Saturday, January 26, 2013

Counterfactual: What If the LDP Had Been in Power When the Senkaku Islands Issue Blew Up in 2012?

I prefer the counterfactual as science fiction (e.g. The Difference Engine), not analysis, and I ask the following to be taken in that vein.

Chinese ships and aircraft are now all over the air and sea space around the Senkaku Islands and the Japanese authorities, Shinzo Abe or no Shinzo Abe, cannot do much to enforce exclusive control over them since they are loathe to make any physically aggressive moves. Effective control has been ratcheted down, there’s no question of that. And there’s no question that Governor Shintaro Ishihara’s attempt to buy the islands triggered the geopolitical avalanche, Chinese aggression and all.

Imagine, though, if the LDP had been in power through all of this. Is there any chance that Governor Ishihara would have tried to embarrass the national government, given his two sons in LDP national politics and his viscerally protective nature in favor of himself, his family, and friends, most likely in that order?

So yes, the events would most likely have unfolded very differently under an LDP regime…but not for the reason—the (temporary) damage that Prime Minister Hatoyama caused to the Japan-US alliance—that the LDP and conservatives in general like to allege.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Early Retirement SNAFU in Public Schools and What to Do about It

A large number, perhaps most, of local government employees are being forced to take deep cuts in their lump-sum retirement pay as of February or March under local ordinances designed to bring them in line with national government employees. A good number of local employees who had reached the retirement age and were consequently scheduled to retire at the end of the fiscal year (March 31) are fulfilling rational expectations and retiring at the end of January/February, an act that that nets each one of them a tidy sum of money even after foregoing pay for March/February and March. Such action by public school teachers is causing particular commotion at their respective schools, which are in the home stretch of the school year and gearing up for final exams and entrance exams. The commotion has reached the ears of one Hakubun Shimomura, the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, who stated today, “I want teachers, who are in positions of responsibility, to fulfill their duties to the end. This will not do.”

Now, it is all and well to call teaching a seishoku (sacred profession), but it’s totally another thing to demand that they pay money to engage in it. Why, even TEPCO board members are allowed to draw salaries (and rightly so; or else no one would be willing to manage it, which suggests a subject for another post).

There is a middle ground, however. These retiring teachers could choose to teach through the school year at minimum wages, or even volunteer to do it for free. In fact, if the Japan Teachers Union wants to get in the good graces of the Abe administration and its superhawk MEXT minister, it should jump to the forefront of the action and make the proposal itself.

I rarely if ever make recommendations on this blog; it’s mostly about Japan these days and it’s an English-language blog for goodness’ sakes. But I’m making an exception here. If you have anyone near you in the public school system, this is your call.

The Taiwanese Activists Matter

From my morning dialogs:

The Taiwanese activists shipping out to the Senkaku Islands are by themselves a relatively harmless sideshow. However, the Chinese response to it might not be. The Chinese authorities may exert authority over it by 1) apprehending it or 2) protecting it from the Japanese authorities. Protection is the more likely of the two, since (according to my recollection) the Chinese government has been encouraging towards such Taiwanese efforts. Either way, such action would be a new step in Chinese escalation.

Will the New BOJ Leadership Change Gears on Asset Purchase Program?

The market response—a slight fallback or correction if you will—to the January 22 introduction of the “open-ended asset purchasing method” under the January 22 government-BOJ accord on “Overcoming Deflation and Achieving Sustainable Economic Growth is understandable, given that BOJ’s monthly 13 trillion yen purchases (of which 2 trillion in long-term JGBs and 10 trillion in short-term government securities) in 2014 would increase assets held under the program by a mere 10 trillion yen (a 36 trillion yen increase is in line for 2013) over and above the existing 76 trillion yen ceiling and left open the amount that it would be purchasing if any in 2015 and beyond.

The Abe administration must be disappointed though it is putting a brave face on things, and might want to goose the 2014 numbers and give clearer indications regarding 2015 and beyond when it replaces the two vice governors and Governor Shirakawa in March and April respectively, when their terms expire, with its own men (or, less unlikely, women). It may not be that easy, though.

First, any such decision requires a majority of the BOJ Policy Board, which consists of the governor, the two vice governors, and (currently) six members of the board, all appointed under the DPJ regime and whose terms are staggered to expire two per year in 2015, 2016, and 2017. Two out of the six board members, which the new BOJ will need for a majority, is not an inherently high bar and one of them, Yoshihisa Morimoto, is a former TEPCO executive, so go figure. Still, all the members signed off on the new purchasing method, including most likely the 2014 figures and the wait-and-see attitude for 2015.* Could they turn around in just a few months and say, if you really, really, insist, Governor?
* The publicly available documents do not make the second point clear, but the authorities have confirmed that they are subject to the decision of the board, and the documents do identify dissent where it exists.

Second, and this is where guesswork on the mindset of the Abe administration is required, having the BOJ revise its purchasing plans for 2014 and beyond sends a message that could be interpreted as: 1) the government and the central bank are fully attuned, or 2) the government has the central bank under its control. Is that the kind of ambiguity that it would want, so soon after it has already introduced the accord with much fanfare and defended it against detractors?

My guess is that unless the market outlook darkens significantly from its perspective, the Abe administration is going to allow the dust to settle from the BOJ leadership makeover before making new demands on it and the new governor will feel likewise. However, an inaugural statement that makes it clear that the BOJ will not wait till 2014 but will revisit the issue with alacrity as the situation requires is clearly warranted…and I have been wrong on the BOJ before.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Q&A on DPM Aso’s Gaffe

…did it free of charge, so I might as well blog it…

“ come no one in the Diet or the media seems to have taken on Aso for what seems like a big gaffe to me...”

Beats me. It's not just the media. Michael Cucek, who usually jumps all over Aso on something like this, merely links to my blog on the subject. Have we become so jaded about Aso's chronic foot-in-mouthia gravis?

I see a few  plausible explanations, conjectures if you will. First, Aso is popular with the press as an accessible, quotable straight-shooter (although he's prone to pointing his gun the wrong way), like Junichiro Koizumi and the opposite of someone like Ichiro Ozawa. Reporters are human, too; Muskie is a jerk so he's a crybaby (this was when men were men and weren't allowed to be "sensitive"), Gore is a stiff so  he "invented" the internet. Same thing happens with Ozawa. Aso is getting the Koizumi (JFK?) treatment.

Second, the opposition is not ready to fight so it's not being quotable. With no one to quote, the reporting fizzles out. Specifically, the DPJ appears to have made a more general decision that it will act responsibly, to fight the fight on substance and not try to trip up cabinet members for isolated incident of verbal gaffes. The JRP and the LDP are feeling each other out, while Hashimoto had an ongoing mini-crisis in Osaka. Yoshimi Watanabe at the Your Party is usually good for a quote, but  YP is a small-government, neoliberal group and is most likely sympathetic to finding ways to minimize late-term safety net costs, barring the way to indignant "how dare he disrespect the elderly" kind of quotes. And 
the Social Democrats are no longer relevant and the Communists are a media allergen historically, to be taken only conjointly with other political parties. (Perhaps Asahi has never forgiven them for splitting the progressive vote under the original 1955 regime.)

Third, the dominant political narrative colors reporting of individual events. The Abe administration comes in, scoring major points on his economic policy and continues to rack up victories against the BOJ. This helps mask individual misdeeds by members in his fold. Think, role players thriving on the San Antonio Spurs.

Fourth, the public has become immunized against Aso. He is what he is, and he keeps coming back, and we've gotten used to that. Familiarity breeds contentment, or at least tolerance.

I repeat, these are all post-facto conjectures, only somewhat more probable than right-wing conspiracy theories.

I changed one word after I rethought the utility of my conjectures.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Padding the FY2012 Supplemental Budget, and While We’re at It, a Little Nerdwerk on the FY2013 Budget

Up or down; which way did the Abe administration use accounting tricks to bring the “Emergency Economic Measures” part of the FY2012 supplemental budget to a more or less round 10 trillion? Up, of course. Even MOF’s scanty online documents leave it in plain view:

“Addition to the [Great East Japan Earthquake] recovery budget for the next fiscal year 1.2685 trillion yen”

Yes, folks, the 10.2815 trillion yen FY2012 recovery budget includes 1.2685 trillion yen earmarked for the FY2013 recovery budget! If you can manage to wrap your mind around that idea, you’ll be wondering if that’s how the Abe administration is reportedly reducing the amount of new JGBs for the general account in the FY2013 budget from its FY2012 budget high of 44 trillion yen. If you are one of the many people who like what the Abe administration has been doing so far but are uneasy about his spending proclivities, though, rest assured, recovery money does not count one way or other towards the 44 trillion since it is not part of the general account. Instead, it appears that the Abe administration is going to make up for the FY2013 revenue shortfall largely with money from the sale of Japan Post shares and other government assets. If that were all the information that I had—and sadly, it is, unless someone pays me real money to further dig into this—I would say that the game plan appears to be to sail through the July House of Councillors on a tide of good economic feelings against a divided opposition and hope that rising FY2013 tax revenues allow a significant carryover that, together with a higher tax revenue estimate, reduces the amount of JGBs budgeted in the FY2014 general account.

Or so it looks at first glance. Caveat lector, I’m not a budget expert.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Does Deputy Prime Minister Aso Want Terminal Patients to Die Off Quickly?

The National Council on Social Security Reform was set up under the three-party agreement between the DP, LDP, and Komeito on the “comprehensive reform of social security and tax.” It its third session, the first under the Ahe administration, Deputy Prime Minister Aso stated with regard to the highly expensive medical care for the terminal stage that the issue “cannot be resolved unless we think of many things, such as making it possible to die expeditiously.” Mr. Aso later explained that his comment was an expression of his own personal values and that it was not meant to be a general proposition. Nevertheless, he asked that his comment be stricken from the National Council records.

There are several jokes here just waiting to be mined. And as one eminent expert said tonight, he would take the rest of the Abe administration over Aso if he had to guess which side would be more likely to come up with a truly stupid statement. But the score so far: Aso 1, the rest of the cabinet 0.

The expert also said that Abe’s performance has been perfect so far. I agree, Abe is keeping the ship on course for the July election. It’s amazing what a practice run (2006-07) can do for you.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Passing of Taiho

Taiho, the former grand champion of sumo, passed away yesterday on January 19 at the age of 72, which got me to thinking.

Most people who have a working knowledge of the post-WW II Showa era will surely agree that sumo, professional wrestling, and baseball, not necessarily in that order, were the three most popular sports in Japan during that period. I also assume that they will also agree that Taiho (sumo), Rikidozan (professional wrestling), and arguably Sadaharu Oh (baseball)* were the iconic figures in their respective sports of the times. Now, Taiho and Oh share the distinction of having non-Japanese fathers, Russian and Taiwanese respectively. Indeed, Oh, who became the first recipient of the People’s Honor Award for hitting more home runs over his career than Hank Aaron and was appointed manager of the Japanese team for the first World Baseball Classic, is a Taiwanese citizen. These facts were well known, if never widely discussed in the days before the internet. Rikidozan, the baby face of the day, who regularly beat up American and other foreign heels with his karate chop, was in a somewhat different situation. He was a North Korean citizen, a fact that did not become public knowledge until after his untimely death in 1963. (That’s the 38th year of the Showa era.)

There are no doubt essays and books to be written, if they haven’t already, around their coincident careers, and the era that they shared.

* His Yomiuri Giants teammate Shigeru Nagashima was more popular as a player and has been treated with more reverence by the Yomiuri group, but is easily eclipsed by Oh in terms of personal achievement and awards both as a player and as a manager.

Abenomics Metacritique

Prime Minister Abe’s economic policy consists of three parts, 1) an inflationary monetary policy (inflation target, etc.), 2) an expansionary fiscal policy (public works, etc.), and 3) a growth strategy (industrial policy broadly defined). Accordingly, criticism is leveled at each of these components.

There are accredited economists criticizing 1), as can be discerned from his book-long diatribe against the Bank of Japan. And I’ll leave that issue for accredited economists since my economics literacy is about the level of the Japanese literacy of a gaijin who can barely make out hirakana. But I do know that “currency war” talk is actually boilerplate language coming from central bankers when policies cause sudden exchange rate shifts. But there’s no way of isolating floating exchange rates from monetary policy. I notice that no one has been worrying about the US QE1~3 and what the bank of England has been doing about its own money supply since the financial crisis broke out in 2007. Christine Lagarde at IMF has actually called the Japanese inflation target a “good and interesting project.” “Currency manipulation,” my foot, Matt Blunt and the American Automotive Policy Council.

Would I then, give Abenomics 1) a ten out of ten? Of course not. And neither does Lagarde, whose endorsement comes with the caveat “if associated with clear independence of the central bank.” Note also that cries of currency manipulation will grow louder, more widespread, and more convincing if the Japanese government actually begins buying non-yen financial exchange assets. Expect the Abe administration to abandon the idea of changing BOJ’s charter law (not that it still needs an amendment, now that BOJ has accepted the notion of an inflation target and a government-BOJ policy “accord”) and to refrain, as will BOJ, from purchasing non-yen financial assets with its intervening in the currency market.

How about Abenomics 2)? There are two lines of criticisms here. The first is that the Japanese economy does not need a short-term, Keynesian tide-over fiscal package at this point. I’ll leave that been-there, done-that/two lost decades debate to the economists, but the Abe administration must be happy that Professor Hamada will remain for the most part in New Haven, Connecticut, given his skepticism towards a fiscal stimulus. The other criticism is that it’s full of pork. Now some items, such as the 2.4582 trillion yen to fill the projected FY2012 revenue shortfall in the public pension system*, are easily justified, and the 268 billion yen outlay for renovating schools against earthquakes, come across as an example of accelerating multiyear outlays, standard practice in any stimulus package, which takes the issue back to the first criticism. In a different vein, the effect of the extra 290.6 billion yen in direct cash transfers to cover the local government copayments under the stimulus package is also obvious enough that make it easy to lay political interpretations on it one way or other, or both. The problem from my perspective is that there is nowhere near enough information on this MOF page to figure out what most of the 13.1054 trillion is being spent on, and when and how, to enforce any kind of accountability on the government regarding the stimulus package. I’m sure that more information is available on the individual ministry websites, but reporters working under time constraints have not been going to the trouble of collating them (nor I unless someone offers to pay me for the trouble). This leaves questions about pork unanswered except for the odd item that pops up in the media—say, retrofitting whale “research” vessels with earthquake recovery money—and stirs up public concern. This is not a healthy state of affairs for meaningful public discourse. Shouldn’t reporters covering the economic beat demand more?

As for 3), some of the criticism is unfair, simply because, in my view, the policymaking process hasn’t reached the point where substantive criticism becomes possible. Given the dithering around the TPP negotiations, though, healthy skepticism is warranted, one that Professor Hamada also appeared to hint at in his FCCJ talk.

* The government will be replacing what is essentially scrip—the Japanese equivalent of the trillion-dollar platinum coin—with conventional deficit JGBs.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Constitutional Amendment? Dream on

There are two important thresholds in the 242-seat House of Councillors (HoC), in principle, 122 for a simple majority and 160 for a 2/3rds supermajority. The simple majority would enable the ruling LDP-Komeito coalition to secure Diet approval for all its political appointments—it has a House of Representatives super majority so it can override HoC vetoes on any conventional legislation—and the supermajority would enable it to put a constitutional amendment proposal to a national referendum.

Is the supermajority achievable in the next triennial HoC election in July, when half of the seats will be up for grabs? The coalition has 57 members elected to six-year terms in 2007, so they need to win 103. A weekend Yomiuri poll says that 37% of the responders intend to vote for the LDP in the national proportional ballot. I’ll spare me the details, but the following chart for the proportion of votes on the national proportional lists and the total seats won (including in the prefectural multi-seat districts) by the LDP and Komeito shows that in 2001, 39% plus 15% against a divided opposition produced a bumper crop of…77 seats. That’s impressive, but a far cry from the 103 that the coalition needs for a supermajority.
KMT national
LDP seats
DPJ seats
The LDP could try to rope in some opposition parties. Specifically, the Japan Restoration Party led by liberal bugaboo Shintaro Ishihara and his mutual mancrush Toru Hashimoto and the Your Party would be amenable to the kind of constitutional amendments that Prime Minister Abe wants. The JRP and Your Party have one and 10 HoC members respectively who won’t be up for election this year. 103 – 77 – 11 = 15 seats seems doable between the two, even if they fail to coordinate their efforts at the prefectural district level. Unfortunately for Abe, the amendments that the LDP will be anathema to the pacifist Komeito, who will be sure to take their nine seats from the 2010 election plus whatever it wins in July and vote against them and possibly leave the coalition altogether, stripping their Sokagakkai votes away from LDP candidates in single-member districts (House of Representatives) and prefectural districts (HoC) where Komeito does not run its own candidates. There’s some talk about amending the amendment rules, but that itself requires a constitutional amendment, so good luck getting Komeito to go along with that either when it knows what comes after.

Conclusion: A constitutional amendment is a pipe dream. Instead, any changes in Japan’s defense posture will come by way of change in constitutional interpretation, not the constitution itself. Only a Chinese miscalculation of epic proportions that causes a sea change in Japanese public opinion will alter that.

Friday, January 18, 2013

From International Contribution to Regional Security: Shifting Priorities

On December 21, 2012, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan quietly posted a press release entitled “Completion of the activities by the Japan’s Self-Defense Force personnel dispatched to the UNDOF” at the Gloan Hights in Syria. “Completion” may be somewhat misleading if you consider the following excerpt:

“Considering the current situation on the ground, the Government of Japan has arrived at the understanding that it is difficult for both the Japanese transportation unit and the staff officers to continue playing a meaningful role within the mission while ensuring safety of the personnel and, therefore, decided to pull all personnel out of the UNDOF area of operations.

Japan now has exactly one UN peacekeeping operation in which the Self Defense Force is engaged remaining, as this Jan. 15 Yomiuri report marking the JSDF departure from the Ben-Gurion Airport points out. That’s in South Sudan, where you may remember that then-Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa had been very reluctant to involve Japanese troops. This is remarkable when you also remember that it all started with the 1993 Gulf War, when Japan was razzed for ponying up 10 billion dollars and little else during the fighting. This led to troops on the ground in Samara and more generally in PKO activities worldwide and to a serious push to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council as part of an “international contribution” drive. Now, the Japanese focus is on the regional, 24/7, and the Abe administration is doing nothing visibly to reverse that. Greatness begins at the near-abroad? In a way, it’s not surprising that Abe is channeling the Meiji leaders.

Koichi Hamada Gives a Talk at FCCJ

Today (Jan. 18), Koichi Hamada, the Yale economist, gave a talk entitled “How to Save the Japanese Economy from Prolonged Deflation” at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan. As a longtime critic of the Bank of Japan’s monetary policy, Hamada provided intellectual firepower for Shinzo Abe’s push for the 2% inflation target and was appointed senior economic advisor to the cabinet. I’ve been to several FCCJ sessions over the years and I have never seen it packed with so many people. Here’s my notion of the most salient points of the talk and Q&A.

1.    Monetary policy should be the main policy tool to kick-start a deflationary economy.
2.    Fiscal policy is a measure of last resort to be used when monetary no longer works.
3.    There is no predetermined level beyond which buying more JGBs produces runaway inflation, so the authorities must keep a close watch to make adjustments as required.

Hamada was reluctant to criticize the Jan. 17 stimulus package but he could not completely hide his skepticism (see 2) and showed an obvious preference for going straight to the structural reforms that Heizo Takenaka presumably would be pushing as a member of the growth strategy team. To be fair, he named Hugh Patrick and Michael Woodford (no, not that Michael Woodford) as two economists whom he clearly took seriously that believed that a stimulus package was in order at this juncture.

It also appears that he will not be involved in policy details, particularly on the growth strategy. From some conversation that I overheard, I also gathered that he is here for the week but will normally communicate from New Haven by phone or email with Abe, which I assume will be more pull (by Abe) than push (by Hamada).

I didn’t take notes, so if you want to know more, you’ll have to buy his latest book, or ask some of the journalists who were there. If you’re familiar with the Tokyo scene, there were at least two regulars, one American, one German—I seem to see them every time I’m there—whose identities should be easy to guess.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Some Smoke and Mirrors around the “Sanctions” against North Korea

“We have cards, so we will not hesitate to play them if that is effective in solving [the abduction issue. We will elicit dialog through pressure.”
Keiji Furuya, Minister in charge of the Abduction Issue (among other things)*
Yomiuri, Jan. 17, 2013

According to the Yomiuri report, Mr. Furuya wants to 1) expand the scope of Chongryon* executives who will not be allowed to reenter Japan if they travel to North Korea, and 2) lower the level of money that they can remit to North Korea without reporting said fact to the authorities. The Ministries of Justice and Finance are responsible for 1) and 2) respectively. Given Prime Minister Abe’s own proclivities, Mssrs. Tanigaki and Aso will surely comply with their colleague’s wishes. But to what effect?

What’s striking is how little leverage the Japanese government has after ratcheting up its pressure against North Korea. More Chongryon executives may be inconvenienced, but they can use the telephone or hold teleconferences. Besides, who’s to say that they wouldn’t prefer to forego the privilege of genuflecting before the Kim dynasty, saving money in the bargain?

The current reporting threshold for a remit to North Korea is 3 million yen. It is a slight inconvenience and (maybe) embarrassment, but the remitter’s name is not going to be made public; indeed, MOF does not even disclose the aggregated data. Hardly the stuff of sanctions. In fact, all government references to reporting measures (which also include a 100,000 yen carry-on cash threshold for travelers to North Korea. a measure that the Yomiuri report does not mention), both specifically and as part of broader measures against North Korea say just that, “measures,” not “sanctions.” The word “sanction” is reserved for measures aimed specifically at North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

For therein lies the rub. Paul Stookey aside, the rest of the world does not really care about the abductees, at least not when the South Korean government is not letting hundreds of its own abductees get in the way of managing its relations with its intransigent North Korean counterpart. Thus, the Japanese government has been unable to convince the UN Security Council to include the abduction issue in the scope of its resolutions that authorize sanctions against North Korea (and is forced to read between the lines to convince itself that the abduction issue in the agreements around the Six Party Talks). The UNSC (and therefore China and Russia) and the rule of law are the reasons why the Japanese government is fast closing in on the end of its wits. A little bark, very little bite.

The current Japanese policy on the abduction issue has been based on the illusion that Japanese coercion has some effect on North Korea. In fact, it was the prospects of normalization of relations and the multi-trillion yen bonanza that induced Kim Jong Il to confess to the abductions and, later, Koizumi’s billions that ransomed the families of the returned abductees.

Sadly, I have no thoughts on how to bribe North Korea at this point. They’ve been once burned,it’s no wonder that they’re twice shy. Besides, Kim Jong Un knows that to reveal anything more about the fate and possible whereabouts of the remaining abductees after all this, given his own ongoing succession, would be political suicide.

An Apology is the Easy Part?

On May 23, 2010, the Native American Times carried an AP wire with the headline “Apology to Tribes - US apologizes to American Indians for mistreatment”. What next? Mexico? Spain?

Unfortunately for the Native Americans, then-Senator Brownback, who had pushed for the resolution, said that that “the resolution was not meant to authorize or support any claim against the U.S. government or serve as a settlement of any claim.” Oh well, at least they have their reservations and casinos.

That reminds of an old Superman cartoon (you can actually see it here!) that was still being seen on TV networks many years after it was made in 1942. A Native American (Indian) scientist claims that Manhattan Island still belongs to his “people” and attempts to blow it up when the Daily Planet (Perry White, joined by Clark Kent and Lois Lane) refused to “publish the truth.” The Daily Planet headline near the end says it all: “Superman Saves Manhattan Island”.

71 years later, the scientist is still waiting. (Appropriately for the times, no one dies in the cartoon.) Perhaps the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly should pass a resolution demanding that New York return Manhattan Island to Native Americans, say, for 24 dollars?*

* I’d actually remembered the scientist saying this…which to my dismay did not happen when I just watched it over my bowl of udon.

Top Risks 2013

Time for a commercial. The Top Risks 2013 is up on the Eurasia Group website. Those of you who like to keep score can find the 2012 version here. A couple of teasers:

“Uncertainty over China's short- to medium-term trajectory is an order of magnitude greater than that of any other major global economy.”

“With the new Japanese election, the potential for Japan to give the Chinese further excuse to lash out is high. … It's probably the single most important, and dangerous, geopolitical conflict on the horizon in 2013, and Japan has little capacity to avoid it.”


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Prime Ministers under the Current Constitution and Nepotism

Of the 32—32!—prime ministers who have served under the 1947 Japanese constitution, two are brothers while four are direct descendants of other prime ministers. The brothers are Nobusuke Kishi and Eisaku Sato. The four descendants are Shinzo Abe (grandson of Nobusuke Kishi), Yasuo Fukuda (son of Takeo Fukuda), Taro Aso (grandson of Shigeru Yoshida), and Yukio Hatoyama (grandson of Ichiro Hatoyama).

The brothers Kishi and Sato enjoyed arguably remarkable careers to the great displeasure of the progressive media. The other four, however, are notable mostly for succeeding each other from 2006 through 2009 in grief-filled one-year terms, although Abe has been given a second chance only five years later to redeem the family heritage. Also notable is the fact that the brothers have different surnames and that two of the other four do not bear the name of their illustrious forebears. And one—Hatoyama—of the two who do spent his entire political career in opposition to his grandfather’s Liberal Democratic Party. And of course, there is not a single woman in the lot.

All this is in sharp contrast to generational succession in South and Southeast Asia, where political legacies founded by patriarchal figures are passed on more often than not through widows and daughters, but rarely if ever between brothers.* A similar situation is seen in the history democracy in Latin America. And South Korea is hard to categorize since Park Geun-hye, now 60, has never married.

Nepotism is universal; you only need to look at the coaching staff and front office of American sports teams to see that.** However, a democracy demands that you clear the first stage on your own by winning an election. Beyond that, the path to the office of the head of state/government is complex and very much dependent on the political framework and history of the specific country. What then, makes Japan unique? I think that I’ll reserve my yet-to-be-formulated answer to that question for another, possibly more formal occasion. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this thought: If you’re a resident of the far more mobile United States, much of it is about name recognition; in Japan, it’s more about the family business. Specifically, Shinzo Abe could never have won his first election in, say, Tokushima, like Hillary Clinton did in New York.

* Should I read any meaning into the fact that Thailand now has Thaksin’s sister, not brother, in place and that Yingluck is often seen as a mere stand-in?

** To be fair, the baseball coaching staff appears to relatively free of this practice aside from a random batboy here, batboy there. But there’s another time and place for this discussion. Another topic for discussion: Would Robin but for baseball have been called Batboy? Yet another: Does any couple outside of the Sinic states and regions give the name Robin to their son?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Paul Krugman Channels Abe, Humblebrags

“… Japan never had the kind of employment and human disaster we’ve experienced since 2008. Indeed, our policy response has been so inadequate that I’ve suggested that American economists who used to be very harsh in their condemnations of Japanese policy, a group that includes Ben Bernanke and, well, me, visit Tokyo to apologize to the emperor. We have, after all, done even worse.”

Paul Krugman has an op-ed that should be appearing any time now on Prime Minister Abe’s FB page. Just one paragraph should suffice to give you an idea of what it says about the fiscal-monetary policy package.

“But Mr. Abe returned to office pledging to end Japan’s long economic stagnation, and he has already taken steps orthodoxy says we mustn’t take. And the early indications are that it’s going pretty well.”

But the quintessential Krugmanism here is the sequence that I copied at the top. Of course Krugman, unlike Bernanke, had no role in the policy response to the ongoing global financial crisis. It’s like Soichi Ohya’s post-WW II ichioku souzange; by sharing in the responsibility, h*He’s condemning the ones who have actually been in charge.

* See comments for clarification.

That said, as METI rebel Hiroyuki Kishi tweets, “If only a solid growth strategy follows…”

Shoveling Snow in an “Aging Society with Fewer Children”

I poke my head out the door. No luck. The snow is still there. Yesterday, the heavens chose to defy the Japan Meteorological Agency forecast and bestowed upon us that once-every-other-year snowfall that forces us to go out and shovel the stuff off the road. Granted, it’s a narrow street and a typical Japanese neighborhood, but it’s still a chore for a chair-bound, largely home-office—which is why I’m there on a weekday morning to do the shoveling—worker like me.

It’s 10 AM and I’m the only one out there; I’ve beaten almost everyone to the gun. One of my neighbors has scraped out a small patch in front of his gate but otherwise it’s just some footsteps and two end-to-end tire ruts. Some of the soggy snow melted during the day, then froze overnight and formed a layer of ice at the bottom. This actually makes my job easier since this reduces the volume and the ice is soft, which makes it easy to break off large chunks to toss on my property.

By and by another neighbor comes out with a shovel. However, she takes out just enough snow to get her car out, then she’s off. The neighbor with the patch appears and does a little more work, but goes back in again with nothing visible to show from this distance. Another neighbor comes out, creates maybe a two-foot snow-free extension of her property, then disappears. A few more neighbors walk by—we live on a short street that begins and ends on another short street that connects two longer, parallel streets, so there are no people or cars just passing through—but I’m the only one doing any more shoveling.

I’m done. I look up and down the street and my patch is still the only mostly snow-free piece of public property. Granted, the street is only seven or eight houses long on either side (plus a few more around one bend where the street begins). Still, it wasn’t that many years ago that every household would have someone out there cleaning its patch of the public road. The retirees must be too old now and the stay-at-home moms—there are a few—who have been moving in recently are evidently former urban apartment dwellers that are not used to this kind of chore.

Or so I assume. I look at my watch as I go in and it’s 10:02 AM. Surprise me, my neighbors, when I go out to fetch the evening Nikkei (delivered before 4 AM). Otherwise, the commuting menfolk will have work tonight, since the smattering of minors on this street—two at most, invariably to the newer households—are preschoolers at most.

5 PM Update: About half the households on my street have shoveled the snow on the road in front of their houses. No afterschool teenage entrepreneurs that I’m aware of, either, making the rounds to turn a quick Noguchi, so to speak.

January 16, 11 AM update (posted a couple of hours later): A couple, maybe three, households appear to have more or less shoveled the path for cars. This still leaves maybe a little over one-third of the street for the elements to clear.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

On the Cloud (over the US-Japan Relationship) that Was Hatoyama and the Silver Lining (over the East China Sea)

It’s not surprising to hear liberal voices saying that the Obama administration could have, should have been more accommodating with the then-new Hatoyama administration over the relocation of the Futenma helicopters. But over the years, I have heard from some moderate Republican supporters voicing similar opinions, so maybe this matter is worth tossing my two bits at. Here’s my most recent rapid response, augmented to make it more coherent out of context.

I have sympathy for the Obama administration regarding its lack of forthrightness on Futenma. It inherited the issue from preceding administrations, who had been unable to settle the institutional rivalry between the US Air Force and Marines that precluded the inclusion of nearby Kadena, which would have been an integral part of the only plausible formula that did not require relocation to Henoko short of a massive reimagining of the entire US military presence in the Asia-Pacific, in what they tried to make the final solution. A new administration was not going to spend political capital on an issue that would pit it against the military brass, not when the Levin-McCain-Webb proposal failed to catch on. In any case, it turned out to be too much to ask it to attempt what its predecessors had failed to do for more than a dozen years, and for a prime minister who had done more than his share to destabilize Japan-US relations at that.

That’s that. And while we’re on the subject of Hatoyama, the accusation that damage to the Japan-US security relationship resulting from Yukio Hatoyama’s actions emboldened the Chinese authorities to act aggressively against Japan around the Senkaku Islands, mostly from LDP supporters and the conservative media, seem a little farfetched to me. First, it was not difficult to foresee that the Chinese action would push Japan closer to the United States. The analogy with the US-Philippines relationship in the 90s is a false one; the Philippine Senate pushed too hard on Subic Bay and the US military packed up and went away. Nothing like this was happening in Japan. Second, there appears to be a powerful line of thinking in Chinese national security circles that Japan is merely a stalking horse for US interests in Asia. That would argue for a softer line towards a Japan moving away from the United States. Third, there is no specific argument regarding how China might have behaved differently, given how its domestic politics had evolved, during the 2010 and 2012 tensions if the temporary Japan-US rupture caused by Hatoyama’s actions (already in the back mirror by the time of the 2010 collision) had not come to pass.

Hatoyama is also getting bad press these days because he has accepted an invitation to visit China from the authorities there at this juncture in the bilateral relationship, so early in the Abe administration. I think that his critics genuinely believe that; I think that they are wrong. Hatoyama’s trip does no harm and actually does some good. Hatoyama has been thoroughly discredited politically and was practically hounded out of the DPJ and into retirement. He has no political cachet left whatsoever, even as a former prime minister. The Chinese authorities surely understand this and will not take any pronouncements that he makes seriously, even if they fail to remember how erratic and insubstantial his assertions often turn out to be. On the other hand, he is a reminder to the Chinese public that there are many voices, many faces to Japan. That should be helpful if and when tensions flare up again the Chinese authorities want to keep the economic fallout to a minimum. The Chinese authorities must be mindful of the fact that Japan was one of the few countries to increase FDI year-on-year in China last year (2012) and by a wide margin at that. Taiwanese and South Korean businesses have many of the same technologies, but why keep out their competition?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Abe Administration Clamps Down on Media Access

Yesterday (Jan. 9), Shinzo Abe’s second Facebook post of the year and the first with any real substance—he posted his greetings on New Year’s Day—set forth the terms and conditions for media access. Specifically, the twice-a-day cling-ons, which had been suspended during the Kan administration after 3.11, will be discontinued for good. Conversation with the Prime Minister, a talk show alternately hosted by NHK and the private networks since 1961, and group interviews with newspaper reporters, will also be abolished. Abe will grant interviews to news services and programs on a one-by-one basis. He will also hold press conferences when the occasion warrants it. The chief cabinet secretary will continue to give twice-a-day press briefings. The comments are all positive; Abe appears to have activated his counter-irony app. The following Bing translation serve as a good example of the overall tone of the comments..

“Prime Ministers official residence FB nice! We have to. I was impressed by the quickness of execution of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe walk the talk! I am rooting for.”

I’m sure that all this very much displeases the mainstream reporters on the kantei beat, and will reduce Abe’s margin of error when it comes to media coverage, especially in print. I’m also sure that his political team, including PM Koizumi’s majordomo Isao Iijima, believes that the benefits—avoiding bloopers—of controlling access outweighs those costs.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

My Thoughts around the Delay in Prime Minister Abe’s DC Visit Wind Up in Russia

The Japanese media tells us that the White House has begged off Prime Minister Abe’s bid for a January state visit, pleading all-around busyness around the Obama reboot including the inauguration on the 21st. Nikkei speculates that it’s the Obama administration’s way of telling the Abe administration to make up its mind on the TPP negotiations. Perhaps. It’s true that it would be little more than a courtesy visit without a TPP negotiations commitment, problematic as the Japanese government’s position on agriculture may be to the Obama administration. Collective self-defense will remain under study for a while, there’ll be absolutely no movement on Futenma well past the end of any reasonable schedule for an eventual visit, and what does Obama have to gain by telling Xi Jinping, “I’m with Shinzo”? The media reports that the foreign minister is traveling to talk to State Secretary Hillary Clinton instead and the administrative senior vice minister is being dispatched to handle the state visit.

Meanwhile, Katsuhiro Kuroda Sankei’s long-time correspondent in Seoul* reports  -- the Japanese ambassador in Seoul has been bumped from the traditional second in line, behind the US ambassador, to receive an audience with the new South Korean president to third, behind the Chinese ambassador. And this, after the Abe administration downplayed the South Korean decision to refuse the Japanese request to extradite the Chinese arsonist at Yasukuni after he served his South Korean sentence for a similar incident in Seoul and allow him to return to China. (To be fair to South Korea, it was the Seoul High Court that ruled that it was a “political offense,” an act for which “[e]xtradition shall not be granted under [t]he TREATY [ON EXTRADITION BETWEEN JAPAN AND THE REPUBLIC OF KOREA,]” so the Korean government acted appropriately in denying the Japanese request.) The Abe administration had also had to take South Korea’s reportedly not-so-subtle protocol downgrade for special envoy Koshiro Nukaga in stride.

All this is unlikely to change the Abe administration’s behavior one or the other. My guess is that a further chilling of mutual relations that leads to informal boycotts is likely to disproportionately harm South Korea economically since Japanese exports are more under the hood, inside the package, behind the factory wall than the consumer goods** and services—entertainment—that at South Korea excels at. However, it will be harmful to Japan, too, and visibly at that. Besides, the United States will be highly displeased, not to mention most of the things that annoy South Koreas also annoy the Chinese, with whom the Abe administration does not want a no-holds-barred confrontation. On the other hand, there’s absolutely no reason to believe South Korea will side with Japan on the Senkaku Islands if the Japanese government yields on Takeshima and all the other history-related issues. As for North Korea, it’s first and foremost South Korea’s problem.

If there’s going to be a Japanese breakthrough at all on the Western front, it looks increasingly like it’s going to come by way of Moscow. Do we need each other or what?***

* Reminder to Japanese-reading liberals (no, I didn’t mean you): If you can get over his Sankei affiliation, Katsuhiro Kuroda is about as informed and undogmatic in his reporting as they get, though Koreans will never agree to that.

** You already know how Samsung is dominating the non-iPhone smartphone market, but did you know that South Korean instant ramen and distilled spirits command premiums in Japan and kimchee imports show no visible discounts?So much for fear of Chinese vegetables, but that’s another story.

*** No, I haven’t forgotten about you, Matt.

Monday, January 07, 2013

So Far, So Good; If Only That Were All There Was to It

Prime Minister Abe has talked down the yen and talked up the stock market with his proposal for a 2% inflation target and a government –BOJ policy accord and his expression of intent for a plus-size supplemental budget and reflationary FY2013 budget. In other words, he has managed to create expectations for a combination of inflation and low interest rates and for rising corporate profits. Mission accomplished? Not quite. In fact, unless the Abe administration undertakes the kind of broad-stroke, structural reforms on labor, land, and the social safety net to name three, that cut away at inefficiencies, demographic constraints are sure to consign the Japanese economy to another decade of you-know-what. Heizo Takenaka has signed onto the economic team, an encouraging sign, but a powerful reformist voice of skepticism from a METI defector can heard here, in Japanese (and no, it’s not Shigeaki Koga, for once). And all-around Abe-skeptic Noah Smith, proprietor of an extremely lively economics blog who happens to have an unlikely personal interest in the Japanese economy, thinks that Abe won’t even reach that starting line.

Me? I’m not an economist but I do have to live here; I wish Abe the best of luck, but I’m not going to let my guard down. First data point: his January Washington visit, and what he does (or not) with TPP there.s to It

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Taro Aso’s New Year’s Trip; Plus, the Northern Territories

The Japanese working year traditionally begins on January 4 unless it falls on the weekend, in which case the year begins on the following Monday. But there was Taro Aso, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in the Abe cabinet, in Myanmar for a January 2-4 visit.

There’s nothing odd about this when you look at it from their end; the Burmese New Year’s Day falls on April 17. But this accommodation of the Myanmar government’s work schedule, with a visit from a former prime minister at that, looks like a robust endorsement of a government moving away from authoritarianism bordering on totalitarianism towards democracy and from dependence on China to more balanced relations with the rest of the world. The “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity” associated with the first Abe administration all but demands it. Less remembered is the role Aso, as foreign minister, played in airing the concept with this 2006 speech. Abe and Aso probably having been getting their cues on this from the more capable MOFA officials, most importantly Shotaro Yachi, the administrative MOFA vice minister during the first Abe administration, who is now one of the special assistants to the prime minister. So now you know where to look for clues as to where the second Abe administration is going.

Speaking of Aso, you may recall that he was the foreign minister who prematurely aired a 50-50 territorial split for a Northern Territories end game back in the day. The longer-term market for natural gas looks soft and President Putin would like to cut a deal with Japan as a non-threatening partner for developing Russia’s Far East. In February, his judo buddy, the former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, will visit him to figure out exactly what he means by hikiwake, the judo word for draw, on the Northern Territories. Those godforsaken islands are a relatively recent acquisition for Russia; likewise for Meiji Japan. And there is relatively little “history” between us, unlike with China or the Koreas. And Shinzo Abe, like Nixon with China, is the one politician who could sell something between all and nothing to Japanese conservatives. The Abe administration can surprise me, and disappoint liberals who think that he’s nuts, with a Big Deal.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Intracorporate Media Bias: 3.11 Debris

The following two memos concerning the source of possible media bias in covering the disposal of the debris from the Great East Japan Earthquake are an afterthought from a morning conversation that I had with an old friend who is working on a book. I should not be saying anything more about the book until it comes out. However, the memos were generated solely at my end of the conversation and make sense by themselves. I hope that other people find them useful.

1.    There's intercorporate mainstream media bias with Sankei on one end of the spectrum and Asahi on the other, then there's intracorporate bias, with Keizai-bu (the economic bureau, page 8- or thereabouts, after the pp 6-7 international news) and Shakai-bu (the national bureau, penultimate and antepenultimate pages, where the daily cartoon is featured) representing the sober, establishmentarian and populist ends respectively. The Seiji-bu (political bureau) is probably where true power lies (other than Nikkei), but I assume that the national bureau can sometimes give it a run for the money. (The international bureau is irrelevant/harmless enough that someone like Funabashi can become a major figure at Asahi. Speaking of which, it amuses me when journalists from the international bureaus represent Japanese perspectives on international panels. That's a little like having Christiane Amanpour or Nicholas Kristof give a talk on the US presidential election.)  The front-page real estate is up for grabs.
The Fukushima coverage was a no-holds-barred, full-court press, which gave the usually irrelevant science bureau (where some reporters actually do have some S&E background) cover something other than the Nobel Prize. However, the local debris reports brought the national bureau (and the local bureaus) into play, possibly leaching out scientific angles while giving straight reporting on local fears more space than they deserved.

2.    Some of this is firsthand knowledge but much of it is extrapolation of things that I know. If you want to use any ideas there, you'll have to put the matter to other people and draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Lies, Damned Lies, and Conspiracy Theories: Again, Daniel Kahneman

“…when people believe a conclusion is true, they are also very likely to believe arguments that appear to support it even when these arguments are unsound.”
—Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

I used the above quote to briefly illustrate my claim that Daniel Kahneman’s book helps people think more clearly. Two New Year’s holiday WaPo op-eds, one each from a conservative and a liberal, both sober, on Hillary Clinton’s fall, concussion and blood clot provide an interesting case in point.

The first two paragraphs of the conservative op-ed neatly sum up the adversarial perspective.

“The new year began not with a cannonball off the “fiscal cliff” but with an outbreak of conspiratorial cynicism.

“This time it’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose fall and concussion, followed by a blood clot between her brain and skull, has prompted an embarrassment of theories. The gist: That woman will do anything to avoid testifying about Benghazi.”

The insinuations and outright accusations were discredited as further details emerged, but the truth should have been obvious in the first place: Clinton could not avoid testifying forever short of permanent incapacitation or worse; and, again we turn to the (sober) conservative perspective, “it is unlikely that doctors or a hospital would assist a secretary of state — or anyone — in concocting a fake affliction”.

I can think of three possible reasons why Charles Krauthammer, John Bolton, the less famous Richard Grenell—I have the (sober) liberal op-ed to thank for these names—and a good number of other (most surely) conservative luminaries who should know better in the first place to engage such quickly-disposed-of nonsense:

1)    They say it to please their audience.
2)    They say it because they are waging war by other means.
3)    They really believe it.

Now, 1) alone will not be good for a pundit’s peace of mind unless he’s of the Dick—now that’s a name that will disappear when the Boomer generation takes leave—Morris variety, so he’ll convince himself, at a minimum, that 2) is the case. Given the ever-present appetite of conservative hawks for dirty wars, that should not be too hard. But it would be even easier for him if 3) were to be the case, wouldn’t it? And nothing in the behavioral sciences says that 1) through 3) are mutually exclusive.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

So How Is Abe Doing on Facebook?

Prime Minister Abe is not reviving cling-ons, the daily corridor chats with mainstream reporters covering the prime Minister’s beat that Junichiro Koizumi used to great effect when he had the job. Instead, he reportedly will use the formal press conferences and Facebook to get his message across to the Japanese public. That’s probably a good thing since he is the anti-Koizumi. Specifically, he is a) not a master of the bon mot; and b) also tends to over-explain, which is when he is likely to get into trouble. As we turn to his Facebook account, we notice that he is also the anti-Hashimoto. Specifically, he does not argue with people who post comments. That, of course, makes sense because there are few if any critical comments available. The owner of the Facebook account must be a) the most popular post-WW II prime minister since General Douglas McArthur; or b) weeding out any critical comments. If it’s the latter, then we can tell that he really cares about his Facebook account, since the comments that he allows to remain reach the thousands for each posting. Imagine the time and effort involved. Perhaps he would be better served by delegating such a task to someone with more time on his/her hands, since an odd piece of veiled irony appears to be leaking through despite his best efforts, and he will be busier than ever tending to matters of state as prime minister.

With that, I will now give you an idea of what might be in store for us, his faithful Facebook followers, through his 2012 postings after the December 16 House of Representatives election, brought to you in the English language by a) Bing and b) yours truly.

December 17:
a)    Thanks for your support could make a "first step" back Japan.
However, it is a real struggle.
, We must put the "result" confidence in and support for the Liberal-Democratic Party and me, Oh that it vanished during the.
Produce solid results. First of all, "economy" and "security".
b)    With your help, we were able to take the “first step towards taking back Japan”.
However, the real struggle has just begun.
If we don’t produce results, the support for and trust in the Liberal Democratic Party and me will vanish in an instant.
Produce solid results.
It’s the “economy” and “security” first of all.

December 17:
a)    For now, special diet is under preparation.
Tonight's dinner at the hotel. Menus are examples of Curry

b)    I am currently preparing for the special Diet session.
Tonight, I am having dinner at a hotel.
The menu? Yes, that curry.*
* This is a reference to the critical media commentary that he received when it was noticed that he had eaten this particular 3,500 yen curry. He said that he would try to get his point across with a sense of humor if possible, and it is nice to know that there is a mischievous side to this sometimes dour persona.

December 22
a)    End of the general election, we returned home Shimonoseki local for the first time.
Him I was going last night, 20-year-old local favorite "Shimonoseki gold chicken" chicken baked with akie was. Is the so-called "stubborn" bake chicken, will guarantee the taste.

b)    The general election is over and I have returned home to Shimonoseki for the first time since.
Last night, I had baked free-range chicken with [my wife] Akie at the “Shimonoseki Kinkei (Shimonoseki Gold Chicken),” which I have been frequenting the last twenty years.
It’s free-range chicken baked by a so-called “ganko-oyaji (stubborn proprietor)”, but I guarantee the taste.

December 22
a)    And today, visiting a grave in the city, reported the father of election victory report.

And vowed to fight tenaciously, now directed "revival of Japan" and "break away from the postwar regime" in front of the grave.
Lots of local people gathered in front of the grave, the top so I was.

Kori is a welcome one. Then in the car 3 hours running, Machida tabUse, shore House Tomb, even after a long time Temple came to.

b)    Today, I made a visit to the cemetery in Nagato and reported the electoral victory to my [deceased] father.
And I vowed in front of his grave that this time, I would tenaciously and firmly fight through towards “the revival of Japan” and “shaking ourselves free of the post-war regime.”
I was moved by the many local people who gathered in front of the grave.
It is good to be back home.

After that, we drove three hours and visited the Kishi family grave in Tabuse-cho for the first time in a long while.

December 28
a)    "A novelty even as"
(Comic artist, Mayumi Kurata)
"Protection, separating the goods"
(Secretary to former Prime Minister and Mr. Norihiko Narita)
Sepia color cabinet without summary

(Political scientist, Katsuyuki yakushiji
Is the rating for the Abe administration experts yesterday published in daily newspaper evening Edition.
We are highly regarded by require wisdom into laughter sometimes, because I also once assumes the Administration and we have experienced various things I take criticism humbly. Experts, daily newspaper of choice (?
) Is great
Especially the Yakushi-ji Temple, Mr. former Asahi Shimbun is excellent.

When the Democratic Party was born, and it put the "exciting" op-ed, (laughs) is owner of vision and intelligence.
That said, I do appreciate your reprimand of,.
From now on, we will 服膺 Ken-Oh. -Just kidding

b)    “There’s déjà vu, then there’s déjà vu all over again.”
(Mayumi Kurata, cartoonist)
“Separation of public finance and the financial sector cast aside.”
(Norihiko Narita, former secretary to the prime secretary)
“Sepia-colored cabinet with no coherence”*
(Katsuyuki Yakushiji, political scientist)
* No. I have no idea what Professor Yakushiji means either.
These are the comments from sages that were printed in yesterday’s evening edition of the Mainichi.
I once led an administration and expreinced many things, so this time, I believe that I should accept criticism with humility and have the wisdom to transform it into laughter on occasion.

Mainichi does, indeed choose its sages(?) [well]: magnificent.
Mr. Katsuyuki Yakushiji, formerly of Mainichi, is particularly brilliant.
After all, he is person of great foresight and intelligence, who published an op-ed saying he was “thrilled” when the DPJ administration was born (LOL).

Notwithstanding, I appreciate everybody’s words of reprimand.
I will continue to bear them in mind.
… Kidding.

From these four posts (there’s also an Dec. 20 retweet of a post registering disapproval of a couple of Shukan Asahi (the weekly magazine published by the leftish Asahi Shimbun group) covers; I’ve ignored posts by his secretaries), we can draw the following tentative conclusions:
1)    The Prime Minister reveres his father and grandfather.
2)    The Prime Minister resents the liberal mainstream media.
3)    The Prime Minister loves casual dining, if not on the cheap.
4)    The Prime Minister needs a little work on his funny schtik.
5)    The Prime Minister has reserved most his policy pronouncements for future Facebook posts.

We were already aware of 1), 2) and, if we’d been attentive, 3) as well. 4) is something of a revelation. Stay tuned, courtesy of the Bing translation services if necessary, for improvements in 4)… and of course news on 5). The best is surely yet to come.