Monday, August 31, 2009

The LDP: “Who’s Up Next?”

You’ll be reading all about why the DPJ won/LDP lost, and what tasks it faces in governing/rebuilding. I assume that most of the commentary will be at least plausible—the takeover has been three years in building, with at least many months to coalesce, so there’s a high degree of consensus—and it’s Monday. So I’ll post later if and when I come up with something to add. In the meantime, the side story to the LDP side story:
I think that Shigeru Ishiba is the most natural choice, given his national appeal as an honest broker, defense and agriculture creds, and a moderate/progressive outlook that will not alienate the urban floaters. And he gets to keep Aso’s Akiba crowd. Okay, he’s a little weird, but he's relatively youthful, projects sincerity, qualities that the LDP desperately needs. I’d say Nobuteru Ishihara is highly unlikely to emerge on top, though he will have obvious uses as a babyface. I expect Yoichi Masuzoe to be given a very prominent role, given the need to win the 2010 House of Councilors election. Ichita Yamamoto, another articulate middle-of-the-road HOC member, will also be promoted, at least in the media. Oh, and I think Yasufumi Tanahashi is the favorite to emerge as the U-50 leader, though I see him as more an operator than public face.
It’s my response to an inquiry from a colleague, edited for public consumption. If I’m spot on—something that I’m not too good at—the public face of the LDP will have a geographically balanced rural/provincial/urban profile with a surprisingly moderate/progressive profile. I say “surprisingly” because some experts see a rural, conservative shift, given the drubbing in the metropolitan centers and among the Koizumi Kids.

Let me just add that many LDP elders are returning, and the ones that made it back on the SMD ticket need to be watched to see if they try to reassert their authority. Fat chance, you might think, but I suspect that Yoshiro Mori in particularly will have a hard time stepping aside gracefully.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

“The Most Touching Middle School Class Ever?”

Not really; everyone who has not had an unremittingly unhappy adolescence—it is not unknown—knows that he/she is privy to “The Most Touching Middle School Class Ever.” That being said, the YouTube clip is most… fetching, is the word for it, I think.

Yet I couldn’t help notice. Tell me, what do you notice that distinguishes between the two groups of children (Grade 6?) separated by the aisle? Besides the colors of their shirts?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Absentee Voting…Seals, Delivers Election for DPJ

According to media reports, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications announced (but annoyingly neglected to post on its website) that 10.94 million people cast absentee ballots between August 19-28. That’s an eye-opening 10.49% of eligible voters, up from 6.72 million in the 2005 HOR election and 10.80 million, the previous high, in the 2007 HOC election. With one more day left, the media speculation is that the ultimate total will surpass 12 million.

This is a clear indication that the overall turnout will be very high. The floaters are obviously are aroused; that is more bad news for the LDP, if there could be such a thing.

Some Thoughts on Gender, and Princelings, in LDP Politics

I have been looking at the election through a forum consisting mostly of Japan experts. It has been an educative experience. You can catch most of the recent parts if you join the SSJ Forum. The following started out as a comment on a thread on gender in Japanese (and particularly LDP) politics, but it morphed into something broader and meandering toward the end. Since cleaning it up and narrowing its focus to fit that thread will take too much time and effort, I’m posting it here. I know that a few people there also look into my blog from time to time, so it won’t be totally lost to the discussions there.

I have no doubt that the route to national politics is harder for women than it is for men. However, once nominated and elected, I wonder how important gender is compared to non-gender factors in determining the career paths of politicians.

Take “the phenomenon of female ‘assassins’ who win their first election but find themselves on the margins of the party structure, despite their seeming value to the party in terms of electoral battles.” Note that all LDP rookies regardless of gender have always found “themselves on the margins of the party structure.” I assume that virtually all the assassins regardless of gender are now running for their lives and that those that lost to Post Office exiles and had to get in by way of their parallel PR bloc candidacy have been forced to move over or move out in favor of the stronger SMD returnee—again, no gender bias here. In this regard, it is ironic that Yukari Sato has had to yield to another woman, the female princeling Seiko Noda.

Speaking of Noda, I find her case particularly instructive in looking at the LDP at the entry level. Noda got a boost very early in her Lower House career as a very young cabinet minister, in no small part because she was a woman. But unlike anther very junior cabinet minister, Kuniko Inoguchi (the relation between whose fate in the upcoming election on one hand and her gender on the other by no means clear on the basis of publicly available information), she was from very early on seriously talked about as future Prime Minister material, and I think that I understand why—beyond, of course, her undeniable personal charm and intelligence, which are useful attributes regardless of gender. For she was a princeling once removed (so, very strictly speaking not an heirloom Diet member, but still), and she first served, if somewhat briefly, in the prefectural assembly. In short, she did more than do it the “right” way, if the career paths of the last four LDP Prime Ministers including the incumbent are any indication. The irony is thus compounded by the fact that her electoral fate is in question precisely because of a local grudge—some of the local LDP politicians who sided with Sato have refused to support Noda—a traditional “bunretsu senkyo,” or “divided election.”

Yuko Obuchi is another female HOR member who has prospered early, and moreover cakewalking to a fourth term while still in her mid-thirties in an otherwise disastrous election for the LDP. Again, a princeling, who took the even more common, personal secretary-to heir(ess) route.

Noda and Obuchi, of course, are exceptions that prove the rule. Female princelings are and will be few and far between. For the two examples highlight one major reason why there have been so few female politicians in the LDP fold. The LDP has been an industry that has come to be dominated by small, family-owned businesses. And Japanese succession in family-owned businesses strongly favors the patrilineal, and daughters typically marry out, or take husbands who are then adopted into the family business. In the two cases, there were no males able and willing to rightfully claim precedent. It is also important in these two cases that they inherited young. If Prime Minister Obuchi had lived another ten years, to see his daughter marry and have children, would she have been in a position to inherit? Or would the mantle have been passed on to a more distant blood relative, or a non-relative personal secretary, or perhaps some local political figure acceptable to Obuchi supporters? Likewise Noda, whose family—she was adopted by her maternal grandfather Uichi Noda—skipped a generation.

Of course the closely-held firm as a business model may be in swift decline. The LDP, goaded by the DPJ, has followed suit by banning close relatives from running as official party candidates. Even if loopholes are found—ex. “independent” candidacies—politicians are likely to have fewer children, if they are anything like the rest of us Japanese. And the upcoming election may serve as a cautionary tale for only sons when they balance their 9-to-5 jobs in media conglomerates and Keidanren member corporations. Thus, chances will be greater that no potential heir, let alone a male one, can be found who is willing and able.

Now, for some answers…

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Did I Tell You I Don’t Twitter?

Money quote:
[Kristen Nagy, an 18-year-old from Sparta, N.J.’s] reluctance to use Twitter, a feeling shared by others in her age group, has not doomed the microblogging service. Just 11 percent of its users are aged 12 to 17, according to comScore. Instead, Twitter’s unparalleled explosion in popularity has been driven by a decidedly older group.
Actually, Roland was a dead giveaway.

You Know the LDP Is Doomed When…

Martin Fackler, as his wearable vending machine report shows, is as good as his sources—no more, no less. So, when he’s been mostly spot on in two consecutive articles here and here, on the imminent demise of the LDP, with appropriate anecdotes and interviews, then you can be sure that there won’t be any last minute reprieve for the Aso administration and its loyal supporters. Then, on what the proverbial two-handed blogger used to call the other hand…
Hokuto Yokoyama has run for political office four times, and lost four times, as an opposition candidate in this mountainous region known for its abundant apples, and its equally abundant loyalty to the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed Japan almost continuously for more than a half-century.
It is true that Yuji Tsushima served 11 uninterrupted terms in the Japanese House of Representatives before he suddenly stepped aside on the eve of the upcoming election to let his son run in his place. It is also true that Tsushima had won Aomori District 1 in all four elections held since it was created in the 1994 conversion of the House of Representatives from the multimember single non-transferable vote system to the single-member district system. But this singular outcome obscures the fact that in those four elections, Tsushima only once managed to win a majority of the votes cast. In fact, he barely managed to raise his share of the total votes cast to 40.4% in the 2005 national LDP landslide from his personal all-time low of 39.7% in the 2003 election, while Hokuto Yokoyama put up a good fight in both elections. This hardly looks like an LDP stronghold to me. So what has been going on?

The last two election results causes Yokoyama’s claim that it was “a big turnaround from just a few years ago, when he still had to convince residents that the Democratic Party was not ‘a bunch of socialist revolutionaries’” to ring hollow. Besides, it’s hard to imagine anyone mistaking Yokoyama, an Ozawa acolyte, for a socialist. Couple Yokoyama’s close-but-no-cigar results with the consistently meager pickings for the Social Democrats and the Communists and we come closer to the truth. Aomori District 1 must be comprised of deeply traditional communities, where personal loyalties run deep. And past debts are not easily forgotten. Call it traditional, call it conservative, but do not call it LDP. And here, I go into some speculation. As one of the seven capos of the Tanaka action, Ozawa’s public works reach must have extended well beyond Iwate boundaries, and continue to resonate—and influence politics throughout the Tohoku region. Note that the DPJ does relatively well there compared to similarly conservative Kyushu. (This, incidentally, was what the Nishimatsu scandal was insinuating.)

Speculation, yes. But given the relative weakness of the LDP in Aomori District 1, shouldn’t Fackler have looked beyond the usual left-center-DPJ-kicking-LDP-butt narrative to possibly reveal the saga that may be playing out there? It almost makes you wish Norimitsu Onishi were here. But not quite. Because if he were, that might be the whole story.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

LDP’s PR Efforts

I haven’t been posting as much on the election as I might have done. In response to Mark’s comment, I give one big reason here, and, in the bargain, offer some thoughts on the LDP’s Hatoyamanova commercial (as I like to call it) and negative campaign efforts.

Some Speculation on the Causes of False Reporting in the Japanese Media

In my response to Janne’s comment here, I did some casual speculating about the reasons why the Japanese media is sometimes caught stretching the truth beyond legally tolerable limits. If anyone has any opinions or can point me to material (English or Japanese) on this subject, I would very much appreciate it.

Scott North in Asia Times: or, Why I Keep My Media Commentary to Major Media Outlets

A friend sent me this link. I don’t think that he’ll mind if I reprint my response here, somewhat edited to protect the innocent (i.e. me).
After six paragraphs, this essay goes seriously off track. More generally, I’ve noticed that many social scientists/sociologists of a certain generation are not really scientists/logists at all, but bad free association poets who happen to have put in five years earning PhDs, where they appear to have lost their last ties to reality. They are the kind of people who make Kim Jong Il and other anti-free speech activists almost tolerable.
To call this tripe is an insult to cow digestive organs. Robert B. Parker creates a spot-on imitation of such academics as the villain in one of his Spenser novels. Seriously, there are more appropriate bovine associations for this op-ed, if you know what I’m sayin’.

On the other hand, the Sudhir Venkateshes make up for the Scott Norths and then some.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Tabloids Are Divided

Japanese kiosk displays carry banners for the tabloids, which gives you a flavor of what the perceived focus of popular sentiment is on any given day. They got a lot of mileage the Noripi amphetamine incident, but the upcoming election has been a consistent headliner. Today’s headlines to the best of my memory:
LDP Showing Fundamental Strengths (52 districts); Yosano, Shiozaki, Koga Turning The Tide Yūkan Fuji

Tokyo 1 win, 24 losses [for the LDP in the SMD elections] Nikkan Gendai
Note that Yosano is one of the Tokyo candidates that must lose for the score to be 1-24. It helps to understand the gap when you remember that Yūkan Fuji belongs to the conservative Sankei media group while Nikkan Gendai belongs to the Kodansha group, a publisher which had its origins in the middle/low-brow market. Nikkan Gendai in particular takes a strongly anti-establishment approach. Every Prime Minister since I began taking an interest in those headlines has taken a drubbing in its pages, Koizumi coming across as little better than devil’s spawn.

That being said, I laud the tabloids for being the first to begin publishing stories about a 300-150 (more or less) landslide. I’m now convinced that they had access to people who knew the contents of internal polls.

I still mourn the demise of Uwasa no Shinsō, the monthly magazine that published all the news that was not fit to print, and worse.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Some People Think Out Loud, While Taro Aso…

If you believe Asahi Shinbun (and there’s no reason not to), at a Sunday night talkfest with a group of students:
Student: Isn’t it because young people don’t have enough money to get married that people don’t married and that leads to fewer children?

Aso: It’s better not to get married if you don’t have money; I think so too. You better not do such a thing thoughtlessly. It wasn’t like I was someone who didn’t have money. But I married late. Can you be respected when you’re not earning any money? That’s pretty difficult.
…But admit it though, we do have to agree with our Prime Minister—Money must have been the least of his problems in getting married.

Incidentally, in a new, “non-”campaign pamphlet—sorry, unavailable on the LDP website— the LDP is accusing the Japan Teachers’ Union for (among other things) promoting promiscuity. Now you’d think that with the disastrously low birth rates, the Aso administration would be thanking Nikkyoso for pushing unprotected teenage sex. But what do I know?

ADD: My bad. Here’s the pamphlet. Wait, there’s more!

Brief Thoughts on Post-Election LDP: Faction Leaders, Babyfaces, Etc.

Prime Minister Aso is the only faction leader in a position to campaign on behalf of other LDP candidates, but he is a mixed blessing at best. Otherwise, LDP faction leaders are either retiring—Yuji Tsushima—or have their hands full fighting for their own political lives. Most of the other LDP notables and other elders are in the same situation. It is likely that many of them will not return, and those that do will not have earned any political points from their junior colleagues. In the event, this has left the field open for the one LDP babyface who is by definition able and willing—Yōichi Masuzoe, Upper House member and the one of two bright spots (the other being Shigeru Ishiba) in the ill-fated post-Koizumi administrations—to amass political chits.

Much attention is being given to the near-inevitable devastation to the ranks of the Koizumi Kids* and the likely LDP drift away from major urban centers—the LDP is doing particularly poorly in Tokyo and Osaka—but there seems to be little talk about the consequences of a diminished, discredited, leadership. Note also that one other publicly popular (if not so much with his peers) figure Nobuteru Ishihara is a safe bet to keep his SMD seat—in Tokyo.

* ...which somehow prompts me to ask, are you one of those people who feel sorry for Ponyo’s siblings, Star Wars Stormtroopers, baby sea turtles, the nameless extras who spend their brief moments in this universe to amuse us before they pass away, unseen, unmourned?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Rural and Urban? Think Again

Is it my imagination, or do I keep seeing English-language commentary about the rural-urban dichotomy in Japan? Specifically:
Rural (conservative, communal, loyal) Japan is losing out to (liberal, individualist, fickle) urban Japan economically (less income, fewer jobs) and demographically (fewer, older). The collateral argument is that rural Japan is overrepresented in the Diet, skewing public policy in favor of preserving an aging, decaying society.
There is a measure of truth to this line of argument, but it does the injustice of obscuring the much broader narrative:
Japan is a profoundly urban nation, where the agricultural (and forestry and fisheries) population is only a small fraction of the total even in the poorest provinces. Japan’s problem, as any one of you who reads Japanese will know, is the growing gulf between the center (中央) and the regions (地方).
Center and region, of course, depend on where you (literally) are coming from. Take Tokyo. From an Omotesando perspective—okay, even from a Tachikawa perspective—my neighborhood definitely belongs to the boondocks. But a 20 year old in Gifu might happily trade his lot for a freeter existence (and second guitar in an indies band) and a one-room apartment near my local train station. No, it’s not about foreclosed farms in North Dakota, it’s the shuttered storefronts on Main Street, Youngstown.

Pockets of vibrant anomalies aside—broadcast TV does not lack for anecdotes of successful municipalities and even prefectures—and barring massive fiscal transfers to the periphery—as advocated in principle by the DPJ manifesto—nobody has offered the general public a credible course of action that will stem this tide…assuming that it is a desirable course of action.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

“What to Expect in the First Year of a DPJ Administration?” Not Quite…

I’ve been doing most of my thinking on the next election at an online forum. Here’s my response to one question that appears to stand on its own; plus a comment that I added when I used it in a communication with an East Asia analyst:

“I think there will be two important, early tests for the DPJ—it must figure out what to do with the FY2009 supplementary budget and the FY2010 budget. It wants to roll back the first one, which will be a hellish task. How it handles the FY2010 budget creation process will give us a idea of how successful it will be in keeping its troops in line. So when it wraps up a budget bill—hopefully with plenty of time to spare before the current fiscal year expires—we will have formed a general impression of the Hatoyama administration's competence. I think that this will determine the tone of media coverage and perforce go a long way in determining the electoral fortunes of the DPJ in the 2010 UH election.

There is one matter (of far lesser political consequence) that needs to be dealt with, and dealt with soon, on the international front as well. The DPJ will have to decide conclusively what to do with the refueling operations in the Indian Ocean. In the less likely case that it decides to continue them beyond the January deadline, the Hatoyama administration must submit an extension bill in the extraordinary session it will summon in, say, October. If it doesn't, the LDP will submit its own bill. I think that it's a negative for the DPJ either way, but not a serious one.”

My comments at the time being such, I also note that an effective non-combat boots-on-the-ground presence in lieu would make the Obama administration happy. But remember that Ozawa had to shelve a similar idea, and the situation in Afghanistan looks even more desperate now.

The Ideal LDP Candidate; and Only Tangentially Related, Punting on Yoichi Masuzoe

The 21 August Yomiuri carries a district-by-district, bloc-by-bloc account of all 300 single-member-district seats and 180 proportional-representation-bloc seats in the upcoming Lower House election and basically confirms what the other media polls, including the tabloid have been telling us: the DPJ is on its way to a smashing victory, taking over 300 seats, while the LDP will be lucky to wind up with 140 in all. Although the Yomiuri assessment comes with the usual caveat, it is based on a methodologically sound (or so it appears to this layperson), random digit dialing poll with approximately 350 responses in each of the 300 SMDs—Asahi, with less generous bean counters, had settle for half the SMDs then doubling the result to come up with the total—and good old-fashioned legwork, so it probably beats my crystal ball as far as the 30 August outlook is concerned.

In the process, most, if not all, of the LDP elders not named Taro Aso are at best running neck and neck with their DPJ challengers. Case in point: Gumma Prefecture, with its five SMDs. In District 1, 76 year-old PR bloc incumbent Koji Omi, alternating with the LDP’s SMD incumbent, who is taking Omi’s place as the top-ranked candidate on the LDP’s PR bloc list, is running neck and neck with the DPJ’s 48 year-old PR bloc incumbent. In District 2, 73 year-old incumbent Yakashi Sasagawa is trailing the DPJ’s 37 year-old PR bloc incumbent. In District 3, 75 year-old incumbent Yoshio Yatsu is trailing the DPJ’s 43 year-old challenger. In District 4, 73 year-old Yasuo Fukuda—second generation Prime Minister!—is running neck and neck with the 44 year-old DPJ challenger. Only in District 5 does the LDP incumbent have a clear road to victory—the code phrase appears to be: antei shita tatakai—the 35 year-old Yuko Obuchi, whose main challenger is a 72-year old Social Democrat running (poorly) with DPJ support.

Obuchi and her SDP challenger bring to mind one other LDP who is doing the antei shita tatakai thing—70 year-old Yamagata District 3 incumbent Koichi Kato, whose main challenger is a 61 year-old—you guessed it—SDP challenger running with DPJ support. In fact, whenever you see an LDP candidate not named Taro Aso in the lead in an SMD race, you’ll win a lot of money by betting that the main challenger is an SDP/People’s New Party/New Party Japan candidate running with DPJ support*.

There is one significant LDP elder, though, who is putting up a good fight against his DPJ nemisis—71 year-old Kaoru Yosano is in a dead heat against 60 year-old Banri Kaieda. This is remarkable because Yosano has an unwanted reputation as a weak campaigner and does not hold a seat in the old-Tokyo shitamachi neighborhoods, and has a record of 2 wins, 2 losses in 3 races against Kaieda to support his critics. One LDP candidate in Tokyo who trails her DPJ opponent but who is given a fighting chance by Yomiuri—the code term is “ippo riido” for the DPJ candidate—is 48 year-old Yukari Sato, a PR bloc incumbent who lost out in Gifu District 1 to incumbent and Post Office Penitent Seiko Noda (who ironically is trailing her yuui ni tatakai wo susumeteiru DPJ challenger rather badly) and had to parachute in to Tokyo District 5.

From these and more general observations, a composite picture emerges of the ideal LDP candidate: a youthful, photogenic figure with recognizable policy chops and favorable national media exposure—whose main opponent happens to be an SDP/PNP/NPJ candidate running with DPJ support.

Of course LDP elders are by no means a doomed species. Even if they lose, they can make it back by way of their PR bloc candidacies. But it helps to remember that the path will be narrower this time around. For example, in Hokkaido, Yomiuri gives the LDP only 2 PR bloc seats, while claiming that Nobutaka Machimura (64 year-old Machimura faction leader and putative Prime Minister candidate), Shoichi Nakagawa (56 years-old, but 8 terms and multiple cabinet and party leadership appointments under his belt) and Tsutomu Takebe (68 year-old Koizumi right-hand man and Koizumi kids mentor) all trail trial their DPJ challengers. Besides, authority will be harder to exercise when you’ve snuck back in through the backdoor and are facing the prospects of going up in your late 60s and 70s against a much younger incumbent at the next opportunity.

So what will the post-haircut LDP look like according to the Yomiuri, in the event that it is unable to defy the polls in the actual voting? A band of about 90 proven (SMD) winners and 50 (PR bloc) half-losers, and 150 outright losers making new plans for the next 3-4 years—or the rest of their lives. And you know what? There won’t be a place in the new ruling coalition for them. If I had to place a bet, I would put it on a united (by necessity) LDP picking itself up under a taint-free, relatively youthful Yoichi Masuzoe. To think, one year ago, I would never have said that.

* Koichi Kato is one party elder who is lapping the SDP opposition

Friday, August 21, 2009

Let’s Get Real When Making Recommendations for a DPJ Administration

The Wall Street Journal certainly qualifies as mainstream media…

While looking for something else, I bumped into this op-ed co-written by fellow blogger Tobias Harris. It is, as usual for Harris, intelligent and well written. (Disclosure: we are friends.) But it also displays a fundamental disregard for the realities. Let’s look at them one by one.
“If the DPJ wins on August 30, it will find itself heir to a fortunate legacy: Fiscal stimulus enacted by the current government, totaling roughly 5% of GDP, represents a large pool of capital, much of which has yet to be dispensed, ripe for spending to boost the economy.”
Actually, it’s roughly 4% of the GDP (see below). Is a 1 percentage-point difference trivial? Well, it is a 5 trillion-yen difference, and, as I like to say, a trillion here, a trillion here, and soon... but joking aside:

Of 19.7755 trillion yen (roughly 4% of GDP), 1.0641 trillion yen FY2008 I+4.7858 trillion yen FY2008 II=5.8499 trillion yen FY 2008 (and out of reach?), leaving 13.9256 trillion yen (a little less than 3% of GDP). Now, let’s take a closer look at the 13.9 trillion yen.

3.1066 trillion yen are money drawn from the Fiscal Investment and Lending Special Account—that is, part of the “buried treasures” that the DPJ is hoping to tap for the initial installments of their 3-year plan. If the DPJ spends it in FY2009, there’ll be that much less for its multi-year agenda. Almost all of the rest of the money, i.e. 10.8190 trillion, consists of borrowed money. Now a substantial amount of money has been dumped, as it were, in local governments and public institutions to be used as paid-in capital or to cover expenditures in worthy programs beyond the current fiscal year. I believe that this is the money that the DPJ likes to talk about. Now an administration that wishes to claw back some of this “stashed treasure” will have to force these governments and public institutions to stop these programs in mid-progress, adopt new FY2009 budgets—in the case of local governments with the consent of conservative local legislatures—and return the unused money. This is not going to be easy.

As for the rest of the 13.9 trillion yen, it is true that much of the money for the itemized subsidies has not been spent. But that does not mean that the recipients of the subsidies have not incurred expenses. In principle, expenses incurred according to a valid project approval must be made good, with contingent payments on expenses incurred typically coming from the government each quarter. The earliest that the DPJ can put a stop to such expenditures by recipients will be the middle of September, when Hatoyama takes over as Prime Minister. Something tells me that the recipients will be doing their damndest to make sure that they incur expenses as soon as possible, before the DPJ takes over. And the DPJ will have to do this about-turn while working out a new politics-bureaucracy relationship and preparing the FY2010 budget.

At a minimum, “a large pool of capital, much of which has yet to be dispensed, ripe for spending to boost the economy” is a chancy proposition. One way to minimize the difficulties of a turnabout is to warn the recipients of stimulus largesse to stop spending the money because the DPJ is going to suspend additional disbursements when it takes over. But this will send a chill through the entities involved in the implementation of the LDP stimulus packages and toss immediate ownership of the short-term fortunes of the Japanese economy onto DPJ shoulders, a burden that a new administration should be highly cautious of taking on.
“The DPJ could also build credibility by articulating some basic fiscal-policy principles that would distinguish it from the LDP. The ingredients are there already—party leaders have demonstrated some solid principles in this area. They just need to spell them out again ahead of the polling.

First among these would be aiming for a balanced budget…As an alternative to this history, the DPJ should offer measurable annual targets for deficit reduction. This will assure voters that the party sees a path back to balance.”
But this would tie the DPJ to measurable goals against highly provisional revenue and expenditure projections. This is likely to seriously damage their future credibility when they are likely to easily win this election anyway. So why bother to waste valuable intellectual and political resources to come up with iffy fiscal projections in the last ten days of an extremely busy political campaign?
“On a related note, the DPJ also should promise to postpone indefinitely any increase in the consumption tax.”
Why do this when the majority of the public acknowledges that a consumption tax hike is inevitable anyway? The current position of the DPJ, i.e. we’re not going talk about it until we’ve wrung the bureaucracy dry of unnecessary expenditures, is more than good enough.
“Instead of a consumption tax, the DPJ could offer a plan to broaden the corporate tax base.”
The DPJ is already committed to lowering the corporate tax rate for corporations with less than 100 million yen in paid-in capital to 11% (which in my view is an added incentive to undercapitalize your business or segment it into a gajillion separate corporations interlocked by mutual financial guarantees—the other incentive being the restrictive labor laws). In fact, the DPJ is committed to broadening the corporate tax base. It promises to put its foot down on the enormous web of tax incentives that has grown up over the years. Curiously, the op-ed does not acknowledge this. Beyond this, while a “[w]idening [of] the tax base while at the same time lowering the tax rate [may] leave the government less exposed to the business cycles of large companies,” it may also leave all businesses in the position of paying even more corporate taxes than they do now in the form of local taxes during times of economic duress.
“Perhaps most importantly, the DPJ should continue with broader-based reforms. One specific way would be to reverse plans to delay the privatization of Japan Post, currently set for an initial public offering in 2010.”
I agree. But this highlights the fundamental flaw of this op-ed. None of its recommendations will be adopted by the DPJ. Thus, it is as relevant to the political debate as a SPD election manifesto demanding that U.S. troops pull out of Okinawa altogether.

The sequel, here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Aso and Hatoyama: Itineraries Compared

I hating seeing people use insinuations to further their arguments, and I try to avoid doing so myself. However, some things just cry out for…

Today, the government made the announcement as required by law for the August 30 General Election of the House of Representatives. And to launch the formal start of the LDP election campaign, Asahi reports that Prime Minister Aso is giving speeches at:
10:55 Hachioji Station, North Exit (Tokyo)
12:45 Higashi-Murayama Station, East Exit (Tokyo)
15:15 Akabane Station, East Exit (Tokyo)
16:20 Seibu Nerima Station, North Gate (Tokyo)
If some of these names sound unfamiliar to you, do not feel embarrassed. Hachioji is a name that many Japanese hear only during the national high school baseball tournaments and the more studious among them vaguely recognize as former silk industry powerhouse. Higashi-Murayama’s national reputation rests with those old enough to remember “Higashi-Murayama Ondo” (click at your peril), a local booster song picked up and popularized in the 1970s by the mega-hit comedy group Dorifutaazu (Drifters) on their long-running TV variety show. Akababe and Nerima are closer to downtown Tokyo, but still carry, perhaps undeservedly, somewhat seedy, wrong-side-of-the-Yamanote Line overtones. Nerima’s claim to national fame lies in the Nerima Daikon, the big fat local version of the daikon radish that reputedly gave birth to the derogatory phrase daikon-ashi (google if you must). In other words, Aso is basically hitting the closest thing Tokyo has to the boondocks, from west to north, then calling it a day. (I’m mildly surprised that he isn’t hitting my home town, whose motto could be “XXXXXX, proudly on the wrong side of the Tama River.)

Compare this with the same-day itinerary of Yukio Hatoyama, the DPJ leader who is poised to take over Aso’s office in the event of a widely-anticipated opposition victory:
09:15 storefront; Takashimaya, Osaka Store (Osaka)
11:05 storefront; Hankyu, Shijo-Kawaramachi Store (Kyoto)
13:30 Toyohashi Station East Exit, pedestrian deck (Aichi)
14:55 Shizuoka, Aoba Event Square (Shiuzuoka)
16:45 Yokohama Station West Exit (Kanagawa)
18:35 Yotsuya Station, SunSun Plaza (Tokyo)
Not only is Hatoyama hitting six spots to Aso’s four, he’s doing it in six different prefectures, along a 2-hours-plus-by-non-stop-bullet-train route. Now I understand that a Prime Minister has other responsibilities, and Aso may yet add a couple of more speaking engagements before he pops back to his official residence to rest up for the rest of the campaign. All I know is that the famously fit Prime Minister’s health is last thing that could be holding him back from hitting more convenient and/or visible locations with more frequency.

If Matt Dioguardi Thinks the Dollar Is Coming off Its High Any Time Soon…

Well, he better think again.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Doing the Arithmetic on Downsizing the National Civil Service

This post began as an email to the business consultant referred to in the main text and the host of the lunch. I’m sharing it with you because I think it’s relevant to understanding the implications of the domestic policy agenda of the DPJ, something I generally haven’t taken much time to go over on my blog.

What are the implications of downsizing the civil service by 30% and cutting personnel costs for the remainder by another 30%? It’s a suggestion that I heard from a relatively well-known management consultant—and presumably making the rounds of business circles—over lunch?

As of FY2008, there were 590,993 national civil servants accounting for 5.3252 trillion yen in personnel costs. A business-as-usual scenario will not change these figures significantly. So, a 30%-by-30% cut saves you about 2.7 trillion yen, which is comparable to the 2.5 trillion yen required to finance the increase (1/3, up from 1/2) in government subsidies to the basic public pension system, which in turn is roughly equal to the revenue that can be raised by a 1 percentage-point hike of the consumption tax rate*. The message? Soak the bureaucracy and you can finance pension reform without a consumption tax hike, a most desirable message politically speaking. But is it doable?

Under normal circumstances, roughly 5% of national civil servants (excluding Self-Defense personnel, but let’s assume that their attrition rate is more or less the same) leave the civil service each year. So, by simple attrition, the civil service can be trimmed by 30% in 7 years. But there’s a catch or two. Of the roughly 590,000 national civil servants, about 140,000, or 1/4th, are tax officials, police officers, coast guard personnel, etc., people vital to our personal and national security, people whom we do not commonly associate with the slovenly paper-pushing ways of the civil service and would be immediately noticed if their ranks were thinned in the form of fewer police officers on the beat, fewer guards at the Imperial Palace grounds, etc., etc. (Although fewer taxmen on the job might be a welcome turn of events by Keidanren members.) A further 235,000, or 25ths, comprise the military personnel of the Self-Defense Forces. Although our soldiers are usually less visible than, say, police officers, a significantly lower level of defense alert would have to be accepted—not that such a decision would be out of the question—in order to make a 30% cut in their ranks. That’s 375,000, or close to 2/3rds of the total that require a serious rethinking of our personal and national security priorities before they can be considered for major downsizing. Yet to leave them untouched means that you would have to take 30 percentage points out of the remaining 36 percentage points to make the numbers work.

The other 30% cut in personnel costs likely derives from a comparison of the average annual wage of the employees of all businesses with 10 or more employees—4.524 million yen (FY2004)—and the administrative personnel among the national civil servants (full-time employees excluding tax officials, police, coast guard, the SDF military, etc.)—6.295 million yen (FY2004). But note that the workforce for the basis of the 4.524 million-yen figure includes contract workers, temps, part-time workers and the like. Corrected for these differences and business size, this government(!)-sponsored study claims that the average annual wage of national civil servants and that of the general workforce are more or less equal. Now it could be argued that the national civil service should share the same fate, salary- and benefit-wise, as the rest of the population. But the argument must be made to stick as well with regard with the civil servants who are directly responsible for our personal and national security, and the fiscal well-being of our national government.

This is clearly a difficult, politically unpalatable task. Perhaps that is why the DPJ is willing to settle for a modest(!) goal of a 20% overall cut, theoretically achievable with simple attrition plus an absolute hiring and wage freeze over a 3-year period**, and even then hedging its bets by claiming that much of the load and by implication some of the personnel can be shifted to local governments…which passes the buck without really solving the problem.

* It is also roughly equal to the sum of the budgetary costs of eliminating tolls on most highways (debt payments 1.4 trillion + maintenance costs 0.16 trillion) and abolishing the gasoline tax surcharge (1.24 trillion yen). A trillion here, a trillion there, and soon you’re talking about real money…

*Under normal conditions, roughly 5% of civil servants excluding Self-Defense personnel leave the civil service. So, assuming SDF personnel leave the military at the same rate, simple attrition plus an absolute hiring and wage freeze should be enough to achieve the DPJ goal of cutting personnel costs by 20% in three years—other things being the same. (Note that attrition occurs disproportionately at the older and therefore more highly paid end of the wage scale.)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Online MSM Embracing Tabloids

I think I noted that Sankei—alone among the mainstream dailies, or so I believed at the time—had embraced the Internet in its entirety, at least after it replaced Mainichi as MSN’s main squeeze in Japan, and that it was supplementing its online content with its less prestigious sister (mainly) sports & entertainment publication Sankei Supootsu. In recent weeks, I found to my amazement that both Asahi and Mainchi were also been carrying articles from their tabloid siblings, for how long I have no idea. Industry leader and most populist Yomiuri, apparently, has not.

I hope that someone, somewhere, is chronicling these developments. I fear that most of the history of the online media in Japan will be lost forever—like TV programs of the 50s and 60s—literally vanishing into thin air, leaving little but oral testimony to go on. Google can cache only so much.

Infinite Miles per Gallon? And Deathtraps for Pacemakers

Those electric vehicles that sneak up on you in Central Park? Battery-powered tricycles for handicapped people? Do they get quintjillion, quadribazillion light-years per 3.78541178 liters? Certainly seems to be the case. But isn’t the GM’s claim the logical outcome of claims being made for electric cars in general? Just in case anyone’s wondering, it’s the primary energy source that counts.

And speaking of handicapped people, have you even been on a train and seen people turn off their cell phone just because the sign asks them to do it so they don’t fry some unsuspecting body’s pacemaker? …...Have you?...... I thought so.

I was reminded of this while I was sitting in a railway station yesterday, in an air-conditioned waiting room on a platform on my way to Shinjuku, when a guy walks in with a plastic plate dangling from his neck that says “handicapped person; pacemaker.” Of the dozen people in the room, there were four people absorbed in their cell phones. No need to tell you what didn’t happen.

This example can be spun into a larger story about us Japanese and our security preferences. But I won’t. I’ve been seeing too much even today that is no more than conventional wisdom dressed up with anecdotes masquerading as analyses to inflict you with one of mine. Not tonight, anyway.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bad Year for Third Parties

I’ve written before about the corporate and public money issues, not to mention the danger of losing and ending up without the party life-support system to sustain you for the years until the next election ,that act as constraints on LDP Diet members who might be thinking of jumping a listing ship before the upcoming Lower House election. Post-election, things will not be much easier. The DPJ is likely to win an outright majority and is in any case almost assured of a joint majority (in both Houses) with its formal partners PNP and SDP; the an addition of a few third-party seats will be superfluous and will merely complicate the process of consensus building within the already ideologically divided coalition. In the highly unlikely event that the LDP-Komeito coalition beats out the DPJ (and its two formal allies combined), defection from the LDP means risking the wrath of the media for rejecting the Japanese electorate’s judgment. Then there’s the next election to worry about. As I’ve written in my responses here, resolving the conflict between the LDP defectors and the DPJ (and PNP and SDP?) competition at the local level will be a hellacious task come the next election.

All this should explain at least to some extent why LDP-defector Yoshimi Watanabe and Kenji Eda were able to attract only three more incumbents to their new 15(14?)-candidate creation Mina no Tō, or Everybody’s Party. Note, also, that two of those defecting incumbents (one from the DPJ!) left their parties because they had been rejected as single-member-district candidates (the DPJ did offer, unsuccessfully, an SMD to its eventual defector in lieu of the SMD of his choice), not out of political convictions*.

More broadly, though, this looks like a bad year for third parties, period.

The media and the voting public smell blood—LDP blood. Although the DPJ has so far been running a lackluster unofficial campaign under its lackluster party leader on a somewhat makeshift platform, the alternative looks even worse—it’s difficult to run against the past and present when you’re an incumbent whose name is not Jun’ichiro Koizumi—and the third parties have been lost in the shuffle in what I’d like to call the At Least There’s an Alternative election. Public opinion polls show a persistent surge of the floater electorate in favor of the DPJ—it has weathered the Curse of Ichiro Ozawa, among other things—and last month’s Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election indicates that those floaters will show up at the ballot stations. The JCP, the only party other than the LDP that fielded candidates in every Metropolitan Assembly district, managed to add a few votes to its previous total but lost seats anyway because the DPJ grabbed most of the additional voters that had shown up on election day. This, I think, is indicative of what will happen to third party candidates in the 30 August election. The hope for Everybody’s Party is that their candidates will win enough votes that they’ll make it on the PD bloc ballot even if, as is likely except in the case of Watanabe and perhaps Eda, they lose on the SMD ticket. But, as I’ve already indicated, its post-election bargaining power with a DPJ-led coalition will be limited. The fact that it won’t be able to bring any Upper House seats to the table will exacerbate the problem.

Note that neither of the major parties have any real affection for third parties. The DPJ and LDP both want to disproportionately shrink the number of proportional seat when they downsize the Diet according to their 2009 election manifestos. If they ever manage to hash out an agreement on the actual numbers (a long-shot proposition at that), that will spell disaster for third parties that do not have captive constituencies. The point of the Everybody’s Party’s electoral reform plans to reduce the number is not clear, but it is telling that the election manifesto of the other third party advocating electoral reform, the Komeito, calls for a return to the multi-seat district system that allowed smaller parties to grab seats in the larger electoral districts.

* The other Lower House member, one of the Koizumi Kids, appears to have had purer motives, but media reports say that he may decide not to run at all.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sunday Funnies: It’s My Party…

Did you enjoy my ramblings about political funds? Rejoice then; Sankei—bless their damn-the-corporate-sponsor conservative souls—has a nice story about fund-raising parties. It’s a reminder of the reason why the DPJ needs three more years to wean themselves off the corporate teat*.

This, and Hatoyama’s waffling around national security and agricultural policy, as well as Ozawa’s two bits on the latter, are not going to materially affect the outcome of the election. It’s increasingly shaping up as the “Consider the Alternatives” election, and the LDP has lost too many rounds to win on points.

Incidentally, I have a hard time understanding why the SDP is joining hands with the DPJ, which appears to be knee deep in a tacit conspiracy with the LDP to drive the micro-parties the way of the dodo and the passenger pigeon. Bu then, they are the diehard remnants of the Murayama Socialists, who chose a political instant of the illusion of power and have been paying for it with an eternity of insignificance.

* I have nothing against corporate money in politics as long as there is full disclosure to the last yen. For all donors.

Sunday Funnies: QUO VADIT The

I sent an email congratulating a friend of mine (redundant, but comfortable, no?) for having made a very public—and very accurate—call on the very short life of the Venezuela-Columbia pissing match. I’d be happy to reveal his name, except I’m actually going to call him out for his response:
“XXX is presently out of office. He will return on Tuesday, 8 September. For immediate response, please contact YYY at yyy@...”
I wondered if I was the only one tempted to send yet another message asking him where he would be running for governor. This, of course, was an out-of-office auto-reply message. But the content is not automatically generated, and other auto-reply messages from the same firm correctly state that the auto-sender is “out of the office.” I add that my friend is a native English speaker and a prolific writer and, even more, speaker.

English-language titles and headlines have routinely dropped articles as far back as I can remember, but rarely if ever has this affected the main body of what we write. Native English speakers instinctively know what works and what doesn’t with regard to the bane of non-native English—particularly non-Indo-European—speakers worldwide. But the Internet, like any medium, changes the way we write, and the term “Out of Office AutoReply” is ubiquitous. So, have you seen this locution “…is out of office” as well? If so, we may be observing the obsolescing process of a definite article before a noun, an event that must be as rare as a total eclipse of the sun.

Sunday Funnies: I Am Not a Feminist , But…

Anecdotes and selective data to reinforce the prevailing conventional wisdom…it’s what I’ve always railed against when I see it in the mass media. Here’s Kate Harding writing in a similar vein in Salon, on an AP report that claims to have identified “a disturbing trend: Women in the U.S. are drinking more, and drunken-driving arrests among women are rising rapidly while falling among men.” The second part cannot be denied; the first part is… I’d say the jury is out—which is actually Harding’s point.

Which somehow brings me to this NYT report on the new, hybrid jury-judge panel system that has been brought in for criminal trials here. I have a problem with this:
”…opinion polls have shown the Japanese public to be highly skeptical of the jury system, primarily because of deep cultural aversions, including a reluctance to express opinions in public, to argue with colleagues and to question authority.”
Now I know the first part is true, and I’m ready to go along to some extent with the thrust of the assertions in the second part. But are the two, in fact, linked? It sounds vaguely plausible. But do the opinion polls show the linkage? I’d like to see how they do that, because I don’t see a line of questions that tease it out.

Going back to feminism, the same friend who sent me the last article also has been passing around another NYT report, this one about the growing social acceptability of “lavishing adoring (albeit nonsexual) attention on men for a hefty fee” as an occupation for young women. The report goes on to claim:
“[W]ith that line of work, called hostessing, among the most lucrative jobs available to women and with the country neck-deep in a recession, hostess positions are increasingly coveted, and hostesses themselves are gaining respectability and even acclaim. Japan’s worst recession since World War II is changing mores.
Members of the middle-class resorting to the overt use of their sexuality to earn a living in these hard times is not a uniquely Japanese phenomenon, as this Salon report shows, nor is it absolutely gender-specific, as least in the world of TV dramas. But are the increased “respectability” and “acclaim” linked to the current recession? They appears to have far more to do with the more gradual, more enduring emergence of everyman—and woman—as a media force. Some of this new breed of celebrities—such as the tetujinchefs—have seen their fame last much longer than their allotment of 15 minutes. From this perspective, Eri Momoka, the “single mother who became a hostess and worked her way out of penury to start a TV career and her own line of clothing and accessories” is merely the water trade’s variation of the dokusha models, the amateurs who have taken over some of the traditional trendsetting role of entertainers and professional supermodels.

And speaking of the water trade, the report does not explore the world of the celebrity hostess’s cultural ancestors, the geisha, and even the high-class prostitute oiran, European courtesans, and the Classic Greek hetaeras, professionals whose cultural, social and even political influence has been obscured by the multiple filters of Victorian and contemporary sensibilities. Then there are the economics. Do the $100,000 hostesses receive healthcare benefits? Not likely. Pension plans? And who pays for their clothes? Like the geisha, these things add up. And like the professional athlete or the futures trader, old hostesses tend to fade away. Which is where the sugar daddy—again as in the case of the geisha—comes in.

Not that NYT is obliged to explore these avenues. But the stories are there for those who are willing to make the effort. For those who aren’t, there’s always the Case of the Earwax-Cleaning Murder to turn to.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Let’s Hope No One Draws Parallels between the Abductees and the Two American Journalists…

Joe’s comment here gives me good chance to unleash yet again a couple of my pet peeves—regarding the abductees and Prime Minister Koizumi. No, those canards do not come up in Joe’s comment, but it’s clear that they lurk behind the media reports that go into forming the background of his take.

There are good reasons why nothing has been achieved with regard to the following Japanese demands:

1) Give a full and credible accounting of the fate of the remaining abductees;
2) Return remaining survivors; and
3) Punish the people responsible for the operation.

The North Korean authorities claim that they have already accounted for the remainder—they deny some of the Japanese claims—and that there are no more survivors. They also claim that the people responsible for the operation were punished. There is a gap here. No, there is nothing short of regime change that can bring the North Koreans to satisfy Japanese demands. I think that this is hard not to see. But then, why does MOFA persist in making these demands?

One line of persistent popular among Western liberals is that this is the result of a successful rightwing campaign, who use this issue for some inchoate but undoubtedly nefarious purposes. Not so. This, as I have never tired of explaining, is a misunderstanding, a misunderstanding based on a few undeniable facts regarding Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. To wit, Koizumi:

1) paid his respects at Yasukuni Shrine (to fulfill a campaign promise);
2) dispatched troop to Iraq (after the war was over); and
2) was succeeded by Shinzo Abe as Prime Minister.

In fact, the Japanese demands are supported in public by most politicians across the entire political spectrum from the nationalist-nativists to JCP spokesmen as well as just about every editorial writer in the mainstream media from Sankei to Asahi. The key phrase here is “in public.” For it is the Japanese public that was the driving force behind these demands; Koizumi would have lost his job if he had stayed the course after his first trip to Pyongyang, and Abe was the grateful recipient, not the instigator, of the popular outcry over the North Korean revelations that helped propel him into the Prime Minister’s office. Public sentiment regarding the issue has very much cooled, but no one in any position of responsibility is willing yet to touch this political third rail. And that’s things stand today. If you doubt me, read the election manifestos.

If you want to know more about thoughts regarding Koizumi and how he fits into the big picture on this, you are free to search my blog or, better, pay me to write an essay on this subject. If you don’t have the time or money to do so, then you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Clinton’s Pyongyang Visit?

Obviously a done deal—which means that the North Korean authorities know enough not to push their luck too far.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

“What's Behind Japan's Love Affair with Robots?”?

Nothing says slow day at the Tokyo bureau like yet another story about Japan’s love affair with robots arrRRRRRRRGGGHHhhhh…. Seriously, I’m tempted to write a story (in Japanese) entitled The Western Media’s Love Affair with Japan’s Love Affair with Robots. If other Japanese follow suit, I can blog about Japan’s Love Affair with the Western Media’s Love Affa….
Every year or two, Japanese researchers roll out a new robotic invention — the latest to grab headlines earlier this month was a mechanized baseball duo of a batter and pitcher that can throw 90% of its pitches in the strike zone.
Never mind what an awful sentence this is—it’s the pitching robot, not the duo, that throws the ball—hasn’t the reporter seen a pitching machine in her life? The magic here, it should go without saying, vests itself in the robotic batter, who (which?) can put the pine on the ball with a monotonous precision that is capable of shaming Ichiro into premature retirement. If (and this is a big if), the batter robot is able to do this without any direct input of information from the program that controls the pitching robot—i.e. the pitching and batting systems are independent—it is a spectacular stunt not unlike a successful missile defense system test.
In the past several years, Japan has committed several tens of millions of dollars to an industry…
Does the writer think that the U.S. robotics industry hasn’t committed “tens of millions of dollars to” robotics? (R&D? production?) Bring a sense of proportion to you numbers.
“Robotics is to be for the Japanese economy in the 21st century what automobiles were in the 20th,” says Jennifer Robertson, a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan.
It’s always possible, but I don’t think that an anthropologist living in Michigan is the best prophet when it comes to predicting Japan’s industrial structure in the 21st century.

I could go on. But it’s past midnight. And I’m soaked.

Mark, Matt, Michael, M, I’ll get back to you tomorrow. (All Ms? That’s weird, if only because the initials of three prettiest girl in my high school sophomore class were MM. And Marilyn Monroe was still fresh in our memories.) Hopefully. Sorry about that…

Someone should compile a list of these BREAK GLASS IN EMERGENCY aids for functional illiterates. Let’s see, Pocari Sweat (but not, interestingly, Calpis), porn magazines on commuter trains…


Saturday, August 01, 2009

Some Answers…


Is Japan Trying to Kick out Some of the Paltry Number of Immigrants?

So claims Daniel W. Drezner on his Foreign Policy blog on the basis of an NYT article. (What else?) Not exactly what I’d been looking for, but I felt compelled to comment, and, too late, I realized that the comments section had been closed already, so…
The NYT article misrepresents the Japanese government’s actions, in the event failing to focus on the very real policy failures regarding the predominantly Latin-American immigrants of recent Japanese origin. The immigrant workers and their families, like any Japanese citizens and other permanent residents, may choose to stay in Japan and draw unemployment benefits and go on welfare. But jobs are hard to come by in the current economic environment and life on the dole does not hold out much hope for the future as far as building a stake for a comfortable life back home is concerned. The government payoff in exchange for a ban of indefinite duration from Japanese soil is the other side of the coin, an option—the choice is up to the immigrants. I would go along, probably support, a cooling-off period of definite duration, but the ban is not permanent, as the report claims. Of course there is a good chance that the “indefinite” may end up being “permanent” if the Japanese economy continues to underperform. That is why many of those immigrants are sticking it out.

Personally, I think that the Japanese authorities should have handled it differently—from the beginning, when the immigration policy was altered to bring in these people. Specifically, the immigrants and their families should have been encouraged to integrate. Most importantly, school-age children should have been required to attend Japanese schools, and the national and local governments should have given them every practical support. Adults also should have been given incentives to take up ongoing education. They could have been a good test case for a rational, controlled immigration program. It would have been the subject of less controversy than a full-fledged national debate on the broader issue would have invited. But that’s not the NYT’s argument.

Finally, it may be of interest to you that Komeito is the only political party that takes up the cause of immigrant workers and their families in its election manifesto. Komeito and DPJ also want to give permanent residents the right to vote in local elections.