Japan from the inside out

Archive for October, 2010

Pass that bottle to me

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, October 28, 2010

IT’S ONLY the first bottle that’s expensive, goes a French aphorism about wine, and that’s one universal insight we can all drink to. The Japanese have a saying of their own: Sake ga sake o nomu, or the liquor drinks the liquor. In other words, once you work up a head of steam, it’s time to clear the tracks.

Bacchanalians in both American and Europe have taken a shine to the traditional Japanese beverages of sake and shochu in recent years, as these statistics show. Now they’re also beginning to get hip to the fact that the Japanese can mash it up with Western grog as well.

For proof, Minoh Beer Imperial Stout, made by the A.J.I. Beer microbrewery of Minoh, Osaka, was named the World’s Best Stout earlier this month. In a British beer contest. For the second straight year.

The organizers of the World Beer Awards said the stout is “silky textured with a sweet rounded malt opening”, and perhaps that’s better understood after you’ve got one or two Minohs under your belt. Here’s a quick look at Minoh and some other winners at the World Beer Award 2010 website. The page also features the best brews by region, and Japan is well represented here too, with awards for different beer varieties in the Asia division.

That’s not even the best part of the story. The World’s Best Stout is brewed by the Oshima sisters—Mayuko and Kaori—whose father was a liquor store owner and got them started in the business. Who could ask for better in-laws than that? Here’s a detailed report in English by a beer-loving gent who visited the brewery in person and took plenty of photos. (The dude really likes production equipment.) There’s also a cutout of a newspaper photo that shows a third sister, Nozomi.

This site has a nice English-language interview with Kaori, who is identified as the brewmistress. It also has a photo of the world’s best stout poured out in a glass, and yes, it does look tasty, doesn’t it? Finally, the Minoh beer website has plenty of information about all the beer they make and where to buy it, but only in Japanese.

If there’s anything better than a pleasant surprise, it’s two pleasant surprises, and here’s the second. Japanese vintners, aided by Ernest Singer, have begun attracting attention among overseas oenophiles by turning koshu—the local version of Sneakin’ Pete—into an upmarket white wine that the New York Times says “could become the first Asian wine to draw international recognition”.

In yet a third surprise, it turns out that the New York Times is also capable of excellent journalism, albeit in the Dining and Wine section. Their article on the development of koshu wine is very readable; it’s rich, full-bodied, and smooth on the palate, with only subtle hints of snoot and condescension.

Mr. Singer was a Tokyo-based wine importer who became intrigued with the potential of koshu when he drank an experimental batch of dry white wine made using koshu grapes, which are grown mostly in Yamanashi. The article describes how he leased some land and came up with the concepts for using the grape to make some top drawer tipple. (The heavy rains of summer and fall mean that Japan is not the ideal place to grow grapes for wine, though the grapes grown for eating are quite good.)

A group of Japanese koshu producers and Mr. Singer have formed Koshu of Japan to promote the beverage overseas. Here’s their English-language website, and here’s a page that provides some information on the history of the koshu grape in Japan. (It’s been around since the 8th century.) Finally, here’s the Japanese-language website of one of the leading Japanese producers. They go by the name of Grace Wine in English, but Chuo Budoshu (Central Wine) in Japanese.

They make more than koshu in Yamanashi, by the way. The Sadoya Winery in Kofu is holding a special sale of 100 bottles of 50-year-old wine, one red, one white, made with European grapes from their own vineyard. The crop was particularly good that year, as the vines were recovering from a typhoon the year before and rainfall was light. If you’re in Japan you can stock your wine cellar by calling the winery direct at (055) 251-3671, but be prepared to pay JPY 15,000 a bottle.

Grape stompin' in Hiroshima

Nothing goes better with wine than women and song, so it’s about high time we got to that part. Not long ago the Miyoshi Winery of Miyoshi, Hiroshima, held their annual fall wine festival. One of the attractions was a wine-pressing dance performed by 10 ladies from a local ballet class stomping on 200 kilograms of merlot grapes in a four-meter-diamter tub, though in the photo it looks more like a plastic wading pool for adults. They created the dance themselves based on their observation of traditional European wine-stomping methods.

Of course they’re barefoot! (And keep your foot fetish fantasies to yourself.)

It was so much fun, the reports say, that some kids jumped in spontaneously and began dancing on their own. One second-grade girl interviewed admitted it was a little painful at first, but after a while she started to enjoy the lumpy feeling on her feet.

What the heck—a little toe jam probably enhances the bouquet.

Now Japan has the world’s top whiskey as well:

Suntory Liquors Ltd.’s Suntory Single Malt Whiskey Yamazaki 1984 has been awarded the top prize among some 1,000 entries in an international liquor competition held in London…

Not only was it the best among 300 whiskies, it was also named the Supreme Champion Spirit among all the prize winners in every category.


And now for the song! If you’re a beer hound, you’d better drink it while you can, because there isn’t any in heaven, assuming you’re sober enough to head in that direction. In Heaven There Is No Beer is originally a German tune that’s often performed as a polka, but if the three Oshita sisters of Osaka can make the world’s best stout, then surely Flaco Jimenez can perform the song Norteño style, singing both in English and Spanish. The embed code isn’t coming up for some reason, so here’s the straight YouTube link. Don’t let that stop you from clicking.

For those who prefer the grape to the hops, Sticks McGhee proves that no one outfunks wine drinkers by performing Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee. It isn’t the most exciting video around, but that’s by far the best version of one hot song that put Atlantic Records on the map. Hoy hoy!

And what better sums up the spirit of today’s post than this traditional Chinese song whose title translates to Liquor Crazy. Despite the name, it’s rather elegantly performed on the ruan, or four-stringed moon lute. It sounds like the sort of tune the late John Fahey would have liked, but then he was liquor crazy too—particularly about bourbon.


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Posted in Food, Foreigners in Japan, New products | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »


Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A HOT NEW idol group of female singers has captivated Japan! They’re called angel girl (Roman alphabet with no caps) and all three of the trio are Chinese–Amy from Beijing, Angela from Changsha and Anna from Taiwan.

Japanese media sources last week reported that angel girl finished first in the 2010 Otaku Goddess contest, edging out the mega-popular AKB48. The group signed contracts with a fashion magazine and record company in May and is planning to release its debut disc in time for Christmas. A photo collection has also appeared, and it’s sold “ten times better” than a similar volume from AKB48.

Meanwhile, in other news, the Japanese public is wondering WTF is going on with all this angel girl malarkey. As a commenter wrote on an Internet site, not only has no one ever heard of them, they’ve left no trace of their activities whatsoever. The Otaku Goddess contest does not exist. The group has never appeared on Japanese television. They do not have a website. They do not have a Wikipedia page. There are no YouTube videos. The information about their contract signings and work on an album comes from the most popular Chinese search engine, Baidu. Yet nothing about them turns up on Baidu Japan. (Baidu, incidentally, means 100 degrees.)

Where did all this come from? It started last week with an Internet post and a two-photo spread on the website of, a Hong Kong-based satellite broadcaster. After appearing on the 23rd, the post got 600,000 hits in four hours, enough to swamp ifeng’s server.

Here’s the Chinese-language post. And here’s one of the photos:

The first line of the sign above their heads is written in Japanese and reads: Defend China’s Diaoyutai (i.e., the Senkakus). The line below that is the Chinese translation.

Clever touch, that.

There were 600,000 hits in four hours for this? Was it the combination of the propaganda, the cheesecake, and the humbuggery of the story of their Japanese popularity that sucked them in? Or is it that in a country of 1.3 billion people, the segment of the population with too much idle time on their hands is higher in absolute numbers than in other countries?

Surely it couldn’t have been the inaptly named angel girl, who look more tarty than seraphic. That Chinese gender overhang must be more serious than we thought. I’m not certain any of them would arouse my fighting spirit as a potential partner for hand-to-hand combat, and that would be conditional on seeing and hearing them in the flesh. But then I’ve never found the faux tough-girl model look appealing.

And why are they conducting their training for island defense in a barn?

Were I Japanese, I might be more amused than upset at this implicit acknowledgement of their dominant influence on East Asian pop culture.

Yes, the exercise is likely just a talent agency’s brainchild for debuting angel girl in the Sinosphere with a brassy splash of publicity. They must be pleased with their success.

Putting that aside, however, this is a bit too creepy for comfort.

Everyone knows that nations can be chauvinistic. We know that nations will try to dominate other nations politically and militarily, particularly their neighbors. We know that some nations will have an exaggerated sense of their own importance. We also know this can have nasty consequences.

But this ominous frolic suggests that a science fiction, parallel universe is being created for 20% of the world’s population. It would be harmless if it were applied only to chewing gum culture, but we all know it’s not going to stop there. Other manifestations of this phenomenon in different situations could create serious problems for everyone, not just the 80% of the rest of us.

If anyone disagrees with the idea that this bears more than a passing resemblance to some aspects of North Korean behavior, but on a much grander scale, please feel free to send in a comment.


Could Amy, Angela, and Anna spread their wings as sweetly as the friends of these redoubtable gentlemen?

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Posted in China, I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, Mass media, Popular culture | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

Experts unwrapped

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, October 26, 2010

ASIA UNBOUND is a blog on the website of the Council on Foreign Relations, which also publishes the renowned Foreign Affairs quarterly. The website touts the blog with this line: “CFR experts give their take on the cutting-edge issues emerging in Asia today.”

Their Japan Hand is Sheila A. Smith. Here is her website bio:

Sheila A. Smith is a senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), where she directed the New Regional Security Architecture for Asia project. Dr. Smith joined CFR from the East-West Center in 2007, where she specialized on Asia-Pacific international relations and U.S. policy toward Asia and directed a multinational research team in a cross-national study of the domestic politics of the U.S. military presence in Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. As an Abe Fellow at Keio University in Tokyo, she researched and wrote on Japan’s foreign policy toward China and the Northeast Asian region.

Senior Fellow for Japan Studies Sheila A. Smith’s latest blog post is about the Japanese reaction to the Senkakus Incident. People with those credentials spend a lot of time at conferences, and sure enough, she just got back from one:

I have just returned from a week in Tokyo, where I attended the annual CSIS-Nikkei conference on U.S.-Japan relations.

Sheila A. Smith talked about the debate in Japan:

The debate began with opposition party critique of Japan’s “weak” diplomacy (yowagoshi) in the face of Chinese pressure, but by week’s end, the Kan government had deftly resorted to imagery of willow branches to express their sense that Japan needed to demonstrate more flexibility in its approach to a rising China.

“Deftly”? That’s the first time I’ve seen or heard anyone describe the Kan government’s explanation of their flustered, seat-of-the-pants response as “deft”. In fact, that’s the first time I’ve seen or heard anyone outside of government say anything positive about it at all. Translated into English, the opinion of most Japanese is that their response was “daft”. My opinion is that they choked.

With a whisker short of 80% of the Japanese public giving a thumbs down to the government’s handling of the incident and a similar percentage saying they think the government is lying about how it was handled, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies Sheila A. Smith’s opinion is not going to find many backers here.

Was it the willow imagery that appealed to her, or was it just wishful thinking? Wait, it gets worse:

This conversation kept me close to my Japanese-English dictionary as I sought to understand the nuances afoot in this linguistic battle over diplomatic style.

Do I really have to say anything?

I will note, however, that anyone who uses phrases such as “the nuances afoot in this linguistic battle over diplomatic style” is more in need of an English language style manual than a Japanese-English dictionary.

Sheila A. Smith follows that with several paragraphs light on the insight and heavy on the jargon:

“Multiple avenues of global cooperation are available for this conversation…”

“(Japan) is now well positioned to demonstrate what it means to be a ‘responsible global stakeholder’.”

“Issue by issue, Japan should seek out opportunities and partnerships for collective action as it seeks to address its concerns.”

Are you nodding your heads in agreement with the sagacity of the observations or because you’re trying not to fall asleep?

Sheila A. Smith observes:

(I)n the Diet conversation there seemed little interest in analyzing the interaction or in devising prescriptions for improvement. Rather Japan’s faults were magnified, and the current government chastised. Today’s opposition in Japan was yesterday’s government, and with a half century of diplomatic experience in dealing with China, one would think there would be greater room for advice and constructive feedback than in the past.

Japan hands who pay attention and read newspapers and other periodicals without constantly flipping through dictionaries already know that the DPJ government—whose defining traits were arrogance and incompetence even before this incident—was determined to go it alone and didn’t bother to consult with the Foreign Ministry, let alone the LDP. Yet Sheila A. Smith hints the opposition should have helped more.

Rather than 50 years of political experience, it would have been more practical to rely on the nearly two millenia of cultural experience the Japanese have had in dealing with the Chinese and the common sense most people have developed by the time they reach middle age. But the leaders of the DPJ government ignored the former and have none of the latter.

And yes, the willow imagery did strike her fancy.

In its bilateral relations with China, the graceful elasticity of the willow imagery works in the sense that Japan should be patient and supple in its response to Beijing’s assertiveness.

The latest post on Asia Unbound, by the way, is a comment about the comparative development of high-speed trains in the U.S. and China by Yanzhong Huang. This was of particular interest after last week’s guest post here about China’s semi-extortion of foreign technology to build their own trains. Not a whisper of that from Mr. Huang, however. With traces of an ancient tribal pride, he hails the Chinese:

The development of high-speed train epitomizes China’s rapid emergence as a great power.

And frets over the U.S. failure of will:

Where is that “can-do” and “get-it-done” attitude that had characterized America’s state-building experience?

China shunned standard international business practice and instead demanded that foreign companies transfer the technology to satisfy a 70% domestic production requirement, in exchange for promises of large contracts for other business in the country that never materialized.

Now that tonic would certainly energize any country’s “rapid emergence as a great power” and fuel a “can-do” attitude.

Frankly, the author of the guest post here and the people who contributed comments seem to be more knowledgeable about this subject than the CFR expert.

And Mr. Huang also misses the point of New Jersey Gov. Christie’s cancellation of a project to build additional train tracks between his state and New York City.

This is a think tank? Please. This is a self-congratulatory joke dressed in expensive clothing. They probably do a bang-up job of organizing conferences and selecting après-conference restaurants, though.

America has reached a critical point in the public consciousness with the realization that those who consider themselves to be an educated elite are nothing more than a credentialed gentry. People now understand that most of the experts in fields other than the hard sciences have little in the way of real expertise.

Guess who’ll be the last ones to get it.

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Posted in China, Foreigners in Japan, International relations | Tagged: | 10 Comments »

Japan’s political kaleidoscope (7): More on secrets and Mr. Sengoku

Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 25, 2010

THE CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY denies they have a secret deal with Japan regarding the Senkaku islets. A story filtered out last week that the former Liberal Democratic Party governments of Japan promised to immediately deport without arrest any Chinese citizen-buccaneers who sailed to the islets to claim them as Chinese territory, and in return the Chinese promised to stop them from going.

Mr. Congeniality (Sankei Shimbun photo)

But a two-part series that just appeared in the Yomiuri Shimbun, titled The Debasement of Foreign Policy: Stopgap Measures Imperil the National Interest, suggests that the ruling Democratic Party of Japan might have cut not one, but two of its own secret deals with the Chinese government. The articles focus on Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito’s role in handling the Senkakus Incident. It doesn’t seem to be on-line in either English or Japanese, so here are the main points.

* The government failed to anticipate Chinese behavior. This might have been due to the Kan Cabinet cutting the Foreign Ministry out of the loop and conducting foreign policy by the seat of its own pants.

* In late September, Mr. Sengoku dispatched DPJ Deputy Secretary General Hosono Goshi as an emissary to China for a confidential meeting with Chinese Foreign Ministry officials. One reason he chose Mr. Hosono was the latter’s association with former party head Ozawa Ichiro, who has skintight ties with many in the Chinese government. Mr. Sengoku arranged the meeting in discussions with Cheng Yonghua, China’s ambassador to Japan. An unnamed consultant on Chinese matters who is an acquaintance of Mr. Sengoku helped secure the attendance of Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo at the meeting.

* Mr. Hosono huddled for seven hours with the Chinese in Beijing. Mr. Dai is said to have arrived toward the end and presented the Chinese demands for improved relations with Japan.

* In their rush to patch over a problem they would prefer disappeared as quickly as possible, the DPJ government made several inadvisable concessions to those demands. One of them was the promise not to show in public the video taken by the Japanese Coast Guard of the Chinese fishing boat ramming their ships. The government hasn’t released any of it, despite calls to do so by politicians of every party—including many of their own—most commentators, and 71% of the public in the latest Shinhodo 2001 poll.

* In return, the Japanese were rewarded with the 25-minute Brussels Hallway Sofa Summit between Prime Minister Kan Naoto and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, and the release of the last Fujita employee arrested by the Chinese on a pretext.

* The primary concern of the Kantei was said to be the November APEC summit in Yokohama. Prime Minister Kan, who will chair the summit, is quoted as telling an associate:

“If (President) Hu Jintao doesn’t attend, I’ll lose face.”

A quick digression

If this story is true, it would mean that Mr. Kan is more concerned with how he looks at an international blabathon than with fulfilling his primary duty of upholding the national interest. Veracity notwithstanding, it would be unsurprising because it has the ring of truth. Mr. Kan is part of that international coterie of politicians and bureaucrats who share the Hallmarkcardian philosophy of promoting global governance—with themselves as governors, of course. They consider the very concept of national interest to be backwards and reactionary. Events in the reality-based community that threaten the national interest do not dissuade them.

For example, earlier this month, DPJ bigwig Koshi’ishi Azuma, a former member of the Japan Teachers’ Union (with all the political ramifications that entails), was asked at a news conference if the Senkakus Incident caused him to change his belief that an equilateral triangle was the model for Japanese relations with China and the United States. Replied Mr. Koshi’ishi:

“My views are the same as I said before. It doesn’t make sense to constantly change one’s mind. China, Japan, and the United States must have an equilateral triangle relationship.”

The Second Secret Agreement?

* Mr. Sengoku met again with the Chinese ambassador last week. It isn’t known what they discussed, but it’s assumed they talked about the possibility of a Japan-China summit meeting. Worth noting is the subsequent change in tone by Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji. Mr. Maehara has argued for the video to be shown to the public, saying:

“It is important to explain (our position) to the world.”

He also criticized the Chinese for their “hysterical” response to the incident. That was the cue for the Chinese to become even more hysterical.

But he’s dialed back since the meeting between Mr. Sengoku and Mr. Cheng. At a news conference on the 22nd, he said:

“I want to work to improve Japan-China relations from the big picture perspective of building a mutual strategic relationship.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry thought that was more like it.

The Foreign Ministry

* The Yomiuri says that a breach has opened in the government since the Kantei decided it didn’t need the help of the Foreign Ministry and the Japanese embassy in China. As a result, the Chinese are bypassing the Foreign Ministry and going straight to Mr. Sengoku. The embassy in Beijing is now non-functional in a political sense. (When Mr. Hosono visited China, he was driven to his meetings in a car provided by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.)

This is in part due to the DPJ’s appointment of Niwa Uichiro as ambassador to China. Mr. Niwa is not a professional diplomat, and the Chinese stir fried him in a wok while he was still new to the job. They called him on the carpet six times during the incident, once in the middle of the night on the weekend.

* The Yomiuri quotes a Foreign Ministry official who is concerned that shutting out the ministry and the embassy has weakened Japan’s approach to China. He said that Japan has been “defeated” because the Kantei created its own separate channel to conduct diplomacy. They were outwitted by Chinese maneuvers to divide the government, which the official said was a “traditional Chinese art”.

Richard Armitage

* The newspaper also interviewed former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (2001-2005). Here’s a summary of what he said. (Keep in mind this is going from English to Japanese back to English.)

* Japan wanted to resolve the problem by releasing the Chinese fishing boat captain, reportedly in consideration of bilateral relations. This was an “unfortunate miscalculation”. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said the Japanese would bear the full responsibility for anything that happened if Chinese demands were not met. Japan lost the battle of wills, and as a result exposed their weakness.

* The ramming of the Japanese Coast Guard vessels should not be viewed as an accident. It’s part of a series of actions to test the will of neighboring countries regarding territorial disputes in both the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Japanese behavior will have a domino effect on ASEAN countries, which cannot expect China to treat them as equals. Failure to oppose the Chinese means that China will get carried away with itself.

Sengoku Yoshito

Here’s how the weekly Shukan Gendai began the lead article in its 30 October issue:

The heckling from the opposition parties has already become familiar:

“Prime Minister Sengoku!”

“Hang in there, Prime Minister Sengoku!” (がんばれ!)

“Prime Minister Sengoku, you look sleepy!”

Of course, all of this is said with the real prime minister, Kan Naoto, in attendance. But Mr. Kan lacks any presence. Whenever the opposition asks him a question in the Diet, he just answers with a rote recitation of the position papers written by the bureaucracy.

With the defeat of Ozawa Ichiro in the party presidential election last month, Mr. Sengoku is now seen as the main man in the DPJ. While some commentators give him credit for assuming the burden of governing on his own shoulders—Kan Naoto clearly isn’t up to the task—the failure of his leadership in relations with China and his demeanor in the Diet have made him a walking political bullseye.

A former member of the Socialist Party, Mr. Sengoku was an attorney who sometimes defended sokaiya (corporate extortionists) and yakuza gang members before becoming a politician. (The sokaiya are often members of the yakuza themselves.) Some suspect that’s where his attitude problems began.

During question time in the Diet, he was asked to confirm a story that appeared in the media. Here’ s the Yomiuri English translation of his reply:

“I’ve never heard a question that aims to confirm a newspaper report. It’s the poorest way of questioning, and I was at least educated [as a politician] not to do that.”

Within 24 hours he was presented with examples dating back to 2004 of his own Diet questions based on media reports when he was in the opposition. That resulted in Sengoku Apology #1 to the Diet.

Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji asked him about incidences of so-called urakudari, a variation on amakudari, the practice of giving retired bureaucrats jobs in companies or groups affiliated with the ministries that used to employ them.

Mr. Sengoku’s answer:

“What are you talking about? I want you say something only after you’ve properly grasped the facts.”

Mr. Eda is a former bureaucrat who has written extensively on the problem of amakudari. The elimination of the practice is one of primary planks of his party’s platform.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sengoku is (or was until recently) the head of a liaison group in the Diet working with a large federation of public sector unions. That federation provides votes, money, and campaign workers to the DPJ. Therefore, ending amakudari is not in Mr. Sengoku’s political interest, regardless of the DPJ boilerplate.

Mr. Sengoku wasn’t born that way. He’s doing it on purpose. Put simply, he goes out of his way to piss people off. It’s how he thinks the affairs of government should be conducted. Try this excerpt from an article in the Mainichi Shimbun:

When the DPJ was an opposition party, Sengoku, a lawyer-turned politician, expressed his confidence that he could deal with opposition parties in the Diet. “In the judicial world, a cup is often renamed ‘a movable asset,’ for instance. Such tactics are useful in tricking and suppressing the other party in a debate and defending yourself,” he said at the time.

Most recently, Your Party called in Koga Shigeaki, a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry and a critic of DPJ civil service reforms, to testify during a Diet session. Mr. Sengoku opposed his appearance and said:

“It could adversely affect his future.”

See what they mean when they say the gangster ‘tude rubbed off on him?

He was then asked for Apology #2 by the head of the upper house Rules and Administration Committee for his “inappropriate remarks”, and he complied.

Irritated that his statements are being taken out of context, the man some call the Red Gotoda after one of the chief cabinet secretaries in the Nakasone Cabinet has begun putting the complete text of his news conferences on line. The Sankei Shimbun obliged him by quoting in full his answers to reporters’ questions about his most recent apology:

Q: Regarding the inappropriate remarks during upper house question time, what remarks did you consider inappropriate, and what was inappropriate about them?

A: I would very much appreciate it if you accepted what I just said as it is. I have no comment. Yes, next?

Q: What are your thoughts about the apology?

A: No comment.

Q: What do you think about the statement of the head of the (Rules and Administration) Committee?

A: I have no comment on that either.

Q: With the ruling party and the opposition parties discussing the approach to economic measures in the Diet, what do you think of the committee’s view that your statements are a problem?

A: No comment.

Q: Why do you have no comment?

A: I have no comment because I have no comment.

Both houses of the Japanese Diet have a Rules and Administration Committee, and they have directors from several parties. Mr. Sengoku was one of the directors of the lower house committee in 2007 when the DPJ was still in the opposition.

The recent Shinhodo 2001 poll also asked respondents about their opinion of the government’s handling of the Senkakus Incident.

The government’s response was not appropriate: 79.4%
The government’s response was appropriate: 14.4%
Don’t know: 6.2%

With Kan Naoto behaving as if he’s always out to lunch—the three-martini kind—and Sengoku Yoshito infected with the same arrogance and hubris that may prove fatal to the Obama administration and the Democrats who control the American Congress, it isn’t difficult to understand why few people in Japan expect the current government to last any longer than next spring, if that long. Pride goeth before a fall, they say, and we’re already halfway there.

Today the first lower house by-election was held since the Kan Cabinet was sworn in and was pasted in July’s upper house election. It was to replace DPJ member Kobayashi Chiyomi, who resigned her Hokkaido seat in June to take responsibility for irregularities in the management of her political funds.

The DPJ likes to present itself as the youthful, forward-looking choice, and their candidate was a 38-year-old former employee of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport.

His opponent from the bad old LDP was 66-year-old retread Machimura Nobutaka, who lost the seat to Ms. Kobayashi just last year, but stayed in the Diet through the proportional representation system. The head of the largest LDP faction, Mr. Machimura was the Foreign Minister in Abe Shinzo’s short-lived second Cabinet and Chief Cabinet Secretary in the Fukuda Yasuo Cabinet. He’s the very definition of the old guard in Japanese politics.

Mr. Machimura was declared the winner within minutes after the polls closed.


Who calls the English teacher Daddy-o?

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Posted in China, Government, International relations, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Compare and contrast

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, October 23, 2010

LET’S GO TO THE TAPE–in this case, two YouTube videos. The first is a news report on the anti-Japan demonstrations in Wuhan, China, on the 18th, one of three consecutive days that disturbances occurred. It appeared on JNN TV, a commercial network operated by the Tokyo Broadcasting System.

You’ll be able to tell what’s going on without a translation, but here’s some supplementary information:

1. During the scene of Prime Minister Kan speaking in the Diet, the announcer said he called on the people of both nations to remain calm. Why did he bother? The only people who weren’t calm weren’t given the message.

2. The screen shots of notes on the Internet show announcements of the start of the demonstration and calls to participate.

3. One of the Chinese interviewed said there were cheers whenever the sound of breaking glass was heard.

Now here’s some video of the anti-China demonstration in Tokyo on 16 October. The Japanese title says that it took almost an hour for all 3,200 of the participants to get under way. There are some elements common to both:

1. Japanese flags are in both videos.

2. The demonstrations in China are said to be indirectly caused by citizen anger and frustration at their own government that has no legitimate outlet. Meanwhile, the first woman speaking over the bullhorn in Tokyo includes a call for an end to the Kan administration as part of her speech.

With delicious irony, one of the signs in the Tokyo demonstration congratulates China on its first Nobel prize in anything.

Actions speak louder than words, do they not?

JNN had the video of the Chinese demonstrations removed from YouTube, so it’s no longer available here. It showed broken glass and a trashed shop interior.

More chilling, however, is this propaganda video from China with still photographs of the demonstration. There is no narration, so therefore no language barrier. The broken glass at the store is still visible at the end. Note the stirring patriotic music.

The Ito-Yokado outlet had to be evacuated of both employees and customers when the demonstration started. The Japanese marchers shown above went to the Chinese embassy in Tokyo. It did not have to be evacuated.

The Japanese video also shows how police treated their demonstrators. Here’s how the Chinese police treat Chinese demonstrators.

Memo to JNN: Yeah, you had the copyright and you took it down. Do you think what is happening in China is your news exclusively? Welcome to the Internet age. Consider yourselves disintermediated.

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Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, October 20, 2010

THE RECENT promotion of Xi Jinping as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission in China has led most observers to assume he will replace President Hu Jintao in March 2012. The Jiji news agency today published a brief examination of what course Mr. Xi might pursue in foreign policy.

They quote a Chinese Communist Party source as saying that Mr. Xi indicated his eagerness to be involved with party foreign policy, but hinted that he would have to maneuver carefully to formulate his own approach. He is assumed to have the strong support of the military, and their hardboiled attitude toward Japan is likely to continue. Yet Mr. Xi said he also wanted to uphold the tradition built by former Vice President Zeng Qinghong to expand Sino-Japanese relations. The CCP source said he is seen by some as “not necessarily” hard-line anti-Japanese.

Mr. Zeng, who retired in 2008, is one of the “princelings”, or sons of veterans of the revolution, who have formed their own grouping in the party. Mr. Xi is a pal of the princelings, and Zeng was responsible for his selection to the Politburo Central Committee.

He is also a close ally of former President Jiang Zemin (with whom Mr. Xi is also aligned), but is thought to be more amenable to closer relations with Japan than is Mr. Jiang. He is also known for having led the call to crack down on Falun Gong.

More interesting, however, was what the source said about internal party sentiment about Japan in the wake of the Senkakus incident:

“A sense of disappointment toward the Democratic Party of Japan is growing (in the CCP).”

Also, because it is necessary to rework their Japan strategy:

“Leadership has ordered the party research organ to conduct research into the DPJ.”

The Chinese are disappointed in the DPJ?

Several DPJ leaders have called for the creation of an “equilateral triangle” relationship between Japan, China, and the United States, in which Japan would tilt towards the former and away from the latter.

The DPJ folded like a pup tent under Chinese pressure and had the Okinawa prosecutors release the Chinese fishing boat captain without prosecuting him.

The DPJ has continued to rebuff opposition calls to show the video of the incident to the public, claiming that its screening would harm relations with China. (Even Fukushima Mizuho and the Social Democrats want to see it, though New Komeito and the Japanese Communist Party are more cautious.)

After learning that the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, Prime Minister Kan Naoto would say only that he “noted” the decision. (The Americans, Germans, French, and British all hailed the selection.)

The Germans, French, and British also reiterated their call for Mr. Liu’s immediate release (though Mr. Obama called for his release “as soon as possible”. Typical.) On the other hand, Mr. Kan would only use the Milquetoast wording that his release was “desirable”.

And the Chinese Communist Party is disappointed in the DPJ?

What do they expect? The annual dispatch of envoys to Beijing to pay tribute?

One wonders what the DPJ government was telling the Chinese in private before the incident occurred.


Nakagawa Hidenao of the Liberal Democratic Party is considered to be the most prominent of those in the LDP still supporting Koizumian economic policies. His criticism of the DPJ governments after being relegated to the opposition has been relentless, not only in economic matters, but also regarding foreign policy.

It was no surprise, therefore, that he harshly criticized Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito for his comments in a telephone conversation revealed by LDP upper house member Maruyama Kazuya. But Mr. Nakagawa’s criticism centered on Mr. Sengoku’s actions that stemmed from a concern the Chinese might have been a no-show at next month’s APEC summit in Yokohoma. He said very little about the chief cabinet secretary’s controversial remarks suggesting that Japan had become China’s vassal.

In his 2008 book, Kanryo Kokka no Hokai (The Collapse of the Bureaucratic State), Mr. Nakagawa spent several pages arguing that Japan needed to admit 10 million immigrants by 2050. Though he specified no country as the potential source of those immigrants, which of Japan’s neighbors has surplus population and could be expected to be the prime candidate?

How curious.

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An extremely warm hard-liner

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, October 19, 2010

And if there be wolves and jackals,
We greet them with a hunting rifle.
– Wo De Zu Guo (My Motherland)

THE BRIEF ARTICLE by Barbara Deming in the Los Angeles Times about the elevation of Xi Jinping to the position of vice chairman of the Central Military Commission in China is yet another example of why reading newspapers is so often a waste of time.

The story is important because the promotion means Mr. Xi is likely to become China’s next president:

“It looks like the case is closed. Based on today’s announcement, he’ll be the next leader,” said Jin Zhong, editor of Hong Kong-based Open Magazine and an analyst of the Communist Party.

What sort of man is Mr. Xi?

Well, the article says he has a reputation as being tough on corruption and friendly to business, including foreign business. Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson said:

“(He’s) a guy who really knows how to get over the goal line.”

Robert Lawrence Kuhn interviewed him for a book:

“He’s extremely warm. He has none of the airs of an official who’s impressed with himself.”

Well, that’s nice. So is the information that he’s married to Peng Liyuan, a famous folk singer. (Chinese trad, but the article didn’t mention that.)

Something useful finally appears at the bottom:

“He is a safe choice. The party didn’t want uncertainty,” said Liu Junning, a political scientist based in Beijing. Liu said that Xi’s views on sensitive issues — such as whether China should open up for political reform — remain largely unknown since he had not tended to put himself on the line. “I would be surprised though over time to see him become a reformer.”

So, Mr. Xi is an extremely warm, hard-charging, business-friendly guy who isn’t interested in reforms. Is that all?

Of course not. Ms. Deming didn’t talk to enough sources.

For example, in Japan, Toshikawa Tadao referred to Xi Jinling in a recent article of Gendai Business Online. Here’s my summary of one part:

(S)ome in the conservative wing of the party, represented by former leader Jiang Zemin, think China’s attitude toward Japan and the U.S. is weak-kneed. Mr. Xi is seen as a Jiang ally, and Mr. Hu and Mr. Wen are thought to be more open to Japan and the U.S.

In the same post, I summarized another reference by freelance journalist Itagaki Eiken, formerly of the Mainichi Shimbun:

Mr. Itagaki also brings up the power struggle in the Chinese leadership. He identifies both Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao as friendly to Japan, but Xi Jinping as a hardliner influenced by the official anti-Japanese education curriculum.

Then there was today’s column by commentator Miyazaki Masahiro. While pointing out (as did several other Japanese) that Hu Jintao is now a lame duck, he also suggested that Mr. Xi had little leadership ability, that most of his experience has been in the bureaucracy, and that some see him as a miniature of Jiang Zemin. Mr. Miyazaki also noted that the military viewed Mr. Xi favorably because of his military experience, and because his politically active folk singer wife is also a major-general in the People’s Liberation Army. He thinks there is reason to be concerned that the strong military support for Mr. Xi might lead to more adventurism than occurred during Mr. Hu’s term in office. East Asian fishing folk, be on your guard!

China's next president and first lady-in-waiting

Other commentators echo the concerns that he is part of a hard-line group that will oppose greater reform and democratization. He also reportedly encouraged a crackdown on the Uighurs, while Mr. Hu and Mr. Wen wanted to take a more lenient approach. And that description of him as “extremely warm”? Another Japanese commentator referred to Mr. Xi as a happo bijin (literally, a beauty in eight directions). That does not always have good connotations in Japanese; it has the nuance of a contrived effort to cultivate good relations with everyone and to avoid offense by a person lacking either sincerity or depth of interest.

Sweet man…likes business…gets things done…beautiful wife in show business…who sings propaganda songs…anti-reform…a cultivated phony…a hard-line attitude toward the U.S., Japan and internal dissent, backed by the military, may be more likely to rattle sabers, and thinks the current leadership is wussing out.

Of all that data, which is the most important to know, and which does the Los Angeles Times provide?


Of course I went looking for Peng Liyuan videos on YouTube. Found one, too! She’s performing a famous song from the 50s called Wo De Zu Guo (My Motherland)–and her singing is superb. That’s one talented major-general.

I also found a translation of the lyrics, though I cleaned it up slightly. More extensive rearranging would require Chinese language ability, and song lyrics in foreign languages are difficult to translate and have them scan like an English song anyway. People who can read Japanese will be able to follow along with some of the lyrics in the video.

Large billowing waves on this big river,
Wind blowing (through) the fragrant paddies of both banks,
There is my house on the bank,
Where I can hear the usual boatman’s song
As a boat with white sails passes by.
This is my beautiful Motherland,
The land of my birth.
On this vast expanse of land,
Everywhere is beautiful scenery.

A damsel is like a flower,
That refreshes the youthful mind,
Scaling heaven and earth,
Waking the slumbering mountain,
As the river changes the scenery.

This heroine Motherland
Is where I was brought up,
In this ancient land of youthful strength.

Good mountains, water and places,
That radiate tranquility and happiness.
There are good wines for friends who come,
And if there be wolves and jackals,
We greet them with a hunting rifle.

This is my big and powerful Motherland
The land of my birth.
Over this vast land peace radiates!

This site has some more interesting information about Chinese song politics and the Xi-Peng marriage.

Watch what happens when Mr. Xi becomes president in two years. The Western media will get all gloopy about his wife, her good looks, and her singing, and ignore what she really does for a living.

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Letter bombs (12): They’re just filled with secrets

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, October 19, 2010

READER PaxAmericana asks me if I have any “thoughts on the bit in Aera about the secret pact between China and Japan regarding how to handle incidents in that area (The Senkakus).”

He’s referring to an article in the weekly Aera, which is described in this AFP article:

Aera magazine reported that under Japan’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled for half a century until last year, Tokyo and Beijing had made “secret promises” to each other over the territorial issue.

“Under the secret promises, Japan was in principle to prevent landings (of Chinese nationals) on the islets and not to detain them unless it develops into a case of grave concerns,” the magazine said, citing unnamed government sources.

“The Chinese side promised to block (anti-Japanese) protesters’ boats from sailing off to reach the islands,” the weekly added.

In an illustrative case, Japan in 2004 immediately deported seven Chinese activists who had landed on one of the rocky islands, Aera said.

When power changed in Japan last summer, the earlier promises may not have been mentioned to the new centre-left Democratic Party of Japan government, an unnamed government source was quoted as saying by Aera.

Here they are, PA:

One of the nicknames the Japanese media has given Prime Minister Kan Naoto is “Nige-Kan”. The nige means “escape, evasion, flight”. In other words, stepping up and taking responsibility for its actions is not high on the Kan Cabinet agenda. That goes double for this issue, which might have inflicted a fatal wound on both the Cabinet and the party.

Note that this story is from an “unnamed government source” (i.e., someone in the DPJ) who says the promises “may not have been mentioned”.


It strikes me as a third-rate attempt at CYA for several reasons..

First, one would have to assume that the agreement was known only to a few at LDP party headquarters. Does that mean the secret was communicated through personal contact as in some initiation rite?

One would also have to assume that no one else in government circles knew, particularly anyone in the Foreign Ministry. That is implausible on the face of it. The article cites the 2004 incident in which the Koizumi Administration deported seven Chinese bravos after they landed on one of the islets.

That was six years ago. No one in the Koizumi administration told anyone in the Foreign Ministry the reason for its handling of the incident?

Other sources say this is similar to the secret deals made between the LDP governments and the U.S. to allow American ships to carry nuclear weapons when in Japan. The practice stopped in the 1990s. The new DPJ government turned up the documents for these secret deals after it assumed office. Where did they find them?

In file cabinets at the Foreign Ministry.

In addition, it has been widely reported in Japan that the Kan Administration intentionally did not follow the Koizumi precedent (though many second-guessers thought they should have) because they believed it was an extra-legal action and therefore improper. They wanted to impress on the Chinese that they were a nation governed by the rule of law. Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito—seen by many as the real power in government—insisted on it. Again, this report has been all over the Japanese media.

Also, Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji was anxious to demonstrate a tougher attitude toward the Chinese and insisted on detaining and arresting the captain. (Mr. Sengoku was apparently ambivalent about the arrest.) Yet again, this report has been all over the Japanese press.

Further, the sea captain was not arrested immediately after he was detained. That decision was made in Tokyo several hours later. (About 8-12 hours later, IIRC. In fact, the sequence of events and the timing is another matter of contention. At first, it appeared that Mr. Kan wasn’t even told about the arrest for six hours, but the DPJ is now trying to rearrange the history.) The DPJ did not conduct the due diligence required during that interval, including consultation with the Foreign Ministry?

Still further, if there was a secret deal, the Chinese knew about it too. They summoned the Japanese ambassador to complain about the arrest six times. It would be elementary common sense to assume that the first thing the Chinese would have done is to ask the ambassador, or anyone else, through back channels, “Hey! What about our deal?”

If you believe the Aera account, you would have to assume either the Chinese didn’t do that, or that the Kan government ignored them when it did.

Finally, little leaks through a second-tier magazine published by the politically friendly Asahi group is not the DPJ modus operandi. They’re not that subtle–they’d have made a much bigger deal out of it than that, either in a more widely read publication, or bringing it out in the open themselves. Their very legitimacy is at stake.

To return for a second to the secret deals over the nuclear weapons, the reason the new DPJ government found the documents is that they already knew about the stories that such deals existed and created a panel to make a specific search. But we’re supposed to believe they didn’t know anything about a deal regarding the Senkakus.

Keep in mind, this is the same government that has been saying all along they had nothing to do with the release of the ship captain—it was a decision by Okinawa prosecutors. Also, the Japanese Coast Guard recorded a video of the incident, yet Prime Minister Kan still insists he’s never watched it. And Prime Minister Kan just happened to bump into Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in a Brussels hallway a couple of weeks ago.

Credibility is something else that’s not high on the Kan Cabinet agenda.

On the other hand:

There are also reports—again, all over the Japanese media—that the DPJ is upset with the Foreign Ministry as a result of frictions that occurred over the issue of moving the Futenma Base in Okinawa during the Hatoyama Administration, and that Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku decided to keep the Foreign Ministry out of the loop. The DPJ government wanted to make all the decisions this time without any input from the bureaucrats.

Therefore, the Foreign Ministry would have had no chance to tell the Cabinet about any secret deal. If true, that would mean the government was hoist by its own petard.

Meanwhile, in other news, the Foreign Policy website is rapidly becoming the “stay-away-from” site for people interested in reading about Japan. Joshua Keating writes:

(I)t’s certainly starting to seem like the LDP had been trying to avoid public outcry on some of Japan’s most contentious foreign-policy issues and that after decades of unquestioned rule, didn’t anticipate having to let the opposition in on the secret.

Memo to Foreign Policy: Slurping up the froth off English-language journalism about Japan is no substitute for spending some time—a lot of it—with the original sources.


Here’s one more thing to consider. The AFP article calls the LDP “conservative” and the DPJ “center-left” (though left-center is more like it). The extent to which the MSM will go to discredit any government or group of the first persuasion and deflect criticism from any government or group of the second persuasion should not be underestimated. It is always a factor in their coverage.

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Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 18, 2010

THE SHOCK was as if everyone in the nation had touched a live wire at the same time.

Maruyama Kazuya (Mainichi Shimbun photo)

During a meeting of the upper house budget committee yesterday, Liberal Democratic Party proportional representative Maruyama Kazuya related the content of a telephone conversation he had with Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito, who is widely perceived as the man actually running the Kan administration.

Mr. Maruyama was discussing the release of the Chinese fishing boat captain with Mr. Sengoku. The government insists they had nothing to do with the captain’s release, and that it was the decision of the Okinawa prosecutors alone.

The wording differs depending on the account, but the conversation went something like this:

Maruyama: (The captain) should have been prosecuted, held in custody until a verdict was reached, and then deported.

Sengoku: Had we done that, it would have wrecked (literally, blown away) the APEC summit meeting (scheduled for next month in Yokohama)….

Maruyama: Japan will become a Chinese vassal state.

Sengoku: Our conversion into a vassal state didn’t begin with this.

When asked about the conversation, Mr. Sengoku admitted that it took place, but said:

Perhaps I’ve developed amnesia, but I have no memory of that conversation at all.

He was also displeased that Mr. Maruyama brought it up:

It is quite against my wishes if a conversation about something between friends is quoted and becomes (the basis for) a question in a public setting, such as the Diet. If there is a possibility of that happening, I now fully realize (literally, it is engraved on my liver) that I mustn’t answer the phone, even if it is a friend calling.

The news media carried the tale back to Mr. Maruyama, who said:

That’s Mr. Sengoku’s typical way of playing dumb.

This should just about shred the last slender thread holding together the tissue of a story that it was the prosecutor’s decision to release the Chinese sea captain. It was on the verge of disintegration last week when upper house member Yamamoto Ichita of the LDP questioned Justice Minister Yanagida Minoru. Mr. Yanagida, whose lack of intellectual footwork already had some questioning the reason for his recent appointment, began his answer this way:

Before I decided to release the captain…

He quickly caught himself and amended his statement, but that toothpaste ain’t going back in the tube.

The public wasn’t buying the government’s story even before these two incidents occurred. A Jiji poll conducted from 8 to 11 October found that 79.9% of the respondents—let’s round it off to 80%–didn’t believe the explanation that it was the prosecutor’s decision, against 6.4% who did.

Let’s take a stab at some speculation.

1. It will be quite some time—perhaps more than a decade—before the Democratic Party of Japan can live down the events of the past six weeks. There is an outside chance the party as presently constituted may never live it down. Upholding national sovereignty is the prime directive. Admitting vassalage is suicidal.

2. This could be the start of a long overdue national conversation about the Japanese nation-state in the modern world.

When reading the upcoming stories about the related events or attitudes in Japan in the English-language media, stat-heads might be interested in counting the occurrences of the word “nationalism” or “nationalist” used in a pejorative sense to describe what in Western countries would be considered unremarkable behavior. I found three in an AFP article over the weekend in an article that wasn’t more than six or seven paragraphs long.


Nicholas Cueto sent in a link to the video of the exchange on YouTube, which is in the comment section. The part I quoted above came from newspaper reports, but they were condensed. While the first part of that dialogue does begin around the 6:30 mark, the killer quote comes at the end, around 14:30 or later.

Here’s the Japanese expression Mr. Maruyama used quoting Mr. Sengoku:


I wondered about the nuance of this, and whether Mr. Sengoku just meant to say that the incident didn’t mean that vassalage had begun. The way it was expressed by Mr. Maruyama, however, led me to translate it as I did (particularly because the “subject” of the sentence is the idea of vassalage rather than the incident). Plenty of native-speaking Japanese agree–they’re all over the Internet this morning asking, well Mr. Sengoku, just when did it begin?

But then the Chief Cabinet Secretary held a news conference this morning. He could have sloughed it off by using the explanation I described in the previous paragraph, but he didn’t. Instead, he used a euphemism to call Mr. Maruyama a liar, the same euphemism to say the statement was a lie, and then said he wasn’t going to get involved in talking about them. (Of course, he would have had to change his mind about recalling the conversation.)

His sensitivity to the content makes me think my original translation was close to the mark.

There are two other items of interest in the video. Mr. Maruyama asks, so what if we blow off APEC this once to make a point?


The other is Mr. Maruyama’s comment during the questioning that the higher a politician climbs, the more likely he is to have problems with his memory. (This came before the vassalage quote.) The amused grins on the faces of Mr. Sengoku, Prime Minister Kan, and Defense Minister Maehara are a tacit admission they know Mr. Murayama isn’t making up the story.

NC also writes about a discussion at work:

But, the simple act of even bringing up a political topic, and everyone continuing it for a minute or so despite differences in age and seniority, to me spoke volumes.

This is an excellent point.

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Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 18, 2010

They are a bus without a destination sign.
– Tanaka Shusei, former director-general of the Economic Planning Agency, speaking at a forum in Nagoya on the 14th about the Kan Cabinet.

The word nameru in Japanese means to lick, but it’s also used in the sense of making light of a person, belittling a person, or holding a person in contempt. It’s often used in the passive voice: namerareru.

Accounts leaking out of the Kantei suggest that the Democratic Party-led government of Japan thought it had been the model of diplomatic expertise after deluding itself that it had worked out a rapprochement with the Chinese government and reset relations to the status quo ante of June. Why, didn’t Prime Minister Kan Naoto go all the way to Brussels just to tug on the sleeve of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in a hallway and get him to sit on a chair and chat for all of 25 minutes? Didn’t the Americans approve when they released the Chinese naval officer fishing boat captain after he had deliberately rammed accidentally collided with two Japanese Coast Guard vessels in the waters of Greater China Okinawa Prefecture? Didn’t they generously share their milk and cookies with them?

There are also reports that Mr. Kan was excited on the return flight from Brussels because he thought his government’s success at setting up the meeting (despite the risible assertion that it was just a chance encounter) would earn them plaudits as the marvels of the striped-pants set. After all, the initial response of the British public was favorable after Neville Chamberlain landed in London on the flight from Munich and emerged to show the crowd the piece of paper in his hand.

But their misreading of the situation has revealed them to be diplomatic illiterates instead. As a result, the Chinese government and its people can’t be bothered to hide their disdain as they treat the Japanese government as their favorite licking stick.

Last week, press spokesman Yao Jian of the PRC’s Ministry of Commerce declared at a regularly scheduled news conference that China would not use restrictions on rare earth exports as a weapon against countries with which it was involved in disputes.

Meanwhile, Japanese importers say that even though Chinese exports have returned to roughly 40% of the level before the Senkakus incident, there have been no shipments of rare earth metals.

Yao Jian also referred to Prime Minister Kan’s request of China and South Korea that the three countries coordinate currency exchange rate policies to prevent excessive appreciation. Said Yao:

“(because it is profiting with business with China) Japan is not qualified (to make such a request).

It didn’t take those perceptive Chinese long to spot the absence of qualifications, did it?

Why should anyone be surprised at what Japanese Beta Male behavior has wrought? The Coast Guard filmed a video of the incident in the Senkakus, but the government has locked it away. The word from people who have viewed the video is that the content would infuriate the Japanese public after they saw the deliberate ramming of the Japanese ships.

At first the government said that showing the video would delay the release of the last Fujita employee held hostage arrested by the Chinese for allegedly taking photos of military installations. But after the employee was released, the government then said that showing the video would set Japan-China relations back two or three years.

Wouldn’t want to do anything to impair the flowering Japan-China amity, now would we? Besides, if the Japanese public saw what really happened, the Cabinet would have to resign, there’d be a snap election, and we’d lose our Diet majority. Let’s not get carried away with ourselves!

Meanwhile, the Chinese keep on licking. The People’s Daily affiliate Global Times posted a diagram and an explanation claiming it was the Japanese Coast Guard vessel that rammed the Chinese fishing boat. They quoted Jiang Yu of the Foreign Ministry:

“Japanese patrol boats surrounded the Chinese fishing boat in Chinese waters, pursued it, cut it off, and rammed it.”

The Global Times took down the diagram sometime around the 1st, but the state-run Xinhua news agency still has it up, as do the large Xinlang Internet portal site (halfway down the page, for the full view) and other websites. See for yourself what the Chinese public now thinks happened. Chinese-language capability isn’t required to connect the dots:

The portal site also reportedly put up on the 9th a free online game called “Defending Daioyutai” (the Chinese name for the islets). The players operate a Chinese fishing boat, throw shoes at Japanese “military vessels” and steam for the islets. (Yes, the report said shoes.) If they successfully knock down a lighthouse flying the Japanese flag and raise the Chinese flag, a “Mission Accomplished” icon pops up.

The degree of difficulty shouldn’t be all that high. What would be the fun or propaganda value in making the game too hard?

The site invites people to play with this copy: “Obtain a sense of satisfaction and honor by achieving the mission! Experience the danger and challenge of national defense!”

Meanwhile, the Rainbow Unicorn Peace-At-Any-Price DPJ coalition government of Japan is hiding the video under its bed because it might harm relations with China.

On Saturday, more than 10,000 Chinese hit the streets in three Chinese cities demonstrating against the Japanese. Surely most of demonstrators have seen the above diagram of the incident. But they also received other encouragement.

The scoop from Hong Kong

Hong Kong newspapers reported on the 17th that the anti-Japanese demonstrations on the 16th were organized by university student associations affiliated with the government. The Chinese Foreign Ministry is saying that “some of the public is expressing their righteous indignation at the mistaken statements and actions of the Japanese”. That’s not the story the Hong Kong papers are telling.

The Wenhui quotes participants in the demonstration as saying that the student associations of universities in Chengdu, Szechuan, began preparing a month ago. Students also circulated petitions calling for a boycott of Japanese products. (There are similar calls for a boycott on the Chinese side of the Internet, with the encouragement that a year-long boycott would bankrupt Japan.)

According to Pingguo Ribao (Apple Daily), the participants clearly stated on the Internet that the student associations organized the demonstrations.

All student university associations in China are controlled by the government and the Communist Party, and independent political activity is not allowed.

There is no question of a return to the status quo ante now that the Kan government has lain on its back, tucked in its tail, and exposed the Japanese belly, demonstrating its recognition of the Chinese as the Alpha Male. The terms of this relationship have been defined and will not change as long as this government remains in office, and the international jungle community knows it. Their bungling will have made it that much more difficult for their successors to rebalance that relationship in the future.

No respite at home

In addition to the daily licking administered by the Chinese, the Kan Cabinet is now being thoroughly licked at home. They’ve backed down in the face of threats to national sovereignty, which is the most serious mistake any government can make. That the government thought it took the wise and prudent course of action demonstrates their lack of qualifications, as the Chinese themselves put it, and it seems to have awakened something in Japan. The opposition hammered the Cabinet during question time last week, and the government’s response of lies, evasions, and faux anger merely exposed their Beta maleness to a domestic audience. The news media is getting fat off the feeding frenzy.

Tanaka Shusei, who is quoted at the top of the post, isn’t the first to speculate that the Kan government won’t last beyond next spring, but he’s one of the first to speculate that it might not make it to the end of the year. If he’s right, it will be very difficult for the DPJ to avoid a Diet dissolution and a lower house election. They’ve already pushed their luck once by staying in office after their defeat in the July upper house election.

That may be the silver lining to this cloud. The sooner the impotent ones are cashiered, and the sooner the Rube Goldberg contraption that is the Democratic Party of Japan is dismantled and rebuilt with fewer parts, the sooner the nation can get a handle on its problems and reestablish the national sovereignty that was placed in a blind trust 65 years ago. After the events of the past six weeks, the public might now be ready for it.


Had the DPJ leadership studied actual history in their younger days instead of left-wing theory, they could have learned a valuable lesson from the actions of the American Democrats in 1962, when the American Democrats still had a spine. On 25 October that year, UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson confronted Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin during a meeting of the Security Council about the missiles the Soviets had placed in Cuba. (It was broadcast live, which was rare in those days.) Stevenson said:

Let me ask you one simple question: Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the U.S.S.R. has placed and is placing medium- and intermediate-range missiles and sites in Cuba? Yes or no—don’t wait for the translation—yes or no?

A few minutes later, the Americans set up an easel in the Security Council chambers and showed the world intelligence photos taken of Soviet missile base construction in Cuba. They also allowed any of the delegates to view the photos themselves at close range later while Stevenson provided an explanation.

Had the Kan government been born with a spine, they would have done the same with the video taken by the Japanese Coast Guard. They could have shown the world what the Chinese did, just as the world saw what the Soviets were doing in 1962.

But that’s too much to hope for with this lot, I’m afraid. They’ve been licked in every sense of the word.

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Posted in China, Government, International relations, Military affairs | Tagged: , | 9 Comments »


Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 18, 2010

We are not troubled by things, but by the opinion we have of things.
– Epictetus

IT WAS ONE OF THOSE teapot tempests that keeps the mass media in business. The incident was so trivial as to be nearly meaningless, but it provided the copy for newspaper articles that allowed some women to feel superior to men, some of the young to feel superior to the old, some of the self-congratulated progressives to feel superior to the unenlightened, and some Westerners to feel superior to the Japanese.

Yes, a Japanese politician slipped again and said something “sexist” in public.

This time it was Nakayama Yoshikatsu, the vice minister of economy, trade and industry, speaking at the Women’s Entrepreneurship Summit on 1 October in Gifu, Japan. The summit was jointly hosted by Japan and the United States.

“Japanese women find pleasure in working at home and that has been part of Japanese culture…That should be given more credit through (raising their husbands’) salaries, but it has become impossible as the situation surrounding men became severe.”

(He) also said that Japanese women hold the power behind the throne, and repeated that it was part of Japanese culture for them to stay at home.

Even though there’s more than a bit of truth in there–particularly the part about holding the power behind the throne–most of us could write the rest of the script before we read it.

“I was embarrassed because his remarks revealed how backward Japan is,” said a Japanese woman who runs her own business and attended the conference.


Women angered by the remarks formed a protest group Oct. 7 to demand Nakayama, a House of Representatives member from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, retract the remarks and apologize.

Here was his retraction and apology:

Nakayama told Kyodo News on Thursday that he “regrets” what he said. “I would like to do what I can, albeit small, for women to play a greater role in business,” he said.

One woman said:

A U.S. participant told her that in the United States, no one would say such a thing in public even if he or she held sexist ideas.

“In America, we’ve even succeeded in stifling free speech!”

Japanese women might want to think twice before they choose American feminists as role models. They’re the ones who killed feminism as a serious socio-political movement in the U.S. in 1998 by consistently supporting then-President Bill Clinton even after it was revealed that as the Governor of Arkansas, he had a state policeman summon a female state employee to his hotel room, whereupon he dropped his trousers and ordered her to “kiss it”. And even after a very credible woman went public with a very credible rape charge. And even after he played games with cigars with a young White House intern in the Oval Office while keeping international VIPs waiting for meetings to begin.

But he was a progressive, and sexual harassment laws aren’t written for them. They’re really written for non-progressive business executives and military officers.

The “feminists” haven’t changed a bit since then. There will be an election for governor of California next month to replace Arnold Schwarzenegger. Former governor Jerry Brown is running against Meg Whitman. Other than a few years spent as an attorney after graduation from law school and another few years working as a talk show host on radio, Mr. Brown has been a politician for four decades.

In contrast, Ms. Whitman was the former CEO and President of eBay from 1998 to 2008, was a senior executive for other companies, including The Walt Disney Company, DreamWorks, Procter & Gamble, and Hasbro, and has a net worth of $1.3 billion, which she seems to have made on her own without sledding on her husband’s coattails. Who would know more about empowering women in the workplace?

It was revealed last week in another teapot tempest that Mr. Brown’s aides referred to Ms. Whitman as a “whore” during strategy sessions. Less than a day later, the National Organization of Women endorsed Mr. Brown. (If you didn’t know the party affiliation of the candidates, you do now.) When the language used by the Brown campaign became an issue, national NOW President Terry O’Neill said that anyone who “from here on” calls a woman a “whore” should be fired.

Giri-giri safe!

Back to the article:

Last year, a United Nations committee recommended that the Japanese government deal with discrimination against women in laws, employment and wages.

Japanese women might also find better sources for advice. This the same United Nations whose peacekeepers ran child sex rings in Europe and Africa. You know what they say about idle hands. It’s the same UN that elected Iran to be a member of the Commission on the Status of Women, a body that is “dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women.”

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran wrote a letter of complaint about their selection that said Iranian women:

“…lack the ability to choose their husbands, have no independent right to education after marriage, no right to divorce, no right to child custody, have no protection from violent treatment in public spaces, are restricted by quotas for women’s admission at universities, and are arrested, beaten, and imprisoned for peacefully seeking change of such laws.”

If the UN were really serious about women’s rights, they might more profitably spend their time on this:

According to the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America, forcing your wife to have sex against her will really isn’t rape.

That’s because, according to an Egyptian cleric:

Allah had created the punishment of beating a wife for refusing her husband sex and that this was a way of honoring her.

But they won’t, because the UN is just as useless as the National Organization for Women, and just as intent on pushing an agenda rather than on maintaining their integrity. They push against Japan–and groups and people like them–because they know they won’t get pushed back. Pushing Muslims around, however, can be hazardous to your health.

“Encouraging women to stay at home is a 20th century” way of thinking, said Mariko Bando, head of Showa Women’s University who drew up a number of policies related to women while she was a senior bureaucrat.

Putting aside the fact that Mr. Nakayama was not quoted as encouraging women to stay home, Ms. Bando might be surprised to discover that in the 21st century, there is a real possibility that women will choose not to follow the footsteps of Meg Whitman, but go with the flow back to patriarchy instead. That’s the thesis of demographer Phillip Longman, who wrote in an article on the website of the New America Foundation, “Like it or not, a growing proportion of the next generation will be born into families who believe that father knows best.”

He argued:

(F)alling fertility is a recurring tendency of human civilization. Why then did humans not become extinct long ago? The short answer is patriarchy.

Patriarchy does not simply mean that men rule. Indeed, it is a particular value system that not only requires men to marry but to marry a woman of proper station. It competes with many other male visions of the good life, and for that reason alone is prone to come in cycles. Yet before it degenerates, it is a cultural regime that serves to keep birthrates high among the affluent, while also maximizing parents’ investments in their children. No advanced civilization has yet learned how to endure without it.

Through a process of cultural evolution, societies that adopted this particular social system — which involves far more than simple male domination — maximized their population and therefore their power, whereas those that didn’t were either overrun or absorbed. This cycle in human history may be obnoxious to the enlightened, but it is set to make a comeback.

The charge of rightwing troglodyte won’t stick. Most of the directors of that foundation are on the left rather than the right, and Mr. Longman himself has written a book holding that public sector schemes for health care insurance are superior to those of the private sector.

Indeed, a case could be made that bad old Mr. Nakayama wasn’t so far off base at all. Here’s another Kyodo article from May this year on the results of a government survey:

The proportion of wives who favor a traditional domestic role is increasing, mainly among people in their 20s, a government survey showed…According to the results of the fourth such survey…45 percent of the total supported the view that husbands should work outside of the home while wives should attend to housework, reversing a downward trend from the first survey in 1993, when the figure stood at 53.6 percent, to the third survey in 2003, when it stood at 41.1 percent.

By age group, the figure for wives aged 29 or younger stood at 47.9 percent, up 12.2 percentage points from the previous survey in 2003…


In the survey, 55.3 percent favored being full-time homemakers, followed by 43.5 percent who favored being self-employed or working for a family business, 39.6 percent who favored being part-time employees and 33.3 percent who preferred full-time employment.

The Japanese and those people familiar with the country are more likely to understand implicitly the nature and the circumstances of the women in the second group than people with less experience here. Mr. Nakayama certainly does.

To continue:

Of the total, 85.9 percent favored the view that mothers should raise their children without working outside the home until their children are around 3 years old, an increase of 3 points.

Perhaps those are some of the reasons women accounted for just 4.1% of department heads in private Japanese corporations in 2008. Well, that and the fact that spending 60 hours a week pushing papers with the objective of selling more zinc bushings is not an appealing lifestyle choice for many women, let alone men.

It isn’t that being young and single puts women at a financial disadvantage, either. Reuters reported on another survey this week:

Income for single women under 30 hit an average of 218,156 yen ($2,680) a month in 2009, edging above the 215,515 yen ($2,640) of their male counterparts for the first time ever, according to an Internal Affairs ministry survey.

This is attributed partly to a decline in men’s salaries and a rise in women’s salaries after the last survey was taken. According to Kumano Hideo, chief economist at the Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute:

“(M)any more men work in manufacturing than women, and after the Lehman failure things for this sector really chilled.”

Back to Ms. Bando:

“Japan ranks low (with regard to the status of women) because there are many politicians who do not pay attention to the realities of the world,” she said.

Perhaps it is Ms. Bando and her compatriots who should be the ones to pay attention to the realities of the world. If politicians had the ability to alter human nature and engineer social outcomes, socialism would have worked. The American feminist left is a spent force that rendered itself irrelevant, and if the UN weren’t so obtrusive, expensive, and intent on serving as the template for future global governance, it would be a parody of itself.

Broadly speaking, the Japanese women I’ve seen over the past quarter century are very capable of plotting the course of their lives and steering it in the direction of their choice, even if it isn’t always the direction those with a different agenda–politician or activist–would prefer.

Sometimes–but not always–it’s even in the direction Mr. Nakayama thinks it is.


What better way to close this post than with a clip from composer/musician/singer Suzuki Saeko? She released four discs in the 1980s before retiring from the music business (though she might be eying a comeback; she appeared in a TV commercial not long ago). Japanese of a certain age will remember her has the singer for the Nissin Chicken ramen commercial (Sugoku oishii!). I’ll always remember her as the headliner of the first Japanese live show I attended. She played all the keyboards—including the Fairlight, which was a big deal in those days—marimbas, vibes, and drums. During that concert, she spent about 80% of the time behind the keyboards, but her opening number was this stunner on which she plays the marimba. That’s until the 4:30 mark, however, when she gets behind the drum kit and casually shows off chops that would have gotten her hired as a drummer by any band anywhere. In fact, they did; she was the drummer in Sakamoto Ryuichi’s first band.

There’s a Zappa influence, but the music is also feminine with Asian touches, and all of it’s hers. If there are Western women doing anything like this, I haven’t heard of them.

This video is almost 25 years old. If watching it doesn’t shatter some preconceived notions about Japanese women, nothing will.

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Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Demography, Social trends | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Letter bombs (11): Coming up on the rail

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, October 17, 2010

READER MAGUS sent in an e-mail about the requirements international companies must comply with to do business in China, and what happens as a result. I thought his e-mail and the links he provided would make a fine post. He gave me permission to run it, so here it is.

Here’s an article from the Financial Times that talks about China’s booming train industry, and some background information. (Note: The Financial Times link might ask for registration. If it does, just Google the title “China: A Future on Track”, and no registration is required to read it.)

This article brings to light what every business with real R&D operations and advanced technology has known and been worrying about for nearly a decade when working with China.

In what many international executives see as a warning for other industries, these companies have spent years “transferring”, or selling, technology to state-backed partners in exchange for market access – only to be rewarded with shrinking market share in China as a result of state policies that favour local industry.

Now these companies find their high-speed technology has been “digested” – defined by the government as a multistep process of buying foreign technology, innovating on that existing platform then selling it under a domestic brand – by former Chinese partners. Furthermore, the foreigners find themselves competing head-to-head for tenders all over the world with Chinese companies selling digested high-speed technology at discount prices, often with cheap state bank financing thrown in.

In 2002, China unveiled their own high-speed domestic rail technology “China Star” to compete with the foreign rail companies that were dominating their huge rail industry. It ended in disaster, with the PRC declaring the technology “immature” less than a year later.

In 2004, Kawasaki entered the Chinese market with the promise by the PRC of more than $100 billion USD in future rail contracts. The catch is that to do business in China, at least 70% of the parts for any given train must be produced by a domestic Chinese company. That is different from business practices in other countries. Otherwise, Kawasaki could have simply set up a Chinese division, just as Honda or Toyota have US divisions that produce cars locally for their market. The Chinese require production by Chinese domestic companies.

This of course meant that if Japan wanted to do business in China, it had to share technology with Chinese companies. The result of the collaboration between China Railways and JR was the China Railways CRH2 (photo: Kimon Berlin).

If it looks a lot like the Shinkansen E2 series, that’s because it basically is (photo: Rda).

Now here’s where the problems come in. Kawasaki was promised $100 billion in future rail contracts, so they were happy to start up business in China, share technology with their Chinese partners, and work with their Chinese partners to produce that E2 series clone for the Chinese high-speed rail market. One would assume that as Kawasaki received some of those $100 billion in contracts, they would share more technology and start exporting their more advanced Shinkansen technologies.

That isn’t what happened, however. Starting in 2008, China Railways began producing their own CRH2s, without any help from Kawasaki, using their own “Chinese” technology (i.e., technology that Kawasaki gave them and helped them with). Now, Kawasaki finds itself in a position in the Chinese market in which, though they were promised $100 billion in contracts, they have to compete with the China Railways’ 100% domestically produced trains (which are the result of Kawasaki giving them technology so that they could fulfill the 70% domestic company requirement). Obviously, a 100% Chinese train is cheaper than Kawasaki could ever compete with. It also has the advantage of being domestic, thus providing local Chinese jobs and good PR for government contracts. Even if Kawasaki did get contracts for building more trains for China, 70% of its business would have to be subcontracted out to China Railways anyway to fulfill the 70%-produced-by-domestic-companies requirement.

Kawasaki entered the Chinese market in 2004 with the promise of hundreds of billions in Chinese rail contracts. In four short years, it single-handedly created its own cheap, Chinese competitor. Of course, everyone who does business in China knows that it runs the risk of such situations, but the speed at which Chinese companies were able to catch up to and displace Kawasaki from the market — four years — is nothing short of staggering.

Another Financial Times article, Japan Inc Shoots Itself in the Foot on Bullet Train, confirms that Kawasaki is no longer working with CSR Sifang Locomotive on heavy rail. Also:

Some observers say that while the 2004 contract meant KHI received only a tiny slice of the Chinese high-speed rail market – which is expected to be worth Rmb700bn ($100bn) this year alone – the licensing deal may have won it goodwill in Beijing that could open other rail-related opportunities.

The cost to Japan Inc could prove high, however. China is marketing its high-speed railway expertise, making it a potentially strong competitor on projects from Saudi Arabia to the US.

A Japanese executive familiar with the 2004 deal says members of the KHI-led consortium realised the deal could help give China a start in the industry, but they “could not imagine” the catch-up would be so fast.

The situation is the same with Bombardier’s Regina and the China Railways CRH1, Siemens Velaro and the CRH3, and the Alstom Pendolino and the CRH5.

All these companies (Kawasaki, Bombardier, Seimens, Alstom) entered China, were forced to give their technology to Chinese companies, and now the Chinese companies replaced them domestically. At least they made a quick buck.

But it gets worse. Here’s a photo of the Japanese E5 series (photo: D A J Fossett).

Well, take a look at China Railways’ new CRH2 380A (photo: alancrh):

In other words, Kawasaki dug its own grave in China.

It gets worse. China was one of the many countries that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger visited in his search to find the right bullet train for California’s future.

“Today what I have seen is very, very impressive. We hope China is part of the bidding process, along with other countries around the world, so that we can build high speed rail as inexpensively as possible,” he told reporters.

Well, it turns out that China is now in the bidding process.

In short, Bombardier, Siemens, Alstom, and Kawasaki have not only created their own domestic Chinese competitor, but a cheap international Chinese competitor. With the mandatory 70% domestic production requirement, it seems that creating your own Chinese competitor is a requirement for doing business in China.

China claims that all these advancements (in four years) are due to the amazing ingenuity and work ethic of the Chinese people. While China’s people are indeed hard workers and frequently amazing and ingenious, they did not come up with the technologies required to make a state-of-the-art bullet train by themselves in four short years. That article in the Financial Times points out:

Despite its claims that all its high-speed technology is now homegrown, the ministry has organised a team of lawyers and officials to investigate how vulnerable state rail companies will be to IP lawsuits when they start selling in the international market.

The rail industry is not the only industry affected by these kinds of practices. If you plan to build electric automobiles in China, there is of course a requirement to partner with a Chinese company. The Chinese company is awarded all intellectual property rights as a result of the joint venture, and the Chinese partner must have a stake greater than 50%.

The same thing is happening in the green energy sector.

The plan is “tantamount to China strong-arming foreign auto makers to give up battery, electric-motor, and control technology in exchange for market access,” says a senior executive at one foreign car maker. “We don’t like it.”

Also, despite complaining about illegal Chinese trade practices, GE is forming a company with—surprise—51% Chinese ownership to create wind energy technology. The United Steelworkers Union filed a trade complaint with several objections, one of which is, “requiring foreign companies to divulge technology secrets to the detriment of the United States’ own wind industry.”

And then there was the debacle in the IT industry, in which IT companies would have to provide their source code to the PRC. Fortunately, that one caused enough of an uproar to have been mostly overturned.

So it seems that business-as-usual in China means creating your own cheap, international competitor. Kawasaki learned this the hard way. How will Toyota, Honda, and Nissan fare?


It’s worth the time to read the articles at all those links. Magus has done the research.

What the heck–it’s the weekend:

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Posted in Business, finance and the economy, China, International relations, Letter bombs, New products, Science and technology | Tagged: | 17 Comments »

With friends like these…

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, October 16, 2010

EARLIER THIS WEEK I wrote that it would require an analyst of otherwordly insight, backed by extensive and detailed polling, to explain the reasons public support for the Kan Cabinet was as high as 44%. I added, “I suspect diminished expectations on the part of the electorate are a factor…Noam Chomsky’s…ideas about manufactured consent…might apply here. He holds that a false consent of the public is obtained by offering a choice of only hand-picked political options whose differences are apparent only in the degree of their unacceptability.”

A few days later, the news agency Jiji Press released the results of their own survey. Jiji might have the most accurate polling in Japan because they conduct targeted, in-person interviews rather than rely on RDD, or random digit dialing. They found the support and non-support percentages for the Cabinet to be identical at 39.2%, with the non-support totals five points lower than the other poll I cited. (They do not provide a margin of error.)

Of even greater interest were the reasons for the support offered by those people who still backed Mr. Kan. The three most frequently cited reasons were:

1. There’s no one else suitable (19.6%)

2. I trust the prime minister (8.8%)

3. It would be the same with anyone else. (6.4%)

In other words, more than a quarter of his sinking support comes from people who think, as the Japanese put it, neko yori mashi–it’s better than a cat, or in English, it’s better than nothing.

That might be enough to drive a politician to drink, if Mr. Kan hadn’t already gone down that road long ago.

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The North Korean remittance man

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, October 16, 2010

WELL-TO-DO English families in the 17th and 18th centuries with a surfeit of sons sometimes packed the youngest one off to live in the Colonies, particularly America, to seek his fortune. The family provided financial support by paying him a remittance, or an allowance. (This frequently applied to fourth sons—the first received the title and the property while the next two often pursued careers in the military or the Church.)

The term remittance man took on a different meaning in the Victorian era, as it came to refer to young men who besmirched the family name through their scandalous behavior. They were sent abroad and paid a remittance on the condition that they never return home. (Nowadays the lads just continue their education at graduate school.)

Kim Jong-nam goes to Tokyo

Kim Jong-il, the current head of the Kim Family Regime in North Korea, is following this hoary tradition, though he’s turned it on its head by sending his eldest son abroad and keeping the youngest at home to learn the family business. By some accounts, Pyeongyang remittance man Kim Jong-nam has been paid between $US 500,000 – 800,000 a year to live overseas after he was caught sneaking into Japan on a Dominican passport to visit Disneyland. Also reversed is the relationship between the geographical point of origin and the destination. English remittance men sent their sons from the Home Country to the Colonies. North Korea has no colonies, but it is the client state/vassal of China, so Kim II’s prodigal son established residences in Beijing and Macau.

The remittance man has been in the news recently after he criticized the plan that has his younger half-brother Kim Jong-un lined up to follow in Dear Leader’s footsteps. He is not in favor of dynastic succession, or at least when it doesn’t involve him. There are also reports the Heir Presumptive tried to knock off the dauphin because the latter is the Chinese favorite to serve as their puppet at the head of the North Korean government if the bottom ever falls out. Kim Jong-il is said to have asked Chinese Premier Hu Jintao for a guarantee of his son’s safety, which he received.

Less widely discussed, however, is this report on the 14th from the Chosun Ilbo headlined, Eldest Son ‘Told Kim Jong-il to Rein in Jong-un’. Here are the highlights:

* A Chinese “associate” of Kim Jong-nam said the latter told him he called on his father at Kim II’s Beijing hotel room when the North Korean leader visited that city in August.

* He took his father to task for condoning Kim Jong-un’s behavior. The story has it that KJU ordered the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan to distract attention from his support for a botched currency reform (for which at least one other North Korean official was reportedly executed).

* Kim Jong-nam also told his father that “he’d go his own way” unless Dad put his foot down and got Jong-un to mind his Ps and Qs. The unstated implication seems to be that unless KJU’s behavior improves, he might return to Pyeongyang and apply the North Korean equivalent of a brotherly Dutch Rub.

Most reports about Kim Jong-nam refer to him as a playboy with Chinese connections, but they don’t go into much detail. This Chosun Ilbo article provides more dish, however. KJN has one wife and one son in a Beijing suburb; a second wife, a second son, and a daughter in Macau (though he and the second wife are thought to be separated); and a mistress–a former stewardess for Air Koryo–also stashed in Macau.

Though this article doesn’t mention it, the close ties he’s developed with the next generation of Chinese officials have been forged through gambling soirées at Macau casinos.

The question of succession, however, may not yet be urgent, as yet another report from the Chosun Ilbo explains. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton recently visited North Korea, accompanied by one of his doctors, Roger Band. Dr. Band was tasked with eyeballing Kim Jong-il to form an educated guess about his health. As a result of the doctor’s observations, American officials have concluded he is “upright” and capable of holding reasonable discussions.

Few would have thought they’d ever wish Kim Jong-il a hearty Manse! (Banzai), but those sentiments are not out of place after reading this final Chosun Ilbo article presenting a prediction by Zeitgeist magazine editor Kim Young-hwan:

The chances of a smooth succession by Kim Jong-un are less than 10 percent.

This Kim puts the odds of a crisis following Kim II’s death at 60%-70%.

Isn’t this sort of intrigue by wealthy and dissolute despots one of the reasons the socialist/communist movements got traction in Europe to begin with?


Here’s a story on another type of remittance man at Joshua Stanton’s One Free Korea.

The underlying Chinese characters for Cheonan, the name of the sunken South Korean ship, are 天安. Those are the same characters used to write 天安門, or the Tiananmen of Tiananmen Square.

So much for Heavenly Peace in East Asia.

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Do the Chinese hate the Koreans more than they hate the Japanese?

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, October 14, 2010

DURING A VISIT to a large bookstore last weekend, I noticed a new and prominent display of non-fiction books about China. That’s not at all surprising considering recent events, and there are probably similar displays in bookstores throughout the country. Several books seemed to be worth reading, but the first one I came home with was Gaikokan ga Mita ‘Chugokujin no Tainichikan’ (The Chinese View of Japan as Seen by a Diplomat), by Michigami Hisashi, just published in August.

Mr. Michigami is a former Foreign Ministry official who specialized in Korean affairs. He studied the Korean language at the University of Seoul, served in the Political Section of the Japanese Embassy in South Korea, and was also stationed for two years in China (2007-2009).

One section of his book features dialogues he conducted with prominent Chinese scholars, media figures, public officials, and businesspeople, whom he identifies only with the collective Mr. A. One of those dialogues has the title, “Do the Chinese Hate the Koreans More Than They Hate the Japanese”? It captures in miniature some of the problems in East Asian relations. Here it is in English.


Michigami: Here’s something I noticed when I read several Chinese newspapers. Most of the articles about Japan had a positive tone, and there was a tendency to talk about improved political (relations). I was surprised by the articles about South Korea, however. There was a tendency for the emotions at the popular level of friction and mutual disparagement to frequently appear in the media, rather than criticism at the governmental level. One public opinion survey in China showed that the country the Chinese most disliked was South Korea, followed by Japan. Incidentally, the country best liked by the Chinese in the survey was Pakistan, followed by Russia in second place and Japan in third.

A: There are also articles about how the people in Seoul treat Chinese. While they are kind to Japanese and Westerners, their attitude gets worse when they find out their customers are Chinese. Signs display shops with “No Stealing” written in Chinese. The Chinese who visit South Korea come back with a bad impression.

There is the criticism that South Korean television programs stereotype Chinese as barbarians from a backward country. The Chinese are always depicted wearing shabby clothes, the airport employees demand bribes, gangster groups are kidnapping or killing South Koreans, and fat Chinese send out for prostitutes from their hotels.

Some articles in the print media also contain detailed criticisms of how South Korean historical dramas distort China. The complaint is that they sensationalize serious historical subjects and reduce them to the level of pure entertainment. For example, a poem by Mao Zedong was written on a folding screen in the background of a scene with Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty (in the early 7th century). Programs have also identified the four great inventions of ancient China as South Korean cultural legacies.

There are stories that Chinese Internet users were very angry when some heartless South Koreans wrote on the Net after the Szechuan Earthquake that they were glad to see a reduction in China’s population. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was visiting China at the time of the earthquake, and he visited the stricken areas. South Korea also sent personnel to help with the relief efforts, but I’ve heard that the writings on the Net had more of an impact. South Koreans fluent in Chinese are very assertive on Internet sites and don’t hold anything back.

Michigami: That’s regrettable, even though South Korean television dramas and young singers are also very popular in China. The historical disputes over Goguryeo and Balhae were already causing emotional antagonism between the people of the two countries. There are several times, or even ten times, more South Korean businesspeople and students than their Japanese counterparts throughout China. That might also be a factor behind the many instances of trouble or friction.

A: In addition to the disturbances when the Olympic flame relay passed through Seoul before the Beijing Olympics (c.f., here and here), there was also excitement in both countries about the women’s archery competition. South Koreans complained that the Chinese spectators were so noisy it affected the archery competition, which requires a high level of concentration. The Chinese shot back that there were more South Korean fans than Chinese, and the competition in the finals was conducted fairly.

Michigami: The South Koreans were livid about the conditions that resulted from the Olympic flame relay in Seoul, and the newspapers were harsh in their criticism. One asked, what right do the Chinese have to gather in the middle of Seoul, the capital of another country, and conduct such violent acts. Another asserted that the Chinese behavior planted an image in South Korean minds that China is an undignified, immature country. This was a blow to the Chinese reputation. The articles about archery (in South Korea) were even bigger the year after the Olympics. During the Japan-South Korea match in the Beijing Olympics, the South Koreans were shocked that most of the booing was directed at them rather than the Japanese. Booing anyone bothers me, and I would like to avoid these internal rifts among East Asians.

(end translation)

* Who knew that Pakistan would be the country the Chinese liked the best?

* Comparisons are odious, as Shakespeare had it, but it is worth noting the differences in international attitudes toward flame wars fought by post-adolescent Internet cybertoughs with more time on their hands than computer games can kill. The Anglosphere went through a period about 15 to 20 years ago when people got carried away with the freedom that anonymous and unlimited discussions of controversial topics on-line provided, and entire sections of the medium sank below the least common denominator. Those around at the time will remember the ugly logorrheic stupidity, particularly from college guys logging in with free .edu accounts when Internet service was still expensive for some. (It became a running joke that posters with .edu accounts were the least likely participants to have anything intelligent to say.)

Most everyone else has realized what a waste of time all that is. Some semi-lucid boyos still loiter looking for trouble, showing up more frequently in the comment sections of newspapers rather than independent websites, but they’re usually either ignored or made sport of.

That doesn’t seem to be the case in East Asia. Everyone’s seen how tediously relentless some South Koreans (and South Korean emigrants to English-speaking countries) can be about certain issues on the Internet, but few in the Anglosphere waste their time on more than a sentence or two before hitting the Delete button.

This dialogue suggests that’s not the case in China, however. The Chinese seem to be dead serious about it all. Perhaps that’s to be expected given the lack of normal outlets for political expression, the limitations under which even Internet discussion is conducted, and the sharp gender imbalance in a country of more than 1.3 billion, which means there are an awful lot of edgy guys with an awful lot of bottled-up energy and no way to turn it loose. The Chinese eugenicists—yes, that’s exactly what they are—are now reaping what they’ve sown, which has created that much more unpleasantness for the rest of the world.

During the recent Senkakus flap, the Japanese media reported that China’s political leadership was very aware of, and playing to, popular sentiment as expressed through the Internet. American politicians, if my observations at a distance are correct, tend to discount the distorting factor of mass Internet bleating unless the dissatisfaction manifests itself through other channels as well.

Japanese Internet opinion seems to be just as distorted. For example, Ozawa Ichiro was the runaway winner in many on-line surveys and polls during the recent Democratic Party presidential campaign, but he lost the real election to Kan Naoto. Conventional opinion polls show the margin of public disapproval of Mr. Ozawa to have been even greater than Mr. Kan’s margin of victory.


I was going to leave the music out of this one today, but 21st Century Schizoid Man came up with the perfect choice:

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