Japan from the inside out

Archive for February, 2012

Sakaiya on Hashimoto

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, February 29, 2012

THE last post contained a reference to Sakaiya Taichi as a key advisor of Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru. Mr. Sakaiya was a bureaucrat in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (now Economy, Trade, and Industry), the head of the now defunct Economic Planning Agency for two years, and a special Cabinet advisor from 2000 to 2004 (the Mori and Koizumi administrations). He’s also been a university professor and written shelves of non-fiction and fiction works.

The Sankei Shimbun interviewed Mr. Sakaiya earlier this week to ask about Mayor Hashimoto and his intentions. Here it is in English.

Media coverage has been overheated since the release of the Ishin Hassaku (Political guidelines from Mr. Hashimoto’s local One Osaka party), with calls for the direct election of the prime minister and the elimination of the upper house.

ST: Ishin thought and the actual political movement are two different things. Former Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro also called for the direct election of the prime minister in the past. The elimination of the upper house is an “expectation for the future” and not a policy of immediate focus (for the political movement). One Osaka is now conducting three reforms. The first is a reform based on the logic of a shift in emphasis from the suppliers — government officials — to the consumers. This spirit is the criterion for everything. Next is structural reform. That is creating Osaka-to (a sub-national administrative district in which Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture, and the city of Sakai would be combined in a form resembling that of the Tokyo Metro District).

A book-length dialogue between Hashimoto Toru and Sakaiya Taichi

Will this be changing Japan from Osaka?

ST: From Osaka to a state/province system based on regional sovereignty. That is the extreme form, but it’s not possible to achieve right away. The third is enterprise reform. That is to make public enterprises in Osaka profitable in conjunction with the Osaka-to concept. To do that, the municipal subway will be privatized and the bus system sold and reorganized.

How do you view Mr. Hashimoto as a politician?

ST: As a reformer of a type that emerges in history. He has the character of Taira Kiyomori and Oda Nobunaga. What is most important is that he has a clear vision. Without that, he becomes just an agitator.

Is the priority to disseminate and gain the acceptance of One Osaka’s ideals?

ST: It is to declare that this is a politician with ideals. Both Nobunaga and Kiyomori had ideals; Nobunaga in the shift from feudal society to early modern society, and Kiyomori in the shift from the nobility to the samurai. Mr. Hashimoto is that type of person. Actually achieving those ideals involves the three reforms: the structural reform of Osaka-to and the profitable growth of public enterprises based on the logic of consumer supremacy. He is extremely adamant about this. This adamancy, this fidelity to the logic, is most important.

Are you concerned that the mass media will run amok and the reforms will be crushed?

ST: A political crisis is like a wave. The One Osaka reforms will not create a wave, but change that into the form of a river. Nevertheless, the mass media views Mr. Hashimoto as one wave. This talk of whether he will work with Your Party (in the next lower house election), or field 300 candidates in the election, it’s all just ripples.

Will involvement with the national government be limited?

ST: Achieving reform in Osaka leaves no alternatives to involvement with the national government. There will be involvement with the national government to change Osaka.

Do you think Mr. Hashimoto can become a (national) political leader in the future?

ST: I think so. But first he has to succeed with the Osaka-to (plan). Nobunaga would not have succeeded without conquering Owari.

Mr. Hashimoto has said that politicians have a sell-by date.

ST: If he can achieve the three reforms of the logic of consumer sovereignty, Osaka-to, and growth before his sell-by date, he can create other dishes and extend his sell-by date. A new logic in Japan can be created with an investment of 20 years. By that time, we may have moved from Oda Nobunaga to Toyotomi Hideyoshi. If that happens, we can create a new Japan.

(end translation)


* It has been fashionable in the Anglosphere of late, among some journalists, academics, and the schoolgirl diary wing of Internet bloggers, to talk and write about Japan’s decline. I wouldn’t be too sure about that. Mr. Hashimoto is the most prominent of many people working in the same general territory of decentralization and reform. There’s more going on in this country than meets the eye of the English-language mass media.

* Mr. Sakaiya also addressed the Your Party National Meeting on 28 January this year. The content of that speech is worth putting into English, when I find the time.

Talk of a possible alliance between the two groups is interesting on several levels. Your Party was founded by Watanabe Yoshimi, its president, and Eda Kenji, its secretary-general. Mr. Watanabe comes from a political family and served in the Fukuda and Aso LDP Cabinets. Mr. Eda, like Mr. Sakaiya, is a MITI veteran. Mr. Watanabe is pedal-to-the-medal type of guy, and was interested in exploring an alliance with Mr. Hashimoto a couple of years ago. Mr. Eda, who is more buttoned down, viewed the then-Osaka governor as a loose cannon and advised against it. They seem to have changed their minds after Mr. Hashimoto won election as Osaka mayor.

* Consumers here is likely meant in a very broad sense, though the usual political elements will see it as an excuse to start vibrating.

The success of those three concepts in Osaka might cause the spontaneous eruption of excitement such as that seen in the best song-and-dance scene in cinema history.

YouTube — How did we ever live without it?

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This could be the start of something big

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, February 29, 2012

– Water conforms to the shape of the vessel; i.e., a ruler’s actions determine those of the people (Japanese proverb originating in China)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now there is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

This could be the start of something big.

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Ichien koji (92)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, February 27, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Life is (a process of) rehabilitation. I’m rehabilitating now myself…but perhaps the one who needs rehabilitation more is the Democratic Party of Japan.

– Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio of the DPJ

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TV or not TV

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, February 26, 2012

I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit and-loss sheet or rating book to distract you–and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, violence, audience-participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western badmen, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence and cartoons. And, endlessly, commercials–many screaming, cajoling and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you will see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, try it.

– Newton Minow, to the National Association of Broadcasters on 9 May 1961 after his appointment as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission

REMEMBER when parents would nag their children about watching too much television? Parents in today’s Japan, however, don’t have to nag — teenagers and young adults in their 20s are abandoning television in numbers that are alarming people in the industry.

The weekly Shukan Post provided the details in last year’s 11 November issue. They began by reporting that the highest-rated program for the week of 3-9 October was the long-running comedy favorite Shoten at 18.1% — the lowest rating for the leading program in Japanese television history. One week before that, shows with 12% ratings were ranked in the top 30. Ratings at that level were considered poor in the days when TV had captured everyone’s attention.

Some industry sources dismissed the numbers with the claim that more people are recording programs for later viewing, and that younger people are watching on portable terminals such as cell phones. Those aren’t the conclusions to be drawn from a report issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications last August, however. The ministry has been conducting surveys of television viewing by age group, and the results clearly show that the decline in viewership is more pronounced for younger, rather than older, viewers.

For example, teenagers in 2005 watched TV an average of 106 minutes per day. By 2010, that had fallen to 76 minutes, a drop of more than 30% in only five years. The turnoff was almost as pronounced for people in their 20s. The only groups spending more time with television than before were people in their 50s and 60s, and that only by a very slight percentage. The average decline over all age groups was four minutes per day.

An NTT Communications survey in March 2010 found that 14.7% of people in their 20s, part of the prime demographic for advertisers, said they seldom watch TV. Also, only 17.3% of the respondents recorded programs for later viewing, and the number of people watching on cell phones and other terminals was miniscule.

That would tend to refute any assertion that TV has been so dumbed down only an adolescent would watch it. They aren’t. The people watching are their grandparents.

There was a complete conversion in Japan last July to terrestrial digital broadcasts, and some evidence suggests people used that as the opportunity to “graduate from TV”, as the Shukan Post put it. According to Cabinet Office surveys, television ownership peaked at an average of 252 per 100 households, or about 2.5 per home, in 2005. That was down to 239 in March 2011. The market survey arm of the Jiji news agency found that 2.1% of the respondents still hadn’t gotten around to obtaining the required equipment for the digital broadcasts by October, three months after the conversion. That corresponds to about 2.5 million people nationwide. Also during that period, about 98,000 people had cancelled their contracts for NHK TV (which people are supposed to pay for).

Perhaps one of the contributing factors to the decline last year is that people are less likely to view television as a reliable information source after the 11 March Tohoku triple disaster. The Nomura Research Institute conducted a survey to discover which sources people found more credible and less credible post-disaster. The group whose credibility took the biggest hit was national and local governments, cited by 28.9% of the respondents. The second highest percentage was for private-sector television networks, at 13.7%. Oddly, NHK (TV and radio) was the information source that received the most votes for having increased its reliability.

This is worth keeping in mind when one considers the amount of time people interested in political and social issues spend watching and complaining about what passes for news programming on the private sector networks in the United States, the megaliths and all the tabloid cableistas included. There’s also the continual undercurrent of resigned frustration in Britain at being forced to pay for BBC programming produced by people with a specific worldview shared by only a few.

Japanese television is really bad, goes the complaint of the auslanders — some of whom have no idea what’s being said. Really? Compared to what?

Television in the West is different only in the sense that a fast-food hamburger is different from instant ramen.

I prefer educational television myself.

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Posted by ampontan on Friday, February 24, 2012

IT seems the Chinese waste just as much time on websites speculating about Japanese people as Western folks do, with roughly the same result: readers learn more about the writers than anything else.

Some Chinese language-fluent Japanese found a thread on a message board associated with the Baidu search engine titled, “Japanese women can really withstand the cold”. The thread’s original poster included photographs of younger women wearing short skirts on cold days. They thought some of the comments and interpretations were interesting enough to translate into Japanese, and here they are in English (along with a link to the photos).

* Japanese women wear school uniform skirts from primary school through high school except for physical education classes. Universities have no uniforms, so they wear skirts all year round to be fashionable. I don’t think it’s so difficult for them even when it snows and is very cold. In South Korea it was popular to wear long stockings above the knee, but the Japanese are very strict about enforcing the rule on socks below the knee. That exposes their thighs and knees to the cold. Aren’t Japanese women cold? Have they evolved to a level beyond the Chinese?

(N.B.: Most primary school girls don’t wear uniforms at all, much less skirts. The university I’m most familiar with does have a non-mandatory uniform for women. It’s an attractive black pantsuit with a white blouse. The fad last year was short cutoff jeans with long black pantyhose-type stockings. I didn’t have a problem with that at all.)

* They do that from the time they’re small. They’re probably cold, but they’re used to it.

* (Original Poster) Here’s the latest information! Japanese men also don’t wear many clothes. Most young company employees in the Kanto region don’t wear long underwear because they think it’s for old guys.

* They have really big legs.

* Japanese women have such big legs because they like to play sports from a young age.

* They’ll get sick when they get older. Like with rheumatism.

* Where I am the junior high school girls wear stockings. (I think that’s the usual practice.)

* It’s all culture. Generally, women who think they’re beautiful wear skirts. (Is that the general opinion?)

* They’ll have to be careful about arthritis. They shouldn’t damage their bodies just to try to look good.

(N.B.: If female arthritis is a problem in Japan, it’s escaped my notice.)

* Cold, cold! I’m cold just looking at them!

* They have big legs because they sit in seiza for a long time.

(N.B.: Not any more they don’t.)
Here’s the Chinese page with the photos they were commenting on.

It used to be the practice of parents to have their children (until junior high) run around in short pants throughout the year because they thought it was a healthful practice that built up their strength. (At least here in Kyushu, where it’s not as cold as elsewhere.) That doesn’t happen any more, though short pants are the rule for boys at the one primary school in my city that requires uniforms. (Full-length dresses for girls.)
Those thighs don’t look fat to me.

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Ichigen koji (91)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, February 24, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

I’m fed up with the Democratic Party (of Japan). They’ve got to start all over again…Taken from the most extreme perspective, their government is no different from the Liberal Democratic Party governments. But if you think about it, there is one difference. They’re even worse than the LDP…They have no sense of direction when responding to nuclear energy, economic policy, or foreign affairs and defense, such as the Senkakus and the (American base at) Futenma. They’ve made almost no progress in responding to the Tohoku disaster…What was it, that Noda declaration about “convergence”? (N.B.: The prime minister stated there was a cold shutdown of the Fukushima plant, achieving “convergence” with Tokyo Electric’s plan for dealing with the disaster.) Does Noda really think there was convergence? He should go back to grade school and study the meaning of convergence.

– Yamagishi Akira, first chairman of Rengo (the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, one of the DPJ’s most important organizational supporters), and a longtime activist in leftist politics in Japan

A report this week states that only 5% of the debris generated by the Tohoku disaster in the three prefectures with the worst damage — 11 months ago — has been disposed of.

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Blackballing the red ball

Posted by ampontan on Friday, February 24, 2012

Marry, sir, they have committed false report; moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves.
– Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing

THOUGH some of us are loath to admit it, all of us love lowbrow humor. We always have and we always will. It’s marbled throughout the Canterbury Tales, the existence of Fawlty Towers and the Gong Show depended on it, and Shakespeare loved it, as the line above shows. In fact, the lowbrow humor in that play starts with the title: the word “nothing” in Shakespeare’s day is said to have been a euphemism for the female genitalia.

One of the highest forms of low humor results when some people try to engage in serious sociopolitical discourse. During his brief campaign for president of the U.S., for example, Herman Cain offered a proposal to rework the American tax system into three segments with a rate of 9% each, which he called the 9-9-9 plan. A few people otherwise inclined to support his candidacy were apprehensive, however, because turning 9-9-9 upside down results in 6-6-6…

There’s also the buffoonery of some Barack Obama supporters, convinced since 2008 that racism is the reason for every criticism of their man. That racism is found in charges that he acts too “professorial”, is “elitist”, “out of touch”, or “skinny”. Just as amusing is that they like to refer to this disguised nastiness as a “dog whistle”. (If that’s the case, how come they hear it?) Then there’s the whole topic of political correctness, which might as well be Comedy Central.

Anyone looking for laughs in Northeast Asia can dip into anything that Hatoyama Yukio says about anything, listen to the arguments that Ozawa Ichiro is being railroaded by prosecutors, or eavesdrop on the perpetual South Korean domestic conversation about Japanese phantasmata.

The latest installment of the latter circulated last month when South Korea’s Grand National Party, known locally as Hannara, was in the process of remaking its image. The party, which holds the most seats in the national assembly, changed its name to Saenuri in Korean and the New Frontier Party in English. They also adopted a new logo in conjunction with the new name, and the changes took effect this month.

The old design featured a red circle with a blue line underneath. Here’s what it looked like.

That’s an artistic representation of a human figure, right? Nah. This is South Korea. The posse irritati complained that the red circle in the logo was something that a Japanese company would use.

Some comments from the Internet:

* Doesn’t the red of the Hannara logo symbolize the Japanese flag?

* The Hannara logo is just like the Japanese flag!

* The Japanese flag is hidden in the Hannara party logo and Seoul city logo!

Apparently those wily Japanese imperialists and their traitorous allies will stop at nothing to sneak their national symbol into the very heart of Korean politics.

The criticism wasn’t confined to the Internet —- politicians never pass up an opportunity to stoop as low as they can to pick up a vote or two. Besides, they had evidence!

That shows a comparison of the party logo with those of a few Japanese companies. Residents of the region know that type of stylized human form has often been used in logos and symbols for close to 20 years now. (It probably started in Japan. Most regional fashions of that sort do nowadays.) The choice of some of the companies also provided unintentional humor. Herald Pictures disappeared into Kadogawa Herald Pictures in 2005. KKC Wellness (logo at bottom left) operates healthcare facilities in the Kinki region and is mostly unknown anywhere else. Finally, the red circle in all of those logos, the Korean ones included, is clearly meant to represent a human head.

Recall that one Koreanetizen referred to the Seoul logo, which some people have been indignant about since its adoption in 1996. It consists of a red circle to symbolize the sun and arty blue and green swatches to represent the sea and the mountains. City officials in Seoul have somehow managed to weather the criticism for incorporating the Japanese motif, and it’s still the municipal emblem:

The Japanese became used to all this long ago, so their comments were characterized by polite bemusement. One journalist wrote, “I can’t say I don’t understand” that the party symbol might be mocked for looking Japanese, but added that the idea any red circle = the Japanese flag is rather extreme.

Still, the Hannara/Saenuri/Grand National/New Frontier Party has to face a general election in April and a presidential election in December while down in the polls. Accusations that their logo contains the Mark of the Beast might offset any of the benefits of an image change. So their official logo now looks like this:

While we’re on the subject of national flags and symbols, it’s worth noting that the South Korean flag contains hexagrams from the I Ching. I’ve always thought that was a cool thing to put on a flag. Maybe it’s time for some of the local Dogberries to take up the I Ching for a remedial reading assignment instead of just looking at the pictures.

There’s a reason both the Globe Theater and the Gong Show had groundlings. Who knows what they’d think in Seoul of that semi-sunburst at the back of the stage?

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Disorganization men

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, February 22, 2012

ANY politician’s criticism of the behavior of the slugs in a different political party should always be discounted to offset the inherent bias and seeking of competitive advantage. Sometimes, however, that criticism is so apt and insightful it crystallizes and defines serious problems, particularly when something approximating wise policy or urgent action is required.

Eda Kenji, the secretary-general of Your Party, is often apt and insightful, and, somewhat more often than the other seat-warmers, offers criticisms that tend to stem from legitimate concerns rather than advantage-seeking. His criticism of the behavior of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (and the media) last month is one example. It’s unlikely the problems he addresses will ever be succinctly expressed in English by the journalistic or academic seat-warmers, if at all. Here it is.

The Democratic Party of Japan has suddenly come up with a proposal to reduce the number of Diet seats determined by proportional representation by 80, and to reduce the single-seat, direct election districts by five. (They swallowed the Liberal Democratic Party plan whole.)

Eda Kenji

That came despite the decision of Prime Minister Noda (also the DPJ president) and Deputy Prime Minister Okada (Katsuya) to remove the word “proportional” from the plan for the 80 seats to be cut, as was originally presented in the party manifesto, and leave it at just “80 seats”. This was done out of consideration for the smaller parties to facilitate discussions between the ruling and opposition parties. (N.B.: The leverage, if not the survival, of some of the smaller parties depends on PR seats.)

This happens all the time with the DPJ, so it’s probably a waste of time to bring it up again, but this party has no grasp whatsoever of elementary principles, whether for decision-making or organizational management. It’s not the place to use such grand words as “governance”, because anyone ranked number three or below in the party can overturn the statements of those ranked number one or number two.

That’s right — with this DPJ government, we have absolutely no idea who has responsibility, or where and how decisions are made. Indeed, it is an unforgivable organizational collapse, in which the senior party members keep saying whatever they like whenever the mood strikes them, but no one puts it together into something coherent. People on the outside do not know who or what to believe.

Come to think of it, there are people in the party whose job it is just to talk. I recently spoke with a reporter assigned to cover those people. “Really,” he complained to me, beyond disgusted, “all they do is talk. They think if they say something, the people around them will naturally start moving. That’s why all they do is talk and don’t do anything”. In short, they’ve never worked in the real world, so they don’t know the ABCs of how an organization operates.

Another example is the issue of the reduction of Diet members’ salaries. Deputy Prime Minister Okada ostentatiously brought up that possibility soon after he was appointed to his position. It was immediately dismissed by the party’s secretary-general and acting secretary-general as “Mr. Okada’s personal opinion”. Mr. Okada then made a telephone call to the secretary-general to apologize. That goes beyond the question of whether this is a functioning political party or a government. There is no politician in the Democratic Party who understands organizations.

Really, people! Could you please try, just a little, to put yourself in the position of those who are commanded to hold discussions about the policy to unify social welfare and taxes (the tax increase proposal)? Even the DPJ is calling this policy a preliminary proposal, or something like that. The DPJ is presenting uncertain proposals that have yet to be formally approved by the Cabinet — and it’s doubtful they have the resolve to see through even those proposals formally approved by the Cabinet. Are we supposed to take what they say seriously and hold real discussions?

And it’s about time for the mass media to knock it off, stop taking up for the DPJ, and demanding that we at least participate in discussions. Enough! The people we’re dealing with do not have normal feelings or responses. Rather than that, can’t you say something like, “The opening of the Diet session is later than usual this year. Why can’t the DPJ government open the Diet session earlier during this time of national crisis, when we face a mountain of difficulties”? Or, “The ruling and opposition parties should fully discuss social welfare and taxes under the watchful eye of the people”?

The mass media has begun their program of “tax increase mind control”, but they’re attacking the wrong points.

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Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, February 22, 2012

RECENT opinion polls show that support for Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko’s Cabinet is now below 30%, generally regarded as the danger zone. The non-support figures in those polls are north of 50%. More alarming for the prime minister is that the combined Cabinet support rate and the generic support rate for the ruling party is less than 50%. That means it’s time to start taking the empty glasses to the sink and dumping the ashtrays. This party’s just about over.

The terrible swift slide in support for Mr. Noda’s two Democratic Party predecessors should not have been surprising to people who pay attention. Neither Hatoyama Yukio nor Kan Naoto had ever demonstrated executive ability, an appealing political persona, or the political skills and character traits required of a successful national leader. Both were clumsy and transparent when lying, a fatal flaw for any politician.

Different factors are behind the accelerating decline for Mr. Noda, however. While not charismatic, he is not as obnoxious as either Mr. Hatoyama or Mr. Kan were in their own way. One reason he seems to have been chosen by party powers is that he is personally unobjectionable. Also, because he comes from a wing of the party unaffiliated with his predecessors, he was untainted by either of their disasters.

In some ways, however, his offense is greater than their incompetence and off-putting personalities. He’s perceived as having betrayed the electorate’s wishes — clearly expressed for more than a decade of elections — regarding what they think is the most important domestic issue: Reform of the government, political process, and the bureaucracy.

Exacerbating the problem for Mr. Noda is that he’s now been caught with his political pants down. A video of the prime minister giving a street corner speech during the August 2009 lower house election campaign (when Hatoyama Yukio was party president and the prime minister-to-be) has been circulating on YouTube for about a month. Here’s the text in English. Note that he’s explaining his party’s manifesto (platform in the U.S.) because having a manifesto at all was one of the major selling points for the DPJ when they were in the opposition.

Manifestoes began in Great Britain. There is a rule. (The party) will implement what’s written as if its life depended on it. They won’t do anything that isn’t written. That’s the rule. (The LDP government) hasn’t done anything that was written for four years, and nonchalantly did what wasn’t written. Don’t you think that’s strange? I hope all of you realize they aren’t qualified to talk about manifestoes.

The starting point is to not allow the wasteful use of tax money…JPY 2.5 trillion is equal to one of the five percentage points of the consumption tax, and JPY 12.6 trillion is the equivalent of the 5% consumption tax. Therefore, the 5% consumption tax, of the taxes you pay, goes to amakudari corporations. They are a swarm of termites. But are we to raise the consumption tax without eradicating the termites? If the consumption tax revenue were JPY 20 trillion, the termites might still be swarming. That’s why Mr. Hatoyama won’t raise the consumption tax for four years. He will exterminate the termites, eliminate the amakudari corporations, and end amakudari. It would be improper to raise the consumption tax without starting from there…

During his indoor speech in the Diet, he says:

We’ve talked about raising the consumption tax to 10% from time to time. I talked about it during the DPJ presidential election (last year).

He then offers some reasons for raising the tax.

Very few, if any, sentient adults in Japan think the party has made even a half-hearted attempt to exterminate the termites or end amakudari, the term for former bureaucrats landing cushy, well-paid jobs in public or semi-public corporations in sectors they once were responsible for regulating. Indeed, many suspect that any such efforts were presented only as political theater.

The DPJ manifesto called for maintaining the consumption tax for four years; now the party wants to raise it without taking it to the people first. Even Kan Naoto said that taxes shouldn’t be raised until the budget was held upside down and no more money fell out — and then he blew his party’s chance at ruling without coalition partners by changing his mind on taxes before the 2010 upper house election.

In short, the dissemination of Mr. Noda’s street corner speech has made him look like an ass in public.

The text of a speech he gave in the lower house in support of the no-confidence motion against then-Prime Minister Aso Taro in 2009 has also turned up. (The opposition knew the motion wouldn’t pass; the idea was to prevent the LDP from selecting a new candidate to lead the party in the election everyone knew was coming.) Here it is in English:

The people see amakudari and watari (jumping from amakudari job to job) as the biggest problem. (The Aso government) has no enthusiasm at all for eliminating them with a workable method. We conducted a survey this May and discovered how the money was used in FY 2007. Twenty-five thousand veterans of the civil service were given amakudari jobs in 4,500 companies. We discovered that JPY 12.1 trillion of your hard-earned tax money went to those 4,500 companies. We discovered that JPY 12.6 trillion of your hard-earned money went to those companies the year before. That is equivalent to the 5% consumption tax. The combined general and special accounts of the Tokyo Metro District budget amounted to JPY 12.8 trillion.

In short, this is a structure in which the termites are swarming to the tax money. The termites must be exterminated, and the worker ants must handle politics. Regrettably, I am forced to say that the LDP – New Komeito government is not willing to do this at all.

It’s the same with watari. The head of the Social Insurance Agency, an organization where pension funds disappear or are mislaid, will receive a large pension on retirement. Perhaps JPY 60 or 70 million. After that, he will be hired by a special corporation or an independent government corporation that has been established for amakudari purposes. He’ll get a large salary and another large pension from them. Then, after a certain amount of time, the same thing will happen again — and again after that. After six of these changes, some people receive more than JPY 3 trillion in retirement funds.

The Aso government, which ignores the people’s call to eliminate amakudari and watari, is well deserving of a vote of no-confidence.

The reason the people have no confidence in this government is that it forgot all about bringing in the exterminators and fed the termites instead. Mr. Noda’s use of the word termites on several occasions has boomeranged into his face. That word will now be one of the shorthand definitions for his political career, in the same way that George H.W. Bush is identified in the United States with “Read my lips, no new taxes.”

Last month, the Noda Cabinet announced that it planned to reduce amakudari corporations from 102 to 65 (why not all of them?), but it was sketchy on the details for the final disposition of the funding they receive. Critics charge the government is only cutting the numbers without cutting the funds. Some of the largest amakudari companies will survive. The Nippon Export and Investment Insurance Co. is to be fully funded by the government when it could be privatized instead. (Two of the four officers listed on their website are former METI bureaucrats.) The National Research Institute of Brewing will be eliminated, but all of its functions will be assumed by the government (even though none of its functions need to be performed by the government). The people understand they’ve been betrayed, and their understanding of the identity of the termites’ allies is apparent in Mr. Noda’s poor poll numbers.

Some people insist that the consumption tax, raised from 3% to 5% in 1997, should be boosted much further because it is the lowest national sales tax rate among the OECD countries that have one, while the central government’s expenditures rose by more than 33% in the same time. The budget for the next fiscal year is the fourth in a row in which the government plans to obtain more revenue from floating deficit bonds than through taxes. That includes all three DPJ administrations and the last LDP administration of Aso Taro, which combined the myopia of a government stimulus after the global financial crisis of 2008 with the stupidity of pork barrel spending to forestall an electoral defeat.

That none of the politicos now clamoring for a tax increase couldn’t be bothered to slash the budget when they had the chance (or, in the case of overseas observers, to suggest budget cuts) demonstrates, as it does in other countries, their political ideology, their lack of qualifications for holding public office, and the futility of taking seriously whatever they suggest as solutions, much less allowing them to participate in the debate. That explains the reason for the evaporation of the slight majority once in favor of increasing the consumption tax, especially after last year’s Tohoku disaster.

Here’s Mr. Noda caught in the act during his street corner speech. It also includes his peculiar pledge in English to “never never never give up” on his and his party’s retrograde course:

The self-congratulatory left in the foreign community amuses itself by snarking superior about the ultra-rightist groups’ sound trucks that blare speeches and music in Tokyo. They don’t seem to have any problem with the members of the party they support blaring speeches from a stationary position, however. At least the Imperial diehards say what they really think. And they’re never going to be in the position of power now held by the immobile ones.

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Ichigen koji (90)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, February 22, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

People defend their own country by themselves. We also have to be aware of an education that creates splendid Japanese. This talk about being a global citizen…if you called yourself a global citizen in the United States, you’d be put in a hospital right away. There is no such thing as a global citizen. People make the world better by making their own country better.

– Yamada Hiroshi, former chief municipal officer of Tokyo’s Suginami Ward, the head of the Spirit of Japan Party, and an advisor to new Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru.

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Snow scenes and cherry blossoms

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, February 21, 2012

SNOW is seldom seen here in Kyushu, and when it does appear, it seldom survives more than a day. That’s just the way I like it.

Snow on the ground is a daily companion a few months out of the year in other parts of Japan, however. One man told me about moving into a rental house in the northeastern part of the country in midwinter. He didn’t realize there was a fence around the property until spring came and the snow melted.

The opportunities for outdoor fun in Snow Country would seem to be limited to skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and swapping frostbite avoidance strategies. That’s not how the people who live in that part of Japan see it, however, particularly the people of Yamagata. For example:

They play soccer in the snow.

For the past seven years, the folks in Yonezawa have a soccer tournament played on a snow-covered rice paddy instead of a pitch. They think it’s safe to assume there will be enough snow to hold the event every year. In addition to creating a chance to act goofy, the idea is to attract interest in the local Onogawa hot spring resort.

The rules have been modified to suit the playing conditions. The rice paddy pitch is 20 x 40 meters, the match is played with futsal rules with five members on a team (at least one of whom must be female), the players wear rubber boots instead of spikes, and using piles of snow to deliberately obstruct an opponent is not allowed.

The reports from Yamagata suggest the players of snow soccer have just as much fun when they fail as they do when they succeed. Footballers find it hard to run when their feet sink into the playing surface, and hard to stay serious when they fall on their face after kicking snow or air instead of the ball.

They go mountain biking in the snow.

For the past 17 years, the city of Higashine has staged a winter festival that includes an endurance race on mountain bikes over the local tundra. The bikers hit the trail on a special circuit laid out over 2.5 kilometers near another hot spring resort, and that location can’t be by accident. The course even includes jumps.

Contestants are divided into three groups: Men 50 and older, men 49 and younger, and women. Speaking of endurance, it takes about an hour to run the 2.5 kilometers, but that’s to be expected when tires are spinning in snow sherbet or in the air after the rider takes a spill.

They also have races with radio cars.

The engineering school of Yamagata University in Yonezawa sponsors a race over the snow for radio-controlled cars put together by the students. One of the objectives is to have students with different specialties work together on the same team, and this time five teams participated. It’s a timed race over a course that features jumps and other obstacles, and the course was laid out to require travel over snow of different consistencies.

All the entries were hot-rodded radio cars already commercially available. One team of students outfitted the wheels with belts instead of tires, and another added aluminum wings that rotated to bite into the snow and prevent slips. One team’s car didn’t get anywhere at all — the tires never got traction and they had to withdraw after the battery ran down.

Of course they have snow fights. In fact, in Hokkaido, they have international snow fights. With teams.

They’ve been duking it out in the snows of Hokkaido’s Sobetsu-cho over two-day competitions for 24 years now. The objective is to be the first team to reach the summit of Mt. Showashin. They’ve got more competition than the average gladiator match — according to reports, 150 teams with 1,500 members in all participate. That includes several squads from Europe, one of which last year was the winner of a similar event in Sweden. International exchange in the snow!

The Japanese media didn’t report on the rules governing the competition — there must be some — but this is what it looked like:

They don’t waste their time with mere snowmen, either. Back in Yamagata, they build snow monuments.

An estimated 70 snow sculptors in Oishida-machi created what they call a soba mascot in front of the JR Oishida Station. That’s the sort of monument people put up when they live in a town known for soba noodles.

The monument was 10 x 17 x 4 meters, with a “soba mascot” rendered on the front in a style of drawing traditional to the area called kotee. They also sprayed on the color, white alone being insufficient to create the desired effect.

The group consisted of members of the local Lions club, a construction industry association, an art group, and high school students. They also made snow slides and lanterns while they were at it. Odds are they made their way to a hot spring for a good long soak after all that cold weather work.

Speaking of snow lanterns, they make those in Yonezawa too. Those are for the annual Uesugi Toro Festival, a toro being a type of lantern. The event is held over wide area that includes the Uesugi Shinto shrine and Matsugamisaki Park. More than 103 local groups pitch in to make 248 of the snow toro, as well as a candle pyramid and 3,000 smaller lanterns of a different style.

In fact, the slogan for the event is “One lantern at each house”.

They even have flower festivals in the snow in Yamagata. With real flowers!

The festive winter flowers there are tree peonies, known as botan in Japanese, and the festival has been held for more than a decade at Takahata-machi. Perhaps for variation, they also had some flowers shipped in from Shimane, which is known as the peony capital of Japan.

The flowers are displayed on 35 straw mats that are a meter high. The main attraction is a six-meter mat with the flowers arranged in a special hina doll design. (Hina Festivals will be held throughout the country the weekend after next.) Adding to the fun are snow slides and peony miso soup with boar meat.

Yes, that’s what the report said. I read it twice to make sure.

Winter in Yamagata has several attractions for aesthetes as well as the type of people who play snow soccer. One of them is snow monster viewing at the Zao ski resort in Yamagata City. Local atmospheric conditions combined with falling snow means that the trees on the slopes are covered with hoar frost that hardens into unusual shapes. Snow monster fans from throughout Japan visit for the views, the skiing (on 14 slopes over 305 hectares with 42 ski lifts), and the hot springs resorts. There’s one outdoor hot spring at Zao that can accommodate up to 200 people at once, presumably of the same sex. Then again, the air’s so cold there’s plenty of steam, and people probably sink in up to their necks, so all that nudity would go to waste.

If all this talk of snow, ice, and numb runny noses has you longing for the warmer weather of spring, take heart — it’s already started in another part of Japan, despite the date on the calendar.

Way down south in Nago, Okinawa, they have a slogan: Spring in Japan begins here. That’s because for the past half-century, they have the country’s first official hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, at the Nago Sakura Matsuri at the end of January. Now that sounds like my kind of place.

In addition to the usual boozing, flower appreciation, singing, and more boozing, there are parades, dancing by women’s groups and other groups in period costumes, and performances by youth groups.

And I’ll bet they all relax at a hot spring when it’s over!

Here’s a brief video of the Zao snow monsters in Yamagata.

Through one of the quirks of the Internet, one of the suggested videos at the end is of a bunch of people in France shopping at a department store in their underwear.

And the media thinks Japan is weird!

Now here’s some good news.

Kumamoto, the leading watermelon-producing prefecture in Japan, just made its first shipment of the year on the 19th. Yeah, they were grown in a greenhouse, but they sure look good, they weigh four to five kilograms each (bigger than usual), they’re about 11-12 on the sweetness scale (average, and yes, that’s the first time I’ve heard of a sweetness scale too), and they’ll fetch JPY 4,000 – 5,000 in Tokyo and Osaka department stores. (If you have trouble believing that some people still buy produce in Japanese department stores, remember that the customers are of a small market segment that doesn’t worry about how much it spends.)

The shipment of 2,800 melons was sent out from Ueki-machi. They’ll ship an estimated 2.4 million by July. I’m ready now, but I’ll wait for summertime prices.

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Peace-loving peoples

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, February 18, 2012

We, the Japanese people, desire peace for all time and are deeply conscious of the high ideals controlling human relationships and we have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world.
– From the Preamble to the Japanese Constitution

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
– Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution

The United States has some 70 bases — in Japan. This (state of affairs) is not that of an independent country. I want to eliminate this abnormal state of affairs, and have Japan capable of defending Japan. Absent that concept, how can we conduct discussions with other countries?
– Yamada Hiroshi, former chief municipal officer of Tokyo’s Suginami Ward

(A)n editorial cartoon published during the war years in London’s Daily Mail…shows a neat little man in a bowler hat unhappily shaking hands with a dishevelled colossus. The caption reads: “Ah, Mr. Policy, young Side Effect here has been anxious to meet you …”
– George Jonas

ONE use to which the late author, student of psychology, and man of the world Idries Shah put his many books was to convey certain perspectives on form, function, and how they are frequently misapprehended. Shah held that forms have limitations, and that among those limitations are time, place, culture, and language. If they are neither changed nor discarded, they become fossilized, becoming both museums and exhibits. Some choose to become attached to a form rather than its content. They are unable to make the distinction between the container and its function, and assume the fossil still functions as it did in the past.

The creation of the Japanese Constitution as a way to bend the nation’s behavior is an excellent illustration of the perspectives on form and function Shah wished to convey.

Consider the language of the preamble shown above, which some Japanese find more objectionable than Article 9, the “peace clause”. The nation is supposed to rely on the “justice and faith” of the “peace-loving peoples of the world” for its security and existence. Pluralizing the word people, assuming that peoples are peace-loving, and proclaiming that national survival can be entrusted to their goodwill identifies the sort of people who wrote it, their worldview, and the general time period in which it was written. It belongs in a vitrine in a corner of the museum near the quill pens and dialed telephones, rather than as the first statement of principle atop a document that would express the national consensus for the survival of the state.

In retrospect, it’s curious that people expected a Constitutional requirement in that form to function at all. The authors knew well that the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact also prohibited the use of war as an “instrument of national policy”, so only an ideologue would have thought the Japanese Constitution in isolation would succeed. By 1945, technology had enabled the Europeans to realize the objective inherent in centuries of behavior and turn the continent into a smoldering ruin of a charnel house. Justice and faith in the love of peace were not the motivation for the Western world’s colonization of East Asia. Nor were they the motivation that impelled them to eliminate the East Asian nation that would usurp their position. Such were the high ideals controlling the human relations of the age.

Further, there is no real consensus on what Article 9 even means. Some people claim it was to make Japan a pacifist nation, but that’s difficult to see when the commonly accepted meaning of pacifism is applied. Here’s a brief description of how the Constitution was put together:

Although an American directive allowed him to order reforms “only as a last resort,” with the first postwar general election just two months away and with an 11-nation commission due to take over the issue of a constitution, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Allied Commander, intervened.

He ordered his own 24-member Government Section staff to draft a constitution, and on Feb. 4, his aide, Brig. Gen. Courtney Whitney, convened a meeting and declared: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a historic occasion. I now proclaim you a constitutional assembly.”

Lieut. Col. Charles Kades, who had been in Japan since a week before Japan’s formal surrender the previous summer after taking part in the invasion of France in 1944 and serving on the War Department’s General Staff, was put in charge of the steering committee and told to produce a constitution by Feb. 12.

But Kades denied that it was strictly pacifist in intent when Japanese journalist Komori Yoshihisa visited him at his Wall Street office in New York in April 1981 and spoke with him for three hours:

“I myself wrote Article 9, including the section about the renunciation of war. I was given a page from a yellow legal pad by Whitney with instructions on three or four main points. I think they were notes he took from a conversation with MacArthur. But every nation has the right to its own self-defense. That’s why I thought (the part prohibiting self-defense) was illogical, and I took the liberty to remove it.”

The references to military forces, war potential and the “right of belligerency” were as written on the paper he was given. Kades admitted, however, that he didn’t understand the meaning of the “right of belligerency”. He said that if Japan had objected to that phrase, he intended to remove it.

“The intent of this Constitution was at first to keep Japan disarmed forever, but that had the effect of tying America’s hands in bilateral relations with Japan, and for the United States, that created a situation that was ill advised.”

Now there’s the unanswerable question: how is a nation disarmed forever supposed to defend itself? By some interpretations, Japan is ranked ninth worldwide in military strength, yet to take the language of the Constitution at face value would mean that it has the world’s largest and most potent police force.

The Constitution also enables the United States to use Japanese territory for its own ends. Here it is from the horse’s mouth. In this case, the pony is Kevin Maher, the former director of the Office of Japan Affairs at the US State Department:

“I don’t think Article Nine of the Japanese constitution should change. If the Japanese constitution was changed the United States would not be able to use Japanese land to advance US interests. The high host nation support the Japanese government currently pays is beneficial to the US. We’ve got a very good deal in Japan.”

Regardless of what one thinks of the Japanese left, their caricature of their own country as an American aircraft carrier has some justification.

Another function of the Constitution has been to contribute to the neutering of the Japanese political class. With domestic policy largely in the hands of the bureaucracy and foreign policy outsourced to the Americans, the Japanese political class has devolved into a group of parasites engaged primarily in emitting gusts of hot air, concocting Byzantine power struggles, and consuming the nation’s time and money.

Defense Minister Tanaka Naoki

Typifying the problem is that the Noda Cabinet has already had two Defense Ministers since its inception five months ago. The criterion for their selection was to balance intraparty factions rather than their ability to oversee the national defense. The first, Ichikawa Yasuo, was known to be aligned with the Agriculture Ministry and had little expertise about defense matters. Mr. Ichikawa insisted this inexperience was the ideal demonstration of civilian control of the military. He was replaced four months and a half-dozen verbal pratfalls later, though he blamed it on bureaucratic backstabbing.

His successor is Tanaka Naoki, another AgMin zokugiin. He is distinguished only as the husband of former Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko, who knew as much about diplomacy as her husband knows about national defense. Mr. Tanaka stepped in it even more quickly than Mr. Ichikawa. During a live interview on NHK the first weekend after his selection, he confused a question about relaxing the standards for the use of weapons by self-defense forces overseas with the reexamination of weapons export prohibitions. Asked specifically about the first by the NHK moderator, he talked about leaving behind construction equipment after participating in peacekeeping operations overseas. Struggling to rescue Mr. Tanaka, the interviewer asked him whether he had a positive attitude about the use of weapons by self-defense forces. The Defense Minister answered that it was neither positive nor negative.

The one function the Japanese Constitution has not performed, however, is the one it was created for: to prevent the “peace-loving peoples” in the neighborhood from piecemeal attacks on the country to seize or attempt to seize Japanese territory outright. Meanwhile, the Americans either declare it isn’t their business and look the other way, or have been actively complicit in that seizure.

Who indeed are the peace-loving peoples in Northeast Asia?

* The peace-loving people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Persons of sound mind can stipulate that the North Korean government neither qualifies as a member of the region’s peace-loving peoples nor can be trusted to behave as if they were. Persons of sound mind also know there are some who will disagree with that characterization, but taking them seriously isn’t worth the time or trouble.

While North Korea has no apparent designs on Japanese territory, they have, for reasons that make sense only to them, threatened to turn the country into a sea of fire. They also occasionally fire missiles in a direction where only Japan exists. (To be sure, Pyeongyang actually attacks only South Korea, but in an erratic manner that gives the Americans an excuse to bug out on their promise to defend South Korea as well.)

* The peace-loving people of the People’s Republic of China

It would be possible to agree with the Chinese assertion they are peace-loving people if we overlook their post-WWII invasions of the Korean Peninsula, India, and Vietnam, and their current buccaneering from southern Japan to the South China Sea.

The Chinese boosted their defense budget by 12.7% in FY 2011 to roughly 601.1 billion yuan. That was a resumption of 22 consecutive years of double-digit defense budget increases, a string that ended briefly in 2010, when defense expenditures were limited to a single-digit rise. In contrast, the Japanese Finance Ministry wants to cut the 155,000 members of the Land Self-Defense Force to 141,000. Japan is the only major country whose defense budget has continually declined since reaching a peak in 2002.

The Chinese cited as their reason increases in equipment and military training, personnel training/education, and salaries and benefits for the military.

When asked by reporters whether the increase was to apply pressure to neighboring countries, a government spokesman replied it was still less than 2% of GDP and lower than that of many countries. He also said that China was pursuing defensive policies and would not threaten any country.

Shortly thereafter, the Chinese had their first trial flight of a new stealth fighter. Here’s a look at some more of their new defensive infrastructure.

They didn’t behave as a peace-loving people in the fall of 2010, when they were the belligerents in the Senkaku islets , which they and the Taiwanese recognized as Japanese territory until seabed resources were discovered circa 1970.

This behavior should not have been unexpected. Noted Shimizu Yoshikazu in the monthly Chuokoron:

President Hu Jintao said at the Communist Party Conference in March 2009 that the country will staunchly defend its sovereignty, security, and territory. He also said the country would be more assertive in defending its maritime interests. Mr. Hu modified the dictum of Deng Hsiao Ping, who said, “Hide our abilities, build our strength, and move forward little by little.” The new policy is “Maintain hiding our abilities and building our strength, but be more aggressive diplomatically.”

Mr. Shimizu said that few people noticed because the full text of his address was not published. A senior official in the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it meant the country would perform a more aggressive role in international affairs.

Here’s what the Chinese mean by their “maritime interests”:

“Japanese government officials are weighing China’s intent after the People’s Daily, the newspaper of the Communist Party, called the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea part of Beijing’s “core interests.”

“…The People’s Daily article said Japan’s plan to name uninhabited islands near the Senkakus, known in China as the Diaoyu Islands, “is a blatant move to damage China’s core interests.””

The Chinese also refer to Tibet and Taiwan as part of their core interests.

Chinese newspaper editorials reflect a similar peace-loving attitude. For example, Hu Feiyue was one of four “experts” who presented views in a one-page special on the Senkakus dispute in the China Daily:

“Since Japan has been continually strengthening its control over the Diaoyu Islands (Senkakus), it is not enough for China to only send patrol boats to the islands. Instead, China should continue to modernize its navy. Considering Japan’s actions and the effect of China’s countermeasures, Beijing should think of employing another strategy,”

He also referred to the Japanese arrest of the Chinese fishing boat captain after ramming two Japanese Coast Guard vessels as “Tokyo’s affront”.

More specific was this from the Dongfang Ribao (Oriental Daily) in Hong Kong on 5 April last year:

There will not be peace between China and Japan unless China shows the resolve to use nuclear weapons. Japan is the only country in the world to have been attacked with nuclear (weapons) in the past century twice. The first was when the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb, and the second was during the Fukushima nuclear accident. The Japanese are extremely sensitive to nuclear issues, and China is not without the means to employ this means…For most Japanese, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are a nightmare that can not be forgotten, and it has wounded their spirit. The uneasiness and dread due to the nuclear accident has paralyzed Japanese officials and the public, and politicians continually spout nonsense.

Japan can say no to China, but it cannot say no to nuclear weapons. For China to gain Japan’s respect it must refer to these weapons and present an attitude of not renouncing their use…Japan is a country with a high degree of self-regard, and it bows only to those who defeat it. Even though it lost to the U.S. in World War II, it does not think it lost to China, and pressures China with this strong approach….Now it challenges China through its textbooks on the Senkakus issue. Why should China promise a country such as this that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons?

China is thought to have deployed 300 nuclear warheads, by the way.

This rhetoric has been backed by the Chinese military harassment of Japan, which began in the Senkakus long before the 2010 incident.

In September 2005, the Chinese sent five naval vessels, including a guided missile destroyer, to the vicinity of the Chunxiao gas field. That’s four kilometers into the Chinese EEZ, but the Chinese have been using it as a platform to siphon off gas from the Japanese side. One of the ships aimed a gun at a Japanese P3-C surveillance aircraft.

A day before the resumption of Japanese-Sino talks on the status of the gas fields, China revealed it had established a “reserve vessel squadron” in the East China Sea capable of “fighting during wars” and equipped to “eliminate obstacles at sea.”

They’ve been engaging in similar activities near or in Japanese air space, particularly in the past five years. From April to December 2010 alone, Japanese Air Self-Defense Forces scrambled 48 times against Chinese aircraft. That was the highest total of the past five fiscal years (starting in April), and did not include the January to March figures. More recent incidents have involved a refusal to provide identification after entering the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). The Chinese military aircraft used to stay outside the ADIZ, but that changed in October 2010.

Last March, a Chinese State Oceanic Administration helicopter flew to within 70 meters of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) destroyer Samidare. Then-Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi said, “It was an extremely dangerous act.” That was countered by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu, who replied that China’s right to claim the islands was “indisputable” and that its actions were in accord with international law.

On 30 December 2010, the Asahi Shimbun reported on People’s Liberation Army planning to land on and seize the outlying islands of other countries. The envisioned operations would include the use of bombers and amphibious vehicles.

On 2 January 2011, a commenter in the Communist Party-run Global Times claimed that the Japanese were just trying to worsen relations and suggested the Asahi ran the article at the government’s request.

More troubling still is the Chinese interest in Okinawa. Some in China are now calling for the establishment of a Ryukyus Autonomous District. In other words, they think it’s Chinese manifest destiny to swipe the islands from Japan. Here is a public announcement of an apparently well-funded group to work toward that objective:

Former National Police Agency investigator Bando Tadanobu translated into Japanese an essay that appeared in the Chinese media calling for such a scheme as part of the PRC’s launch of a national strategy — the so-called Ryukyus Millennium.

“The Ryukyu islands must be recovered and a Ryukyu Autonomous District of the People’s Republic of China established for the millennium development of China. The law guarantees China sovereignty of the Ryukyus under the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Declaration. It must be turned into a forward base facing the Pacific Ocean….China will build the Ryukyus, the Japanese and American military shall depart from the East Sea (i.e., what everyone else calls the East China Sea) and the Ryukyus will be a breakwater for Chinese security.”

The essay also asserts that the time to seize Okinawa is now, and the Ryukyu Islanders, who are part of the Chinese people, also seek this. Mr. Bando reminds his Japanese readers that the Chinese government insists the Senkakus are Chinese territory and that senior PLA members openly discuss planning for an invasion of Japan.

This is not an isolated phenomenon. The same argument has also appeared in other Chinese media sources, including three times in the Apple Daily and once on the Boxun News website.

Tang Chungfeng, a specialist in Japan research at the Chinese Ministry of Commerce who also served in the Chinese embassy in Japan, has championed the cause in the aforementioned Global Times, as well as the news site (for Phoenix TV). Mr. Tang claims that the real Japanese objective is not to maintain control of Daioyutai (Senkakus), but to legalize its “illegal control” of the Ryukyus.

He lists four reasons for this.

1. The Ryukyus become the starting point for Japanese territorial waters.
2. It is a strategic move to obtain maritime resources and to keep northern Taiwan in check.
3. It draws their territorial line in the East China Sea.
4. It wipes away the shame of having been defeated in World War 2 by an “inferior race”, the Chinese. The Japanese still say they were beaten by the Americans and the Russians, not us.

Mr. Tang says this is the signal flare for the resurgence of Japanese militarism, in which Japanese bushido will again rule the world. It is a psychological demand of the Japanese right wing, which is more important than natural resources.

With two university professors, Mr. Tang wrote a similar article for the Global Times of 10 November 2010. In the same newspaper two days before that, he urged China to support the Okinawan “independence movement”.

Demonstrations were held in Chengdu in October 2010 after the Senkakus Incident of 7 September. Student leaders said they had been organized a month before with the help of the government. Some of the demonstrators carried signs saying, Recover the Ryukyus, Free Okinawa.

Occasionally the well-meaning superficialissimos of the Western mass media and thinktankeria get nosey and parade their wonderfulness by advising the countries involved it would be so much better if everyone got along and shared the wealth of the sea near the Senkakus instead of fighting about it. The Japanese have always been amenable to that. Now to get the Chinese to match their behavior with their words:

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters Wednesday that Japan protested to China after a flare was seen Tuesday at a Chinese structure at an undersea gas deposit. Japan has made similar complaints several times in the past.

“We have detected a flare, a sign that it is highly likely that there is a gas development going on,” Fujimura said. “Any unilateral exploration is unacceptable.”

The deposit, known as Kashi in Japan and Tianwaitian in China, sits near a median line of the two countries’ overlapping exclusive economic zones.

Japan and China agreed in 2008 to suspend unilateral digging in that field while continuing talks, but talks have stalled since 2010, following a diplomatic spat stemming from a maritime collision near disputed southern islands claimed by both countries, as well as Taiwan.

Two (back-translated) comments allow us to draw conclusions from all this. The first is from Dean Cheng, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center. (The emphasis is mine.)

China has of course warned that Japan is positioned as part of the American alliance, but we must recognize that is not the only point. I interviewed a general with the People’s Liberation Army, who said, “We might be able to achieve accommodation and cooperation with the U.S., but that will not happen with Japan. For China, Japan will likely remain a military threat”. There is a special historical animus towards Japan.

Meanwhile, Dan Blumenthal, current commissioner and former vice chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said:

In China, there is a memory and anger at Japan based on history, and an intense awareness of revisionism. That awareness is strengthened and inflamed by Chinese Communist Party propaganda. Now, the Chinese think this should be rectified, even with military force, by becoming superior to Japan, and having the ability to threaten Japan.

* The peace-loving people of Russia

Japan and Russia signed the Treaty of Commerce, Navigation and Delimitation on 7 February 1855. The treaty both established official relations between the countries as well as their borders. The Russians confirmed that the islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, and Shikotan, and the Habomai Islets (just seven kilometers from Hokkaido), were Japanese territory, distinct from the Kurile Islands.

Article 2 of the treaty states:

“Henceforth the boundary between the two nations shall lie between the islands of Etorofu and Uruppu. The whole of Etorofu shall belong to Japan; and the Kurile Islands, lying to the north of and including Uruppu, shall belong to Russia.”

Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai Islets are to the south of Etorofu. They were not mentioned in the treaty because they were understood to be part of Japan.

They stayed part of Japan until after World War II ended. The Soviet Union renounced its neutrality treaty with Japan and declared war on 9 August 1945, three days after the Hiroshima nuclear bombing. The Japanese surrendered unconditionally on 15 August, and on 18 August the Soviets started occupying what Japan calls the Northern Territories. That process lasted until 5 September, three days after the surrender documents were signed.

For reasons impossible to explain, the English-language mass media finds it impossible to simply state these facts. Though the Soviet occupation of the islands occurred after the Japanese surrender, Reuters uses the expression “near the end of the war”. Even though the Japanese position is that the islands are not part of the Kuriles, based in part on the 1855 treaty language, the New York Times accepts the Russian formulation and calls them the South Kuriles. (Then again, the Times thought it was copacetic for the Americans to write the Japanese Constitution, as the text at the above link about Charles Kades shows.)

The Soviets occupied the islands because American President Harry Truman allowed them to. Stalin wanted the entire island of Hokkaido to create a Communist North Japan, as he did with North Korea and East Germany. Truman made a deal to prevent that by tossing Stalin the four smaller fish. This has been confirmed by historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa (an American citizen) from diplomatic cables and detailed in his book Anto. (That can be translated as Secret Strife or Hidden Battle).

Thus, the Soviets chose to exact their revenge for losing the 1905 war by kicking Japan when it was down. In the 1956 agreement between the two countries that ended the state of war between them and restored diplomatic ties, the Russians agreed to give two of the islands back as part of a future peace treaty. They show no signs of fulfilling their promise.

The Russians saw that the Democratic Party-led government of Japan flinched badly in its confrontation with China in the fall of 2010. Should it be surprising that one thug state would imitate another? Their own military testing of Japan’s territory and defensive posture began almost immediately thereafter and continues to the present.

The Russian navy sent 24 ships through La Pérouse Strait, which separates the southern part of Sakhalin from the northern part of Hokkaidō and connects the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk. This was the largest group of Russian ships to make this passage in 10 years, and included cruisers, destroyers, supply ships, tank carriers, and hospital ships.

In September 2011, the Russians conducted their largest military exercise off Kamchatka after the end of the Cold War — with 50 ships and 50 aircraft — to maintain the defense of their continental shelf area. One never knows when the Japanese or the Canadians are going to attack. It is curious that Russian exercises of this sort pass with little or no comment overseas, but the Japanese dispatch of an airplane to observe Chinese provocations is the signal for Western academics to write papers calling for the joint peaceful development of resources.

In early December 2010, Russian maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft flew directly above a joint U.S.-Japanese military drill. The main sea drill continued, but the air drill was halted to prevent the exposure of any tactics.

Though it is natural to observe military drills of neighboring countries, the Russians chose to be obnoxious in their observation and their justification afterwards. Said fleet spokesman Roman Markov:

“The area is our zone of responsibility. The airplanes carried out a planned flight in an area of the Russian Pacific Fleet’s regular activity.”

That was a month after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made the first visit of a Russian/Soviet head of state to the islands since they became Russian territory. Previous leaders had refrained from doing so to avoid antagonizing the Japanese, but discretion in bilateral relations is no longer a priority. A more recent visitor was Nikolai Patrushev, former director of the FSB (the new KGB) and secretary of the Security Council of Russia. This visit, also seen as out of the ordinary, was ostensibly to check on border security and economic development. These two men were followed by the first deputy premier, the regional development minister, and the defense minister.

One reason cited for Mr. Medvedev’s visit was to boost his image of strength before elections. That is standard operating procedure for the countries of East Asia — if the national government’s popularity needs a tonic, bash the Japanese. That’s been the drink of choice of Chinese and South Koreans for more than 60 years.

The timing was also right. Japanese defense policy at the time called for a shift in focus from defense of the north and a reduction of equipment and personnel in Hokkaido to upgrade security around the Nansei Islands of Okinawa and in the East China Sea.

What was then-Prime Minister Kan to do? He and his government had already been flayed for their mishandling of the Senkakus incident, and now the Russians were capitalizing on his demonstrated weakness. But Mr. Kan had to trust “in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world”. He lacked options for dealing with people who are ambivalent about peace and act with injustice and in bad faith. Having only a single dimension as a politician, he reached into his bag of trick and reverted to his origins as a street-corner loudmouth by criticizing Mr. Medvedev’s visit as “an unforgivable outrage”. (He got away with that sort of language in Nagata-cho for years because no one took his New Left grandstanding seriously.) He also said it was “an act of violence”.

The Russians, knowing all about shouting shoe-pounders in diplomatic venues, easily swatted that one away. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded that the Japanese prime minister was being “undiplomatic”. Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko noted:

“The Russian president independently selects routes of his domestic trips. Any recommendations from abroad are inappropriate and unacceptable.”

The time for using the phrase “unforgivable outrage” came that summer after Mr. Medvedev signed a law passed by the Duma making 2 September an annual holiday to celebrate the Soviet victory over Japan. In other words, it took the Russians 65 years to commemorate their week-long struggle in 1945, their postwar seizure of the Northern Territories, and their postwar use of 600-700,000 Japanese servicemen as slave labor from 1946 until 1956 (though most were released by 1949). An estimated 10% of those Japanese died in Soviet captivity.

Why now? Don’t look to Reuters or the New York Times for an explanation.

Mr. Kan might also have chosen to take a stern view when the Russians conducted Vostok 2010, their operational/strategic military exercises, from 29 June to 8 July in the Kuriles over Japanese objections. Or when the Russians established three new artillery and missile testing areas near the Kuriles and the Kamchatka Peninsula.

But it’s too late for that — especially now that there are signs of an anti-Japanese alliance among the peace-loving peoples of the region.

On 8 September 2011, Air Self-Defense Force jets scrambled to meet Russian *and* Chinese military aircraft approaching Japan. Two Russian TU-95 bombers flew around Japan accompanied by refueling aircraft. They started flirting with Japanese airspace from the Tsushima Strait off Nagasaki prefecture, passed south of Okinawa, and then swung up along the Pacific Ocean coast northward to an area near the Northern Territories. It was the first confirmed circumnavigation of Japan by Russian military aircraft, and it was obviously intentional. They passed Fukushima Prefecture in the Pacific at precisely the time Prime Minister Noda was there to view the damaged nuclear plant. The entire flight, including refueling, took 14 hours.

While the Russians were still airborne, a Chinese Y8 intelligence-gathering airplane flew across the dividing line between China and Japan in the East China Sea and came within 100 – 150 kilometers of The Senkakus.

(The Russia must have enjoyed their aerial tour of Japanese territory, as military aircraft made another circuit just outside Japanese airspace last month. Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro called his Russian counterpart to ask for self-restraint and more information; three days later it was reported that his call hadn’t been returned.)

One year before, on 27 September (shortly after the Senkakus Incident), Mr. Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao met in Beijing to sign a joint statement calling for “mutual support for each other’s core interests, including national sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity.”

It also contained these passages:

“During the war (World War II), people in China and Russia sustained major aggressions from the fascists and militarists, and they endured the cruelest ordeals and suffered the heaviest casualties…The fascists and militarists schemed to conquer and enslave us two nations, other countries, and the whole continent. China and Russia will never forget the feat of those who checked those two forces…

Most telling of all was this sentence. It’s worth reading twice:

The glorious history, imprinted with the friendship the people of the two countries forged in the war and their mutual help, has laid a sound foundation for today’s strategic partnership of coordination between China and Russia.

The Russians have even teamed up with the North Koreans. When the late Kim II visited Russia in August 2011, they finalized an agreement for joint military exercises, an unusual step for Pyeongyang. Kim suggested full-scale military maneuvers, including offensive exercises, but that was too much even for the Russians. They also did not respond to requests for aircraft and parts. Meanwhile, the North Koreans kept interaction with Russian forces at a minimum for lower-ranking soldiers. That limited the initial exercises to pilot rescue operations.

It is not clear what peace-loving purpose the Russians — whose navy obtained access to a Sea of Japan port through a 2010 agreement with the North Koreans — think this serves. Only allies conduct joint military operations, after all.

* The peace-loving people of South Korea

Birds of a feather, they say, flock together, so one might assume that South Korea, the only other nominal free market democracy in Northeast Asia, would think its best interests lie in an alliance of some sort with the Japanese. That assumption would be mistaken.

The Japanese suspect that when Chinese pushing comes to shoving, the Koreans will accommodate themselves to the Chinese, regardless of the specifics of the situation. An example is the language in an editorial from the Joongan Ilbo of South Korea. They’ve noticed that today’s Chinese are acting like the Imperial Japanese a century ago. They’re also aware that Chinese behavior could cause nearby countries to behave as Finland traditionally has toward its Soviet Union/Russian neighbor. But that was fine with them:

“(We) must act judiciously. China’s existence is a threat to our security, but essential for us economically. Therefore, for several decades at least, we must ride the wave of an economically prosperous China. That will require South Korea to stay neutral in the struggle between Japan and China.”

They seem to have overlooked that the struggle in East Asia is not between Japan and China, but between China and everyone else in the region with territory the Chinese claim.

Not that the South Koreans are immune from junior grade militarism of their own. They’ve already chosen to stick their saber in the face of the one country that won’t fight back. As detailed by two posts on the masthead here, South Korea seized the Takeshima islets by force after they failed to convince the United States to include it in the San Francisco Peace Treaty specifying what would and would not be Japanese territory. So, despite having ignored the rocks for centuries, they took the islets while the taking was good — knowing the Japanese were relying on the justice and faith of peace-loving peoples.

As this post describes, some South Koreans have their eyes on Tsushima too, and senior members of their military use the invisible Japanese military threat to Takeshima to urge the expansion of their military capabilities. Meanwhile, the North Koreans are the ones who are actually sinking their naval ships, shelling their territory, and murdering their tourists.

But Seoul is buckled up and ready to do battle with the Japanese. On 5 July 2006, their Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs sent a ship to survey ocean currents in Japan’s EEZ near Takeshima. Japan responded by sending a Coast Guard patrol boat to monitor the ship, contact it by radio, and ask them to stop. The Koreans ignored the Japanese request and dispatched their own Coast Guard vessel, which sailed between two ships. Nothing untoward happened, but the Japanese prime minister at the time, Abe Shinzo, said at a symposium in the fall of 2010 that the Japanese government was told the Korean captain had been given permission by South Korean President Roh Mu-hyon to fire on the Japanese ship. The expression used was “attack with the intent to harm”.

Mr. Abe consulted with the Foreign Ministry and the Coast Guard and decided not to stop the Korean ship by abordage. He later explained:

“With China, we would understand what they’re going to do because diplomacy to them is completely a game. One side can predict what the other will do if one does certain things…Roh, however, was strange and even other Korean officials and military men found him somewhat confusing. We didn’t know what he would do, because there seemed to be no logical thought or calculation of profit and loss, and the situation could have escalated beyond imagining.”

Of course, that’s not how the South Koreans remember it. (The emphasis is mine.):

Roh Moo-hyun instructed the military to destroy unauthorized Japanese ships heading for Dokdo while in office, a close aide to the late President said Friday.

This indicates that President Lee Myung-bak’s predecessor braced for the worst possible diplomatic relations with Japan to thwart the neighboring country’s territorial ambitions of Korea’s easternmost islets.

The revelation came amid escalating criticism of the government’s stance of dealing with the issue in a low key manner.

Kim Byung-joon, a former senior presidential secretary for policy planning, said in an article posted on the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation’s website, “In April 2006, when Seoul-Tokyo relations were chilled by Japan’s territorial claim of Dokdo, President Roh instructed his secretaries to consider destroying Japanese ships crossing into our territorial waters without permission.”

Among considered measures for destruction was using a Korean military ship to ram the targeted vessel from Japan, Kim recounted.

What to do?

Many Japanese have always known what this situation requires. When the Liberal-Democratic Party was formed in 1955, its new charter called for Japan to rewrite the Constitution. The members eventually found it easier to indulge in the more profitable political activity of pork distribution, and turned into the Japanese version of RINOs in the bargain. The LDP could have served as the role model for the American GOP to become stealth social democrats.

Somura Yasunobu, then a professor of international politics at the Tokyo University of Science, wrote an op-ed for the January edition of Keizai Orai in January 1991. It was rendered in English by the Translation Service Center Asia Foundation and run in the 23 April edition of the Japan Times that year. (That predates the Internet as we know it today, so it is not online.).

Prof. Somura said then all that needs to be said. Note how one passage echoes the statement of Charles Kades.

During the Persian Gulf War, Americans accused Japan of hiding behind the postwar Constitution to avoid involvement, while liberals here claimed the administration of Prime Minister Kaifu Toshiki was ripping it up in an attempt to send troops overseas. The Americans were right and our poor, pacifist Constitution was both more controversial and ridiculous than ever.

The document was foisted upon Japan when it was still under the thumb of the US occupation (1945-1952). Common sense tells us that the policies pursued by even the most benevolent of conquerors are not designed entirely for the benefit of the conquered. By the same token, a national charter adopted when Gen. Douglas MacArthur ruled Tokyo is irrelevant today.

When Japan regained its sovereignty in 1952, all legislation imposed by the Occupation should have become null and void. Anyone who still wants to preserve this Constitution in effect favors perpetuation of American rule….

…Until recently, many people have justified retaining this made-in-USA instrument as expedient, and in terms of realpolitik, Japan’s most advantageous option. I admit that I have not been among those clamoring for revision. Patchwork reform of a document so fatally flawed makes no sense…

…The heart of the Constitutional issue is the famous war-renouncing Article 9, which says in part, “the right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.” From the standpoint of international law, this makes no sense.

…In the old days, the concept of a belligerent party was used, for example, regarding rebel separatists. It provided the basis for subsequent recognition of a group as a legitimate government or the territory under its control as an independent nation. The 1947 Constitution did not even accord this minimum standing to Japan.

When Japan regained its pro forma independence in 1952, we entered into a mutual security treaty with Washington that left national defense and internal security in the hands of the U.S. military. The pact was later revised, and the Japanese government assumed the latter responsibility.

Nevertheless, the treaty made Japan, for all intents and purposes, a U.S. protectorate. Any Japanese eager to maintain this relationship after all this time is like a middle-aged man who still wants to be breast-fed by his mother.

Of course, the notion of a right to wage war has been rendered absurd by weapons of mass destruction, nuclear and conventional. The only just wars are those of self-defense; the right of belligerency simply means that a nation can protect itself.

It is contradictory to argue that Japan has the right of self-defense but not the right to wage war….This anachronistic document belongs in the national archives, not on the books as the supreme law of the land.

What to do? The Japanese should rip up the American neo-imperialist document dashed off in less than a fortnight and become a nation again.

After all, based on actions rather than words, they’re the only peace-loving peoples in Northeast Asia.


* It is easy to identify the peace-loving peoples of the world even at international sporting events.

Japan has hosted the Olympics in exemplary fashion three times. It is beyond the realm of imagination that the incidents in Seoul and Hangzou could have happened anywhere in Japan. It is inconceivable that a Japanese crowd would boo another country’s national anthem, boo a national team throughout a sporting event, throw garbage on players and fans, and behave so badly the army is required to keep them in line. International sporting events in Japan have never been cancelled due to public health concerns. And no Japanese officials have ever thrashed a judge from another country because they were unhappy with the decision.

* Here’s a report of how American soldiers in Japan keep in training.

* The drive-by academic, Walter Russell Mead, drove by again:

“Japan, Russia Build Ties As Asian Balance Shifts”

Note that he calls the islands the Kuriles and says nothing about how they were occupied. Does he know? His wishful thinking is based on a few quotes in one Kyodo report that could have been recycled by every Japanese and Russian foreign minister for the past half-century.

He missed this in the rearview mirror as he drove away:

Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said on Saturday that a heated, decades-long territorial dispute with Russia was far from solved even as they agreed to boost security and economic cooperation.

Gemba said the territorial issue must be solved before Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, invests further in the islands and Russia’s underdeveloped Far East region.

“We would consider joint business activities if it helps solve the sovereignty issue,” Gemba said.

“But we must not violate Japan’s legal stance…In that sense, the positions (between Japan and Russia) remain far apart.”

The day the other countries in the region can produce an indie band like Kiwi and the Papaya Mangoes is the day they reach the level of Japanese internationalism.

On their previous album, KPM did a Brazilian forro tune with Indian percussion and a flute. The Korean writing seen briefly in this video spells out the name of the Japanese national anthem.

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Posted by ampontan on Friday, February 3, 2012

“I have a lot to say,” said the fish, “but my mouth is full of water.”
– Georgian proverb

WHEN last we met, I promised that the next post would discuss Japan’s best options for responding to geopolitical conditions in East Asia. That post has required a lot of time to collect, translate, and organize the information, however. At the same time, my primary attention shifted to a large influx of paying work, which still continues. Finally, it has been difficult to resist the temptation to slide over to YouTube and watch and listen to the videos in the excellent Pakistan Coke Studio series.

The stimulus which pulled me out of that mini-orbit was the festival of cheap thrills in the English-language blogosphere this week touched off by another provocative bit of Japan-related flummery.


A startling number of Japanese youths have turned their backs on sex and relationships, a new survey has found.

The survey, conducted by the Japan Family Planning Association, found that 36% of males aged 16 to 19 said that they had “no interest” in or even “despised” sex. That’s almost a 19% increase since the survey was last conducted in 2008.

If that’s not bad enough, The Wall Street Journal reports that a whopping 59% of female respondents aged 16 to 19 said they were uninterested in or averse to sex, a near 12% increase since 2008.

Not only did everone fall for it, they sucked it up so quickly one could almost hear the kids loudly slurping the last drops of the beverage at the bottom of the cup through their straws.

Now really: Are the popular perceptions of Japan so warped that anyone anywhere 16 years of age or over could take that story at face value? I’ve regularly associated with Japanese kids of high school and college age — in the Japanese language — since 1984, and the idea that they have a widespread aversion to sex caused a snort louder than any straw slurp. But then I’m also familiar with the dissatisfaction many Japanese have with the inferior quality of local public opinion surveys, which seldom finds expression in English.

Some research on the Japanese-language sector of the Internet was in order. The first place I headed was the website for the Japanese Family Planning Association, which is the Japanese affiliate of Planned Parenthood. I spent a few minutes at their Japanese-only site looking for the report, but found nothing. Then I plugged their name into the Japanese version of Google News, but I still came up empty.

I returned to the original article, published by that paragon of accuracy and sobriety in journalism, the Huffington Post. The headline read, “Japan Population Decline: Third of Nation’s Youth Have ‘No Interest’ In Sex”. Part of their article is quoted above, including the claim that this is a “new survey”.

How odd that nothing about this new survey and its remarkable findings can be found on the Japanese Family Planning Association’s website or Google News Japan. The reason became apparent when I accessed the link at the HuffPo piece to a related Wall Street Journal article. Rather than being “new”, the survey was released in January 2011 — more than a year ago.

That explains the absence of stories in Google News; links to Japanese newspaper stories seldom survive longer than a year. After I added some terms to the search query, some information finally started turning up. It helped that the survey was sponsored by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare.

Nevertheless, it was curious how little information actually surfaced. Blog post links last longer than a year, but Japanese bloggers were rather uncurious about this report. Then I ran across this comment from University of Tokyo grad school researcher Furuichi Noritoshi, a sociologist who specializes in studies of contemporary Japanese youth. Mr. Furuichi — who is just 26 himself — wrote in the weekly Pureiboi:

The viewpoint is growing among young people today that it is “smart” (i.e., stylish) to behave as if one has little interest in sex. People think they should not superficially demonstrate that interest, even when they are interested. They even consider it a pain to put up with the generation that spun their tales of triumph, bragging about how many people they bagged. I suspect that viewpoint is reflected in the answers to the survey.

In addition, they only surveyed from 61 to 162 men or women in each generation. That’s a rather small sample size. Further, the response rate was only 57%. It would be difficult to gain an understanding of an entire generation from this survey alone.

N.B.: In Japan, “difficult” is usually a euphemism for “impossible”.

After that observation about the sample size, I knew I was getting close. Sure enough, the next site that turned up was the original Japanese-language report from the Ministry itself on the survey. (You can read the .pdf file here.)

Here’s how the survey was conducted: 3,000 people from the ages of 16-49 were selected at random from residential rolls. The association explained and distributed questionnaires to 2,693 people, eliminating from the original 3,000 those who were never at home or not at the address. They returned to pick up the completed questionnaire later, and received 1,540 (671 from men and 869 from women). That’s a recovery rate of 57.2%.

As page four of the .pdf file shows, they broke down the respondents into seven different age groups. For the age group of 16-19, they received responses from 61 males and 65 females.

In other words, the Internet was agog over a report that 22 males and 38 females aged 16-19 said either that they had no interest in sex or despised it. When the Huffington Post spun this story as “a third of the nation’s youth” disliking sex, they were basing it on the response of 60 self-selected people. The HuffPo also thinks 38 girls is a “whopping” number.

That explains why so few people in Japan took the survey seriously. We already knew there was little reason to take the HuffPo or Wall Street Journal’s coverage of Japan seriously, based on their track record. This story follows the pattern: Discovering the essentials of this survey took only 10 to 15 minutes, but then I was interested in the truth instead of entertainment.

Another peculiarity was the survey’s finding that only 6.6% of the boys and 1.6% of the girls had their first sexual experience at the age of 16-19. That’s not even close to the numbers from this data reported by Kyoto University for surveys of high school students in Tokyo over a 20 year-period. In 1984, the percentage of the no-longer virgin among the big city boys and girls in their senior year was 22% and 12% respectively. By 2002, a decade ago, that had risen to 37% and 46% respectively. (Yes, the girls were getting more action than the guys.)

Is this not curious? If a survey with findings that goofy were to appear in America, folks on the Internet would have mobilized immediately, and the information to refute it would have been found, presented, and widely disseminated in fewer than 24 hours. Recall what happened to Dan Rather of CBS News when he tried to use bogus documents to discredit George W. Bush in 2004. Just last week, an attempt to discredit Newt Gingrich among Republicans by deliberately misquoting his comments about Ronald Reagan was also exposed in less than a day.

When Japan is the subject of goofy surveys, however, the same people forego their critical facilities and become Grade-A suckers.

This phenomenon demands ruthless truth-telling, and it is not possible to be too ruthless. Here’s the truth: If you choose to believe what you read in the English-language mass media about Japan, you choose the course of ignorance.

Conrad the Gweilo

I read this report on the Instapundit website run by University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds. A rational man, Prof. Reynolds presented only the link and a quote, and offered no comment of his own. He did, however, later add a comment mailed in by an ex-blogger whose site he once enjoyed. The commenter identified himself as the former author of the Gweilo Diaries. That would have been “Conrad”, a man writing from Hong Kong who chose to remain anonymous even when active.

I bring up his comments only because they are a superlative example — even for the Internet — of a person unwittingly exposing himself as a horse’s ass through the confident assertion of ignorant nonsense. Here’s what he said:

As a preface: my wife — yes, I’m now married, monogamous and very content — is Japanese. Many of my friends and clients are Japanese. I speak passable Japanese and I am still intrigued (and sometimes repelled) by Japanese culture.

Here’s what he’s telling us: He doesn’t live in Japan, knows a few Japanese people, and is not fluent in the language. Any time spent in the country has been short and shallow. He might fool the linguistically challenged Americans (and himself) with this “passable” business, but there is no “passable” when it comes to language skills — you’re either fluent or you’re not.

What is “passable” supposed to mean? Passable is going to the dentist with a toothache and getting it fixed, explaining why Barack Obama is now so unpopular in the United States after the false euphoria of 2008, or describing the difference between an alpha male and a beta male without any English dialogue or recourse to a dictionary. Passable is being able to read the first 25 signs you see walking down the street. Passable is explaining to someone in English the content of a Japanese newspaper article selected by someone else at random.

His primary means of communication with his Japanese wife would seem to be in a language other than Japanese. My Japanese wife and I will have been married 25 years in May, and she does not speak English. One learns early that the choice is simple: either get fluent fast or live forever behind the eight ball. Passable is not an option.

And of course, if he could read or write Japanese, he would have mentioned it.

His admission that he is “sometimes repelled” by Japanese culture demonstrates a disqualifying bias. Somewhere in the world there is a nation that is the gold standard for culture, from which the Japanese are so far removed that their behavior is repellent? Or does that cultural gold standard only exist in the kingdom between his ears?

If you wonder why that would make a difference, try this perspective: Picture yourself as an American who is listening to someone commenting authoritatively about the United States, but whose culture sometimes repels him. The commenter doesn’t live in the US, speaks only “passable” English, and can’t read the language. He knows a few Americans, including his wife, with whom he converses in some other language.

Now ask yourself how seriously you’ll take whatever this man has to say.

We do learn, however, about the Japan of his imagination.

Young Japanese guys are as horny and desperate to get laid as any guys in the world. Probably more so, since only young Arabs get less actual sex.

The Japanese Family Planning Association survey found that the age at which the 50% threshold was crossed for the first sexual experience was 19, but Conrad the Gweilo in Hong Kong, or wherever he is now, knows more about the frequency with which people in Japan (and the Arab world) get laid. He must be a lucky man to have avoided arrest as a Peeping Tom for all these years.

Unfortunately, three lost economic decades has resulted in a plethora of un- or under-employed young beta men, without real jobs or prospects of success, and young women who look at these prospective suitors and despair.

Unfortunately Conrad the Gweilo seems to be under the impression that the years from 1980-1990 were an economic loss in Japan. He also isn’t aware of the statistics showing that Japanese economic performance in recent years has been comparable to that of other developed countries. Nor is he aware that the nation with a plethora of young beta men without real jobs has an unemployment rate just a skoche more than half that of the United States, where the official unemployment figures are just as fraudulent.

Then there is the deficiency in his reading skills. The report on this survey covered only the results for people from ages 16-19, when most kids are in high school, and many in the first year of college. It is not clear why figures dealing with full-time students prompted him to discuss un- or under-employment among young men.

His use of the term “beta men” is also noteworthy, especially in combination with the following:

Young Japanese guys who can’t attract women turn to magna, gaming, and juvinalia (sic) Young Japanese women, in a society without f*ckworthy guys, turn to fashion, girl friends and the passive/aggressive “cute culture” prevalent among Japanese girls. It turns out that economic stagnation if the enemy of hot sex.

Though the Pukka Sahib of East Asia has “many” Japanese friends and clients, he doesn’t have a high opinion of their masculinity. For all his extensive experience and knowledge, he seems to have overlooked the fact that the dynamic for interaction between the sexes is different here. But perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on him. Unable to read Japanese, he doesn’t have access to this information.

Nor is the cute culture among young Japanese women a recent phenomenon, but Conrad the Gweilo is probably too young to know that. Why he thinks the buzzword “passive-aggressive” applies to it is beyond my ability to speculate.

That facile use of the term “beta men”, by the way, also identifies him as someone who is likely familiar with what has been called the manosphere and the new masculine awareness. Yet it is strange how quickly he buys into this:

Many commentators in the Japanese and international media have laid the problem squarely at the feet of soshoku danshi — “herbivore men” — a term coined by pop culture columnist Maki Fukasawa in 2006.

One of the staples of the English-language manosphere is the presentation and takedown of articles written by women (especially pop culture columnists) publicly airing their dissatisfaction with contemporary men. As soon as one is brought up as the subject of a manosphere blog post, the author is pelted with a volley of spitballs and put in her place as a whiner frustrated that she isn’t hot enough to attract guys.

But when they turn the cyberpage and see the Japanese version of the same thing, the suckers swallow it whole. Perhaps that’s because American men are so studly compared to those geeky Japanese grass eaters. After all:

Once upon a time, video games were for little boys and girls—well, mostly little boys—who loved their Nintendos so much, the lament went, that they no longer played ball outside. Those boys have grown up to become child-man gamers, turning a niche industry into a $12 billion powerhouse. Men between the ages of 18 and 34 are now the biggest gamers;… almost half—48.2 percent—of…males in that age bracket had used a console during the last quarter of 2006, and did so, on average, two hours and 43 minutes per day. (That’s 13 minutes longer than 12- to 17-year-olds, who evidently have more responsibilities than today’s twentysomethings.) Gaming—online games, as well as news and information about games—often registers as the top category in monthly surveys of Internet usage.


Today’s pre-adult male is like an actor in a drama in which he only knows what he shouldn’t say. He has to compete in a fierce job market, but he can’t act too bossy or self-confident. He should be sensitive but not paternalistic, smart but not cocky. To deepen his predicament, because he is single, his advisers and confidants are generally undomesticated guys just like him.

Single men have never been civilization’s most responsible actors; they continue to be more troubled and less successful than men who deliberately choose to become husbands and fathers. So we can be disgusted if some of them continue to live in rooms decorated with “Star Wars” posters and crushed beer cans and to treat women like disposable estrogen toys, but we shouldn’t be surprised.

Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven—and often does. Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man. But these rational choices on the part of women only serve to legitimize men’s attachment to the sand box. Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway. There’s nothing they have to do.

Ah, so sorry. That was Kay Hymowitz writing about American men.

Perhaps his time overseas has left Conrad the Gweilo behind the curve:

The US is not Japan, but if present trends of debt, unemployment, lack of mobility and stagnation continue, the end result will be similar.

Well, we know that the US is not Japan, but a report last year from the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the percentage of young Americans aged 15-24 with no sexual experience had risen from 22% for both sexes in 2005 to 27% for men and 29% for women. That’s an extra five years of prime sexual time beyond the ages referenced in the Japanese study. The percentage of high school virgins was 53% for men and 58% for women, not so different from Japanese surveys. In fact, that percentage for girls with their innocence intact is higher than the percentage for Japanese girls in the study of Tokyo I cited above.

What would Conrad the Gweilo make of the book Furuichi Noritoshi published last year? Mr. Furuichi wanted to examine why people were so concerned about Japanese youth when a 2010 survey found that 65.9% of men and 75.2% of women in their 20s said they were “satisfied” with their current lives.

Perhaps if he could read it, he might tell us.


Please use this link to Instapundit to access the HuffPo and Wall Street Journal articles. Links are only for the legit.

Next time for the geopolitical post for sure!

To say that the Pakistan Coke Studio videos are excellent might be an understatement.

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Posted in Foreigners in Japan, I couldn't make this up if I tried, Mass media, Popular culture, Sex, Social trends | Tagged: , | 16 Comments »