Monday, January 26, 2015

My First Hate Tweet

Over the weekend, non-Japanese media sites published a number of articles and opinion pieces on the proliferation and dissemination over Japan's Internet of hundreds of altered images of the Islamic State hostage video. The authors of the pieces found the images "hilarious" or even thrilling, exhibiting sense of nonchalant defiance of the IS attempt to terrorize the Japanese people.

If only.

Anyone with even a smidgeon of knowledge of Japan, seeing only a handful of the images being rebroadcast and interpreted by these authors (the images are horrible -- I will not provide a link to them but this Japan Times article does) would know in an instant what these things are.

They are not humor.

They are not admirable defiance.

They are the products of the diseased, restless minds of Japan's worst racists.

We have seen all this poorly executed garbage before. Where the black-clad figure of the knife-wielding militant now stands, we have seen a multitude of modified images of South Korean president Park Geun-hye (and Lee Myungbak and Roo Moo-hyuun before her) and of Chinese president Xi Jinping (and Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin before him). The nation's league of sick hatemongers have just taken a slight detour into territories in which underinformed non-Japanese find their bretheren in prejudice and ignorance.

Consider the alternative explanation: Japan's heretofore non-hate spewing, non-image altering masses have suddenly taken on the habits of the habitual hatemongers for just this one hostage crisis.

Right.

Ticked off at the misapprehension of Japanese society I tweeted an irritated conjecture:



I should not have been surprised -- but nevertheless was -- that within the hour, a Twitter user posted a hate tweet in response, one that creatively alludes to the decapitation of Yukawa Haruna, the Korean consumption of dog meat and the supposed fates of folks like me who look under the rocks of this blessed land to see what is lurking beneath:



Really attractive, no?

I do not enjoy being right in my guesses about how low the human spirit can sink. I must, however, admit a certain intellectual satisfaction at having guessed the origins of the current grotesquery.

As for anyone seeking to follow up on this morning's entertainment via a malicious email, don't bother. Some soul sent me wonderful malware last year hoping to set my computer to melting or burning. To him or her, be it know that my laptop was a Toshiba. So it ran fine. Incredibly HOT but fine -- right through a Tokyo summer.

To anyone who might wish to emulate that charitable contribution to my computer's software, I no longer open my mail on an any device I would feel sad to lose.

So thanks again "jjjj" for confirming this morning that I may not be entirely wrong in being cautious.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

One Man Dies

It is a quiet morning in Tokyo, the sky clear, the air cold.

I went down to the mailbox to pick up the morning paper (yes, here in this blessed land, we keep to 20th century habits). Oddly the box was empty, save for some real estate adverts.

Odd.

Granted, this was 4:15 in the morning on a Sunday...but usually the delivery comes at around 4:00.

I went upstairs, checked my emails -- hmmm, someone is forwarding me a lot of Ministry of Foreign Affairs press releases. "Probably about the comfort women issue or the Nanjing massacre or Japan's POWs," I thought to myself -- because that is what usually pops in at about this hour.

Checking through my open tabs, I reviewed The Japan Times article where Michael Penn acidly and acutely reframes the video of IS hostages Yukawa Haruna and Goto Kenji. (Link)

"Hmmm, I wonder where the situation stands."

So I checked the Yahoo! Japan news feed. I read the top headline.

"Oh. Guess that explains why no paper in the box and the MOFA emails."

* * *

Yukawa Haruna, strange creature that he was (Link) is dead. (Link)

He may have been dead for some time. Japanese video analysts have been all over the inconsistencies and discontinuities in the initial video. The analysis indicates the image is a composite of different recordings knitted together by a crew of technicians who could clearly teach the North Korean central news agency a thing or two about faking images.

Yukawa, whose self-mutilation and gender identity issues have not been discussed in the domestic mainstream media (or been the major subject of titillated comment) condemned himself by carrying a gun and pretending to be a gonzo journalist and a military affairs expert in Syria, of all places. That he was neither must have dawned on his captors fairly soon...which immediately begged the question, "What do we do with this, this...person?"

The thought that he must be worth something, that he might indeed someone the Japanese government would want to save or ransom, must have surprised Yukawa. That he in fact was not -- that he was just the latest of a procession of inadvertently Japanese celebrities coughed up by post-1945 Japan's sheer innocuousness, shooting stars of the mediaverse that baffle the rest of the planet in their simply not representing anything -- was the reason why heroic journalist Goto Kenji had to try to rescue him instead.

With Yukawa dead, the game gets real. Goto Kenji is likely alive and is indeed worth something, both to his country and to the world. That a bidding war has seemingly broken out over what exactly is the price of Goto's life (Link) indicates that the prevailing narrative about Islamic State -- that its members are indiscriminate, reactive, ethnocentric, Sunni lunatics who kill all that are unlike themselves -- is wrong. Goto alive and Yukawa dead proves that Islamic State militants do discriminate and that not all humans unlike themselves are equally worthless to them.

It should be noted that the government of Abe Shinzo is learning the hard way that the seemingly cheap ride of a proclaiming a doctrine of "pro-active pacifism" can in fact be costly in terms of Japanese lives. Abe Shinzo cast into shadow Japan's noble gift of help to refugees fleeing the latest convulsions of the region. He should not have ever called it Japan's contribution to fight on terror, whatever his needs to please Washington...and definitely not during an official visit to the Mideast.

As the videos of IS make clear -- in their taking the anonymous high-altitude, video-recorded killing of modern anti-terrorist warfare and the off-the radar holding without trial of Islamic militants in Guantanamo Bay and torture of Islamic militants elsewhere and putting to the West via its technology the mirror view  -- on the ground, up close, hyper-real and intensely personal (for to kill a man with a knife you must hold him) -- how you frame the image of your actions really matters.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Month Away

Been away...doing things...and not doing things too.

Much has happened in the interim...and in at the same time, not much, aside from world spot oil prices (huge shifts there) has changed.

Two items of note:

1) Abe Shinzo did not go to Yasukuni Shrine in the 2014 calendar year.

He may have done so in secret. Prime Minister Miyazawa Kiichi supposedly paid a secret visit in 1992. Current Education Minister Shimomura Hakubun supposedly paid a secret visit sometime in 2013, proving that the trick can still be pulled off.

By not publicly paying his respects at Yasukuni, Abe has betrayed the revisionists and the mawkish sentimentalists, those who have been the rungs on the ladder he has climbed to prominence within the Liberal Democratic Party and ultimately into the premiership. It is fitting: what one does with rungs is step on them.

In not visiting Yasukuni, Abe has also shown he is playing a very long game indeed in terms of being a mover and shaker in East Asian politics, sacrificing immediate political and psychological advantages for a bigger political payoff later.

2) Anti-government conservative forces triumphed in the Saga gubernatorial election.

A Japan Agriculture (JA)-supported candidate defeating the LDP-Komeito supported candidate. Most analysis focuses on the supposed black eye suffered by the Abe administration, a third embarrassment after last year's humiliations in Shiga and Okinawa -- and on the supposed red flag the victory portends for the Abe Administration's hopes to reorganize Japan's agricultural sector -- both for growth and to facilitate the completion of Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations.

What is less talked about is the implications of the victory of a non-LDP supported conservative for the basing of U.S. forces in Japan. Since his victory, the new governor of Saga has been desperately trying to reverse the agreement the prefecture has with the national government to host Self Defense Forces V-22 Ospreys at Saga Airport. As a special Socialist Party project team noted in 2009, Saga Airport boasts a very, very long runway, is not very, very far from Sasebo and its U.S. Navy homeported amphibious strike group, and is surrounded on three side by hectares of hectares of rice paddies, with narry a dwelling in sight -- the perfect place, really, for a Futenma replacement facility (FRF). The already agree-upon SDF deployment, with the ancillary development of the infrastructure to host Ospreys, is an open door to deployment of U.S. Marines Ospreys at the same dedicated facility.

How Pyrrhic a victory JA's triumph over the Abe government will appear in retrospect -- and how clever the administration -- if Saga Airport becomes a supplement to, a second, or in the extreme a replacement for the fraught Henoko FRF.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Post-Election Analysis - Here We Go

As noted earlier, the most miserably pointless and demoralizing election in memory (How pointless? Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has decided to not make a single change in his Cabinet -- and you will not believe the reasons given for this decision: Link - Video J) has, for no good but plenty of bad reasons, unleashed a torrent of some of the best writing on Japanese politics ever.

It is worthwhile to offer another list of links to good reads:

Tobias Harris - "When Is a Blowout Not a Blowout?"

Mr. Harris and I, working from the same facts, came to essentially the same conclusions in the first hours after the election. I, writing for my blog, published first. Harris, because he is an assiduous worker bee, published a more comprehensive and readable article on someone else's calendar.

Sheila Smith - "Another Four Years of Abe"

Smith points out a major problem facing Abe: what to do about Koizumi Shinjiro, the Liberal Democratic Party's most popular and saleable legislator. The latest Koizumi in the Diet received the most votes of any LDP winner despite spending almost no time in his own district campaigning. Instead Koizumi played the good soldier, campaigning all over the country for other LDP candidates.

Abe tried burying Koizumi in Fukushima-related issues in the previous Diet. With Koizumi coming off a huge win, this may be more difficult.

Corey Wallace - "Not too early to start thinking about the 2016 election?"

As you can guess from the title, the soon-to-be Dr. Wallace (fingers crossed) does not think so. The Democratic Party of Japan has survived as an institution thanks to the large number of seats it has quarantined off in the House of Councillors. That block of seats comes up for reelection in 2016 - meaning that the new party leader, who is to be elected on January 18 (Why do they tarry? Amaterasu only knows) will have to quickly bring all the disparate groupings within the party into line and workout a modus vivendi with Japan Innovation Party.

Wallace also sees the election as enhancing the powers of the DPJ's rokuninshu, the six center-right legislators seen as potential leaders (The Yomiuri Shimbun less charitably calls them "the Gang of Six") of the party. I hope he is wrong, as all with the possible exception of current party secretary-general and next party leader favorite Edano Yukio are infected with the leaden seriousness that hobbles the party at election time. Politics should be about joy and these guys (and they are all guys) are not the Joy Division.

Okumura Jun - "Election 2014: The DPJ and JIP Need to Get Their Acts Together—Literally"

I cannot agree with Okumura Jun's conclusion that the DPJ and the Japan Innovation Party have to merge. Any attempt to link up the DPJ's remnants of the Japan Socialist Party with Hashimoto Toru's populists would lead to an explosion. Better to leave the two parties seperate, each running their candidates in designated DPJ-only or JIP-only districts, to challenging the LDP's conservative corporatism on the national scale with two radically different critiques.


Later - Many thanks to the commenters pointing out the broken link.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Very Kind Of Them #40

On December 10 I had a chance to sit down with Kang Yonggi of Reuters to talk about the outlook for Japan after the 14 December 2014 elections. The video link:

Future of Abenomics rides on Sunday's snap election

At the time, I was afraid Abe & Company would hit the 300 seat level, making them complacent and arrogant.

As we know they failed to hit the target, empowering Japan's pacifists. Dreams potentially thwarted, Abe & Co. are almost certain to plunge into economic issues to the exclusion of all else.

Très Gentil De Leur Part #38 Et #39

Very kind of Daniel Eskenazi of Le Temps and Philippe Mesmer of Le Monde to quote me in their stories on the lead up to the 14 December 2014 House of Representatives elections:

- Malgré son impopularité, Shinzo Abe devrait remporter les élections (Paywall)

- Au Japon, les enjeux cachés des législatives

Merci mes amis.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How Prime Minister Abe Shinzo Lost On Sunday


I brought this on myself...


Yesterday we all got a chance to see something we have not seen for a long time: a sober, somber and scared Abe Shinzo. He stumbled through his press conference, repeating himself, at one point launching his favorite overly poetic crutch phrase tsu-tsu-ura-ura ("in every harbor; in every inlet" -- the Japanese equivalent of "from sea to shining sea") twice in the space of 70 seconds. When a reporter from the Abe-hostile Tokyo Shimbun started out the Q&A with two simple questions about voter turnout and the schedule for the compilation of next year's budget (the latter being delayed due to the dissolution of the Diet and the election), Abe first feigned being flustered at being asked "so many questions" (Two is "so many"?) ignored them both, repeated the contents of his opening statement, and stared blankly, pretending he had answered either one.

Had Abe been facing a room of real reporters rather than the powder puff tossers of the Sankei Shinbun, Fuji Television and NHK, we might today be talking about Abe Shinzo's press conference meltdown. As it is, the video, available on the LDP's YouTube channel, features a far-from-impressive performance by the PM. (Link - YouTube video J)

This is the guy whose party won 291 out of 475 seats in Sunday's election, with his ruling coalition retained its supermajority in the House of Representatives at 326 seats? Whose main opposition, the Democratic Party of Japan only gained 11 seats during the middle of a terrible recession, and whose leader lost his district race so badly he could not return to the Diet via the proportional list zombie route?

Yes.

The LDP won on Sunday. The Komeito won on Sunday.

Abe Shinzo lost.

How is this possible?

Missed Expectations -

When a corporation fails to hit the consensus earnings-per-share, its stock price tumbles. The company might post really great numbers. Nevertheless, by not meeting expectations, its performance is deemed a failure.

Advance polling by both the major news organizations and the political parties projected the LDP would win over 300 seats. However, the party finished election night with 291, fewer seats even than the party held in the last Diet.

Early on Abe and the leaders of the coalition had tried to talk down the victory line in this election. However, by the beginning of last week 300 seats became the new normal (the initial high Kyodo projections so depressed the editors of the Tokyo Shimbun, one of Kyodo's owners, that the paper did not print the results on its front page).

As the party leader who called the election, then failed to lead his party to its projected victory, Abe Shinzo lost.

Beating Kaieda Banri -

Abe Shinzo and the rest of the Cabinet conducted themselves with utter gracelessness in the last days of the campaign, traveling to the home districts of the leaders of the opposition, as if they were seeking to not just beat the opposition but decapitate and humiliate it. Abe and Finance Minister Aso Taro indeed finished their campaigns in a boisterous rally in Akihabara for Tokyo District #1 candidate Yamada Miki.

District #1 is of course DPJ leader Kaieda Banri's district.

These "grind their faces into the dirt" tactics have boomeranged. Not only did Kaieda again lose in his district, Yamada beat him by such a large margin that he could not be resurrected on the proportional list. Out of the Diet, Kaieda is out as leader.

Unfortunately for Abe Shinzo, Kaieda Banri was the number one reason why voters would not vote and candidates would not run for the DPJ. In driving him out of the leadership position, which he would have clung to in loud desperation had he been revived as a PR zombie, Abe has kicked out of office his best ally in terms of keeping the DPJ down and the LDP in power.

So Abe lost.

Voter Turnout -

Abe Shinzo won the premiership a second time in what had been up that point the most dispiriting election in a generation, with voter turnout at its lowest ever.

After two years of Abe Shinzo's leadership, the public is even more demoralized, with turnout falling by 7% over 2012's historic low. The first victory was deemed shabby at 59% turnout. Victory at 52% is shabbier still.

Sure, the LDP finished with a million more votes nationwide in the proportional balloting than in 2012. However that gain of 1 million was out of nearly 5.8 million liberated by the breakups of the Japan Restoration Party and the Your Party.

When you pick up only 15% of what was available, you are not a winner.

So Abe lost.

Destruction of the Right Wing -

The hard right Party for the Next Generations, led by Abe Shinzo Best Friend Forever Hiranuma Takeo and Ishihara Shintaro, evaporated, going from 20 to 2 seats. The Your Party, a libertarian, pro-business, anti-bureaucracy party that won 5 million votes in 2012 (just TWO YEARS AGO) did not even survive to contest the election, its founder and Abe Shinzo Best Friend Forever Watanabe Yoshimi going down to defeat in a seat his family had held continuously for 50 years.

In this final agony of his friends to the right, Abe has lost the ability to threaten the Komeito with a new hawk-hawk (or hawk-hawk-hawk) coalition replacing the current hawk-dove, LDP-Komeito coalition. He has also lost useful militants who could ask revisionist history and war responsibility questions, with Abe and his government being able further their own revisionist agendas without taking any responsibility for events ("Look, it's not us. We were just answering questions coming from the opposition!")

So Abe lost.

Empowerment of the Pacifists -

Three parties could walk away from Sunday's elections with their heads held high. The first was the Japan Innovation Party, which clawed and scratched its way to a respectable loss of single seat when the party had been projected to lose over 10.

The two parties who gained seats, and in a big way, were the Komeito and the Communists.

The Komeito, by picking up seats when the LDP lost them, has increased its marginal leverage in negotiations with its coalition partner. The Komeito already made it presence felt in the confused, cramped and unpopular July 1 Cabinet Decision reversing the government's stance as to the unconstitutionality of the exercise of collective self-defense. It is certain that as the focus of the nation's attention shifts to the 15 or so Basic Laws that have to be revised to implement the July 1 Cabinet Decision, the Komeito will make use of this increased leverage so that the policy choices more closely reflect the concerns of the Komeito base.

As for the performance of the JCP, it was off the charts. The JCP not only managed to land a district seat -- an outcome supposedly rendered impossible by the 1993 adoption of single member districts -- but the JCP now has more than the 20 seat minimum necessary for a party's being able to introduce bills to the Diet.

The pacifist Left has been empowered, both in and out of government.

So Abe lost.

Anyone thinks that with the Komeito murmuring louder and the JCP screaming, figuratively, Mr. Abe is going to take his party's victory in Sunday's election to go on and do anything more than pay lip service to more patriotic education, greater Self Defense Forces activity abroad and revision of the Constitution's Article 9 -- as he does in the above linked video -- then that person is in need of a seriousness transplant.

Because, on Sunday, Abe lost.

And he knows it.


Later - Notice I did not say anything about the LDP's getting wiped out in Okinawa...

Later still- This post has been edited to remove typographical and style errors.

Even later still - Tobias Harris, looking at the same facts and coming to the same conclusions, checks in with a brilliant, comprehensive essay for Foreign Policy. (Link)

I heartily agree with his contention that Abe has taken his biggest blunderbuss and shot it, leaving him little with which to discipline his allies and cow his enemies.


Screenshot courtesy: LDP YouTube Channel

The Breakdown Of The Single Member District Vote Totals

Here are the single member district vote totals, nationwide, for the 14 December 2014 House of Representatives election.


Click on image to open in a new window.

Taking a rough view from the difference between the single member district and the proportional voting, Komeito voters provided over 6.5 million votes of the 7.8 million vote difference in between the LDP's SMD vote and its PR vote. Roughly speaking, Komeito voters provided 1/4 of all votes received by LDP candidates in the districts.

Anyone want to venture a new guess when the LDP/Komeito divorce will take place?

Notable is the number of SMD votes for Japan Communist Party candidates, with a nearly a million vote difference in between the SMD and the PR numbers. When the Communists were the only opposition or the other choices were an unattractive mainstream opposition candidate and an LDP candidate, Communist candidates received the protest vote.

Then again, in 2012, the JCP received over a million of these protest votes, in an election where the voters had many, many more choices.

The Breakdown Of The Party Proportional Vote

Here is the breakdown of the party proportional vote in Sunday's House of Representatives election, national totals.


Click on image to open in a new window.

Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and the LDP have been proudly noting that the party received over 1 million more votes than it did in the victory of 2012, when it received 16,624,457 votes.

As for the oppostion parties, the DPJ raised its total by 140,000 votes, having received 9,628,653 in the 2012 election. The Japan Restoration Party and the Your Party together received a total of 17,507,814 votes in 2012. In 2014, the remnants of these two parties, the JIP and NexGen, received a total of 9,797,618 votes.

Who really get to crow, though? The Japan Communist Party. It received nearly 2.4 million more votes than it did in December 2012, a two year increase of 64%.


Later - An earlier version of this post stated that the increase of the JCP proportional vote was 62%. Sorry.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Very Kind Of Them #38 - Special Pre-Election Edition

Were I to indulge in sincerely grateful hyperbole, I would say that I'm speechless, Justin McCurry. (Link)

But I have a voice, and my limited self-knowledge compels me to shout, "No, no. I actually know very, very little. If I know any one of great value, it is to keep up with what the hard-working, smart folks are writing."

If you want to know about Japan as it is, right now, on the eve of The Election Proving Nothing, find the latest writing by:

T.B., The Economist

Aurelia Mulgan George, various publications (for example)

Yuka Hayashi, The Wall Street Journal

Eric Johnston, The Japan Times

Yuri Kageyama, The Japan Times

Elaine Lies, Reuters

Ben McClanahan, Financial Times

D.M., The Economist

Jacob Schlesinger, The Wall Street Journal

Toko Sekiguchi, The Wall Street Journal

Linda Sieg, Reuters

Jonathan Soble, The New York Times

Corey Wallace, various publications (for example)

and this is just the start, not even beginning on the freelancers, and only in English.

Thanks be for all of you, for all that you have been doing, all this time.