Two major elections are coming up in Japan this Sunday — a general election to choose members of the Diet’s lower house, and a race for the Tokyo governorship. The chances of a change in government are high and of all people, that great buckler former PM Abe Shinzo is the favorite to become Japan’s next prime minister!
To help make sense of it all, I’ll be participating in a Livestream broadcast with Garrett De Orio and Kozo Ota, two of the Tokyo English-language blogosphere’s foremost political (and yakyu) junkies. You can save the URL here. We go on air at 8pm, once the polls close. It promises to be a fun and informative evening, so if you like sarcastic commentary and wading deep into the swampy weeds of the Japanese political system, this one is for you my friend.
During the stream we will be answering Twitter questions live with the hashtag #japanelection. Please drop a line! Given its importance, we will be focusing mostly on the general election.
Before Sunday I will try and do some posts highlighting aspects of the election that might fall through the cracks of what has become a quite robust Japan blogo/Twittersphere of late. Outfits like Japan Real Time, Japan Probe, and Shisaku have all been great.
Otherwise you can follow me at @adamukun on Twitter for regular updates. Please let me know in the comments below what sort of issues you want to hear about, and I hope to see you on the stream! Oh and if you’re a Japanese citizen make sure to get out there and vote!!
On May 19, the Yomiuri Shimbun evening edition ran an open letter by House of Councillors President Nishioka Takeo in which he called upon Prime Minister Kan Naoto to resign due to his handling of the Fukushima nuclear crisis. This would be significant enough if Nishioka were a member of the opposition, but he belongs to the same DPJ as Kan himself. The letter, as well as the admission that Kan, based on unfounded concerns that the injection of seawater could induce re-criticality in the reactor, encouraged TEPCO to halt the injection of seawater based coolant into the plant, has spurred a movement towards calling a no-confidence vote, with support from the Ozawa faction of Kan’s own DPJ, as well as from the opposition LDP. Among the harsh critics are LDP leader Tanigaki Sadakazu, who, based on the newly released information, described the decision to suspend the injection of seawater at such a critical stage as a “man-made disaster”.
Although the English Yomiuri website summarizes the key points of Nishioka’s letter in the same article I linked to above, they did not originally post the entire text or even publish it in the English print edition, although they did promise that “The English translation of Nishioka’s open letter to Kan will be carried on The Daily Yomiuri’s Commentary page on Tuesday.” Well, Tuesday has passed and you can now read the entire letter in English, at Yomiuri or below here.
In the annoyingly typical fashion of the Japanese newspaper industry, they haven’t even published the original Japanese text of the full letter online! Luckily it can be easily found on a number of Japanese blogs, and here I will give my own quick and dirty translation.
To Prime Minister Naoto Kan:
I am sure the weight of the world is on your shoulders, with duties that require your attention day and night. I thank you for your hard work.
As a representative of one of the supreme organizations in the nation’s three independent branches of authority, I would like to venture to express my candid opinion in this open letter. Prime Minister Kan, you should immediately resign from your post.
I think many people share my present thoughts about you: among them survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake, residents forced to evacuate their homes due to the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, members of the general public and Diet members from both opposition and ruling parties.
I also believe that heads of local governments and assembly members distrust and are concerned about you.
There is a reason why, despite this situation, hardly any voices have called, “Prime Minister Kan, you should resign.” It is generally believed it would be unthinkable to change the supreme leader of the nation at a time when serious problems are occurring that are not limited to national politics, and when measures are under way to deal with the situation.
However, you have continued to abandon your duties as prime minister since the March 11 disaster took place.
Readers may remember that during my most recent trip to the Philippines I quite randomly made friends with many of the core members of the Filipino Freethinkers, a new advocacy group working for freedom from religious pressure in society and blogged in detail about our initial meeting. On Saturday some members of the group picketed the Philippines Catholic Bishop Conference to protest the Church’s opposition to a proposed reproductive health (i.e. birth control) bill that is being supported by the new president Benigno Aquino, and a photograph of them was printed in the Philippine Inquirer, and then picked up by Boingboing. Why you ask? Just take a look at the photo in question, as well as the installment of the geek webcomic xkcd referenced in the sign held by Red Tani, one of the founders of Filipino Freethinkers. The comic’s caption is “Wikipedian Protester.”
The part of the article about the protesters is as follows:
A group of pro-RH (Reproductive Health) advocates trooped to the CBCP office in Intramuros, Manila, to condemn the Church for interfering in government-mandated initiatives for reproductive health.
Rhoda Avila of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines told Figura her group was urging the Church to stop spreading “lies” about birth control and allow the government to do its work in providing Filipinos an affordable and accessible reproductive health program.
A slight tension occurred during the 15-minute dialogue while Figura was explaining that the Church was not interfering but “merely issuing guidelines.”
“Based on what? On your non-sexual experience?” protester Marlon Lacsamana snapped.
With all the World Cup excitement in Japan right now, I just thought I’d link to this Bloomberg report on the two players from Japan on the NK soccer team:
North Korea, the lowest ranked team in the soccer World Cup, faces five-time champion Brazil tonight with its hopes pinned on two players from Japan.
Japan-born striker Jong Tae-Se and midfielder An Yong Hak, who both play in the J. League, will represent the communist nation in its first World Cup match in 44 years, playing at 8:30 p.m. local time in Johannesburg. Ladbrokes Plc, a U.K. oddsmaker, rates North Korea a 1,000-to-1 chance to win the tournament.
This is the first time players from Japan are representing North Korea at the World Cup, according to Ri. Jong, 26, who plays for Kawasaki Frontale in the J. League, and Omiya Ardija midfielder An, 31, were named in the national team last month.
The two players attended North Korean schools in Japan, hold North Korean passports and have no problem communicating with Pyongyang-based teammates, Ri said.
North Korea, playing in its second World Cup since reaching the quarterfinals in 1966, has no professional teams. National team players earn about twice the average laborer’s salary, according to the North Korean football association.
I am hoping for a US-Japan championship match, but of course that isn’t realistic.
New prime minister Naoto Kan has to make a major decision that will likely characterize his style of leadership going forward.
The decision revolves around the current postal reform legislation – the bills, which would reorganize Japan Post to ensure greater government control and a firmer mandate of universal service, have already passed the Lower House but must pass the Upper House to become law. But there isn’t enough time in the current Diet session to get the job done in the Upper House. Kan has the option of extending the Diet session to get the bills passed, which would postpone the looming Upper House election. But should he?
The postal bills are incredibly divisive, potentially dangerous as policy, and have been crafted to pander to special interests without much serious thought to Japan’s long-term future. Bending over backwards to get the bills passed would be a clear sign that the DPJ-led government needs to rely on postal worker support to stay in power. He and his party govern in a coalition with the PNP, a small party with the postal workforce making up the bulk of its support base. The PNP has threatened to leave the coalition and deny the DPJ an outright majority in the upper house unless the bill is passed early.
On the other hand, not postponing the Diet session would imply Kan is opting for an early election, in other words he could capitalize on the support of the general public afforded him in the wake of his appointment as PM. Sure, this option might lose him the PNP, but he might not need them come July if things go his way.
So which will it be? Kan has apparently promised to decide on this tomorrow morning. I eagerly await his decision.
In the autumn of last year, Shizuka Kamei pushed through a debt moratorium law, primarily with the provincial goal of backing the small real estate companies in his home town of Hiroshima that were hit hard by the recession. At the time, I called this woefully short-sighted:
Small companies across Japan’s countryside that are having trouble making repayments should either restructure themselves, or fail and be restructured by creditors or new management. Many have antiquated management with regards to accounting, employment rosters, operational efficiency, supply chains, etc. Companies that can’t adapt to changed economic environments are supposed to fail. Yes, some good companies caught in unlucky times are destined to be caught in the current credit crunch as they are unable to repay loans and go bankrupt. But bankruptcy is a good thing! It is the engine of economic development that allows bad companies to fail, stifled talent to move elsewhere, assets to be sold at whatever price the market will bear, and bad management to be replaced. Yes, it sucks that people lose jobs and shareholders forfeit their investments, but that’s life! Letting this happen is a necessity for economic growth.
And on top of this, the poor local banks, only barely functioning after 15 years of treading water with the bad loan crisis, will now inevitably reduce their limited lending activities to nothing. There will be no money to lend, thus no local business growth or economic development, and thus no entrepreneurial activity. A short-term benefit for stabilized employment rates means the countryside gets screwed in the long term.
While my concern about small businesses refusing to restructure remained true, my concern for local banks was addressed when the final bill was passed (which you can read in Japanese here). The Japanese government — in other words, tax dollars — provide a statutory guarantee for these deadbeats. The mechanics of this are, under Article 11 of the Moratorium Law, that the government provides sufficient financial backing to the Credit Guarantee Union, which backs the financial institution undertaking the new obligation to support the small business. The Credit Guarantee Union is a government-backed public interest corporation that provides credit and loans to small businesses.
How many people and “small businesses” (defined as a company with less than US$3 million in capital and less than 300 employees) have applied for the moratorium in the last half year? About half a million:
Japanese banks have received a total of 521,030 applications for the easing of loan repayment terms from small and midsize companies and homeowners under the so-called debt moratorium law, the Financial Services Agency said Friday.
The applications, as of the end of March, since the law took effect in December last year involved 13.64 trillion yen and more than 90 percent of them were approved, the FSA said.
Congratulations, Japanese taxpayer — your tax yen are now financing these deadbeats. When the world is buzzing that Japan could be the next Greece, and could be sparked by one of any number of events (a failed Japanese bond auction, a sharp drop in tax revenue, a failure to implement tough fiscal and budgetary standards, a sharp contraction in Japanese GDP, a downgrade in sovereign debt by the ratings agencies), this is one of the worst policies that could be put in place.
I am also planning on doing a follow-up piece sometime, discussing a little bit more about the history of Yoshida-ryo and the other self-administered dorms at Kyoto University, as well as some of the “self run” (自治) student activity areas in the university, and the relationship between Yoshida-ryo and the various squatting protests that have occurred on campus over the years, such as the Ishigaki Cafe and the currently still ongoing Kubikubi Cafe. Since CNNGo would not really be an appropriate venue for this sort of piece, I’m hoping readers can suggest or introduce someplace that might be interested!
Interesting move by NK to crack down on the burgeoning market activity in their country:
North Korea revalued its currency for the first time in 50 years and strictly limited how much old money could be traded for new, moves that appear designed to confiscate much of the cash people earned in market activities the country’s authoritarian government doesn’t like.
The action triggered chaos, according to news outlets in South Korea that specialize in obtaining information from the North, as people rushed to banks and offices of the ruling Workers Party to get information, make exchanges or trade existing North Korean won for euros and U.S. dollars.
Initial reports indicated the government would allow only 100,000 old won to be exchanged for new. That would potentially wipe out the holdings of people who have earned and saved in won from market activities for years. Those who have saved in foreign currencies — which, though not illegal, is difficult for ordinary North Koreans — would appear unaffected.
According to an account by NKNet, a Seoul-based Web service focused on North Korea, people in Pyongyang on Monday night pressed party officials to allow more money to be exchanged. In response, according to the report, the officials lifted the exchangeable amount to 150,000 won in cash and 300,000 won in savings accounts.
While the revaluation could simply be aimed at inflation – Vietnam recently devalued as well – the really low per-person limit seems all but certain to wipe out most private wealth. Because in Stalinist North Korea money spends you!
Back in March, while I was traveling, Adam wrote a post about Union Extasy, a two-man union of former workers at Kyoto University who decided to protest the limited term contract system after it forced them out of their staff jobs. While their most visible form of protest was the construction of a tent squat underneath the landmark camphor tree in front of the famous Kyoto University clock tower (a location which is the basis for the university’s logo and the preferred location for graduation photos and the like), they also engaged in the more traditional labor complaint route of filing a formal grievance, conducting formal union/management negotiations (団交), and eventually filing a lawsuit alleging the illegality of the mandatory limited-term contract system.
While the Union Extasy squat was inspired by the “temp worker village” set up in Tokyo’s Hibiya park during the 2008-2009 new years season, unlike that particular stunt it never actually ended. Although they had originally expected it to only last for a couple of weeks before shaming university management into doing something, when they realized that things were going to take a long, long time to resolve, instead of taking down the tent they instead expanded it, adding a public area with seating that was labeled the “Kubi Kubi Cafe.”Kubi is the Japanese word for the head or neck, and has also become a synonym for “firing” or “sacking”, as beheading is the Japanese metaphor of choice for such a practice.
The university was naturally displeased with the ongoing protest, particularly in such a prominent and symbolic location, and filed a lawsuit in May or so (the date escapes me at the moment) against Union Extasy, ordering them to vacate the premises. Why exactly they had or chose to actually file a lawsuit escapes me since I would have assumed that they could just ask the police to remove trespassers without any special legal maneuvering, but I presume there is some legal reason that they took such a course of action. Aside from the existence of the lawsuit itself, there were two things that struck me as rather odd about it. First, that the lawsuit was not filed against the two men (Ogawa and Inoue) but against the Union Extasy organization itself. The second odd point, and this one if very odd, is that they were not seeking an order for the union to vacate the campus completely, but only a specified zone including the area immediately in front of the clock tower. The university was actually so cautious about acting without a court order that they did not even disconnect the power cable siphoning electricity from the clock tower building (which kept the lights and vintage iMac running at night, network connectivity naturally courtesy of the campus Wifi). Inoue let me flip through a folder of documents that had been filed in the case, and sure enough there was a map of the campus with a rectangle drawn around the very specific area. Amusingly, among the supporting evidence was a land assayer’s appraisal of the land value of the entire campus, as if the market value of the national university’s grounds-which I expect is legally impossible to sell in any event-was somehow relevant to the matter at hand.
After receiving a court order to vacate the area, they complied with it-by moving about 10 meters over to another patch of lawn, just far enough away from the camphor tree and clock tower so as to allow an unobstructed view of the landmarks.
I have spent little time speaking with the involved parties since before I went home for the summer and had not been following the progress of their protests or court case, except of course to notice that the protest squat had never ended, but I just got word that the initial verdict of their lawsuit is due out tomorrow, presumably with a party to follow. I will be there tomorrow afternoon after lunch to see how things turn out and will report on it after, but in preparation, here is a gallery of photos I’ve taken at the Kubikubi Cafe.