Politician From Japanese Cult “Happy Science” at CPAC

(Anyone who enjoyed this post would probably be interested in my 2008 piece about ties between historical revisionary conservatives and Japan’s current Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe.)

The baby-faced alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos lost his speaking gig at this week’s CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference, essentially a conference of the American Republican party) for being increasingly gross, but we aren’t here to talk about this boring child.

Instead, We’re here to talk about the man who replaced Milo on CPAC’s schedule, Jikido “Jay” Aeba (饗庭直道、あえば直道), a former high-level member of the extremely wacky right-wing Japanese cult religion Happy Science, who went on to found their subsidiary political party, the Happiness Realization Party, and is now working to develop a career as a kind of self-appointed ambassador between the Japanese and American right, as part of the substantial Japanese right-wing media industry. There’s a lot of threads to follow, so I’m just going to give a brief overview here and then follow up with additional posts in the near (ish) future. Let us also note that his Twitter handle, @ultraJedi, is pretty sweet.

This week will be Aeba’s second appearance at CPAC, following his 2016 speech, below, where he was hailed as the co-founder of the Japanese Conservative Union (JCA), an organization which ostensibly aspires to be a clone of the successful American Conservative Union (take note of how Aeba took the URL conservative.or.jp, in transparent imitation of the ACU’s conservative.org), but in reality gives all indication of being little more than a fancy website to give his one-man operation a veneer of institutional legitimacy. Neither the English or Japanese version of his profile on the JCU website mention his history with Happy Science or the Happiness Realization party, which makes his resume look oddly thin.

Aeba’s earlier CPAC speech is a pretty bland collection of right-wing talking points common to both countries, with a hefty infusion of pandering to his audience.

The video, posted by the ACU but possibly produced by Aeba / JCU, begins with a clip from Reagan’s speech before the Japanese Diet on November 11, 1983, in which he affirms that America and Japan “are united in the belief that freedom means dedication to the dignity, rights, and equality of man”, which is given the caption “for the conservative partnership between US and Japan…” This is followed up by a triumphant little montage in which Aeba meets a series of American conservatives including Grover Norquist, Ben Carson, and ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp, who wants to tell him “how honored we are that you come to see us. That you want to collaborate and partner with us”, which is certainly true. The CPAC crowd is fairly sedate, but he gets a few moderate to strong applause lines when he generically praises conservatism, the America – Japan alliance, accuses China of planning to steal Hawaii and Okinawa, and that he arranged for the Japanese translation of Clinton Cash to be published, and gets a laugh when he accuses the American and Japanese Democratic Parties that both took power in 2009 of being “socialistic”, and calls the promise of entitlements “free stuff”. But he also gets very little reaction to parts of his speech that he clearly cares greatly about, in particular the controversy over American military bases in Japan.

In fact, although this was Aeba’s first speech at CPAC, it was not his first time in attendance. The Atlantic Magazine published an article about Aeba’s early attempts to schmooze with the CPAC crowd, back in 2012. (And good for The Atlantic for providing what seems to be pretty much the only English language coverage of Aeba prior to this post I’m writing.)

Early one Saturday in February, as the conference entered its third and final day, the three men sat down in the Marriott’s dimly lit bar to compare notes on what they had seen so far. Behind them, a man dressed in full Founding Fathers drag, complete with wig and tricorne, strolled past; at an adjacent table, two young men with CPAC badges were loudly comparing their hangovers. […]

Aeba, one of the leaders of Japan’s right-wing Happiness Realization Party, was accompanied by Yuya Watase, the founder of the Tokyo Tea Party; their interpreter, a Happiness Realization Party official named Yuki Oikawa; and Bob Sparks, their American political consultant. Together, they said, they were on a mission to export American-style conservatism—the gospel of small government, low taxes, and free enterprise—to the Land of the Rising Sun.

[…] If they had gathered nothing else from CPAC, the Japanese conservatives had clearly internalized the American right’s language of alarmism and crisis.

Aeba clearly kept up his connections with the CPAC crowd, and as mentioned above, took inspiration from them in creating his (The “Japan Tea Party” didn’t go anywhere, but Watase Yuya is still active. I’ll take a look at him in some future post.)

But what was that about a strange religious cult and the political party that they sponsor? Oh right, Happy Science, and the Happiness Realization party.

Happy Science (in Japanese: 幸福の科学 / koufuku no kagaku) is a Japanese “new religion”, that was founded by Ryuho Okawa in 1986 and has gone onto be one of the most successful of these eccentric cults. The theology itself seems to be a melange of traditional Buddhist cosmology with a wide assortment of generic new-age pablum, topped with a very strong layer of veneration of the “Master Okawa”. I don’t want to get into their highly entertaining cosmology in this post, except to say that reading a Happy Science-published book on the subject several years ago made me wonder if I was reading a Japanese translation of the Dungeons and Dragons Manual of the Planes.

To get a taste of their style, as well as the eclectic basket of influences they draw upon, here are a couple of brief excerpts from their official website:

El Cantare is the Lord, Buddha and Savior. He is the supreme God of the terrestrial spirit group who has the highest authority over the planet Earth and is directly connected to the Primordial Buddha or Primordial God – the Creator of the whole universe.

Lord El Cantare has also sent down parts of his own consciousness – brother souls – to guide humanity in the right direction at the most important times in history. El Cantare’s brother souls who have been born to Earth in the last twenty thousand years are:

  • La Mu – 17,000 years ago on the Mu continent
  • Thoth – 12,000 years ago in Atlantis
  • Rient Arl Croud – 7,000 years ago in the Incan Empire
  • Ophealis – 6,500 years ago in Greece
  • Hermes – 4,300 years ago in Greece, Crete Island
  • Gautama Siddhartha (Shakyamuni Buddha) – 2,500 years ago in India.
  • Ryuho Okawa – present reincarnation of El Cantare

Needless to say, that last line about the cult’s leader being a reincarnation of the creator of the universe is the most significant teaching in the entire religion, and the core of the entire enterprise. Although they claim that “The grand mission of Happy Science is to create utopia – a world filled with love, peace, harmony and prosperity”, Okawa from the beginning combined his religious teachings with a hard-right political ideology. I found a 1991 AP story, that describes him as follows:

Lights go off. White smoke rises on stage. A round-faced, chubby man in a dark business suit appears in a spotlight before thousands of admirers. He claims he is Japan’s Messiah, the reincarnation of Buddha.

The man portrays the Japanese as a chosen people destined to destroy the United States and the Soviet Union and make China “a slave.”

[…] In his book “Nostradamus: Fearful Prophecies,” Okawa asserts that only the Japanese Leviathan will survive the imminent end of the world after destroying the United States and the Soviet Union:

“In the 21st Century, there will be no enemies for Leviathan. It will slash throats of the old eagle and the exhausted red bear, and laugh at the aging Europe. It will use China as a slave and Korea as a prostitute.”

The same article briefly describes his business model, which may sound familiar to readers who have read about Scientology.

Annual revenues are about $45 million, most of it from donations, according to Teikoku Data Bank, an independent research company.

Group spokesmen admit that up to 90% of their members do nothing more than subscribe to a monthly magazine, “Science of Happiness,” for $100 a year. But they say as many as 200,000 people have become “true members.” Critics put that number as low as 20,000.

To become a true member, one has to read 10 of Okawa’s books and pass exams on them.

You may have noticed mention above of a book entitled “Nostradamus: Fearful Prophecies,” which is strongly representative of Okawa’s prodigious output. Of the astonishing 714 titles currently credit to him on the Happy Science online bookstore, a large proportion consist of alleged posthumous interviews with the souls of deceased figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Adolf Hitler, Walt Disney, Albert EinsteinNelson Mandela,  Zhou Enlai, Isaac Newton, Georg Hegel, Oda Nobunaga, Sakamoto Ryoma, and many dozens if not hundreds more1. He also publishes what he claims are interviews with the “guardian spirits” of living celebrities, such as this book in which he discusses the secret of beauty with the guardian spirits of Natalie Portman and Keira Knightley, or this interview in which the guardian spirits of the famous AKB48 girl-pop group explain the secrets of marketing.

Happy Science has been in the Japanese news quite a lot recently, due to the decision of young actress Fumiko Shimizu to retire from showbiz entirely and devote herself fulltime to the cult, under the priestly name of Yoko Sengen. Shimizu had allegedly been a member of Happy Science since childhood, and seems to have embraced it fully as a means to escape from a career that she seems not to have enjoyed very much.

The Happiness Realization Party is also not new, and was first discussed on this blog back in 2009, when Adam wrote a series of posts about the candidates running for a seat in the Diet’s lower house, representing his district in Tokyo. The party had only been founded that year, and the candidate Adam wrote about, Kazumasa Fujiyama, only won about 1% of the vote. In the May, 2010 election, the HRP won their first Diet seat when Yasuhiro Oe, who had been elected as a proportional member representing the Japan Renaissance Party, decided to change his affiliation to HRP post-election. As my co-blogger Adam explained back in 2010:

The Wakayama native [Yasuhiro Oe] first became an upper house member in 2001 as a PR candidate on the LDP ticket, then as a DPJ candidate in 2007. He later joined JRP as a founding member in 2008, citing problems with the DPJ’s methods. In terms of policy, he has adopted some typical right-wing positions – he’s pro-Taiwan, a firm Nanjing Massacre truther, and a vocal supporter of the victims of North Korea’s kidnapping program. He comes up for reelection in 2013.

A 2009 Campaign Poster for the Happiness Realization Party featuring Jikido Aeba, with the English language slogan “Start! Japanese Dream!” written phonetically in Japanese.

As mentioned above, Jikido Aeba was the original leader of the HRP when it was founded on May 23, 2009, and he boasted that he “Wanted to lead as the Barack Obama of Japan.” Instead, he handed over the position to Kyoko Okawa, wife of the cult leader and “reborn Aphrodite and bodhisattva of wisdom and intellect”, who he later divorced in 2011, after their candidate list was finalized on June 4 for the election mentioned above, in which they won no seats at all.

The platform of the Happiness Realization Party includes many elements of mainstream Japanese conservatism that overlap with the ruling (conservative) Liberal Democratic Party, as well as some elements that diverge sharply from any mainstream party. To quote from Adam’s 2009 post:

Among their chief policy proposals:

  • Revise the constitution to allow a pre-emptive strike on North Korea if necessary.
  • Eliminate inheritance taxes and consumption taxes.
  • In the cities, “bring work and home closer together” by building offices and residences in the same building.
  • Build an enormous monorail around the entire city of Tokyo.
  • Allow massive immigration and promote reproduction to increase Japan’s population to 300 million by 2050

Some of their most radical proposals can be found in their draft constitution:

  • Make a directly elected president the head of state. The president would have the right to issue presidential orders apart from parliamentary legislation. If an order and legislation contradict each other, the chief justice of the supreme court would decide which to follow. But if there is no decision in two weeks, the presidential order will take precedence.
  • The emperor “and other traditions” would be kept on but with their power limited by law.
  • The chief justice of the supreme court would be directly elected.
  • Payment for public bureaucrats would be based on performance (this would be in their constitution!)
  • “Equal opportunity” and total freedom within the law.
  • The state must always aim to have a small government with low taxes.
  • “The mass media must not abuse their power and must act responsibly to the people.”

So, back to Aeba.

He remained involved in Happy Science and the Happiness Realization Party, holding positions such as HPR Director of Public Relations (2011) and Director of Investigations (2013), until he resigned in 2015 to start the Japan Conservative Union. During the last few years of his tenure in the HRP he seems to have been laying the groundwork for this transition, not only with schmoozing such as the 2012 CPAC visit mentioned above, but publishing a small selection of books tactically chosen to bolster his credentials to conservatives in both Japan and America as a conduit to the other country.

It is vital here to make note of his co-founder in the JCU, Shun Eguchi, who spent his career in the Sankei Shimbun, Japan’s conservative, business focused newspaper that can be thought of as similar to the Wall Street Journal, and he ended his career as president of their more specifically business-focused publication, Fuji-Sankei Business Eye. Eguchi is also a graduate of Takushoku University, considered to be a hard-right institution, with ties to many figures known for conservative revisionist historical views.

In 2011 he published the book The Strongest Country – Japan’s Decision, and the from the book’s official description on Amazon it sounds like some pretty generic conservative pablum about strengthening national defense and the economy, mixed with criticism of welfare states such as Sweden.

More recently, he published The Trump Revolution, which came out in March of last year, and supervised the Japanese translation of the infamous Clinton Cash, which was produced by an organization run by Trump’s Leninist fascist political advisor Steve Bannon.

He has also supervised a fairly weird looking pro-Trump book called Presidential Feng-shui, co-authored by a wacky Feng-shui huckster by the name of Dr. Copa ((His real name is Kobayashi Yoshiaki, and the book was co-written with his son, Kobayashi Teruhiro)). In this book, Dr. Copa explains how Trump (perhaps inadvertently, I’m only reading so much of this nonsense) used the power of feng-shui to win himself the White House, in particular via the magico-spatial relationship between the White House and the location of the Trump hotel in Washington’s Old Post Office Building. The magazine Weekly Shincho reported that Dr. Copa is such a big fan of Trump that he was a paying audience member at Trump’s inauguration, so that he could be closer to his “research subject”. And, unsurprisingly, it was Aeba – who was also in attendance at the inauguration and “Liberty Ball”, according to his persona blog, who served as the intermediary to obtain the tickets. In an interview with Shincho, Dr. Copa briefly explains his theory of how Trump used the architectural feng-shui power of the Old Post Office in an identical way to how the location of Toyotomi Hideyoshi‘s camp relative to Kiyosu Castle allowed him to achieve a surprise victory at the 1582 conference at that castle that contributed to his consolidation of power.

On a brief search I don’t see any direct connection between Dr. Copa and Happy Science, but it is hardly surprising that a (former?) member of a weird science-fiction inflected cult is also interested in pop-parapsychology.

 

The Shincho article on Dr. Copa mentioned as an aside that Aeba had described himself as an “Advisor” to the American Republican party, but that there was no evidence of this. Buzzfeed Japan has an article on this exact topic from November of last year. In this piece they list his repeated claims, both online and in media appearances in Japan, that he is an official advisor to the GOP. They describe how, in addition to doing online research, they had their colleagues at Buzzfeed America do some investigation. It turns out that nobody at the Republican National Committee (RNC) knows who Aeba is, but Buzzfeed Japan emails Aeba to ask for clarification.

As evidence of his claim, Aeba forwards them an English language email from Bob Sparks, the American political consultant who worked as a fixer during the 2012 CPAC visit reported by The Atlantic. According to Sparks, Aeba was an “unpaid advisor to Sharon Day“, who is currently the co-chair of the RNC, but Day did not respond to queries and no additional proof was offered. Their seemingly correct conclusion is that while Aeba may have been informally told by Day herself that he was her advisor on US-Japan relations, but that he never had any official position with the RNC or any affiliated organizations. However, he continues to proudly misrepresent himself

As I mentioned earlier, despite having a genuinely substantial political career with the Happiness Realization party, Aeba makes absolutely no mention of them or Happy Science on the Japan Conservative Union website, despite describing himself prominently as an advisor to the GOP. (Although his personal blog, which goes all the way back to 2009 when the HRP was founded and is still updated regarding his current activities, so at best he has made a half-hearted attempt to truly hide his past.)

In that same article, Buzzfeed noticed that he had likewise never made note of his former HRP affiliation on any of his recent media appearances, and none of his hosts organizations or publishers had identified him as such, and so they asked Asahi Broadcasting, Fuji Television, Futaba Publishing, and Sankei Shimbun for comment.

Only Futaba, the publisher of his 2016 book The Trump Revolution, replied, saying that they had avoided mention of his ties to Happy Science in consideration of his telling them that, his “relationship with the Happiness Realization Party is not good.” Does this mean that the HRP is angry at him for cutting ties with them and starting his own personal brand, or is he simply making an excuse?

It is unclear to me whether Aeba retains any ties with Happy Science, but it is clear that his goals align with theirs. In October of last year, Ryuho Okawa published yet another of his spirit interview books, in which he “interviewed” the ghost of George Washington and the guardian spirit of Donald J. Trump, and explained that Trump is in fact the reincarnated spirit of America’s first president. “If candidate Trump becomes President, 300 years of future prosperity are promised for both Japan and America, but if it is Hillary, then America will lose its leadership role in the world.” The sequel, containing more interviews with Trump’s guardian spirit is already out, and new-age spiritual mumbo-jumbo aside, I suspect one would be hard pressed to tell the content apart from any of the speakers at CPAC.

Hopefully Aeba’s new speech will be up soon so I can see how it fits in with everything else, and I will find time in the near future for more writing on related topics.

  1. One that stood out to me on a quick skim as particularly offensive was his book of “spiritual testimony” from the great manga creator Mizuki Shigeru, claiming to have been recorded on the 12th day after his death in late 2015. []
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Google Translate is now better at Japanese-to-English, but still not good enough to make me unemployed

This year, Google made changes to its Translate service that are aimed at making translations more accurate. They use a “Recurring Neural Network” method that “considers the entire input sentence [instead of just parts of the sentence] as a unit for translation.” I have to admit I gulped at the news – is this what will finally make my role as a Japanese-English translator redundant?

The New York Times fanned my fear with this glowing article that led with the claim that Google Translate is now a better translator than Haruki Murakami (at the very least, he did a great job translating The Giving Tree, in my humble opinion).

That prompted me to test out the site. Here are some examples of Japanese-to-English translation that I pulled:

News articles I would say are unacceptably inaccurate:

This one (about discussions over who should pay for the 2020 Olympics) gets a minister’s name and gender wrong, can’t seem to recognize that 都 means the Tokyo prefectural government and 国 means the Japanese national government, and in general is just incoherent for most of it.

A man is suspected of cutting a police officer in the neck with a knife. But according to Google Translate, he is first “suspected of killing himself” and then “he cut off the police officer ‘s neck with a knife…  The policeman was injured.” !!!

It seems to do best with press releases – these actually seem to give a pretty accurate and readable translation:

… But not so well when it comes to long-winded technical financial announcements: 

The best I can say for it is that, unlike the earlier version, every sentence appears to be grammatically correct and make logical sense. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to be able to translate things in context or keep track of omitted subjects.

All in all, I can say it looks more useful for Japanese-to-English, especially if it is used with “made-to-translate” Japanese. I might even use it myself as a starting point for some documents (and that is definitely not something I would say about the old version!) But for now at least I am happy to report it isn’t yet ready to force me to start a new career, which is good because I have no idea what I would even do…

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Trams in wartime Hiroshima reenacted

I originally wrote most of this post all the way back in March of 2011, a few months before the 65th anniversary of the bombing on August 6 of that year, but never posted it. Since the anniversary date was only a few months later I had intended to publish it then, but forgot, so here it is now for the 70th – with a modern coda.

I first wrote this post a month ago when the Asahi first ran the article I quote below, but then realizing that the bombing anniversary was coming up I decided to sit on it until now. The atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, but since this story is more concerned with what happened three days later, on August 9, I have decided to publish it on that date.

The English Asahi has a short article on a very interesting sounding play entitled Momonomi (Peach), about an obscure aspect of wartime Hiroshima – the trains.1 Photos of the production included in this post are from the theatrical troupe’s web page.

The beginning of the play, on a real (albeit more modern) tram.

Six women who served as streetcar drivers or conductors in Hiroshima in 1945 were invited to ride one of their trams again Sunday to watch a play immortalizing their efforts to resume some transportation just three days after the city was leveled by atomic bombing. The drama, “Momonomi” (peach), is being presented by the Tokyo-based troupe Mokele Mbe Mbe Project on board streetcars around Japan.

The play depicts the life of students at a girls’ high school that was set up by Hiroshima Electric Railway Co. in 1943 to make up for a shortage of workers during the war.

Thirty of the students were killed in the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Survivors pulled together to get the trams running again only three days later.

Riding one of the two tram cars that survived the atomic bombing and are still in service, the six women wiped tears and sang along with the troupe as they watched the one-hour play.

“Remembering those days, I was moved to tears,” said Naoko Hata, 81. “I am pleased that young people will pass along what we did then.”

Morino Nakamura, also 81, said: “There were hardships, but I am proud of my service as a driver. I’ve never forgotten those days.”

The sign reads, “Recruiting for the inaugural class of the Hiroshima Electric Railway Girls’ School of Home Economics”

But despite sadly having missed the play, this is still a good opportunity to read a little bit more about the history that it depicted. So, I would like to take this chance to compose a grim sequel to my February 10 post on Trams in Japan.

According to the Hiroshima Electric Railway Co. (present name) article on JA Wikipedia, at the time of the August 6 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the electrical transformer for the Miyajima had already been moved to the outskirts of the city in anticipation of (presumably conventional) bombing. This transformer, along with cars from the Miyajima line, were used to restart service from Koi(己斐) to Nishi-tenman-machi (西天満町) on the 8th or 9th (as mentioned above), just a couple of days after the city had been devastated.

The website of the theatrical troupe gives a bit more information.2

In 1945, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, there were schoolgirls who drove the electric trams. There was a school of home economics established with the purpose of compensating for the labor force of men who had been mobilized in war. It was a school where labor was combined with study, but as the flames of war burned harsher the work became full-time. But they would be forced out of their jobs when the men returned after the war, and the girls’ school would close. These schoolgirls lived through the atomic bomb, and looked after their compatriots who had nearly died, despite their own injuries, all while restoring train service…

Pop culture depictions of how women ended up moving into formerly male-dominated roles during wartime do have some presence  in America (one famous example is the 1992  film A League of Their Own, which depicted the real, and short-lived, All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, or Rosie the Riveter), but I must admit that I do not know offhand of prominent Japanese examples. I’m sure that this is just my own ignorance, and I would love to be pointed towards well known (or other lesser known) examples.

 

Rosy the riveter

Regardless, the play seems to have unfortunately already nearly finished its run, aside from one final weekend of performances in Nagasaki on the 10th and 11th. (As an aside, don’t you get annoyed when you see a newspaper article about a great live event AFTER it’s already happened, rather than announcing it in advance so you have a chance to go. I would have been very interested in heading over to Osaka for this.)

Another interesting detail hinted at in the article was that cars that had actually been damaged by the nuclear blast are still in operation in Hiroshima.

Hiroshima train car that survived nuclear blast

(This last bit is updated based on a new article.) As part of the commemoration of the 70th anniversary, one of the three still functional surviving train cars (Model 650) from that era has been restored, and repainted in vintage colors.

Model 650 tram, car number 653 of the Hiroshima Electric Railway. It survived the atomic bombing, and has now been restored and given its original paintjob.

Among the crowd who observed the streetcar’s departure on June 13 was Sachiko Masuno, a 85-year-old “hibakusha” A-bomb survivor who worked as a driver and conductor for Hiroden tramcars during the closing months of World War II after enrolling in a women’s vocational school operated by the railway company in 1942.

Masuno, who continued working as a conductor for two years after the atomic bombing, said that the Hiroden trams still remind her of many former colleagues who lost their lives that day.

Of the 1,241 Hiroden employees at the time, at least 185 were killed in the A-bombing, while 108 streetcars, or nearly 90 percent of the company’s trams, were destroyed or damaged. Of her 300 classmates, about 30 also died in the tragedy.

“It is very moving to see the same streetcar that endured the city’s heinous experience still running in its original color,” Masuno said. “It is a very precious peacetime treasure.”

Two other Model 650 tramcars, No. 651 and 652, which were repainted in green and cream colors after the end of the war, still operate on the light rail network that stretches across the southern Japanese city.

While we have all missed the performance of Momonomi by several years, anyone in Hiroshima who wants to ride the restored No. 653 car will be able to do so on weekend and national holidays by making a reservation at 082-222-1155 (weekdays only).

  1. Note: this link is long-dead. []
  2. The troupe website still exists, but the page with the details for this play seems to be gone, so the Japanese language description they gave is given here. 「1945年、広島に原爆が投下されたとき、路面電車を運転していた女学生たちがいた。
    戦時中、男たちが出征したあと労働力を補う目的で設立された家政女学校。学業と勤労を兼 務した学校だったが、戦火が激しくなると終日勤務に。しかし戦後、男たちが復員して来るため職を追われ、女学校は廃校となる。原爆投下の廃墟を生き抜き、 自らも傷つき、瀕死の仲間たちを看病しながら、電車の復旧に尽くした女学生たち・・・」 []
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Don’t hate Yoichi Masuzoe for what he said — just look at what he has done

Yoichi Masuzoe has just been elected Governor of Tokyo after being the front runner more or less since the election race began. Predictably, the Western media is already finding the most superficially controversial angle to present him to the world: as far as I can tell, the usual offenders are parroting talking points that started out on the blog of former Socialist leader Mizuho Fukushima — more precisely, this post just over a week ago, where she dug up a 1989 article that quoted him as saying that women are not fit to lead government because they focus on single issues and have menstrual cycles. (She also cited a slightly more recent interview, in which he criticized local NIMBY types who sought to block nuclear plants, as evidence that he is a nuclear supporter.)

I will not defend Masuzoe’s statements about women, which are pretty heinous, but some context is necessary. 1989 was twenty-five years ago and Japan was still stuck in the “Mad Men” era when it came to gender relations. It was ten years before Masuzoe ran for political office and he was not that well known yet. I am pretty sure that he got over whatever strain of foot-in-mouth syndrome he may have had at the time, because Masuzoe’s detractors were hard-pressed to come up with a single damning quote from him since about 1995. Characterizing Masuzoe based on what he said about women back then is unfair — and also unnecessary given that there are more real issues with his governorship.

One concern I have comes from Masuzoe’s official resume. Summarized in one paragraph, Masuzoe started out as an academic studying French politics at Tokyo, Paris and Geneva, gradually gained notoriety as an author and TV commentator, and made a pretty decent showing against Shintaro Ishihara and Kunio Hatoyama in the 1999 Tokyo gubernatorial election. He won an LDP seat in the House of Councillors the next year. Despite his being critical of pretty much everyone else in the Diet, he was put in charge of the LDP’s constitutional reform commission and then became Health and Welfare Minister under Abe, Aso and Fukuda, during which time he came out as a quasi-hero in two major scandals. By 2009, he was the most popular politician in Japan. He bailed from the LDP as it fell from grace under Taro Aso, starting a new “Shinto Kaikaku” party amid hopes from the likes of Tobias Harris (link) that it would be the kind of force that would tank the LDP for good. It proceeded to do absolutely nothing, the LDP returned to power under Abe 2.0, Masuzoe declined to stand for re-election in 2013 and begged the LDP for forgiveness in order to run for governor under their quasi-endorsement. Summarized in one sentence, Masuzoe is a showhorse and not a workhorse, an Obama type of guy who can give a good press conference but who is not likely to actually do anything in a political context without seriously cocking it up, and that is not enough to run one of the largest subnational governments in the world.

Then there is the unofficial resume from the tabloids. Taking all of the tabloid stories I have seen at face value, Masuzoe supposedly met a Japanese woman while in France and they had a lovely wedding, but somehow didn’t actually get married. His first de jure marriage was to a French woman, but they were divorced for undisclosed reasons. (My wife recalls Masuzoe saying on a TV show that this first wife made rice pudding for dessert at one point, and he was enraged at the concept of rice being a sweet dessert.) After returning to Tokyo, he married his second wife, Satsuki Katayama, a promising young Ministry of Finance bureaucrat. The marriage lasted in earnest for only a few months, as Katayama discovered that Masuzoe had a short temper, and kept a collection of about twenty kinds of knives. They separated in short order and were officially divorced in 1989, but before the divorce was final, Masuzoe found a mistress and fathered his first child. He had two more children, at least one of whom was with a different mistress, and at some point married his secretary, who had two more of his children, for a total of five kids with three women. In the nineties he got serious about his horse racing hobby and started buying horses; two of them won the Japan Derby, in 1997 and 1998, but he got out of this business just before going into politics. At some point, he put his wife in charge of his “research institute” shell company, and transferred most of his valuable assets into it, including a 300 million yen house in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward and two vacation houses in Yugawara and Kawaguchiko. He reported a total of 360 million yen in assets when he was in the Aso cabinet, but insiders reckoned he was worth more like 1 billion and hiding most of it under his wife’s shell company. After leaving the Diet in 2013, he petitioned a court to reduce his child support payments to his first child (who is disabled) because his monthly income had fallen to just 100,000 yen; Katayama was quoted in the Mainichi Shimbun as being reluctant to support Masuzoe because of this. One tabloid speculated that he may have lost a ton of money betting on horses and needed to adjust his obligations for that reason.

I am doubtful that Masuzoe will last for four years. He has what appears to be a fairly weak electoral mandate, with less than 50% of the vote in an election that appears to have had relatively low turnout (the snowstorm in Tokyo yesterday likely kept many undecided voters from going to the polls today). Like his predecessor Inose, Masuzoe does not have a record of coalition or consensus building, but rather a record of being outspoken and confrontational, which will not serve him well given that the Tokyo legislature is not the single-party paradise that the National Diet has become. I also suspect that, given all that the tabloids have already dug up, Masuzoe must have some more skeletons in his closet that could take him down if a political foe were willing to utilize them. So don’t worry, reporters, this guy has plenty of potential to be interesting without sticking his foot in his mouth.

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Are we looking at a new political order?

We are less than a month away from the gubernatorial election in Tokyo, with the campaign officially starting a week from today, and it seems like it may be a key part of yet another massive political realignment.

Until last week, Yoichi Masuzoe was looking like a shoo-in, with the support of the Abe government and very strong results in both LDP and DPJ polls. Then former prime minister Morihiro Hosokawa, who led a coalition that briefly broke the LDP’s uncontested decades of power in 1993, came out of nowhere and announced his candidacy a couple of days ago on a platform strongly opposing the restart of nuclear power. He has the backing of none other than former LDP prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, who stood beside him for the announcement. According to some reports, perennial back room fixer and band destroyer Ichiro Ozawa is also behind the Hosokawa campaign. Meanwhile, Koizumi’s son Shinjiro, who has quietly become the most popular active politician within the LDP, is criticizing Abe for supporting Masuzoe, who ditched the party in 2009 to start his own third party that went nowhere — this despite the fact that there are no other potential candidates within the LDP who poll nearly as highly as Masuzoe.

Hosokawa and the alliance supporting him seem to be getting a groundswell of momentum, despite an obvious defect in his candidacy: he resigned as prime minister in 1994 because of a scandal that was essentially exactly the same as the scandal that just took down Governor Inose. Here is Hosokawa in April 1994:

Hosokawa has been fending off allegations that he accepted an improper donation of 100 million yen ($970,000) from a trucking company previously accused of bribery and links to organized crime. He has admitted receiving the money, but says it was a loan. His opponents say it was a bribe.

The sense of irony here is palpable. The coalition that Hosokawa heads came to power last August promising an end to the so-called money politics of the Liberal Democratic Party, which the coalition displaced. Now LDP members – whose 38-year grip on power was broken after a slew of bribery and influence-peddling scandals – fax each other copies of a receipt Hosokawa has released in an attempt to show that he paid back the money, because they believe it to be an obvious and sloppy fake. “If you show this receipt to the tax authorities,” says Motoo Shiina, an independent member of Japan’s upper house who left the LDP six years ago, “they will laugh.”

Here is Inose in December 2013:

Inose acknowledged in November he had received 50 million yen ($500,000) from the political family behind the huge Tokushukai medical group before last year’s gubernatorial election. The money, handed to him in cash, was kept in a safety deposit box and Inose said it was a personal loan that had nothing to do with his campaign for the city’s top job.

He has been grilled by a hostile assembly on several occasions, with the media picking apart his appearance and stuttering performance, focusing on beads of sweat that dripped down his neck. At hearings and in press conferences he has waved around a piece of paper he insists amounted to a loan agreement, although observers noted that it bore no date for repayment and showed no terms and conditions.

There is another obvious defect in both Masuzoe and Hosokawa, in that like Inose, they both made careers out of being outspoken and pissing off the establishment, but never managed to show much for it other than ignominious defeats.

So who else is out there? Besides the two media-anointed leading contenders, we have our good buddy General Tamogami running on the far right, and socialist/communist-supported lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya (who came in a distant second to Inose in the last election) running on the far left. Of the four candidates, three (Masuzoe, Hosokawa and Utsunomiya) are anti-nuclear in one form or another, while Tamogami’s energy policy, in line with his other stated policies, presumably relies on the Japanese air force.

Neither I nor most Japanese commentators are entirely sure what to make of all this, but it certainly incites a lot of speculation as to what will happen next. Will the retired DPJ insiders like Kan and Hatoyama manage to squeeze Utsunomiya out of the race and consolidate the anti-LDP vote under Hosokawa, or will Utsunomiya split that segment and let Masuzoe win? Will Tamogami leverage Shintaro Ishihara’s support and his own possession of actual administrative experience to eke out a victory while the others shout over each other about the nuclear issue? Will Antonio Inoki parachute in from North Korea at the last minute? Will everyone in Tokyo just stay in bed on the 9th and let Doctor NakaMats realize the fruits of decades of campaigning? Perhaps most importantly, what will all of this mean for the Abe government? It’s fascinating, and I for one can’t get enough of it.

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Tamogami, former ASDF “chife of stuff”, Running for Governor

Toshio Tamogami, rightwing blowhard and former Japan Air Force General, is officially running for Governor of Tokyo in February 9th’s election.

As you can see below, his official website profile is touting his strong credentials as “the former chife of stuff,ASDF”, in order to appeal to the Tokyo electorate’s strong appreciation for what is presumably intended to be some sort of executive experience.

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Tamogami’s official website profile

Anyone reading this right now, as the blog is only just barely stirring from a long hibernation, will certainly remember my feature-length November 4, 2008 post on the fraudulent essay contest scandal that led to Tamogami’s resignation from the military, and his connections to the world of right-wing politics.

These connections, which were rather obscure when I analyzed them, have become common knowledge since, as Tamogami has moved into a career as a professional rightist blowhard and – now – political hopeful.

For the hilarious website text, I must tip my hat to Curzon, (once and?) future contributor to this blog.

And speaking of hilarity, there are rumors being reported that professional wrestler turned politician, Antonio Inoki, will also be entering the race. This would certainly make Adam’s day.

But Masuzoe Yōichi, who ran and lost to former governor Ishihara Shintaro in 1999, seems to be the favorite. At least, that is, should he actually decide to run.

And for pointing that out, a hat tip to Joe, just so I have everyone covered.

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Game review: Abe-pyon is a fun, free, no-nonsense smartphone game; political propaganda at its best

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A couple weeks ago the Japanese ruling Liberal Democratic Party released Abe-pyon (Abe Jump; iOS link / Android), its first official smartphone game. The release was timed ahead of the upcoming Upper House election to try and reach voters that might otherwise not be interested in politics.

You control a cartoon version of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as he jumps higher and higher. Hitting springs gives you an extra boost, and as you go higher you reach more elite government/party titles (LDP Youth Division Director, Minister, Secretary General, etc. all the way up to Prime MInister).

For a low-budget simple game, Abe-pyon has been very well received, but I am not surprised — the game is actually quite fun and addictive, it’s free, and unlike virtually all other high-profile smartphone games (that I have played at least), it is a pure and complete game with no in-game purchasing whatsoever. To control Abe you tilt the phone from side to side, and this is the first smartphone game I have played where that was actually fun and even doable on the train. It is a lot of fun to try and slip Abe between two platforms to get at one of the red super-bonus springs.


This person made it to 11,000

You might complain that you are being propagandized by a political party, but if this is what it takes to bring an actually enjoyable and no-nonsense game to my iPhone, then that part doesn’t bother me a bit.

The game’s simple but well-done mechanics remind me of some earlier endless runner type games I have played, most notably Nanaca Crash, a Flash game (and Mutant Frog favorite) where you control a bouncing boy who was sent flying by a girl who was apparently stalking him. That was back in a the good old days before Facebook games taught every game maker of the potential to get rich through microtransactions.

The sound in the game is also pretty great. You get to hear comical boioioioing! sound effects whenever you hit a bonus spring, and Abe lets out a panicked squeal when he dies (sadly that isn’t his real voice). There is a rollicking Blues Brothers-style rock song which is also pretty fun (though I keep it off if I am listening to podcasts).

Abe pyon high score

My current high score

That being said, there are a few drawbacks, most of which have to do with the nature of the game. For one thing, you have to start from the beginning every time, so it takes a while to get back near a high score. You can pause the game and come back, but my iPhone 4S has so little memory it often loses my progress if I open a few more apps. I find that my hand tires out a little after getting to 800 or so, so I tend to mess up after that. If the LDP decides to sell the game to an actual business, offering continues might be a good way to monetize.

All in all however, I have shocked myself at how long I have been willing to stare at Abe’s face (albeit in cartoon form) to play this game. That speaks to how enjoyable the game is, so I definitely recommend trying it out if it’s on your local app store and hope more political parties will get the idea to curry favor with the populace by making great video games.

Update: It has come to my attention that this game is very similar to a popular game Doodle Jump. I haven’t played that one but the screen shots seem very close. Thanks Dan and Emily!

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What would doubling the JET program look like?

Recent news reports suggest that the LDP is planning to propose doubling the JET Program in three years and placing JET language assistants in *all* elementary, middle, and high schools within a decade. There are around 38,000 such schools in Japan, so that’s a LOT of ALTs!

According to internal affairs ministry statistics, in fiscal 2012 there were around 4,300 JETs in the country, so the plan is apparently to increase that by a whopping factor of nine. According to the statistics that METI keeps on language schools, there are 10,000 or so full- and part-time language teachers working for regulated schools. I believe that does not count the large number of contractors like the teachers working for ALT placement agencies or the poor devils at Gaba, university instructors, and certainly not the many student teachers or anyone operating their own eikaiwa that does not fall under METI’s purview. But even generously allowing for a teacher population of say 30,000 total (around 3 for every train station), in ten years this number will be more than doubled.

The program is designed to place youthful foreigners, generally native English speakers, in Japanese schools (and to a smaller extent, local governments) for up to five years with two explicit goals: supplement English-language education and promote international interaction at the local level. Another key benefit is that the participants often go on to take influential Japan-related jobs, be it in foreign governments, Japanese companies, or companies that do business in or with Japan. Having a stable of Japan hands around seems pretty necessary at this point, given the relatively poor state of English language ability among the Japanese population. Unlike normal employment situations, JET offers a high level of support in the form of a reasonable salary, free housing, and a network of fellow JETs and regional coordinators to help with problems.

I get the feeling that a ninefold increase in the JET Program isn’t realistic — could they even recruit that many people to come and live in Japan, or would they maybe just cannibalize the entire existing eikaiwa-for-kids market? Still, *some* increase in the program along these line seems like a fairly simple way for the Abe administration to make a bold move in the direction of “internationalization” that won’t run into much political resistance.

Regardless of your views on the merits of the JET Program or the Japanese education system in general, you must admit that even just doubling the size of JET would have a pretty profound impact.

For one thing, that is double the amount of people coming in each year. That means more foreign faces on the street and more non-Asian foreign exposure for the Japanese public at large.

It also means more “Japan hands,” maybe even double, and this can cut in different ways. I feel like Japan is sorely in need of talented Japanese-to-English translators, so an influx of native English talent that could eventually progress to ace-translator status is a good thing. At the same time, the increased supply in the market could put pressure on prices, and who knows maybe some whipper snapper could come after my job some day.

I think it would also revive the option of teaching English in Japan for graduates of US universities that (from my admittedly limited perspective) seems to have died down a bit in the wake of troubles in the eikaiwa market and competition from China, a bigger and perhaps more intriguing destination. I can envision a near future in which young men see the Tokyo Vice movie and become inspired to chase thrills and excitement in Japan.

And it would necessarily boost the number of international marriages and the resulting children, bringing Japan that much closer to becoming the Grey Race.

On the negative side, the JET Program might have to loosen standards to attract talent. Even if they don’t, the sheer number of additional people will likely result in an increase in the problems that occasionally befall foreigners in Japan – crime, drugs, suspicious visa activity, ill-advised YouTube rants, you name it.

JET is a net good, but not for Japanese people’s English ability 

I say bring it on, mainly to bolster Japan-related talent. Unfortunately, my support of the program is not for its value as an English teaching tool (disclosure: my application for the JET Program was in fact rejected. I am not bitter about it because I handed in a terrible application, but nevertheless I feel like I should own up about it).

I have spoken with/read about perhaps dozens of JET teachers and students over the years. The teachers by and large do not have a particularly high opinion of the job’s value in terms of English teaching, but they almost unanimously credit the program for giving them a great experience. And while the students might not master English thanks to their JET, in many cases they remember them being a friendly adult who helped make school more enjoyable.

From what I gather, the job of an ALT is generally to supplement a Japanese teacher of English by helping with pronunciation and various other tasks. Maybe I just don’t get around enough, but I cannot recall ever hearing someone even try to argue that they are an essential part of the learning process or that what they do has an appreciable benefit to the level of English ability in Japan. I don’t think that is really a problem though because of the program’s other upsides.

On the other hand, what I have heard and experienced is that ALTs can help inspire students to discover the joys and rewards of learning English or encourage them to keep going. I think the value of that should not be underestimated because it is life-changing and the ALTs deserve huge credit for it.

This is kind of an aside, but basically I do not share the government’s fascination with trying to make the entire country proficient in English because for most people that is just not necessary. The way things stand, the biggest result of the current system seems to be the long list of Japanized English loan words that are often such a headache-inducing component of the Japanese language.

To have a more realistic and beneficial impact, I would rather them focus on establishing separate programs for the kids who excel at languages and giving them a place to shine on their own (and while they’re at it they should devote resources to helping returnees re-integrate when they come back while maintaining their language skills). That would hold out the hope of producing a larger population of Japanese adults with near-native English skills.

I feel like there is negative feedback loop whereby most Japanese people are in an environment where the norm is to not be good at English and therefore most people choose the path of least resistance. Separating out the kids that have a real talent and placing them in a more encouraging environment might keep them from missing out just because they have to go along with the crowd.

All in all, JET seems like a worthy program for giving kids a glimpse at a world outside of Japan and the teachers an interesting start to their post-college lives in a way that usually ends up benefiting Japan in some way.

PS: This independent video guide to the JET Program is very well done. If you are reading this and considering doing the program yourself, it is definitely worth a look:

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Japanese people can’t speak English because they live among tainted, Japan-savvy foreigners

It seems to me that a major factor behind Japan’s vaunted problems with the English language could have to do with the learning environment.

Specifically, some Japanese people are not sufficiently aware that Japanese-accented English is often incomprehensible to listeners who are not familiar with it.

I call it the Heisenberg property of language – simply being among Japanese people causes native English speakers (eikaiwa teachers, friends, coworkers, etc) to get used to how Japanese people speak, and of course alter how they speak to ensure Japanese people understand them.

This concept came to my attention in a big way at an investment conference that I recently attended for work.

The keynote speaker was a well-known American investment manager, and when it came time for the Q&A session, there was a roughly even mix of question-askers who were native English speakers, Japanese who asked their questions through the interpreter, and Japanese who opted to ask in English.

The guest speaker had trouble understanding all of the Japanese people who asked questions in English. One person in particular asked something like, “What is your view on Abenomics?” and it took about three tries before the speaker got that it was something about the new prime minister.  I understood it the first time because I could hear him say the katakana “abenomikkusu” just really fast and with an attempt at English inflection. But to the American guest speaker, the questioner must have sounded like he was mumbling “obb-nom” instead of the properly enunciated “Abe-nomics” that sounds similar to Reaganomics.

This is just one small example, but I encounter cases of this phenomenon all the time:

  • Several English-speaking Japanese people in my life have heavy accents, but I can understand them because my years in the country have gotten me used to how Japanese people tend to speak. 
  • Japanese commercials are flooded with simplified English
  • Eikaiwa teachers tend to use simplified English to make themselves understood in class. I have even known some to incorporate common Japanese phrases like “hora” to get students’ attention.
  • Lip my stocking!

And so on.

If a Japanese person spends all their time in this “Japanese-familiar” bubble, then when it comes time to go face-to-face with a less Japan-savvy foreigner, they are likely to run into trouble.

I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing. For the sake of communication, speaking to make yourself understood (and listening carefully to understand) is only the most natural thing in the world. I just feel like pointing it out because Japanese people who equate speaking English with native speakers in Japan with “immersion” might be in for a rude awakening if they ever step outside that environment.

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Adamu will be on Livestream helping break down the election this Sunday starting at 8pm!!

Two major elections are coming up in Japan this Sunday — a general election to choose members of the Diet’s lower house, and a race for the Tokyo governorship. The chances of a change in government are high and of all people, that great buckler former PM Abe Shinzo is the favorite to become Japan’s next prime minister!

To help make sense of it all, I’ll be participating in a Livestream broadcast with Garrett De Orio and Kozo Ota, two of the Tokyo English-language blogosphere’s foremost political (and yakyu) junkies. You can save the URL here. We go on air at 8pm, once the polls close. It promises to be a fun and informative evening, so if you like sarcastic commentary and wading deep into the swampy weeds of the Japanese political system, this one is for you my friend.

During the stream we will be answering Twitter questions live with the hashtag #japanelection. Please drop a line! Given its importance, we will be focusing mostly on the general election.

Before Sunday I will try and do some posts highlighting aspects of the election that might fall through the cracks of what has become a quite robust Japan blogo/Twittersphere of late. Outfits like Japan Real Time, Japan Probe, and Shisaku have all been great.

Otherwise you can follow me at @adamukun on Twitter for regular updates. Please let me know in the comments below what sort of issues you want to hear about, and I hope to see you on the stream! Oh and if you’re a Japanese citizen make sure to get out there and vote!!

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