Thursday, February 22, 2007

Update Pot Pourri: Tokyo Gubernatorial; Dick Cheney Was Here; Mr. Ozawa Comes Clean, Sort of

I'd criticized the DPJ for failing to put up a challenge against Shintaro Ishihara, the Tokyo governor. Now it is the LDP's turn to grieve, as Mr. Ishihara unexpectedly refused to accept the LDP's official support. Claims by LDP sources that Mr. Ishihara had been the one who had initiated the idea were denied by Mr. Ishihara, but it is clear the LDP had been led to believe that Mr. Ishihara would accept it. It was particularly galling to the LDP, since it appears that the astonishing rise of Nobuteru Ishihara, the governor's oldest son, through the national and local (Tokyo) LDP ranks and the election of Hirotaka, his third son, to a Tokyo seat in the Lower House in 2005 had something to do with the LDP's desire to make nice with the high-profile, if controversial, governor. The governor has apparently decided that the independent votes he'd lose are not worth the votes he would gain among LDP supporters. And this was after the DPJ ad given up.

Is the "pox on all houses" trope for Japanese politics reaching pandemic proportions though? Even Governor Ishihara is not immune from this disease. Kisho Kurokawa, the world-class architect and urban planning guru, announced his intention to challenge him on a platform eerily similar to that of Yukio Aoshima, the previous Tokyo governor. He promises not to campaign (exactly like Mr. Aoshima), drop the campaign to bring the 2016 Olympics to Tokyo (Mr. Aoshima followed through on his promise to cancel the World City Expo Tokyo, 96), and serve only one term (Mr. Aoshima eventually wound up not seeking a second term). Mr. Kurokawa, saying the governor "won't listen to [his] advice anymore," is only making the announcement to convince Mr. Ishihara to step down. If he is successful, he will gladly abandon his own (as of now) unofficial candidacy.

Somebody seems to care about Dick Cheney's visit here, as Shisaku points out. He says that "[i]f you did a global replace to the article, transmuting the anthropomorphic references to 'Japan' ('Japan' is unhappy; 'Japan' feels betrayed) into the more leaden phrase 'Prime Minister Abe and his close advisors and supporters'--then Mr. Walsh's report would be spot on". I'm not 100% sure about the "spot on" part, but, as he implies, the fact that it is the prime minister, who owes his ascendance to the abductees issue, who has been discomfited by the US turnabout should have been an essential part of the story. Yasuhisa Shiozaki, Chief of Cabinet, showed his anger when asked by a reporter for Mr. Cheney's visit and replied curtly that he should have his own reasons for coming.

More generally, Shisaku makes an important point about what he calls "anthropomorphic references to 'Japan'". Count me among those who are dismayed when they cannot decipher an article because words like "Japan", "Tokyo", "the US", "Washington", etc. are used undefined, their meanings shifting without notice even within the same paragraph. At least Bryan Walsh is consistent. Nevertheless, the article winds up reading like a picture seen through a weak lens. Even academics do this in the softer social sciences.

I've stated before that Mr. Ozawa could be in for trouble with his real estate purchase using political funds. The LDP quite properly as the political game goes has tried to make the propriety of the purchase, and not the lack of transparency, the issue.

Mr. Ozawa deflected some of the criticism by releasing details of his operating expenses, while making it clear that he has no personal claim on the property in question and that he intends to use it after retirement to support younger politicians and fund grassroots exchanges with the US and China. He is basically parking excess political funds for a rainy day in the real estate market. The LDP understandably is trying to keep the heat on Mr. Ozawa's situation, since it is itself divided between the prime minister and his closest allies, who want to impose greater transparency on the catch-all nature of operating expenses, and the other LDP members, who for some reason or another ("too cumbersome", is an oft-raised objection) do not want it. My bet is on a bipartisan (excluding at least the Communist Party and likely the Social Democrat Party as well) compromise that sets a minimum, say 30,000 yen per item (this is a ballpark figure at best, but we like 1s, 3s and 5s in our rules and regulations; see our Criminal Code if you don't believe me), for itemized disclosure.

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