Wednesday, April 23, 2014

In A Blue Metal Can With Yellow Lettering


Member of the House of Councillors for Tottori Prefecture, Ph.D (George Washington University, wrote his dissertation on the conversion of the Soviet military-industrial complex to civilian production), member of the New Renaissance Party and Group of Independents Caucus (current membership = 3), former staffer for both the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Congressional Research Service (CRS) Hamada Kazuyuki (Link) seems to be his own brand of nuts.

I mean nuts.

I mean deluxe with that certain special je-ne-sais-quoi nuts: some quarters, Mr. Obama is derided as "the worst president of the postwar era."

Of the many, the biggest reason for the collapse of [Barack Obama's] reputation is his bad relationship with his wife.

It is an open secret that the pair are already in negotiations for a divorce and that "they are waiting for his term in office to end, at which point they will separate."

If you ask the President, he will tell you, "I cannot show my face to the voters after her spendthrift ways."


On the other hand, if you get Mrs. [Obama] to speak, she will tell you, "The President is a pathological philanderer. He uses the Secret Service in this regard and has them cover up the evidence."
Hamada-sensei, dude, are you sure you should be publishing this stuff as a post on your official blog? (Link - J)

My assumption: Hamada Kazuyuki is not on the list of invitees to the State Dinner tomorrow night.

If he is, he shouldn't be.

Another assumption: Hamada is not sought out by his former Washington colleagues as a valued source of insight into the politics in this blessed land.

And to think I thought Fujita Yukihisa's 9/11 conspiracy theories painful to read...which they were, as Fujita was one of the few members of the Diet willing to criticize Japan's pre-1945 record of imperial expansion and human trafficking.

Many thanks to Ben Dooley for highlighting this astonishing glimpse into a truly...original thinker. (Link)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Pair Of Readings For The Obama Visit

Two folks I like a lot, whom I am on good terms with, and who might as well be on separate planets, writing about this week's visit by President Barack Obama.

Sheila Smith
"Our Anxiety as the President Heads to Asia" (Link)

Stephen Harner
"After Multiple Dissings, A Wary Japan 'Welcomes' Obama" (Link)

The really fun part of the exercise? Knowing which one is the ex-diplomat.

Nota Bene - Harner knows I really disagree with his assessment of Robert Kelly's essay for The Diplomat.

Yasukuni This Morning

It is not even 9 a.m. and already the semi-annual herd of members of the Diet have stomped through Yasukuni Shrine. The 146 strong (Link -J) phalanx of fantabulism seems to have been led, as in the last two iterations of this event, by sleepy-eyed Otsuji Hidehisa (Link - J) and cat-who-ate-the-canary-faced Liberal Democratic Party Policy Chair Takaichi Sanae (Link). MPs from the LDP, the Japan Restoration Party, the Democratic Party of Japan, the Your Party and the Unity Party participated in the group paying of respects. (Link - J)

Bewildering and ominous is the report that Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Shindo Yoshitaka made a repeat visit this morning as well (Link - J). Shindo visited the shrine on April 12, before the start of the Spring Festival, just as he had done last year. Just why he thought it wise or necessary to visit the Yasukuni again and so close to the visit by President Barack Obama.

Cabinet Minister Shindo's visit this morn is just the sort of upping of the ante which could upset summit atmospherics warned about in my post of yesterday (Link). Is Shindo's double take a sign that he knows he is not one of the elect, those who will carry on as ministers after the much anticipated reshuffle of the Cabinet and LDP posts after the end of the present Ordinary Diet Session? (Link - J)

Original image courtesy: IRIB World Service

Monday, April 21, 2014

Prior To President Obama's Arrival - A Question Of Atmospherics

Source: Clay's Flickr photostream, under a Creative Commons License.

The Sunday visit to Yasukuni Shrine by Chairman of the National Public Safety Commission and Kishi family retainer Furuya Keiji (Link), the April 12 visit to the shrine of Minister of Interal Affairs and Communications Shindo Yoshitaka (Link), Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's sponsorship yet again of a masakaki decoration for the shrine during its Spring Festival (Link) and the battalion of members of the Diet scheduled to pay their respects at the shrine on Tuesday, all right on the eve of the Obama visit should not necessarily be viewed as provocative pandering to revisionist, fantabulist followers in defiance of the United States's message of disappointment at Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's visit on 26 December 2013 (Link)and the laying of wreaths at Chidorigafuchi by visiting U.S. Secretaries Chuck Hagel and John Kerry on 3 October 2013. (Link)

Instead getting all the visits of those who are just hell bent to pay some sort of tribute to Japan's loyally self-sacrificing imperial subjects out of the way before President Obama's plane touches down is supposed to be as a concession of sorts to the United States.

The insistence of the current level of reverence as moderation will suffer a loss of credibility if

a) either Finance Minister Aso Taro, State Minister for Administrative Reform Inada Tomomi and/or Education Minister Shimomura

b) any Liberal Democratic Party member of the Diet shows up at Yasukuni during the Obama visit.

Aso has been keeping his head down ever since his infamous "Is there not something to learn from the overthrow of the Weimar Constitution?" musings of last year (Link) and Inada and Shimomura deferred their visits. If any of these three ministers pops up in Kudanshita any time between now and Wednesday noon -- then we should not be surprised to see fireworks -- which in this blessed land are usually a summer phenomenon.

Incidentally, I recently visited the attached Yushukan (Link). I had long eschewed going, not wishing to give a yen to the shrine or its affiliates. However, when a certain officer of the Congressional Research Service asked if I were available to tag along on a visit, I broke my longstanding vow.

On the whole I found the place a lot less lurid than I expected, with the arguments more allusive and evasive than I could have imagined. Some parts are heinous -- the description of the fall of Nanjing, for example. However, on the whole, I came away with the feeling of the hopelessness of Japan's imperial enterprise, with all its jury-rigged suicide systems and walls of the faces of, as Steven Stills once wrote about a different time and a different struggle, "All the brave soldiers |That cannot get older." (Link - video)

If the goal of the Yushukan is to fill one with a sense of awe or sadness, it fails. What even the mildly questioning mind comes away with is a sense of the essential and obvious stupidity of the Japanese imperial enterprise.

The section of the museum on the build up to the Pacific War, with the focus on Japan's resources crisis in the face of U.S. embargoes, is a window into the fear Japanese conservatives have about energy, particularly nuclear energy and the nuclear fuel cycle. Looking at the exhibits at the Yushukan it is not surprising that the present generation -- who have never known anything but abundance -- are nevertheless paranoid about Japan ever being pushed into making a strategic choice out of a want of raw materials.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Rex Omnis Qui Videt, Shinzo Abe Est

© Jeff Cable Photography
O Fortuna!
Velut luna
Statu variabilis!

O Fortune!
Varying in state
like the Moon!

- Carl Orff, Carmina Burana (1935-36)

Yesterday morning I was seated in the far left side of the Ascot banquet hall of the Hotel Okura. From out of the dark on the far right, avoiding a piece of equipment dropped in his path (the special police had something to say about that afterward) walked in Abe Shinzo, the prime minister of Japan.

Or at least that is what my eyes, my program and everyone around me was telling me.

The man delivered a set speech for fourteen minutes and fifteen seconds, then sat down in an armchair answering questions from the chairman of the day's proceedings for another ten and a half minutes.

I have had Abe Shinzo in my line of sight since October 2005, when I attended a conference on Japan's defense at the hotel nearest the Kantei. Abe, the then Chief Cabinet Secretary, was the keynote mealtime speaker.

The speech then was unimpressive. The phrase best describing its delivery: "still wet behind the ears."

Halfway through Abe seemed to lose himself, using the expression ware-ware ("we" "us") to explain what his grandfather Kishi Nobusuke was doing during the build up toward the signing of the revised Security Arrangements between Japan and the United States.

I turned to my tablemate (Dr. Richard Samuels of MIT) with a look on my face of "Did Abe Shinzo just refer to himself as a comrade-in-arms of his grandfather during the Ampo struggle, when he was all of six years old?"

I had Abe Shinzo right in my face every day during his first year as prime minister. I recall the expression of utter, contemptuous boredom on his visage on last day of the Diet session, as he sat on the dais watching vote after railroading vote in the House of Councillors plenary session, the opposition having left the chamber (except for the Communists, who stayed) after the insult of the morning votes -- and the look of his eyes, visible just over the shoulder of a desperate and sweating SP, as he was driven to a specially prepared ward in the Keio University Hospital just seven weeks later. (Link)

I have watched him on a daily basis in the fifteen months since his return to the premiership: struggling to remember his routines, spluttering in Diet interpellations on the simplest of questions, mawkishly flailing his way through some simply embarrassing speeches. (Link)

That man, the Abe Shinzo I know, or thought I knew, did not show up at the Japan Summit 2014.

Someone else did.

The person called Abe Shinzo at the dais and in the armchair yesterday was not Abe Shinzo, grandson of Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke, grandnephew of Prime Minister (and Nobel Peace Prize winner) Sato Eisaku. He was Abe Shinzo, Prime Minister of Japan, President of the Liberal Democratic Party -- pure and simple. When he sat down in the armchair to answer the hard ball questions thrown at him by The Economist's Asia chief Dominic Ziegler, throwing them right back at his interrogator when when answering was not in his interests ("Since what you are asking pertains to what tactics my country will be using [at the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations] I obviously cannot provide details") -- Abe owned that chair like I have never seen any Prime Minister of Japan own a piece of furniture. Not quite a Vladimir Putin slouch -- but Abe still sat in that chair as if he had brought it with him from home.

This was not your "wet behind the ears" botchan, acting out the role of prime minister with the shadow of imposture looming over him. Those who still look at Abe Shinzo that way are living in the past -- and it might as well be the distant past.

Was Abe's astonishing poise, humor and self-confidence all an act?

Maybe. But then he and his handlers should be triply congratulated for having him put on this act in front of not just the domestic and international news media but an overflow crowd of the world's investment community -- at a time when Abenomics in need of a PR boost...and furthermore on the eve of an incredibly important official visit by U.S. president Barack Obama.

If the Abe Shinzo who showed up yesterday meets an Obama delegation believing that he has to ingratiate himself to them, then the Americans are going of find out what the phrase "hitting a brick wall" means.

Failure at the final push for a TPP agreement this weekend? Abe Shinzo will not give a damn -- and nobody around him will either.

Abe's Cabinet is enjoying an insane 60% support rating (latest Kyodo News poll). His party holds the commanding heights in the Diet, the policy debate and the public's imagination. The number of persons answering the question of "Why do you support Prime Minister Abe?" with the plaintive and honest, "Because there is no other suitable person around" is climbing. "Because there is no other suitable person around" is indeed now the most common answer to the question of why voters support the PM, outdistancing the "high expectations for the economy" response (29% of respondents versus 21% again in the latest Kyodo poll).

And now even the Chinese and the South Koreans are trying to make nice. (Link)

Abe Shinzo 2.0, Spring Edition is so comfortable in his own skin he is even letting his beloved hair go, allowing the gray to show.


Changeable like the Moon.


Later - provisional translation of the Prime Minister's speech to The Economist Japan Summit 2014: "Japan towards 2020: time to get started." (Link)

Partial reproduction of photo image of 15 April 2014 "blood moon" by renowned professional photographer Jeff Cable. Click here for the original image and here to read the explanation of how it was created.

Photo image of Abe speaking at the Japan Summit 2014 courtesy JapanRealTime.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Meanwhile, Two Incredibly Smart Persons Writing Brilliant Stuff On Difficult Subjects

MTC auto-portrait, inadvertent.

If your are wondering what you must read on Japan, rather than what you should read, try:

- Any of Jo McBride's posts on Japanese economic and institutional investment policy at the dauntingly named Investing Japan's Institutional Capital blog. (Link)

- Professor Bryce Wakefield's lithe and readable exposé of the Abe Cabinet's contempt for constitutionalism and reasoned argument as regards collective self defense, with what has got to be the strangest URL of any academic paper on Japan ever. (Link)

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Dumbwalking, The Sequel

Culture & Technology

In a post on March 27 I suggested a new word --"dumbwalking" -- to describe the glacial and autistic walk of persons absorbed in interaction with their smart phones ("Smart Phones Make For Dumb Walks" being my explanatory epigram). I suggested at the time that the proliferation of smart phones would bring on the day when the Shibuya Crossing would fail to clear.

Guess what?

NTT DoCoMo has posted a video of the simulation of this exact scenario on its You Tube Channel. (Link - video - J)

The result: if the crowd of walkers are all operating smart phones, only 36% of them make it across in the 46 seconds they have between the light changes at the Shibuya Crossing.

Click on the link and watch the video. It is trip -- literally, in some cases.

One key variable, made clear at the 0:47 point of the simulation, is the speed at which dumbwalkers are presumed to perambulate. According to motion studies at the Aichi University of Technology, dumbwalking (the Japanese term is sumaho aruki) is an astonishing 20 times slower than normal walking.

So "glacial" is not hyperbole and one is not imagining things. Dumbwalkers really are moving so slowly they might as well be considered inanimate objects.

Takes the "mobile" right out of mobile telephony, doesn't it?

Monday, April 07, 2014

Stop. Wait. Do You Know Who I Am?

I suppose I should not try to double-guess Tokyo Metropolitan District Governor Masuzoe Yo'ichi. He did, after all, navigate through rough political waters to victory in February.

However, I must confess puzzlement at Masuzoe's willingness to be used as a ratings prop by news organizations. He is supposed to be running the world's richest and most populous municipality. How can he have time to sit helpless in TV studios doing nothing as producers run 4 minutes long features and as snide and chirpy hosts bypass the governor to elicit comments from other guests of decidedly minor stature, meaning that their utterances will be remarkable not only their dearth of knowledge but their lack of significance and/or relevance.

Seeing Masuzoe imprisoned in chair on the Nihon Terebi (Yomiuri Shimbun Group) Saturday and Fuji TV (Fuji Sankei Group) Sunday morning shows had me asking, over and over again, "What is he doing there? Is he afraid that if we do not see him continuing his ring-around-the-talk shows tours, we will forget who is Tokyo's governor? Or is he merely trying to feed the media beast pre-emptively so that when crunch time comes, the conservative media conglomerates do not bite him?"

For any and all politicians, Fuji TV's Sunday morning show is a particular ordeal. The announcers and other guests just toss bait -- annoyances, insults or irrelevant nonsense -- at the main guest trying to get him or her to create a scandal by a provocative or merely poorly thought out response.

Than again, Masuzoe seems to need no prompting to toss sharp and not entirely well thought out remarks on his own. On Saturday he dismissed of the Akasaka Detached Palace where the Government of Japan houses and receives its most honored guests as "a sham Versailles" unworthy and unrepresentative of Japan (Link - J). His longing for a "more Japanese" building fror housing honored guests begs the question, "OK, Monsieur Pantalons-Astucieux," -- Masuzoe is a Francophone and has taught in Paris -- "where in the budget of either the GOJ or the TMG is there the money to pay for a substitute?"


Later - While we are on the subject of Japan-France cultural interactions, the openings of two local exhibitions of note:

- "Okamoto Taro and his Friend in Paris," at the Taro Okamoto Museum in Kawasaki (Link - J)

- "Fer et Cocon" ("Iron and Cocoons") at the Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Cultural History in Yokohama (Brochure - J - pdf)

Sunday, April 06, 2014

When He Says, "Training," He Means, "For Real"

Minister of Defense Onodera Itsunori has issued a secret directive ordering a Maritime Self Defense Forces vessel to sea prepared to shoot down any North Korean missile launch threatening Japan. (Link)

In a manner of speaking.

It would make zero sense to have SM-3 equipped Aegis vessels sailing the oceans without authorization to shoot down ballistic missiles threatening Japan. When seconds separate possible intercept and a pointless miss, the system cannot possibly rely on a call the Prime Minister's Residence and/or the Defense Minister to receive authorization.

So if authorization is standard, what has Onodera done?

According to The Asahi Shimbun, Onodera ordered the MSDF Kirishima (Photo) to sea on a training mission lasting from April 3 to April 25 -- a training mission where the captain has been given special authorization to engage in anti-missile combat activities, if he thinks circumstances merit them (Link). Had he addressed the crew before departure, Onodera's message would have been, "Sailors and officers of the Kirishima, no 'defense of Japan' stuff while you are out there -- unless. of course, it's absolutely necessary. Bon Voyage."

Bon voyage, indeed.

For those keeping score, yet another instance of extraordinary casuistry deployed by Japanese security officials in the course of conducting their daily tasks.

As you were.

Later - On Twitter Andrea Ortolani writes that the ship-to-shore communications mentioned above would like be via fax, not voice.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Abe Shinzo's Prospect Of Unwilling Political Fidelity

Watanabe Yoshimi explains himself.

On Twitter, Corey Wallace makes an excellend point about the potential for Abe Shinzo and his allies to go on a revisionist breakout after the summit with President Barack Obama: with the Japan Restoration Party's Hashimoto Toru navel gazing about his Osaka Metropolitan District Plan (Link) and the revelations regarding the Your Party's Watanabe Yoshimi's astonishing 800 milllion yen in personal loans from the CEO of DHC (Link), Abe who was entertaining (literally, it was discussed over a pair of dinners) the idea of dumping the cautious New Komeito in favor of the militant and revolutionary JRP and YP and his Liberal Democratic Party find themselves in the unenviable poisition of no longer being able to threaten their long-time alliance partners with replacement.

Sticking with the New Komeito means attempting crazy policy fiddles like a "we will say this but cannot possibly mean it" promise to reinterpret the Constitution, making unconstitutional collective self-defense (CSD) constitutional, but only in the immediate geographical neighborhood of Japan and on the high seas (Link)

Note to Japan's present and potential security partners: stay close to Japan and away from land.

With Abenomics, the great legitimizer of this second coming of The Abe Cabinet, about to enter a very very rough patch indeed (Link) Abe will have a much reduced capacity to simply bludgeon the New Komeito into submission. Having to make concessions to NK conservatism, particularly in security affairs, complicates if not complete negates the Abe strategy of countering opposition to and criticism of his revisionist political program by the giving to the U.S. Pentagon everything it desires, whether it be in terms of bases or a more activist and proactive Japanese military posture.

Rather than the well-discussed shibboleths (Yasukuni, comfort women) of Abe Shinzo and Friends, what seems set to trip up the Abe Revolution are the sources of its heretofore terrible strength: a jazzed-up economy and clingy allies in the Diet.