Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Maehara S.’


Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 13, 2012

We must have people who can carry the country on their back, who have the vision for domestic and foreign affairs. We also must create a network of people who can implement that vision. I want to start getting ready… It isn’t that I think I have to be prime minister, but this country will be in real trouble unless there are several people like me. Look at Nagata-cho: Few politicians are preparing themselves to govern the nation.

– Hosono Goshi, chairman of the ruling Democratic Party Policy Bureau, 12 November

The Kyodo poll released in first week of November showed the support rate for the Noda Cabinet at 17.7%, down 11.5 points from previous month. It was the first time that Mr. Noda came in below 20% — representing the electorate’s utter rejection — in the Kyodo poll. That’s even lower than Hatoyama Yukio went. Those who don’t support the Cabinet totaled 66.1%, up 10.8 points. The plunge from an already unsustainable low level is attributed to the reaction to Mr. Noda’s poorly conceived Cabinet reshuffle and the continued defection of MPs leaving the party.

One report had an internal DPJ poll also showing that an election would turn their offices in the Diet into a charnel house. During their three years in government, their prime ministers and Cabinets have lurched from one dismal failure to the next. Their term in office has exposed their incompetence both as individuals and as a group. The MPs realize they won’t be successful if their campaign message consists of apologies. They have to rebrand themselves and stand for something.

Prime Minister Noda is set to call for an election this week, apparently having decided he can’t put it off any longer. He seems disposed to contest the next lower house election on Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he favors. Others in his party, however, have a different idea. Some in the DPJ — whose center of gravity is social democracy and which has more than a few ex-Socialists — wants to run under the banner of moderation.

That faction also wants to run on the issue of national security, which is strange considering all they’ve done to mishandle security issues. It is a deliberate choice to rebrand and differentiate themselves from opposition LDP President Abe Shinzo and the former governor of the Tokyo Metro District, Ishihara Shintaro, who is forming a new party that he will call the Sun Party. Not mentioned by the DPJ, but just as much a factor, is Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and his Japan Restoration Party.

During Question Time in the Diet on 31 October, Mr. Abe said:

We should recognize the execution of the collective right to self-defense. We must change the interpretation of the Constitution.

The current interpretation of the Constitution is a peculiar one. It permits collective self-defense, but successive governments have said they will not exercise it.

Another peculiar one is that Prime Minister Noda said the interpretation will not change, though his personal view on this matter is identical to that of Mr. Abe’s.

Hosono Goshi spoke of Ishihara Shintaro’s wish to discard the Constitution altogether and start from scratch:

That will be a point at issue in the next election. Will we uphold the history of the postwar period in which he have thought prudently about security, or will we reject it like Mr. Ishihara and Mr. Abe? That is our basic stance…they seem a little dangerous.

Said Acting DPJ Secretary General Azumi Jun:

There will be no change in the fundamental principle of pacifism….Some are of the opinion that we should take the plunge and change it, but we will not go down that road as long as I am in a position of responsibility.

That naturally leads to the following charge Mr. Hosono made during a debate with Hashimoto Toru on a television program:

Amending the Constitution would result in the elimination of the regulations of authority. Selecting Abe’s LDP and Ishihara’s new party contains the danger that war might break out.

The objective of this faction in the party is to define themselves as middle-of-the-road (中道). Again from Mr. Azumi:

LDP President Abe is more right-wing than anyone in the LDP has been before…we will uphold the good postwar tradition of being smack in the middle of the middle of the road.

Remember that for this faction, smack in the middle of the middle of the road is pacifism. One wonders what there is to the left of that.

Abe Shinzo charged that the new cleavage to the center represented the DPJ’s “fallen spirit”, and that it was “an ugly attempt to pander to the public”.

Of course, Sengoku Yoshito, one of the party’s several vice presidents and a former member of the Socialist Party, couldn’t let that stand:

Let’s have a public debate about our beliefs, philosophies, policies… Abe Shinzo is a third-generation politician, and he’s about reached his limit.

Mr. Abe replied by saying he had no time to respond to all Diet members, though he later offered to hold a written debate with Mr. Sengoku on his Facebook page. (That’s not as strange as it sounds. It’s the easiest way to ensure the largest possible audience.)

There are two problems with the DPJ’s rebranding, however. The first is that the party doesn’t have a clear definition of what middle-of-the-road means. Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya took a stab when he elaborated on the phrase “middle-of-the-road democracy” that was included in the party’s basic principles when they were founded in 1998:

It indicates the range from middle-of-the-road liberals to moderate conservatives.

That will leave out many in the DPJ if they decide to tell the truth about their beliefs.

Former Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji is another who thinks it’s not clear what middle of the road is supposed to mean. He’s coming out with a book soon — he still wants to be prime minister — that says his party, the DPJ, has a problem with governance, and they’ve shaken the people’s trust. His idea is that the party should reorganize and retain the conservatives who share the same concepts and directions.

The second problem is that Prime Minister Noda doesn’t consider himself middle-of-the-road. During a meeting with Mr. Azumi and Mr. Hosono last month at the Kantei, he told them:

“I’m conservative. You can’t use the term middle of the road.”

Instead of that expression, he prefers chuyo (中庸), or moderate.

But why stop now that we’ve started talking about peculiar definitions of words? Here’s some more on Noda Yoshihiko’s political philosophy, as expressed last November during the upper house debate on the consumption tax increase.

Mr. Noda was asked by MP Kawasaki Minoru, who is in the same party:

I do not understand the basis of your economic policy. Do you intend to reduce the role of government and move from the bureaucracy to the people, or will you have a big government with enhanced social welfare?

Mr. Noda’s answer:

I do not think in terms of a binomial opposition of big government and small government.

He later added what he does think in terms of:

The values that humankind has risked its life to obtain are liberty and equality. Both of these are essential. When a socialistic outlook is strong, we come out with our right foot of liberty. When the gaps among members of society grow, we must put out our left foot of equality. The policy judgment differs with the age.

During the consumption tax debate he said it was time for the left foot.

In other words, the man who objects to the use of middle-of-the-road and calls himself a conservative is actually a proponent of the Third Way. That’s not even on the same continent as conservatism. Seldom will you hear a self-described conservative find ways to argue for a compromise on liberty.

But while the DPJ is arguing what words mean, with some presenting party dissolution scenarios and some staying true to middle-of-the-road pacifism to keep the fire-breathers from starting a war, other people with less interest in semantics might make up their minds for them.

Ye Xiaowen, a member of the China-Japan Friendship 21st Century Committee, wrote an article that appeared on Japanese-language Searchina site that focuses on China. The title of the article, which isn’t very friendly to Japan, is, “Four things Noda doesn’t understand” .

Here’s the fourth:

He doesn’t understand that America can stick its nose into the Senkaku islets dispute, but can they be expected to help Japan if something happens there?

It sounds like he thinks he knows the answer, doesn’t it?

One thing a lot of other people don’t understand is how middle-of-the-road pacifism would be an acceptable response. You have to be in the DPJ to figure that one out.


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

Ichigen koji (219)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, November 4, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Ultimately, the Democratic Party of Japan was only a fad that people got caught up in. Just what was it that they believed, anyway? Or, just what was it that Matsushita Konosuke believed?

– Ushioda Michio, a member of the editorial committee of the Mainichi Shimbun. The question about Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic, is a reference to the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management. 28 DPJ Diet members are institute graduates, including Prime Minister Noda and former Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji.

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

Ichigen koji (186)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 30, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

One Chinese objective is to force Japan to dispatch the Self-Defense Forces (to the Senkakus). We will not respond to that challenge. It is important to calmly deal with the situation through the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard must always dispatch more ships than the Chinese or the Taiwanese.

– Maehara Seiji, foreign minister in the Kan Cabinet

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

Almost pointless

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 5, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An explosion less destructive than loud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The only fruit on this tree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 24, 2012

CREATING a consensus for sustaining and expanding the administrative state requires teamwork among the major national political parties in Japan as their leaders heave-ho together on the rope of a consumption tax increase. Despite their protestations to the contrary and the intramural sabotage, however, one question has been settled: Regardless of the name stamped on their party ID card, they’re all on the same team wearing the uniform of the National Political Establishment, and the squad they’re playing against is The Public.

The NPE side creates its own capricious rules, acts as the referees, and has the discretion to let the match drag on for a year or to end it tomorrow by dissolving the lower house and calling an election.

But while people have kept their eye on the play-by-play over the past month, they’ve missed the greater import: The outcome could be among the most significant of all the political games of the past quarter-century. The opposition Liberal Democratic Party’s embrace of the ruling Democratic Party looks from one angle as if they are helping extend their rivals’ government, and from another angle as if it were a chokehold manipulated to love them to death. They both would consider it a boon if their pas de deus ex machina would settle the accounts for two decades’ worth of political intrigues by body slamming Ozawa Ichiro out of national politics. Further, it is a tossup whether the LDP hammerlock or the one the DPJ has on itself will prove to be the fatal hold for the ruling party. Other questions to be answered are whether they have cut a deal with Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, AKA The National Sparkler, co-opted him, or have been played for suckers by him.

The Jiji news agency, whose political polls are thought to be the most accurate of the media surveys, recently released the results of their June 8-11 canvassing regarding the public’s opinions of the national parties.

The rate of support for the Noda Cabinet was 24.3% and those in opposition were at 54.8%. These are gallows numbers for a Japanese Cabinet. The support rate actually rose by one percentage point over the last poll, and it is the second nominal month-on-month increase, but in real terms they’re flatlining.

Generic support for the DPJ is at 8.1%, the lowest since the party took office. That is little solace for the LDP, whose numbers stand at 13.1%. Most important, the independent/unaffiliated voters are at 69%, which is also probably a record high. In other words, the favorite of seven out of ten Japanese is “None of the above”.

In addition, the Japan Association for Public Opinion Research conducted a poll that found 73% of those surveyed disapproved of the DPJ’s conduct of foreign affairs.

Viewed from that perspective, it is entirely possible the NPE understands their fate will be that of the team of mice in the photograph and are delaying it as long as they can. In the meantime, they will arrange to make their afterlife as comfortable as they can before The Public forces them to forfeit.

Profile in Courage

Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko has staked his political life (not his Diet seat, just the premiership) on passing legislation to increase the consumption tax in two steps from 5% to 10%. This is nominally to pay for the rising social welfare expenses, though the bulk of the increased revenue is to be allocated at first to public works projects rather than welfare benefits.

The additional revenue will do little to improve the nation’s fiscal problems — only serious government downsizing will do that — and the tax itself will likely depress economic activity to the extent that other tax revenues will fall. That’s what happened the last time it was raised.

Mr. Noda thinks he is exhibiting Churchillian courage:

“The entire national debate has split into two camps. Indeed, those in the opposition (to his Cabinet’s policies) are larger…When they truly think of the nation, the citizens, and the next generation, most people know what we must do. The politics I want to achieve is to decide what should be taken as a matter of course as if it were a matter of course.”

What he means by “matter of course” is hypertrophied social democratic Big Government limping under the banner of The Third Way. Any other course is off-the-wall eccentricity.

As for what “most people know what we must do”, we have data:

“Only 17 percent of voters want the Diet to pass tax hike legislation during the current session, a goal on which Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has staked his political life, an Asahi Shimbun survey showed.”

And that’s from a newspaper predisposed to support the DPJ government. A 4 June op-ed from the same newspaper offers all the reasons we’ll ever need to understand the strange growths in the Dismal Swamp:

“The essence of the Democratic Party of Japan is that of a mutual assistance organization which passes around the party name to help individuals win elections. The party is very loosely bound. After the DPJ became Japan’s leading party, the ties between the beliefs of each individual MP and the party have become frayed, and there has been gridlock between the lower and upper houses. Japanese politics is still in an extreme period of lethargy.”

Left unsaid (because everyone knows) was this: the DPJ contains within its ranks its own opposition party. A political divorce means the DPJ loses the house, or more specifically, its lower house majority.
The party was formed with the intent of bringing serious two-party rule to Japan and ending the LDP’s government monopoly. By extension, that meant dismantling the Iron Triangle of politicians, the bureaucracy, and big business, and the money politics that kept it welded together.

Their objective was achieved on the day the DPJ took office in 2009, which was also the day their usefulness ended. (The similarities with the Obama administration are uncanny.) Rather than dismantling the Iron Triangle, they were delighted to become accepted into the fraternity. Any political group that hangs together despite unimaginable internal contradictions is in it for the power and the perks.

Their membership ranges from people who claim Margaret Thatcher as their primary influence (Matsubara Jin) to ex-Socialists who joined the party when their charter contained favorable references to Karl Marx. They’re fleshed out by the usual caravan of status whores, time-servers, and the milquetoast social democrats who delight in playing Little Jack Horner but lack the inclination or the intellect to understand what happens to the pie after all the plums are pulled out.

Their singular achievement has been to reorient the political consciousness of the public, and now all that awaits them is the massacre of the next election. The public might get fooled again, but the DPJ won’t be the ones doing the fooling.

The internal opposition

Emblematic of their internal contradiction is that ascension to the party of government was made possible by their merger with Ozawa Ichiro and his allies, who have become the internal opposition party that will tear them apart. The merger was engineered when Kan Naoto was the DPJ president, and he and Mr. Ozawa appeared together after the merger to discuss it on a television program hosted by veteran journalist Tahara Soichiro. Mr. Tahara said it was one of his most difficult interviews because the two men refused to speak directly to each other.

Ozawa Ichiro, the man who would be kingbreaker

Opinions about Mr. Ozawa over the past 20 years have ranged from Savior to Destroyer, but now the bulk of the hourglass sand has fallen to the lower bulb. Most Japanese would be hard pressed to describe what, if any, political convictions he holds. The electorate holds him in less regard than it does his party. He came to prominence in the LDP in 1986 for his ability to persuade the opposition to pass the original consumption tax. (It took two years because the media was against it. Now their positions have reversed.)

After losing a power struggle with Hashimoto Ryutaro, he bolted the LDP and eventually became the backroom manipulator of the eight-party coalition government that ended the LDP monopoly. During that Hosokawa administration in 1984, he pushed the idea of a 7% “welfare tax” to replace the consumption tax, an idea that was later withdrawn.

Since then, he has formed and folded several new parties, entered and left a coalition with the LDP government, merged the same party with the DPJ, started several power struggles with other leaders (winning a few and losing the most recent string) and supported an opposition-led no confidence motion against Kan Naoto that was foiled at the last minute. (That’s apart from creating a substantial real estate portfolio for his political funds committee.)

If reports this week are to be believed, he is now preparing to leave the DPJ and form a new party with 50 or 60 MPs. (A Kyodo news agency survey counted up to 60 heads, but the Sankei Shimbun isn’t sure how much past 45 it will go.) The Asahi Shimbun reports that about 50 Ozawa-affiliated members have already submitted their resignations to the DPJ. If more than 54 head south, the DPJ’s lower house majority goes with them. It is estimated to take about JPY three billion yen to start a new party, and there is speculation that Mr. Ozawa will fund it by selling the real estate his political finance committee owns.

The nominal reason is that Ozawa the Opportunist is now opposed to an increase in the consumption tax he once supported because it breaks a promise made in the party manifesto to maintain the tax rate for four years. He is also using the excuse that regional devolution should come first, and that will take time. He showed little interest in that issue until Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and his One Osaka group started leading all the national polls.

He’s announced that he will vote against the bill when it comes before the Diet on Tuesday, so all that remains to be seen is how many people go along with him. In Japan’s Westminster system, MPs who flout the party line are subject to penalties and sometimes thrown out of the party. Sources within the Ozawa camp say they will split even if the DPJ leadership chooses to administer the lightest of taps on the wrist. On the evening of the 21st, he held a meeting of like-minded DPJ MPs, and 50 showed up, counting him. It’s worth noting that 30 of those attending are in their first term, which means they were elected in 2009 through his assistance.

This is the same man who was celebrated in the West almost 20 years ago for his book, Blueprint for a New Japan, which argued that Japan should become a normal nation. Considering current conditions in the United States and Europe, he may have succeeded.

Not only is Mr. Noda ready for this to happen, he is encouraging it to happen. According to one reporter, he has told people that the legislation hiking the tax should pass even if it splits the party. Late last month, Mr. Noda and Mr. Ozawa met twice. The prime minister tried unsuccessfully to get Mr. Ozawa to back the tax hike, and it was at that point the bridges were burned. His negotiations with the opposition LDP and New Komeito went more smoothly; they’ll vote to pass the bill. Then again, the prime minister was more amenable to compromising with them.

Ozawa Ichiro will not be able to stop the tax increase because most of the DPJ MPs want to put off a general election until the last possible moment. But if the Ozawa group leaves in strength, the survival of the Noda Cabinet depends on the goodwill of the LDP and New Komeito. That would also leave enough votes for a no-confidence motion, which, if it passes, means a new election or a new Cabinet. The second of those two choices is the more likely, and that would mean a new caretaker prime minister until next summer, when a new election must be held for both houses. One psephologist working on the assumption of a 70-member Ozawa Party thinks only five from that group would be guaranteed to hold their seats, with another 18 favored. In short, the outlook is as bleak for the rest of that group as it is for the NPE as a whole.

Recall that last summer, Mr. Ozawa and former DPJ Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio were ready to form a new party with the Hatoyama family money after supporting an opposition no-confidence motion against Kan Naoto. That was averted only because the DPJ leadership came up with a transparent fiction that fooled Mr. Hatoyama the night before the vote.

Speaking of Little Boy Lost, Mr. Hatoyama understands the possibility that the party his mother’s money bought and paid for will disintegrate. In Hokkaido, he said:

“If the prime minister pushes this (tax bill) through, there is an extremely high danger that the party will split.”

But perhaps he isn’t so worried about it. On 6 June he said:

“As one of the people who created the DPJ, I would normally do whatever it took to avoid talking about breaking up the party. But now we are at a point at which we must think about what we should do from the perspective that the peoples’ lives are more important than the DPJ.”

For the nonce, he is said to be thinking of abstaining from the vote next Tuesday, or not showing up at all on principle, because it is the opposite of what he campaigned for.

Meanwhile, DPJ Supreme Advisor Watanabe Kozo (yes, that’s his title) publicly asked Ozawa Ichiro and Hatoyama Yukio (another Supreme Advisor) to please oppose the legislation so they could leave the party once and for all.

Not every DPJ solon thinks an election should be put off, however. Policy Research Committee Chairman and former party head Maehara Seiji suspects the party will have its back broken in a double election held next year. (He’s right about that.) He thinks it would be better for the party to take its lumps now and regroup for the upper house election next year.

And just to make things really crazy, some charge that the national media are trying to cast the disagreement as Ozawa against the party on purpose, when in fact many younger DPJ Diet members unaffiliated with Mr. Ozawa have been complaining about the tax increase to party leaders. One member estimated that 90% of the party’s Diet members do not want to pass the bill if it means splitting the party, and that not all of the senior members are interested in the de facto coalition with the opposition that passage of the bill means.

The Land of 1000 Coincidences

No country on earth has as many astonishing political coincidences as Japan. Another one occurred last week, just when political speculation was gusting, with the publication of the 21 June edition of the weekly Shukan Bunshu. It contained the text of what the magazine said was a letter from Ozawa Ichiro’s wife Kazuko to his supporters in his home district of Iwate explaining why she had decided to divorce him. It wasn’t because of the two mistresses or the child born to another woman; that’s why they’ve been separated. No, the reason was something else:

“A large and unprecedented natural disaster such as this (the Tohoku disaster) demands that a politician take action immediately. In fact, however, Ozawa and his aide were afraid of radiation and ran away. Looking at Ozawa, who cast aside during their hour of need the people of Iwate, who had supported him for many years, I understood that this was not a person who would serve for the benefit of Iwate and Japan, and so divorced him.”

By running away, she means that he flipped out after the Fukushima accident, told his aide to buy a large supply of salt, locked the doors to his house in Tokyo, and refused to leave. (She says the aide fled to the Kansai area, but he says it was on previously scheduled business.) He used water purchased commercially for food and washing and didn’t visit his home district in Iwate, one of the three prefectures most seriously damaged by the disaster, from 28 March to 1 December. That would also explain why it took him more than two weeks after the 11 March incident to get himself to Iwate begin with.

The website J-cast interviewed a member of his support group in Iwate after the news broke:

“We would have been thrilled if he had visited to raise our spirits and said, leave it to me, or do your best, but it’s too bad he didn’t do that. That’s what everyone around here is saying. That’s also what I thought when I read the Bunshun article. The first generation (Ozawa’s father, also a Diet member) really worked hard, but the second generation is just the second generation, I guess.”

In other words, whenever Mr. Ozawa appears in public in the future, the electorate will visualize in their minds’ eye the phrase National Wuss on his forehead.

Ozawa Kazuko, by the way, should not be perceived merely as the stay-at-home wife. She was the daughter of one of the executives of former Prime Minister Tanaka Kakei’s Iwate support group, and Tanaka is said to have encouraged the match. Mr. Ozawa won his first election to the Diet four years later with considerable assistance from his wife and father-in-law. Thus, she was always more the political wife in a semi-arranged marriage than just a homemaker.

The external opposition

Knowing that he would have trouble passing the tax increase through both houses against the wishes of his internal opposition, Mr. Noda has made arrangements to pass the bill with the help of the external opposition. After his meetings with Ozawa Ichiro, he replaced two Cabinet members that the opposition-controlled upper house censured. One of them was Defense Minister Tanaka Naoki, the son-in-law of Mr. Ozawa’s political mentor Tanaka Kakuei. His wife, Tanaka Makiko, and Mr. Ozawa remain close allies.

The prime minister first insisted that he would ignore the censures and keep them in the Cabinet — the Churchill imitation again — but he threw them overboard as a gift to bring to the opposition for discussions. Observed Takenaka Heizo, the mainstay of the Koizumi cabinets:

“I look forward to the participation of Mr. Moriyama, the private sector minister (of defense). Be that as it may, of the five new members, one was from the private sector, two were former LDP Japan Post rebels, and two were from the upper house. There are no pure DPJ lower house members. Are they having that much trouble finding qualified personnel?”

He had to ask?

LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru looked that gift horse in the mouth:

“It’s been more than 40 days since the upper house passed the censure motions against the two ministers. It’s too late.”

LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki was thrilled with the present of a pony, however, and said that was a good sign for starting discussions.

Well, at least they didn’t have to discuss raising the consumption tax; they had already agreed to that. The subject at hand was what the DPJ would agree to in exchange for the votes of the LDP and New Komeito to create what some have called the Tax Increase Coalition.

The terms included the DPJ renunciation of a guaranteed minimum pension, and their opposition to the system that came into effect during the Fukuda administration in which the late stage elderly (age 75 and over) who are financially better off pay more for their health care. Both of those policies are in the DPJ 2009 election manifesto.

Some in the DPJ objected to reneging on their manifesto, but everyone else horse-laughed. These discussions are being held in the context of raising the consumption tax, which the DPJ manifesto promised not to do.

Okada Katsuya can’t bear to look

Maehara Seiji called for withdrawing some of the platform planks, including that for the guaranteed minimum pension. Former LDP Secretary-General Ibuki Bunmei said the LDP demand wasn’t necessary because the issues in question weren’t actually law. Other long-in-the-tooth types in the party agreed, including former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and former Secretary General Makoto Koga. Rather than disavowing the two policies, the DPJ offered to shelve them without introducing them as legislation in the Diet, and the LDP thought that was sufficient to strike a bargain.

Some LDP members objected because the DPJ couldn’t be trusted: They reneged on their manifesto, after all. Others in the LDP crowed that they succeeded in getting the ruling party to withdraw their manifesto pledges. That upset many in the DPJ, who remember that the LDP opposed a cigarette tax increase behind the claim that it would be bad for the economy (to hide the reality that it would be bad for the tobacco growers who back the LDP), and eventually backtracked on their own decision to privatize Japan Post.

The DPJ finally had to eat a beggar’s banquet of crow. Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya started the first course by bringing up his party’s approach to pension system reform when it was in the opposition:

“Sincerely speaking, we have no excuse. There is no question that we went too far.”

He’s referring to a bill they submitted when in opposition to reform the pension system that was nearly identical to the LDP/New Komeito bill unifying private and public sector pensions. They opposed the government’s bill because it didn’t include the national pensions. Said Mr. Okada:

“It takes time to achieve sweeping reform, so we should have adopted the realistic method of starting by doing that which we could do…If we assume that most people thought we wouldn’t have to make a decision about it during this term, I am extremely sorry.”

The party nearly gagged on his discussion of their manifesto the following day:

“Rather than our manifesto, we won (the election) due to the large trend among the people looking for a change of government…If you ask whether the JPY 26,000 yen monthly children’s allowance was excessive, I think it was excessive…Most people voted with the idea that there should be a change of government.”

That had to be hard for Mr. Okada to digest: His reputation is that of a man who believes the party should always uphold the manifesto, and indeed, as one of the most prominent among those calling for manifesto-based elections to begin with. In January 2004, he said:

“Irresponsible Diet members who take actions other than those in the manifesto are not in this party.”

They are now, and he’s one of their leaders.

Takenaka Heizo understands the core problem with all of this behavior:

“The DPJ, LDP, and New Komeito are holding discussions about social security and tax reform. We have absolutely no understanding of what sort of negotiations went on, what the results of the negotiations were, and the process involved. Questioning the ministers in the Diet yields only in the superficial response that talks are underway. Some Diet members themselves say they don’t understand it. Blatant backroom politics such as this is unprecedented.”

Not unprecedented, perhaps, but not healthy for the body politic.

One of the last of the Koizumians in the LDP, former Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao, put it in context:

“The DPJ says it has not withdrawn its pork barrel manifesto. Regardless of how often the LDP says that the DPJ withdrew the manifesto, the DPJ says they haven’t, so it hasn’t been withdrawn. The LDP withdrew its request to withdraw the manifesto…

“Finally, we’ve got something like an answer. Today, some of the people promoting the sales tax increase began to make reference to either a tax increase grand coalition, or a tax increase political reorganization after the legislation passes, in which members of both the ruling and opposition parties who support the tax increase will join forces.”

And Your Party leader Watanabe Yoshimi explains what that means:

“The political party-cabinet structure collapsed in the 1930s during quasi-wartime conditions, and the bureaucracy-cabinet system began, in which no one had to undergo the trial of elections. An atmosphere formed in which it became difficult to object. Later the Imperial Rule Assistance Association was created (and political parties dissolved), and the legislature became a rubber stamp institution. Now, with the great collusion of the DPJ, the LDP and New Komeito, the Diet has devolved into a mere tax increase rubber stamp institution.”

This is what politicians do to keep from admitting that they spend too much of other people’s money rather than complain that they have too little of it.

Speaking of Mr. Nakagawa, it is also possible that he and the Koizumians will vote against the tax bill, though everyone is being vague. He formed a group of about 20 people that has been meeting to discuss the issue since May. They face some problems of their own: Vote on principle and they associate themselves with Ozawa or Hatoyama, which they don’t want to do. Vote the party line and they open themselves to attack from the real opposition in the next election.

The Real Opposition

While entropy has its way with the politicians at the national level, the rebel/reformers at the local level continue to consolidate their energy and their position. When Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru relented and approved the restart of the Oi nuclear power plants, reversing his initially intense opposition, some wondered if that would harm him among his supporters. The results of a JNN poll taken of Osaka voters after his switch answered that question:

Q: Do you support Mayor Hashimoto?
Yes: 54%
No: 38%

Q: Do you support the resumption of nuclear power generation at the Oi plant?
Yes: 49%
No: 31%

During the first week of June, the Mainichi Shimbun conducted a poll of voters asking for which party they would cast proportional representation ballots:

One Osaka (Hashimoto): 37%
DPJ: 7%
LDP: 10%

If you can’t beat ‘em, co-opt ‘em, is a classic political strategy. The DPJ seemed to have adopted that strategy when they came up with a new legislative proposal out of the ether that addressed the issue on which Mr. Hashimoto campaigned for mayor: Merging the city and prefecture of Osaka to create an administrative district similar to that of Tokyo. All of a sudden it was announced that a DPJ working team had put together legislation that would allow the Osaka Metro District to be created, and the government would submit it to the Diet during the current term. That was superb timing for a party that had paid little attention to the issue before and whose reputation as the head of government is an inability to present coherent legislation in a timely manner.

Hashimoto Toru explains

The bill would allow areas of specially designated cities and local municipalities with an aggregate population of more than 2 million people to merge, eliminate the surrounding municipalities, and create special internal districts. It would require the municipalities to submit a report on their plan to the Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, who would study the plan (well, the bureaucrats would) and render an opinion. It would also retain some national government involvement at the local level, including that for the distribution of tax resources and some authority, which is not what the local movements are seeking.

The original bill required consultation with the national government for approval of the full plan, but the Asahi Shimbun said the DPJ scaled back the involvement of the national government as a kiss blown in Mr. Hashimoto’s direction. The government will now discuss their bill with other parties, who have introduced similar bills of their own.

Mr. Hashimoto was pleased as punch:

“If the future form of the nation is given priority to the consumption tax issue, the metro district concept bill will be of exceptional historical significance. The consumption tax should be considered after indicating the direction in which the form of the nation will be changed.”

In fact, Mr. Hashimoto said that if the bill passed during the current Diet session, his One Osaka group might not run candidates in the next lower house election, after vowing to take the government down.

Eyebrows raised immediately throughout the archipelago. People first suspected the NPE might be trying to co-opt his primary issue. After he acquiesced to the restart of the Oi nuclear reactors, some thought he had used the nuclear power issue as a weapon to prod the national government in the direction he wanted. (Mr. Hashimoto does not pussyfoot.) Others wondered what would happen to the political juku he is sponsoring to cultivate candidates to run in the next lower house election.

But most people — especially those in the media — missed what he said after that:

“I did not consult with One Osaka (before saying) there is no need for One Osaka to go into national politics absent a great cause…I will not run in a national election. I am not suited to be a member of the national Diet. My position is one in which I have been directly selected by the voters, such as mayor or governor, and I am doing that job now. While it’s not impossible, I am not the type of person who can work under the British system of a cabinet of legislators.

That wasn’t the whole story, either. Here’s Osaka Governor and One Osaka Secretary-General Matsui Ichiro:

“If the Diet members do not fulfill their promise to reform government finances, we must go into national politics.”

He does not mean that a consumption tax increase is a reform of government finances, by the way. He added:

“Even if an Osaka Metro District is created, Osaka would not float by itself if japan sinks. We hope all the Diet members move forward based on a clear consensus in this Diet session that the ship of Japan does not sink.”


“We (he and Mr. Hashimoto) are in complete agreement on our goal, and the speed at which we are heading there. There is just some difference in our wording. That’s about it.”

One Osaka policy chief Asada Hitoshi gave a speech to Tokyo reporters on the 12th and was asked about the Hashimoto statement:

“The bill (creating an Osaka Metro District) hasn’t passed yet, and our primary goal of getting involved with national politics has not ended….After the completion of the metro district concept, the second stage is to ask the residents and the chief municipal officers in the surrounding area whether they will become special districts within the metro district or merge with other cities to create core cities.“

The political juku is still operating (and the students were addressed by Tokyo Gov. Ishihara Shintaro today). The student body was reduced from 2,000 to 915. Mr. Matsui said that preference in the cull was given to members of the national reform party Your Party currently serving as delegates in subnational government legislatures.

That dovetails with stories that One Osaka would support Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi for prime minister if they and their allies gained control of the Diet. Mr. Hashimoto would have a major voice in national affairs in such an arrangement, even if he stayed in Osaka. He’s also young enough that he could eventually benefit from a constitutional change permitting the direct election of prime ministers, which One Osaka favors. There are also stories that One Osaka is sounding out Diet members about switching parties, particularly those in the DPJ.

Some in the English-language media are calling this a flip-flop, but they’re forgetting Hashimoto Toru’s declaration in 2008 that it was “2000% impossible” he would run for governor of Osaka that year. He ran for governor of Osaka that year and his margin of victory demonstrated that the voters didn’t care what he said first.

If the DPJ thought they would co-opt him, Mr. Hashimoto’s Twitter barrage yesterday on current events in Tokyo should disabuse them of that notion:

“If this behavior (of the DPJ government) is allowed to stand, the next general election will have nothing to do with manifestoes or policies. That’s because politicians will be capable of doing exactly the opposite of what they said they wouldn’t do…As regards manifestoes, Japanese politics is immature. To what extent can the political promises with the people be modified? The media (in supporting the tax increase) are absolutely mistaken. If they say the last part of the process is for the voters to render a decision in an election, then that is just a complete rubber-stamping of the process. If what politicians say before an election can be repudiated and that is deemed acceptable if ratified through a national election, pre-election policy debate is meaningless.

“If this process for raising the consumption tax is permitted, no one will trust politics. Everyone understands the reason for raising the consumption tax. Everyone knows the government doesn’t have enough money…The DPJ would find the revenue source equal to the tax increase if they withdrew all of the policies they adopted that require greater expenditures. But they do what is not written in the manifesto just for taxes without withdrawing their policies. This process is not acceptable. ..It is the mission and the obligation of the politicians to ask for ratification through an election. If they proceed with Nagata-cho and Kasumigaseki logic without doing that, the people will not follow.”

Who’d have guessed that The Dictator insists on proper democratic procedures for determining and implementing policy? Not the people who enjoy the Hashimoto as Hitler narrative, because that would force them to take facts into account. Griping about Hashism for as long as he stays a national figure is a cheap way to demonstrate how marvelous and progressive and well-behaved they are.

Phoning it in

Prime Minister Noda is said to be threatening potential DPJ rebels and supporters of what is being termed an Ozawa political coup d’etat with a dissolution of the lower house and a general election, though he also supposedly promised other party elders he wouldn’t do that. Mr. Ozawa is warning against that course of action, for excellent reasons. We’ve seen all of them in the poll results at the beginning of this piece.

Meanwhile, after Mr. Noda announced his decision to restart the nuclear reactors at Oi, one western media outlet observed that he risked a voter backlash at the polls.

You mean something other than the voter backlash that the party’s been flogged with since January 2010? The decision of Hashimoto Toru to go along with the resumption of generation hasn’t hurt him in the polls.

This isn’t simply a matter of the eternal journo ignorance and their laziness to conduct ABC research. These people have space to fill, and they think they can fill it by presenting something superficially plausible to satisfy their equally ignorant editors and unsuspecting readers.

When the reformers ride into Tokyo to dispose of the corpses from the team of dead NPE mice — and that day is drawing closer — they’ll still be in the dark. But they’ll make up something or other and find a few college professors to say it for them. They always do.

UPDATE: Hatoyama Yukio has changed his mind again and now wants to delay a vote on the tax bill to prevent a party split. (He didn’t see this coming?) He also wants a confirmation that the lower house will not be dissolved. As for a new Ozawa party, however, he would only say that he would not be interested “immediately”.

It’s hard to stay relevant when you’re so irrelevant.

Handicappers seem to think as many as 70 DPJ members will vote against the bill, abstain from voting, or not show up to vote. That’s roughly 25% of the party membership in the lower house. Not all of them are expected to leave the party, however.

Speaking of public opinion surveys, Yomiuri conducted one last year asking people to name their favorite song of the Showa era (25 December 1925 – 7 January 1989). The public selected Misora Hibari’s version of Kawa no Nagare no Yo ni (Like the Flow of a River), which is cutting the timing close: It was released on an album in December 1988, but not released as a single until 11 January 1989, four days into the Heisei era. Misora Hibari died in June that year. Here she is performing it in January…during the Heisei era.

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Just deserts

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, May 24, 2012

Upon a pillory – that al the world may see / A just desert for such impiety.

– Warning Faire Women (1599)

IF it were possible to bestow a person with a medal for services rendered to society, pin the medal to his chest, cover his eyes with a blindfold, stick a final cigarette in his mouth, and stand him against a wall to be executed by firing squad, Public Enemy/Hero #1 would be Julian “Wikileaks” Assange. While his behavior is undoubtedly execrable by any standard, we are also undoubtedly better off for knowing some of the information he was responsible for revealing. Much that information demonstrates the contempt the international political oligarchy has for the people they rule. Some of that information involves the Japan-U.S. security alliance.

Recall that in the summer of 2009, Hatoyama Yukio and the Democratic Party of Japan made the specific promise during their lower house election campaign to tear up the agreement with the Americans and move the Marine air base at Futenma in Okinawa outside of the prefecture “at a minimum”, and ideally outside the country altogether. Negotiations for dealing with the base began after Marines raped a schoolgirl near there in 1995.

To briefly recapitulate: The United States governed Okinawa from 1945 to 1972, even though the Allied occupation ended in 1952. It took 20 more years for the Americans to give Okinawa back.

Cross my heart and hope to die!

It would be entertaining to hear someone deny the argument that they still occupy it. The Ryukyus account for 0.6% of Japan’s land area, but host 75% of American military facilities in the country. Those bases occupy 18% of Okinawa’s land area. Roughly 70% of the people on the country’s four main islands support the military alliance with the United States, compared to only 10% of the Okinawans. (A higher percentage is willing to put up with it for the economic benefits.) More than 50% of Okinawans think the unwillingness of the rest of the country to either reduce their burden or accept American military facilities themselves is a form of discrimination. That makes it the ultimate manifestation in Japan of the Not In My Back Yard phenomenon.

The American military is stationed in the country for Japan’s “defense”, but Futenma is a Marine air base. Marines attack; they don’t defend.

When negotiations began with the Clinton Administration, there was an American promise to return Futenma to Japan (who built the first air base there during the war) in five to seven years. That somehow morphed into a project to build a new airbase in northern Okinawa.

There are four directly elected lower house seats in Okinawa Prefecture. Before the election, two seats were held by the then-ruling LDP, one by the Social Democrats, and one by the People’s New Party. Buoyed by the anti-LDP sentiment nationwide, the Aso government’s use of the Koizumian two-thirds lower house majority to push through the Guam Transfer Agreement, and the DPJ promise to move Futenma, the DPJ snatched those two LDP seats in the 2009 election. They didn’t run any candidates in the other two districts; the incumbents were members of parties that were part of their alliance and which joined the ruling coalition.

Several things became apparent within days after Mr. Hatoyama took office. Among them were that he had no idea what he was doing, neither he nor his party could be trusted to keep any of their campaign promises, and he had no business holding any executive position whatsoever, much less the prime minister of Japan at a turning point in the country’s political and governmental history.

To telescope a long story, two months after he opened the fall session of the Diet with a speech at the end of October 2009, he couldn’t keep his own story straight about his government’s plans for the Futenma base or their negotiations with the Americans. Statements made in the morning became inoperative before the end of the day. He would decide before the end of the year and then he put it off until May. He famously asked Barack Obama to trust him, and people wondered what it was he could be trusted to do. By early January, the Japanese media already assumed that his days as prime minister were numbered. His support numbers were in free fall after he had squandered both his honeymoon period and one of the most golden of opportunities ever available to a new government and its leader.

By May 2010, Mr. Hatoyama confirmed what had been obvious since the beginning of the year when he announced that Futenma would stay in Okinawa as originally planned. He traveled to Okinawa himself to apologize to the governor:

“I tried to do different things, but I came face to face with the difficulty of the actual problem of (moving) everything outside the prefecture.”

Mr. Hatoyama resigned at the end of the month after one of the shortest terms and with one of the lowest support ratings in postwar Japanese history.

The Beans are Spilled

One year ago this month, Wikileaks released American governmental cables sent from Japan to the U.S. about the Futenma discussions. They didn’t generate much comment, even in the English-language media, because the focus of Japan-related news was still the Tohoku disaster of two months before.

That information made Mr. Hatoyama and his government look even worse, as difficult as it is to imagine. Try this account from the Economist:

LESS than a month after a new government took office in Japan in September 2009, American officials talked their Japanese counterparts through a longstanding frustration: stalled plans to build a new airbase for American marines on the southern island of Okinawa. According to confidential minutes of the meeting sent to Washington, DC by the American embassy in Tokyo, leaked by WikiLeaks, Kurt Campbell, an assistant secretary of state, said a new airstrip was necessary because of China’s growing military strength. But that could not be discussed publicly, “for obvious reasons”.

A few months later Mr Campbell went further, according to another cable. Because of potential threats from North Korea, China and elsewhere, America and Japan faced “the most challenging security environment” in 50 years. However, he said the messages to the public often glossed over that reality. Presumably that too was to avoid offending China, even though it would have helped Okinawans to understand why the new facility is deemed so important.


The WikiLeaks cables show that the number of marines and their dependents slated for removal to Guam has been inflated in order to soften opposition. (The 2009) agreement mentions the removal of about 8,000 marines and 9,000 dependents. But an American embassy cable in 2009 says that when the plan was formulated in 2006, “both the 8,000 and 9,000 numbers were deliberately maximised to optimise political value in Japan.” Okinawa officials suspect that the number of Guam-bound marines may be as few as 3,000—if they go at all.

When it came to power in 2009, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, which had opposed the relocation plan in opposition, came under intense pressure from Washington to push ahead with it. American officials urged the new government not to discuss alternatives in public, warning of a strong American reaction if it did, according to WikiLeaks.

The Eurasia Review Newsletter provided more details in an article by Rajaram Panda. ERN deserves a milder form of the treatment appropriate for Assange: They should be commended for presenting additional information and then kicked in their backsides for entrusting the article to Mr. Panda, who combines a tendency to exaggerate with an ignorance of Japanese politics remarkable even for non-Japanese who write about the country.

The article begins:

In a startling revelation, the US cables posted on the whistleblower website WikiLeaks said that, in 2009, the US had warned the then Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio about Japan’s wavering policies on bilateral ties.

It doesn’t take them long to screw it up:

When Hatoyama took office in September 2009, Japanese people believed that he was a sincere but helpless politician who was unable to fight the influence of the US.

Not one word after the comma in that sentence is true. No one knew how he would deal with American influence, and he gave every indication beforehand that he intended to create some distance in bilateral relations. While it is true that some view him as sincere, it is also true that they view as childishly naive the few policies he’s sincere about.

The revealed documents now show that Hatoyama and the DPJ had lied to the Japanese people during the 2009 election campaign. The DPJ and the Japanese government officials were never committed to relocating the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma outside of Okinawa Prefecture, as the revealed documents indicate.

That’s true, but only in an interpretative sense. The American arm twisting of the DPJ does not seem to have begun until after the election.

Between 2009 and early 2010, Hatoyama and his officials conveyed to their US counterparts that Japan would seek alternatives to the 2006 Agreement to relocate Futenma to the Henoko district of Nago in Okinawa Prefecture. However, in a secret pact, they said that Japan will honour the 2006 Agreement if the US rejected the proposed alternative.

The Obama administration knew early on that the Hatoyama administration would go along with the 2006 Agreement as long as the US continued to reject any alternative. Hatoyama had secretly said this to the US six months before he decided to break his promise to the people to relocate the base outside Okinawa.

Six months before he announced that he broke his promise was in December 2009, post-election and post-arm twisting.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific affairs, Kurt Campbell, complained in October 2009 that Hatoyama told his Chinese and South Korean counterparts in Beijing that Japan depended on the US too much. Campbell told Japanese Parliamentary Defence Secretary Akihisa Nagashima that such remarks “would create a crisis in US-Japan relations… Imagine the Japanese response if the US government were to say publicly that it wished to devote more attention to China than Japan.”

We don’t have to imagine the Japanese response, because we know what it is — official sycophancy. The U.S. government has been devoting more attention to China than Japan without saying it publicly for the past two decades.

Now they don’t bother to hide it. This week the U.S. government allowed China the exclusive privilege of purchasing U.S. debt directly from the Treasury, without having to buy the bonds through Wall Street brokers and pay their commissions. The Chinese are now the leading American debt underwriters. Japan formerly starred in the role of Number One Sponge and still buys nearly the same amount as China, but they’ve never gotten the star treatment.

As Mark Steyn frequently points out, the Americans will be paying enough interest on the debt held by China to finance the annual outlays for the People’s Liberation Army by 2016. Meanwhile, Japan pays far and away the highest vigorish of any overseas country to support American troops stationed on its territory. This is justified in part by the need to defend Japan from China.

Finally, a contemporary use of the word “bizarre” that isn’t hyperbole.

But that’s unless the Chinese are actually unloading on the secondary market what they buy from the Treasury to satisfy their desire to get out of US debt and into gold while satisfying US demands to buy more of its debt. (There’s another interesting Wikileak in there, too.)

The Japanese people now feel that Hatoyama’s US policy was fraught with duplicity and backroom deals. Being the Land Minister, Maehara was dabbling with foreign affairs and was playing a crucial role in handling Japan’s US policy.

He’s speaking here of Maehara Seiji, who was involved with the discussions. Mr. Panda thinks that Mr. Maehara’s participation was due to his connections with the American government, and were improper because he was the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport. He is not aware that Maehara Seiji held another Cabinet portfolio at the time — Minister of State for Okinawa and the Northern Territories. It was his business to be involved.

In other words, Mr. Panda doesn’t know the A of the ABCs of Japanese politics/government.

The Obama administration was aware that there was a section of politicians in Japan who sought distance from Washington. Even many Japanese people started to view Japan’s policies as being dictated by the US and described their own country as “America’s baby”. In particular, right-wing nationalists vouched for reducing reliance on the US and argued that Japan must not be afraid to take a confrontational position in foreign policy.

“Started to view”? That view started among many Japanese people on 16 August 1945. And if there is a certified demonstration of lazy thinking/no thinking/no real experience among people writing about Japan, it is their wishful thinking about the effect on modern politics of “right-wing nationalists”, whatever either of those debased terms mean nowadays. The psychopundits either overlook or never saw that the same arguments attributed to those unenlightened and unintelligent dregs of society have been made even more stridently by the left-wing internationalists in Japan. The leading figures of the Democratic Party government are among the country’s most well-known left-wing internationalists.

The Obama administration is believed to be instrumental in Hatoyama’s ouster from office because of the latter’s inept handling of the Futenma base relocation issue.

Not in the US and Japan of Planet Earth. Last rites were already being prepared for Hatoyama Yukio a few months after he took office, for a galaxy of reasons. Futenma was the coup de grace. People are not without their suspicions about American string-pulling in the Japanese government, but the Democratic Party did not want to go into the July 2010 upper house elections led by a man whose support ratings were maxing out at 19% in the polls.

The inept handling of the Futenma base relocation issue? Mr. Hatoyama broke his pre-election promises — which of course the U.S. knew about — to do what the United States wanted to do. This doesn’t make much sense.

Besides, Campbell complained in October 2009 about Hatoyama’s policy towards China and South Korea. At the Nuclear Summit in April 2010 held at Washington, Obama snubbed Hatoyama and weeks later Hatoyama resigned and was replaced by the more US acceptable Kan Naoto. Kan immediately confirmed that the Futenma base issue would proceed according to the US desire. No wonder, when the leaks surfaced, he declined to comment and said that the announcement of information was “not legitimate”.

Kan Naoto is one of the leading left-wing internationalists of the DPJ, though he is also known as a trimmer most interested in power. Japanese arms were almost certainly twisted to cause the DPJ to cry uncle, but the crying had already happened before Mr. Kan’s turn arrived. As deputy prime minister, he had a ringside seat.

It is too soon to assess how the public will digest the dishonesty of the DPJ and how the Japanese government succumbed to the US pressure to follow its line of thinking. The opposition is likely to mount a campaign again calling for Kan’s resignation. Maehara was seen as an agent of the US and the Japanese people are unlikely to forgive him.

It will always be too soon for Mr. Panda to offer analysis about Japan. None of this happened. The opposition mounted a campaign calling for Kan’s resignation, but none of the many compelling reasons had anything to do with the United States. Mr. Maehara has been relegated to the sidelines, not because he was seen as an “agent of the US”, but because he’s viewed as an opportunistic lightweight with an unexplained affinity for North Korea.

Japan-US ties are too complex and its real value cannot be evaluated from this single incident.

Nor can they be evaluated by a drive-by observer lacking field-specific knowledge. The only solution for dealing with people such as Mr. Panda is to persecute them to the fullest extent of the Internet Law of the Jungle.

Finally, here’s how the Ryukyu Shimpo, an Okinawan newspaper, handled with the revelations:

According to U.S. official telegrams disclosed by WikiLeaks, while the DPJ administration was seeking the relocation outside of Okinawa Prefecture of the U.S. Marine Corps now based at Futenma, a staff member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan suggested to United States government officials that they should not compromise on the Futenma relocation plan. The cable indicates that both governments inflated the numbers involved in U.S. Marine Forces Transfer Plan from Okinawa to Guam. The Roadmap for Realignment Implementation agreed to by both governments in the spring of 2006 states that 8000 Marine Corps personnel and 9000 dependents would move to Guam, but leaked telegrams indicate that these numbers were inflated to optimize their political value.


The cables also include an example of a Japanese career bureaucrat recommending to United States officials that they stay on course with the Roadmap for Futenma relocation after the regime change to the Democratic Party of Japan. At an unofficial lunch meeting October 12, 2009, Director General of Bureau of Defense Policy Shigenobu Takamizawa is reported as warning the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt M. Campbell “against premature demonstration of flexibility in adjusting the realignment package.” The cables also reported that a counselor in charge of political affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan made the basically the same remark to his counterpart of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. The cables therefore indicate that career bureaucrats moved to prevent the Hatoyama administration from seeking the relocation of the facilities at Futenma outside of Okinawa.

This is more evidence, by the way, that the Japanese bureaucracy considers itself to be the permanent ruling class of Japan. That exonerates neither Mr. Hatoyama nor the DPJ, however. Another of their campaign promises was to bring the bureaucracy under control, and they have the authority to do so if they choose to use it. But enjoying the perquisites of political status is more attractive than exercising that authority and touching off a de facto civil war that few of them have the ability to contest.

Diplomatic cables from this period show that despite the DPJ’s formal efforts to find a new candidate site for Futenma, the United States from an early stage thought the Hatoyama administration would go along with the 2006 agreement as long as the United States continued to reject any alternatives.

On Dec. 10, the U.S. Embassy inTokyo dispatched a cable that was classified “secret” and for American eyes only.

The cable said, “Five DPJ Cabinet members (Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa and Maehara) met on the evening of December 8 and agreed that they could not accept moving forward with the Futenma Relocation Facility (FRF) because of opposition from the DPJ’s coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party.”

According to the document, Maehara explained to Roos that Japan would seek a number of alternatives that might be acceptable to both the United States and the Okinawa people.

But the cable shows that Maehara also said, “If the U.S. does not agree to any alternative to the existing FRF plan, the DPJ would be prepared to go ahead with the current relocation plan and let the coalition break up if necessary after Golden Week (April 29 to May 5 in 2010).”

Thank you, Julian Assange.

But there’s more:

On Dec. 21, 2009, then Vice Foreign Minister Mitoji Yabunaka had a lunch meeting with (US Ambassador) Roos. Their discussion was included in a cable classified as “secret.”

Yabunaka referred to the Dec. 17 meeting in Copenhagen between Hatoyama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The cable has Yabunaka saying, “Prime Minister Hatoyama confirmed to the secretary in Copenhagen that if the (Japan) review of the FRF alternatives to Henoko did not yield viable proposals, (Japan) would return to the 2006 FRF agreement.”

Immediately after his meeting with Clinton, Hatoyama told reporters accompanying him: “It would be very dangerous to force through (the 2006 agreement). We have begun efforts to think about new alternatives.”

However, the cable has Yabunaka referring to those media reports as “inaccurate.”


On Jan. 26, then Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yorihisa Matsuno met with embassy officials. A cable classified as “confidential” and titled, “Hatoyama confidante on Futenma, Nago election,” described Matsuno as “Hinting at current Kantei (Prime Minister’s Office) thinking.”

Matsuno is further quoted as saying, “Hatoyama and the Okinawa Working Group will have to consider ‘for form’s sake’ Futenma options outside of Okinawa, but the only realistic options are to move Futenma to Camp Schwab or another ‘existing facility.’”

The cable also has Matsuno saying, “The Camp Schwab landfill option was ‘dead.’”

Turning over a New Loop

A flood of media features timed for the 40th anniversary of the reversion of Okinawa to Japan and the related events washed over news media consumers last week. Hatoyama Yukio went back to Okinawa for the first time since he dined on crow with the Okinawa governor in May 2010, and delivered a speech at a Ginowan hotel.

Here’s how he started the speech:

“I love all Okinawans.”

You’re such a lovely audience!

He continued by whining:

“I wanted to let some air into the (base) issue. I wanted to make some progress during my time in office, somehow.”

Before he appalled the nation:

“I have not been able now to satisfy the emotion of “outside the prefecture, at a minimum”. I can clearly state that one who has not satisfied that emotion does not fully understand the emotions of everyone in Okinawa. I intend to have that belief always.”

Everyone in Japan knew what he meant despite the vacuum-packed circumlocution and euphemism. All the headlines in the print media trumpeted the Hatoyama claim that he still supported moving the base outside the prefecture.

There was remarkably little anger, incidentally. People long ago realized he’s an eternal adolescent (most closely resembling a junior high school girl) with too little sense and too much money who had no business becoming prime minister. They intend to have that belief always.

One of his excuses was that he wasn’t able to do devote all his attention to the issue because he was too busy putting together a budget, despite having thousands of subordinates at his disposal. Nobody believed that, either, coming as it did from a man who preferred to attend galas with his trophy wife, the royalty of showbiz, and the Imperial household rather than attend to the business of government.

There was also the usual externalization of the internal fog:

“My thinking got too far ahead of itself, and I wasn’t able to fully convince many people.

“When I think about it, I wonder if it was an unreasonable course. When I think about it now, that’s what I think.”

Nonaka Hiromu, the chief cabinet secretary under LDP Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo in 2000, attended the same event as Mr. Hatoyama. When it was his turn to speak, he looked directly at the former prime minister and said:

“Men are supposed to have a sense of shame. Did you come so casually to Okinawa to dishonor (literally, hurl mud at) the Okinawans?”

Later interviewed by the Ryukyu Shimpo, he added:

“A person who stands on the dais and dishonors the Okinawans makes my blood boil (literally, steams my guts).”

Mr. Hatoyama was his oblivious self when he too was interviewed by the Ryukyu Shimpo the next day:

“It was natural to raise the issue of moving the base outside the prefecture.”

By this time he had found a new excuse:

“The Defense and Foreign Ministry bureaucracy struggled to decide how to return the base to Henoko (in line with the pre-existing agreement). They introduced the logic through the Americans that it would be inappropriate to take the base outside the prefecture, and only Henoko was acceptable.”

He’s confirming the Wikileaks revelations about Messrs. Takamizawa and Yabunaka above, and indirectly contradicting Mr. Kan’s denial. All he had to do to end the malarkey was put his foot down, but there wasn’t enough time to put him through a series of testosterone injections.


After His Majesty’s Firing Squad in the Kingdom of Just Deserts dispatches Assange, it will be the turn of Hatoyama Yukio to stand blindfolded against the wall for his high political crimes and misdemeanors. Pinned to his lapel will be a medal for the service he rendered his country by using his mother’s money to buy the party that ended single-party rule in Japan.



A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 51% of Likely U.S. Voters now believe the United States should remove all its troops from Western Europe and let the Europeans defend themselves. Only 29% disagree, but another 20% are undecided.

That number will probably continue to grow and extend to Asia, if it already doesn’t.


Mr. Hatoyama isn’t the only one who wanted to go back to Okinawa. I’ll bet the other guys had more fun, though.

Posted in Government, History, International relations, Military affairs, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hashimoto Toru (4): Twitter as a weapon

Posted by ampontan on Monday, April 2, 2012

THE politicians with the greatest impact on their societies are those who understand how to breach the clamorous electronic thicket and speak directly to John Q. Public, both individually and en masse at the same time. They are the ones who part the waves in the carp- and shark-filled waters where they swim, and convert those creatures from predators into remora.

What you are about to read is an example of how Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru speaks directly to the Japanese public: Through an almost daily fusillade of messages on Twitter. That doesn’t seem possible, effective, or even interesting in theory, but in practice there are several sparks of genius and creativity to it. It’s much easier to be a Twitter follower than to actively follow a blog. The messages are compact and quickly conveyed. It’s the difference between being given a small confection as you pass through a room instead of seeking out a bakery and buying your own. Each of Mr. Hashimoto’s Tweets is like a pearl on a string; they’re one segment of a larger daily theme that includes two or three topics. They stimulate the desire to read the next, as if one were following a newspaper serial. They can be consumed individually on their own, but the overall structure of a greater narrative appears when they’re read in digest form.

The more you read, the more remarkable it becomes. He’s turned a medium of the trivial and ephemeral into a weapon. He clearly writes the messages himself, and the content of the messages themselves is always clear. This is not focus group-tested oatmeal, or the ersatz inspirational rhetoric framed by Styrofoam Greek columns that is the political equivalent of paintings on velvet. Whether he is speaking of his theory of government or kidney-punching a critic — which sometimes happens in the same Tweet — it is always frank, direct, and infused with a sense of practicality. Opponents won’t have to dig through the records to find words that can be used against him, but he’s transcended that process and rendered it irrelevant. Everybody already knows where he stands.

Since January, he has been the most followed person on Twitter Japan.

Here is a translation of a single day’s output in February. I’ll let the narrative speak for itself and unfold as it did that day, complete with time stamps. To briefly explain to those unfamiliar with the terms used in discussions about government in Japan, “community” here is 共同体, or a community in a broad sense. It can also mean collective or colony, as in an artist’s colony. The term “basic self-governing unit” is also a common term and point of discussion, and refers to a municipality.

Our opinions are sometimes in opposition, but discussions on the telephone resolve them. People often meet face to face as part of One Osaka activities, and we talk and work out our differences then. When I was governor (of Osaka), a prefecture employee told me, “It requires two years of preparation for the Osaka governor and the Osaka mayor to meet.” That is the reality of the prefecture and the city.

posted at 02:07:49

Greenhorn scholars who know nothing of these circumstances continue to say they don’t understand the meaning of the Osaka Metro District concept. Why not just have meetings, is the intellectuals’ comment. No matter who the governor and mayor are, it is extremely difficult to reach an agreement that transcends competing interests between individual independent organizations with authority. That is the reality.

posted at 02:09:56

Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka now have a governor and mayor from the same political group. That enables judgments transcending the opposing interests of the prefecture and city. But situations such as these are extremely rare. That’s why the Osaka Metro District concept would create a system of regional government that incorporates greater Osaka and prevents the incompatibility of competing interests.

posted at 02:13:14

Today Governor Matsui and I talked about various things while having some oden. There probably won’t be another governor-mayor relationship like this again. That’s why it’s necessary now to systematize the relationship between the prefecture and the city. Putting that aside, a (newspaper) article has appeared which symbolizes how college professors are dreaming lambs surrounded by fantasy, who never accomplish anything.

posted at 02:15:48

There’s the college professor named Uchida Tatsuru or something. In the Yomiuri Shimbun on the 9th, he says we must aim for communities of a realistic size. He says my Osaka Metro District concept is a growth path behind the times. Then he says the urban model for the 21st century should be something like his aikido dojo with about 150 people.

posted at 02:18:24

This honorable gentleman (N.B.: 御仁, with deliberate sarcasm) cannot distinguish between the communities that create the sustenance for the citizens’ survival and other groupings. There’s no way that 120 million people can eat with just an aikido dojo (structure). The only community that can support an economy to maintain a mature country is regional government. A community whose axis is the mutual support of the residents is the basic self-governing unit.

posted at 02:26:44

Broadly speaking, there are two communities. There is the nation-state, which encompasses all of them. Mr. Uchida completely mixes up regional governments with basic self-governing units. Why does a scholar present such a childish argument? It’s because he only thinks and has never done anything. Mr. Uchida talks about an idealistic theory, and says the basic principle is to provide for every member.

posted at 02:29:02

Then he says I would write off society’s weak and its losers. What is the man talking about? When Mr. Uchida was the special advisor to former Mayor Hiramatsu (Mr. Hashimoto’s predecessor), he seems to have held something like symposiums. But if you ask what concrete policies he implemented, the answer is none. I’m uncomfortable blowing my own horn, but I established a system in which students can attend even private high schools for free.

posted at 02:30:57

As of last year, 4,000 children who had no money and once could only choose public high schools have flowed into private schools. That flow is expected to increase this year. Since I became mayor, I have begun work to implement programs to expand financial assistance for health care expenditures to third-year junior high school students, and to make prenatal checkups free. It’s been hard finding the funding.

posted at 02:33:53

As for how Mr. Uchida has provided for every member, and what sort of policies he’s implemented, he’s one of those scholars who completely leaves that part out. If a person would think of how to provide for the people of the prefecture and implement a policy in this Osaka, it would collide with the necessity to create a unified regional government of the prefecture and city.

posted at 02:35:22

If you would implement an economic policy in the city of Osaka, you run into the wall of the prefectural government and City Hall. But former Mayor Hiramatsu only did about the work of a ward chief. His special advisor was Mr. Uchida, who insists on a community of realistic size with absolutely no understanding of regional government. How will the people of the prefecture eat?

posted at 02:37:34

Apart from the community that creates the means for people to survive, in other words, a regional government…the axis in the community that supports the daily lives of the people, in other words, the basic self-government unit, is the mutual support of the people. Well, that would probably work at the aikido dojo of 150 people he talks about. There is an appropriate size for this basic self-government unit.

posted at 02:40:30

It is the size in which the mayor and city offices can be in close communication with the residents. That is the life of basic self-government units. Now, I’m the mayor of Osaka with 2,600,000 people, and it isn’t possible to be in close communication with the residents. That’s why it has to be divided into an appropriate size (i.e., breaking up the city/prefecture into self-governing wards). When Mr. Uchida was a special advisor, he didn’t accomplish anything, did he?

posted at 02:42:01

Mr. Uchida declares that a narrative linking the community is indispensable. Well, wouldn’t that have been good to do when he was a special advisor? People have to work to eat. The communities of units for working for a living, and the communities of units of self-support…in today’s Japan, there is no arrangement of the communities at all. The centralized authorities and the nation as a whole are just a rough estimate of a community.

posted at 02:44:45

Then in the Mainichi Shimbun on the 12th, he says the image of the leader sought is a paternal type leader. Here we go again with the dreaming lamb. How do we select a leader like that? There are only elections, aren’t there? Well, what is the distance between the leader and his connection with the voters? If you’re talking about having a close connection between the mayor and the people in a city of 2,600,000, it’s not happening.

posted at 02:47:52

It’s not possible, and it’s not possible to have the relationship between a leader and the residents in a community whose axis is mutual support. That’s why the size of the community is important. Can the leader and the residents achieve the father-child relationship of which Mr. Uchida speaks? That’s a conversation for the basic self-governing units. The size limit is probably 300-400,000 people.

posted at 02:49:55

In the Yomiuri Shimbun, Mr. Uchida tells us not to think about government units by size, and in the Mainichi Shimbun, he argues that the relationship between the residents and the leader should be that of father and child. He is the symbol of a person immersed in fantasy. You have to create a governmental unit in which the residents and the leader can create a father-child relationship. It’s not possible for that type of leader to emerge by leaving a local government on its own.

posted at 02:52:24

Mr. Uchida is not aware that governmental units are artificial to start with. Of course something artificially created can be artificially reworked. Mr. Uchida would probably want to roughly maintain the status quo. The leaders of communities can also be broadly divided into two types.

posted at 02:55:46

There is the paternal leader of the basic self-governing unit of which Mr. Uchida speaks, whose axis is human communication. Then there is the corporate executive-type of leader who provides sustenance to the residents, but has little human relationship with the residents. That is the leader of a regional government. The appropriate relationship between the residents and the leader will be determined by the type of administrative unit and its size.

posted at 02:57:28

There is no organization of Japan’s communities today, and that’s why the relationship between the residents/voters and the leaders is not suitable. Therefore, leaders cannot demonstrate leadership. (The) first (step is to) change the mechanisms. Rearrange the communities. Artificially created communities should be artificially reworked. That is the Osaka Metro District concept.

posted at 03:00:08

This is what I sensed by actually conducting the affairs of government. I understood that by serving as a governor, the head of a regional government, and as the mayor of a “specially designated city”, which combines (the functions) of a regional government and a basic self-governing body. A scholar who doesn’t do anything would never understand this. Mr. Uchida was originally a special advisor to former Mayor Hiramatsu. Do at least one thing before you start mouthing off!

posted at 03:02:32

Mr. Uchida rejects the idea of a businessman-type leader as the leader of a community. He has no awareness of the nature of a community, because he’s never done any real work. It isn’t the case that a businessman type can’t function as the leader of a regional government. How about taking a field trip for a day and watch the Osaka mayor and governor at work? The leader of a basic self-governing body is paternal.

posted at 07:35:01

There’s a sloppiness to this aspect of Japan today. Also, Mr. Uchida laments that Japanese organizations are dysfunctional; we have to provide authority and responsibility to leaders. That is the reorganization of population-based organizations itself. The city of Osaka has become a governing mechanism in which paternal leaders cannot arise. That’s why we’ll make the city of Osaka into a suitable basic self-governing body. (N.B.: An aggregation of them)

posted at 07:37:09

We will rework the communit(ies) so that paternal leaders can arise in the city of Osaka. This must be done artificially, through such means as transferring authority. The first step is the solicitation of ward heads. Ward head reform. Transferring authority from the mayor to ward heads. This will cause 24 paternal leaders to be created in the city of Osaka. We will eliminate the role of the mayor of Osaka. The ward head council, the first step toward that, starts today.

posted at 07:39:00

It would have been good if Mr. Uchida had put into practice any idea that would create paternal leaders in the city of Osaka when he was a special advisor. But scholars don’t do anything. They just complain. It is truly a frivolous, irresponsible business.

(end translation)
* Remember, he does this almost every day.

* The terms paternalism and nanny-state are seldom used in Japanese political discourse. Whether Mr. Hashimoto actually believes that basic self-governing units should be paternal, or whether he is deliberately turning Prof. Uchida’s words against him, I’m not sure.

* Uchida Tatsuru is described on Japanese Wikipedia as a “thinker, martial artist, translator, and professor emeritus at Kobe College”. He’s a Tokyo University grad who is an “intellectual liberal” and thinks Article 9 of the Constitution should be maintained, though he admits the legitimacy of self defense. They say that even though he is regarded as a left-winger, he has “conservative aspects”. They are referring to his “criticism of Marxism (not a criticism of Marx), his criticism of the student movement, and his criticism of feminist ideology (not a criticism of feminism)”.

Brings new insight into the terms “liberal” and “conservative”, doesn’t it?

* It’s easy to see why he isn’t the candidate of the suit and tie and sober discussion crowd.

* The anti-intellectual jabs might be due in part to his academic background. He struggled to get into the university he wanted to attend, and studied on his own in Spartan conditions for a year after high school to pass the test to Waseda, which has an excellent academic reputation. He passed the difficult Japanese bar examination two years after he was graduated from university, and opened his own law office two years after that. He practiced civil rather than criminal law.

Undemocratic democrats

The Democratic Party of Japan had been holding meetings since mid-March to reach an internal consensus for a proposal to raise the consumption tax that their government could send to the Diet. Because the party consists of incompatible elements to start with, and there is strong opposition within the party to a tax increase, their consensus-building effort ended in failure. With the DPJ, it always ends in failure for major issues.

The leadership’s solution was to tell the dissenters to shut up and go home.

Most of the dissenters are aligned with Ozawa Ichiro, which means everyone knows they could flounce out of the party tomorrow, and no one knows how many actually would. It would be impossible to remain in power if they bolted, however, so the elements controlling the party contort themselves into asanas to prevent that, though most of them can’t stand Mr. Ozawa personally.

Therefore, they made some changes to the bill (which will be debated further in the Diet) to try to create a consensus, and suggested others.

The most ominous is that party leaders offered to eliminate the clause to continue raising the consumption tax beyond 10%. That means the national pols and the bureaucrats have a blueprint for feeding a big government, administrative state that they aren’t telling the public about, that the battle will continue indefinitely, and that there will be political blood gushing out of the elevators before it’s over.

One change they did include is a pointless clause asking the government to take the steps required to achieve 3% nominal economic growth and 2% real growth. Achieving that growth isn’t a prerequisite for a tax increase, however, which is what the Ozawa side wanted.

The discussions were heated and moved along parallel lines, as the Japanese expression has it. The objective was to come up with something allowing the government to introduce the bill in the Diet before the end of the fiscal year at the end of March. (The government finally did submit it on Friday, the last working day.)

To reach their deadline, DPJ leaders ended the final discussions without a consensus after meeting from 8:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. Their opponents were furious. Some tried to prevent Maehara Seiji, who was conducting the talks, from leaving the room.

The opponents held a news conference to blast their own party and its methods. Some MPs are threatening to vote against it the bill in the Diet. Some resigned from secondary Cabinet positions in protest, though not all did (suggesting that Mr. Ozawa’s influence is still waning). Mr. Maehara insisted the procedures were on the up-and-up, and (owing to the nature of the Westminster system used in Japan) said that all party members had the obligation to hold their badges up in the chamber and vote yes.

Kamei Shizuka, the head of the People’s New Party, which still in the ruling coalition, made good on his threat to walk and took fellow member Kamei Akiko (no relation) with him. Not all the members of his splinter party left the coalition, however.

What we’re watching is the current system as it fractures.

Hashimoto trills

Hashimoto Toru thought this was a suitable topic to include in his Twitter messages for the day. There were 39 in the daily digest, and the first and last were references to his daughter becoming his Twitter follower after she got her first cell phone. Here are the ones related to DPJ conduct:

First, there are the internal party procedures the DPJ used for the consumption tax increase. I wonder why they didn’t decide by majority vote? They should have exhausted the debate by now, so the only way to settle it after that is majority vote. The people with authority make the judgment whether or not debate has been exhausted. That seems to have been left up to policy chief Maehara Seiji. Did he decide by the amount of applause?

posted at 19:21:44

Political parties are now incapable of majority decisions. It would leave an aftertaste if they used that method. That’s why the decisions take the form of a group consensus. That is the principal culprit in (Japanese) democracy’s inability to make a decision. Decide by seeing who has the most votes. Those with fewer votes will comply because it was decided by majority vote. Anyone who doesn’t like that should leave the group.

posted at 19:23:23

Japanese have not received a proper education in this basic rule of democracy. The bad aftertaste remains because they haven’t received that education. Debate should be exhausted. Then, when the time is right, majority vote rules. There’s nothing at all unusual about this iron rule of democracy. But people are incapable of it.

posted at 19:24:44

After I assumed the role of governor, more than 98% of the decisions were made by common agreement following discussion. For the rest of them, however, when we couldn’t come to an agreement no matter how much we discussed it, we had a vote and went with the majority. That’s Hashism! So, how do you decide, you ask. That shows the fragility of Japan, where no distinction is made between politics and governmental administration.

posted at 19:28:46

After an interval of more than an hour:

As soon as the One Osaka group said the consumption tax should be converted to a local tax, both the LDP and the DPJ criticized us: Local governments mustn’t make demands! What will happen to the national revenue sources? We wrote about that in our policy program. We’ll give the regional tax allocations back to the central government. The DPJ’s tax increase strategy is a mistake, and it isn’t even a strategy.

posted at 20:46:04

The DPJ wants to raise the 5% consumption tax. That’s about JPY 12 trillion in revenue. If they want JPY 12 trillion in revenue, they should eliminate the regional tax allocation, in which the national government sends JPY 17 million to the regions. In exchange for giving that up, we would receive all of the consumption tax.

posted at 20:48:39

JPY 3 trillion of the regional tax allocation is the portion from the consumption tax, so the central government would receive a JPY 14 trillion revenue source if we traded. Increasing the consumption tax makes the people the other party (in the arrangement). That’s why people are opposing it, worried about an election. But eliminating the regional tax allocation makes local government the other party. That’s a struggle between administrative bodies. Therefore, logic can be used to prevail.

posted at 20:51:14

He switched to another topic, but returned about 20 minutes later.

The DPJ championed regional sovereignty, but they had no philosophy for making the regions self-sufficient. While they talked about regional sovereignty, they indulged the regions by distributing money. It was the philosophy of listening to the regions’ self-indulgence. Just give the regions the consumption tax and let them be self-sufficient. All they have to do is retrieve the regional tax allocation and chop down the subsidy. That is the road to Japan’s revival.

posted at 21:09:05

(end translation)
One of the complaints about Mr. Hashimoto is that he’s fascistic (there’s no application of Godwin’s Law in Japan). There have been political cartoons with toothbrush moustaches and peaked military hats with crooked symbols. What they mean is that he’s dictatorial. With their exceptional ability at word play, the Japanese have taken to calling his policies and methods Hashism. Note how Mr. Hashimoto co-opts the phrase for his own advantage.

Speaking of dictators, Ozawa Ichiro was struck by the irony of the DPJ leadership’s decision to squash debate:

“They say I’m high-handed and iron-fisted, but the DPJ’s method of conducting party affairs is far more high-handed and iron fisted than mine. They must have a democratic debate worthy of the name Democratic Party, even if it takes time.”

Can’t win them all

The Osaka City Council voted on a bill last week that would put nuclear plant operation to a plebiscite of the residents. Mr. Hashimoto submitted the bill as directly requested by a citizens’ group. The bill lost, as only the Communist Party went along with his group. Both the LDP and the Communist Party submitted amendments to expedite its passage, but they were voted down too. The LDP said the vote should be limited to Japanese citizens, and the DPJ agreed. One Osaka and New Komeito disagreed, however, because they thought this wasn’t a mere expression of public opinion but a bill to determine specific policy. (I’m not sure I understand that logic.) One aspect left unexpressed is the substantial number of zainichi in the region (Japan-born residents with Korean citizenship), and the many zainichi who are New Komeito members/supporters.

Mr. Hashimoto said he would present a stockholder plan to Kansai Electric to distance the utility from nuclear power, in accordance with the citizens who signed the request. The city owns Kansai Electric Power stock.

As to what sort of plan he has in mind, Mr. Hashimoto attended a meeting of the Energy Strategy Council affiliated with the Osaka City government on Sunday and approved a stockholder plan to Kansai Electric to eliminate nuclear power entirely. He explained his reason:

“The only ones who could look at the (Fukushima) accident and remain unaffected are robots or those with little emotion…with the nuclear accident before our eyes, it is excruciating to put a lid on the fear and sense of revulsion of flesh and blood people.”

It’s a good thing no politician is able to win them all.

Finally, another politician was quoted in my local newspaper as saying that the best tactic for the DPJ and the LDP now would be to hold an election quickly and prevent Mr. Hashimoto and One Osaka from settling on a slate of candidates. That’s the second day in a row I’ve seen that theory. While that tactic is understandable, it is a clear intent to subvert the popular will.

That will only make it worse. It’s impossible to say when it will happen, but I suspect the existing political parties in Japan will finally understand the meaning of “terrible swift sword”.

He out-bops the buzzard and the oriole!

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On the way down

Posted by ampontan on Friday, March 2, 2012

Fear not, my lord, we will not stand to prate;
Talkers are no good doers: be assured
We come to use our hands and not our tongues.
– Shakespeare, The Life and Death of King Richard III

THE soaring support for reform-minded local political parties and groups in Japan, personified by Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, is paralleled by a sharp slide in backing for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. They too talked the reform talk, but were incapable of walking the walk without pratfalls and belly flops. Any prominent party member could be selected at random to represent their failure, but Maehara Seiji, former Foreign Minister and current DPJ Policy Research Chair would be an excellent candidate for poster boy as any.

The Iu Dake Bancho

Mr. Maehara became prominent as a relative foreign policy hawk and domestic moderate in a party infused with a large element of ex-Socialists, teacher unionistas, and other variegated leftists. After the DPJ was steamrolled in the 2005 lower house election by the Koizumi-led Liberal Democratic Party, they chose Mr. Maehara to replace Okada Katsuya as party president. They just as quickly dumped him the following year after he attempted to manufacture a political crisis based on an e-mail that was found to be bogus.

A harsh critic of then-party President Ozawa Ichiro, he was viewed by some in the LDP as a man they could work with. He showed up for meetings of a short-lived study group created by former Prime Minister Koizumi, who cited him as a potential PM. Though people wondered whether he might form an alliance with disaffected LDP reformers, it never materialized. He knew the DPJ was his shortest route to power and a prominent place on the public stage.

When the DPJ took control of government in 2009, Mr. Maehara was named the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport. To demonstrate that the party would end the old LDP practice of turning on the money spigot for legal vote buying with pork barrel construction projects, he announced the suspension of work on the Yanba Dam, a controversial project in Gunma. That suspension was controversial itself, however, because many people in the region actually wanted the dam built, and he didn’t waste any time consulting with them before making up his mind. (Among the dam’s intended uses is supplying water to the Tokyo megalopolis.) The final approval to resume construction was recently announced by a successor at MLIT, but not after a substantial amount of time, money (such as penalties for cancelling construction contracts), and party credibility was squandered. Mr. Maehara was loudly against restarting construction until he was for it just before the resumption order was issued.

That and several other incidents marked him a talker instead of a doer. Exhibiting their wicked talent for wordplay, some in the Japanese news media, most notably the Sankei Shimbun, began referring to him as the Iu Dake Bancho (言うだけ番長). In fact, the newspaper coined the term just for him, but played the journo game by pretending that other, unidentified people were saying it. Before long, other identified people were doing just that.

To explain: Bancho was a term for a minor government official centuries ago, but in the 20th century it came to be used to refer to the leader of juvenile delinquent gangs of junior high or high school age. Iu means to speak or to say, and dake means “only”. The phrase was inspired by a comic book series that ran from 1967–1971 called Yuyake Bancho (Sunset Bancho) created by Kajiwara Ikki.

After the moniker appeared again in the paper’s 22 February edition, Maehara Seiji lost the plot. He prohibited Sankei reporters from attending his twice-weekly news conferences and covering in person the party affairs for which he has responsibility.

The Sankei published their side of the story earlier this week. Here it is.

The Sankei Shimbun has used the expression Iu Dake Bancho to refer to the behavior of DPJ Policy Research Committee Chair Maehara Seiji. The phrase is modeled after the comic Yuyake Bancho. We also had in mind the incident with the fake e-mail that occurred in 2006 when he was the DPJ president.

There have been 16 articles in the final editions of this newspaper using that phrase in regard to Mr. Maehara. The first was on 15 September 2011. The passage read, “In the background, there is distrust of Mr. Maehara, who has been referred to as the Iu Dake Bancho. Soon after his appointment (to his current post), he proposed during a visit to the United States a reexamination of the three principles for the export of weapons. That led to criticism within the party that he shouldn’t be allowed to act arbitrarily on his own authority.”

In an article on 30 September, when Mr. Maehara proposed to increase by an additional JPY two trillion the amount in the government’s plan for non-tax-derived income to fund the Tohoku recovery, we wrote “It is possible that if the target amount is not achieved, the inglorious term of Iu Dake Bancho will become permanent.”

When Mr. Maehara was the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport, he froze construction on the Yanba dam in Gunma. When the decision to resume construction was announced on 24 December, we wrote, “It is unlikely he will be able to refute being mocked as the Iu Dake Bancho, after finally agreeing to the resumption after opposing it until just before it was announced.”

The Yukan Fuji, some weekly magazines, and some regional newspapers have also used the expression in addition to the Sankei Shimbun.

The Sankei didn’t mention that they publish the Yukan Fuji, but they also didn’t mention the phrase had been picked up by the competing Yomiuri Shimbun, nor did they specify Shukan Shincho as one of the weekly magazines.

The newspaper also used the phrase in the headline for an 8 November article that began like this:

“Policy Research Committee Chair Maehara Seiji was not present during the conference of the secretaries-general of the DPJ, LDP, and New Komeito, though he had worked to coordinate policy with the opposition parties until then. The discussion among the three policy chiefs about the period of redemption for reconstruction bonds was difficult, and DPJ Secretary-General Koshiishi Azuma lost his patience and assumed the leading role in the talks. There was a marked difference in negotiating skills between the LDP and New Komeito on the one hand, and Maehara Seiji on the other, who quickly accepted their proposals with little debate. He worked very hard in the three-party conference to rebound from his reputation as the Iu Dake Bancho, but the situation was such that the authority for other ruling party/opposition party discussions in the future, including that for increasing the consumption tax, had to be taken from him.”

The last straw article in the Sankei on the 22nd quoted a senior LDP official as saying, “He will not lose the stigma of being known as the Iu Dake Bancho.” The next day, Mr. Maehara confronted a Sankei Shimbun reporter in the Diet building, said “I want to talk to you,” and escorted him to his office. Here’s the Sankei’s version of that talk:

“Why do you always write Iu Dake Bancho whenever something happens? I want a formal written answer from your newspaper in the name of the chairman. Without that answer, I will not recognize your coverage of the policy discussion meetings…I get a dark feeling just from reading your articles. This is on the level of childish bullying and the ‘violence of the pen’. I won’t recognize you at news conferences or permit your coverage until I get an answer.”

After reporting to his superior, the journalist returned to ask Mr. Maehara to specify in writing what sort of answer he wanted. “I’ll think about it,” was the answer.

If Mr. Maehara thought he was going to get any sympathy, he was mistaken. What little support he received in his own party was subdued. The Asahi Shimbun — whose political views are the polar opposite of the Sankei — wrote:

“All news companies, the Asahi Shimbun included, oppose excluding specific news organizations and demand an explanation. Mr. Maehara avoided a clear statement by refraining from discussing the specific content of reporting.”

One reason for the lack of sympathy was that a lot of people thought the shoe fit. Said a journalist:

“There have been innumerable occasions when Mr. Maehara made a statement that was just talk, such as his suspension of construction for the Yanba Dam. There’s really nothing to be said if people call him Iu Dake Bancho, but to get upset at that heckling isn’t very mature.”

Eguchi Katsuhiko, an upper house member from Your Party, knows Maehara Seiji well because the DPJ policy chief graduated from the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management, which Mr. Eguchi was instrumental in organizing and operating. He said:

“It’s extremely unfortunate. Mr. Maehara looked up to Mr. Matsushita as a teacher, but that’s not how he would have done it. Instead, he would have invited the critic in and listened to him….If he wants to become prime minister, he shouldn’t get so concerned about every bit of criticism.”

LDP Diet member Fukaya Takashi wasn’t sympathetic either:

“False and childish reporting is unforgivable, but it’s not really in error for Mr. Maehara, who has a habit of saying all sorts of things and then finishing in a fog…If you think about citing examples, they’re too numerous to count.”

Mr. Maehara has been interested in exploring an alliance with Hashimoto Toru’s One Osaka party, but his petulance made that less likely to happen. Said new Osaka Gov. Matsui Ichiro:

“Well, he goes back on his word in an instant, so what do you expect people to say? He probably gets angry, but a complete refusal to allow coverage is excessive and unbecoming…If you’re going to say something, it’s a good idea to do it. It’s best not to say things you aren’t going to do.…If he’s got something to say, he should fight back on Twitter, like Mr. Hashimoto.”

Speaking of Hashimoto Toru:

“I don’t understand the reason for it, but if it were me, I’d have the reporter come in and we’d run each other down. If he said something bad about me, I’d give it back to him…I think there’s a certain line (for the content of reporting), but being critical is their job, and without it people in authority would become dangerous.”

A similar incident with Mr. Hashimoto presents a revealing contrast, both in how they dealt with media members who displeased them, and also in how people respond in different ways to the same behavior from different people depending on their perceptions of those people.

On 9 February 2008, then-Osaka Gov. Hashimoto was invited to appear on a live local NHK broadcast with the mayor of Osaka, the former governor of Tottori, and a university professor. He told NHK when he accepted the invitation that he had official business that day in Tokyo, and would be late for the start of the program. He confirmed that they understood more than once. When he showed up 30 minutes after the program started, announcer Fujii Ayako commented, “Well, he’s a little late, he arrived about 30 minutes late.”

In Japan, late is rude unless you have a good reason and let people know in advance. Mr. Hashimoto didn’t care for the comment because he made sure to tell them ahead of time. At a post-program news conference, he also revealed that NHK badgered him to change his work schedule for their benefit. He announced that henceforth, he would no longer appear on NHK programs, though he would respond to their reporters’ questions. Ms. Fujii was reassigned to Tokyo. The incident remains largely unknown.

Some observers think Mr. Maehara is wobbling under the pressure because Noda Yoshihiko may not last much longer as prime minister, and he’s one of few remaining people the party can put forward as a plausible successor. That’s assuming the party stays in power much longer and has the authority to put forward any successor. It’s no longer a secret that Mr. Noda and LDP chief Tanigaki Sadakazu held a secret meeting Saturday, like two mudboats passing in the night. The news media assumes they discussed a deal for a Diet dissolution and lower house election in exchange for an LDP promise to pass the DPJ’s consumption tax increase. Mr. Noda would not survive that election. There’s also speculation the DPJ would use the poll as an excuse to ditch Ozawa Ichiro. The bargain Mr. Sadakazu might be offering is: Get rid of Ozawa, and then we’ll form a tax-increase coalition government with what’s left of the two parties.

I suspect the problem lies elsewhere, however. Maehara Seiji’s ambition to become prime minister is not a new phenomenon, so if his knees were to get wobbly by approaching the throne, they already would have done so. The Sankei isn’t the only target of his petulance, either. He also bounced a reporter from the Hokkaido Shimbun from a recent news conference by telling him, “What you wrote differed from the facts. Please leave at once.”

After the 2009 lower house election, everything was coming up roses for the DPJ. Mr. Maehara was expected to play a prominent role in national politics. That role was likely to include a spell as prime minister. Now, fewer than three years and multiple malfunctions later, the roses are blighted and the public is ready to dig up the bushes. Indeed, former DPJ President Ozawa Ichiro met with some of his younger supporters in the party last week and told them that Hashimoto Toru had stolen their reform thunder. He added, incorrectly, that it was not too late for them to snatch it back.

Maehara Seiji knows he is on the way down without having reached the top. He also knows it might be quite some time before he gets that close to the top again.


* You can almost smell the DPJ flop sweat. This week they announced they’d be doling out JPY three million apiece to their first term Diet members for “activity money”. Most of them are associated with Ozawa Ichiro’s group, which is opposed to the party’s plan to increase the consumption tax. They’re calling it activity money, but it’s really a bribe to keep them from bolting.

The funds will be distributed to 108 MPs, for an aggregate amount of JPY 324 million yen (almost $US four million).

One wonders how much of that money is derived from the public subsidies to political parties, or, if it isn’t, whether the party would be willing to spend that kind of cash if they hadn’t received the subsidies to begin with.

Americans have a system, by the way, in which people can check a box on their income tax forms to voluntarily contribute $3.00 (from the government) for generic political campaigns, without adding to their taxes. More than 90% leave the box unchecked.

* Former LDP Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro is very anxious to negotiate an election with the DPJ in exchange for a tax increase. Stupid is as stupid does.

Here’s the Yuyake Bancho himself!

The same people you misused on your way up
You might meet up
On your way down.

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Yomiuri poll on the popular perception of politics

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 25, 2011

THE Yomiuri Shimbun conducted a nationwide poll on the 12th and 13th — by direct interview, for a change — of the popular perceptions of today’s politics.

They were asked whether they thought politics in Japan had gotten worse in recent years.

Yes: 76%

The DPJ diehards will be tempted to shift the blame to the opposition for that — until they see the answers to some of the other questions. For example: Is the vote you cast in elections reflected in actual politics?

No: 81%

The last time this question was asked was in February 2008, under a LDP government. The percentage of noes then was 67%. The current percentage is a record high for the Yomiuri surveys.

One result the people hoped for with the change of government in 2009 was a move toward politican-led government (as opposed to bureaucrat-led government). Effecting this change was one of the major DPJ promises. Has the DPJ delivered on that promise?

No: 88%

The public was also asked to cite the most important problems with politics today, and was given the option of multiple answers. Here are the top three responses:

1. Politics is not conducted from the people’s perspective: 45%

2. Decisions on policy take too long: 42%

3. There is no vision for Japan’s future: 33%

“Margin of error” cannot be used to fudge these results. Has there been a more epic failure in postwar Japanese politics than the past two years of Democratic Party governments?

If you give me a week, maybe I can think of one.


During the past week, former DPJ President and Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro, former DPJ President (and Foreign Minister) Maehara Seiji, and LPD Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru raised the possibility of an early election next year. Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Maehara warned their supporters in the Diet that many of them could lose their seats unless they get on the stick. Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Ishihara suggested that the election would be held on the issue of the tax increase. The former, who opposes higher taxes, suggested that the DPJ might split as a result. The latter suggested that both parties might split as a result, and that two new parties could be created: an anti-tax-increase party, and a pro-tax-increase party.

If an election were to be held on that basis and an anti-tax party won, it might still be too late to stop the initial tax hike. In that scenario, the polling figures for some of the questions above would likely rise even higher.

Meanwhile, People’s New Party head Kamei Shizuka is dissatisfied with the DPJ’s progress on blocking Japan Post privatization, and that’s the only reason his splinter group joined the coalition. He’s also opposed to a tax increase. It’s been widely reported that he’s now approached Tokyo Metro District Gov. Ishihara Shintaro about leading a new, anti-tax “conservative” party. He’s also trying to get younger members of the DPJ and the LDP interested in the idea, as well as Osaka Gov. Hashimoto Toru, who recently resigned to run for mayor of the city of Osaka (that’s a long story).

The elder Ishihara was one of the not-so-silent partners in the formation of the paleo-convervative (in Japanese terms) Sunrise Party with Hiranuma Takeo and Yosano Kaoru. The little viability that party had was in helping media outlets fill space, and that was lost when Mr. Yosano joined the Kan Cabinet as part of the effort to raise taxes.

Always quick with a quip, Your Party President Watanabe Yoshimi observed that such a party would be radically backward-looking, and be indistinguishable from a faction in the old LDP. He added:

If they’re going to apply the term “conservative” to the course of purified socialism, that might create one grouping.

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Takahashi and Hasegawa on the real Japanese prime minister

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, October 13, 2011

It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.
– G.K. Chesterton

THE focus of the primary political articles in the 8 October edition of the weekly Shukan Gendai is on the influence of Finance Ministry bureaucrat Katsu Eijiro on the Noda administration. The headline on the front cover just below the logo dubs him “the real prime minister who is manipulating the dojo (fish) Noda”. Following the lead story is a dialogue between Hasegawa Yukihiro, a member of the Tokyo Shimbun editorial board, and Takahashi Yoichi, a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat, official in the Koizumi administration, college professor, and author. They are perhaps the foremost advocates in Japan for curbing the influence of the bureaucracy, and both have been frequently cited here.

Their dialogue is an excellent précis of the issue, both in general and how it involves the Noda administration. The amount of detail in the complete dialogue is overwhelming, so I’ve excerpted the important points in English.

Hasegawa: A look at the personnel appointments of the Noda Yoshihiko administration shows a clear shift to a policy of tax increases. Also, the consensus of opinion is that Katsu Eijiro, the administrative vice-minister for the Finance Ministry, is the producer and scriptwriter for this administration that’s making a beeline to tax increases.

Takahashi: In short, he’s the backstage prime minister (laughs).

Hasegawa: …I’d like to touch on some of the Noda administration personnel appointments. First, priority was clearly given to circumstances in the Democratic Party. Former Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji was named the party’s policy chief, a position that is key for the determination of policy. Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito (N.B.: a Maehara ally) was named as the acting policy chief. Finally, former Finance Ministry bureaucrat and Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa was appointed the party’s tax policy chief.

The party seems to have been allocated a rather important role during the preliminary spadework of policy formation, but that’s because there are elements within the party that are either opposed to a tax increase or are hesitant about supporting them. The reason for a structure with this depth of personnel is to suppress the anti-tax sentiment (in the party) and achieve a tax increase.

Takahashi: In the normal process of policy determination, the government first creates a proposal, the (ruling) party massages it, and then it is submitted to the Diet. Absent Diet gridlock, the primary emphasis is on either the government or the ruling party.

We have Diet gridlock now, however, and the (primary opposition) LDP is in agreement with higher taxes to begin with. Therefore, for the Finance Ministry, the ideal tax increase proposals will be raised by the government, and they will be leveled down to a certain extent by the party. Then, in the Diet, they’ll get the LDP involved and make the tax increase a reality. The script has already been written. In short, the key is how to weaken the anti-tax elements in the party. That’s why the priority in the selection of the personnel appointments was placed on the party rather than the government.

Hasegawa: They certainly picked some lightweights for the Cabinet considering how much emphasis they placed on the party. There’s Azumi Jun as Finance Minister, who knows very little about financial policy, and there’s the former Finance Ministry bureaucrat, Furukawa Motohisa, as the Minister for National Policy. (N.B.: Also Minister for Economic and Fiscal Policy and Minister for Total Reform of Social Security and Tax) The Finance Ministry can completely control these two. Also key is the appointment of Katsu Eijiro as administrative vice-minister.

Takahashi: That’s right. The Cabinet itself consists of lightweights, but the Finance Ministry bureaucrats that were sent over are all heavyweights….

Hasegawa: Tango Yasutake as a deputy Finance Minister is a dead giveaway of Finance Ministry control….

Takahashi: …Also surprising was that a Finance Ministry bureaucrat (a former division head of mid-level seniority), was appointed as the parliamentary secretary for Ren Ho, the Minister of State for Government Revitalization. Usually, that sort of post is given to the aides of division heads at the end of their career, but the Finance Ministry sent over Yoshii Hiroshi, who joined the ministry in 1988.

Hasegawa: The portfolios of government revitalization and civil service reform given to Ren Ho are important for the bureaucracy, so it’s clear their objective is to keep a lid on it. In addition, she has some star appeal for the DPJ, is a capable speaker, and attracts a lot of attention.

Takahashi: Actually, Mr. Katsu sent Mr. Yoshii over to be her secretary when she was a minister in the Kan Cabinet. He kept his post as her advisor even after she was downgraded to the job of special advisor to the prime minister, and he’s been with her ever since. Mr. Katsu has perceived the value of using Ren Ho and so is keeping her marked.

Hasegawa: 1988 is also the year that Furukawa Motohisa entered the Finance Ministry. Another member of that class is Ito Hideki, the parliamentary secretary for Minister of Financial Services Jimi Shozaburo.

Takahashi: That’s because Mr. Furukawa combines the functions of Cabinet minister and parliamentary secretary (laughs). These three men are a powerful trio. In addition to the normal orientation that all new employees are given when they enter a government ministry, the Finance Ministry has its own three week intensive “boot camp”. This cements the ties between the people who were hired at the same time, which results in a personnel network unlike that at any other ministry.

Hasegawa: Mr. Katsu’s personnel choices were well thought out, weren’t they?

Takahashi:…With Ota Mitsuru of the class of 1983 as the prime minister’s parliamentary secretary, and the number of parliamentary secretaries they’ve had assigned, the Finance Ministry can pretty much run the Cabinet. To be blunt, they don’t care who the ministers are…

Hasegawa: Mr. Katsu has engineered a complete shift toward a tax increase both within the Cabinet and in the ministry…the question is now whether he’ll make a headlong rush toward a tax increase.

Takahashi: That question was already answered by Prime Minister Noda during Question Time in the Diet. He was asked by the opposition whether he should take the issue to the people (in a general election) before increasing the consumption tax. The prime minister answered, “We will ask for their trust before it goes into effect.” That seemed to satisfy both the public and the mass media, but there’s no question that’s a trap laid by the Finance Ministry. “Asking for their trust before the tax is raised” usually means holding a lower house election on that issue, but “asking for their trust before it goes into effect” means they’ll hold the election after the bill for the tax increase has passed and before it is implemented. In other words, they’ll submit and force through an increase in the consumption tax during the regular session of the Diet next year, as is already planned. After that, they will hold an election at what they consider to be a suitable time. That way, because the bill has passed, the consumption tax will be raised whether or not the ruling party wins the election. That is the Katsu/Finance Ministry scenario.

Hasegawa: The tax increase could be stopped by legislation freezing it before it goes into effect.

Takahashi: Not possible. Not possible. If they hold a general election just before taxes are raised, there won’t be enough time to submit a bill freezing the implementation. That sort of schedule management is the forté of the Finance Ministry, and that’s why they sent all those accomplished people over to the Cabinet as parliamentary secretaries. They’ll also have no compunction at all over threatening the politicians by telling them that freezing the tax increase will cause a major disruption in the economy…
…One more thing we shouldn’t forget is the use of the media to brainwash the public.

Hasegawa: The problem of the pet reporters who cozy up to the Finance Ministry bureaucracy. If you dig just a little deeply, you find that the Finance Ministry is really driving the government. A reporter antagonistic to their bureaucrats gets cut out of the loop. That’s why the reporters themselves cozy up to the bureaucrats. Nearly every day you can pick up the newspaper and read stories about the need for all sorts of taxes — income taxes, corporate taxes, inheritance taxes, environmental taxes. The Finance Ministry lobs them fat pitches, and they’re more than happy when they get converted into articles. It isn’t long before the people turn numb, and that creates an atmosphere in which everyone believes tax increases are unavoidable. That’s what’s happening now.

Takahashi: People can only think about things based on the information they’re provided. There are other revenue sources besides higher taxes, but people gradually stop looking in that direction. It really is brainwashing.

Hasegawa: That is the Finance Ministry’s strategy for the masses using the media. And the person driving the Finance Ministry now is Katsu Eijiro.

(end excerpts)

Note that Mr. Takahashi said the script was already written. On the morning of the 12th, Finance Minister Azumi Jun read his lines:

“Next year, the bill for the consumption tax (increase) and the reform for integrating the tax with social security will definitely be introduced together.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Finance Minister Igarashi Fumihiko said in a television interview on the 11th that based on his own calculations, a 17% consumption tax rate would be necessary in the intermediate to long-term. That same rate has already been floated by the Japanese Association of Corporate Executives, one of the country’s major business groups.

In short, the problem of the alliance between Big Government and Big Business is just as serious in Japan as it is in the West, if not more so.

The hucksters of the DPJ campaigned on ending the political dependence on the bureaucracy and not raising taxes for four years.

They’ve been in office now just a few days more than two years.

How many more years are we going to have to let them dog us around?

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No, no one is happy

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, August 28, 2011

WHEN the two major parties in the United States run insipid, incompetent, and indistinguishable candidates for office, the public and the media sometimes dismiss them as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. That appellation would be insufficient for the five candidates in tomorrow’s Democratic Party presidential election, which will determine Japan’s next prime minister. There is no similar expression for a group of five noodniks. Perhaps Wynken, Blynken, and Nod could be added to the aforementioned Ts.

Some might suggest Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Gummo, and Zeppo as a possibility, but that wouldn’t be a good fit. The five Marx Brothers were legitimately funny. The five DPJ candidates are a joke that no one in Japan is laughing at.

Your Party Secretary General Eda Kenji offers his thoughts on the candidacy of Economy, Trade, and Industry Minister Kaieda Banri, who is backed by former party President Ozawa Ichiro and former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio. Mr. Kaieda is best known for being left to twist in the wind by Kan Naoto over the issue of restarting idled nuclear reactors, and breaking down in tears in the Diet last month when an opposition pol said “Boo!”

“It is likely this man has neither beliefs nor policies. I wasn’t interested in the progress of the DPJ election, but I just can’t help hearing about it when watching the news. When I heard the details, I couldn’t keep from writing about it.

“Ordinarily, the possibility of this man becoming prime minister would be zero, but he was selected as the figurehead through Mr. Ozawa’s Ultimate Process of Elimination (willingness to listen to instructions + better than the other possibilities). Once he snapped at the post of prime minister that was dangled in front of his eyes, necessity compelled them in the direction of this midget.

“This is not a politician who will ask what should be done after becoming prime minister. He is simply a politician whose ultimate objective itself is to become prime minister. A person of that caliber who has become prime minister through this process does not understand how wretched a prime minister he will be.

“Is it possible for a human being to be this servile? He’s accepted the Ozawa group’s objectives and will reevaluate the Ozawa suspension from party activities, revisit the (recent) three-party agreement, and will not form a coalition government — in other words, he will reject the course of the current party leadership. He once favored participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but now will “carefully consider” it out of clear deference to the farm bloc within the party. He followed the METI bureaucracy line of rejecting out of hand the abandonment of nuclear energy, but he withdrew that rejection after being told to do so by Mr. Hatoyama. He’s just switched from following METI bureaucracy instructions to following Ozawa/Hatoyama instructions.

“A Kaieda administration will be a rewind to the Ozawa power and patronage politics of 20 years ago…the ultimate choice is between Kaieda the Lowest and Maehara the Worst. I can only say that this is a tragedy for today’s Japan.”

The balloting will be held tomorrow, and at this point Mr. Kaieda has the most guaranteed votes based on the number of signatures gathered to support his candidacy. There is speculation in other quarters that he will probably not be able to win an outright majority on the first ballot. The same source also speculates that Maehara Seiji, last week’s flavor of the day, might come in third behind Agriculture Minister Kano Michihiko. If that happens, he thinks, candidates #2 – #5 might form an anti-Ozawa alliance behind Mr. Kano. No one seems to be talking about Noda Yoshihiko any more.

Equally as distasteful as a Kaieda puppet candidacy is the rejection of the three-party agreement that enabled the passage of the second supplementary budget and other bills that greased the skids for Kan Naoto’s departure. Here are two reasons:

1. Japanese politicians of different parties have finally figured out how to negotiate among themselves to get legislation through the upper house when no party/group has an outright majority. In other words, the political process has matured, even though the maturity resulted from the search for a way to neuter Kan Naoto. The rejection of the three-party agreement will put gridlock right back on the agenda.

2. The Ozawan-Hatoyamanians insist on upholding the party’s 2009 political platform. The three-party agreement rolled back some of the legislation that platform produced. Keeping political promises is ordinarily a fine thing to do. When keeping those promises, however, means the outlay of money that doesn’t exist to buy votes legally through the child allowance, free highway tolls, and individual farm household subsidies despite the enormous expenditures required for a national emergency and two straight budgets with deficits that are double tax revenues, it is a criminally insane thing to do.

American Democrats have the amusing habit of playing “Happy Days Are Here Again” at their party conventions every four years (but not, I suspect, in 2012).

Everything about this clip, however, reeks of Japan’s Democrats, including the coalition of two incompatible groups of pirates.

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Ichigen koji (50)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 27, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

(Maehara Seiji) has been presenting himself as a conservative, but is that really true? He opposed the bill establishing the national flag and the anthem and supports giving foreigners the right to vote.

He also says he’s made the recovery of the (four Russian-held islands in the) Kuriles his life’s work, but why hasn’t he shown the same passion for Takeshima? His stance toward China and Russia is strong, but is weak toward South Korea and North Korea.

Mr. Maehara is manju starting to spoil, wrapped in an attractive package. The people must not be fooled by the superficial.

– Eguchi Katsuhiko, upper house member of Your Party

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Timing is everything

Posted by ampontan on Friday, August 26, 2011

NOW that was good timing: Around 6:15 a.m. on 24 August, the Japanese Coast Guard confirmed that Chinese fishery patrol boats 31001 and 201 were sailing in the “contiguous zone” adjacent to the Senkaku islets. Both ships later entered Japanese territorial waters and were warned to back off.

The Chinese radioed back that the islands were Chinese territory, and that they were properly conducting official duties in Chinese territory in accordance with The Law. The Japanese Coast Guard told them to get lost, which they did 30 minutes later. Patrol boat 201 returned and stayed seven minutes before leaving for good. Later that day, the Chinese government restated their claim on the Senkakus.

The Chinese have entered the contiguous zone 12 times since one of their fishing boats rammed two Japanese Coast Guard vessels last September. The Coast Guard took the Chinese captain into custody, igniting a diplomatic crisis and causing revulsion among the Japanese public at the Kan Cabinet’s conduct of national defense. Since then, however, Chinese ships had refrained from entering Japanese territorial waters until this week’s gamesmanship.

Such a sense of synchronicity, those Chinese. U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden happened to be in Tokyo at the time to meet outgoing Japanese Prime Minister Kan Naoto on his way home from Beijing. The day before, opposition LDP members of the lower house Committee for Audit and Oversight of Administration announced their desire to take an observation tour of the islets in September, and listened to the government explain the defensive measures taken in the area. The MPs also discussed the potential use of the islets by its private owners (four are leased to the Japanese government).

Official government policy is for no one to go there, however, so the ruling party and the Chinese will endeavor to discourage any legislator junkets to the tropical isles, each in their own distinctive way.

But perhaps the critical event in the chronology was that former Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji announced his candidacy this week for the DPJ party presidency, becoming the favorite to succeed Mr. Kan. The Sankei Shimbun quoted someone it identified only as a person familiar with Japanese-Sino affairs:

It was a reminder to the Japanese that bilateral relations worsened (after the Senkakus incident), when Mr. Maehara was first the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport, which has jurisdiction over the Coast Guard, and then Foreign Minister.

As an example of how little the Chinese care for Mr. Maehara’s attitude, here’s a reminder of what a deputy foreign minister said last October:

He attacks China on an almost daily basis, and says extreme things that shouldn’t be said.

Well, he got the “extreme” part right. The Japanese foreign minister had said that China’s response to the Japanese detention of the Chinese ship captain was “extremely hysterical”.

The same month, Chinese leadership rejected a proposed summit meeting because Japan had “destroyed the climate required for discussions”, the proper climate being a more suitable display of deference by the vassals bearing gifts as tribute to the suzerain state.

One newspaper under the thumb of the Chinese Communist Party called the foreign minister a “troublemaker”. Said another media outlet: “A rapprochement will be difficult unless Japan replaces its foreign minister.” Indeed, the Chinese response was notable in that it usually ignored the prime minister to attack the foreign minister. Then again, the Japanese tended to ignore the prime minister, too.

One can understand the Chinese concern. After successfully excluding Mr. Maehara from bilateral discussions, making Mr. Kan fly all the way to Brussels to tug on the sleeve of Wen Jiabao in a hotel hallway to get him to listen to a rote reading of a prepared statement while perched on adjoining couches, and forcing the capitulation of the Japanese government, it looks like the troublemaker could wind up in the Kantei.

Then again, their timing had to be impeccable. After all, what self-respecting hegemon can afford to pass up the opportunity to interfere with a neighboring country’s selection of a prime minister, especially a neighbor with territory you want to snatch and grab — and when the Number Two man from the neighbor’s military protector is in town?

Speaking of Good Timing, Jimmy Jones had a hit in the West with that title, and Sakamoto Kyu had a hit with the Japanese remake. Sakamoto, of course, was the singer of Ue wo Muite Aruko, which was sold under the name Sukiyaki in English.

Yeah, I know, it is hard to believe they used to do stuff like that.

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Posted by ampontan on Thursday, August 25, 2011

The most tragic thing in the world is a man of genius who is not a man of honor.
– George Bernard Shaw

JAPANESE comedian/television personality Shimada Shinsuke held a news conference this week to announce his retirement from show business after it was revealed that he had close personal ties with a high-level gangland boss. (Some reports finger Hashimoto Hirofumi of the Yamaguchi-gumi.) This is what he said at the press conference:

I didn’t think that I did anything illegal, but a violation of the rules is a violation of the rules. I feel a sense of moral responsibility, so I am retiring from show business. I want to continue to pursue my own sense of aesthetics.

After seeing that, Eguchi Katsuhiko, an upper house member from Your Party, tweeted the following:

Politicians won’t resign from the Diet even when they do something illegal. That is irresolute and ugly. Shouldn’t they learn a lesson from Shimada Shinsuke?

Here’s a shot of Mr. Shimada in action:

In other news, former Ozawa Ichiro antagonist Maehara Seiji called on Mr. Ozawa yesterday to kiss his ring ask for his support in the upcoming Democratic Party presidential election. Mr. Maehara, the favorite to win that election and therefore the prime minister apparent, has admitted accepting illegal campaign contributions from foreigners and has been reported as accepting similar contributions from people associated with the yakuza.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ozawa’s DPJ membership is currently suspended because he was indicted for violations of the political funding law. That hasn’t stopped several DPJ presidential candidates from paying court to him, including his enemies. He’s been involved in so many shady operations, he might as well have a pair of sunglasses welded to his head.

To mention one of the most recent, he pulled out the equivalent of several million dollars in cash from a safe at home to give to an aide to purchase real estate for his political funding committee. His is the only political funding committee in Japan with a real estate investment portfolio. Buying real estate with cash isn’t against the law, of course, but neither is having dinner and drinks with the yakuza.

It’s curious. Mr. Shimada’s retirement is causing television networks to sweat — they’ve got to find a way to replace six programs immediately.

But if Mr. Maehara and Mr. Ozawa were to learn a lesson from Mr. Shimada, as Mr. Eguchi suggests, it likely wouldn’t cause the DPJ much grief at all. If the party were to go so far as to toss them out altogether, it might even help them retrieve the popular support they casually tossed in the gutter in the fall of 2009.

Ah, but that won’t happen. That would be doing the right thing.


Shimada Shinsuke has always been a feisty sort with his own sense of honor. In fact, reports suggest that his agency, the Yoshimoto group, expected a contrite public apology and a hiatus of a few months before he returned to work. He surprised them with his decision to quit altogether.

Then again, he should have known better to begin with.

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“Coming, Mother”

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, August 24, 2011

If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.
– Samuel Adams

THE first paragraph of a story in today’s Nishinippon Shimbun is a portrait of what failure looks like.

The headline is Leadership by the Bureaucracy Intensifies. This is what follows:

“The Finance Ministry notified all Cabinet ministries and agencies on the 23rd of the work procedures that will be the de facto standards for 2012 budget requests. The structure that will be the framework for the new prime minister, in which the scale of expenditures follows that from the previous year, and uniform cuts in discretionary spending to offset increased social welfare outlays are limited to JPY 500-600 million, is a far cry from the policy of politicians formulating the entire budget, as (was once) championed by the Democratic Party of Japan. With the administration of government unsteady as the successor to Prime Minister Kan is determined, the formulation of the budget will proceed along rails laid by the Finance Ministry. There is not the slightest trace of political leadership.”

Such is the abject failure of the Democratic Party of Japan a mere two years after forming their first government. Forget the frivolous debate about their manifesto content — their mandate from the voters was to end this very state of affairs.

Their failure is obvious now to even the casual observer. That will result in yet another enormous budget deficit. No wonder Moody’s downgraded Japanese government debt today.

To be sure, taking on the Japanese Finance Ministry requires staking one’s political life. Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji suspects they engineered events that led to the downfall of the Hashimoto administration, of which he was a part. The ministry was displeased that Hashimoto wanted to shift oversight of the financial services industry from them to a new Cabinet ministry or agency.

Former Saga City Mayor and Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries official Kinoshita Toshiyuki once said in an interview:

When the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries hired me 25 years ago, I was told, “Cabinet ministers are performing monkeys. Your job is to skillfully beat the drum and make them dance.” That is the presumption of the civil service. There has been no change to the general rule that the politicians do not become involved in policy formation, a role taken over by the bureaucrats.

What Japan could use right now is a homegrown Samuel Adams. They’ve produced many people of that caliber before. What it seems they’re about to get, however, is a homegrown Henry Aldrich as their new prime minister.

Compare this…

…with this.

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