Thanks Kamei! Japan’s taxpayers now guaranteeing about 500,000 deadbeats

In the autumn of last year, Shizuka Kamei pushed through a debt moratorium law, primarily with the provincial goal of backing the small real estate companies in his home town of Hiroshima that were hit hard by the recession. At the time, I called this woefully short-sighted:

Small companies across Japan’s countryside that are having trouble making repayments should either restructure themselves, or fail and be restructured by creditors or new management. Many have antiquated management with regards to accounting, employment rosters, operational efficiency, supply chains, etc. Companies that can’t adapt to changed economic environments are supposed to fail. Yes, some good companies caught in unlucky times are destined to be caught in the current credit crunch as they are unable to repay loans and go bankrupt. But bankruptcy is a good thing! It is the engine of economic development that allows bad companies to fail, stifled talent to move elsewhere, assets to be sold at whatever price the market will bear, and bad management to be replaced. Yes, it sucks that people lose jobs and shareholders forfeit their investments, but that’s life! Letting this happen is a necessity for economic growth.

And on top of this, the poor local banks, only barely functioning after 15 years of treading water with the bad loan crisis, will now inevitably reduce their limited lending activities to nothing. There will be no money to lend, thus no local business growth or economic development, and thus no entrepreneurial activity. A short-term benefit for stabilized employment rates means the countryside gets screwed in the long term.

While my concern about small businesses refusing to restructure remained true, my concern for local banks was addressed when the final bill was passed (which you can read in Japanese here). The Japanese government — in other words, tax dollars — provide a statutory guarantee for these deadbeats. The mechanics of this are, under Article 11 of the Moratorium Law, that the government provides sufficient financial backing to the Credit Guarantee Union, which backs the financial institution undertaking the new obligation to support the small business. The Credit Guarantee Union is a government-backed public interest corporation that provides credit and loans to small businesses.

How many people and “small businesses” (defined as a company with less than US$3 million in capital and less than 300 employees) have applied for the moratorium in the last half year? About half a million:

Japanese banks have received a total of 521,030 applications for the easing of loan repayment terms from small and midsize companies and homeowners under the so-called debt moratorium law, the Financial Services Agency said Friday.

The applications, as of the end of March, since the law took effect in December last year involved 13.64 trillion yen and more than 90 percent of them were approved, the FSA said.

Congratulations, Japanese taxpayer — your tax yen are now financing these deadbeats. When the world is buzzing that Japan could be the next Greece, and could be sparked by one of any number of events (a failed Japanese bond auction, a sharp drop in tax revenue, a failure to implement tough fiscal and budgetary standards, a sharp contraction in Japanese GDP, a downgrade in sovereign debt by the ratings agencies), this is one of the worst policies that could be put in place.

Wherein one MP’s senioritis has potentially enormous consequences

The devil made him do it.

Anyone remember this story from last month?

Masatoshi Wakabayashi resigned from the Upper House on Friday after he was admonished for pressing an electronic voting button of a fellow Liberal Democratic Party member seated next to him.

The Democratic Party of Japan submitted a motion to discipline Wakabayashi, 75, a former farm minister, to the chamber on Thursday.

LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki urged Wakabayashi to take responsible action Thursday to avoid causing problems ahead of the Upper House election this summer.

If you’re like me, you probably shrugged it off as a joke, a non-story. He explained in Japanese 魔が差した which means “I don’t know what got into me” but could be literally translated something like “a devil made me do it.” Wakabayashi had already announced his intention to retire at the end of the Diet session, but this has got to be the worst case of senioritis ever. A seat in the Diet is nothing to take lightly, even if you’re in the less powerful upper house.

But with the ruling coalition’s majority so thin, this is actually kind of a big deal, especially now that the DPJ/PNP/SDP ruling coalition has broken up.

This weekend, PM Hatoyama fired Mizuho Fukushima from his cabinet over their disagreement on relocating Futenma air station. In response, Fukushima’s Social Democratic Party decided to quit the coalition. This development probably has some serious implications for PM Hatoyama, but for this post I just want to focus on how it affects the coalition’s standing in the Diet as the session nears its end.

This shrinks the DPJ/PNP’s upper house majority shrink to just two seats right at the end of the legislative session. The coalition is currently rushing to pass bills that would alter the course of reforming Japan Post, among some other initiatives aimed at the election in July.

With 122 seats together, the coalition now has a thin two-seat majority. However, it would have been even smaller one seat majority if Wakabayashi were still around.

I have no special information on the state of Diet negotiations and debate, but a one-seat majority can have all sorts of potential consequences. One situation I could think of is the American Democrats’ “super-majority” in 2009 as they tried to pass health care reform. Basically, any upper house member could have threatened to defect, delay, or vote against the party to extract some concessions.

But now that they don’t have to worry about such annoyances, the DPJ should probably call Wakabayashi to thank him (or maybe Tanigaki for pressuring him to quit).

Since he was elected in a prefectural district (Nagano) instead of proportional representation and there is not enough time to hold a special election, it seems that according to the rules Wakabayashi’s seat will remain open until the upcoming election in July.

(Thanks to Curzon for the idea)

Mapping the US forces in Japan

With all the recent hubbub about the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, it seems like an opportune time to unveil a little project I’ve been working on: a Google map of all the US military facilities in Japan. Okinawa is, of course, the most dramatically colonized region by a long shot.

View US military facilities in Japan in a larger map

But equally interesting is the Tokyo area, which contains a number of huge and not-so-huge American outposts.

View US military facilities in Japan in a larger map

This is still a work in progress, as facility names, locations and borders can be occasionally hard to pinpoint without being on the ground or on the inside, so comments are welcome.


HAFU: THE FILM is a new documentary coming out about Haafu — people of half-Japanese descent and their cultural experience.

I’m not sure what I think about this blurb and I’m still learning about the film. This is rare for me, but I’m reserving comment at present. What do readers think of the above street interviews on hafu, and has anyone heard more about this film?

Hello Kitty owner turns things around by licensing anything and everything

Source: Pop Crunch

I’ve long been a detractor of Sanrio’s policy of licensing Hello Kitty’s image to appear on just about anything (and some offerings have been downright questionable [NSFW]). But apparently, if you throw hundreds of darts at the board over ten years, you’re eventually going to hit a few bulls-eyes:

Sanrio Co., the Japanese owner of the Hello Kitty character brand, may boost profit after arresting a 10-year slide in sales by slapping its logo on wine, wallpaper and minicars.

The popularity of Hello Kitty, a white cat with a red bow and no mouth, with celebrities including Lady Gaga and Paris Hilton, has led the company to focus on licensing and to pare its retail and restaurant businesses (Sanrio intends to shut 40 of its 260 gift shops in Japan over the next three years).

Sanrio almost doubled overseas licenses last year and counts clothing chains Hennes & Mauritz AB and Inditex SA as customers. President Shintaro Tsuji, 82, plans to set up an office in Dubai this month to grow in the Middle East.

An appearance by Hilton, a reality TV player, at Sanrio’s 35th birthday party for Hello Kitty, and by Gaga, a pop singer, on Japanese television holding a stuffed toy, helped the company boost fiscal 2009 sales 0.8 percent from the previous year, the first annual gain since 1999.

“Hello Kitty’s Zen-like calmness and faceless expression are the major reasons for its appeal across age groups and markets,” said Martin Roll, chief executive officer of Singapore-based consulting firm VentureRepublic.

Note that a major part of the strategy is to “expand beyond Europe, North America, and Japan” — in other words, the developed world might have had enough of Hello Kitty, so now it’s time to endear her to the rest of the world. Click through to see Lady Gaga in a Japanese TV appearance, decked out in Hello Kitty everything:

Continue reading Hello Kitty owner turns things around by licensing anything and everything

White American pop singers marketed in Japan

Update: They are apparently not managed by Johnny’s.

Every girl’s fantasy English teachers?

Meet the EastWest Boys. Assembled by Johnny’s Entertainment Sony Music Japan through an audition process, the group, dubbed a “5 in 300 million miracle,” is being solely marketed and promoted within Japan, where they are competing for the hearts of teenage girls.

For their latest single “Take Me There,” they have entered a promotional tie-up with fashion brand Peach John (whose president was mired in scandal last year over a dead woman in her apartment). They are on the cover of the latest catalog and lucky viewers will be able to catch their song on TV ads.

Here’s a YouTube video of a single that recently got some play on Japanese TV, “This Time”:

Sure, I have seen dozens of cheap, poorly produced Japanese pop acts, and some pretty bad American pop groups as well. But watching Americans run through the exact same half-baked dance routines as SMAP produces a special kind of cognitive dissonance.

Johnny’s has made sure to add a few bells and whistles to maximize appeal – the songs are in simple English, and the melody has enough of a pop-punk/emo feel to seem kind of foreign. This was the tune I saw on a few morning shows promoting the group as a new kind of pop act. Girls attending promotional appearances looked overjoyed to hug their new idols.

The music gets much worse when you watch the videos for songs that people didn’t pay enough attention to. “Yesterday’s Hero” was obviously filmed in the exact same warehouse, and the song is 100% cookie-cutter J-POP – no halfway-redeeming nods to American emo to be found. Are they wearing primary colors to make them look like Power Rangers?

While there’s not much to compare, a much, much more listenable American entrant into the Japanese pop world is Jero, the African American enka singer.

The group’s videos are hosted on an official channel, which is kind of a departure for Johnny’s who until recently had a strictly Internet-phobic PR stance. By offering some of their content for free on the web, they are clearly trying to save some PR money by generating buzz online. The upside of that strategy is it gives us a lot of information on these guys that is usually not available on your typical J-pop group.

Continue reading White American pop singers marketed in Japan

Another Obama appointment, another kabuki metaphor

This time it’s Elena Kagan, this time the culprit is Colorado Law professor Paul Campos speaking on NPR, this time it’s a “ritual,” and as always we are here to call them on it.

I think that to the extent that it’s possible to eventually support this nomination, it has to be based on her answering real substantive questions in the confirmation process instead of going through this kind of kabuki ritual of dodging those kinds of questions, which is what nominees have so successfully done for the past 20 years.

This is, of course, the same metaphor that Joe Biden used in the context of the Sotomayor confirmation hearings, as blogged about on MFT before.

And so I will say it again: if you’re going to compare Washington to any sort of Japanese theater, you’re probably best off comparing it to bunraku.

Right wing new-age cult party lands a Diet seat

Troubling news:

The Happiness Realization Party, the political wing of new-age religion Happy Science, has scored its first seat in Japan’s legislature. Yasuhiro Oe (pictured), a proportional representation member of the upper house, has announced his intentions to change affiliation. The move comes after Oe chose not to join his comrades in the Japan Renaissance Party (改革クラブ) as it transformed into former health minister Yoichi Masuzoe’s new Nihon Rennaissance Party (新党改革). Oe commented that he joined because he shares most of the same conservative principals as HRP.

In a blog post, Oe writes that HRP had approached him last year about running with their backing in the 2009 lower house election, but he did not know enough about the group to accept. However, he has since learned that party leader Ryuho Okawa is a man with strong beliefs, the party shares his views on issues that are important to him, and that Happy Science is not one of those “questionable, strange religions” that forces people to spend money on expensive altars/shrines or makes them beat drums. (According to this anti-cult website, Okawa makes most of his money by making followers buy his published works). Add to that the recent drama with his former colleagues, and that was enough to make the switch. He is apparently not a Happy Science adherent.

I had not heard of Oe before now, but according to Wikipedia he has a history of switching affiliations. The Wakayama native 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. As Happy Science’s go-to man in the Diet, Oe will have the power to question government officials to try and get them on the record on issues relevant to the party. At the very least, you can probably expect some fairly bizarre formal written questions to the cabinet coming from Oe’s office.

HRP Update

The Happiness Realization Party was founded in May 2009 ahead of last year’s election season, fielding candidates for the Tokyo prefectural assembly and then in the historic lower house election in August on a radical program of major social upheaval and fiery neoconservative bluster. They failed to win a seat in any of the races, which cost them a lot of money in lost candidacy deposits. There have been organizational setbacks, too – weeks before the lower house election they announced they were pulling out of the race entirely before reversing themselves just three days later. And in its year of existence the party has had a total of six leaders (even worse than the LDP’s turnover rate!).

Money and bumbling will not stop these people, however – they just might be here to stay. Wikipedia says a candidate HRP backed in Machida-shi won a city assembly seat, which is a tangible success. The posters are still around Adachi-ku. Their website is packed with content and activity, including official commentary on the scandals of the day, ranging from the Ozawa scandal to Princess Aiko’s bullying troubles (their typically hard-line solution – radical reform of the teachers’ unions and a sweeping “bullying prevention law”). And they have already announced more than 20 candidates for the upper house elections this July.

If they can’t manage to actually win elections on a national level, convincing sitting members to switch parties like this might be a good way to get their foot in the door, especially in this time of party realignment.

For more info on what the Happiness Realization Party stands for, check out my post from last year’s election season.

(via J-Cast)

PS: This is my first in what will hopefully be a regular series of posts on the upcoming election. Stay tuned!