Wednesday, July 30, 2008

China Dumps Gold Medalists from Olympics “for Political Reasons”

Actually, China Dumps Gold Medalists from Olympics “for Political Reasons” is just the headline from the Daily Telegraph report. DT starts hedging immediately with the lead, where it inserts “allegedly”.

Read on, and you find that, aside from citing a China Daily article that purportedly alleged that “politics had played a part”, the article mentions only one case that remote suggests a non-athletic reason for exclusion, where a gold medalist diver was not called back to the national team after he had been thrown off in 2005 for being too liberal in accepting commercial endorsements. A public romance gone bad with another diver who did make her way back also appears to have been a factor in the decision. Team chemistry, anyone?

DT does quote Susan Bushnell, who knows more about Chinese sports than the entire DT staff apparently knows about China:

The situation is different from in the United States, where you simply have to finish in the top three in your discipline to qualify.
"Whenever you have athletes appointed by coaches you get accusations of politics and it has happened before in China."
However she said the motives for the cuts would be "to win more medals - I can't imagine that they would choose an inferior team because of politics".

But this, as well as plausible explanations by Chinese figures, are pushed to the end of the article.

I know, China bashing sells. But DT is showing a sheep’s head to sell dog meat. Isn’t that what “vernacular tabloids” do?

Can anyone tell me what the China Daily actually said? I don’t trust some “foreign staff” with an agenda.

TIME Has “Mature” Readership?

It may not be there anymore when you look. Then again, maybe it will. After all, the article has… staying power.

As of July 30, 16:34 Japan Time, the Elder Porn story about a 74-year-old porn actor in Japan placed 8th among the articles most frequently read by readers. What’s remarkable about this feat is that the article, posted on June 17, is more than a month old. By contrast, the next oldest article in the TIME Top 10 was posted on July 24, less than a week ago.

ADD July 31: I changed the first link to the article itself. It is down to number 10 as of 12:22PM.

Mr. Gallegos Speaks Out on the Liancourt Rocks

The following is an excerpt from the July 28 U.S. State Department press briefing by Gonzalo R. Gallegos, Acting Deputy Spokesman:

QUESTION: My question is about Liancourt Rocks. Last week, the Board on Geographic Names changed the name of the country that Liancourt Rocks belonged to - from South Korea or oceans to undesignated sovereignty. Did the State Department give any guidelines to the BGN when they made that decision, like as the State Department did in 1977 when the BGN changed the name of the island from Dokdo, the Korean name, to Liancourt Rocks?

MR. GALLEGOS: I appreciate the question. Somebody posed it at the gaggle this morning, and I have more thorough guidance for you today. And I think it's going to be best if I read through it, because it states clearly that the U.S. position for decades has been to not take a position regarding the sovereignty of the islands in question. As we've said in the past, the question of the sovereignty of these islets is for Japan and Korea to resolve peacefully between themselves. We do not take a position on Korea's claim or Japan's claim to the islands. It's a long-standing dispute, which the two sides have handled with restraint in the past, and we expect that they will continue to do so. We'd welcome any outcome agreed to by both Korea and Japan.

In terms of the name the classification, which you asked about specifically, U.S. position - our position has for decades, and I repeat, been not to take a position regarding the sovereignty, and to use the name Liancourt Rocks to refer to the islands. The placement of Liancourt Rocks under the Board of Geographic Names file designation of undesignated sovereignty has no bearing on the USG's position, which has not changed. The refiling was done to be in conformity with U.S. Government efforts to standardize the filing of all features to which we do not recognize claims of sovereignty. The change to the website does not represent a change in U.S. policy, but rather an action to ensure consistency with that policy.

QUESTION: Did the State Department - was the State Department aware that the BGN would change the classification from South Korea or oceans to undesignated sovereignty?

MR. GALLEGOS: Well, renewed interest in this issue has prompted U.S. Government entities to independently check to make sure that their internal filing and designations regarding these islets are consistent with our policy, so –


QUESTION: Just to qualify that, was there any communication with either Japanese or South Korean Governments before the change?

MR. GALLEGOS: I couldn't tell you.

And who wants to know?

ADD: I have been informed that the reporter who popped the question at the morning gaggle (that is the official name of the event, the likely equivalent of the Japanese burasagari) was a Korean.

No comment.

Monday, July 28, 2008

What Norimitsu Onishi Missed on the “Pub Taxis”

This is a little too inside-baseballsy for my confort. I prefer to work with open source information. Also, it skirts the edges of my previous incarnation, and I’ve tried my damndest to keep this blog free of my personal life. However, if even seasoned Japan hands can succumb to the endless pounding on the national bureaucracy and fall into the thrall of the conventional wisdom and popular tropes generated by the media, mainstream and otherwise, then I can only guess what the rest of the world out there is thinking—or not—about the pub-taxi caper. And I think I’ve done enough deducing to make this something more than just a trust me, I know screed. But you decide.

The Japanese media and I have already already told you that it was the NCOs and grunts who partook of the pleasures of the “pub taxis”. Am I then suggesting that, compared to the mandarin elite of the Japanese bureaucracy, the NCOs and grunts are somehow less ethical and thus more susceptible to seduction by enterprising taxi owner-drivers? Nothing of the sort. Let me explain.

The kind of taxi driver who works the institutional client beat on his late-nightshift will not cruise the streets, looking for the stray drunk. Instead, he parks his car at wireless hotspots along with dozens of his competitors, hoping to be the first to respond to the dispatcher when a call comes in his territory. (If you’ve been wondering what that long line of taxis was doing on a peculiar bend on that exit ramp, well, now you know.)

Now calls from institutional clients tend to be lumpy, to come in waves. Take, for example, the bureaucracy—a bureaucrat rarely works alone on budgets, legislation, or tending to parliamentary affairs. Imagine the intra- and inter-ministerial ramifications of a Ministry of Finance deputy director working on the budget deciding to call it a day, er, night. This, together with the fact that he can only work so many hours on consecutive days before his body breaks down—and in competition with other taxi drivers answer to that same dispatcher—means that, over the long run, he can work only a few clients, say two, three, four at most, before he has to call it a night.* Woe betide the taxi driver who is stuck on his last ride of the day with a 2000 yen client (as well the poor 2000 yen client who has to suffer through the simmering rage of his sullen driver). This means that there is a huge incentive for taxi drivers to try to cheat the dispatch system by setting up a network of a limited number of taxi drivers and very long-distance clients.

This is where the NCOs and grunts come in. The non-elite obviously draw smaller salaries, and tend to marry into less wealthy families. This means that when they manage to save enough money to buy a house, they have to live further away from the office than the elite officials. (I’ve heard of two-hour (one-way!) commutes.) This must have been a particularly serious problem during the bubble years. But the plight of these men was a boon to the enterprising owner-drivers who dreamed up the scheme. The ultra-long-distance commuters were discreetly recruited, and the fun began.

Alas, good things don’t last forever. Anomalies are detected, the authorities alerted. Game over.

Incidentally, it is not surprising that it was single-car owner-drivers who set this up. Turnover means that corporate taxi drivers have a hard time building the kind of mutual trust necessary to create and maintain such a scheme. Moreover, a corporate business structure would have made the circumvention easier to detect.

* A corporate taxi driver has even less control over his working hours, which would complicate things for him, even if he could take part in such a scheme. But this is a somewhat subsidiary point


You win some, you lose some; how it looks depends on where you’re coming from—Tokyo, or...

Toronto? Incidentally, I can’t reach the GEOnet Names Server (GNS). Could it be under a denial-of-service attack? Let us know if you get through.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Love Trains, East-West

So much for New York's version of Denshaotoko.

Media Stories: Mark Schreiber and Norimitsu Onishi

WaiWai Revisited: a follow-up to this post*

PS recently told me that Japan Times carried columns by Mark Schreiber that cover more or less the same sleaze-and-tease stuff as WaiWai but hadn’t caught any flak from the Japanese blogosphere. I looked up Mr. Schreiber on the Internet and sure enough, 2 Channel posters have been mentioning him in the same breath with the ill-fated Ryan Connell. (Read this thread if you need to know more.) However, there are significant differences between the two cases that lead me to believe that JT and by extension Mr. Schreiber will survive any public onslaught, online or otherwise. Read on if you are interested.

First of all, Mr. Schreiber is only one of three writers whom produce one item each for the weekly JTfeature and offending item Tokyo Confidential. I don’t have the time to be determine whether or not Mr. Schreiber is the singular sex maniac that the Channel 2 denizens make him out to be. But the triad appears to be producing summaries of a wide range of articles, the majority having decidedly non-sexual themes. I think that they depict a reasonable cross-section of the material found in Japanese shukanshi weekly media. Which brings me to my second point…

TC sports a very strong disclaimer:

"Tokyo Confidential summarizes articles appearing in vernacular tabloids. The views expressed herein do not reflect those of The Japan Times, nor can we vouch for the veracity of the contents."

Now compare that with the Mainichi disclaimer:

"WaiWai stories are transcriptions of articles that originally appeared in Japanese language publications. The Mainichi Daily News cannot be held responsible for the content of the original articles, nor does it guarantee their accuracy. Views expressed in the WaiWai column are not necessarily those held by the Mainichi Daily News or the Mainichi Newspapers Co."

Note the difference between JT’s "vernacular tabloids" and the MDN reference to "Japanese language publications". Vernacular tabloids cover the territory between The Sun/National Enquirer and Weekly World News. In fact, although JT does have its dosage of Shukan Jitsuwa reports, it also carries summaries from more sober weeklies such as the Yomiuri Weekly and Spa!. The media groups that control these publications alongside mainstream dailies and broadcasting networks would bristle if they realized that their publications were being put in the same basket as the sleaze-and-tease publications like Shukan Jitsuwa or Shukan Taishu or that little-known Ryan Connell favorite Nakkuru. MDN by contrast obscured, deliberately or not, the nature of its generally seamier samples.

Third, a stand-alone, English-language publication should be far less vulnerable to this kind of pressure than a mainstream, full-service media group. A boutique publisher, JT can afford to be more adventurous. Controversy can help more than it hurts.

Thus, armed with a more powerful if somewhat exaggerated disclaimer, and nestled in a triptych by a couple of presumably less priapic writers, Mr. Schreiber is in the clear. With little or no corporate exposure to the Japanese-language market, JT can keep taking that to the bank.

* I think that you’ll find the ongoing dialog to be of interest, even if you’ve already read my original post.

Norimitsu Onishi Slips in Another One on the “Pub Taxis”

First of all, let me say that I respect and enjoy Mr. Onishi’s work. His sympathy for his favorite subjects—loners, losers, outcasts—gives his offbeat stories a charm that the run-of-the-mill, Japan-is-weird report lacks. But his latest piece on DPJ crusader Akira Nagatsuma and the “pub taxi” scandal portrays sterner stuff. To quote:

Mr. Nagatsuma, 48, has become the nation’s chief muckraker. He again grabbed front-page headlines recently by exposing the widespread practice among elite bureaucrats of using taxpayers’ money to take taxis home at night, and accepting drinks, gifts and even cash as kickbacks from drivers looking for repeat fares. The revelations surrounding the “pub taxis”, as they became known*, made him an even more feared figure among bureaucrats. And they elevated his standing among voters who first heard of him last year when he uncovered widespread bureaucratic mishandling of the national pension records.

Now, being the target of an investigation by Akira Nagatsuma, the reporter turned DPJ crusader, is about as painful as its get for the bureaucracts in his crosshairs, so, as a former bureaucrat, I may be getting a little sensitive here. But: “elite bureaucrats”? Anyone with an eye on the Japanese media should have known that it was the non-elites—the grunts and NCOs—of the Japanese bureaucracies who had been availing themselves of the largess. There, Mr. Onishi would have found a fascinating story about a small group of entrepreneurial non-corporate taxi drivers trying to survive in an oversaturated taxi market. Dig a little deeper and he probably would have been able to write a story about a different group little guys, this time in the bureaucracy.

I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt; I’ll take it on faith that he did not just make it up when he used the word “elite” without any source whatsoever. Yet he clearly would not have done so without some preconceptions about the subject of his story—preconceptions that fit his visceral attachment to the underdog. And this would not be the first time that he has tweaked the facts to better fit his narrative.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Koizumi Favored in Metropolitan Tokyo

…for your amusement…

Last month, the Fuji TV network inexplicably dropped Junichiro Koizumi from its list of potential successors to Prime Minister Fukuda in its telephone poll of 500 adults in Metropolitan Tokyo. This month, Mr. Koizumi is back in the July 17 poll, barely nipping Taro Aso 17.8% to 17.4%. Ichiro Ozawa is a distant third at 11.3%. Overall, 52.2% opted for LDP Prime Ministers while 20.8% chose the opposition. The tabloid-favored candidate Yuriko Koike came in seventh (at 2.6%) among the 14 listed names.

In the July 10 poll, 14.7% preferred an LDP-led administration, 26.8% a DPJ-led administration, and 33.7% an LDP-DPJ Grand Coalition. 19.5% wanted a third-force administration (pox on both houses?), while 5.3% did not indicate any preferences.

Going back to the July 17 poll, the 500 broke 29.6% for the DPJ, 21.4% LDP, 3.6% Communist Party, 3.0% Komeito (giving the current coalition 25%), 0.8% for the Social Democrats, and 0.4% for independents and others, while 1.0% said that they would not vote. That left 40.2% undecided. This is how it’s looked for months.

More on Online Japanese-Politics Resources

An email from Anna S. responding to a recent proposal of mine has put in my head the notion of a dual-language website that pulls together all sorts of online sources for information on Japanese politics, a one-stop shopping place for researchers, journalists, and the just-plain-curious crowd like me. Is anyone aware of such a thing? I have no intention of reinventing the wheel. I know that there are pages and pages on the subject in Wikipedia, but I want an accessible, easy-to-use, pure-source online inventory.

Friday, July 25, 2008

And Now from Some Comic Relief from the US Space Program

Moon-walker claims alien contact cover-up

Seriously, I’m much closer in age to Dr. Mitchell than I am to you, so I’m thinking, one of these days… hey, what’s that light in the sky?

Can the DPJ Wrest the Progressive-Regressive Mantle from the LDP?

There are many possible outcomes to the next Lower House general election, and the eventual shape of the emerging regime—anything from a continuation of the Fukuda adminstration to a single-party, Ozawa Cabinet—as well as the resultant policy directions are so varied that it will be a waste of my time and yours to indulge in speculations in the here and now. I did look at some numbers in the last two Lower House elections, but that did little more than to confirm that the Koizumi victory in 2005 was first and foremost an urban, progressive phenomenon. That may not be news to you, but I’m posting this anyway, since I spent a godly amount of time on it. I did figure out some of the basics of the Excel spreadsheet, so all was not lost.

Enough with the digressions.

Japan is no exception to the rule that the left does better in urban elections. The power of the old Socialists—once the main, if eternal, opposition—and Communists as well as the horde of kakushin governors and mayors that once graced the political landscape was concentrated in the metropolitan centers like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kanagawa. The DPJ has tried with to assume that reformist role, with an added dash of realism that the Socialists never managed to muster until it went overboard under its only Prime Minister Tomichi Murayama. It has seen its greatest electoral success in the 2001 and 2007 Upper House elections.

The DPJ has been less successful in the Lower House. Although it gained further credibility from the results of the 2003 Lower House election, it ran into the Koizumi juggernaut in 2005 when the LDP usurped the opposition’s prerogative and successfully ran against itself. Let’s take a look back on the past to see if I can find anything to shed light on the upcoming Lower House election.

First, let’s look at the single-seat districts in the metropolitan centers, taking the ten most populous provinces (from north to south: Hokkaido, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Tokyo, Shizuoka, Aichi, Osaka, Hyogo, and Fukuoka) as a proxy. This Top 10 currently holds 148 single-seat districts (up from 147 in the 2003 election), or almost one-half of the 300 available nationwide.

In the 2003 Lower House general election, the DPJ won 73 of the 147 single-seat districts in the Top 10, while the LDP only managed to capture 61. Its then-coalition partners Komeito and the Conservatives won 7 and 3 seats respectively, while 3 independents supporting the ruling coalition also won, so the ruling coalition did manage to maintain a razor-thin 74-to-73 edge over the DPJ*.

The national tally was a different story, with LDP 168, Komeito 9, and Conservatives 4 for a total of 181 for the ruling coalition against DPJ 105 and others 3 for a total of 108 for the opposition. In the non-Top 10 provinces, the ruling coalition trounced the DPJ 107 to 32.

Fast forward to the 2005 Lower House general election. This time, the ruling coalition won the Top Ten by the incredible margin of 122 (LDP 114, Komeito 8) to the DPJ’s 24. That was a 97-seat turnaround from the 2003 election. The national tally was 227 (219, 8) to 52, a 175-seat margin, which meant that the non-Top Ten margin was 78, a figure very close to the 2003 edge of 75. The battle for the conservative mantle between the Post-Office rebels and their assassins must have helped a few DPJ candidates squeak through, but it is clear that the DPJ lost the 2005 election first and foremost in the Top Ten provinces—my proxy for the metropolitan centers. The boondocks vote appears to have been far more consistent, although the existence of reelected independents among the Post Office rebels complicates the issue looking ahead—11 have since been readmitted to the LDP and one votes with the coalition.

In order to win the next Lower House general election, the DPJ must not only win back the vast floater vote in the metropolitan centers, but also some of the conservative voters who have consistently voted for the LDP. The first task—reversing the 2005 debacle—looks fairly easy as of now. The typical urban floater is a progressive. The floater wants change. Change won the 2005 election for Mr. Koizumi, change boosts Osaka Governor Hashimoto’s popularity into the 80-percentile range. The public perception of the ruling coalition’s ineptitude and indifference is such that the DPJ is likely to be able to reverse the 2005 results and more by merely being the not-the-LDP.

Prime Minister Fukuda’s poll numbers are all stuck in the low thirties and the twenties, including the one metropolitan poll taken weekly and publicly available, and nothing looks likely to lift his prospects significantly between now and September 2009, when the current term for the Lower House members expires.. The LDP shares his misery, yet no one in the LDP is mounting a serious challenge to his leadership, such that it is. All we hear are a cacophony of voices pointing in many directions—the LDP itself looks just as bad as Mr. Fukuda, if not worse. Thus, DPJ’s prospects are much brighter than in 2003, when it managed to maintain much of the momentum that it gained in the 2001 Upper House election victory.

However, knocking off incumbents in the more provincial districts will be a much harder task. There is much more inertia in the boondocks, a greater sense of loyalty. Indeed some DPJ elders are themselves beneficiaries of this electoral conservatism. It is in the context of this electoral necessity that boondoggle proposals such as the trillion-yen giveaway to smallholder farmers, the termination of the gasoline-tax surcharge, and the reversion of the old-age medical care system can best be understood. The tactical decision to back the People’s New Party’s demands to revisit the privatization of the Post Office system conveniently fits into this retrogressive strategy for the less-urbanized electoral districts.

Will this urban-rural, progressive-retrogressive straddle work? After all, the LDP has been playing that game much longer than the DPJ. Specifically, will the DPJ be able to win a majority without help from the Komeito or LDP dissidents? Your guess is at least as good as mine**.

* Note that Komeito (as well as the Conservatives, now merged into the LDP) carried those single-seat districts only because the LDP threw its support in those districts. This is important to remember when considering post-election realignment possibilities.

** The 81 first-term members, the Koizumi Kids, are considered the ripest for picking. However, the effect of eventual losses among their ranks can be exaggerated. The most vulnerable ones lost their single-seat elections but slipped in by way of the proportional districts or hadn’t stood for election in a single-seat district in the first place. They will next be standing in single-seat districts with opposition (usually DPJ) incumbents. In net terms, they will be part of a relatively small drop-off in the LDP proportional seat representation, since overall swing in proportional district representations is by nature much smaller than the single seat swing. To gauge their vulnerability and the net effect of their eventual election results requires a careful examination of individual circumstances. (Don’t they all…)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Woulda, Coulda, Shouldn’a? No.1 Foreign Policy Priority in a Gore Administration

From Reuters: Lieberman praises pastor repudiated by McCain:

Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who frequently campaigns with McCain, said pastor John Hagee's support for Israel outweighed the remarks that led McCain to reject his endorsement.

Hagee has written that events in the Middle East point to an imminent apocalypse Christians should welcome, and in several books envisions a climactic battle in Israel leading to the second coming of Jesus.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Japan Is No.3 (for U.S. Echo Boomers)

The Harris Interactive released the results of its annual U.S. poll on top vacation destinations. Specifically, it put the following question to 2,454 U.S. adults:

If you could spend a vacation in any country in the world, outside the United States, and you would not have to worry about the cost, what one country would you choose?

Italy tops the list, followed by Australia (after 11 years at the No.1 spot), Great Britain, France, Ireland, Greece, and… Japan. Rounding out the top 1o were Germany, Canada, Spain, New Zealand, Switzerland, Mexico, Bahamas, and Jamaica, in that order.

Japan’s owes its surprising seventh-place finish to Echo Boomers, age 18-31, who ranked Japan No.3., just behind Italy and Great Britain. By contrast, Ireland, which did note even place in the top 15, and overall NO.12 Switzerland finished 4th and 5th respectively among the Matures, or 63 and over generation.

It’s not hard to guess what’s drawing these youngsters to Japan. Hint: It ain’t Tokyo Disneyland, and it ain’t Fujiyama. That it’s an online poll also must have boosted Japan’s numbers.

ADD 24 July: Eschatron bares all, and I give my two bit’s worth on the reasons for Japan’s third-place finish. Like I've said before, the comments are funner than the posts.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Middle School Girl and Brown Bear: One-off Homage to Late, Great WaiWai

You can't beat the headline:

Stop It! Middle School Girl Mistakes Brown Bear for Little Sister, Repels It with Kicks.

BeatTop that, Gogo Yubari!

Yukio Hatoyama Calls for Three-Year Window and Sequencing

I’ve already talked about the “emergent realism in the DPJ”. Now, Yukio Hatoyama, who has been the perfect deputy to DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa, is saying with regard to the next election manifest that it is “important to show the public as clearly as possible what we will do one, two, three years after we assume power”.

Give them three year for a chance to prove that they can get it done? Sounds to me like a reasonable request. Some of the things that are sure to be on the manifest are pretty nutty. But what of the alternative?

Some Thoughts on the WaiWai Incident

RD sent me Japanese set the blogs on 'sleazy Australian' writer, an article by Justin Norrie, a correspondent from The Age. Please read it before you read on; thank you.


There are a few significant inaccuracies and omissions in Mr. Norrie’s report. Let me explain.

[T]housands of posters have flooded chat sites to decry the "sleazy Australian journalist" who they feel has deliberately besmirched Japan's image around the world.

Is Mr, Norrie sure of his figures? The anger has been directed mainly at the Mainichi newsgroup and the Mainichi Daily News in particular, and much of the anger directed against Ryan Connell does not turn on his actual intent. I do understand the article’s focus on the Australian journalist though; The Age is an Australian newspaper.

The piece, [which cited a Japanese magazine article about a restaurant where patrons allegedly have sex with animals before eating them,] caught the attention of a blogger called "mozu", whose angry post was soon picked up by 2channel, a huge, fractious web forum popular with Japan's hot-headed conservative element..

Actually, the blogger formerly known as Mozu (now going by the name Mozu@ to distinguish him/herself from other Mozus) provided a thoughtful, restrained post on his blog Mozu no Saezuri (Warbling of the Shrike) that questioned the decision by the mainstream Mainichi Daily News English webpage to provide English-language digests of sleazy articles from Japanese tabloids, expressed the fear that the reports would form overseas opinion among readers who might accept them uncritically, and chastised Mainichi for its continued failure to ignorerespond to his/her complaints. As for the story about the bestiality restaurant, it appears in a post on the blog néomarxisme—an excellent Japan-themed blog by produced W. David Marx—which Mozu@ translated and quoted in its entirety. The story was material to Mozu@’s post, but only as part of a testimony that provided added insight into how WaiWai affected perceptions overseas. Finally, Mozu@ is one of the most well-read and intelligent people I’m aware of, online or off-. Anger management would be the last of items to appear on his list of personal needs. Mr. Norrie obviously wrote this on hearsay.

There it triggered an explosion of bile and culminated in a co-ordinated attack on Connell, his family, the Mainichi and its sponsors, some of which have dropped advertising estimated to be worth millions of yen.

Mr. Norrie appears to be referencing a couple of wiki sites here and here when he writes of “a coordinated attack”. But the two wiki sites are actually restrained, informative, and well-designed, and the only personal information there on Ryan Connell pertinent to this story is that he has a Japanese wife. No doubt there must have been many attacks on these people and institutions, many of them ad hominem and some of them threatening physical harm. But to call the entire outcry “a coordinated attack” obliterates the chasm between the worst of the anonymous raving and ranting on the 2 Channel forum (to be fair, the wiki sites encouraged use of 2 Channel as one vehicle for protests*) and the legitimate criticism rained on Mainichi and the deputy editor of its English webpage and virtual WaiWai proprietor Mr. Connell.

Which brings me back to the first point. Read through to the end of Mr. Norrie’s report, and there is nothing to suggest that he is even remotely aware of Mozu@’s original question. Mr. Norrie ignores the constraints imposed by the lack of knowledge about the language and culture of his place of work and does nothing to compensate. As a result, he misrepresents pertinent facts and fails to address the key issue. Overall, he appears to be falling prey to the Myth of the Right-Wing Monolith,

And now, a really small quibble:

There are many WaiWai stories, such as the one about mothers who pleasure their sons to stop them from chasing girls at the expense of school work.

There are many WaiWai stories… that what?

I happen to think that Mr. Connell is a fine writer. Mr. Connell, as anyone who has seen his WaiWai work knows, has a fluid style and a gift for eye-catching headlines that should be easily transferrable from the rough-and-tumble sleaze and tease of the WaiWai tabloid world to the more stately pages of mainstream media. He is also fluent in Japanese. Come to think of it, perhaps The Age should replace Mr. Norrie with him. Even better, he won’t need an expensive ex-pat compensation package.

My take on the WaiWSai site is that it was something that Mainichi should never have gotten into. Imagine The New York Times producing a Japanese-language online edition and devoting much of its resources to producing a webpage filled with digests of the sleazier reports from, at best, the New York Post to, at worst, The Weekly World News and everything in between.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Six-Fold Jump in Priority Spending Will Not Change the Narrative for Fukuda Administration

The media reported today that Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga has indicated that the Fukuda administration will expand the Budgetary Provision to Promote Prioritization (BPPP) (Juutennka Sokushin Kasan Waku) for the FY 2009 General Budget to 300 billion Yen, up from 50 billion yen in FY 2008. Sounds impressive? But the real significance of this message is that the Fukuda administration will not be conducting a serious overhaul of government expenditures, and therefore will be unable to make a strong case that a consumption tax hike is justified as part of a thoroughgoing tax reform package. I believe that this more or less reinforces my 4 June assessment of the prospects for the Fukuda administration and the ruling coalition. Let me explain.

First, a few facts about the General Budget. Of the 83.1 trillion yen in total expenditures for FY 2008, 20.1 trillion yen go to servicing the government debt while 15.6 trillion yen cover mandatory transfers to local governments. Of the remaining 47.3 trillion yen—called general expenditures—21.8 trillion yen fill the gap between social security (public pension, healthcare/medical insurance) premiums and expenditures. Further subtract civil servant salaries and other overhead, and the Japanese government is left with about 15 trillion yen that are considered discretionary.

Every year, usually in August*, the administration imposes by Cabinet decision overall and ministry/agency-specific ceilings on the following year’s General Budget expenditures. Each ministry/agency gets more or less the same share each year, after accounting for 1% reductions in defense and education expenditures respectively and the annual 3% reduction in public works and other discretionary expenditures. The Koizumi administration initiated this mandatory reduction process. The Fukuda administration persists despite grumbling from the party rank-and-file.

The ceiling-cum-pro-rata-reductions are an effective way to reduce government borrowing. But the rigidity of the system makes it difficult for any administration to implement policy initiatives of its own. The BPPP is an attempt to overcome this defect by setting aside funds to allocate to priority issues over and beyond the individual ceilings.

For FY 2009, if all goes well, the Ministry of Finance will be allocating 300 billion yen to the Fukuda administration’s priority issues—eliminating the doctor shortage, combating climate change, developing next-generation technology—over and above the budgetary ceilings imposed on each ministry and agency by Cabinet agreement on 29 July. That sounds like a lot of spending money for Prime Minister Fukuda, until you remember that it’s only one five-hundredth of the 83 trillion yen FY 2008 General Budget. And how will the Fukuda administration come up with the 300 billion yen? According to reports, Mr. Nukaga intends to impose an across-the-board 2% cut on the entire 15 trillion yen in discretionary expenditures, including the up-till-now untouchable R&D expenditures.

So, the Fukuda administration will be able to reduce discretionary expenditures by a little less than 300 billion yen, and reshuffle 300 billion more between ministries/agencies, if all goes according to plan,. So, this is the expenditures overhaul that will serve as the backdrop to the “thoroughgoing tax reform” that Prime Minister Fukuda has promised for this autumn. “Thoroughgoing tax reform”, of course, is a euphemism for “raising the consumption tax” to cover a legally mandated two and a half trillion yen hike in the General Budget subsidy to the national pension system starting in FY2009. Do you see the Japanese public buying this? I don’t.

On the other side of the political aisle, the DPJ has been talking down expectations in the face of the 18 trillion yen price tag on its policy manifest and subsequent on-the-fly promises. Ozawa’s kagemusha Kenji Yamaoka and dissident Seiji Maehara were both on message today, as they appeared together to talk about the time it will take to implement the DPJ manifest and its future incarnations, as they root out the multi-trillion excesses accumulated over the years under the LDP-Komeito regime. Translation? Don’t hold us to any timetable.

Flip-flopping? Sort of. But I suspect that the emergent realism in the DPJ will be reassuring to the independent voter and will compare favorably to a ruling coalition that is unable to change its ways.

Vending Machine Wear Saga Continues

Do you remember when Martin Fackler filed a dead-serious report on vending machine camouflage wear for urban women? Aya Tsukioka, the artist who fooled the New York Times reporter, is at it again. Sankei reports on her latest work, a performance art collaboration with Puma. The act runs through Monday, in the Shibuya neighborhood.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Be Careful What You Wish for: The Oita Prefecture Education Scandal

The publicly elected local boards of education, established at the prefectural and municipal levels, comprised one of the more ambitious initiatives taken by Douglas MacArthur and his General Headquarters staff in their wholesale effort to democratize Japan. But political considerations—the then-powerful national teachers’ union took a strongly pacifist-socialist stance—plus public disinterest led to legislation in the 1956 Diet to abolish the electoral system and turn the appointment of the board members over to governors and mayors. The real day-to-day power over the local public education system quickly passed into the hands of the superintendent*, one of the top posts in the local bureaucracy (the superintendent is also a member of the board), and his/her (usually his) staff. And there they toiled mostly in obscurity, barring the occasional corruption case and other isolated incidents… until the Oita bribery charges.

This 17 July Yomiuri report gives a fairly good overview of the education scandal in Oita Prefecture, where for many years top education officials had been heavily altering the results of recruitment tests in order to allow unqualified applicants to be accepted as schoolteachers**. They accepted money and other gifts from the grateful. Some promotions appear to have been similarly tainted. Political pressure also may have worked its magic. The scandal has received extended national attention, partly because little else of import is going on domestically, the Diet having shut down for the summer and no major acute disasters, anthropogenic or otherwise, assaulting the archipelago.

When the scandal first broke out, I had suspicions that irregularities in the hiring of teachers were the rule, Oita Prefecture not the exception. For I remembered hearing on more than one occasion when I was in college that it was near impossible to be hired as a fulltime schoolteacher unless you had kone, or “connections”. I refrained from blogging about the scandal, though, because many years had gone by since then, and I did not have any reliable source of information regarding the current situation beyond Oita Prefecture.

No more. According to the Yomiuri, 35 out of the 64 prefectural and special city education boards—each responsible for the recruitment exams in its area—regularly gave out individual test results to local politicians and their operatives before the applicants were notified. True, there are no accusations of influence peddling beyond the Oita case. However, the only way that I could make use of such information would be to notify successful applicants before they received the information through official channels so that they would believe that I had some influence on the results. Correct me if I’m wrong, but people do not go to such lengths just to create the illusion of importance. There may not be any more fires, but there’s certainly a lot of smoke.

How far and wide does the whiff of corruption extend beyond the education sector? I am not even close to an answer to that question. But in the meantime, let me give you one easily accessible piece of information. Seven out of the 47 governors currently in office succeeded incumbents who resigned as the result of scandals****. In fact, four of their immediate predecessors were arrested and indicted for bribery and related crimes*****. That’s an 8.5% crime rate, well above that of Cabinet Ministers and Administrative Vice-Ministers. In fact, the prefectural governor’s office must be one of the most—if not the most—crime-prone occupations in Japan.

The DPJ and reformists of many colors in the LDP want to turn more money and power over to the locals, and there’s certainly a plausible political case to be made for this. But there’s a nice bridge waiting to be sold to anyone who thinks perforce that corruption will go down and efficiency will go up as the result.

* The English-language media refers to the superintendent as “head of the board’s office” (correct; Asahi) or “head of the…board” (wrong; Yomiuri). I believe that “superintendent” best describes the role Asahi’s describes the role of kyoikucho, the top bureaucrat/administrator in the local education system.

** Other national media outlets are also reporting this extensively, but Yomiuri appears to be the most extensive and long-lived source among the English-language sources.

*** 17 cities designated by Cabinet Order assume many of the powers otherwise assumed by prefectures.

**** Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Ibaragi, Miyazaki, Saitama, and Wakayama Prefectures.

***** Fukushima, Ibaragi, Miyazaki, and Wakayama. The reason for the resignation of the other three: sexual harassment, political financing irregularities (the governor’s daughter was arrested and indicted), and massive misuse of government funds by the bureaucracy.

Anybody Interested in Compiling a List of All the Official Websites/Blogs of Diet Members?

I think that a list of the websites and blogs of all Diet members and other notable Japanese politicians (ex-Prime Ministers? Governors?) would be useful. As far as I am aware, no one, not here in Japan, has done it yet. I’ll do it myself if there are other people who are willing to share the workload. Any takers? It probably should be a separate website to which people could add other information, as much of it in English as possible.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Does South Korea Support North Korea’s WMD Programs?

This post is a sequel to this Takeshima/Dokto post.

The Chosun Ilbo headline Seoul ‘Could Leave Tokyo in the Cold at Six-Party Talks’ doesn’t quite say it all. To quote from the report:

South Korea’s ambassador to Japan on Thursday warned Seoul could withdraw support for Japan in negotiations with North Korea, including over the abduction of Japanese nationals by the North in the 1970s and 80s, due to Tokyo’s renewed claim to the Dokdo islets. “Seoul has traditionally given Japan a certain degree of support at the six-party talks, especially on the nuclear, missile, and abduction issues,” Kwon Chul-hyun said. But Seoul's position could change, “if public opinion and political voices at home turn against cooperation with Tokyo.”

Let’s leave aside the absurdity of the implication that South Korea can give/withhold support to Japan or anybody else in the Six-Party on issues other than “nuclear, missile, and abductees issues”. I’m not sure exactly how they’ve supported Japanese efforts on the abductees issue, but I don’t really care. I have never expected any sympathy on that subject from a government that has for a long time taken its own more substantial abductees problem off the table to avoid antagonizing the North Korean authorities. Besides, anyone who has been following my blog knows that I am not exactly supportive of the Japanese government’s efforts, albeit for very different reasons.

But “…nuclear, missile…”? The South Koreans are so pissed off that they’ll not only let the North Korean authorities keep their nuclear and missile programs, and keep them pointed at Japan?

At least we all now can be sure that South Koreans do not consider North Korea’s WMD a threat. Thanks for the clarification.

ADD: Amidst the insanity, a voice of reason—President Lee Myung-bak. President Lee called for a long-term strategy on Dokto instead of these one-off, heated responses; while the Foreign Ministry indicated that it would conduct a survey on how Takeshima/Dokto is being treated worldwide. President Lee insisted that his administration continue to cooperate closely in the Six-Party Talks with the other participants, including Japan, on North Korea’s nuclear program. Let’s hope that this does not further erode his public support.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My Response to a South Korean Perspective on Takeshima/Dokto

The other day, I heard a South Korean academic give a talk, where he touched on the most recent flare-up over the small uninhabitable island (including a few non-submerged rocks that break the surface, I understand) is known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokto in South Korea.

For those of you who are not aware of what has been going on, the Japanese decision to include a description of Takeshima as Japanese territory in official instruction material for schoolteachers has caused South Korea to call home its ambassador to Tokyo and cancel a meeting between the respective foreign ministers. The public outcry in South Korea has been substantial, sometimes bordering on the physical, though the disturbance has not been nearly as dramatic as the mass demonstrations in Seoul against the renewal of importation of U.S. beef. This is the first such incident since 2005, when Japan’s Shimane Prefectural Assembly adopted an ordinance—subordinate to but otherwise with the same legal status as national law—designating 2 February as Takeshima Day, setting off a response from the South Korean public and the Roh Moo-hyun administration.*

The academic made two points. First, the Korean public harbors the fear that Japan will use force to seize the island if the opportunity presents itself. This mistrust has its roots in Korean history both modern and ancient, and is shared by intellectuals as well (though he did not harbor such fears himself). Second, Japan should not engage in revisionism. It should not try to change the post-WW II status quo with regard to the Northern Territories, Dokto, and Senkaku (sic**).

My reaction to the oft-heard first point is always one of initial amazement and only partial ultimate comprehension. There is one thing that South Koreans must understand though. The Japanese government is making—had always made—its claims in a peaceful and lawful manner, offering to settle the matter like civilized people at the International Court of Justice. The Japanese government is able to take into consideration the effect on the overall bilateral relationship, to act more reasonably, partly because the Japanese public invests only a small fraction of its emotions in this issue compared to its South Korean public (and partly because of a sense of responsibility towards Japan’s past actions toward Korea). But the disproportionate reaction from South Korea in itself draws Japanese attention to the issue, and the resultant rise in awareness is sure to reflect negatively on South Korea in the minds of the Japanese public. After all, South Korea does have possession, and the instructional material has far harsher words for Russia without any negative reaction whatsoever. Possession under protest may not be nine-tenths of the international law, but it sure helps in the political arena.

As for the second point, revisionism is used to cover historical interpretations that challenge the accepted view of the times. But the Japanese government is not trying to reinterpret history. It has consistently upheld its claims since South Korea drew the Syngman Rhee Line in the Japan Sea in 1951 and forcibly seized Takeshima/Dokto. Even in the adulterated sense of trying to change the status quo, with threat of force if need be—was the professor trying to call the Japanese government revanchist?—it is South Korea that destroyed the status quo, so who exactly is the revisionist then?

Both sides claim Taeshima/Dokto. South Korea has possession, Japan does not. Japan offers to settle the matter in the International Court of Justice, South Korea does not. The governments and the public on both sides of the Japan Sea (South Korea insists on calling it the East Sea, but there is little international support for this change in the—status quo) continue to state their claims. This is the way that it is going to be, forever and ever, and a day.

Can I guarantee that the two nations will not come to blows over this within my lifetime? No, no more than I can guarantee that a wayward asteroid will not strike the Earth and wipe out all humanity within my lifetime. Or that a lone monkey typing away 24-7, 365 1/4 days-a-year for… But you see my point. What I can guarantee, though, is that every time South Korea takes a Japanese reiteration of its territorial claims as a national affront and allows its collective anger to erupt, that infinitesimal chance of such a thing happening grows—albeit imperceptibly.

* The South Korean response appears to have been much stronger then. The U.S. beef incident, as well as to a much, much smaller degree the North Korean shooting of a South Korean tourist, no doubt has sapped much of the negative political energy. But Prime Minister Koizumi, whose trips to Yasukuni had cast a pall on the overall bilateral relationship, is gone.

** Japan, of course, does not intend to change the status quo on the Senkaku Islands, which is already under its possession.

I try to avoid polemics on this blog, though I am often unsuccessful at it. But that particular occasion was unsuited for a proper debate on the matter. (For one thing, the session was devoted mostly to other issues, and the academic’s points came up only in a rather short Q&A.) I’ve decided to put my response here because I think that it is relevant to people who read this blog, some of whom also attended the talk.

Anonymity, Pseudonym, Identity, Individual

I’ve always wondered why so many people in liberal democracies choose to post and comment anonymously. I have nothing against consistently-used pseudonyms, even multiple ones, though I have chosen to adopt a single Internet identity under my own name. A pseudonym confers an identity on the user. The user must maintain the integrity of that persona; to the extent that its integrity is diminished, the user is proportionately diminished. An online pseudonym is analogous to a real-world! stage name adopted by entertainers. Public fickleness takes its toll on the very best; family and friends may love the individual as much as ever, but the public persona suffers, and the individual is diminished accordingly. The user suffers the consequences.

Anonymity has no such identity. There is no persona to connect the consequences—good or bad—of an expression to the individual. In principle, someone living in a liberal democracy usually does not have an ethically defensible reason to choose anonymity. If you have thoughts that you cannot share with general public, keep them to yourself, or among people that you feel safe sharing them with.

There are, of course, many cases, even in a liberal democracy, that the positive societal consequences of the disclosure of the information so outweigh the potential negative personal consequences of the disclosure of the identity that anonymity is justified. Sometimes, a comment is so inconsequential—like a catcall at a rock concert—that failing to adopt an identity for that specific occasion is trivial. In other cases, it may be nothing more than the kind of casual rudeness associated with the lack of preexisting social connections. But, so often, online anonymity breeds irresponsible, harmful, and even criminal expressions without any consequences to the persona of the originator. There is something supremely unethical about that—corrosive to the soul (if there is such thing). And with that thought I must satisfy myself.

I suppose I should be happy with any traffic, even some of it happens to be hostile, poorly-reasoned comments of the anonymous kind. However, I was prompted to gather my thoughts on this point by a particularly insidious form of anonymity that came my way, fairly recently. I began receiving on this blog a series of not-so-favorable comments anonymously and under a variety of pseudonyms, apparently from the same person. I would figure out where they were coming from—I have my ways—and indicated as much on counter-comments without exposing the originator. Eventually, while implicitly (though not outright) admitting to the fact, the originator sought to meet me and I agreed. The meeting turned out to be cordial, and we continued our correspondence. However, there were, if I remember correctly, a couple of anonymous comments on this blog later appeared, apparently from the same source. Accordingly, my correspondence became more brutal and direct, though not as potty-mouthed as that of the originator. Fortunately, a misunderstanding on the part of the originator ended the correspondence; I had referred to certain Congressional and parliamentary bodies as moral cowards with regard to certain acts and omissions of theirs and the originator took it as a personal accusation, a mistake no one who had actually been reading my blog instead of just scanning it to confirm preconceptions would have made. Which, I suppose, is the silver lining on a small if unfortunate cloud.

But why now, this moment, you may ask?

That is for me to know, and the curious to find out.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Selected Posts on Japan-China Relationship, History Issues, and the Right-wing Myth

My writing mentor is in Japan to do research for his upcoming book, and yesterday, we met for the first time. I promised to look through my blog for the posts most relevant to the points I made. It turned out to be a huge chore, so I’m posting the list here, just in case it might come in handy again. I also noticed that they, as well as many others that I omitted, tended to come in the form of critiquing the mainstream media. Just sayin’.

My writing mentor is in Japan to do research for his book, and yesterday, we met for the first time. I promised to look through my blog for the posts most relevant to the points I made. It turned out to be a huge chore, so I’m posting the list here, just in case it might come in handy again. I also noticed that they, as well as many others that I omitted, tended to come in the form of critiquing the mainstream media. Just sayin’.

1. Here is my fullest exposition to date on the convergence of Japanese and Chinese interests. I hadn’t developed the catchphrase “competitors, not antagonists” yet, but the basic argument is there.

2. Here, following the Glocom link, is a more recent manifestation of my convergence-of-interests trope in a drive-by on Jim Hoagland. There’s brief outline of the change of heart on the part of the Chinese authorities after anti-Japanese demonstrations became a threat to domestic stability. I found another post where I conjectured that Mr. Abe must have cut the deal somewhere in the spring or summer of 2006 before he became Prime Minister, but I lost the link, and I’m too pooped to look for it again."

The poisoned Chinese dumplings issue shows the two governments struggling to contain the fallout with their respective domestic constituency in mind.

2. Here, I explain that constitutional amendment is not an issue in the 2007 Upper House election.

Later, I explain how the LDP loss was not a rejection of Prime Minister Abe’s of nationalist/right-wing/conservative—your pick—politics:

3. Here, I take on the “history issue” issue. Bonus feature: diatribe on misuse of the word “Asia”.

Speaking of history…

Additions to Parliamentary Group Information

I've added some more links, all of them covering LDP faction membership.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Krispy Kreme Kraze Koming to a Klose

On 15 December 2006, Krispy Kreme, the U.S. doughnut chain, opened its first Japanese store a couple of hundred yards from the south exit of the JR Shinku Station and became an instant smash hit. For over a year, day and night, in every clime and weather, the line of customers would fold back and forth on the storefront patio originally intended for outdoor tables and chairs, then snake halfway or more across a conveniently adjacent land bridge that spans the twenty or so sets of JR railroad tracks. The waiting time at the end of the line would be somewhere between 75 minutes and 115 minutes. The figure would be posted on signboards like a Disneyland ride, one freestanding and another carried by one of a pair of Krispy Kreme ushers, and dutifully updated.

No one waits well over an hour just to grab a doughnut and a cup of joe or to use the bathroom. (Besides, unlike Manhattan, where residents routinely commit to memory the location of every Starbucks and Barnes and Noble, Shinjuku, indeed much of Metropolitan Tokyo, is stocked with publicly accessible toilets, as long as you do not look and smell like a homeless derelict, who have to make do with the less-well-maintained, truly public toilets in the parks.) Instead, they would purchase at least one large box-full, often more, to later share with family and friends.

The wave has crested. In recent weeks, the waiting line has shrunk back to the Krispy Kreme patio, and the signboards are posting 25-, 35-minute waits. The now lone usher no longer needs to carry toteboards. As early as this spring, the waiting time had begun dipping near the one-hour threshold. Still, it’s only recently that the land bridge has reverted completely to the public domain. It was a great run while it lasted. And most customers still carry away large boxes, each containing a dozen or so of the delectable hydrocarbon macro-rings.

I have never seen a food fad of this scale in my lifetime, and I do not expect to see such a one again. The year-long streak of hour-and-a-half waiting lines is a feat never to be repeated, like Ted Williams hitting 400 for the season, or Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100 points in a game. Thus, it deserves to be recorded, on this, the blog of record.

Appeal for Online, Primary-Source Information on Parliamentary Groups

I wrote this previous post on parliamentary groups as part of my efforts to dispel what I see as the myth of the right-wing nativist monolith. Here, I’m making the following appeal to respond to a broader demand for such reliable online information that the post revealed.

It is very difficult to find any online primary-source information regarding parliamentary groups, much less their membership lists. Here are a few lists that are available in Japanese. If you know of any others, please put them here; I’ll be happy to post them as a list of links. All the better if you can point us to already-available compilations. Official group websites are also welcome, even if they do not have membership lists.

Shinto Seiji Renmei (literally, Shinto Politics League; it gives itself the more generic English name Shinto Association of Spiritual Leadership): Click through to find the membership list for the parliamentary supporter group.

21 Seiki Rincho (literally, 21st Century Extraordinary Administrative Reform Council; it gives itself the acronym SECJ but I don’t know what it stands for): Click through to find the membership list for the parliamentary group for its spiritual offshoot Sentaku.

Tadashii Nippon wo Tsukuru Kai (literally, Group to Create the True Japan): This appears to be a fairly exclusive conservative group.

Seiwa Seisaku Kenkyuukai: The largest LDP habatsu, or faction; also the only one that has an official website.

I’ve found other caucuses that have websites or belong to larger movements that have their own websites. Unfortunately, none of them have parliamentary membership lists. I’m sure there are offline sources for this kind of information, though I’ve never bothered to look for them.

ADD 16 July: More faction-related resources

The Japanese-language Wikipedia page has pages for all LDP factions, each of which has a list of all the faction members. More convenient are the following charts listing all LDP members by faction, including independents. The webpages had been out of order for a while, but have come back online.
House of Representatives
House of Councilors

Taku Yamazaki’s homepage. It lists all the Diet members of the Yamazaki faction, complete with links to their homepages.

Nikai faction home page. actually a subsection of Toshihiro Nikai’s homepage. It gives the bios of all its members (two of them are not Diet members), with links to their individual homepages where available.

Annual group photos; Koumura faction. Apparently a repository for photos taken by a Koumura supporter at annual meetings of the Koumura faction. Three of the members as of 10 April 2008 were not Diet members.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Follow-Up to Iranian Missile Launch Post

Christopher speaks from personal experience that Japanese correspondents do have the language skills to conduct interviews. (He gives us a fascinating anecdote of a Japanese correspondent literally homing in on a Henry Hyde story, of all things. Which is a good argument for reading the comments as well.) And yes, he’s right, their English skills are (usually) better than the Japanese language skills of foreign correspondents in Japan. On the other hand, I have received a less charitable opinion in an email from a Washington source, which also relates this problem to difficulties in developing personal contacts. A comment from Graham, in China, on that same post, corroborates my source.* So I’m modifying my conjecture somewhat, to the following:

Japanese correspondents are generally good enough to conduct set-piece interviews but often deficient in the intercultural and language skills to wing it, or to develop personal contacts that turn into news sources. This compounds the rotation problem. I am personally aware, though, that there are people who walk that extra mile, a few of whom I consider friends. A further valid point: Few if any Japanese correspondents whatever their level of English proficiency—much less their foreign correspondent counterparts in Japan—could make do without help from the local staff.

On the relative merits of online sources and local, on-the-spot, coverage, my stateside source recognizes the usefulness of the former, but also “see[s] the benefit in a lot of cases in being on the ground, seeing, smelling, and know what is going on”. My source gives as an example the set of morning gaggles and afternoon briefings that the local staff attends assiduously. However, my source says, though, that in this specific case, AFP caught the story from a blog and wrote the newswire before “the blog [went] viral”. It’s not an either-or thing; on that, we are in agreement.

Finally, yes, I have it from unimpeachable sources that Asahi does have cable TV and that most reporters there log on to the light-speed Internet and not the Internets, which are a set of tubes that use recordings of whale mating calls to transmit information.

PS: My source adds that State Department gaggles are not transcribed, so you have to be there to get them. Otherwise, the source is cool with this post.

* ADD. July 13.

Asahi Reports on NYT Reports on Iranian Missile Launch: Shouldn’t Meta-Reporting Be Done More Cheaply?

This morning’s Asahi reports on a July 10 New York Times online report on the two near-identical photos of the Iranian missile launch; one from AFP showing four missiles in the air, the other from AP showing three in the air and another still on the ground.

Q: Why did it take a full day and-a-half to condense the fairly trivial NYT report—the Washington Post didn’t bother to run a mismatch story—when CNN had already reported later in the day (nearly a full day before Asahi posted its version on its website) a more significant story on the actual substance of the two-day missile launches*?

Asahi has a very slow connection on the Internets, and does not subscribe to cable TV.

I take note of this because it reminded me that an American asked me the other day why so much of the stateside news in the Japanese dailies is copied from the U.S. media and I didn’t have a good answer at the time. I see that the U.S. media also cites Japanese media reports from time to time. I also recognize that local reports are useful sources, not only for their content, but also as a social and political force in their own right. Meta-reporting has its own value. But Japanese media have, at least collectively, more resources on the ground in New York and Washington. My guesses:

1) Japanese reporters don’t have the foreign language skills to do interviews.
2) Their overseas assignments are too short to develop the personal contacts that enable them to generate
3) They miss the domestic kasha club system, where the political institutions, bureaucracies, business associations and other institutionalized news sources systematically feed their constituent media representatives. The English-language media, now much of their content conveniently online, are their virtual substitutes.

What do you think?

You know what? I think that the Japanese media can profitably move much of their overseas reporting home side, especially in OECD countries, and put some of the savings—my guesstimate is that a foreign correspondent takes at least two to three times as much corporate resources, financial and otherwise, to maintain and service than a domestic one—to good use by beefing up the original content generation activities in their foreign correspondence bureaus.

Incidentally, as of this morning Tokyo Time, Matt Drudge has a news flash item that I’ve copied below, after the footnote. If true, there’ll an even bigger NYT story later in the day that should have a downward impact on the oil market. Isn’t that the kind of information that online readers would appreciate?

* The CNN does mention the doctored photo, but it’s an appropriately minor point in the story.

** One of the reasons media people read Matt Drudge must be to get these leads so that they can avoid being scooped other media outlets. Then again, some of these leaks may be deliberate, to create a buzz so that their own reports attract more eyeballs and hopefully generate more revenue.

ADD. ...forgot to paste the following...

Fri Jul 11 2008 15:18:02 ET

Many of Iran's claims related to missile tests during "Great Prophet III" war games -- appear to be smoke and mirrors!

The missiles tested DID NOT not have 2,000-kilometer range, the NEW YORK TIMES is planning to report on Saturday.

Iran DID NOT launch a Shahab-3 missile, able to reach Israel.

It was an older missile that was out of production, newsroom sources tell DRUDGE.

And a video showing what appeared to be many missiles being fired -- is actually one missile, filmed from different angles!

NYT's Bill Broad is planning to quote military insiders.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Holy Parliamentary Groups, Batman!*

* Political Trivia Alert

The wonderful people toiling away on the Japanese-language Wikipedia website have come up with a comprehensive list of Japanese parliamentary groups, mostly non-partisan, that Diet members belong to. The list is by no means complete—for one, it fails to include the U.S.-Japan Parliamentary Friendship League—but it has managed to track down 238 of them. That’s almost one for every three Diet members.

The non-partisan Pekin Orinpikku wo Shiensuru Kai, or Group of Diet Members Who Support the Beijing Olympics, should have a very short shelf-life. But while it remains in existence, it boasts an impressive list of members, with Prime Minister himself as chairman. In fact, almost all the A-list politicians seem to be there, including Taro Aso of Arc of Freedom and Prosperity renown. But Shinzo Abe is conspicuous by his absence, particularly since all the other ex-Prime Ministers, including Jiang Zeming nemesis Junichiro Koizumi, are top-listed as “advisors”*. Also missing is Shoichi Nakagawa. And Takeo Hiranuma.

While we are on the trails of the right-wing nationalists, let’s take a look at the Minna de Yasukuni Jinja ni Sanpaisuru Kai, or Group of Diet Members Who Go Together to Yasukuni Shrine to Pay Respects. The Yasukuni caucus is somewhat less inclusive than the Beijing boosters, since the Communist and Socialist Parties have chosen to sit this one out. Instead, it boasts an impressive array of notable right-wing politicians such as Takeo Fukuda, Taku Yamazaki, Makoto Koga, and Sadakazu Tanigaki.

Each one of these parliamentary groups—even the Supirichuaru Giin Renmei,or Spiritual Parliamentary Group, likely more Deepak Chopra/Sylvia Brown than Mahatma Gandhi—must have its uses. Still, I cannot help but wonder if some are more equal than others, which leads me to ask myself, Which one of these would I join if I had to join one, and only one? And as my eyes finish scanning the list, the decision is a no-brainer—the Chiariidingu Suishin Giin Renmei, or Cheerleading Promotion Parliamentary League (sorry, no separate Wikipedia entry on this one), wins; it isn’t even close.

* One ex-Prime Minister, Yasuhiro Nakasono, is not a member, since he was forced into retirement under LDP rules by Mr. Koizumi.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Of Conventional Wisdom: Japan Sidelined in Six-Party Talks? Think Again. Plus, President Bush’s Interview on the Abductees

The Six-Party Talks are, needless to say, first and foremost about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, where North Korea tries to get as much food, fuel and cash and to have as many sanctions canceled as possible while giving up as little of its program as possible. But the Japanese government has insisted on using the Six-Party Talks as a means to resolving the abductees issue to the Japanese public’s satisfaction. It has refused to give any aid to North Korea without meaningful progress on the abductees issue. This has led people to claim that Japan has been sidelined from the main event. That argument, however, is at best a half-truth.

If you don’t believe me, ask yourself the following question: Would North Korea have given up any part of its nuclear program over and above what Chris Hill has negotiated if Japan had been more forthcoming with food, fuel, and cash, and easing of sanctions? You may be thinking, maybe, who knows? If you are, though, just look at South Korea. South Korea has been North Korea’s sugar daddy since Kim Dae-jung opened the Blue House coffers to his Pyongyang counterpart, well before any of this began. So has anything South Korea done had any effect on the Six-Party Talks? Even China, unwilling to see the Kim Jong Il regime collapse, is willing to turn the screw just hard enough to keep the process going, nothing more. And does anyone know what Russia is doing there?

The Six-Party Talks process is just a shell for the bilateral negotiations between a U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and North Korea. North Korea is not trading away any part of its nuclear weapons program for anything that anyone other than the United States can provide. This is because North Korea has chosen to continue to use the United States as its raison d’être, the bogeyman that the Kim Jong Il is protecting the North Korean people from. If the Japanese government had decided not to make the abductees an issue for the Six-Party Talks, it would have footed part of the food and fuel bills. Nothing more, nothing less, just like South Korea, China, and Russia. And that is all that Japan is missing out on.

Much has been made here of the fact that President Bush gave an interview to the Japanese media and talked about the abductees issue, just days before he flew over here for the Toyako Summit in Hokkaido. Message? I care. At the same time, the U.S. Ambassador in Tokyo also asked to meet the Yokotas. Message? I care.

If Mr. Bush had really wanted to do something about it, he would have talked to the U.S. media, he would have talked to the Chinese media, he would have talked to the South Korean media… Predictably, the story was completely ignored outside Japan.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Danzig-Nye Essay on “Obama’s Thinking”

Richard Danzig and Joseph Nye, two foreign policy establishment figures who have signed on to the Obama campaign, have co-produced an Asahi op-ed (English, Japanese) that gives, in the words of one of the authors quoted by Asahi's Washington bureau chief, “Obama's thinking about Japan and the U.S.-Japan alliance.” Someone wondered why Mr. Obama didn’t put his name on it. Actually, it’s simple; unlike John McCain, he hasn’t really focused on the bilateral relationship. He doesn't have anything that he's comfortable putting his name to. Short-term, it’s clearly a secondary consideration in a low-priority region, notwithstanding North Korea’s nuclear program*. I do not think that this relative lack of interest is a bad thing, though, as I have argued, sort of, before.

In fact, when Mr. Danzig and Mr. Nye turn their attention to Japan, the outcome is very much like the line that the Bush administration has been pushing. In a nutshell, they want to continue to transform the military alliance along the revised guidelines. This is no surprise, when you recall that Mr. Nye is the co-author, with Republican Richard Armitage, of the bipartisan 2000 report that laid out the framework for the Bush administration’s Japan policy.

Beyond the bilateral security relationship, the essay talks about their hopes for close cooperation on what they call “the world's most pressing challenges—halting proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, strengthening the global economy, tackling climate change, responding to global pandemics”. But that’s all really not much more than boilerplate stuff, the kind that can be tossed at any self-respecting member of the OECD. It is what the pair says on the Six-Party Talks that an uncomfortable truth for the Japanese authorities emerges. To quote:

Japan now plays a critical diplomatic and political role in the region. In the six-party talks, Tokyo supports efforts to persuade North Korea to fully and transparently abandon its nuclear weapons program and return to the Nonproliferation Treaty and IAEA safeguards. It is pressing North Korea to resolve outstanding questions about the fate of Japanese citizens abducted by the North Korean regime. And it is trying to convince North Korea to engage in a larger regional peace regime.

Our mutual efforts to use the six- party vehicle to resolve the North Korea nuclear issue have been harmed by erratic U.S. policies toward the North that have allowed it to accumulate a stockpile of plutonium sufficient to build nuclear weapons, to test a nuclear device and to resume testing of missiles.

We need closer consultations between the United States and Japan, the right mix of pressures and inducements, and direct tough-minded dialogue with North Korea to resolve all the issues included in the six-party process and to prevent the slide since 2001 from continuing.

Did you notice that working on North Korea’s nuclear program is referred to as a collective effort, while the abductees issue is tacked on as the subject of Japanese efforts? The McCain-Lieberman op-ed appears to pay a little more attention to the uniquely Japanese concerns, but, in all fairness to the Obama’s-thinking duo, Mr. McCain also sees the abductees as a secondary issue, as I have pointed out before**.

Finally, China does not figure in the Danzig-Nye essay the way that it casts a shadow on McCain’s views of the bilateral alliance, but other than that, there’s remarkably little distance between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama’s campaign on Japan, for better or worse. It’s on the global level that differences arise, and affect the bilateral relationship, which would make a neat summary of what I was getting at in my Glocom talk.

* Not that that’s anything new. If North Korea’s nuclear program was such an important issue, why did the Bush administration put a mere assistant secretary, a career diplomat albeit one with an excellent resume, in charge? China got the Secretary of Treasury, the Middle East not only got the President, but the Secretary of State as well. And everybody else, not that that helped.

** Especially footnote **.

(sidebar) The McCain-Lieberman op-ed came out in the Yomiuri, the Danzig-Nye essay appeared in the Asahi. Coincidence? I think not. So who gets Ron Paul? Remember, he’s still in the Republican race. And Ralph Nader? Sankei and Mainichi?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Mor on Browsers!

Firefox 3, I dub thee Sir Crashalot. Internet Explorer, thou shalt be known forever and a day as: The Great Freeza.

Actually, Firefox 3 is more like Wile E. Coyote. It bounces back in an eyeblink, resumes where it left off, as if nothing had happened. Until the next disaster. Internet Explorer takes more time to restart, and you have to do it all over again, passwords and everything.

You know what? The software industry is in perpetual beta state. It’s the only industry of its kind known to humankind. Imagine if automobiles came with the same kind of bugs and incompatibility issues? Like, if your satellite-guided navigation system caused the fuel injection system to malfunction…

… uh oh…

Politics as Usual in Inakadate Village? You Decide

In 2007, the annual tanbo aato (rice paddy art) festival drew 240,000 visitors to Inakadate (literally, Rural Estate), a rice farming village on the chilly plains of Aomori Prefecture with a population of 8,333 residents (2008 May 1, estimate). Inakadate is not any old village, however; it has been watched with envy by other municipalities since 1993, when it started copying mainly Japanese art on a wide swathe of rice paddies near the village municipal building (itself surely as in so many other rural municipalities an uncommonly large edifice, it Inakadate’s case designed to look like the main building of a Japanese castle) by using a variety of differently-colored rice. Other municipalities have watched Inakadate with envy since the inauguration of the event and tried to copy its success, to little avail; Inakadate remains firmly entrenched as the art capital of the rice paddy art nation.

The Inakadate Village Development Promotion Consultation Committee, chaired by the village mayor, is responsible for the event. But planning, planting, growing, and maintaining the 5 hectare (that’s² 538195.520 ft, for all you Americans, Burmese, and Liberians reading my blog) piece of rice art apparently is an expensive undertaking, or perhaps the entrepreneurial mayor Takao Suzuki, just decided that it would be a good idea to replenish the village coffers. In any case, this year, the Committee convinced the Aomori Prefecture newspaper Too Nippo and Japan Airlines (Japan Airlines?) to pony up 2 million yen to put their logos on the painting.

Unfortunately, as the Asahi reports, the owner of the farming rights to the land, former mayor Takashi Sato, objected, “I didn’t receive prior consultation, corporate advertisements cannot be allowed.” Mr. Sato must have been providing the land free of charge, for the Committee had no choice but to pull up all the offending rice plants today. The little blue dots that you see in the photo taken at 10AM are the people erasing the ads.

Now Inakadate was not really pushing the envelope here in inviting sponsors, but Mr. Sato does have a point. It may not be fair to compare this year’s generic rendering of Diaikokuten, one of the Seven Lucky Gods and responsible for good harvests with the gigantic replica of the breathtaking view of Mount Fuji by the great Hokusai on the Wikipedia site, but I think that it looks better without the commercial. Let me put it this way: How would like to see every painting in the Louvre adorned with the IBM logo?

Still, Mr. Sato may—ah, that dreaded “may”—have had something more than aesthetics and the spirit of Avery Brundage in mind when he objected to the corporate logos. In 2004, Mr. Suzuki had denied Mr. Sato’s bid for a third straight term as mayor of Inakadate. There must be some bad blood between the two. And the next mayoral election comes up later this year in October.

Wait. The backstory does not end there. Mr. Suzuki may not have run for mayor but for an earlier, freak political event. In 1999, Mr. Suzuki was the President of the Village Assembly when he was arrested for accepting a bribe from fellow assemblyman Junji Abe. According to a Too Nippo report, Mr. Suzuki was accused of accepting money from Mr. Abe (a few hundred thousand yen according to the report) in return for allowing him to succeed him as President, but double-crossed him anyway and won reelection by a vote of eight to seven. Online records are scant on this issue, but one online report that I have been unable to relocate says that the two men were found guilty in 2001. If true, my guess is that Mr. Suzuki must have received a suspended sentence and, instead of appealing the verdict, decided to accept it and wait the two to three years to get his record cleared. He then ran for mayor, successfully, as it turned out. In short, if the bribe had not been uncovered, it is likely that Mr. Suzuki would still be President of the Village Assembly and Mr. Sato would be serving out his third term as mayor and head of the Inakadate Village Development Promotion Consultation Committee, and none of the current mess would have occurred.

So, what’s the point of all this? The moral fof the story? The implications, the lessons for the national body politic that this blog ever aspires to elucidate?

Dear readers, none whatsoever. If that makes this post another one of those Japan-Is-Weird Tales, the kind that I decry on every other occasion, then, so be it. And to anyone who has any complaints, I pass on this wonderful colloquialism that I learned from a dear friend just yesterday: Bite me!

Popularity of Two Governors Reflects Badly on National Politics

On February 6, the LDP candidate Toru Hashimoto, firebrand conservative lawyer and popular TV personality—think Nancy Grace, with more attitude—was inaugurated as the governor of Osaka after beating the DPJ candidate and establishment favorite Sadatoshi Kumagai , an engineering professor at the prestigious Osaka University, 54.04% to 29.45%. (The Communist candidate gained 25.28%.) One month after his inauguration, Mr. Hashimoto’s approval rate reached 66% in a Sankei poll*. Three months later, he hit 82%**.

Although Mr. Hashimoto ran with LDP support, the LDP locals were deeply suspicious of the celebrity lawyer, who promised to cut the fat out of the deeply indebted Osaka government. It was an open secret that much of the business establishment preferred the even-keeled DPJ candidate. As it were, Mr. Hashimoto launched a full-bore attack on public sector labor unions, municipal governments and other vested interests. He managed to submit to the Prefectural Assembly a drastically streamlined budget that cut deeply into salaries and subsidies. He did not quite fulfill his campaign promise to stop issuing prefectural bonds, but came close enough to impress most locals. Along the way, he has made some verbal gaffes and has on occasion even broken down in tears, but none of that appears to have dented his popularity.

Hideo Higashikokubaru gave up a lucrative career as slapstick comedian Sonomanma Higashi to go into politics and run for the governor of Miyazaki Prefecture. On 2007 January 21, he beat runner-up Shuzaburo Kawamura 44.41% to 32.48%**. Approval from his constituency reached a peak a year later at 93.7% in a local newspaper poll, and has stayed in the high 80s.

Although there is less reporting on Mr. Higashikokubaru’s administration compared to Mr. Hashimoto’s, it is clear that he has put Miyazaki Prefecture on the map with his tireless, high-profile promotion activities on TV broadcasts and other media events***. In fact, if it were not for Mr. Higashikokubaru, the only time the nation takes note of Miyazaki would be early spring, when many of the Japanese pro baseball teams hold spring training camp there. He has also taken a far more conciliatory approach to the political establishment than Mr. Hashimoto, reaching out to the assemblymen and other locals. The prefectural finances do not look very healthy though. He has been making some inroads, cutting back on expenditures. However, if he does not start knocking heads soon, the provincial reserves will be exhausted by the end of his first term.

In a liberal democracy, 80%, 90% approval rates are literally heroic numbers. In recent years, the Bushes peaked in the 90s. But the first President Bush won the Gulf War (and got Japan to pay for it), while the current one “beat” the Taliban and crushed Saddam Hussein’s army. Columbian President Álvaro Uribe recently crossed the 80% threshold. This is a reward for the stately Mr. Uribe, who he has been winning the civil war against FARC that has all but eliminated the insurgency-turned-kidnapping-and-drug-mafia gang as an existential threat to Columbia, while doing more than a capable job of steering the economy. For Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Higashikokubaru to achieve this feat during peacetime is incredible. On the national scene, only the maverick Junichiro Koizumi has even come close in recent years****, and that was at the very beginning of his administration

The achievement of the two men surely mirrors the deep anxiety over the status quo and dissatisfaction with politicians and political parties that are unable or unwilling to inspire, to lead. For proof of this, you need look no further than the LDP and DPJ consistently being beaten by None of the Above, or the abysmal support for Prime Minister Fukuda and DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa. The national electorate is more than ripe for someone with a little bit of charisma and a lot of freedom from vested interests, hopefully pushing an agenda that challenges the status quo. It is odd that no one appears willing or able, in a nation that is at least as much in need of “change” as the United States, to come forward and seize the moment, as Mr. Koizumi did, seven years ago.

* Internet poll of 500 Osaka voters, conducted on February 29-March 4 and June 10-11 respectively.

** Satoshi Mochinaga, the LDP-Komeito candidate, came in third with 20.11%.

*** Mr. Higashikokubaru is actually a serious student of government who suspended his comedy career to go to Waseda University as a graduate student in public administration. He left school to run for the governor’s office in Miyazaki Prefecture, and the rest is history, in the making.

**** If you want to see the Higashikokubaru effect in Tokyo, go to the Miyazaki and Hiroshima antenna shop-and-diner mini-buildings near the Shinjuku South Exit. Similar in size and location, the Miyazaki establishment does brisk business while Hiroshima lies relatively fallow. It’s hard to think of a significant difference maker beyond the prominently displayed cut out of the popular governor.

***** Shinzo Abe hit 63% in an Asahi (caveat emptor) poll when he received the inaugural bump after Mr. Koizumi finished strong.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

You May Be Surprised to Know Who Thinks Japan Is Number One

It’s flattering as a Japanese to know that 10% of the Americans polled in the Pew Research Center’s 2008 Global Attitudes Survey gave Japan as the “world’s leading economic power”—46% of the Americans chose the United States, while the EU also received 10%—less pleasing, if not unexpected, to learn that China garnered 26%*. In fact, Japan was outpolled by China in 22 of the 24 countries where the survey took place. The exceptions? Brazil and Russia, with margins of 16% to 15% and 25% to 12% respectively**.

Brazil is no surprise, given the presence of a large and respected Japanese community there, as well as the mutually reinforcing economic relationship that flourished during what may have turned out to be Japan’s best years. We have a reputation there. Still, it was a close call. But Russia? What do the people there know? What do they care? After after all, we’re on the fringes of the least-inhabited— least-habitable—eastern edge of the Russian empire.

Russians, more than other Europeans, have a historical fear of the Yellow Peril; the Russian empire has been a payback of sorts. A resurgent China making a move on East Siberia is a nightmare come true for the demographically and geographically challenged Russians. Japan by contrast is that funny little counterbalance beyond the sea, the enemy of my enemy—never mind the Russo-Japanese War.

So a strong Japan is a useful Japan. I suspect that for many Russians, their choice has more to with what they want Japan to be, not what they expect.

* In Germany and Australia, China outpolled the U.S. 30% to 25% and 40% to 37% respectively. In fact, these two were the only ones among the 24 countries in the survey to deny the United States the number one spot.

**The United States beat both Japan and China, with an overwhelming 52% in Brazil and less convincingly with 32% in Russia.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Diet Couple Celebrate Wedding by Joining Habatsu

Tamayo Marukawa (House of Councilors, Tokyo District, ‘07) and Taku Otsuka (House of Representatives, proportional seat, Tokyo Bloc, ‘05) bookended the June 16-20 workweek by marrying on Monday and joining a habastsu on Friday. The Seiwa Seisaku-kenkyukai (better known as Seiwa-kai), the faction of choice, is to the best of my knowledge the only faction that has its own website.

Maybe the Marukawa-Otsuka couple wanted some advice on having a successful “political” marriage, if you’ll pardon the expression. They have become the third Seiwa-kai couple, after Mrs. Kyoko (House of Councilors) and Mr. Nariaki Nakayama (House of Representatives) and Ms. Sakae Takaichi and Mr. Taku Yamamoto (both House of Representatives). You may laugh, but a journalist who has spent more than thirty years observing the Prime Minister’s Office, the LDP, and the rest of the Tokyo political scene told me that factions still have two functions, and one of them is “the exchange of information”, oiled by once-a-week, all-member get-togethers. Tokyo, and the Diet, can be a lonely place—why not seek out people who will understand. There was one other, more famous couple, a non-Seiwa-kai one at that, but the Shisaku favorite Seiko Noda (HR) and Yosuke Tsuruyasu (HC) couple broke up recently.

Alas, the real reason for their choice appears to be less social, more political. Mr. Otsuka was chosen by the Koizumi team for the 2005 election (it must have helped that a scion of the Otsuka pharmaceutical magnate clan would not be having money problems in financing his electoral campaign), while Ms. Maruyama had been heavily recruited by then-Prime Minister Abe for the 2007 HC campaign. These two former Prime Ministers are sandwiched between Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and incumbent Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda; all four hail from the Seiwa-kai.

This is related to the other point that the veteran journalist raised as a key function of the post-modern faction: The habatsu still serves as a support system, especially when election time rolls around. Most important for newbies, it will dispatch its leaders and celebrity faction members to make speeches on your behalf and otherwise make gestures of endorsement. The Seiwa-kai boasts five Prime Ministers still alive and still in the LDP, including—as I already implied—the last four (the other is the venerable octogenarian Yasuhiro Nakasone), appealing to a wide range of ideological preferences and demographics. It is no wonder, then, that the Seiwa-kai is now hands-down the largest faction in the LDP.

If Ms. Marukawa and Mr. Otsuka—likewise Prime Minister aspirant Nobuteru Ishihara*—are any indication, the habatsu is very much alive, if not quite kickin’.

* See footnote ** here.

Seriously, though, isn’t this a rather high incidence of intermarriage between Diet members, especially given the scarcity of female Diet members? Does anything like this happen in your home country?