Monday, March 30, 2009


There are no heroes. I would like a hero. I would like someone decisive and strong and right. Someone to protect and defend me. Someone always with the right words to say and always there when you need him. Save me from myself. But I have given up.

Maybe, I should continue waiting. Maybe, he just got lost. As the Washington Post pointed out today, 24's Jack Bauer does not follow known "geography" when he is in Washington:
Last week, for example, the show's indomitable hero, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), temporarily thwarted a small gang of domestic terrorists/male models who were trying to get their hands on a vaguely described bioterror weapon. The action took place at the "Port of Alexandria," an apparently bustling, but heretofore unknown, container facility on the Potomac River.
This was just a few hours after Jack had thwarted (he does a lot of thwarting) a group of commandos who had taken over the White House and captured the president. The insurgents entered the executive mansion via a fiendishly clever route: They scuba-dived under it and tunneled into it. According to "24," 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. sits atop a large body of water. (The Tidal Basin? The Potomac? The Chesapeake? Unclear.)
Motorists on "24" routinely defy Washington's time-space-traffic continuum, reaching their destinations in impossibly short order. The White House to Foxhall Road in Northwest Washington, a distance of 3.2 traffic-clogged miles, in five minutes? In rush hour? Good luck! The Beltway to the FBI Building (8.4 miles) in seven minutes? Can do!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Norks Show Theirs

The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) has obtained commercial satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe taken at approximately 11:00 AM local time on March 29, 2009 of the Musudan-ri missile site in North Korea. The missile is clearly visible in this image. It is also casting a shadow that is clearly differentiated from the missile launch gantry. According to news reports, the missile was installed on or after Tuesday, March 24, 2009. Since the missile is so easily seen in this image versus in imagery over the past several days since March 24 , it is likely that North Korea was previously shrouding the missile.

So says ISIS. I really don't know. These things are always less impressive than the promise.

See for yourself, view the new imagery HERE.

Washington, This Week

My Chinese intern and I were on Capitol Hill on Friday. Among the many pictures she took is the one above. This week the cherry blossoms will be in their full glory.

Women, Can't Beat Them with a Stick

Are Japanese women different from others? No is the answer long or short. In this survey on What Japan Thinks (an absolutely great site), Japanese men and women were asked what men do not understand about women. I wager that the answers would be exactly the same in the US, which is likely to come as a surprise to those Western men who think Japanese women are different or nicer.

Basically, women want to be listened to and empathized with. And men just don’t understand a single thing about women.

For example, I had a Western male friend in Tokyo who dismissed all my efforts to sensitize him to my feelings. By the way, getting men to understand you personally and professionally takes up a lot of female time. He kept telling me that if he were to have a “significant relationship” with an American woman he might pay some attention to my suggestions. His one concession was to call me by my first name, and I should be grateful. His inability to empathize eventually proved too much to me.

Interestingly, he was quite taken by one of my Japanese girlfriends who saw through him long before I did. She loathed him. And when he proceeded to pursue her with what I thought were a series of pathetically sweet and endearing presents and emails (which interestingly always included something trashing me), she simply wanted to bite his head off. Yes, these efforts were insensitive but I was touched by a certain charm to their ineptness.

She refused to agree. And it took all my girlfriend goodwill to prevent her from replying to him in the most eviscerating manner I had ever seen by a woman in any culture, short of going after him with a machete. I eventually helped her draft a kinder, gentler reply that would leave some of his dignity intact. It should be noted that the reply was vetted among a multicultural group of women—Chinese, Korean, WASP—of whom none could understand their Japanese friend’s vitriol. Yes, boys, women always discuss ad nauseam any emotional issue among their friends.

Japanese women have always been like Western women. Maybe the difference is that they have been quieter about their feelings and slower to complain. Their expectations about men are low and they understand that it is futile to complain. But this is changing. And how they now express their discontent is not pretty. In contrast, I have become much more forgiving and resigned to men’s insensitivities. And my daughter's generation seems to have given up altogether and now prefer vampires. Somehow they find the heroic undead more attractive.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Alliance Managers Meet

If you are reading this you are clearly not a manager of the Japan-US alliance.

If you were, you would be in San Francisco at the 15th Annual Japan-US Security Seminar hosted by CSIS’s Pacific Forum and MOFA’s Japan Institute of International Affairs. This is a long weekend of presentations, discussions, and meals with a carefully selected group of mostly white men and honorary white men. It is all very serious business for those selected to manage the Japan-US relationship.

An invitation—and you can only go with an invitation—ensures your designation as an official Japan-US alliance/relationship manager. Note that the relationship is only defined by security and military interactions thus excluding many Japan experts familiar with contemporary Japanese society.

There are also serious and not so serious invitations. The serious invitations come with all expenses paid. If you are invited and not offered funding, you are not expected to attend, but to understand that they don’t want to get on your bad side.

Also invited (and funded) are a “young leaders” group of up and coming alliance managers. These young men (few are women) are nurtured and watched to ensure that they know how to talk the talk and walk the walk. They will be able to go back to their schools and think tanks and say, “the Gaimusho (showing off your Japanese) North American Bureau chief told me at the bar…” or “sharing the limo to the airport with Amb…”

Before these seminars had a formal designation, they were sponsored by the Okazaki Institute with a loose relationship with the Government of Japan. They served as the intellectual genesis of the Armitage Report. The Institute’s funding of research and meetings created a cadre of like-minded relationship managers in both the US and Japan. Amb. Hisahiko Okazaki is a quintessential conservative nationalist. He believes that Japan needs a “robust” military and that the peace Constitution remains because of Japan’s masochistic history. He has lots of friends in Washington.

It appears that the Okazaki Institute is fading like its aging namesake. From its list of sponsors you can surmise that its major funder was the Sasakawa family of foundations. It tends to be a pattern that one or multiple Sasakawa-backed foundations experiment with various foreign policy-oriented projects until these efforts are either deemed successful or not. I suspect it has something to do with deniable accountability. Once projects are successful, they are institutionalized and handed over to a more explicitly Japanese government-affiliated organization.

The Okazaki experiments nurtured the entire generation of Bush Administration Japan managers and weeded out those who disagreed. The result was the 7-page Armitage Report that set the "intellectual" foundation for emphasizing the military relationship with Japan. Thus, MOFA now funds and runs these annual gatherings on Japan-US security (note that Japan comes first in the title, this word order is nearly unheard of in programs in the US, no matter the funder).

In addition, after the Bush Administration’s Japan officials all left the government it was likely thought unseemly to reward these folks with money from a minor, albeit successful relationship-building project, such as the Okazaki’s. Tying up their time with meaningless research on essentially the same topic over and over and holding resort-sited conferences of now-senior, seasoned relationship managers needs more money and more prestigious funding sources such as corporations and government institutes.

But MOFA funding is not enough. The Pacific Forum took advantage in February of Harvard Professor Joe Nye’s (pictured above) putative nomination as Ambassador to Japan (this has yet to happen). Their Board of Governors dinner in Hawaii featured a speech by Nye and face-time with him. The dinner was to honor former assistant secretary of State Jim Kelley and to establish a Korean studies fellowship in his name.

Since no one is really sure if Mr. Kelley is breathing or not, he was not the highlight of the fundraiser. Indeed, an “anonymous” donor pledged a million dollars if a million was raised. I do not know if the goal was achieved. It is possible the Korean focus might have undercut some fundraising potentialities.

Anyway, I am not in San Francisco. When I asked some folks on the Hill why they were not there, they said they were too busy. When I asked a leading scholar on Japanese security why he was not even invited, he responded he would not have gone even if he were.

Updated 3/28/09

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fish Story

This week, March 23-26, the Australian government hosts the first international workshop on non-lethal whale research. Representatives from 13 anti-whaling countries are meeting in Sydney at the Australian National Maritime Museum to discuss methods of studying whales in waters around Antarctica that do not involve killing them as Japan does with its "scientific whaling" program.

The workshop is the first of an Australian initiative, known as the Southern Ocean Research Partnership. Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, South Africa and the United States are participating. By the end of the week, they hope to have a draft five-year plan to present at the International Whaling Commission when it next meets in Portugal this June. Japan was invited, but it did not respond.

The partner nations advocate and use modern research technologies such as genetic and molecular techniques, satellite tagging, acoustic surveys and aerial surveying of cetacean populations. Ultimately, they want the International Whaling Commission to become more science and conservation-focused. This first workshop builds on a comprehensive reform agenda for the Commission.

Environment Minister Peter Garrett said Australia was taking the lead to better manage the whales of the Southern Ocean and in the process, show the world that scientific research on whales could be done without resorting to lethal measures. "This is about building the world's most comprehensive whale research partnership with countries interested in developing an agreed scientific approach to research – one that doesn't involve killing whales," he said.

The destruction of the world's whales by industrialized hunting was an environmental catastrophe of the 20th century, Garrett told delegates at the workshop's opening session."Many countries were complicit in this destruction, and nowhere was it greater in scale or intensity than the Southern Ocean, where blue, fin, right, and humpback whales were pursued to the very edge of extinction," he said. "Australia acknowledges its own involvement in this tragedy and we must all learn from mistakes of the past to make sure they are never repeated again."

Japan, however, does not feel that it has made mistakes. There is nothing to learn other than most of the world does not appreciate Japan's food culture, I mean scientific methods. It is certainly ironic that this week Valdimir Putin decided to bend to world opinion and ban the annual massacre of baby seals in Russia. We can't all be outliers all the time.

Hard Power

When asked, I said I was rooting for the Mets.

However, I think I was supposed to select either the Japanese or the Korean team to win the World Baseball championship. I really couldn't tell you a Swallow from a Cardinal, but I do know that men seem to take this game seriously.

Prime Minister Taro Aso takes his baseball seriously. On Tuesday, when he congratulated the Japanese baseball team on winning its second consecutive World Baseball Classic title, he said ‘‘The fundamental power of our country was reaffirmed through this tournament.’’ 

Really? I think we need to introduce him to Thunderdome.

Monday, March 23, 2009

One Poisonous Fish

Will Ichiro Ozawa survive? Why not? His only enemies are Japan's establishment and the United States. If you want to win an election in today's Japan, both seem like good adversaries to have.

Not unexpectedly, revelations of bribes, I mean illegal political donations, from Nishimatsu Construction are popping up on all sorts of prominent LDP members. The focus seems to be on Prime Minister Aso's cabinet. Gosh, how did that happen? Who knew?

Some investigators are even finding possible illegal contributions from more established construction firms to promient politicans. Interestingly, both parties are treating the subject gingerly in the Diet. More challenging has been Ozawa's declaration that he will push again for legislation to end political contributions from companies and institutions. He, he says, has learned his lesson.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Iwao Uruma, former head of the National Police Agency, is said to have told the media, on condition of anonymity, that the Nishimatsu probe wouldn't spill over to the LDP. He did not stay anonymous for long. As Mr. Ozawa observed, "If this is true, I find it a bit odd."

Odd indeed. Ozawa has resources and grit. Going after him can be very dangerous indeed. He is not new to this game and he is determined to win.

Tomorrow, he is supposed to announce whether the scandel affected his abilities to govern enough to cause him to step down a DPJ party chief. I doubt that very much.

Already the voices within his party for him to resign are letting up and many see no harm in his remaining if he is not further implicated in the fundraising scheme. Although 60% of the Japanese people polled recently in a Yomiuri were disappointed in the DPJ, 58% still see the party as capable of running the country. A Mainichi poll found 67% of respondents distrustful of the LDP.

Best yet, on Friday, the Tokyo Public Prosecutors Office said it would likely forgo calling Ozawa in for questioning. They currently do not feel that they can connect the DPJ president to the procurement of illegal donations.

Unable to discredit or throw Ozawa in jail, the LDP is back on track for September elections. Their next move is likely to use their time wisely by creating a "third party" that can hopefully defuse some of the DPJ's popularity and ensure a coalition government.

For now, Ozawa is one poisonous, dangerous fish to touch.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

And Everybody hates the Jews

On the blog, Minoru Morita Unravels Japan, the authors report that:
Atsuyuki Sasa, former chief of Japan's National Security Council (1986.7.1 - 1989.6.30) blames the financial scandals in the US on the "Jews" during a Saturday morning program. 

Here's a translation courtesy of a source at the Wiesenthal Center (Japanese speakers, watch the video for yourself. It's irrefutable.):

「ひどい事をしているのはユダヤ人ですよ」 (Hidoi koto wo shite iru no wa yudayajin desu yo It is the Jews who are doing these awful things).

The TV host apologizes for the comments, but Mr Sasa counters:

「いつでも受けて立ち ますよ」(Itsu demo uketachimasu yo. I'll stand by my statement at any time).
In Washington, Mr. Sasa is a favorite among the "alliance managers." He is considered a sober commentator of US-Japan security issues and often participates in conferences and private gatherings. He was even at the White House for an appointment with Torkel Patterson and Mike Green at National Security Council Asia desk the morning of 9/11.  One wonders what impression he had of American crisis management that morning. 

Talking Heads

The Sunday morning ritual for Washington's cognoscenti is to watch the TV talk shows. Never call any of your inside the Beltway (that is Washington) friends on a Sunday morning. They are all following the conversations by a carefully selected, articulate, and photogenic group of Washington "insiders."

Now, this does not mean that any of these people are actually intelligent, just good at sounding and looking that way. These shows are limited by the self-promotion abilities of their guests and the inability of real experts to answer questions in succinct and meaningful ways. The unwillingness of some to speculate on issues they are not familiar with is a real career limiter in Washington.

The must-see shows are Face the Nation, This Week with George Stehpanapolos, Washington Week, Meet the Press, The MacLaughlin Group, Inside Washington

Most of this is just pure entertainment. Participation in these shows is one the markers of success in Washington. And invitations are not given lightly. Much of Monday's conservation will revolve around what was said on Sunday.

One new show, however, is surprisingly interesting. This is This Week in Defense News. The format is old fashioned and features unattractive white men talking about war and peace. Actual experts are invited to participate and there are no regulars. I actually learn something.

Prime Minister’s Schedule

One of the fun things to read is the Prime Minister’s schedule. You learn who he met with and for how long. You can check if he took his morning “walk around his residence” and how late he stayed out with his secretary who he met at a hotel bar.

I read this in English and am not really sure where it is published in Japan (newspapers, I am told). And yes, I live such amazingly unexceptional and isolated life that I look forward to finding out what Mr. Aso did the previous day.

Of recent interest, I noticed that Mr. Aso met but again with Michael Green, the Japan Chair at the conservative Washington think tank CSIS. On March 2nd, the Prime Minister held a meeting with Central Japan Railway Co. Chairman Yoshiyuki Kasai, Confederation of Indian Industry Chief Mentor Tarun Das (I have no idea what that title means), and Mike Green to discuss their recent U.S.-Japan-India Trilateral Strategic Dialogue gathering. (the link takes you to a three and a half page summary of the two years of discussions)

Fund it and they will come. 

Speaking of tying up a lot of people with lots of money to travel to exotic places to merely discuss the “big picture,” the name Patrick Cronin comes up again. To any one of you who disparaged Dr. Cronin’s close ties with Prime Minister Taro Aso, you should have read the PM’s daily schedule for November 25, 2008. The defense think tank head not only had lunch with the PM but later went out with him for drinks at a hotel bar. That is serious facetime. On January 15th, the Mainichi Shimbun reported that this meeting was to persuade the PM to commit more resources to Afghanistan as this was to be a priority of President-elect Obama. Cronin, the paper said, is close to Defense Secretary Gates. That is serious newspaper exposure.

It is nice to see all these Republicans taking the time to advise Mr. Aso on what the Obama Administration wants. There is a vacuum after all. Anyway, there seems little difference between Bush and Obama people or policies on Japan. I have to admit I do not recall any Democrats visiting Kantei. But maybe I have not been paying attention.

Updated: later March 22, 2009

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Reminder Needed

Friday marked the 14th anniversary of the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system by cult AUM Shinrikyo, which killed 12 and injured more than 5,000 people.

The Mainichi Shimbun quoted a lawyer affected by the attack as noting "The threat of a chemical attack against civilians is being forgotten." He has proposed the construction of a memorial for victims. "We should pass down our memories of the attack to future generations, to prevent it happening again" he concluded.

Yes, that is one purpose of a memorial. And it is the same one voiced by so many of Japan’s war victims. They want a physical, visual, lasting presence of their suffering. It is supposed to remind people to never repeat, to never allow again their government to inflict such human indignities upon others.

In December 2008, victims of the attack began to receive compensation from the Japanese government for their injuries and suffering. The Aum cult, itself, is bankrupt and thus the government took on the responsibility for compensation. Aum's assets were only enough to pay for 40% of the compensation required to its victims, which they did not begin to receive until after March 2008. 

Interestingly, it was DPJ-sponsored legislation that set up the government funding for the rest of the compensation package.  As the settlement took so long to be accomplished under the LDP, only half of those eligible for compensation have applied and about 20% have yet to be located.

Gosh, I thought I was going to be writing about historical memory and I end up detailing but another failure of the LDP.

Alas, Justice for Some Monsters

On March 30th and 31st, Comrade Duch will be brought to justice. He and four other senior surviving members of the Khmer Rouge are to be tried for the genocidal atrocities of the KR's nearly four years of ruling Cambodia. Although some find it remarkable that the trial—12 years in the making and 30 years after Khmer Rouge regime ended—is happening, it is more remarkable that this justice by international tribunal is now commonplace.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia is an international tribunal for (essentially) historical justice established in 2003, becoming operational in 2007. Its website is detailed and tri-lingual. The public is welcome at the trials and the stated purpose of the Extraordinary Chambers is:
to provide fair public trials in conformity with international standards. The chief goal is to provide justice to the Cambodian people, those who died and those who survived. It is hoped that fair trials will ease the burden that weighs on the survivors. The trials are also for the new generation - to educate Cambodia's youth about the darkest chapter in our country's history.
As Richard Bernstein wrote in an excellent article on the upcoming trials in the April 9th issue of The New York Review of Books , not everyone will be brought to justice. The Khmer Rouge’s leader Pol Pot died and Cambodia’s current Prime Minister Hun Sen was a KR official. The tribunal’s focus on only five defendants suggests an unofficial immunity to the many others who terrorized and murdered over 3 million of their fellow Cambodians. But this is not an unfamiliar result with other tribunals.

The accounting of history is any tribunal’s real accomplishment. Kaing Guek Eav, aka Comrade Duch, has a history comparable to any German, Japanese, or Serbian war criminal. He was commandant of the Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh, better known as S-21, which is now Cambodia’s national museum to the Khmer Rouge genocide.

Like other modern torturers, the Cambodians kept detailed records of their victims. hp Even though the vast majority of the victims were Cambodian, foreigners were also imprisoned, including Vietnamese, Laotians, Indians, Pakistanis, Britons, Americans, New Zealanders and Australians. Out of an estimated 17,000 people imprisoned at Tuol Sleng, there were only twelve known survivors.

This last fact recalls many Japanese POW camps. The most infamous was Sandakan, a prison compound in British North Borneo (now Sabah) that held over 2,400 Australian and British POW's, mostly captured when Singapore fell. Only six Australians who escaped survived to the end of the war. Those who did not die of disease or starvation were murdered. [More on Sandakan HERE.]

Tribunals do matter; no matter how imperfect. Yet, too many Japanese argue that they are only “victor’s justice.” They do not understand that there is too deep a need for an accounting, for history to be recorded for both the victims and themselves. It is no longer acceptable for the "winner" to have won the fight to the death. The winner has to be accountable, as does the loser.

This week in Washington there will be two interesting programs on memories of Japanese war crimes and the Tokyo Tribunal.

THE TOKYO WAR CRIMES TRIAL AT SIXTY: LEGACY AND REASSESSMENT. 3/23, 4:00-6:00pm, Washington, DC. Sponsors: Sigur Center Project on Memory and Reconciliation, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University (GWU), and Sasakawa Peace Foundation. Speakers: Yoshinobu Higurashi, Kagoshima University, author of The Tokyo Trial and International Relations: Power and Norms in International Politics, (2002) and The Tokyo Trial (2008); Yuma Totani, University of Hawai'i, author of The Tokyo War Crimes Trial: The Pursuit of Justice in the Wake of World War II (2008); Daqing Yang, GWU; Mike Mochizuki, GWU. Location: The City View Room, Elliott School of International Affairs, GWU. 7th Floor, 1957 E Street, NW.

Noon-2:00pm, Washington, DC. Sponsor: George Washington University (GWU) Elliott School of International Affairs' Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies. Speakers: Mike Mochizuki, associate professor of political science and international affairs at GWU; Daqing Yang, associate professor of history and international affairs at GWU; and Lily Gadner Feldman, senior fellow in residence at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Location: GWU Elliott School, 1957 E St., NW, Voesar Conference Room, Suite 412.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

We all have our roles

Human rights in China have long been an issue dear to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s more “practical” attitude toward “those issues” first expressed during the Secretary’s late February trip to China must have irked the Speaker…a lot.

As Speaker Pelosi told TV Host Charlie Rose in regard to Clinton in China, “We all have our roles. And I have, in my essence of my being, that I — for 20 years they have been saying to me, peaceful evolution. If you just be patient, there will be human rights and respect for another view in China. It hasn’t happened. And that’s really sad.”

The Speaker did understand the Administration’s concern that if she hammered China on human rights she might anger the country that holds much of America’s debt. There is an irony of her pushing through trillions in stimulus packages that rely on massive purchases of U.S. debt by the Chinese government. But how do you abandon the principles that compelled you just last year to give the Congressional Medal of Honor to the Dalai Lama?

Thus, it should not have been a surprise that the Speaker pushed/rushed through the House last week (March 11) H. Res. 226, “Recognizing the plight of the Tibetan people on the 50th anniversary of His Holiness the Dalai Lama being forced into exile and calling for a sustained multilateral effort to bring about a durable and peaceful solution to the Tibet issue.” She even had a roll call vote (unnecessary under the suspension of the rules) called so that everyone present would be on the record as supporting the resolution or not. There were 422 yeas and only 1 nay (Ron Paul, R-TX and he doesn’t believe the US should have a foreign policy).

The vote sent a populist message to the White House and to Secretary Clinton on human rights. Maybe the Administration worries that “those issues can interfere” with other matters in working internationally, but the US Congress also worries what would happen if the United States did not take a stand on protecting human rights and dignity.

As Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly told Politico “The speaker will continue to speak out on the human rights situation in China…As the speaker has said many times, if we do not speak out for human rights in China and Tibet, then we have lost all moral authority to speak out for it other places.”

Riding this wave was Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) and his resolution on child abduction, H. Res. 125. The obvious deal was that Smith would get his resolution with a few Democratic additions (examples from Japan and Mexico) in time for the Brazilian President’s visit this past weekend if he got the vote out for the Tibet resolution. Republicans were already on board for the Tibet vote, but Smith’s involvement guaranteed a majority of them present at the vote. The addition of countries that have not signed the Hague Convention was simply a political bonus for all concerned. This is an excellent example of bi-partisan cooperation structured to send strong messages to the White House on issues important to most Americans. It is tough to argue against family and freedom.

This is also a good lesson to China and Japan who have difficulty understanding the American Congress. Both prefer to operate through relationship “managers” and access to the White House. They both hire very expensive lobbyists who dismiss the minutia of popular politics and storm into congressional offices saying that their clients will be mortally, culturally offended. They also both think there are practical solutions to these “misunderstanding.”

What may be a win with senior officials can turn quickly into an embarrassment at the hands of Congress. And if your country is not close those standards held important to Americans, such as child abduction, human trafficking, free speech, expect a congressman to sometime spotlight that fact. And oftentimes, especially with a nonbinding resolution that has no effect on U.S. policy, a foreign government’s explanations make the situation much worse.

But as the Speaker said, "we all have our roles to play."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Missing Children

I realize that not many people read this blog, nor will, but I have a request to my few readers.

My interns, friends, and I have searched the Internet for mention of House Resolution 125 on Child Abduction in the Japanese press. None of us has found anything.

It appears the tens of thousands of dollars the Embassy of Japan spent in Washington to try to squash or change H. Res. 125 went unnoticed. Maybe the lack of publicity was the Embassy's win. The Embassy was certainly caught unaware of how troubled members of Congress are by Japan's unwillingness to sign the Hague Convention.

If you have seen any mention of the Resolution and the vote IN THE JAPANESE PRESS, I would be grateful if you would pass that article along to me.

Thank you.


Several weeks ago, there was a hint that the Emperor and Empress of Japan might make an "unofficial" visit to Pearl Harbor. If so, this would have been an historic gesture. Many had hopes that an Imperial moment of reflection at the opening of World War II's Pacific theater would symbolize Japan's acceptance of its war responsibilities and officially end the war of apologies.

After all, the Emperor's father started the war and the Emperor remains Japan's head of state.

Thus far, in September the Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited Hiroshima and there was a noticeable bow. And in late December, the Speaker of the Upper House of the Japanese Diet Yohei Kono made a very quiet visit to the Punchbowl Cemetery in Honolulu.

Unfortunately, the Imperial Household announced on March 13th that this visit would not happen. In a curt statement, a palace official said "The purpose of the visits is not for the repose of people's souls."

Restless, then, these souls remain.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Tale of Shuten Doji

The Tale of Shuten Doji is one of Japan's most famous folk tales. It is about a demon (Oni) who terrorizes a town by abducting and eating its young, innocent maidens. A brave warrior with the help of magic and four comrades eventually succeed in killing the demon. Peace is restored.

You can find a charming flip-book of the story HERE.

This story is losely based on the exploits of Minamoto Yorimitsu (948-1021, pictured) who the Emperor employed to stop a band of ruthless bandits from raiding the capital and kidnapping women. Minamoto became a legendary hero for restoring the peace.

During the Edo period (1615–1868), many artists in Japan illustrated scenes from this dramatic folk tale. Images of this popular legend appeared in works commissioned for elite patrons as well as in widely available printed books.

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is sponsoring from March 21 to September 20 an exhibition exploring the "modes of visual narration through the museums' exceptional collection of works that illustrate tales surrounding the demon Shuten Dōji. Presented together for the first time are two sets of handscrolls, a pair of screens, sketches for a set of fan paintings by Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831–1889), and book illustrations by renowned Japanese painter Hokusai (1760–1849) and other artists, all in the collections of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, together with paintings from private collections." The link above has an excellent slide show of some of the work exhibited.

Scratch that Idea

Amb Kazuhiko Togo is a veteran of Japan’s history wars. He had worked hard to construct governmental, official-sounding apologies that satisfy both the myriad interests in Japan and Japan’s still-wounded victims. Now, after years of exile in the West, he searches for some middle ground on contrition for Japan. He tries to reconcile Japanese admissions of its wartime atrocities with the desire to protect national honor. He discusses his thoughts in an edited book, East Asia’s Haunted Present.

An important thesis of his writing is his belief that the April 27, 2007 Japanese Supreme Court decision on forced labor ended/nullified any claims, state or private, against Japan. Government-to-government agreements normalizing relations with Japan’s former colonies and enemies ended any and all efforts for additional legal remedies for redress and apology.  
What is left, he argues, is Japan’s “moral dignity.” 

With legal immunity firmly in place, the Japanese people are free to take the moral high road and pursue other remedies toward understanding and reconciliation. Togo raises this possibility especially in regard to forced labor from Chinese, Koreans, and Allied POWs. Industry and government were clearly responsible for what happened to these forced laborers, and continued denial is counterproductive.

Unanswered is how would Japanese government or industries interpret what is “moral” and what would compel Mitsui or Mitsubishi to pursue the moral course. An answer was provided on Monday, March 9th.

The Japan Times reports the Fukuoka High Court dismissed a damages suit against the government and two companies, Mitsui Mining Co. and Mitsubishi Materials Corp., by 45 Chinese who were forced to work as laborers in Japan during World War II. The plaintiffs had filed the suit in February 2003, seeking monetary compensation and an apology to be published in Japanese and Chinese newspapers.

The court acknowledged “forcibly taking the Chinese to coal mines in Fukuoka Prefecture was an illegal act committed jointly by the government and the companies. However, it noted that individual Chinese have no right to demand war reparations from Japan due to a postwar agreement.”

Last April, however, the High Court's presiding judge, Koji Ishii, recommended the two sides settle out of court as “the pain the victims have suffered was big.” But negotiations were broken off, the Times reports, partly because the government rejected the suggestion.

Interestingly, also on March 9, the International Labor Organization again admonished Japan for its failure to address its wartime violations of the 1930 Forced Labor Convention, which Imperial Japan signed and ratified, with respect to comfort women and industrial slavery (forced labor). [Relevant portions of the 2009 report are on pp. 222-224; pp.252-254 of PDF version] 

Neither domestic judicial suggestion nor international legal obligation appear to persuade official Japan that there is a “moral” element to wartime apologies. Neither guilt nor shame are components of Japan’s war responsibilities. Today’s Japanese leaders define their own compromises on these issues and declare that they are to be accepted for what they are. 

So, with the Fukuoka decision concerning forced labor for Mitsui and Mitsubishi, the first test of Amb Togo's suggestion to use a "moral attitude" as a tool of war reconciliation has failed.

Some Reading
“NHK's Finest Hour: Japan's Official Record of Chinese Forced Labor” By William Underwood, ZNet, June 20, 2006 

“Japan's historical Memory: Reconciliation With Asia” By Kazuhiko Togo, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 52-4-08, December 23, 2008.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Surprise

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to the United States Ichiro Fujisaki speaks often in Washington. He like to emphasize what he expects in his diplomatic mission. His first expectation and rule, is that he wants "no surprises" between the US and Japan.

On Monday, March 9th, he was surprised; and not in the good way.

A seemingly irrelevant House of Representatives resolution sponsored by a New Jersey Republican (Chris Smith) calling on Brazil to honor its commitment to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, suddenly became Japan's problem. The Democratic leadership of the House decided that this resolution (H. Res. 125) was the perfect vehicle to address a number of related child abduction issues. Wronged parents can be very tenacious constituents.

Thus, the Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee Howard Berman (D-CA) allowed the resolution to be amended to include language that pointed out other cases of unlawful child abduction. Some cases have been with countries that have signed the Hague Convention, but have demonstrated a pattern of noncompliance, such as Brazil, Bulgaria Chile, Ecuador, Germany, Greece, Mexico, Poland, and Venezuela. AND Countries that are NOT "partners with the United States under the Hague Convention" such as JAPAN, India, and Russia.

The Resolution also included two examples of countries that have caused American parents-left-behind incredible grief: Brazil being one case and JAPAN being the other. It was not lost on members of Congress that Japan was being grouped with less "developed" countries like India and Russia.

On March 11th, Mr. Berman agreed to "waive jurisdiction" (a common parliamentary procedure with noncontroversial legislation) on the Resolution and it jumped from the HFAC and landed on the floor of the House under the suspension of the rules (another common parliamentary procedure with noncontroversial legislation). This resolution was considered on the floor with the Tibet resolution condemning China for its oppression of the Tibetan people on the March 10th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against China. House Speaker Pelosi had made this issue a priority. The resolution on child abduction also had a particular urgency because the President of Brazil Lula was to meet with President Obama that weekend.

In other words, there was deep bi-partisan support to speed both resolutions through Congress. The Democrats wanted the Tibet Resolution and the Republicans the Child Abduction one. Moreover, Rep Xavier Becerra (D-CA) who is head of the Hispanic Caucus and an increasingly powerful member of Congress, is Patrick Braden's representative. Mr. Braden is one of the most active fathers seeking the return of his abducted daughter. His legal case is also the strongest.

Yes, both China and Japan tried to lobby against the resolutions affecting their countries. Japan sent both Embassy officials and the law firm of Hogan & Hartson (former Amb to Japan Howard Baker's law firm) to the Hill. Japan complained that they were considering signing the Hague Convention. Japan hands know that although this is true, that "consideration" will take years, if not decades. Japan also complained that the laws of other countries do not apply to Japan. However, the U.S. does have an extradition treaty with Japan and many other shared legal vehicles. And it goes without saying that this argument undermines Japan's commitment to international law.

Brazil, the real target of H. Res 125, never raised an objection, never made even a phone call to the Hill. They let the issue pass.

On the floor of the House, several congressman gave prepared statements supporting the Resolution and citing various examples of child abduction. Significantly, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Berman introduced the resolution and led the discussion (debate). Rep. Becerra discussed in detail the situation of Melissa Braden who was abducted to Japan, among of the top three countries where children are abducted. 

It appears Rep. Smith called for a roll call vote (it is possible this was the result of last minute Japanese Embassy lobbying or simply good domestic politics). I am not sure that was wise for Japan if they encouraged it, but it was good for Mr. Smith. (you can find the discussion in the Congressional Record pp H3300-3305.]

Under suspension of the rules, debate is limited and the vote is a voice vote with the result implying unanimous consent. With a roll call vote, everyone has to go on the record as to how he or she voted. Interestingly, 418 of the 435 members of the House were on the floor at the time. So the result was 418 voting for the resolution, making it unanimous--and embarrassing for Japan.

This is not the first time Japan has been surprised by the US Congress by issues of values and law to which Tokyo is not a "partner" with the US. And it will not be the last.

More on Melissa Braden.

[Updated on March 17, 2009]

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Undermining Market Confidence

This evening, Kurt Campbell and his Center for a New American Security held a big briefing and small reception in the Willard Hotel to introduce his "bi-partisan" report on why Obama should rely on the same men who advised George Bush on Asia. The US and the Asia-Pacific Region: Security Strategy for the Obama Administration is the collective wisdom of five Washington think tanks, of which three are DoD affiliates and taxpayer funded.

But this is not the blog post to discuss the report, which was out-dated on delivery because of the global economic crisis. Anyway, far more witty and knowledgeable bloggers will do that.

Instead I want to relate to you a story of regional cooperation told at the briefing by Dr. Patrick Cronin, director of the Institute for National Security Studies at the National Defense University.

Dr. Cronin talking about, I think, how economics was bringing Asians together, used a quintessential Washington-point-making strategy (if you are keeping score), he noted a conversation he had with MR. TARO ASO THE PRIME MINISTER OF JAPAN AT DAVOS. Gosh, an unlikely foreign leader talking to an obscure think tanker at an important conference. I almost did not listen to the story I was so overwhelmed.

"Cronin-san," TARO ASO said.
"You would not believe what just happened. I was with Chinese President Hu Jin-tao. He saw me and grabbed two chairs and asked me to come sit and talk with him. He told me about how important it was to cooperate on economic issues and asked me to discuss with him the economy. And he sat there and took notes while I talked.
Never would I have believed that the President of China would sit and listen to a Japanese prime minister."

Now, I am not sure if I got every word correct of Dr. Cronin's anecdote, but the general idea was that Prime Minister Aso, the fresh prince of Tokyo, was explaining economics to the head of the largest country on earth.

Now you know why I could not get near the bar at the reception.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Miss Cornelia Takes The Bus

Please allow me a moment to be a proud mother...
And take a moment to celebrate World Water Week and donate a $1 for fresh water for the developing world. For more information about the campaign in Washington, see TapDC.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Mr T Goes Viral

On February 25th, former Japan Air Self-Defense Force General Toshio Tamogami went "live" with his new website. It is imaginatively sited at

The opening kanji are: 志は高く、熱く燃えよ [Kokorozashi ha takaku, atsuku moeyo], which roughly means: “Keep your spirits high, fired with enthusiasm.”

General Tamogami, you may recall, was "retired" last fall for allowing the publication of his essay, Was Japan an Aggressor Nation?「日本は侵略国家であったのか」 [Nihon ha Sinryaku Kokka de Atttanoka] (10/31/08). The General concluded in his award-winning essay that Japan was a victim of American deception and aggression in World War II.

Mr. T is popular. He says he has speaking engagements nearly every day of the month and he just had a huge crowd at his Los Angeles talk on March 1st. The Sankei covered it. He is raising so much money and getting so much attention he is seriously considering running for the Lower House in upcoming elections.

The website is a beautiful and professional done. It also features lots of GQ-like photos of Mr. T. He is a snappy dresser. His beautiful ties and custom-made shirt speak of many close relationships with the rich and powerful. (Rich Japanese men like to give each other gifts of expensive clothing. This is NOT done among straight American men.) It is striking how well he dresses. If you are used to the Japanese salaryman in the ill-fitting blue suit, dirty ties, and white socks, you just dont' know what to make of this man of Japan's new military.

Not all the links on the website are active, but they will be soon. You will be able to track where he speaks and become a "member" of the website. For now, you can read his greeting:
History is made by victor countries. Defeated nations are initially forced to accept the one-sided history of the victors' view. Thus, someday at some point, the defeated need to take their history back. Postwar Japan has been coerced into accepting the ‘villain-Japan’ historical perception. While the indiscriminate civilian slaughters conducted by other countries, including America’s dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as the Tokyo Blitz, have been disregarded, in our country, more than 1000 people has their lives taken in irresponsible trials during the Occupation after the war….We have to restore our proud history in order for Japan to develop as a respected nation in the 21st Century.
Yes, indeed, Japan does need to restore its proud history, as well as its sordid history, to become a respected nation in the 21st Century.

International Women's Day 2009

Today is International Women's Day.

It is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. But since I have a pretty dim view of the world of men, I am pretty much a glass-half-empty person on how much women have achieved. Our voices are still in the Wilderness and we still have to acquire power the old fashioned way. Hillary still had to hook up with Bill, Condi had to play nanny to George, and Koike has to sleep with Koizumi. Yikes!

As a veteran of Japan's "history wars," I also see all the irony in Japan's commemoration of this day of "achievement." One of today's must public issues affecting women is sexual violence in conflict. Imperial Japan's state-sponsorship of sexual violence and sexual slavery through its Comfort Women system remains a contentious history issue in Asia. Contemporary Japan's partial apologies mixed with archaic views on rape continue to damage the country's credibility on human rights.

Over at the UN Action website for Stop Violence Against Women in Conflict they note the day with a special page of commentary on how rape in conflict is among the most brutal crimes against humanity.

The UN Population Fund's Executive Director, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid writes:
Whether it is human trafficking, domestic violence, crimes committed in the name of honour or passion, child marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting, or sexual violence, which in many conflict situations has reached alarming proportions, violence against women and girls constitutes a shameful crime that is too often shrouded in silence and too seldom punished.

Violence against women and girls is not a women’s issue—it is an issue that concerns and diminishes us all. No custom, tradition or religion can justify cruel and degrading treatment.
During the Comfort Women debate over a US House of Representatives nonbinding resolution asking Japan for an unequivocal and public apology to the Comfort Women, too many Japan managers asked why was Japan being singled out. Why was a long-ago issue being dragged into the US Congress? Why should anyone care about these prostitutes? they asked.

It was as if they knew nothing about what was happening outside of the comfortable confabs of US-Japan dialogue. They think they are talking about security. They want to create a security community. Maybe if they turned on CNN and watched what was happening in the Congo, Dafur, Burma, Bosnia, Rwanda...or even read what Voice of America transmits. Or went to the UN Action website that is so eloquently called

Or they might want to contemplate the video below. It is supposed to be a message about harassment and rape. I found it extremely uncomfortable to watch. And I found its graphic message even more difficult to understand. The video suggests that girls will entice the weak, innocent male to pursue sex. Schoolgirls are just harlots who need better discipline. These are the same arguments used to create and to defend the Comfort Women system. To me, it is disturbing at best.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

In the Realm of Oshima

In the Realm of Oshima: The Films of Japanese Master Nagisa Oshima, a retrospective of one of Japan's most creative filmakers opened this week in Washington, DC. From March 6 - April 26, 2009 you can view all of his famous films free at three locations throughout the Washington area. These films of social disintegration and political protest seem as timely today as when they were made. So much of what Oshima critiqued remains.

Promotional materials note: "
The filmmaker who ushered in the Japanese New Wave in the late 1950s, Nagisa Oshima (b. 1932, Kyoto), rejected the genteel tenor of Japanese filmmaking and chose as his métier the turmoil of contemporary politics and culture. Imperfect characters from society's fringes were his vehicles for complex and often controversial ideas, while his formal brilliance won accolades around the world. This series, organized by James Quandt, Cinematheque Ontario, and The Japan Foundation, Tokyo, is presented in Washington at the Freer Gallery of Art, the National Gallery of Art, and AFI Silver Theatre." The website for the films includes movies synopses as well as times and locations. Harvard University also has an excellent selection of movie synopses.

On Saturday, The Washington Post presented a glowing review of works: A Panoramic View of Japanese Director's Dark Genius By Philip Kennicott, Washington Post Staff Writer (March 7, 2009; Page C01).

Most Americans, if aware of Oshima are either familiar with his artistic pornography such as In the Realm of the Senses or, more likely, the 1983 Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence that starred David Bowie and Beat Kitano about the brutality of a Japanese POW camp. It's award winning score by Ryuichi Sakamoto is haunting. As described on the Harvard website:

Oshima's unconventional adaptation of Laurence van der Post's celebrated memoir of imprisonment in a Japanese war camp [The Seed and the Sower] adds a lush and at times almost operatic dimension to the book, combining its moving tale of camaraderie and cultural difference with an unusual critique of masculine authority and the homoeroticism of the bushido code. Starring a mesmerizing David Bowie in one of his great film roles, Oshima's late masterpiece also features memorable performances by Ryuichi Sakamoto – who composed the film's incredible score – and Takeshi Kitano in his very first film screen appearance. Made at the height of Oshima's later international period, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence's exploration of the Japanese nation and image as seen by outsiders offers a fascinating counterpoint to the imperious and insightful scrutiny of the Japanese psyche that cuts across Oshima's work.
Others see the movie of as one of unrequited love and repressed heartbreak. In any interpretation, it is a movie about seeking shreds of humanity in calculated inhumanity. I am planning to take my son to see this film on April 25th. I will see what he thinks.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Tapestry in Architecture

Starting March 12 through June 5, the American Institute of Architects Headquarters Gallery in Washington, DC is hosting “Tapestry in Architecture: Creating Human Spaces.” The Exhibition is the first time a Japanese artist has been invited to present in this venue. It is a featured event in commemoration of the 30th Anniversary of the founding of the National Association of Japan-America Societies.

Mitsuko Asakura
is the artist behind the fiber art displayed. A key exhibition theme is “From Japanese Tradition, Global Innovation.” The combination of Japan’s ancient dyeing and weaving traditions with Western tapestries, and the blending of these tapestries with modern architecture, is intended to create entirely new, innovative human spaces.

The Exhibition features tapestries and photos of the tapestries in architectural contexts, creating spaces of spiritual depth and tranquility. Photos of some of the work displayed at the New York Japan Society's fall exhibit, can be found at a creative website just on visual "patterns."

Japan’s Crisis of the Mind [Excerpts]

On Monday, March 2nd the New York Times published an op ed by MASARU TAMAMOTO, currently of the World Policy Institute. Tamamoto is an innovative foreign policy analyst of Japan's generation next. He is cosmopolitan and articulate. He is not burdened with the postwar anxiety of presenting a benign Japan to a wary world.

He sees Japan's faults and misdeeds as something to confront, to work through, and to learn from. He is more representative of the new generation of Japanese thinkers than America's Japan managers know or want us to believe. Two years ago, he tried to open Western eyes to these emerging trends in Japanese thought as editor of a new English online journal on foreign policy supported by Japan's Foreign Minister. He failed. The story of his failure and his exile can be found HERE.

It is unfortunate that official Japan still finds safety in tired mythologies of the war and of its security relationship with the US. The effort to pacify Japan by ignoring its war histories (I include the conflicts back to the 1895 Sino-Japan War) created an emotional and intellectual void that Japan's Right has happily filled. Although the average Japanese person rejects these ultra-nationalist views, Japan's elites cling to them. The result is what Tamamoto has tried to write about.

Slowly, Tamamoto is beginning to reassert himself and talk about what worries his generation:

….The truth is, Japan is a mess. Mr. Aso’s approval rate recently hit 11 percent, and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party is in open disarray. His predecessor barely lasted a year. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan just offers more of the same. This is largely because we have become a nation of bureaucrats. What passes for national policy is the sum of various ministerial interests, often conflicting or redundant, with jealously guarded turfs and budgets….

….But what most people don’t recognize is that our crisis is not political, but psychological. After our aggression — and subsequent defeat — in World War II, safety and predictability became society’s goals. Bureaucrats rose to control the details of everyday life. We became a nation with lifetime employment, a corporate system based on stable cross-holdings of shares, and a large middle-class population in which people are equal and alike….

….Japan desperately needs change, and this will require risk. Risk-taking is not common among the bureaucratically controlled. You won’t find many signs on Japanese beaches saying, “Swim at your own risk. No lifeguard on duty.” If that sign were to appear, many Japanese would likely ask the authorities to tell them if it is safe to swim. This same risk aversion translates into protectionism and insularity. The ministry of agriculture, for example, wants to increase self-sufficiency in food. There is not nearly enough critical thinking and dissent in the Japanese news media.

Still, the idea that the Japanese are afraid of risk has no basis in history, for better or for worse. Remember Pearl Harbor? In fact, Japan’s passiveness today is in large measure a calculated and reasonable reaction to its behavior during the Second World War. But today, this emphasis on safety and security is long past its sell-by date.

We have run out of outside models to imitate. We must start from scratch, embracing an idea of progress that is based on innovation, ambition and dynamism. Doing so will take risk — and extraordinary leadership. But the alternative is to continue stumbling down a path of decline.

Full Text:

Speaking of Deep Sea Fish

Above is the Krøyer's deep sea angler fish. These fish have round flabby bodies with a soft fibrous skeleton and prickly skin. Like most other deepwater anglerfish this fish has a small eye, no pelvic fins and is colored black. It has a moderately sized mouth and the fishing lure on top of the head is as long as the body and topped by a small luminous bulb. Between the lure and the dorsal fin is another thin filament about half the length of the lure.

Males are free swimming when young but before they mature these small fishes (about a tenth the size of the female) attach themselves permanently to the hind body of the female and become parasitic. Their blood supply becomes continuous with that of the female and most of the internal organs degenerate: they become simply appendages to supply sperm when required.

Not much left to say after that other than most women throughout the food chain would agree.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Deep See Fish

Scientists believe that life on earth was created near the hydrothermal vents deep in the oceans (example to the right). Today, these vents nurture all sorts of peculiar creatures most of which we are yet to catalog or understand. This situation is is a lot like Japanese politics. Much of what Western analysts call politics in Japan is the result of primordial goings on far from the public view. What we do see is merely what came to the top--and we are not even sure what it is or how it got there.

Thus is the situation with opposition party leader Ichiro Ozawa who is facing accusations of corruption. The question is not that he was corrupt--all Japanese politicians are--but why it was exposed. Ozawa is an old-line Japanese pol who would have been prime minister by now if he had stuck it out with the LDP. But he didn't and he has long been a bother to the ruling LDP.

Ozawa understands Japanese politics and works well in its subterranean world. He certainly knows where everyone's money comes from and where the proverbial bodies are buried. Touch him and he could bring everyone down with him. Or so he and everyone thought.

On Tuesday, March 3rd this all changed. His private secretary was arrested for handling illegal campaign donations from a well-known crooked construction company, Nishimatsu, that spread money around to everyone. Receipts of the illicit transactions were even kept. How tidy.

Actually, the entire construction industry in Japan is corrupt and dependent on "good relations" with politicans who work hard to bring public works projects and jobs to their districts. Politics and business still depend upon handshakes and winks; contracts and rules are merely guidelines. A high degree of tolerance for what Westerners would call corruption is necessary for the Japanese system to work.

It is likely you could pin the charges of illegal campaign donations on pretty much any LDP elected official or businessman who has to work with the government. Three Aso Cabinet members and former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori have admitted that they too accepted "donations" from Nishmatsu. The newspapers report growing lists of other culpable politicians.

Thus, appears the issue of who is selected and when for prosecution on corruption. Why does one politician and not another get singled out. No one, by the way, ever beats the charges. My observation is that the "legal" recourse is used when "reason" no longer works against those who threaten Japan's status quo. Who determines what is the "status quo" is another mystery. Nonetheless, you tend to see this self-correcting mechanism applied against financial pioneers, politicians who have too much popular appeal, and Diet members who won't retire. The more powerful have their assistants and secretaries indicted; whereas those with waning influence will find themselves on the docket.

Charges of corruption are official Japan's way of maintaining political stasis and discipline. Thus, it is not interesting "why" Ozawa is being punished, but why it took so long to happen. It is a mystery of the deep. [more on that later]

N.B.: The officials and politicians who accepted donations from Nishmatsu's political groups say they plan to return the funds. However, none of these groups still exist. So to whom are these funds going?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Did I read this correctly? The Nikkei reported today (March 4) that:

Toru Hasuike, deputy representative of the Association of Families of Abducted Victims, attended a meeting yesterday of the Parliamentarians League to Promote Normalization between Japan and North Korea (chaired by Taku Yamasaki). Hasuike stressed that "dialogue" should be promoted in Japan's foreign policy toward North Korea, saying: "The government needs to think about what the origin is of North Korea's anger and resentment toward Japan. We have reached an important time when a flexible response is necessary." He proposed the realization of an early meeting between the parents of Megumi Yokota and her daughter Kim Hye Gyong.
This still does not define success, but it appears that some members of Rightist controlled Abduction group are trying to think outside their handlers' narrow political interests.

Just this afternoon, I advised some friends that they should slow down and be a bit more patient with political Japan. Something is happening that we are not seeing. Around the edges it appears that parts of the DPJ agenda are being co-opted by the LDP. And the good guy image of the DPJ is being shattered. Finally, change in Japan that we are used to.

Contemporary Korea

New York's Museum of Modern Art is featuring contemporary designers of South Korea in its gift shop. This is similar to an event focused on new design in Japan last year.

Destination Seoul presents a number of South Korea's imaginative product and crafts designers. You can see and buy the items for the home or to wear at the MOMA website.

It is refreshing not to see the same old quaint Asian handiwork. Americans are forever viewing Asia through its ancient arts. This certainly contributes to our distorted and often condescending view of the region. But sometimes I wonder if this is not the impression that Japan and Korea want to give. There is some political mileage left in maintaining exotic Asia. Its keeps expectations low. 

The Museum also has an ongoing series of new Asian cinema, ContemporAsian. Not your mother's Asia.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

An Unofficial Visit

Kyodo News reported this morning Tokyo time that Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko plan to visit Hawaii in July. Their stay is to be "unofficial" and may include a stop at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.

In recent years, the Emperor appears to have tried to repair some of the damage done by his father. His statements on the pain caused by the Pacific War have been surprisingly inclusive and the Imperial Household has at timely moments "found" dairies and statements to release that try to discredit many of the claims of Rights and Conservatives. Some of his statements have been part of his annual New Year's messages.

After all, the Emperor is Japan's official head of state. The Prime Minister is not. In fact, the prime minister is not even the executive of Japan. That is the Cabinet.

But the Emperor is not supposed to be "political." Conservatives and liberals in Japan are both uncomfortable with his pubic statements.

Will the Emperor do what no Japanese politician dares do? This past September, Upper House Speaker Yohei Kono did visit Pearl Harbor. He was the highest ranking in-office politician to do so. At least this is what a few articles in the Japanese press reported. It was never reported in the Western press or even the Hawaiian press. And it was not clear if Mr. Kono visited simply the Punchbowl cemetery or the USS Arizona Memorial. It seems like it was just the cemetery. But written details are hard to find. The Speaker does not even mention his trip on his website.

The schedule for Hawaii is still being planned. I suspect today's mention of a Pearl Harbor visit is to measure public and political reaction. The Emperor cannot avoid the "political" and maybe he should not try. Too much caution has already kept this issue political.  And its politics is yet to reach the 21st Century.