asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Transcript of Interview With Ichiro Ozawa – WSJ.com 1 June, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — johnraff @ 2:55 pm
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OK I’ve had a pretty dim view of Ozawa, regarding him as a power-hungry old-school politician who only left the LDP to further his own career and doesn’t care if he destroys the current DPJ government. Well, let’s give him a chance – have a look at this recent interview:

Transcript of Interview With Ichiro Ozawa – WSJ.com.

Is there hope for Japan? We’ll see…

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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…

 

Farmlog 7th ~ 29th August 2011 28 September, 2011

Filed under: countryside,food & drink — johnraff @ 1:50 am
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7th~8th

  • A real Summer day for once: blue sky, summery clouds… and a blazing sun! It’s hot! The first supermarket car-park is scorching in the way only a supermarket car-park can be. The asphalt soaks up the sun so you get grilled from above and below simultaneously.
  • But by the time we get to the second supermarket – there are now two on our route – it’s already clouded over and extra humid. The cicadas are hitting a peak.
  • This week there are lots of nice fresh vegetables at the ¥100 stall so we stock up for Raffles and for ourselves: long shiny black eggplants and round green ones, various kinds of capsicums, perfect cucumbers and delicious tomatoes. Tomatoes show up less often these days so we’re lucky.
  • It’s cool when we leave the car at our house and there’s a chorus of welcome from the cicadas and uguisu. After a bit of work, though, the humidity gets you covered in moisture. Likewise the floor and tatami.
  • I had been a bit worried if the deer had got to the chillies, but they were OK. Not, however, the yams, which had had all their leaves eaten off by some animal. Saw a “mamushi” snake while fixing the hole in the netting the leaf-eater had probably come through.
  • On Monday there was more fierce hot sun and that humidity again, so it’s hot even in the shade. Half a dozen different insect voices fill in the background.
  • Bitten by leeches on wrist and toe. These creatures are affecting our quality of life here. Not in a positive way.
  • A baby rabbit appeared round the side of the house.
  • Min. temp. 19°C max. 32°C

13th~15th

  • We took an extra day off this week so we could take in the firework display at our local town on Saturday. This was our Summer Holiday but it was OK actually. Will post some pics of the fireworks soon. Anyway, we’re thinking of a trip somewhere at New Year maybe, when it’s easier to take time off.
  • A blazing hot Saturday, as it turned out. This is real summer heat – up to now was just a sort of extended Rainy Season – the humidity’s still too high though.
  • Traffic jams everywhere because this is the weekend just before “Obon“, but Nagoya is quiet. We catch some of the traffic on the road out, though.
  • The first supermarket car park is a furnace, unbelievable.
  • Unpack, a quick snack and it’s time to head down town for the fireworks, armed with fried chicken, “edamame”, beer and non-alcoholic “beer” for T who’s volunteered to drive.
  • Sunday is hot too; you can’t spend long in the sun, so do some general pottering about. Take the lid off the compost to try and dry it out a bit. If compost gets too wet, which ours always does, it doesn’t ferment properly and smells pretty bad.
  • The yam leaves have been eaten again but the net looks undamaged so it might have been some small animal – a rabbit? Maybe the parents of that baby we saw last week? The grass nearby has been nibbled too, so it could be.
  • Late afternoon we’re covered over by black clouds, followed by a good half hour of continuous thunder and lightning, some of it quite close by. It rains hard for a while, then it all goes away, the sky is clear and the temperature drops by an amazing 8°C: almost chilly!
  • Dinner under an almost full moon with a splendid insect chorus. Deliciously cool. Aah… having an extra day off makes quite a difference.
  • On the radio someone plays a 15 hour special of cover versions of all the beatles’ songs.
  • The insect voices are slightly different every day.
  • T dries this year’s umeboshi pickles in the sun, then they’ll keep. Perfect hand-made umeboshi sell for over a dollar each! T’s can compete easily for taste, but there might be a couple of spots here and there. Ah well.
  • A big black and yellow dragonfly flies into and out of the house.
  • Leave early to catch a film in Nagoya – “Tree of Life”, but I was pretty unimpressed.
  • Min. temp. 19°C max. 32°C

21st~22nd

  • Sunday is cold and rainy – is this the end of the summer?
  • The first “matsutake” mushrooms appear in the supermarket. Once plentiful, these are now an expensive treat, appreciated by Japanese (including T) for the supposedly wonderful aroma. To me, they’re just another mushroom. I like mushrooms for sure, but at 2000 yen each? Yes, that’s over 20 dollars for one mushroom! Anyway, these were from China.
  • That evening a long-sleeved shirt was called for, the first time since… May?
  • Monday was better with patchy clouds and a fresh breeze, but later slipped back into the familiar mugginess.
  • Visited by one red dragonfly. Masses of these will appear over the rice paddies in autumn. Two pigeons show up, probably to check out the sansho berries, but soon leave.
  • Regular stream of lorries on our usually quiet road, carrying gravel up and timber down. Are they building another road through the mountains, on some leftover budget?
  • Min. temp. 19°C max. 30°C

28th~29th

  • We set off in some trepidation – there was very heavy rain during the week and some people were evacuated in a nearby town. Are the chilli plants OK? Is the house OK?
  • The Valor (supermarket #1) car park is the usual oven. Inside, rice from Toyama is 40% more than from Miyagi, where they were affected by the nuclear accident. It’s silly really, because this is still last year’s rice…
  • The house and chillies are OK – the rain here wasn’t all that bad apparently. Two chilli plants are down and need some support, and there’s a wet patch on the floor in our entrance. You’d swear the roof was leaking, but the ceiling and floor upstairs are perfectly dry. Is it groundwater? No, there’s a two foot deep square pit near the front door – once used to store vegetables – which is dry. It must be condensation when the moist air from outside meets the cold floor surface, but there’s a lot of it!
  • Monday breakfast of exotic leftovers. T had made a salad of fried eggplant strips, cucumber, gouda cheese and a handful of “edamame” (fresh soy beans), with an oil and vinegar dressing. Simple colours of brown, green and yellow – no flashy tomatoes or red peppers – I should have taken a photo but I was too concerned with eating it. With a slice of brown bread: delicious. We also had some leftover Inari sushi. This is sushi rice – slightly sweetened and vinegared – in this case mixed with sesame seeds and chopped myoga and stuffed into skins of fried tofu which had been stewed with sweetened soy sauce. The taste is less complicated than it sounds, and also delicious.
  • A reconnaissance flight of two red dragonflies checking the place out for the hordes to follow soon. It’s still very hot, but the breeze is hinting of autumn.
  • T picks more myoga. I must make Myoga Chicken for Raffles – a seasonal treat!
  • Listening to the DPJ leadership elections on the radio. Maehara is the most popular candidate by far, but he doesn’t get on with Ozawa who still has plenty of strings to pull, so the job goes to the more boring Noda.
  • Min. temp. 20°C max. 29°C
 

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.

 

The Wrecker 4 September, 2010

Filed under: news,politics — johnraff @ 3:12 pm
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Ichirō Ozawa got that nickname “こわしや” a long time ago, and I still remember him saying there was no way he could work with the Japanese Socialist Party, whom he was supposed to be in a coalition with, back in 1993, when a guy called Hosokawa (now a potter) led a historic non-LDP government for about half a year. The Socialists were shortly after visited by a beezebub from the LDP who whispered in leader Murayama’s ear asking how he’d like to be Prime Minister. The subsequent LDP-Socialist coalition got back power from the first successful attempt to break the LDP’s monopoly on power since the war, and the now completely discredited Socialist party dwindled away to their current irrelevance. Since leaving the LDP years ago Ozawa has been involved in the formation, and breakup, of numerous parties – hence his nickname.

He’s actually a rather conservative polititian with a somewhat nationalistic attitude to foreign policy – this is what caused the fallout with the Socialists. Even today he’s well to the right in the generally progressive Democratic Party of Japan, and a lot of people resent the power he weilds. Add to this that he’s under a cloud over some suspicious land dealings that he claims to be innocent in. Few people believe him and he is not popular at all in the country in general, compared with Prime Minister Kan who seems to have more popular support, if anything, than his DPJ party.

So what’s Ozawa up to, standing against Kan in the upcoming DPJ leadership election? If he won, the DPJ would almost certainly fall further in the opinion polls and quite possibly lose to the LDP in the next election. Unfortunately he still has a lot of support in the party behind the scenes, among the more conservative members. While poor at speaking in public he’s a brilliant “old school” politician who thrives in meetings and grass-roots work, and a lot of new DPJ Diet members, the “Ozawa children” owe their seats to him and will probably vote for him.

Moreover, rumour has it he wouldn’t care too much if his election as leader led to the breakup of the DPJ, because he’d be able to go on to form a coalition with fed-up LDP members with political views more to his taste.

The Wrecker strikes again.

 

Interesting Times 8 March, 2009

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 2:30 am
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That was supposed to be an ancient Chinese curse – “may you live in interesting times” –  and you could probably have said for a long time after I got here that Japanese politics were not all that interesting. The Liberal Democratic Party returned election after election, one anonymous prime minister after another, the Diet just a talking shop while the real decisions about the course of Japan Inc. were taken elsewhere… There were a couple of distractions here and there: the Lockheed and Recruit scandals, a brief Socialist government soon given the kiss of death from the LDP, who offered “eyebrows” Murayama a coalition and completely destroyed his party’s electoral appeal, the Japan New Party of Hosokawa, but on the whole as long as the economy went on improving people didn’t really care all that much if the LDP had a boring monopoly on power.

Things started to get more interesting when Koizumi became prime minister. Along with that nasty “cuddles” Takenaka he started trashing “old Japan” and  bringing in a sort of Thatcherization. The pernicious results – ever widening gulf between rich and poor, loss of job security, erosion of social solidarity – are only now coming out, but at the time Koizumi looked like some kind of modernizing hero and at the next general election the LDP got a landslide majority. Dozens of new “Koizumi children” filled the Diet benches. The torch passed to his protege Abe and things started to fall apart. Scandals, a minister’s suicide, general ineptness and an upper house election catastrophe in which the opposition parties got a majority – Abe resigned, followed as PM by Fukuda, who seemed OK but soon resigned too, fed up with trying to get legislation through the hostile upper house.

Now we’ve got the appropriately named Aso, who seems the worst of the lot and has approval ratings of around 15%! There’s been no general election since Koizumi’s landslide; Abe, Fukuda and Aso were chosen by internal processes of the LDP, who know that if they held an election now all those Koizumi children would be out on the street again. Still, by law they’ve got to call an election by Autumn this year so they’re sort of stuck…

At just this moment, miraculously (for the LDP), the public prosecutor finds something fishy with the political donations received by Ozawa, the leader of the biggest opposition Democratic Party. Ah.. just a minute, according to today’s news it seems to be spreading to the LDP too…

(Last week the Far Eastern Economic Review had this to say about the situation here in Japan.)

Quite interesting I’m sorry to say.

 

 
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