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    “際どい勝負だった。”

    Posted by Sean at 09:25, July 5th, 2005

    The Japan Post privatization bill passed the lower house today–this was the real deal, the plenary session and not committee. (The vote was 233 to 228.) Now it goes to the upper house. That means the fun is just beginning:

    Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi, remarking on the upcoming House of Councillors debate over the Japan Post privatization bill, stated, “There are still gigantic hurdles to get over. I feel as if we were beginning at square one.” He indicated that he plans to exert all his energy to the end of seeing the bill ratified. He denied the possibility that the bill might be revised yet again in order to squelch opposition in the upper house: “We’ve already made our accommodations. There will be no more.” He answered questions at a press conference held at the Prime Minister’s official residence.

    It’s been clear for a while that Koizumi’s strategy is to bellow, “No compromise!” before every confrontation as a way of keeping concessions to a minimum; nevertheless, concessions continue to be made. Of course, there have been problems with the bill from the get-go, at least if you’re actually, you know, pro-privatization. It will be interesting, if perhaps distastefully interesting, to see what the bill looks like when it comes to its final vote.


    [Interlude: Japan Post Cool Biz]

    Posted by Sean at 22:27, July 4th, 2005

    Okay, you know, this Cool Biz stuff? Seriously working on my last nerve. I’ve almost, in a way, gotten used to seeing top-ranking cabinet ministers show up on television looking as if they’d been yanked out of a golf game for an emergency press conference. It doesn’t exactly give you the sense that the government is proceeding with sober, formal, rule-of-law predictability; but I guess it does save on air conditioning, which is good for the Earth and other stuff.

    However, someone (Mrs. Takebe, are you listening?) needs to tell LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe what 半透明 (hantoumei: “translucent”) means. I didn’t need to see that the undergarment he uses to rein in those man-boobs beneath his white-on-white sport shirts is a narrow-strapped tank-top. I really didn’t.


    Koizumi sees election as shot in the arm for Japan Post bill

    Posted by Sean at 22:59, July 3rd, 2005

    While Koizumi’s name may not have helped candidates in yesterday’s election to win, it cannot be said that the opposite is true–at least, according to the LDP:

    The LDP is taking the results of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election as a decisive vote of confidence in the policies of the Koizumi cabinet. The LDP Executive Committee is looking to get the Japan Post privatization bill passed by the House of Representatives by 5 July, with plans to exert all its power to suppress opponents of the bill within the party.

    It is possible that the bill will be passed by majority vote in the LDP’s House of Representatives Japan Post Privatization ad hoc committee by the night of 4 July. Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi will leave for the G8 summit at Gleneagles on 6 July, so the party is aiming to be able to send the bill to the House of Councillors before then. The DPJ has submitted a proposal for a no-confidence resolution against the cabinet, and is prepared to meet the bill with unwavering resistance. The vote in the upper house plenary session may end up being delayed until after 11 July.

    Added at 18:05: The bill has been passed by the lower house ad hoc committee. Watanuki naturally voted against it; he was just on NHK looking dour.


    Japan Post reform provisions accepted by Koizumi

    Posted by Sean at 11:44, June 28th, 2005

    A few nights ago, Atsushi reminded me in our nightly conversation that the property tax was due by the end of the month. Monday’s a day off for me, so I figured that while I was heading to the post office anyway, I may as well mail some other stuff: I took care of a friend’s wedding present, letter to my grandfather, few other things. Need I tell you what, when I was halfway out the door and feeling all smug and accomplished, I realized I’d forgotten to do? Personally, I blame the fact that Japan Post hasn’t yet been privatized. After all, a private corporation accountable to its customers would develop an array of services more responsive to their needs and…uh…thus…you know, more…memorable. (Don’t worry, A., I went back in and paid it.)

    Anyway, the privatization bill is still being haggled over. Latest news is:

    On the evening of 28 June, the LDP agreed to a review of the Japan Post privatization bill that included the revision of 4 items. The central revision was that, as one of the functions the window-services corporation will be allowed to perform, “the work of a bank or insurance agency” is given as an example. Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi assented to the revision. In accepting this resolution, which had been a sticking point through the debate over revisions, the LDP executive body aims to see the bill passed by the Lower House by the beginning of July. Opposition to the bill is still deep-rooted even among some in the party, however, so there are still many issues that stand in the way of its approval.

    This is the same Koizumi who was saying yesterday that he would accept no revisions; he said tonight that his position had not changed. Okay, whatever you say. Perhaps the new provisions don’t strike him as neutering the reforms. Along those lines, it remains unclear whether mochiai (mutual shareholding) will be explicitly permitted; some in the LDP were pushing for such a provision yesterday.


    Japan Post, now with more pork

    Posted by Sean at 09:28, June 17th, 2005

    Brick wall, meet head:

    Questions still remain even after 48 hours of debate over postal privatization bills among members of the House of Representatives’ special committee, which is discussing how the three postal services will change following privatization.

    [Social Democrat Mitsuko] Tomon said she was concerned the amount of depopulated areas could change as a result of continuing town, city and village mergers, adding that the mergers could make it difficult for the government to maintain the current number of postal employees. [No! Not fewer government employees!–SRK]

    She then asked the government to release the number of post offices at the end of fiscal 2005 after consolidation under the former Special Mergers Law was complete.

    In response to her question, Cabinet Councilor Makoto Hosomi from the government’s postal privatization preparation office reassured Tomon that the number would not change because the areas would continue to be regarded as depopulated even after increasing in size and finances through mergers.

    The government has said the number of post offices in urban areas will drop after the privatization.

    Heizo Takenaka, state minister in charge of economic, fiscal and postal reform policy, has not mentioned any details about efforts to streamline the services, but has said such actions would depend on the judgment of post office network management, and the ministry would direct and supervise if necessary.


    Tough questions (for one’s opponents) about Japan Post privatization

    Posted by Sean at 09:27, June 3rd, 2005

    Sometimes, it feels as if I’d never left America:

    The Democratic Party of Japan’s return to Diet sessions Wednesday reflected its acknowledgement of the limit on what can be gained from adopting the outmoded parliamentary tactic of boycotting debates.

    During the current Diet session, the DPJ refused to attend debates for several days over a dispute concerning the absence of Heizo Takenaka, the minister responsible for postal privatization, from a session of the House of Representatives’ Internal Affairs and Communications Committee.

    The 10-day boycott did not result in any remarkable achievements. Instead it gave the impression that the largest opposition party was indecisive on how to confront the ruling coalition.

    Which country is this? Oh, yeah: the one where the leader of the Democratic Party is actually kind of cute, which is a convenient distinguishing factor.

    Regarding larger developments in the Japan Post privatization free-for-all…let’s see. A former Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, Seiko Noda, had some questions for Prime Minister Koizumi in committee this morning:

    “Mr. Prime Minister, if you are so certain that Japan Post is irredeemable as a public corporation, why did you pass its public incorporation bill during your administration?” Ms. Noda asked, attacking the Prime Minister’s position.

    Koizumi stated, “Both ruling and opposition parties overwhelmingly opposed privatization, so as a politician it was my job to find a way to push through that.” He indicated that setting up the Japan Post Public Corporation had not been his real intention all along.

    Ms. Noda went on to indicate that the government had not explained thoroughly the disadvantages of privatization and ended her series of questions by saying, “One can by no means clearly see what ideals would be accomplished by the results of privatizing the [existing] public corporation. In the midst of that [state of affairs], there’s extraordinary uncertainty and room for hesitation involved in pushing forward with this [plan].”

    Also heard:

    Eiji Ozawa (LDP) critized the bills related to the privatization proposal as unrealistic and said, “The Prime Minister is [behaving like] Don Quixote.” The Prime Minister stated, “Well, actually, I like Don Quixote. I’d like the privatization of Japan Post to make people say [later], ‘That Koizumi knew what he was doing, after all.'”

    (I took quite a bit of liberty with that last part. 先見の明があったな actually means something more literally like, “had the clarity of foresight, huh!” I couldn’t find a better way to de-clunk-ify it.) Ozawa is presumably talking about the literary character and not the arson-prone discount retailer. Before I moved into Atsushi’s apartment, I lived in the Dogenzaka section of Shibuya–right across the street, essentially, from the 東急本店. Whenever I so much as went out for a run, I’d be assailed by that insufferable “Don, Don, Don…Don Quiiiii…Don, Qui…Hoh, Teh” theme song. I thought I’d lose my mind.

    What was the topic? Ah, yes: Japan Post, as it so often is. Anyway, things are moving along, kind of. No one expected the opposition to melt away, or to fail to play the who-knows-what-will-happen-without-the-government-to-nanny-this? card. I’d kind of enjoy it if someone in the government just stood up and said, “Mr. Prime Minister, Japan Post has a great deal of money, and, to be frank, WE WANT THAT MONEY! WE WANT TO KEEP OUR MITTS ON EVERY YEN OF THAT MOOONNNNNNEEEEEEEY!” Hoping for that amount of forthrightness would be…well, quixotic, one might say.


    Social Insurance Administration to remain under government control

    Posted by Sean at 21:03, June 1st, 2005

    What with all the attention the reform of Japan Post has gotten, the woes of Japan’s Social Insurance program–which is even more screwed than its US counterpart–can sometimes go virtually unnoticed. The government’s been thinking about it, though (Japanese, English). The recommendation involves those three little words we all love to hear: “new government entity.”

    As part of the Social Insurance Agency reform, a new government entity will be established to manage public pension programs, but the government will retain complete control over the system.

    The plan was based on similar recommendations made in a final report by an advisory panel on the agency’s reform to Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda and Liberal Democratic Party proposals.

    The government has finally completed a reform plan, prompted by the revelation of a series of scandals involving the agency. But its plan may attract criticism as only creating a different facade rather than implementing an overhaul.

    Unlike the heated discussions of the past, the LDP panel meeting held at the party’s headquarters Tuesday proceeded quietly.

    I’ll bet! Of course, it’s easy to argue airily that having the government in charge will keep things going as smoothly as possible, but when you look at the specifics, there’s plenty to be doubtful about. Non-payment of premiums is already a pervasive problem. Last year right around this time, it was starting to sound as if no bureaucrat in the history of the Japanese government had ever made a single payment into the kitty. Speak of setting a good example, huh? In the meantime, the restructuring of the SIA is supposed to take place in 2008, so there’s plenty of time for things to become even more Byzantine as more and more people with something to lose have their say. Should be fun.


    Solving political problems in Fantasy Land

    Posted by Sean at 01:03, May 30th, 2005

    How’s that Yasukuni Shrine situation? (I really need to create a sub-category for that….) Well, let’s see. The chief of the LDP’s Diet committee gives us this solution:

    On 29 May, the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party issued another in a series of statements calling for the separate enshrinement of class-A war criminals at the Yasukuni Shrine, in response to the controversy over Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi’s pilgrimages to the shrine.

    Hidenao Nakagawa, head of the LDP’s Diet committee, stated on Fuji Television that he is of the opinion that “the administrators of the shrine should meet with the families [of those enshrined], and voluntarily allow for separate enshrinements. Then, China will agree to Japan’s assumption of permanent membership to the UN Security Council.”

    Yes, I’m sure it’ll go just like that. The PRC is not, after all, worried about anything other than Japan’s attitude toward its wartime conduct, such as–and I’m just kinda riffing here–the entire balance of power in East Asia.

    The word I’ve rendered “voluntarily” there is 自発的 (jihatsuteki: “self-” + “emergence” + [adjectival/genitive ending]). It also often means something closer to “spontaneously,” which would perhaps give a better feel for the complete lack of precedent for such a move as Nakagawa is recommending.

    Nakagawa isn’t the only one issuing unfathomables on this issue. The Yomiuri English edition corrals many of the latest soundbites from various government types, including this “huh?” moment from a Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare official:

    Masahiro Morioka, parliamentary secretary of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry criticized the Chinese government for demanding Koizumi stop visiting the shrine. “Class-A war criminals are treated as bad people because of fear of China,” Morioka said. “War criminals were categorized as Class-A, Class-B and Class-C at the Tokyo Tribunal of War Criminals. They were categorized by a one-sided tribunal led by the Occupation forces at which crimes against peace and humanity were created.” [It’s enough to make you wonder whether this guy might actually be affiliated with the shrine itself.–SRK]

    “A war is part of politics, and it is in line with an international law. The Diet unanimously agreed to pay pensions to the families of Class-A war criminals who have died. They’re not seen as criminals in the country,” he said.

    “Saying it’s bad to enshrine Class-A criminals at Yasukuni Shrine is to turn a blind eye to future troubles,” he added.

    It’s certainly true that Japan didn’t regard many convicted war criminals as actual criminals. It released most (all?) of those who weren’t executed; many promptly reentered public service. One, Nobusuke Kishi, became Prime Minister–though it’s important to remember that he wasn’t one of those tried and convicted by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. BTW, you can read at that last link to get a sense of whether inventive approaches to crime began with the Tribunal and whether it’s future troubles to which someone’s turning a blind eye.

    As you might imagine, others in the government have reacted along predictable lines–namely, “Sh*t! I would just like to distance myself from that particular comment”:

    Referring to Morioka’s remarks, Hosoda said later in the day: “Such remarks should never be made by a member of the government. There were some errors in the judgments, but it’s no use to comment on it. Japan accepted [the tribunal’s decision].”

    Koizumi told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Office, “It’s meaningless to take note of his remarks. It’s got nothing to do with my visits [to Yasukuni Shrine].”

    Japan paid the reparations that were demanded of it; the government is absolutely right to maintain that it no longer owes official apologies and official acts of redress. But diplomacy is about establishing, if not trust, at least fellow-feeling. It’s not hard to see why China, the Koreas, and Taiwan, suspect there are key members of the Japanese government with no sense of the enormity of their forebears’ conduct.

    Added at 15:00: Japundit links to a tidbit about this Kyodo poll. It was a telephone poll (heh-heh), so you have to take it FWIW. A few other interesting notes:

    Asked about what the Japanese government has done to work toward improvement of Japan-PRC relations, 50.8% of respondents answered, “I don’t think it’s sufficient,” surpassing by a wide margin the 11.5% who answered, “I think it’s sufficient.”

    Regarding the bill to privatize Japan Post, over which debate has begun in the Diet, 47.4% supported it, and 33.3% opposed it. However, regarding explanations from the Prime Minister of why the privatization plan was necessary, the proportion saying, “I don’t think they’re sufficient,” reached 64.1%; by contrast, the percent responding, “I think they’re sufficient,” was 8.2%, so there are still many who feel that not enough explanation has been offered.

    The rate of support for the cabinet has risen 1.5 points since Kyodo’s April survey to 48.4%, with the percent not supporting the cabinet dropping 1.9 points to 36.4%. Among reasons given for support of the cabinet, the most frequent was “There are no other appropriate people [available]” at 48.7%. The most frequent reason given for withholding support was “Nothing can be expected of its economic policies” at 22.5%.

    There was no obvious direct link to Kyodo’s report of the poll, so it’s hard to tell how much the push for UNSC permanent membership has affected people’s attitudes toward China policy.


    審議空転

    Posted by Sean at 23:01, May 24th, 2005

    If you’re wondering what Prime Minister Koizumi meant by that comment about Japan’s opposition parties yesterday, here‘s an example:

    Debate remained stalled in the Diet on 24 May, as the Democratic (DPJ) and Social Democratic (SDP) Parties, both of which opposed the establishment of a special lower house committee on Japan Post reform, failed to consent to the discussion of any bills. The ruling parties plan to begin debate on the Japan Post privatization bill in the lower house plenary session on 26 May whether the opposition parties agree or not. Ruling and opposition parties will open talks between the chairmen of their Diet committees, but there is little hope that they will find a way out of the impasse.

    Koizumi and other higher-ups in the LDP are, of course, taking the opportunity to warn the opposition that the citizenry will not look kindly on this kind of stonewalling. Katsuya Okada of the DPJ has shot back that voters will understand the party’s motivations because the bill does not provide a premise for adequate debate. I would say “here we go again,” but that would imply that we’d had a respite from this at some point.


    Koizumi’s latest on the Yasukuni Shrine and Japan Post

    Posted by Sean at 01:00, May 16th, 2005

    Prime Minister Koizumi delivered a few soundbites at a special meeting of the Lower House budgetary committee this morning. (I think he said these things this morning; the meeting is on NHK now, and I think it’s a simulcast.)

    About Chinese and Korean criticism of visits by Japanese officials to the Yasukuni Shrine, he said, “Any nation will feel the desire to pay respects to its war dead. Other nations should not be interfering based on whether they believe our ways of doing so are desirable.”

    Also, regarding the enshrinement of Class A war criminals at the shrine, Koizumi indicated that his view is that there is no problem because “‘one abhores the offense; one does not abhore the person’ are the words of China’s own Confucius.”

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard him trot out that one before. It’ll be interesting to hear the PRC’s reaction.

    Other remarks revolved around the proposal to privatize Japan Post. Koizumi stressed that “if the bill is rejected, it is impossible to know what will happen.” Regarding who would be held politically responsible if the bill were shot down, he remarked, “Is there any reason that (the cabinet) should resign en bloc? We will fulfill our responsibilities by seeing the bill through to approval; we have no expectation of its rejection.”

    So that’s that, for now. One reason questions about the privatization bill may carry something of a sting right now is that Koizumi has been criticized for giving the heave to two high-ranking bureaucrats who oppose it:

    Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s decision to remove two top bureaucrats who are vocal opponents of his postal services privatization plan has met with criticism from within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Friday, with party members accusing Koizumi of acting like a tyrant.

    Koizumi, according to the sources, instructed Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Taro Aso to remove Hiroshi Matsui, the ministry’s vice minister for policy coordination, and Hideo Shimizu, director of the postal services policy planning bureau.

    Another source revealed an incident in winter that foreshadowed the two officials’ removal.

    “Mr. Matsui, Mr. Shimizu, I’m counting on you both,” Koizumi told the two men, who were summoned to the Prime Minister’s Office on Feb. 18. The prime minister’s exhortation, while sounding like a request for cooperation, was actually a warning that meant “Don’t dare stand in my way, you guys,” according to an interpretation by a government source.

    One LDP member, a former official in the erstwhile Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, which is now part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, reacted strongly: “This is a reign of terror. Does anybody have the right to throw people out because they weren’t 100 percent behind their master?”

    Well, it’s true that one doesn’t want heads of state in democratic countries ramming through their pet little proposals against the will of the people. But let’s not forget that these two are bureaucrats–that is, appointees, and not elected officials. Enforcing accountability on bureaucrats in the various federal ministries and their entourage of semi-public corporations has been one of the biggest problems for reform-minded politicians, let alone their long-suffering constituents.

    Whether and how to privatize Japan Post have been debated up, down, around, and through by this point. It doesn’t seem unreasonable that, now that a proposal has gelled, two administrators who are staunchly against it should be told that there’s no role for them in implementing it. I understand the questions about morale, but I don’t think it’s possible to take control of a set of wide-ranging and lucrative services away from an organization without making it feel somewhat unloved.

    By the way, don’t feel too sorry for the two demoted men:

    Matsui is expected to remain a vice ministerial-level official, with his former post allocated to Kozo Takahara, vice minister for policy coordination and director of the international affairs department.

    Meanwhile, Shimizu will be demoted to director general for policy planning in charge of communications. Yasuo Suzuki, director general for policy planning, will take over the post.

    This will not help either’s career, of course, but given the power of bureaucrats in Japan–still, for all the noises about reform–both of them have decades of connections and influence to capitalize on.