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    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.

    Places in the heart

    Posted by Sean at 08:05, July 7th, 2005

    One final thought before I really do take off: the reaction of the world’s self-consciously-hip leftists is going to be interesting, in a nasty way. Preening leftists like New York, but it is…well, there’s no getting around it, is there? New York is American. Manhattan is cordoned off from the rest of the country by a few rather narrow rivers, but it’s surrounded by America, and even New York’s working class is mostly very patriotic.

    The left doesn’t have to have such misgivings about London, however, and its love for the place is, in my experience, unreserved. There are lots of little reasons it’s okay to love London more than New York *: London paid its dues by actually being bombed by the Germans. Contemporary UK policy is comfortingly collectivist, but England also has a history of pioneering democracy. England is close to the European Continent that we’re all supposed to bow down to, but being an island nation at the edge, it has its strain of funky non-Euro-conformism. Most lefty types I know think, even if they don’t say so outright, that London is the center of contemporary civilization (in the intellectual and social, if not the aesthetic or culinary, sense).

    The bombing of London is going to hit these people where they live, at least psychologically. If only to distract me from my rage at whoever planned this morning’s attacks, I look forward, in a mirthless sort of way, to seeing them pulled in 50 different directions by their emotions over the next few weeks.

    Once again, best wishes to the people of London for minimal death and damage.

    * I don’t want to give short shrift to the bombings in Bali and Madrid. Of course, they were appalling and they matter. But Bali is a faraway resort island, and Madrid is not a considered an iconic center of progressive thought and policy the way London is.

    Terrorist attacks hit London

    Posted by Sean at 07:02, July 7th, 2005

    I hadn’t looked at the news services for a while; Michael says there’s been a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in London. CNN and Reuters are, naturally, taking forever to load, but the Nikkei already has a translated report up. It looks as if the Underground was the biggest target, though Reuters seems to be saying three buses were blown up, too. (As my English colleague just said, between this and the Olympics, expect the British National ID to attain Big Brother proportions very quickly.) It looks as if there may be 100 dead and injured at Aldgate alone, and those numbers always go up.

    The IRA likes bombs, of course; you don’t have to spend much time in London to get used to the signs that show abandoned bags with stern instructions to notify the authorities at once if you see one. But this looks very big, and London is one of our closest allies and a society that exemplifies everything the Islamist terror groups hate. It won’t be surprising in the slightest if one of them takes…uh…credit. (Yes, there’s the G8 summit, but London seems kind of far afield from Scotland for that to be the irritant.)

    In addition to being a close kin of our American society, England is my grandfather’s homeland. He emigrated as a teenager, and we still have family and friends there whom we visit frequently. I love London. And of course, being a foreigner in Tokyo, I have British friends all over the place here, too. And Japanese friends who live there, for that matter.

    It looks as if all there is to do now is to wait for more news. Condolences to the people of England and to the family and friends of the dead and injured. London being a cosmopolitan city, they’re certain to come from a number of different countries.

    Just went to CNN Japan. A fuller report (in Japanese) is up.

    Added a few minutes later: My prediction–a rather obvious one–is that this is going to be a BIG story in Japan this week. The tenth anniversary of the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway was months ago, and being packed into to tight, hard-to-escape spaces on public transport at morning rush hour is part of reality here. (Well, at least in Tokyo, but we are the largest population center and news market.) There will be lots of CGI reenactments on NHK and a great deal of yak-show discussion about what the implications are for Japan. I hope it doesn’t seem callous to say this already, but one of the things I try to do here, when feasible, is to give a sense of how world events are covered in Japan and seen by Japanese people.

    Added a few more minutes later: Dean has a BBC link (in English this time). It gives a map that shows points of attack. It also clarifies something I’d wondered about: the major station in question is Aldgate East (an interchange) and not Aldgate (which is on the circle line but not, I don’t think, any kind of interchange).

    Time to get on my packed commuter train and go home. I’m sure there are continuous developments to come.

    Miscellaneous administrative stuff

    Posted by Sean at 12:47, July 5th, 2005

    I don’t get a lot of comments, but those I do get are always good. Unfortunately, they’re sometimes on older posts that I fear regular readers are no longer scrolling down far enough to see, so I’ve added the “List Recent Comments” code to the left sidebar. I was originally only going to list the last five. Then I remembered that I respond to most of them, so at least 40% of the last five are likely to be by me, so I switched back to ten, which is the default number.

    PowerBlogs is working on a comprehensive internal site stats page. It promises to be very snazzy, but in the interim, I don’t get to see what deranged search terms have led people here. It was posting about those that usually gave me the springboard for thanking everyone for reading, and I realized today that I haven’t done so for a while.

    So thanks for reading, everyone. If anyone had suggested last year when I started posting that I’d have 350 visits a day (excluding search engines and stuff) by now, I’d have told him to stop washing the happy pills down with Asahi Super Dry. Not that this is a popularity contest, or anything, but there’s no denying that it’s nice to reach people.

    Along those lines, I’m occasionally asked for advice about starting a blog. I always feel kind of lame. There are already scads of bullet-pointed lists about how to achieve blog popularity; I don’t have much to add to them. When I feel like posting a lot, I do. When I feel like spending a week of news reading propped up on my elbows on the floor and eating Orange Milanos, then sharing my astringent opinions with no one but Atsushi, I do that. But a few recent exchanges I’ve had have put me in mind of a couple of things that I rarely see mentioned but that are, I think, useful to bear in mind:

    One is, everything you post will be read, even if you wouldn’t know it from the lack of immediate comments and links on a given entry. A few months later, a blogfriend may refer to it, or a site you’re not familiar with may link to it after discovering it by Googling the relevant topic, or you may get an inquiry about it from a reader who decided to dig through your archives.

    The other is, if you post under your full name, everyone you have ever met in your life will know it. You will hear from the last woman you ever dated, the first man you ever dated, the guy who grew up up the street who also turned out gay, someone who was in your second-year Japanese class in college, former clients, and colleagues down the hall at work who have been reading you for months without letting on. I mean, depending on your life story, some of these may not be applicable, but you get the idea. Every time I’ve heard from one of these people, it’s been great. I’ve ended up resuming consistent contact with some of them. But the first e-mail is always a jolt. I had my own reasons for deciding, from the moment I started making mouthy comments on people’s blogs, to use my full name; but I can understand that there are perfectly legitimate reasons not to, and it’s important to think carefully before doing so.


    Posted by Sean at 09:25, July 5th, 2005

    The Japan Post privatization bill passed the lower house today–this was the real deal, the plenary session and not committee. (The vote was 233 to 228.) Now it goes to the upper house. That means the fun is just beginning:

    Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi, remarking on the upcoming House of Councillors debate over the Japan Post privatization bill, stated, “There are still gigantic hurdles to get over. I feel as if we were beginning at square one.” He indicated that he plans to exert all his energy to the end of seeing the bill ratified. He denied the possibility that the bill might be revised yet again in order to squelch opposition in the upper house: “We’ve already made our accommodations. There will be no more.” He answered questions at a press conference held at the Prime Minister’s official residence.

    It’s been clear for a while that Koizumi’s strategy is to bellow, “No compromise!” before every confrontation as a way of keeping concessions to a minimum; nevertheless, concessions continue to be made. Of course, there have been problems with the bill from the get-go, at least if you’re actually, you know, pro-privatization. It will be interesting, if perhaps distastefully interesting, to see what the bill looks like when it comes to its final vote.

    [Interlude: Japan Post Cool Biz]

    Posted by Sean at 22:27, July 4th, 2005

    Okay, you know, this Cool Biz stuff? Seriously working on my last nerve. I’ve almost, in a way, gotten used to seeing top-ranking cabinet ministers show up on television looking as if they’d been yanked out of a golf game for an emergency press conference. It doesn’t exactly give you the sense that the government is proceeding with sober, formal, rule-of-law predictability; but I guess it does save on air conditioning, which is good for the Earth and other stuff.

    However, someone (Mrs. Takebe, are you listening?) needs to tell LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe what 半透明 (hantoumei: “translucent”) means. I didn’t need to see that the undergarment he uses to rein in those man-boobs beneath his white-on-white sport shirts is a narrow-strapped tank-top. I really didn’t.

    Pour your misery down on me

    Posted by Sean at 06:21, July 4th, 2005

    When you live in Japan, you get used to thinking of catastrophic natural events as normal. It’s not that villages are wiped out weekly, or anything; but what with the regularity of earthquakes, typhoons, tidal waves, simmering volcanoes, and drenching rains with the attendant mudslides, it’s no surprise that the Japanese latched onto evanescence as a major aesthetic and philosophical principle. The raw, craggy landscape has its effect, too.

    This week, the reminders of our frailty have come from the water department. The rainy season has been pretty dry here in the Kanto region, but places in Western Japan are getting a good pummeling:

    Heavy rain pounded the western Japan regions of Chugoku and Shikoku for the second straight day Saturday, leaving one person missing, 2 slightly injured and more than 300 homes submerged, local officials said.

    Another Kyodo report put the total number of flooded houses at 1000.

    Then today, we had this item from Iwo Jima:

    Ships have been warned to avoid traveling near Iwo Jima after the Japan Coast Guard said Sunday that an underwater volcanic eruption was the cause of the mysterious plume of vapor that shot 1 kilometer into the sky.

    Coast Guard officials found gray mud was rising from beneath the water, which had turned to a reddish color.

    The red water apparently indicates volcanic activity, but no signs of volcanic gases have yet been detected. Smoke billowed into the sky in the area.

    BTW, the name Iwo Jima, known to most Americans as the site of the famous WWII battle, means “sulfur island.”