

******
As always, there are people of good sense capable of distinguishing between the important and the froth. One of them is Tokyo Metro District Vice-Governor Inose Naoki, who had a long career as a non-fiction writer before becoming involved with government. Mr. Inose distributes an e-mail magazine once a week. Here’s what he writes in the latest issue:

“Just before he died, (novelist) Mishima Yukio argued that post-war democracy (in Japan) gave birth to hypocrisy. In the 7 July 1970 edition of Sankei, he wrote, ‘A certain inorganic, empty, neutral-colored, affluent, and shrewd economic power will likely remain in one corner of the Far East.’

“But the focus on the quotidian that Mishima abhorred ended at 2:46 p.m. on 11 March. Without fear of expressing myself poorly, I will say this country has experienced a discontinuance of the quotidian for the first time since the Second World War. We must rebuild our country once again.

“But there is a great difference between today and the Second World War. In those days, the dissemination of information was in the form of a pyramid. The people had no choice other than to swallow whole the announcements of Imperial Headquarters. It’s different today. We can obtain information from various networks, due to the creation of Twitter and Facebook. The people can be linked with each other horizontally through an information network that didn’t exist 66 years ago.”

*****
Horie Takafumi went from youthful entrepreneur and media sensation to jailbird. Since returning to shaba, a Buddhist term for the everyday world that incarcerated gangsters appropriated as slang for the streets outside, he’s started to appear on television again and has a blog. Reader 21st Century Schizoid Man sent in a link to his latest Japanese-language entry. Here it is in English.

—–
The effects of the Tohoku Earthquake have caused serious conditions at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, and it isn’t possible to know what will happen in the future. But as one can understand from Ikeda Nobuo’s (Japanese language) blog, even in the worst case, if people are evacuated from the area near the plant, it is unlikely there will be many fatalities or people with serious health problems (That of course does not apply if people are unable to be evacuated. The people struggling to minimize the impact of the nuclear accident could very well be exposed to large amounts of radiation and suffer serious health problems.)

In other words, it would be as if they contracted an incurable illness. But if all of Japan can be compared to a single human being, it isn’t an illness that will cause the person’s death. People will be unable to live in the area for a while, and we will have to live with that illness for the rest of our lives. The most pressing concern is whether Tokyo, the heart of Japan, and the economy, the country’s circulatory system, will cease to function. If that were to happen, it is possible that Japan would die.

We should gather information ourselves and make the appropriate judgments without being led astray by strange psychological theories or urban legends. At the minimum, there is absolutely no need to evacuate Tokyo at the present. What we should do instead is go to work as we normally would, and consume as we normally would. Nothing can be done when one’s district is affected by the rolling blackouts, but other than that, there’s no need to curl up and cower, and we certainly shouldn’t buy things out of panic. There’s also no need for people who live in areas other than those supplied by Tohoku Electric or Tokyo Electric to conserve electricity. The Kanto and Kansai areas use different frequencies, so Chubu Electric and the other power companies to the west can send a maximum of only about 1.07 million kW. The most that Hokkaido Electric can accommodate is 600,000 kW. The measures to do so have already been taken.

To say that we will have to suspend events or modify our behavior in similar ways because it would look bad or be unseemly for the people in the stricken areas is the height of stupidity. The likely result of that would be to bring the economy to a standstill and bankrupt small and medium-sized companies. It would cause something like necrosis of the hands and feet if the blood stopped circulating in the peripheral circulatory system.

The best thing for people who aren’t in the affected areas to do is to go about their lives as they always do and contribute what money they can.

(end translation)

Finally, I sent an e-mail asking after Prof. Shimojo Masao, who sometimes contributes articles for the site (see the tags at left). He says that everything’s OK in Tokyo for now, but the more important question is how to link the disaster to the reconstruction of a new Japan.

Keep in mind what Matsuoka Yuki wrote: We’ll rebuild without making a sound—so swiftly the world will be astonished.

Afterwords:

There was another 5+ Richter scale earthquake in the northern part of the country a few minutes ago. A friend in England e-mailed on Monday worried because of news about another big quake in Tokyo. He didn’t know that as of that day, there already had been more than 200 5+ earthquakes in Tokyo and points north since Friday. I haven’t heard the count as of today.

Yesterday I saw a report that scientists think the force exerted by the tsunami in the Sanriku region was roughly 50 tons per square meter.

One of Japan’s handicaps is that they won’t be able to look for as much assistance from the rest of the world as some people get, or they’ve given themselves. They’ve got too much money, and they haven’t accepted all the offers of help. Oh yes, and aid workers often get in the way. We’ve known that last one for a while, but isn’t the timing of the application of that knowledge interesting?

I’m putting a post together now on the dark side of the post-disaster situation, and no one will be shocked to know that Kan Naoto is one of the characters.

*****

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Posted in Social trends | Tagged: , , | 13 Comments »

The origin of holidays and the Tenno system

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 27, 2009

IF IT ISN’T UNIQUE, the Tokyo Metropolitan District is surely one of the few governments anywhere whose two top chief executives were men of letters before becoming involved with politics. Gov. Ishihara Shintaro first captured the attention of the public by publishing a spectacularly successful novel while still a university student. Vice-Governor Inose Naoki, meanwhile, made his name as a non-fiction writer.

In connection with a new book to be published later this week, Mr. Inose has distributed online an article he wrote for the 24 November 1988 edition of the weekly Shukan Spa. The article describes how and why some of Japan’s holidays were selected when the new Constitution came into effect after the war. It also explains how and why the Japanese weren’t always the ones to select the dates of those holidays.

My quick translation of most of the article follows.

*****
The Origin of Holidays and the Tenno System

Many of Japan’s holidays have a rather complicated history. Labor Day is originally associated with the Niinamesai (Harvest Festival), which is connected to the Tenno (Emperor).

Even those people for whom the name Niinamesai does not register should recall seeing on television the Tenno cutting the rice in the paddy at the Fukiage-gyoen (gardens) at the Imperial Palace. The Niinamesai is a festival to celebrate the rice harvest and offer a prayer for an abundant harvest in the coming year.

The Tenno’s rice harvest is a symbolic performance. The Tenno, whose spiritual power has been strengthened to the maximum through the Chinkonsai (Shinto service for the repose of the dead) held the previous night, conducts a ceremony at the Imperial Palace for offering the harvested grain to the divinities. The Daijosai is conducted when the new Tenno ascends the throne, and is best understood as a version of the Niinamesai on a larger scale.

The Tenno system has continued even with the changes to the Constitution after the defeat in the war and the transfer of ultimate sovereignty from the Tenno to the people. When decisions were being made on new holidays, the Niinamesai was offered as a candidate, adapted as a day to give thanks for the new harvest. The associations between the name of the holiday and the Tenno gradually grew weaker, and the holiday was established as a day to honor work, celebrate production, and to have the citizens extend their thanks to each other for the work they do.

A poem in the Man’yoshu suggests the Niiname was once a ceremony conducted in the home. The name Niiname is not to be found among the harvest festivals held throughout the country in the early modern period, however. In short, it is best considered a ceremony restored under the Meiji Tenno system.

The origin of Labor Day has not been taught in schools in the postwar period, so children think of it as a day of appreciation for their father’s daily efforts. But if that is the case, why isn’t 1 May—May Day—a holiday?

Culture Day on 3 November was known as the Meiji Setsu before the war. It is the birthday of the Meiji Tenno. During the Meiji period, it was known as Tencho Setsu (The Imperial Birthday). During the (following) Taisho period, the birthday of the Taisho Tenno was known as the Tencho Setsu, and the birthday of the Meiji Tenno was eliminated as a holiday. But the Meiji Setsu was brought back as a holiday soon after the Taisho Tenno died and the Showa period began.

Postwar decisions

The Law Regarding Citizens’ Holidays was promulgated on 20 July 1948. Of course, Japan was still an occupied nation under GHQ control. Provision was made for nine holidays at that time: New Year’s, Coming-of-Age Day, the Vernal Equinox, the Tenno’s Birthday, Constitution Day, Children’s Day, the Autumnal Equinox, Culture Day, and Labor Day. Of these, five were holidays related to the Tenno; only their names were changed. The Vernal Equinox and the Autumnal Equinox were originally known as the All Imperial Ancestors’ Day for the spring and fall respectively. The Tenno’s Birthday had been known as the Tencho Setsu. As we’ve already seen, Culture Day was the Meiji Setsu and Labor Day was the Niinamesai.

The author and politician Yamamoto Yuzo, who was a member of the upper house Culture Committee considering that legislation at the time, wrote with great sorrow the behind-the-scenes story about setting the date of Culture Day. According to his account, the committee placed the greatest emphasis on 3 November and wanted to make that Constitution Day. Their reason was that Japan’s new Constitution had been promulgated the year before on that day—3 November 1947.

As he wrote, “The Civil Information and Education Section (of GHQ) did not allow that, however. They thought 3 May would be a better choice for Constitution Day. It wasn’t long before the lower house approved 3 May as the date, making negotiations all the more difficult. But I did not give up. I thought the date the Constitution was promulgated rather than the date it came into force to be a more appropriate date. Considering the distribution of the holidays, the seasons, and the weather for each, I kept up the good fight for seven months.”

Why was GHQ so adamant? Yamamoto Yuzo explains that both the Americans and the Japanese had ulterior motives. He wanted to make the date for commemorating the Constitution the day it was promulgated rather than the day it went into force. The new Constitution was passed by the Diet and approved by the Privy Council on 29 October. He wanted the promulgation date to be 1 November and make that the holiday. But the Constitution was to come into force six months later, and that would mean it would coincide with May Day.

At that time, the United States was engaged in the Cold War with the Soviet Union and did not want the date the new Constitution came into effect to overlap with the day commemorating laborers. Therefore, GHQ ordered that 3 November be made the date of promulgation.

The next dispute arose over whether to make Constitution Day the date of promulgation or the date of effectiveness. The Japanese old guard was certain that 3 November would be the date because it was the former Meiji Setsu. But GHQ, which was trying to promote democratization, thought that should be prevented and insisted the most suitable date for Constitution Day was the day the document came into effect.

Other factors

I suspect there was perhaps one more reason that GHQ went counter to common sense and stuck to 3 May. That was the day the International Military Tribunal for the Far East—the Tokyo War Crimes Trial—held its first session in 1946. Surely they wanted the date to coincide with the first day of the ceremony that sat in judgment of militarism. They did not want anyone to ever forget the spirit of war renunciation in the new Constitution.

That’s why Constitution Day falls on 3 May, but there are also some strange circumstances involving 3 November. Culture Day was created as the result of a dispute between the Japanese forces of reform and conservative forces. Yamamoto Yuzo wrote: “Our task was to select holidays for the people, not select holidays for the Imperial Household.” This can be understood as a kind of declaration of defeat. The result of the effort to make 3 November Constitution Day was ultimately to give that day the nonsensical name of Culture Day.

In spite of Yamamoto Yuzo’s intent, Meiji Setsu survived, but ironically in a different form. In his later years, he recalled that he was criticized every year for the unfathomable day called Culture Day.

Ironically enough, 23 December, the birthday of the Kotaishi (Crown Prince—now the current Tenno), which would become a holiday sometime in the future, was the date Class A war criminal Tojo Hideki was executed.

- Inose Naoki

Afterwords: The last sentence above is the topic of Mr. Inose’s new book.

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Posted in Festivals, History, Holidays, Imperial family, Traditions, World War II | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Here’s the first cat out of the bag

Posted by ampontan on Friday, September 4, 2009

THAT DIDN’T take long. Just two days ago, I wrote that the Democratic Party of Japan, the government’s new ruling party, had the potential to create a circus with more rings than Ringling Brothers. No one could have expected the show under the big tent would start so soon, however.

Mabuchi "I'm not a Diet member, I just play one on TV" Sumio

Mabuchi (I'm not a Diet member, I just play one on TV) Sumio

One of the pigmeat provisions inserted for the general public in the party platform was the elimination of expressway tolls, despite polling that shows people are against it by at least a two-to-one margin.

Included in the English language version of their platform, which you can see on their website, is a promise to “revitalize local economies by eliminating highway tolls”, and to “progressively eliminate all highway tolls”. This is mentioned in at least three places in the platform, though one of those includes the weasel words, “in principle”.

Well, the weasel didn’t even wait for the Hatoyama government to be sworn in before it stuck its head out of the burrow.

On Wednesday, DPJ lower house member Mabuchi Sumio (Hatoyama group) from Yokohama appeared on the current affairs program Hodo Suteeshon broadcast on the TV Asahi network. The show is hosted by Furutachi Ichiro, and former Aera editor Isshiki Kiyoshi also appears as a commentator.

I didn’t see the program, but according to several Japanese sources, the following exchange took place.

Isshiki: If you eliminate expressway tolls, the traffic jams…

Mabuchi: We’ll have the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport conduct simulations in those places where it seems traffic jams are likely to occur, and charge tolls there.

Furutachi: What! But everyone thinks that all the expressways will be free except for the Metropolitan Expressway (in the Tokyo area) and the Hanshin Expressway (in the Osaka area).

Mabuchi: If it seems there will be traffic jams, there’ll be tolls.

Furutachi: We pretty much know where there are likely to be traffic jams. Will the Tomei Expressway have tolls? (The Tomei is 350 kilometers long and runs from Tokyo to Aichi.)

Mabuchi: I can’t say which routes are likely to be crowded.

Furutachi: Well, they’re already crowded now, so we know, don’t we?

Mabuchi: If we mentioned the names of specific routes that would retain the tolls…considering the emotions of the people in the area, it would have been difficult for us to say before the election.

“Don’t read my lips,” eh? I understand completely. If the expiration date of your campaign promises is the day after the election, it’s best to win the election first before you level with the voters. It’s right there in black and white in the poli sci textbooks used at all the finer universities, not to mention the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management.

Also during the program, Mr. Mabuchi said that some in the party thought they should spell out before the election which roads would still have tolls and those that wouldn’t.

Ah, but that would be telling!

Is there anyone in the DPJ who isn’t the political equivalent of a rubber duck in a straw hat floating in the bathtub?

Other than Ozawa Ichiro, and he probably doesn’t float.

Update: The Nihon Keizai Shimbun published a poll on 2 September revealing that roughly 60% of those surveyed said they would not use expressways more frequently even if tolls were eliminated. (58% said there would be no change, and 1% said they would use the expressways less frequently.) This was most pronounced for those aged 40 or older, with the percentage of people set in their ways rising to 67%. Even 51% of those in their 30s said it would have no effect on their driving choices.

Some of the reasons cited by respondents were:

* No increase in automobile use otherwise: 58%
* More crowded roads: 55%
* Higher expenditures on gasoline: 36%

Not often cited in this debate is Tokyo Vice-Governor Inose Naoki’s claim that only 10% of Japan’s registered vehicles are ever driven on expressways. That is perhaps a factor contributing to the first reason listed above.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , | 8 Comments »

Does the rubber meet the road with the DPJ platform?

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, July 29, 2009

ONE SALUTARY EFFECT emerging from the real possibility that the opposition will take control of the Japanese government after next month’s election is the greater scrutiny given to the parties’ political platforms than has been the case in the past. That is particularly true for the platform of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which critics claim involves some serious book cooking.

Attention so far has been focused on the party’s child-rearing subsidy, but some are also looking at their plan to eliminate the tolls on the nation’s expressways and make their use free of charge.

Here are some recent comments:

First, Kaneko Kazuyoshi, the Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, and a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, at a press conference after a recent Cabinet meeting:

“(If they make the expressways toll-free), it will require that we triple our budget for roads. The party says they will reduce wasteful spending on public works projects, but how are they going to do that by tripling the amount spent on roads?”

From the vernacular edition of the Asahi Shimbun:

“(The party) intends to implement two “eye-catching policies” next fiscal year: eliminating the tolls on expressways and the surcharge for gasoline taxes. These are expected to cost about JPY 7 trillion (about $US 736 million) a year. It is not clear at present whether they will really be able to obtain the funds (to make up for this loss) for the overall budget.”

From a press conference with Miyazaki Gov. Higashikokubaru Hideo:

The plank about eliminating the tolls on expressways was placed under the category of regional sovereignty, but I don’t understand the connection.

From an interview with Tokyo Metro Vice-Mayor Inose Naoki, a fierce critic of the national bureaucracy:

Q: There were immense traffic jams this year during Golden Week (the holidays at the end of April and the beginning of May). Wasn’t it strange for the government to allow people unlimited access to the expressways during the holidays for JPY 1,000 (about $US 10.50)? These tolls are for a company that’s been privatized.

A: I can understand it as a temporary economic stimulus measure. The Nippon Expressway Companies (collectively known as NEXCO, which pre-privatization were the Japan Highway Public Corp.) maintain a framework in which they repay JPY 1.6 trillion in debt every year. The tax funds invested will be only for the discounted amount. The DPJ’s idea of eliminating (highway) tolls, however, is more of a problem than (temporarily) reducing the tolls to JPY 1,000.

Q: But the users will be more grateful for not having to pay any tolls at all.

A: That way of thinking is a mistake. If the tolls are eliminated, they’ll have to sink in tax funds forever. Only one vehicle (in Japan) in 10 uses the expressways, so the people who don’t use them will also bear the burden. The citizens who are happy that the expressways will be free should be aware that it allows the current dominance of the bureaucracy (to continue).

***

Will the party resolve these contradictions with stealth taxes down the road, or will the DPJ follow the precepts of former head Ozawa Ichiro and “replaster” their campaign promises once they’re in power? Time will tell.

Afterwords:

A friend in England occasionally rants about the steps taken in that country to cut back on rail service over the years. He insists that rail travel better suits the country than expressway travel, and the cutbacks have caused economic hardship for some local areas.

I’ve never been to England, so I can’t vouch for that claim, but it does make me wonder if the same is true of Japan. (Not that they’re cutting back rail service here, but that trains are generally a better way to get around than the expressways.)

I also can’t vouch for the figures of either Mr. Kaneko or Mr. Inose, but if the latter is correct, forcing everyone to pay for something that only 10% of the people use does seem like a cheap ploy to win votes in the near term that will wind up being quite expensive further down the road.

Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: , , | 12 Comments »

 
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