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    Okinawa governor relents (a bit) on Futenma relocation

    Posted by Sean at 23:27, May 11th, 2006

    The governor of Okinawa has caved, at least provisionally:

    Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine on Thursday gave broad agreement to a government plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station to Camp Schwab’s coastal area as part of plans to realign U.S. bases in Japan.

    Inamine, however, stressed he had yet to fully approve the government plan, saying, “There is no change in the basic stance.” He then said, “I’d like to make efforts to incorporate the prefecture’s concerns in the discussion process with the central government,” indicating the prefecture would again ask the central government to build a temporary heliport at Camp Schwab as a measure to alleviate the dangers connected with the Futenma base until the relocation is completed.

    Inamine initially opposed the government plan, but changed his position as he judged that it would be better to push the prefecture’s demand for government subsidies and development programs ahead of Cabinet approval, sources said.

    Of course: nothing like subsidies to motivate you to play ball, huh? Okinawa being Japan’s least-rich prefecture, it has particular incentive to be pragmatic.

    Zovirax over the counter

    Posted by Sean at 11:54, April 18th, 2010

    If the plane-grounding Icelandic ash cloud hasn’t been sufficient reminder of how vulnerable we are to nature’s vagaries (and how fortunate that we have such an extensive technological arsenal to protect ourselves), check out this story about Japan’s vegetable shortages:

    The government is calling on farmers to speed up vegetable deliveries after cold weather and lack of sunlight led to a poor spring crop and spiking vegetable prices.

    “The vegetables prices may remain high for the foreseeable future. We’d like to ask farmers to bring forward their shipments in a bid to stabilize retail prices,” Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu told a news conference following a regular Cabinet meeting Friday morning.

    Also on Friday, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry asked the National Federation of Agricultural Co-operative Associations to bring forward vegetable shipments. Consumer organizations as well as the ministry have also asked farmers to ship malformed vegetables that are usually discarded.

    However, noting the measure will have only limited effects, government sources say they fear vegetable prices are unlikely to decline until May or later, and farmers pointed out that complying with demands for early shipment is difficult.

    “We harvested lettuce and other vegetables earlier than usual in response to an increase in demand from the restaurant industry during the spring vacation period. Even if we are asked to bring forward shipments, it’s difficult to comply,” said an official of the Ibaraki Prefecture chapter of the agricultural federation.

    Shredded lettuce and cabbage come with nearly everything in Japan: you walk into a little restaurant, and the waitress plunks down a small bowl of shredded cabbage and carrots with ginger dressing as your o-tooshi-mono. That there would be a shortage of them is really unsettling. Of course, Japan isn’t facing a famine—you’ll notice that one proposal for making up the difference is just not rejecting too many misshapen cabbages, which is a problem the DPRK would have loved to have around a decade ago. Still, the story is a good reminder of how intricate our supply and distribution systems are. (Of course, you could also take the opportunity to bring up Japan’s insane agricultural-subsidy system, but I’m feeling generous today.)


    It’s a few days old, but the Asahi English site had a good rundown of what’s led up to the current confusion—impasse doesn’t seem to be quite the best word—over the relocation of the Futenma facility in Okinawa:

    U.S. officials certainly have no intention of jeopardizing the decades-long alliance with Japan, but there is growing concern and frustration at the lack of a meeting of minds on such important matters of mutual concern.

    Hatoyama broached the issue of the relocation of the U.S. Marines Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture during a short meeting with Obama on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in the U.S. capital on Monday. Neither Japan nor the United States explained how Obama responded.

    What did come across, however, is that the meeting did not change the U.S. government’s position, which is that the best solution to the Futenma issue lies with a 2006 agreement reached by the two nations to relocate the base to the Henoko district of Nago, also in Okinawa Prefecture.

    Behind this extremely defensive and careful approach of the U.S. government is its resolve not to make the same mistake of 2005, when Washington compromised and accepted current Henoko option.

    During those negotiations, U.S. officials for a long time advocated a plan to construct a replacement facility on a landfill off the south coast of Henoko, Nago city. This plan was commonly known as “Nago Light.” However, during the final stage of the talks, U.S. officials abandoned it and accepted instead the Japanese proposal to build the new facility on the coastline of Camp Schwab at Henoko point.

    Richard Lawless, who negotiated the agreement for the United States as deputy undersecretary of defense, recalled his decision to go along with his Japanese counterparts.

    “They guaranteed that they can implement the proposal,” Lawless said. “I made sure about this point with several people in charge (in the Japanese government) a number of times.”

    Four years after the agreement was reached, the Japanese government has done an about-turn and told Washington the Henoko option cannot be implemented. Japan’s turnaround frustrated not only Lawless, but also current U.S. administration officials. They also share a deep sense of mistrust over Hatoyama’s frequent flip-flops on this issue.

    It’s very difficult to assign blame in this scenario. It’s not possible to indulge the NIMBY-ism of every municipality, but it’s understandable that many towns don’t want the side-effects of a military installation. I’m very much a supporter of the military, but it’s a plain and simple fact that putting a lot of hopped-up kids in their early twenties far from home—in an environment of literal martial discipline in which their violent impulses are deliberately brought to the surface so they can be channeled to useful purposes—nearly guarantees an increase in crime and a tense relationship with the locals, whatever job-creating benefits may come along with the installation. Washington wants the existing agreement to be implemented; Tokyo seems to see the new administrations in both countries as an opportunity to restart negotiations practically from square one. Neither seems likely to have all its expectations met.


    Sugarpie, I have just found the must-have camp accessory of the year:

    Herman Van Rompuy, the European Union’s first permanent president, has published his first anthology of haiku poems.

    Van Rompuy, a former prime minister of Belgium, said here Thursday that he hopes to compose haiku when he is in Tokyo for the annual EU-Japan Summit, which convenes April 28.

    The book, titled “Haiku,” contains 45 haiku he wrote in Dutch and which have been translated into English, French, German and Latin.

    Can you just…?

    A new commission–
    the joy of its formation
    like freshest spring rains


    Indifference from
    sassy Yank colonials–
    our cries sad, owl-like!


    Dry cicada shell–
    an easy relationship
    would be so empty

    Okay, in all seriousness, van Rompuy could be very good; but haiku is one of those genres that bring out the “I could do that!” dilettantism in people, and the results are nearly always irredeemably precious, in my experience. For some reason, the combination of shortness (not a major time investment!), nature themes (I love Nature—I’m a good person!”), and Japaneseness (aesthete capital of the world!) makes haiku hard to resist, but it also makes them difficult to execute well. Maybe Catherine Ashton will be flogging her first manga this summer?

    Added later: Thanks to Instapundit for the link. I have a half-dozen regular commenters who routinely agree with me, for which I am very grateful; but if you have a dissenting comment to make, I’ll be glad to read it, since I don’t get much dissent around here. (That’s not an aspersion, regular readers.) If you’re wondering where my interest in Japan comes from, I studied Japanese literature in college and grad school, and I lived in Tokyo from the ages of 24 to 36. I am unapologetically American down to the bone, but I love Japan also, and I’m very interested in seeing our alliance not screwed up.


    Posted by Sean at 17:54, March 26th, 2010

    Are you tired of worrying about what these new “reforms” are going to do to screw over America? Well, you’re in luck, because if you read this post, you can think about how they might screw over our loyal ally Japan.

    You feel better already, right? Consider it a present from me.

    The lead editorial in Wednesday’s Nikkei carried the headline “America’s direction after conclusion of historic health-care reform bill”:

    It’s an event that will surely leave a mark on US history. Sweeping reforms of health care, under consideration for years, have been realized through the leadership of President Obama. Word is that the bill passed by the United States Congress will allocate approximately 85 trillion yen over ten years and decrease the number of people uninsured by 3.2 million.

    On the other hand, there were almost as many votes against as for, with congresspersons, centered around the Republican Party, concerned about the tilt toward “big government.” It boosts taxes levied on the high-income brackets, and it gave rise to splits between left and right, high- and low-income brackets. That will have its effect on economic policy and policies toward Japan as well.

    In order to wipe out the clash of interests between high- and low-income strata, expanding the economy as a whole would be the best thing. It will also be necessary to promote growth in order to achieve real-term containment of the ballooning public-debt burden. The direction the Obama administration is taking will use growth as the driving force, in the next five years doubling exports rather than household consumption, which has taken a beating from the Lehman Shock.

    What’s the Nikkei afraid of? That the US, desperate to come up with money for this venture in egalitarianism, will start leaning on its trading partners to be more open to exports from here than they would otherwise have desired to be based on their own markets.

    In that context, there is the possibility that demands from the US toward its ally Japan will grow more stern. The backblow against Japanese products such as automobiles is forceful. There are also many fronts on which the opening of markets, such as that for agricultural products, is sought. Even if [Washington] continues to show concern for Japan, which has gone to a lot of trouble over the Futenma military facility, it’s also a fact that there’s less willingness to go the extra mile than before.

    Both the US and Japan have painful domestic situations on their hands. When affairs at home aren’t going well, it’s standard political practice, anywhere and everywhere, to draw the attention of the citizenry to foreign relations; however, the possibility cannot be ruled out that that will cause a rift in the US-Japan alliance if pushed too far. And that should be avoided. Not even for Japan will the wounds left on American society by the debate over health-care reform be someone else’s problem.

    Tokyo has little moral ground to claim when it comes to manipulating trading partners for the interests of its own enterprises, but the Nikkei itself is a pretty consistent supporter of free markets, so it seems unfair to wave away its concerns. The Japanese government knows a thing or two about mushrooming health-care entitlements squeezed from a shrinking pool of workers, so it’s no wonder it’s looking eastward and feeling afraid.


    Posted by Sean at 12:57, December 26th, 2009

    Like President Barack Obama, whose campaign themes he consciously adopted, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama faces plummeting popularity figures in the latest poll by the Asahi:

    Seventy-four percent of all respondents said the prime minister has failed to exercise leadership.

    Half of those who do not support the Cabinet said the main reason was Hatoyama’s inability to act on his policies.

    “We take the figures (in the Asahi survey) seriously and will reflect them in the management of the government,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said Sunday.

    Only 18 percent of the respondents said Hatoyama has shown leadership. Some members of his own government are now voicing concerns about Hatoyama’s abilities.

    “Although the Futenma issue, the budget and financing are all difficult problems, the prime minister could say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do.’ But he doesn’t. People are wondering if he is OK,” a Cabinet minister said.

    Along with the abstract charges of dithery passivity, Hatoyama has had to respond to concrete charges that his employees use public funds improperly:

    On Thursday, two of Hatoyama’s former secretaries were indicted without arrest over falsified fund reports in violation of the Political Funds Control Law.

    Hatoyama’s former state-funded first secretary was indicted for entering false statements in official political funds reports. Prosecutors also filed a summary indictment against another former secretary over the case.

    Hatoyama spoke to the media not at the Prime Minister’s Office–where he normally holds press conferences–but at a Tokyo hotel. He selected Tenzo Okumura, a Democratic Party of Japan member who does not hold a government position, to moderate the press conference, because the prime minister wanted to keep the issue separate from his government and minimize any fallout from the matter.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano also kept the matter at arm’s length at a press conference Thursday evening.

    “That’s a problem that happened at an individual politician’s office,” he said.

    Hatoyama reveled in being one of the most ardent critics of the then ruling Liberal Democratic Party whenever problems involving “politics and money” came to light when he was in opposition. He had insisted that LDP lawmakers “should be punished for crimes committed by their secretaries.”

    The opposition parties plan to pursue Hatoyama over whether he will walk the walk in dealing with his scandal after talking the talk when others were in similar straits.

    When reminded about these remarks at Thursday’s press conference, Hatoyama only said he did not think he had lined his pockets or had gained illegal profits, despite the fact he would have to file amended gift tax returns.

    Hatoyama occasionally put on a defiant face at the press conference, saying, “Even though I’ve tried to give as full an account as possible, there are some details that the public won’t understand.”

    It’s different for politicians, you see.

    Frankly, I don’t have much trouble believing that a man of Hatoyama’s personality and approach did, in fact, entrust too much to the wrong underlings and therefore wasn’t involved in any book-cooking. But when hope-change types get their parties into power by implying that the opposition could easily clean house if it just tried hard enough to let in sunshine and sweep out the dirt, they’re asking to be held to that standard.

    And, of course, one reason every misstep by the Hatoyama administration so grates on the public is that there’s a lot riding on the results of whatever policies is decides on. As a Mainichi editorial puts it:

    To be sure, some policies to distribute money directly to households, which are just what you’d expect from a Hatoyama administration, will be realized: deep cuts in expenditures for public works, its having waved “from concrete to people” aloft as its slogan, and the implementation of allowances for children and an income-subsidy system for farmers. Because a “project reclassification” has been executed, the degree to which attention of the citizenry has been fixed on “use of tax revenues” is also probably unprecedented.

    However, there’s a conspicuous lack of direction when it comes to prioritizing the elements of its core manifesto and setting a ceiling on the amount that can be issued in government bonds. In the background, there’s not only the absence of a command center for economic policy but also a lack of clarity about the future shame of the Japanese economy, including the financial restructuring policy that is the Hatoyama administration’s aim. No matter how much of the budget is scattered around with the aim of supporting people’s lives, if there’s no change in the sluggishness of the economy and the instability of the foundations of finance, the burden will ultimately fall on the way the citizenry lives.

    Which is to say, someone’s going to have to start creating new wealth rather than spreading existing wealth around.

    Hovering in there, of course, is also the Futenma relocation, which raises a lot of thorny questions on how Japan is positioning itself geopolitically.

    In part, of course, expecting a Japanese cabinet to act decisively is unrealistic. Japan has, if anything, even more checks and balances than the US, though many are informal. But Hatoyama and the other DPJ candidates encouraged the Japanese to dream big about reform, and people are understandably less inclined to be content with the usual mealy-mouthed, study-the-problem-until-it-goes-away-by-itself approach.


    Posted by Sean at 22:02, December 15th, 2009

    The lead editorial in the Nikkei this morning carries the headline “Crisis in US-Japan alliance that Futenma postponement will deepen”:

    The postponement of a decision on the relocation of the US military Futenma Base on Okinawa will result in the deepening further the current state of crisis surrounding the US-Japan alliance. We feel concern regarding the gutting of the US-Japan alliance and the tilt toward China indicated by the Hatoyama administration’s actions, which empty the phrase “US-Japan axis” of meaning.

    On 15 December, the administration convened a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Basic Policies at the prime minister’s residence, and it decided to (1) conduct a joint study among the three parties in the ruling coalition of candidate sites for relocation, including that currently planned, (2) propose to the US side the establishment of a US-Japan cooperative organization, and (3) incorporate into calculations for the FY 2010 budget the relocation expenses, based on the current plan—thereby postponing until next year its resolution on where to relocate the Futenma Base facilities.

    Minister of Foreign Affairs Katsuya Okada and Minister of Defense Toshimi Kitazawa, who are in charge of the management and nuts-and-bolts operations of the US-Japan alliance, had sought to have an agreement between the two countries confirmed within the year, but Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama put a higher priority on consideration toward the Social Democratic Party. Spokesman [Ian] Kelly of the United States Department of State stated on the 14th*, “The optimal plan would be to have a roadmap for US military restructuring on which agreement had been reached,” but there are no signs that the gulf between the US and Japan will be bridged.

    Foreign Minister Okada has expressed a sense of urgency about the state of the US-Japan alliance, but in diplomatic terms, real damages have already manifested themselves.

    If the [chance for a] US-Japan heads-of-state summit in an official format in Copenhagen is missed, Japan will lose the position from which it can persuade the American side on [global] warming issues. For Hatoyama, who is passionate on environmental issues, could there really be any realization that his own judgments are bringing about that sort of result?

    “The US-Japan relationship has gotten rheumaticky. First solidifying the Japan-China relationship, then resolving issues with the US, is the realistic process.” Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Kenji Yamaoka of the Democratic Party of Japan’s Shanghai declaration [saying so] on the 14th will also raise the specter of doubts about the diplomatic path of the Hatoyama administration.

    The diplomatic path of the Hatoyama administration, over which DPJ General Secretary Ichiro Ozawa wields great influence, reflects, in foreign-affairs terms, a distancing from the United States and tilt toward China. That will sow uneasiness in the nations of Southeast Asia, which have complicated feelings about a growing China.

    The editors bounce all over the map, but their overall point is a coherent one: the Hatoyama administration is sucking up to Beijing without, perhaps, really thinking through where that might land it in the future. Of course, it’s not just the DPJ brain trust that’s producing this result; President Obama is hardly presenting America as an ally that means business and is worth continuing to cultivate.

    * Yes, that was fun to write.


    Posted by Sean at 08:05, December 3rd, 2009

    The suspected murderer of Lindsay Hawker has been arrested. (Apparently, he was actually discovered, after more than two years of hiding out, last month when I wasn’t paying very good attention to the news.

    Tatsuya Ichihashi, who was rearrested Wednesday on suspicion of killing Lindsay Hawker, studied French by himself during his 2-1/2 years on the run from police and participated in an overseas language study program at a French university when he was a student, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

    As Ichihashi had a private English conversation lesson with Hawker, the investigation headquarters is trying to determine what happened between the two, who seemed to be on friendly terms with each other shortly before Hawker was murdered.

    “We’re always told to try to feel other people’s pain, but we can’t, can we.” A 28-year-old woman who went on the study tour of France as part of Ichihashi’s group clearly remembers this remark that Ichihashi made at that time.

    Hawker was an inexperienced English teacher and apparently agreed to give a private lesson to the wrong person. As nearly as police can tell, she went back to Ishihashi’s apartment with him and was murdered there. Her body was discovered on his balcony the day after she went missing.


    The leader of the Social Democratic Party, which is now the DPJ’s partner in the ruling coalition, is threatening mutiny if the current Futenma relocation plans go through:

    Speaking at a party meeting on Thursday morning, Fukushima said that if a decision was made to relocate the base in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to coastal portions of the U.S. Marines’ Camp Schwab in the Okinawa Prefecture city of Nago, then the party would have to make a “grave decision.”

    “It is an extremely important issue which reaches the foundations of the party,” Fukushima told reporters following the meeting. “We are alarmed about the current agreement being rushed after the ministerial-level meeting between Japan and the U.S.”

    The decision’s been in the works for half a decade, of course, but it keeps getting fussed over then dropped.


    Posted by Sean at 20:58, November 30th, 2009

    Yet again “rough going,” as the headline on this Nikkei article has it, for the transfer of the Futenma base:

    On 30 November, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama confronted a second session, following up another on 27 November, with Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima revolving around the issues with the transfer of the United States military base in Futenma (Ginowan, Okinawa). On the 30th, there were also active [efforts at] coordinating things, such as the prime minister’s collaborating with relevant cabinet ministers, but the hurdle presented by the “decision before year’s end” sought by the US remains high.

    “He said that, considering the hazardousness of Futenma, he’d like to get a concrete conclusion as quickly as possible.” That’s what the prime minister stressed to a press conference at his official residence on the night of the 30th. In contrast with the hour-long meeting with the governor on the 27th, that on the 30th was 20 minutes. It’s naturally assumed that the substantive debate was “on the 27th,” but the prime minister repeated, “I cannot discuss specific content.”

    Okinawans have been divided over the plan to relocate the Marine base for years now; the current plan, unless things have changed, is to expand Camp Schwab rather than expand offshore. But that’s been in the works since the middle of the decade.


    Posted by Sean at 16:13, September 27th, 2009

    Hi, there, you four remaining people who are still checking back to see whether I’ve posted anything. Just to prove this is really Sean, I’ll make this about homosexuality and atheism and partisan politics and Japan.

    The Unreligious Right linked last week to this very good post about being an atheist out in the public debate. The one problem, as commenter lilacsigil points out, is with the comparison Christina uses to illustrate why it’s out of line to tell self-identified atheists that they’re not actually atheist:

    Let me make an analogy. If you’re not gay, would you say to a gay person, “You don’t understand what it means to be gay”? Would you say to them, “Being gay means that 100% of your sexuality is directed towards people of the same sex”? Would you say to them, “If you’ve ever had sex with someone of the opposite sex, or have even had a slight passing inclination to be sexually interested in someone of the opposite sex, then you’re not really gay”?

    Would you say to a gay person, “I understand what ‘gay’ means better than you do”?

    If you were a busybody, you most certainly would. And, non-hypothetically, if you are a busybody of that particular type, you most certainly do.

    Plenty of anti-gay commentators (both in the media and in informal conversation) are constantly telling us there’s no such thing as a “real” homosexual (we’re just confused, underdeveloped heteros with unexplored anger toward the opposite sex, you see) and that we’re practicing gays because we don’t want to do the hard work of facing up to the truths of nature and the moral strictures that flow from them. If you’re both gay and atheist, the condescension is even more dismissive–along the lines of “You just don’t want to believe in God because if you did you’d have to exercise sexual discipline.” (No, not everyone is like that, but I’m only talking about busybodies.) Anyway, Christina’s post is very good, and so are the comments, some of which are hers.

    [Added after loading the dishwasher and pouring a Scotch: Actually, if you really want to ensure you can never discuss anything but the weather with new acquaintances without stepping into a political minefield and being informed what you think, you can try being gay, atheist, and libertarian. Sententious busybodies on the right will be happy to tell you that you’re a libertine who wants to pretend society doesn’t need rules and order; sententious busybodies on the left will be happy to tell you that you don’t want to acknowledge the degree to which circumstances beyond people’s control affect their ability to make their way in life. And both sides will be happy to tell you you’re not a “real” libertarian if you happen to take a position that isn’t congruent with whatever they’ve decided the libertarian position should be based on some article they read in The Wall Street Journal or something a few years ago. Both sides like to use the same triumphant, “GOTCHA!” tone, too.]


    This diavlog between Michelle Goldberg and Megan McArdle (who’s a libertarian, not a conservative, but who’s naturally seen as being “on the right” in our current political climate) is almost a month old now, and it got a lot of attention when it was posted. Still, if you haven’t watched it, there’s a lot to munch on that’s illustrative of the way things are framed in the public debate lately. I particularly thought this was interesting:

    My sense is that Goldberg’s reflexive assumption about gun owners—that they’re running about eager for an opportunity to shoot someone—is shared by a lot of people, but I don’t think she’s right. McArdle doesn’t go into much detail, but the way she describes the gun enthusiasts she’s met fits those I know, too: they enjoy shooting at the range, and they like the feeling of autonomy that not depending on 911 in an emergency gives them, but that doesn’t mean they enjoy contemplating killing an actual human being. Instead, they rest easier knowing that they’re prepared if they meet some miscreant who threatens them or their property when the police are too far away to do anything about it. It really is a self-reliance thing, and I agree with McArdle that it’s likely that that’s the message those who wear their guns to so-called Town Hall meetings or protests were trying to send: don’t think you have to patronize me, Madam Senator, or protect me, Mr. Congressman—I can handle my own life and only need you to stop getting in my way.

    That having been said, I think McArdle’s right about the PR factor. Carrying a deadly weapon to a political protest is a great way of signaling that you (at least) think there may be occasion to use it, which does not help to bring the tenor of debate back down toward poised, reasonable argument.


    New Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama met with President Obama this week. (He also addressed the UN General Assembly and was presumably in one of the motorcades that made getting to work or home in Midtown East utter hell.) The Asahi editorial contained this priceless quotation:

    The chiefs of the Democratic parties that govern Japan and the United States met for the first time.

    This fresh start for the bilateral relationship came after Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama took over government by promising “change” from more than half a century of virtually one-party rule by the Liberal Democratic Party, and U.S. President Barack Obama took power by promising “change” from eight years of the presidency of George W. Bush.

    After the meeting, Obama told reporters he is “very confident that not only will the prime minister succeed in his efforts and his campaign commitments, but that this will give us an opportunity to strengthen and renew” the alliance between the two countries.

    And Obama should know, because, after all, he’s all about keeping campaign commitments (to rein in spending, to close Guantanamo, to prohibit anything that could be construed as torture in the prosecution of the WOT) and strengthening and renewing alliances with existing partners.

    Hatoyama apparently wanted to convey his intention to guide his nation away from this traditional relationship [i.e., Japan’s playing second fiddle to the United States–SRK] toward new relations in which Japan is more assertive and ready to play a more active role.

    Some tricky issues were not discussed at the Hatoyama-Obama meeting but must eventually be addressed. Among them are Tokyo’s plans to terminate the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s mission to refuel coalition vessels in the Indian Ocean and review the realignment of the U.S. forces in Japan, including the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

    The Japanese government must make decisions on these issues before Obama’s scheduled visit to Japan in November.

    Mishandling these delicate issues could strain Japan-U.S. relations and stir up criticism against the Hatoyama administration at home.

    A power transfer can lead to a major policy shift. What is happening in Japan now is a natural part of democracy. The diplomatic challenge facing Hatoyama is how to persuade Washington to accept this change in Japan without hurting the mutual trust.

    Well, it might be noted that the push for a permanent UNSC seat for Japan began under Koizumi and that the plans to restructure United States military deployments to have fewer personnel in Japan began under Bush; I’m not sure those things represent substantive change as much as evolution in a preset direction. The nuclear-disarmament part sounds nice, but surely everyone is aware, underneath the genial dialogue, that it’s not going to happen now that the toothpaste is out of the tube. And Japan has spent decades talking about internationalization and global outreach, but those processes are a two-way street, and the adapting it would need to do at the level of nuts-and-bolts approaches to politics and business is not one that it welcomes.

    “This yuai (fraternity) is a way of thinking that respects one’s own freedom and individual dignity while also respecting the freedom and individual dignity of others,” he said during his 20-minute speech in English.

    He said that based on the spirit of yuai, Japan can become a bridge for the world in five areas.

    I’d love to see Japan, as the most mature democracy in the region, take more of an active geo-political role, but I’m not sure it’s going to happen on what seem to be the current trajectories. Serving as a “bridge” between the rest of the world and Asia makes sense given Japan’s economic power and corresponding contributions to the UN. But fraternity (the Japanese word indicated actually means more like “friendship” or “amicability,” but let that slide) among East and Southeast Asian peoples is notoriously unstable, despite their many elements of shared heritage, and Japan’s history does not, shall we say, establish it unequivocally as the obvious choice for role of altruistic, disinterested referee.


    Posted by Sean at 14:51, June 24th, 2009

    The Yomiuri reports that an amendment to the FY 2010 defense budget may scotch existing plans to relocate our Futenma base on Okinawa:

    A key U.S. congressional committee has added an amendment to the fiscal 2010 defense budget that would make it hard to realize an agreement reached by the Japanese and U.S. governments over the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture.

    Japan and the United States have already agreed the facility will be relocated to the shoreline off Camp Schwab in Nago, in the prefecture.

    The amendment says the U.S. defense secretary should not give its approval to the alternative facility as long as it fails to comply with minimum flight safety requirements.

    The office of Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, who proposed the amendment, told The Yomiuri Shimbun that the alternative facility under the current plan contravenes safety standards on the following points:

    — The runways are too short.

    — A school, Okinawa National College of Technology, is located nearby.

    — There are obstacles, such as utility poles, along the flight path.

    As a result, Abercrombie has stated that Camp Schwab is not an appropriate candidate for the alternative facility and that a new transfer location should be sought.

    A Japanese government source said, “The content of this amendment suggests the transfer to the alternative facility agreed by Japan and the United States won’t be permitted.”

    The relocation of the base has been a sticking point for years.


    There’s been an ongoing story about 7-Eleven Japan and one of the downsides to its now-legendary distribution system for prepared food, and the Mainichi has a pretty comprehensive piece on its English site:

    Seven-Eleven Japan Co. announced Tuesday that the company would help cover the costs of unsold food currently borne entirely by individual convenience stores, but franchises said the move was not enough.

    The industry giant’s headquarters will cover 15 percent of the cost of unsold items such as sandwiches and bento boxed lunches at franchise stores beginning in July. The company is the first major convenience store chain to take on part of such costs.

    “Franchises are worried about wasting food, but also that if they don’t order enough, they will run out of stock, causing trouble for their customers and hurting business,” said Seven-Eleven Japan President Ryuichi Isaka at a news conference Tuesday.

    In the wake of the Seven-Eleven announcement, it appears possible the practice will spread to the entire industry, where shifting losses, and the responsibility for the disposal of large amounts of food, onto franchises is common. Perhaps the era of forcing major expenses onto franchises while the corporate headquarters racks up profits is nearing an end. However, as central support for franchises increases, differences in corporate strength between convenience store companies will likely widen.

    In a standard franchise contract, judgment regarding orders of food items such as boxed lunches is left up to franchise owners and they also bear the total burden of losses from unsold items. However, stores that reduce orders run the risk of regularly selling out and leaving their shelves empty, dealing a blow to the business model convenience stores are based on.

    One way to move unsold stock is to reduce prices, but Seven-Eleven Japan had a policy against discounting. However, the company was ordered to eliminate that policy Monday by the Japan Fair Trade Commission, which could spur Seven-Eleven franchises to begin reducing food item prices to avoid having leftovers and the losses they entail.

    Like a lot of people in Tokyo, I worked within a five-minute walk of a good half-dozen convenience stores, and many of the 7-Eleven prepared-food offerings were, at least at first, markedly better than what you got from its competitors. (The nearby am-pm was horrible when I first started at my old company, though it cleaned up a lot, both literally and figuratively, several years ago.) They weren’t home or restaurant quality, but they were pretty much as good as train-station bento. There was a great deal written about 7-Eleven Japan some years ago during its ascendancy, largely because it was one of the few enterprises wowing Westerners after the fashion of the old Japan, Inc., era. But of course, you can’t predict inventory turnover perfectly, especially for something as whim-dependent as what people feel like eating for lunch once they pull up to the refrigerator case and have to pick something.


    The Nikkei says that China is agreeing in principle to uphold the draft UNSC resolution on North Korea:

    On 24 [June], the Chinese government opened individual meetings in Beijing with both U.S. and Japanese governments, and they were in accord on adopting the direction of upholding the sanction on the United Nations Security Council against North Korea, which had pushed brazenly forward with a second round of nuclear testing. It took the position of non-recognition of North Korea’s possession of nuclear capability and of applying concerted pressure, but it also stressed the importance of dialogue. On pulling together for cargo inspections of vessels entering or leaving North Korea, China is still cooler than Japan, the U.S., and South Korea; and it left unclear how far it would go along the path of “pressure.”

    Still seeking understanding from Nago mayor

    Posted by Sean at 10:14, April 4th, 2006

    The head of the Japan Defense Agency is still trying to get Nago residents to agree to a slightly adjusted proposal for relocating the helicopter facilities from Futenma:

    JDA chief Fukushiro Nukaga met with Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro of Nago, the site to which US military facilities now at the Futenma base (Ginowan City, Okinawa Prefecture) are slated to be moved, on 4 April. Nukaga once again sought Shimbukuro’s understanding, conveying once again that, while [the government] will not make broad changes to the relocation to the coastline of Camp Schwab that has been agreed upon by Japan and the US, he is of a mind to respond flexibly to proposals for limited changes, such as in the orientation of runways. The focus was on the mayor’s advocating that the runways be shifted more than 400 meters offshore [from their proposed location].

    It had been hoped that an agreement would be reached by the end of last month.

    On a not-entirely-unrelated note, the Yomiuri took a poll that found that 71% of those who responded believe that the constitution should be revised to clarify the role of the SDF:

    Seventy-one percent of people think the Constitution should clarify the existence of the Self-Defense Forces, an organization that protects the nation yet is not mentioned in the supreme law, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.

    Fifty-six percent of respondents said the basic law should be revised, marking the ninth straight year since 1998 that a majority of pollees in similar surveys have favored revising the Constitution.

    The interview survey was conducted on March 11 and 12 on 3,000 eligible voters in 250 locations across the country, with 1,812, or 60.4 percent, of them responding.

    However, 32 percent of pollees opposed constitutional revision, the survey said.

    Regarding the war-renouncing Article 9, a focal point of the constitutional amendment, 39 percent–the highest figure for five consecutive years–said it should be rewritten because there was a limit to interpreting the article and putting it into practice, the survey said.

    Thirty-three percent said the article should be handled as it has been so far, but 21 percent said Article 9 should be strictly upheld and that its spirit should not be watered down through changing interpretations, the survey said.

    Twenty-seven percent of respondents said the top law should be revised to allow the country to exercise the right to collective-defense and 23 percent said interpretation of the basic law should be changed to allow for the right to be exercised. This meant 50 percent favored exercising this right, the survey said.

    Of course, you can’t cite polls without the usual avalanche of disclaimers, but those results ring true to me. People like the way Article 9 makes Japan’s involvement in NGOs seem more saintly (to those who pay attention to such things), and besides, this is, despite the economic upheavals of the last decade and a half, an extraordinarily prosperous country. Most people have little incentive to approach defense issues with a real sense of urgency. But they know, at the same time, that Japan is a resource-poor country with nearby enemies. There’s almost always some current reminder–a little skirmish between a Japanese and a North Korean ship, news about the expansion of a Chinese military program of some kind–of the delicacy of its position.

    It’s interesting that 1998 was the first year the Yomiuri reports having a majority supporting the revision of the constitution. I wonder whether the poll was first conducted that year or, maybe, the DPRK’s missile test over Japan jolted a lot of people. Of course, if the poll is always in the spring, that wouldn’t explain anything, since the test missile was launched in summer.