Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Ishihara S.’

Ichigen koji (237)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 22, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Many people criticize the Japan Restoration Party for its alliance with Ishihara Shintaro, but that’s only because they had clearly stated their policies, and the changes to those policies were conspicuous. Other than maintaining the status quo, the Liberal Democratic Party had no policies, so they didn’t even bother with incongruous alliances. The Democratic Party started falling apart when they clumsily started to declare their own policies. It might be that the “father-son tie” the Japan Restoration Party has formed will be the one to last longer.

– Ikeda Nobuo


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Wet cement

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I wonder about these people who would take advantage of Hashimoto Toru’s popularity to win a Diet seat (by joining his party, the Japan Restoration Party).
– Maehara Seiji, head of the Democratic Party’s Policy Research Committee

We’ll act in such a way that we don’t become what the Democratic Party is now.
– Matsui Ichiro, Osaka governor and secretary-generation of Japan Restoration, in reply
The key is when and to what extent Mr. Abe approaches the third forces (reform parties). I would really prefer that the electorate votes with that knowledge. But considering his position, it is probably to his advantage to keep that quiet for now.
– Yamazaki Hajime, journalist on economic matters and a fellow at the Rakuten Securities Economic Research Institute

THERE are eight million stories in the naked city, intones the narrator at the conclusion of both the film and television version of The Naked City, and this has been one of them. Shifting the dramatist’s eye to Japan’s lower house election scheduled for 16 December, there are what seems like several thousand stories, and the reform/regional parties that are fomenting revolution from the bottom up account for quite a few of them.

Telling some of those stories requires a list of the dramatis personae, however, and that’s where we’ll start.

* Hashimoto Toru, the mayor of Osaka, Japan’s second largest city, who became the nation’s most prominent regional politician to call for the devolution of government authority with stronger power given to local government. That has been an issue for more than two decades here, but he’s the man who achieved ignition and liftoff. He started a local party/movement called One Osaka that is now a national party known as the Japan Restoration Party.

* Watanabe Yoshimi, a former Liberal Democratic Party member and minister in the Abe and Fukuda cabinets with responsibility for governmental reform. A supporter of devolution and radical civil service reform to tame the Japanese bureaucracy and its political influence, he left the LDP when prime ministers Fukuda and Aso abandoned that course. He then created Your Party with independent Diet member and former MITI bureaucrat Eda Kenji.

* Kawamura Takashi, a former Democratic Party of Japan member and lower house MP. He ran in several elections for party president, which means he sees a prime minister when he looks in the mirror in the morning. He resigned from the DPJ to run for mayor of Nagoya on a platform of cutting municipal taxes and the remuneration of city council members by half. This is part of an ongoing movement for sub-national governments in Japan. He struggled to get his policy package passed by municipal legislators (natch), and stunned the political world and the country both when he resigned, ran again to make the election a referendum on his policies, and won in a walk. There’s more at this previous post.

He’s formed a local party called Tax Reduction Japan that is now a national party with six five members in the Diet. They want to reduce the number of lower house Diet members by 80 (to 400) and cut their salaries in half.

* Omura Hideaki, a former Liberal Democratic Party of Japan member and lower house MP. He forged an alliance with Kawamura Takashi during the latter’s second run for mayor of Nagoya. He was elected governor of Aichi, in which Nagoya is located, on the same day. He shares the same general political principles.

* Ishihara Shintaro, former upper house and lower house MP, and governor of the Tokyo Metro District. Everyone knows who he is.

The stupefying ineptitude of the Democratic Party government, the inability of the Liberal Democratic Party to reinvent itself as a coherent alternative during three years in opposition, the futility of seeking real reform from either of them, years of public dissatisfaction combined with a willingness to support anyone willing to take an axe to the waste and abuse in the public sector, and younger generations reaching middle age, have resulted in the national prominence of Hashimoto Toru. It soon became a question of when, not if, he would establish a national political organization. The answer was soon rather than late — less than a year after winning election as Osaka mayor, after spending three years as governor of Osaka Prefecture.

Here’s what he said at the time:

True reform for Osaka requires further amendments to (national) law. But even when we try to do something locally, we run into the wall of Nagata-cho (a metonym for the Diet) and Kasumigaseki (a metonym for the bureaucracy), who control the mechanism of Japan. We have to change Japan from the roots.

In addition to regional devolution, Mr. Hashimoto’s group also calls for the cutting the membership of the Diet’s lower house in half to 240, and cutting their salaries and publicly funded party subsidies by one-third.

At that point the narrative became one of wondering who would and would not become his political allies. Not only did they need to team with simpatico regional parties, Japan Restoration needed someone or some group with a national reputation. Eliminated right away were the establishment LDP and the labor union-backed DPJ, but everyone had discounted that because both were part of the problem and not part of this solution.

In an intriguing move, the Osaka mayor approached former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in August to ask whether he would be interested in switching from the LDP to Japan Restoration. Mr. Abe expressed a strong desire to form some sort of alliance, particularly because they share an interest in amending the Constitution. But Mr. Abe eventually chose to remain in the LDP and run for party president, a campaign that he won.

While both men would surely like to work together, the LDP is unlikely to support the long-standing Hashimoto proposal to convert the consumption tax into a funding source for local government, and end the current system in which the national government allocates public funds. The shape and nature of any alliance will probably be determined after the election. The results will determine who needs whom, and the extent of that need.

* Hashimoto and Your Party

Speculation on ties with Japan Restoration had always started with Your Party, the first real national reform party. Several of their most important positions meshed, including the creation of a new system of sub-national governments with greater authority and civil service reform. They both also came out for eliminating nuclear power (probably for populist reasons), though Mr. Hashimoto has since backed away from that one. Further, Your Party supported Mr. Hashimoto in the election for Osaka mayor, and they share some of the same advisors.

At one point not long ago, people assumed that there would be a formal alliance. Rumors circulated that they had cut a deal in which Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi would become the first prime minister if they won enough seats in the aggregate to form a government.

But that’s not how it worked out. The reason seems to have been a dispute over who was going to be the boss. Your Party held talks with the people from Osaka before Japan Restoration was formed, and they wanted them to join the existing party before they created their own. Knowing that his poll numbers are better Your Party’s (they can’t seem to hump it into double digits), Mr. Hashimoto refused and suggested that they disband and rearrange themselves.

Relations took a turn for the worse when three Your Party members, said to be unhappy with Watanabe Yoshimi’s leadership, quit and joined Japan Restoration. That caused more than a few unpleasantries to be hurled in the direction of Osaka.

But discussions resumed because an alliance remains in both their interests. They talked about cooperation to implement eight common policies, which at that time included opposition to the consumption tax increase, opposition to nuclear power, support for regional devolution and the state/province system, support for civil service reform, support for constitutional amendments, support for election system reform, economic growth policies, and foreign policy (they both favor participation in TPP).

The calls for a solid alliance seem to have come from Your Party, and Japan Restoration has turned down the offer for now. There was a meeting with Hashimoto Toru, Matsui Ichiro, and Watanabe Yoshimi at which blunt words were spoken.

Mr. Watanabe suggested they jointly offer an “east-west” slate of candidates for the lower house election, with Your Party covering the east (Tokyo and the Kanto region) and Japan Restoration covering the west (Osaka and the Kansai region). Mr. Matsui rejected it, and here was his explanation:

Their policies have not gained ground in the Diet, and they have become a group who can’t achieve them. Politics means taking responsibility for results. That requires a team that can create a decision-making approach.

Gov. Matsui also told Mr. Watanabe in so many words to come down off his high horse: “It was our idea to create a new type of political organization.” The Your Party boss responded that they’ve been calling for political reorganization from the day they formed the party (which is true). He asked again for an equal merger, and again he was rejected.

Mr. Matsui later said they will continue to talk to avoid running candidates in the same election districts, but it will be unavoidable, and they will try to minimize it.

Perhaps Japan Restoration has some foresight about Your Party’s fortunes. Mr. Watanabe campaigned several times for a Your Party candidate in a local election last weekend in his home district in Tochigi, but the candidate lost to one backed by the LDP and New Komeito.

Affairs are still in flux, however. Just yesterday Hashimoto Toru said Japan Restoration would probably be able to field only 100 candidates in time for the election. (One reason the major parties want an earlier election is to prevent the smaller parties from building a full candidate list.) He made a reference to working with Your Party if they also ran 100 candidates — in other words, supporting the east-west alliance he rejected a few weeks ago. Watanabe Yoshimi also gave a campaign speech today calling for the support of Japan Restoration.

Whatever is going on here, you won’t be able to read a reliable account of it in either the Yomiuri Shimbun or the Asahi Shimbun, the nation’s two largest newspapers. The Asahi is opposed to Mr. Hashimoto because they’re of the left, and the Yomiuri is opposed to him because he’s anti-establishment.

* Omura and Kawamura

As the story at the link above shows, Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi and Aichi Gov. Omura Hideaki formed a regional alliance for the Triple Election in February last year. Both also organized political seminars this year to train people who supported their ideas for elective office.

Mr. Kawamura was the first to create a political party: Tax Reduction Japan. Mr. Omura followed by creating the Aichi is Top of Japan Party. The trouble started when he converted that party into the Chukyo Ishin no Kai, or the Chukyo Restoration Group, in August. The name is intentionally modeled on that of the Japan Restoration Party. His group was formed specifically to align with the Hashimoto group and fulfill the conditions for becoming a national party.

That cheesed off Mr. Kawamura, who was on an overseas trip at the time. He was miffed because the Aichi governor told Mr. Hashimoto about his plans, but didn’t tell him. The Nagoya mayor flew off the handle, saying their relationship of trust was broken and they couldn’t work together any more.

Some people saw it as a deliberate snub by Mr. Omura to break off ties with Mr. Kawamura. The former (at the left in the photo) is the straight-arrow policy type, while the latter (at the right) is the unkempt populist with a desire to be a major player. For example, he wondered if the Chukyo region would be relegated to being the subcontractor for Osaka.

Hashimoto Toru encouraged both of them to patch up their differences, because working together is would benefit everyone, and the policies were more similar than different.

And that’s just what the two men seem to have done while the media spotlight was pointed in a different direction. They announced an agreement to work together for the coming election after discussions that lasted late into the night of the 19th.

* Hashimoto and Omura and Kawamura

During the Triple Election campaign in Nagoya and Aichi, volunteers from the Osaka group went to the region to help both candidates because of their general agreement on devolution. Since then, however, it’s been a long strange trip that keeps getting stranger.

When Omura Hideaki created the Chukyo Restoration Group, Hashimoto Toru said that despite the name, they were unrelated to the Osaka group. They were independent and they hadn’t thought about an alliance for the national election. He added that Aichi support for their positions would be the condition for any alliance.

But then in October, a group from Osaka went to Aichi for a conference with letter from Hashimoto Toru asking Mr. Omura to form an Aichi Restoration Party. The alliance seemed like a natural: Not only are their policies similar, but they share policy advisors in journalist Tahara Soichiro, former Finance Ministry bureaucrat Takahashi Yoichi, and Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s jack of all trades, Takenaka Heizo.

The Aichi governor said that an alliance would take time, however, because he was still working with Kawamura Takashi. A blurb of two or three sentences appeared in one newspaper earlier this week announcing that Aichi and Osaka had worked out an agreement. In fact, Mr. Omura would be given the leeway to choose the candidate for one of the Aichi Diet districts in the election.

But just this morning, Mr. Omura announced that he would resign his position as advisor to the Osaka party to focus on his ties with Kawamura Takashi.

Your guess is as good as mine about this one. The best I can come up with is that working with Mr. Kawahara is a better way to solidify his position in Aichi.

Meanwhile, Kawahara Takashi’s attitude toward an agreement with Hashimoto Toru was 180° in the opposite direction. He was so anxious to create an alliance that a hand was coming out of his throat, as an old Japanese expression has it.

He’s long been friendly with Ozawa Ichiro, but when he spoke at a political seminar for the People First Party, the new Ozawa Ichiro vehicle, he said his priority was working with Hashimoto Toru and former Tokyo Metro Governor Ishihara Shintaro. (That might also have been a function of his assessment of the extent of Ozawa Ichiro’s political influence in the future; i.e., not very much.)

The problem, however, is that both Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Matsui have been giving the Nagoya mayor their cold shoulders. Mr. Kawamura thought a merger with Japan Restoration was going to happen when he reached an agreement to do just that with Ishihara Shintaro and his Sun Party, but no one else thought so. Mr. Ishimura thought it might be a problem with the tax reduction name in his party, and Mr. Kawamura obligingly offered to change it.

But Hashimoto Toru said the name had nothing to do with it: it was all content. He also said, however, that “In today’s circumstances, tax reduction is the wrong message.” That doesn’t necessarily mean the Osaka mayor is a tax hiker; rather, his position has always been that there should be a public debate and a consensus formed about what public services people want to receive. After reaching that consensus, it will then be time to figure out how to pay for them.

Mr. Kawamura, on the other hand, seems to favor the Starve the Beast approach: Don’t give the public sector the money to begin with. It isn’t widely known, but he also favors establishing neighborhood citizens’ councils to determine how public funds will be spent. In other words, his approach is the reverse of Mr. Hashimoto’s.

The Nagoya mayor is also opposed to TPP participation, while the Osaka mayor favors it. They were both anti-nuclear power, but Mr. Hashimoto has since modified that stance. Also, two of the five Diet members in Mr. Kawamura’s national party, which was formed at end of October, were LDP postal privatization rebels that former Prime Minister Koizumi threw out of the party. Hashimoto Toru supports the privatization of Japan Post.

Another reason Mr. Hashimoto cited for being unwilling to work with Tax Cut Japan is that another one of their Diet members, Kumada Atsushi, a lower house MP from Osaka, switched his party affiliation from the DPJ, but not before he accepted JPY 3 million to offset his campaign expenses. That’s not the sort of person he wants to work with.

Matsui Ichiro offered a blander rationale:

It’s not possible as of now. We haven’t had any policy discussions. There’s not enough time.

But wait!

After weeks of letting his tongue hang out in the national media, insisting that it would be easy to overcome the differences with Japan Reform, Mr. Kawamura announced today that he — he! — was rejecting an alliance with them. He’ll work with Aichi Gov. Omura instead.

But wait again!

Lower House MP Kobayashi Koki, Tax Reduction Japan’s acting president, said the whole point of the party going national was to work with people like Japan Restoration. After Mr. Kawamura’s announcement, he said he wanted to leave the party and join Japan Restoration. He got approval for both of his requests.

* Hashimoto and Ishihara

That brings us to strangest story of them all — the merger of Japan Restoration with Ishihara Shintaro’s four-day-old Sun Party and the appointment of Mr. Ishihara as the head of the party.

It was strange because Hashimoto Toru insisted that it wouldn’t happen, for several reasons. The first was policy differences — Mr. Ishihara and the Sun Party support nuclear power and oppose participation in TPP. Those positions are the opposite of those of Japan Restoration. The second was outlook. Mr. Hashimoto said an alliance was out of the question if the members of the Sunrise Japan party, the group that the Tokyo governor formed two years ago, joined the Sun Party. He explained that there would be no union with “pure conservatives”. (By that he means paleo-cultural conservatives.)

Another factor is that Your Party wants no part of Ishihara Shintaro at all. An alliance would threaten any cooperation with them.

The Osaka mayor said talks would get nowhere unless they changed their policies. What happened is that he changed his, even after Sunrise Japan joined the Sun Party. Here’s the list of common policies they agreed on:

1. Convert the consumption tax to a regional tax and cap the rate at 11%.

Making the consumption tax a regional tax will make a close relationship with the LDP difficult.

2. Begin discussions to achieve a state/province system

3. Implement measures to support SMBEs and microenterprises.

4. Social welfare funding sources: Eliminate the portion of central government tax revenues allocated to local governments, optimize social insurance premiums, reexamine benefit levels, and supplement the funding with revenues from the income tax and asset tax.

5. Take a positive attitude toward TPP negotiations but will oppose them if they’re not in national interest.

This is a compromise for both men.

6. Create rules and other safety standards for nuclear power.

Not only has is that a reversal of the Hashimoto position, it just might end opposition to nuclear power as a political issue. An NHK poll taken this week found that only 9% of the electorate considers it to be their most important issue.

7. Urge China to take Senkakus dispute to ICJ.

8. Prohibit corporate and group donations to politics.

[[UPDATE: Yankdownunder sent in this link showing #8 is now inoperable.]]

Mr. Ishihara suggested that he and Mr. Hashimoto share the party presidency, but the younger man declined and took the de facto number two position. His thinking was that he still has a job to do in Osaka, and Osakans would be displeased if he gave up his position a year into his term for a Diet seat.

Said Mr. Ishihara after the deal was cut:

The popular will is filled with fluffy ideas, such as ‘nuclear power is frightening’. Populism is flattering those ideas….The largest, most definite segment of the popular will, however, is ‘This country is in trouble. Do something!’ We must change the structure of governance by the central bureaucracy…

…People talk about a ‘third force’, but we have to become the second force. We have to discard our minor disagreements in favor of our greater agreements and fight together. I’ll be the one to die first, so I’ll pass on the baton later to Mr. Hashimoto. There’s no other politician who acts as if his life depends on it.

Putting aside the question of whether this merger pays off in votes and Diet seats, there are advantages for both parties. Don’t forget that Ishihara Shintaro was the co-author of the Japan That Can Say No. He now is allied with a popular and adroit younger politician who can create the environment in which public figures will stand up for Japan, rather than truckle to other countries. He’s also popular enough to drive the issue of Constitutional reform — and several other previously taboo issues besides.

For example, this week Ishihara Shintaro said this week that Japan should conduct a simulation of the use of a nuclear weapon as a deterrent. He added that he was not calling for a public discussion of whether Japan should now make nuclear weapons, but that it was only his personal opinion.

It might be only his personal opinion, but it has now been broached for public discussion. He added:

Saying that you won’t have nuclear weapons means that your voice in world affairs carries absolutely no weight. Even the US gets all wobbly when it comes to North Korea’s nuclear program.

There will also be no sucking air through the teeth and saying so sorry to China:

It would be desirable if Japan-China relations were friendly, but it would not be desirable at all if Japan became a second Tibet due to Chinese hegemonism.

For his part, Mr. Hashimoto is now allied with someone who has a power base in Tokyo/Kanto, giving the party a real east-west presence. That ally also has a national presence, which Mr. Hashimoto is still developing. It should not be overlooked that the most popular politicians in the country’s two largest cities are now allies working to reduce the power of the central government. (And Nagoya is the third-largest city; even without a formal alliance, Kawamura Takashi is likely to work with them more often than not.)

The drawback is that this merger creates a political party with as much internal incompatibility as the Democratic Party of Japan. One of Hashimoto Toru’s most prominent advisors and supporters is Takenaka Heizo, the Koizumi privatization guru. Also in the party by way of Sunrise Japan is that most paleo of paleo-conservatives, Hiranuma Takeo. Here’s what Mr. Hiranuma thinks of the Koizumi/Takenaka policies.

Perhaps it is the hope of the folks in Osaka that they’ll have outlived the paleos when the time comes they are no longer of use to each other.

I’m no psephologist, and I have no desire to become one, so there will be no predictions from me about this election. You can hear all sorts of wildly varying predictions now anyway. The weekly Sunday Mainichi thinks the LDP and New Komeito combined will win 280 seats, giving them a lower house majority. They project the DPJ will win only 90 seats. The weekly Shukan Gendai, however, wonders if the LDP and New Komeito can reach 200 seats, and they think 75 is a real possibility for Japan Restoration.

The polls are all over the place, and as of this week, close to half the electorate is still undecided. A recent NHK poll found public interest in the election to be very high, and turnout could soar. That means anything in this election is possible, and all sorts of possibilities are flying around. There are now 14 political parties qualified to take part in the election, many of which will not exist at this time next year. One of them is a two-man party formed by a DPJ renegade and ex-People’s New Party head (and before that, ex-LDP honcho) Kamei Shizuka. Mr. Kamei formed his old party as a receptacle for the vested interests of Japan Post after he was dumped from the LDP for opposing privatization. He was a junior coalition partner of the DPJ for the specific purpose of allowing the DPJ to pass legislation in the upper house, and his reward was a Cabinet ministry. The party name for this dynamic duo is The Anti-TPP, Anti-Nuclear Power, Achieve a Freeze of the Consumption Tax Party. (Oh, yes it is!)

The cement in Japanese politics is now wet. The political realignment that people have been waiting for has arrived, or at least the first phase of it. The Big Bang election that just as many people have been waiting for has also arrived, or at least the first in a series of large bangs. If nothing else, the political class will finally learn what they can expect from the voters for betraying their trust and expectations after three years with the DPJ in charge. If they don’t now, they never will.


* Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko said this week:

I will not participate in a competition to lean rightward.

This is the self-described conservative speaking.

On the other hand, he has no choice, whatever it is he really believes.

Roughly 40% of the current DPJ MPs have close labor union ties, and the party’s largest source of organizational support is labor unions.

* During a 15 November TV broadcast, DPJ lower house MP and member of the Noda faction/group, said: “Noda’s attitude changed after he made the deal with Abe. He dissolved the Diet because Abe could put him in the Cabinet — particularly because the Finance Ministry wants him to see the consumption tax through.”

Sitting next to him was former agriculture minister, former DPJ member, and for another month anyway, lower house MP Yamada Masahiko. He heard this and marveled, “Oh, of course that’s what must have happened!” The announcer changed the subject.

Some people expect an LDP-DPJ-New Komeito coalition based on the consumption tax increase passage. Perhaps this has all been a chaban geki designed to stifle the local parties while the stifling’s still possible.

* Said LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru:

The LDP’s biggest foe is the LDP from three years ago, not the DPJ.

He’s right.

* Prime Minister Noda is demanding that all candidates sign a loyalty oath to the party’s policies. That was the excuse Hatoyama Yukio was looking for to retire from politics. It will save him the embarrassment of losing his Hokkaido seat outright, which was a real possibility.

* Former TV comedian and popular Miyazaki Gov. Higashikokubaru Hideo, who palled around a lot with Hashimoto Toru in 2008, is mulling a run as a PR representative for Japan Restoration in either the Tokyo or Kyushu bloc.

He considered running again for Tokyo Metro District governor — he lost to Ishihara Shintaro last year — but decided against it.

But that was earlier this week. Today he said he was still thinking about which he would do.

* Only the old-line journalists are talking much about Ozawa Ichiro in this election. I suspect he is a man whose time has come and gone, and people see him as holding a losing hand. Both Hashimoto Toru and Matsui Ichiro have said they weren’t interested in any arrangement with him. One reason is that his unpopularity would wound Mr. Hashimoto in the same way that Abe Shinzo’s decision to readmit the Japan Post rebels to the LDP wounded him.

* There are other local Restoration parties in addition to the ones discussed here. Three of them are in Ehime: One for the prefecture itself, with four prefecture council members, one for the city of Matsuyama, with 13 city council members (29% of the council), and one for the city of Seiyo, with seven council members (one-third of the total). They’re all working together.

Everybody needs to go to the same karaoke box and belt this out:

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Ichigen koji (216)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 1, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Mr. Ishihara recommends overlooking the small differences in favor of the greater areas of agreement, but these aren’t small differences. His ideas on such issues as nuclear power are all over the place…(The idea that he would create a third force in Japanese politics) is an irrational argument that completely disregards policy.

– Kanagawa Gov. Kuroiwa Yuji on Ishihara Shintaro’s plan to form a new political party. Mr. Kuroiwa was elected for the first time last year with the support of the Liberal Democrats, the Democratic Party, and New Komeito

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Poll results

Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 29, 2012

THE Shinhodo 2001 poll has a small sample size and is conducted only in Tokyo, so everyone knows that the numbers aren’t ironclad. Nevertheless, politicians are said to find the results a useful guide to assessing the public mood.

The most recent survey was taken on Thursday and released on Sunday. Here are the answers that people are looking at.

* Which party will you cast your vote for in the proportional representation round of the next election?

1. Democratic Party (Ruling party): 8.2%
2. Liberal Democratic Party: 28.2%
3. Putting People First Party (Ozawa Ichiro party): 1.8%
4. Japan Restoration Party (Hashimoto Toru party): 3.4%
5. Your Party (first national reform party): 3.8%
6. Don’t know: 43.6

The Jiji poll regularly has the non-affiliated group at more than 50%, and that continues to be the most important overall factor in Japanese politics. Whenever the next election will be held, the DPJ is facing a repudiation of their performance which will probably exceed that for the LDP in 2009.

The numbers for Mr. Hashimoto would probably be higher in the Kansai region. That demonstrates one of the problems he faces — translating his regional popularity nationwide.

It would seem that Ozawa Ichiro’s primary function now is filling space in newspapers.

* Do you support the Noda Cabinet?

Yes: 19.0%
No: 75.6%
Other: 5.4%

These numbers are as ugly as those for Hatoyama Yukio in the spring of 2010. The Japanese system is such that political parties can maintain control with approval ratings at 40+. The pols start to get edgy when it falls into the 30s, and they start thinking about life after the Cabinet in the 20s.

That said, it’s not easy to explain why Noda Yoshihiko’s numbers are this bad. The consumption tax increase was unpopular, but that was discounted months ago. Opposition to his restart of a few nuclear power plants is probably a factor, but that would not explain the corresponding rise in support for the LDP. They aren’t the ones clamoring to shut down nuclear power for good. His government’s response to both China and South Korea this summer has been measured and firm, unlike that of his predecessor, Kan Naoto.

I can only think the public is fed up with the idea of a DPJ government in general, rather than any one specific issue.

* What are your expectations for the new party to be formed by Tokyo Metro District Gov. Ishihara Shintaro?

Positive: 56.0%
Negative: 39.0%
Don’t know: 5.0%

This is puzzling — Mr. Ishihara is 80 years old and cranky. He is not the sort of man to attract voters half his age and younger. Then again, this survey was conducted in Tokyo, which is his base. But because his response to South Korea and China would be firmer still, it’s possible that the public realizes Obsequious Japan is no longer going to work. Standing up for the country — which is not the same as nationalism — is a winner with the public.

* What are your expectations for a possible alliance between Ishihara Shintaro and Hashimoto Toru?

Positive: 51%
Negative: 44%
Don’t know: 4.6%

This is more puzzling, even considering that the numbers for Mr. Hashimoto’s party have been sliding since late summer. (I suspect that might be due to concerns about the problems with China and South Korea, and the Osaka mayor’s inexperience in foreign affairs, rather than anything he did.) Evidently, a few folks in Tokyo like their Ishihara straight and not blended.

* When do you think the lower house should be dissolved and an election held?

This year: 64.2%
Next year: 32.2%
Don’t 3.6%

The impatience is understandable, but as a practical matter, it might be better to hold a double election with the upper house vote scheduled for next summer. That might create a mandate and give a party or an alliance a better chance of passing legislation. The winners of a lower house election now will still have to deal with upper house as it’s presently constituted until next year. Another lower house election would probably be needed, so holding one now might not accomplish much.

Whatever the schedule, Japan’s next election (or series of elections) is likely to be as transformative for this country than the one about to be held in the United States.

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Inose Naoki on the Senkakus purchase

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, September 26, 2012

AS the vice-governor of the Tokyo Metro District, Inose Naoki had a behind-the-scenes view of the circumstances when the national government supplanted the Tokyo Metro District to purchase the Senkaku islets.

Twitter is the de facto Japanese blogosphere, and here is a series of six Tweets he recently wrote presenting the Tokyo Metro District’s viewpoint. They’re a bit sketchy owing to the nature of the medium, but they’re still worth reading.

* It’s very risky for the fishermen from Ishigaki to travel to the Senkakus with its abundant fishery resources. They have five-ton ships and 1 watt radios. The Chinese and the Taiwanese operate much larger ships, and they have 10 watt radios. In light of this, Ishigaki Mayor Nakayama Yoshitaka (a former Diet member) asked if it would be possible to build a basin for their ships and a radio tower. Contact with the owner of the Senkakus was possible through upper house member Santo Akiko.

* A message was relayed from Ms. Santo to (Tokyo) Gov. Ishihara. He met with the owner a year ago. The owner said he wanted to transfer the islets before any problems with the inheritance (taxes) arose. Ordinarily, discussions would have started right away, but the situation became as slippery as an eel. There were financial liabilities, but an investigation would soon turn those up. There were also assets, but a look at the balance sheet showed they were worth about JPY 1.0 – 1.5 billion.

* The owner requested a deposit, but that was not possible because of our responsibility to provide explanations to the taxpayers and the procedures based on the rules of democracy. We conveyed our intent to survey the islands and to entrust the matter to the asset valuation council, which would determine an appropriate price. We would also have to ask the assembly to approve the purchase. At just that time, the Noda government approached the owner with a JPY 2.05 billion-plus offer that would ensure him a large profit.

* What was a simple matter of the domestic transfer of title from the owner to the Tokyo Metro District suddenly became a matter of nationalization. If it’s a question of shifting from an annual rental of JPY 25 million to nationalization, then it’s meaningless. When Prime Minister Noda and Gov. Ishihara met, the prime minister thought the ship basin plan was a good idea, and said he would respond soon. But the Foreign Ministry doesn’t listen to the Kantei (PM’s office). The Kantei has no influence at all.

* The Foreign Ministry made an inquiry to the Chinese in some form, but the (Japanese) official didn’t want to create a disadvantage by doing something unnecessary, so he formally withdrew. It was completely beyond me why they were nationalizing the islets for a bundle of money. It just exposed the government’s indecisiveness for everyone to see, including the Chinese. The sense of the word “nationalization” is completely different in China. They just made excuses.

* Allowing the Hong Kong activists to land on the islets was a clear error in judgment by the Noda administration and the Foreign Ministry. Allowing the issue of the territory to become a dispute will result in further escalation. They should have dealt with them before they reached shore. It is not possible to have a discussion with people who say, “The Senkakus are our land, so we’ll attack and loot Japanese corporations.” What remains is the problem of Chinese pride.

Here’s an unrelated update/addendum that’s too short for a regular post, but still deserves mention.

There is a website called Asia Eye, described as the Official Blog of the Project 2049 Institute. They publish a weekly roundup of featurettes with links called Under the Radar. The heading reads, “A weekly compilation of under-reported events in Asia.”

Here’s this week’s lead story in the parade of under the radar, under-reported events in Asia.

The Japanese government’s purchase of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands has sparked violent street protests throughout China as fishing boats were dispatched to the disputed waters to oppose Japan’s nationalization of the contested islands.

To be fair, some, though not all, of the mini-stories are under-reported. Then again, not all of them are Asia-related. Nevertheless, that’s as good a demonstration as any of why I spend so little time reading what the Western Anglosphere has to say about East Asia.

Posted in China, Government, International relations | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (180)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 23, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

The Japan Restoration Party led by Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru has been launched as a national party. Its logo shows Takeshima as Japanese territory. Hashimoto is the type who utters such absurdities as “There is no evidence that the Japanese army forcibly coerced the comfort women. If there is, South Korea should present it.”

The Japan Restoration Party is expected to win a substantial number of seats in the general election that will be held before long. It is possible they will work with the Liberal Democratic Party to take control of government. If that happens, the voices of the extreme right will grow that much louder.

Even if the Democratic Party were to retain control, the previous absurdities will become an established fact. It is likely there will be no withdrawal, even if more absurdities emerge. The territorial dispute with China is a product of the extreme right. As soon as Tokyo Metro District Gov. Ishihara announced his plan to purchase the islets, the Japanese government produced JPY 250 million as if they had been waiting for it and nationalized the territory. The state and far right politicians are now a group of plotters up to no good.

We ask the 120 million people of Japan: Will you only watch as Japan brings the extreme right to the forefront and you plunge to the level of a third-rate country? Will you forever miss the opportunity that the victims have allowed you?

– Bang Hyeong-nam, Dong-a Ilbo, 15 September

Bonus points to anyone who can find the Takeshima islets in the logo.

Posted in I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, Quotations, South Korea | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Yes, it is inconvenient

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 22, 2012

ON Thursday, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times presented a guest piece in his On The Ground column by Han-Yi Shaw (original name, Shao Hanyi), a Research Fellow at the Research Center for International Legal Studies at the National Chengchi University in Taiwan.

Mr. Shaw suspects that Japan illegally seized the Senkaku islets from China in 1895 and thinks he can prove it. These islets are at the center of a serious dispute between the two countries. The Japanese government’s purchase of some of the islets from their private Japanese owners caused violent demonstrations throughout China last week.

The Shaw article is titled The Inconvenient Truth Behind the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. That’s apt, because the truth is inconvenient indeed — for Mr. Shaw. His piece is weak, short on facts, long on innuendo, and contains internal contradictions and inaccuracies.

And if that weren’t enough, Mr. Shaw unwittingly demonstrates that he doesn’t follow current events in Japan very closely.

The article is filled with lacunae. Here’s how he starts:

Japan’s recent purchase of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands has predictably reignited tensions amongst China, Japan, and Taiwan. Three months ago, when Niwa Uichiro, the Japanese ambassador to China, warned that Japan’s purchase of the islands could spark an “extremely grave crisis” between China and Japan, Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintaro slammed Niwa as an unqualified ambassador, who “needs to learn more about the history of his own country”.

Ambassador Niwa was forced to apologize for his remarks and was recently replaced. But what is most alarming amid these developments is that despite Japan’s democratic and pluralist society, rising nationalist sentiments are sidelining moderate views and preventing rational dialogue.

Now here’s what he doesn’t say and what he left out.

The duties of an ambassador do not include giving interviews to foreign publications, in this case the Financial Times, to influence the policies of his government. Their duties are limited to serving in a foreign country as representatives to express their government’s views and policies.

Mr. Niwa also reportedly made several other poorly received statements, including the suggestion that the Age of a Greater China is coming, and that Japan would be better off becoming a Chinese vassal state.

Mr. Shaw might not know that Niwa Uichiro was not a career diplomat. He resigned his position as chairman of Itochu Corp., a large trading company with extensive business interests in China, to become the ambassador.

He neglects to mention that Mr. Niwa was summoned to Tokyo from Beijing to ensure that he would deliver the messages to China that the Japanese government wanted him to deliver, instead of what Niwa Uichiro thought they should say.

I know of no Japanese who publicly called for Mr. Niwa to be retained in his position. Ishihara Shintaro’s criticism had little, if any, impact on the decision.

But one of the points of Mr. Shaw’s piece is to convey the idea that the ultranationalist Ishihara is preventing “rational dialogue” in Japan’s democratic and pluralistic society.

It is an inconvenient truth for Mr. Shaw, however, that public opinion polling shows little support for Mr. Ishihara in national politics. He put his name behind the effort to create the Sunrise Party of Japan for the upper house elections in 2010. It has seven sitting members in the bicameral Diet at present. None of their members won a seat through direct election in 2010. Only one of them won a proportional representation seat.

That’s important because it means Ishihara Shintaro is incapable of electorally punishing the Democratic Party government of Noda Yoshihiko. Thus, it would seem that Mr. Shaw wants to discredit the Japanese intent to keep the Senkaku islets by demonizing Ishihara Shintaro and suggesting he has a stranglehold on Japanese policymaking. He doesn’t.

I spent some time on this because Mr. Shaw is trying to add a contemporary political dimension to the issue instead of limiting himself to the presentation of historical evidence. People do that sort of thing all the time. But if Mr. Shaw wants to do it, he needs to do some homework first.

He writes:

My research of over 40 official Meiji period documents unearthed from the Japanese National Archives, Diplomatic Records Office, and National Institute for Defense Studies Library clearly demonstrates that the Meiji government acknowledged Chinese ownership of the islands back in 1885.

We’d all like to see his evidence, but he doesn’t show us any. His article is accompanied by photographs of two Meiji-era documents stating that Japanese surveys of the islets were incomplete. Perhaps they were. But he would have better made his point by showing photographs that he thinks are clear proof of Japanese acknowledgement instead of those irrelevant letters. The discussion of historical research should not involve sleight-of-hand. That doesn’t stop him from saying:

Following the first on-site survey, in 1885, the Japanese foreign minister wrote, “Chinese newspapers have been reporting rumors of our intention of occupying islands belonging to China located next to Taiwan.…

I can’t determine from that translated sentence whether the foreign minister thinks the islands belong to China or the Chinese newspapers think the islands belong to China. Heck, the Chinese newspapers still think that. It might have been easy to clear up the syntax had he shown us a photo of that Japanese letter, but instead he shows us two other Japanese letters unrelated to his point.

Is there an inconvenient truth in the letter he doesn’t want us to see? Any more background information he’s leaving out?

Speaking of background, here’s something from a piece I wrote in 2010:

Fukuoka native Koga Tatsuhiro was making a living in Naha, Okinawa, catching and exporting finfish and shellfish when he discovered in 1884 that the islets were the habitat of the rare short-tailed albatross. He started collecting albatross feathers for sale in addition conducting to his fishing business. Ten years later, he applied to the government of Okinawa Prefecture to lease the islands. They turned him down because they weren’t sure who the islands belonged to. Koga then applied to the interior and agriculture ministries in Tokyo, and they turned him down for the same reason… The Senkakus were uninhabited and unclaimed—indeed, they had never been administered at any time by the Chinese government, and there is no record of any Chinese ever living or working there.

That’s relevant, because Mr. Shaw writes:

In November 1885, the Okinawa governor confirmed “since this matter is not unrelated to China, if problems do arise I would be in grave repentance for my responsibility”.

The only things the Okinawa governor confirmed were that the matter might have been related to China because he didn’t know who the islets belonged to, and that claiming territory was not his job. It does not demonstrate that he knew they were Chinese.

Mr. Shaw’s only mention of Koga Tatsuhiro is this:

In his biography Koga Tatsushiro, the first Japanese citizen to lease the islands from the Meiji government, attributed Japan’s possession of the islands to “the gallant military victory of our Imperial forces.”

People say all sorts of things in the spirit of patriotism, particularly after a war. But that “gallant military victory” also resulted in Japanese possession of other islands: Taiwan and the Pescadores. His manner of framing Koga’s involvement and the brevity of the direct quote raise questions that a serious scholar would not leave unanswered.

But if Koga, the operator of a small business, thought the islands were Chinese, Mr. Shaw would have told us. In fact, when Koga first wanted to establish a business there, he went to the Okinawa governor. That suggests he thought they were Japanese, if anything.

Incidentally, Koga and his son ran that business on the islands until 1940, and more than 200 of his employees lived there. It is still possible, however, to run across commentators who say the islands are “uninhabitable”.

Collectively, these official documents leave no doubt that the Meiji government did not base its occupation of the islands following “on-site surveys time and again,” but instead annexed them as booty of war.

Well, that settles that, at least for Mr. Shaw. Or does it?

Here are some more inconvenient truths.

* The first war between China and Japan started in April 1894 and ended when the Chinese sued for peace in February 1895.

* Among the terms of the Treaty of Shimonoseki signed in April 1895, Japan had China give complete independence to Korea, and received the territories of Taiwan, the Liaodong Peninsula (which Russia, France, and Germany made Japan give back a week later), and the Pescadores — other islands near Taiwan.

* The Japanese government annexed the Senkakus in January 1895, one month before the Chinese sued for peace and four months before the Treaty of Shimonoseki.

* The Japanese government knew that Taiwan, the Liaodong Peninsula, and the Pescadores were Chinese territory, and so insisted on them in the treaty negotiations. They even fought and defeated Qing dynasty troops at a garrison in the Pescadores and occupied the islands to ensure the Chinese would give them Taiwan in the negotiations then underway. They didn’t treat them as “booty of war”.

It would be logical to assume that if they thought the Senkakus were also Chinese territory, they would have included them in the treaty too. They were getting everything else they wanted. Therefore, it would seem that the Japanese thought they weren’t anybody’s territory, much less Chinese, and so annexed them.

Japan asserts that neither Beijing nor Taipei objected to U.S. administration after WWII. That’s true, but what Japan does not mention is that neither Beijing nor Taipei were invited as signatories of the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951, from which the U.S. derived administrative rights.

What Mr. Shaw does not mention is that Chiang Kai-shek had the ear of the Allied forces throughout the war. He also participated in the conferences that resulted in the Cairo Declaration of 1943. One clause included the provision that Japan would give back all the territories it seized from China, including Taiwan and the Pescadores. Complaints about the San Francisco Peace Treaty are quibbling.

Indeed, Chiang Kai-shek also wanted Okinawa, but he didn’t get anywhere with that one. The current Chinese government is still trying.

Mr. Shaw also fails to mention that the reason neither the PRC or the ROC were invited to the peace treaty conference is that they were in the middle of a civil war at the time and lacked the legal status to be party to an international agreement.

When Japan annexed the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in 1895, it detached them from Taiwan and placed them under Okinawa Prefecture… Qing period (1644-1911) records substantiate Chinese ownership of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands prior to 1895. Envoy documents indicate that the islands reside inside the “border that separates Chinese and foreign lands.”

A post written by Prof. Shimojo Masao and presented here yesterday demonstrates that is incorrect. The Qing period records Prof. Shimojo presented — including maps that still exist — are clear about the border of China and Taiwan. None of them mentioned the Senkakus. Indeed, Qing dynasty records show that they considered the border to be Mt. Jilong in Taiwan: in 1684, when they incorporated the western part of Taiwan, and 1696, 1728, 1744, and 1793. It’s not possible to detach anything that isn’t attached to begin with.

And according to Taiwan gazetteers, “Diaoyu Island accommodates ten or more large ships” under the jurisdiction of Kavalan, Taiwan.

That’s most curious. If the Taiwan gazetteers were the ones who thought Diaoyu was part of Taiwan, why doesn’t he show us a photo of the publication? He does show us the photo of a gazetteer in the unrelated Fujian Province on the mainland in 1871, but none from Taiwan. Is that because he is aware of the inconvenient truths Prof. Shimojo has uncovered?

Half a century later when Japan returned Taiwan to China…

Chapter 2, Article 2 (b) of the San Francisco treaty:

Japan renounces all right, title and claim to Formosa and the Pescadores.

Japan did not “return Taiwan to China”. It only renounced its right, title, and claim. Every scholar in Taiwan knows this. Does Mr. Shaw have another agenda?

Half a century later when Japan returned Taiwan to China, both sides adopted the 1945 administrative arrangement of Taiwan, with the Chinese unaware that the uninhabited “Senkaku Islands” were in fact the former Diaoyu Islands. This explains the belated protest from Taipei and Beijing over U.S. administration of the islands after the war.

Rather than explain the belated protest, it offers an excuse for the belated protest, and not a very good one at that. The Chinese don’t even know their own geography? For example:

The first is an official letter from a Chinese consul in Nagasaki dated May 20, 1920 that listed the islands as Japanese territory.

The letter contained the Japanese name for the Senkakus rather than the Chinese name. What Mr. Shaw finds inconvenient to mention is that the document is an official expression of gratitude for the Japanese rescuing Chinese fishermen who were shipwrecked on the islets. They didn’t know what islets they were?

The “belated protest” didn’t come until 1971, after the potential for undersea resources were discovered in the area and the Americans and the Japanese signed the agreement to restore Okinawa to Japan.

Up until then, as I’ve noted before:

8 January 1953: Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily) published an article titled “The Ryukyu Islanders’ Struggle against American Occupation” (i.e., Okinawa). The article mentioned the Senkakus, used that name, and stated they were part of the Ryukyus.

November 1958: A Beijing company published a map of the world showing the Senkakus as Japanese territory and using the Japanese name.

October 1965: The Research Institute for Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense published a series of world maps. It showed the islets as part of Japanese territory and used the Japanese name Senkakus. Here is a color reproduction of the map itself on a Taiwanese website. The poster worries about how the map would affect the Taiwanese claim. Scroll down to see the magical mystery change on the map for the 1972 edition.

6 October 1968: The Taiwanese newspaper Lianhebao (United Daily News) published an article explaining that Taiwanese fishermen were prohibited from fishing in the Senkakus. They used the Japanese name.

Hit this link for a look at the front page of the People’s Daily, as well as a Chinese map published in 1953, and republished in 1958, 1960, and 1967.

But Mr. Shaw would have us believe:

The Japanese government frequently cites two documents as evidence that China did not consider the islands to be Chinese. The first is an official letter from a Chinese consul in Nagasaki dated May 20, 1920 that listed the islands as Japanese territory. The second piece evidence is a Chinese map from 1958 that excludes the Senkaku Islands from Chinese territory. But the Japanese government’s partial unveiling leaves out important information from the map’s colophon: “certain national boundaries are based on maps compiled prior to the Second Sino-Japanese War(1937-1945).”

I count three more maps from China, two from Taiwan (one for a junior high school textbook), an article in the People’s Daily, and an article in a Taiwanese newspaper.

That’s more than “two”.

And that’s not to mention the classified 1969 Chinese government map reported in the United States to be in the possession of the Japanese government, and which has been seen by sources at that media outlet.

Want to bet that the US government also has seen it? Perhaps that’s the back story for this report which appeared yesterday:

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for East Asian and Pacific Affairs) Kurt Campbell said islands at the heart of a dispute between Japan and China fall under an American defense pact with Japan, while urging the sides to resolve the standoff via diplomacy…The U.S. doesn’t take a position on the sovereignty of the islands, known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, Campbell said. His comments echoed those of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said in 2010 that the islands fall under “mutual treaty obligations” with the Japan government.

And that comment about the colophon is so disingenuous as to be odiferous. The author would have us believe it refers to the Senkakus, whose status wasn’t in dispute for decades before or after the second war with China. But Japan also occupied the Spratlys and the Paracels during the war and relinquished them after 1945 as well. Disputes about the Spratlys continue to the present with Vietnam. Unfortunately, the author doesn’t address anything about that part of the map. Would it show something that he finds inconvenient? In addition, the borders of China, Outer Mongolia, and Inner Mongolia frequently shifted before and after the war. Was the colophon referring to that? Instead of answer, Mr. Shaw gives us only more innuendo.

Concludes Mr. Shaw:

The right to know is the bedrock of every democracy. The Japanese public deserves to know the other side of the story.

On 21 August this year, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou appeared on Japanese television and presented his case that the Senkaku islets were Taiwan’s territory. I’d be glad to introduce Mr. Shaw to the NHK producer who edited the program for broadcast if he wants to know how much the Japanese public knows. He sure doesn’t know now.

In his introduction to the piece, Nicholas Kristof writes:

I invite any Japanese scholars to make the contrary legal case.

Though a Ph.D isn’t essential to debate an activist academic, Mr. Kristof’s request is a reasonable one for maintaining the level of dialogue in his column and at the newspaper.

But a Japanese scholar has already accepted Mr. Kristof’s request to make a contrary legal case, and notification of that acceptance has been sent to him.

We’ll see what happens next.


People will have to distort the facts to make the claim that only the ultra-rightwing nationalists are the obstacle. The Japanese Communist Party, ultra-rightwing nationalist scalawags that they are, also addresses the issue on their website:

The Senkaku Islands question has nothing to do with the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95. The Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty to conclude the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 decided to cede Taiwan and the Penghu Islands to Japan. This was Japan’s territorial expansion, which can never be justified. But every historical document tells us that the Senkaku Islands question was dealt with separately from the Taiwan and Penghu Islands question. In the negotiations on the Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty, the question of title to the Senkaku Islands was not taken up.

The JCP, by the way, also complained that the U.S. military used the islets for target practice.

Posted in China, History, International relations, Politics, Taiwan | Tagged: , , , | 28 Comments »

Ichigen koji (175)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, September 18, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

I’ve been watching CCTV all morning, and it’s easy to see that the most famous Japanese person in China is Ishihara Shintaro.

– Tweeer Aceface, who works in the Japanese television industry

Posted in China, International relations | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »


Posted by ampontan on Monday, September 17, 2012

FROM a Chinese Weibo to a Japanese Tweet to you: The slogan for the day for the demonstrations in Kunming:

“Without human rights, slavery will increase even if we expand our territory. Without freedom, we’ll be surrounded, even with a powerful military and weapons. Without fairness, we’ll only be exploited, even if our economy grows. Without democracy, the darkness of tyranny will only deepen, even if our nation is strong.”

Sounds as if they have more on their mind than some Japanese islands, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, the guessing game has started, especially in Japan: Who started it? Here’s the handicapping for the three choices.

1. Xi Jinping, the future president
He’s the type and he has the authority, but he doesn’t have much of a motive.

2. Hu Jintao, the current president
He has the authority and the motive (ingratiating himself with the military), but is he the type?

3. Sympathizers of the disgraced Bo Xilai
They’re the type and they have the motive, but do they have the authority to pull it off?

One of these days, we might even find out.

Finally, Cheng Yonghua, China’s ambassador to Japan, gave a long interview to the Mainichi Shimbun that was published today. Here’s part of what he said:

“In mid-April this year, Tokyo Metro District Gov. Ishihara Shintaro of all people went to the United States and declared that Tokyo would purchase the islets. Everyone knew this was a confrontational act. By soliciting money from the public, he expanded the contradiction to the level of the citizens. He intentionally created a crisis between the people of both countries.

“Rather than restrict this behavior that would create an uproar, the Japanese government took advantage of the circumstances and purchased the islets themselves, greatly harming Sino-Japanese relations.”

Mr. Cheng seems to forget who started the confrontation in 2010, why Mr. Ishihara took that step, and that governments in free market countries are limited in their ability to stop private-sector real estate transactions, but then he has a job to do.

One more quick one: Hit this link to see 11 excellent photos of the Chinese fishing fleet (and patrol boats) headed to the East China Sea. Many will surely head for the Senkakus. The Nikkei Shimbun yesterday estimated the number at about 10,000. It’s essential viewing for more reasons than one.

Hold on, they keep coming: Another current Weibo to Japanese Tweet to you:

“The Chinese infrastructure, Beijing Airport, Pudong Airport, the main railway lines, power plants, and steel mills were all built with Japanese ODA using long-term, low-interest loans. As President Hu Jintao said when he visited Japan, ‘China’s modernization would not have been possible without Japanese ODA'”.

What the restrictions of the medium prevent him from saying is that Japanese ODA was, in part, de facto war reparations. When Sino-Japanese relations were restored 40 years ago this year, the Chinese chose not to ask for reparations in the spirit of letting bygones be bygones and looking to the future.

But that was then.

Gosh, an update already: Here’s a headline from an editorial in the People’s Daily today.

“When will China pull the trigger on economic sanctions of Japan?”

They conclude by asking if Japan is ready to have the 10 lost years of the economy turn into 20.

And another: Here’s a photo of a banner in Kunming, this from yesterday. This slogan reads, according to Japanese sources, “How to take back the Senkakus? Send the city’s Urban Management Bureau and the corrupt bureaucrats!”

Hard to keep up: A Chinese tweet from a microblogging account in the name of the CEO of a Shanghai company charges that the demonstrations which turned violent in Changsha (trashing the Japanese Heiwa-do department store) on the 15th were conducted by a group of junior high and high school students organized by the Zhuzhou Ribao. That’s a daily newspaper in the city of Zhuzhou in Hunan Province, southeast of the provincial capital of Changsha. He asks, “Who is the biggest mafia in this country?” The newspaper denies the charges. The CEO’s name looks like Pu Mengliao

Posted in China | Tagged: , | 6 Comments »

The glossy paper counterfeit

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, July 14, 2012

The courage to say that Japanese islands are Japanese territory is now required. (Caption on a poster from the Tokyo Metro District)

ONE of the unexpected benefits of extensive study and research into Japan is that it exposes the imposters — immediately and without forgiveness. Also unexpected (at first) was that the worst of the imposters turned out to be the biggest brand names in professional journalism. Now it is no longer unexpected. It’s a handy rule of thumb.

Seated among the inner circle of the hierophantic fabulists is The Economist of Britain. Their ability to offer their consumers worthwhile information on Japan is in indirect proportion to their international reputation. It is as if their objective is to provide a burlesque of news coverage for the entertainment of their readers, rather to provide information and educated analysis.

For Exhibit A, look no further than their short article on the Senkaku islets of Japan. The bologna starts with the title:

Jingoist jangles

The activities they would characterize as jingoist in the piece regarding the Senkakus are exclusively Japanese. Here are the facts: Japan was the only country to have taken an interest in the islets, and both China and Taiwan recognized them as Japanese territory, until it was determined there could well be extensive deposits of natural resources in the seabed nearby. Japanese are the only people to have lived there. The Chinese gave them a name a few centuries ago, but only because they are a maritime landmark on the sea route to the Ryukyus.

But because they insist on territorial integrity, the Japanese are slapped with the “jingoist” label.

The sub-heading:

A row over some goat-infested rocks heats up

Apart from the novel coinage of “goat-infested”, the title and the subheading are an attempt to cop some edgy blogger snark that comes off instead like white suburbanites singing the praises of Jah Rastafari. When you can’t back up an attitude with real ability or knowledge, it’s just a pose.

The point of the goats is revealed in the lede:

IN THE 1970s Japanese ultra-rightists took two goats on a 2,000km (1,250-mile) trip southwest from Tokyo to a group of uninhabited rocks near Taiwan called the Senkaku Islands. In the absence of humans willing to live in such a remote outpost, the hardy creatures would be the vanguard of a new push to solidify Japan’s hold over the islets, which are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

Goats in the vanguard, eh?

The impression they want to create: There go those clazy Japanese ultra-rightists again. The reality they want to ignore: Behavior of this sort is too rare to have any significance other than as media space filler. Some overexcited Chinese buccos have also used the Senkakus as a playground, but The Economist ignored them too.

By the way, the goats — 1978 was the date of introduction — are viewed with alarm by environmentalists worried they are despoiling the pristine natural environment (which is, by treaty, a live ammunition target range for the US navy).

Now the prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, has signalled a more serious involvement in the dispute, by suggesting on July 6th that he plans to nationalise the privately held chain.

What they mean is that Mr. Noda wants to buy them from the Japanese who own them. They are already part of Japan.

On July 11th three Chinese patrol vessels were briefly spotted by the Japanese coastguard in waters near the Senkakus. That led to a flurry of hot-tempered diplomatic exchanges.

The article implies this “brief spotting” is the reason for all those whacked out jingoist jangles. It contains only a brief reference to the hot-tempered Chinese response in the fall of 2010 when a Chinese “fishing boat” captain rammed two Japanese Coast Guard vessels warning him of approaching the islands, the captain’s arrest, and the Chinese government’s subsequent scenery-chewing performance in the role of Righteously Indignant Great Power on the world stage.

The single reference consists of two sentences at the end of paragraph eight of a nine-paragraph piece, and mentions only “Chinese protests”. In the real world, the Chinese protests included a cutoff of rare earth metal exports to Japan and the trumped-up arrest on spying charges of two men working on an environmental project in China for Chinese benefit.

Mr Noda’s move is a clear political victory for Tokyo’s governor, Shintaro Ishihara. In April the famously outspoken nationalist, who has long warned that Japan could become a “colony” of China, announced a plan to buy the Senkakus on behalf of the city.

The article contains no mention of the revelation that Sengoku Yoshito, the first chief cabinet secretary in the Kan Cabinet — the people who botched the 2010 incident — told another legislator that the Japanese were already vassals of the Chinese. In The Economist formulation, ex-Socialist Sengoku meekly accepting the fate of vassalage is not worthy of remark, but an effort by a prominent politician to maintain territorial integrity requires that he be termed a “famously outspoken nationalist”. One wonders what The Economist would say if the French took it into their heads to claim Guernsey. Goats live there, too.

A private fund raised 1.3 billion yen ($16.4m) in donations, with pledges of more.

That amount is a reflection of public interest and is a direct result of both Chinese behavior and the DPJ government’s limp response two years ago, but The Economist will never tell you that.

The tailwind behind Mr Ishihara’s campaign forced Mr Noda off a fence on which most Japanese leaders have sat since 1971.

What “sitting on a fence” means in this context, I have no idea, and I suspect the author doesn’t either. Japanese national leaders never had to do anything about the islets until the Chinese took it into their heads to resume their occupancy of the chair Evil Western Powers forced them to vacate as the Flower in the Center of the Universe.

That was when China began to make diplomatic noises about what it calls the Diaoyus.

Here is what The Economist considers “diplomatic noises”:

The day after Mr Noda’s announcement, a spokesman in Beijing called the islets “sacred territory” and pledged to defend them.

Want to bet if it were Ishihara Shintaro they’d have found some way to combine rightwing Japanese nationalism with the threat of a holy war?

(Coincidently, this week Apple appears to have removed a patriotic Chinese iPad application, called “Defend the Diaoyu” from its Chinese App store, according to the China Daily, a state-run newspaper.)

Not coincidentally, The Economist fails to mention that the app showed samurai, ninja, and other stereotypical characters “invading” islands that are part of Japan. But the publication thought it was “patriotic” for the Chinese, rather than ultra-rightwing nationalist.

China believes the islands were annexed by Japan as spoils of the 1895 Sino-Japanese War.

Trying to justify hegemonistic behavior causes people to believe a lot of things, and this belief is incorrect. Approximate correlation on the time scale does not mean causation, or even connection. Even the Japanese Communist Party doesn’t buy it.

What is correct: The Chinese and Taiwanese recognized the islands as Japanese in official documents, maps, and even a newspaper article in the Maoist-era People’s Daily, starting in 1895. The boulevard-sized paper trail still exists. China complained throughout the 1930s and during the war about Japanese and French possession of islands in the South China Sea, but said nothing about the Senkakus. The San Francisco Treaty after the war that formally determined which Japanese-occupied territory was to be removed from Japanese possession allowed the Senkakus to remain Japanese. The Chinese had no problem with Japanese possession of the islands until (1) resources were discovered nearby, and (2) the Americans returned Okinawa to Japan, which meant that the Chinese now only had to deal with a Japan hamstrung by a pacifist constitution, rather than the U.S. military.

In 1972, at the end of America’s post-war occupation of the Okinawa islands, they reverted to Japan. It refuses to acknowledge the claims of either China or Taiwan.

What is the reason for the appearance of the second sentence? Why should they acknowledge their claims?

In pushing for nationalisation, Mr Noda may be trying to prevent further tensions.

Mr. Noda is trying to prevent the Chinese from annexing Japanese territory. By doing so, he is also trying to prevent China from prying loose Okinawa and making it a 21st century Chinese fiefdom. But the magazine (which they still insist on calling a paper) ignores the nominally non-governmental efforts of Chinese to accomplish the latter. Investigating that would require reading Chinese newspapers and websites. Too much work, what?

But if China takes it the wrong way, the stakes will become higher than fish and a few scraggly goats.

There is only one way for a hegemon to take rejection, and that is the wrong way. Note, by the way, another desperate attempt to combine cleverness with commentary with the fish-and-goat snark after they already wrote that oil and gas deposits were at stake.

For another example of The Economist’s imitation of a color Sunday comic strip, try this blog post from two years ago by someone whose ignorance of contemporary Japan is exceeded only by his ability to communicate with the ephemera of ultra-rightwing Japanese militarism during a séance. They were quickly put in their place by the person who wrote the comment at the top.

Their explanation of the blog’s title on the right sidebar provides more unintentional humor.

It is clear that getting things right is not the objective of the magazine. Indeed, the consistent extremist slant of their pieces on Japan raises suspicions that they’re still bitter over the early wartime Japanese success that signaled the beginning of the end of the British Empire.

It also raises the suspicion that the rest of their magazine is equally worthless. Falsus in unum, falsus in omnibus.

One has to feel sorry for the people who consume the publication and thereby think they know something of what is happening in the world. They certainly won’t know anything about East Asia.

UPDATE: Chinese intentions become clearer still, but some people would rather not get it.

This track has the finest in musical infrastructure — the band, the singer, and the arrangement are superb. All of it is wasted on the lyrical content. It is the perfect analogue for the two articles cited in this post.

Posted in China, History, Holidays, International relations, Mass media, Taiwan, World War II | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Watanabe Yoshimi on political alliances

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 6, 2012

A coalition government would be the best (way) to prevent an election being fought on the issues of a consumption tax increase and the restart of the nuclear power plants.
– Sengoku Yoshito, chief cabinet secretary in the first Kan Naoto cabinet and current backroom DPJ heavyweight

THE biweekly Sapio interviewed Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi about his views on potential alliances between his party, the successful regional parties, and a new party that might be formed by Tokyo Metro Gov. Ishihara Shintaro. The premise of the interview was that the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Liberal Democrats and New Komeito have formed a de facto coalition to pass the consumption tax increase. The magazine referred to this coalition as Tax Increase Assistance Association, a deliberate play on words using some of the kanji from the name of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association, a body formed in 1940 by disbanding the political parties and merging them into one central organization with the bureaucracy and military leadership. The interview appeared in the 18 July edition.

Q: Tokyo Metro District Governor Ishihara Shintaro is showing signs of responding to the One Osaka group by forming a new political party. Will Your Party, One Osaka, and a new Ishihara party create a third force in Japanese politics?

Watanabe: I’ll be paying attention to the policies of a new Ishihara party. Gov. Ishihara’s true values have been those of a right-leaning conservative politician for many years. In contrast, while Mr. Hashimoto does support the group singing of the national anthem, he is not necessarily a politician that leans to the right. I have the impression that his thoughts and beliefs are very restrained. You can get an idea of his thinking by looking at the instructors in foreign policy and security at his political juku, based on One Osaka’s eight statements of principle. They selected people who aren’t hawks, such as Okamoto Yukio and Kitaoka Shin’ichi.

I wonder how far Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Ishihara would be able to work together on foreign policy and security. To begin with, the stance of One Osaka is opposition to the consumption tax increase and their proposal that the tax should be made a revenue source for local government. I have not heard Mr. Ishihara express an opinion like that.

Q: People are saying that Sonoda Hiroyuki, the Sunrise Japan party secretary general and the driving force behind a new Ishihara party, has called on One Osaka and Your Party to form an alliance.

Watanabe: The next election will certainly be fought on the issues of the tax increase and the restart of the nuclear power plants. We’ve said that there are things to do before raising taxes, and things we must do before restarting the plants. Sunrise Japan probably supports the restart of the plants, and thinks the tax increase is necessary, putting them close to the LDP. Even if Mr. Ishihara created a new party with people of that sort and became its head, it wouldn’t create an opposing force to the LDP and DPJ.

Q: You could not create a third force with a new Ishihara party?

Watanabe: I haven’t heard that Mr. Ishihara is opposed to a tax increase or restarting the power plants. Without agreement on those…

Q: Both Your Party and One Osaka promote the deregulation of power generation. You’re in agreement with Gov. Ishihara on that point.

Watanabe: The deregulation of power generation is part of our agenda. We think Tokyo Electric Power should be liquidated, and the assets that can be sold should be sold off on the premise that the generation and transmission operations will be separated. Discussions might move forward if he goes so far as to make that argument for complete deregulation. Mr. Ishihara says he is going to launch a new party. I’m at the stage now where I can’t make a judgement until the party has been formed and I hear what policies they will pursue.

Further, the extremely strong ties in the Ishihara family are very well known. His children respect their father, and the father is concerned about his sons. Mr. Ishihara’s eldest son is the secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, and his third son was defeated in an election running as an LDP candidate. Considering that, I wonder if he would really launch a new party that would interfere with his sons. If the intent of the new party is to be a supplementary force to the LDP, then we wouldn’t be able to work with them. It is necessary to take the measure of the new Ishihara party policies and their political course.

Q: But One Osaka has invited Mr. Ishihara to lecture at their political juku, and Mr. Hashimoto and other senior party members are holding discussions with former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo of the LDP. Aren’t One Osaka and the LDP coming closer together?

Watanabe: Perhaps the thinking of the people at One Osaka is that if none of their senior members, such as Mayor Hashimoto or Osaka Gov. Matsui, enter national politics, the only people from One Osaka who will be in national politics are first term council members. One might imagine that they could have exchanged opinions with Mr. Ishihara and Mr. Abe about who would be suitable to play a leadership role in uniting the Diet members.

If that is the case, it would be a problem if all of a sudden, their leader in the Diet was still an LDP member. But Mr. Ishihara seems to be thinking of using Sunrise Japan as the core of his new party, and Mr. Abe does not seem to be interested in leaving the LDP.

In that regard, I think One Osaka’s strategy and organization will now begin to take shape. What’s important is that the DPJ and the LDP have gotten on board the current governance mechanism of centralized authority led by the bureaucracy. Both Your Party and One Osaka say that governance mechanism should be changed. We would be finished in the instant we joined hands with an existing party. That’s why we will not become a supplementary force to an existing party.

They’ve got the ABCs down, now to work it out as far as the XYZs. Uehara Hiromi playing piano is as good an image as any of the political ferment in Japan today below the level of the National Political Establishment. Watch and listen to her bang her right fist into the keyboard at about the 2.30 mark, slip in a bit of salsa, and then go roaring off in several other directions.

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

Diplomatic service

Posted by ampontan on Monday, July 2, 2012

SINCE Cardinal Richelieu created the first foreign ministry in 1626, the training of a professional diplomatic corps has been a priority for countries that wish to project their presence overseas. More than 50 countries operate academies for their diplomats today. The French now have the Diplomatic Missions and Consulate Institute (IDC). The Instituto Rio Branco has a reputation for providing rigorous training to the novice foreign service officers in Brazil. Here’s a section from the American government website:

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) is the Federal Government’s primary training institution for officers and support personnel of the U.S. foreign affairs community, preparing American diplomats and other professionals to advance U.S. foreign affairs interests overseas and in Washington. At the George P. Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center, the FSI provides more than 600 courses—including some 70 foreign languages—to more than 100,000 enrollees a year from the State Department and more than 40 other government agencies and the military service branches.

Japan also has a Foreign Service Training Institute. Here’s the description from the Foreign Ministry’s English-language website:

The Foreign Service Training Institute takes charge of providing training programs that can be classified into three main categories: Training for Newly-recruited Foreign Ministry Officials, Training for Overseas Pre-Postings, and Training for Mid-career Personnel.

Considering the behavior of Japan’s Northeast Asian neighbors, however, sophisticated instruction for diplomats might not be necessary. Take the case of China:

China’s Foreign Ministry slammed Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara on Friday for suggesting that if a giant panda on loan from China gives birth at a Tokyo zoo, the cub should be named after the Senkaku Islands, a cluster of Japan-controlled isles in the East China Sea also claimed by Beijing… Ishihara said that if a baby panda is born, it should be named “Sen Sen” or “Kaku Kaku,” referring to a recent announcement by Ueno Zoo that the female giant panda Shin Shin has shown signs of pregnancy.

Mr. Ishihara has been a public figure for more than half a century and a politician for more than 30 years, so he understands quite well how to use the media platform as a weapon. In this case, he’s employing that weapon to promote his plan to purchase the Senkaku islets from their private owners. Anyone with younger siblings or cousins will immediately recognize that he was baiting (teasing) the Chinese into an overreaction. (It’s obvious from the parodic Chinese names he selected.) Sure enough, the Chinese snapped it up:

“Ishihara’s scheme to undermine China-Japan relations is a clumsy performance. It will only tarnish the image of Japan and Tokyo,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a news conference.

Here comes the part that probably had the Tokyo governor doubling over with laughter in the privacy of his office:

“No matter what names the Japanese side gives, it cannot change the fact that the two pandas belong to China,” Hong said.

How did we ever live without foreign ministry spokesmen?

Here’s the part that was the desired reaction:

“Likewise, what names Japan gives to the Diaoyu Island and the adjacent isles, it cannot change the fact that these islands belong to China,” he said.

Shame on Kyodo for calling the Senkakus “Japan-controlled”, by the way. They’re Japanese territory. The Chinese continually recognized Japanese sovereignty and were never interested in controlling them until mineral deposits were found on sea beds nearby.

Then there’s South Korea. We can always depend on the Koreans to offer a rich vein of material for stories on bilateral relations:

Japan and South Korea on Friday postponed signing their first-ever military agreement, aimed at sharing classified information, due to a last-minute request from South Korea amid concern about a public backlash over the strengthening of cooperation with its former colonial power.

The postponement, announced around 20 minutes before the planned signing ceremony in Tokyo at 4 p.m., reflects how difficult it is for the two countries to work together amid South Korea’s lingering resentment over Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

Shame on Kyodo again. It’s not difficult at all for Japan to work with South Korea — when the latter demonstrates adult behavior. Cancelling a ceremony to sign a treaty 20 minutes before it is to be held because those cancelling it are incapable of explaining the advantages to the public six months before a national election is not adult behavior. It’s cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Lee Hae Chan, chairman of the main opposition Democratic United Party, said the accord is “like offering military secrets to Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.”

…which, the world knows, the Japanese would employ to start their secret planning for an amphibious assault on Busan.

But then some people seem to make an avocation of claiming that night is day. The advantage in military secrets gained would be Seoul’s:

South Korea needs the pact “because we have to use Japan’s intelligence assets, including its spy satellites and high-end surveillance aircraft,” said the South Korean official quoted by Yonhap.

“It is an undeniable fact that the existence of Japan is important for our national security,” the official said, citing the presence of U.S. forces in Japan, as well as in South Korea.

The military intelligence pact is also needed to cope with China’s rise, the official told Yonhap.

Then again, the Japanese factor into their thinking the millennia-old Korean tendency for Chinese appeasement.

Kyodo’s article has other problems, too:

Japan has so far reached similar agreements only with the United States, France and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

They fail to mention that South Korea has similar agreements with 24 countries, including Russia, and the government is planning to discuss an agreement with China. But it’s the cloven-hooved ilbonnom who can’t be trusted.

The two countries dropped the word “military” from the name of the agreement as some Koreans still hold bitter memories of Japan’s colonial rule.

…99% of whom aren’t old enough to remember Japan’s “colonial rule”, during which time, Japan spent 20% of its national budget on Korean development (in the early years) and permitted girls to attend school for the first time. The major Japanese companies built factories, branches, and sales outlets on the peninsula, providing substantial employment opportunities as well as consumer goods. The Japanese built the first major utilities there as well. In the late 1920s, the largest power company was 100% Japanese-owned, but by 1940 was 9% Korean-owned. That Korean ownership stake was taken by large financial institutions, which also didn’t exist until the Japanese got there. By all estimates, population on the peninsula was falling prior to 1910, but it doubled over the next 35 years of misery and torture.

In short, scrape away all the delicious emotionalism, and you’ll find that those are the memories which are really the bitter ones.

The people who wish to enter the Japanese diplomatic service and serve in Northeast Asian countries don’t have to go to all that trouble to attend the Foreign Service Training Institute. That would be a waste of time and resources.

The training received by summer playground counselors should be more than enough.

If I were a Japanese foreign service officer, I think a posting to the Siamese Ghetto would be more fun.

Posted in China, History, I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, Military affairs, South Korea | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Hauling ash

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, May 29, 2012

LAST SUNDAY we had a post that dealt, in part, with a mini-sit-in held at the entrance of a refuse incineration facility in Kitakyushu that was to conduct a trial burning of 80 tons of debris generated by the Tohoku disaster. The demonstrators held up the process until the police removed them from the premises.

The incineration went ahead as scheduled, the city measured the radioactivity in the fly ash collected in the smokestack filters, and the results were announced yesterday. The national government’s minimum standard for landfill is no more than 3,000 becquerels per kilogram. As I noted last week, the city is known for its rigorous environmental standards, and their target for the fly ash was a much lower 330 becquerels per kilogram.

One of the incineration sites measured 19 becquerels, and the other measured 30.

The city’s standard for the bottom ash (the ash that never left the incinerator) is no more than 100 becquerels per kilogram. They detected none at either location. The mayor will announce the city’s decision next month on whether to continue the incineration, and these results make it more likely that they will.

It is of critical importance that other regions help with the incineration.  The Tohoku earthquake disaster created 29 million cubic meters of debris. Most of it has yet to be disposed of, though it has been organized into piles. Preventing that disposal is a combination of hysteria, willful ignorance, and the Not In My Backyard phenomenon:

“We think the debris is contaminated with Caesium and we do not trust the government tests,” she said. “There has been a lot of misleading information from officials so it is difficult now to trust any directive from above.”

Mrs Aki, who conceded that the city was probably evenly split for and against the decision, suggested that the waste should remain in the tsunami zone, and perhaps be stored in the exclusion zone around the stricken nuclear plant, which will be a dead zone for decades.

In other words, out of sight, out of mind. One foreigner on Twitter recently asked an open question (in Japanese) of the protesters: Do you really think the government is making all this up? Is this man betraying the public trust?

“We have tested all of our rubbish and not found any radiation,” said Sato Yoshinori, a spokesman for Ishinomaki council. “The amounts we found were background levels. So it is a shame that people perceive there is danger in a place like Ishinomaki, that does not have any radiation. It is a shame they do not see that.”

Ishinomaki is the source of the debris incinerated at Kitakyushu.

As to be expected, the usual concerns remain, and some of them are on the legit. The Nishinippon Shimbun quoted someone identified as being in the “agricultural and maritime industry” as saying:

“No matter how often the government insists that it is scientifically safe, it is possible that the reputation of our products will be harmed if that is not fully understood by the consumers.”

Then there was this from Saito Toshiyuki:

“It is a fact that radioactive material was detected in the fly ash, and the city’s target figures themselves are unclear.”

Mr. Saito is an attorney and an anti-nuclear power activist, but you probably guessed that already. The patter and the pattern are universal. That includes the implication that it’s a terrible, terrible outrage if everything everywhere isn’t absolutely perfect and pure and socially just at all times, and there are no leaky faucets in anyone’s lives.

Meanwhile,  a citizens’ group in Tokyo called (roughly) “National Referendum on Nuclear Power: Let’s All Decide Together”,  asked the metro district government today to pass a law to allow a local referendum.  You’ve also probably guessed what their preferred outcome would be.

That cranky old fart xenophobic right-wing nationalist creep Ishihara Shintaro, the metro district governor, replied briefly and to the point:

“That is a judgment the national government should calmly make.”

He has the ear and political friendship of Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, who has emerged as the national leader of the nuclear hysteria faction. Perhaps Mr. Ishihara would consider playing the role of wise old uncle and lay some wisdom on him.

It has not escaped the notice of some Japanese that one man is behaving like an adult and the other is behaving like a child.

N.B.: For reason #21,947 demonstrating why I bang on so often about the lackwits assigned by the overseas English-language media to write about Japan, look carefully at the linked Telegraph article. On this website, I use the Japanese (and Chinese and Korean) custom of writing family names first and given names second. Most English-language media outlets, however, reverse them into the Western order. The names of the two people provided to the Telegraph’s correspondent were in the traditional Japanese order. That would be obvious to anyone who has spent about a month in Japan and gotten accustomed to people’s names.

Not the journo at the Telegraph, however. He refers to the woman as “Mrs. Aki”. That’s the equivalent of calling someone “Mrs. Debbie”. A closer look at that page shows that he is identifed as a “foreign correspondent” and Tweeting from China. There is no mention of whether he packed his Burberry trenchcoat for his grand East Asian adventure.


Let’s continue the theme from the previous post, titled Cultural Notes.

The situation in the Tohoku region is bad enough, but it’s much worse in Haiti, more than two years after its earthquake. The emphasis is mine.

But two years later, over half a million people remain homeless in hundreds of informal camps, a majority of the tons of debris from destroyed buildings still lays where it fell, and cholera, a preventable disease, was introduced into the country and is now an epidemic killing thousands and sickening hundreds of thousands more. Haiti today looks like the earthquake happened two months ago, not two years.

Haitians ask the same question as the US Congress, “Where is the money?”

The authors think they have identified the problem.

The effort so far has not been based a respectful partnership between Haitians and the international community.

But the New York Times thinks real progress is being made:

Haitians have seen real progress in the last two years. About half of the 10 million cubic feet of quake debris has been removed from Port-au-Prince and other areas. More people have access to clean water in the capital than before the quake. With investment from a Korean garment maker, an industrial park is being built in the northeast, with the promise of 20,000 jobs.

They have a suggestion for speeding up the process:

A United Nations analysis showed that while many nations have been generous, particularly the United States, Brazil, Canada, Spain and France, almost all the money has gone to nongovernmental organizations and private contractors. To build Haitian capacity, that will have to change, and the commission can help — by giving guidance to Haiti’s ministries and monitoring their efforts.

But oddly, in the next paragraph, we see the answer to the charge that there’s hasn’t been a respectful partnership, and the reason the money isn’t going to the government:

President Martelly is a more engaged leader than his predecessor. In the fall, he announced a plan to house 30,000 residents of six tent cities with rental subsidies and new construction. More than a half-million Haitians remain in camps and it is not clear if he will take on powerful landowners to free up the land needed for rebuilding. He needs to abandon his focus on building an army. What Haiti needs is a professional, accountable police force.

If this president is more engaged, even though his focus is on building an army instead of cleaning up the rubble, we can only imagine what his predecessor must have been like. (Perhaps the threat of invasion from the Dominican Republic is greater than we realized.) We also can imagine the behavior of the local police.

Ah, but the human spirit remains triumphant in the face of all disasters. Here’s a glowing report on the response of some Haitians:

The metal figures standing like sentinels in the middle of an exhibit of contemporary Haitian art are created from a mishmash of scrap metal and found objects: nails, marbles, old shoes, bed springs, tire treads, hub caps, pieces of fans and other discards.

…The figures created from found objects were sculpted by Guyodo, Andre Eugene and Jean Herard Celeur, three members of the group Atis Rezistans, an artists’ collective living and working in downtown Port-au-Prince. The group has showcased its artwork and creative process in a mash-up of high art-meets-the developing world called “Ghetto Biennale,” which opened a month before the earthquake and returned last month.

Their work in “Haiti Kingdom of This World” exemplifies the exhibit’s theme of celebrating Haitian artists’ creativity and resourcefulness while challenging viewers to look beyond Haiti’s reputation for disorder, poverty and failure.

If I were so challenged, I’d return the challenge and ask why they thought it was so important to stage an art exhibit created from earthquake debris instead of temporarily suspending their artists’ collective after the earthquake and organizing volunteer groups to drag and drop into piles the crap that remains where it fell, enabling the NGOs and private contractors to get at it while Monsieur Le President is reviewing the troops and the police are busy shaking people down.

It’s worth reading that piece, by the way, if only for entertainment purposes. It contains enough adjectives, adverbs, and artsy-fartsy platitudes to choke a museum curator.

The Haitians do have one advantage over the Japanese, however. I doubt any of them are complaining about the environmental hazards of the cleanup operation or holding sit-ins in front of incineration sites.


The Huffpo culture critic missed her chance to really impress her readers when she used the term “found objects” instead of the official Art jargon of objets trouvés.

Speaking of finding things, I found this video on YouTube of a performance by the son of my favorite Haitian singer, Coupé Cloué. Everything seems to be spic and span in his neck of the woods. His father chose that stage name, by the way, because it combines two French words used in Haiti as slang for the sexual act.

Posted in Environmentalism, Government, Science and technology | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Ichigen koji (100)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, April 21, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in Legal system, Quotations | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Hashimoto Toru (6): Hanging out in bad company

Posted by ampontan on Monday, April 9, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(end translation)

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

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

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

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

Now for the less than superb:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe Hashimoto Toru needs to get his trousers pressed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drunken Sailor Watch

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

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

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

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

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