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.

What’s a charitable bengoshi to do?

A Japanese lawyer, who I have introduced to a number of foreigners with various legal queries over the years, has come up with (what I feel to be) a proposal that may : “How do I start a legal practice to act for foreigners living in Japan?”

By way of introduction, this lawyer currently works at a mid-size Japanese firm in central Tokyo doing a broad range of civil, commercial and family law. The lawyer has many friends who are foreigners, and is aware that a number of them have had issues in the past with irresponsible and irresponsive lawyers, and sympathetic with the opacity of Japan’s legal system that many foreigners may not understand. The lawyer genuinely wants to make Japan an easier place to live for non-natives.

My intial reaction is… build it and they will come! But thinking about it, I have a number of questions and concerns:
* Surely there is the need for this practice — there are large numbers of foreigners who are confused by Japan, the legal system, the bureaucracy, and the way things work, and who face difficulties in resolving disputes and navigating processes. I am concerned that there may not be a market, in that the individuals clients will be unable or unwilling to pay for the services.
* How should the practice be publicized? Should there be a website to get out the word?
* Would the practice be enough to sustain be done as an independent operation, or while at a law firm with other lawyers?
* Are there areas that the lawyer should seek to specialize, or areas to avoid? I would be interested in the ratio of work that the lawyer gets, and what ratio would be contract disputes, negotiating and litigating divorce and family law matters, criminal defense, immigration, etc.

As this proposal is still at the brainstorming level, I’d be curious to hear the MF community weigh in advice as to how to proceed.

What the English languages owes Japan

A discussion of this topic with friends led me to look into English etymology and I unearthed the following list of words:

soy” 1670s, saio “sauce for fish, made from soybeans,” from Dutch soya, from Japanese shoyu, which is from Chinese shi-yu, from shi “fermented soy beans” + yu “oil.” Etymology reflects Dutch presence in Japan long before English merchants began to trade there.

ginkgo” 1773, from Japanese ginkyo, from Chinese yin-hing, from yin “silver” + hing “apricot” (Sino-Japanese kyo). Introduced to New World 1784 by William Hamilton in his garden near Philadelphia. One was planted 1789 at Pierce Arboretum (now part of Longwood Gardens) in Kennett Square, Pa., and by 1968 it was 105 ft. tall.

tycoon” 1857, title given by foreigners to the shogun of Japan (said to have been used by his supporters when addressing foreigners, as an attempt to convey that the shogun was more important than the emperor), from Japanese taikun “great lord or prince,” from Chinese tai “great” + kiun “lord.” Transferred meaning “important person” is attested from 1861, in reference to U.S. president Abraham Lincoln (in Hay’s diary); specific application to “businessman” is post-World War I.

hunky-dory” 1866, Amer.Eng. (popularized c.1870 by a Christy Minstrel song), perhaps a reduplication of hunkey “all right, satisfactory” (1861), from hunk “in a safe position” (1847) New York City slang, from Dutch honk “goal, home,” from M.Du. honc “place of refuge, hiding place.” A theory from 1876, however, traces it to Honcho dori, said to be a street in Yokohama, Japan, where sailors went for diversions of the sort sailors enjoy.

futon” 1876, from Japanese, said to mean “bedroll” or “place to rest.”

geisha” 1887, “Japanese girl whose profession is to sing and dance to entertain men;” hence, loosely, “prostitute,” from Japanese, lit. “person accomplished in the social arts,” from gei “art, performance” + sha “person.”

nisei“, “American born of Japanese parents,” from Japanese ni– “second” + sei “generation.” Use limited to U.S. West Coast until c.1942.

kamikaze” 1945, Japanese, lit. “divine wind,” from kami “god, providence, divine” + kaze “wind.” Originally the name given in folklore to a typhoon which saved Japan from Mongol invasion by wrecking Kublai Khan’s fleet (August 1281).

honcho” 1947, Amer.Eng. “officer in charge,” from Japanese hancho “group leader,” from han “corps, squad” + cho “head, chief.” Picked up by U.S. servicemen in Japan and Korea, 1947-1953.

shiatsu” 1967, from Japanese, lit. “finger-pressure.”

“Ideological Suicide” to challenge Whalers?

I was fascianted to read in the American Lawyer an interview with an attorney who runs a small firm in Seattle that got caught up in assisting in the defense of Peter Bethune, the New Zealand activist who got caught up in the Sea Shepherd protests last year and who boarded a Japanese whaling ship back in February, and he was arrested by the captain. Some highlights of the interview are below:

Bethune was tried in Tokyo in late May. Did you both attend?

Yes, we both traveled to Tokyo. The trial was in Tokyo District Court, and there were pro-whaling protesters outside every day. More importantly we were the voice of Sea Shepherd to the world because nobody from the organization could go over there because they could be arrested.

And so it was the Japanese lawyers that were advising Bethune?

Yes. We were representing Sea Shepherd, which was funding Peter Bethune’s defense. So we oversaw his defense and we did this by working with four Japanese lawyers. We had a criminal, maritime, and litigation lawyer, along with one law professor. They did a great job representing Bethune, but I can’t even tell you their names… We have worked with a lot of Japanese law firms, and none of them would take on a case against the Japanese whaling institute, even though payment wasn’t an issue. A friend of mine who is a Japanese lawyer told me, “It would be ideological suicide.”

(Emphasis added.)

Interestingly enough, when the Greenpeace activists were arrested for stealing whale meat in 2009, I was also contacted by a former colleague to ask if I knew lawyers who could be interested in the case. I spoke to three lawyers, but no one was interested. I don’t think ideological suicide is the right word, but rather, there is a strong aversion in Japan to being associated with issues, particularly ones with a political nature, that means no one is interested in the hassle.

Trying to understand the DPJ Leadership Race

“I have long since given up trying to read Ozawa’s mind and am willing to believe that any, or all, or none of these reasons is the real reason for Ozawa’s decision.”

If you are as confused as I am about the motivations, possibilities, and prospects of the current DPJ leadership race, you can take comfort that the quote above is taken from a blog post of chief DPJ cheerleader Tobias Harris.

Yours truly is a pessimistic conservative, with a very low opinion of the DPJ. Yet I am surprised to find myself too dumbfounded by the ironies and contraditions of the DPJ leadership race to have an opinion at this latest round of musical chairs. In lieu of asserting any case or opinion one way or the other, I would note these ironies and contraditions and open up the floor to comments.

1. Public opinion polls put Ozawa as the favored candidate to be PM by 17%, and Kan favored by 64%. With those poll numbers, Ozawa would not be a viable contender, let alone favorite to win, in any other parliamentary democracy.

2. The poll numbers reflect a fascinating contradition: Kan is well-liked, but who brought the party to lose the last election, while Ozawa is widely mistrusted, yet is a master electoral strategist.

3. Said otherwise, Kan has a record of being a pretty incompetent political leader (like saying that he should raise taxes just before an election), but he ironically has more popularity with the public, perhaps mainly due to a few lucky breaks in his political career. Meanwhile, Ozawa is one of Japan’s politicians when it comes to planning election campaigns and fielding the right candidates in the right districts, but he is tainted by dozens of scandals and featherlight loyalties to any institution other than himself.

4. As observed by Shisaku: “If [Ozawa] wins the contest, he destroys the party: either metaphorically through the collapse of its public support or physically as large groups break off, forming new parties. If he loses a formal leadership contest, he gashes his aura of awesome power. The humiliation of losing could indeed drive him to leave the party, with a passel of his followers in tow (taking his ball and going home — which he has done time and time again).” No matter who wins, the DPJ will be the loser.

5. Despite Shisaku’s comment, I don’t deny the possibility that, after five feckless prime ministers, Ozawa just might be the right candidate to break the cycle and serve out a proper term, providing some much-needed leadership, and could turn out to be a successful, and even popular, prime minister.

The leadership election takes place on 14 September. It will be interesting to watch because it will be the first DPJ leadership vote in 8 years to be more than a vote by parliamentarians. Votes will be cast by party supporters and members, using a “point system” to allocate votes to the candidates.

The changing borders of Shikoku

At ComingAnarchy, I’ve spent years publishing posts that show, through simple graphic animation, the changing borders of nations over the course of human history. Japan as a nation is not a very exciting topic–the borders have stayed pretty much the same, except for the brief imperial period a century ago, at least internationally. Domestically and internally, there has been much change through the years, that may be too much of a Japan-centric topic for ComingAnarchy, but which may interest MF readers.

For the first of what I hope will be several examples, let’s look at Shikoku at the end of the 19th century. I was recently reading 日本全国「県境」の謎 (The mysteries of Japan’s prefectural borders) by Kenji Asai, who has written dozens of books on Japan’s regional geography. I was amused by the sudden changes that took place in the administrative divisions of Shikoku in less than two decades. Shikoku, which means “four countries”, and went from four “countries” during the Edo Period, to five prefectures, then three, then two, then three again, and finally back to four. The transition goes like this:

See the ComingAnarchy Changing Borders Series:EthiopiaPolandArmeniaPersiaRussia IRussia IIRussia IIIIndiaBritanniaSwedenSaudi ArabiaVietnam

Japan’s life expentancy actually LONGER than we thought

Many of you are familiar with the scandal that has rocked Japan where hundreds of octogenarian believed to be living are in fact missing or dead. Adam posted on the event that launched the nationwide investigation several weeks ago, and since then it has mushroomed, with the problem being particularly pronounced in the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe area. It appears that either because of mere neglect or deliberate pension fraud, relatives never filed a shibou todokede (notification of death) or shissou todokede (notification of a missing person), which Japan’s 19th century family laws rely on to track their elderly.

The joke among friends for the weeks after the scandal broke was that this would lead to the collapse of Japan’s reputation as the kingdom of longevity. Presently, the average life expectancy for women is 86.44 years and the average life expectancy for men is 79.59 years. Surely that number will now have to be readjusted, no?

Apparently not! The Ministry of Labor and Welfare has said that it expects the current events will have very little impact on Japan’s average life expectancy. Why? It turns out that women above age 103 and men above age 98 are excluded from longevity statistics, on grounds that they are statistical outliers. Furthermore, the census conducted every five years is conducted by visiting households, not by consulting the family registry records, so the missing elderly would not be included in that regardless.

Without glossing over the seriousness of the missing elderly, the irony of this fiasco is that it is publicizing the fact that Japan’s average longevity is actually LONGER than we thought.

How Kan can get away without changing his cabinet

UPDATE: It turns out that Chiba asked to resign and has said she will retire from political life, but PM Kan requested that she continue, and she has accepted this request. It’s highly unusual to stay in a cabinet post after losing election, but Kan has suggested that he will replace Chiba in September when he reorganizes his cabinet.

ORIGINAL POST: Despite the setback to the DPJ in this election, Prime Minister Kan has announced that there will be no changes to his cabinet, and Keiko Chiba, despite losing her seat in the Upper House, will continue to serve as Minister of Justice.

By way of background, Chiba, a notably liberal member of the Diet, was appointed to Minister of Justice under Prime Minsiter Hatoyama last year, but lost her seat for reelection in Kanagawa Prefecture where she had held the seat since 1986. She was most likely defeated because activists targeted her for her liberal views, which include allowing foreigners to vote in local elections, allowing separate family names for men and women after marriage, and refusing to enforce the death penalty. She is to be replaced by Kenji Nakanishi, a former director of JP Morgan in Japan, who ran as the candidate of the upstart reformist “Your Party.”

How does she get to stay in the cabinet work? It sounds peculiar from the American perspective, where all members of the President’s cabinet are forbidden from serving in the legislature and are never subject to election. It also sounds strange from the British perspective, where all members of the cabinet are required to be members of parliament. Yet Japan has a fusion model, where private citizens can serve in the cabinet, and the only requirement is that members of parliament (who can come from either the lower or upper house) constitute the majority of cabinet ministers. Article 68 of the Japanese Constitution reads:

The Prime Minister shall appoint the Ministers of State. However, a majority of their number must be chosen from among the members of the Diet.

That means that of the seventeen members of the current cabinet, nine must be elected members of the Diet and the remaining eight can be private citizens. In practice it is very rare for more than a few members of the cabinet who are not legislators. Koizumi’s first cabinet had just one private citizen, and his second just two.

The DPJ made a big song and dance after their victory last year that they were going to copy the British “Westminster System,” promoted by academics as an efficient system, with no private citizens serving in the cabinet. But by keeping Chiba in the important post of Minister of Justice they’re reverting to Japan’s unique system of the allowing non-legislators in the cabinet.

ENDNOTE: Interestingly enough, two of the three “foreigners” serving in the upper house were up for election: Sha Renho, who is half Taiwanese, and Kyonje Park, who is half Korean. Both are former journalists, both are members of the DPJ, and both have non-Japanese fathers, which means they were denied citizenship until the law was changed in the 1980s. Despite this similar background in a uniquely homogenous country, their results in this popular election were entirely different. Renho won the largest proportion of votes of any candidate in her district in Tokyo, while Park, who ran as a proportional representation candidate, -lost along with a number of other DPJ candidates- -is in danger of losing his seat, and the result is to be confirmed- has barely secured reelection as of Tuesday morning. Park was also embroiled in some election scuffles with Ishihara and Yosano that had them dueling against each other in street speeches from their soundtrucks.

The Boy Named Demon

Turning Japanese, a new blog on Japanese naturalisation written by several naturalised Japanese citizens (including some regular commenters on this blog) has had a number of informative posts on the topic since launching recently. The latest post tackles the issue: do you have to take a Japanese name when you naturalise? The post ends with question, and a reference that may not be familiar to everyone, which has Curzon, MF’s vice chairman of legal niggling, taking issue:

As a side note, just because a 漢字 {kanji} is legally acceptable for use in a name doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s appropriate. Characters like 悪 {aku} (bad), 闇 {yami} (darkness), 無 {mu} (nothingness), are on the list… but depending on how you use them, a name with a very negative connotation may not be accepted. Remember the parents who tried to name their child 悪魔 {Akuma} (demon)?

The reference to the child “demon” may not be familiar to everyone. It refers to a somewhat famous case that rocked Japan in the early 1990s, when a father (with the apparent approval and support of his wife) submitted a birth certificate to the municipal office that named his son Akuma, using the kanji characters for demon. Most people think the municipal office rejected the name and the parents had to choose a different name. But the case was actually more complex, and dragged on for several months, and the parents actually won a court case they filed against the city–only after this court victory did they chose to initiate a compromise that brought the fiasco to a close.

The story begins on 11 August 1993, when Shigeharu Sato (30), who managed a “snack” bar, went into the Akishima municipal office to submit the legal birth certificate for his son. In Japan, the birth certificate issued at the hospital merely states the technical details of the birth — the child is not legally registered until a legal birth certificate is submitted at the local municipal office, which must be done within two weeks of the birth, and at which time a name is given. The paperpusher at the municipal office’s koseki (family registry) window accepted the forms containing the name Akuma without asking any questions.

The following day on 12 August, a different person working in the same division took issue with the name. He referred the matter to his superior in the Legal Affairs office, who responded that there was no problem with the name. However, he changed his mind the following day on 13 August when the papers were to be finalised, and having doubts, the form was completed but the mayor’s seal was not placed on the document. The municipality thus did not complete the family registry procedure. The parents were not informed of this until 28 September — six weeks later — when the mayor of Akishima officially informed the parents that the child’s name of Akuma was unsuitable, and that the child’s name was temporarily noted as “undesignated” on the family registry until they chose an acceptable name.

The father immediately filed a complaint with the Hachioji division of the Tokyo Family Court on 4 October, representing himself and without consulting a lawyer, on the basis that the town’s actions violated his parental rights. He asserted that the name Akuma was fine, as it used characters permitted by article 50 of the Family Registry Law, and that his son was fortunate to have such a unique name. Did he suffer from lack of counsel, or the bizarre nature of his request in the face of courts that many believe are conservative? No — the court quickly came to a ruling that supported the right to reject an unfavorable name, but ruling in favour of the parent plaintiffs less than three months after the complaint was filed. To translate and summarise the ruling:

In the structure of rights in society, the right of naming a child is part of parental rights, and parents may assert this right against other members of society. If there is a clear issue with regard to the suitability of the name chosen by the parent that could affect the child’s welfare, then, as the child has no ability to assert its right to refuse that name that could damage its welfare, the family registry authorities may think they can reject a name on that basis. Indeed, on the face of it, the name “Akuma” is a violation of the parent’s right to name their child.

However, while it may be possible for a municipal office to reject a name such as Akuma on the basis that this is violation of parental rights, in this case, as the municipal office has already accepted the document, it was a violation of its authority to thereafter delete that name, and the name is valid.

This ruling accurately follows an academic concept of administrative law, that an administrative notification is finalised upon “submission” (juri) to the correct administrative organ, and not at the time of “arrival” (toutatsu), meaning that no proactive action by the administrative organ is required.

The mayor immediately petitioned to the Tokyo High Court, and the story became national news. The father went on TV and made bizarre statements like “I want to call my next child “Emperor” (帝王) or “Explosion (爆弾)!” But facing further time and money on an issue, he sought a compromise. He first proposed to use the hiragana (あくま)for “Akuma,” which the municipal office rejected. He then chose different characters for the same name (exact kanji unknown but believed to be 亜区馬, 亜駆 or 阿久真). The mayor withdrew his appeal and the high court never made another decision on the matter.

During this fiasco, Akishima asked for help from the national government to clarify the rules for accepting family registry names, but no proactive action was taken then, nor to this day, to restrict the use of characters available for use on the family registry. The Ministry of Justice maintains a list of characters that can be used on a family registry as required by the implementation regulations of the Family Registry Law, and that database include both “悪” and “魔.” As far as the judiciary and the authorities are concerned, the rule as stated by the family court stands as valid — as long as you can get your birth certificate received by the municipal office, you can use any characters you like. To the best of my knowledge and research, there is no government order or anything legal that officially prevents the use of negative characters.

ENDNOTE: Family values advocates won’t be surprised to hear the unpleasant aftermath. The father’s business went bust in 1994, the parents divorced in 1996, and the father, who obtained custody, was arrested months later for possession of heroin, at which time he had links to the yakuza. Akuma was cared for by his paternal grandparents and then placed in an orphanage. When his father was released after serving four years in jail, he refused to take custody of the child due to his economic circumstances. Akuma will today be in high school, if he is still attending. His mother said in an interview in 2006, “After my ex-husband was arrested I looked after the child, but circumstances were too difficult and we lived apart. After that he was raised by my ex’s parents. I don’t know what happened after that, but when he grows up, one time would be enough so I hope to see him when he’s older.” Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised the parents abandon their children when they wanted to call him “demon.”

Koizumi on the Next Election

The following are quotes from former PM Junichiro Koizumi, from a speech on 28 June at Ichikawa in Chiba Prefecture, assembled from a number of sources, mainly the Asahi and Nikkei.

The Liberal Democratic Party should be the minority for a while. This has fixed its majority party addiction, and given the people a chance to see [the LDP] become a healthy opposition party… Even if they win in the next election they cannot become the majority party.

However, the Democratic are running wild, lost. Even the LDP was never that bad… it’s good that this administration change has given the Democrats a taste of the difficulty of being the majority party…

The people expected that the Democrats could cut waste where the LDP failed, but they have been let down.

Why did we privatize the road public companies (during the Koizumi Administration)? “From Public to Private” is a slogan that [calls to] stop the use of tax money and seeks to vitalize the private sector. Now it’s the reverse, “From Public to Public.” The ones causing this reverse in course are the Democrats.

Say what you will about his politics or the current politics, I think he accurately just stated a snapshot of what the average Japanese voter things about the current state of affairs in politics today.