asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Walking backwards for Christmas 16 February, 2014

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 2:09 am
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our hero

When I came to Japan the emperor Hirohito was still here, somehow transformed into a harmless marine biologist, but the same warlord who had presided over the Japanese empire of the 1930s and ’40s. It seemed a vaguely amusing curiosity at the time – we Europeans tended not to know so much about what happened in the Asian war, and my impression was “Yes, the Japanese did some bad things, like mistreatment of British and Australian POWs, maybe bombed some cities, but nothing to compare with the evils of Nazi Germany”.

I was wrong.

It was only fairly recently that I figured I’d better know what the Chinese and Koreans were complaining about, checked out the Wikipedia on Japanese War Crimes and followed up some of the references there. It’s not easy reading let me tell you and I felt thoroughly shaken by some of the content. For example, if you don’t already know about Unit 731 have a look and see if you still feel exactly the same way about this country. Try to imagine the feelings of someone, probably Chinese, whose grandfather or aunt had been murdered there. Bear in mind that Chinese, unlike most Japanese, have been taught all about the atrocities committed in their country by the Japanese, and the anti-Japanese riots of a couple of years ago become a little easier to understand. There may be scope to argue about how many tens of thousands of people died in some incident or other, but there seems no doubt whatsoever that many horrible things were done on a vast scale by the Imperial Japanese Army, mostly under the direct orders of those at the top of the chain of command.

Many countries have right-wing extremists with outlandish beliefs – my own UK, the US, France, Germany and Russia come to mind – and here there have long been “uyoku” who drive around on the odd Sunday afternoon in vaguely military-looking trucks blasting patriotic music from high-powered speakers. There are also some politicians, mostly in the LDP, who have very strange ideas about the past. Like the White Queen, they have no trouble believing six impossible things before breakfast, for example:

  1. The Nanking Massacre never happened.
  2. The “comfort women” issue has been blown up out of the kind of prostitution that follows any army.
  3. China, Korea and all the countries invaded by Japan welcomed their occupation and benefited from it.
  4. The Tokyo trials of war criminals were distorted “victors justice” and an unfair imposition of alien Western values.
  5. Asperger’s syndrome is caused by “leftist influenced” parenting. (“Parents and Education” at the bottom of this page.)
  6. and… Japan should have nuclear weapons.

1 and 2 are easily dealt with by referring to any historian. No-one seriously doubts those things took place. 3 is a gross insult to those who suffered occupation. Ask an older Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Indonesian… 4 does have an element of truth. The trials were distorted; every effort was made by McArthur to hide the emperor’s involvement in war crimes, and the despicable Ishii, who ran Unit 731, was able to rejoin Japanese society as a respected researcher – because the Americans wanted his data.

I used to think that these beliefs were limited to a small fringe element generally rejected by society, and that in another few years we would all be over the war and its aftermath, ready for a new era of peace and co-operation in Asia and in the world.

I might have been wrong there too.

In the last couple of weeks, several unpleasant creatures have emerged from where they had been hiding and started saying in public what they had long been thinking in private. It started with Katsuto Momii, the new chairman of NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, who, at his inaugural press conference, compared “comfort women” with brothels in Amsterdam, defended the controversial State Secrets Law and said NHK International should promote government policies. Shortly after, a member of the NHK governors, Naoki Hyakuta, went campaigning for one of the candidates in the Tokyo gubernatorial election, a guy called Toshio Tamogami. If that sounds inappropriate enough, on the stump he said the Nanking Massacre had been made up and added that the three leading candidates (a former prime minister, a former minister of health and a former chairman of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations) were “human trash”. OK, it gets better. It turns out that another newly appointed NHK governor, a lady called Michiko Hasegawa, had written an essay last October about an ultranationalist, Shusuke Nomura. This guy didn’t like something the Asahi newspaper had written about him in 1993, pulled out a couple of guns and shot himself in the stomach three times in their office, dying shortly after. Rather than condemning the illegal use of firearms in an attempt to intimidate the media, Hasegawa said this was a wonderful thing that made the emperor a living god in spite of what it said in the constitution. Pretty weird people on the NHK board of governors, right? Hyakuta and Hasegawa were both appointed by Abe along with two others close to him, and the freshly adjusted board subsequently chose Momii as NHK chairman.

More, the surprise in last Sunday’s election for Tokyo governor was not “establishment” candidate Masuzoe winning, as expected, but this weirdo Tamogami who came fourth, but with 600,000 votes. (24% support among voters in their 20’s, tapering off to 6% for over-70’s) Tamogami used to be a Self Defence Force general but he had to resign after writing an essay full of the kind of nonsense referred to above. Tamogami’s essay won a contest run by the Apa company. The English translation is still available from the Apa website, and a fairly careful deconstruction by Tobias Samuel Harris here. I don’t know if you remember the scandal about apartments and hotels that didn’t meet earthquake standards a few years ago, but the hotels belonged to Apa, whose president Toshio Motoya is another right-winger close to Abe. Abe himself might be a hopeless idealist but many of the people around him are thoroughly unpleasant characters whose prime motivation seems not to be the protection of the Japanese people but how best to exploit them.

So it looks as if Abe is trying to put NHK under pressure not to publish content inconvenient for him, and is already succeeding. It took them three days to mention the Momii controversy and I still haven’t heard anything from them about Hyakuta or Hasegawa. The relatively high support for Tamogami among the young suggests the LDP’s proposed editing of school textbooks might not be needed. The young already have no grasp of how outrageous the things Tamogami and co. are saying really are.

The english-speaking web is full of articles about Japan’s “swing to the right” at the moment, but I’m adding my small voice to all this because I think it’s important, and very dangerous for Japan. As a friend put it the other day, the country may be “sleepwalking into disaster”. Now it’s true that the rulers of China have been instilling anti-Japanese feeling in their people for years, and this is helping to promote nationalism in Japan, along with genuine fear of the growing Chinese army. In return, the Abe government’s hawkishness is a convenient distraction from China’s many domestic problems. Even so, no good is being served by this attitude on the Japanese, Chinese and to some extent Korean sides. The example of Germany is often held up as a way for Japan to make peace with its neighbours, but I’d like to offer another one: South Africa. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission may not have been perfect, but the attitude of honestly facing up to what happened in the past is surely a necessary foundation for a healthy future relationship?

Abe thinks that his years of zen and carrot juice in the wilderness have made him into a Great Leader who will Save Japan. I think he’s an arrogant prick. He’s just so full of himself it’s impossible to watch without wanting to throw up. Japan is a beautiful country with a wonderful culture and sincere, good-hearted people. I like to think that sooner rather than later they will see through the idiotic nonsense he and his cohorts have been peddling and throw him off, as America finally rejected George Bush. I like to think that Japan will return to the sort of sensible path briefly hinted at by the DPJ in their short turn at power. I like to think that Japan could set a good example of how mankind can deal with some of the huge problems on the near horizon.

Please, Japan, don’t let me be wrong this time.

 

Chikaramachi Church 30 December, 2013

Filed under: city,places — johnraff @ 11:52 pm
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Last May an old friend passed away. Bob was a very special person, in many ways. His lifelong ambition had been to visit every country on the planet and, the last time I asked him, he had got the remaining list down to what could be counted on two hands. His last year had involved some travelling so I have to ask his wife to find out if he finally ticked them all off or not.

The funeral was held on the kind of beautiful spring day that made you truly thankful to be alive, in a beautiful old church that I didn’t know about. The Chikaramachi Church is over 100 years old, built soon after Christianity was permitted, in a similar style to the older churches we had seen on the Goto Islands. The next day I went back and took some photographs.

 

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…

 

 

The Goto Islands 15 March, 2013

Filed under: places — johnraff @ 3:13 pm
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At new year we took a 6-day trip to the Goto Islands, just off Kyushu. These are a bit off the regular tourist routes, but quite interesting historically, having been on the way in to Japan from the Asian continent, and also for the Christian population who fled there escaping persecution in the Edo era. As a result there are many churches, some of them quite beautiful, though not so old. The scenery is also stunning in places, especially the north. Anyway I’ll leave you to Google “Goto Islands” if you want to learn more, and just add a few notes from our own visit, and some photos.The ferry leaves quite early.

It’s a three-hour ferry ride from Nagasaki to the island of Fukue in the south. (The hydrofoil’s faster but more expensive.) It leaves in the morning so we fly to Nagasaki the evening before and stop at a business hotel.

It’s cold (January, remember) – don’t expect balmy sub-tropical Okinawa. We’re fairly north here and Korea’s not far away, though the Kuroshio current does warm the sea a bit. On the first of January it snowed in Fukue and there was still some on the ground in patches when we arrived on the 2nd. On the 3rd we had a bitter cold wind. Generally it was cloudy  with occasional sun which did warm things up if you were out of the wind. They get a lot of wind here. Occasional gaps in the clouds which let through dramatic rays of sun also seem a feature which fits in nicely with the Spiritual imagery. (Most visitors come in summer.)

typical dramatic lightPublic money has been spent here: there are many bridges and tunnels, and the ferry terminals are warm, spacious, shiny and super-clean. (Use the toilet there while you have the chance.) The northern Kami-Goto area has its own smart airport which now looks out of use. Still, off the nice new main roads you have these narrow twisty lanes with many hairpin bends that lead to tiny fishing villages with even narrower streets. There are buses, but you’ll probably need a car to get around so make sure you rent a little one, especially away from Fukue island. The islands are bigger than you might think. You’d need a couple of weeks to cycle around so a car is pretty much essential – rent is around ¥4500 a day.

Many shops, museums etc. are closed till 4th January – be careful travelling at new year. Fukue has seen better days. Arakawa hot spring (where we stayed two nights) obviously used to jump – there are many bars and ryokan now closed, leaving just two ryokan and two minshuku, all pretty run-down looking. It was the whaling apparently, and the fact that Arakawa was a refuge for fishing boats when the weather was bad, so the sailors would drop some of their (relatively good) pay there. This all ended some 30 years ago. Our ryokan is in an 80-year-old wooden building which is full of character but in need of repair in many places. The dinner is pretty good though, with an abundance of locally caught fish.

Many Group Homes for the elderly – there seems to be another one on every corner. At first we thought it was good service by the local government, but later heard they’re all privately run. The aging population must mean there’s a good market.clouds, sea, islands...

Moving north to Kami-Goto for three more nights – these islands are very mountainous and incredibly complicated with oddly shaped inlets and peninsulas (check Google Maps). You get amazing scenic views at every corner. It must be gorgeous – verging on breathtaking – in summer. The water is crystal clear, so you can see right down to the bottom, just like Okinawa. Somehow I like the atmosphere here in the North more than Fukue –  it seems a bit livelier.

Our minshuku here “Katayama” is in a little fishing village like dozens of others we pass on our first day, though maybe a bit scruffier than some. Old fishing nets used as fences. Katayama is at the end of a decrepid wharf but the house itself is a typical Japanese wooden farmhouse, ie rather nice, and the lady who runs the place (Mrs. Katayama?) keeps it very clean and pleasant, decorated with flowers and her own patchwork. A very friendly, positive, person who clearly takes a personal interest in her guests. Katayama's ownerShe cooks good food too, mostly based on vegetables she grows herself and fish from the port down the road. For example, dinner on Saturday night was buri teriyaki, tofu, oden with delicious daikon, carrot and home-made konnyaku, four kinds of sashimi followed by freshly made tempura then rice, pickles and soup with sea bream head. I may have forgotten something. Everything was good.

There are camelias everywhere, especially on the northern Nakadori island. The oil used to be an important local product but now apart from tourist souvenirs it seems to be mostly used in the rather special local noodles “Goto udon”. They are slimmer than standard Japanese udon noodles with a pleasant smooth texture and come in a broth made from dried flying fish, called “ago dashi”. Quite good actually.

The crime rate is obviously low. Our rented car is waiting at the ferry terminal in Nakadori, unlocked, with the key in the ignition! “Come to the office to pay any time you like” they said.The camelia flower is a recurring theme.

There really are a lot of churches here, especially in the North, often standing above a tiny village at the end of one of those twisty back roads. I think the current overall Christian population of the Goto islands is around 20%, but in some of the outlying villages it’s more like 95%, which is certainly unusual for Japan. None of the churches are much more than 100 years old, because Christianity was strictly forbidden, and very cruelly repressed, during the Edo period. Some are quite modern, but most are very simple in design, often plain white, with equally simple interiors that feel more Protestant than Catholic. Much more than when visiting temples or shrines, I feel as if I might be intruding in someone’s private space.

When we switch on the car ignition a little panel on the dashboard reads “Hello Happy” and when we open the door to get out it says “See you, good-by.”

We drive up to the top of Nakadori Island, via numerous churches, up a narrow neck of land that’s more like a submerged mountain chain, to the lookout point at Tsuwazaki, where you can look out over a stretch of sea studded with dozens more islands. I can see smoke coming from behind a hill on one of them. That evening the TV news mentioned a fire in the area…

The next day, to Hinojima, over a couple of big bridges, way over to the west. There’s a little village there, now half-deserted, with a beautiful 100-year-old school building that’s now used, if at all, for summer camps or something. With a couple of broken windows, it definitely needs some care and attention, which it won’t necessarily be getting… Just behind are a rather nice temple and shrine. The temple, Genju-in (源寿院) has a Buddha image, several hundred years old, which is only displayed every 33 years. It was originally pulled from the sea in a fishing net!! Could it have drifted over from Korea?

Dejima wharfBack in Nagasaki with a couple of hours before we have to head to the airport, we sip a glass of wine on Dejima wharf and enjoy the lights of the harbour as the day draws to an end. While it’s not exactly warm, it is (just) feasible to sit outside, which is not at all the case in Nagoya at the moment. What I like about eating in Japan – even in touristy spots like this there’s no service charge, no added tax, and no tipping. Four drinks at 500 yen each, one pizza at 1050 yen, total 3050 yen. That’s it. (Nagasaki‘s a very nice place, and well worth a visit in itself in warmer seasons.)

I took a lot of photos. You’ll soon get the somewhat grey atmosphere, but even in winter weather it was a good trip.

 

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.

 

 

Nagiso to Nojiri 10 March, 2012

Filed under: countryside,places — johnraff @ 2:32 am
Tags: , , ,

It’s fairly easy to get out of Nagoya and into some nice countryside, especially if you head North towards Gifu and Nagano prefectures. A Sunday last November (yes, I know I could have posted this a bit earlier) we took advantage of a cheap weekend railway ticket to get on the Chuo line out to Nagiso in the Kiso region. The Nakasendo, along with the Tokaido, is one of the two roads that used to link Edo with Kyoto. While the more famous Tokaido ran along the Pacific coast, the Nakasendo went through the mountains, and sections of it still exist in this area, sometimes with the original stone paving. It’s usually easy walking, and a good way to get some nice scenery and a bit of history…

Nagiso station is full of middle-aged ladies with rucksacks, checking out the tourist pamphlets and souvenir stands, but most of them get on the bus that goes to the more famous Tsumago down the road. The walk from Tsumago to Magome is a very popular section of the Nakasendo, and an enjoyable three hours or so, but today we head North towards Nojiri. The main path follows the Kiso river, more or less with the current Route 19, but there’s an alternative called the Yokawado which goes through the hills instead. Apparently this was used when the Kiso flooded, and for a hike it’s a more attractive option. Nagano prefecture have been quite good about putting up signs, and it’s not long before we’re above the town looking out over the Autumn hills.

Quiet. There’s hardly anyone around, we pass through a couple of almost empty villages – surrounded by electric fences to keep out the deer and wild boar – and the only people we run into are a foreigner+Japanese couple walking in the opposite direction. There are no drinks machines of course, so if you try this you’d better take a bottle of something and a couple of sandwiches or rice balls.

The weather wasn’t perfect, but the countryside was beautiful and when we picked up our train home from Nojiri in the late afternoon the Yokawado seemed just about right for a day’s outing. A few pics…

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