Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Fukushima M.’

Big bluster and the big bang

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, November 18, 2012

Left, nay; right, aye

(They are) people who brought forth self-interested proposals using our common property, such as “the new public commons” and “from concrete to people”. Those ideas are now so tattered no one will ever be able to wear them again.

– Ushioda Michio, member of the Mainichi Shimbun editorial committee, on the Democratic Party of Japan

ONE of Japan’s sports traditions is the national high school boys’ baseball championship at summer’s end. Teams play a single-elimination tournament for the right to represent their prefecture in the national round, and the prefectural winners play a single-elimination tournament to determine the national champions.

One tradition within that tradition is for the players of a losing team at the national championships to scoop dirt from the playing field to take home as a souvenir. The Yomiuri Shimbun observed a similar scene in the lower house of the Diet on Friday when Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko dissolved the Diet for an election next month. Several members, particularly first-termers from the ruling Democratic Party, pocketed the blue and white (actually plain) wooden sticks they use to cast their recorded votes. They know they’re not likely to use them again.

Big bluster

Speaking of baseball, one ancient observation about the game is that it doesn’t build character, it reveals it. The same can be said of politics, although it might be better to say that politics exposes character — or the lack of it.

Mr. Noda’s speech to the Diet dissolving the chamber was an exposure that revealed he never transcended his only defining characteristic before he became Finance Minister — big bluster. Every day for more than 20 years, he stood outside his local train station and delivered a political speech haranguing the commuters as they headed off to work. We’ve seen before that the content of those speeches bore no relation to his actions once he entered national government. The speech he delivered on Friday was just another page from the same script. It was a minor marvel of political surrealism.

He began by congratulating himself for a heroic performance in facing up to a difficult job, an assessment shared by 17% of his fellow citizens. He blamed most of the difficulties on the pre-2009 Liberal Democratic Party administrations, which suggests that someone’s been translating Barack Obama’s speeches into Japanese. He did not mention that the annual budget deficits of the DPJ governments are 500% higher than the 2007 Abe/Fukuda deficit, and roughly double the annual deficit when Koizumi Jun’ichiro took office in 2001. That suggests he borrowed the excuse for the same reason Mr. Obama created it.

The prime minister then hailed the great reforms achieved since the DPJ took control of the government three years ago. If you give the man on the street a week, perhaps he’d be able to think of one. He dismissed the Koizumi 2005 lower house landslide as a single-issue election, and said this election will be conducted on the basis of overall policy and the direction of the country. What he chose to ignore is that the single issue of Japan Post privatization represented the most important issue in Japanese domestic politics — breaking up the old Iron Triangle of politicians, the bureaucracy, and big business. Mr. Noda’s DPJ chose to turn back the clock, halt the privatization process, and place a Finance Ministry OB in charge of the operation.

And speaking of turning back the clock, the prime minister used that phrase while warning that the LDP would take the country back to the political Stone Age. One wonders why he thought it was convincing. He and those bothering to listen knew one reason the people gave up on the DPJ long ago was that their behavior was even worse than that of the old LDP.

He also attacked those who share the growing interest in amending the Constitution and ditching the pacifist peace clause. While the prime minister allowed that “sound nationalism” is necessary, it must not degenerate into “anti-foreigner rhetoric”. Unmentioned was that few people think Hatoyama Yukio’s claim that the Japanese archipelago was “not just for the Japanese”, bestowing permanent resident non-citizens the right to vote in local elections, and giving public assistance to a group of private schools run by a Korean citizens’ group affiliated with North Korea constitutes “sound nationalism”, if they had any idea what that means.

What perhaps drew the most derision was his rationale for dissolving the Diet that he presented during Question Time on Wednesday: He had promised to do so if certain legislative conditions were met, and he didn’t want to be considered a liar. If being thought a liar was so horrible, came the chorus of the media and the reading and thinking public on the Internet, why did he and his government break all of their promises in their 2009 election manifesto — starting with the promise not to raise the consumption tax?

The strangeness continued at the news conference following his speech. Mr. Noda criticized the LDP for their reliance on people from multi-generational political families. LDP President Abe Shinzo, for example, is a third-generation pol whose father was foreign minister and maternal grandfather was prime minister.

Of course Mr. Noda did not mention the first DPJ prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio, who (with his brother) has one of the longest political bloodlines in the Diet. He is the fourth-generation politico in his family — his great-grandfather was a Diet member in the 19th century.

The DPJ seems to be serious about this, though it is unlikely to have much of an impact on the electorate’s choices. Mr. Hatoyama got in trouble with his party for abstaining from a vote against the consumption tax increase, though he ran on a manifesto promising no consumption tax increase in four years. While he says he is willing to stay in the party he bankrolled with his mother’s money, he also thinks the DPJ could refuse to certify him as a party candidate. Mr. Hatoyama says he’s heard rumors that because Koizumi Jun’ichiro won acclaim for refusing to back former PMs Nakasone and Miyazawa in 2005, the party could give the same treatment to him.

How like the DPJ to misunderstand the difference. Mr. Koizumi made that decision based on the ages of the other two men (both were well over 80). But considering that Hatoyama Yukio was just as unpopular as Mr. Noda is now, and he might very well lose his seat anyway, the party could be looking for a way to present a candidate with a better chance of winning.

They’ve taken this strange step one step further. DPJ member and former 64-day prime minister Hata Tsutomu (in a different party) is retiring from his Nagano constituency as of this election. His son Hata Yuichiro is a DPJ upper house MP and the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport in the current Noda Cabinet. He wanted to resign his upper house seat and run for his father’s lower house seat, but the DPJ told him they would refuse to certify him.

In other words, he’s worthy of a Cabinet post and an upper house badge, but unsuited for the lower house. There’s no guarantee, incidentally, that the person they do certify for that district will even be from Nagano. (Meanwhile, LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru told them to knock off the performance politics.)

Big bang

The Japanese like to create unique names for events, and the wags have created a few for this one. It’s variously been referred to as the suicide bombing dissolution, the narcissism dissolution, and the flight-from-being-called-a-liar dissolution

Someone close to Ozawa Ichiro in People’s Life First Party said, “This is the ‘kill everybody’ dissolution.” By that he meant the prime minister took the step to forestall a dump Noda move in the party, knowing the DPJ would lose a lot of seats. He added, “This will kill all of us, too.”

But LDP head Abe Shinzo looked forward to it:

We in the LDP and the people have waited three years for this day. We are going to boldly confront them with policy.

My favorite comment came from Fukushima Mizuho, the head of the Social Democrats:

This dissolution was a coup d’etat by the prime minister. The social security reform and the dissolution were arranged by the DPJ, LDP, and New Komeito. The people weren’t consulted.

No, socialist activist lawyers masquerading as social democrats don’t know much about constitutional democracy or electoral politics, do they?

The most pertinent observation, however, came from Your Party chief Watanabe Yoshimi. He thinks this could be Japan’s political Big Bang.

The Japanese electorate has for years told the political class what it wants very clearly, and held them responsible when they don’t listen. They went big for small government, privatization, and reform in the 2005 Koizumi landslide. When the LDP turned its back on the Koizumi path, the exasperated public gave the opposition DPJ power in the 2009 landslide. Within months they were exposed as inept charlatans, and now all that land will slide on them.

You wouldn’t know it by reading the Anglosphere media, but voters in Japan spontaneously created their own combination Tea Party and Hope and Change movement long before either arose in the United States, both more ruthless than their American counterparts. They are quick to support the people who say what they want to hear, and just as quick to withdraw that support when they don’t walk the walk.

It’s a funny old world. All eyes were on the American presidential election this month, and few eyes will be on the Japanese election next month. The vote in Japan is of much greater interest, however. It will be a more compelling display of democracy in action than the one held in the United States.

Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Ichigen koji (163)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 6, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

We would have been a country capable of war had it not been for Article 9. The young people of Japan would have been sent to the battlefields as the young people of South Korea were sent to Vietnam. The South Korean army is hated by the Vietnamese.

We should be proud that Japan hasn’t killed anyone in a war since WWII. If Japan is being compelled to join a war driven by American interests in the future, Article 9 will be effective for refusing.

Q: How should we respond to an attack by another country?

A: I cannot conceive of a country attacking another country that has declared “We will not invade the world” with Article 9. Any country that attacked would be condemned by the rest of the world.

– Fukushima Mizuho, head of Japan’s Social Democratic Party and a human rights lawyer

Posted in International relations, Military affairs, Quotations | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Found in translation

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, July 24, 2012

It’s morning, and with it comes the nonsensical battle in which the anti-anti-nuclear energy forces defend the crude tactics of the Sankei Shimbun’s editorial page, which is feverishly mocking the anti-nuclear energy forces, who are feverishly defending the idiot Sakamoto Ryuichi. So good morning and how are you today?

– The Tweeter known as 4269 Jijitsujo no Chikuwa

THE lack of Japanese language ability is no impediment to understanding either the content or the tone of the disputatious uproar touched off by the Fukushima nuclear accident and Prime Minister Noda’s decision to restart the Oi plants in Fukui.

That uproar, which has frothed over into large demonstrations in front of the Kantei, has the identical characteristics of what passes for political and social debate in the West. One side is inebriate of the righteous high fueled by vibratory emotionalism, and no fact, argument, or person is about to kill their buzz. Were it not for the absence of trashing, smashing, burning, violence, looting, defecating, sexual assault, and squatting on property both public and private — this is Japan, remember — the anti-nuclear power advocates are an analogue of their brothers and sisters of the Occupy movement. They share the aerated craniums and the solidarity of show business personalities and the radical leftists delighted to find a new outlet for their destructive impulses.

The anti-anti-nuclear power advocates have their Western analogues as well. They alternate between the presentation of fact-based argument that points out the Fukushima cancer fears are absurd, and showers of ridicule and scorn when they realize that they too are only preaching to the converted.

Novelist and Nobel laureate Oe Kenzaburo has made a predictable appearance, and just as predictably, unloaded one of his freakish fantasies that the media found the space to print before it forgot about him again:

“Fukushima is the greatest crime against the world that Japan has committed…We must end this (situation) in which all Japanese benefit from atomic energy, and which will make children the victims of the future.”

But the anti-anti-nuclear power forces stopped paying attention to him long ago. Shooting the intellectual equivalent of dead fish floating at the top of the barrel is much too easy to be any fun.

Then there are the zombie politicians anxious to seize the moment and apply it as a defibrillator to the ribcage of their careers. Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio beamed down in front of the Kantei at the large demonstration last Friday in a sapless attempt to recover his irrecoverable relevance. He grabbed a microphone, stood before the cameras, and told the media within earshot:

“We must place the utmost importance on this new trend of democracy that all of you have created. I am the same. I want to perform a role that changes the trend. The walls of the Kantei have become so thick, they can’t hear… I too am seriously reflecting on my past mistakes.”

By past mistakes, Mr. Hatoyama means his previous call to increase to 50% the amount of power produced by nuclear energy in Japan as a means to ameliorate “global warming”, with all the new plants to be built underground.

Copping a lick from the Gesture Politics songbook, he then entered the Kantei and declared he would deliver the protestors’ message to Prime Minister Noda himself, who was in Kyushu at the time. (The prime minister’s daily schedule is printed in the newspapers every morning.) Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu had 15 minutes to spare for the man he once helped vote into office.

Mr. Hatoyama is so inspired, he says he will run against Mr. Noda in the DPJ presidential election in September. That will be just about the time his party privileges, suspended after his vote against the consumption tax bill, are reinstated. One of his aides, speaking anonymously to the press, said, “I have no idea what he’s doing now.”

Neither the public nor the anti-anti-nuclear power advocates had as much time to spare on the bandwagoner as Mr. Fujimura. Ikeda Nobuo summed it up and moved on:

“This is symbolic of the ‘outside the prefecture at a minimum’ Hatoyama. (That’s a reference to the Futenma air base in Okinawa.) It is just like Japan’s peace activists, free riders who make other people do the dirty work of the military while keeping their own hands clean…Many people damaged their lives by withdrawing from university after being arrested in demonstrations (in the 60s). Now they’ve gotten old, gotten mixed up in politics, and are getting their revenge. That is Mr. Hatoyama’s DPJ.”

That description would have worked just as well for Social Democratic Party head Fukushima Mizuho, had she not stayed in school, become an attorney, and defended those dropouts in court. She’s the Japanese version of the beady-eyed, punitive left who clad their intrinsic unpleasantness and in the boilerplate of high-minded idealism. You can see it in her face in the photo at the top, where she is standing to the left of Hatoyama Yukio.

Kan Naoto also created a brief ripple earlier this week when he publicly addressed Prime Minister Noda: “You have become the object of the people’s anger. Do you even understand this?” That statement, which would be serviceable as the Kan political epitaph, was sloughed off after a brief snort. Everyone saw through the undead’s transparent attempt at self-resuscitation by trying to hang his legacy on his successor.

Is that not a fitting requiem for the DPJ? Their first two prime ministers, the most unpopular national leaders in postwar history, think that soiling their successor is a purification ritual.

The serious ammo was saved for musician Sakamoto Ryuichi, the technopop pioneer and Academy Award winner who used his celebrity status to squeeze past the velvet rope lines and bouncers to claim a spot at the front of the protests. That celebrity cachet provides encouragement to the anti-nuclear power faction and the excuse to unleash a fusillade of rotten tomatoes by the anti-anti-nuclear power faction. The signal for the start of the barrage was this statement in particular:

“We should not place in danger the lives of children, who are the future of this beautiful Japan, for what is, after all, only electricity”.

Had Mr. Technopop a sense of proportion and shame, he would never live down that last clause. He might as well have written the script for his critics himself — he’s the man who used electricity to become rich and famous, moved to luxury digs in Manhattan, and paid taxes to the United States instead of Japan. Here’s one of them:

“Sakamoto lives 60 kilometers from Indian Point, which provides 30% of New York’s electricity and is said to be most dangerous nuclear power plant in the U.S. It’s time to let the ‘it’s only electricity’ New York royalty live the life of a peasant.”

And another from Tweeter Oda Masahiko:

“After all, it’s only music, so he should perform that technopop outdoors during the day with a flute and taiko drum.”

And the Tweeter Suimasenga ocha o ippai kudasai:

“Sakamoto Ryuichi asks why there should be any problem if the shift from nuclear energy to renewable energy means our electric bills will be a little higher.‏ Rich people sure talk differently than the rest of us…”

The quotation at the top of the page charges the Sankei Shimbun with crude tactics, but one of their ripostes was all the more devastating for its deftness.

They ran an essay written by Mr. Sakamoto in the culture section of their Saturday edition, the day after the Friday demonstration. Here’s the first part of it:

“As soon as you get off the airplane in any airport in the world, the distinctive culture of that country is revealed. People often mention soy sauce and miso for Japan, kimchee for South Korea, and curry for India. Perhaps that is a problem of preconceived images.

“What do you think it is for the US? I think it is air conditioners. You can hear their rumble and smell them as soon as you reach the airport. I remember that well from the time I came to New York. I’ve gotten completely accustomed to both the sound and the smell.

“Air conditioners were invented in the U.S. in the first part of the 20th century, and now they are an indispensable part of our lives. Perhaps it is because of the ”let it all hang out” attitude (おおらかさ) of Americans, but air conditioners in that country are noisy. No one asks that they be made quieter.

“Lately, however, that has begun to change. If you go to quality restaurants, cafes, or hair salons, you notice that they’ve gotten quieter. When you look closely, you see that’s because most of them are Japanese-made.”

All of this is to be expected by the mountebanks of the political class and the show business personalities motivated by the desire for publicity. That desire is particularly manifest among the once-prominent, still uncomfortable with being remaindered after their sell-by date. The idealism, to the extent that it exists, is appreciated only by their fellow travelers. Those of a different denomination discount it as soon as they hear it.

The attitude of those who are more often taken seriously as opinion leaders, however, has the potential to create greater mischief. Here’s Fujiwara Akio writing the Yurakucho (憂楽帳) op-ed for the 23 July edition of the Mainichi Shimbun:

“Just as I turned on the air conditioner in the kitchen because it was so hot, my 21-year-old son came home covered in sweat. While he expressed his appreciation for the cool air, he added, ‘Dad, you’re opposed to atomic energy. Isn’t it a contradiction to be using the air conditioner?’

“If that’s a contradiction, then contradiction is fine. You can still call for the abandonment of nuclear energy regardless of how much energy you use. It’s the same if you work for nuclear power-related companies or government agencies. The question is whether the contamination from radioactivity that occurred at Fukushima will never happen again for all of eternity, or whether you will entrust the disposal of nuclear waste to the people of the future whom you don’t know, when the final disposal sites have yet to be determined. The question is an individual’s ethics, not their energy policy.

“Opinions on any matter, and ethical matters in particular, should always be free, regardless of the consistency with one’s status, career background, standpoint, behavior, or history. That’s why criticism of the sort such as ‘How can Sakamoto Ryuichi talk about abandoning nuclear energy when he appeared in a commercial for electric cars?’, or ‘He used a lot of electricity in his technopop days’, only obscures the essence of the problem.

This in a country where everyone is being asked to cut back by 10% on electricity usage this summer. Those familiar with the decades’ worth of “do as I say, not as I do” editorializing by the self-congratulatariat in the West will recognize Mr. Fujiwara as a member of the same tribe.

The Mainichi’s just full of ‘em. Here’s another one that appeared earlier this week:

“The claim that we will suffer even worse disasters if we don’t resume nuclear power generation transcends common sense. I question the belief that money solves all, but the sense that there is no happiness without growth is the true belief of the establishment in all economic superpowers.

“Many people have offered opinions conflicting with that view of happiness. A Tokyo University student expressed the following opinion in Nagoya and was met with a wave of applause:

“‘Why is the premise economic growth? Even though the population is declining and the productive population is declining even faster, is it necessary to increase domestic goods and services? Is a society of mass consumption and mass production, in which we can get whatever we want anywhere, whenever we want it, truly a society of spiritual affluence?’

“Will we give priority to abandoning nuclear power over the economy, or vice-versa? Does success in the world depend on money, or not? The debate over the conditions of happiness will undoubtedly become the demand of history”.

Chances are the student will someday grow up and answer his own questions, unlike the author of the piece, though both have pitched their tents for now on Straw Man Island. In the meantime, chances are neither one will be sweating indoors this summer.

Here’s one reason the tone of the debate matters just as much as the content: The National Police Agency is now beefing up their defense of nuclear power plants and rethinking their anti-terrorist strategies, both for the plants themselves and the cooling facilities. They stationed personnel permanently at the plants shortly after 11 September 2001, and have had squads on 24-hour alert armed with submachine guns and sniper rifles since May 2002. The same sort of people who flew commercial airliners into office buildings have found in the restart of Japanese nuclear power plants the chance to restart their own mojo.

Sakamoto Ryuichi was in New York when the 9/11 attacks occurred. More than the attacks themselves, the American response troubled him. He thought the terrorism was a natural consequence of American behavior.

Extensive coverage was given to a report released last week that predicted perhaps 130 deaths would occur in the future from the Fukushima accident. Given less coverage was the fact that, assuming the number is correct, the total corresponds to 30 people per TWh generated. That’s much fewer than the 138 deaths per TWh that result from the electric power generated by fossil fuels, and not nearly as many as the almost 600 elderly people from Fukushima who have died, in part, due to the evacuations.

But if the professionally or avocationally outraged people mentioned in this post care about that, it would only be to resume their call to end fossil fuel generation too.

After all, it’s only electricity.

Posted in Politics, Science and technology, Social trends | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Almost pointless

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 5, 2012

None of this is worth critiquing. It’s just like a comic book. It’s not possible to say that those who would leave everything up to Mr. Ozawa are “representatives of the people”.
– Ishiba Shigeru, former Defense Minister and LDP policy chief

TELL it as a generic story and the citizenry would rise as one with a hearty cheer, carry the protagonist on their shoulders, and storm the seat of government to take control.

A national legislator with a knack for retail politics turns his back on the monolithic party that nurtured him and strikes out on his own. He publishes a book with his vision for the country. The introduction has such an arresting image that people are still moved by it 20 years later. He forges a coalition of eight small parties that brings down the monolith, which brings down his coalition the following year. He forms a new party and joins the monolith in another coalition, but leaves again when he sees he can’t change them from the inside out. He merges his party with the primary opposition party, molds them into a credible force, and teaches them how to win elections.

Three years after that opposition party has taken control of government in a landslide victory, most people either dismiss them as incompetent amateurs or despise them. Now coopted by the establishment, the party leaders decide to break one of their critical primary election promises and join forces with the other establishmentarians, including the remnants of the monolith, to force through an unpopular piece of legislation.

The protagonist strives to change their minds. When that proves impossible, he leaves the party before it can punish him for the crime of insisting they keep the promise they’ve broken, taking about 50 allies with him. He reads a statement to a news conference with a declaration of principle so clear that even his enemies cannot object to the integrity of its content. It says, in part:

The people who lay aside their promises with the public are trashing the people who would defend those promises. When the former punish the latter, they have it all backwards.

Now tell the same story and insert the name of Ozawa Ichiro as the protagonist and listen to the cheers turn to jeers. An Asahi Shimbun poll found that only 17% of the public supported the passage of the consumption tax increase during this Diet session, yet an FNN poll revealed that only 11.1% of those surveyed had any expectations for the new party Mr. Ozawa is expected to form as a result of his opposition to the hike. (It will be the fourth new party he has created.) More telling is that 73.2% of the respondents disagreed with the statement that Mr. Ozawa is opposed to the consumption tax increase because he’s putting people’s lives first — the slogan of the DPJ, the party that’s doubling their tax rate.

After 20 years of Ozawa observation, people have concluded that for him the word “principle” is code for finding an excuse to amass power and money. Some remember that he was all in on a bureaucracy-inspired consumption tax increase during the Hosokawa administration when he floated a plan to raise it to 7% and allocate it to welfare expenditures. Some remember that he was also all in on breaking the political promise to prevent a different tax increase at the end of 2009. The DPJ said it would abolish the “provisional” gasoline surtax (it had been provisional for more than 30 years), thereby reducing taxes by JPY 2.5 trillion. When the Hatoyama government compiled its first budget that fall, Mr. Ozawa as party secretary general insisted that the tax be maintained and the revenue diverted to the general account. In those days, his demand was their command.

Finally, some people remember that 19 years ago to the month, Mr. Ozawa led another 50 Diet members out of a different ruling party, that one the LDP. (It was 54, to be exact.)

If anyone in Japan is saying anything positive about these Ozawa-events and those to come in the foreseeable future, they’ve been drowned out by the Tokyo equivalent of Bronx cheers.

An explosion less destructive than loud

It hasn’t helped that Mr. Ozawa can’t get his own ducks in a row. Neither could the New York Times, as they wrote incorrectly:

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda suffered another setback on Monday when the largest faction of his governing Democratic Party quit in protest over a proposed tax increase.

The Ozawa faction might have been the party’s largest with an estimated 100 members, but only 52 of them volunteered to jump ship, two of those changed their minds at the last minute, and one more won’t join the new Ozawa party. Some of his allies abstained from voting and stayed in the party, while a third element actually voted for the bill.

As one Twitter wag put it: “That group is nothing more than a party at a karaoke box.” The numbers are short of the total needed to submit a no-confidence motion in the lower house, even with the support of his allies from different parties.

Rather than serve out front and take the heat as prime minister himself, Ozawa Ichiro prefers to establish in that position metrosexual figureheads whom the female public is more likely to find appealing. His first was Hosokawa Morihiro (whose reputation in the Diet derived from his blue blood, family wealth, and perpetual quest to shag yet another staffer), and his last was Hatoyama Yukio, the man who reminded Nakasone Yasuhiro of melted ice cream.

Mr. Ozawa seemed to be grooming Haraguchi Kazuhiro, the internal affairs minister in the Hatoyama Cabinet, for that role in the future, and told him he would be a key man in a new party. Mr. Haraguchi was quite the toady two years ago, frequently stopping by the great man’s office to lick his boots and receive political instruction. He also fired an early shot at Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s back from within the party just before the Tohoku disaster extended the latter’s political life by three or four months.

But understanding that it won’t be easy to win election as a DPJ member the next time around, and next to impossible as a member of the New Ozawans, Mr. Haraguchi not only refused the offer, he dissuaded other people from bolting the party. In their gratitude, the DPJ “severely cautioned” him for abstaining from the consumption tax vote, rather than vote against it. Meanwhile, they threw out 37 members who voted against the bill and resigned from the party (you can’t quit, we cast you into the wilderness!), suspended for two months the party privileges of 18 people who voted against the bill but stayed in the party, and suspended for six months the privileges of former Prime Minister and party founder/bankroller Hatoyama Yukio, who also cast a nay vote. (Mr. Hatoyama’s explanation for his decision captured the absurdity of the situation. He said he couldn’t vote for the bill because “my face is on the cover” of the party’s manifesto that contained the promise not to raise the tax for four years.)

Mr. Ozawa is telling people that his current objective is to put together a Japanese version of the Olive Tree coalition of smaller parties to create a Third Force in politics. The original Olive Tree ruled Italy on and off from 1995-2001 and consisted mostly of various shades from the sinister side of the political spectrum, including social democrats, communists, and greens. The term was coined by Romano Prodi, a former “leftist Christian Democrat” who became prime minister. In 2001, the Olive Tree’s only self-identified centrist party was known as “Democracy is Freedom – The Daisy”.

It is not clear why Mr. Ozawa describes the goal in terms of the Italian group, considering that his coalition of eight parties with Hosokawa Morihiro as prime minister predated the Olive Tree by a year.


Be that as it may, that tree will produce little, if any, fruit. Instead of creating and leading a bandwagon of his own, he’s jumping on an existing one that doesn’t want him aboard. The parties he wants to aggregate into a coalition are the regional groups that have captivated the popular imagination and — the part Mr. Ozawa likes —- win elections by large margins. They include Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru’s One Osaka, Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi’s Tax Reduction Japan, and Aichi Gov. Omura Hideaki’s Aichi is Top of Japan (yes, I typed that properly). Others mentioned as partners are a possible new party created by Tokyo Gov. Ishihara Shintaro and the vanity New Party Daiichi of Suzuki Muneo, known primarily for holding the record for days spent behind bars by a Diet member. That Mr. Suzuki is the only one who might be interested captures the absurdity of this situation.

From Matsui Ichiro, the One Osaka secretary general and Osaka governor:

“There are many areas of incompatibility with their manifesto and our policies, so we will not join with people in a political group who would implement that manifesto.”

He’s referring to the DPJ manifesto and the DPJ’s failure to adhere to it, which is the nominal reason for the Ozawa revolt.

Kawamura Takashi and Omura Hideaki are thought by some to be likely recruits. Mr. Kawamura is on good terms with Mr. Ozawa, and the three met publicly in Tokyo one day after the stunning Kawamura/Omura election victories in February 2011. Mr. Kawamura was sympathetic (he also left the Democratic Party), but said he has no plans to form an alliance now.

“He had no choice, because the DPJ broke its election promise. ..I would like to talk with them about their thoughts on tax reduction and eliminating nuclear power, but first we’ll work together with Mr. Ishihara and Mr. Hashimoto.”

Ishihara Shintaro was more direct. Here he’s quoted by the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Ishihara also said Thursday in a radio program of Nippon Broadcasting System: “Nobody expects anything of Mr. Ozawa’s new party. I’d never [tie up with it] even if I had to die.”

And Omura Hideaki hasn’t said anything in public about Mr. Ozawa that I could find. He’s limited himself to criticizing the DPJ-LDP-New Komeito “collusion” to increase taxes. “I hate that kind of practice,” he said. Mr. Omura much prefers an alliance with One Osaka, and said their respective platforms are “80%-90% identical”.

The natural alliance for these groups is with the Watanabe/Eda-led Your Party, whose views on an Ozawa alliance are similar to those of Ishihara Shintaro.

But one of the national parties is interested in working with the New Ozawans: the Social Democrats, Japan’s version of the flannel-headed death spiral left who’d have had their own perch in the Italian Olive Tree house. Said party head Fukushima Mizuho:

“The Noda Cabinet has ignored the people and ignored voices within the DPJ, so the bill has come due with a large defection. I’d like to form a policy alliance with Mr. Ozawa and the others based on opposition to the consumption tax increase and nuclear power, if we can.”

All of this is an excellent illustration of the Japanese proverb Taizan meido shite, nezumi ippiki 大山鳴動して鼠一匹 (The mountain rumbles and brings forth a mouse.)

When a political mountain rumbles and produces a litter of mice that consists of a handful of long-time loyalists, first-termers beholden to the mount for their seat, and the likes of Suzuki Muneo and Fukushima Mizuho, it is proof that the mountain has been downgraded to a molehill.

The only fruit on this tree.

The political platypus that is the Democratic Party is splitting up into something that will be more internally manageable. Most of the remnants will resemble the American Democrats — Third Wayers at the moderate end, and people who realize that being part of a smaller, more openly leftist party isn’t a viable career option at the other. But as the weekly Shukan Bunshun suggests, it will be hell to join the new Ozawa party, and hell to stay in the DPJ. Many of the splitters and splittees both will be looking for work after the next election.

This Ozawa-DPJ timeline from the Jiji news agency might help put the recent events into focus.

September: Dissolves Liberal Party into the Democratic Party
December: Becomes acting president of the Democratic Party
May: Withdraws candidacy just before the election for DPJ president after the resignation of Kan Naoto, as well as other offices within the party.
June: Forms the Isshinkai study group in the party
November: Assumes role of deputy party president at the request of party president Okada Katsuya. (He or his acolytes later conducted an anonymous note/backstabbing campaign against Mr. Okada in the 2009 party presidential election that Hatoyama Yukio won.)
September: Refused request of party president Maehara to become acting party president. (Ozawa = oil, Maehara = water. They mix just as well.)
April: Wins election for party presidency after resignation of Maehara Seiji.
November: Cuts a deal with LDP Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo for a coalition government (reportedly because he thinks the DPJ has no one capable of serving in government and they need the training). The pre-Ozawa DPJ leadership rejected the deal. He quits the party presidency in a tear-stained press conference and returned three days later. Now, four years later, the same people who rejected the idea of a coalition government have entered a de facto coalition with the LDP and New Komeito to pass the tax legislation, an arrangement that Mr. Ozawa objected to.
March: Aide arrested in connection with violation of political funds law involving money from Nishimatsu Construction. The DPJ had just taken the lead in national polls for the first time ever in January. They lost the lead immediately after the arrest.
May: Resigns party presidency, becomes acting party president
September: Becomes party secretary-general when the Hatoyama administration took office.
September: Loses to Kan Naoto in party presidential election.
November: Forms Hokushinkai for young party members.
January: Indicted for violation of political funds law.
February: Party membership suspended; stories circulate that he will be thrown out if convicted.
June: Does not appear in Diet to vote for no-confidence motion the opposition submitted against Kan Naoto, after he encouraged it. It was likely to pass until what is now the core DPJ leadership cooked up an arrangement the night before to keep Hatoyama Yukio on board.
August: Supported Kaieda Banri for party president after Mr. Kan resigned. Mr. Kaieda lost.
December: Starts new policy study group
April: Acquitted of political funds law violation.
May: Ruling appealed.
June: Votes against consumption tax increase.
July: Leaves party

Some politicians write their own books (Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson), and some just put their name on the cover. We now know that Profiles in Courage was written by a committee chaired by JFK. Ted Sorenson did most of the actual work, but didn’t receive the Pulitzer Prize. Both Bill Ayers and Michelle Obama have said that Ayers wrote the first Obama book. (His speechwriter wrote the second.) Now we find that other than the famous introduction, Ozawa Ichiro’s Blueprint for a New Japan was also written by committee. One of the authors was a then-unknown Takenaka Heizo, later to become the mainstay of the Koizumi Cabinet.

Here’s a blast from the past, written in 2008:

An extremely influential LDP politician who headed the party’s upper house members, Murakami Masakuni was one of the Gang of Five who controversially selected Mori Yoshiro in secret to replace Obuchi Keizo as prime minister after the latter’s stroke. Though he resigned due to a financial scandal (and is now in jail), Mr. Murakami is said to still wield significant influence behind the scenes.

The Sunday Mainichi (weekly) attached a brief interview with Mr. Murakami to the end of its piece about Hiranuma Takeo, in which the former “upper house don” gave his predictions for the next two years. Here they are:

“In two years the LDP-New Komeito coalition will not be in power. The next election will see a shift in the LDP’s strength relative to the opposition DPJ, resulting in an Ozawa Administration. The DPJ won’t have the numbers to form a government by themselves, but they will ally with Hiranuma’s new party for an anti-LDP, anti-New Komeito government. Once it is out of power for two years, the LDP will break up.”

Saying that the LDP would break up if it were to spend two years in the opposition is the easy prediction. Here’s the prediction Mr. Murakami won’t make: The Democratic Party of Japan would break up before it spent two years in power.

First, there are too many incompatible groups within the party for it to survive a disposition of the spoils and the determination of a uniform party policy. People have kept their mouths shut until now for the sake of party unity. They’ll stay open loud and long once they’re in a government together.

Second, we have the example of Mr. Ozawa’s previous experience at governing—albeit behind the scenes—with a coalition consisting of eight oil-and-water groups during the Hosokawa-Hata administrations. They lasted a combined total of 10 months.

If either an Ozawa Administration or the DPJ itself sticks around longer than that, chalk it up to the favors of Lady Luck.

There you have one of the few political predictions I’ve ever made on this site: The DPJ would break up as a unit two years after taking power.

And so it has. I was off by nine months.

Not that it was particularly prescient. It was obvious. All anyone had to do was look.

Only one musical performance could serve as a theme to this sequence of events, and that’s Sakata Akira’s version of Summertime. (It’s seasonal, too!) It also might wake Gershwin from the dead. Watanabe Kazumi, who has made many discs of his own, is playing guitar. I have an old Sakata comedy/music LP on cassette tape. This video offers but the merest glimpse of his strangeness in all its over-the-top glory.

Posted in Government, History, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Hashimoto Toru (3): Other policies, other views

Posted by ampontan on Friday, March 30, 2012

**This is the third of a multi-part series on Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and the phenomenon he represents. The first is here, and the second is here.**

Japan is now in a crisis state, so we have to put it all on the line to make a real change in the form of the country.
– Hashimoto Toru, 24 March

WHILE the centerpiece of Hashimoto Toru’s proposals for Japan is the radical devolution of authority to local government and to cut big national government down to size, his policy menu would be a wonk banquet if he were the sort of mobile mannequin-pol that appeals to most policy wonks. He insists that most of his proposals are starting points for discussion, and that politicians should enter at the end of the process, rather than the beginning. Finally — unlike 99.44% of the world’s politicians — he serves his banquet straight up, with neither the meat nor the words minced.

Earlier this year, Mr. Hashimoto drafted a statement of general principles and guidelines for his One Osaka movement that he titled Ishin Hassaku, or eight policies of renewal. It was a deliberate modification of the title of a similar document called Senchu Hassaku written by Sakamoto Ryoma, a samurai/activist in the final days of the Edo period. His “eight shipboard policies” became the basis for the later Meiji-period reforms. All Japanese of secondary school age and older understand the reference immediately.

He explained the reason for the document:

“Our work is to determine the course of Japan. We will develop a concrete philosophy for policy, politics, and government administration. The ones who don’t have that are the current political parties. Both the DPJ and the LDP are in a stupor.”

That last sentence is also immediately understood by all Japanese of secondary school age and older.

The mayor sometimes refers to it as the Great Reset. Now here’s his explanation of the basic principle:

“The argument of the Isshin Hassaku is simple. One Osaka will achieve, as the image of the nation for which we strive, a nation of individuals who behave independently, regions that behave independently, and a nation that behaves independently. To achieve that, it is indispensable to establish a democracy and a government mechanism capable of making decisions and accepting responsibility, and to promote the vitalization of the generation active today.”

The mention of decisiveness and responsibility refers to everyone in the legislative and executive branches of the national government in general, and the Democratic Party administration in particular.

The document’s eight sections cover such topics as the restructuring of governing institutions and reforming education. They include the direct election of the prime minister, the institution of the state/province system, the abolition of regional tax distribution, the abolition of education committees (i.e., boards of education), and the integration of pension, welfare, and unemployment programs.

To explain further, the Constitution requires that the prime minister be a sitting member of the Diet elected by the Diet members. That requirement has been abused by decades of passing the washtub, in the Japanese phrase, of the prime minister’s position among the members of the ruling party without voter input. The LDP started it, but the DPJ liked it just fine after they got a taste of their own. Putting it to a popular vote would require a Constitutional amendment, and the public might be up for that. All Japanese of secondary school age and older understand that the status quo is untenable.

In fact, his One Osaka ally, Osaka Prefecture Gov. Matsuo Ichiro, said earlier this week he thought anyone should be able to run for prime minister as long as they had 20 sitting MPs back their candidacy. That immediately generated speculation the intended beneficiary would be Mayor Hashimoto himself (though the process to enable his candidacy would take some time), but the idea has enough merit on its own to warrant serious discussion. What they’ve got now isn’t good enough, and the DPJ has shown everyone that it isn’t going to get better.

The young lawyer makes a television appearance.

The abolition of the regional tax distribution from the national government would mean giving greater authority to the sub-national governments to raise their own revenue. (Where I live the prefectural government now sells advertising on the autos for public sector use.) The abolition of the education committees refers to his effort to make local government executives the final authority for education, rather than professional educators. That issue will be presented in more detail in a later installment of this series.

When Mr. Hashimoto unveiled the Ishin Hassaku, he explained that it contained “guidelines for political thought” for the next lower house election, but that it wasn’t an election manifesto/party platform. “If we submit something like the DPJ manifesto,” he asserted, “it would be a failure.” The document intentionally contains no numerical targets, because it is supposed to be a rough guide for changing the system.

Such is the political discourse in our age that the media and his political opponents immediately called it a manifesto and criticized it for not being more specific in the way manifestoes are supposed to be. Among the newspapers, the Sankei has since dialed back on their language and now call it a “de facto manifesto”.

Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio observed that Mr. Hashimoto had learned a lesson from the failure of the DPJ’s 2009 manifesto. Of course, we’d be here all week if we were to mention all the lessons everyone learned from the failures of the DPJ since 2009. The first would be not to take anything Hatoyama Yukio says seriously.

Mr. Hatoyama forgets that he wasn’t so anxious to call a manifesto a manifesto either in 2009. Just before the election that year, as party president, he rolled out the DPJ manifesto to great fanfare, with banners over the stage heralding the arrival of The Manifesto, a word that was printed in big red letters on the front cover. Then the governor of Osaka prefecture, Hashimoto Toru objected the document was not specific enough about the devolution of authority. Mr. Hashimoto was massively popular even then, so the DPJ rewrote it and resubmitted it a few days later. When the media quite rightly questioned the process, Mr. Hatoyama insisted that the first one wasn’t really a manifesto but a “collection of government policies” instead. (The story is here. I’d congratulate myself for my prescience about what a DPJ government would be like if it hadn’t been so bloody obvious.)

Other policies

We’ve seen before that he’s proposed a two-year national discussion on Article 9 of the Constitution, the inaptly named Peace Clause, followed by a referendum. He thinks it’s time for Article 9 to be history, and recently restated his position:

“Ceaseless efforts are required if you would maintain a tranquil life. The people themselves must do the work. The text (of the Constitution) has caused us to forget that completely.”

Wealth redistribution

In one of his famous daily Tweet-a-thons, the governor wrote:

“There’s the idea of the negative income tax. This is one item for consideration as a way to further develop Basic Income.”

University professor and commentator Ikeda Nobuo, who tends to hold the governor at arm’s length, was impressed. He wrote, “It is unprecedented for this (idea) to emerge in Japanese policy discussions.” Look closer and you’ll see that he’s discussing two social welfare schemes, one from the Right in Milton Friedman’s negative income tax idea, and one from the Left with the Basic Income idea, which Prof. Ikeda attributes to Andre Gorz and others. It’s also important to note that the governor says it is “an item for consideration”, if only because his critics charge him with dictatorial tendencies. Dictators are not usually guys who willingly say, “Let’s talk about it.”

Prof. Ikeda then offers a simple comparison of the basics.

The concept of negative income tax involves the positive taxation of income that exceeds the minimum taxable amount, and negative taxation, or providing some of the funds obtained to people with incomes below the minimum taxable amount.

If the minimum taxable income is set at JPY four million, for example, and the tax rate is 20%, the amount of income exceeding that benchmark would taxed at 20%. People with incomes below that amount would receive 20% of the difference between their actual income and the minimum taxable income. A person whose income is JPY two million would receive a benefit of JPY 400,000 as 20% of the JPY two million difference, giving him a total income of JPY 2.4 million. Based on the same calculation, people who earned nothing would receive JPY 800,000.

Prof. Ikeda goes on to say there are different approaches to Basic Income, and uses one of those approaches as an example. Assuming JPY 800,000 would be distributed to those with no income as the basic income, a person who earned JPY 2 million would have that amount taxed at 20%, resulting in JPY 1.6 million. To that amount would be added the Basic Income of JPY 800,000 to get JPY 2.4 million, or the same amount that person would receive under the negative income concept.

Regardless, he says, the idea is to eliminate conventional social welfare, which is one of Mr. Hashimoto’s key proposals. Prof. Ikeda holds that the current system is unfair because it distributes funds from young people of relatively modest means to older people who are financially better off. Since the issue is income rather than age, the idea is to eliminate public pensions, welfare payments, unemployment insurance, and long-term care insurance (nursing for the old and infirm) and integrate those schemes into either a Basic Income or negative income tax system. He also notes that it would eliminate the vast expenditures for the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare.

Prof. Ikeda admits it would be difficult politically to eliminate the existing substantial benefits under the current system. He also says it would generate concerns of an infringement of property rights, because Japanese pensions are two-tiered and include both corporate payments and personal payments.

Maintaining the status quo, however, means that the current pension system will go bankrupt in 20 years, and enormous taxation would be required to offset a JPY 800 trillion yen shortfall.

That’s the reason the proposed increase of the consumption tax is such a contentious issue in Japan. The Finance Ministry estimates that expenditures for pension, healthcare, long-term care, and “demographic problems” will exceed JPY 40 trillion in 2015. The current 5% consumption tax produces about JPY 13 trillion in revenue, or about or 30% of the amount required for those expenditures. Raising it to 10% would result in JPY 27 trillion of revenue — says the Finance Ministry. Some people are even calling for an increase in the tax to 30% to make up the difference.

That explanation is what makes opponents so livid. The Finance Ministry ignores that a tax increase of that size will depress consumption, which will depress the economy, resulting in lower-than-projected revenues. That’s exactly what happened when the tax was raised from 3% to 5% during the Hashimoto Ryutaro administration. (To be accurate, the tax revenues that fell were those from the income tax and corporate taxes. Consumption tax revenue rose.) Current deflationary conditions would make the impact worse today.

The assumption that the status quo of the system should be maintained regardless of the impact on the finances of both the nation and the individual households also angers people. (This is what people mean when they say we’re witnessing the collapse of social democracy.)

So — Mr. Hashimoto jumps on the third rail of politics everywhere and insists that changes have to be made because the current system is untenable and the government/bureaucracy’s solution is unworkable. He then offers in a public forum possible solutions for the problem, one from the left and one from the right, neither of which is well known in Japan, and suggests that everyone mull them over.

Combine that with his communication skills and ability to win big in elections, and now you know why he scares the vested interests of the national political and bureaucratic class, as well everyone on the Left.

North Korea

Mr. Hashimoto spoke to a group of family members of North Korean abductees in early February. He told them:

“The national government must express its thinking more clearly. I have no idea what they want to do….Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka will not permit the abduction problem (to continue). I want to clearly express the view that we will have no relations whatsoever with the outlaw state of North Korea until they become a normal country.”

He also said he would tighten the government’s requirements on providing public (financial) assistance to schools in Japan operated by Chongryeon, the North Korean citizens’ association:

“All the local governments throughout the country can do that if they want. Why is it that the national government cannot issue this sort of directive?”


He serves the chair of a Kansai area federation of local government heads. At their last meeting, he suggested that the mayors of Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe should use their cities’ stock holdings in Kansai Electric Power to create a new, non-nuclear energy strategy, though he didn’t offer specifics. The governor of Nara is generally opposed to Mr. Hashimoto’s schemes, so he does not participate in the group. That might explain why the group decided to back a proposed route through Kyoto instead of one through Nara for a maglev train line.

Governmental systems

One Osaka wants to create a system that allows the prime minister to leave when required to attend to business overseas. This week, the debate over the budget started in the Diet just as the leaders of the U.S., China, and South Korea were meeting to discuss ways to handle North Korea. Asks Mr. Hashimoto:

“What about Japan? As usual, the prime minister is chained to the Diet.”

While recognizing that Diet debate is one means of democracy, he suggests it is not an absolute that requires the prime minister’s constant presence. Just as a company president doesn’t have to do everything himself, he wrote, there are questions the prime minister doesn’t need to answer in person, and these should be delegated to his representatives. He tips his hat to Ozawa Ichiro by repeating the latter’s charge that out-of-control bureaucrats in the past appeared in the Diet and gave whatever answers they liked, but says it is the job of the leading “politicians’ group” (he didn’t call it a party) to control the bureaucrats’ answers.

As for what being chained in the Diet meant in practical terms on this occasion, here’s a report from Kyodo:

“With Pyongyang’s planned rocket launch looming over East Asia, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda had the perfect opportunity at this week’s global nuclear summit in Seoul to raise Japan’s presence in dealing with North Korea.

“But Noda missed out on the chance as he arrived in Seoul only on Monday evening, skipping a working dinner that officially kicked off the two-day Nuclear Security Summit, and barely engaged in substantive bilateral talks….

“The prime minister was instead preoccupied with his key domestic task — pushing the consumption tax hike on which he has said he is “staking my political career.”

“Prior to his trip to South Korea, Noda had been tied up with Diet deliberations on the tax hike, with his Cabinet aiming to approve the key bill Friday.”

Kyodo doesn’t tell us that Mr. Noda is preoccupied about a lot more than the tax increase. There is also the possibility that the issue will splinter his party and force either an immediate election or an alliance of the tax hikers in the DPJ with those in the opposition LDP.

Outside observers, in brief

The 5 February edition of the weekly Sunday Mainichi offered some observations of Hashimoto the politician from others in the same business who’ve seen him in action. Here’s one from a member of the Osaka City Council, who chose to remain anonymous.

“One thing he’s got going for him is that he didn’t make the blunder of dashing into national politics right away as soon as he achieved a little popularity. He’ll probably select candidates (for the lower house election) based on the circumstances of each election district and after probing the response of those around him. He’s a very solid strategist.”

A man identified only as a veteran LDP politician said he had exceptional skill at enhancing his presence:

“From the voters’ viewpoint he looks hot-blooded or emotional, but in fact he’s the opposite. He’s cool, settled, very objective, and makes shrewd calculations. He’s very shrewd at sizing up a situation and advancing or withdrawing accordingly…with all the attention on him now, he’s showing interest in national politics, and observing the course of events. Because he always views circumstances with a certain detachment, he can maintain his popularity and increase the level of opinion in his favor. He’s a politician that’s very much his own man, and that can’t be imitated.

“(Former Prime Minister) Koizumi had Iijima Isao to orchestrate his appearances and make sure he wasn’t overexposed, but Mr. Hashimoto seems to have been born with that knack. He might even be better at it than Koizumi.”

The author of the Sunday Mainichi article suggested that his strategy is to hold off on running himself in the next lower house election — he’s 42, so he has plenty of time — but instead place some of his people in the Diet to establish a foothold and form alliances with like-minded people, such as those in Your Party or any other new regional party members that might get elected.

When asked about the possibility of an alliance between One Osaka and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru quite logically observed:

“Mr. Hashimoto is winning acclaim because he’s anti-existing political parties. It would be a difficult decision for them to ally with the LDP, an existing political party.”

Incidentally, Mr. Ishihara supported the creation of an Osaka Metro District during the November election in Osaka.

To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction

That someone as outspoken, specific, and fearless as Mr. Hashimoto will attract critics and enemies is as immutable a principle as Newton’s Third Law. Here’s a brief look at a few:

Sengoku Yoshito, former Chief Cabinet Secretary in Kan Naoto’s first Cabinet, speaking of the Osaka Metro concept:

“The core body of self-government is the basic government of municipalities. The prefecture should leave things up to the city. I wonder how well (his idea) would work.”

Works in Tokyo, doesn’t it? Mr. Sengoku is presenting the DPJ’s vision of decentralization — doing away with prefectures and organizing everything around 300 fiefdom/cities. It makes more sense when you know that Mr. Sengoku (like Kan Naoto) doesn’t believe in nation-states, but rather a worldwide network of communities in a New World Order guided by such bureaucratic globutrons as the UN and the EU.

Anyone could have guessed that Social Democratic Party head Fukushima Mizuho, the vile body of Japanese politics who’s always up to some black mischief, wouldn’t like Mr. Hashimoto:

“A policy of bringing the principle of competition into education and discarding (teachers) is very dangerous…As for the Osaka Metro concept, I have no idea what they’re talking about with many of the points. I’m going to watch this carefully.”

She knows exactly what he’s talking about. She has to monitor Mr. Hashimoto because he’s orbiting on the other side of the galaxy from social democrats.

Ms. Fukushima used the same I-don’t-know-what-he’s-talking-about line for Abe Shinzo’s vision of a Beautiful Japan, even though he wrote a book about it. She knew what that was all about too. She just finds distasteful the idea that her native country in particular, or any nation-state in general, is beautiful.

Indeed, most commentators pro and con agreed that during the Osaka election, the arguments made for the Osaka Metro plan and those of its opponents were clearly stated and easy to understand.

But here’s my favorite — you can almost see the spit fly. It’s from Ichida Tadayoshi of the Communist Party. A reporter pointed out to Mr. Ichida that some of the One Osaka policies, such as those for nuclear energy, the tax system (i.e., consumption tax) and social welfare were similar to those of Japan’s Reds. He didn’t like that:

“There is absolutely no match at all. Even though in some places it looks like some of the letters in the words are the same, there is no value in critiquing the policies of a person who would trample on the freedom of thought and conscience guaranteed in the Constitution.”

Isn’t it entertaining to watch a Marxian fulminate over freedom of thought?

Meanwhile, over in Japan’s English-language press, the boys and girls who play newspaper at the Japan Times made a bad Kyodo article worse by trying to convince readers that Kansai political leaders don’t like the Hashimoto plan to reorganize the prefecture/city. Here’s the first paragraph.

“Osaka Mayor-elect Toru Hashimoto’s administrative reform plan has only limited support so far among prominent local leaders, with just six openly backing his proposed bureaucratic shakeup, a survey has found.”

That story falls apart as soon as they fill in the details.

“The survey polled the mayors of Japan’s 18 officially designated major cities, and the governors of the 13 prefectures that host them, excluding Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka.”

Here are the results:

In favor: Four governors (Niigata, Aichi, Kyoto, and Hyogo) and two mayors (Niigata and Nagoya). There’s a similar reorganization proposal being discussed in Niigata, by the way.

Opposed: One governor and three mayors, all unidentified, perhaps to protect them from constituents.

Neutral: 21

So the total is 6-4 in favor and 21 sitting on the fence with their fingers in the wind. Now here’s the headline the Japan Times ran:

Few leaders back Hashimoto’s plan

And you just know the kids are congratulating themselves on their cleverness.

Finally, try the Japanese Wikipedia page on Mr. Hashimoto for the portrait photo. Thousands of photographs have been taken of Mr. Hashimoto since he was elected governor of Osaka five years ago, but this is the one someone thought was representative. Now we know that Wikipediatric immaturity is an international phenomenon.

Coming next: There isn’t room here to describe the policy positions that most upset his enemies, so that will come later in the series. The next installment will present his use of Twitter as a weapon. In the process, the reason he generates such strong opinions will get a lot clearer.


I make it a matter of principle to forget about links to the Japan Times in the same way it’s a matter of principle not to pay to see an Oliver Stone movie (much less watch one). I made an exception for the Kyodo article about Prime Minister Noda because it is so delicious when the denizens of La Tour D’Ivoire unwittingly reveal their overeducated vacuity. Here’s the end of the article:

“As things stand, political observers already see Japan as having little influence over North Korea, unlike China and the United States.

“Japan is a peripheral player with no significant leverage over Pyongyang” despite its strong interests in changing North Korea’s hostile policy, said Denny Roy, senior fellow of the East-West Center in Honolulu.

“According to Roy, who focuses on Asia-Pacific security issues, “Japan is trapped into a noninfluential role unless it gives up its tough position on the abductee issue.”

“Yoshihide Soeya, director of the Institute of East Asian Studies at Keio University, said Japan’s North Korean policies are being held “hostage” by domestic sentiment over the abductions, which has compelled the government to take a hardline stance.”

It isn’t often we see such a short, concentrated burst of willful ignorance from oblivious, self-important people. And then there’s the stupid — there is no other word — attempt of Mr. Soeya to be clever by describing Japanese policy as held hostage because the Japanese public is outraged their citizens were (and might still be) held hostage by an outlaw state.

North Korean agents conducted black ops in Japan by kidnapping innocent civilians — including a mother and her young adult daughter, two young lovers on a moonlit stroll, and a 13-year-old girl on her way home from school — removing them to the Prison Nation, and forcing them to teach the Japanese language and culture to their agents whose assignment was destabilizing Japan.

How unfortunate for Japan that “domestic sentiment” (i.e., they’re so angry they could spit) is tying the hands of the Japanese politicos, when they could be do-goodering for the international community, such as sending food to feed the North Korean army, or money to feed the lifestyles of Pyeongyang’s rich and nefarious.

Denny Roy might ask some of the people on the street outside his Honolulu office what they would think had Cubans done the same to Americans, and never fully ‘fessed up — and even offered fraudulent birth certificates for premature deaths.

Has he read this article, or would he care if he did?

“His first memory is an execution. He walked with his mother to a wheat field, where guards had rounded up several thousand prisoners. The boy crawled between legs to the front row, where he saw guards tying a man to a wooden pole.

“Shin In Geun was four years old, too young to understand the speech that came before that killing. At dozens of executions in years to come, he would listen to a guard telling the crowd that the prisoner about to die had been offered “redemption” through hard labour, but had rejected the generosity of the North Korean government.

“Guards stuffed pebbles into the prisoner’s mouth, covered his head with a hood and shot him. In Camp 14, a prison for the political enemies of North Korea, assemblies of more than two inmates were forbidden, except for executions. Everyone had to attend them.

“The South Korean government estimates there are about 154,000 prisoners in North Korea’s labour camps, while the US state department puts the number as high as 200,000. The biggest is 31 miles long and 25 miles wide, an area larger than the city of Los Angeles.

People are meeting in South Korea because everyone is concerned of an imminent North Korean missile launch. But just last month:

“A U.S. delegation has just returned from Beijing following a third exploratory round of U.S.-DPRK bilateral talks. To improve the atmosphere for dialogue and demonstrate its commitment to denuclearization, the DPRK has agreed to implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches.”

Denny Roy says Japan is “a peripheral player with no significant leverage”.

So, as a missile is being gassed up a month after a deal not to launch one, might we ask just who does have significant leverage? (The Chinese probably do, but they’d rather be part of the problem than be part of the solution.)

And why be a player in a pointless game?

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Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Government, International relations, North Korea, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Who’d a thunk it?

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 11, 2011

The press is so powerful in its image-making role that it can make a criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal.
– Eldridge Cleaver

THE late Black Panther and codpiece trouser purveyor was speaking the truth, but he was also speaking before the Internet, personal computers, and social networking changed the topography forever. As Glenn Reynolds, a law professor and proprietor of the Instapundit website, put it 10 years ago:

We’ve got computers…21st Century warfare turns out to be marked, as much as anything, by the inability of people to spread outrageous lies undetected. This is a major loss of comparative advantage for the Fisks of the world.

By Fisks, he’s referring to the British journalist Robert Fisk, whose name has become a verb denoting the dismantling of a piece of journalism or op-ed of greater-than-usual stupidity, nonsense, or prevarication from the industrial mass media. Fisk himself was the original target of Fisking, and that target was as easy to hit as the proverbial broad side of a barn. Nowadays, however, people have bigger Fisks to fry and have moved on. Fire has more recently been focused on economist Paul Krugman, who shut down the comment function of his New York Times blog after so many people so easily and so frequently made sport of him. One can understand the Krugmanian dilemma — rare is the Nobel Prize laureate who will sit still for being exposed as a third-rate hypocrite.

After all these years — well, about 15 or so, starting with the launch of Windows 95 — even the lesser lights among them should have gotten a glimmer. They’re still groping in the dark, however, in part because they still manage the odd success, as those who paid attention to their treatment of candidates from both parties in the 2008 American presidential election will remember. Further, one aim of most of those working in the smokestack industry of the 21st century, young and old alike, is to push a narrative and specific political objectives. (As one of them explained to me, that is “to fight for social justice”.) The True Believers never give up, no matter how often they get their noses rubbed in their own fun, like puppies that have ruined a carpet.

They’re still marching resolutely into the 20th century at the Foreign Policy website operated by the Washington Post, one of the most porculent of the remaining Pterodactylus Americani. The parent company should have known the jig was up after the meltdown of Newsweek, the weekly newsmagazine they once owned. It was sold last year for the princely sum of one US dollar. The price was right, considering how many people still read it.

In this case, the gang at Foreign Policy offers a feature profiling the 100 Top Global Thinkers 2011. This exercise in mid-20th century journalistic self-importance has nothing to recommend it apart from the brief and unintentional comedy that results from wondering what FP thinks is thought after seeing their selections for the Hot One Hundred. One of the funniest choices is their token Japan representative: Fukushima Mizuho, head of the Social Democratic Party, and her “partner”, Kaido Yuichi. They were deemed global thinkers because they are anti-nuclear activists.

The Japanese are understandably thrilled when one of their countrymen wins international recognition. Nobel Prizes, Olympic medals, Academy Awards, and astronauts are usually front page news, but not this time — one could almost sense the puzzled looks on the faces and unspoken WTFs in the minds of the reporters who were assigned to write up the story for the print media. Ms. Fukushima’s honor rated two short paragraphs at the bottom of page two in my local newspaper. It was as if they were embarrassed to even bring it up. I read three accounts (from that newspaper, the Asahi, and the Sankei), and none of them had much to say about it, other than a brief recitation of the facts. That even the Asahi, which shares the WaPo/NYT political philosophy, couldn’t get excited, tells the casual observer all he needs to know.

This isn’t a case of the prophet without honor in her own country, either. The only reason anyone knows about Fukushima Mizuho is that she has a Diet seat. The only reason she has a Diet seat is the proportional representation system, as she is incapable of winning a popular vote in an election district. (In fact, only one of the party’s handful of Diet members sits there because of an outright election victory.)

As for her “partner” (i.e., common-law husband) Kaido Yuichi, I’d bet cash money that I could stop 100 people at random on the street and no one will have heard of him…unless, perhaps, we were standing across the street from the Social Democratic Party headquarters.

What Foreign Policy didn’t tell their readers about Japan’s Foremost Global Thinker says a lot about Foreign Policy:

* The party she heads, the Social Democrats, was just the plain old Socialists until the fall of the Berlin Wall forced them into rebranding. Their charter included kind words for Karl Marx. They developed close ties with North Korea, and sponsored an annual “Peace Cruise” to Pyeongyang. (They disliked South Korea because it was a dictatorship rather than a People’s Republic.) As an attorney, Ms. Fukushima has been associated with the defense of radical terrorists of the left.

* She believes that Japan should adopt Costa Rica’s stance of unarmed neutrality. (Even the famously neutral Swiss are armed to the teeth with private weapons.) This is for a country whose immediate neighbors include China, Russia, and North Korea. Perhaps that position is not as suicidal as it seems: After all, the Social Democrats do share a philosophy with China, the old Soviet Union, and North Korea.

* When Japan sent troops to the Middle East in a UN peacekeeping operation, she objected because they were to be given sidearms for self-protection.

* She opposes Japan’s use of the anti-ballistic missile system. One of her arguments against the system in the Diet was that the successful interception of a missile over Japanese territory could create debris that might injure people on the ground. This caused audible laughter in the chamber.

* Not only is she opposed to nuclear power, she is opposed to all but the greenest power. If she has ever come forward with a credible plan for economic growth (she’s a party leader, remember), it’s escaped everyone’s notice.

* She managed to hoodwink the Wall Street Journal’s reporters last year into believing that her opposition to American military bases was limited to the Futenma installation in Okinawa. To be sure, there is some truth to that. The Japanese left has admitted that the American presence allows them to have their cake and eat it too. They get to bash the Americans in public while tacitly accepting their presence. They know the Japanese public would demand a robust domestic defense establishment if the Americans weren’t there to pretend to do it for them.

Stand up for the defense of one’s own country? Perish the thought!

There’s more, but you get the idea. Connect the dots and you get the same sort of blame-yourself-first leftist common in the West. The two paragraphs the Foreign Affairs website allots to her global-level thought are so thin, they’re almost not worth fisking. Here’s a sample:

Fukushima, the lawmaker who leads Japan’s Social Democratic Party, and her partner, Kaido, a public-interest lawyer, have spent three decades resisting Japan’s nuclear rise in their respective arenas: parliament and court. But the cozy nuclear plant operators and government officials who make up Japan’s so-called “nuclear village” largely ignored their efforts — that is, until this year.

The so-called “nuclear village” residents, as well as the rest of the country, are still ignoring their efforts, and will continue to do so. (Note, by the way, that “cozy” works in this sentence only if it modifies an invisible noun.)

The Fukushima Daiichi disaster has now forced the island country to re-examine the safety of its nuclear facilities.


And isn’t it interesting that Foreign Affairs thinks it needs to remind its presumably adult readers that Japan is an “island country”?

Naoto Kan, Japan’s prime minister until he resigned in August, called in July for Japan to wind down its nuclear program, and his successor, Yoshihiko Noda, agrees.

As soon as Mr. Kan called for the nuclear program to wind down, his chief cabinet secretary, Edano Yukio, explained that the prime minister really meant “one of these days in the future”. Mr. Noda has offered lip service of his own, but he’s unlikely to offer more than that.

Kan also requested the closure and upgrade of a power plant in the earthquake-prone coastal city of Hamaoka, a facility whose safety Kaido had called into question nearly a decade earlier.

Since no one at Foreign Affairs seems capable of reading a Japanese newspaper, here’s what actually happened: Work on upgrading the safety measures at Hamaoka had already begun before the problem with the Fukushima plant. Kaieda Banri, then Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, which is responsible for the oversight of nuclear power in Japan, had quietly negotiated with the plant operators and reached agreement with them for a voluntary suspension of operations. When Mr. Kaieda was about to make the announcement, Kan Naoto instructed him to stand down and went before the public with a demand for the shutdown himself.

And people wonder why Japanese prime ministers don’t last long in office.

Today, Fukushima and Kaido see a changed political horizon. As Fukushima told the New York Times in August, “Although I won’t be able to change the past, I think I can change the future.”

The national political horizon is still as occluded as ever, and she can’t change the future, no matter how much her fellow travelers in the West would wish it to be so. She doesn’t have what it takes to make a difference, either in the Diet or the greater marketplace of public ideas. Indeed, just this week the lower house of the Diet authorized the export of Japanese nuclear power technology to Vietnam, Jordan, Russia, and South Korea.

But to fully understand the pointlessness of this Foreign Affairs space filler, we can put aside Fukushima Mizuho and look at the other people cited as Global Thinkers. One of them was His Adolescency himself, the recipient of an equally irrelevant trinket — the Nobel Peace Prize — that renowned public intellectual and thinker of deep thoughts, Barack Obama.

Stiffen your stomach muscles — they actually praise him for his foreign policy vision of “leading from behind”. (This qualifies as comic relief too.) The FP also shows some diversity in their choice of “intellectual heavyweights”, as they put it. On the one hand, they hail the pacifist Fukushima, and on the other give Obama credit for greasing Osama bin Laden. Meanwhile, Ben Bernanke and Dick Cheney also make the list.

To conclude, here’s some credit where credit is due. The illustration of Fukushima Mizuho on the Foreign Affairs website, crude though it is, does capture her personality well. Still, it is curious they didn’t use a photo of her, yet managed to come up with one for the other 99, including an obscure Egyptian novelist.

Bonus bogus journalism postscript from Forbes!

Here’s the headline:

Japan to adopt Bhutan’s principles of Gross National Happiness

This will come as news to the Japanese. With the DPJ government, adopting a fairy tale as public policy is a real possibility, but no one’s agreed to adopt anything yet.

Here’s the facepalm lede:

After a visit from the young King of Bhutan and his beautiful new pride (sic), Japan got “Gross National Happiness” fever, it seems…

Either Lisa Napoli needs to use a different thermometer, or should use the one she has on herself.

A minimally competent journalist aware of events in Japan would have known that then-Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio was scheming with Kan Naoto and Sengoku Yoshito in January 2010 to hold meetings on GNH that summer. The fever caused by the pride of Bhutan had nothing to do with it. Since Mr. Hatoyama didn’t make it to the summer himself, I thought this idea had been relegated to the back of the closet, but it seems not. Leave it to the DPJ to ignore the real for the mochi in the picture.

It’s hard to tell what’s going on from the Forbes article, because the link they provide is a kissing cousin of gibberish. The article concludes:

Lots of other governments are investigating these principles, like France, Great Britain, Brazil, the state of Maryland and the city of Seattle….as it becomes apparent that numbers only aren’t enough.

Yes, lots and lots of other governments, and numbers aren’t nearly enough. Other “principles” need to be factored in, such as this one from the Bhutanese GNH pioneers:

Concerns about safety were high in Bhutan’s rural areas, for example, not because of crime, but because of fears of wood spirits and wild animals.

While it’s true that GDP is an inaccurate metric, as China’s potempkin cities demonstrate, there’s nothing to be gained from moving from the inaccurate to the invisible. Well, other than excuses for creating new, air-based and public money-funded social programs. How like the left to ignore the activities that provide the most people with the most well-being, security, and health in favor of taking the national temperature and worrying about passing clouds of emotional ephemera. How unlike Forbes to fall for it.

The last word on honors should go to the late Richard Feynman, a man who won the Nobel Prize for doing something real.

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Ichigen koji (58)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 15, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

The Nikkei Shimbun quoted the responses of the leaders of the five major opposition parties to Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko’s inaugural speech in the Diet this week. Here they are.

That method was straight out of the past. The bureaucrats wrote it.
– Tanigaki Sadakazu, Liberal Democratic Party

There was no explanation of any specific approach on their part as a government. I felt that it left something to be desired.
– Yamaguchi Natsuo, New Komeito

My impression was one of flowery language connected by bureaucratic boilerplate.
– Watanabe Yoshimi, Your Party

An examination and soul-searching of the DPJ’s response to the earthquake/tsunami and nuclear accident is needed.
– Shii Kazuo, Communist Party

It was a bureaucratic composition with no central axis. It was like the LDP before the change of government.
– Fukushima Mizuho, Social Democratic Party

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Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, September 14, 2011

IF Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko hadn’t realized there were risks in appointing people who required training wheels to the most important Cabinet positions, he knows it now. It took less than a fortnight for former METI chief Hachiro Yoshio to slip on two banana peels and take a pratfall into the airshaft, quickly casting a pall over any inicipient Era of Good Feelings that bubbled up with the departure of Kan “The Millstone” Naoto.

That pall may well deepen with the Democratic Party’s response to the incident. Whether they’ve finally understood that the waiver from the journo ambuscade they enjoyed until 2009 has expired, or that the people they’ve appointed to critical positions in this Cabinet won’t be ready for prime time until the end of the decade — or both — the party is taking steps to deal with the problem in its own inimitable way. Said Koshi’ishi Azuma, the new secretary-general:

With our 411 Diet members, unity of strength results from unity of spirit. Properly recognizing the weighty decision of former Minister Hachiro, we will fully enforce information management, including our response to the mass media.

It’s not surprising that Mr. Koshi’ishi is openly talking about “information management” as a mechanism for interacting with the news media. He’s a card-carrying member of the left flank of the party’s left wing, and was an official of the Japanese Teacher’s Union when the union president was an open sycophant of North Korea’s Kim Family Dynasty. The shift to managing the news required only a short hop. The skip and the jump weren’t necessary.

Prime Minister Noda in the Diet

So instead of an Iron Curtain, the DPJ’s Red secretary-general is going to bring down the Koshi’ishi Curtain after Mr. Hachiro, an ex-Socialist, talked himself out of a job in nine days, and after Matsumoto Ryu, an ex-Socialist, talked himself out the Reconstruction Minister’s job in even less time earlier this summer. And who can forget Yanagida Minoru, an ex-Democratic Socialist, who talked himself out of the Justice Minister’s job last fall after all of two months? He resigned after saying that his job was a snap because all he had to do was repeat two meaningless stock phrases to stiffarm any questions.

Let’s go out on a limb and say a pattern is starting to emerge.

Meanwhile, all seven opposition parties are livid that the DPJ government decided to convene an extraordinary Diet session for a mere four days. (That includes New Komeito, which Mr. Noda has been trying to sweet talk into a coalition.) The Liberal-Democrats asked them to extend the session to late October, but the government did not deign to reply.

When asked the reason for such a brief session, DPJ lower house Diet Affairs chief Hirano Hirofumi explained that it was because the new Cabinet ministers were inexperienced. That was too much for even Social Democratic Party head Fukushima Mizuho, who retored, “Cabinet ministers are Cabinet ministers from the day they take office.”

The party’s Diet management resulted in some unpleasantness during Mr. Noda’s first address to the chamber as prime minister yesterday. Some heckling goes on during the speech regardless of the party in power, but a few LDP members amped up the level so drastically, it was as if they were trying to shout the man down.

Even DPJ Senior Advisor Watanabe Kozo admitted they had a reason to be sore. He thought the government should have at least convened a meeting of the lower house Budget Committee to have the Cabinet face Question Time. (The opposition party leaders will get to question Mr. Noda one-on-one, however.)

So, just two weeks after being shed of Kan Naoto, the Noda Cabinet has royally cheesed off the news media and the opposition parties. That sound you hear is battleaxes being sharpened on whetstones.

Didn’t get off on the good foot, now did they?

For reference, this is what the Good Foot looks like.

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Quick hits on the Noda Cabinet

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 3, 2011

“Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko’s personnel choices for his first Cabinet are a safety-first lineup that emphasizes intraparty reconciliation, as were his selections for party officers. After some soul-searching, they realized the loss of the government’s momentum was due to the party’s internal disputes. But an introspective approach that places priority on the party’s internal stability makes it difficult to see a path to Japan’s recovery during this national crisis.”
– Front page editorial in the Nishinippon Shimbun, which generally supports the Democratic Party of Japan

“It’s a mosaic Cabinet into which pieces of different colors and shapes have been forcibly jammed.”
– Yamaguchi Natsuo, New Komeito president

“It’s a Cabinet designed to prevent intrigues and prevent an internal party revolt.”
– Fukushima Mizuho, Social Democratic Party president

“It’s a Cabinet with internal party balance, just like in the old days of the Liberal-Democratic Party.”
– Oshima Tadamori, vice-president of the Liberal-Democratic Party.

“The Cabinet’s directly connected to the world of business and finance.”
– Shii Kazuo, Chairman of the Japanese Communist Party, referring to Mr. Noda’s immediate visits to the heads of the country’s three largest business organizations, including Keidanren. (Members of the Kan Cabinet visited Rengo, the trade union organization, instead.)

“Posts were handed out as rewards, and the Cabinet is straight on the path to tax increases.”
– Watanabe Yoshimi, president of Your Party

“The composition is good, isn’t it? (Prime Minister Noda) was quite mindful of everyone.”
– Ozawa Ichiro, former Democratic Party president

“If this Cabinet is unable to meet the people’s expectations, the Democratic Party of Japan does not have the ability to be responsible for government. This is a do-or-die Cabinet.”
– Watanabe Kozo, senior advisor of the Democratic Party of Japan

“Though Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko stresses that he is the son of an officer in the Self-Defense Forces, he appointed Ichikawa Yasuo, a novice in defense and security matters, to the post of Defense Minister. I am unable to understand the intent behind this appointment.”
– Abiru Rui, Kantei correspondent for the Sankei Shimbun. Mr. Ichikawa has a degree in agricultural civil engineering, and once served in the Agriculture Ministry. He is also a member of Ozawa Ichiro’s faction.

“I am a novice in defense and security matters, but that represents true civilian control.”
– Ichikawa Yasuo, Defense Minister in the Noda Cabinet

“That (statement) merits immediate dismissal from the Cabinet, and it also calls into question Prime Minister Noda’s discernment.”
– Ishiba Shigeru, former Defense Minister in an LDP government

Mr. Noda’s Cabinet selections have impressed the news media as being singularly unimpressive. Journalist Kakutani Koichi went so far as to suggest that people of such little consequence were chosen because it would be easier to shunt them aside if the prime minister were able to create a grand coalition with the opposition parties. The Cabinet includes:

Azumi Jun as Finance Minister. Mr. Azumi was an NHK announcer before becoming a politician and has no discernible qualifications for this post. In fact, he has never been a full Cabinet minister before, yet was given one of the three most important portfolios. He is, however, a dependable partisan attack dog. The Nikkei share price index fell 146 points shortly after his appointment was announced.

Gemba Koichiro as Foreign Minister. Mr. Gemba has been a professional politician since the age of 26 and has no discernible qualifications for this post, either. He is in favor of reinterpreting the Constitution to allow for collective self-defense. He opposed the efforts of Kan Naoto and Sengoku Yoshito to reopen discussions of reparations payments to South Korea by reminding them that the issue had been resolved by the 1965 treaty between the two countries when Japan paid the South Korean government the equivalent of $US 800 million.

Hachiro Yoshio as Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry. Mr. Hachiro also has a degree in agriculture and is a veteran of the Socialist Party, which speaks eloquently to his qualifications for his new job. He is also a member of a Diet group (mostly from the DPJ), who urge friendly ties with North Korea and think the problems with that country’s nuclear missile program can be resolved by closer ties with South Korea. Mr. Hachiro is opposed to participating in the discussions for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a regional trade agreement, which Mr. Noda supports. The prime minister retained in his Cabinet another prominent TPP opponent, Agriculture Minister Kano Michihiko.

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Is that duck just lame or is it dead?

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 5, 2011

– A Japanese proverb meaning that no matter how much one regrets an event after it is concluded, one can’t undo something that occurred because of one’s negligence or tardiness

IT NOW seems that soon-to-be former Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s attempt of political jujitsu on his co-founder of the Democratic Party of Japan will result in his spectacularly clumsy pratfall, as noise is leaking out from Democratic Party sphincters that he will resign no later than August (if we can take his word this time). It’s tempting to say that will be the perfect capstone to the career of the classic dullwit who thought he was clever, but some will disagree. One of them is Nishimura Shingo, an MP with the Sunrise Japan party, who has also passed through the LDP and the DPJ entrails:

“Kan Naoto’s finishing moves are superb. He’s an inept prime minister, but no fool. He would have been perfectly suited as an activist for the Comintern or any Communist organization.”

Another reason it wouldn’t apply is because Mr. Kan didn’t dream up that cockamamie scheme by himself. He’s not capable of it, but the roughly dozen people who did put it together knew it would appeal to him. That back story might give us a glimpse of a possible post-Kan administration. It’s not a pretty sight, but we’ll get to that shortly.

Hatoyama Kunio told a journalist he thought the no-confidence motion had no chance of passing until his brother Yukio called him on 30 May. After that conversation, he began to think it just might be possible. He met former Health Minister and former LDP member Masuzoe Yoichi of the New Renaissance Party the next day and laid out the plot. Ozawa Ichiro and his allies would form a new party, but public opinion would be “very allergic” to any political group involving Mr. Ozawa. They wouldn’t be strong enough to establish a prime minister on their own, so they would team up with the LDP to support a new Prime Minister Masuzoe.

Mr. Masuzoe liked the sound of that.

Meanwhile, on the night of 1 June, People’s New Party chief Kamei Shizuka phoned Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio:

Kamei: “Is it your intention to self destruct? Do it (tell him to resign) if you have to grab the prime minister by the neck.

Edano: “I’m thinking of telling him.”

Perhaps bored with completing the assembly of his shiny new political toy, however, Hatoyama Yukio kept hope alive that he could talk Mr. Kan into stepping down. Later that night 10 people met at the Kantei and hatched a plot to leverage that hope to their benefit. The draft of the document to which Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Kan agreed the next day was hammered out under the direction of Sengoku Yoshito and Edano Yukio, the former and current chief cabinet secretaries. Both men were attorneys before entering politics, which explains why the memorandum and Mr. Kan’s insistence on following it to the letter had the stench of the barrister about it.

Naoto explaining on the 3rd how he put one over on his pal Yukio

Several wheels were spinning in different directions simultaneously. The primary objective was to kill the no confidence motion and stay in power — any other solution hastens the day they return to the opposition benches. They decided to heave Mr. Ozawa and his allies from the party if 40-50 of his DPJ allies crossed the line and voted for the motion. That would allow them to retain their lower house majority and get rid of the Great Destroyer at last. DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya wanted to X him out before the vote, but Koshi’ishi Azuma, head of the party’s delegation in the upper house, said in effect, over my dead body. (Personal loyalty can sometimes be thicker than ideology. A teachers’ union veteran, Mr. Koshi’ishi’s philosophy of the left is closer to that of Messrs. Kan, Sengoku, and Edano, but he’s developed close ties with Mr. Ozawa in their efforts to make the DPJ a serious political party.)

The group planned to eject the rebels even if the no-confidence motion passed. That would cause the loss of their lower house majority, but they had something clever planned for that one, too. Option C was reportedly a time-limited coalition government with the LDP and New Komeito. The Sengoku Reconstruction and Recovery Cabinet — steady, steady — would also work for entry into the TPP and the return of multiple-seat election districts that the LDP and New Komeito seek.

In short, the government would be directed by a man who is every bit as odious as Kan Naoto, but more dangerous because of his intelligence and capabilities. Bringing back the old electoral system would be a step in the direction of bringing back the bad old politics of the past. It would greatly expedite recovery and reconstruction, but at a price higher than the outlay in yen.

Worse yet, it’s still possible. And Mr. Sengoku is the man the opposition absolutely positively could not work with six months ago.

The primary objective, however, was to dupe Mr. Hatoyama and keep Mr. Kan around for awhile without having to resort to a drastic political realignment. The final wording of the memorandum was worked out between Hirano Hirofumi, Mr. Hatoyama’s chief cabinet secretary, and Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi, who selflessly found the time to spare from his duties of protecting the nation from foreign attack.

Mr. Hirano and Mr. Okada were present during the Hatoyama-Kan meeting. Here’s how the conversation is said to have gone:

Hatoyama: Will you resign when the basic recovery bill is passed and the outlook is established for the second supplementary budget?

Kan: Yes. I agree.

Hatoyama: In that case, please sign here.

Kan: We’re members of the same party, so please trust me. I’m not that attached to the position of prime minister.

After the meeting, Mr. Hatoyama reported on the conversaton to Ozawa Ichiro:

Ozawa: How far did you press him?

Hatoyama: I’ll talk about that at the (party) meeting.

Following the vote that rejected the motion, Mr. Hatoyama spoke with some allies as they waited for an elevator in the Diet office building:

“We still can’t let down our guard. If he doesn’t keep his promise, we’ll have to convene a meeting of (our) Diet members with 150 — no — 250 people.”

Wrote freelance journalist Itagaki Eiken:

“Immediately after the DPJ was created, former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio bluntly told me that Mr. Kan could not be trusted. Several times after that, he grumbled that he had been deceived by Mr. Kan. Was he fooled by Prime Minister Kan Naoto again?”

Is the Emperor Shinto?

Mr. Kan appeared for Question Time in the Diet on Friday. Ono Jiro of Your Party came straight to the point:

Ono: When you held your discussion with former Prime Minister Hatoyama, did the commitment to resign arise?

Kan: I, somehow, under this condition…uh…the idea that I made some promise, if you’re talking about the idea that I made that promise, there was absolutely no promise like that at all.

That was his story, and he stuck to it:

“I said it in the sense of the stage when the outlook for heading in the direction of creating a new society, that direction…Our party has many exceptional people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. Then I will pass the responsibility on to them, and hope they do their best.”


“In my conversation with former Prime Minister Hatoyama, there was no sort of promise other than what was written on that document with the items of agreement…the agreement with Mr. Hatoyama was as written on that document. I think it best if I refrain from saying anything beyond that.”

One can visualize Sengoku and Edano, attorneys at law, advising him to clam up on any question beyond the language of the memo.

The news media loved what happened next. Here’s Hatoyama Yukio:

“That’s a lie. The prime minister and I discussed the conditions for resignation.”

Over to you, Naoto:

(shouting) “What’s he saying! That’s not written on the paper!”

Former MP Yokohama Mayor Nakata Hiroshi summed up the exchange:

“When I heard the story about a resignation after the outlook for recovery was set, I thought the Ozawa-Hatoyama side and the Kan side purposely made it vague to prevent a DPJ split. Now I see they’re just trading charges and counter-charges over who said what. This was not a political decision by adults. It’s something even lower than children’s squabbling.”

A Hatoyama associate, probably Mr. Hirano again, told the media:

“In the conversation with the prime minister, the idea that he would hand over authority to the younger generation didn’t come up at all. He added that later.”

Speaking of Hirano Hirofumi, he got a call from Koshi’ishi Azuma berating him for not pinning Mr. Kan down more precisely.

Matsuda Kota of Your Party, the head of a private sector company himself, had this to write about Hatoyama Yukio:

“If Mr. Hatoyama were the head of a private sector company, that company would collapse in an instant. (There would also be a shareholders lawsuit). If he were just a salaryman, he would be immediately fired as an employee incapable of doing his job. That a person such as he was the leader of a country gives me chills down my spine. That the memo had the recovery listed only as the third point clearly shows what they were thinking. The most important thing for them was maintaining their government. Japan cannot be entrusted to that sort of government.”

Many in the DPJ soon realized the quick fix only made matters worse. Party Vice-President Ishii Hajime spoke an officers’ meeting on the night of 2 June:

“The Kan Cabinet is now a lame duck administration, and the focus is on when they will quit. We should resolve to make arrangements with the opposition to have the Cabinet quit with the passage of the legislation for the special bond issue, the second supplementary budget, and the basic recovery law.”

After the meeting, he told the news media:

“I want to go to the Kantei with Koshi’ishi Azuma on the 3rd and tell the prime minister that the road left open to him is an honorable withdrawal.”

Too late for the part about honor, but with Kan Naoto the soap has to be very soft.

Then again, Mr. Kan was making matters much worse for himself. On the night of the 2nd, he was asked about extending the Diet session. Just a week ago, he wanted to finish early to save himself. Now he wanted to prolong it to save himself:

“If we were to respond to the opinion of the people that they want us to be able to debate necessary issues in the Diet at any time, then in fact we would have a year-round diet, until some point in December.”

It helps to know that it’s against the rules to submit more than one no-confidence motion in one Diet session.

Some people couldn’t understand all the brouhaha. Here’s Kan ally and Justice Minister Eda Satsuki:

“This was a high-level discussion between two politicians, so they didn’t decide every last detail.”

Yes, the Minister of Justice of a nation thinks it’s copacetic for written agreements to be vague and open to different interpretations.

Financial Services Minister Yosano Kaoru was more philosophical:

“It’s natural that a politician would strive to remain in his position.”

Fukushima Mizuho, head of the Social Democrats, said what a leftist lawyer would be expected to say:

“I thought (the memorandum) was a declaration to stay in office. There’s no difference between his afternoon statement and his evening statement…Isn’t Mr. Hatoyama misunderstanding what happened?”

Edano Yukio is another bird of that feather, but he has to be more diplomatic because he’s also the chief cabinet secretary:

“I don’t think either of them is intentionally saying something different than the facts of the matter. The gap in awareness is regrettable. We must work to ensure there is no political turmoil.”

Once again, someone in the DPJ sees the horse galloping into the next county and decides it would be best to close the barn door. Speaking of turmoil, here’s LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu on the 3rd:

“We will cooperate to pass a basic law of recovery. Other than that, cooperation is impossible.”

And New Komeito Secretary General Inoue Yoshihisa that same morning answering a question about upper house censure:

“That is of course one method that will be fully considered at the appropriate time.”

An upper house censure is non-binding, but upper house President Nishioka Takeo would be happy to see Mr. Kan evaporate. Refusing to call the house into session or to allow the prime minister entry are binding in their own way.

The prime minister’s problems extended to well within his own party. Reported Toyama Kiyohiko of New Komeito:

“DPJ Diet members I know told me that Mr. Kan promised to resign in a month or two, which is why most of the DPJ members voted against the motion. When he tried to extend it until the resolution of Fukushima and came up with the idea of extending the diet until December, it was a broken promise. He has no support in the party.

“When Prime Minister Kan duped his colleague, he made it very likely a censure motion will pass in the upper house in the near future. If the DPJ can’t bring him down, he’ll be prohibited from entering the upper house chamber. At that point the government will come to a standstill. If he’s kept the Diet in session all year, he cannot extend his political life. Yesterday was the beginning of the end for Prime Minister Kan.”

Upper house member Yamamoto Ichita questioned the prime minister and some of his deputies during Question Time on the 3rd. An aide to another MP took notes. He said the records would have to be checked for the precise wording, but it was close to the actual exchange. Here it is in English:

Yamamoto: Is it fair to say you expressed your intention to step down, to resign at the DJP Diet members’ conference?

Kan: That expression (swindler) is not appropriate….I want it to be understood (about resignation) as being at the stage when I have fulfilled a certain role that I should perform — until I have fulfilled my responsibility and the prospects have been set to a certain extent —

Yamamoto: At your news conference on the night of the 2nd, you said nothing about resigning or stepping down. Did you express your intention to step down or resign?

Kan: None of the people in the media are in a position to say this or that about which expression I used

Yamamoto: That isn’t an answer. You won’t resign until next January, right? You won’t resign until next January?

Kan: It is a fact that the mass media has taken my words at the news conference in different ways, but…

Yamamoto: What you meant by the outlook being established to a certain extent is the end of the cooling at Fukushima, isn’t it? When the media reported your intention to resign, you became a lame duck both at home and abroad. The special legislation for the government bonds and the second supplementary budget will be the work of the next prime minister. It isn’t possible for you to dispose of these pending matters. Please set a deadline.

Kan: I said exactly what I said.

Yamamoto: You have no intention of resigning, right? If you can’t say you are stepping down, that’s fraudulent.

Mr. Yamamoto switched to Vice Minister for Internal Affairs and Communication Watanabe Shu:

Yamamoto: Why did you resign?

Watanabe: The prime minister announced his intention to resign. I listened to his speech at the DPJ Diet members’ meeting, and since the prime minister was thinking of resigning, I saw no need to vote for the no confidence motion. I thought the prime minister would resign when the outlook for recovery were set.

Yamamoto: The prime minister has not said he would resign or step down.

Then to Hidaka Takeshi, parliamentary environment secretary:

Yamamoto: Mr. Hidaka, did you envision that situation when you switched your vote to nay? Or did you think that he would step down soon?

Hidaka: I submitted my resignation for the sake of stronger leadership. The prime minister said in public he would resign. I voted no because I sensed his resolve (to help) the damaged area.

Yamamoto: When you heard the intent to resign, did you think he would resign imminently?

Hidaka: I didn’t know how long it would be, but I sensed his resolve.

Back to the prime minister:

Yamamoto: You haven’t said you intend to resign or step down, but what is a rough date for you to leave?

Kan: Outlook is a commonly used word. It’s common sense that the word means there would be a certain interval.

Yamamoto: You’re not answering at all. Former Prime Minister Hatoyama thinks you’ll step down by the end of June. Is he lying?

Kan: I, in my own words…

Yamamoto: That’s the same as saying Mr. Hatoyama is mistaken, is lying, or misunderstood. Who is correct, Mr. Hatoyama or Mr. Okada?

Kan: Both Mr. Hirano and Mr. Okada were at the meeting with Mr. Hatoyama. Mr. Okada is expressing his awareness from that viewpoint. My agreement with Mr. Hatoyama is as written in the document.

Yamamoto: Mr. Hatoyama is saying that if you claim your promise to him was a lie, your only course is to resign. What do you think?

Kan: in regard to the current question, my awareness is the same as Mr. Okada’s.

Yamamoto: So you’re saying that Mr. Hatoyama is mistaken. You won’t even admit that you said you’d step down. Can a prime minister who’s told the world he’ll quit properly conduct foreign policy?…It’s not possible for the government and the opposition to cooperate under a Kan administration.

It didn’t take a weathervane for Edano Yukio to figure out which way the wind was blowing. When asked again about a Kan resignation, he said “It won’t be that long.“ Fukushima Mizuho thought that was a critical development. Others echoed her sentiments when another Cabinet member, Matsumoto Ryu, the Minister for the Environment and Disaster Management said: “In my mind it is by the end of June. The outlook for recovery should be quickly established.”

Abiru Rui is assigned to cover the Kantei for the Sankei Shimbun. Mr. Kan dislikes him so much he refuses to call on him at news conferences, and the feeling is mutual. Even discounting that, however, the reporter likely expressed the thoughts of many, if not most people:

“It’s difficult to describe just how stupid and loopy Mr. Hatoyama is. The prime minister twisted him around his finger when he pretended he would resign soon, and used that to extend the life of his Cabinet. Prime Minister Kan betrayed both the compatriots of his own party and the people of the country. His shabby behavior is at a level that does not withstand scrutiny.

“He told the people around him that he wanted to leave his name in history, and that’s exactly what will happen. The ignobility of his character is at such an unprecedented, isolated extreme, it will not be extinguished from the people’s memory even if they try. I cannot understand the emotions of people who would support this humanoid picture of cheap, cowardly meanness. I don’t even want to.”

Also expressing the thoughts of many was an anonymous first term DPJ member of the lower house speaking to a reporter:

“I have a feeling that the end of the DPJ has only just begun.”


* The Asahi English edition recommends that the prime minister “exit gracefully”. They apparently chose their Deep Space correspondent to write the editorial.

* My father used to say, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Had it not been for his shameless behavior as DPJ party head and prime minister, Mr. Hatoyama would have qualified for induction into the Hall of Shame long ago.

During his term as prime minister, which seems about 500 years ago now, I wrote that he was the first junior high school girl to serve as Japan’s prime minister. (Kan Naoto is the first junior high school boy.) An acquaintance of former U.S. President Warren Harding once observed that if Harding had been a girl, he would always have been “in the family way”. I suspect that would equally apply to Hatoyama Yukio.

* Were you surprised to read that Matsumoto Ryu was the Minister for Disaster Management? Most of Japan would be, too. Mr. Matsumoto is one of the DPJ’s Socialist Party refugees. Because his father made a mint in the construction industry, he’s also one of the wealthiest men in the Diet. (Yes, the Limousine Left swanks about in the streets of Japan, too.) He’s such a chowderhead they had to bring back Sengoku Yoshito and give him the de facto job while allowing Mr. Matsumoto to sit by the window. Appointing him to the position was a party favor, in both senses of the phrase, but even they weren’t about to let him do any real work.

Such capable stewards of the nation’s affairs, the DPJ.

* When Yokokume Katsuhito quit the DPJ last week, he said the party no longer had a reason to exist because it had fulfilled its historical mission. By that he meant breaking the LDP stranglehold on power. They’ve also accomplished one more signal achievement. Ozawa Ichiro might be fading from the scene at last. Mr. Ozawa had a party with his younger Diet allies on the night the no-confidence motion failed at a karaoke bar to commiserate. He was in reasonably good spirits, and tried to buck them up by telling them they had accomplished quite a bit even though they lost. No one got down and partied, however. Those present told reporters that no one picked up a microphone and sang.

The Nikkei Shimbun added a telling detail. Some of the MPs came late to the party and some left early, but Mr. Ozawa stayed to the end. Were the Destroyer of Worlds still both respected and feared for his power, no one would have been late to come or early to go.

* Surely the long-suffering Japanese people wish they could live under a political system like the one in Great Britain or the United States. It is curious that Americans are so quick to issue dire warnings about the Japanese economy, while it takes a foreign newspaper to point out the tsunami-sized destruction at home they’re too frightened too look at.

Another worthless politician, another worthless piece of paper

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Ichigen Koji (6)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, May 26, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

“After operations at the Hamaoka nuclear power plant were suspended at the prime minister’s ‘request’, a citizens’ campaign to end nuclear power has spread throughout the country. That’s only to be expected. An accident occurred at Reactor #1 at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which had an earthquake probability of 0.0%, so if earthquake risk is to be used as a standard, all the nuclear power plants in Japan are dangerous.

“The one person who has consistently made clear demands about this issue is Fukushima Mizuho, the head of the Social Democratic Party. She had sought the closure of Hamaoka for some time, and now she’s stepped up her efforts, asserting that ‘All nuclear power plants should be shut down immediately as a way to value life’. That’s exactly right. To be even more consistent, how about calling for the prohibition of all automobiles and airplanes as a way to value life?

“The hysteria that seeks absolute safety, which she represents, is an illness of Japanese society. That is not unrelated to her demand that the temporary seconding of workers be prohibited. In both cases, the demand is only to eliminate the unpleasant phenomenon in front of one’s face and to disregard the results. It is easy to understand the advantages of ending nuclear power, but the resulting rise in electricity rates and decline in economic growth will occur in the future, so it isn’t easy to understand the cause and effect relationship. But when summer comes and there’s an electrical power shortage, all one has to do is go on the attack and blame government blunders or something.”

– Ikeda Nobuo, author, university professor, and blogger

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No surprise

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, March 13, 2011

HERE’S a quick quiz for those familiar with the people in Japanese politics: If you had to guess which politician would be the first to break ranks and try to turn recent events to their party’s advantage, who do you think it would be?

Did you say Fukushima Mizuho of the Social Democrats? Got it in one!

She chaired a meeting of her party–in an office, though they could have used an airport limousine bus–and took the opportunity to complain about the government’s information management. Her party is the standard-bearer for Japan’s loony left, so of course they detest nuclear power. She complained about that, too, even as people were putting their lives on the line in Fukushima Prefecture (no relation) to bring the problems with the nuclear plants there under control. Her complaint amounted to: We told you so! She plans to make an issue of it.

There was one benefit to watching the brief film clip on TV. One couldn’t help laughing to see her dressed in work coveralls. If she’s going to zip them up to her neck, she probably shouldn’t have worn that designer outfit underneath. It looked awfully lumpy.

To give you an idea of the tilt of her gyroscope, she complained last week that the Kan Cabinet idea to raise taxes was evidence that it was “neo-liberal” and Koizumian.

Meanwhile, LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu said that while there’s a lot they don’t like about the DPJ budget, his party is willing to be flexible on their demands to facilitate the recovery. Some in the party want the government to divert the funds for the child stipend to relief efforts and infrastructure repair. The government will convene a special committee tonight to hammer out a policy to handle fund allocation.

In other news, Prime Minister Kan appointed reform minister Ren Ho to be in charge of the effort to save energy, with rolling blackouts to start tomorrow. That’s reasonable, considering she’s a TV announcer/model turned politician. Her job will be to appear before the public and urge them to cut consumption to a minimum.

Mr. Kan also appointed unaffiliated MP Tsujimoto Kiyomi to be his aide in charge of coordinating volunteer efforts. That makes sense from one perspective, considering her work to create Peace Boat (who are anti-nuclear power too). She’s also probably well-connected to the NGO types.

On the other hand, the It Girl of the hard left once told a reporter in an unguarded moment that she thought her job as a Diet member was to destroy the country. One has to wonder once again what possessed Mr. Kan to make such a personnel choice.

Quick update: Mr. Kan just finished a pep talk to the nation live on television, and he came very close to losing it. Fortunately, he didn’t (as he was praising the people for maintaining their composure), and just as fortunately, he was followed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio, who quickly restored the equilibrium. The prime minister needs a pep talk more than most of the people in the country. From what I’ve seen the rest of his Cabinet have presented themselves very well.

On another note: There’s a report that more than 300 important cultural treasures (i.e., Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, etc.) were damaged (to an undefined extent) in the earthquake and tsunami.

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Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 12, 2010

SUMMER IS THE SEASON for fireworks, but there’s a real possibility the mad festival of Japanese politics could explode in a shower of light, fire, and dead flowers as early as this week.

The fuse has already been lit by an unpopular administration, a nebbish prime minister, and a Cabinet whose principal member is so unattractive one wonders how he ever convinced voters in his district to elect him in the first place. If the fuse doesn’t fizzle, the Big Bang could produce (a) A revived coalition between the Democratic Party and the Social Democrats, (b) A grand coalition with the Liberal Democrats, or Ozawa Ichiro (c-1) Either splitting to form a new party or (c-2) Being dumped by the DPJ, which would mean the end of the ruling party as we know it. Let’s see what’s burning under all those smoke signals.

Coalition with the Social Democrats

Unless they provide evidence that they’ve suddenly discovered how to negotiate with the opposition, the Kan Cabinet will have difficultly passing the enabling legislation for next year’s budget through the upper house, where the party does not have a majority. (The budget itself does not require upper house approval to go into effect.) One solution would be to form an ad hoc coalition in the upper house. Another would be to reconstitute the coalition with the Social Democrats that fell apart earlier this year when the Hatoyama administration backtracked on its pledge to have the Americans move the Futenma airbase out of Okinawa. Such a coalition would provide a two-thirds majority in the lower house, negating the need for upper house approval of any legislation.

Some in the DPJ are enthusiastic about the idea. Said Matsuno Yorihisa, the former Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary in the Hatoyama Cabinet and the editor of the prime minister’s e-mail magazine:

“We should hold discussions with the Social Democratic Party again and form a parliamentary coalition…regardless of the circumstances, we should create a framework in which we can exercise a two-thirds majority to pass legislation.”

More than a few in the ruling party don’t like the idea at all, however. The price of such a coalition, as discussed by Mr. Kan and SDP head Fukushima Mizuho last Monday, would be to break the agreement with the Americans about Futenma, reduce the Japanese financial contribution to the American military presence, and forget about the new idea floated by the Kan Cabinet to turn Japan into a weapons exporter. On her way out the door after the meeting, Ms. Fukushima said: 私がぶち切れなくてすむようによろしくお願いします.

Translation is not algebra, and there are many ways to approach any passage. For example, the concept of profanity is not the same in the two languages, and the concept of profanity itself has become degraded over the past few years in the Anglosphere. I prefer the high road, but it’s difficult to resist the temptation to translate the above sentence as, “Please make sure you don’t piss me off this time.”

She was joking, but that still wound up pissing off a lot of other people. Said Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi:

“It’s a reversion to the terminal period of a government. They’ve flip-flopped so much they’ve gone into a Dutch roll.”

Considering the context, he also came as close as any Japanese politician I’ve heard to saying, “WTF are they doing?” and added:

“There has been absolutely no self-reflection based on what happened to the collapsed Hatoyama government, in which the dog’s tail wagged the head. They just want to extend the life of this government.”

LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru said:

“This would destroy the Japan-United States relationship. What will be lost will be more than what is gained by a two-thirds majority.”

Meanwhile, senior LDP member Nakagawa Hidenao wrote on his blog, “It’s time to bring down the Cabinet.”

While there’s no Constitutional or legal problem with using a supermajority in the lower house to override an upper house rejection, some politicians think it runs counter to the spirit of the Japanese democratic system. Here’s what one MP had to say:

“This (maneuver) has been abused so much, the regular repassage of legislation using the two-thirds majority for bills in the lower house represents nothing more than the expiration of the “sell-by date” for the Diet itself, the denial of deliberative democracy, and, more than anything else, the desecration of the Japanese bicameral system of parliamentary democracy. The true path to resolving this situation is to dissolve the Diet as quickly as possible, hold a general election, and call for a vote of confidence from the sovereign will of the people.”

Oh, wait…that was SDP member Abe Tomoko speaking about the Aso administration on 19 June 2009.

Let’s try this one:

“This is the first time we’ve had such an anomalous situation in half a century, since 1957, and I can only say that it is extremely regrettable from the standpoint of parliamentary democracy. It’s clear to everyone that the only way to overcome this situation and create new hope is to dissolve the lower house and hold a general election.”

Oy, did it again! That was Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito in 12 December 2008, when he was an opposition member criticizing the Aso administration.

This time for sure!

“Isn’t it logical that the first thing that should be done is to dissolve the lower house and have a vote of confidence from the people to determine whether the lower house delegates represent the national will?”

Oh, boy. That’s what Prime Minister Kan Naoto said when he was in the opposition speaking out against the Fukuda administration’s use of the supermajority on 13 May 2008.

Grand coalition with the Liberal Democrats

FNN is reporting that DPJ executives asked Watanabe Tsuneo, the chairman of the Yomiuri Shimbun group, to act as a go-between in talks with the LDP to form one big happy political family a grand coalition. Mr. Watanabe served the same role three years ago during negotiations between then-Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo and then-DPJ President Ozawa Ichiro. They worked out a deal, but the other DPJ senior members balked and Mr. Ozawa briefly walked.

The Yomiuri chairman met with former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio on the 7th and with LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu on the 8th. He’s also reportedly met with Sengoku Yoshito.

Writing about the action behind the scenes on his blog, Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji charged that the actors were trying to arrange a structure with older conservative elements and veterans in the background while pushing younger and fresher faces up front. He said, “It’s an artifice for double-crossing the people”.

He thinks such a coalition would ultimately benefit his party, because it would create a battle between “big government on a bureaucracy-led, high-tax course with pork, against forces favoring small government on a private sector-led, growth course with the regions playing the main role.”

He also suggested that people should pay attention to the statements of LDP leadership, as one senior party member said they would have to listen to DPJ proposals for a grand coalition if Mr. Kan came to them “on bended knee”.

It’s time to read between the lines. First Ishiba Shigeru, chairman of the party’s Policy Research Council:

“Reorganizing the coalition without an election is a perversion. If the DPJ cuts loose the Ozawa group, it is not out of the question that the LDP could work with them, but they’ll have to clearly state why they want to work together…if there is a coalition, they’ll have to completely change last year’s manifesto, so unless there is an immediate election and the confidence of the people, the government will not have any legitimacy.”

Bended knee, eh? Here’s Mr. Tanigaki:

“At present I am extremely negative (about the possibility). It is not easy to unify a party to create a grand coalition. Does Mr. Kan have that base and those skills?…Their approval rate is in the 20% range. It’s not possible to form a coalition with that sort of government….and there’s no reason to form a coalition with any party in which Mr. Ozawa is a member.”

Mr. Ishihara again:

“How are we supposed to get together with a party that can’t even clean itself? We can’t join hands with them just to increase their popularity.”

And Koike Yuriko, the chair of the party’s General Council, on the 10th:

“Isn’t the DPJ itself already a coalition of the left and right wings? We know how that grand coalition is working out for them. At this point the LDP should not casually engage in talks about a grand coalition.”

Former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro doesn’t like the idea at all. He met informally on the 8th with some former LDP and New Komeito officials and spoke against the coalition because it would only benefit the DPJ.

New Komeito head Yamaguchi Tatsuo is thumbs down too:

“Creating a framework of the two largest parties will result in an extreme amount of authority. We must have a clear sense of the side effects. It must not be like the Imperial Rule Assistance Association (of 1940, in which political parties dissolved themselves into a larger entity with the military and bureaucrats)….A grand coalition is not the only path. It is fully possible to form a consensus by creating the opportunity for the ruling party and the opposition to hold discussions…The DPJ as the ruling party of government should take the responsibility to lead those discussions.”

My sentiments exactly. But Watanabe Yoshimi eschewed the high road:

“I want to tell them, enough already–this isn’t a children’s game. If they’re going to turn politics into a game of playing house, it will only result in the people’s distrust of politics.”

It’s a little late for that now, I’m afraid.

That brings us to the prime minister himself. The media asked him about the possibility of a grand coalition, and he answered:

“I have nothing to say.”

Does that mean you’re not thinking about it?

“I have nothing to say.”

So what else is new?

Ozawa Ichiro

It’s not surprising that the bad penny of Japanese politics, now just a regular old DPJ MP, but formerly the head and/or secretary-general of enough parties to form a grand coalition with himself, is the gorilla in the middle of the room that everyone sees. The problem is that no one knows how much he weighs any more.

Another former LDP prime minister, Mori Yoshiro, said he wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to a grand coalition, but added this non sequitur:

“It’s just weird that the DPJ thinks it has to go that far to protect Ozawa Ichiro. Isn’t it just a ploy to extend Mr. Ozawa’s political career?”

That may be precisely the opposite of what’s happening. Today is election day for the prefectural assembly in Ibaragi. The DPJ has performed miserably in local elections since their poor performance in the July upper house ballot, including the elections for the open Hokkaido 5th district seat, the mayor of Fukuoka City, the governor of Wakayama, and the Matsudo City Council. Earlier this week, Mr. Ozawa told some younger acolytes:

“The local (party organizations) will be spewing fire if there is a (DPJ) defeat in the Ibaragi prefectural assembly election. (The Kan administration) will not survive in the party.”

Mr. Ozawa has already predicted the DPJ will collapse from the sub-national level. The DPJ is supporting 24 candidates, and their bottom line for success is at least 10 winners.

He’s also hinting broadly that he’ll leave the party and form a new one. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s made that threat, nor would it be the first time he’s left a party and formed a new one. Freelance journalist Itagaki Eiken, who seems to have a source in the Ozawa camp, wrote earlier this week that Mr. Ozawa’s mind is made up and that he and Hatoyama Yukio are already working together. A split, he wrote, might come as early as the 17th. Mr. Itagaki says that Mr. Ozawa told affiliates from the old Tanaka faction in the LDP and friendly prefectural politicians to be in Tokyo that day. He also noted that Mr. Ozawa won more than 200 votes in the DPJ presidential election in early September.

The story could be true—after all, if he wants the money from the government subsidy for political parties any time soon, he’s going to have to make his move this month. The story could also be disinformation.

Mr. Ozawa reportedly met at a sushi bar with Hatoyama Yukio on the 8th, in the company of younger brother and former LDP Justice Minister Hatoyama Kunio and former LDP Health Minister Masuzoe Yoichi. Mr. Masuzoe was considered prime ministerial material a couple of years ago, and left the LDP to form his own group, called the New Renaissance Party. The only people he could get to join, however, were former Ozawa Ichiro allies whose political philosophy would not seem to be in alignment with his. He is seen as an ambitious man, and everyone remembers that Hosokawa Morihiro was also the head of a small party when he became the prime minister in a 1993 coalition government run by Ozawa Ichiro behind the scenes.

Someone present at the sushi bar whispered to a reporter that everyone agreed to cooperate because Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Ozawa are being cut adrift from the DPJ by the Kan administration and the party’s leftist elements as a means to buoy their popularity.

Perhaps hedging his bets, Mr. Masuzoe also met with Prime Minister Kan at the latter’s request the next day. Doesn’t hurt to listen, does it?

Watanabe Yoshimi said he’d have turned down a request by Mr. Kan for a meeting, and observed that Mr. Masuzoe apparently thinks either a coalition to extend the life of the Kan Cabinet or a coalition with Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Hatoyama would be fine. He added:

“I’m not like Mr. Masuzoe, who doesn’t have a guiding philosophy.”

Then again, Mr. Ozawa might get drummed out of the DPJ before he gets a chance to walk. Leaders of the DPJ will convene a lower house ethics panel this week to hold a vote on whether to summon him to testify over allegations that he helped the group managing his political funds to lie on their official reports. (It’s difficult keeping up with all his alleged financial irregularities.)

Mr. Ozawa doesn’t want to testify, and his supporters say it’s an insult. The DPJ is hinting that they might kick him out if he doesn’t show up.

Let’s leave the last word to Watanabe Yoshimi:

“If the DPJ takes a shellacking in the Ibaragi prefectural council elections, Armageddon will start within the party. It would be best for Japan if they broke up quickly.”

UPDATE: The DPJ won only six seats in the Ibaragi election, one-fourth of the number they backed. Four of the winners were incumbents; two DPJ-backed incumbents lost. In four electoral districts, there was a direct face-off between the DPJ-backed candidate and the LDP-backed candidate, with no others in the race. The DPJ lost all four.

What’s going to happen? I’m not going to make any guesses. Trying to predict the course of Japanese politics is Mission: Impossible.

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Things they said

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 6, 2010

HERE’S A SAMPLE of what the politicos in Japan have been talking about—and writing about—for the past week.

Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji:

“Your Party submitted to the Diet on 10 November a resolution calling for the release of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

“Since then, however, no one in the Democratic Party, the Liberal-Democratic Party, or the other parties has paid any attention to it, and Japan’s mass media hasn’t discussed it. The resolution died when the Diet recessed this week.

“The Chinese embassy seems to have been engaged in some strong lobbying. It so happens that a certain weekly magazine is running an article this week about DPJ Diet members enjoying a round of golf with the Chinese ambassador (at the latter’s expense).

“The Nobel awards ceremony will be held in Oslo on 10 December. The world’s attention on this issue will continue to intensify, but Japan shows no interest in even covering it. This issue could become a litmus test for questioning the commitment to human rights of each political party, each faction, the media, and therefore, the Japanese people.

We’ve already seen the color on the litmus paper, Mr. Eda. Sengoku Yoshito talks about Japanese vassalage as if it were a fait accompli, and the fey accomplices of the mass media emasculate themselves for the chance to squat in the jump seat next to power and prevent the simple folk from finding out what the Chinese are really up to.

Former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro still has it:

“Not everything was bad about the Senkakus incident. We found out that the ‘Japan-U.S.-China equilateral triangle’ theory that the DPJ brought up after they took control of government is a load of nonsense.”

That’s an excerpt from a recent speech in Yokohama. A photo taken during the speech shows his hairstyle is almost back to normal. And give the man credit for accepting who he is. He never seemed to care that he was getting gray—unlike Aso Taro, Kan Naoto, Sengoku Yoshito, Yosano Kaoru, and probably Hatoyama Yukio.

Some men have it. Some men never will.

The Democratic Party thought eliminating income tax deductions for children and replacing them with direct government stipends was one of the key planks of their election platform last year. They claimed they could easily find the money to pay for it, which everyone knew was bollocks, but the media was so anxious for a change of government they looked the other way.

The party offered several excuses to justify the policy, all of which were either outright fabrications or collectivist drivel. (‘Society as a whole has to be responsible for rearing children’ was one of them.) Since it became the law of the land earlier this year, some parents are actually receiving less than they did under the old system. But then the policy was never about what was best for the children, but rather what was the best way to bribe the people into swallowing statism.

When they could no longer sustain the fiction that the money was there for the finding, the national government decided to dragoon local governments and private companies into paying for their fantasy. Society as a whole has to be responsible for rearing children, right? Last week, Hosokawa Ritsuo, Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare, met with Kanagawa Gov. Matsuzawa Shigefumi, who is the representative of a group of sub-national governmental executives in the Tokyo region. Said Mr. Hosokawa:

“Please understand that the nation’s finances are tight.”

Replied Mr. Matsuzawa:

“If the government continues placing a (financial) burden for the child allowance payment on the regions, a revolt will occur in the regions….The regions are not the slaves of the national government.”

By now, it would have occurred to anyone who wasn’t a politician who considered it his solemn duty to spend other people’s money that if the nation’s finances are that tight, they should stop spending money they don’t have, cut taxes and services, and allow income-earning parents to use their own resources to raise their own children as they see fit instead of pushing the fiction that society is everybody’s nanny.

Kan Naoto’s term as prime minister reached the six-month mark this past week, and in a speech in Chiba on the 4th, he said:

“It’s been a lively six months, and we’ve made quite a bit of progress in different areas. But we’ve lacked the ability to communicate what we’re making progress on now, and the preparations we’re making for future progress. I want to actively communicate to the people what I think.”

Just because Barack Obama uses the same excuse doesn’t make it any less empty. Both the American and the Japanese public got the message. Communication is the least of your problems.

Incidentally, Mr. Kan cited as one of his administration’s major successes Vietnam’s award of a contract to Japan to build a nuclear power plant.

One Japanese pundit recycled an old Ishihara Shintaro quote about Aso Taro this week:

“The Prime Minister earned the people’s contempt. Contempt is the most frightening thing.”

He was updating it for application to the current prime minister.

The DPJ has been trying to find another coalition partner to either give it a majority in the upper house, which it lacks, or to give it a two-thirds majority in the lower house, which would render the lack of an upper house majority moot. They haven’t had much luck so far—who likes hanging out with losers?

One possibility fueling media gossip is a grand coalition with the LDP. Ishiba Shigeru, chair of the LDP’s Policy Research Council, was asked about that during a TV interview on the 4th. He answered:

“In the DPJ, the policies of Prime Minister Kan Naoto and former Party President Ozawa Ichiro are 180 degrees apart. There is no cohesion to their foreign policy or fiscal policy. I am absolutely opposed to a grand coalition that would amplify that confusion.”

The DPJ government started out last year with a three-party coalition that included the Social Democrats. They split when Hatoyama Yukio backed off his promise to remove the Futenma air base from Okinawa.

Current DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya wants to woo the SDPJ back into a ménage à trois. While admitting that the two parties still had their differences, he said:

“We confirmed several times with the Social Democratic Party that last year’s three-party agreement was valid. I believe there is a strong relationship of trust.”

Said SDPJ head Fukushima Mizuho during a TV interview:

“There have been no talks about returning to the coalition.”

She added that there ain’t gonna be any talks as long as the DPJ sticks to the policy of keeping the base in Okinawa.

What few people remember is that little more than a year ago, it was Mr. Okada’s assignment to negotiate the terms of the SDPJ’s participation in the coalition with Ms. Fukushima. He found her tactics so obnoxious he stormed out of the room and refused to continue.

Ms. Fukushima got what she wanted by calling Ozawa Ichiro’s number.

Another pundit recycled a different quote, this time from former DPJ head Ozawa Ichiro on the reasons he tried to cut a deal with then-Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo for a grand coalition three years ago:

“The DPJ is a young party and there are doubts it has the ability to take responsibility for government.”

First, the good news: The other DPJ elders hated the idea. Now the better news: There’s no longer any doubt about their lack of capabilities.

While we’re on the topic of coalition governments, Peter Hitchens of Britain reminds us why they are a perversion of the democratic process. A coalition government consisting of two ostensibly incompatible parties now rules that country, and former prime minister Sir John Major recently endorsed the arrangement. He hoped they could “prolong cooperation beyond this Parliament”, which could lead to a realignment of British politics.

Sir John also explained the intrinsic grooviness of coalition governments from a politician’s perspective:

“Two parties are more likely to enjoy a tolerant electorate for policies that are painful.”

Wrote Mr. Hitchens:

“Or, in other words, that a coalition can ram through unpopular policies (Mr Major is an expert on those) more easily than one-party governments.

“This is, of course, even more the case when the third party actually agrees with the Coalition about almost everything, and is still trying to work out how to pretend to be the Opposition, when it doesn’t really want to oppose.

“What a perfect outcome for the political class – two liberal parties in permanent power…(a)nd an Opposition that doesn’t oppose. A pity about the rest of us.”

Now that Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito’s day in the sun seems about to go into eclipse, the meta-commentary is starting to emerge in a crepuscule with the nellies. Too bad the chattering class got it backwards—everyone would have been better off had they started chattering when he assumed his current portfolio, rather than now.

The public’s hopes were raised this week when Mr. Sengoku suggested he might give up the position of cabinet secretary and focus on the Justice Ministry, but he bummed everyone out again by walking it back later in the day.

Kamei Shizuka of the People’s New Party—remember them?–tried to smooth things over:

“He’s a lawyer, and well-known for turning black into white. Well, they say that sometimes there is truth in a joke, but he was just joking.”

You know what they say on the Internet: ROTFLMAO.

Banno Junji, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, reflected on the philosophical journey of his old friend:

“Sengoku chose the pink-colored path (i.e., he’s a pinko). He saw there was no future in the mass struggle. Some have since turned to the right, but he looked for the pink, thinking that holding firm was the masculine thing to do.”

Not just anyone can discern the connection between pinkiness and masculinity. One has to be a professor at an elite university to develop vision of that sort.

More to the point was the observation of LDP Diet member Gotoda Masazumi:

“Mr. Sengoku has no humility. People who have criticized authority become insincere about authority once they attain a position of authority.”

Didn’t Mr. Kamei say he was insincere even before he was in a position of authority?

What could Mr. Gotoda have been talking about? Telling opposition MPs during Question Time to “clean out your ears and pay close attention”, or chiding reporters during news conferences for their “base conjectures”, using vocabulary that seldom appears in ordinary discourse–that sort of thing.

More surprising than the attitude itself is his apparent belief he could gain anything by it.

The upper house censured both Mr. Sengoku and Mabuchi Sumio, the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and transport. That does not require their resignation, as a lower house vote of no confidence would, but it does mean the aides have been sent out to collect the cardboard boxes for hauling their papers. Some have called on them to resign, but the rough-and-ready rougeistes are going to tough it out for now. The party bigwigs backed them up. Koshi’ishi Azuma, for example, said, “It isn’t necessary”.

The DPJ approach to censure resolutions has evolved over the past two years. When they seized control of the upper house after the 2007 election, they insisted the LDP government had to follow their instructions because the vote represented the most recent expression of the will of the people. The upper house also censured then-Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo in 2008 and demanded his resignation. The big boss man of the party in those days was Ozawa Ichiro. Here’s a constitutional interpretation he delivered ex cathedra on 9 June 2008:

“A censure is the same as a motion of no confidence in the Cabinet. It’s just that systemically, a motion of no confidence is recognized only in the lower house. If the proposal should pass, it will be no different than if there had been a vote of no confidence in the Cabinet (because of the most recent expression of popular will).”

Two days later, after the proposal passed, Mr. Ozawa said:

“There is no alternative to seeking the judgment of the people through a lower house election to resolve the issue once and for all…The composition of the upper house physically expresses the most recently expressed will of the people. If they (the LDP) think popular sentiment is on their side, they should dissolve the Diet and hold a general election. If the LDP can win, that would be fine. But they seem to be afraid of an election. This is the ruling party of government? They have to have a little more confidence.”

Cut-and-paste works for me.

Actions speak louder than words, they say, and the DPJ took action this week by creating new publicity posters to festoon public places throughout the nation at yearend. At the request of their supporters, the party removed the face of Prime Minister Kan from the posters. (In terms people on the pink path would understand, he’s become a non-person.) The party chose not to use any photographs at all, which is another act that speaks louder than words. The poster has only the slogan “Putting the lives of the people first” in red lettering on a white background, with the party name at the bottom.

Maybe it’s possible to choose the pink path and be masculine after all. It takes real moxie to continue to use a slogan that people stopped taking seriously long ago.

But maybe that’s another example of what Mr. Kamei thinks is a joke.

It’s the song, not the singer:

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Whose side are you on anyway?

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, June 30, 2010

SHORTLY AFTER taking office, Prime Minister Kan Naoto turned everyone’s head by suggesting that former DPJ Secretary-General (and former party head) Ozawa Ichiro keep his lips zipped for a while. Mr. Ozawa’s problems with the law and his unpopularity with the public were two of the reasons the DPJ’s popular support had collapsed, so former Prime Minister Hatoyama made sure to take the old puppet master with him when he left.

He was also unpopular with many in the party for his iron-fisted leadership style. (He’s long believed that the people who understand will shut up and do as they’re told, while those who don’t understand and ask questions are hopeless.) It was therefore natural that the new prime minister wanted to create some breathing room for his Cabinet by having Mr. Ozawa go someplace where people couldn’t see or hear him. On the other hand, Mr. Kan took the risk that alienating Mr. Ozawa could cause the serious rupture in the party they’ve been trying to avoid since he joined.

Mr. Ozawa took the hint and behaved himself for most of the subsequent month—in public, anyway—but during a campaign speech yesterday in Imabari, Ehime, he seems to have finally looked at his watch and said, “Time’s up!”

That’s not all he said. Indeed, it would be understandable if one read the text of his criticisms of the Kan administration and thought the remarks were delivered by an opposition politician. Here’s how he started out:

It’s not my position to be talking about policy decisions…

Translation: I’m going to talk about policy decisions.

…but the DPJ has become the ruling party, so if we don’t keep our promises to the people, society will not be realized.

Yes, he said that last part.

Therefore, as a result, we will have lied to the people.

The man who once joked with a double-entendre in Japanese that the advantage of campaign promises was that they could be replastered then spoke about keeping specific campaign promises:

In last year’s lower house election, we campaigned by saying we would not raise the consumption tax during the four-year Diet term….we promised the people during the general election last year that we would remove tolls on expressways and provide a child allowance and income supplements (to farming households)—and we won a majority.

He elaborated:

Is there anything so stupid…

Yes, he said that too.

…as to form a government and then say, ‘There’s no money, so we can’t do it’? Politics is keeping your campaign promises.

He wasn’t finished. On Mr. Kan’s ideas about raising the consumption tax to 10%:

I don’t know what (Prime Minister Kan) was thinking (when he talked about an increase in the consumption tax), but we said during the election that we would not raise it for four years. We’ll work as hard as we can to eliminate waste in government, and after four years, if the funds for social welfare expenditures are still insufficient, we must consider it.

Then he made a pledge of his own:

I will definitely use all of my meager abilities to achieve our campaign promises.

Now that sounds like a man running for office, doesn’t it? Mr. Ozawa has already hinted he might challenge Mr. Kan in September; the prime minister’s term as party chief ends that month because he’s filling up the unused portion of Hatoyama Yukio’s term. Everyone in Japan is well aware that many in the DPJ, including those in party and government leadership positions, wish he would go far, far away, and just as aware that others in the DPJ are afraid he might make their wish come true. Not only does this speech raise the possibility of a party split, it also sows doubts among the electorate about whom in the party they should believe (assuming that it’s possible to believe any of them). That could dampen the DPJ vote, which Mr. Ozawa might have had in mind.

Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko couldn’t leave well enough alone, and snapped at the bait:

Our upper house campaign platform was put together by the planning committee under Prime Minister Hatoyama and Secretary-General Ozawa. I don’t understand what all this blah, blah, blah about the platform is supposed to mean.

Memo to Mr. Noda: You know the media is going to jump all over this (more than 60 separate articles on Google News before the day was out), so why fan the flames this close to an election? Now that you’re in the Cabinet instead of coffeehousing, isn’t it time you started to learn when and how to deflect that which you want people to ignore?

Besides, why would a finance minister want to defend himself against the charge of not spending money that the government doesn’t have?

The article in the Nishinippon Shimbun covering Mr. Ozawa’s speech, by the way, drily noted that he played the leading role in formulating this year’s current budget. The newspaper also reminded their readers that he insisted on keeping the “temporary” gasoline surtax despite the party’s pledge in the election platform to eliminate it. That seems to have slipped his mind during the speech yesterday.

Whoops Mr. Kan #1

Now that their party’s taken a hit in the polls, the DPJ leadership is trying desperately to backtrack from Mr. Kan’s ruminations about a boost in the consumption tax. The prime minister will have more than egg on his face if the party falls a few seats short of an absolute majority in the upper house election.

Government Reform Minister Ren Ho even tried this line: “That’s not what this election is supposed to be about.”

I repeat myself, but now that you’re in the Cabinet instead of coffeehousing, isn’t it time you started to learn that once the prime minister says something about a matter of policy—especially tax increases—that statement becomes what every subsequent election is about? It’s not as if elections have name tags for placement in tidy little categories.

Whoops Mr. Kan #2

The prime minister seems not to have had a very good summit, though the major media outlets are covering for him. The stories still filter out anyway.

For example, when referring to a meeting with the leaders of India and Indonesia, Mr. Kan wanted to say “emerging countries” (in English), but out popped “emergency companies” instead.

He also botched the names of the presidents of South Korea and Russia, and called it the G7 instead of the G8.

Finally, during a casual conversation at lunch with the other national leaders, he suggested inviting the Chinese in the future. An awkward silence followed.

And yes, if it had been Aso Taro, you would have already heard these stories by now.


Speaking of free expressway tolls, the first stage in that program finally got underway this week—just three weeks before the upper house election. Golly, isn’t it amazing how that timing worked out?

And speaking of politicians going someplace where people can’t see or hear them, that was too much to hope for from Fukushima Mizuho, head of the junior coalition partner Social Democrats and the former Cabinet Minister who got her 15 minutes of fame by getting herself fired by Mr. Hatoyama over the Futenma base issue.

In a speech on Tuesday in Matsudo, Chiba, she said:

The Hatoyama Cabinet was yuai politics. With the Kan Cabinet, I’m worried that yuai might have disappeared. They immediately said they would build a base at Henoko (in Nago, Okinawa), and that they’re thinking of raising the consumption tax to 10%. To tell you the truth, I’m the parent who gave birth to the Kan Cabinet. Since I am its parent, I will keep placing my orders with that Cabinet (i.e., as in a restaurant) and strive to ensure that they don’t change.

Who knew that Fukushima Mizuho was the queenpin of Japanese politics? Other than herself, of course.

But as often happens with parental nagging, her orders will surely go in one ear and out the other—or, as the Japanese say, the Cabinet will have chikuwa mimi (chikuwa ears). You can see why from the photo of chikuwa below.

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