Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Obama's Steady Ship

The following is an excerpt, somewhat edited, from an email I sent to a friend in Manhattan who strongly supported John McCain but has since warmed somewhat to the idea of an Obama administration as the president-elect has rolled out his team. I know I am inflicting this on mainly people who are interested in the Japanese scene, its politics in particular. Sorry about that; I’ll try to come back to that, to find out if I think I have anything meaningful to say.
The people Obama is naming to administrative oversight positions are to the best of my knowledge all even-keeled, steady figures. True, Clinton lurched from one pitch to another toward the end of her campaign, but she made the switches perfectly, like a polished actor. (So did Romney, in a reprogrammable robot sort of way. McCain on the other hand was visibly uncomfortable when he had to say things he didn't believe in.)

That—plus competence—appears to be what the no-drama Obama has been looking for. That is surely a big reason why Robert Gates is an odds-on favorite to stay on, at least for awhile, as Defense Secretary. Note that Obama made the notorious Rahm Emanuel Chief of Staff and the brilliant but gauche Larry Summers the National Economic Council chief instead of Treasury Secretary. These two don't have to run bureaucracies; they run (more politely, coordinate) the people who run them—on behalf of Obama. I also like the way Obama has been rolling out his team.

The thing about Obama is, when people compare him to JFK, they mention his intelligence and wit, youth, physical grace, attractive family, and breaking the political barrier (his race to Kennedy's Catholicism), but they don't talk about the aura of detachment and the pragmatic ruthlessness that the two have in common. But how else could he have severed his ties with his church after Rev. Wright had retired? Of course Kennedy took horrible chances—apparently it runs in the family—whereas Obama is cautious—until he makes up his mind—and methodical.

All in all, I think Obama's going to be as effective as anyone else can be, given the circumstances. But he's going to need some luck to be a two-term president, and a lot of luck to be remembered as a great one.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

New US President Obama and Japan's Next Political Leader: Symposium

For those of you who have wondered how I look…I’ll try to find the time to translate my prepared notes.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Is an Obama Presidency Good for Japan?

I give it a qualified yes, but I doubt our loveable Governor Ishihara was happy to hear the news.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Talk about Lincolnesque “Team of Rivals” Is Just That—Talk

This “Team of Rivals” talk has its roots in a January interview, where Barack Obama told Katie Couric:
“Doris Kearns Goodwin's book ‘Team of Rivals. It was a biography of Lincoln. And she talks about Lincoln's capacity to bring opponents of his and people who have run against him in his cabinet. And he was confident enough to be willing to have these dissenting voices and confident enough to listen to the American people and push them outside of their comfort zone. And I think that part of what I want to do as president is push Americans a little bit outside of their comfort zone. It's a remarkable study in leadership.”
It caught fire when it appeared that he had reached out to primary foe Hillary Clinton with an offer to consider her as a serious candidate for Secretary of State.

Excuse me, but didn’t Hillary—as well as, near the end of the campaign, Bill for that matter—Clinton jump wholeheartedly into the Obama campaign and go all out for his election? Before that, hadn’t Senator Clinton shown herself to be a consummate team player who could work effectively with her colleagues across the aisle to their surprise? These are grownups we are talking about. Compared to her and the other non-Obama team nominations so far, the Lincoln cabinet members were a virtual madhouse of huge egos, some contemptuous of President Lincoln and/or unable to stand each other. Obama is not going to bring in a Rudy Giuliani or a Mike Huckabee. (Although in the unlikely event that they were asked and agreed to serve, I’m sure they would at least be far more civil than Lincoln’s contentious appointees, who were only a few decades removed from the times when public figures routinely had settled their differences by duel and were destined to fight a most uncivil war to determine the fate of the nation.)

Not to deny that these are momentous times, but, like the comparisons with FDR, the media are overplaying the historical import of the Obama administration. Does the press think the public to be so dumb that it can only understand politics as some kind of a soap opera?

One more thing: If Bill Clinton speaks out of turn, I’m sure a President Obama will drop a load on him, to make sure there’s no repeat performance. Obama has spent his whole life getting here—the media ridiculed what they saw as the Clinton campaign’s attempt to ridicule Obama’s pre-school presidential ambitions by way of his kindergarten essay, but the Clinton website had shown with Obama’s own words that the flames of his ambition had continued to burn through grade school, high school and college—and he is not going to let anyone undermine his authority if he can help it. A man who is willing to leave his church of twenty-some years—after the offending pastor had retired—to further his political agenda is not going to wilt in the face of disobedience.

You Are There: How The Pilgrims Came to Stuff the Thanksgiving Turkey

It happened almost by accident, really. Remember, in those days, they had no electricity, no gas, no running water, and no undocumented aliens to do the dishes, so doing a Thanksgiving dinner was an even bigger chore than it is now. So by the time Mr. Allerton came home after "fooling around with the Indians" (Mrs. Allerton's words), turkey in tow, it was like… But see for yourself…
Fear honey, I'm home! I got the turkey!”
“Well, Isaac Allerton, it's about time, I've only got four hours… whatthef@ckit'sstillalive! And I smell tobacco on thy breath, thou hast been smoking again, that's a f@cking sin!”
“…But I didn't inhale.”
“I don't care, get the f@ck outta here, kill that f@cking bird, pluck it f@cking clean, then bring it back ASAP, or it's thy f@cking neck I shall be wringing!”

…Thirty minutes later, Mrs. Allerton is getting ready to finish dressing the turkey…

“Stupid Issac *grumble grumble* Stupid bird *mutter mutter*... Hey stupid turkey! Isaac turkey! Yeah, thee! I'm talkin' about thee! Thou canst not even ‘dress’ thyself HAHA, canst thee? What hast thou got to say for thyself, buck naked HAHA in front of a lady HAHAHA! Won't answer, huh? Well I have half a mind to take that stupid head of thine and stick it where the sun dost not… W-a-a-a-i-t a minute, I've got an idea…”
True story. You can read the full transcript on the History Channel website. Note that Mrs. Allerton never takes the name of the Lord in vain. Very authentic.

And please, Rondo, no taunting, we’re the Celtics.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

On Aging

Paul Simon, American Tune, live.

Live performances of old signature songs can be disappointing; mannerisms creep in, the voice deteriorates. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Art Garfunkel sing at a benefit concert. His upper register had coarsened; it was sad. As for Linda Ronstadt… But then, here’s Carole King, as powerful as ever, if not more so.

We all age differently. It is strange.

Travel Tip for Guys Considering Trip to Japan

Fashion guide, from this amateur trendspotter.

It was late afternoon, and a gaggle of teenage girls in their school uniforms, heading home or to other less determinate destinations, had entered the train car when one of them caught my eye. (Presumably, there was a troop of schoolboys as well, but for some reason it escaped my attention.) For an instant, I wondered why, but then I realized: the hem of that one girl’s skirt was longer than those of the others, though it still had a long way to go before it would reach her knees. In fact, all the other girls were wearing their skirts more or less to the same length; that was why the one girl had stood out.

Trend-watchers, the schoolgirl’s skirt has reached the upper limits of decency in the context of stairs and escalators, and there is now no other way to go but down. And go down it will—the hem that is. For if there’s any mortal who pays greater attention to how a schoolgirl looks than a guy, it’s another schoolgirl. And if there’s anything anyone hates more than being “different”, it’s being like everyone else.

So there you have it: short, short schoolgirl uniforms will go the way of the loose socks, the now-mercifully extinct, baggy polar-bear stockings—a reminder to guys trying to make up their minds about a trip to Japan this winter.

Incidentally, I believe that the miniskirt look for schoolgirl uniforms apparently began with Michiru Yamana, one of the main characters in BØY, a very popular manga that ran in Shonen Jump between 1992-99. I remember reading it and thinking, they can’t get away with that. And in the early 90s, they couldn’t. But in fiction, she could.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Note on “New US President and Next Leader in Japanese Politics”

It turned out the Glocom event went off the scenario from get-go NTTIAWWT, so I never got to make most of my points. If you can read Japanese, please take a look here, where I’ve posted my talking notes. If I manage to translate it, I’ll post it here.

History’s Obamas—How about Japan?

In Slate, David Berreby shows that American exceptionalism is not warranted where outsiders assuming power is concerned. He gives Benjamin Disraeli, Napoleon Bonaparte and other well-known examples to prove his point. To explain how this happens in Berreby’s own words:
For one thing, self-made, boundary-crossing leaders generally arise in times of upheaval, when it's clear familiar ways aren't working.

About their atypical and unprivileged status, boundary-breaking leaders have, like Obama, usually been open, not shy—a second trait they often share. They make a loud, clear show of the fact that they aren't hiding or trimming their origins.

When charges of subterfuge fail to stick to a minority candidate, it is often because the target has made them ridiculous by showing a strong, sincere strain of don't-rock-the-boat conservatism.

The lesson to be gleaned, then, from the hardly new success of "outsider'' leaders is that, in troubled times, people want leaderly reassurance. But it's not necessarily ethnic/religious/one-of-us reassurance. Rather, they want something new and brave to address their fears, without effacing what they love most about their country. In other words, they want society to be new and old, changed and restored, familiar and unfamiliar. Anyone can say the right things about those contradictory desires, but it's much more convincing to elect a person who by birth embodies them.
The obvious question for Japan, given its long term structural problems, economic, demographic and otherwise: What are the prospects for a Japanese Obama? What are the chances of an outsider becoming Prime Minister?

Of course if you go far enough back in Japanese history, literally everyone can claim foreign ancestry. In fact, when the current Emperor visited South Korea as Crown Prince, he spoke of his probable Korean origin—an allusion to the Horse Rider Theory, which states that horse-riding nomads from Korea conquered Japan around 300AD and established the unbroken imperial line—which generated much goodwill among Koreans. But that’s probably not what we are looking for here. Let’s narrow the search a little.

Currently, three naturalized Japanese citizens serve in the Diet. They are:
(MURATA) Renho (Taiwanese)
HAKU Shinkun (South Korean)
Marutei TSURUNEN (Finn!)
That’s three out of 739 (479 Lower House, 242 Upper House), not a high percentage, an indication less of discrimination than a more general reluctance to accept immigrants. There is no quick and easy way to figure out how many others have non-Japanese parents or grandparents.

Renho is probably the most promising of the three, although I’ve never heard her being talked up as an up-and-coming political leader. It may interest people who are looking for change, any change, though, that They all belong to the DPJ, which, of course, does not have to field so many heirloom candidates. Some years back, ARAI Shokei, a naturalized (North) Korean-Japanese, was a promising, up-and-coming LDP Diet member who had made the jump from the Ministry of Finance to politics, but committed suicide under suspicion of shady financial dealings.

How do other “outsiders” fare in politics? There has been one Ainu Diet member, SUGANO Shigeru, who also belonged to the DPJ for a couple of years before retirement. There have been a number of burakumin Diet members, usually standing from the opposition parties. But NONAKA Hiromu, who has long acknowledged his burakumin origins, was a powerful LDP kingmaker. Osaka's enormously popular (and right-wing) governor Toru Hashimoto has stated that he grew up in the Dowa regions, although he has not explicitly acknowledged burakumin ancestry. The DPJ fielded an openly lesbian candidate, Kanako Otsuji, in the 2007 Upper House election. In balance, the DPJ currently appears to be more progressive than the LDP where non-traditional candidates are concerned,.

More generally, the recent record suggests that we are quite receptive to non-traditional leaders. In soccer, six of the seven (eight if you count repeater Takeshi Okada twice) head coaches of the national team during the J-League era have been foreigners, and six out of eighteen and two out of fifteen in the J-League First and Second Divisions respectively. Gaijins have been making inroads in the more insular professional baseball as well, where four of the twelve managers in 2008 were non-Japanese. (The number dropped to two as two resigned for purely personal reasons.) In the business world, Carlos Ghosn became a national hero when he nursed the near-bankrupt auto manufacturer Nissan back to health.

Come to think of it, we the Japanese people have always been receptive to, even venerating, foreign teachers. That goes back to the beginning of our known history. It appears, though, that we have a harder time accepting outsiders as pure equals. If that is true, then it is food for thought, and I’m sure those culturalists will have a ready explanation. But I’m not a culturalist, so this is as good a place as any to end this post.

ADD (Nov. 21): My heartfelt thanks to James (see comments), who has kindly linked to this Newsweek article. The visit actually never materialized. I’ve managed to totally misremember the whole event, though the point remains the same. It was something I’d believed in so strongly that I hadn’t bothered to fact-check.

Note: the Emperor’s talk came in 2002. The following year, the South Korean soap opera Winter Sonata became a megahit on Japanese TV and Korean drama and Korean celebrities exploded on the Japanese entertainment scene.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Open-Source Appeal on “New US President and Next Leader in Japanese Politics” Seminar

Those of you who can read Japanese, I request your help. Any comments, hopefully constructive, in Japanese, English, or Portuguese, on the following answers are welcome. I will be joining the panel at this GLOCOM-TUJ event. I’ve been working out my comments in advance since I’m not a good extemporaneous speaker. Each panelist has five minutes for the answers to questions 1) and 4) and ten minutes for 2) and 3). For 1) and 2), I’m up to about five-six minutes depending on how quickly I speak 1). I hardly have anything on 3) and 4). I’ll be adding to and otherwise editing them as I go along; for now, I’m signing off. I thank you for your cooperation.

Please write to

Or if you prefer, you are welcome to post them as comments.


 一言で言うと、これは、たぶん Robert Dujarricが最初に言ったのではないかと思いますが、Commander-in-ChiefでなくJanitor-in-Chiefだ、つまり、少なくとも一期目は、「後始末政権」であって、経済の立て直しを図りながら、イラクからの撤収とアフガニスタンへの増派を進めるというのが、圧倒的に最優先課題だと思います。それ以外の点については、閣僚等の政治任命も含め、ブッシュ政権と違い、イデオロギー色をできるだけ薄めながら、比較的慎重にことを進めていくだろうと予想します。というわけで、内外で絶大な期待を寄せられていることが―CNNの最新の国内世論調査では、オバマへの支持率が75%、チェンジに期待できるとする回答が2/3近く、4年後には米国の状況が良くなっているとする回答が76%です-それが現実との落差拡大という形でかえって重荷になる危険もあるわけです。













Tokyo Confidential under “Editorial Review”

I posted on the WaiWai incident here, where I claimed that Tokyo Confidential, the biweekly Japan Times column also featuring articles from weekly publications (albeit including more upscale magazines) was different. PS has alerted me to the fact that the Tokyo Confidential columns are no longer accessible. I reproduce the JT notice in its entirety in the hopes that it will consider it to be an example of fair use:

This article cannot be displayed because it is currently under
editorial review. We apologize for any inconvenience.
For media- and tech-related stories.
The last Tokyo Confidential column was published on August 31. Let’s hope JT provides an explanation later.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Abu Aardvark, on the Internets and Al Qaeda

The world needs more of this kind of thinking. I'm not just talking about AQ. This could spawn a whole new academic discipline, if it hasn't already.

DPJ Puts Out for Small Business

The 2007 Upper House election manifesto has finally disappeared from the DPJ website but has yet to be replaced by the new package that is estimated to cost 20.5 trillion yen when it goes into full force in FY2012. Instead, there are the Five Promises, which I translate in full for you (the Promises, not the entire flash display):
It is your life that will change.
Five Promises that will create a new life:
1. Wasteful spending: We will eliminate the “Decent from Heaven” and take tax revenues back into the people’s hands.
Thorough rearrangement of the total 212 trillion-yen national budget.
We will produce the fiscal funds to reconstruct the people’s lives.

2. Pensions and medical care: We will eliminate anxieties over pensions, medical care and nursing care, and stabilize your lives.
“Pension Passbooks”, and pensions that do not disappear.
We will abolish the Late-term Elderly Medical Care System.

3. Raising children: We will eliminate worries over raising children, and create educational opportunities for everyone.
We will distribute a 26,000 yen/month per child “Children’s Allowance”.

4. Working: We will eliminate inequality in employment so that people who put in honest work will be rewarded.
Non-permanent workers also to be treated equally.
We will ban temporary assignment labor of two months or less.

5. Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery: We will eliminate worries over the livelihood of people in the agriculture, forestry and fishery industries, and regenerate food and local communities.

This is the best economic policy.
The Democratic party of Japan
The DPJ appears to have concluded that the 20.5 trillion yen package is not a good sell. The items, if not the price tag, lives on though, in its November 5 economic package (which also incorporates the October 15 financial crisis measures, a detailed, wonkish package that unfortunately received scant attention in the media). I’d like to highlight a couple of little-noticed items in the new package, since they are significant enough to deserve mention as a Sixth Promise, to small business owners and their families:
We will cut corporate income tax rates for small and medium enterprises in half for the time being.

…We will raise the target sum under the Government and Other Public Procurement Act for procurement contracts with small and medium enterprises by ten percentage points.
The corporate income tax rate is 30% of taxable income. Corporations capitalized at 100 million yen or less get a tax break on taxable income up to 8 million yen, which is subject to a 22% tax rate; any amount above that is taxed at the normal 30% rate. I don’t think giving tax breaks to businesses making money during a recession makes sense a s small business policy, and it’s bad employment policy to give incentives to cut expenditures during a recession (although cutting taxes in general would make sense form a macroeconomic point of view). Raising the public procurement target is even more troubling. The government procurement target has been raised to the best of my knowledge every single year since its incipience in 1966, to 50% for FY2008; a ten-percent hike has the potential to create huge distortions in the procurement process, leading to more waste. So there you are; the ultimate DPJ giveaway to small business.

Is this yet another case of the DPJ out-LDPing the LDP? Yes. Is Ichiro Ozawa the symbol of the DPJ’s LDPness? Yes. Have they been counted when tallying the 20.5 trillion price tag? Who knows. Is this the change the Japanese public wants? No. Is this the change the Japanese public will take regardless? Maybe; the Japanese public is mindful of the alternative.

Monday, November 10, 2008

”Nationalism”, “Militarism and Aggression”, The Tamogami Affair

Michael Reimer writes:
At Mainichi, an opinion piece on Tamogami asks "Why is it that a person who has a distorted view of history and rejects the government's position is able to rise to the top of the ASDF?" ( I read the BBC piece that you linked to on Wednesday, which concluded that "for every black van, or the odd headline-grabbing revisionist statement, a wealth of unobtrusive signs suggests militarism and aggression have been durably expelled from Japan's collective psyche."

When I lived in Japan I felt somewhat differently. The headline-grabbing revisionist statements seemed more frequent than the BBC suggests, and while I never saw the black vans, I regularly met seniors who expressed (moderately) nationalist views. To me there seem to be two possible explanations for the frequency of the headlines, one of which is just that nationalism is a hot topic and hence overrepresented in the media, and the other that it's still far from being "durably expelled from Japan's collective psyche". My personal experiences led me to the latter conclusion, so I assumed that views like Tamogami's are the sort of thing that government administrators would turn a blind eye to as long as they're kept reasonably private.

The question from Mainichi gets to the heart of all that, so I'd really like to know how you would answer it.

I believe that the overwhelming majority of the Japanese public does reject anything that smells of what people conventionally understand as “militarism and aggression”. To see “Japan’s collective psyche” (whatever that is), you need look no further than the half of the Japanese public who oppose even the refueling operations in the Indian Ocean. Imagine the outcry if the Japanese government actually decided to send troops under a UN resolution and a request from the host nation to actually engage in fighting against terrorists.

Some mainstream political leaders do hold views regarding our recent history that most Koreans and Chinese find deeply offensive. But history is history; I see little if anything in their statements that could be projected into the future as even a precursor of “militarism and aggression.” If anyone reading this spots, say, Shoichi Nakagawa calling on the Aso administration to take back the Northern Territories by force, I’ll be happy to revisit that point.

As for “nationalism”, which is a very different subject, I’m sure there are many people, especially older males, “(moderately) nationalist” if you will, who hold views about our history that are… but I’ll refrain from repeating myself. Where the frequency of “nationalist” sightings in the media is concerned, it’s a matter of opinion, but I think they are rare and in any case are not necessarily evidence of tendencies toward “militarism and aggression.” Also keep in mind that Cabinet Minister and Diet member sightings at Yasukuni have trended down in recent years.

Finally, with regard to your point that “views like Tamogami's are the sort of thing that government administrators would turn a blind eye to as long as they're kept reasonably private,” I agree, and as a supporter of liberal democracy wouldn’t want it to be any other way. But that was not the case, if news reports are to be believed, with General (Ret.) Tamogami, who was anything but private with his views in his official capacities.

Over the course of this blog including this exchange, I’ve come away with a clearer understanding of the distinctions between the Yasukuni of Yushukan and the Yasukuni of Makoto Koga and Junichiro Koizumi, between aggression and nationalism, between history and destiny, and where people like Toshio Tamogami stand in all of this. But that’s for a another time.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Garoto de Ipanema? You Be the Judge

When Prime Minister Berlusconi called President-Elect Obama “handsome, young and also suntanned”, do you think he was referencing The Girl from Ipanema, as in:
Tall and tan and young and lovely?
He did work his way through college as a singing waiter.

ADD: An incredible take by Ella Fitzgerald, live on stage. She segues into Fly Me to the Moon, which I understand also carries deep, Astrud Gilberto associations.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

You Can Do Anything You Want…

…at your local convenience store. As long as it’s legal. By coincidence, I'd been talking with a friend of mine the other day about this phenomenon.

One thing has surprised me though. Supermarket chains have been doing their best to keep up with their nimbler, albeit more expensive, competitors, for example by extending their own store hours. So it’s strange that they haven’t branched out into the kind of services that the convenience stores offer.

You Are on Notice, Bullturd

On Thursday, I listened to an academic who chose to speak off the record about a public figure and mentioned a few facts already in the public domain, but mostly engaged in ad hominem attacks of a highly conjectural nature. I’d seen him do this before, so I was willing to let it slide. However, by coincidence, I happened to see a video clip broadcast the following day in a country that will go unnamed here, where the same academic gave a brief but very different account of his feelings for the public figure.

I know that several people who read this blog were there, and perhaps others who were there will surely recognize this academic by my explanation of the Thursday event. If any of you have any mercy for this misbegotten piece of bullturd, please inform him that the next time I catch him doing the same stunt, I will expose his name on this blog. I do not believe that this will violate my implicit consent for his demand that he be allowed to talk off the record.

Dithering over the Ecnomic Package and the Tamogami Affair Undermines Aso Administration

The Aso administration has bungled the one-off handout to households (in response to New Komeito demands, first envisaged mainly as a tax rebate) that is supposed to be a major feature of the second tranche in the government response to the economic downturn. It doesn’t help that it’s also doing a bad job in handling the Tamogami affair. These two problems are having serious political consequences for the Aso administration.
Prime Minister Aso must have hoped to generate momentum with the second stimulus package and ride it through to a snap election, but I think that the opposite is beginning to happen. For the first time, I’m considering the possibility that the LDP-New Komeito coalition will, for want of a better option, wind up limping along under a weakened Aso administration till the current term of the Lower House expires. The DPJ has done little during the economic crisis to distinguished itself—it has failed to promote its own somewhat wonkish, financial market rescue package*, and had declined to offer an alternative approach to the current crisis, belatedly authorizing an update to the promises in its 2007 election manifesto with this decision—but it is in the lucky position of not actually being in charge. DPJ deputy Yukio Hatoyama’s links to the APA Group, which sponsored the contest that Mr. Tamogami is increasingly likely to end up a minor diversion in the bigger story of institutional involvement on the part of the JASDF.

The coalition manouvers to turn the next election into an Aso-Ozawa duel is losing out to the DPJ strategy to mold it into a referendum on LDP governance is getting a big boost. Some details follow:

The New Komeito had hatched the idea for a government handout and forced it on a reluctant Fukuda administration as part of its stimulus package. It would be fleshed out later and presumably ready to be presented to the Diet at the beginning of its next session for approval. However, as the effects of the broadening global financial crisis threatened to produce a full-fledged economic recession, the newly installed Aso administration pushed a second, larger tranche of expansionary measures that would incorporate the handout.

On October 30, the two coalition parties struck a deal between themselves, hoping that this would help them reverse the decline in public support going into the next Lower House election. But the devil is in the details, and there has been much squabbling since between and within the LDP and New Komeito over the scope of the handout and the means to implement it. Prime Minister Aso’s tendency to think out loud has not helped, and Cabinet Ministers have begun publicly airing their own differing views. All this is bad for an administration that needs to earn public confidence in its ability to deal with the deepening economic crisis.

In the beginning, the Tamogami affair had appeared to be a minor if embarrassing sideshow, culminating with General Tamogami’s dismissal as Chief of Staff, Air Self-Defense Force. Given the technical nature of his infraction, I had thought that it would end with his retirement from active duty, having reached mandatory retirement age as a general, possibly with a mild reprimand for his delinquency. However, subsequent revelations have raised governance issues on multiple levels.

First came the news that the Education Division of the Air Defense Office had promoted the essay contest within the ASDF. Next, it was revealed that Sixth Wing, formerly commanded by the now retired General Tamogami held its own essay contest under the same theme and deadline. So far, the number of Air Self-Defense Force members who entered the APA Group essay contest has reached 94 out of all 235 entries, and most of them have come from the Sixth Wing. Meanwhile, the Aso administration’s response has been less than stellar, as it became known that it had allowed General (Ret.) Tamogami to retire without administrative sanction when he refused to waive his right to a hearing. The Aso administration compounded its judgment error when it asked Mr, Tamogami to return (some of?) his 60,000,000 yen severance payment. Mr. Tamogami to the embarrassment of the authorities refused to comply. It is hard to avoid the suspicion that Mr. Tamogami used the powers of his office to push a personal political and ideological agenda that is at odds with the Japanese government’s official positions; the Aso administration has responded poorly.

Incidentally, the impact has reached the Yomiuri media group as well. According to a hardcopy Yomiuri report, the judges of the essay contest were: Toshio Motoya, the sartorially expressive chairman of the APA Group (see images on Mutant Frog); Shoichi Watanabe, Professor Emeritus at Sophia University;, Nobuaki Hanaoka, visiting member of the Sankei Shinbun editorial board; Yasuhide “See Shsaku Blood Boil” Nakayama, LDP Diet member; and Kazuo Komasuzaki, President of the Hochi Shinbun. According to the same report, APA is claiming that “Mr. Tamogami’s essay was unanimously awarded the top prize [which happened to come with a 3,000,000 yen prize]”, but there is a judge who says that “I felt that the contents of Mr. Tamogami’s essay was radical, so I gave it zero points.” In case anyone is wondering who that judge may be, Hochi Shinbun happens to be the sports/tabloid wing of the Yomiuri group (some of whose casual readers believe that the Yomiuri Giants baseball team has never lost a game since 1958).

* This Sankei editorial demanded that Ichiro Ozawa tell us what the DPJ would be doing to overcome the financial crisis if it had been in power, apparently in ignorance of the DPJ’s October 15 financial market rescue proposal. Perhaps it is all for the better, since the financial market component of the DPJ’s November 5 economic package has turned out to be quite different.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Do You Know Me… ou, Meu Quinze Segundos de Fama

I was interviewed on November 5 by the Brazilian TV network TV Record to talk about the Japan-U.S. relationship, the significance of the U.S. Presidential election in particular. The program aired on the following day. So, if any of you are curious as to how I look (I swear I am not that fat; it’s the TV camera) and talk (most of it is voiceover translation in Portuguese by the correspondent). “click the arrow right next to "JORNAL DA RECORD", below the picture of a yellow van. A window will pop out. Our story is at 22:00 minutes.” Or you can link directly. The program changes regularly though, so if anyone knows how to save the video, I’d very much appreciate your advice.

Update on the Tamogami Affair; Plus, a Few Thought on the Evolving Relationship between Politics and the Bureaucracy

Read my translation of an Asahi online report:
With regard to the affair where 60 year old Toshio Tamogami, previous Chief of Staff, Air Self-Defense Force, retired as of November 3 having reached mandatory retirement age, had been replaced as Chief of Staff for having published an essay justifying Japanese aggression and other matters, the Ministry of Defense revealed on November 6 that 78 members of the ASDF had entered the same contest that Mr. Tamogami had entered. The total number of entries was 235, meaning that approximately one-third came from ASDF members.

According to the MOD, which made the report to a DPJ meeting of its foreign affairs and defense sections, last May, when solicitation began for the essay contest “True Outlook for Modern and Contemporary History” sponsored by the APA Group, which manages a hotel chain and other businesses, the Education Division in the Air Staff Office [under the Chief of Staff’s command] encouraged all its forces stationed in Japan to enter it. As a result, besides Mr. Tamogami, whose essay won the top prize, 78 sent in their entries after filing reports to their superiors [which Mr. Tamogami failed to do, as required by regulations]. None of them won prizes.

According to a MOD investigation as of November 5, there were no entries from the other Self-Defense Forces or the Internal Bureau [内局; collective term for the civilian bureaucracy]. Of the 78 who entered the contest from the ASDF, 62 belonged to the Sixth Wing (Komatsu, Ishikawa Prefecture), where Mr. Tomogami had previously served as commander. Of the 78, none were generals, 10 were field officers, 64 were company officers, and four were NCOs.
It is reassuring to know that the whole affair does not appear to have institutional roots and instead stems from the mindset of Mr. Tamogami, who spread the message through his past and present subordinates. I do not see these men (and women?) being punished for their acts, since they followed the proper procedures, and Mr. Tamogami, however alarming the political import of his acts may be, does not appear to have earned administrative sanctions beyond the demotion (which put him immediately under the mandatory retirement age) and the resultant retirement.

The politics of the issue are another matter, of course, and the opposition insists that it will go after the administration in the ongoing extraordinary Diet session with charges of mismanagement and hopefully worse. According to this Sankei report, the LDP intends to hit back at the DPJ with its own revelation that Yukio Hatoyama, the long-suffering deputy to party chief Ichiro Ozawa, attended a wine party at the APA Group chairman’s home, where the featured attraction appears to have been Mr. Tomogami himself, who talked about the Chinese threat and the current state of the Self-Defense Force among other things. Mr. Hatoyama has responded, saying that he and his wife left the meeting early because he was uncomfortable with the tone of the discussions and the atmosphere of the meeting. I’m not sure that the LDP really wants to go there; it’s hard to believe that the LDP does not have similar, possibly tighter connections to the nexus between Mr. Tamogami and his unofficial sponsor. Still, this is not the only instance where the bipartisan nature of the national security establishment and its sphere of influence has led to revelations, some more embarrassing than others, for the DPJ.

Incidentally, readers used to American political parties, Congressmen (and –women), and Congressional hearings may have felt a little disoriented at the spectacle of government officials reporting to an opposition party policy board instead of the relevant parliamentary committees and subcommittees, where investigations could properly be launched. Under the 1955 political regime, near-perpetual LDP rule led to the systemic involvement of the bureaucracy in its policymaking and monitoring process. In other words, the bureaucracy reported to the respective LDP Diet committees—not to mention other, unofficial powers, particularly “tribe” members—in parallel to procedures within its own internal hierarchies, as well as the proceedings of the Diet committees within their respective jurisdictions. It is not too much of a simplification to say that this extra-parliamentary process was as important as the Diet committee proceedings themselves. The attention that opposition parties received was more informal and in any case dwarfed by the systemic relationship between the bureaucracy and the LDP. This situation changed dramatically in 1993, when the LDP was forced into the opposition by a coalition cobbled together by LDP-renegade Ichiro Ozawa and others. Although the LDP quickly regained power, things have never been the same again. The opposition has come to command far greater attention, particularly with the growth of the DPJ and the ruling coalition’s loss of a majority in the Upper House. However, the LDP appears still to be comfortable with its own, pre-existing arrangement. Moreover, the research staffs in the Diet and the political parties, likely due to financial constraints, have not sufficiently grown to match this tectonic shift in the political landscape. All this adds up to the spectacle of MOD bureaucrats being summoned directly to a closed hearing in a DPJ investigation.

Responding to Recent Comments

Re Norimitsu Onishi’s Obsession with Japanese Revisionism Continues:
James: As you must already be aware, I took that up in a subsequent post.

Anonymi: Are you aware that the Japanese MSM media, Sankei being the notable exception, post only a fraction of its content on its website?
Re The Meaning of Komeito as a Coalition Partner:
Mark: I am not familiar with the teachings and history of the mainstream Nichiren sect (or more appropriately the specific Nichiren school of thought that Sokagakkai sprouted from) and its laic offshoot Sokagakkai, but my guess is that the schism came about the other way around, with Sokagakkai evolving into a heresy, instead of using the Lotus Sutra to dress up ia homespun creed. As for Mormonism (and Scientology) and its relationship with mainstream Christianity, see this Slate article.
Re: The Latest, Troubling Twist in the Tamogami Incident:
Princess (or you-know-who): The video clip is not that funny as political satire goes. Liberals have set high standards as far as political humor goes. Which reminds me, take away the Buckleys, Rush Limbaugh, Evelyn Waugh and Aristophanes, and you don’t have very many, really funny conservatives left. I don’t know if—as a financial strategist-turned-academics once told me—Democrats have more fun, but they are more fun, that’s for sure.

Japanese Response to Barack Obama’s Victory Reduced to Pun

CNN, NYT (apparently not even Norimitsu Onishi is able to resist the music), AP by way of WaPo… But you get the idea.

Seriously, it’s not a bad thing for this regional power that the English-language MSM can’t come up with a better angle to parse the Obama victory within the bilateral context.

BBC’s Well-Rounded Piece on the Japanese Right and Its Place in Japanese Politics

I’ve been slamming the BBC for some time now, but let’s give credit where’s its due. The report would fit very comfortably in The Economist.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Latest, Troubling Twist in the Tamogami Incident

The latest on the Tamogami incident: according to this Sankei article, of the more than 230 entries for the “True Outlook for Modern and Contemporary History (真の近現代史観)” essay contest run by the APA real estate group, over fifty came from members of the Self-Defense Force. Most of the SDF entrants belonged to the Air SDF, and entered the contest at the behest of the Air Staff Office, which Mr. Tamogami had headed.

This is troubling. The selection committee of the contest was headed by Shoichi Watanabe, an English literature professor and cultural critic who is now better known as a conservative-nationalist writer and commentator, is highly critical of the direction that post-WW II Japan has taken. “True” is a code word of sorts that is often used by conservative-nationalist movements*. Regardless of the merits that the claims of this school of thought may have, the institutional expression of ideological sympathy implicit in the encouragement that the ASDF brass leadership gave to JASDF members to enter this contest—an orientation at odds with the official policies as expressed by successive administrations—echoes the pre-WW II history of the Japanese military that brought so much suffering and misery to Japan and its neighbors.

The Aso administration is on the spot.

* One wonders if the word “real” as in “real America” and “real Virginia” will have similar lasting power.

Monday, November 03, 2008

What Part of Enclave Does Onishi Not Understand?

Norimitsu Onishi does a credible of reporting on a public housing estate, a blue collar neighborhood near Toyota City of Toyota fame, whose population is split almost equally between the original Japanese inhabitants on one hand and Japanese-Brazilian workers and their immediately families (not just Japanese-Brazilians, I presume) on the other. By trial and error, many of them seem to have found ways to get along with each other, giving the lie to the conventional wisdom, parroted here by Onishi, that “homogeneous and insular nation,…… Japan is notoriously unwelcoming to immigrants; Koreans who came here during World War II are still treated as second-class citizens.”

Or not. Who knows? But isn’t it the job of the journalist to give some thought to reconciling these two incompatible claims? And what’s this about “Koreans who came here during World War II… still treated as second-class citizens”? Let’s be clear, they are treated as less than “second-class citizens”, but not for the reason that Onishi insinuates. In fact, it’s astonishing that the reason for this escapes him completely, possibly by choice—no big surprise, I assure you.

Now the Japanese media reports from time to time about the troubles that many children of Brazilian and other immigrant laborers encounter in Japan. But Mr. Onishi’s article paints a less alarming (if still troubling) picture on this point. Is this an illusion? Or does the sizeable Brazilian community provide an environment that does a reasonable job of keeping its children out of trouble? I’ve been saying for some time that if you want to bring in Bangladeshi software engineers to Japan, you have to bring in Bangladeshi grocery managers, Bangladeshi barbers, and Bangladshi what-have-yous. You can’t expect them to come here in droves unless you let them have a community. Funny thing is, it wouldn’t be the first time in Japanese history that this happened.

One more thing: When does a housing estate become a Brazilian enclave—the original gated community—when half the population consists of Japanese citizens?

Sorry I’ve been distracted. I’ll let you know when I respond to the comments in my most recent posts.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Norimitsu Onishi’s Obsession with Japanese Revisionism Continues

The latest from Norimitsu Onishi:
Few politicians have spoken as comprehensively as General Tamogami did. Instead they have telegraphed their sympathies with the rightist view of history. The current prime minister, Taro Aso, in the past publicly praised Japanese colonial rule on the Korean Peninsula. Mr. Aso, whose family’s mining business used forced laborers during World War II, also said Koreans gladly adopted Japanese names.

Hours before the general’s dismissal, Mr. Aso said, “Even though he published it in a private capacity, given his position, it is not appropriate.”
Last year, Shinzo Abe, then the prime minister, drew anger in Asia and the United States by denying the Japanese military’s involvement in recruiting the wartime sex slaves known euphemistically as “comfort women.”

His comments led the United States House of Representatives to adopt a nonbinding resolution calling on Japan to acknowledge and apologize for its wartime sex slavery. Japan has yet to respond.
The real story, then, is that Taro Aso, who had as one of his first acts as Prime Minister accepted the Murayama Kono Statements, fired General Tamogamo in a political instant. Now what does that say about the Japanese polity?

China and South Korea are satisfied; not, it seems, Norimitsu Onishi.