Monthly Archives: July 2010

Chris Savoie, [Future] Attorney At Law

After helping to generate a lot of comments on this blog last year (here and here), Chris Savoie largely disappeared from the mass media. But he is still alive and kicking.

While enjoying some personal contemplation time in the bathroom last night, I came across an article on international child abduction in the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal, with Savoie’s story front and center, along with some personal updates.

Savoie, the managing partner of a mediation firm, tried to reach his ex-wife, but his calls went unanswered—until he dialed from a number Noriko wouldn’t recognize. “My-father-in law picked up and said, ‘Don’t worry. The kids are here with us,’” Savoie recounts. “I said, ‘What?’ I blacked out. I was in a fetal position screaming and crying. The anger also came out: Why didn’t they believe me that this could happen?”

Frustrated with what he describes as intransigence toward his parental interests, Savoie traveled to Japan in September 2009, where he tried to re-abduct his children while they were walking to school. He was detained by Japanese police and later released. The children were released to their mother.

Savoie, now a student at the Nashville School of Law who wants to work in the child abduction field, says he won’t give up on trying to see his children. “My ex-wife doesn’t allow any contact with the children at all,” he says. “I haven’t spoken to them since I saw them dragged off by the Japanese police. But you don’t lose hope as a parent.”

More media cameos undoubtedly forthcoming. Perhaps a reality show, too.

Notes from a week in the CNMI

That’s the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, easily the most-forgotten corner of the United States.

The CNMI is a chain of fifteen islands (only three of which—Saipan, Tinian and Rota—are significantly populated) stretching north of Guam toward Japan. These islands started out sovereign life as part of the Spanish empire along with Guam and the Philippines, but were sold to Germany at the end of the Spanish-American War, were ceded to Japan under the Treaty of Versailles, and were forcibly taken over by US forces in 1944.

After World War II, the Japanese mandates in Micronesia were placed under American trusteeship pending final resolution of their status. Unlike the other trust territory islands in Micronesia, such as Yap and Palau, the CNMI islands ultimately opted against independence and chose to stay in the United States, albeit in a quasi-independent state. The Northern Mariana Islanders are all US citizens, subject to US federal court jurisdiction, have a non-voting representative in the US Congress and receive a number of federal benefits, but pay no federal income taxes and have a separate customs zone (immigration control was also initially separate but is now integrated). American “expats” in the islands generally describe the local government as immensely corrupt, and there is a verbose website called Saipan Sucks which devotes itself to this topic.

Even to a casual visitor, the CNMI seems like a bizarro United States on many fronts:

  • There are no flights to the CNMI from anywhere in the United States except Guam, so getting there from the US mainland requires a stop in Japan or Korea, unless you want to backtrack through Honolulu and Guam on domestically-configured planes.

  • Television gets broadcast from Guam, which houses affiliates for the major US networks. American TV shows are shown in their normal mainland time slots, but since Guam and Saipan are on the other side of the International Date Line from the rest of the US, everything comes out a week late, including (to my surprise) network newscasts. The only way to get up-to-date TV news on the islands is to watch the extremely local news, where a shut-down stoplight is often the top story, or to watch cable or satellite.

  • Although the official language is English, many stores only have signs in Japanese, Chinese, Korean or Russian. Newspapers, TV and radio stations sometimes spontaneously switch over to Tagalog or the indigenous Chamorro language. (I was somewhat surprised to discover, while driving around, that there is a Tagalog cover of “Hotel California.”)

The most crippling oddity of the CNMI is probably its property law. Only ethnic islanders are allowed to own property on the islands; everyone else has to lease it, including other US citizens. Islanders can get a parcel of property apportioned from the government provided that they build something of minimal permanence on it. The result is that the three main islands are dotted with tiny homesteads, typically consisting of a hastily-constructed shanty, a parked car and a couple of livestock. There are some nicer homes around, as well as large resort hotels catering to mostly-Asian visitors, but most of the archipelago resembles a forgotten corner of Latin America. (In contrast, Guam resembles nothing so much as northern Florida, with its combination of high-rise hotels, big-box stores and military brats.)

For a while, the CNMI economy was boosted by sweatshops that could produce cheap goods “made in the USA,” as the CNMI was exempt from most federal labor laws. This trade has died down in recent years as federal regulation has become stronger in the islands and less-regulated foreign labor markets like China have become more accessible.

The remaining big business in the islands is tourism. Saipan, the largest island in the chain, has daily flights to Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Seoul (all 3-4 hours away) as well as less regular flights to China, and is noted for its spectacular scuba diving locations, as well as cheap golf courses and some interesting World War II historical sites. The neighboring island of Tinian (where the Enola Gay was based for its A-bomb missions) has a casino intended to squeeze money out of Asian tourists.

But since the mid-90’s or so, the situation on these islands has been pretty pathetic: shops and even entire malls built in Saipan during the Japanese bubble now stand derelict and abandoned, and the Tinian casino (pretty much the only tax generator on the entire island) only manages to cover half of the island’s government budget. The CNMI government is constantly teetering on the brink of sovereign bankruptcy and has had to delay salary payments several times recently. Unlike Guam, which has functioned as a giant aircraft carrier for decades (and which has budgetary problems of its own), the CNMI has no US military presence other than a few National Guard members and three permanently-anchored civilian supply ships offshore, supposedly at the ready for future military actions in East Asia. And although the island of Tinian has been conceived (by certain Japanese lawmakers, at least) as a place to pick up some of the Marines to be relocated from Futenma Air Base in Okinawa, those plans are still nowhere near finalized.

・ ・ ・

So I supported the tourist economy by visiting Saipan for a week with Mrs. Jones. No diving and no golf; either sounded like too much effort to her.

Reason #1: She wanted to go to a tropical beach destination, and I had a pocketful of Delta SkyMiles which wouldn’t get us to anywhere more fitting of that description (except for the giant aircraft carrier of Guam, which is not quite as interesting).

Reason #2: I have a couple of law school friends who practice in Saipan. The CNMI seems to have an unusual number of lawyers per capita, even in comparison to other parts of the US, probably due to its high government:citizen ratio. Since there are no local law schools, pretty much all of the lawyers have to be “imported” from the mainland, and since the CNMI legal system is integrated with the rest of the United States, American lawyers can get locally licensed fairly easily, just by passing a standard multistate bar examination which includes a question on local law.

In fact, my first real intellectual contact with the CNMI came from law school: specifically Matthew Wilson, the former head of Temple University Japan’s law program. Wilson started his legal career in Saipan as a summer associate at a law firm there, and that experience jump-started his career as a civil litigator, in-house lawyer and law professor, as well as a standardized pep talk on “Distinguishing Yourself” which he gave at many American law schools as part of marketing the Temple study abroad program in Tokyo. Thanks largely to Wilson’s presence at TUJ, law students there had a good open door to the CNMI legal market.

Reason #3: The Sunday brunch at the Hyatt Regency, fabled among island travelers for its opulence: a huge buffet featuring caviar, sushi, oysters, roast beef and pork, breakfast food of various nationalities, practically every kind of dessert imaginable, and (most importantly) bottomless champagne. I enjoyed this once on a short visit to the island a couple of years ago and really wanted to have it again.

Reason #4: They recently got a Taco Bell franchise. As most Americans in Japan quickly figure out, there is no Taco Bell here unless you are on a US military base, so the prospect of enjoying the cheap crappy Mexican food that I regularly enjoyed in high school was pretty exciting.

Most of the tourists around us were either Japanese or Korean, in what seemed like roughly equal numbers. Chinese and Russian tourists also appeared from time to time, but mainland Americans were few and far between: as far as I could tell, the only other Americans in our hotel were either married to Asians or members of a Delta flight crew on layover.

There was a sizable influx of mainlanders toward the end of our stay, when a training ship from a maritime academy in California pulled into port and its cadets came out for shore leave. They quickly colonized a restaurant where we were having lunch, and we got to overhear them (a) learn what shochu is and (b) argue about whether US dollars are legal tender in Japan (apparently their next port of call).

Was the trip worth it? Totally. For someone based in urban East Asia, the CNMI is a very convenient place to visit for a few days of relaxation. One has to wonder, though, how long these islands will last as part of the US, and how they will build an economic and political future for themselves.

The JET Program is an abject failure; therefore, Japan needs the JET Program more than ever

I realize I am somewhat late to this, but there’s been a flare-up of interest in “saving the JET Program” ever since the new government’s budget review panel apparently requested the internal affairs ministry to reform the program.

It’s been hard for me to figure out exactly what is going on, but judging from reading through the review results (PDF) and conclusions of the panel (helpfully posted by a commenter on the jetprogramme.org forum), my understanding is this:

As part of the review of the nationally subsidized “internationalization” operations of local governments, some argued for the JET Program to be eliminated. In the end, the panel concluded that the program deserves closer scrutiny in terms of how much of the costs local governments are responsible for, the status of overseas offices with questionable usefulness, and whether the 23-year-old program is meeting the needs of Japanese people today. The “conclusions” take the form of a formal request to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication. Interestingly, I didn’t know that some revenue from the Japanese national lottery goes to fund the JET Program, which was also something at least one panel member objected to.

Ultimately, I would agree with Washington-based Sankei senior writer Yoshihisa Komori who sees the JET Program as necessary to spread understanding and good will toward Japan, even while admitting the need for some reforms and re-focusing of its mission. He cites the example of his acquaintance Irwin, an African-American who as a JET learned the way of bushido through judo lessons on the side.

Why Japan really needs the JET Program

As Komori emphasized, JET alumni are some of the best friends overseas Japan could hope for. They often go to work in government and industry, and their familiarity with Japan produces both good will and a smooth working relationship in many cases. That’s a point I noted when JET turned 20 back in 2006.

But I would add a perhaps more important reason for continuing JET - a reliable supply of Japanese-speaking native English speakers. While JET has proven successful in some ways, it has failed miserably in one crucial other – by and large, Japanese people still can’t speak English! Obviously, this isn’t JET’s fault. Intentionally or not, Japan’s education system produces people with a large English vocabulary that they cannot put to practical use, creating a “Berlin Wall” separating the majority of Japanese from meaningful contact with the English-speaking world.

The JET Program has brought tens of thousands of native English speakers to Japan. Some of them get very good at Japanese. These people can then make careers for themselves as translators, interpreters, or “gaijin gophers” wherever they work, filling the gaps created by a paucity of English ability among the general workforce. I am not sure what Japan was like 20 years ago, but this need remains vital today.

There is a large population of private-sector ESL teachers as well. However, the advantages of the JET Program include a rigorous admissions process and a generous compensation package, which help guarantee a positive experience and make the program look better on resumes. Private-sector English jobs have turned out to be potentially very unstable, so keeping this “public option” might be a good idea.

Hopefully, the budget reviewers and the internal affairs ministry will understand this message. Komori-san, head back to Tokyo and make your case!

Site back to normal

Mutantfrog has been apparently hit with some sort of javascript based attack that has been going around, as described by our hosting provider here. Unfortunately, it looks like it will take a fair amount of time to get things back to normal, and I might not have a chance to sit around my computer and work on it until at LEAST Sunday, so please do not visit again until after the weekend is over. Hopefully by Monday everything will be fixed.

The problem seems to have been solved. I’ve removed the nasty code and don’t see any more sign of it, but if you see anything suspicious, please contact me ASAP.

If anyone else running WordPress has been hit with a similar attack, directions for cleaning it up may be found at the link below.

http://wiki.mediatemple.net/w/WordPress_Redirect_Exploit

Watching for thieves in Ayase

This is the scene outside my apartment these days. Apparently, the Tokyo police are using a new tactic in efforts to catch bicycle thieves and purse snatchers near Ayase station.

The van is equipped with high-powered cameras that can take hi-res images with a 100m range in all directions. I saw them conducting tests a few months ago. The report emphasizes that the cameras are not running while the vehicle is in motion, and that local residents were duly warned about the cameras.

The van really stands out, as you can see. It looks like the FBI is staking out a mob boss’s house. When I first saw them testing the thing a few months ago I thought they might be preparing to film a movie. Looks like I was only half right.

The police must have invited the media to report on this new initiative because there’s also this video report. It’s cool to see my neighborhood in the news, but knowing the cops think Ayase is a hotbed of crime, while not surprising, isn’t exactly comforting.

It’s worth noting that Adachi-ku (where Ayase is located) has launched a so-called “beautiful windows” campaign. In an attempt to reduce crime in Tokyo’s most dangerous area, the government is trying to mimic the success of NYC in the Giuliani years by encouraging citizen patrols, banning smoking on the street, and painting murals on shuttered storefronts. This may dovetail with those efforts somehow.

Tour guide interpreters to lose guild status

The Japan tourism agency is saying (sub req’d) they plan to ease a strict ban on tour guide interpreters getting paid for their services. As it stands, only nationally licensed guide-interpreters can get paid; as a result, you can see many “volunteer” interpreters at tourist destinations. Other translations do not need any certification, as far as I know.

Now, they aren’t completely eliminating the qualification program or abandoning quality standards for tour guides, as this key passage makes clear:

The Japan Tourism Agency thus decided to allow people without formal qualifications to charge for their services, while maintaining the current certification program for highly skilled interpreter-guides. The agency hopes to submit a bill to revise the rules to next year’s regular session of the Diet at the earliest.

Still, the agency determined that a certain level of quality, if not national certification, is needed for those who work as guide-interpreters. It is therefore considering drawing up guidelines and having municipalities and private-sector companies certify those who undergo training.

An official with the agency said revising the rules would allow the roughly 54,000 Japanese who now act as volunteer guide-interpreters to better use their skills, and help create jobs for foreigners living in Japan.

So that’s one more group that’s losing protected guild status, much as Japan’s barbers did years ago. Having a strict national qualification requirement for such a minor occupation seems like overkill to me. I can see why the tourism regulators want to maintain quality, though – a situation like the child tour guides at the Taj Mahal in Slumdog Millionaire would probably be a worst-case scenario.

How Kan can get away without changing his cabinet

UPDATE: It turns out that Chiba asked to resign and has said she will retire from political life, but PM Kan requested that she continue, and she has accepted this request. It’s highly unusual to stay in a cabinet post after losing election, but Kan has suggested that he will replace Chiba in September when he reorganizes his cabinet.

ORIGINAL POST: Despite the setback to the DPJ in this election, Prime Minister Kan has announced that there will be no changes to his cabinet, and Keiko Chiba, despite losing her seat in the Upper House, will continue to serve as Minister of Justice.

By way of background, Chiba, a notably liberal member of the Diet, was appointed to Minister of Justice under Prime Minsiter Hatoyama last year, but lost her seat for reelection in Kanagawa Prefecture where she had held the seat since 1986. She was most likely defeated because activists targeted her for her liberal views, which include allowing foreigners to vote in local elections, allowing separate family names for men and women after marriage, and refusing to enforce the death penalty. She is to be replaced by Kenji Nakanishi, a former director of JP Morgan in Japan, who ran as the candidate of the upstart reformist “Your Party.”

How does she get to stay in the cabinet work? It sounds peculiar from the American perspective, where all members of the President’s cabinet are forbidden from serving in the legislature and are never subject to election. It also sounds strange from the British perspective, where all members of the cabinet are required to be members of parliament. Yet Japan has a fusion model, where private citizens can serve in the cabinet, and the only requirement is that members of parliament (who can come from either the lower or upper house) constitute the majority of cabinet ministers. Article 68 of the Japanese Constitution reads:

The Prime Minister shall appoint the Ministers of State. However, a majority of their number must be chosen from among the members of the Diet.

That means that of the seventeen members of the current cabinet, nine must be elected members of the Diet and the remaining eight can be private citizens. In practice it is very rare for more than a few members of the cabinet who are not legislators. Koizumi’s first cabinet had just one private citizen, and his second just two.

The DPJ made a big song and dance after their victory last year that they were going to copy the British “Westminster System,” promoted by academics as an efficient system, with no private citizens serving in the cabinet. But by keeping Chiba in the important post of Minister of Justice they’re reverting to Japan’s unique system of the allowing non-legislators in the cabinet.

ENDNOTE: Interestingly enough, two of the three “foreigners” serving in the upper house were up for election: Sha Renho, who is half Taiwanese, and Kyonje Park, who is half Korean. Both are former journalists, both are members of the DPJ, and both have non-Japanese fathers, which means they were denied citizenship until the law was changed in the 1980s. Despite this similar background in a uniquely homogenous country, their results in this popular election were entirely different. Renho won the largest proportion of votes of any candidate in her district in Tokyo, while Park, who ran as a proportional representation candidate, lost along with a number of other DPJ candidates is in danger of losing his seat, and the result is to be confirmed has barely secured reelection as of Tuesday morning. Park was also embroiled in some election scuffles with Ishihara and Yosano that had them dueling against each other in street speeches from their soundtrucks.

2010 Upper House election Liveblog

23:18
Last post of the night:

We have Adachi-ku results.

With 20% reporting, Renho was the big winner with 20,000 votes, followed by Komeito candidate Toshiko Takeya with 12,000. Hmm… I will update later on in the week with detailed results.

Good night everyone! Next to watch will be how DPJ cobbles together votes to pass bills in the upper house.

23:01
Tokyo has 5 seats up for election, and four so far have been effectively settled (including Renho who won). Now there is a tight battle shaping up for the fifth seat between Akira Koike, a leader of the Communists, and Kota Matsuda, the head of Tully’s chain of coffee shops running under Your Party. Koike is up at the moment.

22:59
Takenaka’s point for dealing with the consumption tax was to do thorough spending cuts first, then ask the public to accept higher taxes. Unpopular cuts will probably be almost as politically difficult as raising the tax, so this doesn’t strike me as particularly realistic.

22:55
TV Asahi officially called the overall result – DPJ/PNP coalition loses majority in upper house.

22:46
Just had a thought. Ryoko Tani the judo player will be an upper house member for six years. That’s at least one championship and one olympics. Basically her athletic career is over for a completely worthless life as a PR upper house member. Ozawa must be a silver-tongued charmer.

22:33
Heizo Takenaka on TV Tokyo looking smug. He is in full “told ya so” mode on Kan’s decision to bring up the consumption tax.

22:20
Two former Koizumi children who lost their seats last year are back in the Diet, now upper house members – former finance bureaucrat Satsuki Katayama and former financial economist Yukari Sato. Let the pointless drama begin.

22:17
Adachi-ku has broken out some of its election results.

56% turnout for election district voting and PR

My district in Ayase: 53% (4879 of 9208 voters)

And, that’s it for now…

22:01
Multiple estimates have the Communists losing seats. They seem less relevant by the day…

21:34
One of the interesting candidates in this election is Kenta Wakabayashi, running in Nagano. He is the son of Masatoshi Wakabayashi, who had to quit in April after getting caught voting for another member.

Early results have him ahead, so we will have a successful transfer of power from father to son. Great.

21:20
Reuters is out with reports on the exit polls.

Meanwhile, I’ve been asked what I think the likely result would mean for postal reform. While it really depends on a lot, there are two likely scenarios given that the DPJ and PNP together cannot form a majority:
1) a divided Diet, where the governing coalition does not control the body, or
2) a coalition with other parties, which may end up marginalizing the PNP (which is the main backer of the postal legislation)

In either case, the prospects for the government to pass the bills that were submitted in the last Diet session would be reduced dramatically.

21:17
Your Party leader Watanabe is being interviewed now. He is definitely softening his tone on a potential coalition with DPJ, now that he is in a position of strength. He did not exactly hedge about actually forming one (he defiantly denied any possibility before), but he did start talking about “areas where we can work together” such as ministry reform.

21:13
The announcer on TV Asahi just made the point that without an upper house majority, opposition members will have to control at least one committee in the upper house. That would only contribute to the paralysis of a divided diet.

20:10
Asahi is projecting Social Democrat leader Mizuho Fukushima will win reelection in the PR category. Overall, they may gain 2 seats to bring their presence in the upper house to 5. So it looks like we haven’t seen the last of her daily comments on NHK news and regular debate show appearances.

20:58
TV Asahi seems to be calling these races with just 1-2% of the vote counted so far… Maybe wait a little longer? In terms of called races, they are giving DPJ 35 seats vs. LDP 31. With 41 seats left things can still turn either way. Oh, and so far Your Party has 5.

20:43
TV Asahi has Your Party winning 9 seats, bringing their numbers to 10 from just one. Their importance just rose in that proportion…

20:32
Two major wins for the DPJ reported on TV - Renho won reelection, and judo star Ryoko Tani won her proportional representation seat.

20:24
One theme I am watching in this election is whether the Happiness Realization Party, with its first Upper House member and new election strategist, can learn from past mistakes and improve performance this time around.

During the last two elections (Tokyo municipal and Lower House), the party ran candidates in every single district, only to fail miserably. This time, the website shows a more modest attempt – five candidates for proportional representation (including the insane Dr. Nakamats) and 19 in prefectural districts.

20:15
Just noticing that Observing Japan’s latest post is dismissing questioning the potential for an unbowed Ozawa to be a thorn in Kan’s side after the election. A lot depends on tonight’s results, but there’s a chance Ozawa could take his ball and go home if it comes down to it – meaning he could try and engineer a split of the DPJ if he feels too slighted in some way, say through a crushing defeat of his favored candidate in September’s presidential election.

20:10
Asahi is tweeting that according to its exit polls, the DPJ is estimated to win just 43-51 seats, leaving the ruling coalition likely without a majority.


The polls have just closed and it is time to watch the results! I will be intermittently checking in with news/observations. Updates will pop up on top, so keep refreshing the mutantfrog.com top page (or this entry) for updates.

Upper house election – what to watch for

As the voting progresses in Japan’s upper house election, it’s somewhat unclear what the big issues of the election are. For one thing, the World Cup and the scandals plaguing sumo wrestling have hogged the national spotlight. For another, the prime minister only took office about a month ago after the previous one suddenly resigned. How are you supposed to judge a government that’s only been in office a month?

So to help sort things out, I present some of the salient issues in this election and what to watch for in tonight’s results

>> Biggest question – will the DPJ get a simple majority?

As it stands, a two-party coalition, the DPJ and PNP, control the upper house with a single-vote majority. The DPJ by itself has 116 members, so it would need to increase its standing by 6 to secure a majority. There are currently 54 DPJ members up for reelection with another 62 who were elected in 2007. PM Kan has made maintaining that 54 his goal for this election, though former Secretary General and intraparty rival Ichiro Ozawa (who essentially crafted the Upper House election strategy before stepping down) thinks the party could do better.

Apparently, polling suggests a mixed bag. From Kyodo (via Shisaku blog) the DPJ is faring relatively well, but the number of undecided voters dominates support for any party.

>> If the DPJ cannot secure a majority, who will it team up with, if anybody?

Between the last lower house election in August 2009 and now, a number of small parties have sprung up, mostly offshoots from the LDP, apparently in an effort to make their presence felt in the upper house. Add to these other small parties (also mostly LDP outcasts) and there is a long list:

  • Social Democrat (ex coalition partner)

  • Your Party

  • People’s New Party (current coalition partner)

  • Sunrise Nippon

  • Happiness Realization

  • Japan Communist

  • New Renaissance

  • Spirit of Japan

  • New Komeito

  • LDP (this and New Komeito are somewhat larger)

Am I forgetting anyone? Many of them have all but ruled out teaming up with the DPJ, but I see that as playing hard to get. I mean, why bargain away your position by making conciliatory gestures?

>> Surprise performance from small parties

As I mentioned there is a large proportion of “undecided” voters. The DPJ, once sly about courting this group, took a sharp turn in the other direction with Ichiro Ozawa in charge of election planning. In the meanwhile, another party, Your Party, has taken a populist tone, railing against bureaucrats and pledging fiscal stability and deregulation. In fact they more or less promote a neoliberal platform, possibly putting the lie to the conventional wisdom that the Koizumi agenda was unpopular.

Your Party’s positive poll numbers have fueled speculation that it could punch above its weight in the polls today. With that kind of leverage it could become a more important voice post-election, which could significantly impact the DPJ legislative agenda in areas like postal privatization.

>> Will Mizuho Fukushima lose her seat? And other surprise losses

The Social Democrats were at the center of the biggest political battle of the first half of 2010, namely the debate over how and where to relocate Futenma airfield in Okinawa. Unwilling to back down from their campaign pledge to move the field off Okinawa, in the end the party quit the coalition and effectively destroyed the Hatoyama government. While public opinion seemed to be mildly on the SDP’s side, it remains to be seen if Fukushima and her partied generated enthusiasm for her party at the polls.

Fukushima is running as a proportional representation candidate. That means her party has to win around 2% of the vote before it can win even one seat in the Diet. With the new parties crowding the ballot, there’s a chance her party could be crowded out.

***

There are several other issues to talk about (will the Happiness Realization Party win a seat?), but that’s all the time I have for now. See you later tonight!

Upper House election – morning roundup


Mrs. Adamu enters the polling station

Today Japan votes to select half the members of its upper house of parliament. I have been lax in my blogging duties this time around, but thankfully there is a wealth of excellent writing on the election in English to choose from. To get an idea of what’s going on, I recommend:

>> Transpacific Radio is planning to do a live video feed of the results tonight. Other obligations prevent me from joining this time, but once I get home I’ll be watching from my corner of Tokyo.

>> Japan Real Time – The Wall Street Journal’s new Japan blog has been (somewhat surprisingly) a great resource for info on the election comings and goings.

>> Unfortunately, there does not seem to be an English-language live map of the results. If you read Japanese you can turn to any number of sources, though – I will be using Asahi, for the most part.

>> Conflicting takes on the election’s meaning from two people who normally agree with one another.

First, we have Michael Cucek’s article on the “meaningless” upper house election. His ultimate point as to why the high number of undecided voters in the polls:

Japan’s Meaningless Election

...

There is, of course, a more fundamental reason why many voters are confused and unable to make a choice, even on the eve of a historic first election under a non-LDP government–and that is the lack of a clear national purpose. Japanese voters are highly educated, law-abiding (for the most part) and eager participants in their own democracy. Ask most of them what Japan’s national goals are, however, and you’ll draw an embarrassed silence, or some dangerous platitude like ‘to live at peace with other countries.’

Without goals or aims, it’s extremely difficult to choose which path to take. Or, in this case, which party or person you want to vote for.


In contrast, here is Observing Japan:
The significance of this election has been thrown into clear relief since Kan Naoto took over from Hatoyama Yukio as prime minister and head of the DPJ. What once looked to be a referendum on the leadership of Hatoyama and DPJ secretary-general Ozawa Ichirō — a referendum that polls suggested that the DPJ would not win — is now an election on the future of Japan, perhaps to an even greater extent than last summer’s historic House of Representatives election. If the DPJ can retain control of the upper chamber, it will have three years before it will have to face the voters again in an election, provided that no snap election is called in the meantime. Those are three years that the government can use to make tough political decisions that a government with a shorter time horizon might be less inclined to make, like, say, a consumption tax increase.

And so this election is critical for Japan’s future.


I would come down somewhere in the middle. If Japanese voters have nothing more to aspire to, what was all the fuss about last year? And why was the debate over issues like Japan-US security, privatization of Japan Post, and so on, so fierce and unyielding? At the same time, this election won’t change the main party in power – the biggest question is whether the DPJ will need a coalition partner or partners to secure a majority in the upper house. Important, yes, but not the defining issue of a generation either.