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All you have to do is look (150)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 29, 2012

The 21st Kagura Festival in Aso, Kumamoto. The festival brings together different styles of Shinto kagura dance from around the country. This year 10 groups participated.

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All you have to do is look (73)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, October 11, 2012

A scene from the Nakasu outdoor jazz festival in Fukuoka City

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Ichigen koji (167)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, September 10, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

At election time in the U.S., actors and celebrities make public statements about the parties they support and sometimes give campaign speeches. Perhaps they’re concerned that they’ll be seen as ignoramuses who know nothing of politics unless they speak out. Show business people in Japan also criticize those political parties which are down in the polls, perhaps to pander to the public, but they seldom express their real political opinions. Where did that difference come from?

– Matsuda Kota, upper house member of Your Party, and the founder of Tully’s Japan

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Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 16, 2011

Politicians these days are the kind of people that make me want to bang my forehead against the desk.
– Roger L. Simon, novelist, screenwriter, and blogger

HERE’S a quick sketch penciled on a leaf from a notepad:

Last week, the upper house of the Diet, effectively controlled by the opposition parties, censured two members of the Noda Cabinet: Defense Minister Ichikawa Yasuo and Consumers Affairs Minister Yamaoka Kenji. Mr. Ichikawa took the hit because a deputy compared Japanese and American policies regarding the Marine air base at Futenma on Okinawa to rape. The defense minister also admitted that he didn’t know the details of a 1995 incident in which three U.S. soldiers raped an Okinawan schoolgirl. He voluntarily reduced his salary in atonement.

Mr. Yamaoka was rebuked because he accepted donations from a health food company accused of running a pyramid scheme. He later returned the donations.

While upper house censures are non-binding, the opposition is unlikely to attend any sessions if the two men remain in office. New Komeito head Yamaguchi Natsuo has already said as much.

The response of the English-language media is typified by this sentence in Bloomberg:

The censures, which came on the Diet’s last session of the year, threaten to undercut Noda’s efforts to focus on reviving an economy damaged by the March earthquake and nuclear disaster and burdened by the world’s largest debt.

Sengoku Yoshito, the first chief cabinet secretary in the Kan government, was livid. He said:

Employing this same strategy every year is tantamount to claiming there has been an infringement on supreme authority, and besmirches party politics.

He added:

A system that allows the upper house, which can’t be dissolved, to inflict heavy blows on the Cabinet, is extremely peculiar. Politics will come to a standstill if it becomes normal for the opposition to declare that they won’t attend Diet deliberations (after a censure).

A reasonable person who reads this account with only this information might well assume that the LDP and the other opposition scum were playing politics and blocking the essential work of a nation facing the crisis of a disaster recovery while hobbled by an extreme overhang of debt.

Now here’s a painting with oils on a large canvas to provide a more accurate depiction:

* In 1995, two Marines and a Navy enlisted man rented a van and kidnapped a 12-year-old Japanese girl. They beat her, duct-taped her eyes and mouth shut, tied her hands, and took turns raping in her in the back of the van. The swabbie says he only pretended to do the deed because he was afraid of one of the grunts.

The existing Status-of-Forces-Agreement allowed the Americans to refuse to turn over the three men until they were indicted by a Japanese court. The Japanese, and particularly the Okinawans, were enraged, and with good reason: rapacious American servicemen are not uncommon in the Ryukyus, and the U.S. always protected their own by dragging out the legal process.

The land area of the Okinawan islands totals 877 square miles, on which is based 70% of the American military presence in Japan. American military installations occupy slightly more than 10% of all Okinawan territory. They include one Air Force base, one Navy aviation facility, and two Marine aviation facilities. In comparison, Rhode Island–the smallest of the 50 American states–has nearly twice the land area of Okinawa at 1,545 square miles.

The Americans again took their time before handing over the three men, which resulted in the largest anti-American demonstrations since the security treaty was signed in 1960. The incident was the impetus for the Hashimoto administration and subsequent Japanese governments to negotiate for more than a decade the move of the Futenma base to a different part of the island, with the Japanese picking up most of the tab. Hatoyama Yukio’s hollow unkept promise to move the base either outside the country or outside the prefecture was the final FUBAR that brought down one of the most short-lived Cabinets in Japanese history.

Then-Rear Admiral Richard C. Macke was appalled at the stupidity of the three men, who finally did serve Japanese jail time. For the same price as the van rental, he observed, they could have bought a prostitute instead. That earned him a forced discharge from the service and the removal of two of his four stars, which lightened his monthly retirement check by $US 1,500.

After his release from prison, one of the three rapists complained that he was forced to perform “slave labor” assembling electronics products. That sort of rent-seeking by that sort of person isn’t a winning strategy in this part of the world, and so he was ignored by all except the usual Adullamites with an anti-Nipponism outlook.

Ichikawa Yasuo started his career as an agriculture ministry bureaucrat. He resigned and later won two elections as a delegate in the Ishikawa prefectural assembly. One year after the Okinawa rape, he was elected to the Diet for the first time.

If he is not aware of the details of the case, he’s not qualified to run a pachinko parlor, much less sit in the Diet. That Noda Yoshihiko thought he was qualified to be the defense minister tells you all you need to know about Mr. Noda’s political acumen and qualifications to serve as prime minister.

* During the Fukuda Yasuo administration, when the Democratic Party was in opposition but held the most seats in the upper house, they devoted their energies to obstructing legislation and appointments to bring the government down. Illustrative of the party’s tactics, and indeed, the party itself, was their response to Mr. Fukuda’s appointment of Watanabe Hiroshi as deputy governor of the Bank of Japan. Hatoyama Yukio was DPJ secretary-general at the time, and he thought Mr. Watanabe was an excellent appointment. His view was echoed by Maehara Seiji, former party president and later defense minister, and the aforementioned Sengoku Yoshito.

Yamaoka Kenji

But Party President Ozawa Ichiro, the destroyer of worlds, saw this as another excellent opportunity to create a crisis. His political torpedo, Yamaoka Kenji, left a message on Mr. Watanabe’s answering machine telling him that “the party” was opposed to his appointment, with the unstated suggestion to take a hike. He never spoke to Mr. Watanabe directly.

The party’s initial acceptance of the Watanabe appointment notwithstanding, Mr. Ozawa imposed his will, the party then imposed its will in the upper house, and Mr. Watanabe did not get the job. In other words, he was subjected to a Japanese-style Borking.

Mr. Yamaoka has never served as a Cabinet minister, but after all these years of loyal service to Mr. Ozawa, he decided his CV needed some ornamentation. The extra salary and the perks were also probably an attraction. He was pacified with the consumer affairs portfolio, which is a Cabinet-level ministry only because of an ill-advised Aso Taro attempt to sell himself as a man of the people. He also is the minister for North Korean abduction issues, which shows how seriously the DPJ government views that problem. Now that Mr. Yamaoka was at last in an exposed position, the opposition saw their chance to use some of the dirt they’ve collected on the Ozawa crew. He was really censured for playing the role of a Democratic Party slimeball and for his Ozawa connection, thus reinforcing the linkage of Ozawa and dirty money politics in the popular imagination.

* Sengoku Yoshito’s comparison of the censures to “an infringement on supreme authority” loses quite a bit in translation. The Japanese phrase he used was 統帥権干犯, the identical expression critics in the Imperial Army used when Japan signed the 1930 naval arms limitation treaty. The treaty balanced the capital ship ratio for Britain, the U.S. and Japan at 5:5:3, while many in Japan wanted it set at 10:10:7. The essence of Japanese phrase is that the treaty was an infringement on the Emperor’s (then) supreme authority over the military, rather than the Cabinet.

In other words, by comparing the upper house opposition to pre-war military imperialists, Mr. Sengoku shows that Godwin’s Law is also applicable in Japan.

Then again, Sengoku Yoshito knows quite a bit about political standstills resulting from upper house censures. On 11 June 2008, the upper house, let by the DPJ and its allies, filed and passed a censure motion against Prime Minister Fukuda. It was the first censure of a prime minister under the current postwar constitution. It was passed just before the G8 summit with the intention of (a) humiliating him, and (b) forcing him to dissolve the lower house of the Diet. (He resigned instead and was succeeded by Aso Taro).

The ostensible reason for the censure was Mr. Fukuda’s handling of domestic issues, but that was just a convenient excuse. Seven months before, Ozawa Ichiro had hammered out a deal with Mr. Fukuda for a grand coalition government, a plan that was shot down by the non-Ozawa leadership in the DPJ. That led to a three-day minidrama in which Mr. Ozawa stalked off in a huff and returned in tears.

The same forces came together to censure Prime Minister Aso Taro in July 2009 and began to boycott Diet proceedings. The DPJ had filed a no-confidence motion against the Cabinet in the lower house, but it was voted down by the LDP majority. The point of this chabangeki was not that Mr. Aso had done something inexcusable; rather, it was to force the LDP to rally to his support instead of switching to a different prime minister for the lower house election that was due before the end of the summer anyway.

Indeed, it has only been a year since the upper house censured Mr. Sengoku himself, but unlike the excuses offered by the DPJ when they were in opposition, the LDP, New Komeito, and Your Party had plenty of good reasons: He takes pride in his obnoxious and belligerent behavior to the opposition; before taking office he bragged about how he would deliberately use lawyerly obfuscation to deflect questions on the Diet floor. There was also his responsibility for the Kan Cabinet’s mishandling of the Senkakus incident with the Chinese, in which the government tried slough off responsibility on the Naha prosecutors and refused to release videos to the public showing the behavior of the Chinese “fishing boat” skipper.

So, now that the precedent they created for frivolous hack attacks and besmirching party politics has come back to bite them for their own incompetence and venality, the Democratic Party has finally located the high road of statesmanship on their map. In fact, Mr. Sengoku even wonders if there’s any real reason to have an upper house to begin with.

To be sure, there is one important political element behind the censures. The Democratic Party is an inherently dysfunctional organization consisting of socialists/social democrats in one wing and the modern equivalent of the LDP’s Tanaka Kakuei (i.e., Boss Tweed) faction on the other, leavened by some Third Way types from Hosokawa Morihiro’s old New Party (Noda Yoshihiko, Maehara Seiji). Both Mr. Ichikawa and Mr. Yamaoka are Ozawa allies, which is the only reason Mr. Noda recruited them to begin with. The semi-constant threats of Drama Queen Ichiro and his minions to split the party if they don’t get their way create an inherent instability. The censure forces the socialist/social democrat wing of the party to back them, even though they can’t stand Ozawa and whatever it is he pretends to stand for these days, or finally get off the pot and dump them.

In addition to plain old incompetence, that instability is one of the primary reasons the DPJ government’s handling of the Tohoku recovery has been so catastrophic, surpassing even their failures to deal with the economy, Futenma, and Chinese hegemonism. The upper house censures have no bearing on the ability of the government to proceed with recovery and reconstruction — they showed months ago they lack even the most rudimentary of administrative abilities. A censure is a slap on the wrist compared to what they deserve. The sooner the Democratic Party ceases to exist in its present form, the better off everyone will be.

If Mr. Simon is anxious to deliver himself from the temptation of serious forehead banging, he should postpone any plans he might have to visit to Japan. After observing the local political fauna, he’d return home with welts from temple to temple.

Time to chase the crazy baldheads out of town.

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Ichigen koji (79)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, December 8, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

A major reformation seems likely to occur in Osaka. The national government is incapable of many of these reforms — that’s how interesting the work will be. I hope that Mr. Matsui (the new Osaka governor) and Mr. Hashimoto (the new Osaka mayor) will do their utmost to achieve those reforms. There are people in Tokyo and throughout the country who feel the same way. I think it would be wonderful if young people with vision from throughout Japan came to Osaka.

– Koga Shigeaki, government reformer and former official with the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. Both he and Hara Eiji, another reformer and former METI official, are likely to serve as advisors in a new body created by Gov. Matsui and Mayor Hashimoto to eliminate redundant services in the two governments and hammer out a uniform policy to establish a new prefectural-level government in the region.

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Onishi Hiroshi on the DPJ election

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, August 24, 2011

ONISHI HIROSHI, the head of a marketing and management consulting company, wrote a post on his blog titled The DPJ Presidential Election is already a Failure. Here’s some of it in English.

As always, the mass media’s coverage of the Democratic Party’s presidential election consists of repeated reports of pilgrimages to Ozawa and political wrangling with a spotlight on the map of the array of forces within the party. I wonder whether that has any meaning for the people. That situation was created, however, by the decision of DPJ leadership to limit the voting to party Diet members.

Today, the largest voting bloc that determines elections and holds the key to selecting a government is the floating votes of those who do not support a particular party. In other words, politics is not driven by organizations, but by people who have not been organized. When party executives did not create a platform for the party presidential election open to the people, it meant that the election would be a failure.

The trend from organizational votes to floating votes, and from organizations to the individual, will not be diverted. The reason is not solely the long-term decline in the rate of participation in organizations, such as labor unions. What former party president Ozawa Ichiro said before last year’s upper house elections is a fact: “We won’t be able to get one-third of union votes, and our daily activities are insufficient (to improve that number)”. In addition, farmers do not vote in a bloc as they once did.

We now live in an age of the “customer economy”, in which the power to lead the market is shifting from the supply side to the demand side. There has been a drastic transformation from the age in which mass media monopolized information to the age of social media, in which individuals disseminate information. The power to control politics has been transformed in the same way.

The DPJ leadership probably set up their election that way because they don’t have the time and don’t want to create a political vacuum. In an age that requires a certain temperament of political leaders, the selection of the DPJ president by Diet members alone is a failure in itself….

If a general election were held now, there is no question that the people, who have come to detest the DPJ government, would give their votes to other parties. The party who would absorb those votes would probably be the leading opposition party, the LDP. It is almost certain that the election would result in a rout which annihilated the DPJ and returned the LDP to power.

That (new) government would have to address and resolve many issues, however, including the changes to the global economy, rebuilding the Tohoku region, cleaning up after the Fukushima accident, salvaging the national finances, reexamining energy and social welfare policies, and the conversion of the industrial structure. That will require the strong trust and sympathy of the people.

But the sell-by date for the LDP has already passed, and their brand will not attract the trust or the sympathy of the people. Political instability would re-emerge with the passage of time.

It would be a good idea to create an open platform for the presidential election, but there doesn’t seem to be the time, and there is no sense (of the necessity for that) among party leadership.

(end translation excerpts)

Former Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji announced yesterday that he would be a candidate in that election. His ambition seems to have impaired his cognitive ability and prevented him from realizing that he is part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

As a former party president with the highest favorability rating among the public (which should be understood to be a relative, rather than absolute, phenomenon), he immediately becomes the favorite. Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko also understands this: There was a report that he told associates he knows he’ll lose, but also knows a failure to run at this point would destroy his political career (inside the party).

Some in the DPJ are well aware that Mr. Maehara’s baggage is unsightly. Here’s DPJ upper house member Hirata Kenji at a news conference on the 23rd:

Just because he (Maehara) resigned from the Cabinet does not mean he resolved all of his problems at one stroke. Of course the opposition parties do not think that was the end, either…It’s been only five months since he resigned to take responsibility for the fund donation problem. He’s unrepentant.

Mr. Hirata is referring both to contributions from people who are not Japanese citizens as well as reports of yakuza money. There are also unexplained ties with North Korea.

LDP upper house member Nishida Shoji, the man who earlier this year raised the questions in the Diet that resulted in the Foreign Minister’s resignation, had this to say:

Mr. Maehara may think he’s gone through the rites of purification, but all he did was resign without fulfilling his duty to explain. He hasn’t offered any explanation at all since them….By trying to move to center stage with no self-reflection at all means he is unfit to wear a Diet member’s badge.

And on an ominous note, he added:

There is no end to the number of problems he has.

Said LDP upper house MP Yamamoto Ichita:

We will have no choice other than to pursue the problem of politics and money from the start.

Try this post from March for more details on the Maehara resignation and the questions surrounding it. Those who’ve read it before might want to refresh their memories, particularly about matters North Korean. It will be an inoculation against reports in the Western media that have already cropped up asserting that Mr. Maehara is a “hawk” on North Korea.

That is incorrect.

Itagaki Eiken is a freelance journalist who once covered the Kantei for the Mainichi. That’s the Japanese equivalent of an American White House correspondent. Reading his articles require the eye of a jewelry appraiser, however. One has to be able to distinguish the probable facts from the conspiracy theories.

During his political striptease earlier this summer, Prime Minister Kan Naoto revealed his intention to have a summit meeting with Barack Obama in September when everyone in Japan expected him to resign by August at the latest. Mr. Itagaki wrote then that the Americans made it known to Tokyo they wanted to see Mr. Maehara come on the September state visit instead of Mr. Kan.

It’s getting more difficult to dismiss conspiracy mongers out of hand.

It’s also worth reading the Asahi English-language article at the “pilgrimages to Ozawa” hotlink. People are really getting cheesed that Ozawa Ichiro still has a voice in determining the identity of the prime minister. It’s also worth reading for an understanding of the Byzantine machinations the politicos concoct as a direct result of freezing out anyone but DPJ Diet members from the selection process.

The LDP had the same problem, but allowed party members from around the country to vote in the 2001 election won by Koizumi Jun’ichiro. Was his popular support over a five-year period a coincidence? (It ranged from a high in the 80s to a low in the upper 40s, and ended at 70%.) The willful blindness of the denizens of Nagata-cho is beyond surprising.

The article also says that both Sengoku Yoshito and Mr. Ozawa are opposed to the idea of a coalition government, as proposed by Mr. Noda. That’s the same Sengoku Yoshito who was reported to have been working behind the scenes just this spring to create a coalition government, and the same Ozawa Ichiro who worked out a coalition deal with then-Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo a few years ago.

If he becomes prime minister, Maehara Seiji will face stiff opposition from the day he takes office. One can already anticipate the griping in the English language media about the obstructionist tactics of the opposition and the bad old LDP.

As always, they’ll get it backwards. The questions they should ask instead are:

  • Why is he running at a critical time despite knowing that his hold is crammed with baggage that will create unnecessary diversions?
  • Why does the DPJ think his currently superficial popularity will offset that baggage and political abilities that are as substantial as the carbonation in a glass of soft drink?
  • Does the DPJ really think Mr. Maehara’s popularity will survive his performance in office?
  • Why can’t they offer someone more viable, more competent, or with more heft?
  • Does the party intend to hold an election soon to capitalize on their perceptions of Mr. Maehara’s personality, as members of the Maehara/Edano group suggested?

Were this not a government of the left, the media would have been screaming for a new lower house election long ago, but we’ll get whiny intellectual excuses instead.

Some in the DPJ think a replacement for Secretary-General Okada Katsuya is more important than the replacement for Kan Naoto. According to Mr. Okada, the party has banked JPY 13 billion (about $US 170 million) from their share of the government subsidies to political parties. A few party members are angry that more money wasn’t spent in last year’s upper house elections or this year’s subnational elections.

For any Japanese government interested in rebuilding the nation’s finances, those subsidies should be at the top of the list of any austerity measures.

The amount of the subsidy is based on the number of seats a party holds in the Diet. The result of an election would almost surely halve the number of seats the DPJ holds in the lower house (at a minimum), which would slash the subsidy proportionately.

Politics is often just simple arithmetic.

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