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    Japan’s spy satellite development proves existence of black holes

    Japan’s spy satellite development program combines technological research, communications infrastructure, and procurement of components from international sources. It is, therefore, the perfect project to fall prey to just about every weakness in Japanese organizational behavior.

    You have a mishmash of government ministries, private corporations, and neither-here-nor-there public corporations in charge, which maximizes the number of people who can put claims on funds without being questioned too closely:

    About 5 billion yen that went into the development and manufacture of Japan’s first spy satellites was siphoned off by middlemen who added little value, sources said.

    The three independent institutions involved in the spy satellite procurement are the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) and the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT).

    The chartered corporation is the Japan Resources Observation System Organization (JAROS).

    The former Science and Technology Agency was in charge of the satellite and rocket. The former Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) was given authority over the satellite radar, and the former Posts and Telecommunications Ministry was in charge of data transmissions.

    Get it straight–there will be a quiz later.

    You have an initiative that sprang from ad hoc worries and that no one bothered to fit into an overall plan or mission:

    The Cabinet of then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi approved acquisition of a spy satellite in November 1998.

    The main catalyst for that move was North Korea’s launch in August 1998 of a Taepodong missile over the Japanese archipelago.

    You have the sub-contracting of work in chains that recede into the infinite distance, sometimes crossing in odd places:

    NEDO, for example, commissioned JAROS to do most of its work, such as radar design.

    And you have the involvement of the Mitsubishi conglomerate, which just cannot stop getting itself in trouble lately (and frequently in ways that result in fires and explosions at inopportune moments–just what you want in a satellite):

    The spy satellites were manufactured by Mitsubishi Electric Corp.

    Created ostensibly to provide guidance, the process actually led to some money being used to pay the difference in salaries for Mitsubishi Electric employees loaned out to the intermediaries, sources said.

    Further, sources said that those institutions did little of the actual oversight work.

    That Japanese link above, BTW, is to a story about soil pollution in Osaka by Mitsubishi Estate and Mitsubishi Materials for housing development; several executives are being investigated.

    Notice that there’s no mention of the Japan Defense Agency or the SDF anywhere in the article. Presumably, they’re the ones that are actually going to be using the satellites? Did they have a say in things? If not, why not? Then again, given the size of the crowd, maybe it’s just that no one noticed their absence.

    4 Responses to “Japan’s spy satellite development proves existence of black holes”

    1. Toren says:

      OTOH, Mitsubishi makes good escalators. One thing I noticed when I moved to Japan was how the escalators in the subways always (well, close enough) worked. Compare this to the BART system here in SF, where I’d guess 1/3 of the escalators are out of service at any one time.

      The more idiosyncratic Japanese business practices never cease being a source of amusement for me. Years ago when I was living in poverty in Tokyo, one advertising company apologized for having no more money in the budget to give me more rewriting work (I’m reminded of this as the campaign we were working on was for Mitsubishi Bank). However, they said brightly, we can take you out for dinner! And they did, to a French restaurant where the wine they ordered cost more than the sum total of everything they’d paid me to date.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      Yeah, and Tokyo-Mitsubishi is one of the few big banks to pay off the amount of bad debt officially assessed by the government, isn’t it? You don’t really hear bad things about Mitsubishi Trading or Mitsubishi Heavy Industry, either…unless I’ve missed them.

      And as long as the dinner kept you from starving, well, it beats earning the same amount of victuals through rewriting, huh?

    3. Toren says:

      Yes, I certainly appreciated the dinner. To give you an idea, I’m 6’3″ and weighed 190lbs when I moved to Japan. When I first returned to the USA about a year later, I weighed 165lbs. The bimbo gaijin diet!

      There is a charming addendum to the story. The president of the company arrived carrying two mysterious, obviously heavy bags. After dinner he handed them over to me and said, here, you take these. Once on the subway home I opened one up. Because of the weight, I has assumed they were books, probably comics, since he knew I was a manga reader. However, they turned out to be full of canned goods. It was late December and he had obviously gotten a load of oseibo gifts, and thoughtfully passed some along to the starving foreigner. So for the next couple of weeks I was in the bizarre position of being penniless, yet eating things like tinned Lobster Bisque from the Hotel New Otani.

      Just another wacky gaijin in Tokyo story….

    4. Sean Kinsell says:

      (Okay, for anyone who doesn’t know Japanese, when Toren describes himself as a bimbo gaijin, he does not mean that he was trading on his tall, bulky white-man studliness to keep the cash flowing in. 貧乏 (bimbou) means “poor.”)

      Interesting. You were clearly a part of the company’s in-group by that point, in a manner of speaking. In our company, most of the oseibo we get consist of beer and those single-serving jellied desserts with fruit in them. Bizarrely, you’ve now made me wonder, for the first time in almost a decade of working there, what we actually send out. (My department isn’t a primary outsourcer, so I’ve never had to worry about such things.)

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