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    Minor desires turned to major needs

    Posted by Sean at 23:05, August 30th, 2009

    Still busy, busy, busy…but of course I can’t ignore the bit of news from Japanese electoral politics today. The following is the Nikkei graphic:

    ss09_top_graph

    The blue band is the ruling coalition, headed by the LDP. The red band is the opposition, headed by the DPJ. Look very closely, and you’ll see that one is larger. Or you can just look at the numbers.

    It was, of course, predicted that the LDP was going to get spanked in today’s Diet elections, but those are some sorry numbers even so. Voter turnout was high, too. The Nikkei has started reporting what The Australian is saying about the DPJ win:

    Influential Australian daily The Australian prominently announced on the front-page on 31 August the DPJ’s “landslide victory,” and it declared this change of administrations “an event on par with the Meiji Restoration and Japan’s post-war recovery.”

    And I’m sure we’ll be hearing that from a lot of the non-Japanese press in the next week or so. Whether it’s true, though, I’m not so sure. Voters are understandably angry with the LDP leadership, but there’s a lot about the System that you can’t reach through elected officials. That’s true everywhere, of course–legislators come and go, but functionaries remain, and they tend to know how to defend their territory. But it’s especially true in Japan. And Japan is a huge, rich country, and despite the economic troubles of the last two decades, there are a lot of people whose interests are served by the status quo and who have surely already started laying plans to keep Yukio Hatoyama and his crew from spoiling the party.

    But I doubt all the pressure against reform will come from recalcitrant old-timers. Hatoyama used Barack Obama’s “Change” mantra to fuel his campaign, and he’s likely to discover, as Obama has, that issues such as national defense and social welfare look very different when you actually have to govern. The Australian piece, according to the Nikkei, speculates that Japan will move toward more independence from the United States in diplomatic terms (while retaining its fast relationship with its Down Under neighbors, naturally). Hatoyama would undoubtedly like to, but if he tries, he’s likely to run smack up against obstacles called “China,” “Russia,” and “North Korea.” So what kind of change Japan will get is impossible to predict at this point, though it will be interesting to watch.

    One thing I can say: it’s nice to see the Japanese citizenry projecting boldness and vigor on the world stage. For the last twenty years, the Western media narratives have operated at two extremes: either the grin-and-bear-it Japanese were soldiering on through their economic malaise like helpless drones, or some sensationalizably freakish subculture (like hikikomori kids or people who hang out at manga/Internet cafes) represented the social meltdown that was just around the corner. At least, whatever the Hatoyama administration actually ends up doing, for the time being the story will rightly be one of voters using the democratic process to hold their underperforming leaders accountable.

    Added later: And of course I can’t post about a landslide victory and refer to Australia without yet again bringing in my favorite Olivia song (and see post title):


    Don’t expect much change in Japan, either

    Posted by Sean at 10:33, July 26th, 2009

    The DPJ has released a policy document to allay fears that, to put it bluntly, if it scores a majority in the Diet in next month’s elections it will screw things up because it doesn’t really know what it’s doing:

    The policy pamphlet will serve as the basis for Minshuto’s campaign manifesto for the election that many people expect will upset the balance of power.

    For example, Minshuto will no longer insist on the immediate end of the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean to assist in the U.S.-led fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.

    Minshuto has also backed down on its previous position concerning the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that Japan has with the United States concerning the U.S. presence in this country.

    Minshuto had long opposed the MSDF’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean.

    The policy pamphlet also calls for the implementation of inspections of cargo ships under economic sanctions against North Korea called for by a U.N. Security Council resolution.

    The move is aimed at deflecting criticism from Prime Minister Taro Aso who roundly attacked Minshuto for failing to deliberate a bill that would have allowed for such inspection of cargo ships. The lack of deliberation led to the bill being scrapped.

    To alleviate concerns among officials of the U.S. government that a Minshuto administration would drastically alter relations with the United States, the policy pamphlet says the party will propose a revision to the SOFA with the United States.

    In the draft document, Minshuto sought to start a comprehensive revision of the SOFA.

    Hmmm…shifting away from pie-in-the-sky positions when the prospect of actually taking the reins of government forces pragmatism on you. A memory is stirring…something familiar-sounding…no, lost it. Won’t come. The DPJ is also planning to push up subsidies for farm-family income to 2011. I’m not sure whether that represents an attempt to combat the LDP’s traditional dominance outside urban areas or just the pro-bucolicism sentimentality that seems to stir hearts in every industrialized democracy.


    Aso dissolves lower house

    Posted by Sean at 23:29, July 21st, 2009

    Prime Minister Taro Aso has now dissolved the lower house of the Diet:

    Official campaigning will kick off Aug. 18, but politicians were already behaving as if the race had begun to determine whether Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) would gain control of government.

    In an unusual move, Aso first felt compelled to apologize for his recent flip-flops on policy as well as internal discord within the party.

    “My careless statements caused distrust among the public and hurt trust in the political sector,” Aso said at a news conference Tuesday. “I extend my deep apology.”

    Earlier on Tuesday, Aso apologized at a meeting of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers for his statements and the woeful performance of LDP-backed candidates in recent local elections.

    Aso said at the news conference he would make three pledges to voters.

    He promised to achieve recovery in the domestic economy. He also vowed to assuage growing concerns about jobs, old age and child-rearing and pledged to comprehensively reform the taxation system, reduce the number of Diet members and central government bureaucrats and eliminate the controversial practice of amakudari.

    Bonus points to the Asahi translator for thinking to use assuage there. (“Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” was always one of my favorite hymns growing up, though the post-piety me can’t help thinking that was more due to Haydn’s rousing melody than to the text. Still, assuage is a cool word.)


    どう日本は変わるのか

    Posted by Sean at 13:44, July 14th, 2009

    The tsuyu rainy season is ending and high summer beginning in Japan, and Atsushi as always has sent me a few pictures of seasonal flowers to keep me attuned to the changes. We used to go see them together when I was in Tokyo. This is a lotus from Sankeien Park in Yokohama (which is near the setting of the opening scene of Ringu, for those who know it.)

    lotus from atsushi

    Now that we’ve established an image of tranquility, we can move on to the restiveness at hand.

    For those who haven’t noticed, electoral politics in Japan are in the middle of a shake-up. The LDP got spanked hard in the Tokyo Metro Assembly election a weekend ago, and Prime Minister Taro Aso is finally calling the snap election people have been trying to press on him.

    They decided the election will be officially announced on Aug. 18.

    The prime minister, who wanted to dissolve the lower house this week, held discussions with senior officials of the ruling bloc to that end.

    However, the prime minister apparently was not able to push back strong demands from many ruling bloc members opposing an early dissolution.

    At a government-ruling bloc meeting held at the Prime Minister’s Office later, Aso apologized for the poor coalition result in Sunday’s Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election and expressed his wish to have important bills passed through the Diet.

    “I’m very sorry [about the result of the metropolitan election],” he said. “I want important bills, such as the bill to revise the Organ Transplant Law and the bill for implementing North Korea-related cargo inspections [to be passed by the Diet].”

    The prime minister said he would dissolve the lower house once he saw how the deliberations over these bills would go after the Democratic Party of Japan presented a no-confidence motion against the Cabinet.

    Naoto Kan, who’s been back as acting leader of the DPJ, is trying to play Sunday’s results up as not only disaffection with the LDP/Shin-Komeito but also newfound confidence in the DPJ:

    In the election Sunday, Minshuto added 20 seats to bring its total to 54 in the 127-seat assembly.

    The LDP lost 10 seats and ended up with 38, the lowest since the party was formed and only tied in the 1965 election. New Komeito took 23 for the coalition’s combined total that fell short of the majority.

    Minshuto’s victory also snapped the LDP’s 40-year streak of being the largest party in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly.

    “It’s a result of higher trust in Minshuto, beyond the Tokyo administration,” Naoto Kan, Minshuto’s acting president, said on an NHK TV program Sunday night.

    Maybe. The Japanese are certainly unhappy with much of the status quo, and they may see the DPJ (called in these articles by a transliteration of its Japanese name, 民主党 [minshutou]: “democratic party”) as genuinely having a better policy platform. I’m not really sure it goes quite that deep, though. That’s not because Japanese are especially ignorant about “the issues”; rather it’s because they accurately understand their system as one that requires equilibrium. The LDP just hasn’t had enough pushback, and with the post-Koizumi parade of milquetoast administrations, it itself no longer represents a force in the Diet that effectively pushes back against the bureaucrats. And the ever-accruing list of scandals—related to political contributions, bid-rigging, and consumer products—gives citizens much less reason to believe that tolerating wheeling and dealing as usual is worth it in exchange for stability.

    That said, it’s disingenuous to talk about Diet elections as if they were United States congressional elections. The LDP and DPJ have differences in their declared policy platforms, sure, but the legislature and cabinet are limited in their ability to put them into practice. That’s not because the bureaucrats “actually run everything,” as is sometimes reductively claimed (I’ve possibly said so myself). It’s because the Diet is just one competing power center among several, which do include the unelected officials in the federal ministries. It’s helpful to keep that in mind when reading things like the last sentence below, from a Mainichi editorial:

    Through the uncommon practice of making a pre-announcement of the House of Representatives’ dissolution, Aso probably wanted to claim his authority to dissolve the Lower House, with the aim of silencing calls within the LDP for him to step down. Surprisingly, however, such calls have not been tempered. Within the party, some are pressuring the prime minister to step down prior to the dissolution of the Lower House, while others who are not going as far as calling for the prime minister to be replaced are proposing a “separation of LDP president and prime minister.” Under this plan, the LDP president would be replaced so that the party can embark on the next general election with a new frontman, who can then be nominated for prime minister after the election if the ruling bloc wins.

    It feels inappropriate for the prime minister — the very person who initiated the dissolution of the Lower House in order to directly ask the public if they support him — to be replaced right after the election. The public has become distrustful of the irresponsibility of a party that has repeatedly replaced its leaders, as if changing its facade could somehow fool the public. Party members convinced that the election cannot be won with Aso at the top of the party would more easily earn the understanding and acceptance of the public if they withdrew from the LDP and formed a new party.

    The opposition bloc including the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) submitted a non-confidence motion against the Cabinet to the Lower House and a censure motion against the prime minister to the Upper House on Monday. For all practical purposes, the long election race has already begun. A benefit of having the general election in late August is the fact that voters will have the time to scrutinize the policies proposed by different parties.

    The various political parties should hasten to compose and announce their manifestos. Prime Minister Aso and the ruling bloc, who have continued to evade voters’ choices, must avoid any tricks and fight this election fair and square with their policies. Hopefully, opposition parties will come up with concrete manifestos that detail what kind of changes we can hope to see in Japan with a change in government.

    There’s certainly more up for grabs than there would have been twenty years ago, and I have no doubt that DPJ legislators would (will) come into power expecting to be able to make substantive changes. But as with the Obama administration here in the U.S., it’s easier to embrace the idea of change than to put it into practice when the constraints of reality have to be factored in. Even Koizumi, who had the ideal balance of insider networks within the LDP and maverick cachet among fed-up voters, had to compromise again and again on reforms. The snap election promises the most entertaining campaign season since 2005, but it remains to be seen how the throw-the-bums-out energy might translate into long-term systemic shifts.


    [自然]淘汰

    Posted by Sean at 12:59, June 23rd, 2009

    The lead editorial in the Nikkei today carries the headline “Use stringent criteria for public assistance to [private] corporations”:

    Public-sector assistance for powerhouse corporations is getting mobilized. The government has determined that it will attach government insurance to the loans provided by the Development Bank of Japan to Japan Airlines. It is forecasted that within the month syndicated loans on a scale of JPY 100 billion will also be executed. Public assistance for Elpida Memory and Pioneer, among others, is also being looked into among relevant parties.

    The grounds for legitimizing Tokyo’s embarking on assistance for corporations are that it’s a response to a crisis. In the economically sluggish environment that surrounds them, if the operations of powerhouse corporations are impeded, many and great effects on the Japanese economy and on the daily lives of citizens will manifest themselves. The thinking goes that government intervention, taken as an emergency measure to forestall those effects, is justified.

    Casting an eye abroad, we see that the U.S. government has infused General Motors with approximately JPY 5 trillion of public funding to assist its reconstruction. In Europe and the Americas as well, Opel in Germany and other enterprises have taken public loans. Since the financial crisis of last fall, the nature of the relationship between private and public has changed, and now corporate relief from the government is not all that rare.

    However, the premise of the operations of private enterprise is responsibility for itself, and the brakes need to be applied hard to government assistance. If it gets to the point that “any old corporation can get a government bail-out,” then inevitably we’ll be asking for slackness in business operations. The metabolic process—restructuring, attrition [of moribund organizations], and appearance of new entrants—will not go forward, and it will produce a decline in industrial activity.

    An industrial policy of protecting the weak is not something that is desirable. In industries such as electronics, in which it has been indicated that the number of players is too high, moving forward with restructuring and attrition, not with bailing out individual enterprises, will lead to the robustness of the industry as a whole. Even if a powerhouse enterprise topples, if new entrants come to life, the markets will take on their own vigor, and employment will also emerge.

    Compared to some time ago, the financial markets are in the process of recovering their stability. We should pile prudence on prudence when it comes to setting in motion government assistance, which cannot be guaranteed not to cause distortions in competition.

    The word I’ve (loosely) translated “attrition” above is the selection part in the Japanese equivalent of natural selection (自然淘汰). Of course, the relationship between government and private industry (especially “powerhouse corporations”) has been much closer in Japan than it’s conventionally been in the States. And the Japanese have now had nearly two decades of experience with zombie corporations and painful economic dislocations.

    Added later: ReasonTV has turned Anthony Randazzo et al’s recent study into an episode.

    Added on 24 June: You’d think I’d be able to distinguish between JAL (my airline!) and ANA, but I mistyped above; it’s corrected now.


    Fukuda and Aso speak

    Posted by Sean at 22:42, September 17th, 2007

    Since we all know that polls are the last word in reliability, Yasuo Fukuda supporters can take comfort in last week’s Asahi poll. 53% of voters polled preferred Fukuda as the new Prime Minister, while 21% supported Taro Aso.

    Of course, that poll was taken on 15 and 16 September, and a lot can change in the run-up to an election. Fukuda and Aso appeared at Shibuya Station on Sunday to lay out their policy positions for the public, now that they’re the only two remaining contenders for Prime Minister this coming weekend. The Asahi probably has the best overall summary. Both took care to play to the LDP’s rural voting base by promising to address economic inequalities between urban and non-urban areas. (Aso assured voters that he did not support unbridled market liberalization and competition–as if we needed to be told that.)

    They also addressed foreign policy:

    Disturbed by the serious souring of Japan’s relationships with China and South Korea during the Koizumi era, Fukuda was trying to mend the ties. Abe’s visits to the two countries soon after he came to power have changed the atmosphere between Japan and these countries. But Fukuda appears to be hoping to bring fundamental changes to these important relations.

    Aso vowed to promote the “arc of freedom and prosperity” initiative he proposed as Abe’s foreign minister. This initiative is based on the idea of supporting countries that share such basic values as freedom and democracy. But his vision of the “arc” doesn’t include China and is therefore criticized as an attempt to create a network of countries around China to contain the expansion of its regional influence.

    Aso seems to be advocating a dual approach to dealing with China that combines dialogue with diplomatic maneuvering to put a brake on its influence.

    There’s a transcript of a lecture Aso gave about his “arc” vision here. It might be noted that he doesn’t mention post-Soviet Russia as part of the “arc of freedom and prosperity” either, and in a way it comes off as a more pointed omission than China, because he discusses the democratization and EU membership of the Baltic States and the need for greater stability in Georgia and Ukraine.

    The objective is for us to help democracy take root in a region that we envision as an ‘arc of freedom and prosperity,’ extending from the Baltic Sea to the Black and Caspian Seas.

    Hmmm…any ideas what we might be arcing around? (He does mention the importance of improved relations with both the PRC and Russia at the beginning.)

    North Korea, of course, is one of the biggest issues. The issue of the Japanese abductees is always in play here, and voters liked Aso’s firm line. Fukuda promises to take a more flexible approach:

    In Osaka, both candidates addressed the North Korea abductee issue. Fukuda stated, “I want to be the one to solve this problem,” and his indicated that he had resolved to effect normalization of Japan-DPRK relations through dialogue. Aso stated emphatically, “Without pressure, no dialogue will get off the ground.”

    Abe’s approach was to patch things up with economic heavy-hitters China and South Korea while taking a hard line toward economic empty set North Korea. It was popular. The abductee issue tends to be back-burnered in favor of nukes at the six-party talks, so Japan has essentially resigned itself to trying to resolve the problem with catch-as-catch-can support from its allies. But I’m not sure there is a resolution. The DPRK has been jerking around the families of abductees (notably poor Megumi Yokota’s parents) for years now. Maybe there is no approach that’s going to get Japan the information it wants.

    It wasn’t just Fukuda’s position on the DPRK that came off as dithery; his delivery was shaky, too. Aso was more confident; on the other hand, he hides his lust for power about as well as Hillary Clinton does, and his glee at being in the running for the top spot was possibly a bit too naked. But there are plenty of points that could be scored and lost this week. And as the Asahi notes, neither of them really explained how he planned to work with the newly strengthened opposition parties. For now, Fukuda still has the support of all the major factions.


    殉教

    Posted by Sean at 23:59, August 14th, 2007

    James Kirchick on IGF:

    Yet there’s a common, unattractive feature that many conservative gay men share: a serious chip on their shoulder. Being part of a community that is so intolerant of their views, gay conservatives can be embittered, patronizing, and castigatory of their gay brothers. It’s not a particularly attractive attitude. Perhaps it’s for this reason that I have not started cruising Log Cabin Republican meetings for dates.

    Yes, yes–a thousand times, yes. The more annoying gay leftists are worse (as the rest of Kirchick’s piece discusses), to be sure. Their worldview is mostly inaccurate. They assume that gatherings of gay guys are safe spaces not only for letting loose and being gay but also for slamming Bush, Israel, and capitalism without opposition. And they insist on pushing forward with political discussions even when it’s become clear that the only result will be more acrimony. For sheer obnoxiousness, they can be pretty tough to top.

    Still, there are gay conservatives who seem to be doing their best, conveying a smug sense of election and an ostentatious look-how-suffering-has-sanctified-me fortitude that even Hillary Clinton would surely regard as overdoing it. Cool don’t advertise, gentlemen.

    Personally, I don’t think I’ve met anyone I would describe as embittered, exactly. But I’ve encountered more than one conservative gay guy who’s seemed almost affronted when he discovered that I agreed with him on policy—as if the existence of another right-ish gay man somehow diluted his distinctiveness or something. Of course, that’s just my interpretation, based only on people I myself have met. I just can’t think of another plausible reason one would act annoyed at being agreed with.

    *******

    On a related note, Connie has this to say (my emphasis):

    I love feedback. I love comments. I love discussion. But if I say I like the taste of apple sauce, I really don’t care if you think I’m an idiot for liking it. It is perfectly OK to have unexpressed thoughts. I have millions of them.

    Good grief, yes. You are not duty-bound to loose upon the world everything that floats through your head. Really.

    *******

    On another related note, a friend has written to whether my post the other day stemmed the flow of hate mail so completely that I’m starting to miss it, in which case he gallantly offers to befoul my inbox with rants and insults of my choosing. Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m fine. Really.

    He also sends this link, which I’ll pass along just in case you haven’t already encountered it through Instapundit or The Corner:

    Here’s a story you don’t see every day – “Gay Nicaraguan Man Goes Into Hiding After Refugee Bid Denied“:

    His case made headlines in Canada and Nicaragua in February when the Immigration and Refugee Board denied him asylum saying they didn’t believe he was gay.

    Is that what Canadian immigration officials do all day? “Funny. You don’t look gay. Walk across to the men’s room again and this time put a bit of life into it.”

    I appreciate their concerns. Being gay isn’t exactly one of those jobs Canadians won’t do. Let a lot of squaresville straights stand muscling in on the gay immigrant fast-track, and there goes the neighborhood. But contrast the exacting entry qualifications for the gay refugee line with those for the terrorist refugee line. Ahmed Ressam, the famous “Millennium Bomber” arrested at the British Columbia/Washington State border en route to blow up LAX, was admitted to Canada because he told them he was a convicted Algerian terrorist.

    That’s right: As Mme Shouldice of the immigration service explained, being a terrorist was a legitimate criterion for admission, on the grounds that you had a reasonable fear of being ill-treated if you returned to the country where you were trying to blow people up. And, unlike gay refugees, terrorist refugees weren’t asked to prove it: “Go on, then. If you’re such a bigtime terrorist, blow someone up. Try the laughably obvious heterosexual at the payphone frantically trying to order up a Judy Garland boxed set.”

    Steyn wrote about Ressam in 1999 here.


    Upper house election today

    Posted by Sean at 02:39, July 29th, 2007

    Polls opened for the House of Councillors (upper house) election this morning. The run-up has been contentious in a rather boring way, with cabinet members suffering from the usual misappropriation scandals and foot-in-mouth syndrome but none of the sense of momentousness of the Koizumi-era show-downs. I miss that guy. Even the Nikkei reports come off somewhat listless:

    Issues such as pensions and “politics and money” are the points of contention in the twenty-first upper house election, for which voting began on the morning of 29 July. Ballot counting will begin today.

    The focus is on whether the ruling or opposition coalition will capture the majority in the upper house. The results of the election will have a major influence on the overall political future of the Abe cabinet. The direction of the results is expected to be clear by late tonight.

    According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 16.93% of the electorate had voted by 11 a.m., exceeding by 0.21 percentage points the comparable figure for the last election in 2004.

    Nevertheless, this could be a turning point. The DPJ-led opposition is not pushing a policy platform that differs all that much from that of the LDP this time around. It’s focusing instead on accusing the LDP of fat cat syndrome–corruption and lack of transparency.

    The office of agriculture/forestry/fisheries minister Norihiko Akagi obligingly ensured there would be a fresh LDP scandal blanketing the media this election weekend:

    Farm minister Norihiko Akagi flew back from Beijing on Friday and landed in yet another political fund scandal–this one involving photocopied receipts to doubly book spending by his two political organizations.

    The new irregularities were uncovered by The Asahi Shimbun, which obtained copies of Akagi’s political fund reports from Ibaraki Prefecture under the information disclosure system.

    Akagi has been under fire for huge and dubious office expenses reported by the support group based in his parents’ home.

    His mother at one time said the group rarely met at the home, and that she covered the utility bills.

    Added later: What they’re showing so far is 29 wins for the LDP and Shin-Komeito combined and 54 for the DPJ, Communist Party of Japan, and Social Democratic Party of Japan combined. Abe has said that he plans to think carefully about reshuffling his cabinet as a move to “take responsibility.” JNN, one of the networks I’ve been flipping through, has been flashing viewer e-mails across the top of the screen. The running themes, not surprisingly, are “this is what the LDP gets!” and “we’ll be watching you, DPJ!”


    参院選への影響必至

    Posted by Sean at 01:19, July 3rd, 2007

    …and Minister of Defense Fumio Kyuma has had to step down. Not surprising. His remarks the other day about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were not the first that made people wonder whether he remembered which ministry he was leading, and there’s an election coming up in which the LDP cannot afford to have the Abe administration look more vulnerable than it does.


    憲法改正

    Posted by Sean at 10:31, May 6th, 2007

    Having returned from his visit to the United States, Prime Minister Abe is pressing forward with what he hopes will be his legacy: constitutional revision. Because it’s the sort of issue that interests foreign readers, the English-side sites of the major Japanese dailies are covering things pretty thoroughly. The Asahi has the major players mapped out:

    Abe has yet to secure support from the opposition camp, notably Minshuto, on this issue. For this reason, there is uncertainty about whether Abe will be able to amend the Constitution under his current Cabinet.

    Akihiro Ota, chairman of New Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, sounded a warning Thursday to LDP lawmakers who want to start deliberations on constitutional amendments immediately after the national referendum bill passes the Diet.

    The same day, Naoto Kan, acting head of Minshuto, lashed out at Abe’s pro-amendment stance at a symposium in Tokyo.

    Noting that Abe became prime minister through the postwar democratic political system, Kan said it is “extremely contradictory” for him to now seek to “break away from the postwar regime.”

    Kan’s original Japanese words are in the original Japanese article: 「首相は戦後レジーム(体制)の脱却というが、民主主義(の下で)の総理大臣がレジームを変えるのは、極めて論理矛盾だ。」 There’s the upcoming election, so the DPJ needs to come out swinging against the LDP; but I’m still not entirely sure what Kan is swinging at. Abe knows that he has to adhere scrupulously to proper procedure in connection with an undertaking as delicate and controversial as constitutional revision, and the proposed revisions themselves hardly represent a turn away from democracy. The revision of Article 9 will, it is hoped, give Japan a standing army and specify that citizens are responsible for defending their country. Everything else that I’m aware of is a set of blandishments about the essence of Japaneseness and the addition of “environmental rights.” (Given Japan’s generally unprepossessing built environments and current treatment of nature, it’s a good thing that’s not already in the constitution, or we’d have a violation-of-rights crisis of nationwide proportions. See this article about a recent federal study that found that Japan’s shorelines are festooned with about 148,000 cubic meters of washed-up junk, much of it originating inland and disgorged into the sea from Japan’s rivers.) Oh, and I think there’s a vaguely-phrased right-to-privacy provision. The Yomiuri has a little more detail on the major points of debate.

    Those who remember the ’80s may be amused to read that former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone has griped that the proposed new preamble lacks euphony, as documents written by committee are wont to do.