AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Koizumi J.’

Ichigen koji (250)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 5, 2012

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

On 25 November 2002, Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro said during Question Time in the Diet, “The honorable member has just said there will be no structural reform without conquering deflation. But without structural reform, there will be no conquering deflation. There must be no mistake about this.”

- The Tweeter known as Hongokucho

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

A revealing dialogue

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 3, 2012

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AS Japan’s lower house election approaches, some affairs are becoming more opaque rather than more lucid. As an example, here’s an excerpt of dialogue at a news conference between Tanaka Ryusaku of the Free Press Association of Japan and Japan Restoration Party standard bearer Ishihara Shintaro.

Tanaka: The election campaign promises of Japan Restoration Party include the relaxation of prohibitions on dismissing employees and the elimination of the minimum wage. Already, more than 30% of workers are not regular employees, and more than half of them make less than JPY two million a year. If Japan Restoration’s policies are implemented, won’t they lose their bread and their homes?

Ishihara: The people in Osaka (Mayor Hashimoto and Gov. Matsui) are thinking very hard, but they are still immature in some areas…They established several categories for the framework of their promises, and then decided to debate them with everyone later.

Tanaka: There’s a limit to naïve innocence.

Ishihara: That’s right. When (Hashimoto) said he would release his political promises in a 10-page document, I told him to stop. “You’ve written a lot of them, but some parts of it are too principled, and they’ll be impossible to achieve. “ It’s just as you (Tanaka) say.

Tanaka: That’s because Takenaka (Heizo) wrote them.

Ishihara: That’s right (nods). I don’t like Takenaka. (Room explodes with laughter.) You can see that he wrote all of them (the promises). He’s just one of the seducers.

Tanaka: Isn’t that just the same as the Koizumi reforms that wrecked Japan?

Ishihara: He trusts Takenaka too much. I’ve told him to stop. He’s like a god to them. Even his advisor Sakaiya Taiichi has his doubts. Maybe they won’t let him speak out. He’s critical of Takenaka.

Tanaka: This will tarnish your twilight years.

Ishihara: I won’t let that happen.

*****
Serious commentary on this excerpt could run much longer than the excerpt itself, but I’ll be concise as possible.

* The rebuttal from some quarters was immediate. They said the idea that Mr. Takenaka wrote all of Japan Restoration’s policies was nonsense. They also said this brought into question the wisdom of installing Mr. Ishihara as party head if he has so little idea of what’s going on within the party.

The Hashimoto-Ishihara merger works only if the Ishihara faction gets out of the way in the next year or two after accelerating the trend to constitutional reform.

* It is true that Mr. Ishihara and his ally Hiranuma Takeo detest the Koizumi reforms, but that is to their detriment. Hashimoto Toru has spoken highly of them.

* If Japan (or any country) were serious about getting their economic house in order, they could choose no better stewards of the process than Mr. Koizumi or Mr. Takenaka. Then again, some people in Britain are still upset that Margaret Thatcher healed the Sick Man of Europe.

* So much of basic economics is counterintuitive. Here’s one example. If Mr. Tanaka were really interested in increasing employment, he would support both the elimination of the minimum wage and make it easier to dismiss employees. Both the minimum wage and restrictions on dismissal prevent people from being employed to begin with. (France is an excellent example of the latter.)

* Mr. Tanaka neglects to provide detailed information on those non-permanent employees making less than JPY two million a year. How many of them are housewives working to supplement the family income? How many are unskilled young adult women living with their parents (while working at a convenience store, for example)? How many are recently divorced unskilled young adult women with a high school education?

* The Free Press Association of Japan was formed with the admirable intent to deregulate the dissemination of information by countering the kisha club system of reporters, which is tantamount to an information cartel. Unfortunately, advocacy journalism by unlettered ideologues incapable of extended linear thought is not the way to achieve that. The behavior of Mr. Tanaka at this news conference more closely resembles a polemicist than a journalist.

The “explosive laughter” recorded after Mr. Ishihara’s comment about Takenaka Heizo tells us all we need to know about the other free pressers in attendance.

* The director of the association is freelance journalist Uesugi Takashi. He was once the go-fer/translator for the New York Times’ correspondent in Tokyo, and later became closely associated with the Democratic Party of Japan. His campaign advertising for the DPJ in 2009 masquerading as journalism for weekly and monthly magazines is still entertaining to read. All the things he said would happen never did.

I haven’t followed the story too closely, but Mr. Uesugi has been savaged on the Japanese Internet for his anti-nuclear power reporting in the wake of the Fukushima accident. Apparently, one of his favorite investigative techniques is “making stuff up”. He will win no plaudits in Japan for impartiality or credibility.

Afterwords:

The most recent Kyodo poll has the LDP in the lead for party preference with 18%, followed by Japan Restoration at 10% and the currently ruling DPJ at 9%. The new Japan Frontier anti-everything party created by Ozawa Ichiro and Kamei Shizuka and fronted by Shiga Governor Kada Yukiko polls only 3%.

Posted in Mass media, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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.

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

Ichigen koji  (220)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 5, 2012

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

The bureaucracy measures a prime minister’s strength by how much influence he has in the ruling party. If the ruling party is united in support of the prime minister’s policies, the bureaucracy cannot directly oppose him. In the Japan Post election of 2005, Mr. Koizumi destroyed the opposition, and he obtained immense power within the Liberal Democratic Party. For about three months after that, the bureaucracy was attentive to his behavior, and unconditionally fell in line with his wishes. As soon as they realized he wasn’t going to run in the next election for party leader, his influence rapidly declined.

- A former Finance Ministry bureaucrat quoted in the November issue of Sapio

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Ichigen koji  (210)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, October 27, 2012

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

A reported conversation between former prime ministers Koizumi Jun’ichiro and Abe Shinzo:

KJ: So Abe, what do you think is the most important thing for a politician?

AS: I’d say it’s leadership and insight.

KJ: That’s not it. It’s luck. Luck.

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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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Apotropaics for political revenants

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, June 27, 2012

FACED with the existential challenge of Small Government/Big Liberty politicians who are both successful and popular, the default strategy of the left-of-centrists is to make up stuff. One of the first fables off the shelf is that their crypto-fascist policies have made everyone except the uber-rich poorer. The script is then airtubed over to their co-conspirators in the mass media for dissemination as The Truth offered in the form of infotainment. This long-observed universal phenomenon also exists in Japan.

Former Finance Ministry bureaucrat Takahashi Yoichi, who served in the Koizumi and Abe administrations and is now an advisor to Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and Your Party, fired off a series of fact-Tweets recently to counter still-circulating myths. They will be of interest to people with open minds.

*****
Some people still believe that the income gap grew during the Koizumi administration. That’s just Democratic Party propaganda the mass media picked up.

Some people adhere to the belief that national income declined during the Koizumi and Abe years, when I served in the Kantei, but that lie has been exposed. It grew by about JPY 15 trillion. The national income in trillions of yen from 2001 to 2010 was as follows:

2001: 366.7
2002: 363.9
2003: 368.1
2004: 370.1
2005: 374.1
2006: 378.1
2007: 381.1
2008: 354.1
2009: 342.5
2010: 349.3

According to the government’s official statistics from its 2008 report on income redistribution, the Gini Coefficient for income redistribution was as follows:

1996: 0.3606
1999: 0.3814
2002: (First full Koizumi year) 0.3812
2005: 0.3873
2008: 0.3758

There are no figures showing an expansion of the income gap during the Koizumi years.

The phrase “income gap” was still used during the first days of the new Democratic Party government. Starting with the Kan Administration, however, the phrase disappeared from policy speeches and statements. Anyone who talks now about growing income gaps during the Koizumi years would be laughed at.

*****
Using facts in discussions of this sort is somewhat like holding up a cross to a vampire. It won’t convert them, but it will send them screaming from the room.

One popular strategy when the facts don’t work is novel interpretations. I ran across one a few days ago written by Okamoto Hiroaki, who describes himself as a company president in Vancouver. (He writes in Japanese.) Mr. Okamoto wrote a blog post presenting his ideas on the current political crisis in Japan, which was picked up by the Agora website. Here is his conclusion:

“I think this is a good opportunity to confirm once again what a real leader should be — not someone like former Prime Minister Koizumi, who had supporters like a show business personality’s fan club and who was popular among housewives because he was single and articulate.”

Extend the logic of this statement and it will inevitably terminate at the presumption that communication skills are not important for a national leader, and the political opinions and ideas of middle-aged housewives are not as important as…company presidents who blog, among other wallahs.

When a prime minister stakes his political career on legislation by holding a lower house election before it gets passed — in effect, a national referendum — wins the second-largest majority in postwar history, and leaves office a year later with a 70% approval rating, he’s more than just beefcake for bored, middle-aged housewives.

Might it have had something to do with his efforts to get the government out of the post office business, and get the post office out of the banking and life insurance business? And that these efforts had the added benefit of forcing the government to deal with their deficits in some way other than using the money in those accounts to purchase government bonds? Or that he cut the nation’s budget deficit in half during his term, reduced public works construction projects, rescued a banking system swamped by post-bubble non-performing debt, and started privatizing other quasi-public companies?

In other words, he did things that drove the National Government-Political Complex crazy. Of course they had to neuter all of them.

People often say that a country “could do worse than” choosing a specific person as its leader. Looking at the national governments since Mr. Koizumi’s departure, it is apparent that the country has already done a lot worse. Looking at the potential leadership candidates at the national level today, it is apparent that they will keep doing worse for the foreseeable future.

******
But some people would rather go blind than see.

Posted in Government, Mass media, Politics | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

Hashimoto Toru (1): The background

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, March 27, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Left, Hashimoto Toru; Right, Matsui Ichiro

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

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

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

The start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Power to the people, right on!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He went into overdrive on 16 February:

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

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

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

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

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

Yes: 61%
No: 34%

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

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

Yes: 38%
No: 57%

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

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


9. 3.6 % Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko

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

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

Dumb and dumberer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next: The Hashimoto political juku and his allies.

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

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This could be the start of something big

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, February 29, 2012

水は方円の器に随う
– Water conforms to the shape of the vessel; i.e., a ruler’s actions determine those of the people (Japanese proverb originating in China)

LAST week I presented the argument that Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, the so-called peace clause, was a misunderstood anachronism used as the means to stifle Japanese nationhood, and should be amended. I didn’t discuss the practical obstacles to that endeavor, however. (The post was long enough as it was.)

The primary obstacle to amendment is the same as that for any controversial issue: It would require a long, contentious debate to mobilize popular opinion, and inertia will always be the default position of the people absent a sense of urgency.

The support in Japan for maintaining the status quo is expressed in Japanese as “defending the Constitution”. Supporters of the status quo both in Japan and overseas often cite polls showing that a majority of the Japanese public opposes amending Article 9.

While that is correct as far as it goes, the flaw in the assertion is that it doesn’t go very far. The polling used to back their claim is shallow and two-dimensional. In his superb Yoron no Kyokkai (The Distortion of Public Opinion), University of Tokyo Prof. Sugawara Taku examines how the responses of the public to polling on this issue change depending on the questions asked.

For example, when asked for a straight yes/no response to a general question about amending the Constitution, the majority of participants answer yes. When asked for a straight yes/no response to a question about amending Article 9 of the Constitution that includes an explanation of the article’s contents, the majority of participants answer no.

But then Prof. Sugawara examines a poll that allowed five different answers, rather than a simple yes or no. Those five answers were:

1. No (i.e., keep Article 9 as is)
2. Can’t say for sure, but lean towards no
3. Don’t know
4. Can’t say for sure, but lean towards yes
5. Yes (i.e., amend Article 9)

The responses to this poll are revealing. The answers can be grouped into three categories of roughly the same size. Those are the people in the No group (1 and 2), the people in the Yes group (4 and 5), and the people in the Don’t Know group (3). In the survey Prof. Sugawara cites, all three groups were at the 30% level. Only one percentage point (well within the margin of error) separated the totals for the No group and the Yes group. The group with the highest percentage was the Don’t Know group.

Those results suggest public opinion on the issue remains fluid after all these years. It also suggests that a leader with conviction and with broad popular support in general could create a national consensus to amend the Constitution. As the proverb at the top indicates, it is the duty of the national leader to create the framework for any consensus.

Few politicians or leaders in any country, however, are capable of talking directly to the people over the heads of the political and commentariat classes, expressing themselves in accord with popular sentiment, and arousing the people in a positive way. Few anywhere even try. Japan hasn’t had a leader of that sort since Koizumi Jun’ichiro relinquished higher office in 2006 (though he kept his Diet seat for three more years). Mr. Koizumi, having several other rather large fish to fry, spent little or no time talking about Article 9. There hasn’t been a public figure capable of mobilizing public opinion on that or any other major issue since his withdrawal from politics.

Now there is.

In something of a surprise, Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru — the cynosure of politics in Japan today — addressed the issue last week. He started by reminding everyone of the obvious:

Japan’s national security is weak. That has an impact on everything…Nothing will be determined about national security, even with policy discussions, until we come to a conclusion about Article 9.

He then suggested holding a national debate for two years, followed by a national referendum on the issue. Constitutional amendments require passage in the Diet by a two-thirds vote as well as a majority vote in a national referendum. He would urge that national legislators vote for the amendment if that is the result of the referendum. In other words, he proposes to reverse what people would ordinarily consider the sequence of the process.

Once we see the results, the people can move in that direction. I will conform (to that direction) even if the result differs from my own opinion. That is democracy capable of making decisions.

What is Mr. Hashimoto’s opinion on Article 9?

It represents a sense of values in which a person says he won’t do something he dislikes to help another person in trouble. If there is to be no self-sacrifice, I think I might want to live in another country.

That first part is a bit elliptical, even for Japanese political debate, but it means he wants to either broadly amend or ditch Article 9 altogether. Take it for granted that he thinks he is just the man to drive the discussion. Considering his past electoral successes and approval ratings, it also may be taken for granted that he thinks he can bring about a result close to his own views. It would be a mistake to assume that he will be successful, but it would more of a mistake to assume that he has no chance of success.

Within days after Mr. Hashimoto’s statement, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party revealed their own proposals for amending the Constitution. Fancy that coincidence. Their plan for Article 9 would maintain the language about renouncing war as an instrument of national policy. It would specifically permit military forces, which would be renamed the jieigun rather than the current jieitai. (Jieitai is translated as Self-Defense Forces. The change from tai to gun means they are unambiguously referring to military forces.) The role of the jieigun would be defined as protecting territorial land and waters. The new Article 9 would specifically permit collective self-defense. (The old LDP government’s interpretation was that the Constitution allowed collective self-defense, but that they would not exercise that right.) Finally, the party’s proposed amendment would establish a military court system.

Collective self-defense is authorized by Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, for those people who take the UN seriously. It grants a country the right (but not the obligation) to come to the defense of another country when attacked, on the conditions that the threat is immediate and that the response is proportionate to the original attack or threat. There is no requirement for UN approval in advance.

Mr. Hashimoto does not care for the LDP proposal. His view is that it is a mistake to conduct the debate through the prism of political platforms and election programs. He thinks the process in the Diet should be the last step, rather than the first, and that the primary debate should be conducted in the nation at large rather than in the Diet. He also knows that the nation does not trust the national legislators, and he shares their mistrust.

We all know that if this debate gains momentum, overseas commentators, both in the West and in East Asia, will generate enough uninformed drivel, hysteria, intellectual incontinence, and geopolitical rent-seeking to dwarf the Tohoku tsunami. One would have to be a masochist to read or listen to it.

Whether or not the debate moves forward remains to be seen, but Mr. Hashimoto has brought it to the forefront of the nation’s attention at a moment when he knows the nation’s eyes are on him.

*****
The Japanese electorate have made their political wishes as clear as Waterford. Their preference, loudly expressed over several elections, is for smaller government, lower taxes, and an end to the collusion between politicians, the bureaucracy, and Big Business. While they do not fill town hall meetings or occupy public parks, march on the Mall or threaten public health and public order, their voting behavior predates both the American Tea Party and Occupy movements by almost two decades. It should have been obvious to local politicos that it would be perilous to ignore them, but the flybait class is too stupid, too avaricious, too convinced of its superiority (and too afraid of offending the powerful bureaucratic class) to pay attention instead of lip service. For that, they have paid, and will continue to pay, with their political lives.

Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s support ratings during his five years in office started out higher than 80%, ended at 70%, and never fell below the high 40s. During his term, he dissolved the Diet to take to the people the issue of privatizing Japan Post, whose bank accounts and life insurance policies provide the money to purchase the bonds that fund Big Government spending without relying on overseas investors. He led his party to the second-highest majority in postwar Japanese history.

His successor Abe Shinzo also started with a 70% rating, but that lasted only until he allowed back into the LDP the paleo-cons Mr. Koizumi booted out for opposing his program. Two years later, the LDP had turned its back on the Koizumi path, and the public turned its back on them.

The opposition Democratic Party knew enough to run on a program of reform, though much of it wasn’t Koizumian. It is impossible to determine the relative weighting of seriousness and opportunism in their subject-to-revision-at-any-moment program, but the leadership showed signs they weren’t serious even before the election that swept them into office. That they were either charlatans with no intention of keeping their word, or cowards without the will to try, was apparent in fewer than two months after they formed a government. (Their first prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio, started with a public approval rating of about 70% in the fall of 2009. It was in the teens by the spring of 2010.) After the party’s betrayal of reform, their mishandling of the Senkakus incident, and their rank incompetence in dealing with the Tohoku disaster from the day it occurred, it is just as apparent that their brand is so disgraced the party may not survive in its present form after the next election.

Having seen that both the LDP and the DPJ are not to be trusted, the voting public supported with even greater enthusiasm those politicians running on reform platforms at the local level throughout the country. Some of those politicians are imperfect vessels, but the people are willing to overlook a lot to get what they want. The triple disaster in the Tohoku region last March seems to have kindled a quiet sense of urgency in everyone except the national political class.

That Hashimoto Toru is an imperfect vessel of reform is known to everyone, but after four years of superlative ratings as the governor of Osaka Prefecture and a cakewalk of an election for the mayor of Osaka last November in the face of establishment opposition, it should be obvious to even the most oblivious that The People don’t give a flying fut about that.

*****
The American Horace Greely is well known for his exhortation to “Go West, young man” in the latter part of the 19th century. After Mr. Hashimoto’s victory, the call went out — literally — for young people eager to build a new Japan to head to Osaka. Among those heeding the call are the former bureaucrats and reformers Koga Shigeaki (subjected to gangsterish threats on the Diet floor by former DPJ Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito and forced out of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry) and Hara Eiji. Their numbers also include the leaders of the small Spirit of Japan Party, former Yokohama Mayor Nakata Hiroshi and former Suginami-ku head Yamada Hiroshi, as well as the former bureaucrat and non-fiction author, Osaka native Sakaiya Taichi.

It is difficult to characterize Mr. Hashimoto’s political beliefs in brief, other than that they tend toward empowering the people and disempowering the elites, and toward smaller government that is stronger at the subnational level. For example, he intends to privatize the municipal public transport systems of Osaka and eliminate the subsidy for the symphony orchestra. (He does support some social democrat-type welfare schemes, however.) He is what most people would consider patriotic, and what the left would (and increasingly will) disparage as nationalistic.

It is impossible to know what will happen with or to Mr. Hashimoto in the future. He might become the national leader the nation seeks, spearhead the reforms that the nation wants while allowing others to serve in a national role, or he might just as easily fall victim to hubris. As I noted above, however, he knows that the people listen when he speaks to them directly. It will be hard to lose if that’s the stuff he’s going to use.

He’s already been subjected to fierce criticism and low blows, and transcended some spectacular disclosures. Just before the November election in Osaka, several national publications revealed that his father and uncle were members of a now disbanded yakuza gang associated with the gambling business. (His father committed suicide when Mr. Hashimoto was in the second grade, though his parents were not living together at the time.) It is also possible that his father was a burakumin, a member of the Japan’s former untouchable class. (His gravestone is in a burakumin cemetery.)

It cannot be stressed enough, however, that the public is so desperate for real reform, they don’t care about the man’s background. He keeps winning elections, after all. That Mr. Hashimoto has now chosen to address Article 9 suggests he has the confidence to overcome whatever’s thrown at him. He’s already dodged the kitchen sink.

But regardless of what happens to Hashimoto Toru the man, the public will not be denied. It might require many more years, and many more flushes of the electoral toilet, but the public will get what it wants in the end. They might even get a new Constitution — and a new nation — in the bargain.

Afterwords:

Books have already been written about (and by) Mr. Hashimoto, and he is such a distinctive figure that a fortnight’s worth of website posts would be insufficient to describe him or the phenomenon he represents.

For example, he thinks special districts for casinos and the sex industry are a good idea. Also, though his father’s family might have been burakumin (his uncle says they were, but his mother says they weren’t), he favors ending local governmental subsidies to organizations that support them.

It should also be remembered that Mr. Hashimoto’s first career was as an attorney. That would not be remarkable of itself in the West, but admission to the bar in Japan requires a high level of both intelligence and commitment to serious study. Style points notwithstanding, the man is not a lightweight.

That few Japanese are bothered about his father’s background indicates the Japanese aren’t as prejudiced as some outside observers would like to think. Some of the naturalized zainichi (Japanese residents of Korean ancestry) in the Democratic Party — such as Maehara Seiji — should take the hint and come out of the closet.

No, I haven’t seen Mr. Maehara’s family register. Yes, I do have it “on good authority”.

*****
This could be the start of something big.

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Rankings first to worst

Posted by ampontan on Monday, January 9, 2012

THE results of two recent public opinion polls tell us more about the Japanese perceptions of their political leaders than anything you’ll read in the English-language media.

The first is from Nikoniko News, which sponsored an online poll for two weeks in October asking people to rank their selections for the best prime ministers since Mori Yoshiro in 2000. They broke down the responses by sex, which reveals some eyebrow-raising differences. The caveats: It was an Internet questionnaire survey and it had a small sample size, as the baseball statheads like to say.

* Name your favorite prime ministers since 2000. Multiple answers are accepted.

Males

1. Koizumi Jun’ichiro: 55.3%
2. There weren’t any good prime ministers: 24.9%
3. Aso Taro: 15.7%
4. Abe Shinzo: 5.4%
5. Fukuda Yasuo: 2.2%

They liked Mr. Koizumi when he took over, they liked him throughout his term, and they’d vote for him tomorrow. Funny how some people like to pretend he never existed.

The respondents who chose him said they liked his guts, charisma, ability to act, and leadership.

Those men who didn’t like anybody typically said that Diet members act only to look after themselves.

The totals for Mr. Aso are higher than one might expect. His supporters liked him because he “worked for Japan”.

One respondent said about Mr. Abe: I can’t see any problems with him. He was just crushed by the media.

The guys don’t seem to care much for the three Democratic Party prime ministers, do they?

Females

1. Koizumi: 51.8%
2. Nobody: 36.4%
3. Aso: 6.0%
4. Noda Yoshihiko: 2.9%
5. Kan Naoto: 2.5%

That Kan Naoto slipped in, albeit with just 2.5%, is surprising, if only because most media reports said he was particularly unpopular among women. Their comments:

Koizumi: Leadership / Brought the abductees back home / Stayed true to his beliefs despite what others said or thought

None: They’re all half-baked / It’s hard to tell with the media criticism / If Japan had a good prime minister, we wouldn’t have all this debt. (Can’t fault that one)

Aso: Sound foreign policy / Did a good job despite media bashing

Noda: Sincere / Tranquil

Kan: Didn’t run away from the Tohoku disaster / Didn’t give up in the face of criticism

Worthy of note: Most of the commentariat criticized Mr. Kan for running away from taking responsibility for any of the serious issues. (One of his nicknames was Nige-Kan; nige(ru) means to flee or run away.) Yet the women who liked him thought he was a stout-hearted man.

Meanwhile, the Sankei Shimbun announced on 1 January the results of a poll on leadership conducted in cooperation with Macromill, an online market research company. Here are the questions:

* Regardless of the time period in which they were active, name one person you would not want to have as a leader, and your reasons.

1. Hatoyama Yukio
2. Kan Naoto
3. Ozawa Ichiro

It’s a hat trick for the DPJ!

4. Watanabe Tsuneo, chairman of the company that publishes the Yomiuri Shimbun. Guess which newspaper is unlikely to run these results.
5. Noda Yoshihiko

* Of Japan’s 33 postwar prime ministers, select the person you thought was the worst leader.

1. Hatoyama
2. Kan
3. Uno Sosuke (Prime minister for three months in 1989, was in charge when the first consumption tax was instituted, was outed by a mistress (expensive nightclub hostess mistakenly identified as a geisha) who said he treated her rough and didn’t give her enough money.

The reasons:

Hatoyama: Wishy-washy / Ignorant waffler / How could anyone get any work done under a leader like that? / Changed his mind day to day (literally: Spoke, slept, woke up, said something different) / Spaceman / Never could understand what he was talking about / Weird / Casual liar

Kan: An unexpectedly ridiculous politician / Dreck / Thought only of himself / Untrustworthy / Never seen such an idiot / First time I’ve ever seen anyone so half-assed (ii kagen na yatsu) / Unaware of his own (lack of) ability / Slapdash from first to last

Ozawa: Out only for himself / Dishonest / Unmanly (N.B.: That never occurred to me before, but they have a point.) / Dirty / Sloughs his crimes off on his underlings / Shady

Apart from Kan Naoto’s name popping up in the Niconico women’s poll and the relatively good showing of Aso Taro, little of this is surprising, and most of the attributes of the prime ministers were already apparent before they took office.

Maybe people just enjoy fooling themselves.

*****
All they brought was love in their khaki suits and things, but it was enough to win the top ranking in the UK.

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Norks nix Noda

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, January 4, 2012

YESTERDAY the Korean Central News Agency of North Korea mentioned Japan in an editorial for the first time since Kim Jong-il’s death. They weren’t happy, either. Then again, Pyeongyang’s default position toward diplomacy is that it’s not happy unless it’s not happy.

This time, they were upset at the Japanese government for failing to express official condolences for Kim Jong-il’s funeral (though it did immediately after Kim’s death). The two countries do not have diplomatic relations.

They were also cheesed because Japan refused to allow some senior members of Chongryon (the General Association of North Korean residents in Japan) to attend Kim’s funeral.

Translating from the Japanese report:

Even if a neighboring country does not share in the sadness of a great state funeral, the Japanese authorities are responsible for the vile act of obstructing the condolences of the Korean people…Morally speaking, they are immature infants…They are unaware of even elementary human ethics, morality, or courtesy.

But the English from the KCNA site is not only better, it is downright entertaining:

The whole world was in bitter grief at the end of the last year over the demise of leader Kim Jong Il, peerlessly great man produced by mankind and great leader recognized by the world.

But!

The Japanese authorities…officially revealed their hostile stand, saying “the government has no intention to express condolences”. Worse still, they let loose such balderdash as uttering it was their hope that the great loss the Korean nation suffered would not adversely affect the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

And:

The Japanese authorities’ evil actions found a more striking manifestation in the fact that they desperately blocked the visit to the homeland by the chief vice-chairman of the Central Standing Committee of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) to express condolences before the bier of Kim Jong Il.

They’re just getting warmed up:

The Japanese reactionaries have put the DPRK-Japan relations at the lowest ebb, talking for years about the abduction issue which no longer exists and poses no problem. Yet, they are using it as a pretext for hurting the supreme leadership of the DPRK even today when the Korean nation is grieving the great loss. This is unpardonable in any respect.

The phrase “poses no problem” in the Japanese version was literally “doesn’t even have an odor”. It is probably closer to the original Korean.

The winds are gusting up to gale strength:

This is nothing but a mean and ridiculous behavior of the morally stupid guys who stoop to any infamy to gratify their political greed.

It is as clear as daylight what miserable end they will meet.

That’s quite some alliteration in the first sentence. Unconscious genius?

They come close to sticking the knife in, though the thrust misses at the end:

Japan has topped the world list of replacement of prime ministers, becoming the laughing stock of the world and not a day passes without unstable domestic politics. Hence, Japan will never understand the social system in the DPRK, most stable in the world.

Some literary scholars say that the American novelist Thomas Wolfe (You Can’t Go Home Again, Look Homeward Angel) wrote with his hand in his pants (literally). The scribes at KCNA seem to have the same habit.

The complaint about the “chief vice chairman” of Chongryon is telling. They’re referring to Ho Jong-man, the group’s de facto leader. Japanese reports note that the authorization refused was for Mr. Ho to go to Pyeongyang and come back.

Ho Jong-man was born on the Korean Peninsula and is a delegate to the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, though he lives in Japan. Here’s another excerpt from the KCNA editorial:

That was why many officials and lawmakers of Japan urged the prime minister and the chief Cabinet secretary to allow the visit of the chief vice-chairman.

The photo here shows the Chongryon memorial held in Tokyo for Kim two weeks ago. The group’s leader, a resident of Japan, is a member of what passes for the North Korean legislature. The policy of the Democratic Party of Japan, the country’s current ruling party, is to pass legislation permitting citizens of foreign countries with permanent residence permits to vote in local elections — including Korean citizens who are members of the North Korean legislature — though that would seem to be in violation of Article 15 of the Constitution. Providing that suffrage would surely be the foot in the door toward permitting their vote in national elections, or even holding public office. (That is the implication of the Japanese expression used for this policy). And some “lawmakers”, presumably Diet members, thought the government should have let the Chongryon officials attend the funeral.

See what I mean about a fifth column in Japan?

One Japanese politician did stop by the Tokyo service and express his condolences, however: former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro. Of course Mr. Koizumi is not a North Korean sympathizer, but he did convince Kim Jong-il to let some of the Japanese abductees in that country return home. His gesture is understandable.

It took a couple of decades, but at least they could go home again.

*****
On the Christmas post, I mentioned that Yamashita Tatsuro can sound like a combination of uptown soul music and the Beach Boys. Here’s what he sounds like when he emphasizes the former mode. Happy greetings!

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Ichigen koji (84)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 24, 2011

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

I think it is fully possible the Liberal Democratic Party can win elections with a stand-alone majority and form a government based on policy alone. But that would require nothing less than promoting bold policies that would attract the independents, even if we were to turn our back on the people who have supported us until now. Yet we are still incapable of boldness…We still think we can win elections if we implement economic policies based on big government theories and using the budget to buy off voters. Compared to that, the people have better judgment.

- Koizumi Jun’ichiro in 2000, one year before becoming prime minister and five years before demonstrating his foresight in the lower house election of 2005. The statement is still just as valid today for either party.

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Koizumi sighting

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 8, 2011

AT A Tokyo symposium sponsored by the Japanese Association of Corporate Directors on 5 September, former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro gave us a taste of what we’ve been missing since he stepped down from office — an insightful politician able to use his mother wit to clearly and convincingly explain the reasons for his positions. Nowhere was heard (or at least quoted) an unsupported platitude. It was his first address with the news media present since July 2010. Here’s a sample.

On the Democratic Party:

The fiscal difficulties mean that governments of the ruling party will continue to find it hard going. The change in government was a good thing, because the DPJ diet members have finally done us the favor of understanding just how difficult it is to be the ruling party.

On DPJ domestic policies:

Though (we) created a system for privatization that required absolutely no tax funds, the Democratic Party has eliminated expressway tolls. How do they expect to repay the debts of the Japan Public Highway Corporation? Theirs is a system that places a tax burden on people who do not use automobiles.

On their pledges:

The DPJ said that it could easily find JPY 16 trillion in funding sources if they formed a government. I’d like to see them do it without backtracking on that promise.

And on their foreign policy, specifically the “equilateral triangle” policy:

China is the more important country to us economically, but no policy of any kind will make headway unless mutual safety has been secured. After (its effort and sacrifice in) the Pacific War, the United States returned all the territory it occupied. China claims Okinawa and the Senkakus as its own territory. I do not accept the argument that we should have the same relationship with both.

His argument about highway tolls is noteworthy in particular because it highlights one the semi-libertarian ideas that were applied in Japan until not so long ago. Mr. Koizumi did not mention that only about 10% of registered vehicles in Japan use expressways, but Tokyo Metro Vice-Governor Inose Naoki — who’s been a published non-fiction writer for more than 30 years — has made that point.

High school tuition was another example. Under Japanese law, obligatory education ends at age 15, or the age at which a student leaves junior high school/middle school. That was the basis for requiring tuition to attend high school. (There’s a lot of common sense underlying that policy. No one’s making you go.) Government subsidies began during the LDP years, but the DPJ made high school free for all.

Also, one of Japan’s old-age pension systems requires monthly payments for a minimum of 25 years. It is the responsibility of the individual to make his own arrangement for payments. (I’ve got three years of payments remaining.) Failure to do so means you don’t qualify for the pension. The DPJ wants to scrap this requirement and apply consumption tax receipts for this purpose instead.

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Japan’s political kaleidoscope (8): The new, the old, and the Noda

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, September 6, 2011

PLENTY of people were saying plenty of interesting things last week with the start of the Noda Cabinet. Here are some of them.

The Asahi Shimbun

It wasn’t what the Asahi said in an English-language article that was remarkable. Rather, it was the fact that they — Japan’s preeminent newspaper of the left and Kan Naoto’s only reliable water carrier — were the ones to say it. It started with the headline:

Noda, Finance Ministry Speak as One on Tax Hikes

The first sentence:

Having an advocate of tax hikes as prime minister is a dream come true for Finance Ministry mandarins who have long championed an increase in the consumption tax rate.

The body of the article contains a good description of how the bureaucracy in general, and the Finance Ministry in particular, becomes entwined in the political process. Now for the finish:

Senior Finance Ministry officials asked Noda to appoint either former Secretary-General Katsuya Okada or former Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku as finance minister because both men support tax increases.
Eventually, Noda picked Azumi Jun, handing him his first Cabinet portfolio.
“Noda chose a lightweight minister without losing any sleep over the matter because he served as finance minister himself,” a DPJ lawmaker said.

That last sentence is clever for the plausible deniability it provides. Did they mean Mr. Noda isn’t losing any sleep because he is capable of acting as his own finance minister, or because he was a lightweight finance minister himself who subcontracted policy decisions to the ministry. I suspect the latter.

I don’t recall much of this from the Asahi when Kan Naoto, the preceding Finance Ministry puppet and tax hike promoter, was in office, but perhaps I disremember.

Please note that I’m still having trouble with the link function. I just sent a note to WordPress. The article should be easy to find, however.

Hasegawa Yukihiro

It’s worth reading anything by Mr. Hasegawa, an award-winning book author, columnist, and member of the editorial board of the Tokyo Shimbun. Here are some excerpts from an article in Gendai Business Online commenting on Noda Yoshihiko’s use of the term “no side” after winning the DPJ presidential election.

The phrase comes from rugby and is (or at least was) used by the referee to signal the end of the match. I’ve read that it’s obsolete, but being from a country that doesn’t play rugby, you could fool me. Japanese politicians often use it in this context to call for party unity.

*****
“The use of the expression “no side” is straight from the Liberal-Democratic Party politics of a generation ago.

“In those days, Kasumigaseki (the bureaucracy) handled all the policy questions. Policy was essentially identical to that which they created, so the politicians in Nagata-cho promoted themselves using traits unrelated to the core of policy, such as decision and execution, or tolerance and compassion. It could even be said they had no other way to compete than to emphasize their capacity to execute policies or their broad-mindedness.

“People understood that politics of that sort was a failure, so the Democratic Party championed the cause of disassociation from the bureaucracy and political leadership during the general election two years ago. The politicians said they would retrieve policy from the hands of the bureaucracy. In the end, however, they were ensnared by Kasumigaseki, and their effort at eliminating the reliance on the bureaucracy failed. We’re now in the third DPJ government with the Noda administration, and there’s nothing else to say but “no side”….

“….The “no side” politics are unlikely to be successful because politics that are carried piggy-back by Kasumigaseki no longer functions. Kasumigaseki has gotten too big. It micromanages everything in the private sector (literally, every time [the private sector] raises or lowers its chopsticks), and maintains a system of skimming off taxes through amakudari. There will be no revival for the Japanese economy.

“The recognition that the root cause of the economy’s stagnation is the system of Kasumigaseki leadership has begun to spread throughout the population due to the bitter experience of the Tohoku disaster and the Fukushima accident. In Nagata-cho, they are beginning to realize that perception is growing.

“Many Democratic Party MPs are in a mouth-to-mouth feeding relationship with Kasumigaseki, and the politicians have noticed they’ll be at risk in the next election. While Noda won the DPJ election, many within the party are still opposed to a tax increase.

“The euphoria following the selection of the new party president had an immediate feel-good effect, but the Diet members will shortly return to reality. The turbulence will reemerge with a vengeance as soon as a serious effort is made to pursue a policy of higher taxes.

“What’s more, that day will soon arrive. They’re now at the stage of formulating a third supplementary budget calling for an increase in core taxes as a funding source for Tohoku reconstruction. They also plan to present a bill by next March to raise the consumption tax to fund social welfare. In short, the debate begins in the fall.

The thaw

The first of the highly publicized governmental policy reviews held by the DPJ in November 2009 was one of the most transparent political dog-and-pony shows ever staged. The idea was that the politicians would put the bureaucrats’ feet to the fire by grilling them about questionable policies. They would end the wasteful enterprises and use the money to fund their campaign promises.

It didn’t take long to find out that the reviews were scripted — literally — by the Budget Bureau of the Finance Ministry, complete with recommendations on which policies to cut. It was a convenient way for the ministry to strengthen its control relative to the other ministries. Further, the recommendations of the review panel had no force in law. Some of the programs ostensibly cut, such as one for the Education Ministry, were quietly restored into the budget of a different ministry a few months later.

The panel did have some good ideas, however. One of them was a freeze on building new housing for national civil servants, other than reconstruction in the event of an emergency. (This is often a job perquisite in both the public and private sectors.)

But it seems there’s been a late summer thaw. Construction began on 1 September of an 800-unit apartment block in Asaka, Saitama. Whatever debate was conducted about lifting the freeze hasn’t been reported, and there’s no indication the Government Revitalization Council was involved.

Each of the apartments has a living room, dining room, kitchen, bath, and three extra rooms. The rent and deposit are free, courtesy of the taxpayers. The cost of the project has been estimated at JPY 10.5 billion. Despite a location next door to the Asaka municipal offices, only national civil servants are eligible to live there. It’s prime real estate 10 minutes on foot from the train station.

The housing accommodations for national public employees are under the jurisdiction of the Finance Ministry, so the Finance Minister had to give his authorization to end the freeze and begin construction. Based on the timing, that means the person who approved the project in apparent contravention to government policy was the new prime minister, Noda Yoshihiko.

How thoughtful of him to let us know.

If the government was serious about ending wasteful government expenditures, all these properties would be sold and no new ones built. The private sector has no problem handling housing construction. The public sector has the problem of funding rent-free accommodations for its employees with public funds.

Eda Kenji on the polls

Mr. Eda is the secretary-general of Your Party. Here are excerpts from two blog posts last week:

“It was predictable to an extent, but all the polls conducted over the weekend showed the support rate for the Noda Cabinet at roughly 60%. The highest was the Yomiuri at 65%, and the lowest was the Asahi at 53%. Interestingly enough, the rate of support in the newspaper polls was highest at those papers leaning to the right, perhaps because Mr. Noda leans to the right himself. (Note: Does the motivation for the first Asahi article make more sense now?)

“This high support is likely the result of the effect of the Aida Mitsuo poem (about the dojo fish), Mr. Noda’s personal modesty, and the good feelings about the Cabinet selections made with party unity in mind. The polls also probably reflect the reaction to the fact that Mr. Kan was so terrible.

“Nonetheless, I think the people of Japan are really kindhearted. (To use the analogy of the traditional wedding present of cash), the amount of the present for a third wedding and honeymoon in two years shouldn’t be the same as it was for the first….If this continues, I am deeply apprehensive about the disappearance of a sense of tension from politics and the politicians. Most politicians are risk-averse opportunists. They’ll look at the going rate for wedding presents. If the Cabinet is a failure, they’ll think all they have to do is replace the head….At any rate, when the yearend budget formulation is finished, the rate of support will have plummeted and the government will again be on the verge of collapse….

“…Meanwhile, some in the LDP are saying it will be difficult to combat the Noda Cabinet and its initial support rate. Well, of course it will be. The LDP has joined with the DPJ as two of the parties in the three-party agreement, they’ve laid out a course of tax increases to pay for reconstruction, and they’re on board with a 10% consumption tax increase for social welfare schemes. With the difference between the two parties on these issues so small, no wonder the LDP finds it difficult to attack.”

A note on polls

Some in the Western media have reported that the new Cabinet has received “strong voter support”. If this is the best they can do when filling space, they should consider syndicated horoscopes instead. The support is nothing more than a first impression, it’s skin deep rather than strong, and since the polls are conducted by random digit dialing, no one knows whether the respondents are voters or not.

One doesn’t have to have a long memory to recall that Kan Naoto had even higher ratings in June 2010 when he displaced Hatoyama Yukio and shut Ozawa Ichiro’s supporters out of the Cabinet. As summer turned to fall, however, he lost more than 40 points in one newspaper poll in two months over his government’s mishandling of the Senkakus incident. Mr. Noda’s numbers are only a tad better than those of the LDP’s Fukuda Yasuo when he took over in 2007, and he lasted just a year.

Besides, there’s no reason to pay serious attention to what the foreign media writes about Japanese politics until they demonstrate that they understand most Japanese prime ministers aren’t “leaders” as understood in the Western sense, but the principal spokesmen for the decisions of their party.

The obvious exception was Koizumi Jun’ichiro. His successor Abe Shinzo tried to do the same, and did have some success (as the next excerpt shows). But Mr. Koizumi was an act nearly impossible to follow, and the primary audience was a news media more irritated than a pack of gunpowder-fed junkyard dogs after five years of success and popularity by someone who wasn’t a European-style social democrat. Kan Naoto tried too, but because character is one of the prerequisites for leadership, he was unlikely to succeed from the start.

Okazaki Hisahiko

Mr. Okazaki was once ambassador to Thailand, and he writes on diplomacy and foreign affairs. Here are some excerpts from a piece that appeared in the Sankei Shimbun.

I have hopes for the Noda Cabinet

“After it seized power, the DPJ offered only those anti-establishment arguments that are the critical elements of their defining characteristics, were uncontrolled in their self-indulgence, and were rebuffed at every turn. They learned from those lessons, and their promise to change the planks of their party platform for the three-party agreement is the most concrete example….They tested the most childish ideas of postwar liberalism, such as anti-Americanism and an approach to Asia, and they learned how unrealistic that is…

“They get the sequence backwards when they ask for experts’ opinions after something has happened. They should be listening to opinions regularly, and when something happens, they must decide. Their subordinates are already busy, and the excessive workload of selecting and convening the members of a commission is too heavy….

“If they’ve learned the lesson that the people have suffered and had to bear heavy burdens since they’ve taken power, it will be a positive for the two-party system in the future. Most important, I think, has been the generational change….In the DPJ, the generation of radical student demonstrators has left the scene, and they’ve moved on to the next generation.

“The LDP has also changed during this time. Prime Minister Abe Shinzo stepped down due to illness, having amended the three laws regarding education, established the legal framework for a national referendum (for amending the Constitution), and came right to the point of permitting the exercise of collective self-defense. The party responsible for frustrating the end of the postwar regime was not the DPJ, however, but the LDP. Since it’s been in the opposition, the LDP has firmed its support for recognizing the exercise of collective self-defense as party policy…

“With the new administration, they should not be so niggardly as to worry about the DPJ recovering its reputation and the effect that would have on the next election. If there is an offer to cooperate on policy, it would be best for them to humbly accept it and cooperate. It’s more important to deal with the crisis in Japan of the continuing (political) vacuum.

“I returned from a banquet in a taxi on the night the DPJ held their presidential election, and even the other passengers were saying how relieved they were that it went well. No one knows what’s going to happen in the future, but those were the voices of relief that the days of Hatoyama and Kan, who used the nation of Japan as the subject in a vivisection experiment for amateurs, are over.”

Takahashi Yoichi

The relentless Mr. Takahashi is a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat, author, journalist, and university professor. He is not as sanguine about Mr. Noda as Mr. Okazaki:

“Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko wrote the book The Enemy of Democracy when the DPJ was still in the opposition. In it, he said:

26,000 former national civil servants have taken amakudari jobs in 4,700 (public) corporations, and JPY 12.6 billion of hard-earned tax money flows to these amakudari corporations annually. No matter what budgets we formulate, we will be unable to overcome our economic crisis until this gimmickry is ended.

And

The facile recognition of an increase in the consumption tax represents the suspension of thought, and it ends the elucidation of such gimmicks as the wasteful use of the special account.

“The people’s hopes in these words were betrayed. The DPJ was unable to compile a budget or effectively utilize the Finance Ministry or the Bank of Japan because they did not reform the civil service system. That meant their plan to assert political leadership went nowhere. What I look forward to is to the extent to which the Noda administration will reform the civil service system.”

—————-
The aforementioned Eda Kenji thinks it’s impossible for the DPJ to reform the civil service system because they depend on public union support.

Kono Taro

Mr. Kono presents himself as a small-government classical liberal, but he’s not quite there yet. Here’s a sentence from a recent website post:

We’ve attacked the ruling party by saying, for example, that the child allowance was just an example of doling out of baramaki, i.e., lavish entitlements (which it was) and we made them stop. But I cannot say the LDP has explained how it will support child-rearing.

And neither does it have any business supporting child-rearing. They can explain that government can best support child-rearing by creating an environment in which the economy thrives and allowing parents to handle child-rearing by themselves. In other words, by butting out.

Mr. Kono would do well to examine the tax proposal by former ambassador to China and Utah Gov. Jon Hunstman, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination in the U.S. Mr. Huntsman is no small-government classical liberal, but he’s got the best idea for tax reform presented by any of the candidates. From The Wall Street Journal:

The heart of the plan lowers all tax rates on individuals and businesses. Mr. Huntsman would create three personal income tax rates—8%, 14% and 23%—and pay for this in a “revenue-neutral” way by eliminating “all deductions and credits.” This tracks with the proposals of the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson commission and others for a flatter, more efficient tax system.

That means economically inefficient tax carve outs for mortgage interest, municipal bonds, child credits and green energy subsidies would at last be closed. The double tax on capital gains and dividends would be expunged as would the Alternative Minimum Tax. The corporate tax rate falls to 25% from 35%, and American businesses would be taxed on a territorial system to encourage firms to return capital parked in overseas operations.

Mr. Huntsman would repeal two of President Obama’s most economically debilitating creations, ObamaCare and the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law. Mr. Huntsman has it right when he says, “Dodd-Frank perpetuates ‘too big to fail’ by codifying a regime that incentivizes firms to become too big to fail.” He’d also repeal a Bush-era regulatory mistake, the Sarbanes-Oxley accounting rules, which have added millions of dollars of costs to businesses with little positive effect.

Mr. Huntsman says he’d also bring to heel the hyper-regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration and the National Labor Relations Board, all of which are suppressing job-creation.

In addition to the foregoing, Mr. Kono should consider restoring the policies to promote agribusiness that were begun under the Abe administration and ended under the Hatoyama administration. There was quite a bit of unused farmland in Fukushima Prefecture, to cite one example, even before the nuclear accident. The DPJ chose to offer baramaki in the form of individual farming household supplements to take advantage of the disproportionate representation of agricultural regions in the Diet for electoral purposes.

Both Japan and Mr. Huntsman would also do well to heed the success of Russia, which introduced a 13% flat tax a decade ago. That resulted in a string of annual budget surpluses that started in 2001. They had a deficit of 3.6% of GDP in 2009, not the best of years for government budgets, but were back into surplus last year.

While he’s at it, Mr. Kono might also take a tip from Gouverneur Morris, who wrote much of the American Constitution:

If the legislative authority be not restrained, there can be neither liberty nor stability. However the legislative power may be formed, it will, if disposed, be able to ruin the country.

And Morris wasn’t a classical liberal — he believed in a natural aristocracy.

The high yen

The sharp appreciation of the yen hasn’t been all bad for Japanese businesses. Japanese companies are shopping till they drop in corporate supermarkets overseas now that prices are at bargain levels. According to M&A originator and executor Recof, their purchases of overseas firms from January to August alone were valued at JPY 3.8842 trillion, already more than last year’s JPY 3.7596 trillion. They amounted to JPY 465.8 billion in August, double the amount for July. The buying is on a pace equivalent to that of the second-highest year, 2008, when JPY 7.4256 trillion was spent to snap up overseas corporations. Recently Kirin Holdings bought a large Brazilian beverage company, and Asahi Holdings now owns an Australia/New Zealand-based liquor manufacturer.

It’s all in the name

Here’s the first sentence from an AP article yesterday:

Typhoon Talas dumped record amounts of rain in western and central Japan on Sunday, killing at least 25 people and stranding thousands as it turned towns into lakes, washed away cars and set off mudslides that buried or destroyed houses.

Forget the AP’s frustrated novelist prose — What is this “Typhoon Talas” of which they speak, which isn’t a name a Japanese person would come up with? Here in Japan, it’s Typhoon #12.

It turns out to be the creation of the Typhoon Committee of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and the World Meteorological Organization, a revealing bit of nomenclature itself.

While those bodies need a way to quickly differentiate the storms, how is their function enhanced by names they don’t need and no one other than they or the news media use?

An article on the Discovery News site explains about the lists of names:

The two lists most Americans are familiar with cover the Atlantic and East Pacific. But there are also lists with culturally appropriate names that cover the Central North Pacific, Western North Pacific, Australian Region, Fiji Region, Papua New Guinea Region, Philippine Region, Northern and Southern Indian Ocean.

In other words, it would be news to Discovery News to discover that Talas isn’t “culturally appropriate” for Japan, the only country affected by WNP #12.

The article concludes:

As to whether using human names is the best approach: “That actually is an issue that comes up,” said Read (director of the National Hurricane Center). “Is there a better way to do this?”

Yeah. The way the Japanese do it.
*****
Sounds like an Okinawan/Indonesian blend to me.

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Going…going…

Posted by ampontan on Friday, August 12, 2011

I have done what I should have done. Unfortunately, the people did not fully understand this.
– Kan Naoto, attributing his failures to the people’s stupidity in the Diet this week

THE great festering boil on the butt of the Japanese body politic is about to be lanced, if the reports that Prime Minister Kan Naoto could step down as soon as the end of the month are to be believed. When or if the national prayers are answered, it will end a stalemate perhaps unlike any that has existed in a modern democracy — a standoff created by the unfortunate intersection of nature, circumstances, and the inbred impotence of the political Chatterley classes.

This time for sure, the media are saying, but let’s wait and see if Jack really does hit the road. People were telling each other he would surely step down by the end of June before they started telling each other he would surely step down by the end of August. But the legend in his own mind is still setting conditions for his departure. His revised terms were supposedly the passage of a second supplementary budget, deficit bond-enabling legislation, and the reappraisal of energy policy. After that, he would hand responsibility over to the “younger generation”, as if it were up to him to determine the age of his successors.

What he should be doing instead is bowing his head at his local Shinto shrine to thank the divinities that he doesn’t live in a country where mobs displeased with their rulers film themselves as they machete off ears, noses, and other protruding body parts before dispatching them.

What, me leave?

People became appalled when they realized he intended to remain in office as long as possible, even though the public had written him off well before New Year’s Day 2011. In fact, a source in the Kantei told the media that Mr. Kan keeps a memo book with a list of the days in office of all the prime ministers and calculates those he’s overtaken. On 30 June he passed Mori Yoshiro’s term of 387 days. The next in line was Ohira Masashige’s 554, but he’d have to stick around until December to beat that.

Last month, Mr. Kan said, “I myself have not used the word quit or resign.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon relayed the news that Mr. Kan told him during their meeting last week he intended to speak at a meeting at the United Nations in September on nuclear power plant safety.

Said the prime minister in the Diet on 19 July:

The never-say-die spirit of the women’s soccer team brought about a wonderful result…I too sense that I must fight and never give up as long as there are things I should do.

From the opposition benches:

Prime Minister! Give up!

Here’s what he said in an interview with the weekly Shukan Asahi that appeared on Monday:

Until whenever the day comes that I leave, I will say what should be said and do what should be done. I want to set a course for the drastic reform of nuclear power regulation. That is my candid thought now.

Nuclear power regulatory reform wasn’t one of the conditions listed in the faux agreement with former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio at the beginning of the summer. In fact, just two months ago he said:

The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry has said the nuclear reactors stopped for periodic inspections will be gradually restarted when their safety is confirmed. I am absolutely of the same position.

When METI confirmed their safety, he changed his mind and decided to put the reactors and the nation through a stress test.

The Koizumi complex

The closest politician Japan has had to a Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan, Koizumi Jun’ichiro ignored the pleas of the know-it-alls in his own party and dissolved the lower house of the Diet to take the issue of Japan Post privatization to the people. His reward was the second-largest legislative majority in Japanese history.

As you can see from the plan I drew up on the back of the cocktail lounge price list...

Kan Naoto has always been envious of his success (and resentful of the way Mr. Koizumi toyed with him during Question Time in the Diet), and dreamed of becoming the Koizumi of the Left. Another Kantei source reveals that the prime minister vowed: “I’ll do something that Koizumi couldn’t do.” He saw the issue of nuclear power as his path to the same sort of single-issue election that was Mr. Koizumi’s greatest triumph.

According to the 15 July weekly Shukan Post, Mr. Kan began looking at his options on 2 June, the day after the no-confidence motion was introduced. Passage meant that either the Cabinet would have to resign or he would have to call a lower house election, and he didn’t want to resign. He therefore had the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications investigate whether it was possible to hold elections in the Tohoku area, and he demanded a prompt answer. The media outlets and some politicians still deluded themselves that the prime minister retained a modicum of integrity and would resign when “a certain stage had been reached”. Mr. Kan, however, kept badgering the ministry to submit their report, which they did on 10 June.

The ministry thought elections would be possible. The chief municipal officer of Otsuchi-cho in Iwate died in the tsunami, but they had scheduled elections on 28 August for the municipal council. The whereabouts of most people on the voting rolls in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures had been confirmed. The major obstacle was how to handle those evacuated from Fukushima due to the nuclear accident. They’re dispersed throughout country, but compensation payments from Tokyo Electric were to be completed in July and that data could be used. It would take one month to recreate the voting rolls.

The prime minister then ordered the party to search for candidates to replace those who had been suspended from party activities for three months for their abstention on the no-confidence vote. They would be ineligible to run with DPJ backing. He also hinted at the possibility of an election at a meeting of the party’s MPs on 15 June. After that, it became a topic of daily discussion in the media.

Some believed he was only bluffing to keep the DPJ delegates in the lower house in line, particularly the younger ones with little political experience. Their chances of winning re-election are rather less than those of a World War I infantryman for surviving trench warfare. It might have been a bluff, but the major parties hedged their bets; campaign-style political posters started appearing on signboards and shop windows.

At the beginning of August, however, Mr. Kan signaled that he wouldn’t hold an election after all. He explained that most voters thought this wouldn’t be a good time.

Translation: The numbers in the DPJ’s internal polls added up to slaughterhouse.

Fury

The volume of fury directed at Mr. Kan is unprecedented in the modern era of Japanese politics. People have been angry at other Japanese politicians, but not so broadly or so deeply, and even then most of those politicians retained a core of diehard supporters. In political circles, the people publicly backing Mr. Kan can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

For a taste of the intensity, start with this comment by Tahara Soichiro.

Can we say after all that Mr. Kan is a human being? He doesn’t belong to any category of what I consider to be human beings.

Mr. Tahara was the host from 1989 to 2010 of Sunday Project, a live political blabathon broadcast by a national network on Sunday mornings. For American readers, picture the host of Meet the Press, Face the Nation, or This Week pre-Christiane Amanpour.

The largest organization backing Mr. Kan’s Democratic Party is Rengo, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation. Said Rengo Chairman Koga Nobuaki on 28 July:

I want Prime Minister Kan to stop exacerbating the political vacuum immediately.

By 4 August he was saying:

The political vacuum has intensified, and diplomatic issues have come to a standstill. It’s natural for this situation to be resolved by the end of August.

Kawauchi Hiroshi, a Democratic Party MP of the lower house, was once a member of the now defunct New Frontier Party when Mr. Kan was also a member. He said:

The Prime Minister is trying to destroy this country. He is the common enemy of the Japanese people.

Takenaka Kazuo is a magazine editor in Chiba:

Looking for a sense of shame or morality from him (Kan Naoto) is the same as trying to teach a pig how to use a knife and fork….If you idly sit and watch the runaway Kan administration, history will brand you an accomplice to the crime of swindling. That you will be condemned by history is a self-evident truth. The political scientists and journalists who are parasites on the Kan administration are guilty of the same crime.

Most Japanese were willing to give him a chance to deal with the aftereffects of the Tohoku earthquake/tsunami. Here’s how that worked out:

For the stricken area to recover, I want you think about the presence of Prime Minister Kan, the heaviest of the shackles weighing down the recovery.

That was Hatayama Kazuyoshi, the president of the of Miyagi prefectural assembly, on 28 July. He was speaking at a national conference of prefectural assembly presidents, just after the representatives of the assemblies of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima — the three prefectures that suffered the most — submitted an emergency resolution to the committee calling for the resignation of Kan Naoto.

The National Governor’s Conference also met last month in Akita. Declared Hirai Shinji, Governor of Tottori:

(The national government) is not trusted either throughout the world or throughout the regional areas of Japan. The government’s response has been grandstanding from first to last…The national government has been doing nothing but holding conferences. We should express this anger in a special declaration.

Finally, more ominous for a country with little political violence, police in Tokyo last month arrested a man carrying an 11-centimeter fruit knife who wanted to “punish” the prime minister for not resigning.

Why?

University professor and author Ikeda Nobuo wrote a blog entry last week to explain Mr. Kan’s behavior. Here’s an excerpt:

Prime Minister Kan plans to attend the Japan-U.S. summit meeting in the U.S. in September. It seems likely he intends to stay in office indefinitely. Even his aides don’t know what he really intends to do. That can be understood rationally, however, considering the objectives of his life in the past.

His entire life has been spent as an activist working against “the system”. He allied himself with the “Structural Reform Wing”, a group that favored a type of syndicalism in which the workers would manage corporations through “factory evaluation councils”. The state was the enemy to be ultimately dismantled. He was not a violent revolutionary in the mold of the Marxist-Leninists; rather, his strategy was to gain a legislative majority and gradually move the hegemony to the left.

But Japanese corporations once had (a system) close to the worker management type envisioned by Gramsci. Kan’s ideal was realized by Japanese corporations, and then fell apart. Management by the workers failed throughout the world. The structural reformers that were part of what was called Euro-Communism, of which the Italian Communist Party was the first example, disappeared, and Socialism collapsed.

In short, Mr. Kan’s objectives were lost when he was still young. Perhaps his only remaining obsession was to smash the state. His life until now has been spent in an assumed guise for the purpose of achieving hegemony. Consider: now, when he has seized the ultimate power, when he causes political turbulence by staying on after saying he will resign, when he stops nuclear power generation and upsets energy policy, and when he has achieved his objective of trashing the state — it is possible to explain the reason he is behaving in such an uncharacteristically dynamic manner.

The political solution

Along with the rest of the nation, the political class was slow on the uptake and failed to immediately recognize Mr. Kan’s unfamiliarity with the knives and forks of shame and morality.

One more of the same, my good man

Senior DPJ members cobbled together a last-minute solution when it appeared the June no-confidence motion would pass and rupture the party. After realizing they had created a political Frankenstein, the same people put together a new strategy to force Mr. Kan from office. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio, DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya, and Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Azumi Jun reportedly set in motion a three-step plot: (1) Hold a new election for party president (2) Ensure Mr. Kan’s defeat, thereby separating the party presidency from the prime minister, and (3) Promote and support a new no-confidence motion.

Some were hesitant to submit another motion because it’s been customary in Japan to limit such motions to one a Diet term. (Some people even wondered if more than one would be unconstitutional.)

That didn’t bother the Destroyer of Worlds and former DPJ head Ozawa Ichiro. He let it be known that he didn’t see any problem at all with a second no-confidence motion. In fact, he said if the DPJ leadership didn’t like it, he’d form a new party and introduce it himself. Meanwhile, he would wait until the end of August to see what Mr. Okada had in mind. This does not seem to have been a bluff; long-time associate and former upper house member Hirano Tadao confirmed it publicly.

New Komeito Secretary-General Inoue Yoshihisa also threatened a new no-confidence motion, and added:

Before that, the DPJ has to take responsibility and return this country to a state of normalcy.

Even former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio had a bright idea. He publicly floated the suggestion of having Mr. Kan’s Cabinet resign out from under him:

Mr. Kaieda (Economy, Trade, and Industry) could resign at any time. Mr. Kaieda is not alone. Mr. Ohata (Land, Infrastructure, and Transport) Mr. Matsumoto (Foreign Ministry), Mr. Takagi (Education), Mr. Hosokawa (Health, Labor, and Welfare)…Five people will probably quit….Mr. Sengoku has resolved to quit at the same time as Mr. Kaieda. That’s also true for Mr. Noda (Finance) and Mr. Edano.

Sengoku Yoshito confirmed that the latter three planned to resign, and added it would be decisive if Edano Yukio were to quit. (Mr. Edano later denied it, however, either pro forma or out of sincerity.) There were also reports Mr. Sengoku got the thumbs up from the Finance Ministry, allowing him to pave the way for their current lapdog, Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko.

Apart from a few perfunctory jabs, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party followed the grand political tradition of keeping their lips zipped while their opponents formed a circular firing squad, at least in public. Noted Ina Hisayoshi of the Nikkei Shimbun:

The longer Prime Minister Kan holds out, the deeper the cracks run in the DPJ, which will be to the advantage of the LDP in the next lower house election….the LDP is snickering at the idea of a snap election based on nuclear power.

What happened behind closed doors was another matter, however. The DPJ, the LDP, and New Komeito worked together to hammer out the legislation Mr. Kan set as his condition for resignation. According a report in the Sankei Shimbun, one conversation during the meetings went like this:

LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru: Hold the election to name the prime minister by the end of the month.

DPJ counterpart, Okada Katsuya: I understand.

Throwing in the spoon

What changed Mr. Kan’s mind? Was it the realization that he wouldn’t survive a second no-confidence vote, the threatened desertion of his Cabinet, or a message from The Japan Handlers?

It might have been any or all of them, but what seems to have tipped the balance (for somebody) was the continued nose-dive in public opinion polls. Last week’s Asahi poll showed the support for the Kan Cabinet down to 14%, with non-support more than four times higher at 67%. The figures for his predecessor, Hatoyama The Hapless, fell only as low as 19%.

Meanwhile, the same poll showed that 61% of the public had a favorable view of relinquishing the reliance on nuclear power.

In other words, the electorate knew that the continued service of Kan Naoto as prime minister was an issue unrelated to nuclear power generation. There went the dream of becoming Koizumi V.2

Next!

The departure of Kan Naoto as prime minister does not mean that the long nightmare of the Japanese public is over. Rather, they will have been plucked from the fire and placed back in the frying pan.

None of the possible successors (or the DPJ itself) has a strong power base, a feasible vision, or practical executive experience. Former Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Minister Mabuchi Sumio has a whiff of the alpha male about him, but he’ll need more than smooth lines, good looks, and his few months of experience in the Cabinet. Besides, he wrote on his blog that he refused Mr. Kan’s offer of the position of deputy minister of METI because he can’t accept the ministry’s atomic energy policy. He was also critical of the ministry’s safety declaration to get the idled nuclear plants restarted.

As we’ve seen before, Mr. Sengoku will try to maneuver Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko into the seat. They’ve already been laying the groundwork. An article under his name titled My Vision of Government appears in the current issue of the monthly Bungei Shunju.

Mr. Noda delayed a formal announcement of his candidacy when the Nikkei fell below 9,000 this week. That’s a nice touch for the sake of appearances, though everyone realizes it has no substantive meaning. As with Kan Naoto before him, Mr. Noda’s knowledge of governmental fiscal matters is limited to the information his Finance Ministry tutors fed him after he took the job. There have been exceptions, but the job description of finance minister in Japan most often amounts to serving as the Finance Ministry press spokesman.

In keeping with that job description and his field-specific ignorance, Mr. Noda favors a tax increase. The sound of the world’s social welfare states collapsing is apparently inaudible at the Finance Ministry building. He also favors another stimulus. Why not? The last one didn’t work, so of course they’ve got to do the same thing, only harder this time.

That should not be construed as a criticism of the Japanese political system, incidentally. Japanese behavior is no worse than what the people in charge of economic policy in the United States and Europe have wrought.

No, the one next to the green bottle of shochu

The problem is ultimately the Democratic Party itself. Democrats in America enjoy amusing the dwindling audience for political conventions every four years by telling a joke on themselves that is usually attributed to the humorist Will Rogers: “I belong to no organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” There’s also the remark by an earlier humorist, Finley Peter Dunne: “Th’ dimmy-cratic party ain’t on speakin’ terms with itself.”

Whatever the situation in the United States these days, those are perfect descriptions of the Democratic Party of Japan, a group jerrybuilt with spare parts and whose only common element is “We’re not the LDP.” That worked in 2009, but they’ll never be able to play that card again.

As part of the grand bargain to get the deficit-financing bonds passed in the Diet, Mr. Okada (and presumably Messrs. Sengoku and Edano) agreed to repeal some of the legal vote-buying schemes they put in their manifesto in 2009 and later passed. Those include the child-rearing allowance, which will revert to the status quo ante of the former LDP policy of paying only for small children, and the free expressway tolls.

That’s actually a seldom-seen demonstration of common sense to deal with a situation in which annual government expenditures are twice government revenue. Nonetheless, some party members strongly object to that approach, namely Ozawa Ichiro and Hatoyama Yukio. (Some opposition pols agree.) That insistence on preserving the party platform is prima facie evidence they lack the qualifications for higher office. A casual glance at any newspaper should be enough to confirm for even the thickest of bricks that morbid gigantism and philosophical obsolescence is testing the capacity of governments worldwide to survive in a viable form. Either they can’t be bothered to read the newspaper, or they think saving the face of the party takes priority over preventing national bankruptcy.

Other DPJ members insist that no one currently in the Cabinet should run for the post because they are Mr. Kan’s “criminal accomplices”. That’s a capital idea, but politicians never think it’s in their interest to listen to capital ideas that hamper their job prospects.

On the bright side

For all Kan Naoto’s negatives, some good things did emerge as a result of his term in office. For one, the political parties learned to negotiate and work around the absence of a majority party or coalition in the upper house, the source of past gridlock. New Komeito head Yamaguchi Natsuo explained that dealing with Prime Minister Kan was a waste of time, and it was more fruitful to ignore him.

Regardless of the content of the bills or legislation that emerged from these negotiations (and some of it is truly terrible), at least they’ve learned something about compromise. That’s a novel experience for the DPJ in particular.

Also, unlike the electorates of the West, the Japanese public had never before seen the ugliness of the left when in power.

Now it has.

Afterwords:

* Despite Mr. Kan’s insistence on the revision of Japan’s nuclear energy policy before saying his last sayonara, his Hiroshima and Nagasaki declarations of a nuclear-free Japan, and his smartass comment that the Diet should hurry up and pass the bill if they didn’t want to see his face, reports in the media say he left the determination of the content of the bill to DPJ party execs. That will likely result in legislative mush the opposition will slurp down simply to send the man packing. It also makes it easier for subsequent governments to amend or repeal.

* Some people snipe at the Japanese for a narrow-mindedness they claim is a result of their monoracial society, but we now see that the absence of multiculturalism can sometimes have benefits.

For example, consider the tone and content of the wholly justified criticisms leveled at Kan Naoto. If anyone complained about the nature of the criticism, I missed it.

Now imagine what some Americans would say if those identical wholly justified criticisms were leveled at Barack Obama, who shares with Mr. Kan the same political philosophy, character, incompetence, deluded smugness in his imaginary abilities, antipathy toward the nation and political system he is supposed to lead, and lack of interest in legislative detail.

A man could get rich buying stock in companies that manufacture anti-enuretic devices.

* A Rasmussen poll in the U.S. released earlier this week shows that only 17% of the respondents agree with the statement that the American government “has the consent of the governed”, to use the wording of the Declaration of Independence. That’s the lowest figure ever recorded for that question. It’s also been roughly the final approval rate for the past two DPJ governments in Japan.

It’s about time for Japanese pollsters to ask the same question. In the Westminster system, that result should be grounds to call a new lower house election.

******
And now, for the reaction of the Japanese public to the news of Mr. Kan’s tabun maybe perhaps desho departure…

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