Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bah, Humbug! Tokyo

Off to the mountains until after Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Futenma, an unnecessary fuss?

It seems to be about impossible to understand what is really going on with the Futenma mess. An article challenging some of the Japanese government claims at Japan Focus (Japanese Bureaucrats Hide Decision to Move All US Marines out of Okinawa to Guam, by Gavan McCormac and Sakai Tanaka) does not help:

...according to the investigations of Mayor Iha and members of the Ginowan City Assembly, American forces have already been implementing a plan to relocate to Guam not only the command unit but also, by 2014, the majority of combat forces and even logistic sections including supply units.

Tanaka makes the obvious conclusion that if true:

"This means that the great fuss over the removal to Henoko that has been festering over the past few years may have been completely unnecessary from the beginning."

McCormac believes that Hatoyama's decision not to make a decision on Futenma until after the New Year has a huge symbolic importance and may signal "a possible changing of tide of history in East Asia, and especially the US Japan relationship."

Some polls have shown that a majority of the public thinks Hatoyama has mishandled the issue (Observing Japan has details of various poll results) and I have neither seen nor heard anything that gives any hint that the public would like to see the US military out (folks in Okinawa may have a different view). I wonder just how huge any change would really be?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bye bye keitai

The other day I was trying to figure out how to turn the voice message recorder back on in my NTT DoCoMo cell phone. I had turned it off 6 months ago or so and turned on voice mail, which is a different thing. What should have taken about 5 seconds, required me to grab the manual---the convenient English manual (416 pages) which is just barely more comprehensible to someone with English as a first language than the Japanese one---and search the index while going back and forth to find the correct section. Then I had to try to figure out what the rather puzzlingly written instructions meant.

After about 10 minutes I was finally able to get it almost set. "Almost" because I kept getting an error message that read "Ring time cannot be set." Another search in the manual explained that this happened when messages were full. Nice to know, but there were no messages stored. Finally, I gave up.

Not being an Apple-fanatic despite (or because of) owning a Mac, I have never had any special interest in most Apple products. I do now for a user-friendly phone and so, perhaps, do many others in Japan:

[The 350% increase in "unique users" in 2009]...may surprise many who expected the iPhone to not perform so well in a country well known for its keitai culture, but the smartphone concept as embodied by the iPhone has certainly begun to take hold in Japan. ....the iPhone is the number one smartphone in Japan by a huge margin...46% of the smartphone market.ars technica

Gee, I wonder why? Perhaps one can do something like read and send an e-mail in less than 20 keystrokes?

A more Stimulating Economy

There was a minor splash of news about Japan's cash-for-clunkers program a week or so ago which went away as soon as it came. However, there remain some skeptics about the effectiveness of such a thing, especially when it is targeted at a small percentage of an already declining number of car owners in Japan. Almost any stimulus could have some benefits somewhere,* but is this the most effective?

Over on Japan Economy News & Blog, Ken Worsley has come up with an idea which would be much more effective in stimulating the entire economy over a much longer period of time. Why nobody in the government has thought of this is beyond me.

*Another ¥12,000 would stimulate me.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Imagine: The D-Y relationship

Instead of John McCain nominating Sarah Palin to run with him last year, what if he had nominated me? Why not? I've plenty of foreign experience, and although I have never seen Russia (well, maybe a glimpse or two from an airplane) I have been stationed in South Korea and have actually set foot in North Korea. I haven't hunted moose, but I have hunted deer and elk. And squirrel. A ticket like that would have sent the skinny fellow with big ears back to Chicago.

Assume that since the financial/economic crisis is still going on, John would have suspended his presidency to work on solving it. That would leave me as president, and I would be the one whom PM Hatoyama would have to call about Futenma:

Good Morning, Mr. President. I'm calling to discuss the Futenma crisis.

Ohio Gazimass, Mr. Prime Minister. Sorry to hear that there is a crisis. I was never much of a fan of bathing with large groups of naked men, but I am sorry to hear about your onsen problem. Is a Futenba the indoor or outdoor type?

It's Futenma, not Futenba, Mr. President. By the way, may I call you D? You may call me Y. Anyway, you are thinking of a rotenburo. I guess the "ten" threw you off. I am talking about the US Marine air station in Okinawa. We would like you to move it to Guam.

A U.S. Marine base in Okinawa? My god, Y, what are they doing there? Were they left behind after the war?

In a way, they were D. We also have much more U.S. military here, including the Air Force.

The Air Force? How did they get there? We didn't even have a U.S.A.F. until 1947. Y, I sincerely apologize. We'll pull them all out immediately. You needn't worry about them being as close as Guam, either. That's a U.S. territory, but we don't need such a large force to protect it.

Oh my god, D! I didn't mean to pull them all out! What about the security treaty? You can't just back out of something that you've already agreed to.

Isn't that from, like, 1960 or something, Y? It's still in force? What year is this? Why are we talking about these things as if it were still the last century? Well, we can renegotiate it later, but right now I wanna help you with the problem of foreign troops on your soil doing what, I am sure you know, Japan should be doing for itself.

I'm sorry D, perhaps you don't understand. You see, Gen. MacArthur helped us write a new constitution after the war which prohibits us from having a military unless we call it "self-defense forces." We also have a policy against possessing nukes for self-defense, so we must get our nuclear deterrence capability from a nuclear-armed foreign country. Plus, I am sure that you know that our countries have had a more or less unofficial agreement that the US would provide security for Japan if we did not establish a military, unless we call it a self-defense force, and that in return you would provide a market for our products. This sort of arrangement has worked out well for both of us for 65 years and we'd pretty much like to continue it as is, except we'd like it to be a more equal relationship. I'll explain exactly what that means at some other time, though.

That's crazy-talk, Y! By the way, how's the missus?

She's on a little trip right now, but she's fine, thank you for asking.

Glad to hear that, Y. But back to the crazy-talk. None of that stuff makes any sense to me. The world has changed. I mean, WW2 is like totally over.

Well, D, it may be in some places, but we have a few here who are still fighting it, even in my own party. I believe the word for them in English is ナッツ*。

Oh yea, I remember the Washington Post ad from a few years ago. We have several varieties of ナッツ here too. But listen, Y. We gotta do something about foreign troops from a country halfway around the world being stationed on your soil. It's not like you're a poor country or something, and besides, we all know how some folks over there feel about foreigners.

D, I've been talking about maybe thinking about possibly at some time perhaps doing some sort of thing about kinda improving some things for foreigners here maybe, but that doesn't really apply in this case. There's no danger of your troops trying to assimilate into society, so we can use them and hopefully give them good memories before they return back to where they belong. Return individually, of course, not the whole military. As far as doing something, I can't make any decisions right now, perhaps maybe next year. Gotta figure out how to get rid of the things we don't like about having a foreign country provide our defense while making sure they they continue to provide one for us. It's much cheaper and more politically feasible for us to rent a military than to build one of comparable capabilities ourselves, you know.

But Y, you called me about the problem. Let's make a decision. How about you just do it my way, like y'all did in the past. We'll pull out all the troops and renegotiate the whole security treaty thing. I'll fax a new version for you to sign this afternoon.

Sorry D, but things don't work that way anymore. I gotta listen to what the people want, not just Mitsubishi. I also have some obstinate folk in the Diet whose asses I have to either kiss or kick to get anything done. Otherwise, they'll just oppose everything I try to do.

Good Lord, Y, don't tell me that we have Republicans stationed over there too! Anyway, I gotta go. Let's get this worked out soon. Say hello to the missus for me.

Sure thing D. I was just about to call her...could I get the number for NASA from you so they can transfer me to her? I could call her directly with my super-advanced Japanese keitai, but I'd have to go 3,576,987,201 items deep in the menu just to turn it on.

Oh, that's simple. I know the short cut. Just press "menu", then enter #678a999.072zg781-b and it will take you right to it. You really ought to memorize those shortcuts, Y. You can find them on pages 983-1014 of the quick-start manual for your phone.

Thanks a ton, D. Bye, bye.


Tweaked at 12:53

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Futenma goes pandemic

It started like a niggling itch in the throat, one initially ignored as just a minor irritant. Then it became a bit sore---nothing to worry about, but enough to make one suspect that something was not quite right. Later it got to the point where it was obvious that there was a problem. Then came the diagnosis---H1futeNma1---which would either result in a period of light discomfort or would end it all.

It seems that the subject of Futenma has become something that cannot be avoided.

It is easy for many of us with personal interests in Japan (and the success of the DPJ) to cast the US as the bullying heavy in this little spat. However, I am fortunate enough to have gotten my hands on a copy of the Nelson Report. Contained within were the key points of a paper, US Should Stand Firm on Implementation of Okinawa Force Realignment, by Bruce Klingner, Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Mr Klingner wrote of the strategic concerns of the US government.

My (too) brief summary of those key points:

The major provisions agreed to are 1) the redeployment of USMC air units from Futenma to a less populated area near Camp Schwab; 2) A reduction of a total of 17000 Marines and their dependents to Guam and Japan paying 60% of the $10 billion price tag for the move; 3) The consolidation of the remaining Marine units into less-populated areas of Okinawa and the return of a number of US bases to Okinawan control.

The provisions of the 13-years-in-the-making-agreement are interconnected and one part cannot be changed without threatening the whole agreement.

Since the Marines (unlike the other services) operate in combined-arms units, the removal of any of these units from Okinawa would have a very negative effect on its (Marines) rapid response capabilities. In short, one cannot willy-nilly move a highly integrated component without affecting the whole.

Relocating the Futenma unit to Guam would also mean that the plan to build two new runways at Camp Schwab to replace the one lost at Futenma would be scrapped, eliminating a "strategic [Japanese] national security asset" negatively affecting the augmentation of US or Japanese security forces during a crisis. The distance form Guam to Okinawa would cause a further in force capabilities. "The DPJ advocacy for removing Marine helicopter units from Okinawa...but still expecting the same level of protection, which is impossible given the tyranny of the distance."

A point which is often forgotten in this debate is that the US is obligated under the security treaty not only to defend Japan, but that it also gives the US broader regional responsibilities. In bilateral agreements from 2005 other objectives beyond the defense of Japan were "affirmed."

He ends with the concern that further delays will be more likely to turn public opinion against the US presence and by leaving the Futenma Marines in their current location during the delay risks another military-related incident.

One can argue that whether or not the US should even have forces in Japan (or in nearly every other corner of the world), but that is not what this dispute is about. There is, however, a fear that a delay will "inflame" the left to "expand the debate to a more comprehensive reassessment of the US-Japan alliance." That is perhaps long overdue, but it's doubtful that either government wants that now or in the near future---if ever.

And that is the main problem in my opinion. The government and the populace want to continue to have the US provide a military for Japan sixty-five years after the end of WW2. The whole set-up is one that cannot last forever.

1606: Edited because neither I nor Blogger spellcheck can spell.

Fox' Mike Huckabee to interview Toshio Tamogami

It is way, way too late at night to be up reading this sort of nonsense, so the whole thing could possibly be just a weird dream.

We remember Huckabee as one of the Republican candidates of the last primary season and Tamogami as the fellow who was fired as Japan's Air Force chief of staff for saying what many others---including some of those who had him fired, one suspects---believe: that Japan was not an aggressor during WW2 and that FDR tricked* the apparently naive Japanese government and military of the time into attacking Pearl Harbor.

Tamogami, who will be in New York for a lecture tour, is reportedly going to be interviewed by Huckabee on his TV show at Fox:

Are you just sitting around waiting for the opportunity to hear a lecture and take a booze cruise with a disgraced Japanese general who is notorious for defending Japan's WWII atrocities? Mike Huckabee apparently is...

...The Tamogami scandal and his lecture tour has been extensively covered by the blog Armchair Asia, which points out that while Tamogami's "strident, revisionist views were brushed aside as an aberration in Japan's armed forces ... he remains vocal and a hero to many." From Foreign Policy's The Cable.

Has he written a manga yet? It'd sure help in the US. Bet if ya check some overseas Japan-forums, you'll find some likely candidates for fanhood.

*The FDR trick belief is something not only held by a number of people in Japan. Some in the US hold it too, and there have been a few books written that support that claim. Tamogomi won't have to sell that part to some. Err, I meant Tamogami.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

And even more important news

Hideki Matsui is reportedly moving to the Angels with a pay cut. There may be little other news over the next day or two. Reuters (Japanese)

edited 12:50 English article here.

The DPJ's biggest enemy

The economy:

Nowhere are yields as low as in Japan’s debt market and nowhere are returns higher as Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s government fails to stop deflation
. Bloomberg.

And it (deflation) is back and here to stay for a while, according to the article. If you can buy some bonds, though, you may be less concerned.

More good news:

Japan is running the gauntlet of a sovereign ratings cut after Fitch Ratings said it might downgrade the country if it significantly exceeded its new issuance target [44 billion yen for the next fiscal year]...

...the government will likely face the daunting task of either scaling back some of its policies or seeking additional sources of funding. Reuters.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Problems publishing comments

I have been having problems publishing comments with Firefox again. I don't think I have lost any, but have had to copy one and republish it. If anyone has written one recently that has not appeared it is not because I did not want it published.

1635: Problem solved, I hope.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Back from the past

The Japan side of the cash-for-clunkers complaint:

Satoshi Miura, of the Japanese Embassy in DC, stated that Detroit could participate in the program if it followed the same import rules as "many others." The US companies, according to Miura, are using different rules which don't require the same emissions testing. He also noted that the program is not only for stimulus, but for the environment. The Detroit News.

I shall now return to 2009 and never again enter the now near moot Detroit/Japan auto debate.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Deja vu all over again

Detroit's three automakers criticized Japan on Thursday for keeping foreign automakers out of its cash-for-clunkers program while noting how Japanese automakers claimed nearly half the vehicles sold under the U.S. clunkers program...

...The Obama administration said Thursday that Japan should open its version of a cash-for-clunkers program to foreign

Would anyone expect anything else? As noted in the article, it would be little more than symbolism even if Japan did include foreign automakers since Detroit sells so few cars in Japan. However that symbolism would be a symbol of fair play while not threatening Japanese auto companies in the slightest. The reason given by the Japanese government is that since so few Detroit autos are sold in Japan, they are exempt from fuel economy certification, and only cars with that certification qualify. It's just something that can't be helped. No discrimination against foreign things intended.

Besides, Japanese intestines are longer.

Michael Moore, the millionaire capitalist who admits to being embarrassed at his own wealth*, was in Japan recently to promote his latest movie (profits from which will cause more embarrassment to flow into his bank account) and while here lectured Japan to stop becoming like the US. He needn't worry about that.

Another perspective on Obama's bow

I am behind the times as usual, but Armchair Asia has a very interesting perspective on Obama's bow to the emperor as being an unintended (Obama likely following what he considered good manners and being culturally sensitive) slight to Hatoyama and the DPJ and a possible nod to the right. The author notes (roughly paraphrasing) that although many mainstream US conservatives objected to the bow, the neoconservative Japan experts did not.

A different line of thought from someone who has a more inside view of US-Japan relations. Hmmmm. Couldn't possibly be right....????

Thursday, December 10, 2009

There isn't much to say to introduce this, except to note that R. Taggart Murphy has written another extremely interesting article for Japan Focus: In the Eye of the Storm: Updating the Economics of Global Turbulence, an Introduction to Robert Brenner's Update*---so interesting that I don't know where to begin. After seeing and living the results of the financial crisis and the resulting economic fallout for the last year, it seems obvious that there are much bigger, more serious problems facing the DPJ and Japan (and the US) than the current Futenma issue. And I'll bet the latest "stimulus" won't change that.

Murphy discusses and expands on Brenner's ideas especially as pertains to Japan, China, and the US.

Just a few excerpts from the article:

...Brenner fully grasps the significance to global capitalism of what has happened in East Asia since the appearance of the export-led, state-directed Japanese growth model...

...“the premature entry of high-competitive lower cost producers, especially in the newly developing regions of East Asia” would have led to serious crisis were it not for the ability of advanced capitalist governments to make available “titanic volumes of credit.”

...the continuation of capital accumulation has come
literally to depend upon historic waves of speculation...

Japan had, from the mid 1950s on, deliberately staked its prosperity on the construction of excess global capacity in a series of key industries... ...Japan did not launch industries. Rather, it targeted markets that were already served by existing capacity... ...result was to destroy profitability...

He goes on to examine the current seemingly "bright spot" of China, and notes the country is heading toward the same "Mutual Assured Destruction" financial relationship that Japan and US have due to its up-to-now focus on an export-led economy and the reinvestment of profits into excess capacity and financing of US debt so that the US can continue purchasing those exports.

Now what was it that Obama has been running around the world saying about the world having to put an end to this sort of warped produce and loan/borrow and spend system?

*A link is also provided for Brenner's What's good for Goldman Sachs is Good for America: The Origins of the Current Crisis. At 73-pages, it is a bit long for reading on a computer, but is time better spent than reading about Tiger Woods' non-longer private affairs.

Lies, all lies!

Life in Tokyo, as everywhere else in the world, is annoying and unfair. The good men are all married. Co-workers clip their fingernails at their desks. Laundry comes back from the cleaners still dirty...NYT Music

No, no. This can't be right! This is not the Japan one usually reads about in a US newspaper. Besides, everyone knows that folks here don't complain*, so the whole idea of a "Complaint Choir" is ridiculous.

*Except for non-Japanese who always complain

Monday, December 07, 2009

A solution for Futenma etc?

...the American public is turning more isolationist and unilateralist than it has at any time in decades, according to a new poll released Thursday.

The survey by the Pew Research Center found a plurality of Americans -- 49 percent -- think that the U.S. should "mind its own business internationally'' and leave it to other countries to fend for themselves.

It was the first time in more than 40 years of polling that the ranks of Americans with isolationist sentiment outnumbered those with a more international outlook...MiamiHerald

No, we don't wanna go as far as having the US, like, totally leave Japan (and South Korea and...) as its presence is vital to regional stability. Besides, even though PM Hatoyama has said that he wants Japan to have an equal relationship with the US, we don't mean so equal that Japan would have to provide for its own security to the extent that the US has to provide for its own.

Anyway, we know the US presence in Japan is vital 'cause everybody who is anybody has said so for decades and decades. Who would counterbalance the Soviet Union, oops! I mean North Korea, no, wait, it's Rising China this week...err, no, it's North Korea 'cause of the nukes, no, it's Rising China and the DPRK and also the bogeyman. Anyone who questions the US obligation to save the world from itself has to be some sort of naive leftwing loony, a minivan driving soccer mom or dad, a disillusioned vet, or a rightwing-wacko America firster. They might even be one of those rare few in today's US who might actually have to go fight in an overseas adventure.

Those darned stupid Americans.

18 Dec 09 James Fallows takes this poll as proof that 44% of Americans are crazy.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Nose still intact

Mizuho Fukushima, who threatened to pull the SDP out of the ruling coalition, apparently succeeded (so far) in delaying any acceptance of the Futenma deal. Hataoyama has certainly resisted the US demand to move "expeditiously" to resolve the dispute (i.e. do what the US government wants).

The threat left Hatoyama squeezed between domestic political imperatives and U.S. expectations -- a spectacle U.S. officials are not accustomed to seeing in Japan.

Daniel Sneider, a Japan expert at Stanford University, said the United States has yet to really take into account the significance of the political changes wrought by the August election. "Domestic politics matter in Japan now in a way that they didn't... "Do elections and domestic politics influence foreign policy in the United States? ... Now they do in Japan, too." Washington Post.

It's a bit baffling why this should be so confusing to the US, but obviously it is. It's probably only the first of many disagreements between the two countries if the DPJ can hang on to power. Sometime in the future we'll get to see just how much of a world view Japan and the US share. Decades of both the US and Japan living in some sort of dream world that the Japanese swap of security responsibility for market access won't likely result in another 60 year affair after it ends.

Perhaps William Overholt* said it best:

As the 21st century began, the United States decided to bet its entire position in Asia on the alliance with Japan... all of American history, the United States has never before made such a bet anywhere in the world, with the arguable exception of the bet on Britain in WWII...

...Rarely in world history has such a power made such a consequential bet.

What I left out of the above was that the US was placing it's bet on the "...increasingly right-wing leadership that wants to rebuild national morale by reengineering a failed vision of the first half of the 20th century rather than through an inspiring view of the future."

That bunch is gone and now the US has to be worried that it bet wrong and seems to have come up with no other alternative other than to try to push Japan back to the old ways---to hell with what the Japanese people think. Why should it care, it never really had to before.**

*Asia, America, and the Transformation of Geopolitics, page 103 of the Cambridge University Press Ed.

**11 December: Of course it is not the job of the US government to worry about what the Japanese public thinks unless it becomes a threat to policy.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Tokyo Vice

The author of Tokyo Vice has a website at which he is now regularly updating. Like the book, an antidote to those who believe that Japan is all purity and light.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Let me cut my nose off to spite my face

I saw this briefly mentioned on NHK news earlier today, and now it's at Reuters:

The leader of Japan's tiny Social Democratic Party [Mizuho Fukushima] threatened on Thursday to leave the ruling coalition if her views on a U.S. military base were ignored...

Surely this is just a bluff; just a negotiating ploy, for the SDP would not take a chance on damaging the coalition and perhaps reviving the snake.

Or, could it be explained by Chie Nakane's view of groups in her book Japanese Society?* Sometimes when these sort of things happen, I am tempted to turn to those sort of cultural explanations to rationalize the seemingly irrational. But sometimes, the irrational is simply irrational.

*This is a short book that I think is still worth reading even though it is now decades old. It was recommended to me by one of my university professors who told me that in order understand Japan I should read that book. He was a Japanese fellow who did not subscribe to the theory that non-Japanese could never understand Japan. In fact, he had a reputation for insisting that students in his class did their damnedest to do so. And he was a grammar-nazi too.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The world is ending. Martin Fackler makes sense.

in his latest NYT article:

...fundamentally, the recent strains [between the US and Japanese governments] have revealed how little the two allies are used to the give and take commonly found in America’s relations with other allies, like Britain or Australia. Japan’s new government has disrupted the old rhythms of the alliance by thrusting its problems out into the open for the first time in years...

He even quotes Tobias Harris of Observing Japan, whom we have to assume was not disguised as a vending machine when interviewed.

Is it too much to hope that a NYT article would be enough to reassure certain experts in the US government and academia that Hatoyama and the DPJ are not the anti-Christ and may be a much better ally than the nonLunDP ever was---even if it doesn't pretend to agree with nearly everything the US says or does concerning security? A more open democratic government certainly can't be bad for the relationship. If it were then it wasn't much of a relationship to begin with.

It must be about time for Fackler to be transferred so we can start all over again. Perhaps a new reporter with a long overdue article about the funny English used in ads and on clothing?