Saturday, February 27, 2010

PM Hatoyama has emphasized that there is no connection between the abduction issue and tuition waivers (or not) for "pro-Pyongyang" high schools. Yukio explained, "But the problem is whether we can examine the curricula of a country that does not have any diplomatic ties (with Japan)...."It has nothing to do with the abduction issue." Japan Times.

So related or not, it seems very likely that the end result will be no tuition waiver for children in those schools.

Just recently, the
U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, issued it's report on Japan. According to the report, things have improved somewhat since 2001, but there's still plenty of to room to go. Some of the criticism was aimed at the treatment of Chinese and Korean "nationals" such as the lack of accreditation for their schools. One NGO showed a video of kind nutjobs in Kyoto:

...waving flags and protesting aggressively in front of a North Korean school in Kyoto Prefecture, shouting phrases such as "This is a North Korean spy training center!" Japan Times: Japan faces UN...

According to that article, other members expressed concern that these schools received no "government funding at a time when the government is considering removing tuition fees for public high schools."

I, too, would like to state that the abduction issue and the tuition waiver are not, and could not possibly be related. It's a simple matter of coincidence and bureaucratic rules.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Emotional Americans still over-reacting

I guess. What I had thought would become another exaggerated retro-80s Car War battle, seems to have died down in the States into more or less "normal" for a corporate scandal involving defective products and consumer deaths. Whereas it may not have been a coldly logical calculation of risks associated with the defective accelerators/software/electronics or whatever (which as of yet doesn't even seem to be possible in this case) the public, media, and political reaction to the whole thing seems pretty much as expected. There were a few grand-standers, some groups with other agendas other than safety, but overall, it's about what I'd expect.

However, some disagree: "I find they (American people) are overreacting, compared with recall issues triggered by American car manufacturers. Toyota reigned as No. 1 ahead of GM, so to Americans, Toyota may be a nuisance," said Daisuke Oku, a 33-year-old civil servant. Japan Times

I don't have the coldly rational view of America that Oku does, but I'd guess that he is absolutely full of it. It's just possible that listening to four people race to their death in a Toyota that does not do what a car is supposed to do correctly---stop and go---could cause a reaction. Maybe even an overreaction. However, (ad nauseam), if the same thing had happened in Japan with a foreign product, we can be sure that the media, the public, and the government would react calmly, rationally, and with no anti-foreign bias*.

Less-informed people might even suspect that listening to such an accident involving folks whom one has no real connection with (not in my group!) 10,000 miles away via a translated recording would have less impact---provided Oku or most folk in Japan had even had the opportunity to hear the audio.**

....some have criticized the Japanese media for self-censorship.
..(same JT article)

Well, duh. Would this be new? Could we not just assume this until evidence shows otherwise---or has there been some recent change in that the norm is not self-censorship?

The Washington Post or possibly NYT had a story yesterday, which I cannot find now, that reported that some Japan-based suppliers for Toyota were cutting ties because Toyota was squeezing them to constantly cut costs. This was apparently something new and shocking to the reporter. The fact that such a decades old common practice is new and shocking to a reporter should be shocking to his/her editors and readers.

Apparently, Toyoda made a good impression with his apology before congress (and we got to read a number of explanations about Japanese apologies, weeping, bowing and so on. It's all about culture, you know...) Good. That's hopefully another step to finding and solving the problems, and Toyota will have learned a lesson that many corporations seem to have to learn and re-learn. And the usual suspects in Japan can go back to assuming that Toyota---and Japan by extension---is just a victim with little or no responsibility. It couldn't be helped....

*Warning: sarcasm.

**I have not seen nor heard the tape broadcast on Japanese TV because I have not been able to watch much news lately, what with the ice scrubbing events (curling?) in the Olympics 25 hours per day. I have not spoken to anyone (Japanese) who has seen it or is aware of it either. That does not mean it has not been broadcast, however, for since it was a critical catalyst in initiating the investigations, any media organization which ignored played do that tape, would simply be untrustworthy incompetents or propagandists.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Soft power

Hiroshi Nakai, minister in charge of the abduction issue, has asked education minister Tatsuo Kawabata to bar schools that cater to the children of residents with ethnic ties to North Korea from the planned tuition-free subsidy program, government sources said.

Nakai...wants the exemption put in place to demonstrate Japan's firm stance on the abduction issue...Japan Times

One just has to figure that when your influence over another country drops to the point where you have to start targeting children of an ethnic group in your own country in spite, you're out of ammo.

According to the article, guidelines being considered might mean that these schools could be disqualified anyway because due to the lack of diplomatic relations because Japan cannot assess if schools in North Korea nearly match Japan's educational standards, so it seems that Nakai's idea does nothing more than show Kim Jung-il that we mean business and we can back it up. Take that Mr. Kim.

I am sure that Kim Jung-il, who has not shown any special sympathy to seeing his own people starve, or been reluctant to imprison and execute unknown numbers, is going to be moved to resolve the abduction issue because some fine examples of leadership in the Japanese government want to withhold education money from certain residents of Japan.

2/23Feb: A short article from LA Times on the Chosen schools in Japan is here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lots of idiots around...or is it just me?

Over the last few days there have been some stirrings about the DPJ possibly, maybe, perhaps opening discussion on raising the consumption tax. Of course PM Hatoyama countered Nutty Natto Kan with his version of "Read my lips, no consumption tax increase. We are just going to start talking about it during a recession to boost the economy. We'll let the voters decide although I am not going to increase it anyway maybe for sure."

I'm cool with this. Only a bunch of lunatics would try to run a country forever with promises of no new taxes except on the other guy, while spending the money of future generations for everything except filling in potholes in roads and in society because for one reason or another, deficits don't matter. But this is not about the USA.

Really, the DPJ has been trying its best to right the economy they inherited from the LDP. One of the things that impressed me is how the wasteful practice of moving large quantities of earth from one spot to another for no useful purpose seems to have decreased under the new government. I have no stats, but that's just an impression from my somewhat less frequent cycling workouts along the Tamagawa. Mud-moving projects have noticeably decreased in size if not quantity since the autumn.

Perhaps, however, the money was shifted elsewhere. Every day, on the walk from my Mansion to Denenchofu station, I get to pass through the now 2 (or 3?) year old water line project which makes the street nearly impassible for humans and autos. As on construction projects everywhere, there seem to be about 5 people standing around and "supervising" for each person who is actually working. But what makes this a great economic stimulus is that not only do we get to pay the salaries of folks who could be better utilized serving tea to those who are working, but we get to pay to have the street and sidewalk dug up every single morning and refilled and resurfaced (with asphalt) every single evening. Wonder how much time and money that costs? Did Yukio not notice this when he lived in Denenchofu just a few short months ago? But who am I---a taxpaying resident who should never be allowed to vote for fear upsetting the apple cart with dangerous foreign influence---to say anything about that. Let the neighbors grumble---which they are. (Hear anything Yukio?)

Speaking of EVIL foreign influence:

Referring to the downgrading of the outlook for Japan's long-term government bonds by foreign rating companies, State Minister for Financial Affairs Shizuka Kamei said, "The Japanese are susceptible to foreign influences. There are lots of idiots." He thus indicated his dissatisfaction with the nature of credit ratings and the way people respond to them. Kamei is set to have regulatory power over credit rating companies starting in April. (From Feb 16 Asahi Shimbun. I cannot find a link as of yet.)

Now I don't really know what the hell this fellow was trying to say. He seemed to be angry that credit rating companies could rate Japanese bonds without asking. Maybe he was hinting at some future administrative guidance for those foreign companies. Why not? It's surely a lot easier than trying to un-screw-up the now decades old screwed-up economy. Besides, Japan owes most of its money to its own citizens, not foreigners, and it is easier to get away with screwing your own investors than it is screwing foreign investors. Or so the theory goes.

My question is: Does Kamei consider himself to be one of the idiots, or is he referring to the people whom he supposedly serves? (Let's pretend. We know that most folks in his line of work here do not consider themselves servants of the public, but more "nannies" of the childish masses. Tuche' to Fujiwara Masahiko.)

Incidentally, Kamei, a Shintaro Ishihara fan, "studied" economics at Tokyo University. Mr. Idiot also opposes foreigner suffrage* as allowing those bastards to vote could fuel nationalism. Who said that the LDP was dead?

A big arigatou in the direction of the Potomac for alerting me to this.

*We Western immigrants ought not be too hard on Kamei for this view, for he was apparently referring to those permanent residents of Korean heritage which makes it all OK.

22 Feb 2010 update: They have now begun to work directly on the road (instead of the sidewalk) and are no longer covering it with asphalt every evening. Time and money saved---what will they think of next?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Unbelievable! Shocking! Flabbergasting!

This has actually been published on a major website:

Analysis of an Apology: A Japanese thing?

The apology from Toyota President Akio Toyoda is being interpreted by the U.S. media as a uniquely Japanese thing...

...The media... often trying to make Japan out to be a mystical place where everyone lives by some ancient samurai--or Buddhist, take your pick--code. In short, a special, inscrutable culture that defies understanding...

...What I learned in my 10 years in Japan is that the Japanese culture is different of course but not nearly as different as unwitting Americans make it out to be...

The author, Brooke Crothers, does have the advantage of actually having lived here and knows something about the country. It sounds like the same Japan I live in and not the fantasyland version I read about so often. The world must be coming to an end.

Thank you CNET and Brooke Crothers. One of the best short articles I have read on Japan in years. A must read even if he is simply stating what anyone who lives here (or who has actual knowledge of Japan) already knows.

(He specifically mentioned the ABC news report in which it was stated that by bowing in apology it was somehow samurai-related---sort of like offering his head. Oh yes, of course. And everything I do is cowboy-related.)

Edited at 11:25 and 11:59pm

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Shock and Awe

The weird, inscrutable, and mysterious Japan theories begin:

On Akio Toyoda's "apology":

Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive of auto information company in Santa Monica, noted that in Japan, "guilt and shame are very different things."

"He apologized for inconveniencing Toyota customers and causing them concern, but didn't actually deal with the issue of responsibility," Anwyl said. "In the U.S., for an apology to be sincere, the speaker must accept responsibility and express remorse.*" LA Times

Mr. Anwyl must have read Ruth Benedict's ancient and controversial interpretation of the Japanese, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword---which was based largely on interviews with Japanese POWs. Or perhaps he read a Berlitz guidebook on Japan. I have never understood the supposed huge difference between the two (guilt and shame), nor do I believe that it exists in such an absolute manner. Of course, I am not the first to say that...

I find this one of the most interesting controversies in years because it seems to be a complete role reversal. Now the Japanese are being accused of not apologizing, not apologizing soon enough, not apologizing correctly, not apologizing sincerely, not understanding a foreign culture, appearing cold, unfeeling, and logically dry (the latter is my accusation), all the things that Westerners---especially the US---are accused of in Japan. And it's not even connected to WW2 issues.

I can imagine the shock and confusion some folks must feel to learn that, yes, in the US and elsewhere folks apologize too, and also expect some sort of apology when they feel wronged. Sometimes, even non-Japanese must be apologized to despite the fact that you think you have not actually done anything wrong. Such a feeling is not unique to Japan. Imagine that.

*Is it different here? Is it not mostly form in both countries when corporations send out folks to "apologize?" Does anyone expect real sincerity in a corporate apology?

Friday, February 05, 2010

What goes around comes around

It was a bit of fun seeing Toyota in a hot-seat similar to those that non-Japanese companies in Japan have had to endure when caught with similar problems. But it's getting a little extreme now and the first indication of that was when Steve Wozniac of Apple was interviewed on ABC because he had experienced what he thought was software problems which caused his Toyota to suddenly surge in speed. Not that Wozniac doesn't know software, but it was just a guess, however educated, on his part.

Now there will be endless investigations, all kinds of charges and counter-charges and plenty more opportunities for sensationalist TV reports. (Can we see David Muir of ABC sit in his office, call Toyota, and get turned down for an interview? Why not, he has been doing it to banks which apparently proves something.) This is exactly I would expect if the same thing had happened here involving a foreign auto maker (except for the absurd David Muir fake reporting).

Over at Anarchy Japan, there was a post a few days ago about how the US government was being unfair about this and that it was more politics than safety. Forbes has an article* with a similar take:

The company is under unprecedented attack by the U.S. government--never has a Secretary of Transportation told Americans not to drive anyone's cars or demanded a factory shutdown. It's taking on the appearance of a vendetta...

...If its Chief Executive Akio Toyoda bowed down and licked Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's shoe, it wouldn't have stopped the publicity...[especially after the tape of the fatal crash was released]

...The Toyota debacle will rub off to some degree on the reputation of all the Japanese [auto makers]...

I am of mixed emotions. On one hand this is way over-the-top and it seems obvious that Toyota is getting a little extra---and will get a lot more---because of the times and because it is a Japanese automaker. (The history of US-Japan auto wars has been anything but calm and rational for either side.) On the other hand, I have no doubt that if the shoe were on the other foot we'd be seeing the same thing here.

*It is best to read the full article to get everything in context.

7:15PM: More here

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Don't let the door hit you in the a** on the way out

Sad to see some US news organizations leave Japan, reportedly because Japan seems less relevant now, but the fact that TIME is leaving should not cause weeping, wailing, and the gnashing of teeth. Here could be just one reason why nobody should become depressed.

Full Disclosure: The person who writes this blog despises TIME magazine. It is far, far, too dumbed-down and pandering even for him.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Pauper's Alliance

From the NYT article Huge Deficits may alter US politics and Global Power:

....the possibility that the United States could begin to suffer the same disease that has afflicted Japan over the past decade.* As debt grew more rapidly than income, that country’s influence around the world eroded.

... Lawrence H. Summers, used to ask before he entered government a year ago, “How long can the world’s biggest borrower remain the world’s biggest power?”

The Chinese leadership, which is lending much of the money to finance the American government’s spending...NYT

Should this turn out to be an accurate guess, then one has to wonder what is the biggest threat, the ones which require the US to keep its forces all over the planet to protect the planet from itself; the one(s) (China?) which require it to keep its forces in Okinawa while debating just where in Okinawa to keep them with the people who own the country; or the continuation of borrowing from everyone until it can borrow no more?

The US-Japan Security arrangement looks like it might have a bright future with each country out of money, but expecting the same or more from one another while at the same time China and others whiz on by.

China has warned the US president that it will harm ties between the two countries if he meets the Dalai Lama.

Chinese Communist Party official Zhu Weiqun said there would be "corresponding action" if the meeting went ahead. BBC

China does not seem to be very cowed.

*OK, this is a bit nonsensical. Japan's problems are not the result of excessive borrowing from other countries. Not much else similar between the two countries and their financial problems that I can see. The always imminent Japan Disease.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Defective Toyotas the fault of foreigners

From the article Drivers in Japan unfazed by Toyota's global recalls:

"The cars being recalled in China and the U.S. aren't made in Japan. They were made there. Those kind of problems definitely won't happen in Japan," he [a Toyota owner in Japan] said.

Sorta like the made in Japan Mitsubishi trucks that had wheels falling off and crushing people a few years back?

(As many of the original links have disappeared, a small archive of stories on the Mitsubishi scandal are here.)