A Call for 21st Century Government in Japan

Aceface kindly pointed me to this, a scanned pdf of the Japanese-language “Flying Object Information” form, filled out by hand by a Japan bureaucrat. It contains the basic information on the missile that flew over Japan on Sunday, noting where it was spotted (to the west of Akita prefecture) and when and where it left Japan’s territorial sphere. Notice also the painfully low resolution of the scan (200dpi?), such that the font is jagged, and you can see random black dots where the scan was imperfect.

The Japanese government has been doing its best to show the public that it is being diligent and fully in-control of the North Korea missile situation. The day of the launch, news clips showed fresh young agency bureaucrats in the Self Defense Force and other affiliated government agencies in rural Akita and Iwate prefecture literally sprinting between rooms when the launch was announced. The public disclosure of the pdf linked above is yet another part of looking busy. They’re doing their absolute best to look like they control the situation when they are almost entirely helpless. Tobias has more on this here and here.

I give them an “A” for effort in looking busy. But the stubborn refusal of the Japanese to use modern technology in the most basic of internal management systems is just revolting. Communications in every modern western organization today are handled electronically — nothing needs to be filled out by hand, and there aren’t “runners” in the halls of the Pentagon and Whitehouse to implement and communicate important information. (In the rare situation that data must be taken by hand, it is punched into a database or system through data entry, and raw handwritten documents that aren’t fit for public scrutiny aren’t voluntarily disclosed to the world). Japan has the best hi-tech gadgets in the world, but so much of the busy work of government (and industry) is still handled by this type of paper scrawl, and throwing raw manpower at problems instead of trying to make systems of operation and management efficient or streamlined. All of this means that government in Japan circa 2009 is backwards. This simply must change.

In other news related to the DPRK missile launch, a majority of Americans would support a military response to the missile launch, 2012 Republican presidential hopeful Gingrich says he would have destroyed the missile before it was launched, and in case you didn’t hear it, despite all the chest-thumping from Pyongyang, the launch was actually a failure.

Vicarious Hanami

For those of you unable to enjoy hanami cherry blossom viewing today, you can live vicariously and see people enjoying the hanami at Shinjuku Gyouen in Tokyo on Google Maps. (I’ll be there later today!)



(Google maps’s totally lame iframe tags can’t be embedded here, so the above is a jpg; click the link to interract with the map.)

Witnessing the Wreckage at Narita

Yesterday morning, a Fedex plane crashed and burned in Narita airport in the airport’s first fatal accident since opening in 1978. You can see commentary-less footage from the BBC (which cannot be embedded) at this link.

I flew into Narita yesterday early afternoon just hours after the crash, and noted a bumpy landing — the plane shifted left and right after touching down — and the pilot then told us the news. We were lucky that we were in a Boeing 777, as larger planes had been unable to land because the runway was out of service. We saw the morbid wreckage as we moved towards the arrival gate, and I took a picture of the plane from the terminal.


Could Obama be born in Japan?

4569707874That’s the question Kumi Yokoe asks in her most recent book, which you can buy at amazon here. And it’s an interesting topic that I’m sure many readers of Mutantfrog have thought about. The Upper House of the Diet has naturalized Japanese citizens Ren, Tsurunen and Park serving Japanese constituencies, and there are naturalized citizens serving on municipal assemblies in towns in Ibaraki and Aichi prefectures, but the real “Obama” model would be for a zainihi Korean or similar non-native Japanese native, growing up in tough circumstances, to run in the lower house election, win a seat, and rise through the LDP ranks to lead Japan.

To my disappointment, not only is that not the topic of Yokoe’s book, she doesn’t even mention this aspect of what a “Japanese Obama” could be like. Rather, Yokoe — who’s a professor at the same “politics juku” that launched Seiji Maehara — has spent most of her academic career over the past decade promoting the campaign styles and speeches of American politicians in Japan. She’s been a key advocate to encourage Japanese politicians to speak from the heart and inspire the electorate. Yokoe uses Obama’s success story to launch into that topic, and that topic only.

The publisher-provided book excerpt is just as jaw-dropping as the book in its interpretation of the Obama win:

According to the American media, the foreign country with the most interest in the US presidential election is Japan. The truth is, the Japanese aversion to politics is what brings Japanese eyes to the administration change theater in the US. A leader as charismatic as Obama, to change the current status quote, is what Japan desperatly wants. When will Obama come to Japan, and what type of politician would such a person be?

Youtube and blogs were the key to Obama’s internet strategy. In Japan, there is currently a debate on the reform of the public election law to permit the use of the internet. Once the internet is free, policy can be posted on the internet, young people can get involved in politics through their own volition, and Japan could then have its own Obama be born.

Yokoe does recognize the importance of the race factor in Obama’s election, and the hurdle that he had to clear. Consider this quote in a recent interview she gave to Nikkei Business magazine:

I lived in the US for about seven years from 1994 to 2001. I didn’t feel this way in DC, but going just a little into the countryside I had experiences where I felt the deep roots of American racism. At a home party of a friend, I was warned “that guy’s a racists so don’t talk to him.” Also, I had experiences such as in a restaurant in a small town, where an old lady said to me, “it’s so unusual for us to have Asian people in this store.” … [snip]

That this America chose Obama as president is evidence of the growth of America and the American people… Obama’s presidency is a development that will remain in the history books.

Those are pretty shallow instance of racism, if the best key example that comes up is a granny in west bumblefuck vocalizing the unusualness of Yokoe’s race in an apparently non-hostile if ignorant manner. But putting that aside, does Yokoe not recognize that race is a factor in Japan as well, and that this is a major question that, if not the topic of her book, should at least be addressed? Does she not see how powerful development it would be for Japan to elect a Zainichi politician to Japan’s highest office? Sadly, Yokoe makes not one peep to recognize Japan’s racial issues, despite the fact that this is the inevitable question that would come up when the Obama model of winning electoral victory is applied to any other country.

At the end of the day, Yokoe’s book is a one-trick pony that merely restates what she’s been writing about for 15 years — Japan should mimic US electoral politics. And that she can’t even manage a token recognition of race issues in Japan in a book titled “Could Obama be born in Japan?” tells me that, circa 2009, the resounding answer to the title of her book is “no.”

P.S. The book also has a chapter titled, “Could Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin be born in Japan?” That’s just too terrifying to think about.

警察庁 v.s. 警視庁 — Distinguishing the National Police Agency from the Tokyo Metropolitan Department

Readers living or traveling in Japan’s capital may note that Tokyo police officers and patrol cars bear the characters 警視庁, or keishichou. At first glance it appears to be the characters for the National Police Agency (NPA), except the middle of the three characters is different — the NPA is 警察庁, or keisatsuchou. Keishichou is the unique name attributed to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. For a Japanese speaker even mildly familiar with the structure of government in Japan, this looks peculiar — why is a prefectural police department named in such a way that it appears to be a national agency?


The history begins with the Meiji Restoration, when the keishichou was established in 1874 to protect and police the seat of government. As a police department, it had a unique role from the time of its establishment — some of its officers were organized into a division that fought for the Imperial government in the Satsuma Rebellion. The keishichou at this time served as a prefectural police department, but it was an agency of the government, subordinate to the cabinet, and Tokyo prefecture only had the authority to decide its budget. Later, the department also housed the Tokko special police force, the civilian counterpart to the military’s Kempeitai, taking part in both criminal investigation and counter-espionage functions.

The headquarters of the keishichou was situated just outside Sakuradamon, the southern gate of Edo Castle/Imperial Palace, possibly due to its importance in guarding the emperor, but also because that site was the location of an infamous assassination a decade earlier, and the location of the agency may have been a show of authority. The jolly Victorian structure was unfortunately destroyed in the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, as witnessed below. (Today, the Keishichou is right next to Sakuradamon gate, and the NPA is in the building next to it.)


During the Occupation, the Keishichou was reformulated under the old police law, and added the imperial police under its jurisdiction, which had previously been a wholly independent branch of authority. During the same time, GHQ set up a similar keishichou in Osaka, which only lasted for the years of the Occupation.

After the Occupation, Tokyo’s Keishichou became an ordinary prefectural police department, but kept its name and retained some of its unique functions. From a jurisdictional standpoint, most prefectures are divided into wards with different departments of the prefectural police having jurisdiction over certain regions of each prefecture. Only Tokyo and Hokkaido have police departments where one department and all of its officers have responsibility for the entire prefecture, without divisions into areas. Also, the keishichou maintains some additional responsiblities, being responsible also for policing the Imperial Family, the Diet, the administrative agencies, the cabinet, the embassies of foreign nations in Japan, and other important people (officers of the keishichou were dispatched to Hokkaido for the G8 summit). The Keishichou is also the only prefectural police department that handles any fire truck activities (typically a separate task handled by the shoubouchou, or Fire Prevention Agency) because the imperial police force have this task especially assigned to them as part of their duties.

Interestingly enough, metropolitan police departments that provide similar functions in other countries, such as Scotland Yard in London and the Paris Prefecture Police are often translated as keishichou as well.

And to think we were excited about JPY12,000…

Man, I know Adamu is totally pumped about his FREE MONEY, but get this: a colleague in Australia revealed to me that she is thinking of buying a brand new, beautiful beachside condominium. I asked her what prompted the buy and here was her response:

only reason i’m thinking of getting something now is cos the government is basically giving first home owners free money towards buying something – $26,000 for an off-the-plan (ie, not yet built) place. the government’s grant is only until end of June! if it wasn’t for the free money, i would not be thinking of purchasing at this stage.

Wow, at present exchange rates that’s about 350x the benefit given here in Japan — although for a far more specific use, and only available to a limited number of people in a position to make such a purchase in the next few months.

AWESOMENESS ALERT: Ark Hills to get Chopper Flights to Narita!

Joe has previously written about the potential for corporate and personal jets to make it big in Japan, what with Japan’s massive excess of airports previously noted in this post. Joe also pointed out the enormous heliports in Shin-Kiba, a relatively remote and underutilized location.

For me, when I look at a Google Maps satellite view of Tokyo, all I see is wasted potential. Almost every major skyscraper in Tokyo has a rooftop heliport. Narita Airport is infamously far away from the center of Tokyo (and even more galling, Japan’s famous bullet trains don’t run to Narita, despite the fact that this would be the best way to promote the symbol of technological Japan to the world). There is a helicopter service that flys between Narita Airport and heliports in Tokyo, Gunma and Saitama — probably a good thing for the few rich executives living out in mountain ranches in Gunma — but basically pointless for those in Tokyo. Why? For some reason, it’s located out in Shin-Kiba, a relatively remote area near Tokyo bay, and requires a taxi ride from the station if you’re taking the train.

Joe and I have discussed this in the past as utterly pointless. The chopper flight costs thousands of dollars, yet if you live in most parts of urban Tokyo, it takes the same amount of time to get there as taking the express train or bus! Why, we lamented, can’t the Tokyo heliport be the top of the Shin-Maru building in Marunouchi, or atop of Roppongi Hills? That’s a type of service that executives and bankers could probably use, and it could probably get enough interest to level-up from a charter flight to a quasi-regular heli-bus service.

But there’s breaking news on this front: starting next month, Ark Hills in the Akasaka/Roppongi area, one such building with an unused heliport on its roof, will become a heliport offering chopper flights to Narita Aiport! This is even more awesome for everyone’s favorite Viceroy because I work in Ark Hills! (Although it seems unlikely that I’ll be able to afford the inevitably overpriced fare.) Here’s an excerpt from the Nikkei story:

Mori Building Co. will start in April helicopter charter service between Narita airport and Ark Hills, a major commercial complex it owns in central Tokyo, targeting foreign business executives visiting Japan on company-owned private jets.

President Minoru Mori has been nursing the idea for many years, feeling himself that the two hours it takes to travel from Narita to the firm’s headquarters is annoyingly long. From the airport to central Tokyo, for example, takes about an hour by express train. The charter flights will be serviced with rented helicopters until an aircraft purchased from Eurocopter for 500 million yen arrives in May.

Helicopter services between Narita airport and Tokyo are already available, but most of the flights, operated by companies like Excel Air Service Inc., use Tokyo Heliport in Shinkiba, close to the southeastern edge of the city… Ark Hills’ prime location, in Minato Ward, gives Mori Building a competitive edge over its rivals.

The helicopter service is also intended to make areas around Ark Hills more attractive places to locate businesses. Mori Building currently owns and manages a total of 110 business and multipurpose buildings, and many of them are situated in Minato Ward. The company estimates that as of the end of March, 95% of the space will be filled with tenants and that the average rent per 3.3 sq. meters will be 36,000 yen, up 12.5% year on year.

Here’s a Google Maps look at the Ark Hills heliport — scroll around a bit to see lots of other helipads on other neighboring tall buildings.

The service is supposed to go public next month, but one of the first beneficiaries of direct flights from Narita to Roppong is Tom Cruise:


Hollywood star Tom Cruise (46) has brought his whole family to Japan with him for the first time. He arrived in Tokyo yesterday with his wife, actress Katie Holmes (30) and their daughter Suri (2). They flew by private jet into Narita Airport, where they were greeted by about 1,000 fans, before transferring to a helicopter for the trip to the Roppongi Ark Hills complex in central Tokyo. Cruise is in town to promote the WWII movie “Valyrie,” which opens here March 20, and the helicopter was painted with a promo for the flick. Cruise and family will be here until Thursday and attend the movie’s Japan premiere.

Regardless, I’m mighty please with the powers-that-be for finally listening to Joe (and my) recommendations to open up helicopter travel, and hope this is a harbinger of more good things to come.

The Viceroy Crashes the MF Party; and, Uri Geller’s Relationship with the Abe Clan

Dear Mutantfrog Readers,

It is my pleasure to report that the Mutantfrog team has graciously granted me the priviledge of joining this blog. While I have regularly written at ComingAnarchy.com for more then 4 years, and will continue to do so, I have Japan-specific material that is more appropriate for MF.  Accordingly, my quirky Japan material will be posted on these pages, and I will do my best to build on the existing theme, character and material of this blog. So without any further ado…

Uri Geller, the Israeli-British psychic who gained worldwide fame in the 1970s with televised claims to be able to bend spoons with the power of his mind, now wanders around the world as an independently wealthy mystic. The man has even joined the 21st century media trend and writes at his own blog. And recently, he took a trip to Japan to visit some old family friends:


I first met Shinzo Abe, a brilliant man from one of Japan’s leading families, in 1973, when he was 19 years old. His father was then leader of the Liberal party. Now Shinzo is Japan’s youngest ever Prime Minister. He is also a best-selling author, and I’m enjoying the copy of his chart-topping book Towards A Beautiful Nation… though it’s hard work for me to read Japanese.


That pretty far-out statement, both on the relationship with Abe and the ability to read Japanese. (The post came out in September 2007, the month Abe resigned). But like a lot of Geller’s blog, and his claims of psychic powers, the idea that he can muddle through reading Japanese smacks of puffery.  That brief paragraph alone shows that accuracy is not his strong point — first, Abe’s Dad was in the Liberal Democratic Party, not the Liberal Party; and second, he served as the foreign minister and agricultural minister, among other posts, but never as head of the party. But the photo of Uri Geller and Abe, complete with spoon, is priceless. (And forgive me, but I can’t help but think that the horizontal and vertical creases in Abe’s shirt suggest it just came out of a box.  So much for Japan’s aristocracy.) There is also a curious revelation about the research pursuits of one of Japan’s largest companies:

Japan’s foremost electronics company [Sony], which pioneered miniaturisation and invented the Walkman, had set up a psi research unit of five scientists to test the reality of extra-sensory perception. They carried out tests with psychics to find hidden objects, to see colours blindfolded and to sense which glass of water among a tray of ten had been infused with healing energy. After thousands of experiments, the psychics were scoring impossibly better than mere guesswork could ever do, with a 70 per cent success rate. And the scientists were in despair. What use was this power? They couldn’t distill it into batteries (though how they had tried!). They couldn’t use it in market research or recording studios. Sony were stumped.

Wow. I really, really hope that Sony ‘were’ just having Geller on about this, but regardless, I hope Stringer is including a review of all research departments as he cleans house and takes names over the coming weeks.

As an interesting sidenote, one of the key people who exposed Geller as a fraud was James Randi, a stage magician who made a second career of debunking the paranormal and the occult. Geller sued Randi and his affiliate organization CSICOP, with countless suits in multiple jurisdictions, with little success. However, the one jurisdiction where he successfully won a judgement against Randi was in Japan. The story of the case begins with an interview with Randi in 1989 published in Days Japan, in which Randi called Geller a “socipath,” among other derogatory statements. Geller chose to file suit — which was his typical reaction to Randi’s statements — but what made the Japan case different was that he won.

How? Japan litigation is notorious for being infamously time-consuming, with years required to reach a ruling, resulting in only paltry monetary damages.  But for Geller, Japan was a key jurisdiction to file suit because it has a broader legal definition of the concept of libel and defamation. Japan has run-of-the-mill “defamation” (meiyo kison), but also the concept of “insult” (bujoku), which is both an explicit criminal violation and a civil claim that derives from a defamation claim. Geller sued on this basis, which Randi ignored (he wrote to the judge saying he couldn’t afford to hire local counsel). Instead of granting immediate summary judgment for Geller, or throwing out the case, true to stereotype the court considered the case for more than three years without resolution. Finally, the judge concluded that Randi “insulted” Geller and orderd him to pay JPY500,000 (about US$4,400) in damages. Although I can’t prove a negative, I cannot find any other suit that Geller won against Randi.

Randi refused to pay the amount, stating that the legal concept of “insult” did not exist in the United States. In a later settlement with Randi’s organization CSICOP, in which Geller paid large amounts to settle legal disputes, Geller agreed not to further pursue claims against Randi in Japan.  The suit ended, but Geller still had one piece of good news — Kodansha, the publisher of Days Japan, settled with Geller and paid him the equivalent of several thousands of dollars.