Wednesday, December 31, 2008
...Webb said the United States could learn from the Japanese prison system. In his book, A Time to Fight, he wrote that the Japanese focused less on retribution. Sentences were short, and inmates often left prison with marketable job skills. Webb said the system was modeled on philosophies pioneered by Americans, who he says have since lost their way. From the Houston Chronical.
OK. If Sen. Webb says so.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
It is usually used when there is some sort of debate about something Japanese and someone decides to end the debate with a definitive, unchallengeable statement. After all, how could anyone argue with a Japanese spouse?
There are some folks, both Japanese and non-Japanese, who find it hard to accept that the LDP is in deep enough kimchi to actually lose the next election, if one is ever held. No matter how bad things look for the party, many believe that it will always find a way to escape defeat. After all, it has had a pretty darned good record of doing just that since 1955. Times may have changed, but the ol' LDP can't be counted out to these folks.*
I admit to having had some sympathy for that view, rational or not, so I decided to put an end to all doubt and get a definitive answer.
On the shinkansen last week, when the thrill of watching out the window as we passed through tunnel after tunnel was somehow lessening, I decided to have a chat with the lady sitting next to me. I asked her "Do you think that the DPJ will beat the LDP in the next election?" She replied, "They'd better. This is their last chance, if they can't do it now, they never will. The LDP has been dead for 20 years."
Aha! Got it. I have a Japanese wife and she says that it looks like this is the DPJ's big chance to put away the already dead LDP. End of debate...... almost.....
Just as I thought I had my answer, she continued (half-jokingly?), "There is a rumor that Princess Masako is connected with the Sokagakkai. She used to be in the foreign ministry and that group controls the ministry. The head of the Sokagakkai is really powerful, probably more powerful than any prime minister...."
By the time she had finished, she left the impression that the whole country was being run by the head of the Sokagakkai.
Now I am all confused again. Does this mean that the winner of the next election---should one ever be held---will be determined by the Sokagakkai? Wouldn't that winner likely be the New Komeito Party? And doesn't that mean....
Nah. Never mind. She's been know to vote JCP and I ain't listenin' to no commie pinko.
*This, however, may convince some otherwise.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Me too, though not about the yen volatility that Nakagawa was talking about. So for the last week, I have been trying to avoid newspapers, the Internet and anything else that could cause current events to ruin my day.
This seems to work as I am able to take a more relaxed view of life. A few days ago when I saw some fine students from a nearby private girls school force a little old lady using a cane to come to a stop and squeeze herself up against the wall so that she would not interfere with their hogging of the entire sidewalk, I was barely bothered. I resisted the thought of grabbing granny's stick and using it on the young queens, but instead looked at the bright side---since they do the same thing to me, it meant that I was getting no special foreigner treatment. I was so pleased with that thought, that I entirely forgot about them and was unable to stop and squeeze myself up against the wall. This resulted in collisions and confusion. The confusion being mostly mine as they barely broke pace but continued chatting and giggling and looking for someone else to trample.*
This know-nothing state is so nice that I believe I'll continue it until 2009. I actually know a few folks who always seem to be in such a state. Perhaps they have learned something over the years.
*I now understand why some older folks are so pushy and aggressive in crowded places. Sixty years of being pushed and shoved tends to make one a bit tired of enduring it passively.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
...Anyway, the rest of the world may not be ready to handle a drastically smaller U.S. trade deficit. As my colleague Tom Friedman recently pointed out, much of China’s economy in particular is built around exporting to America, and will have a hard time switching to other occupations...
What was this about decoupling? The Economist explained why it is (was?) not a myth back on 6 March 2008.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
It should not be, as I remember that it took the police an extraordinarily long time decide whether to make an arrest. I recall that they even had a tough time determining that the teenage victim of the beating had suffered anything other than the normal bruises and injuries of ordinary sumo practice. In fact, his death was initially ruled as due to heart failure.
The three sumo wrestlers who beat the boy to death were given "suspended sentences" and they weren't even company executives.. They were, in effect, let off.
Early last year when the police finally made the arrests---after the family questioned how the bruised battered body of their son did not raise any suspicions of foul play---the father was quoted as saying:
"I do understand that the master's orders are absolute, so maybe they couldn't help it, but if they had reconsidered, this would not have happened."
The judge in this case only half agreed.
Despite the fears of the old boys running sumo, it is not the foreign wrestlers who are ruining the sport.
Monday, December 22, 2008
The house had been vacant since we moved into the area 2 1/2 years ago. I had heard that the land was probably worth more than 2 million US dollars, which put an end to any thoughts of living there but not the desire.
It was a huge house by Tokyo standards. In the rear was an overgrown garden with a small porch on which I could imagine myself sitting on frigid winter day enjoying a nearly equally imaginary heavy Tokyo snowfall.
Then, about a month ago, a real estate company set up a sales table in front of the house. I knew then that even the fantasy was gone, but I was surprised when the real estate company did not return the following week. Had the house sold so quickly? Perhaps the price had been reduced for a quick sale. The fantasy returned. Should I have checked how much it really was, just in case?
A few days later, workmen arrived. They immediately went to the overgrown garden and cut down every single tree and shrub. Then they cut down the tree on the corner that had blocked the view of the nearby intersection for both pedestrians and drivers, but which when gone was immediately missed. What kind of people would do that, I wondered. I feared that the new residents might do what another neighbor did when he bought his house---he paved the large garden in front and made it into a rent-by-the-month parking lot.
But no, this was worse. By the end of the week, backhoes had been brought in. They tore down the wall near the garden and began to dig it up. Scaffolding went up as they began to dismantle the house. They were tearing the whole thing down.
It progressed more slowly than a lot of house demolitions. I can walk down a street in some areas and see a house one day and by the next week there will be no trace left. This one took about 3 weeks to entirely demolish and remove, leaving nothing but a plot of soil. It is nice looking soil though, and it seems that one could raise a good vegetable garden there.
Then came another shock. The real estate company came back and again set up a sales table. It seems that nobody had bought the house after all. The owner or real estate company had for some reason torn it down.
I don't know if the house was old and had serious flaws---though I had noticed that there was absolutely no insulation in the walls ---but it looked fine from the outside. I did know, however, that houses and land are viewed differently in Japan (or at least Tokyo) as compared to where I come from.
This morning I saw that Philip Brasor has written an timely article about The Japanese art of useless houses and the government's "200-year housing plan" meant to encourage the building of longer lasting homes:
[Former PM] Fukuda explained something everybody knew at least intuitively: Japanese homes were not made to last... ...With the price of land so high, people couldn't afford better quality homes, and cheap, poor quality structures became the norm. What Fukuda didn't mention is that the housing industry was addicted to this cycle, which is referred to as "scrap and build." The average new house loses its value completely 15 years after it's occupied...From the Japan Times
That's a shame for the "old" house that was just torn down. Had I the money, I might have given 2 million US dollars for it. But now, if I could disregard the resale value, I could not imagine giving much more the 100,000 for it. One hundred thousand yen. The fantasy is gone and it is just a big vegetable garden to me. I find the older houses much, much more attractive than the shiny newer ones which look as if they were mass-produced in a house factory.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
The Japanese government has acknowledged for the first time that Allied prisoners during World War II were made to work at a coal mine owned by the family of Prime Minister Taro Aso, contradicting his longstanding denials. NYT
Poor Mr. Aso gets kicked yet again when he's down. After this stunning news flash, one wonders what will be next. Will Rush Limbaugh admit that there might possibly be some connection to human activities and global warming? I'll miss that however, unless it also makes the "news."
Then, after reading the above NYT article, I was pleased to learn at another site that although the US is up to its neck in debt to China, that debt gives China no political influence in Washington. You see, any sudden sell-off of that debt would hurt China as much or more than the US. Thank goodness, for that seems to be what the US, and a large part of the global economy is based on. Sorta of a 21st century Mutual Assured Destruction among the US, China, and Japan only this time based on mutual destruction of economies instead of destruction by nuclear war.
We certainly have no reason to ever consider that a country might see a need to do something considered illogical and suicidal. There could never be a situation in which that country may feel that the supposedly illogical and suicidal choice is its best or only alternative. Such a thing has never, ever happened in history. Besides, those folks watching over the financial system in the US and throughout the world know what they are doing.
Although that little tidbit was from an anonymous comment on an interesting post at Observing Japan, I doubt that it is a rarely held opinion. I have used such thoughts to reassure myself about the huge debt the US owes to China and Japan, but somehow, I still feel just a little worried.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
He was blessedly unaware of the little situation in Yokohama in 2002 where a defective Mitsubishi-made wheel came off of a large truck, rolled on the sidewalk striking and killing a young mother. Others had been killed or injured by this type of defective wheel and Mitsubishi, bless their hearts, lied about it and tried to cover it up. Only when the facts became public did the company give a sincere and heartfelt apology to the families of those whom they had helped kill.
After being acquitted once, in the summer of 2008 the three top executives were found guilty of falsifying the report in that fatal accident and were given the harsh penalty of ￥200,000 (apx $2000) each. A few others connected with the case received the usual suspended jail sentences. (I like that. I think I'd become some sort of criminal if I could be assured of a suspended sentence. Yea, embarrassing, but low-risk and potentially very profitable.)
Damage suits are relatively rare, and companies are rarely required to pay more than a token amount. Even when convicted of criminal wrongdoing, executives of companies are generally handed lenient sentences with no prison terms. IHT here.
Oh, the 29 year old mother who was killed by Mitsubishi's negligence? Her family received 5.5 million yen (about $55000. I recall reading earlier that it was only ￥250,000):
The court was ruling on a 165 million yen damages suit -- 65 million yen in compensation and 100 yen in punitive damages -- against Mitsubishi Motors and the government. It ordered the truck maker to only pay 5.5 million yen to the mother of 29-year-old Shiho Okamoto, who was killed when she was struck by a wheel that flew off an MMC truck. Okamoto's two children were also hurt.
The government was not ordered to pay any damages.
"Imposition of punitive damages, aimed at punishing an offender, is not congruous to our country's legal system," the three-judge panel said in the ruling. Judge Hiroyuki Shibata read out the decision on behalf of presiding Judge Hiroshi Yamamoto, who had been transferred to another court. Japan Times here.
Given the track record of success above, one wonders why the Japanese are so reluctant to sue? A mysterious cultural trait?
...there is no direct statistical data showing that such a stigma prevents claimants to sue. An empirical research made by the Justice System Reform Council in 2000 showed that 46.2% of parties felt reluctance to use civil procedure. However, among the top reasons for this reluctance were the time (72.0%) and the cost (67.2%) required to go through a case. By contrast, cultural reasons, such as negative influences on one’s social appearance (19.9%) and fear of exposure to the public (18.0%), ranked low. This result may not suggest that most Japanese citizens are indifferent to the stigma in suing because the respondents were limited to those who had used civil procedure in the past, but it does suggest that the time and cost of litigation may have substantial influence on litigants' behavior. Japanese Law Resources here.
Huh? Time and money? Ohhhhh. How inscrutable! And how hard it is to imagine such a reason, especially when the results---if you are fortunate enough to succeed---would be something in the order of $55,000 for a young mother's life.
Yep. Lawyers and the ability to sue are bad. It's a real shame that the government has been making an effort to increase lawyer numbers (while hoping to avoid company-damaging suits I'd guess.) Imagine that. Citizens could conceivably get more power. Cursed Western influence.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
On the weekend when Lehman collapsed and Merill Lynch was sold, I knew that the world had changed. (I also had the rather weird thought that there would be some really interesting books written about what went on during that weekend that I could read in about 6 months.) Since then so many things that I mostly took for granted have been proven to have been nothing but a sort of poorly made virtual reality. For example, I knew free markets were not exactly "free," but I did not expect that so many proponents of the unrealized paradise of mythical free markets would become sudden converts to open, aggressive government "intrusion" into the market.
There has been one bright spot though. Paul Krugman has returned to his day job doing what he does best, Keynesian economics, instead of using his NYT column to connect every single problem on earth to Boy George.
D.C. What did Japan do wrong in the 90's and how can we avoid the same fate?
Paul Krugman: To be honest, I think US economists are feeling a bit more respect for the Japanese, or at least sympathy for their plight. Avoiding a Japan-type experience is proving harder than most economists thought -- even economists like Ben Bernanke, who'd worked hard on analyzing Japan.
But the big message I take from Japan's experience is the folly of excessive caution. If you're half-hearted about taking on the slump -- if you wait to cut interest rates, nickel-and-dime your fiscal stimulus, penny-pinch on your bank bailouts -- then by the time you realize more is needed, deflation has set in, and it's really hard to get out of the trap.
So you want to be really, really aggressive on policy early on. Transcript of Washington Post interview/discussion here.
I think we are all a little more sympathetic---certainly less condescending---to what Japan went through in the 90s. And a little more Keynesian.
Link to the Keynes essay that Krugman mentioned: The Great Slump of 1930
Monday, December 15, 2008
It was also brought to my attention that there is no way to contact me via this blog. I had apparently turned my profile off some time ago and had forgotten and leaving no other way to get in touch. I have turned the profile back on, but it's nowhere to be seen. I am working on that to see what the problem is, but it may take a while to resolve it as I'll probably have to troubleshoot with Google "support." (10:11pm That was simple, profile added below.)
Saturday, December 13, 2008
I should feel bad for those who believed that (in spite of all common sense and evidence) that the Japanese economy would not be affected much by the global financial crisis and who must now face reality. And I should feel even worse for those who still don't see any real problems. "Huh? They rescued the financial companies but won't help those that really make something (the car companies)! They have their priorities wrong! BAHAHA!" Unfortunately, my friend from down under was actually serious when he said that, but I don't feel bad for him.
I don't really feel bad for any of the above reasons. So I guess that I should not beat myself over actually feeling a bit of pleasure as the US Big Three auto companies head toward the reward that they have deserved for at least 25-30 years. A "bit of pleasure"? Actually, I am feeling sort of a sadistic joy in seeing it, and I have this strange urge to dance a little jig at the news and I don't think it's due to the virus on the brain.
It is really partially my fault that those companies have not been able to produce quality cars that enough people would want to buy in order to keep the firms in the red and the management and union members well in the black (and the CEOs in private jets). For I confess that I stopped buying American cars after I graduated high school. Although I had spent my childhood as an apprentice grease monkey to my father whose "hobby" was working on the clunkers, I hated every single second of wallowing in mud and grease trying to fix the P.O.S. that just broke down in the middle-of-the-night in a blizzard out in the-middle-of-the-sticks. I was determined not to continue that wonderful family tradition any longer than necessary and began buying Japanese cars. They, with one exception, allowed me to avoid reliving those wonderful childhood experiences. [I am embarrassed to add that even my father later switched to Japanese-made cars and has refused to "buy American" since.]
Hence the dire straights of the poor Big Three Stooges. Who could have seen this coming? Who could have imagined that folks would switch to Toyota and Honda, despite earlier efforts by The Three Stooges to have the US government protect them from competition? Who could have imagined that oil prices might go up and cause SUV sales to drop? Who could have imagined that after decades of criticism that the Stooges were not exactly prime examples of forward-thinking, fully-competitive companies selling top quality products that would dominate their market forever, that the criticism could actually be accurate! Who could have imagined that after decades of whining and making better excuses than cars, that people would stop listening?
And finally, who could have imagined that after the companies could not make cars that Americans wanted to buy, that we stupid ingrates would object when Three Stooges demanded that the government take away the money that we refused to spend on US cars and give it to them anyway?
I should feel bad. At this time, the well-deserved bankruptcies of one or more of those companies could be an especially risky thing. I am still undecided on whether or not they should be extended a (very temporary) hand until the economy improves, or just allowed to reap what they've sown. I have listened to both/all sides for the last month. I would not want to see people lose their jobs and careers---well, I would not weep if some of the management and union leaders did---but I do not feel bad about the situation that those companies put themselves in.
Why do I not feel bad? Well, because this time the car companies have a plan to succeed!!!!! They just came up with it over the last few weeks! And although I believed the car salesmen, the U.S. Senate seemed to have doubts. Thus, they have scuttled the initial handout---sorry bailout---proposal.
Scuttled the bailout! I do not feel bad.
Monday, December 08, 2008
Our explainer basically justified bigotry by claiming it was all made fine and wonderful by his view of "group accountability." Apparently, he thought that it was just dandy that public bath operators in Hokkaido could ban anyone who did not "look Japanese" as this was just a way of making a whole group (those who did not look Japanese) accountable for the actions of a smaller part of that group (Russian sailors).
Naturally the problem is also somehow related to the US because the US is/has been racist and this fact magnifies the feelings of injustice to Westerners. So, I guess we gotta assume that the non-western, non-Japanese who reside in Japan (as well as many Japanese) don't see a problem with it. Anyway, we can't hold it against Japan for discriminating based on "group" because 'merika and the west in general is racist whilst Japan's racial and other discrimination isn't racist.
In Japan, you see, group discrimination---bigotry---is evenhanded. If you ain't a "pure" Japanese, that's sufficient. Since the bath claimed that the reason that no non-Japanese looking person could enter was because some Russian sailors caused problems somewhere, and since Russian sailors are not Japanese then they could---at least until a Japanese court said they couldn't---discriminate against all who are not.
(This brings up the problem of which group must be held accountable for the actions of the mass-murdering Japanese in Akihabara last summer, or the guy who a few weeks ago stabbed 3 people, killing two, because he was supposedly angry that the government had killed his doggy when he was a child. All Japanese? All men? All Japanese men? All young pet owners?)
Our writer then equates the discrimination with the rules for female-only train cars during peak hours and finally makes the utterly bizarre, absurd claim that since this group accountability is a major reason that Japan is safe (prove that) if Japan abandons it, then Japan will become like the mythical US or other countries---unsafe, full of selfish criminals where one cannot walk the streets without being a crime victim. Japan will, in effect, become a foreign country.
"Japan will become one more nation in which the individual is to be feared. That is an outrageously high price to pay for the occasional racial, national, generational or gender-driven slight."
The case the apologist-for-bigotry-and-discrimination wrote about was the Otaro onsen case brought by naturalized Japanese citizen, Arudo Debito. Debito has posted the original article and a short response on his blog along with other responses.
The author of the article is putting the finishing touches on a book that is bound to become a classic on what the world can learn from Japan. Although topic sounds like a rehash of the 1980s books of this genre, there are things which folks elsewhere could learn from Japan. Whether or not those things could be adopted is another question. Let's hope, however, that excusing racism, bigotry, and other discrimination based on group membership is not one of them.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Regarding the vocal support for Tamogami's views that is rampant on the Internet, Karasawa pointed to a generation that he claims harbors resentment*....Article at the Japan Times.
I would guess that this resentment will increase rather than decrease. I only hope that those who predict the downfall of the LDP are right, not because Ozawa and the DJP are any great improvement, but because if the DPJ can win and govern well enough to gain support, perhaps it will begin a real 2-party system with choices in the future. But then again, who says that a second party would not turn more rightward and more revisionist and more isolationist than certain factions of the LDP. After all, some DPJ members signed the ad in the Washington Post last year claiming Japanese government innocence in the sex slave business in WW2.
As long as certain extremists keep denying Japan's wrongdoings in the war, criticism will continue. Were they simply to shut up some of the controversies might actually die down. They won't though.
*The younger generation resents criticism of Japan? Damn, what would they do if Japan got half the criticism that the US receives and has received for decades?
(For your mental health, avoid 2ch (2 Channel) and similar places. It can be depressing, alarming, and certainly impacts any impression one has of Japan. Tamogami seems soft compared to some of those folks.)
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Ousted Air Self-Defense Force Chief of Staff Gen. Toshio Tamogami stuck to his revisionist historical views Monday, saying his justification of Japan's wartime acts is shared by many lawmakers and Self-Defense Forces personnel. Full article at the Japan Times.
Monday, December 01, 2008
The law was controversial when passed, as many---permanent residents in particular---were angered and offended. Too bad, said the government (and most others, including many non-Japanese) it's for safety and security and it stays.
So where did all this fingerprinting of non-Japanese begin? We all know that it was done to ethnic Koreans for decades until the law was rescinded mainly due to their protests in the 80s. While reading Mark E. Caprio's article in Japan Focus I found this interesting little tidbit:
...in May 1947, just months prior to SCAP’s January 1948 announcement that Koreans would be treated as “Japanese nationals,” SCAP reversed course by subjecting Japan-based Koreans and Taiwanese to its Alien Registration Ordinance. Mirrored after the U.S. Alien Registration Act of 1940, it required all non-Japanese over the age of 14 to register their alien status and carry with them at all times their alien registration passbook. It further stipulated that violators would face deportation. This legislation served as the forerunner for the more comprehensive Alien Registration Act of 1952 that introduced mandatory fingerprinting of foreign residents. See Japan Focus: The Cold War explodes in Kobe---the 1948 Korean Ethnic School "Riots" and the US Occupation Authorities.
I suppose the Japanese government of the time could have objected to Dugout Doug, SCAP, and Uncle Sam, but they didn't. Just like today, when the US passes tougher laws controlling foreign visitors or residents, Japan rarely declines adopting a similar law because of moral reasons as long as it citizens (or industries) are not affected. .