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    More Japan notes

    Aum Shinrikyo founder Chizuo Matsumoto may be evil, but he’s not nuts. Or, at least, the psychiatric evaluator appointed by the court has ruled that he’s fit to stand trial (Yomiuri English report, Nikkei Japanese report). This is from the Yomiuri:

    Meantime, judicial sources said the high court was now likely to dismiss the appeal by Matsumoto, commonly known as Shoko Asahara, under the Code of Criminal Procedure, an irrevocable confirmation of the death penalty meted out by the Tokyo District Court in February 2004.

    The lower court found him guilty of masterminding 13 crimes, including sarin gas attacks on Tokyo’s subway system in 1995 that killed 12 people and injured more than 5,500 others, and in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994, as well as the 1989 murder of a lawyer and his family.

    The defense counsel for the cult founder had argued that the 50-year-old defendant was not fit for trial, while presiding Judge Masaru Suda had maintained that the cult founder was competent enough to stand trial or defend himself in court with the help of defense lawyers.

    The doctor is believed to have diagnosed that Matsumoto’s abnormal behavior stems from either a mild reaction to incarceration–a mental breakdown caused by prolonged detention–or that he is feigning sickness.

    The evaluation ran to 88 pages, according to the Nikkei.

    *******

    Yesterday there was a stoppage on JR East’s Yamanote Line, which rings the very center of Tokyo like London’s Circle Line. It was just before 8 a.m. Not a pleasant scene, given that the three-hour (!) interruption of service caused problems for 112000 commuters. I’m sure the cab drivers loved it. I’m sure the buses were pandemonium, too.

    To preserve balance and harmony, one imagines, JR West reported yesterday that over a thousand of its trains have bad brakes in the front cars:

    Emergency brakes of the automatic train stop system on more than 40 percent of 2,700 lead cars West Japan Railway Co. uses would not function when their regular brakes fail, the firm said Monday.

    The problem was caused when circuits connecting the ATS-SW and emergency braking systems were modified in 1994 to help facilitate the recovery process after an ATS malfunction. JR West used these lead cars for 12 years without noticing any fault.

    The emergency brakes would not function on about 1,200 lead cars, the company said.

    A representative of JR West’s public relations department said, “We apologize for making passengers anxious.”

    To which residents of JR West territories are probably replying, “Thanks, pal, but we were anxious already.” It was a JR West train that derailed last year in Amagasaki, killing over a hundred people. That accident was found to be due to misjudgment by the train driver…and his misjudgment was probably the result at least in part of systemic flaws in JR West’s training. It became a lightning rod for questions about transportation safety in light of Japan’s evolving economy and aging infrastructure.

    The cars in question in this case, as you might suspect, are old. They were all manufactured two decades ago, before the rail system was privatized.

    *******

    The other big story today, besides the elimination of the Japanese women’s curling team from Olympic competition, is about an e-mail:

    Caution was urged Monday in the use of the Diet’s authority to invoke special investigative powers to verify the authenticity of a controversial e-mail allegedly sent by former Livedoor Co. President Takafumi Horie that instructed that 30 million yen be remitted to the younger son of the Liberal Democratic Party’s secretary general.

    House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Tadamori Oshima of the LDP said the allegation by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan regarding what it claims is an e-mail sent by Horie is not serious enough to warrant using the constitutional powers of the Diet to investigate it.

    “Given that the investigation right of the Diet into state affairs as stipulated by the Constitution is extremely significant, it should only be exercised with great prudence,” Oshima said at a meeting of directors of the Budget Committee.

    Prior to Oshima’s statement, an LDP director at the meeting said the DPJ, which originally raised the remittance issue, should present clear evidence to prove that 30 million yen was sent to the son of LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe, such as a bank account statement. The director said the LDP would agree to hold a Budget Committee meeting in camera for that purpose.

    More finger-pointing to ensue, no doubt.

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