Friday, May 31, 2013

What I Learned At The Economist’s Conference

Yesterday I had the privilege (and indeed it was a privilege) to attend the Economist Group's Bellweather 2013 Japan conference.

My key takeaways from the panels:

Don't Call It Structural Reform

Whatever the contents of the Third Arrow of Abenomics, due for release next week, it will not be a package of structural reforms for various problematic sectors of the economy.

Instead, if the vision laid out yesterday by Parliamentary Vice Minister of Economy Trade and Industry Sato Yukari is accurate, the third arrow is an economic growth plan, light to the point of insult on deregulation and liberalization and heavy on the picking and choosing of winners and losers among industries. The centrality of dirigisme in the presentation almost had me singing La Marsellaise in response.

[Come to think of it, "Allons enfants de la Patrie/Le jour de gloire est arrivé!" pretty much encapsulates the Abe Shinzo message to his people and the world this year.]

This made me wonder:

1) do Abe, the members of his Cabinet and his advisers understand that the rise in the equities markets and the willingness of bondholders to sit tight as the Bank of Japan rampages through the bond market require a faith that structural reform is in the offing, meaning that there will be a real payoff for investing in Japan?

2) Senator Sato started out her political career as an assassin for free markets enthusiast Koizumi Jun'ichiro. Prior to that she was an economist with JP Morgan and Credit Suisse First Boston, presumably in favor of deregulation and the end of protectionism.

Now she does P.R. for industrial policy.


"Ending deflation" does not mean what you think it means

Until yesterday, I had thought that the Abe Cabinet's and the Bank of Japan's goal of "leaving behind deflation" meant fiscal and monetary policy and maybe structural reform leading to a 2% rate of CPI inflation by 2014.

I was (some would add in an "of course" here) mistaken.

"Leaving behind deflation" is not inflation. It is Inflation+ ™ .


As explained yesterday by Bank of Japan Governor Nakaso Hiroshi, simply having 2% inflation in 2015 will not suffice. There has to be

2% CPI inflation + increased corporate profits + increased wages and bonuses

before the standard of what constitutes "leaving behind deflation" will be met.

Again the urge to rise from my seat gripped me, this time in order to shout, "But that's cheating. You're moving the goal posts!"

The core argument of the "Whip deflation now" crowd has always been that deflation was a primary cause of economic malaise. Whip deflation and the country could get on its feet again. (Link)

Now the BOJ activist wing, as represented by Nakaso, seems to saying that no, reigniting inflation does not do the magic trick. One needs more. Indeed you need the items – higher incomes and corporate profits -- that the deflation voodoo skeptics kept saying were the real targets worth the shooting for.

The activists, now that they are in control of the levers of the economy, are admitting that they were being disingenuous. Deflation was not in and of itself a cause of economic malaise. At least part of deflation, perhaps even most of it, was a symptom of decay.

Supporters of the new Inflation+ ™ formula might counter, "It was never a simple end deflation/you will have economic growth" situation. Inflation, were it to return, would always had to had "demand-pull" in addition to "cost push." (Link)

Yes, but that is not how the deflation fighting mantra went, at least not until the deflation fighters seized the reins this past winter.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

That Mountain In My Eye

Below is the graph of the support levels for the various major parties over the last six months, according to the monthly NHK public opinion survey:

Click on image to enlarge.

The House of Councillors election is less than two months away.

Somebody please tell me what the opposition parties could possibly hope to accomplish...and what the strategy would be to achieve that end...and please do not tell me it is "winning over the undecided voters."

Source: NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute

More Toys For The Boys

J. Michael Cole's contributions to The Diplomat usually drive me up the wall. However, his report on the People's Liberation Army Navy's latest piece of aquatic hardware fails to infuriate.

Just think of what one can do with a few of these vessels.

There are those who will ask, "Why shouldn't China have a slew of the world's largest Landing Craft Air Cushion vehicles"? More often than I care to contemplate, these are the same folks who ask, "Why shouldn't Japan revise Article 9 of its Constitution"?

The answer "Because the Right to Might is not a right but an excuse" sits poorly with these people.

Later - For those who think I am prejudiced against toys, a photo image from one of the spots I visited this past weekend, the GSDF Public Information Center adjacent to the GSDF Asaka military base.

Click on image for larger view.

The tank sitting behind the "protective" (yes, I am being sarcastic here) fence is a new Type 10, the same tank the Prime Minister mounted last month.

The Information Center's 3-D GSDF promotional movie (no, I do not know why the theater is built into a simulated rock outcrop) is a must-see -- and should be required viewing for all PLA colonels and Chinese government officials.

Nobody does propaganda like this blessed land's filmmakers.

Come On Down. Really.

Is there an economics paper that could explain the pricing strategies described here?

Midweek frozen food sales (personal note: I steer clear of the frozen foods section) make sense as a strategy for drawing in mid-week shoppers, reducing crowding on the weekends. However, Uniqlo's holding of sales on weekends, when the stores would be most crowded anyway, flies in the face of logic, unless drawing in even more folks somehow maximizes the employment of contractual, part time sales staff who are around only on the weekends.

Of course, if the goal is to clear off shelf space occupied by unsuccessful that does not seem to work out either.

As for bureaucrats trying to save us from being taken in by sales prices off of what are imaginary suggested retail prices, one would think that our civil servants had better ways of deploying their talents and authority.

One would think that, yes.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Please Stop It, You're Creepin' Me Out

Here's an image to stop the heart of anyone skeptical of the Liberal Democratic Party's commitment to liberalism and democracy.

The members of the LDP's Education Revitalization Committee presenting their ideas for education reform to Prime Minister Abe Shinzo on May 23. (Link)

Just one look at the smile of satisfaction on the the face of ecstatic revisionist Yamatani Eriko and you know this is going to turn out badly.

Oh, the proposals likely include some deceptively reformist-sounding provisions like serious study of the possibility of changing the start of the tertiary school year to September, this in order to bring the scholastic calendar of this blessed land in line with Euro-American norms. Until now such internalization provisions have been window-dressing, however; distractions to occupy the time and minds of domestic critics and foreign observers, leaving the real, ideological and institutional subventions under-examined.

Not that there is much anyone can do in response save withdraw into a life of contemplation and the cultivation of radishes. Come August, after the LDP wins the majority of seats in the House of Councillors, there will be no way, constitutional or otherwise, to stop the revisionists from transforming their fantastic desires into law.

Image courtesy: Prime Minister's Residence

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Hyperactive Mr. Abe

I was asked to provide comment on the Prime Minister’s visit to Myanmar. In the course of looking at articles and background reports, I found myself feeling a bit annoyed at the PM. "What are you doing in Myanmar? Didn't you just get off the plane in Russia and Saudi Arabia?"

This set me to thinking that it is not just Abe's foreign travel that is excessive – it is his EVERYTHING that is excessive. Half of the 30 minute-long 7 p.m. NHK news broadcasts seems composed of "Prime Minister Abe did this...and Prime Minister Abe did that...and the Prime Minister also did this...and in a surprise, Prime Minister Abe did something yet again..."

I accepted that the most likely explanation for my feelings of being beset by news of Abe's activities came from being "one of the fiercest critics of the reborn Abe regime" (Michael Penn's characterization, not my own - Link).

However, I suspected there was substance to my annoyance – that Abe's near omnipresence was more than just a notion buzzing around in my head.

So I decided to do a little bit of counting.

The data set is the accounts of the PM's activities posted on the Prime Minister's Residence website under Sori no ichi nichi (literally "The Prime Minister's Day" but translated into on the website as "The Prime Minister in Action" ).

What gets reported through Sori no ichi nichi is not everything the PM did during the day. Instead only the activities the prime minister's support staff and the ministries think we should hear about receive write-ups. As such, Sori no ichi nichi is a picture of the prime minister's day not as it is but as his subordinates want us to see it – which is, in a media-drenched modern post-industrial democracy, probably more important. Rather than actual achievement what is important is presence, at least as far as the molding of perceptions of the prime minister's interest in his work.

So what happens when you look at the prime minister's calendar as his people want us to see it? And how does Abe in this second term compare to his predecessors in terms of doing visible business?

Taking as a comparison the reports filed in Sori no ichi nichi for Abe's predecessor Noda Yoshihiko, and looking at the same span of time (Jan 1 – May 24) in 2012 and 2013, we get:

Looking at the graph, it sure looks as though there is more red than blue. The number of Noda postings only clearly exceeds those for Abe once in late May – the time when Noda was hosting a summit of Pacific island nations.

Looking at the monthly totals, we see that indeed for at least the two months, Abe's posts outnumber Noda's, with Noda's numbers in May getting goosed by the slew of posts showing Noda holding the hands of heads of state from countries that are dots in the middle of the ocean.

As for making sure that the public has the PM is on the job, the Abe crowd can be said to be twice as assiduous as the previous administration. Here are the graphs comparing the number of days during the period when nothing was posted to Sori no ichi nichi:

There might be only one posting on some days – but that one post goes a long way to maintaining an illusion of diligence.

However, it is in state visits and foreign travel the differences in between Abe's and Noda's administrations seems most stark.

Here is the list of overseas trips Prime Minister Noda took in between January 1, 2012 and May 24, 2012:

Jan 2012 – none

Feb 2012 – none

March – Security Summit (South Korea)

April – none

May – China/Japan/South Korea Trilateral Summit (Beijing)
G8 Summit (U.S.A.)

Total countries visited = 3
Total bilateral visits = 0

Here, by contrast, is the overseas travel of Prime Minister Abe during the same span( January 1 to May 24) this year.

Jan 2013 – Vietnam

February 2013 – U.S.A

March 2013 – Mongolia

April 2013 – Russia

May – Saudi Arabia

Total countries visited = 10
Total bilateral visits = 10

OK to be fair, the time spans are perhaps not commensurate in terms of their situation within each PM's term in office.

So here is a second listing, of Prime Minister Noda's overseas travels during his first five months in office:

Sep 2011 – none

Oct 2011 – South Korea

Nov 2011 – APEC summit (U.S.A.)
East Asian Summit (Indonesia)

Dec 2011 – China

Jan 2012 – none

Total countries visited = 5
Total bilateral visits = 2

A better record than Jan-May 2012 but still not comparable to Abe's record of gregariousness.

Looking at both lists for Noda, we find his use foreign travel was rote. After his first five months in office, his only travels were second visits to South Korea, China and the U.S.A. -- and these only to attend multilateral forums.

Noda did not use foreign travel, as Abe is doing, to as a means of resetting both the political and media agendas.

Was Noda a prisoner of political gridlock and the ongoing recovery from 3/11? Or was his lack of overseas travel a signal that his perception of the office of prime minister was consuming him?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Afloat Upon A Raft Of Unusual Stability

Just how aberrant are the levels of support for for this Abe Cabinet, compared to the support ratings for the cabinets of previous prime ministers?

Here is the graph of the cabinet support ratings of the first year (in Hatoyama Yukio's case, the seven months) in office of every prime minister since Keizo Obuchi (1998-2000).

[Click on the image to see a larger version in a new window.]

Freakish? You bet. Not even the cabinet of fabled outlier Koizumi Jun'chiro (green dotted line) enjoyed the stability of support that Abe 2 (thick red line with nodes) has enjoyed over its first five months in existence.

The real sad sack tale? Kan Naoto (dotted yellow line). Starts out with 61% support in May; has 65% support in September.

What happens in between, in July and August? A collapse of support to 39% and 41% respectively -- just in time for the July 2010 House of Councillors election. The ruling coalition loses control of the House and thus control of the legislative agenda. Short circuited is the Democratic Party of Japan's plan to rule the country based upon a new set of priorities and principles. Kan and his successor Noda Yoshihiko must go hat in hand to the Liberal Democratic Party, begging the LDP to please, please, please vote for bills drawn from the LDP's policy program.

None of that kind of nonsense going on now, is there?

Data source: NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute

The Hashist In The Lion's Den

What should be the hottest ticket in the TMD, if it is not already? Osaka City mayor and Nippon Ishin no Kai co-leader Hashimoto Toru's appearance at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan on Monday. (Link)

Hashimoto intends to confront or put up a huge show of confronting foreign prejudice. He will try to deflect outward his comments earlier this month excusing the Japanese Imperial Army's sanctioned brothel system (the ianfu seido, a.k.a., the "comfort women system") and decrying the lack of U.S. military personnel patronage at Okinawa's sexual services establishments. He will try to paint everyone as black, then ask why Japanese citizens -- and by extension Hashimoto Toru -- have been singled out for criticism.

It is likely that Hashimoto will see a measure of success in his quixotic quest. He is a lawyer, which means his capacity for spewing reasonable-sounding nonsense is near infinite. He also a veteran of the pressure cooker world of "wide-show" infotainment programs, as well as of years standing before the microphones in hot pursuit of public office. He has honed a supercilious, in-your-face, bullying style that crushes most questioners, even the experienced journalists.

If I were present at Monday's session, and was given the grace of a moment at the microphone, what would I ask him?

I guess I would question the assumption that war makes men beasts in heat:
"Hashimoto-sensei, let me read to you what you said on the 13th of this month:
'Amidst a storm of flying of bullets, when you are trying arrange rest and relaxation for groups whose members are all wound up psychologically, the sanctioned brothel system is a necessity. Anyone can understand this.'
Are you not making the situation sound a lot more out-of-control and sexier than reality? Were not the patrons of comfort stations mostly assigned to boring garrison duty? Was not the 'Recreation and Amusement Association' created after Japan's surrender in order to procure women not for troops psychologically wound up by a storm of bullets but instead Occupation forces doing desk work and guard duty in a pacified and flying-bullet-free Japan? How did you come to accept occupying forces taking advantage of country's military and economic domination by using its women as sex toys to be instead a kind of sexual psychotherapy treating potential sociopaths? And what is the basis for your belief, seeing as how you have no personal experience of military life?"
Too long. Too complex. I know.

Still I would love to hear his response.

Original image courtesy: Sankei Shimbun

Thursday, May 23, 2013

One Thousand One Hundred Points Down For The Day

All rapidly rising markets suffer reversals -- or corrections, if you believe in "days of reckoning" and other manifestations of an unholy alliance in between finance and morality.

The performance of the Nikkei since the election has been portrayed as proof that Abenomics -- the PM's mix of big budgets, wild expansions of the Bank of Japan's balance sheet and still murky promises of structural reform -- has won over hearts and minds of the world's investors, prophesying better days ahead for this blessed land.

Today's stumble has therefore got to be causing migraines in Liberal Democratic Party headquarters.

I wonder whether the PM, when briefed about the Nikkei's soaring and then crashing today, felt the first, faint fluttering of butterflies in his stomach.

Later - Reasons for success: obvious. Reasons for setbacks: not what you think. (Link)

Graph courtesy: Yahoo! Finance

The Courts Try Reason

In most industrialized democracies, the above title is something of a non sequitur. However, in this blessed land, where the courts have long shown deference to the executive and legislative branches, the sudden irruption of reasonable and reasoned decisions against the government is a surprise -- and a cause for celebration.

Last year Philip Brasor and Masako Tsukubu posted on their Yen for Living blog about the case of a former Osaka salaryman and father of two small children. The man had found a way to beat the odds, putting together a program that, when applied in a brute force manner, could net a tiny profit out of betting on horse races. Relying on databases of race results, the man placed massive, repetitive, automated bets on multiple horses, resulting with each iteration in a tiny, but compounding, return.

After letting his computer run these bets for three years, the man learned, to his horror, that under existing interpretations of tax law, his tax bill would be calculated not based upon his net winnings but upon the blunt, arithmetic total of his gross winnings, minus the cost of the winning tickets. This meant that when the dust cleared the man owed the National Tax Bureau 570 million yen in back taxes on transactions that had netted him only 140 million yen in income. (Link)

The man filed suit for relief from the Osaka District Court, arguing that the tax office's method of calculating income was insane.

Incredibly, at least for those of us who have been around these parts for a while, Osaka District Court Justice Nishida Masaki this morning handed down a judment in the man's favor (Link - J). He released the man from the immense tax penalty he had incurred, ordering him to pay taxes only upon the amount he had actually earned from his successful, fractional trading betting strategy.

Justice Nishida is of the 34th graduating class of lawyers, so he is near, if not exactly on the cusp of, retirement.


So for those looking for the story of Japan being saved despite itself, perhaps talking with hot young entrepreneurial types or reformist politicians and bureaucrats is a misleading waste of time. Perhaps the real vanguard of change for the better is a posse of old guys and gals in long black robes.

Signs of the Apocalypse #5

The #1 story on "Google News Japan - Politics" right now is...

....the latest updates on the white hot electoral race for the post of leader (sosai) of...


Here is the screen grab. Click on the image if you want to see the evidence of our decadence in greater detail:

OK, so it is politics...of a sort.

Still, I cannot shake the sense of our species having hit rock bottom.

Bring on the rule of the machines! They purport to know what we really want!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Cadmium and Itai-itai

With the explosion of the story of excess levels of cadmium in the rice of Guangzhou (Link) there is talk, though only in passing, of Japan's experience with food and water-borne cadmium poisoning, which is known in the literature as Itai-itai ("It hurts! It hurts!") disease.

This is peculiar. Japanese researchers have done the lion's share of work on cadmium poisoning. Toyama Prefecture indeed has an entire museum that opened just last year dedicated to keeping alive the memory of the worst outbreak of itai-itai, which occured along the Jinzu River.

Not that many diseases with its own museum.

For afficionados of comparative politics and the functioning at various levels of the courts, regulators and democracy in East Asia, the length of the era of obscene disregard for public health in Japan -- with decades falling between identification of the cause of the disease and the final shutting down of the effluant source -- does not bode well for the future health of the Chinese people, especially in light of the close intertwining or even interchangeability of industrial and political elites in China.

Later - Yes, it would be interesting to see and hear the narratives of responsibility and blame allowed or preserved at the Toyama Prefectural Itai-itai Disease Museum. I am sure that there is a least one paper for an enterprising scholar therein.

Smooth (Alleged) Criminals

Yesterday, convicted felon Ishikawa Tomohiro, member of the House of Representatives for the Hokkaido-based New Great Land Party (Shinto Daichi - Link - J) tendered his resignation from the Diet. His explanation for why he had to give up his seat less than half-a-year after the December 2012 general election: the Tokyo High Court's having upheld in March his convictions on charges stemming from the filing false political fund records during his stint as personal political secretary to House of Representatives member and Life Party leader Ozawa Ichiro, who himself is no stranger to the justice system.

According to Ishikawa, he needs to quit politics temporarily in order to concentrate on the final, Supreme Court appeal of his conviction and by so doing avoid prison time (an impossible dream -- ask any lawyer).

To replace the scandal-tainted Ishikawa, New Great Land is elevating the #2 on the party proportional list for Hokkaido – a 27 year old (the minimum age is 25) woman, a former NHK director with a clean record.

All to the good, right?

Errr, not exactly.

The young woman in question in Suzuki Takako, eldest daughter of Great Land party leader Suzuki Muneo (Link – video J) – the Diet's former poster boy of corruption who himself has been twice convicted -- and held in a cell for a year and a half -- on corruption and embezzlement charges.

With all apologies to Ms. Suzuki, winning a seat in the House of Representatives through a private deal cut by two cons, with nepotism the big winner, does a great disservice to the image of Japan's democracy, such as it may be.

That Ishikawa's sentence was way too severe, and his arrest and conviction politically motivated, does not make the transaction any less dispiriting, unfortunately.

Thank You, Aurelia George Mulgan

With clarity, erudition and thoroughness, Aurelia George Mulgan attacks the thicket of nonsense flung about by the forces both within and without Japan in support/defense of constitutional revision:

Abe rocks Japan’s constitutional boat

For those whose inquiry begins and end at "Japan has proven itself capable of self-control. What could be wrong with normalization?" -- the essay's crucial paragraph:
The price of formally amending Article 9 will be high, particularly in terms of Japan's foreign relations. China and South Korea will 'over-interpret' the move as signifying a dramatic change in the status quo and the rise of a potential Japanese military threat. Moreover, Japan will no longer be able to lay a strong claim to being a 'peace state', which has been an important source of its soft power. The proposal to revise Article 9 could, therefore, have a destabilising effect in the region and come at the cost of Japan's international standing and soft power.
Due to the absence of regional economic and security structures, due to Japan's being in a bad geo-political neighborhood (think of when Japan exited from the Occupation: no other industrialized states nearby, no other democracy in the region except the chaotic Philippines) -- and due the halt in the program of purging the government of totalitarianism, post-Occupation Japan faced unleapable hurdles to integration (some China-sodden commentators might say "re-integration") into East Asia. The latter half of the 20th century would then most likely have been much like the first half: constant warfare, with an armed Japan in contestation with the Soviet Union and a fragmented China, the dogs of war unleashed by a breakdown, after a decade or so, of Japan's alliance with the world's premier maritime power.

[As to the implications of a martial post-1945 Japan on the process of decolonization in this alternate universe East Asia, the mind boggles.]

Article 9 had a purpose and effect of breaking the chain of inevitability. Japan could integrate into East Asia at minimal cost, both in terms of its own sovereignty and social structure. A de jure shackled Japan had a chance of living at peace with the military dictatorships and expansionist communist states of the region. A demilitarized Japan could be given free rein to permit the rehabilitation of its pre-war elites.

Someone needs to look the PM in the eye and tell him, "Look, your enthusiasm for constitutional revisionism is misguided. The Meiji State was a miserable one for the common people. But forget about them. The only reason your grandfather could walk out of Sugamo Prison alive and hearty to take up where he left off, becoming Prime Minister less than eight years later -- was Article 9. Article 9 made it possible for your grandfather's younger brother to, eventually, succeed him, your great uncle Eisaku becoming the longest serving post-war prime minister. It has allowed you, who have been steeped in a culture of unscientific, ahistorical, backward-looking authoritarian fantabulism, to become Prime Minister not once but twice.

Forget about what Article 9 has done for the average citizen; think about the tremendous service it has done for your family."

The attempt to encourage a reconsideration of a commitment to constitution revision out of simple self-interest would likely fail. However, that does not mean it would be wrong to at least try it.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A More Serious Slapping Around of Abenomics Cheerleading

Edward Hugh has a sharp review of the negative view of Abenomics, or perhaps more properly the dismissive-as-irrelevant-and-possibly-quite-harmful view of Abenomics:

The Real Experiment That Is Being Carried Out In Japan

Particularly thought-provoking are the quotations from Keynes, showing both the incredible brilliance of the man and the continuing validity of the old saw, "There is nothing new under the sun."

I agree with almost everything in the post, particularly with the quotations from the speeches of former Bank of Japan governor Shirakawa Masaaki, whom the Kool Kids in this blessed land's business and media elites all feel free to disdain and revile. Shirakawa is revealed to be who he is and what he always was: a central banker blessed with intelligence, humility and a conscience.

With all that is good (and there is a lot of it) I think Hugh does himself a disfavor with the cheap shot at the what may be the most important goal of the creation of inflationary expectations: pressing savers to convert their assets in to real goods or put them into higher risk/higher return investments. A critic would point out that "Uh, that's sort of the point of the program. Duh."

The demographic angle of the story is that while there is a vast pool of cash that could be deployed in lifting the economy to a higher level of activity, almost all of it is in the hands of persons over 60 years of age. Seniors are very, very conservative about their assets and cash, clinging to low-or-negative return real estate or money kept in bank accounts...or in the safe at home.

The government is trying some direct methods to get older citizens to turn over their savings to younger citizens, the most famous/infamous being the tax free accounts for the education of grandchildren (a plan which has been widely derided as just a tax avoidance scheme for the extremely wealthy). Increased taxation of the assets of retirees would be the one, absolutely effective, politically lethal (those damn retirees vote, a lot) solution.

Debasing the currency and creating the desire to convert cash into something that is meaningful and useful is an actual, non-ridiculous goal of induced inflation...the caveat being "but what if instead of increased consumption and domestic investment the result of debasing of the yen is capital flight, with savers sheltering the current value of their money in overseas accounts and assets?"

I guess we have to keep an eye on the yen. I am sure if someone popped an inquiry into Richard Katz's mailbox he would have something to say about what the yen level should be, using trade-adjusted figures.

Later - Richard Katz responds in comments. He corrects my incautious claim that he would know at what level the yen should be.

No one knows this, save, supposedly Mr. Market.

What Richard Katz can tell you is what the long-term average real exchange rate has been, and whether or not the Abe governments disengenuous program to crush the "high yen" has firm intellectual roots.

Nota Bene: All comments to Shisaku are moderated, except my own.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Abenomics Showing Indications Of Destroying Japan's Economy

Japan's prime minister Abe Shinzo has shaken up the world economic circles with Abenomics, his bold mix of scatter shot fiscal boost, extremely loose (some would say slutty) monetary policy and a bundle of gift-wrapped regulatory changes benefiting supportive company presidents and reticent gestures in the direction of structural reform. Yesterday's government release on GDP in the first quarter of 2013 hints that Abenomics seems to be doing very quickly to the Japanese economy what the Friends of Abe have spent years trying to do to Japanese diplomacy: namely, run it into a ditch.

As the chart indicates, even a modest year like 2012 when Japanese businesses were under the thumb of a socialistic DPJ-led government -- frozen as it was to near immobility by divided control of the houses of the Diet -- the economy still grew at a robust annualized 5.3% rate in the Mar-Jan quarter. However, under the pressure of the Abe government's avowed attack on the value of the national currency, its adding to the national debt at an accelerated rate and the simultaneous destabilization of the bond markets and destruction of the purchasing power of Japan's burgeoning population of retirees, economic confidence has shrivelled. Real growth in Jan-Mar 2013 crashed to a mere 3.5%. In nominal terms, which are the meaningful figures in deflationary economies such as Japan’s, GDP shrank year-on-year at an annualized -4.0% pace...


The above is a parody.

However it is no more absurd than many of the prematurely laudatory, rose-colored glasses-wearing articles appearing yesterday in response to the government release of GDP estimates for the Jan-Mar quarter.

Later - Via Bloomberg: Goldman Sachs researchers have tried to find inflation expectations above and beyond those created by the mandated rise in the consumption tax from 5% to 8% next year.

The GS assessment of the net effect of Abenomics on expectations: none. (Link)

Later still - Right now it is impossible to disambiguate:

1) economic behavior driven by a sense of hope for a future of rising incomes, asset prices and employment

2) economic behavior driven by coldly calculated front loading of purchases to avoid paying the extra 3% tax

3) economic behavior driven by a panicked fear of rising interest rates and import prices,


4) economic behavior taking advantage of inventory clearance and special promotions in anticipation of companies trying to raise prices via the introduction of new products and services.

Under scenario 1, the economy keeps chugging through 2014 with a small, sharp dip after the tax rise. In scenario 2, economic growth is strong until the imposition of the tax, after which it falls off a cliff. Under scenarios 3 and 4, economic growth declines through this year, then falls of the cliff with the tax rise.

I know that the wealth effect of rising asset prices will provide a kick to certain sectors of the economy -- but the effects of wealth effect driven demand do not seem likely to have major impacts on domestic wages and employment.

Is Today The Day For The DPRK?

Yesterday Abe Shinzo envoy and symbol manipulator extraordinaire Iijima Isao (the bald gentleman above) met with President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly Kim Yong-nam (the other...errr...gentleman above).

Now it is true that the government of North Korea could just be trotting out its #2 leader for a meeting that goes nowhere, releasing footage of Iijima and Kim in The Big Chairs in front of The Big Painting only to metaphorically pull the chair out from under Iijima-san's massive posterior, humiliating both him and his prime minister.

However, does one need the #2 in the leadership to take time out of his busy schedule of evildoing in order to humiliate Iijima, whose formal title is the decidedly modest one of Special Advisor to the Cabinet (naikaku kambo sanyo)? Would not ordering a driver to take Iijima all around greater Pyongyang, permitting him meet no one of consequence, have done the trick? Yes, some commentators have suggested that the meetings Iijima has had with top government officials are designed to make South Korean and U.S. officials worried that Japan is about to cut a deal undermining ongoing denuclearization and military pull back efforts. (Link)

But a breakthrough, even a lousy one, should be welcomed, right?

As I noted earlier, the complete lack of coordination between the Government of Japan and the governments of the United States, South Korea and seemingly China...and the only-Abe-could-get-away-with-this keeping in the dark of the families of the abducted are indicators that Abe has something in the works similar to, if not commensurate with, the Nixon Shock (Nikuson shokku).

If Iijima has secured a deal in Pyongyang regarding a resolution of the abductees issue then that deal could be put to the Cabinet for Cabinet Decision (kakugi kettei) during the its regularly scheduled meeting today (Friday). Prime Minister Abe could then call a special press conference starting at, if experience is any guide, 18:00 local time.

We shall see.

Image courtesy: Sankei News

The Kim Jong Il Statement

There is a reason why I call The Yomiuri Shimbun "Pravda-by-the-Palace."

I know that I should not because the Yomiuri organization employs the husband of a dear friend. The YS has also made, through its Japan News, a concerted effort to force The Japan Times to figure out the mechanics and purpose of an English-language newspaper.

However, my prejudices, suspicions and disdain for the editors of the Yomiuri all get bolstered by the publication of pieces like this:
Kono remark twisted 'comfort women' issue

The Yomiuri ShimbunA statement in 1993 by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono that suggested the government admitted forced recruitment of so-called comfort women aggravated what had already become a diplomatic problem between Japan and South Korea.

The Asahi Shimbun in 1992 published an article on the issue of comfort women that included some misinterpretations. The story reported that the Imperial Japanese Army had controlled and supervised the establishment of comfort stations, as well as the recruitment of women.

It also said the military mainly recruited Korean women under the name of Teishin Tai (volunteer labor force) in a forcible manner. It misleadingly labeled the “Jyoshi Teishin Tai” (women’s volunteer corps) under the wartime labor mobilization system as “comfort women hunting.”

The major focus of the problem was thus whether the comfort women were forcibly recruited.

The Cabinet of then Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa announced in July that year results of an investigation into the issue, in which it said there was no evidence that women were recruited against their will by the military.

Since then, however, criticism against Japan in South Korea has not let up. In an effort to politically settle the issue, Kono made the statement in August 1993, saying the government admitted the military was directly or indirectly involved in establishing and managing comfort stations and transferring comfort women. It also apologized and expressed remorse to former comfort women.

However, as the misunderstanding that the government admitted the defunct Imperial army forcefully recruited comfort women has spread, the first Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved a written answer to Diet questions on the matter at a cabinet meeting in March 2007.

In it, the government said there were no descriptions in any documents the government found that directly pointed to forced recruitment of women by the military or government authorities.


The Japanese version of the above can be found here.

There are false narratives whose origins can be traced back errors in one newspaper story printed long ago. However, it is the height of absurdity to trace the negative view of Japan's Imperial Age system of military brothels to a vocabulary mistake, if there even was one, by the cross-town rival The Asahi Shimbun.

As for the lack-of-documentation argument, I wish someone would stand up to it with a simple parallel:

"You know, Kim Jong-il's verbal apology of 17 September 2002 was only him talking. There exist no official government documents actually proving that Japan's so-called abductees were taken against their wills. Sure they say they were abducted -- but where is the documentary evidence for this?"

And before turning away, thinking "MTC, you are just being vulgar" consider how much of the abductee movement's pull depends the stories of Soga Hitomi and Yokota Megumi -- who, being minors just going about their daily lives at the time of their disappearance, clearly fit the definition of abduction.  Less is said about the disappearances of adults like Arimoto Keiko, who as a student studying English in Europe made the unfortunate mistake of befriending members of the Red Army Faction Japan Red Army terrorist organization...

[For the record it is Arimoto's story that is the most compelling, with her, her husband and infant being murdered after their betrayal by Japan's Socialist Party.]

...where the non-issue over use or non-use of physical force in abduction, where there is illusion of choice, whether to be lured or not be lured, has its clearest parallel.

As for the applause line in the above for the Abe Cabinet's 2007 revision of the Kono Statement, what can one say? Sycophancy is unbecoming to anyone, but least of all to a purported news organization.

Later - My thanks to the readers who pointed out the incorrect terrorist group name.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Worthwhile Reads #1

Some links to works making arguments worth considering:

Michael Penn looks hard for the gold amid the dross that is the life and career of Osaka City mayor and Japan Restoration Party leader Hashimoto Toru:

The True Sins of Toru Hashimoto

Call me presumptuous -- but being a sexist, libidinous jerk in your private life attaches a fuse to your career. Being a consumately self-possessed (self-adoring?) individual makes that fuse short.

Stephen Harner reads the An Awkward Embrace: The United States and China in the 21st Century and asks whether in the clamor over a need to confront China a presumption is being overlooked - that the presence of the military of the United States in the region is something the Chinese just have to accept:

Carnegie’s Vision of a Tense China-U.S.-Japan Security Standoff Is Not Inevitable

I salute Harner's opening up the book and reading it. The cover art would have stopped me. That and the opening line of the blog post Elizabeth Economy wrote promoting the study:
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Dan Blumenthal and Phillip Swagel’s new book on U.S.-China relations, An Awkward Embrace, is its lack of nuance.
Whew! Talk about fainting with damn praise. (Link)

An essay that is all nuance is Georgetown Professor Kevin Doak's reasonable and erudite defense of Abe Shinzo's nationalism, available via the Japan Chair at the Center for Security and International Studies:

Shinzo Abe’s Civic Nationalism

Dr. Doak's argument is seductive. I would only ask the reader to tarry for a while on footnote #2, where Dr. Doak's 2007 book A History of Nationalism in Modern Japan: Placing the People is revealed to have been given, in its Japanese version, a somewhat zingier title.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Comment On The Number Of Permanent Residents

Found a mistake in Yuka Hayashi's report on the xenophobes making life miserable for the residents of Shin-Okubo:
Anti-Korean Voices Grow in Japan
The Wall Street Journal

As Japanese nationalism is fueled by friction with neighbors over territories and World War II legacy issues, hostile demonstrations against the country's Korean residents are gathering steam, raising concerns among political leaders and setting off soul-searching among Japan's largely homogeneous population.

While attendance at the rallies is small and such extreme actions are far from entering the mainstream of Japanese politics, the demonstrations of nationalist activists using hate speech and intimidation have grown in size and frequency in recent months. One target has been the central Tokyo neighborhood of Shin-Okubo, known for Korean restaurants and shops selling South Korean pop-culture goods. Starting in February, groups of 200 or so demonstrators have descended on its busy weekend streets, waving Japanese flags and carrying signs that read "Roaches" and "Go Back to Korea." They shouted in unison: "Let's Kill Koreans," language that passersby told local television they found shocking.


Many of the virulent rallies are organized by a conservative group called Zaitokukai and organizations that are sympathetic to it. The group was formed in 2006 to protest against "special privileges," such as welfare payments, that it says are abused by ethnic Koreans, who make up 99% of foreign permanent residents in Japan. Its membership has grown to 13,000 from 10,000 two years ago, according to its website. Unlike Japan's traditional right-wing organizations that have gathered members through grass-root groups, Zaitokukai relies on the Internet to attract members. Videos of its rallies and speeches are made available on YouTube and used as a recruitment tool...

In 2011, which is the most recent year for which there are comprehensive figures, Japan had 2,078,508 non-Japanese residents. Of these, 987,525 had permanent residence status. Of these, 598,440 were "permanent residents" and another 389,085 were "special permanent residents."

Of the "permanent residents" 60,262 were citizens of either the Republic of Korea or the Democratic Republic of Korea. Of the "special permanent residents" 385,232 were either ROK or DPRK passport holders.

So it is not true that ethnic Koreans "make up 99% of foreign permanent residents in Japan."

What is true is that 99% of the holders of special permanent resident status are ethnic Koreans -- many of whom cannot speak Korean and who lost their Japanese citizenship in 1945 or are the children or grandchildren or great-grand children of such persons.

But then, being an ethnic Korean who lost Japanese citizenship or whose ancestors lost their Japanese citizenship is ostensibly what "special permanent resident" status means.

The total number of Koreans (ROK+DPRK) of all statuses living in Japan in 2011 was 545,401. This puts Koreans in second place among nationalities, below the Chinese at 674,879 and way ahead of the Brazilians at 210,032 (who themselves just barely pipped the Filipinos, who numbered 209,376 in 2011 and who likely have since passed the Brazilians to take over the #3 spot).

I suspect that an editor's zeal was involved in the error.

Then again, if not for the error, I would not have looked up the official figures. And I would have remained ignorant as to the most recent statistics on foreign residents.

So it is all to the good.

Non Verbal In Pyongyang

Iijima Isao, Koizumi Jun'ichiro's public relations wizard brought back into the Prime Minister's Residence by a suitably chastened Abe Shinzo, whose previous turn as Prime Minister shuddered from one P.R. disaster to the next, arrived in Pyongyang, luggage in hand (a kahuna who carries his own bags, wonderful!) for a big time official meeting with North Korean officials.

How do we know that this is a big time official visit?

Look at the lapel.

Iijima has his Prime Minister's Residence service badge on.

Oh, Iijima could have forgotten to take the badge off before leaving the plane. However, such an oversight is unlikely, given that the symbolism master was traveling to Pyongyang -- where the lapel badge is EVERYTHING.

An aside, but for a bald, fat dude, Iijima rocks the two-toned dress shirt look.

In all seriousness, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo spent a significant chunk of time during his exceedingly brief Diet Policy Speech promising a resolution of the North Korean abductees issue. With Iijima on the case in and heads rolling in Pyongyang, perhaps Abe was not, as I assumed at the time of the policy speech, just blowing smoke about a resolution of the abduction conundrum.

Prepare to be surprised. Nay, astonished.

Later - An earlier version of this post was published without the photo image. Apologies.

Screen grab courtesy: NHK

Monday, May 13, 2013

How Fear Of Death And Maiming Makes Sanctioned Brothels OK, Osaka Style

Liberal Democratic Party policy chief Takaichi Sanae should send Osaka City mayor and Japan Restoration Party co-leader Hashimoto Toru a nice present. A case of fruit juices from Mitsukoshi, perhaps.

Takaichi tossed out a sheaf of revisionist talking points during her appearance on NHK's flagship Nichiyo Toron talk show on Sunday, seemingly guaranteeing that she would spend the week as the self-delineated enemy of all peace and humanity in East Asian politics. (Link)

However, Takaichi's reign as loosed cannon lasted only a day. Hashimoto has blown past her.

The choice quotes of The Hashist from today? Dumping the euphemistic "comfort women system" direct translation of ianfu seido in favor of "sanctioned brothel system" we get:
- "Amidst the hail of flying of bullets, when you are trying arrange respites for groups whose members are all wound up psychologically, the sanctioned brothel system is necessary. Anyone can understand this."

- "It was not just the Japanese Army, many armies have put up sanctioned brothel systems. South Korea and others have made made all kinds of declarations and this has had an effect. That (Japan) has come to be seen as a rape country is the problem."

- "That 'invasion' has not been defined academically--Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is correct in saying this."

- "We have to accept the interpretation that what it was was 'an invasion' as a result of our country having lost the war."
Oh, no. He did not say all this...

Oh, yes he did. (Link - J)

Ah the scene tomorrow morning in front of the Embassy of Japan in Seoul...

Later - The Asahi Shimbun's English language page checks in with its version of the story, (Link)

Question: when did the translation of shinryaku shift from the precise "invasion" to the diffuse "aggression"?

Later still - Fuller transcripts of Hashimoto's astonishing comments have become available, making the above, redacted newspaper quotations moot.

Here, for example, is The Asahi Shimbun's lightly edited version of Hashimoto's remarks, where we learn of his jaw dropping attempt to encourage the commander of Marines Corps Air Station Futenma to support the maintenance of sexual services establishments for the forces under his command. (Link - J)

Surprise, Surprise

In October of last year I published a post arguing that the government of Japan must never admit a dispute exists over the sovereignty of the Senkakus. Open that door and one will next have to deal with China's claims on Okinawa.

In private conversation and comments, I received much grief for my assertions as regards Chinese aims and arguments.

As of this weekend the domino theory of Chinese tactics and perhaps Chinese strategy seems...not so extreme?
China Refuses to Confirm Okinawa Island Belongs to Japanese
Bloomberg News

China refused to confirm that Okinawa belongs to Japan after two Chinese scholars suggested re-examining the ownership of the archipelago that includes the island, adding to tensions over a separate territorial dispute.

Agreements between allied forces during World War II mean the ownership of the Ryukyu Islands may be in question, the researchers said in a commentary in the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s main newspaper. Asked if China considers Okinawa part of Japan, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said scholars have long studied the history of the Ryukyus and Okinawa.

“It may be time to revisit the unresolved historical issue of the Ryukyu Islands,” Zhang Haipeng and Li Guoqiang of the China Academy of Social Sciences wrote in the commentary.

A move to reconsider ownership of the Ryukyus would add to strains as China and Japan assert their claims over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. The Japanese government’s decision last year to purchase those islands, called Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, sparked protests across China and harmed a $340 billion annual trade relationship that has yet to recover...

For the record, I also take umbrage at being labeled if a person with any degree of sense could be against an entire country...

More Photos Of Abe Shinzo On Top Of Military Hardware

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo paid a Mother's Day visit to the Air Self Defense Forces' Matsushima Airbase. The base, the home of the ASDF's Blue Impulse aerobatics team, had been severely damaged by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011.

According to the press reports, the prime minister's speech to the assembled air personnel and staff focused on the recovery of the Tohoku region from the natural disasters (Link).

However, the non-verbal message was one of avid support (the thumb points up) for the SDF playing a greater role in Japan's policy mix.

It seems that Abe Shinzo does not accept that part of his job is to disabuse Chinese commentators of the notion that Japan is an emerging security threat.

To be fair, which no one will be, the jet in question is not an actual weapons platform. It is a T-4 trainer used for aerobatic shows. True also that on his visit yesterday to the Tohoku region the PM donned coveralls, mounted a tractor and transplanted rice seedlings (Link), meaning that not all his costume changes have been ones into military garb. (Link - J)

Nevertheless, coming so soon after his photo-op at the Nico Nico Douga event -- where of all the exhibits, he had to go for the one with the SDF tank in it -- the decidedly more kakko ii photo of a decidedly cheerful Abe in the cockpit of a military jet sends all the right (domestic politics) and wrong (East Asian politics) signals.

Then again, with Takaichi Sanae as his wingman...
Japan ruling party executive to keep visiting war shrine
Channel News Asia

TOKYO - The policy chief of Japan's ruling party vowed Sunday to keep paying homage at a controversial war shrine despite anger and diplomatic protests by China and South Korea.

Nearly 170 Japanese lawmakers made a pilgrimage last month to the Yasukuni Shrine, a flashpoint in a bitter dispute between Japan and Asian neighbours which were victims of its 20th century militarism.

For foreign critics, the shrine is a stark reminder of Tokyo's brutal occupation of the Korean peninsula and imperialist expansion leading up to World War II. Among the 2.5 million honoured there are 14 men convicted of war crimes by a US-led tribunal after Japan's 1945 surrender.

Sanae Takaichi, who heads the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's policy affairs council, was one of the senior lawmakers who joined the April visit and on Sunday defended the practice.


Takaichi also voiced doubt about a 1995 landmark statement Japan issued under then-prime minister Tomiichi Murayama, which acknowledged it followed "a mistaken national policy" and advanced along the road to war.

"There is no doubt that (Japan) hurt the ethnic pride of people in colonised countries and caused them tremendous sufferings," Takaichi said.

"But the Murayama statement mentions 'a mistaken national policy'.

"Then, would it have been best for Japan not to fight (major western powers) at all and to take the path of becoming a colony amid embargoes?" she asked.

"I think no politician in today's Japan can tell us with confidence what was right in the international situation at that time
," she said....

...who needs signals?

Later - A thanks to James for catching the date error.

Image courtesy: The Yomiuri Shimbun (Link)

Friday, May 10, 2013

He Says All The Right Things

Martin Fackler has delivered:
Japan Says It Will Abide by Apologies Over Actions in World War II
The New York Times

TOKYO — Japan's conservative government will abide by official apologies that the country's leaders made two decades ago to the victims of World War II in Asia, top officials said Tuesday, backing away from earlier suggestions that the government might try to revise or even repudiate the apologies.

Japan formally apologized in 1993 to the women who were forced into wartime brothels for Japanese soldiers, and in 1995 to nations that suffered from Japanese aggression during the war. Both apologies rankled Japanese ultranationalists, and there were concerns that the hawkish current prime minister, Shinzo Abe, would try to appeal to them by whitewashing Japan's wartime atrocities, a step that would probably infuriate Japan’s neighbors.

The United States shared those concerns, and it urged the Abe government to show restraint on historical issues so that Japan would not further isolate itself diplomatically in the region.

The concerns intensified last month when members of Mr. Abe's cabinet visited a Tokyo shrine that honors Japanese war dead, including some who were executed for war crimes, drawing angry reactions from China and South Korea. Those nations also responded strongly a few days later when Mr. Abe seemed to question in Parliament whether Japan was actually the aggressor during the war, saying that the definition of "invasion" was relative and suggesting that his cabinet might not stand by the 1995 apology in its entirety.

On Tuesday, the Japanese foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, apparently sought to dispel those concerns, telling reporters that Mr. Abe shared the views expressed in the 1995 apology, which was made by a Socialist prime minister, Tomiichi Murayama. At a separate news conference, the chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said the Abe government would not revise the 1993 apology, which formally recognized the military's responsibility in forcing women into sexual slavery...


Maybe "the Abe government would not revise the 1993 apology, which formally recognized the military’s responsibility in forcing women into sexual slavery" is what Suga wanted to say.

Unfortunately, what actually came out of his mouth, according to the NHK video report (Link - J video) was:
"[The Abe Government] has not said that it is studying the Kono Statement, including the possibility of revision. For the Abe Government, the basic line of thought is that t[he sex slave issue] is not one we must make into a political or foreign policy issue."
Suga's syntax and word choice open possibilities for coy "How were we to know?" excuses later, on the order of "How were we to know that foreign governments were going to make political or foreign policy issues of our revising of the Kono Statement?" There is also that peculiar use of the phrase "must make into" (ni saseru beki)– as if there were some outside force pressing upon the poor, defenseless Abe Government, pushing it to make revisions to the Kono Statement it does not want to make.

Then there is the matter of the seemingly superfluous "the basic line of thought is that" (to iu no ga kihonteki na kangaekata da). It is true that there are no word police to cut short this kind of verbal spinning of wheels. As a consequence such verbosity is rampant, particularly in political speech.

This does not mean that Suga was not being very careful in piling up a wall of subordination at the end of his sentence. He has left open the door for a "Well, it was not our basic idea to revise the Kono Statement...but we were thinking about revision in a sort of oblique way...and then the political situation changed and we decided to go through with it."

As for trusting what members of the Abe Government say, there is that problem too. When a snake tells you "I'm not hungry" (Or, more specifically, "My basic thought is that I'm not hungry") -- is what matters is the fact that the snake said, "I'm not hungry" or that he is a snake?

So, yes -- I do prefer Toko Sekiguchi's more cautious take on the same story (Link) -- but even she puts in a "never" where it does not likely belong.

Later - The online English-language edition of Pravda-by-the-Palace checks in with its own restrained version of the story (Link). The kicker phrase in the English language version is "effectively modifying Abe's position on history." In an abbreviated Japanese version of the story, the operative phrase is shusho no hatsugen o jijitsujo kido shusei suru koto -- which translates more literally as "what is for all intents and purposes a rectification of the trajectory of the prime minister's statements." (Link - J)

Image courtesy: NHK

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Ishiba Shigeru's Party Rules

Yesterday was Constitution Day, a national holiday. Standing atop a van in Kagawa Prefecture, Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru offered his take upon the document for which the holiday had been set aside, and the purpose for which his party -- the possessor of a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives, which makes it, under the Constitution, omnipotent -- exists:
"The Liberal Democratic Party is a party for doing what?...First and foremost, it a party for the revision of the Constitution."
(Link - J video)

To which a wag, had there been one in the audience, would have had the right to shout, "Great! Because you sure would not want to have anyone thinking the LDP's number one job for the last 56 years has been governing--not with the record you guys have!"

To which I would have added, "Which is not even half as bad their disgraceful record as a party in opposition."

Someone needs to take a look at the rhetoric Ishiba is employing and come to some sort of decision. Does he say the things he does as part of a clear strategy? Or does he shoot off his mouth at random, knowing that the worst thing that could happen to him is what is already happening to him -- namely that the man who pipped him in last fall's party presidental election, after Ishiba won the support of most of the local chapters, is leading a wildly popular government? And that despite being the secretary-general of the LDP, in charge of the party's day-to-day affairs, Ishiba is not all he could be because the #2 position is not all that it was, Abe Shinzo and his entourage having carried out a stealth Westministerization leaving the formal party apparatus and main party officers with plenty of status but little power?

Image courtesy: Shikoku News

Chichibu - April 2013

Valley of the Yokoze River, Yokoze Township, Saitama Prefecture.

Sakura performer, Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture.

Shiba zakura, Hitsujiyama Park, Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture.

Shishi dancer, Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture.

Shishi dancers, Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture.

Mt. Bukko, Yokoze Township, Saitama Prefecture

After the discovery of nylon doomed the silk industry, Chichibu's core industry became cement production. Materials companies blasted Bukko, the limestone massif overlooking the city, to powder (one resident said one of her earliest memories was traveling to another town and finding out that not everyone had white roofs). The resulting product was shipped off to armor the coastlines and line the rivers (and play a role in better-considered construction as well, of course).

The blasting has ceased, leaving behind a peculiar half-mountain as Chichibu's scenic backdrop.

Chichibu is trying to reinvent itself as a center for tourism: a role for which it is eminently qualified. The city faces limits, unfortunately, in its poor transportation links. There is no major no airport and no nearby Shinkansen line. The valleys leading into the city from the south are only wide enough to accommodate two lane roads, and access from the north takes a lengthy looping route via Yorii -- a sleepy burg whose own fortunes are set to skyrocket when the new super-efficient Honda assembly plant opens.

The already poor transportation situation could become dire if the Seibu Group wins permission to close down rail service on the Seibu Chichibu Line. Seibu managers seem to have wanted for some time to unload the Chichibu line as well as four other minor lines. They have cleverly used a bid for board seats by U.S. based Cerberus Capital as an opportunity to make public their desire to dump their least profitable rail operations. (Link)

To be fair, Seibu has tried to promote travel along the Seibu Chichibu line, publishing, for example, a library of trail maps for hikers. Two of the trails, the one up to Kanhatsushumiharashidai and the one from Ne no Gongen to Takedera (Hachioji) are classic beginner-level day trips.

All photos: MTC

Friday, May 03, 2013

Be True To Your School

Entrance to the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management
Image courtesy: Google Street View

Yesterday when I typed, again and again, "Matsushita Institute for Government and Management" as a part of the bios of those attending Sunday's unofficial Return of Sovereignty Day ceremony, two thoughts kept running through my mind:

1) "Wow, for a school with only 256 graduates, these folks are ubiquitous."


2) "What the heck do they teach these people?"

The Matsushita Seikei Juku churns out conservative politicians and corporate executives, though only four at a time now. Despite its fame it remains a pretty mysterious place. Some journalists and commentators have taken a look at the school, sometimes with embarrassing results (link withheld to protect the guilty).

Looking at the graduates who became politicians, most prominent of whom is former Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko, two themes stand out. The views that

a) the rules governing the lives of ordinary mortals do not apply to us

a belief that led Noda to call an election that led to the collapse of the Democratic Party of Japan as a force in the House of Representatives, and

b) success is confidence plus a social network.

Other attributes humans tend to find of value, such as self-awareness and deep knowledge, do not play an obvious role in the Matsushita Way.

Perhaps persons destined to be leaders do not need them...until they do, of course.

Inada Checks In

Late 19th image of the Yasukuni obelisk commemorating those who died in the Seinan War

I was certain that Minister for Administrative Reform Inada Tomomi was going to join the other two members of the Abe Cabinet's Terrible Trio in paying her respects at Yasukuni during the shrine's spring festival. I was very surprised when she was not one among the herd.

On Sunday, she made up for it:
Inada now fourth Cabinet minister to visit Yasukuni

Administrative reform minister Tomomi Inada on Sunday became the fourth member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet to break the taboo of visiting war-linked Yasukuni Shrine, sources said.

Inada's visit to Yasukuni, which along with the nation's war dead honors Class-A war criminals, followed those by Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshitaka Shindo on April 20 and by Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and Keiji Furuya, state minister for the abduction issue, on April 21...
It took Inada a while but she finally checked in. I had said over a month ago that she, Furuya and Shindo would be hard pressed not to.

I guess Inada made a judgment call based upon her own convenience and a sense of historical grandeur. She could pay her visit earlier in the week, in conjunction with the annual Spring Festival or wait for a visit to Yasukuni in combination with the ceremony marking the first official Return of National Sovereignty Day -- a double dip of hardline goodness that was on the menu of many of the attendees at Sunday's official ceremony.

Later - The online Mainichi Shinbun confirms my suspicion of a combined outing. Inada paid her respects and signed the shrine register. Unlike Furuya Keiji, she made no mention of her ministerial position. Instead she wrote down "Association for Tradition and Creation" (Dento to sozo no kai), the study group of Class of 2005 conservative lawmakers she founded (Link - J) and then "Member of the House of Representatives Inada Tomomi." (Link - J)

Thursday, May 02, 2013

About The Other Sovereignty Day Commemoration

[The below is a draft post, with sections left incomplete.]

The first official return of sovereignty day commemoration ceremony, complete with the presence of their Imperial Majesties, was held on April 28, the 61st anniversary of the end of the Occupation.

The official ceremony garnered attention worldwide, much of it not appreciative.

Despite the domestic and international temperatures raised by this event, the ceremony itself passed relatively smoothly.

There was only one unscripted moment, dutifully ignored by all the major broadcasters except the center-left TBS network. One of the attendees started shouting, "Tenno heika banzai!" ("May the Emperor live 10,000 years!"). Much of the rest of the audience soon joined in, causing the Imperial Couple, who had been leaving, to freeze like two deer caught in the headlights. (Link – J video)

Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide, when asked later about the banzais, responded that they were an impromptu and natural occurrence. (Link -J )

A trio of banzais probably should not be seen as a harbinger of world's end. Given that the attendees were the cream of the nation's revisionist political class, a little off-script self-described loyalist enthusiasm should have been expected.

In terms revisionist theater, the official ceremony in the morning was a strictly amateur production.

The professionals made their appearance in the afternoon at People's Assembly For Return To Sovereignty Day (Shuken kaifuku kinenbi kokumin shukai) at the Hibiya Kokaido -- a general overview of which has been provided to us by Channel Sakura. (Link – J video)

The above linked video has just about everything one could hope for:

- A "materials-bought-at-the-100-yen-store" studio set

- The organizer Ijiri Kazuo (former columnist for the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, adjunct professor at Takushoku University, member of Sakurai Yoshiko’s Fundamentals think tank and member of the New Textbook group) boasting of filling up the lower tier and half of the upper tier (How thrilled is Ijiri about the turnout? He insists on going over it twice with the announcer.)

- The Amazon event hostess (yes, the tall lady in the denim tube skirt and the sandals in this shot who runs the non-profit that cleans up beaches, is a Channel Sakura announcer and a member of the Self Defense Forces Reserves.)

- The complete hash made of the singing of the Kimigayo (It takes a special kind of impatience to mess up a performance of the world's shortest national anthem.)

And that is what you get in the first 2:50 of the Channel Sakura digest, before any of the featured speakers opens his or her mouth.

And who were the featured speakers?

Based upon the videos uploaded to YouTube, about 20 VIPs were on the schedule, with one would be speaker, the one with the highest government office of the group, having his brief greeting read out by the hostess.

I present the speakers and links to their speeches below in what I believe is the proper order, with the names of active members of the National Diet in bold:

Kobori Keichiro – emeritus professor of comparative literature, Meiji University. Studied German literature at Tokyo University alongside Nishio Kanji), member of the New Textbook group. (Full Speech – J)

Noda Takeshi - Chairman of the Diet Members' League for a Return of Sovereignty Day, Chairman of the LDP House of Representatives delegation, chairman of the LDP's Tax Committee, former member of the Liberal Party. (Full Speech – J)

Shindo Yoshitaka (in absentia) – Minister of General Affairs and Telecommunications, member of the House of Representatives, grandson of Kuribayashi Tadamichi -- the commander of the defense of Iojima. (Read Message - J)

Takaichi Sanae - Chairman of the LDP Policy Research Council, member of the House of Representatives, leader of the Diet members delegation visit to Yasukuni on April 23 (Link), seated at the right hand of Abe Shinzo when Abe was elected LDP president (Link - Amari Akira was to his left), graduate of the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management, former aide to U.S. House of Representatives members Patricia Schroeder (Full Speech - J)

Hiranuma Takeo - Acting Representative of the Japan Restoration Association, member of the House of Representatives, former leader of the Sunrise Party, leader of the postal rebellion against Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro, adopted son of convicted Class A War Criminal Hiranuma Kiichiro. (Full Speech - J)

Kiuchi Minoru - Parliamentary Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hiranuma disciple, former postal rebel (successfully fought off Koizumi candidate Katayama Satsuki), former Ministry of Foreign Affairs bureaucrat. (Full Speech - J)

Yamatani Eriko -member of the House of Councillors, deputy chairman of the LDP committee on security and terrorism, former special advisor to the prime minister on education revitalization, former editor in chief of Sankei Living, originally elected to the Diet as a DPJ proportional seat candidate. (Full Speech - J)

Araki Kazuhiro – Professor of International Relations at Takushoku University, member of Sakurai Yoshiko’s Fundamental think tank, former Ground Self Defense Forces officer, GSDF Reserves member. (Full Speech - J)

Sugihara Makoto – Chairman of the New Textbook group, publisher of works on war responsibility, member of the Advisory Committee of the Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact. (Full Speech – J)

Nishida Shoji - LDP member of the House of Councillors, vice chairman’s of the parliamentarian’s league promoting visits to Yasukuni. (Full Speech – J)

Uto Takashi - Deputy chairman of the House of Councillors Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, LDP member, graduate of the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management, former Air Self Defense Forces fighter pilot. (Full Speech – J)

Akaike Masaaki – Guest professor at Meiji University, former LDP member of the House of Representatives, graduate of the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management, former principal of the Japan Aviation High School. (Full Speech – J)

Nishioka Tsutomu – Professor at Tokyo Christian University, chairman of the national association for the aid to those abducted by the DPRK. (Full Speech - J)

Koike Yuriko - Chairman of the LDP Public Affairs Division, member of the House of Representatives, member of the board of directors of Renault, former chairman of the LDP General Council, former minister of defense, former minister of the environment, successful Koizumi candidate in 2005, former member of the Liberal Party, former television announcer, graduate of Cairo University, English and Arabic speaker (Full Speech - J)

Yamada Kenji - member of the House of Representatives, director with Societe Generale Private Banking, former employee of Mitsui Sumitomo Bank, seconded for a while to the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry. (Full Speech


Tamogami Toshio – Chairman of Hang Tough Japan! All Japan Action Committee (Ganbare Nippon Zenkoku kodo iinkai), the former Chief of Staff of the Air Self Defense Forces who was relieved of his command and forced into retirement for composing a controversial essay (Link) exonerating Japan's pre-1945 government of war guilt. (Full Speech – J)



"But wait. This event took place at the Hibiya Kokaido? Isn't that the hall where...?"

Yes, the hall where this happened (video has a viewer discretion warning).

Grotesque and utterly inappropriate?

Yes and no.

Perversely, along with Asanuma Inejiro, the hopes of Japan's revisionists were felled on that day 52 years ago. Asanuma's televised assassination delegitimized the ultra-patriotic and the revisionits, condemning them to a political Siberia from which they were to not to emerge for 45 years. Asanuma's 17 year-old assassin hanged himself in his cell a few weeks after the killing, seemingly sorry not for robbing a man of his life, but for having caused trouble for his comrades.

[The phrase the assassin scratched on the wall of his holding cell wall before taking his life? "I would give up life seven times more for my country. Tenno heika banzai!"]

In retrospect, Japan's Left probably never had what it took to push the revisionists and ultras back. The deniers had to, and did, do themselves in.

Now, after a half-a-hundred circuits about the Sun, we face perhaps a new reality.

If the above video of General Tamogami does not sate your craving for fulminating resentment, you can catch him live tomorrow (May 3). He will be participating in a panel discussion in Iwakuni (where the U.S. Marines base is) at the Iwakuni Shimin Kaikan.

"So who's on the panel with him?"

Funny you should ask that. One name: member of the House of Representatives Kishi Nobuo.

"You mean?"

Yes. The prime minister's younger brother. (Link – J)

Springtime for Japan's revisionists: one does not have to exaggerate, construct tenuous connections or issue paranoid prognostications.

The story writes itself.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Ave Imperator, De Rideri Te Salutant

My hometown newspaper has something of a problem with Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. No, strike that. My hometown newspaper has a huge problem with Abe Shinzo. The editors of the Tokyo Shimbun could have chosen any number of the images from the PM's visit to the Nico Nico Douga event at Makuhari Messe. However, they thought the above -- which I am sure made Abe public relations wizard Iijima Isao wince and wish he were somewhere else -- was perfect for the middle of Sunday's politics page.

Sakusen, seiko!

Later - No, I do not want to think about why the Self Defense Forces had one of its latest generation tanks on display at a geeks, gamers and net vidiots convention. Perhaps the Minister for Cool Japan (yes, there is one) can explain it. Indeed, given the identity of the Minister for Cool Japan, I am pretty sure she can.

Later still - Video of Abe's visit to the event, courtesy TBS. (Link - J video)

Much, much later - TBS has removed the video but private videos are up on YouTube and other video sharing sites.

A scathing exegesis of Abe's tank photo op can be found at The Point. (Link)

Image courtesy: Kyodo News