“Akiba-kei” nerd to run for the upper house: ZAKZAK is there


An Akihabara Nerd to Run for the Upper House… Tarui Dresses Like a Fantasy Warrior on RPG-like Homepage

The LDP’s Foreign Minister Taro Aso is well-known for being popular among the Akihabara (read:anime/manga/video game nerd) set, but there is one man in the DPJ who considers himself an “Akiba-kei” (Akihabara-style otaku). That man is 39-year-old Yoshikazu Tarui, a former Lower House member. He is gaining attention for his uniqueness in such odd moves as putting pictures of himself dressed like a fantasy warrior on his business cards and homepage and displaying images of DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa dressed as “King Zawa.”

t2007021310tarui1_b.jpgOpen Tarui’s homepage, and a story on the theme of “a country built on entertainment” will begin. It’s set up like a role-playing game, and King Zawa asks “Warrior Tarui”: “Hey, what happened Tarui? What is it?” as the story progresses.

Tarui is well known as a professional wrestling and kickboxing fan in the DPJ, and “Killer Kan” a great general played by Acting President Naoto Kan also shows up. This is a pun on the famous wrestler Killer Khan who was big in New Japan Pro Wrestling and famous for his special move the Mongolian Chop. DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama’s appearance is still in the planning stages, reportedly.

Tarui is running in this summer’s upper house race as a proportional representation candidate, but in response to questions from Yukan Fuji (=ZAKZAK), he explains, “Since there are no Akiba-kei Diet members in Nagata-cho, I thought that I’d try and grab the segment of people who are interested in pop culture and digital contents, so I made this site.” His campaign promise is “promotion of the entertainment content industry.”

t2007021310tarui2_b.jpgHe has a fold-out business card with the word “Tarutsu” on the cover in the style of famous video game magazine “Famitsu” along with a photo of Tarui dressed as a warrior. Open the card, and along with pictures of Tarui with “King Zawa” and “Killer Kan” there is a pun-filled message: 「かったるい国政、変えたるい!!」 (I’ll change the tired old national politics!). On the back is the strong slogan: “Bring the first akiba-kei Diet member in history back to national politics!”

You’d think he’d have confidence in this masterwork, but Tarui actually seems to be keeping his distance: “I gave this to Kan, but I’ve been too scared to show it to Ozawa since I made it without asking. This might freak regular people out, so I am not giving it out so much. I am mostly just giving it to people in the industry.

Certainly, there are those in Nagatocho who are cool on the wacky concept, saying “all we can do is laught,” but a source close to Tarui explains that he’s “a totally serious person.”

Actually, in Tarui’s own running column in “Weekly Famitsu” magazine, he seriously explains his ‘pet project’: “Promotion of entertainment not only has economic effects for the country, but will also help to raise [Japan’s] image. Would you want to fire a missile at Korea after having seen Winter Sonata? If you consider those feelings, you can understand that entertainment content is truly the best diplomat for prevention of wat and boosting tourism and economic exchange!”

Even Aso must be surprised at this guy!

ZAKZAK 2007/02/13

Both sides are likely to run celebrities and other fluff candidates for the national PR seats this summer, but a seasoned policy wonk with a taste for the absurd? I like.

Shinto Nippon: Semi-bicchu?

People looking for information on Shinto Nippon, a Japanese opposition party formed amid the 2005 LDP splitup whose leadership includes former Nagano Governor Yasuo Tanaka, may be puzzled and disappointed at the current state of its English website (click for full-sized version):


Semi-bicchu? This cryptic bit of faux-English is, I believe, something of an oyaji gag: someone translated the “jun” of “jumbichu” (under construction) as “semi” and left the rest unchanged. I can’t tell if that is supposed to be funny or if someone was just too lazy to open a dictionary.

Asahi explains the Dentsu>Government>Local newspaper triangle of shadiness

A very interesting article has appeared in the Japanese-language Asahi today introducing the results of its investigation into a scandal involving Sankei Shimbun and another newspaper paying people to attend government-sponsored forums to educate people about the Supreme Court’s new lay judge system. It turns out that the practice of “co-sponsoring” these forums with regional newspapers is widespread, as is the practice of bribing people to participate (11 events managed by 4 newspapers were tainted). I won’t translate it since I suspect it will appear in Asahi’s English version after the Monday press holiday, but here’s a brief summary:

Headline: A dependence on government agencies for ad revenue was behind the “attendee mobilization” issue at regional newspapers

In the past decade or so, local newspapers have seen their ad revenues from regular companies drop significantly as their readership loses out to the larger papers. Newspapers have seen their total share of ad revenue drop from 21% to 17.4%, and regional papers have been hit harder than the major national ones. So in 1999 advertising giant Dentsu, who has a significant stake in the success of local newspapers, organized a “National Regional Newspaper Liaison Council” (office conveniently located a block away from Dentsu headquarters). The council was established as a network to collectively seek out ad suppliers (though looking at their website you’d think they existed only to co-sponsor government forums). The administrative director, managing researcher, and other positions are staffed by senior Dentsu employees.

The arrangement goes like this: The Council or Dentsu receives a contract from a government agency to hold an event to promote “understanding” of a new policy among the general populace. They then farm out operations to the local papers, who manage and report on the event in exchange for placement of ads/official announcements from the government agency.

Cosponsoring these events with local newspapers do benefit the agencies trying to get the word out about their new policies to the outlying regions, but that is only if people actually attend them. A promotional document provided by Dentsu to the Supreme Court for its forums on the lay judge system boasted attendance of “200 people or more.” A person involved explained: “The newspapers apparently felt pressure to get people to attend or else their orders from the Council would be reduced.” An employee at the ad department of one of the newspapers involved went so far as to name names: “We felt nervoud since we were co-sponsoring this with the national government. We were told by Dentsu to fill the room. Of course, the Council and Dentsu deny that they ever put any such pressure on the newspapers.

For a PM as boring as Abe, even a doctor’s visit makes the news


Abe on the way home from getting his health checked. I can’t say for sure why they published this almost totally un-newsworthy photo, but it goes to show how doggedly the press in Japan is hounding the Prime Minister no matter where he goes. Why would he wave to the camera? My guess is in response to the reporters’ catcalling. The caption? “‘This is my regular checkup. There were no problems at all, so I can work at ease again.’ Will the embattled prime minister now be refreshed to mount an attack to reverse his fortunes?”

The constant media hounding is nothing new, but here’s one possible reason this otherwise unremarkable photo made the news: People miss Koizumi’s consummate newsworthiness. As the right-leaning policy monthly Shokun! (Hey You!) has pointed out, at least Koizumi had hobbies (even though they were lame ones like opera). Abe hasn’t been seen doing much besides his job, except for when he’s very obviously posing for the cameras (such as when he was seen holding hands with his wife or when he made a trip to buy dictionaries). So these bored reporters might have been desparate to capture the prime minister doing anything.

There have been reports comparing the Abe and Koizumi styles of leadership ever since Koizumi left office. TV commentator Terry Ito puts it bluntly: “Koizumi spoke to the people, Abe speaks to Nagatacho.” But ever since the K-man made a well-received campaign appearance during lower house by-elections in October, reports of rumors/hopes started bubbling up that Koizumi might try and take back the premiership. The above-mentioned Shokun! article outlines one wild scenario:

The Abe cabinet will hit a dead end over the nonstop scandals and dissolve the lower house. The DPJ, internally divided as it is, will win the general election as it rides this wave of dissatisfaction in a “marriage of convenience.” Part of the disjointed LDP will break off and join the DPJ. Ozawa will step down for health reasons and leave the DPJ leadership to either Yukio Hatoyama or Naoto Kan, forming a coalition government with the Socialist Democratic Party. It will, of course, immediately falter. People will then start calling for a “strong leader” amid the fluid political conditions. This is a prediction for 2, 3 years into the future, but it could well be that Junichiro Koizumi is quietly waiting for that day to come.

The “Koizumi comeback” storyline (always proffered by unnamed sources, of course) picked up momentum after Abe’s administration started to stumble in December. All the while, Koizumi himself has been indirectly quoted as saying he has no interest whatsoever in running the government again.

But the idea has picked up such steam by now that Koizumi’s longtime personal assistant Isao Iijima came out and flatly stated at an appearance in his native Nagano that there would be “100% no comeback” for Koizumi.

The coverage of Iijima’s comments may have been due to the fact that Iijima himself has become a part of the “Koizumi comeback” story, partly for his reputation as a shady manipulator of media coverage (he’s been called “Japan’s Karl Rove”; read a 2001 profile here). This report in January 15 edition of news weekly AERA, quotes unnamed political insiders and a passage critical of the Abe administration’s use of special advisors to explain that Iijima is disappointed with the Abe administration. The article goes on to speculate that Iijima harbors a “wild ambition” to put Koizumi back in power. Amid this coverage, Koizumi has been indirectly quoted as saying he isn’t interested.

Even though Iijima has denied that Koizumi is making a comeback, the very fact that Koizumi’s personal secretary is out making speeches makes me suspect something’s up. His comments were somewhat cryptic: “Koizumi has been keeping silent for the time being. I see that as the best support for Abe,” referring to the fact that Koizumi has largely managed to stay out of the press, at least directly, after leaving office. But this conspicuous absence only seems to make Japanese reporters’ hearts grow fonder.

How to cover Japan Tobacco’s profit forecast? A comparison

I’m not an expert on investment or business news, but I do check a lot of news sources for no good reason. So the coverage of Japan Tobacco’s recent profit announcement/forecast struck me.

If you’re the Financial Times, quite possibly the world’s most trusted English-language source of business news this side of Bloomberg, you’ll probably want to let investors know what to watch out for when covering the story:

Japan Tobacco cuts full-year profit forecast

By Mariko Sanchanta in Tokyo

Published: February 9 2007 23:28 | Last updated: February 9 2007 23:28

Japan Tobacco on Friday cut its full-year profit forecast due to costs related to its $14.7bn acquisition of Gallaher, the UK tobacco company.

The world’s third largest cigarette company said it expected full-year profits of Y202bn for the year ending March 31 down from a previously forecast Y206bn.

But if you’re the Nikkei, Japan’s leading business news source, you might consider giving this former government institution the respect and deference it deserves by focusing on past quarterly profits and burying the bad news in the last paragraph:

Japan Tobacco Oct-Dec Group Net Profit Grows To Y70.8bn

TOKYO (Dow Jones)–Japan Tobacco Inc. (2914) Thursday reported that its group net profit for the October-December quarter rose 12% on year, following a cigarette price hike in Japan as well as continued strength in overseas tobacco sales.

The world’s third-largest tobacco company, commonly known as JT, said its group net profit grew to Y70.8 billion from Y63.0 billion a year earlier.

Group revenue rose 4.7% to Y1.260 trillion from Y1.204 trillion, while its group operating profit rose 10% to Y95.6 billion in the just-ended quarter.

For the full fiscal year ending March, JT issued a profit warning due to fundraising-related costs to buy U.K. tobacco maker Gallaher Group PLC. The deal, valued at GBP9.75 billion, would be the biggest acquisition of a foreign firm by a Japanese company.

For the current fiscal year ending March, JT lowered its group pretax profit outlook to Y298 billion from Y310 billion. It also revised down its group net profit forecast to Y202 billion from Y206 billion

Despite the Nikkei’s best efforts however, JT shares dipped 3.7% on the news, the FT tells us (with the benefit of 2 days’ hindsight, granted).

Foreign Crime File – is all the fuss really necessary?

Today I want to talk about the “Foreign Crime Files” manga. It’s an offensive, disgusting book that tries (albeit poorly) to exploit Japanese people’s fears and prejudices. By now many of my readers will have heard about this since the Japan bloggers have duly reported it with furious anger. But my preliminary and very unscientific research seems to indicate that this book has not made much of a splash in Japan as of yet. It’s enough to make me worry that this outrage might actually be building more of a market for the book (and a platform for its fear-mongering) than it would have had otherwise.

The sole Amazon review (1 star): “Uses lots of discriminatory phrases, low level content. It seems as if the author has a major inferiority complex as a Japanese person. This will engender a bias against foreigners among ignorant Japanese people.” Also from Amazon: People who bought this book also bought “Completely Master the Japanese Language Proficiency Test Level 1!” (a test of Japanese as a second language). Amazon rank: 1004 in books.

Japanese-language Technorati results: zero!

2ch presence: One very short thread on the “Books” board. Overview:

Thread starter: Did you know about GAIJIN HANZAI FILE, this horrible, discriminatory book?!
2channeler 1: It’s an ad!
TS: No, it’s not an ad, I just want to know why Japanese people allow this kind of thing?
2channeler 1: Well, I guess it’s more that we don’t really care about foreigners.
2channeler 2: My opinion is that people who overreact to this discrimination are pretty depressing. Just leave it alone. The fact that the foreign media has picked this up is just what I’m talking about. They understand that life and racial discrimination can’t be separated. A worldview that relates and compares issues to one’s own life is very Christian.

No mention in a news thread on the lower “foreign crime rate” reported by the National Police Agency.

Google results: The multitude of booksellers’ websites selling the book and foreign Japan bloggers’ reactions, plus one blogger/J-pop singer cocco (wiki), who explained: “It isn’t being talked about much by Japanese people yet, but one book (Foreigner Crime File) is enraging foreigners who live in Japan… I worry that this might turn into an international problem!”
According to cocco, there is a movement going on within mixi to boycott Family Mart over this book, one that debito has helped organize outside of mixi and that has in the end kept it off the shelves there as well as in other places.

It could be early to conclude that Japanese people just aren’t all that interested in this book, or perhaps they’ll just never have the chance to read it due to the success of Debito and others to get this book censored. But in this era of viral marketing and unscrupulous people, you have to wonder if all the coverage we foreign Japan bloggers are giving this awful book are giving it more attention than it ever really deserved. I feel like this book would have died a death in the sleazy porno section of the convenience stores if it weren’t for its almost made-for-the-Internet inflammatory illustrations.

“Child-bearing Machine” T-shirts

Fans of Japanese political kerfuffles can thank Kikko for letting us know how we can get T-shirts commemorating Health and Labor Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa’s clueless statement implying that women are “child-bearing machines.” No maternity sizes available yet, unfortunately.


You can get some background on this and Abe cabinet’s other “gaffe” scandals here, but basically the opposition parties went nuts over this misstatement, sitting out on Diet deliberations (a move that goes against the supposed principles of a Japan’s proud new truly parliamentary system) on a supplementary budget to carry over Japan for the rest of the fiscal year. They came back after this tactic of shrilly lambasting the LDP produced only mixed results in local elections, and then Acting President of the DPJ Naoto Kan made a strikingly similar flub: “Tokyo’s birth productivity is low”. So, as with other recent scandals, the DPJ comes off looking no better than the LDP.

Continue reading “Child-bearing Machine” T-shirts

A message for whom?

Kyodo news service reported yesterday (via Japan Times) that:

An international convention banning states from abducting people will spur Japanese moves to resolve the North Korean abduction issue and send a “strong message” to Pyongyang, Vice Foreign Minister Masayoshi Hamada said Tuesday.

“We were able to send a strong message that it’s not only Japan that is telling North Korea” about the abductions, Hamada said after a ceremony in which 57 countries, including Japan, signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

The treaty is the first of its kind to focus on state-sponsored abductions. It will be put into force once 20 nations ratify it.

The pact does not apply to cases that took place before its ratification, exempting North Korea’s abductions of Japanese in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

I understand that Japan’s primary concern with this treaty (text here) is the North Korea abduction issue, and the fact that these crimes have a special exemption to the statute of limitations is a testament to the efforts Japan has undertaken regarding this issue, but how many of the other 56 countries are really thinking about North Korea when they ratify this treaty?

The treaty has been in the works since at least 2001, and while a 2001 article from Human Rights News states that “The practice of forced disappearances plagues many parts of the world, including Algeria, Colombia, Iraq, and Sudan, as well as Chechnya in Russia,” I expect that many of today’s signatories are actually thinking of so-called “extraordinary rendition” by the United States when they sign it. Since they are most likely committing actions that would violate the treaty, The United States is naturally not one of the signatories at present, but interestingly they were also opposed to the treaty back in April of 2001, before 9.11.2001 and any US-instigated “forced disappearances” that I am aware of.

It makes sense that Japan would not want to call attention to the lack of US support for this treaty, I find it very odd that Kyodo news has written such a shallow article, leaving out any non-Japan related background on the treaty, which reads more like a government issued press release than a news story.