Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Koike Y.’

Observations on the road to Götterdämmerung

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 8, 2011

WITH the prime minister steering the ship of state in the general direction of Götterdämmerung — either his own or the nation’s — I’m working on a post that requires more translation, editing, and organizing. Until then, here’s a sampling of what some people are saying.

For the sake of the people, for the sake of the disaster-stricken area, for the sake of the Democratic Party, I want the prime minister to resign quickly, by even a minute or even a second.

Watanabe Kozo, Democratic Party Supreme Advisor

The politics of toadying to voters to win votes in elections is the source of our current confusion.

Gemba Koichiro, Democratic Party Policy Research Committee Chairman

In general, Kan Naoto does not see politics as a battle over policy, but as a fight between stray dogs. He is a politician of whom it is rather difficult to say that he is normal.

– A Democratic Party senior official who wished to remain anonymous

Even the Democratic Party is unable to prevent Prime Minister Kan from turning power into his personal possession.

Nakagawa Hidenao, Liberal Democratic Party lower house MP

Show business has the actor Gekidan Hitori (literally, one-man drama troupe), and now we’ve got a prime minister who is a Naikaku Hitori (one-man Cabinet).

Koike Yuriko, Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party General Council

Looking at the situation makes me think there’s a systemic inadequacy, because there’s no system for the recall of the prime minister (and Diet members). Considering the national interest, don’t we need a mechanism for recall?

Takenaka Heizo

Executives from the government and the Democratic Party come (to the devastated area) one after another, but they never do anything for us.

– A chief municipal officer in Miyagi, quoted by the Nikkei Shimbun

They talk about a tax increase, but you can’t bring up water by lowering a bucket into a broken well where water doesn’t collect.

Kamei Shizuka, head of junior coalition member People’s New Party

We’ll be in trouble if the Kansai region isn’t revitalized (by turning it into a subsidiary capital). Greater centralization (in Tokyo) would not be welcome. There’s no other city whose daytime population increases (over the night time population) by four million people.

Ishihara Shintaro, Governor of the Tokyo Metropolitan District

Azumi Jun edition

There is no other way to pass difficult legislation than by discussion, including with the LDP and New Komeito. It is truly regrettable that (Prime Minister Kan) has created a situation in which we are unable to negotiate with either of them.

Azumi Jun, Democratic Party Diet Affairs Committee Chairman

I hope he (the prime minister) leaves quickly. This situation is embarassing and I can’t go home to Ishinomaki.

Azumi Jun to reporters, after he was told that he had been considered to replace Matsumoto Ryu as Reconstruction and Recovery Minister because he was from Ishinomaki, Miyagi. Mr. Azumi, a Kan opponent, viewed his consideration for the post only as a Kan strategy to extend the life of his administration.

This is truly a despicable Cabinet. Is there any value in supporting it as a party? I am truly angry. That’s all.

Azumi Jun again, before storming out of a meeting of the Democratic Party’s executive council.

We should make preparations to hold an election for party leader (to replace Kan Naoto) in August.

Kawakami Yoshihiro, Democratic Party upper house member, after Mr. Azumi left the meeting.

If we decide to hold an election, the prime minister will become a lame duck.

Okada Katsuya, Democratic Party secretary-general, objecting to the idea

The Kan administration is already a lame duck. At this rate, the entire Democratic Party will become a lame duck.

Kawakami Yoshihiro’s reply

This is even worse than the power struggles among the extreme leftists. At least the extreme leftists had principles.

Kamei Shizuka again, criticizing Azumi Jun’s criticism

That is his failure as the (DPJ) Diet Affairs head. What sort of guy would complain about the head of the house to outsiders? He should think about how people will view this.

Ishii Hajime, Democratic Party vice-president, criticizing Mr. Azumi’s criticism. Both Mr. Kamei and Mr. Ishii were originally in the Liberal Democratic Party. Readers will note the irony of the unfavorable comparison to the far left with the demand that he follow the party line and not criticize the Dear Leader in public. I used the English “guy” to translate Mr. Ishii’s yatsu, which in this case has a derogatory connotation.

A couple of weeks ago we had a video from Thailand that I thought should rank in the global top ten of unusual music videos. Here’s one to make the other look tame by comparison.

It’s called The Art of Self Defense by Josie Ho, a singer, actress, movie producer, and daughter of casino tycoon Stanley Ho, one of the richest men in Macau.

That means she can afford a plane ticket to Tokyo, where she should try that cake treatment on a certain politician there.

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Frankenstein’s monster in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 3, 2011

The reason people voted for Kan (in last year’s DPJ presidential election) was because they didn’t want to vote for Ozawa, but we wound up really getting screwed.”
– DPJ Senior Advisor Watanabe Kozo in a meeting with New Komeito

IT’S TIME to draw conclusions from the fact that national governments throughout the world are now part of the problem rather than the solution. Those with the eyes to see will realize that the governments run by people who assume they’re the first rather than the last resort are functioning in the way classical liberals have always known they would. That is to say, they are dysfunctional. Consider the following examples.

* Greece is asking for a second bailout after the first in May 2010 and their austerity measures turned out to be yakeishi ni mizu, or water on a hot stone. Everyone expects them to default even after a booster injection of cash, and a second austerity program with more tax increases has the middle class out on the streets. The problem lies more with the Greek polity than with a specific government, but the public sector has become a work-free zone whose employees receive pre-retirement annuities and call them salaries. They’re just as likely to be found at the beach as at work, or actually working for pay off the books. The government allows it to happen, and the ETA for the default is by 2014:

“A new study by Open Europe breaks down the liabilities between the public and private sectors. Foreign financial institutions currently own 42 per cent of Greek debts, and foreign governments 26 per cent, the rest being owed domestically. By 2014, those figures will be 12 per cent and 64 per cent respectively. European banks, in other words, will have shuffled off their losses onto European taxpayers.

“Of course, the outstanding debt will have have risen substantially in the mean time: from €330 billion to €390 billion. Then again, as Eurocrats remind us every day, it’s remarkably easy to be generous with someone else’s money.”

* Ireland had what is officially being called a “credit event” but is a de facto default of Allied Irish Banks, the last financial institution not under government control. The Irish ceded their right to political self-determination to the EU last year for a bailout to save the banks. Instead of a new bailout, the government is negotiating with the EU to reduce interest rates, but the talks are stalled on the insistence of the EU that the country raise its 12.5% corporate tax rates. Here’s one Irish observer:

“Given the political paralysis in the EU, and a European Central Bank that sees its main task as placating the editors of German tabloids, the most likely outcome of the European debt crisis is that, after two years or so to allow French and German banks to build up loss reserves, the insolvent economies will be forced into some sort of bankruptcy…

“In other words, we have embarked on a futile game of passing the parcel of insolvency: first from the banks to the Irish State, and next from the State back to the banks and insurance companies. The eventual outcome will likely see Ireland as some sort of EU protectorate, Europe’s answer to Puerto Rico.”

Another possibility is that the Chinese will charge in as the white knights. They’ve already heavily invested in Greek infrastructure and Hungarian government bonds, and now say they will support the Euro.

* Great Britain has promised to spend as much on the EU bailouts as it saved through the aggregate domestic spending cuts put in place by its coalition government of Wet Tories and the LibDems, a party that Tony Blair marveled was positioned to the left of Labor, led by a man whose name has become a national synonym for “stonkingly silly”. Government spending in April and May was up 4.1% year-on-year, while government borrowing was up 5.7% year-on-year — despite tax increases in the form of VAT, fuel duties, income taxes, and National Insurance. An estimated 750,000 British civil servants, including teachers, struck symbolically for a day because the government wants them to pay more into the pension and work longer before they get it.

* Barack Obama was elected by campaigning on ending the war in Iraq, which he opposed in 2002. Now he’s committed to keeping troops there until 2015, at a minimum. During his infamous “halt the rise of the oceans” speech, he also said his would be an administration that ended a war, but he began an illegal (in American terms) military operation in Libya this year. The response by the American House of Representatives was to reject one motion to authorize military action and reject a second motion to defund the military action.

The president waved the same magic wand over his promise to close Guantanamo. His and the preceding governments’ stimulus measures have been so ineffective, he now wants to increase the debt limit and raise taxes. He appointed a man who cheated on his taxes twice as treasury secretary — the same man who recently warned that government would have to be downsized unless taxes were increased on small business. He also promised a post-racial society and appointed a racialist as attorney-general. Race riots have broken out in several parts of the country on a scale unseen in 40 years, some fomented by flash mobs organized on social networking sites.

Reasonable people might object that these recent difficulties notwithstanding, any government is better than a cat. That’s how the Japanese of an earlier era expressed the idea of “it’s better than nothing”.

Events are proving them wrong in Belgium, which just set a record for a country in the modern era to have no government (13 months and counting). In brief, one group of parties refused to accept the results of last year’s election and chose not to form a coalition government. The former ministers still have the same portfolio, but there is no parliamentary majority, no legislative program, no party discipline, no new government interventions in the economy, no new quasi-public agencies, no new taxes, and few new regulations. Happily, everything outside of government continues to function normally, so the economy is projected to grow by 2.3% this year.

That brings us to Japan, whose situation is an amalgam of all those above. Not only are the executive and legislative branches barely functioning, their operation is subject to the erraticisms of a man of unabashed amorality who has taken the nation aback by his attempts to retain power at the expense of his Cabinet, his party, and the devastated Tohoku region. For the first time in my memory, the Japanese print media is running articles by psychiatrists speculating on the topic: Just what is this man’s problem anyway?

And just what is going on in Japan?

The Kan Naoto Cabinet was a zombie government before the earthquake/tsunami of 11 March. Absent the disaster, it already would have collapsed. The prime minister had shown himself incapable of handing either domestic or foreign affairs, public support was at roughly 21%, and talk was circulating in Nagata-cho about a no-confidence motion. Post-disaster, the opposition realized cooperation was the order of the day and resigned itself to another two years of a Kan government.

Incompetents are incapable of rising to the occasion, particularly those incapable of standing erect to begin with. Rather than being part of the solution, Mr. Kan and his government became part of the problem. It would take a household full of digits to count the examples, but here’s the latest: After the Hyogo earthquake in 1994, the Socialist/LDP coalition appointed someone to take charge of government recovery efforts in three days. It took the prime minister more than three months before assigning that responsibility to Matsumoto Ryu, a limousine leftist who has never demonstrated the ability to manage a shaved ice stand, much less a national effort that will require the coordination of several Cabinet ministries and the cooperation of the opposition. He was already in the Cabinet at the Minister for Environmental Affairs, a portfolio often given to women appointed to serve as window dressing, and the Minister for Disaster Relief. His only noteworthy accomplishment in the latter role since the March disaster was to get out of the way while other people tried to get on with the work.

Mr. Matsumoto immediately wrapped his mouth around his foot by declaring at a meeting that since 11 March, he “hates the DPJ, hates the LDP, and hates New Komeito”. (He is an ex-Socialist who found refuge and political viability in the DPJ.) When asked if that was the sort of magnanimous spirit designed to win the selfless cooperation from other politicians during a national crisis, he replied that he was trying to show his mission was to take the side of the people in the affected areas.

But everyone had lost their patience with Mr. Kan long before that, including members of his own party. One month ago, senior members of the ruling Democratic Party crafted a lawyerly document the night before the Diet was set to pass a no-confidence motion in his cabinet. Passage would require almost 25% of the party’s representation in the lower house to vote for it, and they were going to get it. The hyper-discipline required of political parties in the parliamentary system meant that would have destroyed today’s Democratic Party, as the dissidents would have either been thrown out or walked.

The document was a brief, vague statement of Mr. Kan’s agenda that his predecessor, Hatoyama Yukio, was led to believe implied an early resignation. That was enough to defeat the motion and keep the party together.

By keeping their zombie government alive, however, the DPJ leadership created the Nagata-cho version of Frankenstein’s monster. Almost everyone, including the news media, assumed Mr. Kan had agreed to step down. One of the few who didn’t make that assumption was the prime minister himself. He immediately announced that the document — which he refused to sign by appealing to Mr. Hatoyama’s sense of camaraderie — had nothing to do with his resignation. Since then, he has never specified when he will step down, and keeps modifying the vague conditions he set for his own departure.

Party leaders took turns hinting that they’d remove him from the position of DPJ president if he didn’t leave voluntarily, but he ignored them. Six members of the DPJ’s leadership have tried to talk him into setting an early date for his disappearance, including Secretary-General Okada Katsuya, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio, and Mr. Edano’s predecessor and back-room string puller Sengoku Yoshito, but he dismissed them all. He has work to do, he told them. They started negotiations to pin him down on a time frame, but instead of meeting their requests, he added another condition: The passage of a bill to reformulate national energy policy. Its primary feature is to require the utilities to purchase renewable energy generated by others at exorbitant prices. Negotiations with the opposition parties on the content of the bill haven’t begun.

Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi, who is supposed to be one of the prime minister’s few friends in politics, became so frustrated he proposed that the DPJ change its method of selecting party president by entrusting the vote to all party members. They have a vote in the current system, but the votes of Diet MPs are given greater weight.

DPJ executives met again with the prime minister to discuss his resignation, but he again refused to specify a date because he said there was no guarantee the opposition would cooperate in the upper house for the passage of the second supplementary budget, the enabling legislation for the deficit-financing bonds, and the renewable energy program. Kyodo, however, quoted an anonymous party leader the next day saying that the prime minister would resign before mid-August. They thought he would hold a news conference last week to name the date. He didn’t.

Sengoku Yoshito, who has never been impressed with Mr. Kan’s abilities despite a shared political philosophy, remarked that keeping the prime minister in office was like kichigai ni hamono — giving a sword to a lunatic.

Okada Katsuya then took it upon himself to negotiate with the LDP and New Komeito to get a signed document outlining their conditions for cooperation. (That’s more than the DPJ usually brings to discussions.) Both parties agreed to vote for the second supplementary budget and the bond measures, as well as a 50-day Diet extension, on the condition that Mr. Kan set a date for departure and the new prime minister pass the third supplementary budget.

When the prime minister saw it, he banged the table, shouted that the upper house members of the LDP couldn’t be trusted, and threw out the document. His bullying was successful in winning an extension until the end of August without a commitment to resign.


It is a mystery why anyone thought that Kan Naoto would willingly resign, much less in June. Indeed, soon after double-crossing his co-founder of the Democratic Party, he became insufferably smug in public, telling one reporter that if people didn’t want to see him around anymore, they should hurry up and pass the bills he cites as his conditions for leaving.

It is no secret that becoming prime minister has been his ambition since he was a young man. He has put an enormous amount of effort and persistence into achieving that ambition, starting from the days when he won election to the Diet as one of four members of a long obsolete party called the Socialist Democrats. Why would anyone think he would go down without kicking and screaming all the way?

And that’s not even to mention the report in the weekly Shukan Gendai that he was bawling his eyes out to DPJ Vice-President Ishii Hajime, telling him, “I don’t want to quit.”

Finally, Mr. Kan said at a press conference on the 27th that the three bills (budget, bonds energy) were conditions for his resignation, but once again failed to specify a date. In fact, the prime minister said the energy legislation is the paramount of the three bills, i.e., it is more important than the budget for the Tohoku recovery or the means to pay for it.

Some think this is yet another Kan policy lurch, which occur with every new moon. For example, he seems to have forgotten about the TPP free trade negotiations, especially now that his expression of willingness to participate served the purpose of impressing the APEC leaders before their November summit.

Koike Yuriko, former Defense Minister and the Chairman of the LDP’s General Council, said:

“About this renewable energy legislation — he seems to have received a briefing from the bureaucracy about it on 11 March, but I’ve heard he wasn’t interested in the subject at all at that time. I suspect his interest was suddenly kindled after his talk with Son Masayoshi (of Softbank).”

On the other hand, whoever’s been writing Mr. Kan’s “e-mail blog” says he has considered energy reform to be essential for 30 years. There is reason to believe him, at least this once. Based on the posts at his Internet blog, he wants to drive everyone batty with windmills.

Here’s a post dated 21 August 2001:

“We should set targets for limiting air pollution caused by dioxins and other substances, and for the percentage of power generated by wind to establish a policy of creating a ‘nation based on environmentalism’. This should spur advances in technical development and capital investment in the related fields.”

10 September 2001:

“If we set targets for limiting the concentration of dioxins 10 years in the future, it will generate substantial demand for the replacement of incinerators. If we set a target of having 10% of all electricity generated by wind in 10 years, investment in this sector should increase.”

24 August 2007:

“In Japan, the power companies can only purchase the power generated by wind and other clean energy sources at rather low prices. This is perhaps rational from the power companies’ perspective, but from the policy perspective, it isn’t a policy at all.”

13 November 2007:

“Germany is promoting the purchase of power generated by wind, solar, and other clean sources at higher prices, and clean energy now accounts for 10% of all power generation.”

30 November 2007:

“For electric power, wind and solar power…For use in vehicles, biodiesel or bioethanol fuel. I’d like to create a headquarters for that purpose, but that is unlikely at the present.”

During questioning in the Diet after the earthquake/tsunami, he expressed a desire to switch to renewable energy. He reportedly told aides, “Tokyo Electric has neglected wind power, which I really love.” (おれの大好きな風力発電)

It is difficult to imagine anyone using that language — especially a person who invested so much time in the overseas sales of Japanese nuclear power technology.

But then, we’re not talking about a man who brings clarity to policy issues. He offered a mythomaniacal proposal for having 20% of Japan’s energy produced by natural sources in 2020 at the recent G-Whatever summit without having told anyone in Japan about it first. Said a DPJ MP who wished to remain anonymous:

“The sharks in government and industry will spy a new interest in natural energy, and get in bed with the government. It would simply exchange nuclear power interests for natural energy interests.”

Paging Son Masayoshi.

Some are critical of the legislation the prime minister thinks is critical because its primary component is to have the government set prices that utilities must pay to purchase the surplus energy generated by businesses and private homes. These prices, as we’ve seen before, are more than triple the unit price for the power generated by nuclear plants. The utilities will of course pass the expenses on to the consumer.

Others wondered why he would make this a priority given that there are ghost towns in the Tohoku region still filled with stinking rubble, with evacuees still living in shelters, and with little money being distributed, though the government has the mechanisms to handle all of that now if it chose to employ them. Is this man even qualified for his job?

Meanwhile, the government’s National Strategy Office leaked their initial draft of the government’s reform of energy and environment strategy. The primary elements of the strategy include energy conservation, renewable energy, electrical power systems, and “the world’s safest” nuclear energy. The last part was written into the draft by a bureaucrat from the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry dispatched to the office to work as an aide.

Lest we forget:

* This office was originally intended to be a bureau that served as the DPJ government’s policymaking headquarters, thereby wresting control of policy from the bureaucrats and giving it to politicians. Along with the rest of the party’s promises, its status was downgraded almost immediately after the DPJ took control of the government.

* METI has jurisdiction over nuclear power plants in Japan.

* On the night the no-confidence motion against the Kan Cabinet was defeated in the lower house, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito and former Defense Minister Maehara Seiji (members of the same faction in the DPJ), held a banquet in Tokyo for Truong Tan Sang, tapped as the next president of Vietnam. Both Mr. Sengoku and Mr. Maehara (along with Prime Minister Kan), were instrumental in successfully selling Japanese nuclear power technology to the Vietnamese last year, but the Fukushima accident postponed the export of that technology. The media was not allowed to cover the banquet or their meetings (though a photo was released), but Mr. Maehara appeared on television on the 5th and said:

“Mr. Truong told us that he has no intention of altering the nuclear power agreement. It is important to enhance the safety of nuclear power and sell the technology overseas.”

The Democratic Party paid for the banquet.

For its part, the LDP has already refused to negotiate a reworking of energy policy or help pass the legislation without a new governmental structure in place; in other words, a new prime minister and Cabinet.

Mr. Kan’s prioritization of energy policy, while knowing that the LDP isn’t interested, that members of his own party are still promoting nuclear energy, and that the supposed policymaking headquarters of his party is still pushing nuclear energy through bureaucratic subterfuge, has brought an unsettling new element into the political situation.

Who’s ready for an election?

When the bottom fell out for Mr. Kan’s four predecessors, they chose to resign. All of those men — Abe Shinzo, Fukuda Yasuo, Aso Taro, and Hatoyama Yukio — were reared in political families and were familiar with the national political culture since childhood. All of them understood the concept of noblesse oblige, and all of them have money, networks of supporters and friends, and other things to do, either in politics or out.

Kan Naoto comes from an ordinary background, has no family money, few friends or political supporters, and no sense of honor or shame. His name has been mud since last year. If freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, he has the freedom to chose a different strategy when confronted with the same circumstances. Witness his public betrayal of Hatoyama Yukio. He has also had associates circulate a rumor that many people find all too believable.

In substance, it is this: On either 6 August (the date of the Hiroshima bombing) or 9 August (the date of the Nagasaki bombing), he will announce that he thinks Japan should follow the lead of Germany and Italy and renounce the use of nuclear power. He will then dissolve the lower house of the Diet for an election and run on that single issue. He would hope that the Japanese electorate votes in the same way as the Italian voters who nixed nuclear energy by a tally of more than 90%. He would also hope that the overseas media wets its pants in delight.

Speaking of having nothing left to lose, a look at the poll numbers is instructive. The support for the Kan Cabinet is down to 23% in the Fuji Sankei and Kyodo polls, and 21% in the generally more accurate Jiji poll. In other words, the prime minister has lost all the bounce from the goodwill extended during the disaster and the closing of the Hamamatsu nuclear plant in Aichi. Those numbers have reverted to the pre-disaster figures. The Nikkei poll finds that 42% think he should leave as quickly as possible and another 18% by the end of August, while only 16% want him to stay indefinitely.

The Fuji Sankei poll asked those surveyed positive or negative responses to the following statements. Here are the positive replies.

The prime minister’s leadership abilities: 8.0%
The prime minister’s economic measures: 11.0%
The prime minister’s conduct of foreign relations and security matters: 13.0%
The prime minister’s response to Fukushima: 13.5%
Finally, the reliance on nuclear energy should be reduced: 68.4%

Mr. Kan has long been envious of the success of Koizumi Jun’ichiro — that should be me! — and in particular Mr. Koizumi’s bold dissolution of the lower house in 2005 to hold a single-issue election on the issue of postal privatization. He won in a landslide.

The prime minister’s aides suggest the public would agree it was reasonable to conduct an election on that issue, despite any difficulties in the prefectures most affected by the earthquake/tsunami. The local elections held nationwide earlier this year were postponed in the Tohoku region until 22 September at the latest. When a prime minister dissolves the Diet, an election must be held in 40 days. Forty days out from 9 August is 18 September, the last Sunday before the 22nd. Japanese elections are usually held on Sundays.

Speaking anonymously to the media, the prime minister’s aides even suggest he would recruit “assassins” to run against pro-nuclear DPJ Diet members in individual districts, in the same way that Mr. Koizumi recruited people to run against LDP members opposed to postal privatization.

Many DPJ members would be defeated, but that would not necessarily mean the defeat of the larger issue. A formal study group has been created in the Diet among those who favor a shift to renewable energy. It consists of 206 members of several parties. Among them are the LDP’s Nakagawa Hidenao — a Koizumian who has long been interested in hydrogen — and Shiozaki Yasuhisa. Both served as chief cabinet secretary in LDP governments. The group also includes People’s New Party President Kamei Shizuka, Social Democrat head Fukushima Mizuho, mid-tier DPJ members aligned with Ozawa Ichiro, and Endo Otohiko of New Komeito. Many of these people have either separated themselves from Mr. Kan or are his opponents.

In short, as freelance journalist Uesugi Takashi notes, for this issue Kan Naoto is the leader of the anti-Kan faction. An election victory for the anti-nuclear power group could result in a major political realignment that forces him from office. Having achieved that result, however, he would surely go willingly, having established (in his own mind) his place in history.

Most Nagata-cho sources who speak off the record say it is “very possible” the prime minister would call such an election. He is, after all, capable of any number of cockamamie schemes. When he was pushing for a 70-day extension in the Diet session, Mr. Kan told aides, “If we have 70 days, no one knows what’s going to happen.”

Senior members of the DPJ are aghast at the prospect, and one can detect the realization behind their words that Kan Naoto — the man who once insisted his preference was for mature debate in the Diet — is certainly capable of carrying out a threat he has yet to publicly make or deny, but which everyone is discussing. They’ve gotten together for several meetings and agreed on the necessity of a Kan Naoto resignation. Mr. Kan again ignored them.

Said Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko, whose prospects as the successor of Mr. Kan would evaporate in such an election:

“It is not possible to dissolve the Diet now. It must not happen.”

Note that second sentence. Doesn’t seem too sure, does he?

Hosono Goshi, the new minister in charge of the Fukushima cleanup:

“I don’t think Prime Minister Kan has that intention in mind.”

He doesn’t think. Sengoku Yoshito is sounding a similar note:

“He hasn’t gotten that weird yet.”


“There are many things we must address as a nation. There must not be a lower house election.”

Said DPJ Secretary General Okada Katsuya:

“It’s a summertime ghost story.”

He added that Mr. Kan could even resign before August if the three bills pass. He also does not think single issue elections are a good idea. No surprise there — he was the DPJ whipping boy in the 2005 elections.

Koshi’ishi Azuma, the head of the DPJ delegation in the upper house, says the prime minister got the 70 days he wanted, but people won’t support him after that. If he chooses to stay 100 days to half year, he is “not qualified as a person to be the prime minister”. He also thought the DPJ would suffer “a meltdown” of its own if Mr. Kan stayed until the end of August.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio helpfully says that reform discussions with the opposition will move forward when Mr. Kan leaves. He’s not necessarily anxious for that to happen before the end of August, however. Mr. Edano has been bingeing on funds from the “secret” discretionary account allocated to his office at a pace much higher than that of his predecessors in the LDP. Chief cabinet secretaries are given JPY 100 million (about $US 1.24 million) at the end of every month, and Mr. Edano (as well as Mr. Sengoku before him), has spent almost all of it. Mr. Edano insists he’s using it for Tohoku relief, but since he doesn’t have to account for it, everyone else assumes he’s using it for DPJ election efforts, perhaps his own. If Mr. Kan stays until the end of August, Mr. Edano will have been given access to an additional JPY 300 million after the failure of the no-confidence motion.

And oh yes, Hatoyama Yukio still trusts him to resign.

The last word belongs to Your Party President Watanabe Yoshimi:

“His tenacious obsession for authority is his own renewable energy.”

Along comes Kamei

Mr. Kan’s attitude seems to be borrowed from a James Cagney gangster movie: Come and get me, coppers! He has slightly reshuffled his Cabinet with the advice and counsel of PNP head Kamei Shizuka. There was a misstep at first when Mr. Kan named Mr. Matsumoto as the minister in charge of recovery (Kamei’s reaction: Matsumoto? Who’s he?), but they regained their footing.

No longer a sweetheart of mine

He also named Hosono Goshi as the minister responsible for dealing with the Fukushima accident. Because the number of ministers is limited by law to 17, he had to drop one, and he made the obvious choice by demoting Reform Minister Ren Ho from her ministerial post to serve as his personal aide. The Kan Cabinet isn’t doing any reforming anyway, and Ren Ho, whose real world experience consists of being a model and TV host, was only decoration to begin with.

The classic Kan behavior of a dullwit who thinks he is clever became manifest again when he and Mr. Kamei talked LDP upper house member Hamada Kazuyuki into joining the Cabinet as internal affairs parliamentary secretary in charge of the reconstruction.

Accounts suggest that Mr. Hamada’s motives for going to work in the Kan Cabinet to help in the reconstruction effort, knowing that he would be tossed from his party, were altruistic. That is not true for the effort made to recruit him. Mr. Kamei reportedly approached 10 LDP members in the upper house, opening with the line, “Do you really want to stay in the opposition?” An approach was also made to Maruyama Kazuya, who turned them down.

The idea was to make it easier to pass legislation without negotiation through the upper house, where the DPJ does not have a working majority, either alone or in coalition. Another factor is that when Mr. Kan is not involved, the cooperation among the DPJ, the LDP, and New Komeito has been smooth. That negates the influence of Mr. Kamei’s single-issue splinter party.

This is not Mr. Kamei’s first involvement in political black ops. He’s the one who detached the Socialists from the eight-party coalition government of Hosokawa Morihiro, the first non-LDP government since 1955, and created an LDP-Socialist coalition. His line then: “Aren’t you tired of that fascist bastard Ozawa Ichiro?” He and the fascist bastard get along quite well now, incidentally.

This move will probably backfire on the Kan-Kamei team, however, because the LDP and New Komeito are now unlikely to cooperate with the DPJ as long as Mr. Kan is in office. The cooperation achieved in extending the Diet session by 70 days ended after fewer than 10.

Others in the DPJ were aware this would happen, and wondered what the prime minister was thinking. Said Finance Minster Noda:

“This has created extremely harsh circumstances by hardening the opposition’s attitude. The thing for us to do is go to their front door and bow our heads (in apology).”

DPJ Policy Research Committee Chairman Gemba Koichiro:

“It is no mistake to say that the hurdle just got higher for negotiations between the government and opposition.”

DPJ Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Azumi Jun wondered why so much difficulty had to be caused over just one official. Another DPJ member chimed in to add that if they were going to go fishing in the opposition for members, what is the point of coming home with one minnow?

Another factor angering the DPJ was that once again, the prime minister didn’t tell anyone what he was doing beforehand, with the exception of Mr. Kamei and Ishii Hajime. Sengoku Yoshito used the phrase tachikurami shita when he heard the news. That’s an expression to describe the brief sensation of dizziness people get when they stand up too quickly.

There was even a report of anti-Kan slogans written on pieces of paper and hung on the walls of the party’s office for officials in the Diet Affairs Committee inside the Diet building itself. One is the Japanese expression hyakugai atte ichiri nashi (100 evils and no benefits), supposedly signed by Sengoku Yoshito.

It has at last reached the point with the DPJ of trying to choose which is worse — a prime minister who elicits that reaction among his own party, or a party unable to do anything about him except create calligraphic graffiti.

Kan Naoto met with the DPJ’s Diet members on the 28th and claimed that the next election would be about energy policy, a position almost no one in the country agrees with. According to the Asahi Shimbun, he was jeered by some of those present.

Higano Harufusa operates the Higano Clinic for psychological counseling in Tokyo. Here’s his professional opinion about the prime minister:

“He’s tough, not in the good sense of the strength to withstand blows, but in the bad sense of being dull. He enjoys it when Dump Kan talk starts circulating, because that makes him the center of attention. He’s not the type to quit unless there are many other contributing circumstances.”

Said Iwami Takao of the weekly Sunday Mainichi:

“In a half-century of political journalism, I’ve learned that the post of prime minister is a frightening one. I’ve seen many crises arise over a prime minister’s continuance in office, but never one in which a prime minister stays after announcing that he will resign. But the post of prime minister is also one in which a politician can hold on for quite a while if he wants to.

“Politicians like the expression mushin furitsu (derived from a Confucian analect used to mean that public officials can’t accomplish anything once they’ve lost the people’s trust). Mr. Kan, however, seems to think it’s unusual that people don’t trust him. This prime minister is starting to become abnormal.” (正常さを失いかけている。)

Littering the English-language sector of cyberspace like so much digitized fecal matter are the assertions/opinions/propaganda of professional journalists, academics, and bloggers that a government led by the Democratic Party of Japan would be just the change that Japan was waiting for. That this was fatuous nonsense was just as apparent before the lower house election of 2009 as the claim that Barack Obama was a man of exceptional intelligence and superlative leadership qualities. Some of the poor sods actually believed it, but the gullible will always be with us. Some of them are parroting what other people told them as a way to fill space or appear relevant. For the rest, it was a convenient method for sugarcoating Social Democracy. (There are also a few who combine the first and the last categories.)

After almost two years, the DPJ has given Japan not one, but two prime ministers of unparalleled incompetence. The party itself is incapable of governance. It has introduced no reforms of significance, nor passed any serious legislation that was a national priority. They are still in thrall to the bureaucracy. They produced back-to-back budgets with the highest deficits in Japanese history, funded by the largest amount of government debt, even before the Tohoku disaster. The Chinese and Russians, immediate neighbors and the two largest malevolently aggressive states in the world, treat them with the back of their hand.

The party’s largest single faction is nominally under the direction of Ozawa Ichiro, whom the rest of the party would gladly heave if it wouldn’t threaten their majority in the Diet. Both the more centrist Ozawa faction and the leftist faction centered on Sengoku/Edano/Maehara loathe the prime minister. The latter group put him in that position, supported him through a no-confidence motion, and now can’t get rid of him. They are reduced to wishing, hoping, and taping pieces of paper to the walls of their offices.

Kan Naoto’s closest confidante is now Kamei Shizuka, who turned down an offer to become deputy prime minister and settled for the title of special assistant. Mr. Kamei has everything the bien pensants told us was bad about the LDP — hushed up money scandals, skills more suited to Byzantine plots than governmental administration, and the philosophy of a social conservative whose core beliefs are 180 degrees opposite from those of the man he serves. His mini-party was formed to neuter the best political idea of the decade in Japan, achieved through rare political insight and courage — the privatization of Japan Post. He is the foremost Japanese example of the reason Friedrich Hayek refused to identify himself as a conservative — they are too often too ready to make common cause with statists.

It is only in the field of political commentary that people would retain their platform or reputation after revealing themselves to be shills, ignoramuses, or ignoramus shills. But all journalistic outlets in print, broadcast, or the Net need content to fill the space regardless of its stupidity. Some of those outlets are happy to push the same agenda.

The nation is desperate to have Kan Naoto gone, but he doesn’t give a flying fut. He loves the attention. Why even bother with an election in September? Indeed, it’s been revealed that he is thinking about a visit to China for a summit meeting around 10 October. If he were planning to leave soon, what could he possibly discuss with the Chinese? Some people wonder if he intends to keep this up until 2013, when the current lower house term ends, or even beyond. He’s now become so abnormal that the normal are no longer able to understand what he intends to do.

Unlike Belgium, Japan has a government, but it is not better than a cat. The government it does have is led by a Frankenstein monster that his own party created. It is so bad — there is no other word — that had Japan been in the same situation as Belgium, more progress might have been made on the Tohoku recovery and reconstruction.

For a year or two before the earthquake/tsunami, credentialed space-fillers who know less about Japan than they do about the Sumerian calendar were warning that the country was becoming irrelevant.

But as it says in Ecclesiastes — you know, the Bible — the race is not always to the swift, nor favor to men of ability. For validation, one need only look at the Kantei in Tokyo.

Every day that Kan Naoto remains in office is one day closer to the time when Japan really does become irrelevant. He’ll guarantee it.

You unlock this door with the Kan of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas; you’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.

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Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 12, 2010

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

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

Coalition with the Social Democrats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru said:

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s try this one:

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

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

This time for sure!

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

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

Grand coalition with the Liberal Democrats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bended knee, eh? Here’s Mr. Tanigaki:

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

Mr. Ishihara again:

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

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

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

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

New Komeito head Yamaguchi Tatsuo is thumbs down too:

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

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

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

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

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

“I have nothing to say.”

Does that mean you’re not thinking about it?

“I have nothing to say.”

So what else is new?

Ozawa Ichiro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s leave the last word to Watanabe Yoshimi:

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

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

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

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Seeing is believing

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Japan is a country in which politics are conducted through free speech. Free speech is the core of our democracy. Therefore, it is the government’s duty to guarantee the people’s right to know, which effectuates free speech.
But I must say that the Kan Cabinet’s refusal to release the video to the public, and its continued refusal to show all of it, betrays democracy by depriving the people of the right to know. It does not inform them of circumstances they absolutely must know—the Chinese act of seizing our territory.
At the same time, this betrayal has allowed the Chinese to control free speech in our country, though free speech is not allowed to its own citizens….in other words, the Kan Cabinet has, by releasing the ship’s captain, ceded our policy in the Senkakus to the Chinese, and, by refusing to release the complete video, placed the right of the Japanese citizens to know under Chinese control.
– Nishimura Shingo / Kobe city councilman, formerly of many parties, including the DPJ, and now a member of the Sunrise Party

(T)ruth will come to light; murder cannot be hid long; a man’s son may, but at the length truth will out.
– Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

A Japanese warship dispatched by the neo-militarist government obstructs the passage of a Chinese fishing boat operating in the waters of Greater China.

SOMETIMES, in the course social and political events, objects assume greater importance than the words and deeds of the actors they represent. One historical example is the Zimmermann telegram from the German foreign minister to the government of Mexico proposing a military alliance against the Americans during World War I. Three months after it was revealed, the U.S. was at war with Germany.

Other examples include the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination, the so-called Pentagon Papers during the American war in Vietnam, the 18-minute gap on Richard Nixon’s tapes, Monica Lewinsky’s stained dress, and the University of East Anglia e-mails that exposed the charlatans of global warming.

Now there’s another—the 44 minutes worth of video excerpted from as many as 10 hours filmed by the crews of three Japanese Coast Guard ships as they encountered a Chinese fishing boat near the Senkaku islets.

The Dunning Kruger Effect was named after the two men who published a paper in 1999 titled, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties of Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”.

Dunning and Kruger argued, “When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it. Instead…they are left with the erroneous impression they are doing just fine.”

There’s no better way to describe the behavior of the Kan-Sengoku Cabinet, that sorry assemblage now “governing” Japan, throughout the Senkakus affair. You thought Hatoyama Yukio was bad? Japan’s most serious foreign policy crisis in more than a generation is being handled by the people least capable of doing so. The mismanagement of the crisis exposed the nation’s leaders as naïve and duplicitous incompetents who had convinced themselves they knew exactly what they were doing.

From a report in the Yomiuri Shimbun:

The Kantei was filled with optimism on the 24th (September) when they announced the release of the ship’s captain. Said one government source, “This should completely deflate the Chinese reaction.” Said a source close to the prime minister, “(We) want you to watch Chinese behavior in the future and then give us the credit.”

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is the only possible explanation.

Sato Takahiro, formerly of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and now a researcher at a think tank, wrote on his blog:

(The government) has demonstrated an inability to handle the situation from the beginning, starting with the arrest of the captain, his release, its response to later Chinese retaliation, and the disclosure of the videos. Many are angry at the government’s ad hoc decisions and dithering irresolution. With all this ineptitude, there has not been one visible sign from Prime Minister Kan about his policies for dealing with this situation, and how he reaches decisions.

Polls have shown that more than 80% of the Japanese public thought the government was lying about how they handled the matter. A similar number thought they were spineless jellyfish, though the pollsters had a more discreet way of phrasing it. Less discreet were some in the audience at the conclusion of the September sumo tournament when the prime minister takes part in the ritual of presenting a trophy to the winner. Mr. Kan was openly jeered, and shouts of “traitor” were in the air. Behavior of that sort is very atypical of Japan.

The videos of the encounter in the waters of Okinawa Prefecture between the Japanese Coast Guard and Zhan Qixiong, the captain of the Chinese fishing boat Minjinyu 5179, rose in importance as an issue after Zhan’s release. The first people to view the images say they were the determining factor in the captain’s arrest. They clearly showed the Chinese ship making a sudden hard turn to port to ram the Coast Guard vessel as the Japanese crew called out to him to stop in both Chinese and Japanese.

Current Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji, then the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport watched the videos and said:

The Chinese ship clearly turned the rudder and hit (our ships). Were it not intentional, he could have taken the step of throwing the engine into reverse and moving away, but there is absolutely no trace of that on the video.

The Japanese public was naturally anxious to see for themselves what happened. Polls showed that 78.4% of the people wanted the videos to be made available to them. But the government didn’t want the people to see any of it.

One of the most incurious people in the country was the prime minister of Japan himself. Presiding over a “no touch” government that pantomimed the charade of claiming it had nothing to do with arresting or releasing the fishing boat skipper, Mr. Responsible didn’t bother to take the trouble to see for himself until nearly two months after the incident.

Reporters asked him what he thought. He answered that the content was as reported by Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito and Mr. Maehara.

Q: Specifically, what was that report?
A: No, no, it was just as in their reports.
Q: What did you think of it personally?
A: (It’s like I told you) It was just as in the reports.

Mr. Kan’s Cabinet is filled with the incurious in addition to the inept. Justice Minister Yanagida Minoru, who has developed a national reputation as something of a chucklehead in a mere three months, also said during Diet questioning that he didn’t have to watch them.

A person in the office explained what was in them. I studied marine engineering at university, so I was able to understand what happened from just a diagram.

After further questioning by Ogushi Yoshinori of New Komeito, he said:

I studied shipbuilding, so of course I studied sea routes. I understood (what happened) by looking at a diagram.

What was the government’s problem with showing the videos? No weapons were discharged, no ships were sunk, no one died, and no one was injured.

This published report of a conversation held on 30 September in the Kantei explains part of it:

Kawakami Yoshihiro (Upper house DPJ member): There’ll be serious trouble if we release the video. It will set back improvements in Japanese-Chinese relations two or three years. It’s best to sit on it.
Sengoku: Just as you say. Be sure to tell everyone in the Diet.
Kan: That makes sense.

Others claimed that “discretion is required for the international political situation.” Said Hachiro Yoshio, DPJ Diet Affairs Committee Chair:

“Shouldn’t we be careful how we handle the videos, considering that the friendship of Japan-China is in a fluid state?”

An aide to LDP MP Nakagawa Hidenao had the best answer for that:

“Friendship not based on reality is nothing more than a temporary cease-fire until a resolution is achieved by force.”

What was in the video that would cause the Chinese to be upset? People would see the truth for themselves.

While the video was still unseen, the Global Times of China, a People’s Daily affiliate, posted diagrams and other statements claiming it was the Japanese coast guard vessel that rammed the Chinese fishing boat. (We’ve seen the diagram in a previous post.) The newspaper quoted Foreign Ministry official Jiang Yu as saying:

“Japanese patrol boats surrounded the Chinese fishing boat in Chinese waters, pursued it, cut it off, and rammed it.”

In other words, the Kan government chose to support a Chinese lie in public rather than letting the truth speak for itself to the Japanese people. In another published report, a source cited as being familiar with Japan-China relations said a promise was made to not release the video for public viewing in consideration of the strong Chinese objections during the negotiations conducted for the Kan Hallway Sofa Summit in Brussels on 4 October. In return, Prime Minister Kan Naoto was allowed to have a 25-minute accidental encounter with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

You remember the chance meeting in the hallway, right? Strangers in the night it was not. It was so unexpected and unplanned the Chinese just happened to have brought Japanese-language interpreters with them all the way to Belgium. Sources from the Japanese government, however, said they didn’t take along any Chinese-language interpreters because they didn’t want to tip off the media to the possibility of a meeting. Apparently they weren’t interested in knowing what the Chinese said among themselves, either.

Hata Yuichiro, a DPJ MP and son of former Prime Minister Hata Tsutomu, had this to say about the video at a news conference:

“Do we really need to make the video public? We must handle it with prudence, because it must not harm the national interest.”

Now that the video’s been released, the people who want to see it have seen it. Among those who have seen it, the question inevitably arises: Which harms the national interest? The Kan government’s ineptitude or the public viewing of the video?

Or is Mr. Hata confusing the national interest with his party’s interest?

There was a second reason the Kan government didn’t want to show the video to the Japanese public: They don’t hold the Japanese public in very high regard.

The position of the government and the ruling party was that there was a strong likelihood anti-Chinese sentiment would arise among the people if they released the video, because it clearly shows the Chinese deliberately ramming the Japanese ships. One of the parliamentary vice-ministers of a “Cabinet ministry involved with the incident” saw the video and said, “It must not be released. It would only incite an emotional response among the people against China.”

They didn’t trust the Chinese people either. Said a government source:

“If anti-Japanese demonstrations flare up again in China, it will be impossible to hold the Japan-China summit (at APEC).”

To which the only rational response is: So what?

Meanwhile, here’s Mr. Kan answering a question on the 8th in the Diet:

“Ultimately, the people, who are sovereign, determine the course of foreign policy. A stronger foreign policy can be pursued when each one of the people apprehends the issue for himself, not just some specialists, and (issues are) considered by the people as a whole.”

In fact, the Kan government failed to see that it had the upper hand. The Chinese Foreign Ministry demanded on 21 September that the Japanese immediately show the full video from beginning to end without any cuts. They told Japan not to edit the videos to tailor the evidence to fit their side of the story:

“While the Chinese fishing vessel was conducting normal operations in the Daioutai islands, it was surrounded by the Japanese Coast Guard, pursued, obstructed, rammed, and suffered damage.”

In short, all the government had to do is what the Chinese Foreign Ministry, most of the Japanese political class—including many in the ruling party—and 80% of the people said they should do. The nominal leader should have taken himself seriously and let the people be the ultimate arbiters of foreign policy. Showing the videos was a win-win-win proposition. But they didn’t.

Leo Amery, a member of Britain’s House of Commons early in World War II, is remembered for two statements that electrified the chamber. The first occurred on 2 September 1939 when then-Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain indicated he would not declare war on Germany for invading Poland. The rebuttal to the prime minister was to be given by Labor Party head Clement Attlee, but he was not present. Another Labor MP, Arthur Greenwood, announced that he was speaking for Labor in his place. Amery called out, “Speak for England, Arthur!”

The Kan government has chosen not to speak for Japan lest it offend the Chinese.

Not everyone in the DPJ agrees with that position, however, and one of the exceptions is Ozawa Ichiro. Mr. Ozawa is viewed with suspicion in some quarters because he favors placing Japan at one of the vertexes of an equilateral triangle with the United States and China. He has led large delegations of politicians to visit China every year for many years. Yet he said that he wouldn’t have released the Chinese sea captain before the legal process had run its course. He added:

“The Japanese government must state its position clearly. I’ve stated my position clearly about the Senkakus with Chinese leaders…’For several thousand years, we have never been under Chinese rule’…This was the territory of the Ryukyu Dynasty. That dynasty may have paid tribute to the Chinese government, but it was never Chinese territory…Okinawa is part of Japan. There is no question that Okinawa is Japanese territory…We will absolutely not budge from this position. I only got vague answers in reply.”

Is it not interesting that Mr. Ozawa—at least in his side of the story—felt compelled to tell Chinese leaders that Okinawa was not theirs? And that the Chinese would not give a clear answer in return?

One wonders how Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku made it past the age of 60 without understanding the most elementary aspects of human nature. When people are told they won’t be allowed to know information that they understand is critical to their interests, it ensures that the people will obtain that information eventually.

One of the excuses offered by the DPJ was that the videos were evidence in a criminal investigation. Explained Mr. Sengoku:

“Maintaining secrecy of criminal investigations is the A of the ABCs in the Code of Criminal Procedures.”

Article 47 of the Code of Criminal Procedures states, however, that the public release of evidence and documents is recognized “If it is deemed necessary for the public interest”.

Mr. Sengoku must therefore think it is not in the public interest for the Japanese people to see how the Chinese conceive of Japanese territory and how they respond to Japanese public officials.

The criminal investigation was over, of course. That ended before a decision was reached and the Chinese captain sent home. He was no longer liable to prosecution.

Mr. Sengoku also said:

“The people say, release them, release them, but I wonder what they want. If they support the concept of a simultaneous television broadcast or circulation on the Internet, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

It was obvious what the people wanted—to see the videos for themselves. It didn’t have to be a simultaneous broadcast. Isn’t that what NHK is for?

Rather than calm the waters, the behavior of the government inflamed the public curiosity. Suspicions were aroused of a secret agreement with the Chinese. Stories circulated about the behavior of the captain. J-Cast carried an interview with a Coast Guard source who avoided comment on the story from a Kan aide that the captain was flipping the bird and rather belligerent. When asked about stories that he was drunk, the Coast Guard source said, “The captain was not in a state that impaired normal judgment.” When asked about a Sankei Shimbun report that he deliberately sped up the ship to ram the Coast Guard vessel, the source answered that a collision would have been physically impossible if both ships were traveling at same speed.

Still, the DPJ had no intention of showing the videos. They did not change their minds until after their candidate was trounced in a lower house by-election for a vacant Hokkaido seat, and the opposition made it clear that discussions in the Budget Committee for the supplementary budget would not proceed unless the lawmakers saw the videos themselves. Said LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru:

“I don’t know what will happen with deliberations for the supplementary budget as long as the government does not fully release the video that it has.”

Thus the Kan Cabinet concluded it would have to show some of the video to some members of the Diet, but even that was beyond their capabilities. Ten hours of footage was edited down to six minutes and 50 seconds. It was not specified who did the editing, though some thought it was done by the prosecutors in Naha. The DVD was given to Budget Committee Chair Nakai Hiroshi of the DPJ, who said the Okinawa prosecutors told him:

“Discretion is required, so handle it carefully, including the number of people who see it.”

Mr. Yanagida, the justice minister, added to his reputation for incoherence by claiming that the prosecutors told him they did not want to release all the video because it would hinder future Coast Guard activities in the area and infringe on the human rights of some of the people involved.

No one had any idea what he was talking about, but then no one believed him anyway. The government had already shredded its credibility by maintaining from the beginning that the local prosecutors made all the critical decisions in the case.

The idea of a six-minute viewing satisfied no one. The opposition again demanded that all of the video be shown and that the prosecutors be called to testify in the Diet. They would be asked who edited the video, who decided what was to be included and what was to be left out, and whether the images were tampered with. Was it edited with an eye to the impact on Sino-Japanese relations, or to the survival of the Kan Cabinet?

Upper and lower house budget committee members finally saw the DVD last week with the Coast Guard present as observers. No members of the media or private citizens were allowed in the room, and those who were admitted were not allowed to bring in cell phones or video and still cameras.

Mr. Sengoku was concerned about Chinese objections:

“It is essential that they fully understand the relationship between the Japanese Diet and the government. The Diet is the highest organ of state authority.”

He’s quoting the Constitution there. How unfortunate that he skipped over the part in Article 15 that says: “All public officials are servants of the whole community.”

The reaction to the screening was curious. Said Isozaki Yosuke of the LDP:

“(After seeing the video), I clearly understood that it was intentional on the part of the Chinese captain.”

Perhaps that was to be expected of the LDP, but Abe Tomoko of the Social Democrats, Japan’s version of the political moonbat left, said:

“I had the strong impression that the ship purposely rammed (the Coast Guard vessels).”

The Motive: A CYA Edit?

Surely that must be what they think they saw. But not everyone else saw it the same way. Matsumoto Koki is a former LDP postal privatization rebel and veteran of several parties now in the DPJ. Here’s what he saw:

“(The fishing boat) hit the (Coast Guard vessel) as it was trying to flee. The way it hit didn’t seem to be an intentional collision. The instant of impact couldn’t be seen due to the camera angle.”

And Hattori Ryoichi of the SDP said:

“I have my doubts about the arrest itself.”

Taking Mr. Matsumoto and Mr. Hattori at their word raises questions about the editing. Were the clear shots of the direct hits on the Japanese ships intentionally edited out of the version shown to the Diet members to make the government look good?

Perhaps that was the last straw; before the week was finished 44 minutes of video showing that the Chinese fishing boat rammed the Japanese ships twice—without any camera angle problems—were made available on YouTube. The Japanese government had them taken down, but they were soon back up. They have now been seen and saved to hard discs the world over, including China.

The person who uploaded the videos used the handle Sengoku 38. Many wondered about the reason for 38, and a story briefly circulated that it was a homonym for “big dummy” when the Chinese pronunciation was used. Native Chinese speakers have scotched that, however. The most commonly accepted explanation is that it is a type of pun frequently used in Japanese. One reading for the number 3 is san, and one reading for the number 8 is hachi. Taking the first syllables of both creates the word “saha”, or 左派; i.e., left wing.

The Kan government was of course upset. It either forgot or ignored that the government is supposed to serve the people, and the result was that the paucity of their political skills and the poverty of their character was exposed. Said a DPJ executive:

“It is terrorism to bring down the Cabinet. The exposure was probably deliberate.”


Terrorism is not the correct expression. It was an act of rebellion in the finest sense of the word – if the government cannot stand up for the people, the people will stand up for themselves and find a government that better suits their needs.

Others in the DPJ claimed it was the work of the Kasumigaseki bureaucrats, but that excuse was quickly dismissed as infantile. What bureaucrats would take the risk? In any event, the source has been narrowed down to the Coast Guard.

Mr. Sengoku promised to prosecute the perpetrator if and when he is found, and no doubt the attorney will be able to find some law that he broke. But as a Japanese blogger pointed out this weekend, the day Mr. Sengoku brings charges against the offender will be the day that marks the beginning of the end of his political career (though we might well have passed that point already).

Consider: The Chinese captain was arrested, but later freed without being prosecuted. On his return to China, he was one of several citizens awarded a medal for “model behavior”. (In other words, the Chinese government is encouraging its citizens to behave the same way.)

Meanwhile, Sengoku 38 is the one who deserves a medal, but instead he’s the one subject to arrest and prosecution.

Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi got it right:

“They should stop looking for the perpetrator and release the entire video to the public. This information should not be protected as a state secret and placed under criminal sanction.”

The response to the release has been both educational and salutary.

The Chinese response was almost amusing. Said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei:

“(The video) cannot change the truth. It cannot cover up the illegality of Japan’s actions.”

Who are you going to believe—me or your lying eyes?

The Japanese mass media is calling for a concerted effort to find the leaker, but few outside the ruling class are fooled by the hypocrisy. Their realize their monopoly on the flow of information has also been disintermediated, and that the You Tube videos are as much a threat to them as they are to the Kan government.

Let’s not forget the English-language print media both overseas and in Japan. Wrote a blogger at the New York Times (his name is not important):

Leaked Video Shows Clash at Sea between Chinese and Japanese Ships

Clash? Is it a clash when two Coast Guard ships are attacked when shooing away a fishing boat illegally operating in Japanese waters? Would the New York Times use the word “clash” if a police officer was assaulted by a rapscallion trying to enter a restricted area?

Two writers for the Japan Times, that English-language publication produced by a few people who think it’s great fun to dress up in big people’s clothes and play newspaper, chose a clumsier verb:

“The 44 minutes of footage, uploaded on the video-sharing website in six parts, shows the Chinese boat bumping into Japanese cutters twice while coast guard personnel can be heard repeatedly issuing warnings in Chinese and Japanese.”

The Daily Mainichi was worried:

“Leaked video footage of a collision between a Chinese fishing boat and two Japan Coast Guard vessels off the disputed Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture could inflame fresh anti-Japan sentiment in China.”

To which the only rational response is: So what?

The Asahi pointed out that the release of the videos will force Mr. Kan to regroup and start over on both the domestic and foreign policy front because the Chinese might harden their attitude before the APEC summit this weekend.

To which the only rational response is: So what?

The Asahi reported that some government sources are calling the video release a “quasi coup d’etat”.

Is there a better way to deal with a quasi-government who treats its own citizens as if they were ignorant rabble?

The guests on one television news discussion program wondered why Sengoku 38 released the videos. Apparently they hadn’t read this Kyodo report:

Saitama police are analyzing about 280 DVDs that were found Friday at a train station in Saitama Prefecture and are thought to be recordings of video footage apparently showing the September collisions between Japan Coast Guard cutters and a Chinese trawler off the Senkaku Islands, sources said.
The DVDs were in two cardboard boxes left in a corridor near the east exit of East Japan Railway Co.’s Kawaguchi Station in the morning, the sources said.
According to the sources, an attached memo read: “This shows the reality of the Democratic Party of Japan…Feel free to take these with you.”

Fortunately, there were also plenty of sensible observations. Here’s LDP General Council Chair Koike Yuriko:

“This is a grave situation that will cause the international community to lose faith in Japanese trustworthiness. The Kan administration has neither the capability to manage a crisis, nor to govern.”

And LDP upper house member Yamamoto Ichita:

“This is a self-inflicted foreign policy defeat for the DPJ administration. I have the sense that the person who released the video had a compelling reason to do so.”

The Senkakus are under the administrative jurisdiction of Ishigaki, Okinawa. Ishigaki Mayor Nakayama Yoshitaka submitted a request to government to make all the video public and to guarantee the security of Japanese fishermen in the area:

“The video exposed the fact that the area around the islands has become a lawless zone, as well as Chinese behavior. The scenes shown on the web are just one part. All the videos should be shown in their entirety to the people…There are still serious doubts about why the Chinese captain was released and allowed to return to China. I want the government to stop this mealy-mouthed response, take a firm stand, and work to secure the safety of Ishigaki fishermen.”

The public sympathy for Sengoku 38 is considerable. The lighthouse at Ishigaki is open to public this time of year for tours, and the Ryukyu Shimpo, an Okinawa newspaper, interviewed some of the visitors from outside the prefecture. Said Shimada Kazuo of Aichi:

“It’s not right for the person who released the video to be sought for a crime, even though they released the ship’s captain who deliberately rammed (the Coast Guard vessels).”

There are also stories that people are calling the Coast Guard and asking them not to look for the guilty party. The Yomiuri Shimbun said 100 people called their offices in the first day after the videos appeared, 83 of whom approved the release. Another anti-government demonstration was held in Tokyo on Saturday, this time with 4,500 people participating.

The Kyodo news agency conducted a quickie poll over the weekend. It found that support for the Kan Cabinet has fallen 15 percentage points in the past month to 32.7%, lower than the approval rate when the DPJ took a shellacking in the July upper house election. The figures were down to 30.3% in a JNN poll. It won’t be long before it reaches the 20s, and when that happens to a Japanese Cabinet, it’s time to empty the ashtrays, put the glasses in the sink, and turn out the lights.

The Kyodo poll also found that 74% of the respondents disapprove of the way the government conducts foreign policy. Here are the results for a question about the approach to relations with China in the future:

48.6%: Maintain some distance
24.4%: No change
22.9%: Closer ties

Asked about the future of the government, Prime Minister Kan said:

“I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to fight it out, but as long as events progress, we’ll fight it out with everything we have.”

In the original Japanese, he said at the end “even if we have to bite on a rock.” In this morning’s edition of the Nishinippon Shimbun, editorial cartoonist Sato Masaaki has an illustration of Mr. Kan biting on an island in the sea labeled “Senkakus”. His caption: “By all means, we want you to keep biting on the rock.”

Translated into plain English, Mr. Kan’s statement means they won’t dissolve the Diet and call an election on their own initiative. Governments of the left never relinquish power willingly. As the Romans had it, Sic semper erat, et sic semper erit.

Frankly, the Kan Cabinet has shown itself to be so worthless it’s almost a waste of time to write about them. They’ve been in office only five months, and already they’ve become as useless and annoying as the dust that accumulates in the corner of desk drawers, the stray kernels stuck to the sides of the rice cooker, the scorched stew at the bottom of a pan, the dusty strands that appear between the curtain rods and the ceiling in unused spare rooms, or the dead cockroach swept out from behind a moved refrigerator at the end of summer.

What has characterized their behavior in office? They avoid responsibility and blame others instead of owning up to their actions and stating their case. They embrace the Chinese rather than stand up for Japan. They hide information critical to the national interest rather than trust the public. When criticized, they make angry and hysterical threats, rather than offer calm and collected explanations.

These men are weevily parsers of the law who think the nation exists in a vacuum. Instead of the highest governmental offices of the land, they are better suited to tatty rooms appointed with plastic furniture and assembly-line artwork, located behind second-rate retail merchandisers in hastily constructed strip malls at the shabby end of town, badgering people to sign contracts filled with unreadable small print and handing them cheap ballpoint pens that leave ink stains on the fingers.

Why would anyone expect this government to stand up for the national interest? The leaders of this government have believed since their university days that national interest is an obsolete concept. So much bilge has floated by the public since the DPJ took power in August 2009 that people in Japan have already forgotten the eminently forgettable Hatoyama Yukio, the leader of the preceding DPJ government, once said: “The Japanese archipelago is not the possession of Japanese people alone.”

Did he think the Chinese weren’t paying attention? Or was he so accustomed to be taken for a flannelhead that he thought his words no longer had consequences?

I wrote above that Leo Emery was remembered for two statements he made in the House of Commons, and cited the first. The second occurred during what was known as the Norway Debate in 1940. Great Britain had suffered a series of military disasters, and Amery quoted Oliver Cromwell to attack Neville Chamberlain and his government:

“You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

What next?

Be that as it may, I choose to think of the glass as half full rather than half empty. Perhaps there is already a spark in the imagination of an opposition lawmaker to file a motion of no confidence in the government. The idea of a motion of censure in the upper house has already been raised, but that would carry no weight.

Would a no confidence motion pass? The DPJ has a large majority in the lower house, and in this instance some of the opposition members might vote with them, including the Social Democrats and New Komeito. Then again, there’s no guarantee that Ozawa Ichiro and his allies would vote with the DPJ. There were reports even before this incident that Mr. Ozawa told his minions to be ready because an election could come at any moment.

The passage of a no confidence motion would mean the automatic dissolution of the Diet and a new lower house election. That might well spark the political realignment everyone knows is inevitable and spell the end of the DPJ as it currently exists.

It might also spark an overdue national dialogue about statehood, sovereignty, national defense, and the Constitution.

Further, some of the Chinese public have now seen that their government tried to stuff The Big Lie down their throats as if they were so many French geese being force-fed to produce foie gras. Of course the Chinese government didn’t want the videos made public—they dread the spark that might be ignited among their own people.

By placing those videos on You Tube, Sengoku 38 has become part of a glorious tradition of those with the courage to act for government of, by, and for the people. Whoever and whatever he is, for that alone he deserves our admiration.

Sengoku 38 created a spark. Sparks can sometimes turn to flames.

The nightbird cries, the shadow falls…

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Coming attractions

Posted by ampontan on Friday, September 24, 2010

The build-up of Chinese military capabilities is a real threat.
– Maehara Seiji, the new Foreign Minister of Japan, speaking in the United States in 2005

In ancient Chinese history, the First Emperor sent his adviser Xu Fu (徐福, Jofuku in Japanese) across the sea to what is now Japan to seek out the elixir of immortality. The account records that he was accompanied by many young men and women. Some Chinese believe that the Japanese are descendants of these early travelers. Does this give China a territorial claim over Japan? Of course not.
– Paul Lin, Taipei Times 19 September 2010

FOR THOSE with the eyes to see, China is offering the world a preview of its behavior when it finally assumes the role of Great Power. The screening started when the Japanese arrested Zhan Qixiong, captain of the Chinese fishing boat Minjinyu 5179, in Japanese waters 12 kilometers northwest of Kubashima. That was near one of the Senkaku islets, which the Chinese decided a few years ago was actually theirs after centuries of ignoring them. He was released today without being formally charged, though he could have been held a few more days before Japanese law required a decision.

One of the Senkaku islets

The Japanese suspected illegal fishing, having caught the Chinese with their pants down, so to speak—their fishing tackle was unfurled—so they hailed the boat to stop for boarding and inspection. The Chinese fishermen usually quit the scene when confronted, but this time someone cued up the theme song to Cops: Captain Zhan zipped up, rammed one of the Coast Guard vessels (the Mizuki), and then hightailed it. During the two-hour chase, he also rammed the other Coast Guard ship.

Try that on a highway after being motioned to pull over by an officer in a patrol car and watch what happens.

What happened here is that the Japanese decided to detain the captain before deciding whether or not to formally charge him. After a few days, they sent the Minjinyu 5179 back to China with the 14 crewmen, none of whom were arrested, but one or more of whom might have been CCP members egging on the skipper. They also found some fish.

The subsequent behavior of the Chinese and Japanese could not present a clearer contrast. The Japanese have been a model of calm discretion, while the Chinese government has responded with volleys of cloddish intimidation and ham-handed irredentism that reverberate with echoes of a less sophisticated age. The bluster puts one in mind of the more restrained North Korean propaganda, with hints of a mustachioed Mitteleuropa paperhanger demanding the return of the Sudetenland. It’s all the more revealing because they’re bullying a year-old Japanese government that long ago declared its intention to develop closer ties with them while tilting away from the United States. Perhaps that aggression is to be expected when one’s military budget has quadrupled over the past decade and one is facing a technically pacifist country with only 10% of the military personnel. The urge arises to start kicking sand in other people’s faces just because one can get away with it.

The recently appointed Japanese foreign minister, Maehara Seiji, is portrayed by some as a “hawk” because he favors amending the Japanese Constitution to permit national self-defense. This hawk is carrying an olive branch in its talons, however. He says the incident will be handled in accordance with the rule of law while emphasizing that “there is no territorial dispute in the region”. At the United Nations this week, he said, “(China) is an important neighbor. We must create a solid, strategic reciprocal relationship.”

While inspecting the damage to one of the Japanese ships last weekend, he added this bit of information:

We have a video of the circumstances of the collision, and it’s obvious at a glance who collided with whom.

Here’s a report from NHK, Japan’s quasi-public television network, using a computer-generated representation rather than the video itself. If you don’t understand Japanese, fast forward to the 1:20 mark; the Japanese ship is shown sailing ahead of the Chinese fishing vessel and to its port side when the Minjinyu 5179 suddenly veers left and smacks into it. (The Japanese Coast Guard is keeping the video under wraps and is not allowing copies to be made.) The announcer says the Chinese ship approached from the rear and turned the rudder sharply to hit the Japanese ship.

The Japanese government was able to hold its ground because it completely understands the motivations for the Chinese behavior, both in general and in this particular instance.

Being neighbors of the Chinese, they’ve understood for centuries that China has never seen itself as one nation among others in a cooperative relationship of mutual benefit. China refers to itself as the “flower in the center of the world”, and with their recent reblossoming they are reasserting the suzerainty they created in the region centuries ago. Not only do they consider the Western Pacific a Chinese sea, they’ve also expanded their reach into the Indian Ocean and are eyeing the other oceans of the world:

Now, one of China’s most prominent policy intellectuals is advocating for the creation of overseas bases. Shen Dingli, a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, asserts that “it is wrong for us [China] to believe that we have no right to set up bases abroad.” He argues that it is not terrorism or piracy that’s the real threat to China. It’s the ability of other states to block China’s trade routes that poses the greatest threat. …As China emerges as a major global power, it will expand its military footprint across the globe, much like that other great power, the US, whose bases surround China. The rapid expansion of China’s naval capabilities and broader military profile is a classic manifestation of its great power status. China’s new naval strategy of “far sea defense” is aimed at giving Beijing the ability to project its power in key oceanic areas, including and most significantly the Indian Ocean.

The Japanese also know that the Chinese now have access to a port on the Sea of Japan, thanks to an arrangement with their closest ally—North Korea:

China has gained direct access to the Sea of Japan for the first time in 100 years through a North Korean port, leaving the other two regional players, Japan and South Korea, deeply concerned about the communist state’s ambitions.

China made an agreement to lease a pier at North Korea’s Rajin Port for 10 years…The North Korean port city is considered a hub that will help forays into the Pacific region from China’s north-east.

Mikyoung Kim, a North Korea expert at the Hiroshima Peace Institute in Japan, said… “It is possible that China’s lease of the North Korean territory [the port] can be extended over the 10 years into a long-term deal. That can complicate the South’s effort for reunification. The South cannot just sit and watch”…She said she suspects China has a long-term goal. “China has been pursuing the North-east Project, a territorially ambitious project. In case of contingency in North Korea through an upheaval there, China may claim the leased territory as its own.”

Despite Chinese security analysts’ downplaying the matter, some outside analysts view the deal as ultimately part of China’s rising world power ambition, a view China strongly denies.

“Although China is a big country, many of its key areas are landlocked. Other powerful countries in the world don’t have the difficulty of entering the sea China faces,” said Global Times newspaper (of China). “The US directly faces two oceans in its east and west. Russia has a big part of its territory that is coastal. Japan is an island country by itself. India is a peninsula,” it said.

China’s oceanic coastline is approximately 18,000 km long (11,185 miles), extending from the Bohai Gulf to the South China Sea. (The former freezes in the winter.)

The Japanese know better than anyone else that the Chinese conducted its most aggressive show of naval strength ever in the Western Pacific earlier this year. They sent warships twice through the waters of Okinawa Prefecture in an attempt to intimidate Japan while the flotilla headed south to confront Vietnamese dealing with other Chinese fishing vessels in the Spratly Islands:

The news from Tokyo on 10 April 2010 that the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force had monitored ten Chinese warships passing 140km south of Okinawa through the Miyako Strait marked a new stage in China’s naval development. The deployment was of unprecedented size and scope for the Chinese navy, and was the second such operation mounted by China in rapid succession: in March, a smaller flotilla had been deployed on exercises. The two sets of exercises, along with Chinese counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, demonstrate the flexibility of China’s naval forces and their greater prominence in Beijing’s strategic calculations…


The ships conducted numerous live-fire exercises, as well as confrontation drills with elements of the South Sea Fleet. The PLA report said the fleet visited Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands, as well as conducting further exercises near the Malacca Strait between Malaysia and Indonesia. The deployment and exercises were a clear message of the willingness of the PLA Navy to assert Chinese power in the region.

The Chinese may be testing the resolve of the new Japanese government, particularly because the latter is having difficulties with the Americans over their military presence. The Japanese government also remembers how the Chinese tested the new Bush administration in 2001:

Analysts from Jane’s Defense say that two Chinese F8 fighter planes “hemmed in” the larger, slower EP-3 in an attempt to make it change course, and thereby caused the collision; one source reports that one of the Chinese fighters was actually flying directly underneath the EP-3….The aggressive and dangerous behavior of the Chinese pilots is later confirmed by the account of the collision by the pilot of the EP-3, Lieutenant Shane Osborn, who says, “He was harassing us.…The third time he hit us, is that an accident? I don’t know. Do I think he meant to hit us? No. I don’t think he meant to have his plane cut in two and go under the ocean. But his actions were definitely threatening my crew in a very serious manner and we all saw what happened.”

The Japanese are also aware the Chinese themselves have no problem arresting fishermen they think are infringing on their territory. The Chinese fisheries department seized nine Vietnamese fishermen on 22 March this year near the Paracels:

The Vietnamese Coast Guard warned and chased away at least 130 Chinese fishing boats that were found illegally fishing in Vietnamese waters off the central coast on January 29.

The naval unit based in Da Nang confirmed the news last Friday, adding that the fishing boats had been organized in groups.

Coast Guard vessels first apprehended 100 boats just 45 nautical miles off Thua Thien Hue.

Four days later they found the other 30 deep in Vietnamese waters off Da Nang and Thua Thien Hue.

Earlier last year China seized 17 Vietnamese fishing boats and arrested 210 fishermen for straying into its waters before later releasing all the men and 13 boats.

It has not escaped Japanese attention that Chinese aggression is limited to those countries it considers unlikely to resort to military retaliation. They are more restrained when dealing with other nation-state thuggery. For example, when the Russian Navy fired on and sank the Chinese cargo ship New Star in February this year, killing eight Chinese sailors, the Chinese response was rather subdued in comparison to the behavior after the arrest of the fishing boat captain in the Senkakus:

Zhang Xiyun, director-general for the Foreign Ministry’s Department of European-Central Asian Affairs, said, “The attitude of the Russian foreign ministry is hard to understand and unacceptable.”

Vice Foreign Minister Li Hui told Russia’s ambassador: “The Chinese side expresses shock and deep concern over this incident, We call on the Russian side to begin with a humanitarian spirit… and continue to make all efforts to find the missing personnel.”

The Chinese summoned the Russian ambassador to complain once about eight Chinese deaths. They’ve already summoned the Japanese ambassador six times over the arrest of one man, once in the middle of the night on the weekend. But then mobsters are more likely to push around law-abiding citizens; they tend to pick their fights with rival hoodlums more carefully.

Most important of all, the Japanese government understands that the Senkakus have been internationally recognized as Japanese territory for more than a century—including by the Chinese themselves.

The History

The Senkakus are a group of eight uninhabited islets with an aggregate area of 1,700 acres, slightly more than twice the size of New York City’s Central Park. They are 106 miles north of Ishigaki, Japan (and are part of its municipal district); 116 miles northeast of Keelung, Taiwan; and 255 miles west of Okinawa Island.

The red dots on the top row l-r are Shanghai and Kagoshima City. On the second row they are Taipei, Ishigaki, and Naha. The Senkakus are in the box.

The first recorded mention of the islets was in 1534 in Chen Kan’s Records of the Imperial Mission to Ryukyu. Chen, an envoy of the Ming Dynasty emperor to the Ryukyus, described his trip from China to Naha, as well as the customs of the native Okinawans. In his and several other accounts over the next two centuries, the islets were mentioned merely as geographic landmarks. The Chinese never indicated they considered them their territory, or anything more than specks in the ocean.

The first Japanese mention is in the Chuzan Seikan (Mirror of Chuzan), i.e., records of the Ryukyu Dynasty, which dates from 1650. As in the Chinese records, there is no indication they were considered anyone’s territory.

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.

That did bring the islets to the attention of the Japanese government, however, and Koga’s persistence paid off. The Japanese claimed the islands under the legal principle of terra nullius—any nation can claim as its own, territory that is unclaimed by any other nation—and it became part of Japan. 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.

The Chinese later charged the Japanese swiped the islets at the same time they wound up with the booty of Taiwan and the Penghu Islands at the end of the 1894-1895 Sino-Japanese War.

The Japanese Communist Party, nationalist scalawags that they are, addresses those claims 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.

In addition to albatross feathers, the islets for a time became a center for the production of katsuobushi, or dried bonito flakes, which are often used in Japanese cuisine. Koga finally relinquished the business in 1940, however, when more inexpensive sources were found. Other than that, the islets were ignored. The next noteworthy mention of them comes in 1920. That year, the Japanese rescued 31 Chinese fishermen who were shipwrecked on one of the smaller islets. The Chinese consul in Nagasaki wrote a letter of gratitude to the Japanese thanking them for their help. In the body of the letter, he referred to them by the Japanese term Senkaku islets (尖閣列島) instead of the Chinese name, Daiyutai (釣魚島). In other words, the Chinese considered them Japanese territory in 1920.

You can see for yourself. That document still exists, and here is a reproduction. The name is in the fourth column from the right:

The government of China claimed other islands in the South China Sea in 1932 and 1935, some of which were under the control of the French and the Japanese. The People’s Republic claimed them again in 1949. Despite their insistence that other islands in Japanese possession were theirs in 1935, the Chinese said nothing about the Senkakus.

There matters stood until the end of the Second World War in the Pacific. Under the Treaty of Peace with Japan (AKA The San Francisco Treaty), which went into force on 28 April 1952, the Japanese disposed of all the territory they conquered over the years to create their empire. Some of that territory was Chinese:

Article 2 (b)
Japan renounces all right, title and claim to Formosa and the Pescadores.
Article 2 (f)
Japan renounces all right, title and claim to the Spratly Islands and to the Paracel Islands.

The treaty gave the United States the right to continue to administer part of Japan after the Allied occupation ended:

Article 3
Japan will concur in any proposal of the United States to the United Nations to place under its trusteeship system, with the United States as the sole administering authority, Nansei Shoto south of 29 deg. north latitude (including the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands), Nanpo Shoto south of Sofu Gan (including the Bonin Islands, Rosario Island and the Volcano Islands) and Parece Vela and Marcus Island. Pending the making of such a proposal and affirmative action thereon, the United States will have the right to exercise all and any powers of administration, legislation and jurisdiction over the territory and inhabitants of these islands, including their territorial waters.

The Senkakus were considered part of the Nansei Shoto, as a U.S. State Department official later explicitly stated:

“The term “Nansei Shoto” was understood to mean all islands [south of 29 degrees north latitude] under Japanese administration at the end of the war … The term, as used in the treaty, was intended to include the Senkaku Islands.” (Suganuma Unryu, Sovereign Rights and Territorial Space in Sino-Japanese Relations, p. 134)

In fact, though several island groups are mentioned, most of the territory here was—and still is—a single administrative unit: Okinawa Prefecture (state/province). In short, everything cited in Article 3 of the treaty is just as much Japan as is The Ginza in Tokyo. (The Nanpo Shoto lie to the east and are part of the Tokyo Metro District.) Uninhabited islands are part of the territory of most maritime nations; not all of the 5,000 islands that are part of China are inhabited either.

The Americans administered the rest of Okinawa until they returned the prefecture to Japanese control under the 17 June 1971 Agreement between Japan and the United States of America Concerning the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands:

Article I
1. With respect to the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands, as defined in paragraph 2 below, the United States of America relinquishes in favor of Japan all rights and interests under Article 3 of the Treaty of Peace with Japan signed at the city of San Francisco on September 8, 1951, effective as of the date of entry into force of this Agreement. Japan, as of such date, assumes full responsibility and authority for the exercise of all and any powers of administration, legislation and jurisdiction over the territory and inhabitants of the said islands.

2. For the purpose of this Agreement, the term “the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands” means all the territories and their territorial waters with respect to which the right to exercise all and any powers of administration, legislation and jurisdiction was accorded to the United States of America under Article 3 of the Treaty of Peace with Japan other than those with respect to which such right has already been returned to Japan in accordance with the Agreement concerning the Amami Islands and the Agreement concerning Nanpo Shoto and Other Islands signed between Japan and the United States of America, respectively on December 24, 1953 and April 5, 1968.

Neither Taiwan nor the People’s Republic of China were signatories to the San Francisco Treaty, but neither objected to the inclusion of the Senkakus at the time. That’s because they considered them to be part of Japan. To be specific:

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. Here’s a post from Michael Turton’s fine blog, The View from Taiwan, with more more detail on the article.

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.

12 October – 29 November 1968: Maritime specialists from Taiwan and South Korea conducted sea floor surveys of the East China Sea with the cooperation of the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE), the regional arm of the United Nations Secretariat for the Asian and Pacific region. The report stated there was a possibility of large quantities of oil and natural gas under the seabed. It was later confirmed that there are at least 92 million bbl of oil available, with estimates of up to 100 billion bbl of oil, roughly equivalent to the 112.4 billion bbl of Iraq.

May 1969: The government of Taiwan provided oil exploration rights to Gulf, planted the Taiwanese flag on the Senkakus, and notified the world’s wire services of its action.

January 1970: The Taiwan government published a geography textbook for junior high school students that called the islands the Senkakus and treated them as Japanese territory. The following is a copy of the key part of the map. (Refer to the respective Chinese characters for the name of the islets above):

September 1970: The Okinawan police sent a ship to the Senkakus, removed the Taiwanese flag, and gave it to the Americans.

11 June 1971: The Taiwanese government claimed the islands as their own territory for the first time. Less than one week later:

17 June 1971: The treaty returning Okinawa to Japan from American control was signed.

30 December 1971: The People’s Republic of China claimed the islands as their own territory for the first time.

In 1992, China adopted legislation that authorized the use of force to enforce Chinese claims to the islets.

The Chinese and Taiwanese change of mind was followed by a few decades of posturing by the Chinese, low-profiling it by the Japanese, and occasional forays by small boatloads of buckos from China, Taiwan and Japan planting flags on the islets. In 1996, a group Japanese put up an aluminum lighthouse. The Chinese excitables stepped up their activity in 2004, which prompted Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to make a clear statement of American policy about the islands. Here’s how the Asahi Shimbun described it on 2 February 2004:

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage made the following comments at a news conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo Feb. 2 with reference to the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty: “That treaty would require any attack on Japan, or the administrative territories under Japanese control, to be seen as an attack on the United States.”

The statement simply reiterated the contents of Article 5 of the treaty and is nothing new. However, an expert on East Asian affairs at the U.S. State Department noted that Armitage used the phrase administrative territories under Japanese control instead of simply saying Japan or Japanese territory and pointed out that it connotes the Senkaku islands (Chinese name Diaoyu islands) whose ownership is disputed between Japan and China.

The State Department official added that Armitage’s statement amends the ambiguous stance of a past U.S. administration over the issue, meaning the neutral position of the Clinton administration, which implied that the United States is not necessarily obliged under the bilateral security treaty to oversee the defense of the Senkaku islands.

One month after Mr. Armitage spoke in Tokyo, the BBC ran an article on Chinese swashbuckling on the Senkakus. They noted:

China and Taiwan both laid claim to the Senkaku Islands in the 1970s after oil deposits were found nearby.

They were declared Japanese territory in 1895 and fall under the jurisdiction of Japan’s southern Okinawa prefecture.

The responses this month: A comparison


From Shikata Noriyuki, a spokesman for the Japanese prime minister’s office:

Regarding individual issues, what is needed is to respond calmly without becoming emotional.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito called for calm and warned about extreme nationalism on both sides. Japan is the country least affected by nationalism in Northeast Asia; his inclusion of Japan in the warning of about extreme nationalism is to prevent any incidents the Chinese can use for a pretext.

The political opposition is firm, sometimes critical of the government, but always responsible. LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru thinks the government’s response is insufficient, but then offers the Japanese political consensus: “Since there is no territorial problem, let the courts handle it quietly.” Former Defense Minister Koike Yuriko thinks the Chinese behavior highlights the worst aspect of the security treaty with the U.S.: It makes other countries think the Japanese can be easily steamrolled. The Japanese left was hysterical with their fantasies of an Abe Shinzo foreign policy when he was prime minister, but he too was subdued. He merely pointed out that Japan has to maintain its resolve because the next Chinese step “can only be economic sanctions”.

All of the above statements are representative of the tone in the media, from what I’ve seen.

Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji might well have encapsulated the sentiments of the general public in a blog post:

There’s no need to respond to every one of the childish retaliatory measures of the Chinese. That’s the sort of nation China is. They don’t realize just how much they lower their standing in the international community, and besides, they’re still just a developing country.

That last one cuts deeper in Japanese than it does in English.

Saber-rattling? The Defense Ministry announced that it’s mulling an increase in the size of the self-defense forces by 13,000 troops from 155,000 to 168,000, the first rise since 1972. They cite conditions in East Asia and the terrorist threat as their reason.

The United States

We’ve seen that six years ago, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage specifically used language to include the Senkakus as Japanese territory the Americans would defend. In Tokyo recently, he said he thinks China is taking advantage of a “chill” in Japan-U.S. relations, and that Beijing is “testing what they can get away with.”

He also said he thought the incident and the Chinese reaction should be a “warning” to other Asian countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei about Chinese behavior in territorial disputes.

While the Bush administration stood up for the Japanese through Mr. Armitage, the Obama administration, in keeping with their attitude toward allies, sat right back down.

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg now says the American position is “as it was before”, and that they won’t support either side. When “before” was, he didn’t say.

Mr. Steinberg, by the way, coined the phrase “strategic reassurance” to describe U.S.-China relations. That means the United States should reassure China that they will welcome China’s new status, and China should reassure the US and its Asian neighbors that it would not conflict with their interests.

So much for Steinbergian strategic reassurance.

The American Defense Department is more sanguine, however. Though few noticed, the Sasebo-based minesweeper Defender called on the Port of Hirara in Miyakojima, Okinawa, this week. It is only the third time since 1972 an American naval vessel called on a civilian port on a friendly visit and the first ever for Hirara. The port is in the southern part of the Ryukyus 400 miles from Taipei and 110 miles from Naha. Play around with the map at this site to get an idea of the location. The white specks to the northeast of Taiwan are the Senkakus.

The Governor of Okinawa was unhappy about the visit because the American navy is supposed to enter civilian ports only in case of an emergency. About 40 people showed up to demonstrate, mostly from labor unions.

Meanwhile, at a Pentagon news conference, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said:

“Obviously we’re very, very strongly in support of … our ally in that region, Japan.”

Added Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “We would fulfill our alliance responsibilities.”

China, in word and deed


Since the Japanese seized Capt. Zhan, here’s what the Chinese have done:

  • Summoned Japanese Ambassador Niwa Uichiro six times to complain, once in the middle of the night
  • Ended all contact with the Japanese government at the ministerial level and above. There will not be a summit at the UN between Prime Minister Kan Naoto and Premier Wen Jibao.
  • Sent a Ministry of Agriculture “fishing observation vessel” to the area near the Senkakus. These ships are often armed and have been active in the South China Sea to back up Chinese claims in that area.
  • Suspended negotiations on joint development of the gas fields in the East China Sea
  • Suspended discussions for increasing air travel between the two countries
  • Suspended discussions about coal shipments from China to Japan
  • Suspended corporate exchanges
  • Chinese customs officials stopped shipments of rare earth elements to Japan by preventing them from being loaded aboard ships at Chinese ports, according to three industry sources. Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Chen Rongkai denied it, but the sources (one of whom was Australian) said Chinese customs notified companies they couldn’t ship rare earth oxides, salts, or pure rare earth metals. Ordinarily, the Japanese could file a complaint with the World Trade Organization, but that will be difficult because the Chinese handled the matter administratively rather than through direct government order.

The Chinese might find this step to be counterproductive. The American House of Representatives is discussing this week legislation to subsidize the reopening of rare earth mines in the U.S.

  • Fined Toyota Motor Corp.’s finance unit for bribing car dealers, a charge Toyota denies
  • Sent equipment to the Chunxiao gas field (Shirakaba in Japanese), according to Japanese sources, apparently to begin drilling. Said Foreign Minister Maehara: “If it has been confirmed with proof, we will take the measures that should be taken.” That would include taking the case to the international maritime court.
  • Postponed the planned five-day trip of Li Jianguo, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, to Japan at the invitation of the Japanese lower house of the Diet.
  • Cancelled permission for 1,000 members of a Japanese youth exchange group to visit the Shanghai World’s Fair

Cutting off their nose to spite their face #1

  • The Chinese arrested four Japanese and one Chinese working for Fujita Corp, a construction company. They are charged with violating Chinese law regarding the protection of military facilities. Chinese authorities said they entered a military zone without authorization and were illegally filming military targets.

    A Fujita spokesman said the employees were in China for a project to dispose of chemical weapons abandoned by the Japanese military at the end of World War Two. Japan has been helping China dispose of the weapons as a gesture to improve bilateral relations. Kyodo reported the men were preparing a bid on the project.

Cutting off their nose to spite their face #2

Words: The government

Dai Bingguo

State Councilor Dai Bingguo summoned Niwa Uichiro at midnight on a Sunday to tell Japan to make a “wise political resolution” by releasing the fishing boat and its crew detained in disputed waters six days ago, and “expressed the Chinese government’s grave concerns”.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu

This incident was incited by Japan. Now they add error to error and escalate the problem.


China is firmly opposed to any kind of investigation by the Japanese side on the illegally detained Chinese trawler…unconditional and immediate release of the detained Chinese citizens was the only way to settle the dispute. Japan will reap as it has sown, if it continues to act recklessly.


The Diaoyu islands are China’s inseparable territory and the Japanese side applying domestic law to Chinese fishing boats operating in this area is absurd, illegal and invalid, and China will never accept that.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu

When the Japanese extended the detention of the ship captain, Ma said it was “illegal and invalid.”


We demand the immediate and unconditional release of the Chinese captain. If Japan acts willfully, making mistake after mistake, China will take strong countermeasures, and all the consequences will be borne by the Japanese side.

Premier Wen Jibao

Threatened Japan by saying China will take ”further actions” if Japan does not immediately release the ship captain.

During a 2007 visit to Japan, Mr. Wen pledged to make the East China Sea a “sea of peace, cooperation and friendship.” A few months later, the Japanese Coast Guard and the Chinese State Oceanic Administration set up a hotline.


Gao Hong, deputy director at the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences:

The inexperienced government of the Democratic Party of Japan will gradually learn that it is important to maintain a stable and healthy relationship with China.

Zhou Yongsheng, a professor of Japanese studies at China Foreign Affairs University:

(China has) more cards in hand than the Japanese, as their economy is largely dependent on China. China should take strong countermeasures.

Jin Yongming, legal scholar with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and Chinese Maritime Development Research Center, in the 10 September issue of the China Daily:

“Japan infringed upon China’s sovereignty and territory integrity when Japanese patrol ships chased the Chinese fishing trawler and boarded it forcibly. But the Japanese Coast Guard did not stop at that. It even applied Japanese law in the waters off the Diaoyu Islands, which since ancient times have been Chinese territory. Japan had no right to press charges against the Chinese fishermen according to its domestic laws,” said Jin.

“To strengthen its presence around the Diaoyu Islands, the Japanese Coast Guard has been sending patrol ships for some time now and has repeatedly chased Chinese fishing and survey vessels. But such action cannot alter the fact that Diaoyu Islands belong to China. And history vouches for that.”

He also demanded that Japan should apologize and offer the fishermen adequate compensation.


Li Nan, the China Federation of Defending the Diaoyu Islands

If the Chinese government continues to simply declare the Diaoyu Islands are Chinese territory while avoiding substantive action then I feel the islands are drifting further and further away from us. China should send patrol ships from the PLA Navy, like Japan, and establish (the) Diaoyu Islands as a shooting range.

Print media

The Global Times, an official Chinese newspaper, published a front page article on “severe countermeasures” that could be taken against Japan, including extracting “economic damage”.

It included this passage:

”We should send regular battle-capable fisheries vessels to the Diaoyu area to protect navigation,” said General Peng Guangqian, an analyst at the Chinese Academy of Military Science.

Does not the concept of “battle capable fishery vessels” speak for itself?

Global Times editorial: Finding the Achilles Heel of Japan

Bilateral relations between the two countries have plunged recently due to Japan’s diplomatic recklessness…China’s Japan policy has been based on friendly ties stressing warm public communication since the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two in 1972. But the public emotions of Japanese society toward China have altered significantly recently. It seems that conflicts originating from Japan are continually escalating….It should be apparent by now that China will be forced to endure long-term conflicts with Japan, and emphasizing only friendly relations is not prudent.

China needs to be certain of Japan’s soft spots for clearly targeted reactions. The pain has to be piercing. Japanese politicians need to understand the consequences – votes will be lost, and Japanese companies have to be aware of the loss of business involved. Japanese citizens will feel the burden due to the downturn in the economy. China’s domestic law, business regulations and consumers can all be maneuvered.

There is a lingering question in China: Why do hawkish Japanese politicians who are obviously against China emerge one after another without China provoking Japan?

Suspension of the East China Sea gas field talks, scheduled for mid-September, is the first move of China’s counter strike. Given the decades of relationship building after WWII, China will probably not resort to force over this incident. But, if the protests from the Chinese government and public don’t bring the Japanese back from the brink of a relations breakdown, Beijing has to consider stronger retaliatory measures.

English-language print media

Apart from items that could be found on any police blotter, the English-language news media can no longer be counted on to provide correct information on anything. It’s a bit like shooting dead fish in a barrel, but here are a few examples of their coverage.


The Japanese have been behaving decorously, so they offer no photo opportunities. The Chinese have been the ones to foam at the mind, so photos the media chooses to run seem designed to create associations with the Second World War, such as this one from AP:

News agencies such as Reuters and outlets such as the New York Times like to include references to “lingering resentments” over the war. Everyone in this part of the world, however, understands that Chinese popular opinion toward the Japanese is cynically manipulated like a spigot by the government to deflect dissatisfaction with the regime. Notice how often the phrase “(the Chinese government) allowed some demonstrations” is used.

The Epoch Times has a worthwhile piece here, pointing out that the demonstrations are stage-managed. The Japanese understand this, and usually wait until the Chinese government calls them off when they begin to worry popular discontent will be transferred to them.

Globe and Mail, Canada


Beijing asserts new dominance over waning Tokyo in diplomatic row

That guy in jail—where was he from again?

The dispute over the island chain, which is also claimed by Taiwan, dates to the end of the Second World War.

Possibility #1: The author was too lazy to look it up.

Possibility #2: He believed his Chinese source and was too lazy to confirm it.

The Age, Australia:

Japanese commentators and politicians are responding in kind to China’s increased maritime assertiveness, after China’s rolling conflicts with the United States and south-east Asian nations over control of the South China and Yellow seas. Japan’s Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, said the islands were an ”integral part of Japanese territory”.

Responding in kind?

American screenwriter, novelist, and blogger Roger L. Simon has observed that journalist bloggers at mainstream publications sound so many false notes they’re like white boys trying to sing the blues. Exhibit A is this post at the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof.

Look out—his (or the paper’s) framing of the narrative starts with the headline:

Look Out for the Diaoyu Islands

The Japanese detained the Chinese captain for questioning and the two countries have been exchanging indignant protests.

Readers are hereby invited to send in any examples of indignant protests by anyone in an official capacity in Japan. Good luck finding one.

The other problem is that, technically, the U.S. would be obliged to bail Japan out if there were a fight over the Senkakus. The U.S. doesn’t take a position on who owns the islands, but the Japan-U.S. security treaty specifies that the U.S. will help defend areas that Japan administers. And in 1972, when the U.S. handed Okinawa back to Japan, it agreed that Japan should administer the Senkakus. So we’re in the absurd position of being committed to help Japan fight a war over islands, even though we don’t agree that they are necessarily Japanese.

As you pick out the obvious mistakes in that passage, realize that you already know more about the issue than Kristof, who has two Pulitzer Prizes and has been called “the moral conscience of our generation of journalists…the Indiana Jones of our generation of journalists.”

In reality, of course, there is zero chance that the U.S. will honor its treaty obligation over a few barren rocks. We’re not going to risk a nuclear confrontation with China over some islands that may well be China’s. But if we don’t help, our security relationship with Japan will be stretched to the breaking point.

If the U.S. doesn’t help in the case of a Chinese attack, its security relationship with Japan will cease to exist.

Apart from being the only person to suggest a defense would necessarily be nuclear, Kristof seems to have missed the statements by both Mr. Armitage and Mr. Gates.

Then again, he is talking about the Obama administration.

He also feels his way through the legal issues:

So which country has a better claim to the islands? My feeling is that it’s China, although the answer isn’t clearcut.

He continues:

Chinese navigational records show the islands as Chinese for many centuries, and a 1783 Japanese map shows them as Chinese as well.

Incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial, as we’ve seen.

Kristof’s obviously been talking to Chinese sources without confirming what he heard from Japanese sources. Here’s the 1783 map. The Chinese contend the Senkakus are the same color on the map as the Chinese mainland (red). They are. (They begin at the third island at the vertical line.) But Taiwan is a different color (yellow). The first two islands on the vertical line are also red, but they were at that time (and are today) Taiwanese territory. In any event, the map was rendered by Hayashi Shihei, a retainer of the Date clan in the Sendai domain in the far northeast corner of Japan. He had no relationship with the Ryukyus–which at that time was an independent country–nor did he have the authority to set anyone’s national boundaries.

Note also that because of the different colors used for Taiwan and the Chinese mainland, a Chinese who accepts this map as proof that the Senkakus belong to China must also implicitly accept that Taiwan is independent from China.

Japan purported to “discover” the islands only in 1884 and annexed them only in 1895 when it also grabbed Taiwan.

Guess who whose hired researchers didn’t spend 15 minutes on the web looking anything up.

(You can also make a case that they are terra nullis [sic], belonging to no nation.)

No, you can’t, because that’s the basis by which Japan claimed them. That claim has been recognized by the rest of the world outside of the New York Times headquarters building for the past 115 years—including China for 76 of those years.

As Chinese nationalism grows, as China’s navy and ability to project power in the ocean gains, we could see some military jostling over the islands. You read it here first.

He also seems to have missed the Global Times editorial that says China will take no military action.

Is his degree of self-importance in inverse proportion to the amount of time he spent on research?


What we are witnessing is how a nation with arrested political development and without a sense of morality, with neither real friends nor real ideals–only size, money, and the desire to recreate the world as it existed two millenia ago–tries to seize the territory of another nation in the modern age and create a contemporary suzerainty. The incident seems to have at last focused the attention of people outside of East Asia on Chinese behavior, apart from those who populate the offices of a dying media culture and the fashionable salons of the elite.

Paul Lin of the Taipei Times wrote:

Japan’s response — releasing 14 crew members while keeping the captain detained — is basically designed to be reasonable without being a capitulation of Japan’s authority. In the long term, however, China’s biggest foe remains the US — still the most prominent democracy. Beijing will try to appeal to the common writing system and heritage of China and Japan to dissolve the US-Japan security treaty, so that it can gain control of the island chain. The US, Japan and Taiwan have to keep a watchful eye out for this, and must not show any sign of weakness lest China exploit a chink in the armor.

When he says island chain, it’s possible he is also referring to Okinawa itself, several decades down the road. The Ryukyu kingdom once paid tribute to the Qing Dynasty, and the Chinese never forget.

After the debacle with the United States over the Futenma marine base and this incident with China, Japan’s Democratic Party might yet learn something about the realities of governing. It is unlikely there will be more talk any time soon from the party about an “equilateral triangle” among Japan, China and the United States, much less any of the silliness about yuai and an East Asian entity.

They’re about to get another lesson when Wallace Gregson, the American Assistant Secretary of Defense, Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, shows up in Tokyo next week to ask the Japanese to increase their financial contribution for American bases and personnel in Japan. Several US sources have confirmed he will use as justification Chinese activity in the East China Sea and the Senkakus dustup.

The current agreement for payment expires next March, and the DPJ has long called for Japan’s financial contribution to be reduced.

If we’re lucky, perhaps the DPJ will also realize they might have brought it on themselves with their handling of the Futenma base issue, former party leader Ozawa Ichiro’s annual jaunts to fawn to the Chinese, and breaching the standard domestic protocol and forcing the Tenno (Emperor) to meet with a Chinese political leader last winter.

The authorities could legally have kept the Chinese sea captain in detention for a few more days, so his early release might open the government to criticism for weakness–particularly as the Chinese have been stepping up the economic pressure. One of the Chinese commentators said the Japanese government might have to pay for their acts with votes. He might be right, but perhaps not in ways he anticipated. Then again, what would mainland Chinese know about democracy?

Japan released Zhan Qixiong today, but the incident will likely have repercussions that last for quite a while.


* A Japanese government source who saw the videos of the incident said it would be difficult to prove the malicious intent of the captain at a public trial because the effect of the sea currents couldn’t be completely ruled out.

* Here’s a fascinating and informative paper about how the Chinese are becoming a global fishing power. The author also says:

(C)onsistent with the Chinese tendency toward close integration of civil and military institutions, China’s large fishing fleet is already integrated into a maritime militia that could render crucial support in a hypothetical military campaign, whether ferrying troops across the Taiwan Strait or laying mines in distant locations. The sheer number of fishing vessels that could be involved would present a severe challenge to any adversary attempting to counter this strategy.

* During his 16th century visit to the Ryukyus, Chen Kan wrote about the natives’ fondness for a beverage that can only be awamori, the Okinawan version of shochu.

* Japan has its useful idiots, too.

Even though Suganuma Unryu quoted an American official as stating that the Senkakus were included in the territory Japan was to keep in the peace treaty, he still argues that the islets are Chinese. He’s now at Oberlin University, and here’s the About page on his blog. He used to be a senior research fellow at the Institute of Moralogy.

Go ahead, read that website. I dare you.

A website called The China Desk likes a paper that historian Inoue Kiyoshi wrote on the issue in 1972 so much, they posted it:

(I)n collusion with U.S. imperialists, reactionary rulers and militarist forces within Japan are clamoring that the Senkaku Islands are Japanese territory, attempting to drag the Japanese people into a militarist, anti-China whirlwind. This whirlwind is certain to become fiercer after US armed forces return the so-called “administrative right over Okinawa” to Japan on May 15 of this year. We who are striving for the independence of the Japanese nation, for friendship between Japan and China, and for peace in Asia, must smash this conspiracy by U.S. and Japanese reactionaries. As a weapon in this struggle, I am providing a brief account of the history of the so-called Senkaku Islands.

* It’s curious that Japan’s Social Democrats are keeping a low profile. I haven’t seen any of their comments quoted in the media, and they hadn’t written anything for their website the last time I looked. Then again, this isn’t the ideal time to promote their view that Japan can trust its security to “the peace-loving peoples of the world”, as stated in the preamble to the Japanese Constitution.

Thanks to Bender for the Kristof link.

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Campaign shouting in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 11, 2010

IF YOUR KNOWLEDGE of Japanese political campaigns is limited to the hyper-amplified blandness of the candidates’ “greetings” broadcast as they’re chauffeured through your neighborhood, then you’re missing most of the fun. The barbs are just as sharp and the elbows dig just as deep here as anywhere else.

Here’s a sample of the slings and arrows that filled the air of the political battlefield during the upper house election campaign, which ends today.

Watanabe Yoshimi of Your Party

On the Democratic Party of Japan’s government:

A coalition (with the DPJ after the election) is impossible because we have completely different agendas….The DPJ favors big government and is on a high tax course led by the bureaucracy. Your Party favors small government and is on a growth course led by the private sector…As long as the DPJ is supported by public sector unions, the only reform they’re capable of is creating alibis.

On Prime Minister Kan Naoto:

His flip-flopping (on the consumption tax) is really terrible. It’s obvious that he hasn’t done his homework before speaking. He’s just been brainwashed by bureaucrats and going off half-cocked.

His claim of flip-flopping refers to remarks Mr. Kan made when it was suggested that boosting the consumption tax to 10% would cause problems for lower-income people. He immediately responded that he would exempt people earning less than JPY two million a year (roughly $US 22,560). A few hours later on the same day, he upped that to JPY three million. A few hours after that, he again raised the floor to JPY four million. Exempting those with a salary of less than JPY four million would cut by half the projected revenue from the consumption tax increase. Going, going, gone!

Back to Mr. Watanabe. When DPJ Secretary-General Edano Yukio suggested a possible coalition with Your Party:

Go wash your face and come back again.


As long as they receive support from public sector labor unions, they’ll remain the party of big government…Their offer of a coalition partnership was just to burnish their image as reformers and pull away our support.

Regarding the Cabinet’s agreement on a Basic Policy for Managing the Retirement of National Civil Servants:

This amakudari system is stronger than that of the LDP. They don’t even treat current bureaucrats hired by amakudari public corporations as amakudari….If you want to work with us (in a coalition), rescind this decision, cut your ties with public sector unions, and cut your ties with candidates from labor unions.

There are 14 candidates in this election who were once officials of labor unions, and all of them are members of the DPJ.

In the current issue of the weekly Sunday Mainichi:

If they want us to join a coalition, they’ll have to cut their ties to the unions before they come to the table.

No pussyfooting with Mr. Watanabe, is there? Everyone knows that unions constitute the DPJ’s primary organizational support, which intensifies the impact.

Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji has said that to enter a coalition with the DPJ would be political suicide. He’s right. No one would ever let them forget these and dozens of other equally explicit statements.

Prime Minister Kan Naoto

On Watanabe Yoshimi:

A rather energetic man has been trashing both the DPJ and the Liberal Democratic Party, but I ask you—why couldn’t he accomplish anything when he was in the LDP?

As everyone paying attention to politics knows, Mr. Watanabe left the LDP and formed Your Party because the Aso Cabinet in particular deboned the reforms he sought. Why would the prime minister think this is a convincing charge?

Watanabe Yoshimi is saying that the DPJ has been hijacked by the bureaucrats before anyone realized it, but that’s not so. I’m brainwashing the Finance Ministry! Do not fall for his line!

Mr. Watanabe said during a televised debate among nine party leaders that the Finance Ministry had brainwashed the prime minister. The shot must have struck home for the prime minister to use a comeback that borders on the eccentric.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito

On Your Party:

Watch television and you’ll see that people from parties calling for reform have really been mouthing off. But what they’re saying is to fire civil servants right and left. They say we should give all the proceeds from the consumption tax to local government. This kind of extreme language might be impressive during elections, but it is not real reform.

Mr. Sengoku is also the head of a Diet group promoting cooperation with Jichiro, the national union for local government employees.

The Chief Cabinet Secretary might also be referring to the Spirit of Japan Party, a new group that doesn’t have any Diet seats yet. Their program calls for raising the consumption tax to 10%, but giving all the revenue to local government and using it exclusively for social welfare expenses. They also favor small national government and support the idea of a sub-national redistricting into a state/province system..

Social Democratic Party head Fukushima Mizuho

On Your Party:

Your Party (and its policies) are Koizumi’s structural reforms. It will destroy everyone’s life. If the people unhappy with the DPJ cast their votes for Your Party, their lives will crumble. That’s why I’m calling on you to vote for the SDPJ instead.

If I had a vote, this alone would convince me to vote for Your Party.

Yosano Kaoru of the Sunrise Japan Party

Former Finance Minister Mr. Yosano delivered a campaign speech in front of the Odakyu Department Store near Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. Appearances by political parties at busy locations during election season are choreographed by agreement among all the parties. His speech followed those of candidates from New Komeito.

At the same time, however, Haku Shinkun, a proportional representation delegate from the DPJ (who pronounced his name Baek Jin-hoon when he was head of the Japan branch of Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper), parked his campaign car fewer than 100 meters away in front of the Keio Department Store. Deputy Education Minister Suzuki Kan and other DPJ members used it to give speeches.

Angered at this violation of their common agreement, Mr. Yosano approached them after his speech and told them not to encroach on the space agreed to by all the political parties. The DPJ candidates stopped speaking for a few minutes, but resumed soon afterwards. Said Mr. Suzuki:

This is a public road, so we’re free to do what we want.

Mr. Yosano blew up, telling a news conference it was the first time he’d seen anything like it (he’s over 70), and that it demonstrated the character of the DPJ.

Nakagawa Hidenao of the LDP

On the same incident:

Out of the way, out of the way, the DPJ is coming! The DPJ is speaking!

That is a take-off on the Kobayashi Issa haiku, “Out of the way, out of the way, a great horse is coming”. Eda Kenji has already used it to describe the DPJ’s conduct of Diet affairs.

Koike Yuriko of the LDP

Mr. Nakagawa isn’t the only one who can wrap political shots in poetic elegance. Rather than a steel magnolia, steel lily might be a better way to describe former Cabinet minister Koike Yuriko. Here’s how she went after Kan Naoto:

Perhaps the white lily of Nagata-cho shouldn’t be saying this, but Mr. Kan is a rengeso (Chinese milk vetch). Taki Hyosui wrote the verse:

Pick not the rengeso
Better to leave it in the field

During television debates and street corner speeches, he is truly an exceptional leader, but he is a leader of the opposition party. He stands head and shoulders above everyone else when criticizing and complaining, but just where does he want to take this country?

To unpack that:

* Taki Hyosui was a haiku poet who lived from 1684 to 1762. In the verse cited above, he uses the flower as a metaphor for geishas, recommending that a man not marry them.

* Ms. Koike is using her own name to make a play on words. (Yuri is the Japanese word for lily.)

* The word for opposition party in Japan is yato, which literally means “field party”. That’s why she says it’s best to leave him in the field.

* She’s playing off a common complaint about the DPJ in general, and Mr. Kan in particular, that when they were in the opposition all they did was kvetch without offering constructive ideas.

* One of the weapons used to attack Mr. Kan in this campaign is that his mindset is that of an opposition member rather than a leader in government.

Shiokawa Masajuro of the LDP

Speaking in Fukuoka, Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s first finance minister said:

It would be safer for the people to have Diet gridlock after the election.

In other words, he wants to prevent the DPJ from winning an outright majority in the upper house.

He elaborated by saying that the LDP distributed party posts as a reward for support, but “the adjustments among the factions gave the party the ability to control itself. The DPJ does not have the ability to make internal adjustments. If they win an upper house majority, their dictatorial tendencies will grow stronger.”

‘Twas ever thus. The DPJ is a party of the left.

Koizumi Jun’ichiro

No summary of this type is complete without a few contributions from Mr. Koizumi, a master political swordsman.

On the DPJ:

I had hoped they would be able to eliminate the government waste we couldn’t, but I never thought they would go out of control and stampede this wildly.

On the highway-related public corporations:

We created a system that would have required no public funds (for highways) whatsoever, but by eliminating expressway tolls (the DPJ) will have to use public funds. We campaigned on moving from the public sector to the private sector, but under Kan, the party’s moved from the public sector to the public sector.

On Japan Post:

We spent more than a month debating our privatization plan in the Diet, but they wrapped it up in six hours. We reformed Japan Post, which requires trillions of yen in government expenditures, and the public highway corporations, but they’re going backwards.

On “trillions”:

Even if you use JPY 100 million every day for a year, you spend a total of JPY 36.5 billion. No matter how profligate a person’s spending is, no one can use JPY 100 million every day. You won’t reach a trillion unless you do it every day for about 30 years.

In their election platform last year, the DPJ promised to find JPY 16.8 trillion in government waste. In other words, they would have had to find JPY 10 billion every day to hit their target during a four-year term.

On internal criticism in the DPJ:

They were full of criticism when they were in the opposition, but the DPJ MPs fell silent in the face of Hatoyama Yukio, who could never have been prime minister or secretary general for the LDP, and Ozawa Ichiro. The LDP has the freedom, but the DPJ doesn’t.

His recommendation:

This time, let’s have the DPJ stay in office a little while longer and let them experience the difficulties of being the ruling party.


The print media can be wickedly clever at this game. For example, the pronunciation of Mr. Kan’s family name is the same as that for a tin can, and they’ve taken to calling it the aki-kan naikaku, or the Empty Can Cabinet. That blade has a double edge—an empty can has no content and little weight.

They’ve also been creating visual puns, which is a national talent. The Kan family name is written with one kanji: 菅. The part of the top that looks like two plus signs side by side (++) is one of the classifiers in the writing system called a kusa kanmuri, or “grass crown”. The prime minister started his political career as a “grass-roots activitist”. The wags are now saying he’s removed the grass, leaving this: 官. That’s the first kanji in the word kanryo, or bureaucracy, and can mean the public sector when used by itself.

Mr. Kan also said:

This is a truly historic election that will determine whether or not a two-party system takes hold.

It is unlikely to be historic short of a massive DPJ defeat or victory, and it won’t contribute to the creation of a two-party system. A two-party system is not possible in Japan as long as it maintains proportional representation voting. The Social Democrats, the Communists, and New Komeito naturally view proposals to ditch PR as a threat to their survival, and fight accordingly. One of their favorite complaints is that a winner-take-all system is “undemocratic”. (Is one therefore to infer that democracy doesn’t exist in the United States or Great Britain?)

What I think would be more likely is a vague, three-way system of the type described by Friedrich Hayek. The three groupings are:

1. Socialists, i.e., statists: That would include the DPJ, Social Democrats, and Communists. Hayek also properly included the fascists of his era.

2. Conservatives, including social conservatives: Though he called conservatism a “necessary element in every society”, Hayek thought it was paternalistic, nationalistic, and had a tendency to “adore power”. “By its very nature, (it) is bound to be a defender of established privilege and to lean on the power of government for the protection of privilege.” Therefore, he thought conservatives were prone to accept the premises of the socialists. That describes to a T such people as Kamei Shizuka of the People’s New Party and Hiranuma Takeo of the Sunrise Japan Party, social conservatives who left the LDP during the Koizumi era because they wanted to maintain government ownership of Japan Post.

When people in Japan talk about forming or leading a “true conservative” group, this is what they mean. Mr. Hiranuma used that as a justification for forming his own party, and Aso Taro said that was his qualification for leading the LDP.

3. True liberals / Neo-liberals / Small-government advocates: Hayek called the essence of this position the denial of all privilege, to be understood as the state granting and protecting rights to some that are not available on equal terms to others. That means privileges to Big Labor as well as to Big Business, to people of lower income as well as to people of higher income, to ethnic, racial, and religious groups, and to genders.

In Japan, this category would include the Koizumians, the Nakagawa Hidenao “rising tide” wing of the LDP, and, to a certain extent, Your Party and the smaller Spirit of Japan Party.

In such an arrangement, the Conservatives can hold the balance of power, shifting their support to one of the other two groups. Mr. Kamei allied with the DPJ and the SDPJ to renationalize Japan Post, but he wants no part of their social programs or their proposals to allow non-citizens the right to vote and to allow women to keep their maiden names after marriage.

Some people also combine aspects of more than one group. Matsubara Jin of the DPJ views such issues as Nanjing and the comfort women in a way similar to that of Mr. Hiranuma. Abe Shinzo is a social conservative who tried to implement small government reforms more far-reaching in some ways than Mr. Koizumi. The Spirit of Japan Party supports small government and devolution, but has also formed an alliance with the Sunrise Japan Party.

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“I read about 10 pages”

Posted by ampontan on Monday, March 15, 2010

SOME IN JAPAN hold that the Liberal Democratic Party has been ineffective in presenting arguments in opposition to the ruling Democratic Party. That might be true of the mudboat wing of the party, represented by the new president Tanigaki Sadakazu, but that’s by no means the case with the reform wing and those associated with former Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro.

There are many examples, but here’s Exhibit A: An English-language article written by former Defense Minister Koike Yuriko, which has appeared in two Australian publications. Here’s the first sentence:

When asked if he had ever read the classic text Economics by Paul Samuelson, a book most first-year students in the subject are familiar with, Japanese Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Naoto Kan replied: “I read about 10 pages.”

Ms. Koike is no shrinking wallflower. That first punch sent Mr. Kan sprawling to the canvas on his back, but she didn’t retire to a neutral corner–she jumped on top and started working him over.

She also knows how to stick in the knife and twist it:

Kan is often mentioned as a potential successor should Hatoyama leave his post – a live possibility, given the prime minister’s plummeting approval ratings and strained relationship with Ichiro Ozawa, the kingpin of Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).

Ms. Koike spends most of her time dealing with the economic mismanagement of Japan and the DPJ’s financial scandals.

Such scandals have tainted Japanese politics for decades. But, just as Kan is planning only to “discuss” raising taxes, the supposedly clean DPJ is planning only to discuss the problem of money in politics by establishing a new non-partisan commission to investigate the problem. Japan, however, cannot afford to waste time building a new apparatus to prevent party-financing scandals. The country already has laws to handle the matter. They simply need to be enforced.

Japanese politics and its alliances can be inscrutable, as a look at Ms. Koike’s background will demonstrate. She was at one time close to Ozawa Ichiro, now the DPJ secretary-general, in two different parties before joining the LDP at the start of the Koizumi era. She became an Ozawa ally after reading his book, Blueprint for a New Japan. She was attracted by his call for greater individuality and less big government, but split when she realized that the Ozawa electoral technique was to adopt as an ideology whatever he thought would fly at the time.

Whenever a politician’s name appears on something in print, it’s a fair question to ask whether they wrote it themselves. It’s also fair to wonder about the English language ability of Japanese politicians when something they wrote appears in that language without a translation credit. It’s not possible to answer that question with any certainty, but the chances are good that she wrote the article herself and is responsible for most of the English (though it was probably shown to a native speaker for cleaning up before publication). She began her career as a print journalist and then moved on to the broadcast media, and that training seems to be reflected in the structural tightness of the piece.

Further, I’ve been pleasantly surprised more than once at the ease with which many Japanese journalists can switch into English when the occasion demands. That’s in contrast to most politicians. The late Miyazawa Kiichi was said to have excellent English, but his fluency deteriorated noticeably when he departed from set pieces. And one of my clients in the translation business, a Japanese man whose English is superb, was appalled when he heard Prime Minister Hatoyama speak in English. When I pointed out that he studied engineering at Stanford, he dismissed that with the comment, “Just another rich boy sent abroad to study.”

Ms. Koike was also the first woman to run for the post of LDP president, which means she had ambitions to become prime minister. (She finished third behind Aso Taro and Yosano Kaoru, but was in second place well ahead of Mr. Yosano when only the LDP Diet members’ votes were counted.) Whether she still intends to act on those ambitions remains to be seen, but there is no question she can be an effective voice in opposition, albeit one overlooked by the Japanese media at present.


When I first came to Japan, the sex industry had many establishments at which females were paid to play rub-a-dub-dub in the bath with men. They were known as toruko, or Turkish baths. A Turkish student at Tokyo University, Nusret Sancakli, led a successful movement to have the name changed. “Soapland” is now the term of choice. It was not commonly known at the time, but Ms. Koike was Mr. Sancakli’s behind-the-scenes advisor in that campaign.

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A correction–but the point still stands

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 5, 2009

AFTER SUNDAY’S ELECTION, I wrote in the Afterwords section that Yosano Kaoru wasn’t selected as a proportional representative candidate, even though he had more votes than two other LDP candidates and one DPJ candidate.

As someone pointed out in the Comments section, Mr. Yosano was in fact selected. It turns out that the edition of the newspaper I used to write the Afterwords section did not have the absolutely positively final results. I’m sorry for any confusion that might have caused.


I’m now looking at the edition of the newspaper with the final results. In Tokyo’s proportional representation bloc, the DPJ’s Hayakawa Kumiko was selected upon receiving 106,892 votes, though she lost the direct election in her district. She was listed at the top of the DPJ table. Former Cabinet minister Koike Yuriko of the LDP was also selected after receiving 96,739 votes, though she also lost the direct election in her district.

Meanwhile, another direct election loser, Sato Yukari of the LDP, eighth on the list of LDP PR candidates, received 121,244 votes, yet was not selected for the Diet (only five LDP members in the Tokyo bloc cleared the hurdle). In fact, she received more than Kamoshita Ichiro, who was listed first in the LDP table. He got 111,590 people to vote for him.

My original point stands: Any system that allows this to happen, regardless of the identity of the candidates or their party, and regardless of the reason, is profoundly undemocratic.

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Japan’s bureaucrats bite back

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, August 13, 2009

NO GROUP ANYWHERE has been on the receiving end of as many brickbats in recent years as the Japanese national civil service. Reformers nationwide are calling for the gutting of Kasumigaseki, the generic term for the bureaucracy taken from the Tokyo district where many of their offices are located. The platform of firebrand Watanabe Yoshimi’s newly formed Your Party has a plank that would cut civil service personnel expenditures by 30% and eliminate 100,000 positions altogether. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan, on the verge of taking power and forming a new government, has vowed to separate Kasumigaseki from the political process.

While most of the opinions of the bureaucrats themselves about this trend are likely to be unprintable, the weekly magazine Shukan Asahi sent Yokota Yumiko to conduct a roundtable discussion with a group of them and find out what the civil servants were willing to say with a civil tongue. The discussion with Ms. Yokota, a journalist who often covers the Japanese bureaucracy, appeared in the magazine’s 24 July issue. The bureaucrats are privy to a lot of information, and they are sharp observers, so it’s worth reading in English. I translated most of it here, though I omitted some sections where there was a bit too much inside baseball. Those participating in the discussion were identified as follows:

Assistants to division heads in the following ministries

Ministry of Finance (MOF)
Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI)
Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA)
Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT)
Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MLIT)

We’ll start with the discussion already in progress:


MOF: The LDP really should hold a presidential election and change their leadership. Since they’re going to lose the lower house election, they could position themselves for the next one by putting such structural reformers as Ishihara Nobuteru and Koike Yuriko (both former Cabinet ministers) in prominent positions. At this rate, they’ll be in the opposition forever.

METI: On 10 July, the prime minister’s closest aides (from the bureaucracy) stayed at the official residence to attend a party given in appreciation for their services. They used the opportunity to begin developing a scenario for dealing with the DPJ, enabling them to deal with the transfer of power whenever it occurred. They didn’t go into much detail, however. It mostly involved creating in each department an A team of bureaucrats for the ruling party and a B team of bureaucrats for the opposition party.

MOFA: Come to think of it, one LDP Diet member lamented that the frequency of attendance of bureaucrats at briefings had fallen to 70%. Are 30% of the human resources now being devoted to the DPJ?

METI: There might have been an increase in the percentage assigned to the DPJ. Many of the party’s younger MPs are ex-METI employees, so they’re often sent to METI offices to call on former colleagues and subordinates.

MOF: There’ve been some rumors the MOFA has frantically been destroying important documents in anticipation of a change in government. A former high-ranking MOFA official recently testified about the existence of documents related to a secret agreement about American nuclear weapons on Japanese territory when the security treaty was revised in 1960, and that officials destroyed those documents.

MOFA: That’s because the DPJ says they’ll look into the problems with those treaties. It’s true that some politicians were told about this, including prime ministers and foreign ministers, such as Hashimoto Ryutaro and Obuchi Keizo. They were selected for their reliability.

MLIT: I’ve heard that the Foreign Ministry submits documents with slight differences to the ruling party and to the opposition party.

MOFA: There are two types of documents created, and some that were checked by superiors and had language changed or omitted have been submitted to the DPJ. They contain less information than those submitted to the (ruling) Liberal Democratic Party. Still, this is great progress, considering that the ministry never used to respond to DPJ requests for information.

MOF: Documents are being saved thanks to requests for the disclosure of information. There’s been a considerable decline in the ability of government offices to gather information. In the past, they would take notes on what was discussed with politicians in informal situations as if they were reporters, and share it with people in their bureau. Now, however, if they make poor judgments about what to keep, they’ll have to destroy the information. It would create serious problems if the information became public.

– Before the summit, it was unfortunate that Prime Minister Aso didn’t make any important personnel changes in LDP party officials, nor did he have a major Cabinet reshuffle.

MHLW: We’ve calculated that the DPJ will win an outright majority. It’s not another case of the “10 lost years”, but it certainly has been “several lost years”. It would have been better to name Masuzoe Yoichi (HLW Minister) party secretary-general and Higashikokubaru Hideo (Miyazaki governor) as the Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications. Mr. Masuzoe is a good minister, though he has a poor reputation in the department responsible for handling policy for those suffering from illnesses due to the atomic bombing.

MOF: He is a good minister. He worked with former MHLW Minister Otsuji on the Robust Policy 2009 to eliminate the gap caused by the ceiling of annual growth in social welfare expenditures to 220 billion yen (about $US 2.23 billion) as set forth in the 2006 policy. That caused a lot of trouble for the MOF.

METI: To be honest, the bureaucracy has it the easiest during an election period. Everyone wants the election to come so they can take a break. Even if the DPJ forms a government, we’ll be worried about the Cabinet they put together. It’s possible that Hatoyama Yukio’s problem with campaign contributions will prevent him from sliding into the prime minister’s job so easily. Each of the ministries has had to rework their initial forecasts for the ministers to be selected. That’s caused us a lot of trouble.

MOFA worried about Makiko and Muneo

MOF: And here we thought (DPJ Secretary-General) Okada Katsuya was going to be Finance Minister. If something happens to Mr. Hatoyama, he’ll probably become prime minister. The person holding the finance ministry portfolio in the DPJ shadow cabinet is Nakagawa Masaharu, and he’s incompetent, so the best he can hope for is Vice-Minister. The economist Sakakibara Eisuke would really like the job, but his personality makes that difficult. A lot of his ex-colleagues in the Finance Ministry dislike him.

MOFA: Some people have suggested (former party head and current Vice-President) Maehara Seiji as Foreign Minister, but that would complicate things with China, so he’d probably be better off as the Defense Minister. The worst-case scenario is the rumor of Tanaka Makiko as Foreign Minister, Suzuki Muneo as Vice-Minister, and Sato Masaru as parliamentary aide. Muneo has already asked Mr. Ozawa to put him in a Foreign Ministry post. There are also rumors that a non-politician will be appointed.

(Other rumors about more obscure people omitted)

– The DPJ has a policy of Kasumigaseki reform, including statements that they’ll have everyone at the bureau chief-level and above resign.

MLIT: The senior officials certainly seem to be fretting over it.

MHLW: There’s been a lot of higher-ranked officials drowning their sorrows in Shinbashi bars and grumbling, “What the heck, I’m going to get fired, too.” They’re working hard to get all the information they can, and they say things like, “I hope the LDP government lasts as long as it can,” or “I hope the political realignment hurries up and gets here.”

MOFA: But the DPJ lacks the personnel, so they can’t very well fire some 130 senior officials all at once. They’ll probably wind up keeping about 70%-80% of them.

(A discussion of which bureaucrats in the various ministries would be asked to go follows. One name mentioned was that of Tango Yasutake in the MOF, a former aide to Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro. Mr. Tango was a key person in implementing structural reform and stepped on a lot of toes in the bureaucracy. The MOF representative says that for the DPJ, he is “a Class A war criminal”.)

– Do your ministries have any key people for dealing with the DPJ?

MOF: We have Kagawa Shunsuke…who’s handling that by himself. It’s unusual to have a person like him (a former aide to Ozawa Ichiro).

MLIT: Mr. Kagawa wrote the rough draft for Mr. Ozawa’s 1993 book, Blueprint for a New Japan. I’ve heard that Mr. Ozawa praised him for being “the most accomplished civil servant”. We’re jealous, considering that we have so few connections with the DPJ.

(Further discussion of personnel omitted.)

– Are you making any progress in your response to the DPJ platform?

METI: That platform underwent some editing, and now it’s a lot more realistic. The younger (bureaucrats) are optimistic. They’re relieved, thinking, “At any rate, they won’t be able to achieve any reforms.” There’ll be more people coming over from the new government, but when so many Diet members and private sector personnel who don’t know anything about Kasumigaseki suddenly show up, they won’t know what to do or how to do it. A Cabinet minister can’t handle policy by himself. The vice-ministers and parliamentary aides Mr. Ozawa will bring over won’t be doing any work.

MHLW: Realistically, it will be too late to deal with one measure after the platform is finalized. That’s the idea of merging the Social Insurance Agency with the National Tax Agency. If they’re serious, the shortest amount of time in which it can be accomplished is six months. The DPJ wants to eliminate the citizen payment of insurance premiums and switch to a tax-based system, but there just aren’t any funding sources. Until now, the funding source has been half from taxes and the other half from the insurance premiums paid by citizens. In the end, raising the consumption tax is the only choice.

MEXT: At any rate, the Social Insurance Agency is supposed to be transferred to a new organization next year.

– The DPJ is seen has having a close relationship with labor unions.

MOF: The biggest concern about a change of government is in fact the problem of labor unions. Many of the DPJ Diet members are backed by the Japan Teachers’ Union, the Federation of Electric Power-Related Industry Workers’ Unions of Japan, and the All-Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers’ Union. If the power of the unions increases, there’ll also be an increase in featherbedding, civil servants who don’t do any work. Forget about Kasumigaseki reform. Their slogan of Separation from the Bureaucracy and the facts on the ground don’t match.

MEXT: If Koshi’ishi Azuma becomes the next Minister of Education, that will probably make the JTU more powerful.

MLIT: Government offices won’t be broken up, and you won’t be able to fire civil servants; the problem will just persist.

MOFA: Every organization (in the bureaucracy) has civil servants from labor unions who are really just professional agitators that don’t do any work. That’s particularly true for the non-career types. They can’t be fired, so some departments have even created “lucky charm” positions for them. If you’re looking for wasted money, there’s a good place to find it. I think they should eliminate amakudari (the practice of giving senior bureaucrats important jobs in government-affiliated organizations and private companies when they retire) and institute a system in which at least 10% of the senior positions are replaced. They should demote those in management who are incapable of working. I wonder if the DPJ is capable of that.

MLIT: With the amakudari problem, the biggest issue is how to deal with the non-career types. That’s how the public interest corporations and the government-affiliated corporations got created. The problem of watari with high-level civil servants got out of hand, but then again, how are we supposed to make ends meet with our career salaries? (Watari is the name for the ministries’ arrangement of finding successive jobs for retired bureaucrats at government-affiliated corporations, with the former civil servants receiving a pension each time.)

MEXT: Then there’s the campaign promise about changing the way the budget is formulated. Most agencies are fooling themselves by thinking it will go no further than the DPJ submitting its requests to each ministry.

MOF: The DPJ says they want to examine those budget practices that haven’t been looked at before. We can do that if they round up the best and the brightest from each ministry and increase the number of personnel at the Budget Bureau five-fold. And if they separate the Budget Bureau from the Finance Ministry and put it under the direct jurisdiction of the Prime Minister’s Office, it won’t diminish the Finance Ministry’s power. Rather, it will create a new foothold for us.

METI: Our budget is only about one trillion yen (about $US 104 billion), and our biggest worry in the special account is that the expenditures for small businesses are so great. In this economic downturn, some sectors can’t be touched, so we’re optimistic. Meanwhile, there are many sectors such as agriculture, where the ruling party and the opposition party are competing to see how much money they can throw at them. Just what does the DPJ think it’s going to do?

MHLW: Look at it from different angles and it doesn’t seem as if a DPJ government will last that long. Nowadays, the public’s expectations are too great. They can put together a terrific campaign platform, but with a lot of those planks, they’ll wind up saying, “We can’t do that,” or “We’ll put that off.” I wonder if political realignment will come sooner than we think.

MOF: At any rate, they’re only going to be able to find the funding sources for about one year’s worth of programs. There is nothing at all to fear from a DPJ government. No matter what government is in power, we just go quietly about our business. That’s the duty of the civil servant.

MHLW: There was the line in the recent drama, Summer of the Bureaucrats, that went, “We’re not rewarded for our work.” When I saw that, I cried in spite of myself.


* Note that one minister refers to Nakagawa Masaharu as incompetent. This May, Mr. Nakagawa told the BBC the government lost a lot of money from exchange rates after buying U.S. treasuries. He suggested that the American government issue yen-denominated bonds (so-called samurai bonds). His comments ignited a selloff of the dollar against the yen, resulting in a higher yen.

* Maehara Seiji is the former DPJ president who is in the party’s strong national defense wing. He and his allies were bitterly opposed to Ozawa Ichiro as party president, and by extension to Hatoyama Yukio replacing him. During the party election to replace Mr. Ozawa after he resigned, there were reports that he would make it his personal mission to ensure that those who wanted him to quit would never get a high-ranking party or government position in the future. It will be interesting to see where Mr. Maehara winds up.

* A Tanaka/Suzuki/Sato triumvirate at the Foreign Ministry sounds as if it is a nightmare rather than a rumor. Ms. Tanaka briefly served as Foreign Minister in Prime Minister Koizumi’s first cabinet, and the bureaucrats detested her. Their internecine warfare became great soba opera fodder for the daytime TV and current affairs discussion programs until she resigned. Mr. Suzuki had carved out a small fiefdom for himself in the Foreign Ministry until he was discovered carving out too much of a financial share for himself, and wound up doing a record amount of jail time for a Diet member. He’s now back in the Diet heading a vanity party and allied with the DPJ. Sato Masaru was a diplomat and Suzuki Muneo ally, praised by the latter as being the “Rasputin of the Foreign Ministry”. He was found guilty of malfeasance of office and his appeal was dismissed at the end of June, so he resigned his position and is now unlikely to be named to a position in government.

* A look at the English website for the Japanese Teacher’s Union has this on the top page:

Mr. Yuzuru Nakamura, President of JTU, referred first in his address to the issue of “poverty of children”, urging the participants that child-raising is not exclusively an “individual” issue. He said JTU should encourage the society to share the responsibility of child-raising among the “society” and the importance of returning the fruit of this effort to the “society”; and to shift the paradigm of educational philosophy (the value of coexistence and mutual assistance).
He also stated that the union should take every opportunity to have social dialogues with the communities, PTAs (parents’ and teachers’ associations), parents, children, educational and other administrations, and the government in order to exercise its social influence, and that it should issue easy-to-understand messages to the citizens.

One can imagine what sort of “social dialogue” they’d have with parents who insisted that child-rearing was an individual matter and that the union should butt out.

Combine that with Mr. Koshi’ishi’s recent statements that politics cannot be separated from education and it becomes apparent why the MOF official was concerned about labor unions. The JTU hobbled Japanese education with its “yutori education” policies of the 90s, some of which the Abe administration managed to roll back. Education and the schools are likely to become a political battleground in a DPJ administration.

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

Japan’s political kaleidoscope (2): Aso edition

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, June 30, 2009

THE YEASTY FERMENT brewing in the world of Japanese politics is a heady blend with ingredients ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Anyone who thinks politics in this country is moribund either isn’t paying attention or their beverage of choice is Kool-Aid. Today’s draft is drawn primarily from the Aso Taro keg.

Politicians say the darndest things

Logorrhea is an occupational hazard for politicians, and all sorts of things come out of their mouths when they’ve switched on cruise control. This is from a recent speech by Prime Minister Aso Taro:

“(The current Japanese national soccer team) doesn’t have a superstar like Nakata Hidetoshi. Eleven people working together—that’s Japanese soccer. If Japan had a superstar, it would be His Majesty the Emperor.”

Do you ever wonder how Mrs. Aso would answer if someone asked her whether her husband talks like this when they’re relaxing together at home?

Then again, if the idea of Jesus Christ Superstar can sell millions of albums, launch productions on Broadway and the West End of London, generate two films with a third planned, and still be performed on stage 35 years later, it should be harmless for some Japanese to consider the tenno to be the local superstar.

Why people dislike journalists #4,937

Journalists defend themselves from the charge of pointlessly repeating the same question by saying it’s their job. Well, yes, for some people, working for a living does involve creating make-work projects designed to convince the boss you’ve got the situation well in hand. All they usually accomplish, however, is to waste the time of people with more productive things to do. Try this dialogue from a recent Aso Taro press conference:

Reporter: First, about the personnel for senior party positions and the Cabinet…

(Mr. Aso leans back and smiles)

Reporter: Last Saturday you had a discussion with Mr. Kuroda (LDP secretary general), and at that time you took a negative approach to making major personnel changes. You said, “I’ve never talked about it; it’s just outsiders making things up.” Could you tell us again what your thoughts are about the personnel issue?

PM: I haven’t thought about personnel.

Reporter: Does that mean you won’t think about personnel until the Diet is dissolved and there’s a general election?

PM: It means I’m not thinking about it now.

Reporter: Now.

PM: Now look, you’re jumping on everything I say as soon as I say it, and you also did it not long ago. This sort of thing…saying these needless things will just lead to a pointless conversation, so let’s drop the subject…well, that was a close call (laughs).

Reporter: I see.

PM: (Clear voice) I haven’t thought about it.

Reporter: OK. Next…

PM: Do you understand?

Reporter: You’re not thinking about it all?

PM: (Laughs, doesn’t answer)

Update: Well, it looks like this reporter knew more than I gave him credit for. The very next day, Mr. Aso said that he had been thinking for a while about “the most suitable people at the most suitable time”. Nevertheless, it should have been obvious he didn’t want to answer the question when he was asked. That’s no reason to bug the man.

Why would Mr. Aso double back on his word so quickly? Some television journalists speculated that former PM Abe Shinzo, a long-time Aso friend, had been urging him to reshuffle his Cabinet and had nearly convinced him. But then party bigwig Mori Yoshiro told Mr. Aso not to waste his time.

How typical: Mr. Aso’s lack of decisiveness and willingness to listen to either of those men for political advice are two of the reasons his popular support is negligible to begin with.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the latest teacup tempest in an administration known for them is that one of the TV journalists casually commented that “he lied” the first time before moving on to comment about subsequent developments.

That does not speak well of contemporary Japanese politics at the highest level, does it?

Grated Aso

A lower house election must be held within the next few months, and it looks very much like the LDP is going to be trounced, allowing the opposition Democratic Party of Japan to form a government for the first time. The ruling party no longer offers a coherent political philosophy, and their post-Koizumi prime ministers have been the politically clumsy manipulated by the terminal klutzes behind the scenes.

It’s no wonder then that some senior party members want to move up the September election for LDP party president (who would become prime minister) to find an alternative to going down with Mr. Aso and the rest of the mudboat crew before the lower house election.

LDP faction leader Yamasaki Hiraku (AKA Taku) has submitted a petition to LDP MPs and other party members specifically calling for an early election. He also set up a special area on his website for citizens to provide their input.

Said Mr. Yamasaki:

“It’s not (designed) to bring down the Aso Cabinet”.

It is to laugh. No one believes that, particularly because the special area materialized on his website the day after the LDP candidate was defeated in the election for Chiba City mayor. A former Cabinet minister also admitted off the record that the idea is to create a popular consensus to replace Mr. Aso.

Indeed, Mr. Yamasaki later quit beating around the bush. A week ago, he claimed he had 108 signatures from lower house LDP members, though he wasn’t showing them to anyone. That’s about halfway to his goal of signing up an outright majority of LDP MPs in the lower house. He says that would prevent Mr. Aso from calling a snap election out of petulant frustration.

Then came the release of the following poll:

  • People intending to vote for the LDP: 16.4%
  • People intending to vote for the DPJ: 40.4%

A 24-point differential causes alarm bells to ring so loudly even those with earplugs can hear them. It also tends to shake up senior party leaders with heretofore safe seats because an electoral tsunami that large could just as easily wipe them out as it would the small fry in marginal districts.

The secretaries-general

Said Kato Koichi at a press conference:

In my 37 years as a diet member, I have never seen the reputation of the LDP sink as low as it has now. It’s the lowest it’s ever been. Calling an election now would be an act of suicide…Some MPs say we can take only 165 seats, but I think that outlook is too optimistic.

Said Takebe Tsutomu to reporters at party headquarters:

“We (Diet members) will work hard until the end of the term on 10 September, (but) we should have a showdown in the election with new policies promoted by a new leader.”

Ibuki Bunmei was slightly more optimistic, if optimistic is the word to describe a prediction of the loss of the party’s lower house majority:

“The cabinet support rate has fallen. We could have taken 241 seats with New Komeito, but now that will only be 220 to 230.”

All four of these gentlemen have served as LDP secretary-general, the top position in the party apparatus, so they know when electoral defeat is staring them in the face. Another former SG, Nakagawa Hidenao, has been saying the same thing every day for months now.

The names that arise most frequently as possible replacements are the Acting Secretary-General (i.e., representative) Ishihara Nobuteru, the son of Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintaro; Health, Labor, and Welfare Minister Masuzoe Yoichi, a former University of Tokyo professor who won public favor as a TV commentator slamming bureaucrats for their handling of public pensions; and former Defense Minister Koike Yuriko, a favorite of the Koizumian wing of the party, but disliked by some for a perceived shallowness of loyalty to the LDP. The problem with all three is that none of them are strong enough on their own to serve in that role without substantial help from the old boys in the backroom, most of whom have been out of touch for a generation.

Not everyone has jumped on the dump Aso bandwagon, however. Those who think they can swim–or cling to the flotsam and jetsam–when the ship sinks include former postal rebel Noda Yumiko and former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. Mr. Abe may be a man of principle and party loyalty, but he is sorely deficient in the third P of political acumen.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Kawamura Takeo is also opposed to a change:

“Party unity is of the utmost importance before the lower house election. Turmoil in the party will cause its own downfall. Would the people really understand if we only changed the leader? How would we answer the criticism that holding a party leadership election before the general election was done only with the general election in mind?”

Yes, the people would understand if you removed a leader they don’t support who lacks a firm political touch. They’d probably sympathize with you, in fact. To answer the carpers, you could always point out that the parties sitting in the opposition rows don’t get to make policy.

New Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partners, also want to stick with the loser. Said a senior official:

“It will have a negative impact on the election for governor in Shizuoka and the Tokyo Metropolitan District council. It’s also possible the voters would not support (the coalition) in the lower house election.”

You mean the same voters who already favor the opposition over the coalition by a 24-point margin? Those voters?

The official dropped hints the party would withhold support from LDP Diet members who tried to oust Mr. Aso.

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that candidates running behind a party leader promoting regional devolution, delinking from the mandarins of the civil service, putting the nation’s finances in order before raising taxes, continued privatization, and a resolute foreign policy probably wouldn’t need New Komeito support to win.

Naturalists speak of the cornered prey summoning all its energy for a desperate counterattack. Some hunters, however, know that cornered prey tracked for a long time often become too tired and dispirited to continue, and willingly surrender. What else could be the explanation for those people who are ready to fight an election campaign led by Mr. Aso—a man who has demonstrated no leadership ability, is not amenable to the reforms the public knows are needed, and who thinks that promising a large tax increase will earn the party public favor?

Mr. Aso might even be among those willing to surrender to the hunter. He’s dropping hints that he’ll hold the lower house election in August. Was this done to forestall a putsch? Was it his idea, or did someone put him up to it?

Why is it that the dimmest bulbs invariably think they’re the brightest?

Taro and the pirates

But let’s be fair: Mr. Aso does have his moments. The Diet recently passed a bill that allows Japanese self-defense forces (i.e., the military) to be sent overseas with the authority to fire on pirate vessels overseas if they do not respond to an order to cease and desist their attacks—even on non-Japanese ships—and allows Japan to participate in joint international anti-piracy operations. It also criminalizes piracy, which permits the offenders to be apprehended and punished in Japan.

Yet the DPJ chose to potentially sacrifice Japanese lives and ships by refusing to pass the bill in the upper house. They and the other opposition parties delayed the measure for two months and forced the LDP to use its supermajority in the lower house to get it through.

Said the prime minister:

“Naturally you’d protect yourself if you were attacked by thieves. I don’t understand (their opposition to the use of weapons). What are they thinking about when it comes to the safety of the Self-Defense Forces and the Coast Guard?”

There have been about 150 pirate attacks on shipping off Somalia this year, already exceeding the 111 attacks in 2008. What was the opposition “thinking”? For starters, the DPJ and the Social Democrats were concerned that the bill allows the Cabinet to send the SDF overseas without Diet approval.

Well, their two-month foot-dragging and gamesmanship while piracy continues unabated demonstrates why waiting for the approval of more than 700 people in both houses of the legislature, many of whom are all too willing to create artificial political crises to delay bills on any pretext, is unwise and possibly fatal when real world circumstances demand prompt action.

Meanwhile, the SDP and the Communists think the Coast Guard should be the only military forces involved against the pirates, and called into action only in Japanese territorial waters. They were also opposed to the relaxed rules on the use of weapons. What do they think works against Third World pirates looking for a multi-million dollar payday? Moral suasion? Do they expect the Somalians to start raiding along the Seto Inland Sea?

Let’s be clear: Many in the DPJ supported this bill as it was. That meant it could have sailed through the upper house with little or no problem, but the party leadership felt compelled to object. That’s partly because they lack the political sophistication to understand that for critical areas of national interest, it really is OK to agree with the government and not to oppose something merely because they’re the opposition. It’s also because they chose again to ignore the national interest by playing a numbers game for their own political ends and ally with the SPD solely to bring down the government.

What this demonstrates:

  1. The SPD hold their countrymen in such contempt that they believe Japanese are still too irresponsible to be trusted with lethal weapons overseas in matters of self-defense. (It’s also possible that the wool in their heads has grown so thick they’re no longer capable of coherent thought.) That, combined with their other positions, past associations with North Korea, their socialist/Marxist background (which includes circumstantial evidence linking a leading party figure to the Japanese Red Army terrorist group of yesteryear) reveals serious character flaws.
  2. That the DPJ would put to risk Japanese lives, commercial interests critical for an island nation with limited natural resources, and nascent efforts to show that the country is a responsible international partner willing to help enforce the basic concepts of right and wrong, solely to feed the fantasies of miniscule fringe parties for the sake of gaining power, is another sign that they are too immature to successfully lead a government.
  3. Communists always behave like Communists.

Want more? DPJ President Hatoyama Yukio was asked if he would roll back the decision if they gained a lower house majority and formed a government later this year. You know, if you’re opposed, you’re opposed, right? His answer:

“We will not make a hasty decision to do an immediate about-face.”

Bless their pointed little heads, but aren’t they dependable? The DPJ can always be counted on to choose expediency over principle.

Some claim the DPJ maintains its alliance with the SPD because it “needs them” in the upper house.

“Needs them” for what? It’s not as if the SPD is going to start voting with the LDP if the DPJ tells them to bugger off.

The Democratic Party of Japan—still shameless after all these years.

Getting real

During the same discussion, Mr. Aso continued:

“It’s the same with North Korea. At a minimum, we must fight when we should fight. If we aren’t prepared to do that, we won’t be able to defend the nation’s safety.”

Added current LDP Secretary-General Hosoda Haruyuki in a Yurakucho speech:

“Who knows what North Korea, which has nonchalantly abducted hundreds of people, will do if they develop nuclear weapons? We must apply more pressure to North Korea. Our ultimate objective is to bring about a collapse of the current regime and have the country be reborn as a peaceful state. The DPJ’s response to (this issue) is extremely soft.”

And why not? Who better than the Japanese to understand that a malevolent regime can become a peaceful state?

Messrs. Aso and Hosoda aren’t the only ones tired of the international pussyfooting. The aforementioned Koike Yuriko resigned last week from the chairmanship of a special LDP committee studying the question of enemy military bases. A party council submitted a statement to Prime Minister Aso on whether Japan should maintain the capability of conducting an attack on enemy military installations. The council adopted a policy of ruling out preemptive defensive attacks, which caused Ms. Koike to walk.

Instrumental in adopting that policy was Yamasaki Hiraku (also mentioned above), who said:

“We must not cause misunderstandings overseas”.

Retorted Ms. Koike:

“A policy exclusively oriented to defense is too restrictive, and a defensive preemptive attack policy is even more restrictive. All we talk about is limiting what we can do. Is it such a good idea to continue to limit Japan’s policies for defense? People say it’s done out of consideration for neighboring countries, but they don’t show any consideration for us at all.”

Bingo. And give that last sentence bonus points.


The people overseas who might misunderstand could be divided into two groups. The first consists of those in the region who would choose to purposely misunderstand. That would allow them to use Japanese policy as both a diplomatic weapon in bilateral relations, and as a domestic weapon to stir up anti-Japanese sentiment at home. Their feigned ignorance would enable them to continue painting the country as a false enemy, thereby strengthening their base of support.

North Korea threatens Japan with military action every day and has the hardware to make those threats very real. The Chinese are not going to stop until they have made themselves the East Asian hegemon (at least). Russia seized Japan’s Northern Territories after Japan surrendered in 1945 and refuses to return them. South Korea used military force to seize Takeshima in 1954, still illegally occupies the islets, and still refuses international mediation (which Japan says it would accept).

The second group of people who would misunderstand is in the West and principally consists of politicians, academics, and journalists, most of whom can’t be bothered to do the research to get it right to begin with. Perhaps that’s because a real understanding would conflict with their preconceptions.

Japanese diplomatic and military behavior has been the gold standard in Northeast Asia since 1945. Ms. Koike, Mr. Aso, and Mr. Hosoda are right: Japan should choose to defend its legitimate interests as a sovereign nation. The decision-makers in neighboring countries will understand perfectly, regardless of what they say in public for the gullible or the Barnumesque suckers who want to be deceived. As for the people on the other side of the Pacific, there’s a Japanese expression that covers them: Baka ni tsukeru kusuri wa nai. There’s no medicine to cure a fool.

Some people in this country pretended they didn’t understand what Abe Shinzo meant when he said he wanted Japan to move beyond the postwar regime. Well, here you are.

But of course they always knew exactly what he was driving at—they just didn’t want to face the implications. It’s not always easy for adolescents to embrace responsibility and take charge of their lives.

Posted in International relations, Military affairs, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mr. Koizumi speaks up at last

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Kanson minpi
– A Japanese term for putting the government and its officials above the people

WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTION of the Trobriand Islanders, who thought pregnancy occurred because the ancestral spirit Baloma animated a spirit-child to enter a woman’s belly, the most ignorant people on the planet have got to be the Japanese political class, regardless of their party membership.

Consider: When Koizumi Jun’ichiro, the icebreaker of Japanese politics, left office in 2006 after five years of reform, deregulation, and drama, he bequeathed public approval ratings of 70% to his successor, Abe Shinzo. In the subsequent 30 months, the Three Stooges who followed him as prime minister have managed to drive their own approval ratings down to the teens. Political failure on that scale is no accident—politicians have to actually work at it to be that unpopular.

Messrs. Abe, Fukuda, and Aso all applied the same losing strategy in their own unique ways by rolling back the wildly popular Koizumian reforms. First, Mr. Abe allowed the return of the postal privatization rebels thrown out of the Liberal Democratic Party by his predecessor. Mr. Fukuda followed by allowing the return of the wolves of the Finance Ministry bureaucracy into the political henhouse. And now, Prime Minister Aso is dragging his feet on bureaucratic reform and dropping strong hints about “reexamining” (i.e., killing) the privatization of Japan Post because he never liked it to begin with.

Every one of these examples is a demonstration of kanson minpi in action.

Aso Taro shoved in the direction of progress

Take for example the recent controversy over the practice of watari, an informal job placement program run by government ministries and agencies in which they find employment for retired bureaucrats in enterprises or groups involved in sectors they once supervised.

Where's Baloma when you need him?

Where's Baloma when you need him?

Even the Japanese political equivalent of a Tobriand Islander should realize that the Japanese public detests the extreme bureaucratic intrusion into government affairs that makes it tantamount to a shadow government, as well as the privileges those bureaucrats enjoy. The solution should be simple—ban the practice of watari, win the acclaim of the Japanese public, and use that as a springboard for winning elections.

But no, Prime Minister Aso and the rest of the crew members of the LDP’s Mudboat-maru can’t summon the political courage to make the denizens of Kasumigaseki behave as the public servants they’re supposed to be. The prime minister at first did not want to revise current government ordinances to ban the practice. He had to be bludgeoned into it by the LDP’s reform wing and the party’s coalition partners in New Komeito. Another element in the calculations must surely have been that failure to take action would be used as a weapon by the opposition in the next election.

The government eventually established a “personnel exchange promotion center” to consolidate the bureaucracy’s job placement efforts and restrict job placements to one per employee. But this is indefensible—why should the taxpayers foot the bill for an employment agency for personnel leaving government service, must less the upper levels of the bureaucracy? Shouldn’t those who presume to be a national elite and the real power of government use their own initiative to land on their feet in cushy new jobs like the fat cats they are?

Mr. Aso at last began singing a different tune. He said he wanted to create an ordinance to ban watari by the end of the year, replacing the current ordinance that allows it to continue until 2011. The new ordinance would take effect in 2010, thereby moving up the schedule by a year.

Instead of all this rigamarole, the answer is to prohibit all bureaucrats from working at any group, organization, or entity subject to the supervision of the ministry or agency where they were formerly employed.

That would at least partially limit the influence of bureaucrats on government operations and be met with hosannas by the Japanese public. In fact, the only people who wouldn’t care for it would be the bureaucrats themselves. But why shouldn’t they hit the pavement with their resume and use the same resources as everyone else to find employment?

Koizumi: E-nuff!

Prime Minister Koizumi once vowed to produce reform, foster deregulation, and break up his own political party. After seeing his handiwork turned into shambles by his successors, it would be natural if he felt as if he had hacked a trail through the jungle only to have the vines and underbrush grow back over the trail mere months after he passed through.

Are these noodniks the best you could do?

Are these noodniks the best you could do?

Mr. Koizumi has been strangely quiet since stepping down in the fall of 2006, showing little or no public sign of concern about the course of his reforms since then. There were some brief flurries in the news when his former aide, Iijima Isao, floated a trial balloon last spring about a possible comeback to form a multiparty reform government. Later that year, he also formed a multiparty study group with sympathetic members of his own party and former opposition leader Maehara Seiji. But considering how brusquely his reforms were neutered, and how openly politicians in both the ruling and opposition camps were talking about throwing more monkey wrenches into the path of postal privatization, his weak response seemed to suggest that he didn’t care anymore.

That ended abruptly two weeks ago.

The trigger was the following comments by Mr. Aso on postal privatization:

“I couldn’t support it.” (At the time of the Diet vote on the bill)


“During the election, most of the voters didn’t realize it would be broken up into four companies.”

At a meeting at party headquarters of a group committed to maintaining the process of privatization, Mr. Koizumi was downright scathing about Prime Minister Aso and his behavior:

“Rather than being angry, I have to laugh. I’m just dumbstruck. We won’t be able to contest the election if we can’t trust what the prime minister says.”

He also didn’t have anything good to say about the individual stimulus proposal the budget, which was originally the idea of the party’s New Komeito coalition partners, and Mr. Aso’s handling of the surprisingly unpopular issue:

“The PM has called it sordid, said he personally wouldn’t accept the money, and then claimed ‘I didn’t say that’.”

Ah, well, politicians do like to be on all sides of an issue, don’t they?

More chilling for the LDP elders was his threat to vote against the bill when it comes back to the lower house after the inevitable rejection by the opposition-controlled upper house. A straight party line vote of the ruling coalition would enable this measure to pass through a two-thirds supermajority.

“I don’t think this bill requires a two-thirds override for it to pass.”

But then why did he vote for it the first time?

He has a low opinion of the leadership skills of Mr. Aso as well as the LDP honchos:

“When the younger (party members) express critical opinions of the prime minister, the party leadership says, ‘Don’t fire your rifles from behind’. But considering recent conditions, the prime minister is firing from the front at the people who have to stand for election.”

One of Mr. Koizumi’s favorite games is to use his image of eccentricity as a trump card, so he also trotted out this blast from the past:

“They’re calling me a man on whom common sense has no impact, or a weirdo, but I think I’m a normal man who is full of common sense.”

While the former prime minister enjoys playing this part, it is worthwhile to remember that he enjoyed occasional popularity ratings of more than 80% (and 70% when he left office), he engineered an election victory that delivered the second-largest lower house LDP majority ever, and he served the third-longest term as prime minister in postwar history.

The impact

It is not possible to overestimate the significance of this criticism. First, it gave a much-needed second wind to the LDP reformers. Said upper house member Yamamoto Ichita, a long-time Koizumi supporter (Machimura faction):

“It’s been a while since we’ve seen Prime Minister Koizumi so angry. This speech will be a detonator and breathe life into the party’s reform faction again.”

The speech also generated a barrage of speculation that the party will force Mr. Aso from office before the election that must be held this year. Regardless of what happens, he is essentially a dead man walking.

The prime minister can’t even hand out promotional material without a blowback. The weekly e-mail magazine distributed by the prime minister’s office has seen readership drop by half from its peak during the Koizumi administration (the falloff was not that pronounced during the Abe and Fukuda administrations), coupled with a sharp increase in critical comments from the recipients. Such as:

“If you’re going to ignore the results of the previous lower house election, then you should dissolve the Diet.”


“I didn’t think you would go that far to treat the people like fools.”

Also significant is the venue at which Mr. Koizumi delivered his criticism. The audience for his remarks consisted of his heirs in the party, committed to privatization, deregulation, devolution of central government authority, keeping the bureaucracy on a leash, and commonsense economic policies.

Those in attendance included Nakagawa Hidenao, who is clearly working to organize a potent political force capable of surviving the upcoming election debacle and either outlive the rump elements of a depleted LDP, or take the party over entirely. While still acting as if he is willing to work within the party, he was recently removed from a position of responsibility in the Machimura faction, the party’s largest, for his criticism of Prime Minister Aso.

Said Mr. Nakagawa at the meeting:

“A reexamination of the plan to break up (Japan Post) into four companies is tantamount to reexamining the complete privatization that Prime Minister Koizumi achieved. We must call on all party members to take steps to maintain the (decision) for privatization.”

It is also worth noting that 18 people were present at the meeting. That’s two more than are needed to deprive the LDP of its supermajority in a Diet election and prevent the legislation from being enacted. Did Mr. Koizumi bring up a possible vote against the stimulus measure merely as leverage to maintain the course of privatization, or would he rally MPs to vote against it and therefore reject it entirely. A Koizumi-led lower house defeat for the bill would make it very difficult to postpone a general election that the LDP would surely lose.

Finally, we should also note that unidentified members of the opposition found Mr. Koizumi’s comments risible. One of them suggested the former prime minister was behind the times.

There you have a good indication why the opposition is still the opposition and not the ruling party. It’s been fewer than three years since Mr. Koizumi stepped down, and his ideas are still viable. (Indeed, they are permanently viable, the current financial crisis notwithstanding.) And it’s not as if anyone in the opposition party has a record that comes close to matching his achievements. It’s possible the opposition’s observation gave the former prime minister a second reason to laugh.

Koizumi Jun’ichiro once claimed that he wanted to destroy the LDP. While he certainly remodeled it during his tenure, he didn’t destroy it. But his recent speech might be the blow that eventually accomplishes his original aim. Perhaps the only question remaining is whether the reform wing forms a new party of its own, leaving the mudboat wing to disintegrate and sink, or whether they take control of the party for themselves.

Afterwords: Also attending the meeting was former Defense Minister Koike Yuriko, whom Mr. Koizumi supported for prime minister in the party election that chose Aso Taro. Ms. Koike is a staunch supporter of the policies of both Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Nakagawa. She does not have much support within the LDP, however, as she is seen as something of an opportunist.

The mass media tend to dismiss her, but she is worth paying attention to for at least one reason. Ms. Koike was a member of the now-defunct Liberal Party, headed by current opposition leader Ozawa Ichiro of the Democratic Party of Japan. She became a strong Ozawa supporter after reading his book Blueprint for a New Japan, which called for smaller government and the encouragement of greater individual initiative.

When Mr. Ozawa merged his party with the opposition DPJ, she chose to join the LDP instead, at least partly because the reformers in that party were more kindred spirits. She has publicly taken Mr. Ozawa to task several times for abandoning nearly all of the principles he laid out in his book.

And that is a critically important matter. It would behoove the media to focus on Mr. Ozawa’s core political beliefs—assuming he has any–or whether his political activity is just a semi-permanent political pastime of schmoozing with da bhoys to create coalitions the way some boys trade baseball cards.

What policies would he pursue if he in fact became prime minister?

Anyone else who thinks they know is fooling himself. And those folks who think he is the best bet to achieve the reforms Japan needs might want to consider that with Mr. Ozawa, what you see is not always what you get. They just might find that what Japan would get under an Ozawa Administration would be an unpleasant surprise.

It’s not as if it can’t happen here. Ask the left-wing bloggers in the U.S. what they think of the new President’s wholesale adoption of George Bush’s terror war policies.

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The platypus and Japanese politics

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 20, 2008

THE DONKEY is the symbol of the Democratic Party in the United States, while their GOP rivals are caricatured as an elephant. What animal would best illustrate Japanese politics, the membership of the country’s two major political parties, and their respective factions? Some might suggest the Australian platypus.

Political character goods

Political character goods

The platypus is so odd that some European naturalists in the 19th century thought reports of the creature were a deliberate fraud when they first heard them. One of the few mammals that lays eggs, it has thick fur, a bill like a duck, webbed feet like an otter with nails for digging, and a tail like a beaver. Males have hollow spurs on their ankles that carry enough venom to kill a dog. Females have two ovaries, but only the left one is functional. It finds food by sticking its bill in the dirt and using spots on the bill that detect minute electrical discharges from its prey.

That agglomeration of anomalies is the perfect description of politics in Japan. Members of the same party or faction often have ideologies as different as a turtle and the moon. They can be at such variance it’s difficult to see how they can function as a coherent group.

Nevertheless, the system created by the Liberal Democratic Party not only functioned, it served as the structure for rebuilding Japan from postwar ruins to the world’s second largest economy. More than a half-century later, however, the evolution of the national polity has exposed the rusted girders, frayed wiring, and sagging foundation of the old system. The Democratic Party of Japan has finally given the country a credible opposition, though they are every bit the platypus as the LDP. Nevertheless, the combination of their growing electoral strength and tactics designed solely to generate political crises has created a stalemate that forcing everyone to confront the reality of a major political restructuring. For Japan to continue functioning at a level that everyone now takes for granted, nothing less will do.

When this restructuring is complete, the new entities will resemble animals that are more commonly found in political zoos. Until then, however, we can expect the cloning process to create many morbid failures.

Iijima Isao, once the top advisor to former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro, declared earlier this year that political realignment had already started. But money is the ultimate guarantor of political viability, and Japan’s three foremost political parties are efficient fund raising mechanisms. (The subsidies of public funds given for votes received also help.) Turning one’s back on that cornucopia of cash, going out on a limb, and forming a new party requires more courage that most politicians would like to muster.

By now it is obvious that the Aso Taro administration is going nowhere, mainly because his Cabinet is a front for preventing further governmental reform of the type sought by an estimated 70% of the LDP Diet members, some in the DPJ, and most of the Japanese public. There is also the suspicion that the Aso administration wants to roll back the hard-earned achievements that have been gained so far. Making matters worse for the LDP is that unless the mudboat wing wants to bite the bullet and return to the Koizumi days, there’s not much left in the leadership locker room after Mr. Aso.

Now that the stars have finally aligned, fate is kicking the political class in the pants to reject their inner platypus and launch a political realignment that will be painful, bloody, and last the better part of a decade. Here’s a summary of recent events and the people driving them.

Nakagawa Hidenao

“I want to examine the popular support for the LDP and DPJ reformers to emerge and form a coalition.”

The 68-year-old Mr. Nakagawa is both the most prominent champion of Koizumi-style political and governmental reform and the strongest pro-growth, anti-tax voice left in the LDP. A former chief cabinet secretary and party bigwig, he has written books describing the pernicious influence of Kasumigaseki, the government-within-a-government run by Japan’s bureaucracy. He is also a member of the Machimura faction, the party’s largest and a particularly ungainly platypus.

In a television interview on the 7th, Mr. Nakagawa addressed the coming political realignment and suggested an alliance with some opposition politicians:

“This is not on the minor level of asking who’s going to leave the party, or whether I will be leaving the party. Public opinion wants a reform element to emerge from both the ruling coalition and the opposition to overturn the entire political world.”

He added that he wasn’t yet at the stage of bolting the LDP, and said he would decide his course of action on realignment “in the instant after the lower house election.”

Abe, Nakagawa H., Koizumi, Ishihara; platypus not pictured

L-R: Abe, Nakagawa H., Koizumi, Ishihara; platypus not pictured

Mr. Nakagawa is perhaps the most important member of a new group launched by Mr. Koizumi to keep his privatization of the postal system alive. As he nears retirement, the former prime minister is concerned that anti-privatization members have received high-profile roles in the Aso Cabinet. He also knows that Mr. Aso was anti-privatization (and anti-bureaucratic reform) to begin with. For all the campaign shouting it does in favor of reform, the opposition DPJ has become a center of anti-privatization activity among the opposition groups. It is not out of the question that postal privatization—supported by 70% of the electorate in 2005—may be derailed.

Who handles the dwindling amount of physical mail that people send these days is not important. Rather, privatization keeps the government’s hands off the money in the postal savings accounts. That prevents it from being used to finance pork barrel public works projects to buy off the construction industry and rural voters at the same time. It is the cornerstone of governmental reform itself, and a highly visible symbol.

The former prime minister, whom some polls still show as the man Japanese view as the person they’d most want to run the government, was applauded by 60 MPs when he said:

“I want to remind people of what sort of election was held three years ago. It seems that many of the people who are doing these incomprehensible things (i.e., anti-reform) were originally opposed to privatization. But they were allowed back into the party after writing a pledge and admitting their mistakes.”

Mr. Nakagawa added a warning against gutting the Koizumi reforms:

“There is meaning in sending a message to the people that we will not reverse course.”

Yet sitting at the head table with Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Nakagawa was this platypus tribe:

  • The 56-year-old former Environment and Defense Minister Koike Yuriko (Machimura faction), who was once an ally of opposition DPJ leader Ozawa Ichiro in a party that governed in a coalition with the LDP. A hawkish supporter of Yasukuni visits, Ms. Koike recently ran against Aso Taro for the party presidency as a reform wing candidate and received fewer than 50 votes. (Some question her party loyalty.) Mr. Koizumi was something a realpolitik feminist, and one of his favorite tactics was to put women in prominent positions, either in the Cabinet or in Diet seats. Some think Ms. Koike is being groomed as a potential prime minister of the type that minds the store while Mr. Nakagawa and others handle back-office operations.
  • Ishihara Nobuteru, the son of Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintaro, Abe Shinzo ally, and Mr. Koizumi’s former reform minister.
  • Former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, who was responsible for allowing the anti-privatization rebels back into the LDP in the first place. Indeed, one of them, Yamaguchi Shun’ichi (Aso faction), was just tapped by Prime Minister Aso to serve as an aide. Mr. Yamaguchi is involved in another group launched in October to stop the privatization process.

Though he too pursued governmental reform during his administration, Mr. Abe did so because he is first of all a party man. He said at the meeting that he supported privatization because it was a policy that had already been approved by the party and the Diet.

In the audience were many of the so-called Koizumi Children, younger MPs who won their seats on the former Prime Minister’s coattails in the 2005 election. This group has been talking openly since the spring about breaking away and forming a new, urban-based party headed by Mr. Nakagawa or someone like him. There is some irony in their self-description as urban based. In the old days, big city folks tended to vote for the opposition, while the LDP derived much of its strength from rural strongholds.

Also present at the meeting was upper house member Yamamoto Ichita (Machimura faction), generally a Nakagawa ally on domestic issues. Said Mr. Yamamoto of the need to continue privatization:

“The debate in the party now seems to be that since we face a crisis, it’s acceptable to return to the old pork barrel ways.”

The latter complaint is often heard now within the LDP about Prime Minister Aso. Here’s still more irony: It is also the complaint most frequently heard about the DPJ’s electoral platform.

The Nakagawa group

Mr. Nakagawa launched his own 87-member study group on the 11th to examine social welfare issues. The members plan to look for ways to resolve the problem of the botched national pension records that became the final nail in the Abe administration’s coffin. They also want to refine the concept of what is called the Social Welfare Card, an Abe Cabinet proposal that involves combining the social welfare and tax systems into personal accounts. Since the DPJ has suggested a similar idea, they want to explore areas of agreement across party lines.

In addition to Mr. Nakagawa, the members include:

  • Koike Yuriko
  • Abe Shinzo
  • Watanabe Yoshimi (no faction), a crusader and firebrand profiled here a few days ago. Of all the LDP reformers, he has taken the most outspoken anti-Aso, anti-mudboat wing stance in public.
  • Suga Yoshihide (Koga faction), who is close to Prime Minister Aso and a former member of the Abe Cabinet. Mr. Suga is another party-first man, and is known for having refused to join the revolt against Prime Minister Mori in 2000.

This group was widely seen as an anti-Aso vehicle for the mid-tier and younger LDP members starting to distance themselves from the prime minister. Mr. Nakagawa insisted otherwise, and asked people not to get excited because it was “an extremely pure study group”.

He added:

“The Aso Cabinet should boldly present its own policies without worrying about the polls. Now is not the time to bring down the Cabinet. No one is farther apart from Prime Minister Aso than I am, so if I say it, it has to be the truth.

Mr. Watanabe chimed in:

“There is such a feeling of obstruction that people even think this serious study group was formed to create a sense of political crisis.”

Not everyone buys that line, however. Some think the group was actually organized to explore post-realignment politics in addition to social welfare questions, but was co-opted by the mudboat wing of the Machimura faction to create yet another platypus.

Here’s why: Mr. Nakagawa called former Prime Minister Abe personally to ask him to join, and Mr. Abe, who resigned from the faction when he became prime minister, agreed. Mr. Machimura later objected to the formation of the group, but Mr. Abe and former Prime Minister Mori, the former faction head, convinced him to let Mr. Abe participate to prevent a factional split.

Their strategy was to use Mr. Abe to neutralize Mr. Nakagawa and dilute the impact of the group’s formation. Indeed, Mr. Mori is said to have angrily telephoned some of the younger faction members thinking about signing up to say:

“Don’t do anything stupid when Mr. Aso is in such serious trouble. Do you seriously intend to install Nakagawa as party president?”

The subtle subversion disappointed many people who wanted to see a Nakagawa challenge. The disappointment grew when former Prime Minister Abe publicly said the group wanted to get together and support Mr. Aso.

Privately, nobody believes that for a second. Nor does anyone believe it is an anti-Aso step so much as the start of several post-Aso steps. Everyone has factored Mr. Aso’s eventual departure into their thinking.

Watanabe Yoshimi

Mr. Watanabe is raising the voltage as Prime Minister Aso’s popularity is falling. He has openly criticized the prime minister, made references to creating a new party, and shifted from merely being anti-Aso to encouraging political realignment.

Here’s a taste of Mr. Watanabe going off on Prime Minister Aso in public:

“He won’t hold an election. He puts off economic measures. Just what the heck’s going on here?”

The critical question is how long it takes for people to move in his direction, or whether they decide to stay put for the time being.

At a party on the 8th attended by 800 supporters, Mr. Watanabe started talking about “mental calisthenics”, which he used as an excuse to segue into speculation about a new party.

He ended his intellectual workout by saying:

“Starting from scratch will have an impact and has the potential for great transformation. (Creating a new party) is possible to do with resolve alone.”

He started ramping up the voltage on 21 November when he and 24 younger Diet members called on Prime Minister Abe to quickly introduce a second supplementary budget and hold elections. Even that group bore a slight resemblance to a platypus—one of its members was Shiozaki Yasuhisa (Koga faction), the chief cabinet secretary during the Abe administration. It was the Shiozaki appointment, his first to an important position, that led critics to use the term “Friends Cabinet”. Somewhat less of a foreign policy hardliner than his former boss, his spat with Koike Yuriko over the appointment of a deputy in the Defense Ministry led to her resignation from the Cabinet after fewer than two months.

Watanabe Yoshimi and his mental calisthenics

Watanabe Yoshimi and his mental calisthenics

Mr. Shiozaki cautioned reporters that the group, which is expected to grow to 40, was not formed as an anti-Aso faction or the predecessor of a new party. But nobody believed that, either. One of the doubters was Koga Makoto, his faction boss and current head of the party’s Election Strategy Council. He made a point of warning his charges, including Mr. Shiozaki, to hold their tongues where Aso Taro was concerned.

Other party elders are getting as snippy as a flock of old maids chaperoning a college mixer. Earlier this month, Mr. Machimura noted:

“Attacking another person’s weakness and preventing them from advancing is not the action of a responsible adult. I hope he (Watanabe) keeps running further away.”

But Mr. Watanabe did not back down. He repeated his call for a new election, and retorted:

“If that voice becomes a chorus, it’s possible (I’ll leave). I’ll prepare myself for any activity to bring down the Cabinet.”

There’s another curious aspect to this situation. When Ozawa Ichiro was fishing for someone to replace Hosokawa Morihiro in 1994 as the head the only non-LDP government of the past half-century, he nearly coaxed Watanabe’s father Michio, a former foreign minister and LDP faction leader, to leave the party and serve as prime minister. (He settled on Hata Tsutomu instead.)

It’s also worth noting that while Mr. Watanabe’s name has not been linked to the DPJ, the party has declined to officially sponsor a candidate for his lower house seat–one of only five seats nationwide that it’s conceding.


Another most unusual platypus is not to be found among the reformers, bogus or otherwise, but in a bunk full of strange bedfellows whom the press immediately dubbed YKKK.

Mr. Y

Mr. Y

During the 1990s, Yamasaki Hiraku, Kato Koichi, and Koizumi Jun’ichiro worked together as a band of LDP reformers the press called YKK for the initials of their family names. Mr. Kato, assisted by Mr. Yamasaki, led a failed insurrection against Mori Yoshiro in 2000 that ultimately cleared the way for the third musketeer Mr. Koizumi to become prime minister about six months later.

This time, the YKKK platypus is:

  • Yamasaki Hiraku (AKA Taku), a faction leader
  • Kato Koichi, no faction
  • Kan Naoto, acting president of the opposition DPJ
  • Kamei Shizuka, representative of the People’s New Party, a splinter group formed of politicians thrown out of the LDP by Prime Minister Koizumi for opposing postal privatization and who chose not to return when invited to do so by Prime Minister Abe.

YKKK appeared together on a recent TV program in the political equivalent of a jam session to discuss political realignment. Mr. Yamasaki riffed:

“Let’s face it–political realignment will happen in the future. An axis is necessary to promote political realignment. At that time, the four (of us) could form one such axis….The gridlock phenomenon must be eliminated. It is clear that a political realignment will occur regardless of what conditions prevailed before or after the election.”

Kato Koichi:

“The LDP has borne an historical mission, and now confusion is deepening among both the LDP and the DPJ, which have neither a mission nor an ideology.”

The other two members of the team are trying to coax Y and K1 to bolt and form a supergroup.

Kamei Shizuka:

“After the next lower house election when an Ozawa Ichiro government (DPJ) is formed, it will be meaningless to say, ‘Me too’.”

Mr. Kato downplayed his suggestion that he leave the party by saying that’s not in the cards for now.

Kan Naoto:

“(What happens) next will not be a mere breakup and reassembly. It will be a major transformation of the system…I would like those people who have courage to leave the LDP, just as Mr. Ozawa fled from right in the middle of the party.”

It’s difficult to see just what’s going on here. Mr. Kato and DPJ head Ozawa Ichiro have not been on good terms for some time. Mr. Kato values party loyalty, and he was highly critical of Mr. Ozawa when he left the LDP. In fact, he fought against his readmission to the party when that was discussed in the late 90s.

It’s also difficult to imagine that he and his longtime ally would join the DPJ. One possible area of agreement might be a shift in foreign policy away from an American orientation toward closer relations with East Asian countries. Mr. Kato in particular is strongly opposed to the hard line against North Korea. But foreign policy questions have little or nothing to do with the crisis in Japanese politics.

Still, Mori Yoshiro didn’t care for this development at all. In Yamagata City earlier this week, he said:

“(YK) joining forces with Mr. Kan and, depending on the circumstances, forming a new party…Mr. Nakagawa joining forces with the DPJ and, depending on the circumstances, opening up a third axis…They say it’s for the benefit of the LDP. But if they start taking off in different directions, it will cause instability among the younger party members. That’s shameful…Japanese politics seems to have nothing but these lightweight, shallow-minded politicians. I apologize to all of you who have worked so hard to create politics (in this country)”.

Perhaps Mr. Mori needn’t have worried abut YK forming a new party, though that seems to have been Mr. Kato’s intention. This week’s edition of the Shukan Bunshun quotes an unidentified member of the Yamasaki faction saying that Mr. Kato had dreams of leading a second rebellion:

“Mr. Kato has been trying to form a new party with an eye on the political realignment after the next lower house election. He thinks it’s possible the head of a small party could serve as prime minister, depending on the election results, just as Hosokawa Morihiro became prime minister in the non-LDP coalition in 1993.”

According to this source, Mr. Kato, now unaffiliated with a faction, called on his former faction members for help, and asked Mr. Yamasaki to “lend” him a few members temporarily. He also suggested that Mr. Yamasaki could join later.

Mr. Y put the kibosh on Mr. K pretty quickly:

“Even if I were to say that I was forming a new party, no one would join. It’s entirely out of the question for me to lend my faction members to anyone.”

But a “new axis” in an informal alliance with opposition party members? That seems possible.

A ruling coalition breakup?

No talk of platypuses is complete without mentioning the ruling coalition of the LDP and New Komeito, an alliance that never has made much sense from an ideological perspective. The latter party is more interested in domestic social welfare policies, and they do not care for the LDP’s more assertive military stance in international affairs. For example, they’ve had to be cajoled into supporting the Indian Ocean refueling mission for NATO forces that the LDP used its supermajority to pass.

Rumors are circulating that both the LDP and the DPJ want to end New Komeito’s influence for good. One story had the two parties continuing discussions about another grand coalition, despite the failure of the first effort, and eliminating the proportional representation districts in the lower house. That would effectively neuter New Komeito as a political force, because the allocation of seats based on the percentage of votes is the reason most of their lower house members are in the Diet at all.

Earlier this week, Koga Makoto (photo below) casually dropped a bomb when discussing the dates of a possible lower house election at a party gathering in Tokyo:

“I’ve said it will be when the cherries bloom. But they bloom in Okinawa in February, and Aomori in May. In fact, there is such a tree as the “October Cherry”. Taking all that into consideration, the current Diet term could end when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.”

This was an astonishing statement on several levels. First, it potentially pushes back an election until the end of the full Diet term next September—nearly a year after Aso Taro was elevated to party president on the assumption that he would have already led the LDP election campaign by now.


Of course the LDP wants to delay the election to prevent a catastrophe at the polls, but that’s not the surprise. Rather, their coalition partner New Komeito has been demanding an election as early as possible to enable them to play what many think is their favorite voting game. Japanese election laws require three months to establish official residency, so the party needs that interval between the national election and local Tokyo elections in July to switch the registered residences of their supporters.

Could this mean the LDP is thinking of writing off their partners?

It might. At the same party, Mr. Koga also hinted that the LDP might reevaluate—a Japanese euphemism for stop—automatically allocating some proportional representation candidacies to New Komeito and keep them for themselves. The Aso ally Mr. Suga is also said to have suggested this to the Prime Minister, who surely must be tempted.

Yet that would alarm those LDP members who won their seats by narrow margins. The voter mobilization efforts of New Komeito and their assumed allies, the lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, provides an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 vote advantage in some districts. Those LDP members who squeaked by in the last election could be bounced from office without the New Komeito foot soldiers, as the party ruefully discovered in a recent Yamaguchi by-election.

Still another sign of a possible ruling coalition rupture is that Prime Minister Aso insisted that the party include an increase in the consumption tax in three years in its plan to reform the tax code. He claims this is the only responsible and realistic choice Japan faces to pay for the care of its aging population.

New Komeito is opposed for obvious reasons. It’s not easy to win elections when a tax increase for voters is a key campaign promise. And tax increases are the last thing the small(er) government Nakagawa Hidenao/Koizumi reform wing wants to hear about. Put that all together and it starts to look as if the LDP platypus is an endangered species.

Economist J.A. Schumpeter referred to progress in the free market system as “creative destruction”. By that, he meant that the replacement of obsolete businesses by those with technological and organizational creativity was a natural and beneficial process.

That’s an excellent analogy for the next step that must occur in Japanese politics. But in this case, however, creative destruction must be combined with another natural process—Darwin’s survival of the fittest.

For that next step to occur, the political platypuses must turn pterodactyl.

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Are Japan’s political tectonic plates shifting?

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, April 16, 2008

JAPAN’S POLITICAL CLASS didn’t need to gulp down any coffee to kickstart their morning—all they had to do was scan the brief newspaper article reporting that former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro had summoned a meeting of business and political leaders last week to confirm plans for periodic confabs to discuss political issues in a Japan plagued by government gridlock.

In addition to Mr. Koizumi’s supporters and associates in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party–most notably Koike Yuriko–others with seats at the table included Maehara Seiji, current vice-president and former president of the largest opposition group, the Democratic Party of Japan, and several of his allies.

The meeting was held on the evening of the ninth—the same day the DPJ had rejected the LDP’s fourth nominee for a post at the Bank of Japan. That the rejection generated considerable frustration within the LDP is no surprise, but there are indications the DPJ’s obstructionism is causing more than a little unpleasantness within the opposition party as well.

The newspapers are calling this a “study group”, which is sometimes the form new political groupings take in Japan when the participants are scouting the prospects for creating a new faction or party. They plan to begin regularly scheduled meetings after the weeklong holidays in the beginning of May.

During the meeting, Mr. Koizumi is reported to have said:

Two (potential) candidates for prime minister are here. This could be interesting.

According to a person present, the guest list included the following:

Okuda Hiroshi, former chairman of the Keidanren, a past president and chairman of Toyota and a special Cabinet advisor. Toyota has generally kept some distance between itself and the LDP in the past because of its union’s ties with the DPJ. Mr. Okuda, however, openly mobilized Toyota support for Mr. Koizumi after the prime minister shocked (and electrified) Japan in 2005 by dissolving the lower house of the Diet and calling a new election to push through his plan for privatizing the postal ministry.

The LDP Contingent

Koike Yuriko, former Environmental Minister in the Koizumi Cabinet, and a national security advisor and briefly Defense Minister in Abe Shinzo’s Cabinet. Some observers think she has a chance to become Japan’s first female prime minister, and everyone assumes she wants the job. Her background also includes membership in the now-defunct Liberal Party, then headed by the current opposition head Ozawa Ichiro, when it was the junior partner in a coalition government with the LDP. Politics makes for some strange bedfellows in Japan.

Motegi Toshimitsu, a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, former Senior Vice Foreign Minister in the first Koizumi Cabinet and the Minister of State for Okinawa in Second Koizumi Cabinet

Hayashi Yoshimasa, also a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government, and an upper house member (unlike the previous two, who are lower house members). He has Finance Ministry connections, as does Mr. Koizumi.

Nishimura Yasutoshi, a lower house member in the Machimura faction (to which Mr. Koizumi once belonged in a former incarnation), and known to be politically close to Abe Shinzo

The Gang from the DPJ

Maehara Seiji, the second potential prime minister, is known for specializing in security and defense issues, and favors revising the Constitution to allow Japan more leeway to conduct military operations (by eliminating the second paragraph of Article 9, the so-called Peace Clause). He is also on excellent terms with Abe Shinzo, and was not averse to the suggestion for a grand coalition between the two parties that caused Mr. Ozawa so much trouble last fall.

Sengoku Yoshito, a member of the Maehara group (the DPJ doesn’t like to call them factions), he has held several shadow cabinet positions. Interestingly enough, he also directly criticized Mr. Koizumi for the deterioration of relations with South Korea during his term.

Genba Koichiro, a lower house member who is also in the Maehara group.

Fukuyama Tetsuro, ditto.

Also stopping by to say hi was Mikitani Hiroshi, the president and chairman of Rakuten, a giant in Internet shopping in Japan, and one of the 10 largest Internet companies in the world. Their website has the second highest total of unique hits in the country, behind only Yahoo!

In retrospect, neither the meeting itself nor the participants should have been entirely unexpected. Mr. Koizumi has downplayed any interest in a major post-retirement political role by referring to himself as “a man of the past”, but he has become more active since February. Was it a coincidence that his former political right-hand man, Iijima Isao, sat for an interview with a friendly magazine at the same time and floated what looked like a trial balloon for a Koizumi comeback?

In the interview, Mr. Iijima offered a white knight scenario by suggesting that Mr. Koizumi is the only person with the experience and credibility to break through the current impasse and take political reform to the next level. He further noted that it wouldn’t be necessary to form a new political party; it would be enough for Mr. Koizumi to “take the ship out of the harbor and into the sea”, and that a crew of 50 members each from the LDP and the DPJ would be enough to man the ship.

In addition to political gridlock, the Koizumi allies within the party are dismayed at LDP recidivism by failing to maintain the momentum of his political and governmental reforms. The former prime minister’s Man Friday in the Cabinet for implementing those reforms, Takenaka Heizo, has criticized Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo for allowing the LDP of the bad old days to come back “like a zombie” since he took office in September.

For his part, Mr. Maehara and his group members share some common ground with the LDP reform wing; indeed, they perhaps have more in common with them than they do the left-leaning and leftist elements of their own party. They are also likely to be among those in the DJP unhappy with Mr. Ozawa’s leadership (an unhappiness that predates the party’s strong showing in last summer’s upper house election), and his tactics in the Diet since then.

To be fair, Mr. Maehara has reportedly been telling associates since last week’s meeting that it is not a formal study group. Discretion is the better part of valor, and it’s still too soon to be burning bridges.

Whether this leads to the political realignment that everyone is talking about, to the comeback of Koizumi Jun’ichiro, or merely to informal political discussions across party lines held in expensive restaurants, Mr. Koizumi’s description of the latest development was dead on:

This could be interesting.

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