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    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.

    Blasted with both barrels

    Posted by Sean at 04:42, June 27th, 2005

    Apparently, the du Toits looked across their dining room table at each other this past week and said: “You know, darling, people are really stupid sometimes. More Yorkshire pudding?” “They certainly are. Wish they’d knock it off. And no thanks, I’m full.” Their posts come at it from different angles, but they’re essentially on the same topic: critical thinking.

    By that I mean the good kind: questioning and investigating not only the information presented to you but also your own assumptions. It’s necessary to specify that, because what’s often referred to as “critical thinking” nowadays seems to consist of little more than the ability to write a five-paragraph essay that’s consistent within its own hermetically-sealed logical framework. (I’m hardly the first person to say this, but that’s my main gripe with many libertarians: their arguments have the internal purity of rock crystal but are useless for a country of 300 million strong-minded people who all have to live with each other.) Anyway, good reads both.


    Posted by Sean at 05:35, June 26th, 2005

    Oh, I think I’ve forgotten to mention this:

    The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry says it has a slush fund of 31 million yen amassed from setting aside some research expenses to be paid to an affiliate organization.

    Vice Minister Hideji Sugiyama also said at a press conference Thursday that Taizo Nakatomi, former head of the planning office at the minister’s secretariat, misappropriated part of the fund for his private stock transactions.

    Nakatomi, 48, was dismissed on June 6.

    The ministry had withheld information related to the slush fund because investigators asked the ministry to keep it confidential.

    This was the topic of the Nikkei‘s main editorial yesterday morning:

    Another former official at METI has just recently been charged with insider trading, after all. If we add this new slush fund problem, is it not apparent that there’s an institutional lack of vigilance that doesn’t end with just one individual? Minister of ETI Nakagawa has resolved to establish an investigative committee made up of outside lawyers and other experts; what he must go on to do is to make sure the facts of ministry doings are brought to light and then cut out the rot.

    Do the problems really stop with METI? Or do the same problems exist in other Kasumigaseki ministries and government bodies? The issue cannot be settled by targeting the one person at one ministry involved in this particular instance of malfeasance; it is necessary to make the flow of money through the entire government thoroughly transparent, including that involved in relationships among federal ministries and semi-governmental corporations.

    I used “cut out the rot” because that’s the way we’d usually put it in English. For anyone who’s interested, though, the more evocative Japanese metaphor in the original is 膿を出し切る (umi wo dashikiru: “drain all the pus”). Whatever we’re calling the infection, obviously, there’s a reason the questions at the beginning of that last paragraph are loaded, and everyone in Japan knows it. That doesn’t mean the government’s moves toward transparency aren’t working–the reason we’re discussing these cases is that they’ve been exposed, after all–but they are working slowly.

    Still life with petroleum and area rug

    Posted by Sean at 04:32, June 26th, 2005

    Machiruda, who does a better job of paying close attention to the China-Japan competition for natural resources than I do, links to a Financial Times series on China’s energy ambitions. Good reading, even if the formatting is clunky to negotiate. An article that’s not specifically related to fossil fuel procurement is on page 7: “Chinese learn to talk contracts, not contacts.” As you probably figured from that headline, it’s about how Chinese businessmen are adapting to the Western model of contractual obligation rather than cronyism.

    On a different note, Machiruda also went to Nikko earlier this month and posts a photograph of one of the shrine entrances. It’s very elaborate, and reminds me of something I’ve always thought was a shame. When you mention “Japanese architecture” or “Japanese furnishings,” Westerners tend to picture, you know, like, Ikea with rice paper. Of course, that’s not inaccurate, especially nowadays, with the mass-produced buildings and furniture that are artifacts of Japan’s economic efflorescence after the war. Unstained wood, rice paper, and bamboo; low-lying pieces of furniture that seem to hover horizontally over the floor; austere lack of detailing–those are all elements that are genuinely traditional.

    But Japan has its rococo strain, too–a bequest of the Momoyama Era. People are often surprised at that, because it’s not the “Japanese aesthetic” that influences Western designers. You also don’t see much complicated design or bright color in contemporary Japanese houses, with the exception of red lacquer. Rooms are small here, and colorful patterns can get claustrophobic. The tendency to shove brightly-colored cartoon animals, giant lit-up signs, and ornately fugly tile patterns (the station in my beloved Shibuya has at its south exit one of the worst offenders I’ve ever seen, but it has plenty of competition) in our faces outdoors seems to be the modern outlet for the Japanese instinct for lavishness. The combination of that garish overlighting and obnoxious vanity-project architecture outdoors means that it can make the nondescript blandness of the average Tokyo interior something of a relief.

    But only something of. We need a new rug in the living room, and I told Atsushi that I was thinking of something in maybe navy blue or wine red. I figured this would go over well: he’s very conservative about his colors. (I also figured the red might be useful for when our dinner guests have had a few.) But his reply was, “Hmm. Won’t that make the room too dark?” At this point, I laughed. It wasn’t nice, but I couldn’t help it. I was like, “Dearest, we have beige vinyl walls, beige curtains, blond wood flooring, and white woodwork. Put a mesh bag of dodge balls in the corner and this could be a nursery school gymnasium. There is no way we could make this place too dark unless we unscrewed all the light bulbs.”

    Wow. Was I making a point somewhere? China’s mad for fossil fuels, it’s a shame Japanese rococo isn’t better known, and I’m going to have to wear Atsushi down to get a rug that isn’t beige into the house. Yeah. Hope everyone’s having a good weekend.

    Nakasone’s repellant pragmatism about the Yasukuni Shrine

    Posted by Sean at 01:52, June 26th, 2005

    Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, whom fellow Reagan fans will remember, weighed in on the Yasukuni Shrine issue this morning:

    Speaking on a Fuji Television program on the morning of 26 June, former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone emphatically voiced his opposition to the construction of a secular facility to commemorate Japan’s war dead in place of the Yasukuni Shrine: “I’ve been against it all along. We absolutely need to avoid letting the Yasukuni Shrine, where those who died for our country are honored, be abandoned.”

    Of Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi’s visits to the shrine, he indicated that “[At this point] they’re not in the best interest of the nation. If the Class A war criminals cannot be enshrined separately, I think he should leave off visiting.” On the topic of the Tokyo Tribunals, he stated, “I don’t concede [that they were just]. Not in the least do I believe that those convicted of Class A war crimes were criminals.”

    Well, that’s unequivocal. Of course, context would help. (I wasn’t watching the show.) The belief that many were imprisoned or executed simply for losing the war is understandable in some cases. However, “some cases” does not include those involved in orchestrating a war that included the Rape of Nanking and the comfort women system, which is what we’re talking about when we use the bland designation “Class A war crimes.” And considering what used to happen to the vanquished in less enlightened times, the punishments meted out to the Germans and Japanese were relatively mild.

    Coming around again

    Posted by Sean at 05:56, June 24th, 2005

    For those who, like me, check every now and then but haven’t checked in the last week or so, Alice and Connie are both back blogging. Cool!

    We’re all renters now

    Posted by Sean at 20:05, June 23rd, 2005

    Damn. So that’s how this ends.

    “I have to look out for the city as a whole, not just a few people,” says Mayor Ernest Hewett, who vacillates between “feeling the residents’ pain” and disparaging the neighborhood, which houses a waste water treatment plant. “People were running from the Fort Trumbull area two or three years ago because of the smell. No one would actually buy a house in the Fort Trumbull area.”

    Yet that’s just what Susette Kelo and her husband did in 1997. Not far from Wilhelmina Dery’s place, they purchased a delightful pink two-bedroom house on the southeast corner of East Street, that boulevard of broken dreams with a dangerously insufficient radii. Kelo enjoys a view as lively and varied as this traditionally immigrant neighborhood once was, with its auto shops, corner store, factory, café, construction companies, and social club. (As the government lawyers point out, such a mixed-use neighborhood no longer conforms to the city’s code and therefore is truly a thing of the past.) In one direction, she can watch ferry boats head to Martha’s Vineyard and Block Island. In other directions, she can gaze at petroleum tanks, the stacks of a factory, sailboats parked in a marina, and even the tip of Long Island. The earth-tone-and-glass Pfizer complex is also in view. From her back porch, she takes in the roof tops and thick green foliage of New London.

    Kelo arrived home the day before Thanksgiving in 2000 and saw something else: eminent domain paperwork stuck to her door. It gave her until March 2001 to leave the home she loves behind. In the meantime, it demanded she pay rent of $500 a month (in Connecticut, the government technically owns the property once they serve eminent domain papers). The lawsuit, which bears her name, is holding off her eviction for now. But if she loses, she’ll be a victim whose dreams have been paved over by progress, government style, in which the rights of citizens to their homes are trumped by the pressing need for increased corner radii.

    Read the reasoning behind the New London city government’s move to confiscate the Kelos’ property. You’ll no longer wonder why some people snap and become loony libertarians.

    Added on a tea break: I think I’ve snapped and become a loony libertarian. You know, my parents rented a very small townhouse the whole time I was growing up. We lived comfortably, but our means were straitened.

    By saving and planning, they were able to buy a pretty spacious house a few miles outside of town. It was solid and had an acre or two of property with it, but it had been abandoned by tax evaders and not tended to for a few years. In the interim, it had also been broken into by pranksters who spraypainted the place and started a fire in one of the showers and dumped things on the carpets–the sort of non-structural damage that just needs a lot of sweat equity. Nine years of sweat equity later, the place is very nice, filled with furniture my father built (his hobby) in the garage, and well-maintained. So, having grown up in a family that was rising into the middle class, I feel a special sadness and anger in knowing that the door has been opened for a lot of people’s fixer-uppers to be treated as, effectively, single-unit public housing.

    Of course, if you’re a random American, the probability that your property will happen to catch the covetous eye of a “development”-minded municipal official is likely to remain low, no matter how bad the orgy of confiscation that’s almost certainly coming actually gets. But that’s just statistics. Once you’re living in a state in which every county has decided to commandeer just a few homeowners’ properties for some cockamamie plan or other, you’re not likely to be motivated to fix up a usable but ramshackle old area house, especially if you’re in a modest income bracket and will be doing most of the work yourself and on a limited budget. It’s neighborhoods of people who aren’t rich or influential that tend to get hit with these things, and those who live in them know it.


    Posted by Sean at 09:59, June 23rd, 2005

    When I was in high school in 1989, there was a brouhaha over flag burning. I wrote an indignant letter to the local newspaper supporting the ban–or rather, the amendment that would make a ban possible, which I think is what we’re actually talking about. Of course, I was 17. I wouldn’t now.

    Backers argue the legislation is needed to protect a symbol of American democracy; foes warn it would infringe on First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech.

    I’m rabid about free speech, but I’m not so sure about the First Amendment argument, however well it may have worked in the past. Expression usually involves gestures of creation: you make words or you make pictures (if you hold with Camille Paglia’s definition of images as pagan speech). In making it possible to legislate against flag burning, no one is limiting your ability to shout, “Death to America!” or what have you, if that’s what you think needs to be said.

    Be that as it may, let’s have a sense of proportion here. It is perfectly possible to shun people who injure the flag, or to point out that their ability to criticize their own society so unequivocally is one of the things it represents. I understand the ire that a lot of people have stored up over the last few decades of PC run amok, but this is a bad outlet for it.

    Picture this

    Posted by Sean at 09:05, June 23rd, 2005

    Honeychile? Seriously, take yourself off to a remote Micronesian islet already:

    Former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey who came out, announced he had an extramarital affair, and resigned from office may be gone from the state capitol but he’s not about to be forgotten.

    A life-sized portrait of McGreevey will hang in the governor’s office in Trenton. The official portrait was completed this week.

    McGreevey sat for the painting, done at a cost to taxpayers of about $25,000, after he left office. It was done by Chen Yanning who has painted portraits of Christie Whitman and Queen Elizabeth II.

    Details of the ceremony to unveil the painting have not been finalized.

    Last August at a hastily arranged news conference McGreevey announced “I am a manipulative whore.”

    I edited that last sentence for clarity.

    Maintaining the 和

    Posted by Sean at 09:12, June 22nd, 2005

    It’s been a soundbite kind of day here in Japan. From Shinzo Abe, the LDP’s acting General Secretary:

    Of China-Japan relations, Abe, addressing a press conference, stated, “It is necessary for Japan to engage in a good deal of humble consideration, but we must also be able to count on China to make efforts [to change] structural problems of its own, such as it’s anti-Japanese educational system.” About Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi’s pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine, he said, “His behavior is perfectly proper for a leader of the nation.”

    I’m not sure, but I think there’s a pun there: 一国 refers to “ultra-nationalists” as well as “the whole country,” doesn’t it?

    Speaking of Koizumi and the Yasukuni Shrine, as one so often does these days, I’ve seen nothing to indicate that Katsuya Okada did, in fact, put the screws in on that topic today. And why would he? There were more important criticisms to level, such as, “Dude, you were so totally schnockered at the meeting the other day–DON’T. EVEN.”

    At a meeting of the lower house Audits Committee [Literally this would be the “Book Settling Operations and Audits Committee,” and if anyone has any idea how the hell we’re supposed to translate that one, I’d love to hear.–SRK] on 22 June, the Prime Minister and DPJ leader Katsuya Okada sparred energetically.

    In his first response [to questioning], Koizumi disputed [the claims about him]: “I hadn’t drunk so much as a drop. Is it proper to go around making these ridiculous accusations without any confirmation?” Okada retorted, “We tried to get a confirmation through the Operations Committee, but the LDP issued no response [to our inquiries].” The Prime Minister refused to concede: “So with no confirmation, you went ahead and submitted a motion to have me censured?”

    Just another day running the government of the most mature democracy in the world’s most populous region.

    The Yasukuni Shrine has not been neglected, though:

    Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi spoke to reporters about Health, Labour, and Welfare official Masahiro Morioka’s declaration that he had doubts that the Tokyo tribunals [after WWII] had been just. Indicating that he perceived Morioka’s statements as inappropriate, he said, “I’d like to you bear in mind that this was the viewpoint of a single official.” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda also emphasized at a press conference that “while (we can debate over) the widely-harbored questions about whether it is appropriate for the victors to pass judgment on the vanquished, the fact remains that the government accepted the judgments handed down, and so we have no standing to register dissent.”

    Morioka, speaking at a meeting the same day, stated, “Japan implemented its war operations in compliance with international laws governing wartime conduct; that aspect should not have been subject to [further trial and] judgment. It is a mistake to say that the victors only were upright and that the losers were [entirely] in the wrong.”

    Banal observation: If government officials didn’t have the word appropriate at their disposal, they’d never be able to open their mouths lest some actual value judgment slip out.

    By the way, the word I’ve translated as “victor” here is one I very much like, as you might imagine: 戦勝者 (senshousha: “war/battle” + “win” + “person”).