asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Abe, again. 19 December, 2012

Filed under: news,politics — johnraff @ 3:10 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

This is just too depressing. Even the LDP didn’t expect this landslide win. They’ve now got a 2/3 majority in the Lower House, if combined with their Komeito allies, enough to force through bills blocked by the Upper house. Enough also, if they can get a similar majority in the Upper house next year, to change the Japanese Constitution…

You can read analyses of the results all over the web, so I won’t (today) go into the possibly unpleasant results of having a right-winger in power and the even more right-wing Renewal Party of Ishihara and Hashimoto standing by to lend a hand, but what possessed the voters to choose this lot? No-one seems to have any expectation that the tired old LDP, still less the recycled Abe, will be able to fix Japan’s problems. There are many such problems, some of them shared with the rest of the world and some uniquely Japanese. Some possibly amenable to a solution, and some basically insoluble. There’s no escaping death and taxes, right?

Part of the reason for this extreme result is the mess of new little parties that sprang up, and the lack of time for them to establish some kind of identity. Many voters just chose a candidate at random. The other big one is that people are just as Fed Up now as they were at the last election, and it’s the turn of the ruling DPJ to get the blame. The economy just gets worse and worse, and the 24% of people who voted for the LDP just hoped they might be able to do something about it.

It remains to be seen if the LDP can actually bring back the Good Old Days. I’m not an economist, and opinions vary as to whether browbeating the Bank of Japan into triggering inflation will improve things or not. What the LDP are more likely to deliver on is some distraction like changing the Self Defence Force into a Self Defence Army, changing the constitution to allow Japanese soldiers to fight on behalf of an ally (the US likes this idea), “doing something” about education (nationalistic indoctrination?), and, last but not least, continuing the use of Nuclear energy. The LDP are the only party not to have promised to phase out nuclear power. The great majority of Japanese don’t want nuclear reactors around (or any of the other things on that list), but the business community want cheap (for now) electricity and of course the power companies who have invested huge sums in nuclear energy want to be able to go on using it.

Even the much-maligned American electorate aren’t so stupid as to elect the party that promises to do the opposite of what they want. Are the LDP as loopy as the current US Republican party? Maybe not quite, but the difference is that they are in power, or will be very soon.

Advertisements
 

Fed up 31 October, 2012

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 2:55 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

If you remember the euphoria that surrounded the election of Obama four years ago, that’s a bit how it was here in Japan when the Democratic Party of Japan took power from the Liberal Democratic Party, who had had pretty much a monopoly since the war. The names might sound almost identical, but in fact the DPJ were supposed to stand for a complete break from the stale policies and embedded corruption of the LDP – a “Change Has Come To Japan” feeling. Hah. Now the current prime minister, Noda, has public support figures under 20%, as do the DPJ.

People are thoroughly fed up, with plenty of reason to be. The DPJ have kept hardly any of the promises they made before the last election:

  • Okinawa. Okinawans have got even more to be fed up about than the rest of the country, and a good bit of it relates to the American army bases that occupy 18% of the main island. Hatoyama, the current DPJ leader promised he would move the highly dangerous Futenma air base out of the centre of Ginowan City, off the island and out of Okinawa prefecture. Eventually, betrayed by civil servants in the Foreign Office, he was forced to accept the plan to move the base a bit north to Henoko, on the same island, just as the LDP had already arranged. Okinawans were furious, and still are, and local opposition in Henoko has meant the base is still in the middle of the city – the worst outcome.
  • Free motorways. This was always silly, and after a couple of weekend trials seems to have been quietly dropped.
  • Child allowance. This struck me as a good way of redistributing a bit of wealth down to the younger generation, who would spend it and stimulate the economy, but since the LDP won a mid-term Upper House election they’ve successfully blocked it, along with most of the other useful-sounding legislation the DPJ were trying to pass. (Americans, does this sound familiar?)
  • Free high school. Another good idea that may not have been actually dropped, but one you don’t hear much about these days.
  • Pensions. Another big one. Everyone knows the government has a huge deficit and the consensus of opinion among young Japanese seems to be that by the time they’re old enough to claim it the pension system will have collapsed. As a result more and more people are failing to pay their (compulsory) contributions, making the situation worse. This is compounded by the big companies which have made a massive shift from employing full-time staff to using part-timers from agencies, who are much harder to keep within the national insurance system. The DPJ promised a fullscale review of the tax and social welfare systems to make a pension at 65 a realistic proposition. All Noda has done so far is force a bill through parliament to raise consumption tax by 5%, losing many members of his party in the process. This tax raise wasn’t even in the DPJ manifesto, and hasn’t exactly proved a crowd-pleaser.
  • Bureaucrats. Unelected civil servants have long had too much power here, and it was often said that politicians just rubber-stamped their decisions. The DPJ promised to rein in the bureaucrats and take power back for the people. The bureaucrats were outraged, fought the inexperienced DPJ politicians tooth and nail, and seem to have beaten them.

Well, the DPJ do have some excuses, the biggest of course being the Fukushima earthquake and tidal wave. This punched a big hole in the economy, and radicalized public opinion on nuclear energy in the process. The government soon promised policies that would “make nuclear-free energy supply possible by 2030” and at the same time authorized the building of a new reactor…

This list is long, but finally we must remember the total mess the DPJ government has made of foreign policy. Former PM Hatoyama must have royally pissed of the Americans when he announced in a public speech that Japan intended to move away from them and closer to the Chinese. The Okinawan base negotiations were, and still are, a complete mess. Noda completed the circle by buying the Senkaku islands after goading by the idiot Tokyo governor Ishihara (more about him in a moment), and provoked the worst crisis in Japan-China relations for years. Meanwhile things are little better with South Korea or Russia.

So, yes, people are fed up. However, the LDP, the main opposition party, have nothing to be pleased about. Their public support might be a few percent higher than the government’s, but nobody expects too much of them, and there’s no guarantee at all that they’d be able to form a government after the election that’s coming up soon. The DPJ want to delay the election as long as possible in the hope that their support might pick up a bit, while the LDP are being as obstructive as possible in the Diet to try and force an early election while they’re a bit ahead. The general public are not stupid and see all this quite clearly. There’s more – Ozawa (remember him?) broke off from the DPJ to form his own party, Osaka mayor Hashimoto has started one up too, our Nagoya mayor Kawamura is hanging about trying to get involved, and just the other day Tokyo mayor Ishihara announced his resignation to form his own party too!

There’s talk of a “third force” in Japanese politics but it’s hard to be too optimistic about any of this. Ishihara is a raving right-winger who, like some other older LDP dropouts, seems to have inherited the outlook of the military era of the 30s. He hates communism (ie hates the Chinese), hates the Americans who defeated his country in 1945 and hates the “socialists” who he thinks have taken over the teachers’ union and are destroying Japan ( he fired some teachers for failing to stand up for the national anthem ). He also wants to completely re-write Japan’s pacifist constitution. Ishihara can be an entertaining speaker though, and joins the DPJ in lashing out at the civil servants. (Of course he isn’t in the position of having to actually do anything about them.) It was Ishihara’s plan for Tokyo to buy the Senkaku islands earlier this year that pushed Noda into buying them for the government. Ishihara would have put up anti-Chinese posters and who knows what, and Noda thought preempting him would keep things smooth with the Chinese. (He was wrong.)

Hashimoto is younger and a little more sane than Ishihara but still pretty much right-wing/authoritarian, as are most of the other politicians milling around looking for some of the action, except Ozawa who’s just a populist. Nobody has any particular expectations of any of them. People have had it with politicians in general. This all reminds me of nothing so much as inter-war Germany just before Hitler was elected. Exaggeration? Maybe. We can take hope from Marx – (roughly) “History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce”.

Get ready for a good laugh.

 

 

The Wrecker again (yawn) 12 July, 2012

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 2:52 pm
Tags: , , ,

“Wrecker” Ozawa has come to Asazuke’s attention before, eg here and here , and he’s been up to his tricks again.

Now, nobody I know enjoys paying taxes, and there are arguments to be made against raising consumption tax – for example, it’s regressive, and hits the poor harder than the rich – but that the Japanese government needs to straighten out its finances seems beyond doubt. Noda the boring prime minister, for lack of any more inspiring ambition, seems to have decided he wants to go down in history as the one who finally succeeded in forcing this tax increase down the necks of an increasingly inert and despondent Japanese public. There was no mention of such a tax increase in the manifesto of the Democratic Party of Japan at the time of the landslide election when Japan decided it had finally had enough of the Liberal Democrat Party, but politicians don’t generally base their campaigns on the promise of Higher Taxes.

The DPJ have actually done a lot less than they promised in those heady days a couple of years ago, but even without the earthquake and tidal wave there’s no way of avoiding the fact that Good Times are not really just around the corner, here in Japan or anywhere in the world for that matter. The bills for the consumption spree the developed countries have been enjoying the last 100~200 years are lining up to come in and hit us one after another. (Pity those in Asia and Africa who never got to come to the party, but are still going to get their share of the tab anyway.) Now Ozawa – to return to today’s topic – hasn’t actually put up any nifty proposals for dealing with any of Japan’s problems, but he is definitely against an increase in consumption tax, he voted against the recent Diet bill and has left the DPJ, taking some 50 members with him, to start a new party.

Maybe I’m cynical, but it looks as if he just thinks that no-tax-raise line will get him some votes in the election that must be held by next year at the latest. His “Peoples’ Livelihood First” (or whatever) party’s other line to date is opposition to nuclear power. Now that’s one I totally agree with, but it needs to go along with an urgent huge shift to renewable energy sources, about which they are saying nothing to date. That would cost lots of money, implying more cuts in our standard of living. There’s no way out, but politicians the world over are still avoiding looking reality in the face. Ozawa looks like a populist, just like Nagoya mayor Kawamura.

There are other new forces floating around that O. would like to team up with, Osaka’s Hashimoto and Tokyo’s Ishihara. Both these are trying to present themselves as some kind of cleansing New Wave in Japanese politics, but both are somewhat rightist-populist and don’t seem too keen on getting together with the somewhat leftist-populist old-school money-politics Ozawa.

Meanwhile, the public, going by recent opinion polls, don’t give a ****. They dislike the DPJ, they also dislike the LDP, they have no expectations of Ozawa’s new party – this is the fourth time he’s split off to form a new party – and more than 50% don’t support any party at all. Everyone’s just Fed Up with the whole business. This attitude is understandable, but it doesn’t really lead to any productive action. Is anyone else reminded of prewar Weimar Germany by all this? If we get a new Japanese Hitler before long don’t say I didn’t warn you…

 

Kawamura again 23 February, 2012

Filed under: news,people,politics — johnraff @ 2:21 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Kawamura’s been shooting his mouth off again. As time goes on the total emptiness of this guy’s head becomes more and more obvious. At first his agenda of halving the numbers, and salaries of over-paid city councillors and passing the savings on to us taxpayers seemed to make sort of sense, but a flat tax cut of 5% always looked like a present to the rich, and we still haven’t seen much after 3 years. Now the “tax cut” theme’s running out of steam he’s been looking around for other bandwagons to jump on. Copying Osaka’s Hashimoto, he’s been pushing for a more powerful Nagoya area Local Capital thing. Power To The Regions or something, joining Hashimoto and Tokyo’s Ishihara in an unholy trio of populism, fascism and racism. Now Hashimoto seems quite clever and Ishihara has at least written some books but Kawamura’s just an idiot.

His latest exploit was to deny the Nanking massacre took place, to a visiting Chinese delegation from that city, no less! That atrocities took place in Nanking in 1937 seems to be established beyond doubt – check the Wikipedia for many links to authoritative sources – but Kawamura’s father was there in 1945 and the local people were nice to him, so there couldn’t have been a massacre. Right?

Japan has its share of Nanking deniers, like the Holocaust deniers, but history is history. My own country, Great Britain, was responsible for numerous abuses during the years when our armies walked over the world, but the Japanese can’t use the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as an excuse not to face the truth, any more than the Israelis can justify their oppression of Palestinians by the Holocaust.

The Chinese of course are Not Amused.

 

A walk in the woods 16 June, 2010

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 3:00 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

A "Jizo" Buddha at the pass on many country roads.

Beautiful day in Golden Week, and we took the road above the house up the hill, past the “Jizo” at the pass, down a bit and took this little road off to the left. More a track really, with an almost obliterated sign pointing to a village we hadn’t heard of. About a 20-minute walk though cedar plantations later we arrived at this “village”: three buildings drowning in the forest. A few years ago people lived there, in these rather nice traditional wooden houses, growing rice in paddy fields nearby, now planted with cedars or spruce which have grown up all around.

...another couple of years...

These once-handsome buildings are slowly collapsing, disintegrating and returning to the hills they came from. Sad but inevitable I suppose. It’s not really on to expect to make any kind of living out in a place like this. Just after the war there was a building boom to replace the flattened cities and since wood was (and still is, really) the main construction material large areas of Japan’s wild forest was replaced with plantations of quick-growing cedar and spruce. The idea of many people was that 20 or 30 years down the road these trees could be sold off at a good price, so were regarded as an investment for their childrens’ future. Unfortunately cheap timber imports from countries like Canada have knocked the bottom out of that, so now the value of a tree is less than the cost of transporting it down the hill into the town…

A footpath, still usable, led up the side of the hill from those houses to, we calculated, the next village a kilometre or so away. Just above was a little shrine with a couple of Buddha statues, an empty sake bottle and some flowers which were still fresh, so someone must have visited in the last day or two. A bit further on, down a slope, and sure enough there was the village, basking in the Spring sunshine. An image of rustic tranquillity. Really, quite beautiful, but so quiet. There is only a handful of people living there now, all getting on in years. Children have moved out into the cities to get jobs in offices and factories, leaving their parents tending the ricefields and cows in this corner of paradise. As it happens, we know a couple of the people here. The couple who live at the top looked after our house – opening the windows to let the breeze though once in a while, bit of weeding etc – while we were in Thailand for a year. Further down the road we ran into Hashimoto san, who must be 70 or so by now; he keeps some cows and grows rice.

I wonder what it will be like in 10 or 15 years when most of these people have passed on? Will there be a u-turn from the city, a boom in eco-living… or will this idyllic village go the way of those houses in the woods?

——————————————————————

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

End of the road? 12 July, 2009

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 1:28 am
Tags: , ,

The “Jiminto” (LDP) ie the party that has ruled Japan pretty much since the war, barring a brief break with Hosokawa’s cabinet, may be looking with horror at the end of their monopoly on power. Under the pathetic Aso, whose grinning face was seen among the high and mighty at the G8 summit, their support in opinion polls just drags along at a low 20something%, and a general election must be called soon, as the current Diet’s mandate expires in September.

After losing the Shizuoka governor’s position to the opposition Minshuto (DPJ) last weekend, the LDP look set to lose their majority in the Tokyo council in the election tomorrow. The Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, a raving right-wing nationalist, richly deserves a slap in the face with a wet fish anyway, so although his seat is not at stake at this time he should find it harder to throw his weight around from next week on. 24 hours will tell, and I’ve got my fingers crossed…

The LDP are starting to look desperate, and if they get the drubbing tomorrow that they seem in for then the voices to drop Aso and replace him with someone slightly more electorally appetising will rise even higher than they already are. Overtures to the popular former comedian Higashi Kokubaru, governor of Miyazaki, to be an LDP candidate in the upcoming general election got the resposnse “OK if i can stand for prime minister”… which didn’t go down too well in certain LDP circles, and the more sensible, young and also popular Hashimoto of Osaka is wisely keeping them at more of an arm’s length.

Should be an interesting month or two, anyway.

 

 
%d bloggers like this: