Shiozaki out, Takenaka in? Who’s to blame for Abe’s sputtering?

Though the Japanese media has been running speculation of a cabinet reshuffle or other personnel changes in the Abe cabinet since January at least, the Daily Yomiuri has come out with one of the first English-language pieces discussing the possibility that I’ve seen from a major media outlet. According to the Yomiuri, the blame for the many mishaps that have dogged the Abe administration is falling on Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki, who would be “the main target for reshuffle”:

Shiozaki has been criticized for his lack of ability to coordinate the Cabinet’s crisis-management and damage-control systems. When scandals involving Cabinet ministers emerged, Shiozaki only said they should be held accountable for the alleged scandals.

A chief cabinet secretary is supposed to have the Prime Minister’s Office report all the facts to him, conduct investigations based on them, check whether the government can overcome opposition grilling in the Diet and media criticism, and decide whether to protect the cabinet ministers in question or have them resign. But things are different under the Abe Cabinet.

Partly because of lack of political experience, Shiozaki has failed to keep a tight grip on the reins of the bureaucrats in Kasumigaseki and coordinate policies with the ruling parties sufficiently. It is worrying that he is so inflexible in his thinking. Because of his inability to delegate, he inserts study meetings into holiday schedules. Thus, he has less leeway of mind than the play of a steering wheel.

The Asahi, never to be outdone, has its own English article on Shiozaki-directed criticism. I feel like this report is more balanced and attributes the criticisms to actual sources rather than editorializing within the article. It also draws different conclusions, saying that Shiozaki has become a Rumsfeldian sponge for criticism from Abe’s critics:

On Jan. 14, LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Shoichi Nakagawa berated Shiozaki in a telephone call, telling him that his habit of setting up task forces one after the other to deal with major policy issues could easily result in a storm of media criticism.

Shiozaki was clearly taken aback, according to sources.

Some lawmakers say the task force policy serves only to make some Cabinet ministers less willing to follow the party line.

For example, Shiozaki has proposed setting up task forces on strengthening cooperative relations with Asian nations, another to deal with the declining birthrate and yet another to consider how to revive economic growth.

In spite of these problems, LDP lawmakers thus far have refrained from criticizing Abe directly.

They fear that if they do so, they will be branded as trying to engineer a coup against the Cabinet.

For this reason, they are sharpening their knives against Shiozaki, whose job makes him the government’s most senior spokesman.

Shiozaki has been getting panned in the media since the Abe cabinet’s inception for being the most arrogant and domineering personality in a cabinet that’s full of them. While the Yomiuri article cites “failures” without really going into detail, it is pretty representative of the type of reactions the “hated Chief Cabinet Secretary” (as he was described in a January Bungei Shunju article) has been getting. He’s been accused of both dominating Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy meetings that are supposed to be the domain of Minister of State Hiroko Ota, taking the initiative on North Korean abduction issues, as well as crowding out Special Advisor Hiorshige Seko, who’s supposed to be in charge of PR. While the economic reform agenda may yet be the underappreciated gem of the Abe administration, it’s clear that Abe’s PR response has been just awful.

There’s a great piece detailing who did what in all the Abe blunders of the past 5 months entitled “Support Rates Plummeting, the ‘Abe Kantei’ is no Longer Functioning” that ran in the March issue of Bungei Shunju that you can read in Japanese here. I want to summarize one incident mentioned in the article over which Shiozaki was judged to have messed up playing the role of nemawashi (consensus-builder): the attempt by Abe in late November/early December to move a special account dedicated to road construction to the general account, including the national gasoline tax. Though the highway public corporations were privatized in 2005 as part of Koizumi’s plans to eliminate a major source of wasteful spending, reform of the special account was put off as too politically volatile at the time.

The idea was proposed by CEFP Minister Ota as a way to boost Abe’s falling approval ratings. Both Shiozaki and Abe approved of the policy, and Abe in particular thought that reforming a tax that’s been in place since 1954 would be a good way to showcase his policy of moving beyond the postwar era. But Shiozaki had absolutely no experience as a liaison charged with building consensus within the LDP. Abe announced that he intended to reform the special account for highways, including the gasoline tax, at a meeting of the CEFP and then left the rest to Shiozaki. But his overtures to some of his political allies hit a snag, since the gasoline tax, at 3 trillion-yen per year in collected revenues, is a major source of funding for road construction, probably the biggest source of pork-barrel spending in Japan (and therefore the basis of many politicians’ support). They suggested he try to reform an auto tax that is charged on the weight of the automobile, since there is no legal basis for the funds to be set aside for road construction. He called Seko for help, but Seko, who’s a PR expert not a well-connected politician, thought it was too late to move forward with the policy as Abe outlined it since no one would go along with a complete separation of the gas tax from the special account. A trip to the LDP’s top upper house member Mikio Aoki was similarly unsuccessful: “The upper house won’t take responsibility if it doesn’t come in a form that builds necessary roads.”

In the end, Shiozaki had to rely on Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Advisor Atsuo Saka, whom Abe reportedly “loathes” but can’t technically replace. Shiozaki met with Saka along with Finance Minister Koji Omi and Transportation Minister (and former Komeito President) Tetsuzo Fuyushiba. Saka, sensing an opportunity, suggested a compromise: agree to free up only 1.8 trillion yen of the gasoline tax and put off the debate on sweeping reform. Saka was more than happy to play consensus-builder, but the newspapers excoriated both Shiozaki and Abe, saying that the development was a “loss” for kantei-led politics and a blow to the reform agenda.

Now, I don’t think all the administration’s mishaps are Shiozaki’s fault — Abe’s executive secretary Inoue, Sec Gen Nakagawa, Seko, and others have all had trouble working together and made their own mistakes — but it could be that replacing him with someone less headstrong might help ease tensions.
Continue reading Shiozaki out, Takenaka in? Who’s to blame for Abe’s sputtering?

Government of Japan STILL violating the privacy of naturalized foreigners

It’s been almost a year since I exposed the Ministry of Justice’s inappropriate practice of placing the names, birthdates, and addresses of foreigners who naturalize as Japanese citizens. So I figured I would check back and see if the MOJ had decided to stop violating the privacy of the citizens it’s supposed to be protecting, and the answer is a big fat NO. As of February 23, the government gazette still publishes the information in the exact same place. It might be hidden from Google searches, but the information is contained on PDFs that can be used to easily copy paste the name and address information and used for God know’s what.

I don’t feel like taking the time right now to compare this practice to the MOJ’s own “personal information protection policy” but is it safe to assume that this kind of blatant disclosure violates the spirit of privacy protection if not the letter of the law?


I apologize if the following entry is excruciatingly boring, concerned as it is with matters of blog history administration, so please indulge me at your pleasure, gentle reader.
I started “The Mutant Frog Travelogue” a few years ago back when I was studying abroad here in Japan, just to keep family and friends up to date on what I was doing without having to send out mass emails and so on. At the time I was just hosting it on my university web space, (still online at, despite the fact that I can no longer log in and update it!) and using Blogger (being a Blogger user when Gmail launched got me an invitation to the first stages of the highly restricted semi-open Beta, which was pretty cool) and I had virtually no readership. I blogged off and on over there for a few months, but it was really nothing more than a livejournal style collection of occasional personal news and amusing news clippings, and I had already gotten bored and stopped updating when my friend Adam, who had been on the same study abroad program, asked me to help him set up his own blog devoted to translation of Japanese news articles.

After Adam had been running his blog for a couple of months I decided i would be fun to try again, put together a wordpress based blog on, and began posting here. Adam’s blog the time was still using Blogger, and hosted at an impossible to remember URL on Verizon, and we decided to merge operations on my new blog, which was using a domain that I had just happened to register based on an old online handle. Eventually, Joe Jones, who had been on the same Rotary study abroad as Adam in high school and also had his own blog, joined Mutantfrog. We were briefly joined by a mysterious fourth member, who wrote anonymously as “Saru” for a few months before circumstances led him to stop public blogging.

Over the couple of years this blog has been in existence, and particularly the past few months, our regular readership and volume of discussion has steadily grown and feedback is almost always positive, but there are some name related issues that have been bothering us about the blog lately.

First of all, name confusion. It is a far too common occurrence that someone, whether a reader or another blogger linking to us or a particular post on our site, attributes a post written by one person to the name of another, perhaps not realizing that this is a group blog and that there are in fact multiple authors. This is of course compounded by the fact that I post under my Mutantfrog handle, which is also the name of the blog.

Problem: How should the blog be revised to make authorship of individual posts clearer?

Second, in a related matter, the name I post under. I am currently thinking about trying to get into graduate school to do research on topics related to some things I post about here, and the blog is of course useful for making contacts and perhaps even having people recognize my name. Unfortunately, as Joe pointed out to me earlier today, I do not actually post under my own name but my handle. I DO have my real name (Roy Berman) on the sidebar by the email link, but I think that Joe is probably right when he suggests that virtually no one will notice that.

Problem: Should I sign posts and comments as Mutantfrog, Roy Berman, Mutantfrog (Roy Berman), or what?

Third, the name of the blog. I haven’t really liked the name “Mutant Frog Travelogue” for quite a while. I chose that title when it was intended to be mainly just a personal travelogue, but it isn’t that at all and could use a new title. Also, as Joe says “Mutantfrog is a fun name, but it’s hard to use it with a straight face when you’re talking to, say, a guy who finances stadium developments.” Is, as Joe believes, “” just too silly a name to put on the CV/resume of a lawyer, a translator, a journalist, an academic, or whatever job any of us are applying for? While changing the domain name is impractical, since that would break all existing links and squander our decent google ranking, changing the displayed title is totally feasible and perhaps a good idea.

Problem: What should this blog be named?

I’ve been saying for months and months that I would be building a new template/layout for the blog and finally adding some useful features such as an “About” page, and so I would very much appreciate any feedback related either to these specific aforementioned issues, or blog design and content in general.

Superman meets Charisma Man

I’ve been back in the US for about two months now, and while I’ve settled back into the full-time student routine here, I can’t get over the feeling that I’ve left something better behind.

A few weeks back I came across this post by Debito while I was having a minor bout of insomnia, and it sums up the feeling perfectly.

I liken a trip back to America to Superman making a trip back to Krypton.

When Siegel and Schuster first made the Man of Steel, they had to inject a little science into their fiction, because comic-book hero or not, an invulnerable superhuman was a little hard to believe. So they talked about Clark Kent coming from a planet called Krypton, which being more dense than Earth has a higher amount of gravity. So when Clark crashlanded on Earth, he was superstrong because things were physically lighter, and he had X-Ray vision from eyes attuned to a different opacity. Superman’s nemesis was, of course, fragments of rock from his home world–Kryptonite–which made him lose all his powers.

Hence America becomes my Krypton because I feel absolutely sapped of strength there, even at the most interpersonal levels.

Here in Japan, I can relate more to people; they generally give me the time of day and listen to what I say. This could be due to their interest in America, their tendency towards deference with White people, or my ability to describe in Japanese what I see around me–my X-Ray vision, so to speak.

In terms of strength, here I feel I can accomplish more in a negotiation than the average Japanese–with the right mix of loud voice, humility, deliberate ignorance of custom, and choices of which battles to fight.

Then there’s the financial and emotional integrity in Japan (something which even Clark Kent, with a shitty job as a reporter at the Daily Planet, didn’t have); here, I’m not troubled for money, bored with bad food, starved for pretty women to gaze at, or frustrated by a lack of intellectual challenge.

Now, anyone who’s been in Japan for a substantial amount of time probably knows about Charisma Man, the little comic book about a Canadian “geek” who goes to Japan and becomes the ultra-cute “Charisma Man.” Charisma Man can clear a train car in 5 seconds and scare away oyaji by showing off his elephant-like penis. His arch-enemy, naturally, is Western Woman! who can turn him back into a geek just by looking at him.

It’s a true enough phenomenon. Western guys who go to Japan all become Charisma Men to some degree, and the ones who have charisma before they come to Japan become practically superhuman. But the mystery is: why? And everyone seems to have their theories.

I talked about this with Roy, and he seems to believe that it’s a question of audience selection: there’s just a subset of Japanese people who are interested in foreigners (particularly women interested in men), and that’s the attention that turns foreign guys into Charisma Men. That’s probably not a bad theory.

But there’s another half to it, and I think Debito hits it squarely on the head. When you aren’t brought up in Japan, you don’t worry about being the deru kugi–the nail sticking up–and that puts you ahead of those who do. I think it’s a lack of that dreaded word from elementary school: self-esteem. I vaguely remember trying to explain that concept when I was in high school in Osaka. I had to look it up in my electronic dictionary. That communicated the word, but not the concept. The teacher said: “Oh, like selfish?

And indeed, when I talk to Japanese people in America, many seem to feel the exact opposite effect as Debito and I do. They come to the US, and often they become Charisma People (men and women alike), living freely without a society telling them what to do.

Maybe it’s just psychosomatic. Maybe we just have to be in the environment that we enjoy. So maybe it’s more appropriate to give each their own. Let Mariko have freeways and beaches and pizza: let me have subways and sakura and sushi, and we’ll be even. Which is why I’m all about a world with fewer borders.

Comfort Women Resolution Under Debate in the House

I want to take a moment to look at the House resolution intended to criticize Japan’s government for failure to “acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner” over comfort women who served the Japanese military during WW2 currently under debate in the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment. A recent Japan Times article features some of her testimony from a Feb 15 hearing on the matter:

“The Japanese government is always trying to resolve this issue at its own convenience,” she said. “They took us and forced us to become comfort women and, even now, they continue to deny the facts.”

On an evening in 1944, Japanese soldiers forced their way into 14-year-old Lee’s home and dragged her out by the neck. She was taken to Taiwan, where she was forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers.

“Except for the few wrinkles on my face, I have not changed at all since I was turned into a sex slave at the age of 14. I remained unmarried,” Lee said. “I can never forgive the Japanese government.”

(You can watch a video of the proceedings here. Note the pitifully low attendance!)

Apparently there’s also a bill submitted by opposition lawmakers in the Diet’s upper house to the same effect:

Tokyo should officially recognize the women Japan forced into sexual slavery for the Imperial army in the 1930s and ’40s and formally apologize, a South Korean former “comfort woman” demanded Wednesday.

“I have had it with the Japanese government’s shrewd ways,” Lee Yong Soo said, speaking on a panel with opposition lawmakers who have a bill before the House of Councilors on the wartime sex slave issue.

It should be noted that this caucus of opposition lawmakers has been unsuccessfully submitting similar bills since 2001. It is much smaller news compared to the resolution under debate in the House that is likely to pass after it died last year before coming to a vote (thanks to successful lobbying by Japan).

The prospect of a resolution criticizing Japan’s wartime actions passing in the House has sparked protests at the highest levels of government. Foreign Minister Taro Aso has called the resolution “not based on objective facts,” while Japan’s ambassador to the US Ryozo Kato has written a letter to the subcommittee that tries to emphasize that the matter has already been resolved.

Much of the press coverage of this resolution has been sympathetic to the proponents of the resolution and the former comfort women who gave testimony, while the Japanese opposition has been characterized as embarrassed and callous to these women’s plights. But I’d like to direct you to Yasuhisa Komori’s coverage of the resolution, in which he highlights the statement of Republican California Representative Dana Rohrabacher that opposes the resolution on the grounds of “grave doubts about the wisdom and even the morality of going any further and adopting resolutions like H. Res. 121, which is before us today” mainly because “Japan has in fact done exactly what the resolution demands,” which is the Japanese government’s position (although there are those who would like to retract some of the official statements on this issue).

I don’t often find myself agreeing with the Japanese government on much of anything, but what would passing this resolution achieve for the comfort women’s cause? Would it aid in the ongoing Japanese court cases where they are demanding compensation? No. Would it prevent the Abe government from retracting the “Kono statement” apologizing for the use of comfort women? Nope! Basically, the Korea lobby is trying to use a more sympathetic House to try and humiliate Japan and weaken its position, and Japan isn’t having it. I feel bad for the comfort women, but resolutions like this seem like a colossal waste of Congress’s time and smack of political exploitation. Remember how ridiculous it sounded when France’s legislature passed a resolution condemning the Armenian genocide?

Cheney, Abe reaffirm blah blah blah BORING!

Put these two men in a room together and magic happens:

And please, read on to learn of this historic meeting of the minds!

Abe, Cheney Reaffirm Unity On Abduction Issue, Iraq

TOKYO (Kyodo)–Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney agreed Wednesday to boost the bilateral alliance and cooperate to resolve the issue of North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese citizens as a common matter of the two nations.

Cheney expressed U.S. understanding over Japan’s policy of not offering energy aid to North Korea due to the abduction issue, while Abe gave reassurances over Tokyo’s support for U.S. efforts in Iraq and its commitments to promoting missile defense and U.S. military realignment, Japanese officials told reporters.

OK, I’m asleep now. I fell asleep just reading this article. Could there be a less relevant visit to Japan by an American leader? I mean, sure Cheney isn’t going for no reason at all, but he and his staff are just decidedly disinterested in making his visit media-friendly. I guess we can wait and see if Cheney is trying to get anything concrete out of Japan in terms of Iraq support, or if he focused more on easing so-called “tensions” in the security alliance that are so slight as to be almost figments of the media’s imagination in their struggle to wrap some narrative around this dull, dull official visit.

My own theory on why Cheney’s there: he’s actually trying to reaffirm US-Japan unity in the six-party negotiations amid accusations that the US is pressuring Japan to back off on its insistence that North Korea make progress in resolving the issue of NK abductions of Japanese citizens before Japan provides NK with any aid. Cheney will be meeting with the parents of abductee Yokota Megumi tomorrow, which will probably be the highlight of media coverage on the Japanese side. Meanwhile, the American media-consuming public will be subject to images of Cheney strolling off the plane and addressing a crowd of adoring troops on the USS Kittyhawk. And conveniently enough, the Scooter Libby trial is about to end, so some attention can be deflected from the torrent of negative press the trial has given Cheney and his shady attempts to manipulate the media. Or more likely still, the longer Cheney’s out of the country, the longer he can avoid answering questions about Libby etc. Thankfully, Cheney will return to his now-famous undisclosed location after the trip is over.

Green Tea Donuts at Mr. Donut and my first steps toward life in Japan

I’ll be moving back to Japan in April after spending nearly 4 years living in the US and Thailand. Even though I’ve spent the entire time preoccupied with events in Japan and working as a Japanese-English translator, not to mention living with Mrs. Adamu, I feel I must try and brace myself for some of the conventions that I had once been used to. Today, when I placed a call to the local branch of the Funabashi City Hall to inquire about marriage procedures, the man who dealt with me (not sure if he was in charge of marriage registrations or dealing with foreigners) spoke in that endearing Pidgin Japanese where the main vocabulary is replaced by katakana English but the grammar and verbs remain in Japanese. Some people would have been annoyed by the use of such language, especially those who have spent years trying to learn Japanese such as myself. But I’ve gotten used to it and don’t mind as long as the people are nice and give me what I want. And I’m sure that this person has dealt with many foreigners with limited/nonexistent Japanese ability. My only issue was that the man wouldn’t answer a few simple questions, launched into a tortured explanation of the process that I was already aware of, and insisted I let him talk to my ‘garufurendo’ ‘dairektuo ni’. Blech.

Anyway, speaking of blech, Mr. Donut is offering a new limited edition maccha (green tea) flavored donut until the beginning of April. Behold:


They have infused their ‘old fashioned’ type donut with maccha essence. I usually like maccha-flavored stuff, but this looks like they’ve gone and ruined their best donut. This development just reminds me that Mr. Donut and Krispy Kreme will be catering to a distinctly different set of customers. I look forward to trying them both when I get back (there is Mr. Donut in Thailand but it sucks).
(Link/pic via J-Cast news)