AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Osaka’

Ichigen koji (256)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 11, 2012

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

If we listen to everyone who says that (funding) is necessary, we’ll never be able to rebuild our finances.

- Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, while still governor of Osaka Prefecture

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All you have to do is look (122)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 29, 2012

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

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

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All you have to do is look (86)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A recreation of the Yonabaru Otsunahiki in Okinawa, one of the country’s three biggest tug-of-war festivals, was held last month in Osaka’s Taisho-ku, where one-fourth of the residents have family ties to Okinawa. It was held to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the return of Okinawa to Japan and the 80th anniversary of the ward’s incorporation. About 8,000 people watched as another 1,400 pulled a rope that was 90 meters long, two meters thick, and weighed five tons.

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Ichigen koji (142)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, August 17, 2012

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

If someone were to submit a document with an opinion on a policy he wants the mayor or ward chief to consider, would the mayor see it?

- Question asked of Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru on Twitter

Not everything comes to me. The city of Osaka is too large, so the organization responds. It would be easier to submit it directly to the ward chief. That’s why the ward chiefs should be chosen in an election and given the same status as the mayor. That is the Osaka Metro District concept.

- Hashimoto Toru’s answer

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Ichigen koji (139)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, August 14, 2012

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

Most of the people in the existing political parties are thinking about the next election. The young people involved with One Osaka are thinking about the next age. The people have an intuitive sense of this major difference.

- Takenaka Heizo

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All you have to do is look (6)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, August 3, 2012

A practice session for the group carrying the women’s mikoshi, or portable Shinto shrine, at the Tenjin festival held late last month in Osaka. The festival is said to have originated in 951.

(Photo from Zakzak)

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Hara Eiji interview

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, August 1, 2012

ONE of the most important issues for people who read and think in Japan — and the most important for some of them — is the issue of systemic reform of the government at both the national and local level. That is one of the objectives of reformers such as Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, and it is one reason he has received so much support from the public.

Hara Eiji

One of Mr. Hashimoto’s special advisors in Osaka is Hara Eiji, who is responsible for the areas of public employee regulations and education laws. A Univerity of Tokyo graduate, he joined the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (now Economy, Trade, and Industry) in 1989. Mr. Hara became an aide to Watanabe Yoshimi when the latter was the Minister for Reform in the Abe and Fukuda cabinets before he left the LDP to form Your Party. Now the president of his own consulting company, Mr. Hara published a book on his experiences and bureaucratic reform titled Bureaucracy Rhetoric.

He was recently interviewed by the Kansai edition of the Sankei Shimbun. Here it is in English.

*****
- What do you think of the Osaka Metro District Concept?

I can’t evaluate the concept itself. The decision has been reached through an election to realize the metro district concept, but it won’t move forward unless a decision is made in the Diet, which includes MPs from Hokkaido and Okinawa, for example, who don’t have any connection with Osaka. That’s strange.

- What are the advantages of regional devolution considering the problems of centralized authority?

The central government ministries and agencies say that if affairs are entrusted to the regions, they’ll make a mess of it. To a certain extent, they’re correct. But the problem still remains that those regions with both ability and incentive are being hindered.

Not everything will be rosy with regional devolution. Some regions probably will make a mess of it. If they grow where they can grow, other sectors will hold them back.

- What about Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka?

I think they have ability, but when you talk to the prefecture and municipal employees about policies, they often say something won’t be possible because of the relationship with the national government’s ministries and agencies. I have to wonder if they think the national government is their work supervisor.

To begin with, employees have to do their jobs for the citizens, but many local governments work by following the “guidance” of the national government. Local government employees also have ability, but what they seem to lack is awareness.

- A basic law for employees has been passed (in Osaka). Will the awareness of civil servants change?

That law wasn’t passed to give a hard time to employees with poor performance. Under the previous system, employee evaluations would be the same whether they worked hard or not. If salary increases are based on seniority, the people who want to work for the citizens would wither on the vine. We must have a system that enables the people who had high ideals when they were hired to maintain those ideals.

- Was there a lot of opposition from the employees about the law?

Public employees have the image of being the forces of opposition, but they too understand in their hearts that things must change. Nevertheless, their evaluations are tied to their adherence to precedent. Their awareness won’t change unless we create a mechanism that allows their work for the citizens to be the basis of their evaluations.

It might take time for this intent to fully penetrate, but it will be meaningful if there is an effect after a year. It is important to implement better policies by changing the organization. The premise of all reform is a public sector organization that performs its job for the citizens.

The reason that no progress is being made at the national level, even though people are shouting about the need for different reforms, is that there was a flight from the castle keep of reform, which was systemic reform of the civil service. Reforms that make all public servants enemies will be very troublesome, and there is no way the particulars of reform will advance with the public servants protecting vested interests.

Different regions have different problems, but they have somewhat in common a structural problem. The relationship between the national government and the regions is a problem that arose because people had become bound to a discipline that dates from before the war. Osaka was not all that bad.

We’re already at the point at which the decision-making framework for central government offices is not functioning well. We must change that into a framework which allows the regions to step up to the challenge of doing what they’re capable of doing.

*****
Reader Toadold sends in the following video with the comment, “If you let people who are in service have a bit more freedom on their jobs you could get a lot more performance.”

He’s right!

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New directions in Japanese politics

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The) next (lower house election) will be the last chance to change Japan…We must sweep away the old politics of Japan and create the new…If there is a call for what is happening in Osaka to be extended throughout Japan, One Osaka will answer the call.

- Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, 28 June, in Osaka

SOME people say that governments at the subnational level make the best public sector laboratories. Groups and politicians at that level in Japan are beavering away at the lab workbench to produce useful new devices. The National Political Establishment (NPE) is at work in their own lab, but they’ve spent their time creating mini-monsters which they proclaim to be beautiful in form and function.

Here’s a look at some of the beauties and the beasts.

Vouchers

The Osaka City government under Mayor Hashimoto Toru will implement a program to provide vouchers to low-income parents in Nishinari Ward, enabling them to send their children to private-sector, extra-curricular educational institutes. Not only did the magician pull the voucher rabbit out of his hat, he kept the rabbit invisible from the teachers’ unions until the measure was adopted.

Roughly one in four people in the Airin district in the ward receive public assistance. The voucher program will begin in September and be extended throughout the city starting with the new school year in April. There are about 950 eligible junior high school students in the ward. Up to about 70% of junior high school students in the city will be eligible for a JPY 10,000 voucher every month to use both at juku (supplementary educational institutes mistakenly referred to as cram schools) and other institutions. The reports mentioned sports instruction; one example might be swimming schools for children, of which there are many in Japan. (This probably also applies to small classrooms offering lessons in calligraphy and other such pursuits.) They will not be used for regular private schools. The institutions offering the instruction must register with the city.

University professor/author/blogger Ikeda Nobuo was impressed:

“The amount of work he (Hashimoto) has accomplished in six months as mayor is more than four years’ worth of work for an ordinary mayor. Most of it involves intricate problems local to Osaka, so the Tokyo media doesn’t cover it, but the real Hashimoto can be seen in those local policies. I understood what he was doing when I spoke with him on a debate program in Osaka.”

The praise from Mr. Ikeda is noteworthy because he is pro-nuclear power and had a short but intense Tweet battle with the mayor over that issue. Mr. Ikeda was stunned because this is the first educational voucher program in Japan, and it has received next to no publicity. He says it resembles the system first proposed by Milton Friedman 50 years ago of supplementing tuition costs by giving vouchers to parents, rather than giving public funds to public schools.

“This, in effect, will privatize public schools, which will arouse strong opposition from public school teachers. That’s why no country has ever done it. Some American states have voucher programs, but the federal government does not. President Bush proposed something similar in 2002, but it was buried by the intense Democratic Party and labor union opposition. It was brought up as a topic in the Abe administration, but seldom discussed. During a conference with DPJ officials, I suggested they quit their giveaways such as the child support allowance and implement educational vouchers. They told me: ‘As soon as they hear the word voucher, the Japan Teachers’ Union says they will never permit it’.”

Teachers’ unions: God love ‘em. What would education be without them?

Mr. Ikeda adds that unions might have withheld their opposition because the vouchers are not for regular education, and thinks they are unlikely to be adopted at the national level. He hopes the program becomes so successful that other local governments will adopt it in their regions. He notes that the OECD has come out in favor of a switch to a “rational system” of vouchers for nursery schools, but Japan’s Health, Labor, and Welfare ministry ignores that.

Finally, he says the important aspect to consider is that public subsidies are being provided to consumers, similar to Mr. Hashimoto’s negative income tax proposal, which redistributes income directly to individuals without passing through intermediate companies or other organizations. It is a significant change in Japan’s welfare and education policies.

“The opposition to Mr. Hashimoto’s policy of introducing competitive principles in education is strong, but parents will not accept the argument of maintaining the current system under the guise of neutrality in education, when students cannot even speak English properly.”

There are reports the local Kansai media has started with the sob stories, however: The heartless Hashimoto reforms are depriving the poor children of places to go to.

It’s a waste of time to get aroused by the news media any longer. They’re only fulfilling their primary function — to entertain. Expecting them to do anything else is pointless.

Personnel expenses

The mayor proposed sharp cuts in expenditures for the municipal transportation bureau earlier this year. The city’s bus drivers in particular receive a salary 38% higher than their private sector counterparts in Osaka, according to the Nikkei Shimbun. The bus operations alone have been in the red for 29 straight years. He was able to coax out JPY 4.2 billion in cuts from the bureau this year after four bargaining sessions that ended on the night of the 10th. This includes a 20% across-the-board cut of management salaries, and a 3%-19% reduction for regular employees. The new, lower salaries take effect in August. Nakamura Yoshio, the head of the city’s transport workers’ union, said the primary concern of the union was to protect jobs.

Arts subsidies

We’ve seen before that Hashimoto Toru was able to eliminate subsidies to musical groups as governor of Osaka Prefecture, and is now involved in debates to rethink the local subsidies to the traditional art of bunraku. He’s also made an issue out of the public funds the city gives to the Osaka Philharmonic.

After much discussion, the city has decided to cut 10% of the orchestra’s subsidy in the upcoming fiscal year, and continue the reductions in subsequent years. Said the mayor:

“The Osaka Philharmonic now recognizes they have to move in the direction of self-sufficiency. I have some respect (for the person assigned) to create a course toward self-sufficiency in four years, with a three-year preparatory period in the interval. That differs from unthinkingly providing operating subsidies, as has been the case until now.”

Here’s why he thinks the subsidies should be reduced or eliminated:

“The Osaka Philharmonic has completely forgotten their work of attracting an audience. They do not hesitate at all to demand that a certain amount of their income be guaranteed, regardless of the amount of audience revenue or whether or not an audience comes, just because they practice a sophisticated art.”

The city will establish an Arts Council of third party evaluators in August to handle the subject of all subsidies to the arts.

The political class

Reporter to Mr. Hashimoto: When working to achieve an Osaka Metropolitan District, should the number of city council delegate be reduced?

Hashimoto: Politics now should be conducted without excuses. If the Democratic Party of Japan had cut civil service expenses by 20% and the number of Diet members by 180 when their coalition had a majority in both houses, their support rate would have stayed 90% forever. Things have come to this pass because they failed to use their opportunity. Whether or not the Osaka Metro District becomes a reality, it is the mission of politics to show the direction toward reduction if there are too many legislators.

The point he makes in the second sentence is a point I’ve made many times: Japan’s electorate has demonstrated time and again what it wants and the type of politicians it wants to support, but other than Koizumi Jun’ichiro, the NPE time and again ignores them.

Speaking of expense cutting, One Osaka will introduce legislation to reduce from JPY 510,000 to JPY 420,000 the research allowances city legislators receive in addition to their salaries. These allowances have been a point at issue at the sub-national government level throughout the country for the past few years. Local governments have found they can save money simply by requiring receipts and expense accounts for these allowances. When that happens, more unused funds are returned to the treasury every year.

Ward officers

There is a definite sense of a “Go West, young man” phenomenon in Osaka for people wishing to take an active part in the political experimentation. After his election as mayor, Hashimoto Toru solicited applications from around the country for people to serve as the chief executive officer of the city’s 24 wards. They came, they applied, and the hirings were recently announced.

The youngest new ward chief is a 27-year-old former NHK reporter, and the oldest, at 60, is the former head of the prefectural labor committee office in Iwate. One is a former Kansai Electric Power company employee, and another was the mayor of Kasai in Hyogo. The man selected for the post in Nishinari, where the educational voucher program has begun, was the former chief municipal officer of Nakagawa-cho in Tokushima.

Eighteen of the 24 now live outside Osaka. The other six are incumbents already on the job. The 18 new ward chiefs will start work in August — except for the two who now live overseas.

One Osaka is also taking on the issue of government involvement in social welfare expenditures. That story requires a post of its own, however.

Takenaka Heizo, the mainstay of the Koizumi Cabinet, spoke to the students of the One Osaka political juku earlier this week. He commented:

“After the discussion with the class was over, I talked with Mayor Hashimoto, Gov. Matsui, and One Osaka Policy Chief Asada. I honestly hope their aspirations and energy will be the savior of Japanese politics, where ugly battles over political advantage continue keep progress at a standstill.”

Perhaps this phenomenon might be best understood as the Koizumi Reforms V.2.

Bring ‘em on!

Your Party

Your Party is the sole ally of One Osaka among the national parties. Last month, the party submitted a bill to the Diet to convert the national pension system to a pay-as-you-go scheme. The objective is to ameliorate the problem of a younger working population growing progressively smaller transferring its income to an older retired population growing progressively larger. Their plan was devised by first term upper house member Sakurauchi Fumiki, a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat who is said to be an expert on accounting.

The party also submitted a bill that would require party primaries to select candidates for Diet seats. Officials in all parties now select their candidates. By making the candidates responsible primarily to the voters rather than to the party, it would go a long way toward ending the nonsense of an insistence on straight party line votes in the Diet, with punishments for those who buck the bosses, either through conscience or personal interest.

Neither bill will be approved, but it is a glimpse of coming attractions in the event the regional rebels and their allies take control of the national government.

Hashimoto Toru’s One Osaka recently issued a revised version of its eight statements of principle for the next lower house election. It too included a passage calling for a pay-as-you-go pension. Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi read the document and said, “It’s difficult to find any (policy) areas that differ from Your Party.”

He added:

“If Mr. Hashimoto himself decides to run in a general election, the impact would be tremendous. Then, each of the political forces would not have to fight separately, but work together in accord on policy and principle to stop higher taxes, prevent the resumption of nuclear power generation, and achieve regional sovereignty. Conditions could be created for a decisive battle with the tax increase coalition of the DPJ and LDP that defend groups with vested interests, starting with the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy.

“In that event, there would be no meaning in contesting 100 or 150 seats. We must put up candidates in all 300 election districts and win a majority.”

Maybe he won’t run, but from a media report on the 28th last month:

Mayor Toru Hashimoto announced his local Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) group will assist candidates nationwide in the next Lower House election who favor fundamental tax reforms that would greatly reduce the central government’s power of the purse.

Hashimoto made the announcement at an Osaka Ishin no Kai fundraiser Thursday night that was attended by 1,500 people, including Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura, a close Hashimoto supporter who is expected to field his own candidates in the next Lower House election.

The Osaka mayor criticized the way the Diet handled the recent passage of legislation to raise the consumption tax, and said changing the structure of the tax system to give local authorities more control over how the money is spent will now be the major campaign issue.

“We can change Japan by simply making the consumption tax a local tax and abolishing the system whereby the central government allocates a portion of tax money to localities. Financially, this will allow local governments to become more independent from the central government,” Hashimoto said.

Head ‘em off at the pass

The Democratic Party, their coalition partner the People’s New Party (yes, they’re still around), the Liberal Democrats, their New Komeito partners, and Your Party have reached agreement to reconcile their separate bills to create an Osaka Metro District, the signature issue of Hashimoto Toru and One Osaka. (The three bills were those submitted by #1+#2, #3+#4, and #5 respectively.) It will allow the creation of special districts resembling the 23 wards of Tokyo, which Mr. Hashimoto wants to provide with more autonomy. The chief executive officers of the wards would be chosen by election. The new bill, which will be submitted by all five parties this Diet session, will enable any specially designated city (which has authority resembling that of a prefecture) to merge with surrounding local governments if there is an aggregate population of two million.

Your Party has favored such a plan since the party’s inception, and they also propose an administrative reorganization of prefecture-level governments into a state/province system.

Mr. Watanabe again:

“Looking back on the course of events, this groundbreaking plan was created with One Osaka, and it overturns existing national law based on Your Party’s regional initiatives. The LDP and New Komeito have come closer to our position. DPJ had various (internal) issues, but they’ve compiled a plan that moves in the same direction. It’s not perfect, but it is the first step in changing Japan’s governance mechanisms.”

The other four parties, however, are backing the legislation because they think it’s an inexpensive way to co-opt the mayor and his movement, and thereby protect their seats against a local party revolt.

I wouldn’t be too cocksure about that, even after the bill passes. For the NPE to give in a little to the regional rebels might have the same effect of implementing glasnost and perestroika during the Soviet endgame — hastening the process of change, rather than preventing it.

Nagoya

Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi might be one of the first to take advantage of that new law in addition to One Osaka. He’s proposed a new twist to the Chukyo Metro District concept that would encompass both Nagoya and Aichi Prefecture, governed by ally Omura Hideaki, another local rebel. Mr. Kawamura calls it the Owari Nagoya Republic (Owari being the name of an ancient settlement and later a domain in western Aichi), which would have a population of four million. He’s anxious to discuss it with Mr. Omura.

Gov. Omura, however, was initially lukewarm and said the republic was a different concept than the idea they both ran on in the February 2011 election they won by landslides, and they shouldn’t change.

“I don’t know whether he wants a merger with the surrounding municipalities or a regional alliance. This won’t turn out to be anything but talk unless the details are ironed out.”

Other Nagoya city officials said they understood the city and the prefecture had different ideas, but the city should keep the republic concept in mind. Mr. Omura said that Nagoya City Hall should put some more thought into the matter to determine what they want to do.

They’ll probably find common ground. They’ve got the wind at their back, and they realize it’s in their interests to work together.

Mr. Omura isn’t impressed with the NPE either, by the way:

“Moving toward a tax increase without governmental reform and without a growth strategy is nonsense. The discussions between the DPJ and the LDP were just to rig the game.”

And Mr. Kawamura opened an office for his local Tax Reduction Japan party in Tokyo on Monday. Another of his money-saving ideas is eliminating the pensions of national and local legislators. Your Party lower house member Kakizawa Mito attended the opening ceremony, but said he felt a bit out of place because Ozawa Ichiro was there as well.

The beasts

The NPE is offering new ideas of their own, and the one thing they have in common is that all of them are bad. Start with this from the Nikkei Shimbun to see what I mean:

Allowing company employees to retire at age 40 would give Japan’s labor market a much-needed churn, according to a government report outlining a long-term vision for the nation.

The “Frontier” report, issued Friday by a National Policy Unit subcommittee, recommends polices for maximizing individual and corporate productivity, with the aim of transforming Japan by 2050.

Employment policy holds prominent place in the vision. Blaming the current retirement age of 60 for hindering job turnover, the report calls for loosening employment rules to allow people to retire at 40, an age when many workers reach management positions. Companies choosing this option would be required to provide income assistance to early retirees for one to two years.

What the Nikkei article doesn’t mention, but a Japanese-language article in the Mainichi Shimbun did, is that the proposed system would allow people to work to age 75 if they want to. The idea is to create a mechanism enabling people to leave at age 40 after grinding away for some monolith, and then switch to a small, vibrant growth company.

It is not the business of government to decide when a company should let a person retire, much less act as if it were a vision for transforming the nation. Nor is it their business to require a company to pay a stipend to a person who decides to take a hike at 40 and get retraining to work somewhere else.

Freelance journalist Wakabayashi Aki recommends the government go first and put it in practice themselves, seeing as how they’ve come up with other ideas that are a model for the private sector. She cited the 20-day paid work furloughs and extending maternity leave for teachers from one year to three.

The report also recommends creating worker retraining programs, placing term limits on all employment agreements and eliminating the distinction between full-time and temporary workers.

That’s another step closer to the fascisto-progressive ideal of the corporative state. The private sector is allowed to retain ownership of the company as long as they do what the public sector wants them to do.

The proposals are certain to meet with stiff resistance from workers opposed to being pushed into early retirement, and from firms who see training young employees as an upfront investment to be recouped later.

As well as from those who realize that no one in any government anywhere has the capacity to dictate how a company should run its affairs. Had they the capacity to do so, they’d be running companies themselves.

Then again, some governments in Japan do. About 20 years ago, there was a boom in what was called the Third Sector, or in the United States, public-private sector partnerships. Companies and local governments found ways to go into business together for some do-gooder reason or another. More than 70% of them are in the red. One mini-shopping mall in my city went bankrupt within two years.

It’s no surprise that Mr. Hashimoto in Osaka has an idea how to deal with the Third Sector, too. The city and prefecture of Osaka, in partnership with another local city and a quasi-government agency, had a 70% stake in the Osaka Textile Resource Center, which was capitalized (excessively) at JPY 2.75 billion. The private sector ownership included the chamber of commerce and industry, a few companies in the textile industry, and some trading companies.

The center was created in 1990 to support and improve the textile business based on the Textile Vision of the old Ministry of International Trade and Industry in 1988. It was involved with consulting work, research surveys, design development, training, and event planning. It lost JPY 73 million in 2011, and the prefecture covered its liabilities that year with a JPY 1.033 billion loan. Nevertheless, it essentially stopped functioning last summer.

Mr. Hashimoto cut off the city stipend, and it went out of business on 15 June.

Speaking of other operations that are losing money, the Japanese government is 200% in the red. But they want to create a vision to transform Japan by redefining the employer-employee relationship?

The fertility rate would improve if people had more choices for when and where they work, the report contends.

And the cow jumped over the moon.

Said Mr. Noda about the report: “We must present a pioneering model for the state to the world.”

What makes politicians and their orbiting bureaucrats and academics think they need to create a model for the state, when it’s beyond their abilities to operate the existing ones? Every modern model created for a state has flopped face down in the mud, often accompanied by industrial-scale deprivation and death.

Some people think government is broken and needs to be fixed. That’s got it backwards. This is as fixed as government ever gets. What we’ve got now needs to be broken, rethought, and reorganized into the smallest possible units that prevent anarchy.

Not working is good for the economy

The government and the DPJ are discussing a plan to create three day weekends by providing a compensatory day off if a national holiday falls on a Saturday. That’s already the case with Sunday holidays. They think this will stimulate domestic tourism.

Don’t laugh — these are the same folks who think raising the consumption tax will encourage people to consume more.

And these are the same people who think they can create a pioneering model for the state.

As the report had it, this will be included in the Cabinet’s Japan Revival Strategy, which will also include sections for the creation of new industries, in light of the Tohoku disaster.

How can they expect to create new industries when they can’t even balance a budget?

They’re also still talking about a long holiday (a week or so) in the fall, similar to the Golden Week holiday in the spring, to be taken in shifts in regional areas. The stimulation of domestic tourism is also the objective with this plan.

It is unlikely to happen, however, because corporations throughout the country realize that a long holiday in one part of the country will be a long semi-holiday everywhere else. Politicians would realize it too, if they had ever spent quality time in the private sector.

The Japanese nanny state

From a generic media report:

As of last Sunday, restaurants were prohibited from serving raw beef liver by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, which advises heating the liver to its core before serving, especially during summer.

The ministry reviewed the hygiene standards for beef in the wake of a series of food poisoning cases at a yakiniku barbecue restaurant chain in spring last year.

The O-157 strain of E. coli bacteria was found to exist in beef liver, and no effective method of disinfecting raw liver has been determined.

The ministry is calling on food and beverage establishments to take such measures as heating liver to its center for at least one minute at 75 C, and using separate tongs, chopsticks and cooking utensils for raw meat.

Restaurants that violate the guidelines will be reprimanded by local governments.

Said Komiyama Yoko, health minister:

“We will make every effort to make sure that (the regulation) is being properly complied with.”

Another source reported that rather than reprimands, those who violate the ban could be sentenced to up to two years in jail or a JPY two million fine.

This from a country that has been eating the poisonous blowfish as haute cuisine for centuries.

Sankei Shimbun journalist Abiru Rui blogged about the subject. He was speaking casually to an aide of an LDP Diet member, and the ban came up in the conversation. She was unhappy:

“I don’t want the government to decide what I can eat! The DPJ government has spent all its time pursuing creepy, wooly-headed ideas, but this is the first time I really hate what they’ve done….”

Mr. Abiru noted that if the LDP were to propose lifting the ban on liver, it would conform to the spirit of self-help, and asked: If you strongly supported lifting the ban on the principle of individual freedom, wouldn’t you risk being branded a neo-liberal?

“Maybe.”

In other words, she was ready for it and didn’t care.

The Japanese left likes to use that expression as if it were a trump card, but they never seem do it in the presence of neo-liberals. Perhaps they’re worried they’ll get stuck with the Old Maid.

Maybe I should have Cafepress print up some neo-liberal t-shirts.

Russell Roberts recently observed that some people would never intervene in the lives of their neighbors, but are anxious to make society at large conform to whatever their cause du jour happens to be.

Those on the other side of the spectrum of government intervention often lack this humility (of intervening in the lives of strangers). They claim to know what is best for others–what they should eat, how they should behave in the bedroom, whether they purchase health insurance, and what is the best use of other people’s money. When these plans go awry, when they cause harm to those they would help, they fall back on their motives–after all, they meant well.

The Seamoon is back

Generic media report (GMR):

An army of reserve soldiers that was never mobilized after last year’s disasters has been cited as an example of waste by Finance Minister Jun Azumi, who also called for tighter control of government spending.

Funny how the Seamoon finance minister and his party couldn’t dispose of much waste at all with their policy reviews, even though they and everyone else knows where to find plenty of it. Or that he voted for his party’s three consecutive record-high budgets. Or that this minor example of government waste is the best he can do, when other people suggest that entire agencies and ministries could be eliminated entirely.

But with the likely passage of the consumption tax increase, his programmers in the Finance Ministry want him out in front on “tighter control of government spending”, much in the way they spread the silliness, parroted by the lazy English-language media, that Kan Naoto and Noda Yoshihiko were “fiscal hawks” during their terms as Finance Ministry press secretaries finance ministers. (The fiscal equivalent of wings, talons, and a knowledge of hawk behavior are requirements for fiscal hawk impersonators. They were the fiscal equivalent of wingless birds with webbed feet.)

International edition

From another generic report:

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde has praise for Japan’s move to raise its sales tax to curb the swollen national debt.

Here’s what Ms. Lagarde knows about taxes:

Christine Lagarde, the IMF boss who caused international outrage after she suggested in an interview with the Guardian on Friday that beleaguered Greeks might do well to pay their taxes, pays no taxes, it has emerged.

As an official of an international institution, her salary of $467,940 (£298,675) a year plus $83,760 additional allowance a year is not subject to any taxes.

Lagarde, 56, receives a pay and benefits package worth more than American president Barack Obama earns from the United States government, and he pays taxes on it…

Officials from the various organisations (IMF, et al.) have long maintained that the high salaries are a way of attracting talent from the private sector. In fact, most senior employees are recruited from government posts.

The absence of humility manifests in many different ways.

China

Still another generic report:

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s political group will seek a referendum apparently with the goal of easing the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9, policy proposals obtained Thursday that may be part of the group’s campaign platform for the next general election indicate.

Asian neighbors are concerned, due to historical reasons, with Japan’s move to amend its constitution, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Friday.

The standard Chinese response whenever another nation has an issue with their behavior is to dismiss it by saying it is unwarranted interference in their internal affairs. Yet whenever another country does something that rubs their fur the wrong way, such as giving a visa to the Dalai Lama or former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui, or arresting fishing boat captains that run amok, they react as if they were a 70-year-old nun who had just received a proposition for anal intercourse from a sake-soaked derelict who’s lived in a cardboard box under a bridge for the past two years.

The absence of humility manifests in many different ways.

*****
Whichever directions become tomorrow’s ephemeral path to the promised land, the double disasters of the Democratic Party government and the Tohoku/Fukushima problems have had the salutory effect of arousing the public, particularly the reading and thinking public. The betrayal by the DPJ and the institutional response to the destruction caused by the earthquake/tsunami has demonstrated to everyone the necessity for taking the responsibility to take action on their own. That process has started.

There’ll be some changes made.

Afterwords:

Just 12 days after another declaration of One Osaka’s readiness to participate in the next national election, Mayor Hashimoto took everyone by surprise yet again on 10 July:

“Prime Minister Noda is amazing (sugoi). He’s worked out an agreement between five parties on a bill to create an Osaka Metro District, he’s raised the consumption tax…he supports the collective right to self-defense, he wants to join the TPP, and is also talking about a state/province system. He has expressed his sense of values and his central beliefs…There are divergent opinions within the party, but he has indicated a specific direction…He is implementing the politics of decisiveness. I think the DPJ rate of support will rapidly recover.”

Remember, two weeks ago he criticized the DPJ handling of the consumption tax and cited it as one of the reasons One Osaka would establish a national presence.

Also:

“There are people in the LDP and DPJ whose thinking is similar. We have hopes for a political reorganization. ..The thinking of many mid-tier and younger members of the LDP is similar to the prime minister’s. If affairs continue to proceed on this course, they could create a new group, and I think their popularity would soar.”

That immediately started speculation of a One Osaka – Noda DPJ alliance, although it might be possible to interpret his transcribed statements as forecasting just a rump DPJ/LDP alliance.

But Mr. Hashimoto also noted the difficulties of working with Mr. Noda as long as the DPJ maintains its ties with the public sector unions, the party’s largest support group. Among the mayor’s principal accomplishments in politics has been his readiness to pick a fight with those unions — and win. He can’t expect, nor does he want, any part of an alliance with them.

Thus, the remnants of the post-Ozawa Democratic Party would have to split further into (a) the labor union left and (b) everyone else. That would leave not so many of everyone else. Further, a realignment with elements of the DPJ and the LDP would cause a split between One Osaka and Your Party, and their members constitute an important part of the One Osaka political juku.

I would not read too much into this, for the nonce anyway. Mr. Hashimoto says all sorts of things. Four years ago, when he was Osaka governor, he said Hatoyama Yukio was sugoi. A few months ago, he said Ozawa-sensei was sugoi. It is unlikely that he takes Mr. Hatoyama seriously, and he had this to say about Mr. Ozawa when talking about Mr. Noda’s sugoi-ness:

“(The new party is) Ozawa-sensei’s idea. There are different ways of thinking, and he chose to take that action.”

You can feel the wet blanket, can’t you?

And speaking of Mr. Hatoyama, his criticism of Noda Yoshihiko on the same day was pertinent to the discussion:

“He can’t even govern the party, so how can he be expected to govern the nation?”

With Hashimoto Toru, actions speak louder than words. He’s a lawyer, after all. Better just to wait and see what he does. It’s impossible to know his strategy. What we do know is that he will do something.

*****
The NPE might be off course, but Off Course never were. This performance of Ai wo Tomenaide (Don’t Stop Love) appeared on their live double LP in the pre-digital age.

I’m knocking on the door to your heart.
And your heart is softly, softly starting to shake.

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

Headlines and the reality

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, June 30, 2012

“I was bred and born in the briar patch, Brer Fox,” he called. “Born and bred in the briar patch.”
And Brer Rabbit skipped away as merry as a cricket while Brer Fox ground his teeth in rage and went home.
-Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby

THE English-language media are on the verge of swallowing their tongues in excitement. Here’s the lede from an AFP article that everyone’s running with:

Tens of thousands of people rallied outside the Japanese prime minister’s residence in Tokyo Friday in one of the largest demonstrations held against the restart of nuclear reactors.

Organizers claimed 100,000 participated, but adults in the area said it was more like 20,000. That is a substantial number of people for a Japanese demonstration, but then we do live in a semi-hysterical age.

Now for the reality. The Yomiuri Shimbun conducted a poll of the six prefectures in the Kinki region (served by the Oi nuclear power plants) two weeks ago asking whether people approved or disapproved of the resumption of nuclear power generation.

Here are the results:

49%: Approve
41%: Disapprove

The difference was even greater in Osaka Prefecture: 52% in favor vs. 39% against. Shiga was the only thumbs-down prefecture, and the Kyoto results were a rough 50%-50% split.

More significant than these numbers is the trendline. At one point, the percentage of those who disapproved was around 70%. Opinion on this issue is dynamic, and it isn’t moving in the direction the demonstrators and some in the media would prefer.

A few days ago I ran across a site (in English) in which the author of one post was excited by the anti-nuclear power sentiment in Japan and Prime Minister Noda’s statement that he would consider going nuclear-free — even though he was aware that it was the same Noda Yoshihiko who authorized the resumption of the Oi plant operations.

He thought it was encouraging that some politicians suggested holding a national debate on nuclear power in Japan this summer. Now there’s a man who hasn’t spent much (if any) time in this country in July and August.

Japanese utilities are calling on people to cut back on 10% of their power consumption this summer. (That’s the number in Kyushu, at least.) Kyushu Electric Power has already drawn up plans for two-hour rolling blackouts in 60 districts once a day in the event their surplus disappears.

Americans think the weather on the East Coast this time of year is almost unbearable. My wife and I took our first trip to the US East Coast together one August. It was so hot and muggy during our sightseeing visit to Washington DC that people were moaning, groaning, and staggering over to benches in the shade to limply fan themselves.

“What’s the matter with them?”

I told my wife the heat was getting to them.

“Heat?” She almost snorted. “This isn’t hot. In Japan this is nothing.”

And then she went back to poring over the guidemap to decide where she’d like to go next.

That’s why the politicians want the debate conducted in the summer — when everyone’s dripping with sweat and taking three showers a day and washing the mold off their leather belts and keeping the air conditioner off due to the power cutbacks, and their children (of the generation accustomed to sleeping in cool comfort) are constantly cranky and home all day during school vacation.

A discussion about nuclear power this summer will be like Br’er Rabbit getting the fox to throw him into the briar patch.

And that’s during a normal year. Just think of what might happen during a heat wave.

UPDATE: Here’s some of what Ikeda Nobuo had to say about the demonstration:

“I had thought that classic mass movements of this sort were over in Japan, but perhaps they were revitalized by social media in the manner of Occupy Wall Street in the United States. That in itself isn’t bad, but the objective of stopping the resumption of generation at the Oi plants is nonsense.

“The authorization has been issued and work has begun, so it can’t be stopped without a special order under the law for technical improvements. The demonstration won’t stop it. If the demonstration was to keep other nuclear plants off-line, the economic hit from their idling would continue to grow from the JPY 5 trillion already lost. In other words, the demonstration was held to make Japan poorer…

“The most serious crisis facing Japan now is the threat of becoming poorer tomorrow than we are today. The working population declines by 1% every year, while government debt grows by JPY 50 trillion. Nominal GDP last year was the same as it was 20 years ago, and may turn negative. Thus, the lifetime disposable income of a child born today will be more than JPY 100 million less than that of an aged person who retires today.

“The manufacturing industry is rushing to move overseas to prepare for power outages this summer. Consumer electronics manufacturers and semiconductor makers are already gushing red ink…Talk to businessmen working in the manufacturing industry and the conversation turns to how long they will be able to stay in Japan. A demonstration seeking to halt energy supply during such a time will likely be remembered as the final episode of stupidity in a once-prosperous Japan.”

Posted in Mass media, Science and technology | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

Hashimoto Toru (9): Cultural subsidies

Posted by ampontan on Friday, June 8, 2012

OSAKA Mayor Hashimoto Toru has been questioning local government subsidies for the traditional art of bunraku (and all arts subsidies) since he was the governor of Osaka Prefecture. Part of the issue is the double subsidy received: one from the city and one from the prefecture. At a news conference in January, he said that he supported bunraku, but not the Bunraku Society.

Last night he fired off a volley of Tweets explaining his views. More than a few Americans would be willing to chop off a little finger and cover their body in tattoos to have a local politician in his position and with his audience make the following case.

*****

I was disappointed to read an article by Mr. Takemoto, a national living treasure, in the evening edition of the Mainichi Shimbun on the 6th (Osaka), titled “The Future Will Not Forgive the Disrespect for Bunraku”. (NB: He is probably referring to Takemoto Tsunatayu, the ninth holder of the name in a lineage dating to 1776.) I had heard reports of a budding awareness of reform among those involved in the art in regard to promoting the structural reform of bunraku.

I’ve been criticized from all quarters for disrespecting culture by cutting culture-related subsidies.  Those subsidies can either revive the recipients or kill them, depending on their use. Most government subsidies kill most of the recipients. That’s because the subsidies flow freely to “men of government” and the people involved in the art, and their first priority becomes government funding.

We must seek a cooperative effort from the recipients if the use of the money is to be beneficial. Reform and improvement are essential at all times. But the people involved prefer the easy way out. They want to keep receiving the subsidies as they have in the past, regardless of the effect. That soon creates vested interests, and the money keeps flowing regardless of the effect.

In Japan today, in every sector, taxes continue to flow to entities that have become vested interests regardless of the effect. Japan is struggling with long-term stagnation without growth. It is no different in the cultural sphere. They’re happy if the money continues to flow as it has in the past. They use it for their own purposes with no thoughts of the original intent of promoting culture.

Why is it that bunraku does not attract an audience? When I was governor, I frequently pointed out the structural problems in the world of bunraku. But the government authorities directly responsible are incapable of a sound analysis, and when the grandees of the art come before them, their job becomes to continue the subsidies as before. There are structural deficiencies in the world of bunraku, and no one assumes responsibility for the promotion of the art.

There is no communication whatsoever from the Association for Bunraku Promotion, the Bunraku Society, or the artists. There is no strategy at all for promoting bunraku. Their awareness is limited to the idea that it is only natural to receive protection. The first step on the road to ruin in any enterprise is taken when the idea of special privileges arises. It is the same with culture. There is nothing more harmful than the awareness of special privileges. When I was governor, I thoroughly examined the ideal approach for bunraku.

The only thing in their minds is that both the prefecture and the city should maintain their subsidies…The primary reason for the decline of bunraku is that the governmental authorities and those involved in the art have given no thought to this at all…They are squatting atop culture with an outlook and values far removed from those in society at large. The state of bunraku today is the result, and they have no awareness of that whatsoever.

It has not dawned on them that their failure to attract an audience is their responsibility. There is a reason they cannot attract an audience, and it is entirely the responsibility of the people involved with bunraku. But they shift that responsibility to other people, and they continue to demand that they be protected with tax funds because they are a tradition, as if it were part of the very nature of things. They lack any sense of humility whatsoever toward their use of tax funds. Taxes are the money collected from citizens who strain to the point of desperation. (literally, are covered in blood)

Receiving tax funds requires the utmost in gratitude toward the citizens, regardless if it is a culture with a 300-year history or anything else.

(end translation)

I did some slight editing to remove repetition and to facilitate understanding.

*****

That bunraku is a marvelous art form and a national treasure is undeniable. Here’s a scene called Sake Shop from a longer piece called Hadesugata Onna Maiginu that dates from 1772.

Posted in Arts, Government, Traditions | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

People who should know better

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, June 5, 2012

ONCE Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru admitted both defeat in his effort to prevent the restart of the Oi nuclear power plant and his acquiesence in the restart, it was essential he break his Twitter ceasefire to spin the outcome, rally the troops, and regain the initiative.

The fusillade began bright and early Monday morning, and the initial volley was a mild complaint about the Hitler comparisons. Mr. Hashimoto chose to aim at Watanabe Tsuneo, the chairman of Yomiuri Shimbun Holdings, which operates the country’s largest newspaper, a television network, a baseball team, and a publishing house. Mr. Watanabe’s position and political influence made his use of the H-word in reference to Mr. Hashimoto a news story in Japan. The story itself faded quickly, and few outside the media are interested in what he has to say, but one appearance is enough for them to assume they have carte blanche to trot it out whenever they feel like it. A peculiar aspect of this story is that the Yomiuri Shimbun does not sail in the NYT/WaPo/Guardian orbit. In the words of The Economist, their editorial position is “conservative”.

Mr. Hashimoto exposed the absurdity of the analogy by noting that Hitler was a mass murderer, and said that he thought it was in violation of “international etiquette”.

Now there’s a man who doesn’t follow political discourse in the English-speaking world.

Once he was warmed up, he moved on to the issue of nuclear power. He tried to justify the decision to give in on Oi by explaining the difficulty of his (and the city of Osaka’s) position:

We have no authority. We cannot collect data, issue regulation orders, plan rolling blackouts, or do anything else.

It took only a few minutes for one blogger to respond:

Mr. Hashimoto originally claimed, “There will be sufficient power even without nuclear energy. All we have to do is turn off our air conditioners for a few days.” In other words, he just admitted that no data collection backed up his claim.

She added:

It should be possible for the city of Osaka to formulate energy-saving plans and conduct trials, but no trace of any concrete efforts on their part can be seen.

The Osaka mayor insisted that the primary issue was local safety and a crisis management system:

The people promoting atomic energy bring up the national economy, but Osaka’s problem is different. The national economy should be discussed in the context of creating a new energy policy and a power supply system.

Notice that the mayor used the adjective “national” instead of “local” for the issue of the economy. The latter would have negated his argument. Meanwhile, Monday’s Japanese edition of the Asian Wall Street Journal reported that the Chinese government has decided to resume nuclear power plant construction, which they suspended after the Fukushima accident. Chinese authorities said they made their decision after weighing safety concerns and the benefit the plants would have on the national economy. One of the safety concerns might have been that coal is the fuel used to generate 77% of China’s energy, and they just spent the last half-decade opening coal-fired plants at an annual rate that exceeds the entire power generating capacity of England.

Finally, Mr. Hashimoto said the anti-nuclear power forces should move on to the “second stage”. Stage Two is preventing the other idled 48 reactors in Japan from resuming production until a new regulatory agency is created and new safety standards are devised.

So to sum up, he expects other regions to share their power with his Kansai region to offset their shortfall, while (a) the Oi nuclear plants that supply his region are the only ones in the country operating, (b) he rallies his forces to prevent the restart of plants in other regions, which (c) are dealing with power shortages of their own with the plants shut down.

Yeah, that’ll work.

Some sort of malware seems to have infected the political programming of the devolutionary reformers. Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi caught the virus too:

“I support the denuclearization of power, so I want them to stop the restart. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry said they would release a hazard map by the end of the summer. (Restarting before that release) is disrespectful. Whatever else can be said, they’re screwing around with us.”

Hori Yoshito, an entrepreneur who founded a venture capital funding company, read that and blogged that a politician’s views on nuclear energy should constitute a litmus test: Opposition = failure. Mr. Hori also remembered that one serious energy shortage in Japan resulted in the country going to war.

Love! Love! Hairo

War wasn’t on the minds of the 450 or so people who showed up for a demonstration against the restart of the plants in Fukui City on Sunday that featured the latest in protest music. What is it about the combination of music and activism? The Jamaicans thought they could Chant Down Babylon, and the Love Generation believed they could chant the rain away at Woodstock.

Unlike those two groups, narcotization wasn’t a factor for the Fukuians. It might have been a sugar high instead, because they grooved to Fujinami Kokoro performing her anti-nuclear power hit, Love! Love! Hairo. (Hairo means “eliminating reactors”.) Kokoro is a 15-year-old singer/actress/celebrity who broke into the biz as a clothing model when she was in the first grade. Now she’s becoming known as a “datsugenpatsu idol”, datsugenpatsu meaning the denuclearization of power generation. She told the crowd at Fukui City:

“Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko said he would make a decision on restarting the Oi plant on his responsibility. What sort of responsibility will he take? The accident at Fukushima #1 isn’t over yet.”

Of course there’s a YouTube! The official release of Love! Love! Hairo features her in a duet with Kanaru, who is even younger.

The lyrics are unremarkable, with one curious exception. That’s the inclusion of the word giman, which means fraud or trickery. It is unlikely to be part of the vocabulary stock of the average junior high school student.

At least the Hollywood establishment uses adults at the age of consent when they peddle their papers. It would seem Kokoro is the tool that emerged at the end of someone else’s process to indoctrinate the youth, not the youth whose bright idea started the process.

Kokoro also has a Twitter account that she uses for Tweeting anti-nuke lines that some people think she writes herself. Those messages have been retweeted and praised by the likes of Sakamoto Ryuichi and Son Masayoshi. Fancy that — two very famous and very busy people with enough time to read teen-tweets!

The former is the well-known world-class musician-composer and third-rate thinker. The latter is a billionaire who founded SoftBank, the leading Internet company in Asia. Mr. Son also keeps his eyes peeled for lucrative crony capitalist business opportunities when they aren’t glued to the Twitter site. After he conferred with then-Prime Minister Kan Naoto last year, everybody got solar all of a sudden. Mr. Kan’s last act as prime minister was to shepherd a bill through the Diet that will require utilities to buy electricity generated by renewable sources at rates well above market prices. Nuclear energy costs about JPY 10 per kWh, but the rate for alternative energy that goes into effect on 1 July will be about double that. It will be higher still for solar energy — the juice generated by businesses, schools and homes is already sold at four times the nuclear power rate.

Now guess which Japanese billionaire plans to build 10 solar power plants.

Indeed, the use of Kokoro as a propaganda vehicle is an international phenomenon. Here’s Ralph T. Niemeyer, the director of the film Hibakusha, keeping his eyes peeled for a different kind of business opportunity. The complete English title of the movie is Hibakusha – from Hiroshima to Fukushima, Nuclear Capitalism Tries to Rebound. To ensure a better audience in Japan, the word “capitalism” was replaced with “business” in the local title. Watch his eyes light up at the end when he hears that she has a high show business profile, and is a really intelligent girl with her own ideas.

The Good Book quotes The Nazz as asking his old man to go easy on the unhip because they haven’t got a clue. All the people in this story know not what they do either, but that doesn’t make what they’re doing any more forgivable. Only Fujinami Kokoro gets a pass, and that expires on 22 November this year.

That’s her 16th birthday.

Postscript:

Wrote Japanese blogger Ikushima Kantoku:

Many people have expectations for Mr. Hashimoto, and I am one of them. It’s a feeling of half-love, half-hate, and I don’t understand it myself.

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Music, Politics, Science and technology | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The man in the Japanese street

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 3, 2012

THE Fukuoka City-based Nishinippon Shimbun conducted a questionnaire survey of opinions on political conditions from 17-22 May. The location of the survey, the persons surveyed, and the questions asked make the survey results essential reading for anyone interested in the mood of the Japanese electorate.

First, they limited the survey to those people who voted for the Liberal Democratic Party in the lower house election of 2005, and who also voted for the Democratic Party of Japan in the lower house election in 2009. In other words, these people voted to support the Koizumian reforms and Japan Post privatization, and to repudiate the LDP after the party had repudiated the work of Mr. Koizumi.

Thus, the survey focused on independent voters whose primary interest is in systemic reform, which was the primary issue in both of these elections. The DPJ victory had little, if anything, to do with the content of the party’s election manifesto other than their promise to implement real reform. The voters just as quickly repudiated the DPJ when they discovered that promise (and everything else they said) was nothing more than campaign shouting.

Two of the areas covered in the survey were the respondents’ current political preferences and their views of Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and his One Osaka reform movement. It was therefore a quick and dirty indicator of what people in Kyushu’s largest city thought of the Osaka-based phenomenon.

One question asked what sort of government the respondents would like to see after the next election. Because this was a survey of 100 people, the absolute numbers also represent percentages. Here are the answers:

A new framework after a political reorganization: 49

A DPJ-led government: 4

An LDP-led government: 11

Don’t know: 29

Among the reasons cited by the people in the first group were: “There ain’t a dime’s worth of difference between the DPJ and the LDP”, and “All (those two parties) do is try to trip each other up.”

Among the reasons cited by the people in the last group were: “There are no real politicians in Japan now,” and “I might not vote in the next election”.

Here are their answers to the question of which political party or group they supported:

None: 64

One Osaka: 12

DPJ: 6

LDP: 5

That tends to confirm the results of the Jiji news agency polling since the early 2000s that “non-aligned” is the default position for a majority of Japanese voters. (Jiji’s polls are conducted by their market research arm, and are considered more accurate than the other media polls, which use random digit dialing.) This group starts gravitating toward a party or candidates shortly before an election, and gradually reverts to their independent position after an election.

Finally, the survey asked whether they had positive expectations if One Osaka and Mr. Hashimoto were to establish a national presence. Of the 100 people surveyed, 74 answered yes.

A female office worker in her 30s gave a reason that would resonate in other areas of the country too:

“He’s a bit extreme, but nothing will change without an approach like that.”

Those opinions are of course subject to change at a moment’s notice. A male office worker in his 30s observed:

“It is not possible to make a judgment by looking at Mr. Hashimoto alone. I don’t know what One Osaka would do as an organization.”

To be sure, this poll was unscientific; the newspaper admits upfront it was conducted on the street.  But it doesn’t take science to realize that the super-sized political tsunami rolling towards Nagata-cho is going to turn the political careers of quite a few people into flotsam and jetsam.

*****

The voice of the man in the street in Jamaica:

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Hashimoto Toru (8): Hitler Jr.

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, June 2, 2012

IT was visible to the naked eye a light-year away: The junior Japan hands of the English-language media are starting to spool out the Hitlerian/dictator narrative for Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru now that new and weirder Weird Japan stories are getting harder to outsource.

Of course, the two men have plenty in common. The Hashimoto and Hitler names begin with the letter H, they both have/had dark hair, they like/liked the sound of their own voice and…and…ever so much more!

Here’s another one. They are/were both inhumanitarians. Mr. Hashimoto recently announced that as of August, the city of Osaka will stop providing assistance to the Japanese Red Cross Society for their fund-raising activities. He said:

“City Hall should not cooperate with fund-raising…It is inappropriate for municipal employees to be handling money other than public funds.“

One newspaper account said it was unusual for local governments to decline to help the Red Cross collect money for such operations as disaster relief and blood donations, because it was for the public good.

Yeah, it was a straight news article.

The Red Cross was perturbed. They said:

“It’s possible we won’t be able to raise sufficient funds.”

It certainly is. The Osaka city government collects from JPY 260-280 million every year that it passes on to the organization.

The Red Cross has opened storefronts in most municipal level-governments in Japan, and their Osaka branch opened in 1952.  City comptrollers and deputy mayors have served as chairmen of the Red Cross district headquarters.

Spurring the break was a March meeting between the mayor and a citizens’ group that monitors the improper handling of city funds. The officer of a residents’ association that supported a former comptroller in a past mayoral election was also an officer of a local Red Cross organization. Some of the operating funds for his Red Cross district wound up in a different bank account and were used for the activities of the residents’ association.

There was another failure to keep bank accounts straight in Futtsu, Chiba, back in 2007. It was discovered that the city official in charge of the local Red Cross contributions in his district had diverted some Red Cross funds in “extremely inappropriate ways”, as the local newspaper reports had it, and the whereabouts of a large amount of money became unknown. The Red Cross in Chiba offered a contrite apology and promised that it would never happen again.

More recently, there have been questions about the length of time it has taken for contributions to the Red Cross to be distributed in the Tohoku region after the earthquake/tsunami. Six months to a year is a long time to wait for help. Nippon Foundation Chairman Sasakawa Yohei, known for his charitable work on behalf of lepers, has raised questions about why it should take that long for JPY 300 billion to get put in a position where it could do some good.

He pointed out that the Red Cross is supposed to be independent of government, but that the Japanese government often blatantly gets involved in its activities.  He raised the issue of the slapdash manner in which fund distribution for the Tohoku region was decided in a Health Ministry conference room, though all the people involved tried to slough off the responsibility to the prefectural chapters. Mr. Sasakawa criticized the media for their lack of follow-up coverage, and said they should report once a month on the progress of the fund distribution.

In the United States, even the Socialist Worker Joe Allen is concerned about government involvement in the Red Cross. Some of those funds don’t seem to go where they’re supposed to either.

In recent years, the image of the Red Cross has been tarnished. The worst scandal came after the September 11 attacks, when it was revealed that a large portion of the hundreds of millions of dollars donated to the organization went not to survivors or family members of those killed, but to other Red Cross operations, in what was described by chapters across the country as a “bait-and-switch” operation….

And:

People who think of the Red Cross as a “private charity” would be shocked to discover its actual legal status.

Congress incorporated the Red Cross to act under “government supervision.” Eight of the 50 members of its board of governors are appointed by the president of the United States, who also serves as honorary chairperson. Currently, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security are members of the board of governors.

This unique, quasi-governmental status allows the Red Cross to purchase supplies from the military and use government facilities–military personnel can actually be assigned to duty with the Red Cross. Last year, the organization received $60 million in grants from federal and state governments. However, as one federal court noted, “A perception that the organization is independent and neutral is equally vital.”

The people running the Japanese Red Cross are from a different social stratum, however: The honorary chair is the Empress of Japan, and members of the Imperial Family also serve as vice chairs. Here, it is a special corporation under the authority of the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. The president is Konoe Tadateru, the younger brother of former Prime Minister Hosokawa Morihiro. The brothers are descended from the daimyo of the old Kumamoto feudal domain on their father’s side, and are the grandsons of Konoe Fumimaro, the prime minister who preceded Tojo Hideki, on their mother’s side. (Konoe even had the stache years before Adolf did.) Tadateru was formally adopted into his mother’s family to provide continuity to the family line, which is a branch of the Fujiwara clan of nobles. The Fujiwaras date back to the 7th century, when they started a four century-long strategy for exercising political influence by marrying their daughters off to the Emperors.

Why should city employees in either country do their work for them?

Airports

Meanwhile, the New Kansai International Airport Co., which will operate both the Kansai International Airport and the Osaka International Airport (Itami) starting next month, has begun negotiations to purchase the outstanding stock of Osaka Interntaional Airport Terminal, the company that owns and operates the Itami terminal building. They expect to finish the purchase by next summer after negotiating the stock price.

The city of Osaka owns 20% of OAT, and the mayor is ready to sell his stake. Said Mr. Hashimoto:

“This is the element on which I was most insistent as the basic policy for combining operations. I will be extremely happy if this happens.”

Osaka Prefecture owns another 20%, and Hashimoto ally Gov. Matsui Ichiro said:

“It would be even more effective (if the OAT earnings) lead to the reduction of landing fees. I hope to be able to sell the stock at an appropriate price.”

So, the mayor continues to extract the Osaka municipal public sector from operations it has no business being involved in. Man, this Hashimoto cat might as well start growing that jive moustache now.

Fortunately, the Japanese seldom give a flying fut about foreigner tut-tutting over their politicians, nor are they tethered to the EU ball and chain. That frees them from having other member states declare their pols persona non grata, or de facto ousting them and selecting their replacements.

When the New York Times mistranslated some Abe Shinzo comments on comfort women to get him in Dutch with the Japanese in 2007, Mr. Abe’s poll numbers plummeted by 0.01% the next month. Even the veteran comfort women campaigners of the Asahi Shimbun held their tongues.

Rather than Japan hands, it might be more apt to refer to these expertise-free experts as Japan fingers. Hand is an inaccurate term for people who lack the intellectual equivalent of 80% of their digits and the entire carpal/metacarpal structure.

*****

Late last month, we saw how a small group of protesters held up, but did not prevent, the incineration of debris from the Tohoku area at Kitakyushu. The results showed the radiation released wasn’t even close to dangerous limits. But one overheated clerk at a consumer electronics mass merchandiser in a different part of the country Tweeted a death threat in the mayor’s direction, which got him arrested. He’s now claiming he didn’t mean it.

Still free as a bird after a similar Tweet of his own is Gunma University volcanologist Hayakawa Yukio. On 15 April, he Tweeted about Fukushima farmers anxious to ship their produce:

This has been difficult for me to understand, but hereafter I will regard farmers such as these as my enemy. I will not stand for having poison put in my mouth. Kill before being killed.

How unlucky for those two not to have been born Americans. It prevents half the political class, most of the mass media, and all of academia and the entertainment industry from martyrizing them.

*****

It won’t be long now before this production starts its Osaka run.

Posted in Government, Mass media, Science and technology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Political kabuki in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, May 31, 2012

FOR reasons beyond understanding, Americans have glommed onto the word kabuki and applied it to political situations to describe debate/discussion/behavior/bloviation that is little more than a theatrical performance, in which the actors play to exaggerated stereotypes to disguise either a predetermined outcome or their real motives. The Brits use it much less frequently in that context, and when they do, they tend to add a word at the end by calling it political kabuki theater.

That sort of behavior has as much in common with kabuki as real kabuki has with vaudeville. The plays themselves have every bit the drama and meaning as most of Shakespeare, and the earliest ones are about the same age. To expect the average journo or commentator to understand that, however, would be to credit them with more erudition than the flybaits whose careers they follow.

The Japanese also have their own equivalent of what is referred to as political kabuki, of course. In fact, no one does it better. They just don’t call it kabuki. An excellent example is the stylized drama that’s been playing on the political stage for the past month over the issue of restarting the Oi nuclear power reactors in Fukui. It’s nearing resolution, and it now seems this kabuki will be more productive than those staged overseas. It centers on putting the arrangements in place for the eventual resumption of nuclear power production nationwide.

Recall that for other reasons beyond understanding, Japan’s political tachiyaku, Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, chose to elbow his way to the front of the anti-nuclear power parade in Japan. It is beyond understanding because it is almost certainly an exercise in populism, even though his popularity is such that a populist appeal wasn’t necessary.

Hosono Goshi holds forth (Asahi Shimbun)

His position has infected even those of his senior advisors and political allies who have long track records of adult behavior. Your Party, the only serious reformers among the national political parties, became Hashimoto allies because they share the policies of regional devolution and bureaucratic reform. But they too have started running the anti-nuke voodoo down, and their new approach is even more confounding because their secretary-general, Eda Kenji, is a sensible man who was once a star bureaucrat in the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, the ministry responsible for the oversight of the nuclear power industry.

Another former METI hanagata is the bureaucratic reformer Koga Shigeaki, who is now a Hashimoto senior advisor. He recently appeared on television to charge that Kansai Electric might engage in deliberate “nuclear terrorism” by sabotaging their own thermal power plants as a weapon to get the nuclear plants back on line.

Mr. Koga must have developed a taste for plywood — he’s still chewing the scenery, though he has toned it down a bit. Asked by reporters to explain that statement, he said:

“I wanted to say that they were threatening to create a situation in which there would be a power shortfall, based on the premise of restarting the plants. When Kansai Electric and METI cry “blackouts, blackouts”, that is terrorism.”

And:

“I used the word terrorism because neither Kansai Electric nor METI formulated measures even though they knew last summer there would be a power shortage this summer.”

This approach by One Osaka and its allies might have found support at the national level were Kan Naoto — who “loves” wind power — still prime minister. Fortunately, the DPJ finally found an adult member of their party to serve in that position, and Noda Yoshihiko wants to get the nuclear plants back on line as soon as possible. Current METI chief Edano Yukio, Mr. Kan’s chief cabinet secretary during the nuclear accident, has the sugarplum dream of being prime minister himself, so he’s found himself some new chums in the METI bureaucracy.

The immediate problem is the anticipated 15% power shortfall this summer in the Kansai region — home to Panasonic, Sharp, and other major manufacturers — if the Oi plants are not restarted. It will take six weeks to get them back up to speed, and time is running out.

The government doesn’t need permission from anyone to permit nuclear power generation to resume, but that would leave them open to the charge of ignoring the concerns of the public and the local governments involved. Thus they have begun executing a program of eggshell-walking and convincing local government leaders and citizens’ groups that it is safe to press the nuclear button.

On 19 May, the prime minister dispatched Hosono Goshi, the Cabinet minister responsible for nuclear energy, to explain the new safety standards to the Union of Kansai Governments. That’s a group consisting of the governors of seven Kansai prefectures. (The governor of Nara chose not to join.) The union was formed in October 2010 to coordinate region-wide emergency medical services and disaster response, among other work. But more important, it is a vehicle to promote regional devolution, one of Mr. Hashimoto’s primary objectives. The seven prefectures have a combined population of almost 21 million people.

Hashimoto Toru helped create the union when he was the Osaka Prefecture governor.  He’s now the mayor of Osaka City, which is not an official member, but what are rules to a big enchilada?

In fact, he was responsible for the union’s rejection of the new nuclear safety standards presented by Mr. Hosono at the 19 May meeting. He dismissed them by saying they weren’t standards, but merely “anti-tsunami measures”.

The Second Meeting

It took but a fortnight for the government to come up with some revisions — golly, that was fast — and present them to another meeting of the Union of Kansai Governments yesterday. Mr. Hashimoto wasn’t present because he had to attend an Osaka city council session, but Union Chairman Ido Toshizo, the governor of Hyogo, stayed in contact with him by telephone to keep him informed of the discussions and to write down his instructions.

Here’s what happened: Mr. Hosono told the meeting that the government will soon present new safety measures to the Fukui governor (Oi is in Fukui). If they suit the governor’s fancy, Prime Minister Noda will “take the responsibility” for making the decision on restarting the reactors himself, early in June. One of the two METI vice-ministers and a ministerial aide will be stationed at Oi to make sure everything is tip-top. There will be stronger “provisional safety standards” for the “limited” restart of the reactors, and those standards will be reviewed for further improvement after the establishment of a new atomic energy regulatory agency, which the DPJ government finally got around to bringing up in the Diet. The chief municipal officer of Oi-cho, where the reactors are located, has already signaled that he will give his blessing to get those turbines moving again. In essence, the plan leaves everything up to the national government.

Now break out the popcorn and watch the political kabuki.

Mr. Hashimoto earlier hinted that he would be amenable to “limited operation”. When Gov. Ido conferred with him by phone during the meeting, the mayor said he would agree this time on the condition that the words “provisional” and “limited” were inserted in the statement.

Osaka Gov. Matsui Ichiro, the mayor’s primary political ally in the region, asked:

“Will the restart be approved using existing guidelines even though the government’s safety standards are not thorough and complete?”

Mr. Hashimoto asked:

“If the safety standards are provisional, then plant safety itself is provisional, isn’t it? Why will the reactors be restarted without waiting for the establishment of the nuclear regulatory agency?”

Some of the other governors were just critical, but here is their official statement released as soon as the meeting ended:

“We strongly seek an appropriate and limited decision (from the national government) on the premise that this decision will be provisional.”

In other words: Thanks for letting us save face while we go along with letting you restart the plants.

When asked what “limited” referred to, Mr. Ido said it included both the safety standards and the resumption of nuclear power generation.

The Facts of Life

What happened between 19 May and 30 May to change everyone’s mind? Nobody’s saying, but it likely involved what regional business leaders were telling the politicians in private, and which was just revealed in public earlier this week by the Nikkei Shimbun, the country’s primary business and financial daily.

The Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry took a quick survey from the 21st to the 25th of 73 large regional companies to determine the effects of a 15% power cutback this summer. 70% said it would cause serious problems, and 56% said their profits would suffer. Only 29% said that it would be possible to achieve a 15% reduction in power use. Most (32% of the respondents) said the best they could achieve was a 5%-10% cutback. That was roughly the level of savings Kansai Electric’s large consumers managed last summer. More than a few said they would have to reduce working hours altogether, increase the number of days they would close, or move shifts to later at night.

What everyone already knew was that many companies in Tokyo started relocating offices and plants in other parts of Japan (and the world) to ensure stable energy supplies for their business. They also knew that the oil imports required to offset the loss of nuclear power was deuced expensive.

So, as one wag on the Internet put it, the “Union of Kansai Yakuza Gangs” has now shifted its position from “there will be enough power even without the nuclear plants” to “there will be enough power if we save energy” to “there will be enough energy if we have rolling blackouts and receive power from other parts of the country” to “OK, but it’s only provisional”.

It’s also curious that Hashimoto Toru, the Twitter Machine Gun who fires off 20-30 tweets a day to spray his opinions on the public at large and kick his opponents in the groin, has been observing radio silence of late. Some have concluded that he has been quietly reassessing his position.

Does anyone doubt that once the Oi nuclear reactors go back on line, they will stay on line unless there’s a historically immense shift of tectonic plates in the immediate area? Does anyone doubt that when the Oi reactors go back on line, the other idled plants nationwide will eventually follow?

Thus, mere days after the overseas Split Wood Not Atoms sect rejoiced because Japan was now “nuclear free”, those smiles have been flipped into frowns.  Reuters quoted Greg McNevin, a spokesman for Greenpeace International as saying:

“We have consistently said that none of the safety or emergency measures that have been called for by experts in the community has been completed.  Our consistent position is that this is being rushed.”

Silly boy. One of the defining elements of kabuki theater is mie, in which the actor assumes an extravagant, stylized pose. Greenpeace seems to think their own mie have the mojo to work on the Japanese stage. But none the several Japanese-language articles I read quoted his (or any other foreigner’s) comments, and an audience that doesn’t exist can’t applaud. Text message to the Greenies: Becoming a real kabuki actor requires years of apprenticeship and study.

*****

All of this brings up several interesting questions. Does this represent the first defeat for Hashimoto Toru in his confrontation with the national establishment? Does this face-saving agreement mean that the establishment and Mr. Hashimoto are accommodating themselves to each other? Is the Osaka mayor cooperating with the DPJ government that he pledged to bring down? Will his objections actually result in more stringent standards for nuclear power operation?

Is Mr. Hashimoto in fact not anti-nuclear power at all, but using that provisionality as one string on his anti-establishment guitar, with the added benefit of greater safety?

We’ll find out eventually what went on backstage. We always do.

*****

With serendipitous synchronicity, a Japanese blog post floated up yesterday in which the author described a visit to observe the work underway at the Hamamatsu nuclear power plant. That was the first one to be shut down after the Fukushima accident. There were legitimate concerns about its safety, and work to improve plant resistance to natural disasters had already begun.

It never stopped, even though the reactors did. The blogger wrote:

Construction is proceeding on a wall that rises 18 meters above sea level and surrounds the entire facility. An emergency generator and a nuclear reactor cooling pump are being installed in a structure 20 meters above sea level in which seawater cannot penetrate. Technical developments in 30 categories are being incorporated in the work, which will result in the strongest anti-tsunami measures of any plant in the world. This is more comprehensive than I had imagined.

The wall is two meters thick, 1.6 kilometers long, and its foundation extends from 10 to 30 meters underground. The construction work will be completed in December.

It seems not to have occurred to some people in Japan that nuclear power plant operation might be forever suspended.

*****

It also never occurred to Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi to stop being so tiresome. Here’s the statement he released after the agreement:

The safety standards are ridiculous, there is still no regulatory agency, there are no stress tests under the new safety standards, there is no crisis management system based on the premise of an accident, there are no plans for the disposition of the spent fuel, there is no private sector insurance for compensating accident victims, and it is not possible to cite a reason for approving the unsafe time-limited operation! Is this right?

Now that’s political kabuki. At least he didn’t insert multiple exclamation points at the end of every clause.

Absent from the discussion is that any destruction which might occur at Oi is premised on tsunami damage (not earthquake damage) and that estimates of fatalities in a tsunami large enough to damage the plant run as high as 10,000. Some have suggested that Mr. Hashimoto might have recognized the contradiction of demanding absolute safety for the plant without demanding measures to prevent tsunami damage.

*****

Paddy Regan, the director of the MSc course in radiation and environmental protection at the University of Surrey, Guildford, wrote an article that appeared in the Telegraph of Britain. It starts this way:

Three places: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima. And three more: Banqiao, Machhu II, Hiakud. Most people react with horror to the first trio, while the second three locations usually draw a blank look. In fact, the latter were the sites of three major hydroelectric dam failures: in China and India in 1975, 1979 and 1980, which were directly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands. In contrast, the death toll directly associated with radiation exposure from the three best-known civil nuclear accidents is estimated by the World Health Organisation to be conservatively about 50, all associated with Chernobyl.

He continued:

The Italian foreign ministry, for example, recommended that its citizens flew out of Tokyo to avoid potential radiation exposure in the first couple of weeks following the Fukushima leak. While the radiation levels in the Japanese capital rose significantly above normal, they remained lower than the typical average background radiation levels in Rome, leading to the bizarre situation of individuals being relocated to places with higher radiation levels than those they were leaving.

It also contains information that seems beyond the ability of the Hysterians to comprehend:

And a pervasive myth has taken hold that even tiny amounts of radiation are unsafe. In reality, this cannot be so, as humans have evolved in an invisible sea of naturally occurring radioactivity. Much of this arises from radioactive forms of potassium, uranium and thorium; remnants of the Earth’s formation more than 4 billion years ago. Human bodies are bubbling with radioactivity, with around 7,000 atoms decaying each second due to radioactivity from potassium-40 and carbon-14.

Afterwords:

* Some Americans do understand the stupidity in the use of the term political kabuki, as this article demonstrates.  It’s a good explanation of why the coinage is inapt and includes the pertinent observation:

“If a former theater critic such as Frank Rich can’t be trusted to use it properly, who can?”

Alas, the five reasons he asserts — not suggests — for the American creation of the phrase were pulled straight from his backside.

* Though kabuki is now high art and a living tradition, its origin is attributed to female drama troupes who became popular because their performances included erotic scenes and provocative dances. They were also often prostitutes, and fights frequently broke out among the spectators for reasons that require no explanation.

As Brother Dave Gardner used to say, Ain’t that weird?

The Tokugawa Shogunate, still in its early days, banned women from performing in the dramas, but their parts were taken by men who also sold their favors.

Maybe a case can be made for the legitimacy of the term “political kabuki” after all.

* Enough of the Ersatz brand, here’s some of the hard stuff. It’s a short, edited version of a performance of Kanjincho (List of Contributors). The story is based on an older Noh play, was originally performed as a kabuki drama in 1702, and assumed its current form in 1840. Reading the plot summary at that link will give you an idea how shocking it must have been in the context of Japan’s vertical society at the time.

No erotic scenes or provocative dances though. Sorry.

Posted in Arts, Business, finance and the economy, Politics, Science and technology, Traditions | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The wolf is at the door

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 27, 2012

IT was almost the Aesop’s Fable in reverse: Officials have for so long been so little forthcoming with real information about the Fukushima nuclear disaster, some people wouldn’t believe them even if they were to tell the truth that the shepherd boy is warning about a fictitious wolf.

Other people, for reasons that are not clear, seem determined to create a situation which will manifest that wolf and bring him to the doorstep.

Most of the 30 (or 40, or 50, depending on the account) people who showed up for a good, old-time sit-in on Tuesday in the city of Kitakyushu were expressing honest, albeit uninformed, concerns. They came to block six trucks hauling 80 tons of debris created by last year’s disaster from Ishinomaki, Miyagi, for a trial incineration at the Hiagari facility. The demonstrators plopped down in front of the gates to prevent the trucks from entering, which they successfully did for more than eight hours. One even crawled under a truck. The police finally dispersed them, arresting two in the process. That cleared the way for another 21 trucks to arrive later that evening.

Officials said the first burning of the debris over three days at two locations in the city went ahead as scheduled. It was packed in 140 plastic bags each measuring two meters in diameter. The announced radiation count was less than 100 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram. The health ministry’s lowest acceptable limit for radioactive cesium is 200 becquerels per kilogram of drinking water and 500 for vegetables.

The debris was mixed in a one-to-nine ratio with ordinary municipal refuse and incinerated in a method the city claims will remove more than 99.9% of the toxic material, even that contaminated by radioactive cesium. The city will then measure the radioactivity of the trucks and the equipment after the work is completed, and decide by mid-June whether to allow full-scale incineration to continue. If they agree, they will be the first municipality in western Japan to do so.

The small number of demonstrators is significant for two reasons. First, Kitakyushu was once a heavily industrialized city with serious pollution problems, but has won international recognition for converting itself into an “environmental city”. As a result, most residents do indeed trust them in matters of this sort. One 34-year-old woman griped about the demonstrators: “These people have a narrow viewpoint and think only of their immediate surroundings.” The city admitted, however, that they were negligent in promptly explaining the procedure to citizens’ groups and focusing on agriculture and fishery groups instead.

The low number is also significant because the Japan Revolutionary Communist League, AKA Chukakuha, wasn’t able to round up any more than that for the demo. Chukakuha is a revolutionary/terrorist outfit that arose in the late 60s/early 70s, when that sort of thing was in vogue. More than a hundred of its members have been arrested for murder (sometimes of themselves), assault, and homemade bomb production. They’re still around, though less active and with less coverage than before. One member fired a mortar at the guest house for heads of state at the 1986 Tokyo summit, and others set fire to the homes of public sector employees in Chiba in 2002/3. Here’s the JRCL English-language website, which gives you an insight into their avocation. Japanese-language ability is required to read one member’s report boasting of how they held up the incineration, however.

It’s said to be an “open secret” that Chukakuha were behind last year’s Energy Shift Study Conference, attended by then-Prime Minister Kan Naoto. Mr. Kan is no dupe, by the way; he’s hung out with people of this sort since his own days as a student demonstrator, and has spoken more than once of his sympathy for Zenkyoto’s “cultural revolution”.  Another fellow traveler is one of Japan’s leading punitive leftists, the head of the Social Democratic Party of Japan, Fukushima Mizuho. She and her unofficial husband have given legal advice to Chukakuha members, spoken at conferences organized by their members, supported some of their activities, and were (jointly) named as one of the most 100 influential people of the world last year by Time magazine for their anti-nuclear energy crusade. What, you hadn’t heard?

The news readers in this clip don’t offer any more information than you already know, but it’s worth watching to see how things went down. Where else in the world do policemen dressed in freshly pressed white shirts and neckties drag off demonstrators to the pig box?

Whistling for the wolf

While a certain amount of public hysteria about a nuclear power plant accident is to be expected, professor/author/alphablogger Ikeda Nobuo charges that the mass media in general and the Asahi group in particular are deliberately provoking it and making it worse. The Asahi group operates both a newspaper and a television network, and their political/social views are roughly similar to those of the New York Times in the U.S. and The Guardian in Britain.

Prof. Ikeda is scathing in his criticism of the Asahi, not for their general philosophy, but for their readiness to reverse their positions to enflame public opinion and benefit in the form of higher circulation/ratings. Once a strong editorial supporter of nuclear energy in the 1970s, the newspaper has shifted its stance over time and became a nuclear-free advocate after the Fukushima accident. He asserts that the newspaper’s approach is typical of behavior stretching back decades, and is reminiscent of their editorials and articles written to whip up martial spirit during the war. He quotes from an Asahi editorial written on 14 August 1945.

“There is no question that the atomic bomb has considerable power. Nonetheless, while all new weapons have power in the beginning, historical fact bears out that their power suddenly wanes when measures are eventually established against them….the opportunity for revenge on the enemy’s atrocities will arrive when first, the belief of the people burning within their breasts becomes a ball of fire that quietly hardens and bursts at once into flame.”

Note that the editorial was published after the two atomic bombings and Japan had already agreed to surrender unconditionally, but the newspaper was still talking about “revenge on the enemy’s atrocities”.

After Japan’s surrender the following day, the Asahi wrote an editorial saying that the country must establish “a nation of peace”. Since then, they have trumpeted the necessity to “defend the Peace Constitution”.

Prof. Ikeda then presents for comparison an editorial written by the newspaper’s Ono Hirohito calling for a nuclear power-free society that reverses their pro-nuclear stance:

“Isn’t declaring that we should examine whether or not to give up nuclear energy the same as saying the accident of 11 March didn’t occur? We should first make up our minds whether or not we should give up nuclear energy, and then confront the subsequent challenge of whether or not we are able to give it up. The Fukushima accident compels us to change our thinking in that way.”

Says the professor:

“It is eerie how closely this resembles the editorial of 14 August 1945. What they have in common is the approach of proclaiming a hardline policy based on an ideal without considering whether or not it is possible. During the war, they pandered to Imperial Headquarters, and after the defeat they reversed themselves and pandered to the GHQ. During the period of rapid growth, they pandered to the power companies and supported nuclear energy, and after the accident they reversed themselves and support a nuclear-free Japan. For the Asahi Shimbun, the Fukushima accident was the second defeat in the war.”

He deals with the behavior of the television network in a separate blog post:

“It is a simple matter to cast off a sense of shame, pander to fools, and boost ratings, as Asahi TV has done. It is the same as the Asahi Shimbun boosting its circulation during the war by writing of the “explosion of the ball of fire that is the people” to enflame public opinion.

“This is the fateful dilemma of mass society. Democracy is based on the premise that the people are wise, but in fact the people are emotional and short-sighted. In a national referendum, they would likely vote to give up nuclear energy and reduce taxes to zero. The people who believe that is true democracy have the intellectual facilities of a junior high school student.

“A consensus can be created by emotion, but results cannot be changed by emotion. The losses incurred by stopping nuclear power generation have exceeded JPY six trillion, which is already more than the damage from the accident at Fukushima reactor #1. Any large power blackouts that occur will likely cause immense human damage far greater than that of Fukushima. When that happens, one wonders if Asahi TV will align itself with the victims and strike the anti-establishment pose.”

The Asahi isn’t the only Japanese newspaper responsible for spreading paranoia. The EXSKF site (which enjoys a bit of paranoia itself) demonstrates how the Yomiuri Shimbun’s mishandling of technical information — beyond the comprehension of the average journo — has created the false impression that the Fukushima nuclear contamination is four times worse than that at Chernobyl. It isn’t, and the poster at the site provides and explains the correct calculations:

Cesium-137 released from Fukushima: 400,000 terabecquerels

Cesium-137 released from Chernobyl: 3,400,000 terabecquerels

Kansai Electric’s Oi nuclear reactors

Media wolf whistling is bad enough, but downright despicable is the use of nuclear energy as an issue by politicians and their associates who already enjoy broad public support. It is difficult to see how they can benefit from pandering. Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru has galvanized attention as the symbol of serious, bottom-up government reform in Japan, and his rise has ignited a renaissance of dynamic criticism and debate, particularly among those under the age of 50. Yet he has chosen over the past few months to detour into a call for a nuclear-free Japan with emotional appeals characterized by the absence of proposals for replacing the lost energy source. In particular, he is speaking out against resuming operations at the Oi nuclear power plant in his neck of the woods. Here’s an example of his rhetoric:

“If you say you’re putting peoples’ lives first (the slogan of the ruling Democratic Party), putting the peoples’ lives in danger by restarting the nuclear plants would not be possible.”

Kansai Electric Power, facing the worst potential power shortfalls of the country’s utilities if the plants are not restarted, has warned that it will have to raise rates otherwise. Osaka Prefecture Gov. Matsui Ichiro, Mr. Hashimoto’s primary political ally, retorted by threatening wolf-like behavior to oppose a rate hike:

“Mayor Hashimoto Toru and I can only resort to holding a sit-in in front of their offices in opposition.”

Kansai Electric says their thermal power fuel costs (oil, coal) were JPY 500 billion higher than last year (to compensate for the shutdown of the nuclear plants), and will amount to another JPY 400 billion this year. Their total fuel costs are double those of 2010, and they are warning of insolvency.

The City of Osaka is the largest single stockholder of Kansai Electric. Thus, the man who represents that ownership stake is behaving as if he would bankrupt the company. Ah, but one of his advisors has a solution. That would be “energy scientist” Iida Tetsunari, a member of various institutes, recipient of various government appointments, founder of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, and a promoter of the idea that Japan can go 100% renewable energy by 2050:

“At this rate, Kansai Electric will go bankrupt next year. The government should offset the fuel expenditures. That way they won’t have to raise rates.”

Save the facepalm — It gets worse. Former Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry high-flyer Koga Shigeaki, a University of Tokyo graduate, former principal administrator for OECD, radical reformer of the bureaucracy, and another key Hashimoto advisor has started dancing with the wolves.

Not so long ago, he knew better. Last year, he said that the biggest problem with nuclear energy was how to dispose of the fuel. Now he too wants to shut all the reactors down.

He attended a recent meeting of the Municipal Energy Strategy Council in Osaka and started an argument with a representative of the national Agency for Natural Resources, who was there to advocate restarting the nuclear plants.

Koga: “Just what is the reason you are thinking of restarting the reactors?

NRA rep: “At the minimum, we have confirmed their safety is such the reactor core would not be damaged to the extent of that which occurred during the Fukushima accident.”

Koga: “Don’t you understand any situations other than Fukushima?

And:

Koga: “METI’s ties with the power company are too close, so they are lenient. Your whole argument is based on the assumption that they will be restarted.”

NRA rep: “It’s harassment when you talk about close ties.”

Then they got emotional.

Still not time for a facepalm — That’s not the half of it. Here’s what Mr. Koga told the viewers of the Morning Bird TV program on the Asahi network on 17 May:

“I can only think that (Kansai Electric) will create a state of “power outage terrorism”. They’ll intentionally cause an accident at the thermal power plant, or stop operating it if an accident does occur, to create a panic due to a large power shortage. They’ll say their only choice is to restart the nuclear power plants.”

Over-the-top rhetoric in Osaka must be contagious. Another Hashimoto aide, former Finance Ministry official Takahashi Yoichi, also plays with fire in this excerpt from a column in Gendai Business Online:

“It has gotten difficult for the DPJ government after Mayor Hashimoto’s declaration that he and One Osaka will bring them down. The best chance for cutting him down to size, regional devolution, is already beyond their capability. In the end, the concern would be, though it is difficult to imagine, Kansai Electric suicide terrorism by creating an insufficient power supply during the peak period of summer use. What crosses the mind is the response of the Social Insurance Agency during the Abe administration when the subject of their privatization was broached. The agency released a stream of information that was fatal to the Abe administration (loss of pension records that occurred a decade before). The falsehoods of the “suicide bombing” of the Social Insurance Agency circulated at the time.

“Kansai Electric is a private sector company, and the company would collapse if they really did something like that. I don’t think it’s possible, but it is a fact they can control the supply of power, and there is a touch of uncertainty that rolling blackouts are not out of the question. That subject already has arisen. If the situation continues in which they have no measures for dealing with peak load (they probably can’t), then it is perhaps possible they might consider a little shock therapy, though I really don’t want to think about it.”

What some people really don’t want to think about is that these people are creating a wolf from a figment of their imaginations. Try this from Bloomberg:

“The highest reading reported on the health ministry’s website so far has come from a sample of spinach collected on March 18 from Hitachi city, 97 kilometers (60 miles) south of the plant. The spinach, which didn’t enter the food chain, contained 27 times the safe limit of radiation for I-131, according to the health ministry.

“The spinach contained 54,100 Bq/kg of I-131 and 1,931 Bq/kg of cesium. That means consuming 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of fresh spinach would yield a radiation exposure of 1.2 millisieverts, or half the average annual natural exposure from soil and cosmic rays, based on Bloomberg calculations using a formula posted on the website of Japan’s Food Safety Commission.”

Some of the wolf whistlers would probably accuse them of hiding something. Maybe a UN scientific committee is hiding something too. From Nature magazine:

“Few people will develop cancer as a consequence of being exposed to the radioactive material that spewed from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant last year — and those who do will never know for sure what caused their disease. These conclusions are based on two comprehensive, independent assessments of the radiation doses received by Japanese citizens, as well as by the thousands of workers who battled to bring the shattered nuclear reactors under control.

“The first report, seen exclusively by Nature, was produced by a subcommittee of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) in Vienna, and covers a wide swathe of issues related to all aspects of the accident. The second, a draft of which has been seen by Nature, comes from the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, and estimates doses received by the general public in the first year after the accident. Both reports will be discussed at UNSCEAR’s annual meeting in Vienna this week.

“The UNSCEAR committee’s analyses show that 167 workers at the plant received radiation doses that slightly raise their risk of developing cancer. The general public was largely protected by being promptly evacuated, although the WHO report does find that some civilians’ exposure exceeded the government’s guidelines. “If there’s a health risk, it’s with the highly exposed workers,” says Wolfgang Weiss, the chair of UNSCEAR. Even for these workers, future cancers may never be directly tied to the accident, owing to the small number of people involved and the high background rates of cancer in developed countries such as Japan.”

Or even MIT:

“A new study from MIT scientists suggests that the guidelines governments use to determine when to evacuate people following a nuclear accident may be too conservative.

“The study, led by Bevin Engelward and Jacquelyn Yanch and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that when mice were exposed to radiation doses about 400 times greater than background levels for five weeks, no DNA damage could be detected.

““Clearly these studies had to be done in animals rather than people, but many studies show that mice and humans share similar responses to radiation. This work therefore provides a framework for additional research and careful evaluation of our current guidelines,” Engelward says.

“It is interesting that, despite the evacuation of roughly 100,000 residents, the Japanese government was criticized for not imposing evacuations for even more people. From our studies, we would predict that the population that was left behind would not show excess DNA damage — this is something we can test using technologies recently developed in our laboratory,” she adds.”

Apart from the temporary inconvenience and discomfort in Japan’s ultra-sultry midsummer heat, keeping the nuclear power plants idle would also lead to the creation of an economic wasteland resembling the remains of the Fukushima facility — all due to the popular delusion of crowds encouraged by the self-aggrandizing behavior of wolverine media outlets and politicians disguised in Granny’s clothes.

It will take six weeks to get the Oi nuclear power plants running again in the Kansai area, where the shortage will be the most critical. That means it’s very close to being too late. Rather than find a secret air-conditioned room to hole up in, the editorialists and the politicians will more likely put on a show of making a virtue out of hardship. They did that in 1945, too.

*****

Got to watch out for those wolves. They sure can be sneaky.

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, History, Mass media, Politics, World War II | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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