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    Subway trouble

    Posted by Sean at 22:25, July 12th, 2005

    This was great timing:

    About 1,000 people were stranded on a subway train for about 40 minutes late Monday night after it came to a standstill because its brakes developed trouble, its operator said Tuesday.

    At around 11:55 p.m., a 10-car train came to a halt between Kitasenju and Ayase stations on the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line after its emergency brakes activated, company officials said.

    One of the stranded passengers said the lights on the train went out after it came to a halt, and that the conductor failed to explain what had happened to the train for 30 minutes after it stopped.

    “It reminded me of terrorist attacks on the underground trains in London. Tokyo Metro should have explained what happened much earlier,” said the passenger, 44-year-old Akira Hirai.

    If it was a train running at 11:55 p.m., we all know what that means, don’t we? It means the average passenger BAL was a good, oh, 0.07-ish. Also, while the nights have been cool over the last week, I’m guessing that it was not exactly refreshingly breezy in train cars with no air conditioning. At least they’d emerged from the tunnel before the train stopped. Kitasenju is pretty far out in eastern Tokyo, so the chances that it was a terrorist attack would probably have seemed minimal to most passengers. Still, pretty trying.

    Rice comes to Japan

    Posted by Sean at 22:14, July 12th, 2005

    Secretary of State Rice was here yesterday to talk with Prime Minister Koizumi and Foreign Minister Machimura. (Japanese version)

    “I recognize the importance of continuing to implement anti-terrorist measures,” Koizumi told Rice at their meeting in Tokyo.

    The prime minister, however, made no mention of what his government plans to do later this year on the status of the Self-Defense Forces dispatched to Iraq. The basic plan for the SDF dispatch expires on Dec. 14.

    Japan and the United States agreed they would seek “concrete progress” from Pyongyang toward abolishing its nuclear weapons development program during the six-way talks.

    At a joint news conference held after their meeting, Machimura and Rice said their two countries confirmed agreement on three points concerning the six-way talks expected to start on July 27:

    *Concrete progress is needed in the discussions;

    *Japan and the United States want North Korea to deal with the issues seriously and constructively; and

    *Coordination between Japan, the United States and South Korea is crucial.

    Japan and the United States will hold a trilateral meeting on Thursday in Seoul with South Korea to synchronize their stances for the six-party talks in Beijing, the first since June last year.

    The diplomat-speak in that passage is, BTW, just as exquisitely devoid of content in the Japanese as in the English (though at least the Japanese reporter knew not to use the word synchronize).

    Everything else was basically a reaffirmation of diplomatic ties: the US supports Japan in its pressure on the DPRK to resolve the abductee issue, supports Japan in its push to become a permanent United Nations Security Council member (just not yet), and wants the beef import ban lifted.

    Talk talk

    Posted by Sean at 22:14, July 11th, 2005

    Oh, yeah. I guess I’m sort of duty-bound to to mention that the DPRK has announced that it will return to the 6-party nuclear kaffee klatsch. Whatever. Reuters quotes an AEI expert…

    But officials traveling with Rice in Asia said they have seen no concrete sign the communist state would surrender its nuclear capability — which U.S. intelligence estimates at more than eight weapons. Many experts doubt this will happen.

    “I don’t believe that talks will convince the North Koreans to abandon their program,” former Pentagon official Daniel Bluemthal, from the pro-Bush American Enterprise Institute, told Reuters by telephone from Washington, D.C.

    “Pyongyang’s nuclear aspirations go to the core of the regime’s raison d’etre — ensuring its own survival and forcefully unifying the peninsula under its control,” the Asia expert wrote in an analysis on the AEI Web site.

    …but you don’t have to believe that the contemporary DPRK is still motivated by the goals of the Kim Il-sung era in order to doubt that Kim Jong-il’s regime is unlikely to disarm. By this point, sheer hubris strikes me as motivation enough. North Korea is aware that its inability to feed its people is so well-known worldwide that it’s not even news anymore. The occasional puff piece hardly compensates. And the PRC, which has a growing economy and cannot afford to be as openly combative toward companies with large consumer markets such as the US and Japan, is less and less inclined to stand firm behind the DPRK when it gets adversarial.

    Even so, it remains a North Korean backer, which makes me wonder about this:

    A hardline Bush administration faction, including Vice President Dick Cheney, has been viewed as opposed to talks with Pyongyang and eager to shape U.S. policy to encourage the regime’s collapse.

    While we’re making all nicey-nicey with China? While economists in the ROK look at the potential problems with reunification and reach for their nitro-glycerine pills? (South Korea has just announced that it will send more rice as aid to the North, BTW.) We all want the DPRK regime to collapse, but I can’t imagine how the Cheney faction imagines we could seriously, openly pursue that as a policy goal.

    The talks do serve a purpose, though: they give the DPRK attention and make it feel like a world power. (Rice recognizes that that’s important–a few months ago she was chuckling that the DPRK was indignant because some press release of its hadn’t caused a general spaz.) However galling it may be, keeping North Korea from feeling like a cornered rat is a worthy goal.

    Funding the food fusses

    Posted by Sean at 12:05, July 11th, 2005

    The Japanese government has decided to make a greater effort to encourage citizens to eat healthy foods–no surprise, given the collectivist bent of Japanese society and the paternalist bent of the federal ministries. Humiliatingly, it sounds as if what it comes up with may be less patronizing than the USDA’s latest orgy of finger-wagging:

    The government is aiming to start a trend of “dietary education” by which, through families, schools, and regional governments, proper knowledge and judgment about diet will be learned; by the beginning of September, a council to promote dietary education, headed by the Prime Minister and consisting of relevant cabinet officials and experts, will be created. The goal is to formulate a basic plan within the year that incorporates concrete policies efficacious in the preservation of [Japan’s] traditional dietary culture and [improvements to] communication between local governments and farmers.

    The potential for boondoggling here is nearly illimitable, of course–lots of pointless new boards and committees and community centers. Japanese agriculture and education policies are full of those already.

    Yes, the Japanese diet is becoming less healthy. That always happens when people are rich. Still, even people who eat Western foods frequently seem to prefer to base their diets on Japanese foods, and it’s hard to get fat on them. There are a lot of people in Tokyo who could stand to take in a far lower percent of their daily calories through alcohol, but I somehow doubt that’s going to be one of the new council’s focal points.

    Think I’m gonna sing myself a lullabye

    Posted by Sean at 11:28, July 11th, 2005

    Oh, yeah, speaking of subways: something else I forgot to link last week was this post by Japundit, which in turn links to a fascinating website about Pyongyang’s subway system. It’s an unofficial site, but the site owner seems to take care to back up his speculations about how the Pyongyang Metro actually works. The number of cars ordered from the PRC and GDR–remember that entity?–suggests that there may be an entirely separate network for government officials only, for example. There’s also been a suggestion, though the site owner doesn’t take it very seriously, that the two stations through which foreign visitors are given tours are actually the only two in existence–that is to say, that the rest of the network is a fabrication and was never built.

    One of the more interesting tidbits is this passage from the official guidebook:

    An overseas Korean who was on a visit to the homeland gave his impression of the Pyongyang Metro to respected President Kim Il Sung. He said that in the country where he was residing it was out of the question to use high-quality stones in the buildings for common people.

    At this point the president said that in our country we were building a metro not as a means of making money but for providing the civilized and convenient life to the people, so that we did not spare money to decorate the inside well and construct it solidly and modernly.

    More than 30,000 square metres [sic] of natural marble and 40,000 square metres of granite have been used in the construction of the Pyongyang Metro. This is nothing but a negligible amount of materials used in the building of the metro by the Government of the DPRK.

    Vainglorious Monument Syndrome has afflicted dictators since time immemorial, but its cruelty is particularly heart-piercing here. In rich countries, we move about freely and get to choose our own priorities. A lot of subway stations are dumpy, but we don’t care because we’re just moving through them on the way to things we want, or at least have chosen, to do. It’s not hard to imagine, in North Korea’s screwed-up economy, that the subway station could be the only fleeting moment of aesthetic pleasure some people get in a workday. (It’s worth noting that the subway was built in the early 1960s, when the still-young DPRK was, according to official statistics, outpacing the South in economic growth–military, industrial, and public works hypertrophy gave people plenty to do. Of course, we all know what happened after that.)

    Myself, I’m not so nuts about the marble columns; they’re a bit bull-necked and graceless. The murals give me the Diego Rivera yawns, too. Let me have those light fixtures, though!


    I think those on the left compare very favorably to, for example, that horrible neon epileptic fit that’s scribbled witlessly down the concourse ceilings at O’Hare Airport. However, I don’t know that I’d be so hot on them if, 40 years down the pike, the policies that produced them had also starved a few million of my countrymen.

    Why does it always rain on me?

    Posted by Sean at 03:55, July 10th, 2005

    The skies over Kyushu are active today. A satellite went up:

    The Japan Aeronautics Exploration Agency announced that an astronomical X-ray satellite, launched from the Uchinoura Observatory in Kagoshima Prefecture, has successfully separated from its M5 Number 6 launch rocket. The satellite is called Suzaku (“the crimson sparrow”). It becomes Japan’s fifth astronomical X-ray satellite, succeeding the Asuka, which ended its observation in July 2000.

    Japanese rocket launches don’t always come off so hot these last few years; it’s nice that these last few have.

    Of course, it’s what’s coming down in Kyushu that’s the big story right now. Several prefectures there (Oita, Fukuoka, Kumamoto, and Nagasaki among them) are experiencing major flooding. The rainy-season rains weren’t coming, weren’t coming, weren’t coming–and now all the water appears to be there at once. One person is dead, two are missing, part of a road has collapsed, and there have been mudslides. It’s Atsushi’s part of the country, but he’s in the middle of a city where there doesn’t seem to be any flooding. (Not that that’s stopped me from getting on him about being careful when he goes outside.) Water is up to the second floor of some houses in the countryside, though.

    Like the Gulf Coast in the US, which is also gearing up to be pummeled by an early hurricane, southwestern Japan is still storm-weary from last year’s typhoon season, in which some luckless regions experienced wave after wave of torrential rains and battering winds. To friends in either place: stay safe.


    Posted by Sean at 02:25, July 10th, 2005

    With the bombings in London I basically forgot about this, but the LDP’s committee on constitutional reform met Thursday:

    On Thursday, 7 June, the LDP’s New Constitution Drafting Committee (Chairman: former Prime Minister Yukio Mori) convened an executive meeting and approved an outline of proposed reforms put together in committee. With that outline as a basis, the committee plans to have the finalized list of proposed revisions drafted in time for release in November, the 50th anniversary of the formation of the party. The outline contains the precise wording “maintaining of a military for self-defense” and sets forth [Japan’s] contributions to international peace and stability. It is also proposed that it be written into the preamble that the Emperor is to retain his current symbolic role, forfeiting power as head of state. The proposal also decisively retains the existing bicameral Diet system, with its House of Councillors and House of Representatives.

    On the subject of national security, [the outline] decisively retains the principle of peaceableness expressed in the current Article 9. It does revise the clause in which Japan forswears the creation of a military, changing the wording so that the [standing] military nature of the self-defense forces is clarified. Provisions for the formation of a military court to adjudicate [in matters related to] soldiers have also been incorporated. Although it has not been written into the proposed Article 9 revision that Japan retains the right to participate in collective defense operations, which has heretofore been considered unconstitutional by the government, such an interpretation would now be permitted. Further stipulations that the armed forces are under civilian control, with the Prime Minister as commander-in-chief, are also being prepared.

    Next to the new ability to participate in collective self-defense–as combatants, of course, and not in an administrative capacity as the SDF is doing in Iraq–the creation of a separate court system for trying SDF personnel may be the single most resonant item here. It conclusively marks off the SDF as different from civilians under the law and recognizes it as a standing military.

    Of course, we’re still in the draft stage, and once the finalized bill is submitted, its passage through the Diet is likely to be even more fun than what we’re seeing with the Japan Post bill.

    郵政民営化 (続き)

    Posted by Sean at 01:43, July 10th, 2005

    Topic 2 for discussion among talking heads this weekend:

    Japan Post privatization, naturally:

    Asked Wednesday whether he would dissolve the lower house and call a general election if the upper house votes down the bills, the prime minister said he would.

    “The focal point of the campaign would be postal privatization,” Koizumi said in Gleneagles, commenting on his strategy if a lower house election were to be held.

    Firing a warning shot across the bows of antiprivitization [sic] forces within the Liberal Democratic Party, of which he is president, Koizumi said the LDP would not provide party tickets for lawmakers who opposed the bills.

    Asked if he would regard an upper house rejection as tantamount to a no-confidence motion, the prime minister said, “Of course.”

    LDP Secretary General Takebe was on NHK today repeating a point that’s been made a lot of late: the Koizumi administration has not explained, in language the public will warm to, why Japan Post privatization is such a good idea it’s worth causing this amount of controversy for. (That’s a problem he shares with his buddy President Bush–think of, say, Social Security reform.) Everyone–supporters, opponents, hangers-on–is holding to the line that his group will not waver when the upper house vote comes up. We’ll see.


    Posted by Sean at 01:22, July 10th, 2005

    Topic 1 for discussion among talking heads this weekend:

    How can Japan usefully tighten counter-terrorism measures after last week’s bombings in London? The Asahi gives a list in its Japanese report:

    At the Ministry of Justice, the Public Security Intelligence Agency has established an Emergency Intelligence Office to tighten up instructions to Immigration Control about screening of foreigners in Japan [to find] illegal entrants, especially those from England.

    The Japan Defense Agency is conducting searches for suspicious items and inspections at SDF bases, including Samawa [in Iraq]. Weapons, ammunition, other hazardous materials, vehicles, documents of identification, and uniforms will be tightly controlled in close cooperation with [local] police.

    The Police Agency has increased the level of alert at Japanese diplomatic posts abroad. Instructions have been issued to prefectural and metropolitan police agencies to reassess the state of defense measures.

    The Ministry of Land, Transport, and Infrastructure has warned rail, airline, bus, and airport management corporations [of the need for increased safety measures]. In particular, instructions to look into information gathering about rail and air [system vulnerability] have been issued to the MLTI’s counter-terrorism team.

    The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry has increased the level of alert at nuclear power plants, in cooperation with the Maritime Security Agency and the Police Agency. Response measures have been strengthened at major industrial complexes and the Aichi Expo.

    The Ministry of Internal Affairs has called on NHK to work toward [better] provision of information to Japanese citizens abroad through international broadcasting.

    The Financial Services Agency is increasing cooperation between its own Overseas Finance Division and agents of international finance.

    Police presence has been increased at possible terrorist targets, and the last few nights of news broadcasts have featured clusters of solemn station police prodding trash receptacles and looking in toilet stalls.

    What do the people think of all this? The Yomiuri says that there’s no stampede to cancel reservations on Tokyo-London flights, though of course the travel agencies have received some calls asking about safety. The Japanese may have their misgivings about Prime Minister Koizumi’s robust support of President Bush’s approach to the WOT, but if there’s anything they’re good at, it’s making fatalistic adjustments to reality when necessary.

    Anyway, everyone in Tokyo is, beneath the rhythms of daily life, already braced for a major earthquake that could kill 5000 to 10000 people. Every time you enter a thirty-year-old building, or descend a narrow staircase to get to a basement bar, or get in an elevator and press the button for the 40th floor, or drive over one of the many stacks of elevated highways, it’s a shadowy thought that flits across your mind. The sarin gas attacks ten years ago showed that there were actually native Japanese nutcases capable of attacking the Tokyo subway system. And a few months ago, we spent a week watching bodies being dug out from the twisted wreckage of a derailed commuter train in western Japan; the final number of deaths was over 100.

    It’s impossible to assess how likely an Islamist terrorist attack is here. Japan’s been on al-Qaeda’s hit list for the past few years, but all the authorities have really discovered in the way of activity here was an Algerian-French money launderer. In any case, extra police and more-stringent inspections are a good idea, but they’re likely to frustrate rather than actually foil attacks in the long run.

    I think that most of us figure that, even in the event of multiple coordinated strikes on, say, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Shibuya, Tokyo, and Ueno stations (with maybe Kasumigaseki thrown in to stick it to the civil service) at 8:30 a.m. on a work day, the probability that any one of us is going to be in the wrong place at the wrong time is pretty low. Like England, Japan has first-rate fire and rescue networks and citizens who are used to orderly, democratic civic life. We’ll just have to deal with whatever comes.


    Posted by Sean at 22:52, July 7th, 2005

    Japanese news shows are so…cute is the only word I can think of. TBS (not Ted Turner’s, obviously) has just been discussing the London bombings with the commentators sitting around a pop-up book model of London, complete with fluttering Union Flag printed in the upper right corner. Of course, there are all kinds of electronic bells and whistles crowding the edges of the screen, too–that mixture of hokey low-tech and hokey high-tech is very characteristic of news programs and yak shows here.

    The number of deaths doesn’t seem to be climbing rapidly, which is a relief. The Nikkei doesn’t have any statement from Prime Minister Koizumi, who just arrived in Scotland yesterday, but it does quote other higher-ups:

    Minister of Foreign Affairs Nobutaka Machimura revealed that he had sent a telegram to Jack Straw and said, “The crimes that have been committed today are detestable. From the bottom of our hearts, we extend condolences [to the United Kingdom] and our deepest sympathies.” [It’s impossible to translate the set phrases he used, but that’s essentially what he meant.–SRK]

    DPJ Secretary General Tatsuo Kawabata also issued a condemnation: “Acts of terrorism violate principles of humanity and justice, and they are absolutely impermissible. One can hardly suppress one’s outrage.” Social Democratic Party Secretary General Seiji Mataichi also spoke [publicly]: “I am very angry; we condemn these acts.”

    Kawabata expressed his anger as 強い憤り (tsuyoi ikidoori: “powerful” + “indignation”). Mataichi used a more common, informal expression: 強い怒り (tsuyoi ikari: “powerful” + “rage”). Like the US, Japan has raised its terrorism alert level. Station police are apparently sweeping through stations doing extra-thorough checks of trashcans and toilets. Otherwise, it’s not clear what increased security measures may be implemented.