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    Japan Post bill almost ready

    Posted by Sean at 01:00, April 2nd, 2005

    Japan Post reform is still in process. Yesterday morning, the big news was of PM Koizumi’s growing impatience with the reform panel:

    The outline is based on a plan to place the postal services under a holding company in April 2007 after dividing them into four units–mail delivery, counter services, postal banking, and postal insurance.

    Government shares in the postal bank and the postal insurance firm would be sold by the end of March 2017.

    The outline also includes the following points to gain LDP support in the negotiations:

    — The related bills will spell out that post offices will be established around the country to provide nationwide services and a ministerial ordinance will be issued to require post offices in remote areas not to close.

    — To maintain financial services, the postal bank and the postal insurance firm will be required to contract the counter services firm as their agent for the time being as a condition for receiving a license. After 2017, a fund to cover deficits in provincial areas will be established.

    — A system will be introduced to select postmasters for special post offices.

    How to divide up Japan Post’s current services has been one of the major remaining sticking points. The proposal is supposed to be submitted to the LDP on Monday.

    Japan’s spy satellite development proves existence of black holes

    Posted by Sean at 22:23, March 27th, 2005

    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.

    Debate over SDF role continues

    Posted by Sean at 07:26, March 24th, 2005

    A Diet panel (lower house) on the constitution has recommended that the SDF be permitted to participate in collective self-defense (with Japan’s allies). How that can be permitted given the constitution remains the subject of debate:

    With regard to the exercise of the right to collective self-defense, however, the panel’s opinions were mixed, with some saying the legal basis for such use should be provided in the Constitution, while others argued such use could be permitted by changing the interpretation of the current Constitution.

    In any case, the LDP’s coalition partner, the Shin-Komeito, is blocking the introduction of a bill that would change legislation governing the SDF. The bill, if passed, would have made deployments abroad regular duties (as opposed to just extraordinary measures in exigencies) for the SDF.

    What is going ahead is the plan to make SDF equipment production and management better:

    The Defense Agency has decided to establish multifunctional teams to ensure uniform control of some Self-Defense Forces equipment, such as next-generation, short-range surface-to-air missiles, from the research and development stage right through to disposal, agency officials said.

    Following private sector examples, the agency aims to streamline operations by organizing multifunctional teams for each type of equipment, bringing together needed personnel for each team from different divisions in the agency and the SDF as well as from the private sector.

    That part about lack of horizontal communication is typical of Japanese organizations. People often forget that the inefficient 70% of the economy that serves the domestic market is carried by the 30% that has to compete on international terms. If the SDF actually succeeds in restructuring to put the highest priority on getting results (which is not a given), it can only be a good thing.

    What the SDF is and is not allowed to do is of increasing importance not just because of the WOT but also because of Japan’s petition to become a permanent member of the UNSC. Kofi Annan has said that if the reforms that are put through involve expanding the number of permanent seats, two of the six new memberships will be reserved for Asia, of which “one would naturally go to Japan.” How natural it would be to have a permanent UNSC member that may not be permitted, under normal circumstances, to participate in collective defense is still a matter for discussion.

    Added on 25 March: The Yomiuri has a story this morning that itemizes the limitations on the SDF better than it did yesterday, for those who haven’t read them. When it calls these the recommendations of “the government,” though, I don’t know that that conveys what’s actually going on. This is an internal panel of LDP lower house Diet members. As the Asahi reported yesterday, the Shin-Komeito doesn’t seem to want to go quite this far right now, and that means that these recommendations may be held in abeyance for some time.

    Japan news leftovers

    Posted by Sean at 20:37, March 22nd, 2005

    I thought going to Kyushu to visit Atsushi would be a break from the news cycle. It was not. Saturday and Sunday, especially, were big days, so for anyone who hasn’t gotten the rundown:

    There aren’t many serious earthquakes in northern Kyushu, but there was one when I was there (go figure). We felt it at level 4 in Atsushi’s city–quite a lot of shaking, but nothing disturbed. The quake was centered just off Fukuoka, a city of about 2 million, where it registered a weak 6. There was an island with about 700 inhabitants, I think, that had bad damage. The houses were built into a hillside, so they slid on top of each other. The greater part of the population has had to be evacuated. There were also a few Fukuoka downtown buildings that had windows that broke and dropped out onto the street. A few water mains burst–things like that. Of course several hundred people were injured, though there was only one death. All things considered, the damage was minimal. There are still, however, lots of evacuees who can’t return to their houses.


    20 March was exactly ten years after the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system. Last year, NHK (I think it was NHK) ran a documentary that dramatized the network of rescue workers, civil engineers, police investigators, and chemical analysts that springs into action when something like this happens. This year being the tenth, the coverage largely consisted of short interviews with the wives of a few of the commuters who died. (There were 12 deaths out of thousands injured.) In most Japanese Buddhist sects, the tenth year after a death isn’t considered significant. Most have special rites on the seventh anniversary, and the focus on Sunday was on Western-style laying of wreaths. There was also a statement of apology from Aum Shinrikyo, which has renamed itself Aleph and changed leadership since conducting the attacks.


    Talks during Condoleezza Rice’s visit were focused mostly on the ban on US beef imports, the tiresome back-and-forth over which is going to turn all our brains to mush even if we never eat a morsel of the stuff again. The ban may be lifted…it may not be lifted…our two great nations cherish their close allegience but that’s not contingent on it’s being lifted…we’re considering lifting it…you said that before but you still haven’t lifted it. Et c., et c. Condoleezza Rice and Jun’ichiro Koizumi have the exact same hair, which made them look comically symmetrical in their poses together for the press. That’s about the most interesting thing that seems to have come out of her being here. It was certainly more interesting than the beef and rice jokes.

    If you want to find out what Rice said about non-cow issues, you’ll have to see the reports of her visit to Seoul after she left Tokyo. (She and President Roh agreed that the DPRK should return to the suspended six-party talks, for instance. Of course, South Korea has also imposed a ban on US beef imports, so it was a topic there, too.)


    Three crewmembers of a Japanese tugboat were released by their pirate captors yesterday. (Okay, that didn’t happen on Saturday or Sunday, but it’s a story I’ve been following.) The Asahi article has pretty much all the details that were being reported yesterday. Well, it leaves out the fact that the chief-engineer guy is gorgeous, but I assume that was a question of column-inch restrictions.


    There’s also been more about Japan Post reform and shifts in the SDF structure, but I’ve been busy since arriving back and haven’t really had a chance to look closely at what’s going on.

    Added at 22:20:

    Joel at Far Outliers posted about the anniversary of the subway attacks here, with fascinating information about the angles the media used when covering them at the time and, further, about whether Aum Shinrikyo’s nature and motives were adequately understood.

    Thank you for flying KM Air

    Posted by Sean at 03:13, March 18th, 2005

    I got my hair cut today, and just in time, too. It had grown to the point that I could feel it touching my ears. Hate that! I feel much better, though it’s still chilly enough that I felt kind of mentholated up there when I walked outside. It surprised me, since my hair guy had, as always, put styling wax into it. I would have thought that would be nice and heat-retaining. What is it that makes people who work in hair places, BTW, think that they’re doing a disservice if they send you back out into the great wide world without glopping something onto your head? I’ve been getting my hair cut by the same man for eight years; as he is well aware, there isn’t a strand longer than an inch or so when he’s finished. It’s not going to flop anywhere, for pity’s sake.

    It’s a three-day weekend, so I’m flying down to see Atushi tomorrow. I was all ready to gloat about what a risk-taking adventure type I am, since JAL was just warned by the Ministry of Land, Transportation, and Infrastructure that the only reason none of its string of mishaps has resulted in serious embarrassment or tragedy is that it’s been darned lucky. But check out Ghost of a Flea: he may be about to take a trip in an Airbus 310 (with EZ-Detach rudder and tailfin) on the same airline that had the frightening incident a few Sundays ago. I feel much less butch now.

    On the upside, in 12 hours, I will be in Kyushu with Atsushi, and in 24 hours, I will go to sleep smelling his hair. (I’m working on sort of a hair theme for the weekend.) I probably won’t post much, unless the Diet passes a resolution to have Japan Post privatized and the SDF deployed for combat abroad starting Sunday.

    Oh, yeah–almost forgot the reason I’m posting this (you may have noticed it’s not exactly heavy on content). The URL www.seorookie.net will start showing my new site this weekend; I will retain iwamatodjishi.com, but it will still take you to this MT page for another week or so before switching over to the new place. The design won’t change a whole lot; though, thanks to Chris as PowerBlogs, the subtle differences are improvements. This is probably also a good opportunity to thank publicly Christine and her crew at Verve Hosting, who will not have my inane questions to deal with after the end of this month but who have been unremittingly helpful over the past year. (Trust me–the flue is open, but I can be kind of slow on the uptake when it comes to tech stuff.)

    Japan, US reaffirm security partnership plot to take over world

    Posted by Sean at 14:41, February 20th, 2005

    This was the lead story on yesterday’s print edition of the morning Nikkei: “US and Japan agree on strategic goals for joint measures against terrorist threats to their regions.” The result of this meeting (in Washington last week) isn’t a surprise, or anything. There was, obviously, lots of hot air about peaceful solutions to problems in Korea and Taiwan and getting the DPRK to return to 6-party talks. Not that those things aren’t important, but general statements that democratization is a good thing that the world could use more of aren’t exactly revelatory. Two items that approached substantiveness:

    • acceleration of talks related to the roles of the Japan SDF and US Armed Forces, and a reevaluation of the structuring of US forces deployed in Japan

    • a strengthening of cooperation on missile defense

    Attendees included Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Nobutaka Machimura, and Japanese Defense Agency Chief Yoshinori Ono. Their unsurprising conclusion was that poor sources of information (the Japanese use 不透明性, which literally refers to “opacity” or “lack of transparency”) and instability made the DPRK and the Strait of Formosa the places to watch.

    If you’re in Japan, you might have seen the subtitled broadcasts from North Korean state television sputtering that recent changes in Japan’s defense policy are a cover for a plotted full-scale invasion. There are plenty of long-standing animosities to go around in this region, and the DPRK milks every one of them regularly–one of its favorites, of course, being the understandable lingering Korean resentment over the Japanese occupation. Just to make sure the other big East Asian player isn’t left out, we have the PRC trying to get the DPRK to return to the 6-party talks it huffily left last week. In the midst of all this, Japan knows it needs its partnership with the US, and as a proud American who loves Japan, I’m glad the ties are only getting stronger.

    We’re all gonna die! IV

    Posted by Sean at 11:21, February 15th, 2005

    Yesterday, Koizumi’s cabinet finalized its proposal (Japanese, English) to give the Self-Defense Force more leeway in defense. Specifically, if there’s a missile headed toward Japan, the proposal would allow the SDF to shoot the damned thing down without getting approval to mobilize from the Prime Minister.

    Perhaps since I’m a military strategist the way Madonna is an actress, this sort of news makes me say, “This is a new proposal? What the hell was the idea before?” From the looks of things, the idea before was that a missile attack would come with plenty of warning. The cabinet is now considering that it may not.

    There have been cases (as when our forces shot down an Iranian airliner) in which soldiers have misidentified aircraft, but the Prime Minister isn’t exactly in a position to help with that. Preventing those mistakes involves the segment of the command chain a lot closer to those who first sounded the alert. Of course, I assume the expense of anti-missile missiles, which the government can hardly afford to sling around like arrows, was also taken into account. Even in these times of tension in the region…well, it’s always tense, but a certain birthday boy has made things extra-special tense of late…one feels safe in presuming that the SDF is not going to get too trigger happy.

    Added at 22:40: I’m not a military strategist or historian, apparently. The Iranian Airbus thing was bothering me–I associated it with high school, which for me ended the year before the Gulf War, so I did what I should have done initially and looked it up. I’ve fixed it above, but, you know, for any persnickety people who noticed….

    Rising sun

    Posted by Sean at 19:05, February 10th, 2005

    Ghost of a Flea has yet another Kylie picture up, but what caught my attention even more was a link to this site, which gives animated instructions for Westerners about to go to Japan to work. You have a sequence about navigating the office, one about visiting people at home, and one about going out drinking with colleagues. If you can stand to watch the Beavis and Butthead-ish characters (I mean, they don’t act like them, obviously, they’re just drawn like them), the information is pretty good. Telling points:

    • Like a lot of explanations of tricky Japanese ceremonial maneuvers for Westerners, the one for exchanging business cards on this site doesn’t tell you about the little parts that can get you in trouble–in this case, how you’re supposed to hold two at one time. I mean, obviously, there’s nothing difficult about it physically, but if you’ve just received your visitor’s card, is there a certain set of fingers you’re supposed to hold it between while proffering yours? If you get it wrong, you could make it hard for your visitor to take your card from you. Or someone could get a nasty paper cut. Theoretically speaking, you understand.
    • The house depicted in the home entertainment section is of the traditional Japanese kind with shutter-type front door, tatami rooms, side garden with stone lantern, and tokonoma (display alcove). What do the animators put right next to the front door to let you know you’re looking at the exterior of a realistic Japanese house? A beer vending machine.
    • The proprietress of the bar in the sequence about drinking looks like Barbara Hale.
    • The writer of the text keeps saying that Japan doesn’t differentiate between right and wrong. I think that’s a bad way to put an excellent point. What she’s talking about is the idea that Japan believes in extremes of behavior rather than moderation. In the West (sweeping generalization alert!), we like to get a sense of people’s real, essential personalities even in formal circumstances. If you know someone who acts one way at work and 180 degrees the opposite way outside it, you regard him as untrustworthy. In Japan, the opposite is true. You defer utterly to the group and the demands of ceremony at work, and then you let off all the resulting stress by being sloppily demonstrative while getting drunk later. Being too honest about your actual opinions in formal circumstances makes you look, paradoxically, untrustworthy–because what you need to be trusted to do is cooperate, and you may not attend to other people’s needs if you’re busy articulating your own.
    • On the same token, those of us who were ruthlessly schooled in most of these little rules are often told, after we arrive in Japan, “You sound like an old man–no one acts like that anymore!” Years ago, a friend of mine presented a gift of sweets to her middle-aged host mother and that lady’s friends with the respectful words, “お口に合うかどうか分かりませんが” (o-kuchi ni au ka dou ka wakarimasen ga: “I’m not sure this will [be good enough to] suit your exalted palate, but [please take it]”). The assembled ladies were silent for a few beats and then burst out laughing. “You’re talking as if you were about to be interviewed! We’d be more likely to say, ‘Hey, I think you’ll like this!'” True, meeting a group of elder friends for lunch isn’t the same as doing a presentation at a prospective client’s place, but friends who are around my age and older are always complaining when we get together that they’ve had to drop a lot of the etiquette with which they were brought up. The last half-decade’s worth of hires at work don’t understand them.
    • I think my favorite sequence is when the guy’s in the bathroom and there’s an excursus on windchimes in the middle of the directions for using the Asian-style toilet. What might have been more useful was a warning that there may not be soap or a guest towel at the hand-sink, so you need to be satisfied with splashing your hands very thoroughly and having a handkerchief in your pocket to dry them on. I can’t imagine how they missed that, since it’s one of the first things people express shock over on arriving here. If you want to give yourself a fighting chance of avoiding nasty germs, you can get alcohol-soaked wet handwipes at any convenience store. Not soap and hot water with a clean, soft towel to follow, but better than nothing.

    Oh, and while we’re on this topic, I would just like to point out that in the months that Simon World has generously linked my little pieces on Japan Post privatization, Social Insurance reform, and Japanese views of the WOT, the link that has gotten me the most traffic from his site is my post about a musical toilet. I’m pretty sure there’s a life lesson there, but I’d prefer not to know what it is.

    Added on 12 February: And, as Atushi just reminded me, I forgot to congratulate Japan on its Founding Day. But, congratulations on Founding Day, Japan!

    Louder than bombs

    Posted by Sean at 01:51, February 10th, 2005

    Having seen it first from Japanese sources, I was kind of surprised at the wording of the English wire reports on the DPRK’s huffy departure from 6-way talks on its nuclear programs:

    The United States has assumed since the mid-1990s that North Korean is able to make nuclear weapons, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday, playing down a dramatic announcement from Pyongyang.

    “Playing down”? “Dramatic”? I mean, sure, it’s newsworthy when high officials in a dictatorship have a fit of pique and storm out of a meeting, but these six-way talks have been rocky for months, and–maybe because its test missiles are fired directly over our heads–here in Japan, we’ve pretty much taken it as a given that North Korea has been developing nuclear weapons capability as quickly as it can. It’s hard to imagine who could have been caught off-guard by today’s announcement.

    Big plans for Japan Post

    Posted by Sean at 11:10, February 6th, 2005

    Plans for the privatization of Japan Post are moving right along–and in predictable directions. Heizo Takenaka announced some of his team’s new proposals last week; the Yomiuri has an English version:

    It also proposed requiring the companies that will manage postal savings and life insurance services to entrust their business to the network management company for a 10-year transition period from April 2007 to guarantee universal service.

    The government plans to restrict the new status to employees of the network management company and another company that will provide delivery services, including that for delivery of certified mail and court documents.

    Takenaka did not say whether the new status would be quasi-government employee status, which would ensure employees are subject to the same anticorruption rules as government employees. [I feel better already.–SRK]

    He said the government would consider a system to continue universal service, as a contribution to regional communities, of postal savings and life insurance after full privatization in 2017.

    In addition, the government would stipulate that there should be more than one post office in each municipality. It will pledge under the postal privatization bills to secure residents’ convenience and consider providing services in underpopulated areas.

    Mail pickup and delivery is a public service, so I can see why maintaining universal access is a theoretical worry. Practically speaking, though, is there any area to which private courier or freight services refuse to deliver?

    What the committee appears to be talking about is not just a one-line condition that the new corporation that handles the mails not restrict delivery by location. That bit about at least two post offices in every municipality, for example, is nice but arbitrary. If you’re familiar with rural areas, you can imagine some of the municipalities we may be talking about. Recall also that Japan is essentially one long volcanic range poked above the Pacific; there are twisty, hard-to-traverse mountain and ravine roads all over. The Kanto (Tokyo-Yokohama-Kawasaki) and Kansai (Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe) megalopolitan areas may house an unusually high proportion of the Japanese population, but the outlying areas are still outlying. I’m not aware of any regulation that says every municipality must have at least two rice-sellers or general stores, though you never know in Japan. Is it necessary (or wise) to be reforming Japan Post so that it maintains universal service by mimicking its current, drag-prone structure as much as possible–while piling on the number of corporations and rule-making bodies involved?

    Can’t wait to see what they come up with for the savings and insurance divisions!