Saturday, May 31, 2014

Trends In The Numbers Of Japan's Foreign Residents

Just a quick glance at the numbers of foreign residents in Japan and naturalizations, in honor of the The Economist article on the immigration and childbirth expansion programs. (Link)

Number of foreign residents in Japan
June 2013
by country

Total 2,049,123

China 647,230
South Korea/DPRK 526,575
Philippines 206,769
Brazil 185,644
Vietnam 61,920
Peru 48,976
Thailand 40,699
Taiwan 29,466 (new category)
Nepal 27,584
Indonesia 26,171

% change in number of citizens residing in Japan since 2008
by country

Total -4.4%

China +0.5%
South Korea/DPRK -9.6%
Philippines +6.9%
Brazil -40.0%
Vietnam +52.8%
U.S.A. -4.8%
Peru -12.6%
Thailand +11.3%
Taiwan N.A.
Nepal +139.0%
Indonesia -0.0%


Pretty stunning, that Brazil number, yes? Coupled with the figure for Peru, evidence that the ethnicity-based immigration policy has been an utter, humiliating failure.

And on the issue of ethnicity-based immigration

Number of naturalizations in 2013 (% change since 2009)

"Return naturalization" (kika) 8,646 (-41.5%)

All other naturalizations 1,030 (-34.5%)


I know what you are thinking.

"You mean if one excludes the special ethnicity based citizenship pathway, Japan has been adding about 1,000 citizens per year via immigration? And by all methods of naturalizations, the total number of added citizens is around 10,000? And both forms of naturalizations have declined by more than 30% over the last five years? And the natural change in Japan's population (births - deaths) in 2013 was -244,000?"


Friday, May 30, 2014

The Law And The People With It

De profundis clamavi at te Domine

From the Depths, I cry out to you my Lord!

It is possible and indeed not unreasonable to see Japan's criminal justice system as suffering from a split personality.

On the one side there is the police force -- reactive, laconic (some might say lazy), non-judgmental ("The person was found stabbed, shot in the back, chained and handcuffed inside the locked trunk of a car at the bottom of a local reservoir. Police are investigating the possibility the deceased was involved in some sort of trouble...") and otherwise preoccupied with watching the world go by.

Once the police and the courts are engaged, however, jurisprudence becomes a juggernaut, crushing due process, presumption of innocence and human dignity beneath the wheels of The Law. Jake Adelstein offers a familiar yet still depressing glimpse of the sheer bloody mindedness of the criminal investigation and prosecution machine in his newly published bit of reportage, "Abandon Hope All Ye Tried in Japan" over at The Daily Beast. (Link)

Before reading Adelstein's piece, I considered the inert and relentless faces of criminal investigation independent aspects of a cultural dichotomy. Upon reading Adelstein's account, however, both the inactive and active aspects of the law seem facets of a not illogical unified whole. Having a police force and courts who most of the time refuse to involve themselves in the affairs of the citizens but when they do engage themselves they do so with a reprehensible zeal sets the base conditions for a stable, low cost equilibrium. If the state were to apply its crime investigation methods equally to the entire populace, the cost of prosecution and incarceration would be Himalayan, much of the population would be in jail and those still free would see the police and the courts as evil. However, by selectively, infrequently but merciless applying themselves to cases, the police and the courts create strong incentives for the citizens to police themselves, if only to stay out of harm's way. A police officer does not need to be on every corner, nor does every complaint need to be followed up. Instead, just take a thin slice of the cases and act upon them with blind, vengeful determination. The citizens will take note of what happens to those who become trapped in the pit of the law (don't call it "justice") system and will strive, of their own volition, to never, ever becoming trapped in that system themselves.

Later - A Journal of Legal Studies article focusing on the conviction rate coming to the same conclusion as to costs (Link). However, the authors see the low budget for prosecution as a bug, not a feature.

In discussions of his article on Facebook, Jake Adelstein notes that the current system has difficulty prosecuting cases where the criminal refuses to confess and physical evidence or eyewitness testimony is poor. Low cost implies tradeoffs and this is one of them.

Photo image: Nightfall in Manazuru, Kanagawa Prefecture on February 23, 2012.
Photo credit: MTC

Thursday, May 29, 2014

New And A Bit Alarming: The Abe Cabinet's "Self-Defense" Category Of Action

We'll wait and see
A few days more
There might be something there that wasn't there before.

- Howard Ashman and Alan Menken
"Something There" (1991)
The above is a screen shot from the question time of the New Komeito's Toyama Kiyohiko yesterday (May 28) on the change that the Abe Cabinet is suggesting in Japan's ladder of response to threats to the security of Japan's citizens.

On the left is the current ladder, where there are only two steps, in between which is a thick line dividing

- those threats that can be handled by constabulary forces (the National Police Agency and the Japan Coast Guard), labeled "Police Power" and

- those that must be handled by the Self Defense Forces, labeled "War Power."

On the right of the panel is the New Komeito's understanding of the Yanai Commission's recommendation to the Abe government of a new, three step ladder. There is still a thick line separating "War Power" from that which is below it. However, in between "Police Power" and "War Power" is a new step, "Self Defense Power," which an assistant is helpfully indicating with the pointer. Graphically and in a real sense the new "Self Defense" zone extends down into some of what is now considered purely constabulary and up into what is currently considered purely military. The boundary line between "Police Power" and "Self Defense" is furthermore shown as being thin as compared to the boundary delimiting "War Power."

All in all a nifty little graphic representation of just one facet of the ongoing argument over the proper paradigms for Japan's security.

A lot of other panels in the battle of minds can be seen in the 7 hours and 15 minutes of yesterday's House of Representatives Budget Committee testimony, available on the Shugiin TV website at:

I Guess Imperial Men Like A Certain Kind Of Woman

I never noticed until now, but the announcement of the engagement of Princess Noriko to the heir to the chief priest at Izumo Taisha has highlighted a borderline manic sameness in the personal names of the women of the Imperial House, three of whom are commoners and whose naming was thus not bound by any rule overt or covert of the Imperial Household Agency:

Princess Yuriko (90)
Her Majesty Empress Michiko (79)
Princess Hanako (73)
Princess Hisako (60)
Princess Nobuko (59)
Crown Princess Masako (50)
Princes Kiko (47)
Princess Akiko (32)
Princess Yoko (30)
Princess Tsuguko (28)
Princess Noriko (25)
Princess Ayako (23)
Princess Mako (22)
Princess Kako (19)
Princess Aiko (12)

This seems to indicate that if you are a woman of a certain young age and your name does not end in ko (子 - "child")) -- which, given the naming preferences for girls nowadays, is virtually everyone (Link - J) -- relax, you are probably off the hook as a potential future bride for third-in-line-for-the-throne Prince Hisahito (7).*

As regards the wedding, with the Senge capturing a Yamato lineage female, liberating her of her noble rank and, if all goes as planned, producing future celebrants of the rites to Okuninushi no mikoto bearing the Senge surname, the persons much better to email than me would be Kenneth Ruoff (Link) as regards matters pertaining to the Imperial Household and Sarah Thal (Link) as regards the Senge and their efforts to boost their side's version of Japan's originating myths to symbolic equality with those of Ise Shrine and the Yamato Line.

By the way, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has been spending a lot of time talking about Womenomics and increasing opportunities for women in government and the workplace. Has anyone asked him his feelings these days about eliminating the sexism in the imperial succession rules, making it possible for women to reign as emperors?

* Then again, who am I am to point out the name obsessions of others? The eldest male child in my maternal grandfather's line had been named "John" for as far back as church records go until my mother, named "Joan" in an hopeful attempt keep the tradition alive despite a first born's inexplicable decision to be female -- emphatically ended centuries of practice by naming me Michael.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Marriage Of The Millennia

You have got to be kidding me.

No, that is not the correct explosive expression of emotion.

OK, now we know that history in Japan is truly over.

There, that's better.

The news is that Her Highness Princess Noriko will be marrying the son of the chief priest at Izumo Taisha.

What is unbelievable about that?

That an imperial princess is marrying the son of the chief priest at Izumo Taisha.

Imagine, for example, an announcement that the daughter of Ali Al-Sistani was to marry the son of Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais. That is sort of how crazy this announcement is, from a religious history perspective.

And yet, in the English language articles on the wedding announcement -- like this just-the-facts Mainichi report (Link) or this too-embarrassingly-sycophantic-to-read version from, where else, the Yomiuri Shimbun (Link) -- not a even a whiff of the astonishing bridging of a religious feud going back close to two millennia.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

In My Reptile Mind

A year ago, in a response to Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide's first submissions to what has become a lengthy list of things the Abe Cabinet is NOT thinking of doing, (e.g., NOT thinking of revising the Murayama Statement, NOT thinking of rescinding the Kono Statement) I posed a question about the nature of the beast doing the talking:
When a snake tells you it is not thinking of biting you, what matters more? That a snake told you, "I'm not thinking of biting you" -- or that it is a snake?
Over the first year and half of the second coming of Abe Shinzo and Friends, the answer to my question has been, astonishingly, "The former."

Which has me, a year later, composing another serpentine metaphor as regards militant-nationalist-revisionist-Sinophobe-conservative-right-wing-hawk Abe Shinzo:

In order for a snake to grow larger, it must shed its skin.


Lest anyone think that my use of snake metaphors is pejorative, be aware that:

1) I love snakes, particularly the big bad aodaisho (Japanese rat snake - Elaphe climacophora - Link)


2) I admiringly referred to former Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko as "The Anaconda" -- at least until he betrayed himself, his party and the electorate with his still unexplained offer to Abe to dissolve the House of Representatives.

Photo: Abe Shinzo arriving at the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan's conference "Women in Business" on 27 May 2014

Photo credit: Jonathan Kushner on Facebook

Monday, May 26, 2014

No Mr. Abe, You And China Together Are Still Not Enough

Interesting figures in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun this morning:

Q: Shall the Constitution be reinterpreted in order to make it possible to exercise the right of collective self-defense?

Agree 28%
Disagree 51%

Q: Should their be preparations be brought forward on the legal basis for [ having the Self Defense Forces involvement] so-called gray-zone incidents?

Should be 68%
Should not be 13%

Q: Should SDF units participating in peacekeeping activities be allowed to rush to the armed defense (kaketsuke keigo) of other peacekeeper and/or civilians?

Allowed 47%
Not allowed 34%

Q: Is it necessary to invoke the right collective self-defense?

Necessary 37%
Not necessary 47%

A remarkably level-headed set of numbers, no? The voters in this poll clearly want the government to have a capacity to deploy the SDF in situations where opponents are in plain clothes but way too much for constabulary forces like the Japan Coast Guard to handle, such as trawler-fulls of Chinese special forces disguised as fishermen landing on the Senkakus. They are also generally in favor of a partial normalization of the behavior of Japanese forces in peacekeeping operations, making the SDF contingent valuable as a military, rather than just a logistics force.

At the same time, the voters are at best ambivalent about invoking the right of collective self defense per se. They are also deeply skeptical about reinterpretation, the Constitutional bugbear that Prime Minister Abe's advisors and councils failed to think through until this year.

The error as regards reinterpretation was one of language and group think -- too few people involved in a discussion of a subject using the same limited vocabulary. For the reformers in Japan's defense establishment, all the Cabinet had to do was interpret (kaishaku) the Constitution in a new way. It did not dawn upon them that to undo a previous determination of unconstitutionality required reinterpretation (kaishaku o henko) -- which only the Supreme Court or a constitutional amendment can do.

Meanwhile, on the subject of meeting and beating the threats to the nation, the Chinese air force and Chinese official news organs this weekend sought to regale us with their well-known talents for physical comedy Link) and satire. (Link).

Such kidders.

Despite these shenanigans on the part of the powers that be in China which could lead to a sudden to dump the 1946 Constitution, the Japanese public keeps its eyes on the edifice of their democratic form of government and the foundations of the rule of law and popular sovereignty.

Pretty impressive, no?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Chutzpah Redefined, Or Just Money To Burn?

My morning dead tree news delivery device, the Tokyo Shimbun, the alpha dog of the prefectural newspapers, is left wing. It holds court, in most analyses, in the space between left-leaning The Asahi Shimbun and the Communist Party's house organ Akahata ("Red Flag").

For me, the TS is an easy-to-read, localized Asahi with its head screwed on straight and blood in its veins -- the latter two qualities earning the paper the admiration of even my more the-time-to-return-Japan-to-normal-nation-status-was-yesterday-leaning friends. (Link)

Hence my amazement at this morning's front page.

See it? It is hard to miss.

But, just in case, here it is, the bottom-right hand corner, enlarged.

Yes, c'mon all you lefties. Here is what you need: Tamogami Senso Daigaku ("Tamogami"s University Studies of War"). Yes, the very latest tome from your very best friend, forcibly retired Air Self Defense Forces general and Tokyo gubernatorial candidate Tamogami Toshio. (Archive)

[Long pause for fulmination]

I know that advertising can be scattershot, sometimes lacking in aim at a target audience.

But having an ad for a Tamogami book on war, photo of the man lecturing the reader included, on the front page of the Tokyo Shimbun is beyond mere incompetence or laziness.

This is pure provocation.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Knockin' On Heaven's Door

-- Our country is facing great changes of the times, such as decreasing population, intensifying competition on global scale, deteriorating education in schools and families, and changes in the national security environment surrounding Japan.

-- Under the coalition government of the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito Party, we will rally together as the "Policy Implementation Cabinet," and steadily advance policies with solid foundations on the ground. We will articulate our policies with confidence, and deepen constructive debates with the opposition parties, and do our best in sincerely coming up with answers to each and every question, so that the people can live without anxiety into the future.

-- Starting with myself, cabinet ministers, senior vice ministers, and parliamentary vice ministers -- a total of 70 top government officials -- will divide up and each visit various local communities throughout the country, and listen to the voices on the ground face to face with the elderly people, young people, and people working for small and medium enterprises, and reflect their views in policies which are attentive to various circumstances.

-- It is essential to have a long-term system design to make the public pension a foundation of national daily life, a trustworthy system without anxiety for the people. This is the responsibility of politics. It is extremely important that discussions will be resumed in the Diet that transcend the positions of the ruling and opposition parties, and transparent and constructive consultations will be conducted.

-- I will make every effort to sincerely respond to the earnest voices of the people in the regions raising concerns over disparities and their future prospects, and make the dividends of reforms to be felt by the regions.

-- We will strive for local tax and financial reforms, including further transfer of power to local governments and correction of tax revenue disparities among regions.

-- We will integrate the implementation systems established under the Cabinet, including the one for regional revitalization. We will also provide assistance to regions willing to work on revitalization, in a concentrated and effective manner that adapts to the actual situations prevailing in the respective regions, by fully mobilizing measures such as the Program for Helping Striving Regions to Help Themselves

-- We will support improving vocational skills, and raise the minimum wage, in order to shore up the living standards of people working in the regions.

-- We will work to support the revitalization of the regions as a whole, by improving the productivities of small and medium enterprises which prop up the regional economy, and newly establishing a Regional Vitality Restoration Organization.

-- We will focus our efforts on policies that build for the future, including assistance to hard-working people based on the "agricultural policies on the offensive." Firmly acknowledging the anxieties held by senior and small-scale farming households, we will provide attentive assistance to them.

-- Careful attention will be paid to shoring up academic abilities by increasing classroom hours, enhancing textbooks and effectively utilizing the nationwide academic test. Efforts will also be focused on trial experiences and on moral education.

-- We will establish a well-modulated salary structure for teachers and strive to smoothly implement a renewal system for teaching licenses. Through measures such as reducing their administrative burdens, we will increase the amount of time that teachers engage fully in face-to-face interaction with students.

-- We will establish a system of emergency hub hospitals and networks responsible for emergency medical care in each of the regions, so that necessary emergency medical services can be received even during the night. We will make full efforts with a view to resolving the shortage of doctors in local regions through measures such as promptly dispatching "doctors without prefectural borders," and establishing a framework for working in remote areas at the medical departments of universities in local regions.

-- We will advance efforts to make Japan the most disaster-resistant nation in the world. We will work to make schools and other public facilities as well as houses more resistant to earthquakes, and create systems that can respond without fail if the need arises -- systems to provide information to the elderly, confirm people's safety and conduct rescue operations. Every effort will be made to ensure that nuclear power plants respond properly when earthquakes occur, while at the same time ensuring full disclosure of information in order to reassure the residents in the surrounding areas.

-- In order to create an environment where people can have children and raise them with a sense of security, we will expand diverse and attentive day care services and advance a review of the ways in which people work so that they can strike a balance between work and family life.

-- We will realize sustainable growth, making the utmost use of the strengths Japan has thus far developed, such as science and technology. By supporting new innovations that open up the next era, as well as by making the economy more open to the outside world through promoting the liberalization of Japan's aviation industry, as well as in tourism, finance and other sectors, we will bring into Japan the growth and vitality of countries in Asia and elsewhere in the world.

--We will resolutely carry out administrative and financial reforms aimed at "zero waste." We will formulate a well-modulated budget, and firmly proceed on the path of integrated reform of expenditures and revenues, toward the goal of achieving a surplus in the primary balance of the central and local governments combined

-- We will thoroughly eradicate the bad disposition of civil servants that have come to light, and create a new mold of civil servants who will shoulder the administration of the country in the 21st century.

-- I will continue to carry forward "Proactive Diplomacy."

-- I do not believe anyone has forgotten the shocks of the North Korean missile launches and its announcement of a nuclear test. The security environment surrounding Japan continues to be harsh. Japan's national security system needs to be restructured, by strengthening the headquarters functions of the Prime Minister's Office and the intelligence capabilities of the Government. We will steadily implement the realignment of U.S. Forces in Japan, while listening closely to the earnest voices of local communities including Okinawa, and exerting our best efforts to promote the development of these communities.

-- In order to resolve North Korea's abduction, nuclear and missile issues, we will further strengthen our solidarity with the international community. We will make every effort with an iron will, until the return of all the abductees will be achieved.

-- Our environmental technologies make our country proud in the world. We will achieve compatibility between environment and economy in a way characteristic of Japan, which regards the environment not as a constraint on but rather as a boost for economic growth, through such means as the promotion of widespread use of energy conservation technologies overseas.

-- On the Constitution, which delineates the shape and form of the country, the enactment of the National Referendum Law has created a conducive environment for deepening discussions on revision. I hope that discussions to meet the expectations of the people will continue to be conducted.

-- I will continue to listen to the opinions of the people attentively and explain my policies fully, and press forward in conducting the affairs of the state.

-- The statecraft I aspire for is one that, while adapting to severe changes in the environment surrounding our country, safeguards and nurtures the values that Japan possesses intrinsically, which we can still find in our daily lives such as a sense of self-discipline, compassion and warmth for others; statecraft that enables each and every person to feel true richness and satisfaction in their daily lives; namely, statecraft that advances the creation of a beautiful country. With a vision of how Japan should be in 50 years, and in 100 years, and never losing sight of our origins, I solemnly swear that I will give all my body and soul to fulfill the responsibilities of the Prime Minister.

In response to all of which my colleague of the time shouted, "And We Will All Go to Heaven!"

Abe Shinzo made the above promises to the Diet and the nation on 10 September 2007. Two days later he held a press conference, announcing his intent to resign as prime minister -- the reason I have presented that final section in blue.

As for the section in red , I think the reason for drawing attention to those promises needs no clarification.

In June the Abe Cabinet Version 2.0 will be making a third attempt at presenting a cogent and inspiring vision for the so-called Third Arrow structural reforms. From what we have been hearing from the Industrial Competitiveness Council (pictured above), its subcommittees and similar advisory bodies, the prime minister is not listening to the likes of Gerald Curtis and others who have advised him to choose four or five big but not unreasonable goals to achieve by year's end. Instead what is leaking out from the advisors and the ministers is a prodigious wish list, daunting in length, scope and difficulty.

I am not entirely unsympathetic to the tactic of listing as many agenda items as possible all at once. It makes it easier to claim victory later on. Make your list long enough and you are sure to achieve at least some of the goals by the end of the year. Maybe a whole bunch of them, given the ruling coalition's explicit ability to get things done, when it wishes to throw its weight around.

However, I cannot shake a sense that unless Abe and Company trim down the list of things "we will do" then more than a few listeners may respond in June as my colleague did seven years ago. Make your list of promises too long -- and the threads tying the package together too tenuous -- and your list of promises will be seen not as ambitious but as merely insulting to the intelligence.

For the original Abe Shinzo Diet Policy Speech of 10 September 2007, go to:

For a sweet, rough and soft version of “Knockin' On Heaven's Door” by the Grateful Dead, go to:

Image courtesy: Prime Minister's Residence

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Because I Cannot Have Any Kinky Associations

It is a great article title:
Kinki University to Straighten Out Name

What's in a name?

If it's Kinki University, probably more than was intended.

Which is why the school has finally decided to change it.

Kinki University, a prestigious institution of higher learning located in the Kinki area of western Japan that includes the major industrial city of Osaka, said this week it would change its official English name to Kindai University because of the undesirable connotations its current name suggests to English speakers...

The question from a marketing standpoint is why make a big deal about a salacious misreading of the current name in the announcement of the change? Why not just make the changes and let the subject rest? Why go on and on about globalizing the university, then to the extreme of explaining the possible misunderstanding with the word "KINKY" in all capital letters in your press release? (Link - J)

It all seems a bit weird and discomfitting -- until one learns a vital piece of information: the chairman of the board of trustees of Kinki University is Seko Hiroshige.

"That Seko Hiroshige?"

Yes, that Seko Hiroshige, the Diet's, the Kantei's and the Liberal Democratic Party's avatar of the inapppropriate and overreaching. (Archive)

As it turns out, Kinki University is a Seko family fiefdom. It was founded by Seko Ko'ichi, Hiroshige's grandfather, who like Hiroshige, was an LDP Diet member (Link - J). The position of chairman of Kinki U. has been handed down through the family tree, Hiroshige having become the fourth Seko to be the university's top dog upon the 2011 death of his father Hiroaki. (Link- J)

So that which at first seems strained, peculiar and silly, turns out, when one learns the backstory, to be a natural course of events...because this is precisely the kind of change Seko Hiroshige can believe in.

Later - One probably cannot grasp the scale of the FAIL here unless one is aware that Seko is a holder of a Master's degree in Corporate Communications from Boston University. (Link)

Poster image courtesy:

The Only Popularly Elected National Leader

It's that time of year again, when the fan election for the "president" (sosai) of girls megagroup AKB48 (Link) and its affiliates confuses the algorithms of Google News, causing the AKB story to be displayed in the #1 position in the Japanese-language Google News / Politics feed.

Given that the next electoral test of the nation's actual political parties are the unified local elections of next spring -- which, contrary to their name, are not unified, the terms of local offices having been spread all over the calendar by deaths and resignations (WIGFTL*) -- and that the next Diet elections do not have to be held until 2016, the election of the 2014 leader of AKB48 leader election perhaps should be the top story on the politics page. After all AKB48's sosai is the only national leader chosen in a direct vote by the people -- and the only national election of any kind save the reaffirmation votes on the justices of the Supreme Court, which happen only together with the first House of Representatives election after the appointment of the justice in question, then every 10 years thereafter (Article 79, Constitution of Japan).

The story encircled above? The news that for the fifth year in a row the thick electoral guide to the AKB48 leadership election is the highests-selling book (All Categories) in mid-May.


* "Which Is Good For The LDP"

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

On The TPP Negotiations And Abe Shinzo's Sense Of America

Friend Stephen Harner finds much to harrumph about regarding the purported proposals on the steps the government of Japan can take to increase the sales of U.S automobiles in Japan made during this most recent round of talks on the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership by the U.S. negotiating team. (Link)

And yes, Harner's post does not even touch upon the anachronistic and preposterous U.S. light trucks tariff, or the ridiculous U.S. suggestions as to a timetable for its abolition.

My only quibble with Mr. Harner's piece is his ending. I am reluctant to believe Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is willing give away much to secure a deal with the U.S. on TPP. Abe probably believes that pushing hard on the construction of a Futenma Replacement Facility at Henoko in Okinawa and some sort of increase in the capacities of the Self Defense Forces to participate in international security affairs are together more than sufficient for him to pick up the big pencil and check off the "Took Care Of The Alliance" box. Making positive noises about TPP helps maintain international investor interest in Japan, particularly in the all-important Japanese equities markets. However, the decision to have Japan participate in the TPP was made by the now much-maligned Prime Minister Kan Naoto of the Democratic Party of Japan. The negotiations have dragged on -- but as a legacy, not a core, Abe Cabinet economic initiative.

Furthermore, as Tobias Harris sagely noted, TPP is, for Abe Shinzo, a part of the "second" opening of Japan (Link -- not the third one, as Prime Minister Kan insisted the trade partnership would be. (Link)

That little bit of contemporary revisionism on Abe's part tells a grand tale of his willingness or not to kowtow to America.

The Washington Post Editorial On The Yanai Report

I confess I could not understand why the United States government and those in the Washington-New York power corridor first tried to dissuade Prime Minister Abe Shinzo from paying a visit to Yasukuni Shrine, then went ballistic when he ignored their warnings and went anyway.

The adult reaction to Abe Shinzo's Yasukuni visits (by the way, Abe is going to pay a visit to the shrine again this year -- whether Xi Jinping dangles the prospect of a summit in front of him or not) would be:

"OK, OK. It is horrible. Terrible. Lamentable. However, if all that it takes to keep Abe and his hopped-up followers to be happy is his pretending for one day a year that if he goes to a special hall he can then talk to ghosts, fine. What we in the real world get in return is 364 days of dealing with a politically invulnerable and almost avuncular Japanese prime minister whose name we can actually remember."

A not entirely distasteful prospect, one would think.

But as the Washingon Post editorial on makes clear, visiting Yasukuni is seen not as Abe Shinzo seeking stress relief. Instead visiting Yasukuni is an impediment to Japan's casting off its special status of a nation with a peace constitution:

But Mr. Abe has needlessly stoked those fears. His visit to a Shinto shrine where Japanese war criminals are honored, statements that have seemed to question the extent of Japan’s culpability in the war, and his associations with right-wing politicians whose statements are even more extreme — all of these have made his motives suspect in neighbors' eyes. That, in turn, has complicated his reasonable quest to turn Japan, nearly seven decades after war’s end, into a more "normal" country."

The gist of the editorial is rather simple and rather straightforward:

"We, the Wise Men and Women of the West, want a Japan that will work hand-in-glove with our already pretty ideal friend South Korea to be the bulwark of freedom and democracy in the East Asian region which we so very much no longer wish to be because doing anything hard and complicated takes us away from working on the remodel of the kitchens of our second homes in the countryside."

To harsh an assessment?

I am not ashamed to admit my being indisposed toward any essay beginning its arguments with the hoary "if North Korea fires a missile passing high over the Japanese islands, the commanders of Japanese Kongo-class Aegis destroyers do not have permission to order a missile shoot-down, even if the computed trajectory of the missile predicts impact in U.S. territory" canard. This is the rhetoric of an Okazaki Hisahiko, conjuring up phantasms of Japanese passivity in order that we might wet ourselves.

What the author (my guess is that his initials are F. H.) of this editorial fails to consider is whether the citizens of Japan or South Korea have any interest in being the docile pieces under the control of the American grand master. The answer to that question is that they do not, not now, not for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, the peoples of the two countries do not want to work with each other on security affairs if only because making China feel further ostracized and beset is not in their interests (Of course, inducing the Chinese to feel the world is ganging up on the Country of the Center is indeed in nobody's interest).

Also glossed over is the matter of the reinterpretation debate, the core issue highlighted by the excellent New York Time editorial of 10 days ago (Link). While plurality or even a majority of the population (depending upon the poll one consults) are currently sceptical about collective self-defense in general, a larger majority is fairly clear, even at this early stage, that there is no reinterpretation eye of the constitutional needle that the camel of CSD can pass through. These negative numbers will increase if the Abe Cabinet tries either to explain its views of reinterpretation, or worse, seeks to bum rush the necessary Cabinet Decision without a broad public and intra-Diet consensus.

It would be helpful if the Serious Adults of the sort who can pound out these opinion pieces remembered that one should not ever make policy prescriptions on the basis of what would be convenient for oneself. One has to try harder than that and make the case for settling for that which serves the interests of all.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Very Kind Of Them #20

Lucy Craft interviewed a bunch of smart, smart folks - Andrew Horvat, Miyake Kunihiko and Michishita Narushige -- for a report on President Barack Obama's Senkakus declaration and the significance of rebalancing for Japan.

And she also talked to me. (Link - audio)

Out of my depth again.

Rebalancing is what it says it is. It is taking U.S. attention away from regions where leaders and elites spend too much of their time thinking about how to destroy human life to the region of the world which has been working the hardest to improve the sad lot of humanity. Forces within China, tempted by the weakening of the international system by the many stupdities of America's great national nightmare (a.k.a., the G. W. Bush Presidentcy), wish for understandable but selfish reasons to throw a wrench into the workings of this the greatesst prosperity engine in human history.

The U.S. and its allies wish only to offer the suggestion, "Chinese patriots, think this through first. Cogitate upon whether what you dream of doing is really worth the pain."

Very Kind Of Them #19

Ben McClannahan of the Financial Times and I talked for a while about the phenomenon and scapegoat Horie Takafumi.

Mr. McClannahan was kind enough to include a quote from out conversation in his article.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Untitled (2014)

How I Wish
How I Were You Were Here

We're Just Two Lost Souls Living in a Fish Bowl
Year After Year

Runnin' 'Round on the Same Old Ground
Or Have We Found The Same Old Fears

Wish You Were Here...

-- Pink Floyd, "Wish You Were Here" (1975)

At times I wonder whether wireless communications and social media have not made longing obsolete, and that the sentiment is now reversed -- that we now more than ever wish those with whom we interact to Not Be Here, at least the here where we are now.

Photo image: Setagaya City, Tokyo Metropolitan District on 15 May 2014.
Photo credit: MTC

Friday, May 02, 2014

Hell Freezes Over: Tamogami Toshio At Asahi Shimbun Event

Tomorrow, on Constitution Day, at a conference organized by The Asahi Shimbun's employees union on war and the Constitution, General Tamogami Toshio will be one of the featured speakers.

Let me say that again.


on Constitution Day,

at a conference organized by The Asahi Shimbun's employees union

on war and the Constitution,

General Tamogami Toshio (Retired)

will be one of the featured speakers.

You don't believe me? Look at the image above. Click on it if you want to see it in a larger size.

I called the number on the poster. It is the number of the employees's union. The event will take place tomorrow.

This is so wrong in so many ways one can only think that Hell hath truly frozen over.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

The Banana Defense

Before long in his new post, the voluble Mr. Kahn, shunning "recession" as a euphemism, warned of a "very serious depression" if inflation were not tamed, prompting a private rebuke by the president’s chief domestic policy adviser, Stuart E. Eizenstat.

So instead, Mr. Kahn began referring in public to a possible economic downturn as a "banana," only to be chided by the president of the United Fruit Company and induced to shift once again to a different euphemism, "kumquat."

Source: "Alfred E. Kahn Dies at 93; Prime Mover of Airline Deregulation,", New York Times, 28 December 2010.

Abe Shinzo has a problem.

It is about how to protect Japan, its rights and its interests in the 21st Century.

Prime Minister Abe and many, many members of the Diet wish to vote for legislation enabling Japan to engage in collective self-defense (CSD) with other nations, a legal right it has under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.

Unfortunately for Abe and his many allies, the Government of Japan declared many decades back that exercising the right of collective self-defense is unconstitutional. Furthermore, as they have discovered to their chagrin over the course of the current Diet session, once the executive branch of government uses the word "unconstitutional," it cannot take it back.

Ostensibly, Article 81 of Japan's U.S.-drafted Constitution grants the Supreme Court the power to undo CSD's unconstitutionality. However, it could only do so as the result of a lawsuit based upon some incident occurring where plaintiffs can complain of injury due to a government action classifiable as CSD, such as a government official (an SDF officer) being reprimanded for refusing an assignment based on his/her personal view that the assignment requires participation in CSD.

In other words, the Supremes cannot just come out tomorrow and say, "We think CSD is entirely cool so go for it, Prime Minister Abe!"

Perversely, even if a lawsuit made its way to the Supreme Court, the Court could toss the issue right back to the executive branch by declaring the issue political and thus outside its jurisdiction. This is what the Court did in its sweeping Sunagawa Decision (1959).

In the face of this constitutional impasse, the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner the New Komeito are weaving webs of words verging on the surreal. The LDP seems to be arguing that while CSD is nominally unconstitutional, a very careful expansion of SDF activities into a limited number of areas that have heretofore been considered CSD might be constitutional. The New Komeito, for its part, has indicated a willingness to go along with many proposed loosenings of restrictions on the actions of the Self Defense Forces as long as these can be plausibly argued to not be CSD but instead a form of ISD.

The response to these manoeuvres from the nation's editorialists has been predictably unenthusiastic. At best the scribbling classes find the ruling coalition's arguments to be gibberish. (Link)

Hence the neat idea bubbling up today. According to the Mainichi Shimbun, some smart puppies in government and the LDP have come up with a new way around the constitutional ban on CSD:

Do CSD -- but don't call it CSD. Call it "self-defense" (jiei) instead -- with the feeble caveat of restricting this evasion to "situations where if we do nothing, Japan could be attacked as well." (Link - J)

Now before we guffaw too heartily at this "I will not say the word 'recession' and cannot say 'depression' so I will say 'banana' instead" subterfuge in order to get around a constitutional ban, should we not admit that this is precisely the way we came to have army, navy and air forces called the Ground Self Defense Forces, the Maritime Self Defense Forces and the Air Self Defense Forces?