Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mr. Sasagawa’s Did He Really Say That Moment

According to LDP By-Laws, “The General Council deliberates and decides all important matters concerning the management and Diet activities of the [LDP].” As powerful as its mandate looks on paper, though, in fact the General Council is sen as something of a rubber-stamp institution. Thus, its Chairman is considered the least powerful of the Big Three (the other two being the Secretary-General and the Chairman of the Policy Research Council), and LDP Presidents/Prime Ministers (usually) have at times used the appointment to reward hardworking if not quite stellar denizens of the party sub-leadership. In fact, when Yasuo Fukuda tried to put faction leader Makoto Koga there, Mr. Koga thought so little of the post that he refused to take it and instead requested and got the Head of the Election Strategy Headquarters, elevating it to Big Four status in the process. In August, then Prime Minister Fukuda elevated Takashi Sasagawa to the GC Chairmanship, likely as a sop to the Tsushima faction. Prime Minister Aso decided to keep him on.

Mr. Sasagawa seems to be just the kind of inoffensive, long-serving chap that you want for the GC Chair. A septuagenarian like Mr. Fukuda, he is something of a social progressive; he favors allowing both spouses to keep their pre-marriage surnames and generally supports legislation upholding women's rights. He also thinks teenagers should be allowed to ride motorcycles. He also favors normalization of relations with North Korea, a dead giveaway of a liberal outlook on foreign policy. His permissiveness extends to grown-up men, where he was instrumental in bringing back 11 penitent Post Office privatization rebels back into the LDP fold. (Note that 10 of the 11 Lower House members were men.) So all this meant that the following thought of his on the collapse of the financial bailout bill in the U.S. Congress came as a great surprise to this blog:
”The House Speaker is a woman. I think it’s a little different than a man, her leadership. That’s why it fell apart.”
In his defense, he does not spare himself, for the richest member of the Diet—we know that because disclosure rules allow us to satisfy our curiosity—went on to say:
”We should make it tax-free when young people buy stocks. It is not appropriate to make it tax-free in the case of old people who have money.”
It’s been an eventful day for me already, and I have many more things to think over, find workarounds, etc. before I can go to what I believe to be my just, heavenly, reward—dinner with an American friend that I haven’t seen for years and her colleague. In the meantime, in this the most cloudy of days, I shall enjoy the little ray of sunshine that Mr. Sasagawa has interjected. Thank you, Mr. Sasagawa.

Monday, September 29, 2008

What Prime Minister Aso Really Meant by an “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity”

Anyone who has read Taro Aso’s speech as Foreign Minister will realize that it is very far from the confrontational “League of Democracies” that John McCain has been pushing. In March, I issued a warning of sorts. Now, Prime Minister Aso’s inaugural speech reinforces my point. Here’s a translation of the salient points:
To create stability and prosperity in our region and grow together with our neighbors China, South Korea and Russia, as well as the nations of Asia and the Pacific—this is point two.

We shall not spare our assistance, so that the irreplaceable values that we believe in will take root in youthful democracies.
The McCain administration, I’m sure, will be disappointed to hear all this, Can’t you guys see Russia on a clear day too? And I’m not talking about your … “Northern Territories”?

Prime Minister Aso’s Inaugural Speech Takes It to the Opposition

In a major strategic shift from the consensus-seeking Fukuda administration, Prime Minister decided to go on the attack in his inaugural policy statement address to the Diet. In an unprecedented move, Mr. Aso accused the DPJ of putting the political game ahead of the public interest and challenged them to respond to the following five points:
1. Is the DPJ ready to establish rules for consensus-building, or will it dare to betray its own beliefs by rejecting the decision-making process in the Diet and once again putting the livelihood of the people second?

2. I ask the DPJ, are you willing to agree to establishing a consumer [protection] agency or not? If not, are you willing to engage in a discussion quickly to reach an agreement? Thus do I pose the question.

3. The UN is currently swayed by the policies of a small number of countries and otherwise is not in a condition in which we can entrust the fate of our nation to it. So, the Japan-U.S. alliance and the UN: Which comes first and which comes after? The DPJ has the responsibility to make that clear to the people of Japan and the world. I would like to hear it, together with the reasoning behind it.

4. Other nations are about to increase their engagement in Afghanistan despite invaluable sacrifices [read fatal casualties]. At this point, Japan, as a member of the international society, does not have the option of washing its hands of operations there. Does the DPJ think that it’s alright to do so regardless? I seek their opinion.

5. On top of the economic downturn, financial uncertainties are spreading from the United States. Is it not our political responsibility to the people of Japan to enact the supplementary budget that substantiates the Emergency Comprehensive Measures and the legislative bills that compensates local governments for the lost road construction and maintenance funds?
Looking at these points—I’ve only slightly paraphrased them—1 and 4 in particular, I don’t think Mr. Aso is willing to take a yes for an answer. In fact, the media—and I agree—see the speech as an attempt to challenge the DPJ and push his own stimulus agenda, then take the resultant momentum into the snap election. Mr. Aso himself advocates a three-year recovery process that apparently tables for the time being the tight-fisted fiscal rebalancing program from the Koizumi era.

A couple of points that will not be mentioned in the media reports. First, the address arranges crisp, forceful sentences into a concise, rhythmical package. There is a nice touch of the familiar, even a hint of the vernacular; this is not the usual accretion of bureaucratese. Let me put it this way: this appears to be the easiest Prime Minister’s address to translate that I’ve ever seen.

Second, the speech focuses on the DPJ, totally ignoring the rest of the opposition. It also personalizes the coalition’s position by the perception of an “Aso” shift in economic policy. The LDP hopes that this sets the stage for an Aso-Ozawa showdown, one that the ruling coalition has a much better chance of winning than a battle between the LDP-New Komeito coalition and the opposition.

One speech does not an election victory make. But at least this one puts the ball in the ball in Ichiro Ozawa’s court, something of a feat for an inaugural address.

Identifying Flaming Right-wing Nationalists

Here, for the sake of argument, I conceded that “[Hirofumi] Nakasone[, the new Foreign Minister] is a flaming right-wing nationalist” by way of his membership in the Nihon Kaigi, or Japan Conference (motto: English language page last updated April 15, 2003). By the same token, Yasuo Fukuda, Shigeru Ishiba, Makoto Koga, and Sadakazu Tanigaki are all flaming right-wing nationalists too.

Yes, the more a Diet member’s name pops up on the membership lists of certain groups and associations, the more likely it is that he/she holds a conservative/nationalist/right-wing outlook. But a single membership is a poor tool to judge the ideological coloring of that particular individual with unless he/she happens to belong to the The Teachers’ Union of Japan Believes that the Nanking Massacre Happened and the Government Was Involved in Rassling Up Comfort Women HAHAHA So Let’s Go Build Us Nihonjin Some Nuclear Weapons Committee.

This is an issue that I’ve taken up before, but I hope that a reminder will be useful to casual visitors to my blog.

Nakayama Update

The media were full of reports about LDP and New Komeito members, including cabinet members Seiko Noda, Takeo Kawamura, Shigeru Ishiba, Takeo Kawamura, and OMGWTF (pardon my French) Kunio Hatoyama, dumping on the ex-Minister Nariaki Nakayama. Meanwhile, Mr. Nakayama remained unrepentant in his animosity towards the Teachers’ Union of Japan, appearing live on national TV the morning after—his resignation had been accepted at an emergency Cabinet meeting on Sunday—to once again vent his rage. He is clearly going to keep talking, and he intends to keep his Lower House seat in the upcoming election, so I expect him to pop up from time to time to the embarrassment of the LDP as the opposition uses him as a club to keep bludgeoning the Aso administration with throughout the election campaign.

Sorry. The Fuji TV poll that I had been waiting for turned out to have been taken on September 25, the very day that Mr. Nakayama made those assertions. Thus, the effects of the uproar will only be reflected in the following week’s poll. I should have taken note of the usual three day delay.

Kazuyoshi Kaneko MLIT Minister: Doves 1: Hawks 0

Whatever else the new Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Kazuyoshi Kaneko, the replacement for the teachers union-hating Nariaki Nakayama, does, one thing he won’t do is offend Western liberals. A member of the LDP Subcommittee on the Korean Peninsula Issue built around ultra-dove Taku Yamazaki, the milquetoast Mr. Kaneko ‘s political wanderings have taken him from being a close associate of another notable dove Koichi Kato to subbing for Makoto Koga, bane of Class A War criminals and head of the eponymous Koga faction. Mr. Kaneko is also a member of the Japan-South Korea Parliamentarians’ League, all in all a very neighborly resume.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Memo on DPJ’s New Election Manifest; Also, More Scrambling by LDP-New Komeito

I’d mentioned briefly that the DPJ was exploring the need for sequencing its multitrillion-yen election-manifest upgrade package. The DPJ had been working on an update for the 2007 election manifest for the last three weeks with exactly that in mind. Given all the fanfare around the LDP makeover and the most recent flap leading to the MLIT Minister Nakayama’s resignation, the media attention had not been giving much space to this process. But in recent days, the basic framework has emerged (25 September Asahi; Yomiuri, 27 September)). Asahi reports that party leaders have already agreed on the main features of the program scheduled to officially debut next month.

The manifest will be a four-year program, neatly fitting into the four-year Lower House term of office, and will be implemented in one-, two-, and four-year stages. According to the Yomiuri report, the main items to be implemented in the first year are: establishing a monthly 26,000 yen allowance per child (5.6 trillion per year), making highways toll-free (1.5 trillion yen), abolishing the gasoline tax surcharge (2.6 trillion), and reforming the medical care system (2 trillion; abolishing the late-term elderly medical care insurance system etc,). The second year will see income subsidies for individual farmers (1 trillion). A fully tax-funded public pension system—Prime Minister Aso himself has talked favorably about this idea—(5.8 trillion) is to be implemented in the fourth year. The program, costing 22 trillion in its final year—around 21 trillion according to Yukio Hatoyama today, but what’s a trillion more or less?—will be funded by savings of 12.6 trillion yen from downsizing national public works programs, savings on public procurement, 20% reduction of human resources costs for public servants (retirement pus pay cut?), and reducing subsidies to state-owned entities; 3 trillion from sales of state assets and elimination of business income tax benefits; 2.7 trillion from reducing personal income tax deductions; and 4 trillion yen from special account surpluses (the most fungible of the “buried treasures”, the Yomiuri report mentioned only the Foreign Exchange Special Account, but this figure appears to include the Fiscal Investment and Loans Program Special Account surplus as well). The figures in the Yomiuri report do not add up and the DPJ leadership have yet to grasp the full implications of the details—Mr. Hatoyama did not have a ready answer when Kazuo Kitagawa, the brainy no.2 man for the New Komeito, pointed out a major hole in the child allowance/income tax deduction exchange scheme—so I’ll leave the numbers at that for the time being. I hope to have more to say when the full program emerges.

An interesting development on the LDP-New Komeito side is that under the new Prime Minister and the prevailing economic circumstances, half-baked talk has broken loose about vastly expanding the 1.8/11.7 trillion stimulus package. True, it’s about short-term measures, but it does make their accusations against the DPJ of fiscal irresponsibility less convincing to public ears. The scrambling over Health, Welfare and Labor Minister Yoichi Masuzoe’s expressed intent to “fundamentally review the Late-term Elderly Medical Care Insurance System” and seconded by Mr. Aso—if I’m not mistaken, the ruling coalition has been frantically trying to scale back expectations—also has the feel of an administration calling audibles and not doing a very good job of it. Add to that Mr. Aso’s previously expressed sympathy for a fully tax-funded basic pension system, albeit shelved for the time being until the LDP can resume talk about a consumption tax hike—and it’s like having a new coach with a different offensive system coming in the day before the championship game.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What the Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Said and Other Matters

Nariaki Nakayama may be gone as early as Monday, with New Komeito and LDP Diet members both desperately trying to push him under the bus. The only thing that can prolong the agony is Prime Minister Aso’ s possible inability to crack down on loose-lipped adiminsitration member. We saw this with Prime Minister Abe; Mr. Aso runs the same danger because of his lack of a solid power base in his own party*. In the meantime, for the record and your amusement, here’s a translation, with commentary, of the fullest online account of what he actually said, on the Mainichi website (which is, again, having problems of its own.)


Only one lane (one runway) for so long, and I thought Japan was pathetic. Call it profiting by holding out, I think post-WW II education was at fault. Where the public mood is that there's no willingness to sacrifice yourself to some extent for the common good and it only matters that you're okay, the airport could not be expanded for so long; which was so regrettable.

Offended the good people of Chiba Prefecture, and post-WW II Japanese. Significantly, the issue falls within his jurisdiction.


The sorry state of the Board of Education in Ooita Prefecture; it’s the Japan Teachers’ Union’s fault, it is. The JTU offspring become teachers even when they get poor grades, they do. That’s why scholastic achievement levels are low in Ooita Prefecture. The reason why I proposed a nationwide Scholastic Achievement Test was because I’d guessed that scholastic achievements were low in places where the JTU was strong. And it sure is. So I think that the role of the scholastic test is over.

Offended the good people of Ooita Prefecture. Offended the JTU as well, but since the JTU is unpopular with LDP and New Komeito supporters.


Japan is, shall I say, one ethnic group; (interchange) with the world is lacking, so it tends to be insular. (To increase the number of tourists who visit Japan, [we]) Japanese must first open our hearts.

Offended the Ainu people.
Mr. Nakayama apologized to Chiba Prefecture and the Ainu. It is not known whether he also apologized to naturalized Japanese citizens. He certainly did not apologize to the teachers’ union.

Actually, the underlying issues that he raised begs for serious improvements. Get the facts right and actually try to do something about it, add a little flair and vision, and the public will be surprisingly responsive. Prime Minister Koizumi did that with the national agenda, if some of what he did/didn’t do turned out in the end to be more smoke and mirrors than substance. And Governor Hashimoto is having even greater success with Osaka voters, taking on, among other things, the entire local public education establishment (instead of singling out the teachers’ union for the blame). More generally, there’s a battle to be fought for the hearts and minds of the Japanese people, though it will not be waged in this election cycle; Ichiro Ozawa can be the Great Destroyer, not Constructor.

* Would Mr. Nakayama, as a former fast-track official at the super-elite MOF, have been a little more careful with his words or be a little more willing to take an immediate hit for the team instead of dragging it out over the weekend as if he were daring the Prime Minister to fire him, if Prime Minister Aso had more intellectual credentials? Or been the head of a more substantial habatsu instead of the mini-faction that he had inherited from the mild-mannered dove Yohei Kono? Are we seeing a curious lack of respect for the new Prime Minister in this, as well asin Junichiro Koizumi’s retirement announcement?

ADD 28 September: I’d obviously underestimated the LDP’s sense of urgency. Mr. Nakayama is gone as of this morning, and the Chief Cabinet Secretary, Takeo Kawamura, is doubling as pro tem MLIT Minister. Mr. Nakayama’s rage against the teachers’ union if anything intensified as the denouement approached. If the LDP cannot shut him up, he’ll continue to provide embarrassing sound bites to the media. I’m keeping an eye on the weekly metropolitan Tokyo area poll conducted by the Fuji TV network. The LDP had been gaining ground on the DPJ since the dismal days of June and July. Last week, in the first poll under Prime Minister Aso, LDP overtook the DPJ on the “likely to vote for” for the first time since the 17 January poll. If those numbers return to June and July levels (and are indicative of what privately commissioned polls tell the LDP), the ruling coalition will have second thoughts about the timing of the lower house election, conventional wisdom placing it at 2 (preferred, LDP-NK) or 9 (DPJ) November. Not that a long delay will help much, and I still think the show will go on. But they’ll be desperately seeking another bounce, likely from an expanded stimulus package.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Matt Drudge Links to JapanToday: A First for Japanese Websites?

Matt Drudge has linked to a Kyodo wire by way of a JapanToday post on Lehman Europe’s sale to Nomura for two dollars. It’s… taking… a… lot… of… time… to… download…

Congratulations, JapanToday, you've made it; it’s like Ai George playing Carnegie Hall.*

* Too furui!!

More on Aso Polls, Koizumi Addendum

A follow-up to the previous post:

Taro Aso does no better in the Yomiuri poll, where the numbers are 49.5-for, 33.4-against. The Koizumi-Abe-Fukuda-Aso drop-off is slightly more pronounced than in the Asahi poll, at 87.1-70.3-57.4-. The LDP does somewhat better over the DPJ at 37.4 to 22.8. He does even worse in the Sankei poll and Mainichi poll, at 44.4% and 45% support respectively.

It’s hard to draw any hard conclusions for the upcoming election from the major media polls since the numbers for party preferences and voting intentions are all over the place. But the support figures for the Aso Cabinet are clustered in a remarkably narrow range; expectations are low across the ideological spectrum. Moreover, the steady decline in the initial support for the three administrations following Junichiro Koizumi’s looks suspiciously like a series of dead cat’s bounces. The DPJ must be hoping, All we need is yet another series of misstatements—Hello, Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Nariaki Nakayama; here’s looking at you, Kunio Hatoyama and Shoichi Nakagawa and maybe even Taro Aso himself—and unseemly revelations—thank you, Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura—and we are set.

Prime Minister Koizumi’s decision to cede his seat to his 27-year old son is widely seen as a slap in the face for Prime Minister Aso. Perhaps. But I think that the immediate damage will accrue to the reformists and particularly the vulnerable first-term Koizumi Kids. Mr. Koizumi is likely to campaign hard to make sure that his offspring is the first through the stile, leaving him less time to stomp the sewer covers and wade through the rice paddies on behalf of his erstwhile supporters.

If Anything Says Now to Fran Aso, It’s This Asahi Poll; Plus, Yet Another Generational Change in the LDP

An Asahi poll, of all things, puts the Aso Cabinet’s favored/unfavored numbers on the net plus side at 48-to-36. True, 48% is nothing to write home about, considering that Prime Ministers Koizumi, Abe and Fukuda began their terms in office at 78%, 63% and 53% respectively. That’s right, the numbers have gone down for four consecutive regimes. Mr. Aso can console himself by the fact that LDP is outpolling the DPJ 36-32, and he himself trounces LDP-New Komeito nemesis Ichiro Ozawa by a Dream Team-like margin of 54-26. But he also remembers what happened to his two immediate predecessors afterward. So it’s still a snap election, now now.

And on a sad note for Japan bloggers and Western media folk, Junichiro Koizumi has decided to hang up his white campaign gloves for good. And guess what, he’s bequeathing his seat to his 27-year old son. Well, what did you think, he is an LDP politician, isn’t he? Great sense of timing, though, stealing the scene from his most recent successor. Let just say that he did a perfect “Clinton”.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

... Regarding My Mass Media Appearance No-Show

I’ve been informed that (no, not that) ABC decided to scotch my interview on the LDP presidential election. I prefer to believe the explanation I was given, that it had been superseded by the rush of events while they were editing the raw tape.

It’s not that bad, really. You now have only my account of what I actually said. It’s not often you get to write your own history and keep it that way.

BBC Fails Mightily with Its Evaluation of the Aso Cabinet

I shouldn’t BUI, but I found this while browsing after I came home late, and I couldn’t resist. I hope you’ll still love me tomorrow.
According to BBC:
A stable of well-established right-wing politicians emerged as the likely members of Mr Aso's new cabinet.
So who are these “right-wing politicians”?
Ruling party hawk and former economic minister Shoichi Nakagawa was identified as the likely new finance minister.
Hmm, nice start. Grade: A

Hirofumi Nakasone - son of one of Japan's most best-known premiers, the nationalist Yasuhiro Nakasone - was thought likely to acquire the foreign affairs ministry.
So what? Are the sins of the fathers visited upon their sons? Maybe in collectivist Great Britain, but that’s not the case in Japan. Well, legally, at least. Actually, if BBC had done its homework, it would have known that Mr. Nakasone Jr. is center-right, but not quite the nationalist/internationalist that his father is. (But then, who is?) Grade: C.

Mr Aso's erstwhile rival for the LDP leadership, fiscal conservative Kaoru Yosano, was tipped to remain in his post of economics minister despite apparent key differences with Mr Aso over the right way to revitalise the Japanese economy.
He may be a fiscal conservative, but he’s left-center when it comes to foreign policy. It’s like calling Bill Clinton a right-winger. Grade: F.

Another former rival, Shigeru Ishiba, was also thought likely to appear in a new cabinet.
Anybody who has done his homework knows that this national-security otaku is actually to the left of Mr. Yosano as far as foreign policy is concerned. Grade: F.
Is that all? Apparently, yes. BBC has earned a gentleman’s CD. So I guess my question is: Do people actually receive ex-pat pay packages for this four-letter word effort? Apparently, yes. Nice job, if you can get it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Taro Aso, Fellow Traveler?

Described by one nationalist blogger as a bunch of “parliamentarians who are selling out Japan to North Korea (kitachousen he no baikoku giin)”, the LDP Subcommittee on the Korean Peninsula Issue (Jiyuuminshutou Chousen Hantou Mondai Syouiinkai)was created under the aegis of its Supreme Advisor (Saikou Komon), the most peaceable Taku Yamazaki, during the Fukuda administration last year, and is dedicated to normalizing relations with North Korea. With such impeccable pacifist credentials, the 20-member subcommittee includes notable left-wingers such as Hiroyuki Hosoda, Akira Sasagawa, and Takeo Kawamura. Mr. Kawamura is adding insult to injury by lobbying to give gaijin—read Korean permanent residents—the vote in local elections. Really, just the kind of people Taro Aso… hates… to keep… out of his administration?
Hiroyuki Hosoda, Secretary-General (one of the Big Four LDP; deputy to LDP President)
Akira Sasagawa, Chairman, General Council (one of the Big Four; Mr. Sasagawa is the incumbent)
Takeo Kawamura, Chief Cabinet Secretary (think, White House chief of staff during the Reagan administration)
Makoto Koga, another notable dove—he blames the Class-A war criminals for making him an orphan—is also being kept on as elections czar, the fourth and newest member of the Big Four.
Talk about Manchurian Candidates—who knew that the new Prime Minister was a crypto-commie? At least news reports have skinflint Kaoru Yosano staying on as Economics Minister to strike a blow for old-fashioned, fiscal conservatism. (What?)

News reports have the loquacious Kunio Hatoyama joining the Cabinet as well. Enjoy. News reports also have the dyspeptic Shoichi Nakagawa joining the Cabinet… Not so enjoy.

Okay, enough of the serious stuff; let’s get silly and make a really stupid statement: For better or worse, there’s more to Taro Aso than the manga-loving, right-wingnut, cardboard-cutout caricature that Western liberals love to haul out every time they are forced to talk about him. Yes, I feel your pain.

Another point: There are practical reasons for Mr. Kawamura and Mr. Hosoda to be nice to Koreans (and Chinese). Likewise, I venture to say, for Mr. Koga… and also Mr. Aso. I would even add Mr. Sasagawa to this mix, but for somewhat different, more speculative reasons. Can you guess why?

And finally, for great overview of the big picture, read this. Yes, it's The Economist. A couple of caveats:
Socialists and Communists also form part of the DPJ’ s ragbag alliance. The Communists? That’s a hard call, but I wouldn’t quite put them in an “alliance”… I’ve got it, fellow travelers!

The DPJ’s proposals for paying for this are not credible, but while the opposition is on the attack, that hardly matters. Yes, but nobody’s supposed to win a championship without defense, right? Either way, we’ll know in a month or a two.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Would I Enjoy This Even More If I Were Gay?

Who knows? Anyway, it’s funny, and cool. And to the point, I suspect, but what would I know? By way of Princess Sparkle Pony.

The Big Oh Retiring as Softbank Manager…Can WBC Manager Announcement Be Far Behind and Other Thoughts

Sankei is first with the news that Sadaharu Oh has decided to retire after this baseball season. This may be just the answer to Japan’s most recent baseball woes.

Mr. Oh is a national icon In 1977, he became the first recipient of the People’s Honor Award (Kokumin Eiyo Shou) for breaking Hank Aaron’s lifetime home-run record with his 756th home run*. (Where that left Josh Gibson’s even longer if less-well-recorded string of home runs, we Japanese preferred not to dwell on.) Much later in 2006, he led the Japanese national team to the first World Baseball (Instant?) Classic championship and enhanced his already godlike status. In fact, after the Beijing Olympics debacle, where the Japanese team failed to win even a bronze medal against a motley crew of American minor leaguers, he is probably the only man who can lead the Japanese team during the second, 2009 WBC games in the United States and be forgiven in case our team fails to win a medal.

One thing stood between him and a repeat performance: his health. Noticeably frailer from his bout with cancer—now in remission—and battered by family issues, he is in no shape to manage the Softbank Hawks full-time then shoulder the burden of assembling a Japanese WBC squad including some genuine major-league all-stars and taking them half way across the globe under the watchful eyes of an expectant Japanese public to compete against the best that the United States, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic (not to mention those pesky South Koreans and Cubans) have to offer . Leaving the Hawks clears the way for an international farewell tour that would tug at the hearts of the Japanese public and put a capstone on his career and not so coincidentally provide more than a boatload of stories for Yomiuri—he made his reputation as a slugging first baseman for the Yomiuri Giants—and the rest of the Japanese media.

Mr. Oh also happens to be a citizen of the Republic of China/Taiwan/Chinese Taipei. His mother is Japanese, but that was not enough in those days for him to retain Japanese citizenship. For your reference, our first post-WW II national sports hero, the professional wrestler Rikidozan, happened to be a North Korean national. Think about it.

On the other hand, we Japanese don’t really talk about these things. In fact, the public was mostly in the dark about Rikidozan’s nationality. Think about that, too.

* For the record, Mr. Aaron was very gracious with regard to Mr. Oh’s achievement and the Japanese celebration thereof.

Random Factoids around the LDP Election

Taro Aso won most of the local chapter electoral votes, as I’ve already noted. And he didn’t do too badly with the popular vote either, according to today’s hardcopy Yomiuri. In the chapter-by-chapter voting to award the 141 electoral votes, Mr. Aso took 416,497, while Yuriko Koike came in a distant second at 71,820 votes. Nobuteru Ishihara, Kaoru Yosano and Shigeru Ishiba tallied 60 thousand, 42 thousand and 33 thousand respectively. This means that Mr. Aso won two-thirds of the total popular vote, almost the same as the percentage his share of the overall electoral vote, a coincidence, but notable nevertheless.

A Japanese commentator appeared on BBC (and yes, Chris Hogg made his obligatory homage to the liberal gods by describing Mr. Aso as “right-wing” and “foreign-policy hawk”) and explained that the reason that Mr. Aso all but swept the local chapters was that the locals liked his talk of fiscal stimulus. Perhaps. But note that he also swept urban centers Tokyo, Kangawa, Aichi and Osaka. In fact, the only places where he lost electoral votes were Tokushima, Shimane, Kochi and Tottori, which placed 44th, 45th, 46th and 47th among all 47 prefectures in per capita GDP (FY2005), and you can’t get more chiho than that. That’s right, the LDP members in the four poorest prefectures were the only ones to refuse to pay absolute fealty to the public-works-friendly Mr. Aso. True, Mr. Ishiba won only one electoral vote beside his three Tottori Shimane, favorite-son votes, and that came from neighbor-province Shimane. And I can’t deny that he had the message of the times for the LDP faithful. But you have to also credit his my-time-has-come party favorite status, his tireless stumping in the boondocks, his folksy, voluble, talking style (which irritates Western liberals no end)—all the things that said, we have a chance with this guy going up against Ichiro Ozawa—for his strong showing in all the provinces.

Speaking of foreign policy—more broadly including national security—it was not much of an issue in the LDP election and won’t be in the Lower House election either, unless something of catastrophic proportions happens. North Korea could do another nuclear test, and I don’t think that it will have any effect on the election outcome.

Junichiro Koizumi is an heirloom Diet member (third–generation). Shinzo Abe is an heirloom Diet member (third-generation). Yasuo Fukuda is an heirloom Diet member(second-generation). Mr. Aso is an heirloom Diet member (fifth-generation). That’s a Prime-Minister fourpeat for the LDP Heirlooms; MJ didn’t do it, Kobe hasn’t done it—in fact, you have to go all the way back to Red Auerbach and the 58/59-65/66 Boston Celtics to top it.

The Western media has focused on Mr. Aso’s Roman Catholic faith. In fact, he will be the third Christian Prime Minister in post-WW II Japan, after Tetsu Katayama (1947-48) and Masayoshi Ohira (1978-80), non-Catholics both. That’s three Christians out of 29 PMs, not bad when you consider that only 2 million out of 130 million Japanese are Christians. Sokagakkai has what, 16 million members? And all they get is one measly Minister per Cabinet. I’m pretty sure that you won’t find any Christians among the pre-WW II PMs though.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Since When Is 55% “Most”?

The headline reads Guardian Angels Are Here, Say Most Americans but the report says, “More than half of all Americans believe they have been helped by a guardian angel in the course of their lives, according to a new poll by the Baylor University Institute for Studies of Religion. In a poll of 1700 respondents, 55% answered affirmatively to the statement, ‘I was protected from harm by a guardian angel.’”

In fact, this is not an isolated case. There are many examples in otherwise respectable media outlets that identify amounts little more than razor-thin majorities as “most”.

Another of my pet peeves (cheaper than pet rocks, and much easier to grow) is the substitution of “momentarily” for “in a moment”, as is, “I’ll be with you momentarily”. I’d been seeing this one so often that I’d begun thinking that I’d missed something that anyone who hadn’t dropped out of elementary school should have known. Recently, I read George Carlin’s Brain Droppings, where he made the same complaint. At least Mr. Carlin made it to high school, so he should know.

LDP Election Results in; Aso Near-Sweep of Local Chapters. Not So Cozy with Diet Members

Taro Aso: (local chapter votes 134, Diet member votes 217, total 351)
Kaoru Yosano (2, 64, 66)
Yuriko Koike (0, 40, 40)
Nobuteru Ishihara (1, 36, 37)
Shigeru Ishiba (4, 21, 25)
Total (141, 378, 519)
519 out of 527 eligible votes were cast, of which Mr. Aso won 351. That’s 67.6% of the votes actually cast. He owes this overwhelming majority to the local votes, where he cleaned up 134 out of 141, or 95% of the total. True, a large number of chapters held winner-take-all elections and the proportional chapters also heavily favored the across-the-board frontrunner. Still, the near-sweep was pretty impressive. Among the other four, only Mr. Ishiba apparently managed to carry his own, admittedly small, prefectural chapter. None of the Diet members who voted for any of the four appears to have been able to convince the local chapter to throw its votes to his/her candidate of choice—if he/she tried at all.

Mr. Aso did less well among the Diet members, where 578 out of 386 LDP Diet members cast their vote. He won 217, or 57.4% of the votes, a solid, but not overwhelming, majority. Personal or factional loyalties and policy choices appear to count at this level. This may not carry over to the local level, where national exposure and media coverage has a great effect.

I can easily envisage a situation where an attractive candidate wins a majority against a number of other candidates among the local chapters but only a plurality in the overall vote. Can the other candidates gang up against the public favorite and beat that person in a run-off? Unlikely, I think. We may have a chance to find out, sooner rather than later, if Mr. Aso leads the LDP to defeat in the Lower House election.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Quo Vadis? The Communist Vote in the Unrepresented Districts

Ross has reminded me that the Japan Communist Party’s decision not to field candidates in half, likely more, of the 300 single-seat seat Lower House elections are likely to have substantial consequences, in the DPJ’s favor. True, but it’s the magnitude that is so hard to guess at.

The JCP announced 138 candidates to contest single-seat races. That leaves 162 without a JCP candidate. Reports say that the JCP will be naming a small number of additional candidates later, but that’ll be it. A rough, sample scan of Hokkaido districts shows that the JCP typically reaps votes at somewhere in the 10,000s to the 30,000s per district. If the DPJ can capture a big chunk of those votes, that will make the difference in close and possibly even some not-so-close races. The question is, how likely is this to happen?

For me, the difficulties in making a plausible guess at the actual impact are at least twofold. First, I do not have access to the kind of detailed polling data that enables me to understand how the JCP vote breaks down into hardcore socialist and plain-vanilla protesters against the status quo. The JCP vote fluctuates substantially from election to election—a swing of 10,000 votes or so between elections in a single-seat district is not unusual—so a detailed, district-by-district examination coupled with a more macro analysis may yield a clue here. Second, the DPJ has been taking a decidedly populist/politics-first turn under Mr. Ozawa. I have no idea how this much this works against it in wooing the protest vote. If I have to add a third, it is that I don’t yet know if the JCP will try to influence their supporters one way or the other. My guess is that it will stay neutral and its core supporters in the unrepresented districts will mostly abstain.

Friday, September 19, 2008

DPJ-PNP Merger Back to Square One

The merger talks between the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ; House of Councilors (upper house), House of Representatives (lower house) and the People’s New Party (PNP; HC, HR) fell through when the two sides could not agree on a way to enable a PNP lower house member to join the post-merger political party. A former top bureaucrat for the Postal Ministry*, Norimasa Hasegawa had been elected to a proportional seat in the House of Councilors in 2004 on the strength of the Post Office vote. The following year, he bolted the LDP and joined three HR exiles and a DPJ defector to form the People’s New Party. The election laws allow a HC member elected on a proportional ticket to switch to a party that was formed after the election but not to a party that had already been in existence at the time of the election.** To meet this requirement in the event of a merger, the DPJ would have to join either the PNP en masse or a new party to be formed by the members of the two parties. The DPJ was not willing to do either, so the two parties will continue to maintain the current relationship, at least until the HR election rolls by.

There will be no immediate consequences to the collapse, as long as the DOJ doesn’t field a candidate in a district where the PNP intends to field one. The agreement to freeze Post Office reform is in place regardless. The former alliance in the upper house all but ensures that the two parties will continue to vote in unison in the Diet.

The effect on the upcoming HR election is less certain. Assuming a merger does not affect voting behavior, a merger could mean at most one extra proportional seat for the post-merger party at the expense of another party not necessarily belonging to the LDP-DPJ coalition. A merger might have enabled to them to more effectively join forces in the electoral campaign, leading to more votes for mainly DPJ candidates, but many of the PNP supporters still feel a strong kinship with the LDP, so there could be downside. This highlights another important feature of the PNP. It is comprised of localized pockets of support, where it already has Diet members. In districts where it is not represented, it is highly unlikely to bring many votes to the table that is not already the DPJ’s for the asking.

No, what we really missed out on was an opportunity to see how cohesive the DPJ is going into the election. Dissolution and merger with the old-school PNP just might have been the last straw for dissidents who are dismayed at the highly politicized turn that party decision-making has taken under Ichiro Ozawa and/or just hate Mr. Ozawa. If the DPJ lost party members, particularly in the upper house, that would have dealt a devastating blow to the DPJ’s chances in the upcoming election. On the other hand, if it had withstood the merger test unharmed, it would have been a good show of party unity.

* Later merged into the newly created mega-Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

** It is not as absurd as it appears at first glance for a holder of an HC proportional seat to switch parties. Note that the number of seats that a party gains on the national, proportional vote is determined by the relative size of the total number of votes cast for the party and the individual candidates on the party proportional ticket. In other words, an HC proportional candidate must win enough votes to place among the top vote-getters up to the number of seats that is allocated to that party as the result of the overall proportional voting. In fact, proportional seat-holders winning more votes, say, than the average level of individualized votes for all the party’s proportional seat-holders can make the claim that below-average seat-holders rode their coattails to the HC.

Gaffe Minister Falls under Early-Election Juggernaut; Takes Deputy as “Travelling Companion on Road to Netherworld”

This morning, Seiichi Oota, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, heavily challenged where his political hearing is concerned*, took a hit for the team. I’ll spare you the details, but a series of misstatements and gaffes over a serious rice contamination scandal forced the MAFF Minister to go to the Prime Minister’s office and hand in his resignation papers to Mr. Fukuda.

Briefly for those of you who don’t follow the Japanese political scene as a matter of routine, unscrupulous businessmen bought imported rice contaminated by mold or pesticides (and thus suitable only for glue manufacture and other industrial use) at dirt-cheap prices and passed it on for human consumption at huge markups.** The matter appears to have been exposed by the kind of whistleblowers who had up till now had come up with a whole range of embarrassing but physically harmless fraudulent labeling cases. This one had potential health implications, and, unlike the poisoned Chinese dumplings, there was no third country to blame. Minister Oota made statements that were, with a little tweaking, easy to construe as belittling the problem, and a statement from the top MAFF bureaucrat, the administrative Vice Minister, ducking MAFF responsibility poured oil onto the fire. The public is charging the MAFF bureaucracy with gross negligence for overlooking the malfeasance. The misdeed likely could have been detected, but MAFF had always given prior notice weeks before mandated inspections, making it easy for the firms to have engineered a cover-up. It was obvious that once Mr. Oota went down, the Vice Minister had to go too, and he is.

The opposition had, quite properly, decided to initiate a thorough investigation in the Upper House, where they hold a majority, while the Lower House would be up to their elbows in a general election campaign. In fact, the opposition is likely to follow Ross’s suggestion and put it together with the other scandals—most recently the Social Insurance Agency conspiring (systemically, according to Minister Yoichi Masuzoe) with hard-up businesses to reduce pension premium payment delinquencies and consequently reduce eventual pension payments—to hold the LDP responsible for looking out for business interests and being at the mercy of the bureaucracy at the expense of the consumer and the general public. So, the investigation will still happen in the run-up to the Lower House election, though the resignations put something of a damper on the public outrage.

* First noted on this blog here.

** One businessman committed suicide.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


For some reason, I cannot open my blog, though I can open the account itself, as you can see from this post. My gmail account opens normally. The link to my AOL account is broken too. Please email me if you know anything about this phenomenon.

ADD: As soon as I posted this, it went back to normal. I'm going to leave this post here just for the record.

Very Briefly, on DPJ Courting of New People’s Party; and the LDP Race

Media reports have DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa meeting People’s New Party head Tamisuke Watanuki today to propose a merger. As quid pro quo in this buyout, Mr. Ozawa will offer a Post Office privatization freeze—another new item for the election platform, whose fiscal implications are unclear—and accept the PNP incumbents as the official DPJ candidates in their districts. At least two of them have felt threatened by the DPJ search for candidates of its own. Does it sound just a little bit like the beginning of a yakuza movie? Love and war, and politics, I guess.

This, like talking up Mr. Ozawa’s possible relocation to Tokyo 12th District to challenge incumbent Akio Oota, the New Komeito chief, may be sound political tactics and certainly has drawn some of the media attention ways from… well, drawn some media attention. But it’s a mixed blessing as far as their strategic implications are concerned. They put the spotlight on the least-attractive, gamesmanship face of the media-shy Mr. Ozawa. Let’s wait and see, though, if Mr. Watanuki, equally seasoned in old school politics, blinks.

As expected, after Junichiro Koizumi failed to follow up his endorsement of Yuriko Koike with any further show of affection, and as Taro Aso continued to roll up the votes—media estimates already give him an absolute majority of the eligible votes—the media’s interest in the LDP race has been waning.

Violence in Sports

Janne brought up a couple of interesting points under the more general issue of special treatment of sports under the law in his comment here. I wouldn’t be surprised to find plenty of blogs and websites on both of them created and maintained by professionals. But I don’t have the time to go look around just now. In the meantime, here’s my own two cents’ worth on one of them.
Violence is a formally accepted element of many, but not all, spectator sports: First, there are individual sports* like boxing, wrestling and contact martial arts, where brutal, if not brute, force is the point of it all. Next, there are the various forms of football ranging from American football to soccer, where force is an inevitable element of the game but is not directly connected to the objective of the game itself. Third, there are team sports such as cricket, where physical contact is in principle forbidden. Baseball, though a similar sport in form, probably falls in the second category, since base running can and sometimes does result in violent physical contact. Fourth and finally, there are individual sports where physical contact is in principle forbidden (or unthinkable). The other side of the coin for the sanctioned violence are the forbidden kind that occur in the follow of the game, subject to a variety of penalties, ranging from losing field advantage and/or the ball to suspension (itself ranging from minutes to entire games) to advantageous scoring opportunities (penalty shots). In my view, it is the existence of these penalties and the rules to impose them that internalizes the violence as an accepted element by the parties to the game and gives it de facto immunity from criminal prosecution. Treat them as any other acts of violence, and the sports themselves would become unplayable.

And then there is fighting. Fighting among the players routinely breaks out in professional team sports in North America (though rarely, if ever (if I understand correctly) in soccer). In fact, it’s even part—implicit, true—of the attraction in ice hockey. They are almost always touched off by play action, but are themselves not part of the flow of the game. Indeed, the fights themselves interrupt play. Here again, though, the sports authorities are generally allowed to manage their affairs, usually by way of suspensions and fines, free of criminal prosecution. The players, by submitting to the authority of their respective sports bodies, accept this state of affairs. If this type of violence is accepted by the parties, if only implicitly by way of accepting a set of rules that impose penalties on aggressors, then it is difficult to distinguish it from that which occurs within the flow. More generally, note that the law recognizes a range of acts of violence that results in physical harm when there is consent, such as tattoos, body piercing, and some forms of cosmetic surgery. There is no inherent difference between the consent in these activities and consent, if somewhat implicit, in sports.

Of course de facto immunity does not provide an absolute shield from criminal prosecution. It goes without saying that spectators are not bound by this state of affairs beyond the wayward foul ball or hockey puck. And the authorities do go after particularly egregious cases. North American authorities have sought and won conviction of players committing violent fouls within the flow of the game that resulted in serious injury.

The third category falls somewhere between the second and fourth categories, and so let’s skip it for this post. It does pose an interesting question, but I don’t feel competent to attack it unless I am aware of the case law. (Do cricket players “fight” during matches at all? Is that “cricket”?)

Then there is the fourth category. In tennis, if a fist fight broke out between Roger Federer and Raphael Nadal after a hard-fought match, I am sure that it would be treated like any other fight such as one between, oh, you and me. There is no implicit acceptance of violence here. That does not, of course, mean that it would immediately result in criminal prosecution. The authorities in liberal democracies often will not go after simple assault and battery cases if there is no injury and no one files a criminal complaint. Even if there is some physical harm, they will sometimes let the case go if the victim has settled with the assailant and has agreed not to press charges. It should be no different in tennis, or any other sport in the fourth category. Unfortunately, with John McEnroe long retired, we shall never have the opportunity to know.

* For the purposes of this argument, doubles (think tennis) and series of two-player games (think team tennis) shall not be considered a team sport. Why this should be so deserves to be explored on its own, but I’ll reserve that for another occasion since it requires more thinking than I can afford at this moment.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Baseball, Human Rights, and the Media as a Marketing Tool

While sumo is being inundated by big, athletic Eurasian and East European wrestlers making their bids for big bucks, baseball is seeing its biggest draws plucked away by MLB in the cash-rich, professionally managed U.S. sports market. Either way, Japanese sports are at a crossroads. Here, I take up baseball, where the trickle of Japanese talent started by Hideo Nomo’s one-man rebellion threatens to pass another milestone, from a media watch angle.
Junichi Tazawa is a 22-year old right-hander who currently pitches for the corporate amateur team fielded by Eneos. Although this ESPN report does not give him rave reviews
"His fastball is 88 to 93 [mph]," said a scout for one team who declined to be named. "He has a forkball, a curve, but the command of his fastball is so-so. His lower body is stiff."
he is considered a top prospect in Japan and would be one of the first to go in the first round of the Japanese pro baseball draft. However, ENEOS faxed the twelve professional baseball teams (NPB) with the request that they do not name Mr. Tazaki in the draft since he intends to throw his baseball cap into the U.S. major league baseball draft. This has understandably thrown the NPB, at a substantial cash disadvantage vis-à-vis the U.S. major league baseball (MLB) into a tizzy and the Japanese sports media, including the mainstream dailies, is abuzz with the story. My interest in this issue is mainly in the way it illuminates the role that mainstream dailies play as marketing tools of their non-media holdings.

All the twelve NPB teams have second squads, where the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time mingle with rehabbing veterans and malingering oldsters, but that’s it. There’s no minor league system to speak of*. So high school and college graduates who go undrafted by choice or against their will but want another chance to turn pro (or just to play baseball under a less stressful environment for a few more years) hone their skills in one of the corporate amateur teams, which give their corporate patrons cheap publicity when tournament season rolls around, as well as serve as a focal point for company solidarity for their regular employees. It is also good for community relations. The corporate amateur teams are nowhere near as popular s they used to be, and their ranks have been diminished by corporate cutbacks during the fallow, post-bubble-economy years. But there still is plenty of room there for athletes like Mr. Tazawa who bide their time before attempting that leap to the next level.

The next level, until now, had always been the NPB. True, there have been exceptions, such as Mac Suzuki, who dropped out of high school to join the U.S. minors and eventually had a brief, journeyman sort of career in the majors. But MLB, in the interests of international comity, respect the Japanese draft and will only go after undrafted amateurs, and Mac was just such a one. Until now.

Of course a Japanese team can draft Mr. Tazawa regardless, but its negotiation rights will expire in a year, so it is likely to end up having wasted its own top draft pick just to make a point for NPB. Barring unforeseen events, Mr. Tazawa will wind up in the 30-team MLB draft, if not as a top-ten pick, surely somewhere in the first two or three rounds. MLB is surely at another level, if the drop-off in the performance of Japanese superstar crossovers like the two Matsuis, Hideki and Kazuo, Tadahito Iguchi, and even the magnificent Ichiro (Suzuki) are any indication. Still, these and lesser players with the right tools have shown that Japanese player can hold their own with hungry Latin American and other more exotic imports to the majors.

Yes, the Japanese pro leagues may suffer if this opens a floodgate. But hey, the Japanese Constitution that says, “Every person shall have freedom… to choose his occupation to the extent that it does not interfere with the public welfare [and that the] [f]reedom of all persons to move to a foreign country… shall be inviolate”, right? Well, it depends on which newspaper you read.

A Mainichi reporter goes to bat for Japanese (professional) baseball. The headline itself is telling:
Tazawa’s Major League Challenge: Urgent Need for New Rules
The report quotes a top baseball executive:
Masatake Yamanaka, a managing director at Yokohama points out, “Each country should have priority rights (to get [the players]).”
The article concludes:
If “it is difficult to legally bind the United States by the agreement between Japanese professional baseball and its amateur counterparts” (Hidetoshi Kiyotake; Yomiuri Giants representative), then “there is no alternative but to hurry and establish new rules between the Japanese and American professional [leagues].”
If you’re wondering where the media’s well-established concern for human rights have gone, don’t go looking for it at Asahi. Asahi appears to be taking a detached, just-the-facts-ma’am approach to the issue, here and here.”

Look no further than the liberals’ bugbear Sankei Shinbun to find the most balanced coverage of all, where this typical article talks not unsympathetically about the difficulties that this turn of events poses for NPB, but points out that “from the point of view of the ‘freedom to choose one’s occupation’ there is no way that the NPB can stop this’”. It also cites a claim from Yomiuri Giants representative Hidetake Kiyotake that “Japan has its hands tied and MLB is free [to contact prospects and pay draftees whatever they want to]. It’s unfair.” The article concludes that “[a]lthough it is undesirable to create rules that bind payers to Japan, there is a need to coordinate with amateur baseball and put Japanese and American baseball on an equal footing.”

Yomiuri shows little if any of the heavy-handed boosterism and editorializing that permeates its usual baseball reporting. True, Takuo Takihana, the Yomiuri Giants “owner (surrogate for parent company)” is seen in this Sankei article as being pissed off at Mr. Tazawa for having the gall to tell NPB not to draft him. But Yomiuri itself has been taking it relatively calmly, here, here (a Tazawa interview transcript!), and here.

The media outlets’ respective relationships with NPB shed some light on these different reporting angles that they have adopted with regard to Tazaki’s prospective defection to America.

There’s a reason why Yomiuri insists on an equal footing with MLB but little else. This has nothing to do with human rights and much to do with the fortunes of the corporate jewels, the Yomiuri Giants. The Giants are the one true national institution in Japanese professional baseball. Every baseball fan in Japan is either pro- or anti-Giants fan, and even a greater proportion of baseball players would love nothing more than to play for the Giants. If the Giants had their druthers, the draft would be abolished, leaving it to pick off the cream of the crop, with all the cash, public acclaim, and air time (TV loves the Giants) at its disposal to lure top prospects and free agents to its clubhouse or force desirable trades on its competitors. It also wants to be on the good side of MLB; it has cornered the market on MLB exhibition games in Japan, many of which are played against… you guessed it, the Yomiuri Giants.

Mainichi’s stance appears to have a business motive as well. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I remember the Seibu Group playing a crucial role in the 1070s Mainichi bailout, and that this led to a special relationship with the baseball team Lions, when the Seibu Group later purchased it from its previous, ailing corporate owner. The Lions have seen many fat years on the baseball diamond, but unfortunately belongs to the poorer Pacific League.

Asahi can play it cool because it doesn’t have a baseball team to push. Sankei doesn’t have a stake in pro baseball either. Both these dailies are part of media groups that have an interest in broadcasting Japanese baseball games. But with the Yomiuri group’s Nippon TV claiming dibs on the cash cow Giants, there’s much less incentive for these two dailies to report it as anything other than just another baseball story.

All but lost in all this, except with Sankei, is the human rights angle. I stand ready to be corrected.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Taro Aso’s Chankonabe Administration

chankonabe (ちゃんこ鍋) is a Japanese stew (a type of nabemono or one-pot dish) commonly eaten in vast quantity by sumo wrestlers as part of a weight gain diet. It contains a dashi or chicken broth soup base with sake or mirin to add flavor. The bulk of chankonabe is made up of large quantities of protein sources (usually chicken (quartered, skin left on), fish (fried and made into balls), tofu, or sometimes beef) and vegetables (daikon, bok choy, etc). While considered a reasonably healthful dish in its own right, chankonabe is very protein-rich and usually served in massive quantities, with beer and rice to increase the caloric intake. Leftover chankonabe broth can also later be used as broth for somen or udon noodles.

It is not made according to a fixed recipe and often contains whatever is available to the cook
From Wikipedia
There will be no better metaphor for the LDP and Taro Aso’s prospective administration than the all-for-all, all-for-all sumo food chankonabe if “people close to Mr. Aso” talking to Yomiuri are to be believed when they say that he intends to include all four of his rivals in his administration. According to the Yomiuri report, Yuriko Koike will get an important cabinet post, Nobuteru Ishihara will be named to Secretary-General or some other party leadership position, and Kaoru Yosano and Shigeru Ishiba will also be appointed to the Aso Cabinet.

Now the media is replete with political ad balloons during these times, so you should take in such reports with more than a grain of salt. But if you think that this incongruous hodgepodge of hawks and doves, misers, reformists and spendthrifts—one of whom has openly speculated about a post-Lower House election realignment—doesn’t make sense, think again. They want to keep the refueling ships in the Indian Ocean and take the Class-A war criminals out of Yasukuni. They want to take more fat out of government before they raise the consumption tax. They won’t issue deficit bonds to finance the stimulus package; they’ll find the money elsewhere, most notably in the special account reserves—the most fungible part of the “buried treasures”. Yes, the reasoning can vary, and there are different degrees of conviction and commitment. But thrown together in a campaign foreshadowed by a looming Lower House election, the candidates are more and more in tune with each other as the process lurches toward an anticlimactic showdown on 22 September. If the resulting “broth” does not wind up in a “weight gain”, at least it will minimize weight loss by providing something for everybody in the Lower House election. Or so the “people close to Mr. Aso”—indeed, the entire LDP—must be hoping.

Ms. Koike, to her credit, still manages to echo the Koizumian battle cry of no pain, no gain. But without a more expressive show of support from Junichiro Koizumi, it will not be easy for her to assume the role of standard bearer for the reformist wing of the LDP. In fact, she continues to draw as much attention as the potential focal point for a post-electoral splittist movement. During the near-obligatory Sunday Project joint performance by the five candidates, she got most of her air time when the septuagenarian emcee Soichiro Tawara badgered her at length on cross-party political realignment, where she had to keep peeking at her CliffsNotes to make sure that she didn’t go off-message*.

* Ms. Koike’s heavy-footed, talking-points-only act comes across poorly in anything resembling a real debate (or cross-examination), but should be quite effective in the whistle-stop main event, when she can whack away in abandon at the unseen enemy. She wields a big stick. I remind you, though, that this is only one, fairly limited, measure of her overall intelligence and aptitude. Barack Obama, albeit in a very different way, has trouble with the rapid-fire, drive-by mode of political discourse, as opposed to his favorite format of big-crowd oratory. If Ms. Koike is doing her own writing, then she is an effective writer. Mr. Obama, of course, is an even better and more contemplative writer.

Speaking of Sokagakkai

To quote: "Nam yo ho ren ge cho (sic)."

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Why Does the DPJ Continue Picking on the New Komeito?

I never understood why the DPJ would want an early Lower House election. After all, the Prime Minister would only be calling a snap election when coalition fortunes were looking up. Besides, the DPJ needed time to identify, nominate, and set up its candidates. Now, coalition prospects are better than they’ve been for some time, and it will be heading into the election, reportedly to be held on 26 October, less than two weeks after it has been proclaimed on the 14th.

Within the ruling coalition, New Komeito had been pushing for an early election, around the turn of the year. It places great importance on the Tokyo Prefectural Assembly elections, and the next one is scheduled for next July. It is heavily reliant on the Sokagakkai Buddhist sect for its foot soldiers and did not want to overtax those resources by holding another major election (in this case the Lower House election) in its vicinity—thus the desire for an early Lower House election. Besides, the New Komeito was only reluctantly supporting the refueling operations in the Indian Ocean, so it did not want to resort yet again to a supermajority override in the Lower House. A supermajority override would also prolong the upcoming extraordinary Diet session to the year’s end and possibly even early January.

Ichiro Ozawa decided to make sure that the New Komeito would put even more pressure on the LDP for a short session (thus ensuring an early election) by threatening to summon Junya Yano to the Diet for questioning. Mr. Yano is a former Komeito leader who later fell out with Komeito/New Komeito and Sokagakkai and is suing Sokagakkai for damages, claiming that it has tried to suppress his activities as a political analyst. He is very much willing to testify, presumably embarrassing both Sokagakkai and New Komeito. There is something sordid about hauling up a civil suit to the Diet as part of the political game, but a one-to-one connection between Sokagakkai and New Komeito does raise questions regarding the constitutional ban on state involvement in religious affairs.

In any case, the New Komeito has been running scared, just as Mr. Ozawa hoped. And with Prime Minister Fukuda’s surprise resignation and subsequent race for his LDP successor, an early election has been all but sealed and delivered.

Mr. Ozawa, however, is not letting up. When the DPJ announced the first batch of 187 candidates for the Lower House election, Mr. Ozawa’s name was left off the list, so that he could stand for election outside his Iwate Prefecture 4th District. It is widely believed that he is leaving himself the option to challenge New Komeito leader Akihiro Oota in his Tokyo Prefecture 12th District, where Mr. Oota hopes to be reelected, again with LDP support.

This looks like overkill to me. The early election is in the bag. An extra Lower House seat (assuming that whoever replaces Mr. Ozawa in his current district also is elected) could make the difference between any two of adjacent scenarios within the very wide range of possible outcomes. But assuming that the DPJ somehow wins a majority, there remains the task of gaining a majority in the Upper House. There, the DPJ has 108 out of 242 seats, 14 votes short of a majority. Since the nominally independent President (DPJ) and his Deputy (LDP) cancel each other out, five independents are affiliated with the DPJ, and one has received its support (as well as all the other opposition parties’ support) as an Upper House candidate, they might be able to make do with a minimum of seven more votes. Rule out the Communists (seven), the Reform Club (four; two DPJ outcasts and a couple of former conservative independents), and the DPJ is left to choose from leftish Social Democrats (five; the rump, unreconstructed Socialists), more-old-school-than-LDP People’s New Party (four), and the prickly New Party Nippon (one). In fact, the 21-strong Upper House New Komeito and its Lower House colleagues would be a better match for the DPJ than any of these other microparties. Not to mention the benefits of a bullet-proof, bicameral majority.

So isn’t it time for the DPJ to stop baiting the New Komeito? Or is the relationship between Mr. Ozawa and the New Komeito so beyond the pale that anything that the DPJ could do now would be useless?

* The State and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity. (Japanese Constitution, Article 20, paragraph 3.)

Koizumi Bump for Yuriko Koike Looking Smaller

Junichiro Koizumi has not surfaced since his endorsement of Yuriko Koike in the LDP presidential election splashed its way on to the tabloids. The tabloids were still carrying Mr. Koizumi today, but with nothing more than speculation to go on, it looks like it is fast becoming yesterday’s story in the mainstream media.

Mr. Koizumi’s endorsement was never going to change the immediate outcome. But with the now reclusive ex-Prime Minister, Ms. Koike’s appeal will be limited to diehard reform purists.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Koizumi Endorses Yuriko Koike, with Long-Term Implications

Yes, it will be far more exciting for political junkies like me if I turn out to be wrong and Yuriko Koike wins. But that’s the stuff of political fiction, I’m afraid.

We thought the LDP presidential race was all but over with ten days to go, with nearly half the Diet members and the majority of local leaders lining up behind Taro Aso, the Man Who’s Time Had Come. The restless media would be free to turn its attention to other matters during the run-up to the actual vote on the 22nd, such as DPJ efforts to slam the LDP with MAFF’s involvement in the diversion of tainted rice and yet another sordid set of revelations regarding SIA falsification of public pension records. This morning, Junichiro Koizumi changed all that, endorsing Yuriko Koike in response to a plea from a group of Yuriko Koike’s supporters including Seishiro Eto, Ms. Koike’s election chief and Tsutomu Takebe, head of New Wind and diehard Koizumian. This brings instant credibility to Ms. Koike as a Prime Minister candidate, and the media is all over the story.

The endorsement became public in a typically unorthodox fashion, by way of a report by Mr. Eto to a meeting of Ms. Koike’s supporters. According to Mr. Eto, Ex-Prime Minister Koizumi said, “I’m supporting Ms. Koike. I’ll vote for Ms. Koike. If Ms. Koike becomes [LDP] President, we can fight on an equal footing with the Ozawa DPJ.” Another Diet member attending the meeting with Mr. Koizumi added that he told them that they could make his endorsement public and that Diet members should consider whom they could win the election with.

However, this will not change the immediate outcome of the election, and Mr. Koizumi should be the first to realize that. Mr. Kozumi for all his weirdness had been a major figure in party politics—enough to be entrusted with the leadership of the Mori faction while its eponymous leader served an unhappy term as Prime Minister—while the well-traveled Ms. Koike is an upstart outsider. Moreover, the narrative has changed; none of the candidates are giving up reform, but there’s a time for soothing and healing the aches and bruises of the Koizumi reform years and that time is now. Besides, the public is worried about the economy. There may be no gain without pain, but even tightwad Kaoru Yosano is pitching a two-, three-year timeout. The pure Koizumi message, such as it was, will not play well in the provinces.

Having said that, Mr. Koizumi’s endorsement will reverberate through the post-election days, and here we are really talking about the Lower House election. For the LDP-New Komeito coalition, retaining a Lower House majority still leaves the Upper House in opposition hands with almost certain veto power—the coalition is sure to lose its Lower House supermajority. If the DPJ defeats the coalition, it may very well fall short of an outright majority and end up cobbling together a coalition with a motley crew of old-school socialists (Social Democrats) and vested-interests politics (New People’s Party). Even if it does win an outright majority in the Lower House election, it will still need the cooperation of other parties to pass a bill in the Upper House, where it falls short of a majority. In other words, no matter who wins the Lower House election, it is likely that the new administration will have a rough go of it. The public will quickly tire of the kind of political game that has driven the last two sessions in a bisected Diet. One possibility is stepped-up across-the-aisle cooperation, possibly even a Grand Coalition of the kind that Mr. Ozawa envisaged. Another is a dynamic realignment of the political parties.

As recently as last January, Ms. Koike talked openly and enthusiastically about a possible realignment revolving around Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Ozawa. The endorsement of Ms. Koike by Mr. Koizumi—his third reform, the political, as aimed at “destroying the LDP”—in the face of overwhelming establishment support for Mr. Aso, brings that possibility closer to reality.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Two Scandals and a Few Tips for the DPJ

Janne drew a parallel between two examples of government involvement in fraudulent activity in an earlier comment. Here’s some background that explains the differences, and a few unsolicited tips for the DPJ on exploiting them to its advantage nevertheless.
There’s actually a sensible reason for MAFF involvement in the Sumitomo-Mikasa transaction that ended up with 145 tons of defective rice being passed on to shochu* manufacturers. The government—to be more specific, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF)—is responsible for all tariff-free rice imports under WTO minimum access requirements. The government uses an auction system, under which trading companies undertake to find the rice and import the rice for the government, which turns around and sells the minimum access rice to domestic businesses for processing into shochu, rice cakes, glue and other rice products. The government is careful not to allow the rice itself to enter the retail market, where it would come into competition with domestic rice. Unfortunately, 145 tons out of 7,000 tons that Sumitomo imported from Thailand on behalf of the Japanese government had became infected with molds. Under the terms of the contract, Sumitomo had to purchase the infected rice. In order to keep the supply chain in order and the merchandise flowing—remember, there is a WTO obligation to fulfill—a MAFF official suggested that Sumitomo use Mikasa Foods, one of the few rice processors with the processing capacity for non-food end use—glue as a suitable outlet for the defective rice. Unbeknownst to MAFF, Mikasa Foods had hit on the highly lucrative business model of buying up defective rice on the cheap far beyond its legitimate processing capacity and passing it off to unsuspecting food processing businesses at high mark-ups. Someone, somewhere, appears to have snitched.

Then, is MAFF merely an innocent bystander in just one transaction in a case of wholesale fraud? Not quite. According to a Yomiuri report, MAFF has conducted 96 inspections since 2004, when Mikasa Foods began passing on the defective rice. However, all the inspections have been announced beforehand, giving Mikasa Foods ample time to engineer a cover-up. Not anymore, but the political damage has been done.

The opposition has several courses of action at its disposal, a few of which come to mind immediately. It can demand that the government produce information on all government inspections to see if they do not carry similar risks of cover-ups as the result of prior notice. It can demand that the government produce a complete list of former government officials employed by firms doing business with the government on minimum rice (or, if it wants to expand the playing field, businesses otherwise subject to government inspection). It can search for the names of any LDP Diet members receiving political contributions from Mikasa Foods. I am sure that Akira Nagatsuma and his colleagues are already looking into these and other ways to exploit the latest revelations to the DPJ’s advantage.

As for the latest Social Insurance Agency revelations regarding the falsification of premium payment records to cover up corporate delinquencies, this is yet another example of the systemic failure at the SIA. The extent of the fraud is unknown and is likely never to be made clear; there’s good news and bad for the government in this. The saving grace for the LDP is that the SIA has been so openly and thoroughly discredited that it takes a misdeed of massive proportions to excite the Japanese public.

So, as far as the government is concerned, one, the contaminated rice, is a case of guilt by association; the other, a case of institutional breakdown. Or so MAFF would like to claim. The success of the DPJ turns on its ability to weave these and other issues into a narrative that implicates the LDP in a systemic failure as the result of 53 years of political neglect. The latest policy manifest from DPJ appears to shaping up as everything that it promised in 2007, then some (dropping the gasoline tax surcharge and expanding agricultural subsidies to fishermen), still without raising taxes. This exposes its flank to attack not only from the LDP but also from the mainstream media. The DPJ must open a new front for attack; here, recent events seem to be giving government incompetence a new lease of life.

* Shochu is the Japanese term for a large family of distilled alcoholic beverages made from any one of wide variety of grain and tubers. Soju the Korean equivalent, appears to have much older origins. They both appear to belong to an Asia-wide family of powerful, often odiferous alcoholic beverages. And I know it’s powerful becaush right now I am writing dish footno… ah whadda…

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Poisoned Rice Scandal Political Hay for DPJ

The latest food scandal that has caught Mikasa Food buying methamidophos-tainted Chinese rice—shades of the poisoned-Chinese dumplings—for pennies to the kilo claiming that it would be used to produce glue, then passing it off at much higher prices to rice cracker, shochu and miso manufacturers. This is significant for two reasons:

In all the other food scandals, the culprits either tried to pass off cheap, generic items as more expensive, branded products or relabeled or reprocessed products that had passed their consume-by date. None of the fakes appear to have been detected by consumers and none of them caused health problems—Japanese consume-by dates are notoriously early. That had been the crucial distinction between the Japanese-origin cases and the Chinese dumplings (and the Chinese eels…). Not so this time around. The rice may be of Chinese origin, but a Japanese business has been caught systematically prepetrating fraud with possible (if not likely) health implications.

More important from a political point of view, an Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry official reportedly introduced an importer with tainted rice on its hands to Mikasa as a potential dump. The MAFF official must have meant no harm, but his involvement opens the door to Diet inquiries that call into question MAFF involvement in a private transaction that has resulted in a health threat. The ruling coalition will do its best to blame it on the bureaucracy, but that will only open the door to accusations that the LDP has spent the last 53 years sleeping on the job. Deliciously for the DPJ, it can summon the already controversial MAFF Minister Oota for further Diet grilling and embarrassment to feed a news-hungry media before a new Prime Minister can sack him as part of selecting a new Cabinet for himself.

A couple more incidents like that will do wonders for the DPJ’s lower house election prospects.

The Tao of Dudedom

John Wombacher, an Elmore Leonard character, without the crime.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Interviewed for Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio

Jonathan Gadir interviewed me today for ABC Radio. I hope that I managed to make the following points:
1) The differences within the LDP and the DPJ are much wider than the differences between the two. There are no powerfully compelling political issues that split the nation into ideologically opposed camps of significance.
2) The DPJ in the Ozawa era has disappointed me by moving away from a fiscally responsible position purely for tactical reasons. The media reports this political opportunism and blames it on Mr. Ozawa. The DPJ suffers in the polls for this, even as the LDP flounders.
3) Having said that, competition is a good thing in itself. Moreover, the DPJ, with fewer ties to the vested interests that have accumulated during more than 50 years of mostly LDP rule, may be a better agent of change.
4) A Prime Minister Taro Aso improves the ruling coalition’s chances for victory (which depends, of course, on how you define victory). We’ll see a bump in the opinion polls, which will help it in a early snap election. And as poorly as the LDP is doing in the polls, it still can put its votes together with the New Komeito’s 12-14 percentage point Sokagakkai votes in the 300 single-seat districts.
5) Take your mind off Mr. Aso’s bark and take a better look at his bite. You’ll find that his positions/statements on Yasukuni, the touchstone for Japan-China relations; the Northern Territories, the remaining obstacle to completing the normalization of Japan-Russia relations; and the refueling operations in the Indian Ocean, one of the two keystones in the projection of Japanese self-defense capabilities on the global stage, have been remarkably moderate. In any event, what passes for Japanese conservatism is often milquetoast by international standards.
6) Mr. Aso has insufficient gravitas for the Prime Minister’s job. He claims, rightly, economic credentials as a businessman. But a businessman’s perspective is not necessarily the right one for statecraft. Moreover, his policy preferences appear to lean more toward traditional remedies.
6) As for Yuriko Koike (the only other candidate that I was asked to comment on), her main interests were, are, international relations and national security. She has a substantial environment portfolio, but I suspect that it’s an acquired expertise, rather than something that comes from the heart.
I say “hope” because, frankly, I think it came out more like the incoherent ramblings of a couch-potato blogger. I’m not going to listen to it myself; I’m too self-conscious for that. But, in keeping in line with my past actions, I’ll post the link when it comes online in a few days, if only so that you can see if I actually did manage to make those points.

Finally, I offer my humble apology to Mr. Aso for claiming that he has insufficient gravitas for the Prime Minister’s job because he tends to think out loud. Imagine what he would say about my performance.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Can the Faction Leaders Deny Mr. Aso Victory? Highly Unlikely

CORR. 10 September: The 141 local chapter voters will vote in the second-round runoff as well. My mistake. Paradoxically, as a result, I may have to scale back my estimate of the extent of the empowerment of the locals. Let me think it over.
My mind may be clouded by the fact that I am already committed to the proposition that Taro Aso is going to win the LDP election. With that caveat…
There’s a speculative piece on the Sankei website that among other things raises the possibility of faction leaders seeking to maintain their power by managing the voting for the LDP Presidency in a two-candidate runoff. Its reasoning goes like this:
A five-way split of the votes between the likely candidates (Taro Aso, Yuriko Koike, Kaoru Yosano, Nobuteru Ishihara, and Shigeru Ishiba—the media appear to be skeptical about Yasufumi Tanahashi and Ichita Yamamoto meeting the 20-Diet member minimum requirement) may deny Mr. Aso an outright majority of the 528 eligible voters (141 local delegates; 387 Diet members) in the first round of voting. This will throw the election into a top-two runoff by a vote among the 387 Diet members only. At this point, faction leaders will try to reassert their authority in the horse-trading for votes by promises of cabinet and party posts.
I can’t imagine anything that would do a better job of driving away uncommitted voters (whose weight BTW I had been substantially overestimating; but that’s for another time) and bringing the collective wrath of the media on their heads. The local chapters, already unhappy that they are being denied the full 300 votes in a regularly scheduled election, will be beside themselves with anger as well. No doubt nothing would make the DPJ happier. For these reasons, I don’t see it happening unless Mr. Aso manages only a weak plurality against a strong second-place finisher in the local voting—a very low probability scenario in its own right. The following is a highly otaku update on the nuts and bolts that illustrates this point.

All 47 prefectural chapters have committed to selecting their three delegates each through popular vote by eligible voters (local party members and “party friends”. Of these, as of yesterday (6 September), 27 said that they would use the D'Hondt method, a form of proportional voting that in this case gives: 1) the first-place candidate all three electoral votes when he beats the second-place candidate by a margin of more than three to one; 2) the first-place candidate two electoral votes and the second-place candidate one if the first-place candidate beats the second-place candidate by a margin of less than three to one but beats the third-place candidate by a margin of more than two to one; 3) the top three vote-getters one electoral vote each if the margin between first and third is less than two to one. 12 chapters would hold winner-take-all votes, while 8 were undecided.

Yomiuri and Mainichi each conducted a survey of the LDP prefectural chapter leaders (mostly secretary-generals). 20 (Yomiuri) or 21 (Mainichi) supported Mr. Aso, while Mr. Ishihara and Mr. Ishiba received one voice of support each from Fukui and Tottori respectively. (Mr. Ishiba is a seven-time lower house member from one of Tottori’s two districts.) The other 24 or 25 did not express their preferences, but it is clear that there is currently overwhelming support for Mr. Aso at the prefectural leadership level. There is no assurance that the rank-and-file will follow the wishes of their leaders. Still, given his surprisingly strong showing in the last LDP election—admittedly against the much less glamorous party-establishment candidate Mr. Fukuda—and his relentless paddy-whacking efforts before and after his reappointment as party Secretary-General, it is highly likely that the popular vote will also break sharply his way. The three-votes-each rule means that the boondocks are overrepresented; this too will serve the fiscally more expansive and overall more conservative Mr. Aso well. To add to his luck, the local chapters whose leaders are leaning in his favor tend to favor winner-take-all races.

To complete this guessing game, let’s assume that the popular vote goes the way of the local party leaders. Eight of the 12 winner-take-all chapters will go to Mr. Aso; that’s 24 electoral votes. For the 12 chapters favoring Mr. Aso that use the D’Hondt method, assume that they give him two electoral votes each. That’s 24 more electoral votes, bringing his total to 48 from 20 chapters. Even if he fails to gain one electoral vote from Fukui or Tottori—they both intend to use the D’Hondt method—he needs only 23 electoral votes out of the 75, or less than a third of the remainder, from the remaining 25 chapters to win an outright majority of the local electoral votes. Unless the local leadership is totally out of touch with the rank-and-file, nothing short of a felony investigation is likely to derail him at the local level.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Mr. Fukuda’s Rising Popularity before His Resignation

As an answer to my plea, Ross has sent me a NIKKEI graph-and-table that shows Prime Minster Fukuda’s poll numbers making a steady climb after April except for the precipitous drop after the post-Cabinet reshuffle. (Longtime readers with long memories will remember that this was something that I had predicted for 2008. It came months later than I had expected; I plead extenuating circumstances.) But bump itself was anomalous and very much out of line with other media polls. If you take that unscheduled poll out of the equation, Mr. Fukuda’s numbers were improving up until the very end. Ross believes that this disproves any theory that links Mr. Fukuda’s resignation to deteriorating poll numbers. I agree with this, and I don’t have a better answer than his assessment that “it was the uselessness of pushing ahead in the legislative arena that drove his decision.”

Ross poses a couple of interesting questions here: Why did the media miss this? And why didn’t the Prime Minister’s handlers identify the improvement and play it up? I have no answer to the first question, having missed it myself. As for the second one, an insider close to Junichiro Koizumi expressed strong dissatisfaction with the current Prime Minister’s office. So maybe incompetence? Mr. Fukuda’s aversion to self-promotion—I saw it once, up close, while he was out of office—couldn't have helped either.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Browser Wars…KILL KILLKILLYEESSS… but in the Meantime…

Farhad Manjoo’s article on Google Chrome tells me that I wasn’t the only one who’d been crashing and losing his memory with Firefox. My problem now is, how do I make the bookmarks on my Google toolbar appear on Chrome?

… please?

More, More, More, Said the Media… and the LDP Obliges… What It All Means

I thought that I’d given you all the names of the suspects. Silly me. It turns out that Kunio Hatoyama (59) was never in it in the first place—he’s supporting prohibitive favorite Taro Aso (almost 68)—Sadakazu Tanigaki (63) never got his wagon train rumbling, and Taro Kono (45; mentioned in aside) didn’t find enough people to take him seriously. But…
Yasufumi Tanahashi (45); possibly the most influential leader of the LDP youth movement
Taichi Yamamoto (50); very popular, very articulate*
Shigeru Ishiba (51); popular go to guy on national security
all decided to throw their hats in the ring. Meanwhile, Fukushiro Nukaga (64), giving up hope of obtaining 20 signatures from his co-factionmates, consolidated his perennial almost-ran status.

* Mr. Yamamoto is an interesting phenomenon because he is still an upper house member, so he has zero chance of being elected LDP president. He is clearly positioning himself to move to the lower house and becoming a true Prime Minister candidate.

The immediate effect of all this has been to take some of the the wind out of Yuriko Koike’s (56) sails. The nomadic Ms. Koike’s hopes had been to run her banner up the the Koizumian reformist pole, provide a nice, youthful contrast to Mr. Aso (and the newly septuagenarian Kaoru Yosano) and likely use the occasion to build a real power base for the next spin around the tracks. With three new younger reformists in the ring in addition to the seasoned but still youthful Nobuteru Ishihara (51), she appears to be running into trouble corralling the 20 signatures necessary to put her name on the ballot—already a somewhat risky proposition, given her lack of backbench/rank-and-file support.

All this also generates a little uncertainty for Mr. Aso. All these candidates—assuming they manage to collect 20 signatures each, no certainty there—on the local prefectural ballots will inevitably take some of the popular vote away from Mr. Aso. Although Mr. Aso may, in a piece of political irony, do better on the 141 electoral votes as the result of a wider distribution of the non-Aso popular vote, the results of the popular vote will not be lost on the Diet members, who will feel more free to vote on the candidates of their choice, of whom there are now more to choose from. I still believe that Mr. Aso will win the nomination on the first ballot, but I now see the (admittedly very faint) possibility that the vote will go to a runoff, in which case anything can happen.

In any case, youth will have been heard. We have seen the future, and it is them. That perhaps is the point of it all for the newbie candidates.

All this, of course, is a problem for the DPJ, where Ichiro Ozawa is running unopposed for reelection as party leader. Mr. Aso already led Mr. Ozawa 30%-8% as the best candidate for next Prime Minister, in a 2-3 September Asahi poll of all things. The DPJ leadership had already reacted poorly to the upcoming LDP race, allowing Yukio Hatoyama to publicly voice concern over the LDP monopolization of media attention, and later forming a committee (no kidding) to counter the threat, all apparently without a game plan. It is far too early to say that the tide has turned, but the odds have improved for an LDP-New Komeito hold on power in the lower house. The DPJ must be hoping that as few of the new wave as possible will make it on to the LDP ballot.