Friday, February 27, 2009
One could waste large portions of his/her life worrying about the LDP, the DPJ, the economy, and all that other stuff we can do nothing about, but I have about had my fill. I'd much rather be out in the weather.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Nice talk. Nice words. Does that include moving away from dependence on the US as Japan's primary export market too? Does it mean moving away from the backdoor dependence on the US market by selling industrial equipment to third countries that make products destined for the US? Does it mean moving away from depending on the US as a guarantor of Japan's security? Equal alliance? Japan will provide equal access to its markets as it has to US markets? Equality in a security treaty? How, with Article 9?
The world awaits on pins and needles for what will likely be a huge letdown. Some will be more skeptical.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Has Obama gone Aso? Aso made the absurd assertion a while back that Japan would be the first country out of recession. Everyone responded by giggling. Is Obama's plan not equally giggle-worthy?
Maybe Michael Kinsley is on to something:
But even if the stimulus is a magnificent success, the money still has to be paid back. The plan of record apparently is that we keep borrowing, spending and stimulating, faster and faster, until suddenly, on some signal from heaven or Timothy Geithner, we all stop spending and start saving in recordbreaking amounts. Oh sure, that will work.There is another way. If it's not the actual, secret plan, it will be an overwhelming temptation: Don't pay the money back. Washington Post.
Kinsley, not being an economist, does not understand the magic behind how all this works and assumes that the US may use inflation to get rid of that debt. Good luck to those---China, Japan and others---who hold it. Giggle-giggle.
Friday, February 20, 2009
But, at least last night I had a seat. I pulled out my copy of Fooled by Randomness in the futile hope of exercising my few remaining brain cells, when I heard a sound that sent an electric shock through my body. An open-mouth, let-it-all-blow-out sneeze. A quick check. Luckily, it was not in my direction, but the young lady standing in the aisle across from me had let one rip directly on the folks seated in front of her. Then I noticed that she was wearing a mask. Well, that was OK then, especially since I would not be getting a spittle shower from her.
Back to Fooled. Within a few seconds, we arrived at the next station. The sparsely-filled train was much quieter than the more usual sardine can train as we waited for a few more folks to get on.
Then I heard it. It was sort of a slow awakening, like noticing a leaky faucet in the middle of the night. Sniff-sniff-sniff-sniff-sniff-sniff-sniff-sniff-sniff-sniff-sniff-sniff-sniff-sniff-sniff-sniff-sniff-sniff-sniff-SNORT!!!-sniff-sniff-sniff-sniff. I began to search for the source with the same morbid curiosity that people have when they pass by the scene of an accident hoping to see a mangled body.
I located him---a middle-aged guy sitting on the far end of the seat across from mine. I was strangely unable to take my eyes off of him. No, he was not attractive in the way that the freckle-faced woman I had shared a moment of eye contact with a month or so earlier was, but he was fascinating. How would he deal with his severe case of post nasal drip, I wondered. After all, if I am gonna do like the natives (which ones?) I have to learn by example.
He sniffed with every single breath. The lady sitting next to him appeared not to notice. Nobody else seemed to notice either, except for me. Good. It meant that he fit in and was a good subject to observe. He continued to sniff. How long before he uses his fingers, hand, or sleeve? He was obviously not the tissue or handkerchief type.
It wasn't long. First there was a slow wipe with the fingers of the right hand. That wasn't enough, as the sniffing continued. A moment later, the left hand went up. The sniffing did not stop nor slow.
This got me to thinking. I'd seen young guys with similar nose trouble, who while talking to young women, take a big head-clearing 93 decibel snort. The young ladies appeared to take it in stride. I've even seen the singer (and talented actor) Kim Taku do sort of a cool, manly snort on a TV drama. Perhaps the babes like it.
Hmmm. Had I missed my chance with the beautiful freckle-faced lady of a month ago when we made and held eye contact on a crowded train? The sort of eye contact that one does not normally make in Tokyo? I must admit, I hadn't known what to do at the time. Had I been in the States, perhaps just a smile would have been fine, and the world would have gone on as usual. But no, Japan is special. What if I had, while staring deep into her pretty eyes, taken a deep, studly, phlegm-clearing snort? Would the evening have turned out differently? Would I have finally been able to enjoy a mid-life fling with a cute younger gal?
No, I had to come back to reality. Perhaps I cannot always do like the natives (which ones?) do after all. For my wife, being unreasonably selfish about these sorts of things, would have refused to share me with the pretty freckle-faced lady.
I got off the train at my stop trying to figure out when I had started paying so much attention to such things. When I reached my "mansion," I felt an irresistible urge to repeatedly wash my hands with scalding hot water.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Later, after he is arrested, he expresses (sincere?) remorse for doing all that.
The murder itself did not meet the Supreme Court standards for a death sentence. Besides, he (only?) premeditated rape but did not actually commit it, and although the unpremeditated murder and dismemberment was "selfish and self-centered," he said that he was sorry.
Because of that expression of remorse there is hope for rehabilitation, said the judge.
There is no hope for the young lady. Story at the Asahi Shimbun/IHT.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
But how do we end online hate? Since the Internet has become a highway for free speech, we definitely need to explore ways to regulate such "traffic" with wisdom. Asahi Shinbun
I agree. Let's start by wisely regulating newspaper ranters---err "editorialists".
19 Feb: The heads of several daily newspapers in Japan participated in a group gabfest about various things including editorials:
I feel editorials are a forum to present an accumulation of extremely deep observation: remark by the learned chat leader. Asahi
Wonder when they will start?
The US Public Broadcasting System's Frontline has released the first of three video reports Inside the Meltdown: First Tremors online, and you don't have to pay for it (It is about 1 hour long.).
"Unless you act, the entire system of this country---and the world---will melt down in a matter of days." Hank Paulson during an emergency meeting with senior legislators on September 18, 2008.
Isn't history so often better to read about (or watch programs about) when it is in the past than when you have yet to live through it?
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Let's hope we can get over it now. I doubt it though.
Speaking of Observing Japan, Tobias Harris blog post is featured in an article by Andrew Dewitt/Tobias Harris: Japan's Twenty Year Response to Economic Crisis. (23 Feb, Sorry, I forgot to link to that at Japan Focus)
And speaking of blogs, the world's most succinct summary of Japan's governance is at Shisaku (where Nakagawa's performance is also covered). Fifty years of Boy George...
Monday, February 16, 2009
...“The economy is in terrible shape and the scary part is that we’re likely to see a similar drop this quarter,” said Seiji Adachi, a senior economist at Deutsche Securities Inc. in Tokyo. “All we can do is wait for overseas demand to pick up.”
...Japan has become more dependent on exports for its growth over the past decade... Bloomberg
Where is my ¥12000 (or is it ¥20,000)? I'd put an end to this mess if I had it.
Now if only this can be worked out in a way that Japan does not act like a jilted lover.
Mrs. Clinton said that in Japan she would meet with families of people abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, addressing an issue that has long agitated the Japanese, but which the United States has viewed as a distraction to talks with the North about its nuclear program.
OK, just what does this mean? Abductees will replace nuclear weapons as the main issue for the US too? Or will it be on equal ground? Or what?
It all sounds good, anyway.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
A resident in Japan since 1974, Hymas said that his more than 40-year love affair with landscapes of rural Japan, which are distinctive in every season [Is this not usual in temperate climates everywhere? WTF?], led him to nearly every corner of this country.
...his current nature phase marks "a huge departure from my earlier work as a professional acrobat," as he put it. Asahi Shinbun (English) Maybe that explains something? Old noggin injury, perhaps?
I must be living in another world.
(16 Feb 09 Maybe it will work...I am having occasional problems with opening the new account too!?)
Saturday, February 14, 2009
One reason Japan’s leaders were so ineffectual for so long was their fear of stoking public outrage. With each act of the bailout, anger grew, making politicians more reluctant to force real reform, which only delayed the day of reckoning and increased the ultimate price tag. NYT
"For the US, Europe and other countries that sought liberalisation from Japan to run to protectionism is an absolute evil," Nakagawa told reporters before leaving for the G7 meeting in Rome....
..."While protectionism may be good for a single country, it is negative for the entire world. Japan would like to make concrete proposals" to prevent a trend of favouring domestic industries, said Nakagawa. AFP
Friday, February 13, 2009
Although Japan is the leader in technology, unfortunately we are not very good at sales. For example, H-IIA is Japan's primary space-launch vehicle, the most reliable rocket on earth — or, I should say, in orbit — with 93 percent of all launches successful, (Based on how many?) yet we are basically producing it for domestic use. Japan Times.
Minister Noda may have used just a bit more puffery in the same interview by describing how Japan has the world's most accurate lunar explorer. Great. Amazing in fact. Based on how many flights? Let me guess---one? (14 Feb: There were 3 satellites on the Kaguya mission.)
Perhaps things have changed for the H-IIA since 2005:
Japan's H-II program has been a showcase effort for the country's commercial launches, but high costs and a sub-par launch record have slowed it. Counting the initial H-II and redesigned H-IIA, the vehicle has had three failures in 14 launches, a 79% success record. By JAXA's calculations, its U.S. competitor, the Boeing Delta, has a 94% liftoff success rate and the European Ariane, a 93% launch success record. JAXA's senior managers say it will take 10-20 straight successes before they can gain the trust of the international launch community. Nineteen of 20 H-IIA launches would give the H-IIA a 95% success rate that would make it globally competitive, they say. Aviation Week. (Uh-oh. 95% would make it globally competitive. Isn't 79% less than 95% even in Japan?)
Oh, they have improved though:
Since the seventh launch in February 2005, the H-IIA launch vehicle has recorded eight consecutive successful launches, a success rate equal to those of LSPs in Europe and the U.S. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries News. (What, 8 successful launches in a row? 13 of 14? Hmmm. I don't know, but I do wonder if US and Europe have a larger number of launches to base their rates on? If so, would their statistics be more reliable?)
"This launch signifies Boeing's continued commitment to provide our commercial customers with the Delta II vehicle, which has a 98.5 percent launch success rate," said Ken Heinly, director of Boeing's Launch Products & Services and Boeing Launch Services president. Boeing
All Delta Rockets:
There have been over 300 Delta rockets launched, with a 95% success rate. Warning! From Wikipedia
You can calculate the overall Delta (all models) success rate since 1960 for yourself at Boeing's site if you've no life. I have none, so I did a quick count: 336 launches to date with 15 failures---a success rate of 95.5%. Oops. In topsy-turvy Japan, maybe success rates are calculated differently?
Just a few years ago, when these rockets seemed to explode and fall from the sky about every other launch, I used to have fun with some friends whom I could normally joke with. I'd say, "Do you know the difference between a Chinese rocket and a Japanese rocket (China was being quite successful at launches at the time)?
Then I'd take a pencil and blast it off straight up and say "Chinese rocket." Next I would take the same pencil, blast it off, wobble it around before moving it in circles and dropping it to the ground and say "Japanese rocket." They never saw the humor. Even my Commie wife hated it. So I did it more often. Childish, I know. But fun.
Well, good luck with those sales Ms. Noda. Some people will believe anything. I bought a Mac, after all.
Oh, and kudos to the reporter Judit Kawaguchi for such a hard-nosed report. No puff piece there. I wonder---was this interview in the form of submitted written questions and replies?
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
[Justice Parliamentary Secretary] Hayakawa said regime change is necessary for Japan.
"What I am appealing is that whatever happens, a political realignment is necessary in order for Japanese politics to become stabilized and be well under way," he wrote [in his blog]. Japan Times.
No doubt, MangaMan and buddies are driving the last few nails in the coffin of the LDP.
Noah Smith has written a thought-provoking post for Observing Japan in which he explains how the system that allowed certain countries accumulating huge trade surpluses and exporting capital while requiring others to accumulate trade deficits and to import capital is under severe strain (to say the least) and discusses possible consequences for Japan. It is not easy reading for anyone who lives here.*
Frankly, not only is Japan not considering---at least publicly---how it will operate in what seems like a new global economy, there isn't much evidence that the US (or any other government) is either.
*The Far Eastern Economic Review article Mr. Smith linked to is interesting reading too as it looks at the problem as it relates to China and compares the global payment imbalances of today with those of the years immediately preceding the Great Depression.
A quote from that FEER article:
"This cannot work for long. The proper place for new demand to originate is, as in the 1930s, in trade-surplus countries. They should be engaged in expanding demand, not expanding supply."Are we not in deep natto?
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
It also recommends that farmers become more efficient, but they did not suggest doing it by consolidating small part-timer farms into large, efficient farms. Maybe they should have recommended that farmers use magic seeds too.
Kinda tough to tell folks to eat more purely domestic foods in a severe recession unless the price of those foods come down. Doesn't this mean that the domestic rice market is protected all for naught since folks apparently ain't eating all that over-priced rice?
Article at Japan Focus.
Sunday, February 08, 2009
Mitsui & Co., ... have been accused in a lawsuit of discriminating against non-Asian employees by denying them equal pay and promotional opportunities.
"Mitsui USA and Mitsui Japan have a strict policy requiring that the top positions and virtually any position managing personnel at the company be filled by the all Japanese/Asian staff," according to the complaint. Japan Times.
Anyway, I know that this sort of thing could not possibly be true. I mean, it would be so unlike a Japanese organization to have such a policy. Unimaginable. The suit is in the US too, where everyone selfishly sues over every little thing.
Saturday, February 07, 2009
This time, the Japan Times has published an idiotorial on the possible end of the American Dream™---whatever that is. At the same time that the US Senate is involved in a disgustingly democratic debate over President Obama's stimulus plan, the opposition in the Diet is opposing PM Aho's in order to "make the government look ineffectual."(Look ineffectual?!!!!)
The writer, whom I assume is not from the US, wrote that the American Dream™ (again, whatever that is) is "in reality everyone's dream."* It makes fat stupid Americans want to say, "Get your own damned dream and pursue it yourself." It's like having a 30-year old child who still wants to be breastfed. It's time to grow up, sweety.
*I suspect that whatever the American Dream™ is, it is not something that everyone wants. Fujiwacko Masahiko, for example, might not agree with it.
The little birdy is usually quite accurate on bank/finance-related topics.
Friday, February 06, 2009
In 1984 the university's graduate school of business administration began offering a master of business administration degree combined with a master of arts degree in Asian studies. The aim was to fill a gap: Too few American college graduates can speak Japanese as well as offer a solid business background...
During the three-year program, the participants study not only the Japanese language but also the culture and the economic and political history of Japan, in addition to completing the requirements for an M.B.A. program. Six months are spent in Japan, working for a Japanese company and completing a master's thesis.
''I chose it because of claims that the equipment market is closed and I was skeptical,''...for example, that too many American companies have been slow in printing good instructions for equipment in Japanese...
...He found a difference between American and Japanese customers. Americans were satisfied as long as a product functioned properly, he said, but added that ''the Japanese users tore it apart and wanted to know what made it work.''(Wonder why?) NYT Archives 1987.
It seems that any time that the media starts proclaiming that there is a need for more university students to become proficient in a certain field it is time to avoid that field. Even if there should turn out to be a real need for the expertise---in this case there was not---by the time anyone graduates, there will be about 2 zillion other fools who fell for the same line and apply for the 37 real openings. Another fool won't be needed.
Let's see, in the 80s, there was a big future demand for people with knowledge of Japan and who could also speak Japanese, for lack of familiarity with Japanese language and culture was the reason that US (and other country's) companies had a hard time penetrating the Japanese market. It was all a misunderstanding on the part of stupid, arrogant, ill-mannered, and pushy foreigners. (Of course since many believe that non-Japanese cannot really understand Japan's uniquely unique, deeply mysterious culture, we should have questioned the point of wasting time studying it. Ask Edward Seidensticker.* )
In the late 90s in the US, the press was clamoring for the need for new IT professional. Then the Internet bubble burst, and suddenly there wasn't such a need. At least that field has recovered, mostly because it was a field in which a large number of people with expertise was and is and will be needed. Unlike Japanese Studies.
What will be the next hot field? Tax law specialists to help those who make US tax law pay their own taxes? Going nowhere.
*Seidensticker was a well-know Japanese-English translator, known for his translation of The Tale of Genji and Snow Country, among others. I particularly remember an incident he wrote about years ago. He was in a bar in Tokyo discussing the Tale of Genji with some of the patrons when one half-drunken sod asked him, "Yes, you translated it, but do you REALLY understand it?" implying, of course, that only a Japanese could really understand it. Seidensticker did not especially welcome that fool's comment. Edward had an attitude that many non-Japanese residents of Japan could sympathize with. Others would sympathize with the half-drunken fool and write absurd Japan Times columns defending bigotry.
Thursday, February 05, 2009
The days of export-led growth for Asia are over (at least exports outside the region – intra-regional trade is another matter provided importers in the region can be found to equal exporters – and that the final demand is in Asia; i.e., exports of parts and supplies from one Asian country to another for finished products headed for the U.S. market don’t count). As the Koreans and Thais can easily testify given their own recent traumas, the United States cannot recover from the mess it is in without more savings – another way of saying less consumption. That in turn means the U.S. after 40 years of profligacy will have to export more than it imports. For this to happen, much of the production capacity that has been steadily transferred to Asia over the last fifty years will have to be repatriated back to the United States so that Americans will have enough factories again in which to go to work to pay off the debts that their politicians and bankers so recklessly ran up. Otherwise, all those dollars Asia holds will quickly be worth very little. What, after all, is a dollar other than a claim on the output of an American? ...
...How is Asia going to wean itself from its dependence on the U.S. market? One lesson the world may finally learn from this crisis is that genuine, long-term prosperity comes not from continuously shoveling money at distant foreigners so they can keep buying your stuff ...
This seems almost intuitively right. If so, wonder what is being done to prepare for this new world? As Aso lifts Japan to be the first nation out of the global recession, I am sure he has a plan.
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
The economic outlook in Japan is very grim... Right now, Japan has the worst growth outlook in Asia. That is a surprising fact, if one recalls that this is a country presumably dusting itself off from the collapse of its own bubble nearly two decades ago. After such a long period of economic crisis, Japan should be renovated and ready to thrive. But instead, it may be in worse shape than even the US...Andrew Dewit in Japan Focus.
The US has the ability, we hope, to change direction; to pull itself up in a reasonable amount of time. One needs to chug a lot of sake to believe that Japan, especially as currently governed, has any such ability.
In the same issue of Japan Focus, K. Takahashi writes on the US using and abusing seignorage (the benefits accrued by the issuer of a currency) as "a savior". The article is most interesting for R. Taggart Murphy's response to that argument:
What Takahashi doesn't say is that this privilege has as much to do with Japan's willingness to hold dollars over the past generation as it does with policy in Washington...
...are right that American politicians and central bankers have been unable to resist the temptation to abuse what amounts to seignorage covering the whole planet...
But...does not discuss is the degree of Japanese complicity in the danger Japan now faces...
...the domestic political and economic ramifications of a restructuring of the Japanese economy around domestic demand were too frightening to contemplate...Full article at Japan Focus.
Could it be the time to face those fears and actually do something other than whine?
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Living away from home for long periods seems to give a distorted view of what home was like. For example, since coming to Japan, I have forgotten exactly how dangerous it was there and my memories are that my hometown----if you could call it a town---was much, much, safer than ultra-safe Japan (apples and oranges, but that is acceptable when discussing Japan). Just like my wife had forgotten how safe Japan was when we lived in the States during the Japanese real estate bubble. She would lay awake at night (or have nightmares) worrying about real estate agency hiring some yakuza-connected thug to persuade her parents to sell their home by setting it on fire or running a truck through it.
This sort of distortion affects people in other ways. I find myself wearing heavier clothing than I ever would have before when the "winter" temperature drops to a frigid 50 degrees outside. I start thinking like everyone else, that this is cold weather. I have never seen an icicle in the city in Tokyo, and very, very, rarely see frost and snow is a once or twice a year rarity. (Oh, yea. Global warming. And maybe a latitude on the 35th parallel like that of the southern US states of Georgia/North Carolina?)
It ain't only me. I was talking with a guy from Chicago who told me about how cold Tokyo was. He then predicted below freezing overnight, although I knew that the unreliable weather forecast predicted 45 degrees---and they turned out to be right.
Since I am unable to tell when winter is in the only land with four seasons without a calendar, I have to refer to my own records sometimes to remember that it is winter at this time of year, not a 5-month long March.
One year ago today, the first of two snowfalls hit Tokyo. I fear that there will be none this year which, for one who enjoys winter, will just serve as an exclamation point for how things seem to be going.