Japan from the inside out

Archive for December, 2011

Kan Naoto’s northern exposure

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 31, 2011

The DPJ has an inseparable relationship with the extreme left.
– Isozaki Yosuke, LDP member of the upper house

Prime Minister Kan was originally a citizen-activist, so in some ways he is likely sympathetic to North Korea.
– Suganuma Mitsuhiro, former member of the Public Security Intelligence Agency

RECENT events in North Korea reminded me of a post I had planned to write earlier but didn’t find the time for. Then again, it’s about former Prime Minister Kan Naoto, whom most people in Japan would prefer to never be reminded of again. But the information it contains demands the stiffening of the upper lip and the blocking of the nostrils to finish the job. It involves the reason he decided to quit jerking the nation around after spending the summer doubling down on his jerkdom after escaping a no-confidence motion in the lower house.

Recall that Mr. Kan insisted he never gave his predecessor as prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio, a firm promise that he would resign in their early June meeting Mr. Hatoyama requested for just that purpose. He stayed vague and hazy about his plans throughout the summer, when he wasn’t hinting he would continue indefinitely in office as the National Torturer in Chief. He even indulged his inner Koizumi by examining the possibility of dissolving the Diet, calling a snap election, and running on the single issue of nuclear power. He finally threw in the spoon on 26 August, though earlier that week an interview with him appeared in one of the Asahi publications in which he again suggested he was in it for the long haul.

What made him change his mind? Here’s a possibility: The exposure of his murky ties with North Korea and other radical leftists was about to get him in trouble beyond his capabilities to ignore.

It isn’t unusual for politicians of the left in Western democracies to have questionable ties with unpleasant elements. For example, it’s well-known in the United States that Edward “Lion of the Senate” Kennedy thought Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov was more approachable and had more peaceful intentions than then-President Ronald Reagan.

The same mindset among Japanese politicians of the left has often become manifest in attitudes ranging from deference to cordiality or even stout defense of North Korea, particularly when Kim Il-sung was in charge. The delusion also infects people not ostensibly of the left; we’ve seen before the suspicions surrounding then-Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji of the DPJ, who quit while the quitting was good, and even Kato Koichi of the LDP, who nearly became prime minister.

The dirty Kan laundry was put through the wash in July, and it stained the water a muddy red. Most of the Japanese news media pretended it didn’t exist at first, but the story grew too big to ignore, and finally some Americans started sniffing around.

But Mr. Kan showed his colors long before that.

Shin Gwang-su

In 1980, North Korean agent Shin Gwang-su organized the abduction of Osaka cook Hara Tadaaki, in part to use Hara’s passport to enter Japan while working as a North Korean agent. He was a foot soldier in a six-year Pyeongyang program of clandestine warfare in which at least 17 Japanese were abducted, though the real total could have been as high as 70 or 80 people. Shin, a zainichi and native of Shizuoka, was also identified by Chimura Yasushi and Hasuike Kaoru as one of the two men who abducted them. The two Japanese and their families were repatriated in 2002.

Shin Gwang-su

North Korea denied the abductions for years, and the useful idiots and politicians of the left in Japan claimed it was all a conspiracy theory cooked up by whacked-out right wingers. Japan’s Socialist Party got along quite well with the North Koreans in friendly solidarity and sponsored a Peace Boat cruise to the country every summer. JSP leader Doi Takako visited Pyeongyang in 1987 for Kim Il-sung’s birthday party and said:

We JSP members respect the glorious success of DPRK under the great leader Kim Il Sung.

She was also shown on television telling the families of the abductees to “get over it”.

Shin was finally apprehended by South Korean authorities when in that country on another secret mission in 1985, and sentenced to death. Their interrogation revealed information about the abductions, his use of Hara’s passport, and his statement that he was instructed to conduct the operations by Kim Jong-il in person.

The plight of political prisoners in South Korea under the military dictatorship became a cause célèbre among the Japanese. (Westerners are familiar with the phenomenon with such cases as that of Mumia Abu-Jamal in the United States.) A petition circulated for their release was signed by 129 Japanese Diet members. In addition to members of the Socialist Party and Komeito, the forerunner of today’s New Komeito (many zainichi are members of the affiliated Soka Gakkai), two MPs from the small Democratic Socialist Federation also signed: Kan Naoto and Eda Satsuki. Mr. Eda would later become the second Justice Minister in the Kan Cabinet, replacing Chiba Keiko, who lost her upper house seat in the 2010 election. A Socialist Party member in those pre-DPJ days, she also signed the petition.

The South Koreans later commuted Shin’s sentence to life imprisonment. Then-President Kim Dae-jung sent him back to North Korea in 2000 as part of the Sunshine Policy, where he was hailed as a hero of the state. The Japanese police have an outstanding warrant for his arrest, but that would require the North Koreans to pinch their hero first and hand him over.

Kan and Eda claimed they had no idea that Shin had been involved in the abduction of Japanese nationals. Mr. Kan said he signed it only because someone asked him to, and he hadn’t paid much attention to the content of the document. The flippancy of that answer is typical of the profound disrespect he has displayed toward his countrymen and the political process throughout his career.

Chiba Keiko was grilled in the Diet on the same question in 2009 (by the Japanese Communist Party). She admitted that she had investigated Shin’s background at the time and discovered that he “probably” was involved in the abductions, but that problem was superseded by the greater human rights issue, which she did not specify. She allowed that signing the petition was a careless thing to do, which is more than Kan Naoto has ever done.

Just for you!

For me?

In late July, a previously unknown photo came to light that showed Kan Naoto during his visit to North Korea in March 1995 as part of a Japanese delegation that included Watanabe Michio and Aso Taro of the Liberal Democratic Party. (Watanabe had been foreign minister two years before and was to die that September.) Mr. Kan was in the Cabinet at that time as a member of the New Frontier Party, and fellow party member Hatoyama Yukio was also along for the trip.

The photo, seen here, was taken by a Japanese freelancer and shows Mr. Kan receiving a present from Kim Yong-sun, then head of the international division of the Workers’ Party of North Korea. In that role, Kim was responsible for directing North Korean spying and other undercover operations abroad.

It’s fascinating how often information potentially damaging to Japanese politicians seems to surface at certain times, even though the physical evidence had been around for a while. The freelancer’s other photographs taken at the time have also been made public. The only other person to have been photographed receiving a gift from Kim during the visit was Mr. Hatoyama.

It is also worthy of note that the New York Times considered Kim Yong-sun important enough to rate a brief obituary when he died following an automobile accident. Alas, they lacked the space to mention his work in the international division.

Campaign Cash

After Mr. Kan deflected the no-confidence motion in early June, the nation was livid at both his weaselly maneuvering and his refusal to specify a date for stepping down. That and the effect it would have on the Tohoku recovery occupied the public’s attention for the rest of the month.

The Kan-Sakai handshake

When it appeared that that the prime minister was digging in, some new information just happened to come to light in the first week of July. It was revealed that Mr. Kan’s political fund management committee donated JPY 62.5 million yen (more than $US 800,000) from 2007-2009 to a small political group linked to suspects in the North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens. Further, JPY 50 million of that amount was donated to the group in 2008. That is the maximum allowable amount, and it accounted for 60% of the group’s funding for the year.

The group benefiting from the Kan largesse was the Citizens’ Council for a Change of Government (shortened to Mezasu-kai in Japanese). It originated in and was created by the Shimin no To (Citizens’ Party).

CP head Sakai Takeru, who also travels under the name of Saito Masashi, has known Kan Naoto for 30 years. (photo). In fact, Mr. Sakai worked in the first Kan campaign for a Diet seat. He is a self-identified Leninist who has expressed solidarity with and support for the Red Army Faction of the Communist League, which hijacked a JAL flight to North Korea in 1970. In 2004, he wrote in the quarterly Risen (short for the Japanese “Theoretical Battle Line”):

I am (involved with) elections for the sake of revolution…my objective is revolution, so we must eventually change the central authority. But it is important to create a central territory where the revolutionaries are strong.

The Citizens’ Party walks the walk as well as talks the talk. Two members, Inoue Sakura and Yonahara Hiroko, managed to get themselves elected to the municipal assembly of Yokohama. On 29 May, 2002, they tried to pull down the Japanese flag displayed in the assembly’s main conference hall, and duked it out with the assembly staff before they were subdued. One week later, on 5 June, they took control of the seats of the assembly chairman and the secretary-general and blocked the session by refusing to move for six hours. The city of Yokohama finally expelled them as delegates.

The CP publishes a newspaper that openly supports North Korea and promoted the views of the Red Army Faction. It has also given space to Kan Naoto to promote his own views. He wrote for the paper:

I most definitely want to seek the ideal approach for a movement that combines both the labor movement and the citizens’ movement.

Under the direction of Mr. Sakai, the group created the Mezasu-kai in 2006 to back the then-opposition Democratic Party’s effort to win control of the government. One member of the new group was Mori Taishi, the son of the late leader of the Japanese Red Army, Tamiya Takamaro, and his wife, Mori Junko. Father was the leader of the JAL airliner hijacking group. Mother is on Interpol’s wanted list for abducting Ishioka Toru and Matsuki Kaoru from Europe to North Korea in 1980.

Their son Taishi was born in Pyeongyang and first came to Japan in 2004.

Said LDP Diet member Kawai Katsuyuki:

(He) was in North Korea until the age of 20. It is easy to imagine what sort of education he received.

It isn’t necessary to imagine his education at all, because the facts have been reported. He grew up in the “Japan Revolution Village” created on a site about an hour from Pyeongyang for eight Japanese families, including those of the hijackers. Mori received what has been described as a “revolutionary education” to convert Japan to Kim Il-sung-ism. In addition to textbooks, the village also had rifle ranges and boxing rings, and the training was conducted as a family. Every morning the village turned out to sing “The 10 Pledges”, which included promises to conduct the unconditional and thorough implementation of the Two Kims’ teachings, to protect the organization’s secrets with their lives, and to create revolution in Japan. The families had 20 children altogether, and all of them came to Japan.

Citizens’ Party head Sakai Takeru, Kan’s pal of 30 years, visited them in North Korea 10 years ago and met the villagers.

In April, Mori Taishi ran for the municipal assembly of Mitaka, a municipality in the Tokyo Metro District, but lost. He was officially endorsed by the Citizens’ Party.

As you might imagine, the opposition parties thought Mr. Kan had some explaining to do. Kan Naoto was his usual charming self:

I made the donation to provide solidarity and support to a local party to fulfill my job as an officer (acting president) of the party (DPJ) at the time…It was my decision to make the donation, so I have no intention of asking them to return it.


The flow of my political funds has been properly submitted in its entirety.

Well, that wasn’t the issue, was it? He continued:

I thought it would be a positive to become allied with them.

He added that he saw no reason to apologize to the abductees’ families, and that he didn’t know of the Mezasu-kai membership links to the abductions. Incidentally, as prime minister, he was the head of the special government group for dealing with the abduction issue.

His lack of knowledge about the group didn’t stop him from personally funneling the maximum donation to them in 2008. People wondered why he spent that much money on a group he knew so little about — unless his knowledge was limited to their affiliation with the political party of his Leninist friend. In any event, no one believed him any more this time than they did when he cavalierly dismissed his signature on the petition to free Shin Gwang-su.

For another perspective, here’s Prof. Iwai Tomoaki of Nihon University:

It is commonplace for politicians in Japan to make donations within the framework of one political family – usually through the parent organization to several sub-organizations as a means of helping them financially. I have seldom seen a case like Mr. Kan’s, in which political funds have been channeled into an outside political organization that seemingly is not directly linked with his body. In view of the prevailing accepted practices in Japanese politics, it certainly is a puzzling flow of funds.

It gets more puzzling: Tokyo prosecutors agreed to a request to investigate the donation for possible criminal prosecution. They checked the books of the Kan political fund committee and found a negative balance of funds on the date one of the donations was made. That meant it should have been impossible to give them any money. There is also no evidence of a loan. How can a donation be made with invisible funds?

Mr. Kan finally apologized in the Diet on 21 August, though he made sure to attach qualifiers to it first. He was unable to look his questioner in the eye.

In addition to their election activities, Mezasu-kai was also discovered to have spent money lavishly in Ginza nightclubs, Tokyo-area restaurants, and a Naha, Okinawa steakhouse. Lavish in this case is the equivalent of thousands of dollars at a time.

There’s more. Isn’t there always?

The political fund group of former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio also donated JPY 10 million yen to Mezasu-kai, and groups affiliated with six DPJ MPs gave money to the Citizens’ Party. But turnabout is fair play: Mezasu-kai donated JPY 16.9 million to groups affiliated with three Democratic Party members.

The group received JPY 249.6 million yen in all from several DPJ Diet members. One of them was Washio Eiichiro, who served on a special lower house committee for the abduction issue. You guessed it: he claimed his group didn’t know the Mezasu-kai back story, either. Mr. Washio was seen as a “conservative” (whatever that means in the DPJ universe), but Citizens’ Party head Sakai served as his aide for four years. Mr. Washio explained that he was a friend of his father, was introduced to him as a reliable person, and helped with his election campaigns. He said that he felt somewhat betrayed.

What an incurious lot, these Japanese politicians.

It was then revealed in August that the Citizens’ Party had dispatched six people to work as aides for four DPJ diet members to help in election campaigns. They were paid with public funds, which were divvied up into equal shares and distributed to all the party members. Spreading the wealth!

Finally, the Citizens’ Party is registered as a political group that is affiliated with Diet members, in this case four DPJ members.

South Korean money

Kan Naoto was also discovered to have received substantial donations twice from a South Korean national — quite against the law — once in 2006 and once in 2009. These donations came to light on 11 March, the same day as the Tohoku earthquake, so the news was lost to the public consciousness. But prosecutors in Tokyo were sufficiently curious to begin an investigation in May. Mr. Kan later returned the money, but the opposition boycotted an upper house Budget Committee session when he refused to hand over documents on the illegal donations.

The Kan government and North Korea

How did the prime minister’s feelings of solidarity for socialism Korean style translate into actual policy? The record is mixed. In April, still spending most of its time dealing with the Tohoku disaster, the Kan government extended the existing Japanese sanctions on North Korea. Those include the prohibition of imports, luxury exports, and Japanese port calls by North Korean ships. Mr. Kan instructed officials to study the possibility of tougher sanctions if Pyeongyang continued to stonewall the proposal for talks to discuss Japan’s doubts that all the abductees have been returned.

This does not necessarily mean he favored additional penalties or even the ones already in place. He may not know much about the recipients of his political donations, but he knows as well as any other politician the emotional resonance of the issue in Japan.

More in accord with his inner compass was his government’s granting of visas to five members of the North Korean Olympic Committee for meetings of the Olympic Council of Asia in Tokyo in mid-July. It was the first time in five years anyone with a North Korean passport had been allowed to enter Japan. The government explained that the constitution of the OCA, the governing body for sports in the region, calls for the separation of sports and politics.

Apparently the Olympic authorities do not consider North Korean concentration camps to be as reprehensible as the behavior of apartheid-era South Africa, which was prevented from participating in the 1964 Summer Olympics and was expelled from the IOC in 1970.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, said they hoped this would lead to improved relations with Japan.

But if any act of the Kan government encapsulates the Kan approach to politics, it was the prime minister’s request of the education ministry to resume its consideration of permitting free schooling for the Chongryon-operated high schools in the country — on the morning of the day the DPJ was to caucus to select his successor. (Chongryon is the General Association of North Korean Residents in Japan.) In other words, one of Kan Naoto’s last acts in office was a political middle finger. One plank of the DPJ election platform was to make high school attendance free for all students. (The Japanese once took seriously the concept of compulsory education ending at age 15 and required tuition for high school.)

This would seem to be in violation of Article 89 of the Japanese constitution that prohibits public expenditures for any educational enterprise not under the control of public authority. The Chongryon schools have their own curriculum, teach the juche philosophy/religion, and have pictures of Kim I and II on the walls. It has not been reported whether they sing the Ten Pledges to start the day, as Mori Taishi did in the Japan Revolutionary Village.

The DPJ was working to implement this part of their manifesto when the North Koreans conducted a rocket attack on a South Korean island in November 2010, so public opinion would not allow them to move further. Mr. Kan said the resumption of the effort was justified because conditions on the peninsula had reverted to those prevailing before the attack. He also said it would be possible to provide the students with money retroactively to April, when the school year starts.

Waking up

Most of the information on the donation to the Mezasu-kai and the connections of the principals was reported by the Sankei Shimbun starting in July. The rest of the print and broadcast media looked the other way in public, even though the revelations caused some sharp questioning in the Diet. That ended on 28 July, when the Yomiuri Shimbun published its first report on the matter.

One day later, a project team was formed in the Diet with members from several parties to investigate the donations. Attending the first meeting was Azuma Shozo — a DPJ Cabinet member who was the deputy minister for handling the abduction issue. Talk began of an intra-party DPJ coup organized by four senior members of the party.

More ominous was that the controversy had started to attract attention in the U.S. and generated concerns about Kan Naoto’s trustworthiness. Better late than never, eh? The American ambassador John Roos even traveled to Niigata at this time to visit the site where the 13-year-old Yokota Megumi was kidnapped by North Korean agents in 1977.

These revelations and the reaction to them seem to have finally budged the intractable Kan. Everyone knows he announced his resignation on 26 August, but few know the exposure of his political associations is the factor that seems to have pushed him into it.

People will be singing Auld Lang Syne at midnight on New Year’s Eve throughout the English-speaking world. The song begins: Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?

Ask that question in Japan about Kan Naoto, and the answer will be yes. Many people will be taking a cup of kindness, but no one will be toasting him.


* The Cabinet of Noda Yoshihiko, Mr. Kan’s successor, declined to strengthen economic sanctions against North Korea. For some reason, they think there are prospects for new talks about denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

After taking office, Mr. Noda said he would carefully examine the Kan order to re-examine the benefits for Chongyron schools. That means he isn’t going to quash it and is buying time until emotions subside.

He also appointed Hiraoka Hideo as justice minister. Mr. Hiraoka is a pacifist who attended the 50th anniversary party for Chongyron schools. He supports diplomatic recognition for North Korea, opposed the dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces to deal with the Somalian pirates, and thinks the law is too strict on political donations from foreign countries.

One criticism of Noda Yoshihiko’s behavior as prime minister is that he gives precedence to the party over the national interest. His personal attitude toward the countries on the Korean Peninsula would be at home in the LDP, but his party is populated with so many people who share the ideas of Kan Naoto, Eda Satsuki, Chiba Keiko, and Hiraoka Hideo that he has to take them into account. The perpetual eggshell walk of DPJ leaders to prevent party dissolution is one of the many reasons they are not fit to govern.

* Some of the conversation between Kim Jong-il and the late South Korean President Ro Mu-hyeon at their Pyeongyang summit on 3 October 2007 was revealed by South Korean government sources on the 30th. Ro pressed Kim to take a forward-looking approach to returning South Korean abductees — the North Koreans have plenty of them, too — but Kim rebuffed him. He said:

Even though we went so far as to apologize, Japan attacked us.

In other words, Kim viewed his return of the Japanese abductees as a diplomatic failure, and he wasn’t about to let that happen again. He also alluded to criticism he received from the military when he added:

There are people around me who are known as hardliners.

So the abductions have blown up in everyone’s face, including that of Kim, thought to be the man responsible for them. That alone might say more about the state of governance in North Korea than the opinions of all the pundits put together.

British rocker Peter Frampton saw a documentary on Yokota Megumi and the abductions and was moved to dedicate two songs to her.

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Posted in Government, North Korea, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Ichigen koji (87)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 31, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

(The Democratic Party) has betrayed both their promise and the cause of replacing bureaucratic leadership with political leadership, which has lead to the strengthening of bureaucratic leadership. The result of that is the consumption tax increase. Popular will has slapped a big NO on the Democratic party for breaking its promise and trying to force through a consumption tax increase that they did not promise.

The problem is that the public does not want to entrust the government again to the Liberal Democratic Party. The latest public opinion polls regarding the rates of support for the political parties show that the LDP and the DPJ are about even. That’s because the public views the LDP as having reverted to the LDP of old. Now, more than ever, the LDP should return to the starting point of its promise with the people in 2005. That is the course of small government with the privatization of Japan Post as the entrance. Clearly showing their opposition to the DPJ will strengthen the public’s sense of expectation for a return to LDP rule.

– Nakagawa Hidenao, former LDP secretary-general

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The masters of multiculti

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, December 29, 2011

IN a recent post, I mentioned a survey which broke down the national population by religious affiliation and found that the statistically average Japanese would consider himself a believer in 2.7 religions. While religious purists might find that appalling, the Japanese, perhaps the most naturally syncretic people on earth, wouldn’t even blink at the news. For example, I once worked with a young Japanese woman who was a such a serious Roman Catholic that she kept an illustration of Christ under the clear vinyl covering on her desk. Yet, for extra income (and probably because she enjoyed it), she also served as a miko, or Shinto shrine maiden, on weekends to assist priests during wedding ceremonies. No one thought this was unusual at all, including, I suspect, the Shinto priests.

One reason for the laissez-faire approach is the partial syncretism that has existed between the proto-religion of Shinto and the latecomer Buddhism, which showed up in the archipelago in the sixth century. The partnership got off to a rough start in 698 when a Shingon sect established a temple near the Ise shrines because they thought the Shinto deities required the Buddha’s spiritual guidance. That demonstrated some serious Shingon sack, because one of the enshrined deities at Ise is Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun and the universe and the progenitrix of the Imperial line.

They paid for the blasphemy, however, as the damage from a typhoon in 772 caused the shrine to be temporarily dismantled. The typhoon was said to be a sign of divine displeasure at the presence of Buddhist symbols so close to the most important Shinto place of worship.

But proselytizers everywhere are relentless, and the Japanese Buddhists kept plugging away throughout the Heian period (794-1185) to promote a synthesis. Their efforts culminated with the development of the Ryobu Shinto (Dual Shinto) school, one of the main tenets of which held that Amaterasu was the manifestation of Dainichi Nyorai (Mahavairocana), or the Great Sun Buddha. Ryobu Shinto lasted for centuries, influenced straight Shinto thought, and allowed Buddhist temples to take control of Shinto shrines. Sites with both temples and shrines were common in Japan for close to a millennium. That arrangement ended in 1868 when the government ordered their separation as part of the program to establish State Shinto.

Exceptions remain, however, as can be seen in the photograph, which shows a Shinto shrine in front of Nigatsu-do at the Buddhist temple Todai-ji in Nara. That temple is known for housing the largest bronze statue of the Buddha in Japan, as well as being the largest wooden building in the world. It dates from the 8th century, but is affiliated with the Kegon sect rather than Shingon.

An estimated 99.39 million of the 127 million Japanese visited a shrine or temple (usually the former) during the three-day New Year period in 2009, so the Nara collocation makes it a convenient holiday stop.

In fact, ceremonies from the two traditions are combined here at an annual Buddhist rite called the Shunie, which is a gathering of priests for prayer and purification in February under the old calendar. (Nigatsu-do translates as February Hall.) Nowadays it starts on 1 March and continues for 14 days. The ritual at Todai-ji is one astonishing combination of elements that could happen only in Japan: disease-curing water magically traveling 175 kilometers, an archery demonstration, sake drinking, frenzied dancing with torches lit by sacred fire by Buddhist priests on retreat for exorcism and to pray for world peace while eating only one partial meal a day, and thousands of people who come to watch and hope that the sacred sparks fall on them. It was started by a Buddhist priest in 752 out of atonement for going fishing instead of going to a prayer meeting. (Read all about it at this previous post.)

Before the priestly procession holes up at Nigatsu-do, they stop off at the Shinto shrine and say a prayer to the tutelary deity. The procession is then blessed and purified with a gohei, a wooden wand with cloth streamers called shide that is used in Shinto rituals. (Here’s a Japanese site with a simple video and diagrams of how to make ’em, including a photo of the finished product.)

Some of the too-cool-for-school rational secularists out there could learn a few things from the Japanese.

Here’s a 30-second commercial for JR Nara showing Todai-ji and featuring scenes of the torch ceremony. The background music is Stranger in Paradise.

See what I mean?

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Posted in Religion, Shrines and Temples, Traditions | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

Ichigen koji (86)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, December 29, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

In my long career, there has never been a time in which politics are more important than now, but politics have never been in greater upheaval than they are now. It is the first time we have not been trusted by the people. I have no excuse I can give them, and I feel like I want to cry…

…I left the Liberal-Democratic Party because I thought a two (major) party system would stabilize politics. The Democratic Party has worked really hard, but things didn’t work out as I thought they would. No one is saying they have hopes for the LDP because the DPJ is terrible…and no one is saying they want to back Ozawa Ichiro because they can’t rely on Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko.

– Watanabe Kozo (79), one of six “supreme advisors” of the Democratic Party of Japan. The statement is all the more astonishing because it combines clear insight (the last part that begins with “No one”) with such balderdash that it is manifest he hasn’t been paying attention to the events transpiring under his nose or the popular will for the past 20 years.

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Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 28, 2011

THE United States is displeased with Japanese behavior in financial markets, reports Reuters:

The report…criticiz(ed) Tokyo for its solo yen-selling interventions in August and October that followed a joint Group of 7 action in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake.

“The unilateral Japanese interventions were undertaken when exchange market conditions appeared to be operating in an orderly manner and volatility in the yen-dollar exchange rate was lower than, for example, the euro-dollar market,” the report said.

“In contrast to the post-earthquake joint G7 intervention in March, the United States did not support these interventions,” the Treasury said, adding that Tokyo should pursue reforms to revive its domestic economy rather than try to influence the exchange rate.

Isn’t that last sentence rich? One of the reasons for the yen appreciation is that the Americans are using a weak dollar to revive their own domestic economy. Who do these foreigners think they are, anyway?

There’s a reason Japan intervened:

Japanese exporters have complained that the ultra-strong yen puts them at a competitive disadvantage. The yen was trading at just under 78 to the U.S. dollar on Wednesday morning, about 3 percent weaker than it was on October 31, when Tokyo aggressively intervened to cap the rise.

That should read, “the ultra-strong yen puts them at an ultra-strong competitive disadvantage”. The exchange rate is forcing Japanese manufacturers to shift production overseas. The effect that will have on domestic employment and the economy should be obvious. Indeed, the yen has appreciated by more than 30% against the dollar since the fall of 2008 — just three years. Had those figures been reversed, the Internet would have collapsed from the pixel overload generated from the North American continent warning that the sky was about to fall.

The article notes the Americans also had sharp words for the South Koreans.

In short, the United States expects the Japanese and the South Koreans to act in the best interest of the United States rather than in the best interest of Japan and South Korea. The U.S. also expects Japan to conform to its expectations if it is to participate in the TPP.

Meanwhile, there was a report in Japan yesterday that the government will conduct serious talks with China and South Korea next year about a trilateral free trade agreement. Japan will also step up purchases of Chinese government debt, and the Chinese will facilitate Japanese yuan investment in China and Japanese corporate issues of yuan-denominated bonds. That shouldn’t be surprising:

* China is Japan’s largest trading partner.

* China is the country with the largest number of overseas Japanese subsidiaries.

* China in particular, and the rest of East Asia in general, is the primary focus of international expansion for Japanese SMBEs.

That’s not to mention such subsidiary elements of bilateral ties as the 70,000 Chinese students in Japanese colleges and universities.

The report did not seem to have the desired effect, however:

“This report does not make it more difficult for Japan to intervene,” said (a senior Japanese government) official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic. “We are committed to doing whatever is necessary.”

Did the Americans notice that Prime Minister Noda visited India after leaving China? One could almost hear the NHK radio announcers and guest commentators drooling yesterday over the potential for the contracts to improve the Indian infrastructure.

It would behoove the United States to wise up and realize they no longer have the leeway to push their luck. In today’s climate, copping that Attitude isn’t going to win them friends or keep the ones they have. It’s getting old, faster than some people might think.


The article about India states that the Japanese approach to that country began with Aso Taro. It actually started with Abe Shinzo, who outlined the idea in the book he published before becoming prime minister.

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Posted in Business, finance and the economy, China, India, International relations | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Holy mother

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 28, 2011

MOTHERHOOD is an integral part of the narrative that religions present, whether the mother is the Aztec earth goddess, Mary in the Roman Catholic tradition, or Kim Jong-suk in the religion of Juche. For you unbelievers, Kim Jong-suk was Kim Il-sung’s wife and Kim Jong-il’s sainted mother. Her portrait is placed on walls in the home and worshipped in the same way as those of her husband and son.

Sheela na Gig --- The Maternal

Jong-suk died at the age of 31 while giving birth to a stillborn daughter. She is officially known as “The Heroine of the Anti-Japanese Revolution”, and was given the posthumous title of Hero of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on 21 September 1972. Even though Jong-suk died while quite young, she is also cited as the founder of the Workers’ Party of Korea auxiliary organizations, the Korean Children’s Union, and the Korean Democratic Women’s Union. Verily, she must have been possessed by the divine spirit.

It’s natural, therefore, for theologians to turn their attention to the mother of Kim Jong-eun, the latest blessed event in that country’s continuing stream of miracles. Her name was Ko Yong-hui, and she died in 2004 after having brought forth Second Son Kim Jong-cheul (AKA The Girly Man) and Kim Jong-eun, who was known in his younger days as the “Morning Star General”. Perhaps his manger was strategically placed as part of Providence’s plan to guide the Wise Men to Pyeongyang.

Ko was one of Kim Jong-il’s mistresses rather than his wife. He had another concubine when they met, but she quickly became his favorite. Shortly before her death, the propagandists got to work and proclaimed her “The Respected Mother who is the Most Faithful and Loyal Subject to the Dear Leader Comrade Supreme Commander”. (It’s good to be king, eh?) They seem to have started the process of elevating her to the Pantheon too, but that project has now ended.

In fact, she’s lately become something of a non-person, despite being a literal non-person for seven years. The North Korean People Urgent Action Network (RENK) a Japan-based NPO, reported on the 23rd that Ko’s name has not appeared in any of the local media reports about her son following the death of The Son earlier this month. The Respected Mother, etc., no longer seems to be worthy of veneration.

That’s probably because she was born in Osaka.

RENK also reports that the mention of her birthplace and place of residence for the first 11 years of her life has been classified top secret, the mere mention of which will result in severe punishment. (RENK thinks that means concentration camps.) Thus, North Korean heretics face the real risk of Hell on Earth, even if the heresy is said to be an open secret in the country.

Juche Tower --- The Paternal

Ko was a member of a zainichi family; i.e., Japanese-born ethnic Koreans who choose to retain Korean citizenship. Her family repatriated when she was 11 under a program that was conducted from 1950 to 1984. She later became a member of a dance troupe that entertained His Holiness, who saw the light after seeing her righteous moves on the dance floor.

RENK speculates this situation might cause problems with Chongryun, the association of North Korean citizens in Japan (some members of which have seats in the North Korean national assembly). Chongryun knows all the facts too, so from the regime’s perspective, they know too much. Will that cause Pyeongyang to place some distance between themselves, despite the financial assistance the group provides? A controversy such as this could cause the Mother of all Schisms.

Here’s the problem: Though her family was ethnically Korean, Ko was born in an unclean place rather than the Pure Land, and the North Koreans are nothing if not purists. Worse, one of the principle tenets of the Church of Juche is that everyone in Japan has cloven hooves and forked tongues. Finally, it doesn’t help that her Korean ancestors were from Jeju Island, which is now part of South Korea. (The location of the family seat is a big deal in Korean culture.)

All of this brings to mind another question: When Kim Jong-eun and his brother Jong-chul visited Japan in 1991, did they swing by Osaka to see their mother’s hometown?

Kim Jong-nam at the Gates of Hell (Kitamura Toshifumi/AFP/Getty Images)

That’s right: Officials in both Japan and South Korea have confirmed that the two brothers entered the country on 12 May 1991 and stayed for 11 days. Kim Jong-eun, then eight years old, was carrying a Brazilian passport in the name of Joseph Park, and he obtained a Japanese visa in Vienna. The Japanese were tipped off that he was in the country illegally and investigated, but he had already left.

They traced a credit card used by an adult member of the traveling party and discovered that one of the places they visited was Tokyo Disneyland. That’s a favorite destination of the Kim brothers — Number One Son Kim Jong-nam was caught with his wife and kids in Tokyo on 1 May 2001 traveling on a Dominican passport. Before their deporation, he told authorities that he was taking the family to see Disneyland. It was later revealed that Jong-nam had been a frequent visitor to Tokyo. Rumor has it that he stayed in the same Shinbashi hotel and that he especially liked the public baths.

Really, Japan and the Disney Corporation should be proud of themselves. Christians make pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Lourdes, Moslems try to visit Mecca at least once in their lifetimes, and the Kim Brothers bowed at the Tokyo shrine of Mickey and Minnie.

And that brings to mind the final question: Did Kim Jong-nam and Kim Jong-eun feel a special kinship with the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride when they swung by Fantasyland?

Update: There’s a report now in Japan from two sources, one of whom is a Chongryun official, that a crisis could erupt in North Korea as soon as February. The party and the military are trying to establish Jong-eun’s position, but any unhappiness over the division of spoils could touch off an old-fashioned Joseon dynastic struggle, they say. Battles of this sort between two sons of the king with different mothers are an old story in other parts of the world as well.

These sources suggest that Number One Son Jong-nam (who has gotten fatter since the above picture was taken) is still a factor to be accounted for. The Chongryun source says he is very personable and has maintained ties with people in the party and the military his own age. He goes so far as to say he is even quite popular among this group. The source also notes that he was the heir apparent before he got caught with his proverbial pants down in Japan.

Finally, Jong-nam himself says he urged his father to open the country and adopt reforms, and got exiled for his opinion. There is, say the sources, a reform wing of sorts in North Korea, and it is not out of the question the reformers would unite behind him.

The Sheela na Gig photo was taken by John Harding
The Kims are consecrated boys, every last one of them.

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Ichigen koji (85)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 27, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

The North has several problems, but the most serious is the absence of a fixed retirement age for the military. That makes reform of the military impossible.

– Kim Jong-nam, eldest son of Kim Jong-il, from his Macao home. The son seems not to have known of his father’s death until the official announcement. He is said to attribute this to military interference. His name does not appear on the list of the 232 members of the state funeral committee.

If true, this might throw some light on the real nature of the country’s leadership.

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Nippon Noel 2011

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 25, 2011

CHRISTMAS customs in East Asia may lack the self-perpetuating momentum of the holiday in Christian countries in the West with a longer tradition, but the season and its symbols can still generate intense emotion in this part of the world. An example is the the steel towers decorated as Christmas trees that an evangelical group erects every year two miles from the North Korean border on the 100-foot-high Aegibong Hill. They were to have been illuminated on Friday, which would have made them visible to soldiers on the northern side of the border and residents of the North Korean city of Kaesong.

The decorations have caused periodic friction between the two countries — Bah, humbug might well be the North Korean national motto — and so were stopped in 2004. The group resumed the practice in 2010, but this year the Scrooges in Pyeongyang said they’d shoot out the lights and it would be the southerners’ fault if they did. Since no one has any idea of the leadership’s current state of mind up north, or even who constitutes the leadership, the South Koreans decided discretion was the better part of holiday virtue and will refrain from flipping the switch on the towers this week.

Fortunately, there’s a lot more peace on the Japanese part of the earth, and they can and do light all the Christmas trees they want anywhere they feel like it. The Japanese view Christmas as an excellent opportunity to stage a festival of light. Indeed, with all the imagination incorporated into the designs, their variations on the theme of tannenbaum might be considered a minor form of public art. Here are some of the best in 2011.


They’ve been partying since 13 November at the Aqua Christmas 2011 festivities in Odaiba. The sponsors have exhibited a seven-meter-high Marina Fantasy Tree that represents a Christmas tree rising out of the sea, which is a satisfying image for an island country. An added touch is that the colors change in coordination with the music.

They’re just as abstract over at the Shinjuku Southern Terrace shopping facility. Inside the tower are two switches that change the lights from red to green to blue to a Christmasy pink to yellow to rainbow, accompanied by stately bell sounds. They’re calling it the Kizuna Tree, with kizuna being the human ties that bond, and they suggest it’s an excellent way for couples to strengthen their own ties. Christmas Eve is the big date night of the year in Japan, and if a young couple were to stop by to strengthen their ties at the Kizuna Tree and wound up buying something before they left, then so much the better.

The cutbacks in power consumption necessitated by the Tohoku disaster forced people to use their imaginations and discover new ways to find the juice for the lights. The most frequently adopted solution is LEDs, but many places also use wind power, and some even went with vegetable oil.

Wind power was the choice to light up a 400-meter stretch of zelkova trees in toney Roppongi Hills. It’s the first time they’ve trimmed the trees for Christmas in this neighborhood, so they decided to get creative with pink and beige lights designed to look like a waterfall. Those lights don’t look pink or beige, and they don’t resemble a waterfall either, but that’s what the copy said.

Awareness of the Tohoku disaster is still fresh in everyone’s minds, and that’s why the trees displayed in the central concourse at the JR Ueno Station were decorated with ornaments made in the areas hardest hit in March. They were put together by women in Kuji and Rikuzentakata in Iwate, and Ishinomaki in Miyagi who were suddenly unemployed in the aftermath of the earthquake/tsunami. The operation was put together by a group in Saitama called Team Tomodachi to help those in the stricken areas. They asked the women to make the ornaments, which they then sold to remunerate them for their work. The material used was the leftovers from the process for manufacturing organic cotton products.

The trees themselves were put up by Atre Ueno, a local shop, with the help of the Tokyo and Sendai branches of the East Japan Railway Co. and Ueno Station.

Seven women from Ishinomaki came to Ueno in November to hang the ornaments with Atre Ueno employees. One of the women explained that she thought she wouldn’t be able to do it when someone approached her with the idea — she had spent her whole life processing wakame seaweed by hand, and crafts were not her hobby. The longer the group worked together, however, the more fun they had. She said that, on reflection, she lost a lot this year, but also wound up gaining something as well.


A look at some of the posts under the Christmas tag for a peek at Christmases past will show that PET bottles are a favorite choice as a tree material substitute. All the trees along this pedestrian walkway near the municipal offices in Nantan, Kyoto, were made with the preformed polyethylene terephthlate. The members of a local club found about 3,500 empties, which surely left them with sticky fingers. They weren’t too sticky, however, to prevent them from putting together 30 1.8-meter trees of six levels with 30 bottles, and two 2.4-meter trees of eight levels with 500 bottles, and then lining them up along the 200-meter pathway. If you’re in the neighborhood and want to see for yourself, they’ll be lit until 8:00 p.m. tonight.


An executive committee consisting mostly of JCs got profligate with the LEDs a little further to the north in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, and used 200,000 to decorate a 200-meter-long row of zelkova trees at the city’s Tsuba Center square near the train station for the seventh year.

This year, they wanted the display to reflect the wishes for national recovery, so the lights spell out Gambaro Nippon, or Let’s Fight, Japan.

There’s another tree-based illuminated decoration at the Chuo Koen (Central Park) in the city. If you can’t make it there for Christmas, don’t worry — they’ll be up until 9 January, and that makes a few more than the standard 12 days of Christmas.


Santa will visit and a tree will be lit at the Noritake Garden, a ten-year-old park in Nagoya. Mr. Claus will again climb the chimney on the ceramics plant to plant a 12-meter-high tree there. The reduced supply of electricity this year caused by fallout from the Fukushima disaster will be offset by a solar power generator installed at the facility in October, capable of producing an average of 120 kW a day.


Everybody likes Christmas surprises, so the Shinwa Construction Co. in Osaka has had a suprise for a different neighborhood every year for the past eight years. They use the front lot of whatever condominium that they happen to be in the process of building and put up a 12-meter-high Christmas tree with 30,000 LEDs with no warning on 1 December. Naturally, this keeps the Osakans wondering where the tree will turn up every year, and making a special trip to see when they find out. This year the tree was put up in Yodogawa Ward, but this photo shows one from about five years ago.

The company also staged a “Christmas Event” on the 22nd and 23rd with an artificial snow machine and stalls selling such Yuletide delicacies as oden and yakitori roasted o’er an open fire.


Not all that gllitters is an LED. The 10-meter-high tree put up by the Ukai Venetian Glass Museum in Hakone consists of 70,000 pieces of crystal glass, which flash in seven different colors in the sunlight. Though it’s illuminated externally at night, as you can see in the video, the tree itself has no internally lit ornaments. The facility also added 60 candles and 180 lanterns to the park exhibit on 1 December.


The northern island of Hokkaido is cold enough to pass for the North Pole — they start wearing jackets at night at the end of August — so Christmas comes naturally to the natives. The city of Hakodate is also known for the big trees at its Hakodate Christmas Fantasy. It’s so well known, in fact, that the city of Hirosaki in the neighboring prefecture of Aomori put up their own 20-meter tree at the site. Hirosaki Mayor Kasai Noriyuki explained the display was to promote ties between the two cities.

And hey, what’s Christmas without a fireworks display?


The Kagoshimanians also got into the Christmas spirit by making three trees out of PET bottles, which they displayed at a big shopping mall in the center of the city. It’s the third year Yamagata-ya has put up PET bottle trees to enhance awareness of ecological activities and recycling. The main six-meter-high tree used about 2,800 bottles brought by customers and 6,500 LEDs provided by the store, and if you look behind the adult Santa in the photo, you can see one of the three smaller subsidiary trees. They got the store customers to help put them together and hang the decorations, which is a bit like Tom Sawyer getting his friends to paint the fence, though this was more fun and a lot less messy.


A cosmetics manufacturing and sales company way down south in Fukuoka City decided to help make spirits bright up north after a very gloomy year in Fukushima, whose name will now be forever associated with a nuclear disaster. That’s why they put up this big tree next to the JR Fukushima Station in the city. Trimming any tree with more than 40,000 LEDs is bound to brighten the neighborhood and spirits both. Said local resident Matsumoto Ryoko, aged 75:

Just looking at it cheers me up. After this difficult year with the disaster, these are lights of hope.

They’ll be lit in their city until 11:00 p.m. tonight, and hopefully in their hearts for many more nights to come.

The year I came to Japan there was a musical tsunami in the form of Yamashita Tatsuro’s soundtrack to the movie The Big Wave. It hit #2 on the charts, making it one of the most successful soundtrack records in Japan. It was especially popular among people in their 20s and 30s, both because it was so well done, and because Yamashita himself was a favorite among people of that age at the time.

One half of the LP consisted of Yamashita’s tunes, and the other half of Beach Boy remakes that are more listenable than the originals, but then my taste lies in directions other than that of the Wilson brothers. He didn’t need any brothers for the harmonies because he overdubbed all the vocal parts himself.

Yamashita is (or should be) in the top rank of international pop music auteurs. Asked about his musical inspiration, he said he grew up listening to FEN (Far East Network), the radio station for American servicemen in this part of the world, which anyone with a transistor radio in Tokyo can hear. The production values of his music also recall uptown soul music, so if you can imagine a Japanese singer creating original material that mixes Beach Boy and soul music influences, then you’re close to the Yamashita sound.

Even better known than the original Big Wave LP is his Christas song, called Christmas Eve, which was released as a single the year before. It reached only #44 on the 1983 charts (the LP from which it came was #1), but it had miraculous staying power: it’s the only Japanese pop song to reach the Top 100 for 20 straight years. The single eventually sold 1.8 million copies, boosted by its use as the theme song for JR East’s seasonal commercials starting in 1986. The residuals alone must surely mean that all of his Christmases will be bright.

What better cyber-present could there be than an embedded video of the song with scenes from the commercials throughout the years? Here’s hoping that your real presents are as sweet as the girl waiting behind the train station pillar in 1989. メリークリスマス!

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Visions of mochi dancing in their heads

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 24, 2011

ARE there any people more culturally syncretic than the Japanese? Examples of that syncretism present themselves every day in Japan, but this is one of the best I’ve ever seen.

A Fukushima City nursery school held its annual Christmas party this week, and about 50 parents and children attended. Though only about 1% of Japanese identify as Christians, secular Christmas parties are commonplace, as they are in some other non-Christian countries. Speaking of syncretism, one survey that broke down the national population by religious affiliation found that the statistically average Japanese would consider himself a believer in 2.7 religions.

This was a party for young children, so the guest of honor was Santa Claus. But it wasn’t the usual department store actor playing Santa. The report said this Santa was certified by the Finnish government. The newspaper was probably referring to the Lapland government, which has a Santa Claus office at the Arctic Circle.

So, how did the Fukushimanians show their appreciation for a visit from an officially certified Kris Kringle? They put him to work pounding mochi!

Mochi is a type of rice cake, for want of a better term, made with a particularly glutinous form of rice. The old-fashioned way to make it was to place the steamed rice in a large container called an usu that serves as a pestle, and to pound it with a wooden mallet known as a kine until it solidifies. Mochi is a popular traditional snack and soup ingredient, and the cakes are also used to decorate the home during the New Year. One traditional seasonal activity is to have a gathering of family or friends to do the pounding out in the yard. I’ve done it — once. It was worth it to be invited to be a part of the tradition and to see what happens, but it’s also real work that requires almost as much energy as chopping wood. Good timing and care is essential because two people work together: One to do the hammering, and the other to turn and wet the mochi in the usu. The rice will stick to the mallet unless it’s moistened, but the assistant has to get his hands out of the way fast.

The local report doesn’t say how long they put Santa to work swinging the kine, but it does say the kids got excited because he pounded so hard the water splashed on their faces. Good for Santa for getting into the New Year spirit!

Eating mochi also requires care, because it takes a long time to chew. Some people get impatient and swallow chunks of it that are too large. Early in the new year every year there are newspaper reports about the number of people nationwide who died from choking on their mochi.

By the way, any junior Scrooges concerned about exposing the kids to radioactive rice and air can relax. The nursery school bussed everyone to Yonezawa, Yamagata, for the event, where they used a borrowed space. The school has been regularly driving the kids to Yonezawa and back this year because it wants them to play outside without worrying about nuclear plant fallout. The head of the school said it allows them to talk to the parents about education rather than radiation.

That also allows Santa to return to the North Pole without having fed his reindeer any radioactive hay!

One of the best mochitsuki videos is this one showing a performance with music in the United States. The handclapping at the end is how parties are often ended in Japan.

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Ichigen koji (84)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 24, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

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

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

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Ichigen koji (83)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 23, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

Even if political affairs were to remain somewhat unsettled, it would be preferable if the Democratic Party, whose socialistic policies have sapped the private sector’s vitality, lost control of government…The worst-case scenario is that they would stay in control of government until the year after next without holding an election.

– Sugashita Kiyohiro, international finance consultant and commentator on economics matters. Mr. Sugashita thinks it’s possible that Japan could see the “final chapter” in the collapse of its 1989 asset bubble in the period from 2012 – 2014.

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Which way to the helm room?

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 21, 2011

For (schools) at train stations for studying abroad, it’s Nova. For speeches at train stations, it’s Noda.
– A common political joke about the Japanese prime minister that Mr. Noda uses to promote himself

APPALING crisis management ability has been one of the most frequent charges against Japan’s Democratic Party government since they took office in 2009. The Kan Cabinet’s pharisaic foozling of both the Senkakus Incident and the Tohoku/Fukushima triple disaster in particular are object lessons for the political class that will almost certainly go unheeded.

Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko doesn’t seem to have been paying attention.

An outdoor space heater generates hot air at a Japanese train station

At 10:00 a.m. on Monday the 19th, the Korean Central Broadcasting Station in Pyeongyang gave notice there would be a “special broadcast” on both television and radio at noon that day. The same notice was repeated at 10:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., though KCBS did not specify the content of the broadcast.

That caused the Japanese news media to sit up and take notice. NHK issued a report after 11:00 a.m. announcing that a special broadcast from North Korea was forthcoming. (Tokyo and Pyeongyang are in the same time zone.) While not speculating on the content, NHK also noted that advance notice of two hours was given in 1994 on the death of Kim Il-sung, and one-hour notice was provided in 2000 of the broadcast announcing the summit meeting between the two Korean heads of state.

Just before midnight Sunday night, the North Koreans conducted a test-firing of two short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan. Something was most definitely up.

NHK was ready. By chance, I turned on the television at about 12:03 p.m. that day (I looked at the clock first), and NHK was already rebroadcasting the video of the North Korean television announcement. It was obvious from the Korean announcer’s black clothes what had happened.

Despite the warning, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko was not quite ready to deal with the situation. He was in a car on his way to give a speech at the JR Shinbashi train station in Tokyo.

Even though it was clear that something important had happened in North Korea, Mr. Noda got in his official vehicle just before the broadcast began for a sidewalk speech he had scheduled for 12:15 p.m.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu said the prime minister gave instructions before he left to inform him of the broadcast content. An aide contacted him at 12:03 p.m. while he was en route to the station. Even then, Mr. Fujimura had to call again at 12:05 p.m. to ask him to return. He got back at 12:09 p.m. and convened a meeting of the Japanese version of the National Security Council at 1:00 p.m.

Absent from the meeting was Yamaoka Kenji, the upper house-censured chairman of the National Public Safety Commission and the minister responsible for handling the North Korean abductee issue. He was out of town on “business related to the Diet”, and didn’t make it back in time. This is becoming something of a habit for the DPJ NPSC chairs. One of his predecessors in the Kan Cabinet, Okazaki Tomiko, lasted just four months on the job because she didn’t bother to show up for work after the North Koreans shelled a South Korean island last year. (Ms. Okazaki is best known for having participated in an anti-Japanese demonstration in Seoul as a Diet member.)

Said LDP Vice President Oshima Tadamori:

That (the prime minister) left to give a speech while knowing there would be an important announcement is a truly regrettable (act) for a leader. Mr. Yamaoka’s (absence) is also a grave matter.

Added New Komeito head Yamaguchi Natsuo:

I doubt they were prepared for any change in the situation.

For its part, the DPJ was full of its usual fatuous self-congratulation. Boasted Acting Secretary-General Tarutoko Shinji:

We responded faster than any other nation.

Mr. Noda himself seemed to sense that he had blundered, and ignored questions from the news media about the criticism. An unidentified government official told Kyodo:

It is a fact that they did not gather information on the premise that something serious could have happened.

And what about the content of the sidewalk speech that Mr. Noda thought took precedence over important breaking news from North Korea about 12 hours after two missile tests? He was going to explain in public the necessity for a consumption tax increase and tying it to social welfare programs. After the end of the extraordinary Diet session, he had told aides, “I want to create situations in which I can directly promote the policies to the people.”

At least we now know where the prime minister’s priorities lie.

Mr. Noda’s singular claim to public recognition before becoming a Cabinet member was his practice of giving speeches at the Funabashi, Chiba, train station in his district every morning for 24 years. He ended the speeches when he became “finance minister” last year. Perhaps he was looking forward to this one: it was to be his first outdoor speech since becoming prime minister.

It was unsurprising that neither the lighter-than-air Hatoyama Yukio nor the less-than-sober Kan Naoto were capable of handling their duties without walking face first into a wall. Noda Yoshihiko, however, is the son of a member of the Ground Self-Defense Forces No. 1 Airborne Brigade, consisting of elite paratroopers. If any politico should understand the importance of being at one’s duty station in a potential emergency — especially when there is advance notice — it is Mr. Noda.

When Hillary Rodham Clinton ran against Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primary, she claimed she would be the more reliable choice if the president received an emergency 3:00 a.m. phone call. Meanwhile, the DPJ prime minister can’t be bothered to watch a noon television broadcast when he knows it’s coming.

Some Western observers give a pass to the DPJ because they are novices at this head-of-government business. While that assessment is nominally true, it is also fundamentally incorrect.

This is what they are.


* Nova was the largest private English school company in Japan until it went broke in 2007.

* Somebody needs to tell the crew in Tokyo that Sailing the Seas Depends on the Helmsman.

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Altered states

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The divertissement du jour among Westerners who follow the news is their fascination with the public grief demonstrated by the North Koreans on the news of the death of Kim II.

There are several reasons for their interest, and perhaps the most immediate is the surprise at suffering people shedding tears for the monster responsible for their suffering.

Another is that most Westerners are unaware the Koreans tend to be more demonstrative in certain situations than other people. For example, here are some excerpts from a scholarly paper on the Korean concept of han. The first is a quote from another work translated by the author of that work into English, so make some allowances:

The Koreans are a people strong emotional side. They are especially apt in expressing the emotion of sadness. Koreans cry not only when they are sad, but when they are ill or shocked by something impossible to put down in words.

The author continues:

Koreans interpret frequent crying as a positive sign of being ‘compassionate’. Many people are seen wailing in funerals and even birthdays and weddings, where professional wailing-woman or a female shaman is called to cry during the ceremony.


The social taboo on crying is less emphasized in Korea than is in other cultures. Despite being a nation strongly affected by Confucian beliefs, which emphasizes that a man should not cry, Korea does not regard men crying itself as a shameful activity. Rather, it emphasizes that men should only cry for sacred subjects such as their elders or their motherland, and that in such cases, the crying is an act of honour and fidelity, not an act of weakness. Putting restrictions on the emotional expression of males has in turn affected that of females in Korean culture. Being an emotive, tearful nation and putting limits on men crying at the same time has made the act of women crying a mandatory procedure in certain situations (20). Ethnological analysis has shown that during funerals and annual sacrificial rites (a Korean tradition that honours the dead of the family), the cries of the men are short and formal, while the women wail louder, longer and without any reservations. Males have to shed reserved tears, especially when they are not closely related or unrelated to the deceased. However, women are not bound by such limits and can cry openly for distant relatives or even strangers. Such acts are even appreciated by the families of the deceased, who believe that having women cry with them assists the funeral procedure. (21)

In folk culture and traditions of shamanism, the role of wailing women are crucial in many rites and ceremonies. The wailing ritual, called goot in Korean, is a performance consisting of crying and wailing that serves diverse purposes from driving away evil spirits, honouring the dead, and providing entertainment to the public…The main characteristic of goot has been its portrayal of the emotion of Han artistically. It holds significance in that in a goot, the act of crying transcends that of a personal feeling of grief but a publicly shared emotion initiated by the wailing women. The act of crying and the essence of Han has thus become a cultural symbol as well as holding individual significance.

Finally, taking all the responses as a whole, there is the unmistakable whiff of an attitude of cultural superiority as they watch others make a spectacle out of themselves. Civilized people are more seemly in their grief. There’s quite a lot of that sort of thing on the Web these days, by the way — couched in intellectualism and scientific detachment, of course.

Some are even debating the sincerity of the tears. Based on his experience and knowledge of China, John Derbyshire asserts:

More often than not, those North Korean tears are real.

Other people aren’t so sure. We’ve already seen that Joshua Stanton at One Free Korea thinks Kim was generally despised by his people. Another doubter is Oshima Shinzo, the editor of the monthly Seiron magazine. Here’s a post from his blog on Tuesday.

The strongest impression I get from the news reports of Kim Jong-il’s sudden death on television and the newspapers is the unexpected calmness of the North Korean public.

When I opened the morning papers, I saw the headlines in the Asahi (“The Citizens Weep”), and the Nikkei (“Sobbing on the News of the Death”). The Sankei captioned a photo taken in Pyeongyang, “Citizens Break Down in Tears”.

But, for example, only a few people were weeping in the Reuters photograph the Asahi ran of workers in the Pyeongyang electric wire factory — even though the caption said they were all crying at the news.

On television, I saw the camera pursue people who were crying as they walked. One could almost feel a sense of something like desperation on the part of the cameraman, due to the scarcity of the scenes he was looking for.

None of the media conveyed the coldness of the North Korean people’s emotions, however. The media person will make the stereotypical assumption that the northerners would weep and sob at a time such as this.

Kim Il-sung died suddenly at 2:00 a.m. on 8 July 1994. When his death was announced at noon on the ninth, the entire country was engulfed by true weeping and sobbing. Of course a few were faking it, but for most of them, those were real tears.

Lee Dong-il, the editor/translator of North Korean History Textbooks, wrote: “When we come in contact with news so sad it is as if heaven will collapse, we shed tears of blood, weep and wail in a loud voice, and thrash about.” Even if the part about tears of blood is an exaggeration, scenes very similar to this were in fact seen throughout the country (at the elder Kim’s death).

I’m sure many people still remember the reports from print and broadcast media throughout the world of the scenes of people crying and shouting at the bronze statue of Kim Il-sung on Mansudae in the center of Pyeongyang.

Perhaps the North Korean media will make a point of showing scenes of weeping and sobbing people now, but I suspect they will be dramatizations.

We should recognize that the feelings of the North Korean people toward Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are as different as heaven and earth.

(End translation)


* Another matter of interest is that some of the same people who are sharp to spot the mass media’s tendency to wildly exaggerate the size, extent, and enthusiasm of certain events, such as demonstrations (particularly the broadcast media), are so accepting and unsuspicious at other times.

* From the paper on han:

Even today, crying at funerals is a taboo for the Japanese. (16)

There’s been crying at every one of the several Japanese funerals I’ve attended. It was subdued for the most part, but quite intense at one or two of them.

Just because it’s footnoted in an academic paper doesn’t make it a fact.

From one altered state to another

The Pyeongyang Amen Corner should be able to get off on Prince Jazzbo’s first line:

“It shall be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and who do have no teeth the gums will feel it.”

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Ichigen koji (82)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 20, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

No one can see what is actually going on in North Korea and the whole world is watching it.

– Kawakami Takashi, Takushoku University professor specializing in security issues, American politics, and the Japan-U.S. relationship

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Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 20, 2011

IT’s instructive to compare the Chinese print media’s response to the deaths of both Kim Jong-il and Vaclav Havel.

Poster Marc at the site One Free Korea provides the links to the China Daily’s obituaries of Kim and of Havel.

I also recommend reading Joshua Stanton’s post on Kim’s death at One Free Korea. The views of someone who pays close attention are more instructive than the generic drive-bys in the Western media.

For all the wailing in public, Mr. Stanton thinks that North Koreans generally despised him, and hold his son in even less regard. He writes:

Kim Jong Il had spent the decades before his father’s death cultivating relationships with his father’s generals. Now look at Jong-Eun’s eyes. There is cruelty and arrogance in them, but it’s the fear I see. That’s the sort of face a suburban sex offender wears to the exercise yard at Pelican Bay. No matter how many icons of him are placed in living rooms, classrooms, or lapel pins, he will spend the rest of his life stepping warily within a nest of vipers. The real power will stay with Kim Jong Il’s old comrades and relatives: Kim Young Il; Jang Song-Thaek, whose portfolio includes North Korea’s political prison camps; General Ri Yong-Ho; General O Kuk-Ryol, whose family controls the counterfeiting rackets; and Kim Jong Il’s sister (and Jang’s wife) Kim Kyong-Hui, who is said to have pushed hard for North Korea’s disastrous currency redenomination and confiscation last year. As a partial consequence of that, refugees report finding the night’s toll of the dead lying around the train stations each morning. That is why any hopes that this transition is a harbinger of reforms are probably false. The state isn’t interested in reform, and Kim Jong-Eun’s coronation won’t change that, because it is a sham. But that doesn’t mean that the regime can stop change forever.


Psychologically, so much has changed in North Korea. The regime was not really ready for this day. Its deification of Kim Jong-Eun has been uncharacteristically halting, even timid. The regime understands how volatile a moment this is. The Daily NK reports that it has closed its border with China, closed all markets, imposed a near-curfew, and filled the streets of at least one city with armed soldiers. This is not the reaction of a state that expects its subjects to erupt in spontaneous grief.

More videos on the public reaction from this North Korean site; you’ll still be able to figure it out if you can’t read Korean.

Observes Mr. Stanton: “Faking or not? In such a place as North Korea, it can’t be hard to find reasons to cry real tears.”

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