Friday, February 28, 2014

We Don't Report The News, We Just Guess What It Might Be

Yamada Hiroshi asking his questions on the comfort women in House of Representatives Budget Committee session on 20 February 2014. Screen capture courtesy Shuugiin TV.

For those of us who are formalists - who tend to believe that Abe Shinzo, Suga Yoshihide and the rest of the Abe Cabinet should be judged on what they say and do, not what we think what their words and actions mean -- last week was a pretty good week. Prime Minister Abe Shinzo Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide successfully deflected the demands of Japan Restoration Party member Yamada Hiroshi for an immediate investigation and moves toward repudiation of the Kono Statement -- this after Yamada's distasteful badgering of 87 year-old retired Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Ishihara Nobuo over how the Kono Statement came to be.

Suga, when pressed by Yamada for some kind of action on the Kono Statement, promised that the government would study whether or not it was appropriate to continue protecting of the identities of the 16 Korean women interviewed as a part of the drafting process of the Kono Statement -- this since the use of these anonymous and thus uncheckable interviews is proof, in revisionist circles, that the Kono Statement is not based in fact.

Later, when Yamada could not get the credit for pushing the government where it did not want to go, Suga also thought out loud about whether or not the government should study an investigation of the interview process.

Considering the pressures Abe and Suga are under from their own rank and file to put some meat on the program of "casting off the postwar regime" (Link) these vague promises seemed to indicate a general Cabinet consensus that hate it though they might there is no alternative to the Kono Statement -- not if Government of Japan wants to have a relationship of any kind with the Government of the Republic of Korea.

Then on Monday, after the end of the day's session in the Budget Committee, Abe Shinzo may have thrown everything into doubt.

Having caught wind of a Fuji Sankei Group public opinion poll showing 59%% of voters desiring a revision of the Kono Statement and 66% wanting at least an investigation of the process that produced it, Abe approached Yamada and said, well...something to Yamada seemingly indicating that he, Abe, personally shared Yamada's desire to get on with the work of dismantling the Kono Statement. (Link)

Unfortunately for anyone wishing to say "Aha! I told you so!" no one seems to know what it was that Abe said to Yamada.

If you ask the newspapers, literally each and every one of them has a different answer.

According to the august Nihon Keizai Shimbun, the PM said to Yamada:


"From the public opinion polls (of one part of the news media), those in favour (of an investigation) of the Kono Statement exceeded 60%. It is all thanks your questions, Sensei."

To which Yamada replied:


"In the government and the Diet, let us divide up the workload according to our roles."

The Mainichi Shimbun quotes the PM as telling Yamada.


"High levels of public support for this in the public opinion polls (of one part of the news media) are achieved thanks to the questions you, Yamada-san, asked us."

The Mainichi's version of the cooperation pledge is also different:


"Let us cooperate because there are some things the government cannot do alone."

Akahata ("Red Flag"), the Japan Communist Party's House organ, has Abe saying:


"In the public opinion poll, those in favour (of revision) are around 60%. Thanks to you, Yamada-san."

In The Asahi Shimbun the prime minister says:


“In public opinion polls (of one part of the media) agreement has topped 60% regarding the investigation of the Kono Statement. Thanks to you, Yamada-san."

(My underlining in the above - MTC)

As for the Sankei Shimbun, the paper whose public opinion poll (I have seen one journalist refer to the poll as a poll of Sankei Shimbun readers. This is incorrect. The poll was conducted via telephone calls placed to voters through RDD - random digit dialing) started this whole business, its version of the encounter does not have any of the above. Instead, according to Sankei, Abe told Yamada:


"It is necessary for seriously discuss of this matter, without any dilly-dallying."

Now as far as I have been led to understand, the kisha clubs are a cabal where the news organizations get together and decide as a group what the news is, leaving the framing to the editors of each organization.

If so, why does each outlet report the Abe-Yamada conversation differently?

One answer is, of course, is that the source of the story is Yamada himself, at least according the Sankei Shimbun. This would set the bar of veracity at very low level. Yamada could very likely have given a different version of the conversation to each media company.

I do not know.

What I do know is that on the same day as the Abe-Yamada tête–à–tête, Foreign Minister Kishida Fumio told the Secial Committee on Okinawa and the Northern Territories Issues:


"For myself or for this government, I have never ever said anything about a revision of the Kono Statement."


As long as the members of the Cabinet keep denying that a revision is what is being discussed, I will hold my breath -- in hope.

At least until Abe Shinzo personally tells me otherwise.

Later - The main message is, whatever you read, don't panic. Whoever it was who said, "You are entitled to your own opinions but you are not entitled to your own facts," clearly was not a reader of Japanese newspapers.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Flowers For Korekiyo


Today is the 78th anniversary of the 2/26 Incident (Ni-ni-roku jiken). (Link)

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has been relying on Takahashi Korekiyo as the guide star and historical anchor for his Abenomics economics policies (Link). Do you think the PM has sent flowers to the old man's grave today or to his statue in the park next to the Canadian Embassy, the site where the soldiers found him and killed him?

I was trying to think the other day of what Abe could do to demonstrate that his 'escape for the postwar regime' is more than just a glorification of the Meiji State. "What could he do to repudiate the course the country took under the Meiji Constitution?" I asked myself. "Perhaps he could reverse a historical wrong, proving that he is not in thrall to the myth of a virile and respected pre-1945 Japan."

I tried to think how far back in time one would have to go for Abe Shinzo to be able to admit, "OK, what the government did there was wrong."

"If not apologies for the invasion of China, not the assassination of Zhang Zuolin, not the annexation of Korea, how about a partdon of Kotoku Shusui, tried and executed in 1911 for the High Treason Incident of 1910? That was a domestic affair so there are no implications for Japan's current fraught relationships with its neighbors. And since it all happened over a hundred years ago, who could have any problem with it?"

Then I had to clap my hand to my forehead:

"Idiot! Of course there is someone who would have a problem with it. Member of the House of Representatives Hiranuma Takeo, Abe's Best Friend Forever and the co-leader of Abe's Sosei Nippon movement (Link) is the adopted son of Hiranuma Kiichiro - the prosecutor of the High Treason Incident defendants!"

One hundred and three years on...and hopeless impediments to realistic and healing assessments of history are still with us.

And now the sun is going down.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What Gives Abe Shinzo The Right To Re-Interpret The Constitution?

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo anxwering questions in Diet Budget Committee session on 20 Febraury 2014. Original image courtesy The Prime Minister's Residence website.

During the foreign policy and security interpellations in the House Budget Committee session last week Liberal Democratic Party member Iwaya Takeshi asked, amid his questions to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense and other government officials, for the Cabinet Legislation Bureau's opinion on who has the right to interpret the Constitution.

Since Richard Samuels has written What Everybody Needs To know About The Cabinet Legislation Bureau (not the actual title) I will eschew further explanation of the significance of Iwaya asking for the CLB's view.

Deputy CLB Director Yokobatake Yusuke, who was filling in for CLB Director General Komatsu Ichiro during Komatsu's hospitalization, responded that three articles of the Constitution are paramount in determing who can interpret the Constitution.

First, according to Yokobatake, is Article Eighty-One (just why I am writing the number this way becomes clearer later). This article shows the American origins of the revised Japanese Constitution, inserting into the body of the Japanese Constitution what was was missing from the U.S. Constitution and which was only later established in case law by Marbury vs. Madison (1804):
The Supreme Court is the court of last resort with power to determine the constitutionality of any law, order, regulation or official act.

The second article regulating interpretation, according to the CLB, is Article Ninety-Nine. This is a rather surprising choice, as Article Ninety-Nine seems like a bulwark against reinterpretation, not the foundation underneath it:

"The Emperor or the Regent as well as Ministers of State, members of the Diet, judges, and all other public officials have the obligation to respect and uphold this Constitution."

Reinterpretation might be a way of showing respect for the Constitution, maybe.

Finally, Yokobatake concluded, there is Article Argle-Bargle, which establishes that the prime minister, via the Cabinet, has ultimate responsibility.

Now one needs to know that I have tinnitus. My life is a constant series of cuppings of my hand to my ear and saying, "Eh?"

In this case, my saying "Eh?" to the live video broadcast from the Budget Committee chamber did not provoke Yokobatake to return to the microphone and repeat himself.

When I cannot importune the speaker to repeat himself or herself, I have to guess what it was that he or she must have said.

Being less than an expert in the Japanese Constitution but generally knowing my way around, I had to reason out which article would be granting the PM power to interpret the Constitution. Because that which sounds like "Article Argle-Bargle" and the articles in that neighborhood have nothing to do with that right.

I figured Yokobatake must have said, "Article Forty-One" as that article is the traditional cited source of confusion as to who, if anyone, has the ultimate right to interpret the Constitution:

"The Diet shall be the highest organ of state power, and shall be the sole law-making organ of the State."

I plunked out a series of messages saying that the CLB had spoken and by its ordering, had put the Supreme Court on the front lines of constitutional interpretation, with the Diet, the Cabinet and the PM coming after.

It was not until the next day that I could review the archived video on the House of Representatives TV website. To my surprise and not inconsiderable delight I found out that my ears had not failed me. Deputy CLB Director Yokobatake had indeed said, "Article Argle-Bargle." More precisely he said that the Cabinet's and the Prime Minister's power to interpret the Constitution came from "Article Ninety-Five" (Kyuju go jo).

There is a problem with that assertion:

Article 95: A special law, applicable only to one local public entity, cannot be enacted by the Diet without the consent of the majority of the voters of the local public entity concerned, obtained in accordance with law.

Reading the above, one can understand my original reaction of thinking that I had not heard Yokobatake correctly.

It took only a second or two for me to grasp how the Todai Law-trained Yokobatake could be saying that an obscure part of the Constitution on holding referendums on local administrative issues gives the PM the power to interpret the Constitution:

He was reading the article number upside down.

Or at least part of it.

If one flips the first digit of the Arabic numeral notation for Ninety-Five -- 95 -- one gets 65 (rokuju go jo).

Citing Article 65 makes a heck of a lot more sense:

Article 65 - Executive power shall be vested in the Cabinet.

Now one can pat oneself on the back and say, "Isn't that grand. The highest ranking active official in the bureau of the government known as 'The Guardian of The Constitution' (Kenpo no bannin) cites a completely irrelevant article of the Constitution in Budget Committee session before full house of national specialists in the law including the prime minister, Representatives, high ranking bureaucrats and legal experts, and no one flinches or even gets a confused look on his or her face."

Great, fine, but that is not the interesting part of Yokobatake's error.

Yokobatake did not, as I assumed he must, cite Article 41 (I will use the usual format from now on). When one compares the two articles, 41 and 65, "the highest organ of state power" and "sole law-making organ of the state" sure sound more like ultimate authority than simple "executive power."

Reviewing what Abe Shinzo has said regarding his plans to reinterpret the Constitution (which has been the subject of intense and bombastic debate in the newspapers, on blogs and on Twitter), he never says that he has the authority to do so. He declares instead that he has the ultimate responsibility for the Constitution -- which seems to be a different issue.

In terms of the nitty-gritty, when in the process of reinterpreting the Constitution does Abe has to let the Diet ("the highest organ of state power") debate the proposed reinterpretations? Can the Cabinet can issue a Cabinet Decision (kakugi kettei) approving the interpretatiion allowing for collective security before the passage of the new laws enabling the new interpretations? By citing Article 65 and not citing Article 41, the CLB seems to be taking the rather provocative position that the Cabinet can by itself declare the new interpretations government policy, with the Diet brought in ex post facto.

If the Abe Cabinet tries this approach with collective security legistlation, the resulting firestorm could make last autumn's fight over the Special Designated Secrets Act seem like a match flame in comparison.

Which begs the question: did Yokobatake, the constitutional expert, cite an irrelevant but visually related part of the Constitution on purpose?

Monday, February 24, 2014

On Asada Mao And Mori Yoshiro - By Request

No question as to which country she hails from: Asada Mao's profile on the Japan Skating Federation website lists her blood type.

In comments I was asked my thoughts as regards Tokyo 2020 Olympics Organizing Committee Chair and former prime minister Mori Yoshiro's comments on skater Asada Mao’s performance in the short program half of the women's singles figure skating competition at the Sochi Olympics. (Link)

Mori Yoshiro has reputation of saying idiocies when he should know not to. I would argue that Mori is no more of an idiot than the average run of Japanese politician and is far more entertaining than most. He knows what he thinks and is willing to say what he thinks. This makes him a great guest on morning talk shows, as he ends up talking wonderful trash about the current prime minister, the Liberal Democratic Party, the nation's sports organizations...whatever.

Where Mori tends to get into trouble is when he tries to explain why he thinks what he thinks. He could take the easy route and simply excuse himself for following his instincts. Instead he tries to provide an explanation on the fly for opinions he himself has not, until that very moment, thought through. To add a layer of complexity (thereby guaranteeing failure) he tries to read the mood and intellectual level of the room and gear his ad hoc explanation to whatever audience he thinks is out there.

The results are not pretty.

The architecture of his controversial comments on Asada's collapse goes something like this.
a) Asada Mao fell down in the short program in the women's singles figure skating.
b) She fell down because she felt pressure.
c) She felt pressure because she felt responsible for the poor showing of Japan in the team competition.
d) Mao fell down in the team competition, skating the women's short program segment.


x) The Reed siblings live in the United States.
y) The Reed siblings are mediocre ice dancers who had no chance at representing the United States.
y) The Reed siblings represent Japan because Japan has no ice dancers.


Ergo: Asada Mao fell down in the singles competition because the Reed siblings are not really Japanese?

(Link - J)

Of course, Mori being Mori, the above was not bad enough. He had to go and make the whole thing personal:

"I was watching thinking, 'C'mon girl, give it your best shot for us.’ However, Mao, brilliantly, fell down. That girl, whenever it's really important, she falls down, doesn't she?"*

The tragedy in the complete train wreck of racism, sexism and misguided sports nationalism is that there was in it the germ of an idea, one that was indeed worthy of one whose responsibiilties include the goading of everyone into making an Olympian effort for 2020:

"Mao-chan tends to fall down and usually at the very worst moment. Everybody knows this. She should therefore have never competed in the team competition. When she fell in the team competition's short program segment she felt responsible for the team's finishing out of medal contention. That led her to overcompensate in the singles competition, leading to her breakdown in the short program.

Japan's real problem is that it has no ice dancers or pairs skaters worth a damn. If you look at the final team competition standings, Japan finishes in fifth place with 51 points. Mao finished third in her group, contributing a respectable 8 points to the final tally. Japan's pairs skaters and ice dancers both finished in eighth place in the preliminaries and dead last in the six-team finals. (Link)

How lousy is our domestic ice dancing program? We have to rely on the Reed siblings -- who are Japanese neither by residence nor upbringing and who have zero chance of ever making the U.S. Olympic team -- to fill out our roster."

Does anyone know -- did Mori saying anything about the pairs where Japan's representatives were young, inexperienced, shaky and also not Olympic caliber?

[Takahashi & Kihara finished 18th out of 20 pairs; the Reed siblings finished 21st out of 24 pairs.]

What complicates the story is that Mori's original, unadorned reaction to Asada falling down (and doubling a planned triple jump) in the short program -- “I was watching thinking, 'C'mon girl, give it your best shot for us.' However, Mao, brilliantly, fell down. That girl, whenever it's really important, she falls down, doesn't she?" -- is probably what at least half the country was thinking, and probably still thinks.

Asada is a ferociously talented and dedicated skater, one of the greats. She is also almost never able to put together two clean programs in one competition (I have seen it happen only once: her victory in the nationals in 2009). She is also a national emblem, her image used to sell a huge variety of products, her face the image of Japan’s winter sports programs. Feed those three items into a heady mix of an underperforming country (Link and Link - Gremo Slovenija!) looking for well-groomed sports heroes (Japan's X-sports stars being, for what are sadly obvious reasons, not seen as big corporate sponsorship material) to fight against a beautiful South Korean super villain -- and you get a huge, resentful reaction by half the nation to a young woman's losing her concentration at what future generations will mock as Vladimir Putin's Potemkin Village Festival.

In truth, Asada Mao's legend was best served by her short program collapse and her stunning long program skate. First, it was true to her longtime personal narrative of blowing the short program only to claw back into contention in the free skate -- the 2010 Vancouver Olympics being the one time her long program proved her downfall. Second, had she been in contention after the short program, her immaculate free skate performance, glorious in its pointlessness, would have been swallowed up in the grubby competition for the medals (Link). I have yet to see a commentator or announcer on television point out that Asada skated her program, technically the most difficult of all those competing in Sochi, as well as she possibly could, earning a personal best score-- and still managed to only finish third in the free skate . If she had skated two clean programs she might have won, yes -- but then again, she might have ended up in third or even fourth place.

Asada's plummeting to 16th place in the short program and the lackluster performances by Suzuki Aiko and Murakami Kanako kept Japanese well away from medal contention and thus a safe distance from South Korean anger over the final result. Given Japan's relations with both South Korea and Russia, being away from the fray is very definitely in the national interest. (Link - Nota bene: if you have to put "politely" in your message, your request ain't too polite.)

Asada seems destined to go down in history as the magnificently flawed hero, the skater who was at her best only when she was at her worst, driving her countrymen and countrywomen to distraction and despair.

So Mori-sensei, keep voicing amazed frustration. It is a feeling one can enjoy on its own terms, without explanation.

Later - To clarify what I mean by sexism, Asada Mao falls down once and earns demeaning commentary. Male singles Olympic champion Han'yu Yuzuru falls down twice and is a national hero.


*「頑張ってくれと見ていましたけど(浅田)真央ちゃん、見事にひっくり返りました。あの子、大事なときには必ず転ぶんですね。」If anyone has a suggestion on how to translate this passage so as to better capture the semi-sarcasm of migoto ni please post it in comments.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Abe Shinzo's World, Framed

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo chairing a meeting of the Ministerial Council on Monthly Economic Report and Other Relative Issues on 19 February 2014. Image courtesy the Prime Minister's Residence website.

It is a good day when one article helps illuminate the substrate of reality beneath the facade of events.

If so, yesterday was an amazing day.

- In refutation of Abe Shinzo's remarks in Davos on the severity of the threat posed by China's rise (Link), Robert Dujarric takes apart the idea that China is this century's Wilhelmine Germany. (Link)

Dujarric's arguments notwithstanding, Abe was not wrong to at least try an association of 2014 with 1914 (Link). He seems to have a sense, and it is not an unreasonable one, that the rest of the world has caught up with where he and his friends were on China during the first Abe Administration. Abe and Company's Sinophobia made them freaks in 2006. In 2014, their paranoia is mainstream. (Link)

An acid "We told you so!" from Abe and his supporters would not be out of place.

- Illustrating the extent to which a desperate desire for autonomy (What I have identified as the revisionist right's fervent and quixotic hope that Japan can become the Turkey of East Asia) drives even the Abe Administration's macroeconomic policies is Andrew Browne's interview of Abe economics guru Honda Etsuro (Link). There is nothing in Honda's righteous and occasionally maudlin performance that should come as a surprise to anyone who has listened to Japanese business executives, politicians and academics -- men and women -- talk these past two decades. The huge audience for the the books of Hyakuta Naoki (Link) and the big turnout for General Tamogami Toshio in the Tokyo gubernatorial election show that a sizable fraction of the general population is sympathetic to the revisionist project as well -- far more than Japan explainers have been willing to admit. What is interesting is Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide reached into to his rapidly depleting store of credibility to deny in the Diet that Abenomics has a military objective. (Link)

The inescapable problem with the Japanese revisionist quest for autonomy (the right, for example, for Japanese school curricula to be as crammed with nationalist claptrap as the school curricula of China and South Korea) is, beyond all else, where to get the money for it. The governments national and local are in debt up to their eyeballs, the national government relying on ridiculous levels of deficit financing to keep the economy from cratering. Demographics is hammering down Japan's potential rate of growth. Raising Japan's defense spending to meet the challenge of China's rise would require either heftier taxation or nonsensical cuts in current government spending on non-security programs.

Abenomics, if a full program of easing, stimulus and restructuring were carried out, would go part way toward funding a more autonomous Japan -- but only part way. What the revisionists would never admit is they have no answers for how to pay for the whole journey.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

NHK Answers None Of Your Questions

NHK president Momii Kasuto at the microphone, Diet Budget Committee session, 20 February 2014. Image courtesy; Shugiin TV.
Ask me no more questions.
I’ll tell you no more lies.
- “Miss Suzy" (traditional)
It has been an angry morning in the Diet Budget Committee. NHK president Momii Katsuto has been called to the microphone time and time again (Does the chair really have to say "Nippon hoso kyokai" every time, when just saying "NHK" would save three to five seconds?). Momii was asked time and time again to grapple with simple logic. Time and time again, logic came out looking the worse for wear.

Among the concepts the Democratic Party of Japan questioners were asked to accept:

- That under NHK rules Momii lacks the authority or personal capacity to interpret or explain his own remarks

-- Momii cannot confirm or deny the accuracy of his own previous Diet testimony

The head of NHK management Hamada Kei'ichiro had perhaps the winning entry in the contorted thinking category. He offered an argument that, if taken to its logical conclusion, would say that Momii cannot testify about what he said at a meeting of the NHK governors because he has not confirmed with himself the accuracy of his personal recollection of his own remarks.

The complete insanity of the NHK representatives's non-testimony and Budget Committee chair Nikai Toshihiro's unwillingness to threaten Momii and Hamada with contempt led to five interrurptions of the session, with DPJ deputies barking and Nikai ordering the sound feed from the committee cut off.

Momii, an Abe Administration albatross (Link) has proven himself useful in at least one way. After his performance this morning almost anyone else standing behind a Diet microphone, no matter how stubborn or prickly, will seem by comparison a model of cooperation and clarity.

Later - Broken link in above now repaired.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Where's Shinzo? - The Snow's Fallin' Edition

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo on the telephone with Olympic gold medallist Han'yu Yuzuru on 15 February 2014. Image courtesy The Prime Minister's Residence.

The great snowstorm of this past weekend is becoming, albeit weakly so far, a Katrina moment for the Abe Administration. The damage is stunning, particularly to homes and Japan's winter food production infrastructure. An astonishing number of communities remain cut off five days after the snow began falling in earnest. The entire prefecture of Yamanashi entered Monday without a single surface transportation link to connect it with the outside world, this despite decades of loving attention from the Liberal Democratic Party's Road and Construction Tribes.

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s whereabouts and actions during the storm and its aftermath have become a matter of controversy and criticism both in Diet sessions and on the Web. (Link)

For the record, here is my annotated translation of the prime minister's schedule as it appeared in my morning newspaper, detailing where the prime minister was and what he was doing the day the storm arrived and the two days afterward:

Friday, February 14
7:58 leaves Prime Minister's Residential Quarters for Prime Minister's Residence
8:02 Arrives Prime Minister's Residence.. Chairs meeting of the Headquarters for the Promotion of Social Security Reform (Link)
8:22 Cabinet meeting
8:36 meets with Minister of State for Gender Equality Mori Masako
10:46 meets with Paddy Burke, Chairperson of the Senate of the Republic of Ireland (Link)
12:01 meets with Minister in charge of Trans Pacific Partnership Amari Akira
12:58 arrives Diet Building
13:02 arrives at plenary session of the House of Representatives
13:03 meets with Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru
13:22 arrives Prime Minister's Residence
14:02 meets Saiki Akitaka, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs
14:13 meets Kozuki Toyohisa, Director-General of the Division of European Affairs, MOFA
15:41 meets Thomas Enders, CEO of The Airbus Group
16:01 meets Kitamura Shigeru, Director of Cabinet Intelligence
16:31 meets Minister of Defense Onodera Itsunori and Administrative Vice Minister for Defense Nishi Masanori
17:12 chairs meeting of the Council for Science and Technology Policy (Link)
18:20 summit meeting with Christopher Loeak, president of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (Link)
18:49 joint press announcement with President Loeak
19:01 Arrives at Prime Minister's Residential Quarters. Formal dinner with President Loeak
20:24 Bid farewell to President Loeak. Returns to Prime Minister’s Residential Quarters.

Saturday, February 15
Receives no visitors, stays at the Prime Minister’s Residential Quarters
14:25 interview by members of the domestic broadcast media
14:31 telephone call with Han'yu Yuzuru, gold medallist, men's singles figure skating, Sochi Olympic Games (Link)
14:54 Arrives at personal residence in Tomigaya, Shibuya City, Tokyo

Sunday, February 16
Receives no visitors, stays at his personal residence in Tomigaya
17:49 Dinner with supporters (unnamed) at Akasaka tempura restaurant Rakutei.
20:05 Returns to personal residence in Tomigaya

If the Democratic Party of Japan had half a gram of political sense it would have its members hogging every microphone, preening before every camera and tying up Diet proceedings, demanding that the Prime Minister explain his and his administration’s dilatory response to the weather catastrophe -- no matter how petty, superficial, crass, exploitative and petulant it makes the DPJ look from afar.

Because as we know from what happened after 3/11 that is exactly what the LDP would be doing, if it were still the main opposition party.

Monday, February 17, 2014

If I-Phones Are To Blame For Lousy GDP

The JapanRealTime blog has a post up arguing that a significant portion of bad news in the GDP net negative trade figures arises from durable goods retailers having imported in the expectation of a rush to buy before the rise in the consumption tax on April 1.(Link)

If so, then figures to look at to answer the question "Is Abenomics a bust?" will be the monthly retail sales figures. If they do show tradeable durable goods flying out of the nation's showrooms these next two months, great. If not, then look out below -- especially since the alternate explanation, that Japanese consumers after 20 years of deflation are shrugging their shoulders at a sudden 3% increase in prices, is simply ridiculous.

If the data fails to shows retailers moving mountains of inventory, then we will not need to wait for the next GDP release to hit the panic button.

Let us all, Abenomics believers and skeptics alike, pray the retail figures show folks on a spending spree.

Of course, the heavy importation figures in 2013 Q4 could also have been done in anticipation of the yen falling further against major currencies -- a reasonable supposition that has just not panned out.

Of course, there are those who see a silver lining in every cloud -- such as today's lousy GDP figures  pressuring the Bank of Japan to increase the pace of its radical easing measures, leaving cash lying around for the markets to sop up, making the Nikkei a buy. (Link)

An LDP Trying To Take Sexual Images Seriously

With more and more devices being equipped with camera lenses, astonishing data capacity of even tiny items and the transnational space of the Internet, the question of the legal status of uploaded still and motion imagery of one's private sexual behavior is not trivial, particularly in this blessed land where a reputation is still a highly valued if schizophrenically protected asset.

Nevertheless, the shoulders bunch up at Liberal Democratic Party Policy Research Council announcing the establishment of a Special Committee on Revenge Porno (Ribenji poruno tokumei iinkai) studying what the government can do, if anything, about the uploading of private sexual content to the Internet (Link - J). It might be because of the gratuitous use of loan words in the name of the committee -- gratuitous in that if the effort were sincere there would be a recognizable kanji-based description of the subject being tackled. Perhaps it is because LDP Policy Research Chair Takaichi Sanae's discussing almost any subject tenses the shoulders (NHK had her and the other party policy chiefs on Nichiyo Toron yesterday -- and her every pose and utterance telegraphed her contempt and boredom at the proceedings).

Most likely, however, it is the announcement that the chairman of the special committee on "revenge porno" will be Hirasawa Katsuei.

While there are likely defensible expertise and organizational reasons why Hirasawa might be qualified to lead the committee, it would seem reasonable, given the delicate nature of the assumed offense, to choose a standard bearer who could conceivably be a victim -- or at least would not lead the lay person to titter at the absurdity the thought of the standard bearer ever being a victim. Sadly, of all the members of the LDP, Hirasawa has to be least plausible potential victim of the uploading of his/her private sexual content -- the only "revenge" being what the imagery would be doing to the viewer's retinas and brain. To be fair, the party has named Mihara Junko, a far more plausible potential victim to be Hirasawa's lieutenant. (Link - J)

The announcement of the formation of this committee reeks of insincerity, trendiness and desperation. It is is too small an issue -- at least as packaged -- for Takaichi or even Hirasawa to be handling. That Takaichi feels it necessary to show she has a grip on this problem indicates either she has no sense of proportion or that much of the heavy lifting of policy making has been taken away from the LDP policy research council.

The latter possibility, where a defanged LDP PARC has ceded to the Cabinet and the Prime Minister's myriad advisory committees the role of policy incubator undercuts LDP President Abe Shinzo's favorite talking point on his commitment to women's empowerment. He never stops reminding audiences of his having appointed Takaichi and Noda Seiko, the chair of the General Council, to high party posts. That these posts have nowhere near their former importance (the General Council seeimng to be a body in search of a purpose, given the demise of the factions) would be a most inconvenient truth for the PM to face.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Takahashi Kosuke On Abe Shinzo's Nationalist Plan

Rare it is that I find myself reading an essay where I am in total concord with the views expressed.

That is why I am a bit taken aback by Takahashi Kosuke's essay for The Diplomat entitled "Shinzo Abe’s Nationalist Strategy" (Link). The opening sentence is shaky but the rest of the piece is solid.

It is clear that what underlies Abe Shinzo's attempt to escape from the postwar regime is the faith that the United States will sign off on on pretty much any plan changing Japan's position in the world order as long as interoperability of Japanese Self Defense Forces and U.S. military arms is increased. What is unclear is whether the Abe team is aware that keeping the Pentagon happy is only one facet of a program of increased national resilience -- that the ideological self-indulgences of the escape from the postwar regime can interfere with the hard work of restructuring the economy for growth.

Tip of the hat for the link to Neojaponisme.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Japan's Unfun Olympics

Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games members.
Source: Japan Olympic Commitee website

Japan seems on course for a horrid Olympics. Not the games in Sochi, which are progressing pretty much as can be reasonably expected, the only real negative surprise being World Cup sensation Takanashi Sara’s failure to medal on the normal hill.

No, the games that are shaping up to be a downer are the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. One does not have to be looking under rocks for yakuza, as Jake Adelstein would have us do (admittedly, it would take a huge rock to hide the oily bulk of International Sumo Federation chairman Tanaka Hidetoshi - Link). One just has to look at the membership of the Japan Olympic Committee's executive board (Link) and the announced lineup of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Tokyo Orinpikku Pararinpikku Soshinki Iinkai).

The JOC has 30 members, 2 of whom seem to be women of the female persuasion. The JOC is supposed to be face of Japan's Olympic movement and not even 7% of it is allowed to be feminine?

As for the Soshiki Iinkai, it currently has no women members.

Possibly worse than the exclusion of women is the exclusion of anyone with experience running events or in sports management or sports promotion. Instead, the non-automatic, appointed membership of the board is a collection of Abe Shinzo cronies from politics, the bureaucracy and megabusiness, only one of whom is under 70 years of age.

Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games

Chairman - Former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro (76)
[Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's former faction leader]

Honorary Chairman - Canon Chairman and President Mitarai Fujio (78)
[Former chairman of the Nippon Keidanren -- his term of service being a grand step backward for the organization]

Vice-Chairman - Former Vice Minister of Finance Muto Toshiro (70)

[Twice failed candidate for Governor of Bank of Japan, most recently suggested by Abe Shinzo]

Vice Chairman - Toyota Motors President Toyoda Akio (57)
[vocal and loyal supporter of Abenomics - see picture]

Executive-Director - JOC President Takeda Tsunekazu (66)
[automatic selection]

(Link - J)

Is anyone clear on the concept that we are in 2014 -- and that Tokyo will be hosting the Olympics in 2020? Mitarai will be 84 years old; Mori 82. I have nothing against experience and street cred with the nation's largest corporations -- but it is my understanding that the Olympics are sort of a celebration of vitality -- which, if it is going to be exhibited by the present members of the committee, will probably require intravenous drips.

As for "fun" -- or however much fun is left in hosting the Olympics after they are wrested from Vladimir Putin’s stainless steel grip -- the quintet so far? Not fun people (Well maybe Mori). Toyoda, the stripling, plays the "tense and defensive oyaji" role about as well as it can be played.

With the exception of Takeda, all of the members of the committee are folks to whom Abe Shinzo owes favors. It is true that one has to pay the piper and dance with thems that brung you. But do we all have to be condemned to a construction industry and zaikai hog fest, with the details probably assigned to Dentsu, just because Abe owes his current position to big business bosses?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Robert Dujarric On Abe Shinzo's Confusing Priorities

In a chatty, laid-back piece for The Diplomat Robert Dujarric wonders why Prime Minister Abe Shinzo seems to have so little commitment to concrete action strengthening Japan's self-defense capacities. (Link)

The snap, smarty-pants answer?

"Transforming Japan into a country both at peace with its neighbors and capable of defending itself and its core interests would involve real sacrifice."

Put another way,  beneath all revisionism and nationalist posturing is a desperate attempt to avoid doing actual work.

Collateral Damage -- Great Whale By-Catch Figures

Apology to readers - this is yet a another post about Japan and whaling. If you are looking for good reads on Japanese politics and nothing else, see Okumura Jun's look at Sunday's election results (Link) and Joe Jones's plunge into what the weekly magazines have been printing about Tokyo Governor-elect Masuzoe Yo'ichi's unconventional private life (Link).

Minke Whale, accidentally drowned in a fishing net, prior to processing. Hakodate, Hokkaido, 2007.

The whale wars go on in the South Pacific, most recently dragging the government of New Zealand into a conflict that inflicts brutal costs on Japan's international reputation. (Link)

Meanwhile, without fanfare or activists with television contracts, a meaningless drowning of thousands of cetaceans is taking place in the fishing nets of every ocean-faring nation. Whatever the figure is, the numbers of cetaceans large and small being killed as collateral damage to the ocean's being strip mined of fish is many, many times the numbers killed by Japanese hunters (I cannot, for example, imagine any whale lasting for long in China's half of the East China Sea). Most of this killing goes on unreported, the remains being cut away and left to the ocean's scavengers.

We have some idea of the level of carnage taking place in the near waters of Japan because, unlike most countries, a dead whale in a  net around here has market value. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries provides a thorough accounting of the sale of whales mistakenly killed -- precisely because they end up in the nation's food markets.

The number of great whales -- whales currently under an International Whaling Commission moratorium -- caught and processed due to accidents is surprisingly large:

Year / number of great whales landed and processed

2006 / 151
2007 / 158
2008 / 136
2009 / 122
2010 / 135
2011 / 126

Over 95% of the great whales accidentally caught and brought in for processing are Minke . Most of the remainder are Humpbacks, with only a rare drowned Eastern Gray, Fin or Pacific Right Whale making its way into the MAFF figures. Sperm Whales, which are toothed whales, are recorded as baleen whales -- the last recorded instance of one being one caught and processed coming in 2006.

The high percentage of Minke is almost certainly due to the huge population of Minke relative the populations of other great whales. Physical bulk also probably plays a part -- large whales like Fins being probably too big to tow into port.

Why are the by-catch figures significant?

1) The number of whales processed as by-catch is larger than the number of whales caught by Japan’s small-scale coastal hunt for Baird’s Beaked Whale, the one big-bodied whale commercial hunt still in existence.

2) While the dolphin meat trade seems a sham, the whale meat trade is clearly economically viable. It is worth a fishing crew’s while to tow a huge creature into port for butchering, using equipment not meant for such an endeavor.

3) While participation in the pelagic North and South Pacific hunts, the small-scale coastal hunt and the dolphin hunt are restricted to a small number of persons in a tiny number of local communities, the by-catch take is national, with whales being butchered and their meat wholesaled in ports in 23 of Japan’s 47 prefectures.

One of the prevailing and self-serving myths of the anti-whaling movement is that the IWC moratorium of 1986 ended commercial whaling. Even discounting the pelagic "research" hunts (why no one in the activist community does diddly about the North Pacific JARPN pelagic hunt has always been a mystery to me) commercial whaling activity in Japan simply shifted to non-IWC protected species. As for IWC-protected whales, their meat is being cut up and sold all over Japan, in what is a fairly sizable, if ostensibly accidental, trade.

For annual figures (Japanese language only) for whale by-catch, the form of distribution of meat, by prefecture and species, see:

Later - Meanwhile, from the Department of Unlikely Invitations comes a potentially very stupid proposal regarding Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and the Taiji dolphin hunt. (Link)

Hat tip to reader BF.

Original image source: Stranding Network Hokkaido

Monday, February 10, 2014

Very Quickly On The Tokyo Metropolitan Governor's Race's Results

1) Masuzoe Yo'ichi won. However, there is little reason for the Liberal Democratic Party leadership to get all happy about the victory. Masuzoe only just surpassed the total for the two weak anti-nuclear candidates combined, even with 70% of the Liberal Democratic Party voters and greater than 90% of the New Komeito voters voting for him -- at a time when the LDP is eight times as popular as any of the opposition parties.

As for what happens next, Masuzoe has to get along with an LDP-dominated metropolitan legislature. As NHK so kindly reminded Masuzoe and the rest of this morning in the historical review clip prefacing the live studio interview of him, Masuzoe broke away from the LDP in 2009 declaiming, "The LDP's historical role in Japanese politics has come to an end."

Have fun with that.

2) The candidate the Democratic Party of Japan's supported, an ex-prime minister backed by the most popular prime minister of the last 40 years, came in third. Will heads roll at DPJ headquarters? No! Timidity and failure are now party trademarks.

3) The outcomes of Utsunomiya Kenji's candidacy was far from embarrassing. It was also far from victory. Interestingly, he did better the further away one drew from the Metropolitan district's core.

4) Tamogami Toshio received 610,000 votes. That is not enough in the way of a ground force to overthrow the government (not that Tamogami would want to -- in my recollection, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo appointed him head of the country's Air Self Defense Forces). However, it sure makes for a nice base from which to recruit new members for Tamogami's hard core revisionist, paranoid and xenophobic Ganbare Nippon! organization. We should also expect that his rallies, which were merely attracted thousands, will now attract tens of thousands, marching and shouting without police intervention (or Ishiba Shigeru complaining about the noise, I am guessing) right past the Diet buildings.

This was a fundraising and membership drive for Tamogami. The news media, by shying away from hard looks at Tamogami's past and his followers and their intimidating methods for whatever reason, served as silent enablers to this fiasco.

Go try to tell the South Koreans and Chinese this morning about Japan's deeply ingrained pacifism. They will laugh.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

What Could Have Been - The Tokyo Governor's Election Edition

Campaign flyers for Tokyo Metropolitan District Governor's election. Left: Hosokawa Morihiro. Right: Tamogami Toshio. Click on image to open in large format.

Well let me tell you 'bout the way she looked
The way she'd act and the colour of her hair
Her voice was soft and cool
Her eyes were clear and bright
But she's not there.

- Rod Argent, "She's Not There" (1964)

This morning, election morning, the residents of the Tokyo Metropolitan District will be waking up to a city covered with a record-breaking but rapidly melting mass of snow. Fitting is it that a brief, intense and yet somehow empty gubernatorial campaign season ends with the metropole stuck beneath in a cold, damp white blanket.

Former Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare Masuzoe Yo'ichi seems guaranteed victory. He managed to campaign without controversy, on what seemed to be the unchallenging proposition, "Yes, I am good enough." And "good enough" seems indeed good enough to prevail, if enough of the electorate tramps out in the snow to the election centers.

Former Prime Minister Hosokawa Morihiro ran on the premise of "Utsunomiya Kenji, the anti-nuclear candidate, is too uninspiring to win" -- which might be true. However, Hosokawa turned out to be even less inspiring Utsunomiya or indeed any reasonably animate human being. Despite the electric jolt of having former prime minister Koizumi Jun'ichiro as buzz creator, Hosokawa's campaign was pretty much dead on arrival. As Okumura Jun pungently put it, "at least the Vasa sailed 1300 meters before it sank, much better than Hosokawa's candidacy." - Link).

Utsunomiya Kenji's candidacy needed more time. This seems weird for a candidate who did not stop running for the governorship even after losing to Inose Naoki in a landslide. In the year after finishing a distant second, Utsunomiya made 130 public appearances, as if he knew he was going to get another shot at the governorship soon. Of all the candidates, only Utsunomiya was ready from the git-go, his posters appearing in my mailbox the first day of the campaign season. As the campaign season progressed and voters could take a look at him his candidacy became more credible -- especially in contrast to Hosokawa's.

However, the presence of two strong anti-nuclear candidates, one supported by the traditional left parties, one not, divides the progressive and nuclear-phobic vote, meaning Utsunomiya seems destined to finish second again.

The candidature of former Air Self Defense Forces Chief of Staff Tamogami Toshio has been a travesty from beginning to end. The man has no business running for a local assembly seat, much less the governorship of the world's mightiest megalopolis. The news media, which should have buried him on the first day under a mountain of ugly facts about him and his followers, instead have at times seemed gleeful enablers of his candidacy. He will end up with an entirely revolting number of votes, most of which will come from voters who know next to nothing about him.

The voters of Tokyo, of course, have a right to feel robbed. In the build up to former governor Inose Naoki's resignation, the parties and the news media speculated about a whole raft of potential candidates, pretty much any of whom could have prevailed against the current core quartet. On the Liberal Democrat Party side, the potential nominees included Environment Minister Ishihara Nobuteru (whose home was literally around the corner from mine way back when in Suginami-ku), Education Minister Shimomura Hakubun (like he would ever give up that portfolio), former Finance Ministry bureaucrat/Koizumi assassin/Mr. Masuzoe and self-image train wreck Katayama Satsuki and former multiple Winter and Summer Olympian Hashimoto Seiko (I am sure Senator Hashimoto much prefers being where she has been, marching at the head of the Japan delegation at the Sochi games). On the Democratic Party of Japan side there was discussion of nominating of Nagatsuma Akira, the bureaucracy's bête noire.

Of December's would be candidates, there was one potential matchup that would have really sizzled. If only the Abe Shinzo LDP had put its reputation on the line by following up on the rumors and nominating Koike Yuriko to be its champion, with the Democrats responding in kind with Ren Ho. That would have been a battle for the ages, pitting sharp looks with sharp minds and even sharper tongues -- and one worthy of the prize that is Tokyo.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

From Russia With ?

Well, that sure was icky.

No, not the Frieze of Dictators views in the VIP section at the Opening Ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics (Aliev and Narzabayev and Lukashenko...whoa, Lukashenko!).

No, not the "Wow, Such A Lot of Countries Vladimir Putin Would Like To Conquer" parade of nations that escaped from the clutches of the Soviet Union two decades ago (Hmmm, Lithuania! So small, so...flat).

Not the poor Georgians, unable to decide what faces to wear as they trudged out onto the field of Putin's colossal Potemkadrome.

Not the reimagination of Soviet times as a march of red wheels (a reference to Solzhenitsyn?), red scarves, Constructivism and awesome red, white and black graphics (CCCP Cool - hey, every nation's leaders, except Japan's of course, have a right to remember their country's past in the manner they prefer, right?).

No, it was the sight of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, waving wanly, with, no, not his wife Akie standing by his side. No, with his too constant companion, the Second Stupidest Man to Ever Serve in the Kantei™ *, by his side.

On second thought, if you are attending an ex-KGB agent's propaganda extravaganza, best to bring your own administration's Trofim Lysenko with you.

On third thought, maybe it was a kind of protest against the Russia's LGBT laws.

Which, if that was what it was, is noble, bold, edgy and icky.


* "Second Stupidest Man to Ever Serve in the Kantei" is actually the nicer of my two set phrases describing Seko Hiroshige.

Image source: screen shot of NHK rebroadcast

Friday, February 07, 2014

Trying A Little Machiavelli, Mr. Suga?

The Abe Administration has been hitting a rough patch of late. Abe Shinzo allies have been torching the government's credibility. Attempts at damage control have been eating up the PM's and the Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide's time and attention. I am perhaps not alone in being puzzled at how poorly the Abe Administration has been handling a string of embarrassments, after being almost impervious to scandal during its first year in office.

Most surprising has been the seeming passivity of Suga. As each new nonsensical, indefensible situation has rolled up, he has dismissed it with an airy "oh, so-and-so was just stating a private opinion" or "there is nothing legally wrong with what X-san has done" -- as if he were unaware how his excuses were undermining his reputation as a super-competent manager and spokesman.

When faced with a situation of seeming senselessness, I try to remember Bruce Pandolfini's 13th Commandment of chess:

"If you can't see the point of your opponent's move, assume there isn't any."

However, what has been perplexing in the case of Suga has not been his choice of moves. It has been his lack of movement. In a more orderly and business-like world -- the world of the first year of the Abe Cabinet, let us say -- Momii Katsuto, Hasegawa Michiko and Hyakuta Naoki would all have resigned from their NHK positions by now. Nothing would be allowed to fester and serve as a distraction from the overall, multi-year march toward a more powerful Prime Minister's Residence and a more powerful Japan.

Suga, after a year when he seemed in total command, seems lethargic and reactive, letting the news cycle and scandal swallow up the agenda.

Perhaps the above dictum needs to be turned on its head. Inverted, it reads:

"If you can't see the reason for your opponent's inaction, assume there is one."

So let us assume that Suga Yoshihide is appearing wan and listless on purpose. Why would he want to do this?

1) Punish Abe for Yasukuni

According to the narrative published in the Yomiuri Shimbun late last year, Abe humiliated Suga in December, rejecting Suga's pleas to not go to Yasukuni. In the account of what took place before and on December 26, Suga simply swallowed his pride and set about composing an apologetic statement for Abe to read after the Yasukuni sanpai.

But what if Suga did not simply swallow his pride? What if, in suitable pique, he decided to let just Abe run things for a while, making insincere excuses for Abe's buddies violations of The Prime Directive -- "only Abe Shinzo gets to burn Abe Shinzo's political capital"?

What if Suga were simply just letting the Abe Revolution falter, just to remind a too-big-for-his-britches Abe who the de facto prime minister is?


2) Let the Crazies Run the Asylum For a While Because We Will Make Them Sad Later

Abe today is off for Sochi, Russia, set to have a tête-à-tête with President Vladimir Putin in concert with being one of the few Western Alliance leaders to attend tonight's Winter Olympics opening ceremony. Today is, by unfortunate coincidence, Northern Territories Day -- the day when the government reminds all of us of its failure to heretofore win back the four islands and collection of islets of the Southern Kuriles, lost to the Russians in 1945.

It is well-known that one of Abe's main goals is a peace treaty with Russia, finally ending World War II. It is second in importance only to the revision of the Constitution, on a par with the economic revival of the nation. It is also well-known that not even a judo-loving and nearly untouchable Putin is thinking of conceding the reversion of all of the Southern Kuriles/Northern Territories.

Signing a peace treaty will require Abe to sacrifice, accepting the return of at best Shikotan and the Habomai group -- basically the same deal Japan was offered and which it rejected in 1956.

Letting the revisionist crazies run amok for a while prepares the foundation for a searing betrayal of these same crazies and their principles "for the good of the nation." From a theatrical point of view, it is after the fanatabulists make a hash of things that Abe/Suga can stab them in the back with a "half-a-loaf is better than nothing" solution for the vexing problem of the peace treaty, ignoring rightist demands for every square centimeter of the Southern Kuriles and nothing less.

In other words, Suga, either with or without Abe's consent, is letting Abe's most dangerous and frivolous friends make fools of themselves so that he can bin them when it is time for the adults to sit down and cut a few deals.

So perhaps the deterioration of the Abe Cabinet governance this winter is not a bug. Maybe it is a feature.

Original image courtesy: Reuters

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Not That Many Dolphins Killed - An Update

The Fisheries Research Agency (Suisan Sogo Kenkyujo - pictured above) has an opening for a small cetaceans data specialist.  Applicants have to possess a Ph.D. in a relevant discipline or have a Ph.D. completed by the start of the employment term. The position is open to both men and women researchers, with full maternity and child leave benefits.

The applicant would be expected among other duties to be able to calculate the maximum harvestable yield of dolphins and whales in Japan's near seas. If you have a Ph.D. in cetacean studies or statistical biology there is a job waiting for you in the Kanazawa district of Yokohama City.  Your application, however, is due TOMORROW (February 7).

Here is the pdf of full job description. (Link - J)

What of interest to me is the figure in the body the job description of "approximately 2,000 head" as the total number of 9 species of dolphins and small whales killed in harpoon and drive hunts in 2012. This is the strongest evidence so far, in the absence of official figures, that my guess of a week ago -- that the quoted canonical figure of up to 22,000 small cetaceans being killed each year in Japanese hunts -- is off by an order of magnitude.

It seems that aside from the smaller Short Finned Pilot Whale harpoon hunt of Okinawa (about 34 animals), the smaller Baird's Beaked Whale hunt of Wadaura, Chiba Prefecture (24 animals) and a tiny (10?) number of Baird's being landed in Hokkaido, the only area still in the business of hunting small cetaceans is Taiji, in Wakayama Prefecture. Activists watching the drive hunts there have counted approximately 600 dolphin killed in the first four months of the hunting season (Link). This number of kills at this point in the season would indicate that the"approximately 2,000 head" figure for all small cetaceans is the new Japan normal.

The 2,000 figure, an 80% drop from the number being killed only five years ago, would also validate another of my suspicions: that there is no commercial market for dolphin meat. It is basically a free good, a supply searching for a demand, a by-product, now, of a need to kill dolphins in order to provide a cover story for Taiji's lucrative live dolphin trade.

From The Holy Crap Department, An Announcement

"Shusuke Nomura gave his life to the Divine in front of a lot who do not believe that a human being can communicate with the Divine through one's life," Hasegawa stated. She added, "No matter what the (late Emperor Showa's) Humanity Declaration said, and no matter what the Constitution states, our Emperor once again became a living god" through Nomura's act, effectively rejecting the Constitutional stipulation that the Emperor is a symbolic monarch.
Nomura Shusuke was an ultra-right activist and party leader. On 20 October 1993 he committed suicide in the guest reception room on the 15th floor of the headquarters of The Asahi Shimbun. He had demanded a meeting with the persons responsible for the publication of a derogatory drawing depicting his Association of the Wind (風の会) as The Louse Party (虱の党). Not getting the attention he felt he deserved, he shot himself.

The Hasegawa in the above quote is Hasegawa Michiko, one of the three persons whom Abe Shinzo appointed to Board of Governors of national broadcaster NHK on October 25 last year. The quoted remarks are from a memorial essay she published as part of a special tribute to paid to Nomura on the 20th anniversary of his suicide.

I am not making this up.

Seriously, I am not making this up.

Read the Mainichi Shimbun's English-language article about the whole matter here.

It is official now: the excrement has hit the rotary air motion device.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

May Have Got Memo, Did Not Read It

Dear Japan Communist Party,

Please check your email. There should be a message from the Liberal Democratic Party, the New Komeito and the Democratic Party of Japan.

If it is not there, it should be. As a stopgap, I am forwarding what I believe is a translation of the main body of the text:
Hashimoto Toru is resigning as mayor of Osaka City in order to win reelection to office. He wants to claim a mandate for his One Osaka plan.

Holding a by-election will cost the taxpayers money.

If we all pull together and agree to refuse to run candidates in this by-election, Hashimoto can be reelected without an actual vote, saving the taxpayers their money.

This automatic reelection will solve nothing because the situation in the assemblies will be as they were. Furthermore, since there was no actual polling of the electorate, Hashimoto will not be able to claim a mandate.

If we hang together on this we come out looking like fiscally prudent, sober folks. Hashimoto comes out looking like the petulant child.

What is he going to do? Call another election to replace the one we would not let him have?

Let us stay focused on the goal: getting him to resign and not run for reelection.

If we stick together on this we can send him back to daytime television, where he belongs.

Later - If the above is unintelligible (Since you wrote it, would unintelligibility be a surprise? - Ed.) it is in reference to this (have looked, have not found an English-language source).

And In Other News

I cannot say I am a huge fan of Martin Fackler's everything-including-the-kitchen-sink take on the travesty of Momii Katsuto becoming the president of NHK (Link). I much prefer Jonathan Soble's article on the ongoing collapse of the national public broadcaster's reputation. (Link)

To be frank, worrying out loud now about the deterioration of independence of the NHK news department seems almost coy. After years of simultaneously stolid and enervated reporting, NHK News loosened up and show some of its latent capabilities during the brief summer of the Democratic Party of Japan's turn as the party in power, pulling out of the vault some stories it had long shelved and allowing its reporters to take some liberties.

When it became clear that Abe Shinzo was returning to the premiership, however, NHK newscasts quickly became all but unwatchable. Not for obvious pro-government pieces but for the glaring lack of pieces critical of government.

"Amaterasu! Not another heart-warming tale of plucky Tohoku tsunami survivors trying to cope with the loss of their hometowns followed by cute animal tricks videos culled from the Internet. Aaarggh, switch me one of the commercial channels, quick."

The disastrous and highly visible train wrecks of Momii and Abe's choice for the NHK Board of Governors Hyakuta Naoki (click here to see Michael Penn's awesome photograph of Hyakuta at the problematic rally for Tokyo gubernatorial candidate Tamogami Toshio) are at least taking place in the public arena. Discussion of NHK News's retreat into quiet, problematic self-censorhip (How can one reliably quantify the stories and facets of the news a network has not reported? Long-time viewers and admirers can see the changes happening, but how to prove the existence of absences?) is relegated to the whispering of presumed fools and ideologues.

Far more serious for the serious news hound than NHK's managerial troubles is Tokyo Broadcasting's abandonment in March of the "Asa Zuba!" morning talk show newscast (Link). A new morning program, whose format remains a secret, with a pretty young thing from Nihon Terebi as the main co-anchor, will be replacing what has been, even in founder's Mino Monta's absence, the most consistently progressive, skeptical and entertaining newscast on television.

Very Kind Of Them #16

Over at the East Asia Forum, Peter Drysdale and his esteemed team have published my look at the Tokyo Metropolitan District's electing a new governor.

Tokyo governor election to spell trouble for the LDP?

On 9 February, voters in the richest municipality in the world, the Tokyo Metropolitan District, will elect a new governor. Despite the job's many attractions, Japan's stultified political parties were unable to find candidates within their own ranks. Instead, they have had to line themselves up behind independents — all men (there are no women running) who have either burned their bridges with the established parties or never had any bridges at all...
(Continue Reading)

As of today Masuzoe Yo'ichi seems assured of victory, with Utsunomiya Kenji again coming in second and Hosokawa Morihiro limping in in third place. The scary possibility is that General Tamogami Toshio (Ret.) has a more than a decent chance of finishing in the top three.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Money Flows To Where It Is Respected, Dudes

From The Wall Street Journal:

"In terms of investor flows into and out of equities, Japan behaves very much like an emerging market, even though it's an advanced industrialized region," said Norihiro Fujito, senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.


In other words, Japanese equities markets are not where you park your investment money. They are where you have fun -- or not, as the case may be -- with your gambling money. Gambling is all one can do in the globe's great graveyard for both value and activist investing.

To abuse another metaphor, you cannot talk to a Japan equities investor about climate change, only the weather. You cannot go into detail about how rising sea levels will eat away at the beach, spill over the seawall, undermining and finally washing away the foundation of the beach house. A Japan equities investor really only needs to know about the surf report, dude.

Which is why I continue to be amazed/appalled at the present government's infatuation with equities markets.

Osaka City Shuffle

In May of last year I published a somewhat weak piece on Hashimoto Toru  at The New York Times's Latitude blog. I was trying to fathom what, other than narcissistic blindness, could have prompted Hashimoto to start talking about sex and war. My conclusion, such as it was, was that Hashimoto could not accept being outside the spotlight, the political appeal of his party and his political insurgency fading. So he just ran off at the mouth until nobody could ignore him anymore.

It seems that this aspect of his character, the need to have folks talking about him, has prompted his latest, expensive, pointless act:
Firebrand Osaka Mayor Calls It Quits, to Seek Re-election

His days as Japan's rising political star may be over, but you can still count on Toru Hashimoto to cause a stir...and do a lot of talking.

Osaka's firebrand mayor officially announced his resignation Monday to seek reelection in a perplexing move he described was necessary to break the political logjam hindering one of his key policy goals.

As for "and to do a lot of talking" he certainly did do that -- as the Martin post notes, the Hashimoto press conference lasted longer than the supposedly eternal Chris Christie press GW bridge conference. Hashimoto also managed to churn out a blizzard of over 60 Twitter tweets -- after having said nada via his favorite social media platform since January 18.

He loves to explain himself...or at least feels he has a lot of explaining to do.

Hashimoto seems on the fast train back to television, following in the footsteps of his fellow talent-turned politician and until recently fellow party member Higashikokubaru Hideo.

Perhaps the pair will hook up to form a manzai comedy duo.

Two politicians of the last quarter have bucked the system, relying on public theater as an alternative pathways to political office and power: Koizumi Jun'ichiro and Hashimoto Toru. Unlike Koizumi, Hashimoto seems determined to leave office never having actually done anything.

Later - Back on Twitter this morning Hashimoto is revisiting the controversy of last May over his remarks regarding the comfort womens/sexual slaves of the Japan Imperial Forces. According to the recently resigned mayor, the world's treatment of him and Japan is unfair (anfea).

Clearly he has no friend able to take his shoulder, look him in the face and say, "Hashimoto-san. For your own good, put the phone down."

Monday, February 03, 2014

Abe Shinzo And The Right, Rightly

Trending: "Japan tilting/turning/sliding to the right in an alarming way"

Example #1

Example #2

Example #3

Example #4


Japan is probably not shifting, tilting, sliding, skipping, turning cartwheels or anything else to the right. If that were so, we would see hatred of "foreigners" irrespective of origins. Try as one might, one will find little evidence of generalized increased hatred toward non-Japanese. Antipathy and empathy fatigue are focused on two national groups, Chinese and South Koreans, and is it not even an ethnic disdain: Chinese and South Korean tourists are portrayed as a huge and vital business opportunity. (Link - J)

As for remilitarization, Japan presently spends around 1% of GDP on defense. After the Abe military build up, Japan will be spending...approximately 1% of GDP on defense. Do not even get me started on where in an Aging Japan the government is going to find enough youngsters to meet its force recruitment goals.

As for Abe's Yasukuni visit on December 26, he put off his annual visit until the morning of the one year anniversary of his election as prime minister. He was and is going to make visits on an annual basis. Let us take some solace in his having waited until the very last moment.

So what about the secrecy law, the appointment of mediocrity Momii Katsuto as the head of NHK, wannabe fixer Watanabe Tsuneo as the head of the commission on the secrecy law, Education Minister Shimomura Hakubun's new suggestions on what language teachers should use when talking about the Senkakus and Dokdo -- is it not all of a pattern?


But the pattern is not one of a shift to the right.

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's cronies are getting greedy, grabbing for stuff the public is not quite ready to cede to them, and which the public may never be willing to cede to them. These cronies are rightists, if by rightist you mean skeptical of/loathing China, tired of Japan's having World War II hung around its neck forever (and no, these cronies do not understand why persons hanging World War II around Japan's neck is possible) and pugnaciously defensive of a Japaneseness they alone can define.

It would be foolish for Abe, his sycophants and puppeteers to think the public is not aware of this piggishness and is not marking down in a ledger all the reasons it should not trust Abe and Friends.

The public has been exceedingly and aberrantly supportive of the Abe Cabinet and the Liberal Democratic Party. This support, however, does not evolve out of love for Abe policies, other than for the extremely activist and liberal (and contrary to longtime LDP theories on the national debt) macroeconomic program. According to the polls, the second most popular reason for supporting the Abe Cabinet, after the economic program, is "Because there is no appropriate alternative ready to step in."

Look around the political landscape of Japan today: to say that "there is no other appropriate person" ready to take Abe's place is really not that bizarre.

So "greedy Friends of Abe" + "liberal economics" + "little hope for anyone better" is supposed to equal "a shift to the right"?

I hope that that is not the math.

Tamogami Toshio Live, Live (And Freaking Me Out)

Working journalist MP is tweeting from inside the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan Tamogami Toshio press conference. Sitting down in a random spot, he finds that his table companions are:

Nishiyama Yujiro - a former candidate for governor, whose proposals included disaster drills with all 13 million residents of Tokyo participating simultaneously -- stopping their cars, blocking all access to the Internet. See him try to explain this idea in what was to be his free NHK broadcast gubernatorial election video. (Link - J video)

Motegi Hiromichi - arch-conservative commentator, author of such works as Do Not Be Afraid Of Radiation! and Elementary Schools Do Not Need English!. Watch him explain how the U.S. caused World War II (Link - J) at an event where current FCCJ member and former the Times, FT and NYT bureau chief Henry Stokes was also a featured speaker.

Nishimura Koyu - Advertising writer turned polemicist. Most recent work an article appearing on the website of the Society for the Dissemination of Historical Truth entitled, "The Truth of the 'Comfort Women' Intelligence Warfare." (Link)

Oh, MP was also surprised to see Dewi Sukarno in the Tamogami entourage

Why do the things that I predict have to come true?

Later - Also as predicted, MP reports that Tamogami supporter Nishiyama, claiming to be a journalist, grabs microphone to ask The General a question.

Tamogami Toshio, Live

The news slows
People forget
The shares crash, hopes are dashed
People forget
Forget they're hiding.
Behind an eminence front
An eminence front - it's a put-on
Come and join the party
Dress to kill

- Pete Townsend, "Eminence Front" (1982)
The candidacy of former Chief of Staff of the Air Self Defense Forces Tamogami Toshio for the post of governor of Tokyo has been a thing of wonder. First that the general, who lives a very comfortable life off not only his taxpayer-funded pension but also off the revenues generated by his, and this is the organization's real name, “Fight Hard Japan! - All Nation Action Committee” (Ganbare Nippon - Zenkoku Kodo Iinkai) -- the umbrella under which all of Japan's xenophobes and paranoids seem to seek shelter -- is not the smartest in terms of personal cash flow. That he should come out of retirement to take on the job of running the Tokyo Metropolitan District, a place crammed with the very sort of folks his followers want expelled from Japan or locked up in prison, in his first attempt to ever run for anything (the other three main candidates having run and won election to some kind of office in the past) challenges the boundaries of "hubris" and "chutzpah" (the closest Japanese-language equivalent being jishin no kajo, an "excess of confidence").

Second, that the Japanese news media as a whole, not just scared-stiff folks at NHK News (Link) but everyone, has been handling Tamogami with kid gloves. Seemingly The General's email, Facebook and Twitter army of savages has scared the daylights anyone who might deign to ask him about his dismissal early retirement, his organization, his followers, his relationship with Abe Shinzo, his impossible government spending and tax cut promises, his politicization of the ASDF, his participation in a contest rigged to select him as the winner (Link), what he will do to protect the Korean residents of Shin Okubo from death threats and other forms of harassment, his views on the outbreak of World War II (Link), his plans for patriotic education in Tokyo schools, his sexualized campaign (Link - J) cetera, et cetera, et cetera...

Today, however, Tamogami will appear at a press conference at the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan (Link). He will be facing a room full of folks who are rather harder to terrify than Japan's news media producers and distributors. To be sure, there will be ringers in the room -- Tamogami would never put in an appearance anywhere where the crowd is not at least salted, if not completed stuffed, with revisionists ready to sing his praises. These folks will try to grab the microphone and eat up the clock with powder puff and leading questions.

If the non-Japan journalists show up prepped and ready -- and if the moderator cuts off the ringers at the git go -- then this shichimencho may finally feel the fork he has up until now avoid having stuck in him.

We will see how Tamogami responds to a sticking. My bet is that the results will be...unattractive.

Funny Business In The Tokyo Election?

Nuisance candidates, nobodies recruited to run in contests because they have names similar to those of a legitimate candidate, are a recurrent low-level feature of Japanese politics. They can exist because of the quaint custom of requiring voters to write down the names of candidates on ballot papers. Two candidates with similar names would result in a certain percentage of voters mismarking their ballots, with the voter putting down the name of one candidate while intending to vote for the other.

Most of the time nuisance candidates are simply that -- a nuisance -- stealing a few votes away from a candidate, not changing an election's outcome. Their presence can contribute to some eyebrow-raising final election results, though.

There is an argument that nuisance candidacies exist largely in the imagination -- as excuses why a candidate received the vote he or she did. The low number of similarity-of-name problems hobbling the candidacies of LDP candidates indicates, however, that there is actual funny business going on. Their primary goal has been seemingly to prevent Communist Party candidates from capturing the required percentage of the vote necessary for the party to receive a refund of the candidacy deposit (kyotakukin - Link).

Utsunomiya Kenji is likely to receive the 10% of the vote he needs to have his 3 million yen deposit returned to him after next Sunday's Tokyo gubernatorial by-election. That seemingly has not prevented someone -- or a group of someones -- from at least trying to steal votes away from a candidate supported by both the Communists and the Socialists.

Because there is another "Kenji" among the 16 other candidates for governor - a "Himeji Kenji" -- listed as being an individual involved in "building management."

A "Himeji Kenji" would be difficult difficult to mistake for an "Utsunomiya Kenji" most of the time -- even though it pits a "Name of a medium-sized city in Western Japan + Kenji" candidate against as "name of a medium-sized city of Eastern Japan + Kenji" candidate. The kanji would just be too different.

However, for reasons unexplained and yet completely transparent, "Himeji Kenji" chose to have his name listed on the ballot written entirely in syllabic hiragana -- no kanji at all -- and by the purest, most idiotic quirk of the draw, "Himeji Kenji" is in the #1 position of the list of candidates.

Who is in the #2 position, also all by the luck of the draw? Utsunomiya Kenji, written in kanji.

The confusion may cause only a few votes to slide to the nuisance candidate, whose name (ひめじけんじ) is so much easier to write than legitimate candidate's (宇都宮健児). In the case of a ballot marked just "Kenji" in hiragana the vote will be split, each candidate recorded as receiving 1/2 a vote.

Later - In comments, reader 井上エイド informs me that the listing order is not random, as indicated in the above underlined segments. Instead it reflects the order of the receipt of the candidate registration -- which makes the likelihood of "Himeji Kenji" being a stalker all the greater.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Damn You Science! - The Response

Whew, that was fast.

But a single day had to pass after the Obokata announcement of a new and better pathway to producing stem cells, one seemingly consigning to the footnotes the government's 110 billion yen investment in Yamanaka Shinya's induced pluripotent stem cell method, for Education Minister Shimomura Hakubun to announce a plan to dramatically raise both the Riken research center's official status and the Riken staff pay (Link). The Yomiuri Shimbun, perhaps getting a little ahead of itself, speculates that under new guidelines research centers of Riken's new elevated status could offer hot researchers pay packages of USD 1 million per year. (Link - J)

Whatever one may want to say about the Abe Administration, one cannot complain about its moving too slowly and meekly to exploit opportunities to get behind a winning team.