AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Archive for the ‘Legal system’ Category

Japanese court gets it wrong in sex-ed suit

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, March 15, 2009

THE TOKYO DISTRICT COURT ruled in favor of 31 plaintiffs employed as teachers and staff members at a Tokyo school by ordering three Tokyo Metropolitan District assembly members and the Metropolitan government to pay them 2.1 million yen (about US$ 21,440) in compensation. The court said the politicians were wrong to criticize the teachers at a special public school in the Nanao district of Hino for using dolls to teach sex education to children with mental disabilities. The court also found the government liable because local education officials were present during the the politicians’ visit in 2003 and did nothing to stop them.

In fact, the politicians didn’t stop the teachers either. They merely criticized the teachers to their faces (apparently in the classroom), as well as the materials the teachers used during their visit. It was later that year that the Metropolitan Education Committee severely reprimanded the Nanao 31 for failing to follow guidelines.

The Asahi article reporting the story (here’s the English and here’s the Japanese; the links won’t last long) says the plaintiffs were thrilled because the decision strikes a blow in support of the “independence of education”.

Japan’s Fundamental Law of Education prohibits “undue control” of the educational system by government authorities. (Undue is the paper’s translation for 不当, which can also be translated as improper or wrongful.) Japanese courts seldom support teachers over school authorities in cases involving undue control.

The Asahi closes with the by-now standard quote from a college professor that allows journalists the world over to editorialize in the context of a news article by having others speak for them:

Teruyuki Hirota, a professor of educational sociology at Nihon University, welcomed the ruling as it stressed the education board’s role to protect teachers from political interference.

Why are the 31 teachers, the Asahi Shimbun, and Prof. Hirota dead wrong in this case?

Because public schools are not the private fiefdoms of school teachers.

The reason the decision is wrong has nothing to do whatsoever with the manner of conducting sex education in school. It has nothing to do with the boorish behavior of politicians on a field trip. The guidelines for teaching anything in a public school are for the Education Committee to decide–not for teachers in individual schools to ignore while acting as independent philosopher-kings responsible only to themselves.

That’s because the school in question is a public institution supported by taxpayers. And that means their entire operation must be subject to public oversight–and public oversight of public institutions is the legitimate responsibility of government.

Yes, it would be improper if politicians demanded that classroom teachers extol the virtues of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. But it would be just as improper for classroom teachers to sell their students on the idea that “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” was the proper way for a government to organize the economy. Indeed, the latter is more likely to be a problem in Japanese schools today than the former.

The question, therefore, is what constitutes “undue control”. Did the three politicians (at least one from the LDP and one from the DPJ) exert “undue control”? Is it undue control for educational authorities to set teaching guidelines? Obviously not, but that didn’t stop the judges from trying to exert undue control of their own by advancing what is surely their personal agenda.

Those who disagree should consider this: The military is another public institution supported by taxpayer funds. Civilian (i.e., political) control of military forces is a prerequisite for a democracy to effectively function. Any democratic nation that allowed military officers in the field to determine their own operational strategy without civilian oversight would soon be transformed into a military dictatorship with the potential to create serious problems both at home and abroad.

The principle here is precisely the same. If civilian oversight is essential for the military, it is just as essential for school teachers. Do you think teachers should be allowed to use dolls to teach sex education to the mentally handicapped? That’s a valid and defensible position.

So either start a private school funded without taxpayer money, or choose politicians who will appoint administrators that agree with your position. That’s what elections are for.

Still, there are two questions that the Asahi doesn’t address (natch). First, why sue the politicians? If the teachers oppose the educational policies of the authorities, they should sue them–or take the self-congratulatory stand of resigning in protest. The assembly members were on a one-day visit. It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that spite was the motivation for including those three in the suit.

The other question has to do with the teachers’ justification for using the dolls in classroom instruction. They claim that mentally deficient children often don’t understand what body parts are being discussed through the use of words alone.

The article doesn’t say how old the children were (natch again), but the website for the Nanao school shows they have classes for students from the primary school to the high school level.

If the students are incapable of understanding the body parts being discussed without some show and tell, would they have the mental capability to benefit from education regarding sexual behavior to begin with?

The case is yet another example of Little Jack Horners claiming a personal exemption from principles and policies they insist must be applied to other people. The Tokyo court should have known better than to award the plaintiffs money merely because their feelings were hurt. But evidently the temptation for judges to shape society to their own preferences is just as difficult to resist in Northeast Asia as it is in Europe and North America.

Posted in Education, Legal system, Sex | Tagged: , | 8 Comments »

Laying down the law

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, October 21, 2008

THE STORY HAS ALL THE ELEMENTS of more familiar causes célèbre: Parasitic attorneys disfiguring the intent of the law to further their own objectives, politicians making intemperate comments and then toggling between I’m sorry/I’m not sorry, and newspapers imitating third-rate blogs. In short, it’s another milestone in the descent of public discourse into the cesspool.

Except this time the story is happening in Japan and not in the West.

In April 1999, an 18-year-old male posed as a plumber (or plumbing inspector, or drainage pipe repair worker, depending on the newspaper) to force his way into an apartment in Hikari, Yamaguchi. Once inside, he tried to rape the woman living there, 23-year-old Motomura Yayoi. When she resisted, he strangled her with his hands, performed sex on her corpse, and strangled her 11-month-old baby with a rope after throwing the infant to the floor.

He later explained in court that it was his desire to rape a total stranger.

Defendants aged 14 to 19 are usually tried as juveniles in Japan, but they are tried as adults for serious crimes. These cases account for 0.8% of all juvenile trials. The 27-year-old defendant’s name has never been revealed because he was a minor when he committed the crime. (Hereinafter, we’ll call him Nanashi Gombei.)

Nanashi’s first trial was held at the Yamaguchi District Court in 2000. He confessed and was sentenced to life in prison.

The disappointed prosecutors were seeking the death penalty, so they appealed to the Hiroshima High Court. The Hiroshima court upheld the Yamaguchi ruling in 2002, so the prosecutors appealed to the Supreme Court.

Japan’s Supreme Court sided with the prosecutors. The Hiroshima court ruled that life imprisonment was appropriate because the killings weren’t premeditated and the killer was a minor. The Supreme Court said those arguments were insufficient and told Hiroshima to try again.

The Second Hiroshima Trial

In April this year, the prosecutors finally got what they were looking for when the Hiroshima Court reversed itself and handed down a death sentence. But the second Hiroshima trial was not a cut-and-dried replay of the first.

This time, Gombei had a new defense team of 20 veteran lawyers in his corner. The team was headed by Yasuda Yoshihiro, a long-time opponent of capital punishment. He chases those ambulances most likely to provide him with mass media exposure. For example, Mr. Yasuda defended Asahara Shoko, the leader of the Aum Shinrikyo cult/terrorist group that conducted five coordinated attacks on the Tokyo subway using sarin gas. They killed a dozen people, severely injured 50, and caused temporary health problems for another 1,000.

Reports say the defense team was “set up in March 2006 over concerns the top court might decide in favor of the prosecutors.” I have been unable to find any reports explaining who specifically “set it up” and who was “concerned”.

During the second high court hearing, the retooled defense team took a radically different approach than its predecessor. One of the biggest changes was to Nanashi’s story. He now said the police and the prosecutors forced his confession. He argued that his first defense team thought he deserved life imprisonment and therefore didn’t argue his case properly. Further, he denied that he intended to commit either the rape or the murders, and didn’t remember either touching the woman or tying the rope used to strangle the baby into a knot.

This directly contradicted his statements during the first two trials.

During questioning at the second Hiroshima trial, the accused said:

“At the time of the incident, I was in such a state that I didn’t even realize I had wrapped a rope around the baby’s neck and tied it in a bow. I first learned that the rope was tied in a bow when I was shown the rope during questioning… I held the baby in my arms thinking I would soothe her. I wasn’t cradling her to kill her, but fell into despair when I ended up killing her.

His lawyers claimed that the man should have been charged with injury resulting in death and that he was not in control of his actions. They said:

“The baby didn’t stop crying, so the defendant wrapped a rope around her neck and tied it in a bow, and she died.”

They added:

“(He) inadvertently killed (Motomura) because she rebuffed him when he held her…(He was holding her) out of a desire to behave as if he were her baby, because she reminded him of his own mother, who had committed suicide…. (He) lost track of himself as he feverishly pushed the victim down without noticing that he was strangling her.”

Because of his mother’s suicide, the defense attorneys argued, Nanashi didn’t have the opportunity to develop mature relationships with others. They said the attack arose from a sense of loneliness.

They claimed that Motomura died “accidentally” when Gombei used one hand to grip her throat in a backhand chokehold. In his earlier trials, the man said he had used both hands to strangle the woman. But the defense said that conflicted with the autopsy report.

They further maintained that the defendant didn’t consider sex with his victim’s corpse to be a crime, but a means to “return to his mother’s womb”, and that he hoped “it would bring it back to life.”

In regard to the murder of the infant, the defense team said the man used a rope to “loosely” strangle the baby to stop her from crying.

The prosecutors begged to differ:

“The defendant is trying to dodge the death penalty by fabricating and distorting facts of the incident and even disgracing the victims.”

The Hiroshima Court didn’t buy either Nanashi Gombei’s story or the defense arguments. Presiding Judge Narazaki Yasuhide said the killer’s intent and calculation were undeniable. He said that Nanashi’s inability to remember touching the woman or holding her neck was unnatural, and added that he didn’t believe a word of the defendant’s statements about killing the baby.

On the acts themselves:

“It was a selfish, self-centered and mean crime that ignored the personality of the victims”.

On the claim that he raped Motomura as a way to revive her:

“That is a preposterous idea, and it is doubtful that he could think of such a thing in front of a corpse…It’s rational to assume he raped her to satisfy his sexual appetite. It’s extremely incredible that he would think she would come back to life (by being raped), and I can never give credence to such an idea.”

Getting to the heart of the matter, the judge said:

“It is unnatural and unreasonable to be silent for 6 1/2 years after the (original) indictment if it contradicts the facts.”

He also noted that the defendant never came up with those explanations during any of the 296 meetings he had with his first defense team.

Said the judge:

“(The crime was) cold-blooded, cruel and inhumane…By presenting false excuses, the defendant has abandoned any effort to face up to his crime, and his attitude, which is an insult toward the bereaved family, is far from reflecting any remorse…There is no particular circumstance that would warrant taking into consideration a penalty other than the death sentence.”

He addressed the defendant’s demeanor:

“(He) seemed to have neglected to face the seriousness of the crime he committed while trying hard to avoid the death penalty…The apology he gave to the victims’ relatives was superficial, and his antisocial nature has been emphasized…even taking into consideration that he had just turned 18 years old at the time of the crime, he can’t avoid the death penalty.”

The defense counsel immediately appealed to the Supreme Court, which is like saying the days are getting shorter this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere.

The original defense team criticized the new defense team’s handling of the case and charged that their strategy did more harm than good. Imaeda Jin, one of the members of the initial team, said:

“The lawyers focused on denial of the act and failed to show the immature personality of the defendant to judges who finally made the decision that the defendant was lying…I thought if we had made his face and name public, we would have more sympathy for him because he looked very immature for his real age, like he was a junior high school student. I thought the public would understand his ‘immaturity’ at the time of the case. However, my proposal was not accepted.”

Journalist Washimi Kazuo thinks the second appeal to the Supreme Court will be rejected. Yes, the Supreme Court justices were the ones who wanted a retrial to begin with because they thought life imprisonment was too lenient, but Mr. Washimi has a different take:

“The defense will need a better strategy because judges these days care about the public’s sympathy for the victim. They cannot ignore it.”

Does Mr. Washimi pine for the bygone days of some golden age when a “strategy” was devised for judges who might have cared more about confessed killers than their innocent victims?

The Importance of the Case

This is the third death sentence in Japan since the end of World War II for a case returned to a high court by the Supreme Court. The Juvenile Law states that the death penalty cannot be applied for offenders under the age of 18. Courts have sentenced 18- and 19-year-olds to death three times since 1983, and 14 times since 1966. Nine of those sentenced have been executed.

Also at issue is how much longer 18-year-olds will be considered juveniles in Japan. When the mechanism was created during the Abe administration to govern national elections on possible Constitutional amendments, both the ruling coalition and the opposition party agreed to allow 18-year-olds to vote. (The current voting age in Japan is 20.)

The ruling is therefore viewed as a turning point for the courts’ handling of the death sentence involving cases in which the defendant is 18 or 19. Opinion polls also show that the Japanese public overwhelmingly supports the death penalty, with some surveys running as high as 70%.

It also comes before a new system takes effect next May in which lay judges begin taking part in the decisions for the verdict and sentence in criminal cases, including murder. No one can anticipate the impact the participation of lay judges will have on the Japanese legal system, though it is bound to be transformational. (Check the Legal System category at the left sidebar for more posts on that subject.)

Gov. Hashimoto’s Non-Lethal Injection

The lurid circumstances of the case—the attempted rape and murder of a young mother, the murder of her baby, and sex with a corpse—ensured that the trials would become instant content for the print and broadcast media. And when the new defense team hijacked the case and turned it into a vehicle for their cause, it inevitably became a weapon on the cultural battlefield.

The conflict wasn’t sparked by a minor skirmish, either; the counterattack was launched with the media equivalent of an artillery barrage from Hashimoto Toru.

Mr. Hashimoto is an attorney who has developed a popular following by appearing on television talk programs. He parlayed that popularity into election as the governor of Osaka earlier this year.

Gov. Hashimoto Toru

Gov. Hashimoto Toru

On 27 May 2007, before his election, he appeared on the local Osaka TV program Soko Made Itte Iinkai (Can You Say That Much?). He dropped his payload on Nanashi Gombei’s defense team during the show by calling their tactics “absurd”. While that in itself was uncontroversial, what he did next was unprecedented for Japanese television: He encouraged the viewing public to file chokai seikyu, or “disciplinary claims,” to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (link on right sidebar) demanding the disbarment of the Yasuda team. (Lay persons have this right in Japan.)

As a result, the JFBA received more than 8,000 claims against Nanashi’s attorneys—that’s easier than it sounds because the form can be downloaded from the Internet. In contrast, only 1,367 claims against individual lawyers were filed nationwide for the year in 2006.

As so often happens in these cultural clashes, Mr. Hashimoto’s broadside had both positive and negative aspects. On the positive side of the ledger was his use of the term absurd to describe the defense. The Yasuda team concocted a patently absurd defense, and they deserved to be called on the carpet of public opinion for a dressing down.

But there were negative aspects as well. Regular television appearances are all about publicity, and perhaps Mr. Hashimoto was already thinking about a run for governor. He found the publicity he sought.

But he also failed to explain to the people who submitted the disciplinary claims that it was not the legal equivalent of simple complaint to a company over shoddy service. Persons submitting such claims can be sued for interfering with a lawyer’s livelihood.

See You in Court, Governor

What happened was close enough. Instead of suing the people who submitted the claims, four of the lawyers working on the Yasuda team sued Mr. Hashimoto. Earlier this month, a court found in their favor and ordered the governor to pay two million yen ($US 19,600) in damages to each of the four. Judge Hashimoto Yoshinari (probably no relation) said the governor defamed the defense lawyers and interfered with their work.

The governor was not the only over-the-top attorney named Hashimoto, however. The judge Hashimoto dismissed the governor’s assertion that the lawyers fabricated their defense claims and deserved to be punished. He said the lawyers were carrying out their duties of providing the best defense for the defendant.

Please. Perhaps Hashimoto Toru did behave recklessly, and the defense attorneys did not deserve to be disbarred, but it only requires a minimum of common sense to fuel suspicions that the second defense team’s strategy was fatuous nonsense created to keep Nanashi Gombei alive on a legal life support system to further their own ends.

The judge also said:

“No matter how absurd or preposterous the defendant’s claims were, those claims do not infringe upon the dignity of the lawyers.”

Only a lawyer could say that with a straight face.

The judge said of Gov. Hashimoto:

“(He) does not have a proper understanding of the mission and responsibilities of lawyers who protect the basic human rights of minorities.”

Here the judge veers into tin foil hat territory. The only conceivable “minority” group to which Nanashi Gombei could belong that would have a bearing on the case is minors, and protecting his “basic human rights” was never at issue. What the judge did here was to protect the time-honored privilege of lawyers to game the system for their own ends, rather than to protect the remaining integrity of the system itself.

The judge helpfully observed that it is not uncommon for defendants to change their story, but no one needs a law degree to figure that out. He neglected to point out, however, that Gombei didn’t change his story until nearly seven years later and that he changed it only when it became apparent that he was headed for the gallows. He also neglected to point out that the new story was ludicrous on its face, but his senses have likely been dulled by decades of listening to courtroom cock and bull.

Imaeda Jin, quoted before as part of the original defense team and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, told reporters:

“It is important for society as a whole to recognize the important role of the defense in protecting the interests of the defendant.”

One wonders at what point in their legal careers attorneys become oblivious to how silly they sound to the rest of us. Nanashi Gombei’s interests, such as they were, were never threatened. Indeed, they were well protected through three trials. Protecting his interests became an issue only when the new defense team saw in him a chance to advance their own.

As befitting the duties of membership in the guild to which he belongs, Governor Hashimoto contritely apologized to the defense team:

“The initial ruling is serious. I believe there is no doubt that my own views went beyond the acceptable line.”

But that won’t stop him from filing an appeal:

“I don’t think the ruling is unjust. But considering that there are three stages in the court system, I would like to hear the high court’s opinion.”

Thus ensuring that his stream of publicity will continue.

He needn’t have worried: The Asahi Shimbun made sure he got plenty. They blasted Mr. Hashimoto in an editorial published the day after the ruling:

“If he seriously accepts the ruling, he should not appeal. Moreover, he should voluntarily surrender his qualification as a lawyer. If the public sees his apology only as a token gesture, they could also question his qualities as a governor.”

Here is the English version of the editorial, titled Defamation Suit Ruling. (The link won’t last too much longer). The Japanese version, however, was titled Bengoshi Shikaku wo Henjo Shite ha, which specifically calls on him to relinquish his qualifications.

Of course the Asahi employee who wrote this editorial is unlikely to have first-hand knowledge of the notoriously rigorous qualifications for Japanese lawyers. And no one will be surprised to discover that Mr. Hashimoto and the newspaper come from the opposite sides of the political fence.

Even some in the Japanese media have criticized the Asahi for the juvenile heavy-handedness of their recent op-ed pieces, which have come to resemble gas bubbles from the cloaca of the blogosphere or the straight news reporting of name brand Anglosphere journalism. (Exhibit A: They called former Justice Minister Hatoyama Yukio the “God of Death” for expediting delayed executions.)

Mr. Hashimoto was not pleased. During a speech at a ceremony for the Ground Self-Defense Forces in Itami on Sunday, the governor said:

“They’re just mouthing off. If more adults act like the Asahi Shimbun and do nothing but run people down, then Japan will go to the dogs.”

He wasn’t finished. Here’s what he said at a later event:

“I’m in a position of authority, so I don’t mind strong criticism, but criticism that crosses the line into mockery isn’t criticism at all. I’m completely opposed to mocking criticism.”

When one of the reporters suggested that Mr. Hashimoto was being childish, he replied:

“What of it? Wasn’t the Asahi Shimbun childish too? I don’t know who it was, but they said what they said.”

The governor hasn’t let up. At a press conference during a visit to Tokyo on Monday, he blasted the newspaper again:

“The Asahi Shimbun is a stupid opinion journal. I think they ought to shut down their business right away.”

Epilogue

  • Mr. Hashimoto is unlikely to lose votes by backing capital punishment and bashing the self-serving pretzel logic of lawyers, but he might lose votes unless he understands that How is often more important than What.
  • Mr. Yoshida and the rest of his sanctimonious gang of parasites will continue to cloak themselves in the ideals of justice to pervert common sense and force their own version of morality on the rest of us. It’s odd how much they resemble politicized Christians in the U.S., politicized Hindus in India, or politicized Moslems throughout the world in that regard. They’ll be supported by other members of the guild regardless of their beliefs, particularly against such apostates as Mr. Hashimoto.
  • The defense used by the second team of lawyers at the second Hiroshima trial is so breathtakingly weird that one is forced to wonder whether they employed it because it was more likely to get the Hiroshima court to change its mind and sentence Nanashi Gombei to death, resulting in more publicity.
  • Quality journalism will become an increasingly foreign concept at the Asahi, as it already has at many other media outlets in the Western world. They won’t mind; they’re getting as much publicity for their bad behavior as Mr. Hashimoto is getting for his. Besides, now that the media has been thoroughly outed for its obvious biases, it has been liberated from the pretense of impartiality.
  • Nanashi Gombei’s execution is now about six years overdue, and each day that passes is another day alive that he no longer deserves. All that can prevent the inevitability of his execution is a change in the ruling party in national government and the possible appointment of a Justice Minister who thinks his opinions are more important than the near-consensus belief of the Japanese public.

Posted in Legal system, Mass media | 1 Comment »

A church-state debate in Japan?

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, October 14, 2008

ARTICLE 20 OF THE JAPANESE CONSTITUTION was written to disassociate State Shinto (in contrast to Shrine Shinto) from the government and eliminate emperor worship. The concept of State Shinto was formalized in 1868 when the government proclaimed “the unity of religious ritual and government administration”. Douglas MacArthur ended all that in 1945 with a flick of the wrist.

Article 20
Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all. No religious organization shall receive any privileges from the State, nor exercise any political authority.
2) No person shall be compelled to take part in any religious acts, celebration, rite or practice.
3) The State and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity.

The Constitutional provision had the intended effect: the issue of State Shinto is a dead letter in contemporary Japan. Yet Article 20 might still have consequences unanticipated when the Constitution was written during the Allied occupation.

Kan Naoto, the Acting President of the Democratic Party of Japan, the country’s primary opposition group, referred to Article 20 in a press conference on the 9th:

“One idea would be to conduct a focused inquiry with the people involved, if necessary…the Cabinet Legislation Bureau states that if the relationship between a religious group and a political party is (that of being) the same legal entity, it would constitute the propagation of religion through the exercise of political authority, and that would be unconstitutional. That doesn’t necessarily mean being the same legal entity in a formal sense only. If a religious group has selected the executives of a political party, that political party would be the same as the religious group.”

Mr. Kan is referring to the suspected ties between the lay Buddhist group, Soka Gakkai (sometimes accused of cult-like behavior), and the political party New Komeito, which is the junior coalition partner of the government, led by the Liberal Democratic Party. Soka Gakkai hotly denies any formal connection and aggressively challenges anyone who makes that claim. New Komeito makes the same assertion. Here’s what they say on their website:

The issue of Komeito’s relations with the Soka Gakkai, the Buddhist organization, has been the subject of as much serious debate as it has been a tool of political expedience by the party’s rivals and critics. In summary, the Soka Gakkai is a constituency that has provided electoral endorsement to the party until today. The relation between the two entities is no different from that of a political party and any civil group–such as a labor union, for example–that endorses the party, and it has been established as being constitutionally legitimate.

The propriety of any connection between the two was not a front-burner issue until former New Komeito leader Yano Junya filed a suit against Soka Gakkai in Tokyo District Court claiming that the organization tried to force him to stop his activities as a political pundit/critic. The DPJ then started talking about bringing Yano to the Diet to testify as an unsworn witness.

Why is this important? First, Soka Gakkai members constitute a significant portion of the campaign workers who turn out to support the governing coalition, in the same way that labor unions back the efforts of the DPJ, as New Komeito dryly notes in the quote above. The DPJ therefore stands to benefit from any problems it might cause for the junior coalition partner and its allies.

Second, the DPJ strategy is to force a lower house election as soon as possible, without waiting for the current term to expire next summer. The LDP/NK coalition wanted to delay the election as long as possible, but speculation grew that New Komeito pressed the LDP to conduct the balloting sooner. Their ostensible intention was to concentrate on next summer’s Tokyo municipal elections, but others suggested another reason was that the party thought a lower house election might dissipate the attention on Yano’s suit.

Pitching Woo While Making Threats

Several subtle forces are at work here, and all of them are operating in the shadows. On the one hand, it’s natural for the DPJ to try to discredit the party that contributes so much to keeping the LDP in power. Yet the DPJ’s approach has some carrots dangling at the end of the stick. One of DPJ boss Ozawa Ichiro’s political talents is cobbling together political alliances from seemingly incompatible elements. (Of course they don’t last long, but that’s another story.) Some in Japan suspect that Mr. Ozawa would like to flip New Komeito from governing in concert with the LDP to governing in partnership with his side.

The DPJ has the stated policy goal of allowing non-citizen permanent residents in Japan to vote in local elections. It goes without saying that the DPJ doesn’t give a fig about the random scattering of foreigners in the country with permanent resident permits (of which I am one). That policy was crafted to give the vote to ethnic Koreans who were born and reared in Japan, but have chosen to retain Korean citizenship rather than become naturalized. The Soka Gakkai membership is said by some to have a relatively high proportion of these so-called zainichi kankokujin. Thus, the DPJ policy would seem to be designed to attract New Komeito rather than repel it.

There have also been recent signs of New Komeito dissatisfaction with the LDP. Rumors circulated that Soka Gakkai made the removal of Fukuda Yasuo as prime minister a condition of continued partnership. Party members at the local level have been more open to associating with DPJ delegates in municipal and prefectural assemblies than they were in the past. Also, New Komeito did not extend its usual cooperation to the LDP in the Okinawa prefectural assembly election held in June, which resulted in an electoral victory for the DPJ. The LDP/NK coalition lost its majority in the Okinawan assembly—but New Komeito maintained its strength in delegate totals and won more total votes than in the previous election.

Another one of the intrigues within the intrigues are the whisperings that the LDP and the DPJ are continuing talks on a grand coalition on the QT, despite the uproar such discussions caused last fall. One item they are supposedly considering is eliminating the proportional representation seats in the lower house of the Diet. That would vitiate the political strength of the smaller parties, few of whose members can win elections in their districts outright. In addition to New Komeito, it would also marginalize such parties as the Social Democrats (former Socialists), who ally with the DPJ. This would serve to enhance the formation of a two-party system, albeit in the lower house only.

Let’s also remember that Mr. Kan has a valid point. (Insert joke here about the blind pig finding the occasional root.) If it can be shown that Soka Gakkai does in fact have input for selecting New Komeito executive personnel, that would indeed seem to be a violation of Article 20. No one so far has had the stomach for a serious challenge to Soka Gakkai, but now the DPJ is threatening to do just that.

Whether the DPJ follows through on its threat, either in the opposition or as the head of a ruling coalition, and severely weakens New Komeito as a political force, or whether they coax New Komeito into bed with them and agree to kiss, make up, and forget the unpleasantness, remains to be seen.

Afterwords: Constitutional reform in Japan is not focused exclusively on Article 9, the so-called peace clause. There is sentiment for eliminating Article 20.2 as shown above. Shrine Shinto in Japan is not a doctrinal religion that seeks converts, but is rather based largely on ancient ceremonies that are a part of the daily life of the people. For example, Shinto ceremonies are held before construction work begins on homes or other buildings, and ceremonies held when the work is completed and an enterprise is about to start operating. (I’ve been to several of these, including the one conducted before they started work on our house.)

Traditionalists argue that these ceremonies have always been a part of Japanese life and don’t have anything to do with State Shinto. Others, such as Japanese Christians and the non-religious left, choose to disagree and make it an issue, even though they must surely realize the traditionalists are correct.

Posted in Legal system, Politics, Religion, Traditions | 13 Comments »

Wanted men: The Sea Shepherd eco-terrorists

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 21, 2008

IT’S ABOUT TIME: The Japanese government, according to this account from UPI, has asked Interpol to issue red arrest warrants for three members of Sea Shepherd, the pirate-wannabe vigilante group that tries to prevent Japanese whaling in the South Pacific every winter. Arrest warrants already are outstanding for them in Japan.

Interpol is not yet prepared to go that far, however, but they did issue a blue notice, which means they are investigating the case further.

Regardless of their ultimate decision, this is a welcome step from Japan for two reasons.

First, it demonstrates that the Japanese government is now willing to take active steps to advance its interests internationally. It is a small sign that the passive, don’t-make-waves mentality of the post-war generation has run its course.

Second, let there be no mistake: By its attitudes and its actions, Sea Shepherd has clearly demonstrated that it refuses to behave as a responsible member of civil society, preferring to resort to the law of the jungle instead. This group has sunk 10 ships around the world, and its leader, Paul Watson, has done jail time in Canada and The Netherlands. It has also been reported that they carry AK-47s on board when they go to sea.

But more than that, Sea Shepherd is a symptom of a more serious illness sweeping the Western world. What too often passes for citizen activism today is in fact the barbarity of a hysterical, unhinged element that self-indulgently takes upon itself the role of judge, jury, and executioner. The structures of civilized society evolved and were created precisely to prevent activity of this sort.

That this disease has reached epidemic proportions in other parts of the world is undeniable from even a dispassionate observation of events in the United States during the past three weeks, to cite just one example.

If Sea Shepherd is ready to stand by its principles, they should have no problem serving time in a Japanese jail for them.

Japan should be commended for doing its part to curb this behavior.

Notes: Sea Shepherd has an annual budget of two million dollars. Most of their budget is supported by contributions from wealthy Hollywood actors, including Martin Sheen, Sean Penn, and William Shatner. Richard Dean Anderson (MacGyver) is (or was) on its Board of Directors. Pierce Brosnan is on its Board of Advisors.

Have you rented or purchased a DVD of one of Pierce Brosnan’s four James Bond movies? If so, you have directly contributed to keeping Sea Shepherd afloat.

Posted in Food, International relations, Legal system | Tagged: , | 103 Comments »

Interview: Justice Minister Yasuoka Okiharu

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, August 21, 2008


THREE WEEKS AGO, Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo reshuffled his Cabinet and chose Yasuoka Okiharu to replace Hatoyama Kunio as the Minister of Justice.

Significant change is underway in Japan’s justice system, and an even more radical restructuring will occur in the near future. A new system in which citizen jurors join a panel of trial judges to hear and render verdicts in criminal cases will begin operation in just eight months. There is a robust, ongoing debate about how well the new system will work, and some are calling for it to be delayed or scrapped altogether. Other matters in the spotlight include capital punishment (which has widespread support) and proposals for the recording of police interrogations and the institution of life imprisonment.

Last week, the Nishinippon Shimbun ran an interview with the new justice minister. Here it is in English.

A Supreme Court survey shows that upwards of 80% of the public has a negative attitude about participating in the lay juror system. The Social Democratic Party (former Socialist Party) is calling for a reexamination of the system and a postponement of its implementation.

We’re not thinking of postponing it. The lay juror system is an important concept for achieving law for the people, by the people. There is no reason to postpone it just because there are concerns. If we did that, we wouldn’t be able to get down to business and create the reforms that build a new era.

Will you be able to obtain the understanding of the people before the system is implemented?

Doubts seem to remain about why citizens should become lay jurors. But the more people understand the system, the more they’ll want to participate. Citizen participation in criminal cases will make the cases easier to understand and result in their prompt disposition.

A multiparty group of legislators said the gulf between indefinite prison terms and execution is too large. They argue for the establishment of life imprisonment.

I cannot support life imprisonment. It’s cruel to send someone to jail for their entire life. That is difficult for governments to deal with, and a minority of countries worldwide have instituted life imprisonment. However, we should examine how we can make the system for indefinite prison terms transparent by defining the standards for provisional release and objectively presenting the elements for rendering a verdict.

What is your basic philosophy about the death penalty?

I think there should be a death penalty. Japan has a “culture of shame”. There is a recognition that death is the only way to atone for some crimes. The people support the death penalty.

Some people think that police questioning of suspects should be recorded in toto, both in audio and video.

Recording the questioning might have the great effect of preventing forced confessions. But if the suspects understood that questioning would be recorded, they would assume a defensive posture and be on their guard. That would make it very difficult to investigate cases involving gangsters in particular. Considering the actual circumstances of police investigations, it would be unrealistic to record of all of them on video.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations has issued an urgent declaration seeking a slowdown in the increase of the judiciary.

We still have to increase both the quantity and quality of judges. Japan’s judiciary is too small. We have to work to create a demand for judges in all areas. I want to make the government goal (to increase the number of judges) a priority.

Afterwords: Here is a previous post explaining the new lay juror system in more detail, with a discussion of the potential for seismic change in society, and several links to newspaper articles.

Posted in Legal system | Leave a Comment »

Playing editor

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, August 12, 2008

HERE’S a brief article from about three weeks ago that I found while looking for something else. It’s an AFP report that Justice Minister Hatoyama Kunio would step down in the Cabinet reshuffle that occurred a week after it was published.

Except you wouldn’t know it was about Mr. Hatoyama from the headline. The AFP identified him as The Grim Reaper.

How’s that for framing a story before you tell it?

Now here’s an exercise in how a simple reversal of paragraph order can change the entire slant of a piece. This is how AFP chose to tell it:

The death penalty enjoys wide public support in Japan, which has one of the world’s lowest crime rates.

But Japan, the only major industrialised nation other than the United States to apply the death penalty, has come under fire from the European Union and human rights groups for stepping up the pace of executions.

Watch what happens when the paragraphs are reversed and the “but” is transposed:

Japan, the only major industrialised nation other than the United States to apply the death penalty, has come under fire from the European Union and human rights groups for stepping up the pace of executions.

But the death penalty enjoys wide public support in Japan, which has one of the world’s lowest crime rates.

I prefer the second version.

It’s curious that the AFP couldn’t find the room for the hard poll numbers in Japan supporting the death penalty–more than 70%, sometimes reaching 80%.

In fact, the Japanese public probably doesn’t care much about the opinion of European “human rights groups” when it comes to the execution of someone like Miyazaki Tsutomu.

The AFP specifically refers to his case: “notorious serial killer Miyazaki Tsutomu, who killed and cannibalised four young girls.”

It’s also curious the AFP couldn’t find the space to report that the young girls who were Miyazaki’s victims were aged 4-7 and that he sexually molested their corpses. Or that he terrorized the families of the victims by sending them letters describing in detail what he did to them. Or that he took videos of his victims and kept them at home.

That means the real story here isn’t Hatoyama “The Grim Reaper” Kunio. It’s how an international news agency chose to present a story about someone largely unknown outside Japan just to further an agenda.

Posted in Legal system, Mass media, Politics | 5 Comments »

Let them take the law into their own hands?

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, June 17, 2008

CANADIAN COLUMNIST George Jonas writes about the recent killings in Akihabara:

The only thing that could have reduced the number of Mr. Kato’s victims in Tokyo this week — other than a police officer on patrol who costs money — would have been an armed citizen who costs nothing.

While I usually agree with Mr. Jonas, and this solution works in the United States, I don’t think it would translate very well to this country at all.

Posted in Legal system | 10 Comments »

Was Japan’s Lizzie Borden lucky?

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, April 29, 2008

POLICE BLOTTER CASES seldom get covered on this site, but yesterday’s verdict in a Tokyo murder trial brings up some aspects of the criminal justice system that the Japanese media don’t seem to be addressing.

Here are the facts, in brief:

Mihashi Kaori
Shortly after getting married in March 2003, Mihashi Yusuke, an employee of a securities firm, began beating his wife. The beatings were severe enough that she was admitted to a shelter for domestic violence victims with a broken nose and a bruised face in June 2006. She returned to her husband a month later.

Mihashi Kaori (photo) eventually asked for a divorce, but her husband refused to grant one on her terms. Her lawyers also allege that Mr. Mihashi had taken nude photographs of his wife and threatened to make them public if she insisted on a divorce.

On 12 December 2006, Mrs. Mihashi killed her husband by hitting him in the head with a wine bottle when he was asleep. The evidence showed that she kept whacking him in the head with the bottle just to make sure–an autopsy revealed 10 separate head wounds. She then used a saw to cut his body into five pieces in their Shibuya apartment and hid the pieces in Tokyo.

Mrs. Mihashi was given a psychiatric evaluation by two doctors, one selected by the defense attorneys and the other selected by the prosecutors. In their judgment, the defendant was suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and therefore not criminally responsible for her acts.

Presiding Judge Kawamoto Masaya did not agree, however. Here’s what he said:

Her husband physically abused her soon after they were married, and she began hallucinating. The content of the psychiatric evaluation is reliable…it can be said that her married life was a (living) hell, she felt despair, and on the spur of the moment, she was seized by a homicidal intent. Her psychiatric problems, however, did not create a problem with her capacity to assume responsibility (for her act).

He continued:

She was fully capable of understanding her responsibility. She committed a brutal act by persistently and repeatedly striking her husband in the head, cutting his body into five pieces, and disposing of it. She also trampled on the emotions of her husband’s parents, who were concerned about the safety of their son, by sending them an e-mail that led them to believe he was alive.

Mrs. Mihashi impersonated her husband and sent a text message to her father-in-law on his cell phone telling him not to worry for the recent lack of communication.

The judge also said:

Her motive for murder is understandable, but she repeatedly took several rational steps to conceal what she had done and prevent the discovery (of the crime). These included buying a saw, cutting up the body, and disposing of it.

Cultural note: Cutting up a body and disposing of it is a crime in Japan, and Mrs. Mihashi was charged with that offense in addition to murder.

Judge Kawasaki sentenced her to 15 years in jail. The prosecutors asked for 20, and they’re not certain yet whether they will appeal for a longer sentence.

Mrs. Mihashi’s defense attorney was not pleased:

This contravenes the Supreme Court ruling that psychiatric evaluations of a defendant’s competency should be respected, and is (therefore) unfair.

When asked whether she would file an appeal, he said:

I think she should, but (Mrs. Mihashi) has said she will not appeal. I’ll discuss it with her again.

Mihashi Yusuke’s parents, however, claim that their son was not a wife-beater. They also complained about media coverage of the case that they thought focused excessively on their son’s behavior. (Sound familiar?)

All the information available to us is second- or third-hand, filtered through the media and its infotainment agenda, so it’s impossible for any of us to have an informed opinion. That’s not the reason I bring up the case here, however.

In May 2009–little more than a year from now–Japan’s legal system will undergo a revolution. Trials are currently adjudicated by a panel consisting of three judges. Starting next year, that panel will be expanded to include six citizen judges serving on a case-by-case basis. The presiding judge will be responsible for determining the sentence.

Decisions will be made by majority vote, so citizens can overrule the judges. The judges will be able to overrule the citizens only when all six citizens vote to convict and all three judges vote not guilty. (Here’s a previous post about this with plenty of links.)

Yesterday’s verdict makes me wonder:

  • Would the citizens be more likely to accept the psychiatric evaluation in Mrs. Mihashi’s case than were the judges?
  • Would a citizen panel with more women than men tend to sympathize with defendants such as Mrs. Mihashi? How would a citizen panel with more men behave?

The Japanese public supports the death penalty by an overwhelming margin. (Surveys usually find support to be more than 70%; the previous post on the judicial system links to an article citing a survey showing 80% support.)

  • Would a citizen panel that voted to convict a defendant of murder push the judges to impose a sentence tougher than 15 years? Will the change in the system lead to more executions?

The Japanese have traditionally been more deferential to authority than people in other countries, and some think the members of a lay citizen panel would tend to defer to the judges. Twenty years ago, I would have agreed. But Japanese society has changed so much since then that I’m not sure it’s safe to make that assumption today.

That opinion also fails to take into consideration what might happen once citizens on the panel begin to realize they can exercise real power.

The new legal system is just one of several changes that will transform Japanese society in the coming years. As is usually the case, that transformation will be largely sotto voce. How those changes will reconfigure the life of the nation is anyone’s guess.

Note: Here’s an English language account by the Japan Times, noteworthy if only for all the information it leaves out.

Posted in Legal system | 2 Comments »

More on the voting age in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, February 16, 2008

THE PREVIOUS POST reports on the debate within Japan about lowering the voting age from 20 to 18 for national referendums on Constitutional amendments. The Democratic Party of Japan, the primary opposition party, pushed for that change in the bill eventually passed by the Diet, and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan compromised on the condition that a study be conducted about the effect it would have on other laws.

According to one report, the DPJ’s position was that 18- and 19-year-olds should be enfranchised for a national referendum because a Constitutional amendment would have a greater effect on their lives than an ordinary election.

Now comes word just yesterday from the Sankei Shimbun that the officers of a DPJ committee for promoting political reform will set up a subcommittee to mull the idea of setting 18 as the age for the right to vote in all elections in Japan, as well as using the Internet in elections and ending the current ban on door-to-door election canvassing. (The latter is prohibited to prevent vote buying.)

Why the party changed its mind on the voting age (if that’s what this represents), is not known, but there are two possible reasons. The first would be to bring Japanese practices in alignment with those in other countries. That’s an argument many Japanese find intrinsically appealing. The other is that the party, with its center-left tendencies, might hope it would gain an electoral advantage from teenaged voters. (It didn’t work out that way for the Democrats in American national elections when the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18, however.)

Whatever the reason, the move by the DPJ demonstrates once again that whenever any political party anywhere says, “Just this once, and just for this purpose,” it’s safe to assume it won’t be long before they’re touting it as a universal principle.

Endnote: The party subcommittee will be chaired by Noda Yoshihiko, who has an interesting background. He was graduated from the elite Waseda University, and one of his first jobs was as an inspector for a municipal gas company. He is known as one of the most persuasive (and long-winded) speechmakers in the party.

Mr. Noda also takes an interest in science and technology, and is a member of the party’s “working team” to examine the military uses of outer space. He favors a change in the government’s Constitutional interpretation that outer space cannot be used for defensive purposes, placing him in his party’s hawkish wing.

Posted in Government, Legal system, Politics | Leave a Comment »

The law of unintended consequences

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, February 14, 2008

THE HEADLINE ON THIS KYODO REPORT is incorrect. It reads, “Hatoyama starts debate on lowering legal age”.

Here’s the first sentence:

Justice Minister Hatoyama Kunio told an advisory board Wednesday to study the possibility of legally lowering the age of adulthood from 20 to 18.

It’s incorrect in this sense: the debate actually started last May, when the Abe administration passed a law defining the conditions for a national referendum to amend the Constitution, should one be necessary.

A voting age of 18 was incorporated into that bill at the insistence of the Democratic Party of Japan, the country’s primary opposition party.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party didn’t like the idea–and still doesn’t–but they compromised to get the legislation passed. The DPJ had a laundry list of more proposed additions, but the LDP thought they weren’t essential to the intent of the legislation and used its majority to enact the bill. Naturally, the English-language media pitched the story this way: “LDP Rams Bill Through Diet”.

As the story notes, the provisions of the bill have ramifications that extend beyond national referendums, including the drinking age and the smoking age. It fails to note, however, that they also affect other matters, such as the age for assuming legal responsibility for contracts. In fact, several hundred laws and regulations will now have to be reexamined.

Is lowering the age of adulthood a good idea? The Kyodo article quoted a doctor as suggesting the drinking age should be raised to 22. Indeed, there has been a growing awareness in America lately that for many, childhood is being extended and adulthood deferred or avoided altogether. (See here, for example, or the contrasting reviews of the book, The Death of the Grown-Up, one by the NYT, and the other by Michelle Malkin. Enterprising Googlers will find many more opinions and articles.)

Some would entertain the idea of raising the age of adulthood even higher than 22, but the necessity for most people to have full-time employment by that age makes the suggestion both impractical and unfair.

Regardless of where one stands on the issue, it is regrettable that a measure with such far-reaching consequences was adopted as part of a back-room political deal to pass legislation, without public debate or a preliminary examination of its potential effects.

But then, isn’t one sign of adulthood the awareness of the consequences of one’s actions and the willingness to take responsibility for them?

UPDATE: Here’s a more detailed look at the story by the Yomiuri.

Still, the issue has turned out to be needlessly confusing. Try this:

If the Civil Code is not revised and the referendum law’s stipulation setting the age at 18 goes into effect, people at 18 and 19 will be allowed to vote on constitutional amendments, but will not have the right to make binding contracts and take other legal steps.

And compare it to this:

In March last year, the ruling parties reached a compromise with the DPJ and agreed to change the age limit in the referendum law to 18. But the law has a clause that the age limit in a national referendum can be maintained at 20 until the legal adulthood age in other laws is lowered to 18. Thus if the adulthood age in the Civil Code is not lowered, there will be no problem in implementing the national referendum law.

This has become much too complicated for an issue of such importance.

Posted in Government, Legal system | 2 Comments »

The secret heartbreak of enuresis

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 13, 2007

COULD SOMEONE DO THE KID A FAVOR and change his diapers?

This open season on gaijin, as well as on terrorists and carriers of contagious diseases (which somehow also means the gaijin), has gone beyond fomenting the image that non-Japanese are merely untrustworthy. It has created policy creep. Gaijin-hunters in their zeal are stretching or breaking established laws.

And put a bib on him while you’re at it:

Sure, policymakers are treating non-Japanese residents as criminals, terrorists, and filth columnists of disease and disorder — through fingerprinting on arrival, gaijin-house ID checkpoints, anonymous “snitch sites” (ZG, March 30, 2004), DNA databases (ZG, Jan. 13, 2004), IC chips in gaijin cards (ZG, Nov. 22, 2005) and now dragnets through hotels and paychecks.

Don’t forget the pacifier. Anything to keep him from making suggestions such as this one:

Japan needs more lawyers, or at least more lawyerly types.

I’m going to need a diaper if he keeps coming up with ideas like that.

One would have hoped that the author of the article would have tried to examine all the aspects of his argument before putting it in writing , but alas…

But in practice, the policy stretch has already begun. For example, Regular Permanent Resident immigrants — who have no visa restrictions placed on their employment and cannot possibly “overstay” — must also be reported.

One resident of the town in which I live is a self-employed English teacher from Morocco. I used to run into him at a particular bar every once in a while. He went for the specific purpose of getting drunk and picking fights with people–both verbal and physical. He was married at the time to a Japanese woman and has a permanent resident’s visa.

They eventually got divorced, but his visa allows him to stay in Japan. He returned briefly to Morocco and came back with a new Moroccan wife. He has since gotten religion again, stopped drinking, and started praying five times a day.

Considering this man’s inability to control his anger and his renewed interest in Islam, you can bet this gaijin is glad the police will keep tabs on people with a permanent resident’s visa.

The author of this article seems to be auditioning for the role of Spotless Gaijin Avenger. Get someone to illustrate it, and it would make a dandy Marvel comic.

Well, it’s time for the real point of the exercise. Let’s give him what he wants. All together now…

“Debito! (sigh) Our hero!”

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so harsh. Without the Caped Crusader looking after our interests, we all would be utterly at the mercy of this racist and fascist police state.

Posted in Foreigners in Japan, I couldn't make this up if I tried, Legal system | 13 Comments »

Japan’s constitutional yoga

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace.

SO SANG JOHN LENNON more than 35 years ago, and while those who have to deal with the world the way it is would find it difficult to conjure up that vision in their imagination, we shouldn’t be as hard on him as some commentators on the Right have been over the past few years. Not only was he a product of the times, but by the time he wrote those lines, Lennon’s enormous celebrity had swollen his head to such an extent his eyes were no longer in focus.

He’s not the only one who’s been bested by his own inflated ideals over the years. Take this, for example:

We have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world.

That hopeful expression of trust is from the Preface to Japan’s Constitution. It’s probably the only constitution of a free market democracy that contains the expression “peace-loving peoples”. To show how serious they were about this particular fantasy, the people who wrote the Constitution continued in this vein:

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

That, of course is the Constitution’s famous (or infamous) Article 9. Political leaders who have to deal with the real world can’t spare the time for imagining that scenario—taking it seriously would be fatal–but perhaps we shouldn’t be as hard on the authors as some commentators on the Right have been. Not only were these sentences a product of the times, but by the time the authors wrote those lines, after 12 straight years in control of America’s Executive and Legislative branches, FDR’s New Dealers had become so intoxicated by success their eyes were no longer in focus.

Unfortunately, they were too busy using their imagination to foresee the aggressive nationalism of 21st century China, which combines the worst aspects of Marxism, capitalism, and Manifest Destiny, or the malignant growth of 21st century North Korea, which combines the worst aspects of Stalinism, pure land Koreanism, and oddball religious cults.

What is a country to do? In Japan’s case, they’ve turned to the practice of constitutional yoga, twisting the text into political asanas to create interpretive results that don’t seem possible at first, or even second, glance.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Legal system, Politics | 9 Comments »

Commentary on Japan’s constitution

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, May 22, 2007

WRITING IN Contentions, the blog of the magazine Commentary, Gordon Chang concluded the following about the moves underway in Japan to amend the Constitution:

The way to end, finally, the long aftermath of World War II in Asia is for the Japanese to amend their constitution—and subsequently to adhere to it.

I agree completely with Mr. Chang, but I arrived at my conclusion coming from the opposite direction. Ordinarily, the direction wouldn’t matter if the destination were the same, but Mr. Chang’s professional specialties are China and North Korea, and in this instance I’m afraid he’s examining the issue through the wrong end of the telescope. Approaching this issue from the proper perspective is critical because doing otherwise might be a distraction from the real issues at stake.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in China, History, International relations, Legal system, Politics, World War II | 5 Comments »

Eyes wide shut: The media and the Abe-Bush press conference

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, April 29, 2007

BEFORE HIS VISIT to the United States this weekend, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a CNN interviewer that he thought North Korea’s Kim Jong-il is “a person who is capable of rational thinking”. He added, “I believe that the direction North Korea is headed is wrong.”

In their story, the Associated Press noted, “Abe’s aides could not be immediately reached to confirm his comments.”

Forging boldly ahead with their coverage of the vital issues of the day, the AP referred to the joint Abe-Bush press conference this weekend in the U.S. as a “show of friendship”. They reported that President Bush told Shinzo he “married well”, and invited him down to the ranch. In return, Prime Minister Abe said that he and his wife and George and Laura had a very wondsdfffffffffhtujoi

Oops, sorry about that. I fell asleep and briefly passed out on the keyboard.

After staring at all that irrelevancy, can you blame me? Besides, I nodded off for just a few seconds, but the entire American news media, including CNN and the AP with their millions of dollars in resources and equipment, sat stupefied while one of the biggest stories of the postwar Japan-US relationship sailed over their heads. Yet the AP thinks it’s necessary to confirm that Mr. Abe believes North Korea is headed in the wrong direction?

Why do they have to confirm what every sentient being on the planet knows except some addled South Koreans? And what difference does it make? Why are they even bothering?

Meanwhile, as they’re working the phones, their sources, and shoe leather, they’ve missed the bigger story staring them in the face. In the past two days, Prime Minister Abe and the government of Japan just issued its Declaration of Independence from the legacy of World War II, and in effect told Mike Honda, the U.S. Congress, and the rest of East Asia that if they don’t like it, they can take a hike. But the AP is spending its time trying to confirm that Prime Minister Abe thinks Kim Jong-il is rational.

Perhaps Shinzo should confirm with George whether the President thinks the AP is rational.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in China, History, International relations, Legal system, Mass media, Politics, World War II | 57 Comments »

Japan’s Prime Minister Abe: Moving from one success to another

Posted by ampontan on Friday, April 20, 2007

While the media and the parrot blogs focus on the superficial instead of the substantial, misleading the public about polls while misinterpreting policy, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe keeps moving from one success to another.

And though the commentariat quickly pounced on the Abe Cabinet’s slide from an unsustainably high 70% approval rating immediately after taking office to Japan’s more usual 40% level, mum’s the word now that the Cabinet’s numbers have rebounded. That’s the media’s usual response when the beast it flogs refuses to die.

Maintaining his sang-froid, the prime minister continued the smooth implementation of his policies since taking office by putting two more feathers in his cap last week.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in China, International relations, Legal system, Politics | 12 Comments »