Japanese newspaper holidays make my brain hurt

Nikkei Net warns:

Press Holiday
Morning Edition will not be updated on Monday, March 12, because of a press holiday on Sunday.

That’s right. The concept of a 24-hour news cycle (or even a day-to-day news cycle for that matter) means nothing to Japan’s newspaper companies. On Sunday, none of the major newspapers will go to print, nor will they update their websites (though to be fair, most of them slack off on weekends anyway). This behavior is unheard of in the US, but I have to admit giving reporters a day off isn’t that bad of an idea. Given the sometimes volatile nature of breaking news, there might be a similar justification to forcing reporters to sit it out a while that there is for keeping capital markets closed on holidays and after hours. Still, it’s pretty ridiculous that newspapers took the day off on the day the postal privatization bills were initially rejected (Aug 8, 2005):

As news days go in Japan, it rarely gets bigger than it was Monday. In a narrow vote, the upper house of the Japanese Parliament voted down a pivotal piece of legislation intended to privatize Japan’s $2.9 trillion postal savings system, the world’s biggest bank. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had staked his reputation on postal reform, so in retaliation, he dissolved the lower house and scheduled a general election for Sept. 11. Pundits bloviated that the turn of events could even mean the end of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s half century of nearly unbroken control of government…

Yet if you relied on Japanese newspapers for your news, you wouldn’t have heard about those momentous events Monday. That’s because Monday was one of Japan’s monthly newspaper holidays.

The holiday coming up is less likely to make Japan’s newspapers look so obviously like archaic relics of the past, but it still bores me half to death. I mean, why are Japan’s newspapers even allowed to form a cartel and agree all at once when not to publish? More on that later.

Read more about newspaper holidays (kyukanbi / 休刊日) at the sadly defunct Japan Media Review.

Update: This citizen journalist claims that there were no newspaper holidays when he was young. I can’t seem to find when this practice started, but apparently it’s rather recent, though these days they are accepted as a part of everyday life. And as JMR notes, the wire services Jiji Press and Kyodo News as well as the sports newspapers don’t participate. I will get to the bottom of this.

Have you been missing my running commentary on Abe? Just read the Economist instead

The Economist this week reports on my favorite topic: the “gossip-mill” among Japanese political circles. This week the mill is speculating on the prospects of Abe staying in office beyond the upper house elections. Of all the recent English-language weekly articles on Abe’s trouble, this one sticks the closest to how the political debate looks from the Japanese perspective. In other words, they’re trying to beat me at my own game, and I like it:

THE gossip-mill is grinding away, and the man whose career could soon pop out the other end in fragments is none other than Shinzo Abe.

[Abe’s] decline [in public support] may explain why on March 1st Mr Abe chose to undo much of what he had achieved through his October visits to Beijing and Seoul, by publicly denying one of the many Chinese and Korean grievances: that Japan’s Imperial Army forced hundreds of thousands of women, mostly Chinese and Korean, into prostitution during the 1930s and 1940s.

The Japanese public has turned against Mr Abe not because of foreign policy or historical debates but for economic reasons. For all the government’s boasts that Japan is enjoying its longest period of growth since 1945, the Japanese are not feeling much benefit in their purses and wallets.

In this respect, things were no better under Mr Koizumi, but at least he seemed to be doing something about it by shaking things up. By comparison, Mr Abe looks clueless.

I’ll reproduce the closing section in full because it is so, so tasty:

Dreaming of Lionheart

Actually, his problem is subtler than mere cluelessness. He is torn between dealing with the politically potent topic of inequality—in an ageing Japan, the income gap is widening—and making further reforms to encourage future growth. The only thing he has done so far has made both problems worse, however: his government clamped down on the interest rates chargeable by consumer-finance companies on loans to Japan’s poorest borrowers. This looked popular, but some say it has choked off their borrowing and helped to depress consumer spending.

Worse still, when he has had a political clue it has led him in the wrong direction. Mr Koizumi pulled off the remarkable trick of attacking his own political party, eventually kicking out LDP Diet members when they rebelled against his flagship programme of postal privatisation. That laid the ground for his triumph in the 2005 general election. Mr Abe, keen to curry favour with his party’s old guard, has now readmitted 11 of the rebels. At a stroke, that has changed his public odour from breath of fresh air to the usual LDP halitosis.

Whether he will actually be dumped, however, depends on how badly the LDP fares in the July Upper House elections. Fortunately for Mr Abe, the opposition Democratic Party of Japan is also in disarray, with its leader, Ichiro Ozawa, in poor health and at war with his own colleagues. Yet that may not save Mr Abe, such is the mood against him. Strange stories have been circulating about how cabinet ministers have so little respect for him that they do not bother to stand up when he enters the room. The rival most often mentioned as his budding successor is Taro Aso, the bumptious foreign minister, who is also a conservative and currently cuts a more dashing figure than his boss.

Another name, though, is increasingly being whispered: Junichiro Koizumi. There is no real prospect of tempting him back, at least not yet, for the great man is said to be having far too much fun as Japan’s most eligible bachelor. But how he is missed.

For all its great attempts to read the tea leaves, the article completely neglects to mention the possibility of a cabinet reshuffle, which seems to be the dominant theory these days (probably from LDP sources who want a crack at a ministerial post). Given that the internal conflicts in the Abe administration go far beyond a failure to rise when Abe enters the room, a 2nd cabinet may seem in order. Abe has expressed intentions to stay in office for a long time, but so far he and his people have lacked the savvy to keep his achievements in focus and maintain the public support so crucial for staying in office.

Recently, Abe reached out to Koizumi, who according to reports met Abe and LDP Sec Gen Hidenao Nakagawa for dinner last night and encouraged Abe to stay on as PM even if his party loses the upper house elections. Abe listened to Koizumi lecture on strategy the whole time, including lines like “It’s been written that a ‘draft’ is blowing between the kantei and the LDP, but when I was in office is was a thunderstorm. Just pit the kantei and the party against each other and stir up a typhoon” (according to Nakagawa at least). In such a dire environment, it’s only natural for Abe to get advice from someone who was relatively good at “[seeming] to be doing something…by shaking things up,” even if some people would point out that the LDP was actually losing seats to the DPJ in every election under Koizumi except for the 2001 upper house elections that were aided by “Koizumi fever” and the landslide victory in the 2005 lower house election that Koizumi successfully turned into a referendum on postal privatization.

But at least Koizumi started out with low expectations and managed to stay in power, as opposed to Abe’s quick decline and non-stop crisis mode. At any rate, whether Abe can pull off Koizumi’s tactics without actually being Koizumi (or having Koizumi team members on board) is beyond me, but then I’m not the one playing this game.

The crime of abortion in Japan

While doing some research work for a local professor of Japanese law, I came across an interesting statistic: there was one arrest in 2003 for the crime of abortion. This piqued my interest, so I decided to go off on a little tangent and figure out what this crime entails. Here’s my Americanized translation of the Criminal Code:

Chapter XXIX. Crime of Abortion

§ 212. Abortion. A pregnant woman who commits an abortion using pharmaceuticals or another method shall be subject to imprisonment of no more than one year.

§ 213. Consensual Abortion; Death or Injury Thereby. A person who causes an abortion while employed by a woman, or with her consent, shall be subject to imprisonment of no more than two years. A person who kills or injures the woman thereby shall be subject to imprisonment of no less than three months and no more than five years.

§ 214. Abortion In The Course Of Practice; Death or Injury Thereby. A doctor, doctor’s assistant, pharmacist or seller of pharmaceuticals who, while employed by a woman or with her consent, causes an abortion shall be subject to imprisonment of no less than three months and no more than five years. A person who kills or injures the woman thereby shall be subject to imprisonment of no less than six months and no more than seven years.

§ 215. Non-Consensual Abortion. A person who causes an abortion without being employed by a woman or without her consent shall be subject to imprisonment of no less than six months and no more than seven years.
2. A failed attempt of the above crime shall also be punished.

§ 216. Death Or Injury By Non-Consensual Abortion. A person who kills or injures a woman through the commission of the above crime shall be judged as having committed either the above crime or the crime of mayhem, whichever is more serious.

Abortion was legalized in 1948, decades after the Criminal Code was enacted. Some characterize this as a victory of an emerging feminist movement in Japan, but the truth is a bit darker, and pretty darn obvious from the abortion statute’s original title: the Eugenic Protection Act (優生保護法). Its stated purpose: “To prevent the birth of progeny which are undesirable from a eugenic standpoint, while protecting the life and health of mothers” (優生上の見地から不良な子孫の出生を防止するとともに、母性の生命健康を保護すること).

Certainly attitudes were different back then. This was at the peak of the Japanese government’s long-running policy to prevent people with leprosy from procreating. Under this policy, “male patients had to be vasectomized before they were allowed to marry, and female patients were enforced to have abortion and even infanticide.”

In 1996, the statute was given a new name: the Mother’s Body Protection Act (母体保護法). It’s been clipped and amended so many times that it’s hard to parse, but basically the rules are:

  • Abortion becomes absolutely illegal at the point when the fetus is viable outside the uterus. (Technically, this is because the abortion statute ceases to apply at that point, and the Criminal Code takes over.) The Health Ministry decides when viability occurs, and has changed its mind on the subject several times. Its current verdict is after 23 weeks (props to Japanese Wikipedia for providing an easy link).
  • Abortion must be performed by a doctor specially licensed by the prefectural government.
  • Abortion can only be performed:
    1. When the health of the mother would be threatened, either physically or economically (define the latter yourself), by carrying the child to term, or
    2. When the child was conceived through violence or intimidation, or
    3. When the child was conceived through fornication, and at a time when the mother was unable to resist or reject the advance.

This is all very interesting to someone who comes from the land of Roe v. Wade and the notion that abortion is a right. But then again, you can kind of see the loophole-ability of the abortion law. How easy must it be for the mother to lie about the circumstances surrounding the conception? And how many mothers could invoke the economic harm provision?

I’ll leave you with some factoids from a medical journal abstract on the subject:

In one case in 1988, when the fetus of a 16-year old girl was aborted in the 25th week of pregnancy and left unattended although alive, the doctor was indicted and punished, although the probability of survival of the child was estimated at about 50%.

Since 1955, when the abortion rate was the highest (about 1,150,000 abortions), the number has been decreasing steadily. In 1991 the abortion rate was 13.9/1000 women of reproductive age (15-50 years); however, great differences existed between prefectures (6.4-26.0/1000).

It is alarming that the rate of abortions has increased among women under 20 years of age and at later phases of gestation. … Unquestionably, the abolition of the requirement in 1952 mandating that the abortion seeker undergo an examination by two doctors has liberalized the abortion law. However, many young pregnant women who need help do not get adequate support and counseling and may end up in prostitution.

JAL joins oneworld. Yawn

On April 1, Japan Airlines is joining the oneworld airline alliance, whose largest members include American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Qantas.

This is not really news, because JAL has been in the process of joining oneworld for years. They just happened to run into a number of issues, chief among them an oddly-structured merger with JAS, and barely compatible booking systems that required an overhaul of how JAL sells its tickets. (ANA, on the other hand, has been an integral member of the Star Alliance for years now with no major issues. Not to mention a much better safety record.)

Anyway, the main effect of the JAL-oneworld consummation is that you can include JAL on one of oneworld’s special round-the-world-type tickets. All the other benefits (frequent flyer mile sharing, code sharing, lounge sharing, etc.) were already more or less in place.

Nonetheless, JAL took out a full-page ad in US FrontLine, one of the weekly Japanese tabloids published in the US, to announce how totally awesome this transaction is. Opening line: “JAL’s New World Begins!”

Who are they kidding? I’m really into the airline industry, and I’m freaking yawning here. Get a life, JAL. The rest of us already defected to Star Alliance.

Nobody messes with Japanese truckers and gets away with it

Some of you might have seen what happens when you throw bicycles at Japanese garbage men. Well, one ballsy dump truck driver has shown the world that garbage men aren’t the only ones who won’t take things lying down:



Furious over moves to tighten controls on load limits and to ban diesel-powered vehicles in some areas, transport company owner Masatake Harazumi on Wednesday let the government know how he felt. The 60-year-old trucker drove his rig to the Diet building in Tokyo and dumped about 10 tons of soil in front of the gate. (Toshiyuki Matsumoto/ The Asahi Shimbun)

(2nd photo from Nippon TV)

Marxy’s exciting new project

Marxy of neomarxisme is writing for a new site under the auspices of his employer the Diamond Agency called Clast, reports Jean Snow. It’s a blog aimed at “breaking down consumer and media insights in Japan.” Here’s more from Clast’s about page:

clast is a bilingual blog created by Diamond Agency to analyze contemporary consumer and media trends in Japan. The word “clast” means literally “a fragment of rock,” and we see our mission as breaking down the extremely complex systems of Japanese market culture into easily-discernible parts. At the same time, however, we also hope to break down misconceptions about the market that have buried their way into the conventional wisdom and provide a new perspective based on a multi-disciplinary analytical approach. Reaching consumers requires an accurate portrait of their world, and clast aims to draw that picture in vivid detail.

I know I’m overjoyed, especially with the “vivid detail” part.

The posts so far (a look at the declining magazine industry and an introduction to influential women’s fashion magazine CanCam and the women who read it) are a must-read for anyone interested in Japan’s media industry (as some of you have asked). You might not hear much about kisha clubs or other issues removed from the promotion and marketing of products, but you will definitely find out why some magazines are doing better than others and how fashion-conscious Japanese women are spending their money. How is this different from his old blog? So far, it’s more focused on the Japanese consumer issues and media. And perhaps more importantly, it does not accept comments, which have proven something of a distraction at the neomarxisme blog.

Not much else to add right now, just check out the site!

The last of the “junkaiin”

Practicing law as a foreigner in Japan is riddled with regulatory issues. Technically, you’re not supposed to handle legal cases unless you’re admitted to the Japanese bar. And while you can be admitted to the Japanese bar by virtue of being a lawyer in a foreign state, you become a gaikokuho jimu bengoshi or “foreign law attorney,” and you’re only technically allowed to advise on your home state’s law.

This wasn’t always the case. Until the late 1950s, a foreigner could be admitted to practice law in Japan by becoming a junkaiin or “quasi-member” of the bar association, which required special permission from the Supreme Court, but gave the foreign lawyer all the privileges of a Japanese lawyer. The junkaiin admitted at the time of the system’s abolition were the only foreigners allowed to practice law in Japan until the mid-80s (with the exception of Thomas Blakemore, a nutter who managed to pass the bar exam in Japanese).

There are only four junkaiin still alive today. Last time I checked last year, there were six! So we’re watching an interesting piece of legal history fade away with time. Here are the four who are still around to tell their stories:


James Shogo Adachi (photo, right) is a partner in the Tokyo law firm of Adachi, Henderson, Miyatake & Fujita. It looks like a small firm, as it only has four attorneys at present, but it has trained many of the top corporate and commercial lawyers working in Japan today (including the managing partner of the firm where I once worked).

Adachi was president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan in the early 1970s. Now, he is essentially retired and lives in San Francisco.

His late wife Barbara (who died in 2005) is also an interesting figure. She was born in Harbin before the war, as her father was managing Citibank’s operations there, and she spent most of her youth in prewar Tokyo, leaving for college in the US just in time to miss World War II. She came back in 1946 to work for the occupation government and stayed in Tokyo until her death, becoming prominent in the local foreign women’s community. She was also a bunraku (traditional puppet theater) fan, and donated a massive bunraku library to Columbia University.


Francis Sogi (pictured with his wife Sarah) is a first generation Japanese-American born in Hawaii. He entered the University of Hawaii shortly before World War II broke out: while his ROTC unit was pulled into active service, he was almost deported from Hawaii before he volunteered to stay in the Army. He was in Army Intelligence for the duration of the war, and then completed his business degree at Hawaii and a law degree at Fordham.

Sogi is a “lifetime partner” in the law firm of Kelley Drye & Warren, which seems to practically mean that he retired from the firm on good terms (he’s no longer listed in active practice there). Most of his career was in New York, but he qualified as a junkaiin and still holds that status today. He maintains an office in Kioicho, Tokyo, which has the somewhat awkward name of “Sogi Foreign-Qualified Attorney Law Office” (蘇木外国弁護士資格者法律事務所). He’s a very charitable fellow, a big figure in the Japanese-American community and a major benefactor of the University of Hawaii.


Richard Rabinowitz is currently a part-time advisor to Tozai Sogo Law Offices, a smallish firm in Kioicho that handles international litigation and commercial work.

He studied Japanese during World War II, went to Yale Law School after the war, was admitted in Japan in 1953 and co-founded the law firm of Anderson, Mori & Rabinowitz. Although Anderson Mori was initially run by Americans (Mori was a Japanese-American), all three name partners left by the end of the decade and the firm was taken over by Japanese lawyers. Following its merger with Tomotsune & Kimura it became Anderson Mori & Tomotsune, and is now one of the largest law firms in Japan, with offices on top of the Izumi Garden Tower in Tokyo. (It’s also known as one of the least hospitable work environments for foreign lawyers in Tokyo: the “NOVA” of law firms, if you will.)

After departing from Anderson Mori, Rabinowitz obtained a Ph.D. from Harvard, in the course of which he wrote the first comprehensive English article on the Japanese bar. He was later admitted to the bar in South Korea (although I have no clue how), and taught for several semesters at Harvard and Yale.


Reinhard Einsel is an intellectual property specialist at Kawamitsu & Einsel, a firm in Okinawa.

He was admitted to practice law in Okinawa in 1965, when the islands were still occupied by the US, and was grandfathered in as a Japanese junkaiin when Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972. (There are only eleven other practicing lawyers who joined the Japanese bar as a result of the Okinawa handover, and all of them are Japanese.) So Einsel has the advantage of being slightly younger than his counterparts on the mainland, and will probably be the last of the junkaiin because of the unique way he came into the system.

Abe’s turn to get SLAMMED

I wanted to go back to ignoring the recent flap over a House resolution to condemn Japan’s supposed failure to adequately deal with the “comfort women” issue. But how can I sit quietly when the Prime Minister himself is getting SLAMMED?

Growing Chorus Slams War-Brothel Remarks Japanese P.M. Under Fire For Comfort Women Remarks

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – March 3, 2007 – South Korea again criticized Japan’s prime minister Saturday for disavowing his country’s responsibility for using Asian women as sex slaves for Japanese troops in World War II.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday there was no proof that so-called “comfort women” were forced into sexual slavery during the war.

The remark triggered outrage throughout Asia.

Abe’s statement is “aimed at glossing over the historical truth and our government expresses strong regret,” said a statement from South Korea’s Foreign Ministry.

Two Ritsumeikan faculty missapropriated ¥21,000,000 of government research money

This was announced at work on friday afternoon, and I believe hit the evening NHK newscast. I work in a different office and don’t know anything more than what’s in the following Asahi story.

Two Ritsumeikan University faculty missapropriated ¥21,000,000 of government research money

Ritsumeikan University announced on March 2(Friday) that two faculty of the College of Engineering have misappropriated public research funds from sources such as the 21st Century Centers of Excellence project and scientific research assistant funds totalling ¥21 million and, in addition to having diverted money into use for paying the tuition of foreign students by having it deposited into their bank accounts under the name of “payment for student part time work” had also illegally diverted money into a construction worker relative.

According to the university, the two are Professor Shinji Egashira (60) and lecturer Takahiro Ito (34) of the City Systems Engineering Department.

Between 2001 and 2006, Prof. Egashira over 100 times requested funds from the university to be paid to 39 students of his research lab in exchange for part time work duing surveys and research assistant duties. The total of ¥15,000,000 transferred was used for the tuition, living expenses, and research activities of the foreign students. They say it was not used for personal clothing.

It appears that Lecturer Ito, in 2004 and 2004, under the name of “river engineering study” made false purchases of lumber from the construction company that his father runs, and caused the university to pay ¥5,930,000 from the same project budget.

The two admitted the truth of their misappropriation and returned the entire amount to the university. The university plans to take disciplinary action regarding the two within the month.

Misuse of public research funds by a different Associate Professor was revealed in June of last year. This insappropriation was uncovered over the course of an internal university investigation related to that. College Dean Seiji Kawaguchi apologized at a press conference saying, “the proper act of observance of the law was not thoroughly carried out” and indicated a policy of upgrading internal contact points within the university, and of strengthening internal auditing functions.