The Yamba Dam is back on

Just over a year ago, I visited the Yamba Dam (together with MF blogger Ben) to see with my own eyes the mega-dam project in the mountain valleys of western Gunma. The DPJ immediately halted the project when they came into power in September 2009 due primarily to the project cost. But the dam construction had burned through more than 70% of its US$4 billion budget by mid-2009. The trip was interesting, and it reinforced my view that stopping construction at this late stage was a mistake. Indeed, my exact words on this blog were:

Frankly, no matter how hard Transportation Minister Maehara and the DPJ hold out on refusing to construct the dam, I can’t possibly see how the project cannot be finished. At best the DPJ can delay the plan a year or two.

That prediction is on track to be correct. Minister for Land, Infrastructure, Transport (and Tourism!) Sumio Mabuchi has announced that the government is reexamining the project to see if it is viable. While not an express reversal of policy, the announcement has been widely interpreted in the press (and not denied by the administration) as a soft way of announcing that the DPJ administration is withdrawing the pledge to scrap construction of the dam.

Tokyo Governor Ishihara, who along with many other regional local leaders was outraged by the cancellation of the project, had a somewhat predictable reaction, which can best be translated into English as, “Well, duh!”

The opposition LDP is loudly denouncing the DPJ as irresponsible, pursuing policies without proper thought, and other general incompetence that I’ve long-described as cognitive dissonance that makes the party unfit to govern. Whether it be the reconsideration of the reconsideration of the reconsideration of the Futenma US base in Okinawa, the Justice Minister’s moratorium on the death penalty followed by carrying out executions, and now reversal of the Yamba Dam decision, we see a common theme — the DPJ is a flailing mess when it comes to policymaking and set new standards for flipflopping.

35 thoughts on “The Yamba Dam is back on”

  1. There is also an almost unanimous opinion in Japan right now that the Kan government completely sucks at foreign policy. NHK last night reported that something like 90% of poll respondents said they rated current foreign policy as either poor or awful.

  2. Interesting that a lot of overseas Japan watchers are depicting the government as coming to its senses on foreign policy. Still, I don’t think the post Koizumi LDP had much of an idea of what it was doing on foreign policy, or for that matter a lot of domestic policies either. Certainly individual leaders tried to articulate an agenda, but they couldn’t carry the party or the country along with them.

  3. Remember the gyoza? Is that like remember the alamo? I’m totally blanking on the reference.

  4. It was an Alamo of sorts for the far right, but one could argue that it was actually the gyoza that finally brought down Fukuda (this didn’t make it into much mainstream analysis and was quickly forgotten because the Beijing Olympics put Sino-Japanese relations back on the right foot).

    A pack of frozen gyoza from China was poisoned with pesticide a few years ago. Several Japanese were sickened including a 4 year old girl who reportedly went into a coma briefly. The Chinese side insisted that the gyoza had been poisoned in Japan and it was widely reported that “China” had been framed (despite the fact that the pesticide used is illegal and unavailable in Japan). The Chinese company, rather than apologizing, said in the press “We are the real victim here”, implying a Japanese conspiracy. When evidence emerged that it was in fact poisoned at the Chinese plant and that people had been sickened in China as well (nobody knew about it because of a domestic cover up), the Fukuda cabinet made the decision to withhold the information from the public “in the interests of good relations”. This was apparently at the request of the Chinese government who wanted to keep information about the scandal from getting out at home. When this was reported in Japan (Yomiuri broke the story), Fukuda’s approval rating plunged to a new low, eventually leading to his resignation.

    There are some pretty solid parallels here. Clear evidence of wrongdoing by Chinese (ramming the Japanese ships, not just fishing in the area) was withheld by the Japanese government on both occasions, effectively harming the stability of domestic politics in the interests of placating China, false or bizarre claims (this time, showing the Chinese ship effectively being t-boned by one of the Japanese coast guard boats) in the Chinese press went essentially unchallenged, and in any case, going along with China doesn’t seem to have bought Japan a break, just a breather until the next outpouring of anti-Japan feelings.

    The LDP are in “tough on China” mode right now, but they notably didn’t even TRY while in power themselves. Their new “man up, arm up” line is an easy one as long as they don’t have to take responsibility for actual decisions, paying for them, etc. All of those encroachments by Chinese subs, etc. throughout the LDP tenure and NOW they’re wondering why the DPJ hasn’t magicked up a robust south sea defense in the year they’ve been in office?

    While I was very peeved at Hatoyama’s incoherence, DPJ’s playing a bit of hardball with the US has actually resulted in some gains from the Japanese perspective – in a time when the US seems to be clearly hedging against China, they got several assurances that the disputed islands are covered by the security treaty and the US seems very committed to maintaining a strong East Asian presence with Japan as a cornerstone despite Futenma grumbling. In short, what was clearly gross incompetence led to a win-win. What did the LDP Iraq commitment really get Japan aside from stuck with a big fat bill? Purely on the economic level (and I’m at a loss to come up with any other levels on which Japan should “care” about the Middle East, what with serious human rights and security problems in East Asia and all), the recent deals for Japanese companies in Afghanistan are better than anything seen for Iraq, and this is despite FAR LESS involvement there than countries that were among the major Iraq invasion opponents like Canada and Germany. Add to that the fact that Koizumi set the crappy tone for Sino-Japanese relations when he could have been shilling for Japanese companies and I fail to see how LDP foreign policy since the mid 1990s was any more stable or thoughtful than what we’ve seen from the DPJ in the last year.

    The opposition line is now “Why haven’t you fixed our 15 years of incompetent foreign policy?! You’ve had a whole year!”

  5. Not exactly sure whether anyone can have effective foreign policy for Japan.
    1)We never get fair treatment from foreign press corps,hence no diplomatic achievement.I was in COP10 all through the past few weeks.Anyone ever heard Nagoya Protocol?It was a quite achievement in the conservation of biodiversity which no one really cared,but the host nation of Japan.
    2)Japan simply don’t have the tool to play the game like intelligence and military,essential in the world of realpolitik.
    3)Nationalism is the engine of the diplomacy in any country.And People here are sick and tired of being finger pointed as “nationalist”,hence no passion.
    4)The constitution.

    Oh,well.At least we are not in any war….

  6. Ohhh, I was thinking you were referring to the dam project in some way. In the context of the previous comment on foreign policy I know exactly what you meant by gyoza.

  7. Aceface, I pretty much agree.

    Another thing that should be on your list – America.

    Japan relies on the US for its defense on the strategic level. What the US offers – atomic umbrella – cannot be replaced as the public is not likely to support a nuclear Japan, but is necessary to balance China and North Korea. I don’t favor a belligerent arms race, but there is just way too much unpredictability there to go with the JCP unarmed neutrality line. However, as long as this is the status quo, America, the very thing that guarantees Japan’s security, also guarantees that Japan will be looked upon as a danger or element of containment by China and North Korea. Thus Japan becomes an effigy of the US that is safe and easy to rhetorically beat on.

    While it might be impossible for Japan to totally revamp its global role, the government can certainly find a better way to work within the system that they are effectively stuck with. I think that Ozawa actually had a few good ideas – release the video and state in no uncertain terms what happened, probably try, convict, but release the captain, and deal with the fallout. As it is, Japan compromised on everything short of giving the islands to China and is still being treated like a pariah.

    As for the reportage, I’m not sure – Japan does poll as one of the most well-liked countries. And it might seem that Korea has its share of defenders as the most vital Asian democracy in the Western press, but that doesn’t mean that ordinary people could find it on a map or name two cities in the country or one Korean dish or cultural legacy. Japan generates solid mass awareness, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into foreign policy pull.

  8. Interestingly, on a 2008 Gallup Poll of America’s most and least favored nations – Japan scores 80% favorable (right up there with Germany, only clearly trailing UK and Canada) while Korea is about 60% – neck and neck with such widely beloved nations as Egypt. Part of this probably has to do with the average Joe not knowing which Korea is “the bad one”, but that certainly doesn’t speak to a deep awareness. Even more tellingly, I think, Gallup dropped South Korea totally for its 2009 poll.

    Love in the press doesn’t count for much, it seems.

  9. “I was thinking you were referring to the dam project in some way”

    Now I’m picturing a giant gyoza dam.

  10. “Part of this probably has to do with the average Joe not knowing which Korea is “the bad one”, but that certainly doesn’t speak to a deep awareness.”

    I don’t know. Sure, there may be a lot of dumb people who think the Korean war was when we fought against ALL of Korea, but I suspect that most people in America know that we have military bases there. After all, a LOT of soldiers have rotated through those postings over the decades.

  11. ” Gallup dropped South Korea totally for its 2009 poll.”

    Not exactly sure we are happy to hear that we “won”against our neighbor on the other side of body of water between the archipelago and the peninsula.M-Bone.What counts more is we are the least favorable nation among Korean public inspite of billions of dollars of foreign aid and countless apologies and Japan being supportive pretty much everything except the ownership of the rock.

    “After all, a LOT of soldiers have rotated through those postings over the decades.”

    But a LOT of Americans did believe Saddam Hussein was behind 911.a LOT of soldiers have rotated thorough lots of posting made elsewhere around Asia-Pacific region here in this country,but I’m pretty skeptic that gave the nation some lesson in the regional affairs.

  12. I’m not saying I expect them to even be able to name one of Korea’s presidents, only to know that there are US bases there.

  13. “but I suspect that most people in America know that we have military bases there”

    Maybe. Still hard to think of other reasons why they might be down there with Egypt, however. Maybe the US beef protests left a bigger mark than I thought.

    ““won”against our neighbor”

    I agree. It isn’t any kind of victory. I use it more to suggest that while we may be sensitive to reports on out of control Japanese nationalism and dakimakura, they don’t seem to a measurable effect.

    “What counts more is we are the least favorable nation among Korean public”

    It seems as though that has changed in the past two or three years. I haven’t seen any evidence of a change in attitudes – either in Korean political or popular culture – put the proof is in the pudding –

    BBC World Service Poll – April 18, 2010 (I only have a hard copy)
    Rates positive and negative views of a country’s influence.
    Japan comes in third internationally after Canada and Germany.
    South Korea views Japan 64% mainly positive and 29% mainly negative.
    SK on China is 34% positive 61% negative.
    57 / 38 on USA
    56 / 33 on India

    (Incidentally, Japan has fewer people viewing Israel positively than Egypt or Pakistan! Far far fewer people with negative views, however.)

    Japan for South Korea is only 36% favorable, but only 9% negative – the lowest rate of negative appraisals in the world including South Korea itself (19%). This speaks to some potential for a coming together on a variety of issues and a turnaround from the Roh years (ultra-nationalist leftists, the worst of both worlds) that obviously goes way past j-pop and Yon-sama.

  14. Yeah,someone also quoted that BBC poll in Asia Unbound blog of CFR,sad reality is that is the only poll I found Japan being favorable among Korean public and BBC isn’t that reliable when it comes to far east aside of Hong Kong and China.

    ”Incidentally, Japan has fewer people viewing Israel positively than Egypt or Pakistan! Far far fewer people with negative views, however.”

    Not sure the reason why,nonetheless that does explain why I can’t find a single restaurant that serves Falafel in this country.

  15. They do acknowledge that the number was way up from 2008. It was also a phone poll of 1000 over 18s. Other Far East numbers on it seemed realistic (China hugely anti-Japan, Indonesia, Philippines, India, and Thailand all very, very pro).

    If there is a difference with other polls, it could be in the question. Maybe South Koreans are willing to admit that Japan plays a positive international role… and still don’t like Japan very much.

    I saw an Asahi poll from mid-year with over 40% of Korans saying that they have feelings of “closeness” toward Japan – not bad, I guess.

    On Israel – 99% of reporting on Israel in Japan has to do with military stuff. I think this explains things. Falafel still a mystery, however. A bigger one is the relative scarcity of Thai food in Japan. Sometimes, I think that it is even easier to find Indonesian.

  16. Aceface, there’s a falafel restaurant run by an Israeli guy near Kyodai. The downtown kebab stands run by the Iranian guys also used to have falafel, but I think they took it off the menu because you had to wait longer for them to cook it and drunk people didn’t have the patience.

  17. “Maybe South Koreans are willing to admit that Japan plays a positive international role”

    Ofcourse they are.Korea had no interest in,say peace keeping operation until Japan tried to commit in Cambodia in the 90’s.They just don’t want Japan go ahead of them and fill the niche market.They don’t like being as generous as Japan can be in the means of financing others,apart from their own brother in the north,though.

    I kinda disagree about Indonesian cuisine more popular than Thai here.You can find more Vietnamese possible because of the refugees.

  18. “I kinda disagree about Indonesian cuisine more popular than Thai here.”

    Possibly (and spot on about Vietnam), but the ratio of Thai to Indonesian is like 100 to 1 in North America. The lack of Thai is surprising, given how suited the food is to order baikingu and some recent restaurant trends.

    Whatever is on the minds of South Koreans, I think that the recent freeze over with the North and beef with China presents an opportunity for some exchange of olive branches with Japan. Let’s hope it sticks.

  19. Call me pessimist.But Koreans won’t appreciate peace with Japan unless they actually feel a threat from Japan.Something they never actually worried about inspite of being spoken all the time.

  20. The number of Thai restaurants in Kyoto has been exploding in Kyoto recently. Until a couple of years ago I only knew of 2 or 3 but now there’s probably over a dozen around that I’ve seen. There are maybe 2 Indonesian restaurants, and I can only think of 1 Vietnamese place since the other one I knew closed and was replaced with Spanish (which is itself having a huge boom).

    According to hits on ぐるナビ:
    Indonesian: 9
    Vietnamese: 5
    Thai: 15

    As for the ratio in North America, searches in NYC on one restaurant site showed:
    Thai: 243
    Indonesian: 6
    Vietnamese: 103

    Vietnamese is much better represented than I expected, but the Thai to Vietnamese ratio of 40 to 1 is actually not THAT much less than your hyperbolic estimate.

  21. Ballpark, ballpark.

    I wonder if that NY restaurant site is actually counting “real” restaurants or also chain fast food Thai places like “Thai Kitchen”. If it wasn’t counting the crap, it really could be something like 100 to 1…. or more.

    Thai could indeed be booming in Japan – I just haven’t seen it in Kyushu yet.

  22. I don’t recall ever seeing a chain Thai restaurant anywhere in NYC except for maybe the airport. Anyway, if it doesn’t include chain places I’m sure that’s more than balanced out by the lack of inclusion of hole in the wall places in ethnic neighborhoods, where they don’t even have an English language listing.

    I’ve also seen plenty of restaurants in Japan that just call themselves “Asian”, where Asian means SE Asian influenced, but not specific enough to name a particular country.

  23. “I don’t recall ever seeing a chain Thai restaurant anywhere in NYC”

    Wow. There are 6 or 7 within a few blocks of where I am. We have no taco places at all so maybe they fill that space.

  24. “I’ve also seen plenty of restaurants in Japan that just call themselves “Asian”, where Asian means SE Asian influenced”

    Back in the bubble days they were simply called “ethnic”.

  25. I really don’t see chain Asian food restaurants anywhere I’ve spent much time in the US, outside of food courts in shopping malls, college campuses, or highway rest stops.

    I think Indian/Nepalese places are now so common that they don’t get lumped in with “Asian,” but do still count as “Ethnic.”

    Why aren’t Italian restaurants in Japan “ethnic?”

  26. Mukokuseki?

    “Why aren’t Italian restaurants in Japan “ethnic?””

    It’s a bit like neologisms, isn’t it? And stuff that ceases to be put in the international/ethnic/whatever aisle in the supermarket when it permeates into the “vernacular” part of our dietary culture.

    Or maybe it’s because Italians are white.

  27. “Or maybe it’s because Italians are white.”

    I donno Fat Tony.There are lots of Chinese and Korean restaurant in the streets.But my instinct tells me they will never be categorized as “white”in Japanese subconcious.

  28. I checked it again and it really is 無国籍料理. Mostly what gets called “fusion” in the US, either that or “foods of the world” type places. Lots of places in that category are still labeling themselves “Mexican” or whatever, so it is also a sort of “other” category, I guess.

  29. Going back to the falafel (sorta) – kebabs seems to be going strong in Akihabara. Have they spread around at all?

  30. There’s a good Israeli place in Ekota in Nerima and there’s a good Turkish place with kebabs and an unbeatable lunch set on sakae-dori in Takadanobaba. They have another branch too but I forget where.

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