AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Koshi’ishi A.’

Ichigen koji (195)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, October 12, 2012

一言居士
– A person who has something to say about everything

Democratic Party Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma met former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio at a Tokyo restaurant to ask for his cooperation in stemming the tide of defections of DPJ Diet members. He also sounded out Mr. Hatoyama about restoring him to his former position as Supreme Advisor to the party, from which he was suspended after voting against the DPJ government’s tax increase legislation.

Said Mr. Hatoyama:

“I’ll return if you create an environment for firmly dealing with foreign policy problems.”

And:

“I’m worried about relations with China. It depends on whether you allow me to have the responsibility for properly dealing with foreign policy disputes.”

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Ichigen koji (123)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 29, 2012

一言居士
– A person who has something to say about everything

* This is not the time to be saying, ‘The students are bad, the teachers are bad, the board of education is bad, the parents are bad.’ Everyone has to conduct themselves properly.

– Koshi’ishi Azuma, head of the Democratic Party delegation in the upper house, and former primary school teacher and official in the Japan Teachers’ Union, on the suicide of a junior high school student who had been bullied by his classmates.

* That statement beggars belief. A precious human life has been lost. There must be a thorough inquiry to determine the problem and the responsibility, and prevent a recurrence. This seems to me as if Mr. Koshi’ishi’s statement is to protect his colleagues at schools and the board of education, and to cover up the problems with the Japan Teachers’ Union, whose education in human rights is extremist.

– Yagi Hidetsugu, professor at the Takasaki City University of Economics and director of the Organization to Revive Japanese Education

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Ichigen koji (122)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, July 28, 2012

一言居士
– A person who has something to say about everything

I want you to visualize the face of Haraguchi Kazuhiro (Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications in the Hatoyama administration). His face looks as if it were drawn with a crayon, and it’s not possible to trust it at all. It’s the face of a person everyone would warn you about if he lived in the same neighborhood.

Base people have base faces. Villains have the faces of villains. Yamaoka Kenji (Ozawa Ichiro’s closest political associate) has the face of a con man. From Koshi’ishi Azuma to Sengoku Yoshito and Kan Naoto, the people in the Democratic Party look perfectly suited for those prisoner’s uniforms with the horizontal stripes.

– Tekina Osamu, non-fiction author and philosopher

*****
The following short video has a clip recalling that Hatoyama Yukio said he would retire from politics after the next election, and then abruptly changed his mind. After the scenes with Mr. Hatoyama, it contains two quotes by Haraguchi Kazuhiro. The first is:

It’s heart-rending for us to vote aye on a motion of no-confidence from the opposition, but it is the best way now to prevent 100 years of regret.

The second is from a day later:

To begin with, casting a vote for a motion of no-confidence from the opposition is heresy, and that way no longer exists.

A man I knew well, now deceased, was one of those who encouraged Mr. Haraguchi to pursue a political career. Had he been buried instead of cremated, I’m sure he’d be spinning in his grave.

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Quick hits on yesterday’s lower house vote

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, June 27, 2012

JAPAN’S lower house voted yesterday to pass the consumption tax increase and social welfare-related legislation. The implications of that move are as I described in a post last weekend. The basic facts are available everywhere, but other aspects are worth noting.

*57 members of the ruling Democratic Party voted against their government’s bill, and 16 abstained. That’s serious business; 54 is the margin at which the DPJ loses its lower house majority. The Sankei said the total jolted Prime Minister Noda, because he had been working to limit the defections and thought there would be only about 30. The possibilities of a no-confidence vote and a DPJ split are real.

Prime Minister Noda and Deputy Prime Minister Okada are jubilant at the passage of their hallmark legislation

* Despite days of speculation that he would form a new party, rebel chieftain Ozawa Ichiro says he is staying put for now. He asked his allies to leave the handling of the situation up to him. Those with a taste for watching power struggles will appreciate his cleverness. First, he insists that his vote represents the original will of the party as expressed in the 2009 election manifesto. Second, by standing pat, he forces Mr. Noda into taking the destructive step. The prime minister said he would be “strict” with those who didn’t follow the party line, which could include suspension of party privileges or even expulsion. But that’s too many people to expel and survive. The internal opposition lives.

Complicating matters is that Liberal Democratic Party head Tanigaki Sadakazu is demanding that Mr. Noda do something with Ozawa and the rebels. In fact, he said the LDP’s condition for cooperation to pass the bill in the upper house is that he “deal firmly” with those who failed to vote the party line. Yes, he is making the internal affairs of another party his business. Was part of the three-party deal to pass the tax bill an unspoken agreement to strike down Mr. Ozawa?

In short, Mr. Noda is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. He has one potential weapon, however: Even though Mr. Ozawa was found not guilty of violating the political funds law earlier this year, that was a function of the legal process. It was not necessarily in accord with the actual facts of the matter. The LDP has demanded that he be questioned in the Diet about the circumstances of all that money. The prime minister might now allow that to happen.

* After the vote, DPJ Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma said, “The DPJ will absolutely not fall apart.” The man’s wishin’ and hopin’. Maintaining the DPJ as a semi-functional unit has been his priority throughout the whole sequence of events. He represents the nether left of the party, and a viable DPJ is their only means to so much as sniff a position of power or influence in government. That disappears with a DPJ breakup, and many of the rank file would then have a hard time getting reelected, much less listened to.

* Former Prime Minister and DPJ Supreme Advisor Hatoyama Yukio voted against the bill and resigned his position of Supreme Advisor. Still among the party’s Supreme Advisor ranks is Watanabe Kozo. Recall that Mr. Watanabe cordially asked both Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Hatoyama to vote against the bill and leave the party for good.

Yesterday the Sankei Shimbun published one of those “all you have to do is look” photographs. It showed a smiling Ozawa Ichiro walking back to his seat in the chamber after casting his vote. He was enjoying a pleasant chat with another smiling Diet member. The other man was Watanabe Kozo.

That tells you all you need to know about the National Political Establishment (NPE).

* Prof. Ikeda Nobuo recalled an interview he conducted with Ozawa Ichiro about the heavy financial burden placed on the younger generations of those actively working to financially support the growing population of the retired elderly. He quoted the Ozawa answer:

“National pensions are for (the people) to help each other, so that’s part of the system.”

Prof. Ikeda concluded that Mr. Ozawa was not so interested in the votes of the younger demographic.

* Meanwhile, during his 6:00 p.m. news conference, Mr. Noda stressed the importance of the bill for maintaining the social security system. He does not seem to have considered the idea of overhauling the system to add serious reforms to keep it both viable and affordable, nor has he given much thought to serious reforms of government to reduce expenditures. In other words, he is ignoring the global collapse of the social welfare system as we know it.

* The Sankei was struck by the contrast between a subdued Prime Minister Noda and a jaunty Tanigaki Sadakazu. Mr. Noda got what he wanted, but was unhappy. Meanwhile, the Sankei thought Mr. Tanigaki was behaving as if he were the head of government who had just pushed a bill through the Diet. Said the LDP boss:

“The (three-party) agreement that reflected the LPD position in its entirety, and the passage of the bill in the lower house, represent a major advance that has achieved “the politics of decisiveness”.

This is also a classic case of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. Consider:

“It is clear that (the DPJ) has lost the ability to lead a government, from the perspective of both policy and the basis of government. The necessity for taking their case to the people (i.e., a general election) grows stronger.”

Give him credit: That combines self-congratulation for getting the DPJ to swallow the LDP requests, congratulating the DPJ for passing the bill, criticizing the DPJ for having problems passing the bill, and calling for the prime minister to dissolve the lower house and call for a general election. Not everyone can concentrate the universe of power politics brutality into a few short sentences.

And despite their deal with the DPJ, the LDP could still introduce a no-confidence motion.

* Ozawa Ichiro said yesterday that he thought it wouldn’t be long now before a lower house election was held. Commentator Takahashi Yoichi suspects that the two major parties will replace both Mr. Noda and Mr. Tanigaki as their leaders for an election in the early fall.

* Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru was pertinent, as usual:

“Before the change of government, the Democratic Party clearly said it would not raise taxes for four years. If this tax increase is allowed to stand, we will no longer need pre-election policy debate or manifestoes. That sort of situation would allow politics in which anything goes.”

Finally, as Shakespeare said, “The daintiest last, to make the end most sweet,” so here’s the observation of lower house LDP MP Koizumi Shinjiro, who inherited both his father’s Diet seat and his verbal skills:

“Isn’t the political muscle causing the revolt of 57 people (of his own party) that of Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko? That’s because the Democratic Party did what it said it wouldn’t do. These numbers aren’t the result of Ozawa Ichiro’s influence. Aren’t they due to the strength of Prime Minister Noda?”

And hasn’t all that led to this?

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Ichigen koji (102)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 13, 2012

一言居士

– A person who has something to say about everything

Unless the Noda Democratic Party swallows whole the tax increase proposal of  the Tanigaki Liberal Democrats and dissolves the lower house (for a general election), it will only create a synergistic effect of unpopularity for both the Tanigaki LDP and the Noda DPJ. The lower house will have to be dissolved next year anyway (when its term ends). Will that dissolution occur when the synergistic effect is at its maximum? That might be even more invigorating for everyone. It would give (Hashimoto Toru’s) One Osaka enough time to get ready.

– Hasegawa Yukihiro, author and member of the Tokyo Shimbun editorial board.

DPJ Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma and other party members are now coming out in favor of holding a double election next year,  when the current lower house term expires and an upper house election will be held as scheduled by law.

Others, however, such as LDP upper house member Yamamoto Ichita, one of the last of the party’s Koizumians, notes that Prime Minister Noda, Deputy Prime Minister Okada, and Finance Minister Azumi are suggesting they are open to modifying the DPJ tax hike plan. Mr. Yamamoto is appalled, because he thinks this is a sign that (a) they will swallow the LDP plan whole, and (b) that will lead to a grand coalition without a Diet dissolution.

And that will lead to even more support for One Osaka.

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More on Hatoyama the hapless, part two

Posted by ampontan on Friday, April 20, 2012

BEFORE we return to our regularly scheduled programming, let’s have two quick posts to provide more details on the approach of Hatoyama Yukio to politics and governance. They should help explain the reasons he was Phase One of the triple disaster that the DPJ government has been for Japan. Besides, some people just can’t turn their heads when they pass a wreck on the highway.

—–
The national government is indicating a willingness to allow Kansai Electric Power to restart the reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant. Some local governments in the area think they’re moving much too fast. One of them is the city of Osaka, which is the largest shareholder in Kansai Electric.

Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, as we’ve seen before in the (soon to resume) series about him, has pitched his tent among the group that opposes nuclear power in Japan. Mr. Hashimoto’s critics charge him with populism, and this is one area in which the charge legitimately sticks. All the reasons he gives for his opposition are emotional rather than rational, and he’s offered no serious proposals for alternative energy sources.

When it became apparent that the government was interested in getting the Oi plant back on line as soon as possible, Mr. Hashimoto declared war and said it was now the mission of One Osaka to bring them down:

“I am angry just at the fact that the government thinks it can fool the people with the provisional safety standards. If that’s how they’re going to do it, this will get serious, and we will have to make them pay for it. Kasumigaseki (the national bureaucratic dirigistes) is making light of the people.”

This upset the number two man in the DPJ, Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma. During a speech in Kyoto, he said the government would formulate and present a plan for nuclear energy to counteract the One Osaka offensive. As for an election, his attitude is Let’s Rumble:

“One Osaka has stated that they will bring down the government because the DPJ government will ruin Japan. We accept their challenge.”

Accepting the challenge is exactly what the DPJ lower house MPs want to avoid. Many of them already know they’ll be looking for work in the private sector after the next election, so they’re looking now for anything that resembles a tourniquet. A promise to take on One Osaka over this issue in a general election is the equivalent of cutting open the veins in the rest of their limbs.

Mr. Koshi’ishi is clearly ignoring public opinion. The most recent Shinhodo 2001 survey conducted by Fuji TV, for example, found that in the part of the election for proportional representation by party, 10.2% of the voters favored the DPJ and 21.8% favored the LDP. In other words, they’re sitting at less than half of the total for the primary opposition party.

Further, 44.4% of the respondents said they were still undecided. At this stage of the political process, undecided means they think the DPJ and the LDP aren’t worth a pitcher of warm spit. Therefore, most of them will probably vote for someone affiliated with Mr. Hashimoto’s One Osaka group, or perhaps their national party ally, Your Party. In last November’s election for Osaka mayor, the Asahi Shimbun exit polls had most of the independent vote going to Mr. Hashimoto. The Shinhodo 2001 survey covers only the Tokyo area, but politicians consider it a bellwether of the national mood.

The DPJ Diet members at risk complain that Mr. Koshi’ishi is free to talk so tough because he’s a member of the upper house, where the terms are fixed and not subject to dissolution. He’s also 75 years old and likely to retire when his term ends anyway. Here’s what the MPs are saying amongst themselves: Mr. Koshi’ishi was an official of the Japan Teachers’ Union when they were comfortable with having out-of-the-closet Stalinistas as members, and he’s considered to be the guardian angel of the JTU old guard in the party. They think he’s upset Mr. Hashimoto is taking the teachers’ unions and public employees’ unions head on in Osaka, and is winning the battle.

Reporters asked Hatoyama Yukio what he thought of all this. He is a former prime minister, after all. Mr. Hatoyama said:

“Well, the (Osaka) mayor has his own ideas, and I suspect that the surrounding prefectures have concerns about the restart of the Oi plant that haven’t been alleviated. So, if the approach of too quickly restarting the plant has elicited the mayor’s opposition, wouldn’t it be necessary for both parties to seek a calmer response? But if we are going to contest an election, we must by all means put up a stiff fight.”

No, no one in Japan can reconcile his last sentence with the rest of his statement either. But people gave up on that long ago.

Other notes:

Here’s more data on the prospects for what might become an election that drops a bunker buster into the world of Japanese politics.

In preparation for the next election, local parties that would influence national politics are creating political juku, or ad hoc institutes to organize and educate potential candidates. Hashimoto Toru’s One Osaka group is in the process of selecting the most promising 2,000 students to continue their orientation before a further reduction to 400.

Aichi Gov. Omura Hideaki started his own political juku in the region and gave the first lecture himself on the 12th in Nagoya. There were 678 people listening. Most were from Aichi, but some also came from Tokyo, Gifu, and Mie.

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, the Osaka branch of the LDP decided to organize a juku of its own. They’re calling it the Naniwa juku and began recruiting a month ago. They were hoping to attract 30 participants. A month into the process, they still haven’t found 30 people willing to join up and associate with the LDP brand, so they’ve extended the application period.

———————–
One member of the Democratic Party of Japan has left the party over the Noda government’s march toward a tax increase, and 29 more have resigned secondary positions of responsibility in the party and government in protest. A journalist spoke to one of them (whom he did not identify), and asked if he resigned because he saw no future in the DPJ. Here’s the answer:

“Rather than that, being a member of the party itself is just embarrassing.”

The DPJ government in Japan has become one of the epic political failures in the advanced democracies of the postwar period. As the party president and their first prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio has much to answer for. The public is so fed up, however, they can’t be bothered to ask.

*****
The biggest fool that ever hit the big time, and all he had to do was act naturally.

Now this is serendipity. That song is followed by Honky Tonk Man. So was Hatoyama Yukio.

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Management

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, September 14, 2011

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

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

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

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

Prime Minister Noda in the Diet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bottom feeders

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 1, 2011

The dojo, you know
Doesn’t try to play goldfish

– Dojo, a poem by Aida Mitsuo

NODA Yoshihiko, the new prime minister of Japan, realizes that he’s not the type of man to excite an audience to the point of spontaneous combustion. That’s why he used the analogy from the poem above to present himself to the Japanese public. It was nicely done — most Japanese, including people who will never be Mr. Noda’s political allies, seem to have found it endearing. Some are familiar with the calligrapher/poet Aida Mitsuo, the author of the poem, who lived from 1924 to 1991. Everyone is familiar from childhood with the work of calligrapher/poets, especially anonymous ones, because their creations are a part of daily life. Schoolchildren make their own as part of their classroom work.

The poem

Mr. Noda says he’s always liked Aida’s poems, and people take him at his word. The Japanese will also find that endearing and view it as a positive. There are still plenty of people in this hip-hop world who nod in appreciation at Aida’s explanation of what he did: “I merely express the natural way people should be as humans and the true way to live. To accomplish that, I borrow the format of brush-and-ink calligraphy.”

In fact, there’s been a sharp increase in visitors to the Aida Mitsuo Museum in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward since Mr. Noda’s speech. There were 1,500 on 30 August, which is half again the usual number. The anthology in which the poem appears has been sold out in bookstores, and a new edition of 5,000 copies is being printed to meet the demand. The general theme of that anthology, Okagesan, is “Don’t compare yourself to other people”.

The politicians of his party like it too. Mr. Noda appointed Hirano Hirofumi, the chief cabinet secretary in Hatoyama Yukio’s government, to the important position of Diet Affairs Committee chairman for the party. Promised Mr. Hirano:

I will become the comfortable mud for the dojo.

That presented the fratboy spitballers of the Fourth Estate with a faux problem. Mr. Noda used a fish analogy that everyone in Japan immediately understood. Rather than a physically attractive and eyecatching kingyo, or goldfish, he likened himself to an ordinary dojo that lives near the mud.

But while every Japanese knows what a dojo is, few people in the West are familiar with what is sometimes called the Oriental Weatherloach, or, for the scientifically minded, Misgurnus anguillicaudatus .

So, after their Japanese go-fers at the Tokyo bureau provided them with the English translation, the foreign correspondents pulled a reference book down from the shelf, blew off the accumulated dust, and licked their fingers as they turned the pages. They discovered that:

It is omnivorous, eating a range of food including insect larvae, crustaceans, algae and detritus.

They found what they were looking for. The headline in The Australian the next day read:

New Japan PM Yoshihiko Noda says he is ‘bottom feeder’

It wasn’t just The Australian, either; when I Googled the phrase early yesterday evening in combination with Mr. Noda’s name, there were more than 700 hits.

No, he did not say he is a bottom feeder. He said he was a dojo. A bottom feeder in English has negative connotations that dojo does not have in Japanese. For Mr. Noda, it was an innocent, self-effacing remark to which his listeners responded favorably, if they had any reaction at all.

But the English-language media outside Japan employed Mr. Noda’s comment to make the man look like a dweeb. Of course they did it on purpose. That is what they do.

Journalists become so upset when they are attacked, it’s apparent they have no idea why they are so detested. One reason, of course, is that they are self-important airheads of unparalleled hebetude incapable of stringing together two sentences without revealing just how little they know. Another is that being a smirking, juvenile twat is no way to win friends or influence people — unless your social circle consists exclusively of smirking, juvenile twats.

Imagine that: Japan’s prime minister enjoys the work of a calligrapher/poet in a country with a culture that encourages such appreciation. Now imagine the sort of person who would see that as a prime target for mockery.

*****
Time magazine in the U.S. employs spitballers of a higher caliber, however. Instead of writers who attended red-brick colleges, they prefer graduates of universities where ivy covers the brick, or better yet, stone. Their headline for Mr. Noda’s selection was:

Another Slice of ‘Cold Pizza’? The Man Most Likely to Lead Japan

They were more clever about it by giving themselves plausible deniability. The line doesn’t come until halfway down the page, when they quote Yamamoto Yoshi quoting Westerners about former Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo, who died in office of a stroke.

Oh, they’ve been to the finest schools, all right, but the psychological deformity is the same. Obuchi was another dojo, which few Japanese thought was a handicap. People liked him, including his political opponents, as I suspect they will also like Mr. Noda. I remember watching a film clip of Obuchi talking outdoors to people in the Diet district he represented, and the reasons people liked him were obvious. He was friendly, warm, and genuine in a way that can’t be staged as a photo op.

But perhaps we’re being unfair to the journos. Being unfamiliar with friendly, warm, and genuine behavior, they’re unlikely to recognize it when they see it.

*****
The first article I posted on this website in 2007 was the About page on the masthead. I wrote then that Japan does not receive the baseline respect of other countries, and that people who write about it “seem to enjoy indulging themselves in a comic book vision of the country that depicts Nippon as the Goofball Kingdom of East Asia.”

See what I mean?

For contrast, consider the treatment of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She denied that the first Greek bailout would happen, she denied that the second Greek bailout would happen, and she denied that the Portuguese bailout would happen. They all happened. In fact, she said “we have a treaty under which there is no possibility to bail out states in difficulty”.

Do you remember anyone from the industrial mass media dismissing her in a straight news story with the likes of “bottom feeder” or “cold pizza”? Has anyone in the English-language media taken her to task — much less flicked spitballs at her — for being incompetent, muddle-headed, or wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong?

Please! She’s European, not Asian. Even better, she was born a member of today’s privileged and pedestalized gender. They’re never mocked by the media dinosaurs, unless they’re American women who believe in small government. (Or, in Hillary Clinton’s case, unless they’re running against someone from a subset on an even higher pedestal.)

*****
Isn’t all the commentary filled with brow-knitting concern about how Mr. Noda is Japan’s sixth prime minister in five years just so precious? (Or seventh, if you start counting with the outgoing Mr. Koizumi). There’s a bit of that in Japan, too.

But then I ran across an article yesterday in The Wall Street Journal, in which Daniel Henninger interviewed former American Vice-President Dick Cheney. Here’s an excerpt:

I asked Mr. Cheney why there isn’t a stronger tradition of firings or resignations in American government. He chuckled, noting that one of the chapters left out of the book was “People I have fired.”

“It’s an important issue in terms of trying to manage an administration,” he says. “My experience generally has been that it doesn’t happen often enough. That’s sort of a general statement of why government doesn’t work.”

So, Mr. Cheney thinks American government doesn’t work because there are too few resignations and firings, while others think the Japanese government doesn’t work because there are too many resignations and firings.

Yet if the American government were conducted under the Japanese version of the Westminster system, Bill Clinton would have been gone at the end of 1994, sparing the nation of six lost years, tales of cigars used as adult toys, and testimony of semen-stained dresses. George W. Bush would have been gone after Katrina, sparing the nation of the first pointless bailout and the beginning of the degradation of the currency. Barack Obama, the Sizzling Hot Pizza himself, with more self-regard than the average journalist with even less justification, might have failed to match Hatoyama Yukio’s nine months in office, sparing the nation of agony akin to having all one’s teeth pulled without anesthetic.

And some people think the Japanese have it all wrong.

*****
Finally, we come to The Economist. As befitting the elite status of the in-flight magazine for Davos man, the ink-stained wretches they employ as journalists rank in the highest percentile for vapidity, laziness, and self-importance in their profession. No other similar publication in the English-speaking world has contributors who bray so loudly so consistently and know so little about Japan. Consider this on the selection of Mr. Noda:

But there is at least one thing to be thankful for in today’s victory: Mr. Noda sidelined one of the main forces of paralysis in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), Ichiro Ozawa, who continues to head the largest faction within the party though he has been indicted in a money scandal and his party membership is suspended.

Mr. Ozawa backed Banri Kaieda, a trade minister who looked increasingly in danger of becoming a puppet for the backroom fixer. But though the first vote put Mr. Kaieda in front, thanks to the support of Mr. Ozawa’s cronies, it was not enough to win him an outright victory. In the run-off, Mr. Noda’s supporters joined forces with those of Seiji Maehara, another anti-Ozawa candidate who lost in the first round (and whom we had thought would be the front-runner, because of his support among the electorate at large). Mr. Noda won with 215 votes to Mr. Kaieda’s 177. It is the second time this year—the first was a no-confidence vote against Mr. Kan in June—that Mr. Ozawa has failed to impose his will on the party, though that is not to say that he will stop making mischief for the new leader.

Two paragraphs, two errors with a throw weight measured in the megatons. Mr. Ozawa did not try “to impose his will on the party” through the no-confidence vote. The opposition parties introduced the June no-confidence measure and might have done so in March had it not been for the earthquake. They were already discussing it at the end of February. It would have passed, too, with members of several Democratic Party factions voting for it — acting as antibodies against the human bacteria that is Kan Naoto. But Sengoku Yoshito and Edano Yukio, attorneys at law, put off the inevitable by devising a document that everyone except Kan Naoto thought was a commitment to a quick resignation. It took the rest of the summer, but Kan Naoto is solid gone, leaving behind the odor of sulfur and slime.

So: Viewed from a time frame of longer than a fortnight, how was this a failure for Ozawa Ichiro? If his allies had opposed the no-confidence measure from the start, we still might have Kan Naoto to kick around some more.

As for putting Mr. Ozawa out of business, Mr. Noda just appointed Ozawa ally Koshi’ishi Azuma to be the party secretary-general (head of the party in the organizational sense). In Japan’s version of the Westminster system, the secretary-general is essentially the Number Two man of the party. He controls all the money, runs the election campaigns, and conducts negotiations with the other parties. We’ve also seen that Mr. Noda appointed Hirano Hirofumi to be the party’s Diet Affairs chairman, which another important role. Mr. Hirano is a close associate of Hatoyama Yukio, who is also allied with Ozawa Ichiro.

In other words, reading The Economist on Japan wastes even more time than reading the Japan Times. The former is longer than the latter.

******
Speaking of Koshi’ishi Azuma, his presence and positions of authority within the party are the reasons the DPJ will never have the party unity that the journos keep wishin’ and hopin’ for.

Mr. Koshi’ishi is one of several DPJ legislators to have a Socialist Party background (from the days when their charter included favorable references to Karl Marx), and he once headed the Japan Teachers’ Union-affiliated Yamanashi teachers’ union. The JTU backs the DPJ in the same way that teachers’ unions everywhere back political parties of the left. In the past, they’ve been caught squeezing members to donate to Mr. Azuma’s political campaigns in Yamanashi. They even had teachers working the phone banks to bug voters at home. The teachers themselves admitted the money went into a dummy bank account for Mr. Koshi’ishi, who wound up with JPY 3 million.

The JTU once harassed a Hiroshima school principal to the point of suicide. They think competitive tests are bad for education and singing the national anthem is bad for any reason at all. Another favorite JTU technique is to mail razor blades to the people that displease them.

Mr. Koshi’ishi was a member of the JTU when Makieda Motofumi was chairman. Mr. Makieda is the author of チュチェの国朝鮮を訪ねて (Visiting Joseon, the Country of Juche), in which he praised the North Korean educational system. It contains this passage:

“There are no thieves in this country. Thievery occurs in those places where there is a prejudice toward wealth. There is no need for thievery in this country. Since there is no thievery and no murder, there are also no police. There are only public safety personnel standing at the corners and intersections to direct traffic and deal with any injuries.”

He’s also written:

“After my visit to North Korea, whenever I’m asked whom I think is the most respected person in the world, I immediately bring up the name of Chairman Kim Il-sung. That’s because I have met him personally. I believe that he is loved by the people of his country, and is worthy to be revered by them as a father….Kim Jong-il is the duplicate of his father, and he can be trusted without reservation.”

Makieda Motofumi received a medal from North Korea in 1991.

During the Aso administration, there was talk of Japanese participation in efforts to board North Korean ships suspected of transporting nuclear weapons material to the Middle East. Said Mr. Koshi’ishi at a press conference:

Rather than inspecting North Korean ships, we should inspect the Aso Cabinet.

Mr. Koshi’ishi frequently speaks of the relationship between politics and education:

There is no such thing as education without politics.

At a JTU meeting in Tokyo, he once said:

It is not possible to be politically neutral in education…We will change education through politics.

These statements come close to violating Japanese law, and are of course a de facto pledge to indoctrinate students. Mr. Koshi’ishi’s opposition to singing the Japanese national anthem in schools is perhaps because he favors the Internationale instead.

But in a book published in July 2009, 民主の敵-政権交代に大義あり (The Enemy of Democracy: There is righteousness in a change of government), Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko recalled his experience in primary school as the son of a man in the Self-Defense Forces:

It’s often said there are teachers who tell the children of members in the Self-Defense Forces that “Your father’s job is to kill people”. That atmosphere did in fact exist.

Mr. Noda has also insisted on a firm stance against North Korea and for the revision of the Constitution to allow Japan the use of the military for legitimate self-defense. Though he is the sort of man to whom Mr. Koshi’ishi’s comrades enjoy mailing razor blades, he asked Mr. Koshi’ishi to lead the party.

Mr. Noda is still talking about a grand coalition, but this appointment kills that deader than the proverbial doornail.

The boys and girls covering Japan for the English-language media will never tell you this. Instead they keep asking the pointless question of whether this or any prime minister will unify the DPJ in an equally pointless attempt to present themselves as serious people doing a serious job.

The Democratic Party of Japan will never be unified for the same reason a party whose membership included both Barack Obama and Sarah Palin would never be unified. Mr. Noda is trying, but I suspect he himself knows it’s a matter of buying a few more months of time.

You read it here first, but only because the credentialed media either doesn’t know, or can’t be bothered to tell you about it.

Afterwords:

Though Mr. Ozawa is an ally of Mr. Koshi’ishi, he most certainly does not share the latter’s beliefs. Explaining that relationship will have to wait for another day, however.

Sorry for the lack of hotlinks, but still having the software problem. It should be easy for people to find what they want to see, however. I recommend the Aida Mitsuo Museum site.

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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.

Quitting

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.”

But:

“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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Prediction

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, May 26, 2011

REPORTS are now circulating that LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu is planning to introduce a no-confidence motion against the Kan Cabinet soon after 1 June. He has refrained from submitting one before now to allow Mr. Kan to attend the G8 summit. Meanwhile, former DPJ Prime Minister Hatoyama is exhorting MPs of his own party to show courage and resolution, which is taken as a hint he hopes they vote for the motion. To be sure, courage and resolution will be required for more than a few in the party to vote aye. Passage of a no-confidence motion will require a new general election in which some of those legislators will surely lose their seats.

Mr. Hatoyama has also met with former party president Ozawa Ichiro and Koshi’ishi Azuma, the chairman of the DPJ caucus in the upper house, to discuss their gripes with the current government.

For his part, Mr. Ozawa and several of his allies are ramping up their criticism of Prime Minister Kan. Mr. Ozawa himself said he was “angry” at the government’s post-earthquake conduct. DPJ MP Haraguchi Kazuhiro, Internal Affairs and Communications minister in the Hatoyama Cabinet, has resumed his call for the removal of the Kan Cabinet that he suspended after the Tohoku earthquake/tsunami. (His first public statements urging that Mr. Kan be toppled were in an interview he granted to the March issue of the monthly Gekkan Nihon.) He hinted that were the motion to pass, requiring a new lower house election, he would be unable to campaign in support of the DPJ. If the rumors of a new Hatoyama-funded party are true, he and other disaffected DPJ members could find a comfortably feathered nest there.

It is never wise to make any predictions about Japanese politics, so we’ll wait and see whether Mr. Tanigaki introduces the no-confidence motion, and who decides to vote for it.

But you can take this prediction to the financial institution of your choice: If such a motion is introduced, not to mention approved, fly-by members of the Western media and commentariat will consider it a prime space-filling opportunity to fulminate against the dysfunctionality of Japanese politics at the national level. They will offer clichéd platitudes about petty partisan squabbling and indulge in political cosplay by wrapping themselves in the Japanese flag to lament the absence of a dedication to the greater good during a national emergency.

What their readers outside of Japan will not understand, however, is that had Mr. Kan been the head of government in their own country and performed as he has over the past year —- and especially these past two months — these glorioskies would be baying for his blood 24/7. Indeed, were Prime Minister Kan not a man of the left, some of them would be marching in the streets holding amateurish banners festooned with misspelled words, swastikas, and Hitler-moustachioed caricatures.

In their hearts, they know I’m right.

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At a loss

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, February 6, 2011

IN NORMAL circumstances anywhere else in the world, it would have been an unremarkable display of political party schmoozing. Considering the people involved in the circumstances of today’s Japan, however, the following scenes highlight the putrefaction of politics at the national level and the numbness of the national political class.

Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji and Koshi’ishi Azuma, the Chair of the Democratic Party Caucus in the upper house, glad-handed each other at a party meeting in Yamanashi yesterday

Said Mr. Koshi’ishi:

“When will springtime arrive for our party? The most important issue facing our party is whether we will be able to pass the baton to Foreign Minister Maehara and others of his generation….Expectations are rising day by day for Mr. Maehara and others to create a vibrant Japan.”

Replied Mr. Maehara:

“To say that I am the “anti-Ozawa” is a nonsensical distinction. I sincerely respect Mr. Koshi’ishi, who is said to be pro-Ozawa….He has supported me in the bad times and the good. I will never be able to forget that.”

On the same day, Kamei Shizuka of the People’s New Party, the DPJ coalition partner, addressed a meeting of DPJ upper house delegates in Onomichi, Hiroshima:

“I spoke to former party president Ozawa Ichiro, and unfortunately, we are now in a state a year a half after the change of government in which it is inconceivable that the coalition government will meet the people’s expectations. The DPJ can’t possibly pull itself together without the 200-strong group led by Mr. Ozawa, ‘the master teacher’.” (宗師)

Mr. Kamei also recently met with Hatoyama Yukio (DPJ) and Mori Yoshiro (LDP), prime ministerial failures who laid eggs so large it’s a wonder they can walk without pain. At that meeting, he reportedly said that Ozawa Ichiro’s indictment meant it was unavoidable his political strength would decline. The two men agreed with him.

Mr. Koshi’ishi is correct to say it’s time to pass the baton to a new generation. Prime Minister Kan Naoto now resembles a walking sandwich board for the embalmer’s art—Lord knows he pumps himself full of enough preservatives—and Messrs. Koshi’ishi, Kamei, Ozawa, and Yosano Kaoru could moonlight as wax museum exhibits. The monthly bill for black hair dye alone must be staggering, and that’s not including the retainer the 74-year-old Mr. Kamei pays his barber to create a head of hair that ages 40 years just by walking behind the man and looking at him from the back.

The nation’s political leaders are starting to bear a strange resemblance to the late-period Sovetskies Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov (15 months in office before dying) and Konstantin Chernenko (13 months in office before dying), all of whom looked as if they lined up to sleep in the same tomb with Vladimir Lenin at night.

The political mechanism and philosophy those Japanese men represent is the same walking invalid the Soviet system was in those days.

If they were part of a coherent political mechanism, Mr. Koshi’ishi and Mr. Maehara would not be in the same party. The only way they would even talk to each other is to fire verbal mortar rounds from different trenches. The former is another DPJ Socialist Party refugee who got into politics by way of the Japanese Teachers Union, which is even more noxious than its Western counterparts. Makieda Motofumi was the JTU chairman when he was a member. Mr. Makieda was a fan of Kim Il-sung, juche, and the North Korean educational system. He wrote a book with a passage claiming there was no thievery in that country, which rewarded him with a medal in 1991.

Mr. Koshi’ishi also thinks it’s not possible to educate children without politics, and it’s obvious what political mickeys he would slip into their milk at school lunch. When there was talk of interdicting North Korean ships on the way to the Middle East to check for weapons or nuclear processing equipment, he was opposed and suggested inspecting the Aso government instead.

Mr. Maehara, meanwhile, is in favor of revising the Japanese Constitution to remove any restrictions on the maintenance of military forces—a stance directly opposed to that of the Article 9-loving Koshi’ishi Azuma. He is one of the DPJ MPs who favors a hard(er) line against the Chinese. He began his career with the Japan New Party of Hosokawa Morihiro, the first non-LDP prime minister since 1955. Other members of that party included former Yokohama Mayor Nakada Hiroshi of the Spirit of Japan Party and Koike Yuriko, now in the LDP. Both champion individual responsibility and freedom, and both tend to be social conservatives. (Current Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio was also in the party, but his tent isn’t pitched near that philosophical camp.) There was also talk that Mr. Maehara might split from the DPJ after he began associating with former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro and Koike Yuriko in an informal group two years ago.

And now they talk about each other as if they were actors on honorary career Oscar night.

It’s not possible to make educated assumptions about the potential policies of a Prime Minister Maehara because he also leads a group in the DPJ with Mr. Edano and Sengoku Yoshito, both men of the left. Who knows what he believes this week? After all, some thought Kan Naoto would be a pragmatic centrist. With people openly talking about the end of the Kan administration, Mr. Sengoku is said to be preparing the ground for Mr. Maehara to succeed him. Such a move reminds people of the taraimawashi (literally, passing around the tub) of the bad old LDP, in which the party bosses rotated the prime minister’s chair amongst themselves with little regard for public opinion.

Ozawa Ichiro is the former secretary-general of the LDP and favorite political son of its Boss Tweed, Tanaka Kakuei. He wrote a book nearly 20 years ago advocating more individual responsibility and liberty as the prescription for what ailed Japan. That impressed Ms. Koike so much she joined the Liberal Party when he created that group, which eventually became part of a coalition government with the LDP. Then he merged the Liberal Party with the DPJ and formed close ties with Mr. Koshi’ishi in particular and other members affiliated with labor unions.

Before that, however, he created and ran from behind the curtain an eight-party coalition led by the aforementioned Hosokawa Morihiro. Mr. Kamei, then in the social conservative wing of the LDP, was instrumental in bringing down that coalition by coaxing the Socialists to leave, form a new coalition with the LDP, and launch a new government. He successfully replaced one cryptozoological fantasy with another because he and they thought Mr. Ozawa was a “fascist bastard”. Now he thinks the man’s indispensable, calls him “the master teacher”, and used the honorific term of address sensei for him in the above quote, though he is older by several years. (Mr. Ozawa has been in the Diet roughly a decade longer, however.) Ozawa-sensei, of course, is the master chef of Japan’s stew of dirty political money. He is the only politician whose funds management committee owns real estate, and that property portfolio is worth several million dollars.

Yet this is the man whom Mr. Kamei laments is losing his political influence in a meeting with two other men that people will suspect was called to gum over plans for a grand coalition of the politically halt, lame, blind, and fabulously well-to-do that will be just as unpopular with the public as the Hatoyama, Mori, and Kan administrations were.

When the DPJ won a majority in the July 2009 elections, I wrote that it was the first flush of several needed to purge the coprolites from the system. It seems likely that the next big flush will occur this year, perhaps before the cherries have finished blooming. Any attempt at a DPJ taraimawashi or a grand coalition of the pork-swilling will only put wings to the feet of the electorate as they rush to the handle.

National politics in Japan will not improve until the only reason these men travel to Nagata-cho is to show their great-granchildren where they once worked. Fortunately, the Japanese public is showing signs of starting a flushing festival at the sub-national level. (That may yet lead to real change, but I’ll have more on that later.) In the meantime, these badgers from the same hole, as the Japanese have it, are at a loss as to what to do next, and that is the nation’s loss.

UPDATE: Maehara Seiji comes a bit closer into focus. Today Mr. Maehara said it would be a mistake to return the LDP to power after the DPJ failures because that would make Japan “like 1980s Britain”.

The prime minister of Great Britain from 1979 to 1990 was Margaret Thatcher. That’s the same Mrs. Thatcher who cured the Sick Man of Europe plagued by unannounced power blackouts, uncollected garbage in the streets, and untouchable labor unions. If Japan is suffering from national malaise, it should wish for the same 80% rise in total personal wealth she helped create–starting with her privatization and tax reduction measures.

Perhaps he and Mr. Koshi’ishi are closer in spirit than it once seemed.

*****
The phrase “to be at a loss for…” in Japanese is toho ni kureru, which is the title of this song.

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Japan’s political kaleidoscope (7): More on secrets and Mr. Sengoku

Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 25, 2010

THE CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY denies they have a secret deal with Japan regarding the Senkaku islets. A story filtered out last week that the former Liberal Democratic Party governments of Japan promised to immediately deport without arrest any Chinese citizen-buccaneers who sailed to the islets to claim them as Chinese territory, and in return the Chinese promised to stop them from going.

Mr. Congeniality (Sankei Shimbun photo)

But a two-part series that just appeared in the Yomiuri Shimbun, titled The Debasement of Foreign Policy: Stopgap Measures Imperil the National Interest, suggests that the ruling Democratic Party of Japan might have cut not one, but two of its own secret deals with the Chinese government. The articles focus on Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito’s role in handling the Senkakus Incident. It doesn’t seem to be on-line in either English or Japanese, so here are the main points.

* The government failed to anticipate Chinese behavior. This might have been due to the Kan Cabinet cutting the Foreign Ministry out of the loop and conducting foreign policy by the seat of its own pants.

* In late September, Mr. Sengoku dispatched DPJ Deputy Secretary General Hosono Goshi as an emissary to China for a confidential meeting with Chinese Foreign Ministry officials. One reason he chose Mr. Hosono was the latter’s association with former party head Ozawa Ichiro, who has skintight ties with many in the Chinese government. Mr. Sengoku arranged the meeting in discussions with Cheng Yonghua, China’s ambassador to Japan. An unnamed consultant on Chinese matters who is an acquaintance of Mr. Sengoku helped secure the attendance of Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo at the meeting.

* Mr. Hosono huddled for seven hours with the Chinese in Beijing. Mr. Dai is said to have arrived toward the end and presented the Chinese demands for improved relations with Japan.

* In their rush to patch over a problem they would prefer disappeared as quickly as possible, the DPJ government made several inadvisable concessions to those demands. One of them was the promise not to show in public the video taken by the Japanese Coast Guard of the Chinese fishing boat ramming their ships. The government hasn’t released any of it, despite calls to do so by politicians of every party—including many of their own—most commentators, and 71% of the public in the latest Shinhodo 2001 poll.

* In return, the Japanese were rewarded with the 25-minute Brussels Hallway Sofa Summit between Prime Minister Kan Naoto and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, and the release of the last Fujita employee arrested by the Chinese on a pretext.

* The primary concern of the Kantei was said to be the November APEC summit in Yokohama. Prime Minister Kan, who will chair the summit, is quoted as telling an associate:

“If (President) Hu Jintao doesn’t attend, I’ll lose face.”

A quick digression

If this story is true, it would mean that Mr. Kan is more concerned with how he looks at an international blabathon than with fulfilling his primary duty of upholding the national interest. Veracity notwithstanding, it would be unsurprising because it has the ring of truth. Mr. Kan is part of that international coterie of politicians and bureaucrats who share the Hallmarkcardian philosophy of promoting global governance—with themselves as governors, of course. They consider the very concept of national interest to be backwards and reactionary. Events in the reality-based community that threaten the national interest do not dissuade them.

For example, earlier this month, DPJ bigwig Koshi’ishi Azuma, a former member of the Japan Teachers’ Union (with all the political ramifications that entails), was asked at a news conference if the Senkakus Incident caused him to change his belief that an equilateral triangle was the model for Japanese relations with China and the United States. Replied Mr. Koshi’ishi:

“My views are the same as I said before. It doesn’t make sense to constantly change one’s mind. China, Japan, and the United States must have an equilateral triangle relationship.”

The Second Secret Agreement?

* Mr. Sengoku met again with the Chinese ambassador last week. It isn’t known what they discussed, but it’s assumed they talked about the possibility of a Japan-China summit meeting. Worth noting is the subsequent change in tone by Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji. Mr. Maehara has argued for the video to be shown to the public, saying:

“It is important to explain (our position) to the world.”

He also criticized the Chinese for their “hysterical” response to the incident. That was the cue for the Chinese to become even more hysterical.

But he’s dialed back since the meeting between Mr. Sengoku and Mr. Cheng. At a news conference on the 22nd, he said:

“I want to work to improve Japan-China relations from the big picture perspective of building a mutual strategic relationship.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry thought that was more like it.

The Foreign Ministry

* The Yomiuri says that a breach has opened in the government since the Kantei decided it didn’t need the help of the Foreign Ministry and the Japanese embassy in China. As a result, the Chinese are bypassing the Foreign Ministry and going straight to Mr. Sengoku. The embassy in Beijing is now non-functional in a political sense. (When Mr. Hosono visited China, he was driven to his meetings in a car provided by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.)

This is in part due to the DPJ’s appointment of Niwa Uichiro as ambassador to China. Mr. Niwa is not a professional diplomat, and the Chinese stir fried him in a wok while he was still new to the job. They called him on the carpet six times during the incident, once in the middle of the night on the weekend.

* The Yomiuri quotes a Foreign Ministry official who is concerned that shutting out the ministry and the embassy has weakened Japan’s approach to China. He said that Japan has been “defeated” because the Kantei created its own separate channel to conduct diplomacy. They were outwitted by Chinese maneuvers to divide the government, which the official said was a “traditional Chinese art”.

Richard Armitage

* The newspaper also interviewed former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (2001-2005). Here’s a summary of what he said. (Keep in mind this is going from English to Japanese back to English.)

* Japan wanted to resolve the problem by releasing the Chinese fishing boat captain, reportedly in consideration of bilateral relations. This was an “unfortunate miscalculation”. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said the Japanese would bear the full responsibility for anything that happened if Chinese demands were not met. Japan lost the battle of wills, and as a result exposed their weakness.

* The ramming of the Japanese Coast Guard vessels should not be viewed as an accident. It’s part of a series of actions to test the will of neighboring countries regarding territorial disputes in both the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Japanese behavior will have a domino effect on ASEAN countries, which cannot expect China to treat them as equals. Failure to oppose the Chinese means that China will get carried away with itself.

*****
Sengoku Yoshito

Here’s how the weekly Shukan Gendai began the lead article in its 30 October issue:

The heckling from the opposition parties has already become familiar:

“Prime Minister Sengoku!”

“Hang in there, Prime Minister Sengoku!” (がんばれ!)

“Prime Minister Sengoku, you look sleepy!”

Of course, all of this is said with the real prime minister, Kan Naoto, in attendance. But Mr. Kan lacks any presence. Whenever the opposition asks him a question in the Diet, he just answers with a rote recitation of the position papers written by the bureaucracy.

With the defeat of Ozawa Ichiro in the party presidential election last month, Mr. Sengoku is now seen as the main man in the DPJ. While some commentators give him credit for assuming the burden of governing on his own shoulders—Kan Naoto clearly isn’t up to the task—the failure of his leadership in relations with China and his demeanor in the Diet have made him a walking political bullseye.

A former member of the Socialist Party, Mr. Sengoku was an attorney who sometimes defended sokaiya (corporate extortionists) and yakuza gang members before becoming a politician. (The sokaiya are often members of the yakuza themselves.) Some suspect that’s where his attitude problems began.

During question time in the Diet, he was asked to confirm a story that appeared in the media. Here’ s the Yomiuri English translation of his reply:

“I’ve never heard a question that aims to confirm a newspaper report. It’s the poorest way of questioning, and I was at least educated [as a politician] not to do that.”

Within 24 hours he was presented with examples dating back to 2004 of his own Diet questions based on media reports when he was in the opposition. That resulted in Sengoku Apology #1 to the Diet.

Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji asked him about incidences of so-called urakudari, a variation on amakudari, the practice of giving retired bureaucrats jobs in companies or groups affiliated with the ministries that used to employ them.

Mr. Sengoku’s answer:

“What are you talking about? I want you say something only after you’ve properly grasped the facts.”

Mr. Eda is a former bureaucrat who has written extensively on the problem of amakudari. The elimination of the practice is one of primary planks of his party’s platform.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sengoku is (or was until recently) the head of a liaison group in the Diet working with a large federation of public sector unions. That federation provides votes, money, and campaign workers to the DPJ. Therefore, ending amakudari is not in Mr. Sengoku’s political interest, regardless of the DPJ boilerplate.

Mr. Sengoku wasn’t born that way. He’s doing it on purpose. Put simply, he goes out of his way to piss people off. It’s how he thinks the affairs of government should be conducted. Try this excerpt from an article in the Mainichi Shimbun:

When the DPJ was an opposition party, Sengoku, a lawyer-turned politician, expressed his confidence that he could deal with opposition parties in the Diet. “In the judicial world, a cup is often renamed ‘a movable asset,’ for instance. Such tactics are useful in tricking and suppressing the other party in a debate and defending yourself,” he said at the time.

Most recently, Your Party called in Koga Shigeaki, a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry and a critic of DPJ civil service reforms, to testify during a Diet session. Mr. Sengoku opposed his appearance and said:

“It could adversely affect his future.”

See what they mean when they say the gangster ‘tude rubbed off on him?

He was then asked for Apology #2 by the head of the upper house Rules and Administration Committee for his “inappropriate remarks”, and he complied.

Irritated that his statements are being taken out of context, the man some call the Red Gotoda after one of the chief cabinet secretaries in the Nakasone Cabinet has begun putting the complete text of his news conferences on line. The Sankei Shimbun obliged him by quoting in full his answers to reporters’ questions about his most recent apology:

Q: Regarding the inappropriate remarks during upper house question time, what remarks did you consider inappropriate, and what was inappropriate about them?

A: I would very much appreciate it if you accepted what I just said as it is. I have no comment. Yes, next?

Q: What are your thoughts about the apology?

A: No comment.

Q: What do you think about the statement of the head of the (Rules and Administration) Committee?

A: I have no comment on that either.

Q: With the ruling party and the opposition parties discussing the approach to economic measures in the Diet, what do you think of the committee’s view that your statements are a problem?

A: No comment.

Q: Why do you have no comment?

A: I have no comment because I have no comment.

Both houses of the Japanese Diet have a Rules and Administration Committee, and they have directors from several parties. Mr. Sengoku was one of the directors of the lower house committee in 2007 when the DPJ was still in the opposition.

*****
The recent Shinhodo 2001 poll also asked respondents about their opinion of the government’s handling of the Senkakus Incident.

The government’s response was not appropriate: 79.4%
The government’s response was appropriate: 14.4%
Don’t know: 6.2%

With Kan Naoto behaving as if he’s always out to lunch—the three-martini kind—and Sengoku Yoshito infected with the same arrogance and hubris that may prove fatal to the Obama administration and the Democrats who control the American Congress, it isn’t difficult to understand why few people in Japan expect the current government to last any longer than next spring, if that long. Pride goeth before a fall, they say, and we’re already halfway there.

Today the first lower house by-election was held since the Kan Cabinet was sworn in and was pasted in July’s upper house election. It was to replace DPJ member Kobayashi Chiyomi, who resigned her Hokkaido seat in June to take responsibility for irregularities in the management of her political funds.

The DPJ likes to present itself as the youthful, forward-looking choice, and their candidate was a 38-year-old former employee of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport.

His opponent from the bad old LDP was 66-year-old retread Machimura Nobutaka, who lost the seat to Ms. Kobayashi just last year, but stayed in the Diet through the proportional representation system. The head of the largest LDP faction, Mr. Machimura was the Foreign Minister in Abe Shinzo’s short-lived second Cabinet and Chief Cabinet Secretary in the Fukuda Yasuo Cabinet. He’s the very definition of the old guard in Japanese politics.

Mr. Machimura was declared the winner within minutes after the polls closed.

Afterwords:

Who calls the English teacher Daddy-o?

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The three noes

Posted by ampontan on Friday, March 19, 2010

WHEN THE Democratic Party of Japan was in the opposition, their critics often charged they couldn’t be entrusted with the reins of power because their members were irresponsible kvetchers capable only of fomenting political crises. Observing their behavior when they became the largest party in the upper house following the 2007 election, Ibuki Bunmei of the Liberal Democratic Party famously commented that they behaved like a bunch of grade-school boys with a loaded pistol.

After the DPJ formed a government, they devoted considerable energy to search for any secret agreements with the United States that permitted American military forces to pass through Japanese territory carrying nuclear weapons without prior consultation. That would have violated Japan’s so-called three nonnuclear principles of not producing, not possessing, and not allowing nuclear weapons on its territory.

Japanese governments successively denied the existence of any such agreements, most recently under the last LDP government of Aso Taro. The DPJ kept looking, however, because they—and everyone else—assumed the governments were lying. It’s somewhat analogous to the case of Israel and nuclear weapons. That country wisely chooses to neither confirm nor deny that it has them, but most people take it for granted that they do.

The DPJ is now pleased as punch they discovered a secret agreement did exist from 1960 to 1991, when the U.S. Navy stopped deploying nuclear weapons on its ships.

One of their senior members, Japan Teachers’ Union veteran Koshi’ishi Azuma, has been especially generous in his self-congratulation. He crowed that the discovery was “one of the successes of the change of government.” There is some irony to his pride; Mr. Koshi’ishi was opposed last year to inspecting North Korean vessels suspected of transporting missile parts or nuclear materials. He said the Aso government should be inspected instead.

In other words, it’s terrible when Washington does it, particularly to protect Tokyo, but it’s no big deal if Pyeongyang does it to help obliterate Tel Aviv.

Leave it to Eda Kenji of Your Party to put the DPJ attitude in perspective:

The exposure of the secret treaty between Japan and the United States is not insignificant. History will bear this out as a positive achievement.

But I do wish people would wipe off those smug expressions as if they were conquering heroes for opening the lid to Pandora’s Box, even though they are incapable of basic diplomacy, or a forward-looking diplomacy with a broader strategy, while piling blunder on top of blunder with the Futenma Base issue. Courage is certainly needed, but if one has courage, opening the lid is an easy matter.

There have been similar instances in the past, such as the exposure of the files in which was hidden information about the AIDS cases caused by contaminated blood products, or the den of corruption involving the secret entertainment expenses of the bureaucracy. That in itself is needed, but politicians such as these are incapable of the more complicated and difficult task of “creating”.

But soft! What flicker of intelligence through yonder window breaks? It is Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya, offering his opinion this week at a session of the lower house Foreign Affairs Committee.

During the session, Mr. Okada reaffirmed that the Hatoyama administration was committed to the three non-nuclear principles, but said:

In those instances in which a situation arises that Japan’s safety cannot be defended unless we temporarily allow ships with nuclear weapons into our ports, the government at that time should resolve to risk its own fate, and explain to the people (how best to protect the country).

In other words, a Japanese government could allow a temporary exception in case of emergency.

He added that the government is not thinking of writing the non-nuclear principles into law as demanded by—natch—the Social Democratic Party of Japan, one of their junior coalition partners.

One problem is how to guarantee that Russian and Chinese ships carrying nuclear weapons do not cross Japanese territorial waters. Unless problems such as these are clearly settled, it will not be possible to make that legally binding.

Bully for Mr. Okada. There is sentient life in this government after all.

But that seems to have been too much for some people. Apparently the DPJ has a three-no policy of its own: Do not say, do, or allow anyone else to say or do anything sensible or of practical utility.

At a news briefing that afternoon, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi was none too pleased with the foreign minister:

The government is not in a position to allow that. Prime Minister Hatoyama has said we will maintain the three non-nuclear principles…I don’t think (Mr. Okada was saying) that we would allow that…but I don’t know what sort of emergency he’s talking about. The government must refrain from making references about hypothetical cases.

The function of the Chief Cabinet Secretary in Japan is to serve as a coordinator among the members of the Cabinet and the ruling party or parties.

It would be understandable if one of the junior coalition members had said something out of line, particularly as the two in the tow of the DPJ seem to relish making life difficult for the government. But Mr. Okada and Mr. Hirano are senior members of the same party, and they should have reached a consensus on an issue this critical long before they came to power. It doesn’t seem as if Mr. Hirano is doing much in the way of coordinating.

It’s been six months since the DPJ formed a government. Considering that its approval ratings have fallen from 72% then to 32% now, it would seem the electorate no longer expects the DPJ to act like one.

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And now for a look at a Japanese textbook

Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 9, 2009

ONE OF THE FLAWS inherent in giving the public sector responsibility for education is that school instruction can be too easily used as a vehicle for political indoctrination, regardless of the country or the political system. That problem is just as intractable in the democracies of the Anglosphere as it is in Northeast Asia, where the democratic is mixed with the despotic.

In this part of the world, Ground Zero for educational controversies is textbook content. For example, the modern history textbooks for second- and third-year high school students in South Korea now in use were developed and written during the administration of the late President Roh Moo-hyon, and several have been criticized for being sympathetic to North Korea. The previous post touches on the near-taboo in that country of allowing textbooks to mention that the 35-year Japanese colonization/occupation/merger with Korea also had, to a certain extent, a beneficial impact on the lives of the general public. Former South Korean Foreign Minister Han Sung-moo was stripped of his position as professor emeritus at Korea University for daring to write an article suggesting that an honest reappraisal of Japan-Korea relations during that period was in order.

There is also a long tradition in Japan of hijacking public school textbooks to indoctrinate the nation’s youth. During first half of the 20th century, texts were used to glorify militarism to such an extent that even word problems in arithmetic used examples of soldiers and tanks rather than apples and oranges to provide instruction.

Japan’s neighbors, particularly South Korea, have closely monitored the country’s textbooks during the postwar period. The Japanese treatment of events on the Korean Peninsula in history textbooks became an issue in South Korea starting in the early 1970s. Korean demands of Japanese publishers for the modification of schoolbooks came to a head in 1982. On 5 August that year, a South Korean committee organized to examine the Japanese history curriculum completed its analysis of 16 new textbooks. The committee published a Japanese-language booklet cataloguing its objections to 167 citations in 24 categories and distributed it in this country. Mindan (The Korean Residents Union in Japan, a group closer to the South than the North) handled distribution of the booklet in Japan through its affiliated organizations.

As a result, the government of then-Prime Minister Suzuki Zenko had the Ministry of Education revise its standards for textbook certification to add what has become known as the Neighboring Nation Clause, which is still in effect today. It states:

“Consideration from the perspective of international understanding and international cooperation is required for the treatment of modern and recent historical matters involving neighboring Asian countries.”

The adoption and application of this clause has not resulted in a lessening of overseas complaints about Japanese textbooks, however. Rather, the focus of the complaints has shifted to the treatment of such topics as the Nanjing Massacre and comfort women. Indeed, it has become apparent that some elements in South Korea will not be satisfied unless they share in the complete oversight of Japanese history textbook publication. One can imagine their response were groups in Japan to demand the same influence over South Korean history texts.

All the textbooks under fire from overseas were written when the Japanese government was under the control of the largely center-right Liberal Democratic Party. After decades of controversy, one might think that officials of the Democratic Party of Japan, which leads the coalition now in control of the government, would be wary of overtly political content in textbooks. But that is not the case. Said Acting DPJ President Koshi’ishi Azuma in January:

“It is not possible to be politically neutral in education…We will change education through politics.”

Though these sentiments come close to calling for a violation of Japanese law, Mr. Koshi’ishi has made several similar comments over the past year. He has made it clear that he thinks political indoctrination is one of the roles of education. What sort of indoctrination? The DPJ acting president has long been affiliated with the Japanese Teachers’ Union (see right sidebar for link). Many members of that union may be even more militant, left-wing, and anxious to eliminate real educational achievement than their brothers and sisters in the teachers’ unions in the Anglosphere.

Kadena no

The DPJ hasn’t been in control of the government long enough to replace or modify the primary textbooks currently in use in public schools. But their allies in the JTU have published their own supplemental textbooks for use in the home, which they advertised on their website until very recently. One was a text offered for parents to use with their primary school-aged children for the study of arithmetic. The Japanese language link to that text was still live until September last year. Since then, however, the JTU has reworked their website and removed the overtly radical sections, perhaps to prevent their use in the campaign for the lower house election that was held in August.

Those eliminated sections can still be found floating around in the Internet ether, however, and here’s a link to one of the chapters in that arithmetic text. The lesson in this chapter is how to calculate the number or amount of something in a defined unit, i.e., population density per square kilometer. The introduction to the chapter says the following:

“In this chapter, we will use the multiplication and division methods we learned to study the American military base at Kadena and Kadena-cho in Okinawa. This will also include a study of geography, history, and peace. So let’s enjoy those parts of the lesson as we broaden our knowledge of multiplication and division.”

The Kadena Air Force Base is the home of the U.S. Air Force’s 18th wing and a hub for American air power in the Pacific. It is not located solely in Kadena-cho, but also covers parts of Chatan-cho and Okinawa City. Okinawans have long been involved in efforts to either move the base or restrict night flights due to the noise. The Hatoyama administration has recently gotten stuck in a controversy over another base at Futenma, squeezed from one side by the Japanese Left, members of its own coalition, and Okinawa residents, and squeezed from the other side by the U.S. government.

The first two questions in the JTU text contain explanations of how to calculate population density. Here is Question 3.

“The town of Kadena-cho is in the center of the main island of Okinawa Prefecture, which is the southernmost part of Japan. As of 1 October 2003, the population of the town was 13,766, and its area was 15 square kilometers. Let’s use what we’ve learned in the first two questions to calculate the town’s population density.”

The answer is 918 people per square kilometer.

There follows a box insert with a smiley face that says:

“It’s easy to understand from the answers to Questions 2 and 3 that Kadena-cho is much more crowded than the rest of Japan. But the real population density of Kadena-cho is very different. Why is that? The answer is related to historical and social factors. We’ll uncover that secret in Chapter 2.”

Here’s the big secret in Chapter 2:

Q4:
There is a place in Kadena-cho that the residents are absolutely not allowed to enter. Do you know where that is?
A:
The American military base at Kadena.

Next comes a boxed note called “Mini-Knowledge 1”:

“There is land in the town surrounded by a fence. That’s the Kadena base that came up in the answer. This land belongs to the people of Kadena, but it’s been decided that they cannot freely enter this land. The residents require a passport to enter. If they try to enter without permission, the American military police will arrest them.”

Subsequent questions and answers reveal that the base occupies 83% of the town’s area, which is used as the basis for the calculation of the town’s real population density of 5,398 people per square kilometer.

Finally, the boxed note of “Mini-Knowledge 2” has this instruction for the children:

“Fifty-nine years ago, the residents could freely enter or leave any part of Kadena-cho. But many American soldiers invaded Okinawa in April 1945 during the Second World War (here, literally the Pacific War), and occupied Kadena-cho. After the war, all the residents were held at far-away concentration camps, and the Americans arbitrarily installed a fence around the area to create a large military base (That’s the Kadena Base!)
The war has been over for 59 years now, but the land has not been returned to the people, and they still can’t enter that area. The Pacific War occurred a long time ago, so now most people probably think we are a peaceful nation. But we can’t say that the war in Okinawa is over at all.
What would you think if the town where you lived were like Kadena?”

Whether or not the Kadena base should be moved, or whether the population density of the town is intolerable, is not the point. Rather, it is that the JTU, which wants all American forces out of Japan, has eagerly adopted the educational practices of Imperial Japan—and China and North Korea—and uses textbooks for the political indoctrination of children.

It is clear that when the JTU complains about politics in Japanese schools, their real concern is not whether politics may have crept into the instruction, but rather the nature of that political instruction itself.

For an even greater irony, note again this section: “The war has been over for 59 years now…The Pacific War occurred a long time ago, so now most people probably think we are a peaceful nation.”

I could have written that passage myself (and in fact have written many like it at this site). Yet JTU members are the first in the country to get enuretic at the mere idea that Japanese troops should be equipped with defensive weapons and sent overseas to participate in UN peacekeeping missions. If anyone dares suggest that Article 9 of the Constitution should be amended to allow for legitimate self-defense, the laundry bill from their soiled underwear rivals the GNP of a minor island nation in the South Pacific.

Let’s be frank: This attitude is nothing less than an expression of the utmost contempt for their fellow countrymen. It is as if they think Japan is a nation of violent, abusive alcoholics that would fall off the wagon and start another rampage throughout East Asia if allowed a snack of one liqueur-flavored confection.

Or is it that they pine for a political alignment with North Korea and China, assuming they can stomach the market reforms of today’s China?

You think I exaggerate? Mr. Koshi’ishi was a member of the JTU when Makieda Motofumi was chairman. Mr. Makieda is the author of チュチェの国朝鮮を訪ねて (Visiting Joseon, the Country of Juche), in which he praised the North Korean educational system. It contains this passage:

“There are no thieves in this country. Thievery occurs in those places where there is a prejudice toward wealth. There is no need for thievery in this country. Since there is no thievery and no murder, there are also no police. There are only public safety personnel standing at the corners and intersections to direct traffic and deal with any injuries.”

He’s also written:

“After my visit to North Korea, whenever I’m asked whom I think is the most respected person in the world, I immediately bring up the name of Chairman Kim Il-sung. That’s because I have met him personally. I believe that he is loved by the people of his country, and is worthy to be revered by them as a father….Kim Jong-il is the duplicate of his father, and he can be trusted without reservation.”

Makieda Motofumi received a medal from North Korea in 1991.

He is also president of the Japan-China Skilled Workers Exchange Center of Japan, which he established in 1986. Mr. Makieda visited China in that capacity in 2007. He has also served as the Chairman of the Japan Committee for Supporting the Independent and Peaceful Reunification of Korea. As the head of that organization, he has said that “to promote Japan-DPRK friendship it is important for Japan to liquidate its past and establish good-neighbor and friendly relations with the DPRK”, according to the North Korean news agency.

One Japanese proverb that corresponds to the English language “Birds of a feather…” is Shu ni majiwareba akaku naru, or “Mix with vermillion and turn red.” Perhaps that’s even more appropriate in this case.

It should be no mystery why the members of the JTU become incensed when they are required to stand and sing the national anthem twice a year at school functions.

Neither should it be a mystery why many Japanese held their nose when they cast their vote for the DPJ in the lower house election. The only real mystery is why the South Koreans and Chinese get upset about history education in Japan when the classrooms are infested with people such as these.

Let’s hope the damage can be kept to a minimum during the DPJ’s turn at the helm.

Afterwords:
Meanwhile, in the West, Roy Thomas in his book Japan: The Blighted Blossom, called Mr. Makieda “a liberal and humanist” who views education “as a force for social change”.

Thanks to Aki for the link and the info.

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Japan’s political kaleidoscope (4): Too many cooks, too many crooks, and too many kooks

Posted by ampontan on Monday, September 21, 2009

The devil’s greatest achievement was to have persuaded so many people that he doesn’t exist.
– Baudelaire

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity–but don’t rule out malice.
– attributed to Albert Einstein

The essence of the Democratic Party of Japan now is a three-tiered structure of the Finance Ministry, Party Secretary-General Ozawa’s troops, and public sector labor unions. It will be impossible to maintain this structure without tax increases.
– Nakagawa Hidenao

THE NEW JAPANESE COALITION GOVERNMENT led by the Democratic Party of Japan—with the People’s New Party and the Socialists Democratic Party of Japan invited to hop in the jalopy to buy their upper house votes and relieve the DPJ of the chore of conducting serious negotiations with more responsible legislators—faces a minefield of potential problems as they embark on their magnificent adventure.

Their most serious obstacle is a lack of internal unity. Many in Japan are calling this a “mosaic government” in reference to the incongruent philosophies of the DPJ’s constituent groups, and that doesn’t begin to account for the polar opposite philosophies of their coalition partners. The glue that held the DPJ together this long was the dream of taking control of the government. Now that they’ve reached their version of the promised land, they’re behaving like the crew that tore down the house but still has to figure out how the plumbing and electricity works. And rather than hit the ground running, they’ve hit the ground after running into each other.

The government was in power for just two days before squabbles broke out among Cabinet ministers, and the junior coalition partners began complaining that the DPJ is blowing them off.

Referring to their disagreements with the DPJ, SDPJ Secretary-General Shigeno Yasumasa told a group of reporters gathered in the Diet building, “We’re not on the same page.” PNP head and Cabinet member Kamei Shizuka complained directly to DPJ bigwig Kan Naoto on an NHK TV broadcast yesterday that the minor parties were being shut out of policy decisions.

Meanwhile, the Government must also overcome the skepticism of both the public and the news media that they are competent enough to be trusted with the nation’s car keys, and that they are committed enough to do what they’ve promised to do. That promise is to take the first steps on what the public thinks as their most important mission—wresting control of policy from the nation’s bureaucracy and strengthening local government.

That the public is skeptical is not in doubt. Skepticism might seem odd considering the party’s lopsided lower house majority and their receipt of about 56% of the popular vote nationwide. But an Asahi Shimbun survey published on 2 September shows otherwise. When asked whether they thought the DPJ victory was the result of voter support for their policies, here’s how the respondents answered:

No: 52%
Yes: 38%

Moving on to specific policies….

Wait! Enough! Screw that for a lark. I refuse to go along with the conspiracy of silence from those who primly cop a responsible commentator pose while ignoring that the launch of the new government has combined the slapstick of third-rate provincial vaudeville, leftover LDP hackery refried to hide the odor and slapped with a different label, and enough hypocrisy to choke a televangelist.

Yes, the Liberal Democratic Party had it coming, but it’s not what the Japanese people had coming. I wrote recently that based on past performance, a DPJ-led government had the potential to have more rings than the Ringling Bros., but no one could have predicted that Nagata-cho would turn into the world’s biggest Big Top.

Here’s the short version: Japan’s new government has too many cooks, too many crooks, and too many kooks—and some of them are the same people!

The Cooks…

The Chef de Cuisine

Sometimes called the executive chef, the chef de cuisine is the man whose name is on the menu. But he’s just as likely to spend his time visiting other restaurants or writing cookbooks.

Japan’s new executive chef is Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, who says he intends to reorient the government to make it Cabinet-directed, and who doesn’t say he is continuing a process begun by Koizumi Jun’ichiro and interrupted by his successors.

His position alone makes him a center of power both in the government and his party. One of the DPJ’s founding members and the head of his own faction/group, he used his substantial family fortune to keep the party afloat for several years. What could be more natural than assuming that he is the primary actor in the Government?

Well, there’s this: During the party’s six-day election campaign in the spring to select a new leader when Ozawa Ichiro resigned after his chief aide was arrested for accepting illegal contributions, one Japanese weekly reported that a secret document was circulated to the party’s MPs, who had the exclusive right to vote in the election. The document was said to have been a full frontal attack on Mr. Hatoyama’s opponent, Okada Katsuya, for his weakness during his previous tenure and his responsibility for the party’s rout in the 2005 lower house elections. The debacle, it asserted, was partly due to Mr. Okada’s lack of a spine. It claimed that the party would be much stronger with the “soft” Mr. Hatoyama as the front man and the “hard” Mr. Ozawa wielding a billy club behind the scenes.

So who’s the boss?

The Sous Chef

Nominally the second in command to the Chef de Cuisine, the sous chef often runs the kitchen and creates and cooks the food to be served, and you already know who I’m talking about before I type his name. So does the rest of Japan. Typical of recent reporting was this headline in the Shukan Post:

Ozawa Ichiro Controls the New Government—and Japan!

The new DPJ secretary-general (i.e., party head) will be the Shadow Shogun himself, Ozawa Ichiro, the man for whom an apt comparison would be the kuroko of joruri puppet theater. The kuroko manipulate the puppets in full view of the audience, but are dressed in black and masked to create the collective fiction of invisibility.

Mr. Ozawa is the kuroko who taught the DPJ how to win elections—mostly using all the Tammany techniques and political jiu-jitsu picked up from his mentor Tanaka Kakuei during his days in the LDP. He was also the kuroko of the short-lived Hosokawa and Hata administrations, the only other non-LDP governments since 1955 and another unwieldy amalgamation of incompatible elements.

After leaving center stage, Mr. Ozawa embarked a task more suited to his abilities–non-stop nationwide campaigning and canvassing in local election districts. As a result, an estimated 130-150 of the 308 DPJ members in the lower house and nearly one-third of the full membership now owe their seats to him. In practical terms, that means he has more command over their loyalty than does the party.

Everyone knows he is capable of picking up his ball and taking his team to start a new game elsewhere, as he threatened to do so nearly two years ago when the rest of the DPJ top brass blew their collective top over his proposed coalition with the LDP under Fukuda Yasuo. The Faustian bargain between Mr. Ozawa and the veterans who predate him in the party has allowed him to create a second center of power on which the nominal head, Hatoyama Yukio, must depend. During the DPJ election campaign, it was stressed that a vote for Hatoyama was a vote for party unity. Many saw in that slogan an implied threat that a vote for Okada as party leader meant that Mr. Ozawa would walk.

Money talks, and we all know what walks

The Shukan Bunshun reported that Prime Minister Hatoyama wanted to keep Mr. Ozawa in his position as acting president and Okada Katsuya as party secretary-general.

When word reached the puppet master, he exploded: “Hatoyama and the people around him are clueless.” Another acting party president, Koshi’ishi Azuma, said to have developed close ties with Mr. Ozawa, had to intervene on his behalf with Mr. Hatoyama.

Why the insistence on the position of party secretary-general? Because money talks. In that position, he has control of JPY 17.3 billion (about $U.S. 190 million) in 2010 in government subsidies for the party, a substantial rise from this year’s total of JPY 11.8 billion. He’s just following the literally golden rule of Tanaka Kakuei: Politics is numbers, numbers are power, and power is money.

The new prime minister has no illusions about whom he’s dealing with. Here’s Mr. Hatoyama quoted in the 25 February 1999 Yukan Fuji:

“Mr. Ozawa fled the LDP five years ago only because he lost in a power struggle in his faction and in the party. He’s raised the banner of governmental reform to prevent the people from realizing that.”

And we all know what they say about politics making for strange bedfellows.

Chief Kan Opener

Long-time DPJ stalwart and former party president Kan Naoto is in the Cabinet as both Deputy Prime Minister and the head of a new group called the National Strategy Bureau. What the national strategy will be, and what the bureau will do exactly, we don’t know—and neither does he—but he’s going to be in charge of it. It’s Standard Operating Procedure for the DPJ to come up with a policy or an idea and then figure out what to do with it only when it’s time to do the work.

Kamei Shizuka of the People’s New Party made a phone call to Mr. Kan to find out more about the bureau. Here’s how one newspaper reported it:

Kamei: What will you do at this National Strategy Bureau?
Kan: I don’t really know. There are several things I’d like to do, but for now, I can only grope my way forward.

The DPJ party platform says: “The National Strategy Bureau will create a national vision for the new era, and formulate the budget framework under political direction.” It’s supposed to consist of about 20 people. As is par for the DPJ course, there’s no mention of what its specific authority will be, whether “the national vision” will have anything to do with foreign policy, and how it will be involved with budget formulation. For all we know, it might turn out to be a political salon allowing the rookies and the rank and file to do some coffeehousing while the heavyweights take care of business somewhere else.

It is nearly axiomatic that everything the DPJ says is subject to change at any time, and sure enough, Mr. Hatoyama explained this week that the NSB will handle the framework of the budget while the Ministry of Finance will handle the details.

The foundation document for the party’s platform is their Index of Policies 2009, last modified in July. It’s on the party website, but only in Japanese. Here’s what it says about the budget:

民主党政権では、国民を代表する政治家が自ら予算を編成します…官邸に各省の大臣などを集め、予算編成の基本方針を決定し、省庁ごとに政治家が主導で予算を編成します。
Under a DPJ administration, politicians representing the people will formulate budgets. The Cabinet ministers will meet in the Prime Minister’s office, determine the basic policies for the budget, and then politicians will direct the budget formulation for each ministry.

But, you protest, key to civil service reform is to keep the MOF at arm’s length from that process. The MOF is notorious for being the bureaucracy’s worst offender at policy meddling. Takenaka Heizo, the man who directed fiscal policy and reform in the Koizumi Administration, fought a five-year running battle with the ministry and warned in December 2007 that the zombies had returned under Yasuda Fukuo. The DPJ promised to put an end to that for good by putting the civil servants in their place.

And just like Brutus, the DPJ are honorable men and women all.

Some think that Mr. Kan has ambitions of his own. If he decides that he would make a jolly good successor to Prime Minister Hatoyama, the National Strategy Bureau would make a jolly good launching pad. Meanwhile, moves are already underway in Okayama, Fukui, and Mie to establish local strategy bureaus in the party at the prefectural and municipal level. No one knows what their strategies will be either, but roughing out the framework for the central government’s budget won’t be one of them. Their efforts, which are partly designed to create stronger local party organizations, will likely be coordinated on some level with the Cabinet-level body.

And mark Mr. Kan down as being a bit miffed at Hatoyama Yukio. It’s reported that when he found out decisions for Cabinet posts had been made without his input, he quickly called the prime minister, incredulous that he wasn’t asked for advice.

Short-Order Cooks

Need flapjacks, a Philly cheese steak, or legislation made to order? Last weekend, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported that the DPJ had decided to create yet another new organization, tentatively called the Party Leaders’ Council, referring to DPJ senior executives. The council will consist of five members, including Messrs. Hatoyama and Ozawa, and will determine party strategy for the Diet. While decisions about Diet business have to be made somewhere in the Government, there was no explanation why that requires another new organization, and whether it will limit its purview to the Diet. One has to wonder at this point if the party leadership is dominated by the type of people who would rather draw up attractive menus than do any actual cooking behind a stove.

Chefs de Partie

These cooks, also called line chefs, are responsible for organizing and managing a small team of workers to ensure the restaurant’s work area is under control. Who better to keep the workers in line than the many DPJ members who started out in life by organizing workers, particularly those in the Japanese Teachers’ Union and the All-Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers Union? They provide the foot soldiers and the muscle for the party’s election campaigns.

That’s no surprise for a party with more than a few ex-Socialists, both in the Diet and in executive positions at party HQ. In fact, says Tsujimoto Kiyomi of the Socialists Democratic Party of Japan, the DPJ is now more dependent on labor unions than was the Socialist Party itself. (The SDPJ added the second word in their name after the Berlin Wall fell for protective coloration.) Before the recent election, the number of DPJ Diet members with ties to the old Socialists was estimated to be just under 30, and they also brought many aides and staffers with them when they left the party in 1996.

The DPJ claims it’s committed to the devolution of governmental authority to local governments and reducing the number of civil servants. We’ll see how long that commitment lasts now that the public sector employees’ union helped put them in power.

How close is the party leadership to the unions? The first order of business for both Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Ozawa the day after the general election was to visit union rallies in Tokyo to thank them for their help.

The Journeyman C(r)ook and the Apprentice Chef

The inherently unstable DPJ—more of a coalition itself than a party—organized a ruling coalition with two mini-parties from the opposite ends of the political spectrum, the PNP and the SPJ, supposedly because they need their votes to get bills passed in the upper house.

A Study in Body Language, or, Why a picture is worth a thousand words

A Study in Body Language, or, Why a picture is worth a thousand words

The three parties finally agreed on the terms for a coalition government last week. Here, the word “agree” means that the DPJ generally acceded to the demands of the two smaller parties after negotiations, though it’s a mystery why they wouldn’t have known what those demands would have been months ago and worked them out in advance.

What did the two microparties demand? The creation of yet another power center. The DPJ caved in to their insistence for forming—you guessed it—a new council consisting of the three party heads to function as a separate group within the Cabinet, even though both PNP head Kamei Shizuka and SDP head Fukushima Mizuho were awarded Cabinet posts.

Mr. Kamei’s accusation on NHK that the DPJ was cutting them out of the policy loop is a reference to the ruling party making policy decisions outside this council.

The Journeyman C(r)ook

The PNP is a splinter group of ex-LDP oldtimers who want to halt postal privatization, the most important governmental reform of the past 20 years. One of the reform’s objectives was to prevent the bureaucrats from diverting the funds in the postal savings and life insurance accounts to build all those bridges and roads to nowhere.

You know—putting the bureaucracy in its place.

The DPJ has always known exactly what the PNP wants to do, yet their platform clearly states that Japan Post will not return to being a state-operated enterprise. Their initial proposal in the coalition talks was to “consider” freezing the sale of government-held stock and reorganizing the enterprise. The PNP, however, demanded—and got—a firmer commitment to freeze the process without specifying what they intend the future form of it to be.

Party boss Kamei Shizuka has already served time in the Cabinet during his LDP career, most notably as Construction Minister in the days when there was enough pork on the hoof to start a new Commodities Exchange.

Mr. Kamei wanted to head the Defense Ministry, but settled for the Financial Services portfolio and Minister in Charge of Bloviating about Japan Post. The DPJ may already be regretting that decision, however. It turns out his party’s knowledge of economics seems stuck in the era when there was actually a need for postmen to hand deliver all the mail. Like most everyone else in the country, the DPJ probably didn’t read their website.

Here are some of their proposed solutions:

Solution 1: Shut down the Osaka Nikkei 225 Futures Market
Problem with Solution 1:
This Osaka market accounts for 59% of the country’s stock price index futures trading and nearly 100% of the options trading. Stock futures trading often performs its function of price discovery more rapidly than the stock market itself. Though the October 1987 stock market crash in U.S. was blamed on the fall of stock index futures, it was actually an early warning of the crash rather than the cause.

Solution 2: Eliminating mark-to-market accounting
Problem with Solution 2:
Bankers and their advocates hate this accounting method, while accountants, investor advocates, and banking analysts love it. It forces financial institutions to value their assets at true market prices, which could make them swallow huge losses during a market downturn. In other words, eliminating the practice enables them to hide those losses. The banking industry would rather value the assets based on future cash flow, and no, they have no idea what that will be either. Beth Brooke, global vice chair at Ernst & Young LLP, has said, “Suspending mark-to-market accounting, in essence, suspends reality.”

The idea was floated by some in the LDP in 2003, but Takenaka Heizo and the Koizumi Administration successfully resisted the suggestion. The man who proposed it was Aso Taro.

Solution 3: Eliminating capital adequacy requirements for banks
Problem with Solution 3:
These requirements determine how much money a bank can lend, but some think they can cause a credit crunch because banks will cut down on their loans to meet the requirements. The danger of elimination is obvious—a lending institution has to have something to back up its loans. But even Mr. Takenaka thought it was important for the requirements to be flexible.

This solution is being proposed as the discussion in the rest of the world is moving in the direction of raising capital adequacy requirements.

Solution 4: Issuing JPY 200 trillion in non-interest bearing government bonds (About $US 2.2 billion)
Problem with Solution 4:
Bonds of this type are sold at a discount to par value rather than with coupons, and the intention here is to fund the deficit. The problems involve the greater provision of central bank money, the potential for raising the fiscal premium, and damaging the credibility of the currency.

Solution 5: From Mr. Kamei himself—a three-year moratorium on debt repayments by small businesses, and the injection of public funds into banks that become financially strapped by the lack of income due to the moratorium.

Isn’t it fascinating that a man whose party’s website inveigles against the “strong eating the weak” is ready to have taxpayers bail out banks as one leg of his Rube Goldberg economics? Mr. Kamei says the SDPJ is for it too, and he wants to get it done by the end of the year.

I thought I told all you whippersnappers to sit down and shut up!

I thought I told all you whippersnappers to sit down and shut up!

The Mainichi Shimbun editorializes that these loans, combined with home mortgages, total JPY 300 trillion nationwide and account for 70% all bank loan portfolios. They worry the moratorium could cause bank failures among regional banks in particular. Mr. Kamei’s suggestion has already started a sell-off of bank stocks.

Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa says nothing has been decided, and told reporters, “If the economy was really that bad, it would be one possibility to consider, but the Bank of Japan has not said that’s the situation we’re in.”

But Mr. Kamei insists it’s settled. He also said that he’d listen to Mr. Fujii’s opinions, but, “It won’t be discussed. It isn’t a matter that we’ll decide after discussion.”

The Finance Minister backed down.

Are Cabinet ministers in this administration to act as feudal lords, with the ministries as their personal fiefdoms? Where’s Prime Minister Hatoyama when you really need him? Where are all those newly created government policy bodies when you really need them? When it comes to that, where are all those Finance Ministry bureaucrats when you really need them?

Then again, Bloomberg quoted Prime Minister Hatoyama as saying that “he’ll avoid more bond sales, so new spending will depend on his success in shrinking the bureaucracy and public works programs”.

Richard Daughty, the COO of a financial advisory services company in the U.S., writes financial commentary under the name of The Mogambo Guru. He referred to Mr. Hatoyama’s claim as “Standard Political Crapola (SPC)”.

Though Mr. Kamei’s been in office less than a week, it was enough time for him to also cross swords with Haraguchi Kazuhiro, the new Internal Affairs and Communications minister. Mr. Haraguchi floated a plan for the reorganization of Japan Post into three independent companies rather than four companies under the aegis of a holding company. Said Mr. Kamei:

“I’m responsible for Japan Post, and I’ll take the responsibility and decide.”

The chastened Mr. Haraguchi explained, “It was just an illustrative example”.

The Apprentice Chef

Meanwhile, the other coalition partner, the SDPJ, has an agenda of its own. One of their goals is to eliminate the American military presence in Japan. Rather than support a greater Japanese defensive capability in its place, however, they also believe that people shouldn’t use weapons to defend themselves. (We’ll get to more of that later.) This is just what Mr. Hatoyama doesn’t need with the Americans wondering about his intentions after the translation of his goofy article from Voice magazine appeared in the New York Times, but hey, these are the people his party wants in government.

During the negotiations to create the coalition, the SDPJ declared:

“The proposal of amendments to the Japan-U.S. Status-of-Forces Agreement should be made from the perspective of minimizing the burden on the people of Okinawa, and the approach to the reorganization of American forces (in Japan) and their bases should be reconsidered.”

The DPJ balked, and the negotiations grew unpleasant. At one point DPJ representative and now Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya got so fed up with SDPJ head Fukushima Mizuho that he stormed out of the room. He charged that the DPJ wasn’t offering concrete proposals but delivering political lectures instead. Once a Socialist, always a Socialist.

Ms. Fukushima merely responded by going over his head and calling Hatoyama Yukio. And then going over his head by calling Ozawa Ichiro.

The DPJ finally compromised by changing the language to, “move in the direction of” reevaluating the agreements. They suggested the language be softened to create good relations with the Obama Administration in the U.S. Ms. Fukushima was delighted, and was shown crowing about it on TV to the other 11 members of her party with Diet seats.

Ms. Fukushima was angling for the Environmental Ministry portfolio, because, as she noted, they have a larger staff. Instead she settled for the new Consumer Affairs Ministry, which makes one suspect someone in the DPJ has a sense of humor. That’s just the sort of pretend-important Cabinet post the LDP once awarded to their female politicians as apprentice chefs to give them some experience in the political kitchen while using them as tokens to convince female voters they take them seriously. It’s surprising that Ms. Fukushima, who began her professional career as a radical feminist attorney, fell for it. But then a seat at the table of power is enough to trump principle for most leftists.

Who’s in charge here?

Before the recent election, the DPJ had 114 members in the lower house. They now have 308, for a net gain of 194 seats. The PNP had five; they now have three. The SDPJ stayed even at seven, but now have three directly elected MPs instead of only one. The reason for that increase was not due to greater popular support, but the DPJ’s choice to abstain from fielding a candidate in those districts.

The DPJ has far more than the 241 votes it needs for a lower house majority. Yet, in the upcoming administration, the handful of MPs from the formal coalition partners, and particularly their two party heads, will have a greater influence and say on the direction of the government than the 194 new DPJ members, who represent the popular will today.

That the DPJ created a coalition which includes the PNP and the SDP makes it difficult to avoid the accusation that their Government is a distortion of the democratic process and inimical to the expression of the popular will.

…The Crooks…

The reason I referred to Kamei Shizuka as a journeyman c(r)ook was recently explained in this Japanese-language blog post by Ikeda Nobuo. Mr. Kamei seems to have a knack for making money from shady deals with shady companies with a yakuza presence lurking in the background. One incident mentioned is described in a 1989 Yomiuri Shimbun article, which reports he made profits of JPY 400 million (about $US 4.18 million) in excess of market valuation in a 1987 stock sale that an official termed “an unnatural transaction.”

Perhaps that explains why he doesn’t like mark-to-market accounting.

It’s bad enough that a single-issue splinter party has an influence on policy far out of proportion with its numerical strength. It’s even worse that a man who might be mobbed-up is now in the Cabinet and punching far above his weight. But the DPJ put him there.

Suzuki Muneo

Meet former LDP lower house rep from Hokkaido Suzuki Muneo, the postwar record holder for jail time for a national legislator: 437 days, for bribery. Two of his top aides were also nailed. Mr. Suzuki had carved out a minor suzerainty in the Foreign Ministry. Though he had no official position, he had enormous influence over senior bureaucrats on policy and overseas aid projects.

After his release from prison, he became an advocate for decentralizing government, albeit under centralized control and direction, and an economic demagogue in the style of Kamei Shizuka. He was reelected to the Diet as head of a vanity party.

He was also sentenced to another two-year term for bribery in 2004 and has lost every subsequent appeal. The case is now before the Japanese Supreme Court. The next loss means another jail term and a five-year ban on public office.

But Mr. Suzuki is a pal of Ozawa Ichiro, and has influence among the voters in Hokkaido, where the carnage for the LDP was particularly gruesome this past election.

So the DPJ appointed the ex-con whose name is synonymous with lying and being on the take to chair the lower house Foreign Affairs Committee.

…And The Kooks

More troubling than the number of cooks and crooks in the governmental kitchen is that many of the people involved are not part of the reality-based community. The problem is best described by British novelist, journalist, and commentator James Delingpole, who recently published a book titled, Welcome To Obamaland: I’ve Seen Your Future And It Doesn’t Work. He says:

“In it, I warned the U.S. of the ‘smorgasbord of scuzzballs, incompetents, time servers, Communists, class warriors, eco-loons, single-issue rabble-rousers, malcontents and losers who always rise to the surface during a left-liberal administration….it becomes a problem – as you’re about to discover, if you haven’t already – when your ruling administration consists of nothing but these people. No longer do they qualify as light relief. They become your daily nightmare…. Making these predictions was a no-brainer because it’s exactly the same process as we’ve witnessed in Britain these last twelve years under New Labour.'”

He might just as well have been talking about Japan. We’ve already seen that the PNP is the Government’s version of a “single-issue rabble-rouser”, but there are even worse. Much worse.

Japan Teachers’ Union

No group is more committed to putting ideological blather and self-interest before the public good.
– Jonah Goldberg, on teachers’ unions

The goals of the Japan Teachers’ Union include improving the Japanese educational system so that it more closely resembles the systems in the United States and Great Britain. The California public school teachers appreciate those improvements so much that 25% of them now send their children to private schools.

They share the same disdain for individual achievement as their overseas cousins, as they want to do away with competitive examinations. Political indoctrination of the students starts early and focuses on the supposed sins of Japan rather than its achievements and opportunities. Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura Nobutaka once said that the LDP would have been open to more detailed discussions of Japanese wartime responsibility in schools had there not been so many Marxists among the faculty.

The JTU recently cleaned up its website, most likely in anticipation of a successful election result. Once upon a time, it featured amateurishly drawn cartoons that revealed both their politics and the arrested development of their sense of humor. But tools are available to retrieve erased pages. Here’s an example of one of their eliminated cartoons featuring a likeness of what apparently is supposed to represent former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo.

JTU cartoon 1

For another taste of their junior hi humor combined with their “resistance”, try this article in Great Britain’s Guardian from three years ago describing the antics of school teachers who dislike Kimi ga Yo, Japan’s national anthem, and the imperial system:

Japanese who object to being forced to sing their country’s national anthem have a secret weapon: the English language. Kiss Me, an English parody of the Kimigayo, has spread through the internet and was sung by teachers and pupils at recent school entrance and graduation ceremonies, local media reported yesterday.

“Teachers and pupils”? See what I mean about indoctrination beginning early? The 11-year-old wise guys are indoctrinating the teachers in pre-adolescent spitballery.

Leftwing teachers unions regard Kimigayo, which is based on an ancient poem wishing the emperor a “thousand years of happy reign”, as a symbol of Japan’s militarist past.

When they say ancient, they mean more than a millennium. Though Kimi ga Yo was not officially adopted until about 10 years ago, it has been the de facto anthem for much longer.

Here are the complete lyrics:

May your reign
Continue for a thousand, eight thousand generations,
Until the pebbles
Grow into boulders
Lush with moss

Grab yer firin’ iron! Them’s fightin’ words!

Did some Japanese manipulate national symbols for their own ends during an ugly period of the nation’s history? Yes, as has every other nation in the world. But one reason children are sent to school is to learn the national narrative. The agenda of “leftwing teachers”, other than those in Soviet bloc-type countries, is to denigrate the national narrative by poisoning the minds of the students. The full Japanese national narrative is not defined by one gruesome chapter, nor is it an unending tale of imperialism! capitalism! racism! sexism! war-mongering! These people so dislike their country one is forced to wonder if the real object of their dislike is themselves.

Then again, perhaps they’re not used to tradition in matters such as these. Sergei Mikhalkov wound up writing three sets of lyrics to the Soviet/Russian anthem from 1943 to 2000. The first version was in praise of Stalin, the second version was Stalin Who?, and the third version is in praise of the Fatherland. Keeping the same tradition for more than 1,000 years? How conservative and L7 can you get!

The Japanese in this camp loudly proclaim that they are defenders of the Constitution, i.e., Article 9, the peace clause. Very few fall for it, however, because if they were true defenders of the Constitution, they wouldn’t hold in such contempt the first sentence of Article 1:

The Emperor shall be the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people…

Those who watched the Japanese election returns on TV saw JTU alumnus and Acting DPJ President Koshi’ishi Azuma preening on stage with the other party leaders after their big victory. He’s already said more than once this year that education without a political element is not possible (despite being against Japanese law). Everyone knows what political element he has in mind. Mr. Koshi’ishi’s pre-election position in the party was equivalent to that of Ozawa Ichiro and Kan Naoto, and he retains that influence. But even the DPJ wasn’t dumb enough to put him in the Cabinet and make him a sitting duck. He’ll just roll up his sleeves and go to work out of the public view.

DPJ

Here are some excerpts from the DPJ website in English:

We do not seek a panacea either in the free market or in the welfare state. Rather, we shall build a new road of the democratic center toward a society in which self-reliant individuals can mutually coexist and the government’s role is limited to building the necessary systems.

Does that not fairly scream of Third Way nonsense without writing the actual words? Saying that one is a believer in the Third Way is similar to some of those who call themselves bisexuals. The former is just a leftist who knows better than to parade on May Day carrying a red flag, while the latter have sesquicentennial encounters with the opposite sex to avoid coming all the way out of the closet and admit being gay.

And note the false equivalence between the free market and the welfare state. Pavarotti and Johnny Rotten were both singers, but that didn’t make them equals.

We shall restructure the centralized government from the perspective of devolution toward citizens, markets, and local governments.

They plan to do that by making direct government payments to parents for child rearing in lieu of tax deductions, by making direct government payments to families for high school tuition, and by making direct government payments to individual farmers.

The real DPJ political platform is the Index of Policies, on which the so-called Manifesto is based and then cleaned up for public consumption.

Unlike the Manifesto, the Index—which was last revised in July—is not in English. It’s also recently been tucked away on the party website under the Manifesto section, whereas before it was in full view. Some Japanese have said they find the language in the Index “peculiar”, and they have a point. I haven’t been through all of it—it’s long and packed with boilerplate and platitudes—but it does have some peculiar ideas for a party that claims to be devoted to citizens, markets, and local government.

Such as:

“We will proceed with consideration of an International Solidarity Tax that taxes specified economic activities across national borders, and which will be used as the funding source for international organizations to conquer poverty and support developing countries.”

What we have here is a policy with a retro-Bolshie name to levy an unjustifiable and ill-defined tax to fund an enterprise that anyone who goes through life awake knows will fail. Looks like all the highway signs on the DPJ Third Way read Merge Left.

According to the Index, they also want to maintain the inheritance tax to “Return part of (a person’s) wealth to society”. And here I thought that a person’s wealth was already a part of social wealth. Japan’s inheritance tax was 70% in 2005, which means that a lot of people spent a lot of time and trouble finding ways to get around it.

The party wants to establish a Permanent Peace Study Bureau in the Diet Library. One has to admit that does have potential as a job creation scheme. They’ll need a full janitorial staff to deal with all those cobwebs.

They also want to prevent suicide by spending a lot of money on analysis and studies for suicide prevention. They intend to make it an obligation of publishers to produce textbooks that children with weak eyesight can read. They want to levy stiffer taxes on stiffer drinks to promote health, which is sure to please those taxpayers who have one or two stiff drinks a month and are in excellent health, but will pay the same rate as the lushes.

Perhaps the most peculiar of word choices is found in the section that discusses the party’s stance against North Korea. Their approach comes across as somewhat hardline. But the section is titled, “The core development of diplomatic relations with North Korea”, or in Japanese, 北朝鮮外交の主体的展開.

This part – 主体的 – which corresponds to “core”, is seldom used in Japanese, and it has no bearing on the explanation that follows. But the word is used quite frequently in North Korea. There it’s pronounced juche, and it’s the ruling philosophy of the North Korean government.

The arrested development of their sense of humor is a more widespread malady than I thought.

The Socialists Democratic Party of Japan

In most Western countries, the socialists and the social democrats are the girly men of the left, unable to bring themselves to the truly whacked position of the remaining Communist poseurs. Perhaps that’s because they realize they would lose their opportunities for making money in the stock market and real estate investments under a true Red regime.

In Japan, those relative positions are reversed. The SDPJ are the vicious, vaporous, anti-life, and anti-reality bunch, while the JCP is better behaved and actually has some integrity.

Consider: The North Koreans attempted to assassinate then-South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan during a 1983 visit to Rangoon by detonating three bombs by remote control. The president was not killed, but 21 people were, including three South Korean Cabinet ministers and four Burmese.

The Chinese government criticized the North Korean government in the state media and broke off official contact with Pyeongyang for several months. Japan’s Communist Party also condemned it, saying that terrorism had no part in their movement. Japan’s Socialists?

North Korea was unconnected with the incident in any way because it was not beneficial to them.

For years they claimed that it was impossible for the North Korean government to have abducted Japanese citizens. When Kim Jong-il finally fessed up, their successors in the SDPJ excused the abductions by saying it didn’t compare in any way to Japanese behavior on the Korean Peninsula during the war.

The party’s website is not in English, but it does proudly proclaim that boss Fukushima Mizuho attended the Socialist International conference this year. It’s adorned with a few of the global-standard Socialist illustrations of a rose held aloft in a fist. Their environmental policies—cap’n’trade, anti-nuclear power, anti global “warming”—are the usual blast of hot air one expects from watermelons, so-called because they are green on the outside and red on the inside. Then again, the SPDJ has never bothered to hide its crimson exterior.

The DPJ voluntarily chose the SDPJ as their coalition partners and gave the party head a seat in the Cabinet. They helped boost the party’s chances in the recent election by refraining from running a candidate in districts with prominent SDPJ members. That’s how they picked up two directly elected seats in the lower house.

Fukushima Mizuho

The SDPJ boss hasn’t always been so chummy with the DPJ. She once said, “The LDP and the DPJ are only as different as curry rice and rice curry.” Now that she’s part of the government headed by the latter, it would seem that she has developed a more discriminating palate.

She and husband Kaido Yuichi are both attorneys. Ms. Fukushima has focused on radical feminist causes, and she’s written three books on sexual harassment and domestic violence. She’s also written another called Konna Otoko to ha Zettai Kekkon Suru na! (Under No Circumstances Marry a Man of This Type!). She and her husband have frequently associated with people linked to the Chukaku-ha, or Japan Revolutionary Communist League, and defended them in court trials.

They must have had plenty of work. From the late 60s to the early 90s, Chukaku-ha led or was involved in numerous open battles with police, sabotaged the railroad in 33 Tokyo and Osaka locations when it being privatized, attacked LDP headquarters with a flamethrower mounted on a truck, conducted fatal arson and bombing attacks, and fought bloody battles with two other groups on the ultra-left, resulting in an estimated 100 fatalities. Their slogan is “Workers of the world unite under the banner of anti-imperialism and anti-Stalinism!” That presumably means they were down with K. Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and Mao.

In May 1991, Chukaku-ha changed course and decided to focus its efforts within trade unions and mainstream left-wing movements. One of those efforts was a petition drive to prevent Japan’s use of military force in the event of a foreign invasion. Ms. Fukushima signed it.

Registered as an attorney in 1987, Ms. Fukushima first won election to the Diet in 1998, though it is only a proportional representation seat in the upper house. She is one of the few party leaders in Japanese postwar history who have been unable to win a Diet seat in a direct election, or unwilling to try.

Let’s have Madame Chairman speak for herself. Here’s a brief transcript from her 2005 appearance on the TV show Asa Made (Until Morning), being interviewed by Tahara Soichiro.

Fukushima: I am absolutely opposed to the use of sidearms by police officers. For one thing, even perpetrators of crimes have their rights. The police must not be allowed to injure criminals at all. Even if it is a brutal criminal with a lethal weapon, the police should approach the arrest unarmed.
Tahara: And what happens if a police officer does that and is killed?
Fukushima: Well, that’s the job of police officers…(Shocked sound from the people in the studio. Showing irritation at the response, she continues)…Besides, if a criminal puts up that much resistance, there’s no need to go to all that trouble to arrest him. There’s no problem with letting him escape.
Tahara: But what if the criminal who runs away kills someone else at a different location?
Fukushima: That’s a separate problem…

Here’s an excerpt from a recent Diet debate about the possible interception of an incoming North Korean missile.

Fukushima: If the intercepting missile hits the target, debris will fall. If it misses, it will fly outside the country. Can you say there won’t be any harm caused to the citizens either in Japan or in other countries?
(Then) Foreign Minister Nakasone Hirofumi: If it presents a danger of damage to the lives and property of our people, that missile should be intercepted as a matter of course.
(Then) Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu: But there would be more damage if the missile would be allowed to fall. If it’s intercepted in space, most of the debris would burn up and not fall to earth. It’s important to destroy the missile first and minimize (its potential for harm).
Fukushima: If we miss, it will harm the national interest, and if we hit it, what happens if it turns out to have been just a satellite?

There was laughter at this remark from opposition benches for some reason, but then we’ve already found out about the sense of humor of the Japanese left.

The DPJ thought she would make a dandy Minister of State for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety, Social Affairs, and Gender Equality in the new coalition government, and so appointed her to that position.

Tsujimoto Kiyomi

Currently the SDPJ’s head of Diet strategy, Tsujimoto Kiyomi came up with the idea for taking cruises on a Peace Boat to the countries that Japan invaded during the war when she was a Waseda undergraduate in 1983. It’s not easy for a spunky coed to organize a project on that scale, regardless of her commitment or idealism, so she needed some help.

She received that help from Kitakawa Akira, who later became what is described as her common-law husband, and Oda Makoto.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and intelligence service archives became available, it was discovered that Mr. Oda had been a KGB agent. Mr. Kitakawa was a member of the Japanese Red Army, a revolutionary terrorist group formed in 1971 that was responsible for bombings, airplane hijackings, and armed attacks throughout the world. One member was caught with explosives on the New Jersey Turnpike in the 1980s and spent time in an American jail. Several members were granted asylum in North Korea, and the Japanese government is trying to extradite them. It remains an obstacle to the normalization of relations.

Though vicious, the group’s membership was always small, and they immediately had problems finding the money to survive. It was provided by Palestinians starting in 1972.

Join me in solidarity to smash the country and make the world safe for large purple vibrators

Join me in solidarity to smash the country and make the world safe for large purple vibrators

The Peace Boat, meanwhile, expanded the range of its voyages and visited the Middle East. Cruise members met several times with Yasser Arafat, perhaps to thank him for his money and ask for more. It was eventually awarded Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. That is an honor they share with Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice (he speaks in tongues on television), the Brazilian Federation of LGBT Groups (Associação Brasileira de Gays, Lésbicas e Transgêneros, ABGLT), the Advisory Commission of the Evangelical Church in Germany, The American Civil Liberties Union, The Association for the Advancement of Psychological Understanding of Human Nature, The Centre for Women the Earth the Divine, The Italian Confederation of Labour, Conscience and Peace Tax International, Fraternite Notre Dame, Inc., and the International Academy of Architecture. That would suggest the designation is as easy to obtain as a package of free tissues outside any large train station in Japan.

Mr. Kitakawa was responsible for JRA activities in Europe, and he was eventually deported from Sweden. Back in Japan, he founded the Daisansha publishing company, which has released six of Ms. Tsujimoto’s books.

She was recruited by former Socialist Party leader Doi Takako to run for the Diet, and she won her first election in 1996. A few years later, Shigenobu Fusako, the founder of the Japanese Red Army was arrested in Takatsuki, Osaka, Ms. Tsujimoto’s home district. She was in the company of Yoshida Mamoru, a member of Tsujimoto’s staff in Takatsuki.

As an MP, she started receiving national exposure in the early years of the Koizumi Administration with her semi-hysterical challenges of the prime minister during question time. She does have spunk, however, and it was great television, so a star was quickly born.

It just as quickly faded after her success went to her head and she accused the aforementioned Suzuki Muneo during his questioning in the Diet of being a “trading house for suspicion”. Mr. Suzuki, semi-hysterical himself, blew up in a memorable rant.

Those of you who enjoy interesting coincidences will be delighted to know that not long afterwards, investigators just happened to discover that she had been raking off funds from the money that was supposed to be paid to her political aides. It was suspected that she gave some of the money to Mr. Kitakawa. She was sentenced to two years in jail with a five-year stay of execution.

Ms. Tsujimoto resigned her Diet seat, but Japanese voters can be a forgiving lot, and she’s back, though keeping a much lower profile.

Again, let’s let the lady speak for herself. Here’s one:

“It’s not possible that the peace-loving North Koreans would abduct anyone.”

Golly, where have we heard that before?

She has a strange conception of loyalty for a Diet member:

“I don’t want to be a Japanese. I want to be an international person.”

Perhaps I should have spelled that “internationale”.

Indeed, she has been so internationale in general, and pro-North Korean in particular, that some Japanese have wondered if she is a naturalized Korean with family roots in the northern part of the peninsula.

Here’s how she views her duties as a national legislator. She was speaking informally to a person she didn’t realize was a reporter:

“They say a Diet member should protect the lives and property of the citizens, but that is not my intention. My role is as a ‘national destroyer’ MP who will try somehow to destroy the framework of the state.”

There’s a bit lost in the translation, as Ms. Tsujimoto is making a pun. The word for Diet member is 国会議員 (kokkai gi-in). She replaced the first two characters with the homonym 国壊 (kokkai), which means “national destruction”.

She also has a unique sense of fun. During a feminist conference sponsored by the owner of a shop for sex toys, the amusingly named Love Piece Club, she autographed a large purple vibrator for an auction.

Now nobody objects to the ways people choose to get their kicks, but one would expect a Diet member to show some discretion at a public event.

Sidebar

The Love Piece Club has a website. One of the pages is here, which displays the nude snapshots a photographer took of the “Buy Vibe Girls” at the Yasukuni Shinto shrine bright and early one morning. Ordinarily, it’s standard Internet practice to warn of photos that aren’t work safe, but any work supervisor who caught you looking at these is more likely to feel sorry for you than angry at you.

The title of the page, by the way, is Nobody Knows I’m Lesbian. Come on, Mina, who are you trying to kid? All anyone has to do is look at your picture.

Now, former combatants and ex-cons Tsujimoto Kiyomi and Suzuki Muneo are part of the ruling coalition, proving beyond doubt that politics makes for the strangest of bedfellows.

One wonders which one brought the large purple vibrator.

Ms. Tsujimoto, a politician convicted of skimming public funds, who pals around with terrorists, who would rather be known as the national destroyer than a Japanese, and who has vowed to wreck the framework of the state, was appointed by the ruling DPJ to serve as Vice-Minister for the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport. That ministry is responsible for the national infrastructure and dealing with disasters.

Here’s the best part: No one in her party likes the idea at all. Ms. Tsujimoto’s own initial reaction was:

やだ、やだ、やだ、やだ!

That’s what a four-year old throwing a tantrum might say when told to take some unpleasant medicine—No, no, no, no!

She gave in after being told that party head Fukushima Mizuho signed off on it. But then Ms. Fukushima claimed she didn’t sign off on it. But then she admitted that she did.

With Ms. Fukushima occupied by her make-work duties in the Cabinet, Ms. Tsujimoto was being counted on by the party to be the face of their campaign in next year’s upper house election. Those with a Machiavellian turn of mind might wonder if the DPJ purposely wanted to give her some make-work duties of her own in the bureaucracy. That would prevent her from being the poster girl of the SDPJ campaign, making it easier for the DPJ to take them out in the election and form a government without their help.

It’s a wrap!

I have nothing but the deepest sympathy for those Japanese who were so fed up with LDP rule that they felt compelled to vote for the DPJ and its coalition of too many cooks, too many crooks, and too many kooks in the hope they would receive clean government, real reform, and responsible political behavior.

If we’re lucky, perhaps they’ll manage to achieve some of their promised reforms during their administration, particularly shutting off the entry of bureaucrats into public sector jobs. They might yet reinsert the jackhammer into the foundation of the structure of interests that holds the country back. Maybe their conduct will spur the rejuvenation of a sharp opposition party, regardless of label, whose members will be decisive enough to ditch the mudboaters before refloating their political ship.

Credit where credit is due

Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya

Mr. Okada has opened attendance at his press conferences to all members of the Japanese news media, ending the kisha club monopoly in which only certain outlets get direct access to the politicians. Now the weekly magazines, Internet publications, and sports newspapers (some of their political reporting is better than you think) can attend. This development was not reported by the Asahi Shimbun, the Yomiuri Shimbun, or the Nikkei Shimbun, which constitute Japan’s press monopoly. Perhaps they’ve taken lessons from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and most of the American TV networks.

I’ve said before that the DPJ always carries banana peels in its back pocket for pratfall practice, and this time Prime Minister Hatoyama showed off his best Buster Keaton form. Before the election, he promised that he would open up his press conferences too. The reporters asked if he would put that in the party platform. He said no, it wasn’t necessary to go that far.

The only reporters allowed at Mr. Hatoyama’s first press conference were those in the kisha club.

Maehara Seiji

The new Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport, Mr. Maehara is often criticized by the party’s left wing and DPJ hacks because he (a) is not left-wing, (b) believes in a strong national defense, (c) intensely dislikes Ozawa Ichiro and his presence in the party, and (d) is capable of apostasy by working with the Koizumian reformers of the LDP, including rebel Watanabe Yoshimi. If there’s anything the left hates more than common sense, it’s a traitor.

One of his first announcements as MLIT chief was the suspension of the Yamba Dam project in Gunma. This was immediately hailed by all those anxious to end the ties between construction industry pork and the government once and for all.

But they couldn’t even get this one right. The governments of the six prefectures that will be affected by the decision were not at all pleased. Tokyo in particular is concerned about the water supply for the exploding population in some areas of its jurisdiction. Mr. Maehara is going to visit Gunma later this week and talk to local officials. Some are so upset they say they won’t attend if the decision is not changed.

Also opposed to the decision is the Gunma governor–who is affiliated with the DPJ. The governor was miffed that the prefectural government wasn’t consulted before the MLIT announced the decision.

In other words, the party that promised to decentralize government and devolve authority to local governments made an arbitrary central government decision without any input from local government and a governor on their own team.

Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa said no final decision had been made, but the MLIT is behaving as if they’re going to shut it down. Mr. Fujii deferred to Mr. Maehara.

Except Mr. Maehara spun around again and deferred to the locals. He’s now said the legal procedures to halt the project won’t begin until the “understanding” of the six prefectures is obtained.

Now you know why some charge the DPJ wasn’t ready to assume control of the government. All of this, including discussions with the local governments, should have been worked out long ago. Mr. Maehara says he is merely executing one of the planks in the DPJ platform. That was the same platform the party kept revising after its initial release just last month.

Kawabata Tatsuo

Mr. Kawabata was named Education Minister, much to the relief of those who were apprehensive about Koshi’ishi Azuma winding up with that job. The JTU wants to roll back the education reforms of the Abe administration, particularly the new teacher certification requirements. But at his initial press conference, Mr. Kawabata said that would be only one of several options examined over the next four years. Those experienced at reading bureaucratic tea leaves think that means the JTU might not be getting carte blanche in the new Government after all, though they warn that Mr. Koshi’ishi has yet to be heard from.

Unfortunately, Mr. Kawabata talked up a proposal for extending teacher training to six years—the same amount of classroom time as a Japanese medical doctor. But then classroom instruction is hardly brain surgery. Every extra minute seated in a classroom staring out the window while some teacher drones on about classroom teaching is a minute wasted. If the objective is to improve classroom instruction, that time would be better spent being actively involved with life as it’s actually lived.

Afterwords:

Sorry for not keeping my promise. The last post said the next one would be “tomorrow”, but that turned into two weeks. I had some work to do, and wading through the sheer deluge of information related to today’s topic took some time.

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