Saturday, December 28, 2013

You Would Not Want To Be One Of His Allies

The Yomiuri Shimbun has published an account of the events leading up Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's visit to Yasukuni Shrine two days ago (Link). If the timeline and the quotations in the story are accurate -- and there is no reason to doubt that they are -- a picture emerges of a ruthless Abe, unbound by courtesy or caution in his dealings with his most prominent political allies.

Here is the snippet on Abe's call to Yamaguchi Natsuo, the leader of the party whose House of Councillors votes Abe relies upon to guarantee the passage of legislation:
"I'll visit the shrine at my own discretion," Abe told Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of New Komeito, the junior coalition partner of his Liberal Democratic Party, over the phone at about 11 a.m. on Thursday, about 30 minutes before he headed to the shrine.

"I cannot support that," Yamaguchi told Abe.

"I didn't think you'd agree with me," Abe said before hanging up the phone.

Abe also informed LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba of his intention to visit the shrine in the same morning.
What the Yomiuri narrative fails to clarify is that Yamaguchi and Ishiba already knew Abe was on his way to Yasukuni before the PM made his courtesy calls. Major news outlets began publishing and airing alerts regarding the Abe visit 30 minutes prior to Abe's 11 a.m. call to Yamaguchi (like this story that appeared on the MSN Sankei News site at 10:26 am). Ishiba found out about the visit from the reporters covering him, when they all started shouting at him, "What is your opinion of the prime minister visiting Yasukuni?" An exasperated Ishiba replied, "Why are you all asking me my opinion of a Yasukuni visit?" The reporters shouted back, "Because it has been announced!" Ishiba, trying to appear nonchalant, turned and walked away, repeating the news to himself, "Oh, it's been announced. Hmmmm."

As for the Yomiuri's account of how Abe handled his chief cabinet secretary Suga Yoshihide -- the man charged not only with making policies happen but devising the cover stories -- that too is eye-opening. Suga's extraordinarily deft management of the policy agenda and the daily message have left many wondering whether he, Suga, is not indeed the de facto prime minister. The Yomiuri's account clearly puts Suga in a subservient role, left to devise a desperate strategy of damage control after failing to change the prime minister's mind on whether or not to visit Yasukuni. The revelation that the Abe statement on why he visited Yasukuni (Link) was devised by Suga after Abe had made his decision goes a long way to explaining the raging insincerity of Abe's post-visit address.

[An aside: I know that the theory that speakers look up and to the right when they are trying to retrieve concocted versions of events from memory has been tested and found wanting -- but gosh, it sure looked like Abe was doing just that during the NHK live broadcast.]

Running roughshod over the leader of the LDP's ruling coalition partner, the secretary-general of the LDP and his own chief cabinet secretary tells all three men Abe's thinking as to who is in charge and who walks three feet behind in this government. The rock hard treatment of Yamaguchi indicates further that the dinners Abe has had in the last month with the heads of the Your Party and the Japan Restoration Party (the latest being a three hour affair with Osaka City mayor Hashimoto Toru on the Emperor's birthday - Link - J) were not mere social get-togethers. Even after the fission of the Your Party in response to Abe's dinner with party leader Watanabe Yoshimi (Link - J), the number of seats held by the Your Party and the JRP in the House of Councillors are more than enough for Abe to tell Yamaguchi and the New Komeito, "You know, you can be replaced..."

Which is what "I didn't think you would agree with me" means, ultimately.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Short And Sweet And Sour

If I were Abe Shinzo, with a secure party leadership position, the opposition parties in disarray, an economic revolution winning applause and the leaders of my two most powerful neighbors disrespecting me and my country, and I received a urging from the U.S. Embassy, Tokyo to:
"...find constructive ways to deal with sensitive issues from the past, to improve their relations, and to promote cooperation in advancing our shared goals of regional peace and stability."
My response would be:
"What about your approach to...Iran?"


"Oh, and any time the North Koreans offer you anything as regards missiles and nuclear weapons development program, you take it. OK? Put your pride in a hamper, just for once, OK? Because North Koreans are never going to offer us anything. OK?"
I am no admirer of the Prime Minister, his allies or their political and economic programs. However, the U.S. is out of line in criticizing Abe for demonstrating a lack of strategic vision and an inability to confront unresolved historical animosities.

In the the unhelpful pandering to venal domestic voting blocs and interest groups, we are all guilty.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Lady Is Not Amused

This is still your honeymoon interval, Madame Ambassador. Hope you had a cheering and heartwarming Christmas.

What? You have some statement?

Please go ahead. It's a free country
Statement on Prime Minister Abe's December 26 Visit to Yasukuni Shrine

December 26, 2013

Japan is a valued ally and friend. Nevertheless, the United States is disappointed that Japan's leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan's neighbors.

The United States hopes that both Japan and its neighbors will find constructive ways to deal with sensitive issues from the past, to improve their relations, and to promote cooperation in advancing our shared goals of regional peace and stability.

We take note of the Prime Minister’s expression of remorse for the past and his reaffirmation of Japan's commitment to peace.


The Japanese text is here.

Ambassador Kennedy should not be too upset. Prime Minister Abe did not seek to humiliate her in particular. What he has done is show his fundamental indifference toward the advice given him by every U.S. government official who has met either him or Foreign Minister Kishida over the last year. He certainly has humiliated all the Track 2 emissaries he sent to Washington or those who spoke on his behalf in Washington, with the exception of course of Yasukuni rationalizer Professor Kevin Doak.

Then again, the Washington visitors and denizens know darn well that the oldest rule in politics is "You gotta dance with them what brung ya."

Today all Abe done is done danced with them that brung 'im.

Tip of the hat to Robert Dujarric for the links.

Okumura Jun On The Yasukuni Visit

With his customary verve and expeditiousness, Okumura Jun has produced a series of points as regards Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's visit to Yasukuni Shrine. (Link)

I agree with points #1, #4 and #6. I vehemently disagree with points #2 and #5 -- Okumura-san is underestimating how many folks are going to have a problem with Japan. As for #3, I think those who think that provoking China is dumb and those who like the spectacle of a good joust will cancel each other out, in statistical terms, leaving the Abe government right where it is now in terms of public support.

Live From Yasukuni Shrine - The "Well, Now We Are Really In For It" Edition

Take away: Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is visiting has visited Yasukuni Shrine this morning.

So much for my point nade in the wee hours of this morning about his having stiffed until now his longtime core support group of historical revisionists...

Did the government of South Korea's refusal to admit it asked the government of Japan to violate Japan's principles against arms exports by supplying South Korean troops in South Sudan with ammunition (Link) tip the balance on whether or not to proceed with a Yasukuni visit? Was it the last straw?

Later - Credit where credit is due: Abe's delivery man Hagiuda Ko'ichi was not kidding us.

Later still - The hawk has flown: NHK has just shown him leaving the main shrine building (honden).

Even later - The prime minister is explaining his action in a live NHK interview from inside an auxilliary building of the shrine.


"Tomorrow was supposed to be the last working day of the year!" I can hear a lot of folks crying...

Way later - By visiting Yasukuni, Abe has hit all his targets for his first year in office. He managed the last one only minutes before the deadline -- but gosh darn it, he did it.

A catastrophe for East Asian relations? A costly waste of goodwill based upon misplaced priorities? Perhaps. But a tip of the hat to the prime minister for doing what he said he would.

Way, way later - It is the evening of Christmas Day in Washington. Late in the evening on Christmas Day.

I can imagine that the Japan-U.S. alliance managers are besides themselves with anger at Abe & Company.

Yes, It's Been A Year For Abe Now

News flash - See my latest post for the exclamation point has put on his first year in office.

Today is the first anniversary of Abe Shinzo's second stint as prime minister of Japan. There will be a plethora of articles looking at the past year (Link - J) assessing the Abe Administration’s efforts are regards stimulating economic growth and improving Japan’s security. A lot of the assessments will likely judge the prime minister's and the Cabinet's performance as encouraging but with many major goals unmet. Many will detect a loss of focus on the part of the government, a sudden fascination with security matters supplanting what was an internationally popular transformation (one hesitates to say reform) plan.


However, by any reasonable standard, the first year of the Abe Administration, Version 2.0, has been insanely successful. Perhaps not for the country, but certainly for him, his party and the industries and interest groups that sought to back his return. Abe is in robust health, both physically and in terms of his Cabinet support ratings. He is hitting his main policy targets largely according to his time line. Now admittedly, that may not be difficult for a prime minister backed up by commanding ruling coalition majorities in both House of the Diet. However, Abe was in the same political position during the first ten months of his last, calamitous stint in office. He and his unmerry Friends of Shinzo cabinet of that time could not take a step without bogged down in a myriad scandals and sour note recitations and retractions of revisionist claptrap. The current Cabinet marches forward, despite being chock-a-block with potential rivals for control of the ruling party.

If any group has reason to be upset with the prime minister, it is the xenophobic black-shirt, contorted windbag revisionist fellow traveller cohort of which he is supposedly the avatar. Abe has not visited Yasukuni; he has not repudiated any part of the Kono or Murayama Statements; he has not attempted to crush the Teacher's Union or force misleading textbooks on students; he has spoken out against the anti-Korean Zaitokukai demonstrators; he has been solicitous, even complimentary toward Chinese and South Korean leaders who have been demonstrating their unfitness for high office by their repeated rhetorical slaps to Abe's and Japan's face. Abe has shrugged off the insults and taken his paranoid base for granted -- a double-cross of the misguided hyperpatriots which, to be fair, he alone of major politicians had the potential to perform.

Not all is perfect in the House of Abe, of course. His government's inability to compile an even marginally coherent and/or convincing package of Third Arrow economic reforms has the international investment class suspecting that no such package will ever be forthcoming. The passage by force of numbers of the Special Secrets Protection Act, without public support (the more the public knew about the contents of the Act, the less it liked it) fanned into flames what were only smoldering embers of civic opposition to Abe’s multi-faceted revolution.

A lot of folks would rather have someone else as PM, someone with fewer risks of being sidetracked on pet projects or undone by prickly pride. However, as compared to the annual tumble and stumble into ignominy of prime ministers since Koizumi Jun'ichiro (Abe provided the template for this roller coaster ride into unpopularity during his term in office in 2006-07) the stability we have seen so far is Abe's response to the slings and arrows of his critics.

Abe Shinzo after one year is on course, in command and tremendously sure of himself. A lot folks, your truly included, would have told you in December last year that such an outcome was unlikely in the extreme, if not indeed impossible.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ave Imperator Mobilis!

The neatest factoid from today's plethora of special articles looking at the Heisei Emperor on the occasion of his 80th birthday? It is not that he has a driver's license that he has to renew every three years just like any other senior driver of his advance age. It is not that he has a car he loves which he uses to ferry himself and the Empress to the Imperial Palace tennis court (where he unleashes a mean cross-court forehand).

It is that the Emperor's car is a gray 1991 Honda Integra.

Talk about an unpretentious ride.

Not a Nissan. Not even a Toyota. A Honda!

And a thirteen twenty-three year old Honda at that. (Check out the video)

One can imagine His Royal Highness Prince Akishino trying to convince his father it is time to upgrade his mode of transport:
HRH P.A. - Dad, you need a new car.

HME - Why?

HRH P.A. - Dad, that car of yours is three technology cycles out of date. How about a Prius or an electric vehicle? You're never going to drive faster than 30 kilometers an hour anyway. Heck, the annual shaken on that car probably costs double what a Siberian is willing to pay for it.

HME - How can I get rid of my car? It's got less than 3000 kilometers on it!
Which brings up question I have never considered before: how do members of the royal family address one another, when they are strictly en famille?

Later - Reader Karayama (?) answers the above question in comments.

Later still - It seems that the above linked-to snippet is the first ever Imperial Household Agency release of video of the emperor at the wheel of his car.

Niseko Bound And Unbound

My New York style maven pseudo-cousin (I hail from Northern California, where family trees are...complicated) A.K. arrives in Tokyo today, years after she promised to drop by. As is the wont of one living on the bleeding edge of fashion and design, she will be trolling Tokyo for a couple of days, meeting with folks too far out even for Harajuku or Shibuya.

After only the briefest of stints in the capital, however, A.K. will be striking out for her real destination: Niseko. (Link)

That A.K., who goes everywhere in search of that which is most rarefied and daring, should leave New York to document the Christmas-into-New Years scene in Niseko means that the Hokkaido ski resort town has arrived. Not that this is any news to the ten thousands of Australians, Hong Kong residents and Singaporeans who have been traveling there each year to pound away at the mountain with their skis and snowboards -- and the tens of thousands of more folks from all over who visit the township in the summer. (Link - J)

The success of Niseko, and the way it has achieved its success through attracting not only foreign visitors but small-scale foreign investment (Link) should make the village the central focus of every national and local government effort to promote tourism and economic growth in rural communities.

However, nowhere will one find anyone in government flogging a "Learn From Niseko!" slogan. That national government bureaucrats would not want to do so is not surprising. But why not the politicians, when it is economic development of any kind that makes people's livelihoods better and Japan's government coffers fuller?

The Abe administration's glaring lack of interest in Niseko's market- and foreign-private-investor sector supported rise (I have never heard any of the economics-linked Cabinet members talk about the place) seems a strong indicator that the administration's free markets and private enterprise rhetoric is just that: rhetoric. Indeed from the way Abe and his folks maneuver, uncharitable eyes would see an administration interested only in economic transformation it can control. Whether it is rewarding multinationals with balance sheet inflating attacks on the value of the yen, coopting new industries though regulatory change and subsidies (the drafting Mikitani Hiroshi of Rakuten and the coddling of Nobel Prize winner Yamanaka Shinya and his pluripotent stem stells) or the promises of regulation-lite enclaves, all whilst dumping longtime partners on the down slope of economic history such as Japan Agriculture and the Post Office, the goal of Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party does not seem to be an internationally open economic environment -- despite the reality that this approach to economic transformation seems to work .Instead, the goal seems the formation of new, dependable and dependent voting blocs.

Which is just about the worst goal for an economics policy imaginable.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Size Matters

Finally, an article in the vernacular press explaining, at least partially, how Japan's vehicle markets can be so resistant to imports.
Are Japan's Minicars a Trade Barrier?
Nation's Preference for Ultrasmall Autos Poses Hurdle for Foreign Auto Makers

TOKYO—Japan's auto market, once a global trend setter, has become one of the most disconnected from markets elsewhere, putting it at risk of becoming irrelevant, say executives here.

More than 90% of cars sold in Japan are Japanese brands. A third of them—ultralight minicars—are sold nowhere else. Originally developed to fill Japan's need for cheap cars after World War II, they are too small or too expensive for other markets.

The country's singularly strong appetite for fuel-efficient cars means car makers have developed a series of advanced technologies, such as hybrid cars, that don't necessary translate easily elsewhere.

Japan has no tariffs on auto imports. Japanese auto executives say the country's unique tastes are a big reason for global auto makers' failure to thrive in the world's third largest auto-buying country, after China and the U.S. Foreign auto executives say the country's preferential tax treatment for minicars and its unique safety and environmental regulations are nontariff barriers that protect the country from foreign competition...


Had the author added brand loyalty based on regional and keiretsu ties to his reasons why Japanese consumers and business customers buy what they buy, he would have covered all the bases.

The ruling coalition is set to try leveling the playing field in terms of the tax advantages of minicars. The Liberal Democratic Party's tax committee has recommended lowering the acquisition tax for full-size vehicles and raising the annual taxes minicar owners pay by 50%. (Link). Minicar manufacturers and their suppliers screamed in protest when the proposals came before the committee.

Minicar makers, particularly minicar-motorcycle manufacturers like Suzuki and Yamaha, seem to have little traction or connection with Abe Shinzo and his allies, however. Daihatsu in theory might have been able to bend the ear of the LDP tax committee, corporate parent Toyota Motors being seen as a vital member of Team Abe thanks to President Toyoda Akio's obsequious praise of Abenomics.

Daihatsu, is, however, the outcast problem child of the Toyota family. Toyota Motors would really want to have Daihatsu customers buying the group's more profitable full-sized cars. That Daihatsu did not take a lead in fighting the tax changes, leveraging the Abe-Toyoda relationship into influence upon the committee's deliberations, is not surprising.

Raising the taxes on minicars goes partway into answering the charges of U.S. automakers that regulations plays a role in closing Japan's auto markets to foreign manufacturers. The tax changes can therefore be seen as one facet of the political show Japan has to put on in order to consolidate its position inside Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations on vehicle tariffs -- where the white whale of Japanese trade policy, the U.S. 25% tariff on light trucks (a.k.a., minivans), lurks.

The still far off tax rise (the tax changes would only affect vehicles purchased after March 2015) on minicars does carry a political price. Minicars are seen as "people's cars" (Ja, ist Japonishes Volkswagen!) and everyday life vehicles (seikatsu no ashi - literally, "livelihood legs"). They are particularly important for rural households, which generally have lower than national average incomes yet which need a vehicle for each adult family member for both personal transportation and ferrying goods. Raising the costs of owning a minicar, or two or three or four as is often the case, is a rude slap in the face to rural voters. Coupled with the recently announced plan to phase out the gentan rice subsidy program over the next five years (Link), it looks as though the LDP is double-crossing the rural voters who remained loyal to the LDP even during the party's years of decline and banishment to the political wilderness.

Thinking that the demographic trends in agriculture and the rural areas make the minicar tax rise a safe bet for the LDP -- a "So long and thanks for the votes, you losers" -- ignores the reality that younger consumers are also big fans of minicars. Ticking off youth, folks who will voting for a long time to come, seems dumb, strategically. The young, however, are s numerically small proportion of the current electorate who do themselves no favors by furthermore not showing up at the polls on election day. (Link - J)

So minicars go to it, despite their extreme popularity.

Friday, December 20, 2013

What I Want For Christmas Is A Train Set, Among Other Things

The Okinawa Prefectural Government (OPG), in what is looking like an end game move in the longstanding battle over approval of the plan to begin destroying habitat for the critically endangered dugong landfill at the Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF) site at Henoko, released a wish list on Tuesday of the projects and programs it would want the central government to pay for prior to Governor Nakaima Hirokazu's authorization of the landfill permit.

The list of requests is long and presumptuous:
1) Termination of operations and swift return of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within 5 years;

2) Total return of Camp Kinser within 7 years;

3) Revision of the Status Of Forces Agreement between the US and Japan including
- On-site investigations from the viewpoints of environment and excavating cultural assets by Okinawa, inside the military facilities three years before their returns,

- On-site investigations by experts in the Okinawa Prefectural Government inside both existing and new facilities, in cases where environmental pollution is suspected,

- Application of tighter environmental regulations, those of either the U.S. or Japan, to the US military facilities;
4) Deploying about a dozen of the Ospreys currently deployed in Okinawa out of the prefecture

- Relocating of the majority of Osprey training exercises

- Removal of Ospreys from Okinawa after the termination of operations of MCAS Futenma.

In addition:

1) a budget allocation for FY 2014 of about 340.8 billion yen to be used for enhancing the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) [the fast developing technology center where the honorable Janne of Janne in Osaka hangs his hat], etc.;)

2) 300 billion yen by 2021 for the second runway of Naha airport, etc.;

3) funding for the a railway system and for the recovery for commercial use of the land returned land from the US military bases;

4) the implement tax reform (preferential tax treatments for investments in Okinawa) in FY 2014.

Source: Okinawa Prefectural Government
Demanding sweeping changes, including swift alternations to the Status Of Forces Agreement (Oh, you do so not want to go there!) could be Governor Nakaima's way fending off Abe goverment pressure to OK the necessary permits. More likely though Nakaima is simply following the rule of thumb of negotiating where if you are only going to get 70% of what you ask for, you should ask for 140% of what you want.

The Okinawa list does not include a casino license, despite the rumors that such a license is high on the prefectural list of economic development priorities. Since such a license does not yet exist, seeing as how casino gambling is still illegal, the prefectural government can hardly demand one from the national government.

According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, the U.S. government responded to the Nakaima requests by declaring it will not acquiesce to any changes in the SOFA (Link) -- demonstrating that when it comes to Okinawan face, there is just no stopping the USG's trampling upon it.

Governot Nakaima and his advisors know that Okinawa's options are much more limited now than they were when Nakaima won reelection in 2010. Chinese activities in the Senkakus, which are in the OPG's jurisidiction, have skyrocketed. Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's ruling coalition owns whopping majorities in both House of Diet. If Nakaima does not sign the permits by the end of the year -- his time limit on a decision regarding the first phase of construction for the Henoko FRF -- then the Abe government will simply submit a bill to the Diet authorizing the work, bypassing the prefecture's objections. If A Diet vote takes place, Nakaima's capacity to request compensatory action and budget allocations for the presence of U.S. bases on Okinawa will evaporate.

The pressure on the hospitalized Nakaima (the atmospherics of the hospitalization are great: Nakaima is in Tokyo but the prime minister and the chief cabinet secretary can only visit him at his convenience, not theirs) and the OPG is immense. Asking for the construction of a train line (Uh, where are the rights-of-way for a railroad going to come from on an island with such severe land use constraints that the FRF has to be built out over the ocean?) shows that the Okinawans, for all their happy-go-lucky, let's dance libidinous reputations, remain up to the mainland challenge.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Inose's Fall And After

Tokyo Governor Inose Naoki today announced that he has informed the head of the municipal assembly of his intention to resign his office. Inose's move comes at the end of weeks of nearly incessant calls for his resignation. Inose accepted and never declared a personal no-interest, no-expiration-date loan of 50 million yen from the family owners of the Tokushukai medical empire, currently under investigation for massive violations of the nation's voting laws in last December's House of Representatives election. (Link)

Inose has, as yet, not been charged with any impropriety in accepting the private loan -- or for having returned the money in haste after the executives of the Tokushukai were rounded up and arrested. A citizens group has filed an official complaint with the Tokyo Prosecutors' Office asking for an investigation into Inose's possibly failing to declare the loan as a political donation. The prosecutors are obliged to look into the case but are unlikely to file charges. With Inose no longer in office it is possible the matter will end there. However, the citizens group can continue to hound Inose for years via the out-of-control Committee for the Inquest of the Prosecution system of citizens' indictments.

We have seen this movie too many times. An individual bubbles up from out of the murk, offering a chance to shake up the way the country operates. He then makes a mistake, or pushes too hard in trying overturn the Establishment -- and the investigators suddenly arrive. A credulous and craven media complex rushes in, broadcasting or publishing every rumor as fact, as though it were damning evidence of a criminal enterprise -- camouflaging all the while the sources whose assertions would not pass the smell test if their identities were known. The public, confused by the reporting and by inculcated and reinforced biases against rabble rousers, or desiring only that everything in life be quiet and unthreatening, abandons the previous crowd darling. Horie Takafumi, Murakami Yoshiaki, Ozawa Ichiro -- all toppled by nonsense accusations or perjured testimony. Now Inose Naoki, the most assiduous administrator the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has ever had and likely will ever have, joins the list.

That Inose's political position had become untenable became crystal clear when the Democratic Party of Japan came out against him. If there were any party or group that had a philosophical or ethical reason to call a timeout on the scrum against governor, it would be the party whose own term in power was hobbled and then cut short by the obscenely thin charges filed against the secretaries of its leader Ozawa and against Ozawa himself in 2009-11. In what is evidence of the DPJ's total lack of sense of what it stands for, the party jumped into the fray with both feet, with Assembly Member for Fuchu City Koyama Kunihiko turning in an almost hysterical performance at Tuesday's committee meeting. Party Leader Kaieda Banri, who as a protégé of Ozawa should know better, responded to news of Inose's plan to resign by saying, "Those voters who supported Inose are now forced to grasping at huge disappointment. Given that he came under a cloud of doubt, he should have resigned sooner." (Link - J)

The monumental stupidity of Kaeda's statement -- repudiating due process of law and the presumption of innocence -- reinforces the belief that the DPJ is doomed failure as long as he is the head of it.

As to why the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito, which supported Inose's candidature in 2012, should so suddenly turn against him, the answer is two-fold. First, by going after Inose for accepting Tokushukai money the LDP is making a bold bid to have the public forget that the money men in this affair, Tokuda Torao and Tokuda Takeshi -- were both LDP members of the House of Representatives. It is insane to believe that skewering Inose would cover up the LDP's fingerprints on the 50 million yen -- but goodness, it seems to have worked.

The other reason why the LDP wanted Inose gone is, unsurprisingly, money. Not paltry 50 million sums from the Tokudas -- real money. The hundreds of billions of yen that will be spent on Olympics-related construction and events preparations over the next six years. Inose rose to influence though penning books on the horrible waste inflicted by government budgets and the countryside by the construction industry, working at that time hand-in-glove with the LDP. If there is an eminence grise or noire in this drama, it is the members and supporters of the LDP's Road Tribe, who have long sought a means of wreaking vengeance on Inose for having turned the country against them.

With Inose the skeptic and critic out of the way, replaced with a more pliant successor, the Olympics can become the cover story for a thousand sins and abuses.

As for who will run in the by-election to elect a new governor, several names are being bandied about. Media types and Nagata-cho hallways rats have been flogging former Health Minister Masuzoe Yo'ichi as one likely to toss his hat in the ring. The resignation of Higashikokubaru Hideo from the Diet a week ago already initiated a burst of predictions he would be in the race.

The Sankei Shimbun, which has few scruples as to accuracy or plausability, has floated the names of LDP communications director Koike Yuriko (a Shisaku favorite legislator), Abe Shinzo's body double Hagiuda Ko'ichi and dark lord Minister of Education Shimomura Hakubun as potential candidates. (Link - J)

The hapless DPJ, which has a real opportunity to score points against the LDP in the aftermath of the publicly scorned passage of the Special Secrets Protection bill, has no idea whom it might nominate (Why am I not surprised?). Some in the DPJ are reportedly thinking the party should nominate Ren Ho, the House of Councillors member who heretofore has always been the bridesmaid in all big time political post guessing games.

Having the half-Taiwanese, sharp-tongued, whippet smart, media savvy, gorgeous and still youthful Ren Ho as the governor of Tokyo would send a plethora of positive messages to the world. Domestically, however, it would be a recipe for disaster. Prime Minister Abe's most consistently applause line when in conservative circles is an sarcastic echo of Ren Ho's famous question to government-supported supercomputer scientists who worked for 10 years without building an actual machine because they could never guarantee the machine would be #1 in the world. Incredulous that the geeks had consumed hundreds of millions of yen in government subsidies without producing anything, Ren Ho asked the project administrators, "What was wrong with being #2?" [So whenever Abe talks rouses the faithful with a "Let us pledge to be #1 in the world!" he is not riffing on Ezra Vogel; he is mocking Ren Ho.]

If the DPJ was smart, which it is not, it would nominate former Tottori governor and former Minister of Internal Affairs Katayama Yoshiro. The good professor actually knows and cares about administration and has a decent respect for the people's intelligence. Admirable qualities, those.

Why the race for governor matters, of course, is not that Tokyo is the most populous city in the country, that it is host of the national government or even that it will host the Olympics in 2020. It is that Tokyo Metropolitan Government is a fabulously wealthy local government, second only in economic/political significance to the U.S. states of California and Texas.

To sit behind the governor's desk inside the Tocho is a hell of responsibility. It needs a hell of a person.

Très Bien, Chevalier Chen

Knight of Order of Merit and former press attaché to the Beijing Embassy Chen Yo-jun has a lucid essay up at The Diplomat on the peculiar mixture of deft and clumsy that is China's Asian diplomacy. (Link)

The only mistake or misinterpretation I see is in the passage:
The fact that the new zone covers the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands has only added to the sense of crisis and Sinophobia already bubbling in Japan. Some observers suggest that China has in fact done Abe a favor. For months, the Japanese leader has been trying to convince a reluctant nation to give him almost a blank check (such as a controversial state secrecy bill) to drastically beef up both internal security control (a nightmare for democracy advocates) and Japan's military capabilities. Thanks to Beijing, Abe now has a much more acquiescent parliament. [my emphasis]
That last line is misleading. The acquiescence of the Diet to Abe's wishes has little to do with Beijing and much to do with the huge number of Liberal Democratic Party butts sitting in the seats.

Furthermore, the implication that the Diet has posed a problem for Abe's security program is not accurate. Diet members were Johnny-come-latelies to the fight against the secrecy law. Protest against that egregious bit of legislation came from civil society: lawyers, performing artists, journalists, NGOs, educators and concerned common citizens. Opposition members of the Diet got up on the bandwagon only after the citizens got it rolling. It was the people, not their representatives, who baulked at the sweeping purview and unJapanese severity of the law.

That Chevalier Chen's essay would be unsteady upon the political situation inside Japan is surprising. The former career French diplomat, who in addition to Beijing had stints in the consulate in San Francisco and as director of ministry's photograph department (!), is living in retirement in Tateshina.

Hors de ces deux interprétations erronées, très bien fait, Chevalier Chen!

Magic Out Of Okayama

The third of the Laws of the late great science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke states:
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
Bet old Arthur would have loved to have seen this.

A bit of magic out of Okayama to keep in mind when one is exhausted by the demographic and debt trend lines or when the televised form of State Minister Inada Tomomi presiding over yet another bogus innovation or Cool Japan forum sends one searching for a shoe to throw.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Chinese Nightmare, Post-Sochi

VLADIVOSTOK - When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan sat down last Thursday with President Geun-hye Park at the finals of women's figure skating in Sochi, Russia, the physical and emotional distance between the two leaders seemed an illustration of the freeze in relations between the two countries. Mr. Abe and President Park sat apart, acknowledging each other's presence only once at the start of the evening. Japan First Lady Akie Abe, a fan of Korean culture and a speaker of the Korean language, sat in between the two leaders, eagerly and energetically chatting with the South Korean leader in a manner that made the frostiness between President Park and Prime Minister Abe all the more glaring.

The lack of interaction between President Park and Mr. Abe last week made yesterday's announcement of a broad-based, multilateral agreement on East Asian territorial issues all the more unexpected. Foreign ministers of Japan, South Korea, Russia and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, meeting in this frigid Pacific port, held a news conference outlining an intricate plan for countries in the region to settle longstanding territorial disputes in a wave of mutual recognitions of each other’s territorial claims.

"President Park and Mr. Abe put on an incredible show on Thursday night, better perhaps than the two young ladies," quipped one of President Park's advisers, who asked to remain anonymous. "The two governments had already cut the deal on Dokdo recognition, ending the feud. The two leaders showed no warmth at all toward each in order to keep the whole deal under wraps."

Though the details are not fully hammered out regarding Japanese rights on the northernmost of the two islands the Russians call the Southern Kuriles and the Japanese call their Northern Territories, the basic outlines of yesterday's agreements are:

- Russia will return to Japan of the islands of Shikotan and Habomai, seized by Soviet forces in 1945. Russia will gain sovereignty over the two remaining islands currently under dispute, with former Japanese residents of the islands and their descendants winning special extraterritorial rights of residency and self-rule on the islands.

- Japan and Russia will sign a peace treaty, officially ending World War II.

- Japan will recognize of South Korean sovereignty over islets known as Dokdo, which the Japanese call Takeshima. In return, the South Korea government promises to suspend all official efforts to change the name of the sea in which Dokdo is located from "Sea of Japan" to "East Sea."

- Russia, South Korea and the United States will recognize Japanese sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands, which China and the government of Taiwan both claim.

The responses of the Chinese government to the declaration on the Senkakus, which Chinese call the Diaoyu Islands, have been confusion, disbelief and anger. Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, China's senior representative at the Vladivostok talks after the departure of Foreign Minister Wang Yi two days ago, had no prepared statement, leaving the conference hall in a rush with reporters trailing in his wake. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, in a hastily arranged news conference in Beijing, declared, "Japan does not have sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands and no agreement among outsider nations can change this reality. The perfidy of today's illegitimate acts will reverberate through history but will never break China's bond to its sovereign territories."

"China overplayed its hand and absented itself from efforts to find a solution," explained a senior U.S. official, speaking on background. "The declaration of the East China Sea air defense zone in November got everyone's attention, making it clear that just leaving sovereignty issues in limbo was just going to continue to generate threats to everyone's security. Once the ball started rolling on the need for mutual recognitions and mutual sacrifices, the negotiations gained unstoppable momentum, bringing us to the agreement we have today."

The broad-based agreement, which the ministers and Secretary Kerry will be taking back to their capitals for approval...

Monday, December 16, 2013

World Order - "Last Dance"

The work of electronica dance group World Order is intensely political. The group's very name is a blackly ironic take on George H. W. Bush's New World Order, as was made crystal clear in their June video, "Imperialism."

"Imperialism" is an outlier in terms of its sledgehammer message. Much of the time the group is infuriatingly and charmingly oblique in its judgments, inscrutable as their blank facial expressions.

World Order's latest video "Last Dance" is clearly a commentary on where the country is under the Abe Administration and more broadly in the aftermath of the triple disaster of 3/11 -- but seems unfinished, probably intentionally so. The Ministry of Finance, METI, the anti-nuclear protestors outside METI, the Supreme Court all make cameo appearances. Mt. Fuji is one prominent backdrop, playing on the mountain's UNESCO World Heritage Site listing this year. Sequences shot in front of nuclear power plants and the archival footage of one of the Fukushima Daiichi plant buildings exploding are juxtaposed with footage shot in front of a hydroelectric dam, a solar farm and a wind farm fronting an oil tank farm. The group is saying something about Japan's energy policy but what, exactly? Are the members offering an idealized anti-high velocity, anti-mass production Arcadian vision a la Godfrey Reggio -- which may be the only place one can end up when one starts using cameras and slow motion to reveal the pace and patterns of contemporary human life?

The inclusion of seasonal references -- the famous drive of gingko trees in Jingu in their full golden exuberance, the susuki in the Mt. Fuji sequence -- seem to hammer two messages. First, that this is a Japanese video for designed for Japanese to interpret (which begs the question what the heck I think I am doing here). Second, that even though the video of this performance has been archived in the vast global library of the Internet, it remains no more than a bit of emphemera, with a hard chronological locus ("This is the autumn of 2013 - and no other time"). The nature scenes also offer a sharp alternative to the unnatural but not unpleasantly angular and clean human-crafted environments of Shiodome and Shinjuku Station.

And oh yes, the suits. They are not, as the Huffington Post has it, "classy." They are off-the-rack from low-cost mass formal wear retailer Yofuku no Aoyama (more irony here) which features the group in its ads. This is sarariman uncool and conformist ideology, stretched to the point where they become their opposites.

There is a sincere, unquiet core to the work...but with all the style and ambiguity, the conclusion is left up to viewer to draw. For whom is this a "Last Dance" -- the country, the iron triangle of Big Business-Bureacracy-Politicians, humanity? The identification of a last dance dovetails with the rhetoric of those portraying Abenomics being a "last chance" for economic and socio-political revival (just search "Japan" "last" "chance" to see what I mean).
As with World Order's last work -- the Olympics-inspired paen to the TMD "Welcome to Tokyo" -- the above video is best viewed in Full Screen mode.
Later - From the standpoint of a business model, World Order is in a class by itself. Not only only does the group produce highly political work -- it gets corporations to pay for it. Aoyama has funded their work; so has Sumitomo Corporation. Asiana Airlines probably asked for a gawky and sweet "All of Asia is One" message in the video it bankrolled. What Asiana Airlines got was "Permanent Revolution" -- with its extraordinary postscript questioning the role of the United States in East Asian affairs (with the secret message written in English).

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Mirror Has No Face Or Shame

Warning: the preposterous hypocrisy of the below can lead to the spouting of hot liquids from your mouth, damaging the device upon which you are viewing the text:
Politicians need to trust people

December 11, 2013 --


The issues we are facing today are things that should have been resolved by the Liberal Democratic Party 10, 15 or 20 years ago. They are, for instance, energy policy, tax system [reform], restructuring the economic structure, agriculture, changing security policy, and so on. But weren't solutions to these issues put off because such measures would cause the party to lose votes, would bring down support rates, or cause defeat in elections if they were mentioned to voters?

I believe the current state of affairs in Japan is that almost nobody trusts politicians. But do politicians trust the people? If you don't speak the truth for fear of losing votes, that may be self-preservation. People who act in such a way should give up politics.

Does the LDP have the narrative skill, sincerity and honesty to persuade people?
The speaker here -- the person asking whether Liberal Democratic Party has "the narrative skill, sincerity and honesty" to persuade the public?

The guy who wrote this and more recently said this.

If a lack of self-reflection were a virtue, Ishiba Shigeru would be a living saint.

As it is, he is just a buffoon. A evil-looking, evil-sounding, patronizing buffoon who happens to run the day-to-day affairs of the only party that matters in this blessed land.

The full translated Ishiba comment, including further evidence of the LDP leadership's adolescent wide-eyed staring infatuation with decisiveness, can be accessed here.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Togo Kazuhiko At ICAS

I do not always agree with the ideas of Togo Kazuhiko, the former rising star at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and current the Director of the Institute of World Affairs at Kyoto Sangyo University. I thought and still do think disastrous his proposal that the government of Japan accede to Chinese demands for a recognition of the existence of a dispute over the sovereignty of the Senkakus in return for reopened high-level dialogue. Togo's proposal insufficiently appreciates the window of opportunity such a concession provides for Chinese to claim the Senkakus are one of the "stolen" territories whose return is promised to China under the Cairo Declaration. Perhaps Chinese escalation of the crisis since he first made the proposal has changed Togo's thinking.

Despite my differences with some of Togo's ideas, he is a towering figure in the analysis of the diplomatic issues facing Japan. Well worth watching is the video of his recent talk at Temple University Japan on the background to the current state of Japan-Russia relations and the chances for the Abe Cabinet to resolve the Northern Territories issue and sign a peace treaty.

I very much agree with Togo's assessment in the video that if one wishes to understand the strategic thinking of Abe Shinzo, one needs to read Toward a Beautiful Country, the book Abe published this year. Unfortunately, when one reads the book one finds that the strategic ideas are 1) few in number and 2) arise from a rather bonkers view of the world (Most folks have to be cautioned that correlation does not imply causation. Prime Minister Abe has to be further cautioned that juxtaposition does not imply correlation).

Temple University Japan's Institute for Contemporary Asian Studies is open minded in its invitations. In addition to heavyweights like Togo, they offer a microphone to lesser talents like this odd individual, who will be offering his take on the Abe Cabinet on January 9.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

From The Nonsense Party, More Nonsense

Fast on the heels of Pyongyang frequent flyer and professional wrestler Inoki Antonio's trip to the DPRK in defiance of a Diet ruling (Link), an act that led to a punishment of historic proportions (Link), a star Japan Restoration Party Diet member has further burnished the JRP's reputation as the party of not-ready-for-kindergarten dilettantes. Higashikokubaru Hideo, the former Miyazaki Governor (a post he served in without getting arrested, which, given the history of the Miyazaki governor’s chair, is amazing) and professional comedian yesterday told JRP co-leader and fellow television personality Hashimoto Toru he is resigning his House of Representatives seat.

The reason Higashikokubaru offered for giving up his Kinki Bloc proportional seat, after less than a year in office? "There are limits as to what I can do as a member of the Diet." (Link - J)

The Sankei Shimbun, which occasionally gets a story right, has Higashikokubaru resigning from the Diet in order to run for the post of governor of the Tokyo Metropolitan District (Link - J). This explanation gibes both with Higashikokubaru's elliptical reason for resigning and the fact that he was a candidate for Tokyo governor in 2011, running against and losing to the JRP's other co-leader, then incumbent governor Ishihara Shintaro, who himself resigned his governorship after only a year and a halfway into a four year term in order to run once again for a Diet seat.

Higashikokubaru's plan to win public office in yet a third major region of the country (Kyushu, done; Kansai, done. Why the heck not see if the Kanto is game as well?) is complicated by the grim tenacity of Inose Naoki, Ishihara's former Passepartout who took over after Ishihara's departure. Inose is hanging on to his desk at the Tocho despite everybody's trying to pressure him to resign for accepting an interest-free, no repayment-schedule loan of 50 million yen* from the Tokushukai hospital empire, whose family owners/directors were all arrested this fall for massive voting laws violations in pursuit of a House of Representatives seat for the family dauphin Tokuda Takeshi in the same election that sent Ishihara and Higashikokubaru to the Diet. (Link)

Yes, it is a complicated, intertwined cobweb of mutual back rubbing, raging narcissism, hypocrisy and yes, lots and lots of money.

Anyway, until a member of the Japan Restoration Party does or even says something remotely respectable, the JRP remains the nonsense party -- which, given the absurdities pouring out of late from the Your Party and the Liberal Democratic Party (which, by mercilessly hounding Governor Inose, is trying to make everyone forget that Tokuda, the cash dispenser, is one of its princelings) is saying something.


* Inose took his loan in the form of cash. I had a chance yesterday to find out the mass and dimensions of the loan, if it were handed over in its most likely form of bundles of just-off-the presses 10,000 yen bills. The stack of bills would be 38 centimeters wide, 16 centimeters deep, 10 centimeters high and weigh 5 kilograms.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Party At Watanabe Yoshimi's: An Early Post-Mortem

The steady if unspectacular rise of the Your Party (Minna no to - "Everyone's Party") Japan's answer to Germany's Free Democrats, the most liberal (in the classical, Edmund Burke sense of the word) party ever in postwar Japanese politics, is history. (Link)

The rupture in between party leader Watanabe Yoshimi and his former secretary-general Eda Kenji occurred months ago, leading to a peculiar situation of an authoritarian leader and his rebel former second-in-command cohabiting in utter contempt of each other. However it took the passage of the Special Secrets Protection Act, and the public role the Your Party played in transforming the Liberal Democratic Party's bill into law, to convince a decent number of Your Party members of the Diet to join Eda in defecting.

On the surface, Your Party did no worse in its attempt to modify the LDP draft secrets bill than the other two parties -- the New Komeito and the Japan Restoration Party -- who co-sponsored the bill. All three failed to demand from the LDP the severe changes the bill needed to serve its ostensible purpose of protecting Japanese citizens from possible harm. Fooled and/or perhaps tempted by the prospect of influencing an overwhelmingly powerful LDP, the three parties asked for only the weakest of amendments -- which a bemused LDP leadership, in a false show of magnanimity, gleefully accepted. In the case of the JRP's proposals, the LDP took the liberty of accepting the JRP ideas that made a bad bill even worse while ignoring the proposals suggesting a setting of limits on bureaucratic power. The JRP's humiliation at this cherry-picking -- which, to be fair, was inherent in the JRP's ridiculous mix of ideas -- led the JRP to boycott the final vote in the House of Representatives, leaving the New Komeito and the Your Party (minus some defectors led by Eda) to swallow their pride and vote for the monstrosity.

Classing the Your Party as a party in opposition has always been problematic. Your Party, despite its reformist creed, sat on the sidelines and cast stones during the brief three years a Democratic Party of Japan-led coalition was in power. Effectively if not openly Your Party was a cat's paw of the disgraced LDP, scratching and often wounding the upstart Democrats.

Once the change in power reversed itself last December, the Your Party has a right to take a seat at the table. It did not, however, leaving Eda and others in the party wondering what the party's role was. If all that the Your Party could glean from having been an agent of the LDP was a few more seats in the Diet, then the quid pro quo, such as it was, was unfulfilling. Collaboration with the LDP to tear down the Democrats should have resulted in significant influence on policy if the silent bargain was to be seen as worthwhile.

Your Party's survival as an entity entered a critical phase when it entered into negotiations with the LDP on the secrecy bill. No one could ignore the glaring contradiction in between the party's stated goals of trimming the powers of the bureaucracy and the secrecy bill's stunning bequest of power to the bureaucrats to wall off information from the public eye.

What doomed Your Party solidarity was what should have been the party's ace-in-the-hole: party leader Watanabe's close personal friendship with Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. Watanabe was one of a trio -- who with Abe formed a quartet jokingly called the "Abe Road Group" -- that pushed Abe in August of 2012 to run for the presidency of the LDP. Watanabe and Abe dined together and have kept in constant contact, even as the Your Party was in supposed opposition to the LDP.

That Watanabe could not capitalize on his friendship with the head of the ruling party, by getting more from the LDP in terms of concessions on issues supposedly vital to the Your Party, begged the question as to what, if anything, membership in the Your Party meant, as an electoral platform and in terms of influence on policy and governance.

The answer, according to yesterday's 14 defectors, is that it meant nothing -- which left them no recourse but to follow their instincts for self-preservation.

The fission of the Your Party poses a question to all the smaller parties in the Diet, including the come-hell-or-high-water LDP ally the New Komeito. With the LDP in such a dominant position, and given fates of the smaller parties that have taken part in ruling coalitions or coalitions of convenience over the past 15 years, what can a party do to retain relevance on the policy front while remaining viable as a political entity?

Later - Many thanks to the anonymous commenter who noted the error in the title.

In Theory, Yes

From the comments section to "Japan Passes Draconian Secrecy Bill Into Law: Journalists, Whistleblowers are now 'terrorists'" over at Jake Adelstein's Japan Subculture Research Center:
Now, if someone says Abe is an idiot, they can be arrested and jailed for revealing state secrets.

The Special Secrets Protection Act does not come into effect for a while yet. So if you want to say anything resembling the above, feel free (and cherish that feeling) to say it now.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Live Shinzo, Defending

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has just finished a national televised address and press conference. He offered a long explanation and spirited defense of the Special Secrets Protection Act, the law that has threatened to swallow his broader agenda*. The reasons he provided for the new law were superficially convincing, which may be sufficient to halt the skid in his Cabinet's popularity ratings (the public poll TBS was flogging prior to the broadcast showed only a minor 5 point month-on-month fall in the Cabinet support numbers but an enormous 14.5 point rise over the same span in the negative "Do Not Support" rating, devouring the "Don't know" ambivalent voters. Polarizing indeed has this Cabinet become). Anyone who spending any time examining his explanations would find the holes, such as when he used the Algeria massacre of January this year as a reason for a need for smoothed paths of communications in between intelligence services. That such communications would have had zero effect on the outcome at the natural gas plant is, of course, not something the PM is willing to concede.

In response to a question regarding the Cabinet's having lost the plot as regards economic policy, the PM gave a hearty response, listing the various spending and industrial policy initiatives passed during the brief extraordinary session. The PM indicated he appreciates that it is hard to call the just concluded session "The Diet Session For The Realization Of The Economic Growth Stategy" -- which is what he predicted in October would become the shorthand used to characterize this particularly Diet term.

All in all it was a pretty good performance. However, the PM's focusing on the votes taken, rather than on how the legislation enacted will result in the satisfaction of particular policy goals, is reminiscent of the paralytic execution disease that gripped him in 2006-07. Execution is important but it is not an end in and of itself. It should not ever be construed as a substitute for achievement.

It is hard for the PM resist the cult of execution, perhaps even harder now than in 2006-07. During this stint in office he has been spending a lot of private time with go-getter corporate executives, many of whom have only a weak grasp of politics and little appreciation of the softer arts of persuasion.

Later - NHK News has a new public opinion poll out. Support for the Cabinet fell 10 points, from 60% to 50%, over the last month, with the "Do Not Support" number rising 10 points to 35%. In terms of the parties, support for the Liberal Democratic Party fell 5.2 points from month to month, with the Democratic Party of Japan siphoning off the largest portion (+2.6% since last month) of the lost support.


* Bad as the fight for as the passage of the Special Secrets Protection Act has been for the LDP, it has been much worse for the parties -- the New Komeito, the Japan Restoration Party and the Your Party -- that submitted the bill alongside the LDP. The stresses from having supported the Act precipitated today's fission of the Your Party, with former secretary-general Eda Kenji leading 14 fed up Diet members out in search of more strongly anti-LDP pastures. (Link)

Three Disquieting Items On The Sideboard

Today is a no newspaper day in Japan, the result of the one day a month the country's newspaper reporters and editors ostensibly are allowed off the merry-go-round.

In the absence of a morning paper one can hold in one's hands, a trio of depressing news stories you may have missed from the past two weeks:

1) Somehow I Don't Think That That's The Lesson

From Center for a New American Security expert Patrick Cronin, in a post for the War on the Rocks blog, an anecdote in relation to China’s recently declared air defense identification zone. It slaps a question mark on the judgment of Koike Yuriko, the Liberal Democratic Party's multilingual and multifaceted main communications officer:

...The logic of where this air superiority contest is heading can be illustrated by a chilling anecdote related last week at the Center for a New American Security by Japanese Parliamentarian Yuriko Koike. Representative Koike, who was national security advisor to Shinzo Abe during his previous stint as Prime Minister, recounted how she missed her Libyan Airlines flight from Tripoli to Cairo on 21 February 1973. That flight strayed into Israeli-controlled airspace and was shot down by Israeli F-4 Phantom II fighters, killing 108 people.

Reflecting on her near-miss with death, Representative Koike said the incident taught her what it means to protect one's airspace, implying that any country serious about air sovereignty must be willing to act as decisively as the Israelis did 40 years ago over the Sinai Peninsula. But whereas former Minister Koike was recalling a personal vignette, the Chinese government was enunciating official policy…

One hopes that Dr. Cronin misunderstood Ms. Koike's point. A normal person, having missed a commercial passenger flight that ended up being shot down by fighter jets, would probably not come away from that brush with death with increased admiration for the fighter pilots and their political masters. A normal person indeed would ask, "How we fix the world so as to prevent such a tragedy ever happening again?"

Then again, Dr. Cronin is quoting Koike "The Iron Butterfly" Yuriko. Maybe she really did come out of a near death experience with increased appreciation for those who have killed innocent civilians by mistake. Or on purpose, I don't know.

2) These Are The Alternatives? Really?

Catherine Traywick has a report out for Foreign Policy on America's role as a supporter of the new Special Secrets Protection Act. The piece, checking in with folks who know, offers a fairly decent rundown on the positive reasons why the Abe government and the Liberal Democratic Party felt compelled to put passage of the new law on the front burner. It underplays the level to which the new Act is a simple aping of American statutes and practices as regards secrecy, ignoring the qualitative and cultural differences in between the two country's bureaucracies and jurisprudence.

What is really disturbing about the piece, however, is the concluding comment from Denny Roy of the East West Center in Honolulu. Trying to put the Act into perspective, where it is a vital element in the aggrandizing of the Japan-U.S. military alliance, Mr. Roy offers this choice:
"Would you rather have Japan as a friendly dictator able to go to war with you -- even if it doesn't live up to your democratic values -- or would you rather have a pacifistic Japan that has limitations in terms of military ability?"

The answer to this question of course is, "The latter! The latter! The latter! Or, possibly, neither of these two! Pray that we may never be offered this choice!"

Given the vagaries of journalism, Mr. Roy may have been quoted improperly or out of context. If the above Hobson's Choice ever even enters into the minds of U.S. policy makers, though, then everyone should pretty much forget about the U.S. being a benign power that learns from its mistakes.

3) It's An End of the World As We Know It Party

The extraordinary session of the Diet has ended in confusion and rushed action, with items on the legislative calendar left undone, a last minute extension and an unsightly near midnight vote on the most sweeping and regressive piece of civil liberties legislation in decades.

At a point in the legislative calendar when the attention of Diet members was worth, in Mark Twain's words, "four dollars a minute" one would hardly expect that the prime minister and 400 of his closest friends, including 200 member of the Diet, would take the afternoon off to throw a party celebrating the coming of a new, more patriotic and traditionalist Japan.

Well, they did. On November 26. In the middle of the afternoon.

Don't bother looking for a description of the party on the Prime Minister's Residence web page. Or on Prime Minister's Facebook page. Or on the home page or Facebook page of Minister of State for Regulatory Reform (and Administrative Reform and Civil Service Reform and "Cool Japan" Strategy and the "Challenge Again" Initiative) Inada Tomomi -- though she most certainly was there.

One has to go to the home page of Abe/Kishi family retainer and Chairman of the National Public Safety Commission Furuya Keiji to find mention of the conservative pow-wow (Link - J). Furuya, who has a habit of documenting his most Sisyphean endeavors in great detail, posts a pair of photos from the shindig, including a quartet shot of him with Hyakuta Naoki, the author Prime Minister Abe recently appointed to the board of governors of NHK in what is the crawling coup d’etat against that entity's independence and balance.

To be fair, Prime Minister Abe spent only 12 minutes at the Sosei Nippon study reunion (kenshukai) -- a really a short span of time when one considers that he is the chairman of Sosei Nippon.

What is Sosei Nippon? There is a home page (Link) but oddly, in this supposed new era of openness and internationalization, the group's home page is only in Japanese.

For a description of the organization in English there is Matthew Penney's guide to the revisionist organizations boasting Cabinet ministers as members. Therein Sosei Nippon ("Japan's Rebirth") is described as:
A Diet group formed in 2007. Members pledge to "protect Japanese traditions and culture", "rethink the postwar order", and "protect Japan's national interests and make Japan a country respected by international society". They have hosted lectures by rightist pundits and authors such as Sakurai Yoshiko and Fujiwara Masahiko. After the ouster of the LDP from power, the group publically accused the Democratic Party of manifesting "socialistic and totalitarian tendencies". They pledged to stand against DPJ proposals to allow husbands and wives to have different surnames – something that the group argued would undermine "family togetherness" – and moves to allow permanent residents to vote in local elections, part of a larger pattern of assertions by conservative lawmakers that foreigners in Japan are neither loyal nor committed to the Japanese state and undermine the social order. The group has a limited web presence and seems to have had difficulty establishing a clear identity as many of its assertions on history, culture, and contemporary society are already covered by more focused Diet member groups.
The November 26 event did not go entirely unnoticed by the news media conglomerates. The Sankei Shimbun published the following account (translation by MTC):
At Sosei Nippon Gathering, Prime Minister Says, "I Will Take Us Back To A Japan of Glory"

Sosei Nippon, the cross-party league of Diet members which has Prime Minister Abe Shinzo as its chairman, held, on November 26, its study reunion inside the Diet Members #1 Office Building. By declaring, "This is only the start of our taking Japan back to glory," the PM demonstrated his desire to press forward with a politics deeply rooted in conservatism.

At the reunion there about 400 persons, including members of the Diet and local assembly lawmakers. Journalist Sakurai Yoshiko and novelist Hyakuta Naoki gave speeches. Chairman of the National Safety Commission Furuya Keiji called out to the group, "The role of [this league] is to enracinate real conservatism deep in the earth." State Minister for Administrative Reform Inada Tomomi put forth the appeal, "What I want to realize is the casting off of the postwar regime."

(Link- J)
Nothing terribly weird that we have never heard before from the featured speakers in the above, of course. But why hold the reunion in the midst of the hectic last days of the Diet session? Furthermore, whenever I see the word "glory" (hokori) rear its ugly head -- I start looking for the exit.

Eyes Not On Prize

The zing in this morning's cup of tea:
Japan third-quarter GDP revised down to +0.3 percent quarter/quarter

Japan's economy expanded 0.3 percent in July-September from the previous quarter, government data showed on Monday, revised down from a preliminary 0.5 percent increase.

The downward revision underscores the fragile state of Japan's economic recovery, now enjoying a temporary boost from pent-up demand ahead of an increase in the sales tax next April...

So dear Prime Minister Abe, it seems while you and your fellow legislators were expending all your energies promoting explosive growth in the number of the country's secrets and stiffening the penalties for revealing any of them, your signature economic program, the one with your name on it, has been underperforming. If after all that has been done to devalue the yen, buck up the construction sector and deliver better days for shareholders, larded atop a foundation of front-loaded consumer and corporate spending in advance of a looming consumption tax increase, the country ends up with 1.1% annualized growth in GDP, then you have a wee bit of a problem.

Unless, of course, you insist that the hiccup on the road to high growth not your fault...

Later - The New York Times is not thrilled at the quality of whatever growth is going on. (Link)

Later still - From Bloomberg, a way too hopeful headline on what are promises of progress on what has become the most important Abe so-far-undeliverable, bar none: a rise in median wages. (Link)

OK, I'm Game

Readers have taken exception to my recent post on the chances for the bill legalizing casino gambling passing the Diet. Many have pointed out that the forces in favor of the legislation, including nominally Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, did manage to submit the legislation to the House of Representatives on what would have been the second-to-last-day of the extraordinary session, after what was an incredibly brief review of the bill by the Liberal Democratic Party's Policy Research Council. (Link)

Despite these developments, my basic view remains unchanged: any bill attempting to legalize casinos would run up against furious opposition from the domestic gambling industries. The pachinko industry would lose its marbles, having spent fortunes to avoid the prohibition against gambling, the physical manifestations of which are small kiosks around the corner from parlors where patrons to redeem their phoney prizes for cash. To have upfront legal gambling establishments would tick pachinko owners off. It would also bring howls of protest from the organizations running the various racing formats and the national lottery, all of whom stay in the good graces of national and local government by paying through the nose on social welfare and public conveniences.

To whit, whatever money and political support politicians could extort from a few mega resorts, located near either Osaka or Tokyo, or from a smattering of smaller casinos plunked in depressed resort towns like Atami, this would be small potatoes beside the lost donations and votes resulting from a stiffing of the domestic gambling sector.

Scuttlebutt now, however, links the passage of the casino legislation with the move of the assets of Marine Corps Airbase Futenma to Henoko, Okinawa. In return for accepting the much-hated move of the base to a new location within the prefecture, Okinawans get one or perhaps the only license for an integrated resort, with the emptied Futenma airbase site as the major candidate for the new casino-recreation complex. (Link - J)

If that is the deal, which kills a flock of birds (pleasing the U.S. Pentagon + buying off the Okinawans for accepting an unfair base burden + fostering Okinawa economic development + bringing Asia's gamblers in but keeping them at arm's length) with one stone, then I can see daylight for the legalization.

Whether or not this cutting of what has been a Gordian knot for Japanese domestic politics and Japan-U.S. relations is attractive to international gambling conglomerates -- that is another question.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

The Target Of Criticism

"During the preparations for the final vote on the Special Secrets Protection Act, an onlooker in the gallery of the House of Councillors took off his shoes and threw them into the Diet members' seats, hitting a legislator."

"That is outrageous!"

"The legislator he hit was Seko Hiroshige."

"Hmmm...that does not make it any less wrong, but it does show the man had excellent aim."

For an account of the incident - Link - J.

Seko Hiroshige is a Shisaku favorite. For more posts on him and his position in the political world, click on the tag below.

Original image courtesy: Yomiuri Shimbun

Friday, December 06, 2013


Update @ 19:00 - Using the majority it holds in the House of Councillors, the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic and the New Komeito voted down the motion of censure against Consumer Affairs Minister Mori Masako. In a further harassing action to prevent consideration of the Official Secrets Bill, the Democratic Party of Japan has submitted a motion of no confidence in the House of Representatives. The motion has no hope of passage. However, all House of Representatives action is suspended until the no confidence measure is voted down.


It is so wonderful being wrong.

Despite or perhaps because of an unsightly railroading of the Official Secrets Bill through committee of the House of Counicillors, the goverment had to abandon its plans of voting on the bill in plenary session today. Faced with the procedural blockage of the submission of a motion of censure of Minister of Consumer Affairs Mori Masako, the secrets bill's sherpa, the ruling coalition has decided to extend the Diet session to the 9th, in order to have the extra time necessary to pass the bill.

The extension has risks for the goverment. Public protest against the bill has been rising at an exponential rate, with long-dormant civil society suddenly finding a reason to wake up and say "No" to Abe & Company. Performing artists ("Yoshinaga Sayuri!" the scandal rags shouted yesterday, an indication of the government's peril, having roused Japan's greatest actress to come out forcefully against the law), writers, lawyers and local and prefectural assemblies (Okinawa's prefectural assembly joined Fukushima's yesterday in passing a motion against the bill) are finding common cause against the incipient law.

This could be a wild weekend - with possible burgeoning marches and demonstrations.

If the Abe government prevails in the passage of the bill on the 9th, it may find the victory Pyrrhic. It has taken its eye off the economy and economic policy -- its supposed most important foci. It has given a skeptical public a reason to fear and loathe the Liberal Democratic Party. Come the next election, the LDP and its disgraced ally the New Komeito may find themselves again on the street -- this only after an election in July that made them seem bullet proof.

As for Abe himself, he must imagining himself leading the second coming of the Japan-U.S. Security Arrangements, with the him replaying the role of his grandfather, dragging a kicking and screaming country into a new era of security and prosperity.

If does, he has fallen prey to the worst of vices of any leader: believing his own PR nonsense.

Thursday, December 05, 2013


Three thoughts as regards the Chinese declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) including the airspace over the Senkakus.

1) Some of the world's media and Japanese officials have portrayed the U.S. Air Forces' flying of two B-52s unannounced into the Chinese ADIZ on November 26 as a gutsy finger-in-the-eye response to the Chinese declaration. Some in Japan also see it as a strong vote in support of the Japanese government's contention that the zone is invalid. (Link)

This would seem to be an over reading of the U.S. Defense Department's actions.

U.S. military aircraft never announce their entry into the ADIZs of other nations, unless of course under orders to do so. Not alerting the Chinese as to the entry of the B-52s into the new ADIZ was standard operating procedure.

So the B-52s were not challenging Chinese resolve. They were just flying.

2) Some commentators on last week's events concluded that while there may be teething problems and that some adjustments may needed, China's new ADIZ is entirely within its rights and is thus here to stay. (Link)


ADIZs are seen as extensions of a country's right to establish conditions for entry into its territory or airspace. An ADIZ thus assumes a clear position on sovereignty.

By declaring an ADIZ extending over the Senkakus, over which Japan has had administrative control since 1972 and which the Japanese government insists are Japan's alone, the Chinese government has taken the argument over its claims on the Senkakus out of the realm of conjecture and the hands of Coast Guard ship commanders and given it over to military air forces commanders and fighter pilots on both sides -- with all the possibilities of errors snowballing into mass conflict that such a handover might produce.

If China were to now try to ease tensions by carving out from their new ADIZ the airspace above the Senkakus and the corridor projecting back to Japan's airspace, the resulting ADIZ would not affect the status quo in terms angry meetings of militaries. It would, however, be read as a tacit acknowledgement of Japan's sovereignty over the Senkakus.

So the ADIZ will either result in the degradation of Chinese security or the undermining of China's territorial claims on the Senkakus.

So China is within its rights? Maybe. Within its right mind? Seemingly not.

3) By declaring that it will enforce its claims over the Senkakus with fighter jets, the Chinese have brought the tale of the Senkakus close to its only reasonable end game scenario, undoing the damage inflicted upon the region by the duplicitous, self-serving Nixon Administration: the United States recognizing Japanese sovereignty over the islands.

One hopes that Vice President Biden made this point clear in his talks with President Xi two days ago.

A Brief Note On Japanese Political Vocabulary

I have completed a few more orbits of the Sun than I want to acknowledge. I have made a rather larger number of those orbits whilst standing upon Japanese soil.

It has not been until this autumn, however, that I have come to understand the functions of two nouns -- one a common noun and the other a proper noun -- in Japanese political discourse. The usage of these two nouns has always caused my ears to tingle and my breath to halt. However, until this fall's Potemkin debate on the raising of the consumption tax and the lurching, blood-spewing path the execrable* Official Secrets Bill (my latest read: the ruling coalition will pass the bill amid chaos on Friday, giving the public the reason it has been seeking to hate the Liberal Democratic Party all over again) has taken toward passage, I could not put my finger on why.

Now I can.

Here are the two nouns whose political meanings I have come to understand:

Taisaku- 対策

The dictionary defines taisaku as "countermeasures" - the changes you have to make to your operations in order to cope with a new situation. In Japanese political speech, however, taisaku has a more limited meaning. Rather than being "countermeasures" in a general sense, the taisaku drawn up by bureaucrats and politicians should be understood as "dubious government actions intended to countermand the entirely predictable deleterious side effects of earlier and equally dubious government actions, primarily in the sphere of economics."

The escalating rounds of countermeasures leading up to the decision to go forward with the rise in the consumption tax illustrates this special meaning of taisaku. First we had the bungled Bank of Japan response to the Plaza Accords, which led to asset price bubble. After the piercing of the bubble and the consequent collapse of economic activity, elected officials responded with fiscal stimulus package after fiscal stimulus package, each one too puny to halt economic contraction because of Finance Ministry fears of jacking up the national debt. The too puny fiscal stimulus packages and tentative monetary easings of the 1990s, coupled with Japa'’s long-recognized aging, created an unsustainable level of national debt via-a-vis the nation's pension/health care obligations. Meeting these obligations requires more revenues, which means higher taxes. Higher taxes, especially regressive taxes like the consumption tax, decreases economic activity. So the government has to cobble together a stimulus packages, either cutting back on tax receipts from other areas or borrowing money, which further increases the debt burden, which means the creation of expectations of further tax increases in the future, which diminishes the desire to spend, which...

The main reason why Japan's bureaucrats, politicians and even its big businessman have not ever thought of stepping off the ascending spiral staircase of taisaku is that halting the process would force members of the Establishment say, out loud:

"You know, we screwed up. We pretended to be omniscient, transcendent higher beings when what we were really was cowards and frauds. Sorry."

Which establishments never say. Ever.

Except, of course, when they say, "Taisaku."

Yokota Megumi - 横田めぐみ

Yokota Megumi was a 13 year-old girl, walking home from a badminton practice at her middle school in the heart of Niigata City, Niigata Prefecture on November 15, 1977. On the way, she seems to have crossed the path of North Korean agents. For reasons that will likely never be explained, the agents took her as a captive and spirited her away to North Korea, where she grew up a prisoner, employed as a trainer for North Korean spies hoping to pass as Japanese citizens. She purportedly committed suicide in 1994, and is survived by a former husband and a daughter, both of whom are prisoners of the DPRK regime.

While tragic, Ms. Yokota's story is not unique. A couple dozen other Japanese nationals, hundreds of South Korean nationals and a smattering of citizens of other nations have all been kidnapped and held captive by the irretrievably evil government of the DPRK. Ms. Yokota's story and that of Soga Hitomi, a young woman whose was kidnapped from Sado Island in 1978, indicate that her gender and youth were factors in her survival. They also indicate that the kidnapping of Japanese citizens to become teachers of Japanese mores and culture -- Megumi's eventual role in North Korean society -- was an ad hoc justification for what was a fairly pointless and marginal facet of North Korea's ever-evolving program of extortion through random acts of terror.

In Japanese political diction, however, mention of "Yokota Megumi" is the refuge of the intellectually unsound. Like references to Hitler in English-language discussions of politics, the brandishing of "Yokota Megumi" is supposed to stun the listener into silence. Why does Japan need a national security council? "Yokota Megumi." Why does Japan need such a draconian new official secrets law? "Yokota Megumi." Why does Japan have to revise Article 9 of the 1947 Constitution? "Yokota Megumi." Why does Japan have to …“SHUT UP! SHUT UP! I CAN’T HEAR YOU! YOU SEE MY FINGERS IN MY EARS, YOU CHINA-LOVING, DPRK-CODDLING DUPE? I HAVE NO RATIONAL REASON FOR CURTAILING CIVIL LIBERTIES, TURNING A BLIND EYE TOWARD XENOPHOBIA AND RAISING JAPAN’S MILITARY POSTURE SO YOKOTA MEGUMI, YOKOTA MEGUMI, YOKOTA MEGUMI!!!"

Here is prime example of Yokota Megumi being dragged in in order to supposedly prove a point, drawn from a major political tract by a famous author:

After the Dhaka Incident of September 1977, Kume Yutaka of Ishikawa Prefecture was kidnapped and taken to the Democratic Republic of North Korea. The police authorities of the time arrested the perpetrator. However, knowing that the perpetrator was involved in a covert operations organization of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the police let him go out of fear of a dispute arising with 'peace-loving peoples of the world.'

Because of this, what occurred? Two months later, in November, Yokota Megumi was kidnapped from the seaside of Niigata Prefecture. Had the Government of Japan at the time [of the Kume disappearance] chosen the path of confronting the Government of the DPRK, would not Megumi-san still be living her life in Japan?"

In the end, Japan's postwar system, as symbolized by the Constitution of Japan, could not safeguard the life of a 13 year-old girl. And for us, even now, this problem remains [unresolved].

A flimsy free association of various humiliations of Japan occurring in the autumn of 1977, including the purported Kume kidnapping, which has never been acknowledged by the DPRK, if Kume's disappearance was even a kidnapping. The spinelessness of the Fukuda government toward the Dhaka hijackers leads to the disappearance of Kume in Ishikawa which leads to the release of the police's top person of interest in the Kume disappearance which leads to kidnapping of "Megumi-san" two months later in Niigata City.


The passage includes a sarcastic quotation from the preamble of the Constitution ("We, the Japanese people, desire peace for all time and are deeply conscious of the high ideals controlling human relationship, and we have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world"). The quote seems a demonstration of an adolescent desire for applause for cleverness. While feeling contempt toward Constitution and its naïve faith in the good intentions of peace-loving peoples of the world is a valid emotional reaction, this contempt should be expressed openly, not hinted at by the snide use of quotation marks.

So why should I or anyone else be give a damn about this snarky connect-the-dots bit of weirdness reminiscent of the histrionic performances of American embarrassment Glenn Beck, one culminating in the author's making a maudlin appeal to sympathy for Ms. Yokota in an absurd bit of speculative history? Because you will find it on page 252 of Toward a New Country (Atarashii kuni e) -- a book published earlier this year by a certain Mr. Abe Shinzo, prime minister of Japan.

Now I understand what my body has been telling me all these years: when in an argument with someone over the appropriateness of the Japanese government's taking a new position as regards security, or its plans to adopt an unprecedented new mode of operation, at the very first utterance of "Yokota Megumi" I should relax, smile and go prepare to go home.

The argument is over. Indeed, there was never any argument on the other side at all.


* On November 8, the Tokyo Shimbun reprinted the entire working text of the official secrets bill, highlighting the 36 times the lazy authors of the bill had ended their sentences with "and so on and so forth, et cetera" (sono ta).

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

What A Welcome Back!

I go away for two weeks and the country goes bonkers.

Item #1: Tokyo Governor Inose Naoki's loan

You are a man of utter probity and profound knowledge, who has just lost his wife and life partner. You have never run for public office in your life and you are suddenly up for the post of the most powerful local government official on Earth, for a city that thanks to you has just won the right to host an Olympics. You are going into the race without a political support group or even a single paid staff member. A shadowy right wing figure approaches you, takes you to a Kamakura hospital and introduces to a nearly totally paralyzed tycoon who asks you, "How are you doing financially?" You quibble. A week later, the man's son calls you in to his office, which is inside the House of Representatives building. He puts 50 million yen ($500,000) in cash on the table and says, "This is a loan. You do not have to pay me interest. You can repay me whenever you want. I only want to help you out. Just to make sure we are on the up-and-up, here is a note verifying the loan."

What does a stressed out, exhausted Inose Naoki do, especially when the loan will be entirely legal? (Link)

Item #2: Blogging The Official Secrets Bill

A bill declaring vast areas of what should be public knowledge "official secrets" and criminalizing investigative reporting and whistle-blowing skulks, unseen, through the halls of the Diet. Stealthily and silently, it lurches toward passage. Suddenly it is dragged out into the sunlight and stamped on the public consciousness by a blog post by actress and model heretofore known mostly for her sacré bleu poitrine. Suddenly, every editorialist and commentator has something to say about the bill, most of which are expressions of stunned disbelief at the bill's sweep and imprecision. To make matters all the weirder, the role of sherpa for the supposedly crucial, ground-breaking, nation-saving bill is given to the state minister for consumer affairs -- the most junior member of the Cabinet.

Despite the public outcry at the unnecessary severity and breadth of the bill, or perhaps because of the outcry, the government rushes the bill through committee, managing to lose, for the first time in recent memory, all the votes of one of the parties that had submitted the bill. A hell-bent rush to railroad the bill through the House of Councillors hits a granite wall, however, when Ishiba Shigeru the secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, in, yep, a blog post, equates members of the public peacefully assembling and yelling out slogans against the bill to terrorism.

Way to give the despondent opposition to the bill a jolt of adrenaline, Mister "Now-you-know-why-my-Diet-colleagues-would-not-vote-me-head-of-the-LDP-even-though-I-won-the-majority-of-votes-in-the-first-round" -- and with only four days left in the extraordinary session for the House of Councillors to pass the bill! (Link)

To which I can only say, "Amaterasu bless the blog post, the salvation of this blessed land!"

Item #3: Kinshasha Embassy Burning

This morning we have gracing the news reports the incredible arrest of a Japanese diplomat for setting the fire that gutted the Embassy of Japan in Kinshasha. Given the severity of Japanese law as regards arson and the level of respect accorded the careerists of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this is one is going to be

1) the first act of what will be one heck of a legal circus

2) an opportunity for a very embarrassing public review of Gaimusho hiring policies.

(Link - J)

And I have not even begun to think about the implications of China's new air defense zone!

Happy December!