Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Supreme Court's Decision On The December 2012 Elections

Shisaku is on hiatus while the author is conducting a fish survey. However the Supreme Court decision on the December 2012 House of Representatives election (Link) deserves some kind of comment.

One should probably be checking in with Andrea Ortolani for fine- grained analysis. However, it seems that in the aggregate the Supremes, in declaring the district elections "in a state of unconstitutionality" (iken jotai) with three justices ruling the elections "unconstitutional but not invalid", have worked out a least worst outcome. While a preservation of the dignity of the Court would seemingly have demanded a ruling that the December 2012 elections, carried out as they were in defiance of a Supreme Court order to change the electoral map, be slapped down at least as unconstitutional, if not unconstitutional and invalid (what the logical difference would be between those two possible rulings, I would not wish to ponder).

Ruling the 2012 elections unconstitutional would have created a juridical/legislative black hole, though. If the elections that elected the current crop of Diet members were unconstitutional, then the only legitimate Diet capable of reforming the districts would be the one that was turned out of office a year ago. Reassembling those members now, to vote on reform legislation, would itself be unconstitutional as the terms in office of those members, had they been served out in full, ended in August.

So the Supremes simply repeated themselves -- "this is wrong and you should fix it before you hold another election" -- a flash of a sword but not a real stab the contradictions inherent in the description of the relative powers of the judiciary and the legislature found in Articles 41 and 81 of the Constitution). The contradiction -- the Diet is the supreme organ but the Court is the ultimate decider of constitutionality versus unconstitutionality -- is not something the Supremes would necessarily want to resolve given that the 2012 elections did result in a transfer of power in between parties.

In a seemingly pointless but still significant snit of protest, the Court did pre-emptively strike down the current reformation of the electoral map, the so-called +0/-5 solution passed in the final days of the last Diet, as insufficient to fix the state of unconstitutionality. Fiddling at the margins -- dropping the five smallest districts and moving a few communities in and out of a few districts so that the maximum measured level of disparity is 1.99 -- is NOT what the Supremes want in terms of rectifying the disparities in between the districts. Since the population shifts since 2010, the time of the last census, have resulted the new, "reformed" districts again creeping past the 2.0 disparity standard, the Court had the opportunity to blast the +0/-5 fiddle -- and to the Court's credit, it did.

This aside leaves the door open for the Court to take action at a later date, if the Diet continues to shirk its obligation to renew the nation through more equal electoral district maps. By declaring the +0/-5 solution insufficient, the Supremes have put the Diet on the hook to fix the districts before the next election -- or else the Supremes could chose to really put their feet down.

The Supremes' ruling against the plaintiffs in this round of cases is a blow against those fighting for a rectification of the value of the votes of urban dwellers and the residents of rural constituencies. The Abe government and the current Liberal Democratic Party majority in the House of Representatives can also breathe easier -- their elections to power being, if not exactly validated, at least insulated against major challenge.

The Asahi Shimbun is bummed at the setback (Link - J) but it should not be -- the legislative fight against electoral district disparity must continue.

Later - The Yomiuri Shimbun offers a government-supportive English-language edit (Link) and the Mainichi Shimbun a more neutral English-language edit (Link) of the story.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Noble And Obvious And China Will Still Go Bananas About It

According to news reports, the Abe government has decided to dispatch a force of up to 1,000 Self Defense Forces personnel to the Philippines to help in the rescue and recovery effort in the aftermath of 2013 Typhoon #30 --- a.k.a, Typhoon Haiyan, a.k.a. Typhoon Yolanda. For those who have been looking at the photographs and video footage of the disaster zones and thinking, "Isn't this humanitarian catastrophe exactly what the Japanese government and the SDF have been arguing the Osumi and the other helicopter carriers were built to handle?" you are vindicated -- the dispatch includes the Osumi, the Ise and the oiler Towada. (Link - J)

As for the Chinese response to the projected presence of 1,000 Japanese soldiers and sailors either on the ground in Leyte or on ships carrying out operations inside the territorial waters of the Philippines -- well, one can imagine that the military-security folks in Beijing must be rather busy this morning -- for all the wrong reasons, one might add.

Later - An earlier version of this post contained the extraordinary number of 10,000 SDF in the Philippines. Whether that was a bleary-eyed misread or an actual reading of a later corrected report, I cannot say.

Apologies for the confusion.

Later still - Arrghhh! Corrected the wrong place in the above. The current government plan involved 1,000 SDF. 1,000.

As you were.

And even later - Many thanks to reader "Brodie" who alerted me to the mistaken correction. Caught it I did before I read his email...but all corrections are always welcome ("And needed" - Editor).

And yet later still - As for the obvious question, "Why is it that the MSDF helicopter carriers have not already departed for the Philippines?" one can only guess that without their blessed Security Council to gather up their attention and focus it, neither the Prime Minister, the Chief Cabinet Minister nor the Defense Minister could possibly have the mental discipline to make the connection in between the likelihood of desperate need and the dispatch of relief ships.

Thankful should we be that the Liberal Democratic Party, the experienced, proactive, outward-looking party committed to wrenching Japan out of its passivity in order to transform it into a greater force for global good, is back in power.

Or so we have been told, so many times...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

For The Dissemination of Maritime Thinking

There was a major frisson in the foreign financial press earlier in this Diet session over the submission of a bill legalizing casino gambling in Japan (Link). The excitement received a boost this past week as real estate developer Mitsui Fudosan announced a tie up with Fuji Media and construction giant Kajima for an Odaiba casino, pending passage of the legislation, which seemingly has been delayed. (Link)

It is understandable that the financial press would get all hopped up about these recent moves. Gambling is to finance what pornography is to art (and as we know a lot more folks take in pornography than take in art). As for putting a casino in Tokyo, those Orientals -- and once they have a passport and a plane ticket, they are all the same aren't they? -- they love their gambling, correct?


Stop. Right. Now.

Sure 100 members of the Diet are either going to the casino legalization meetings or sending their representatives. Sure, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is listed as an honorary chairman of the Diet group wanting to legalize casino gambling.

However, before betting the farm on moves purporting to lead to the construction and operation of casinos in Japan, think: you have billions of yen spend but can only spend it if the law is changed. With that as the initial condition, having 100 Diet members beating a path to your door represents a lousy turnout -- especially since you have hired local agents who are essentially giving away what is essentially free money. And think further: if you were a politician, and you wanted to maximize the amount of money you could extract from the wallets of an industry when there was zero chance of there being a political payoff, would you not want to have the prime minister as the headliner of your scheme?

And if that is not enough to hammer home how thoroughly the international gambling conglomerates are being played, read the first half of Tom Gill's recently published study of power boat gambling, the rationalization of which is the source of the peculiar title of this post (Link). Then take a walk around any Japanese city, looking for all the little plaques explaining how this or that public convenience was payed for by which form of what is ostensibly an illegal activity.

If the gambling moguls think they can go up against the horses, the boats, the bicycles, the motorcycles, pachinko, pachislot and the National Lottery, and the hundreds of thousands employed in these at best parasitic, at worst carnivorous, service providers, and the local governments who either profit from or do not want to talk about their ties to gambling that go back 60 years -- and if the gambling moguls think that by hiring lobbyists they are going to win a change in the Penal Code so that they compete against the deeply mendacious and yet deeply enracinated domestic providers of gambling opportunities, coming in as outsiders, on the further assumption that the National Police Agency will just let the casino operators jet in nouveau riche Chinese with their Singapore accounts filled with the cash siphoned off from their company's pension funds, the Triads and Chinese security services on their tails -- then the international gambling moguls deserve to have their pockets picked by the world's least competent pickpockets -- and I can tell you from experience, there is nothing sadder and less terrifying than a Tokyo pickpocket.

Then again, since I hate gambling in all its forms (I will, as a gentleman, wager the cost of a lunch on a political outcome--but then I wanted to have lunch with the person anyway) seeing Japanese politicians and Japanese lobbyists playing upon the hopes and narcissism of those whose ill-gained fortunes are derived from the playing upon the hopes and narcissism of others makes me smile.

Welcome to Japan.

Later - Sorry for all the typos. Got a little bit hot and bothered, it seems.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Are We Of His World Or Merely On It?

This is my world
and I am
World Leader Pretend.

- REM, "World Leader Pretend" (1988)

What does Kasai Yoshiyuki want?

- A leveraged buyout of the management of his homeland, installing a chief executive with significant self-worth issues? Check.

- A fantasy vanity maglev project through the heart of his country, with hostage shareholders and ultimately the taxpayers footing the bill? Check.

- The militarization of Japan's space policy? Check.

- U.S. high speed rail policy muddled by sales of advanced railway technology? Check.

- Japan-U.K. strategic relations muddled by sales of advanced railway technology? A work in progress.

- The United States, Japan and India forged into a politico-economic strategic iron triangle? A work in progress.

- A more strongly pro-government and pro-nuclear NHK? Check.

- The use of influence over the prime minister and the cash generated by the Shinkansen in a zero sum game of influence intent on countering China in every corner of the globe, no matter how remote? Check.

The above is just what's available after only a few minutes diddling around in English.

It is probably best to familiarize yourself with Kasai Yoshiyuki's world*. Because if your life is in some way linked to Japan, you already live in it.


* Go ahead, Google him. In various combinations: "Yoshiyuki Kasai Shinzo Abe" "Yoshiyuki Kasai China" "Yoshiyuki Kasai India" "Yoshiyuki Kasai space" "Yoshiyuki Kasai Huntington Huffington Post" "Yoshiyuki Kasai Tomohiko Taniguchi" -- it's great fun.

The Asahi Shimbun Embarrasses Itself Again

A few posts ago I showed disrespect toward the The Asahi Shimbun as regards the Yamamoto Taro letter affair. Alone among the major newspapers it had not released an editorial about the incident at the Emperor's autumn garden party, despite the intense and divisive constitutional issues involved. "[I]t is all so below them, I guess," I snarked.

Well, ten days after the incident, the editors of The Asahi Shimbun finally checked in -- with an editorial written from such an Olympian perspective that reading it gives us poor commoners a crick in the neck. (Link)

I will stop calling The Asahi Shimbun a political eunuch with absurd pretentions of being Japan's The New York Times when its editors get their duffs off their clouds and start tossing around some mud like the rest of us.

Want to be dispassionate? Fine. Want to be neutral? Don't. It's too close to neutered.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Abe Names His NHK Governors - A Postscript

As it turns quite everyone is willing to let Abe Shinzo's choices for governors of national broadcaster NHK go unremarked:
"He seem to wants to have people who more closely adhere to his vision of the national polity (kokkazo). Prime Minister Abe is the first prime minister in history to so baldly interject [his vision] into the public broadcaster. I feel so sorry (ki no doku) for the viewers."

-- Kawasaki Yasushi, Professor, Sugiyama Jogakuen University, a former reporter for NHK

"We can see in this [set of governors] a posture of not including differing views...As the board of governors of NHK has broad authority, it is best that they have a higher regards of the viewers paying the annual fee..."

-- Hattori Takaaki, Professor of Media Law, Rikkyo University

Both quotes are from the Tokyo Shimbun of 9 November 2013, p.6

Driving Mr. Abe

Is it just me, or is Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, strapped into the passenger seat, a wan smile on his face, riding circles around the Diet, with no one's hands visibly on the steering wheel, the most complete metaphor for the Abe II administration imaginable?

Photo image courtesy: Mainichi Shimbun

Later - A straight take on the story behind the photo.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Wonderful Language

I was unlocking the bicycle in front of the local bakery (a very decent brown bread is available there at a very reasonable price) when one member of a quartet of navy uniform-clad male middle school students opined, in my direction, "Explain."

In English.

I stood up.

"'Explain'...'explain'..." he went on, as he was not, as it turned out, talking to me. "I know the word but I don't know what it means."

"Setsumei suru," intoned his three classmates, in unison.

"Right, right...but what is that other 'ex' word...the one meaning 'subarashii?'" he asked, semi-rhetorically.

"'Excellent'," responded his classmates, in unison again.

"'Excellent'...'explain'...I am hopeless in English. I will never get the hang of it," the boy concluded.

To which one of his classmates, in a staccato noun modifier straight out of Mark Twain, declared:

"Behold the (unfit-for-life-as-a-member-of-international-society-and-thus-without-any options-but-to-spend-the-full-length-of-his-days-within-the-confines-of-the-boundaries-of-Japan) idiot (bakamono)."

"Wow," I said to myself, "Not only would that that kid have tickled Twain*...but his take on the basic education requirements for anyone ascribing to global survival sure sounds like someone who has been reading his Robert Dujarric."

The above all happened on Thursday night. Based upon Robert Dujarric's most recent op-ed, published on Friday, M. Dujarric must have been listening in, telepathically.


* "Now here is a sentence from a popular and excellent German novel -- which a slight parenthesis in it. I will make a perfectly literal translation, and throw in the parenthesis-marks and some hyphens for the assistance of the reader -- though in the original there are no parenthesis-marks or hyphens, and the reader is left to flounder through to the remote verb the best way he can:

"But when he, upon the street, the (in-satin-and-silk-covered-now-very-unconstrained-after-the-newest-fashioned-dressed) government counselor's wife met" etc., etc. 1.

1) Wenn er aber auf der Strasse der in Sammt und Seide gehüllten jetzt sehr ungenirt nach der neusten Mode gekleideten Regierungsräthin begegnet.

That is from The Old Mamselle's Secret, by Mrs. Marlitt. And that sentence is constructed upon the most approved German model. You observe how far that verb is from the reader's base of operations; well, in a German newspaper they put their verb away over on the next page; and I have heard that sometimes after stringing along the exciting preliminaries and parentheses for a column or two, they get in a hurry and have to go to press without getting to the verb at all."

-- Mark Twain, "The Awful German Language" (1880)

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Abe Names His NHK Governors And No One Says Anything

The insurgency began
And you missed it...

- REM, "Begin the Begin" (1986)
Wow, is the below ever bad news for the folks working at NHK -- and great news for the commercial terrestrial networks.
Diet approves NHK governor nominees

Jiji Press

The Diet on Friday confirmed the government-chosen nominees for leadership posts, including NHK governors, at public organizations.

The House of Representatives approved the 29 nominees for 12 organizations by a majority vote at an afternoon plenary meeting, following a similar decision in the morning by the House of Councillors.

This marked the first Diet approval of public organization leadership nominees selected by the government since the Liberal Democratic Party's victory in the upper house election in July ended years of a divided legislature.

The Diet approved the appointment of five nominees for NHK governorships. Of them, author Naoki Hyakuta, former Saitama University Prof. Michiko Hasegawa, Japan Tobacco Inc. adviser Katsuhiko Honda and Naomasa Nakajima, principal of the Kaiyo Academy secondary school, will be newly appointed, while Kyushu Railway Co. Chairman Susumu Ishihara will be reappointed.

All four new appointees have close relations with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which has triggered speculation that Abe wants to increase his influence over the appointment of NHK's next president by sending the four. Current NHK President Masayuki Matsumoto's term ends in January, and his successor will be appointed by the board of governors.

Hyakuta and Abe grew particularly close following a magazine interview. Hasegawa, a conservative thinker, is a strong supporter of the prime minister, while Honda was Abe's tutor in his elementary school days.

Nakajima's school was established with support from Central Japan Railway Co., whose chairman, Yoshiyuki Kasai, advises the prime minister...

First off, and the article alludes to this but does not spell this out, the capacity to nominate and approve any official they want was the one power outside the grasp of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and his people prior to the House of Councillors election. The two thirds majority of the House of Representatives the ruling coalition won in December last year gave Abe and Co. the power to override any decision by the House of Councillors -- every decision that is, except a no vote on an appointed position.

Now that the coalition holds a majority of seats in the House of Councillors, any appointment at which the New Komeito can shrug its collective shoulders is now a done deal.

Second, to say that the highlighted quartet of new NHK governors are bad news is an understatement.

- The magazine for which the interview was conducted that brought Hyakuta and Abe together? The embarrassing revisionist hothouse WiLL (Link).

- Reactionary polemical professor Hasegawa? Author of such barn burners as What Is This Thing Called Democracy?" (Demokurashii to wa nan na no ka) which draws a direct line between the spread of democracy and the carnage of World War I and Our Truly Terrifying Constitution (Honto ni osoroshii nippon kempo) which argues that the three pillars of the 1947 Constitution - people's sovereignty, human rights and pacifism -- inevitably lead to revolution, the death of monarchs, the guillotine, terror and Japan's dismemberment.

A sort of well-groomed Japanese Glenn Beck-style world view is hers, it seems.

- As for Honda, what more needs to be said? He was Prime Minister Abe's katei kyoshi ("home tutor") when Abe was a boy (to be fair, member of the House of Representations Hirasawa Katsuei also did a stint as an Abe katei kyoshi). All fine and dandy until one realizes that the prime minister attended a second-class private escalator school, where advancement from one grade to the next and one division to the next was automatic. The PM indeed attended the same school from kindergarten to graduation from college -- meaning that the only entrance exam hell he ever faced was when he was all of four years old.

What need did he ever have of a tutor, then?

[For the record, after tutoring Abe, Honda became a lifetime employee at Japan Tobacco, rising through the ranks. He became president of the company in 2000.]

- What the heck is it with Kasai, whom we have discussed before? How is it that a chairman of a private railway company controls so many appointments at NHK, the national broadcaster? Matsumoto, whom Kasai now reportedly wants forced out, is a former Central Japan Railways executive and a former protegé. Kasai arranged to have him appointed president during the Democratic Party of Japan's time in power. Now with Abe we have the appointment of Nakajima, the principal of a school bankrolled by Kasai's company, to the board of governors.

In the name of all that is decent, what is going on here?

Now that the NHK appointments have received Diet approval, editorial independence and critical reporting might find senior management support wanting for a while.

Oh well, there will always be the great nature documentaries and the pedagogical programming of ETere, NHK's education channel.

Later - The Mainichi Shimbun gingerly editorializes against the new members of the board of governors. (Link)

Friday, November 08, 2013

So Fake - A Senryu on Abe Shinzo and Fukushima

Every day this past week, yet another domestic retail icon has announced that food outlets under its roof or under its management have been making false claims as to the ingredients in their dishes. The revelations have stuck a carving knife into Japan's service industry's reputation as a place of dedication to providing the customer with only the very best.

Yesterday, it was the Hotel Okura's turn. (Link)

The scandal started with revelations at Hankyu Hotels in Osaka, where the first discrepancies in between what was described on the menus and what actually was in the kitchen came to light. Hankyu president Desaki Hiroshi, in a desperate effort to shield his organization from lawsuits and/or prosecution for fraud, provided the scandal with its catchphrase:
"I do not believes these were misrepresentations (giso). These were mistaken public announcements (gohyoshi). This was not something where the goal was to fool the customers and gain a profit from it."

(Link - J)
No, no, if you list particular ingredients on a menu, and accept money for the food you have served, that substitutions were made without the customer's knowledge could never have been for the purpose of gaining a profit.


One Hakkaku Shurin of Sosa City, Chiba Prefecture, keeping track of the deceptions that really matter, submitted to the Tokyo Shimbun's Saturday topical senryu poetry feature the following 17-syllable gem:
偽装なの *

"Burokku" to iu
gohyoshi mo
giso na no

that mistaken public announcement
was a misrepresentation too
Now who has said anything about something be blocked, recently?
Abe again insists that radioactive water at Fukushima plant is 'completely blocked'
Mainichi Shimbun

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has again repeated his insistence that radioactive water leaks at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant are being kept within the bay there.

"We are monitoring radiation levels, and they are far below the safety limits for radioactive materials. The effects of the contaminated water are being completely blocked," Abe said on Oct. 22 at the House of Representatives' Budget Committee, denying that radioactive materials are affecting the outside ocean. The remarks were made in response to a question by the Japanese Communist Party's Akira Kasai.

At the International Olympic Committee Session in September, Abe said that "the effects (of the radioactive water) are being completely blocked to inside of the bay" and "the situation is under control." However, in questioning during the Lower House plenary session on Oct. 16, he didn't use the word "completely" and qualified his "under control" statement with "overall," saying, "The effects are blocked to within the bay. Overall the situation is under control."

Oh, yeah, that "burokku" -- oops, his bad!

I wonder whether it is the penumbra of the Imperial House's patronage of poetry, highlighted in a recent presentation at Temple University Japan by Professor Ben-Ami Shillony (Link) that provides the safe harbor allowing senryu to be the acceptable outlet for sarcastic hackdowns of our purported betters...

* Source: Tokyo Shimbun of 2 November 2013, page 5.

Come Visit Us - Tokyo Vs. Kanagawa

A study in the contrasting whimsies of adjoining prefectures.

The Tokyo Metropolitan District, via World Order
(best in wide screen view)
Kanagawa Prefecture, via AKB 48

It is an unfair competition. Tokyo has its mountainous interior (not depicted) while Kanagawa has both the Tanzawa Range and the Shonan Beach scene with hotspots Kamakura/Zushi, the Miura Peninsula and Manazuru.

While Governor Kuroiwa Yuji's performance in the Kanagawa Prefecture video does not dispell my impression of him as a complete dufus, gained from having had to listen to him hold forth at the bar during his television anchor years, I can entertain the possibility that he is a not-entirely-uncool complete dufus.

Tips of the hat to tips to Michael Rofe and Eleanor Warnock for the links.


That is what this brief video of Yamamoto Taro's press conference, as produced by Makiko Segawa and Michael Penn, is. (Link - video)

The Yamamoto letter incident, which Mari Yamaguchi has effectively covered for the Associated Press, including the all-important resonance Yamamoto's intemperate and simple-minded action has with the self-sacrifice of Tanaka Shozo at the beginning of the 20th century (Link), has been a real test for the news media.

The Yomiuri Shimbun, in default umbrage at everything a progressive does, has demanded Yamamoto be severely punished. It also implies he should be either resign immediately or be deprived of his Diet seat (Link). Contrary to its image as the slavering mad dog of right wing vengeance, the Sankei Shimbun merely lays out the facts of the incident and the reactions triggered in the political classes, then only asks that Yamamoto's punishment be commensurate (so'o) with his offence. (Link - J)

[If the Sankei's request for a "commensurate" punishment brought to your mind the signature verse of "A More Humane Mikado" in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado (Link video) -- what are you doing in this century?]

The Mainichi Shimbun, contrary to its recent more confrontational stance, sidestepped offering judgment, seeking instead to answer the question of whether or not Yamamoto's Diet colleagues can or will actually do anything significant to him (Link). The real world answer seems to be no, as according to news reports this morning, President of the House of Councillors Yamazaki Masaaki has decided to ban Yamamoto from attending any event in which the Emperor is a participant (pretty harsh, since one presumes this includes the Diet closing and opening ceremonies). Yamazaki seems to have had to act his own authority, as a punishment for the crime of handing a letter to the Emperor seems not covered by any House of Councillors rule. (Link - J)

As for liberal side of the ledger, the Asahi Shimbun has to this point avoided addressing the letter episode in an editorial (it is all so far below them, I guess...). By contrast, Tokyo Shimbun, which has elbowed aside the communist party organ Akahata as the go-to paper for the ticked-off progressive view, concedes that Yamamoto's actions were lacking in grace and imprudent, possibly hurtful to the very causes he espouses. However, the meat of the TS editorial is a blistering attack upon Yamamoto's Liberal Democratic Party and Democratic Party critics. "Excuse us," the editors write,"but do the members of the LDP and the DPJ who have been criticizing Yamamoto for 'making political use of the Emperor' have any license to condemn even the minimum ethical qualifications for a condemnation of him?" (Tada, Yamamoto-shi o hihan suru jimin, minshu ryoto ni 'tenno no seiji riyo' o danzai suru shikaku ga aru no ka? - Link - J)

The editorial points out that the Abe administration and the LDP used the Imperial Couple as props in the first public celebration of Return of Sovereignty Day. The Abe government also drafted Imperial Princess Hisako to be the keynote speaker for the presentation that sealed the deal for Tokyo's successful bid for the 2020 Olympics. As for the DPJ, the editors point out that when it was in power it forced the Imperial Household Agency to arrange, against protocol, an intimate interview between the Emperor and then Vice President of China Xi Jinping.

If you think you have heard this list of recent naked uses of the Imperial Family for political gain before, you have.

As for Yamamoto, whose life story Penn explores in his most recent newsletter, he has stumbled more than a few times during a rough-and-tumble journey. The stress of his life since his anti-nuclear activities took flight has indeed caused his hair to fall out. However, this incident, like the odd bald patch on the side of his head, will just be one more mark of a person who really cares, and who, despite the forces arrayed against him, prevails.

Let us hope the radical, xenophobic rightists -- and whoever shields them from being properly investigated and registered as anti-social elements -- quickly lose interest in Yamamoto, the caravan of silliness rolling on to a new purported outrage.

Later - A thanks to reader Philippe for alerting me to my royal error.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Follow Up On Koike Yuriko

A week ago, in a post about the Official Secret Bill (Yes, someday I will write about something else) and Koike Yuriko, the Liberal Democratic Party's top public information honcho, I wrote that:

"Publishing in English via Project Syndicate, she has disseminated anti-Democratic Party of Japan and pro-Abe Shinzo propaganda worldwide underneath the radar of the local representatives of the foreign press."

As luck, or the simple passage of time, would have it, Koike has clocked in with one of her stomping propaganda pieces:
Reinventing a key security institution in Japan

Shinzo Abe's second term as Japan's Prime Minister began with a laser-like focus on economic revitalization. That policy, almost instantly dubbed "Abenomics", comprises what have been called the three "arrows": bold monetary policy, an expansionary fiscal stance, and structural reforms to stimulate private investment. Hosting the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020 has added a fourth arrow to this quiver in the form of increased infrastructure investment and tourism revenue in the years up to the games.

To be sure, after 15 years of deflationary recession, revitalization of the Japanese economy remains far from complete. Nonetheless, the effects of Abe's reforms are becoming visible in areas such as equity prices and exchange rates.

But Abe also confronts a security environment in Asia that is every bit as brittle as Japan's economy was before his government took office last December. Indeed, he confronted many of the same issues during his first administration seven years ago. His efforts back then were halted by his own resignation, and he is now making a second attempt to establish a national security governance system to meet Japan's needs—and those of its allies—in 21st century Asia.

In a speech to a plenary session of the lower house of Japan's Diet on 25 October, Abe emphasized that, given the current security situation in Asia, "It is essential to strengthen command functions for implementing the Prime Minister's national security policy." Now that split control of the Diet's upper and lower houses has been resolved, with Abe's Liberal Democrats in strong control of both chambers, a Bill to modernize Japan's national security governance is certain to pass.

The Bill that Abe has submitted aims to establish a Japanese National Security Council (NSC), based on lessons from the successes and failures of similar institutions in other countries, such as NSC in the US. The Security Council of Japan—something of a stopgap measure created to provide advice from relevant cabinet members to the Prime Minister in times of crisis—will now be reorganized as a formal institution.

The new NSC's membership will be limited to the Prime Minister, the cabinet secretary, and the foreign and defence ministers, with relevant ministers added on an ad hoc basis. A permanent National Security Secretariat, headed by a person with abundant diplomatic experience, will be established in the Prime Minister's office, with 60 security specialists from various fields laying the policy groundwork for medium and long-term national security strategy.

First, compliments where deserved. The text is both in straightforward, colloquial English and makes sense, in any language.

Second, Koike-san, cool it on the clapping-for-oneself-in-the-North-Korean-manner adjectives and adjectivals ("laser-like," "bold," "abundant") will ya?

Third, how much shorter would the work day of Prime Minister's Residence journalists be if Koike were given the job of official government spokesperson? Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide, who is as good at his multi-tasking nightmare job as anyone ever has been, nevertheless leaves folks drooling with strings of rhetorical questions rather than clearcut assertions or denials.

If Koike were wrangling the journalists, the daily press conference would be, "Here's the news -- so listen up, you idiots."

The essay is interesting for its detour into self-indulgence, with Koike venting once again about the Prime Minister's Schedule, her pet peeve, her discussion of which caused the government angina last week. That an international audience would not understand a single thing about whatever it is about the Schedule that puts Koike into such a snit (not that domestic audiences can either) does not bother her in the least, evidently.

Minister Mori Meandering On The Special Secrets Bill

Though I have not made reference to the question here, I had been wondering what the Abe government thought it was doing assigning the role of sherpa for the fraught Official Secrets bill to Mori Masako, the Minister for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety (Link). It seems that the Abe government is now wondering what it thought it was doing as well.
Minister meandering over special state secrets bill causes anxiety within gov't
Mainichi Shimbun

Masako Mori, the state minister in charge of a controversial special state secrets bill, has meandered over the bill during news conferences, raising concerns among government officials...

The translator of the original Japanese text (the original article can be found here) has chosen to render hatsugen ga antei shinai as "meandering." While a succinct and not entirely misleading translation, "wavering" might be better.

As for the quotes from the "government official" and the anonymous official in the Cabinet Office, the Mainichi translation leaves much to be desired.

Recognizing that my own translation talents are notable largely for their near non-existence, here is my version of the key passage:
There were times in the official biweekly news conferences when [Mori] struggled to answer the questions. One person with close ties to the government muttered, "If she gives such inarticulate replies in Diet session, the bill will be out with the first swing of the bat [ippatsu de a'uto]"

Mori is a lawyer. During her period of service at the Financial Services Agency she earned a high level of respect for her expertise in performing such tasks as reforming the Money Lending Act so as to eliminate the so-called "gray zone" interest rates. In regards to the "wavering" in Mori's statements, one Cabinet official, speaking on condition of anonymity, wondered, "Is it not possible that she has difficult accepting some parts of the Official Secrets bill because she is a lawyer?" -- indicative of background whispering of sympathetic arguments [dojoron mo sasayakarete iru].
One should perhaps go all medieval on the Mainichi translator for what is in the English language version, or the English-speaking editors (probably the latter). However, the original Japanese text has editorializing and extemporizing not entirely consonant with the ethos of the unbiased journalist. Exactly how, for example, could Mori earn "a high level of respect for her expertise" (jitsumu noryoku e no hyoka ga takai) from less than three years at the Financial Services Agency?

As for the gist of the unidentified Cabinet Office official's remark -- that a deep knowledge of law actually hobbles Mori's capacity to defend the secrets bill -- add "puckish" to the list of adjectives describing at least some elements of Japan's bureaucracy.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Two Presentations Of Great Importance On Abenomics

There are two must-not-miss presentations at Temple University, Japan this month -- neither of which, paradoxically, I can attend.

But you, dear reader, possibly can.

- The one tonight (Link) has Richard Smethurst speaking about the man whose face should be on the 10,000 yen bill (pax, Fukuzawa Yukichi admirers). I have heard on the authority of one of the best lecturers I know that Dr. Smethurst is a solid speaker. As for Takahashi Korekiyo, about whom Dr. Smethurst wrote the book, his brilliance, humanity and death haunt me. That the government of Abe Shinzo has sought to align itself and its economic policies on the side of the angels by linking Abenomics to Takahashi is both thrilling and disquieting.

- On November 29, Naomi Fink, CEO of Europacifica Consulting, will be speaking on Abenomics and the wealth gap. (Link)

Why you should go, even if the subject matter or time slot are outside your comfort zone?

Simple: wherever the room and whatever its size, Ms. Fink is almost certainly the smartest person in it.

You will learn about this blessed land.

The Chinese View Of The Senkakus

Over at East Asia Forum, Ren Xiao, the Director of Center for the Study of Chinese Foreign Policy, has published an essay describing in broad strokes background to the Chinese government's stance on the Diaoyus/Senkakus debate. It is a worthwhile read, and I say that as one who has gone on television to defend the Abe government's statements and actions as regards the Senkakus. (Link)

The key points for one on an insignificant perch in Tokyo are:

1) the Chinese government wants it both ways -- hysterically denouncing last year's nationalization of three islands as an inexcusable deviance from the status quo (bad!) and sending its ships into the territorial waters described by the islands to establish a constant physical presence (good!).

2) the Chinese government feels, with some degree of justification, that it has been played by the government of Japan, or at least by its prime ministers. It thought that when money-machine-political phenomenon, medium-bore construction magnate Tanaka Kakuei agreed in off-the-record talks to shelve the issue of the sovereignty of the islands, that it had just cut a verbal deal with Japan. They do not want to acknowledge that the only person they cut a deal with was with a multiply-disgraced and now seriously dead former prime minister. They also do not want to admit that a verbal deal is as good as the paper it is (not) written on.

3) "The history question" comes up, in such a manner as to obfuscate responsibility:
This difficult situation is exacerbated by history. China was invaded by Japan and suffered atrocities at the hands of Japanese imperial forces. These acts live on in China's collective memory, especially because Japanese politicians insist on touching this wound again and again. Relations with Japan have always been a complex and sensitive issue in China's foreign policy. Every time Japan and the Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute comes up in the news, people in China become emotional and angry. Chinese leaders and officials cannot afford to be seen as soft towards Japan.
The explanation "people in China become emotional and angry" may be possibly the worst rationalization ever for national policy. It is also an indication of how frayed is the legitimacy of the current Chinese government. China's leaders, for all their pretensions to dictatorial power, have to forswear national self-interest in favor of behavior capable of keeping calm the mob at their doors.

As for the explanation that memories of Japanese misdeeds in the 1930s and 40s remain fresh and painful "because Japanese politicians insist on touching this wound again and again" -- commenter "Arthur" points out the author's glaring dereliction:
And not even in part because the Chinese government insists on pointing out the wound, digging its fingers in and saying "See? See how painful that is?" again and again.
4) Xi Jinping's and the Chinese government's refusal to hold high-level meetings (to my knowledge there has been only the trilateral meeting of the education ministers) much less a bilateral summit, with Abe Shinzo and his government, is petulance not worthy of second grade elementary school recess. However, and this is an indication of how much of a rules-bound giant China has become, not meeting Abe Shinzo or his top ministers is the only card the Chinese government has. Everything and anything else -- rioting, trade curbs, landings on the islands in question -- and China finds itself in the international doghouse, be it with the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the majority of members of ASEAN, et cetera. The only action the Chinese leadership can undertake which does not instigate institutionalized punitive proceedings -- and here is where the similarity between the stance of a nation of 1.3 billion and the miffed seven year-old hits home -- is the refusal to hold someone's hand.

All in favor of a web of international commitments as a way of keeping the peace, raise your hands.

The problem for the Chinese government: if it did, indeed, "grow up" and start behaving like a collection of adults, it would have nothing left with which it could placate its emotional and angry non-electorate.

5) I am not sure if the author, if writing in Chinese, would use the verb "force" one finds at the end of this passage:
One of the steps China has taken is to send in Chinese ships to the disputed waters for regular patrol and 'law enforcement'. The objective is to bring about de facto joint jurisdiction and joint patrolling in the relevant waters as a way to deny Japan's unilateral 'control' of the islands. Beijing wants to force Japan to change its 'no territorial dispute' position. {Emphasis added}
Prime Minister Abe has made it very clear, and has the backing of his electorate behind him on this point, that under no circumstances will any change in the Japanese government's position come as the result of force (Link). Any attempt to "force Japan to change" will be met by unshakable and fierce resistance.

In a larger sense, what we are seeing in Sino-Japanese and Japanese-South Korea government relations (and here I am veering away from Ren Xiao's essay) are the consequences of the triumph of democracy in East Asia -- and the failures of the habits of the governments and parties in the region to keep pace with the internal changes undergone by their respective societies. The main elements of the framework of relations between the states of the region were thrown up by authoritarian or semi-authoritarian governments, by leaders who could make private deals amongst themselves. These leaders shrugged at issues that did not interest them and faced muted possibilities of public backlash for the deals they negotiated.

Today's leaders do not have the liberty of action their ancestors -- and in the case of the main trio of Xi, Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye, "ancestors" is the correct term (not just a figure of speech but an actual description of the persons involved). For these children and grandchildren of giants the publics of China and South Korea are emotional and angry. Perhaps they always were. The change is that these publics are now also empowered, capable of forcing their political leaders to act according to the dictates of the mob, be it smoldering or flash.

The conundrum for Japan's policy makers is what to do over the long-term with neighbors who seem to have lost the capacity to, as Gordon Sumner memorably urged, "learn to throw the past away." Certainly a surrender of one's positions is one option -- one that has its advocates in the "China and Korea are returning to their original places in the Asian order" school. Surrender is in fact the only option for Japan's policy makers as regards the Dokdo/Takeshima dispute.

For the Senkakus, though, no such option exists. Whatever ornate vision of a nation's glory/destiny one may espouse, a democratically elected government's surrendering to a dictatorial government is an abomination. This is what the Chinese people, for all its trumpeted greatness and its extraordinary size, has to come to understand: that in any conceivable, livable world order, the tiniest democracy, the merest gathering of a few tens of thousands of souls on a mountain massif or a lonely atoll, outranks China.