asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Kawamura again 23 February, 2012

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

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Fed up 31 October, 2012

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 2:55 pm
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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
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“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…

 

Our Mayor: Part Three 4 March, 2011

Filed under: news,politics — johnraff @ 2:34 pm
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The story goes on… Kawamura won his election, by a landslide. He got re-elected as mayor of Nagoya, got his candidate elected as governor of Aichi Prefecture (where Nagoya is) and got his proposition to recall the city council passed – all with big majorities!

Now, I’m sort of in two minds about this. Of course I’m delighted those over-paid councillors will get thrown out, kicking and screaming till the end no doubt, though some of them seem to be coming round to the idea of having their salaries halved to 8 million yen a year ($100,000), now that it’s that or no job at all. That’s still a pretty good income I’d say – certainly more than I’ve got any chance of ever seeing…

On the other hand, Kawamura’s main platform seems to be “less tax” and he’s planning to cut Nagoya city tax by 10%. That appeals to most people for sure – who wants to pay more tax? Well… when they ask Scandinavians, for example, how they feel about their incredibly high tax rates, most of them seem to think it’s OK, because they get back pretty good government services in return. There’s the rub – what city services is K. going to cut to pay for this 10%? At the end of the day it’s a redistribution of income back to the rich, who have more tax to cut, from the poor who would benefit from the city services to be axed.

So is he a democrat, fighting city hall for the common folk, or a disguised conservative demagogue? It gets murkier too: at the national level the ruling DPJ is in trouble. Their popularity is collapsing, partly because of, again, taxes. There’s no escaping (in my opinion) that the rising proportion of elderly people in the population, along with the huge national debt, mean an increase in tax is coming, like it or not, along with a fall in standard of living in all the “developed” countries. My personal complaint is that the government want to raise this money by increasing consumption tax, which hits the poor hardest, rather than income tax. This comes just after reducing corporation tax by 5%, along with backing out of all kinds of promises made in their pre-election manifesto: child allowance, free motorways… People are getting fed up, and “wrecker” Ozawa, who’s caught up in another money-politics scandal, sees an opportunity to divert attention from his wrongdoing and set himself up as a kind of champion of the poor.

A lot of the DPJ diet members owe their seats to Ozawa, and when the current Kan cabinet excommunicated him last month for his sins there were rumblings and stirrings in the ranks. It now looks as if a split in the party is not out of the question. This is where Kawamura steps in. He’s an old Ozawa associate, and he’s been seen in meetings with the old fox lately, about who knows what, but Kawamura’s “Less Tax Party” which is about to fight in the Nagoya city council elections might get into some sort of coalition with a breakaway Ozawa wing of the DPJ, destroying the government so many people hoped would put an end to the old style money politics of the LDP.

One up for The Wrecker, and of course the equally unpopular LDP must be delighted.

 

Our Mayor – continued 17 December, 2010

Filed under: city,news,politics — johnraff @ 2:32 pm
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Takashi Kawamura - mayor of Nagoya

Maybe you remember this guy? The mayor of Nagoya I wrote about last March. His attempt to force the city councillors to cut their numbers and pay by half has been simmering on since then, but recently it got more exciting. The collection of signatures for a petition went ahead in November and, after a slow start, they eventually got some 400 + thousand within the couple of weeks allowed. It was tight, but they made a big push in the last week and ended up with more than the 360,000 (1/5 of the electorate) needed to call a popular vote on dissolving the council. BUT – the Nagoya electoral commission ruled about 110,000 signatures invalid, taking the total below what was needed. Oddly enough, most of the members of that commission are ex-councillors…

It didn’t end there though. There was a chorus of complaints, and people who checked their names on the petition found they had been invalidated for some pretty poor reasons: a single mistake in the address or phone number, smudge on the paper, illegible signature… Kawamura’s supporters put in complaints on sme 35,000 of them, maybe the ones they thought had the strongest case of getting through, and after more checks – all of this costing a fortune in taxpayers’ money – eventually got another 12,000 valid signatures, enough to get over the quota!

So now there will be a popular vote here in Nagoya on whether to dissolve the council, and hold another election. It looks as if the vote will succeed, and there’s a good chance that the new council will have enought sympathetic members to pass Kawamura’s motions to cut their pay by half. They’ll still get 8 million yen (~$95,000) which is enough to get by, I’d have thought…

 

Our Mayor 20 March, 2010

Filed under: city,news,politics — johnraff @ 2:27 pm
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Takashi Kawamura‘s a bit of a character. He first crossed the radar when he was running as Diet member for a constituency round here – his trademarks were riding around on a bicycle and speaking with a broad Nagoya accent, the kind nobody except him actually uses these days. He got elected and bicycle canvassing caught on, but nobody else tries that Nagoya accent… It’s OK for a bit, but he does lay it on a bit thick. It’s all about the Common Touch no doubt, and he’s doing something right because now he’s the Mayor of Nagoya.

There are other reasons for that, though, a big one being his promise to cut Nagoya city tax by 10%. Of course 20% would have been even better, but you can see the appeal of that idea – for those on low incomes (like us) city tax can be quite heavy as it doesn’t have as many allowances as national income tax. Of course for those whose incomes are too low to be taxed at all the 10% reduction has no meaning. For them, more important might be the social services that would have to be cut to pay for that tax reduction.

Kawamura has laid on a distraction though – his plan to halve the number of city councillors from 75 to 38 or so, and halve their salaries too, as well as stopping their expense allowances! Here he has rather more support among the general Nagoya population than in the city council, where the overpaid leeches are fighting him tooth and nail, understandably. Even at half, they’d still get much more than I do so I’m with Kawamura on this one, and it has to be admitted he’s already halved his own salary. He’s going to try to dissolve the council if they don’t pass his motion, and I’m sure they won’t, but needs to collect a huge number of signatures in order to do a “recall”. He’ll probably succeed, but it will take some time, during which the councillors can continue drawing their inflated salaries and collecting their expenses…

So is he a genuine man of the people or a right-wing demagogue in disguise? We’ll see eventually…

 

(a little) change is coming to Japan (maybe) 28 August, 2009

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 2:27 pm
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Well, we’re just a couple of days away from the election that the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party, or jiminto) have been putting off and putting off in the desperate hope that their miserable opinion poll ratings might pick up. Aso, the current prime minister, was supposed to have been picked last October to lead the LDP into a quick election, as he was somewhat more popular than anyone else in the party at the time. He dithered a bit, came out with one inept remark after another, and his approval just went down and down. Like an animal caught in a car’s headlights the LDP just froze and now their rule finally seems to be coming to an end. They were slaughtered in the Tokyo local election last month and now seem to be in for more of the same on a national level. All the opinion polls are predicting a landslide victory for the opposition DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan, or minshuto). Of course, opinion polls have got things pretty seriously wrong in the past…

This is nothing like the Obama campaign in January, though. No tidal waves of enthusiasm – it’s more that people are just fed up. Of course they have many good reasons to be fed up:

  • one LDP politician’s funding scandal after another
  • the succession of unpopular prime ministers imposed on the country without the courtesy of an election since Koizumi’s resignation
  • the amakudari (“descent from heaven”) system where bureaucrats can retire from public service and be seconded to some token position in a company that just happens to be involved in public works… The potential for corruption, along with gross waste of tax money, is obvious.
  • millions of pension records that were lost when being transferred from paper to computer some years ago – more bureaucratic bungling
  • Even before the Liemann shock, the economy has been slipping down and down and income gaps between the haves and havenots getting wider and wider, largely blamed on ex-PM Koizumi’s reforms. (Raffles’ customers have not been exempt from seeing their incomes fall… 😦 )
  • record unemployment, especially for young people, a lot of whom are stuck in temporary work with outsourcing companies
  • The LDP seem to have just run out of ideas.

I’m not really that impressed with the minshuto to be honest; they seem to be a bit better than the LDP, have younger members, slightly more enlightened policies and fewer unhealthy links with construction companies… But even so, daft ideas like reducing petrol tax and making motorways free won’t exactly help Japan live up to the commitments to reducing CO2 emissions that must be coming up soon. Still, just changing governments per se must be a healthy development in a democracy, and help to loosen the bureaucrats’ grip on power. Bureaucrat-bashing has become a major theme of late; I rather pity anyone in public service right now, but some head-cutting at the top would probably be a great idea. (They will resist fiercely no doubt.)

Some oddities:

  • Bicycles are in: this was started by our own dear Nagoya mayor Takashi Kawamura who regularly used one on the campaign trail.
  • This mysterious “happiness party” has suddenly appeared, running candidates in nearly every constituency. It seems to be some religious thing and is being carefully ignored by the media in opinion polls etc.
  • The “revolution club” whose representative on TV the other day complained that for the state to aid old people was socialism, and causing the breakdown of family values!

Whatever, we’ll see on Sunday how big the minshuto’s majority is, and after that if anything has really changed…

 

 
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