Saturday, October 31, 2015

The One Child Left Behind Policy

I hope to be on Al-Jazeera later today, talking about the Park-Abe-Li trilateral summit.

In the meanwhile, the latest* from Japan's master of political cartoons, Sato Masaaki, on the reception Mr. Abe may receive when he meets with the other two leaders in Seoul.


Li Keqiang: "The One Child All By His Lonesome" Policy will continue!

Park Geun-hye: You mean the "One Child Policy"? Aren't you discontinuing that?


(no translation necessary)


Tomorrow, try to not end up left out.


* Original image in color. Color removed to avoid copyright infringement.

Friday, October 30, 2015


It is one of my favorite prescient quotes in the Japanese political science literature:
"One of the most important conclusions to come out of the case of Japan is that the standards of a poor leader vary greatly by institutional and political context. A good leader in one such context may be a poor leader in another, but the reverse is also true. Miyazawa or Mori are good examples. Had they governed Japan 15 or 20 years before at the height of LDP dominance and not in the transition period of demands for reform with a different relationship with the media and the prime minister, they might not have done as badly. Kishi in power 35 years later with a center-left in opposition would have not had to violate democratic norms to get the Treaty passed. On the other hand, Koizumi would not have been as successful 15 or 20 years before. A contrary case is Abe. Had he governed in a top-down cabinet government with a united parliamentary party, he might have appointed better people to his cabinet and been able to indulge his passion for foreign affairs."

- Krauss, Ellis S., and Robert Pekkanen. "9. Profiles in discourage: prime ministerial leadership in post-war Japan." Poor Leadership and Bad Governance: Reassessing Presidents and Prime Ministers in North America, Europe and Japan (2012): 173.
Indulge his passion for foreign affairs... (Link)

On the other hand, the statement on Kishi may still be too hopeful. Kishi's grandson had some difficult getting his security bills through the Diet unscathed, even with a center-left opposition and full coalition majorities in place and already on board.

As for Abe's passion, it was the subject of discussion of Timothy Langley and my second-to-last Tokyo on Fire session, recorded two weeks ago and released on October 19. (Link to Video)

Later - For the record, Krauss and Pekkanen submitted the manuscript with the above conjecture as regards an alternate universe Abe Shinzo in October 2011 -- well before Abe reemerged from his own private political Siberia to seek the presidency of the LDP for a second time.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

My Morning News for 29 October 2015

Rockin' the DPJ's Boat

Not much good is coming from DPJ head honcho Okada Katsuya's meeting last month with the Japan Communist Party's Chairman Shii Kazuo on the terms of the two parties cooperating ahead of next year's House of Councillors election. Okada nixed the JCP's offers of a coalition (Link) up to and including a seductive and bewildering JCP promise to (provisionally) accept the constitutionality of the Self Defense Forces and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty (Link). The conservative wing of the DPJ, led (provisionally) by the party Policy Research Council chief Hosono Goshi, are screaming that coalition/cooperation with the JCP would plunge the DPJ into existential crisis.

One should always be wary of the declarations of the DPJ's perfidious conservatives. However they are right in this instance: the upside of electoral cooperation is outweighed by the message of incompleteness which it telegraphs:

"We do not have what it takes to fight the Liberal Democratic Party toe-to-toe; vote for us."

DPJ Leader Okada is in a tough position. He cannot simply say, "No" to the Communists, as they could be allies after the election. However, by not immediately rubbishing what Shii says, Okada creates the opportunity for the ambitious Hosono and his supporters to open up old ideological wounds.

In the meantime former Minister of Foreign Affairs Matsumoto Takeaki, one of the perfidious conservatives (How conservative? His website is a single page), delivered his request to resign from the DPJ,  citing irreconcilable differences with the party secretariat (Link - J). The departure of the former cabinet minister is painful but not unexpected: Matsumoto has been playing footsie with the Japan Innovation Party's Matsuno Yorihisa for quite some time (Link). The son of the Kaifu Cabinet's Director-General of Defense, Matsumoto serves in a safe and conservative district.

See ya, ya LDP wannabe.

As for the DPJ, neither the current leadership group nor the rank and file have found a message resonating with the non-aligned voters. Without a means of cajoling the uncommitted to make the journey to the polls next July, grim indeed are the party's chances of defending the 15 prefectural and 26 proportional seats it has up for grabs in 2016.

Ceci N'est Pas Un Poisson

On Tuesday, the new head of the LDP's Taxation Committee, former METI minister Miyazawa , met his coalition party opposite Saito Tatsuo for the first time since LDP president Abe Shinzo kicked the former tax sumpremo Noda Takeshi upstairs. The subject of the meeting was a split in the application of the next rise in the consumption tax, scheduled to take place on 1 April 2017. Both sides agree that certain everyday items should continue to be taxed at the present 8% rather than at the scheduled 10%. However, the parties are wide apart on what those items should be, with the LDP proposing to limit the lower rate to "fresh food" so as to blunt the loss of revenues. The Komeito, by contrast, wants all food and non-alcoholic drink to be taxed at the lower rate, shrugging off the tripling of the loss in revenues under such a broad definition. (Link)

The beauty of the Komeito's suggestion is its relatively simplicity: if people eat a product in the form in which it is sold, then it is taxed at the lower rate. The LDP's attempt to define "fresh foods," by contrast, leads to peculiar outcomes, the current favorite being that a large chunk of raw fish is fresh food while that same piece of fish sliced for consumption as sashimi is not.

Cue the TV announcers reporting from a supermarket, holding trays of fish both sliced and unsliced.

For two guys sitting and talking for an hour last Friday all about the consumption tax rise, check out me and Timothy Langley on the latest edition of Tokyo on Fire (Tokyo on Fire - Episode 30).

We Don't Need No Stinkin' International Court of Justice

As mentioned here last week, in response to the International Court of Justice's ruling that Japan's research whaling program violates the terms of the 1986 moratorium of the International Whaling Commission, the Abe Cabinet vewy, vewy qwietly proposed on October 6 an astonishing exemption of whaling from the ICJ's jurisdiction. Just how quietly became evident as the nation's broadcasters and new organizations reported on the story as news for the first time yesterday (Video - J). The Yomiuri Shimbun's English account, with its "learned Wednesday" of a story reported here a week ago, is especially precious. (Link)

What is mind boggling is that the unilateral exemption of whaling from ICJ jurisdiction contradicts Japanese government strategy, not just as regards the whaling issue but all of international relations. The government of Japan has traditionally and this Abe government particularly interested in arguing for a need to respect the rule of law in international relations. This strategic choice, due in part to Japan's position as a reticent military actor, puts Japan on a moral and tactical higher plane than its grand regional rival China, which is more likely to cite the judgment of history as the justification for its actions.

Why no one in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has pointed out the government is throwing out the baby with the bathwater only adds to an ineluctable sense of wonder at this evolving story.

Gotta Dance, Gotta Dance

Professor Jennifer Robertson of the University of Michigan should be feeling pretty spiffy today. In 1989 she produced a then pretty out-there paper on how the Takarazuka Review informed the behavior and public discussion of lesbians in the Late Taisho and Early Showa periods. (First Link Displayed)

Yesterday Masuhara Hiroko and Higashi Koyuki were first in line to register as partners under Shibuya's City new (and so far the country's only) program creating a legal equivalent of gay marriage. In a nice bow to history, Higashi, the tall one (naturally) is a former Takarazuka otoko yaku (male lead). (Link)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

My Morning News for 22 October 2015

What has caught my attention:

- Still slack-jawed with amazement am I at the Government of Japan's seemingly brand new approach to the decision of the International Court of Justice on the so-called scientific whaling program, outlined in this pdf available on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website:

For a government that has until this point claimed the moral high ground in disputes, calling for a strict adherence to international law (Link) the Abe administration claim that the ICJ does not have jurisdiction anymore over research whaling is mind-blowing. Taking disputes to the ICJ is a consensual process: both states accede adjudication willingly, under the presumption that whatever the Court's decision will be, the states will abide by it.

Unsurprisingly, the Australian Government is stunned by the GOJ's move (Link 1 and Link 2). What can the government of Australia do? Rescind the just agreed-upon visit by the Prime Minister (Link)? Downgrade security coordination? Mess with the submarine acquisition?

As for the Abe Government/MOFA, what the heck do they think they are doing? Is not strict adherence to the rule of law the cudgel of choice for bashing the People's Republic of China for that country's actions in the East China and South China Seas? Or does the rule of law only apply to territorial disputes (a possible reading of Abe's address to the U.S. Congress, cited above)?

- Party time at the party headquarters!

Masterful is the Liberal Democratic Party's latest gambit on a two-tiered system for the legally-mandated rise in the consumption tax from 8% to 10% on 1 April 2017: have the list of those items eligible for a lower tax rate expand incrementally (Link - J).

Absolutely gob-smacking brilliant! Have a tiny list of items at the outset, simplifying the passage of the necessary adjustment legislation through the upcoming 2016 Regular Session of the Diet, allowing the coalition partner Komeito to keep its promises of a lower tax rate for household necessities made to the Married Women's Division of the Sokka Gakkai. Include the new, lower tax rate as a part of the package of goodies coalition candidates can crow about in their House of Councillors campaigns next summer. Then, from here until eternity, have representatives of companies and industrial & consumer groups lounging around in the hallways of the LDP, begging for inclusion of their items in the list of "household necessities."

- I wrote a short piece for the FCCJ's Number One Shimbun arguing that Abe Shinzo is likely to avoid visiting Yasukuni for the rest of his term in office. My reasoning? Abe has found something even better than Yasukuni. (Link)

I have worried that Abe can reverse himself, that in the giddy atmosphere of Abe's unchallenged reelection as president of the LDP and the continuing lack of public interest in the opposition parties he might pay a visit to Yasukuni out of sheer adolescent exhilaration.

My worries were considerably lessened by Hagi'uda Ko'ichi's declaration to the Nikkei that in the name of regional peace Abe need not go to Yasukuni (Link). If Hagi'uda, the Yasukuni bagman (Link) whom I have characterized as Abe's "Id" (in the Freudian sense, with Abe as the Ego and Suga as the Super-Ego) is now on board with Abe's avoiding Yasukuni in the interests of diplomacy, then the deal is pretty much done.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Flaming Cabinet Pick Threat Level: DISCO INFERNO

Panchi yori
Pantsu ga saki ni
nyukaku shi

Before "The Punch"
It is "The Pants" ("the underpants")
Who got in the Cabinet first!

- Tweeted senryu by @damdamj, retweeted by Senator Yamamoto Taro


Most of the time the push-off replies "No Comment" and "I will not dignify that question with an answer" are the politician's friends.

There are some questions, though, which a politician has to answer with a direct "Yes" or "No" and let the chips fall as they may.

This afternoon, newly minted Minister of Reconstruction Takagi Tsuyoshi, shown below seated beside the Prime Minister at today's 14th meeting of the Reconstruction Promotion Council (this is a just-released tweet from the Prime Minister's Residence) was confronted by one such question. Rather than surrender to the inevitable, he reached into the grab bag of push-off answers and let fly with one of the politer of the formulaic phrases:

「今日はそういった場所ではございませんので、お答えを控えさせていただく」 (Link - J)

"Today we are not at a place where we should be talking of such things so I should like to forego responding to your question at this time."

Minister Takagi Tsuyoshi

Unfortunately for Minister Takagi, the question being yelled at him at the Prime Minister's Residence was in regards certain allegations of misconduct of a rather peculiar kind. These allegations have been prominent in the headlines of the scandal sheets and the weekly magazines this week.

What was the question?

"Minister Takagi, it is true you were arrested 30 years ago for breaking into a young woman's home and stealing her underwear?"

Hope as one might, plead for delay as one might, there is no wiggle room here, so to speak.

This was really a "Yes" or "No" moment for Takagi.

Blew it he did.

By choosing to evade the question, he has instead opened the floodgates for what is a rising tide of ridicule.

Will the brand new minister's increasingly likely resignation damage the Abe administration? No, not significantly.

Will the resignation of a minister only 10 days after his installation increase pressure on Prime Minister Abe to reverse his present course and instead schedule an Extraordinary Diet Session for sometime in the last two months of this year? Possibly.

As for the above senryu it is a play on the words panchi ("punch") and pantsu ("underpants") which are separated by a single space in the table of the kana syllabary. "The Punch" referred to is the fist of Liberal Democratic Party Senator and former Ground Self Defense Forces Colonel Sato Masahisa in the face of Democratic Party of Japan Senator Konishi Yukihiro, a misleading image made infamous by The New York Times. (Link)

Colonel Sato, despite being one of the Prime Minister's favorite Senators and invaluable in the campaign to push (literally, in the final showdown) the security legislation through the House of Councillors, was not rewarded for his service with a cabinet post.