Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Spoilt Democratic Vote (Nut, Meet Bags - A Reprise)

Thanks to the many who left comments on my last post on the depressing published number of persons voting for Suzuki Nobuyuki, a candidate for a Tokyo Metropolitan District seat in the 21 July 2013 House of Councillors election. Your attempts to put me at ease or encourage me to have a little perspective kept me looking at the impossible-to-believe purported 74,465 Tokyo voters who were so driven by intense xenophobia as to write down on their ballot papers the name of a candidate whose main proposal is the closure of Japan's borders to citizens of South Korea.

In my heart, I knew, just knew that that number had to be wrong -- that 1.4% of Tokyo residents could not be so marginalized and filled with blind, ethnic hatred as to vote for such a man.

As it turns out, I was right: the number is wrong. Provably so. The question is only to what extent.

Alert readers probably noted my awkward insertion in the first paragraph of two past participles: "published" and "purported." It is right to ask what is up with that.

A look at the actual results of the votes counted on election night shows that Suzuki Nobuyuki was not credited with having received 74,465 votes, as the news agencies reported. The Tokyo Metropolitan Election Committee credited Suzuki Nobuyuki with having won 74,465.376 votes.

Yes, you read that right.

According to the TMD's electoral authorities, Suzuki Nobuyuki received a non-whole number number of votes.


By any chance did anyone else receive a non-whole number number of votes in Tokyo in this last election?

Yes. One candidate is credited with having received 552,714.570 votes.


The candidate for the Democratic Party of Japan: Suzuki Kan.

Same surname?

Same surname.

When two candidates share a name, whether it is a surname or a given name, ballots marked with that one name alone are set aside, rather than being destroyed as invalid (for those wondering, in this month's House of Councillors election 3.15% of district ballots nationwide were deemed invalid, 2.24% of district ballots in the TMD). These set-aside ballots are then counted up, with the total then divided and a proportion of the votes given in equal measure to the candidates sharing the name. This is true even when the number of these ballots not divisible by the number of eventual recipients, meaning that a last vote has to be divided into fractions of a vote.

So we know, based upon the official count, that persons wishing to vote for either of the two Suzukis on election day failed to fill out their ballots in a manner that clearly indicated which Suzuki -- the DPJ candidate or the xenophobe -- they were choosing. As a result they had their votes split up by the election committees.

Just how many folks wrote just "Suzuki" - in hiragana, in katakana, in kanji or some combination thereof -- and had their votes set aside and divided up equally between both Suzukis? One would have to ask each and every one of Tokyo’s election committees for their particular total of set aside vote totals.

All 62 of them.

That is a lot of phone calls (Professor Steven Reed of Chuo Daigaku, a project for one of your students).

The gist: for an unknown number of DPJ voters, writing down the surname and just the surname of their candidate would lead to their votes being divided in between their man and a far-right nightmare candidate.

Suzuki Kan's campaign tried to avoid this outcome by asking, not with a great deal of fervor, mind you, that voters write down his full name in hiragana -- i.e., すずきかん .

To his credit -- and credit is in very short supply here -- Suzuki Nobuyuki's campaign posters had his name in kanji - i.e. 鈴木信行. So some attempt at differentiation was made, even though, if only the surname was on the voter's ballot, the ballot would get tossed into the bin of set aside ballots no matter what the writing system used.

One problem is, of course, that writing a person's full name in hiragana feels wrong, especially when the surname is one as common as "Suzuki." Another is that Kan is a really, really, odd given name -- the mind rebels when even thinking about it, much less writing it.

Confusion of identical surnames was further heightened by proximity. By the most perverse of coincidences, the two Suzukis drew successive slots, #14 and #15, on the Tokyo district candidate list. This meant that on the campaign poster boards and in the voting areas, the two candidates out of the 20 on the ballot with two most similar names were right next to each other.

So there were two potential sources of the bleeding of votes from one candidate to the other:

a) ballots where the voter put only the surname and
b) ballots where the voter managed to put a full name down, only it was not the Suzuki he or she wanted but the full name that seemed right.

In the latter case, assuming that voters made personal name switching errors at a constant rate (i.e., setting aside the reality that Nobuyuki sounds pleasanter to the ear than Kan), for every vote Suzuki Nobuyuki lost to a mistaken vote for Suzuki Kan, he received over 7 votes in return (552,714 / 74,465 = 7.422).

How many hundreds or, in my estimation, tens of thousands of votes switched sides is not knowable. Just random error or not realizing there was another Suzuki on the ballot would lead to a significant flow of votes from Suzuki Kan to Suzuki Nobuyuki.

Detractors could point out that 2013 was not the only time the two Suzukis faced off against each other. Indeed, the two were on the ballot in the 2007 House of Councillors election. In that year, Suzuki Kan was credited with having received 780,662.470 votes, while Suzuki Nobuyuki was credited with 21,548.472 votes. The difference, a detractor could say, is that in 2007, Suzuki Nobuyuki was up against Tojo Yuko, the granddaughter of Tojo Hideki, for the maudlin, Japan-is-a-victim vote. With Tojo gone to meet her beloved grandfather, Suzuki was the one choice nut on the ballot.

Point accepted.

The two elections are not entirely commensurate, though. Suzuki Kan in 2007 was the beneficiary of awareness and coverage of DPJ candidates, making it harder for voters to vote for Suzuki Nobuyuki in error. The candidates were also not adjacent to one another, though at #13 and #15 on the 2007 list, they were still in general proximity of one another.

Whether one believes the resulting flows of votes great or insignificant, the presence of two Suzukis certainly means ballots were cast for the wrong Suzuki.

Funny thing about Suzuki Nobuyuki. Even though he was present at the creation of the Isshin Shimpu Party in 1995, was named leader of its Tokyo branch in 2005 and has been supreme leader since 2010, he seems to have run for public office only twice: in the 2007 and 2013 House of Councillors elections. He did not run for a seat in 2010. Indeed, Isshin Shinpu did not have a candidate in the 2010 election.

It seems the only times Suzuki wanted to run is when the DPJ's Suzuki was an incumbent seeking reelection. Hmmm...

Any guesses as to which party, or the supporters of which party, would pay encourage the Isshin Shinpu party to run a candidate capable of stealing votes away from the DPJ's candidate? Could it be the same folks who kicked in some cash encouraged the Isshin Shimpu to run a Matsumura in 2004, when the Communist candidate's name was Imamura?

The one bright, shining aspect of this narrative: unlike the alternative, a Tokyo where legions of subterranean xenophobes now lurk, the Tokyo of dirty electoral tricks -- the hiring of candidates to run in order to confuse voters regarding the identity of rivals -- is the Tokyo I know. It is the same Tokyo that in the 2010 House of Councillors election had two district candidates with the same surname, with fractional results in the end for both, where one of the candidates was an unknown independent and the other was...wait for it...a DPJ House of Councillors member seeking reelection.

I can live in city of silly confusion and trickery. A city of prejudice and jut-jawed ignorance (Suzuki Nobuyuki is a high school dropout) -- that I find hard to bear.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Nut, Meet Bags

Over at the East Asia Forum, Professor Daiki Shibuichi introduces the Zaitokukai, the xenophobic haters who have been harassing Korean enclaves within the major cities, including the students and teachers at the North Korean schools (Link) These Web-enabled and organized miscreant losers are a brand new phenomenon, unpredictable and dangerous due to their lack of links to organized crime and/or politicians.

Whilst on the subject of depressing facts regarding xenophobia, Shinpu Party leader Suzuki Nobuyuki, whose rancid and somehow entirely legal campaign posters called for the expulsion of Koreans from Japan, received 74,465 votes in last Sunday's House of Councillors election for the Tokyo District -- more than even the Green Breeze party's candidate (Link - J). The concept that 1.4% of voting age adults in Tokyo would be willing to vote for a person declaring open war upon residents of Korean ancestry has still failed to find its place inside my head.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Very Kind Of Them #15

Eeeek!!! (Link)

I am such a morning person. This panel discussion started way too late in the day for me.

Gratitude to network for arranging the conversation. Pity for the viewers of my part in it.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Excerpts From The Miyazaki Essay On Constitutional Revision - An Unofficial Translation

Animation giant Miyazaki Hayao is catching a lot of grief in the social mediasphere for an essay he wrote for the July edition of the Studio Ghibli in-house magazine Neppu (Link). Writing for Japan Focus, Professor Matthew Penney examines the essay (Link) in the context of the release of Miyazaki's latest and possibly most ambitious film, Kaze Tachinu and the greater Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli oeuvre.

This below is my personal, stuttering translation of the excerpts from the essay published on page 6 of the morning edition of the Tokyo Shimbun of 19 July 2013. One of the difficulties is trying to decide what to do with Miyazaki's loose, conversational style. In the essay he is talking through writing, bouncing around among a lot of different registers. The result sounds, in my poor translation, as though Miyazaki wrote or dictated the piece while stoned.

Miyazaki's thinking is also is non-systematic and idiosyncratic, just like some of his movies (Ponyo violates the cinematic convention of fantasy worlds having at least some recognizable physical laws, leading to extreme annoyance with the film among some segments of the fan base). There is plenty in what appears below to exasperate and tick off just about everyone.
As for changing the Constitution, it is not even a question that I am against it. If one considers the election [of December 2012], the percentage of votes won and the voter turnout were both low. It is inconceivable to profit from the confusion to go about changing the constitution on the merest whim.

To legally change the stipulations of Article 96 and then doing come-what-may based upon the changes, is fraud. It should not be done. Since [altering the Constitution] is something that will determine the future of the nation, it must reflect the opinions of the greatest number of persons possible. Even though I do not believe at all that "if there are many involved it will then be correct" -- if we are going to change it, then we must have meticulous debates.

Despite this being the case, right now if someone lets the truth slip out and a big brouhaha ensues, they seem to deceptively dance around the subject, saying stuff like, "Oh, we did not mean it like that." When this happens, one just gets fed up with the lack of historical awareness and/or guiding principles among the top leaders of the government and the political parties. It is best that those lacking a capacity to think not be allowed to play around with things like constitutions.


Of course, if you line up the Self Defense Forces alongside Article 9, clearly something weird is going on. Let it be weird. There is no reason to make it into a "National Defense Military." This is because it will be incredibly idiotic to create a massive force of bureaucrats whose whose employment is military activity. Right now, watching the Self Defense Forces getting dispatched on disaster relief here and there, I feel very happy that the SDF exists. The personnel of the SDF are doing good things and doing them properly. Even when they could not avoid being sent to Iraq, they came home having not fired a single shot, without killing a single human being. I think this admirable.

After the end of the Gulf War, the dispatch of a minesweeping flotilla could not be avoided. The tiny ships silently cleared the waters that [on the surface] seemingly had no sea mines. I am sure it was terribly difficult. Then they quietly returned to port. Though I said nothing at the time, I was deeply moved.

I am not sure, when the spark of war is in fact struck, whether in that moment the articles of the constitution will be in need of change or not. What I do know is that if we decide to only defend ourselves that will be enough. Even though this means that our response will be delayed, we will not strike the first blow, and not have to defend overreaction. If we do not [limit ourselves to self-defense only], I tell you, we in this country, not used to international politics, will simply be led around by the nose. Even in the case of the breakout of war, [the suffering from our slower response] is still preferable to the alternative.


Anyway, because we have told these lies up to this point, I believe it best that we continue doing so. Those who seek consistency, they probably want to say, "Pre-war Japan was not bad." Though they say it, [pre-war Japan] was bad. If you do not recognize this, forget it. For the comfort women problem, for the humiliation of the various peoples [of Asia], we must properly apologize and must pay proper compensation. As for the territorial disputes, let us make the offer of dividing the territory in half, or make the offer of "Let's jointly administering these territories." These problems, no matter how worked up we get over them, or whether we submit them to the International Court of Justice, will not likely die down.

Certainly there are countries which are acting in an expansionist manner, just as once upon a time Japan acted in an expansionist manner. However, that does not mean we have to go to war. I honestly believe that right now, rather than [traditional security actions] we have to grapple sincerely and honestly with Japan's corporate structures. Can a country strewn with nuclear power plants like ours go to war? Absurd! That China is becoming expansionist is due to problems intrinsic to China. In addition, the internal contradictions of China are now the internal contradictions of the whole world. So it is not the case, I think, that we could settle the problems simply by increasing our stock of military materiel and changing [the name of the our forces] to a "National Defense Military."

Later - The Mainichi Shimbun English edition now has put up its account of the brewing storm (Link). Hat tip to reader JL.

Original image courtesy: The Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan

The 21 July 2013 Elections - In Case You Haven't

In case you haven't seen or had a chance to look at the numbers from Sunday's election, a random trio of tables:

Vote totals, nationwide, in district and proportional voting

Look at the shift of vote totals in the district and proportional columns for the LDP and the New Komeito. In past national elections, the ratios of the shifts has been one-to-one, with the increase in the numbers for New Komeito in the move from district to proportional equal to the decrease in the numbers for the LDP between the two columns. This year, the numbers for LDP district candidates is 600,000 voters short.

So who did those 600,000 New Komeito voters cast their ballots for in the district elections?

Later - I am open to the possibility that 600,000 non-regular New Komeito voters gave up their proportional votes to the New Komeito

a) out of disgust with the opposition parties and/or

b) to give the New Komeito some extra leverage in its coalition negotiations with the LDP.

% of the District Vote Versus % of Seats

a) Is the system geared? You bet it is. The LDP gets 42.7% of district votes and walks away with 64.4% of the seats.

b) Imagine how many more ballots would be spoilt if not for the proportional voting!

c) Look at the near perfect efficiency of New Komeito district voting. Wow, wow, wow.

Japan Restoration Party: Loved in the Kansai but Not Hated in the Kanto

Predictably, the Japan Restoration Party did exceptionally well in the Kansai region. Some 30% of its national totals came from the 6 Kansai prefectures, where the party captured from 14%-29% of the proportional vote in each.

However, the party did OK in Tokyo, winning 10% of its total vote there, pretty much in line with Tokyo's slice of the national voting age population.

A Reminder - The Yama Age Matsuri

Just a reminder, but the Yama Age Matsuri of Tochigi Prefecture's Nasu Karasuyama, the biggest little festival in the Kanto, begins tomorrow, with the 18th and final round of performances on Sunday night starting at 10 p.m.

In addition to the usual children's kabuki and mikoshi, there will be a special parade celebrating the 90th anniversary of the opening of the Karasuyama Rail Line.

Pamphlet: Front - J, Back - J

The performance schedule: Link - J

Description: Link - J

Nice town; great times.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Who Do You, Tell Me, Who Do Love?

When one is talking about the candidates on the proportional list for the 2013 edition of the reconstituted umbrella Liberal Democratic Party, the one you love will be the candidate representing your industry or profession or an archetypal super-patriot.

Rank of the LDP proportional seat winners in the election of 21 July 2013, with their former job descriptions and annotations:

1) Tsuge Yoshifumi
Chairman of the national association of private postmasters

2) Yamada Toshio
Executive director of the national association of agricultural cooperatives

3) Sato Masahisa
Colonel in the Ground Self Defense Forces
(Sato was one of the three Diet members turned away from Gimpo Airport by South Korean authorities in August 2011)

4) Ishii Midori
Board director of the Japan Dental Association

5) Hashimoto Seiko
Olympic speed skater and bicycle racer

6) Hanyuda Takashi
Vice chairman of the Japan Medical Association

7) Sato Nobuaki
Former director for roads in the Ministry of Construction

8) Akaike Masaaki
Former dean of the Japan Aviation Professional Training College
(Akaike was a speaker at The Other Sovereignty Day Commemoration of 28 April 2013)

9) Santo Akiko
(Santo served as the go-between for Ishihara Shintaro and the private owner of the three Senkaku islands during the period Ishihara was trying to purchase the islands)

10) Eto Sei'ichiro
Member of the Oita City Assembly

11) Ishida Masahiro
Secretary-general of the Japan Nursing Federation

12) Arimura Haruko
McDonalds Japan headquarters employee and part-time Ph.D. student of Aoyama Gakuin

13) Miyamoto Shuji
Chairman of the Youth Division of the Central Federation of Societies of Commerce and Industry and sake brewery CEO

14) Maruyama Kazuya
Lawyer, television personality and author

15) Kitamura Tsuneo
Reporter for the Sankei Shimbun

16) Watanabe Miki
Founder and CEO of the restaurant management corporation Watami

17) Kimura Yoshio
Senior executive of Sumitomo Bank

18) Ota Fusae
Governor of Osaka Prefecture

Those who argue that Japan is insufficiently democratic are clearly mistaken. All the industries and professions get a Senator to call their own.

Based upon an original observation that Dr. Ehud Harari posted to the SSJ-Forum.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Call Waiting

OK, So I Am Surprised, I Really Am


Hirano Tatsuo, my apologies, you really do know Iwate Prefecture.

When you quit the Democratic Party of Japan in April, I thought the decision daft or at least confused (Link). However, when the smoke cleared from the circular firing squad this Sunday night, you were the one still standing. Omedeto!

You in Iwate and Itokazu Keiko (running with Social Democratic, People's Life, Green Breeze and Communist support, of all the lefty things) in Okinawa kept the Liberal Democratic Party from sweeping all of the single seat constituencies.

May the LDP send more former college rugby coaches to run against you in the future.

Democratic Party of Japan, congratulations. Seriously.

Everyone knew you were a goner in the single seat districts. Everyone knew you were in dire straits in the proportional seat voting.

However, in the two- and three-seat districts, your candidates toughed it out.

This was a bad election for you, the party garnering fewer votes in the proportional side of the ballot than the New Komeito. Still, third place is far from a full blown catastrophe. With a new leader (Yes, Mr. Kaieda Banri, your time, though brief, is up) and some decent candidates, the party can revive to serve as an honorable opposition.

[An aside, but the most wicked bon mot of the morning? The commentator on the Asa Zuba! wide show who cheerily suggested to DPJ bigwig Nagatsuma Akira, "Well, now that there are fewer of you, it should be easier to smooth over differences of opinion."]

Your Party and Japan Communist Party, what happened to your supposed juice? You, the opposite ends of Japan’s economic policy prescription spectrum with your shared contempt for the bureaucracy, you were supposed to be the havens of protest votes forced to run screaming from out of the wreckage of the DPJ.

In the end though, you both came up short, with 4.7 million and 5.1 million votes, respectively.

This was your big day, your opportunity to do some damage on the proportional side. Your performance, however, was only OK, with strong district candidates bailing you out in the end.

Social Democratic Party, you live! Of course, by losing one of the two seats you were defending, you are now down to five seats, meaning that while you are still considered a party in Diet, you are at the five member limit.

So you live to die another day.

Anti-nuclear activists Kira Yoshiko (JCP) and Yamamoto Taro (independent), you not only won district seats in Tokyo, but shoved Takemi Keizo, an LDP Washington insider running as the representative of the health care industry into the fifth and final slot. You both now have six years to harass the nuclear industry and its supporters from the inside, rather than cacophonously from without.

Zing! No, Double Zing!

[How can anyone resist having a young (she’s only 30) Communist woman senator whose name is pronounced “Killer”?]

Japan Restoration Party, they must like you in the Kansai. They must really, really like you. At 6.3 million proportional seat votes, you are effectively half as popular nationally as you were seven months ago. With everyone was writing you off, though, winning six proportional seats must feel good.

It has been hard not to notice, though, that your two top vote winners in the proportional vote were:

1) a professional wrestler close to the Pyongyang regime and an eager participant in that regime's propaganda actions and

2) the militant anti-Pyongyang former finance ministry bureaucrat who has fought, fought, fought to win freedom and justice for those abducted by the DPRK

That these two are your #1 and #2 in the proportional vote reflects what we can only call awesome party message coherence.

Abe's Constitutional Revision Refrain

One clip from last night's NHK interview of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo getting a lot of airplay has the PM, when the subject of revising the Constitution is raised, explaining:

"Even after revisions of the Constitution have won the approval of the Diet, they cannot be enacted without the agreement of over half of you the citizens....In that regard, I believe the debate over the Constitution still has to be carried out firmly, broadly and in depth."
It would seem that the Prime Minister is still gung-ho about revision despite the inconvenient truth that the forces of revision failed yesterday to secure the 101 seats they needed for a 2/3rds majority in both Houses of the Diet. The Liberal Democratic Party, the Japan Restoration Party and the Your Party captured 81 seats (65 + 8 + 8, respectively), waaaaayy, waaaayy short of the goal.

Indeed, in the interview, the prime minister pointed out that whatever his feelings constitutional revision, realizing a dream is not a matter of willpower alone:

"As for myself, first of all the subject of (the revision of) Article 96 came out. I have the same thoughts as you of the Japan Restoration Party. In regards to that, whether or not we can achieve the cobbling together of a 2/3rds majority (in the Diet) I would like to go on further advancing the debate."
(Link - J)

Rather than a pledge to keep fighting, the two quotes together sound like the bugling of an honorable retreat. Does Abe have a 2/3rds majority in the House of Councillors? No. Does he have the 50% +1 majority of citizens behind any particular revision? No. So what does he promise? A whole lot of additional talking, with the revisionist parties and with the citizens.

But actually submit revisions? Abe's words may sound bold to his base supporters, telegraphing that the goal is still within reach. However, the awake and aware anti-revision or undecided citizen cannot miss the message: "Sorry, despite my desire and efforts, I do not have the votes for my signature project at this time. I'll be getting back to you as soon as conditions improve."

Bang On - Congrats To NHK And The Electorate

All's well that ends well: the responses to the NHK poll question trying to get some sense of whether or not the voters will show up on House of Councillors election day provided a precise, if not very accurate, answer.

Immediately prior to the 2010 election, 71% of voters told NHK they would be voting. 57.92% eventually did.

Subtract the 13% who were kidding themselves and you get the right answer.

Immediately prior to this election, 66% of voters told NHK they would be voting. 52.61% [Link] eventually did.

Subtract the 13% who were kidding themselves and you get the right answer.

Congratulations to NHK for yanking out a response that is consistently and reliably wrong as regards voter turnout.

Congratulations also to the voters. Despite an an underwhelming ruling party's holding an overwhelming and unchanging lead for months, making Sunday's election more of a coronation than a contest, they still turned out. At the third worst rate in history, to be sure, but well above the nadir number of 44.50% recorded in the 1995 House of Councillors election.

It takes a special sort of discipline and commitment to show up when the outcome is not in doubt and one person's vote, statistically and realistically, cannot count.

Bless the absurdly believing populace of this blessed land.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Into The Skies

Today is the long-awaited, much publicized big day -- and I am not referring to my having completed another orbit around the sun. Today Miyazaki Hayao's magnum opus Kaze Tachinu opens nationwide.

How big the hype over Miyazaki's and Studio Ghibli's first biopic? Nippon Television has been showing most of the Ghibli canon for the past two years in preparation for this opening -- broadcast rights which likely cost the network a fortune. The marketing beat has been in a steady crescendo over this time, reminding us that a cinematic event is coming. Just type the word "wind" (kaze) into Google Search and the auto-complete suggests tachinu. If you have your computer configured like mine, the screen, without even hitting the return button, displays the poster for the film and the list of theaters and show times.

Miyazaki has pulled out all the stops. The film is of immense length: 126 minutes of hand-drawn animation. It tackles huge, challenging subjects: the 1923 Great Kanto Eartquake, the Great Depression and the march to global war. In addition to securing for the nth time a score by Hisaishi Jo, Japan's greatest living composer, Miyazaki roped in Matsutoya Yumi (a.k.a. Yuming) to provide the theme song. He coaxed his colorist of 50 years to come out of retirement for this one last film.

And the subject of the first Miyazaki film about a real person: the life of Horikoshi Jiro, the designer of the Mitsubishi A6M, the Zero fighter.


Miyazaki, who responded to the mad glee of the Iraq War with Howl's Moving Castle? Who emptied every tearduct with the traumatic Grave of the Fireflies? Who had his gallant fighter pilot condemned to living life as a pig in Porco Rosso -- is now releasing a film about a weapons platform designer?

Oh no, have the historical revisionists gotten to Miyazaki too?

Of course not. We can be sure that whatever Kaze Tachinu is, it will be damn complex and ambiguous, offering no easy answers -- to anything.

And absolutely great.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Where The Opponents Of The LDP Lose Me

In intellectual sparfests these past few days I have faced not a few persons asserting that the citizens of Japan deserve (and, according to Ozawa Ichiro, want) an organized, progressive umbrella party as an electoral alternative to the Liberal Democratic Party.

To which I reply, "And what would this alternative party's policy axis be?"

Let us look at the posters of the current five strongly anti-LDP opposition parties, i.e.

- The Democratic Party of Japan

- The People's Life Party

- The Social Democratic Party

- The Japan Communist Party and

- Green Breeze (Midori no kaze)

DPJ - "We Will be the Power to Protect People's Ways of Life"

People's Life Party - "We Will Protect Livelihoods!"

DSP - "Rather Than A Strong Country, A Kind Society"

JCP - "Stop TPP: Agriculture, Employment, Medical Care and Food Safety
The Party That Loves This Country"

Green Breeze - no official poster (that I know of) but a lot of the same kind of messages

Give the JCP credit for its opportunistic seizure of a national emblem at a time when Mt. Fuji is very much in the news, and for its unabashed expression of a love of country. Way to go, JCP (whose name is, by the way, the NIPPON Kyosanto) -- this is how a progressive party should muscle in on right wing nationalist territory!

Nevertheless, the similarity of the messages, rather than being a source of hope (hey look, all these different parties are saying about the same thing -- we have the ingredients for a united front here!) is instead incredibly depressing*. Each party is asserting that globalization and its effects can be resisted, that competition and market forces can be stopped at the border, and that even as the world changes, Japan can stay as it was.

I am sorry. If a crabbed, timid and backward-looking vision is what you have on offer, then you have lost me.

For all its many faults, the policies of the ruling LDP-New Komeito coalition, which are in every area risky as hell, at least acknowledge the premise that the important work of government is the management of change, not desperate, lunging attempts to keep change out.


* That the DPJ, People's Life and Green Breeze should have near identical policy platforms is hardly surprising, as all are led by either Ozawa Ichiro or one of his proteges.

Entre La France Et Le Japon

I would so very much love to read this article on Shinjuku Station. Hélas, it is behind a paywall.

It would be refreshing to see Shinjuku Eki through an outsider's eyes again. I would also very much like to learn how the station is a troubling mirror of Japan.

I confess...due to various reasons, I could not negotiate Shinjuku Station during my first decade of residence in the Tokyo Metropolitan District.

How higgledy-piggledy is Shinjuku? This is JR East's exploded view of just the JR section of the station and this is one individual's inadvertently hilarious attempt to annotate the JR East map so as to clarify the connections between the JR section of the station and the other sections.

That easiest way to slice through the labyrinth is to place the West Exit's taxi roundabout at the center and bottom of one's mental map, then draw radial compass lines toward all the other main points in the station, did not occur to me until sometime around 2005.

If I get a chance to read the Le Figaro piece, I would likely profit from a non-English language reading of locations in Japan. Almost all my views of this blessed land come via Japanese or English language sources -- with some vicarious readings of Italian views via Italian readers in Tokyo (Grazie tanto!).

That one has to venture outside the bilingual (Japanese-English) intellectual hegemony on Japan studies was clear a few months back in the disastrous interview Tokyo Metropolitan District governor Inose Naoki had with Ken Belson of The New York Times. Misunderstandings in the conduct and interpretation of that conversation seriously dented Tokyo's chances of landing the 2020 Olympic Games.

According to Belson:
At several points in the interview, Inose said that Japanese culture was unique and by implication superior, a widely held view in Japan. He noted that the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington wrote in his book "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order" that Japan was unlike any other culture.

Inose also pointed to polls that showed 70 percent of Tokyoites in favor of hosting the Summer Games, up from 47 percent last year. The well-received London Games, he said, have helped generate enthusiasm and confidence that Tokyo can host a similarly successful event.

Tokyo, he added, is exceptional because the Imperial Palace, which is largely off-limits to residents and visitors, forms the city's core while bustling activity surrounds it. "The central part of Tokyo has nothingness," he said. "This is a unique way that society achieved modernization."
The underlined sentence is the kind of vaulting non-sequitur that earns The New York Times the ire of Japan defenders. If Governor Inose did not say that Japanese culture is superior, one should not report that he did.

More interesting is the replication, without explanation, of the assertion (in bold) that the green oasis of the Imperial Palace grounds, much of which is impenetrable to the citizenry, is symbolic of this blessed land's unique passage to modernity.

If there was ever a statement that needed explanation, it was this one -- particular because the observation is not Japanese in origin. The improbability of the verdant and closed-off Imperial Palace grounds (the grounds are not all closed off, of course, the East Gardens being one of the truly great green public spaces in the 23 Wards) being the center of a metropolis is the signature observation in L'Empire des signes by Roland Barthes (Link - Fr).

Inose assumed that Belson, an educated Westerner with ties to Japan, would be familiar with Barthes' work. In referencing both Barthes and Huntington, Inose was demonstrating that "uniqueness," far from being a marker of Japanese prejudice and arrogance, was indeed the almost exact opposite, "unique" being the adjective to which non-Japanese thinkers, befuddled by the challenge Japan's culture and history presented to their world views, have repeatedly retreated in their hour of intellectual aphasia.

For those who are interested and do not read French, L'empire des signes has been translated into English (Link). As it is a part of the French literary criticism/semiotics tradition one will not often find the work on the syllabi of positivist tradition English language Japanese studies courses. Nevertheless, it is one of the canonical works in the Japanese intellectual tradition of the ways non-Japanese look at Japan.

Which is as twisted and non-intuitive as the maze of underground passages beneath Shinjuku Station.

Image: Sunrise over the towers of Shinjuku on 14 May 2012
Image courtesy: MTC

Thursday, July 18, 2013

And Meanwhile, On The International Stage

Newsflash: a Japanese citizen, educated in Canada, spoke in English for an hour yesterday.

When asked about the ordeal, she replied that the experience was not very different from regular speech. (Link - J)

Hat tip to moderator Michael Penn for forwarding the Yomiuri Shimbun's account of Green Breeze party leader Tanioka Kuniko's unbelievable feat.

Ozawa Ichiro At Twilight: He Did It His Way

And now, the end is here
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I'll say it clear
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain
I've lived a life that's full
I traveled each and ev'ry highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

Regrets, I've had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way...

- Revaux, Francois, Thibaut and Anka, "My Way" (1969)

Yesterday, Ozawa Ichiro dropped by the Foreign Correspondents' Club and answered questions for two hours, an oddly languid bit of scheduling for a presumed ultimate political animal whose tiny, extremely unpopular party has five candidates running in district elections on Sunday.

That the People's Life Party is expected to win zero seats may have something to do with Ozawa's willingness to spend some time with the foreign press, who as a group influence exactly zero Japanese voters.

Meanwhile in Aomori, the prefecture next door to Ozawa's home prefecture of Iwate, the People's Life district candidate is still waiting for Ozawa to make a campaign appearance. (Link - J)

Long and far has been Ozawa's fall, from the man who in March 2009 was the presumed next prime minister to this, diffident, shrugging denouement. It is tempting to ascribe the collapse to The Establishment, the permanent-powers-that-be in this blessed land who found a way, through the corruption of the justice system, to knock out the political secretaries, present and former, of Ozawa on pretend crimes to first hobble and then smash the challenge Ozawa represented to the existing order.

But it was clear from the answers Ozawa gave yesterday that a not insignificant part of his current diminution was self-inflicted. He was asked, after he had opined that the forces in opposition to Abe Shinzo and the Liberal Democratic Party had not had the time to work together to oppose the ruling coalition's message, whether he did not not find a fundamental disconnect between this complaint and his stage managing the breakout of his followers from the Democratic Party of Japan, deeply wounding the first party to in and of itself prevail against the LDP. Ozawa replied with gobbledygook about parties being filled with contesting voices. "Well they were," the voice inside my head said, "Until you either snuffed them out by disbanding the DPJ's Policy Research Council or took them out by having your followers leave the DPJ."

To the follow-on question, "Do you now feel regret for having broken up and weakened the DPJ?" the self-confident Ozawa adopted a "I did what I did and I stand by what I did" tough guy stance, declaring, "If you look back over my record, you will see that I have no regrets for what I have done."

"But Ozawa-san," the little voice in my head continued, "having regrets is what one should have, at least when one really messes up. Regrets are the instigators of caution and the search for better answers next time. Did you never hear the tale of the businessman, who after an injury to his brain, could not longer feel anger or sadness? After his convalescence, he tried to go back to work but was soon urged to quit because he felt no anxiety about the company's losing money, or, after the company had lost money due a bad decision he had made, regret over what he had done?"

At the session, I also learned what it was that led so many otherwise level-headed folks to swoon when Ozawa would pay attention to them. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of policies, bills and platforms, making a conversation with him on matters of substance probably the most entertaining one  a wonk can have with a major politician. Toss any policy-based ball in his direction and he will hit it out of the park.

For the policy lover, Ozawa's interest must have been like an effervescent bath.

That a superstructure for Ozawa's policies scarcely existed -- that at the end of the day nearly every position was tactical -- either cobbling together as coalition of convenience around a single topic or simply opposing the position of anyone holding more power than he -- was not apparent to Ozawa's allies until Ozawa was, like kuzu vines, in, around, on top of and all over their gardens.

Ozawa goes into what his final battle this weekend. Yes, Seikatsu has 2 seats in House of Councillors not up for reelectoin and 7 seats in the House of Representatives. Imminent demise does not stalk the party like it stalks Fukushima Mizuho's Social Democrats (faint is their hope of survival -- another once mighty force facing the twilight). Nevertheless, a second, devastating defeat in a national election will bury the myth of Ozawa magic -- the seeming uncanny ability to read the electorate and pull victories from out of thin air. After a run of 20 years, the show will be over.

But for possibly the price of a few regrets...

Later - This post has been edited for increased clarity.

Photo image credit: MTC

Some Folks Just Dig Fantasy And I Suppose It's OK

Does anyone know House of Councillors member Katayama Satsuki? Because someone needs to explain to me the fantasy photo thing to me.

When it happens once the breakdown can be attributed to a staffer's lack of judgment.

But when it happens looks like more than just carelessness, to borrow a term from Oscar Wilde.

Yes, one does want to put one's best face on Facebook, though with a record of being the Finance Ministry's most stinging lash and one of Koizumi Jun'ichiro's most trusted assassins, one would hardly have to care.

As far as image goes, the official party page picture is great.

I am of the old school, I guess, believing that completing more than a few orbits under the sun and looking like the trip has not hurt too much ain't half bad, really.

For the prurient or merely curious, the next image from same Facebook set is here.

Not Among The Undecideds

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo filling out his absentee ballot for Sunday's House of Councillors election on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.

Have the secretary post a photo image taken with a mobile device on the Facebook page to remind the true believers and only the true believers of the absentee ballot option.


Image courtesy: Abe Shinzo page on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

An Acid Aside On East Asian Culture Clashes

I sometimes take part in personal or email conversations where very knowledgeable participants write, "The Korean view is that..." or "The consensus view in China on Japanese attitudes is..."

I find the categorizations irritating. Not, as the usual critical view would have it, because the use of these broad national descriptions masks heterogeneity within the respective societies, with minority views running counter to the main narrative being ignored. That societies are heterogeneous I can live with, for in every society there is a power structure determining which views are important and which ones are important to persons looking for a place to apply French critical theory. In between winners, would-be-winners and perennial losers, one can talk about nation states and attitudes to associate with them.

No, what I find annoying is the whole concept of national identities in East Asia. There is not a single place in the region where anyone can start to say anything definite about national identity without blundering into a word, thought, turn of phrase, religious conception or symbol system borrowed from another country in East Asia. Japanese cannot think about being Japanese without using a language made up of Chinese ideograms expressing concepts received from Korea. No Chinese can write about anything more modern than a waterwheel without falling into universe of technical terms taken from Japanese. As for Korea, aside from hangul (a brilliant innovation) and kimchi, what the heck is there that is not a variation on some Chinese or Japanese theme?

[Lovers of things Korean, feel free to castigate me. I am being unnecessarily provocative out of the purest of intentions. Furthermore, given what my surname means in Korean, what else could be expected?]

It is all right for elites and their apologists to argue over this being that and whose is what, with culture becoming just one more item to be fenced in and exploited (Link). But academics, reporters and everyone else not in power should sit the fight out, keeping an eye on their self-proclaimed betters and their nationalist poses.

A watchful, wary eye, not a sympathetic one.

Every nationality in the region is a concatenation of elements consciously or unconsciously borrowed from other nations in the region...meaning that every nationalism in the region is an inadequately treated fit of delusions.

Are The Voters Set To Surprise The Cynics?

According to the NHK poll of July 13-15, 66% of the voters are expressing either a strong commitment to or an interest in voting in Sunday's House of Councillors election -- a surprisingly high figure. (Link)

Polls on intentions tend to overshoot actual voting by about 10%. For example, the NHK poll figure in the week before the 2010 election was 71%. The actual turnout rate was just under 58%.

With a 13 point drop off, the voter turnout this year will be around 53% -- a much better figure than the one I have projected.

Persons arguing for a decent turnout rate can also point to positve early voting figures. Over 4.5 million voters have already cast ballots in early voting, a 12% increase in early voting from only 3 years ago. (Link - J)

Higher rates of voting are usually seen as favoring non-machine parties over the voting machines of the LDP, the Communists and the New Komeito -- though given its current broad base of support, it is probably not accurate to refer to the LDP as a machine party.

Just which non-machine parties are set to benefit from increased voter participation is a BIG question. The support numbers or likely-to-vote-for numbers for the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japan Restoration Party and the Your Party are all over the map.

To be fair, the figures for the LDP and the Communists are all over the map too.

So what happens in the case where, let us say 53% of the electorate shows up and votes in the proportional race slanting in the way the crazy Asahi Shimbun figures indicate, with me doling out the undecideds proportionately (with a little boost to the SDP for old times' sake)?

According to the d'Hondt calculator highlighted the other day, the proportional seat wins will be divided up thusly:

LDP 25
New Komeito 6
Your Party 4
Other parties 0

While this result along with projected district wins gives the ruling coalition a safe majority in the House of Councillors, it still leaves the forces of constitutional revision out of luck -- unless, of course, there are sleeping constitutional revisionists in the ranks of the DPJ members of the House of Councillors just aching to join forces with the LDP, the JRP and the Your Party. The above distribution would, however, put the LDP over the 72 seats its needs to say hasta la vista to its coalition partner the New Komeito -- assuming that the LDP wins every district seat it is contesting, of course.

Getting back to the issue of turnout, there is another reasons to doubt it will be even close to what the NHK intentions figures indicate, in addition to history showing the predictions to be inflated. The 65% response rate to the July 13-15 telephone survey is way up from the normal 50%-55% response rate. Intuition tells us that a large number of respondents in the intentions survey were role playing, demonstrating interest in the political process because they feel they should be doing so. While demonstrating the proper respect toward democracy is laudable in a society where a faux contented conformance with the current operative reality is rewarded more strongly than it is in other societies, responding because you feel you should will skew results toward recent changes in momentum and atmospherics rather than reveal significant changes in voting decisions.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Do The Forces Of Constitutional Revision Have A Chance? (2)

[Part 2 of 2. Part 1 I published yesterday.]

Assuming that everything goes perfectly -- and I do mean perfectly -- for the Liberal Democratic Party in the district seat elections on July 21, and assuming its allies in constitutional revision the Japan Restoration Party and the Your Party pick up the majority of the seats remaining after one subtracts the four seats the New Komeito must/will win, the combined forces of constitutional revision will control 123 of the 161 162 seats they need to have a 2/3rds majority in the House of Councillors.

Can the forces of revision win the further 38 39 seats they need to reach the magical 161 162 total?

In addition to voting for the district candidate, voters write either the name of a party member or the name of a party on a separate ballot. These votes are tallied according to party, with the vote for the individual counted as a vote for the party with whom he or she is affiliated.

The 48 seats up for election on this separate ballot are the proportional vote. Seats are divvied up using the d’Hondt method, meaning the vote totals are divided by one, then by two, then by three..with the largest remaining result getting the next available seat.

If you do not want to think to too much about the method but just want the results, here is a great calculator (Tip of the hat to Tobias Harris of Observing Japan).

The first guess one needs to make regarding the inputs, and it is a doozy, is how many folks will show up at the polling stations on July 21. As I insinuated in a post the other day major elections of the past year have featured record-breaking or close-to-record-setting low levels of voter turnout.

The causes of the low level of voter participation in 2013 are not hard to discern:

-a secular reduction in interest in elections since electoral reforms in the 1990s,

-a reduction in interest in politics after the collapse of the credibility of the Democratic Party of Japan as an alternative to the LDP,

- the exhaustion from having had a national election and a change of government only six months earlier and local elections only a few weeks ago,

- ridiculously high support ratings for both the Cabinet and the LDP in the public opinion polls (the demoralization factor) and

- the absence of real policy choice in between the parties.

The last items does not mean that the parties are indistinguishable, for they do offer different mixes of policies. However, none of these mixes is either inspired or inspiring, leading voters more likely to choose, when they show up, the parties that can enact any policies.

To these reasons for sitting out this election out we have to add the possibility of unpleasant weather on election day actively dissuading folks from leaving their homes to go to the polling stations (this summer has been naaaaassssty!).

The number of persons casting ballots I come up with, in a brutish, what-the-hell calculus, is 48,000,000 . That is a whopping 12 million voters down from the House of Councillors elections in 2007 and 2010. It is also a greater drop than the huge fall in between the 2009 and 2012 House of Representatives elections, when 10,000,000 voters who showed up in 2009 failed to show up last year.

The voting rate in this guestimate is nevertheless still more than 44.67% recorded in the 1995 House of Councillors election. The median age of the voters has risen since 1995, and older voters vote more, so that despite all the negative forces listed above, a turnout rate of 46% (based on the latest, July 8 figure from the Ministry for General Affairs and Telecommunications of 104,780,660 persons eligible to vote) seems about right.

Now, how will these votes be divided up?

Let us make two incredibly generous assumptions to critics who find me too solicitous of the LDP, one supposition regarding the DPJ based on atmospherics and one boneheaded assertion. The first is that the LDP does no better in the vote than its current 42% rate of support in public opinion polls, despite the concentration of power the drop in voter participation gives to vote machines. The second is that centrist voters, wary of giving the LDP too much support, will give their votes to the main center-right opposition DPJ, JRP and Your Party in about equal amounts. The third is that public trust in the DPJ has sunk to the point where the Your Party and the DPJ win exactly the same number of votes. The fourth, the dumb one, is that at least 7,000,000 folks plunk down for the New Komeito and its candidates.

The voting numbers I get, in aggregate, are:

LDP 20,000,000
New Komeito 7,000,000
DPJ 5,000,000
Your Party 5,000,000
JRP 4,500,000
JCP 3,500,000
SDP 1,800,000
Other parties 1,200,000

Plugging these raw vote totals into the D’Hondt calculator, the following proportional seat distribution pops out:

LDP 22
New Komeito 7
Your Party 5
Other parties 0

The projection, biased upon the assumption of no last minute reversal of the decay of support for the DPJ, still only secures only 31 seats for the revisionists, 7 seats short of Constitutional Revision Nirvana.

The fly in the constitutional revision crowd's punch bowl is...surprise! (not really) the NEW KOMEITO. Unless the leaders of the New Komeito or That Which Cannot Be Named tell their voters to not show up on the 21st, their immobile mass will outweigh any projected "rightward shift" in favor of constitutional revision.

I invite readers to play around with the calculator, trying out higher voter turnouts and different support levels based on the public opinion survey the individual reader may fancy.

Fiddle as one might, the leap to the 161 162 seats needed for constitutional revision -- even when making assumptions equivalent to pretty much everything goes the revisionists' way on election eve -- remains just too far off.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Do The Forces Of Constitutional Revision Have A Chance? (1)

Though campaigning on constitutional revision has died down, except for the noises emanating from the candidates of the Japan Restoration Party and fringe rightists in the pro- and the Japan Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party in the anti-camps, commentators outside Japan are still talking about a post-election push for constitutional revision by a radically empowered Abe Shinzo.

Assuming the desirability of actual revision (If the opposition is annihilated and the constitution changed, who then can be blamed for continued failure and drift?) is such an outcome even technically possible? Do the forces for revision have the technical means of achieving their seat targets -- i.e. do the parties in favor of revision have enough candidates in the right places?

First, how many seats do they need? Mathematically, 2/3 of 242 is 161.333…. Ostensibly, the three parties would have to end up with 162 seats.

However, the Speaker of the House and Deputy Speaker, who are selected from the two largest caucuses, are under extreme pressure to behave in a non-partisan fashion. Symbolically, they take leave from their party membership during their terms in office. The Speaker in particularly would almost certainly abstain from a constitutional vote.

[Sorry MTC - but that the Speaker of the House would abstain would increase, not decrease the number of seats needed. The constitutional requirement is 2/3rds of the members of a House, not 2/3rds of those present at the vote. 162 is the number and will always be the number, at least until such time as the number of seats in the House of Councillors gets changed - Ed.]

So the actual number of seats the parties must have is 161 162.

The three major parties on record in favor of revising the Constitution are the JRP, the Liberal Democratic Party and the Your Party. They currently hold seats 61 not up for reelection this cycle:

Seats Not Up For Election: District

LDP 38
Your 3

Seats Not Up For Election: Proportional
LDP 12
Your 7
So in this cycle the three parties need to win 100 101 seats to have the barest minimum of the seats necessary for changes to the Constitution.

In the raw numbers, the three parties have sufficient candidates -- 78 for the LDP, 44 for the JRP and 34 for the Your Party.

Candidates For Seats Up For Election: District

LDP 49
JRP 14
Your 17

Seats Not Up For Election: Proportional
LDP 29
JRP 30
Your 15

However, are these candidates dispersed in meaningful or effective way?

To simplify matters, let us assume that all of the district candidates of the LDP all win election. T'is not an unreasonable assumption, in light of the election of all the LDP candidates in last month's Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election. The assumption of dominance glosses over the potential for bastions -- where particular opposition parties cannot lose due to long time support of particular political families. However, given the the overwhelming national support (>40% in most polls) for the LDP, the viability of any of these bastions is called into question. Furthermore, since we are calculating the total number of seats in favor of constitutional revision, if the winner is the JRP or Your Party candidate then the LDP loss is irrelevant to the total.

So after all the LDP district candidates win, how many district seats are left?

Normally, one would say 24 (73 totals seats - 49 LDP wins = 24). However, the LDP's coalition partner, the New Komeito, which is chary of constitutional revision, is running candidates in 4 multi-seat prefectures: Saitama, Tokyo, Kanagawa and Osaka. These candidates will win handily, meaning there are 20 open seats for opposition parties, in the following distribution:

Hokkaido 1
Miyagi 1
Ibaraki 1
Saitama 1
Chiba 1
Tokyo 2
Kanagawa 2
Niigata 1
Nagano 1
Shizuoka 1
Aichi 2
Kyoto 1
Osaka 2
Hyogo 1
Hiroshima 1
Fukuoka 1

Now here is that same list, with competition between the candidates running on pro-revision JRP and Your Party tickets and the anti-revision Democratic Party of Japan ticket.

Hokkaido 1 (YP, DPJ)
Miyagi 1 (YP, DPJ)
Ibaraki 1 (JRP, YP, DPJ)
Saitama 1 (YP, DPJ)
Chiba 1 (JRP, YP, DPJ)
Tokyo 2 (JRP, YP, DPJ)
Kanagawa 2 (JRP, YP, DPJ)
Niigata 1 (JRP, DPJ)
Nagano 1 (YP,DPJ)
Shizuoka 1 (JRP, YP, DPJ)
Aichi 2 (JRP, YP, DPJ)
Kyoto 1 (JRP, YP, DPJ)
Osaka 2 (JRP, YP, DPJ)
Hyogo 1 (JRP, YP, DPJ)
Hiroshima 1 (JRP, DPJ)
Fukuoka 1 (JRP, YP, DPJ)

Your Party leader Watanabe Yoshimi made a great show of breaking off election cooperation with the JRP after JRP co-leader Hashimoto Toru's idiotic remarks as regards the sex slaves of the Imperial era and the need for U.S. Marines to frequent Okinawan sexual services establishments. However, despite the acrimonious breakup the two parties largely do not work at cross purposes in eastern Japan, which is Watanabe's region. They do get in each other's way a lot though, in western Japan. The three parties are locked in a death struggle in over a single seat in Chiba, Shizuoka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka prefectures.

The DPJ, despite its severely weakened state, will win a few of these remaining district seats. The Japan Communist Party has also a decent chance, given its strong showing in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly elections, to win a seat in Tokyo. A tiny number might go to independents and other parties.

If the DPJ can win 5 of the 20 seats and the Communists, other parties and independents win 2, the opposition forces in favor of revision walk away with 13 district seats. When added to the 49 wins by the LDP, the running total is 62.

Which means the LDP, the JRP and Your Party have to win 38 39 seats in the proportional votes to reach the magical 100 seats level.

How realistic is 38 39, out of the total 48 proportional seats up for elections?

(to be continued)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Failure To Atone

Pew Research's Global Attitudes Project has published its latest global survey of Asia Pacific attitudes toward Japan and Japan's government. (Link)

The results are pretty much as one would expect...and pretty depressing. Chinese and South Korean citizens and their respective governments are locked in a feedback loop of anti-Japanese hatred (I would write antipathy, but why equivocate?) from which no easy exit is visible...nor any exit at all, really. Prime Minister Abe is seen unfavorably in equal measure in the two countries -- 85% unfavorably -- at very high levels of certainty (only 6% of Chinese and 2% of South Koreans do not feel they know enough to make a call on Abe).

Were I Abe (and boy are you ever not him - Ed.) I would look at these results, look at my August schedule, shrug and pencil in my Yasukuni visit. "Look at these numbers. Seriously, how much worse could it get?" he could ask -- and he would be right.

Do check out Joelle Metcalfe's article that first alerted me as to the publication of the Pew Research findings. (Link)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Among The Things We Do Not Know

What is the reason for the second Abe Administration's high support ratings seven months out?

(Click on image to open up full size in another window)

Support for the Abe Cabinet in the NHK poll has dropped these last three months, from a high of 66% in April to 57% last week. However, the cabinet's numbers are down only 7 percentage points from December, when Abe took office.

How aberrant is this stability? One has to go back to the tenure of Obuchi Keizo (30 July 1998 - 5 April 2000) to find a prime minister who was fewer than 7 points down seven months into his tenure.

The figures for the Obuchi Cabinet were truly wild. It started out in deep fried territory at only 38% support, fell to the cabinet collapse level of 20%, then rose up to nearly its starting numbers. The Obuchi Cabinet finished out the year more popular than when it was announced.

Getting back to support numbers for Abe II (look the red lines - Abe I and Abe II started out at exactly the same level) they are simply not comprehensible...unless, of course, there is dumb-as-a-sack-of-hammers direct correlation in between equities markets and Cabinet popularity.

But how could that be, if the country has only a weak private equities ownership culture?

Later - The theory that 30% of the voting age population was whisked off the streets in December and replaced with an army of Abe-loving replicants grown and indoctrinated in a vast biocomplex located underneath Liberal Democratic Party headquarters, while improbable, at least has the virtue of being consistent with the polling data.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Oh, How To Play This One!

Judging from the responses when searching Google News in Japanese, the domestic media has not yet reported on this story:
Fourth star for Harry Harris
Pensecola News Journal

Pensacola becomes the home of lots of military brass, and this area also produces its share of high-ranking officers.

Harry B. Harris Jr., a 1974 graduate of Booker T. Washington High School, has been nominated by President Barack Obama for his fourth star as a Navy admiral, the Pentagon announced on Tuesday.

With the promotion, Harris, a vice admiral who is now assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is scheduled to be assigned to command the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the Navy said.

As commander of the Pacific Fleet, Harris will oversee the world’s largest sea operation, encompassing more than half the Earth’s surface and including about 1,100 aircraft, 200 ships and submarines and roughly 140,000 military and civilian personnel.

Harris, 56, is the son of a Navy enlisted man and a Japanese woman who worked for the military as a civilian translator...


So after the local mediaverse gets off its duff, how will this country's bloodline-conscious interpret a hafu's taking over as proconsul for the Indo-Pacific?

Wow, do I ever see the opportunity for misunderstandings here...oh, and a lot of images of excruciatingly bad gift swaps too.

It is just after 4:30 in the morning. What are the chances that NHK has a camera crew in Harris's mother's nominal furusato right now, interviewing seniors who would rather be watering their plants?

Tip of the hat to Paul Giarra for the link.

Later - Yes, I agree. It will be interesting to see this news is parsed in China.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Unthinking On Why Abe Will Visit Yasukuni In August

Once we are past the July 21 elections, Sino-Japanese relations will be in a sweet spot. Both China and Japan will have ostensibly new, legitimate leaders, with significant political succession campaigns far off. It will be years before either side has to gin up the paranoia/resentment machine to advance its political program. Both leaders, with their inherited political bona fides, would be in a position to find ways to work together to keep the bilateral relationship on an even keel. Given the tight intermeshing of the economies of the two countries, crippling relations over pride would be daft. This is doubly so because the Chinese economy is going to be entering a rough patch, with growth gearing down sharply from deleveraging and a shift from investment-led to consumption-led growth. It is trebly so because big business in Japan, which is invested in China up to its earlobes, has been an unquestioned and unquestioning backer of Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party.

Nevertheless, Abe will toss the opportunity to make history into history's dustbin and go to Yasukuni in August. He not do so on the August 15 defeat day but on another day (I have bet that it will be August 12) -- not with a herd of lawmakers and flunkies in tow but quietly, without warning.

Why? Abe does not have to prove anything. The revisionist base loves him, whether he goes to Yasukuni or not. The collapse of the Japan Restoration Party means there is no more threat to the LDP from the right.

If Abe goes to Yasukuni there will be anti-Japanese riots in China. Xi Jinping will never come to Japan for a summit. Ship intrusions into the area around the Senkakus will skyrocket.

To which I can only respond, "And how will all these outcomes not fulfill the predictions regarding Chinese behavior that Abe and his fellow travelers have been making since...forever?"

In addition to the self serving opportunism of instigating exactly the kind of hysteria and overreaction in China the revisionist right has prophesied, Abe has purely personal reasons for going to Yasukuni in August. The first is psychohistorical: he has never forgiven himself for failing to go in August 2007. Second, since their accessions to power, Xi Jinping has made not the least sacrifice of political capital in order to reach out to Abe. Unlike Park Geun-hye, who has to be seen giving Abe the cold shoulder in order to bury talk of her father's service to Japan, Xi is free to extend the hand of friendship to Abe. For reasons of either cowardice or prejudice, Xi has done nothing.

He will do nothing.

A terrible error.

Abe has been wearing a mask of affability these past six months in line with the needs of his party in the run up to the House of Councillors election. Once past the election, Abe will let down the facade of buoyant happiness, reverting to his usual state of umbrage. We have already seen flashes of resentment creep out from behind the mask, the anger he feels toward anyone showing him disrespect, in Abe's Facebook attacks on anti-Trans Pacific Partnership demonstrators, Tanaka Hitoshi and Hosono Goshi. Once past the election, Abe's brittle edginess, shared by many in his Cabinet, will no longer need to be hidden away.

So many of the projects dear to the revisionists are closed to Abe. Garrison the Senkakus? Suicidal, stupid. Revise Article 96, Article 9 and the rest of the Constitution? Not enough votes in the House of Councillors for the necessary 2/3rds majority.

Going to Yasukuni is the default dream realization -- and Abe will revert to it once the election is over and done. Provocative, spiteful will the visit be, yet not threatening except in rhetorical terms.

After Abe takes the plunge world opinion will fault him for his lack of sensitivity and inability to appreciate the fragility of Japan's position in East Asia.

World opinion will, however be drawing a bead at the wrong target. Those lacking in sense and sensitivity are in Beijing. Those afraid of an objective accounting for the past are there too.

Can one fault the Chinese for failing to understand Japan? Not really. Power and wealth have muddled brains. A global fear of losing access to the China bounty has clipped tongues.

At the end of the day, at the very end, the interests of East Asia's princeling leaders are best served by conflict between the nations. Marginal territorial and history disputes are helpful distractions, turning the attention of citizens away from such questions as "Are the children and grandchildren of past leaders really the best persons for these jobs?" and "What is there in this aristocracy thing for me and my family, anyway?"

Monday, July 08, 2013

The July 21, 2013 Election - Abe, His Boots Are Made For Walkin'

These boots are made for walkin’
And that's just what they'll do
One of these days these boots
Are gonna walk all over you...

- Nancy Sinatra, "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" (1966)
In real life, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is flying to and being driven around the country. On Saturday, he campaigned in four prefectures -- Kyoto, Nara, Shiga and Osaka -- after starting out the day in the departure lounge at Tokyo's Haneda Airport with what looks like -- horrors! -- a Nikkei Shimbun on his lap. (Please don't tell Watanabe Tsuneo -- Link)

In the world of the Liberal Democratic Party, however, Abe Shinzo is walking around the country, or more properly, in and around Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures. (Link - YouTube)

Why does he walk with his back to us, aside from the practical reason that it is easier to have a hair double than a face double? Is he our boss and we his underlings, trailing in his wake? Is he our leader, whom we must follow, despite our being at times in not quite the right outfits for the surroundings?

With the great man's head of hair, still jet black at 58 (How does he do it? - question is facetious) we visit a modern office complex, vegetable plots, what looks like an iron ore facility, mixed farmland and suburban housing (it looks like Kanagawa Prefecture, near Oiso or Odawara), through the halls of the Prime Minister's Residential Quarters (See? He isn't afraid of ghosts!), down a Tokyo back alley (I would say in Tokyo's Minato Ward) and in the company of two Special Police officers in a parking structure (What is he trying to say here? No fear of assassins?).

We see Abe's face for the first time, from below (where else could we be, in relation to him?) as he strides through the gray awfulness that is Japanese bureaucrat offices (I would say this inside the Finance Ministry...but I have never been therein). Then we are back behind the man, going up what looks like a staircase out of the subway at Kasumigaseki, running upward with him toward the light.

In the last part of the commercial we are very definitely in Minato Ward, on a rooftop in high-rise condominium-clogged Shibaura (the area on Tokyo's bayfront where a glut of these high-priced condos led to a fierce competition in between realtors which came to be known as "the Wangan Senso"). The view is toward the Rainbow Bridge and Odaiba -- though there is no obvious candidate for the building from which the shot is taken.

Over the scene appears the promise that "the feelings of progress and growth, with those hands" -- meaning the the hands of the viewers, not the PM -- that the people will be able to sense the results of current government policies, soon.

[The prime minister is fixated upon on people's own hands. His repeated wish regarding constitutional revision is to have a document written "by our own hands."]

We end the trip with a backdrop of the view in the opposite direction, toward Roppongi Hills, with the PM again facing us.

Then there is the PM's voiceover through the commercial.

"A new Japan is beginning to move."

"Step by step, with assurance."

"In health and vitality, with strength."

"Toward a safe Japan."

"We will protect Japan."

"We will push Japan forward."

"We will take Japan back. The LDP."

Is it just me, are the promises of security a little overdone? Progress one can promise -- but safety? (Trying telling that to the Pacific and North American plates.)

And are the promises of health and strength, aren't they just a little too self-referential for Abe, with his record of debilitating ulcerative collitis? Or do we need reassurance that he will not collapse this time?

Finally, what are the voters supposed to make of this "We will take Japan back. The LDP" business? The slogan made perfect sense in December, when the government was in the hands of the opposition. But the LDP, in coalition with the New Komeito, now controls the government. If we are to take the non-snigger inducing interpretation of Abe and Company's promise to "take Japan back" (Nippon o, torimodosu), the only folks they can take Japan back from is themselves.

Which indicates that Nippon o, torimodosu means...

The extensive use of the back of the PM's head and the relatively limited set of locations indicates that no one took the making of this commercial too seriously. The scenes with hidden and potential double meanings are too many to be coincidental. The walk down in the hallway of the Old Prime Minister's Residence, for example, takes on the ghost story -- but only, of course, for those who know what the interior of the old Residence looks like.

The whole "walking through Japan" theme has to be a riff on Democratic Party of Japan leader Kaieda Banri's much derided "Walking" poster released in the run up for this election (Link - J). Abe and Co. seem be feeling so comfortable (and why should they not be, given the results in the public opinion polls?) that they are taking chances, throwing the base some red meat, poking the crippled DPJ and its lame leader.

At least that is the way it looks from where I am, which is behind.


Later - Despite the close relationship in between the current administration and the Yomuri Shimbun, photos of Abe Shinzo and Watanabe Tsuneo together are rather hard to find. The only significant one in Google Images is this one. Of course, it is a doozy of the mutual back scratching genre, with Abe in between his two People's Honor Award honorees, both of whom were superstars for the Yomiuri Giants, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide and Watanabe sitting together right behind Matsui Hideki.

Later still - Pravda-by-the-Palace argues that the LDP and the New Komeito remain wary of slacking off or appearing to be overconfident. (Link)

Sorry...but this election is in the bag. The LDP will win almost every single-seat district. It will win at least one seat in all of the two seat districts and two in where it is running two candidates in the three-, four- and five-seat districts. The New Komeito will pick up at least a seat everywhere it is running a candidate.

The few remaining seats will the subject of bitter struggles in between the DPJ, the Japan Communist Party, the Japan Restoration Party and the Your Party. Based on a poll of 30,000 voters (now there's a sample!) the Mainichi Shimbun is predicting the LDP will win around 70 seats outright (Link - J) -- i.e. the party will be in the position to reel in a handful of independent or conservative opposition lawmakers and be able to say, "Hasta la vista, baby" to the New Komeito. The LDP will not actually sever relations with the New Komeito because the party faces a significant breakaway this fall of lawmakers opposing Japan's participation in Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations. However, having at least the theoretical potential to dump the more reticent and passive New Komeito will significantly alter the balance of power in between the LDP and its ruling coalition partner.

Friday, July 05, 2013

The July 21, 2013 Elections - By the Numbers

Total number of candidates: 433

Total number of seats up for election 121

Number of district seat candidates: 271

Number of district seats up for election: 73

Number of proportional seat candidates: 162

Number of proportional seats up for election: 48

Total number of candidates, by party:
LDP 78
JCP 63
DPJ 55
JRP 44
Your Party 34
New Komeito 21
Life 11
Green Breeze 8
Other 83
Support for the parties (NHK poll of 7-9 June 2013)
LDP 41.7%
JCP 2.2%
DPJ 5.8%
JRP 1.5%
Your Party 1.5%
New Komeito 5.1%
Life 0.1%
SDP 0.4%
Green Breeze 0.0%
Other 0.2%
None of the above 34.6%
Don't know/can't say: 7.0%
The number of seats "X would have to win in order to do Y"

- parties nominally in support of constitutional revision to have the 2/3rds majority of seats in the House of Councillors necessary to revise the Constitution: 100

- the LDP to have all by itself majorities in both Houses of the Diet: 72

- the LDP and the New Komeito to have majorities in both Houses of the Diet: 63

Voter turnout - the last time

- last time these seats were up for election (29 July 2007): 58.64%

- last House of Councillors election (11 July 2010): 57.92%

- last national election (House of Representatives, 16 December 2012): 59.32% (historical low)

- latest major election (Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, 23 June 2013): 43.50% (second lowest ever)

Voter Turnout - Lowest

House of Councillors: 44.50% (23 July 1995)

House of Representatives: 59.32% (16 December 2012)

Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly: 40.80% (6 July 1995)

[Complete revival of the (Lack of) Spirit of '95 will guarantee Abe a historic victory on the 21st. It will also put a permanent asterisk mark next to the victory, with the explanation "Earned But Not Merited"]


% of candidates who are women: 24% (second highest % in last 30 years)

% of candidates who are younger than 50 years of age: 43%

% of candidates who are 60 years of age or older: 26%

TBS Feels The Lash

Since the installation of the Abe Cabinet, most of the country's terrestrial broadcast networks have been noticeably chary of taking on the foibles of the government or the Liberal Democratic Party. If you are the national broadcaster NHK, keeping in tune with the government is a matter of life and death. If you are a commercial network, and your management is not in cahoots with the government (and most readers know exactly exactly which network that is), then keeping your head down is still smart.

The one network that has eschewed self-censorship since the change of governments is Tokyo Broadcasting System Television (TBS - Link - J). Broadcaster of the acerbic Asa Zuba! morning show (Link - J) hosted by the tireless and at times volcanic Mino Monta, TBS has not lowered the temperature of its news broadcasts since the advent of Abe II.

Well, it seems that the whip has come down.

In response to an evening news report of June 26 which committed the sin of suggesting that the ruling coalition alone was to blame for the death of important bills at the end of the regular Diet session (since it is up to the Prime Minister and the ruling coalition to decide whether or not to extend the Diet session so that a bill might be passed, t'is not an unreasonable insinuation) the LDP informed TBS yesterday that no member of the party's executive council will be allow himself or herself to be interviewed by the network. (Link - J)

Really? Threatening a break off of relations on the first official day of the election campaign season, more than a week after the supposed heinous broadcast? Are you that bloody defensive and/or thuggish?

TBS has so far not apologized for its broadcast, though it is in negotiations with the LDP on a restoration of normal media relations.

One could hope, and it is likely a fool's hope, given what has happened in the past to networks critical of the government (see footnote 9 here) that TBS holds its ground. In a fantastical Japan, TBS takes the LDP lockout as an opportunity to give the opposition unlimited air time (and perhaps some hints on presentation) to lash out at the ruling coalition.

Later - Who owns TBS?
Master Trust Bank of Japan (11.2%)
Mainichi Broacasting (4.1%)
Mitsui Sumitomo Bank (3.8%)
Mitsui Fudosan (3.7%)
Mitsui & Co., Ltd. (2.8%)
Bicc Camera (2.7%)
Kodansha (2.5%)
Panasonic (2.0%)
(Source - J)