Japan from the inside out

Archive for April, 2012

Collision course

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, April 24, 2012

THE political and social forces in Japan are now arrayed and moving on a course that makes a noisy electoral collision inevitable. How the forces sort out post-collision isn’t possible to determine, but one thing is certain — the collision will be just one of the major engagements in an ongoing war.

Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi in Tokyo

That much is clear now that we’ve seen the evisceration of the work of Koizumi Jun’ichiro after he steered Japan to the course of reform. The reactionary Politburocrats included the old guard of his own party, the bureaucratic establishment at Kasumigaseki seeking to reclaim sovereignty over policy, and the chancers of the Democratic Party snouting around for any excuse to rise to the level of Politburocrat Nouveau. They accomplished their work in less time than the five years Mr. Koizumi spent in office.

Last week, the Men of System demonstrated again how they operate. The ruling Democratic Party lacks an upper house majority, so it was unable to prevent the opposition from censuring two Cabinet ministers: Maeda Takeshi of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (for political misbehavior) and Tanaka Naoki of Defense (for being a doofus on the job).

Upper house censures are non-binding, so the two men can technically stay, but the opposition parties are refusing to participate in negotiations until they’re removed. Said LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu:

“As long as those two stay in office, there will be no progress on the bill to combine social security and the tax system.”

Added New Komeito chief Yamaguchi Natsuo:

“We cannot respond to any parliamentary proceedings in which they have jurisdiction.”

Everyone understands that it’s a chabangeki farce staged to gain political advantage. Mr. Tanigaki and most of his party already back a consumption tax increase, and the ruling Democratic Party intends to use only 20% of the revenue from the increase for social security. A larger amount will be allocated for public works projects. Just like the old LDP.

The DPJ understands the farce better than anyone because upper house censure was a weapon they created to gain political leverage after they and their allies took control of that chamber in 2007. They censured then-Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo in 2008 for reasons that were trivial then and which no one can remember now.

But when the plastic sword was used to smack them around, Prime Minister Noda and DPJ Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma decided they didn’t like the idea after all. Both men are protecting the censured miscreants, and Mr. Noda won’t remove them from office. Said Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu last Friday:

“The prime minister’s policy is clear. He wants them to fulfill the responsibilities of their job.”

Both men of course realize that’s beyond the capabilities of Mr. Tanaka, but they have appearances to maintain and the Ozawa wing of the party to mollify.

Their display of plastic backbone has caused some consternation in Japan’s real ruling class, however. That spurred one of their agents in the DPJ to give the prime minister his marching orders.

That would be Fujii Hirohisa, the former head the Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau — Dirigiste Central — also the former secretary-general in Ozawa Ichiro’s old Liberal Party, the first finance minister in the DPJ government (for all of three months), the head of the Tax Commission in the Cabinet Office, one of the DPJ’s Supreme Advisors, and (if the rumors are to be believed) a daytime drinker.

Mr. Fujii and his comrades worry this will delay their objective of raising the consumption tax to European social democrat levels. Therefore, Mr. Fujii called on the prime minister to “remove the thorns”, because:

“The two of them have definitely done something wrong.”

But he quickly added the real reason:

“Whenever the prime minister makes a decision on what to do, the basis for everything is to pass the consumption tax increase by any means necessary.”

Now what is Mr. Noda to decide to do? He wants to project himself as a man of vision with the unwavering resolve to gouge the public and maintain the system do what is best for Japan. He also reportedly hates being called a Finance Ministry puppet.

On the other hand, Mr. Fujii has been molding Mr. Noda since the DPJ formed its first government, when the latter was the deputy finance minister in both the Hatoyama and Kan administrations. The prime minister is also aware that the Finance Ministry is capable of using the various means it has developed for staging de facto internal coups d’etat.

In other words, look for Messrs. Maeda and Tanaka to start cleaning out their desk drawers, soon rather than late.


Kasumigaseki in general and the Finance Ministry in particular have developed a substantial armory over the years to maintain their citadel. For example, all the national dailies have now published several editorials supporting a consumption tax increase. Most of them used nearly identical phrases, probably because they all received the nearly identical Finance Ministry briefing. The most enthusiastic member of the print media has been the Asahi Shimbun. They ran an editorial on 31 March titled “A consumption tax increase is necessary,” which included this content:

“With the rapid aging of society, we must provide even a small amount of stability to the social security system and rebuild the finances that are the worst among the developed countries. The first step requires that we increase the consumption tax. That is what we think.”

And the next day:

“It is important to come to a prompt decision without evading a tax increase.”

Another column appeared on 6 April with the title: “Politics and the consumption tax increase – stop the excuses”. It contained this passage:

“While you’re saying “first”—such as first reduce government waste, or first let’s end deflation, or first dissolve the lower house for an election — Japan will become insolvent.”

The Asahi insists the voters can have their say after the tax increase has been safely passed. That’s the same strategy foreseen months ago by ex-ministry official and current reformer Takahashi Yoichi.

As a newspaper of the left, the Asahi might be expected to favor higher taxes and stronger central government, but perhaps they have a more compelling reason. That would be explained by another news report that the Asahi tried to hide in an overlooked part of the paper, but which the rival Yomiuri Shimbun gave more prominent coverage on 30 March.

It seems that a tax audit revealed the Asahi failed to report JPY 251 million in corporate income over a five-year period that ended 31 March 2011. They were required to pay substantial penalties.

Golly, what a coincidence!

On the other hand, the bureaucrats are not picking on just the Asahi. All the newspapers and their reporters are being audited, which is a process that can take from several weeks to several months. The reporters treat their sources, anonymous or otherwise, to food and drink, and we all know that expense accounts are there to be padded. Tax officials are even said to be visiting the eating and drinking places listed on the returns for confirmation. Both the Asahi and the Yomiuri already had to refile their taxes in 2009.

The Asahi insists their editorials are unrelated to the audits, and they might have a point. There are about 20 people on the paper’s editorial committee, and all of them support a tax increase. Most of them once covered the Finance Ministry as members of the ministry’s kisha club, a system that combines short leashes with exclusive access. And many of them are also graduates of the University of Tokyo, which is the institution of choice for the Finance Ministry’s recruitment.

It’s natural to assume that the members of the old boys’ club would think alike, but a tax audit certainly helps to focus their thinking.

Not a rhetorical question

Fortunately, irresistible forces are headed straight for these immovable objects. Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi, one of the squad leaders in those forces, launched his political juku in Tokyo on Saturday. He told his 200 students:

“I want to change the mechanism of this country, in which taxes are not reduced by even one yen.”

Mr. Kawamura is screening and preparing candidates for the next lower house election by using the same juku mechanism employed by Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and Aichi Gov. Omura Hideaki. There will likely be an alliance of some sort between those local parties and Your Party at the national level. Their message is the largely the same.

Delivering that message on Saturday as the first lecturer was former METI official turned bureaucratic reformer Koga Shigeaki. Mr. Koga rebuffed requests to run for governor of two prefectures to serve as Mr. Hashimoto’s senior advisor, and he also has connections with Your Party. He told the juku students something that everyone in Japan apart from the Politburocratchiks understand: The current system of governance is dead, and the creation of a new system starts with civil service reform.

Part of the problem

The experience of Koga Shigeaki illustrates one of the many reasons that Japan’s Democratic Party has become part of the problem instead of the solution. He was selected as an aide to then-Reform Minister Sengoku Yoshito in the Hatoyama Cabinet, but that appointment lasted only a few days. Kasumigaseki wouldn’t stand for it, and Mr. Sengoku is not one to stand on principle when his place in the power structure is at stake. Indeed, the former lawyer confronted Mr. Koga with a semi-gangsterish threat (likely picked up from his former clients) during the latter’s Diet testimony on reform at the request of Your Party.

Try this for a thought experiment: Imagine that the cities of Chicago and Los Angeles, and their respective states of Illinois and California, are governed by local parties calling for radical governmental reform. One of the primary planks of that reform is putting a leash on the public sector. Three of those four chief executives were once members of the two major parties. The deputy mayor of New York is a colleague, and the mayor is a sympathizer.

Need I mention that this would be topics #1, #2, and #3 in the American mass media 24/7, and that the Journolist-coordinated efforts to slime them all would be rank even by their standards?

(Of course, this is only a thought experiment. California is actually heading 180° in the other direction.)

Japan has the oldest and most dynamic of the modern anti-elitist reform movements of the world’s major democracies. It’s the one with the greatest chance of success, and it’s also possible to make the case that it is the most positive in outlook. (The French just gave 18% of the vote to Marine LePen, though in their defense the Eurabia concept was idiotic even by Eurocrat standards.)

Predictions are usually a waste of time, but here’s one you can hold me to: The English-language media in general, and the FCCJ lackwits in particular, won’t bother to notice what’s happening in Japan until they find themselves ankle-deep in the muck after the bloodletting of the next general election, and some well-coiffed and -dyed heads will be adorning the tops of pointed stakes. The media will then be “surprised”.

And then they’ll launch a slimeball fusillade. Take it to the bank.


Yes, this is a national phenomenon. It’s happening again, this time in the city of Kasumigaura, a largely agricultural town of 43,600 in Ibaraki Prefecture.

After the city was created in 2005 through the merger of two smaller municipalities, the residents expected to benefit from the economies of scale. They really should have known better. Instead of one unified municipal office, the new city officials created two, one in each of the constituent entities. One of them required the construction of a new building. They also separately maintained their former methods of collusion for deal-cutting: one controlled by the civil service, the other organized by private sector industry.

It got worse after the new city’s second mayor took office in 2007, when he was unopposed in the election. Opposition quickly materialized after the city council voted themselves a 40% pay raise. A citizens’ group was organized, and they ran Miyajima Mitsuaki for mayor in the next election. He upset the incumbent by a 276 vote margin.

The problem, however, was that there was little turnover in city council members. Four are reformers, 11 are in the flybait class, and one is a fence-sitter. In one year and eight months, City Council has rejected 32 of the mayor’s initiatives, including the rollback of the salary increase, other salary cuts, and a bill to provide free medical care for children through the third year of junior high school. (That last is an idea common to many of the reformers in local government. There are several possible explanations for this mixture of welfare statism into what is primarily a small government philosophy, but it does suggest they are not ideologues.)

The mayor therefore announced last week that he and the citizens’ group will start a petition drive to recall City Council. They’ll have a month to come up with 15,000 signatures. It won’t be easy, but Mr. Kawamura overcame the same hurdle in Nagoya, and his hurdle was much higher because of that city’s larger population. I wouldn’t bet against them.

It bears repeating that the next lower house election will not be the last battle of the war, regardless of the result. The reformers at the regional level have found their voice and their allies are not going to go away. Meanwhile, the Politburocrats are stocking the moat with as many alligators as they can breed.

The current system of governance requires that the bureaucracy oversee the process as the Cabinet formulates a bill and the ruling party examines it before it’s submitted to the Diet. Defying the wishes of Kasumigaseki requires a thorough knowledge of policy and some serious spine, neither of which is a hallmark of the political class anywhere. The civil servants devote a lot of time to anticipating objections to their favored policies and formulating arguments against those objections to feed to the politicians.

One advantage of the reformers is that people such Your Party’s Watanabe Yoshimi and Eda Kenji, Hashimoto advisors Koga, Sakaiya Taiichi, and Hara Eiji, as well as advisor to both Takahashi Yoichi, have extensive knowledge of policy and Politburocrat tactics, and took a clear public stand long ago.

Another man who combines both is Takenaka Heizo, a Cabinet member throughout Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s entire term of office, and the man responsible for producing the Japan Post privatization package. Mr. Takenaka has said that victory will require 10 years of continuous guerilla warfare.

In short: Japan is in the midst of the most civil Civil War a modern democracy has ever seen.

Drunken sailor watch

The Prime Minister’s Office unveiled its new website earlier this month, which they created as a portal site to provide comprehensive information on policy. That’s a fine idea, but the Jiji news agency reported the redesign of the old site required an expenditure of JPY 45.5 million (almost $US 560,000 on the nose).

What? You didn’t hear the detonation on the Internet?

A lot of people thought it could have been done for 10% of that amount, and some said they would have been happy to take the job at that price. They also said they wouldn’t have created a site with text that was unreadable for those using Apple’s Safari browser and without the kanji errors on the page for children.


Piano prodigy Okuda Gen appeared on television again Sunday night. Now ten years old, Gen has been playing piano since the age of four and giving concerts since the age of seven. He’s composed 50 pieces of his own. He likes all sorts of styles and plays classical music well, but is a particular fan of jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. On Sunday, he performed as an equal with an adult drummer and bassist.

The boy is remarkably self-assured for his age, even without his musical ability. It seems unlikely at this point that he’ll acquire the problems that usually attend children such as these when they enter The Jungle of Puberty.

But the most astonishing part of Gen’s story is that he started playing because he thought he would like it. Neither parent is involved with music, and they say he’s never taken a music lesson.

Here he is at age eight. Pull your socks up.

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Matsuri da! (126): It’s ganko!

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, April 22, 2012

THE festival tradition in Japan stretches back for centuries, and some festivals are more than a thousand years old. But in Japan any old excuse is fine if it’s in the cause of a good time, so new festivals are always being created. Unlike the traditional events, they have no Shinto underpinning.

Representative of the new wave in free public entertainment is the Hamamatsu Yosakoi Ganko Matsuri, held last month in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka. This year’s festival was just the twelfth. Hamamatsu is known as the home of motorcycles and musical instruments—Yamaha and Kawai are headquartered here—and it was also the site of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s worst military defeat before he became the first Tokugawa shogun in 1603.

Ganko is a word from the local dialect that translates into standard Japanese as hijo ni (extremely) or sugoi (a word used to excess in everyday speech in the same way that “awesome” is used to excess in the United States, with much the same meaning). So, you could say that the name Ganko Matsuri means Super Festival, and that’s exactly what the organizers suggest in Japanese.

There’s only one rule, and it’s simple—anyone may participate as long as they have a musical instrument, no matter how rudimentary, and they dance. Until a few years ago, the rule was that participants had to use naruko, or wooden clappers. That was later amended to include any musical instruments, traditional or modern, including the clappers. Other than that, people are free to do what they like, including design their own costumes and create their own dance, whether it be old-fashioned bon odori or hip-hop. And they do.

Participation is by team, and last month about 4,300 people from throughout the country showed up to perform in 119 groups ranging from 15 to 100 people. Some in the group may specialize in singing or chanting, waving banners, or playing the musical instruments or clappers. In addition to parading down the city’s streets — which the gives the residents the opportunity to get in on the action — the teams get individual time on stage to be judged for awards. They have all of five minutes and 30 seconds to get on, line up, perform, and leave.

The Organizing Committee has a high-minded list of festival objectives, which include boosting the city and its industries, promoting interaction with people from other parts of the country, and encouraging citizen participation in local activities, but it’s really just a cover for “Have a good time.” Many of the performers are college students enjoying themselves in extracurricular activities. Here’s a taste of what it looked like this year. If what you’re seeing or hearing at any given moment doesn’t appeal to you, wait about 30 seconds. You’ll be seeing and hearing something different.

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More on Hatoyama the hapless, part three

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, April 22, 2012

This magazine has for some time pointed out that the policy reviews were nothing more than a performance staged by the Finance Ministry, and led to no actual reductions in expenditures.
– The 13 April 2012 edition of the weekly Shukan Post

EVEN someone with a grasp of reality as diaphanous as that of Hatoyama Yukio understood the primary reason for his party’s victory in the general election of 2009. Shortly after that election, the new DPJ-led administration began reviews of programs and quasi-governmental bodies with the stated intent of eliminating or cutting back on enough of them to achieve savings of JPY seven trillion. They barely managed to find enough to reach JPY one trillion, and even then the government and bureaucracy ignored or sometimes reversed the panel’s recommendations.

Many of those organizations were created specifically as amakudari featherbeds, soft landings for the retired bureaucrats suspended from yen-padded parachutes who once were responsible for the oversight of the industries that now employ them. Had the DPJ been serious, they could have found much more than JPY seven trillion; an estimated 4,700 of these organizations gobble up JPY 12.7 trillion yen a year.

On the day the reviews began then-Prime Minister Hatoyama said:

“(These reviews) are what all the people have the greatest expectations for, so the entire government must do everything it can to work together for this.”

Wakabayashi Aki worked for one of the quangos associated with the health ministry for 10 years and left to become a freelance journalist after blowing the whistle. Her book 裏切りの民主党, or The Backstabbers of the Democratic Party, is an eyewitness account of the first set of policy reviews. She was asked to help prepare for the reviews based on her decade of experience, but was bounced after the health ministry discovered her involvement. She attended the rest of the sessions as a journalist.

The DPJ-led policy reviews were not the first of their kind in Japan. LDP MP Kono Taro led a team that conducted a similar review a year before that, and they’ve often been used successfully by sub-national governments to reduce government spending. Ms. Wakabayashi notes, however, that the key to the success of the local government reviews has been the active involvement of the chief executive officer of government in every step of the process. In contrast, she reports that Hatoyama Yukio’s direct involvement with the 2009 review totaled 20 minutes. He came to the hall and listened to the questioning of officials from the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

Then again, he was a busy man with a full schedule. In her book, Ms. Wakabayashi provides details of his schedule during the first policy review.

Day Two: Mr. Hatoyama attended a party celebrating the Emperor’s 20th year on throne, and then went with his wife and three show business personalities, including actress Mori Mitsuko, to see a song and dance performance.

Day Three: After attending the Emperor’s tea party, he met with President Barack Obama for a summit, albeit showing up five minutes late. He and Mr. Obama held a joint press conference and later attended a banquet given in the American president’s honor. Mr. Hatoyama left the banquet and his guest early, however, to take a night flight to Singapore.

Day Four: The reason for the night flight was to ensure his attendance at the tape-cutting ceremony for the new Japan Creative Center in Singapore the next morning. He was there to attend the APEC conference that began later that day, but that necessitated neither the late flight nor his presence at the ceremony.

The day after his return, he attended a party celebrating the 70th anniversary of JASRAC (Japan Society for Rights of Authors, Composers, and Publishers) with about 1,000 other people in show business. He spent three hours at dinner with his wife, a fashion designer, and a pianist, among others.

The next day, he met with Japan’s baseball commissioner, the head of the college baseball federation, and others involved with the sport for one hour. He also spent an hour at a conference on government reform.

The day after that, he welcomed a popular singer to his official residence and later attended a concert by the Self-Defense Forces band and orchestra. (They present concerts nationwide, which are a popular attraction. I went once, and the house was sold out.)

Two days later, he visited the US embassy to watch an American football game with the ambassador. Later that day, he threw out the first pitch at the annual exhibition baseball game between pro and college players. That night, he went out to dinner in the Ginza with his wife and Mr. and Mrs. Kan Naoto.

Meanwhile, as Ms. Kobayashi reports, the people doing the real work for the policy reviews were on the job for a month straight with no days off. After returning home at night, they continued their research on the Internet.

In addition to his 20-minute drive-through, Mr. Hatoyama’s involvement with the policy reviews included his decision to reverse the panel’s recommendation to end the project to build the world’s fastest supercomputer. He gave the project his support after being lobbied by members of Japan’s scientific establishment, including Nobel laureate Tonegawa Susumu.


Ms. Wakabayashi also described her visit accompanying the review team to JICA headquarters.

The organization’s headquarters occupies six floors of a new building in Tokyo — the first floor and the top five. Roughly 1,000 of the agency’s 1,600 employees are assigned there. The rent costs the government JPY 2.8 billion a year. The first floor has an exhibition hall to give visitors an idea of the agency’s activities. One exhibit on display is a 10-kilogram jug of water that represents the work required of children in developing countries, who must fetch that amount for their families’ daily use. There were no visitors in the exhibition hall when Ms. Wakabayashi was there. The hall requires JPY 130 million in annual operating fees.

She ate lunch at the restaurant on the JICA site. The menu prices were about half those of a privately operated establishment, and that doesn’t count the sushi prepared by a chef at each individual table.

The meeting between the Diet members of the policy review panel and JICA executives took place in a room that Ms. Wakabayashi described as resembling a luxury hotel suite. She was not able to show readers the interior of the room because JICA forbid photographs.

The director of JICA at the time was Ogata Sadako, the former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees from 1991 to 2000. She was appointed JICA head in 2003, when she was 75. Ms. Ogata comes from a family of diplomats, is the great-granddaughter of former Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi, and is a personal friend of the Empress of Japan. Her salary was JPY 22 million a year.

Bureaucrats of all sorts reap the benefits of amakudari.

JICA has an annual budget of JPY 1.1 trillion, of which JPY 160 billion went to ODA in 2008. The largest bilateral aid organization in the world, they distributed funds to 151 countries that year, including China, India, and Brazil. They have two offices in Tokyo, and 10 in other cities stretching from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south. When asked about the necessity for the branch offices, it was explained that visiting officials from other countries could benefit from local expertise. For example, the office in Hyogo could give advice on earthquake recovery based on their experience in 1994.

The average annual income of JICA employees is JPY 8.3 million, or slightly less than double the average income of a private-sector employee. They can receive up to an additional JPY 13.2 million a year when posted overseas, an amount that includes living allowances and allowances for spouses and children. They are also given a special exemption from Japanese income tax. Few, says Ms. Wakabayashi, have special training.

This exchange took place with Ms. Ogata during the visit:

Q: Why are JICA salaries 30% higher than those of other civil servants?
A: We reward the employees who contribute to international cooperation in their salaries.

Ogata Sadako on the first day of her new job

Ms. Wakabayashi spoke to a department head recently returned from a posting to Vietnam. He told her that he sat in an air-conditioned office all day while the actual work was done by outsourced consultants and local staff.

JICA is financed entirely by the Japanese government and bonds the organization issues themselves. The government did cut direct contributions in FY 2010, but a look at the agency’s financial statements on the web shows that the cut was offset by funds received from government-guaranteed bonds, which were issued for the first time that year. They also increased the amount of their own bond floats.

Now 84, Ms. Ogata left her JICA post in March and was named this month as an “advisor on diplomatic policy” to Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro. Said Mr. Gemba, according to the Kyodo report:

“She has contributed to heighten Japan’s presence in the international community. I would like her to continue to instruct us on issues such as those related to Afghanistan and security.”

The behavior of the political and governmental elites, and what they have wrought, speaks for itself.

Ms. Wakabayashi tells the story of leaving a meeting briefly to visit the bathroom during a visit to a different government site with the review team. She was accompanied to the restroom door by a government employee and warned not to go anywhere else in the building.

Some people get upset at the criticism of the bureaucracy, however. One of them is Kobe College Prof. Ishikawa Yasuhiro, who offered his opinion to Akahata, the daily newspaper published by the Japanese Communist Party:

“Civil servant bashing is the bashing of civil service that supports the lives of the people. It might be said that it is an attack on the people by the financial establishment and the government. They bring conflict into the midst of the people and drive a wedge between the people and the workers. The financial establishment then proceeds to use that opening for creating the type of country they seek.”

By civil service supporting the lives of the people, I suppose he means this project as described by Ban Ki-moon.

Drunken sailor watch

At a conference on the 19th, the Japanese government agreed to increase the amount it would pay to move American troops from Okinawa and station them on the American territory of Guam from $US 2.8 billion to $US 3.1 billion. One reason cited was the rate of inflation in the United States.

Here’s more from Bloomberg:

“Japan pledged 600 billion yen ($7.4 billion) in development aid to support infrastructure projects in five Southeast Asian nations that share the Mekong River.

“Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who met with the leaders of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar today in Tokyo, expressed appreciation for their self-help efforts, particularly Thailand’s contributions to the development of the Mekong region through bilateral and regional frameworks, according to an official statement issued after the summit.”

And from Reuters:

“Japan has agreed to forgive Myanmar 303.5 billion yen ($3.72 billion) in debt and overdue charges, and resume development loans to the Southeast Asian country, the two nations said on Saturday, in a move to help foster the nascent democracy’s economic development.

“They have decided to cooperate in drawing up a blueprint for the Thilawa Special Economic Zone in Myanmar, potentially giving Japanese firms a leg-up over rivals in winning infrastructure projects for the area.”

Meanwhile, according to an article in the issue of the Shukan Post quoted at the top of this piece, few infrastructure restoration projects have gotten underway in the three Tohoku prefectures most affected by last March’s disaster.

It’s a shame these people aren’t musicians. If they were, we could ask them to play Far Far Away.

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Ichigen koji (100)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, April 21, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

* (We in) Japan should repudiate the Constitution and immediately create a new one ourselves.

* The Constitution was written in three or four days by the Americans and consists entirely of hideous text that was translated from the English to the Japanese.

* It has been the valid law that governs the country, even after Japan regained its independence with the San Francisco Peace Treaty. Nowhere else is to be found an example of idiocy such as this.

* (The Constitution) has created an extremely distorted mentality among the people, who have a strong awareness of their rights, but no awareness of their responsibilities.

– Tokyo Metro District Gov. Ishihara Shintaro in a speech to the Heritage Foundation in the United States on the 16th. The coverage of the speech in English focused entirely on his mention of the intent to purchase some of the Senkaku islets from the family that owns them. None of them mentioned his discussion of the Constitution.

All the major overseas news outlets did find the space to mention that the Heritage Foundation is a “conservative” think tank, though those same outlets never find the space for an adjective when the think tank is left of center.

As the blogger Heartiste wrote recently in a different context, “The world has changed and integrity is now a passé virtue. I doubt (any) of the media propagandists care about their bias. War has a way of enfeebling the moral conscience.”

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More on Hatoyama the hapless, part two

Posted by ampontan on Friday, April 20, 2012

BEFORE we return to our regularly scheduled programming, let’s have two quick posts to provide more details on the approach of Hatoyama Yukio to politics and governance. They should help explain the reasons he was Phase One of the triple disaster that the DPJ government has been for Japan. Besides, some people just can’t turn their heads when they pass a wreck on the highway.

The national government is indicating a willingness to allow Kansai Electric Power to restart the reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant. Some local governments in the area think they’re moving much too fast. One of them is the city of Osaka, which is the largest shareholder in Kansai Electric.

Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, as we’ve seen before in the (soon to resume) series about him, has pitched his tent among the group that opposes nuclear power in Japan. Mr. Hashimoto’s critics charge him with populism, and this is one area in which the charge legitimately sticks. All the reasons he gives for his opposition are emotional rather than rational, and he’s offered no serious proposals for alternative energy sources.

When it became apparent that the government was interested in getting the Oi plant back on line as soon as possible, Mr. Hashimoto declared war and said it was now the mission of One Osaka to bring them down:

“I am angry just at the fact that the government thinks it can fool the people with the provisional safety standards. If that’s how they’re going to do it, this will get serious, and we will have to make them pay for it. Kasumigaseki (the national bureaucratic dirigistes) is making light of the people.”

This upset the number two man in the DPJ, Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma. During a speech in Kyoto, he said the government would formulate and present a plan for nuclear energy to counteract the One Osaka offensive. As for an election, his attitude is Let’s Rumble:

“One Osaka has stated that they will bring down the government because the DPJ government will ruin Japan. We accept their challenge.”

Accepting the challenge is exactly what the DPJ lower house MPs want to avoid. Many of them already know they’ll be looking for work in the private sector after the next election, so they’re looking now for anything that resembles a tourniquet. A promise to take on One Osaka over this issue in a general election is the equivalent of cutting open the veins in the rest of their limbs.

Mr. Koshi’ishi is clearly ignoring public opinion. The most recent Shinhodo 2001 survey conducted by Fuji TV, for example, found that in the part of the election for proportional representation by party, 10.2% of the voters favored the DPJ and 21.8% favored the LDP. In other words, they’re sitting at less than half of the total for the primary opposition party.

Further, 44.4% of the respondents said they were still undecided. At this stage of the political process, undecided means they think the DPJ and the LDP aren’t worth a pitcher of warm spit. Therefore, most of them will probably vote for someone affiliated with Mr. Hashimoto’s One Osaka group, or perhaps their national party ally, Your Party. In last November’s election for Osaka mayor, the Asahi Shimbun exit polls had most of the independent vote going to Mr. Hashimoto. The Shinhodo 2001 survey covers only the Tokyo area, but politicians consider it a bellwether of the national mood.

The DPJ Diet members at risk complain that Mr. Koshi’ishi is free to talk so tough because he’s a member of the upper house, where the terms are fixed and not subject to dissolution. He’s also 75 years old and likely to retire when his term ends anyway. Here’s what the MPs are saying amongst themselves: Mr. Koshi’ishi was an official of the Japan Teachers’ Union when they were comfortable with having out-of-the-closet Stalinistas as members, and he’s considered to be the guardian angel of the JTU old guard in the party. They think he’s upset Mr. Hashimoto is taking the teachers’ unions and public employees’ unions head on in Osaka, and is winning the battle.

Reporters asked Hatoyama Yukio what he thought of all this. He is a former prime minister, after all. Mr. Hatoyama said:

“Well, the (Osaka) mayor has his own ideas, and I suspect that the surrounding prefectures have concerns about the restart of the Oi plant that haven’t been alleviated. So, if the approach of too quickly restarting the plant has elicited the mayor’s opposition, wouldn’t it be necessary for both parties to seek a calmer response? But if we are going to contest an election, we must by all means put up a stiff fight.”

No, no one in Japan can reconcile his last sentence with the rest of his statement either. But people gave up on that long ago.

Other notes:

Here’s more data on the prospects for what might become an election that drops a bunker buster into the world of Japanese politics.

In preparation for the next election, local parties that would influence national politics are creating political juku, or ad hoc institutes to organize and educate potential candidates. Hashimoto Toru’s One Osaka group is in the process of selecting the most promising 2,000 students to continue their orientation before a further reduction to 400.

Aichi Gov. Omura Hideaki started his own political juku in the region and gave the first lecture himself on the 12th in Nagoya. There were 678 people listening. Most were from Aichi, but some also came from Tokyo, Gifu, and Mie.

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, the Osaka branch of the LDP decided to organize a juku of its own. They’re calling it the Naniwa juku and began recruiting a month ago. They were hoping to attract 30 participants. A month into the process, they still haven’t found 30 people willing to join up and associate with the LDP brand, so they’ve extended the application period.

One member of the Democratic Party of Japan has left the party over the Noda government’s march toward a tax increase, and 29 more have resigned secondary positions of responsibility in the party and government in protest. A journalist spoke to one of them (whom he did not identify), and asked if he resigned because he saw no future in the DPJ. Here’s the answer:

“Rather than that, being a member of the party itself is just embarrassing.”

The DPJ government in Japan has become one of the epic political failures in the advanced democracies of the postwar period. As the party president and their first prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio has much to answer for. The public is so fed up, however, they can’t be bothered to ask.

The biggest fool that ever hit the big time, and all he had to do was act naturally.

Now this is serendipity. That song is followed by Honky Tonk Man. So was Hatoyama Yukio.

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Bad penny

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, April 19, 2012

HAVING the proverbial bad penny turn up is already inauspicious, but when the bad penny in circulation is the founder of the ruling political party and a disaster as its first prime minister, the current prime minister’s government has a 20% rate of support and sinking in the latest Asahi Shimbun poll, and the party itself could disintegrate after the next election, if not before, there aren’t enough synonyms for headache to describe the reaction.

I come in peace, Earthlings!

Yes, Hatoyama Yukio, the Loopster himself, is back in the news, and perhaps the only person in Japan who’s happy about it is his mother. His wife can’t be that oblivious to her surroundings.

Then again, the DPJ has only itself to blame for its bad fortune. It was their bright idea to give him the title of supreme advisor for international affairs. Perhaps they hoped he would consider it a substitute for a gold watch as a keepsake for founding the party with his mother’s illegally contributed money. It would also give him an excuse to sit at the head table at banquets and seminars that no one of consequence attended or took seriously, thus keeping him out of everyone else’s way.

As with all of the party’s other bright ideas, that one didn’t work either.

The United States, Europe, and Israel are at sixes and sevens trying to find a way to deal with, or find a plausible excuse to avoid dealing with, Iran and its nuclear program. That country, which has the world’s third-highest total of oil reserves, is currently the subject of four different UN resolutions for its refusal to stop enriching uranium. The Iranians claim they are only working to develop nuclear energy capabilities, and not even Hatoyama Yukio believes them.

Multilateral negotiations with the country ended in disarray a year ago, but resumed this month and will continue again next month. Japan hasn’t taken a prominent role in these negotiations, but has been working behind the scenes with the EU and the U.S. to apply pressure on the Iranians to cease and desist.

That’s when Mr. Hatoyama decided he could help by having a face-to-face meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and persuade him that the path of unicorns, sunbeams, and strawberry alarm clocks was preferable to apocalyptic visions of the 12th imam and the destruction of the Zionist entity.

In other words, it would be the Loopy Summit.

This was the reaction to the news in Japan:

The government did its darndest to keep him from getting on the plane for a four-day visit that started on the 6th. The Foreign Ministry’s talking mannequin Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro implored him to at least postpone the trip, but Mr. Hatoyama wouldn’t hear of it. He said the arrangements had already been made, and added:

“This country will not endure if the government alone is capable of conducting diplomacy. I will say what should be said to Iran as a friend, and work to ensure that they do not take any military action.”

You didn’t think I was joking about facepalms, did you?

The meeting went ahead as scheduled. Mr. Hatoyama got his photo op sitting in a chair next to the Iranian president, with an interpreter between and the national flags of the two countries in the background. You know, just like all the real playas in international diplomacy. He thought everything went swimmingly. So did the Iranians. Their news agency quoted him as saying:

“It is unfair of the IAEA to apply double standards (to Iran).”

While everyone in the Japanese government and media did a double facepalm, Mr. Hatoyama registered an objection at the Iranian embassy in Tokyo and asked the Iranian government to remove that statement from their website. He insisted that he asked the Iranians to cooperate with the IAEA and added:

“The article is a complete fabrication. This is very regrettable. I am going to tell them that I didn’t say that…Japan has worked to dispel the skepticism of the international community.”

Lamented Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu:

“We kept telling him it wasn’t a good idea to go now, even unofficially as an individual.”

Trying to limit the damage, DPJ Policy Affairs Chief Maehara Seiji said:

“This doesn’t have anything to do with the party.”

Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko was close to being at a loss for words:

“I want to believe Mr. Hatoyama. But…well, it is what it is.”

Across the aisle in the opposition ranks, New Komeito head Yamaguchi Natsuo thought it was “extremely regrettable”. The LDP wants him to testify in the Diet and answer to the charge of harming the national interest. But El Loopo disagrees:

“I’m glad I went….I strongly stated my position that I wanted to create a world without nuclear weapons, and President Ahmadinejad listened carefully. My message was conveyed to him.”

That wasn’t the only message conveyed to him. Everyone tried to pin down exactly what he told the Iranian president, and Mr. Hatoyama finally admitted that he did say this:

“It is a fact that countries already with nuclear weapons have an advantage under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and in a real sense that is perhaps unfair.”

In other words, the Iranians are guilty only of rephrasing instead of lying.

If you think it can’t get any worse, you’re forgetting that this is the Loopmeister we’re talking about.

This Monday, Mr. Hatoyama announced that he wants to return to Tehran for another conference.

“I do not think I was trusted by making just one visit…What can a person who has been a prime minister do? I want to continue to make some sort of effort in the future”.

Here’s the definition of working at cross purposes: Hatoyama Yukio is trying to remind everyone that he is important because he was prime minister, and the rest of Japan is trying to forget it ever happened.

Nope nope nope. We’re not finished yet. His Royal Loopiness met Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian national authority, in a Tokyo hotel last week — I see that facepalm! — and said after the meeting:

“I’ve been asked to go to Palestine, so I hope I have the chance to visit as soon as possible. I support self-determination for all people.”

People are now finding the determination to remove the right of self-determination from Mr. Hatoyama for his overseas junkets. Last week, he attended a DPJ meeting in Tomakomai, Hokkaido, a city in the district he represents in the Diet. Polls have been showing for two years there’s a good chance he’ll lose his seat in the next lower house election — that requires no explanation — and even the people who have supported him in the past are unhappy with his decision to unretire a few months after he said he would retire when his term ends. Added another supporter:

“I think it would be best if he showed some restraint with his feeling of being a former prime minister. It’s more important that he come here than go to Iran.”

Remember: It was on the Monday after this weekend meeting that he said he thought he should have another tete-a-tete with Mr. Ahmadinejad.

The local branch of the LDP is already at work recruiting a potential challenger. They’ve asked Horii Manabu to consider running in the next election. Mr. Horii won an Olympic bronze medal in speed skating in 1994 and is now in his second term in the Hokkaido prefectural assembly. In addition to his name recognition and experience in local government, Mr. Horii is a native of the area, which Mr. Hatoyama is not.

But even if Mr. Horii decides to run (it looks like he might) and wins, that won’t get rid of the bad penny. Under Japan’s proportional representation system, Mr. Hatoyama can get himself placed at the top of the list for generic party voting and be returned to the Diet even if he loses.

Yes, the politicians in Japan have created a system that prevents the voters from throwing the bums out even when they vote to throw the bums out. Not even the Democrats in America have come up with a plan that brilliant.

It cannot be dismissed out of hand that Mr. Hatoyama’s brain is so vacuum-packed and shrink-wrapped that he is unaware of the problems he’s causing. As I’ve written before, he was the first junior high school girl to serve as the prime minister of Japan. Another possibility is that he is following the example of former American President Jimmy Carter and promoting himself for the Nobel Peace Prize, AKA the Lifetime Achievement Award for Social Democrats. There’s one significant difference, however. Mr. Carter is a spiteful, malevolent, and obnoxiously self-important little man.

Hatoyama Yukio is just plain loopy.


The Asahi Shimbun also noticed the Carter-Hatoyama similarities. The primary difference between the two men in their opinion is that Mr. Carter is “realistic”.

But then the Asahi is to newspapers what Hatoyama Yukio is to politics and governance.

Here’s one possible explanation for his behavior:

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Ichigen koji (99)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, April 19, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

One experience I’ll never forget. Soon after I became the Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications (October 1005), I tried to reform the way that local government bonds were issued (by municipalities and prefectures).

Though I call it a reform, it wasn’t anything special — I just wanted to do something that everyone else takes for granted. When companies float bonds to procure funds, the rate they pay will of course differ for Company A, which has strong revenue and earnings, and Company B, whose performance is weak. The risk of lending money to Company A is low, so the interest earned will be low. In contrast, the interest will be higher for Company B.

But when cities and prefectures issue bonds (in Japan), the solicitation is done through a financial institution selected by the national government, and the interest rate for procuring the funds is the same for every city and prefecture.

People who hear about this for the first time are probably surprised. This is the very definition of government-led collusion. It’s terrible, and it is probably enough for the Fair Trade Commission to issue an order prohibiting it.

As the Minister for Internal Affairs, I was responsible for fiscal matters related to local governments. I tried to stop it immediately. But not only were the bureaucrats opposed, many local governors and mayors were also upset. If the collusion fell apart, all of their problems would be exposed.

– Takenaka Heizo, Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s privatization guru

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Matsuri da! (124): Kareki ni hana

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The expression kareki ni hana (枯れ木に花) literally means a flower on a dead tree, but the Japanese use it to refer to something that had waned but is now flourishing again. Whenever they want to come up with something fresh for the traditional Shinto festivals — the best free entertainment in the world — all they have to do is look into their past to see what they’ve already done. Here are three recent examples.


For years, the Kagoshimanians in Kimotsuki-cho performed the kagibiki as part of the Ohaku Shinto shrine spring festival in supplication for a good harvest, good health, and safety. There are two parts to the event — the first is a stick dance, which is shown here. That’s followed by the kagibiki itself, which is a tug-of-war with a 1.4-meter-long pole instead of a rope. In events of this sort, the teams are usually separated by geographical region, and one team’s victory is an indication that the divinities will bless them with a good crop. In this town, the east and west face off against each other.

Performances of the event stopped five years ago because there were too few children in the small agricultural community to conduct the dance properly. This year, however, some nearby small towns sent over some kids to help out, and 18 people in the local preservation society cut out sticks from the trees behind the shrine to provide all the equipment they needed.

The dancers are also the pullers during the kagibiki, but the other townspeople join in as the spirit moves them, once the blood starts rising with the beat of the taiko drums. One 90-year-old woman brought her children and grandchildren to watch. “I hadn’t seen it in a long time,” she explained. “I was so thankful I felt like crying. I want them to continue next year.”

Here’s what the big fun looked like in another town where they used what looks like a real tree.


It’s been a lot longer since the Takayamanians in Gifu have performed the children’s kagura (i.e. Shinto dance) during the Hie Shinto shrine spring festival. In fact, it’s been 60 years. In its infinite wisdom, the GHQ during the postwar occupation forbid the performance of the sword dance, one part of the kagura, because swords are not healthy for children or other living things. The other part of this kagura is the halberd dance, and that ended when the guy who taught it died in 1955.

Now that the Americans have bigger fish to fry than to prevent costumed kids in occupied countries from playing with swords under adult supervision, the folks in Takayama thought it was high time to bring it back. The city fathers pitched in two-thirds of the cost to conduct the research and recreate the equipment, and for the rest of the cash they hit up a program sponsored by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport for the creation of “historical environments”. (Why it’s not a program in the Agency for Cultural Affairs, I’m not sure.)

The preservation committee dug into the records, interviewed the people who saw the last performances, and took notes at four other similar shrine dances in the city. The dance involves walking around an octagonal shape created by tatami, and the object is to purify the area in every direction. They made the costumes, the swords, and the halberds, and trained four fifth-grade boys to perform the dance (two for each one).

Said the chairman of preservation committee: “Now it’s up to the courage of the children.”

Isn’t it always?

Mawari Odori

Finally, they’ll be bringing back the mawari odori, or the turning dance, in Yoshinogawa, Tokushima, in August. You’d think they wouldn’t have willingly let the city’s intangible cultural treasure die out, especially because it’s at least 500 years old, but depopulation was the problem. This is the second comeback for the dance, different forms of which are considered one of the three major types of popular festival dances in Japan. It ended the first time in 2003, was restored in 2007 and 2008, and then ended again after a municipal merger and the organizations for maintaining it had not been created.

A city NPO formed an executive committee to keep it going this time, and the committee will transform itself into a preservation committee after August. Their intention is to promote its spread to other small settlements in the area. The mawari odori is actually a combination of song and dance that is an offering to ancestors, but it’s also a form of summer entertainment. The song is in the form of a male-female dialogue during the mid-August bon festival, and believe it or not, the now-sedate bon odori was once an excuse for the young men and women of isolated farming communities to have a little adult fun. An invitation to dance was a de facto invitation to head to the nearest clump of dark bushes as soon as possible to continue with the eternal dance. Bon odori was so bawdy it was actually banned on a couple of occasions during the Edo period.

A chorus leader begins the song, which is the signal to form a circle and start dancing, somewhat like an American square dance. There’s a greater sense of urgency this time; there are only two or three chorus leaders who remember all the words, and they’re getting old. Besides, young adults have plenty of other opportunities to get friendly nowadays. Said the director of the committee: “If we don’t pass it on now, we’ll never be able to revive it again. I hope that many people participate and we can spread the circle of activity.”

Here’s a different version of the dance in Kuroishi, Aomori.

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Posted by ampontan on Sunday, April 15, 2012

SOME wise guys in China think they know the reason for the failure of the North Korean missile launch on Friday after seeing a Chinese news agency photo of the North’s control room. Here’s the photo, which shows a computer monitor at the top, and an enlargement below of what they suspect is the logo visible at the bottom left hand corner of the monitor.

The first four characters are 家電下郷. That’s the name of a Chinese stimulus program for providing subsidies to people living in agricultural villages to purchase consumer electronics equipment. The phrase on the enlarged sticker identifies the location as a designated shop selling that equipment.

Some on the Chinese Internet wondered whether it was aggressive salesmanship on their part or aggressive purchasing on the Koreans’ part. As you might expect, the comment sections became Comedy Central:

* “So, North Korea is a Chinese agricultural village?”

* “North Korea is China’s largest agricultural village.”

* “North Korea is part of a Chinese agricultural village that can’t be subdivided.”

* “Ah, so it was Chinese-made. Now we know why the launch failed.”

* One person replaced the character for village or township (郷) in the logo 家電下郷 with the characters for North Korea: 家電下北朝鮮

* “The rocked was launched with Chinese tax money.”

Some people in Japan also saw the humorous aspects of the situation. The political cartoonist in my local newspaper replaced the North Korean missile with a caricature of Kim Jong-eun and showed him veering off course after being launched.

Most Japanese, however, were angry rather than amused. The following timeline explains the reason.

7:38:55: The missile was launched.

7:40: The missile exploded and fell into the sea. This was confirmed by an American early warning satellite. The American confirmation of the launch was communicated to the South Koreans and the Japanese before the missile failure.

7:42: The failure was immediately relayed to the crisis center in the Kantei (Japan’s White House), and to Prime Minister Noda and Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu in the prime minister’s office.

7:50: South Korean television reported the launch and its failure.

8:03: The Japanese crisis center issued its first report, which was sent to local governments using the Em-Net system: “We are unable to confirm the launch of the missile”.

Yonemura Toshiro, deputy chief cabinet secretary for crisis management, was assigned responsibility for making all official government announcements. It was his decision to send that message with that content. For some reason, he thought there was confusion between the information received internationally and that received domestically, so he decided to be cautious. He didn’t tell Mr. Fujimura what he did.

8:10: The South Korean government announced the failed launch.

8:16: The Defense Ministry reported the launch to the crisis management center.

8:23: Defense Minister Tanaka Naoki suddenly appeared before the media and read a short statement announcing the failed launch of a “flying object”. He left without taking questions.

Had the missile not failed, it would have taken about 10 minutes to enter Japanese airspace. Mr. Fujimura later explained they were “double-checking”. That’s what they had decided to do in advance before making any statements.

The crisis management center personnel complained of delays in receiving radar information from the Self-Defense Forces. Noted the Yomiuri Shimbun:

“The process was designed so that the center would be notified only when all necessary pieces of information became available. As a result, the government missed the opportunity to use the J-Alert system, which instantly transmits emergency warnings across the country, as the system cannot be activated until the information is received by the center.

“Though the J-Alert was considered an important tool for the government to quickly warn the public, the utilization of the system was hampered.”

Shortly after 10:00: Mr. Noda was angry, and he has a reputation for keeping his temper. He told aides, “We need to be more clear,” especially because they received the proper information promptly.

But the government was prepared for any eventuality. Here’s a photograph taken in Tokyo at 10:56, about three hours later:

The excuses started not long thereafter. Tarutoko Shinji, acting DPJ secretary general, said,

“It probably fell before it came into view of Japanese radar. This happened before it could have had an effect on Japan, so our initial response was not delayed.”

Said Mr. Fujimura:

“We had to verify it, including what content we should release and whether it should have been released.”

He added that they were being cautious because the government relayed info on Em-Net after North Korea’s previous missile launch in 2009, though the information hadn’t officially reached them yet. Finally, he explained that:

“The principle is to provide information when there’s danger of damage to Japan.”

No one was relieved.

Mr. Tanaka spoke to the media on evening of 13th:

“The defense ministry and the SDF performed its mission to protect the lives and property of the people against the launch.”

The Defense Minister didn’t show up for work on the 14th, as he had no official duties. It was left to Deputy Defense Minister Watanabe Shu to submit to interviews by six television programs. The most likely reason Mr. Watanabe was sent to make the rounds is that Mr. Tanaka is already viewed as buffoon by the opposition politicians and the media alike. (He was chosen for the post because his wife Makiko is an ally of Ozawa Ichiro, and Mr. Noda thought preventing a split in the party was more important than competence.) After a series of misstatements that revealed his ignorance of security matters, he’s been refusing invitations to deliver speeches.

Mr. Watanabe explained they weren’t able to eliminate all the possibilities right away, including the firing of a different, short range missile. He also said there were concerns that the North might fire off more missiles, and that a crisis could result if South Korea tried to recover the missile parts and the North tried to block them.

Despite those concerns, the government ordered the withdrawal of the recently assigned Land Self-Defense Forces from Okinawa with a swiftness that surprised the military men on the ground.

The reaction at the Seetell website summed up the national sentiment:

“The Japanese government spent the better part of 3 weeks preparing for the launch of a North Korean rocket, cancelling an annual cherry blossom party this weekend, ringing Tokyo with anti-missile batteries and positioning Self-Defense Forces on land and sea, all the while telling the public to remain calm. It even created one of its infamous but, apparently, ineffective expert panels for the event. Yet, despite this advanced preparation and hype, and in an inept replay of its failure to use the SPEEDI system to warn the public about the spread of radiation from Fukushima just one year ago, the government botched it.”

It’s even worse than that: Those were Aegis-equipped ships and Patriot anti-missile systems deployed in Tokyo and Okinawa to prepare for the launch. But:

“While the government was “double-check(ing)” the event was already over. While the government was “double-check(ing)” the rocket was fulfilling its destiny. It is only fortunate for this inept, elitist, consensus-driven, and always politically opportunistic government that the rocket disintegrated minutes after liftoff, falling harmlessly into the sea.

“The end result is that all this preparation was for nothing. All the hype was for nothing. All of the wasted money was for nothing. The government wanted to be seen as organized, commanding, and ready to defend the nation while sending a strong message to neighboring nations that Japan could not be bullied. Instead, the Japanese government got about the same result as the North Korean government, a failed attempt at political chest thumping.”

LDP Diet Affairs Chairman Kishida Fumio wants to conduct an investigation in the Diet to determine what happened. He discussed that with his counterpart Jojima Koriki of the ruling DPJ. Mr. Jojima told him:

“No parts from the missile fell into Japanese waters, so there’s no need for a Diet review.”

Others slammed the government’s continuing preference for keeping secrets about serious matters from the people, as they did during the Senkakus incident with China and the nuclear accident at Fukushima.

Here’s Seetell again:

“The evidence shows that this government, from politicians to bureaucrats, is not capable, either because of lack of intelligence or lack of ability or lack of a moral compass or simple unwillingness, to protect the Japanese people. The truth is that the greatest danger facing the Japanese people is not the Chinese red menace or the isolated North Koreans, but the Japanese government itself.”

Indeed, one could make a case that the DPJ government might think the greatest danger is the Japanese people. The National Police Agency on the morning of the 13th instructed all of its headquarters nationwide to be on the lookout for any “right-wing activity”. They were given three instructions:

1. Gather information related to right-wing activities and Chongryon (the North Korean-affiliated organization for Korean citizens living in Japan.

2. Reinforce the surveillance and defense of government offices, particularly the Kantei and the foreign and defense ministries, and

3. Promptly report public disturbances.

The cops had a slow day that day.

Matsubara Jin, the chairman of the National Public Safety Commission and perhaps the DPJ’s most prominent right-winger himself, tried to cover for the government by saying the prime minister issued three instructions:

1. Be on the alert and gather information.

2. Strive to provide information to the people, and

3. Strengthen communication with the countries involved.

He added that the police agency made every effort to respond to the prime minister’s instructions.

The overall response also contained elements of the surreal. Social Democratic Party Secretary General Shigeno Yasumasa weighed in with his party’s views. He began by expressing the party’s opposition to the North Korean missile launch, but continued:

“Using the North Korean threat as an excuse to installing and reinforcing the missile defense system and using the defense of the southwestern islands (Senkakus, et al.) as an excuse to build up the Self-Defense forces in Okinawa can only amplify the tension in Northeast Asia.”

It helps to know that the party called themselves Socialists during the Berlin Wall days and sponsored annual peace cruises to Pyeongyang. They also favor unarmed neutrality, and use Costa Rica as an example to be emulated.

Malcolm Muggeridge sussed it all out decades ago. It’s the great liberal death wish (though the term liberal is of course a euphemism).

Both the LDP and Your Party say they want to censure Tanaka Naoki for committing buffoonery in the conduct of his duties. But it was obvious that serving as a Cabinet Minister was beyond his capabilities before his appointment, and they should really consider censuring Mr. Noda for selecting him for such a critical post to begin with. Defense ministry officials have let it be known to the media off the record that the sooner the better would be fine with them. Thus, it shouldn’t be long now before he returns to the status quo ante of anonymous irrelevance.

The first thing a visitor to the DPJ’s English-language website sees is their slogan:

Putting people’s lives first.

If it weren’t a laughing matter, that would be the biggest joke of all.

Drunken Sailor Watch

From an AFP report:

Japan is considering lending about $60 billion to the International Monetary Fund to help strengthen a global firewall against contagion from the European sovereign debt crisis, Kyodo news agency said on Sunday…If realised, Japan’s contribution could be one of the biggest by a member nation, Kyodo quoted an unnamed government official as saying.

How low has the DPJ government sunk in the estimation of the people? So low they’ve got the Bottom Blues.

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The non-person at the New York Times

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, April 14, 2012

As statesman-like as Henry Kissinger, as environmentally conscious as Al Gore, and almost as beloved by the public as Princess Diana
– author Chen Zufeng in a commissioned hagiography of Bo Xilai, as cited by Li Cheng in “China’s leaders: The new generation”

IS there a more curious newspaper in the Anglosphere than the New York Times? Whenever they write about Japan, they behave as if they’re a big-budget edition of the weekly Ho-Ho-Kus New Jersey Shoppers’ Gazette staffed by high school journalism trainees: Getting pwned by a pop artist and being convinced that a goofy costume is a sign of rising crime; conveniently garbling the statements of a prime minister they didn’t care for to get him in trouble (they didn’t); and exhibiting no ability whatsoever to produce a competent article on current political conditions.

The late Michael Crichton had a rule of thumb for the print media — Falsus in unum, falsus in omnibus, which ought to replace All the News it’s Fit to Print on the Times masthead. It makes no difference whether they write about Japan or Uruguay, George W. Bush or Barack Obama. They’re in the business of manufacturing plausible falsies pitched a certain way for certain readers who lack the time or the interest in fact-checking.

But now it gets worse with the Times’ struggle to make sense of the recent power struggle in China. The newspaper has been serializing the tale of the rise and fall of Bo Xilai, the former party secretary of Chongqing, and the implication of his wife Gu Kailai in the murder of a Brit speedo who ingratiated himself with the local elites and seems to have been relegated Chinese-style after he began playing out of his league.

Here’s the Times’ speculation about what might have happened with Bo Xilai:

“…a titanic power struggle between Mr. Bo’s neo-Maoist left and the more liberal and market-oriented right; infighting among ruling cliques; a seizing of the moment by Mr. Bo’s many highly motivated political enemies.”

Seeing the Times describe people who are both “liberal” and “market-oriented” as being on the “right” is jolly good reading, isn’t it?

Especially when they and the neo-Maoist left are all members of the Chinese Communist Party!

How to precisely describe Mr. Bo seems to have stumped them. The passage above refers to him as a “neo-Maoist”. But then they say:

“In a Western system, Mr. Bo might be called a populist. In China, where lockstep unity is a foundation of the party’s claim on power, he was a fearsome unknown.”

Mark my words, that’s a journalist who’ll graduate to writing scripts for cable TV documentaries before long.

“Mr. Bo is mostly identified as the charismatic darling of China’s new left, the intellectuals and policy wonks who argue that China should use state power to assure social equality and enforce a culture of moral purity and nationalism. Mr. Bo’s policies in Chongqing, from the mass singing of Mao-era songs to his pitiless anticorruption campaign, were conceived with the help of leftist theorists at the government-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.”

National socialism…moral purity…mass singing…in a system that allows private ownership of business only as long as it is in the service of the state….

The Chinese communists apparently have German antecedents other than Karl Marx.

Here’s populism Chinese style:

“To waves of favorable publicity, his government rewarded citizens who reported rude taxi drivers and fined those who uttered unpleasantries like nao you bing, or, roughly, ‘numbskull’.”

In most places, an irked passenger would complain to the company after a cabbie called him a numbskull. Here the passengers make it an issue of hate speech and complain to the government, which rewards the whistle blowers and fines the drivers, all to public acclaim. And this is one of Bo Xilai’s praiseworthy achievements.

Interesting place, this China.

But Mr. Bo finally came a cropper:

“In a governing elite that makes big choices by consensus, experts say, Mr. Bo might well have vaulted onto the Standing Committee with the support of sympathizers, had Chongqing’s police chief, Wang Lijun, not fled to the American Consulate in Chengdu, in nearby Sichuan Province.

“Mr. Wang carried papers that he said implicated Mr. Bo’s family in a criminal inquiry of the death of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, an acquaintance of the Bo family. Mr. Bo and Mr. Wang are now said to be confined in Beijing while party officials investigate those and other claims.”

Another article in the series describes how his wife is being tarred for suspected foreign connections. That’s to discredit man and wife with the policy wonk neo-leftists who would enforce moral purity and nationalism. It’s also against the rules for Chinese bigwigs to have foreign residency permits. A third article features more details on the alleged murder of the Englishman and the involvement of Ms. Gu (Mrs. Bo). It also mentions briefly that Bo had ties to Mao Zedong.

The newspaper doesn’t provide any details on those Mao ties, but that’s not surprising. The ties don’t seem to have been binding ones, if they existed at all. His father, Bo Yibo, was booted out of the Chinese Communist Party in 1966 during the Cultural Revolution because he was a counterrevolutionary rightist. Bo Xilai himself was jailed for five years and wasn’t released until after Mao died. That was 36 years ago, when Bo was still 27. But now he’s a neo-leftist with Mao ties.

Finally, here’s a Times article that tries to unscramble the loose ends:

“The maximum sentence for murder in China is execution. On its face, Mr. Chen said, the Heywood murder case appears “pretty grave, because it involved a foreigner, and because it has had such a negative impact” politically.

When Mr. Bo knocks a few Falun Gong heads together and some fatalities result, well, these things happen. But when the case involves a foreigner and has negative political repercussions, it becomes murder-murder instead of murder.

“The disclosure of the charges against the Bos was carefully scripted, and apparently timed, to dispense with Mr. Bo well ahead of a planned turnover of Communist leaders at the 18th Party Congress this autumn.”

But it’s curious that nowhere in these articles do the Times writers explain how Bo Xilai rose as high as he did, apart from being a charismatic darling. Since the Chinese aren’t allowed to elect their leaders, all that darling charisma and a few yuan will buy him a cup of tea. More curious still is that the pertinent information on Mr. Bo is available all over the place. Just not in the New York Times.

“The reform-minded faction of China’s ruling Communist Party, led by Wen Jiabao, prevailed over the conservative faction led by former president Jiang Zemin to bring about the sacking of Bo Xilai from his post as Communist Party chief of Chongqing municipality, according to Hong Kong’s Apple Daily.”

Why did the New York Times drop the former president’s name from these articles and turn him into a non-person? Is this is what they mean by news that isn’t fit to print?

This article continues:

“China is essentially ruled by a nine-member Politburo Standing Committee comprising President Hu Jintao, Wu Bangguo, Wen Jiabao, Jia Qinglin, Li Changchun, next president Xi Jinping, next premier Li Keqing, He Guoqiang and Zhou Yongkang.”

But in one of those Times pieces:

“Some Chinese leaders clearly hope that this year will mark another milestone in China’s rise under authoritarian rule: the first time that a whole new slate of leaders is chosen largely by consensus among the political elite, not handpicked by a powerful strongman.”

In other words, the leaders will be chosen not by one strongman, but by nine strongmen. The New York Times finds someone who thinks this is a milestone, but can’t find anyone who thinks this is an oligarchy.

“Wu Si, a liberal intellectual and editor based in Beijing, said in an interview: “What in actuality are the rules of transferring power at the highest levels now? It’s not clear.””

Sure the rules are clear. They’re called The Law of the Jungle.

“The Jiang Zemin faction saw the Wang Lijun incident as an internal matter, while Hu Jintao, Wen and Li Keqiang insisted that Bo be dealt with according to the law. He Guoqiang, who had been seen as pro-Jiang, shifted his position to support Wen. At the last minute Xi Jinping also sided with Wen to tilt the balance in favor of reformists….”

The Japanese widely assume that Xi Jinping is another Jiang Zemin acolyte, and they therefore expect the Chinese to adopt a harder line in the region after he becomes president later this year. Mr. Xi also seems to have developed his political instincts and a fine sense of survival if he jumped “at the last minute” away from his patron.

“The struggle between the Hu-Wen clique and the so-called Crown Prince Party comprising “princelings” Bo Xilai and Jia Qinglin began years ago, noted independent Beijing scholar Gao Yu. Jiang Zemin and some of his cronies became unhappy with the direction taken by Hu and Wen, providing an opening for the princelings to seek to make their move for this year’s leadership change. But now that Bo has fallen, the center of power has clearly shifted to the more reform-minded Hu-Wen faction.”

Those three sentences contain more useful information than the four Times articles about neo-leftism, populism, numbskull taxi patrons, and fearsome unknowns threatening the lockstep unity.

Another article provides even more detail:

“Jiang Zemin moved Bo up rapidly. While continuing to serve as mayor of Dalian City, Bo was appointed as acting governor of Liaoning Province in 2000 and then as governor in 2001. In 2002, Bo was appointed to the Central Committee of the CCP. In 2004, he was made Minister of Commerce….

“…Bo has been sued 14 times in 13 countries on charges of torture, murder, genocide, and crimes against humanity. In 2007, this record sidetracked his brisk rise through the Party hierarchy.

“When Jiang Zemin’s faction put Bo forward to be vice-premier, and thus in line to succeed Wen Jiabao, Wen objected that, given the international lawsuits brought against Bo, he was not an appropriate choice, according to a U.S. State Department cable released by Wikileaks. Bo was shunted to be Party secretary in the central-western megalopolis of Chongqing instead.”

Here’s the New York Times’ explanation of the same circumstances:

“Mr. Bo’s ambition and abrasive style made some enemies in the elite, notably Mr. Wen. His posting in 2007 to Chongqing, deep in China’s interior, was seen by some as an effort to sideline him.”

So, the Chinese Communist Party accepts leaders who walk on the wild side of torture, murder, genocide, and crimes against humanity, but woe betide if you’re from a competing faction and your wife poisons a Brit who pulled some strings to get your son into Harrow.

None of this is new information, however. The Bo family – Jiang connection has been known in the West for at least a decade, after Andrew Nathan and Bruce Gilley explained that Xilai’s father Bo Yibo helped Jiang Zemin succeed Deng Xiaoping and consolidate his power in the 90s in their book, China’s New Rulers: The secret files.

The Japanese have also been keeping a close watch on developments among the Chinese ruling class. That’s only natural — those developments have a direct impact on them. For Manhattan sophisticates and America’s politico-academic-journo complex, those developments are little more than breakfast table infotainment.

Shi Peng, a Chinese who is now a naturalized Japanese citizen, offered his perspective in an article in the December issue of Seiron. Mr. Shi was stunned by a 27 September 2011 article in the Global Times newspaper, which is owned by the People’s Daily, which is owned by the Communist Party.

The article was written by a man identified as a strategic analyst from a group whose name translates as the China Energy Resource Fund Committee. It was titled, “The time has come for China to use military force in the South China Sea,” and the theme was that China should not hesitate to initiate conflict to achieve its geopolitical ends.

Mr. Shi notes that the article presents China as the victim and the neighboring countries as the aggressors, which, he says, is what the Chinese always do. (The “peace-loving Soviet people” had a taste for that approach as well.) He quotes this passage:

“China has devoted itself to economic development and is most desirous of stability in its environment. We seek neither the internationalization of the South China Sea problems, nor do we seek to bring about an international conflagration. That is why we have acted in unparalleled good faith.”

But the neighboring countries are “preparing for a world-scale war,” and the United States is “pouring gasoline on to the flames by selling weapons, and is also preparing for military intervention.”

“Our response to other countries encroaching on our maritime territory and drilling for oil should first be to extend all possible courtesy (and warn them to stop). If they don’t stop, they should be blocked by the use of military force…We must not be afraid of a small war. That is the best way to release martial energy.”

See what I mean about German antecedents?

The author of the Global Times article believes that victory is certain. He mentions there are thousands of oil wells in the sea, none of which are Chinese and all of which are potential targets. Also:

“The U.S. has not yet extricated itself from its war against terror, and they are still closely involved with Middle East issues. They have absolutely no margin for opening a second front in the South China Sea. The Americans’ hard-line stance is a false front.”

Therefore the Chinese must:

“Fix our objective on The Philippines and Vietnam, which are causing a terrible commotion.”

Mr. Shi was astonished because it is extremely rare in China for any media outlet to call so assertively for war. He says that even though the media has gained a degree more freedom, the government retains the exclusive right to express views on certain topics that others cannot independently express. War is one of those topics.

He was astonished for other reasons, too. He writes:

“To diffuse the international community’s sense of caution, (China) always dons the mask of peace and limits their belligerent words and acts. It is their hunting tactic to retract their claws, hold their breath, and approach the prey.”

He suggests that if the article was unsanctioned, it would be a challenge to the central government’s authority and it would harm their international “hunting tactic”. Mr. Shi thinks this is neither official government policy nor an article authorized by the government. While President Hu Jintao certainly supports the overall geopolitical strategy of achieving dominance in the South China Sea, he and his supporters will refrain from such belligerence while the U.S. still has maritime military dominance.

Finally, Mr. Shi notes that when Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong visited Beijing in October, President Hu proposed that the two countries jointly develop the maritime resources at dispute. The Japanese media thought this was an indication of Chinese concessions, especially in light of the trouble they caused with Vietnamese shipping in the latter country’s EEZ last summer. Rattling the sabers ruins all that diplomacy and their quiet advance strategy.

So who wrote the article?

Mr. Shi says it had to come from someone with the political clout to publish an article in a newspaper whose parent company is the CCP that directly confronts authority and implicitly criticizes the current leadership’s geopolitical strategy. It had to be someone who wanted to reveal the weakness of the leadership and impress the military with his strength.

He fingers Jiang Zemin and his Shanghai clique.

Mr. Jiang has been maneuvering for power behind the scenes for nine years, and his biggest success was having his ally Xi Jinping tapped as the next president. To counteract those moves, Mr. Hu has been gathering young party members and placing them in positions of authority in the central and regional governments to serve as a counterbalance to Xi Jinping. Mr. Shi reports that his efforts have been very successful.

Speaking of the hard line, the Global Times also published an article to remind its readers of the Manchurian Incident on its 80th anniversary on 19 September. The article mentions the “rise of the right wing in Japan” and states:

“It is entirely possible that Japan expects to achieve again a military success after its failure, and Japanese militarism has already been revived.”

This will come as a surprise to everyone in Japan. Considering that Tanaka Naoki is serving as defense minister, it might even generate a few laughs.

Mr. Shi reminds his readers that Japan-bashing of this sort was a feature of Chinese journalism under Jiang Zeming, but has been toned down by Hu Jintao. Mr. Hu continues to use historical issues as a weapon against Japan (if only domestically), but Mr. Shi says the reference to a revival of militarism places the article in another dimension altogether.

So it would seem that what is happening in China is this: Two competing factions at the highest level of government are playing hardball in a power struggle. There are “carefully scripted charges ahead of a party conference” in which one of the bishops on the political chessboard and his wife are removed from their positions of authority and held in confinement, though there has been no formal confirmation. Bo Xilai is now a running dog on the road to becoming a non-person, after Chinese authorities removed his name from messages on the local Internet.

We’ve seen all of this before in People’s Democratic Republics ruled by a communist party. It’s called a purge.

But that’s another word the New York Times couldn’t fit into their version of the news.


The most important aspect of the Bo Xilai story is his link to Jiang Zemin and what the purge means in the overall power struggle. Has the New York Times mentioned a connection before? If they couldn’t be bothered to mention it in four straight articles this week, two of which are summaries of the situation, yet can make an unexplained reference to ties between Bo and Mao that no one else sees, I can’t be bothered to check.

If Shi Peng is wrong about the source of the Global Times articles, it would mean that President Hu is more hardline than people think.

In other China news, inflation is becoming a problem, and unfortunately for everyone else, their solution is Keynesian. Then again, the American and European solution is also Keynesian.

Hit the internal link in the article to the author’s first article to get a sense of CNN’s economic illiteracy. It’s not just CNN, either. It was CNNMoney.

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Ichigen koji (98)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, April 11, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Whether it is the result of confrontation or discussion between the DPJ and LDP, a Diet dissolution and general election in June is probably unavoidable. What will the issue in that election be? It will undoubtedly be Prime Minister Noda’s consumption tax increase, but what is LDP President Tanigaki doing? During the campaign for the 2010 upper house election, Mr. Tanigaki said, “As a responsible opposition party, we must resign ourselves to a consumption tax at the 10% level.” Yet now he is complaining about a consumption tax increase and demanding the Diet be dissolved. His opposition to a consumption tax increase is nothing more than a procedural argument: the DPJ said they would not raise the consumption tax during their (four year) term. The once-dominant party is now driven only by political crisis. How they have fallen.

The DPJ is calling for reform that integrates social welfare with the consumption tax, but they will introduce a bill only to raise the tax, divorced from a pension scheme. If the bill passes, no means have been created for accepting the increase in revenue. At first, it will most likely be used to offset the fiscal shortfall. If that happens, it would be just as the Finance Ministry planned it.

– Yayama Taro

Earlier this week, the LDP said that one part of their next election manifesto would be a call to raise the consumption tax to 10% “for now”.

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Hashimoto Toru (6): Hanging out in bad company

Posted by ampontan on Monday, April 9, 2012

THERE’S been a slight change of plans: The next phase in the series on Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru was to move on to the controversies that have erupted over his behavior and theories of government administration in Osaka. After last week’s episodes in the daily Hashimoto docu-drama, however, there’ll be a quick detour before getting to the red meat.

Episode #1 featured Mohammad in the form of Tokyo Metro District governor and national curmudgeon-in-chief Ishihara Shintaro traveling to Osaka to visit Mt. Hashimoto for a private discussion that lasted about 90 minutes. Both men were mum on the details of the confab’s contents. That the Tokyo governor, 38 years older, in his fourth term, and a celebrity for more than half a century, would be the one to travel is noteworthy in itself.

Most of the news media is still in the breathless schoolgirl diary phase with Mr. Hashimoto, so speculation over a possible political alliance spun their little hamster wheels even more furiously. Mr. Ishihara, who has been complimentary of the Osaka mayor, is in the process of forming a new political party with his curmudgeons-in-arms.

Mr. Hashimoto has demonstrated sound political instincts to this point, and he certainly knows the polls show the public takes a dim view of the new old guys’ party by a two-to-one margin. That’s the reverse of the two-to-one margin that looks forward to the contribution of regional parties such as the one he leads. Other than budgets, most politicos are clever at basic arithmetic, so if there are any positives to an alliance outweighing the negatives, they’re not easy to see.

One the other hand, Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi took a more relaxed view, suggesting that the two men were just getting a sense for each other.

There were some minor revelations: Mr. Ishihara told Mr. Hashimoto that national politics is a different game altogether from local politics. (He was elected to the upper house of the Diet in 1968, and after four years there spent 23 years in the lower house.) Thus, one possible benefit of a meeting would be for the older man to explain the birds and the bees of Nagata-cho and national celebrity politics.

Episode #2 was much smaller in scale, but much larger in impact. In brief, here’s what happened: The Asahi Shimbun wrote an editorial criticizing Ozawa Ichiro for playing house wrecker again and balking at the DPJ leadership’s insistence on a tax increase. That’s unremarkable in itself; it’s what newspapers do. The Asahi, however, had to get all Asahi-ish about it and criticize Mr. Ozawa for being undemocratic. One of their employees actually wrote the line, “Democracy weeps”.

That pudding’s a bit rich even for left-of-center newspaper platitudinizing — the DPJ leadership forwarded the proposal to the Diet after squelching internal debate on their tax proposal without a vote. Several terms come to mind for describing that behavior, but “democratic” isn’t one of them. (Some party members, such as first-termer Miyazaki Takeshi, claim a majority of the DPJ MPs are opposed to a tax increase.)

In one of his Tweet-a-Ramas, the Osaka mayor stuck up for Mr. Ozawa while sticking it to the Asahi, which also runs editorials calling on Mr. Hashimoto to reconsider his positions. The mayor pointed out that the DPJ leadership’s decision to back a tax increase had nothing to do with democracy, yet his own clearly stated positions won a large electoral mandate in November. He wondered if the Asahi had any idea what they were talking about.

The defense of Mr. Ozawa prompted university professor, author, and blogger Ikeda Nobuo to sound off. Here’s what he said in English.

During the next general election, everyone’s eyes will be in the movements of One Osaka rather than those of the Democratic Party or the Liberal Democrats. Ozawa Ichiro has praised Hashimoto Toru as a “comrade in the reform of the governing structure.” Mr. Hashimoto also thinks the consumption tax should be converted to a local tax. In exchange, the regions would eliminate the tax fund allocations from the national government. The insufficient funding sources for local government would be offset by local governments raising the consumption tax on their own responsibility. In addition, project-specific tax revenues, such as those for roads, would be transferred to the regions in addition with the work. He praises “Ozawa Sensei” for supporting these changes in the governing structure.

One can sense Mr. Hashimoto’s intent in using sensei, a term of respect, for Mr. Ozawa, which he uses for no other politician. This is a misapprehension of reality, however. During the election for DPJ party president in 2010, Mr. Ozawa called for incorporating all the subsidies to local government in a lump sum. He said nothing about eliminating the tax grants to local governments and replacing it with the consumption tax.

If the consumption tax were to be converted to a local tax and each prefecture had different tax rates and category exemptions, there would be great confusion. What consumption tax would be levied for companies with branches throughout the nation? Some of the American states have a consumption tax, and there are different VAT rates for each European country, which creates the problem of tax avoidance. If this plan to have different areas in small Japan levy different taxes is not a joke, I can only think it is ignorant.

Mr. Hashimoto has said, “I am not completely opposed to a consumption tax increase, but I am opposed now to a tax increase for the purpose of social welfare expenditures.” Is he unaware that during the Hosokawa administration, Mr. Ozawa proposed raising the consumption tax to 7% and converting it to a national social welfare tax?

This incoherence results from making the decision to defend “Ozawa Sensei” first and then looking for a reason to oppose the consumption tax which conforms to that decision. As might be expected, even Mr. Hashimoto recognizes that he cannot “completely oppose a tax increase” in Japan’s current fiscal state, but says he is opposed to this tax increase proposal. But if he’s opposed to this proposal, he offers no substitute that spells out when and under which circumstances he would increase taxes. He has no plan specifying how he would rebuild the nation’s finances.

Mr. Ozawa was once in the forefront of a move to increase the consumption tax. The reason he opposes that now is clear: He wants to bring down the current anti-Ozawa leadership of the DPJ. That’s what politics is like, and it’s pointless to look for a logical consistency in his assertions. Mr. Hashimoto, who defends this fuzzy logic, has thus become a fomenter of political crises himself.

But I do not think this political crisis-focused intuition is bad. If Mr. Ozawa leaves the DPJ and combines his fund raising and organizational skills with Mr. Hashimoto’s popularity, they could become the strongest party in the next general election. If some of the LDP members join, it could result in a Prime Minister Hashimoto and a party Secretary-General Ozawa, a pattern similar to that of the Hosokawa administration.

The problem, however, is what they would do. Mr. Hashimoto’s policies are off-the-cuff populism, such as his labor union bashing and opposition to nuclear energy. If that is to be his approach to national politics, the Kasumigaseki bureaucrats would make short work of him. Mr. Ozawa’s power has also waned, so there would be serious concerns that this government would be as short-lived as the Hosokawa administration. The only thing to do is look forward to the election after next.

(end translation)

The part pointing out the contradictions is right on, but the rest of it is rather off. Before we get to that, however, here’s what author and commentator Asakawa Hirotada had to say about these episodes:

“It’s a form of lip service, or perhaps camouflage. Based on what I’ve heard from those involved with One Osaka, the people of that organization, which Mr. Hashimoto leads, think it would be a negative for them to work with the old-style politicians such as Mr Ozawa and now former People’s New Party head Kamei Shizuka (N.B., a potential Ishihara ally). One Osaka seems to have decided that those are not people they will align with. That one of the elder political statesmen, Mr. Ishihara, took the trouble to go to Osaka to talk with Mr. Hashimoto is very significant. Mr. Ishihara has two sons in the LDP (N.B., one the secretary-general), so he has move with extreme caution in regard to the formation of a new party. He cannot afford a misstep. He almost certainly had Mr. Hashimoto maintain a careful silence. That’s probably the background behind the Hashimoto Tweet.”

First, the obvious: If they handed out trophies for being the most unpopular politician in Japan, Ozawa Ichiro would be awarded enough palms to retire to a coconut plantation. His negatives surpass even those of the DPJ itself. If Hashimoto Toru is foolish enough to form an alliance with Mr. Ozawa, the bloom would go off the rose so fast you’d need time-lapse photography to see it. He would almost certainly be written off by Your Party and many of the people who have come to Osaka from elsewhere to work with him. (If they didn’t, they themselves would be written off by the public.) It would also legitimize the charges that he’s a power-mad despot who would adopt any policy to seize that power.

It’s never possible to rule out anything with politicians, tending as they do toward venal stupidity (or stupid venality), but a Hashimoto – Ozawa alliance does seem unlikely. For one thing, as Prof. Ikeda notes, Mr. Ozawa’s influence has waned. Regardless of the circumstances, the next election for his acolytes in the Diet will be the equivalent of the Light Brigade charging into the Valley of Death at Balaclava, giving One Osaka fewer allies to work with.

Now for the less than superb:

* Saying that Mr. Hashimoto’s anti-nuclear power stance reeks of populism is a legitimate charge, even considering that Prof. Ikeda is staunchly pro-nuke. The Osaka mayor hasn’t come up with anything remotely resembling an alternative energy plan, and his anti-nuclear appeals are based entirely on emotion.

But denigrating Mr. Hashimoto’s union-bashing (if that’s what it is) as populism is ill-considered word-slinging. We’re talking here about public sector union members, not trade unions. As prefectural and municipal employees whose salaries are paid by the citizens, their behavior and on-the-job conduct is Mr. Hashimoto’s responsibility as the chief executive officer of government. Those salaries have been pegged at 40% greater than those of their private sector counterparts, and the only people anywhere who pretend to think they work as hard or harder are the politicians receiving their support.

Having once been a municipal employee, I know that no one employed in the public sector actually thinks that. The opportunity for a paid semi-vacation while showing up at a warm office is the reason many of them got into it to begin with. Co-workers got angry whenever I put forth more than a minimum amount of effort: “What are you trying to do, kill this job?”

One of Mr. Hashimoto’s consistent themes is the necessity for public employees to work as hard as private-sector employees with the same sense of urgency.

And that doesn’t begin to examine the problems with the dark antimatter of Japan’s teachers’ unions in public schools. But we’ll leave all of that for another day.

* Prof. Ikeda thinks small Japan won’t be able to handle different tax rates, but Japan isn’t as small as some Japanese like to think — it’s larger than any European country, unless you count Russia. Mr. Hashimoto also favors a sub-national reorganization of the 47 prefectures into states or provinces, and most of those plans call for nine to 12 entities. Thus, there would be fewer tax differences than the professor suggests.

There’s no confusion over applicable tax rates for companies operating in different areas of the United States, and if the Americans can handle it, the Japanese can. The goal is decentralization and the devolution of authority to local governments. Skillful people in the regional areas can use tax policy to their advantage by enticing companies to relocate. For years, some Japanese have lamented the differences in the economic strength of the regions, and local tax policy is one way to change the balance. Successfully attracting companies would result in higher and better employment, and that would result in lower social welfare expenditures.

True, inept government management could create situations such as that which exists in California, where usurious taxation, over-regulation, and public sector emoluments are driving legitimate businesses and serious people out of the state. Japanese local government is not immune to that disease. For example, Rokkasho-mura in Aomori used tax subsidies from the national government to build an international school for the children of the employees at a local power plant. The construction costs were JPY 400 million, and annual operating costs are roughly JPY 100 million. That’s a splendid edifice for seven foreign children.

But that’s what happens in a free society when people take responsibility for their own affairs — some of them screw up, and they must be held accountable. The paternalist/nanny state alternatives have shown us their inhuman face, and it’s too ugly to contemplate.

* The United States has a sales tax, not a consumption tax. There are differences. Parents who send their children to a juku in Japan have to pay consumption tax, for example. American sales taxes don’t apply in those situations.

* Finally, Prof. Ikeda seems to have it backwards. Mr. Hashimoto opposed the consumption tax increase before he started looking around for reasons to defend Ozawa Ichiro. Criticize the man if he’s got his numbers wrong — and some say he does — but not for having the idea to begin with.

It might be that Mr. Hashimoto is the type of politician who brings out the worst in the prestige commentariat. They prefer to hash things out in salons or seminars, and few have an appreciation for the difficulty of retail politics, much less its necessity. The Osaka mayor is the type of guy who causes their sphincters to clench. Some politicians, such as Barack Obama, have a knack for the reverse. David Brooks, the token non-leftist writing op-eds for the New York Times, met Mr. Obama and gushed: “I remember distinctly an image of–we were sitting on his couches, and I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant, and I’m thinking, a) he’s going to be president and b) he’ll be a very good president.”

Maybe Hashimoto Toru needs to get his trousers pressed.

Mr. Hashimoto read Prof. Ikeda’s post and countered with a bit of real populism:

“People who haven’t been involved in the actual operation of government shouldn’t make such facile criticisms.”

That’s an excellent rule of thumb, but it’s not applicable this time.

Another contributor to Blogos, the large blog aggregator Prof. Ikeda organized, suggests they cool it. He thinks there’s little difference between the positions of the two men apart from nuclear energy policy, and adds that a Hashimoto-Ozawa alliance is unlikely. What’s more likely are alliances such as this: The first election in Osaka Prefecture since last November’s One Osaka victory was held on Sunday for the mayor of Ibaraki. The winner was Kimoto Yasuhiro, backed by both One Osaka — their first endorsement — and Your Party.

Perhaps the most pertinent aspect is Prof. Ikeda’s concluding statement that an alliance would force people to wait for the election after next to get what they want. It bears repeating: The public anger is real, it’s been there for years, it’s growing, and Hashimoto Toru is only the most visible personification of it.

In the comments, reader Tony wonders if the Osaka mayor is flying too close to the sun. I don’t think that’s happened yet, but if the wax in his wings does melt, others will take his place.

As for waiting on an election, we might have a while to go. People are warning that a tax-raising, Ozawa-less DPJ-LDP coalition is not out of the question.

Drunken Sailor Watch

Here’s a sentence from a news item that appeared over the weekend:

“The Japanese government intends to extend support worth about 1 billion yen for ethnic minorities in Myanmar in the form of food aid and contributions to the U.N. refugee office.”

This is what the consumption tax is being raised for? The folks at the Seetell website have it right — perhaps the people of Tohoku should apply to international aid agencies if they want relief. Their own government would rather play rich uncle and spend the money somewhere else.

Here’s another guy who flew too close to the sun

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Posted by ampontan on Saturday, April 7, 2012

THE only living people for whom obituaries are written are politicians and their parties. So many are now being written for the Democratic Party of Japan that you can almost smell the lilies through the computer screen. The author of this one is freelance journalist Itagaki Eiken, who once covered the prime minister’s office for the Mainichi Shimbun.

“The Democratic Party was formed in hasty confusion as a lifeboat to save those politicians in the existing parties whose prospects were threatened by the first election after introduction of the single-seat district, proportional representational system (21 October 1996). In that sense, it started as a hodgepodge that included people from the left to the right. They came together without any common beliefs, political ideals or philosophy, vision, or policy, and that state has continued to the present. This is clearly shown by their inability to formulate a statement of party principles. (N.B.: They tried several years ago, with such people as Okada Katsuya and Eda Satsuki on the drafting committee, but they gave it up as hopeless.)

“In short, the reality of the situation for the DPJ is that they are a motley crew of individual politicians of rigid self-interest who are satisfied if they win their own election campaigns. That’s why they casually break their promises to the people, and why the only tenacity shown by former Prime Minister Kan Naoto was a blithe attachment to extending the life of his government…

“…In December 1885, the Meiji government abolished the Daijo-kan (Grand Council of State) governing structure and instituted the Cabinet system. In the 127 years since the establishment of this centralized authority, there has been bureaucratic governance of the state under the control of the former and current finance ministries. Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru would extinguish this from the root. Obstructing that path now are Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko, the Finance Ministry bureaucracy, starting with the prime minister’s Deputy Finance Secretary Katsu Eijiro, other bureaucratic groups in the central government, and the mass media that clings to its vested interests. These are literally the opposition forces. In that sense too, the Democratic Party of Japan under the leadership of Prime Minister Noda, the betrayers of the people, cannot escape their collapse. Prime Minister Noda has sold his soul to the finance ministry bureaucracy and betrayed the people. Hence, his fate is to become the chairman of the funeral committee for the Democratic Party of Japan.”

I’m not going to go either. Living men have work to do.

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Posted by ampontan on Saturday, April 7, 2012

A FIRE at the Umeda Station on the Midosuji Line of the Osaka Municipal Subway two months ago burned down a storage shed. The fire department’s investigation revealed that smoking was the likely cause. Any subway fire can have serious consequences, but that’s a busy station in the heart of the metropolis with several connections to other lines. The Osaka Municipal Transport Bureau then banned all smoking on the subway premises for everyone.

Last week, the assistant station manager at the Honmachi Station on the Yotsubashi Line lit up in the station manager’s kitchen/lounge at 7:40 a.m. before he was due to go on duty at 8:30. It set off fire alarms, delaying four trains by a minute each and inconveniencing about 1,000 passengers.

Smoking on the job is prohibited for all Osaka city employees at their workplace, and they’re subject to disciplinary action if caught. But when do unionized public sector employees face serious punishment for anything in any country? In fact, only one Osaka municipal employee had been disciplined for smoking before — a primary school teacher was docked a month’s pay in 2010 when he was caught tubing it on school grounds.

But now Hashimoto Toru is the mayor. On the day of the incident, he said the punishment would be severe. Two days later, he elaborated on what he meant by severe:

“I want him to think that dismissal is the standard.”

When it was pointed out this would be the first time such a harsh punishment would be meted out in Osaka, and the employee might take formal action to recover his job, the mayor replied:

“I don’t care if he takes it to court.”

How about that? A lot of people in the United States, to name just one country, would be thrilled by the approach of holding public sector sponges to private sector standards (not to mention salaries). The usual suspects would be appalled, and there are plenty of those people here too. But I suspect there won’t be much sympathy in general for the assistant station manager.

Those same usual suspects might be expected to amuse themselves with meta-snark about Mussolini making the trains run on time, but since Mr. Hashimoto isn’t a classical fascist/statist of the left, only among the circles of the secular holy ones will there be the pleasing vibrations of indignation.

There’s a desperate need for people in the advanced countries to get back to the basics on every level of their lives, both individually and as members of society. One place to start is an insistence that employees follow reasonable work rules established for public safety.

The trains in Japan really do run on time, as do the buses. That doesn’t mean it’s a regimented society. It’s just a manifestation of the commonly accepted idea that doing your job and doing it well is the A of the ABCs. Some years ago, a group of workers from General Motors visited a Toyota plant here. When asked for their impressions, one of the Americans said, “These people work too hard!” Sure — by GM shop floor standards. From what I’ve seen of the insides of Japanese factories, people work at a normal pace. Is it a surprise then that Toyota is still a going concern while GM would have gone belly up had the government not stepped in?

The Japanese are also serious about teachers setting an example, which was the reason the Osaka primary school teacher found his paycheck lighter after being caught in the act. In my American high school, on the other hand, the physics teacher used to walk around in the halls with a pack of cigarettes (Winstons) in his shirt pocket. He was also an assistant coach on the football team. Meanwhile, a student getting caught smoking in the boy’s room would be subject to a three-day suspension on the second (or perhaps third) offense.

Just before summer vacation last year, I was talking to one of my university students outside of class. She’s from Okinawa, and she was anxious to get home because everything there is more relaxed.

That was a bit unexpected, because Saga is not the picture of urban bustle. There’s even a word in the local dialect for the default, take-it-easy attitude (nonbiraato). I asked her if she thought the pace was all that hectic here.

“Oh yes. In Okinawa, even the buses don’t run on time.”

My wife laughed out loud when I told her.

That assistant stationmaster at Honmachi had to have been a fool for a cigarette.

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Sunrise in the land of the rising sun

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, April 7, 2012

NOTHING is stronger than an idea whose time has come. Sakaiya Taiichi, the senior advisor to Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, spoke to the Your Party convention in February. The speaker and his audience share a common purpose, and both know that the time for their ideas has come. This is what he said in English.

Your Party is different from the other parties. It was not born in the Diet, but was born from a citizens’ movement — the first one in the postwar era. There might have been some in the Meiji period, but it’s a rare thing. Most parties are created when several MPs get together in the Diet. Most of those parties fall apart.

Your Party began when Watanabe Yoshimi advanced his own policies and started a citizens’ movement by himself. Mr. Eda (Kenji, party secretary-general) was in synch with that. It is a party of democracy that you should be proud of.

It happened again at the end of last year. Diet members scrambled together to form groups and receive the public subsidies given to political parties. They have no political views, ideology, ideas, or concept of what the state should be. Both the Liberal Democrats and Democrats are parties for creating political crises, trifling with the people and causing them misfortune. They leave policy to the bureaucrats, and never think about Japan the nation.

Postwar Japan had many splendid conceptions. One concept was in foreign affairs, in which it would stand with the Western powers, and become a small country in military affairs and an economic giant. The option to become a military power did not exist during the American occupation, so that is what happened. The second concept was economic: The (political) system of (19)55 (when the LDP was formed), bureaucracy-directed policy, the cooperation of the business world, and large scale mass production.

They thought that even if no one had any political views, all they had to do was defend these concepts. That continued until the 80s. After that, however, the times changed: The Cold War ended, and large scale mass production reached its limits. Despite that, however, no one still had any political views or a concept of the state. All they did was create political crises.

Then Watanabe Yoshimi became a minister in the Abe Cabinet, and continued to serve in the Fukuda Cabinet. He lasted longer than usual (laughter). He began to talk about something different — civil service reform. That earned him the enmity of the bureaucracy, but the amendment to the National Civil Service Law passed. I created the draft of that amendment in the advisory council.

But even though that amendment was passed, nothing changed. The bureaucrats are unyielding. The president of the National Personnel Authority did not appear in the Diet. In the end, the (Civil Service System Reform) headquarters revolted, and Deputy Chairman Koga was fired. Even though the law was passed, nothing happens. The reality is horrendous.

Watanabe Yoshimi is a rare politician. He thinks about the concept of the state. Those politicians have been extinct for a long time. Even if there are some drawbacks, the policies are truly great. This year — This is It! This is the year of decision. The one I uncovered was Mr. Hashimoto (Toru). The circle of reform is growing. This year is the year of decision.

Why will this be the decisive year? It will be an extremely difficult year for both the Japanese economy and the global economy. Thus, there are four parts to the agenda. One is a state/province system with regional authority. There are three forms of government administration: the nation, the prefectures, and the basic self-governing bodies. The Osaka Metro District concept would convert that into two levels. We must not mistake the state/province system as a model for merging prefectures. We must change the nation.

(After creating that system) the regions must not say anything about the affairs the national government will handle — specifically, foreign affairs, defense, and the currency. Meanwhile, the national government will not say anything about the affairs the regional governments will handle. That is how it should be.

Second is civil servant reform. Civil service is not a job, it is a form of status. Until the 80s, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare was a small government office. Both the health ministry and the labor ministry accepted only seven people each with a humanities background for the elite job track. At the same time, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry were large ministries and accepted 26 people each. But now the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare is a large ministry with oversight for 25% of the national income. The agriculture ministry has jurisdiction of no more than 1.8% of GDP.

Anyone can be a bureau chief in the health ministry. The agriculture ministry has no work. If you ask, what about transferring the career agriculture ministry bureaucrats to the health ministry, that would be absurd. It would be like entrusting the old Kishu domain (present-day Wakayama and part of Mie) to the people of the Satsuma domain (present-day Kagoshima). It isn’t a job, it’s a form of status.

Organizations and personnel must be based on the principle of functionalism, and selection must be based on ability and incentive. The organization of any body that defends its status will inevitably crumble.

Third is a growth agenda. Japan today is facing its third defeat. Defeat is not losing a war. Even if it loses a war, a nation will not collapse. True defeat is the collapse of an ethical view and the system.

The first defeat was the Bakumatsu period (at the end of the Edo period). The values of the Edo government were stability and equality. They purposely did not build a bridge over the River Oi (in Shizuoka). They sought stability and equality by preventing people from crossing the flow, and making the movement of people difficult. That’s when progress became important with the arrival of the Black Ships (Commodore Perry).

It goes without saying that the second defeat was in the war. Now Japan is in third period of defeat. The sense of ethics is in turmoil.

Now it is seen as a good thing to receive social welfare benefits. In Osaka, even if the primary school teachers scold their students by saying, “If you don’t study, you’ll have a hard time later,” the students retort, “I’ll get welfare payments, so I’ll be all right.” They say 10% of the junior high school students can’t do multiplication.

Mr. Hashimoto’s proposal is to conduct a relative evaluation of the teachers. Five percent of the teachers will be given the lowest grade of a D. Teachers who get Ds two years running will have to be re-trained. If they do not improve after re-training, they will be asked to leave. How many teachers receive the lowest grade under the absolute evaluation system now? It’s only 0.15%. That’s one-and-a-half people in 1,000. There’s maybe one in a school.

In Osaka, where the teacher evaluations are strict, the teachers’ union says the teachers there have three times the neuroses of teachers anywhere else. It’s a scam. The same statistics cite the cause of the neuroses. The primary cause is trouble with other teachers in the teachers’ lounge.

The fourth is creating an open Japan. That’s true also of the TPP. What did we do during the Meiji Restoration? The policy known as “The return of the lands and the people from the feudal lords to the Emperor.” In short, civil servant reform, giving up the status of samurai. That was the second year of Meiji (1870). Next, they cheerfully opened the country. (N.B.: The term Mr. Sakaiya invented for this idea, which he frequently uses in speeches, is suki suki kaikoku.) The Tokugawas grudgingly opened the country. In the brocade pictures (nishiki-e) of the times, foreigners are depicted as devils or tengu (monster-spirits). That changed.

The next thing they did in the Meiji Restoration was economic reform. In the new currency law of the fourth year of Meiji, the monetary units were unified as yen and sen. They started using paper money, and it became possible to create credit. In the Bakumatsu period, according to the calculations of Oguri Kozukenosuke, annual tribute accounted for only 40% of expenditures. Now, of the (government’s) JPY 104 trillion in expenditures, including quarterly adjustments, tax revenues account for JPY 42 trillion. Exactly 40%.

Annual tribute was only 40% of expenditures. Oguri Kozukenosuke worried that annual tribute would have to be tripled. That vanished in an instant with the start of the Meiji period and the new paper money under the new currency law. A deflationary economy has to be converted to an inflationary economy. In a deflationary economy, the past governs the future. There has to be nominal growth of about 3%.

The next thing they did in the Meiji period was eliminate the domains and create the prefectures. In other words, the state system. After that followed education reform. In Japan at that time, 40% of the boys and 25% of the girls learned reading, writing, and arithmetic at the terakoya, the Buddhist temple schools. It was the leading country in the world for education. Even in Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution, only one in four boys went to school. There was only one educational institution in all of Europe that admitted girls.

They eliminated all the terakoya and created schools. That’s because the objectives of education changed, from stability to progress. Educating people suitable for large-scale mass production was required. That idea still remains today. That’s why they taught that individuality and originality was a bad thing. They called all individuality a “defect” and originality was chastised as garyu (not following conventional methods).

Of course basic education is important. Ten percent of first-year junior high school students can’t multiply. That is the responsibility of the teachers, and they should be fired. Attending Board of Education meetings is a part-time job for teachers once a month. A view of education as a whole is not possible. The people who think that’s fine are the education ministry bureaucrats supported by the status system.

Teaching is also a form of status. There are many English teachers incapable of English. On the other hand, they have teachers who’ve come back from living in the United States teaching social studies. That’s all they have a license for. Next to the teachers fluent in English are the English teachers who can’t speak English at all, and the teachers back from the United States teach about the Japanese Diet, of which they know nothing.

We must change this absurdity with systemic reform. The drawback of reformers is their tendency to splinter without limit. That’s causing a lot of trouble right now in Osaka (laughter). The conservatives are surprisingly united. This reform is good, that reform is bad, only about 20% can agree on each issue. As a result, the unfortunate situation will continue.

That’s why, even if there are problems to a certain extent, we must agree that it (reform) is better than what we have now. Persons of good character are not capable of reform. Have you ever heard anyone say that Oda Nobunaga was a person of good character? (laughter) The requirement for reform depends entirely on the ability to achieve breakthroughs. Watanabe Yoshimi has that ability.

This is it. This is the year of decision. Let’s put aside our small differences and unite behind the big things we agree on. This year, please work so that we can increase our number to 300 (in the lower house of the Diet).

(end translation)

Meanwhile, here is one of the most astonishing newspaper articles I’ve ever read anywhere, and that it appeared in the Asahi Shimbun is more astonishing still. The Asahi is the newspaper of the left in Japan, and the DPJ is the major party to the left of center (with quite a few members quite left of center). Here’s the headline. Note the past tense:

DPJ’S GOVERNING FIASCO: Party never challenged Finance Ministry

It’s a condensed version of everything I’ve been reporting on for the last three years. They’re writing off the DPJ.

It’s difficult to find a passage to quote because every sentence is a dagger thrust. Let’s stick to this:

Successive DPJ administrations have failed to make meaningful spending cuts. Despite rounds of budget screening, the three budgets compiled by the party effectively ballooned to record levels on an initial basis.

You know what they say: Read the whole thing. Also note the background of former Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa and his opinion about the respective role of bureaucrats and politicians.

That’s the same Fujii Hirohisa who was the secretary-general of Ozawa Ichiro’s Liberal Party before it merged with the DPJ, and who doesn’t know what happened to the party’s public subsidies that it was supposed to return to the Treasury when it folded. (Some in the print media suspect it wound up in Ozawa Ichiro’s safe before being spent to buy real estate for his political funds committee.) That’s the same Fujii Hirohisa who appeared on a Sunday political talk show one day before Hatoyama Yukio made his first speech to the Diet as prime minister in 2009 and admitted the party had no intention of keeping all the promises in the manifesto. They would just keep enough of them to keep the people so happy they would return them to office four years later. They didn’t, they didn’t, and they won’t.

Remember all those so-called journalists who wrote about the “fiscal hawks” of the DPJ?


The lead story in the 12 April edition of the weekly Shukan Bunshun is titled, Farewell, DPJ. They report the results of their polling that asks voters the question, “If a lower house election were held today…” (It’s becoming a cottage industry.) While they have the LDP doing better than in other surveys, they think the DPJ would lose close to two-thirds of its seats. They also think all three DPJ prime ministers — Hatoyama, Kan, and Noda — stand a good chance of losing their seats. (Hatoyama’s been on thin ice in polling for a while.)

Get ready, people — the train is coming.
Oh, yes it is.

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