Recently in Japanese Politics Category

I was going to write about this earlier, but I let it slip and now it's old new... but I still find it funny/sad. First the Chief Cabinet Secretary and now the Minister of Defense of Japan announce that they believe in UFOs. The Minister of Defense is trying to figure out how to prepare for an alien invasion under the current Japanese pacifist constitution... *sigh* Don't they have better things to do?

Bloomberg and Yahoo both covered it.

A few days ago the New York Times contacted me and asked me to write an Op Ed about Prime Minister Abe. I pondered a bit about it, but wiser minds advised me to do it. I wrote: In Japan, Stagnation Wins Again which is running in today's paper.

Thanks to Toby of the New York Times for thinking of me for this, to Jun for getting me started, to Toshi for helping make sure it makes sense in a Japanese context and to Gen and Mimi for the final review.

Also, good news for CC. The new contract that the New York Time gives us joint ownership and allows me to share the article under a CC license 30 days after they run it.

UPDATE: Here's a link to a version of the skit on YouTube with English subtitles for "Sonnano Kankeinei" referred to in the article. It's sort of crappy quality. Interestingly, the subtitles translate it to "So Fuckin' Waht?" I suppose that's the spirit, but I'm not sure what part of "Sonnano Kankeinei" mean's "fuckin'". ;-P

UPDATE 2: Here's video of a small child doing "Sonnano Kankeinei". I THINK this is a Spanish guy doing it. And a sports mascot doing it on TV.

UPDATE 3: Looks like they removed all of his videos from YouTube. Doh. Here's a link that still works.

Copyright Joichi Ito and the New York Times:

September 18, 2007
Op-Ed Contributor
In Japan, Stagnation Wins Again
By JOICHI ITO

Inbamura, Japan

SHINZO ABE, who stepped down as prime minister last week, is what we call in Japan an "obocchan." An obocchan is a type of well-to-do, slightly spoiled child of a powerful family. Mr. Abe may have been an obocchan but, wanting to be liked by everyone, he made efforts to address the concerns of the working class. Yet despite his efforts, most Japanese felt that he was unaware of working-class issues, and that -- more than any political scandals the press has been crowing about -- may have been his undoing.

More broadly, while most people liked Mr. Abe and believed him to be smart, the Japanese news media often called him "Kuuki ga Yomenai" or, for short, "K. Y." "Kuuki" means "air" and "yomenai" means "cannot read." Not being able to read the air means that you don't know that your guest wants another cup of tea or that you should be serving cold tea because it is a hot day. Reading the air is an essential trait for a Japanese politician.

This shortcoming put Mr. Abe at a severe disadvantage compared with his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi. Mr. Koizumi is famous not only for being the master of reading the air but also for his unmatched ability to ignore the advice of the political elite. I would call this the "sonnano kankeinei" style. The catchphrase of a popular Japanese comedian whose routine has spread widely on YouTube, sonnano kankeinei is a crude way of saying, "So what? I don't care." It would be an uncommon attitude for a politician even in America, and in Japan was simply unprecedented.

It was a tough act to follow, and Mr. Abe tried to read the air but ended up following too much advice and yielding to the various centers of power and special interests to which his Liberal Democratic Party has owed its 50-year near monopoly. The result, unsurprisingly, was wishy-washy, ineffective policy.

For instance, he had the right idea in trying to shake up the government's stagnant bureaucracy. But instead of taking on a single group of bureaucrats in a winnable battle -- as Mr. Koizumi did when he pushed through a bill privatizing the postal system in 2005 -- Mr. Abe tried to change the broader fundamental laws governing federal agencies. The bureaucrats and their supporters in the Parliament turned on him, and he was stuck in a fight he couldn't win. Very K. Y.

The biggest example of his weakness, however, came when the government lost the pension records of 50 million workers. In most countries, this would have caused a riot, if not a revolution. Although concerns over possible missing records spread among the public late last year, Mr. Abe did not act until the spring.

Many in the public felt he delayed because the government bureaucrats and business executives closest to him probably didn't know anyone who was affected by the mismanagement of the records. Possibly, but again I think his failure stemmed not from his insulation but from his crippling Kuuki ga Yomenai.

These sorts of misjudgments, combined with the string of scandals resulted in the resignation of several cabinet members and the suicide of another, were what most pundits feel caused the Liberal Democrats' disastrous showing at the polls in July. To some extent that is true. But another huge factor that went to alienating voters was concerns over what the government and news media like to call Japan's current economic "recovery."

The problem is that most Japanese know that the so-called recovery is fueled by exports to China, particularly construction materials and energy. The steel, cement and coal companies are prospering. Chinese money is filling the coffers of the industries that have fueled the political system since World War II and were a big part of the bubble collapse that has left the economy stagnant for more than a decade.

Chinese demand is pumping up the value of the large raw materials and construction companies, trading firms with positions in commodities like coal, and businesses that sell overseas. But most domestic companies are seeing only an increase in their raw material costs without a significant increase in demand or margins locally.

Most of this money is viewed as sloshing around in the markets and the bank accounts of the elite, with very little trickling down to small companies or the average salaryman. One of my favorite indicators of the word on the street is the Tokyo taxi drivers, and when I bring up the subject, every one asks me something along the lines of, "Why do they keep saying that our economy has recovered?"

The other problem with this "recovery" is that it reinforces the old stereotype that Japan's strength lies in construction and exports. While this was a good strategy for the postwar recovery, it now slows down reform and diverts valuable human and public resources from the stunted service and high-tech industries that Japan needs for long-term growth.

It's no coincidence that before he entered politics, Mr. Abe was an executive at Kobe Steel. And his successor will be more of the same: the two contenders for his job both have backgrounds in raw materials. Taro Aso's family company is one of the largest mining and cement concerns in Japan, and Yusuo Fukuda's business experience is in oil.

This reflects a fundamental problem with Japanese politics. In a policy supported in part by the American fear of the threat of communism, the conservative Liberal Democrats stamped out all liberal resistance by either destroying the careers of members of the opposition or co-opting them. This resulted in a single-party system, with disputes negotiated and settled within the Liberal Democratic Party though a complicated process of factions and committees.

Many Japanese called this a "democracy in democracy." Perhaps, but this democracy in democracy was only visible to those in power and is managed mostly through a system of pork-barrel politics.

In July, the people had had enough and voted against the ruling party, but the result could be even worse. In deposing Mr. Abe, who despite being part of an old political family was still something of an outsider, they will see a return of the Liberal Democrats' old guard.

Nor is the opposition any better. The leader of the Democratic Party of Japan is Ichiro Ozawa, a student of Kakuei Tanaka, the prime minister who in the 1970s fashioned a public-funds-for-votes system and "rebuilt" Japan by paving the countryside with concrete.

Perhaps there is a silver lining: the weakness of the Liberal Democrats may give us the first sustained period of two-party politics since 1955. If so, the real question is whether it will allow any fresh blood in the political system.

Unfortunately, Japanese politics is a time-consuming and thankless task. Young entrepreneurial types shun public service. Mr. Koizumi made a serious effort to get people from outside the old party to run, but most of those young politicians have already dropped out. (I've rejected entreaties by both parties to run for office and have no regrets; according to my friends in junior positions in the Liberal Democratic Party, their first years have been spent in minor working groups, never being allowed to speak up at or attend any meetings of importance.)

The heart of the problem is that true multiparty politics should have started in Japan decades ago. Soon the members of our own postwar baby boom will be retiring. The looming crisis of a bankrupt Japan, a overburdened pension system and a corporate ecology of pumped-up old-economy companies will be upon us.

The man on the street knows this, but in a country that boasts of never having had a successful revolt of the people, or even a popular uprising resulting in significant reforms, it's unlikely that such awareness will be enough to punch through the K. Y. elite and make things change.

Maybe it's time for a revolution.

Joichi Ito is the chief executive of a venture capital firm and chairman of Creative Commons, a nonprofit group that develops flexible copyright arrangements.

Ryu Murakami (WP) and I spent the last nine months or so meeting occasionally to chat about Japanese culture, politics, media and the economy. Creative Garage and Diamond Shuppan transcribed our conversation and published it as a book. (You can buy it on Amazon.co.jp.) The book came out last week and climbed to #6 on the Amazon.co.jp book rankings and is slowly settling back down. (It's #14 at the time of this posting.) That was pretty exhilarating. Having said that, Ryu Murakami is "the name" on the book. Anyway, thanks to everyone who helped on the book and especially to Ryu.

The book is in Japanese and currently we have no plans to translate it.

I heard an interesting theory that I'd love for any Japan experts to confirm or debunk. Apparently, during the drafting of the Japanese constitution, the phrase "freedom of the press" was proposed by the US team. This was a big problem for Japan which had never really allowed any free speech. Instead of translating it as "freedom of the press" in terms of free speech they changed the meaning to freedom of "printing press" sort of press.

Later, there was a movement to prevent consolidation of power in press, but instead of making meaningful unbundling, the then Minister of Communications, Kakuei Tanaka, reinterpreted this initiative and broke up the licenses for local newspapers and TV to be delineated by prefecture (voting units) and made sure that the media in each prefecture was owned by someone affiliated with the ruling party. They also allowed the newspapers to own the television allowing the state (the ruling party) to essentially control the media.

Things are of course changing, but if this is true, this does explain a lot about the Japanese media...

I'm sitting in an airport lounge remembering a story I should have blogged earlier. A few weeks ago when I was in the city of Aizu in Fukushima, Japan, there was a panel discussion which included the mayor of Aizu. Aizu is famous for being one of the places of the final resistance against the anti-samurai Meji government after Admiral Perry triggered the opening of Japan. It's a famous story involving young solders watching their castle fall after a long siege and committing ritual suicide. It also involves betrayal by their former allies, the Satsuma clan. The story also involves the Choshu clan which lead the rebellion against the Shogunate/Bakufu. At the time, the Choshu clan had been terrorizing Kyoto, bombing the imperial palace and trying to "steal the Emperor". The history of this period is way too complicated for me to describe in a short post, but suffice it to say that the people of Aizu feel that the people of Choshu are enemies since the days when the Aizu clan was trying to protect the Emperor from the Choshu clan and that the Satsuma people were turncoats.

The panel discussion involved a letter from the major of the city that would have been the capital of Choshu asking the governor of Aizu whether they could forget the past and just get along. The incidents were over 130 years ago. There was a heated debated that involved a lot of cheering and jeering from the audience, but it was clear that Aizu would not forgive these two clans and that most people in the audience didn't even trust many of the politicians such as Koizumi and Abe because they were from Choshu and Satsuma. The panel pointed out that it was it was the victim that should reach out for peace, not the aggressors. One of the panelists pointed out that Koreans have mentioned that it will take 200 years to forgive Japan for its aggression. Considering the fact that Aizu still can't forgive the Choshu after 130 years, I can understand why the Chinese and the Koreans still can't forgive the Japanese.

The conclusion of the panel was that there would be no "forgiveness" but that "dialog" should continue. It was interesting for me to see how much animosity and local patriotism still exists in a country that appears so homogeneous to the outside. It is probably important for outsiders to understand these sorts of things and for reporters to discuss them as well.

Another anecdote that was mentioned several times was that the bodies of the Aizu soldiers were left for months on the battle ground before they were tended to and in the end were not buried in Yasukuni Shrine with other Japanese war dead. Therefore the Aizu people have a much different opinion about the prime minister's visits to the shrine and still hold the "new government" of Japan in disdain.

Live Door, one of the large Internet portal/verticals run by the now well-known maverick Horiemon, was raided last night the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor's office on suspicion of illegal securities trading. (Japan Times artice) Apparently they raided around 6PM last night and were there until this morning. One person who was visiting for a meeting reported that he was not allowed to leave for a long time and had to leave his papers there. Unlike the US, Japanese courts do not have a "discovery" process and often have to rely on these surprise raids to get necessary documents. It makes for good TV News.

Horiemon has been rubbing old-school Japan the wrong way by challenging the establishment with clever financing and takeover attempts of the media etc. I can see how he would get targeted. On the other hand Japanese companies like his tend to be sloppy so I wouldn't be surprised if they find something. It would be unfortunate if they end up slapping Livedoor down since I think he was serving an important function in Japanese business and this looks like a typical set-up.

Thanks to iMorpheus for reminding that I should probably blog this.

UPDATE: I haven't confirmed this, but I just heard a rumor that the National TV Network (NHK) was reporting the raid before people at Live Door knew they were being raided. ;-)

UPDATE 2: Live Door is Skype's Japan partner.

UPDATE 3: Apparently the first notice Live Door got of the raid was when Network TV called for an interview. TV knew before they did.

Per a request in the comments of my previous post, let me post a few more of my notes about Yasukuni Shrine.

First of all, it is an independent religions organization not directly affiliated with the government. Over 2 million soldiers are memorialized in Yasukuni. The votes of these relatives have value, but it isn't since the Koizumi days that the media have started picking it up as a big deal. Koizumi ran for office three times before he was successful. The first two times, visits to Yasukuni were never part of Koizumi's campaign, but starting with the third try against Hashimoto, he promised to visit Yasukuni as Prime Minister to try to take this swing vote from the Hashimoto faction. Some believe that this was key to his winning the fourth election. There appears to be some "logic" in domestic politics for his action. However, I think there is a consensus that it makes no sense from a foreign policy perspective and even the US which has been rather neutral on the issue in the past seems to be concerned. On the other hand, some polls show the Japanese public divided on the issue. The Sankei newspaper is currently the only newspaper supporting Koizumi's visits the Yasukuni Shrine. The Yomiuri, which once supported his visits, now criticizes them. Some people believe that maybe there is some secret plan to use this as a bargaining chip with China in the future. However, most people believe that even if this ends up happening it was not particularly planned by Koizumi.

One expert in Japanese religion at this meeting pointed out that the original Nara Buddhism does not memorialize the dead or believe in heaven. He argued that the religious underpinnings of the necessity of memorializing the war dead didn't make sense under real Japanese Buddhism and that we should stop making such memorials in Japan... that Japan should go back to Nara Buddhism where once you died, you were dead. Full stop. Another person commented that there is a division of state and church under the Japanese constitution and these visits are a violation.

This is reiterating the obvious, but the two main point are the class A war criminals memorialized there and probably the war museum. The war museum tries to argue that the WWII was justified.

Karel just sent me an article he wrote for the Asahi about the recent election. I've posted it on my wiki.

Karel van Wolferen via email
Dear Joi,

The widespread -- and I mean truly widespread -- misconception that Japan has been pushed by Koizumi in a market-capitalism direction should teach us something about the function of the world's media as agents of ignorance. Like with subjects such as Iraq or Russia those who ought to know do not have a clue of what is actually going on.

Herewith my article as it appears this morning in the Asahi Shimbun.

best wishes

Karel

Will the Next Elections Save Japanese Democracy - by Karel van Wolferen - September 12, 2005

I'm attending the STS Forum in Kyoto again this year and it turns out that the election date for the Japanese parliament ended up on the same day as the first day of the event. Prime Minister Koizumi was still able to make it to the meeting which is the brainchild of Koji Omi. I'm a great fan of Koji Omi. He's one of the only politicians I know who studies and actually reads everything people send him to read. He's a former bureaucrat who became powerful for his intelligence and analysis among other things. Last night, we were having a nightcap in the hotel as the results of the election were coming in and Mr. Omi was understandably happy as each of the over 40 candidates that he had visited and endorsed came in winning.

Later, I received a distressed email from Karel van Wolferen, with whom I had just had dinner. Karel is very worried about the LDP and Koizumi's ability to reform Japan. He has given me permission to post some material he has written in the past (With Koizumi at the Theatre - September 5, 2005) and is going to be writing a piece for the Asahi about the election which I will post when he sends it to me. I am putting the material on the wiki. I urge you to read it and comment on the wiki. Karel is the most lucid critic of Japanese policy and politics that I know and his book, the Enigma of Japanese Power was the beginning of my increased understanding about Japan. I think he has an important role in helping people understand Japan moving forward and am glad he has come back to Japan (temporarily) to participate in the process. Thanks Karel.

In an effort to cut down on energy consumption, Japan has implemented "Cool Biz". Cool biz facilities keep the temperature at around 28 degrees Celsius (approx 82.4 Fahrenheit) in the summer. It often feels hotter than that. In these offices, people don't wear suits. Most government buildings and many public facilities are now cool biz. First of all, 28 degrees is hot, even with a t-shirt. Second, when you travel around buildings requiring various dress codes, this system doesn't really work.

This isn't a new thing, but it appears that it is being implemented with renewed vigor this year. I blogged about this back in 2002. According to the Japanese Wikipedia, they think that it will save about $1B.

I suppose I'm a schmuck for complaining about something so socially and fiscally good, but for some reason this kind of suffering feels very Japanese and annoying. There is something very ceremonial and inefficient about it. Maybe it's just that I'm sweating my ass off in a cool biz zone. Maybe this is a signal to me to figure out a way to save $1B for the Japanese economy and help the environment. Maybe we can start by firing all of the retired bureaucrats that they force companies to hire who get paid a mint and driven around in black limos.

"LDP lawmaker Nagaoka found hanged" read the Japan Times front page headline today. "Nagaoka who was serving his second term representing Ibaraki Prefecture's No. 7 district, was one of several lawmakers criticized by a magazine for changing positions on postal privatization, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's priority policy initiative. The magazine called Nagaoka a traitor for his actions... Nagaoka opposed the the bills in the ruling party's decision-making General Council but later voted for them in a crucial Lower House vote on July 5. The bills passed by a razor-thin margin of five votes." He left no suicide note and his wife had not witnessed any suspicious behavior.

Suicide is common in Japan and is sometimes considered even honorable. However, whenever I hear about these suicides that appear to benefit the establishment, I remember a conversation I once had with former chairman Shima of NHK. NHK is the public broadcasting organization of Japan, the largest broadcaster in the world (I think), and not privatized. I used to interpret for the late chairman and helped him set up his web site when he was ousted from NHK. I remember him telling me that half of the officially reported suicides were actually political murders/assassinations and that the corruption went all the way to the top. If I had heard this from anyone other than the chairman of the largest broadcaster, life-long political reporter and behind-the scenes kingmaker, I would have thought it was a stupid conspiracy theory. Coming from Shima it carried some weight. I do not have any evidence that this is true, and I realize this would be an irresponsible allegation, but those words spring to mind whenever I read, "Lawmaker found hanged. No suicide note. Lawmaker cast swing vote against controversial bill to privatize..."

"You have dishonored your faction and your family and you must take responsibility if you want to avoid consequences to you and your family," a voice in my head whispers... An offer that he couldn't refuse. This is called otoshimae in Yakuzaese. There is a crime in Japan called kyoyozai which makes it illegal for someone to say something like, "You SHOULD pay me money," with an implied threat. This law is to specifically prevent the exercise of this kind of indirect force.

Jiji Press notes in a separate article that if the bill doesn't pass the Upper House, Koizumi has threatened to dissolve the House of Representatives. If this happens, it is more likely that he will visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in mid-August to rally the votes of conservative LDP voters.

And some people ask my why I don't go into Japanese politics...

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal about the rise of more aggressive nationalist Japanese politicians. The article gives the example of the recent decision to willingness to challenge China, for instance, in the dispute over natural gas drilling in the East China Sea. These politicians, according to the article, are taking leadership away from the bureaucrats who traditionally ran most of the foreign policy. I haven't read much about this and have been away from Japanese politics for awhile, but if this article is accurate, it's a disturbing trend. I think the move for Japan to become more "normal" is a good thing, but I don't think that a nationalist position is a good one.

However, the Asahi reports that 52% of Japanese polled say Koizumi should halt shrine visits and the Japanese Emperor Akihito made a surprise visit to a Korean war dead memorial in Saipan on Tuesday.

So it appears to me that once again, the central government and the LDP are out of touch with the people and even the Emperor and it's the politicians who are fueling this nationalist mood. I wonder what we can do about it... It's clearly a bad idea.

Ejovi was prevented from giving his talk by the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. Ejovi did the security audit on the local government system connected to the Japanese National ID system (Jyukinet) for the prefecture of Nagano. I audited his audit and wrote an opinion for Governor of Nagano last December. It does suck that they blocked is talk, which I think would have been fair and balanced as Ejovi says. However, I can easily imagine the government taking a hard stance on this considering all of the trouble they are having controlling the spin. Anyway, welcome to my world Ejovi. Ejovi, if you really want to give this talk, I think you need to do it with some political backup like Nagano or another local government.

Kyodo News
Ex-lawmaker Suzuki jailed for 2 years, fined Y11 mil

Friday, November 5, 2004 at 10:41 JST
TOKYO — The Tokyo District Court on Friday sentenced former Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Muneo Suzuki to two years in prison and fined him 11 million yen for taking bribes, not reporting political donations, and perjury.

Suzuki, 56, had pleaded not guilty to all the charges in the trial that began in November 2002. Suzuki was a member of the House of Representatives belonging to the LDP but left the governing party in March 2002 before his arrest in June that year.

We might not have a general election in Japan for up to another three years or so, but at least we're throwing some of the rotten ones in jail. One of the big challenges for the general elections in Japan will be whether we can get election reform back on track. Other than the fact that the ruling party has been in power almost non-stop for 50 years, we have some serious problems with our election system. The Prime Minister is not directly elected. This is similar to the UK where your parliamentarians select the Prime Minister, but in Japan, they don't have to tell you who they would vote for. The Prime Minister is chosen by the elders of the ruling party behind closed doors. There was a movement to reform this, but because of Prime Minister Koizumi's enormous popularity when he was selected, the people THOUGHT they had voted him in. Not true. The elders had just decided to select him to appease the people and possibly derail this election reform.

Another huge problem in Japan is the disparity of voting weights. They are very old and some rural areas have 5 times the voting power of people living in Tokyo. The Supreme Court of Japan has come close to calling this unconstitutional (because it is) and have asked the Diet to reallocate "or else"... but there is never "or else"... This supports the pork barrel politics of rural politicians subsidizing public works and skimming, which Suzuki was famous for.

The problem with Japan is that our democracy and our election process is so broken, it's not just a matter of getting people to vote and it's not even a matter of choosing the better of two evils. The ruling party wins and they choose the Prime Minister. You don't have much of a choice and without a massive, almost revolutionary uprising, reform is probably not possible. (sigh)

On the bright side, the prefectural Governors are elected more or less directly and are often very representative of the people. We should dissolve the central government and split Japan up into at least three nation-states. IMHO.

Speaking of unreachable sites... George Bush's official site used to time out when you tried to access it from Japan, Australia, New Zealand and a few other places I think. I blogged this back in August. Now it tells you formally:

www.georgewbush.com
Access Denied

You don't have permission to access "http://www.georgewbush.com/" on this server.

Much more formal than just timing out on us. But it's more clear now that it is intentional. Why would the Bush campaign want to block access from Japan?

via Jim

I blogged earlier about the very negative reaction that the Japanese taken hostage in Iraq received in Japan. The main reason was that when the parents asked for their release, they didn't apologize to the Japanese government and even denounced the war. I believe it was a rather unfortunately, but understandable reaction in the context of Japanese culture for the Japanese to say, "we told you to stay away from there, and how dare you cause such shame on Japan without even apologizing."

I recently talked to someone involved in the Arab press and learned that if the parents had apologized and sucked up to the Japanese government, there was a good chance that the hostages would not have been released. So if I had to choose between whether my children were released alive or whether they would be happily received by the Japanese government, I think I'd choose to have my children live. Whether it was done on purpose or not, their parents made the right decision.

Then there is the story of the Australian journalist who was freed because a Google search revealed he was not CIA or a US contractor.

I don't think that all of the kidnappers are smart and politically motivated and ethical, but they are clearly sending a signal that their targets are not all random.

Cory @ Boing Boing
ACLU and EFF strike down part of PATRIOT Act

EFF has helped the ACLU overturn one of the worst elements of the USA PATRIOT Act, the "National Security Letters," which were secret warrants that the Justice Department could write for itself without judicial oversight and then bind the recipients to indefinite silence. That's right: secret, no-oversight warrants with perpetual gag-orders. The ACLU brought suit against the DoJ on this one, and we filed briefs on their side, and today, a federal court struck down this part of PATRIOT as unconstitutional. BooYAH.

"Today's ruling is an important victory for the Bill of Rights, and a critical step toward reigning in the unconstitutional reach of the Patriot Act," said Kurt
Opsahl, EFF staff attorney. "The Court recognized that judicial oversight and the freedom to discuss our government's activities both online and offline are fundamental safeguards to civil liberties, and should not be thrown aside."
Link
Once again I wish we had the EFF and the ACLU in Japan. Or rather, the kind of people and government that would encourage the creation such organizations. The US government is capable of insanity like the US PATRIOT Act, but it also has corrective mechanisms which work. Anyway, good going folks!

Two years ago I marched in protest against the Japan National ID. Last year, after we failed, a few cities and prefectures resisted. Yokohama took the position that the bill was illegal because it required privacy protection and the privacy bill had not passed. They allowed citizens to opt out and an whopping 24% of their citizens opted out. Now that the privacy bill of the central government is in place, Yokohama is being forced to "normalize" with the central government. Last year, I accepted an appoint to the Yokoyama personal information protection committee which would oversee their integration of the national ID system with the hope that I could help them in their resistance. Today, almost a year after the first meeting, I spent the afternoon in what was basically a rubber stamp session. We voiced our opinions, but at this point there really wasn't much choice. These inquiry committee are constitutionally defined organs for people to interact with the law making process, but I felt more like a cog with a rubber stamp than a participant in a democracy.

CNETAsia
Japan: Schoolkids to be tagged with RFID chips

Japanese authorities decide tracking is best way to protect kids

The rights and wrongs of RFID-chipping human beings have been debated since the tracking tags reached the technological mainstream. Now, school authorities in the Japanese city of Osaka have decided the benefits outweigh the disadvantages and will now be chipping children in one primary school.

This reminds me of the lyrics to the Suicidal Tendencies song Institutionalized, "Wait, what do you mean, what are you talking about, we decided!? My best interest?! How can you know what's my best interest is? How can you say what my best interest is?"

I know people are going to scream "tin foil hat" at me again, but I really don't like the idea of tagging people and the idea of national ids. It really is a slippery slope which will always look rather innocent at the beginning but will lead to a stifling of freedoms and an ability to profile and control people. I believe this is true especially in Japan, there are not enough people who argue against the "oh it's going to just be so convenient" side of the argument.

Interestingly, the "oh so convenient" national ID card that I was protesting has only had a 0.2% uptake by the population in Japan so I guess if you give people a choice, they'd rather not waste their time, money and privacy.

Japan Today
Moore hopes 'Fahrenheit' will bring about regime change in Japan

NEW YORK — Controversial American filmmaker Michael Moore said Tuesday he hopes the global release of his documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" will usher in "regime changes" in countries like Japan and Australia.

In a press conference with foreign journalists in New York, Moore said his polemical movie should encourage people in all democratic countries that have supported the U.S.-led war in Iraq to vote their leaders out of office.

There is definitely less news and information in Japanese about the theories about why the US went to war. A lot of the stuff in the movie will be new to many Japanese. I'd be interested to see what the Japanese public reaction to the movie is. My sense is that we already have enough reasons to mistrust the government that people with probably sign numbly and not do anything. But I could be wrong.

Better late then never. The State Department announced Tuesday that their report that terror has been decreasing was in fact incorrect. Terror actually ROSE in 2003. However, they are still arguing that they are "winning the war on terror." (AP/NY Times - Amended Report Shows Terror Rose in 2003)

On our home front, the Japanese diet passed the controversial pension bill (the pension that 1/3 of the cabinet members have been shown to have evaded at some point). It is shown that an inflated fertility rate was used for the bill to show rosier numbers and lower, more accurate numbers that had been finalized for more than 2 weeks by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry were withheld. Public sentiment has already been very negative about the pension system. The government had been pushing this new bill, were paying commissions to retired bureaucrats to collect such pensions from normal citizens, and the politicians themselves not paying. Now this. (Japan Times -
Inflated fertility rate used for pension bills
)

What surprises me is the stupidity of these lies. Neither of these lies were likely to remain unchallenged. Did these people believe that they could just fudge numbers to make some false short-term point. Amazing.

Rebecca is blogging from about the Japan sessions at the World Economic Forum meeting going on right now in Seoul. The theme seems to be about recovery. This year at Davos, I was in the audience and Rebecca was moderating a similar panel. Unfortunately, I'm not there this time to heckle. ;-)

Rebecca blogs:

World Economic Forum Blog
... However he [Takenaka] also said that further agressive reforms are necessary if Japan is to pull itself fully and completely out of its decade-long economic slump. He said that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is fully committed to such aggressive reform.

[...]

Takenaka concludes: "There is no excuse to postpone the reform, or to stop the reform at this moment." He says the greatest fundamental danger to economic expansion is a "kind of complacency." People who say that further reforms are unnecessary because the economy has improved are "totally wrong." Japan, he says, now has an opportunity to create a "virtuous cycle" of reform and growth.

[...]

At the Annual Meeting in Davos this past January, I moderated a panel titled Making Japan's Recovery Last . Panelists were generally optimistic that the recovery could be sustained, as long as the government continued with structural reforms. However some members of the audience including venture capitalist and WEF GLT Joi Ito expressed concern that the economic upturn would be used as an excuse not to forge ahead with tough reforms. It appears that Takenaka is determined not to let that happen. He says he has the Prime Minister's support. But what about the rest of the Japanese bureaucracy?

I hope Takenaka is right. I'm still quite concerned that economic recovery will cause people to be complacent about reform, but as Rebecca points out, the drivers for the current recovery might be different from the past. I suppose that if Takenaka and Koizumi continue to focus on this aggressive reform at home, we might have a chance.

The Japan Times
Kidnap crisis poses a new risk

In Japan's case, laws are being proposed to punish those entering designated "danger zones" without an official reason.

Victims -- or their families -- will foot the bill for their rescue, which will amount to airfare, if not more. "This is standard practice for mountain rescues," one line of reasoning goes.

But consider two things: One is that an aid mission to a danger zone is not a forest stroll gone astray. The very comparison indicates a misunderstanding of what aid missions do.

The second is policy overstretch and political abuse. This law would place a degree of government control over aid organizations, something many don't want. Particularly NGOs (by very the nature of their title) eschew government support, especially when they take on problems governments would rather avoid.

Under this law, they would effectively need official permission to work in some places overseas. Those "unsponsored" who get unlucky will face a "rescue fine" -- which could bankrupt the person or the organization. Thus this new system of rents will curtail Japanese volunteerism.

The Japanese government is taking this way too far and totally agree with the author of this article that this is a bad bad thing. As I've said before, legislation during emotionally charged times often ends up being stupid and poorly thought through. The ramifications of such a law would be devastating for NGO's and aid workers from Japan, just when such activity is becoming recognized. It almost feels like some stupid conspiracy to use this incident to squash the NGO's in Japan. Bah. I have less and less respect for the Japanese government every day.

AP, Reuters, NYT
Scandal drives out Koizumi aide

Fukuda, 67, the son of a prime minister, had been widely regarded as a conservative pillar in a government dominated by Koizumi's freewheeling style. His resignation highlighted the damaging disclosure over the past two weeks that a third of the cabinet members have failed to pay their pension premiums - just as the government is trying to pass a bill that would increase most citizens' premiums and reduce retirees' benefits.

I rarely say "fuck" on my blog, but "Fuck you Japanese politicians!" (Lucky the FCC doesn't control my blog... yet.) I've paid about 1/2 of all of my life earnings in tax to the Japanese government and have paid my premiums to the national pension system even though studies that I worked on at the Association of Corporate Executives showed that I would most likely not benefit from these pensions. Now it turns out many Japanese politicians don't pay their national pension premiums. Actually, a third of the cabinet members haven't paid their pension premiums. The "Vice President" of Japan, Yasuo Fukuda just resigned for not paying his premiums. This is all amid a move by the government to increase premiums and lower pay-outs. The study we did showed that unless you were about retirement age today, would would most likely not benefit from the pension system.

What's worse is that they use strong arm tactics like using the agricultural union (which hires retired bureaucrats and takes a commission) and other semi-public organizations to collect premiums from average citizens.

This is totally disgusting and I really wonder why I live and pay taxes in such a corrupt country.

Japan Today
N Korea's Kim criticized at home for apology to Japan

Friday, May 7, 2004 at 04:00 JST

WASHINGTON — North Korean military hardliners have been critical of leader Kim Jong Il for apologizing to Japan for the abduction of Japanese nationals, a U.S. expert who visited North Korea in April said.

This makes it difficult for the North Korean leader to make a decision to break the impasse over the abduction issue with Japan, said Selig Harrison, Asian project director at the Washington-based Center for International Policy. He said the hardliners were angry because they think North Korea should never apologize to Japan, which colonized the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. (Kyodo News)

Thank you Kim Jong Il. Japan has done many things that I think requires apologies, but the abductions of Japanese by the North Koreas is an issue that I believe required an apology. I think this is a important first step, even if it is causing him some grief at home. I'm not sure what these means from a diplomatic tactics perspective, but I think Kim Jong Il deserves some credit on this one.

An Iraqi man claiming to have spoken to the kidnappers says the hostages will be executed one by one from later tonight if the demands are not met.

Via The Command Post

Japan Today
Abe wants to revise Constitution to use SDF in hostage crisis

Monday, April 12, 2004 at 06:47 JST
TOKYO — Shinzo Abe, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, called Sunday for amending the Constitution to enable the government to mobilize the Self-Defense Forces in such eventualities as the current hostage crisis in Iraq.

Obviously the US doesn't have a monopoly on using tragedies and fear to push their political agenda. I personally am not against revising the constitution and I can see how it makes "political sense" to do it now, but it still bugs me. People make such stupid laws when they're emotional.

The Command Post
Hostages Released?

Fox TV is reporting that at least eight hostages have been released and the three Japanese hostages are “safe.”

No confirmation on this yet, will follow up.

Aljazeera
Fate of Japanese hostages uncertain

Monday 12 April 2004, 4:44 Makka Time, 1:44 GMT

The lives of three Japanese hostages in Iraq are still in jeopardy, with their captors apparently threatening to start killing them unless Japan withdraws its forces

Aljazeera
Eight foreign hostages freed

Sunday 11 April 2004, 21:39 Makka Time, 18:39 GMT

An Iraqi group says it has released eight foreign hostages following the intervention of Muslim scholars on their behalf.

A videotape aired by Aljazeera on Sunday showed eight frightened captives holding their passports and giving their nationalities. The hostages were seen guarded by masked men with arms.

The hostages were three from Pakistan, two Turks, an Indian, a Nepali and one from the Philippines.

So the Japanese were not among the released, but I wonder what "safe" means. Does anyone else have any news on this?

Japanese hostages 'to be freed' - BBCi

Iraqi group to free Japanese hostages - Aljazeera

The Japanese hostages in Iraq are supposed to be freed in a few hours. I'm watching the TV news for more information now.

UPDATE: Japan awaits news about hostages - BBC

The Japanese news has been suppressing the more vivid videos of the hostage situation in Iraq and continue the "we are not pulling out" line. One piece of news that even the West seems to be suppressing is that the Japanese hostages are being threatened with cannibalism.

"We tell you that three of your children have fallen prisoner in our hands and we give you two options -- withdraw your forces from our country and go home or we will burn them alive and feed them to the fighters," the group said.
Most reports are saying "killed" or "burned alive".

via The Command Post

My current friend and former nemesis, Hiroo Yamagata and I were on a panel with Larry Lessig last week. He casually mentioned that he had decided to translate Das Kapital into Japanese. He is one of the best translators in Japan and has translated Lessig, Leary, Krugman and many others. Anyway, he said that all of the existing translations were related to the Japanese communist party in some way and were edited and filtered. For instance, violence and other things were omitted. He remembered someone in college who argued Marx with him based on a faulty translation and in retrospect, this pissed him off. He decided to make a more accurate translation. Hiroo is kind of a weirdo, but it's because of people like him that some things that are lost in translation actually get fixed. Blatant censorship is pretty scary, but this reminded me how dangerous intentional mistranslations can be as well.

I think this is old news on the Net, but the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force has produced an ad that is has begun to show on big screens at major intersections now and will soon be on TV. It's a bit embarrassing as a Japanese, but I guess it makes us look less threatening...

via Wirefarm

See the JMSDF site for the movie.

Japan Today
Friday, February 6, 2004 at 14:00 JST

TOKYO - Tokyo police sent papers to prosecutors Thursday on a businessman over use of the U.S.-made Segway scooter vehicle on a public road, an unusually strict move that marks the first time in Japan that police have taken action over people riding the two-wheeled novelty.

The police allege that the 42-year-old president of an import company in the capital's Setagaya Ward violated the Road Traffic Law by having a person drive a Segway on a public road in July last year for advertising purposes.

Last year I tried to get the government to relax its regulations to allow people to ride Segways, but they wouldn't. I gave up the idea. I actually know this guy and he was insistent that he could build a business importing Segways. I guess not. This is pretty "unusually strict" but the police hate it when you make money doing stuff that they don't approve of.

Thanks for the link Chris

japanpanelbeckyRebecca MacKinnon is moderating a Japan panel this year.

Last year, when I was on a Japan panel and MC'ing the Japan dinner, Japan was still looking dismal and my role as risk taking agitator was a good card for the Japanese to play to try to show that they were trying to change.

This year, the economy is "recovering" and the panel is populated by more of the old-school participants who are cautiously trying to explain the "turn-around" and how the "recovery" will continue.

I think the consensus is that the engine of the recovery is the restructuring of private companies and that the government policy and reforms are the oil.

I personally think that we need more fundamental changes in Japan, but I think that the incentive to make big changes will decrease as long as this fragile recovery continues. I think it's probably more constructive for me to spend my efforts on global issues and blogging until Japan needs my subversive energy again. ;-)

Comment from the audience: It's not the number of women in the women in the Japanese workforce, but rather their role in the workforce.

UPDATE: Ack! Rebecca glared at me, I shook my head, but she called on me for a comment anyway. I asked whether the more painful reforms are going to get less attention now that people are focused on the recover and making people feel comfortable.

One of the panel members disagreed with me and asserted that with political will, many of the fundamental changes will continue to happen and might even be easier.

Hmm... maybe in some areas, but I doubt it. Maybe I should have defined "fundamental changes."

Shigefumi Matsuzawa, Govenor of Kangawa during a speech campaigning for the Nov. 9 House of Representatives election
Foreigners are a bunch of sneaky thieves. As Ishihara has cracked down on them, they've all flowed into Kanagawa.
If anyone has any grand unified theories as to why Japanese politicians often say such dumbass things in public, I'd love to hear.
Because they can get away with it and the media doesn't call them on it.

Blog blog blog...

It's likely that Japan will send troops to Iraq. 60% of the people are against it, yet 60% of the people support Koizumi who has vowed to send the troops. It's likely that some of the soldiers will die. The question that is on everyone's mind is how many dead Japanese soldiers will it take before Koizumi's cabinet unwinds.
Getting ready to give speech. The guy next to my is Jun Maki who played the producer of the photo shoot in Lost in Translation
Tomorrow is the general election for the Japanese parliament's Lower House. Mizuka and I joined the Governor of Nagano, Yasuo Tanaka, Shigeaki Saegusa (the conductor), Jun Maki (the copywriter who appears in Lost in Translation as the producer of the photo shoot), Yoichiro Kawaguchi (computer graphics professor), Hajime Takano (journalist) and many others in a two hour march through Ginza urging people go and vote tomorrow. It was called the senkyo ni ikouzei! movement. Our march was a nonpartisan effort to get people to vote regardless of their politics. We handed out leaflets, waved flags and made speeches on street corners. I made a speech about how most Japanese believe something needs to change yet do not feel they have any impact. I argued that Yasuo Tanaka showed that politicians can cause change and that voters can elect such officials. I stressed that you get the politicians you deserve and that if we wanted a democracy in Japan, people were going to have to vote.

It was a hot day, but people were very receptive. It was clear they were happy to see Yasuo Tanaka and unlike the time we were handing out leaflets protesting the National ID, the percentage of people willing to take them from you was much higher.

Also, the opposition party of Japan, the Democratic Party of Japan has announced a "shadow cabinet" appointing Yasuo Tanaka the minister in charge of decentralization. Ishihara, the mayor of Tokyo has spoken out against this.

Here is a 11.3MB Quicktime Movie of Mizuka and I trying to hand out flyers.

The session on the second day of the Japan Society roundtable was amazing. It was so full of interesting opinions by so many experts that I really had very little to add. I uncharacteristically just sat there and took notes.

Here are some of the notes.

It appears that there are two risk scenarios for the ascension of China as a super-power. One risk is that it doesn't happen and a failure in the Chinese economy would cause a global crisis. The other risk is that China is so successful that it becomes so powerful that it is a threat to the region. It appears that the Chinese are much more worried of failing whereas the rest of the world is more afraid of their success.

Regarding US/Japan relations. There was an interesting opinion raised that some Japanese believe that the Chinese reaction to the Prime Minister visiting Yasukuni shrine is an over-reaction. They believe that the Chinese are intentionally difficult about historical issues to keep a rift between Japan and China for political and other purposes. The LDP which is based on economic grown and a strong relationship with the US has failed on the economy so is working very hard to deliver a good relationship with the US in light of the difficulty with China. Other people opined that relations between China and Japan have never been better in the last 100 years.

It was pointed out that 60% of people in Japan are against sending Japanese troops to Iraq. Koizumi has stated that he will definitely send troops to Iraq. Still, 60% of people support Koizumi.

Japanese people are generally supportive of the strong personal relationship between Bush and Koizumi.

Another interesting observation was that when Japan was confident and economically strong, many people were afraid of any addition expansion of the Japanese military. Now with Japan weaker and less confident, people seem to be positive of expanding Japan's role in security.

The issue of why Japan was so different from Germany in acknowledging history and deploy troops in peacekeeping operations was raised. The paradox of Japanese not feeling guilty for the war, yet being pacifist or negative about sending troops was raised. It was noted that this is an old discussion. There were arguments that Japan and Germany were actually very similar and other arguments that they were not. The regional difference of neighboring countries in in Europe urging Germany to participate in peacekeeping in Europe vs. most Asian countries relatively negative about the idea of rearming Japan also played a role.

One opinion about why the Japanese people do not want to expand the military was that the Japanese people did not feel that they could trust the government with addition power and did not like the image of the police state. In fact, they remember the pre-war Japanese police state and also the military being out of control. They feel that politicians and civilians can not control the bureaucracy. I personally feel this way.

The issue of the revisionist right wing text books was raised. One opinion was that these right wing revisionists were actually not the main stream, but a reaction. Only 0.3% of school actually ended up using the revised texts and the movement is considered a failure.

The issue of whether the strong US/Japan alliance was actually a good thing. Several people opined that allowing Japan to have more multilateral relationships might allow it to become more "normal." Everyone had difficulty defining "normal" but someone observed that "normal" usually meant countries willing to use force. Having said that, there were negative opinions about the UN as a multilateral relationship vehicle and the idea of a Pacific NATO like security organization was raised. Several people said that it was difficult since NATO was based on a very specific threat, the Soviet Union, which countries rallied under. There is really not a very strong trigger for such an organization now. Others disagreed. They felt that if the US was a referee and supported this in the way Clinton supported the formation of APEC, it might happen, but that the US didn't seem very interested.

It was pointed out that since Japan is aging so quickly, it can not be motivated very strongly to grow its military. Most countries which expanded security forces were usually countries that had a lot of young people. It was noted that the Kim Jon Il said during his trip across Russia on the train, that he had "too many people." This is one reason why he might be happier to send troops to war than Japan where there are so few young people. Another point was that people-to-people contact and tourism has increased significantly. Visas to Korea from Japan have been dropped and many people are traveling to China. The third point was that the economies were becoming increasingly integrated. For these reasons, it was unlikely that Japan would become a military threat or that a war in Asia was likely (other than the North Korea risk.) In counterpoint, another person pointed out that there were no visas and there was a great deal of economic interdependence in Europe right before World War I.

It was also pointed out that until 10 or 20 years ago, the Japanese were always forced to choose between interest in Asia or interest in the West. Recently this is no longer the case. Japan can be close to Asia as well as a strong US partner. In fact, a strong China/US/Japan multilateral relationship could be truly win-win.

We talked a lot about FTA's. An opinion was raised that if Koizumi was able to win this coming election, that he would probably have enough political power to push back on agriculture to open FTA and would revise the constitution.

Participated in an interesting roundtable discussion this morning organized by the Japan Society. I was told I could write about it but I couldn't attribute quotes without permission.

There were representatives from the US, China, Taiwan and Korea.

An interesting point that was raised was that the older generation conservatives in Japan were unrealistic because they had been protected by the US, whereas the conservatives in South Korea were realistic enough to deal with the unrealistic Japanese. On the other hand, the younger generation in South Korea were unrealistic because they had not experienced the Korea war and the threat of North Korea, whereas the Japanese younger generation seemed to be more realistic. The point was that when the South Korean younger generation became more realistic, a stronger tie to Japan might be realized.

I think it was the consensus of the group that the constitution of Japan should be revised to allow Japan to participate in peacekeeping operations, improve self-defense and improve the alliance with the US. Everyone agreed that the relationship with the US was in good shape right now, but that failure to deal with the North Korea situation could lead to a disagreement about whether Japan should go nuclear, the US should attack or a variety of issues on how to deal with North Korea. However, the North Korea crisis in any event is helping the US/Japan relationship for now and the trend is probably to push for strengthening the alliance and try to get Japan included in the US missile defense system. The other area where the relationship my become problematic is if the US is not supportive of Japan's efforts to help organize ASEAN+3 and other Asian economic trade organization that exclude the US. Both of these seemed to be manageable issues.

With respect to the "identity of Japan"... There was an opinion raised that Japan should push to democratize Asia as the leading democracy in Asia. There were some opinions that "democracy" was politically touchy since there were friendly non-democracies in ASEAN countries and words like "governance" or "open and tolerant societies" might be better. I argued (as usual) that Japan was not a democracy so it was strange for Japan to that democracy was Japan's identity. Also, democracy requires embracing diversity which we do not do at home. Until we embrace diversity at home, we will not be very convincing when going to try to promote democracy abroad. I said that we should focus on dealing with diversity and racism at home and become and example rather than trying to push it abroad. I said that I thought we shouldn't under-estimate the emotional rift between Japan and other Asian countries and that we needed to deal with this before trying to be an Asian leader.

I also pointed out that the baby boomers were still in power in Japan and the bureaucracy including the foreign ministry didn't represent the young people in Japan. I said that until the changing of the guard it was unlikely that things would really change much. I thought that social entrepreneurship, weblogs and other non-traditional foreign relations between young people was probably going to have a larger effect on reaching out to Asia. I asserted that I thought the grassroots movements and activating the voice of the people, not more bureaucratic deliberations about foreign policy were probably more important.

Also, the point of whether national identity should have anything to do with foreign policy was raised.

The Japan Times
Ishihara unrepentant over slur
Koreans asked to be ruled by Japan, governor insists

An unrepentant Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara on Friday reiterated claims that Koreans had chosen Japanese rule rather than face Chinese or Russian governance when Japan annexed the Korean Peninsula in 1910.

Speaking at a regular news conference, Ishihara again claimed that political leaders on the Korean Peninsula had made the decision to accept Japanese rule, which lasted until Japan's defeat in World War II in 1945.

According to Ishihara, Japan ruled its colony in a better fashion than Western nations, such as France, the Netherlands and the United States.

Ugh.

The Japan Time
'REGAINING PUBLIC SAFETY' - Cops to sniff out illegal foreigners in Tokyo

By HIROSHI MATSUBARA, Staff writer

Immigration authorities, police and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said Friday they will take joint action to halve the number of foreigners without visas in the capital within five years.

The Justice Ministry's Immigration Bureau, the bureau's Tokyo branch, the metropolitan government and the Metropolitan Police Department issued a joint statement saying they would cooperate more closely toward this goal.

They believe that half of the estimated 250,000 undocumented foreigners in Japan live or work in Tokyo.

"An increasing number of visaless foreigners engage in serious crimes, and it is pointed out that the problem is closely linked to organized crime by foreigners," Justice Minister Daizo Nozawa asserted during Friday's news conference.

This is all part of Governor Ishihara's ethnic cleansing of Tokyo thing. He's blaming all of the horrible crimes on "foreigners" and using that to ramp up police force and will probably lead to increased intrusions of privacy.

I do know that there have been increased activity of foreign organized crime groups in Japan, but his talking about "criminal DNA" in foreigners is horrible and will just help justify people in looking away when heavy handed police tactics are used on foreigners in Japan. Bad bad bad...

Right on Gen. Rock on Funabashi-san. I met Yoichi Funabashi back in May 2000. He was getting started on the "make English Japan's second language" thing, which I was obviously extremely supportive of. ;-)

Yoichi Funabashi's a smart, balanced guy we should listen to who can speak/write in English. We should get this man a blog...

Today I went to see Governor Masuda of Iwate. Iwate is physically the largest prefecture in Japan. Iwate is also my "home town" where my mother's side of the family is buried. Our family house is there, the schools that my great grandmother and grandmother built, and our grave. I *think* we've been at the same grave for 14 generations. (I have to fact check this. I know it is between 14-17 generations.) The last time I visited my grave was to pour my mother's ashes into the grave. We pour the ashes on top of the ashes of our ancestors. You can see the hundreds of years of ashes when you move the stone. The generations of people buried under the stone are etched in the stone side by side. Looking at all of the names on the stones sort of puts my life into perspective. A blip in a lineage of rather interesting people.

After our family property was parceled out to the locals during the Meiji Restoration, our money poured into the war effort in WWII and our heirlooms "confiscated" by the occupation, our family became a "normal" family and the city erected a little stone plaque in front of our house saying, "the former Ito residence." As an Ito who still owns the house, that's a bit disturbing. All that remains are the schools that my feminist great grandmother started building. She build one of the first trade schools for women during the war and my grandmother built a nurse school. My uncle reminded me that I must some day take over the school. I decided it was time to meet the Governor.

Luckily, we have many mutual friends and Professor Takemura made an introduction. I visited the Governor today. I talked about Creative Commons, the Internet Archives and the Bookmobile. I explained that Professor Takemura and I have been trying to get support from some local governments and libraries to try to sponsor an effort in Japan. We talked a lot about the future of local governments.

Governor Masuda was sharp, motivated and obviously on top of things. He is also a good friend of Governor Domoto of Chiba, who I know well. After meeting Governor Domoto of Chiba, Governor Tanaka of Nagano and Governor Masuda of Iwate, I think that the Governors of the strong provinces in Japan should start taking more control from the central government. I realize there is still a lot of reform required to allow the local governments to take more control. They need to become more financially self-sufficient. From a political perspective, the Governors are so much more accountable and representative of the people that it's a pity they don't have more resources...

PS 6 hours in the train to go to a 45 minute meeting scheduled 3 months ago is UBER M-Time... ;-)

I met Tony Laszlo today who pointed out an analysis on Isshoof an article by Governor Ishihara which appeared on the front page of the Sankei Shimbun (one of Japan's biggest newspapers) back in May. I didn't see it covered in any English media so I thought I'd point it out.

Ishihara has done some great things for Tokyo, but he is still publicly anti-foreigner in case you had any doubts. Can you imagine Mayor Bloomberg getting away with saying this on the front page of the New York Times? And the Sankei has more circulation than the NYT...

Like Don Park, this makes me want to apologize on behalf of my country.

Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara

"Japan - Defend your Internal Flank!" (Nihon yo - Uchinaru Bouei wo), a column by Tokyo Governor ISHIHARA Shintaro which appeared on the front page of the May 8, 2001 Sankei Shimbun

In due course, the perpetrators were captured, and, just as had been suspected, the crime was one of revenge among Chinese criminals. There is fear--and not without cause--that it will not be long before the entire nature of Japanese society itself will be altered by the spread of this type of crime that is indicative of the ethnic DNA [of the Chinese].

Japan Times
Behead parents of boy suspect, minister says

Yoshitada Konoike, state minister in charge of deregulation zones and disaster management, said Friday the parents of the 12-year-old youth suspected of slaying a 4-year-old boy in Nagasaki should be dragged through the streets and beheaded.

"It is better to have the parents decapitated for punishment after dragging them around town," said Konoike...

Konoike's remarks drew a barrage of criticism, but he refused to apologize.

"You better not do that, or we'll drag your parents around town and chop of their heads..." Sheesh.


I was invited to a breakfast with Keiko Higuchi by Merle Okawara. Ms. Higuchi is an outspoken anti-war feminist who was one of the first people to try to deal with the aging population issue in ernest. She is running for the office of the Governor of Tokyo as an independent against Shintaro Ishihara, the current Governor of Tokyo. She is characterized as a anti-war liberal and Ishihara is a well known nationalist.

Ishihara is an outspoken nationalist who rails against the United States and China and the central government. It is well known that he claims that “fifty years of subservience to the interest of the United States has deprived the Japanese of a national purpose and engendered a paralyzing identity crisis. And he reminds his countrymen that theirs is the only non-Caucasian society to have created a modern superpower.”
Ishihara is a well known writer who is able to capture the hearts of many Japanese with his catchy slogans and easy to understand policies that address many of the issues facing the average Japanese today.

Ms. Higuchi will have a tough fight being characterized as a soft philosophical peace-loving woman. Ishihara is talking about ramping up the police force to stomp out crime (especially those committed by foreign immigrants) and is supportive of increasing the military power of Japan. The war on Iraq will probably have a great deal of impact on this election.

Governor Domoto of Chiba also ran and didn't expect to win, but she did. Having assumed she was going to lose, she didn't promise many favors and thus she is relatively free and independent, having won. It would be great if Ms. Higuchi could win and displace Ishihara. She'll need some strong and smart advisors to help her execute, but having a woman Governor with a left-leaning disposition would probably be a good thing in light of the current atmosphere.

Ms. Higuchi outlined her philosophy this morning and I was happy to hear that she felt that democracy was broken and that the voice of the people as well as the ability for communities to organize and be heard in government was lacking and she intended to increase the diversity of opinions heard by lawmakers.

I talked about blogs and emergent democracy. (Of course)

fujimori.jpg
Photo from CNN.com
So Interpol has issued a "Red Notice" asking countries to extradite former Peruvian President Mr. Fujimori. He is charged with a variety of crimes including running a paramilitary death squad. He is of Japanese origin and had hidden his Japanese citizenship until he fled to Japan. Japan accepted him and now is refusing to extradite him to Peru.

I heard that many politicians and business leaders in Japan are big supporters of Fujimori and they even threw a party for him when he arrived in Tokyo.

So, I don't personally know if the Peruvians are politically motivated and unfair as Fujimori claims, but ignoring Interpol and secretly admiring a criminal charged with running a death squad is very uncool in my book.

This evening was yet another surprising evening for me. After writing this morning about suing the tax office, this evening was my first day on the board of the National Tax Bureau's study group on IT and taxation. They served a yummy dinner which I mentally subtracted from the tax money they owed me... The irony of being threatened by some folks in the local tax office and being treated like an important expert by the head of the Tax Bureau was... ironic.

I kicked off the discussion part of the meeting with my opinion that the government should think of itself as a service and the taxes payment for those services. When you have a captive market, you forget that on one level, the citizens are your customers. When trying to think about how to tax stuff on the Internet, you have to think in terms of "how much value are we adding?", "what is it worth?", "how do we get paid?" It's probably better to think about the power law curve and marketing than to think about things in terms of the current tax framework.

My position is that consumption tax or a VAT tax should be levied since it is easier to track. Japan's consumption tax is only 5%. Dump all of those complicated taxes on things you can't track. Then provide services that you can charge for. If your services are not competitive, privatize them.

Many people think a national ID with a central record of all transaction are the way to go. I opined that a more distributed method that triggered payments on certain types of taxable transactions without tracking ID might work better and protect privacy.

Anyway, it was weird at the beginning, but turned out being a lot of fun seeing and thinking about things from the perspective of the Tax Bureau.

ishii.JPG
Photo from Mainichi Shimbun
When politicians who speak up against corruption get stabbed to death in front of their homes, you know you are in trouble. I NEVER trust the press on this sort of thing. We'll see what they end up saying REALLY happened. Japanese politicians are regularly pushed around by the media and gangsters. How can we expect politics to get better if the job of being a politician in Japan is so un-rewarding and so high-risk? There are some politicians who are smart and honest, but most end up becoming merely a mouthpiece for some ministry or local interest. How do you get people to play in a game where the bad guys win?

Governor Tanaka has shown that you can win, for now. I think his case is really important in getting more people to have the courage to stand up. I think the Ishii case is a blow in the other direction. We really need to support good politicians and punish the media when it does not report the truth.

I don't know if the Ishii case is as simple as they say or whether there is more behind it, but I do know for a fact that the media often covers up murders committed by the powerful. I once heard that 50% of deaths reported as suicide are actually murders. The media is often used by politicians and bureaucrats to strip opponents of their public image. I think that the corruption of the mass media in Japan is directly responsible for a great deal of the corruption in Japanese society, but I don't really know how we're going to change this. Blogs?

I'm sorry if this entry sounds like media bashing or if it sounds like I'm questioning the reporting of this particular murder. I have no idea whether the reporting of this incident is correct. It just reminded me to beware of the media on issues like this.

Anyway, Ishii-san, may you rest in peace.

Articles from Mainichi Shimbun:

cabinet.bmp
I was a bit suprised when I read the morning paper and found that Koji Omi was replaced by Hiroyuki Hosoda as minister for Okinawa, Northern Territories and science and technology policy. I had been working closely with Mr. Omi on high tech ventures. I hope Hosoda-san turns out to be good. I don't know him personally. The head of science and technology policy is quite important in my view.

Mr. Katayama, the minister of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications who I had been battling with on the National ID issue suprised me and retained his position. They say it is because Koizumi-san is counting on him to push forward the postal reforms. Actually, Koizumi-san said he was in favor of the National ID so they probably agree on that. I wonder who is giving him that bad advice. Well, now I'm stuck working with the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications on trying to get them to think more about privacy so I will have to figure out how to communicate with Mr. Katayama I guess.

Mainichi
Finance czar gets shove in Cabinet reshuffle

Heizo Takenaka, who was reappointed as minister for economic and fiscal policy, emerged victorious in his bitter power struggle with Yanagisawa after he was ordered to double as financial services minister to replace Yanagisawa.


I think Takenaka-san is a good guy and quite smart. I get along with him quite well. Having said that, I think that people have criticized him for being a bit academic and macroeconomic oriented. He is being put into position to dump government money into banks which I think is generally a bad idea. On the other hand, I'm not a macroeconomist so what do I know...

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