Thursday, July 31, 2008
I am not mocking any country - well, the United States, a little.
Instead, judging from the contents of their server, the Board of Geographical Names-- the advisory body to the U.S. Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency that so offended the government and people of South Korea over a redesignation of the sovereignty of Dokdo/Takeshima that President George W. Bush had to intervene -- seems to be a lot like the editorial board of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: permanently out to lunch.
As with The Guide, it looks as though anyone wishing to do some work can just find a USBGN terminal, open up a file and start ascribing sovereignty according any old scheme he or she likes.
Take the wildy variable terminology used to indicate sovereignty is unclear. If one asks about the Habomai Islands, the server tells you that they are Russian...unless you go to bottom of the page where it tells you they are Japanese. The Senkakus are Japanese, period - no hint of a dispute. Until the President Bush's intervention, Dokdo/Takeshima suffered from "undesignated sovereignty." The Spratly Islands of the South China Sea, however, are "disputed." Perplexingly, the sovereignty of the rather populated city of Jerusalem (al-Ouds) is described as, and this is the capitalization used, as "No Man's Land."
For uninhabited and uninhabitable bits of rock, sovereignty is assigned in equally arbitrary ways. The tetrapod and titanium dome protected rocks of Okinotorishima are listed as Japanese territory. However, Bassas da India, a rather equally moist coral atoll in the middle of the Mozambique Channel under the jurisidiction of France, is the purportedly governed by...Bassas da India.
Maybe the Bassasian government is hiding inside the wrecked ship.
Suffice it to say that no one should have ever become too upset at the sovereignty assignments of the Board of Geographical Names - at least not what the ones they have loaded into their information server.
There is no rhyme or reason to any of them.
As for Socotra Rock, the undersea feature claimed by both the Chinese and South Korean governments -- a claim the South Korean government has reinforced by building a base and declaring the result an island called Ieodo -- the BGN server takes mercy on poor old logic by declaring the sovereignty to be..."an undersea feature."
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
The article suggests that Japanese pressure to change the status designation of the Northern Territories from Russian sovereignty to "undesignated sovereignty" bled into the ROK-Japan dispute over the islets, leading the U.S. to no longer support the ROK's claims to Dok-do/Takeshima.
Before anyone wets their shorts over this, either for or against, I suggest taking a trip to the National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency's GNS server (http://geonames.nga.mil/ggmagaz/geonames4.asp) and searching any of these four names:
Interesting results, eh?
Danged Japanese influence. Now you see it. Now you don't.
The USBGN is a funny body. I know this because a few years back I emailed the United States Geological Survey's seismic disturbances officer after the USGS reported a large earthquake "off the Bonin Islands." I suggested that this was a darn peculiar designation to still be using 30 years after the reversion of the islands to Japanese sovereignty. In a very courteous written reply the officer explained that he had no control over the designation, that it was officially set, and that when the board that decided such things changed the designation he would of course comply with the new designation.
Later - Gosh this is fun. According to the GNS server, the Habomai-shotō and the Habomai Islands at 43°30' 00" N 146°10' 00" E are Russian territory but the Habomai-shotō and the Habomai Islands at 43°30' 00" N 146°10' 00" E are Japanese territory.
The barren island 250 meters off the Moroccan coast that the Spanish call Isla del Perejil, to which Spain sent commandos in 2002 to evict 6 occupying Moroccan troops, is actually the Moroccan island of Leila.
Take that Spain!
And as any right winger could tell you, there are no Diaoyutai Islands.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
An understanding of the politics behind government decision making over the next few months will depend on ascertaining what it is that the New Kōmeitō probably wants -- such as may be the case in the government's reported abandonment of any attempt to extend the Air Self Defense Forces mission to the Gulf.
Japan to Help Fishing Industry With Fuel Costs, Asahi ReportsIn its original report this morning, the Asahi could not help but point out the hypocrisy of the ruling coalition's cave, noting that last year in the run up to July House of Councillors election the coalition criticized the Democratic Party of Japan's plan to expand agriculure subsidies to all farmers as "tossing rose petals about in all directions" (baramaki) policy. Having been scared and scarred by their electoral losses last year, the paper concludes, the parties making up the ruling coalition have gutlessly adopted the strategies of their opponents.
July 29 -- Japan will provide 74.5 billion yen ($693 million) in aid to help the fishing industry cope with rising fuel costs, the Asahi newspaper reported, without saying where it got the information.
About 8 billion yen will be provided for subsidies covering up to 90 percent of the increase in fuel costs since December, the newspaper said.
The remaining funds will be for loans to improve fuel efficiency and other support measures, the report said. The package is scheduled to be announced today, the Asahi said...
So fishing vessels are as vital to the economic and social life of Japan as rural bus systems and local governments, the previous recipients of fuel subsidy support.
Cue the "fish play a crucial, almost spiritual role in the Japanese diet (no pun intended)" fanfare.
And yet...I cannot help noticing the prominence of the New Kōmeitō in the
Now this is damn peculiar. Where does Kitagawa get the authority to announce upcoming government policies?
Luckily, we have Okumura Jun around to do the heavy lifting. As he revealed in a blog post in March, the Maritime Self Defense Forces Aegis destroyer Atago did not just hit and sink any old fishing boat in February with the loss of all onboard. The Atago sank a fishing vessel crewed by New Kōmeitō supporters (i.e....you know what I mean).
Did the New Kōmeitō/Sōka Gakkai lean on the bereaved family members of the lost fishermen, encouraging them to receive the abject apologies of both the Minister of Defense and the Prime Minister? Did the New Kōmeitō work hard to make sure that the controversy died down despite the rage of the other members of the Katsu'ura fishing cooperative? Did the Liberal Democratic Party, especially Defense Minister Ishiba Shigeru, come to owe the New Kōmeitō a huge debt of gratitude for getting the loss of the two fisherman off the front pages?
A debt that might someday come due in the form of the New Kōmeitō's ascribing to itself the role of savior of the fishermen, able to squeeze blood from the budget stone as the fisherman's true friend and protector?
Superbowl of soup bowl goes to Japanese champIn other news, Bloomberg is still paying William Pesek, long after his shōmikigen has passed.
Alex Kennedy, Singapore - July 29, 2008 - A small but enthusiastic crowd got its first taste of professional eating yesterday as the sports' two titans made their debut in the city-state.
About 300 competitive eating fans roared as local favourite Takeru Kobayashi, of Japan, slammed home five kilograms of chicken satay in 12 minutes...
Eel drink for Japan's hot summer
TOKYO (AP) — It's the hottest season of the year in Japan, and that means it's eel season. So, bottom's up!
A canned drink called "Unagi Nobori," or "Surging Eel," made by Japan Tobacco Inc., hit the nation's stores this month just ahead of Japan's annual eel-eating season, company spokesman Kazunori Hayashi said Monday.
"It's mainly for men who are exhausted by the summer's heat," Hayashi said of the beverage, believed to be the first mass-produced eel drink in Japan.
Many Japanese believe eating eel boosts stamina in hot weather.
The fizzy, yellow-colored drink contains extracts from the head and bones of eel and five vitamins — A, B1, B2, D and E — contained in the fish...
Celebrating the navel in Japan's "belly button"
By Hiroyuki Muramoto - SHIBUKAWA, Japan - It was belly-up for thousands of people who indulged in a weekend of navel gazing at a festival dedicated to the belly button in central Japan.
Children and adults, many of them sporting painted stomachs, took part at the annual Belly Button Festival in Shibukawa, north of Tokyo, where dancing in the streets is compulsory.
"The belly button is traditionally believed to be located in the middle of the body and the most important part. Our town, Shibukawa, is also called the belly button of Japan, and that is how this festival began," said festival organizer Kazuo Yamada...
Japan's parents party to marry off stay-at-home kids
By Mari Saito - TOKYO - The Japanese are true hands-on parents, helping their children with everything from university entrance exams to finding a job. Now, they're playing matchmakers, and on a nationwide level.
Japanese traditionally house and support their children until marriage, which has usually occurred at a younger age than now.
But as the kids stay at home longer due to job uncertainty and an unwillingness to compromise, panicked parents are flocking to mass matchmaking events at hotels and conference centers...
Sloth and inertia brought on by the hot weather, I guess.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Yama Agesai - Children's outdoor kabuki, originally performed to ward off summer epidemics. Each performance lasts about 50 minutes, then the entire stage is dissembled, moved to the next neighborhood location and rebuilt.
Fifteen performances over 2 1/2 days.
Final scene of "Masakado"
Nakanocho 4 pm performance. July 26, 2008.
Click on image to see in larger size.
in Nakanocho and Kioicho
Karasuyama City, Tochigi Prefecture
July 26, 2008
Photo courtesy: MTC
Friday, July 25, 2008
Because the New Kōmeitō is concerned that its image as a party of peace is being compromised by its acquiescence heretofore to the repeated passage of the Anti-Terror laws (which have legalized the dispatches of Maritime Self Defense Forces ships to the Indian Ocean and Air Self Defense Forces fixed-wing aircraft to Iraq, both in logistical support roles) the party wants to avoid voting on the renewal again.
In order to avoid having to vote on a renewal of the maritime dispatch law, which sunsets on January 15, 2009, the New Kōmeitō is simultaneously asking its coalition partner the Liberal Democratic Party to:
1) call the extraordinary fall session of the Diet to order in mid-September rather than late August and
2) dissolve the Diet in early December, setting up a House of Representatives election in mid-January.
If the Prime Minister were to call the extraordinary session to order in late August that would leave plenty of time for the ruling coalition to pass the renewal legislation in the House of Representatives, wait the 60 days required by Article 59 of the Constitution for the override of non-budget, non-treaty related legislation ignored or rejected by the House of Councillors, then override using the ruling coalition's two-thirds majority-- all within the same Diet session, as is required by law.
So to avoid this the New Kōmeitō wants to start the fall session late. That way, come early December, the party can throw up its hands and say, "Oh, darn. We ran out of time. We just have to let the renewal wait until after the New Years holidays!"
Now as to the need to get the House of Representatives election out of the way early next year the reason being proffered is -- and I am not making this up -- that the New Kōmeitō wants to have no distractions next year as it prepares for the all-important Tokyo prefectural assembly elections of mid-July.
So national elections are a distraction; the real prize is seats in the Tokyo assembly.
Now into this mix throw loose talk, encouraged and abetted by bored political journalists, of a cabinet reshuffle. New Kōmeitō leaders are doing their damnedest to squelch such speculation, dismissing a reshuffle as unlikely to raise Prime Minister Fukuda's popularity ratings.
This almost certainly true--and anything true in all this political gamesmanship is conspicuous for its lonesomeness (all apologies to Mark Twain, from whom that line is stolen). With only a few minor exceptions (Hatoyama Kunio) the current Cabinet is the best the coalition could hope for. As stated earlier posts, where is there this fanciful second string of all-stars, ready to jump in to replace the Rule and Reign of the Faction Leaders?
Furthermore, if one is going to dissolve the Diet anyway in less than six month's time (I am following here the purported ideal New Kōmeitō political calendar) what would be the point of reshuffling the Cabinet now? Nothing would make the ruling coalition look more shallow and sleazy than the appointment of a whole new slew of actors, only to dismiss them less than six months later.
Oh sure, one could appoint a cabinet out of spite, dragging the Koizumi loyalists out of their all-important -- and I am not making this up either -- bowling at the Prince Tower Hotel. The willingness of the Koizumi Kids to fight under the LDP banner is becoming less credible by the day, especially after LDP Elections Measures Chairman Koga Makoto's rejected basically all of the Koizumi "assassins" as unworthy of being LDP district candidates.
However, it is doubtful that Prime Minister Fukuda is depraved enough to summon a cabinet Koizumi loyalists just to prevent them from slipping the bonds of the LDP. Asking them to form a government could also end in embarrassment for Fukuda -- they might just refuse to accept their appointments.
So what do we have, at the end of the day and the work week?
- A sadly unpopular prime minister with no post-G8 Summit bump (a result of the attendance at the Summit of a certain Texan of very little brain. Why did the organizers invite him? Oh, right) and little likelihood of a post-reshuffle bounce.
- A partner in the ruling coalition that would rather bring the House down than let its members vote their consciences
- A citizenry so primed to dump the ruling party that in some districts the opposition could put up a dog as a candidate and win.
Me, I think I'll flee north, to Karasuyama.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
An analytical weakness - I have never understood how such a high-powered advocacy group for classical liberalism could be so bereft of influence.
A reminder that Tokyo's time will come.
The political earthquake this morning is a sudden coordinated spate of public musings by Liberal Democratic Party power brokers about an election either before or after New Years. According to an article in the Nihon Keizai Shinbun, Election Measures Chairman Koga Makoto and Deputy Election Measures Chairman Suga Yoshihide (not a current bio) both floated trial balloons about a House of Representatives election this fall.
Now if this had been just one of the two elections officers, the other members of the central core leadership of the LDP could just shrug off the suggestion of the need for an election in either December or January as"X-san is just blowing off steam." However, with Koga and his deputy both offering the same message in speaking engagements at opposite ends of the central axis of the country (Koga spoke in Tokyo, Suga in Fukuoka) the other LDP leaders are faced with nearly a fait accompli.
In the paper's view, the Koga-Suga maneuver is somehow connected to the desire of the New Komeitō leadership to not have its representatives vote yet again on a renewal of the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law. The New Komeitō's women's and youth arms have been unhappy, reportedly, at the party's support for a policy with only the vaguest connection to the defense of Japan, one which sullies the mother organization Sōka Gakkai's reputation as a force for peace.
This is probably a bit of a stretch. With the certainty that the current ruling coalition will lose its two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives, the LDP's relations with its coalition partner are more likely to be of the "Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma'am" variety (all apologies to those of tender sensibitilities and to David Bowie) than of the deferential and caring variety.
The LDP allied itself with the New Komeitō in order to consolidate a majority in the House of Representatives - when the coalition also controlled the House of Councillors. Control of the House of Councillors has since passed to the Democratic Party of Japan, possibly for another five years.
It will almost certainly be pointless for the LDP to continue its alliance with New Komeitō post-election. In the most likely scenario, the LDP will gratefully accept the get-out-the-vote efforts of the New Komeitō machine over the frenetic, passionate weeks of the campaign -- whenever it may take place -- but on the morning after the big night, the New Komeitō leaders will awaken to find the love nest empty, with a note on the counter explaining how the two sides had grown apart.
What I am saying is that when you are set to leave 'em, you generally do not arrange your schedule to fit their plans.
Later - Weirdness. Reuters has one take on the news in its English version and a very different one in its Japanese version.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Okumura Jun unpeals the special budget for the government's urgent policy priorities and in the center finds ... nothing much.
In a nice segueway from Okumura-san's discussion of budgetary hocus-pocus, Ambassador Thomas Schieffer (whom I met last month and who turns out to be a knowledgeable, humble and politically astute individual--demonstrating yet again the danger of accepting popular media tropes) homes in upon the unreal vacuum at the center of the debate about Japan's potential for becoming a "normal nation," much less a permanent member of the Security Council: what it costs to be a politico-military heavyweight.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
I have to agree, if I were to rate Hamazono Beach, the score would not be very high.
Spare a moment's thought this long summer holiday for the poor Liberal Democratic Party member of the House of Councillors--elected just one July ago.
He/she gets to go to all the party meetings. He/she has to attend all the party functions. In many cases he/she has to attend all faction meetings and functions.
Gets to go to restaurants with cronies and journalists to talk politics into wee hours.
Hang out with smoky-breathed supporters, some alive, some somewhat less than alive.
Campaign on behalf of other LDP members in the rain, in the sun, in the wind.
Go to the his or her Diet office to wait for the call to order...that never comes.
Bored out of their fricking minds, they must be.
In the last Diet their counterparts in the Democratic Party of Japan -- along with their bossom buddies the Socialists, Communists and People's New Party -- did stunningly little as well.
But the old adage goes something like this:
"It is no fun to have nothing to do. What is fun is to have something to do....and to then not do it."And to think, it will be only five more years before the LDP has a decent chance, oh heck, any chance at recovering control of the House of Councillors...
I myself will be away for a few days, at some point one hopes sitting on the summit of Kita Dake, this blessed land's second highest mountain (3193m).
Friday, July 18, 2008
On Wednesday, Chairman of the Policy Research Council Tanigaki Sadakazu celebrated his 25th year in the Diet with a reception in--wait, can you guess? Oh you are too smart--yes, that's right, a Tokyo hotel.
The celebration of one's 25th year in the Diet supposed to be a grand affair. Diet members who have stuck it out for a quarter century get a raft of special privileges, including free use of an official car (Koizumi Jun'ichirō caused a historic stink by refusing the car--asking why the hell one gets the use of a car just for having sat around a long time). The silver anniversary is a supposed to be a big, big deal.
Despite Tanigaki's longevity, his current high position in the party hierarchy and his supposed status as a prime minister material, only "around 30" members of the Diet showed up for his reception.
True, it is summer and many Diet members are back in their home districts busting their tails trying to beat back the influence of Ozawa Ichirō's pander tours of the hinterlands.
But "around 30" -- that's half the size of the reconstituted Kōchikai faction!
Not even the newspapers, who have been running interference for Tanigaki for years, could cover up his staggering unpopularity:
The late former Prime Minister Miyazawa believed that (Tanigaki) was to be the future. At the time of the reunification of the Tanigaki Faction with the Koga Faction, riding as it were in the slipstream of the old Miyazawa Faction, Tanigaki was inaugurated as the faction's #2 leader. However, he has been unable to shake the evaluation that, as for the spark he would have to have to be presentable as a potential candidate for the next prime minister, "Its existence is decidedly thin."Of course they could have said, "He has the charisma of a laundry bag," and spared us the syntactical gymnastics.
I have far too much fun over the years dissing Tanigaki and dismissing his chances of becoming prime minister (just click on "Tanigaki Sadakazu" in the labels column to see a selection of my swipes--and not the worst ones either). I have also enjoyed the woozy surreality of all the articles and wire reports describing him as "one of the strongest candidates for a future prime minister" in any and all tongues. Such claims never made the least bit of sense to me, nor to anyone who had ever heard Tanigaki speaking in person.
But now that the press is willing to vouchsafe that Tanigaki is, indeed, a non-entity, I cannot help but feel a thin touch of sadness--like what you feel when you find a hole in the knee of a pair of pants that never looked very good on you but that you had just had dry cleaned.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Slightly Less Short Answer: "Yes -- by definition."
Long Answer: The Democratic Party of Japan has two routes to power.
One route is to take on the trappings of the traditional LDP, rely on promises of fiscal support to interest groups in the over-represented rural districts and the reversal of the market-based reforms of the Koizumi years, eke out enough wins in rural, suburban and urban districts to become the majority party in the House of Representatives, then cement its victory by doling out political patronage to the rural districts from out of the economic surpluses generated in the party's tradition strongholds in the urban and suburban areas, thereby seriously compromising the DPJ's longtime identity but leaving the electoral map undisturbed.
The other route is to take on the trappings of the traditional LDP, cobbling together enough angry anti-establishment, anti-market-based reform votes possible to eke out enough wins in rural, suburban and urban districts to become the majority party in the House of Representatives, then immediately turn its back on the rural districts (many of the party's rural representatives will be freshmen, by definition--and thus expendable, by definition) passing legislation eliminating and consolidating many rural electoral districts and multiplying suburban and urban ones - all this being done out of the noble intent of "eliminating disparities in the relative voting strength of the citizens" ("ippyō no kakusa") - transforming the electoral map without seriously compromising the DPJ's longtime identity.
In order to win a majority of seats in the next election, the DPJ must compromise on its traditions and ideals. However, to cement its electoral victory -- to make the victory reproducible - the DPJ must make permanent changes to either itself or to the electoral map.
Yesterday, in an agreement with the New People's Party, the DPJ agreed to alter its election manifesto on the issue of postal reform. Under the new formula, the DPJ will call for revision of the Koizumi era laws privatizing and splitting up the post office's many functions.
In return, the DPJ - New People's Party alliance hopes to receive the votes of the members of the National Special Postmen's Association (Zenkoku Yūbinkyokuchōkai, or Zentoku, for short). Party leader Ozawa Ichirō and New People's Party leader Watanuki Tamisuke had dinner on Wednesday night with Zentoku president Urano Osamu.
Aha, so it is the DPJ's traditional identity that is getting the chop!
Not so fast.
First, technically, the DPJ had no input in the reforms of the post office enacted after the LDP's landslide victory in the 2005 House of Representatives elections. The reforms were the handiwork of Prime Minister and LDP President Koizumi Jun'ichirō. By modifying its stand on postal reform, the DPJ is merely changing its opinion of an LDP-instigated reform.
Second, cloning the LDP in order to beat the LDP is a one-shot deal. When the citizens find out that handing Ozawa Ichirō and the Democrats power does not lead to a new, different style of governance, they will toss the DPJ out on the street in the very next House of Representatives election, including and especially many of the party's core leaders.
Not a good thing, especially for the party's core leaders.
The better, more Machiavellian strategy will be to betray the party's newest supporters in the rural areas (and the revived alliance with the People's New Party) not the party's base in the cities and suburbs. New supporters will be fickle and untrustworthy anyway - they had until so very recently been the supporters of another party. Sacrificing their interests in favor of the "nation as a whole" will be easy. (Sacrificing the alliance with the People's New Party, which petulantly suspended cooperation with the Democrats over the nomination of Ikeo Kazuhito to the Board of Governors of the Bank of Japan, will be even easier.)
The Democratic Party will also almost certainly promise to take good care of the Diet members whose electoral districts are marked for elimination ("A nice new Kanagawa single seat district with ocean fronting, perhaps? What's not to like?")
Are the Democrats duplicitous enough to pull this off? The strongest indication of that the answer is "Yes" came in June when House of Councillors Speaker Eda Satsuki (a Democrat, though officially non-aligned for appearances' sake) very quietly asked the House of Councillors Reform Conference (San'in kaikaku kyogikai) to look into the reapportionment of House Councillors district and regional bloc seats in order to rectify the huge disparities in between the voting strengths of the least populated and most populated prefectures.
Now such a reform of the voting strength disparities in the House of Councillors (at their worst, up to 5 times - meaning that the votes of some citizens are worth 1/5 the votes of others) has been a longtime topic of House of Councillors deliberations.
It has also been, for an equally long time, something of a parlor game. In some publications the member of the House of Councillors are called "Senators," and that is not a bad description. Like the United States Senate or the senates in other republics, the House of Councillors is not supposed to proportionally represent populations. Representing populations proportionately is the job of the House of Representatives.
(Whether the Diet's House of Representatives actually does this is another question...a question whose answer is "No.")
Indeed, by not reflecting proportional voting patterns, the House of Councillors--when it is operating according to its constitutional ideals--is supposed to function as a brake on populism.
(Hello, Twisted Diet!)
So if the apportionment of House of Councillors seats does not necessarily have to be representative to be constitutionally useful, then what is Eda (who is no dummy) up to?
Could it be that apportioning more House of Councillors seats to the urbane and suburbane prefectures (the most likely reform proposal--because one cannot cut the number of Councillors in a prefecture below two) is a dry run for a similar reform in the House of Representatives? Fighting voting strength inequality in a House the DPJ already controls will be giving the DPJ not only the experience in how to conduct a revolutionary reform of a Diet House--but the moral authority to do the same to a House it does not yet control?
It would certainly open the way for transforming a cobbled-together, skin-of-one's-teeth, promising-the-moon, fundamentally dishonest election victory into a secure, possibly permanent Democratic Party majority in the House of Representatives.
Unless, of course, some one points out to everyone Ozawa and the Democrats cannot possibly fulfill the promises they are making.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
The former head of the Asia Division of the CIA's Clandestine Service--the black arm of the world's most sprawling and powerful intelligence service -- cries now to the unblinking heavens that the Administration's removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terror hangs the Japanese government out to dry.
Not only will our taking North Korea off the state-sponsored terrorist list strengthen the regime and reward those minimal responses, it is a direct blow to our strongest ally in the region, Japan, which believes it had at least 13 (and possibly dozens more) citizens kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and '80s.One would have thought that telling the Bush Administration in no uncertain terms that wrapping up North Korea inside a package called the Axis of Evil, then having the U.S. military overthrow the government of one member of the Axis, would make it impossible to stop North Korea (and Iran too) from embarking on accelerated nuclear weapons development path.
Resolving this abductee issue goes to the fundamental integrity of the Japanese government. If the situation were reversed, and Americans were grabbed off a dark Florida beach by a Cuban patrol boat, we would go to war to bring them home.
But America has pledged to protect Japan in return for the Japanese forgoing offensive arms. Taking the Japanese abductees off the negotiating table while leaving North Korea with its existing weapons may cause Tokyo to question the utility of that pledge. North Korea’s missiles can’t hit us, but Japan is well within the kill zone.
No one should imply that North Korea is an easy nut to crack. Smart folks on both sides of the domestic political aisle have struggled with this challenge. North Korea has shown no intention of giving up its nuclear weapons, and we are unfortunately not in a position to either force or entice it to do so. Despite all the spin out of the talks among the six concerned parties — China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the United States — there is no reason to honestly assume North Korea will ever give up its nuclear capability.
But things are not made any better by pretending that we are making progress, as Washington seems to have decided to do, or by ignoring the real concerns of our allies. Our approach to North Korea calls for a lot more honesty and, in the eyes of those with more at risk, a greater dose of sincerity. There is more at stake here than just North Korean bombs.
One would have thought that shutting down A. Q. Khan's clandestine sales network of uranium enrichment technology, part of which purportedly sent a series of care packages to the DPRK, before February 2004 would have been a fantastic thing to do.
Either of those two actions (oh, action...why are you so hard to do?) would have significantly contributed to an increase in Japan's current security.
But I suppose that Mr. Brown had other priorities.
"Resolving this abductee issue goes to the fundamental integrity of the Japanese government."
Give me a break, please.
Resolving the abductee issue goes to the fundamental legitimacy of a certain subdivision within the Japanese political elite, one which is strangely and quite transparently attracted to the purchase and deployment of weapons systems as a means of
But since he was one of the principals in the development and implementation of a totally failed set of policies, why can he not maintain a decent silence as his successors try to salvage something from the havoc wreaked?
Hattip to NP for pointing out this New York Times op-ed to me.
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
I had sworn to myself I would not write again about L'Affaire Tamamoto.
However, I will break my promise to myself.
At the time of Komori Yasuhisa's attacks on Tamamoto Masaru's character and person and the "suspension" of the JIIA's nascent online essay series "Commentary," apologists excused Ambassador Satō Yukio's caving in to pressure on the grounds that the essays Tamamoto was publishing "were just not very good."
That Tamamoto's effective dismissal (he was madogiwaed) and the effective cancellation of "Commentary" came as the result of his poor judgment over the quality of the essays, not due to his progressive politics.
I would submit, ladies and gentlemen of the Jury, for your review, a pair of recent essays from the now properly vetted and reviewed "AJISS Commentary" as evidence:
- Simpleminded or Farsighted? - The US' handling of North Korea
- Japan's Role in a New Paradigm Shift
I am sure you will agree that whatever reasons JIIA may claim compels it to disseminate these two essays, the "quality" of the argument presented is not one of them.
The alarmists were right: the 2006 dispute was very much about politics...and about how close we were to come to witnessing the rise of a very ugly Japan.
Bell of the Jimmu-ji
Zushi City, Kanagawa Prefecture
July 6, 2008
Monday, July 07, 2008
On Thursday, July 3, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, the country's premier business daily and the Voice of The Establishment, played the concern troll for the entire nation on the subject of immigration.
In an editorial entitled "When the Government is Thinking about Aid for the Education and Training of Foreign Settlers, Thinking About A Human Resources Opening of the Country" (Teijū gaikokujin no kyōiku kunren ni seifu mo shien o, jinzai kaikoku o kangaeru) the editors of the Nikkei wanted to come out and say:
"We do not like the thought of having immigrants coming to Japan to live and work. Period."
They knew, however, that such a bald statement would be seen for what it is: an anachronistic, ethnocentric knee-jerk display of bigotry.
So instead of being upfront about fears that Japan could become a nation of immigrants, the editors expressed their concern -- by presenting a picture of what Japan might become.
For this exercise, they relied on the Liberal Democratic Party's liberal wing for a template.
On June 19 the "Project Team for the Way to An Immigration Nation with Japanese Characteristics" (Nihongata imin kokka e no michi purojekuto chiimu) -- a division of the LDP's national strategy directorate (kokka senryaku honbu) nominally overseen by Kimura Yoshio but widely portrayed as being under the sway of former LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao, the LDP's current champion of classical liberalism--suggested that Japan have an immigrant population of at least 10 million, i.e., about 10% of the population , quintupling the current figure, by 2050.
A goal which, given the rate of worker retirements and the low birthrate, and in comparison to European, American and Australian figures, is actually quite modest.
"Aha!" went the shout in the editorial offices of the Nikkei. "So it is 10% foreigner population that is the goal, it it? Hmmm...is there a place in Japan that today has around a 10% foreign population--a microcosm, if you will, of what Japan would be like under this plan?"
Oh, yes. Of course.
"Minokamo City is a city of 55,000 people. About 5900 persons, that is to say about 10.8% of the population, are foreigners, most whom are Brazilians of Japanese ancestry (nikkei brazirujin). Restricting oneself to counting only persons in between the ages of 20 and 29, then one out of four persons in the city is a foreigner. Most are working in Sony Corp. subsidiaries that are manufacturing mobile telephones and digital cameras.The editorial goes on from there. It is worth the effort to grab the full text while it is still available.
When you go around the corner, what catches your eye are the restaurant signs and garbage separation rules signs, written in Portuguese. Emergency broadcasts in the city are two language, Japanese and Portuguese.
In the public elementary and middle schools, 240 children have foreign nationality. Of those, half cannot understand Japanese. In order to get the children to adjust to student life, the city five years ago established its own classrooms to given instruction on minimal Japanese and Japanese culture. Together with a non-profit organization, it has begun providing Japanese courses for adults too.
What caused the increase in the number of foreigners (gaikokujin) was the 1990 Immigration-Control and Refugee-Recognition Act revision that admitted without limitation persons of Japanese ancestry. It was a means to respond to the dearth of labor during the bubble years. At first most of those taking advantage of the program were temporary workers staying only a short time and then returning home. Now the stays have become lengthy ones, with an increase in the persons inviting their families to come over. At the end of last year the number of Brazilians living in Japan reached 317,000, with 80,000 of them holding permanent residence status (eijūken)."
The above extract nevertheless demonstrates most of the editorial strategies employed.
- Fear of complexity
Rather than coming out and saying, "Immigration would be bad for the cohesion of the nation," the editors instead show how complicated life has become in places where foreigners are numerous--how the city has to print its posters in more than just one language and how emergency messages, announcements that can mean the difference between surviving a disaster or perishing, must be broadcast in two languages.
- Fear of an emerging underclass
A recurring concern theme is how vulnerable the new immigrants are -- half their children cannot function at school, the adults do not have basic life skills. Later on, it talks about how sad it is that companies exploit immigrant workers, who do not know how to or cannot defend themselves against unfair working conditions. Foreigners also do not understand or trust the national healthcare system, leaving them unwilling to seek medical help early on.
All throughout this first section and all the way through to the end, the sentences sway effortlessly between foreigners (gaikokujin) persons of Japanese ancestry (nikkeijin) and Brazilians (burajirujin) -- as if these three were interchangeable terms for the same entity.
The net effect of the essay is a profound sense of unease with a strong hint of decay, as if the presence of a proportionally significant populations foreigners in Minokamo and other similar towns in Gunma and Shizuoka has led to communities becoming unhinged. "We are concerned," the editors are hinting, "that what we see in these towns is the future of an immigration nation, where institutions are taxed beyond their limits, where so many cannot integrate themselves into society and where the laws are applied and obeyed only capriciously."
Hinting...but not saying...because the editors know it is a crock.
The disordered situation of Minokamo, Hamamatsu and most other towns with a large number of Brazilian and Peruvian residents is not a consequence of immigration numbers or even immigrant labor --but due to a specific, racist program. The 1990 revision did not open the door wide for immigrants who had specific capabilities, who were enthusiastic about living in Japan or who were escaping from an oppressive or life-threatening political system. It opened the door wide for the admittance of person whose faces, family names and ancestry (blood and semen) would not offend bigots.
The Japanese ancestry readmittance program had nothing to do with immigration--in fact, it was the negation of immigration. In the ideology of the bloodline and the fatherland, the Brazilians and Peruvians were returnees --persons who would fit in in Japan because of their genes, no matter what almost a century of life in Latin America had done to them culturally and psychologically.
That they have not fit in is proof not that entire idea was irrational, racist, unscientific and just plain dumb.
For the purposes of the editors of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, however, the failure of the ethno-centric, racialist program can somehow serve as an emblem of the spectre of an immigrant Japan.
And they are *concerned.*
The July 3 editorial is a hint of a rapidly widening rift opening up between Japanese multinationals and the small- and medium-sized companies on the subject of immigration.
The multinationals (and the irony of the appellation is not lost on me) are terrified of immigration. Their separate identities are maintained by their vast, seniority-based hierarchies, where loyalty is expected to be lifelong and groupthink is enforced by vast webs of unspoken codes and habitudes. Foreigners simply do not fit in in these structures--they are constantly demand rationality, fairness, honesty and just compensation--demands which are anathema to most managers of Japan's megacorporations (there are exceptions to this--I have met them). If a given multinational has a need to reduce labor costs to remain competitive, then the multinational has the option of simply assigning a non-core task to a foreign subsidiary or foreign supplier. Actual acceptance of foreigners into the core company can be avoided--indeed, one does not even want them living in one's cities and towns because the presence of Others makes things...complicated.
Complicated and distressing.
For medium- and small-sized companiess, the inculcation of lifelong obedience and demand obedience and loyalty from their employees only from the managerial core, which very often is comprised of family members.
More important to medium- and small-sized companies is the simple acquisition of labor, at the lowest cost possible. These companies cannot farm out their labor needs to divisions in other countries--they often do not have such divisions. What they need a way for low-cost labor to come to them.
Hence the split in the revisions of immigration policies advocated by Japan's business lobbies. The big boys of the Nippon Keidanren, while not hostile to immigration, want it to be limited to non-threatening, skilled labor--to educated persons with difficult-to-replicate attributes. This inception of persons with special skills is the kind of immigration that even the Nihon Keizai Shimbun is willing to countenance. I believe it to be the kind of immigration Deborah Milly is talking about in this somewhat jargony piece for CSIS.
By contrast, the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry represents a broader swath of Japan's corporations. It is interested in the legalizing the inception of low-cost, reasonable quality labor -- without caveats or concerns. It does not matter what color the workers skins may be, or that their Japanese is accented or imperfect, or whatever it is they will be doing does not require special skills. If foreign workers are willing to do the job at the wage being offered whilst living in Japan, obeying the laws and adapting as best they can to the unwritten rules of society, then the JCCI wants the government to develop the legal framework making it possible for firms to employ them.
Something for the embassies, trade missions and human rights advocates to keep in mind when investigating "Japan's attitude toward immigration" -- or so I would venture.
Hat tip the Asia Policy Point newsletter for the link to the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry policy paper.
Thanks also (belated) to D and jam for expressing their views.
Friday, July 04, 2008
Japan goes missing: invisible host at the summit
By Philip Stephens - July 3 2008 19:18 - I have a question. Where is Japan? The world leaders and accompanying media hordes heading this weekend for the shores of Lake Toya need not turn to their atlases. The question is one of psychology rather than geography. Japan is still the world’s second most powerful economy. Politically, it is all but invisible.
This is all of a piece with its barely visible profile in the global arena. I spend a fair part of my life on the international conference circuit. Never before have governments – of rising as well as mature powers – devoted as much time to peering into their crystal balls in search of a new geopolitical landscape. By and large – I can think of one recent exception – Japan is absent from such events. What is more, Japan's place in the new order rarely merits mention by its peers.
Scroll back to the late 1980s. Japan was the rising power. Academics and journalists fell over themselves in the rush to predict that its economic might was destined to eclipse that of the US. When foreign policy experts declared that the 21st century would belong to Asia, they were not thinking about China and India.
Politicians in Washington fulminated as Japanese companies snapped up such American icons as New York’s Rockefeller Center and Hollywood's Columbia Pictures. US motorists swapped their Fords and Chevrolets for Toyotas.
And now? Well, western consumers still buy Toyotas; and Sony and Toshiba continue to produce all manner of electronic wizardry. But Japan has become an afterthought in the discourse about the fast-shifting balance of global power. The Asian century is about China and India...
What a wonderful thing it must be to be on the international conference circuit, on expenses-paid junkets from one hotel suite to the next, bumping into individuals as well-coiffed as oneself and, oddly, also on expenses-paid junkets; everyone milling about in hotel lobbies and banquet halls, reading from Powerpoint slides and thinking the big thoughts--never once feeling shame at the hard-earned money of citizens and end consumers supporting all this largesse being shoveled over to persons already rich!
Fie on you parasites! And blwklwdtmp on your thoughts!
First, as a point of rhetoric, can we quit it with the "Japan was a monster in the 1980s" comparative? It has been twenty years since the superwealth of the 1980s was exposed as a mirage, the result of some rather creative accounting by companies and dumb policy moves by the Bank of Japan and the Ministry of Finance. How can a columnist in the world's premier economics daily hearken back to the 1980s as if they were the salad days of Japanese dominance? (Oh, I know he caveats later in the text--but why bring it up at all if it it was mostly a sham?)
As for Japan's political invisibility and its being "an afterthought in the discourse about the fast-shifting balance of global power" - consider this: Japan did the stomping-all-about-the-globe-my-civilization-is-ahead-of-yours-so-I-know-what-is-good-for-you thing -- and lost.
Having lost the war, and finding itself in a neighborhood where everybody not only hated Japan but also had a different political system, democratic Japan learned to keep its head above water and its nose out of other people's business.
So Japan is not an active player the new imperium game, engaging itself in "the discourse about the fast-shifting balance of global power." So it prefers to stay on the sidelines as the new great powers clash.
This is bad?
So many on the international
"Oh, I know they say naughty things about the Chinese people and the War sometimes but to their credit they understand the world as it really is--the noontime buffet is being sponsored by EADS? Oh, BP. They're doing good stuff with solar, aren't they? Boy, the Russians giving them a time, eh? So EADS is tomorrow. Good. Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yes, they know that the world is nasty, brutish and on the edge of chaos, demanding our attention, munificence and strong will."
The revisionists promised the conference circuit
Meiji is dead.
The covetousness--the horrible, gnawing desire "to have what other countries have" or just take for oneself, no matter the consequences -- the desire to acquire the trappings of power that drove both the early Meiji consensus and the later Great East Asian Co-prosperity consensuses -- that covetousness is restricted today to a hollow-eyed, empty-pupiled minority whose dreams of power and status are judged by decent folk to be unseemly.
Few in the Land of the Rising Sun dream of power and status as their ancestors did. Many if not most have found their own version of the Tenth Commandment, desiring only to get along. The limits of their purportedly ignoble existence are narrow: Study, Graduate, Work, Marry, Grow Old, Receive a Pension and Die in Bed.
Little point is there in clawing and scratching down down the road to glory.
Indeed, to even want to do so is a sin.
* If you have something nasty to say about another country, make sure it is translated into the language of the people you are dumping on.
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Aside from failing to predict the physical collapse of Abe Shinzō (who could have done that?) the two gentlemen did a commendable job of prognostication, methinks.
Nota Bene - If you are wondering where the "near-zero returns on the savings accounts that the elderly use to buy daily necessities" comes from, it is Mr. Katz's contribution to the discipline. Nothing makes him happier than winding it up, putting it on the floor and watching it roll about.
I have always waited for someone, preferably ancient and weather-worn, to rasp, "That's very nice Richard...but if my mind and memory have not gone completely dim, have we not been stuck in deflation for the past decade?"
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
MC - It's the smart move. Hashimoto was always smarter.
So it begins.
Hashimoto issues call to create new party
The Japan Times
By Setsuko Kamiya, Staff Writer - Wednesday, July 2, 2008 - Former Kochi Gov. Daijiro Hashimoto said Tuesday he will form a political group with an eye to creating a new political party that will work to decentralize governmental power.
Hashimoto, a half brother of the late Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto said he hopes to launch the new party in time for the next Lower House election.
"People's lives do not exist in the Nagata-cho or Kasumigaseki districts," said Hashimoto, referring to the neighborhoods where the Diet and the government bureaucracy are situated. "They exist in the local communities. This system where the central government controls everything needs to be exterminated."
Hashimoto said his policy plan works to transfer more tax revenue and administrative power to local governments while leaving responsibility for international affairs and national security in the hands of the central government. He also said the central government should shape the policies for ensuring people's livelihoods and boosting economic growth...
Now the let's-make-a-deal, so-it's policy-you-wants free-for-all starts.
Hiranuma Takeo, the Sith Lord of Japanese politics, should be kicking himself with a booted foot. His announcement of the formation of a new party, long threatened, was supposed to trigger the avalanche of realignment.
Instead, he gets pipped by Hashimoto Daijirō, one of the most consistently popular politicians around, pushing for deregulation--a subject which he, a former governor, actually cares about--unlike some commissions we could mention.
What a Hashimoto-led party lacks in strength right now it can more than make up in sense later. From all indications, Hashimoto understands decentralization, both why it is necessary and how it should be done.
Whether sensible policies sensibly carried out can be an electoral winner is a question. The national injury sob story of the revisionist right tugs at the heartstrings of persons on either side of the urban vs. rural divide, the most obvious social division in the archipelago. It has a proven track record as a vote-getter on the national scale.
For at least today, however, the "Hiranuma Conservative Party" spectre has to cede the camera to a less maudlin political project. If the announcement of the formation of Hiranuma's party comes too soon after this announcement, it could even be portrayed as a "rushed response to the Hashimoto challenge."
Hiranuma, who has been noodling about in round after round of ryotei politics, discussing realignment with Japan New Party leader Watanuki Tamisuke and New Daichi Party leader Suzuki Muneo over very expensive meals in exclusive traditional eateries, has blown his chance to be the first out of the blocks.
Then again, a person with an obvious contempt for so many would hardly understand the concept of product rollout and the importance of being first-to-market, now would he?
Later - Oh darn. Tobias Harris of Observing Japan has been bitten by the classic American film bug too.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Graphite-moderated reactors next to rivers do not need a cooling tower.
The Box on the Euphrates, a likely side project of the DPRK's nuclear engineers, certainly was constructed so as to never need one (look at p. 22-27).
And since steam rising from the tower used to be one of the key ways that specialists could tell the reactor was in use...if the powers that be in Pyongyang ever decide to take off the plastic wrap...
I guess the whispered operative phrase around Kasumigaseki and Akasaka Icchōme nowadays is:
"Just don't talk about the river."
The full Yongbyong reactor disablement gallery is visible here.
Worry as one always must with the DPRK, the site nevertheless looks pretty damn forlorn.
When I watched Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Ibuki Bunmei do his imaginary tray and chopsticks routine late last year, I thought the performance a spur-of-the-moment attempt at illustration which had veered wildly out of his control.
It turns out that operating a traditional eatery is his template for living:
Current LDP Secretary General Bunmei Ibuki outshines others with a book displaying his cooking expertise.Get this man an apron...and get him out of the Secretary-General's office.
Titled "Ibuki Tei Shikino Shokutaku" ("Four-Season Dining Table at Ibuki Inn"), the book is a compilation of essays on his cooking prowess and ideas on foods.
Okuda sure loves Sixties musical motifs and moods. The weird thing? He was born in '65 -- he has no memories of the time.
June's song is“Marshmallow” performed by Okuda Tamio and friends, on YouTube here.