Japan from the inside out

Point and counterpoint

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 8, 2011

OE Kenzaburo, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994, has launched a petition drive to end the use of nuclear power in Japan.

During a news conference to publicize the petition, he said:

Restoring economic life is indeed an urgent issue, but we are extremely apprehensive at the expression of opinion that holds it is necessary to resume the operation of the nuclear power plants. Is it the case that we should give priority to economic activity (and ignore) the danger to life?

In response, Prof. Ikeda Nobuo wrote:

If he is giving priority to life rather than economic activity, why doesn’t Mr. Oe call for the prohibition of automobiles? Not a single person has died from the radiation emitted from the Fukushima accident, but automobiles will kill 5,000 people a year (in Japan). I would like to see him start a movement to ban all automobiles based on the prestige from his Nobel Prize and the principle that we should not be in thrall to economic rationality and productivity.

Further, more than 110,000 people die every year from smoking. Health and Welfare Minister Komiyama Yoko has called for a target price of JPY 700 for a pack of cigarettes, but the Finance Ministry is opposed. How about supporting the Health Minister rather than create a commotion about nuclear energy, which has caused little real damage?

This is probably beyond the capability of Mr. Oe to understand, but the world operates on the tradeoff between the economy and life. Eliminating all risk would mean prohibiting automobiles and airplanes and alcohol and cigarettes. We would also have to stop all power generation using coal and oil….

…The people who hobbled postwar Japan were the perennial opposition that championed an emotionalized sense of justice. They presented no plan for securing energy to replace the nuclear power they want to abandon. That is a mistake, and Mr. Kan Naoto gave us a very good idea of how frightening that should be if they were to take power.

Oe Kenzaburo

The figure of annual automobile fatalities he provides, by the way, is the minimum. Some years the number approaches twice that amount. Prof. Ikeda also points out that support for Mr. Oe’s position in Japan is concentrated among the elderly, which is an underlying point in the last paragraph.

It is not by coincidence that the generation of people such as Mr. Noda, at age 54, and Abe Shinzo, about to turn 57, are more comfortable with both nuclear power and the responsibility for handling national defense. The generation whose growth was stunted by postwar attitudes is passing from the scene. That should lead to “the end of the postwar regime” that Mr. Abe called for.

Finally, the Oe initiative will be given significant coverage by the media (for a day, anyway) because he is a Nobel laureate, but that will cut very little ice in Japan itself. The Japanese are already familiar with his political and social ideas.

The title of Prof. Ikeda’s blog post was “Sayonara, Oe Kenzaburo”.


Here are some additional facts worth noting about cigarettes and taxes.

* The tax was raised by JPY 3.5 per cigarette just last October.

* The idea of this tax is to earmark the revenue for recovery expenditures.

* Ms. Komiyama is an officer of a multi-party group of Diet members that aims to sharply limit smoking.

* Japan Tobacco Inc. is the company that sells cigarettes in Japan.

* By law, 50% of JT stock must be held by the government.

* The Finance Ministry has jurisdiction over JT and the stock owned by the government.

* Three former Finance Ministry bureaucrats are now officers of JT. That is exactly what people mean when they talk about amakudari.

* Also criticizing the cigarette tax proposal were Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu and — wait for it — Reform Minister Ren Ho. The Finance Ministry seconds bureaucrats as senior aides to both of those ministries.

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2 Responses to “Point and counterpoint”

  1. Marellus said


    I am a smoker. And all politicians that wants to tax cigarettes deserves to be burned. And don’t you dare quote all those horrible lung cancer stats to me. It’s galling I tell you.

    Anyway if cigarette taxes are raised too high, there will be more smuggling of cigarettes.

    Gov. Martin O’Malley promotes entrepreneurship. Kyun Hong seems to have answered the call.

    According to comptroller’s agents, he packed his Severna Park house with cigarettes and snuff bought across state lines and resold them to Baltimore retailers without paying Maryland’s tobacco tax.

    If he is a tobacco smuggler – he hasn’t been convicted and didn’t respond to a detailed message left at his house – he has competition. The doubling of Maryland’s cigarette tax two years ago has inspired uncounted numbers of small businessmen to do what comes naturally: Buy low and sell high.

    Nowhere else in the country do smugglers need to drive so short a distance to make so much money. Thanks to the abyss between Maryland’s cigarette tax and those of its neighbors, a pop across the Potomac for a van-full of smokes can easily net $5,000, even if you split the profits with the Maryland stores that buy them.

    Have you seen articles that China has also reduced the production of rare earths ? This means that offshore wind-farms will be a nonstarter. All those magnets in them turbines need rare earths.

    Not to mention the storage of electricity generated by wind-power. The batteries needed for this are big, bulky, and require Vanadium of which there is a shortage too.

    Which means you’re going back to coal, and the best way to play that is to invest in Zylotech Ltd They might just hit anthracite on their property in South Africa. Anthracite is the best coal to burn. It packs more energy per unit weight than any other coal on the market.

    Oh well, I know this is a ridiculous idea for Japan. But does this Nobel Novelist know that ?
    That’s a very short drive he had to make (I know, that’s where I come from) but that sort of thing’s been going on for a while. Cigarettes have always been expensive and highly taxed in New York, and people would rent larger trucks for a buying trip to North Carolina, where they grow tobacco and the smokes were dirt cheap.

    In Japan’s case, however, the tax would be national, and bringing in cheaper cigarettes, assuming they’re cheaper in South Korea, would mean serious smuggling.

    – A

  2. camphortree said

    Oe, a peace lover is born in Uchiko-cho that is one of small neighboring towns near my hometown in Ehime Ken. According to his memoir when he was young he had a serious fight with an ultra nationalisit teacher, then he wondered into a deep forest where he collapsed into a giant hallowed-out tree. He lost his consciousness there.
    My fammily happened to own some mountains that border nearby towns. These mountains are the ones my mother calls the grim reapers(死神山)because the mountains bring nothing but debt to my home. There are giant cedar trees and Japanese cypress trees here and there. We children used to clear the undergrowth of the forests during summer vacation. One time I slipped and rolled down the hill. Grabbing a prickly bush helped me stop my fall. My sisters and I called a red berry patch next to a brook a secret berry spring. That was supposed to be a secret, but I talked a lot in the village since I knew that no one would ever bother to go up there and steal.
    I have never seen a tree hollow that is big enough for me not even for a rabbit. No matter how big Japanese trees are no match with sequoia trees in the U.S. I wish I too were sucked into a mysterious forest and collapsed into a giant hallowed-out tree lke happened to Oe. Isn’t his experience as exciting as Dysney’s Sleepy Hollow? Too bad an evli Japanese soldier with an ultra nationalistic pumpkin helmet who was riding on a headless horse did not approach Oe during his stay in the wood.

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