• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    Nikkei poll with predictable results

    Posted by Sean at 23:01, September 13th, 2005

    Results of the Nikkei‘s latest web-based poll (insert the usual SLOPs caveats here):

    On 12 and 13 September, in the wake of the ruling coalition’s crushing victory, the Nippon Keizai Shimbun Corporation conducted its fourth Internet poll on the election. Support for the cabinet stands at 54%, 4 points higher than during the last poll just before election day. Support for the LDP is at 45%, an increase of 5 points. Support for the DPJ is reined in at 29% (a 1-point drop). The proportion saying they look forward to the Koizumi administration’s tackling the job of improving relations with the PRC, ROK, and other neighboring states reached 69%.

    It’s helpful to remember that the Nikkei serves a readership that’s…well, a lot like me: pro-markets and suspicious of big government. Even within those boundaries, though, I would have been interested to hear what specific China and Korea policies it supported.

    It’s been 40 days / Since I stopped counting the days

    Posted by Sean at 07:53, September 13th, 2005

    New Bonnie Raitt album out today. I like it, but then I expected to; the woman’s quality control over the last fifteen years has been something to behold. I’m sure my mother’s ecstatic. She’s a MAJOR Bonnie devotee. You know, like, she not only owns even the mid-period albums that are 95% crap– Home Plate , anyone?–she also listens to them. She and a friend of hers from Michigan have traveled to see her perform countless times, they get backstage passes through the fan club and stuff, the whole bit. For a solid year when Nick of Time came out, she listened to nothing else. NOTHING. EVER. She’ll try to put it over on you that in, like, December 1989 she listened to Revolver once, but she’s full of it; it was Dad who put it on the stereo and she just happened to be in the room.

    Bear in mind, this was when the album came out–before all the publicity around the Grammy nominations brought Raitt into prominence and made all the Baby Boomer yuppies in America be like, “Oh, wow! It’s like, this is totally my story. Well, except for the dropping out of Radcliffe part–who would do that?–but, you know, not finding your true love until hubby number three, and crying when you think about your biological clock ticking, and having this life that’s a total journey, and all that is so me!”…and turn their fabled Purchasing Power to the task of making it googol platinum. (Okay, that’s not very nice of me. It wasn’t really the people who bought it that drove me nuts; it was the press that fell all over itself to treat it as an event of Great Significance when an album made by a 39-year-old appealed to other 39-year-olds.)

    Of course, no expansive personality is truly interesting without a major-big-time flaw, and Bonnie’s is that she’s a sucker for every lame-o liberal activist project IN THE WORLD. You know, No Nukes and Never Kill a Tree and stuff. She’s like (sting)bono. On the other hand, I’ve always been impressed by her involvement in the push for benefits and royalty reform on behalf of aging R&B pioneers whose innovations made them no money but proved lucrative springboards for later rock-era artists. She’s also very modest when she shares a stage with one of her heroes. I was lucky enough to see her with Charles Brown and Ruth Brown on the Longing in Their Hearts tour. We were unlucky enough to see it at the Mann Music Center, which has worse acoustics than the average bedroom closet, but the show itself was a blast.

    Speaking of performances, I think she does a big show in New Orleans every year; given her predilection for benefit concerts, I wonder whether she’ll turn it into one next go-round. (Happily, she’s a celebrity I haven’t heard bloviating about the failures of the federal government to play Big Daddy and make everything better after the hurricane, though I can’t imagine she’s not thinking along those lines.) Anyway, I’m guessing Mom will be pleased with the new album, which is good.

    What does the PRC think about Koizumi’s victory?

    Posted by Sean at 00:38, September 13th, 2005

    Something interesting I haven’t seen given much play: how did the PRC react to Koizumi’s big win on Sunday? I’ve been looking and Googling, but I haven’t found anything substantive. There’s this from Kyodo about a story in a Singaporean newspaper–which is at least part of the Chinese-speaking world. It says the obvious:

    The Chinese-language Lianhe Zaobao said Koizumi is expected to become even more powerful after this election and could easily win wide support for his views on controversial issues such as his recurring visits to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine. The controversial shrine honors 14 Class-A war criminals along with 2.47 million war dead.

    There’s also a translated Xinhua editorial at The People’s Daily, but it’s pretty muffled, too:

    In terms of foreign policies, the LDP noted the need to improve ties with Asian neighbors. Yet, the points was rarely mentioned in Koizumi’s campaign speeches.

    After the voting, the premier stopped short of dismissing the possibility of paying a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine when he was answering questions on a live program of the public broadcaster NHK.

    His repeated visits to the war criminal-enshrining facility was the major stumbling block in relations with China and South Korea.

    The Yasukuni Shrine issue causes the greatest number of public snits, but there are more important things to think about, trade and energy policy chief among them. It will be interesting to see, and I’m sure we will after everyone’s finished gawking at the numbers and talking about Japan Post privatization.

    Just for a sense of perspective, here’s the section of the DPJ party platform about Japan-China relations; I have no doubt that strategists in Beijing read it:

    The restructuring of Japan-China relations is one of the most important tasks for Japanese diplomacy. [Japan should] build a relationship of trust between the leaders of the two nations, and on that basis, systematize and deepen policy dialogue in fields such as the economy, finance, currency, energy, the environment, maritime activities, and security.

    I looked–pretty carefully, I think–but I didn’t see anything concrete about the big Japan-PRC sticking points. By contrast, the LDP manifesto contained a blandishment or two about mutual prosperity, but there was also this item among its 120 pledges:

    Concerning the Hoppo and Takeshima Islands, we will assiduously pursue a resolution. Further, we will secure the maritime interests of our nation, such as the promotion of the development of natural resources in the East China Sea and surveying of the continental shelf.

    I’m sure the Chinese got that message. The Koizumi administration’s China policy has, after all, not only included refusal to stop visiting the Yasukuni Shrine but also threats to do exploratory drilling in disputed undersea oil and gas fields.

    Added over cold coffee: I asked Simon whether he’d seen anything in the Chinese media, and this is his answer: Why, no, not much. He also notes that such mention as there has been has focused on the Yasukuni Shrine issue.


    Posted by Sean at 22:48, September 12th, 2005

    Koizumi is still saying that he will play by the rules and step down as Prime Minister in 2006, but there are noises about extending his tenure:

    On Sunday, Koizumi reiterated he would step down in September 2006, when his term as LDP president expires, but more and more members of the ruling coalition have floated the idea of possibly extending his term beyond next September.

    “That’s an important matter we have to think about,” LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe said Sunday night about the possible extension.

    “The LDP’s rule [that Koizumi’s term expires next September] is one thing, but on the other hand there’s the question of how we should interpret the people’s will expressed [in the landslide victory] in this election,” said LDP Acting Secretary General Shinzo Abe, who is frequently cited as a possible successor to Koizumi.

    New Komeito representative Takenori Kanzaki also hinted his support for extending Koizumi’s term. “I’ll be speaking about [term extension] on various occasions from now on. Winning this many seats also comes with a certain responsibility for the prime minister,” Kanzaki said Sunday.

    Yeah, Koizumi has a “certain responsibility,” all right. Having finally returned the LDP to complete and utter domination, he’s going to have the party leadership anxious to squeeze whatever remaining gains from him it can. It seems to me that, overall, it would be good for him to groom a successor over the next year and leave office as planned. If Koizumi gets through a few more key policy changes and is able to say, next year around this time, “Thank you, Japan, for giving me the opportunity to do my job. It’s finished. Time to move on to [say, Abe],” it would help to counter the LDP’s image as a party full of people who seek the greatest amount of power they can amass and then keep a death-grip on it well into their dotage.

    Speaking of which, people are already starting to say that it’s scary that the LDP won so many seats because now it’s going to turn into some big, scary juggernaut. Maybe. Let’s remember a few things, though: a lot of government power rests in the appointed officials in the federal ministries, and the elected officials know it. And some of the key public employees don’t even work for the federal ministries. Recall that one of the toughest parts about getting Japan Post privatization through was the resistance of the postal workers’ unions, which threatened not to use their rural outposts to drum up the support of voters for LDP candidates. Koizumi rode into office on a wave of popularity the first time, too; but we all saw soon enough that that wasn’t enough for him to get everything he wanted by a long shot.

    Hell, the Japan Post privatization package itself has already been watered down considerably; in fact, the watering down started quite a while ago. (Once again, the analogy is not perfect, but check the potential parallels with the California power privatization fiasco.) Koizumi’s next project is said to be the integration of the government’s two pension systems: the one for civil servants and the one for the rest of us salaried types. Worryingly, he’s been quoted as saying, “It will necessary to listen to a variety of opinions while formulating the plan.” Sound familiar?

    In any case, it is true that the LDP focused hard on Japan Post privatization during the run-up to the election. It’s ridiculous, though, to say that that means that voters, in practice, were voting on that single issue and thus can’t be said to have expressed support for Koizumi’s overall policy platform. Note that, if it’s the DPJ we’re talking about, its opposition to the LDP’s Japan Post scheme was very well-conceived.

    No, the Japanese public has not lost its ambivalence toward the SDF deployment in Iraq or the possible amendment of the constitution to allow for combat participation in collective-defense missions. But please. The other parties were all over those issues. They had plenty of opportunities to make their case. Japanese voters, in turn, had the opportunity to, say, vote in a lot of LDP candidates in single-seat districts but “balance” them with more proportional-representation seats from the opposition. They failed to do so. They failed to do so in a big, bad way. They failed to do so even in Tokyo, which is not generally an LDP stronghold. They failed to do so in such a big, bad, Tokyo-included way that it’s hard to interpret the election results in any way but that the electorate wants Koizumi and his crew of upstarts to do what they say they’re going to do.


    Posted by Sean at 08:01, September 12th, 2005

    Here you go:


    Yeah, I know—not funny. Cute, though. (It’s from here.) My camera batteries were dead, and I didn’t get around to recharging them until I was getting ready for my buddy’s birthday party yesterday. Here I am cropped from one of the group shots:


    Posted by Sean at 23:40, September 11th, 2005

    What Connie said.

    Japan to DPJ: “Get lost”

    Posted by Sean at 23:02, September 11th, 2005

    Yesterday was the birthday party of a very close friend, so from 19:00 on I was pretty much away from sources of news, except when I talked to Atsushi at midnight-ish. He told me then that it was 自民党大勝利 (jimintou daishouri: “big victory for the LDP”), but I spent the rest of the night carousing and have just awakened.

    My loverman was not exaggerating. The ruling coalition won over 300 seats. And the LDP alone–without its coalition partners–has an outright majority:

    The 44th lower house general election, in which the major point of contention was which party would control the government, was held on 11 September, with vote counting beginning immediately [after the polls closed]. The LDP won overwhelmingly in both single-seat districts and proportional representation blocs, and together with the Komeito topped 300 seats. It appeared to be an expression of confidence in the trajectory of party president Jun’ichiro Koizumi’s reforms, and it is probable that the Japan Post privatization bills will be passed in a special diet session at the end of this month.

    The LDP will control the chairs of, and won more than the 269 seats necessary to form an absolute majority of members in all of, the lower house’s standing committees.

    In the morning print edition of the Nikkei, the numbers are updated:

    LDP: 295
    New Komeito: 30
    DPJ: 113
    Social Democrats: 6
    Communists: 9

    The rest of the seats that have been counted went in handfuls to unaffiliated candidates or those with the People’s New Party, which was founded by rebel LDP legislators who voted against Japan Post privatization. DPJ leader Katsuya Okada has already announced officially that he’s stepping down. Prime Minister Koizumi looks as if he really enjoyed swallowing that canary.

    A 2/3 majority! I can’t even wrap my head around that–and I like Koizumi and was rooting for him. Of course, there’s a lot to think about. The LDP made Japan Post its focal point for the election, but the opposition parties were very vocal about Article 19, the SDF in Iraq, and social welfare policy. Those are issues on which the Japanese are deeply divided, and the election results surely don’t signify an unqualified mandate for all aspects of Koizumi’s foreign policy. Nevertheless, the voters had a chance to reject the Koizumi government, and it means something that they didn’t. (It’s worth noting, though, that coalition partner New Komeito is much more pacifist than the LDP–certainly than the Koizumi cabinet–but despite its new dominance in the lower house, the LDP still needs the New Komeito to maintain its upper house majority.)

    The English editions of the major dailies have their stories so far here: Asahi , Mainichi , Yomiuri , Japan Times . (Does the Sankei even have an English edition?)

    Added at 17:11: Another interesting aspect of the snap election was the use of 刺客 (shikaku: “assassin,” lit., “specialized stabber”) candidates. These were the high-profile candidates fielded by the LDP in single-seat districts against those (formerly) in its own party who had voted against Japan Post reform. Most of the assassin candidates won.

    Added at 18:31: Okay, just one more link to the Mainichi, whose English reports are most closely reflecting what we’re seeing in non-linkable broadcast media. This one quotes a series of hilariously stunned LDP members all saying, essentially, “Whoa!” The original Japanese article is here, and its lead paragraph is far funnier:

    As day broke the morning after lower house election day in the Nagatacho district of Tokyo, the LDP was having an attack of “296-seat shock.” “We won so many seats, the prospect of the next election is frightening.” With the LDP victorious and jubilant, and the DPJ soundly defeated and dazed, the blessed and the cursed were sharply distinguishable.

    BTW, that former cabinet member quoted in the English article actually said this: “勝ったのにどうかと思うけど、怖い。ものが言えなくなってしまう。ファッショだよ。” (“We won, but I wonder whether this is for the best. It’s frightening. I’m just dumbstruck. It’s fascistic.”) Yes, that last sentence is a literal translation, but since the quotation ends there, I’m not sure whether the official was referring to the cult of personality that can be said to surround Koizumi or to the high percentage of seats won or what.

    Added at 19:24: Riding Sun calls the success of the Koizumi administration’s strategy to field high-profile women candidates a vindication of the “Japanese Babe Theory.” I think he’s right–it’s not a joke. Most of the women “assassins” seemed smart and lively and, dare I say, sassy. They stood in clear visual contrast to the stereotypical LDP politician. At the same time, I believe the move was also smart because the women candidates suggested a connection to the social and family issues–employment and pension figures, especially, but also education and child and elder care–that the party PR machine was deemphasizing but that most voters care the greatest deal about.

    I don’t want to downplay the capabilities of any of the candidates. They may, in fact, have expertise in hard policy issues that hasn’t been given much attention yet. (At least one, Yuriko Koike, has already been Minister of the Environment.) But image matters, especially when the key issue in an election is an unsexy topic such as Japan Post privatization.

    NHK’s political yak show has all the party leaders on right now, BTW. No one is saying anything even slightly more interesting than you’d expect. Takebe is, of course, in his cool-biz shirt, looking as if he were headed off to the club for a few whiskeys the minute the lights go down; he appears very somber, but maybe he’s just tired. Okada has regained some of his color, but of course he looks very unhappy, and it seems somewhat unkind for NHK to be showing him in extreme close-up when he talks.

    LOL. Tamisuke Watanuki, a leader of the Japan Post opponents who were abandoned by the LDP, is talking. The expression on Takebe’s face across the table! He looks as if he wanted to vault across the studio and throttle him.

    Free xone

    Posted by Sean at 00:48, September 11th, 2005

    Michael appears not to think anything interesting or important is being addressed here. I do. His current position on gay-directed charity work doesn’t very obviously flow from what he said here, where that “color-blind” part seems to me to imply that he wanted no distinctions made at all. If he thinks it’s okay to have relief efforts that are publicized as gay-friendly as long as they’re not exclusionary, that seems sensible to me. That’s my position, too. But then, on the basis of Michael’s own reasoning about the rights of gays vis-à-vis those of ethnic minorities, I think asking him whether and why it’s still wrong to say “we’d be especially happy to help other white folks” is pretty shrewd.

    To me the distinction is, as social conservatives never tire of saying in a lot of other contexts, about behavior, not who you are. If someone offered room to refugees and included the line “We welcome Orthodox Jews,” I don’t think most people would find that inherently discriminatory. Orthodox Jews run their households according to certain constraints and could hardly be faulted for looking for help from (or offering help to) someone with whom they won’t have to have lengthy discussions about expectations.


    Posted by Sean at 22:46, September 10th, 2005

    Today is the snap election here. We’ll see whether Koizumi’s conviction that the electorate supports his reforms–or supports the way he’s going about them–is justified. Atsushi voted last week while he was here. The street was a madhouse yesterday when I got my haircut. (For those who follow my hair-related travails, yesterday found me being massaged with some cinnamon/ginger-y oil and then washed down with apple-scented shampoo. I half-expected to be loaded onto a platter, garnished with mint leaves, and served for dessert with hard sauce and whipped cream.) The Komeito flacks were, indeed, focusing exclusively on Japan Post privatization as they walked by and shook hands. The communists went by in a van blaring about health care and Article 9. We’ll see who gets what when the results come in.

    Beard update

    Posted by Sean at 09:43, September 9th, 2005

    We’ve gotten to the point at which I can look in the mirror without jerking back and saying aloud, “Dad! When did you fly in to Tokyo?” Seriously, I look like my father, but with facial hair, I look exactly like my father. I still don’t like having to trim the stupid thing and am hoping to get the go-ahead from my dermatologist to lop it all off again as soon as is feasible.

    My most sarcastic friend–who once, when I showed up in my new flirty little acid-green knit shirt, greeted me with a hand on the shoulder and a drawled, “Thank goodness you’ve arrived, baby–a five-foot-tall Bloody Mary just came by looking for you”–was as non-judgmental as could be expected: “So, did you always have that on your face and I just didn’t notice because of the lighting at GB?” More than one other friend has said, “It looks okay, but I liked you when you were more boyish-looking before.” These are not, mark you, lecherous middle-aged friends; these are the guys I know in their early 20s. Not sure what that means.

    Atsushi says I feel like a hedgehog. But it’s only fair to note that I’ve been telling him he feels like a hedgehog every weekend for four years. He has the typical Asian whiskers that are sparse but perfectly round in cross-section. Each shaft sticks straight out like a boar bristle. After two days of not shaving his chin, he’s like an emery bit. The emery bit of my dreams, but an emery bit nonetheless.