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    Minor desires turned to major needs

    Posted by Sean at 23:05, August 30th, 2009

    Still busy, busy, busy…but of course I can’t ignore the bit of news from Japanese electoral politics today. The following is the Nikkei graphic:


    The blue band is the ruling coalition, headed by the LDP. The red band is the opposition, headed by the DPJ. Look very closely, and you’ll see that one is larger. Or you can just look at the numbers.

    It was, of course, predicted that the LDP was going to get spanked in today’s Diet elections, but those are some sorry numbers even so. Voter turnout was high, too. The Nikkei has started reporting what The Australian is saying about the DPJ win:

    Influential Australian daily The Australian prominently announced on the front-page on 31 August the DPJ’s “landslide victory,” and it declared this change of administrations “an event on par with the Meiji Restoration and Japan’s post-war recovery.”

    And I’m sure we’ll be hearing that from a lot of the non-Japanese press in the next week or so. Whether it’s true, though, I’m not so sure. Voters are understandably angry with the LDP leadership, but there’s a lot about the System that you can’t reach through elected officials. That’s true everywhere, of course–legislators come and go, but functionaries remain, and they tend to know how to defend their territory. But it’s especially true in Japan. And Japan is a huge, rich country, and despite the economic troubles of the last two decades, there are a lot of people whose interests are served by the status quo and who have surely already started laying plans to keep Yukio Hatoyama and his crew from spoiling the party.

    But I doubt all the pressure against reform will come from recalcitrant old-timers. Hatoyama used Barack Obama’s “Change” mantra to fuel his campaign, and he’s likely to discover, as Obama has, that issues such as national defense and social welfare look very different when you actually have to govern. The Australian piece, according to the Nikkei, speculates that Japan will move toward more independence from the United States in diplomatic terms (while retaining its fast relationship with its Down Under neighbors, naturally). Hatoyama would undoubtedly like to, but if he tries, he’s likely to run smack up against obstacles called “China,” “Russia,” and “North Korea.” So what kind of change Japan will get is impossible to predict at this point, though it will be interesting to watch.

    One thing I can say: it’s nice to see the Japanese citizenry projecting boldness and vigor on the world stage. For the last twenty years, the Western media narratives have operated at two extremes: either the grin-and-bear-it Japanese were soldiering on through their economic malaise like helpless drones, or some sensationalizably freakish subculture (like hikikomori kids or people who hang out at manga/Internet cafes) represented the social meltdown that was just around the corner. At least, whatever the Hatoyama administration actually ends up doing, for the time being the story will rightly be one of voters using the democratic process to hold their underperforming leaders accountable.

    Added later: And of course I can’t post about a landslide victory and refer to Australia without yet again bringing in my favorite Olivia song (and see post title):

    Don’t expect much change in Japan, either

    Posted by Sean at 10:33, July 26th, 2009

    The DPJ has released a policy document to allay fears that, to put it bluntly, if it scores a majority in the Diet in next month’s elections it will screw things up because it doesn’t really know what it’s doing:

    The policy pamphlet will serve as the basis for Minshuto’s campaign manifesto for the election that many people expect will upset the balance of power.

    For example, Minshuto will no longer insist on the immediate end of the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean to assist in the U.S.-led fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.

    Minshuto has also backed down on its previous position concerning the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that Japan has with the United States concerning the U.S. presence in this country.

    Minshuto had long opposed the MSDF’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean.

    The policy pamphlet also calls for the implementation of inspections of cargo ships under economic sanctions against North Korea called for by a U.N. Security Council resolution.

    The move is aimed at deflecting criticism from Prime Minister Taro Aso who roundly attacked Minshuto for failing to deliberate a bill that would have allowed for such inspection of cargo ships. The lack of deliberation led to the bill being scrapped.

    To alleviate concerns among officials of the U.S. government that a Minshuto administration would drastically alter relations with the United States, the policy pamphlet says the party will propose a revision to the SOFA with the United States.

    In the draft document, Minshuto sought to start a comprehensive revision of the SOFA.

    Hmmm…shifting away from pie-in-the-sky positions when the prospect of actually taking the reins of government forces pragmatism on you. A memory is stirring…something familiar-sounding…no, lost it. Won’t come. The DPJ is also planning to push up subsidies for farm-family income to 2011. I’m not sure whether that represents an attempt to combat the LDP’s traditional dominance outside urban areas or just the pro-bucolicism sentimentality that seems to stir hearts in every industrialized democracy.

    Aso dissolves lower house

    Posted by Sean at 23:29, July 21st, 2009

    Prime Minister Taro Aso has now dissolved the lower house of the Diet:

    Official campaigning will kick off Aug. 18, but politicians were already behaving as if the race had begun to determine whether Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) would gain control of government.

    In an unusual move, Aso first felt compelled to apologize for his recent flip-flops on policy as well as internal discord within the party.

    “My careless statements caused distrust among the public and hurt trust in the political sector,” Aso said at a news conference Tuesday. “I extend my deep apology.”

    Earlier on Tuesday, Aso apologized at a meeting of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers for his statements and the woeful performance of LDP-backed candidates in recent local elections.

    Aso said at the news conference he would make three pledges to voters.

    He promised to achieve recovery in the domestic economy. He also vowed to assuage growing concerns about jobs, old age and child-rearing and pledged to comprehensively reform the taxation system, reduce the number of Diet members and central government bureaucrats and eliminate the controversial practice of amakudari.

    Bonus points to the Asahi translator for thinking to use assuage there. (“Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” was always one of my favorite hymns growing up, though the post-piety me can’t help thinking that was more due to Haydn’s rousing melody than to the text. Still, assuage is a cool word.)


    Posted by Sean at 12:32, July 16th, 2009

    Japan has a new organ transplant law, which recognizes brain death as death and could make younger donors possible:

    The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is set to begin discussing the criteria by which doctors would diagnose brain death in children under 15 under the revised Organ Transplant Law enacted Monday.

    The ministry also will examine how to confirm whether potential donors did or did not intend to donate their organs.

    The revised law has paved the way for children under 15 to become organ donors, which is prohibited under the current law enacted in 1997. A bill to revise the law passed at the Monday plenary session of the House of Councillors with 138 votes in favor of it and 82 opposed. Twenty lawmakers were absent or abstained.

    The existing criteria for recognizing brain death apply to people aged 6 and older. A health ministry research team of medical experts prepared a draft of criteria for children under the age of 6 in 2000.

    Not surprisingly, prominent supporters of the revised law include families of potential recipients:

    On June 23, Koki Sampo, from Aoba Ward, Yokohama, and his wife, Yuki, lost their 1-year-old son, Ikki, who had been suffering from a severe heart disorder. He died in the United States after undergoing heart transplant surgery there.

    Ikki was diagnosed as suffering idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy in April 2008, when he was just 6 weeks old.

    “My mind went into a blur the moment the doctor told me the name of the disease,” Yuki, 29, said.

    The couple decided to go to the United States after Ikki’s condition worsened at the end of the year and he suffered temporary heart and lung failure. The family arrived in the United States in April.

    Sampo said he was told several times by medical staff at the U.S. hospital that they should have come to the hospital much earlier, when Ikki’s condition was not as serious.

    Ikki was able to undergo transplant surgery in late May. However, his parents’ dream of being able to take their son back to Japan in a healthy condition did not materialize.

    Ikki’s funeral was held on July 3 in Yokohama. When Sampo, who returned to his job last week, heard the news of the revised Organ Transplant Law being enacted he said, “I hope this means there will be fewer patients and families who have to go through the same kind of sad experience as we did.”

    “I can’t understand why Japan, which has one of the world’s highest standards of medical care, is unable to make progress when it comes to organ transplants. Why did Diet deliberations on this bill take so long? My son wasn’t able to receive a transplant operation in this country, but I hope Japan will become a nation that can save the lives of as many people as possible–even just one life.”

    Opponents include families that have gone through the agony of deciding whether a loved one is brain-dead:

    Akemi Nakamura, 45, from Ota Ward, Tokyo, had a daughter who was declared brain dead by a doctor at the age of 2 years and 8 months. However, with the aid of an artificial respirator, she was able to live until her heart failed when she was 4. During that period, her hair and nails grew, and she grew more than 10 centimeters taller, Nakamura said.

    “My daughter continued to live [after being declared brain-dead]. It was only the form in which she lived that changed. Just to feel the warmth of her body filled me with so much love,” Nakamura said.

    The revised Organ Transplant Law allows people to become organ donors under the premise that people who are brain dead are legally deceased. To transplant organs from people who have been declared brain dead, in addition to a diagnosis of brain death from a doctor other criteria such as confirmation of respiratory cessation also have to be fulfilled.

    Family members of people judged to be brain dead also have a right to refuse the transplantation of their organs.

    However, Nakamura expressed concern. “The enactment of the revised Organ Transplant Law will make families like us who have been living happily feel anxious,” Nakamura said.

    Another woman’s daughter was a teenager who survived a traffic accident in a coma:

    Masako Ide, 60, serves on the board of an association of families of traffic accident victims. One of Ide’s daughters, a third-year high school student, was in a traffic accident on her way to school in 1990. She was immediately taken to a hospital but was declared brain dead 12 hours later. She died after her heart stopped four days later.

    “Urging victims’ family members, who are in a state of confusion following unexpected accidents involving their loved ones, to decide [if they agree to have the victims] be diagnosed as brain dead or agree to organ donations will further confuse families and force them to shoulder even more burdens,” Ide said. “Measures should be taken to improve the emergency medical system and pediatric care system.”

    It’s impossible to avoid pitting the concerns of those who will die without donated organs against those who could live longer if life support weren’t terminated in order to harvest their organs, but it can be (and has been) argued persuasively that the existing Organ Transplantation Law in Japan was extremely conservative and weighted against recipients:

    The enactment of the Organ Transplant Law [in 1997] was greatly anticipated by patients with no other means for survival than obtaining a transplant as well as those involved in the transplanting process. This new law was expected to have a major impact on transplanting in Japan, but its regulations turned out to be extremely stringent. The donations of organs by a brain dead donor is permitted only if “…the donor expressed in writing prior to death his/her intent to agree to donate his/her organs and agree to be submitted to an authorized brain death declarations, and his/her family members (spouse, parents, siblings, children, grandparents, grandchildren, and live-in family members) did not object to the donation.” In addition, the law states that “only persons 15 years and above can express an intent to donate.” This stipulation has greatly reduced the possibility of transplants to small children; heart transplants to small children have become impossible.

    There are other problems, of course. Japan is very rarely at the leading edge in medical treatments. It tends to let the U.S. and other countries with researchers willing to forge into unknown procedural and ethical territory make the gains (with the attendant instructive mistakes). And the caution means fewer transplants are performed, which encourages people to go elsewhere if they have the necessary resources. This article, to which I was first referred by a friend, is three years old, but I haven’t seen anything to indicate that the information doesn’t remain basically current:

    A survey of Japan’s overseas organ transplants, published by Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare shows that from 1984 to 2005, at least 522 Japanese people underwent organ transplant operations. Among these operations, 151 cases were conducted in 50 foreign medical institutes, of which 34 were carried out in China—accounting for 75 percent of the total.

    According to Japanese media, the number of Japanese patients accepting organ transplants in other Asian countries has notably increased in recent years. A Tokyo doctor who treated nine patients who came back from China with new kidneys complained, “The Chinese hospitals didn’t provide any donor information, nor did they provide the patients with usage of immunizing agents.” He pointed out that four out of the nine patients died within two years of the operation. “The survival rate after organ transplants in China is terrible compared to that in Japan.”

    These incidents have triggered another round of debates in Japanese medical circles over the human rights and ethical issues related to organ transplants. Related medical associations have forbidden doctors from getting involved in the foreign organ transplant trade. Debate has also started in Japan over modifications to laws related to organ transplants first implemented in 1997.

    So getting your transplant in Japan is ideal, assuming you can actually get an organ. It’s not hard to see why Japanese seem to have been flouting the PRC ban on selling organs to foreigners.

    The Japanese patients spent an average of about 595,000 yuan (US$87,000) each for their operations at an unidentified hospital in Guangzhou, capital of southern China’s Guangdong Province, the report said. The patients received treatment in the hospital for up to 20 days, the report said.

    The money covered fees to the hospital and doctors as well as traveling and accommodation costs in China, according to the news agency.

    Some patients were admitted to hospital under Chinese names as requested by the hospital, Kyoto said. Most of the organs they received were probably from executed prisoners, the report said.

    The Japanese official denied it was organ trade as none of the patients had paid their organ donors and no introduction charges were paid.

    The report added that no Japanese had had such surgery since the Beijing Olympics last August because of “international pressure.”

    China banned the trade in human organs in May 2007, and prescribed that foreigners were not allowed organ transplants in China to protect limited resources.

    China is the world’s second-largest transplant nation after the United States, with about 5,000 operations performed in the country each year.

    Even in the United States, waiting for organs is a big problem, of course, but donors might not be as scarce as they seem if the process were reformed. Virginia Postrel had a piece in The Atlantic last week specifically about kidneys:

    For those who survive long enough to get transplants, the wait routinely lasts years. The odds are particularly bad in large cities. Take the nation’s largest transplant center, the University of California, San Francisco. In 2008, its surgeons did an impressive 347 kidney transplants, including 231 with organs from deceased donors. But 5,271 people are on UCSF’s waiting list—meaning that, relying entirely on deceased donors, they would expect to wait an average of almost 23 years. If, like Steve Jobs, who recently got a liver transplant in Memphis, you can travel great distances on short notice, you can register all over the country. But few kidney patients are that flexible. They wait, they get sicker, and, too often, they die.

    Outlawing payments to donors is ostensibly a way to keep the system fair, giving rich and poor an equally lousy chance of getting a kidney. But wealthier people can already more easily register at distant centers with short lists. They’re also more likely to have friends and relatives who can afford the nonmedical expenses that living donation often entails, including time off from work, child care, hotel rooms, or cross-country travel. (It is legal for recipients or third parties to pay such expenses, but, unlike medical costs, they are not covered by insurance.)

    Patients with enough money and the right networks have yet another option. They can go abroad, to countries where the authorities sanction or ignore payments to living donors. That’s how Henry David got his new kidney.

    Virginia discusses donor pairing and chaining in ways that don’t require new legislation but do present practical challenges. The possibility of paying donors for organs may make the gesture seem less saintly, she writes, but it would provide real incentives in line with the transfer of value involved.

    Are you sure / You wanna hear more?

    Posted by Sean at 11:21, July 16th, 2009

    Great. The ore-ore scam is back, according to the Yomiuri:

    The monthly average of all remittance-related fraud this year has been 92 cases. Should such frauds continue at the same rate this month, July’s figure would be about 150–about 60 percent higher than the monthly average so far this year.

    Notable is the increase in the number of “It’s me calling” scams, in which criminals deceive elderly people by pretending to be a relative and asking them to remit money, with explanations such as “I’ve lost money on the stock exchange.”

    Such methods are believed to be similar to those mainly used around 2003, techniques that criminals have used less frequently in recent years.

    Members of criminal groups who were arrested around that time and had been serving prison terms have now been released. The MPD is strengthening its measures to tackle this kind of crime as it believes the same groups could be back in operation.

    According to the MPD, 552 remittance frauds were committed in the first six months of this year–1,909 fewer cases than in the first half of 2008.

    Criminals cheated victims out of about 869 million yen in the first half of 2009–again a sharp decline of about 2.91 billion yen from the same period last year, the MPD said.

    That makes it hard to tell whether this is a new trend emerging, though the part about those convicted years ago being out of prison now isn’t exactly comforting.


    Posted by Sean at 13:44, July 14th, 2009

    The tsuyu rainy season is ending and high summer beginning in Japan, and Atsushi as always has sent me a few pictures of seasonal flowers to keep me attuned to the changes. We used to go see them together when I was in Tokyo. This is a lotus from Sankeien Park in Yokohama (which is near the setting of the opening scene of Ringu, for those who know it.)

    lotus from atsushi

    Now that we’ve established an image of tranquility, we can move on to the restiveness at hand.

    For those who haven’t noticed, electoral politics in Japan are in the middle of a shake-up. The LDP got spanked hard in the Tokyo Metro Assembly election a weekend ago, and Prime Minister Taro Aso is finally calling the snap election people have been trying to press on him.

    They decided the election will be officially announced on Aug. 18.

    The prime minister, who wanted to dissolve the lower house this week, held discussions with senior officials of the ruling bloc to that end.

    However, the prime minister apparently was not able to push back strong demands from many ruling bloc members opposing an early dissolution.

    At a government-ruling bloc meeting held at the Prime Minister’s Office later, Aso apologized for the poor coalition result in Sunday’s Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election and expressed his wish to have important bills passed through the Diet.

    “I’m very sorry [about the result of the metropolitan election],” he said. “I want important bills, such as the bill to revise the Organ Transplant Law and the bill for implementing North Korea-related cargo inspections [to be passed by the Diet].”

    The prime minister said he would dissolve the lower house once he saw how the deliberations over these bills would go after the Democratic Party of Japan presented a no-confidence motion against the Cabinet.

    Naoto Kan, who’s been back as acting leader of the DPJ, is trying to play Sunday’s results up as not only disaffection with the LDP/Shin-Komeito but also newfound confidence in the DPJ:

    In the election Sunday, Minshuto added 20 seats to bring its total to 54 in the 127-seat assembly.

    The LDP lost 10 seats and ended up with 38, the lowest since the party was formed and only tied in the 1965 election. New Komeito took 23 for the coalition’s combined total that fell short of the majority.

    Minshuto’s victory also snapped the LDP’s 40-year streak of being the largest party in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly.

    “It’s a result of higher trust in Minshuto, beyond the Tokyo administration,” Naoto Kan, Minshuto’s acting president, said on an NHK TV program Sunday night.

    Maybe. The Japanese are certainly unhappy with much of the status quo, and they may see the DPJ (called in these articles by a transliteration of its Japanese name, 民主党 [minshutou]: “democratic party”) as genuinely having a better policy platform. I’m not really sure it goes quite that deep, though. That’s not because Japanese are especially ignorant about “the issues”; rather it’s because they accurately understand their system as one that requires equilibrium. The LDP just hasn’t had enough pushback, and with the post-Koizumi parade of milquetoast administrations, it itself no longer represents a force in the Diet that effectively pushes back against the bureaucrats. And the ever-accruing list of scandals—related to political contributions, bid-rigging, and consumer products—gives citizens much less reason to believe that tolerating wheeling and dealing as usual is worth it in exchange for stability.

    That said, it’s disingenuous to talk about Diet elections as if they were United States congressional elections. The LDP and DPJ have differences in their declared policy platforms, sure, but the legislature and cabinet are limited in their ability to put them into practice. That’s not because the bureaucrats “actually run everything,” as is sometimes reductively claimed (I’ve possibly said so myself). It’s because the Diet is just one competing power center among several, which do include the unelected officials in the federal ministries. It’s helpful to keep that in mind when reading things like the last sentence below, from a Mainichi editorial:

    Through the uncommon practice of making a pre-announcement of the House of Representatives’ dissolution, Aso probably wanted to claim his authority to dissolve the Lower House, with the aim of silencing calls within the LDP for him to step down. Surprisingly, however, such calls have not been tempered. Within the party, some are pressuring the prime minister to step down prior to the dissolution of the Lower House, while others who are not going as far as calling for the prime minister to be replaced are proposing a “separation of LDP president and prime minister.” Under this plan, the LDP president would be replaced so that the party can embark on the next general election with a new frontman, who can then be nominated for prime minister after the election if the ruling bloc wins.

    It feels inappropriate for the prime minister — the very person who initiated the dissolution of the Lower House in order to directly ask the public if they support him — to be replaced right after the election. The public has become distrustful of the irresponsibility of a party that has repeatedly replaced its leaders, as if changing its facade could somehow fool the public. Party members convinced that the election cannot be won with Aso at the top of the party would more easily earn the understanding and acceptance of the public if they withdrew from the LDP and formed a new party.

    The opposition bloc including the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) submitted a non-confidence motion against the Cabinet to the Lower House and a censure motion against the prime minister to the Upper House on Monday. For all practical purposes, the long election race has already begun. A benefit of having the general election in late August is the fact that voters will have the time to scrutinize the policies proposed by different parties.

    The various political parties should hasten to compose and announce their manifestos. Prime Minister Aso and the ruling bloc, who have continued to evade voters’ choices, must avoid any tricks and fight this election fair and square with their policies. Hopefully, opposition parties will come up with concrete manifestos that detail what kind of changes we can hope to see in Japan with a change in government.

    There’s certainly more up for grabs than there would have been twenty years ago, and I have no doubt that DPJ legislators would (will) come into power expecting to be able to make substantive changes. But as with the Obama administration here in the U.S., it’s easier to embrace the idea of change than to put it into practice when the constraints of reality have to be factored in. Even Koizumi, who had the ideal balance of insider networks within the LDP and maverick cachet among fed-up voters, had to compromise again and again on reforms. The snap election promises the most entertaining campaign season since 2005, but it remains to be seen how the throw-the-bums-out energy might translate into long-term systemic shifts.

    Test anxiety

    Posted by Sean at 13:29, July 5th, 2009

    Claudia Rosett has a one-question quiz up about the DC reaction to the DPRK’s missile firings yesterday:

    The above phrase — “not helpful” — is from a U.S. State Department Spokesman, describing:

    a) A staffer who forgot to turn off the coffeepot

    b) A staffer who spelled Secretary of State Clinton’s first name with only one “l”

    c) A cloakroom attendant who lost the spokesman’s coat

    d) North Korea’s in-America’s-face test-firing, on July 4th, of yet another round of missiles, following illicit missile tests earlier this week, in May and in April (in that case a long-range rocket), plus a sanctions-busting nuclear test in May


    Posted by Sean at 17:53, July 4th, 2009

    Isn’t that sweet? Pyongyang has decided to put on a fireworks show to help us celebrate July 4th:

    On the afternoon of 4 July, the DPRK fired off four more ballistic missiles from the vicinity of Gidaeryeong, Gangwon-do, on the Sea of Japan in the country’s southeast. Taken together with the three fired during the morning hours, the total fired sequentially was seven. All missiles fell into the Sea of Japan, but none appeared to have reached Japanese territorial waters. The government of South Korea has captured evidence of preparation to fire the mid-range Nondong missile, the striking distance of which includes Japan, and Japan and Korea are on alert for still further firings.

    Added later: Transliteration of name of launch site corrected thanks to Amritas.

    Just chase the chance

    Posted by Sean at 09:37, July 4th, 2009

    Ann Althouse links to a story about British teens who are adopting that look Namie Amuro launched the prototype of a dozen years ago:

    Her mother insists that the style is about much more than just “dressing up”.

    She tells me she thinks that this is more about creative expression and that she admires her daughter for her interest.

    As we all walk out the house and down the street, people look.

    Brightly coloured hair, clothes and unusual make-up sets them apart from the crowds who are travelling into London on the underground.

    Eilish says that people often don’t want to sit next to them.

    Interesting that Mom there has to justify the style by relating it to her daughter’s “expressiveness.” In Japan, I think people are much more ready to accept that it’s about sheer decoration, using artifice to make yourself look more interesting in a way (this is important) that conforms to a group identity and has a specific external inspiration. It’s funny to hear the look discussed as rebellion in the BBC article because—this just shows that Tokyo is as removed from the rest of Japan as New York is from the rest of the States—the whole time I lived there, I spent most of my time in Shibuya. (My office was there for ten years, and I lived there for six.) To me, that’s just kind of how Japanese teenagers look. IIRC, Amuro-chan, who’s from Okinawa and played up her darker skin tone with fake-bakes, used contrasting bright eye make-up, but she’s not the origin of the white lipstick or punk-ish hair.


    Posted by Sean at 11:32, July 3rd, 2009

    The MOF has been looking into some of the projects Tokyo’s funding, and—surprise!—there’s waste:

    The Finance Ministry said Friday it found wasteful or inefficient spending for all 57 government projects it has examined, including 11 projects that simply are not needed.

    The 57 projects, worth 2.1 trillion yen, are among 73 projects at 14 ministries and agencies that the Finance Ministry is examining this fiscal year concerning budget allocations.

    “A thorough checking is done when the budget is formed, but some of the wasted spending turns up due to differences in value judgment,” Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano said at a news conference Friday. “We will thoroughly remove the obvious wasteful spending.”

    The ministry will ask the Defense Ministry to find a more efficient way to buy weapons and other equipment.

    Inefficient spending was found in all eight projects involving contracts with outside businesses.

    The Finance Ministry will order corrections to the Fisheries Agency’s project to research next-generation fishing boats because it may unfairly restrict entries of new business operators in the project.

    The ministry said its fiscal 2008 examination led to savings of 32.4 billion yen, which was carried over to the current fiscal year’s budget.

    In a weirdly complementary way, dead and non-existent people have been wasting their money, too…on donations to the DPJ (the major opposition party).

    Yukio Hatoyama, president of opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), on Tuesday acknowledged fabricated donations and apologized.

    Dead people and people who had never made political donations were listed as individual donors in his political fund reports, Hatoyama said.

    Hatoyama’s state-funded aide in charge of accounting used part of the opposition leader’s own money for the nonexistent donations. The aide did so to conceal his failure to collect donations from individuals, Hatoyama said.

    Hatoyama claimed the aide, who had served the politician for over 20 years, acted on his own without the knowledge of the Minshuto chief.

    Even so, Hatoyama’s political fund reports clearly contained false information about donations in violation of the Political Fund Control Law. Hatoyama bears a heavy responsibility for the wrongdoing.

    Between 4 million yen and 7 million yen of Hatoyama’s money was diverted every year for the misdeed.

    Although he is known for his immense personal wealth, Hatoyama’s annual income is less than 30 million yen, according to data published Tuesday.

    Hatoyama entrusted more than 10 million yen to his aide to cover his personal expenses. But was the money really Hatoyama’s? Or did it contain illegal donations whose sources had to be kept secret? There are many other questions that remain unanswered.

    Happily, there’s always a new dirty-money scandal to wick away attention from the current one. The latest, fortunately for the DPJ, involves the ruling coalition (as it usually does, of course, since it’s the LDP and its partners that have power to sell). Indeed, it involves a new cabinet member:

    The LDP’s local chapter in the 10th constituency in Chiba Prefecture did not report 200,000 yen donated by a local civil engineering company in its political funding report for fiscal 2005.

    While admitting the negligence in the financial records and that he had been personally acquainted with the company president, Hayashi denied personally receiving any funds.

    The problem was covered in the July 12 issue of the Sunday Mainichi weekly magazine, in which the 56-year-old president of the civil contractor revealed that he had been footing the accommodation and meal costs for Hayashi’s secretary under his own name, in a bid for Hayashi’s assistance in securing a Haneda Airport project contract.

    “It’s nothing but fraud. They just took money and gave us no contract,” said the president in another interview with the Mainichi Shimbun Thursday.

    JPY200000 is only about USD2000, so we’re not talking huge amounts of money here. I do like, however, the contractor’s bald-faced admission that he was trying to buy a government contract and froth of righteous indignation that it didn’t work.