Wednesday, February 28, 2007

It's Now Unofficial, Shiro Asano Is Running for Governor of Tokyo

Shiro Asano has unofficially announced his candidacy in the Tokyo gubernatorial race. His message to the DPJ? If they put up a candidate, he'll step down [and they will be responsible for getting Ishihara reelected.]

The DPJ will seek vicarious satisfaction by unofficially supporting Mr. Asano's none-of-the-above candidacy.

Some years back (in the early years of the Koizumi administration), I told anyone in New York who would listen that there were many good people in local government who could be the future of national politics in Japan. I remember Toyoo Gyohten, the ex-MOFA vice-minister and former chairman of what was then Bank of Tokyo, saying more or less the same thing at the Asia Society there.

We heard similar talk about Russia in the Yeltsin years, so we know there's no such thing like a sure bet.

In the meantime though, I will give you even odds that Asano will win this one for "none-of-the-above". I don't expect any takers.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

DPJ Forges Ahead in the Tokyo Gubernatorial Cooties Race

070225 The Democratic Party of Japan has suspended its desperate search for a candidate to challenge two-term Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara in the hopes that Shiro Asano, former three-term governor of Miyagi Prefecture and currently college professor (Keio University), social activist and media personality will reconsider after all and decide to run, albeit as an independent. The DPJ is in a bind because it has what is more or less a self-imposed deadline in the Feb. 28 fund-raising party the DPJ Tokyo chapter is planning to hold. It would be the height of embarrassment if the DPJ is unable to announce their preferred candidate on that occasion.

Mr. Asano served 12 years as the popular and well-regarded governor of Miyagi Prefecture and probably could have continued for as long as he liked, but decided not to seek a fourth term. He is now a professor at Keio University and continues as a high-profile leader in the social welfare field. Still a relatively youthful 59 to Mr. Ishihara's 74, he will be a formidable opponent for the incumbent if he does decide to run.

Mr. Asano has been adamant so far that he will not run, even as an independent, let alone aligned with the DPJ. However, his apparent willingness to consider attending a civic rally being held today (Feb. 25) with the intent to encourage Mr. Asano to stand convinced the DPJ that it should await its outcome. He will surely keep a healthy distance from the DPJ if he does in any case. But with Mr. Ishihara now unofficially supported by the LDP, the DPJ is clearly willing to settle for vicarious satisfaction in the biggest prize in the quadrennial mass local elections on Apr. 22.

Besides, everybody who is anybody seems to be running away as if the DPJ had a severe case of the cooties. The latest to refuse were:

Yoko Komiyama: ex-newscaster and media personality, currently JPD member in the Lower House

Banri Kaieda: political and economic talking head, lost his Diet seat in the LDP sweep in the 2005 Lower House general election that Prime Minister Koizumi called after the Upper House voted down his Post Office privatization bill.

The Kaieda refusal is especially poignant if media reports are to be believed. One reason the deal failed to materialize was because the DPJ and Mr. Kaieda could not come to account on an appropriate means of compensation if Mr. Kaieda failed to win. Another reason given was that the selection process had raised doubts in Mr. Kaieda's mind. I assume that means he is pissed off at being the umpteenth prospect to be approached. And this is all coming - if the reports are true of course - from a guy who is in political terms unemployed right now.

In Fukushima Prefecture, the DPJ decided to support incumbent governor Kazumi Nishikawa on Feb. 24, one day before the LDP was scheduled to formalize its own support. For Mr. Nishikawa. This is being widely regarded as a transparent attempt to explain its way around Ichiro Ozawa's ban on supporting candidates who are also supported by the LDP.

Friday, February 23, 2007

I'm Sorry, I'm Sorry…

Please accept my apology, you,
Whom I surely wronged
On February 22.

'Tis the Season to Be Sorry

In quick succession:

Feb. 22: At LDP headquarters, Secretary-General Hidenao "Big" Nakagawa apologizes to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, saying, "I overstated my case a little". Mr. Abe is magnanimous, replying with a smile, "Don't worry, [my cabinet] is doing fine."

Feb. 22: Answering questions at the Lower House National Security Committee, Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma apologizes to noone in particular about his criticism of the Bush administration, saying, "… I lacked consideration. I regret [my words]."

Feb. 22: At the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, Shintaro Ishihara apologizes to the assembled LDP assemblypersons, saying, " My bad. I don't know what got into me."

Kidding. Mr. Ishihara only apologizes when the Sun rises from the west. But he was clearly contrite, and asked for LDP support, stating, "I want to receive the help of the LDP, my greatest friend among political parties, and fight on together." The LDP assemblypersons were willing to kiss and make up, since they "couldn't kick away someone who came with his head bowed." And that's as good as it gets from Mr. Ishihara.

Speaking of the Sun rising from the west, Naoto Kan, once and hoping to be future king of the national DPJ, said he would not run even if the Sun did rise from the west. It would have been a good fight, though, what with Mr. Ishihara beginning to show his age (he's 74) and the toll that two full terms in a high-profile job has taken on him.

Feb. 22: On a more somber note, across the pond, in Washington, Yoshihisa Komori reports on his blog that on Feb. 15, at the House Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment, Chairman Eni Faleomavaega (Dem., Samoa) and Mike Honda (Dem., California) argued forcefully that Japan should apologize to the "comfort women"; and Dana Rohrabacher (Rep., California) argued just as strongly that Japan had apologized repeatedly. (If anyone who can read Japanese wants to know Mr. Komori's views, make sure to read his responses to comments as well.)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

If You Go to Wikipedia Now, Today's Featured Article Is Avatar: The Last Airbender

In case it's gone by the time you go there, this is the link to the Avatar entry.

The series is about preteens and teenagers growing up in an alternate world. The usual adventure manga prototypes and props are there, but the creators use them to good effect, and the series is captivating.

The entire first two seasons are available on the Internet free of charge or registration, but not on YouTube. There is no way that the powers that be cannot be aware of its cyberexistence, since it's easy to find. I think that the content owners have a finely calibrated IP protection policy where they let the small fry do their thing while coming down hard on institutional threats like YouTube (or Yahoo, if the Avatar found its way there.)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

If the Meal Money for His Daughter Is the Only Thing Plaguing Mr. Omi, Then There's a Long Line of Politicians Who'd Love to Take His Place

This is a reproduction of the substance of a comment I posted here, which I learned of by way of this. (I originally tracked the Mutant Frog link down because I couldn't believe anybody was following the Japanese equivalent of C-Span. It seems to be a good blog.)

I've worked with Mr. Omi on a couple of occasions. He, like most people, has some strong points, as well as some weaknesses. As far as his English goes, he understands much and sometimes even most of what you can throw at him in English, as long as you avoid the colloquial and speak clearly and correctly. He can also express himself in English, as long as the audience is willing to tolerate what will at times be slow and idiosyncratic. He definitely needs and uses an interpreter for some of his more complicated thoughts. I know what Mr. Paulsen said, but are you going to take the word of Mr. Omi's political counterpart and born salesman, or mine?

Mr. Omi is also a headstrong, yes, willful man. Believe me, he can be difficult, even frustrating, to work with. But he has a weakness that you can exploit. He has a weakness for women. You see, Mr. Omi reportedly worships his mother, and is clearly devoted to his wife as well as his daughter and only child. This weakness seems to extend to his relationship with other women who have shown the ability to keep him under control by way of their what I can only call motherly instincts. Apparently, he finds tough-minded, intelligent women with a practical bent, literally, irresistible.

So, what Mr. Omi needs at his side when he goes abroad is a smart, strong-willed woman who keeps him grounded and fills in when his not-so-perfect English fails him. Unfortunately, there aren't many people, certainly no run-of-the-mill interpreters, who fit this bill and can be had for the price of a few meals and receptions. Besides, interpreters and their airline tickets and accommodations do not come cheap. So Mr. Omi did a great favor to the Japanese government when he took his daughter along on that trip at mostly his own expense.

Yes, Mr. Omi, if he had been more careful, could have asked for a separate bill for his daughter's meals, though it would have been very difficult to do that for the receptions. (How do you determine the cost allocable to an attendee at a reception?)

Of course, there must be reasons why this trivial matter was revealed and became an issue. My guess is, the bureaucracy is dissatisfied with the Okinawa graduate school he is pushing, as well as the way he is pushing it. (Although Okinawa and science and technology are his two great professional passions, the school seems to be running into political and practical difficulties, some of it predictable. And I told you he could be frustrating.) Moreover, his intentions may not be as pure as you would like. He has been grooming his daughter to take over the family business (he is 74 now, and pushed her unsuccessful candidacy for an Upper House seat in 2004), and he surely wants to give his daughter as much exposure as possible. But he certainly did it on the cheap from the government's point of view..

(caveat: Koji Omi is an ex-METI Guy, like me.)

Big Nakagawa Says, I'm His Daddy; Deeply Embarrasses the Prime Minister

Nakagawa, LDP Secretary-General: "Absolute Loyalty to the Premier from Cabinet Members and Bureaucrats"

"[Hidenao] Nakagawa, LDP Secretary-General launched an appeal at a speech he made in Sendai at the Miyagi Prefecture LDP Federation Conference on Feb. 18, stating: 'Politicians who cannot rise or stop their small talk when the prime minister enters the room (before a cabinet meeting) are unfit for the
Beautiful Country, Japan Cabinet. Politicians who put themselves first should leave the cabinet or the Cabinet Office.'

"He also emphasized that 'absolute loyalty to the prime minister and a spirit of self-sacrifice are required of cabinet members and bureaucrats.'

"He was expressing the dissatisfaction within the ruling parties towards cabinet members, such as ' there's a lack of discipline' and 'they lack teamwork'.

"Concerning the strategy for independent voters at the [April] local elections and [July] Upper House election, he emphasized that 'we will not take measures transparently pandering to independent voters. The greatest strategy with independent voters is for conservatives to unite and forcefully promote our policies.'"

(translated from Yomiuri Feb. 18 article)

Imagine a room full of unruly fourth-grade students, when the bell rings, signaling the start of the first lesson of the day. The door opens, but the commotion continues, as has been the case for the entire week, ever since that young substitute teacher replaced the respected, if feared, Mrs. Cousy, who took leave to have her baby. This time, though, something is wrong. A silence begins to spread near the door, slowly at first, then gathers speed, until, quickly, the entire classroom is enveloped in an ominous silence. For it is not the substitute teacher, but Mr. Nickelson, the dreaded martinet principal, who is now standing at the lectern, about to give the class a tongue-lashing he hopes they will never forget. The first class began ten minutes late, but the rest of the day passed uneventfully.

But these were fourth-graders. And in the 1950s, principals could extract serious penalties. But even then, odds were poor that the substitute teacher would long survive in that blackboard bramble. Mr. Nakagawa must hope that grown-ups will respond more positively to his admonitions.

Or does he?

Mr. Nakagawa gave us an unsolicited glimpse into the lack of respect on the part of cabinet members for the impeccably groomed and unfailingly polite prime minister. And this was not a leak of some private admonitions to the more egregious offenders, but part of a scheduled speech (for which he surely had plenty of time to consider what to say) before a public audience. In fact, if he were not the effective enforcer for the Mori faction (which has produced three prime ministers, Mr. Mori, Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Abe, in succession), I would think that he was trying to damn Mr. Abe with stern admonition.

Indeed, Mr. Abe is quite displeased, if the spin in the news reports is to be believed. For example, today's Yomiuri gives us the following report:

"Concerning LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa's Feb. 18 harsh criticism of some cabinet members for their lack of loyalty to the prime minister, Prime Minister Abe stated that [Mr. Nakagawa] 'need not worry on his behalf.'

"When the group of reporters asked him 'what was the reason for such statements', the prime minister, palpably displeased, coolly replied, 'Please ask Secretary-General Nakagawa'.

"Meanwhile, Chief-of-Cabinet Shiozaki in his press conference spoke solemnly, '[Mr. Nakagawa's words] were an appeal to renew our intensity and apply ourselves to our work, and we would like to continue to strongly support the prime minister.' He also lodged an objection, stating, '(Cabinet meetings) are conducted in an orderly manner.'

"Education Minister Ibuki emphasized to the group of reporters at the Prime Minister's Official Residence, 'I do not think [Mr. Nakagawa] was talking about me.'"

Mr. Nakagawa turned 63 on Feb. 2. He is 11 years older than Mr. Abe. He has served in the Lower House of the Diet since 1976, with two interruptions, and consecutively since the 1993 election, which also gave Mr. Abe his first term in the Lower House.

Mr. Nakagawa is one of Mr. Mori's closest confidantes. For his second cabinet appointment, he was rewarded with the coveted Chief-of-Cabinet post. Unfortunately, his tenure was terminated after three months as the result of several personal scandals that nevertheless did not reach criminal levels. The Wikipedia entry credits this having a role in the demise of the Mori administration. But if he has had a checkered past as Mr. Minister, it is as a party operative that he has excelled. Returning to the political limelight under the Koizumi administration as the LDP Diet Affairs Committee Chairman in Oct. 2002, he was promoted to Policy Research Council Chairmanship (one of the three major party posts after the president, which is reserved for the (LDP) prime minister) in Oct. 2005. Last year, with the advent of the Abe administration, he attained the even more powerful post of LDP Secretary-General (in which capacity he personally managed the return of The Penitent Eleven, who had been expelled for voting against Post Office privatization but still made it back to the Lower House as independents in the 2005 election, while keeping the powerful Takeo Hiranuma out when he alone refused to sign the confession). He is definitely a man who can roll up his sleeves, get down and dirty, knock heads if he has to, and, most importantly, get things done.

To sum it up, Mr. Nakagawa is a man of the world, the political world. In fact, pedigree and electoral appeal aside, he is a far more experienced and accomplished politician than Mr. Abe. The Mori faction is now the Machimura faction, and there is some speculation that Nobutaka Machimura is keeping the chairman's seat warm for when Mr. Abe leaves the prime minister's office. But Mr. Nakagawa also has legitimate claims on the leadership role, were he to actively seek it.

I doubt that Mr. Nakagawa is consciously acting to undermine Mr. Abe. After all, he is an LDP party faithful, and his loyalty to Mr. Mori is unimpeachable. And Mr. Abe has been a singularly likeable figure to his colleagues. Nevertheless, I think that Mr. Nakagawa is aware of his own political superiority and the longer years he has put in for the cause, and that this has led him at a minimum to think less of his junior colleague but now prime minister as a man. If I am right, then this is what led him to make the statements that only served to embarrass the prime minister and lessen him in the eyes of his colleagues, and the public.

With friends like this…

(Sidebar 1) In Hakuo Yanagisawa's defense, I don't think Mr. Minister was "putting himself first" when he labeled women between 15-50 "child-bearing machines" or on Feb. 19 before the Lower House Budget Committee, where he talked about "factory work, you know, working a belt conveyer, where 'all a worker has to offer are the hours he or she can put in'". (No, I have no idea how the news reports came up with the quotation marks within quotation marks. Maybe Mr. Yanagisawa did the two-hands, two-fingers-each gesture…)

(Sidebar 2) On Feb.18, Toranosuke Katayama, the LDP Upper House Secretary-General, came to Mr. Abe's defense on TV. He said that the Abe administration was making headway but was not getting credit for it. His defense essentially consisted to the following:
a) Mr. Abe is a rookie, so he's still learning the ropes; and
b) The expressive Mr. Koizumi is a tough act to follow for anybody.

Reasonable, but not exactly treating him as "ichninmae" (i.e. someone fully capable of taking care of his own affairs).

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Big Fat Side-of-a-Barn-Target Imperial Household Seems to Be Vindicated This Time Around

An investigative reporter wades into an issue about which he is singularly unequipped to tackle. The language and the culture are totally alien to him. He is forced to rely on sources that are willing to talk to him in his native language. Undeterred, he publishes a book to underwhelming reviews. The book, perhaps inevitably, is reportedly riddled with errors, which will be duly corrected in the translation into that language, with the author's consent.

In the meantime, the author receives a complaint from the representative of the family of the subject of the book in the form of a public letter. The letter is a remarkably restrained affair, a general complaint followed by a lengthy complaint on a couple of issues involving the parents of the subject of the book. This is understandable. One of the issues concern a recent national tragedy on the order of 9.11; the other is an issue in which the family has a 1,300 year engagement and has more recently been involved personally for at least three generations. Another reason the letter must be considered remarkably restrained is because the author had gained permission to use some photos under the condition that the book would not contain anything disrespectful of the household in question.

A decent human being would have acknowledged any errors and apologized for them, and explained that they would be corrected in the upcoming translation and any future editions of the book. The author instead lashed out at the complaint, claiming that he had nothing to apologize about. As far as media reports go, he has not yet acknowledged any wrongdoing.

The EMSM, perhaps predictably, took this issue and ran an article generally favorable to the author with a prototypical "right-wing intimidation" trope. Unfortunately, inconvenient facts have come to the fore, including accusations of gross misrepresentation and past plagiarism from people willing to go on the record. And the publication of the translation has been canceled, the publisher citing loss of mutual trust due to the author's denial of any responsibility.

I will be pleasantly surprised if the EMSM and the author run corrections.

I am, of course, talking about the recent turn of events surrounding the "Princess Masako" incident.

I myself have written of the intimidation from the militant elements of the Japanese far right. And I will go on record as being highly critical of the way the Imperial Household goes about its affairs, which runs the risk of slowly strangling the very institution it is supposed to uphold.

I also believe that journalists should be held to the same standards that they hold the rest of us to.

If you are interested in this matter, I encourage you to go to Shisaku (scroll down) and keep following all the threads. Some books reviews can be found here.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Kenichi Mizuno, LDP Rebel of Many and Varied Causes, Fights the Law (and METI); Comes Out Even

"The Japanese Government Appeals Verdict in the Energy Consumption Data Disclosure Law Suit

On Feb. 13, the Japanese Government filed an appeal with the Osaka High Court seeking to overturn the Osaka District Court verdict that had reversed a decision by the Ministry of Economy not to disclose parts of energy consumption data gathered from businesses under the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Law. The plaintiff, environmental organization "Climate Network", had brought the lawsuit against METI to seek nullification.

Kenichi Mizuno, the Justice Deputy Minister who had supported disclsure and opposed the appeal, refused to put his seal on the ducment authorizing the deicision to appeal. Justeice Minister Nagase, the ultimate decider, signed off, and the appeal was duly filed.

Mr. Mizuno said on the same day, "As a member of the government, I will obey the decision to appeal. During the course of the case, I will speak up as necessary."

(translated from Yomiuri Feb. 13 article)

Kenichi Mizuno's one-man rebellion first came to light when the Yomiuri noticed that the Deputy Minister had posted his opposition on his website of all places and wrote it up on Feb. 11.

Mr. Mizuno's bio reads like a typical LDP Diet member. The biological son of retired politician Eichi Nakao, a three-time cabinet member from Yamanashi Prefecture, he grew up and went to school in Tokyo, then was adopted by Kiyoshi Mizuno, another Diet member from Chiba Prefecture (one assumes he married the elder Mizuno's daughter; his website gives no personal information beyond his date of birth, education and public offices he has held; unusual for a politician, particularly when his contemporaries are trying so hard to endear themselves to their electorate), and was elected in 1999 to the Lower House after one unsuccessful try At the age of forty, he is already into his fourth term.

Mr. Mizuno is pro-democracy, pro-Taiwan. Perhaps he inherits this from his fiery biological father, who became known early in his Diet career for his militancy as a member of the Seirankai (Blue Storm Group: Shintaro Ishihara and Michio Watanabe, as well as Shoichi Nakagawa's father, were also members). He is also a hardliner with North Korea. He is pro-death penalty. All these are typical conservative heritage LDP positions.

But he is more than that. At the beginning of his political life, before he apprenticed as the elder Mizuno's secretary, he spent time under Al Gore (yes, that Al Gore) learning politics. Which came first I have no way of knowing, but Mr. Mizuno is himself strongly pro-environment. In fact, 23 of 60 posts on his "Kenchi's Opinions" page are environment-related, and five of them deal with this particular disclosure battle, which he adopted as his own, with METI.

That's not all that separates him from the run-of-the-mill conservative. He has also come out strongly in favor of female emperors, as well as allowing spouses (meaning usually wives) to legally keep their surnames after marriage. I am not naming names, but these are positions that infuriate the typical hardcore nationalist conservative.

What would have come to pass if the irresistible force hadn't been able to deke its way around this immovable object? Actually, this is not the first time Mr. Mizuno has faced such a dilemma. In 2002, he resigned as parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, when he was refused permission to visit Taiwan. Presumably, he would not have hesitated to do the same if it came to that. Fortunately, the Abe adminstration was spared yet another ignominy.

So what kind of a future does Mr. Mizuno have in the LDP? The curious lack of personal information on his website bothers me. He is, after all, a politician. (Case in point: Condoleezza Rice's absolute shroud of secrecy over her private life that she has maintained is one reason I believe she will not run for office, ever.) And it's just a guess, but the 2002 rebellion may have led to his 2006 assignment to the Justice Ministry, relatively low in the order of desirability as deputy minister posts go.

But this incident did put this relatively obscure diet member's marker on the board. In another ten, twenty years, we will know if his principled positions, obvious intelligence, eloquence and good looks will have carried him to the political heights, or merely enabled him to carve out a niche as one of those colorful characters that the LDP throws up every so often

Giving Up the Fight in Tokyo Bodes Ill for DPJ in July

Shiro Asano, the popular 59-year-old ex-Miyagi governor, has definitively declined to run for Tokyo governor as the DPJ candidate. Naoto Kan, ex-party chief and eager to step back in if Ichiro Ozawa continues to stumble, not surprisingly also refused to stand. Barring a miracle, the JPJ will not field a candidate against incumbent Shintaro Ishihara on April 22.

There will be many other prizes available that day, because this is the year of the quadrennial joint local elections, when about a third of the seats for governors, mayors and local legislators will be up for grabs. But the failure to put up a fight in Tokyo substantially diminishes its national profile. This is a serious setback for the DPJ not only because it diminishes its national profile but because it also underscores doubts about its institutional viability. It definitely does not help in July, when half the Upper House seats go to the polls.

The more prominent prefectures in play other than flagship Tokyo? Kanagawa, Fukuoka, and Hokkaido.

Kanagawa: The incumbent, a DPJ Diet member who ran for governor as an independent, will be favored to hold on against an LDP challenge.

Fukuoka: The DPJ still has hopes that it will be able to field a candidate against the three-term incumbent (supported last time around by both the LDP and DPJ, but the LDP will not support him officially this time around as a matter of party policy because this will be his fourth term).

Hokkaido: DPJ has already decided to challenge the LDP/Komeito incumbent. Ms. Takahashi, the incumbent, has a strong personal following, but the DPJ candidate will also receive the support of down-but-by-no-means-out, charismatic Muneo Suzuki. (If you need to know how serious this man is, he regained his Diet seat while appealing a two-year sentence guilty verdict for bribery.)

If the DPJ get either Fukuoka or Hokkaido (but especially Hokkaido, with "We Can Be Proud That Nobody Has Committed Suicide" Yubari - no, not this Yubari - and other assorted local-center/rural-urban "kakusa" issues), they can combine that with any other local victories and tout it as a demonstration of the will of the people. That should help them get some momentum rolling in the run-up to the July elections.

Potential Problem: If local reports are correct, the Fukuoka and Hokkaido candidates were fifth, seventh choices. (In Hokkaido, they conducted a beauty contest, with six contestants. Four did not pass muster, and the remaining two declined.) Such things are quite common, actually, and I know at least one politician whose successful career was launched in this inauspicious manner (he refused, then finally relented after no one else in his neighborhood stopped the buck). No, it's the fact that this embarrassment is being played out in public that should be disturbing to the DPJ. The public may be moving away from Prime Minister Abe, but they do not seem to be edging toward the DPJ either.

Disclosure: Both the Fukuoka and Hokkaido governors are ex-METI officials, like me, and I know them both personally, and like them.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Hey, You, Yeah, You, over there. Honmura-an Closes Tomorrow You Know

Read it here.

I definitely did not appreciate it when they switched to a for-the-locals, short-noodle format, but it was an institution.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Japan-China Pas de Deux (Don't Worry about Us, BBC)

My BBC obsession continues.

Rumors are that Prime Minister Abe will ask for a Hu Jintao visit. Foreign Minister Li will say, not this year, and request that Mr. Abe come again.

"Slowly improving", indeed. It does have the facts right, but there's no sense of the underlying game.

Feb. 16 addendum:
In case anyone's browser obscures the link under the headline (my Firefox seems to have a problem), the BBC article is here.

Ross's comment and my response clarifies what I am trying to get at here.

They're Putting the Wrong Primates in the Cages at the LA Zoo

BBC again.

To quote: "Los Angeles Zoo has hired the services of a Feng Shui expert to help three golden monkeys loaned by China feel at home in their future surroundings.

"Simona Mainini, who is also a qualified architect, believes the move may be a first in animal enclosure design.

"'It's very experimental. We don't have any books on feng shui for monkeys,' Ms Mainini told AP news agency.

"'We just have to assume that Darwin is correct and that there is a connection and what is good for humans is good for monkeys,' Ms Mainini - who is reportedly being paid $4,500 (£2,300) - said."

Stop spinning, Chuck; at least they've disproved Intelligent Design.

Not surprisingly, the LA Zoo mission statement is rendered in touchy-feely terms like "recreation and discovery", "appreciation of wildlife", "animal welfare" and "preserve biodiversity and conserve natural habitat."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

If You Are a Japanese Work Machine, It Still Pays to Be a Guy. And Old.

The economy pages of the Feb. 14 Yomiuri lists 10 major companies that have announced upcoming changes in their boards of directors including their presidents. The new presidents-designate get a short bio cum photo. The biggest of the bunch, the anointed head at Ishikawajima Harima, has a nice sidebar of his own, including an interview and very own photographer.

Average age of the new presidents (our equivalent of CEO)? 58.8. Barely baby boomers. If you take out Clark Granninger, 39, the new CEO at Aplus, the consumer finance company and Shinsei Bank subsidiary, it goes up to 61. The nine all came up through the ranks, of the parent company in a couple of cases. They are all men.

David Sanger, Confidante of the Washington High and Mighty, Is Sure the Deal Includes Nuclear Weapons

To quote: "Over the next year, under the pact, the North must not only disable its nuclear reactors and reprocessing facilities, it must lead inspectors to its weapons and a suspected second nuclear weapons program. And to get to the next phase of the agreement, the one that gives “disarmament” meaning, North Korea will have to be persuaded to give away the country’s crown jewels: the weapons that make the world pay attention to it."

I hope he's right. But is he sure? He doesn't cite any sources for this reading. And there's no assurance North Korea formally admit to an enrichment program. I'd like to hear from the North Koreans on this.

"Iraq Unveils New Security Plans", Says BBC, and Reveals Correspondents Talk to Each Other

Iraq says it will close its border crossings with Iran and Syria for three days as part of its new security plan for the capital, Baghdad.

"Correspondents say it is unclear how the border closure will be effective as the frontiers are long, porous and often barely guarded."

Wait, you're correspondents, too. So isn't that a little bit like interviewing your thumb? And don't any of your collective thumbs wonder if they just might decide to put more troops on the border? It's only three days. Besides, they can shoot first, ask questions later. Cuts down on labor costs.

I am talking to myself as well. But you guys are in Iraq.

I Am Angry at Blogspot

A few days ago, they finally forced me to move to the new format (by refusing to let me blog on in the old one). Not only that, they changed my time setting to Pacific Standard Time (huh?). So, my recent posts have been pre-dated by 17 hours.

There are other issues, but that's it for now.

The Silence around the New Six Party Deal Says the NTP Regime Now Dwells among the Living Dead

Here's the full text of the Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement. This is the link to the 2005 Sept. 19 Joint Statement.

What will happen now? The 2005 Sept. 19 Joint Statement states that "[t]he DPRK committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs". The Feb. 13 Action Plan calls for "a complete declaration of all nuclear programs and disablement of all existing nuclear facilities" in "the next phase" where the rest (950,000 tons) of the 1,000,000 tons of heavy fuel oil will be delivered.

So, Will North Korea declare its nuclear weapons and uranium enrichment program? Or will it claim that the nuclear weapons are not part of the deal and deny that it has an enrichment program? Will they even come up with a program within the next 60 days to discuss, instead claiming that they will "discuss a list" and only after that will actually produce one? Note also that there is no mention of their ballistic missile program.

It remains far from clear that we will not wind up at the end of the "next phase" with a North Korea holding on to its nuclear warheads, a ballistic missile program, and 1,000,000 tons of heavy fuel oil.

As for Japan, we are not going to pony up for the initial 50,000 ton fuel tranche, and neither will Russia, if the Yomiuri has gotten it right. But can we avoid pitching in for the remainder if North Korea is less than forthcoming on the abductees issue (where I think North Korea has very little room to give) but does move forward on the others? If it comes to that, the Abe administration will be conflicted.

The lack of talk about the NPT regime is telling though. Yes, the 2005 Sept. 19 Joint Statement explicitly refers to the NPT, and what are the "IAEA personnel" if not the personification of said regime? But with uncertainty about the nuclear weapons and the enrichment program, there should be some mention of the implications, no?

Actually, with outsider India about to receive universal blessing (Japan is apparently preparing to come around), Pakistan grudgingly accepted, and Israel implicitly supported by the US, the Non-NPT house is gaining legitimacy. The NPT regime itself now walks among us unseen. The UN downgrading of its Department for Disarmament cannot be a coincidence. It seems likely, then, that North Korea also thinks it can find a way to keep its hands on those nuclear weapons. This is not good for Japan. And the main concern of our security provider, the US, over North Korea's nuclear program has always been, always will be, proliferation.

Quo vadis?

Note: Shigeru Ishiba, the ex-Self Defense Minister and go-to guy on security issues, has made an explicit, quid pro quo link between our Iraqi excursion in support of the US and the unconditional guarantee from the US nuclear umbrella. We are lucky that we were unable to go in any deeper. Although this is not a situation that is likely to repeat itself in the near future (assuming only surgical strikes at most on Iran), it does cast some doubt on the efficacy of the linkage.

Uh Oh, North Korea Is at It Again.

According to the Yomiuri website, Korean Central News Agency, the DPRK wire service, claims that "the countries decided to provide economic and energy assistance equivalent to 1 million tons of heavy oil in conjunction with the extraordinary/temporary/provisional/special/extra suspension of operations at the nuclear facilities" (my translation).

This is going to be a long year…

ADD: Feb. 14 9:51 AM
FYI, "extraordinary/temporary/provisional/special/extra" is my translation for the single word "臨時". I wanted to convey the (likely intentional) ambiguity in the DPRK news release. My fault if I didn't get my point across clearly.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

So We Want to Cooperate "Indirectly" on Energy Aid to North Korea? What Happens When They Refuse?

If reports are correct, North Korea is going to get a lot more out of the Five for their Yongbyon facilities than Mr. Hashimoto, or even I, had expected. As a tasting sample, North Korea will receive 50,000 tons for stopping operations at its Yongbyon nuclear reactor. On the other hand, North Korea must permanently disable its nuclear program to get its hand hands on the remaining 950,000 tons of fuel oil on the table. So both sides have made compromises.

This deals also brings tangible benefits to the US. It can be reasonably certain that North Korea has been bought off on the proliferation issue. And I expect North Korea to lay off the counterfeiting operations. (Where will the Taiwanese counterfeiters turn next? Myanmar? Cambodia?)

But what about Japan's concerns? There is no mention of the North Korean missile program. Rest assured that North Korea will continue work on it. More important, how much work can North Korea do on miniaturization of its nuclear explosives without been detected? How long will it take to complete the task? A Sankei article suggested Japan would require three years to acquire its own nuclear weapon. And we haven't even mentioned North Korea's uranium enrichment program. To avoid any possibility of the Japanese clock starting to run, China should hope to keep North Korea on a very short leash.

In fact, North Korea is likely to put one obstacle after another in front of the Five, beginning with UN inspectors. And it knows China and South Korea are not going to let it collapse all over them. With this baseline support available to the Kim Jong-il regime, the consume-by date of this agreement is likely to be much shorter than the 1994 one.

In the meantime, the Japanese authorities have been saying, predictably, that progress on the abductees issue is required before it offers any substantial help. Barring such an unlikely event (I would be surprised to say the least if North Korea agreed to explicitly reopen the issue, which looks like the minimum the Abe adminstration can call progress and get away with domestically), the prime minister and the foreign minister have been saying that Japan will cooperate "indirectly". That is, Japan will help determine how much energy assistance North Korea actually needs and ensure that the assistance actually reaches the North Koreans in need. Very noble, but North Korea wants Santa Claus, not a monitor/enforcer. In fact, I can see this easily becoming a deal breaker, before and after the agreement goes into the implementation stage. I'm guessing the Three will quietly ask Japan to sit this one out.

I may have more to say when the full deal becomes clear. But these are my first impressions. Let's hope that China has been really turning the heat on North Korea, and I'm wrong in so many ways.

There was a time when the Abe administration could have called the working group on normalization of bilateral ties itself as progress. No more; it no longer has the political capital to spare for something that will only bring grief down the line for the Abe administration.

Mr. Takatsuki Attacks Japanese Football. I Think He Is Dead Wrong

I know I've written at length on the J-League somewhere, and how it is different from professional baseball here, but I can't find it on my blog. Too bad. It would have shed much light on this article. But here goes.

Mr. Takatsuki as gotten into his head that Japanese football, or "soccer" in his BBCese, is going to be ruined because teenage stars are bypassing the J-League to go directly to Europe. Nothing can be further from the truth. I think he is dead wrong. Let me explain.

Mr. Takatsuki draws an analogy with the state of affairs in Brazil and Argentina, where, in his words, "[e]very year, hundreds of Brazilians and Argentines are sold off [to Europe], at an increasingly younger age". He worries that "[i]f it continues to lose its best young players, very soon it will consist of only the mediocre and the once brilliant." He chastises J-League chairman Kenji Onitake for being shortsighted when he claims that "[the players] can learn as much about the soccer in the countries they are in as well as the cultural differences and become stronger, and hopefully they can bring that back to Japan and make our players better."

Okay, that's maybe stretching it a little, Mr. Onitake. But compared to Mr. Takatsuki and his complete ignorance of the J-League game plan and the situation on the ground, as well as the fact that Japan, the last time I looked, was a market economy, Mr. Onitake is Jack Welch.

Let's face it, we are not going to sell off hundreds of our high school footballers to Europe, for the simple reason that Europe cannot pay the kind of money it takes to entice them to make the jump. Japan, for all its economic travails during the post-bubble years, is economically still miles ahead of every country in Latin America and on a par at least with Western Europe. Then there's the language problem. And all the rest of the cultural issues that they will face when they go over there. So, unless Japanese football and economy really tank, it is the elite, and elite only, the superstars (at each level), who are moreover willing to make the cultural adjustments, for whom the financial incentives are sufficient to make tem take the plunge.

Moreover, Mr. Takatsuki completely ignores the institutional setup in Japan that is the envy of all Asian football leagues. The J-League, working hand in glove with the Japan Soccer Association, has built a two-tier professional league complemented by JFL, a subsidiary junior varsity league consisting of J-League aspirants and the top teams from the regional leagues. The J-League enforces strict standards to ensure that the clubs have the facilities and local support to ensure their sustainability. The Urawa Reds are fast becoming the class act in Asian football, routinely drawing 50,000 supporters to its home games.

It is not only the most powerful clubs that have arrived. Albirex Niigata, snowbound hometown of Kakuei Tanaka, the legendary prime minister and Huey Long, Russell Long, and Bill Clinton rolled into one, made it into the original (don't ask) JFL in 1998. Although it only managed to finish 11th among 16 teams competing, it made it into the second division of the J-League when it expanded to a two-tier structure and a new JFL was established. Albirex finally made it to the top division in 2004, when it set a new J-League season attendance record. It continued to have success at the gate in 2006, routinely drawing 30,000-50,000 spectators to its home games, when it skirted dangerously close to relegation. Rest assured, Albirex does not boast international superstars.

Granted, no teams are as well off as the Reds and Albirex, and some top tier teams struggle to draw 10,000 when they drop out of contention. But there are clearly factors other than star power at play.

Japanese football is not without its problems. It can no longer repeat the international glamour of its inaugural years, when many regulars from the Brazilian Selecão and other football nations graced Japan's greatest teams, and some of the clubs remain saddled with debt. But, for better or worse, Brazil, Japan is not. So, what has Japanese football done that makes it work?

First, Japanese football has come down strongly on hooliganism. Fan clubs see to it that the regulars mind their manners. As a result, a Japanese football game is one of the few such occasions on this planet where women, children and even the elderly can be seen enjoying the day out, rooting for their favorite team and players. It is no accident that Japanese fans have been more successful on the international stage than their game-playing counterparts.

Second, Japanese football has always had a global outlook. The Japanese objective is nothing less than a World Cup trophy in this century. Unlike baseball, where the Yomiuri Giants lead an ultimately futile attempt to emulate the American Big Brother, Japanese football gleefully admits its shortcomings, yet the smallest pre-schooler pushing the ball along with his leg is connected through multiple degrees of separation to Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Cristão Ronaldo. So what if we lose Sho Ito, Umezaki, and Hirayama (oops, he's back, damaged goods)? The beautiful game goes on.

Third, children actually play football. Once upon a time, baseball was the national pastime. But baseball is dangerous. And hot, when you are in full uniform, during the summer days. And not everybody gets a touch. Baseball is not cool. The almighty Yomiuri Group stands behind professional Japanese baseball, and the two annual high school tournaments are the Japanese equivalent of March Madness and the BSC Championship. (And when will US MLS overtake the NHL?) Still, you do tend to take interest in the whole game when your kids are on the field as well.

Yes, Japanese football will continue to lose some (but by no means all) of its best prospects, as well as established stars. Yes, we wish we could keep them. But to suggest that Japan will go the way of Brazil and Argentina (but don't write them off completely, you never know) is just plain dumb. Mr. Takatsuki should be glad that his misbegotten piece appears only on the English language Asahi website.

If you think this post is particularly venomous, chalk it up to cheap whiskey. Not satisfied? Then blame it on this snide remark from Mr. Takatsuki:

"The best administrators enter business or politics, not football. So, they can't be blamed for not having considered a solution for any possible scenario that could challenge the status quo"

You see, I hate cheap shots. Unless they are funny.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Japan Probe Cries Foul over Mainichi Article on Gaijin Crime. Here Are Some Facts

Japan Probe has this interesting post on the discrepancy between the Japanese and English versions of a Mainichi article on gaijin crime in Japan. I thought of offering a full-fledged commentary about it, but I haven't been able to find the time to do justice to this theme. So, here are some facts, and some speculation on my part.

Lesson? Go to the source, then start arguing.

Some facts:

1. A cursory look at the news items under the article shows that the English version headlines typically carry less information than the Japanese version, but in no other case are they completely different. This is clearly an editorial decision. Moreover, the English, as most of you who post on Japan Probe must be aware, is executed by a native English speaker who is experienced in writing headlines.

2. The article deals with Criminal Code violations by non-permanent-resident gaijin. Thus, most of the Koreans and some Chinese (Taiwanese) living in Japan are not included, nor are visa violations. The statistics are available here.
They were posted on Feb. 9. No 1991-2006 comparison is included.

3. I cannot locate any useful statistics on the length of stay on the part of non-permanent-resident gaijin. This complicates the task of determining the relative criminality (or lack thereof) on their part.

4. The Japanese version seems to repeat the original hardcopy version with little or no abridgement.

Now, some speculation:

1. Governor Ishihara will not be vocal about gaijin crime. Mr. Ishihara is pushing Tokyo as Japan's candidate for the 2016 Olympics. He certainly knows how to mould his behavior to the circumstances. Witness the thawing of his relationship with the LDP as his sons rise up through the ranks there.

2. Mainichi correspondent Kazuhiko Tohyama did not have access to a high level official on this. There was no fanfare whatsoever regarding the release of the statistics (which must be why the Yomiuri apparently missed it altogether). Besides, nobody in his right mind at the NPA would want to piss off everybody outside of Tokyo by admitting that it managed to ease pressure in Tokyo by shifting the criminal burden to the boondocks. Moreover, most of the shift should be attributable instead to the "staggering" rise in the number of non-permanent-resident workers and "trainees" who flocked to manufacturing jobs non-Tokyo Japan during the 1990s. I'm not accusing Mr. Tohyama of making it up, but it doesn't sound like the kind of explanation the NPA would want to come up with.

(More Speculation)
Sorry. I don't have any sweeping indictments or excuses available, just some facts and speculation. Oh, and if it's any consolation to my gaijin readers, I don't think that this is racism, as in a deep-seated rejection of blacks, Muslims, Jews, or what have you. It's a very human example of stereotyping and over-reacting to the "other" in a highly homogeneous society. This works both ways: witness the powerfully positive emotional focus on the South Korean student Li Su-hyun and the relative neglect of Japanese cameraman Fumihiko Sekine, two courageous men who lost their lives trying to rescue a man who had fallen on the train track. On a more historical scale, do you remember how the Japanese media (except for Sankei) toed the Chinese Communist Party line during the Cultural Revolution? Adulation turned to odium, as the realities began to surface after Mao's death.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Mea Culpa Déjà Vu? A TIME Bureau Chief Takes a Different Tack…

A diligent reader of this blog (there are some, really, and I thank them profusely) will know that I have apologized not infrequently. There are three reasons for this:
1) I make mistakes.
2) I want to move on.
3) I don't want to lose readers.

Apparently, these things do not apply to at least one blogger, as I discovered to my horrified fascination. If you like watching nature programs where swarms of ants dispatch much larger insects and other big game, read on:

TIME magazine in an attempt to mine the blogosphere for more revenue hired Joe Klein and Anna Marie Cox, a couple of media stars who have been around the bloc and then some, added two TIME correspondents, and started (this January?) the political blog Swampland (likely a political double entendre playing on D.C.'s original malarial environs).

On Jan. 23, one of the bloggers, Jay Carney (TIME Washington Bureau Chief), posted this comment on the upcoming State of the Union Address, where he suggested that President Bush would try to learn from the "lessons of the Clinton recovery, both in 1995 and later, during Monica, in 1999, is that Americans reward presidents who, even in the face of enormous distractions, focus on issues that matter to them", and would not "spend much time tonight talking about surging troops in Iraq or the Global War on Terror. Instead, he'll put forward what for him will be progressive and bold policy proposals on health care, the environment and immigration reform." Mr. Carney, however, cast doubt on President Bush's chances, writing "[h]is plight is so dire, and his fate so inextricably tied to one issue, that no matter what he proposes tonight, he is unlikely to lighten the public's sour mood, about him or the state of the union he governs. "

However, in his zeal to draw a parallel between the two presidents, he misrepresented President Clinton's drop in the polls around the end of his first term. Alert readers quickly exposed the polling data misstatement and its incident fallout over the narrative of the post, as well as another less egregious error regarding SOTU sitting arrangements.

But the matter did not end there. Because of, I believe, his misstatement, many readers got the impression (wrongly in my view) that he himself sympathized with drawing a parallel between the Monica Lewinsky incident and the War on Iraq as "enormous distractions". Many readers wrote in to express their indignation, often in the no-holds-barred language of the political blogosphere. These readers tended to assume that he was sympathetic to President Bush.

Mr. Carney, at this point, could have acknowledged his error, conceded that some of the misunderstanding over his opinion (very skeptical) of the Bush strategy could have been avoided had he checked his facts more closely and otherwise taken care to telegraph his punchline (quoted above). Then, he could justifiably gone on to criticize readers who had missed his point completely and requested that they read his posts to the end before drawing conclusion. He may have requested a little more civility, though I am sure that would have fallen on deaf ears.

Instead, he went on the attack. And he decided to do this in a separate post. (A host has that option.) The opening salvo:

"Amazingly, some Swampland readers seem to think my earlier post about President Bush's State of the Union address was too sympathetic to Bush, which proves nothing but that the left is as full of unthinking Ditto-heads as Limbaugh-land."

Um, maybe so, maybe not. But it is usually unwise for a public figure who seeks to appeal to a non-Ditto-headed audience to answer in anger with invectives and sweeping indictments. Particularly when many of your critics are clearly not of their ilk. Worse, although he did concede that President Clinton's poll numbers "were not mired in the 30s", quoted in self-defense a low of 37% for June 2003 (more than a year and a half before President Clinton's own SOTU!) and a disapproval rate of 57% in September 2004 (four months B.S.). Thus, he came across as uncomprehending at best, evasive, even dissembling, at worst. He also did not even bother to refer to the sitting arrangement gaffe.

Readers have been more than happy to heap more insults on his self-inflicted, very much self-aggravated wound. I am merely a casual reader of Swampland, but I am sure that these two posts have generated more comments than any other pair of posts on this joint blog. And even a casual scan leaves it clear that few, if any, are coming to his defense.

Since his ill-fated second post, Mr. Carney has remained silent on this matter. In fact, in the last week or so, he has stopped posting on Swampland, period. His face and bio remain in the frame, so he has not officially retired from the blogosphere, but he had better return soon, or that will become the subject of attention in its own right.

He can do this with his mistakes because he is a denizen of the MSM and the Washington Consensus (most prominently coming down on Stephen Colbert in his 2006 Gridiron speech). He has a place to retreat to. He can afford to lose his blurkers, because he has a public platform of his own.

But the blogosphere will remember. And self-denial of fallibility will have its costs. His every move will be watched for the slightest error, which will in turn be neatly and not so neatly ridiculed till Kingdom come. And his message will have an even greater chance of getting lost.

A blogger is his/her own primary researcher, fact checker and editor. And the blogosphere will do it for you, for free, post facto. Mr. Carney will do well to bear that in mind if he ever is inclined to return.

In the meantime, the irony is that his prediction about President Bush not spending much time on Iraq fell through but there was little to no mention of it in the comments that I scanned.

In this vein, Mr. Carney's co-blogger Joe Klein seems to be handling these matters and more broadly his own learning process exceptionally well. This may not be surprising, given his role as a player in his own right. But it's worth emulating.

Yakuza, Inc. Revisited

I've done some rethinking about the latest report from the National Policy Agency about yakuza syndicates, and have come to believe that it is not incompatible with my (just a little) tongue-in-cheek narrative of their restructuring efforts during the post-bubble economy. In fact, the NPA's claims that yakuza syndicates "are requiring their members to leave the syndicates in order to avoid exposure and prosecution and to pretend that they are not involved in finance, real estate and other business activities" parallels creative bookkeeping by their more respectable corporate brethren involving subsidiaries, overseas funds and other institutions under their control. Latest (Japanese) case in point: Nikko Cordial's profit statements debacle (Sorry, apparently not available in English).

Seriously, Robert Whiting should write a sequel to his Tokyo Underworld. How about: The Gaijin Yakuza in a Post-Bubble, Aging Society…… nah. But it may interest you to know that Organized Crime 2004 (National Police Agency, Mar. 2006) has a whole chapter on, yes, you guessed it, "Outline of the State of Crimes in 2005 by Foreigners Coming to Japan".

Thursday, February 08, 2007

As Japan, Inc. Goes, So Goes Yakuza, Inc. – an Homage to Robert Whiting

BBC reports on the recent escalation among the yakuza syndicates and the concomitant rise in intra-yakuza violence. In passing, the article mentions that "he number of gangsters - known as yakuza - in Japan has grown in the past 10 years to more than 85,000". If true, the yakuza should be commended for increasing employment during the longest stretch of economic stagnation that Japan has seen since the 18th Century. Intrigued, I went looking; this is what I found.

This is obviously the official source that BBC referred to. According to the last graph on the PDF file, the number of yakuza fell precipitously from 91,000 at the end of 1991 to 79,300 at the end of 1995, but has since crept back over the following decade to 86,300 the end of 2005. In other words, the yakuza industry rapidly downsized during the first five years of the post-bubble era, even as Japanese business, particularly the banking sector with support from the authorities, was trying to make-believe that nothing was amiss; then spent the next ten years patiently rebuilding its workforce. You only wish that Japan, Inc. had been similarly swift on its feet.

Wait, there's more. Yakuza membership may have gone up over the past decade, but full members went down from 46,600 in 1995 to 43,300 in 2001. This gap was filled instead by junkouseiin, or associate members, mirroring a similar shift to reliance on an irregular workforce in the more legitimate corporate society. In fact, between 1991 and 1995, the number of full members was slashed from 63,800 to 46,600, even while the number of associates grew from 27,200 to 32,700, somewhat cushioning the manpower shortage. In other words, the yakuza industry downsized its workforce, and brought in the criminal equivalent of temps and contract employees to further bring down costs. To note in passing, from this perspective, the purported rise of the gaijin criminal threat may merely be the criminal analog of the growth of the gaijin labor force in the non-criminal economy.

So, if any industry collectively deserve the Demming Award, surely it is the yakuza industry, no?

But not even that is the whole story. You see, the first chart in the PDF document shows us that the top three yakuza syndicates dominate the industry, accounting for 63,000, or 76.2%, of all yakuza members. Apparently, the lean years has forced consolidation across the entire industry, and produced an oligopoly.

But that's not my point either. The Yamaguchi-Gumi at end of 2005 stood at 41,000 members, or 47.5% of all the yakuza in Japan. Moreover, between the end of 2004 and 2005, Yamugchigumi increased its members by an impressive 1,800, while second-place Sumiyoshikai lost 100 to fall to 12,500 (14.5%), and third-place Inagawakai stood still, ending up at 9,500 (11.0%). So, we have an oligopoly, an oligopoly where one firm is pulling ahead of the others… do you hear "Toyota", anyone?

Truly, as Japan, Inc. Goes, So Goes Yakuza, Inc. Or was it the other way around?

Update: According to the Yomiuri evening edition, the national Policy Agency announced today (Feb. 8) that the number of "associate members", who "cooperate with the organizational management of a bouryokudan, i.e. yakuza syndicate, reached 43,200 at the 2006, surpassing for the first time since statistics were collected in 1958 the number of 'official members' thereof." The Police Agency claims that this trend indicates that yakuza syndicates "are requiring their members to leave the syndicates in order to avoid exposure and prosecution and to pretend that they are not involved in finance, real estate and other business activities."


So much for my take...

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

MAFF and MHLW Do Their Thing on Bird Flu. Fine. So Who's Keeping Watch on the Pandemic Scene?

Security-related incidents tend to have an impact well beyond what the situation warrants, and Japan is no exception. In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that we are arguably even more prone to overreact than, say, the US. More risk averse, if I am to use a less controversial term. (A relatively low-charge case was the slowness in the Japanese return to international tourism, particularly to New York.) And authorities have been criticized in the past over the suffering of moyashi (bean sprout) farmers from a panic driven by what turned out to be faulty conclusions on the origin of a communicable disease. Thus, the approach that the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare took to the bird flu outbreak in Miyazaki Prefecture seems carefully calibrated to combine the right measures of what look like standard containment measures for birds and possible transmission through humans (there's a lot of international collaboration going on through the WHO on bird flu if anybody's interested) and statements that allay fears over contagion among human population by way of eggs and chicken meat. This being mainly an animal husbandry issue, MAFF has rightly taken the lead. (Let's not speculate on what the response would have been like had the bird flu outbreak happened solely in our major sources for imports.) The new governor, Sonomanma Higashi, also appears to have put his celebrity governor status to good use in showing himself all over the national media biting into a juicy stick-load of yakitori.

So far so good. But there's nothing on the MAFF or, more properly, MHLW website to indicate that the government is doing anything about preparing for the human pandemic that will arise once the H5 or H7 viruses manage to make the mutative leap to easy human-to-human transmission. And if not the government, who else? (Actually, this article tells us that, in the US, the private sector at least is looking into the implications and making preparations.)

In Japan, this is a mainly a job for MHLW, but it must be coordinated across ministries at cabinet or sub-cabinet level. Residents of Japan should hope that the authorities prepare us well, and soon, for what looks like a high-probability event over the long run.

FYI, Eurasia Group has been on this case for some time. This year, EG lists the Top 7 Political Risks here for your downloading pleasure. Note that there is an overall document as well as an eighth, unnumbered PDF file on four critical long-term risks, and pandemic influenza is one of them.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

"Li'l Kim"? Looks More Like Li'l Notorious B.I.G., If You Catch My Reference

Okay, so we are obsessed with North Korea. Hey, the missiles are aimed this way. Or so everyone assumes. But what the heck was the South Korean media doing?

My Sincerest Apologies to Japan Probe

I’m sorry, James. I take that back. I amend my statement to:

Japan Probe bloggers are merely obsessed with (mostly) hetereosexual Asian (if mainly Japanese), um, sex. To quote:

Most Popular Posts

You can't use a tissue today! (Video)

Open Letter to the Editor: Kim Jong-il I Can Understand, but Did You Have to Put Roh Mu-hyung on the Cover?

"'We wanted to take this up as a contemporary problem,' said Shigeki Saka of Tokyo-based publishers Eichi, which also publishes magazines on popular US and South Korean television dramas. 'I think it would be good if this becomes a chance to broaden the debate,' he added.
"One caption in the magazine refers to a black man as 'nigger.'
"'This is not a racist book, because it is based on established fact,' Saka said. 'If we wanted to be racist, we could write it in a much more racist way,' he added, saying that the word 'nigger' was not considered offensive in Japan."
(from Reuters, by way of Japan Probe via Shisaku, your friendly East Asia Community Internet vigilante.

Dear Editor (Mr. Saka):

It has come to my attention that the gaijin community has been on your case recently over your most recent publication, Shougeki no Gaijin Hanzai Ura Fairu 2007 (Shocking Foreigner Crime: The Undercover File). The whole affair disgusts most of those people, but they have been particularly incensed at the use of the n-word. I am writing to you to offer words of understanding, and support.

I know that you meant no disrespect to African-Americans. You see, I know that your most popular, i.e. longest running, regularly published each month, magazine is 411, a men's fashion magazine focused solely on hip-hop. The cover always features a male hip-hop/rap artist (February; NaS), and the only non-African-American face on the cover has been Eminem, so we know you get it, don't we? And we know hip-hop artists use the n-word all time, don't we? And there's no disrespectin' there, right?

But did you ever hear Eminem use the n-word? Vanilla Ice, to the best of my knowledge, didn't either. They don't, because bad things can happen when a white guy . And Asians aren't supposed to do that, because we're too smart, right?

You see, everything we say has context. To give an example that you, as a hip-hop fan will surely understand, "You my dog" and "she a dog" mean very different things. This context is not merely verbal; it envelops social relationships, and even history. So, a term of endearment between African-Americans can be an insult coming from someone else. In fact, the n-word has even many thoughtful African-Americans ill at ease, as the Michael Richards outburst has reminded the rest of the world.

Besides, the last time I looked, adult-on-consenting-adult ass touching was not a crime in Japan. Trust me, I majored in law. And these days, even Bollywood does kisses, and some of their most popular actors are Moslems. So get with it, okay? You don't want people to think that you knowingly used the n-word in a disrespectful way, do you?

Oh, and one last thing. If you need someone to translate this letter for you, I can do it myself for 30 yen per word. And because you are nice, I will give you a special discount rate of 25 yen. I'm good. Trust me, I'm Japanese.

Best regards
Jun Okumura
GlobalTalk 21

If somebody wishes to forward my open letter to Eichi Shuppan, please do so by all means.

There are so many ways to take this story and run with it. For example, the Eichi Shuppan website/gaijin crime book can be used to make a statement on:
i) combini culture and literacy;
ii) the "you can look, but you can't touch (as Temple Grandin said to B.F. Skinner when he groped her legs)" cultural assimilation process;
iii) the "they're killing our children and humping our women" mentality so familiar to primatologists; or
iv) all of the above.

I am also curious to know what African-Americans and Asians (particularly Koreans) make of all this. But life is too short. Maybe up and coming cultural anthropologist Gavin Whitelaw can shed some light on all of this, since he's the one did his PhD dissertation on the combini. Gavin, are you reading this?

PS: Is it my imagination, or is much of Japan Probe devoted to talk about picking up Japanese girls? Is the independent movie "Japanese Girls Are Easy" starring Okamoto Aya the next sleeper hit at Sundance? Questions, questions...

Friday, February 02, 2007

I Try Hard Not to Write with Nothing But a Hunch, But I Think the DPJ Is Overplaying Its Hand on Mr. Machine

Yes, it is important. But is it that important?

One of these days, the DPJ is going to have to stop boycotting the Diet and find their way back. And they will regret having missed out on an opportunity to look responsible.

If I'm wrong, I'll eat my hat. Metaphorically, of course, Chris.

Racial Identification: Two Good Essays that Explain Mr. Obama's Decision for Me

As a follow-up to one of the things we talked about over lunch this afternoon, Chris. (And good luck. Either way, you can't go wrong. They're both nice ways to start a career. If you're as good as I hope you are, they'll notice.)

My favorite columnist. And this.

Beyond Mr. Omaba's self-identification, these two articles taken together also explain why Joseph Biden said what he said, and exposes the class and cultural divides that are intertwined with race in America.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Cryptic Is Stirring Again

He seeks to bring joy to the world, through this, and this.

Take Mr. Yanagisawa. Please. But Not Mr. Kyuma, Evidently

Speaking of Hakuo Yanagisawa, the Health and Labor Minister, his gaffe is, policy-wise, far less serious than the Defense Minister's misstatements on the US bases in Okinawa and, of perhaps less import, expression of his opposition to the war on Iraq. After all, Mr. Yanagisawa's inopportune words will not affect what the Abe administration will or won't try to do on the demographic issues, whereas Mr. Kyuma has given resisters in Okinawa ammunition to further complicate the relocation of the bases, as well as cast doubt in the minds of the Bush administration about the seriousness of Japan's commitment on security issues.

But Mr. Yanagisawa managed to enrage half the eligible voters in the July Upper House elections, and seriously embarrassed the other half. Mr. Kyuma's thoughts also happen to reflect popular sentiment here, and the opposition parties have no quarrel there either.

As of this day, Mr. Yanagisawa is hanging on only because the Abe administration believes, with some justification, that it cannot jettison yet another cabinet member without possibly fatally depleting its rapidly dwindling political capital. The LDP itself seems to be divided, with the Upper House, half of them facing elections, demanding his head, while the Lower House is sitting on its hands.

This is a true dilemma for the Prime Minister Abe. Barring a clear victory for the LDP in the July election, it is now hard to see his legacy being anything other than one of a short-lived, not-ready-for-primetime administration.

This, according to the Jan. 31 Yomiuri, is what Mr. Yanagisawa said in Matsuyama, on the 27th:

"According to the science of demographics, in the case of women, the 15-50 age group (blog note: In Japan, a female cannot marry until she is 16, and the age of consent is 18. So, Mr. Yanagisawa, in speaking of a 15-50 age group, strictly speaking, is advocating something illegal.) are the people who will have babies(blog note: Mr. Yanagisawa uses a somewhat awkward honorific locution for "will have babies"). When you consider the people who will be 30 in 2030, they are 7, 8 years old now. They are already born. I shouldn't be using the term child-bearing machines, but the number of such devices is already determined. (blog note: One is left wondering what will have happened to the 15 (16? 18?)-30 year old crowd?) I'm truly sorry for saying machines. I apologize for saying machines. So these people, to whom the child-bearing role belongs, will have to exert themselves of us per head [by bearing a given number of children each]."

This is even worse than John Kerry's botched joke, where he managed to sleepwalk through the opening lines, looked at his cheat card, then flubbed the punch line. At least Mr. Kerry inadvertently told a larger, if partial, truth about war.