SLAMMING into election season

Somewhat randomly, the Wall Street Journal has recently started up a Japan blog called Japan Real Time (partly, it seems, to provide content to their new Japanese language site). Great stuff, welcome to the party. But being a mainstream media blog, it can’t seem to shake some conventions, like our pet-peeve (or is that favorite?) synonym for sharply criticizing someone:

Party Heads SLAM Tax Plans

Naoto Kan’s proposal to raise taxes, part of a broad fiscal reform package, has hit his popularity ratings and sparked plenty of discussion.

On Tuesday, several party heads made clear that they oppose the tax increase, accusing Mr. Kan’s Democratic Party of Japan of everything from “hocus-pocus economics” to potentially pushing suicide rates higher.

Here’s what they had to say:

Sadakazu Tanigaki, Liberal Democratic Party: The LDP is more or less on the same page as Mr. Kan’s DPJ — it proposed the tax hike to begin with — but Mr. Tanigaki sought to differentiate the two, criticizing Mr. Kan for not being clear on how the tax money will be used. The LDP, Mr. Tanigaki said, made clear in its policy statement that the money would be used for social security spending.

I like the frowny Tanigaki picture they chose (stolen above).


In other news, campaigning has heated up around my station. The other day I took a pamphlet from the Happiness Realization Party guy, and this morning the freak actually tried to talk to me on my way to work. If it weren’t so freaking humid a chill would have run down my spine. Those people have a few good ideas (bigger houses, more linear trains) mixed in with the crazy (attack North Korea preemptively, retirement age of 75, do everything to make Japan the world’s top economy by GDP), but zero respect for democracy. Funnily enough, part of their platform is to abolish the upper house of parliament, which just happens to be the very body they want the people to elect them to!

(thanks to Joe for the link)

Asahi op-ed: Indonesian nurse program a cruel joke

There is an interesting opinion piece on the Asahi English site (thanks JapanProbe) on the Japan’s program to train Indonesian nurses started last year, under a bilateral economic treaty:

POINT OF VIEW/ Atsushi Takahara: Foreign nursing trainees face unfair hurdles

… Having finished a six-month Japanese-language study program, they started working in January and February. All of them are qualified to work as nurses in their home country and many of them have a lot of nursing experience. But most of those I met expressed anxiety and frustration.

This is because of the system that requires them to pass Japanese state exams within specified periods. If they fail, they must return to their home country. Would-be nurses have three chances to sit for the exams in three years of their stay. Conditions are tougher for aspiring care workers. Since foreign trainees are required to have actual working experience in Japan for at least three years before they can take the exam, they only have a single chance to pass in four years.

The language barrier weighs heavily on them. In particular, learning kanji characters is very difficult. For example, they must struggle with such technical terms as jokuso (bedsores) and senkotsubu (sacral region) that are difficult to read and understand, even for the average Japanese. Holding a Japanese-Indonesian dictionary, one trainee lamented: “I feel as though my head is about to burst.”

Under the comprehensive EPA, Japan accepts the trainees from Indonesia in exchange for the economic benefits, including abolition or reduction of tariffs on its exports of cars and electronic equipment. The government stands by the traditional policy of refusing to accept unskilled foreign laborers. Therefore, the government’s stance is that the acceptance of nursing trainees this time is a form of personnel exchange and is not meant as a measure to address a labor shortage. The government’s cold attitude seems to be a reflection of such a position.

After the government-sponsored six-month language training in Japan, the nurses must either study on their own or receive assistance from their workplaces to get their Japanese levels up to that of a practicing nurse’s. All for an all-or-nothing attempt at Japanese nursing qualification after four years! Sure, that’s what the program has been from the beginning, but I think what Takahara is trying to say is that what started as unfair remains unfair and should be changed.

So let me get this straight –  in order to fulfill the letter of a treaty requirement that benefits Japanese companies with tariff relaxation, the Japanese government has decided to use these already-qualified nurses as pawns and in the process waste years of their lives. A similar fate no doubt awaits the Filipina nurses slated for acceptance under a similar bilateral arrangement with Japan.

According to an overview of potential benefits of the Japan-Indonesia “economic partnership agreement” (EPA) (PDF) released at the time of signing in August 2007, Japan is the largest single export destination for Indonesian products. Japan, for its part, chiefly benefits from Indonesia’s abundant natural resources (a key factor in their decision to invade during WW2). The country is Japan’s second most important supplier of liquid natural gas after Australia. LNG provides 35% of the household gas supply in Japan, according to Wikipedia. As with most trade agreements, the sheer number of line items and flood of statistics makes it tough to get through in a matter of hours let alone minutes, but suffice to say this agreement provides considerable tariff reduction, promises of market access, and non-tariff regulatory reforms that all serve to lower the cost and hurdles to doing business in either country. Also like other bilateral trade agreements, Japan is likely getting the better deal thanks to Japanese companies already superior competitive position.

Though I loved studying kanji and pursued it with a passion, I am a spoiled American and that was when I was in my prime learning years in my late teens and early 20s. These experienced nurses, who are in this country to make a living and previously had little inclination to study a foreign language, must find the task quite daunting (and distracting from the actual practice of care-giving). If my experience with a much simpler examination is any indicator, Japan’s exam culture will be no joke for a tightly regulated profession like nursing.

Could no compromise be found to help actually make this program work? Of course, that would assume that the Japanese government wants the program to work. As the op-ed notes, the acceptance of these nurses was essentially a token gesture to the Indonesian government, not a good faith effort to do right by anyone, either the nurses who want to work in Japan or the hospitals, patients, and other stakeholders in Japan. While I cannot know the intentions of the crafters of this program (it appears to have been hammered out through bilateral negotiations led by the foreign ministry), it’s entirely possible that they’d prefer to see these programs fail so other countries won’t demand their inclusion or expansion in future economic negotiations.

This points to a possible problem with making these decisions within the framework of comprehensive trade agreements rather than Japan unilaterally deliberating on its own future. While I understand the rationale of international “free trade” agreements as a way to circumvent narrow national interests for the greater good of efficient economies, the tight restrictions on these nurses constitute anything but free trade. And as part of a treaty covering billions of dollars in trade and the entire economies of two countries, how can 208 nurses hope to be anything but a footnote?

But once negotiated, this program has in fact benefitted from a relatively high level of scrutiny, since it is a pilot program, the foreign, Muslim nurses stand out, and ironically because they are negotiating tools in high-level bilateral trade ties. As Takahara notes, “If the trainees go home feeling angry with Japan’s ‘cold policy’ and such a reputation spreads, it could cause a deterioration in Indonesian public sentiment toward Japan. ” For that reason and the real need to find solutions to Japan’s aging society, the government and the public have an interest in seeing programs like this succeed, though whether that interest will translate into a fair shake for these nurses or better results down the line is another issue entirely.  

Takahara and I may be proven wrong to conclude that the nursing exam is just too hard for most of these nurses, but I doubt it. As unjust as the Indonesian nurses’ situation sounds, perhaps the experience of these programs can open the issue to more public criticism and maybe some solutions (Takahara seems to be in favor of giving the nurses more time to pass the test and more flexibility and support in general). That way, what began as a farce can be turned into a workable program.

For once, North Korea has a point – what IS Tamogami doing teaming up with the abductee families?

(UPDATE: In case you didn’t notice, Japan got totally SLAMMED by NK in these articles)

The AFP:

NKorea slams Japan over kidnap issue
Tue Mar 10, 9:56 am ET
SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea accused Japan Tuesday of raising an outcry over the abduction of its civilians in an attempt to find a pretext for recolonising the peninsula.


The North said its military would launch a “merciless” strike on Japan if the former colonial power “dare pre-empt an attack” on the communist country.

The warning came as relatives of a Japanese woman kidnapped by North Korea arrived in South Korea in an attempt to clarify her fate.

Japan, which colonised the Korean peninsula 1910-1945, is trying to find an “absurd” excuse to realise its ambitions for re-invasion, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary, without referring to the case of Yaeko Taguchi.

“Japan’s noisy and disturbing trumpeting about ‘the abduction issue’ is nothing but a prelude to its operation to stage a comeback to Korea,” the agency said.

Taguchi‘s family will meet Kim Hyun-Hee, a pardoned former spy for the North, in the southern city of Busan on Wednesday.

Taguchi’s elder brother Shigeo Iizuka, 70, and her son, Koichi Iizuka, 32, arrived in Busan along with Japanese officials, Yonhap news agency said.

Pyongyang has admitted kidnapping Taguchi in 1978 when she was 22 to train its spies, but said she died in a car crash in July 1986.

But the ex-spy Kim, who had taken Japanese lessons from Taguchi, has said in interviews with local media that Taguchi was alive until at least 1987.

The article makes it sound like the North is plainly spitting in the face of the abduction victim families. But not even North Korea is that tone-deaf. No, their style is much more Norimitsu Onishi than Cruella DeVille. The actual KCNA story says nothing about the PR efforts of the abduction victims and concentrates only the recent statement of someone we’ve covered here before:

KCNA Slams Japanese Militarists’ Agitation of War

Tamogami, former chief of staff of the Air “Self-Defense Force”, in a recent lecture given on the subject of “the abduction issue”, let loose a spate of reckless remarks calling on Japan to “take the posture of attacking north Korea by mobilizing the SDF.”

These are unpardonable outbursts which can be heard only from a man who is hell-bent on the moves to escalate the confrontation with the DPRK and start a war against it.

As well known to the world, Tamogami is a wicked Right-wing reactionary cursed and censured at home and abroad for having spoken for the Japanese militarist forces of late.

What he uttered is peppered with a spate of sophism intended to turn Japan into a military power and realize overseas expansion let loose by the successive Japanese reactionaries ranging from reckless remarks shamelessly whitewashing their past war of aggression to outbursts claiming access to nuclear weapons and the exercise of the “right to collective self-defense.”

Tomogami’s utterances indicate that the Japanese reactionaries’ wild ambition to conquer the Korean Peninsula and other countries in Asia and the rest of the world has reached an extreme phase. This is not only a blatant challenge to the DPRK’s sovereignty but a serious threat to the peace and security of Asia.

The provocative jargon let loose by Tamogami suffices to prove that he is an offspring of those who advocated the militarization of the Japanese society and the process to turn it reactionary and an icon of militarist Japan bereft of the normal way of thinking and off the track of normal development.

The AFP sees a timing decision in this KCNA story, but I am sure the KCNA editors would argue that Tamogami’s timing is too perfect as he is raising his voice at a time of heightened tensions and on a day when the morning news shows all feature the tearful meeting between the plane bomber and the abduction victims. Here is what he said during the February 28 speech specifically on the abduction issue to 250 people at an event sponsored by a “citizens’ group” in Nagoya:

“The abduction issue will not be resolved unless we show (North Korea) a posture that we will beat you to a pulp, even if we have to mobilize the Self Defense Forces.”… When asked specifically what he meant by “beat you to a pulp,” he stated, “North Korea will not budge unless we show the posture that we will use the Self Defense Forces to attack.”

Masumoto and Tamogami
Masumoto and Tamogami

Interestingly, Teruaki Masumoto, secretary general of the abductee families association and younger brother of an abductee, seemed to agree with Tamogami: “If we could mobilize our Self Defense Force in the same manner as other countries, we could have sunk the spy ships and considerably lessened the number of abductees.”

That North Korea is the detested rogue state that actually perpetrated the kidnappings (and likely murdered/forced suicide on many of them, all under state sponsorship) goes without saying. Nothing can be more absurd than the KCNA’s fantasy of having credibility on this issue, or on just about any issue for that matter.  But while it is always perilous to see North Korea’s side of any debate, I want to emphasize two things:

  1. This insistence on characterizing the most radical right wing elements in Japan as the voice of an influential group who could incite warlike rage in the Japanese populace at a moment’s notice is typical of many “liberal” Japan observers, and it’s no less wrong when they do it. If anything, the far right engages in guerrilla PR tactics to wedge the Japanese government toward one policy or another. That is hardly the image of a group that’s in control. It’s one of the ultimate arguments to keep Japan a weakened client state and it’s a powerful one at that.
  2. To that end, the abduction victims’ movement doesn’t seem to be helping assuage such concerns. Have the victims’ groups ever met a right-wing demagogue they didn’t like? You have to wonder how far they are willing to take their campaign to prioritize this issue over a possible nuclear showdown.   Far from denouncing Tamogami’s comment, the groups appear to be welcoming him into the fold (perhaps a smart move for someone with right-wing political ambitions). On March 6, a week after the controversial comment, leaders of two such groups joined Tamogami for a rally to save the abduction victims. His speech title: “Correct Historical Recognition and the Abduction Issue.”

METI rushes to adopt anti-SLAM policies

When you are trade minister and the economy is in trouble, the last thing you need is to get SLAMMED!!!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

ANALYSIS: Exit Strategy Needed As Govt Role Expands

TOKYO (Nikkei)–The Japanese government is becoming more active in combating the ongoing downturn, and while such efforts might be necessary, an exit strategy must be formed so that the economy is eventually able to thrive without life support.

The government is under immense pressure to take action amid the crisis. In early January, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) hastily created a program to inject public funds into nonfinancial firms. Late last year, METI was flooded with complaints — not only from small and midsize companies, but also from big ones — about the difficulty of securing loans from banks and fundraising through the issuance of corporate paper and bonds.

The trend toward greater state involvement seems clear in Japan, with ruling-coalition lawmakers and business leaders now calling on the government to save jobs.

“Speed is essential,” said METI Minister Toshihiro Nikai. “Unless we do something now, we will be slammed (by criticism).”

Private-sector activity is essential to healthy markets. Without an exit strategy, the Japanese government and the BOJ will find it difficult to withdraw to their proper supporting roles, and the Japanese economy will be worse for it in the long run.

Given that the current crisis is arguably the worst since the Great Depression, the government and BOJ likely have little choice but to take action.

I realize this is a semi-serious argument against how offering protection to industry over short-term concerns could crowd out the private sector and possibly lead to a deleterious trade war. But Nikai has it wrong — come September at the latest, the LDP is going to get totally SLAMMED no matter what.

And weren’t “the Japanese government and the BOJ” already fulfilling a fairly intrusive role in the Japanese “markets”? Sure, many of the lost decade/Koizumi-era programs had been put to rest, but not that long ago. Japan remains full of so-called “zombie” companies kept afloat by previous bank bailouts and the like, but these new measures outlined in this article would presumably create a new breed of these – companies that would be insolvent without direct government support (or indirect through government-mandated loans). So while I share the Nikkei’s concern that the government of Japan will soon essentially become the “main bank” of a sizable number of companies, I just want to mention that rather than going from a state of being merely in a “supporting role” to an active role, these measures appear to push the GOJ from an already pretty active role to a very active role.

Taking the “Japan Brand” concept literally

The creation of a unified “Japan Brand” has been called for recently as a way to promote exports, boost tourism, and take control of how Japan as a nation is perceived abroad. To that end, the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency has recently announced a new logo for its campaign to help promote local products for export that to this blogger seems to lack a certain subtlety:


(Click the picture for the full size picture. It makes a great desktop wallpaper!)

Bluntness aside, it’s a simple and attractive logo. It seems intended as a sort of umbrella logo to bring disparate marketing strategies pursued by the various regions of Japan in under a unified concept that will “create new traditions” by very efficiently letting anyone who comes into contact with a product bearing such a logo that it DEFINITELY comes from Japan, which should let a potential buyer know that, like Japan, the product stands for “quality,” “beauty,” and “pride.”

And at least this logo should make sense to outsiders. “Yokoso Japan,” the tourism version of “Japan Brand” logos, was SLAMMED last year by American Japan theorist Alex Kerr, who told a government discussion panel that it would sound like “blah blah blah Japan” to those unfamiliar with the Japanese term for “welcome.”

UPDATE: I should note the similarity between this logo and the typeface at YH Chang Heavy Industries, a flash animation website known for its hit “Cunnilingus in North Korea:”


Horie goes for the counterslam

Takafumi Horie, the ex-president of Livedoor recently convicted of securities fraud, continues his role as spotlight-hog even in disgrace. He’s been the subject of numerous interviews and press stories throughout his trial. So as a man for whom winning the image war between himself and prosecutors may be even more important than whether his appeals ultimately succeed, it seems only natural that Horie would take the opportunity to SLAM the court’s decision:

Convicted Horie stays defiant, slams court
The Associated Press

Disgraced dot-com tycoon Takafumi Horie slammed his conviction and harsh sentence for securities fraud Sunday, insisting he committed no crimes and that he had more than paid for any mistakes by losing his company.

On Friday, Horie was found guilty of masterminding a network of decoy investment funds to illegally manipulate earnings at his Internet startup, and was sentenced to 2 1/2-half years in prison in the biggest white-collar-crime trial Japan has witnessed in years.

“I did not intentionally attempt to pad earnings, and there was no false accounting,” an intent-looking Horie, former president of Livedoor Co., said on a TV Asahi talk show Sunday. “I do not accept the court’s verdict.”

Horie is on bail while he appeals the verdict.

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.

More Kabuki PLUS – Blast and Slam: My two favorite news cliches

I hereby present my dear readers with yet another example of the growing usage of “kabuki” as a political metaphor for either boring deliberations or carefully calculated horse-and-pony shows (if I may use one cliche to explain another). This was linked to on the front page of

The Full Kabuki: Everybody’s happy, nothing changes.
By Mickey Kaus
Updated Thursday, April 6, 2006, at 6:36 AM ET

The Full Kabuki: On immigration, the stage is set for a classic Washington stalemate in which all the actors–at least the Republican actors–get to position themselves as advocating their desired brand of bold action, and nothing gets done. … As Charles Peters has written, in Washington, “Make Believe = Survival.”

I don’t really remember kabuki having many happy endings. Someone needs to decide on a real definition for “political kabuki” or perhaps just officially ban the term from public discourse. It’s lame!

What’s never lame, however, is the use of the words “blast” and “slam” over and over again in headlines to describe any kind of criticism. I mean, it does get a little stale, but I still get a kick out of shouting SLAM!!! whenever I read that a think tank isn’t into Bush’s tax plan. And remember what Slate’s Jack Shafer said: “If journalists weren’t allowed to recycle headlines every 10 years they’d run out of them.”

Here are some fun examples from recent news:

  • Ugly apartments SLAMMED into the stone age!
  • An artist's impression of Jurys Inn at Kings Dock

    Experts slam Kings Dock hotel design

    Apr 5 2006

    By Nick Coligan, Liverpool Echo

    TWO hotels earmarked for Liverpool’s Kings Dock have come under fire from architecture experts.

    The three-star-plus Jurys Inn and smaller Staybridge boutique hotel are dubbed “disappointing” and “not convincing”.

  • Moby BLASTS xenophobia with his techno-laser-glasses!
  • Continue reading More Kabuki PLUS – Blast and Slam: My two favorite news cliches