Thursday, August 27, 2009

Washington Loves Elections

Washington loves elections: any country's elections. Commenting on these are much more fun than policymaking. No hard knowledge necessary, the expert merely needs a sense of "politics," an authoritative tone, and personality.

The City's election pundits seem to follow the same rules as those running for office. Get your name out there, don't commit to too much, throw out a few sound bites, and most important suck all the air out of the room. And the goal is to get invited back or at least on network TV.

As Japan's lower house parliamentary elections approach (August 30th) self-promotional pieces have appeared in the in-boxes of Washington's Asia crowd and foreign desk editors. I cannot bring myself to link to these vanity essays as they are a tired lot of hedging on a "new day dawning" and how it will damage the U.S.-Japan alliance--maybe.

And in case, the turgid prose does not impress, there is a flood of programs on Japan's elections next week. The announcements are actually cheat sheets for desperate news editors who need a talking head or a quote. Although the blogosphere is alive with speculation on the social and cultural implications of the vote as well as how women may be represented in the Cabinet and Diet, it is unlikely that the men speaking throughout the week will note those subjects. Yes, none of the programs below include women.

The first to advertise was SAIS's Resischauer Center with JAPAN’S HISTORIC GENERAL ELECTION: IMPLICATIONS FOR US-JAPAN RELATIONS on September 1st with the very tedious Professor Kent Calder and very dull former State Department Japan hand Rust Demming. Calder, however, is considered a bit of an outsider in Washington as he does not ascribe to Team Armitage.

The conservative American Enterprise Institute is hosting the next day, JAPAN’S ELECTION: DEMOCRATIC BREAKTHROUGH? with State's head of the Japan Desk Kevin Maher; University of Virginia political science professor Len Schoppa; and CSIS's Nick Szechenyi who is Mike Green's bag carrier. The moderator, of course, is AEI's Michael Auslin, who must have been annoyed as heck that immediately after his program CSIS is holding its own talk fest, albeit with bigger names.

Most likely to be on C-Span and Japanese TV will be CSIS's UNDERSTANDING JAPAN’S ELECTIONS: WHAT THE ELECTIONS MEAN FOR ASIA AND THE UNITED STATES. This invitation-only event (you need to be worthy) is moderated by CBS newsman Bob Schieffer and features CSIS's Japan Chair Mike Green and his former business partner and now Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, with color commentary by the Tyler Brûlé (albeit with even more pretense and less talent) of Washington foreign policy pundits (he has long branched out from Japan) Steven Clemons, a blogger and fellow at the New America Foundation.

Coming in late on September 11th and having the audacity to charge ($25) but serving food is the joint Sasakawa Peace Foundation and Japan America Society of Washington POLITICAL CHANGE COMES TO JAPAN: WHAT LIES AHEAD with Columbia University's Gerald Curtis. Frankly, this is the only event maybe worth going to, but it is not free and after the news cycle.

Missing? Well there is Heritage, Brookings, Stimson, and the Council on Foreign Relations. The first two have weak Japan programs, and the latter two have small Japan programs headed by women: one pregnant and another a single mom--definitely not camera worthy.

With the exception of the Gerald Curtis talk, all the events are late afternoon and are unlikely to have even a cookie or a soda. How very disappointing.


Later: I have simply no idea how this happened. But as one of my friends has said: "I love my Apple..."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Ever wonder how the President of the United States (POTUS) spends his day?

Well, wonder no more. The Washington Post is tracking this for you and you can log on too:

See, HERE.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Being Unique is Not that Great

I once read that the study of Japan causes one to become broken-hearted. Expectations always end in disappointment as Japan is "unique" and prone to ignore its best interests.

I think this is true. It is also a lonely pursuit.

My horoscope reported one day this difficult past week that

Some of the best parts of a relationship are being great friends, partners in crime and mischief makers.

How I wish.

Many who study Japan are extraordinarily talented, witty, and perceptive. Some are even brilliant. However, they simply cannot get along with each other and cannot see their way to cooperation or collaboration. "Relationships" quickly disintegrate to competing interests, dysfunction, and commitments.

US-Japan relations is thus reduced to being managed by the cautious, self-important, and unimaginative--the congenial.

The lack of a coherent, thoughtful Western policy toward Japan is the result. Diminished, indeed mediocre talents on Japan have led to diminished expectations of Japan. Thus, Japan has been allowed to wallow socially, culturally, and politically in the 1950s.

I am trying so hard to be optimistic about the election on the 30th that is supposed to end 50-some years of one-party rule. And trying hard to believe that America's Alliance Managers will have the wisdom to appreciate the opportunity presented to them.

And I am also trying hard this week to feel better enough to get up the strength to stop watching morning TV like Kathy Lee and Hoda.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Woodstock Recalled

The above is how I recall Woodstock; at least that weekend in upstate New York 40 years ago.

Confined essentially to my bedroom this week, I have watched a lot of TV. And the airwaves are full of the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, summer of love, yadayada. In my drugged state I find the TV images evoking all sorts of memories of that weekend. At the time, you could say was a child of Woodstock, since I lived about 15 miles away.

I actually remember that weekend very well. I had just turned 13 and growing up on a farm did not seem so wonderful. I had already made up my mind to study China as it was the farthest away from Ulster County New York. To be sure, both parents were college professors, and they were more worldly than most.

Yet, my father maintained his father’s farm minus the chickens and I was a 4-Her. I remember my summers weeding and hoeing his very very large garden or going fishing at the Esopus Creek past the fields he rented out for sweet corn farming. I have yet to taste tomatoes and corn as good as my father’s and I still find it hard to actually buy rhubarb or pumpkins (we grew both).

My parents were exceptions in the rural neighborhood. The old farmhouse was a jumbled mess of books and papers and all the walls were covered with artwork. As professors in local community colleges, my parents were not quite part of the working class of laborers or of the middle class of Jewish merchants or of the upper class of doctors, lawyers, bankers and other WASPs. They were the “intellectuals.” Thus, most of the family’s friends were from the greater Woodstock, New York arts community: musicians, writers, artists, actors, and foreigners.

It was quite a creative and energetic mix, especially if you added my mother’s students—she was the visual arts professor at Ulster County Community College and directed an arts program just before art became a big business. To be “like everyone else” was the worse of accusations and my mother often accused me of this. Before computers and before big money, more risks were possible and excellent basic drawing and drafting skills were necessary. Only now, do I appreciate how truly talented some of these people were.

Despite the hype, most of their friends were surprisingly conventional: married, families, and no drugs. Even the many gay couples did not stand out. Everyone’s energies were focused on their creativity and originality. Yes, my mother tended to design her own peculiar clothing and her friends were anything but housewives. It was all so very embarrassing.

Anyway, my mother was intrigued by the Festival. All her students were going and she was a big fan of “happenings” as they were called at the time. She threw a few at the school much to the consternation of the Administration. She, however, being in her mid-50s, was not much of a fan of rock music and coming from the Bronx had only recently learned to drive.

I was willing to do anything but what I was doing, which was getting ready for the Ulster County Fair with my 4-H club. It was hot, humid and my cakes and breads were not baking well. Worse, I had reached that moment when any place but home seemed better, which was reinforced by all the art and history books in the house.

Thus, my mother and I asked my father if he would take us to the festival that had moved from 20 minutes from home (Woodstock) to nearly an hour a way (Bethel). The local news was full of reports of traffic, mud, medical emergencies, lack of food and water, and just sheer chaos. My father, the mathematics professor and local, who had probably, also had enough of never-ending festival in our living room, responded without taking a breath: “NO.”

So that was that.

And I spent the three days of the Woodstock Festival at the Ulster County Fair with my 4-H Club and my baked goods just out side of New Paltz. The rain and the mud and the animal smells were intense. I still remember sitting a picnic bench under a tarp with my funnel cake thinking I was missed the biggest thing ever.

I swear I witnessed the above scene at the fair, although this picture was taken only recently at the Ulster County Fair. I have disliked farm animals ever since. I believe I did win a few blue ribbons for my apple pie and brownies. My angel food cake was a disaster and I have never again tried to bake one.

At the end of this month, I am supposed to return to Woodstock for a memorial to one of my parent’s friends. It will be a chamber music concert at the Maverick. Since 1916, Maverick has been an essential part of Woodstock’s artist colony of free and creative spirits. I hope I am well enough to return home.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Shoes on the Ground

I have to admit, I like this photo. It is good memorial art.

This installation of 6,830 pairs of cloth shoes was created on August 9th at a temple in Tokyo. It was to memorialize the Chinese laborers who died in Japan after being forcibly taken to there to work during World War II.

The previous day, about 300 people — including around 70 from China and two survivors — took part in a memorial service for Imperial Japan's Chinese forced laborers. Reportedly, this was the first "joint" Chinese-Japanese service. At the event, the Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cui Tiankai said: "I hope the two countries will not only look back on history and pray for peace but also take opportunities such as this memorial service to lead to mutual friendship."

Although I have not yet determined if any well-known Japanese attended the ceremony, its timing and publicity is significant. Held between the anniversaries of atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the memorial tied the suffering of Japan's wartime victims to that of the Japanese. The Chinese also took unusual extra care to communicate this message in Chinese, Japanese, and English.

The Chinese, and many others, hold out great hope for a DPJ government. They seem to believe that the DPJ will work to resolve the lingering grievances from the War. This will in turn, remove an underlying obstacle to regional cooperation. Whereas China, and many US Alliance Managers, may see this progress as bringing Japan closer to Asia, it is equally possible that historic reconciliation will make the West more comfortable with Japan. Imperial Japan's unrepentant treatment of civilian and military POWs remains a wound between Tokyo and its Western allies.

Whatever the result of a stronger postwar peace, there appears to be a growing faith that the stated interest by some members of the DPJ to pursue meaningful contrition is real. The more savvy see a change of government as a long-in-coming opportunity. It may also embolden the majority to stand up to the vocal Right.

Some Japanese elites seem to sense this change. Japan's national television, NHK, has been running a series on the Pacific War and the atrocities committed. Retired Japanese diplomats have begun to participate in a rational history debate. And the Foreign Ministry has been tinkering with the Murayama Peace Statement to deliver overdue apologies. And curiously, disgraced construction company Nishimura is negotiating atonement payments to its wartime slave laborers.

Thus, the coming of the DPJ it is less about the shoes on the ground than the handwriting on the wall.

For more photos, see HERE.
For a video in Chinese, see HERE.
For the Chinese Ambassador's speech in Japanese, see HERE.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


On Sunday, August 9th at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Victims Memorial Peace Prayer commemorating the 64th anniversary of that city's atomic bombing, Prime Minister Taro Aso misspoke.

Nothing unusual, for him, but alarming to everyone else. Reading his speech, Aso said that the bombing left salt peter that can’t be healed! He misread the kanji for "wounds/scars" [kizuato] as "salt peter" [shoseki].

Yikes! Most Japanese simply dismissed Aso as a dimwit with poor language skills. However, one wonders where was his staff? In Washington, once you know your "great man" is not the sharpest tack in the box, you learn to compensate for him. Why didn't someone use hiragana to "spell out" his speech for him?

But the issue here is more than a mere nervous reader or poor staffing. As Mizuho Fukushima, president of the Social Democratic Party, fumed "I don't think it is appropriate to read (the word) in the wrong way on a day of prayer, when everybody in Nagasaki is feeling pain."

That is a very nice way of saying, "what sort of self-absorbed cretin has to read a speech that is at the heart of modern Japan's identity and sensibilities"!

One who feels little in his heart for anyone other than himself, is the answer. One who does not apologize, thank, appreciate, or consider. No get well cards from this guy.

Yep, the LDP is going to lose on August 30th.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Back to Invisible

I can't imagine that you care, but I may or may not return to blogging after today's operation and 5-day or so stay at a Washington, DC hospital.

However, if I do and if all goes well, my writing might improve. A reliable source--a Berkeley grad--tells me that the drugs for the pain are wonderful.

At the very least, the opiates should improve the viewing of Our Man in Abiko's blog.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Chicks in Stilettos

In the May issue of the conservative monthly Foresight there is an endearing, unattributed article: Female US Defense Department Official Flournoy Seen as Holding Key to US-Japan Alliance.

The magazine says that Japan must pay attention to her "because Flournoy is in charge of the US Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), mandated to be issued in 2010, and the QDR will inevitably affect the formulation of Japan's own National Defense Program Guidelines, slated to be issued at the end of 2010.

Well, that is essentially true. But there must be more. Is the gender of a Defense official always mentioned? To bad the article missed the fact that she has participated in the drafting of previous QDRs.

Wait, she is a key supporter of US Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He "has already proposed "changes" that will cut part of the US missile defense program and cancel the additional procurement of the F-22, a candidate to be Japan's next generation mainstay fighter plane, setting a difficult path for the Japanese government. Flournoy is considered to be a leading supporter of Gates' vision for defense."

OMG, she is Gate's handmaiden from Hell!

Japan's Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry have no choice but to work with Flournoy. However, a senior MOD official says: "Since Japan is low in America's priorities, the response of the US side has been sluggish."

Not only is Japan shunted aside, it is being done so slowly, by a women. Next thing you know, she is going to turn up in Tokyo wearing her version of Condi's stiletto boots.

A senior MOFA official could not conceal his anxiety and told Foresight that "Although her demeanor is soft and she does not seem like a strategist, if we make a mistake in how we deal with her, it could become an impediment in US-Japan negotiations."

Chicks, you just can't figure them out.

But I am now confused. What is it that will please those MOFA boys: stilettos or French maid?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

No Ambiguity Here

Washington's Alliance Managers are not happy with the impending change of government in Japan. To be sure, there is some cause for concern. The DPJ's foreign policies are fluid and in transition.

Yet, this ambiguity has not stopped the Managers from passing judgment. In a recent Sankei interview, CSIS Japan Chair Deputy Director Nicholas Szechenyi observed that DPJ foreign policy had become more centrist as it became apparent that economic worries were of more interest to the electorate than security concerns.

His Lord, Mike Green, was more blunt in testifying to Congress a few weeks ago. As the Sankei reports, "The DPJ has no plan for transferring power, and since there is confrontation inside the party on security policy, it is unclear how long the party will last even if it assumes power."

This said, the Japanese Embassy was quick to arrange with Dr. Green an invitation-only forum for visiting DPJ foreign policy adviser and Upper House Member Yukihisa Fujita. So if you are in downtown Washington on Friday, August 7th between 10 and 11 am, do stop by the 5th floor conference room at CSIS, 1800 K Street, NW. Most folks will be out of town on an August Friday, so there will be plenty of room. Be warned, CSIS rarely even gives coffee these days and the discussion is "strictly off the record." But, you certainly will be a lot more fun than whoever does appear, despite the bad coffee.