Japan from the inside out

More on the savior of Japan

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, March 4, 2012

DETAILS continue to emerge about how Kan Naoto, AKA The Savior of Japan, and his government conducted the recovery effort for the Tohoku disaster. It’s unlikely that Mr. Kan’s hagiographers at the Asahi Shimbun and the New York Times will offer those details to their readers, however. It would spoil the narrative.

For example, the Sankei Shimbun conducted a questionnaire survey of the chief municipal officers of local governments designated by the government as of 1 January as having been affected by the disaster, extending from Hokkaido to Nagano. The newspaper sent the survey to all 167 of those leaders, and received returns from 140, or 83.8%.

One of the questions asked was whether the mayors could give high marks to the national government for its recovery efforts.

Only five, or 3.5%, said yes.

Nearly half, or 68 of the respondents, said no. Another 65 thought they couldn’t say one way or another.

Another question asked whether the national government’s efforts were more or less than expected. A majority —- 81 of the executives, or 57.8% — said they were less than expected. Another 52 said the efforts were about what they expected.

Only one said they were better than they expected.

This will not surprise most Japanese, least of all the people of the Tohoku region. It was revealed last month that only 5% of the disaster’s debris has been disposed of, and we’re now just a week away from the first anniversary of the event. One reason for the delay is that the government of Kan Naoto TSOJ insisted for several months that clearing away the wreckage was the responsibility of local authorities.

Is that not a peculiar attitude for a left-of-center government? Assuming responsibility for the recovery from a large national disaster is one of the few instances in which it would be appropriate for the central government to assume a powerful role. Then again, one of the nicknames bestowed on The Savior of Japan was Nige-Kan, nigeru being the verb to flee or run away — as in, from responsibility.

The problem most frequently cited by those surveyed was the lack of a sense of urgency in Tokyo. That in turn has caused delays in construction work and cleaning up after the nuclear accident at Fukushima.

Said the mayor of Shiroishi, Miyagi:

Even when we submit orders, construction work doesn’t proceed.

The CMO of Rifu-cho, Miyagi, noted the Kantei had little understanding of the problems created by their decisions:

When they waived the expressway tolls in the area for those affected by the disaster, we were swamped with complicated work by people applying for damage certification.

That was on top of being swamped with complicated work to deal with the impact of the disaster in their municipality.

The survey also asked the executives for their opinion of the help received from Diet legislators. They came off better than the DPJ governments, to a certain extent: A total of 23 of the respondents, or 16%, gave them high marks. One of those who disagreed was the mayor of Rikuzentakata, Iwate:

I can only think that most of the MPs came to the area just to be able to say they came to the area.

Those interested in learning further details about the government’s behavior might be frustrated in their search, however: The Savior of Japan made sure it would be difficult to find out how he and his government took care of business.

A committee affiliated with the Cabinet Office for the management of public documents has been conducting hearings to examine the bureaucracy’s irresponsibility in their handling of those documents. That hearing revealed other irresponsibilities as well.

After the Tohoku disaster, the TSOJ government created more than 20 councils to deal with the recovery. We’ve noted before that these councils lacked a clear differentiation of their duties or a specified chain of command. That resulted in a substantial overlap in their roles and delays in taking action. Among those government bodies was a unit responsible for implementing measures to deal with the damage from the nuclear accident.

One of the bureaucrats testified that it was “difficult” (a Japanese euphemism for impossible) to obtain permission to record the proceedings of that unit from its director. He didn’t specify the director by name, but the media quickly identified him as Kan Naoto TSOJ. The testimony revealed that he and other Cabinet members had so intimidated the bureaucracy they didn’t ask for permission to record the meetings. Two people made nearly identical statements to the effect that the installation of microphones with recording capabilities is essential for meetings of this type. Said another:

People in the office took notes, but no official summary of proceedings was made on the approval of the unit members (Cabinet members).

The inevitable conclusion is that they didn’t want an official summary of the proceedings because they didn’t want people to know what they were — or weren’t — doing.

That would seem to vindicate another frequent charge leveled against TSOJ and his government: They wanted to take the credit when things went well, and dump the blame on the bureaucrats for any failures.

His successor Noda Yoshihiko likes to play a variation of the same game, incidentally. Last week he said the government shared the blame for the Fukushima disaster…because they took the word of the experts that nuclear power was safe. “Rather than blaming any individual person,” went the codswollop, “I believe everyone has to share the pain of responsibility and learn this lesson.”

Blame is pointless when discussing the effects of the fourth-strongest earthquake in recorded history and the resulting tsunami, but that didn’t come up in the conversation. Then again, Mr. Noda had to tread carefully. The journos wanted to know if they would get the chance to taste Tokyo Electric blood in a criminal trial. Not anti-nuke, the prime minister didn’t want to serve up that particular goblet. On the other hand, he also didn’t want to expose the culpable members of his own party who took charge of disaster control: TSOJ and his Cabinet.

The speed of modern telecommunications and information transmission means that people quickly forget yesterday’s events, both good and bad. Here’s an example: Last May, Nishioka Takeo, then the upper house president and now deceased, wrote an open letter demanding that fellow DPJ member Kan Naoto TSOJ resign his position as prime minister immediately. Many arrows in his missive landed smack in the middle of the bullseye, and this was one of the deadliest:

I believe you are not aware of your duties as prime minister concerning state affairs.

B-b-but he saved Japan!

Loaves and Fishes Update (Courtesy Seetell):

Mr. Noda seems to share his predecessor’s difficulty in understanding how to allocate funds for disaster relief, much less which people his job it is to serve.

(T)he government has not been slow about sending Japan’s dwindling wealth overseas for “humanitarian needs“.

The Japanese government granted Yemen on Saturday $22.6 million (¥1.8 billion) aiming to alleviate the humanitarian repercussions and living conditions caused by the last year political crisis…

In the last few months – all under the Noda regime – Japan has sent billions of Yen overseas to fund a highway in India, to Egypt’s new government which is already in debt to Japan, untold amounts to Europe to bail out the banks and bondholders of Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy, and JPY 67 billion to Iraq to help it rebuild following the decade-long US occupation. This is not, by any means, an exhaustive list (schools in Pakistan, ports in Indonesia, etc).

Perhaps the Japanese people should appeal to the UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, and the WHO for help so that Japanese funds will reach the Tohoku area’s Japanese people at a faster pace.

Giving money to Egypt now is the very definition of throwing it down the crapper.

B-b-but the Tohoku recovery will require tax increases!

Maybe I’m just confused.

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4 Responses to “More on the savior of Japan”

  1. yankdownunder said

    Cash-strapped Khmer Rouge court gets $6 mil from Japan. Japan is the tribunal’s largest donor, having contributed so far a total of $76.64 million.
    March 3, 2012.

    Japan Continues Buying Europe Bail-Out Bonds
    Feb. 12, 2012

    Not just money.
    SDF mission in South Sudan.

    And the list goes on and on.

    Why? You can’t simply blame it on DPJ. Is it because Japanese want the world to love them?
    Because they want a UN security seat? They should forget the UN and worry about Japan and not what people think about Japan.
    YDU: Your guess is as good as mine, but a couple of ideas arise. First, with Europe, the Finance Ministry has probably told the politicians that if the EU/Euro tanks, everyone else suffers, so they have to prop it up. But that’s probably secondary to the main one: We’re in government, we have access to the money, we have a budget that we have to use, so we’ll find some way to use it. Similar to grade school girls with an allowance and their pencil cases. Packed with pencils they’ll never be able to use until the day they die, bought only because they had money in their purses and they wanted to use it.

    – A.

  2. […] And Ampontan is continuing his attack on the Kan. […]

  3. Marellus said


    Have you seen this ?

    For those who are in a hurry today, the bottom line is that Japan is in serious trouble right now and is a top candidate to be the next black swan. Here are the elements of difficulty that concern me the most, each one serving to reduce Japan’s economic and financial stability :

    The total shutdown of all 54 nuclear plants, leading to an energy insufficiency.

    Japan’s trade deficit in negative territory for the first time in decades, driven largely by energy imports.

    A budget deficit that is now 56% larger than revenues (!!)

    Total debt standing at a whopping 235% of GDP.

    A recession shrinking Japan’s economy at an annual rate of 2.3%

    Renewed efforts underway to debase the yen.

  4. Kyogaijin said

    He seems not that bad as you have imagined!
    K: Thanks for the note. For a second there, I thought you had a serious source — until I saw the name on the website.

    The last time I happened to see that site, it was after prosecutors decided they couldn’t successfully prosecute Hatohama after his tax evasion was exposed (wall of aides). His response: “The revolution continues!” Speculation had already begun about Hatoyama’s departure (which happened four months later, i.e., four months too late), but he thought it was dawn over Red Square.

    Read what the Japanese have to say about Mr. Kan. They can’t mention his name without spitting. You did see where the head of the commission investigating the accident called him a “failure”?

    My next detailed post will have more, including how a weekly magazine is examining the possibility of *prosecuting* Kan for malfeasance of duty. It will also include the results of a poll on what the Japanese people think of his handling of Fukushima. Shall we say that the “rehabilitation” of Kan Naoto is unlikely, outside of the imaginations of a few?

    – A.

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