Sunday, March 29, 2009

Aho comes up with new stimulus plan

Prime Minister Taro Aso said Saturday the government might make substantial cuts in the gift and inheritance taxes..."(The government) will study reducing the tax by designating a period of years in which the elderly can give their money to their sons and grandchildren to buy houses and cars," Aso said.

Yea. That'll work in time for this recession. A newer, wimpier form of trickle down. Unfortunately, Taro is about 30 years late with that idea. Wait...isn't he from a wealthy family? Aren't wealthy families who have enough assets (land, especially) to pay large inheritance taxes gonna get the most benefit from this plan? The guy may not have a brain, but he's sure got gonads.

the prime minister said the money would not be used unless passed from the elderly to the younger generation...

Why not? Gonna take it with them to the grave? He may have a point though. Fellows like him in the government could get it and spend it on the annual rerouting of the Tama River---for economic stimulus, of course.

All quotes from the Japan Times here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


"China and Japan may both be in Asia but have totally different mentalities when it comes to art," says [Art Fair Tokyo Executive Director Misa] Shin. "Japanese art has been much cheaper but the quality of the art is the most important priority."

Assuming that this is translated correctly---if it is a translation---what does that mean? Japanese art is cheaper, but the quality is higher? How does one objectively measure the quality of art? Could there be just a wee bit of arrogance here?

*I should be slapped silly for using Japanese when it is not needed (to provide original context for a translation etc), but I just had to do it since such things are all the rage now. I guess. My colleague from Colorado who admires Japan's unique four seasons (bakero) cannot utter a number in English, but instead says such things as "Yea, I paid go-man-en, dude." The use of the word "dude" tells one all he/she needs to know, but I still get a bit confused---should I reply in English or Japanese or a combination of both? If I combine the languages, which words should be in Japanese, and which should be in English? And what's the point? It's the new Latin? It's to show that I know some phrasebook Japanese? Is that impressive or what, dude? End of rant.

What a relief!

The New York Times is reporting that if North Korea launches its latest missile (we can be confident that it will) it will be taken before the UN Security Council!

There. That will show Ol' Kim Jong Il. Sort of a "Go ahead punk, make my day" threat. BAHAHAHAHAHA! April 1 is near, isn't it?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Ozawa does the impossible

He's lost his lead over Aso, at least according to a poll by the Yomiuri Shinbun as reported by the IHT.

Aso was chosen by 32% as "best person to be prime minister", and Ozawa by 23%.

A pox on both their houses. (I've always wanted to say that.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

More of the same: Child abductions and Japan

Hillman dropped [his son] Sean off that evening at the home of his ex-wife, Mayumi Ogawa...

....Thirty-six weeks have passed since Hillman last saw his son and, despite court orders and felony charges filed this month against Ogawa, he's unsure if he ever will see him again...

...Hillman received a threatening e-mail from a Japanese attorney retained by Ogawa, claiming he'd face stalking charges if he attempted to contact his son...

The excuse by the robot at the Japanese Embassy:

"Japanese courts always take into consideration what the best interest of a child is with respect to each individual case..." Seattle P.I.

And, it seems, the best interest of the child is always to remain with the Japanese parent (who often become fugitives wanted by Interpol) who kidnapped him or her.

Note that Interpol's Japan page states that in Japan: "Parental abduction or a kidnapping by unknown persons in both cases are considered as kidnapping."

Oh, it's just all so confusing. Could it be that kidnapping your child from a foreign country is not considered kidnapping in Japan? Must not be as the father stated in the article that "No child has been legally or diplomatically returned to the US from Japan."

More from Interpol Japan page: No case has been known to Japanese police in which a child reported missing in Japan was taken away abroad, and so Japanese Police has not requested for the publication of a "Yellow Notice"* for a missing child until now.

However, it is necessary for Japanese Police to have a system in place which can be effectively used for the publication of, and reference to, 'Yellow Notices" in case incidents requiring such actions should happen in the future.

Does this mean Japan would change its tune were a child to be abducted by a parent in Japan and taken to a foreign country? Nah, that would be hypocritical.

*Yellow Notice: To help locate missing persons, often minors, or to help identify persons who are unable to identify themselves. (Interpol)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Life on the funny farm

Having more money than brains, I dropped in at the Denenchofu Precce so I could buy the same product at a higher price compared to Ozeki at Okusawa or the generic Tokyu (which actually owns Precce).

I didn't need to shop around for what I wanted, for they have had the exact same products since Christ was a child. "New and improved" ain't a label one sees in the grocery store.

I walked over to the bento display and bravely risked being knocked down and trampled (politely, of course) by the lunch time crowd to get my overpriced tempura (¥50 more than Tokyu), and some spring rolls. Then I just had to grab an ice cream sandwich.

I went to the checkout---fortunately it was not yet crowded and I did not have anyone run to cut me off and get in line ahead of me like often happens (good manners, of course).

After bowing and welcoming me (I think this accounts for part of the higher price here. Can't think of much else that would), the young lady at the register began the interrogation. "Would you like dry ice included with the ice cream?" "No" says I. "Would you like the hot food in the same bag [as the ice cream]?" Huh?!

My slow feeble brain did not comprehend. I hesitated to ask for clarification, for when I have done so recently, people have suddenly switched to an incomprehensible English combined with a comical pantomime so that everyone becomes completely confused.

I decided to take a risk and ask "The hot food in the same bag as the ice cream?" She looked at me in semi-panic. Oh sh*t, I thought, now I have caused trouble. But luckily she was able to bring her brain back from holiday, say "excuse me" and grab another bag and hand it to me so that I could put my ice cream in.

But this isn't the funny farm. This is normal. The funny farm is the world of politics, both Japanese and US. I quit paying much attention to Japanese politics as soon as it became clear even to me that it is more of an exercise in theory than anything else to expect the LDP to be replaced and a real, competitive two party system to start. It may happen, but I'll wait and be shocked. Is the LDP the new Tokugawa government? Will we have to wait centuries?

As bad as Japanese politics are, the US seems to be getting even worse. Sort of a farce. A few weeks ago, the US press was all giddy over a "debate" about Rush Limbaugh!! The world in an economic crisis and we care about Limbaugh? Even Obama got in on that earlier. Uh, excuse me Barack, why are you worrying about a talk show host?

Now the US Congress has passed a special tax targeting a specific group of people who are unpopular at the moment.* What country is that? Will Senator Chucky Cheese Grassley call for them to commit suicide? Perhaps introduce a bill to have them sent to Gauntanamo and tortured? There'd be popular support. F**k any constitution/legal questions, they's the gubbermit and they can do what they want. Now I remember why I was once a libertarian who, for a short time, flirted with Ayn Rand objectivism.

Wouldn't it be a better idea to focus on the real problem first? You know, the one that has been repeatedly (and believably) called the greatest economic crisis since the Depression?

That's why I have began to avoid reading news about politics or the economy as much as possible (and thus, fewer posts on this blog). I believe that this is the most bizarre period I have ever seen.

Now, to get off the computer and the Internet before I do something stupid like read Thomas Friedman. Gonna do the least crazy thing I can today and chase birds.

* (21 March) This inanity by Congress, some of the Senate, and the entertain-em first portion of the US press is called "Perverse Cosmic Myopia" by the NYT's David Brooks.

"A Massive -5.8%"

According to a TV report by the BBC this morning, Japan's economy is predicted to fall by "a massive 5.8%" this year. No problem. We'll all have an extra ¥12000.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

North Korea needs attention least they are not blowing up airliners or half the South Korean government anymore. At least not at present:

Two American journalists on a reporting trip to the border between China and North Korea have been detained by the North Korean military, a human rights activist and another source said Thursday. Laura Ling, a Chinese-American, and Euna Lee, a Korean-American, were believed to have been detained by North Korean border guards Tuesday morning. Their Chinese guide, an ethnic Korean, was also detained. NYT

The North Koreans are said to have crossed the border into China to "arrest" them. Kim Jong Il, the son of a murdering sob, is visiting China.

Oh well, no surprise here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Senator Chuck Grassley is not an idiot

....remarks made by Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, who demanded that American corporations adopt some of the ways of societies like Japan, where leaders — when shamed — may publicly express deep regret or commit suicide.

Mr. Grassley said public apologies by Japanese officials showed that “they accept full responsibility, and the entire society knows they accept full responsibility.” NYT article here.

If he thinks (I use the word "thinks" lightly here) that most of those public apologies mean accepting full responsibility for anything, then he is not merely an idiot, he's a mistaken idiot.

Chucky has been inhaling a bit too much pig methane, perhaps.

(What is hara-kiri referred to in the article anyway?)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I no longer care

Really, I don't. However, Martin Fackler has an article at the New York Times about Japan's political dynasties. Worth reading if anyone still cares about such things. I don't as I prefer to live in other fantasy worlds.

Political analysts have also thrust into public view the fact that powerful political and business families exert more control here than this proudly middle-class society likes to admit.

This has fed a fear of rising social inequalities, and the feeling that unseen barriers are preventing new talent, new ideas —literally, new blood — from entering politics, and from helping Japan find a way out of its morass. NYT

I know this place

"....everything was so special, so unique... It was like a mystical mythology that nobody could understand.” NYT

Why even body odor is magically nonexistent.

Sorry, the out-of-context, edited quote above has nothing to do with Japan, but has to do with what seems to be more and more common in the US with individuals as well as companies. "I'm a victim of a bad economy. The government (other taxpayers) should make me whole."

Back in 1991 0r 92 when I was on my first adventure living in Japan, I remember reading in the newspaper or hearing on TV some old guy complain about how the value of his home had plummeted and that the Japanese government should reimburse him for it. What a different way of thinking, I thought. It seems that as usual, I was a bit off on that.

Maybe it's due to the my USA pompous universality, but the longer I live (and especially live here) I find less and less that is truly different.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Not dead yet

The guy who writes this blog has not fallen off the edge of the earth, but has recently been having a hell of a time thinking of anything to write/complain about. Anything new, that is. Plus, I, the guy who writes this blog, have been focusing on a few other things which require actually doing something rather than sitting around bitching about things which will never change and of which I---and most other people---have no control over and which are depressing to write/think about. Doing something is much more difficult.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Go fishin' for trouble and

ya might get it.

...reports soon emerged that central figures of Prime Minister Taro Aso's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have also taken donations linked to the construction firm, including influential former premier Yoshiro Mori.

While Mori, an LDP heavyweight, said Thursday that he would return money linked to the company, reports also said former finance minister Koji Omi has received Nishimatsu-linked donations. AFP

Shocking. Just shocking. Now my faith in the purity of the LDP has been destroyed.

But the question remains: "Why have only Ozawa's offices been raided at this time before elections?"---DPJ secretary general Yukio Hatoyama from the same AFP article.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Correction: LDP not involved in any way

That's what many LDP politicians have been saying. Generally, these fine, believable servants of themselves----oops, the public---have been saying that it is ridiculous to think that the government would be involved. A politically motivated prosecutor? Not here!

Apparently, there are many ridiculous people in this country who believe otherwise.

What a disgusting mess---the LDP more than anything that Ozawa may have done.

Too soon to assume Ozawa will have to resign

"I don't think you can draw that conclusion yet," said Gerry Curtis, an expert in Japanese politics at Columbia University.

"I still find it hard to believe that a scandal, after years in which scandals have been so common, will make people say they will stick with a party and a prime minister."

Curtis also states that he believes that it will help the LDP, but will not alter the outcome.

If an agnostic can pray, I pray that he's right, especially about the ultimate outcome. It was easy to say that there wasn't much difference between the two parties until having to face the possibility of the LDP staying in power and thus ruling out any real change (I hate to use that now over-used word) for another 1,000 years.

(In my informal chats with my "focus groups---and individuals" eligible to vote, I have found a lot of disappointment. To a person, they have been suspicious about the timing or else will flatly state that the LDP is behind it. Most also believe that what Ozawa's secretary has been accused of is pretty much common practice among politicians. A least that's what my rather rag-tag group of interviewees---very carefully selected because I know them---believe.)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

LIBOR +49 for Japanese banks

March 5 (Bloomberg) -- Japan’s banks were charged record premiums to swap interest rates calculated in London for ones set in Tokyo as a slumping economy exacerbates concerns about the capacity of the nation’s companies to meet their obligations.

Banks were asked to pay as much as 49 basis points this week on top of the London Interbank Offered Rate, or Libor, to receive the Tokyo Interbank Offered Rate, or Tibor, for 10 years. That’s the largest gap since at least May 1999...

MM (MangaMan) Aso had no comment on the arrest of Ozawa's secretary the other evening. He said he was too busy with the economy.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Ain't gonna resign

and there's nothing to feel guilty about, Ozawa said in a news conference which finished about 20 minutes ago.

At least, after months of more or less nothingness, politics in Japan has become interesting again. Interesting mainly because of the fear that the LDP will once again manage to pull a rabbit out of its hat and continue its increasingly incompetent reign.

Some already claim it's all a set up and that the LDP is guilty of the same thing anyway. "Why now?" was a question I heard. I doubt that there would be a huge shock to learn that the LDP and its buddies were behind the arrest. How else could they remain in power?

A quick check of the NYT site found nothing new about Ozawa or the DJP. Apparently, this is not very big news in the US.

My god, how blind I've been

Why did I not see this coming? The move against Ozawa and the DPJ? Minoru Morita wrote in his recent book Curing Japan's American Addiction, about a list of orders that the US gives the LDP every year, and I missed this obvious connection:

Aso went to the US last week to meet with Obama. This week Aso's (and the US'?) political opponent, Ichiro Ozawa is embarrassed by the arrest of one his aides for being involved in illegal contributions from a construction company. Let's look at this calmly and rationally. A occurs, then B occurs. Therefore, B is caused by A. Now why was Aso the first foreign leader invited to the US? Obviously so that Obama could hand him The List. On The List was an order to the Japanese government to move against the DPJ lest the DPJ gets into power and throws a wrench into the special US/Japan relationship.

I hope Mr. Morita is onto this and digging up material for his next publication.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Ozawa's secretary busted?

Conspiracy theory material. Just caught the last part of a news report that the head accountant of Ozawa's fund-raising organization has been arrested on suspicion of receiving illegal campaign contributions from a company called Zenecon Nishimatsu (1150pm: Zenecon means "general contractor." So obvious, I should have known. ) An explanation from Ozawa is being demanded by many politicians.

I can't find any English reports yet, but one in Japanese is at IBC News.

8pm update: At Bloomberg in English:

The probe may damage Ozawa’s bid to oust Prime Minister Taro Aso and end the Liberal Democratic Party’s almost unbroken half-century rule. The DPJ won control of the less-powerful Upper House in July 2007 and is favored to unseat the LDP in lower-house elections that must be called by September.

“This changes everything for the DPJ,” said Tokyo-based independent political analyst Minoru Morita.* “If Aso dissolves parliament immediately, the DPJ may lose the advantage it had over the LDP.”

*Hmmm...Do I know this guy, Morita?

A Crisis of the Mind

Masaru Tamamoto of The World Policy Institute has written an Op-Ed for the NYT: Japan's Crisis of the Mind:

Recent events mark Japan’s return to the world’s stage, or at least so it seems...this suggests that Washington sees Japan, the world’s second-largest economy, as a powerful nation. If only we saw ourselves the same way.The truth is, Japan is a mess.

Some will disagree that Washington really sees Japan as a powerful nation, but nobody in his/her right mind would disagree with idea that Japan is a mess.

Conservative pundits here like to speak of this equality and sameness as being cornerstones of “Japanese” tradition. Nonsense. Throughout much of its history, Japan has had social stratification and great inequality of wealth and privilege. The “egalitarian” Japan was a creature of the 1970s, with its progressive taxation, redistribution of wealth, subsidies and the dampening of competition through regulation.

This is a key point, I think. Much of what is supposedly due to some unique Japanese tradition or culture barely predates WW2. The so-called lifetime employment, and the submissive unions would be but two examples.

Tamamoto argues that the crisis is not political, but psychological and that Japan's ability to imitate other systems has been mistaken for progress. He argues than in order for Japan to change it must take risks, and although in the last 60 some years after the end of the war the bureaucratic government (and much of society) have done everything possible to avoid risk, that risk avoidance is not a part of Japanese culture.

I'm afraid that I agree too much with what he wrote, which means it must be wrong somewhere. (He did not mention that Japan must stay safe by discriminating against others, which may rile certain Japan Times ranters from Australia. In fact, he says that Japan must get over its fear of immigration. Little hope there, I'm afraid.)

It's well worth reading if only to see what Japan could do, but likely won't.