asazuke

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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…

 

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Farmlog March 2013 5 September, 2013

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:59 pm
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Little Buddha in the back woodsRidiculous backlog here, and I definitely have to try harder to catch up with real time (ie Autumn!)

3rd~4th

Anyway, the first week in March we had a Daihachi Ryodan concert at Tokuzo. A good time was had by us, and the audience made a good impression of it too. (Were you there? Many thanks if so!) That meant we stayed in Nagoya though, and missed a weekend in the country.


10th~11th

The last few days have been incredibly warm and Spring-like, though T and I have both caught colds – maybe they came over with the latest wave of “kosa” from China? Anyway Sunday morning is mild but cloudy, and a wind is blowing up. Some #$%&ing marathon means the streets are closed on our route north out of town and we have to use the highway, paying an extra, extortionate, ¥750. By Gifu it’s reverting to Winter chilliness, just as forecast.

At the ¥100 stand we pick up an enormous bunch of spinach. The recent warm weather must have made the plants grow up way beyond their standard size before they could be picked, but they turn out to be tender, sweet and delicious, if a little mild-tasting.

Monday is perfectly clear but the wind is freezing cold – only the sun’s higher position in the sky tells us it’s no longer Winter. Anyway I have to get some digging done for this year’s chillies. The field should have been dug over last Autumn so the frost could get in to break up the soil and kill pests.

Of course today (3/11) is the second anniversary of the terrible Tohoku earthquake. Videos of the tidal waves are still shocking. Can you imagine a wave over 20 metres high? (That’s metres not feet.) Even now some 300,000 people are displaced, and about half of them have no prospect of being able to return to their radioactive villages any time soon. The Fukushima reactors are scheduled to take some 40 years to clear up!

Still Abe seems determined to put short-term profits first and persist with the use of nuclear power, in the face of public opposition. The L.D.P. are part of the nuclear vested interests consortium. (Don’t get me started on politics again…)

Min. temp. 5°C, max. 15°C


17th~18th

Sunday is a beautiful soft spring day, with ume and peach blossom in full bloom near Nagoya, although the radio says rain is on the way. Out at the homestead there are no flowers yet, but shoots coming up everywhere and the birds are starting to sound excited. We sit in the sun in front of the house with a cup of tea and an onigiri. Once the sun goes behind the trees it cools off though, so I get up and do some digging till it gets dark a bit after 6. It’s still too cold to eat outside, but in a few weeks…

It starts raining earlier than predicted – about 1 am – and Monday is warm but unpleasantly damp, and light rain looks set in for the day. Listening to the diet debate on the TPP on the radio. It’s a complex subject, but I hope Japan doesn’t get turned into a copy of the USA, with all due respects to American readers.

Min. temp. 4°C, max. 14°C


24th~25th

It’s actually hot in Nagoya, and the cherry blossom is out early over most of the country. As we drive out of town, though, it soon reverts to normal and cherries 45 minutes away are still in bud. While it’s a nice clear spring day, there’s a bit of a chilly wind at the second supermarket on our route. At the house there are still no flowers, though daffodil shoots are up and wasabi leaves are appearing.

Monday is sunny, but there’s a cold wind. I get the first stage of the chilli field digging done, and now need to put up the 3m net to keep the deer out.

Min. temp. 0°C, max. 16°C


31st March~1st April

ojisan's deer trapIt’s a grey miserable day, except for the trees in exuberant full bloom all around Nagoya, defying anyone to let the weather get them down. They’re mostly cherries but as we get into Gifu the seasons slip back a bit and there are more ume, peach and kobushi, both cultivated in gardens and wild in the hills. Even against a grey sky it’s a grand show.

By evening the sky has cleared and it’s cold. At 1:30 am there’s a dog barking somewhere – why?

The next day the deer ojisan drops in and reports that he’s caught 14 this season! At ¥20,000 a head bounty that’s not bad pocket-money. A recent survey said there were 200 or so in this area though, so he’s still got work to do. (I’m not exactly sure what the boundaries of the area were.) Deer are really a pest round here, eating anything they can find – except the wild plants of course. However, the lady at the ¥100 stand down the road says her main problem is monkeys!

Monday’s weather is perfect, barring a bit of a chill in the wind. The ume on a south-facing slope is already blooming, filling the air with its sweet scent. On a sunny day in April this place can seem like a close approximation to paradise. I take a short walk in the woods just round the corner. Everything seems so peaceful but it’s really a bustle of activity. Back by the house, this year’s first sighting of a tiny lizard, a beautiful black and blue butterfly and a big aodaisho snake sunning itself.

Min. temp. -1°C, max. 16°C

early wasabi

 

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…

 

 

Shameful indeed 20 June, 2013

Filed under: politics — johnraff @ 1:34 pm
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This English-translated commentary in the Asahi is worth reading. Abe is determined to lead Japan to disaster.

VOX POPULI: Shameful selective memory regarding nuclear power issue – AJW by The Asahi Shimbun.

 

Abe, again. 19 December, 2012

Filed under: news,politics — johnraff @ 3:10 pm
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This is just too depressing. Even the LDP didn’t expect this landslide win. They’ve now got a 2/3 majority in the Lower House, if combined with their Komeito allies, enough to force through bills blocked by the Upper house. Enough also, if they can get a similar majority in the Upper house next year, to change the Japanese Constitution…

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

Radiobeef and the missing 143 16 August, 2011

Filed under: food & drink,news,politics — johnraff @ 2:42 pm
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This isn’t good. It was about a month ago that the first radioactive beef started showing up in the consumer food chain; at first it was from cattle in the Fukushima area that had been fed rice straw contaminated by the reactor explosion. That was bad enough for the local farmers who had been struggling to get their lives restarted after the earthquake, but it now seems that straw from the danger zone – a major rice-producing area – had been sent to all kinds of places and traces of radioactive caesium have been found in beef from quite different places. This is bound to have an effect on sales of (delicious) Japanese beef, both here and, maybe more importantly, in Hong Kong, China and Taiwan where all kinds of Japanese food has been selling to the newly rich. ($100 apples, anyone?)

More: it now turns out that the Tokyo power company responsible for the Fukushima reactor is unable to trace 143 people who worked on the clear up operation, in order to monitor their radiation exposure. A lot of part-time workers were taken on in a shambling chain of sub-contractors to sub-sub-contractors and the bottom end included homeless people and alcoholics hanging out on the bad side of the railway station waiting for a bit of work from the gangster brokers who came round. They were offered 2 or 3 times the going rate for dangerous work, but nobody seemed to care too much about where they went afterwards. Of course this is just an extreme example of the return to Victorian-era exploitation that capitalists have been organizing on a world-wide level, but this time even token attempts to be concerned for workers’ welfare have broken down.

The Japanese population as a whole are, as you can imagine, less than enthused about repairing nuclear reactors, still less building new ones. Nobody believes the government or power companies when they try to reassure us that everything will be OK. Coming on top of the annual August commemoration of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the mood here is very much anti-nuclear. Of course public opinion is fickle, people forget quickly and the nuclear power consortium of electricity companies, big engineering, corrupt public servants, politicians and the media will do their best to fight back. Nuclear energy looks cheaper than renewable alternatives, untill you include all the hidden costs, and there’s lots of palm-greasing cash available. Still, can we allow ourselves some limited optimism that the much-fabled Japanese Consensus is about to be reached, and a major policy switch is coming up?

Fingers crossed (again).

 

 
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