Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dumbing down

I won't make any comparisons to what I see in Japan as "dumbing down" might not even be possible with respect to Japanese politics. I don't expect they could go any further down. However, David Broder of the Washington Post has an interesting opinion piece on Dumbing Down the Presidency. This is not an especially new thought, but Broder refers to some research which by Elvin T. Lim of the University of Texas which found:

...rather than seeking to persuade voters by arguing for their policies, presidents increasingly have sought to build trust by identifying themselves with those voters and their "common sense" view of the world. "Whereas all of the presidents through Woodrow Wilson appealed to 'common sense' just 11 times in their recorded papers, presidents since Wilson have done so more than 1,600 times"...

And this election will be no different. I read Tobias Harris of Observing Japan impression of a couple of op-eds, one from the Obama camp and one from the McCain camp about foreign policy towards Japan. (I had read the original op-ed by McCain's advisors and was underwhelmed.)

Despite Mr. Harris' gallant attempt to make sense of next to nothing, I cannot figure out what these guys actually plan---if anything.

Presidential candidates dumbing down to the level of a quick blog entry.

Now we know

I wondered just how Japan would react to the apparently shocking news that the US was going to delist North Korea as a terrorist nation. I was especially curious about the fine folks of the right-wing.

Tobias Harris of Observing Japan has a post with the similarly shocking news that a politician has put Japan in its usual position of being a victim. The DPJ's Ichiro Ozawa (is he a right-winger now? Was or wasn't he before? A leftist? Or was he sort of a US-style free-trading Republican? He has been so many things I forget which he is today. I do know he was some sort of ship captain last year.) has reacted by saying that the US never takes Japan's thoughts into account. Mr. Harris takes the view that Ozawa is mainly playing to domestic considerations and that Ozawa's comments were more aimed at the LDP for poor management of the alliance than at the US.

I don't know Ozawa's true intentions, but no doubt he is playing domestic politics. The claim that the US done did poor little Japan all wrong is not a rare thing and it does play well. Ozawa's comments were rather mild.*

1:07AM *I meant Ozawa's comments were mild compared to what can be expected from some of the commentators and columnists and perhaps LDP right-wingers. For a politician of Ozawa's stature and position they weren't so mild.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

North Korea off US terror list

North Korea has submitted its nuclear declaration as required. Japan was earlier assured that its kidnap victims would not be forgotten by the US (like they were forgotten by the Japanese government until Koizumi met with Kim Jong Il). Some may consider this a good sign, a solid step forward for Northeast Asia and the rest of the world. But let's not celebrate yet because somebody may feel a bit left out.

How will Japan react since it has been critical of any move to delist North Korea? More specifically, how will the right-wingers of the LDP's Abe/Aso crowd react? Has the US done Japan wrong? Is Japan a victim here? Inquiring minds want to know.

Pre-owned shabu-shabu for sale

According to the channel 10 news this morning, a restaurant has been caught re-selling uneaten shabu-shabu from customers' plates. I am sure that this sort of thing has only occurred at that restaurant and at the now defunct Senba Kitcho. There could be no other restaurants doing similar things. Besides, it was Japanese shabu-shabu---not imported shabu-shabu---so it was probably safe and sanitary due to the uniquely pure, clean, and healthy properties of Japanese food. The unique and special cleanliness of Japan precludes any possibility of illness from eating food that another may have slobbered all over anyway.

More companies (Uohide and Shinko Gyorui Ltd. a subsidiary of Maruha Nichiro Holdings Inc.) have been caught switching labels on eels. This, although it seems to be a common practice from the frequency one sees news reports about it, is much more dangerous. The eels were not the safe and pure Japanese eels we expect, but were actually from China! Even though they were not from the plates of other people, they could not be safe being from a foreign country.

Thank goodness for the aggressive government action we have seen over the last few years to crack down on these types of problems. We can all relax now and enjoy our shabu-shabu.

Monday, June 23, 2008

From Japan Focus.

Japanese politics are characterized by two related paradoxes: first, that the word “conservative” is usually applied to those who insist on the need to remake Japan’s postwar society, including its constitution, and who in other words are actually radicals, while those who insist on “conserving” Japan’s postwar democratic institutions are labeled radicals or leftists; and second, that those who most insist that Japan subordinate itself to the United States describe themselves as “nationalists,” while those who seek to prioritize Japanese over US interests are suspected of being somehow “un-Japanese.” It is an Alice in Wonderland confusion...
Usually when you read an article about "paradoxes" in a topsy turvy Japan you have to hold your breath as you are likely to get a "mystery of the Orient" version of Japan. This one is not of that type. One hint is that a visiting journalist did not write it.

Full article at Japan Focus.

LDP may cut corporate taxes and increase personal taxes

And they are going to do this in part to encourage more foreign investment into Japan. They are also going to do this while sticking to the goal of balancing the budget by 2011. At least that is what Bloomberg is reporting.

After all of the roadblocks that Japanese companies and the Japanese government have thrown up to restrict foreign investment, now they are going to cut taxes on the folks who have blocked the investment in order to attract it? I understand. And with the Fukuda and the LDP talking about how the consumption tax increase cannot be delayed any longer, corporate taxes will be cut. Naturally, this will result in increased profits for companies, thus more investment, more jobs, and higher pay for workers.

Watch for the public to rise up and throw the bums out. And watch. And wait. And watch. And wait. And ...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

One of the nice things about living in Tokyo is the number of bookstores. Some even have English language books and magazines---at a huge premium, of course.

I usually go to the bookstore near Denenchofu station once a week or more. Generally, I go to check out the photography magazines such as Nihon Camera or Asahi camera, or cycling mags.

(The August Asahi Camera came out Friday---the annual "Nude" special. When the mags run the Nude "art" specials, they generally sell out very quickly for some reason. I guess photography fans increase in the summer. The good thing is that since this is art---even though many of the images are in color instead of the supposedly more artistic monochromes---censors don't have to scratch away any pubic hair. Interestingly, they still do so for imported photography books with nudes, although they aren't always consistent about it.)

For English books, if possible I will look at a copy in the store to see if it is worth buying, then will order it through Amazon Japan.

The problem is that I have to go during normal work hours as one weekends and at evenings, it is almost impossible to get close enough to even see if a magazine is on the rack, let alone pick it up. Book stores seem to serve as libraries in which one may leisurely read magazines and books. While reading, you can feel free to block everyone else in the store. Should you see someone trying to squeeze through just enough to see or even pick up a book or magazine, you may be the nail that sticks up and let them through, or you may do as most and ignore them.

For some reason, I no longer even bother on weekends.
It's no secret that Japanese politicians look upon the media as public-relations tools, and, unfortunately, too many media outlets seem to accept this role.

And so do some bureaucrats. One, whom I know personally, very frequently talks of how the government uses the press/media to bring the public to its way of thinking. Nothing unusual for a government, but perhaps unusual in a democracy because of the willingness of the press to kowtow to government wishes.

The quote above is from the Japan Times (today) in an article about the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the government mouthpiece NHK to edit (censor) a mock trial which found Hirohito guilty of war crimes. NHK buckled to pressure from Mr. Bowel Trouble Abe and his band of merry LDP extreme rightwingers. The Supreme Court in essence upheld the right of the LDP to pressure taxpayer supported public TV/radio to self-censor.

Pay your monthly legally required fee to NHK yet?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Hatoyama concerned about insults to the executed

Justice Minister Hatoyama was upset over an article in which he was called the "grim reaper" due to the record number of executions that he has authorized. He was not especially upset over any insults to himself, but was concerned that those whose executions he finalized were insulted by the article.

In defense of Hatoyama, he probably isn't as heartless as it may appear. He is accurate when he says that he is carrying out the law and the will of society in allowing these executions. There is certainly no big public backlash against them, and in fact, there seems to be little debate about whether or not executions are effective in reducing crime or are morally acceptable. He earlier expressed a desire to make the process more automated so that the Justice Minister would not have to be so involved in the final approval. It obviously is not easy for him.

More here.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sigh...Not so different after all

Obama rejects public campaign financing. Not because he can get more money privately. No. In fact, he still supports a "robust system of public financing of elections" for everyone except himself. Hmmm. Will the "change" he is believed to represent be more of the same? The word "hypocrite" comes to mind. (Of course, Senator "Show Me the Money" Obama would claim that he never really said that he would use public financing---even though it may seem like he did. I guess it depends on what the meaning of "is" is or some other similar parsing of his words.)

Money talks period. He has more to gain from accepting private money (from both small and large donors) than honoring his own word. That's why he did it. Let's hope we never have to hear any more crap from him or his party about public finance and let's hope McCain learns his lesson about the futility of campaign finance reform.

What a disappointment, but entirely predictable. And practical I suppose. Obama wants to win. Both of him.

0100: Edited.

6/21: Despite Claim, no Major 527 Group Against Obama. NPR.

I was actually silly enough to write to Obama's official web site and got the expected form letter asking me to volunteer and thanking me for my interest/my concerns/my disagreement or whatever it was I wrote about. Just like any other presidential candidate does/has always done. Yes, change is a comin'. Have I lost interest fast...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I read it, but I can't believe

Will it really happen? What's in the fine print? The LDP is doing this!!!!!????

Foreigners will have a much better opportunity to move to, or continue to live in, Japan under a new immigration plan drafted by Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers to accept 10 million immigrants in the next 50 years.

the immigration plan calls for the goal to be achieved soon and for the government to aim for 1 million foreign students by 2025. It also proposes accepting an annual 1,000 asylum seekers...It isn't April 1 is it?

...the immigration plan calls for the goal to be achieved soon and for the government to aim for 1 million foreign students by 2025. It also proposes accepting an annual 1,000 asylum seekers...Shocking!

...but Minoru Morita, a political critic at Morita Research Institute Co., doubts Nakagawa's plan will be formally adopted by the LDP anytime soon...Back to planet earth.

... current policy, in which we demand only highly skilled foreigners...Huh?

...if the new plan were adopted and thus their motivation for committing crimes would decrease...Oh yes. I know it would cause my motivation for committing crimes to diminish. Yours too?

Article from the Japan Times. Shall we wager on how much of this comes to pass and when? Holding your breath?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hatayama again expresses the uniquely Japanese

love of life. Three more convicted murderers were hanged yesterday, including Tsutomo Miyazaki. Miyazaki had killed four young girls in the late 80s and cannibalized them. He also sent their bones to their parents.

The world is no worse off without him or the others around---if they were truly guilty (and perhaps if one believes that society has the moral authority to kill people). The problem is: What if they were not.

[Psychologist] Hasegawa said he doubts Miyazaki realized what was happening when he was taken to the gallows Tuesday morning. "If he did not realize it, the execution may not have had any meaning," he said. Japan Times article.

Since the vast majority of those arrested (98-99%?) in Japan are found guilty, we can rest assured that there could be no mistakes....

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Unfortunately, another bad weekend in Japan as a large earthquake (6+ on the Japanese scale) stuck northern Japan at about 846AM this morning. I barely felt it in Tokyo, but at least 2 have died and 6 were injured in the hardest hit areas and numerous buildings and roads were damaged.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Japan continues to become foreign

Once upon a time, we heard how wonderful it was that in Japan people did not sue. (Not exactly true, they could and did. It was just that they could rarely win and the case might take 20 or more years.) Japan was not like the US and selfish, self-centered Americans---and others---who placed their own needs above that of their company.

Now we see a few employees suing their companies and actually prevailing. And prevailing in a reasonable period of time:

According to Japan’s Supreme Court, the number of lawsuits filed against employers rose 45 percent from 1997 to 2005, to 2,303 cases. In 2006, that number increased 21 percent, to 2,777 cases if lawsuits heard by a newly created labor arbitration court are included.

Adding to the alienation between employee and company has been a growing sense of resentment that workers have not benefited from the nation’s economic rebound in the last half decade.

While corporate profits have soared, wages have remained stagnant, feeding a perception that companies have failed to share the good times with employees. This has led some to seek a bigger piece of the pie, say legal and labor experts.

There is also a feeling that as companies have cut costs to remain competitive with the cheaper China and South Korea, they passed too much of the burden onto employees. In particular, many of the recent lawsuits involve a practice known as “service overtime,” in which workers were silently pressured into logging long hours of unpaid overtime as a display of loyalty, say labor experts.

...the recent rise in lawsuits was also the latest step in a longer-term move toward a more American-style workplace ..
.(Yea, sure.)

The NYT article examines a recent lawsuit by the widow of a Toyota employee who died from over-work and the recent victory against McDonalds Japan in which McDs was ordered to pay overtime for overtime to its managers.

Shockingly, neither Toyota nor McDs Japan had any comments for the story in the New York Times.

A related New York Times article on whistle-blowers exposing company misdeeds, such as Senga Kitcho and their serving of pre-owned food, is here:

...A car company that hid dangerous flaws to avoid embarrassing recalls. A meat processor that sold ground pig hearts as beef. A fancy restaurant chain that served customers leftover sashimi from other diners.

In recent years, Japan’s faith in its corporate establishment has been shaken by a series of scandals in which companies of all sizes have been caught in frauds ranging from the merely nauseating to the patently dangerous. More shocking than the misdeeds is the fact that employees are blowing the whistle...

I admit to some skepticism about whether or not these are really trends or not. I would be a bit more inclined to believe that whistle-blowers are becoming more common as the results of their actions are readily apparent.
"Will Americans vote for a black man?" I've been asked this question by foreigners of various origins a dozen -- or maybe three dozen -- times since the U.S. presidential campaign began for real in January. Now we have the answer: Yes, Americans will vote for a black man. Which means that it is time to turn this rather offensive question around: Will foreigners accept a black American president? Anne Applebaum. The Washington Post.

An interesting question. I wonder if there will be a Nakasone/Ishihara-type comment from one of the old retro-gummers in government and if so, will that person be able to explain it away as a misquote, mistranslation, or a lack of understanding on the rest of the world's part?

Also a short BBC article on a UN special rapporteur's 2005 remarks on racism in Japan. and another related BBC article from 2004 here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Worldwide coverage of the mass murder in Akihabara has continued for days. It is a horrible incident, perhaps made more newsworthy because such things are relatively rare in modern Japan. Many journalists still seem especially shocked since gun control laws are relatively strict in Japan---nothing really to do with this incident, but many still mention that fact.

Could it be that this guy was one of those individuals who for whatever reason is prone to taking out his problems on others and all the laws/therapy in the world still couldn't stop him. Much of his behavior seems to parallel that of other modern mass murderers elsewhere in the world. The concern is that there are others like him who will be inspired by his act and resulting "fame" and will elect to try to do the same or worse. If we can do something to stop this kind of person---and we'll never stop them all---it will take much more than tweaking laws on the type/size of knife people can have. That is almost certainly a total waste of time, but it gives the appearance of doing something when nobody really knows what to do.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Government to restrict large knives?

In response to yesterday's attacks:

At a news conference on Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said the government was considering tightening restrictions on large-bladed knifes in response to the attack.

"We need to think of the possibility of discussing tightening the control of guns and knives," he said.

I think so too, since it is simple and easy and makes it look like something is being done about something for which nobody has answers or solutions. Wonder if it will include the large kitchen knives which are often used in knife assaults? Since nearly every household in Japan has them, it may be tough. Perhaps it will only apply to non-kitchen utensils.**

It should work though, just like it has in Britain even though the causes may differ:

...This explosion in knife crime is the most astounding symptom of Britain’s broken society. The government has been slow to recognise and even slower to act to deal with this plague on the streets of our towns and cities,” said Davis.

Richard Garside, director of the CCJS, said ministers had taken the wrong approach to tackling the problem. “The government has embarked on endless law and order initiatives, yet knife-related robberies appear to be increasing, if the latest figures are to be believed,” he said.

“This challenges the notion that there is a policing or punishment solution to this problem. Success in tackling knife-related violence will require a concerted strategy to deal with the causes of violence...

...Critics have accused the government of lacking a coherent strategy to tackle the problem and of resorting to knee-jerk legislative responses...(That can't be said about the Japanese government!) Times Online.

**This still does not address the fact that a rental truck was used to injure/kill some of the victims. Are there going to be additional controls on rental vehicles to prevent vehicular assault/homicide?

Note added: There are already restrictions on the ownership of certain knives over 15cm in length.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Akihabara assault

News is just coming out about some sort of assault by a man in Akihabara. At least 14 people are injured. It happened about an hour ago, just after 1pm and TV stations are now broadcasting live coverage. Reportedly, it was a guy 25 or older who came by truck and attacked people with a survival knife.

6:06PM. Six people are reported to have been with 12 more injured. The thing that killed and injured them came from Shizuoka with the express purpose of killing a number of people. The government and media reaction will be interesting as this kind of thing seems to be becoming more and more frequent, with the emphasis on "seems to be." Could one defend him/herself? Not likely. Fighting a nut with a knife with one's bare hands is usually a losing scenario except in the movies.

7:20PM. Seven have now died. One of those stabbed was a police officer. The "man" who did this had driven a truck at high speed through the street near Akihabara JR station which is closed to traffic on Sundays and ran down a number of people. It then got out of the truck and began stabbing people. After stabbing a number, the thing then fled down an ally where after stabbing 2-3 more, a police officer confronted him. Apparently, the police officer initially used his nightstick to defend himself before pulling his revolver and informing the thing that he would shoot it if it did not cease. The creature, who later told police that he was out to kill anyone because he was tired of living and wanted to die, suddenly decided that his own death did not seem so attractive after all and meekly surrendered.

According to NHK, this was the worst of 67 indiscriminate killing incidents over the last ten years.

Friday, June 06, 2008

In another huge shock---at least to me---a resolution has passed recognizing the Ainu as indigenous people and admitting that they have been discriminated against by the government. If this resolution is followed up with effective action, it will be a big change for Japan.

It's not the first surprise, as Japan has also signaled that it will sign the Hague Convention with regards to abducted children. It this occurs and laws are passed and upheld to ensure that Japanese parents can no longer openly abduct children involved in overseas custody battles, then it will be another huge, huge change.

I won't be holding my breath until these good intentions show actual results, but it is encouraging to see this. No word from the rightwing yet, as far as I know. Blinky, where are you?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Japan, the criminals paradise

Just a few days ago, it was reported that the number of defendants found innocent of a crime has increased to a staggering 2.9%.

Now even some politicians are getting in on the act. Members of the Upper House have suggested that police grillings---sorry, interviews---be recorded. This would let judges and attorneys see what goes on during the interviews and perhaps make sure the the police don't violate more laws than the suspects are accused of violating.

Our fearless, honorable Justice Minister Hatoyama with connections to al Qaeda has strongly objected saying that this sort of stuff could result in Japan becoming a criminal's paradise. Who knows, there could even end up being rumors of a yakuza/LDP connection.

Say what you will, but Hatoyama is no fool:

"Heart-to-heart exchanges between an investigator and a suspect have helped to delve into the truth behind crimes," he said. "A complete recording would make it difficult to establish the facts."

I just tear up thinking about the beautiful heart-to-heart exchanges between the police and hardened murderers.

The police oppose it too with logic which cannot be refuted (nor understood):

State minister Shinya Izumi, who supervises the nation's police forces as chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, said police cannot accept the bill.

"Can it unravel the truth?" Izumi asked.

Thank goodness that the LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC Party opposes it too. We must continue to have these sort of folks running the country. I now understand what Fujiwara Masahiko-chan meant when he suggested that the elite---such as Hatoyama and maybe even himself---should run the country and the masses should just shut up and do as told. We MUST oppose all change!

Full story at JT.

Sorry about (corrected) spelling errors but as Fujiwara Masahiko-chan said, we dumb ass Americans don't study spelling in school, but typing instead. Of course spelling is part of typing classes and many if not most Americans can remember studying spelling in school, however one should not argue with a man with a shiny greasy head covered by an absurd combover known as"Barcode" in Japan.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Our tax yen at work

When the Senba Kitcho sales of pre-owned food as new was first reported, I wondered what the government was doing about these types of seemingly endless food scandals. Naturally they and the media wet their undies about any possible problems with food originating outside of safety Japan, but seemed not to give a rat's derrière about tainted Japanese origin food.

Well, I should not have worried as although the government may not be overly concerned about the peasants eating bad food, they are not just sitting around wasting time and taxpayer money on silly useless things. PM Fukuda is a man of action and expects the same of everyone else. Shisaku analyzes the latest government suggestions for education revision (no, it's not pretending that WW2 is a myth created by the Chinese) and the groundbreaking idea by a group of forward-thinking Diet members to move the Japanese language ahead to the 1930s.

Now I can understand why this government has been the envy of the world for decades. I feel confident about the future and will predict that nothing will change for the better unless these old, old men with ideas even older suddenly are replaced by people with a clue. That will never happen.