asazuke

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Abe – hiding the truth 7 December, 2013

Filed under: news,people,politics — johnraff @ 2:54 am
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Three Tanukis

Just google “japan secret law” or something, to see that the internet is seething with opposition to the Abe cabinet’s new official secrets bill. With the Diet due to finish this year’s session tomorrow Abe & co. were desperate to push the bill through, and it became law tonight.
There’s not much I can add to the chorus of outrage, except to point out, if you hadn’t noticed, that opposition to this dangerously flawed bill is as strong here in Japan as among nit-picking foreign human rights organizations. Over 50% of the population are opposed to it and a succession of prominent people have spoken out, from TV personalities, famous film directors to a group of Nobel Prize-winning scientists. (Check the links below to see what all the complaints are about.) So, with a good chance of losing his hitherto high support ratings, why was Abe so determined to push this through?

The first strand seems to be defence – the government have just set up a National Security Council-type thing copied from the US, who have been putting some pressure on Japan to tighten up on secrecy if they are going to share anything juicy. After the Snowden revelations everyone’s a bit touchy. This is all about getting closer to the US to resist an increasingly dangerous-looking China, who have done Abe a favour by tightening the pressure over the East China Sea at just the right moment to convince the Japanese public that More Military is needed. Japan has a long post-war history of pacifism, but Abe and his friends have a long history of militaristic nationalism and they seem set to try to undo what was accomplished in the last 60 years. There are more things on their list, like revoking the ban on arms exports so the Japanese arms industry can grow, removing from school textbooks any references to unpleasant episodes like the Nanking massacre or the Comfort Women issue and changing the constitution so as to allow the Japanese army to join in overseas escapades with its US friends. Oh yes, and changing the Japanese Self Defence Force into a “proper army”.

But there are people who say the purpose of the official secrets law goes beyond national defence and security. For a start, anything related to fighting “terrorism” is a candidate for suppression, and the LDP government seem to have a broad definition of terrorism. That slimy Ishiba character referred to demonstrators outside the Diet as being little different from terrorists, and the official definition seems to include anyone who tries to change the way things are being done… Journalists are prime targets and so might be anyone campaigning against government policy. If such a group were rounded up and imprisoned, maybe that fact itself might become an official secret? It’s a genuinely frightening prospect, but not out of the question.

Other topics that the bureaucrats who will administer this secrecy might like to cover up could be any spillage of radioactive materials from the broken Fukushima reactors. People have even hinted that Abe is eager to get this in place to prevent some of his own shady background from coming out.

It’s awful, but this is what Abe is all about, and there’s plenty more where that came from. By the way, have you noticed he hasn’t really done anything to improve the economy yet? It’s all been talk, and the only ones to benefit have been a certain wealthy group in Tokyo. This nationalist agenda is what he really wants to get done. If you’ve read this blog before you may have gathered that I dislike Abe. I think he’s living in a dream world and has the potential to do Japan great harm. This time however he might just have overreached himself. Some people say with three years before he has to face re-election he can afford to sit tight, and people will soon forget it all as they enjoy the benefits of “abenomics”. Others say he might well be headed for a re-run of his last prime ministership in 2006 when he forced unpopular measures through the Diet and ended up resigning in ignominy. You can guess I’m hoping for something like the latter case.

Here are some links if you’d like to read more about all this.

The Daily Beast – Japan’s new Secrets Bill Threatens To Muzzle The Press and Whistleblowers
Shhh. The lights go out for whistleblowers and (possibly) journalists
Japan: Even The Secrecy Bill Briefing Is Secret; Abe-gumi Pushes Ominous Secrecy Bill Towards Law
Japan Times – Japan: The new Uzbekistan of press freedom
Japan Times – State secrecy bill could have a chilling effect on reporting
Bloomberg – Japan’s Secrets Bill Turns Journalists Into Terrorists
New York Times – Secrecy Bill Could Distance Japan From Its Postwar Pacifism
Human Rights Watch – Japan: Amend “Special Secrets” Bill to Protect Public Interest
Independent UN experts seriously concerned
The Diplomat – Japan’s Evolving Security Architecture
A New State Secrecy Law for Japan? 新たな秘密保護法?
Japan Times – Cheer over Reagan’s arrival won’t trickle down to most Japanese

 

Under Control 24 September, 2013

Filed under: people,politics — johnraff @ 3:01 pm
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Abe’s not going to be allowed to forget the promise he made at the IOC meeting that the Fukushima disaster was “under control”. Last week that clip was being shown on TV on a daily basis, along with Tokyo Electric officials admitting that the leakage of radioactive water isn’t under control at all. The word is that if Abe hadn’t pretended that everything was OK the 2020 Olympics wouldn’t have been awarded to Tokyo, but from now on every time yet another cover-up is uncovered, every time the schedule for people to return to their homes is revealed to have been hopelessly over-optimistic, every time a new source of radioactive contamination is discovered, those words are likely to come back to haunt him.

Getting the Olympics is being presented as a big boost for Japan, but if you’re cynical it’s possible to view it as another massive transfer of taxpayers’ money to the same old LDP club of construction and real estate companies in the Tokyo area, leaving the rest of the country looking on enviously as yet another Gucci shop opens on the Ginza and visiting foreigners can’t believe all the talk about an economic depression. That tax money is desperately needed for better social services and pensions, for example; a rise in consumption tax has been on the horizon for years and a hike from 5% to 8% is due to come in next spring, going to 10% shortly after. Japan leads the world in the “aging society” trend and because everyone has to pay consumption tax, regardless of income, it’s a way to get money out of the pockets of the wealthy elderly into the economy in general. Of course this hits the pockets of the poverty-stricken elderly – and poverty-stricken youngsters – even more painfully. Yes, even 10% is low by European standards but Japan doesn’t have anything like the social welfare system that those countries enjoy.

Previous attempts to raise consumption tax here have been disastrous for the economy, and for the politicians responsible, so Abe ( or his advisors ) is pretty nervous about all this. There’s lots of talk about “softening the blow” for the less well-off but nothing concrete on offer so far. (We might get a handout of ¥10,000.) On the other hand, Japan’s companies – by contrast with us ordinary people – are supposed to be cruelly over-taxed and long due a cut in corporation tax so they can compete with foreign rivals. This is the same sort of reasoning that results in working conditions worldwide being reduced to the level of China or Bangladesh, but if the consumption tax rise is accompanied by a corporation tax cut “to stimulate the economy” it would be easy to see it as a blatant transfer of wealth from the general population to the wealthy capitalists. That’s probably exactly what Abe and his friends would like to do, but would make him politically vulnerable to criticism from opposition parties.

So our prime minister looks set to be pretty much tangled up in these practical issues for the foreseeable future: Fukushima, consumption tax, relations with China, the TPP negotiations… We have reason to be grateful, because he has another agenda that has had to be put on the back-burner till all that gets sorted. There’s a strong nationalistic/militaristic stream in the LDP, left over from the immediate post-war years: a legacy of the historic failure of the occupying US administration to root it out when they had a chance. In a short-sighted error, reminiscent of their support of the Taliban in Soviet-ruled Afghanistan, they used the dregs of militarists and yakuza in order to fight communism and the unions. While Japan still has a viable communist party they are a small minority in the Diet, and Japan’s unions are pretty powerless compared with many other countries, so the Americans achieved their object there, but left war criminals in the backrooms of power and universities. I don’t want to blame everything on McArthur’s administration, but anyway we have people like former prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone whose dream is still to see Japan become a “normal country” with a “proper army” and a constitution to match. In other words, a country that can form alliances and go to war abroad. Abe, while too young to remember the war, for some reason sees himself as the standard-bearer of that tradition. Last time he was prime minister he was talking about “beautiful Japan” just before he was thrown out, so this time he’s keeping his nationalistic opinions more under wraps – for now.

So what have we got coming if he ever gets all those problems above “under control”? Well, for a start he’s already filled his cabinet with people of similar views.
OK, so here are some of the treats we might have coming some day:

  • When politicians start talking about protecting people’s’ rights it usually means they’re planning to take them away. Coming up soon is legislation to restrict our “right to know” and severely punish whistleblowers. Just what is or isn’t secret is itself to be a secret…
  • The Abe view of history is already causing friction with China and Korea, but there are plans to further ingrain it in the minds of Japan’s children with more revision of textbooks. Abe has said he wants children to grow up proud of their country. This is a fine goal, but surely better achieved by working to create the kind of country one would be proud to grow up in, than by telling kids that they’re obliged to be proud. Surely it’s better to be honest about things that have happened, and vow not to let them happen again, than to pretend nothing shameful ever occurred? The Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, beloved of rightwingers like Abe, apart from its quite legitimate role of honouring Japan’s dead, also has a museum where WW2 is presented as some kind of benevolent action by Japan to free Asian colonies of the West. Yes, there’s plenty to be ashamed of in my country’s colonial record (UK), but ask Indonesians or Singaporeans about the Japanese occupation.
  • Going along with that is a move to increase the military budget. This is justified by the behaviour of China and North Korea, both of whom are indeed giving people who live in Japan reason to feel nervous. Surely it goes without saying , though, that war would be a disaster for all countries involved, for the region and for the world? There seem to be people in both Japan and China who see eventual military conflict as inevitable. Abe is doing nothing at all to make that horrible outcome less likely.
  • The constitution. A lot of attention has gone to the Peace Clause, Article 9 and the LDP’s aim to make it less peaceful. There is great opposition to this in Japan, even in the LDP and it’s Komeito partner, but the LDP has other plans for constitutional changes. Please have a look at that Wikipedia article. There are many changes which suggest a subtle shift back to an authoritarian society in which the public have duties rather than rights.

“Under Control”?

He wishes…

 

 

What else is in Abe’s mix? 19 July, 2013

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 2:45 pm
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Back in britain we used to say that “The Tories pray for rain” before an election. With their better organized support groups they’d be able to get the voters out, while many of the Labour voters didn’t even have cars. The sweltering heat we’ve been having here the last few weeks might be working in Abe’s favour for the same reasons, but survey results also suggest we’re heading for a historically low turnout for the Upper House election on Sunday. Along with a probable landslide victory for Abe’s LDP.

Like the Lower House election last Autumn, this will probably be victory by default. The opposition are in a mess, the former main opposition party, the DPJ were decimated then and likely to lose massively again. The only possible gain other than by the LDP is the Communist Party, whose seats might well double. As usual, it’s all about money, and Abe has managed to convince the Japanese public – and many abroad – that “Abenomics” is working, and things are going to get better. It’s mostly been talk so far, but the “confidence” effect has got some people spending a bit more, it must be said. If people thought a bit more, though, there are other reasons not to vote for the LDP, which will probably be overlooked:

  1. Nuclear Energy The majority of Japanese want to abandon nuclear power and move as soon as possible to sustainable energy. The LDP are the only major party to support nuclear power, probably because so many of them are tied in with the companies which have made so much out of this in the past, and which would lose so much if it was abandoned.
  2. TPP The Trans Pacific Partnership issue is more complicated, but many LDP supporters in rural areas might well suffer if Japan joined, and are opposed to it. The LDP are pushing ahead anyway, because it might benefit the big companies so many of them are friends of or shareholders in.
  3. The Constitution This is a big one, and will need a new writeup next week or so after we’ve heard the (likely bad) news of the election results, but Abe seems determined to push ahead with constitutional changes, the first being an amendment to allow future changes to go through on a simple majority in both houses instead of the current 2/3, followed by a referendum result of again a simple majority of votes cast, with no requrement for a minimum turnout. Many Japanese are opposed to this, and it no longer gets front place in the LDP’s proposals, but if they get a big majority in the Upper House they might well be able to pass it. Once that’s done, all knds of constitutional revisions are in the pipeline, many of which look quite sinister. As I said, material for a later diatribe, but this stuff is also generally against the will of most Japanese.

None of these are vote-winners for the LDP, but they’ll probably win anyway. Abenomics will probably fail too, but by then it won’t matter…

 

 

Abe’s Mix. 11 June, 2013

Filed under: people,politics — johnraff @ 2:37 pm
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When Japanese say “Abenomics” it sounds as if they’re saying “Abe’s mix” which is what people thought it meant at first, but of course he, or more likely some eminence, is trying to borrow Reagan’s ideas, and to be honest they seem to have been working to some extent. The guy’s been walking around with the most smug expression on his face – he’s enjoying the highest popularity ratings a Japanese politician could expect – 65% last time I heard –  and, more important, he might be about to realize his lifelong ambition.

We’ll get into what Abe, and his mentors in the right of the LDP, are hoping to do in a later post, but first, though my dislike for Abe is on record, I have to admit the mood in this country has brightened up a bit this year. As Clinton pointed out, it’s “the economy, stupid!”, and Abenomics is an attempt to jolt Japan out of its 20-year deflation by 1) printing money, 2) boosting government spending and 3) reorganizing the whole economy. The first of those, the easy one, is already under way and has resulted in a cheaper yen, more profit for Toyota and a soaring stock market – up till a couple of weeks ago that is. A sudden panic chopped off 2000 yen in one week, and since then the Nikkei index has been going up and down like a yoyo. Even so, it’s up a good 50% on last November. People are waiting to actually have more money in their pockets, but some of them at least have been convinced by all the talk to spend more of what they have. Sales of luxury goods in particular have been rising and people do seem a bit more optimistic.

#2 has already been done many times and the historic links between the ruling LDP and the construction industry mean we’re quite likely to get still more highways to nowhere and empty “multi-purpose halls”. Of course there’s also useful infrastructure spending, but it’s easy to be cynical here.

On #3 there’s a very long list of useful things that could be done, rather, must be done – better participation of women in the workforce,  better English education, reform of agriculture, a sane energy policy, a dependable welfare system etc etc – so we’ll have to wait and see whether Abe really intends to roll up his sleeves and do some of this.

Meanwhile a trickle of price rises of imported food and energy might well turn into a flood which cuts into the standard of living of the less well off, unless companies get serious about increasing wages. Rising interest rates are already starting to be reflected in home loans. Possibly even worse, if a continued fall in the value of the yen undermines the popularity of Japanese government bonds as a safe investment, they will be forced to raise interest rates there. Japan has a huge national debt which has been sustainable up to now because the money was borrowed very cheaply, but a total collapse of confidence ala Greece is not totally out of the question (George Soros).

Unfortunately, there are other reasons to worry that Abe might not be serious about getting Japan’s economy fixed on a long-term basis. There’s an upper-house election coming up in July. At present the ruling LDP do not have a majority there, but if Abe can keep his (ridiculously inflated) support figures till then they’ve got a good chance of a 2/3 majority, maybe with the support of their coalition allies. Abe is very keen indeed to get that majority, and if “Abenomics” is just a means to that end he might not invest enough effort to keep it working beyond July. (Noah Smith) In other words, the whole thing might just be cynical electioneering.

It’s hard to know what to hope for here – as a resident of Japan of course I’d like to see the economy improve, but on the other hand the consequences of Abe getting the credit for it might not be pleasant. Look forward to another diatribe on Abe’s politics before long!

 

Japan military expansion? 29 November, 2012

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 12:46 pm
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Now, I don’t approve of any country having a huge military budget, or of unscrupulous businesses profiting from the sale of instruments of death, destruction and mutilation, but with the ever-growing Chinese presence in the region it’s not hard to understand why many people who feel threatened by their multiple territorial claims might not mind a somewhat stronger Japan these days. (Of course the US has long wanted Japan to help support its Asian power base.)

If you recall that the Japanese economic “miracle” was triggered by the Korean war then it also makes sense that some in the business community might be licking their lips at all these prospective sales to other Southeast Asian countries.

Anyway, an article in the New York Times:

Japan Expands Its Regional Military Role – NYTimes.com.

 

The cost of no-nukes? 28 November, 2012

Filed under: news,politics — johnraff @ 1:47 pm
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We’ve had a spate of announced price rises from electricity companies the last few days – first Tokyo, then Osaka and yesterday Kyushu. Not small either, in the region of 10%~20%, and most unwelcome to us consumers and industries alike. The word is that closing down nuclear reactors has meant more use of oil and gas which have to be bought on the increasingly tight world market.

These rises still have to be approved by the government, which will probably trim them down a bit, but there’s a strong message coming out that denuclearization will cost money. A lot of money. Of course this is coming just before an important general election of which the outcome is totally unclear, and in which abandoning nuclear energy is becoming a major issue. It has overwhelming public support and more and more polititians are jumping on this bandwagon in a desperate effort to get re-elected.

Electricity companies, and the business community in general, have invested a lot of money over the years in nuclear power and are strongly opposed to change. Of course burning oil and gas is not a long-term option either, and alternative renewable energy sources will be expensive, especially at first, but the timing of these price rise announcements is rather suspicious…

Kepco’s electricity bill increase has industries worried | The Japan Times Online.

 

More on Japan’s Politics 12 November, 2012

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 12:50 am
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As I was saying

Asia Sentinel – As Election Nears, Japan’s Politics Turn Sour.

 

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…

 

The Third Beer 31 May, 2012

Filed under: food & drink — johnraff @ 1:49 pm
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Taxes. Unavoidable of course, and liable to change people’s lives. Fewer windows, less lung disease… Land tax in Japanese cities is high, with the result that empty lots are quickly put to some useful economic purpose to pay the tax. On the other hand, beautiful Japanese-style houses are knocked down because their owners could no longer afford to live in them.

Spirits like whisky and shochu are relatively low-taxed, so there’s not much reason to buy anything in the duty-free shops on your way here; beer, however, is hit with something like 45% tax! It used to be luxury item, for the snooty westernized Japanese who didn’t want to drink sake or shochu. Postwar, everyone started drinking beer, but the government, addicted to that nice 45% revenue, aren’t going to lower it any time soon. There are more oddities in the messy Japanese liquor tax system. The level of tax on beer is determined by its malt content. Under 67%, and it has to be called “happoshu“, not beer, but as compensation the tax rate is only 35% or so. Happoshu tastes vaguely like beer, but it’s pretty anaemic stuff, not really worth putting up with for the ¥15 you save over the price of a real can of beer. Even so, in these hard times pseudo-beers have been selling quite well, especially since the beer manufacturers discovered yet another tax category: this is for those “alcopops” that have been popular in the West, just flavoured water with some distilled alcohol added, and much lower taxed even than happoshu.

These so-called “third beers” were flavoured with anything the maker could come up with – soy beans, seaweed, or if you were lucky a very weak happoshu – dosed with some extra hops and a dash of cheap industrial alcohol to bring the strength up to the usual 5% or so. They tasted about as horrible as they sound, but cost about half what real beer did – maybe ¥2400 for a case of 24 350ml cans. Every month or so a new brand came out, each tasting as vile as the last, but the market shifted down from beer to happoshu, and finally the only sector where sales were holding up was that Third Beer stuff.

OK now the (sort of) good news. Over the years, those beer companies’ R&D departments have been hard at work, and the latest varieties of beeroids are very slightly less disgusting than they used to be. A couple of years ago Sapporo had a happoshu called “Sugomi” which wasn’t bad at all; it was soon dropped for some reason, but now they’ve got a Third Beer called “Mugi to Hoppu” (麦とホップ) which I’d have to admit isn’t really too bad. Mugi to Hoppu BlackThe name means “wheat/barley and hops” and somehow they’ve managed to concoct this stuff only from those ingredients without going into a beer tax bracket. It seems as if they brew a low-grade happoshu with a little bit of malt, boost the taste with some unmalted barley or wheat, add more hop flavour and some alcohol which has been distilled from wheat or barley (the two words are the same in Japanese). Put it in the fridge for a while, and amazingly it’s not too bad, especially on a hot summer day. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d rather drink real beer any time, preferably a craft beer from one of the local microbreweries, but at ¥100 a can this will do for a quick one after work. Last winter a “black” version came out which is even harder to distinguish from some kinds of black beer. If you don’t want to work your way through every variety of beer-like beverage in the supermarket, check this one out. (Sapporo haven’t yet paid me anything for writing this, but of course donations are welcome…)

Now the recent sales of beery things have been generally pretty poor in fact. Young people are abandoning beer in favour of sweeter “cocktails” and those alcopops which might have inspired the Third Beers. Actually, young people are abandoning alcohol in general, believe it or not. Instead of going for a quick one with the gang from the office after work, they go straight home and… do whatever it is they do… The single beverage category whose sales are booming is non-alcoholic beer. Seriously.

The country is going to the dogs.

 

 
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