Tuesday, August 31, 2010

In Kan’s Words…

Here’s Kan’s press briefing. Same no saido-type message.

Kan Refused

Here is Ozawa’s this-is-it statement announcing his candidacy. It appears that Kan was the one who refused to adopt the one-for-all, all-for-one Kyoto icchi taisei that presumably would have staved off an Ozawa run in a power-sharing arrangement. According to Ozawa, Kan had second thoughts after sleeping on it. An immediate post-election split does seem to be off the table.

Good, Ozawa Is In the Race After All

So Hatoyama’s doings are likely to end up promoting…what? Maybe the no saido thing, “no side” being the rugby expression for the game’s end that has entered the Japanese lexicon as as an expression for the notion that all animosity is/should be dropped between the two antagonists in a show of sportsmanship. In fact, it appears to be one of the fractious DPJ’s favorite metaphors. Kan and Hatoyama seem to like it a lot.

“Byzantine”? On Bizarro World?

“The process is appropriately Byzantine for the notoriously murky Japanese politics. So much so that it has rarely been used. The last time the party held a leadership election using the full system was September 2002, when Yukio Hatoyama beat three others, including Mr. Kan.
from “Kan v. Ozawa: Who Decides?” Yuka Hayashi, WSJ,, 27 August 2010

Definition of BYZANTINE
a : of, relating to, or characterized by a devious and usually surreptitious manner of operation [a Byzantine power struggle]
b : intricately involved : labyrinthine [rules of Byzantine complexity]
What’s so “devious and…surreptitious” or “intricately involved” about a secret-vote election rule that has three clearly defined and identifiable sets of differently weighted voters? Obviously, the writer has never heard of the infinitely more byzantine US process aka presidential primaries, with its random-walk, hodge-podge of rules including an assortment of “caucuses,” which sometimes consist of nothing more than a bunch of hyper-motivated people braving snowstorms to huddle in various spots on an auditorium floor and beseech each other to come over to their side like some friendly version of touch-kabaddi. And don’t get me started on their “super-delegates.” The DPJ system by comparison is quite straightforward, simple, and transparent.

More importantly, the DPJ voting system of giving by far the largest share of votes per head to the Diet members—let’s call them hyper-delegates—the next largest share of votes per head to assemblypersons—super-delegates—and by far the smallest share to the rank-and-file makes constitutional sense. The Diet, which is supposed to elect the Prime Minister, is in turn elected by the Japanese public. To allow the party-rank-and-file, a mere fraction of the voters who voted for the DPJ, would disenfranchise the far more numerous voters-at-large and arguably make a travesty of the Japanese Constitution. The word seito (political party) never appears in the Constitution; like it or not, Japan is a representative democracy. There is also a good, though less convincing case to be made that the assemblyhumans, too, merit special consideration because they in turn have mandates from their constituencies by virtue of their elective offices. These are obviously not absolutes, and the DPJ way is not the only way the system could conceivably have been constructed. (The LDP for instance does not have the assemblyhomosapien super-delegate second tier.) The DPJ could revisit the allocation of the votes between the three tiers in view of the much larger number of parliamentarians now extant. But the system itself is very straightforward, simple, and transparent. At least much more so than the US primaries. As for the relative lack of use of the full process, she immediately provides her own answer: in seven out of the nine elections that she refers to, the DPJ chose the simple Diet members-only election process to choose the leader to serve out the remainder of their predecessors’ terms in mid-term elections, as explicitly allowed by the rules. In the other two cases, only one candidate stood for election. That does carry the stench of backroom smoke, but don’t blame the rules.

Okay, I actually think the US primaries are a lot of fun, and get a lot of people engaged politically that otherwise mightn’t have been. But Hayashi’s claim just doesn’t make sense.

More significant perhaps to the public interest, just because Kan raised the consumption tax issue doesn’t mean that he has become a "”fiscal conservative.” He’s a tax-and-spend social democrat without the stomach for Scandinavian labor laws until proven otherwise.

I’ve mostly stopped going after the media, but I thought that it would be a shame to confine to my outbox my response to an email that I’d received, especially since I could adapt its contents with little effort as a blog post. In Hayashi’s defense, she generally comes across as a competent journalist.

”It’s My Party”

At least that’s the impression I get from Yukio Hatoyama’s “troika” efforts that look likely to result in a brokered power-sharing deal between Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Ichiro Ozawa, Yukio Hatyama, and upper house don and fourth tricycle wheel Azuma Koshiishi--before the election. Does Hatoyama (and Kan? Really?) think that it’s that important to abandon any pretense that it’s about policy to prevent Ozawa from taking at most four, five dozen Diet members—a Japan scholar whom I very much respect is willing to take the under in an over-under 20—with him into the wilderness when the DPJ doesn’t have an upper house majority or a lower house supermajority in the first place? I hope against hope that it won’t turn out exactly like what it appears to be: the three (four?) self-appointed founding fathers—they’re 63, 68, 63, and 74 years old respectively, for Christ’s sake—abandoning any pretence of policy differences and getting together to stave off the brave new world for at least another election cycle. But let’s wait and see what Kan and Ozawa have to talk about.

BYW I wonder if Hatoyama and his pals throwing the “troika” word around know exactly where the troika reference initially came from. That’s not all. The term, you may recall, more recently graced the popular political lexicon specifically to describe a certain power-sharing arrangement between Georgy Molotov, Laverntyi Beria, and Vyacheslav Malenkov. And we all know how that one turned out.

(Confession: I’ve been calling a brokered deal, but one before the actual election will be professionally inconvenient.)

Incidentally, the Japanese rendering of troika (トロイカ=toroika) can also mean something else. And I’m not talking about fatty squid. Just sayin’.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Let Them Name You… and They will Come?

Down and out Yubari, the bankrupt Hokkaido city immortalized by NYT elegist Normitsu Onishi, is selling naming rights left and right. First came the municipal civic center (most likely a lightly used composite of a concert hall and smaller meeting rooms) and…public toilets? Whatever.* According to this Asahi piece, Yubari is extending the idea to the local baseball field and other athletic facilities**. But why stop there? Why not SELL THE NAMING RIGHTS TO YUBARI?

Seriously. It’s not as if precedent is lacking. The city of Toyota was named in 1959 for Toyota Motors, not the other way around. And Toyota (the Motors, not the city) didn’t pay a yen. Likewise, the city of Tenri got its name in 1954 as the stronghold of Tenri-kyo, a pseudo-Shinto religion that has its origins during the late Edo era—over the less demonstrative Yamabe, the Tenri-ko’s choice. And, of course, Boston gets its name from the Boston Celtics.

Look, Hyundai, if you have the wherewithal to drop billions of US dollars worth on North Korea with little to show in return, you surely have the billions of Japanese yen—you really need just a fraction of that—to spare so that you can call a Japanese city, I don’t know, Chosun’s My Daddy? I’m Your Bitch, Korea? The possibilities are limitless.

Think about it, Hyundai.
* Dave Barry does have a sewage-lifting station named after him. A far as I can gather, he did not pay for this honor either.

** Between the public toilets and the baseball field, the Yubari authorities obviously have a sequencing problem.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ozawa Stands for Election and Realignment Draws Nearer

Who’d a-thunk. With former Prime Minister Hatoyama’s surprise (okay, so much for my predictive powers) full-throated support, Ichiro Ozawa is running against Prime Minister Kan in the 14 September DPJ presidential election. Support for Kan appears to be at best of the lesser of two evils variety, but the case against Ozawa remains strong as ever. I refuse to believe that a majority of the 411 Diet members will of their own volition vote for a candidate that is disapproved by an overwhelming majority in opinion polls—by contrast, although the Kan cabinet is beset by negative ratings, a healthy majority still wants to give Prime Minister Kan a second chance—and withstand the heavy and constant media beating that will follow an Ozawa victory. The rookies in particular have to worry about 2013. However, roughly one third of the voters will be cast by local party members and assemblymen, an factor that had largely remained off the radar till now. But from here on, they will matter, for two reasons. First and most obviously, they can be the deciding factor in a close Diet membership vote. Second, they can influence their local Diet members in their voting, especially in the case of fence-sitting parliamentarians. It has been unusual but by no means rare in party presidential elections for Diet members to explicitly vote according to the wishes of their local chapters, and broader if more subtle interactions must also happen. It would be surprising if similar thing did not happen in the upcoming DPJ election. Third, the national voting trends among the eligible supporters and assemblymen are likely to affect the overall voting behavior of the Diet members. Remember that Junichiro Koizumi’s surprise local victories in the 2001 LDP election over overwhelming favorite Ryutaro Hashimoto precipitated a landslide victory in the Diet member vote. True, the DPJ local votes will not be counted until the Diet members have voted, precisely to avoid such a happenstance. However, nothing will stop the national media to sic their local bureaus to provide day-to-day coverage on the intentions of the DPJ voters in the provinces. Expect everyone to know the approximate outcome of the local voting before the Diet members vote in Tokyo on 14 September.

Now most people seem to believe that Ozawa has something of an edge out there, given his formidable political machine and its extensive outreach into the provinces, including plenty of handholding, sewage cover-stomping, and rice paddy-wading on behalf of associate and/or political-newbie candidates past—a lot of political chits to redeem. However, the local eligibles in turn talk to the rest of the locals. And they will all access the media, and be influenced accordingly. It’s a dynamic process, is all I can say right now. I expect the majority to be what I consider to be rational and take the path of least public resistance, which is to reelect Kan, but what do I know?

Whatever the outcome, the election will most likely draw an indelible and permanent line between the pro- and anti-Ozawa forces, with the rest of the DPJ getting back up and sitting, uneasily, on the fence. I expect a Kan victory to be somewhat more reassuring to the markets, largely because of main street support for continuity and rejection of Ozawa’s likely revival of the more costly elements of the 2009 election manifesto. Either way, the two sides will shake hands and pretend to make up, and the winner will make the minimum concessions on cabinet, subcabinet, and political assignments to keep the other side from bolting. (Ozawa won’t want to, but that must be the minimal price of Hatoyama’s support.) However, I doubt that unity will be long-lived. The widening political fissures will threaten to erupt at moments of political adversity, which will surely come, on the economy, Okinawa, and any number of those incidents expected or not of varying consequences that cumulatively sap the political capital of administrations or even manage somehow to morph into major political crises on their own. In other words, schism is in the air, and none of the significant opposition parties, not the LDP, certainly not Your Party (I still fail to understand the logic behind expectations that it would join hands with the DPJ and kill its own brand before it even graduates the phenom stage), not even the New Komeito, the only meaningful party that, through its near-captive constituency, could withstand the curse of an alliance with what is likely than not to be a deeply unpopular DPJ. It looks increasingly as if the moment realignment has drawn closer, if still beyond the horizon—that is a long-term plus for governance in Japan. From that perspective, a Kan victory followed by an Ozawa prosecution would actually be a negative in that it would postpone the day of reckoning and more coherent policymaking.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Long Hot Summer for Kan, Ozawa and DPJ Coming to an Early End?

The following is a memo that I dashed off in response to this WSJ report that an esteemed colleague sent me. Its shelf-life might wind up being as short as a couple of days, or even counted in hours, so I thought that I’d share it publicly. For the record, I edited it slightly.

More an essay than an op-ed, the WSJ is a good encapsulation of the situation. A few comments:

I still find it hard to think that Ozawa is going to stand, or win if he does. In fact, there’s a growing possibility that Kan will win by acclamation.

For Ozawa, there’s the risk that he will actually win. He is personally unfit to be the head of government in a democracy, what with the highly public grilling in Diet sessions and press conferences (which he could mostly skip when he was merely party chief), and he is surely aware of that. And he’ll be held responsible for policy decisions.

For the DPJ, an Ozawa victory invites a near-unanimously negative media coverage—Nikkan Gendai, the antiestablishment tabloid, a rare exception among widely circulated dailies—as well as the very real possibility that Ozawa will have no choice but to resign if the prosecution review commission forces the Public Prosecutors Office to prosecute him. (Even a one-step downgrade that allows the PPO not to prosecute is likely to lead to a media campaign against Ozawa that will hound him out of office before long.)

But can he win in the first place? I’ve always been skeptical of the 130~150-member Ozawa group headcount that we regularly see in the media. The estimates appear to include up to 2/3rds of the DPJ’s 150 or so first-term Diet members. Yes, those kind of numbers showed up when Ozawa made his annual pilgrimage to Bejing, and appear to show face when they hear the dog whistle. But will they rally for Ozawa when it’s time to vote? Remember, it’s a secret vote, not a show of hands. Besides, last week, when Hatoyama held his annual Karuizawa bash—God, it’s great to have money, even if it’s not quite Goldman Sachs money—up to 100 Ozawa supporters showed up. (There were 150 participants in all, of which up to 50 could have been Hatoyama group members, plus Koshiishi the Upper House don and others including one Kan flunky.) Subtract the core Ozawa supporters (up to 50) and maybe a third of the DPJ rookies. I don’t think Ozawa (more accurately Ozawa’s kitchen cabinet) has the numbers.

Note that all the other likely suspects are back-peddling like hell. Never-ready-for-primetime Kaieda has all but abandoned his non-candidacy; Tarudoko, who fronted the Ozawa group in the June election, says once is enough for now; and the Kan cabinet’s resident otaku Kazuhiro Haraguchi (he himself spells it Haraguti, and how more otaku can you get than that?) says he enjoys his job too much to run.

I think Kan realizes all this, and is appropriately keeping his head down.

Hatoyama will eventually throw his support behind Kan. Hatoyama’s conditions for his support, according to one of his top flunkies, Yoshikatsu Nakayama, local sovereignty, the New Public Interest, the East Asia Community, Hatoyama’s GHG commitment, and one other that I cannot remember. They are expansive and explicit but highly conceptual, so they are easy to accept. The GHG commitment, of course, is only as serious as the extent to which the Japanese government is going to go to fulfill it, a matter which was already seriously in doubt under Hatoyama after Obama and the Democrats—a nice name for a 50s throwback doo-wop group FWIW; do you think Sarah and the Republikettes works?—dropped the idea of any serious US efforts. (And of course there’s always China.) Ozawa keeps bringing up the 2009 Manifesto, but how seriously did the Hatoyama-Ozawa odd-couple take it when they were in control?

The big story, then, is what Kan is going to pull out of his economic tool kit once his summer vacation is over. The last couple of weeks brought a sea change in public opinion. Mainstream editorials, reflecting rising main street voices, have been calling for intervention in the currency market in the face of skepticism over the utility of a unilateral intervention. Meanwhile, Kan is still sticking to what is surely the MOF story of a modest 1.7 trillion yen stimulus package consisting of near equal amounts of emergency funds in the FY2010 budget and unexpected carryovers from the FY2009 budget—No New Money. I’d say that the possibility of intervention, though still less than likely, has risen considerably. Also, I look for a considerable stimulus package, likely including an extension in one form or another of the quick-release eco-point system and some new business tax cuts.

That said, there is one wild card, which I’m surprised to hear nothing about lately: the DPJ local yokel vote. The local chapters and assemblyhumans are allocated 400 points (300 go to the local chapters while the remaining 100 are pro rated among the local legislators), while the 412 Diet members get two votes each. It’s a secret vote, whose results are not to be revealed until the Diet members have voted, but do you think that the media is not going to canvas the local voters as they always do on these occasions? I thought so. And Ozawa is rumored to have a strong following out there because of all the legwork and money he and his henchpersons put in over the years right up to the eve of the July election.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Is Koizumi a “Nationalist”?

You may already be aware that I think that the conventional wisdom that puts former Prime Minister Koizumi in the same nationalist camp as Shinzo Abe and the deceased Shoichi Nakagawa is completely misguided. This led to an on-going exchange in the SSJ Forum which should appear by and by in its archives, and a Q&A with Steve Martin, a post-graduate student at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Steve is working on a dissertation concerning “Prime Minister Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, their effect on Sino-Japanese relations, as well as the motivation behind the visits.” Copied below with Steve’s consent is the Q&A.

Good luck, Steve, with your dissertation. And long live your blog on “Japanese politics to Asian cinema, book reviews, photography and (not least) the Hanshin Tigers.”

You wrote that Koizumi did 'everything right' on the SSJ forum- endorsed the Murayama statement, condemned the war criminals, adopted guerilla tactics, and although he projected force this was more to do with political circumstances that a coherent 'nationalist vision' for Japan. Paul Midford replied that Koizumi was a "nationalist with guts", and Abe one without.

That is, "guerrilla tactics" regarding his visits to Yasukuni, doing the deed with minimum fanfare, avoiding 15 August and other symbolic dates. And if avoiding Yasukuni as prime minister were the measure of "guts," Hashimoto, and Aso would also be gutless, and Nakasone, who backed off after his first visit when the Chinese complained, would be a spineless wimp. But it was Abe who made an assault on post-war education and took a stab at constitutional reform including a revision of the government's interpretation regarding collective defense. I could have said all this and more with regard to Abe, but that was so obviously outrageous that I didn't feel the need to refute it and continued to focus on the conventional wisdom regarding Koizumi.

In my dissertation, which is partly about how bilateral ties were affected by the visits and partly about motives, I suggest that Koizumi was motivated by his own personal, intuitive logic in visiting the Shrine, and needing to affirm meaning to the lives lost in war.

I have no idea what went on in Koizumi’s mind as he visited Yasukuni, but my understanding is that he made a promise to the Izokukai (association of the families of the fallen soldiers) to do so during his successful LDP presidential campaign and was determined to keep it. And what could be more important than that? As far as I can gather, he was never associated with Yasukuni before his successful run.

At the same time, he recognised the political utility of the symbolism of the visits, and benefit from them, e.g. 2001 LDP presidential election, 2002 distraction from a number of financial scandals (Tanaka, Kato Koichi).

The connection between the 2001 election and Koizumi’s visits is obvious as I mentioned above. I'm not aware of any connection between that and any political financing scandals. I can't see a net upside for a prime minister in a Yasukuni visit and the inevitable rupture in relations with China and Japan as far as overall public support, which is where the scandals hit, is concerned. Yasukuni counts only with a specific constituency.

I thus argue they were not part of a larger articulation of a 'nationalist vision' in foreign policy, mainly because Koizumi wasn't interested in foreign policy. Similarly support in Iraq was more to do with what Uchiyama has described as a "Pavlovian response" to U.S. requests for aid, than a desire to remilitarise Japan. I was wondering what you think of this argument as to Koizumi's motivations.

I agree with what you say here; I’m not sure that he was interested in domestic policy either, at least not in a way that Nakasone or Hashimoto cared. Koizumi appears to have been as political an animal as Ozawa, which is saying a lot.

Secondly, I was wondering what, if anything changed in Koizumi's manner and/or S-J relations vis-a-vis Yasukuni visits when Hu Jintao took over from Jiang Zemin in 2003.

Hu appears to have decided to wait it out, likely reasoning that, as with all nightmares and democratic leaders, the head of Japanese government would not outlive the CCP leadership. It must have helped that Hu appears to have been prone to much less of a visceral response than Jiang. I can think of three reasons for this: one, Hu did not have Jiang's sense of personal betrayal at the hands of Koizumi; two, Hu's more phlegmatic personal makeup; and three, Hu’s upbringing as a member of the post-war generation that missed both the personal effects of the war and the 80s intensification of the use of Japan as a ready foil in the CCP’s founding fathers myth. (A similar phenomenon has also been reported in 80s Singapore).

Finally, I have mentioned the utility of the 2001 and 2002 visits, but I was wondering if you could see any (short-term?) utility of the 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 visits. I think I need to strengthen my argument here.

I think that it’s more a matter of the disutility of backing down. Koizumi couldn’t stop. He’d lose face, and face the scorn of the considerable conservative base. He must have seen a much larger domestic downside politically to that than anything he would have gained from appearing to be nice to China. That said, he did do his best to minimize the diplomatic fallout, so he definitely was aware of a domestic downside. But I do not see any short-term, in the sense of immediate political issues, utility in 2003-2006 as well as 2001 and 2002. And don't forget that the economic relationship remained on course, both day-to-day and for crisis management.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

South Korean Probe Unlikely to Settle Dispute over Warship Sinking: Really?

The government's preliminary findings released in May were attacked as amateurish and crude by some South Korean–born scientists concerned that flawed science could be used to escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Oh wow. But wait:
”To me, this challenges the integrity of science,” Seung-Hun Lee, a physicist at the University of Virginia, tells TIME. “They say they reached these conclusions that have enormous consequences on the political and international stage. As a scientist and scholar, I felt it was my duty to check their conclusion.” Lee says bluntly that the government's conclusions are “absurd.”
But whatTIME fails to tell us is that Professor Lee’s area of expertise is solid state physics. He’s an expert “on strongly correlated materials such as non-conventional high temperature superconductors, quantum magnets, frustrated spin systems, magnetic molecules, and multiferroics,” not a “physicist” in the popular sense, that is, someone who is used to thinking about things that make big bangs or what happens to stuff around them when they do. In other words, nothing in his background suggests that he has anything meaningful to say about the case, which point being obvious from the next citation:
The residues that the governments say were caused by the blast “have nothing to do with the explosion, but are just aluminum hydroxide that can be naturally formed by corrosion when aluminum is exposed to water for a long time,” Lee says. He adds that he doesn't know why Seoul and Washington would invent such a scenario to explain the sinking. “That's a political thing that's beyond me,” he says.
This means that the aluminum hydroxide could have been formed naturally by corrosion, but why can he be so sure that it has “nothing to do with the explosion”? After all, aluminum hydroxide is only one of the pieces of evidence that the South Koreans produced. But at least Professor Lee is a “scientist.”
J.J. Suh, a professor and director of Korea Studies at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., also doesn't believe the government's story.
What TIME fails to tell us is that Associate Professor Suh is a political scientist and is a strong advocate of the Sunshine Policy that current President Lee Myung-bak rejected.

Of course the South Korean probe is unlikely to settle the dispute over the warship sinking. In that respect, “it certainly has echoes of conspiracy theories like those surrounding the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.” And the moon landing. And the Holocaust. And the Nanjing Massacre… the list goes on. So I guess my question is: Are things that desparate at TIME magazine?

Actually, I’m giving Professor Lee the benefit of the doubt and willing to assume that he has more to say on this. And he’d better, because there are a good number of real experts whose integrity he has maligned. (Assistant Professor Suh doesn’t count; he’s not a real scientist.)

Addendum (August 19): My heartfelt apologies to Professor Seung-Hun Lee and TIME magazine. I should not have posted at all, or better, should have followed my usual procedure when I come across any interesting anomaly and gone to the source. Here, by Lee, and here, coauthored by Lee and Panseok Yang, are two papers that cast strong doubt on a key part of the evidence in the South Korean government’s yet-to-be-published report on the sinking of the Cheonan. Specifically, they point to serious discrepancies between the data for material taken from the ship and the torpedo on one hand and the data from material taken from a test explosion on the other as well as that undermine

But his logic is sound throughout, and any errors in his science should be easily refutable (or verified) by his peers and, where required, more tests. He also acknowledges that his argument do not disprove the South Korean government’s conclusion that a North Korean torpedo sank the Cheonan. However, it would knock out a significant piece of evidence behind the claim. I look forward to the release of the report, which should be forthcoming soon.

Again, my apologies. This is not the first time I’ve done such a thing, and it won’t be my last. But it’s been a good lesson. In the meantime I was prompted to read a couple of fascinating investigative documents, and that is a good thing in itself.

Addendum II (August 19): Now that I have time to elaborate on my mea culpa, let me state that I do agree with Janne’s comment about a scientist’s expertise extending his specific area of expertise, but only up to a point. For example, I would not take Professor Lee’s word over those of, say, experts on underwater explosions on the macrcophysical consequences of the event such as the dispersion pattern of fragments of the ship and its equipment and the possibility of some parts of the torpedo surviving the blast fairly intact. An explosion is an uneven and in many ways unique event: not the sort of phenomenon that a solid state physicist is likely to be very familiar with. This weakness actually shows in the experiment that he performed (see the second paper), substituting fine crystalline aluminum powder and 40 minutes of exposure to high-temperature for substantial aluminum pieces subjected to the extreme heat and pressure of a split-second explosion. This is a point that Lee’s detractors are sure to point to. But my focus in on his first document, where he uses the tools of his trade and his specific expertise to expose what appears to be serious shortcomings in the reports claims. And I have to see the full report. (The official announcement was only five pages long).

And yes, Paxy, I had been inclined to believe the South Korean government—for two reasons. First, I thought that there were too many people involved in the incident and the report to maintain a conspiracy in a democratic state. Second, the survey brought in overseas experts, making a cover-up even more difficult. But Lee’s papers have sown the seeds of doubt in my mind. So I’m looking forward to the report.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mor on the Missing Centenarians

The 111 year old mummy has spawned a number of ill-thought out stories on the plight of the Japanese elderly. Here’s one that uses it to jumpstart a mostly unrelated story on Japanese singles living with their parents. Among other things, the headline takes the one mummy, clones it, and does a whackjob worthy of The Weekly World News. Also, the writer fails to give any evidence that this is unique to Japan, or that Japan is any more advanced in this direction, and if anything provides her own counterargument.

Talk about “hanging a sheep's head and selling dog meat.”

Meanwhile, Martin Fackler isn’t doing too badly. He fails to do the arithmetic, but then, the entire Japanese media seem to have missed the point. And he manages to stick to the point.

What about the Pension Checks for People Who Were Born 80-100 Years Ago?

A check on the “centenarians” who hadn’t received care under the Long-Term Care Insurance System has turned up more than 240 missing. It doesn’t look like many more will turn up, so it’s probably safe to say that the government failed to account for the deaths or exit from Japan of less than 0.001% of the 40 million people give or take a few million residents who were born between 100-127 years ago. I’ll leave it at that and hope that others will figure out how that compares with other countries. One of the implications of the figures is that there must be upwards of a couple of hundred people born between 80-100 years ago who are dead or have left Japan without such fact being duly recorded in the appropriate registries. It’s also safe to assume that some of them are drawing on the pensions of parents who have gone missing. So I guess my question is: Have they found good excuses for the occasion of a visit from the authorities inquiring about the well-being of their newly centenarian parents?

Notice: There’s a long and thoughtful comment from Jobi-One Kenobi on “The Apologies” here. I’ve tried to respond in kind.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Who Knew that Asia Consisted of China, South Korea, and Australia (and Japan)?

Oh wait, European and American colonies don’t count, except when they’ve exterminated the locals. (Sorry, my Australian friend, I just couldn’t let the irony go by without mentioning it.)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

If You Think China Has a Problem with Japan…

On August 12, Genron NPO, a respectable Japanese advocacy thinktank, and the China Daily group released its annual report on its joint opinion poll on the attitudes of the two nations toward each other. 55.9% of the Chinese responders were unfavorably disposed toward Japan. Not good. But 72% of the Japanese responders felt the same way toward China. Worse. For the Chinese, it’s essentially about the past. Specifically, of the unfavorably disposed, 69.9% chose the war as the reason while 53.4% found that the Japanese didn’t have the correct understanding of the war of invasion. For the Japanese, it’s the here and now. 71.7% chose the Chinese government’s improper response to food safety problems and the like, 40.4% chose China’s selfishness in securing resources, energy and food, and 21.7% chose China’s military buildup.

Does either side make sense? Depends on what you mean by sense, and then only partly, but I’ll leave that question for another occasion. Many Western pundits like to say that Asia (which is actually sloppy shorthand for China and South Korea) will never fully accept Japan unless—you know the rest of the mantra. My point is that it works both ways. And you do want to know what the rest of the Asia nations think as well.

Incidentally, this is by no means a condemnation of China or its people. I suspect that the proportion of the Chinese people who do not trust its government’s response to food safety and other issues that negatively impact their daily lives is higher than 71.1%. China does tend to turn a blind eye to nuclear proliferation and human rights concerns when it comes to securing resources, but that must be understood in the context of a late market entry with 1.3 billion people to look after. And China has been careful to avoid border incidents around the Senkaku Islands and it has avoided commercial exploitation on the Japanese side on the median line in the East China Sea. China is essentially a status quo power. But China’s size means that its natural growth by itself changes the status quo. So what could be normal arm-flexing by the military, for instance, sets off alarms elsewhere. (Seriously, who cares if Singapore buys F35s?)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

More on the “111 Year Old” Mummy

Janne in Osaka has a long and thoughtful comment on a previous post. I responded there to the technical and administrative points. I didn’t have anything useful to add to the broader issue that he raised: in short, How much do we want Big Brother to be our keeper? As Janne says, that’s a social and cultural issue.

Also, Anonymous kindly reminds me that 15 September used to be Respect for the Elderly Day (敬老の日), which the government celebrates by giving new centenarians gifts. In 2004, the national holiday was switched to the third Monday of September, but I suppose that it still makes some sense if only to retain the old date for making year to year comparisons.

Damien Ma, on The Atlantic Website

Eurasia Group’s own Damien Ma is now moonlighting on The Atlantic website, no doubt to help meet his Manhattan rent. If you think that Damien looks like an Indies rocker on YouTube, you’re not that far off; he plays the guitar, plugged and un-. In fact, I have it on good authority that he matched up well against Jimi Hendrix when Jimi was still alive and kicking.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Kan Looks More Like a Survivor with Every Passing Day

There’s exactly one month to go before the DPJ presidential election, which perforce determines Japan’s prime minister and Banri Kaieda, a 61 year old moderately famous freelance economist turned politician who never made his way into the DPJ’s top leadership circles, is the only one who appears to be actively looking to challenge Naoto Kan. And that, only if he can manage to secure Ichiro Ozawa’s blessing. Ozawa capo Kenji Yamaoka is trying to whip up anti-Kan sentiment in the DPJ, particularly among the vulnerable lower house rookies, but is not securing too many followers. No one moves until Ozawa moves. Meanwhile, Kan has been keeping a low profile, and making nice with the opposition to the point of near-obsequiousness. The media does like this, but it keeps the own goals at a minimum. And the Japanese electorate has little stomach for a new administration or, heaven forbid, a snap election.

Go figure.

What the “111 Year Old” Mummy Doesn’t Tell Us

As I have stepped up my professional tracking of Japanese issues overall, I have been paying less attention to overseas media coverage of those same matters. I have been doing much less blogging and consequently have not been taking up media foibles. Just too distracted. But the missing centenarians story was irresistible.

The macabre story of the “111 year old” Tokyoite who turned out to have been dead for some 30 years while his family continued to receive his deceased wife’s public pension payments for the last six years (some English-language reports claim that they were receiving his pension payments but one Japanese story has some details that contradict this take) quickly morphed into a much bigger story about handwringing over social neglect and government incompetence as a search for the “oldest” Tokyo resident, a “113 year old” woman, ended at an empty fenced-in lot. By the end of the August 5 workday, a nationwide effort to track down the 40,399 centenarians living in Japan had uncovered 71 missing individuals. This CNN video clip picked up on the social angle—the deterioration of family and neighborhood ties—while this WaPo report carried a touch of both. But the numbers fail to tell us anything of the sort. There’s some truth to the incompetence angle, but not much. Let me explain.

The final national numbers are not in, but the city of Osaka, with 809 residents on its registries* who are or will be centenarians as of September 15**, give us a fair-sized sample. Of the 809, the Osaka municipal government decided to check on the 108 who had not received Long-Term Care Insurance benefits during the last two years, which they properly considered good cause for suspecting that those individuals may no longer resided at their places of registry, and wound up failing to locate 64, of whom 19 were foreign nationals. Now does that mean that Osaka failed to keep track of 64 out of 108, or 59.3%, of its centenarians? But that assumes that a similar proportion of the remaining 701 would, if nothing goes corrected, be suffering the same fate as the missing 64. It seems far-fetched that these 200 year old residents (give or take a couple) who left tracks in the national healthcare system in the last couple of years will somehow go missing as they move to another municipality or to that Big Nursing Home in the sky without the fact being duly recorded in the Osaka registries. Is the ultimate leakage then more like 64 out of 809, or 7.9%? Not so. Remember that there were a lot more of their age cohorts when they came into this world. That means that most of their age cohorts in Osaka had their deaths or relocations duly registered in the municipal records. To save hours of time tracking down the actual numbers, let’s take the available most recent number of Osaka newborns, 22,892 in 2007 as a surrogate. Is 0.28% (64 over 22,892) still unacceptably high? Perhaps. But this is patently wrong. The oldest missing Osaka centenarian clocked in at 127. So the fail rate for the system is actually 64 over 22,892x(27+1), or, 0.01%. And we are not accounting for the over-127 crowd, who apparently managed to be captured by the registry system on their way out, so to speak.

Are we there yet? Not quite, for there’s an interesting twist to the Osaka numbers. 45 out of the 64 missing centenarians are registered in Nishinari Ward. This should ring a bell for any self-respecting Japanese journalist, for Nishinari Ward represents the fringes of the post-WW II Japanese economy. Specifically, like Sanya, its Tokyo counterpart, it served as the place where day laborers and welfare recipients congregated in crowded, often unsanitary hostels. It was exactly the kind of place where down-and-out forty-, fifty-, sixty somethings who had lost their connections with family and friends back in the day, smack dab in the age group where people who would show up as missing centenarians today would show up. Take them out as mostly a local phenomenon and we are down to 0.03% for the percentage of the Osaka population.

But that’s not end of it. It is unlikely that the 45 Nishinarians, given their harsh living conditions, had survived nearly to the end of their first century, let alone beyond it. (For example, lethal tuberculosis thrived long after it had been brought under control in the rest of Japan.) More likely, they must have died and slipped unnoticed through the cracks in the underbelly of the registry system decades ago. Ironically, the municipal welfare authorities became aware of 48 (out of the 64) missing Osakites, including the 45 Nishinarians, when they conducted a survey when the national Long-Term Care Insurance system was launched in 2000. However, they had failed to notify the registry authorities of the fact. Embarrassing? Certainly. Administrative malfeasance? Surely. But not exactly the kind of administrative neglect towards the elderly that the reports suggest.

Going back to the social angle, the “111 year old” mummy had been in the family for over 30 years. The Nishinari examples suggest that many if not most of the other cases also go back decades. If something went wrong in Japan, it happened a long time ago. And Japanese society (and local bureaucracies) still cares enough that almost all deaths—at least in contrast to what the media reporting suggests—go duly recorded in the public records. Note also that the daughter of the “113 year old” woman had continued paying her mother’s national healthcare insurance premiums in the hopes that she would some day return.

Now I happen to suspect that there is something to be said for the conventional wisdom about the fading of family and neighborhood connections in Japan. But it is not supported by the issue of the missing centenarians. The best media stories use facts to illuminate; too often, they merely illustrate. In this case, they actually mislead.
* There are two types of residency registries in Japan, one for Japanese and another for foreigners. They are administered by cities, townships, villages and, in the case of the major cities, wards. The two sets will be merged no later than 15 July 2012.

** I don’t know why Osaka picked this date. The national census opts for zero hour October 1.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Luke Harangody=Biff? You Be the Judge

Luke , meet Biff. Biff, meet Luke.

I’m surprised that no one has noticed…

oh wait

Ever Wonder What Happened to Akira Nagatsuma?

I thought so. Unless you can read Japanese, you won’t have heard anything of the LeBron James of the pre-Hatoyama administration DPJ who is looking more like a Captain Queeg version of Gerald Green (oxymoron?)—until the case of the missing centenarians. There’s more than good reason for Nagatsuma being pushed out of the Kan administration after the September battle for the DPJ leadership (which Prime Minister Kan is increasingly likely to survive), but I’d rather talk about the way the media misinterpreted the case of the missing centenarians when it portrayed it as a sad example of the deterioration of Japanese communities and (extended) families. (It’s in the same vein as the “criminality” of the US military in Japan.) If anyone wants to hear, let me know, and I’ll do my best to pick it up later in the week.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I Watch Movie End Credits Too

Some thoughts on reading this report:

Watch Japanese anime credits and you wonder where all those Latin American animators who replaced their more expensive Japanese competitors dozens of year ago went. Japanese animators are back with a vengeance, now more often than not in collaboration with their South Korean (and some) Chinese counterparts. What happened to Japan’s anime labor force? Technology? The lost decade(s)? Ghibli? Japan Cool?

Watch American movie credits and you’ll see very few names identifiable as obviously African-American, the Chaunceys and DeShawns (and its multiple spelling variations) and Tawana and the like. Instead, you’ll see fully European names, plus a good number of Korean, Chinese, Indian and Japanese surnames. I suspect that liner notes (or whatever they have on CDs or on iTune these days) sport very different looks.

Kan Statement on Japan’s Recent Past on the Korean Peninsula

The Kan Statement on the eve of the 100th anniversary of Imperial Japan’s annexation of the Korean peninsula has passed the Yomiuri test—which means that it will go down with the populist-nationalist wing of the Japanese political center. Sankei is coming out fiercely against it, but its smaller print circulation gurantees that active opposition will represent no more than a small minority of the national vote.

That said, it will only be success diplomacy if the Japanese authorities are able to put an end to apologies once and for all and south Korea to accept the latest one for what it’s worth. An apology repeated is an apology not accepted. That should be obvious to anyone.

Upper House Long Straw Saves LDP

People not plugged into the Japanese-language media will likely miss this, so I’m reporting it. Today, Hirofumi Nakasone drew the long straw for the upper house LDP’s chairmanship in a tiebreaker against his favored opponent Shuzen Tanigawa. There are some caveats. Mild mannered Nakasone is the son of former Prime Minister Nakasone, but he never bothered to make the switch to the lower house, a distinctive display of a lack of political ambition. (Wanted: prime minister. Only upper house members need apply.) He is twelve years younger than his opponent, but at 64, the heritage politician more symbolizes the past than future of the LDP.)

Nakasone’s real significance lies in his improbable role as the anti-establishment, Koizumian candidate. The 21 upper house members who put their names on his official supporters list include Ichita Yamamoto, Satsuki Katayama, Yosuke Yoshiie, Yosuke Tsuruho and other younger and more policy-oriented and independent parliamentarians. By contrast, Tanigawa received the endorsement of three major (“major” is, here, also a relative term) factions, which had easily made him the initial favorite.

Yes, it’s the lower house where they play for keeps. Still, the luck of the draw for the upper house leadership position fans the hopes of the LDP’ young (relative term) and restless (absolute term). That is good for LDP cohesion, and generational turnover. It poses a setback for Ichiro Ozawa’s hopes of splitting the LDP and also increases the potential for negative fallout from his well-advertised poaching efforts.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Kan could Still Lose in the September DPJ Leadership Election If Multiple Candidates Emerge

What are the chances of Prime Minister Kan surviving the September election for the DPJ leadership? Still good, though I now see a plausible scenario in which another person emerges to replace him. However…

Ichiro Ozawa is not going to challenge Kan directly. There’s no upside for him. If he loses, which would be by far the likely outcome, he’ll be finished as a central political force. If he wins—it’s highly unlikely, but the possibility cannot be dismissed—he’ll have to serve as prime minister. Case closed.

Would an Ozawa surrogate succeed? No. Everybody not in thrall to Ozawa (or owe him one, the two are not mutually exclusive) will fear the mass media implications of a strong, public association with him.

This leaves the chances of a multiple-candidate challenge that leaves the non-Ozawa vote divided between multiple candidates, with Kan being only one of several of his peers. As the voting results come in, Kan will have no choice but to resign, leaving the door open for one of the non-Ozawa candidates to emerge as the majority candidate over the Ozawa surrogate. (If Kan can’t make it on the first round, he’s almost surely a dead, not lame, duck.) Of course there’s always the possibility that the Ozawa candidate will make such a strong showing that the DPJ has no choice but to select him/her. The equivalent of an exit poll for the 400 local votes (in addition to the two per-Diet member votes) could also influence DPJ Diet members and grease the way for one of Kan’s challengers to take over.

It’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T with Shaq

Conventional wisdom has it that the causes of Shaquille O’Neil having a problem with finding a team for the upcoming season other than a chance at another NBA championship are money and playing time. Really? I haven’t exactly seen reports of Shaq declaring bankruptcy anytime soon. And if he can’t secure significant playing time competing against the likes of Miami Heat centers Jamaal Magloire, Zydrunas Ilgauskus, Joel Anthony (who?), and Dexter Pittman (who?)

As important as if not more so than the material pleasures they bring, money and playing time are measures of your alpha-maleness. In Miami, Shaq would merely be a sideshow to the LeBron-Wade-Bosh AAU All-Star Tour. Boston may not be able to offer the money. And when Kendrick Perkins comes back, his minutes are likely to shrink dramatically, since he cannot slide to the four spot. But the Celtics can offer dignity. Everyone, from the aging future hall-of-famers to the towel waver at the end of the bench (and Brian Scalabrine on the bench) is treated right—by Danny Ainge, Doc, teammates, the fans, the Boston media…

Boston will not shell out the big money, Boston does not offer good prospects for serious playing time. But the Celtics will give its players respect. Speaking as a guy, it makes sense for Shaq.

I just learned that Shaq is working toward his PhD. Do I hear R-E-S-P-E-C-T?

Monday, August 02, 2010

Who Needs a Coalition for an Upper House Majority?

An email exchange with a financial analyst reminded me that ’s a lot of apprehension out there over the policy prospects of a minority DPJ—let’s face it, the PNP no longer counts—government. Far be it for me to say that gridlock is good, but there’s a case to be made that within the context of a fractious opposition including Komeito—demonstrably flexible and similarly urban, middle class, social spenders domestically and pacifist overseas—a series of flexible issues-oriented alliances will be more consonant with the implementation of a coherent policy agenda than an official coalition. A minority partner will inevitably secure policy concessions that do not match up with the majority partner’s overall policy agenda. It will also be able to exercise control over its cabinet assignments as a virtual enclave, further sapping coherence. Case in point: the Hatoyama administration.

Of course if the opposition ever got its act together, it will be hell for the DPJ. But I don’t think that’s going to happen, when everybody has an eye on a possible, more extensive political reshuffle down the line, most likely sometime after the next lower house general election.