Pills for old men or young women?

The US healthcare reform bill that recently passed the House only did so after a controversial amendment was inserted banning any insurance plan which pays for abortion from accepting any federal subsidies, a clause that will probably eliminate abortion from most or all health plans if it goes into law. One reader at TPM had the following thought experiment:

What would happen if a few female members of the House put in (or merely proposed) an amendment to the health care bill which stated that men would be barred BY LAW from purchasing health insurance which covered Viagra, all hair-growth medications or procedures or transplants, etc.?

This thought experiment reminded me of the well known case of the birth control in Japan. Actually, I say well known, but when I checked to confirm the dates, the details were rather more complex than the simplistic version of the story that I had thought I knew, in which the pill was simply never legalized in Japan until a decade ago.

The first birth control pill was approved for that use by the United States FDA in 1960, but was rarely used in Japan until recently. The pill was not approved at all in Japan until 1972, but this was the high-dose formulation that was already being replaced in other countries with a low-dose version of the drug due to safety reasons. Because the safer, low-dose pill was never approved in Japan, oral contraceptives remained little used. Even after the original high-dose formulation was removed from the market in the US in 1988, the low-dose pill remained off the market in Japan.

This changed in 1999, after Viagra was fast-tracked for approval. Viagra first went on sale in the US in March 1998, and only a few months later was already being studied for approval in Japan, where it went on sale in March 1999 – only one year after the US. Feminists complained about a double standard that allowed a drug whose primary purpose is allowing recreational sex for old men to be approved almost immediately, while the safe low-dose birth control pill was still not approved after four decades. At the time, Yoshiaki Kumamoto, president of the Japan Foundation of Sexual Health Medicine, was quoted as saying that viagra was approved so quickly because old men in parliament “want to have that drug.”

The modern pill was finally approved in September of 1999, although women taking it are required to have pelvic exams four times a year, as opposed to once or twice in most countries, and there is still a widely held association with the dangerous side effects of the old formulation. According to a late 2006 study, only 1.8% of Japanese women were using the pill for their birth control needs. This compares with, according to UN figures for the year 2005, 7.5% of women worldwide, and 15.9% of women in developed countries.

The other Tokyo Olympics which never were

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were a milestone in Japanese history as the country’s great postwar coming-out party. The 1940 Tokyo Olympics, on the other hand, became a footnote, as they were planned and approved by the IOC but never actually took place.

Tokyo’s bid was announced in 1932 and won the IOC vote in 1936, defeating a rival bid from Helsinki, Finland by a vote of 34 to 27. There was some political maneuvering behind the vote: Rome had also been bidding for the Olympics, but Benito Mussolini pulled Rome’s bid as a gesture of support to Japan, then a strong ally of Italy.

A number of factors led to the eventual cancellation of the games. Several IOC members were uneasy with Japan’s military adventures in China, and the US was planning to boycott the Tokyo games in protest. The Japanese government was focused on the war with China and was becoming more reluctant to divert strategic and monetary resources to an international sporting event. Japan formally withdrew its bid on July 15, 1938, and the Olympics passed to runner-up Helsinki by default. However, the Helsinki Olympics were cancelled following the German invasion of Poland in the following year, and there were no Summer Games until 1948.

The plan for the 1940 Olympics centered around two main venues–the Jingu Gaien in central Tokyo and a new Olympic park in Komazawa. These venues were never built before the war, but both sites were later used for staging the Tokyo Olympics of 1964. Another instance of re-using resources: Ichiro Kono, who led the opposition to the 1940 Olympics in the Imperial Diet, became Construction Minister and Minister of State for the Tokyo Olympics under Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda, and thus got the chance to oversee the successful Tokyo Olympics on the government’s behalf.

UR in a nutshell

For folks trying to find an affordable apartment near a major Japanese city, one useful resource is the Urban Renaissance Agency (都市再生機構 toshi saisei kikou), usually called “UR” in Japanese.

UR has a vast portfolio of properties. Although the agency is associated with danchi, the intimidatingly enormous apartment complexes scattered around the suburbs of Japanese cities, they also offer upscale center-city properties, such as the high-rise apartments on the south side of Shiodome in Tokyo (within spitting distance of Shinbashi and Ginza).

There are several advantages to renting through UR. Unlike many private landlords, UR does not charge for “key money,” only imposing a (theoretically) refundable 3-month security deposit at the start of the lease. There are also no brokerage fees, and no additional fees to renew the lease upon its expiration.

Perhaps most saliently for the readers of this blog, UR also has few barriers to entry. Anyone with a certain level of income or assets can generally rent a UR apartment, and even the less financially well-off can get into UR by prepaying their lease. UR does not discriminate against foreigners, against unmarried couples, against same-sex roommates or against part-time renters, despite the fact that private landlords routinely shun all four groups for unclear reasons.

How UR came to be

UR is a government-mandated developer established in 2004, and claims to be “probably the largest landload [sic] and developer in the world.” It functions like a private company with an enormous balance sheet, but remains under the supervision of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry, like its many forebears.

The first forebear of UR was the Japan Housing Corporation (日本住宅公団), established in 1955 to build housing for workers in major cities during the post-Korean War economic boom. JHC built many of the classic danchi around Tokyo and Osaka, starting with Kanaoka (Sakai) and Inage (Chiba). In the sixties and seventies it became more deeply involved in mixed-use “new town” projects in the suburbs, incorporating apartment buildings, single-family homes and commercial properties. Another state-owned Residential Land Development Corporation (宅地開発公団) was set up in 1975 and is chiefly remembered today for its work on the Chiba New Town project (the Hokuso Line in Chiba was once called the “Corporation Line” or 公団線 since the Corporation owned everything around it).

These two entities merged into a single Housing and Urban Development Corporation (住宅・都市整備公団) in 1981, which was renamed to Urban Development Corporation (都市基盤整備公団) in 1999. During this era, the corporation shifted from crowded apartment complexes and suburbs to more spacious and comfortable projects, as the postwar urban population explosion began to slow down and wealthier consumers started to demand more than a few tatami mats surrounded by reinforced concrete.

UR’s other family line starts with the Coal Mining Area Development Corporation (産炭地域振興事業団), founded in 1962. This entity was set up to encourage business development in hard-hit coal-mining regions and to support the re-training of former coal miners. In 1972, the entity’s mandate broadened, and it became the Industrial Relocation and Coal Mining Area Development Corporation (工業再配置・産炭地域振興公団) for two short years, before the Diet settled on a less unwieldy name, Japan Regional Development Corporation (地域振興整備公団), in 1974. For the next thirty years, JRDC worked on various projects to spur industrial and economic development in the nether regions of Japan, focusing on isolated prefectures like Akita, Aomori and Miyazaki.

UR was formed when JRDC was broken up in 2004. The urban planning operations of JRDC were folded into UDC to form UR, while the industrial development operations of JRDC became part of a new (and very awkwardly-named) Organization for Small & Medium Enterprises and Regional Innovation (中小企業基盤整備機構).

The agency is now governed by a special statute which defines its purpose in one enormous run-on sentence:

…to plan the renewal of major cities and regional urban centers where foundational arrangements for effective urban activity and rich urban living have not been adequately conducted in response to changes in social and economic conditions, by conducting services related to improving the arrangement of urban districts and assisting in the provision of rental housing, through increasing urban functions and improving the residential environment in response to changes in social and economic conditions, and by conducting services related to the management of residential housing inherited from the Urban Development Corporation, to plan the sustainable preservation of rental housing which has established a desirable residential environment, thereby contributing to the sound development of cities and the greater sustainability of citizens’ lifestyles.

How UR works

Some UR developments are essentially intended to monetize government land. The Shiodome apartment buildings, for instance, are on the site of what was Tokyo’s main rail freight terminal during the days of nationalized rail. The huge Hikarigaoka development (at the end of the Toei Oedo Line in Tokyo) was redeveloped from Grant Heights, a US military housing complex returned to Japan in the 1970s (itself built atop an Imperial Army air field).

Other developments such as Chiba New Town, the Tsukuba Science City, the Saitama New Urban Center and the Kansai Science City are built on land purchased from private owners, no differently than a private real estate developer might operate.

Besides its government equity fund of 948 billion yen, UR also issues special Urban Renaissance Bonds (都市再生債券), currently totaling about 1.8 trillion yen. But its main source of funding is the Ministry of Finance, which has pumped ten trillion yen of loans into UR through its Fiscal Investment and Loan Program. Another two trillion or so comes from debt investment by domestic banks and life insurance companies.

Aside from being a developer, UR is also a policy arm of the Japanese government, and of MLIT in particular. The government regularly passes down policy statements to UR. This February, for instance, MLIT made the following pronouncement (I’ll spare you a word-for-word translation this time because the original badly needs editing):

Looking at the state of cities in our nation amidst globalization and a developing information age, the largest cities are losing allure and international competitiveness as they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with cities overseas, while they continue to be troubled by the expectation of severe damage in crowded urban areas in the event of a disaster.

Regional urban centers are losing their urban functions as city halls and other public facilities move to suburban locations along with major commercial facilities, as city centers become vacant and as industrial production weakens in outlying regions. The state of these regional urban centers reflects not only a decline in urban functions of the cities themselves, but of their entire surrounding regions.

Cities are the source of our national dynamic. In response to major socioeconomic shifts–the information age, globalization, declining birth rates, aging, depopulation and environmental problems–it is necessary to increase the competitiveness of cities, and to increase their allure using the history and culture of each city, by constructing “compact cities,” beautiful cities where one can safely live in a relaxed environment, and by constructing a society where sustainable development is possible.

This all sounds like fluff so far, but the next few paragraphs start indicating otherwise:

Such urban development demands drawing upon and deploying capital, know-how and other civilian power in these cities to arouse new demand. However, it is difficult to plan improved development through governments and private businesses alone because (among other issues) the legal relations between these parties are complex and difficult to coordinate.

Taking this situation into account, in order to advance the development of new 21st-century urban centers, UR will take a leading role in urban development, spur private investment in cities and contribute to the revitalization of the economy…

Moreover, in the global economic downturn spurred by the subprime loan crisis, our nation’s economy is in a deeply troubled state of falling stock prices, less available capital for businesses and ongoing labor restructuring. As private businesses become less interested to invest in urban development, UR shall strengthen its efforts to spur private demand, and while supplementing private urban development, shall make efforts to plan a shift toward a more domestic demand-led economy.

Hiking in Hannou-shi, Saitama

Hannou-shi in Saitama Prefecture is located along the Seibu Ikebukuro line outside Tokyo. Closer to outlying Chichibu than urban Tokyo, the town’s look and feel are like a scene out of the recent Oscar-winning film Departures (which I highly recommend!). Mrs. Adamu and I decided to hike there after finding the town randomly on a web search. It was an extremely convenient trip – after an hour and a half train ride it was just a 10 minute walk to reach the trail. We followed this route on the Hiking Map website.

Anyway, here is what we saw!

This is a monument to local deaths from industrial accidents. Not sure why they died or when.

Going up Tenranzan mountain we came across these oddly shaped Buddhas. The fifth Tokugawa shogun apparently called a monk from a temple near this mountain to heal him with chanting, and it worked. The statues are somehow related to this.
Continue reading Hiking in Hannou-shi, Saitama

The 20th Century Kyushu Powershift

Question: Why did the economic heart of Kyushu shift from Nagasaki to Fukuoka over the course of the 20th century?

Nagasaki was a sleepy fishing port that transformed into a major city of international trade when Portugese traders arrived in the 16th century. It remained an important trading city through the closed Edo period, when it was one of a few cities open to trade with ships from Holland and China. The industrialization of the Meiji-era saw the city become the nation’s main port for heavy shipbuilding and other heavy industries. It also became a major naval base and served as a strategic port during the Russo-Japanese War.

But the economic importance of Nagasaki as the ipso facto capital of Kyushu faded in the 20th century as the economic center transferred to Fukuoka. The northern area of Fukuoka and Hakata, close neighbors but separate cities until after World War II, became the center of Kyushu’s industrialization. Perhaps the official recognition of this was when the government moved the high court with jurisdiction over Kyushu from Nagasaki to Fukuoka in August of 1945 — just weeks before the atomic bombing.

The shift is evidenced by the population figures. In 1900, Nagasaki’s population was at about 150,000 people while Fukuoka’s population was only 50,000. But by 1950 Fukuoka’s population had expanded to 500,000 while Nagasaki was only at 250,000. Nagasaki’s population peaked in 1975 at 500,000 and has shrunk to under 450,000 today. Fukuoka’s population was 1 million in 1975 but is at 1.5 million today.

I can think of a number of reasons for this shift that I’ll throw out to start this discussion, in approximate chronological order.

* Nagasaki reached the physical limits of growth. Nagasaki’s population peaked in the 1970s and has declined ever since. Nagasaki city is situated on a very narrow strip of flat land between the bay and mountains and there is little room for further growth. Even today, 78% of the population lives on 13.1% of the city’s land.

* The decline in the importance of shipbuilding. Shipbuilding was more important as a form of domestic and international transport and travel in the 19th century. In the 20th century, goods and people are instead transported on trains, through highways, or in airplanes.

* The atomic bomb. “Fat man” devastated Nagasaki, killing more than 70,000 people, or 20% of the population, and destroying most of the city. By contrast, only 24% of Fukuoka was destroyed in the firebombing.

* Central planning. After the war, Fukuoka was a major beneficiary of national central planning where the bureaucrats in Tokyo deemed that Fukuoka, and to a greater extent the northern Kyushu area should be the economic power important hub. Which brings me to…

* The closeness of Fukuoka, Hakata, and Kitakyushu. Before World War II, Hakata, Fukuoka, and Kitakyushu were all separate municipalities and it was not that easy to travel between them. But after the war, Hakata and Fukuoka were effectively merged into one municipality, and the economy of nearby Kitakyushu was integrated with Fukuoka through industrialization and the modernization of public transportation.

* Fukuoka has successfully sold itself as Japan’s modern “Gateway to Asia.” Trade and tourism between Fukuoka and China, Korea, and Taiwan is growing. Businesses focusing on these nations are also concentrating in Fukuoka.

But those are just some thoughts — I’d welcome input from learned readers in the comment section with regards to this question. I’d also welcome readers who can share any Japanese or English articles or other sources on this topic.

Dissolving the House of Representatives is not as straightforward as you might think

Like many Westminster-style political systems, Japan employs a system where the Cabinet has the power to dissolve the lower house of the legislature prior to the expiration of said house’s full term. Once the House is dissolved, an election is held, new legislators take office and another four-year term begins.

This has become the standard process for holding lower house elections under the postwar Constitution. Only one election has ever been held following the natural expiration of the House’s four-year term of office (the 1976 election). In twenty-one other instances so far, the Cabinet has kept its nose to the air, waiting for opportune times to torpedo the legislative branch and hopefully have themselves re-elected.

In 2005, Jun’ichiro Koizumi dissolved the House after it voted down his postal privatization plan, and his LDP surged through the ensuing election to win a commanding majority for the next four years. This past July, Taro Aso dissolved the House a month before its four-year term was due to expire, only to watch the LDP fall and Yukio Hatoyama take over the prime minister’s office.

Dissolution is thus at the heart of the greatest shifts in Japanese politics. That said, most dissolutions have been highly sketchy from a legal perspective, thanks to some inadequate drafting in the constitution. There are two big questions which the Constitution and jurisprudence have never quite resolved…

Question 1: Who can dissolve the House?

The Constitution only says this:

第七条 天皇は、内閣の助言と承認により、国民のために、左の国事に関する行為を行ふ。・・・
  三 衆議院を解散すること。
Article 7. The Emperor, with the advice and approval of the Cabinet, shall perform the following acts in matters of state on behalf of the people: …
  3. Dissolution of the House of Representatives.

So it’s technically the Emperor’s job, not the Cabinet’s. However, three academic theories (never actually enshrined in black-letter law) have led to general acceptance that dissolution is a Cabinet decision:

# The Article 7 Theory (7条説): Enumerated Imperial acts of state in the Constitution are assumed to actually be acts of the Cabinet, on the basis that the Emperor must have the Cabinet’s advice and approval before acting.
# The Systemic Theory (制度説): Instead of looking to the text of the Constitution, this theory looks to the international standard for the Westminster parliamentary system, which assumes that the cabinet has the ability to dissolve the parliament.
# The Administrative Theory (行政説) or Article 65 Theory (65条説): Article 65 of the Constitution gives the cabinet general authority over public administration, which is generally defined to mean all legal authority other than legislation and jurisprudence. Dissolution of the House is neither legislation nor jurisprudence, so it must be administrative in nature and therefore under Cabinet control.

Question 2: When can the Cabinet and Emperor dissolve the House?

This one is trickier. Again, we start with the text of the Constitution:

第六十九条 内閣は、衆議院で不信任の決議案を可決し、又は信任の決議案を否決したときは、十日以内に衆議院が解散されない限り、総辞職をしなければならない。
Article 69. If the House of Representatives passes a non-confidence resolution, or rejects a confidence resolution, the Cabinet shall resign en masse, unless the House of Representatives is dissolved within ten days.

Note that it doesn’t say the House can be dissolved in any other instance. Nor does it say that there is no other instance when the House can be dissolved. It just says that the House can be dissolved if it holds a no-confidence vote.

This became an issue of intense debate in the early postwar years. In October of 1948, Shigeru Yoshida’s newly-formed second cabinet attempted to execute the first dissolution of the House under the new Constitution, without first receiving a resolution of no confidence. The opposition, led by Tetsu Katayama, cried foul and declared that Article 69 should be the limit of the Cabinet’s power to dissolve the House. Allied GHQ, which still had military control of Japan at the time and which had written the new Constitution, sided with Katayama and the “69ers.”¹ It was a ripe situation for a constitutional law stand-off until Katayama’s side passed a resolution of no confidence, which allowed the dissolution and election to go forward. This became known as the nare-ai kaisan (馴れ合い解散) or “collusive dissolution.” Yoshida’s side won the ensuing election, and he held on to his seat for a few more years after that.

Then came the nuki-uchi kaisan (抜き打ち解散) or “surprise dissolution” of August 1952. The Occupation was over, Yoshida was still in charge of the government, and he was facing mounting challenges from Ichiro Hatoyama.² Yoshida decided to pull the trigger on a new election early, and had the Emperor issue a dissolution order “under Article 7.” The election went forward, and Yoshida’s faction won a sufficient number of seats to secure Yoshida another two years in office.

A few Diet members who lost their seats decided to challenge the validity of the election. The Supreme Court doesn’t hear “political questions,” though; it only hears actual disputes over physical or proprietary damages. So the Diet members structured their lawsuit as a suit against the government for lost pay, and cited the unconstitutional election as the illegal act which caused their financial injury. Unfortunately for anyone who wanted a clear view on the question, the lawsuit failed: the Supreme Court, in the rambling fashion typical of Japanese judges, held that dissolution of the Diet was ultimately a political question beyond the scope of judicial review.

Thus the question was settled without being settled. Today, nobody knows whether it’s really legal for the Cabinet to dissolve the Diet out of the blue. All we know is that nobody will stop them if they do so. Since 1952, the Emperor has continued to issue most dissolution orders under his Article 7 power, and the members of the Diet have faithfully followed every order.

* * *

¹ I find GHQ’s position very interesting. Being Americans, they may have envisioned Diet elections working much like Congressional elections in the US, where the executive is stuck with their legislature until the next fixed election cycle.

² At the time, he had just returned to the Diet after a five-year purge from politics by skittish Allied officials who thought he was an Imperial war machine collaborator. He was Yoshida’s main rival within the ruling Liberal Party (forerunner of the LDP) throughout the early fifties. It may have had something to do with the fact that Yoshida was Catholic and Hatoyama was Baptist. Either way, the rivalry ended up running in the family: Hatoyama’s grandson Yukio Hatoyama recently defeated Yoshida’s grandson Taro Aso to become Prime Minister.

A Graphical History of the Democratic Party of Japan

The Nikkei on Saturday had a chart of the history of the Democratic Party. I have translated, and substantiated, the graph and included it below here.


Thus did the party arrive at it’s coalition today of LDP defectors, socialists, and free market conservatives. After a decade of wondering what the DPJ would do in power, we finally get to see what happens. Let the party begin.

Travels to Tsushima, Part 2.1: Tripod Torii

Part 1Part 2

I was requested to explain in more details what I meant by the words “tri-trunk torii,” which I used to explain a unique type of Torii gate that I saw at Watazumi Shrine on Tsushima Island. Here are two photographs that should have been included in the previous post.

As I understand the local lore from memory and from various sources, the “tripod torii” is built around a quartz rock peering out from the ground. Local lore states that this is the grave of Isora, the shinto god of the seashore, the basis for which originated with the Azumi people, a seafaring people of ancient Japan who lived in northern Kyushu and the neighboring islands.