Japan Lower House election – Meet the candidates Part 0 – What voting means and how it works

On Tuesday, parts of Japan’s political net-osphere will go dark as the official campaigning period begins for the August 30 general election to select members of the nation’s lower house of parliament. Considering that this election has the potential to take government control away from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for the first time in 13 years, national and international attention on this race is high.

So what can I add to the conversation? My interest in Japanese politics and other current events is fairly intense, so I plan to follow this story with the same rigor I apply to my other favorite topics.

Mainly,  I plan to profile the candidates up for election in my district (Tokyo’s 13th) to give a worm’s-eye-view of the election from my perch in Adachi-ku, Tokyo. Some readers will recall my series of candidate profiles leading up to last month’s Tokyo prefectural assembly elections.

But first, some opening remarks:

What will this election decide?

On Sunday, August 30, Japanese voters will go to the polls to elect all 480 members of the House of Representatives, the more powerful house of the country’s bicameral legislative branch of government. After the election, the Diet (Japan’s word for its parliament) will be convened to choose a prime minister, who will then form a cabinet. The upper and lower house will each conduct a vote, but if the upper house vote differs from the lower house’s, the lower house’s choice will prevail. If one party has won an outright majority of seats in the lower house, it can elect a prime minister without the aid of any other party, but if not various parties will have to negotiate and form a coalition government.

The lower house is where most substantive legislative business is done. It controls the passage of the national budget, can override an upper house veto with a two-thirds vote, and most importantly decides the appointment of the prime minister. The DPJ currently controls the upper house, which is a less powerful but still significant part of the legislative process.

The party (or coalition of parties) that wins this election will ostensibly gain control over essentially the entire country — if the DPJ gains control it will preside over the executive branch, dominate both houses of the legislature, and possess the power to appoint Supreme Court and lower court justices.

In practice, however, the prime minister and cabinet’s power has been limited – to give a very broad outline, powerful ministries set the agenda on most important national issues, the legislature exists mainly to ratify that agenda and distract the public with loud but ineffectual drama and scandal (in exchange for funneling money back to their districts), and the judicial nominees are almost never decided by the elected officials themselves.

The opposition Democratic Party of Japan are on track to make significant gains in this election, though it will be a tall order to increase their current standings (110) to exceed the LDP’s total of 303. The DPJ are campaigning on many issues, but perhaps first and foremost on a revolutionary vision of administrative reform. They believe that the bureaucrats in the country maintain power based on, in Secretary General Acting President Naoto Kan’s words, a “mistaken interpretation of the Constitution” that bureaucracy has the inherent right to control government administration, while it’s the job of the cabinet and legislature concentrate on passing laws. The DPJ would like to wrest control away from the “iron triangle” of unelected bureaucrats, powerful business interests, and their cronies in the Diet and place power squarely in the politicians’ hands. But more on that later.

How are members selected?

Since the law was changed in 1993 following a major LDP electoral defeat, members of Japan’s lower house have been chosen using two parallel systems – 300 are selected through single-member districts nationwide similar to the US House of Representatives, while the remaining 180 seats are allotted through a proportional representation system (or PR for short).

Under Japan’s PR system, the parties running in the election field candidates in each of 11 regions. On election day, voters write down two votes for the lower house – one for their preferred individual in their district, and the other to choose a party they’d like to receive the PR seats in their region. In the interest of counting as many votes as possible, votes will still count if a voter writes in the name of an individual running in the region or the party leader’s name instead of the party name.

For example of how this works, in 2005 the Tokyo PR district had 17 available seats. To win a seat, a party would have had to earn at least 5.88% of the vote, or 389,682 votes. Only one party that ran (Shinto Nippon with 290,027 votes) failed to gain a seat in this district.

The fact that relatively fewer votes are needed to win a PR seat has convinced smaller parties to try their luck. Most recently, the Happiness Realization Party, a newly formed political wing of new religion Happy Science, has decided to field more than 300 candidates in all single-member and PR districts (though as of this writing it is unclear whether they will actually go through with it). The religion’s leader Ryuho Okawa has announced his intention to run in the Kinki PR district with the top position. To do so he will need 3.45% of the vote, which would have been around 375,000 votes in 2005. His party would have to seriously improve its performance after winning a dismal 0.682% (13,401 votes in 10 districts) of votes in the Tokyo prefectural elections. Okawa had originally planned to run in Tokyo, but Tokyo has a higher 5.88% hurdle to overcome.

How does voting work in practice?

After entering the polling station, voters will be handed a paper ballot and a pencil (yes, a pencil, not a pen). They will be directed to a table with a list of candidates and instructions on how to vote. There they will write in the name of their preferred candidate along with their PR vote. To make it easier for voters to remember, many candidates spell their names using phonetic hiragana instead of kanji, which can be harder to write and have many different readings.

Since this election will also include a people’s review of nine of Japan’s 15 Supreme Court justices, voters will be required to mark an X next to the names of justices they would like to see dismissed. Blank votes will be counted as in favor of keeping them on.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the issues and outlook for this specific election before getting into the more provincial task of profiling my local candidates.

North Korean propaganda posters

imperialist wolves

“Do not forget the US imperialist wolves!”

ess_north_korean_39 extensive goats

“Let’s extensively raise goats in all families!”

Check these amazing samples of NK propaganda posters, with an interesting analysis:

Stylistically, North Korean art is far more than a mere copy of Soviet Russian socialist realism. As was the case with the revolution itself, North Korean socialist realist art had to accord with Korea’s specific historical conditions and cultural traditions. Kim Il Sung pronounced that “Korean Painting” [Chosonhwa], the indigenous post-revolutionary development of traditional ink painting, was the best representative of Korean styles and emotions. He made the essential features of Korean painting the model for all fine arts. Kim Jong Il in his Treatise on Art (Misullon, 1992) described the qualities of Korean Painting as clarity, compactness, and delicacy. These characteristics have become the standard applied to all art produced in North Korea. As such, they also form the basis and model for poster art. On the latter, Kim Jong Il had more to say in his treatise on art. As important tools in the mobilization of the masses, posters have to have an instantaneous impact on the viewers’ understanding and their desire to act upon this understanding. Their message has to be accessible, clear and direct; informative and explanatory, as well as exhortative. The link between contemplation and action is crucial. A poster artist is ultimately an agitator, who, familiar with the party line and endowed with a sharp analysis and judgment of reality produces a rousing depiction of policies and initiatives that stimulate the people into action. Only if the poster appeals to the ideological and aesthetic sentiments of the people will it succeed in truly rousing the people. Kim Jong Il refers to poster painters as standard bearers of their times, submerged in the overwhelming reality and in touch with the revolutionary zeal and creative power of the people, leading the way from a position among the people.

Posters are visual illustrations of the slogans that surround the people of North Korea constantly. North Korean society is in a permanent mobilization. Party and government declarations are stripped down to single-line catchphrases. Through their endless repetition in banners, newspaper headlines, and media reports, these compact slogans become self-explanatory, simultaneously interpreting and constructing reality.

Koen de Ceuster

(thanks to @cominganarchy)

FREE MONEY update: 471k screwed up applications

Amazing: 471,567 households applied for their FREE MONEY from the Japanese government, but failed to fill out their addresses correctly!

Friday, July 3, 2009
471,000 Applications For Cash Handouts Sent Back With Wrong Addresses

TOKYO (Kyodo)–A total of 471,567 applications for the government’s pump-priming cash handout program have been sent back to municipalities as they were incorrectly addressed as of last Friday, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said Friday.

The ministry said it will step up its publicity to call on households who have not received the cash benefits of up to 20,000 yen per person to file their applications as they are feared to fail to receive them.

Meanwhile, a survey showed 86.0 percent of households in 1,798 cities, towns and other municipalities across the country have received the cash handouts which have totaled 1,772.6 billion yen as of last Friday.

The municipalities began providing the cash benefits in March to cover about 54.8 million households under the government’s economic stimulus plan.

Of the applications sent back, 73,000 were sent to foreigners, who have often failed to provide moving notices to municipalities in urban and other areas.

The households will lose their right to receive the cash handouts unless they file applications in six months after the municipalities began to accept applications.

“The wrong addresses” apparently means that the addresses on the applications somehow did not match their residence registry (住民票). This could be anything from a kanji mistake to the head of the household neglecting to update his address with the local authorities.

Since Japanese nationals only had to fill out one form per household (foreigners had to fill them out individually since they’re not listed on residence registries for now), each mistaken application might be for multiple people. If we assume the “average household size” of 2.56 people, and roughly assume that all of them were only eligible for the basic 12,000 yen, that means we could be talking about 14.5 billion yen up for grabs.

I wonder what happens if the households “lose their right to receive the cash”? The towns better not get to keep it. It’s about 115 yen apiece for the other 125 million people in Japan, or more than enough to build another of the controversial proposed national anime museum.

Krauthammer on Japan nukes

<object width=”480″ height=”385″><param name=”movie” value=”http://www.youtube.com/v/hjBVAmjqp3s&hl=en&fs=1″></param><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true”></param><param name=”allowscriptaccess” value=”always”></param><embed src=”http://www.youtube.com/v/hjBVAmjqp3s&hl=en&fs=1″ type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true” width=”480″ height=”385″></embed></object>

When I checked the news sites this morning I noticed that Andrew Sullivan had linked to this clip of Krauthammer calling for Japan to “declare itself a nuclear state” in response to North Korea’s becoming a “nuclear power,” with the comment “yeah, China will go for that.” For me, the bigger question is whether Japan would go for that. Although the possibility of a nuclear-armed Japan is less taboo than it used to be thanks to repeated broaching of the topic by a loose coalition of right-wing political figures, the public at large is still strongly opposed. For example, a public opinion survey conducted in November 2006 shows 14% in favor, 78% against. Those numbers will likely be shown to have changed slightly in the inevitable followup surveys to come within the next week or two, but I would not expect a radical shift.

Incidentally, take note of Krauthammer’s phrasing: “negotiations with the Japanese to encourage them to declare themselves a nuclear power.” He seems to be working under the widely held assumption that Japan already holds all of the technology necessary to build a nuclear bomb (almost certainly true), and had secretly laid all of the necessary groundwork short of the final stops (possibly, but less certain) in such a way that they could have weapons ready within weeks should they suddenly become permissible.

But even if the technology is ready, I just don’t see it happening. Constitutional revision allowing a more conventional military is slowly becoming more and more possible, but decades of anti-nuclear education will not be overturned as easily, whatever the fantasies of American neo-cons.

In defense of unicorns

I have noticed a recent habit of political pundits to mock perceived idealism and naivete with phrases like “rainbows and unicorns.” 

For instance, a commenter on the latest episode of The Young Turks, in explaining that Arlen Spector has never been principled (he was the guy who voted for a bill that he himself argued would set human rights back 700 years), noted that “he was not voted in on rainbows and unicorns.”

In a sign of just how much of a standard cliche this has become, in the Washington Post former CIA Director Porter Goss makes the topsy-turvy argument that making the torture memos public has jeopardized national security: “The suggestion that we are safer now because information about interrogation techniques is in the public domain conjures up images of unicorns and fairy dust.” (Has anyone actually argued that the move makes us safer? I thought the whole point was it is not worth it to torture people even if it does make us “safer” and that the people who pushed for and praised releasing these memos see it as a step in disclosing mistaken and illegal policies that were done in our name)


But you know what? Unicorns are nothing to mess with! It only takes a cursory reading of the animal’s Wikipedia page to prove why:

1. Unicorns are as strong as the Lord: The bible (or rather its translators) considered unicorns “untamable creatures” and noted that God himself was only as strong as a unicorn:

“God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of the unicorn.”–Numbers 23:22

2. The ancient Greeks and Romans considered unicorns to be both real and fierce: The Greeks, for all their polytheism and fantastic mythology, believed that unicorns really existed somewhere in India:

Pliny the Elder mentions the oryx and an Indian ox (perhaps a rhinoceros) as one-horned beasts, as well as “a very fierce animal called the monoceros which has the head of the stag, the feet of the elephant, and the tail of the boar, while the rest of the body is like that of the horse; it makes a deep lowing noise, and has a single black horn, which projects from the middle of its forehead, two cubits in length.”

3. Unicorns are so insane that they must be placated with virgins to stop their bloodlust (see above painting): In the middle ages, unicorns were used to mix pagan stories with Christian virtues, such that “The original myths refer to a beast with one horn that can only be tamed by a virgin maiden; subsequently, some Catholic scholars translated this into an allegory for Christ’s relationship with the Virgin Mary.”

Moving into Renaissance times, Leonardo Da Vinci had this to say about how to hunt a unicorn:

“The unicorn, through its intemperance and not knowing how to control itself, for the love it bears to fair maidens forgets its ferocity and wildness; and laying aside all fear it will go up to a seated damsel and go to sleep in her lap, and thus the hunters take it.”

Bottom Line 

This “unicorns are fuzzy cute happy creatures” concept apparently originates in more modern imagery, particularly the My Little Pony animated series and toys and some other “fairy princess” pop culture. A product of the 1980s, My Little Pony offered saccharine-sweet entertainment for young girls that could not have anticipated the ballooning of ironic humor in the 90s and 2000s. Hence, when Homer Simpson uttered this classic, oft-repeated line:

Ohhh look at me Marge, I’m making people happy! I’m the magical man, from Happy Land, who lives in a gumdrop house on Lolly Pop Lane!!!!…… By the way I was being sarcastic…

it was only a matter of time before someone added a unicorn in there. But as we start to retreat from irony a bit as a society (see the return of earnest saccharine with Disney hits like High School Musical and Camp Rock, along with South Park’s reaction), it might be a good time to stop equating unicorns with frivolous and naive idealism and recognize their historically badass mythological status. I mean, honestly – how happy and nice could an enchanted animal with a deadly sharp horn actually be?

Takeshima towel

Takeshima towel

Seeing Adam’s reference to the highly disputed pieces of worthless, barren rock known as Takeshima/Dokdo in his post just now reminded me of this, which I had been meaning to post. A Korean classmate of mine at Kyoto University picked up this wet hand tissue from what she described as a very normal restaurant in Korea. It reads:

Republic Of Korea        wet tissue

Dokdo      is our land.

To translate into Japanese, which as usual maps closely to the original Korean better than English:

大~韓民国   御絞り

獨島 は我が土

Dokdo is of course the Korean name for Takeshima, which in European languages used to be called the Liancourt Islets, and is now called whichever of the two stupid names will make your conversation partner happy.

Aso adopts a courageous pro-guide dog stance

When you’re the prime minister of Japan,  those in your own party think you’re a joke AND your finance minister resigns in disgrace after makign a drunken ass of himself on the world stage, what should you do to reassure the citizenry that you’re doing a good job?

Simple – change the subject to cute puppies. Here’s a clip from his latest e-mail magazine:

The Prime Minister’s Office usually has only human visitors,
but last week I received a visit from service dogs accompanied by
their users, including this woman.

Service dogs are a type of assistance dog, just like guide dogs for
visually disabled people and hearing dogs for people with hearing
disabilities. The role of service dogs is to help their physically
challenged users with tasks such as opening doors or getting

I heard that Sherry is able to open the refrigerator downstairs,
take out a plastic drink bottle, close the refrigerator door,
and then bring the bottle upstairs. Also, I saw for myself
how a service dog called Elmo was able to pick up a business card
holder dropped on the floor when his wheelchair-bound user gave
the command, “Take!”

I myself have lived with dogs for as long as I can remember. Shiro
and Lucky were the names of my two mongrel dogs — one had been
picked up by the local healthcare center and the other was about to
be used for animal experiments.

When I was a child, it was my daily job to feed them and take them
out for walks. When Shiro died, I could not stop crying as
I recalled how he was when he was healthy, and the way he would
always come rushing out happily to greet me each time I returned
home. This was the time when the importance and preciousness of
life were instilled in my young mind.

Given my own experience, I believe that coming into contact with
animals is highly beneficial in many ways for the development of

Assistance dogs are partners for physically challenged people,
acting as extensions of their bodies. The government will step up
its efforts to make assistance dogs more common, through measures
such as putting its weight behind assistance dog training.

At the same time, I would like as many people as possible,
including readers of this e-mail magazine, to know about assistance
dogs. That is my sincere wish.

So, is this some kind of subtle cry for help? Does he want a guide dog of his own? Whatever the case, the image is kind of a step removed from the determination to fix the economy as shown in this attention-grabber:


Pinyin in Taiwan

The Taipei Times printed an interview the other day with Yu Bor-chuan of the Taiwan Pinyin League, and head of the team that designed Tongyong Pinyin. He is of course a heavy promoter of Tongyong Pinyin, saying that it is better suited to Taiwan than the internationally accepted but PRC originated Hanyu Pinyin. He has some interesting background on the history of various kinds of phonetic writing in Taiwan, and of course makes his argument for avoiding Hanyu Pinyin.

That the MOE did not cite the source of the Hanyu Pinyin charts constituted an act of plagiarism as the phonetic system was approved by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China [PRC] and ratified by its National People’s Congress in 1958.

This is just a weird statement. He seems to be arguing that any discussion of Hanyu Pinyin MUST be centered on politics and not linguistics, which to me is an utterly absurd position.

As for the false information I mentioned, the MOE said Taiwan’s street and place names are spelled using Hanyu Pinyin on maps and atlases published by most countries and international organizations. This is not true, since the international community generally goes by the guideline of naming a person or a place after its original name.

There are hardly any countries or international organizations that use Hanyu Pinyin to spell places in Taiwan except maps published by China.

This, however, is correct. Of course, with romanization in Taiwan being so unstable, foreigners often have no idea which system they should be using.

TT: The main reason given by the government to adopt Hanyu Pinyin was to bring Taiwan in line with international standards.

Yu: If that was the real reason behind the policy shift, the government should have replaced the traditional characters used exclusively in Taiwan with simplified characters, because more than 95 percent of the [Chinese-speaking] population worldwide uses simplified characters.

He’s really mixing apples and oranges here. While it is kind of true that making all language policy decisions on the basis of international standards would lead to the adoption of simplified Chinese, Yu is being very disingenuous about the logic as it applies here. While traditional written Chinese is used in Taiwan as the national and official language and the medium of instruction for all Taiwanese, Pinyin in any form is used ONLY for the benefit of foreigners. Most Taiwanese simply do not learn Pinyin, whether Tongyong, Hanyu, or Wade-Giles. The argument that a supplemental writing system which is used only to accomodate foreigners should follow international standards should in no way mean that the primary writing system, used for the primary Taiwanese national language by its citizens, should also be changed.

Adopting Tongyong Pinyin will not pose difficulties for foreigners.

For foreigners who do not understand Mandarin, whether a road sign is spelled in Hanyu Pinyin or Tongyong Pinyin makes no difference, not to mention that Tongyong is more friendly to English speakers than Hanyu in terms of pronunciation.

The primary differences between the two systems are that Tongyong uses “s,” “c” and “jh,” which corresponds more to English spelling, instead of “x,” “q” and “zh” as used in Hanyu Pinyin, which English speakers without Mandarin skills do not usually know how to pronounce. There wouldn’t be a problem as long as street signs an maps were spelled consistently everywhere.

This is largely true. Consistency is the most important thing such a writing system, but why is consistency between the spelling of identical place names or syllables in Taiwan and the rest of the Chinese-speaking world a bad thing?

The Hanyu Pinyin system is not entirely suitable for Taiwan given the fact that not every Chinese character is pronounced in Taiwan as it is in China.

Maybe something is lost in translation here, but this sentence simply makes no sense. While some characters do have a different common pronunciation in Beijing-accented Mandarin or Taiwan-accented Mandarin, Taiwanese Mandarin uses exactly 0 sounds that do not exist in Hanyu Pinyin. I have a Chinese dictionary from Taiwan in which it notes-in Hanyu Pinyin-both pronounciatins where they differ.

Immediately after Hanyu Pinyin was adopted by the government in September, the MOE promulgated guidelines for using Hanyu Pinyin to Romanize Hakka, replacing the application of Tongyong Pinyin for teaching Hakka.

As Tongyong has been used for the Romanization of Hakka, even some KMT lawmakers were against the new guidelines. They said that it would make learning Hakka more difficult because Hanyu Pinyin did not accommodate sounds in the language.

This is getting into a more complicated area, but it is easily avoided. Hanyu Pinyin is a romanization system for Mandarin. Hakka, while a related language, is not Mandarin, and should have its own romanization system designed for it with no consideration for the romanization system used for other languages. While I am generally supportive of the move to use Hanyu Pinyin for Mandarin despite it being partly based on a political agenda, extending Hanyu Pinyin to other Chinese languages (or dialects, as they are known by Chinese nationalists) is a purely political choice that makes no sense from a linguistic, educational, or practical perspective.

The most serious problem is how our names are to be Romanized.

Although the Hanyu Pinyin guidelines allow individuals to decide the spelling of their name, it suggested using the format of surname first, followed by given name without a hyphen between the syllables … If my name were that way, my initials would be [Y.] B. instead of [Y.] B.C. in Tongyong Pinyin … How can the government ignore the fact that Taiwanese people have used a hyphen in their given name … for about 20 to 30 years?

No one has the right to arbitrarily decide what other people’s names should be. By the same token, Taiwan has every right to decide its proper names.

We should not give up autonomy over this as it is a representation of our sovereignty.

No real arguments here. People should be free to write personal names as they wish, but that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be a recommended orthography. One thing that isn’t addressed even here is while for most Taiwanese (aside from ethnic aborigines) primarily write their name in the same Chinese characters, their primary language may be Mandarin, Taiwanese (Hoklo), or Hakka. Shouldn’t they be able to choose to romanize their name for international use in the system of their primary spoken tongue, and not based only on Mandarin?

Japan, where two different Romanization systems have been used since 1954, could serve as an example.

In 1954, Japan’s Cabinet announced a program including the Hepburn and the nippon-shiki [“Japan-style”] systems, under which the Hepburn Romanization system devised by an American is employed in overseas Japanese-language teaching materials, while the nippon-shiki system is used to transliterate local names and for domestic education.

Japan’s experience proves that the adoption of two Romanization systems does not hurt a country’s competitiveness. In addition, [there is] compatibility between the Tongyong and Hanyu Pinyin systems.

This is sort of true, but the nippon-shiki (actually the modernized version is Kunrei-shiki) serves almost no function. It is largely the same as the far more common Hepburn standard, much in the same way that Tongyong and Hanyu are largely the same, but has several minor differences which serve only to confuse. Even in Japan pretty much nobody actually uses anything but Hepburn romanization, and when he says “Japan’s experience proves that the adoption of two Romanization systems does not hurt a country’s competitiveness.” he should really be saying “Japan’s experience proves that the adoption of two Romanization systems is inconvenient, and everybody not legally required to use the less popular system will gravitate over time to the more popular one.”

Graham and Kim

Our friend Curzon over at the Cominganarchy blog posted last week an excellent piece on the history of the involvement between the familes of the Reverend Billy Graham and the Kim dynasty of North Korea. The connections are, as usual, longer and more interesting than one would expect from just reading the news. I highly recommend reading it.

Still more on Tamogami

Following up on my initial report on November 4 and an update on November 21, here is yet more information on the Tamogami Toshio affair.

Most important is today’s Asahi front-page article, which is the best media confirmation so far of my initial hypothesis on the entire Tamogami/APA link, which readers may remember was as follows:

Combining his attraction to both power and military, [APA CEO Motoya Toshio] invited ASDF General Tamogami Toshio into his circle, bringing him to the Wine no Kai and to address the launch party for his latest right-wing tract. Motoya then had APA sponsor an essay contest promoting his book-possibly an illicit use of corporate funds-with the grand prize awarded to Tamogami , in a decision I suspect was actually arranged by Motoya personally, with the “selection committee” only choosing the lesser prizes.

Adam spotted the Asahi article and forwarded it to me, and provided a summary in the comments of my previous Tamogami post.

Apparently, several of the contest judges were really miffed at how Motoya ran things… Of over 400 entries, the company only sent the four-member panel 25 for the first round of anonymous scoring. Motoya himself was apparently on the panel (though APA did not list him as a judge), and he gave the top score to Tamogami’s (anonymous) essay while giving low scores to all the others. In the second round of judging, the names and profiles of the contestants were revealed and the judges met to discuss the winner. Three essays, including Tamogami’s, had the same number of points. Motoya apparently proposed that they just give the prize to Tamogami and award a kind of tied-for-second prize to the others. None objected.

Apart from Motoya, the judges named in the report:

Shuichi Yamamoto, a former Diet member’s secretary and current legal scrivener and guest lecturer in Okayama Prefecture.
Nobuaki Hanaoka, conservative commentator
Kazuo Komatsuzaki, President of (Yomiuri affiliated) Hochi Shimbun

Apparently the fourth judge was Motoya, but I can’t tell for sure by the way the report is written.

The article also includes direct quotes from two of the judges. Yamamoto said that he “felt there was something unnatural about how Motoya gave low scores to pretty much all of the essays that the other judges gave high scores to.” Yamamoto went on to accuse Motoya directly, saying that “one has to believe that the top essay was chosen to award the prize money to Tamogami.” Komatsu gave similar statement, saying that “Thinking about it now, Motoya must have known all along that it was Tamogami’s essay, and deliberately put it on top.” Oddly, the article makes no mention of conservative commentator and Sophia University English Professor Watanabe Shoichi, who is described on the APA web site as head of the judging committee.

The article certainly does make it sound as if Motoya was one of the judges, although I do not believe any previous source has acknowledged his direct involvement. Naturally there was no comment from APA for this article. Considering that even the Inspector General’s Office of Legal Compliance of the JSDF is investigating the possibility that Tamogami encouraged his subordinate officers to enter the contest, and the fact that Tamogami and Motoya had a relationship stretching back a decade when Tamogami was commander of the very same Komatsu air force base that Motoya runs a civilian support committee for, it seems very likely that the entire essay contest was in fact staged.

There is even speculation that the conspiracy goes even deeper than I suggested in my initial post. According to the Japan Times on November 20, in an article which also presents many of the connections I had pointed out previously:

Hirofumi Hayashi, a professor at Kanto Gakuin University and an expert on modern Japanese history, pointed out that Tamogami may have landed the top post because of his close ties with Toshio Motoya, head of hotel and condo developer Apa Group, who had connections with then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a staunch nationalist.

Is it really possible that the Motoya connection could be that strong? Could Abe have actually been persuaded to promote a known militarist to the head of the JASDF based on the recommendation of an ultra-rightwing activist?

Another professor, Kotetsu Atsuhi (whose published books include one on relations between the civil government and military in modern Japan), was quoted by the Japan Times as saying “Mr. Tamogami went out of control and his act was close to a coup.” In a Mainichi debate column he gives a more detailed statement, which reads in part:

In the final paragraph of the essay it is written that the SDF needs to return to a position of independence, away from the eternal dependence on America. This adds up to the “Asian Monroe Doctrine” that Japan had before the War. For Japan to have singular hegemony in Asia, they thought that they had to secure their own sources of raw materials and military equipment, without depending on America or Britain, and the fact that this spread to the financial and political spheres as well is one of the factors that opened the road to war. I am horrified  to think that there may be a desire for this in today’s uniformed officers.

The article also contains an opposing quote from right-wing historian Hata Ikuhiko, in which he says:

Compared with the pre-war system, things are effectively controlled in Japan now. Today, you do not hear the uneasy discussion of a coup de’etat that you did 20 or 30 years ago. If the defense minister and prime minister, who is the Commander in Chief, do their jobs properly then the SDF should not be able to run wild and take hold of political power.

The two problems with this statement are that A: following the Tamogami affair there actually ARE people (Koketsu for a start) mentioning the danger of a coup, and B: Prime Minister Abo Shinzo was the one who appointed Tamogami to his job in the first place. On the other hand, Tamogami’s prompt dismissal following the uproar over the APA essay demonstrates the current effectiveness of civilian control. And although current PM Aso Taro did promptly dismiss Tamogami, he is well known for having a similar view of history.

(Incidentally, Hata’s essay calling for the restraction of the Kono Statement acknowledging Japanese responsibility for comfort women is among those offered as a free download by the so-called “Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact”, which publicizes the Japanese right-wing historical revisionist agenda in English, and includes such people as Watanabe Shoichi and Japafilic Taiwanese Ko Bunyu on its board.)

Whan now-PM Aso was CEO of his family firm, Aso Cement Company in 1975 (he was CEO from 73-79, see here), they published an official corporate history which closely matches the views of Tamogami and Motoya. As described in a FEER article by Mindy Kotler (head of DC’s Asia Policy Point, known for her testimony on behalf of the US House resolution calling on Japan to apologize for comfort women, and William Underwood, a specialist in the history of Japanese WW2 era forced labor):

The “Aso Fights” section of the book states that top U.S. leaders had detailed knowledge of Japanese military plans prior to Dec. 7, 1941. Japan was purposely allowed to strike the first blow, in this telling, so that “Remember Pearl Harbor” could become a rallying cry for Americans. Like Gen. Tamogami, the Aso historians conclude that “this cleverly united American opinion for war against Japan.”

Aso Mining then became a “kamikaze special attack production unit,” according to the book. “People like Korean laborers and Chinese prisoners of war filled the void” in Kyushu’s coalfields as Japanese miners left for military service.

Despite having fired Tamogami, he and Aso are still ultimately on the same side in the history wars, along with former Prime Ministers Mori and Abe, at the very least. (Tamogami has been quoted as saying that “former PM Abe and former PM Mori also support my philosophy.)

While Prof. Koketsu’s coup reference may be a bit exaggerated, there have been a number of comparisons made with the February 26 incident of 1936, a failed coup in which “a group of young radical Army officers led some 1,400 troops under their command on a attack on the Prime Minister’s residence and other buildings in Tokyo, killing Home Minister SAITO Makoto, Finance Minister TAKAHASHI Korekiyo, and Army Inspector General of Military Training WATANABE Jotaro.” As has often been the case in Japanese military coups (such as the Meiji restoration), the young officers claimed to be fighting in the name of the Emperor, but when it was clear they lacked his support the rest of the military put down the revolt. This 2.26 Incident was famously orchestrated by “young officers” of the Imperial Way Faction, which was an unofficial grouping of hardcore rightist officers within the military, who called for a “Showa Restoration“-evoking the Meiji Restoration – in which the military would purge government and society of degenerate left-wing elements and re-institute traditional values based around militaristic Bushido.

The Imperial Way Faction was largely based around the philosophy of Araki Sadao, a rightist officer who ascended to the position of War Minister in 1931, after having served as Inspector General of Military Training, and began publically promoting the  “Imperial Way” in a September 1932 news conference. Although he was forced to retire from the military following the failed 1936 coup, he was apparently not accused of any direct involvment and was allowed to become Minister of Education the following year, a job which allowed him to promote his militaristic agenda in the civil sphere.

Although the names “Tamogami” and “Araki” have as yet only appeared appeared together in a handful of obscure Japanese blogs, I do sense some concern that Tamogami could be (or at least could have been) an Araki-like figure. I strongly doubt anyone is particularly worried that Tamogami himself was plotting a coup, but rather a lot of people are worried about the influence he may have had on subordinates, as represented by the dozens of JASDF members under his command who submitted essays to the contest. Then, does this mean that people should be worried that the 94 who served under Tamogami and submitted essays will be a “young officer” vanguard of the Heisei Restoration armed uprising circa 2012?

This is another pretty farfetched scenario. Japan today is a very different country from the one it was in the 1930s, with a decades-long popular antiwar attitude that few could have predicted in the 1930s. Shifting back towards that level of militarism would likely require both a generation of re-education and a massive shift in the international balance. But the militaristic right wing is thinking long-term. They have been pushing their version of history increasingly hard recently, but despite much of the media coverage has actually not been very successful in altering public school education. And yet, the general attitude towards the revision of the Japanese constitution’s famous war-renouncing “Article 9” seems to have gone from being an absolute impossibilty to being undesirable but perhaps only a matter of time.

Some time in the next several months Japan will hold a general election, in which it is very possibly that the opposition Democratic Party of Japan will take power for the first time. This would be a stunning defeat for Tamogami’s supporters, however many of them really exist. Despite political apathy, most of Japan still firmly believes in national pacifism, and if the LDP falls from power it will likely be in part due to Tamogami.