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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.


    Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election

    Posted by Sean at 22:18, July 3rd, 2005

    One reason Atsushi had to come back this weekend was that yesterday was the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election.
    Voter turnout was 43.99%, down from 50.08% in the last Metro election four years ago.

    There were 127 slots up for grabs. The LDP lost three seats, and its coalition partner, the Shin-Komeito, gained two. (It’s a shame the on-line Nikkei doesn’t have the graphs that are in the dead-tree version, which illustrates everything very clearly.) The DPJ more than doubled its number of seats, going from 19 to 35. The Commies lost two. And then there were eight or so other seats divided among minor parties. Prime Minister Koizumi’s take, at least as delivered to LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe for release: “Given what we were up against, everyone did very well. The results are excellent. Very impressive.” DPJ Secretary General Tatsuo Kawabata: “We made a big leap in the direction of changing the administration.” He’s referring to which is the ruling coalition, of course.

    The reason people outside Tokyo care about the election is, of course, that the Metro Assembly is the second-most powerful elected body in Japan after the Diet. There are a lot of Tokyo voters, and how they cast their ballots can give an indication of where the national electorate might be heading in the next round of Diet races. Yesterday, the LDP needed to win as many seats as possible without relying too much on Koizumi’s name for support–he’s too controversial right now. Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara did step up and do a bunch of endorsements, smiling out from posters and leaflets everywhere. The DPJ’s strategy was to put up candidates in as many races as possible, and it obviously worked. However, the net number of seats the LDP lost was still very low, indicating that voters are not ready to stampede toward the opposition despite recent crises of confidence.


    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.


    SDF to buy unmanned spycraft from US

    Posted by Sean at 22:20, June 9th, 2005

    Sleeping too soundly? Get a load of the participial modifier that begins this Asahi article:

    Fearing a flare-up in North Korea at any time, the Defense Agency has abandoned plans for the domestic production of a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft and will purchase U.S.-made planes instead, sources said.

    They said the decision was made because strengthened surveillance of airspace around Japan has become a priority, given the uncertain situation on the Korean Peninsula.

    Analysts said it likely would have taken a decade for Japan to deploy a domestically produced unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The Pentagon operates several UAV versions, so deploying one that fits Defense Agency needs should be no problem, the sources said.

    The aircraft would be used not only for patrol and reconnaissance over Japanese airspace, but could also be used for intelligence gathering from North Korea-even while flying in Japan’s Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ), which establishes the boundaries for territorial airspace.

    A Defense Agency study team visited the United States in April for a first-hand look at what UAVs actually do. Members focused on high-altitude aircraft like the Global Hawk and Predator as well as the low-altitude Fire Scout and Eagle Eye.

    I don’t know that the DPRK is going to erupt at Japan any time soon–though the SDF should be able to predict better than I can. I do know (this is something I’ve remarked on before) that the feeling of living in Japan is completely different from that of living in the States. If you’re good at spatial relations, you know that map in your head that appears whenever you read the name of a country or think about the location of a city? When you’re in America, of course, the only close-by major countries are Mexico and Canada. Our closest enemy is Cuba, and it hasn’t exactly been making many belligerent noises lately.

    In Japan, you’re within spitting distance of the DPRK, one of the craziest regimes on the planet, which tests missiles by flying them over your head and has been known to sneak onto your shores and snatch your citizens. Moving westward, you also have China, the most populous country in the world, a rising economic competitor whose citizens alternate between gratefully taking jobs and consuming goods created by your enterprises, on the one hand, and demonstrating against you, on the other. It treats nearby democracy Taiwan as a renegade province. Even South Korea, the other democracy in the region, has bitter memories of being occupied by you within the last century and is not always amicable.

    It’s little wonder that everyday citizens don’t think too hard about world politics; you could drive yourself insane. I’m glad the SDF, whose job it is to deal with grim realities, is accelerating its plans, even if it means buying planes from foreigners.


    Dispute over natural gas deposits continues

    Posted by Sean at 06:28, June 6th, 2005

    The US-Japan cooperative missile defense program is moving forward:

    Speaking to reporters at a hotel in Singapore, Ono said the sea-based missile defense project would move from research to development, with the agency planning to request several billions of yen in fiscal 2006 for the first year’s development.

    Production will begin following a five-year development phase that ends in fiscal 2011, he said.

    Japan and the United States are jointly developing a large sea-based interceptor missile with a 53-centimeter diameter with a longer range that enables it to cover a wide area. The missile can distinguish a targeted missile from a decoy.

    The most interesting reason this is a good thing for Japan to be considering is buried near the end of the article:

    “Japan doesn’t consider China a threat, but Beijing’s defense spending is under wraps. A Chinese submarine intruded into Japanese waters and its marine survey and gas field development are provocative,” Ono said.

    The conflict over exploration for fossil fuels (especially a particular natural gas field) has been growing. Demand is growing in China’s expanding economy, and it’s always been high in Japan’s:

    Although the current standoff has not changed, it is very regrettable that the PRC has continued its project of developing the Shungyo Gas Fields near the center line [between China and Japan]. The Chinese side says that it expects to open the field for production as early as October. It will be a major problem if the rough sailing for negotiations and long-term developments turn out to be advantageous only for the PRC side. The PRC should first temporarily cease development of the Shungyo Gas Fields.

    From some on the PRC side, the following argument has recently emerged: there is a fault line between the gas fields and the center line through maritime territory on the Japanese side, so because it is partitioned by geological structure, Japanese natural resources will not be affected even if [China] begins production of gas and petroleum from Shungyo. But if that is the case, we would like to see it proved clearly with detailed data. After all, what both countries need to do is get an objective confirmation of what the true state of the available natural resources is. The sharing of accurate information will make cool-headed dialogue possible.

    The Japanese government has already deemed the move by the Chinese to develop the gas fields a “possible infringement on our rights.” It’s not surprising everyone is so worked up: estimates are that there are 7 trillion cubic feet of gas under there, and (as the Nikkei editorial above implies) it is not certain that the fault line actually partitions the reservoirs into distinct pockets. The BBC has a simple surface map that gives at least a basic idea where we’re talking about.

    No one is predicting at this point that China and Japan are in danger of full-scale war over natural resources. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember, as accusations about history books and shrine visits fly around, that there are more substantive things under dispute.


    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.